Authors: Amberfly and Cleo the Muse
Series: Dan and Cam.
Title: Little White Lies.
Warnings: None.
Category: General.
Feedback: Please.


Thank you to Lyn.


"Nuts! 'Kay, just one more shove! Gotcha! Whoa, Danny, come 'ere!"

"Ow! Trying to! Someone's butt is in the way. Oh, Cammie! This is amazing!"

Dusty, sunlight-dappled, and full of mysterious artifacts, it could have been an
exotic temple ruin for all the wonders it held for the two adventurers.
Fortunately, for the intrepid explorers, Jack's attic was the next best thing,
and right at home. Looking at each other with open mouths, Daniel and Cameron
figured they'd hit pay dirt, and it was all theirs to excavate. Sneezing from
the flying dust in the air, they ran into the middle of the room, unsure what to
investigate first.

"Look it, Danny, look!" Cammie gasped, straining and tugging to lift one heavy
cardboard box off another. His task was made all the more difficult by the too
long sleeves of the class A jacket he wore. The service cap perched on his
crown and threatening to slip down over his eyes didn't help either. Realizing
he should probably help his brother before the box was accidentally dropped and
Jack came running to find out the cause of the racket, Danny shoved up the
sleeves of his own suit jacket--brown, not blue--and grabbed the other end of
the box. The two small boys eased the heavy package to the attic floor, careful
not to pin Danny's long, striped tie in the process, then immediately grabbed
for the folded flaps.

"Whaddya 'spose is in here?" Cammie asked in a loud whisper, pausing with his
tiny fingers wrapped around the corrugated edge.

"More of Daddy's clothes, maybe," Danny answered, tugging on his lapel for
emphasis. "Let's find out!"

Eager hands pulled back the cardboard, laying the flaps down as far as they'd go
and peering at the revealed contents. Instead of neatly folded garments,
however, the boys beheld a treasure of a different sort: toys. Most of them
were stuffed animals of various colors and species, but the curious eyes quickly
spotted planes, trains, and automobiles.

Cammie gasped and plunged his hand into the box. "A 1965 Mustang!"

"A what?" His brother frowned, pausing in the middle of donning the red baseball
cap he'd found at the top of the box.

"I dunno, but it's really cool!" the darker-haired boy answered, pulling out the
model car and studying it carefully. Lifting it up and peering underneath it,
Cam sighed with delight. "Isn't this just the beez kneez?"

Snorting and rolling his eyes at the look of rapture on his brother's face,
Daniel shrugged. "I like the train better. He took out the locomotive and gave
it a thorough, hands-on inspection. "It looks kinda like the one in Harry
Potter."

Together, the boys delved through the box of toys, admiring some and discarding
others. They couldn't begin to imagine why Jack would have all these wonderful
things stored in the attic instead of downstairs where his sons could play with
them. It wasn't until Cammie discovered a bright colored shoebox that they
learned who the real owner of all these toys had been.

"What's this box say?" Cammie asked. He knew his letters well enough, but he
preferred having his smart brother read things to him since he was less likely
to get the words wrong.

"Charles Tyler O'Neill," Danny sounded out. "Maybe we should put all these toys
away, Cammie."

"Why?"

"'Cause they belong to Charlie," he answered, rolling his eyes impatiently.

Cammie stuck out his lower lip. "Who's that? An' why's he got the same last
name as Daddy?"

"'Cause he's Daddy's real son, flydork!"

"But we're Daddy's sons," the other boy sulked, looking decidedly cross.
"Wordgeek," he added belatedly.

Danny sighed and scrubbed at one eye, wishing he could remember everything he
was pretty sure he knew about Charlie. "Yeah, but we're 'dopted, Cammie.
Charlie was Jack's... and Sara's."

"Sara? Our Sara?"

"Uh-huh." Danny sucked on his lower lip. "Maybe Charlie grew up and moved
away, and that's why all his stuff is still here."

"I guess so," Cammie agreed, then sat down on the floor and opened the lid on
the box. "Hey, there are pictures and letters in here!"

Excited by the find, Danny slid around the big cardboard box and knelt next to
his brother, peering over his shoulder. "Look it, Cammie, that's Sara! She
looks the same really." A small smile tugged at his lips as he whispered, "She's
really pretty… in a 'mom' kind of way," he hastily added, not wanting his
brother to tease him for the rest of the day.

"S'pose and here's Daddy," Cammie added, flopping a sleeve-covered
pointer-finger at the picture. "Look at his hair; it had color! And that's
gotta be Charlie there." Holding the photo barely an inch from his nose, Cam
studied his previously unknown brother's face silently willing him to say hello
and introduce himself. "Hey Charlie, s'nice to meet ya."

"Uh-huh," Danny agreed, reaching for one of the folded slips of paper.
Sprawling on his belly and kicking his feet up behind him, he opened the paper
and spread out its creases against the dusty floorboards. "It's a letter."

"Danny? Who's it from?" Throwing himself down next to his brother, the brims of
the caps bumping each other, Cammie twitched with curiosity. Leaning across, he
plucked the yellowed envelope from the floor, and turning it around, added,
"This says it's from a school? Charlie's?"

Constantly pushing the cap out of his eyes and tracing the faded words with his
finger, Danny scowled. "Um, it's kind of hard to read, Cammie. Move out of my
light and let me see."

When his brother obligingly inched sideways, Danny cleared his throat and read,
"'Mr. and Mrs. O'Neill'." Giggling and looking at Cammie sideways, he said a
little pompously, "That's Sara and Daddy in case you don't know! " Ignoring the
rolled eyes and the drawled "duh", he flushed a little, and continued. 'Charlie
has been troublesome at school recently, and despite my previous notes, you have
not responded. I feel as though we need to discuss your son's behavior as a
matter of urgency.'" Eyes impossibly wide, Danny stopped reading for a moment
and took a great breath. "Wow, is he ever going to get it! Charlie must have
been a…"

Pushing himself up and climbing onto a box, Cammie wore a look of horror mixed
with awe. Flapping his sleeves in the air, he hooted with laughter, "Mistah and
Missus? Don' they know Daddy's a General? Whoa, Charlie was sooo brave! "
Sitting cross-legged, Indian style, Cam was enjoying himself and demanded Dan
read the rest of the letter. Whenever he read out another outrageous prank, Cam
crowed with delight. "Cool! Charlie must've bin the coolest kid at school!"

"Ssshhh! Cammie! He was being naughty! Even the teacher says so!"

"Pfflattt, what does some dumb ole teacher know? I'm just sayin'! Imagine even
thinkin' 'bou't swappin' all the glue lids! How cool is that? "

"Isn't! Suppose the glue blobbed all over one of your drawings?" Rolling his
eyes, Danny let the thought trail off, thinking it might make Cam's messy
artwork look better. Watching his boisterous brother bounce hyperactively on his
box, he decided it wasn't worth getting a noogie for, and changing the topic,
said glibly, "Want me to read some more?"

Nodding his head furiously, Cammie listened to the rest of the letter. Miss.
Ebert had listed all the sins Charlie had committed one by one, and the little
colonel was very impressed. "Boy, wonder how many green stars our other brother
lost? I think a gazillion!" Giggling, leaning down to tap Danny on the head, he
begged, "Read the bit about the paint pots again. That was brilliant!"

Shoving up the over-long sleeves and letting the baseball cap slide over his
eyes, Danny giggled back. "Hey, we must look like angels on loan from heaven to
Daddy, mustn't we!" Sitting up and rocking back and forth, a sudden memory
flashed into his mind. Looking at the toys, reading the letter, laughing about
being an angel from heaven reminded him of something--something that made him
feel somewhat sad--and he knew they should pack away the little box with the
puppy on the lid and leave it in peace. "No, you heard me the first time."

"Wha?" Cammie lost patience with his suddenly silent and reflective brother, and
jumping from his box, gave Danny a hard shove. "Hey, what's the matter with you?
Stop being such a goody-goody!" Wrestling the shoebox from Danny's clutched
fingers; a look of triumph flashing across his freckled face, Cammie grabbed the
other letters. Tripping on his long trousers, Cammie looked over his shoulder
and snapped, "Leave me 'lone! I just wanna see what else my other brother did at
school." His brow furrowed and his little pink tongue peeking out between his
lips, Cammie read the next letter slowly.

"Mrs. O'Neill, Charlie has been given a week's detention starting immediately.
For his age, it is only appropriate for Charlie to sit with me at recess time
and not to be allowed to play with the other children. I am very sorry to have
to do this, but we cannot have other children's lunch boxes opened and contents
swapped with another. I have warned Charlie twice before and have sent home a
note. I realize that with your husband away a lot of the time, Charlie misses
him, but I must consider the other children's health."

Waving the yellowed letter in the air and laughing happily, Cam conveniently
ignored the result of Charlie's naughtiness and recited his sins word for word.
"Swapped lunches? Blended paints to make crazy colors? Fill backpacks with
leaves?" Cammie grinned and looming over Daniel, he smiled silently. 'Daddy
never said anything so he musta thought it was funny! I bet that's why Sara
never replied, she thought Miss. Egg-brain was just being a typical dorky
teacher.' Jumping up and down on the spot, still clutching the letter in his
fist, Cam nudged Dan and assured him, "Bet Jack and Sara thought it was the
funniest ole thing ev-ah."

Danny sucked his bottom lip in and chewed on it thoroughly. He wasn't sure how
he knew, but he did. He was certain Jack wouldn't have laughed. He just knew
Jack and Sara would have dealt with the little boy firmly. Gulping, he was
suddenly very glad he wasn't Charlie Tyler O'Neill.

A sudden noise caught his ears. "Uh, Cammie?"

"What?" his brother demanded grumpily, looking up from his perusal of Charlie's
school letters.

"I think Daddy just started the weed-whacker."

"Uh-oh," Cammie agreed. Frantically, the two boys began stripping off the
borrowed grown-up clothes and stuffing them back into the dusty garment bags.
Boxes were hastily repacked and shoved back toward where they boys thought
they'd originally been placed. Feeling slightly panicked Daniel flapped his
hands in the air. "Cam? Is this where Daddy's clothes box was? Cam! Look! Stop
reading that dumb letter!"

"Huh? Okay, fine, it looks fine!" Rolling his eyes, Cam couldn't have cared
less. Boxes were boxes and it was all the same to him. Scanning the room and
then pointing his finger, he said, "Nope, that box goes there!" Kicking at it to
push it along, Cam achieved in five minutes what would have taken Daniel an
hour. "There, it's perfect now! Daddy'll ne-vah know!" Patting Daniel on the
back, he added, "Come 'on, if he catches us, we'll be in for it!"

Nodding his head, Danny planted his small fists on his hips and gave the attic a
last cursory inspection. Slapping his hand against his forehead and squeaking
with horror, he said, "Oh, we forgot to put back Charlie's box!" He reached for
it, but Cammie swept it up and wrapped his arms around it.

"Nuh-uh," the little general declared. "I'm not fin'shed readin' yet."

Danny thrust out his lower lip. "We have to put it back, Cammie."

"We'll put it back the next time. C'mon, Danny, we haf to get down before Daddy
comes in the house!"

Reluctantly, the little archaeologist nodded and followed his more adventurous
brother down the steep staircase into the upstairs hall closet. They heaved the
ladder back up into its locked position, then used broomstick handles to push
the door the rest of the way back into the ceiling. Just as Cammie climbed off
the closet shelf, Danny heard the mudroom door shut. Peering out the closet
door, the two boys decided the coast was clear enough and dashed for their
rooms.

"Whew!"

"You can sure say that again!"

"Whew!"

* * *

Wiping the sweat off his face, Jack headed for the refrigerator and the promise
of a cold beer. Upstairs, he heard thunderous footsteps, and he shook his head
in wonder. Today was a designated chores day, with Jack spending it mowing the
yard while the boys were supposed to be cleaning their rooms. From the sounds
of the scampering feet, though, Daniel and Cameron hadn't spent their time
wisely. Messy rooms meant no movies tonight, and he knew the boys had been
looking forward to going to see the latest Disney cartoon.

Popping the cap off the bottle, he took a swig - then walked to the base of the
stairs. "How are those rooms coming?" he hollered, pressing the cool glass to
his forehead briefly. When no answer came, he shook his head. "I'm going to
take a shower. When I get finished, your quarters had better be ready for
inspection, airmen!"

"Yes, Daddy!" Cammie and Danny shouted back. Little feet thudded across the
floor again, and Jack chuckled to himself and headed for the master bath.

His boys were pretty well behaved youngsters, though Cammie had a tendency to
make trouble for himself by engaging in all manner of wild stunts. Danny rarely
actively sought trouble, but just as it had when he was an adult under Jack's
command, trouble always managed to find him. When it came to their chores, both
boys grumbled but eventually did what they were told. Cammie was always faster
and more efficient at cleaning his room than Danny was--he probably had his
barely-remembered military training to thank for that--because the pint-sized
archaeologist was so easily distracted, and not always by his mischievous
brother.

"Oh, this is going to be good, I just know it." Stripping off his sweaty clothes
and leaving them in a pile, Jack turned the taps and turned his mind to what to
prepare for dinner.

He took his time with his shower, enjoying the feel of warm water sluicing over
his grimy skin, and hoping the boys would take the opportunity to properly
finish their rooms. He didn't want to see objects stuffed into drawers and
closets like the last time, and had made this very clear to his wide-eyed boys
in the stern lecture, which followed. Jack only hoped it had stuck with them.

Finally, he was clean, dry, and dressed. "Ready or not," he announced as he
started up the steps, "here I come."

As expected, there was a last frantic scramble of little feet, then the little
airmen appeared at the door of Danny's room. As always, the blond-haired boy's
guilt was evident in his posture--wrapped in a self-contained hug and refusing
to meet his dad's gaze--but to Jack's surprise, his darker-haired boy was just
as shifty. Scanning the boys' rooms and forcing down the knowing smile which
threatened to take over his face, Jack knew that if he scratched the surface, an
avalanche of clothes and toys would topple on top of the wide-eyed little boys.

Tapping his foot and using his very best general voice, he asked, "So, airmen,
everything where it should be? Nothing stashed under the beds? Drawers not full
of Legos and toy cars?" Arms folded casually across his stomach, Jack crossed
his ankles, pinning the nervous children with a stern look.

Shuffling his bare feet and scrunching his toes into the rug, Cammie took a deep
breath and let loose with the best strategy he'd been able to come up with on
such short notice. "Daddy, I always help Danny 'cause he's not as 'squared
away' as me, but Danny and me couldn't tidy our rooms proper! Look!" Grabbing
Danny's left hand in his right, and holding both of their hands in the air only
briefly, Cammie tackled his daddy's knees howling a pitiful sob. "My hand is
hurt, and Danny's fingers were bent backwards!" Clenching his fist and yelping
for added sympathy, Cammie rubbed his nose back and forth on Jack's jeans. "It
was horrible, Daddy, I thought Danny's fingers would snap off!"

Looking from one tear stained little face to the other; Jack tried to process
the new and terrible information, puzzling only briefly over why the boys hadn't
said anything when they first came home. Lightly brushing Danny's hand and
wincing as the little archaeologist cringed, Jack hunkered to his knees and said
kindly, "Was it a fight at school? Did you tell Miss Bumstead? Have I got a note
about this?"

"N-n-note?" Daniel couldn't control his horrified stammer, and looking stunned,
repeated feebly, "N-n-note?"

"Mm. Should have had a note about something like this. Cam, check your bag; I'll
check Danny's."

"No note, Daddy! They all got us behind the swings, Mizz Bumstead wouldn't've
seen!" Cam rolled his shoulders and let one little white lie after the other
roll of his tongue.

Daniel felt the room spin, and it was all he could do not to fall over in
terror. He had just opened his mouth to explain that there was no fight and his
fingers were fine, but Cam jumped in quickly. "Billy McNamara started it! He's
a bully, an' he picks on us all the time!" Swiping at his eyes, Cam grabbed his
brother's hand and murmured, "Ack-tcha-lee, Daddy, it's Danny he's mostly mean
to! I just stepped in to 'tect him! We soldiers never leave anyone behind,
right?" Blinking up at his daddy with soulful eyes, Cam managed just the right
amount of tears to shine and only threaten to spill. "Daddy, are you mad at me
for not 'tectin' Danny betta?"

"What? No, of course not!" Jack was a canny man, a keen diplomat, and a smart
soldier, but he was also a complete sucker when it came to his blue-eyed
children. He looked at the morose, freckled little faces, and felt a lump
constrict in his throat. 'Crap,' he thought, 'it's those swimming lessons all
over again! How do I miss these things? Danny bullied? Cammie beat up? Oh,
Miss Bumstead will be hearing from me!'

Sweeping the children into a warm hug, he whispered into Cam's ear, "It's okay,
Daddy will make sure this McNamara kid leaves you guys alone!" Rocking back
onto the heels of his shoes and throwing his hand down to balance himself, he
added softly, "Let's just enjoy the movie tonight so you two can forget about
those sore little hands." Kissing Cam's fingers and making him giggle; General
Jonathan O'Neill inwardly promised dire retribution to anyone who dare hurt his
blue-eyed boys.

For his part, Cammie couldn't believe he'd gotten himself and Danny off so
easily. After their daddy went back downstairs to start dinner, he pulled his
open-mouthed brother into his room and pulled the door shut. "You owe me big
time, Danny!" he crowed triumphantly. Jumping onto Daniel's bed and kicking legs
in the air, Cam grinned happily. "Well? Wotch-'a gonna say? Thanks, Cam! You're
a genius!"

"Geroff my bed, fly dope!" Daniel wasn't so sure about any of this. Shrugging
his shoulders, he knew Jack was nowhere near as gullible as he sometimes
pretended. "You shouldn't have lied to Daddy," he protested, wrapping his arms
around himself and sitting on the edge of his bed. "What if he calls Miss
Bumstead and she says we weren't in a fight?"

The little colonel rolled his eyes. "Pfff... It's Friday, an' Daddy'll probably
forget by Monday. What's the big deal? We're not in trouble, an' we woulda
been if Daddy'd looked at our rooms!"

Danny wrung his fingers fretfully. "I suppose so," he agreed reluctantly. "But
what if he finds out we lied, Cammie? We'll be in big, big trouble, then!"
Thinking of the spare room and the dire connotations of visiting it with their
daddy, Dan swallowed noisily. "You shouldn't have lied!"

"Don't go tattlin' an' he won't find out!" Cam declared with the confidence of a
natural-born leader. "C'mon, Danny! An' don't you go 'n' forget your hand
hurts, 'member?"

* * *

The weekend passed reasonably uneventfully, but then Jack invited Sara for
Sunday lunch. At the table, he told her about the boys' fight at school, and
Cammie was all-too happy to nod and clutch his "wounded" hand in all the
appropriate places. He was proud of how heroic and brave he sounded in the
story, sticking up for his brother. Danny was too busy being a stick-in-the-mud
to enjoy any sympathetic attention that might come his way, but at least he
hadn't tattled yet.


Sara listened and instantly smelled a chocolate chip cookie-eating little rat.
She arched her eyebrow at Cammie when the story was finished. "Mm, that must
have been scary, boys. Cameron, where was your teacher?" Watching the casual
little shoulder roll, Sara couldn't help but remember another shifty little boy.
Tapping her lips with her index finger, she recalled Charlie was about Cam's age
when he had started to tell little white lies. Looking at Jack and seeing he
believed every word, Sara decided to dig a little deeper.

"That right, Cam? How is it that we have only just heard about this terrible
schoolyard bully?" Snapping her fingers and watching Danny's color drain from
his face, she ordered, "Daniel, run and get me the playmates list; I'll see if I
recognize the family."

Danny blinked and lowered his eyes, feeling the room spin again. He didn't hear
her repeat the request--the blood was pounding too loudly in his ears. He knew
if they were caught out in the lie, it would straight to the spare bedroom for
the dreaded smacked bottom, followed by early bedtimes or no ice cream... or
worse, both! Stuttering and feeling his eyes begin to water, Danny slipped his
hands behind his jean-clad butt and opened his mouth to confess to the heinous
crime.

Sensing his brother wavering and well aware of the consequences, Cam quickly
interrupted. "Oh no, Sara, there's no point! McNamara's are a milit'ry family,
and his daddy is away in Afa-gah-in-stand now. Mrs. McNamara had ta moved back
East to be with her momma, and so we won't have to worry anymore! He had a
going away party this weekend, but Danny and me weren't invited! Ever 'one else
was 'cept us!" Sniffing dramatically and batting his eyelashes, he murmured,
"'Sides, Danny is my best friend, and I don' need anyone else."

Turning in his chair and giving Danny a subtle kick to his tender shin, Cam
narrowed his eyes and repeated, "If I haf my brother, I don' need anyone else!"

Looking at Cammie with horror and seeing the adults smiling with pride, Danny
felt sick. This was deceitful and wrong, and the lies were piling up thick and
fast. Ordinarily, he did everything within his powers to stay out of trouble,
but Cam gleefully trod a fine line. At the moment, Danny was fearful he'd
topple off that fine line himself. "It doesn't matter how big you are," Jack
once told his boys, not long after their short foray into the legal field, "a
man's integrity is too precious to sell." Suddenly, Danny didn't think getting
to see that movie Friday was worth the price, but if he tattled now, Cammie
would never forgive him. "That's what brothers do," he agreed morosely.

* * *

"Jack O'Neill, you've been hoodwinked," Sara declared, helping her ex-husband
clear the dishes while the boys dashed outside to play.

"Have I, now?" Jack asked, adopting a look of feigned shock.

"Mmhmm... you know darn good and well that Cameron was fibbing," she accused.

Jack shrugged. "You saw how uncomfortable Danny was with the whole thing. I'd
bet Cammie was giving things a little spin so that Danny wouldn't feel so bad
about being teased at school. Daniel always--" He caught himself before he let
slip that the adult Daniel had always been a target for bullies. "Daniel's
usually so shy and quiet," he amended.

Sara rolled her eyes. "Remember Charlie at that age? How he'd tell whoppers to
his teacher, mess with the other students' belongings, and pretend all the while
his imaginary friend 'Jake' was responsible for any wrong-doings?" She shook
her head in dismay, remembering the letters sent home that were eventually found
stashed in Charlie's keepsake box, but not until after the exasperated teacher
had had the school principal phone the O'Neills to find out why nothing was
being done about Charlie's behavior. Charlie had been grounded for two whole
months for that fiasco.

"I'll keep an eye out for imaginary friends, then," Jack grinned impishly. "I
don't think we'll have to worry about it, though, since Charlie had an imaginary
friend 'cause he was an only child, and he missed me. I'm home now, and Daniel
and Cameron have each other, and like they said earlier, that's all they need."
Warming up to the idea, he continued, "They'll help each other, protect each
other, and keep each other out of trouble. It's what brothers do."

Still looking skeptical, Sara plopped the last plate into the dishwasher and
crossed her arms. "Unlike you, Jack, I had brothers growing up. Believe me
when I say those boys are going to be far better at keeping themselves in
trouble than they are keeping one another out of it."

"Maybe."

"Definitely!"

* * *

As Cammie had predicted, Jack forgot all about calling Miss Bumstead on
Monday--though the little colonel couldn't have known his daddy forgot only
because of a late-to-report team. Faced with proof that his boisterous brother
was right about their teacher not being called, Danny relaxed a little and dared
to hope that the whole lying incident might be forgotten. He even vowed to keep
his room clean all week so that he wouldn't have to panic again on Friday, but
that promise lasted only until late Monday evening, when he forgot all about it
and left books and clothes strewn everywhere following a frantic search for his
favorite yo-yo.

Everything came crashing back to him Tuesday, when he dipped his brush in the
yellow paint and found himself smearing purple and muddy brown streaks on his
rendering of the Great Pyramids. Horrified that he'd accidentally ruined his
painting by dipping his brush in the wrong pot, Danny checked and discovered
that someone had poured purple paint into the jar of yellow. Feeling his heart
pound with dread, he turned to see Cammie looking terribly pleased with himself
as he painted a fighter jet with a brush full of intermixed blue and orange
paints.

"Cammie!" he hissed, looking around frantically to see if anyone else had
noticed the messed-up paints. "Why'd you do that?"

"I di'n't do it," Cammie whispered back, "Jake did it!"

"Who's Jake?" Danny asked, brow crinkling as he worked his way through the
playmate list.

"Charlie's best friend Jake," his brother replied, rolling his eyes as though
the answer should have been obvious.

Danny's mouth made a surprised "oh". "Cammie! Oh, Cammie, you shouldn't have
done that! What if Miss Bumstead sends a note home to Daddy?"

"She won't," the little colonel answered confidently, "unless you tattle. You
aren't gonna tattle, are ya Danny?" Shifting close to his brother, Cam brushed
his fingers past Danny's and gave them a quick squeeze. "M'ember, we're each
ov'ers bestest friends!"

Glancing between his ruined painting and the sabotaged pots of paint, Danny
frowned seriously and thought hard about what he wanted to do. Letting his
fingers stay in Cams, Daniel sighed softly, knowing he could never get his
brother into trouble.

"Please don't tattle on me, Danny! Somebody had to've tattled on Charlie; else,
he wouldn't've had a letter sent home to Daddy and Sara. I bet they were lots
mad when they got that, and I don't want Sara or Daddy to be lots mad at me."

Seeing the earnest expression on his brother's face, Danny gave in and nodded.
"I won't tattle on you, Cammie."

"Cross your heart an' hope to die?"

Danny gulped. Dying didn't sound at all fun. "Cross my heart," he promised,
"but I don' wanna die."

* * *

The trip to the market had been odd. Usually the little family shopped happily,
Jack calling out what he wanted and a blonde projectile scampering away to fetch
it. The children would cheerfully debate which cereal was better, and ignoring
the hopeful sugar-laden selection, Jack dumped in the standard box of Cheerios.
After shopping-- providing their behavior didn't embarrass the crap out of
him--there were milkshakes and chocolate muffins for a morning snack.

Today, the kids walked around silently, pointedly ignoring each other. When Jack
had suggested the great treat, Dan and Cam sat silently, glowering at each other
and slurping their flavored milk loudly. Drinking his coffee and finally giving
up on trying to get them to chat, the General sighed and said, "Okay, obviously
you boys need a nap, come on, you can finish the muffins at home."

"Not tired, Daddy!" grumbled Daniel, edging as far away from Cam's swinging feet
as he could. "Ow! Daddeee, he kicked me!"

"Di'n't Daddy! My foot slipp'd!" Glowering and poking his tongue out when he was
sure Jack wasn't looking, Cam muttered, "Only tattlin' babies need to nap,
right, Daniel?"

"Shut up!"

"Make me!"

"Flydork!"

"Word geek!"

"Enough! That's a one and a two for the pair of you knuckleheads, and a three
will mean sitting on smacked bottoms. Now, I mean it, no more running tales,
Daniel! Cameron, if your foot feels the urge to slip again, I'll be very
irritated. Clear?"

"Yes, Daddy, but he started it!"

"Yup, an' I nev-ah!"

Narrowing his eyes at the warring parties, Jack growled his final warning and
hurried them to the truck. He didn't mind leaving the mall early, the game was
on and he had a million and one chores to do. Buckling the boys in and handing
them their toys, he turned up the radio and tuned into a game.

Glowering quietly in the backseat, mindful of their last warning, the two best
friends folded their arms, both lost in troubled and not-so-troubled thoughts.
Cam couldn't understand why his brother was so worried: as far as he was
concerned they were home free. Daniel hated the idea of keeping secrets, and the
wiser of the two, knew they trod a fine line.

Opening the back door of the truck and watching the boys exit their car seats
like bullets; Jack grabbed the grocery bags, and shrugging, leaned against the
door to listen to the final play of the morning. "Oh crap! Who's playing this
game? Tinkerbelle and the faeries from the bottom of the garden?" Snorting with
disgust at the score, he forgot all about his oddly-behaved children... for as
long as it took him to get up the front walk and across the porch.

Jack heard his children bickering from the moment he walked into the house.
Raising his eyes and dumping the groceries onto the kitchen table, he listened
curiously. The boys rarely bickered, but something had obviously irritated the
crap out of them. By the sounds of the spiteful comments flying back and forth,
it was each other.

Down the hallway, the high-pitched sounds of recriminations flew thick and
fast. "You are such a stoopid rock dweeb! Wish I put black in your paint pot! "

Shaking his head, Jack heard the indignant little dweeb hotly refute the
outrageous claim. "Am not! Least I'm not a fly dope and a paint vandal! I'm so
telling Daddy on you!"

"Yeah?"

"Yeah!"

Jack sighed, and shining an apple on his jacket, strolled down the hallway to
play his stern, parental role. Taking a huge bite from the apple, he grinned
wolfishly and murmured, "Have an apple, boys, what could go wrong." Walking into
the bedroom and clearing his throat loudly, Jack growled, "Children? Tell Daddy
what exactly?"

Danny jumped with fright, and open-mouthed, he whirled around to face the
unexpected and unwanted intruder. Swallowing and feeling his cheeks burn, he
squeaked, "Daddy! Nothing, Cam and I were just playing Marines." Lowering his
head, Danny hated that lies now fell so easily from his own mouth.

Cam stood frozen with horror and shock, his brain trying to process the
undeniable fact that Jack must have heard their conversation. Opening his mouth,
the little colonel felt torn between the desire to howl or throw a spectacular
tantrum. He thought this all Danny's fault, if he hadn't threatened to tell
Sara, he wouldn't have yelled about the paint pots. Swallowing nervously and
searching his mind for the perfect get out of jail free lie, Cam looked into
Jack's face and smiled hopefully.

Bunching his hands on his hips, Cam took a deep breath and started his new line
of truth, Cameron O'Neill style. "Yup! "S'right, Daddy, I was 'tendin' to be
Major Griff and Danny here's bein' Col'nel Dixon." Shrugging with his Southern
boyish charm, he added," Wanna stay 'n play? You can fly the Mothaship if ya
wanna!"

Sara's words filtering slowly through his brain, Jack searched one little boy's
face and then the other. Cam slouched with practiced nonchalance, hands shoved
into his overstuffed jeans pockets and ball cap on backward. His red t-shirt was
crumpled and slightly stained, and naturally, his socks were mismatched. Yep,
Jack thought, nothing wrong there. Swiveling around, he studied his other
child's face and arched an interested eyebrow.

Mm, this is the look of the condemned and the damned. Daniel stood ramrod
straight, his eyes blinking quickly and his fingers clenching and unclenching
nervously. Shifting the weight from one foot to the other, the little
archaeologist looked as though he would burst into tears at any moment.

Determined to stop the morning's nonsense before it ended in those tears, Jack
narrowed his eyes and tilted his head to the side. "Anything you feel like
sharing with me, Daniel?" Moving closer to his intended victim, he added, "Maybe
you'd like to explain to me why you were saying those mean things to your
brother?" Kneeling down and grabbing his hands, Jack added firmly, "We've talked
before about how we talk to each other in this family, and I think an afternoon
tidying the playroom by yourself might jog your memory."

Turning the open-mouthed boy around and pointing to the door, he patted the
jean-clad little bottom sharply and ordered, "Move, mister! I'll call you for
lunch." Wagging his fingers for Cam to take, Jack said in a tone that didn't
match the lightness his words, "Come on, peanut, you can help put away the
groceries and tell me what you were really fighting about."

Cameron spent the weekend perpetuating his campaign of lies and misinformation.

Danny spent his weekend tidying rooms and sulking about life's many injustices.

Gently interrogating one child and then the other, General O'Neill decided to
delegate, and call in the diplomatic corp. "Sara? Now's good, actually. Come
for a cup of coffee and a slice of insanity?" Laughing softly, Jack explained
the worsening state of affairs surrounding Team O'Neill.

Placing the phone into its cradle and throwing her keys in the air, Sara
muttered, "Well, who knew those boys weren't up to any good." Switching the
alarm on and watching the red button flash obediently, she added, "Oh, hang on!
I did." Shaking her head, she wondered how she could make Jack see a little
blue-eyed terrorist was manipulating him.

* * *

"Cameron," Danny hissed in horror," that's Nicky's snack, and you shouldn't have
eaten it! Oh, no! Why are you opening Jordan's lunch box? Hey, you can't swap
that! Suppose he doesn't like banana and jam sandwiches?" Danny shuddered at the
thought of the food combination and thought privately that swapping was the best
thing in the end. He didn't like Nicky, and rubbing his arm, looked at the
purple bruise still evident.


Poking his tongue out, Cam's face crinkled into a mischievous grin. "What's the
good of being a hall monitor if you can't get back at the bullies?" His sweet
voice taking an odd tone of menace and cunning, he scowled. "Nicky's always
pickin' on ya, Dan. Now, let's see how he likes bein' tattled on!"

* * *

Miss Bumstead rubbed her eyes tiredly, worried about Cam's imaginary and
extremely naughty friend, Jake. She had written two letters to General O'Neill
outlining her concerns, but received no response. Sighing and tapping her pencil
on her desk, she decided to allow Cam to be a joint hall monitor with Danny,
hoping the responsible little boy would rub off on his high-spirited and
occasionally irresponsible brother

Imaginary friends, she read, were a child's coping mechanism or the result of
loneliness or bullying. She watched Cameron carefully and knew he was a
popular--if slightly forceful--little boy. No, she had decided, that is neither
a bullied nor a lonely child. Sighing with regret, she figured Cam's behavior
was plain attention seeking, and he merely enjoyed showing off.

The tears and tantrums following lunch had astounded the normally unflappable
Miss Bumstead. Children ran crying to her, shoving empty lunch boxes or soggy
banana sandwiches under her nose. Empty candy wrappers were duly investigated,
bitten apples were discarded, and lunch money handed to the starving and
inexplicably lunch-less. Narrowing her eyes at the sight of the whistling child,
and the uncomfortable-looking boy next to him, Miss Bumstead knew she had made
an error in judgment. "Cameron O'Neill, come here this instant! Daniel O'Neill,
you can just follow right behind!"

"Yes, Mizz Bumstead?" Blinking with wide-eyed innocence, Cam searched his
thoughts for the quickest and easiest lie to spin to his teacher. "I don't know
who made this mess, but I think it coulda bin Jake!"

Daniel groaned. "Shut up, Cameron, you'll only make this worse." Shuffling
forward, picturing all his carefully earned green stars disappearing, the little
archaeologist heard the tapping of the gallows being built all around him. "We
are so going to get it now!"

"Nope! 'Member, it's all Jake's fault!"

"So going to get it."

Sitting in the lunchroom and stirring another sugar into her tea, Miss Bumstead
sought her peer's advice. "Cameron O'Neill is a sweetie, but gosh! Is he acting
up! When I call him on his behavior, he swears it's not him but his friend Jake.
I've sent a couple of messages home to his father, General O'Neill, but so far
I've heard nothing from him." Dimpling and throwing her head back, she added
quietly, "More's the pity!"

Looking up from her crossword puzzle, the family name tweaking a long forgotten
memory, Mrs. Spears, née Ebert, cleared her throat discreetly. "Uma? Tell me,
is General O'Neill an Air Force man? Tall, wiry, and a good sense of humor?
Married to a blonde woman called Susan? Samantha? No!" she exclaimed with
satisfaction, "it was Sally!"

Shaking her red curls and making them bounce prettily, Uma said, "Oh, no! Jack,
er, General O'Neill isn't married! I'm certain he's a single parent." A
predatory look of determination crossing her face, she nodded her head with
finality. "No, I haven't met anyone called Sally O'Neill."

Shrugging her shoulders and picking up her pencil, taking a thoughtful chew,
Mrs. Spears muttered, "Mm, why does that name and these pranks sound so familiar
then?" The sounds of laughing children broke her thoughts, and Mrs. Spears
pushed the worrisome conversation to the back of her mind.

* * *

Called to stay back after class, Cameron and Daniel slid back into their chairs
and gulping, threw guilty glances at each other. Miss Bumstead had thought long
and hard about Cameron's prank, and feeling slightly irked by the mention of a
Mrs. O'Neill, took matters into her manicured hands. Prepared to accept an
apology on behalf of the class, she listened with exasperation as Cam shifted
the blame to his imaginary friend. "I declare, Cameron O'Neill, you have just
gone too far." Tapping Daniel on the nose, she added, "And I am very
disappointed with my little hall monitor." Dropping his eyes to the floor,
Daniel nodded his head and whispered an apology.

"Sorry, Miss Bumstead, I understand if you have to appoint a new hall monitor."
The look of such profound misery on Danny's face caught at Uma's heart, and she
promised she would think about any punishments very carefully. Spearing her gaze
towards Cam, she frowned as she came face to face with his cheeky grin. "'Spose
Jake can be the new monitor!" Dropping his eyes to the floor, Cam stifled the
giggle that threatened to escape. This had been a great game, and the little
colonel was enjoying himself far too much to consider the result of this day's
work.

Uma Bumstead considered the result all too well and put into motion events that
would eventually bring Cam's tricks and scams under full parental scrutiny.
Still oblivious, Cam thought about the backpacks he'd hidden in the girls'
locker rooms and threw his hand over his mouth to stop laughing. The two
bag-less boys were frantic, and howling their outrage, walked hand-in-hand with
the wincing gym teacher. Glancing at the miserable boys and then back to Cam's
smug face, Uma rolled her eyes.

"No, I don't think that will be necessary, Cameron." She decided this game had
gone on far too long and guiding them towards the principal's office, she made
her decision. Calling Jack at home, she took a deep breath and outlined exactly
what had transpired at school that day.

"General O'Neill? It's Uma Bumstead. Miss Bumstead. Cameron's teacher? Yes,
that's right, the redhead." Dimpling with pleasure at the warm voice on the end
of the phone, she almost regretted having to explain her call. Almost.

A dedicated teacher, she had growing concerns over Cammie's imaginary friend,
Jake, and wanted the small boy to understand the meaning of cause and effect.
The more Cam thought he could get away with blaming Jake, the bolder his
naughtiness became, and finally, the swapping of food had been his downfall.
Picturing buck-toothed Molly Millhouse, peanut butter cookie halfway to her
mouth, made Uma shiver. Allergic to nuts, the little girl would have been in
serious trouble, and all because of a thoughtless prank. No, she decided, Jake
the fake is leaving school today!

Listening to the blunt conversation regarding his child's list of crimes, Jack
closed his eyes and felt the room spin out of control. Mrs. Spears may have
forgotten who the prankster had been all those years ago, but he hadn't. "This
can't be happening? Jake? An imaginary friend called Jake?"

Grabbing a kitchen chair and half falling into it, Jack recalled a similar
discussion about another naughty boy, with another kindhearted teacher. Charlie,
he thought, these are the half-assed stunts Charlie pulled! When Uma's insistent
voice roused him from his thoughts, Jack tersely agreed that he would be there.
"Give me fifteen minutes; I would like to bring a family friend if that's okay."
Giving Uma no chance to agree or disagree, the general terminated the
conversation before he became emotional and made a fool of himself. "Sara, I'll
call Sara, she'll know what to do."

Twisting the cord in her fingers and replaying the conversation in her mind, Uma
smiled. "Friend! I knew there was no Sally O'Neill!" Jumping to her feet and
crooking her finger at the O'Neill boys, she said sternly, "Okay, we will have
an afternoon snack and then your daddy should be here. We have a lot to discuss,
don't we, Cameron?" Watching the smug little boy's face blanch, she almost
wavered, but remembering the lunchtime chaos, she hardened her resolve. "No,
that sad little boy act isn't going to work, mister, and if you even think to
blame anyone but yourself, I will be very annoyed. You are going to have to face
the consequences of your actions."

"But…" Seeing the flat look of disapproval on his pretty teacher's face, Cam
figured his Southern charm wasn't going to wash. It finally dawned on him that
he'd gone too far, and with the luxury of hindsight, wondered what possessed him
to think Charlie's pranks had sounded so funny. Daniel had tried to tell him
that Jack and Sara would have been furious, but he'd refused to listen.
Irritated teachers glaring at him, class bullies glaring at him, and the
knowledge that Jack was on his way made him feel sick. Slumping into his chair,
he swallowed noisily and thought of a certain spare bedroom that probably would
have his name printed on its door.

From the corner of his eye, Dan saw Nicky Rossi and Billy McNamara bunch their
chubby little fists at him, and closing his eyes, felt the promised ache of a
dead arm.

All in all, the day had been a disaster and would only get worse. With their
freckled faces burning with shame, Cam and Dan shifted uncomfortably on blue
plastic chairs outside the principal's office, waiting for the sword of Damocles
to fall.

* * *

"Sara? It's Jack. Let's get one thing squared away: you were right about the
boys and I was wrong. Okay? They are up to their necks in mischief, but you are
not going to believe how." Rubbing his hand through his hair, mindful of how
painful the memory would be, Jack explained about Cameron, vandalized paint
cartons, squashed banana sandwiches, and the revival of the fake Jake. "So, how
do you think my monkeys found out about Charlie's pranks?" Waiting for Sara to
catch her breath, Jack played with the coins in his pockets, anything to keep
his hands busy. "Sara?"

"Yup, I'm here. Well, that's sure a blast from the past. What's the plan?"

"United we stand, divided I fall into a mess?"

"So, flyboy, nothing's changed then."

The warm surety of her voice calming him, Jack finally let out the breath he'd
been holding. Searching the tabletops and eventually patting his pockets down
for his keys, he puzzled, "Sara, I just don't get this! How on Earth could
Cammie have known about those stunts Charlie pulled over a decade ago? Did you
tell him?"

Pinching the bridge of his nose with his fingers, Jack felt the years fall away.
Blinking, he pictured Charlie, head bent, confessing to all his heinous crimes
against innocent paints, squished sandwiches, and lost library books. There had
been hell to pay, and Charlie never hid notes in his little shoebox again. Of
course, Jack thought sadly, he hadn't had the time. In a few short years, he had
been gone. "Oh, Charlie."

Hearing the dull ache in Jack's voice, Sara closed her eyes. On a lovely spring
day, years ago, she had sat in her kitchen and worried. Charlie had been playing
the fool, and fed up, she warned him, "Daddy will be home soon." He adored his
daddy, and when Jack had to go away, missed him terribly. One day, unexpectedly,
he dreamt up an imaginary friend called Jake. Jake was everything Charlie
wasn't. He was messy, he was rude, and he played cruel tricks. Sara despaired,
and tried everything she could think to make Charlie take responsibility for his
own actions. Eventually, the principal had rung, and when Jack came home that
week, he put Jake to bed once and for all. Now, unbelievably, she was having the
same conversation, with the same man, about the same problem, ten years later.
Different kid, though, she thought sadly.

Shaking her head, she decided to put the past where it belonged and deal with
the present. She had a very good idea where Cam got the Jake idea. "No, Jack,
why would I? That child doesn't need any hints from me to get into God-awful
mischief. My guess, flyboy, would be Charlie's box of tricks. Remember, the
shoebox Pops gave him for his baseball cards?" Sara sighed softly at the memory
of the little box with the Labrador puppy on it, and brushed away an errant
tear. Taking a deep breath and pushing her sadness away for the time being, she
murmured, "Didn't you store Charlie's things in the attic last spring?" Phone
hunched under her chin as she raced through the house looking for keys and bag,
she panted, "I'll meet you at the school. After we get our collective asses
smacked, we'll come home and discuss it as a family, okay?"

"Meet you there... and Sara? Yeah, we will, as a family." Placing the phone in
its cradle, Jack sighed. "Okay, children, this had so better be good."

* * *

Walking into the schoolyard, Sara coughed, and stared at the empty swings
creaking in the warm breeze. This was going to be harder than she thought.
Feeling Jack squeeze her hand, she nodded, and lifted her chin in the air.
"Okay, I can do this. We need to find room 511a." Counting the door numbers, she
exclaimed, "Ah, here we are." Walking in, she looked around the bright, cheery
classroom and felt her heart suddenly soar. A feeling of optimism swept through
her, and even though she was annoyed with the little pranksters, she knew they
never meant to hurt her. Hiding her smile behind her hand, she searched out the
boys' guilt ridden faces and shook her finger at them sternly. "Well, well, this
is a fine state of affairs! "

"Hello, Sara." Daniel looked at her beseechingly. "Sorry to make you miss the
Bold and the Beautiful."

"Howdy, Sara. Are you gonna take us home?" Cameron slid his eyes across to
Jack's disapproving face, and sighing softly, added, "Please?"

"No 'hello Daddy'?" Jack growled, "And no, mister, she is not. You and I have a
lot to discuss."

"Do we?"

"We do."

"Nuts!"

When Sara and Jack walked in, arms casually linked, Uma's smile froze on her
face, but shaking it off, got right down to business. If Jack noticed the
exchange between Sara and Uma, he didn't comment. He had been too busy glaring
at his fallen angels. The angels themselves looked anywhere but back at him, and
for once, Cameron wore a look of guilt that exceeded the one on Daniel's face.

Ignoring the wordless warnings Jack sent the boys, thinking they deserved
everything they had coming, Sara nodded at the young teacher. "Miss Bumstead?
I'm Sara O'Neill." Holding her hand out and smiling warmly, she allowed a tiny
smile to tug at her lips as she took a seat. Patting the tiny chair next to her,
she breathed, "Honey? Sit here?" Looking at the chair meant for a six-year-old's
butt, the General groaned under his breath.

"Wonder where Charlie got his lame sense of humor from," hissed Jack.

"Oh, probably the dubious Irish genes he had flowing through his veins. Poor
kid."

"Yeah, right." Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he felt his
spirits surprisingly lift. If Sara could laugh about this, then so could he. Not
that Cameron would be excused. Charlie had learned his lesson, and he'd make
darn sure his littlest colonel would as well. But boys will be boys, and he
figured he'd file this drama away to be brought up and laughed over later. Much
later. Much, much later. Like when Cameron had children of his own, later.
Sitting on the chair made for people under four feet tall, Jack looked at Sara
carefully.

Elbowing him gently, she whispered, "You're on, I believe. Go get 'em, tiger."

"Children," he growled. A crooked finger was all it took to have the boys,
dented halos and all, shuffle across the room and stand at Jack's knees. Cameron
bravely plastered a watery smile on his face, and looking into the pair of stern
parental eyes, breathed, "Hello, Daddy. Hello Sara, fancy meetin' ya'll here."

"Cameron," Jack and Sara said in unison, "be quiet."

Looking up, chewing his lip with trepidation, Daniel waggled his fingers at Sara
and sighed at Jack. "Are we going to get it? We are, aren't we? We are sooo
going to get it. I told Cam, don't do it, 'cause we are going to get it!"
Feeling himself fly through the air and bounce onto his dad's lap, Daniel
squeaked with fright, "Oh, we are so going to get it!"

Cameron was given a week's detention, meaning no recess or lunchtime playing
with the other children. He had to sit with Miss Bumstead and eat his food
alone. For a social little boy like Cam, there could be no worse punishment.
He'd miss all the baseball games, heads-up-seve-up tournaments, and the banned
Yu-gi-oh! card swapping. Tears rolling down his face, he hugged his teacher's
leg and promised that the imaginary Jake was kaput.

Daniel had his hall monitor button confiscated and given to an ecstatic Molly
Millhouse for an entire week. The shame and embarrassment of being busted down
to a regular kid made him burst into noisy tears, but Uma coolly stood her
ground. "Every action has a cause and effect, Daniel. You knew what Cameron was
doing was wrong and yet you said nothing. This is the price of misguided
loyalty. "

* * *

Tears of regret were shed. Heartfelt promises earnestly made were earnestly
accepted. Sent packing, Jake the fake exited the O'Neill family home for the
second time. Growling, Jack made sure Cameron understood who the real culprit
had been. "If I hear Jake is back in town, I guarantee you will be one very
sorry little boy, got it? "Sensing his daddy meant business, Cammie quickly
decided imaginary friends weren't worth the trouble they caused. " 'Kay, does
that mean I'm not in trouble now?"

"What do you think? Pretending to being bullied? Causing all sorts of trouble at
school? Dragging your brother into another harebrained scheme?" Glaring at the
little archaeologist as he tried to back out to the room, he wagged his finger
in the air. "Ahhttt! Back you come! Gotta be somewhere, Daniel?" Snaking out an
arm and corralling the little boy, Jack continued with his lecture. "Cameron,
where was I? Riiight, how about making up stories to wriggle out of chores?
Shall I continue?" Patting his lap, Jack hauled Cam onto his knee and prodded
his belly, coolly demanding, "Well, airman? "

"So, I am in trouble?"

Throwing his hands in the air, Jack dumped Cam onto his feet and looking at
Sara, sighed, "Tag, you're it."

"Oh, please!" Sara held her hand out and gently took Cam's. Fixing the squirming
child with a stern look, she said, "Cameron, that little box had Charlie's name
on it, didn't it?" Seeing the little boy nod a fraction, still looking at his
toes, Sara continued. "So, what made you think you could take it? Did it have
Cameron written anywhere on it?"

"Nuh-huh." With another tiny shake of his head. Cam looked up at Sara's kind
face, and started to cry again. "Least I don' think so."

Determined to get through to the headstrong child, Sara squeezed his hand and
continued, ignoring the tears that steadily fell. "Neither do I! So, when you
and Daniel read letters that were clearly addressed to your dad and me, you
invaded our privacy." Lifting Cam's tear stained face to hers, she insisted,
"Cameron, didn't you?"

"Yes, Ma'am." Misery and regret showed clearly on Cam's face.

Still, Sara contined."You boys are old enough to know right from wrong, so
explain to me, what made you take Charlie's stuff and hide it? You could see
that he was caught, so why pull the same stunts? You know, he was a very sorry
little boy once your daddy finished with him. If you are so keen on being just
like Charlie, I guess the punishment should be the same. Jack?"

"Come on, Cam, best you follow me."

Another shrug, another sniff. "No! I don' wanna be just like Charlie anymore!"
Nose red from crying, he whispered, "I only took Charlie's stuff 'cos Dan knew
all 'bout Charlie, but I didn't."

Sighing, Jack asked, "All those pranks? Swapping the lunches? Hiding the other
kids' bags?"

"Dunno, jus 'cos they sounded like fun, I guess." Looking up and shrugging
nonchalantly, Cam's honesty astounded Sara and amused Jack. "I only hid Billy
McNamara and stinky Nicky Rossi's, s'all. They're mean, an' always pickin' on
Dan, so, it served 'em right." Unrepentant and loyal, Cam folded his arms.
Jutting his chin out, he looked Jack squarely in the eye, daring him to say he'd
been wrong. Cam would always protect his brother, no matter what the
consequences may be.

A feeling of love and pride for his little colonel overwhelmed Jack. Looking
over at the freckled face child, eyes puffy from crying, hand planted
protectively across his backside, Jack steeled himself to play the stern parent.
He told Sara later that it had been all he could do not to burst out laughing.
"Excuse me?" he growled," serves them right to have no lunch? To have their bags
put in the girls' locker room?" Rolling his eyes at Sara, Jack muttered, "This
is what I have to put up with!" Moving across the room and sitting on Cam's bed,
Jack said softly, "Okay, the stupid stunts I'll deal with later, but for now, go
and get me Charlie's shoe box."

Handing over Charlie's shoebox of memories, Cameron knuckled his eyes and
blinked away his tears. Truly remorseful for the trouble and pain he'd caused,
he hugged Jack's neck tightly. Looking into his daddy's sad, brown eyes, Cam
murmured, "I just wanted to be like Charlie, is all." Sniffing miserably, he
added," He sounded like such a cool kid!" Running his sleeve under his nose, he
asked shyly, "Tell me more 'bout my other brother?"

Edging closer, Daniel flung his arm around Cam's shoulder, and patting his back,
asked, "Daddy, did Charlie like Captain Planet? Did you watch it in bed Sunday
mornings like we do?"

Sara sighed softly and looking into Jack's eyes, shrugged. Taking a curious
little boy onto each of their laps, Sara and Jack reminisced, and found
themselves talking freely for the first time in years about their son. And for
the first time in years, they laughed and cried together, as a family.

The End