A First Step To Healing
He'd forgotten he still had it here, but wasn't really surprised when he found it, secreted behind a baseball cap and a stack of collector cards at the top of his closet. He'd kept a few small things, mementoes of his and Charlie's special times together, their 'Charlie and Me' time, which was so precious, not only because it had been too far and few between, but because it was now lost to him forever.
A muffled sneeze came from the bedroom next door and Jack pushed aside his maudlin thoughts, because in that bedroom was a sick little boy who, right now, needed some comfort.... Or did he? Granted, Daniel looked like a little kid, having been down-sized by some weird healing device when he’d fallen ill after being bitten by the Valdoran version of a spider and the locals had insisted he’d die without their help, but inside, mentally, he appeared to be the same old, exasperating, grown up version Jack had come to know and love. Until he'd come down with the flu. Somehow, the flu virus had turned Jack's best friend into the poster child for the kindergarten version of Misery'R'Us. He'd sneezed and coughed all night, eventually insisting on sleeping in Jack's bed, plastering his icy cold little feet firmly on Jack's toasty warm thighs, snored noisily through the night and woke with a high fever and the temperament of a pissed off Apophis. He'd whined about eating breakfast, spat up the Tylenol Jack poured down his throat and then had retired to his room with a look of unendurable misery on his snot-smeared face.
It was Saturday, for crying out loud! The first Saturday he’d had off since Adam was a boy and he was stuck with a whiny, coughing mini-version of Daniel Jackson at his worst. Jack had thought about downing a Tylenol or four himself, then slouched off to his own room for a little Daniel-free downtime, and the idea had taken hold.
He figured it couldn't hurt. He'd already experienced what he was pretty sure was the most exhausting, stressful day since ‘The DanielJackson Misadventure’, as Teal'c liked to call it, had occurred. Not much, he figured... or a whole lot. In which case, he'd call in his team, hand over babysitting duties to them and retire to his den with a game on the TV and a bottle of scotch. He pasted a hard-won smile on his face as he heard a miserable, hoarse "Jack?", and pulled the treasure from its hiding place, giving the soft platinum fur a small pat before hurrying out.
Daniel sat on the bed, looking just as miserable as he had when he'd first come home. He gave another sneeze, swiped at his nose with the scrunched up tissue he held in one hand then dabbed at his reddened eyes for good measure.
"How you feeling?" Jack asked.
"Lousy," Daniel croaked.
"I've got some chicken soup heating," Jack said, "and I found some lozenges for your throat."
"Thanks," Daniel replied, not looking the least bit grateful. He heaved a dramatic sigh and lay back on his pillows. "Sorry about before. It's just..." His eyes filled again with tears and he wiped at them with the soggy tissue.
Jack pulled another one from the box and handed it to him, dropping the soiled one into the wastepaper bin.
Daniel stared at him for a moment. "Whatcha got?"
Jack shrugged. "Nothing."
"Yes, you do. Behind your back."
"Oh... Just something I found. Thought it might make you feel better."
Daniel sat up again, eyeing Jack with undisguised curiosity, craning his neck to see what Jack had hidden behind his back. "Show me!" he demanded.
"It's probably stupid," Jack admitted. "You'll probably hit me with it."
Daniel reached out his hands, his fingers clenching in a 'give it to me' gesture that Jack just couldn't refuse.
Sighing, he held out his hidden gift.
Daniel stared at it. "It's a teddy bear."
"Yep." Jack ran his free hand through his hair. "It was Charlie's," he explained. "Sometimes, when he got sick, even when he was older, he liked to have it." He sighed and sat down on the side of the bed. "It was a stupid idea," he said after a long pause. He sat the teddy on his lap. "You're not a little kid... not totally. I just thought..."
"I like him," Daniel said decisively, snatching the teddy from Jack's hand. He ran his fingers over the velvety fur. "He's soft. What's his name?"
"I dunno. Teddy?" Jack suggested, shrugging his shoulders. "I think Charlie just called him Ted."
Daniel nodded. "Okay." He held the bear up in front of his face and wiggled him a little. "Hello, Ted, I'm Daniel." He looked back at Jack and smiled around a yawn. "I think he likes me."
Jack smiled and smothered a yawn of his own. "I think he likes you too."
Daniel lay down and wrapped his arms around Ted, almost crushing him in his embrace. "I like him too. Thanks, Jack."
Jack grinned, feeling a weight lift from his shoulders. Perhaps Saturday with a downsized Daniel Jackson wasn't going to be so bad after all. "Welcome. I'll go check on the soup." He stood to leave but Daniel tugged on his hand. "Something else you want?"
Daniel nodded. "Can I come watch the hockey with you? Just for a little while?"
Jack nodded and lifted Daniel into his arms. "Yeahsureyoubetcha. Gotta eat your soup first though, okay?"
Danile wrapped his arms around Jack's neck and hugged him. "Okay. Can you do me a favor though?"
"If Sam and Teal'c come over and see Ted, can you tell them he's an undercover bear?"
"An undercover bear?"
Daniel leaned back and looked at him. "You know, I'm undercover and gathering secret information. We can tell them he has a hidden microphone in his ear."
Jack gave him a doubtful look. "You think they'll buy it?"
"Of course they will." Daniel nodded vigorously. "Way more than they would the idea of me with a teddy bear."
Jack squashed his pillow more firmly over his head as Daniel’s high-pitched shout almost deafened him. Maybe if he just lay here and pretended he was asleep….
A small finger pried open one of Jack’s eyes and Daniel’s face swam into view. “I know you’re awake,” Daniel announced confidently.
“Am not,” Jack muttered. “Go away. I’m resting.”
“It’s morning! Look!” Daniel ran over to the window and dragged back the curtains, bathing the room in bright light.
Jack bit back a curse and groaned, shifting his pillow so it covered his eyes. “Happy now?” he grumbled. “You blinded me.”
“Silly.” Daniel laughed. “Look, the sun’s shining and everything, so we can go!” He ran back over to Jack and tugged at his hand. “Get up already, lazy bones, or we’ll be late.”
Jack sat up and pulled the blanket around his waist to ward off the chill of the morning. “Late for what?” he asked, scrubbing at his eyes and yawning.
“The baseball game,” Daniel said. He tugged again at Jack’s hand. “Come on already.”
“You have the flu,” Jack said. “Even if it is sunny outside, you’re still sick. We can go when you’re better.”
“I’m better now,” Daniel protested, even as he dragged a sleeve-covered arm under his runny nose. “You promised.”
“That was before you got sick,” Jack reasoned. “There’ll be plenty more games. Besides, you never used to like baseball.”
Daniel shrugged as though that was of little consequence and Jack had to admit it probably wasn’t. Daniel hadn’t liked tacos when he was an adult but now he’d eat them every night, given the chance.
“Look what I found,” Daniel said and reached out to pick something up off the bed.
“What?” Jack blinked a few times to bring his still somewhat fuzzy vision into focus.
“Found it… up there.” Daniel poked a chubby thumb towards Jack’s closet and Jack saw a chair pushed up against the open door. He looked at what Daniel was holding.
A baseball glove. Charlie’s. Jack had given it to him the day before… Oh Christ. He snatched the glove from Daniel’s hand. “What the hell were you doing up there?” he growled.
“Just looking,” Daniel said. He took a step back, the smile on his face wavering uncertainly. “I wanted to see if you had some other toys up there and you were asleep and I was bored…” His voice trailed off and tears filled his eyes. Tentatively, he held out a hand. “Can’t I have it?”
“No!” Jack tossed the glove onto the bed. “Jesus, Daniel, you could have fallen off the chair and broken your neck!”
“I was careful,” Daniel said.
“I’ve told you already you can’t do anything without checking with me first,” Jack cut in. “You’re a kid now.”
“Am not!” Daniel shouted, stamping one small foot. “And you’re not the boss of me!”
“Yes, I am!” Jack ground out. “You agreed when you asked if you could stay here instead of going to a foster home that you’d abide by my rules. Those rules include not climbing on chairs and going through my stuff.”
Daniel stared at him for a long moment then his cheeks reddened and he dropped his gaze to the floor. “It was Charlie’s glove, wasn’t it?” he whispered. “Like the teddy bear. I thought… You said Charlie wouldn’t mind me having Ted…”
“That was different,” Jack said. He sat down on the bed and picked up the glove, rubbing his fingers into the softness of the leather. “This… this is special, Daniel.”
“I’m sorry.” Daniel stepped closer and rested his hand on Jack’s, squeezing his fingers.
A tear dropped onto Jack’s hand and he looked up into Daniel’s miserable face. God, what an asshole he was. He put the glove aside and pulled Daniel into his arms. “No, I’m sorry, Daniel,” he said, giving Daniel’s wet cheek a kiss.
“I was bad,” Daniel hiccupped.
“No, no, you weren’t,” Jack assured him. “Well, you were for climbing on the chair without checking with me but you weren’t bad for taking the glove. You didn’t know.”
“I guess I did,” Daniel said. “I mean, I knew it was Charlie’s, just like Ted.”
Jack hugged Daniel tightly then picked up the glove again. Without hesitation, he pressed it into Daniel’s hands. “Here. How about you keep it for me?”
A small smile upturned Daniel’s mouth and he swiped at his tears with one hand while he grabbed the mitt with other. “Really? You mean, for keeps?”
Jack nodded. “For keeps.”
Daniel shook his head. “Just till you want it back, okay, Jack? Same as Ted.”
“Okay.” Jack stood and stretched. Damn, he was too old for this. Had he really thought through the consequences of taking on a child? He knew he hadn’t. One look at Daniel’s little, frightened face had been enough for him to know that he couldn’t let his friend down. He’d done that in the past and had to live with the regrets and guilt. He wasn’t about to repeat his mistakes. “Let’s go get breakfast,” he said.
“And then go to the baseball game,” Daniel said happily.
“Ah, that’s still gonna be a no,” Jack said. He tousled Daniel’s hair. “Sorry, buddy. You’re still sick. Next week, if you’re better.”
“No! I wanna go today!”
“No can do. Doctor Frasier said you need to stay indoors for a few days till you’re over the flu.”
Jack shook his head, steeling himself against what he just knew was going to be a fresh round of cajoling and tears. “No buts,” he said firmly. “Come on, breakfast, and then you can watch anything you want on the TV. Maybe we’ll call Carter and Teal’c later. Ask them to come over for lunch.”
“No!” Daniel pulled his hand from Jack’s grasp. “I don’t want to! You’re mean!” With that, he ran from the room, leaving a shell-shocked Jack in his wake.
Daniel didn’t come down for breakfast and Jack thought about ordering him to, then decided it wasn’t worth another argument. Daniel was still sick and likely didn’t have much of an appetite anyway. He phoned Carter and Teal’c and organized for them to come for a cookout that afternoon. Hopefully the enticing smell of burgers on the grill would tempt his young friend. He might even ease up on the stay indoors rule and play a game of catch in the backyard. He was pretty certain there was still a baseball around somewhere.
He busied himself doing the dishes and catching up on some housecleaning, allowing Daniel his time alone. As he folded tiny underwear and t-shirts fresh from the dryer, his mind wandered back to the first time Daniel had emerged from the healing device on Valdora. The locals had assured them that Daniel would certainly die if he wasn’t placed in the chamber after the spider had bitten him. Looking at Daniel’s parchment white, lax features, watching him vomit repeatedly, Jack had no doubt they were telling the truth. Carter had wanted to scoop and run, get him back to the mountain but Jack had seen enough mortally injured soldiers to know that Daniel wouldn’t last that long. Just moving him would likely kill him. It was one of the hardest things he’d ever done: trusting total strangers and allowing them to take Daniel from them.
He’d seen some pretty damn weird stuff since he’d first stepped through the Stargate. Hell, seeing the Stargate in action for the first time had almost made his carefully erected façade of stoicism crumble. Nothing could have prepared him though for seeing a small boy being carried from the healing chamber clad in Daniel’s khakis, an oversized pair of spectacles dangling from one tiny hand. He’d known it was Daniel right away, even if the reed-thin voice that called to him was not familiar. Daniel was still Daniel, just smaller. His memory was intact, and Jack wasn’t sure if that was a blessing or a curse. His emotions and thought processes seemed to have been downsized along with his body and there’d been many nights where Jack had held a sobbing mini-Daniel on his lap after he’d woken from a nightmare triggered by the many horrible experiences he’d suffered in his adult life.
There had been no doubt in Jack’s mind that he would be Daniel’s caregiver despite Frasier’s probably correct reasoning that he’d be better off in a vetted, secure foster home. Jack had left the decision up to Daniel, wanting him to have at least some control over his new life, and Daniel’s unequivocal choice had been Jack. It had gone pretty well to begin with but the Daniel he’d brought home from the base had been frightened and insecure, clinging to Jack like a limpet. He’d slowly begun to adjust to his odd circumstances, and along with his newfound confidence had come all the behavioral traits of a normal five year old.
Jack packed the last of the folded clothes into the laundry hamper and headed up to Daniel’s room, hoping the kid was over his earlier funk and might be persuaded to come help put a salad together for lunch. His hand was on the doorknob when he heard Daniel scream. Throwing open the door, Jack glanced quickly around the room and found it was empty. “Daniel?” he called.
A muffled cry sounded and Jack tracked it to the open window. Hurrying over, he leaned out and looked down, but his view was obstructed by the tree that grew close to the side of the house. “Daniel?” he called again.
“Jack? I fell. It hurts!”
Cursing, Jack spun on his heel and raced out of the room. He took the stairs two at a time and barreled out the back door and around the side of the house. Daniel lay curled on his side beneath the tree, one hand grasping his right arm.
“Oh god!” Jack hurried over and knelt beside Daniel, his normally sure hands shaking as he reached out to touch Daniel’s face. A thin rivulet of blood ran down Daniel’s cheek from a cut above his eye but Jack was relieved to see the wound was shallow.
“Jack?” Daniel was shuddering with shock, his breath gasping as he clutched at his swollen wrist. “I fell out the tree.” Tears streamed down his face, mixing with the blood. “Hurts. Hurts really bad.”
“All right. Okay, Danny, just lay really still, okay?” Jack reached into his shirt pocket then realized his cell phone was inside on the coffee table. “I need to go phone for an ambulance. Just hold on.”
“No!” Daniel reached for Jack then screamed as the sudden movement jarred his injured arm. “Don’t leave me here, Jack.”
Jack stroked a hand through Daniel’s sweat-slicked hair. “I’ll just be a second, buddy, I promise.” Standing, he hurried back inside and grabbed his cell phone, dialing Janet Frasier as he ran back out to Daniel. Somehow, a small part of his brain had remained in control and he’d realized a trip to the local hospital would garner more questions than he could answer.
It seemed an eternity before Frasier arrived with an ambulance from Cheyenne Mountain. Daniel, complexion as grey as it had been on Valdora, wrist swelling and discoloring rapidly, had been given something for the pain and was bundled into the ambulance with Jack at his side.
Frasier patted Jack’s shoulder sympathetically as the orderlies wheeled Daniel into the infirmary. “He’s going to be fine, sir,” she said. “It doesn’t look like he has any internal or major injuries.”
“This is my fault,” Jack said. “I should have checked on him earlier. What the hell was he doing climbing out of the window?”
It was a rhetorical question and Frasier seemed to sense that. “Why don’t we wait and ask him once he’s been X-rayed and has that arm in plaster.” She shook her head. “Kids, huh? Remember the time Cassie fell off the swings at school? I blamed myself totally for days, even though I wasn’t even there when it happened.” She waved Jack ahead of her. “I think he’s going to want you with him.”
The Daniel who endured the setting and casting of his wrist was the total opposite of the sobbing, frightened, pain-wracked child who’d clung to Jack when he’d left to phone for help. Daniel lay on the exam bed, his face still pale and tear-streaked but he remained silent through the entire process, stoic, his gaze averted from Jack’s though he didn’t pull away when Jack gently took hold of his uninjured hand and whispered reassurances to him.
Once his arm was encased in a dark blue cast from hand to elbow, he rolled onto his side, facing away from Jack.
Janet brushed his hair away from his forehead. “I’d like him to stay overnight, sir,” she said to Jack. “He got a bump on the head and while I don’t think he sustained a concussion, I’d like to keep an eye on him for a while.”
Jack leaned over the bed. “You okay with that, Daniel? I’ll stay with you.”
Daniel shook his head then nodded. “It’s okay. You can go.”
“Are you kidding? Not going anywhere without you, buddy.”
Daniel shook his head again. “I’m tired. I’m just gonna sleep till morning. Go home, Jack.”
Jack felt a pang of grief and guilt at the words. “I don’t mind…” but Daniel’s eyes were closed, his breathing slow and almost even, save for a hiccup now and then, though Jack knew he wasn’t asleep. “Okay, I’ll see you in the morning.” He brushed a kiss to Daniel’s temple and straightened, feeling utterly drained.
“It’s probably the sedation,” Frasier said kindly. “He’ll feel a lot better tomorrow.”
“Yeah.” Jack headed for the exit but stopped and looked back before leaving. Daniel had turned over in the bed, his eyes open, a look of desolation on his face but the moment Jack took a step back toward him, he closed his eyes once more.
He didn’t go home. There was no way he could face entering that empty house, going up to Daniel’s room to be reminded of that harrowing scream as Daniel had fallen, didn’t want to wallow in the guilt he felt at having come so close to losing another child. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. He’d sullied Charlie’s memory by descending into despair, by trying to block out the pain and grief with booze. This time he was going to face it head on. Fix what he’d done and hopefully Daniel would be able to forgive and forget.
Jack arrived back at the infirmary early the next morning. He hadn’t slept at all anyway, his maudlin thoughts tumbling over each other, and every time he closed his eyes, he saw Daniel’s frightened face. He asked Carter to go to his house and pack some clothes for Daniel to wear home. When he walked in, he saw Daniel’s little backpack on the end of the bed with Ted peeking out the top of it. Daniel was nowhere in sight.
“He’s in the bathroom getting dressed,” a passing nurse explained. She smiled at Jack. “Said he needed privacy and didn’t need any help.”
“Sounds like Daniel,” Jack said and felt a small sense of relief at her words. That was the Daniel, both adult and child that he knew.
He looked over as the bathroom door opened and Daniel came out, head down, struggling to pull up his jeans zipper one-handed. “Hey, Daniel,” he said, walking over to him, “let me give you a hand with that, buddy.”
Daniel glanced up at him and shook his head. “I can do it.”
“I know, but if you let me help, we can get out of here a lot sooner.”
Jack quickly zipped up the fly and then led Daniel over to the bed. Picking him up, he sat him on the bed and pulled on Daniel’s sneakers. “There!” he said with a smile. “Ready to go.”
Daniel looked down at his shoes. “Where?” he whispered.
“Home.” Jack frowned. Reaching out, he placed a finger under Daniel’s chin, lifting his head so he could see his face. “What’s going on in that big ol’ brain of yours?”
Tears glistened in Daniel’s eyes. “I thought… I was naughty. I yelled at you and climbed out the window and fell out the tree and I thought…”
“Hey!” Jack sat on the bed and pulled Daniel into his arms, hugging him tightly. “You thought I wouldn’t want you anymore?” Daniel nodded, sobbing. “Not gonna happen, Daniel,” Jack said. He felt a lump rise in his throat and had to swallow hard before he could continue. “You’re not going to get rid of me that easily. You want to know a secret?” He waited until Daniel nodded then loosened his embrace and allowed Daniel to sit back a little. He smiled and wiped Daniel’s tears from his cheeks with his thumbs. “I thought you wouldn’t want to live with me anymore.”
Daniel hiccupped a sob. “Why?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Because I’m mean and bad tempered and I’m no fun.”
Daniel swiped a hand across his nose. “Yes, you are. You’re funny all the time, ‘cept when you’re in a bad mood.”
“Like yesterday.” Daniel nodded. “Thing is, I’m out of practice with looking after kids. It’s been a while.” Jack allowed his bittersweet memories of Charlie to wash over him before continuing. “I wasn’t very good at it the first time around.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Daniel said. He reached out his hand and patted Jack’s chest. “Charlie told you that when the crystal being let you see him. I remember that.”
“He told me he’d always be with me,” Jack replied. “Doesn’t change that it was my fault I lost him in the first place. I told you that first night back from Abydos that I can forget, but I can never forgive myself for what happened, and I’d never forgive myself if I lost you too.”
Daniel nodded solemnly. “This time it was my fault. Sometimes my head gets all mixed up and I can’t help acting just like a little kid, even though I know it’s wrong. Sometimes the big me just gets lost.”
“This is hard, I know,” Jack agreed. “Hardest for you.” He smiled. “Me, I kinda like this version of Daniel Jackson. I’ve gotten used to having him around and if we can ever figure this out and grow you up again, I think I’m gonna miss hanging out with you, cleaning up your mess, watching cartoons – who knew you’d love The Simpsons as much as me!”
Daniel rolled his eyes and a small, tremulous smile upturned his mouth. “I only watch it to humor you,” he replied. “I’d still rather watch a good documentary.” He sighed. “The things children do for their elders.”
Jack gave him a gentle jab to his stomach with his thumb. “Not so much of the elder stuff,” he said with a grin. “You want to tell me where you were going when you climbed out the window?”
“To the baseball game,” Daniel replied. “I figured I’d prove to you that I could go by myself and then you’d see I could still look after myself and you couldn’t boss me around.” He gave a rueful smile. “Not one of my finest moments, huh?”
It sounded so much like his adult friend that Jack had to choke back a sob. He smiled instead, realizing for the first time that he’d been doubly blessed. He hadn’t lost Daniel. He’d been here all along, just as Charlie was and always would be. He reached out and pulled Daniel back into his embrace. “Not one of mine either,” he said. “I can’t promise I won’t get bad tempered again or get frustrated with you but I promise I’ll always want you, no matter what.”
“Same here,” Daniel replied. He pressed a kiss to Jack’s cheek. “It’s going to be hard for me, Jack. I mean, you’re a hard guy to live with but I’m prepared to make the best of it.”
“Well, thank you for that,” Jack said. “I appreciate the sacrifices you have to make for a grumpy old guy like me.”
“So, can we go home now?” Daniel reached over and pulled Ted from the backpack, hugging him close.
“Yeahsureyoubetcha.” Jack set Daniel down on the floor and picked up the backpack. He held out his hand and Daniel shifted Ted to the crook of his arm and took it. Together they walked to the door, giving Janet a cheery wave as they left.
“Appointment to check the cast on Friday,” she called after them.
“Gotcha,” Jack said. “Hey, Doc, you free this afternoon?”
“As a matter of fact I am,” she said.
“Good. Bring Cassie. Cookout at my place. I’ll let Carter and Teal’c know.”
“And General Hammond,” Daniel added. “And Walter and Sergeant Siler and—“
“Easy!” Jack admonished with a smile. “Next thing, you’ll be inviting the whole base over.”
“Yeah!” Daniel nodded enthusiastically, his eyes shining. “We can have our own baseball game in the backyard!”
Jack rolled his eyes and sighed. “I knew there was something sneaky going on in that head of yours. No baseball until you get that cast off.”