Wings of ChangeAuthor's Warning: This is not your typical JoaG team story. Due to the timelines, I'm labelling it an AU fic. But here's the clincher. It's not Gen. It's about Jack and Sara, so it's actually Het. Consider yourselves warned before you continue reading.
Jack smacked down the lock on the side of the car's door and slammed the door shut. He tried to bite back his anger, but as usual his wife continued pushing the conversation despite the fact that he'd told her he didn't want to pursue the matter.
"Don't you think *I* deserve some say in this?" She slammed her own door just as loudly and stormed around the front of the car. Her blue eyes flashed hotly and her face was red with indignation as she stood face to face with him. "You're the one who's going to be away for months at a time. If I want to raise a child on my own, I should be the one to make the decision."
"And I told you, I don't like kids." Jack stepped away from Sara and started through the small parking lot towards their New York apartment building.
"And that's bullshit. I've seen you with our niece, Jack. You'd be a great father."
"Then I can be a great uncle and you can borrow the kid once in a while."
"Damnit!" Sara's footsteps sped up, her high heels clicking on the cement as she hurried to catch up to him. Jack stopped and before she could continue with her argument, he put a hand around her waist and pulled her close.
"Honey, let's drop this for now. I only have two weeks before I'm shipped off again and I really..." he kissed her, a quick peck on pursed lips, "really,"... another quick peck, "don't want to fight." He kept his lips on hers and brought a hand up behind her head, threading his fingers through her long, silky hair.
Sara relaxed slightly and opened her mouth, allowing Jack to kiss her soundly. She leaned against him and his damp shirt clung to his body, the heat from her exciting him. The world focused solely on the pliant body in his arms, her warm, wet mouth and her hands as they slowly made their way down his back towards his butt.
The sound of an approaching car had him quickly pulling back from her as he realized they were standing in the middle of a parking lot. He pulled Sara aside and grinned sheepishly as Steve Middleton and his wife Diane drove by them and pulled into an empty spot nearby, grinning widely.
"Can't you two newlyweds wait until you're inside the house before doing that? Gonna make us old folks have a heart attack." Steve held a hand to his chest in mock pain as he stepped out of the car. Jack glanced at Sara and saw her cheeks turn pink and he couldn't resist giving her another kiss in front of their next door neighbours.
"Jack." She pushed him away with an embarrassed laugh, but he saw the sparkle in her eyes which promised they were definitely going to finish this upstairs.
"You know, Steve," Diane said over her shoulder as she stuck her head into the back of the car and pulled out a small, battered suitcase from the back seat, "you could take lessons from Jack. You haven't kissed me like that in a long time."
As the older man was busy pulling out groceries from the car's trunk, Jack stepped forward and took the suitcase from Diane. To his surprise, he saw a youngster sitting in the back seat.
"Three hours isn't that long a time. But just you wait, I can refresh your memory, woman."
Diane coaxed the young boy out of the car. Jack could see a mop of blond hair through the car window. The boy slid out from behind the lowered front seat and stood beside the car clutching a light brown, ratty furred teddy bear. He kept his head down as Diane pushed the seat back up and shut the door.
"Is this your grandson, Diane?" Sara stepped forward but Jack realized something wasn't quite right with the kid. He put a hand on Sara's elbow, stopping her from getting too close.
Diane smiled sadly at Sara and shook her head. "This is Daniel. He's going to be staying with me and Steve for a week or two until they can find some proper foster parents for him."
"Foster... oh." Jack felt Sara stiffen but she quickly knelt to the boy's level. "Hi, Daniel."
The boy didn't look at her, didn't fidget uncomfortably, and didn't try to avert his eyes when Sara put a hand to his chin and pulled his head up. His face was pale despite the tan, there were dark shadows beneath his bloodshot eyes. But it was his eyes that got to Jack. He'd seen that very same haunted look in men who'd gone through a horrifying experience during battle.
"Sara, don't crowd him." Jack took her arm and gently pulled her back. She stood up, staring down at Daniel a moment then turned to look at Jack in bewilderment when Daniel continued staring into space.
"I didn't know you'd been foster parents." Jack had been inside the couple's apartment a couple of times and had always assumed the myriad of pictures there were that of family. Suddenly he knew that they had all been their *kids*.
Diane put a hand to Daniel's shoulder and gently guided him towards the building's entrance. "I was never able to have children so we gave our hearts to those who needed us. We haven't had a child with us in a couple of years, but Daniel's special."
They went up the stairs slowly, the young boy, who couldn't be more than eight or nine, seeming to have a bit of trouble negotiating the steps. Diane was there, coaxing him on while Steve held back and in a soft voice, began to tell them Daniel's story.
"His parents died in a freak accident a couple of days ago. You might have read about it in the paper? The museum?"
Jack shook his head. He'd just gotten into town yesterday and hadn't caught up on any of the local news.
"Oh, yes, I did," Sara replied. "They'd been living in Egypt and just came to New York, hadn't they? I didn't realize they had a child."
"He was there when it happened. Saw his parents killed."
Sara glanced at Jack in horror to Diane's words, and he reached out with his free hand and rubbed her back.
"That's not the worst of it. Daniel was taken aside after it happened and placed in a room, out of the way, while the emergency crew got there. In all the excitement, they forgot about him. He was found by the cleaners, in a near catatonic state."
"How horrible." Sara was glancing up at the kid, unable to keep her gaze from him. Diane stopped Daniel from automatically going up the next flight and steered him into the hallway. She unlocked the door to their apartment and ushered Daniel inside.
Jack and Sara followed, Jack feeling extremely uncomfortable as Daniel was situated on the couch. He put the suitcase down in the kitchen and rubbed his hands together.
"Where are you planning on letting him sleep?" Sara asked.
Jack knew that Diane used the spare bedroom as a sewing room and there was no bed in there. The couch, although it looked comfortable, wouldn't provide much privacy for the kid.
Diane glanced towards the couch and Jack sighed. "We have a spare folding bed you can borrow. It would probably fit in your spare bedroom."
Diane looked relieved as she smiled at him and nodded. "That would be great. Thank you. You're a lifesaver."
Jack pointed over his shoulder as Steve came out of the kitchen. "I'll just go and..."
"I'll give you a hand," Steve said, clapping Jack on the back. Sara waved goodbye to Daniel and returned to their apartment with the men.
"Looks like you have a tough job on your hands," Jack said as he began digging through the hall closet. He pulled out several boxes sitting on top of the folded down bed and piled them on the floor.
"It's not as bad as it looks. The doctors say he's pretty much aware of what's going on. He's had a bad shock, to say the least, but we've seen this before in other kids, Diane and me. What he needs right now is to be reminded that people do care about him. We'll be talking to him a lot, giving him a lot of our attention, hugs, if he'll let us."
Jack finally cleared enough space to manage to get a handle on the cot and pulled it from the closet. When he went to put the boxes back, for some strange reason, they wouldn't all fit inside the closet. He was left with a bulky box that wouldn't fit no matter which way he tried to get it in.
"You're hopeless, you know that?" Sara took the box from him and made a shooing motion. "I'll take care of this. Go on, I don't need your help."
As Sara leaned into the closet, Jack bent down and pulled her hair away from her neck and kissed the warm, sweaty skin there. He wished they could afford an air conditioner, the apartment was stifling.
"How about we grab a quick shower and I'll take you out for supper, Mrs. O'Neill."
"Why, sir, what would my husband say?" she teased as she straightened up and leaned back against him.
"Wear something sexy?" Jack said with a leer. He heard Steve guffaw behind him and with a quick pinch to Sara's bottom, causing her to squeal, he picked up his end of the cot and they carried it to Steve's apartment.
Jack glanced at the tyke who was now curled up in a corner of the couch, tucked under a blanket despite the warmth of the room. Diane was in the kitchen but she came to help them rearrange the sewing room in order to make it cosier for Daniel. After several minutes of moving furniture around, Diane was satisfied and she began making up the bed.
Jack walked back out into the living room on his way out the door and, unable to help himself, he stopped and looked at the kid again. Daniel seemed to be staring at nothing, the teddy bear peeking out from beneath the blanket.
A sudden feeling of relief washed over Jack, and he was thankful that he wasn't the one who had to worry about this kid. But as he left the apartment, closing the door softly behind him, he was suddenly overcome with shame. The kid had been through hell and was probably confused and hurting, and here he was glad he didn't have to get involved. He felt pulled in two directions, and he wasn't happy about it.
He entered his apartment and walked into the bedroom. Sara had already showered and was in the process of putting on her makeup. Jack headed for the bathroom.
"I won't be long," he promised. She smiled up at him as he detoured a moment to nuzzle her neck. This was all he needed. No way was he going to add any more heartache to his life. He didn't need kids, not at all.
- - - - - -
Jack woke up to find Sara leaning over him, smelling of soap and hair spray. She kissed him soundly as Jack pulled her closer. She fell onto the bed, laughing as she tried to pull away.
"I have to go, Jack."
"You sure?" he said as he reluctantly let her go.
"I have classes this morning."
He stretched and smiled into her laughing eyes. His body was relaxed and heavy.
"I'm glad this is your last year at the University."
"Me, too. I can't wait to move back to Colorado Springs and finally settle down away from the hustle and bustle of the big city."
She walked to the bureau and rummaged through the bowl where she kept her jewellery. Jack enjoyed the view of her trim figure, her pants fitting her in just the right spots. After a moment she turned towards him as she began putting on her earrings. He felt certain parts of his body begin to wake up before his brain. Which reminded him...
"Sorry about keeping you up half the night." And he was. He didn't have to go anywhere and could get a few more hours of shuteye, but Sara had already been up for at least an hour.
"I'm not." She glanced down at the sheet covering his groin and laughed at the growing bulge. "I don't believe you."
"Hey, *we* missed you. What more can I say."
"How about goodbye, have a good day?" She approached the bed once more as she finished with the second earring and leaned over Jack for another kiss. She pulled away before Jack was satisfied.
"Goodbye, have a good day." He licked his lips, wishing it were the weekend already.
"Love you." She gave Jack another quick peck and walked out of the bedroom. Jack listened to her footsteps as she gathered her stuff, then heard the door shut as she left the apartment.
He stretched again, turning onto his side as his erection slowly began to subside. He yawned, debated on lighting up a cigarette and then getting up and having breakfast, but with no plans on his agenda, he decided to go back to sleep.
- - - - - -
Jack put his dirty dishes into the sink and swallowed the last of his coffee. He grimaced at the taste of the instant coffee. Sara was a teetotaller and thought instant was good enough for anyone. He'd have to dig out the coffee percolator and go and buy some ground coffee later today.
He prowled around the apartment for a time, reacquainting himself with his and Sara's belongings. He hadn't been at the apartment for four months and although many of their possessions were familiar, they didn't feel like his, yet. He hated this aspect of his military life and hopefully by getting redeployed to Colorado Springs, things might have a bit more familiarity for him. And for Sara.
He flicked through the television stations and settled on a game show. He got bored after a short time and turned the TV off. There were a stack of magazines on the floor by the large overstuffed chair and he went through them, settling on a few National Geographics.
He heated some water and fortified with more instant coffee and a cigarette, he decided to go sit on the balcony and enjoy the sun for the short period it would shine between the buildings, and read. He opened the door and pushed a kitchen chair into the small, sunny pace. But as he stepped onto the balcony, he froze.
With the space of two inches separating his balcony with that of the Middleton's, privacy wasn't an option. But it had never occurred to him that there would be anyone else outside at this time of day. But there was the kid who was staying with them, huddled on the cement floor.
His back was against the brick wall, knees bent before him, and with his teddy bear clutched against his chest, he was staring at the drab apartment building across the alley from them. His eyes were half closed, the sun shining on his upturned face.
"Hey kid," Jack said as he manoeuvred the chair away from the wall. The boy ignored him, continuing to stare at nothing. There was a glass of milk beside him, untouched from the looks of it, along with several vanilla cream cookies on a plate. With the heat of the day already oppressive, Jack didn't think that the milk would be much good for long.
He sat down, tilted the chair so the back was leaning against the bricks, and put his feet up on the railing. He balanced his coffee cup in his hand along with his cigarette, and began flipping through the first of the magazines.
Although the boy was silent, he unnerved Jack, making it almost impossible for him to concentrate on any of the articles. He looked at the pictures instead, concentrating on the headlines, until he reached one article on a just-discovered African tribe, complete with a variety of photos of near-naked women, unashamed of their bare breasts.
He took a few minutes to admire the pictures, forgetting the kid beside him until the scuff of his sneaker brought Jack back to the here and now. Slightly ashamed, he quickly flipped through the rest of the magazine and then decided he wanted another coffee. He glanced at the kid while flicking his cigarette into the cement alley below.
Daniel hadn't moved from his position except to lower one leg. Jack screwed his face when he saw the still untouched glass of milk.
"So..." Jack lowered his legs and let his chair fall forward. "You're Danny, right? Does your bunny rabbit have a name?" He leaned his forearms against his thighs, bending closer to the boy. "Bugs Bunny, maybe? Nyah, what's up, doc?" Jack made chattering noises with his tongue while clicking his teeth together.
Daniel ignored Jack, but the furry toy was squished a little more tightly against his chest.
"I'm Jack. Figured I'd introduce myself, seeing we're neighbours and such." Jack scratched his face, feeling the rasp of his unshaved beard beneath his nails. He remembered what Diane had said about not wanting the kid to feel abandoned and he wondered why she let him sit out here alone. He figured maybe she needed to make a few phone calls, or thought the kid needed a bit of space.
"You know, I think I could do with a coffee." As he stood, he remembered that Daniel had been to Egypt. He wrinkled his nose at the sight of the quickly spoiling milk. He thought maybe Diane was going about this all wrong. "Don't go away, I won't be long."
He went back into the apartment and heated more water. He made himself another coffee and steeped some tea for the kid. Then he tossed several teaspoons of sugar, remembering how everyone in the Arab world loved hot, sweet tea. A handful of cookies and he was set.
Daniel hadn't moved, so Jack leaned over his side of the balcony and handed him the cup of tea. "Here, this might be a little more to your tastes." The kid took the cup and held it to his nose. To Jack's delight, he took a sip, then darted a surprised look at him. He drank a little more and then held the mug against his stomach, as if unsure what to do with it.
"Here, how about a cookie?" Jack handed the plate over and Daniel put the cup down on the floor before reaching for a cookie. As Jack settled back down onto his chair, he watched Daniel eat the cookie. At least the kid wasn't staring into space now. His attention was focused on the treat in his hand.
"Chocolate walnut cookies. It's my wife's favourite. Me, I can take 'em or leave 'em."
When the kid finished the cookie, Jack offered him another. This time the boy actually looked at Jack a moment before lowering his gaze to the plate. Despite the redness of his eyes that portrayed his grief, his eyes were an incredible blue. The look he gave Jack was uncertain, but he reached out a hand and took another cookie. He ate it slowly, as if savouring it because it would be his last.
The sound of children laughing had the kid turning towards the street, where Jack could see a bit of green where he knew there was a small playground. Jack waited until Daniel finished his cookie and then downed the last of his coffee.
"You know, I could stretch my legs a little. You feel like coming with me for a walk?"
Again the troubled gaze met Jack's.
Jack stood, gathered his magazines, chair and dirty dishes. "I'll be just a sec. I'll go talk to Diane and see if she'll letcha out of the house." He dumped everything in the kitchen, grabbed his keys and locked up. He knocked on the Middleton's door and was smiling when Steve let him in.
"Is it okay with you if I take Daniel down to the park?"
"Um, yeah, sure," Steve said, surprised, moving aside to let Jack in.
"I just saw the kid outside and thought he might like to, you know, get a bit of exercise."
"Hi Jack." Diane came in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a tea towel. "Of course we don't mind, but I don't know if Daniel will want to go with you." She broke off when the door to the balcony opened and Daniel stepped uncertainly inside the apartment. They all noticed how his gaze went to Jack's before he lowered his eyes to the floor.
He had Jack's mug in one hand, the glass of milk balanced on top of the plate of cookies, and his teddy bear was clutched beneath his arm.
"Here, I'll take those." Diane hurried to relieve him of his burden as he struggled not to drop or spill anything. She looked at the mug and then turned to Jack, a question on her face.
"I made the kid some tea and sugar. I don't think he likes milk." Jack moved to Daniel and squatted down to his level while Diane stepped onto the balcony to get the milk and cookies Daniel hadn't touched. "So you feel like going for a bit of a walk?"
Daniel didn't raise his head but he nodded.
"Do you need to go to the bathroom first?" Diane said as she gently pushed him towards said room. Daniel dropped the teddy bear onto the couch and obeyed Diane. As the door closed behind Daniel, she turned to Jack.
"I have to warn you, he's not going to have much energy. I'm told he hasn't been sleeping much except for an hour or two at a time. He's plagued with nightmares and even though the doctors say at his age he shouldn't experience flashbacks, I've seen kids go through them before."
"Tomorrow's going to be hard on the poor tyke." Steve lowered his voice as he moved closer to Jack. "His grandfather's here for the funeral but he's refused to take the kid in. Diane and I wanted to take Daniel to the services, but the guy insisted on being the one."
"The kid's own grandfather doesn't want him? Isn't there anyone else who�?"
"He's some big shot explorer or something and has no time for kids. And unfortunately he's Daniel's only living relative. I hate to think how this might affect�"
He broke off as the bathroom door opened and Daniel came out and looked at Jack expectantly. Jack waved Daniel over and he immediately went to Jack's side, although he didn't take his proffered hand.
"See you guys in an hour or so," Jack said as he opened the door to let Daniel out.
They walked slowly to the park, Jack only insisting Daniel take his hand when they crossed the street. They meandered slowly across the weed-strewn lawn, heading for the swings.
"Wanna give it a try?" Jack grabbed an empty seat and pulled it out towards Daniel. The kid sat down, glanced curiously at the other children on the swings, and reached up to take hold of the chains on either side.
"Okay, hold on tight." Jack grasped the wooden seat and pulled back, and then stopped as Daniel nearly slid out. "Sit back a bit more," Jack instructed. He waited until Daniel repositioned himself, pulled the seat, and gave it a push.
Daniel sat there like a lump, legs hanging dully, head lowered. Jack didn't push too hard, afraid the boy would fall off, but kept the swing going at a gentle pace.
"Hey, mister, push me!" One young girl about Daniel's age ran for an empty swing next to Daniel and sat down and waited expectantly. Jack took two steps sideways, pulled her seat back and the kid leaned into the movement. Jack pushed off and she immediately began pumping her legs, getting the swing to move higher and higher with her own impetus.
Jack alternated between the two children, the young girl squealing in delight as she went higher and higher while maintaining the gentle rhythm with Daniel. Jack caught Daniel watching her and then suddenly, when Jack next pushed Daniel, he stuck his legs forward as the swing moved higher.
As the swing swung backwards, he pulled his legs behind him and leaned his body back. He quickly got into the rhythm, moving his swing higher and higher while Jack silently urged him on.
Daniel seemed to be enjoying himself, the small body working furiously to maintain the level of movement when suddenly, as the swing reached the bottom, he stuck out his feet in the sand and tried to stop. He twisted furiously, trying to turn and look behind him, nearly unseating himself as the chain twisted. His face was full of fear and Jack immediately rushed forward as the swing began to move erratically sideways.
Jack caught the swing and Daniel nearly fell out of it, panting hard. He looked up at Jack and suddenly Jack realized that Daniel hadn't been able to see or feel Jack behind him and most likely had thought he'd been left alone.
"Hey, it's okay," Jack said softly. He reached out and touched his hair. "I'm right here."
Daniel let go of the chain and immediately lowered his head, staring at his feet. Jack reached down and squeezed the tense shoulder. "Come on, let's go see if there's something else we can do." The moment they stepped away from the swing, a young boy appropriated it, and Jack quickly pulled Daniel out of the way as the child began swinging back and forth.
"Here, try this." Jack stood in front of a metal slide, the gaudy green paint peeling from the sides. Daniel looked up at it and then back at Jack. "Go on, climb up."
After a second's hesitation, Daniel climbed the stairs and sat on the top. He looked at again at Jack, who waved him to start down. Daniel inched forward and then slid down the shiny chute. He landed with his feet in the sand and sat there, then looked up at Jack as if to ask 'is this all there is'?
"Okay, maybe this is a little too tame for you. C'mon."
They walked towards the monkey bars, which Daniel didn't even glance at. Jack aimed for the seesaws and instructed Daniel to climb onto one of them. As Jack reached up to pull the opposite end towards him, Daniel had crouched down, his butt parked on the wooden plank, his hands held loosely around the handle bar.
"Hang on tight," Jack warned. He pulled his end of the plank down and Daniel's mouth dropped in surprise as his feet left the ground. He grabbed the supports, almost leaning over it in order not to fall off.
Jack straddled the plank, grinned at Daniel and jiggled it slightly. Daniel's legs waved wildly and a small smile turned up the corner of his mouth as he straightened. Jack allowed the plank to drop and Daniel bounced as he landed. Before Daniel could get his feet underneath him, Jack bent his knees, bringing the seesaw back up. He repeated this a few times, then kept Daniel up in the air.
He jiggled the plank with his butt, causing Daniel's to jerk up and down a few times until he began sliding to the side. Daniel tried to right himself, and Jack swore that for a second, the smile turned into a grin. Then Daniel was sliding, off balance, and Jack immediately lowered the plank until Daniel's foot touched the ground.
Daniel stood and by the time Jack stepped away from the seesaw, Daniel's face wore the same expressionless mask as before. Without a word, Jack placed a hand around Daniel's shoulders and they continued their circuit of the playground.
They stopped at a small fountain and Jack had Daniel sit while he stripped him of his socks and shoes. He let Daniel go walking in the fountain while he lit a cigarette and watched. Daniel walked around slowly, the water almost up to his knees. He ignored the other children, skirting them and staying near the edge. Once he'd made a full circuit of the fountain, he came back to Jack and sat near him. He dangled his feet in the water, making small waves in the water, while Jack finished his cigarette. Crushing the butt beneath his foot, he glanced at his watch. "We better head on back. It's almost lunchtime and I wouldn't want Diane and Steve to worry."
Without a word, Daniel stepped out of the water. Jack brushed the water off Daniel's legs and feet with his hands, the heat and the sunshine quickly finishing the job for him.
Shoes and socks back on, they headed for the street. When they reached the corner, Daniel took Jack's hand without being told. To Jack's surprise, he didn't pull away and was content to hold onto Jack until they reached the apartment building.
As they went up the stairs, it was evident that Daniel lacked energy. He wasn't quite as disoriented as he'd been yesterday but he seemed to be pulling his body up each step with difficulty. Jack wondered if he'd made a mistake taking the kid outside, but then thought maybe the fresh air and exercise might help him sleep tonight.
He knocked on the door and was greeted by Diane and the odor of fried steak. "Did you have a good time?" she asked, threading her fingers through Daniel's hair as he looked up at her.
He nodded tentatively before looking back down at his shoes. Jack didn't miss how he leaned into her and he smiled as Diane put her arm around him in a loose hug.
"Well, I'm glad you did, kiddo. Maybe we can do this again tomorrow?"
Jack was granted a hopeful glance before Diane shooed Daniel to the washroom to wash his hands. He made a quick detour to the couch and picked up his stuffed toy.
"He might not be in a mood to go tomorrow," she said in an undertone. "It's the funeral, remember?"
Jack swore softly. He'd forgotten. But then maybe the kid might appreciate the distraction. "We'll see how he's feeling afterwards."
"Ciao, kid." Jack waved to Daniel as the kid returned to the kitchen and clambered up onto a chair, and went home. His thoughts weren't on lunch so much as the grin he'd manage to elicit from Daniel earlier, if only for a moment.
- - - - - -
Sara snuggled contentedly against Jack as he climbed back into bed and he put an arm around her, pulling her close. He was still sweaty from the sex they'd just enjoyed, the small fan in the bedroom doing nothing to quell the humidity despite the open window.
He tried to settle comfortably, sweaty skin against sweaty skin, the noise of the city an unfamiliar backdrop to Jack. He closed his eyes and felt himself begin to relax when suddenly a loud scream had both him and Sara sitting up in alarm.
The shouting went on and Jack heard Steve's voice through the thin wall separating their bedroom from Daniel's, and the open windows. Diane's voice joined her husband's, and Daniel finally quieted down.
Jack lay back down while Sara stared at Jack, wide-eyed. He pulled her down to him and she lay against his chest. He could feel her heart racing against him.
"Kid's been having nightmares," Jack explained. He listened carefully for telltale signs of weeping, but other than Diane's soft tones, Daniel's bedroom was now quiet. Even the soft murmurs stopped after a few more minutes.
"I can't believe what he must be going through," Sara whispered. "The poor thing."
"Diane said he's only sleeping a couple hours at a time. He looks like he could fall over any minute. I guess every time he shuts his eyes, he sees the accident."
"Can't they give him something to make him sleep?"
"I guess they could, but they'd only be dealing with the symptoms, not the problem. And I got the feeling that Steve and Diane have experience dealing with kids like him. I just hope they can help him soon."
Sara yawned and Jack closed his eyes. Sara fell asleep soon after but Jack lay there for hours staring out the small bedroom window and wondering if Daniel was awake and staring at the same cement building across the alleyway.
- - - - - -
The grocery store was only six blocks away and after lunch the next day, Jack decided to get freshly ground coffee to replace the instant stuff. After searching for, and finding, the coffee percolator, he made a grocery list and set out for the store.
Paper grocery bags in hand, he was approaching the apartment building when a taxi cab pulled up in front of it. He spotted Daniel stepping out of the cab, dressed in dark pants and jacket. A middle aged man got out a moment later and with a hand pressed against Daniel's upper back, he steered the boy into the apartment building's interior.
Jack entered a few seconds later and he could hear their footsteps above him. As he went up the stairs he realized that this was Daniel's grandfather. The man who didn't want to take the kid in. Jack realized he was catching up to the two on the stairs, and he slowed down, torn between giving the bastard a piece of his mind and wanting to stay out of the way. When the guy knocked on the Middleton's apartment door, Jack stepped quietly up to his own door and awkwardly fished in his pocket for his door key. The man glanced at Jack, then dismissed him when Steve opened the apartment door. Daniel, who had heard the rustling of the paper bags, looked up but before Jack could say or do anything, he was whisked inside, the door shutting behind him with a final snick.
Sighing, Jack put the groceries away and began measuring water for some fresh coffee. He'd just plugged the percolator in when someone knocked at his door. He opened the door to see Diane and Daniel.
"Jack, I have a huge favor to ask," Diane said. She looked embarrassed and uncomfortable as Jack invited them in.
"We need to go and clean up the hotel room where�" She glanced down at Daniel, who was still dressed in the heavy jacket and pants. He had his arms wrapped around his chest and Jack could see wet tendrils of sweaty hair just above his collar. "Doctor Ballard doesn't have much time, his flight back to South America is later this evening and in any case, I need to get the rest of Daniel's things. I hate to ask but I don't think Daniel should come with us. He's had a stressful enough morning as it is."
"You want Daniel to stay with me for a while?"
Diane nodded. Jack didn't miss how Daniel seemed to shrink into himself while waiting for Jack's answer.
"Sure, no problem. I didn't have any plans except to sit and read a bit. We could watch some TV, play cards. Maybe visit the park?"
"Thank you," Diane breathed. "I'll go get a change of clothes for him. We'll be leaving in a few minutes." She bustled out of the apartment and Jack knelt down in front of Daniel.
"You must be dying of heat with this thing on," he said as he began to unbutton the jacket. Daniel lowered his arms and Jack pulled the piece of clothing off. The shirt underneath was soaked in sweat.
"Oh, Daniel," Diane exclaimed as she came back in with shorts, a tee shirt and Daniel's teddy bear. She took over undressing Daniel while Jack went to heat some water for tea. By the time Daniel was changed, the tea was steeping and Diane gathered the sombre clothing against her chest.
"Thank you, Jack. I'm not sure how long we'll be..."
"Not to worry. I was planning on ordering pizza for supper and he's more than welcome to share. Take your time. I'm sure Sara will enjoy visiting with him when she comes home from work."
She left the apartment but before she could close the door, Steve and Doctor Ballard entered. "Daniel, I will say my farewells now."
Daniel clutched the teddy bear tighter to his chest, but he obediently stepped up to his grandfather.
"I am sorry, boy," the man said softly as he knelt to take the boy in his arms. Daniel simply stood there and didn't return the hug. "I will keep in touch." Ballard stood, nodded to Jack, and left. Steve's face looked like he wanted to punch the man out but to Jack's surprise, he schooled his expression, nodded to Jack, gently stroked Daniel's bangs away from his eyes, and left.
"You hungry, kid?" Jack asked as he moved to shut the door that nobody had bothered closing. Daniel didn't answer. He continued to stare at the closed door and Jack began to worry. He went to him and knelt. There were a few shiny smears on his chin and cheek.
"Let's go wash your face." He reached for Daniel's hands and immediately regretted it. They were smeared with something sticky. Jack pulled Daniel into the bathroom and wet a cloth, surreptitiously sniffing at his hand.
Syrup, he finally decided as he cleaned Daniel up.
As Jack poured himself some coffee, Daniel wandered around and Jack watched him out of the corner of his eye. He peered at their belongings, then stopped to examine Jack's uniform, which Sara had hung from a hook in the hallway, the only place in the small apartment where it wouldn't get creased.
He reached up and fingered Jack's wings.
"Tea's ready," Jack called as he put some brownies he'd just bought on the table beside Daniel's drink. Daniel joined Jack, climbing onto the chair Jack pulled out for him and reaching for his tea. They sat quietly for a time, eating and drinking while Jack racked his brain thinking of something to keep the boy occupied.
They could go to the park but the heat was so oppressive that he doubted either of them would enjoy themselves. The apartment was hot and stuffy, even though the blinds were drawn against the sun.
Then he spotted the photo albums and thought maybe Daniel would get a kick out of seeing Jack grow up.
"You wanna look at pictures?" He sent Daniel to the couch while he took the albums from the bookshelf.
Daniel looked through them slowly, examining each picture carefully.
"That's me and my mom," Jack explained when they came to a photo of Rose. Daniel traced the edge of the photo; the black and white depiction of an eight year old Jack holding onto his mom's hand while stepping into the ocean seemed to fascinate Daniel.
Daniel continued leafing through the photos until he came to one of Jack in formal dress. Daniel glanced at the hanging uniform and then back to the picture.
"I have a couple of medals now, but yeah, it's the same outfit."
Jack smiled as Daniel leaned close to a group photo and unerringly pointed Jack out of a twenty similarly-garbed men.
They finished leafing through the album and Jack replaced it with the one of his and Sara's wedding.
Daniel was leaning against Jack's side now, and he turned the pages more and more slowly. Jack quietly explained who the people in the pictures were, until Daniel's hand fell lax against the plastic sheet.
It took Jack several seconds to realize that Daniel had fallen asleep. He froze a moment, unsure about what to do. Then he pulled the album away, leaned back against the couch so that Daniel was lying more comfortable against him, and put his arm around the boy to hold him in place. He felt the teddy bear beneath his hands and made sure it stayed tucked close to Daniel's chest.
Jack sat there, listening to Daniel breathe, the small body curled up against Jack's side. He could only imagine what was going on inside the boy's head. That the nightmares he was plagued with were so terrible that he was probably afraid to let himself sleep. This couldn't go on for much longer, and he'd try and talk to Steve and Diane and convince them to have a doctor look at Daniel if he didn't get the rest he needed soon.
Time passed slowly, and Jack began to get uncomfortable. Just as he decided to try and lay Daniel down on the couch, the boy twitched. He gasped and sat up suddenly, blinking in fright.
"Hey, it's okay. You just dozed off for a few minutes." More like an hour but Jack wasn't going to complain. He just wished the kid would sleep until this time tomorrow; it'd do him a world of good.
Daniel was looking around the room, probably a little disoriented and a lot confused. His gaze fell on the open album on the coffee table and he squeezed his small plush toy closer to his chest.
"I guess it's a little boring looking at pictures of people you don't know. That's okay, how about a game of cards?"
Daniel reached for the album and Jack put a gentle hand on his wrist. "Really, it's okay. We'll look at the rest of the pictures another time." Jack picked the albums up. "Why don't you get the cards? They're over there by the television." Jack heard Daniel walk across the room as he busied himself putting the albums away.
He turned around and saw that Daniel had his checkers/chessboard in his hands. "Hey, we can play that if you want." Checkers, cards, anything to keep the kid's mind occupied. "Why don't you set it up on the kitchen table?"
Obediently, Daniel went to the table while Jack got them each a soda from the fridge. He poured their drinks into clean glasses while Daniel put his teddy bear on the table beside him and began setting up the game. When Jack went to hand Daniel his drink, to his surprise, saw that Daniel was setting up the chess game instead of the checkers.
Jack took a seat opposite Daniel and they began playing. Within the first few moves, Jack could see that Daniel was well acquainted with the game. They played for a while, until Daniel made a move that Jack couldn't resist pointing out.
"You sure you wanna move your bishop there? You're leaving your queen open for�" He bit off his words when Daniel gave him a look that clearly said his opinion wasn't welcome. "Fine," Jack said, and took the bishop without feeling any remorse.
It was only two moves later that Jack spotted the trap Daniel had been setting him up for. He looked at Daniel with wonder; just how old *was* this kid? And playing a game of strategy with this level of skill when he was just about dead on his feet?
Jack struggled, but he managed to win the game. He wondered if he'd be so lucky if the kid were well rested and not sick with grief. He realized it wasn't just Daniel's silence that was unnerving at times. Kids this tired had to be cranky and whiney. Daniel was a little too docile and Jack wondered if he was always like this, or if he was still suffering from the effects of shock.
They started on a second game when Jack heard the sound of a key in the lock.
"Hey honey," Sara called out as she breezed into the room. She stopped a moment in surprise when she spotted Daniel at the table with Jack. A quick glance at his watch showed that his wife was two hours early.
"Hi sweetheart. Daniel and I were just playing a game of chess."
"Were you now?" She dropped her purse onto the couch and came to join them.
"You're a little early tonight."
Sara came behind him and leaned against his back, resting her chin on the top of his head. "Work was slow so my boss let me go early."
What Jack heard beneath her words was that she'd probably worked through lunch and her breaks in order to leave early. She probably had wanted to surprise him so they could spend some time alone. Suddenly he felt guilty.
Daniel must have realized something was wrong because he sat back, his interest gone from the game. Sara let go of Jack and walked around to Daniel. She put an arm around Daniel's back and brought her cheek next to his.
"Looks like you're giving my husband a run for his money," she whispered loudly. "Did you beat him yet?"
Daniel shook his head, but he raised his head to look at the chess pieces again. "Damn. I never can either."
She stayed there beside Daniel until the game was over, urging Daniel on, with Jack winning again but only by sheer luck.
"How about a game of cards? Daniel, do you know how to play Crazy Eights?" Sara pushed the chess game aside and hurried to get the cards. She dealt them all a hand, explaining the game as they played.
Several hands later, it was evident that Daniel was beginning to lose his battle with his fatigue. His eyelids drooped, the cards sagged to the table as the hands holding them slowly lost their grip. Sara looked at Jack in alarm.
Quietly, Jack pushed his chair back and stood. He plucked the cards out of Daniel's nerveless fingers and pulled his chair back. He picked the kid up, holding him against his chest until he reached the couch, where he laid him down.
Daniel didn't protest. He simply curled his legs up to his chest and closed his eyes. He was asleep in seconds.
Sara came to stand beside Jack and he pulled her close. They stood there, staring at the exhausted child, until Jack was sure Daniel would stay asleep. Then they moved to the kitchen where Jack explained why Daniel was here with him.
"I just want to throttle that idiot of a grandfather," Jack finally finished. Sara had Jack's right hand clasped in both of hers, his other was occupied in holding both cigarette and beer.
"How could anyone care so little about their own grandchild?" Sara took a sip of Jack's beer and turned to look at Daniel, who was still sleeping soundly.
"I don't know. I just know that kid is hurting something awful. He should be crying, screaming, throwing a tantrum. This quiet thing he's doing is just plain weird."
"Maybe he's just naturally shy."
Jack remembered the glare Daniel had given him while playing chess, and he smiled. "Somehow, I don't think so, hon."
They continued talking softly for a time, until Diane knocked at their door. She seemed surprised to see Daniel fast asleep.
"How long has he been asleep?" she asked as she leaned over him.
"About two hours." Jack looked to Sara for confirmation and she nodded.
Diane picked Daniel up, moving him into her arms easily without waking him.
"Thanks for watching him," she told Jack as she walked to the door with her burden.
"Not a problem," Jack said, following her and unable to keep his gaze from Daniel's sleeping face. "Diane?"
She stopped and turned in the hallway.
"Anytime you need me to watch him..." He shrugged self-consciously. "I mean, if you need to go out or something..."
"Thanks." She moved to her apartment, and then stopped, turning back to Jack. "Actually, Steve and I had dinner plans the day after tomorrow. If you don't mind..."
Jack glanced back at Sara, who nodded. "Sure. I'd love to."
The relief on Diane's face was evident. "Thanks. It's our anniversary and we'd planned this a while back."
Jack shut the door and sighed deeply. Sara came to him and he held her close. "So, you hungry?"
"Starving. Where are you taking me for supper?"
"Taking? I was thinking pizza and�"
"Captain O'Neill." She pulled away and began unbuttoning her blouse, heading for the bedroom. "If you think I'm not going to take advantage of showing you off for the next two weeks, then you better tighten your belt 'cause I aint cooking."
Jack watched as Sara left the bedroom half-naked and entered the bathroom. Soon the sound of running water filled the apartment and Jack, whistling happily, began to undress as he prepared to join her.
Sixty minutes later, they were relaxed, starving, and finally dressed. Jack walked around the apartment, shutting and locking the windows, when he spotted the teddy bear on the table where Daniel had left it.
"Hon, I'll be right back. The kid forgot this and he might be worried when he wakes up."
He waved the toy to show what he was talking about as he walked out the door and knocked softly on the Middleton's door. Steve opened the door and Jack held the stuffed toy up before him.
"Ahhh, that's what Daniel was all nervous about," Steve said. He moved aside and to Jack's surprise, saw that Daniel was sitting on the couch, watching TV. Damn, he'd hoped the kid had been down for the count at least till the next morning.
"Hey, you forgot your Wabbit." Jack took several steps into the apartment and tossed the toy to Daniel. The kid grabbed it and buried his face in its fur, his eyes never leaving Jack's.
"Thanks, Jack. It'd be so much easier if he would just talk to us." Steve sighed.
"He can talk, can't he?"
"Oh yeah. Seems he and his grandfather had a discussion after the funeral. Doctor Ballard didn't hesitate in telling me all about it and how grateful he was that we were taking care of Daniel. I don't even think he realizes that we're just a stopgap measure until something more permanent comes up. It's better than putting him in an orphanage, but still..."
"You know, just out of curiosity..." Jack gulped, realizing he was jumping the gun. "What if someone like me and Sara wanted to adopt a kid like Daniel...?"
"Not gonna happen, Jack. Not with you being out of the country so much. The State looks for stability in adoptive parents and�" Steve grimaced. "You wouldn't be able to provide that at the moment."
Suddenly Jack felt like the bottom had fallen from beneath his feet. He didn't want the kid, he didn't want any of the responsibilities or trouble someone like Daniel entailed, but somehow hearing those words saddened him beyond belief.
"Like I said, I was just curious." He looked back at Daniel, who appeared absorbed in the cartoons. "Hey, you keep an eye on that Wabbit, you wouldn't want Bugs to get lost or anything."
He turned to the door. "Gotta go. Sara's probably starving." He stopped just before he stepped into the hallway. "You sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sorry, Jack."
"Yeah, so am I."
With a heavy heart, Jack went to take his wife out for supper.
- - - - - -
Jack didn't see Daniel until late the next day, when he and Sara were on their way home from an afternoon of movies and sightseeing. They'd gone to the Chinese restaurant down the street and were carrying their take-out supper. Walking back home, the smell of the Chinese food wafting out of the bag he carried making his stomach rumble, Jack spotted Daniel sitting by himself on a small spot of lawn in front of the apartment building, the ubiquitous teddy bear in his arms.
"Hey, look, it's the retard."
Three slightly older boys, one of whom Jack recognized as living in the same apartment building as he, snickered amongst themselves as they walked by Daniel on their way out.
Immediately the one who Jack knew froze when he recognized him. The other two moved on a ways and stopped, unsure whether to run or stay. The boy toed some weeds growing through the crack in the sidewalk.
"What's with the insults?" Jack finally remembered the boy's name. Tommy. Jack had called him and his friends out for an impromptu game of ice-hockey last winter when he'd been home, and a game of catch the previous fall.
"He doesn't talk, Mr. O'Neill. He just sits there and stares at nothing." Tommy's voice was in a loud stage whisper as he kept looking to his friends for support.
"You know, maybe the kid just doesn't have anything interesting to say to you and your friends. At least *he's* not walking around insulting everyone he sees."
Tommy looked up at Jack defiantly. Jack put a finger out to quell any further comments. "There are sometimes reasons for things you don't understand. Just don't jump to conclusions too quickly, okay?"
Tommy nodded and realizing he was dismissed, hurried over to his friends.
"Who does that guy think he is?" one of the boys asked in outrage.
"Nah, Mr. O'Neill's pretty cool."
Jack smiled at Sara as they overheard Tommy's remark. The sound of running footsteps faded as they neared Daniel.
"Hey kiddo." Jack knelt beside Daniel and smiled when the boy looked up at Jack. "Still got the Wabbit, I see." He pulled on the teddy bear's ear. "What's up, Doc?" he teased, only to have Daniel move the toy out of Jack's reach.
"He's not a rabbit, he's a bear."
Hearing the young voice surprised Jack and he quickly glanced at Sara. "Are you sure? Just look at those ears." Despite Daniels earlier reticence, he reached out and fingered the rounded ears. "Sure, they look like a bear's ears, but I'm positive he's really a rabbit in hiding." He squeezed the teddy bear's face. "Just look at that mouth. There's bucked teeth behind that fur."
Jack took a moment to look at Daniel as the boy cradled his toy in his arms. If anything, he looked more tired and ill than the previous day. Jack moved his hand away from the toy and cupped the boy's cheek, lifting it so he could see his face. "You hungry, kiddo? We got Chinese food for supper. Want me to ask the Middleton's if you can come eat supper with us?"
Hope flared in the boy's eyes for a split second before he lowered them to the ground. He shook his head. "We're going out for supper."
"Ah, well, in that case..." Jack stood, shifting the Chinese food to his other arm. "Then we'll just wait until tomorrow."
Daniel looked up at Jack, startled.
"Didn't they tell you?" Sara knelt beside them, grabbing Jack's arm and squeezing it tightly. "You'll be spending the night with me and Jack... if that's okay with you."
"I forgot," Daniel said after a moment.
"Well, don't do that again." Jack leaned down and tweaked the teddy bear's ear once more as Sara stood. "Tell you what. Sara's got classes and work tomorrow, so how about you come over early and help me make supper?"
Daniel smiled and nodded enthusiastically.
"Good, it's a date, then." Jack moved off, feeling Sara sliding close to his side. "Don't forget the Wabbit."
"He's a bear." Daniel's soft voice reached Jack just as he opened the door for his wife.
"Oh God, Jack," she exclaimed as soon as the door closed behind them.
"I know, honey. I know." Jack followed behind his wife, his appetite suddenly having fled. He fished in his pocket for their keys, and before he could put the key to the keyhole, the Middleton's came out into the hall.
"Hey, when did Daniel start to talk?" Jack passed the bag of food to Sara as she took the key from him and entered the apartment.
"Talk? He hasn't said a word to us yet," Diane said as Steve locked the door behind them.
Jack waved behind his shoulder, towards the stairwell. "He just spoke to us outside."
"He did?" Diane broke into a smile. "That's wonderful. There's really nothing wrong with him, his grandfather told us yesterday Daniel was pretty upset that he wouldn't be taking him in."
"Yeah, well, speaking of which. Look, I know I might be overstepping my bounds here, but, don't you think he should be looked at by a doctor or something? He doesn't look very good."
"We know." Steve joined his wife, pocketing his keys. "We have an appointment for Daniel to see a doctor tomorrow afternoon. We hate to do this but we'll probably have to sedate him so he can sleep."
Sara joined them at the door. "You've tried other methods to make him sleep?"
"The problem isn't getting him to fall asleep. He's so exhausted that the moment he begins to relax, he nods off. It's having him stay asleep that's hard. I don't know if it's because he doesn't trust us or he's just afraid of his nightmares, but he manages to wake himself up after a couple of hours and then won't sleep again."
"He'll sleep. When he's tired enough, he'll sleep." Jack spoke from experience, having either seen it with others or having gone through it himself.
"I know. But I can't help but feel that the sooner he gets some quality sleep, he'll have an easier time adapting to what's happened to him."
"Should boys his age be so docile?" Sara leaned against Jack and he put an arm around her waist, pulling her close.
"No. And they should be pulling all sorts of temper tantrums being as tired as he is. That's something I want to talk to the doctor about tomorrow."
"Come on, Steve, we need to go. Daniel's been outside by himself for long enough."
They said their goodbyes and Jack and Sara went inside to have their supper. The now cooling supper didn't appeal to Jack anymore.
- - - - - -
"Needs more mushrooms," Jack said as he glanced at those Daniel had already cleaned. He stirred the cooking meat, the aroma permeating the still air of the apartment. He busied himself with chopping the rest of the vegetables and dumped everything into a large pot.
He turned the heat on under the pot and watched Daniel out of the corner of his eye as the boy began to tidy the counter.
When the vegetables were nearly cooked, Jack added tomatoes, and then put the cover onto the pot with a flourish.
"Now we just need to let it simmer for a while. How about we go and watch some TV?"
Jack secretly hoped that Daniel would get sleepy and sleep the afternoon away but the boy seemed to have tricks up his sleeve. He fidgeted and couldn't seem to sit still. He stood, prowled around the living room and finally stopped before Jack's uniform again. He fingered Jack's wings again, then stroked his fingers over the two medals.
He made another round of the room before sitting down, only to get up and restlessly pace after a few minutes. After the fourth time of this kind of restlessness, Jack remembered a small parlour toy Sara had bought him the last time he'd come home.
He found it after several minutes of digging through drawers. He tossed the multi-coloured cube to Daniel.
"Here ya go, Danny. See if you can solve this."
"My daddy called me Danny. My name's Daniel."
"Sorry. Daniel it is." At the boy's confusion as he turned the toy around in his hands, Jack explained. "It's a Rubik's Cube." Jack moved a few of the small squares around to show him. "See, you have to make every side the same colour." Jack remembered playing with the damn thing for hours and never even coming close to making one side, let alone all six, the same uniform colour. If he hadn't seen it when it was brand new, he'd have thought it was impossible to do.
Hopefully this would keep Daniel busy for a while. He went to stir their spaghetti sauce while Daniel played with the cube. The drone of the television kept them both company.
As he washed the countertops and dishes, Jack noted that the luminosity coming through the curtains had dimmed considerably. Wiping his hands on a tea towel, he pulled the curtain back and looked outside.
The sky was an odd orangey grey colour; the humidity, if anything, was worse than it had ever been all week.
"Looks like we're in for a storm." Jack pulled the curtains open, hoping for a hint of a breeze. Even with the bared windows, the room wasn't any brighter. He hoped Sara made it home before the storm broke; not that she had far to drive but the rain would make traffic heavy. And he worried all the same.
Daniel was still absorbed in the Rubik's cube so Jack began setting the table. Dinner wouldn't be for another little while, but at least this way everything would be ready for later. Finally done, Jack sat down on the overstuffed chair to watch some television.
Daniel was back to his restlessness, the toy abandoned on the coffee table. Jack realized this was the boy's way of fighting off his exhaustion. As much as he felt sorry for the kid, he couldn't help but be in awe of his single-mindedness and wished some of the men in his unit had half the boy's endurance.
He wondered what Daniel would be like as an adult; he smiled, imagining him on his team and thought that he wouldn't have to fear about him falling asleep on guard duty. He figured this kid would never grow up to be any kind of pushover or geek.
When Jack went into the kitchen to stir the sauce, he called Daniel over. Dipping a spoon into the thick, bubbling mixture, he held out a taste.
"What do you think?" he asked as Daniel leaned forward, blew on the steaming spoonful and careful tasted it.
"S'good." Daniel licked his lips and looked at the pot hopefully.
Jack tasted the sauce himself and smacked his lips. "Not bad, even if I say so myself. It's my mom's recipe." He checked his watch. Sara should be arriving any minute.
He put water to boil, measured the pasta and put that aside. He walked to the window and looked down the street for a sign of Sara's car. The sky had darkened even more, and although there were short gusts of wind, promising more later, the pressure and humidity was still oppressive.
Jack drew a hand across his face, wiping the sweat that was beading there. He hoped the coming storm would cool things off.
Deciding to take the salad out of the fridge, Jack walked across the living room again, and the solid red of the Rubik's cube caught Jack's eye. He stopped, picked up the toy, and realized that every single side was a different, solid color.
He turned it every which way. There was no mistaking it. That kid was something else.
Chuckling to himself, Jack turned the television off and turned the radio on instead. He quickly changed the station from Sara's country to his preferred classical, Buck Owen's prattling about catching a tiger by the tail replaced by something softer, easier to listen to.
He walked into the kitchen just as Daniel quickly dropped a spoon into the sink with a metallic clang. Jack held back a smile as he saw the sauce smeared around Daniel's mouth.
"You know, you keep eating that sauce out of the pot, there won't be room for any spaghetti."
"I didn't eat any."
Jack grabbed a paper towel and wiped Daniel's mouth. He showed Daniel the pink-tinged tissue so he could see the evidence.
Daniel raised a shoulder to his ear, clearly embarrassed.
"Hey, can't blame a guy if he likes my cooking." Jack dumped the pasta into the now boiling water. "You do like spaghetti, don't you?"
"Is that a yes, no, or maybe?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know, you've never had any?"
Daniel shook his head.
"It's just noodles, with sauce on top. You can put grated cheese over it if you want."
"Sounds good. If I don't like it, can I just have the sauce?"
"How about you try it with the pasta first?"
"Okay." Daniel turned from Jack when they heard keys jingling in the lock.
"Wow, something smells good."
"Hey, honey." Jack met Sara halfway into the living room and greeted her with a hungry kiss. Sara pulled away and looked towards the kitchen where Daniel stood awkwardly.
Daniel remained mute while Sara knelt beside him.
"Did you have a good day?"
Daniel shrugged, looking shy.
"He helped me make the sauce, so if it's no good, it's his fault."
Wide eyes stared up at Jack, a look of worry on his face until Jack winked at him. Then Daniel's lips curled into a smile.
"Well, I don't think that'll be a problem, if it tastes half as good as it smells, I'll be happy."
"Even the Wabbit helped. Look."
Jack pointed to the table, where Daniel's teddy bear was the centerpiece, with a small vase of daisies set between its feet. Jack would have bought a larger bouquet but the way Daniel had begun to sneeze when they'd walked in amongst the flowers at the florist made him suspect the kid had allergies.
Sara laughed and told them she'd be right back as she headed for their bedroom.
Jack handed Daniel the salad, instructing him to put it on the table. He heard the faint growl of thunder, promising more. While Sara changed into a pair of shorts, Jack doled out the pasta and poured sauce on top. He lit the candles on the table and surveyed his handiwork. Not bad, not bad at all.
A minute later, they were sitting down to eat.
- - - - - -
"I'm stuffed." Sara leaning back, a glass of wine held loosely in her hand.
"Me, too." Daniel pushed his chair back from the table, drops of sauce spattered over his light blue tee shirt.
"Me three," Jack echoed, swallowing a burp. He poured the last of the wine into his glass and looked over at Sara, content.
Thunder rumbled, a long and lengthy sound, never really approaching but teasing them with the promise of a break in the weather. The radio crackled as lightning interfered with the signal.
They eventually moved from the kitchen to the living room, where there was the slightest hint of a breeze. The room darkened even more, and Jack stuck his head out the window, ignoring a flash of lightning, wondering how much longer before the storm finally broke. It promised to be a wild and noisy display.
As Jack sat beside Sara on the sofa, he noticed that Daniel was fighting sleep once again. This time, with a full stomach, the kid had curled himself onto the far end of the sofa and was simply watching them. Jack took a sip of wine, answered a question that Sara asked, and watched with satisfaction as Daniel's eyelids closed, and stayed closed.
The storm began building in fury, the thunder no longer rumbling, but now cracking loudly, the vibrations sometimes shaking the windows. Daniel slept, oblivious, as the rain began to fall, a few drops at first, then falling in such a deluge that both he and Sara had to run to shut the windows, then ended up mopping the floor as rain pounded against the glass.
Lightning flashed and thunder boomed incessantly, until one clap ripped through the sky. Sara shrieked, startled, and nearly jumped into Jack's arms.
Jack laughed and opened his mouth to tease her, when he realized the shrieking hadn't stopped. Immediately they turned to Daniel.
He was curled up on his side, his hands over his ears, screaming for all he was worth.
Sara beat Jack to the kid and immediately swept him up into her arms. Still he screamed, loud, breathless screeches that only ceased when the thunder drowned him out. He struggled against her, and afraid that he'd inadvertently hurt his wife, Jack plucked Daniel out of her arms.
Immediately he stopped screaming and wrapped his arms and legs around Jack's neck and waist, his face thrust against Jack's neck. The screams changed into wails. Deep, long-winded cries that had Jack wincing, thinking the boy was going to choke or pass out from lack of oxygen.
The storm continued on outside but it was the one inside that had Jack worried. He sat down on the couch, Daniel still in his arms, Sara hovering worriedly over the two of them. Daniel continued crying and Jack knew all the accumulated sorrow and fears were now culminating into the here and now.
His face was red with his efforts, the deep gasping breaths broken with occasional hiccups, the torrent of tears, mucus and saliva dampening Jack's tee shirt as Daniel continued to clutch at Jack as if he was the only anchor in a sea of grief.
Eventually exhaustion caught up with Daniel and the wails transformed into sobs.
"I want my daddy," Daniel finally sobbed repeatedly among hitching breaths.
"I know, I know, kiddo." Jack couldn't do anything except rock Daniel in his arms as the sobs slowed and the pleading stopped, Daniel's breaths changing into hiccups and painful-sounding hitches.
The arms that had held Jack in a death hold eased their grip and Daniel's head soon lay heavily against his shoulder.
"He's asleep," Sara whispered when she stretched around Jack to get a look at Daniel.
Jack shifted the boy in his arms in order to lay him on the couch but he whimpered, and the arms tensed around his neck. Jack made a face at Sara and instead, moving slowly and carefully while trying to disturb Daniel the least amount possible, he eased himself so he was lying along the couch, leaning against the side bolster, with Daniel lying on top of him.
"I'll clean up." Sara kissed Jack's cheek, then pushed damp hair out of Daniel's tear-streaked face.
"You don't have to, hon. You're tired, you worked all day. I'll do that later."
"You cooked supper and you got him calmed down. I think you accomplished a helluva lot more than I did today." She gave Jack another quick peck on the lips and began clearing the table.
Jack lay there listening to Daniel's breathing, watching as Sara did the dishes, humming softly to herself. There was something satisfying about the whole situation; wife, child, home.
He surprised himself at the thought. Still, he couldn't help but thread a hand through the soft, silky strands of the sleeping child, feel the warm body trustingly asleep as he lay on top of him.
Jack hadn't realized the storm outside had passed until Sara opened the windows. The sounds of cars driving along wet pavement along with a cooler breeze filled the room. Occasional flashes of lightning still illuminated the sky, but the accompanying thunder was faint, moving away from the city.
Sara finished and joined him on the couch, sitting at the far end and lifting Jack's feet into her lap. They watched television for a while, then decided to make an early night of it.
But when Jack sat up, intending to place Daniel into the cot they'd moved from the Middleton's apartment earlier that afternoon, Daniel stirred. He mumbled something Jack didn't catch, but his arms tightened around Jack's neck again.
Sara simply rolled her eyes towards their bedroom and by the time Jack was sitting on the side of their bed, she returned with Daniel's pyjamas. The boy was limp, more asleep than awake, as she and Jack tried to remove his shoes and shorts while Daniel lay like a doll in Jack's arms.
While Jack buttoned the pyjama top, Sara returned with a wet cloth and washed Daniel's face. He reacted to this by trying to move away but she followed stubbornly. She finished up by holding a few tissues to Daniel's nose with an order to blow. By the time Jack put Daniel under the sheet in the middle of their bed, the kid was breathing easier.
The moment Jack drew away from the bed, Daniel sat up and looked around in a panic.
"Hey, it's okay. I just need to change and go to the bathroom." Jack waved his pyjama bottoms in Daniel's direction. "I'll be right back." He waited a moment until Daniel lay back down and then quickly rushed to the bathroom. He made the rounds of the apartment quickly, calling out to Daniel as he did so, and returned to the bedroom, sliding beneath the sheet before Sara even had a chance to use the bathroom herself.
Daniel rolled against Jack and immediately fell asleep again. By the time Sara joined them in bed, Jack was certain the kid was going to sleep the night.
- - - - - -
"He's still sleeping," Jack told Diane after motioning her inside the apartment and opening the bedroom door. Daniel was on his side, facing away from the door. He hadn't moved a muscle from the time he'd fallen asleep last night, more than thirteen hours ago.
Jack had placed the boy's teddy bear on the pillow beside him so it would be the first thing he saw when he woke up. Hopefully by seeing something familiar, he wouldn't wake up in a panic at finding himself alone in a strange bed, in a strange room. And for that same reason Jack was certain Daniel was still sleeping soundly and not faking sleep because that furry toy would be clutched in Daniel's arms by now.
"You're a miracle worker, you know that?" Diane whispered to Jack. They backed out of the bedroom and she accepted a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
"Sara hated having to leave for work this morning. She kept saying she just wanted to stay here and watch him sleep."
"He does look adorable, doesn't he?"
Jack nodded. He'd spent a few hours himself watching the kid sleep earlier this morning. Guarding over his rest, hoping for no nightmares, no thunder, just healing sleep.
"I can take him back to my apartment, if you'd like," Diane began.
"Nah, let him sleep. I'll give him breakfast and bring him over when he wakes. Let's not take a chance of waking him up before he's ready."
"If you're sure..."
"It's not a problem. I didn't have any plans today, anyways."
"Good. I'll go cancel that doctor's appointment. I think we can say that we just passed a huge hurdle last night." She waved her empty cup at Jack before putting it down on the table. "Thanks for the coffee."
He walked her to the door, then sat down on the couch to watch some television.
Two hours later, the bedroom door opened and a blur ran from the bedroom to the bathroom, bare feet slapping on the wooden floor. Seconds later Jack grinned when he heard the sound of water tinkling into the toilet.
Daniel came out, teddy bear clutched in one hand, knuckling his eyes with his other. His cheek had a red mark where it had lain against a crease in the pillow, and his eyes were still slightly puffy after his cry of last night.
"C'mere," Jack said as Daniel looked at him a little apprehensively. Immediately Daniel ran to the couch and sat down beside Jack, leaning against him.
"How you feeling? Better?"
Daniel nodded slowly.
He nodded again.
"Want some pancakes or waffles?"
Daniel ducked his head and softly said, "No."
The head came back up and he turned to look at Jack, interested.
"Bacon and eggs? Toast?"
"Cereal, please," Daniel finally decided.
Jack picked him up and carried him to the kitchen, enjoying again how Daniel wrapped himself around his torso like a monkey. Somehow it felt natural, right.
He took out the cereal boxes and laid them on the table, offering the kid a choice, then sat Daniel down on the chair while he got a bowl. By the time he took the milk out of the refrigerator, Daniel had poured himself some Alphabits. Some of the cereal landed beside the bowl and Daniel ate those while Jack poured milk onto the cereal.
He ate slowly, playing with the letters on his spoon, making up words on the table beside the bowl. Jack drank more coffee and occasionally stole a letter, sabotaging Daniel's words.
Daniel giggled as Jack snitched another letter and ate it, the sound sweet and pure.
"Where's Sara?" Daniel finally asked with his mouth full, milk dripping down his chin.
"She had to go to work," Jack said, getting up to get a tissue and wiping the trail of milk. "She said goodbye to you, but you were sleeping."
Daniel fished out a few more letters, the cereal soggy and limp as he pushed them around a small puddle of milk.
"Come on, hurry up and finish. I think Diane's anxious to see you."
Immediately Daniel stopped playing and began eating in earnest. When he finished, Jack sopped up the mess around the bowl and told Daniel to go wash his hands. While he waited, Jack picked up Daniel's clothes from yesterday and rolled them into a bundle.
"C'mon," he said, holding out a hand. Together they walked down the hall to the Middleton's apartment. Jack felt a pang of envy as Daniel hugged Diane tightly, but smiled brightly as he handed over the clothes to her. He waved a cheery goodbye and returned to his own apartment.
- - - - - -
Jack and Sara didn't see much of Daniel over the next several days. Sara took the week off and they were gone most of the time, spending the last days of Jack's leave together. The few times he did spot the kid, he saw him sitting on a cement block, talking with Tommy, or running ahead of either Steve or Diane as they returned home from errands or walks in the park.
As Jack stopped to talk to the Middletons late one afternoon, he watched Daniel as he raced down the sidewalk, full of energy and looking for mischief. Jack thought he was a totally different child from the exhausted, withdrawn little boy whom he had met barely two weeks ago. The change was incredible, and Jack was proud he'd had a small part in it.
"We'll be going away for a couple of days," Steve informed Jack. "We'll be back before you leave."
"Good." Jack watched as Daniel ran around a tree then started running back towards them. He suddenly realized he wanted to spend more time with the kid, take him to a movie, go to the park, visit some museums. His own time here in the city was coming to a close and he felt slightly guilty for not wanting to spend it all with his wife.
Daniel zoomed by them and continued on the opposite way. They all turned to watch him, all of them proudly watching as Daniel spread his arms out and made 'flying' motions.
"Quite a change, huh?" Diane said. "His case worker came over to talk to us yesterday. They've found some foster parents for him. He'll be leaving us next Wednesday."
"He know yet?"
"Yeah." Diane frowned a moment. "He took it a little hard, but he understands. We went out yesterday and had his picture taken and we bought a frame to put it in. He's proud that he's one of 'our kids' now."
"I don't know how you two can do this." Sarah smiled as Daniel threw himself onto the lawn and began rolling on the grass. "He's got so much energy now."
"That's why we do this, honey," Diane said as she put a hand on Sara's shoulder. "Seeing him as he should be is our reward. Sometimes the children stay with us longer, sometimes it's only for a few weeks. And don't kid yourselves, you two had a lot to do with getting him to this point.
- - - - - -
Jack pulled on his uniform, already sweating in the hot morning air. He placed his suitcase by the door and while Sara locked up, he went next door and knocked.
"Jack!" Daniel's excited voice filled the room as Steve wordlessly ushered Jack inside. The boy rushed towards him then stopped suddenly when he realized what Jack was wearing. His eyes widened in shock. Emotions flitted over the young face as he stood staring.
"I came to say goodbye," Jack said after a moment, trying to ignore Daniel's increasingly shining eyes.
Diane stepped forward and gave Jack a kiss on the cheek. "He missed you the past couple of days," she whispered.
Jack smiled at her and took a step forward, towards Daniel. "Did you have a good time at the lake, Daniel?" The apartment next door had been eerily quiet while they'd been gone. Not that their neighbours were noisy, it was just knowing that Daniel wasn't there that Jack realized how quickly the little tyke had wormed a place into his heart.
Daniel nodded as he wrapped his arms around his chest. Tears were streaming down his face as Jack knelt down to his level.
"I'm going to miss you," Jack told him in a soft voice. "But I have to go."
Daniel lowered his head, his shoulders rose with a stifled sob.
"I'm glad I had a chance to say goodbye." Jack reached out and cupped the side of Daniel's head in farewell. Then he stood and went to shake Steve's hand. He turned in the doorway and took in his last view of Daniel, standing there in abject misery. Normal children would get over saying goodbye to a fleeting friend, but with what Daniel had gone through, Jack hoped that the upheavals in the young boy's life wouldn't make a lasting mark.
"Bye." Jack raised a hand to all and turned to leave, but Daniel's wail as he tore across the room towards him had him reaching out instinctively as the boy threw himself into Jack's arms. Sobs tore at the boy, the tempest not quite as wild as the night of the thunderstorm, but powerful all the same.
"I'll go get the car," Sara said in Jack's ear. She left quietly while Jack moved to sit on the couch with Daniel in his arms, his small arms holding onto him as if he'd had the strength, he wouldn't allow Jack out of the house.
Jack rocked the sobbing child, thinking that at least Daniel releasing his emotions was a good thing. It took a few minutes but the hitching breaths eventually began to slow.
"It's okay to be upset," Jack said when Daniel loosened his grip slightly. "It's okay to be sad, even angry. Change isn't always easy, but it's a part of life."
"I don't want you to go," Daniel hiccupped.
"I have to. It's my job. You know that."
Time was ticking by and Jack knew he needed to leave. With Daniel calming, he stood up, thinking Daniel would let him go. Instead the motion had Daniel clinging to him more tightly as his tears started afresh.
"C'mere, sweetheart." Diane pried Daniel out of Jack's arms and to Jack's relief, Daniel turned to her, burying his face in her neck.
Jack swallowed, his own throat thick with sorrow. "Here," Jack said, unpinning the wings from his uniform. He took Daniel's hand and placed the small memento in his damp grasp. "Keep these safe for me, okay?"
Daniel didn't look at what Jack gave him, he simply closed his fingers around the pin and howled louder. Jack smiled wanly at the Middletons and turned around and left quickly. He picked up his suitcase and hurried outside to where Sara was waiting for him.
He and Sara rode silently to the airport. They'd been through farewells several times and even though his wife always tried to be brave, he knew how hard it must be for her. But as much as Jack hated leaving her, he was looking forward to going back to work. He loved what he was did, at least, most of the time.
"It's too bad we can't adopt him," Sara finally said as she turned into the airport parking lot.
"He has family."
"I know, but even then, even if his grandfather would allow it, with your job..."
"What do you mean?"
She smiled at Jack, taking her eyes from the road to look at him. "I asked Diane. She explained how we're not great candidates for adoption."
Jack sniffed. "Yeah, well, I guess life's not fair, huh? I can name a hundred people who deserve to die and instead the kid's parents get killed."
They parked the car and then sat inside, waiting for his flight. Sara made several trips to the bathroom, coming back each time with reddened eyes.
When Jack's flight was called, he took her hand in his. She looked at him, blinking, then stood as he pulled her to her feet. She hugged him, and Jack could feel the tension in her body, reminding him suddenly of Daniel in his arms, crying his little heart out.
Jack knew he'd never see Daniel again. He'd be placed in foster care in a few more days, and by the time Sara graduated at the end of this year, she'd be moving back to Colorado Springs where she and Jack hoped to eventually settle down. Jack just hoped the boy would be okay.
Jack shifted his head so that his mouth was beside Sara's ear. "Remember that discussion we had when I came home?"
She shook her head slightly, her hair tickling Jack's nose as she hugged him tightly.
"About starting a family? How about we talk about it on my next leave?"
Sara's arms tightened even more around Jack's back. He pulled back, cupped her face and kissed her.
"I love you," he said as he pulled away. Fighting back his own tears, he turned and walked stiffly towards the gate.
Author's Comments: To Devra - sorry for the tears.
to contact me
DISCLAIMER:The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.