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The Ties that Bind by iiiionly

 

 

I’m hearing voices, never a good thing, but I’m in the basement and I could swear I’m hearing voices in the entryway.  Daniel knows better than to open the door to strangers so it must be someone he recognizes.

It sure sounds like an adult voice - an adult male voice - and not Teal’c’s deep bass. 

The dog starts to bark as I rummage through cans of parts on the workbench.  I snag a washer, along with the toolbox and some plumbers goop, and head back upstairs, keeping an ear open just in case. 

“Daniel?”

The dog’s stopped barking so it must be someone we know.  Hershey doesn’t tolerate strangers any better than I do.  I kick the basement door shut, plunk the toolbox and the washer on the counter next to the sink and head across the kitchen. 

“Who’s . . .” the question is cut short by a strangled sound I’m positive couldn’t have come from me, “ . . . here?”  I blink - blink again - and snap my mouth shut. 

Given the line of work I’m in hallucinations have practically become S.O.P. on the job.  But I’m not in the corridors of the SGC, or off-world.  I’m standing in my own entryway and I’ve got the whole nine yards - full blown visual and auditory hallucinations.  Man, oh man, would McKinsey have a field day with this one.

“Hello, Jack,” my father says in greeting, giving the dog a last pat as he pushes up off the floor from a semi-kneeling position.

I don’t say anything.  I’m trying to decide if I’m having one of those ghosts of Christmas past moments - before Thanksgiving. 

I haven’t seen my parents in ten years. 

Ten years, five months, and eleven days to be exact - since Charlie’s funeral.  Funny how the brain can calculate that at the drop of the hat, but can’t manage to wrap around Carter’s explanation of how we burrow through space while traveling through an imaginary wormhole. 

Daniel sidesteps over to me and wraps an arm around my leg.  His fingers fist and he whips his hand behind his back when I reach for it as it’s headed north for chewing.  I give him a cursory glance and let my hand descend to his shoulder instead, lifting my gaze back to my father – who’s watching this little by-play interestedly. 

“Sarah didn’t tell us you’d remarried,” he observes.

 “I’m not, he’s not mine,” is out of my mouth before I can censor it. 

Why is it we never outgrow the need to pacify our parents?

“I’m not?”  Daniel parrots, huge blue eyes turning up to me anxiously. 

Shit. 

I swing Daniel up as if he weighs no more than a feather; the adrenalin pumping through me makes it easy.  Whether he’s sensing my tension, or it’s his own unease, he presses his cheek to mine as I settle him on a hip.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” I reassure, kissing his temple.  Frankly, I don’t give a damn what my father thinks.  I’m more worried Daniel will misinterpret my knee jerk response. 

But there’s an unexpected spasm of pain around my heart as I look back at my dad.  I assume, since he isn’t screaming at me, there’s a purpose to this visit.

My father’s eyes close briefly and he waits several heartbeats before answering.  “I want to apologize.” 

To his credit, his teeth don’t clench as he says it.  All O’Neill’s have a hard time with those particular words - I know - I inherited that trait.

For a long moment silence stretches between us. 

“What could you possibly want to apologize for?”  I’m careful not to use any title, given our last conversation - if you can call it that. “Everything you said to me was true.”  With effort I manage to keep my voice neutral.  “It was my gun; my stupid mistake not locking the damn thing up; and I was drunk at my own son’s funeral.” 

Daniel’s cheek presses harder against mine; his arm around my neck tightens as well. 

It’s strange what the mind can do to the body.  I’m transported back in time as surely as if the Stargate spit us out in the wrong year – facing my father across the length of another hall – except ten years ago it was the back hall of an Air Force chapel. 

I was pretty numb during most of that time, not feeling much of anything.  So why do I feel nauseated now?

“How about . . . letting this go on for ten years?”  He keeps his shoulders loose but a thin trickle of sweat drips from a hairline darker than mine. 

Ten years ago I hadn’t met Daniel; there wasn’t a grey hair on my head. 

Now his jaw does clench and my father’s gaze drops to the floor before he takes a deep breath and raises his eyes back to mine unflinchingly.  “How about . . . for saying what I did in the first place?”

Yeah, and ten years ago my picture could have been in the dictionary under the definition of SOB.  When my father ordered me not to show my face at the house until I was stone cold sober - I didn’t bother to do either – get sober, or show my face at the house.  At that point I didn’t give a shit about anything, not even my father informing me I was no son of his. 

I was too inured in my own pain to give a damn.  I wasn’t anyone’s father any more; I had no desire to be anyone’s son, or husband, either. 

When the opportunity landed in my lap to make the separation final, I accepted without reservation. 

I have to admit, when I purposely left Daniel and Skaara behind and found myself searching for Abydos from my rooftop observatory, a little regret snuck in.  I’d left myself no family to turn to here on Earth. 

But I was still arrogant enough to get a perverse sort of pleasure out of refusing to bow under the weight of my father’s continued silence. 

I rub Daniel’s back, as much for my comfort as his.  Curiously, I’ve often been in my father’s position with adult Daniel - apologizing for tearing strips off him because I’m angry, or hurt, or frightened.

A sort of dëjà vu replaces the sense of experiencing a visual and auditory hallucination. 

“I unforgivably wounded the two people who mean the most to me,” my dad says on a sigh.  “Your mother knew me well enough to know I would have made her life a living hell if she’d reached out to you against my wishes.  For ten years she’s dragged me out here every Thanksgiving.  Hoping, I’m sure, you would make the first move.  I’m not doing this because your mother made me, in fact, she doesn’t even know I’m here.  I ran this by Sarah and she’s more than willing to be complicit in this little scheme of mine.” 

Speaking of dёjà vu – one hand comes out of his pocket and he scrubs it through his hair. 

“Will you come to Thanksgiving dinner?”

I’m floored.  I’ve got a hell of a lot of nerve, but even I don’t have that much. 

“Let me get this straight - not only do you want me to throw our plans out the window, you want me to join my ex-wife’s family for dinner – on Thanksgiving?”

“No,” my father says quietly, “I would like you to join your family for Thanksgiving – at your ex-wife’s house.”

Daniel shifts in my arms, almost imperceptibly shaking his head.  “I don’t want to go there, Jack,” he whispers and I can feel the small jaw harden against my own.

There’s only a couple of people on the face of this planet I let manipulate me.  I’m holding one of them – the other is not my father. 

I give the simmering anger a few seconds to make up my mind – boil over or cool down? 

Daniel’s still shaking his head, now with a little more force. 

I manage to temper the sarcasm I’m inclined to respond with and say only, “Thanks, we already have plans.”

My father bows his head on another sigh and I realize he didn’t expect to meet with success on this mission.

I suppose if the universe hadn’t chosen to retrofit me with another family this might have had a different outcome.  SG-1 may not be related by flesh and blood, but this family has been forged in the fires of hell, hammered into shape by the demands of lives lived in constant jeopardy, and tempered in the Goa’uld’d lakes of more than one alien world.  It’s hard for blood families to compete with that kind of tempering. 

“May I bring your mother over here . . . maybe when it’s more convenient for you?”

Probably because our thought patterns come from the same gene pool I read the unspoken message plainly. 

“Daniel is not visiting,” I say flatly, “he lives here.  Legally he’s mine, if not genetically.”

Both eyebrows go up.  “You adopted?”

“Something like that,” I offer non-committally.

“I’m surprised . . .” He immediately looks uncomfortable.

Good, I’m glad he understands an apology doesn’t give him the right to pry into the last ten years of my life. 

“Not that . . .” he trails off.  “I’m just surprised, being in the military and all you’d, uh . . , take on that challenge, especially by yourself.”

Oh yeah, a not-so-subtle dig at all the times I left Sarahh to cope on her own during our marriage.   

The finger heads north again. 

“You’re only a challenge on odd days, aren’t you?”  I rub my cheek against his hair and reach for his hand.  Daniel wraps his fingers tightly around my thumb as he pulls my hand against his chest.  His head goes down on my shoulder. 

As an adult, Daniel was never a great judge of character, anybody and everybody was a potential friend and ally until they proved otherwise.  This incarnation of Daniel is much more discerning, a thing I’d really like to cultivate so if he does get big again, that particular trait sticks with him.

“Son?”

My father’s hand comes out and I have to make a split second choice - forward or backward. 

“I’m sorrier than I can express.” 

Daniel lets go of my finger, I step forward and our hands clasp strongly. 

“I’ve regretted those words from the moment they left my mouth . . .”

Out of nowhere a laugh rumbles through me.  “Oh, come off it, Dad, it was a least a week before you regretted it.”

He shakes his head, though a smile twitches the firm lips.  “We’re more alike than you know, Johnny, but on that occasion your mother ground her heel into my instep so hard I limped for several days.  I regretted those words for more than one reason.”

There’s something medicinal about shared laughter, its healing properties outstrip any other form of communication.  Nervous tension dissolves under its influence, anxiety morphs into release, and my dad and I are hugging each other with Daniel squashed between us.

Maybe because I don’t need this, I can accept it as the gift it is - reclamation, renewal, a reforging of the ties that bind. 

My dad, when he straightens, has tears on his face.  In all my life I have never seen him cry and I’m slightly awed he honors me with this additional gift of neither wiping them away, nor denying them. 

“Well,” he says, as if reading my mind, “maybe I’ve learned a few things over the last ten years.” 

He did not shed one tear at his grandson’s funeral, but then, neither did I. 

“Age will do that to you, Johnny, m’boy.  It steals away many of the things we take for granted.  In exchange though, we’re offered much wisdom if we’re wise enough to accept it.”

Whoa - philosophy from my pragmatic father?  Who’d have thought?  We step apart and the awkwardness envelopes us again. 

“What are you going to tell Mom?”

Dad observes us both for half a second, then says with another twitch of his lips, “Oh . . . you’re still too pigheaded to change your plans at a moments notice, but you’re doing well . . . and are willing to make allowances for an old man.  Even extend an ounce of forgiveness under the right circumstances.  I know she’ll want to see you as well . . .” he trails off, unwilling, not that I blame him, to be rebuffed again.

“Maybe we could . . . come by later in the afternoon . . . after dinner,” I offer by way of an olive branch.

A broad smile splits my father’s face.  Years drop off, as if he suddenly got up close and personal with Daniel’s Fountain of Youth doohickey. 

“That would be . . . great,” Dad says, as a paradoxical tear slips unheeded from the corner of his eye.  “We’ll see you, then, on Thursday.  You will bring Daniel?” 

I understand this isn’t a derogatory inquiry, but something he thinks he needs to prepare my mother for, and perhaps Sarahh.  More than once it’s crossed my mind how much this incarnation of Daniel looks like Charlie. 

I doubt Sarahh told them about the crystal me who turned into the crystal Charlie she saw briefly. 

“He goes where I go, unless he doesn’t want to come.”   

He’s got my hand again and he’s managed to get that left ring finger in his mouth while still holding onto my thumb.  He’s chewing.

“Thank you,” my father says, a humility in his voice I’ve never heard. 

I have Daniel to thank, in both incarnations, for what minor ability I’ve achieved in the dreaded ‘feelings’ department.  I wonder if age is the only factor in my father’s transformation.

A side order of guilt tries to crash the party, but I’ll be damned it I give it house room.  If I’m going to feel guilty, it will be over my mother – she’s the one who’s suffered the most through this. 

I distinctly remember thinking, the first time I stepped into the wormhole, at least she’ll have some closure. 

I was a real screw-up that year, couldn’t even get killing myself right. 

It’s thirty degrees outside, but we follow my dad out onto the porch. 

“You won’t back out on me now, will you?  I don’t want to get your mother’s hopes up.”

“Should I call before I come?”

“No, that won’t be necessary . . . although . . . I suppose if you don’t, your mother will spend the entire afternoon at the window.”

“I have Sarahh’s number.” 

It’s our old home phone number.  She never changed it and she’s still on my notify list should something ever happen to me. 

“I’ll call.”

“That’s probably better.”  Dad turns at the top of the steps.  He has his keys out, jiggling them restlessly.  “I feel . . . ten years . . . lighter.  I’ve missed you, son.”

Because Carter, Teal’c, and Daniel filled that hole long ago, I can give him back the words I know he wants to hear with enough sincerity in my voice to make him believe I mean it.  “I missed you, too, Dad.  I’ll see you on Thursday.” 

Then again, maybe it’s the truth. 

Daniel huddles against me as the wind whips around us.  I offer to let him down so he can go back in the house, but he refuses, tucking his arms between us, and his face into my neck. 

My father flashes a look in the rearview mirror and I raise a hand.  Daniel and I stand on the porch watching until the car turns the corner.

“Well,” I say to no one in particular, though Hershey whines and paws at me as I close the door behind us, “that was . . . fun.”

“Or not,” Daniel mumbles, channeling me.  “No,” he says, when I try to put him down again.  “I’m cold.”

“Then go get a sweatshirt.  I’ve still got to fix our leaky faucet.”

“Can I help?”

“Sure, if you hurry.  I’m not waiting for you to meander back to your bedroom, read a book or two, and then find your way back out to help,” I tease, giving him a helpful little push in the right direction when he finally lets me put him on his feet.

He’s back in record time, one arm shoved into an old Air Force sweatshirt of mine he dragged out of a pile of clothes I had pulled out to take to the Goodwill a couple of months ago.

“Jack?” 

He can get it over his head but is unable to get his arm in the second sleeve by himself because there’s too much material.  I’ve tried begging, bribery, and threats, the last of which he knows are entirely without merit, but he refuses to part with it. 

“Hershey’s laughing at you, you know,” I say as I fish for his arm to thread through the armhole. 

He looks like the Michelin Man with the sleeves bunched up in layers of rolls around his arms.

Hershey barks once, a short sharp bark that sounds a lot like a snort, which causes Daniel to shoot him a dirty look. 

“Stop that.”

With a snuffle, Hershey slides down to stretch out on the floor, chin on paws, so he can supervise the proceedings.

I gingerly ease myself down on my ass. 

Daniel folds in the middle, drops ass to ankles, and peers under the sink with me. 

“Can you fix it?” he wants to know.

There was an entire garbage bag of stuff that needed throwing out when I cleaned out under here.  The salvageable items are lined up like miniature soldiers on the other side of the cabinet door, waiting to be returned to their damp, moldy cavern once I’ve resolved this problem. 

“We’ll see.” 

I have to get up to plug in the mechanic’s lamp.  Daniel would do it in a heartbeat but he’d have to pull a chair over to get to the plug. 

Naturally, when I’m back in front of the sink, there’s nowhere to hang the damn thing. 

“Want me to hold it?” he asks, poking his head under my arm. 

For an instant I think - if I send him to watch TV, or read, or something - it will take half the time it would if I let him stay and help. 

On the other hand, I don’t want to be down here by myself ruminating on the last twenty minutes and I don’t care if it takes us the rest of the day.  We don’t have anything else we have to do.

For the first fifteen minutes Daniel’s engrossed in what’s happening inside the cabinet - handing in tools, asking what this one does, how that one works, where all the water’s coming from when I soak myself. 

I knew we had a leak; I didn’t realize we also had a clog. 

“Ewwww, that doesn’t smell good,” he says, wrinkling his nose in disgust.

I just grunt and try to remember why I decided not to call the plumber for this job. 

A few minutes more pass while I fight with the damn u-joint, trying to get the rusted bolt to break loose. 

“Jack?”

“What?”

“How come I didn’t know you had a father?”

“Everybody has a father, Daniel.”

I smack the stupid wrench with as much force as I can muster in this enclosed space.  It doesn’t budge. 

“Shit.”

“What’s the matter?”  He pokes his head inside the cupboard again.

“Move, please.  I can’t see a thing with you blocking my light.”

“Oh, sorry.”  He shuffles back, snags his feet in the too-large sweatshirt and tumbles over backwards with an oomph of surprise. 

Hershey’s on top of him in one bound, barking madly, thinking this is an invitation to play.

“You okay?” I ask, beating on the wrench again. 

He didn’t hit hard enough to hurt anything, just kind of rolled like the little isopod he so often imitates.

He lifts one knee at a time to drag the excess sweatshirt material out from under him, grabs the light he lost, then drops down on hands and knees and crawls back over.

“Did you hurt yourself?” I ask again, since he’s rubbing the back of his head.

“Not really,” he grins, “just a little bump.  Did I look funny?”

“With your feet in the air and your ass over your head?  Yeah, kinda sorta.”
 
“To bad Sam wasn’t here with her phone to take pictures,” Daniel chortles.  “Hey,” he widens his eyes as though he’s just had a wonderful thought, “we could call Sam.  I bet she’d know how to fix this.”

 Brat. 

If the angelic smile on his face is anything to go on, I wouldn’t bet against his channeling adult Daniel’s snarkiness right at the moment. 

“Give me the other wrench.”  I hold out my hand.  “No, the other one, the Siler-sized wrench.  That’s it.” 

I’ve got just enough room to maneuver it behind the wrench now on the bolt so tight I may have to call Siler to get it off. 

And as usual, Daniel hasn’t lost track of his end of the conversation. 

“How come I didn’t know you still have a dad?”

“Well . . .” naturally enough the rusted bolt breaks loose just as I open my mouth to answer,  along with the rusted top of the u-joint, and I’m spitting cold, smelly water along with trying to wipe it out of my eyes. 

A kitchen towel is thrust abruptly into my hands as I slide out from under the sink, coughing. 

“Thanks.”  I scrub at my face and grimy hands.  “Guess it’s no worse than what we eat regularly in the Mess,” though I turn the towel over and use the back side to scrap what feels like a layer of slime out of my mouth.  “Your adult incarnation knew I still have a dad.”

“He did?”

I’ve turned on my knees and am shining the light back up under the cabinet, trying to assess the damage and whether or not I should call the plumber now or wait until I’ve baptized myself again.  Something about the tone of voice, though, makes me look over my shoulder. 

“Yeah, you knew.  You were aware of that . . . before.” 

Interesting, Daniel’s separated himself from his ‘adult’ self.  

He’s chewing his lip.  “I don’t remember knowing that.”

“That’s not surprising,” I pry off the bottom bolt and wriggle loose the u-joint.  “There are a lot of things you don’t remember.” 

And I hope it stays that way.

“Oh.”  He eyes the pipe in my hand.  “Are we going to Home Depot?”

“If we want to use the sink anytime today, guess we have to, huh?” 

“Goody.”  Daniel likes going to Home Depot.  “Are you going to change clothes before we go?”

“You don’t want to go with me like this?”

He shrugs.  “I don’t care, but I don’t think it would be very comfortable going out all wet like that in the cold.”

”You’re probably right.  I think I’ll go shower off this gunk I’m covered with before I change clothes.”

I haul myself to my feet using the sink counter for leverage, wipe my hands again on the now filthy towel, and head for the bedroom and the sanctuary of my bathroom.

“Jack?”

“Hmmm?”  I look over my shoulder to find I’m the head of the local parade.  Daniel’s zigzagging down the hall like Tigger on a pogo stick, hopping from one point to the next, with Hershey, tail wagging good-naturedly, bringing up the rear.

“How long’s it been since you’ve seen your dad?”

“Years.”

Daniel stops hopping and scrambles to come up with me as I turn into the bedroom. 

I snatch my hand out of his reach when he tries to latch on to it. 

“Ack!  Don’t!  I’m filthy, Daniel.”

He reaches out to stop me and his hand lands on cold, wet t-shirt.  “Oooo,” he says, snatching his own hand back.  Instead, he plants himself in front of me, fists his hands on his miniature hips and looks up with a fierce scowl.  “I remember when you let me go with the dog lady the first time.  But I don’t remember how long I was gone.  Was it a long time?”

“You mean when you went with Oma on the island?”

“Stop it,” he tells me, in his best talking-to-the-dog tone, “You know I don’t mean the island.  Before that; the time you didn’t go with me.  Was I gone for years?”

I’m cold and wet and smelly, and I haven’t been fishing, which is the only good excuse for being cold and wet and smelly. 

But there’s a seven-year-old forty-year-old standing in front of me trying to make sense of what he heard this afternoon between father and son.  He can’t wrap his seven-year-old mind around the fact that father and son might not want to see each other for a very long time.

“Well?” he demands.  “Did you wait years to get me back?”

I sigh and give myself a moment by pulling the t-shirt over my head.  “You were gone a year, Daniel.  Since I had no idea you were coming back, a year seemed like a very long time to me.” 

I ball it up and pitch it into the bathroom.  I’ll have to do laundry tonight.  I hope the sink isn’t connected to the washer, or we have a working sink again.

“A year? I didn’t see you for a whole year? I wouldn’t have liked that at all,” Daniel states emphatically.  “Are you sure it was that long?”

“Can I get in the shower?” 

Daniel steps out of my way, but shadows me into the bathroom, planting himself on the closed toilet as I strip and step into the shower. 

So much for sanctuary.  I vaguely remember Sarah asking me to put a lock on the bathroom door when Charlie was about three.

I turn on the water and grab the shampoo.  “I’m sure.  And it wasn’t me who got you back – you did that all by yourself.”

“Probably because I missed you,” he snorts. 

Time has no relativity for this Daniel; not that the adult Daniel was a great time manager.  On any given day though, two hours may seem like two days to this one, which is why, more often than not by the end of any meeting I’m in, this Daniel is in my lap. 

“How could you go for years without seeing your dad?”

Thankfully this is the real point of the conversation, not what he does or doesn’t remember about how long, or what happened while he was ascended. 

It’s becoming clearer and clearer all his memories are intact, though for the most part still subliminal. 

I’m dreading dealing with the whole scenario leading up to his ascension.  If I were smart I’d be thinking up strategies now for how to deal with it, instead of trying to wing it in the moment.  That’s what I’m best at – strategic planning – but somehow strategic planning and a downsized Daniel don’t seem to go together.

“Did you drown in there?” Daniel inquires.

“Sorry, ears full of water.  What did you say?”  It might buy me a few more seconds of pondering how to explain to Daniel why for once in my life I followed orders. 

“How could you go years without seeing your dad?”

“You and I have talked a little about Charlie, remember?”

“Sure I remember; he fixed his glove for me and let me use it.”

“Uhm – right.  How could I have forgotten that?” 

We did three months of Little League this summer with Charlie’s old baseball glove. 

I sluice water after soap, turn off the shower and grab a towel off the rack.  “Well, at Charlie’s funeral my Dad and I sort of had a fight.  You remember how mad you were at me when I wouldn’t let you go see Hershey because you’d left the yard without permission?”

Daniel develops a sudden interest in his tennis-shoed feet.  “Uhm hmm.”

“You went several days without wanting to talk to me.  In fact, you went out of your way to avoid me as much as possible.”

“Yes, but I missed you terribly,” he says with conviction, hopping down to follow me into the bedroom.

“You were already mad at me because you’d asked and asked and I refused to take you to see the dog in the first place, right?”

“Well . . . yeah.”  Daniel sprawls himself on the bed so he doesn’t have to look at me. 

“I was already mad at the world because of what had happened to Charlie.  Plus I was pretty mad at myself for not locking up that gun.  Remember how you felt when you thought it was your fault we’d lost the last championship game this summer?”

He nods as he rolls to his stomach and props his chin in his hands. 

I exchange my towel for shorts and head to the closet for clothes.  “That’s sorta how I felt.  Only it really was my fault and there was a lot more at stake than a championship game.  Someone died because of my bad choice.  If I’d locked that gun up the way I should have, Charlie would never have gotten his hands on it.  He’d be alive today.”

“You tell me to stay away from guns and to leave things alone all the time.”

“Yes, and most of the time you obey, right?”

“Yeah.”

“But not all the time.”

“Ummm, noooooo.”

“So Charlie made a bad choice and it cost him his life.  You made a bad choice and it cost your going to see the dog.  In both cases, I made a bad choice first.”  I sit down on the edge of the bed to pull on jeans.  “In the scheme of things, neither consequence seems fair, does it?”

Daniel shakes his head.

“That’s because life’s not fair.  When Charlie died, I was so angry with myself I would have been just as glad to be dead.”

“And sad?”

“And sad,” I agree, ruffling his hair. 

He ducks out of it and I get up to get a shirt.  “So there was me, angry with myself and the universe, and there’s my dad, who’s also pretty angry with me for being a stupid sonuvabitch, and some very ugly things were said.”  I pull a sweatshirt on over my t-shirt and turn around to find the dog sprawled on the bed next to Daniel.  “Hershey, get off the bed.”

The dog opens one eye, rolls over, and sticks all four feet in the air.  Daniel’s been teaching him to roll over and play dead and the damn dog has figured out he can get mileage out of doing it without being told.

“Hershey, you know Jack doesn’t like you sleeping on his bed.  Get down,” Daniel admonishes, all the while petting the dog’s belly. 

What a pair of con artists.

“Get down, both of you.  And thanks so much, Sport, for keeping your dirty feet off my bed.”

“My shoes haven’t been anywhere Hershey hasn’t been in his paws,” Daniel smirks. 

“Which is exactly why I don’t want to the dog on my bed,” I point out, though Daniel loftily ignores me.

“We used to say ugly things to each other all the time but it never kept us from being friends,” he says as he slides off the bed.

Yes, it did.

“Go get your coat on,” I order, heading to the kitchen to retrieve the rusted pipe. 

Although I can describe this thingy perfectly, visuals always seem to work better with the Home Depot employees. 

We head out to the garage through the kitchen door, Hershey padding along beside Daniel. 

“Didn’t we?”

“Is that something you remember?” 

I hit the garage door opener, close the door behind us, and head for the truck, waiting to turn on the engine until the kid and the dog scramble up on the back seat.

“No, but you’ve said before we used to fight a lot.”

“I have?”  I back out, hit the remote again, and wait in the driveway for the garage door to close. 

“Haven’t you?”

“No, I don’t think so.”  I’ve thought it lots of times during conversations, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never said anything, since I’ll do anything in my power to prevent those memories from surfacing for as long as I possibly can.

”We didn’t?”

“We never fought like my dad and I fought at Charlie’s funeral.” 

How’s that for suitably vague?  On one level it’s even true.  We never fought with the intention of purposely inflicting lasting harm, though the cumulative affect began to eat away at Daniel without my realizing it.

Daniel sighs.  “I miss my dad.  I miss you when you’re gone.  I don’t understand how you could go that long without seeing your dad if he was alive.”

“Some things aren’t understandable, Daniel.  Some things you just have to accept and move on.  To most people the idea of aliens and a Stargate is science fiction still.  Until you’ve gone through the Gate it’s sort of unbelievable.  To us, because we live with it every day, we can’t understand how other people could possibly not understand . . . but they don’t.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“Hey, mark this day down in your calendars, folks.  Daniel Jackson admitted Jack O’Neill is right about something.”

“Ha ha,” Daniel says, as if the humor hasn’t gone right over his head.  “Are we going over there on Thursday?”

“I am.  You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

“I’ll send Hershey with you, he’ll protect you.”

*     *     *

“Anything you’d like to talk about, Colonel?”  General Hammond takes the listing glass of ginger ale out of my hand and steps back to set it on the fireplace mantel before rejoining me at the window.  “You’ve been unusually jittery all day, Jack.  Something bothering you?”

The view from the windows on either side of the massive stone fireplace looks out over the valley.  In the fall the aspens turn bright yellow and if you stand on the porch on a breezy day you can hear them talking to each other. 

Daniel thinks it sounds like angels whispering.  Being a lot more grounded in reality, I only hear leaves rustling, but if you put a symphony orchestra behind it, the piece would have a sound like nothing else on Earth.

I shove my now empty hand in the pocket of my slacks.  “I need to go, sir.  It’s been a pleasure as always.” 

I’ve made the phone call; they’re expecting me.

Have you ever noticed how meaningless holidays are if you don’t have family to share them with?  I’d much rather stay right here in my comfort zone, with my current family, but for some reason my long dead conscience has reawakened, making it impossible to back out of this without feeling like a total cad.  I probably have Daniel to thank for that. 

“It’s early yet,” George says, with a curious glance at me.  “Daniel’s in the middle of a chess game with Cassie.”

“Daniel’s not going with me.”  I bestir myself to move, otherwise I’ll stand here the rest of the afternoon dreading this confrontation. 

I just need to find my insouciant façade and be on my way.

“Jack?”

“My parents are in town.  My father came by the house the other day.  To offer an olive branch, sir.” 

You don’t spend close to a dozen holidays together without getting to know something about the folks you’re sharing with. 

“Ahh,” the imperturbable gentleman sighs.  “Good luck then.  Will you come back for Daniel?”

“He’s going home with Carter and Teal’c.  If I’m not home, they’ll stay with him until I get there.”

“You’re welcome to leave him here, you know.”

“Thanks, sir.  I imagine they’ll stay until the rest of the gang leaves.”

“I’ll get your coat.”

He’s a good man, our General.  I’ve served under the best and the worst; Hammond definitely rates under the best.  He’s light years ahead of most of his contemporaries in his ability to command by respect.

I’m hardly out to the truck when the front door opens and the rest of my team tumbles out, laughing and huffing so their breath freezes and hangs in suspended animation, shattering only when they pass through their self-made clouds as they drag on coats. 

Yeah, yeah, only Carter and Daniel tumble out.  Teal’c follows at a more sedate pace, but he’s making cloud formations with his breath, too

“Why didn’t you tell us you were leaving?” Daniel demands, looking around.  “Wait!  Hershey!” 

Part 2

 

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