THERE IS A SEASON BY DARCY & KALIMYRE


Gen: Story portraying the strong friendship between Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson
Rating: PG-13 (for a very few bad words)
Category: AU, Gen, Kid fic, angst, smooshiness, drama, humor
Season/Spoilers: None
Synopsis: An AU in which Jack fosters a ten year old Daniel. The story follows the first year of their lives together as they struggle to overcome past losses and forge a new beginning.
Warnings: Kid fic, AU, 400 pages. Non-graphic mention of past child abuse
Length: 1.85 Mb
Notes:

The character Rose Hennessy O'Neill, Jack's mother, is the original work of the wonderfully talented, Devra. Rose was first introduced in her fic, "Miracles in Bloom". If you haven't read this fic, it's a must. Rose comes to life in "Miracles" and is one of the best, most in-depth OCs I've read. We couldn't envision another mom for Jack after reading Devra's incredible version so we did the only thing we could... we stole her... with the author's complete knowledge and consent, of course!

KALIMYRE NOTES: First and foremost, thanks so much to Darcy, who slyly and sneakily introduced me to the wonderful world she'd started to create with little Daniel, and then got me utterly hooked. I could never have gotten so deeply involved with the story or remained so enthusiastic about it without her constant encouragement, feedback, and generous (if wildly exaggerated) compliments.

Writing with Darcy led me to join the Heartsisters, who are a terrific group of people that I am very glad to be a part of. Thanks very much to all of them for the support and for putting up with my relentless "heart-stomping" angst.

Also, a special thank you to Mamabeast, who braved the insane length and our own self-imposed deadline to beta the story with amazing speed. She caught a lot of the details that we missed, and made us think. Thanks!

DARCY NOTES: I can't thank my heartsisters enough for this fic. Without their comments and encouragement during our evening chats this story would not have been written. A special thank you to Jo and Devra for their keen suggestions and unending support, to babs for her incredible knack of coming up with just the right ending, and to Debi C for the up close and personal insight into asthma and for introducing me to the world of 'little Danny'.

And... a big, HUGE, heartfelt thank you to my incredible co-writer, Kalimyre. If not for her remarkable talent of producing vast amounts of quality pages in short spans of time, this fic may never have seen the light of day. In the end, she wrote the bulk of the scenes and without her this story would have joined the ever-increasing list of stories in the black hole of my hard drive. Thank you, girlfriend, for the laughter, the tears, the smooshiness, and the angst... good lord, the angst... well beyond the legal limit!

 


 

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.
Ecclesiastes: 3:1


After a few miles of pacing, Jack plopped himself down in his favorite leather chair, sipped a warm Pepsi and stared anxiously at the clock. He would have preferred a cold beer but doubted it was appropriate under the circumstances. Hammond, Carter and a social worker were bringing the boy, Daniel Jackson, to him this afternoon. Their ETA was 1:00, but it was half past 2:00 and there was no sign of them. Maybe something had gone wrong, perhaps a long lost relative had shown up at the eleventh hour to claim the kid. A shiver ran down his spine at the thought and he was uncertain whether it was one of relief or regret.

What the fuck had he gotten himself into? If he were being honest, he couldn't blame his friends and former teammates; he was shocked at how easily he had agreed to their suggestion of guardianship. It would have been impossible if he’d still been on SG-1, but after a four year run with his team, his field time was over. He hadn't been able to go through the Stargate since his knees gave out six months ago, and even though he was 2IC of the entire facility, he still felt something was missing in his life. How pathetic was that?

He picked up the lone picture he had of the boy, Daniel, and stared at the small, serious face, partially hidden by the big round glasses. Daniel Jackson, genius ten-year-old son of Melbourne and Claire Jackson, archaeologists who had never set foot inside Cheyenne Mountain but nonetheless had worked translating ancient Goa'uld symbols for the SGC from Egypt via the Internet. The couple had unknowingly unlocked numerous interplanetary puzzles and solved countless ancient mysteries; their secret contributions to Earth had been invaluable. The linguists and archaeologists at the SGC had floundered since the couple's untimely deaths two years ago.

Jack hadn't thought about the Jacksons for quite a while until last month when a report regarding Daniel Jackson had floated across Hammond's desk. Turned out the boy could read Goa'uld and various dialects of Ancient Egyptian, Mayan and many of the alien languages the Jacksons had learned and deciphered. The report was followed up with a request from the NID to bring the boy in for testing.

That’s when Jack had opened his big mouth about how a ten year old shouldn’t be institutionalized, how the boy needed a stable home and a sense of belonging in order to grow up normal and productive. His friends had looked at him strangely before agreeing. Jack was sure they thought he was thinking about Charlie, and they weren't wrong about that. But they didn't understand, they didn't know his heart or his motives; he barely had a handle on that himself, besides, he hadn't meant he'd provide the home. That was their interpretation. Nevertheless, Hammond had called upon Major Paul Davis to make the necessary arrangements and Jack hadn't put up much of a protest. A part of him wanted to try again, to redeem himself, to discover if redemption was even remotely possible.

The doorbell broke up his self-imposed pity party. His friends stood outside and Jack nodded to them and to Ms. Huff, Daniel's social worker, before getting his first look at the orphaned ten year old. He bent down to eye level, stuck out his hand and introduced himself. "I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill," he offered.

The nervous child only glanced up for a second before lowering his head, offering his hand, and whispering, "I'm Daniel Jackson."

The touch of the small hand brought back a flood of memories, some joyful, most painful. "Ah, too formal." Jack tried to sound light-hearted, silently cursing himself for using his title. It was always easier to be Colonel O'Neill when he was nervous. "You can call me Jack."

The blonde head rose slightly, but not to meet his gaze. Instead, the blue eyes fixed on their clasped hands and he tried to pull away. Jack let go immediately. Shit, he was probably scaring the poor kid to death.

After signing a few papers and exchanging pleasantries, the group, minus Daniel Jackson, headed for the door. "Call me if you need anything, sir," Carter glanced nervously at the boy.

"Relax, Carter. We'll be fine, won't we, Daniel?" When Jack patted the boy's shoulder in an affectionate squeeze Daniel winced and shrunk back from the contact. Jack made a mental note of the boy's aversion to touch and decided he'd actively try to remedy that reaction as soon as possible.

An awkward silence followed the goodbyes.

"So," Jack clapped his hands together in enthusiasm. "How about we open up that suitcase of yours and see what ya got in there and figure out what you need." An unchecked groan escaped Jack's lips as he lowered himself to floor to sit beside Daniel. "It's the knees," he grumbled, wondering if he was losing his touch, since the kid had yet to smile.

Daniel's wide eyes flitted nervously from Jack to the suitcase before small fingers expertly clicked the latch and the bag popped opened.

Jack noted the flushed cheeks and realized the kid was embarrassed to reveal his meager possessions. "Jeans, shirts, socks." He made a loud show of the items, hoping his bravado would relieve some of the boy's anxiety.

"What's this?" Jack picked up the kid size shoebox and gave it a shake. Charlie had kept a box like this. It had been filled with coins and marbles and baseball cards and photos and comic books and various other important ten-year-old boy things.

The child's head popped up for the first time and tears glimmered in the bright blue eyes. "T-that's mine," he stammered. "P-please don't take it, sir."

Confusion turned to understanding as a light clicked on in Jack's brain. A Father's Day card, a smiling face frozen in time, a letter, and a death certificate, his mind flashed to the contents of the cigar box at the bottom of his locker at the SGC and he knew instinctively this wasn't a little boy box after all; it was a sacred memorial.

"No," he said quietly. "I'm not going to take it." Jack respectfully handed the box back to its tearful owner. "When you get to your room you can put it somewhere special, just for you." With the words, he reached out to give the boy's shoulder a reassuring pat, but once again, the child flinched from the touch.

"Okay," Daniel quietly agreed as he twisted out of reach.

Lowering his hand from Daniel's shoulder, Jack decided that one day, very soon he was going to embrace the little lost boy in a hearty hug and not let go no matter how much Daniel wiggled and squirmed. He had no idea if that would make the boy's sensitivity to touch better or worse, but in Jack's mind, it would be worth a try. Being tactile was as much a part of Jack's personality as his keen sense of responsibility and biting sarcasm. As Charlie had gotten older, Jack had resorted to wrestling and roughhousing as a way of touching and hugging his son. But Charlie had still been open to goodnight kisses and bedtime stories and he had never tensed from a squeeze on the shoulder or the feel of his father's hand ruffling through his hair.

When Daniel looked up with those soulful blue eyes, Jack decided not to push it, but one of these days, the kid was going to find himself on the receiving end of good hard squeeze.

Jack sighed and realized this might be harder than he had initially thought. Kids were never easy but since he'd had a ten year old, and Daniel Jackson was a ten year old, somehow he thought he would have a better handle on it. He was fast realizing Daniel was nothing like Charlie. Charlie had been vibrant and excitable, willing to take on the world. Daniel needed coaxing and encouragement to share a few words, while reining in Charlie's exuberance had been Jack's biggest challenge. And Jack never had to guess what Charlie was thinking; his son had always been open and easy to read, in joy and in anger. Daniel would be that way too, Jack vowed. He just needed the confidence and security that a good home and a sense of family would bring.

Daniel relaxed a bit, still holding the precious box close to his chest. It was the only item in the suitcase that seemed of any interest to him. Jack couldn't blame him. The clothes and the rest of the contents were junk. He had half a mind to chuck the entire bag when he spotted the inhaler. Asthma, he remembered that bit of information from the report. Daniel Jackson had asthma. Janet was meeting with them in a few days to give Daniel a complete physical to determine the extent and go over the care and treatment with both of them. He picked up the inhaler.

"You know how to use this, right?" he asked nervously.

"It helps me when I can't breathe," Daniel offered.

"So, you know how to use it, right?" Jack repeated.

Daniel nodded solemnly and held out his hand. When Jack handed him the inhaler he promptly put it to his mouth and took a deep breath.

"Whoa! Okay, okay, I don't need a demonstration. Save it in case you really need it. A simple ‘yes’ would have sufficed."

Stopping immediately, Daniel set the instrument on top of the shoebox.

The little device made Jack nervous, but he had Fraiser's number and the kid looked and sounded perfectly fine at the moment. He decided a change of subject was in order. "Well, looks like we're going to have to do some shopping. What do you say? Are you up to it?" Daniel bit his bottom lip and nodded to the rug.

"Daniel," Jack said gently, "I want you to look at me when I speak to you and I want you to answer me in words. Can you do that?"

"Y-yes, sir." The blush in Daniel's cheeks grew brighter.

"Good. I'd like to see your eyes when we talk. And you don't have to call me 'sir'."

"T-The other people did," Daniel stuttered as he struggled miserably to maintain eye contact.

"I know. They're work people. I'm their boss." Jack poked his index finger into Daniel's chest. "You're family. You call me Jack, okay?"

A nod of the head was the only response.

"Daniel," Jack reminded by nudging the small chin lightly with his index finger.

"Oh, I mean, yes, sir."

"Not quite." Jack smiled in amusement.

Daniel conked himself on the head with a self-conscious little smile. "Oops. I mean, yes, Jack."

"Better. Come on, I'll show you your room."

With the help of Carter and Teal'c, the spare room had been spruced up with a coat of yellow paint, reputed to be Daniel's favorite color, along with a new mattress covered with a blue and yellow checked comforter that Carter had picked out. Jack thought it lacked imagination but had been smart enough to keep that sentiment to himself. There were two dressers he had cleaned out last weekend in anticipation of Daniel's arrival and a half empty closet he hadn't finished clearing out. Now he knew two drawers would have been enough. Not for long, Jack determined.

With the shoebox and inhaler firmly in hand, Daniel stood hesitantly in the doorway.

Jack tossed the suitcase on the bed, waved Daniel inside and showed him the empty drawers for the few items he did have.

Daniel didn't set the shoebox down; it was obvious he was waiting to be alone to figure out the best hiding place. The kid didn't trust him.

"Why don't you take a few minutes to check out the room and come downstairs when you're ready?" The lack of trust didn't bother Jack; true trust, like respect, evolved slowly and took time to develop. Jack had no doubt he could wait the kid out.


"You've got to be kidding," Jack complained. He had brought Danny into the Mountain to meet with Dr. Fraiser for a physical and a quick run through on the care and treatment of kids with asthma; no one had mentioned he'd need a medical degree to figure it all out.

The glare Fraiser shot him made it clear she wasn't in the mood for joking. "I’m not kidding. Daniel's asthma is a very serious condition and you need to be familiar with all aspects of treatment, as well as being on the lookout for potential problems and triggers."

"I can always call you though, right?" Jack asked as he examined the bright yellow nebulizer along with the variety of inhalers and assortment of medications she had laid out on the table for his review. Thankfully, a nurse had taken Daniel into another room to change back into his clothes to wait for Jack and Fraiser to finish up their conversation.

"You can, but I think during a full blown attack you're going to be more concerned with comforting Daniel than chatting with me on the phone." Jack frowned at the sarcasm while Fraiser continued writing on what he assumed was Daniel's extensive medical chart.

"Ah, well, don’t worry, Doc, Daniel's a smart kid, he's had asthma his entire life, I’m sure he knows how to handle it."

"He's ten. Trust me, Colonel; no one just 'handles' it. Asthma prevents you from breathing out as opposed to something like bronchitis, which prevents you from breathing in. It can be terrifying. Has he had an attack since he's been with you?"

"No, but he just moved in," Jack admitted, setting down the inhaler he'd been fiddling with. Their grand total of three days together had been very quiet. Jack thought he could count the number of words Daniel had voluntarily spoken on his fingers.

"The first attack will be stressful for you and for him. Why don't we go over what you've learned so far?"

"Okay." Jack clapped his hands together in a show of confidence. "There are two kinds of prophylactics used to prevent attacks." Jack paused to grimace in thought. "Don't tell me, all-butter-o-something, and astro-vent."

Janet smirked in spite of herself. "Albuterol and Atrovent."

"So close." Jack pointed out two of the inhalers. "Anyway, these inhalers have those powdered meds in them. They're preventative, while this one over here is the emergency inhaler that Daniel needs to have with him at all times, no exceptions."

"Very good. I'm impressed. How about the nebulizer?"

"Right, the neb." Jack touched the machine. "You know, the nebulizer in Daniel's suitcase doesn't look like this one." He picked up the gizmo to check it out.

"This is probably a newer version of the one he has. I'm sure they do the same thing."

She wrote notes on the chart while Jack played with the machine and continued his interpretation of its use. "This baby pumps out air through little plastic containers that contain liquid forms of the same medication. You put the mask over your face and inhale the mist. Piece of cake."

Dr. Fraiser finished her writing. "Even though the medications are the same, the mist is more effective than the inhaler so when he's more susceptible, be sure he uses the nebulizer. I'd recommend two or three times a day when he's wheezy or at risk. Other than that, once a day, or one of the inhalers is probably fine. You'll have to play around with it all and see what works best for Daniel. Any questions?"

When Fraiser glanced at her watch Jack knew his time was just about up. He only had one question. "What if none of it works?"

She stuck her pen in her lab coat and looked him in the eye. "911, and don't wait too long."

Jack nodded his understanding. "What will they do for him?"

"The hospital will load him up with lots of Albuterol and corta-steroids through injections or IV's. That usually does the trick. Don't worry, Colonel, it won't be long until you're able to distinguish his normal breathing and chest noises from the troubling ones. Once you do that, you can stay on top of his condition. You'll be fine. The main thing is not to panic, talk to him, calm him down and get the meds into him."

"I don't panic, Doc," Jack said, trying not to feel insulted.

"I know you don’t. That's why I said you'd be fine. Anything else?"

Jack took in the sight of the equipment laid out on the examining table and ran his hand through his hair. "The kid's a lot of work, isn't he?"

"Daniel?"

"Of course, Daniel, who else have we been talking about?"

"No, Daniel." Janet nodded toward the doorway.

"Hey, Danny!" Jack said enthusiastically, hoping the kid hadn't picked up on his last comment. "Are you ready to blow this pop stand?" Not even a smile. Jack had met his match. The kid was going to be a tough nut to crack. No matter, Jack smiled to himself; Jack O'Neill could be just as stubborn. "Come on; let's go say hi to Carter and Teal'c."

After a quick search of the base, Jack found his ex-teammates in the commissary. He was grateful the three of them hadn't lost the camaraderie and unique bond they had shared as members of SG-1. Despite Jack's knees relegating him to the sidelines, his close, solid friendship with both of them remained intact. He took the open seat next to Carter leaving Danny to sit beside Teal'c.

"You are most welcome to join Major Carter and I for lunch," Teal'c offered at Daniel's hesitation.

"It's okay," Jack added, "Teal'c's a friend. Teal'c, this is Daniel Jackson, Danny, this is Teal'c."

Daniel sat down, his eyes fixed on the giant beside him. When Teal'c bowed his acquaintance Daniel hesitantly reached out and touched the big man's forehead.

"Danny!" Jack reprimanded sharply.

"The boy is not an annoyance, O'Neill," Teal'c intervened before turning his attention back to a shame-faced Daniel. "You are curious about the tattoo?"

"Yes," Daniel answered quietly.

"If you have questions about it I would be most pleased to answer them." Teal'c bowed again and gave Daniel what passed for a smile in the world of Jaffa.

"Does it hurt?" Daniel asked timidly.

"Not physically. It is a symbol of the oppression of my people and of my former slavery to a false god."

"May I touch it again?" Although the question was directed at Teal'c, this time Daniel's first glance was to Jack who nodded his permission, pleased Daniel was such a quick learner.

"You may." Daniel knelt on the chair as Teal'c bowed slightly to accommodate the small, gentle fingers prodding him. When Daniel was finished touching he sat back down. "Have you learned anything, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c inquired.

Daniel nodded.

"Care to share?" Jack asked, truly interested in what, if anything, a ten year old could learn about a Jaffa from fingering said Jaffa's tattoo.

"It's good you no longer serve the false god," Daniel said, still staring at the gold inlay. "He's the serpent or snake god. He's very bad."

Teal'c tilted his head in surprise.

"Go on," Jack encouraged while Sam gaped at the small, bespectacled child.

"It's the symbol of the false god, Apep, the god of evil, darkness and chaos."

Jack and Sam both sat up a bit straighter. "Apep you say?" Jack challenged.

"Yes, the Greeks called him Apophis. Was he your false god, Teal'c?"

"Indeed he was, Daniel Jackson."

When Daniel noticed all the adult eyes on him he slouched back down in his seat and went quiet.

"Wow," Sam broke the silence.

"Yeah," Jack agreed, dumbfounded.

"Sir, could I take Daniel to my lab?" Carter enthused, recovering quickly. "I'd like to show him the device SG-4 retrieved from P2X-411. The instructions or manual on how to use it are written in some kind of Goa'uld code that Teal'c thinks may have belonged to Apophis at one time."

"And you seriously think Danny can help you with that?" Jack raised his eyebrows skeptically.

The major shrugged and swallowed the last bite of salad. "We're not getting anywhere, sir; it'd be worth a try."

"I'll help," Daniel responded eagerly, looking up from his lap for the first time since exploring Teal'c's tattoo.

"No, I don't think it would be worth a try," Jack cut in, trying to give Carter a look to make her understand his misgivings without going into detail in front of Daniel. The last thing he needed was to stir up the NID with reports that the boy genius was in the mountain breaking ancient Goa'uld codes.

"You're right, sorry, sir."

Jack wasn't sure if she understood his concerns or not but he was pleased she had backed down.

"I could have helped," Daniel muttered, obviously disappointed.

"I know," Jack agreed in an effort to avoid an argument, "but we have more important things to do today than sit around here working, besides, it's my day off." Jack stood up. "Stay here with Carter and Teal'c for a few minutes while I run back to the infirmary to pick up your supplies." Daniel ducked his head slightly when Jack reached out to ruffle his hair. "Be right back, sport," he said lightly, ignoring the slight.

"Do you want to show me the writings now?" Daniel asked hopefully as soon as Jack was out the door.

After a few awkward moments of silence, Teal'c spoke up. "Colonel O'Neill does not wish you to examine the device, Daniel Jackson."

"The colonel's right, I shouldn't have brought it up." Sam concurred.

Daniel shrugged, embarrassed at his failed attempt at disobedience. "He doesn't think I can do it, but maybe I can," he mumbled in explanation.

"O'Neill may have reasons other than your competence, reasons beyond your current level of understanding," Teal'c offered.

"Either way, Danny, you have to understand that Teal'c and I would never go against the colonel's wishes," Sam added gently.

Daniel felt his ears burn and wished he could escape their scrutiny. He desperately wanted to help translate the words or symbols on the device. He loved words, and if he were useful, Colonel Jack would keep him around that much longer.

"Have you eaten lunch?" Sam asked in a noble attempt to change the subject.

"No, not yet." Daniel picked at a napkin he'd plucked off the table. "Jack doesn't want to eat here. We're going out for pizza." The lunch that had sounded so exciting earlier this morning was now making his stomach churn. Would Sam and Teal'c tell the colonel that he had asked to see the device even though Jack had specifically forbade it? After all, Jack was their boss.

"That sounds good," Sam babbled enthusiastically. "You're lucky; the colonel knows all the best places for pizza." She reached across the table to stroke his cheek.

Daniel only nodded at the reassuring touch and continued slowly shredding the napkin into tiny pieces.

"Do you not enjoy sharing a dwelling with O'Neill?" Teal'c asked, watching the pieces of Daniel's handiwork flutter to the floor.

Daniel wanted to say that he'd really enjoy working on the difficult translation but decided not to voice that opinion out loud; he shrugged instead. The jury was still out on Colonel Jack. Sometimes, people acted nice until they knew you better, they could turn mean in a heartbeat, and it certainly took more than a few days to figure it all out.

"The colonel enjoys living with you," Sam smiled confidently.

Daniel wasn't sure he agreed with that. "I'm a lot of work," he confessed quietly.

Before Sam could respond, Jack reappeared at the table holding a huge bag of supplies and frowning slightly. "What's all this?" he asked, waving his hand at the mess of napkin bits.

"Sorry." Daniel bit his lower lip.

"It's okay; clean it up so we can get going. I'm starving."

Daniel scraped the bits of paper from the table into his hand and carefully walked away in search of a place to dispose of the trash.

"He okay?" Jack asked quickly, nodding in Daniel's general direction.

"Daniel Jackson was not a problem," Teal'c confirmed.

"Good," Jack replied absently, keeping one eye on Daniel's progress.

"Did you ask Janet about the school I mentioned?" Carter questioned.

Tired of well-intentioned people telling him what to do made it an effort for Jack to keep the irritation out of his voice. "No, I want Danny to go to a normal school, with normal kids and be a normal boy. He..." The words trailed off when Daniel returned from his mission.

"Don't forget the floor, buddy." Jack pointed out the little bits that had found their way underneath the table. Daniel sighed wordlessly and crawled under to continue his task.

To Jack's annoyance, as soon as Danny disappeared on his second garbage run Carter picked up where she'd left off. "Normal is relative, sir. Daniel's I.Q. isn't normal. He might need more than public school can offer in order to thrive."

One look at the earnestness in Carter's shining blue eyes and all the irritation drained out of him. She was sincere; he realized she was speaking from experience. "Thanks for the advice, Carter. I'm going to try it my way for now. I want his life to be as typical and ordinary as possible."

"Yes, sir." He was relieved at her willingness to drop the subject since Daniel had finished his clean up duty.

"Ready to go, sport?" Jack asked, risking a hand on the boy's shoulder, disappointed by the flinch and barely audible 'okay'.


"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day," Jack commented enthusiastically, "besides it's the one I do best. Eat up."

One bite of pancake was all either of them managed before the doorbell interrupted.

"Eat," Jack reiterated as he made his way to the door expecting a neighborhood kid soliciting for the latest fund drive, or worse yet, an authentic salesman.

He opened the door quickly wanting to get back to his pancakes and Daniel.

"Sara?" The last person he expected. He stepped aside to let her in.

"Coffee?" He offered, with a bit of confusion.

She brushed past him and froze in the kitchen when she spotted Danny. "So, it's true."

Jack flinched at that. How the hell had she known about Daniel?

"I spoke to your mother." Reading his mind was one of her more annoying habits.

"Ah." Of course, the only person outside the SGC who knew. Jack chalked it up to bad timing. Sara rarely spoke to his mom.

"I had to see for myself." She stood at the counter and smiled a hello in Daniel's direction.

"Sara, this is Daniel Jackson. Daniel this is..." introductions were always difficult. Did he call her, my ex-wife, Mrs. O'Neill, a friend of mine, Charlie's mother? "This is Sara."

"Nice to meet you, Daniel." Jack was impressed that despite the presence of a completely whole, healthy ten-year-old boy in his kitchen, Sara was able to maintain the smile. "Jack, could I have a minute in private?"

If the look on her face was an indication of the subject matter, he wished he could say no. "Danny, run upstairs for a minute so Sara and I can talk."

As soon as Daniel was out of sight Sara turned on him. "What the hell are you doing, Jack?"

Her words rankled him and he bit back a heartless, 'none of your damn business'. "He has nowhere else to go, both of his parents were killed." He poured a cup of coffee to give his hands something to do. "His parents worked for the Air Force," he added, as if that made any difference.

"So, you took him in because you felt sorry for him?" Crossed arms and a determined stare made Jack realize she was circling him like prey. She had a message to deliver and she wouldn't be denied.

He slowly sipped the coffee and set it back down on the counter, determined not to let her rile him. "Maybe, in a way," he answered coolly.

Sara scoffed at that. "You can't change what happened to our son."

Mindful of Daniel in the house Jack struggled to keep his voice at a normal volume. "You think I don't know that?"

"I think you can't accept it and you're still floundering trying to make it fit into your sense of order and responsibility. You can't accept that it was a horrible accident, an aberration that happened for no reason at all. Sometimes, I think you're mad at Charlie for disobeying you. And now you have this poor little boy here... for you. Not for him, Jack. For you."

"I want to help him," Jack snapped, no longer able to hide his irritation.

"No, you want to ease your conscience and prove something to yourself." She remained in the same immovable, determined pose. "You have Charlie's pictures and memories hidden away in box under your bed like a secret shrine. This house doesn't hold a shred of evidence of his existence."

"I think you'd better go," Jack answered quietly.

"You can't replace Charlie."

"I'm not trying to replace anyone!" Jack finally exploded. "Stop playing amateur shrink and leave it alone. We’re not married; it's not your problem."

Sara remained undaunted. "You can't slide this child into your life and pretend the rest never happened." She wasn't one to mince words. It was one of the reasons he had married her. "He has enough problems of his own. He doesn't need to take on yours."

"This conversation's over." Jack steered Sara toward the door.

"I'm going, but think about what I said. He can't replace what you lost. It's not fair to make him try."

In a childish gesture, Jack slammed the door behind her and concentrated on calming himself. He wasn't trying to replace Charlie. He was trying to help an orphaned genius who had very nearly ended up with 'property of NID' stamped across his forehead. In all fairness, Sara knew nothing about the NID, or the Stargate, or the threat of the Goa'uld. He'd forgive her because she didn't understand. A few deep breaths and the comforting thought that Sara didn't know what the hell she was talking about made him feel better.

Daniel sat on the top step, fingering the small shred of faded, blue silk that a hundred years ago had been the border of his baby blanket, out of sight, but not out of hearing. He listened because he desperately needed to better appreciate his situation. Grownups always thought he couldn't understand, but he could. He understood a lot. Sara was Jack's ex-wife and something terrible had happened to their son, Charlie. That explained a lot. That's why Jack took him in, to replace Charlie. Jack must miss him terribly. Daniel felt the tightness in his chest and recognized the signs. He forced himself to breathe slowly, closing his eyes and remembering how his mom and dad had sometimes been able to talk him out of an attack before it got too bad. He heard the door slam and was scared of Jack's anger, not sure how Jack handled that particular emotion. A moment of fear raced through him as he thought back to how some of his previous foster parents had handled their anger. He crept to his room and drew in a few deep breaths from his new inhaler, calming himself with the realization he was better off knowing the consequences of Jack's temper and the role he was expected to play. That's why he listened.

Daniel slumped down dejectedly on the bed. He was supposed to replace Charlie. He would do the best he could, but he guessed Charlie had been fun and smart and very likable... he would do his best, but in the end, he felt certain Jack would be disappointed.


Jack stood for a long moment, staring at the door he’d slammed after Sara. The house was completely silent, but he could still hear their fight echoing. It had been like that in the last days of their marriage, when any conversation that managed to struggle to life was rife with possible triggers. They had walked on eggshells around each other, not wanting another fight, not knowing how to fix things. Too tired and hurt to make the effort for each other.

Although, Jack admitted to himself, if not to Sara, he hadn’t even tried. She had at least tried. She’d made suggestions of family counseling, a trip away together, taking some time off work, anything. Any way to get out of their downward spiral, but Jack had refused it all. He’d left the Air Force not to please her, but because he couldn’t focus on the work, couldn’t bury himself it no matter how much he wanted to. Even when he wasn’t working, he stayed away from home, was out all hours, surly and uncommunicative on those occasions when he was home.

Yeah, he’d screwed things up pretty badly. Jack walked into the kitchen and looked at the pancakes, now sitting cold in congealed syrup and greasy butter. He shook his head and began to mechanically clean up, still running the fight with Sara around and around in his head.

She’d come in guns blazing as she always did, not pulling any punches. But she didn’t know the whole situation. She didn’t. And yeah, he’d been wrong in the past with her, he’d made mistakes, but he wasn’t going to do that this time. This was his chance to...

Jack paused, holding a plate under running water in the sink, staring out the window into the backyard. Was that what this was? A chance to do things right, to start over? To make up for... for everything? Was Sara right after all? Maybe this was all about him, not Daniel.

Shaking his head, Jack put the plate down hard, irritated when it didn’t shatter, but simply banged loudly against the sink and remained intact. He wasn’t using that little boy to fix his own problems. He wouldn’t do that. He’d done some damn nasty things in his day, no question, and Sara herself had been on the receiving end of some of them, but he had never hurt a child.

Not intentionally, anyway. Not directly.

It had been an accident. Jack repeated that to himself, angry with Sara for digging this all up again, and angry with himself for letting her get to him. An accident. A stupid, pointless, terrible accident, but he’d never meant for it to happen. He wasn’t a bad person. Wasn’t a killer.

Well. That wasn’t true either, was it?

But no, that was in the past. All of it was the past. He was thinking forward now, starting over. And okay, yeah, maybe it was a little about him, but it was about Daniel too. He was doing it for both of them. If they both gained from it, what was so bad about that? Nothing selfish about wanting a little happiness, a second chance at...

Jack shut the water off and crossed the kitchen to wipe his hands on a dishtowel, blanking his mind. Some thoughts didn’t bear finishing.

He folded his arms and surveyed the kitchen. Dishes rinsed and stacked neatly in the sink, table cleared, butter and syrup put away. Of course, he’d have to come up with something else for breakfast now, but he bet Daniel would be just as happy with cereal. Nothing wrong with good old Fruit Loops.

And speaking of Daniel...

Jack frowned and walked out into the living room. Where had the kid disappeared to? He must have heard Sara leave, must have known the argument was over. Jack winced slightly, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. Yeah, Daniel had probably heard the whole thing. Way to make a great impression on him.

“Daniel?” he called up the stairs, one hand resting lightly on the rail. “You want to finish breakfast?”

Nothing.

Jack’s frown deepened. He considered the possibility that the boy was sulking, angry at being shut out of his conversation with Sara, but dismissed it quickly. In the short time he’d known Daniel, he’d found him to be very quiet, very anxious, and so eager to please it was almost sad. Sulking because of a minor slight didn’t seem to fit with that picture.

“Hey, Daniel,” he said, climbing the stairs. “You up here?”

The door to Daniel’s room was slightly ajar, and Jack nudged it open with one foot, peering into the room. He could feel a tight fluttering in his stomach that had nothing to do with Daniel and everything to do with what he’d once found in another bedroom, in another time. Damn Sara anyway for making him remember.

Daniel was sitting on the bed, his back to the door, and that was okay, but Jack’s quick flash of relief was swamped with unease when he heard Daniel’s frantic gasps for breath.

“Daniel? Are you--” He went around the end of the bed and saw the inhaler pressed to Daniel’s mouth, the boy sucking at it, his eyes wide and his face pale, an alarming blue tinge to his lips.

Jack froze for a split second, all the instructions that Frasier had given him fleeing his mind. He’d known this was possible--hell, likely--but somehow he hadn’t been expecting it to really happen.

“Daniel? What... what do you...” Jack looked around the bedroom, feeling Daniel’s panicked gaze following him. The inhaler wasn’t cutting it; that much was obvious. There was supposed to be another step, something...

“Jack,” Daniel wheezed. “Can’t... sorry...”

“Easy, just breathe,” Jack replied. What the hell had Fraiser told him? He’d dismissed her so casually then, confident that he’d have no trouble handling one kid with asthma. He was a special ops colonel, after all. He’d been to other worlds. He’d fought aliens and saved the planet. What was one silly little asthma attack?

Well, apparently it was enough to scare the crap out of him.

The nebulizer! Right! Jack blanked on the location for a moment, and then spotted the bright yellow plastic, sitting in plain view on Daniel’s bedside table. He hurried over and grabbed it, checked that the liquid medicine containers were full, and pumped it twice until the mist began flowing satisfactorily.

“Here, Danny, here we go, breathe this,” Jack said, putting the mouthpiece over Daniel’s face and pushing the emergency inhaler out of the way. He rubbed one hand over the boy’s back, feeling another cold wave of fear in his belly. Daniel’s back was barely moving with his breaths, each one short and shallow and mostly useless.

“Daniel? Is that better?”

Daniel pressed the neb closer to his face and didn’t respond. Jack felt like smacking himself. ‘Is that better?’ Like Daniel could answer him. God, what had he been thinking? That he could just fit Daniel into a neat Charlie shaped hole and everything would be okay? He had no clue what he was doing. He’d already screwed up one child’s life in the worst possible way. Now here he was being practically useless while Daniel choked and gasped and clutched the little plastic nebulizer.

“Listen to me,” Jack said, falling back on his command voice. “Concentrate on breathing. Try counting. Make each breath last the count of three, okay? One two three in, and one two three out... come on...”

Daniel blinked at him, the rim of the mouthpiece pushing his glasses up, the angle magnifying his eyes, deep blue and swimming with fear. Jack kept rubbing his back up and down and held the eye contact, opening and shutting his mouth in slow, exaggerated breaths for Daniel to follow.

It seemed to take forever, but gradually, the gasping segued into wheezing, and then into deeper, rattling breaths that sounded thick and forced. Daniel finally pulled the neb away from his face and hunched forward, coughing and rubbing at his chest.

“Daniel?” Jack put a hand on his shoulder. “How you doing?”

Daniel twisted, ducking the hand and scooting a little away from Jack. “Better,” he rasped. “I’m okay.”

Jack’s breath whooshed out of him in a long, ragged sigh. “Crap, Daniel, why didn’t you tell me? What if I hadn’t come up here looking for you?”

Daniel hunched over a little more, one fist still rubbing hard up and down his chest, the knuckles digging into his sternum. “Sorry. I didn’t... I thought I was okay.”

“Well, you weren’t,” Jack said shortly. He felt wrung out, inadequate and in way over his head. Daniel hiding everything from him wasn’t helping.

“Sorry,” Daniel whispered again. His free hand began working, his fingers rubbing against his palm, and Jack could see a bit of pale blue fabric clutched in his fist.

“Hey,” Jack said, wincing when Daniel shrank a little more from him. He put a hand on the boy’s shoulder and was startled to find it trembling. “Hey. Easy now. I’m... I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. This...” He pulled his hand back and ran it through his hair, then rubbed his palm over his face. “It’s been a bad morning, you know?”

Daniel nodded. He brought the small scrap of blue up to his face and stroked it against his cheek. He was still wheezing audibly, sweat beaded on his forehead and dampening the back of his shirt. His hands had a visible tremor, a leftover of the stimulant properties of the asthma meds.

Jack sighed and scooted closer on the bed. He debated putting an arm around Daniel’s shoulders, but figured it wouldn’t be well received at the moment. His own fault, of course. What was he thinking, yelling at the kid? Daniel was probably already badly rattled by the asthma attack and Jack’s own ineptitude at helping him through it. There was no excuse for taking his anger at Sara out on the boy.

“Danny,” Jack said softly. He waited for Daniel to raise his eyes, and when it became obvious that he wasn’t going to, he spoke to the top of his head. “I really am sorry. Not your fault you have asthma. I was just... well, to tell the truth, you scared me.”

Daniel shot him a quick, baffled glance out of the corner of his eye. “I really thought I could stop it,” he murmured. “I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Well, next time, bother me, okay?”

“Okay.”

Jack frowned at the dutiful reply. Daniel still wasn’t looking at him, and he kept rubbing that bit of cloth against his face, over and over, like he didn’t even know he was doing it. Jack wanted to ask what it was, but really, he had a pretty good idea already. Making the boy tell him would only embarrass him. And yeah, maybe Daniel was a little old to need a security blanket, even a tiny scrap of one, but Jack figured if anyone could use a little extra security, this kid could.

“So... what brought this on?”

Daniel shrugged.

“Did you hear me fighting with Sara?”

A pause long enough to tell Jack the real answer, and then another shrug.

“Hey.” Jack bumped their shoulders together, pleased when Daniel didn’t scoot away again. “Talk to me, okay?”

“I thought... maybe I should just stay out of the way for a while. Until you calmed down.”

Jack scowled. He didn’t like what that implied. Didn’t like it one bit. “Why?” he asked, his voice deceptively calm.

“It’s just...” Daniel’s eyes flitted toward him, then away. “It’s better that way.”

“Daniel, I want you to listen to me. This is important.” Jack waited until Daniel met his eyes briefly and nodded. “No matter how angry I am, I would never hurt you.”

A startled look, wide eyes behind glasses that were still askew. “I didn’t think... I didn’t say that, Jack. I know you wouldn’t.”

“I’m not sure you know that,” Jack said quietly. “But you do now, okay? And besides, this morning, I wasn’t even mad at you. I was mad at... well, other things. Not your fault.”

“It never is,” Daniel muttered.

“What?”

“Nothing.” He sighed, and then straightened, offering a placatory smile. “It’s okay, Jack, really. I know you’re trying. I’m just a lot of work.”

Jack got the sinking feeling in his stomach that meant he’d done something he was going to be sorry for. “Where did you hear that?”

Daniel stood abruptly, going around the end of the bed and wiping the mouthpiece of his nebulizer with a Kleenex. He kept his head down, his back toward Jack, and shrugged.

“Daniel...” Jack drew his mouth into a grim smile. Well, here was another thing he’d messed up. Kid must’ve overheard him in the infirmary. No wonder Daniel was so leery of letting him touch him. He wasn’t exactly showing a pretty face.

“Jack, what if I did something bad?” Daniel suddenly blurted. He was still wiping the clean mouthpiece, presenting Jack with a constant view of his tense back. His whole body seemed jittery, muscles snapping and jerking under the skin, his breathing still rough and raspy.

Jack blinked, shaking his head slightly. “What? What are you talking about?”

Daniel put the neb down and turned, crossing his arms snugly over his chest. “If I did something even if you told me not to, does that still mean you wouldn’t... even if you were mad?”

“Did you do something?”

Daniel stared at him, opened his mouth, and then shut it again. He swallowed and dropped his gaze.

Jack sighed, realizing he’d made another mistake. Daniel needed to hear he wouldn’t be hurt before he confessed to anything. He’d never had to offer that kind of direct reassurance to Charlie--Charlie had known. He hadn’t needed to ask. Jack had been so sure he could handle this kid; after all, he’d done it before. He was experienced, and he’d thought he was a pretty damn good father. Up until the end, anyway. But this was totally different. His experience didn’t apply. He was starting from scratch.

“Even if you broke a rule and I was angry, I wouldn’t hurt you,” Jack said deliberately. “There would be consequences, yes, but you never need to be afraid of me, all right?”

Daniel looked unconvinced. He frowned and shifted from one foot to the other, biting his lower lip. “Then why... why are you waiting? I keep expecting you to... I don’t know what you’re going to do. I wish you’d just...” Daniel snapped his mouth shut.

“What?” Jack shook his head, and then swung his legs around so he was sitting on the side of the bed closest to Daniel, who took two steps back. “Daniel, what are you talking about?”

“I know they told you!” Daniel said, his voice rising. His arms lost their hold and spread wide, his fingers outstretched. “I’m sorry I tried to do the translation even after you said no, but please, would you just do whatever you’re going to do? I can’t...” He paused, dropping his arms. “I mean... sorry. You don’t have to... I’m not trying to tell you what to do. If... if making me wait is part of it then...” He shrugged, trailing off, his eyes dropping again.

Jack held a hand up, waving his finger. “Hold on. You know they told me? Who told me? And what about the translation?”

Daniel sighed. “Two days ago, when we were at your work and Major Carter wanted me to look at some writings and you said I couldn’t,” he recited dutifully. “After you left, I asked if I could see the writings, and they said no because you said so. Then you came back and I went to clean up the napkin I tore up, and they told you.” By the end of his speech, he was mumbling at the floor, and the hand holding the bit of blanket had crept up to his face again. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I just really wanted to...” He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. You said no, and I tried to do it anyway. I know I’m in trouble.”

Jack stared at him. Those writings? That’s what this was about? So... what, the kid had been waiting to be punished for the last two days? Just wondering when that other shoe was going to drop? And apparently, with his history, he had every reason to expect some kind of terrible punishment.

“Daniel... okay, first, I didn’t know. They didn’t tell me.”

“They didn’t?” Daniel shook his head, his brows drawn together. “But... but I saw you talking to them. And you looked at me.”

“I asked if you were okay, and they said you weren’t any trouble.”

“Oh.”

Jack sighed and tilted his head to one side. “Hey, listen. If you do something wrong, I’ll tell you right away, okay? I’m not in to head games. You break a rule, and you’ll know it. I’m not saying you get away with disobedience, but I’m still never going to hurt you. That doesn’t change, got it?”

Daniel nodded. Jack decided this was as good a time as any, and he patted the bed beside him, giving the kid an encouraging look. Daniel hesitated long enough for him to think his invitation had been refused, and then the boy shuffled over and perched next to him, smiling in his nervous, seeking approval way.

“Thank you,” Jack said softly. “I really don’t want you to be afraid of me, Daniel. And maybe that will take some time. But you know, if you’d just told me what was going on that day in the commissary, you wouldn’t have been worrying this whole time.”

“I know,” Daniel mumbled sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“Do you know why I didn’t want you to work with Carter on her machine, or whatever it was?”

Daniel shook his head, looking at Jack curiously.

“Not because I didn’t think you could do it. In fact, I bet you could do it.”

“Really?” Daniel sat straighter, the first real smile Jack had seen all morning on his face. “I’d love to try, Jack, really I would. I want to help.”

Jack reached over and ruffled his hair briefly, pleased when Daniel held still and tolerated the touch, although he didn’t try to lean into it. “I know you do. But what we do is sometimes secret, and because I think you could understand what was written on Carter’s thing, I can’t let you see it until I ask my boss. Plus, I need to make sure you’re safe.”

Daniel wrinkled his nose. “Safe? It’s just a translation.”

“Yeah, well...” Jack sighed and considered for a long moment. He didn’t want to scare Daniel, but forewarned was forearmed. “See, there’s a group of people called the NID who would really like you to translate things if they knew you could.”

“I could help them too,” Daniel replied quickly. “I’d like to help. It’s okay if they want me to translate stuff, I don’t mind.”

“Daniel...” Jack shook his head. “It’s not that simple. The NID... well, they’re not good guys. They might take whatever you tell them and use it for bad things.” Which was very vague, but he wasn’t about to go into the whole ‘alien technology to the highest bidder’ mess with a little boy. Daniel would need to take a certain amount of this on faith.

“Oh,” Daniel said, frowning. “I didn’t know that.”

“Would it have helped if you knew?”

Daniel nodded, and then seemed to think of something. “But you don’t have to tell me, Jack. I know adults don’t have to tell kids stuff. I should just do what you say without asking why,” he added, as if reciting one of the commandments.

“Did one of your foster parents tell you that?”

Daniel shrugged.

Uh-huh. The social worker had been pretty sketchy about Daniel’s past placements in her preliminary meeting with Jack, and he was starting to see why. “Well, here, it’s okay to ask. I can’t promise you’ll like the reason, or agree with it, but I will tell you.”

Another tentative smile, but this one didn’t look forced to Jack. “Okay,” Daniel said. He dropped his eyes and murmured, “Thanks.”

“Now, asking Carter to see the writing after I said no was still wrong,” Jack began. Daniel tensed, and he put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “But--I think you’ve worried enough about it. We’ll call it even this time, okay?”

Round blue eyes stared at him, shocked. “Really? I mean... yeah, okay! Sure, Jack.”

“All right. If you think you’re in trouble again, just tell me. Chances are I don’t know about it, and I’d appreciate the honesty. Be straight with me and things will be much easier for both of us, got it?”

Daniel nodded rapidly. “Oh, yeah, Jack, I don’t want to lie. I just wasn’t sure...” He waved vaguely. “You know.”

“I know,” Jack replied, softening his face with a smile when the kid started to fidget. He’d have to take this up with the social worker later, because somewhere along the line, someone had hurt Daniel, and he wasn’t about to let it go.

“And, um, Jack? I’m sorry about the... you know, the asthma thing. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

Jack grinned and tugged Daniel closer. The boy sat against his side, but barely allowed the contact, holding himself stiffly upright. At least he didn’t pull away. “Yeah, I was pretty worried. I’m kind of new to this whole asthma thing. Don’t know what I’m doing. You’re going to have to help me out there, okay? Tell me if you feel an attack coming, even a little bit.”

“Sure, Jack.”

Draping an arm around Daniel’s shoulders, Jack felt their steady rise and fall. He leaned closer, listening to the small chest, and heard what seemed like an awful lot of leftover wheezing, although he was hardly an expert. Daniel didn’t seem worried, though. Daniel seemed... relaxed, actually. He was allowing Jack’s arm, allowing the closeness. And if Jack wasn’t greatly mistaken, the kid actually leaned in for a brief moment before putting that deliberate inch of air between them again.

Huh. Maybe he wasn’t a total screw up as a parent after all.


 

“Shh,” Daniel told himself, shaking his head. “Shh, shh, it’s okay.” He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around his chest, rocking back and forth on the bed. “Quiet,” he whispered. “Just... shh...”

It was an old habit, and one that he tried to avoid whenever he could. Only crazy people talked to themselves. He didn’t want to be crazy, but sometimes he needed the sound of his own voice to ground him, to remind him he was safe and it had only been a bad dream.

“Easy now,” he murmured, swiping his fingers beneath his eyes. “No noise. Quiet.” That was important. He didn’t want to wake Jack up. Even though Jack had told him just that day that he’d never hurt him, it was best not to test that promise. Besides, there was no need to go wailing like a baby over a stupid dream. Wasn’t real. Nothing to be afraid of. Just a bad dream.

Daniel could feel his skin, twitchy and tight, his hands trembling, the big muscles in his thighs jumping and taut. Rocking was no longer good enough and he slid off the bed, beginning to pace. He kept his footsteps soft and muffled, carefully placing each step, concentrating on it, wiping his mind of all other thought. Five steps from the bed to the door. Turn, five steps back. Each one measured and silent and controlled.

“Just a dream,” he told himself. “You’re at Jack’s house. It’s okay. You’re not there anymore.”

No need to think about where ‘there’ was. No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. Better to think about counting his steps. To concentrate on putting his weight smoothly, heel to toe, nice and even. No stomping or erratic rhythm for him, no sir. He had everything under control. Quiet and contained. No problems here.

He could feel the tightness in his chest lingering from the asthma attack he’d had that morning, and his breath rasped in his throat, threatening to seize up on him again. Opening his mouth, he made his breathing match his steps, long and smooth. He would not wake Jack and worry him in the middle of the night. He would not be difficult or too much work. Jack would be glad to have such an easy, cooperative kid.

Breathing through his mouth was making him thirsty. Daniel considered whether he should go get a drink of water. He knew he was allowed to leave his room in the night, but only to go to the bathroom. Jack hadn’t said if it was okay to get a drink or a snack. In one place he’d lived, he’d been hungry and gotten into the fridge, and been caught, and they’d...

Daniel shook his head sharply. Not thinking about that. He wasn’t there now, he was here, and here was different. Jack was different. Jack was kind, and didn’t yell. He wouldn’t be punished for getting a drink.

Maybe he should just drink from the bathroom sink. There were no cups, but he could use his hands. He was allowed in there. No risk.

But... but the water didn’t taste good. It was metallic and held an odd aftertaste. The kitchen had a filter under the sink that made the tap water taste much better. Jack had even showed it to him, when he was cooking dinner one evening. He’d opened the cupboard and showed Daniel the little white cylinder hooked into the pipes, and said it got rid of all the ‘crap’ the city put in the water supply.

Maybe, if he was very quiet, Jack wouldn’t know. According to his clock radio, it was two forty one in the morning. Jack would be asleep. He could slip down to the kitchen, have his drink, come back upstairs and go to bed, and Jack would never know.

Yes. He would do that. He wasn’t afraid. And he could be very, very quiet.

Daniel hesitated at his door, but slowly turned the knob, pushing the door open an inch at a time. He froze when it creaked slightly, holding his breath, ready to pull it shut and dive under the covers at the slightest rustle from Jack’s room. But no rustle came, and he let the breath out and pushed a little further. When the door was open to the smallest gap he could fit through, he turned sideways and edged out, his back scraping on the doorframe.

The hallway had no windows, and was very dark. Meager light crept up from downstairs, barely enough for him to see where the floor dropped away and the dull gleam of the banister. The floor was polished wood, unlike his carpeted room, and it was harder to keep his footsteps muffled. Rising up on his toes, he slipped along the wall, breathing shallowly as he got further and further from Jack’s room. He could see that Jack’s door was open a few inches, disclosing only darkness behind it. Jack could be standing there, watching him through the gap. Waiting to see if he’d go toward the bathroom, or down the stairs.

Daniel braced one hand on the wall and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. Jack was not watching him. Jack was asleep. He wriggled his shoulders uneasily, trying to rid his back of that eerie little prickle. Nobody was watching him. He wanted to say that out loud, wanted to hear the familiarity of his own voice in the still, silent house, but he didn’t dare. Not with Jack’s door open and so near.

The first stair squeaked under him and he froze again, aware of a hard, heavy thud in his chest. His breathing was audible now, loud and rasping in his ears, leftover wheezing from the earlier attack. Surely Jack would be able to hear it. If he ran now, he could get back in his room before Jack came out. He could pretend he’d never been in the hall. But if he kept going, if he went down the stairs, he would be past the point of no return.

Jack wouldn’t hurt him. He’d said so. And although he’d only known Jack for a short time, he believed Jack meant what he said. If he got caught, maybe he’d be yelled at, or sent to his room, or made to do extra chores, but those were all minor things. He could handle those things.

He took the next step down, and then the next. Each one was easier. He was committed now, beyond turning back. Once he got to the bottom of the stairs, he breathed a sigh of relief. Jack wouldn’t be able to hear him now. Licking his dry lips, Daniel walked to the kitchen, still keeping his steps light but not so controlled as they had been.

The sink beckoned him, but when he looked in the dish drainer, he paused. Jack had put the dishes away. He crossed to the dishwasher and opened it, which was silly, because he knew it was empty. He’d emptied it himself. Jack had told him that it would be his chore, his part of helping with the dishes, and he’d been happy to have something useful to do.

He knew where the glasses were kept, of course. He’d put them away, after all. It was just that they were in a high cupboard, and he had to use a chair to reach it. Jack had told him that he’d rearrange the kitchen later, put things where Daniel could reach them, but for now he’d have to use the chair. Jack had also said he’d buy cups instead of glasses, plastic cups that he didn’t have to worry about Daniel breaking. Daniel had promised quite earnestly to be careful and not break anything, and Jack had nodded. Daniel thought he was probably going to get the cups anyway. Daniel had been handling delicate artifacts with care and skill for years, but he knew Jack only saw a kid who was likely to break things.

So. The chair. Daniel looked at the kitchen chair and hunched his shoulders slightly. The chairs were heavy, solid wood, and he couldn’t lift them. He had to push them across the floor, and they made a scraping noise on the tiles. Maybe he didn’t need a glass. He could use his hands. He looked back at the sink, and then shook his head. The counter was too high, the faucet too far from the edge. He’d slop water everywhere trying to get it to his mouth.

Jack was upstairs, sleeping, Daniel reminded himself. It would be okay.

He chose the chair closest to the cupboard with the glasses, put his shoulder to it, and gave a small nudge. The chair didn’t move. Frowning, Daniel pushed a little harder, and a little harder, until the chair gave suddenly and slid across the floor. The noise was much louder than he remembered. Last time, Jack had been in the kitchen with him, telling him where things went, and it had been daylight and the house hadn’t been still and quiet. Now, in the dark kitchen, with only the moonlight coming through the window, the scraping sound was terribly loud.

Daniel froze, his hands clamped on the chair back, watching the base of the stairs. Jack would appear any minute, disheveled and sleepy, frowning, wanting to know what Daniel thought he was doing down here in the middle of the night.

When Jack did not appear, Daniel forced his hands to relax and considered the chair. It was close to the counter. Not pressed against it, not as close as it had been when he put the dishes away, but close. Close enough to reach a glass? Tilting his head to one side and walking around the chair, Daniel nodded. It would work. He’d have to rise up on his toes and stand on the edge, but he’d be able to reach. He didn’t want to risk making another loud noise.

He climbed up quickly, opening the cupboard door, glad when it made no sound. There were the glasses, right where he’d put them, all lined up neatly, turned upside down so dust didn’t gather inside them. Bracing one hand on the bottom edge of the cupboard, Daniel stretched his other hand up. His fingertips brushed the edge of the glass. Biting his lower lip in concentration, Daniel moved his toes to the very edge of the chair and reached a little further. His hand closed around the glass just as the chair shifted under him, and he clutched at the cupboard for support.

The chair steadied, his toes stretched as far as they would go to hold him up, and Daniel carefully pulled the glass out, looking at it with a grin. He’d done it!

That was when the overhead light suddenly came on, flooding his eyes with unexpected brightness. Jack’s voice rang out behind him. “Daniel! Get down!”

Hunching his shoulders automatically, Daniel tried to twist and push back from the cupboard at the same time. His hand knocked against the cupboard door and the glass slipped from startled fingers, shattering loudly on the counter. Broken glass scattered across the floor.

Daniel blinked at Jack, his eyes still dazzled by the sudden light. Jack’s face was blurry without his glasses, but his dark eyes were hard and flashing, and his mouth was open, looking ready to form angry words.

“I’ll get it!” Daniel said quickly, dropping to the chair and then to the floor. “I’ll clean it up, I’m sorry, I’ll get it, didn’t mean to drop it, I’ll--”

“No,” Jack cut him off sharply. “Don’t move. Get on the chair and stay there. Keep your feet off the floor.” He stood and watched while Daniel scrambled to obey, and then he turned and walked away, opening a closet and rummaging around inside.

Daniel sat very still on the chair, his hands wrapped around the backrest. He’d been caught. He’d woken Jack up in the middle of the night, and he’d broken a glass, something he had promised not to do, and he’d made a mess, and now Jack was mad. Jack had yelled at him. What was he getting from the closet? Was he going to...

“No,” Daniel whispered, shaking his head. “He won’t, he won’t, stop it.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Jack wouldn’t. He needed to remember where he was. This was not that other place. This was Jack’s house, and that didn’t happen here.

Jack reappeared wearing slippers and carrying a broom. Daniel stared at the long, hard wooden handle and felt his stomach curdle. He hunched his shoulders, trying to hide behind the chair back, holding very, very still. Maybe if he was completely quiet and made himself a statue, Jack would forget him.

Jack began sweeping up the broken glass. Daniel kept his focus on the floor, hearing the soft swish-swish of Jack sweeping, the tinkle of broken glass, the scrape of the dustpan. He stole a furtive glance at Jack and quickly dropped his gaze again. Jack’s hair was mussed, matted on one side, his face was scruffy with stubble, and his eyes were tired. He looked irritated, impatient. But he was using the broom to sweep up. That was what it was for. Not anything else.

“You can get down now,” Jack said, his voice making Daniel jump. “I just had to make sure you wouldn’t cut your feet.”

Daniel nodded and hopped off the chair. He stood frozen for a moment while Jack carried the broom toward the closet. He was putting it away. He was done with it, and he was putting it away. Daniel closed his eyes and let out a long breath. When he opened them again, Jack was standing in the open archway to the kitchen, leaning against the wall, his arms folded. He was watching Daniel.

Daniel took a step back. His back bumped the table and he looked at it, startled. It was wide, heavy, solid. Reassuring. He quickly backed around it, bracing his hands on the smooth wood, feeling how strong it was. How big and real, how it couldn’t just be tossed aside. He stood on one side, and Jack was across the room on the other side, and that was better. Safer.

“Daniel?” Jack was frowning now. He straightened, taking a step forward. Daniel edged a little to the left so the table was still directly between them. His breathing was beginning to wheeze again and he swallowed hard, making himself take deep breaths.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean to break it. It slipped and I would have cleaned it up, you didn’t have to do it, I really would have.” He paused, gulped, and forced another steady breath. “I was just going to get a drink of water because it tastes better down here and I didn’t mean to wake you up and I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” Jack said. “No harm done. It was just an accident. Here, I’ll get you another glass.” He reached into the cupboard and pulled a glass down, filling it with water from the sink. He held it out toward Daniel.

Daniel stared. It had been so easy for Jack. But of course, because Jack was big. He had those big, strong hands, and those broad shoulders. He was tall and heavy and fast. Daniel held onto the edge of the table and stayed where he was. Maybe Jack wasn’t mad at him, and maybe he just wanted to give him the water. Sure, it was possible. But then again, maybe not.

Frowning, Jack set the glass of water down on the counter. “Are you okay? Did you cut yourself?”

Daniel shook his head. He didn’t think he’d cut himself. Of course, he did feel kind of numb and hollow at the moment, his heartbeat rushing in his ears, his fingers tingling, so it was possible. Maybe he just didn’t feel it.

Jack looked at him for a long moment, and his frown faded. He shook his head, and now he seemed sad, tired. Daniel shifted nervously, his arms trembling, his fingers hurting from holding onto the table so hard. What had he done to make Jack look that way?

“Hey,” Jack said softly. “It’s okay, Daniel. I’m not mad at you. It was an accident. Please come over here. I need to make sure you didn’t get cut anywhere.”

Daniel hesitated. He shouldn’t disobey. There were penalties for disobedience. But the table felt so good in front of him, so solid and safe. He could stay over here, and if Jack came to get him, he could slip around one side and keep it between them and... and what? Was he going to hide behind the table forever? Balking Jack now would only make it worse. Better to come out and take his medicine.

Besides, Jack had put the broom away. It wouldn’t be too bad.

“Okay,” Daniel murmured. He walked forward, watching Jack carefully, ready to move quickly if it became necessary. He stopped just outside of Jack’s reach, and when Jack’s hand came up, he couldn’t help flinching a little. Jack caught his breath and looked so sad again, and a little bit angry, and Daniel bit his lip. That had been stupid. Flinching like a little kid. Now he’d made it worse.

“Easy,” Jack said, reaching out again. His hand moved very slowly, coming to rest on Daniel’s shoulder, but not squeezing. Daniel waited, expecting the fingers to dig in, but they never did. The hand just sat there, warm and steady.

Jack crouched down and drew him a little closer, then nudged him toward the chair. “Sit up there,” he said. “I need to check your feet.”

Daniel nodded and got into the chair. Direct instructions were good. No confusion there. Jack’s warm, sad eyes and slow, gentle touches were too confusing. Better to concentrate on following directions.

Jack lifted each of his feet in turn, running his fingertips gently over the bare soles. Daniel twitched and tried not to pull his feet away from the tickling touch. Jack wanted him to hold still. He had to cooperate. He was in enough trouble as it was.

“Okay, I think you got lucky.” Jack put his feet down and knelt up, bracing his hands on the sides of Daniel’s chair. Daniel was actually a little higher than him in this position, and he felt oddly reassured to be looking down at Jack.

Daniel nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Jack picked up one of his hands, which was fisted by his side, and gently unrolled the fingers, his own hand swallowing Daniel’s. “You want to tell me what that was about?”

“What?” Daniel frowned, shaking his head once before quickly stopping. He wasn’t saying no. That was wrong. You didn’t tell adults no. He just didn’t understand the question.

“That thing where you hid behind the table. What was that?”

“I...” Daniel shrugged, blinking at Jack. “I wasn’t... hiding.” Which was mostly true. He didn’t think of it as hiding. It was just that the table had felt good in front of him. He’d felt safer with it between them.

Jack nodded slowly. “Remember that I said I wouldn’t hurt you, even if I was angry?”

“I remember,” Daniel replied, leaning forward slightly. “I know you wouldn’t... I wasn’t... I’m not calling you a liar or anything, really. I just...” He trailed off uncertainly, looking away. Jack’s steady, calm gaze was unnerving.

“Let’s start at the beginning. You were down here because you wanted a drink of water, right?” Jack waited for Daniel’s nod before continuing. “That’s fine. It’s okay for you to get things like that at night. I want you to know I’m not upset about that, all right?”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed, relaxing a little. He hadn’t broken a rule. That was good. “I’m sorry for waking you up.”

Jack waved dismissively. “That’s just me being a light sleeper. Not your fault.” He squeezed Daniel’s hand, and Daniel stiffened, waiting for the grip to become painful, crushing, but it didn’t. Just a steady warmth and pressure. He blinked several times, suddenly needing to swallow, and that was dumb. Jack was only holding his hand. He wasn’t yelling or... or anything else, so there was no reason to get upset.

“Hey.” Jack’s voice was very low, very soft. He pressed two fingers against Daniel’s cheek and gently tilted his head so their eyes could meet again. “It’s okay. Can you tell me why you were afraid?”

Daniel shook his head. Jack wouldn’t want a kid who got scared over nothing but a bad dream and a broken glass. And what about the way he’d leapt to the wrong conclusion about the broom? Jack would be mad he’d thought that.

“Daniel...” Jack shifted, and then winced, grimacing down at the floor. “Look, how about we move this into the living room? My knees are killing me.”

Daniel’s eyes widened, and he nodded immediately. “Jack, of course, I’m sorry! I forgot about your knees. There’s no more glass, right? Did you get cut? I could sweep up again in case you missed some. You don’t have to do it, I can clean up my own messes. I’m sorry, and here, I’ll get it and you go sit down and I’ll--”

“Hey,” Jack interrupted, shaking his head. He chuckled a little, and then stood, groaning as his knees popped. “Don’t worry so much, okay? You’ll give yourself an ulcer.”

Daniel nodded and followed Jack into the living room, wondering what an ulcer was. At least Jack had laughed, and that was good, right? He didn’t look sad anymore. That was something.

Jack sank into the couch, the room lit only by the oblique light coming from the kitchen, casting long, skewed shadows across the floor. He held an arm out and gave Daniel an inviting look. Daniel eyed the space on the couch that Jack obviously wanted him to take, and lingered for a moment, hesitating. If he sat close, Jack would try to hug him. Jack had already shown a tendency toward that kind of thing. If he did that, then Daniel might not be able to resist. He might lose the tenuous edge of control and it would all come spilling out, the nightmare and being scared of the broom and just everything, and Jack wouldn’t want a cry-baby, or a kid who was... damaged.

“Daniel?”

Daniel’s head shot up and he met Jack’s expectant gaze. Jack wanted him to sit there. He’d woken him up in the middle of the night and made a mess and then hurt his knees. The least he could do was cooperate with what Jack wanted.

And besides... maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe he needed it. Just a little.

He sat beside Jack, and felt a heavy arm wrap around his shoulders, but Jack didn’t push beyond that. He allowed Daniel to slowly settle against his side, and Daniel closed his eyes. It would have been better if Jack had pushed. This way, he was left to sink into impossible warmth, into the feel of Jack’s strength holding him up, and it cut through his defenses effortlessly. He bit his lip hard, taking a deep breath. Jack’s hand squeezed his shoulder, and Daniel swallowed.

“Hey.” Jack’s voice was a low rumble in his ear, and his chest vibrated slightly against Daniel’s ribs as he spoke. “It’s okay now. Remember what we talked about today after your asthma attack? If you’re worried that you’re in trouble, just talk to me. If something is wrong, I need to know about it.”

Daniel nodded. He didn’t trust his voice.

Jack’s arm tightened around him, and he couldn’t resist turning, pressing his cheek against Jack’s chest. He’d fought this--every time Jack tried to touch him, to hug him, he’d been stiff and distant, because he’d known this would happen. He’d known how good it would feel to give in, and how much it would hurt when Jack left, because everyone left. He wanted to keep fighting, but he was so tired, and Jack was so warm. Just this once, he told himself. He wouldn’t let it become a habit. Just this once.

“Shh,” Jack whispered, his breath stirring Daniel’s hair. “I’ve got you.” His hand began stroking Daniel’s back, strong and heavy. “You want to tell me about it?”

“It was nothing,” Daniel replied. “Just a dream. I’m fine.”

“Oh.” Jack rubbed his back in silence for a few minutes. “Sometimes I have bad dreams too.”

Daniel lifted his head, startled. He looked up at Jack, who nodded, giving him a wry smile. “Really?” Daniel asked.

“Yep. And let me tell you, buddy, they’re no fun at all.”

“Yeah.” Daniel dropped his head back down, already far too used to the feel of Jack’s chest under his cheek. Just this once, he reminded himself. He couldn’t let himself start to expect this. It would be far too easy.

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

Daniel shook his head, relishing the way his face rubbed Jack’s shirt. He was surrounded by Jack’s scent, already familiar and reassuring, and his whole body was lifted each time Jack inhaled. His eyelids felt heavy, and he let them drop, Jack’s hand on his back a steady, calming stroke. He found himself timing his breathing to the motion.

Jack said something else, but he didn’t catch it. Only Jack’s voice, that low rumble, rich and warm. He felt fingers in his hair, threading through it, and a faint flicker of alarm ran through his belly. He was allowing far too much, getting too relaxed. Losing his protective distance. He couldn’t let himself fall asleep like this, couldn’t let his guard down.

But then Jack’s voice continued, deep and soothing, and his breathing got a little deeper, and it was too late.


The next morning, Jack slept late. He’d carried Daniel up the stairs early that morning, although not as early as it could have been. Daniel had fallen asleep on his chest somewhere around three, but he hadn’t made it back to his room until nearly four. Jack wasn’t letting himself think too much about the time discrepancy there. So he’d cuddled the kid for a little while. Daniel had clearly needed it. And yeah, okay, he’d been asleep at the time so it wasn’t like he’d known about it, but still. He’d done it to make the boy feel better. That was all.

Glad it was Sunday and he, for once, actually had the weekend off, Jack lazed in bed for a while. His hand crept up to the place on his tee shirt where Daniel’s cheek had been pressed. The kid had been so tight against him that the seam of his collar had been imprinted on his face. Jack frowned, remembering how Daniel had been in the kitchen, so tense and flighty. Watching his hands the way one watches a dangerous animal. The way he’d flinched when Jack had tried to touch him.

Jack didn’t like the implications. Not one bit. He’d known yesterday, when Daniel had the asthma attack, that some bad things had happened to the kid. That somewhere along the line, someone had hurt him. Maybe more than one someone. Still, knowing it and actually having the boy flinch away in fear were two different things. Apparently, just telling him once that he wouldn’t be hurt wasn’t going to cut it.

That was okay, though. Jack would tell him as many times as it took. Pretty soon he’d have a happy, normal boy, just like...

Not that he was making that comparison. Because he wasn’t. This was about Daniel, and no one else. No matter what Sara thought.

Jack nodded to himself and got out of bed. He took a quick shower and dressed in his comfortable, slouching around the house clothes. If he was lucky, Daniel would still be asleep, and he could enjoy a quiet cup of coffee on the back deck. Maybe he’d take Daniel to the park today, let him run a little. The kid was way too pale. Obviously didn’t get enough time to play outside and just be a kid.

He smelled the coffee before he got to the kitchen, and he was two steps into the room before he saw Daniel. He was crouched down under the table, stretching the broom out, trying to reach all the little gaps between the table legs on the floor. Jack considered the full, steaming coffee pot, the small pile of dirt and stray fruit loops that Daniel had managed to amass, and the careful, meticulous way he was sweeping every square inch of the floor. He shook his head, not sure if he thought it was funny or sad.

“Hey,” he said.

Daniel jumped, banged his head on the underside of the table, and hunched back down, rubbing his head with one hand. He peered cautiously up at Jack, staying on the floor. “I didn’t wake you up, did I?”

“Nah,” Jack replied easily. “Whatcha’ doing?”

Daniel blinked at him, and then looked at the broom in his hand, as if it should be obvious. “Sweeping.”

“I see that. Why?”

“I just...” He shrugged, rubbing the smooth wood handle between his fingers nervously. “I wanted to make sure there was no more glass.”

Jack wondered if the kid would react well to being pulled out from under the table and squeezed thoroughly. Probably not. Which was too bad, because Jack really wanted to do it. “Was there any more?” he asked, crouching down to Daniel’s level.

“Just a little.” Daniel pointed at his gathered pile of detritus, and Jack could see the glitter of a few small shards in with the dust. “I got it, though. You don’t have to... I can clean my own messes.”

“Thank you. I’m glad you cleaned up, but I’d rather you wore shoes. And you could cut your knees crawling around down there.”

Daniel ducked his head and nodded. “Sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t know there would be glass.”

“Well, there certainly isn’t anymore,” Jack said cheerfully. He winced when he realized his voice was too loud, and forced. But something had to make that slump go out of the kid’s shoulders. “Hey,” he said more softly. “Give me that, okay?” He held his hand out for the broom.

Daniel stared at him, and Jack was baffled to see his lower lip begin to tremble. He clutched the broom for a moment, and then sighed and handed it over. He remained under the table, his knees tucked up to his chest and his eyes watching Jack as if he might do something sudden and unpleasant.

Jack quickly scooped the little pile of dirt into the dustpan and threw it away, then stood, tilting his head to look down at Daniel. “Are you planning on staying there all day?” he asked with more forced cheer.

Daniel blinked at him. “I made coffee for you. I... I hope that’s okay. I was very, very careful and I didn’t break anything and I used the same scoops that you use and the same amount of water because I watched when you did it and I remembered and I thought maybe you’d like it if I made you some.”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “That’s quite a mouthful. And I appreciate the coffee, thanks. I’m sure you did it just fine.”

That, finally, got Daniel to uncurl a little, and a small smile touched his lips before slipping away. “I was careful,” he repeated, nodding earnestly.

“I’m glad. Hey, why don’t you come out of there and we’ll have breakfast, okay?” Jack asked, stepping back a little to give Daniel room.

Daniel’s eyes went to the broom still loosely held in Jack’s hand, then back to Jack’s face. He swallowed and shifted a little, edging forward as slowly as possible. He kept glancing at the broom, and Jack felt something cold and heavy unfurl in the pit of his stomach. He lifted the broom, and Daniel froze, his eyes widening. Jack swallowed and took a deep breath.

“Hey,” he said quietly. “How about I put this away, since we’re done with it?”

Daniel said nothing. He watched silently as Jack stuck the broom back in the closet, remaining curled beneath the table until Jack returned and crouched in front of him.

“Here,” Jack said. He held a hand out, waiting until Daniel’s hand crept out to take it. Then he tugged gently, and Daniel went along, rising to stand beside him. Jack couldn’t resist running a hand through his hair, which was somewhat cobwebby from all the corners of the kitchen he’d so carefully cleaned. His hand slipped down to Daniel’s shoulder and he pulled the boy close, giving him a sideways squeeze. Daniel held himself stiffly, not relaxing against him, and Jack sighed. Apparently the previous night had been a fluke. He still had a long way to go before the kid would allow casual affection.

Jack let him go, and Daniel immediately brought his own arms up around his chest. He watched as Jack poured a cup of coffee and took a sip. “Is it okay?” he asked, leaning forward anxiously.

Jack grinned and nodded. “It’s perfect, Danny, thanks. You did a good job.”

Daniel straightened, nearly glowing at the words, a wide, rarely seen smile on his face.

“Good job on the floor, too,” Jack added. “I think I forgot to say that. I don’t think the kitchen has been this clean since I moved in!”

Daniel ducked his head, but not before Jack saw another smile sneak out. “It wasn’t really dirty,” Daniel protested softly.

“Sure it was. Did you see those monster dust bunnies in the corner? I’m surprised they didn’t attack you. You’ve got to watch out for those attack bunnies, you know.”

Daniel blinked at him, and then actually giggled, a sound Jack decided he needed to hear more often. “That’s... you’re making that up, aren’t you?”

Jack winked at him over the rim of his coffee cup. “Nope. Why, the last time I swept up in here, I barely escaped with my life. They’re vicious, I tell you. They cling to your ankles and try to climb up your pant legs.”

Another quickly stifled giggle and Daniel shook his head. “Nuh-uh. There are no such things as attack bunnies.”

“Sure, you say that now,” Jack retorted. “Just you wait. I’ll find one hiding under my bed and show it to you.”

Daniel looked skeptical, but he nodded. “Okay, Jack. If you say so.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Now, go get a shower and some clean clothes, okay? We’ll go out for breakfast. I feel like something from The Waffle House.”

“I like waffles,” Daniel said agreeably. He smiled and nodded in a let’s-all-get-along way and then turned, running obediently up the stairs.

Once he was out of sight, Jack put the coffee cup down and pressed his hands against his face. He forced himself to take a long breath and hold it for the count of five, then let it out slowly. He’d handled live explosives that were more predictable than that kid. Well, he was through trying to guess his way along, never knowing what would scare Daniel or set off some bad memory. He needed some intel, and he knew just where to get it.

He had a business card from Children’s Services on top of the filing cabinet in his den. He figured nobody would be in the office on a Sunday, but Daniel’s social worker, Ms. Huff, had written her cell number on the back so he could contact her any time. She’d assured him so many times that he could always call that Jack had gotten the feeling she expected trouble.

He listened at the base of the stairs and heard the shower running, then dialed the phone.

“Hello?” came the slightly sleepy and distracted voice.

“Ms. Huff? This is Colonel Jack O’Neill.”

A pause, and then, “Oh, Colonel O’Neill. Is there a problem with Daniel?”

Jack bit back a sarcastic retort. “Yes,” he said evenly. “There is a problem. He’s scared to death that I’m going to hurt him. What happened to this kid?”

“Colonel, I’m sure you know that details of his past placements are confidential. It’s for the child’s own protection.”

Jack sighed and leaned against the wall, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Look, I’m not going to tell anyone. I just need to know what I’m dealing with here. How am I supposed to help him when I’m flying blind?”

“If you’re having problems with him we can take him back. You’re still within your initial thirty day trial period,” she told him.

“I’m not sending him back,” Jack replied immediately, a little surprised by how much the idea bothered him. “I just want to know who hurt him.”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“So someone did hurt him?”

Ms. Huff sighed and hesitated for a long moment. “I don’t know everything. Only what was in the medical reports.”

“So tell me.”

Another hesitation, followed by the distant rattling of some papers. “Colonel O’Neill, please understand that the confidentiality rules are in place for a good reason. Many foster parents, upon learning that a child has been mistreated and may have emotional problems, will balk at having that child placed with them. Everyone wants ‘normal’ children.”

Jack winced. The statement hit a little too close to home. “Well, like I already said, I’m not sending Daniel back. I want to help him. But to do that, I need to know what happened.”

“Well... I can’t give you any names or dates. All I can tell you is several placements ago, he called social services and asked to be removed from the home.”

“Wait, wait,” Jack interrupted. “Daniel called?”

“Yes, Colonel. It’s actually not that unusual. Foster children are often troubled, and they tend toward misbehavior or outright lying. Many good foster parents have been accused of abuse because they used normal discipline and the child resented the control. However, in case the complaint is justified, we have to investigate every time. In this case, we found reasonable cause to remove Daniel from the home, along with the other children placed there.”

“Define ‘reasonable cause,’” Jack said tightly.

She sighed. “For Daniel, a broken rib and a number of bruises of varying ages. Some of them quite severe. The rib scraped one of his lungs and, due to complications from his asthma, he had to be on oxygen for some time at the hospital.”

“Jesus,” Jack muttered. “How long did he live there?”

“I told you I can’t give you dates--”

“I know, I know,” he interrupted. “Just... how long?”

“According to my records... seven months. It was his longest placement to date. All his placements after that have been quite short.”

“Why?” Jack asked, shaking his head. “I don’t get that. He’s not a bad kid. He tries really hard. Why wouldn’t someone else keep him?”

“Well... he’s not exactly a typical child,” she replied. “I haven’t spent much time with him, but from what I can tell, he’s quiet and rather bookish. Also very anxious, and the asthma tends to make people leery of taking him on. Colonel, really, if you feel he’s not working out, I want to reiterate that you can return him. We wouldn’t want him in a placement where he’s not welcome.”

Jack rolled his eyes. This lady didn’t take a hint well. No wonder Daniel was bounced around so much, when the system all but encouraged people to give up on him. “He’s welcome,” Jack said flatly. “What happened to the people that hurt him? Did they just get away with it?”

“They are no longer permitted to be foster parents.”

Jack snorted. “And what, that’s it? Last I checked, child abuse was illegal.”

“Daniel insisted that he fell. There was no evidence otherwise, and no witnesses came forward.”

“And yet, all the kids were pulled and they’re not foster parents anymore.”

“It was a preventative measure.”

Jack shook his head tiredly. “Great system you’ve got.”

“It’s not perfect, but it’s the only system we have,” she replied stiffly. “Was that all, Colonel?”

Jack was about to press for more details when he heard telltale thumping upstairs. Daniel would be coming down soon, and this was one conversation he definitely didn’t want the kid overhearing. “Yeah, that’s all,” he said. “Thanks for the help.”

They said goodbye and he hung up the phone. He sat down at the kitchen table and propped his chin in his hands, his elbows resting on the table. He stared blankly across the room, feeling the blood rush under his skin, the urge to throw something--or better yet, throttle the bastard who’d left Daniel shrinking away from his touch--tugging at his hands. He focused on his breathing, pushing any thoughts of violent justice firmly out of his head. Getting mad now would only scare Daniel, and that was the last thing he wanted.

Broken rib, scraped lung, oxygen. Hospitalization. After seven months of ‘bruises of varying ages.’ No wonder Daniel was afraid of him. Jack shook his head slowly. He had his work cut out for him.

“Jack?”

He turned, forcing a calm smile. Daniel stood in the doorway to the kitchen, his hair damp and uncombed, tugging self-consciously at one of the new shirts Jack had bought him. “Hey, kiddo,” he said. “You ready?”

Daniel nodded, and then gave Jack’s own sweat pants and tee shirt an uncertain look. He opened his mouth, and then shut it again, shuffling his feet.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Jack said easily. “I should change, huh?”

“I didn’t say anything,” Daniel replied, shaking his head. “You can wear whatever you want. I wasn’t...”

Jack grinned and stood, plucking at his pants. “Well, The Waffle House may not be a suit and tie establishment, but I think they frown on sweats, you know?”

“Yeah.” Daniel tried on a small, agreeable smile. “I’ll wait here.”

“You do that,” Jack said. He ruffled Daniel’s hair on his way past, and the kid let his hand linger for a moment before ducking away. Jack smiled to himself on his way up the stairs.

Maybe it would be a hard road, he thought as he pulled up some jeans. But he had the feeling Daniel would be worth it.

He expected the kid to have his shoes on and be waiting in the living room, but he found Daniel sitting in the kitchen, staring at something on the table. Jack frowned and approached him, putting a hand on his shoulder. Daniel’s hands were lying flat on the table, cupped over each other.

“Hey. Shoes, remember?”

Daniel looked up at him, and Jack was startled to see his eyes shimmering, his mouth drawn into a trembling bow. “I can do better,” he whispered.

“What?” Jack pulled a chair over, sitting down and leaning close. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

Daniel lifted his hands, revealing Ms. Huff’s business card, still lying on the table. Jack winced, closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, Daniel was staring down, his hands clutching the arms of his chair. “I really can, Jack,” he murmured. “I’m sorry about the glass. I swear I won’t break anything else.”

“Hey, it’s not what you think.” Jack put one hand lightly on Daniel’s wrist, rubbing with his thumb. “Yeah, I called her, but just because I wanted to understand some things.”

Daniel blinked at him, and Jack bit his lip when the motion dislodged two fat tears, which went rolling down pale cheeks. He couldn’t resist reaching out and wiping them away, his knuckles brushing Daniel’s face slowly. Daniel sniffed and leaned back, quickly scrubbing at his eyes with his fists. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. Now, are we going out to eat or what?”

Daniel nodded and slid off the chair. “I’ll get my shoes,” he said quietly, hurrying toward the living room. Jack watched him go, and then put his face in his hands again. He allowed himself two quick, composing breaths, then picked the card up and stuck it on top of the fridge, where it would be safely out of sight. Then he followed Daniel, finding him sitting on the floor by the front door, tying up his shoes.

Jack slipped his own loafers on and grabbed his keys, sticking them in his pocket. Daniel stood patiently beside him, his head down, intently studying the tops of his sneakers.

“Hey,” Jack said, crouching down to meet his eyes. “Are we okay?”

“Sure,” he replied quickly. “We’re fine.”

Yeah, that was convincing. Jack tilted his head to one side, and then grinned playfully. “I’ll race you to the truck.”

Daniel frowned. “What?”

“You heard me.” He opened the door, and then lined his toes up with the edge of the welcome mat, waving Daniel forward. “Okay, on your mark?”

Daniel gave him a confused look but mimicked Jack’s posture, putting his toes on the line and leaning forward, his knees bent.

“Ready, set, go!”

Daniel was off like a shot, and Jack ran behind him, making sure he reached the truck just slightly behind the kid. He had to slow his pace to lose the race, but only a little. Daniel could move when he wanted to.

“Ah, beaten by a kid! I’ll never live it down,” Jack groaned, rolling his eyes. “It’s not my fault, I tell ya, It’s the knees.”

Daniel giggled and covered his mouth, ducking. “I think you let me win.”

Jack affected an innocent face. “Would I do that?”

Daniel just smiled uncertainly at him and shrugged.

“Nope, I wouldn’t,” Jack answered for him, since clearly Daniel didn’t know what to say. “You beat me fair and square, and that means you win the prize.”

“Prize?” Daniel asked curiously. “What prize?”

“This!” Jack said and lunged forward, catching Daniel under his arms and lifting him into the air, then spinning him wildly.

“Ah! Jack!” Daniel’s eyes went wide and he flailed madly, shrieking startled laughter. “Don’t let me fall!”

“I won’t,” Jack said, setting him down gently. He crouched and met Daniel’s eyes, holding his chin in place with two fingers. “I won’t let you fall. You believe me?”

Daniel looked at him for a long moment, and then nodded slowly. “Yeah, I do.”

“Glad to hear it,” Jack replied, grinning. He tugged Daniel close, giving him a quick hug, pleased when he didn’t go tense and wooden in his arms. He didn’t hug back, either, but at least it was something.

“Are we going to eat now?” Daniel asked when Jack let him go.

“You betcha. I’m going to get a stack of waffles as big as your head. No, actually, as big as my head,” Jack corrected. “In fact, I’m going to get so many that they’ll reach all the way to the ceiling.”

Daniel was giggling again as he climbed into the truck. “I don’t think you can eat that much, Jack.”

“I can too,” Jack insisted. “In fact, I’m going to get so many that I’ll have to take them outside, because they reach past the ceiling. Airplanes will have to detour around my giant stack of waffles. Birds will nibble the very top ones.”

Pulling out into the road, Jack relished the sound of Daniel’s laughter. Definitely a sound he could get used to.


Daniel was supposed to be getting ready for school but instead, to Jack's dismay; he was sitting on the sofa hunched over with his hand pressed to his chest.

School wasn't going well. Not that Daniel complained, but he was into his third week and didn't seem any further along at settling in or making friends than he had been on his first day. Jack wasn't ready to concede Carter may have been right about the public school thing, maybe a kid like Daniel needed more time to find his niche. Charlie would have had friends crawling all over the house by now but Daniel was different; he had suffered a major traumatic experience, but maybe time would do the trick.

While Jack was willing to give him that time, the asthma was getting out of hand. Nothing major, but small attacks usually in the morning before school. A few times Jack had even scurried to call Carla, the after school caregiver he'd hired on the recommendation of Dr. Fraiser. Daniel had already been absent twice in less than three weeks. Jack couldn't help recalling how proud he'd been of Charlie's fourth grade attendance award. Despite Daniel's words to the contrary, Jack had a sneaking suspicion something more than asthma was going on. He had talked to Fraiser about it and her advice was to tread lightly. Lightly my ass, Jack thought. He trusted his instincts, and his instincts told him he was being played.

"Daniel Jackson, stop it this instant!" In an effort to test his theory, Jack used his firm authoritative, colonel voice that cowed Airman and civilians alike at the SGC. It wasn't a shout but Daniel recognized the severe tone and froze mid wheeze.

"What, Jack?" he asked, wearing his most innocent pout.

"You know exactly what." The look Jack fixed him with would have made Baal squirm.

"Sorry," Daniel whispered.

To Jack's shock, the 'attack' stopped before it began. Well, I'll be damned... the little shit. Taking a seat opposite Daniel, Jack sat down and started in with a lecture. "Don't ever do that again. Understand? Your asthma is not a game and I don't appreciate you using it to get what you want. You know better than that." He was careful not to raise his voice, but the serious tone of his words left no doubt he meant business.

"Sometimes, I-I can't help it," the flustered boy choked out.

"And sometimes you can, right?" Jack confirmed a bit more gently.

Tears pooled in the blue eyes and overflowed. "Sometimes," Daniel sobbed his agreement.

"Those are the times I'm talking about." As much as Jack wanted to stay in strict 'parent' mode the sight of Daniel's hunched, shaking shoulders did him in. "Come here, buddy," Jack sighed with opened arms.

It only took a second for Daniel to allow himself the comfort of Jack's chest. "Sorry, sorry, sorry," he repeated breathlessly into Jack's rapidly dampening shirt.

Jack patted Daniel's back and pulled the boy up beside him on the sofa. He wrapped his arms around the child to soothe him. "Okay, it's okay," he shushed, combing his fingers through the short blond hair. "Calm down before you have a real attack."

After the sobs turned to hiccups and eventually evened out Jack sat the boy up straight and lifted his chin. "So, do you want to tell me what that was all about?"

Daniel tried to drop his head but Jack's fingers wouldn't allow it. He dropped his eyes instead and shrugged his shoulders.

"Danny," Jack warned.

"I don't want to talk about it." The words were spoken very softly.

"Well, that's too bad because we're going to talk about," Jack said mildly.

From his seat on the sofa, Daniel twisted around to glance up at the clock. Jack knew exactly what the kid was thinking. Now that he was over the embarrassment of being caught faking an asthma attack the mini-mule had reverted back into his old, sweet, and incredibly stubborn self.

"Don't worry about the time. I'm going to call work and tell them I'll be late. I don't have anything pressing; maybe I'll take the entire day off." If anything, Daniel seemed to brighten at the threat. It took Jack another second to realize he was still being manipulated by his little genius. "Ah, you'd like that wouldn't you. You don't want to go to school." The crestfallen look on Daniel's face let Jack know he nailed it.

"Why don't you want to go to school?"

Another shrug was the only response.

"Words," Jack reminded, tapping his finger against Daniel's protruding lower lip.

"I-I don't know," Daniel responded evasively.

"Okay, then we'll talk about this later." Jack stood Daniel up and patted him gently on the bottom to get him moving. "Go on, go get ready."

Daniel didn't budge. "Couldn't I take today off? I could go to work with you. I'm already going to be late."

"You don't get what you want by lying or by faking asthma attacks. We'll talk more about why you don't want to go to school tonight. Now scoot. If you stall around any longer I'm not going to be happy."

"You're not that happy now," Daniel politely pointed out.

Jack folded his arms and tried to hide his smile with a glare.

"Okay, okay, I'm going," Daniel mumbled as he headed back to his room to collect his schoolbooks.


The sight of the little white envelope on his desk made Daniel's breath hitch slightly. It was probably something mean or embarrassing. He only relaxed when he noticed other desks had envelopes too. Quietly slipping into his seat he nervously unfolded the card tucked inside. It was an invitation to Corey Mitchell's birthday party this Saturday. Daniel was thrilled and more than a little bit stunned. Maybe they were going to try to be friends with him after all. The anxiety of the last few weeks melted away and he spent the rest of the day worrying over the perfect gift to bring to the party.

After school Daniel waited in the living room, sitting on the big sofa staring out the massive windows, impatiently waiting for Jack to come home from work. Jack would be so pleased at the invitation and at the fact he was finally going to have friends.

When the Avalanche pulled into the driveway at seven, Daniel leapt off the couch and opened the door. "Guess what, Jack?"

"Um, you... took up juggling and are joining the circus?" Working his way around Daniel to get inside was no easy task.

"Jack!" Daniel wrinkled his nose and tilted his head at the sarcasm. At least he was adjusting to Jack's unique brand of humor and no longer taking everything so literally.

Daniel trailed Jack to the kitchen and then to the front door, impatiently waiting for him to finish his goodbyes to Carla. At Jack's urging, Daniel quickly thanked her and added his own goodbye. Jack grabbed a beer out of the fridge and with one excited boy hot on his heels, collapsed on the sofa.

"Look!" Daniel flopped down beside him holding the envelope out for inspection.

"Let's see what ya got there." Jack took the envelope and removed the invitation with a smile. "Hey, way to go." He tousled the blond hair fondly. "Didn't I tell you you'd make friends? It just takes time."

Daniel was proudly nodding his head. "It's my first birthday party ever," he confessed with a slight blush.

"You'll have blast," Jack encouraged. "You'll play games, eat way too much cake and ice cream and watch this kid," Jack checked the invitation for the name, "this kid, Corey, open a ton of gifts, and then hopefully, he'll let you guys play with all of them. If he doesn't, his mother will probably make him," Jack winked.

Daniel was positively beaming with excitement.

"So," Jack continued. "Do we still have to talk about why you don't want to go to school or are you feeling better about things?"

"I'm feeling better," Daniel said quietly, his face falling as the words brought back the memory of this morning's fiasco.

Jack wrapped his arm around the thin shoulders and squeezed them tight. "It's okay. No bringing on or faking asthma attacks. We're clear on that, right?"

"Right." For one of the few times since his arrival, Jack felt Daniel lean into a hug instead of stiffening against it.

"Good, then we don't need to talk about it again." After a final squeeze Jack retreated to the kitchen to check what Carla had left him for dinner. He removed the plate and nearly tripped over a hovering Daniel. He sidestepped his shadow and stuck the plate in the microwave for three minutes.

"Danny, why are you following me?" Jack sat down at the table and waited for his meal to heat up.

Daniel pulled out the adjacent chair and stared intently. "When are we going shopping for Corey's birthday present?" Jack noted the kid had no trouble maintaining eye contact when he wanted something. Before he had a chance to answer the question Daniel continued, "I think we should go now."

"Can I eat first?" Jack asked in amusement.

"As soon as you're done," Daniel conceded.

"It's too late to go tonight." Jack said seriously.

"But, Jack..." The ding of the timer cut off the protest.

Daniel tailed Jack to the microwave and then to the cupboard where Jack promptly turned and bumped into him while retrieving a fork. "Daniel!"

The blue eyes looked up in alarm.

"Sit!" Jack shook his head in exasperation and pointed to the vacant chair. "It's Monday, the party's not until Saturday. Relax, kiddo, we have plenty of time."

Daniel sat down but the look of determination stayed. "But," Daniel held up his index finger to make his point. "What if you have an emergency at work and don't come home and we don't have the present yet? That would be a huge problem." Although he was sitting as ordered, his pale arms were folded across the table with his chin resting on his hands, the bright eyes blazing up in thoughtfulness.

Stifling a laugh, Jack took a bite of his dinner before answering. "Then Carla would take you shopping."

That answer didn't seem to appease him at all. "I want YOU to go with me to pick it out. What if she doesn't have enough money to buy something really cool? It has to be something really, really cool."

"Cool, you say. I'm sure I'll be here with you every night this week so let's not worry about it tonight." Jack started eating in earnest even though the intense eyes never left him.

"You said you don't like to procrastinate. Remember? You said when something needs to be done there's no sense in putting it off. You said we should just..."

"Daniel," Jack interrupted. "As nice as it is to know you occasionally listen to me, I already said we're not going tonight, and besides, the stores will be closing soon."

"Will we go tomorrow?" Daniel chewed his lower lip in frustration.

The kid was like a junkyard dog with a bone. "Give it a rest, Danny," Jack sighed firmly as he stood up to set his plate in the dishwasher. He ran his fingers through the boy's hair as he passed, inwardly pleased that Daniel no longer flinched from his touch.

Daniel slumped dejectedly in the chair and gave the table leg a sullen kick.

"Do you have any homework left, buddy?" Jack asked in an attempt to change the subject as he wiped down the countertops and gave the kitchen a quick once over.

"Do I ever have homework left?" Daniel grumbled.

"Hey!" Turning around to glare was all Jack needed to do to get Daniel's full attention.

The whispered "sorry" came next.

"Lose the attitude," Jack warned.

"Sorry," Daniel repeated. "I'm just worried about the present."

"Well, stop worrying already. I said we'll get a present and we will. And it's not as important as you're making it out to be. A birthday present is a gift; it's to be accepted as such. It doesn't have to be perfect. Didn't you ever hear the old saying, 'it's the thought that counts'?"

Daniel nodded his agreement though he doubted the old adage held much weight with the Corey Mitchells of the world.

Two nights later, Jack kept his promise. It was extravagant, but he broke down and bought Corey what's his name a remote control car. Daniel thought it was the coolest thing he'd ever seen and was positive it would be the hit of the party. Jack filed the information away as a possible future Christmas present for Danny.

The end of the week was fast approaching and Daniel was a bundle of nerves. It saddened Jack that the poor kid was this excited and anxious over a simple birthday party. Charlie had had a party every year and had been invited to a ton of them. Charlie... ouch, he had to stop doing that. It hurt too much and it didn't seem fair to Daniel, even though Daniel didn't know he was doing it.

On Thursday night Daniel finished brushing his teeth and flopped down beside him on the sofa. "All ready for bed, kiddo?" Jack quizzed.

Daniel nodded a bit too solemnly for Jack's liking. He was proud he was learning to decipher Daniel's silent messages and codes. Jack nudged him with his shoulder. "Everything okay?"

Daniel nodded again and wedged in closer. Jack decided to wait a bit longer; sometimes Danny needed time to gather his thoughts. "Jack?"

Yep, here it comes.

"Yeah?" He gave the small body a supportive squeeze.

"I'm a little bit s-scared about the party."

"Scared? What's to be scared of? It's a birthday party for crying out loud. Besides, you have the best gift so you'll be the most popular kid there."

Daniel's smile seemed forced as he looked away and picked at the edge of the afghan. "It's just... the kids at school still don't seem like they want to talk to me. What if they don't talk to me at the party?"

All the trust and hope in the universe shone in the small serious face that waited patiently for him to impart some great pearls of wisdom along with endless doses of reassurance.

No pressure, Jack thought. "Okay, this Corey Michaels, he invited you, right?" Jack chose his words carefully.

"Mitchell, Corey Mitchell," Daniel corrected attentively.

"Whatever, Mitchell. He invited you and it's his birthday, right?"

"Yep," Daniel said, digging the invitation out of his math book and waving it around as proof.

"What the heck," Jack chuckled. "Do you carry that thing with you wherever you go? Never mind. The point is he wouldn't invite you if he didn't want you to come."

Jack knew he said the right thing when Daniel's eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. "He wouldn’t have, would he, Jack?"

"Nope, he'd have no need to invite you."

"He wants me to come," Daniel said thoughtfully.

Jack kissed Danny's hair. "It's hard being the new kid. The party's the first step. After that, you'll probably get to know some of the kids a bit better. It just takes a while."

Daniel wrapped his arms around Jack's neck and squeezed. "Thank you for buying Corey the car," he said happily. "I know it cost a lot of money."

"It's okay, that’s for me to worry about. Let's get you to bed, mister."

"Kay," Daniel readily agreed. He pulled on Jack's arm and then jumped up from the sofa and playfully ran into his bedroom with Jack chasing after him. Next, Daniel dove under the covers and to Jack's shock, laughed a real honest to goodness laugh that Jack was sure he'd never heard before. Jack took a second to tickle Daniel but stopped abruptly, remembering how hard it is to unwind little boys once you wound them up, especially at bedtime. The sound of laughter was infectious though and he vowed to make Danny laugh more often.

Jack sat down on the edge of the bed and tucked Daniel in with a kiss to the forehead. "Sweet dreams," he whispered as he turned out the bedside lamp leaving only the soft glow of the nightlight. He was almost out the door when Daniel called his name.

"Jack?"

"What?"

"Just... you know."

"Know what?"

"Thank you."

"Night, Danny.

"Good night, Jack," Daniel whispered to himself after Jack closed the door. For the first time in a very long while he felt the tightness in his chest begin to loosen. He wasn't sure if Jack loved him, but he was certain Jack, at the very least, liked him. And maybe everything was going to work out at school after all. Jack said they wouldn't invite him if they didn't want him to come; it made sense. Jack was a colonel, everyone listened to him, and he was almost always right.


Jack and Danny sat in the truck in front of the mysterious Corey Mitchell's house at precisely one o’clock on Saturday afternoon. "Do you want me to go in with you?" Jack finally asked. He wished Daniel would say 'yes'. His personality was a great icebreaker with kids and he'd do anything to make this easier for Daniel.

"No, I can go by myself," Daniel slowly decided. "Do I look okay?"

"Do you look okay?" Jack pretended to study him intently. He resisted the urge to kiss the worry line off of Daniel's brow in case any of the other kids showed up to witness it. Instead, he patted down a piece of uncooperative hair. "There. You look terrific. Now would you quit worrying? You're going to have a great time."

"And I'll call you when I want to come home, right?"

"Yep, I'll be home all day. If you're having fun though, stay as long as you want to. I have Corey's number so if it gets too late I'll call and check on you. Okay?"

"Okay."

"Well, you have your present and the card; did you bring your inhaler?"

Daniel nodded and patted his backpack. "And the invitation," he added. "In case they forgot they invited me."

"Well, looks like you're all set and I'm sure they remember who they invited." Jack patted Daniel's thigh to urge him on. "You better get going or the party will be over before you get in there."

Daniel gripped the car door, opened it and stepped out.

"Hey," Jack yelled out the window. "Have fun, buddy."

A nod of the head was the only response. Jack watched Daniel as he slowly, reluctantly made his way up the walk to the front door. He looked more like a prisoner keeping a date with the electric chair than a boy celebrating a friend's birthday. It took Daniel a few seconds to build up the courage to ring the doorbell. Jack waved as Daniel turned around, checking to see if he was still there. Before Daniel had a chance to wave back the front door opened and he was ushered inside.

Daniel Jackson was not anything at all what Jack expected a ten-year-old boy to be. He didn't really have a handle on this yet, but he would. One thing he did have a handle on was the depth of his feelings. He loved the boy, plain and simple. It took everything he had not to run up to the front steps and ring the bell, check on Daniel's breathing, give him a hug, and calm his nervous anxiety.

 


On to Part Two >>

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