Written for the gorgeous photo of LD asleep on the can challenge. <bg> Thanks, Raine for the picture and inspiration for this new series.
What the hell had he been thinking? Jack dished up a bowl of chili, added some crackers and placed it in front of the kid seated at the table. Kid Daniel, he reminded himself. Daniel Jackson, archeologist, science geek and general pain in the neck best bud. He stared at the boy for a moment, trying to capture recognizable features in the cherubic face.
Daniel merely stared mutely back at him, one tiny hand reaching to push his hastily acquired, resized spectacles up his nose. The gesture was so familiar that Jack felt a lump lodge in his throat. "Eat your dinner," he said, turning back to the stove, "before it gets cold."
He knew why he was doing this. He couldn't have left Daniel at the base, even if he wasn't his best friend. Downsized to a five year old, Stargate Command was no place for a terrified little boy. Janet had offered to take Daniel home with her. She already had Cassie after all, and was used to dealing with frightened, confused little kids. Jack blurted a refusal before he'd even thought the words. Daniel would be better off with him, he said.
Now he wasn't exactly regretting his offer, just unsure how to proceed. He'd been a father to Charlie, but Daniel wasn't his son, nor, at the moment was he the friend Jack knew so well. He was getting a headache just trying to figure out if he should be treating him as a preschooler or an adult.
"Jack?" Daniel's high-pitched voice interrupted his thoughts.
"What?" Jack turned and couldn't help staring again at the little face. The mouth was the same, he decided and the eyes. Just smaller.
Daniel waved his spoon over his bowl. "It's too spicy. Guess my taste buds got downsized too."
"Oh, sorry, didn't think." Jack opened the refrigerator and perused the meager contents. "How about a grilled cheese sandwich?" he asked over his shoulder.
"'M not really hungry," Daniel said around a yawn. "Just tired."
"You and me both. Spare room's already set up. Let's see if we can find you something to sleep in." Jack walked over to the table and, without really thinking about it, held out his hand. Daniel slid off of his chair, and just as naturally, placed his little hand in Jack's. Jack looked down and grinned at him. "I could have so much fun with this," he said, "but it's not really the right time, is it?"
Daniel smiled sweetly up at him. "You do, and I'll make your life hell," he said.
"Right. Exactly what I thought."
"Can I have a shower first?" Daniel asked. "My legs are still covered in mud from running through the rain. I have to tell you when that woman pinched my cheeks and said she wanted to keep me " He shuddered. "I should have been mortified when you picked me up and ran for the Gate, but I've never been so relieved in my life and if you ever tell anyone that, I'll shoot you."
"With your little miniaturized P-90?" Jack quipped. At Daniel's glare, he shrugged. "Bathroom, it is."
"I know where your bathroom is." Daniel attempted to pull his hand free, his cheeks pinking up, but Jack held firm.
"You won't be able to reach the faucets," Jack reasoned, and couldn't help adding, "Don't worry, I've seen you in all your naked glory before, just not quite so sm- Ow!" He rubbed at his knee and Daniel gave him a triumphant grin that bordered on evil as he lowered his foot to the floor.
"Sorry," Daniel said angelically, "wasn't your bad knee, was it?"
"No!" Jack gave his bad knee another rub then dragged Daniel toward the bathroom. He turned on the water, checking the temperature and adjusting it so it wasn't too hot for sensitive five year old skin, then pulled a big, fluffy towel from the chest by the toilet. "Here you go," he said, opening the shower stall door.
Daniel hesitated. "I've got it from here, Jack. Besides, I need to pee first."
Jack felt his own cheeks heating. "Oh, right. I'll just go find something for you to sleep in." He waved an admonishing finger at the little archeologist. "Call me when you're done. I need to turn off the faucet and the floor might be slippery."
Daniel sketched him a sharp salute. "Sir! Yes sir!"
"Smart ass," Jack muttered as he exited the bathroom.
"Little ears, Jack," Daniel called out.
Jack debated flipping him the bird and just barely held back.
The house was silent, save for the sound of the running water. Jack ate two bites of his now cold chili and pushed it away, his appetite gone. He and Daniel, and Carter and Teal'c, had spent many enjoyable evenings here, the atmosphere enlivened by chatter, sarcastic rejoinders and laughter, set to a background of the latest hockey game, or, if Daniel insisted and Jack was feeling generous, a documentary on the Discovery channel.
Tonight, Jack's worrying thoughts and foreboding set a chill that not even the cheery fire in the living room could dissipate. What if this was permanent? What if there were other side effects to Daniel's condition they were yet to discover? How was Daniel dealing really with the reality of being five years old and dependant on Jack for everything?
Jack checked his watch. The shower had been running for fifteen minutes now while he'd sat, his restless thoughts chasing each other in never-ending circles, and Daniel had not called out.
Standing, he headed back to the bathroom and tapped on the door. "Daniel? You ready to get out? The water's got to be cold by now." There was no response. Panic began a painful tattoo in Jack's chest, and with his gut tightening in anticipation at what he might find, his conscience already recriminating him for his poor parenting, he opened the door and stepped inside.
The shower stall was empty; the door ajar. Heart in mouth, Jack's gaze swept the small room and alighted on his tiny friend. Deeply asleep, Daniel sat on the toilet, as naked as the day he was born. He'd canted forward and his head rested on the chest Jack used for storing his towels. He snored softly through his open mouth, drool glistening on his chin.
Jack couldn't stop the smile that blossomed. He crept forward, and for a brief moment, wished he had a camera handy. Not fair, he chided himself. Still, it was a sight he planned to store away for the day when Daniel was back to adult size and being his normal, pain in the butt self.
Carefully, Jack reached out and lifted Daniel into his arms. Daniel sighed softly and mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like, "Love you, Daddy," then he rested his head on Jack's shoulder and settled back to sleep.
Jack stood for a moment, relishing the feel of a child in his arms once more, remembering Charlie, remembering rocking him to sleep, kissing him goodnight.
Finally, he shook himself from the bittersweet memories and carried Daniel to the spare bed. He managed to dress the limp little boy in an oversized t-shirt that Daniel was sure to complain about in the morning, without waking him, then bundled him under the covers. Daniel sighed softly and rolled onto his side, snuggling into his pillow.
Jack watched him for a moment then dragged the old rocking chair closer to the bed and sat. Reaching out, he clasped Daniel's tiny hand in his own, squeezing it gently. "Welcome home, Danny boy," he whispered.
He sat watching his friend sleep until fatigue overcame him and he, too, slept, his grasp on Daniel's hand never releasing.