The apartment looked so different to him now. Foreign almost, as though he’d been away for years instead of just a week. Daniel reached up on tiptoes and slid his keys onto the shelf opposite the front door. He knew Jack was standing behind him, waiting to come in, but allowing him the opportunity to take this at his own pace. With faltering steps, he made his way into the living room and looked around.
His bookshelves stretched seemingly for miles above him, and he realized that he couldn’t really remember being able to just reach up for whatever book he needed and slide it from the shelf. It was as though his memories had faded along with his downsizing. Perhaps they had. Maybe it was his 35-year-old brain’s way of coping with the sudden shock of suddenly finding itself inside a five-year-old body.
He walked into the kitchen and gazed up longingly at his coffee pot. Even if he could have reached it, even if he could have turned on the faucet and filled it, Janet had said coffee was a big no-no for a five year old.
“I’m not really five,” he had argued, mortified at the tears he felt stinging his eyes. “I just look it.”
But Janet would not be swayed, and it seemed when you looked five, it didn’t matter how old your brain thought you were - all decisions, all choices were taken from you.
If he’d thought being denied his precious coffee was bad, then this was the worst of all. General Hammond had announced that his apartment would be sealed for the time being, at least until a cure could be found, and suggested Jack bring him here to collect any belongings he might need. Looking around, he realized he needed it all, that everything here was a part of who he was, or who he’d been, anyway.
He scuffed his sneaker-clad toe sullenly on the floor. It hadn’t even been his fault. He hadn’t touched anything… though he’d been mighty tempted. Skimming his fingers just above the carved temple stone in deference to Jack’s stern orders, he’d whispered the unusual, not quite familiar words, trying to fill the gaps of his knowledge. He’d felt a sudden searing pain in his head and then nothing at all until he’d woken in the infirmary with Jack looking down at him, a worried frown creasing his forehead. A much larger Jack at that.
“You really need all these books right now?”
Daniel turned at Jack’s question. Jack stood by the bookcase with a small cardboard box in his hand. ‘Yes’, he wanted to say. Instead, he shook his head and walked out to join him. “I have a list here.” He pulled a folded piece of paper from his jeans pocket, carefully avoiding looking at the rounded, child-like script and gave it to Jack.
Jack gave it the once-over and nodded. “Anything we forget, we can pick up later,” he said. “I’ll get your journals too.”
“No!” He grabbed at Jack’s hand, then when Jack looked down at him in surprise, pushed it away and walked over to his aquarium. Reading his own words would only make this real, and for now, he preferred the dazed sensation he had of being outside himself, looking on. “Not yet, okay?”
“Sure,” Jack agreed. “Anytime you want them, you just say so.”
Daniel nodded. “Thanks.” He tapped on the glass, sending the fish scurrying. “I have to remember to thank Teal’c for feeding my fish.” A sudden thought struck him. “What will happen to them?”
He heard Jack put down the box and walk over to join him then his hand was on Daniel’s shoulder, rubbing gently. “We could take them with us,” he said. “I figure I’ve got room for an aquarium.” One finger tapped Daniel’s cheek. “You have to feed them though. I’m more of a dog person.”
Daniel looked up at him. “You don’t have a dog.”
“Ah, but if I could have a pet, a dog is what I’d choose.”
Daniel’s attention went back to his fish. “How will we move the aquarium?” he asked. “It’s pretty big and really heavy with all that water inside.”
“Easy. We’ll empty it and refill it at my place.”
Daniel stared at Jack in shock. “But the fish will die without water!”
Jack sighed. “We’ll put them in some plastic bags filled with water and then put them back into the aquarium once it’s moved.”
“Oh.” Daniel nodded. “I should have known that.” He swallowed past the big lump in his throat that threatened to choke him. “I guess I did… sorta.”
Hey!” Jack knelt down and turned Daniel so he faced him. “You’re still the smartest guy I know.”
Daniel shook his head. “Not anymore,” he said sadly. “Maybe I’ll never-“
“Enough, Daniel.” Jack pressed his finger against Daniel’s lips. “We’re gonna figure this out. This…” He waved a hand around the apartment. “This is all just temporary.” He smiled and Daniel fought the urge to reach out and hug him. “Betcha still know who built the pyramids.”
Daniel grinned back, though it felt wobbly and the tears were back, burning his eyes again. He reached out and punched Jack’s arm. “Well, it wasn’t the Egyptians, that’s for sure.”
Jack laughed outright at that then his face grew serious. “You’re okay with this, aren’t you? I mean, I know you haven’t had a whole lot of choice in what’s happening.”
“With moving out of my apartment? I don’t want to, but I know I have to, for now anyway.”
“I mean, about moving in with me,” Jack said. “I mean, I’d understand if you want to go stay with someone else until we figure this out.”
Daniel didn’t hold back then. He reached out, wrapping his arms around Jack’s neck in a tight hug. “I’m okay with it, Jack,” he whispered. “More than okay.”
“Get back to the gate, Carter, and dial it up!” Jack ducked back behind the meager shelter of a stand of scraggly bushes as a staff weapon blast almost took off his head.
Carter gave a terse nod and ran, bent low, with Jack and Teal’c following behind, laying down cover fire. They were totally outnumbered. Their intel had given no indication of the surprise attack waiting for them and all Jack cared about was getting earth-side in one piece. He chanced a glance over his shoulder and saw the event horizon whoosh to life. Carter was racing up the steps of the dais and Jack took out a Jaffa who had her in his sights. Carter gave him a quick grateful glance then dove headfirst through the gate.
“O’Neill!” He turned back at Teal’c’s shout but even as he brought his weapon up to bear, he knew it was too late. The blast punched him in the side, stealing his breath, and he felt himself collapsing. His sight was already darkening around the edges, his consciousness fleeing so quickly, he could not fight it. He felt himself dragged upward and groaned at the agonizing pain that shot through him. Then he was falling forward… into oblivion.
“You were lucky, Colonel,” Janet said as she finished securing a gauze bandage to the wound in Jack’s side. “A couple of inches up and we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“No need to tell me that, Doc.” Jack looked over at Teal’c, who stood at the bedside, his expression as implacable as ever to anyone who didn’t know him as well as Jack did. “Thanks, T. Saved my bacon again.”
Teal’c gave his usual small bow. “You are welcome, O’Neill. I am grateful no one else was injured. I would like to discover how our arrival on the planet came to Apophis’ attention.”
“Get in line, buddy,” Jack said with a scowl. “If I find out who-“
“Jack!” A small bundle of energy came streaking into the infirmary. Janet managed to snag one small arm as Daniel pushed past her in his haste to get to Jack.
“Easy, Daniel,” she admonished. “I don’t want you messing up my bandages.”
Daniel stopped, his chest heaving, his forehead creased into a frown. Jack could see the faint evidence of tear tracks on his cheeks.
Carter strode over to join them. “Sorry, Janet,” she said. “He was a little too quick for me.”
“S’okay,” Jack replied. He crooked a finger at Daniel. “Come here, buddy. Help him onto the bed, would ya, Teal’c?”
Teal’c lifted Daniel up and set him carefully on the edge of the bed. Daniel gave him a quavering smile then reached out, his hand hovering just above Jack’s wound. “Does it hurt much?” he asked.
Jack shook his head. “Nah, hardly at all.”
“It hurt a lot when I got shot on Apophis’ ship,” Daniel informed him solemnly, “and that was when I was grown up.”
“Well, maybe it does hurt a little,” Jack conceded, “but Janet gave me some happy juice, which is doing a pretty good job.”
Janet patted Daniel’s shoulder. “He’s going to be just fine, Daniel,” she said with a smile.
“I was scared,” Daniel said in a whisper. He stroked his fingers gently along the bandage. “When Sam said you’d been hurt…” He sucked in a breath that sounded close to tears. “If you died –“
“Let’s not go there, huh?” Jack replied. He ruffled Daniel’s hair. “I’m fine.”
Daniel shook his head. “But if you did… what would happen to me, now I’m a kid?”
The silence in the room was deafening. Jack reached out and placed a finger under Daniel’s chin, lifting his head. “You never have to worry about that, Daniel. You have plenty of friends who’d look after you.”
“You bet,” Carter said. “There’s always a room for you at my place.”
“And you are always welcome to share my quarters, Daniel,” Teal’c added.
Daniel swiped at his cheeks. “I know, but—”
“We should let Colonel O’Neill get some rest, Daniel,” Janet suggested. “He’ll be fine to go home tomorrow and you can come visit him later this afternoon.”
“Can’t I stay here with you?” Daniel asked, looking at Jack.
“I only have a couple of beds free,” Janet interjected, “and there are three teams offworld, so…” She gave Jack a small shake of her head.
“I could sleep in your bed with you,” Daniel insisted.
“Kinda uncomfortable,” Jack replied, giving Daniel’s tummy a tickle. “And I snore, remember.”
“I don’t mind-“
“Perhaps you could share my quarters tonight, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c suggested. “I had planned on watching one of the new movies I purchased, but I am unable to decide which one to watch first.”
Daniel nodded slowly, though he didn’t seem to be exactly jumping with joy over it. “I guess I could.” Jack grinned and gave Teal’c a small thumbs up. “Okay,” Daniel said. He wrapped his arms around Jack’s neck and gave him a hug, whispering an apology when Jack gave a small gasp of pain. He slid off the bed and held his hand out to Teal’c, who grasped it in his own massive fist. “You have a nap, Jack, and we’ll come get you when it’s time to go home, okay?”
“Have a nap?” Jack rolled his eyes. “Sure, Daniel, that’d be peachy. Teal’c, not too many snacks, all right? He has nightmares if he has too much sugar before bed.”
Carter gave an unlady-like snort but had the good grace to look chastened when Jack glared at her. “Sorry, sir, I just still find it strange hearing stuff like that coming from you.”
Jack waved her comment off. “Teal’c?”
“Understood, O’Neill. Not too many snacks.”
“Oh, but it is pizza night,” Daniel said, tugging Teal’c toward the door, “and on pizza night, I get to stay up as late as I want!”
“Daniel!” Jack attempted to struggle up but gave in when his wound protested the movement.
“He’ll be fine, sir,” Carter reassured him.
“It’s not Daniel I’m worried about, Carter, it’s Teal’c. He has no idea what he’s in for.”
It was no good, he couldn’t sleep. Every time he drifted toward oblivion, Daniel’s words came back to him. And he had to admit the kid had a damn good point. What would happen to Daniel if Jack died? From what he knew of Daniel’s early life, it seemed like the poor kid had been shuffled from foster home to foster home after his parents had been killed. Jack hated to think of him going that same route a second time, and if Jack was already tapping on the pearly gates, he’d have no say in where the kid ended up.
At the time of the accident, with no idea of knowing whether Daniel’s downsizing would be permanent, Jack had immediately insisted that the boy be placed in his care. Hammond had questioned, and rightly so, whether Jack’s guilt at placing Daniel in the situation that had caused his downsizing was blinding him to what was best for Daniel. Jack, of course, had vociferously denied that, adding that Daniel was a member of his team, and they all placed themselves at risk of any of a number of weird things happening every time they went through the gate. Daniel knew the risks and accepted them. But deep down, he’d wondered if Daniel didn’t seem to bear the lion’s share of the crap that went wrong, as though there was some huge neon sign on his forehead that said ‘Pick me’. And he did feel guilty, not only this time, but every damn time one of his team was injured or captured, laying awake at night just as he was now, going over and over it, wondering if he should have done something differently.
At the end of the day though, guilt complex or not, he knew it was only right that the frightened little boy Daniel now was needed security and the comfort of being with the person who knew him best, the person closest to anything resembling a family that Daniel now had. It was a no-brainer.
Jack rolled over onto his side, wincing as the wound in his side flared to life at the movement. What would happen to Daniel if Jack died? He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. He wasn’t going to sleep, that much was certain. Reaching over, he turned on the bedside lamp, grateful that Doc Fraiser had pulled the curtains closed around his bed, so he wasn’t disturbing any of the other patients and grabbed a pen and notepad from the bedside table.
Daniel opened his eyes and studied Teal’c, who sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by candles, his legs crossed, his hands resting atop his knees, his eyes closed. His chest rose and fell rhythmically, reassuring Daniel that Teal’c was definitely alive, only meditating or as Teal’c called it… Daniel’s forehead creased into a frown as he struggled to pull the word from his memory… kel-no-reem, that was it.
They’d had a fun night. Teal’c had allowed Daniel to pick from his stack of new movies and they’d even managed to get pizza ordered and delivered to the base. Teal’c had taken him to the commissary where the cook on duty had even popped corn for them. The only downside was that he’d fallen asleep before the movie had ended. He reminded himself that his body was five now, even if his mind was not, and again, as so often happened when he thought of his current state, he felt hot tears sting his eyes.
He glanced over at Teal’c, who still sat as still as a rock, then surreptitiously wiped at his eyes with his sleeve, dragging it under his nose for good measure. He’d had so much fun, he’d almost forgotten that the reason he was here was because Jack had been hurt and was lying in an infirmary bed.
He sat up in the bed and slid his legs over the side. Not bothering with shoes or socks, he carefully made his way to the door.
“Where are you going, Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c asked.
Daniel froze with his hand on the doorknob. “To see Jack. Janet said he could come home today.”
“You are not allowed to go to the infirmary unaccompanied.” Teal’c stood and walked over to stand beside him. “You need to eat breakfast first and dress.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
“I can eat with Jack.”
“Or with me,” Teal’c suggested with a small smile. “I do believe there are hotcakes and syrup on the menu this week.”
“Then you’ll take me to see Jack.”
Teal’c gave a small bow. “Of course.”
Daniel nodded, appeased for the moment, and opened the door.
“Daniel Jackson, have you forgotten something?” Teal’c asked, holding out Daniel’s shoes.
Daniel raced into the infirmary then came to a skidding stop so suddenly that Teal’c almost fell over him. Daniel stared at Jack’s freshly made, empty bed. He turned to the nurse who was hurrying over to them, his heart thudding in his chest. “Where’s Jack?” he asked, feeling suddenly breathless.
“Colonel O’Neill is in Doctor Fraiser’s office,” she replied. She gave them both a smile. “He’ll be back shortly.”
But Daniel couldn’t wait. He’d felt out of sorts since he’d woken in Teal’c’s room, barely touching his breakfast, tapping his feet impatiently against the chair legs while he waited for Teal’c to finish eating. Brushing past the nurse, he headed for Janet’s office, ignoring Teal’c’s admonishment to wait.
Janet’s door was slightly ajar, and hearing the welcome sound of Jack’s voice as he neared the office, reason caught up with Daniel’s concern, and he stopped, hovering just outside the door.
“I’m just saying, Doc, I’m wondering if I made the right decision, taking Daniel home with me.”
“You seemed pretty certain at the time,” Janet said. “You know, the only other option is foster care.”
“If we found the right family, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing…”
Daniel backed away from the door. Jack didn’t want him? He’d tried to be good. He knew sometimes he acted like the five-year-old he now was, but Jack always said he understood, that he couldn’t imagine how tough it would be to be an adult in your head and a kid on the outside. And he was getting better at keeping his frustration and temper under control. He never even cried much any more… until Sam had told him Jack had been hurt.
Daniel put his hands over his ears, blocking out the damning words. Jack didn’t want him, had never wanted him. He was just in the way, like he had been with Nick. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up into Teal’c’s face.
“Are you all right, Daniel Jackson?” he asked.
Daniel started to shake his head then thought better of it and nodded. “Sorry, I ran off,” he replied. “I just wanted to see Jack…” But he doesn’t want to see me. He swallowed past the lump in his throat. “Sorry,” he whispered.
Teal’c smiled at him and lifted him into his arms. “You have missed O’Neill. I understand.”
Daniel looked up. Jack stood in the doorway of the office, one arm wrapped around his waist, a small frown creasing his brow. Then he smiled and held out his arms.
“Hey, buddy. I missed you!”
Teal’c set him back on the floor but Daniel stood flat-footed. “Hey, Jack.” He studied the weave of his sneakers.
“That’s it?” Jack limped over to them. “Just “Hey, Jack?” Where’s my hug?” He held out his arms and Daniel went into the embrace willingly, tears suddenly streaming from his eyes.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Jack soothed. “See? I’m good as new.”
Daniel nodded against Jack’s chest but the tears wouldn’t stop and all he could do was hang onto Jack, taking comfort in the gentle, rhythmic patting on his back.
“Daniel?” Jack pushed back a little from him and tipped his chin up so they were looking eye-to-eye. “What’s up?”
Daniel swiped at his nose. “Nothing,” he sobbed. “Are you going home now?”
“We are,” Jack replied. “Soon as I grab my gear.”
“Maybe I should stay with Teal’c a while longer,” Daniel suggested, hating the words the moment they were out of his mouth. “Or I could go to Janet’s and stay with Cassie.” He looked over Jack’s shoulder at Fraiser. “I’d be really good, I promise.”
“You have such a good time with Teal’c, you don’t want to leave?” Jack chucked him under the chin but Daniel squirmed away.
“No… Yes… I had a good time,” he said finally. “I just thought since you’re still hurt, it’ll be hard for you to look after me. It’s probably better if I stay with Janet.”
“Are you kidding?” Jack said. “And miss the chance of eating burritos and watching the Discovery Channel? No way! Besides, Cassie’s staying with Janet’s folks for a few days and the doc’s pretty busy. We’ll be fine.”
He just wants to let me down easily, Daniel thought. Take me home… back to his house and explain why it’s better if I go to foster care. Pretend that it’s because he cares about me. Not tell me that it’s because he doesn’t want me anymore. He shrugged. “Sure. Okay.”
“Then let’s get this show on the road. We have a whole week of hanging out together, Daniel, except for school time, of course.” Jack held out his hand and Daniel took it. “Thanks, Doc, Teal’c.”
“Don’t forget I want to check that wound on Monday, Colonel,” Janet said.
“As if I could forget,” Jack replied. “Maybe we can discuss that other matter then.”
There it is, Daniel thought. He’s already made up his mind. Doesn’t matter what I want. I’m just a kid, after all. He pulled his hand from Jack’s grasp and turned to Teal’c, holding up his arms.
Teal’c obliged, picking him up, and Daniel wrapped his arms around his friend’s neck. “Thanks, Teal’c. I had a great time.”
“As did I, Daniel Jackson.” Teal’c hugged him back then lowered him to the floor. “Do you feel well enough to host movie night on Sunday, O’Neill?”
Jack waved a hand in the air. “Wouldn’t miss it, T. What is it this week? More Star Wars?”
“Die Hard,” Teal’c announced. “I have to admit to becoming bored with Star Wars.”
“Really?” Jack raised an eyebrow. “Never thought I’d see the day.” He looked down at Daniel and winked. “Let’s go, buddy.”
The drive home was unnaturally silent and Jack had to check once or twice in the rear vision mirror to reassure himself that he hadn’t left Daniel behind at the base. But no, Daniel was definitely there, strapped into his booster seat, his gaze fixed on the passing scenery as though it was the most fascinating ancient text.
“So,” Jack said finally, “I know you had pizza for dinner last night. Guess I should make something healthy tonight.”
Daniel looked at him then. “I could make dinner,” he said. “I have a recipe for tuna casserole that’s really great.”
“Well, get it out for me and I’ll see if I can do it justice,” Jack said. “I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy, admittedly. Give me a steak for the barbecue and you’ll know you’ve died and gone to heaven, but I’ll give it a shot.”
“I can make it,” Daniel said. “I’ve been making it since I was in college.”
There was a pleading tone to Daniel’s voice and Jack looked at him in the rear vision mirror again. Daniel looked positively pale, the dark circles under his eyes startling in comparison. “You okay, Daniel?”
Daniel nodded. “I’m fine. I’m not even tired, so when we get home, you just sit on the couch and watch TV. I’ll cook dinner and wash the dishes after. I’ll even make you a hot chocolate to help you sleep. I can run my own bath too and get myself into bed, so you don’t have to lift me or anything. And I can read myself a bedtime story.”
Jack halted the rambling with an upraised hand. “For one thing, you’re too small to use the stove by yourself, and for another, the last time you tried to get into the tub by yourself, you took a header into it fully clothed…” He saw Daniel’s cheeks pink up a little and then the kid turned his attention out the window again. “Anyway,” he added, “I like reading you a bedtime story.” He waited a moment when there was no response. “Daniel?”
Daniel sighed then looked into the mirror, his eyes looking huge in the pallor of his face. “I’m not very hungry anyway,” he said. “Maybe I’ll just go to bed.”
“It’s 11 o’clock in the morning,” Jack replied. “Little early, don’t you think?” When there was no reply, he forged on. “Tell you what. How about we make some grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, watch the hockey game, then tonight, you can help me cook this great tuna casserole of yours. I’ll make the hot chocolate but you get to put the marshmallows in. Sound good?”
Daniel finally smiled though it didn’t reach his eyes. “Sounds great.”
With lunch over, Jack slumped down onto the sofa with a sigh. His side was beginning to ache from the activity but he didn’t want to risk taking a painkiller and drifting off to sleep with Daniel in the house. He turned on the television and found the hockey game. Daniel came in from the kitchen and Jack patted the seat next to him. “Game’s about to start.”
“I have some homework to do,” Daniel replied.
“I thought you said you were all caught up on the homework front. Anyway, it’ll wait until tomorrow.”
Daniel shook his head. “It’s a special project about the pyramids. Mrs. Price said, seeing I was ahead of the other kids, I could do it.”
“No mentioning Goa’ulds or anything, right?”
Daniel rolled his eyes and Jack saw, as he did every now and then, the echo of his adult friend in the expression. He felt his gut churn. God, he missed Daniel.
“As if,” Daniel said. “I just feel like doing it now. Can I use your computer? I need to do some research, get some pictures and stuff.”
“Knock yourself out. You sure you wouldn’t rather watch the game?”
“I’m sure. Mrs. Price said I can get extra credit for the project.”
You’re five years old, Jack wanted to say. What five-year-old needs extra credit? Instead, he smiled. “Great!”
He had to admit that he’d been surprised that Daniel had actually asked to go to school, though it certainly made their cover of father and son a lot easier to explain. A few expertly forged documents and no one was any the wiser. And Daniel’s teacher had taken him under her wing from the start, instinctively recognizing, as all good teachers do, what a gifted, though shy, child Daniel was. Granted, Mrs. Price thought every child in her class was a budding Picasso or Einstein or Beethoven, but Jack could tell that she saw something special in Daniel. “Remember to turn the computer off once you’re done.”
“I will.” Daniel walked to the stairs then turned back. “If we want to eat by 7, we need to start the casserole at 6.”
“I’ll set my alarm,” Jack said around a yawn. He settled back onto the couch and turned up the volume on the TV.
This was a lot harder than he thought it was going to be. Daniel set his pen aside and stared at the computer screen. Quickly, he pulled up the Google search and typed in his request, then settled in to read.
Ten minutes later, he gave up, defeated. Jack met all the criteria for being a foster parent and more. Then again, so did everyone he’d thought of as an alternative from the SGC. But he couldn’t stay here if Jack didn’t want him, if he was too much trouble for Jack to deal with, on top of his job and having his own life.
Maybe he was going about this the wrong way. Maybe… He blinked against the burning of his eyes and swallowed hard. He had to stop being such a baby or no one would want him. Maybe it would be better to find someone away from the SGC to care for him. Maybe they should have done that in the first place.
He doodled absently on his pad while he turned the idea over in his head. That would mean reporting Jack to Child Services and saying he wasn’t a good foster parent, then his secret could get out and the whole Stargate Program would be in jeopardy. He sighed. Besides, Jack was a great parent; the best… except for that one minor… make that, really important thing. This was way harder than he thought it would be… not least because he didn’t want to go anywhere else.
Daniel almost fell off the chair at the sound of Jack’s voice.
“Whatcha doing? Did you find those pictures you needed?”
Quickly, Daniel reached out and minimized the window on the computer. He gave a languorous stretch and nodded, smiling up at Jack. “Yep. I found a heap.”
“Time to cook dinner,” Jack announced.
“Okay. I’ll get the recipe – Damn!”
Jack wagged a finger. “Uh-uh. Language!”
Daniel climbed off the chair and planted his hands on his hips. He was really tired of all of this. Of not knowing if he was a kid or an adult or something in between…. Sometimes it felt like he was both all at once. “Got a newsflash for you,” he said snarkily. “I’m not really a kid!”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Well, you sound like a kid who didn’t get a nap,” he responded rather snappishly. Daniel glared at him and didn’t budge from his spot. Finally, Jack sighed. “Sorry,” he said in a sort of tired-sounding huff. “Guess I forgot.”
“Is your side hurting?” Daniel asked, moving closer, feeling more guilt-ridden than ever. No wonder Jack didn’t want him. He was acting like a snotty-nosed, spoiled brat.
“A little, yeah… but I’m fine,” Jack said with a small smile. “Now dinner?”
“The recipe is with my journals,” Daniel said. “It was one my foster mom… my last foster mom used to make.” He smiled up at Jack, putting every ounce of apology into it. “It’s okay though. I’ve made it so often, I can remember it by heart.”
Jack reached out and ruffled Daniel’s hair and Daniel didn’t pull away from the touch this time, as he had so often before, when he hadn’t wanted to be reminded of his predicament, because it felt good to be here with Jack again, to know that for now, he still had Jack. “Then let’s get to it.”
“So,” Daniel said conversationally as they made their way into the kitchen, “if I swear in one of my twenty-three languages, apart from English, is that okay?”
Jack lightly tapped the back of his head. “Don’t even try it, Daniel Jackson,” he warned with a mock scowl. “From hereon in, anything foreign that comes out of your mouth, I’m gonna know!”
Jack switched off the television and stood and stretched out the kinks in his back. Daniel had fallen asleep after dinner, cuddled up next to Jack and Jack had waited for some time, barely moving a muscle, assuring himself the kid was asleep before finally carrying him to bed.
Daniel’s funk from earlier that day seemed to have disappeared almost completely. They’d eaten dinner – and Jack had to admit Daniel’s foster mom’s tuna casserole was the best he’d tasted. They’d washed the dishes and Daniel had even agreed to watch The Simpsons with Jack. Though he’d initially commented that the Discovery channel was more to his liking, it hadn’t been long before he’d been laughing as hard as Jack at Homer’s and Bart’s hi-jinks. Every now and then though, Jack caught Daniel staring at him with a kind of wistful expression on his face, but whenever Jack asked him what was wrong, he just brushed the question off and turned back to the television.
Jack had to admit to feeling somewhat melancholy himself tonight. Over dinner, Daniel had hesitantly told Jack about his last foster parents, about how they’d taken in the shy little boy, who was still not only grieving his parents’ deaths, but also coming to terms with the fact his grandfather did not want him. John and Marla Summers had encouraged Daniel in his studies and interests and had managed to add to the money left by his parents to send him to college. They were, Daniel declared, just as good as his own parents had been.
The story had led Jack to thinking as he sat there with a sleeping Daniel at his side, his small, warm body a welcome weight against him. Daniel had suffered enough already in his first childhood, more than enough in his adult life. Was Jack really thinking about what was best for Daniel by sending him away or only thinking of his own peace of mind? He couldn’t do it, he decided finally. Daniel had chosen him to be his guardian and Jack resolved to be the best that he could be.
That problem sorted, he headed to bed, but noticed the screensaver on the computer in the den still twirling lazily on the screen. Mentally reminding himself to tell Daniel to turn it off in future, he pulled up the window that had been minimized to check Daniel’s homework was saved before powering the computer down… and froze.
Oh Christ! Jack sat down heavily in the chair and stared at the screen. It certainly explained Daniel’s upset mood. The kid didn’t want to be here at all. He’d probably been trying to figure out how to tell Jack all afternoon. Jack couldn’t blame him. What must it be like for Daniel, once more a child, wondering every day if he was going to lose a second father at any time?
Heart heavy with guilt and grief, Jack headed upstairs to bed but couldn’t resist stopping at Daniel’s doorway. He took a step into the room but paused and backed out again when Daniel stirred. He walked into his own room across the hall and lay down on the bed, staring at the ceiling. It took a long time for sleep to come.
He remembered the minute his eyes opened. Panicked, Daniel sat up in bed, heart beating a mile a minute. The computer! He’d forgotten to turn it off. Maybe Jack hadn’t noticed. Maybe he’d just turned it off without looking at what was open. Maybe…
Pushing off his covers, he slid out of bed and tiptoed to the doorway. He listened carefully for a moment, and hearing soft snores emanating from Jack’s room across the hall, breathed a small sigh of relief. Quietly, he made his way down the stairs and into the den.
The computer was off. Had Jack seen what he’d been researching? The answer, Daniel knew, was a resounding yes. But Jack didn’t want him anyway, so did it really matter if he’d been trying to find someone who would want him? Jack would probably be relieved that the problem was out of his hands.
Knowing that didn’t help a whole lot. He still had no idea who would want to take him in full-time. Sam, Teal’c, General Hammond, even Walter had said he could spend time with them whenever he wanted, but like Jack, they all had busy lives with little time to spare for a five year old boy, even if he had a thirty-five year old mind.
The answer to his conundrum came to him so suddenly, he slapped a hand on his forehead in disgust that he hadn’t thought of it earlier. John and Marla had welcomed him into their lives before. He was certain they’d do so again. He knew of course that he couldn’t tell them who he was. Stargate Command harbored some pretty big secrets from the general public and he was pretty certain that this one probably would be right up near the top of the list. Still, he couldn’t imagine John and Marla not wanting to take in some homeless waif. He just had to think of a new name and a cover story to give them… He had nothing, he realized with a defeated sigh. If the authorities took a close look into his background, there was a chance their ploy would be discovered, and even if it wasn’t, they’d likely just send him back to Jack who didn’t want him... and here he was just going round and round in endless circles.
“Fine then,” he whispered defiantly, attempting to stop the quiver of his chin and the quaver in his voice. “Doesn’t mean I have to stay here. I’m thirty-five after all. I can look after myself!”
He made his way back up the stairs, pausing for a moment to look into Jack’s room. Jack lay on his side, facing the doorway, his eyes closed, blissfully unaware of Daniel’s plan. Daniel felt tears sting his eyes. He didn’t want to leave. This was where he thought he belonged. In all the frightening, confused moments of his downsizing, it was only when he was with Jack that he felt safe, that it wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed, that being a kid was pretty okay if you had a dad like Jack.
Firming his resolve, he turned away and went into his room. He packed a bag with a change of clothes, his toothbrush, and, after only a moment’s hesitation, the brown teddy bear that Sam had given him the first day he’d been downsized, when he’d been so terrified all he could do was cling to Jack and sob in fear.
He took a final look in at Jack, and raising a finger to his lips, blew him a silent kiss. “’Bye, Jack. I’m gonna miss you.” Then, hefting his little backpack onto one shoulder, he started down the stairs.
“Going somewhere, Doctor Jackson?”
Jack’s voice startled him and Daniel almost fell, only saving himself from a nasty tumble by grabbing onto the banister.
“Whoa!” Jack was at his side in a second, steadying him against him, pulling the backpack from his shoulder and setting it on the step below. “You okay?”
“I’m fine!” Daniel pulled away from the comfort of Jack’s arms and leaned against the banister, staring at a point on the wall over Jack’s shoulder.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Jack said.
“Nowhere. I’m not going anywhere.”
“What’s with the bag then?”
Daniel shrugged. He knew the game was up. “Well, you don’t want me so I’m gonna go find someone who does.” He planted his hands on his hips and shifted his gaze to Jack, daring him to deny the truth of his words… and hoping that he would.
“Don’t want you?” Jack looked genuinely puzzled. “Where’d you get a lame-brained idea like that?” Then his face took on a surprised expression. “You heard me talking to Janet.” It wasn’t a question. “Were you eavesdropping?”
“I just wanted to see you and the nurse said you were with Janet and I didn’t want to wait even though Teal’c told me I should and…” He paused to take a breath then feeling totally miserable, slumped down onto his butt on the step, cupping his face in his hands. “I was eavesdropping,” he said.
Jack sat down next to him and clasped his hands on his knees. “You had a right to listen in,” he said. “It was about you after all.”
Daniel looked at Jack, seeing the frown lines etched on his forehead, the tense downward slant of his mouth. “Why don’t you want me anymore?”
“I do want you!” Jack exclaimed. He reached out and wrapped an arm around Daniel’s shoulders, pulling him close. “I was worried about you, that’s all. It was the first time I’d been hurt since you—”
“Got downsized,” Daniel put in.
Jack nodded. “Yeah, that. Anyway, I thought it would be better for you to be with someone who didn’t have a job like mine, so you didn’t have to worry about me every time I went offworld.”
“I’d still worry,” Daniel said, “even if I lived on the other side of the world. In a way, that would be harder. Not knowing when you were fighting the Goa’uld or the Replicators or some other nasty. Not knowing…” He straightened, pulling away from Jack a little. “But it’s okay. I understand if you want me to go live with someone else. If that’s what you think is best…”
“It is,” Jack agreed and Daniel felt his heart clench at the words, “but it’s not what I want. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last couple of days and I realized that not once since all this happened has anyone asked you what you want.”
“You did,” Daniel said. “At my apartment.”
“Well, you didn’t have a whole lot of choices.” Jack turned to look at him. “So, Daniel, what do you want to do? Your decision this time and whatever you decide, I’ll make sure it happens, I promise.”
“Cross my heart.”
Daniel’s insides felt like they were tied up in knots and his chest felt so tight, he could scarcely breathe. He tried a smile on for size. It was a little wobbly but that was okay because he was feeling kinda wobbly all over. “I want… I want to stay with you, Jack, but only if you want me to.”
Jack lifted a cautionary finger. “Uh-uh. Your choice, remember?”
“Well, I won’t be very happy living here if I think you don’t want me,” Daniel explained reasonably.
Jack frowned for a minute then he nodded. “Good point. Well then, I would like you to stay.”
“Okay. Then it’s settled. At least until I’m grown up again anyway. Maybe one day, Sam or Janet will work it out.”
Jack pulled him back into his embrace, hugging him tightly. “You bet they will,” he said. “One day. But for now, I have to admit I’m kinda enjoying having a mini version of my best friend around.”
“You do? Why? Aren’t I a pain in the mik’ta? That’s what you called me last week.”
“You are,” Jack said. He stood, lifting Daniel into his arms and headed down the stairs, “a lot of the time but you like pizza, and fishing, and especially The Simpsons, so I figure the trade-off isn’t too bad. Besides, you were a pain in the mik’ta when you were grown up too, so I’m not seeing that much of a difference.”
Daniel gave him a light punch on the arm. “Just for that, we’re watching the Discovery channel tonight,” he said. He giggled as Jack dropped him into the armchair in the living room.
“I don’t think so,” Jack said. “My house, my TV.”
“My choice,” Daniel said. He grew serious then and sat up. “Just for today, Jack, can it be my choice?”
Jack just looked at him for a long moment then he reached down and ruffled Daniel’s hair. “Why not?” he said finally. “What can it hurt?”
Daniel grinned. “I want pizza and chocolate ice cream for dinner!”
“I thought we could have the guys around for a barbecue tonight,” Jack said. “Maybe even ask the General, and Janet, and Walter. What do you say?”
“I say…” Daniel pretended to think though his mind was already made up. “I think that’s the best choice I’ve made all day.”