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Symphony of the Woods by iiiionly

 

“Hey, Sport, you almost done out here?  Carter and Pete will be here soon.  We need to get ready.”

“In a minute,” Daniel says without looking up.  “I’ve almost got it out.” 

Out of habit I check to make sure the door’s unlocked, even though I never lock it since it’s inside the garage. 

“Hey, Hersh.”  The dog stretches his head to get his ears scratched as I meander over to sit down on the side of the sandbox.  “So whatcha got?”

Teal’c brought home a whole bunch of miniature things from one of our last off-world excursions and buried them in the already excavated second tier.  According to Carter’s manifest, the dig in the third tier is about half finished.  That’s the Egyptian village where Teal’c wanted to add a Roman aqueduct. 

“Don’ know yet,” he grunts, plying the small paintbrush diligently around the lip of something just beginning to be visible under the sand.  This he considers almost out?

We cleaned out one side of the garage last fall and moved the sandbox inside.  It’s still cold, but it’s a heck of a lot warmer than the back yard buried under a couple of feet of snow and a layer of ice.

“Think that could wait until we get home tomorrow?”

“No,” he grunts again, shoving his glasses up with his shoulder, never losing rhythm with the brush.

“Okay, I’m sure Carter and Pete won’t mind waiting.  I don’t know about Teal’c though, he can get really impatient.”

He looks up at me, wrinkling his nose with a scowl.  “Do we have to go?”

Uh oh.  This is . . . unexpected.  “No, I can call Carter and tell her . . .  we don’t want to go?”

The whisking becomes slightly frantic and Daniel’s frown deepens.  The hard edge of the paintbrush catches the artifact, jarring it loose from the sand. 

He sighs, eases up with the whisking, and says, without conviction, “She’d be really disappointed if we cancelled.”

His find looks like a squat little jar Sara used to keep on the back of the sink.  She called it a ‘mommy’ pot.  It was just big enough for those single, short-stemmed blossoms Charlie used to bring her.

“But . . . you don’t want to go?”

On another, even deeper sigh, the paintbrush pauses, then moves to idly brush at the back of his hand.  “It’s too cold to go out tonight.” 

“Come here.”  He’s only an arm’s length away and he lets me heave him onto my lap and rub his cold hands between my own. 

I’ve been informed that gloves or mittens on a dig site are taboo; it makes his movements too clumsy while trying to birth the delicate objets d'art hidden by the layers of shifting sand. 

“If you come in now, you still have time to get in the bathtub and get warmed up.” 

He also gets annoyed when his movement is restricted by the amount of clothing I try to layer him in, which means by now he’s a little ice cube.  I’ve been wracking my brain for a safe way of heating the space since it began to get really cold.  Wonder if Carter could rig up a small naquada reactor?

“I think you’ll really like what Carter and Pete have planned.”

 “I don’t.”  He rubs his nose against my shirt, probably trying to warm it up.

“You okay?  Not coming down with anything, are you?  You’re usually up for adventures like this.”

“It’s cold,” he repeats and I’m getting the distinct impression he seriously doesn’t want to go. 

“We don’t have to go if you really don’t want to.”

“Sam would be disappointed,” he repeats.

I wrap him up inside my arms.  “Uhmm, probably.  But she’ll get over it.”

“I guess I can get in the bathtub.”

“How about if you get in a nice warm bath, then scurry into your snow suit as soon as you’re dried off.  That way you can capture all that heat to take with you tonight.”

“Could we go another night?” 

Hershey sits up, plants his backside and stretches, yawning widely. 

“Hershey doesn’t want to go either,” Daniel informs me as the dog leans against my leg.

“Really?  Why do you suppose Hershey doesn’t want to go?”

“He doesn’t have a snow suit to wear; he thinks he’s going to be too cold.”

“You sure you translated that right?  I’m a little surprised, what with Hershey’s ancestors having been born and bred in the Alps and all.  I had the distinct impression he likes snow.”

Hershey seconds this observation with a happy woof! 

“Traitor,” Daniel tells him, without heat.  “You’ve got sand all over you now,” he says, sitting up and trying to brush off my shirt.

“I’m washable, just like you.”

“Yeah, but you complain every time there’s a layer of sand in the bottom of the washer.”

“The washer is not an archeological dig site; it’s not supposed to have sand in it.” 

I set Daniel on his feet inside the sandbox and watch him bend over to plant the paintbrush, handle first, in the sand, far enough away from his find not to disturb it, but close enough that the brush will be immediately accessible when he can come back to it. 

“Are we going?”

“Yes,” he sighs again, lifting his arms so I can swing him out of the sandbox.  “Sam’s been so excited about this; I don’t want to disappoint her.” 

As soon as I set him on his feet, he heads for the kitchen door. 

Carter rarely gets excited about things without long scientific words in the sentence.  But she’s mentioned more than once this is something she’s always wanted to do and growing up in southern California isn’t nearly as conducive to this scenario as growing up in Minnesota. 

While it’s true adult Daniel would have hated it, I’m pretty sure this incarnation will love every second of this adventure.  And because he’s a trooper, by the time Carter gets here he’ll have on his game face, another of adult Daniel traits that regressed intact with this incarnation.

“Daniel?”

“What?”

“Sand?”

“Oh, yeah.”  He stops, uses both hands to brush off the seat of his pants, vigorously dusts his hands up and down his arms, then stamps his feet.  A fine layer of sand coats the floor where he’s standing.  “Am I good?”

“Use the mat, please.”

Hershey waits patiently at the door while Daniel scuffs his booted feet on the bristly door mat, put there just for this purpose, and we all troop inside together. 

“How long until Sam and Pete get here?”

“About a half an hour.  Don’t get your hair wet, okay?  We don’t have time to dry it.”

“Okay.  Will you set the timer so I know when to get out?

“Good idea.”  I grab the magnetic timer off the fridge and follow them to their bathroom. 

As Daniel undresses, liberally spreading sand in here as well, I set the timer for twenty minutes. 

“You need to get out and get dried off and dressed in the clothes I’m going to put out on your bed when the timer goes off.  Okay?”

The timer is a new and fascinating discovery.  After too many mornings in a row of cranky, slower-than-molasses-in-January Daniel and me tearing my hair out trying to move him along, I found if I set the timer and he has a sense of how much time is passing, he’s more motivated to get things done, instead of lying on his bed reading a book. 

I run the water as warm as possible and wait until he’s in the tub to leave them.  Hershey’s sitting with his chin on the tub surround, doing that sad-eyed thing he knows gets to Daniel.  He really likes taking a bath, but the vet told us too many baths will dry out his skin.  So he only gets to bathe once a month now. 

Daniel was less disappointed than I expected.  Probably because he was responsible for cleaning up the bathroom after the two of them, and Hershey loves to splash.

“No, you can’t get in tonight, Hershey.  I can’t get wet all over and besides, it’s only been two weeks since your last bath.  You have to wait two more weeks.  How many more minutes do I have before I have to get out?” 

He’s talking to the dog, not me, as I close the door most of the way to keep the heat in the bathroom.

Carter ran across an ad on the internet for a place offering sleigh rides out to one of our park reservoirs where you can skate outdoors.  She specifically arranged this so we’d be going at the full moon and the folks who do this have assured her it’s as bright as day when the weather conditions are good.  They’re perfect today – cloudless, not even a breeze, and the temperature hovered just below freezing all day.  It’s dropped tonight, but only into the twenties.  Daniel’s far too susceptible to the cold to take him out for long periods of time in subzero weather.

Good thing I hijacked some of our winter gear from work the other day.  I haven’t had time to dig out my own stuff.

Precisely at 6:00 the doorbell rings.

“Teal’c is right behind us.  You guys ready?” Carter asks, bouncing on her toes and rubbing her gloved hands together as she steps inside, Pete on her heels.  “This is going to be so much fun!”

“Hershey wants to know what to take tonight, Sam.  Should he bring his skis or snow shoes?”

Carter, who’s just been knocked back against Pete by an enthusiastic Hershey, grabs one of his ten-inch paws.  “Looks to me like Hershey’s got his own built-in snow shoes, Sport, but I doubt he’ll need snow shoes or skis tonight.  Nice try though, huh?”  Pushing Hershey away she steps forward to kneel in front of Daniel and help him with the zipper on his jacket.  “You’ll find out what we’re going to do when we get there.”

“Saaaammmm,” he tries, but she just kisses him on the nose and zips up the inside zipper before starting on the snaps.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get little kid ski clothes?  We tried several places locally, but everything in his size comes in onezies.  You know, those one-piece things you stick their legs and arms in and zip ‘em up.  So we decided to try looking on line and guess what, we even found kid-sized snow-camo ski pants and jackets.  They’re a little big, but he’ll grow into them eventually.

Carter is doing up the last of the snaps when Teal’c makes an entrance.  I see Pete’s eyes go wide.  Daniel’s face mirrors Pete’s expression and I swing my gaze to the photo-op framed in the doorway.

“You look like a bear, Teal’c,” Daniel breathes.

Teal’c growls low in his throat and crouches slightly in the doorframe.  “Then I will be proficient at inciting fear in any undomesticated Ursus that dares traverse our trail.”

Instead of his usual fedora or baseball cap, Teal’c is wearing one of those Russian fur things that has flaps all around the sides and back, and a . . . fur coat . . . at least I think it’s a coat.  I’m not absolutely positive, but it reaches his ankles and is certainly hairy . . . or furry.  I’m not close enough to tell.

Pete’s lips are moving as he tries to translate undomesticated Ursus.

“Uh . . . Ursus?” 

I have to give the guy credit.  He’s trying desperately to fit in despite having a hard time believing glowing-eyed aliens are actually real and visiting Earth on a semi-regular basis.  The jury’s still out on whether or not he believes us about this downsized Daniel.   We’re going to have to take him through the Gate one of these days, to some place like that purple planet we were on when Daniel did his disappearing act in search of Sha’re.  Maybe that would help him get a grasp on the situation.

“Wild bears.”  Carter clambers to her feet.  “Nice coat, Teal’c.  Did you have to kill the bear or is he still inside with you?” 

Disdaining to answer, Teal’c stalks across the living room, snarling, and snatches up the kid, pretending to maul him with kisses while warding off the wildly barking, bouncing dog with what might be elbows but look like bear paws. 

I suspect T’s been doing a little on-line shopping himself.   

“Come on, come on, we’ve got to get going.  We don’t want to be late.  Ready, Colonel?”

“Pete, you going to complain if she calls me Jack tonight?”

“Not me,” the cop says, grinning as he pulls out a hat that matches Teal’c’s and plops it on his head.  “I’m not complaining about anything tonight.  Hey, I get to ride along on one of SG-1’s famous adventures.  Nope, you won’t hear me complaining about anything, Colonel, sir.”

“You got that right.  It’s still Colonel to you, rookie, and while we’re on the subject, let’s just make sure this chain of command thing is perfectly clear.”

“Yes, sir, perfectly clear, sir.  There’s no doubt in my mind who’s in charge, sir.”  Pete snaps a crisp salute and I give him the infamous O’Neill stare.  “So . . . everybody ready to go?”  He backs toward the front door.

“Wrong door, Shanahan.  We’re going out through the garage.”  I like it that he’s still a little nervous around me.  He’s engaged to one of my kids, he better be on his best behavior.

“Oh.” 

“Ready?”  Carter asks again, taking Hershey’s leash from Daniel and handing it to Pete.  She scoops up the kid before Teal’c or I can do it and heads for the kitchen. 

I thought my usual household entourage, which involves me, the kid and the dog, was unique.  Imagine Daniel and Carter followed by the dog, a police officer, and a Jaffa, not to mention an old, grey-haired Colonel bringing up the rear.

We pile into the truck, since I don’t ride in other people’s vehicles unless I’m unconscious or asleep, and Carter directs me out to 25 where we make the slight turn at the junction for 83.  As Daniel’s bouncing in the back seat yelling about going to visit Cassie at the Academy, she directs us on to 24.

It’s a twenty minute drive to Pike National Forest.  We’ve been here camping, though not with this incarnation of Daniel, when we wanted to get away for a weekend but didn’t want to spend the time driving or flying somewhere.  We’ve also been here cross-country skiing once or twice.  If we kidnapped him, we could occasionally coerce adult Daniel into downhill or cross-country skiing.

There’s so little to this incarnation of Daniel, he gets chilled very quickly, and most of the fun goes out of anything when you’re miserably cold.  So winter sports are about as high on his list of fun things to do, as they were on adult Daniel’s,  though this incarnation will spend hours in the sandbox, even as cold as it is in the garage.

Since we found a snow suit that keeps him dry I’ve managed to coax him out to play a little more frequently, but his preferred winter activities are chess and any other board game he can lure an adult into playing.  By the fire if he can finagle it, with Hershey either lying across his feet or laying against him if he can get the adult to play on the floor. 

Carter and/or Teal’c would be over every night to entertain him if I encouraged it.  Hey, I’m trying to share; after all I let them do the whole pageant thing with him, rehearsals and everything for the entire month of December.  So I don’t feel terribly guilty about not sharing three or four nights a week. 

“The directions say to make a right turn into the Red Hawk Circle picnic area,” Carter says, flicking off the little penlight she’s using to read the directions. ”I think it’s coming up shortly.”

Yep, there’re folks already in the cleared, snow-banked parking lot, and as we pull into a spot and climb out of the truck, I hear bells in the distance, the rhythmic chiming drawing closer at a rapid pace. 

“That sounds like the market place in Egypt,” Daniel says, grabbing Hershey’s leash as the dog’s ears prick interestedly.  “Why are there bells out here?”

“Go around to the front of the truck and you’ll see,” I tell him, “unless the sound is really deceptive tonight, they’re not far off.”

With a nod, Teal’c trails Daniel and the dog as they climb up a snow bank for a better view. 

“Go on,” I tell Carter, nearly staggering under the weight of the blankets I take from her, and Pete’s still trying to pile on more. “You set this up, go figure out where we’re supposed to be.  Pete and I’ll bring up the rear.  For cryin’ out loud, Carter, did you strip every bed between here and home?”

 “I want Daniel to enjoy this, sir.  I didn’t want him to be cold.”

“Surely they provide blankets?”

“Yes, sir, but your Boy Scout training has rubbed off.  Always be prepared.”

“That’s . . . good, but do we have to take all of these?”

“Sam said the sleighs are big enough to hold up to ten people,” Pete replies, tossing out the last blanket before sliding out of the back seat and making the long step to the ground without the aid of the running board. “We might need these for insulation with just the five of us, Colonel.”  He shoulders the door shut, grinning at me as he acquires the stack of neatly folded blankets.  “And what Sam wants, Sam gets.”

“Smart man.”

“I heard that,” Carter says over her shoulder, climbing up the snow bank after Teal’c and Daniel.

At a glance there are probably fifty or sixty people milling around, not including the drivers of the fifteen or sixteen horse-drawn sleighs clustered together in the middle of the clearing that in the summer is a picnic area.  Lots of couples, several families, and a group of about twenty kids in their mid-to-late teens who appear to be without any adult supervision.  Great. 

Normally Teal’c’s formidable presence is enough to keep the faint-hearted from approaching.  Tonight, though, he looks less like the Sholva and more like something out of a Wallace & Grommet movie.  The kid, the dog, and the overgrown bear are already attracting attention.

By the time everything’s sorted out and we’re loaded into the conveyances, Daniel and Hershey have met everyone on this little adventure, and I suspect Daniel’s begun collecting phone numbers for that infamous male innovation, the little black book.  At least a couple of the teenagers are already head-over-heels in love, though I’m not sure if it’s with the dog or Daniel.

“Welcome to Moonlight Sleigh Rides,” our driver says, threading the reins between his gloved fingers as he turns on the bench seat to speak to us.  “I’m Giles, your team tonight is Gina,” the front right leader tosses her mane and whinnies on cue.  “Laredo,” the left leader whuffles and paws a large hoof at the ground.  “Lusby,” the inside left of the pair, I swear, looks over his shoulder at us. “And last, but not least, Leandro.”  The right inside horse shuffles and snorts.

“How come three of them have L names and the other one has a G name?” Daniel immediately wants to know.

“Because she’s got a G name like me,” the driver says, grinning.  “Want to come up here and sit with me, little man?”

Oh, if he only knew.

“Can I, Jack?”

“It’s going to be cold,” I warn, handing him a blanket as he’s already grabbing Giles’ hand and clambering up beside him on the seat.

“Ahhh, don’t worry.  This is a leisurely ride and there’s no wind tonight.  I’ll keep him tucked inside the lap robe, he won’t get too cold.  It will take approximately half an hour to reach the reservoir.”

“Don’t fall off,” I warn my trouble-magnet.  “No Hershey.  Stay.” 

Hershey sits obediently, despite the look over his shoulder that says, ‘Hey, wasn’t I the babe-magnet back there?  How come he gets all the fun?’

We have time to get ourselves situated and then the sleighs begin pulling out randomly.  There’s deliberate space so we’re far enough apart as we start into the woods that it feels like we’re alone out here. 

You can almost hear the stillness of the forest underpinning the orchestra of sounds tuning up for our enjoyment. 

The most insistent sound is the steady clop, clop, clop of the horses’ hooves trotting along over the hard-packed snow, followed by the hushed swishing of the sleigh runners.  The air rushing by has a distinct hum and twining in and out and around the other sounds is the tinkling of the harness bells and the occasional snort and snuffle of the animals. 

Teal’c, disdaining any need for additional warmth, is sitting with me, facing the driver, one booted foot propped against the backward facing seat, keeping a look out for Hershey. 

Hershey has appropriated the empty half of Carter and Pete’s seat, since they’re squished together in the corner like a couple of love birds, sharing one of the mammoth lap robes the excursion provides.  The dog isn’t quite tall enough yet to see over the bench while sitting on his butt, so he has his front paws up on the driver’s seat, with his nose into the wind.  He’s going to be on scent overload shortly.

Me?  I’m sprawled back enough in my corner to be able to look up without undue strain on my neck and watch the astrological show slide by.  Like in the cathedral parking lot, the stars here look close enough for picking. 

“What do ya think, Sport?  Worth it?”  I have to raise my voice so he can hear me above the overture, but he glances back with a huge grin and nods vigorously. 

I’ve never known Daniel, in either incarnation, to be this quiet.  I would have expected him to be chattering at the driver non-stop, especially given a new audience, but he’s taking it in as though he’s absorbing it through his pores.  I think we may have accidentally stumbled onto an outdoor winter activity Daniel Jackson actually enjoys.

We’re twenty minutes into the ride when Daniel suddenly surges to his feet snatching my heart right out of my chest.

“Daniel!” 

“The woods are on fire!” Daniel shouts, straining against the arm our driver clamps around him almost before I can flinch.  “Look!”

I sink back onto the hard, bench seat, another shade greyer and a few gasps away from death by implosion.

 “A fine hand ya’d make with all that energy, lad.  You’re seeing the big bonfire where we’re headed.  Whoa there, m’lovelies.”  Giles gentles the team to a stand-still.  “Would ya like to drive this last bit, jackaroo?”

“I’m not Jack, I’m Daniel.”

“D’na call ya, Jack; I said jackaroo.  That’s an Australian cowboy, mate.  Though I somehow doubt you’re going to grow up to be a jackaroo.”  He lifts Daniel easily and sets him between his knees, threads all eight reins between the small, fingers and closes his massive hands around Daniel’s.  “Now then, what do you say when you want the horses to start?”

“Giddy up?”

“Try it.”

“Giddy up there,” Daniel shouts, his entire body language proclaiming how pleased he is with himself when the horses immediately start up. 

Damn, it never occurred to me to bring the camera.

“And what do you say when you want them to stop?”

“Whhoooaaaa, Nelly?”

“Close enough.”

Giles’ laugh is a deep booming reverberation I’m sure is going to start an avalanche up the mountain somewhere.  With a deftness only the very skilled are capable of, he has Daniel guiding the team down the hill towards the brightening glow lighting the trees

The distance is deceptive.  It takes nearly five minutes to make the descent.

“Whoaaaa, Gina.  Whoa there, Laredo.  Whoa, Lusby.  Whoa, Leandro!  Whoa there boys and girls.”

India ink memory – indelible; nothing gets past this kid.  He heard the names once and he remembers them.  Why can’t he remember to pick up his clothes off the bathroom floor?

“Did you see me?  That was cool, Hershey!  I bet you wish you had hands instead of paws so you could drive.  Can I drive on the way back too, Mister Giles?” 

Daniel doesn’t wait for an answer, just takes it for granted he’ll be allowed to do as he wants and scrambles back up on the box to look down at us. 

“What are we doing here?” he asks, grinning from ear to ear.  “Are we getting out?”

“We’re going to skate here,” Carter tells him, handing up a pair of downsized-Daniel skates.

“For me?”

“They’re ice skates.”

Daniel eyes them warily.  “Ice skates?” he repeats dubiously.

“You just tooled a four-in-hand, mate,” Giles says, scooping Daniel up and setting him gently on the floor of the sleigh.  “Ice skating will be a breeze.  If you blokes want to leave early, let Carin know, she’ll track me down and I’ll come for you.  Otherwise, we pick up our parties between 10:00 and 10:30.  The trick is in keeping your ankles stiff, mate.  You’ll pick it up in no time.  Kids always do, less far to fall.”

“What about Hershey?”

“The dog will need to be kept on a leash, can’t have ‘im getting loose and scarin’ the horses.”

“I don’t see the fire anymore,” Daniel says, accepting Pete’s offer to lift him down from the sleigh.

“There’s a little tunnel, mate, you’ve got to thread to get to the bonfire.  We like to make it a bit of fun for you to get to the reservoir.  You’ll see the fire again when you pop out t’other side.”

“Wait up, Scamp,” Pete hollers when Daniel immediately disappears into the Teal’c-sized tunnel entrance. 

“I’ve got his six.  Grab my bag, would you, T?  Thanks.”  I plunge into the tunnel after my charge.  “Daniel!  Wait up!” 

Inside the tunnel the ice glows as if hundreds of thousands of glow worms have been frozen into the walls, a unique greenish-blue, almost the turquoise of some of the polar ice caps I’ve seen.  It’s pretty, though claustrophobia-inducing.  The passage has been hewn in a rough circumference, narrow enough I can touch both side walls without stretching, though high enough to accommodate Teal’c’s stature.

If I didn’t know better, I could easily imagine myself on some alien planet.  A shiver runs down my spine at the mere thought.  Been there, done that - made sure I threw the t-shirt in the trash before I left the base. 

“Daniel!” 

“What?”

I turn a corner and am almost on top of the two of them, Daniel down his knees with his nose an inch from the ice, Hershey standing guard, waiting for me.  His tail starts to wag as soon as he sees me.

“Daniel, there are other people coming behind us, if you don’t cause a major pile-up, you’re definitely going to cause a traffic jam.  What did you find now?” 

I swear this kid can find everything but his tennis shoes.

“Something frozen in the ice, but I can’t make out what it is.”

“Then please get up before someone trips over you.”

“Hershey’s on guard.”

“Daniel . . .” I grab him by the back of his ski pants and haul him to his feet.  “Move.  We don’t have all night here.”

“Jaaaccckkkkk,” he wails at me.  “I think it might have been a bug.”

“A dead bug.  A dead frozen bug in all probability.  Unfortunately, I doubt very much he’s been frozen in there for thousands of years, which makes him considerably less than an archeological find.  Hershey, go.  Daniel, move!  Before Carter and Pete run us down.” 

I can hear them behind us.  Carter’s giving Pete an extremely edited version of our little Antarctica side-trip. 

“Where’s Teal’c?” I ask.

“He went on ahead.  He didn’t care to study the dead bug either,” Daniel says over his shoulder, starting to pick up speed again.

“Be careful,” I holler after my kid, as he and the dog begin to run. 

It’s slippery and while Hershey has claws, Daniel’s only wearing snow boots. 

The tunnel twists and turns back on itself and has little side chutes that for the most part go nowhere, except one of the dead ends lands us in a large, open-to-the-sky ice courtyard, full of ice sculptures.

“I know him,” Daniel shouts, slip-sliding over to an intricately carved ice depiction of a flute-playing faun.  “That’s Mr. Tumnus!  Look, Jack!  There’s Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and the fox, and the wolf that was the White Witch’s Lieutenant!”

It looks and feels like we’ve stepped onto the movie set for the Chronicles of Narnia.

There are several spot lights placed strategically on top of the ice block walls so the wolf’s shadow is long and scary looking, while the beavers’ shadows make them look small and intimidated.   The fox is mid-stride, one paw off the ground, looking over his shoulder, and there’s a centaur looking like he’s going to ride down anything in his way. 

Whoever did the lighting was as much an artist as the sculptor.

“Look!  It’s Buckbeak from Harry Potter!  And Gandalf and Frodo from the Rings movie!  Hey, Jack?  Could we carve something out of ice in the backyard at home?  We have lots of snow.”

“Ice carving is not a skill I possess, Sport.”

“They look real, except they’re clear.  Well, almost clear,” Daniel corrects himself. 

The ice is a smoky blue, but fairly translucent in this light.  He has to minutely inspect each carving, trail his hand along the flank of the centaur, touch the muzzle of the fox, feel the texture of the beaver’s tail, and individually outline every one of Buckbeak’s feathers. 

Teal’c says he’s a kinesthetic learner.  I had to look up the word, but it certainly fits Daniel to a tee.

“What do ya say we stop by here on our way out and show the rest of the gang?” 

We’re not going to get much skating in if he has to do this with every sculpture.  There must be fifty of them and I suspect there’s probably a mythical beast or animal from every fantasy film made in the last twenty years. 

“Lookit here!”  Daniel and the dog are on the other side of the courtyard.  “Jack!  Come and look at this one!” 

“I’m right here, there’s no need to yell.”

“Sure there is,” Daniel responds, grinning up at me.  “It feels good.  This is fun, Jack.  I’m bursting with funness.  How else am I going to let it out?”

“Hmmm, did I bring the wrong kid?  You can’t possibly be the same kid who was complaining . . .” I look at my watch, “. . . umm . . . an hour or so ago, it was going to be too cold, he didn’t want to go out.”

“I’m entitled to change my mind,” he huffs, then grins at me.  “I like this adventure.”

“Yep, I thought you might.  Come on,” I scoop him up under one arm and sit him on the back of the Minotaur.  “Too bad no one thought to bring a camera.”

“Bet Sam’s got her phone.”

“You’re right. We definitely have to stop by here on our way out.  How about it?  You ready to go on yet?  Who knows what else we might run across?”

Without warning, Daniel slides off the back of the half man, half horse and lands jarringly on his ass because his boots find no purchase on the ice floor. 

“Ooops, didn’t think about that,” he laughs, flipping over to his knees and scrabbling back up.

“You okay?  You came down pretty hard.”

“I got three layers of clothes on, didn’t even feel it,” he says merrily, for once. 

Usually that comes out as a grievance because he can’t do something with all those clothes on.

“Imagine that.”  I follow the kid and the dog back out into the tunnel and find it’s only a couple of minutes before we come to the top of an ice slide. 

There are stairs cut into the side so anyone wanting to arrive at the elliptical, man-made beach in a more conventional manner can choose to do so.  And there are stacks of saucer-shaped plastic sleds for those of us who aren’t particularly keen on wet backsides.

“Look, there’s one big enough we can all go together,” Daniel declares, eyeing me and the dog, practicing a little algebra as he tries to decide the volume and area we’ll cover.  “Or do you want to go by yourself, Jack?  It might be a little crowded with all three of us.”

“Crowded is good, more momentum when you’re on a sled.”  I grab one of the larger saucers and plant a foot in it.  “All aboard.” 

Daniel immediately hops on.  “Come on, Hershey, it’ll be fun,” he tells the reluctant dog.  “Oh, come on, you didn’t think tonight would be fun either and look how much fun we’ve had already.” 

The dog looks at me . . . looks at Daniel . . . and turns his head to eye the steps before looking back at Daniel.  I swear he sighs as he gingerly steps into the saucer, but he lets Daniel pull him between his knees. 

I sit down behind Daniel, so both the kid and the dog are between my knees, and push off.  It’s not steep, but somebody had the bright idea to add moguls, which from the top are nearly invisible.  We hit the first one and fly into the air.  In front of us, an unexpected flash nearly blinds me, and then we’re landing in much softer snow, and almost before we realize it we’re at the bottom.

The wild cheering is Carter, egged on by Pete, who’s holding up an imaginary sign, shouting, “Perfect landing.  That’s a ten for the team of Jackson and O’Neill.  Oh wait, forgot the dog.  The team of Jackson, O’Neill and Hershey!”

“Did you take a picture, Sam?”  Daniel asks, rolling off the sled before we’ve come to a stop, followed by Hershey, who hops off behind him.  Pete swoops Daniel up so he can look over Carter’s shoulder at the Polaroid she’s holding.

“No, there’s a camera rigged to the jump so it catches you in the air.”

“Oh,” Daniel exclaims, causing Pete to oooomph as the kid leans forward without warning, “that’s you and Pete!  Wasn’t it fun?”

“Your picture with the Colonel will be ready in a minute.  Want to ride down with me and Pete and get our picture taken again?”

“Yeah!  Right now?  Can we do it again right now?”

“Let’s ask,” Carter grins, grabbing Pete by the arm Daniel’s hanging over and dragging both of them over to the little booth tucked back in a corner.

Despite the softer than expected landing, Hershey and I have had enough of the slide.  They’re back almost immediately and Carter’s bouncing again. 

Sheesh, I think the only time I’ve seen her this animated was the first time they let us test the new P-90’s. 

“Isn’t this great?  Can you believe what they’ve done with snow?”  Carter hasn’t been a big fan of snow since our little Antarctica adventure.  “We can go again, as many times as we want, when everybody gets here.  The kid at the booth says that won’t be long.  All the sleighs have checked in.”

“Did you see the garden with all the ice sculptures, Sam?” 

“Where?”

“Down one of the side tunnels.”

“All the ones we went down were dead ends,” Shanahan observes, jostling Daniel.  “You sure it’s not that over-active imagination of yours?”

“My ‘mag-a-nation is not over-active,” the kid declares indignantly.

“Yeah, right.  Look, Sam’s got your picture already.  Look at you!  You look like you’re riding a magic carpet.  Look at Hershey’s ears.”  Pete wisely refrains from pointing out the dumbfounded shock on my face. 

Daniel, of course, isn’t nearly as discreet.  “Look at Jack,” he chortles, “he’s making a fish face.”

I loftily refrain from making any comment at all.

“Hey, Squirt, What do ya think?  Want to go back up to the top and wait for the rest of the people to come down?  Or should we stay down here and watch until everybody’s down and then go back up?”

“Let’s watch!” Daniel crows, clapping his hands enthusiastically. 

“Me and the dog are going to go find a bench to put on our skates.  Somewhere in that general direction.”  I wave toward the left side of the huge bonfire in the middle of the enclosure, the opposite side of the fire from the gang of teens.

Did I remember to mention that at the bottom of the slide you end up in what looks like the courtyard of a medieval castle?  There are battlements and turrets carved from ice at least a story above us and a wide set of ice stairs, with an indoor/outdoor carpet runner laid up the center of it for those of us without ice cleats in our boots.  The snow and ice inside the enclosure has been cleared down to beach sand, so the castle floor is churned up, but not slippery, and probably contributes to the ability to walk up and down those ice stairs with some assurance. 

Someone’s put a lot of time and effort into making this experience memorable. 

Teal’c’s up on the catwalk, surveying our domain, or alternatively, doing a sit rep, scoping out the lay of the land and checking out the clientele.  From what I’ve seen so far, we don’t have anything to worry about, except maybe noise from the rowdy teenagers.  One of them has a boom box on his shoulder, which doesn’t bode well for later this evening, but hey, if it gets to be too much we’ll leave. 

Carter is still waxing lyrical over the place as Pete sets Daniel on the bench beside me. 

“I can’t believe we’ve never heard about this place.  It’s so close.  You’d think there would be flyers or stuff around, or people talking about it at the very least.  It’s so cool!”

“Want to see our picture?” Daniel asks smugly, holding it coyly against his chest. 

He leans against my shoulder and waves it tantalizingly in front of my face.   Except its two inches from my nose and for some reason that particular gesture never fails to fling me back in time to an Iraqi prison. 

“Please stop.” 

When he doesn’t, I snatch his wrist and shove the damn thing away from my face. 

“Jack?  Hey, snap out of it, you’re hurting him!” 

It takes a second to register and Pete’s fingers manacle my wrist like a vise. 

Reflexively I open my fingers and Daniel jerks his hand away, losing the picture in the process.

“O’Neill?”  Teal’c’s voice yanks me back and I shake my head, blinking. 

T looks like he can’t decide who to hit - me or Shanahan. 

Carter’s staring at me like I’ve grown two heads. 

“Daniel?  Sweetie, are you alright?” 

“Sorry.”  I shake my head again.  “I’m sorry, Daniel.”  He sways back slightly when I reach for him.  “Did I hurt you?” 

I must have, because he reaches for Teal’c, fat, silent tears popping up to slide down his cheeks.  In one long stride, Teal’c snatches him up and his head immediately goes down on T’s shoulder.  The arm gets pulled in tight to his chest.

“I’m sorry,” Daniel hitches, his voice shaking.  “I forgot you don’t like things in your face.”

I don’t realize until much later, as we’re on the way home and Shanahan’s driving because I’ve got a sleeping kid in my lap, the memory has to be from adult Daniel. 

This incarnation knows nothing about Iraq.  He thinks I know a few Arabic swear words, he has no idea I speak the language as fluently as he does.  However, adult Daniel knows considerably more than I’m comfortable with him knowing about Iraq.  

“What happened?” Carter demands, moving over to Teal’c and Daniel.  “Will you let me look at your arm, Sport?”

He shakes his head, and that ring finger chewing thing he’s been doing less and less of lately, makes a reappearance. 

Hershey, dancing around between us, plants his paws on Teal’c’s thigh and sniffs at Daniel’s dangling boots, uttering a short, sharp bark before dropping back down on his butt.

“It was my fault.  I’m sorry . . .” 

I should walk this off, there are still gloating Iraqi’s leering at me in my peripheral vision, but I can’t walk away from Daniel without some sort of an explanation. 

Pete hesitates, glancing sideways at me before offering an abbreviated version of the truth, strangely enough.

“Daniel startled the Colonel.  He reacted badly and scared Daniel.  You’re not hurt, are you, buddy?”  Shanahan slides an arm around Carter and reaches to rub Daniel’s shoulder.  “It just scared you, huh?  You know Jack would never hurt you on purpose, right?  Sometimes something happens to old people like us that makes us remember something bad all of a sudden and we react instinctively.  Do you know what instinctively means?  It’s an automatic reaction, not something you have time to stop and think about.”

Part 2

 

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