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.
Kid fic, AU, 400 pages. Non-graphic mention of past
Hennessy O'Neill, Jack's mother, is the original work of the
talented, Devra. Rose was first introduced in her fic, "Miracles in Bloom". If you
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
for Jack after reading Devra's incredible version so we did the only
could... we stole her... with the author's complete knowledge and
NOTES: First and
foremost, thanks so much to Darcy, who slyly and sneakily introduced me
wonderful world she'd started to create with little Daniel, and then
utterly hooked. I could never have gotten so deeply involved with the
remained so enthusiastic about it without her constant encouragement,
and generous (if wildly exaggerated) compliments.
with Darcy led me
to join the Heartsisters, who are a terrific group of people that I am
glad to be a part of. Thanks very much to all of them for the support
putting up with my relentless "heart-stomping" angst.
a special thank you
to Mamabeast, who braved the insane length and our own self-imposed
beta the story with amazing speed. She caught a lot of the details that
missed, and made us think. Thanks!
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
A special thank you to Jo and Devra for their keen suggestions and
support, to babs for her incredible knack of coming up with just the
ending, and to Debi C for the up close and personal insight into asthma
introducing me to the world of 'little Danny'.
a big, HUGE,
heartfelt thank you to my incredible co-writer, Kalimyre. If not for
remarkable talent of producing vast amounts of quality pages in short
time, this fic may never have seen the light of day. In the end, she
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.
girlfriend, for the laughter, the tears, the smooshiness, and the
lord, the angst... well beyond the legal limit!
everything there is a
season, a time for every purpose under heaven.
few miles of
pacing, Jack plopped himself down in his favorite leather chair, sipped
Pepsi and stared anxiously at the clock. He would have preferred a cold
but doubted it was appropriate under the circumstances. Hammond, Carter
social worker were bringing the boy, Daniel Jackson, to him this
Their ETA was 1:00, but it was half past 2:00 and there was no sign of
Maybe something had gone wrong, perhaps a long lost relative had shown
the eleventh hour to claim the kid. A shiver ran down his spine at the
and he was uncertain whether it was one of relief or regret.
fuck had he
gotten himself into? If he were being honest, he couldn't blame his
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
SG-1, but after a four year run with his team, his field time was over.
hadn't been able to go through the Stargate since his knees gave out
ago, and even though he was 2IC of the entire facility, he still felt
was missing in his life. How pathetic was that?
up the lone
picture he had of the boy, Daniel, and stared at the small, serious
partially hidden by the big round glasses. Daniel Jackson, genius
son of Melbourne and Claire Jackson, archaeologists who had never set
but nonetheless had worked translating ancient Goa'uld symbols for the
via the Internet. The couple had unknowingly unlocked numerous
puzzles and solved countless ancient mysteries; their secret
Earth had been invaluable. The linguists and archaeologists at the SGC
floundered since the couple's untimely deaths two years ago.
hadn't thought about
the Jacksons for quite a while until
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
languages the Jacksons had learned and deciphered. The report was
with a request from the NID to bring the boy in for testing.
when Jack had
opened his big mouth about how a ten year old shouldn’t be
how the boy needed a stable home and a sense of belonging in order to
normal and productive. His friends had looked at him strangely before
Jack was sure they thought he was thinking about Charlie, and they
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
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
part of him wanted to try again, to redeem himself, to discover if
was even remotely possible.
doorbell broke up his
self-imposed pity party. His friends stood outside and Jack nodded to
to Ms. Huff, Daniel's social worker, before getting his first look at
orphaned ten year old. He bent down to eye level, stuck out his hand
introduced himself. "I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill," he offered.
nervous child only
glanced up for a second before lowering his head, offering his hand,
whispering, "I'm Daniel Jackson."
of the small
hand brought back a flood of memories, some joyful, most painful. "Ah,
formal." Jack tried to sound light-hearted, silently cursing himself
using his title. It was always easier to be Colonel O'Neill when he was
nervous. "You can call me Jack."
blonde head rose
slightly, but not to meet his gaze. Instead, the blue eyes fixed on
clasped hands and he tried to pull away. Jack let go immediately. Shit,
probably scaring the poor kid to death.
signing a few
papers and exchanging pleasantries, the group, minus Daniel Jackson,
the door. "Call me if you need anything, sir," Carter glanced
nervously at the boy.
We'll be fine, won't we, Daniel?" When Jack patted the boy's shoulder
an affectionate squeeze Daniel winced and shrunk back from the contact.
made a mental note of the boy's aversion to touch and decided he'd
to remedy that reaction as soon as possible.
followed the goodbyes.
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.
flitted nervously from Jack to the suitcase before small fingers
clicked the latch and the bag popped opened.
noted the flushed
cheeks and realized the kid was embarrassed to reveal his meager
"Jeans, shirts, socks." He made a loud show of the items, hoping his
bravado would relieve some of the boy's anxiety.
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
photos and comic books and various other important ten-year-old boy
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,
understanding as a light clicked on in Jack's brain. A Father's Day
smiling face frozen in time, a letter, and a death certificate, his
flashed to the contents of the cigar box at the bottom of his locker at
and he knew instinctively this wasn't a little boy box after all; it
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
the boy's shoulder a reassuring pat, but once again, the child flinched
quietly agreed as he twisted out of reach.
his hand from
Daniel's shoulder, Jack decided that one day, very soon he was going to
the little lost boy in a hearty hug and not let go no matter how much
wiggled and squirmed. He had no idea if that would make the boy's
to touch better or worse, but in Jack's mind, it would be worth a try.
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
resorted to wrestling and roughhousing as a way of touching and hugging
son. But Charlie had still been open to goodnight kisses and bedtime
and he had never tensed from a squeeze on the shoulder or the feel of
father's hand ruffling through his hair.
Daniel looked up
with those soulful blue eyes, Jack decided not to push it, but one of
days, the kid was going to find himself on the receiving end of good
sighed and realized
this might be harder than he had initially thought. Kids were never
since he'd had a ten year old, and Daniel Jackson was a ten year old,
he thought he would have a better handle on it. He was fast realizing
was nothing like Charlie. Charlie had been vibrant and excitable,
take on the world. Daniel needed coaxing and encouragement to share a
words, while reining in Charlie's exuberance had been Jack's biggest
And Jack never had to guess what Charlie was thinking; his son had
open and easy to read, in joy and in anger. Daniel would be that way
vowed. He just needed the confidence and security that a good home and
of family would bring.
relaxed a bit,
still holding the precious box close to his chest. It was the only item
suitcase that seemed of any interest to him. Jack couldn't blame him.
clothes and the rest of the contents were junk. He had half a mind to
entire bag when he spotted the inhaler. Asthma, he remembered that bit
information from the report. Daniel Jackson had asthma. Janet was
them in a few days to give Daniel a complete physical to determine the
and go over the care and treatment with both of them. He picked up the
how to use
this, right?" he asked nervously.
me when I
can't breathe," Daniel offered.
know how to
use it, right?" Jack repeated.
and held out his hand. When Jack handed him the inhaler he promptly put
his mouth and took a deep breath.
Okay, okay, I
don't need a demonstration. Save it in case you really need it. A
would have sufficed."
Daniel set the instrument on top of the shoebox.
little device made
Jack nervous, but he had Fraiser's number and the kid looked and
perfectly fine at the moment. He decided a change of subject was in
"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.
said gently, "I want you to look at me when I speak to you and I want
to answer me in words. Can you do that?"
The blush in Daniel's cheeks grew brighter.
I'd like to
see your eyes when we talk. And you don't have to call me 'sir'."
did," Daniel stuttered as he struggled miserably to maintain eye
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
reminded by nudging the small chin lightly with his index finger.
Jack smiled in amusement.
conked himself on
the head with a self-conscious little smile. "Oops. I mean, yes,
I'll show you your room."
help of Carter
and Teal'c, the spare room had been spruced up with a coat of yellow
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
lacked imagination but had been smart enough to keep that sentiment to
There were two dressers he had cleaned out last weekend in anticipation
Daniel's arrival and a half empty closet he hadn't finished clearing
he knew two drawers would have been enough. Not for long, Jack
inhaler firmly in hand, Daniel stood hesitantly in the doorway.
tossed the suitcase
on the bed, waved Daniel inside and showed him the empty drawers for
items he did have.
didn't set the
shoebox down; it was obvious he was waiting to be alone to figure out
hiding place. The kid didn't trust him.
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
got to be
kidding," Jack complained. He had brought Danny into the Mountain to
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
to figure it all out.
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
all aspects of treatment, as well as being on the lookout for potential
problems and triggers."
you though, right?" Jack asked as he examined the bright yellow
along with the variety of inhalers and assortment of medications she
out on the table for his review. Thankfully, a nurse had taken Daniel
another room to change back into his clothes to wait for Jack and
finish up their conversation.
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
sarcasm while Fraiser continued writing on what he assumed was Daniel's
extensive medical chart.
worry, Doc, Daniel's a smart kid, he's had asthma his entire life, I’m
knows how to handle it."
ten. Trust me,
Colonel; no one just 'handles' it. Asthma prevents you from breathing
opposed to something like bronchitis, which prevents you from breathing
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
quiet. Jack thought he could count the number of words Daniel had
spoken on his fingers.
will be stressful for you and for him. Why don't we go over what you've
clapped his hands together in a show of confidence. "There are two
of prophylactics used to prevent attacks." Jack paused to grimace in
thought. "Don't tell me, all-butter-o-something, and astro-vent."
smirked in spite of
herself. "Albuterol and Atrovent."
Jack pointed out two of the inhalers. "Anyway, these inhalers have
powdered meds in them. They're preventative, while this one over here
emergency inhaler that Daniel needs to have with him at all times, no
impressed. How about the nebulizer?"
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
newer version of the one he has. I'm sure they do the same thing."
notes on the
chart while Jack played with the machine and continued his
its use. "This baby pumps out air through little plastic containers
contain liquid forms of the same medication. You put the mask over your
and inhale the mist. Piece of cake."
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
nebulizer. I'd recommend two or three times a day when he's wheezy or
Other than that, once a day, or one of the inhalers is probably fine.
have to play around with it all and see what works best for Daniel. Any
Fraiser glanced at
her watch Jack knew his time was just about up. He only had one
"What if none of it works?"
her pen in her
lab coat and looked him in the eye. "911, and don't wait too long."
understanding. "What will they do for him?"
load him up with lots of Albuterol and corta-steroids through
IV's. That usually does the trick. Don't worry, Colonel, it won't be
you're able to distinguish his normal breathing and chest noises from
troubling ones. Once you do that, you can stay on top of his condition.
be fine. The main thing is not to panic, talk to him, calm him down and
meds into him."
Doc," Jack said, trying not to feel insulted.
That's why I said you'd be fine. Anything else?"
in the sight of
the equipment laid out on the examining table and ran his hand through
hair. "The kid's a lot of work, isn't he?"
who else have we been talking about?"
Janet nodded toward the doorway.
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.
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."
quick search of
the base, Jack found his ex-teammates in the commissary. He was
three of them hadn't lost the camaraderie and unique bond they had
members of SG-1. Despite Jack's knees relegating him to the sidelines,
close, solid friendship with both of them remained intact. He took the
seat next to Carter leaving Danny to sit beside Teal'c.
welcome to join Major Carter and I for lunch," Teal'c offered at
Jack added, "Teal'c's a friend. Teal'c, this is Daniel Jackson, Danny,
this is Teal'c."
sat down, his eyes
fixed on the giant beside him. When Teal'c bowed his acquaintance
hesitantly reached out and touched the big man's forehead.
is not an
annoyance, O'Neill," Teal'c intervened before turning his attention
to a shame-faced Daniel. "You are curious about the tattoo?"
questions about it I would be most pleased to answer them." Teal'c
again and gave Daniel what passed for a smile in the world of Jaffa.
Daniel asked timidly.
is a symbol of the oppression of my people and of my former slavery to
again?" Although the question was directed at Teal'c, this time
first glance was to Jack who nodded his permission, pleased Daniel was
Daniel knelt on the chair as Teal'c bowed slightly to accommodate the
gentle fingers prodding him. When Daniel was finished touching he sat
down. "Have you learned anything, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c inquired.
share?" Jack asked, truly interested in what, if anything, a ten year
could learn about a Jaffa from
fingering said Jaffa's
good you no
longer serve the false god," Daniel said, still staring at the gold
"He's the serpent or snake god. He's very bad."
tilted his head in
encouraged while Sam gaped at the small, bespectacled child.
the false god, Apep, the god of evil, darkness and chaos."
Sam both sat up
a bit straighter. "Apep you say?" Jack challenged.
called him Apophis. Was he your false god, Teal'c?"
Daniel noticed all
the adult eyes on him he slouched back down in his seat and went quiet.
broke the silence.
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
how to use it are written in some kind of Goa'uld code that Teal'c
have belonged to Apophis at one time."
think Danny can help you with that?" Jack raised his eyebrows
swallowed the last bite of salad. "We're not getting anywhere, sir;
be worth a try."
Daniel responded eagerly, looking up from his lap for the first time
exploring Teal'c's tattoo.
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
Daniel. The last thing he needed was to stir up the NID with reports
boy genius was in the mountain breaking ancient Goa'uld codes.
wasn't sure if she
understood his concerns or not but he was pleased she had backed down.
helped," Daniel muttered, obviously disappointed.
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
"Be right back, sport," he said lightly, ignoring the slight.
want to show
me the writings now?" Daniel asked hopefully as soon as Jack was out
moments of silence, Teal'c spoke up. "Colonel O'Neill does not wish you
examine the device, Daniel Jackson."
right, I shouldn't have brought it up." Sam concurred.
embarrassed at his failed attempt at disobedience. "He doesn't think I
do it, but maybe I can," he mumbled in explanation.
reasons other than your competence, reasons beyond your current level
understanding," Teal'c offered.
you have to understand that Teal'c and I would never go against the
wishes," Sam added gently.
felt his ears burn
and wished he could escape their scrutiny. He desperately wanted to
translate the words or symbols on the device. He loved words, and if he
useful, Colonel Jack would keep him around that much longer.
lunch?" Sam asked in a noble attempt to change the subject.
Daniel picked at a napkin he'd plucked off the table. "Jack doesn't
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
Teal'c tell the colonel that he had asked to see the device even though
had specifically forbade it? After all, Jack was their boss.
good," Sam babbled enthusiastically. "You're lucky; the colonel knows
all the best places for pizza." She reached across the table to stroke
only nodded at the
reassuring touch and continued slowly shredding the napkin into tiny
sharing a dwelling with O'Neill?" Teal'c asked, watching the pieces of
Daniel's handiwork flutter to the floor.
wanted to say that
he'd really enjoy working on the difficult translation but decided not
that opinion out loud; he shrugged instead. The jury was still out on
Jack. Sometimes, people acted nice until they knew you better, they
mean in a heartbeat, and it certainly took more than a few days to
living with you," Sam smiled confidently.
wasn't sure he
agreed with that. "I'm a lot of work," he confessed quietly.
Sam could respond,
Jack reappeared at the table holding a huge bag of supplies and
slightly. "What's all this?" he asked, waving his hand at the mess of
bit his lower lip.
okay; clean it
up so we can get going. I'm starving."
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.
asked quickly, nodding in Daniel's general direction.
not a problem," Teal'c confirmed.
replied absently, keeping one eye on Daniel's progress.
about the school I mentioned?" Carter questioned.
people telling him what to do made it an effort for Jack to keep the
out of his voice. "No, I want Danny to go to a normal school, with
kids and be a normal boy. He..." The words trailed off when Daniel
returned from his mission.
floor, buddy." Jack pointed out the little bits that had found their
underneath the table. Daniel sighed wordlessly and crawled under to
soon as Danny disappeared on his second garbage run Carter picked up
she'd left off. "Normal
is relative, sir. Daniel's I.Q. isn't normal. He might need more than
school can offer in order to thrive."
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
his life to be as typical and ordinary as possible."
was relieved at her willingness to drop the subject since Daniel had
his clean up duty.
sport?" Jack asked, risking a hand on the boy's shoulder, disappointed
the flinch and barely audible 'okay'.
most important meal of the day," Jack commented enthusiastically,
"besides it's the one I do best. Eat up."
of pancake was
all either of them managed before the doorbell interrupted.
reiterated as he made his way to the door expecting a neighborhood kid
soliciting for the latest fund drive, or worse yet, an authentic
quickly wanting to get back to his pancakes and Daniel.
last person he expected. He stepped aside to let her in.
offered, with a bit of confusion.
brushed past him and
froze in the kitchen when she spotted Danny. "So, it's true."
flinched at that.
How the hell had she known about Daniel?
mother." Reading his mind was one of her more annoying habits.
course, the only person outside the SGC who knew. Jack chalked it up to
timing. Sara rarely spoke to his mom.
"I had to
myself." She stood at the counter and smiled a hello in Daniel's
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
"This is Sara."
Daniel." Jack was impressed that despite the presence of a completely
whole, healthy ten-year-old boy in his kitchen, Sara was able to
smile. "Jack, could I have a minute in private?"
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 Daniel was out
of sight Sara turned on him. "What the hell are you doing, Jack?"
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
give his hands something to do. "His parents worked for the Air
Force," he added, as if that made any difference.
took him in
because you felt sorry for him?" Crossed arms and a determined stare
Jack realize she was circling him like prey. She had a message to
she wouldn't be denied.
coffee and set it back down on the counter, determined not to let her
"Maybe, in a way," he answered coolly.
scoffed at that.
"You can't change what happened to our son."
of Daniel in the
house Jack struggled to keep his voice at a normal volume. "You think I
don't know that?"
accept it and you're still floundering trying to make it fit into your
order and responsibility. You can't accept that it was a horrible
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
you. Not for him, Jack. For you."
him," Jack snapped, no longer able to hide his irritation.
ease your conscience and prove something to yourself." She remained in
same immovable, determined pose. "You have Charlie's pictures and
hidden away in box under your bed like a secret shrine. This house
a shred of evidence of his existence."
better go," Jack answered quietly.
replace anyone!" Jack finally exploded. "Stop playing amateur shrink
and leave it alone. We’re not married; it's not your problem."
"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
married her. "He has enough problems of his own. He doesn't need to
over." Jack steered Sara toward the door.
think about what I said. He can't replace what you lost. It's not fair
Jack slammed the door behind her and concentrated on calming himself.
trying to replace Charlie. He was trying to help an orphaned genius who
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
the Goa'uld. He'd forgive her because she didn't understand. A few deep
and the comforting thought that Sara didn't know what the hell she was
about made him feel better.
sat on the top
step, fingering the small shred of faded, blue silk that a hundred
had been the border of his baby blanket, out of sight, but not out of
He listened because he desperately needed to better appreciate his
Grownups always thought he couldn't understand, but he could. He
lot. Sara was Jack's ex-wife and something terrible had happened to
Charlie. That explained a lot. That's why Jack took him in, to replace
Jack must miss him terribly. Daniel felt the tightness in his chest and
recognized the signs. He forced himself to breathe slowly, closing his
remembering how his mom and dad had sometimes been able to talk him out
attack before it got too bad. He heard the door slam and was scared of
anger, not sure how Jack handled that particular emotion. A moment of
raced through him as he thought back to how some of his previous foster
had handled their anger. He crept to his room and drew in a few deep
from his new inhaler, calming himself with the realization he was
knowing the consequences of Jack's temper and the role he was expected
That's why he listened.
dejectedly on the bed. He was supposed to replace Charlie. He would do
he could, but he guessed Charlie had been fun and smart and very
would do his best, but in the end, he felt certain Jack would be
stood for a long
moment, staring at the door he’d slammed after Sara. The house was
silent, but he could still hear their fight echoing. It had been like
the last days of their marriage, when any conversation that managed to
to life was rife with possible triggers. They had walked on eggshells
each other, not wanting another fight, not knowing how to fix things.
and hurt to make the effort for each other.
to himself, if not to Sara, he hadn’t even tried. She had at least
made suggestions of family counseling, a trip away together, taking
off work, anything. Any way to get out of their downward spiral, but
refused it all. He’d left the Air Force not to please her, but because
couldn’t focus on the work, couldn’t bury himself it no matter how much
wanted to. Even when he wasn’t working, he stayed away from home, was
hours, surly and uncommunicative on those occasions when he was home.
he’d screwed things
up pretty badly. Jack walked into the kitchen and looked at the
sitting cold in congealed syrup and greasy butter. He shook his head
to mechanically clean up, still running the fight with Sara around and
in his head.
come in guns
blazing as she always did, not pulling any punches. But she didn’t know
whole situation. She didn’t. And yeah, he’d been wrong in the past with
he’d made mistakes, but he wasn’t going to do that this time. This was
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
To make up for... for everything? Was Sara right after all? Maybe this
about him, not Daniel.
his head, Jack
put the plate down hard, irritated when it didn’t shatter, but simply
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
his day, no question, and Sara herself had been on the receiving end of
them, but he had never hurt a child.
anyway. Not directly.
been an accident.
Jack repeated that to himself, angry with Sara for digging this all up
and angry with himself for letting her get to him. An accident. A
pointless, terrible accident, but he’d never meant for it to happen. He
a bad person. Wasn’t a killer.
That wasn’t true
either, was it?
that was in the
past. All of it was the past. He was thinking forward now, starting
okay, yeah, maybe it was a little about him, but it was about Daniel
was doing it for both of them. If they both gained from it, what was so
about that? Nothing selfish about wanting a little happiness, a second
the water off
and crossed the kitchen to wipe his hands on a dishtowel, blanking his
Some thoughts didn’t bear finishing.
his arms and
surveyed the kitchen. Dishes rinsed and stacked neatly in the sink,
cleared, butter and syrup put away. Of course, he’d have to come up
something else for breakfast now, but he bet Daniel would be just as
cereal. Nothing wrong with good old Fruit Loops.
speaking of Daniel...
frowned and walked
out into the living room. Where had the kid disappeared to? He must
Sara leave, must have known the argument was over. Jack winced
rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. Yeah, Daniel had probably
whole thing. Way to make a great impression on him.
he called up
the stairs, one hand resting lightly on the rail. “You want to finish
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
known Daniel, he’d found him to be very quiet, very anxious, and so
please it was almost sad. Sulking because of a minor slight didn’t seem
with that picture.
Daniel,” he said,
climbing the stairs. “You up here?”
to Daniel’s room
was slightly ajar, and Jack nudged it open with one foot, peering into
room. He could feel a tight fluttering in his stomach that had nothing
with Daniel and everything to do with what he’d once found in another
in another time. Damn Sara anyway for making him remember.
was sitting on the
bed, his back to the door, and that was okay, but Jack’s quick flash of
was swamped with unease when he heard Daniel’s frantic gasps for
Are you--” He
went around the end of the bed and saw the inhaler pressed to Daniel’s
the boy sucking at it, his eyes wide and his face pale, an alarming
to his lips.
froze for a split
second, all the instructions that Frasier had given him fleeing his
known this was possible--hell, likely--but somehow he hadn’t been
to really happen.
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.
supposed to be another step, something...
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
asthma. He was a special ops colonel, after all. He’d been to other
He’d fought aliens and saved the planet. What was one silly little
apparently it was
enough to scare the crap out of him.
Jack blanked on the location for a moment, and then spotted the bright
plastic, sitting in plain view on Daniel’s bedside table. He hurried
grabbed it, checked that the liquid medicine containers were full, and
it twice until the mist began flowing satisfactorily.
Danny, here we go,
breathe this,” Jack said, putting the mouthpiece over Daniel’s face and
the emergency inhaler out of the way. He rubbed one hand over the boy’s
feeling another cold wave of fear in his belly. Daniel’s back was
with his breaths, each one short and shallow and mostly useless.
Is that better?”
pressed the neb
closer to his face and didn’t respond. Jack felt like smacking himself.
that better?’ Like Daniel could answer him. God, what had he been
That he could just fit Daniel into a neat Charlie shaped hole and
would be okay? He had no clue what he was doing. He’d already screwed
child’s life in the worst possible way. Now here he was being
useless while Daniel choked and gasped and clutched the little plastic
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
one two three out... come on...”
blinked at him,
the rim of the mouthpiece pushing his glasses up, the angle magnifying
eyes, deep blue and swimming with fear. Jack kept rubbing his back up
and held the eye contact, opening and shutting his mouth in slow,
breaths for Daniel to follow.
forever, but gradually, the gasping segued into wheezing, and then into
rattling breaths that sounded thick and forced. Daniel finally pulled
away from his face and hunched forward, coughing and rubbing at his
Jack put a hand
on his shoulder. “How you doing?”
the hand and scooting a little away from Jack. “Better,” he rasped.
out of him in a long, ragged sigh. “Crap, Daniel, why didn’t you tell
if I hadn’t come up here looking for you?”
hunched over a
little more, one fist still rubbing hard up and down his chest, the
digging into his sternum. “Sorry. I didn’t... I thought I was okay.”
you weren’t,” Jack
said shortly. He felt wrung out, inadequate and in way over his head.
hiding everything from him wasn’t helping.
again. His free hand began working, his fingers rubbing against his
Jack could see a bit of pale blue fabric clutched in his fist.
Jack said, wincing
when Daniel shrank a little more from him. He put a hand on the boy’s
and was startled to find it trembling. “Hey. Easy now. I’m... I’m
didn’t mean to snap at you. This...” He pulled his hand back and ran it
his hair, then rubbed his palm over his face. “It’s been a bad morning,
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
his shirt. His hands had a visible tremor, a leftover of the stimulant
properties of the asthma meds.
sighed and scooted
closer on the bed. He debated putting an arm around Daniel’s shoulders,
figured it wouldn’t be well received at the moment. His own fault, of
What was he thinking, yelling at the kid? Daniel was probably already
rattled by the asthma attack and Jack’s own ineptitude at helping him
it. There was no excuse for taking his anger at Sara out on the boy.
softly. He waited for Daniel to raise his eyes, and when it became
he wasn’t going to, he spoke to the top of his head. “I really am
your fault you have asthma. I was just... well, to tell the truth, you
shot him a quick,
baffled glance out of the corner of his eye. “I really thought I could
it,” he murmured. “I didn’t want to bother you.”
next time, bother
frowned at the
dutiful reply. Daniel still wasn’t looking at him, and he kept rubbing
of cloth against his face, over and over, like he didn’t even know he
it. Jack wanted to ask what it was, but really, he had a pretty good
already. Making the boy tell him would only embarrass him. And yeah,
Daniel was a little old to need a security blanket, even a tiny scrap
but Jack figured if anyone could use a little extra security, this kid
what brought this
hear me fighting
long enough to
tell Jack the real answer, and then another shrug.
Jack bumped their
shoulders together, pleased when Daniel didn’t scoot away again. “Talk
thought... maybe I
should just stay out of the way for a while. Until you calmed down.”
scowled. He didn’t
like what that implied. Didn’t like it one bit. “Why?” he asked, his
eyes flitted toward him, then away. “It’s better that way.”
I want you to
listen to me. This is important.” Jack waited until Daniel met his eyes
and nodded. “No matter how angry I am, I would never hurt you.”
startled look, wide
eyes behind glasses that were still askew. “I didn’t think... I didn’t
that, Jack. I know you wouldn’t.”
sure you know
that,” Jack said quietly. “But you do now, okay? And besides, this
wasn’t even mad at you. I was mad at... well, other things. Not your
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.”
the sinking feeling
in his stomach that meant he’d done something he was going to be sorry
“Where did you hear that?”
going around the end of the bed and wiping the mouthpiece of his
a Kleenex. He kept his head down, his back toward Jack, and shrugged.
Jack drew his
mouth into a grim smile. Well, here was another thing he’d messed up.
must’ve overheard him in the infirmary. No wonder Daniel was so leery
letting him touch him. He wasn’t exactly showing a pretty face.
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
body seemed jittery, muscles snapping and jerking under the skin, his
still rough and raspy.
blinked, shaking his
head slightly. “What? What are you talking about?”
put the neb down
and turned, crossing his arms snugly over his chest. “If I did
if you told me not to, does that still mean you wouldn’t... even if you
stared at him,
opened his mouth, and then shut it again. He swallowed and dropped his
he’d made another mistake. Daniel needed to hear he wouldn’t be hurt
confessed to anything. He’d never had to offer that kind of direct
to Charlie--Charlie had known. He hadn’t needed to ask. Jack had been
he could handle this kid; after all, he’d done it before. He was
and he’d thought he was a pretty damn good father. Up until the end,
But this was totally different. His experience didn’t apply. He was
you broke a rule
and I was angry, I wouldn’t hurt you,” Jack said deliberately. “There
consequences, yes, but you never need to be afraid of me, all right?”
unconvinced. He frowned and shifted from one foot to the other, biting
lower lip. “Then why... why are you waiting? I keep expecting you to...
know what you’re going to do. I wish you’d just...” Daniel snapped his
Jack shook his
head, and then swung his legs around so he was sitting on the side of
closest to Daniel, who took two steps back. “Daniel, what are you
they told you!”
Daniel said, his voice rising. His arms lost their hold and spread
fingers outstretched. “I’m sorry I tried to do the translation even
said no, but please, would you just do whatever you’re going to do? I
He paused, dropping his arms. “I mean... sorry. You don’t have to...
trying to tell you what to do. If... if making me wait is part of it
He shrugged, trailing off, his eyes dropping again.
a hand up,
waving his finger. “Hold on. You know they told me? Who told me? And
sighed. “Two days
ago, when we were at your work and Major Carter wanted me to look at
writings and you said I couldn’t,” he recited dutifully. “After you
asked if I could see the writings, and they said no because you said
you came back and I went to clean up the napkin I tore up, and they
By the end of his speech, he was mumbling at the floor, and the hand
the bit of blanket had crept up to his face again. “I’m sorry,” he
“I just really wanted to...” He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. You
and I tried to do it anyway. I know I’m in trouble.”
stared at him. Those
writings? That’s what this was about? So... what, the kid had been
be punished for the last two days? Just wondering when that other shoe
going to drop? And apparently, with his history, he had every reason to
some kind of terrible punishment.
okay, first, I
didn’t know. They didn’t tell me.”
shook his head, his brows drawn together. “But... but I saw you talking
them. And you looked at me.”
if you were
okay, and they said you weren’t any trouble.”
sighed and tilted
his head to one side. “Hey, listen. If you do something wrong, I’ll
right away, okay? I’m not in to head games. You break a rule, and
it. I’m not saying you get away with disobedience, but I’m still never
hurt you. That doesn’t change, got it?”
decided this was as good a time as any, and he patted the bed beside
giving the kid an encouraging look. Daniel hesitated long enough for
think his invitation had been refused, and then the boy shuffled over
perched next to him, smiling in his nervous, seeking approval way.
you,” Jack said
softly. “I really don’t want you to be afraid of me, Daniel. And maybe
will take some time. But you know, if you’d just told me what was going
day in the commissary, you wouldn’t have been worrying this whole time.”
know why I didn’t
want you to work with Carter on her machine, or whatever it was?”
shook his head,
looking at Jack curiously.
because I didn’t
think you could do it. In fact, I bet you could do it.”
straighter, the first real smile Jack had seen all morning on his face.
love to try, Jack, really I would. I want to help.”
reached over and
ruffled his hair briefly, pleased when Daniel held still and tolerated
touch, although he didn’t try to lean into it. “I know you do. But what
is sometimes secret, and because I think you could understand what was
on Carter’s thing, I can’t let you see it until I ask my boss. Plus, I
make sure you’re safe.”
wrinkled his nose.
“Safe? It’s just a translation.”
sighed and considered for a long moment. He didn’t want to scare
forewarned was forearmed. “See, there’s a group of people called the
would really like you to translate things if they knew you 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.”
his head. “It’s not that simple. The NID... well, they’re not good
might take whatever you tell them and use it for bad things.” Which was
vague, but he wasn’t about to go into the whole ‘alien technology to
highest bidder’ mess with a little boy. Daniel would need to take a
amount of this on faith.
frowning. “I didn’t know that.”
have helped if
nodded, and then
seemed to think of something. “But you don’t have to tell me, Jack. I
adults don’t have to tell kids stuff. I should just do what you say
asking why,” he added, as if reciting one of the commandments.
of your foster
parents tell you that?”
The social worker
had been pretty sketchy about Daniel’s past placements in her
meeting with Jack, and he was starting to see why. “Well, here, it’s
ask. I can’t promise you’ll like the reason, or agree with it, but I
but this one didn’t look forced to Jack. “Okay,” Daniel said. He
eyes and murmured, “Thanks.”
asking Carter to
see the writing after I said no was still wrong,” Jack began. Daniel
and he put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “But--I
worried enough about it. We’ll call it even this time, okay?”
blue eyes stared at
him, shocked. “Really? I mean... yeah, okay! Sure, Jack.”
right. If you think
you’re in trouble again, just tell me. Chances are I don’t know about
I’d appreciate the honesty. Be straight with me and things will be much
for both of us, got it?”
“Oh, yeah, Jack, I don’t want to lie. I just wasn’t sure...” He waved
softening his face with a smile when the kid started to fidget. He’d
take this up with the social worker later, because somewhere along the
someone had hurt Daniel, and he wasn’t about to let it go.
Jack? I’m sorry
about the... you know, the asthma thing. I didn’t mean to worry you.”
grinned and tugged
Daniel closer. The boy sat against his side, but barely allowed the
holding himself stiffly upright. At least he didn’t pull away. “Yeah, I
pretty worried. I’m kind of new to this whole asthma thing. Don’t know
doing. You’re going to have to help me out there, okay? Tell me if you
attack coming, even a little bit.”
an arm around
Daniel’s shoulders, Jack felt their steady rise and fall. He leaned
listening to the small chest, and heard what seemed like an awful lot
leftover wheezing, although he was hardly an expert. Daniel didn’t seem
worried, though. Daniel seemed... relaxed, actually. He was allowing
arm, allowing the closeness. And if Jack wasn’t greatly mistaken, the
actually leaned in for a brief moment before putting that deliberate
air between them again.
Maybe he wasn’t a
total screw up as a parent after all.
himself, shaking his head. “Shh, shh, it’s okay.” He closed his eyes
wrapped his arms around his chest, rocking back and forth on the bed.
he whispered. “Just... shh...”
It was an
old habit, and
one that he tried to avoid whenever he could. Only crazy people talked
He didn’t want to be crazy, but sometimes he needed the sound of his
to ground him, to remind him he was safe and it had only been a bad
now,” he murmured,
swiping his fingers beneath his eyes. “No noise. Quiet.” That was
didn’t want to wake Jack up. Even though Jack had told him just that
he’d never hurt him, it was best not to test that promise. Besides,
no need to go wailing like a baby over a stupid dream. Wasn’t real.
be afraid of. Just a bad dream.
could feel his
skin, twitchy and tight, his hands trembling, the big muscles in his
jumping and taut. Rocking was no longer good enough and he slid off the
beginning to pace. He kept his footsteps soft and muffled, carefully
each step, concentrating on it, wiping his mind of all other thought.
steps from the bed to the door. Turn, five steps back. Each one
silent and controlled.
dream,” he told
himself. “You’re at Jack’s house. It’s okay. You’re not there anymore.”
to think about
where ‘there’ was. No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. Better to think
counting his steps. To concentrate on putting his weight smoothly, heel
nice and even. No stomping or erratic rhythm for him, no sir. He had
under control. Quiet and contained. No problems here.
tightness in his chest lingering from the asthma attack he’d had that
and his breath rasped in his throat, threatening to seize up on him
Opening his mouth, he made his breathing match his steps, long and
would not wake Jack and worry him in the middle of the night. He would
difficult or too much work. Jack would be glad to have such an easy,
mouth was making him thirsty. Daniel considered whether he should go
drink of water. He knew he was allowed to leave his room in the night,
to go to the bathroom. Jack hadn’t said if it was okay to get a drink
snack. In one place he’d lived, he’d been hungry and gotten into the
and been caught, and they’d...
shook his head
sharply. Not thinking about that. He wasn’t there now, he was here, and
was different. Jack was different. Jack was kind, and didn’t yell. He
be punished for getting a drink.
drink from the bathroom sink. There were no cups, but he could use his
He was allowed in there. No risk.
but the water
didn’t taste good. It was metallic and held an odd aftertaste. The
a filter under the sink that made the tap water taste much better. Jack
even showed it to him, when he was cooking dinner one evening. He’d
cupboard and showed Daniel the little white cylinder hooked into the
said it got rid of all the ‘crap’ the city put in the water supply.
he was very
quiet, Jack wouldn’t know. According to his clock radio, it was two
in the morning. Jack would be asleep. He could slip down to the
his drink, come back upstairs and go to bed, and Jack would never know.
would do that. He
wasn’t afraid. And he could be very, very quiet.
hesitated at his
door, but slowly turned the knob, pushing the door open an inch at a
froze when it creaked slightly, holding his breath, ready to pull it
dive under the covers at the slightest rustle from Jack’s room. But no
came, and he let the breath out and pushed a little further. When the
open to the smallest gap he could fit through, he turned sideways and
out, his back scraping on the doorframe.
hallway had no
windows, and was very dark. Meager light crept up from downstairs,
enough for him to see where the floor dropped away and the dull gleam
banister. The floor was polished wood, unlike his carpeted room, and it
harder to keep his footsteps muffled. Rising up on his toes, he slipped
the wall, breathing shallowly as he got further and further from Jack’s
He could see that Jack’s door was open a few inches, disclosing only
behind it. Jack could be standing there, watching him through the gap.
to see if he’d go toward the bathroom, or down the stairs.
braced one hand on
the wall and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. Jack was not
Jack was asleep. He wriggled his shoulders uneasily, trying to rid his
that eerie little prickle. Nobody was watching him. He wanted to say
loud, wanted to hear the familiarity of his own voice in the still,
house, but he didn’t dare. Not with Jack’s door open and so near.
under him and he froze again, aware of a hard, heavy thud in his chest.
breathing was audible now, loud and rasping in his ears, leftover
the earlier attack. Surely Jack would be able to hear it. If he ran
could get back in his room before Jack came out. He could pretend he’d
been in the hall. But if he kept going, if he went down the stairs, he
past the point of no return.
wouldn’t hurt him.
He’d said so. And although he’d only known Jack for a short time, he
Jack meant what he said. If he got caught, maybe he’d be yelled at, or
his room, or made to do extra chores, but those were all minor things.
handle those things.
the next step
down, and then the next. Each one was easier. He was committed now,
turning back. Once he got to the bottom of the stairs, he breathed a
relief. Jack wouldn’t be able to hear him now. Licking his dry lips,
walked to the kitchen, still keeping his steps light but not so
they had been.
but when he looked in the dish drainer, he paused. Jack had put the
away. He crossed to the dishwasher and opened it, which was silly,
knew it was empty. He’d emptied it himself. Jack had told him that it
his chore, his part of helping with the dishes, and he’d been happy to
something useful to do.
where the glasses
were kept, of course. He’d put them away, after all. It was just that
in a high cupboard, and he had to use a chair to reach it. Jack had
that he’d rearrange the kitchen later, put things where Daniel could
them, but for now he’d have to use the chair. Jack had also said he’d
instead of glasses, plastic cups that he didn’t have to worry about
breaking. Daniel had promised quite earnestly to be careful and not
anything, and Jack had nodded. Daniel thought he was probably going to
cups anyway. Daniel had been handling delicate artifacts with care and
for years, but he knew Jack only saw a kid who was likely to break
looked at the kitchen chair and hunched his shoulders slightly. The
heavy, solid wood, and he couldn’t lift them. He had to push them
floor, and they made a scraping noise on the tiles. Maybe he didn’t
glass. He could use his hands. He looked back at the sink, and then
head. The counter was too high, the faucet too far from the edge. He’d
water everywhere trying to get it to his mouth.
sleeping, Daniel reminded himself. It would be okay.
closest to the cupboard with the glasses, put his shoulder to it, and
small nudge. The chair didn’t move. Frowning, Daniel pushed a little
and a little harder, until the chair gave suddenly and slid across the
The noise was much louder than he remembered. Last time, Jack had been
kitchen with him, telling him where things went, and it had been
the house hadn’t been still and quiet. Now, in the dark kitchen, with
moonlight coming through the window, the scraping sound was terribly
froze, his hands
clamped on the chair back, watching the base of the stairs. Jack would
any minute, disheveled and sleepy, frowning, wanting to know what
thought he was doing down here in the middle of the night.
did not appear,
Daniel forced his hands to relax and considered the chair. It was close
counter. Not pressed against it, not as close as it had been when he
dishes away, but close. Close enough to reach a glass? Tilting his head
side and walking around the chair, Daniel nodded. It would work. He’d
rise up on his toes and stand on the edge, but he’d be able to reach.
want to risk making another loud noise.
climbed up quickly,
opening the cupboard door, glad when it made no sound. There were the
right where he’d put them, all lined up neatly, turned upside down so
didn’t gather inside them. Bracing one hand on the bottom edge of the
Daniel stretched his other hand up. His fingertips brushed the edge of
glass. Biting his lower lip in concentration, Daniel moved his toes to
edge of the chair and reached a little further. His hand closed around
glass just as the chair shifted under him, and he clutched at the
toes stretched as far as they would go to hold him up, and Daniel
pulled the glass out, looking at it with a grin. He’d done it!
overhead light suddenly came on, flooding his eyes with unexpected
Jack’s voice rang out behind him. “Daniel! Get down!”
automatically, Daniel tried to twist and push back from the cupboard at
same time. His hand knocked against the cupboard door and the glass
from startled fingers, shattering loudly on the counter. Broken glass
across the floor.
blinked at Jack,
his eyes still dazzled by the sudden light. Jack’s face was blurry
glasses, but his dark eyes were hard and flashing, and his mouth was
looking ready to form angry words.
said quickly, dropping to the chair and then to the floor. “I’ll clean
I’m sorry, I’ll get it, didn’t mean to drop it, I’ll--”
Jack cut him off
sharply. “Don’t move. Get on the chair and stay there. Keep your feet
floor.” He stood and watched while Daniel scrambled to obey, and then
and walked away, opening a closet and rummaging around inside.
sat very still on
the chair, his hands wrapped around the backrest. He’d been caught.
Jack up in the middle of the night, and he’d broken a glass, something
promised not to do, and he’d made a mess, and now Jack was mad. Jack
at him. What was he getting from the closet? Was he going to...
shaking his head. “He won’t, he won’t, stop it.” He closed his eyes and
deep breath. Jack wouldn’t. He needed to remember where he was. This
that other place. This was Jack’s house, and that didn’t happen here.
reappeared wearing slippers
and carrying a broom. Daniel stared at the long, hard wooden handle and
his stomach curdle. He hunched his shoulders, trying to hide behind the
back, holding very, very still. Maybe if he was completely quiet and
himself a statue, Jack would forget him.
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
dustpan. He stole a furtive glance at Jack and quickly dropped his gaze
Jack’s hair was mussed, matted on one side, his face was scruffy with
and his eyes were tired. He looked irritated, impatient. But he was
broom to sweep up. That was what it was for. Not anything else.
get down now,”
Jack said, his voice making Daniel jump. “I just had to make sure you
cut your feet.”
nodded and hopped
off the chair. He stood frozen for a moment while Jack carried the
the closet. He was putting it away. He was done with it, and he was
away. Daniel closed his eyes and let out a long breath. When he opened
again, Jack was standing in the open archway to the kitchen, leaning
the wall, his arms folded. He was watching Daniel.
took a step back.
His back bumped the table and he looked at it, startled. It was wide,
solid. Reassuring. He quickly backed around it, bracing his hands on
wood, feeling how strong it was. How big and real, how it couldn’t just
tossed aside. He stood on one side, and Jack was across the room on the
side, and that was better. Safer.
frowning now. He straightened, taking a step forward. Daniel edged a
the left so the table was still directly between them. His breathing
beginning to wheeze again and he swallowed hard, making himself take
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
another steady breath. “I was just going to get a drink of water
tastes better down here and I didn’t mean to wake you up and I’m sorry.”
Jack said. “No
harm done. It was just an accident. Here, I’ll get you another glass.”
reached into the cupboard and pulled a glass down, filling it with
the sink. He held it out toward Daniel.
stared. It had
been so easy for Jack. But of course, because Jack was big. He had
strong hands, and those broad shoulders. He was tall and heavy and
held onto the edge of the table and stayed where he was. Maybe Jack
at him, and maybe he just wanted to give him the water. Sure, it was
But then again, maybe not.
Jack set the
glass of water down on the counter. “Are you okay? Did you cut
shook his head. He
didn’t think he’d cut himself. Of course, he did feel kind of numb and
at the moment, his heartbeat rushing in his ears, his fingers tingling,
was possible. Maybe he just didn’t feel it.
looked at him for a
long moment, and his frown faded. He shook his head, and now he seemed
tired. Daniel shifted nervously, his arms trembling, his fingers
holding onto the table so hard. What had he done to make Jack look that
Jack said softly.
“It’s okay, Daniel. I’m not mad at you. It was an accident. Please come
here. I need to make sure you didn’t get cut anywhere.”
shouldn’t disobey. There were penalties for disobedience. But the table
good in front of him, so solid and safe. He could stay over here, and
came to get him, he could slip around one side and keep it between them
and what? Was he going to hide behind the table forever? Balking Jack
only make it worse. Better to come out and take his medicine.
Jack had put the
broom away. It wouldn’t be too bad.
He walked forward, watching Jack carefully, ready to move quickly if it
necessary. He stopped just outside of Jack’s reach, and when Jack’s
up, he couldn’t help flinching a little. Jack caught his breath and
sad again, and a little bit angry, and Daniel bit his lip. That had
stupid. Flinching like a little kid. Now he’d made it worse.
reaching out again. His hand moved very slowly, coming to rest on
shoulder, but not squeezing. Daniel waited, expecting the fingers to
but they never did. The hand just sat there, warm and steady.
crouched down and
drew him a little closer, then nudged him toward the chair. “Sit up
said. “I need to check your feet.”
nodded and got
into the chair. Direct instructions were good. No confusion there.
sad eyes and slow, gentle touches were too confusing. Better to
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.
wanted him to hold still. He had to cooperate. He was in enough trouble
think you got
lucky.” Jack put his feet down and knelt up, bracing his hands on the
Daniel’s chair. Daniel was actually a little higher than him in this
and he felt oddly reassured to be looking down at Jack.
okay.” Jack picked
up one of his hands, which was fisted by his side, and gently unrolled
fingers, his own hand swallowing Daniel’s. “You want to tell me what
shaking his head once before quickly stopping. He wasn’t saying no.
wrong. You didn’t tell adults no. He just didn’t understand the
thing where you hid
behind the table. What was that?”
blinking at Jack. “I wasn’t... hiding.” Which was mostly true. He
of it as hiding. It was just that the table had felt good in front of
felt safer with it between them.
“Remember that I said I wouldn’t hurt you, even if I was angry?”
replied, leaning forward slightly. “I know you wouldn’t... I wasn’t...
calling you a liar or anything, really. I just...” He trailed off
looking away. Jack’s steady, calm gaze was unnerving.
start at the
beginning. You were down here because you wanted a drink of water,
waited for Daniel’s nod before continuing. “That’s fine. It’s okay for
get things like that at night. I want you to know I’m not upset about
relaxing a little. He hadn’t broken a rule. That was good. “I’m sorry
waking you up.”
“That’s just me being a light sleeper. Not your fault.” He squeezed
and Daniel stiffened, waiting for the grip to become painful, crushing,
didn’t. Just a steady warmth and pressure. He blinked several times,
needing to swallow, and that was dumb. Jack was only holding his hand.
wasn’t yelling or... or anything else, so there was no reason to get
Jack’s voice was
very low, very soft. He pressed two fingers against Daniel’s cheek and
tilted his head so their eyes could meet again. “It’s okay. Can you
tell me why
you were afraid?”
shook his head.
Jack wouldn’t want a kid who got scared over nothing but a bad dream
broken glass. And what about the way he’d leapt to the wrong conclusion
the broom? Jack would be mad he’d thought that.
and then winced, grimacing down at the floor. “Look, how about we move
into the living room? My knees are killing me.”
and he nodded immediately. “Jack, of course, I’m sorry! I forgot about
knees. There’s no more glass, right? Did you get cut? I could sweep up
case you missed some. You don’t have to do it, I can clean up my own
I’m sorry, and here, I’ll get it and you go sit down and I’ll--”
shaking his head. He chuckled a little, and then stood, groaning as his
popped. “Don’t worry so much, okay? You’ll give yourself an ulcer.”
followed Jack into the living room, wondering what an ulcer was. At
had laughed, and that was good, right? He didn’t look sad anymore. That
into the couch,
the room lit only by the oblique light coming from the kitchen, casting
skewed shadows across the floor. He held an arm out and gave Daniel an
look. Daniel eyed the space on the couch that Jack obviously wanted him
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
of control and it would all come spilling out, the nightmare and being
of the broom and just everything, and Jack wouldn’t want a cry-baby, or
who was... damaged.
head shot up and
he met Jack’s expectant gaze. Jack wanted him to sit there. He’d woken
in the middle of the night and made a mess and then hurt his knees. The
he could do was cooperate with what Jack wanted.
besides... maybe it
wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe he needed it. Just a little.
beside Jack, and
felt a heavy arm wrap around his shoulders, but Jack didn’t push beyond
He allowed Daniel to slowly settle against his side, and Daniel closed
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
breath. Jack’s hand squeezed his shoulder, and Daniel swallowed.
Jack’s voice was a
low rumble in his ear, and his chest vibrated slightly against Daniel’s
he spoke. “It’s okay now. Remember what we talked about today after
attack? If you’re worried that you’re in trouble, just talk to me. If
is wrong, I need to know about it.”
nodded. He didn’t
trust his voice.
around him, and he couldn’t resist turning, pressing his cheek against
chest. He’d fought this--every time Jack tried to touch him, to hug
been stiff and distant, because he’d known this would happen. He’d
good it would feel to give in, and how much it would hurt when Jack
because everyone left. He wanted to keep fighting, but he was so tired,
Jack was so warm. Just this once, he told himself. He wouldn’t let it
habit. Just this once.
his breath stirring Daniel’s hair. “I’ve got you.” His hand began
Daniel’s back, strong and heavy. “You want to tell me about it?”
replied. “Just a dream. I’m fine.”
Jack rubbed his
back in silence for a few minutes. “Sometimes I have bad dreams too.”
lifted his head,
startled. He looked up at Jack, who nodded, giving him a wry smile.
let me tell
you, buddy, they’re no fun at all.”
his head back down, already far too used to the feel of Jack’s chest
cheek. Just this once, he reminded himself. He couldn’t let himself
expect this. It would be far too easy.
want to tell me
shook his head,
relishing the way his face rubbed Jack’s shirt. He was surrounded by
scent, already familiar and reassuring, and his whole body was lifted
Jack inhaled. His eyelids felt heavy, and he let them drop, Jack’s hand
back a steady, calming stroke. He found himself timing his breathing to
but he didn’t catch it. Only Jack’s voice, that low rumble, rich and
felt fingers in his hair, threading through it, and a faint flicker of
ran through his belly. He was allowing far too much, getting too
Losing his protective distance. He couldn’t let himself fall asleep
couldn’t let his guard down.
continued, deep and soothing, and his breathing got a little deeper,
and it was
slept late. He’d carried Daniel up the stairs early that morning,
as early as it could have been. Daniel had fallen asleep on his chest
around three, but he hadn’t made it back to his room until nearly four.
wasn’t letting himself think too much about the time discrepancy there.
cuddled the kid for a little while. Daniel had clearly needed it. And
okay, he’d been asleep at the time so it wasn’t like he’d known about
still. He’d done it to make the boy feel better. That was all.
was Sunday and
he, for once, actually had the weekend off, Jack lazed in bed for a
hand crept up to the place on his tee shirt where Daniel’s cheek had
pressed. The kid had been so tight against him that the seam of his
been imprinted on his face. Jack frowned, remembering how Daniel had
the kitchen, so tense and flighty. Watching his hands the way one
dangerous animal. The way he’d flinched when Jack had tried to touch
didn’t like the
implications. Not one bit. He’d known yesterday, when Daniel had the
attack, that some bad things had happened to the kid. That somewhere
line, someone had hurt him. Maybe more than one someone. Still, knowing
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
Jack would tell him as many times as it took. Pretty soon he’d have a
normal boy, just like...
he was making
that comparison. Because he wasn’t. This was about Daniel, and no one
matter what Sara thought.
nodded to himself
and got out of bed. He took a quick shower and dressed in his
slouching around the house clothes. If he was lucky, Daniel would still
asleep, and he could enjoy a quiet cup of coffee on the back deck.
take Daniel to the park today, let him run a little. The kid was way
Obviously didn’t get enough time to play outside and just be a kid.
smelled the coffee
before he got to the kitchen, and he was two steps into the room before
Daniel. He was crouched down under the table, stretching the broom out,
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
fruit loops that Daniel had managed to amass, and the careful,
he was sweeping every square inch of the floor. He shook his head, not
he thought it was funny or sad.
jumped, banged his
head on the underside of the table, and hunched back down, rubbing his
with one hand. He peered cautiously up at Jack, staying on the floor.
wake you up, did I?”
easily. “Whatcha’ doing?”
blinked at him,
and then looked at the broom in his hand, as if it should be obvious.
just...” He shrugged,
rubbing the smooth wood handle between his fingers nervously. “I wanted
sure there was no more glass.”
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
it. “Was there any more?” he asked, crouching down to Daniel’s level.
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
can clean my own messes.”
you. I’m glad you
cleaned up, but I’d rather you wore shoes. And you could cut your knees
crawling around down there.”
ducked his head
and nodded. “Sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t know there would be glass.”
isn’t anymore,” Jack said cheerfully. He winced when he realized his
too loud, and forced. But something had to make that slump go out of
shoulders. “Hey,” he said more softly. “Give me that, okay?” He held
out for the broom.
stared at him, and
Jack was baffled to see his lower lip begin to tremble. He clutched the
for a moment, and then sighed and handed it over. He remained under the
his knees tucked up to his chest and his eyes watching Jack as if he
something sudden and unpleasant.
quickly scooped the
little pile of dirt into the dustpan and threw it away, then stood,
head to look down at Daniel. “Are you planning on staying there all
asked with more forced cheer.
blinked at him. “I
made coffee for you. I... I hope that’s okay. I was very, very careful
didn’t break anything and I used the same scoops that you use and the
amount of water because I watched when you did it and I remembered and
thought maybe you’d like it if I made you some.”
raised his eyebrows.
“That’s quite a mouthful. And I appreciate the coffee, thanks. I’m sure
it just fine.”
finally, got Daniel
to uncurl a little, and a small smile touched his lips before slipping
was careful,” he repeated, nodding earnestly.
glad. Hey, why don’t
you come out of there and we’ll have breakfast, okay?” Jack asked,
back a little to give Daniel room.
eyes went to the
broom still loosely held in Jack’s hand, then back to Jack’s face. He
and shifted a little, edging forward as slowly as possible. He kept
the broom, and Jack felt something cold and heavy unfurl in the pit of
stomach. He lifted the broom, and Daniel froze, his eyes widening. Jack
swallowed and took a deep breath.
“How about I put this away, since we’re done with it?”
said nothing. He
watched silently as Jack stuck the broom back in the closet, remaining
beneath the table until Jack returned and crouched in front of him.
Jack said. He
held a hand out, waiting until Daniel’s hand crept out to take it. Then
tugged gently, and Daniel went along, rising to stand beside him. Jack
resist running a hand through his hair, which was somewhat cobwebby
the corners of the kitchen he’d so carefully cleaned. His hand slipped
Daniel’s shoulder and he pulled the boy close, giving him a sideways
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
before the kid would allow casual affection.
him go, and
Daniel immediately brought his own arms up around his chest. He watched
poured a cup of coffee and took a sip. “Is it okay?” he asked, leaning
grinned and nodded.
“It’s perfect, Danny, thanks. You did a good job.”
nearly glowing at the words, a wide, rarely seen smile on his face.
on the floor,
too,” Jack added. “I think I forgot to say that. I don’t think the
been this clean since I moved in!”
ducked his head,
but not before Jack saw another smile sneak out. “It wasn’t really
Daniel protested softly.
was. Did you see
those monster dust bunnies in the corner? I’m surprised they didn’t
You’ve got to watch out for those attack bunnies, you know.”
blinked at him,
and then actually giggled, a sound Jack decided he needed to hear more
“That’s... you’re making that up, aren’t you?”
winked at him over
the rim of his coffee cup. “Nope. Why, the last time I swept up in
barely escaped with my life. They’re vicious, I tell you. They cling to
ankles and try to climb up your pant legs.”
quickly stifled giggle
and Daniel shook his head. “Nuh-uh. There are no such things as attack
you say that now,”
Jack retorted. “Just you wait. I’ll find one hiding under my bed and
show it to
but he nodded. “Okay, Jack. If you say so.”
what I like to
hear. Now, go get a shower and some clean clothes, okay? We’ll go out
breakfast. I feel like something from The Waffle House.”
said agreeably. He smiled and nodded in a let’s-all-get-along way and
turned, running obediently up the stairs.
was out of sight,
Jack put the coffee cup down and pressed his hands against his face. He
to take a long breath and hold it for the count of five, then let it
slowly. He’d handled live explosives that were more predictable than
Well, he was through trying to guess his way along, never knowing what
scare Daniel or set off some bad memory. He needed some intel, and he
where to get it.
He had a
from Children’s Services on top of the filing cabinet in his den. He
nobody would be in the office on a Sunday, but Daniel’s social worker,
had written her cell number on the back so he could contact her any
assured him so many times that he could always call that Jack had
feeling she expected trouble.
listened at the base
of the stairs and heard the shower running, then dialed the phone.
slightly sleepy and distracted voice.
Huff? This is
Colonel Jack O’Neill.”
and then, “Oh,
Colonel O’Neill. Is there a problem with Daniel?”
back a sarcastic
retort. “Yes,” he said evenly. “There is a problem. He’s scared to
I’m going to hurt him. What happened to this kid?”
I’m sure you
know that details of his past placements are confidential. It’s for the
sighed and leaned
against the wall, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Look, I’m not going
anyone. I just need to know what I’m dealing with here. How am I
help him when I’m flying blind?”
problems with him we can take him back. You’re still within your
day trial period,” she told him.
back,” Jack replied immediately, a little surprised by how much the
bothered him. “I just want to know who hurt him.”
tell you that.”
someone did hurt
hesitated for a long moment. “I don’t know everything. Only what was in
followed by the distant rattling of some papers. “Colonel O’Neill,
understand that the confidentiality rules are in place for a good
foster parents, upon learning that a child has been mistreated and may
emotional problems, will balk at having that child placed with them.
wants ‘normal’ children.”
statement hit a little too close to home. “Well, like I already said,
sending Daniel back. I want to help him. But to do that, I need to know
I can’t give you
any names or dates. All I can tell you is several placements ago, he
social services and asked to be removed from the home.”
interrupted. “Daniel called?”
actually not that unusual. Foster children are often troubled, and they
toward misbehavior or outright lying. Many good foster parents have
accused of abuse because they used normal discipline and the child
control. However, in case the complaint is justified, we have to
every time. In this case, we found reasonable cause to remove Daniel
home, along with the other children placed there.”
cause,’” Jack said tightly.
sighed. “For Daniel,
a broken rib and a number of bruises of varying ages. Some of them
severe. The rib scraped one of his lungs and, due to complications from
asthma, he had to be on oxygen for some time at the hospital.”
“How long did he live there?”
you I can’t give
I know,” he
interrupted. “Just... how long?”
records... seven months. It was his longest placement to date. All his
placements after that have been quite short.”
shaking his head. “I don’t get that. He’s not a bad kid. He tries
Why wouldn’t someone else keep him?”
he’s not exactly
a typical child,” she replied. “I haven’t spent much time with him, but
what I can tell, he’s quiet and rather bookish. Also very anxious, and
asthma tends to make people leery of taking him on. Colonel, really, if
feel he’s not working out, I want to reiterate that you can return him.
wouldn’t want him in a placement where he’s not welcome.”
rolled his eyes.
This lady didn’t take a hint well. No wonder Daniel was bounced around
when the system all but encouraged people to give up on him. “He’s
Jack said flatly. “What happened to the people that hurt him? Did they
away with it?”
permitted to be foster parents.”
snorted. “And what,
that’s it? Last I checked, child abuse was illegal.”
insisted that he
fell. There was no evidence otherwise, and no witnesses came forward.”
all the kids
were pulled and they’re not foster parents anymore.”
“It was a
shook his head
tiredly. “Great system you’ve got.”
it’s the only system we have,” she replied stiffly. “Was that all,
about to press
for more details when he heard telltale thumping upstairs. Daniel would
coming down soon, and this was one conversation he definitely didn’t
kid overhearing. “Yeah, that’s all,” he said. “Thanks for the help.”
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
feeling the blood rush under his skin, the urge to throw something--or
yet, throttle the bastard who’d left Daniel shrinking away from his
touch--tugging at his hands. He focused on his breathing, pushing any
of violent justice firmly out of his head. Getting mad now would only
Daniel, and that was the last thing he wanted.
rib, scraped lung,
oxygen. Hospitalization. After seven months of ‘bruises of varying
wonder Daniel was afraid of him. Jack shook his head slowly. He had his
cut out for him.
turned, forcing a calm
smile. Daniel stood in the doorway to the kitchen, his hair damp and
tugging self-consciously at one of the new shirts Jack had bought him.
kiddo,” he said. “You ready?”
nodded, and then
gave Jack’s own sweat pants and tee shirt an uncertain look. He opened
mouth, and then shut it again, shuffling his feet.
right,” Jack said easily. “I should change, huh?”
Daniel replied, shaking his head. “You can wear whatever you want. I
grinned and stood,
plucking at his pants. “Well, The Waffle House may not be a suit and
establishment, but I think they frown on sweats, you know?”
Daniel tried on a
small, agreeable smile. “I’ll wait here.”
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
would be a hard
road, he thought as he pulled up some jeans. But he had the feeling
would be worth it.
expected the kid to
have his shoes on and be waiting in the living room, but he found
sitting in the kitchen, staring at something on the table. Jack frowned
approached him, putting a hand on his shoulder. Daniel’s hands were
on the table, cupped over each other.
looked up at him,
and Jack was startled to see his eyes shimmering, his mouth drawn into
bow. “I can do better,” he whispered.
Jack pulled a
chair over, sitting down and leaning close. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
lifted his hands,
revealing Ms. Huff’s business card, still lying on the table. Jack
closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, Daniel was staring
his hands clutching the arms of his chair. “I really can, Jack,” he
“I’m sorry about the glass. I swear I won’t break anything else.”
it’s not what you
think.” Jack put one hand lightly on Daniel’s wrist, rubbing with his
“Yeah, I called her, but just because I wanted to understand some
blinked at him,
and Jack bit his lip when the motion dislodged two fat tears, which
rolling down pale cheeks. He couldn’t resist reaching out and wiping
his knuckles brushing Daniel’s face slowly. Daniel sniffed and leaned
quickly scrubbing at his eyes with his fists. “Sorry.”
be. Now, are we
going out to eat or what?”
nodded and slid
off the chair. “I’ll get my shoes,” he said quietly, hurrying toward
room. Jack watched him go, and then put his face in his hands again. He
himself two quick, composing breaths, then picked the card up and stuck
top of the fridge, where it would be safely out of sight. Then he
Daniel, finding him sitting on the floor by the front door, tying up
slipped his own
loafers on and grabbed his keys, sticking them in his pocket. Daniel
patiently beside him, his head down, intently studying the tops of his
crouching down to meet his eyes. “Are we okay?”
quickly. “We’re fine.”
convincing. Jack tilted his head to one side, and then grinned
race you to the truck.”
heard me.” He opened
the door, and then lined his toes up with the edge of the welcome mat,
Daniel forward. “Okay, on your mark?”
gave him a
confused look but mimicked Jack’s posture, putting his toes on the line
leaning forward, his knees bent.
was off like a
shot, and Jack ran behind him, making sure he reached the truck just
behind the kid. He had to slow his pace to lose the race, but only a
Daniel could move when he wanted to.
beaten by a kid!
I’ll never live it down,” Jack groaned, rolling his eyes. “It’s not my
tell ya, It’s the knees.”
covered his mouth, ducking. “I think you let me win.”
affected an innocent
face. “Would I do that?”
uncertainly at him and shrugged.
answered for him, since clearly Daniel didn’t know what to say. “You
fair and square, and that means you win the prize.”
curiously. “What prize?”
Jack said and
lunged forward, catching Daniel under his arms and lifting him into the
then spinning him wildly.
Jack!” Daniel’s eyes
went wide and he flailed madly, shrieking startled laughter. “Don’t let
won’t,” Jack said,
setting him down gently. He crouched and met Daniel’s eyes, holding his
place with two fingers. “I won’t let you fall. You believe me?”
looked at him for
a long moment, and then nodded slowly. “Yeah, I do.”
hear it,” Jack
replied, grinning. He tugged Daniel close, giving him a quick hug,
he didn’t go tense and wooden in his arms. He didn’t hug back, either,
least it was something.
going to eat
now?” Daniel asked when Jack let him go.
betcha. I’m going to
get a stack of waffles as big as your head. No, actually, as big as my
Jack corrected. “In fact, I’m going to get so many that they’ll reach
way to the ceiling.”
was giggling again
as he climbed into the truck. “I don’t think you can eat that much,
insisted. “In fact, I’m going to get so many that I’ll have to take
outside, because they reach past the ceiling. Airplanes will have to
around my giant stack of waffles. Birds will nibble the very top ones.”
out into the
road, Jack relished the sound of Daniel’s laughter. Definitely a sound
get used to.
was supposed to be
getting ready for school but instead, to Jack's dismay; he was sitting
sofa hunched over with his hand pressed to his chest.
wasn't going well.
Not that Daniel complained, but he was into his third week and didn't
further along at settling in or making friends than he had been on his
day. Jack wasn't ready to concede Carter may have been right about the
school thing, maybe a kid like Daniel needed more time to find his
Charlie would have had friends crawling all over the house by now but
was different; he had suffered a major traumatic experience, but maybe
would do the trick.
Jack was willing to
give him that time, the asthma was getting out of hand. Nothing major,
small attacks usually in the morning before school. A few times Jack
scurried to call Carla, the after school caregiver he'd hired on the
recommendation of Dr. Fraiser. Daniel had already been absent twice in
than three weeks. Jack couldn't help recalling how proud he'd been of
fourth grade attendance award. Despite Daniel's words to the contrary,
a sneaking suspicion something more than asthma was going on. He had
Fraiser about it and her advice was to tread lightly. Lightly my ass,
thought. He trusted his instincts, and his instincts told him he was
stop it this instant!" In an effort to test his theory, Jack used his
authoritative, colonel voice that cowed Airman and civilians alike at
It wasn't a shout but Daniel recognized the severe tone and froze mid
he asked, wearing his most innocent pout.
what." The look Jack fixed him with would have made Baal squirm.
'attack' stopped before it began. Well, I'll be damned... the little
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
that." He was careful not to raise his voice, but the serious tone of
words left no doubt he meant business.
can't help it," the flustered boy choked out.
can, right?" Jack confirmed a bit more gently.
pooled in the blue
eyes and overflowed. "Sometimes," Daniel sobbed his agreement.
are the times
I'm talking about." As much as Jack wanted to stay in strict 'parent'
the sight of Daniel's hunched, shaking shoulders did him in. "Come
buddy," Jack sighed with opened arms.
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.
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
sobs turned to
hiccups and eventually evened out Jack sat the boy up straight and
chin. "So, do you want to tell me what that was all about?"
tried to drop his
head but Jack's fingers wouldn't allow it. He dropped his eyes instead
shrugged his shoulders.
talk about it." The words were spoken very softly.
bad because we're going to talk about," Jack said mildly.
seat on the
sofa, Daniel twisted around to glance up at the clock. Jack knew
the kid was thinking. Now that he was over the embarrassment of being
faking an asthma attack the mini-mule had reverted back into his old,
and incredibly stubborn self.
the time. I'm going to call work and tell them I'll be late. I don't
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
he was still being manipulated by his little genius. "Ah, you'd like
wouldn't you. You don't want to go to school." The crestfallen look on
Daniel's face let Jack know he nailed it.
don't you want
to go to school?"
shrug was the
reminded, tapping his finger against Daniel's protruding lower lip.
know," Daniel responded evasively.
talk about this later." Jack stood Daniel up and patted him gently on
bottom to get him moving. "Go on, go get ready."
"Couldn't I take today off? I could go to work with you. I'm already
to be late."
don't get what
you want by lying or by faking asthma attacks. We'll talk more about
don't want to go to school tonight. Now scoot. If you stall around any
I'm not going to be happy."
happy now," Daniel politely pointed out.
folded his arms and
tried to hide his smile with a glare.
going," Daniel mumbled as he headed back to his room to collect his
of the little
white envelope on his desk made Daniel's breath hitch slightly. It was
something mean or embarrassing. He only relaxed when he noticed other
envelopes too. Quietly slipping into his seat he nervously unfolded the
tucked inside. It was an invitation to Corey Mitchell's birthday party
Saturday. Daniel was thrilled and more than a little bit stunned. Maybe
were going to try to be friends with him after all. The anxiety of the
weeks melted away and he spent the rest of the day worrying over the
gift to bring to the party.
waited in the living room, sitting on the big sofa staring out the
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
into the driveway at seven, Daniel leapt off the couch and opened the
"Guess what, Jack?"
you... took up
juggling and are joining the circus?" Working his way around Daniel to
inside was no easy task.
wrinkled his nose and tilted his head at the sarcasm. At least he was
to Jack's unique brand of humor and no longer taking everything so
trailed Jack to
the kitchen and then to the front door, impatiently waiting for him to
his goodbyes to Carla. At Jack's urging, Daniel quickly thanked her and
his own goodbye. Jack grabbed a beer out of the fridge and with one
hot on his heels, collapsed on the sofa.
flopped down beside him holding the envelope out for inspection.
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."
nodding his head. "It's my first birthday party ever," he confessed
with a slight blush.
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
you guys play with all of them. If he doesn't, his mother will probably
him," Jack winked.
beaming with excitement.
continued. "Do we still have to talk about why you don't want to go to
school or are you feeling better about things?"
better," Daniel said quietly, his face falling as the words brought
the memory of this morning's fiasco.
wrapped his arm
around the thin shoulders and squeezed them tight. "It's okay. No
on or faking asthma attacks. We're clear on that, right?"
one of the few times since his arrival, Jack felt Daniel lean into a
instead of stiffening against it.
then we don't
need to talk about it again." After a final squeeze Jack retreated to
kitchen to check what Carla had left him for dinner. He removed the
nearly tripped over a hovering Daniel. He sidestepped his shadow and
plate in the microwave for three minutes.
why are you
following me?" Jack sat down at the table and waited for his meal to
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
eye contact when he wanted something. Before he had a chance to answer
question Daniel continued, "I think we should go now."
first?" Jack asked in amusement.
done," Daniel conceded.
late to go
tonight." Jack said seriously.
The ding of the timer cut off the protest.
tailed Jack to the
microwave and then to the cupboard where Jack promptly turned and
him while retrieving a fork. "Daniel!"
eyes looked up
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
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
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
with his chin resting on his hands, the bright eyes blazing up in
a laugh, Jack
took a bite of his dinner before answering. "Then Carla would take you
answer didn't seem
to appease him at all. "I want YOU to go with me to pick it out. What
she doesn't have enough money to buy something really cool? It has to
something really, really cool."
you say. I'm
sure I'll be here with you every night this week so let's not worry
tonight." Jack started eating in earnest even though the intense eyes
never left him.
like to procrastinate. Remember? You said when something needs to be
there's no sense in putting it off. You said we should just..."
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
tomorrow?" Daniel chewed his lower lip in frustration.
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
the boy's hair as he passed, inwardly pleased that Daniel no longer
from his touch.
in the chair and gave the table leg a sullen kick.
homework left, buddy?" Jack asked in an attempt to change the subject
he wiped down the countertops and gave the kitchen a quick once over.
homework left?" Daniel grumbled.
around to glare was all Jack needed to do to get Daniel's full
"sorry" came next.
attitude," Jack warned.
repeated. "I'm just worried about the present."
already. I said we'll get a present and we will. And it's not as
you're making it out to be. A birthday present is a gift; it's to be
as such. It doesn't have to be perfect. Didn't you ever hear the old
'it's the thought that counts'?"
agreement though he doubted the old adage held much weight with the
Mitchells of the world.
nights later, Jack
kept his promise. It was extravagant, but he broke down and bought
his name a remote control car. Daniel thought it was the coolest thing
ever seen and was positive it would be the hit of the party. Jack filed
information away as a possible future Christmas present for Danny.
of the week was
fast approaching and Daniel was a bundle of nerves. It saddened Jack
poor kid was this excited and anxious over a simple birthday party.
had a party every year and had been invited to a ton of them.
he had to stop doing that. It hurt too much and it didn't seem fair to
even though Daniel didn't know he was doing it.
Thursday night Daniel
finished brushing his teeth and flopped down beside him on the sofa.
ready for bed, kiddo?" Jack quizzed.
nodded a bit too
solemnly for Jack's liking. He was proud he was learning to decipher
silent messages and codes. Jack nudged him with his shoulder.
nodded again and
wedged in closer. Jack decided to wait a bit longer; sometimes Danny
time to gather his thoughts. "Jack?"
the small body a supportive squeeze.
s-scared about the party."
be scared of? It's a birthday party for crying out loud. Besides, you
best gift so you'll be the most popular kid there."
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
if they don't talk to me at the party?"
trust and hope in
the universe shone in the small serious face that waited patiently for
impart some great pearls of wisdom along with endless doses of
thought. "Okay, this Corey Michaels, he invited you, right?" Jack
chose his words carefully.
Mitchell," Daniel corrected attentively.
He invited you and it's his birthday, right?"
said, digging the invitation out of his math book and waving it around
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
he said the
right thing when Daniel's eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. "He
have, would he, Jack?"
"Nope, he'd have no need to invite you."
come," Daniel said thoughtfully.
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
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."
for me to worry about. Let's get you to bed, mister."
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
covers and to Jack's shock, laughed a real honest to goodness laugh
was sure he'd never heard before. Jack took a second to tickle Daniel
stopped abruptly, remembering how hard it is to unwind little boys once
wound them up, especially at bedtime. The sound of laughter was
though and he vowed to make Danny laugh more often.
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
soft glow of the nightlight. He was almost out the door when Daniel
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
loosen. He wasn't sure if Jack loved him, but he was certain Jack, at
least, liked him. And maybe everything was going to work out at school
all. Jack said they wouldn't invite him if they didn't want him to
made sense. Jack was a colonel, everyone listened to him, and he was
Danny sat in the
truck in front of the mysterious Corey Mitchell's house at precisely
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
great icebreaker with kids and he'd do anything to make this easier for
can go by
myself," Daniel slowly decided. "Do I look okay?"
okay?" Jack pretended to study him intently. He resisted the urge to
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.
You look terrific. Now would you quit worrying? You're going to have a
when I want to come home, right?"
I'll be home
all day. If you're having fun though, stay as long as you want to. I
Corey's number so if it gets too late I'll call and check on you. Okay?"
you have your
present and the card; did you bring your inhaler?"
nodded and patted
his backpack. "And the invitation," he added. "In case they
forgot they invited me."
you're all set and I'm sure they remember who they invited." Jack
Daniel's thigh to urge him on. "You better get going or the party will
over before you get in there."
gripped the car
door, opened it and stepped out.
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
the walk to the front door. He looked more like a prisoner keeping a
the electric chair than a boy celebrating a friend's birthday. It took
few seconds to build up the courage to ring the doorbell. Jack waved as
turned around, checking to see if he was still there. Before Daniel had
chance to wave back the front door opened and he was ushered inside.
Jackson was not
anything at all what Jack expected a ten-year-old boy to be. He didn't
have a handle on this yet, but he would. One thing he did have a handle
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,
Daniel's breathing, give him a hug, and calm his nervous anxiety.