There's this moment when you wake up, I don't know, this place where you're not awake and not asleep. Conscious but asleep maybe. I was in that place, under warm blankets on a cool day, and I was trying to stay in that place as long as possible. Single people know and enjoy this place. Parents do not.
Suffice to say I am not allowed to enjoy it before I could hear the feeble sounds of the TV wafting through the baby monitor.
Great. Just fucking great. I open my eyes, stare at the baby monitor handset sitting on my dresser. The base is in Daniel's room. He knows how to turn it off. Further, he knows to turn it off if he wakes up before me and wants to watch TV in his room.
I consider getting up, but lay for a moment, listening to National Geographic Channel. Mummy Roadshow. Of course it is.
"Hey." I poke my head into Daniel's room. He's sitting on the bed, cross-legged, eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch from the box.
"Hey." Daniel's eyes never leave the screen.
"Haven't we had a discussion about the room monitor?" I'm not dumb enough to call it a baby monitor in Daniel's presence. And why did we buy this model and not another one? This one didn't say baby monitor. This one wasn't powder blue and white. It was olive green and beige and engraved with cartoon jungles. Somebody figured out that sometimes 9 year olds need monitoring but won't stand for a baby monitor--that somebody is making a killing.
"Uhmmm. . ." Now Daniel's eyes do leave the screen. He glances at the monitor base.
"Ooops." He winces. "Sorry. I forgot." He looks at me now, big pleading blue eyes behind glasses just a little too big on his face. "It's the new episode."
"Oh yeah?" I amble into the bedroom, looke at the screen. "This is the one in Canada?"
"Yah, yah. Sure. You Betcha'." Daniel mimics my childhood neighbors perfectly. I raise a brow.
"You've already seen it."
I consider the figure still wrapped in his bed and drop my bony ass into the rocking chair. He's getting sugar and cinnamon all over the bed, all over his mouth. I could say something as the co-hosts set up their portable X-Ray machine in a bar somewhere in Northern Edmonton, but don't. His face and his fingers and his bare chest are all so impossibly small.
"Cherie's birthday party is tonight." Daniel says absently during a commercial break.
"So it is." I lean back in the rocker. Let's not discuss why the rocker is in Daniel's room. Daniel won't.
"At Chuck-E-Cheese." Daniel screws up his mouth and spits out each syllable like he'd just eaten a bad bug.
"I'm beginning to like Chuck E. Cheese." Actually, I like the place a whole lot. They have bouncers. Off-Duty Sheriff's Deputies who bounce kids back away from the doors and make sure that kids leave with their parents. I've taken the time and effort to introduce myself every time we go in and explain that Daniel's a gifted wretch and that there are custody issues. He's only gotten out twice.
"Oh, come off it. You like the ball pits."
Daniel shrugs. "It's Cherie's birthday. I'll endure it."
Cherie, his best friend among the Elementary school set. She's turning 10 and towers over him.
"And you need new shoes."
The small face turns to me. Daniel blinks placidly. Cow-like. He has the innocent, dumb thing down. If I didn't know that his brain is working so fast that there should be small puffs of steam coming out of both ears, I'd be suckered. "Mine are fine."
"Your toes curl up in them and they have holes."
He wrinkles his nose, but can't dispute the truth of this statement. We watch Mummy Roadshow in companionable silence until it's time for commercials again.
Daniel carefully lifts an open hand and sucks the sugar clean from each finger, eyes still on the screen, then wipes the hand on his sheets. Finally he reaches over to his bedside table and swipes a mug of coffee. I can't help it. I lean in to make sure there's cream in the depths.
That's the deal. He puts cream in it and Janet doesn't say anything. We are the envy of every other group in Cheyenne Mountain-non-dairy creamer is verboten at SGC now. He gives me a disgusted look and wraps both hands around his coffee mug, takes a loud slurp.
I yawn. "There any left?"
"Mhm." Daniel says, nodding, sending his glasses on a slide down his nose.
"Okay. What time is it?"
His eyes flicker to the clock radio. "9:30."
"I have a meeting at 11. Carter's going to go shopping with us afterwards."
Daniel makes a face. "Okay."
"You take a bath last night?"
He nods absently.
"Okay. Get dressed." I prize myself out of the rocker, go down the hall in search of coffee.
His Levi's have a hole in one knee and there's an ink stain on his shirt. I thought Charlie was hard on clothes. Sometimes it seems Daniel's trying to single-handedly support the garmentmaking industry. But Daniel doesn't seem to notice as he scurries about shoving translations into his leather satchel. He has to bring everything in that he brings out, and mark in a log that he isn't taking anything home that's classified. He's always had to do that, but it wasn't a big deal before. Now, every morning that he brings translations home, we go through this.
"I forgot. Okay? I mean, it's Saturday." He snaps, his tiny hands struggling with the slick surface of a photograph from a temple somewhere in Indonesia.
I mentally count to 10. We've gone over this before, how we could avoid the morning drama if he put everything back in the satchel when he was through, or he didn't take work home. He's 8 for chrissake, no one's going to say anything if he leaves everything in his office.
Daniel finishes, throws the cover over his book bag. "Done." He says.
I go to get his coat, don't find it. "Where's your jacket?"
He swallows, hefts his book bag onto his back.
"Daniel, please tell me you didn't lose another jacket."
He looks at his shoes for a moment. "I can buy another one." He mumbles. "And I didn't lose this one."
"Then where is it?" I ask. This will be the third jacket for Daniel since August. This particular model was a flannel-lined leather bomber jacket that cost as much as my first car.
He shrugs. "Gave it to one of the SF's kids at the Mountain Daycare."
"Whhhhhyyyy?" I ask striving for calm.
"Her jacket was from Goodwill and it was too little. The other kids were making fun." He looks up defiantly. "I make 6 figures. I can buy another jacket."
I heave a sigh. "Yes, you can. I'm sorry I got angry. I thought maybe you'd just forgotten it somewhere." I used to think Daniel was a bleeding heart who helped every person he saw. God forgive me. The current incarnation makes his old adult self look like Ebenezer Scrooge.
I wander off to the utility room where there are some pullovers in the laundry, come back and toss one to Daniel. "You do realize that this means we need to buy you another jacket?"
He puts down his book bag and struggles into the thermal fleece. "You're mean, Jack."
I laugh maniacally.
Daniel has his own office still, but it's kind of like his bedroom. Yeah, it's his, yeah he has every right to be there as much as possible, but no, you do not want to leave him to his own devices there for any length of time. Daniel can get up to godawful mischief.
So he settles in with Carter on this fine Saturday Morning, sitting at a lab table, feet dangling from the stool as he works, one hand clutching a pen, one hand pushing a toy car back and forth along the table. I'm unsure which one he's concentrating on, but it doesn't matter I suppose, while I go meet with Hammond about P9-H473X.
He's a really cute kid, but if I were to tell him that he'd probably pour syrup in my underwear drawer.
The Pentagon is happy, the Muaercth'a people will be thrilled, our negotiators are pleased and Anacin doesn't upset my stomach. My role in the meeting was to nod my head and try to look interested at the latest development in our negotiations with the natives. Yeah. 2IC is such a chore.
"You have something planned this evening?" Hammond asks as I gather up my things.
"Uh. . .Cherie Milton's Birthday party? Chuck E. Cheese?" I ask. I know his eldest grand daughter got an invite, even though she's two years younger than Cherie. The SGC kids tend to play together, so she would've definitely been on the list.
"Thankfully, my daughter arranged for Lisa to go with Patrick Henderson."
"Lucky man. They won't let Daniel in to Chuck E. Cheese unless he brings his own supervision." I don't mention the fact that Daniel has to have someone along even if Chuck E. Cheese had not imposed this rule.
The General snorts.
"We're going clothes shopping first." I mention. "Taking Carter. She thinks she's ready to try it again."
Hammond chuckles. "Is she?"
"She's talking a good game." I shrug. Who knows? If she'd ever give up her dedication to non-violence with Daniel she'd have a better chance of winning against the little shit.
"How is he doing?" Hammond asks. He sees Daniel often, gets progress reports from Fraiser and from the kiddie shrink at Mental Health, but relies on me to know. I should know.
I shrug. "The usual." Good days and bad days. Days when you'd swear it was the old Daniel only shorter, Days when you wish he'd even act as mature as your typical 9 year old. Days when the rocker comes in handy. He's Daniel in an 7 year old body, with an 7 year old mind. I never know what to say when Hammond asks me.
"Take care of him."
"I try." And I do.
He's ditched Carter when I get back to her lab. Finished his work, walked it down to Alex Marcantel, our new Head of Archeological and Anthropological Services, and disappeared.
Well. I know where he is.
Cheyenne Mountain has a very good day care, just down the mountain but still on-base. Daniel rides the bus down to it sometimes and dares anyone to make anything out of his need to scream and play.
"So what are you going to do if he tries to slip free again?" I ask Carter as she shuts down her workstation PC.
Carter takes a deep breath. I've bought and handed out so many copies of 1-2-3 Magic! in the past 3 months that I should be getting a kickback from the publisher. Teal'c, after first figuring that he could handle Daniel without it, has become a devotee. I've converted Marcantel, who says it works very well with his 4 year old and 11 year old, but Daniel's still a challenge.
Carter believes in it, just never has made it work.
"We're going to discuss it in the car, that I expect him to stay with me. If I hold his hand, I expect him not to slip free."
"And the price for not behaving?" Here's the hard part, the part where Carter is such a wuss.
"He goes on the leash." The leash is bungee cord with a wrist strap on either end. Daniel will wear it for Janet, but despises it whole-heartedly.
"Okay. What are the steps?"
"1 2 Leash."
"Gonna stick to it?"
Carter swallows. Nods. Yeah right. We've done this before.
I try not to show any skepticsm on my part.
Daniel is out on the playground, on the monkey bars. I can't help wincing as one of the brightest minds in the galaxy hangs by his knees and swings back and forth, long bright strands of honeyblonde hair whisking just above the pine chips that go 6 inches deep over the sand that covers the concrete that holds the playground equipment in place.
When I was a kid, playgrounds were covered in asphalt. Kids got concussions and dislocated shoulders all the time. Parents thought it made you tough. Now there are all sorts of things to keep them from killing themselves and we worry constantly.
Well. He tumbles down, laughing. I worry. There are 3 PhD's, at least 27 languages, and a vast repository of knowledge about the cultures on over a hundred planets floating around in there. He's one of Earth's most precious assets.
Of course I worry when he plays on the monkey bars.
"I hope the little shit hasn't been a bother." I tell Maddy Hamilton, one of the weekend volunteers, a college student majoring in psychology. She wants to be kiddie shrink, like St Clair, the P-doc Daniel sees at Mental Health.
"He's fine, sir. Been a dream."
I give her a look.
"I think he's trying not to get Cherie into trouble." She confesses.
"Cherie's here?" I scan the crowd. Cherie's on top of the monkey bars. Daniel's usually over by the sand box when Cherie's here. They play CSI a lot.
"I think Cherie's under orders not to turn up smelling like anything dead or looking like she played in a pig pen for her birthday party." Maddy says, grinning.
"Ah." Did I mention that the parameters for the CSI game involve burying the carcasses of road kill in the sand box and then conducting forensic investigations on the rodents' alleged murderers? Did I mention that one of Earth's Most Valuable Resources likes to play pretend and thinks the chick who plays Catherine is hot?
Daniel searches out the glasses that fell off his head when he fell off the monkey bars and comes running over to me. "Hey. I finished early."
"I see that." I kneel down, brush some of the bark off his clothes. "You ready to go shopping?"
Daniel cheerfully tells me to go to hell in Gou'ld. He wants to tell me to go fuck his mother's mule, I can see it in his eyes, but he knows he can get away with the hell comment. The mother's mule bit would result in a smack to his jean covered fanny.
I raise a brow and tell him in Arabic to behave.
He snorts and we're good to go.
On the drive to the mall, Carter bravely does her best to follow the steps put forth in 1-2-3-Magic!
"Daniel. When we go into the mall I want you to stay by me. No wandering off. If I grab hold of your hand, you aren't to tug or to try and slip out. Understand?" She says, turning to face the backseat where Daniel is fiddling with his seat belt.
He ignores her.
"Daniel. 1." I say warningly, looking in the rear view mirror.
"I understand, Sam." He says sulkily.
"You know how the rules go," Sam continues. "If you can't stay with me, I've brought Janet's leash."
Daniel's mouth gapes open in protestation. "You can't!" He whines. God, he hates that leash. "That's for PRE-schoolers!"
"Then don't act like one." I can't help but toss in. We exchange a look in the mirror. Daniel makes a face.
"I'm 39! I don't need a leash!"
"Then don't wander off." Carter says. Daniel is the master of the Innocent Wander. Just gets distracted and goes off. Supposedly. Uh-huh. I got some ocean front property right here in Colorado Springs for you. "Understood?"
This gets no response from Daniel. I could help her out here, but I think she can manage this one. I hope she can anyway.
He makes another face, won't look at me.
"2." I say. Daniel knows I will pull the Wrangler over and get out to deliver that despised smack at 3.
He sighs hugely and just as I'm deciding that we're taking the next exit, he says "I understand. This is soooooo not fair how you all treat me just because I'm little, but I understand."
We go to the Barnes & Nobles first to put everyone in a better mood. Carter wanders off to the history section; I pick up a new Chris Bunch; and Daniel goes to the Starbuck's. He buys his books from Amazon.com where there aren't any clerks to give him funny looks over his purchases.
The worker isn't new, she's dealt with Daniel before, so I'm spared being witness to a tussle between the barrista and Daniel over the fact that that he wants a Venti Latte, not a caf au lait, not coffee milk, not a frappachino or any other gawd-awful wussy baby drink. He'd get a triple espresso if we let him.
He pulls himself onto the counter, chest down, feet dangling as he watches the girl make his latte, a grubby twenty and his B & N Reader's Advantage card in hand. His glasses are at the tip of his nose. I put my book down.
"Hey!" He protests.
"It's just a paperback."
He gives me a look, lets himself drop. Kid must have some seriously strong arm muscles. It seems like he spends half his time pulling himself up high enough to see over counters.
"Here you go. With an espresso shot." The barrista says, setting the frothing drink down.
I give Daniel a glare, having missed that part of the exchange while I was glancing through the latest Bunch space opera. He shrugs and passes his money over. "The book too." He says, deciding that compliance would be a good choice at this point.
I sigh, tousle his head. One of the rules of 1-2-3 Magic and of any sane parent, for that matter, is that you pick your battles. This one isn't worth fighting. He's drinking a latte. And it's not a skinny latte. I'll keep my mouth shut about the espresso shot.
"You want anything, sir?" The perky little college student asks, handing Daniel back his change, smiling at him when he dumps all the coins and a dollar bill into her tip box.
"I'll have a plain coffee."
Daniel considers his venti latte, thinks about the fact that I didn't bitch about the espresso and leaves enough money on the counter to pay for my coffee.
We enter the mall with our coffee drinks in hand. Daniel holds his in both hands, the lid tightly in place, guzzling steadily as we stroll.
"What did you get Cherie for her birthday?" I ask.
"Entomology kit. Bug book, stuff to set up a specimen box."
"Sounds like Cherie."
"Yeah." He agrees. Cherie is considered a prodigy at the Mountain elementary school and she is scarily gifted. Cherie's parents both know Daniel's secret-her father is on SG-9 and her mother has been given clearance-so the surprising or not so surprising thing is that they're happy Daniel and Cherie have become such good friends. I keep trying to warn Mark, Cherie's dad, that Daniel will only get the poor girl in trouble and that this will all end in grief, but he just grins at me. I have even reminded him of Daniel's track record with women, but he's not dissuaded. Poor fool.
"You know, we could just buy clothes on-line." He says rationally.
"We could. But how would we know if it fit?"
"We buy a little big. I'm growing. It'll fit eventually."
"I don't want you to look like you're wearing someone else's clothes."
"I don't care."
"You just don't like shopping."
Daniel wrinkles his nose. "And your point would be?" He asks.
We finish our coffees just outside Dillard's, which is good, because we won't even go into the straw purse that Sam owns because Daniel spilled .
"Well. Hello." The store is crowded, but a saleswoman just gloams onto us. What, do we have "Sucker" embroidered on our jackets? She's middle-aged, wearing wayyyy too much perfume and make up.
"What do we need today?" She asks in a very sugary tone.
"I need a new jacket. I don't know what you need." Daniel retorts.
"One." I say calmly.
Daniel looks up at me. I look down at him. He swallows.
"He needs a new fall jacket, some jeans and some new button down shirts."
"Something like that." I agree weakly.
"So is there a particular brand of jeans?" The saleswoman, Karen by her name tag, asks, leading us back to the boy's clothes.
"Levis. The ones with the snap instead of a button and elastic at the waist." Daniel has a problem with buttons and his fingers just aren't ready for all the mechanics of manipulating a belt.
"It doesn't matter." Daniel breathes. He despises the fact that his fine motor skills aren't up to buttoning pants yet. Janet has sat down with him and explained that this isn't a personal failing, as has his shrink and at least one pediatrician, but he refuses to believe them. "I hate having elastic in my jeans." He growls.
I wince. "I know. Your fingers will grow."
"Can't we please get the ones without elastic?"
"Oh sure. I'm sure Cherie is interested in your underwear--she'll get to see everything the first time you fall off the swings."
Daniel rolls his eyes. He's precocious. Kids aren't supposed to be this annoying until their teens.
"So, what size is your son in?"
"He's around an 8."
"Hmm. Do we want some growing room or not?"
"Those jeans are about a month and a half-old. What do you think?" I ask.
Daniel glances down. "I like these jeans." He says in explanation of their tattered state. I forbear from mentioning that the jeans in question have a snap and elastic in the waist.
She shows us the jeans, abandons us "for just a sec, hun".
"Levi's?" I ask, hoping he won't be snarky the whole time we're here.
Daniel glances at the jeans with me. "The Nautica khakis are okay too."
"But not the Ralph Lauren?"
He shakes his head. "Nice label, but they're too long in the leg."
"Okay. I think 8's this trip. Those are 8's right?"
"Uhmm. . . uh-huh."
Thank God, he's not being a brat.
"Okay. 3 pair of jeans and a pair of navy and a pair of tan pants?"
Daniel shrugs, pushes his glasses up his nose. "Uh-huh. Make it 2 pairs of tan pants."
I think this through and grab a second pair of tan pants. "Now. Shirts."
Daniel gives me a look. He wants to get the shirt part done before Carter gets out of B & N. This is the part where he tries to slip out of her grasp and where at least one smack to his backside is almost inevitable.
"I'll pick." He says hurriedly. "No point in you wasting time. . ."
There are parents out there who would be thrilled if their child wanted button down shirts instead of Stone Cold Steve Austin emblazoned on the front of their clothing. Carter and I would both settle for him not wanting to infuse plaid into everything he owns.
"All right. Let's get some stuff and do it quick." Actually, I'm as eager to avoid sturm und drang as anybody.
Rugby shirts are fashionable, this is good. We both like them and they pass Sam's muster. Some button down shirts, all plaid, but I steer him towards the nice ones. A couple of warm flannel shirtsnot plaid, and, although he pouts, he skirts the dread number "2". Fresh underwear, which is also easy. And socks. They oughtta' just come out and say that socks are disposable when you're 9. Our washer is just a little sock black hole.
It's all sitting at the counter and Karen is smacking her lips with thoughts of her commission when Carter joins us.
"Coat and Shoes." I say firmly. Carter looks at the clothes. "What about some t-shirts?" She asks.
"This is fine." Daniel is quick to respond.
"Hmm. . ." She looks through the stack.
"This is all just fine." Daniel repeats.
Carter gives him a look. "I thought you just bought a leather jacket?"
"It's a long story." God, I'm such a sucker.
Carter glances at us both, doesn't ask, proving her superior intellect yet again.
The store still has insanely expensive leather bomber jackets with authentic WWII RAF insignia (Which is kinda' funny if you consider that the RAF didn't have leather bomber jackets during WWII.) "This one stays with you. If anyone needs a jacket we'll come back and buy them one." I say firmly.
"Uh-huh." Daniel replies absently, going into his la-la-I'm-adumb -kid-my-mind's-in-left-field routine. I still haven't figured out if its real or fake yet. I wanna' say fake, but he has actually wandered out into traffic at least once that I'm aware of.
"Will that be all?" Karen is very warm. She oughtta be. We just made her quota for the month.
I look at the pile. "I hope so."
"How are his dress shoes holding out?" Sam asks, letting Daniel browse over the sneaker choices.
"Do you really want to put yourself through that?" I ask.
Sam shrugs, smiles sweetly. "I'm not the one responsible for him when he shows up at the next quarterly review."
I sigh. Daniel comes to us with a pair of electric blue and black Nikes that zip instead of tie and a pair of Doc Martens. I didn't know Doc Martens came in miniature until this moment.
"You'll look like Frankenstein's monster." Sam is aghast.
I, on the other hand, take a more reasonable view. "Where are you going to wear those?"
"BDU's. It'll look like they're real boots." He pauses, swallows. Looks pitiful. He knows Sam will give in.
I sling the bag with Daniel's clothes in it over a shoulder. "Let's see if they have your size." Sam is such a wuss. "What about dress shoes?"
"What about them?" He asks. We don't put him in a suit for formal events--he looks like he should be at a funeral--just khakis and a nice shirt. Dress shoes, really, for an eight. . .excuse me, for a nine year old, are a nice pair of loafers, mocs or boat shoes.
"What kind do you want?"
"These." He holds up the Doc Martens.
"You can get the boots. You can even wear the boots when you root around in the mud with SG-3 and make hoo-hah noises. But you are not going to wear those to a staff meeting." I say firmly.
He's considering getting upset when the store clerk gets to us. "He's around a 12." I say, depositing the shoes in the college student's hands.
The kid actually raises a brow at the tiny little black Doc Marten boots I've handed him. "Kewl!" He says appreciatively.
He should. The boots are 80 bucks. Can we say commission? "You wanna measure?" The kid asks sensibly.
Daniel likes this part, so I take it as a breather.
Sam and I glance through the shoes while Daniel gets his feet measured.. There are several perfectly reasonable choices among the dress shoes. "How about some Weejums?" I ask, holding up one.
Daniel wrinkles his nose. "I don't like tassels."
"I break the laces."
"I look like a dork."
"Okay. I think we're out of 12 and a half's, which is really what we need here, in the Nikes." The kid says.
This is sooooo not good.
"But I have them in black and red."
"What about 12's?" Daniel asks, looking down at his foot.
"Well. Yeah. I got a pair. But they'll only last you a month, month and a half."
"I want blue and black. The red ones look nerdy."
"Well. I got some blue and black lace ups."
Daniel thinks about this. The kid looks at me and Sam hopefully. Sorry kid. So far Daniel hasn't done anything dumb. "No red and black. I'll look at the lace ups. What kind are they?"
"No Reebok. They start squeaking after a couple of weeks." I can't help throwing in.
"Then the 12 zip-ups." Daniel says.
"And something in 12 and a half unless you want to do this again in a month." I add. God, I am so fucking glad that he still makes 6 figures. If we were worried about money, there'd be some unpleasantness right about now.
Daniel wrinkles his nose.
"What about those K-Swiss; the one's Andy's got?" I ask sensibly.
Daniel has to think about this for a moment before he remembers. His face lights up. "Oh Yeah." He babbles excitedly to the store clerk for a moment about the shoes Andy owns.
Beside me, Sam is tossing a loafer from hand to hand. "Wuss," she says with a small, tender smile.
"Am not," I reply.
We finally make it the Discovery Store, laden more heavily than most refugees.
"How much can you get today?" I ask while Sam clings to his hand and he squirms, desperate to break free and go look at all the wonderful stuff.
"As much as is on my gift card."
"Which is how much?"
"A hundred dollars, plus what's left from last time." He makes a face. Daniel hates this rule. Every visit, once he's done, we recharge the card for the next trip. He wants something that costs more than a hundred, he has to wait until the next trip when he has enough on the card. Daniel has informed me, on more than a few occasions, that this is considered inhumane treatment on at least 12 planets. This rule is the only thing that keeps our house from turning into a Discovery Store franchise so I'm willing to chance the Asgard finding out and labeling me a threat to humanity.
"Sammmmm. . .you're going to break my wrist." He whines. Sam looks down at him. He managed to squirm free from her the first time we went out and ever since then Janet has used the leash and Sam has used her Aikido training.
I try to think back to whether this is a 1 or a 2. "Daniel. 1." If you can't remember then it's a 1.
He makes a face and continues twisting.
"2." Fuck. I was hoping at least one trip wouldn't contain the dreaded 3.
Daniel hears me but his focus is on Sam who's not letting go until she thinks he won't immediately run off into the store where we can't see him.
"That's 3." My cupped hand descends in an arc calculated to make the loudest smack with the least amount of pain to his small backside.
Within 2 seconds Daniel freezes in place, squeals like a mouse facing a cat, and turns bright red. He opens his mouth to protest my cruel treatment and to no doubt inform me that Amnesty International knows and is documenting his case.
I give him The Look.
Daniel closes his mouth and sticks out his lower lip as tears form in his eyes. I feel like a complete and total shit. This is why it doesn't work for Sam. She hates this part and avoids it whenever possible.
Here's where most parents blow it. They either berate or they give into guilt. "Okay. So. 100 dollars. And no wandering off." I say gently.
Daniel sniffs. Mutters to himself in some language I don't know. Probably telling me off. That's okay, so long as it's not in a living language commonly spoken by any Taur'i ethnicity.
We finally get into the store proper, which is crowded and full of kids. Daniel, no doubt, thinks that every person in the store was witness to his spanking and is secretly laughing at him.
Of course, that's why it works. And I thank God every night for that fact.
Daniel isn't allowed to go very far. Sit him down at home and ask him why he's not allowed out of our eyesight and he understands that there are people-some of whom get paychecks from the same government that his paycheck comes from-who would love to get their hands on him and play Mengele. Put him in a store where he's distracted by the pretties and he forgets.
He's so 9.
There's a pretty fucking neat display of robots up front and it only takes a few minutes for Daniel to forget his utter humiliation and desolation, but he's calmed down significantly. He chews his lip as he watches something that looks scarily like a replicator wander the floor.
"I didn't follow my plan." Sam confesses. "I was too nervous to even start."
"I like mine better. With yours he'd be on the leash right now."
"I'd feel safer if he were." Sam confesses. Daniel looks over his shoulder at us. Sniffs dramatically. Little Shit.
5PM on a chilly, fall evening, and I'm circling the Chuck E. Cheese parking lot, looking for a slot. Sam has begged off, the shist, and left me with the Monster on my own. He's got Cherie's present, which Amazon.com wrapped before it shipped, in three boxes on his lap.
"If there is one good thing about being little again." He announces as I park the Wrangler between an Expedition and a Tahoe. "It's gotta be ball pits."
I can't help but grin. "Litchi Fruit Candy."
"Ooohhh. . ." Daniel is such an addict. "Okay. Two things. But if I had to choose. Ball pits."
I turn the engine off. "Okay. Do you wanna' know what happens if you make it out of here and don't turn right back around and come in to gloat?"
Daniel swallows. I'm not an unreasonable man. I can understand how getting past the Staszi to freedom might be an incredibly appealing goal. But the thought of having something bad happen to Daniel freezes me to the center of my gut.
"Grounded." No TV, no computer, no playground, no recreational reading for 3 days. I probably should make it a week, but after 3 days he's gone so stir crazy that I'm ready to be committed to Mackenzie's care.
"Good. Glad we understand each other. Need some help?"
"Uhmm. . " He hands me all three boxes. "Thanks."
"Yeah. But I'm your wretch. Got the custodial papers to prove it." He hoots.
Inside there are kids everywhere. Daniel spots one of his neighborhood gang and runs off. There's at least one other birthday party, but that's to be expected on a weekend evening. I wander off to the restaurant area, find our group and set the presents down.
"Colonel." Mark hands me a beer as I collapse into a chair.
"I needed that." I say, taking a long, cold swig. Some of the fundamentalist groups have been protesting the Cheyenne Mountain Chuck E. Cheese having a liquor license. Fuck 'em.
"What grade is Daniel in?" A woman I don't know asks across the table.
There's already pizza, so I get a slice as I answer. "He's not. I'm Jack O'Neill, by the way, you're?"
"Oh. Sorry. I'm Katie Henderson's mom. Sallie Franks." We shake hands over insipid but filling pizza. "Daniel's homeschooled ?"
I shrug. "Long, long, long story. But. . .yeah."
"Oh. Sorry. Sallie, Colonel O'Neill. Jack, Captain Franks." Cherie's mom, Lisa says, sitting down beside Sallie. "Sallie's in the NATO liaison. Colonel O'Neill works with Tom." Before I can get a word in edgewise, Lisa confides. "Daniel was born in Egypt. He's been through some things that are classified."
Sallie is Air Force. She gets it. "Oh. Sorry Sir." She flushes.
"Not a problem." I say, sipping my beer. She's young, cute. I try to remember which of the knee biters is her Katie.
"Captain Franks just transferred here from Europe." Cherie fills me in.
"And has likely been filled in by her daughter on the cult of Daniel." Colonel Mac Waskinski says, chewing on a breadstick.
I can't help my smirk.
"'Beat up an eighth grader when he was only 9. Daniel. Daniel Jackson. King of the Grade School-ers.' " The colonel sings. Somebody grew up with a coonskin cap. The Colonel and I are both a bit older than the majority of the parents in here. He works up top of the mountain, playing with Defcon levels. Waskinski and his wife have custody of their daughter's three. He and Hammond and I have commiserated on how it feels to be both a custodial grandparent and brass in the Air Force.
"Hey. Don't dis' the kid; it's not my fault he became our marines' mascot!" I protest.
Mark and Waskinski both give me a look. "Uhmm. Jack. We all know you're Special Forces. Wanna' run that one by someone who might believe you?" Waskinski asks.
I blink innocently at both of them. "Me? I work with geeks. Radio Telemetry. Top secret radio waves from distant supernovas."
Waskinski makes choking noises and snorts beer from his nose.
Lisa bends down and starts rolling up her pants.
"If it gets any deeper in here, I'm going to go get the Lysol." Anne MacGruder, First Lieutenant MacGruder's wife and mother of Andy MacGruder observes, chewing a breadstick. She grins. MacGruder is one the SGC Security types. Anne doesn't know the whole story, but dollars to donuts MacGruder has told her that Daniel's pretty special.
We sit around and shoot the shit a little longer, drink our beers, enjoy not having to panic every two seconds about where our kids are.
Finally, a young man comes in. Asks at the other birthday table about someone gets head shakes and comes over to our table. Well Fuck. 9 times out of ten, Daniel will be in the middle of any shit that gets stirred. I sigh.
"Does an 8 year old with sandy hair and glasses who speaks Arabic belong to anyone here."
Bottles and hands are pointed in my direction. "That would be Daniel. What's he done now?" I ask wearily. Ah well. I got 30 minutes of down time.
"He taught my son. . ." He swallows and looks around the table, recognizes Air Force types. "He taught my son some rather filthy swear words."
"In Arabic?" Waskinski asks.
The young man nods.
I take a deep breath, put down my beer. 30 minutes without Daniel getting his scrawny little ass into trouble is about all you can ask.
"Hey." His eyes open as I'm pulling off his sneakers. Little shit. Lets me hump two flights of stairs with him in my arms, then wakes up when I try to pull his new sneakers off.
"Hey." I say gently.
"Fell asleep?" He asks, yawning, lifting his arms so I can pull his shirt off.
"Mhm." He didn't even make it out of Chuck E. Cheese before he was snoring in my lap. Cherie thought it was unbelievably cute.
"Oh." He passively lets me pull off his jeans, slip on a pair of flannel PJ's. "Thanks for not grounding me. I didn't know he was Kuwaiti."
"You're welcome. Next time, use a dead language that only about 6 people know, okay?"
"Okay." He agrees sleepily. "Hold me."
And that is one of the reasons Daniel has a rocker. I swing him back up in my arms, take my place in the rocker, Daniel cradled in my lap. He presses his head against my shoulder, his index finger traveling up to his mouth where he can chew on it for comfort, while I breathe in the fragile, baby smell of him.
We rock for a minute in quiet. I think he's fallen asleep when I hear him whisper. "I'm sorry about the Discovery store."
"You're 9. You get excited." I dismiss. "You got excited when you were 39 too, actually." I reflect.
"Yeah. But it's different now." He's right. It is. There's not a lot I can say to that.
His hand comes up, clutches at my shirt. We rock some more.
"I want to be big again."
"I know. You will be someday."
He sighs with his whole body. "I wanna be now."
"I know. I know." I soothe as best I can, rubbing his arm and shoulder gently. It's selfish, horribly selfish of me, but I'm grateful for this. Ask me any day of the week and I'll tell you that the Furbies had no right to turn Daniel into a child, that this was wrong.
The sad truth is that I'm grateful to them. I will always, always love and I will always, always grieve for Charlie. But this. This has answered a need in my heart that I didn't know I had.
We rock in silence. Daniel sleeps with less nightmares when he falls asleep in this ritual we've made.
I'm about to get up, about to put Daniel to sleep in his bed, when Daniel stirs again. "Jack?"
"I know what I want for Christmas. I've been thinking about it all week."
"Hmm? What do you want?"
"I want a cat."
|Genres:||Alternate Universe, Angst, Drama, Humor|
|Series:||The Furling's Gift|
|Summary:||The Furling's give Earth a gift - a young Daniel Jackson. Jack wonders if he'll survive. First full story with Daniel as a little wretch. Saturday in the suburbs of a military town.