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There are half a dozen things I should be doing, and at least as many more I could be doing.  Instead, I’m standing here in the living room staring out the windows at nothing.

Well – snow.  Lots of snow.

I swallow another mouthful of old scotch.  It belongs to Daniel, but there’s no way it’s going to hang around this house until he’s old enough to drink it again, so I’m drinking it for him. 

The combination of snow and alcohol has resurrected the memory of one of our crazier stunts. 

It was really Daniel’s idea; I just went along to keep him from getting caught.

It was around this time of year, early November a couple of years ago, that I came into the living room and found him staring out the window, drinking out of the bottle.

He doesn’t do alcohol well, so I was surprised, though not overly, since it wasn’t long after our encounter with the Gamekeeper.   

That private team debrief at my house will be forever undocumented.  And it initiated the beginning of a week-long drinking spree on Daniel’s part. 

He was careful to keep it under his limit so I didn’t have a puking archeologist on my hands, but when you blur Daniel’s boundaries a bit, interesting things have a tendency to happen.

It’s not a particularly well-known fact, but the kid has a wicked sense of humor, and every once in awhile he gets a wild hair, especially when he’s been drinking. 

Anyway, when he casually remarked that my neighborhood seemed to have acquired an unusual number of deer, I had an inkling something was up.

The houses on my side of the street back up on a nature preserve. The forest is protected under a presidential order and we do get a lot of deer in the neighborhood, but I hadn’t seen any recently. 

When Daniel observed, still very casually, most deer run in herds, I made a point of tracking where he was looking. 

At the neighbor’s lawn across the street where a couple of those light-up deer were grazing.  Now, I knew both neighbors on my side of the street had pairs as well, as did several other houses in the vicinity.

He would not be dissuaded, so what could I do but join in?  I am the one with the special ops experience after all.

It was snowing to beat the band and twenty degrees below zero when we snuck out of the house just after midnight. 

By the time we’d frozen our . . . okay, never mind . . . by the time we were done that night, the rest of the neighborhood deer had joined the pair at Dennis and Jeannie’s on the left of me. 

Naturally enough the next day the neighbors rounded up their respective livestock and restored them to their own lawns.  And the next night the herd gathered on the across-the-street neighbor’s lawn.  When the deer moseyed on down the street to Clay and Julie’s on the third night, the Gazette came out to do a story.

I’m surprised we didn’t blow somebody’s electrical panel off the wall with all the jury rigging we had to do to keep the damn things lit.  We were fortunate they all came with their own extension cords.  Might have looked a little suspicious if we’d had to trot down to the local Home Depot and buy forty of those suckers.  The extra power strips were culled from various offices on base, along with a couple we borrowed from Siler.

By the time Christmas had come and gone the deer had tried some twenty different grazing spots.  I’m pretty sure Daniel said that was all the yards that had lighted deer . . . in my neighborhood. 

He was dissuaded from trying it in anyone else’s neighborhood, only, I suspect, because he was finally beginning to wear down from all the nights we’d been out.

One of the local television stations picked up the Gazette story and the owners of a couple of our guest pastures had their two minutes of fame.  Teal’c, being the National Enquirer enthusiast he is, was avidly following the various accounts.  It was from him that we heard it had gone national on the affiliate stations as the frivolous news story of the day.   

Luckily no one ever correlated our off-world excursions to the lack of movement to new feeding grounds.

I wander to the sliding glass doors off the dining room where I catch a glimpse of the snow creatures we built this afternoon.   

Daniel wasn’t too keen on the idea of coming home to play in the snow, he’s never been much into cold, but Cass and I bombarded the side of the house with snowballs until he finally gave in and came out to play. 

I doubt anyone else will catch the significance of the glowing, celery-green eyes and the elaborately carved, yellow pepper ribbon device adorning one of the stick hands.  The gaudy gold scarf Daniel found in an old costume box may be a dead give-away though.

Little eddies of ice hidden inside pockets of swirling snow ping against the doors.  Cold seeps off the glass, cooling the outside as the trail of liquor heats up my insides. 

Stupid to drink on an empty stomach, but Daniel’s not here to cook for, and I don’t feel like it tonight.

There’s another memory plodding through the wreaths of liquor fumes framing my state-of-mind. 

Of Daniel standing out on the deck barefoot in the middle of a snow storm, half-crazy with the anguish of not knowing Sha’re’s fate.

And another of Daniel wandering in the snow in shirt sleeves - no coat, no boots - the night after Sha’re’s funeral - wanting to be as cold on the outside as he was on the inside. 

The refrigerator only yields more cold, nothing interesting to eat, and I’d rather drown these memories anyway. 

I know where this is headed and I have no intention of conspiring with myself to my own detriment.  I’m not that stupid.  But I either have to stop drinking or step up the pace if I’m going to out-distance them.

I refill the glass from the bottle on the counter, snag the remote from the ledge of the cut-out, and head for the television.

There’s bound to be a hockey game on some channel.  I get a hundred and forty-four channels for cryin’ out loud, there damn well better be a hockey game on.

I’m half way through the second glass and still haven’t found a decent game, though there are at least several to choose from, when the phone rings. 

I don’t want company tonight and I’m tempted to ignore it.  Don’t know why, but I’m jazzed in a really negative sort of way.  And the scotch doesn’t seem to be helping, except to warm the chill that finally penetrated while standing in front the fridge. 

By the time I get to the phone it’s stopped ringing. 

On cue, however, my cell goes off. 

Great. 

I stumble over the rug as I hurry up the steps to grab it off the kitchen counter.  It’s Daniel’s ring tone.

“O’Neill.”  There’s a long silence on the other end of the phone.  “Daniel?”

“Jack?”

I’m careful to keep my voice neutral, “What, Daniel?”

“Will you come get me?” he asks in a thin voice.

“Why?”  I sigh, already heading for the hall closet. 

On the other end of the line, Daniel echoes my sigh.  “I didn’t really want to come,” he whispers, “but Cassie made me feel stupid.  I don’t care, I just want to come home.”

I knew he didn’t want to go tonight, but this has been planned for a couple of weeks, and frankly, I’d been looking forward to a little down time.  Not sure why it didn’t turn out that way, but I’m just as happy to go pick him up. 

“I’m walking out the door.”  What else can I say?

Shouldn’t be driving in this weather, especially with two drinks in me and no food, but I can’t very well ask Frasier to bring him home in this mess.

We originally tried Vanessa LaRouche, General Hammond’s daughter, as kid watcher – Daniel flatly refuses to stay with a ‘babysitter’ – thinking since Tessa and Kayla are only a little older than the current interpretation of Daniel, and they adore the adult manifestation, it might be a good fit. 

We introduced him as Daniel’s nephew and it was obviously love at first sight for the girls.  They were dragging him off before I was on my way to the door, though Daniel was looking over his shoulder at me as though I’d ordered him to the guillotine.

Apparently it did not go well. 

I still don’t know the details - no one’s talking - only that Walter reported Daniel informed Hammond he would not go back to SG-1’s off-world holding cell. 

Currently he’s going to the SGC daycare and home with Frasier at night when we’re off-world.  Despite the fact it’s a 24/7 operation, as long as there are other options, I refuse to make him stay over night at the daycare. 

He tells me, Mrs. Marjorie, who prides herself on picking out the bright ones in her daycare, is all over him to do better: color between the lines; write more precisely; cut out less sloppily; build something instead of just stacking Lego’s in haphazard shapes 

Fortunately, I found the eyes only copy of the satellite picture of the Goa’uld teltak he’d stuffed in his backpack before he had an opportunity to prove those shapes weren’t so haphazard after all. 

I realize the cell is still connected as I toss it on the front seat of the truck, but slide in and start the engine before I pick it up again.

“Daniel?”

“Jack?”

“I thought you’d hung up.  Why are you still on the line?”

“I don’t want to go back out there.”

“Where are you?”

“In the bathroom.  Cassie and Janet are waiting for me to come out and play Scrabble.  I hate Scrabble.”

“What?  I thought you loved Scrabble, you always win.”

“It’s no fun winning all the time and I only always win when I play you.  Are you in the truck yet?”

“Yes, and I’m getting off the phone because the roads are really bad, I need both hands.” 

“Put me on speaker.”

“Go play Scrabble, beat the pants off Frasier, and maybe I won’t have to come up with another excuse for coming to get you, she’ll just be glad to be rid of you.  And Daniel?”

“What?”

“No cheating.”

“Ha, ha,” he grunts.  “Hurry! . . .  Please?”

I toss the cell phone on the passenger seat as the truck slides inconsiderately over the yellow line when I pull out onto the highway from our development. 

Frasier lives across town; it will probably take an hour to get there in this weather, another hour home. 

Oh, well, at least I’m not home drowning myself in Daniel’s scotch.
 
Home is sanctuary, the only place Daniel is willing to let go of the sanity he’s hanging on to so tightly and be whatever he needs to be in the moment. 

He’s okay in the Mountain, though he’s strictly a thirty-four-year-old dwarf at work. 

Personally I think Tolkien’s elves are a better match. They allow their children considerably longer to grow to adulthood and maturity, let them run wild in the woods for most of their lives, and don’t marry them off until they’re hundreds of years old.  Thirty-four is little more than a toddler to the elves, so Daniel in this manifestation would fit perfectly in their world.

He, however, refuses to accept I have other reasons than the fact that he looks like one when I tell him he belongs with the elves and not the dwarves.

So Frasier and I were in her office one afternoon trying to brainstorm ways to possibly widen Daniel’s comfort zone, when Teal’c strolled in - listened to our conversation for five minutes - and offered what seemed like an excellent idea. 

Like Daniel, Cassie has an old soul.  Her life experience is so far beyond a normal Earth child’s it was barely a stretch of the imagination for her to comprehend what’s happened to Daniel.  And since she had him playing dolls with her before he was downsized, it’s less of a stretch for Daniel to accept he can still do that now without compromising his thirty-four-year-oldness.

So today we collected Cassie from daycare and brought her home with us, as Teal’c suggested, in hopes that spending time with her here in his own environment would maybe translate to less stress when he’s at Frasier’s. 

He’s refused to let Frasier medicate him for the panic attacks that presented when it began to sink in that there might not be a way to fix this and I’m at my wits end.  What do we have, what do we need just isn’t working in this situation. 

I think the thing we forgot in this equation, today, is Daniel only does kid for short periods of time; though I suppose he doesn’t really sustain either persona effectively for long periods.  By bringing Cassie home with us, then sending him home with them, we’ve forced him to stay in the six-year-old persona.

I think the idea still has merit, but we need to refine it – just not on a night when we’re getting buried under one of the worst storms of the century. 

It’s a tense hour and a half to the doc’s, and I’m cursing the fact I don’t have the chains on the truck yet.  We don’t usually get hit like this quite this early in the season. 

Frasier opens the door as I kick snow off my boots. 

“Sorry, sir, this probably wasn’t the best day to do this,” she says in greeting. 

“Hey, we had fun at our place.  I’m sorry it didn’t turn out that way here.”

“I didn’t know he’d called you until a little bit ago.”

“When he plastered himself to the window?” 

“Hmm,” Frasier agrees.  “How’d you know?”

“It’s what he does when he’s worried.”

“Is it as bad as it looks?”

“Worse.”

“I’m sorry,” she says again, leaning toward me, slightly, with an exceptionally unattractive frown.  

I get the distinct impression she’s not repeating herself because she’s remorseful.

“Jack O’Neill, have you been drinking?” 

It occurs to me I should have at least taken time to swish some Listerine knowing I was coming here.

“I was only half way through the second glass when he called, I’m fine.  Besides, impaired reaction time isn’t going to be a factor on the drive home, believe me.  We won’t be going more than 10 miles an hour.”

“Coffee,” she says, slamming the door shut behind me.

Hmmm, coffee for medicinal purposes.  Almost I’m persuaded.

But then Daniel appears dragging a rolled-up sleeping bag by a strap, with the backpack that’s nearly as big as he is bumping the floor, and an armload of books.

I gave up coffee in an attempt at solidarity.  And the little snitch holds me to it.  I can’t even sneak it when he’s not around, he can smell caffeine at 50 yards, but then so could adult Daniel.

“Why are you offering him coffee?” Daniel demands.

Before I have a chance to turn it down.

“Because he’s been drinking,” Frasier says tartly. 

I close my eyes briefly and swallow a sigh.  I’m not addicted to the stuff the way Daniel was, and I never expected to salivate when passing a coffee pot, but I sure miss that first Folgers wakin’ up cup.

“Drinking?”  He makes it sound like high treason, even worse than sneaking coffee when he’s not around.  For cryin’ out loud, he must have a nose like a hunting dog, because the next thing out of his mouth is, “Scotch.”

The sleeping bag abruptly stops humping the floor, there’s a dull thud, probably representing more books, as the backpack slides off his shoulder to join the sleeping bag, and the books he’s carrying tilt precariously.  The tower is only saved from spilling everywhere by a quick chin hitch that stops the slide.  

He glares at me over the stack of books, but says to Frasier, “If Jack gets coffee, so do I.”

That’s the deal.  If he catches me drinking it, I have to let him, and take the heat from the C.M.O. 

Since she’s told me on the QT she thoroughly approves of this forfeit, the obligatory lectures in front of Daniel slide off like water off a duck’s back.

Carter’s taken up the torch too, but she doesn’t live with him, and she gets to brush her teeth without having to take a breathalyzer test every morning. 

Frasier turns her death glare on Daniel, who smiles back with bared teeth.

“Give me that wet coat and go to the kitchen, both of you,” Frasier orders, practically snatching the coat off me.  “And I hope, when you’re lying in bed staring at the ceiling all night long, you will keep in mind this is a very poor choice, Doctor Jackson.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Daniel retorts, trotting happily toward the kitchen, “tomorrow’s Saturday.  I can sleep all day if I want.”

I know I’m in trouble with she dumps out the pot and starts a fresh one, with the ratio of water to coffee grounds considerably less than what it should be.  I’m so gonna hear about this later. 

Make like a duck, O’Neill.  Yeah, right – quack, quack.

“I’m not even remotely intoxicated, Doc.  I can walk a straight line, I can touch my nose . . .”  I demonstrate by jabbing a finger into my eye and planting one foot in front of the other straight down a plank in the wood flooring, except it ends after two steps and makes a jog to join up with a mate. 

“Sit.”

It probably wouldn’t be wise to woof at this point, and Daniel’s already sitting at the table, on a booster seat apparently acquired for his predilection because it’s blue. 

I slide into a chair at the table as well.

Why is it everybody thinks blue is Daniel’s favorite color? 

He hates blue, and the whole eye thing makes him crazy.  Especially now. 

Invariably, it’s the first thing even strangers say to him.  “What beautiful eyes you have.”

What can I say?  It’s true. 

He’s got these golden lashes that are probably as long as my little finger and without the glasses to camouflage them the intensity of the blue, framed by the long lashes, makes those eyes the focal point of his small face.

A large mug of coffee is slammed down in front of me and I can’t help but inhale the tantalizing aroma. 

An equally large mug is smacked down in front of Daniel, who also inhales blissfully.

He’s not gonna be the only one lying awake staring at the ceiling.

Silence reins supreme, except for Daniel’s slurping. 

When Frasier comes to top off my cup, I put a hand over it with a shake of my head. 

She gives me the look, but complies.

Daniel, however, immediately shoves his out for a refill.

“Ounce for ounce, that’s the deal.  If you’re gonna hold me to it, bud, you have to live by the same rules.”

He scowls at me, wraps both hands around his mug, and sits back with it as if someone might try to filch those last few remaining ounces of liquid gold.

The silence is becoming deafening.

“So, who won the Scrabble game?”

For a long, drawn out moment, it deepens dramatically.

“I did,” Daniel replies finally, staring into his coffee cup.

Frasier leans back against the counter, usurping Daniel’s usual arms-over-the-chest stance.

Clearly pursuit of this subject will only lead to acrimonious accusations and righteous indignation.

“It doesn’t say in the rules I can’t use the blank tile for an apostrophe,” he mutters.

“It does say in the rules the words have to be in the dictionary,” I reply, since Frasier remains virtuously silent.

“If we were playing in German we’d be using a German dictionary.”

“Oh, you were playing in Goa’uld?”

Daniel shoots me a look that’s also easily interpreted.  Something along the lines of – you told me to make her mad enough she wouldn’t care if I went home.

I smother another sigh in my coffee cup.  This dance we’re doing is intricate and we’re often making up the steps as we go along. 

Forget chain of command; there always had to be clear motivation for Daniel to follow willingly.  But because he has so little autonomy in this manifestation, it’s now an overriding factor in every encounter.

So this needs to be dealt with and he’s my responsibility by destiny and choice.

“I thought we’d resolved this issue,” I offer obliquely, thinking there’s more to this than what’s happening on the surface. 

I only play Scrabble with Daniel; too much temptation to blow the façade playing with the rest of the bunch.  So we agreed it’s acceptable to bring any and all alien language to the game, but only between us, he’s not supposed to do it with anyone else.

“She doesn’t know that,” he mutters again.

“But you do and you agreed to the terms, so don’t pull out the six-year-old as an excuse.  Cute and adorable only goes so far . . . we on the same wavelength here?” 

I suspect this is the automated six-year-old defense system kicking in, and he hates it when I call him on this in front of the others, but I’m not gonna let him get away with it.  We’ve had this discussion more than once in private and I’m a little concerned the thirty-four-year-old isn’t processing it. 

The cup plunks back down on the butcher-block table and Daniel shoves back preparatory to sliding off the booster seat.

“Daniel,” I hiss quietly.

“Jack,” he hisses back, less quietly.

Frasier picks up a dishrag and starts industriously wiping down the pristinely clean counters.

“Apologize now,” I mouth at him, since she’s so thoughtfully turned her back.

I’m not the only one trying to figure out this minuet with him. 

“No,” he whispers back fiercely.

There are bright spots of color in his cheeks - either embarrassment or temper – he wasn’t inclined to either as an adult, so it’s difficult to tell in this manifestation.

“Then I will,” I tell him softly.

“Go right ahead,” he snaps out loud, sliding down from the booster seat.

This is one of those times he doesn’t get a choice.  As he passes me, I casually reach out, snag the belt loop on his jeans and incarcerate him on my lap.  I’ll do the apologizing, but he’s not getting away without dealing with the consequences.

“Daniel and I had a bargain.”

“Rat bastard,” Daniel hisses under his breath.

“You want your mouth washed out with soap?”

“I hate you!”

Yep, we’re getting a lot of that these days, especially under stressful circumstances like this.  Usually followed by some non-verbal form of communication that he needs to be cuddled so he knows I know the words are meaningless, it’s just his way of communicating how helpless he feels.

I’m no longer restraining him in my lap, he’s huddled against me like a heat seeking missile, so I obliging wrap my arms around him as I continue with our apology.

“Sorry, Doc.”

She turns around reluctantly.

“He agreed he would only use alien language when he plays with me.  When he cheats, the wronged party gets to choose the consequences.”

Janet’s gaze flits up to mine for a second, giving me a clear view of the dismay in those expressive eyes.

Hammond nailed it when he said it was going to be hard not to spoil him rotten. 

Frasier sighs, but she crosses the kitchen and pulls out a chair across from us.  For a long minute there’s complete silence as she studies her hands and then she raises her head and looks directly at the reprobate.

“I think we all have some level of understanding of how difficult this is for you, Daniel, and as a result nobody wants to make you do anything you don’t want to do.  There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that what’s happened isn’t fair, or good, or right, so how can we make you more miserable by holding you accountable?  But that’s not fair either.  It’s not fair to the Colonel to be the only one holding you to consequences.  And it’s not fair to you, especially if this really is going to be a long term thing, to turn you into a bratty, undisciplined child, who will grow into someone the adult you would never recognize.  I’m absolutely positive that’s something you would never want to happen,” she waits a beat before adding, “right?”

There’s a barely discernable nod of agreement from my baggage.

“So I’m turning over a new leaf,” Frasier continues, “but I think you should participate in this as well. What do you think needs to happen?”

A small, booted foot starts to jiggle nervously.  Adult Daniel used to tap his pen, or fiddle with the ever present coffee cup, or get up and pace.  This manifestation hasn’t figured out what to do with his nervous energy.

The silence lengthens again.

Uncomfortably. 

When he finally responds, it’s clearly the thirty-four-year-old, but it comes out disconcertingly, in the six-year-old voice.

“I’m sorry, Janet, and I’ll go apologize to Cassie, too.  I should have told you I didn’t want to come tonight.  It’s not that I don’t like spending time with you and Cassie, it’s just I’d rather be with Jack when he’s home.  He doesn’t make me feel stupid, or little, or crazy; I just feel like Daniel.”

“I know.”  Janet lays her hand on the table, palm up in a silent request. 

When Daniel sits up and leans forward, she wraps both her hands around the one he offers.

“I know,” she repeats.  “I hope someday you will be as comfortable here as you are at home.  In the meantime, we all need you to be honest with us about your feelings.  You’ve always been an excellent secret keeper, Daniel, but if you make us guess about what you’re feeling now, odds are at least fifty percent of the time we’re going to guess wrong, and then everybody ends up miserable.”  She taps his hand lightly and smiles.  “The Colonel has an advantage over the rest of us, you know.”

“I do?”

“He does?”

“Sure he does.  Jack knows you so well he can guess better than the rest of us, so his odds probably increase to 70, maybe even 80 percent.  So you see, if you’ll just help us out, you can increase the odds exponentially.” 

Ah!  Logic and reason.  It gets him every time.

Daniel looks over his shoulder at me assessingly. 

“That makes sense; I used to spend a lot of time with Jack as an adult, didn’t I?”

That’s a little strange - but I can go with the flow.

“Yeah, you probably got yourself downsized because you’d figured out I was going to have to start charging you rent for landing in my spare room so often.”

“Ohyeahsureyoubetcha,” he mimics, “I did this to myself on purpose.”

“See there, I knew it.  Hey, go do the linguist thing with Cassie so we can get on the road again, please.”

“I’m sorry I made you come and get me, Jack.  I’ll try to remember this if we’re in this situation again, and make better choices.”

I purposely don’t look over at Frasier as I set him on his feet.  “Go, I’ll put your stuff in the truck while you’re making nice.”

“I’ll help carry stuff out; don’t go out until you have too.  Please, Jack?  I already feel bad.”

“Fine, hurry up then.  I’d like to get to bed sometime tonight.”

Cassie’s dog, Luke Skywalker, trots over to the stairs and stands watching until Daniel disappears around the corner, then shambles over to me and drops a wet, drooly, denta bone at my feet. 

“Thanks.”  I look back at the doc.  “Looks like we need to come up with Plan B.”

“I thought it was a good idea, too, sir.  Sam and I have been talking about this; we really admire what you’ve done.  Obviously neither of us can do it.”

“Sure you can.  You did great just now.”  I look down at the dog that’s planted himself at my feet and is wagging his tail as he grins up at me.  “Hey, Luke, whatcha got there, buddy?”   

Fetch is not in this dog’s vocabulary, so I’m clueless as to what I’m supposed to do with the bone, until he stretches his head forward, nips it off the floor, and waves it tantalizingly at me. 

Oh, tug-of-war.  Yeah, I can probably do that, though handling wet, slimy dog bones doesn’t appeal much to me.

“Yuck, you win.”
 
Not only is it slimy, it has teeth marks all over it, so it’s spiny as well. 

Luke, believing he has won the day, drops the bone and howls mournfully in celebration.

“Can there be a stupider dog than you?”

I nudge him with the toe of my boot and he immediately sprawls, rolling over so all four stubby legs are straight up in the air, while he cocks his head to look at me with one eye.

“He’s loyal,” Frasier imparts, as though being loyal is a special trick. 

“And dumb as a rock,” I snort, bending to give the obligatory belly rub. 

“Hey, loyalty goes a long way.  I know you’re going to say no, but I really wish you’d consider staying over tonight.  It sounds like it’s turned to ice.”

“Probably, it was headed that direction as I pulled into your driveway.”

“They’re shutting down parts of 83 already.  Isn’t that the way you go home from here?”

“It’s the fastest way, but it won’t be a problem if we have to take the back roads.  And we can always detour by the Mountain if necessary. If the city is going to shut down, I’d like to be home where I can at least accomplish something.  I’d drive you nuts if we were trapped here.”

That rarely happens in Colorado Springs.  This is a town built around military bases, it takes a considerable force of nature to shut us down; however, I suspect we may be headed that direction tonight.

She rolls her eyes, whether in agreement or thankfulness for the reprieve, I don’t know, as she opens the hall closet.

“Here - and here’s Daniel’s too.”  Frasier hands over both coats and moves to twitch aside the curtain covering the narrow window beside the door.  “I wish you would consider staying, sir.”

“I’m ready to go,” Daniel announces from behind me, already gathering up the books he dumped on the floor.

“Did you bring . . . homework over here?”

Daniel gives me the same look I got from Frasier over the scotch.  “Yeah.  So?”

Maybe I’m not firing on all cylinders tonight.  Or maybe it is the scotch.  “Didn’t you come for a sleepover?”

“I had work I needed to finish.  It’s no different from taking top secret stuff home.  I don’t leave it lying around and even if I did, Janet has clearance.  And Cassie’s an alien.  What’s the difference if she sees stuff about other aliens?”

I open my mouth, close it on what I’m sure is useless anyway, and pick up the sleeping bag and backpack. 

“You’re gonna have to put that stuff down, you know, to put your coat on.”

“Oh.” 

Coat?  What coat?  Yeah, that hasn’t changed much with the downsizing. 

I open the door. 

“Call when you get home, okay?  If I don’t hear from you, I will scramble the Mountain,” Frasier tells us.

“Yeah, we’ll call, but don’t wait up, this could take awhile.”

“I’m serious, Colonel.  Call me.”

“Speed dial as we’re pulling into the garage.  Got it.”

“Bye, Janet,” Daniel says, heading out the door.

Me, I just give her a shrug and tip a two-fingered salute before following him out, leaving Frasier shivering in the open doorway.

I grab my kid by the back of his jacket as his feet skate out from under him on the second step.  “Daniel?”

“Don’t let go,” his voice quivers. 

The books are clutched tightly to his chest and I can feel him trembling.

I don’t let go.  “Give me the books.”

“No, I’ve got them,” he says breathlessly.

“Give me the books.  I’ll take everything to the truck and come back for you.”

“No.”  He grabs hold of my jacket as I step down beside him. 

“I’m okay.  Go slow,” he commands.  “Please.”

It’s definitely changed to ice and it’s coming down in hard, stinging needles.  Daniel hunches his shoulders as he shuffles along the sidewalk that leads to the driveway.

“I hate winter,” he mutters, kicking his feet one at a time against the running board before climbing into the truck.

There’s nothing he hates more than being wet and cold, except maybe the Goa’uld - and now the Teprins.

I toss his stuff in the back seat and brush snow off both of us before buckling him into the car seat and closing the door.

With a wave for Janet, who’s still standing in the open door – hate to have her heating bill – we’re off like a herd of turtles.

I’m not half way down the street, going slower than molasses in January, before I realize it’s gone from bad to worse, not even four-wheel-drive can compensate for ice. 

What a mess. 

I slow to a crawl, I could walk faster than this, and wonder if we should go back and spend the night, or, at the very least, wait out the worst of it. 

Nah, better to keep moving, even if it is at a snail’s pace, than to be sitting.  I’ve never been much good at just sitting.

I glance at Daniel in the rearview mirror.  “You okay back there?”

“Fine,” he says, without turning his head from watching out the window. 

No idea what he’s seeing; I can barely see ten feet in front of the headlights. 

The local all-news station is declaring a snow emergency, announcing roads closed to traffic without appropriate snow equipment, meaning chains. 

I had the foresight to throw some bags of sand into the back of the truck a couple of weeks ago, and the truck has enough weight on it’s own to compensate under normal bad weather conditions, but this is already way past normal. 

Oh yeah, definitely going to take us awhile to get home.

Daniel’s quiet for so long, I think he’s gone to sleep, but he turns his head just as I take my eyes off the road for a second to glance in the rearview mirror.

“Jack?”

“Thought you’d gone to sleep.  What?”

“Can we move the deer again?”

Are we connected or what? 

“What brought that up?”

“Probably the smell of scotch,” he replies, sighing.

“Okay, let’s do it.”  I’m dividing my attention between the road and watching for his reaction.  I don’t get one.  “Just not tonight, okay?”

“Okay.”

“D.J., what’s up?”  I shouldn’t have made him go to Frasier’s this afternoon.  Live and learn. 

“Nothing,” he sighs again, deeply.  “At least nothing new.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“Shall we see if Teal’c and Carter want to come move the deer with us this time?”

This at least gets a chuckle.

I’ve relaxed somewhat about the NID doing a snatch a grab.  I think the President made it known loud and clear that if anything happens to this manifestation of Daniel Jackson, heads will roll, and he didn’t mean figuratively. 

Still, I’m not comfortable enough to feel secure having Daniel out in the middle of the night without some kind of back-up.

“Teal’c will be insanely jealous we didn’t clue him in the first time around.”

“Yeah.  So?”

“Jack?”

“Hmmm?”   Most of my attention is fixed on the road.

“How come these things always happen to me?”

He wants philosophy tonight. 

“Is this six-year-old Daniel asking?  Or thirty-four-year-old Daniel?”  While I’m driving through a blizzard no less.

“I don’t know.”  Another sigh.  “The line’s blurring more and more lately.”

Uh oh; I’m hearing Gate klaxons blaring.  God, I could use an extra shot of wisdom right about now.  You listening out there? 

I don’t dare let this one go by and hope for better timing.  It could be days, or even months, before he’s ready to talk about this again. 

I’ve known something’s been bugging him, but he’s consistently shut me down at every turn.

Don’t blow this, Jack. 

“Blurring how, Daniel?  You mean it’s harder to sort out the six-year-old thoughts versus the thirty-four-year-old thoughts?”

“I don’t know.  I can’t explain it.”  He shakes his head as though trying to clear it.  “It’s like . . . like there are things I understand now with crystal clarity, but I don’t know if it’s the six-year-old Daniel that understands it, or the thirty-four-year-old.  For all practical purposes the thirty-four-year-old doesn’t exist anymore, except in my memory and those memories are . . .”  He shifts in his car seat and looks up at the rearview mirror, though I doubt he can see me any better than I can see him.  “They’re fading.” 

I can’t stop the wince; I just hope its dark enough he can’t see it.

He turns his face back to the window, adding almost too softly for me to hear, “It’s like they’re burning slowly, from the edges in, until nothing’s left but ashes.   Hard as I try, I can’t hold onto them anymore.  I look at Sha’re’s picture and I know who she is, but even those memories are fading.”

The truck slides inexorably toward the ditch and all my attention in engaged in keeping us out of it. 

The tires catch some traction on the grass and I can steer back onto the road, but we might be better off abandoning the truck and hiking the rest of the way - except Daniel’s in tennis shoes and neither of us has on all-weather gear.  We’d both be soaked in short order. 

Not a good idea.

We’re sliding again, dammit. 

That’s it, we’re choiceless.  I pull half way over into the grass, turn on the flashers, and turn the engine off. 

Unclipping my seatbelt, I twist around and lean back through the opening to let Daniel out of the car seat.  His hands are not big enough yet to manipulate the lock mechanism on the seatbelt that secures the car seat. 

He scrambles over the console between the front seats, landing in my lap with an oomph from both of us, as he smacks his head against the steering wheel and his ass connects with a part of my anatomy I’d rather not mention.

“You okay?” we ask simultaneously, chuckling at our in-sync question.

Daniel rubs his head.  “I’m okay.  Sorry.  Are you?”

“I will be,” I respond, in a slightly-higher-than-normal voice. 

The moment’s kind of lost though.  I’ve got to figure out a way to get it back without swinging the pendulum too far either way. 

“Any thoughts on why this might be happening?”

He shrugs.  “Not really.”

I unzip my parka and wrap it around him.  He’ll provide as much warmth as the coat and the shared body heat will keep us both warmer a little longer. 

“Is there something we can do to keep the memories from curling in on themselves?”

If there’s one thing Daniel Jackson has taken to, it’s snuggling.  He snuggles in now like he was born to be in my arms, and damn if I don’t feel like this is as much my destiny as his.

I suppose if I hadn’t been such a jerk after Charlie, Sarah and I could have tried again.  It was just such a shock for both of us, and then I shut her out so effectively. 

I don’t know . . .

My belief system was shot to hell long before the false gods came along, but there’s a feel to this, with Daniel now, a rightness that I can’t explain.  It’s not pay back, or a consolation prize.  It just feels . . . meant to be.  Like the universe is finally giving us both something to hold on to.

There are days I feel guilty for feeling this way, when I know how hard this has been on Daniel.  But I also know there are days when he revels in this as much as I do.  Days he’s so glad to be six, he positively sparkles with it.  Days when he can let go of the thirty-four-year-old memories and just be the kid he never got to be growing up the first time. 

We both enjoy those days, drag them out as long as we can, and squeeze out every last drop of pleasure.

I have a whole mental scrapbook full of new memories I will treasure forever. 

Occasionally he’ll even let me immortalize a moment on Kodak paper, to tack up in the nursing home, I tell him, when I’m old and he stops coming to visit me.

Once when I said that, he turned around, looked me dead in the eye and said, “I will never stop coming to see you, Jack O’Neill, not even when you’re dead.”

It’s true too.

He used to go with me to Charlie’s grave when he was big, but he usually wandered off, leaving me to commune with Charlie alone.  Adult Daniel understood and respected that private time, but knew I needed human contact coming and going.

Little Daniel is morbidly fascinated with Charlie’s grave.  He now takes a pair of scissors to make sure the grass is always clipped; he has to have fresh flowers when we go; and he likes to sit on the headstone and talk to Charlie out loud.

It’s different; but it’s not bad.

I’ll never forget the first time he told Charlie what a great Dad I was and how sorry he was Charlie had missed out on all the fun times we’ve had together.  Without the least bit of self-consciousness he chatters away about our adventures, while I sit at the foot of the grave and wonder what the two of them would have been like together.  I’m sure they would have liked each other.

But I digress.  He hasn’t answered and I realize we have tears again. 

Oh, god, Daniel, you break my heart when you do this to me.

“There has to be something.”  I nuzzle his hair, closing my eyes as he turns his face into my neck.  “We’ll enlist Carter and Teal’c . . .”

His head twists ever so slightly in denial. 

“Okay.  Just between us then.  But we’ll work on it, I promise.  Do you want to talk to the neurologist?  Just generally?  You don’t have to tell him anything specific.  But he might be able to answer questions.”

He shakes his head again, sliding down to curl into a ball in my lap.  We’re cocooned in time and space as effectively as if we were off-world, still he doesn’t make a sound.  The sobs are literally shaking his small body, but you wouldn’t know he was crying if you were sitting in the passenger seat.

It’s a habit I’m determined to break, especially after I found out he learned to cry like this because, in one of his too-numerous-to-count foster homes, he got the shit beat out of him if he made a peep. 

That one came out quite by accident not too long ago.

I inadvertently smacked him when I was reaching for something without looking, and he never saw it coming.  I swung around with my hand still in the air, he jerked back, cowering as though I was going to hit him again, and totally flashed back to an incident from his first childhood.  When I reached to pull him toward me to hug him, he nearly tripped over his own feet trying to back away.

Scared the shit out of both of us.

Now they call it PTSD; when it happened to him it was just plain child abuse.

I wasn’t prepared to let him sweep that ugly little secret back under the rug.  So I handled it in inimitable Jack O’Neill style.  I picked him up and headed straight for the rocker.

I didn’t get to be a Colonel on my good looks and charm alone.  Daniel didn’t stand a chance.  Not that he folded, mind you.  He’s been up against some pretty scary Goa’uld - he doesn’t break easy - or fast. 

I had to use all of my charm, a significant portion of my patience, and a couple of lame threats to get the story.  And I still had to put together the whole picture from the bits and pieces I managed to coax out of him.

I didn’t expect it to be pretty, but neither did I expect to have to put him down so I could go throw up. 

With the things this kid is carrying around inside that head, you’d think he might actually welcome the chance to forget it all and start over again.

Not our Danny.

I pull him up against my chest again and tuck him back inside my coat.  It’s already cooling off significantly in here. 

“Come on, kiddo, if you’re gonna turn on the waterworks, I need some sound effects too.  Just so I know you’re not laughing, okay?”

He hiccups a tiny chortle, then chokes out, “It’s not funny, Jack.”

“I’m not trying to be funny, Daniel.  I mean it.  It gives me the heebee jeebee’s when you cry like this.  It’s not necessary and I don’t want you to go back there every time something upsets you.”  I’m rocking ever so slightly; he almost always responds well to rocking.

“Not upset,” he sniffles.  “Scared.”

“Okay, scared.” 

That’s my linguist, always got to have the right word.  Usually, between us, we can fix upset.  I can sometimes fix scared . . . but tonight – I don’t know.

What if the Teprins did mean for him to eventually loose all those thirty-four-year-old memories they left him with.  On the other hand, if that’s the case, why the hell didn’t they get rid of them in the first place?

I get so damned furious every time we come back to this.  They didn’t bother to give us a manual; didn’t leave us with any instructions on what to expect, or how to manage any of this.  They just announced they were giving the Tau’ri something spectacular, then presented us with a six-year-old Daniel Jackson.

For the salvation of the human race, they said.

So, what?  I’m in charge of raising the next Messiah?  I don’t think so.  We’ve got a few too many false gods to contend with already.  What the hell were they thinking?

And there’s the rub.  We may never know what they were thinking, unless we accidentally happen to figure it out. 

SINCE THEY DIDN’T BOTHER TO SEND HIM BACK WITH AN INSTRUCTION MANUAL!

Okay, now that that’s out of my system – how do I fix scared, tonight?

“I think we need to talk to Janet about this.” 

Even if she doesn’t know what to do to fix it, she’ll know where to look for answers. 

“She’s been a really great resource for lots of things for us.”

“Yeah, but if we tell her, she’ll have to tell Hammond.” 

The tears are subsiding now.  He drags the back of his coat sleeve across his eyes, sniffing.

Actually, I’ll probably have to tell Hammond, but we won’t go there just yet.  This could have some serious repercussions for the SGC if Daniel actually does revert to a six-year-old. 

I’m thinking we’d better contact the Asgards too, because the more I think about this, the more I don’t think this is supposed to be happening. 

From the little explanation we received from Thor, I got the impression the Teprins were enhancing Daniel’s natural learning capacity – which we all know was already sponge-like – not taking anything away.

“I’m beginning to wonder if it’s like some kind of computer virus,” Daniel says on a sigh.  “It sort of feels like something’s eating away slowly at my hard drive.”

Memories going up in smoke; a computer virus – got to hand it to him, he’s still got the words.

 “Then I think we need to involve the Asgards, and maybe even the Teprins again.”

“I don’t want to talk to the Teprins ever again.”

Our return trip was as unsuccessful as I expected it to be, despite Daniel’s appeal to their humanity – they’re alien to begin with; their empathy – they have none; and their total lack of entitlement to do this to him – they were unimpressed, at least by his arguments to change him back to a thirty-four-year-old. 

They could not, however, keep their hands off him, which led me to wonder if they’re really just a planet of perverts.   Though that may be severely colored by my less-than-pleasant attitude about what they’ve done to one of my kids.

“Yeah, I know.  But we can’t afford to let this go on too long either.  Daniel?”

“What?”

“Is this what’s been bugging you for the last couple weeks?”

“Yes,” he breathes so quietly I can hardly hear him above the staccato pings of ice hitting the windshield.

“I wish you’d told me sooner.  You’ve got to stop holding back with this kind of stuff.  This is important; we need to deal with it sooner rather than later.”

“I don’t want to deal with it.  I don’t want to deal with the Teprins.  I’m still furious with them.  For that matter, I’m still mad at Thor.”

I don’t come back with an answer immediately and when I do, I know it’s not something he’s going to want to hear.  “It’s not like you to hold a grudge this long.”

“So, maybe I’ve changed.  Maybe they changed me.”

“Nah, not really.”  I can practically feel his brain racing on that one. 

He’s not sure he’s got an answer for that, mostly because he knows I’m right.  The only thing different about Daniel Jackson is his height and weight.

“I still want to be mad.”

“If it’s any consolation, I still think you’re entitled.”  I reach around him to start the engine again and turn up the heater. 

I suspect we’re done with this conversation for tonight, which is okay by me.  I need to do a little reconnaissance before the subject comes up again, so I’m ready with a proportionate response. 

“I’m going to call Frasier and let her know we might be stuck here for awhile.  I don’t want her scrambling the Mountain.”

“Why not?” Daniel wants to know.  “At least we’d get home.”

“Because they’ve got better things to do than come rescue our sorry asses.”

“That would be freezing asses,” Daniel imparts.  “And no they don’t have anything better to do.  The Marines love coming to our rescue.”

“Smart ass.” 

I dig out my cell.  “Yeah, it’s me already . . . Uhm, no, we’re not home.  We’re stuck on the side of the road at the moment . . . and that would be a no as well; that’s why I’m calling.  Don’t call the Mountain, and that’s an order, Major . . . Yes, well, Daniel wouldn’t mind, but I would.  If we need rescuing, I’ll call myself . . . Yeah, figured you’d accept that compromise.  Go to bed, we’re not likely to be home any time soon, but we’ll be fine . . . Right, maybe next time.  See ya.”  I click off the cell and put it on the dashboard.

“You didn’t tell her.”  Daniel pulls the edges of my coat closer around himself so only the top of his head is visible.

“I can call her back.”

“Thanks.”

“For what?”  I can guess, but I should probably let him tell me.

“For not telling her.  I’m not ready yet.”

“Strangely enough, I’d figured that one out.”

“Janet’s right.”

“About?”

“You must know me a lot better than the rest of them; your guessing record is pretty good.”

“Ya think?”

“Now you’re fishing for compliments.”

“Well, whatta ya expect – they’re so few and far between.  Besides, fishing is my favorite hobby.”

“Smart ass,” he retorts, stealing my line.

“Surprise.”

“Not.”  He snuggles further down inside my coat.

“We are going to have to deal with this.”

“I know.”

Silence descends over the cab of the truck, but it’s a comfortable silence this time.

“Can we move the deer first?” he asks out of the blue.

“Yeahsureyoubetcha,” I answer, hugging him tightly as I rest my chin lightly on top of his head.

And maybe afterwards too.

 

~*~

 

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