"Hi," Ali said, bending down to shake Caiden's small hand. "Do you remember me?"
"Yep," Caiden replied. He looked up at Daniel and tugged on his pants leg. "Pancakes, Daddy."
Daniel grinned and shook his head. "No pancakes. It's lunch time. How about we make sandwiches?"
Caiden shook his head mutinously. "Pancakes," he repeated.
"No pancakes," Daniel said, smiling apologetically at Ali. "Sorry, he's at that age where he wants to eat the same thing all the time."
"My little brother, Jason, was like that when he was around Caiden's age too," she said with an empathetic grin. "If he'd had his way, he'd have lived on boloney sandwiches 24/7."
"If Jack was here, he'd give in to him-" Daniel shut his mouth with an audible snap, wincing as the stitches in his cheek pulled.
"My dad used to give in to Jason too," she said. "I was much tougher though." She crouched next to Caiden again. "You know what I feel like eating?" she said. "Burgers."
"Yay! Burgers!" Caiden yelled, grinning broadly at her.
Daniel groaned. "That's healthier than pancakes?" he asked.
"The ones I make are," Ali replied, giving him a surreptitious wink. She stood up. "Got some ground beef, eggs, and a few vegetables?"
"Yeah, sure. Um, let's go into the kitchen." Daniel took Caiden by the hand and led him into the kitchen. "You really don't need to do this, you know "
"Hey, I've got the day off and it's been ages since I cooked for a couple of handsome men. Indulge me." Ali walked over to the fridge and opened it. "May I?" she asked as Daniel sat at the kitchen table with Caiden on his lap.
"Be my guest," Daniel replied. "So what brought you out here to see Jack?"
He smiled inwardly as Ali blushed all the way to the roots of her hair. So that's where the land lay. He'd suspected as much.
"Um, he asked me about babysitting Caiden sometimes so I thought I should call round, get to know Caiden a little better just in case." Ali put the eggs and beef on the table then turned back to the fridge, reaching up to open the freezer. She turned back to Daniel, a bag of frozen mixed vegetables aloft in one hand. "Got a blender?' she asked.
"Yuck," Caiden muttered, turning to bury his face in Daniel's chest. "Taiden hate vegebles."
"You do?" Daniel asked, tickling his tummy. "Daddy loves them. They give you muscles, see?" He flexed his arm and laughed as Caiden's eyes grew wide and he reached out a pudgy finger to poke at Daniel's bicep. "Remember Superman? He had muscles because he ate his veggies."
"He calls you Daddy," Ali asked quietly. She began opening cupboard doors, finally pulling out a blender and placing it on the counter and plugging it in. She rummaged around and found a saucepan, put a few handfuls of vegetables into it, covered them with water then set it on the stove and turned it on.
"Yes," Daniel replied equally quietly, "he does."
"Oh." Ali found a bowl and put the beef into it then placed it in the microwave and set it to defrost. "I've made an incredible fool of myself, haven't I?" she asked, not turning around.
Caiden wriggled impatiently so Daniel set him down on the floor and watched as he wandered into the living room to play with his toys. "It's fine," he said. "You weren't to know. We're not what you'd call 'out' to many people. Jack's career-"
"I know about Air Force regs," she snapped. She took the meat from the microwave and set it on the table then grabbed the vegetables from the stove and drained them with a colander she found in the same cupboard where she'd found the bowl. "Sorry. I'm a little oversensitive when it comes to don't ask, don't tell. I mean how are people supposed to know that certain other people are off limits to them when no one says anything? It's not like you have a neon sign on your head proclaiming you're gay, right?" She tossed the vegetables in the blender and turned it on for a few seconds then dumped them in the bowl with the beef and a cracked egg.
"Guess not," Daniel said. "Look, you don't need to cook lunch. I'm fine, Caiden's fine, and I'm sure I don't need to ask you to not mention this conversation to anyone "
"I'm your doctor," she replied, stirring the hamburger mix forcefully. "What you and Colonel O'Neill choose to do with your private life is nothing to do with me unless it causes problems for you on the job, all right?"
"All right," Daniel said.
"So is Caiden yours or his?" Ali asked overly brightly. "He kind of looks like you but I think he has the Colonel's mouth and chin."
"Um " Daniel sighed with relief as the phone rang. ""Excuse me."
He could hear Caiden chattering away to Ali as he went to answer the phone. "Jackson," he snapped.
Daniel let the tension seep out of him as he heard Jack's voice. "Thank God it's you," he said in a stage-whisper. "Ali's here."
"Ali who? And why are you whispering? What's going on?"
"The new doctor from the SGC. She said she called in to get to know Caiden a little more because you'd asked her about baby-sitting for us."
"I did? I don't remember asking her but I think I remember her offering. Anyway, might be a good thing she's there. I need you to come in after all. Seems the Atharians want proof you're not mad at them for the earthquake."
"You're kidding." Daniel snuck a look over his shoulder and saw Ali putting handfuls of burger mixture into Caiden's hands, showing him how to mould them into patties. "What shall I do about Caiden?"
"Ask the doc if she'll stay with him till we get home. She offered, right? Just warn her about the Teletibbles, okay?"
"Yeah, okay. Um, Jack, she knows about us," Daniel said, lowering his voice even further. "Caiden called me Daddy and she kinda picked it up from there. Wanted to know who he belonged to - you or me. Apparently he has your mouth and chin."
Jack snorted a laugh at that. "Look, don't worry about it, Daniel. She signed the non-disclosure agreement just like we all did-"
"That was for secrets about aliens, Jack, not about discovering the leader of the flagship team is sleeping with a male member of that team. She could go over Hammond's head-"
"And risk losing a job she seems to like? It'll be fine. You want me to send a car for you? Should you be driving yet?"
"I'm fine. I can drive in. Give me forty five minutes, okay?" Daniel hung up the phone and walked back out to the kitchen.
Ali looked up and grinned at him as she pointed to Caiden who was shoveling a handful of cooked vegetables into his mouth.
"Vegebles not yucky, Daddy. Taiden likes Ali's vegebles. Here, want some?"
"Thanks, honey, you eat them," Daniel replied, eyeing the multicolored mush in Caiden's plump fist. "Listen, Ali, you said you were willing to babysit. Um, how would you like to start now? Today, in fact. I have to go in to the Mountain after all and Jack can't leave so "
"Sure. Happy to help." Ali picked up a dishrag and wiped Caiden's face and hands. "I'll cook the burgers under the grill and leave some in the fridge for you and the Colonel."
"Thanks, that'd be great. Look, about what we were talking about before "
Ali shrugged. "Story of my life. All the good ones are married or gay. I'll get over it."
"I just wondered if you had a problem with it because of what you said-"
"Nope, no problem," Ali said shortly. "Don't you need to go?"
Daniel nodded, worrying a little at the mercurial shift in her mood but he picked Caiden up and kissed him goodbye and told him to be good. "I'll be back soon, buddy."
"Papa too?" Caiden asked plaintively, his lower lip dropping into a pout.
"Yeah, Papa too. Thanks, Ali," Daniel said.
She waved a brief goodbye then scooped Caiden from his arms and carried him into the living room. "Bye," she called over her shoulder. "Go, we'll be fine."
Ali looked down at the blond-haired child sleeping peacefully in the beanbag. He really was adorable, his long dark eyelashes brushing against pink cheeks, his wavy hair sticking up in tufts against the fabric of the beanbag. She looked around the room. It was plainly obvious Caiden was a much-loved child. Toys overflowed the box in the corner of the room, children's books sat along the lowest shelf of a tall bookcase. Curious, she walked across and looked at the books higher up - archeology, history, linguistics, engineering, biography - just about every subject she could think of seemed to be represented. She wandered further around the room, picking up a photo here and there. Most of them were of the Colonel and Daniel surrounded by Teal'c, Janet, Major Carter, General Hammond, and a handful of other people she vaguely remembered seeing around the base since she'd started work there.
Looking back at Caiden, still sleeping the sleep of the innocent, she ventured further afield, pushing open a door here and there. It wasn't snooping, she told herself, as she stepped into what was obviously the master bedroom, she was just satisfying her curiosity about the people she worked with. It was an innate part of her nature, this wanting to know more about what made her patients tick, what made them the people they were. It made her a good doctor too, she fervently believed that. She wasn't just interested in the physical injuries she dealt with but in the emotional resonance those injuries could have on the patient, and their family. She'd seen Daniel's and Jack's medical records and had been more than a little stunned at the injuries and illnesses they'd dealt with in their time with the SGC. The amount of time spent in the infirmary and recuperating, and going through rehab had to have had an effect on how they rebounded from injury now. And Daniel was still, after all, her patient.
She picked up a photo frame from the bedside table, a multi picture one. All the photos were of Daniel and Jack alone, arms looped around each other's shoulders in one; Daniel sitting between Jack's legs in another, Jack's hand on his shoulder, both of them smiling broadly. They looked happy, she thought, happier than she could ever remember seeing her own parents over the course of their all too short marriage.
A smaller frame caught her eye and she held it up. Jack, Caiden as a tiny baby held securely in his arms, was leaning across the baby's head to kiss Daniel's cheek. Daniel's arm was stretched out as if he was holding the camera and the shot was slightly blurry as if his hand had moved just as the shutter had closed.
She placed the photo back where she'd found it, suddenly feeling like the intruder she knew she'd become. Quickly she left the room, casting one last look at the large double bed, the blankets pushed back haphazardly on both sides, the pillows still bearing the imprint of where two heads had lain. Softly, she closed the door and went back to the living room.
Caiden was sitting up on the beanbag when she got there, tears streaming from wide blue eyes. "Want Papa! Want Daddy!" he wailed as she hurried to pick him up.
"Hey, it's okay," she crooned, "Ali's here."
"Noooo! Want Papa!" Caiden sobbed, struggling to climb from her arms.
She let him down then crouched in front of him. "Ready to have those burgers?" she asked brightly. "We can make some for Papa and Daddy so they can have some when they get home too, okay?"
Caiden seemed to give the idea some thought, eventually wiping a hand across his runny nose. "Yuck," he said, holding his besmeared hand out to Ali and wiping it on her shirt.
"Thanks, kid," she muttered. "So burgers?"
"'kay," Caiden agreed, allowing her to lead him into the kitchen.
She fired up the broiler and had the burgers cooked and ready to go in fifteen minutes. Caiden had been following her from place to place, his sipper cup in one hand, the other gripping her pants leg. Finally, with the delicious-looking burgers atop toasted buns, she lifted him into his booster seat and strapped him in then placed his plate in front of him and sat down across the table from him.
"Mmmm," she said appreciatively, taking a bite.
Caiden lifted his own burger and eyed it warily. He sniffed it then pulled the top half of the bun off and bent over the burger. A small finger poked into it and he pulled a sliver of vegetable free. "Don't like vegebles," he said darkly, brows pulled down in a frown.
"But you said you liked Ali's vegetables," Ali reminded him. "They're yummy."
"Nope." Caiden shook his head firmly. "Want pancakes."
Ali sighed. "Tell you what, have three bites of your yummy burger then Ali will make you pancakes."
Caiden's eyes narrowed suspiciously then deftly he unbuckled the strap holding him in place and hopped down off the chair. Throwing himself face-down on the floor, he began chanting, "Not one bite, not one bite, not one bite "
Daniel stretched a cramp from his ribs as he climbed out of the car. Truth be told, this little excursion to the SGC to calm the worries of the Atharians had taken more out of him than he cared to admit. Now, though, the treaty was signed, and the Atharians had gone home secure in the knowledge that Earth didn't blame them for the earthquake that had almost killed him and Stan Kovacek.
Jack grinned at him and pulled him against his side as they walked up the driveway to the front door. "Good news about Stan," he said, unlocking the door and letting Daniel precede him inside.
"Yeah, I'm glad he's going to regain full mobility."
"Thanks to you," Jack added.
"Well, maybe but mostly due to the medical team-" Daniel stopped in the hallway and looked over into the kitchen. "Speaking of medical personnel Ali?" he called. He headed for the living room and looked around. "Caiden?"
"What's wrong?" Jack asked.
"It's too quiet," Daniel said. "Where's Caiden?"
"Maybe Ali put him down for a nap," Jack replied.
"At 7 o'clock?"
Jack headed for the bedrooms at a run, Daniel at his heels. A full circuit of the house and the yard turned up nothing - no note, and no sign of Caiden or Ali.
"Where's her car?" Jack asked, opening the front door and turning on the porch light.
"What?" Daniel asked, unable to focus beyond the fact that Caiden was gone.
"Her car, Daniel? Can you see it outside in the street?"
Daniel pushed past Jack and looked up and down. "It's gone," he said, shock gnawing a hole in his gut. "Jack, she took him."