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“Hey, Jack?”  Daniel’s lying on the floor watching the History Channel – except there are commercials on, so he’s flipping channels to Animal Planet.  Apparently there are commercials on AP too, because he persists.  “Jack?”

“Hmmmm?”  I’m deep in the sports scores with no desire to be distracted.  So deep it doesn’t register when he scrambles up - until two little elbows dig into my knee.  I lower the paper reluctantly as Daniel plants his chin in his hands.  “What?”

He smiles brightly and asks, “How’re the Blackhawks doing?” 

I close the paper, fold it in half, and toss it on the floor.  I’m probably done with the sports pages for the night.  “Losing more than they’re winning, as usual.” 

He immediately snuggles in when I lift him onto my lap. 

After the dog contretemps - when the natural consequences of his leaving the yard, not once, mind you, but several times without permission - resulted in his being banned from going to see the dog, he was so mad at me we went several days without this bedtime ritual. 

I take full responsibility for getting so comfortable with our situation, and so lax in my watchfulness, that he was able to sneak off.  On the other hand, in this household bad choices come with negative consequences, no matter how good the reason for the bad choice. 

“What do you want?”

“This,” he says, wriggling down so he can tuck his sock clad feet between my leg and the side of the recliner.

Ahhhhh.  By the time he was over being mad the SGC was unexpectedly asked to broker peace treaties between half a dozen different warring planets, with SG-1 figuring prominently in the negotiations.  Don’t ask me why, without Daniel we aren’t nearly as effective as we used to be in that arena and our role seemed to be more along the lines of babysitters.  But over the course of a couple of non-stop weeks, the treaties were drawn up and signed by all six planets, duly witnessed by SG-1 - minus one. 

We’re currently without a fourth again. 

Anyway, this is the first night we’ve been home in a week-and-a-half.  We stayed on base because it was the easiest, most convenient thing to do with the early morning and late night sessions. 

Since most nights I didn’t get to the VIP suite assigned to us before midnight, it meant someone else put him to bed.  And because he was trying to stay awake to see me at night, he usually wasn’t awake before I left in the morning. 

Plus, this was the first time he wasn’t allowed to tromp into whatever meeting I was in and climb into my lap, even after multiple, heartfelt promises to be quiet.  It was frustrating and strange for both us to be on the same planet, sharing the same quarters, and seeing so little of each other.

So twenty minutes more with the sports scores would have been nice, but this is better.  And it occurs to me, as I rest my chin on top of his head inhaling the scent of no-tears shampoo and kid, the sports scores will still be around tomorrow, this incarnation of Daniel might not. 

Okay, maybe not literally, but one of these days it might happen.  I live with enough regrets; I should probably keep that in mind.

“Hey, Jack? What’s Hal’een?” he asks, around the finger in his mouth.  The fingers of his other hand tattoo the rhythm of my heart over top of my t-shirt.  

 “I thought we agreed this was a habit you were going to break.”  I pull the finger out and wipe it on his PJ top. 

We didn’t agree,” Daniel mumbles, rubbing his nose in my shirt.  With a sigh he gives me his chewing hand to hold.  “You said I’m too old.  How come I’m not too old for snuggling?”  He tilts his head up to look at me, frowning.

“You never outgrow snuggling, Sport, you just do it with different people.”

His brow furrows and that little crease between his eyebrows - the one he lost when he accidentally turned on the Fountain of Youth thingy – reappears.  “Who did I snuggle with when I was grown up?”

“Sha’re,” I respond promptly, prepared for this one.

“The pretty lady in the picture?”

“Uhm hmm,” I confirm, smiling at the picture he presents now.  It’s so vastly different from the Mastercard moment I filed away years ago when Sha’re planted that smacker on him at the Abydos Gate.    

“Does that mean if I get big again we won’t be able to snuggle anymore?”  Trust Daniel to zero in on what’s important in his world right now.  

So how do I answer?  “It’s different when you’re big.”

“Why?”

“It just is.  Trust me, you’ll see it differently when you’re big too.”

Daniel digests this reframing of his snuggling model and frowns again.  “I don’t know.”  The ring finger on his right hand sneaks into his mouth.  “Being big doesn’t sound all that appealing.”

“Being big has some advantages that aren’t quite as apparent at seven as say – oh, maybe eighteen or twenty.”  I give the second finger an investigative tug and meet genuine resistance.  “Daniel?”

“I’m tired,” he informs me indignantly, refusing to relinquish this comfort.  “What’s Halloween?”

If he’s going to suck on a finger there’s no use withholding the one he wants so I give him back his hand.  I mean really, who the hell cares if he chews his finger?  If he does get big again the habit will disappear on its own.  If not, I suppose he’ll outgrow it eventually. 

“You don’t know about Halloween?”

“I know about All Hallows Eve, it’s a religious celebration.”  The nose wrinkles again.  “I don’t understand about Halloween.  Sam said kids go around begging for candy.”

“Begging is maybe a little strong.  But kids certainly go around collecting candy.”

“Why?”

“I have no idea how the tradition got started.  We can go look it up on the internet if you’d like.”

“Does that mean we have to get up?”

“What do you think?”

“I think I don’t want to get up.”

“So ask Teal’c tomorrow, he’ll know.  Paige called a couple of days ago.  She wanted to know if you’d like to come over and go trick-or-treating with CoriAnne.”

“Collecting candy?”

“Yeah.”

Daniel shakes his head.  “Sam said you have to dress up and stuff.  I don’t think so.”

“You could wear your BDUs and everybody would think you’re in costume.”

“That’s not a costume, those are my work clothes.”

“You and I know that; we don’t have to tell anyone else.  And if you don’t want to go over to CoriAnne’s, we could go trick-or-treating right here on our street.”

“I don’t think I want to.”

“Okay.” 

Actually I’m a little relieved.  I already told Paige no; if we were going to go, I want it to be here in familiar territory where I know the terrain and the neighbors.  I’d rather not take my kid out to mingle with a gazillion other kids and risk loosing him to something more sinister than short-sheeted ghosts and ghouls.  So I’m just as glad he isn’t all that interested.    

In the meantime, he wants to snuggle and like I said - who knows if this incarnation of Daniel is going to be around tomorrow or the next day.  I have every intention of living this story one day at a time so there are no regrets if tomorrow he is suddenly big again.

“Why don’t you tell me about All Hallows Eve and maybe we can figure out how it was distorted into Halloween.  Where’s the remote?”

He digs it out with his toes, folds in the middle to reach for it, points it at the TV and switches it off.  Yawning, he snuggles back down, pulling my arm around his shoulder so he can play with my fingers. 

“I don’t know that much about it.  It was a pagan holiday, Celtic in origin and was originally called Samhain.”  He pronounces it Sow-en.  “But it was November 1, the Celtic New Year.  The Celts believed those who’d died during the previous year came back . . .” he drones on and I admit I only tune in with half an ear.

I still don’t do Daniel in lecture mode, but this is vastly different from sitting in a chair in the darkened board room as he lectures on some new Goa’uld we’ve encountered, complete with PowerPoint presentation. 

This evening he’s a small, warm bundle in my arms.  His voice reverberates against my chest so I feel, as well as hear him rambling on, and there’s something powerfully restorative in sitting like this with this particular kid in my lap.

Daniel and I had a rough time the year before he ascended.  It was like some slow poison had been injected into our friendship, culminating with my stupid remarks as he lay dying a horribly painful death after another series of unfortunate events. 

‘I might have come to admire you . . . a little.’ 

For cryin’ out loud, you’d think after loosing a kid and subsequently a wife to divorce, I could have come up with something more original for my best friend.  Except we’d spent a year gouging chunks out of each other, in the most civilized fashion, but gouging none-the-less. 

I’m ready to wash my hands when the people of Katal refuse to come with us - Daniel wants to stay and make these people see the light, at huge risk to all of SG-1; Daniel wants to rescue the Unas – I just want to get off the damn planet before we start a civil war; I agree to let the Tok’ra send one of my team, Daniel, of course, undercover to a summit meeting of the major Goa’uld System Lords – he nearly gets his ass fried trying to rescue the lovely and talented Sarah/Osiris; and then of course we have the lovely and talented robot Reese, who smashes his head into a bookcase and ultimately tries to snap more than his wrist  – except I shoot her.  For this favor he informs me, as he’s holding his broken wrist, I am the stupidest sonuvabitch on the face of the planet. 

It took Daniel going all glowy and me living through a year of having my hair ruffled in a windless corridor for both of us to realize what we’d so carelessly destroyed.

I like to flatter myself that Baal’s prison was the beginning of the turning point for Daniel.  More likely it was Abydos.  He swore the whole time he was with me in that fortress there was nothing he could do but help me ascend, an alternative to which I was distinctly adverse.  I’m just not a glowy kinda guy. 

When he came to ask for our help with Abydos and we did the elevator thing, he was getting edgy having his hands tied by his new glowy teammates.  By the time we actually hit Abydos, he was lit, but still trying to play by the rules.

In a crazy kind of way I’m thankful for that black-cloaked, oily-skinned, kinda spooky, over-the-top cliché bad guy, Anubis.  Without his interference I might not be sitting here tonight, hearing and feeling my kid, who also happens to be my best friend, ramble on about Samhain and All Hallows Eve as if there’s nothing else on Earth to do. 

And just at the moment . . . there isn’t. 

I’m quite content to sit here and listen to him ramble, even if it’s only with half an ear.  I run my hand absently down his arm and kiss the top of his head.  “I love you, Sport.”

He stops mid-sentence, the finger comes out of his mouth and he grabs my hand in both of his, nestles his face against my heart again, and drags my hand to his cheek so he’s pressed against me – of his own free will.  “Don’t ever let me go, Jack.”  There is a slight desperation in his voice and I’m aware he’s suddenly sensing some of the emotions running through me.  “Promise me you’ll never let me go again.”

I tighten my hold and press my hand to his cheek.  “I promise.” 

For a moment he’s completely still; then he wiggles his fingers into mine so our hands are threaded together.  His small fingers are completely overwhelmed by the size and strength of mine, but twined around mine like molten silver. 

He tilts his head back and grins mischievously.  “So mote it be,” he quotes.

I smile and ruffle his hair.  “So mote it be,” I mimic, rising easily with both of us.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had the freedom of motion I seem to have reacquired since the Island of the Damned.  “You must have been watching Charmed reruns with Teal’c again, huh?”

“What’s charmed?” he asks, crawling up my arm to hang over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes as I jog down the hallway to his bedroom.

“That TV show with the three sisters who are witches?”

“Oh, that one.  One’s only a half-sister.  What’s a half-sister?”

“A sister who has a different father or mother; you’ve been watching it with Teal’c.”

“Yeah, so?

“So, it’s time for bed, my little warlock.”  I pull the covers back with my free hand, lean over, and drop him onto the bed from four feet above the mattress so he bounces a couple times. 

“Do it again!”

He’s lying flat on his back, both arms in the air; so I do it again . . . and again . . . and again, until I’m breathless and he’s laughing hysterically. 

“That’s so much fun.  Better than jumping on the bed!”

“I better not catch you jumping on the bed, young man.  You won’t want to be bouncing on anything for a few days if I catch you at it.” 

One broken arm a year is more than enough, thank you very much. 

The frown is back, but only momentarily.  “This is better anyway.”  The frown morphs into a grin as he holds his arms up again.  I sit down on the edge of the bed and lean in for a hug and a good night kiss. 

“I love you, Jack,” he says, cheek to cheek, hugging hard.  “I don’t ever want to be too big to snuggle with you.”

I’m so gonna miss this incarnation if he does get big again.  “Yeah?  Remind me to remind you of that when you’re sixteen and discovering girls.”

“I don’t want to be sixteen.  Can’t I stay yours forever?  I don’t want another heart hurt.”

How does he do it?  Out of the blue like this he comes up with the damnedest things.
 
Another heart hurt?” I ask quietly, in keeping with his sudden solemnity.

“My parents.  And now Hershey,” he says sadly.  This is not a guilt trip; this is genuine, painful sorrow.  “Even though he never came to live with us, I miss him,” he pats over his heart, “in here.  Isn’t that a heart hurt?”

“I suppose it is,” I admit, subsidizing my own guilt trip. 

I did talk to the neighbor about the dog, but he’d already been bought and paid for.  Since the new owner lives in another state and had never seen the puppy, Alissana thought if I could find another dog the buyer might be amenable to a trade.  I did a quick internet search and the nearest puppy is in New Hampshire.  That’s as far as I got.  I meant to see what I could do, but those negotiations popped up out of the blue and I totally forgot.

Damn - the dog must be nearly eight weeks old already. 

I have some phone calls to make.  I’m gonna be in deep shit with Carter and Teal’c if I can’t make this happen.  I got an earful when Daniel, in his outrage, told them about his discipline for leaving the yard.  Especially since both felt strongly it was as much my fault as Daniel’s - which is true.

“I’m sorry you’re still mad, Sport.”

“Not mad anymore, just sad,” Daniel sighs, turning on his side and snuggling under the blankets I pull up over his shoulder.  “Sad for Hershey too, since he has to go live with someone who won’t love him like I do.”  Tears well up, but he dashes them away fiercely.  “Night, Jack.”  He buries his face in the pillow effectively shutting me out and I’m at a loss again. 

The only way to heal this hurt is to get the dog and I can’t make that promise since I stupidly neglected to follow-up on the one chance I had of making the trade. 

I brush the hair back off his forehead and lean down to kiss his temple.  “I love you too, Sport.  Sweet dreams.”  I sit for a minute rubbing his back, but he won’t come out, and I’m better off trying to find another dog than trying to comfort him right now. 

Despite the fact he says he’s not mad anymore - and as he declared in front of the sheriff that night, he doesn’t lie - it still hurts.  This is betrayal on a level he can’t comprehend at seven, only feel, and I’m the one who’s inflicted it. 

One last pat and I ease up off the bed.  He’s not asleep, but he doesn’t ask me to stay as often happens on nights like this.  Eventually, if we have to do this growing up thing again, he’s going to learn this is his most effective weapon. 

I can’t stand it when he won’t let me comfort him. 

I wonder if Switzerland is nice this time of year.  I suspect I may have to go to Bern to find another dog.

* * *       

Two Weeks Later

“What’s this?”  Daniel asks as I lean down to hand him a rolled-up leather scroll. 

Tonight he’s lying on the floor watching the History channel, switching between Pompeii and goblins and ghouls on the Sci Fi channel and thirteen nights of Halloween. 

Carter and Teal’c both straighten in their respective seats as I hand over our treasure map. 

Okay, Carter straightens up, Teal’c never slouches.

“Open it and see.”

We’ve worked over this thing for hours, on and off-world, during the last couple of weeks.  It looks as authentic as we could make it and that’s pretty damned authentic if I do say so myself. 

Carter’s spent hours writing out the clues with adult Daniel’s calligraphy pens and aging the inking process with some of his charcoal pencils.  She’s learned a few things about forging historical documents from adult Daniel.  He’d be proud of her skills. 

Teal’c feathered the edges with one of his kel’no’reem candles and we smeared some dirt, a few grass stains and even some blood on the thing. 

Frasier was livid when I went down to the infirmary today.  I slipped with my little red knife and sliced myself a little deeper than necessary.  The damn thing got infected, despite letting Carter peroxide and alcohol it before putting a bandaid on it. 

Daniel rolls over on his back, slender fingers busily picking at the knot in the leather tie.  The scroll unrolls fluidly and he rolls to his knees.  “A treasure hunt!” he exclaims, eyes wide and shining. “Just like Indy!” 

He squints at the map and I make a mental note to ask Janet about eye doctors; more and more I’m noticing him squinting at things.  It’s probably time for glasses again. 

“We’ll need a flashlight and . . .”  He tilts the scroll a little, bounds effortlessly to his feet and takes it over to the end table, stretching it carefully under the lamp.  He bends until his nose is nearly touching the map.  “A measuring . . . instrument,” he shouts triumphantly.  “Jack, can I use your measuring tape?  The one that has meters and yards on it?  Some of this is in metric and some of it in yards and feet, I think.  And it looks like some of it may need to be translated too.”  His face lights up again.  “Hey, Teal’c?”  Grabbing up the map, he trots over and climbs into Teal’c’s lap.  “Can you translate this?  I could do it,” he says confidently, “but it will take me a long time.  I don’t want to wait; will you tell me what it says?”

“I will endeavor to assist you in the translations where necessary, Danieljackson.  Come.” Teal’c rises with sinuous grace and sets Daniel on his feet.  “Collect a jacket and illuminator of the path.”

“It’s a flashlight, Teal’c,” Daniel sniggers, but charges off to retrieve the flashlight and a jacket. 

He staggers back into the room loaded down with all our jackets.  The flashlight has been shoved part way into the too-small-to-accommodate back pocket of his jeans, and he’s snagged the tape measure by its clip on his waistband, which drags his I-can’t-get-them-small-enough pants down around his butt. 

But he’s ready to go.

I divest him of the stack of coats.  “We could have gotten them on our way out the door, Sport.”

“I know,” he responds breathlessly, letting me hold his up as he slides his arms in the sleeves.  “Thanks.”  He pauses briefly to adjust his paraphernalia and hitch up his pants.  “But then there would have been a traffic jam in the entryway.  This way you can all put them on and we’ll be ready to walk straight out the door.  Hurry, hurry,” he commands, dancing with impatience.  “Hey Jack?”  He’s dragged Carter and Teal’c to the sidewalk before I get the key out of the door.  “Is this an adventure?”

“It’s a treasure hunt, of course it’s an adventure.”  I shrug into my jacket and pocket the house keys as I catch up with the three of them.

Carter’s holding the flashlight while Daniel deciphers the first clue.  “It says to turn west at the end of our sidewalk and follow the markers – what markers?”  Daniel turns in a circle looking for markers, immediately spoting the small survey flags Carter and I planted this afternoon while he was doing schoolwork with Teal’c.  “Here they are, Sam.” 

He grabs her hand and pulls her down the sidewalk to the end of the small flags. 

“I need the flashlight again.”  He holds up the map and reads off the next clue.  “Approximately 20 paces northwest, turn left and look for a large tree.  I know what tree!”  He dashes off down the street, leaving Carter and the light to follow at a more leisurely pace. 

The moon, hanging huge and low in the sky, is a sickle of orange tonight.  The smell of wood-smoke drifts tantalizingly on the cool breeze.  Tomorrow night is Halloween and the neighborhood has already donned its costume.  We pass witches smashed into trees, ghosts floating in midair, and caldron’s boiling smoke and belching noxious fumes.  Sheesh, the props keep getting more and more realistic every year. 

Daniel still doesn’t want to go trick-or-treating, for which I will be eternally grateful.  Carter and I walked this route this afternoon - there are far too many dark corners and shadowy culverts with the sun shining brightly, not to mention what it looks like now in the muted glow of a waning moon.

The light is bobbing strangely when Teal’c and I, strolling behind, catch up to them.  Carter has Daniel around the knees and is lifting him to reach a neon blue ball caught in the branches of the tree, well over his head. 

“Got it?” she grunts as he squeals accomplishment.  “You are getting heavier, Sport.  I think the Colonel better put you on a diet.”

“Sam!”  Daniel giggles as she clamps both arms around his waist and kisses his neck before letting him slide the rest of the way to the ground. 

“It says look for a sphere-shaped object, do you think this is what it means?” 

Carter plunks him unceremoniously on the grass and plucks the ball out of his hands.  “I don’t know,” she says, squishing the thing.  “It feels vaguely oval to me.  What do you think, Colonel?” she asks, tossing the ball at me.

I grab it reflexively out of the air.  “Looks pretty spherical to me.  Feels like it too.”  I toss it back to Daniel, who bobbles it a couple of times before clamping both hands around it.  In the process he drops the map, which makes him drop the ball as well.  It bounces away across the sidewalk and out into the road. 

“Danieljackson.”  Teal’c doesn’t even need to raise his voice. 

Daniel stops in his tracks and looks over his shoulder with a grimace.  “Sorry.”  He straightens, looks both ways, and darts out to grab the still rolling ball.  “I should have brought my backpack to carry stuff,” he says as he skips back up on the sidewalk.

Teal’c stretches out a hand.  “I will transport the items for you if you wish, Danieljackson.”

“Thanks, T.”  Daniel hands over the ball that in his tiny hands looks like Earth and in Teal’c’s massive digits looks like a small foam-rubber ball.  “Sam, flashlight!” he calls imperiously as I hand him the map he dropped to chase the ball.

“Hey, I think you forgot something there, Sport.”

“What?”  He looks around, then down at the ground around his feet.  “What?” he repeats.

“A please would have been appropriate on the end of that demand.”

“Sorry, Sam,” he says distractedly, as she hands over the flashlight.  “Thank you,” he mumbles, intent on the next clue.  “Oh, this is the one I need help translating, Teal’c, it’s in hieroglyphs.”

Since Teal’c drew these symbols he could just translate it for him.  Instead, he squats beside Daniel and the map, and coaches him through the hieroglyphs.  

South on River Park Drive, 20 meters. 

Daniel wrestles the clip of the tape measure off his waistband, plants Teal’c on the corner of River Park, and measures exactly 20 meters down the street to the corner of an old stone bench.  He fumbles excitedly with the map, searching for his place in the clues.  “Teal’c?” 

The remainder of the clue is also in hieroglyphs and sends Daniel searching around and over the bench inch by inch, until he finds a small nook containing another tiny rolled-up scroll that directs him to cross the street and search the park for a circle of motion. 

This kid is far too smart.  He heads directly for the merry-go-round, climbs aboard, and immediately spots the florescent pink Frisbee duct-taped to one of the arms. 

“A ball and a Frisbee,” he mutters. 

It takes both hands to stuff the tape measure into his pocket, so the Frisbee gets clamped between his teeth.  Tape measure stowed, he retrieves the Frisbee with one hand, holding the other out to Teal’c for the flashlight. 

“They’re both round . . . sort of . . . both toys . . . to play with outdoors,” he shakes his head.  “I can’t think of any other significance.” 

He shoves one end of the map into my hand and stretches it out between us, shining the flashlight down on the next clue. 

“Continue south on River Park toward the lake.  Turn right on Arrowhead and look for . . . a cemetery?”  He looks up at me.  “Are we going to see Charlie again?  I thought the cemetery was further away from the house than that?”

I just raise an eyebrow.   “Hmmm.” 

Carter cheerfully holds out her hand.  “Come on, let’s go see what we can find.”

The two of them skip off down the sidewalk, leaving Teal’c and I to follow along behind the peculiarly dancing flashlight. 

Actually, Carter’s skipping; Daniel’s trying to figure out how she’s doing it.  He can’t quite get the hang of it, so his gait is oddly hitched.  His feet cooperate for about two skips, then tangle at the knees, but he’s determined, and Carter has the patience of a saint.  She stops every time he stumbles, and starts again, and half a block later he’s got the rhythm and they’re skipping merrily along.

Snatches of song drift back to us; I think Carter’s making up the words as she goes along.  A-hunting we will go; a-hunting we will go; heigh-ho the derry-O, a-hunting we will go.” 

Now there are two light, high voices blending, “A-hunting we will go; a-hunting we will go; heigh ho the derry-O, a-hunting we will go.” 

“Ohhhh,” we hear Daniel sing-song as the flashlight illuminates a whole lot of gravestones.  “This kind of cemetery.” 

The beam slides coyly from one headstone to the next without pause, then flits back to the front row of sideways listing tombs. 

“R.I.P.  Here lies dear old Dad,” he reads aloud, “dead and buried, no longer har-ried?  What’s R.I.P.?  What’s har-ried?” 

“R.I.P. stands for rest in peace and harried means stressed or hassled.”

“Basically dear old dad no longer has any worries,” I insert.  “No one giving him grey hairs to pluck anymore.”

Carter snorts, causing Daniel to jerk the flashlight up into her face.  “You okay, Sam?” he asks worriedly.

“I’m fine, Daniel,” she assures him, ruffling his hair.  “What are we looking for here?”

He holds up the map for Carter to shine the light on and traces his finger down the page.  “It’s Old Bones you’re looking for and older bones you’re finding.  Just make sure you check which way the bone is pointing.”

We were trolling the neighborhood when we came up with this idea after seeing this neighbor’s yard with all the gravestones.  They were happy to let us use their flowerbed when we asked.  There’s even a new gravestone placed over the spot. 

And Daniel’s just spotted it.  “Here lies Old Bones, dead and buried, despite his moans.”  He plays the flashlight like a theater spotlight over the stone.  “Ha!”  And pounces on the small trowel propped against the base of the stone and dirt starts flying every which way.  He emerges from the hole waving a largish bone.

“Did you pay attention to which way it was pointing?”  Carter wants to know.

“Ooops.”  Daniel looks down in his hole, resets the bone in its depression, and checks his compass points.  “South?”  He smudges dirt across his forehead as he swipes at his bangs with the back of a dirty hand before pointing across the street.  “It points south, right, Jack?”

“Very good.  How did you figure it out?” 

Orienteering is fun if you teach it right and Daniel’s learning it in little increments with bits of math and science thrown in to round it out.

“We were going south and we turned east, so if we’re going back the way we came, we’re going south again.”

“You got it.  What’s next?”  I’m pretty sure the next ‘treasure’ is going to give it away.  We’ll see.

“Follow the pointing joint until you come to a brick wall.  Count thirteen bricks from the west side, then seven bricks down and three bricks over.  Concealed inside is something wide.”

A black Suburban turns the corner toward us, cutting a wide swath out of the darkness as it travels leisurely down the street.  No passengers, woman driver - Teal’c and I exchange a look - and turn to watch the vehicle pull into a driveway several houses down.  It disappears into the garage. 

Big, black vehicles always give me the heebee jeebies. 

Teal’c gives me the silent eyebrow, his equivalent of my sigh of relief.

Daniel is already across the street. 

“Thirteen,” he mumbles, touching his finger to each brick as he counts them off.  “One, two, three . . . seven.”  He squats down, spotting the missing brick as soon as he’s eye level with it and forgoing the remainder of the counting.  “Ooo,” he says.  “Sam, give me the flashlight, I’m not putting my hand in there until I see what’s in it.”

“Hey, you,” I interrupt.  “Have you completely forgotten your manners tonight?”

He looks up over his shoulder.  “Oh.  Sorry, Sam.  May I have the flashlight, please?”

“Thank you.”

Carter hands it over, crouching down beside him to peer into the hole.

“You’re welcome,” he mumbles, again on automatic pilot as he plays the light over the hole, then bends to put his eye to it, along with the flashlight.  “It looks like a snake,” he says with surprise, jerking back slightly.  “I’m not putting my hand in there.”

Nothing we say or do can convince him to pull out the wide black strip, until Carter pulls the end out and gives it to him.

“A leash!”  Daniel chortles the minute the thing slithers out and coils at his feet.  “And a bone and a ball and a Frisbee!  We’re going to get Hershey!  Is Hershey the treasure at the end of the map?  Is he?”  A small torpedo acquires and then hones in with precise accuracy.  I suddenly have my arms full of diminutive archeologist.  “Is Hershey coming home with us, Jack?”

Geez, even without the cast I can hardly breathe and now is probably not a good time to share Hershey’s ‘almost’ fate.
 
Kim in Nevada is picking up her dog tomorrow; special delivery, U.S. Air via Concord to Reno.  The dog in New Hampshire was still available and Kim was amenable to the switch.  Since she travels to Denver a lot on business, she did finagle an invitation to bring her dog over to meet Hershey next time she’s in town.

“Jack!”  Daniel wails, “are we going to get Hershey?  I don’t want to play treasure hunt if we’re going to get Hershey.  I want to go straight there!  Can we?  Please?  Right now?  Please, please, please?  Please, Sam?  Please, Teal’c?”

I look over his head at my fellow conspirators. 

There are several things out here still but I suppose we can go get the dog and then finish the treasure hunt.  I doubt Hershey will mind the walk and we have a leash now, though we still need a collar.  It’s still somewhere along the way.

“Carter?  T?  Whatta ya think?”

“It is the success of the mission that is important, O’Neill, not the order in which it is accomplished.”

“Yes, sir, I agree.”

“Okay, let’s go get the dog.”

I’m glad we brought Carter and Teal’c along because I could never describe the reunion between boy and dog.  Suffice it to say, I’ve got myself another Mastercard moment.

It’s priceless. 

Worth every second I spent on-line; every cent I spent flying the second damn dog to Nevada; worth more than I’ll ever make in my lifetime to watch the two of them fly at each other. 

“I am glad you were able to find another puppy for Kim, Colonel,” the lady of the house says. “I believe it was ordained that these two be together.”

It certainly appears that way.  

Daniel has the dog in his arms – the dog who’s nearly half again the size he was when we last saw him a month ago – and Hershey is washing Daniel’s face. 

“I missed you so much, Hershey!  I thought you’d already gone to live with someone else, but we can go home together tonight, and you can sleep in my bed with me.” 

The dog is also at least twenty pounds heavier and sliding slowly out of Daniel’s grasp, wriggling with as much delight as Daniel as Hershey licks every available inch of exposed skin.  They both topple to the floor with Hershey scrabbling until Daniel is under him, barking ecstatically in Daniel’s face in a voice that clearly says, ‘I’ve missed you too, buddy.’

“You know, one of the things we need to discuss is ground rules about the dog.”

“I promise I’ll feed him every day, Jack, you won’t ever have to remind me.  And I’ll keep the yard clean, and give him a bath, and walk him all the time.  And brush him, and clean up the dog hair.  You won’t have to do a thing, I promise.”

“Good, but Hershey has his own bed.  He can sleep in your room, but he sleeps in his own bed.”

“Hershey,” Daniel giggles, totally ignoring me as the dog snuffles his neck, a lot like Carter was doing twenty minutes ago.  “That tickles, Hershey!”  He wraps both arms around the dog’s neck and wrestles the unresisting puppy back to the floor.  I swear the dog is laughing just as much as Daniel. 

I exchange glances with Carter and Teal’c, both of whom are smiling.  Honest to goodness, there’s a genuine turning up of the corners of Teal’c’s usually stern expression.  You’d have to be made of steel to resist these two rolling over and over on the floor barking and laughing in equal parts.

I turn back to Alissana who’s watching them too. 

“You did a good a good thing, Colonel O’Neill,” she says, tilting her regal, titan head as she looks at me over the top of her half-glasses.  “Berner’s are not long-lived dogs, but they are the most loyal, most affectionate creatures you can ever hope to have in your life.  Hershey would give his heart for that boy; already I can see this bond.  I have the papers for you, one moment, please.”  She turns and floats out of the foyer, the dressing gown she’s wearing flowing out behind her like royal robes.

The kid and the dog are sprawled on the floor panting heavily, but grinning at each other.  Daniel scrambles up on all fours, bounding to his feet as Alissana glides back into the room.  “Thank you, Ms. Ali, for keeping Hershey for me.”  He throws his arms around her legs, the woman is nearly as tall as I am, and hugs for all he’s worth as she smoothes a hand over his hair.

“Ahhh, my älskling.”  She tips his chin up to smile down on him.  “You are a fortunate boy to be so loved.  And Hershey is a fortunate dog to have found you.  You must take good care of each other.  You will bring him back to visit his mamma on occasion?  Yes?  Berner’s also love being with other dogs, you see.  You must take him often to the little park where they let the dogs run free.  He will enjoy, very much, the freedom to run and stretch his legs.”

“Well, I might not be able to do that all the time, only when Jack can go with us.  We won’t be allowed to go by ourselves because the dog park is a little ways away from where we live.”

“That is because you have a good father, little one, who loves you dearly too.  I know he was angry when you took the little dog and became lost, but only because he was afraid for you.”

“Jack’s not my father,” Daniel says nonchalantly, “I just live with him for now.”

As casually as I can, I grab him by the shoulder and pull him to my side.  “You and Hershey ready to go, Sport?  We still have a few stops to make on our treasure hunt.”

Alissana smiles indulgently.  “A treasure hunt, älskling?  This sounds exciting.”  Somehow, with just her voice she invests the words with a little extra thrill.  “But you have not introduced me to your other companions.”

“Samantha Carter, ma’am,” Carter says, offering her hand.  “And this is our friend, Murray,” she says, indicating Teal’c, who offers a brief but matching regal inclination of the head. 

Good thinking, Carter.  Not sure I would have remembered to do that tonight.

“So then you are not the little one’s mother, either,” Alissana observes, eyeing each of us shrewdly. 

Carter laughs lightly, though it rings true, even to my attuned ear.  “No, ma’am, Daniel is a real child of the universe; he belongs to none of us, yet he belongs to all of us.”

Okay, that’s it.  We are so out of here.  I’ve only met this woman once before, when I made Daniel bring the dog back, but I felt the same way then.  She’s more dangerous than a Goa’uld with a ribbon device; she has an almost Hathor-like magnetism, without the green breath.  You just want to tell her everything. 

I need to get us out of here before one of us feels compelled to offer up a few international secrets.  “Come on, Sport, get the leash on Hershey, please.  It’s getting late, we really need to go.”

Alissana graciously sees us to the door, lightly resting a hand tipped with beautifully manicured, blood-red nails on my shoulder as I pass.  “You will allow them to come and see me, Colonel?”  There is no force in her touch, yet I’m held back as if she has me pinioned.

“I’m out of town a lot, but we’ll do our best, ma’am.” 

“As a breeder I am obligated to make myself available for any questions or concerns you might experience,” she says with a gentle smile. “It will be no hardship to provide those services under these circumstances.  Good evening to you and yours, Colonel.  Perhaps our paths will cross sometime during our daily walks.  As Hershey is the last of her puppies to leave, Furstinna will miss him a great deal.” 

I just nod, not trusting myself to speak, or I may find myself making promises I have absolutely no intention of keeping.  However, given the intensity of these feelings, I’m not sure I won’t be bound to keep any promises that might come tripping off my tongue.   

Her hand slides, not suggestively nor even provocatively, but very intimately down my arm, the nails just barely scraping over bare skin from wrist to the tips of my fingers.  

I force back a shiver and I’m not sure if its repulsion or attraction.  The fingers of my right hand stretch wide in automatic response and I have to fight to breathe properly.

I’m halfway down the steps when a thought hits me and I spin around to look up at her.

With a wink and a wave the door closes quietly and I’m left standing at the bottom of the steps swearing a blue streak. 

There’s no way, I’m thinking furiously, as I rejoin the rest of SG-1, plus a dog now, out on the sidewalk.  Most of the neighborhood knows her; she’s been here for six months, she said, the first time I met her. 

Oh for cryin’ out loud, get a grip, O’Neill. 

“What?”  I have to ask, when Carter speaks to me, apparently for the second or third time by her tone of voice.

“You okay, sir?” 

Carter has a hand on my arm now and Teal’c’s rapidly moving up on the other side.  Judging by their expressions I must look like I’ve seen a ghost.

It can’t be.  It’s not possible.  Oma Desala cannot be living in our neighborhood.

“Did either of you notice anything . . . odd . . . about that woman?”

“Odd as in peculiar, O’Neill?” 

Teal’c eyes me for a moment, decides I’m no longer in danger of passing out from foreboding, and turns to track Daniel and the dog. 

”Odd as in alien,” I say bluntly.  This is not the time to beat around the bush.  I want their immediate impressions, not a memory shaped and shifted by time.

“I did not,” Teal’c responds, giving me the ‘did you?’ raised eyebrow.

“Not really,” Carter says slowly, “she seemed a bit foreign, the accent and all.  I didn’t sense any Goa’uld presence, though, sir,” she adds quietly.

“No, it wouldn’t have been Gould, Carter.”  I shrug, making sure to keep my voice down as well.  “Never mind, I’m probably . . .” I trail off.  What?  Over reacting?  To what, O’Neill? 

“Probably what?” Carter wants to know.

“Seeing things.”  I shake off the fey mood and look around for Daniel and the dog.  They’re half way down the street already, Hershey prancing at the end of his new leash as if he were a Clydesdale pulling the Anheuser wagon.  “Let’s go, I don’t want to hang around here.”

“Colonel?”  Carter persists.  “Something had you spooked back there, sir.  That’s not like you at all.”

 “Nothing concrete, Carter, just a feeling.”  I lengthen my stride to catch up with the kid and the dog, who’ve stopped to study the map again.  Hershey has his nose stuck over Daniel’s arm as though he’s studying the map as intently as Daniel.

“We have to go back to where we left off, Hershey, or these clues won’t make any sense.  We’re right here, see?  This is your old house, and we’re going to make our way back to here, this is your new house. I already have a ball and a Frisbee for you, and a leash and collar, but Jack says there’s more stuff out here for us to find.  I think you’re really going to like it at Jack’s.”

Behind us, Carter and Teal’c are formulating a plan to get to the bottom of my sudden plunge into the murky waters of ‘feelings’.  I don’t do feelings – all right, I didn’t used to do feelings – at least I know what they are now.

“Know how to get us back to where we were, Sport?”  Maybe if I engage Daniel they’ll think twice about tackling me.

“If we’re here . . . ”  Daniel absently pets Hershey as he shoves the flashlight under his arm.  And we stopped here . . .”  He shoves one side of the map at me so he can use his finger to trace the path.  “Then we have to go back this way along Flint and north on . . .”  He squints down at the map.  “What’s that street?”

“Lost Knife.”

“North on Lost Knife to get over to Arrowhead and the wall where we can start again.”  He rolls up the scroll, shoves it in his back pocket, retrieves the flashlight, and heads off with the dog down the sidewalk again.

“Stay in sight of us,” I tell him.

He waves merrily, letting Hershey lead the way as they both investigate every bush and tree along the route.

Apparently my esteemed colleagues have decided to wait to attempt any more probing until we have a reasonable amount of privacy.  I’m slightly amused when they fall in on either side of me.

The addition of the dog to this little party seems to have notched up Daniel’s exhilaration.  He chatters non-stop at us, at the dog, at the neighbors who are beginning to pass us on their own nightly dog walks, and with the kids who start appearing like magic as the dog walkers make their way home.

By the time we’ve finished the treasure hunt we’ve collected nine more kids. 

It’s a magical night, even though we're still a day away from Halloween, so with permission, the troop trails us back home, every kid carrying one or more pieces of dog paraphernalia – the ostensible reason for going home with us, they’re helping carry Hershey’s stuff. 

Teal’c gets a fire going in the fireplace while I make real hot chocolate, none of the microwave stuff tonight, and in short order Carter’s teaching the fine art of making s’mores over the fire. 

I know they’re prepared to wait me out tonight.  I won’t be getting rid of Carter and Teal’c until they’re satisfied they’ve gotten to the bottom of whatever spooked their CO.  I still haven't decided how much I'm going to share.

In the meantime I’m wondering if I could interest the credit card people in making a commercial at our house.  I have a whole raft of Mastercard Moments for them.

In fact, I have one right now.

I can put marshmallows and graham crackers, miniature Hershey bars, fire starter logs, and even a dog on my credit card - I know this because I just bought one in New Hampshire – what Mastercard has cottoned onto is those moments money can’t buy.

Like the contentment on my kid’s face as he surreptitiously feeds the dog burnt marshmallows; the ease and familiarity with which my 'family' interacts; the love so openly on display here tonight.

Those things . . . these moments . . . money can't buy.

They're priceless. 

~*~

 

10.19.05

 

 

 

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