Jack watched from his seat at the kitchen table as Caiden toddled over to the television set and patted the screen.
"A TV," Daniel said. He thumbed the remote and Caiden jumped then opened wide blue eyes as a quartet of men in various-colored shirts danced across the screen accompanied by a large green dinosaur.
Caiden plopped down on his butt and watched the Wiggles with rapt attention, his head bopping to the music, his small fingers tapping out a sort of rhythm on his kneecaps.
Daniel had been surprised when Caiden had started speaking recognizable English after disturbing them in their bedroom early that morning, Jack less so. He'd figured that as Caiden was Daniel's clone, chances were the kid was going to have the same verbal capacity as Daniel and he shuddered a little inwardly at just how full of Daniel-speech his life was likely to become over the years. He grinned as Caiden stood up again and walked across to Daniel, patting him on the knee.
"Up," the boy demanded.
Daniel complied readily, lifting the toddler onto his lap and turning him to face Jack.
"Who's got you, Caiden?" Jack asked, standing up and crossing over to them, patting Daniel's shoulder. "Who is this?"
Caiden shrugged. They hadn't quite gotten around to nomenclature yet. Caiden had been too busy touching everything he saw so far, asking "Whaddat?" inquisitively.
"This is Daddy," Jack replied slowly. "Can you say Daddy?"
Caiden narrowed his eyes then turned and wrapped his arms around Daniel's neck. "Dis Daddy," he parroted.
Daniel grinned so widely Jack thought he'd split his face.
"Who's this, Caiden?" Daniel asked, patting Jack's arm enthusiastically, joining in the game.
Caiden looked up at Jack then smiled, a small mirror-echo of Daniel's. "Daddy," he said.
Jack scratched his cheek thoughtfully. "He can't call us both Daddy," he said, reaching out to tousle Caiden's hair.
"This is Papa," Daniel said. He patted Jack's arm again. "Papa. Can you say Papa?"
Caiden pursed his lips then patted Jack's arm as well. "Papa," he chirped cheerfully.
Jack lifted his hand, wiggling his fingers over the boy's head till he had his attention. Swooping his hand down he tickled Caiden's belly, asking, "And who are you?"
Caiden giggled then said, "Taiden. Me Taiden, Papa."
"The kid's a genius," Jack observed. "He obviously has your looks and my brain."
Daniel yanked on his arm, pulled him down for a quick kiss then said dryly, "Well, considering we've been calling him Caiden for the past three or so days, it's not all that surprising he knows his own name."
"Exactly," Jack declared, scooping the child out of Daniel's arms and hoisting him onto his shoulders. "He's three days old and he already knows his name. He's a genius."
So," Daniel said, standing up and looping an arm around Jack's waist. "Shopping?"
Jack groaned. "Again?"
"His clothes are too small, Jack," Daniel pointed out.
It was true. The boy was currently kitted out in one of Daniel's oversize t-shirts that Daniel had tied in a knot at the back so it stayed more or less above his knees. The diaper he wore had had its tabs extended with masking tape so that it fitted, a little too snugly, around his newly sized abdomen. Still, Jack hated shopping, avoided it whenever possible and felt they'd had to do more than he could handle just in the three or so days they'd had Caiden.
"You go," he wheedled, giving Daniel a kiss on the cheek. "Caiden and I can stay here and get to know each other better.
Daniel sighed, narrowed his eyes but gave in. "All right," he said, pulling Jack down so he could kiss Caiden's cheek. "You be good for Papa, okay. I'll be back soon." He picked up his wallet and keys. "This means you get to do the food shopping on Friday," he warned.
"Deal," Jack said, spinning around in place to make Caiden laugh. Food shopping he could handle. You walked along the aisle, picked up what you liked to eat, tossed it in the cart, paid for it and headed home. He sometimes wondered why Sara had complained about having to take Charlie to the store with her. "I'll even take Caiden," he said. He was an Air Force colonel, after all. He could do it with one arm tied behind his back.
"Great," Daniel replied, on his way out to the garage. "I'll use the free time to work on that translation for SG9."
"Oooh, whaddat, Papa?" Caiden's eyes were round with awe as he looked up at the brightly colored display.
"That's candy," Jack said, ruffling his son's hair. " It's yucky. You wouldn't like it." He pulled a mock-disgusted face.
"Nice try with that one," said the woman standing next to him. She rocked the screaming toddler she held on her hip then reached out with a sigh and grabbed a bag of chocolate bars off the hook, handing them to the child, who stopped crying, grinned adorably and scooted down off her mother's hip. "Caitlin, wait till we show the checkout lady before you open them."
Jack grinned as Caitlin tore the bag open with her tiny white teeth and delved into the bag with glee. She pulled a bar out, considered a moment then offered it to Caiden who shook his head firmly. "Yucky," Caiden pronounced, retreating behind Jack's legs.
Jack just barely stopped himself from preening. Instead he gave Caitlin's mom a sympathetic smile. "It's all in the training," he said. "Start 'em early enough and it's all downhill from there." He reached behind him to pat Caiden's head then froze as his hand encountered air.
Whirling around, he looked down to see vacant space where Caiden had been not ten seconds before.
"He's over there," Caitlin mumbled around a gob full of chocolate, pointing with a sticky finger towards the next aisle.
Jack froze momentarily as first a crash of breaking glass then a high-pitched scream rent the air.
"Yep, downhill," Caitlin's mom said snootily, gathering her sticky child back into her arms. "Good luck with that."
Jack raced to the next aisle, the cart wobbling madly before him as he rounded the corner.
"You know you're going to have to pay for this stuff, mister," the young girl, who'd been stacking the shelves with jars of coffee, said briskly.
Caiden sat on his butt amidst the broken glass and scattered coffee granules, one small bloody finger raised to his mouth. "Yucky, Papa," he said then burst into floods of tears.
"Shit!" Jack abandoned the cart and picked his way over the crunching debris to lift Caiden carefully into his arms. "It's okay," he soothed, examining the finger carefully. It was just a tiny cut, he realized and in his relief he vented his anger at the girl. "Why the hell didn't you stop him from pulling the jars down?" he yelled. "You were standing right there."
The girl turned her carefully made-up face his way. "Hey, mister, I'm just the shelf-stacker. You want a baby-sitter, call an agency. I don't get paid to keep an eye on your kid while you make time with any single mom who catches your eye."
Jack took a deep breath and willed himself to calm. "You're right," he said finally, jiggling the sobbing Caiden. "I should have been watching him. But he just vanished. One second he was there, the next "
"First time shopping with a toddler?" said a voice behind him and Jack swiveled to find a pretty woman standing almost at his shoulder, a sympathetic smile on her face. "Lacey," she addressed the store worker, "don't give the guy a hard time. I'm sure he'll pay for the stock. Right?" She gave Jack an inquiring look and he nodded.
"Sorry, Doc, it's been a long day. Look, don't worry about it, mister," Lacey replied. She patted Caiden's shoulder. "Hey, stop crying and I'll get you a candy bar, okay?" She disappeared around the corner of the aisle then came back a moment later, a chocolate covered frog in her hand. She opened the wrapper, pulled the frog out and handed it to Caiden.
Caiden lifted his head from Jack's shoulder, tears and snot mingling on his red face. He heaved in a shaky sigh then took the treat from Lacey's hand. He gave it a hesitant lick then nibbled the corner, a look of surprise on his face as he looked up at Jack. "Not yucky, Papa," he crowed, taking a bigger bite.
"Oh, great," Jack said.
"Why don't you let me take a look at his finger," the woman said with a broad grin. "I really am a doctor, by the way."
"Really? Sure, thanks," Jack replied. "It's probably nothing but-"
"Let's go into the office out back. I know they've got a first aid kit back there. That okay, Lacey?"
Lacey waved a desultory hand. "Knock yourself out, Doc."
"Take a seat." The doctor indicated a chair in front of the table in the room. "It might be easier to do this if you hold your son on your lap."
"Sure." Jack sat down and positioned the still-sniffling child on his knees. "Sit still, Caiden," he murmured, rubbing the boy's back gently. "The nice lady's going to make your owie all better."
The woman rummaged around in the first aid kit and then turned back to them, a small tube of disinfectant cream and a bandaid in her hand. "Hey there, Caiden," she cooed, lifting the child's hand up and looking it over, "my name is Ali. It's very nice to meet you. Let me see now." She rubbed a small amount of cream onto the tiny finger then wrapped a bandaid firmly around it. "I don't think there's any glass in it but you can take him to your own doctor if it starts looking inflamed." Straightening up, she smoothed a hand over Caiden's hair then held her hand out to Jack. "Ali Cooper," she said with a grin, giving Jack's hand a firm shake. "It's very nice to meet you, despite the circumstances."
"Jack O'Neill." Jack smiled at her gratefully. She was attractive in a gamin way, her short dark hair complementing the dark brown of her large, expressive eyes.
"Well, it's been a pleasure, Jack," she replied, grinning broadly. "So, is Caiden's mom going to read you the riot act for this?"
"Nope, that won't be a problem," Jack replied though he gave momentary thought to what Daniel's reaction would be.
Caiden wriggled on his lap and then half-turned so he could look into Jack's face. "Go home now, Papa." His eyes filled with tears as he held his injured finger up for Jack's inspection. "Hurt, Papa. Go home now."
Jack stood, grinning apologetically at her as he maneuvered Caiden onto his hip. "Look, I really appreciate your help. I'd better get him home. Thanks. It was nice meeting you."
"Yes, you too," Ali replied. "Maybe we'll see each other around sometime."
"Yeah, maybe. See ya."
Ali shook Caiden's small hand. "Goodbye, little guy."
Jack walked out of the office, Caiden waving a cheerful bye bye over his shoulder. He picked up his abandoned cart, went through the checkout then headed for his car and home and rest. 'Who knew shopping could take so much out of a guy?' he ruminated as he tucked Caiden safely into the car seat.
"He cut himself? Jack, you're supposed to keep your eye on him all the time," Daniel said as he picked Caiden up and placed a kiss on the bandaged finger.
"I was watching him." Jack stopped and shook his head. "Ya know," he went on, "I hope we're not going to start sounding like an old married couple now just because we've got a kid."
"You're right. Sorry." Daniel put Caiden on the beanbag in front of the TV and turned on the set and the dvd player. "Look, Caiden, Teletubbies."
Caiden watched the screen for a few minutes, a puzzled frown on his face then tipped his head back to look at his fathers. "No Wiggles?" he asked plaintively.
"Auntie Sam brought this over for you while you were out," Daniel replied cajolingly. "Look, that one's got a ball."
"Want Wiggles." Caiden stood up then plonked himself back down on the beanbag, his mouth turned down in a pout.
Jack walked across to the TV and picked up the remote. "We've got 50 odd channels. The Wiggles have to be on here somewhere "
"Jack, no, sometimes he has to accept he can't have everything he wants."
Jack sighed and handed the remote to Daniel as he walked back into the kitchen. "Old married couple," he muttered as he went past.
"I'm sorry, Colonel, but the Atharians have said they won't deal with anyone but Dr. Jackson." Hammond certainly sounded apologetic, Jack thought but he wondered if his commanding officer knew just what he was asking. "I know what I'm asking of you, Jack," Hammond said, dispelling that thought, "of both of you. I understand you need time at home with the boy to acclimate him to his new life." Jack glanced over at Caiden, who was currently acclimating himself by seeing how much peanut butter and jelly dripped off his toast if he held it upside down. He stepped sideways across the room, righted the toast and handed it back to his son, who stuffed the whole quarter slice in his small mouth and mumbled, "Fanks, Papa," around it.
Hammond was still talking and Jack juggled the phone till he could hold it between his shoulder and his ear while he grabbed the sipper cup Caiden was trying to unscrew the lid from. He held up a rebuking finger at the child then turned his attention back to the call. "Yeah, I know you do, sir. It's just I don't really think we want to leave Caiden with anyone just yet. He's settling in really well with Daniel and me but-"
"The Atharians haven't asked for you, Jack, just for Dr. Jackson. I'm sure Dr. Fraiser would be more than happy to help you with the boy while Dr. Jackson's off-world."
Okay, that gave Jack pause. "Who's Daniel going with, sir, if not with SG: 1?"
"This is just a diplomatic mission, Jack, so I was planning on sending SG: 9."
"Look, nothing against Stan Kovacek, sir, but we all know what kind of trouble Daniel can get himself into even on something as simple as a diplomatic mission and-"
"Your objection is noted, Colonel." The command tone was back in Hammond's voice and Jack knew he'd lost the argument. "Besides, Dr. Jackson told me that he feels you're more than capable of handling Caiden without him while he's gone for a day, and that *he's* more than capable of handling a diplomatic mission on his own."
There was a cough from behind him and Jack turned to see Daniel leaning against the doorframe, watching him.
"Right, sir, so you've already spoken to Daniel about it. Can I ask why you called me to talk to me about it then if it's a done deal?"
Daniel smiled sheepishly at him and Jack raised a finger and slid it slowly across his own throat.
"Dr. Jackson felt you might have some objection to it and felt if it came from me as an order -" Hammond sounded as sheepish now as Daniel looked but Jack knew when he was beaten.
"I see, sir. Thank you for the courtesy call. I'll see you in the morning. I have to bring Caiden in for a checkup with the doc anyway." He hung up the phone, handed Caiden a squeezy yogurt tube to suck on then pulled Daniel into the living room. "You weren't going to tell me yourself, were you?" he asked angrily.
"Obviously not," Daniel said flatly.
"Why?" Jack glared into Daniel's eyes. He'd thought they were past this sort of shit; that once they'd made a commitment to each other, there'd be no keeping anything back.
Daniel waved a hand toward Jack's face then smiled a little. "Because I knew this was how you'd react," he replied, not unreasonably, Jack supposed, considering the way Jack was reacting.
"Look," Jack said, taking a breath and a figurative step back from the argument, "I know there are still going to be times when we have to go offworld. I just thought we'd still do it together." He looked back at Caiden who was crowing happily over a book he'd found stuffed down the side of his high chair. "We have him to consider now."
"I know," Daniel said, giving Caiden a wave. "That's the only reason I took this mission so soon after he came along."
"Sorry," Jack replied, feeling he was missing something.
"Jack, this way he'll have at least one of us Earthside," Daniel explained. "I have to admit I was worried about us both going offworld right now but if it's just one of us-"
"I get it," Jack snapped. He sighed, rubbed a hand over his weary eyes. "I don't like it but I get it, all right?"
"So, what's the problem?" Daniel asked. He walked a few steps away to pick up the book Caiden had thrown to the floor and put it back on the tray of the chair, shrugging and walking back to stand in front of Jack as Caiden immediately tossed it to the floor again.
"I should be there to watch your six," Jack replied gruffly.
"It's just a diplomatic mission," Daniel said. He stepped closer to Jack, put his hands on his shoulders and pulled him in for a kiss. "Nothing's going to happen."
Jack kissed him again then pushed him away, keeping hold of his arms. "You've said that once too many times before And somehow it always does."
Daniel shook his head. "Not this time, Jack. The Atharians are very peaceful. They're an agrarian society. They don't even have any technology."
"So why are we bothering making a diplomatic agreement with them?" Jack groused. He walked away to pick up the cup Caiden tossed to the floor, started to hand it back, changed his mind and shoved the cup onto the kitchen counter instead then lifted Caiden out of the high chair and led him through to the bathroom.
"Barf!" Caiden caroled happily, toddling over to grab his favorite bath toys and toss them into the water Jack had started running.
"Yeah, bath time, Caiden." Daniel knelt down and began undressing the child then picked him up and swooped him through the air before depositing him in the tub.
"Bubbles," Caiden reminded them and Jack dutifully squirted the requisite amount of bubble mix under the water accompanied by their son's squeals.
"Because they seem to have found a way to eliminate crop pests without the use of pesticides. It's something in their soil."
"What?" Jack looked up from where he was playing submarines with Caiden.
"The Atharians," Daniel reminded him.
"I know that," Jack said to a skeptically raised eyebrow from Daniel. "I did," he protested. "Okay," he amended, "I knew it had something to do with farms." He stood up, groaning theatrically as his knees protested the hardness of the tile floor. "I just wish I could at least send Carter or T with you."
"You still don't think of me as being able to take care of myself, do you? God, Jack, how many years do I have to be on the team, how many Jaffa," Daniel lowered his voice to a whisper, " do I have to kill before you realize I can do this stuff? Not that I'll need to do anything like that this time," he added quickly.
"I know you can take care of yourself, Danny. I've seen you in action." Jack reached out to pull Daniel in for a hug.
"Then what's this all about?" Daniel asked.
Jack shook his head and buried his face in the crook of Daniel's neck. "I don't know," he murmured. He lifted his head and cupped Daniel's face in his hands. "Maybe it's because of having Caiden now," he said, emotion roughening his voice.
"I understand that," Daniel replied, brushing his mouth gently over Jack's. "I'll be careful. I promise."
Jack tightened his arms around him. "Pinky swear," he whispered.
"Pinky swear," Daniel agreed.
"Pingy thwear," Caiden yelled from the tub, standing up and tossing a handful of bubbles at them.
"I'm never going to survive him on my own," Jack said despairingly.
"Janet will help."
"Janet won't give me blow jobs at the end of a hard day," Jack muttered softly into Daniel's ear.
"Janet better not," Daniel retorted.
Caiden watched with a puzzled frown on his face as Daniel waved goodbye to him and kissed his forehead.
"Daddy's going now," Jack explained, picking the boy up and pulling Daniel into a family hug. "Say bye bye, Daddy, hurry home."
Caiden dutifully waved his pudgy fingers in imitation of Jack and said, "Bye bye."
"I'll be home soon," Daniel promised, heading out of Hammond's office and down to the Gateroom.
Caiden looked up at Jack, frowning. "Daddy all gone," he said.
"Only for a little while," Jack said. "Hey, why don't I take you to see Auntie Sam?"
"Yeah!" Caiden crowed. He wriggled till Jack let him down then held up his hand for Jack to hold. "No Teletibbles," he said darkly as Jack led him from the room. "Don't like Teletibbles."
"Oh boy," Jack muttered. "Let's not mention that to Auntie Sam, okay?"
There was always something weirdly disorientating about starting work in a new place, Ali thought as she listened with half an ear to Dr. Fraiser giving her what she guessed was the routine induction lecture. No matter how well you knew your job, no matter how good a doctor or Air Force officer you were, each new base was a start-over and no matter how confident you were, you always felt like a fish out of water for the first couple of days.
Ali had grown used to that feeling. She'd been an Air Force brat, dragged along with her two brothers to whatever new posting her father was sent to. She'd watched her mom, accepting at first, become gradually beaten down as each new post meant leaving friends behind, and then trying to make new ones. Eventually, it had become too much. Her mom had simply disappeared one day, saying she was going out to get milk from the base store and never returning. After that, Ali became the mom, raising her younger brothers, getting herself jobs to get her through high school. Then came a college and a med school scholarship, and to her father's surprised pride, joining the Air Force after her graduation cum laude. Now here she was walking through a top secret Air Force facility like she was supposed to be there. She wondered what her dad would think if he could see her now.
"Coming through! Make a hole!"
Ali squeaked in surprise when she found herself flattened up against the wall by Dr. Fraiser's diminutive body as two men, both covered in blood, were pushed past them on gurneys.
"Crap! Sorry, Dr. Cooper, looks like we're throwing you in at the deep end," Fraiser said, flashing a rueful smile at her as she grabbed Ali's hand and tugged her along in the wake of the gurneys. "You up for this?"
Ali gulped down the panic that had risen in her throat and pulled on the mantle of proficiency she'd spent years accumulating. "Of course," she replied.
"Okay, who's the most critical?" Fraiser asked, looking to her triage team as they entered the infirmary.
"Major Kovacek," a nurse replied quickly. "Crush injuries to both legs and his back," she added.
Ali saw Fraiser grimace as she trotted toward the gurney to their left. "Who's our other patient?" Fraiser called over her shoulder.
"Dr. Jackson," the nurse replied.
"Shit. How bad?" Ali watched as Fraiser pulled on gloves and started examining her patient.
"Looks like concussion and some nasty gashes on his arms and head."
"Okay. Dr. Cooper? You gonna stand there and observe or you going to treat your patient?"
Ali stepped forward and headed for the second patient's gurney. "I'm on it," she said quickly, grabbing a set of gloves for herself and setting to work.
"You did good." Ali jumped as hand patted her shoulder. She looked up, seeing Dr. Fraiser standing next to her. She shrugged. "He'll be okay. X-rays didn't show any fractures but he's got a heavy duty concussion and some of those cuts took a few stitches."
Fraiser leaned forward and tucked the blanket up around Jackson's shoulders in a motherly gesture that Ali found at odds with the professional side of the doctor she'd seen before.
"How's the other guy?" Ali asked.
"Internal injuries, crushed vertebrae, but he'll make it. He might wish he hadn't for a while but..."
"So what happened to them?"
"Earthquake on the planet they were on. Dr. Jackson went in after Major Kovacek and got hit by falling debris. Luckily the rest of their team weren't injured and were able to extricate them quickly with help from the locals."
Ali shivered a little at the planet reference. She'd been brought up to speed on the Stargate program as a matter of course but it still gave her chills to think that she was actually working in a place where people went to other planets.
"You okay?" Fraiser asked.
"Yeah, just processing, I think." She stood up. "So what now?"
"Out in that waiting room there's going to be a nervous SG team wanting to know how their archeologist is doing," Fraiser replied, smiling tiredly at her. "How about you go give them the good news that he'll live... again." She brushed a strand of hair back from the patient's face and shushed him gently as he murmured. "Go to sleep, Daniel. You're going to be fine."
"Again?" Ali turned at the door and cocked an inquiring glance at her new boss.
"Let's just say that Dr. Jackson is our resident trouble magnet."
Ali nodded and walked out to the waiting room.
"Um, hi, I'm Dr. Ali Cooper and I just wanted to let you know that Dr. Jackson is going to be fine," she said to the trio of expectant faces that looked up at her.
"That is indeed good news," said a tall man who had risen to his feet at her entrance. Ali tried not to stare at the gold emblem embedded in his dark forehead.
"That's great," the blonde woman sitting nearest the door replied, giving her a broad grin.
"Yeah, thanks, Doc." Ali turned at the vaguely familiar voice and looked up into the face of the man standing behind her. "Oh," she said, "it's you. Um, we met at the store the other day. I bandaged your son's finger."
"Right." The Colonel stuck out his hand and she shook it. "Nice to see you again." He grinned disarmingly. "Though I didn't expect to see you here."
"Me either... um, sir," she added belatedly, feeling her cheeks heat and hating the blush that she just knew was creeping unattractively up over her face. "How is Caiden?"
"He's fine, thanks. So, Daniel's okay?" he asked.
"He has a pretty serious concussion and some nasty gashes that needed suturing but he'll be just fine in a few days," she replied, professionalism belatedly taking over.
"Um, can we see him?" the woman asked, and Ali tore her eyes from the Colonel's handsome face to nod at her. "Sure. He's still pretty out of it though so I wouldn't expect too much coherence from him just yet."
"What else is new?" the Colonel replied, grinning at his teammates. "Oh by the way, Doc, this is Major Samantha Carter and Teal'c."
Teal'c bowed his head at her and Carter shook her hand and then they were crowding past her through the door to the infirmary while Ali sunk down in one of the waiting room chairs. She watched the Colonel disappear behind the curtain into Dr. Jackson's cubicle and smiled. This job had suddenly become a lot more interesting than even she'd thought it would be.