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SUMMARY: This was supposed to be just a bit of silliness for Daniel's birthday but somehow the muse turned all smarmy and angsty. Why the heck did Daniel get *that* haircut?
With thanks to Tamy for the unexpected plotbunny and thank you to all my Gengate sibs for your support and friendship.
I know nothing about science. Failed it miserably.
Set after The Gamekeeper and immediately prior to Out of Mind.
Jack O'Neill rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. He loved it when a covert ops assignment came together. The team had been planning this little surprise for weeks now Well, the team minus one member. "Daniel?" Jack called out.
The archeologist looked up from fiddling with his camcorder and gave him a questioning look. "Jack?"
"You, uh You want to go film those etchings on the wall outside now?"
Daniel smiled. "Sure." He took a step closer to the colonel. "I'm just wondering "
Jack planted his hands on his hips. "Yeees."
"Well, you've been fighting me on coming back here for months. You kept saying there were more important things to do, and seeing as we'd been here before, there was no good reason to come back. I mean," he took another step closer and Jack gave an inward sigh, recognizing the signs of Daniel gearing up for a long-winded discussion of whys and wherefores, "I told you I didn't have time when we were here before to get those etchings -"
"Enough!" Jack held up a hand to halt the flow of words. "I changed my mind. Is that a problem? I mean if it is we can just gather everything back up and go home -"
"No!" Daniel shook his head vehemently, his blond locks whipping about his face. "It's fine, really. I'll just " He trailed off and turned, trotting out of the room with a rapt expression of pleasure on his face.
Jack shook his head. "The things I do for you," he muttered. He wasn't really angry with Daniel. He was right after all. Jack couldn't see any good reason for returning to this small, rather primitive planet. They'd found no trace of the Go'auld here on their first visit. No strategic weapons or important intel. Just a friendly, welcoming bunch of natives with a laidback lifestyle. Truth be told, Jack liked it here and he'd decided it would be one heck of a place to spend leave time, which was how the idea had come up.
None of them knew much about Daniel's childhood, other than knowing he had lost his parents at an early age and had then passed through a series of foster homes until he was old enough to live on his own and enter university. It wasn't until their experiences with the Gamekeeper that the rest of the team had discovered Daniel's horrifying secret - that he had been present when his parents were crushed to death in an archeological accident. Jack couldn't imagine what scars that would leave on a young child's memory. It was just as bad as hearing that gunshot, running into find Charlie . He firmly shook that vision from his mind. Perhaps that was why he and Daniel, despite all their outward differences, seemed to gravitate toward each other, to become closer friends than Jack was even prepared to admit. Jack didn't do emotion very well, unlike the passionate archeologist but Jack knew that he and Daniel were, would always be as close as brothers.
All four of them had been sitting around one evening at Jack's, enjoying some rare downtime and Sam had asked Daniel what he was doing for his birthday the following month. Daniel had shrugged and said, "Working, probably. Same as always."
For some reason, that had bothered Jack. He was as hardworking as the next guy but he enjoyed his time out, the chance to refresh his batteries and next to fishing and ice hockey, he loved a good party. "Nuh-huh," he'd said, shaking his head. "No way. You, Danny boy, are going to celebrate this year."
Daniel had looked discomfited and stood. "Look, I appreciate the thought, Jack but it's not necessary." With an apologetic smile, he'd turned and headed off to the kitchen for more beer.
Jack leaned over and fixed his questioning gaze on Carter. "You know what that's all about?"
Sam shrugged. "No, sir. Do you want me to talk to him?"
Jack waved the suggestion away. "I'll do it. Don't want to embarrass the guy." He'd gathered up the empties and made his way into the kitchen. From the living room, he could hear Carter engaging Teal'c in a discussion of the Star Wars movie they'd been watching. Daniel turned from perusing the refrigerator when he entered. Jack slipped into a dining chair and gave the archeologist a casual 'I'm not really interested but ' look. "So what's with the thing about birthdays?" he asked casually. Who said he had no tact?
Daniel's brow furrowed a little. "I don't have a thing about birthdays, Jack, I just don't do them."
Daniel shrugged then sighed and sat down opposite Jack. He slid a beer over to Jack then sat, scraping at the label on his own bottle with a fingernail. "My parents died the day after my sixth birthday."
Jack was immediately contrite. "Oh, Daniel, I'm sorry. I we didn't know."
Daniel gave him a quick, sad smile. "No reason you should." He sat back, his gaze fixed on the wall above Jack's head. "Normally my parents left me at home with friends or relatives when they organized exhibitions. They always took me on digs but exhibitions weren't somewhere you took inquisitive little boys." Jack grinned at that despite the somber mood, imagining Daniel as a child, as insatiable and curious as he was now. "Anyway they decided as my birthday fell in the week they were due to be organizing the exhibition in New York that they'd take me with them. I couldn't have a birthday party but I didn't care. Going with my folks, seeing all the artifacts they'd discovered was way better than any party." He hunched forward then and returned his attention to the label of the beer bottle. "Since then, I just haven't much felt like celebrating."
"I understand." His mouth was suddenly dry. Jack took a swig from his beer then stood. "You want to watch the end of the movie? Teal'c tells me this is the best one ever."
Daniel grinned up at him. "Wouldn't want to disappoint Teal'c." He stood as well, and Jack reached out and squeezed his shoulder gently, an unspoken gesture of sympathy and understanding.
"You brought potato chips?" Jack asked.
Daniel snagged a bag off the counter and held them aloft. "Let's go watch the movie."
Jack had taken Carter and Teal'c into his confidence initially so they'd been forewarned that planning any birthday celebrations for Daniel would probably not be a good thing. Jack had suggested they get together and buy him a gift, perhaps a book or something he'd really like. He'd left that part of the operation in Sam's capable hands. Carter though had taken the idea a step further.
Stopping by Jack's office a few days before, she'd outlined her suggestion. "We've got a four day leave coming up, sir."
Jack felt a lazy smile form on his lips. "I know, Carter and the fish are waiting for me."
Carter leaned forward in her chair, her expression earnest. "Actually, sir, I had an idea for Daniel's birthday. I've cleared it with the General if you agree."
Jack frowned. "I thought we'd agreed to honor Daniel's wishes on this."
"I know, sir, it's just " Sam bit her lip. "I just can't imagine never celebrating your birthday, of always having that horrendous memory attached to it, and I wasn't thinking of a party exactly, sir. Just a small celebration, the four of us."
Jack thought for a moment. "Suppose a quiet dinner would be all right."
"Actually I thought we could go offworld, sir," Sam continued. "Remember Targa, that planet we reconned a couple of months back?"
"How could I forget it," Jack groused, "Daniel hasn't shut up about going back there. I keep telling him there's nothing of value there but he keeps insisting. "We can learn something from every planet we visit, Jack," he said, in a sorry imitation of Daniel's voice.
Sam chuckled. "What if we went back, that could be Daniel's birthday gift, to film as much, explore as much as he wanted. While we're there, we could have a small birthday celebration - a cake, some of the local brew." She shrugged. "I thought maybe if he celebrated his birthday offworld, well, maybe it would go a long way toward establishing new memories for him."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "You after McKenzie's job, Carter?"
She grinned. "No, sir. Just doing my bit to maintain the morale of the team, sir."
"All right," Jack said decisively. "Let's do it."
"Yes, sir." Sam stood and made her way to the door.
"Captain?" Sam paused and turned back to Jack. "Good work. Oh, and about the cake. Seeing as you thought all this up, how about you let me and Teal'c do our part and bake the cake?"
Sam looked doubtful. "Are you sure, sir? I could buy one "
Jack waved the suggestion away. "You doubt my baking abilities, Captain?"
"No, sir but -"
"As a matter of fact I have my mom's secret recipe for chocolate fudge cake at home."
"Yes, sir. I'll make the other arrangements."
"Good. I'll talk to Teal'c, he doesn't seem to get the idea of birthday surprises. Don't want him blowing it."
And that had been that. Amidst secrecy worthy of a top secret summit meeting, the plan had been hatched and followed through. Jack had spent an educational and entertaining afternoon teaching Teal'c how to cook, T'auri style. Daniel had been thrilled though somewhat puzzled by Jack's change of heart and here they were.
"Hey, T, you want to get the cake set up, big guy?" Jack whispered.
Teal'c inclined his head. "It would be my honor, O'Neill. Captain Carter, are the incendiary devices ready?"
Jack rolled his eyes. "Candles, Carter, he means the candles."
"Oh right." Sam fished in her jacket pocket and pulled out the box, holding them aloft. Jack gave a secret little smile - just an extra little surprise he'd thought up - and ambled casually to the door leading outside. He waited until Teal'c had the cake out of the box and positioned on the table in the center of the room. "So, Carter," Jack couldn't resist asking, "what do you think of my masterpiece?"
Carter studied the chocolate, cream-filled cake with a critical eye and tried unsuccessfully to straighten the top which sagged a little, well, okay, a lot to the right. "It's very nice, sir."
Jack beamed. "Thank you." He poked his head out the door. "Oh, Daniel. Can I see you for a moment?"
"Can't it wait a minute, Jack, I just got started and there's something really curious about a couple of these symbols. If I'm correct, they-"
'Daniel, now! That's an order!" Jack rubbed wearily at his forehead, sudden doubt assailing him. Maybe this wasn't the right thing to do after all.
"I'm here, Jack." Daniel said, sounding a tad pissed. "What's wrong. Please don't tell me we have to go back when we just got here -"
"Daniel, shut up for a minute!" Jack snapped.
"Colonel?" Sam's voice sounded a warning.
Jack sighed and pasted a smile on his face that wasn't completely forced. Grabbing Daniel's arm, he led him back into the room.
Daniel's mouth dropped open when he spied the cake, the candles giving off a smoky haze above it. Sam walked over and wrapped the stunned archeologist in a bear hug. "Happy birthday, Daniel."
"Indeed, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c intoned in his most formal voice. "Felicitations on the anniversary of your birth."
At Daniel's continuing silence, Jack prodded, "You okay with this?"
"What?" Daniel's gaze swiveled to Jack as Sam released him. "Oh, yes, this is I just didn't expect " A shy, delighted smile finally broke out and there was a glint of moisture in his eyes. "Thank you. This is great."
"Happy birthday, Danny," Jack said around the lump that had suddenly taken up residence in his throat. He gave Daniel a gentle push toward the table. "Go make a wish and blow out your candles. Teal'c and I spent a lot of time putting that cake together. I've had to fight the big guy from sampling it before now."
Daniel had leaned over the cake, his lips pursed but he straightened at that comment. "You and Teal'c baked this?"
Jack gave a mock-aggrieved sigh and wrapped a companionable arm around Teal's wide shoulders. "What is it with these two, huh? Just because we're tough fighting machines, they figure we don't know our way around a kitchen."
"I did not," Teal'c reminded him, "until yesterday."
"Yeah, yeah." Jack gestured at Daniel. "Blow the damn candles out, will ya?"
Daniel grinned and obediently leaned over. He puffed out a sizeable breath; his smile turning to an expression of puzzlement when the candles flickered then burst back into flame.
"Sorry," Jack chortled, totally unrepentant, "trick candles. I couldn't resist."
Daniel shook his head in fond exasperation and bent over the cake again. "Ahh, Daniel, it's no use trying -" There was a muffled thump and Jack's words were cut off as the cake exploded, showering everyone with frosting, cake and candles. "What the ? Shit, Daniel!" Jack launched himself at the dazed archeologist who sat on the ground, covered in chocolate with one lit candle still attached to the frosting, stuck to his hair. There was brief glow and then Daniel's hair was alight. Jack threw Daniel to the ground, smacking frantically at Daniel's head, ignoring the other man's cries of, "Ow! Ow! Ow!"
Satisfied the flames were out, his nose wrinkling at the unpleasant odor of burned hair, Jack allowed Daniel to push away and sit up, one hand going to his head. He glowered at Jack. "What was that for - Oh." His fingertips grazed over the crisp burned fuzz on the right side of his skull.
"Oh, Daniel." Sam hurried forward, carrying a first aid kit, her own hair dripping globs of frosting onto her uniform. Teal'c watched from a safe distance, a perplexed frown on his usually implacable face, his staff weapon held aloft, ready to fire at some unseen enemy.
"You can put the staff down, Teal'c," Jack said wearily. He sat back on his butt, weathered the glare from Sam and watched her lavish her patented big sister act on Daniel.
"Are you hurt, Daniel?" Sam asked, kneeling beside him and running gentle fingers over his skull.
"No, I don't think so, just - Ouch!" Daniel flinched away from her touch and Sam leaned closer for a better look.
"It's not too bad," she announced. "Your scalp's a little red. It's probably going to sting for a day or two."
Jack gave Daniel a tentative grin. "I've been telling you it was time to get a haircut," he said weakly. He stood and dusted himself off, grimacing at the stickiness that seemed to coat his entire uniform. "Well, this was a bust. Guess we should pack up and head home."
"No way!" Daniel stood and crossed his arms over his chest, giving Jack a glare when the colonel tried, and failed to school his features at the sight Daniel's unruly, lop-sided buzz cut. "You said I could take as long as I wanted to get the information I needed and seeing it's my birthday, that's what we're gonna do."
Jack acquiesced with a small bow. "Your wish "
Later that night, clean, their appetites sated okay, so MRE's weren't standard birthday fare, but still they'd eaten worse the four sat around a small campfire on the outskirts of the village. The night was cool and clear, the two moons casting a brilliant glow that almost turned night into day.
"Colonel, what did you put in the cake?" Sam asked.
Jack shrugged. "The usual stuff, Carter. I just followed the recipe."
"Which was?" Sam prompted.
Jack's brow furrowed. "Cocoa, eggs, milk, butter, flour -"
"Yeah, that too."
"I just tossed a heap in. Ive only baked that cake once before. It turned out a little flat. I wanted to make sure it would rise up enough to make two layers so -"
"I think I've figured out what happened with the cake," Sam mused. She looked up and grinned at Jack. "For a start, you used way too much baking powder and I think the trip through the gate might have reconstituted the molecules, then the heat from those candles was enough to cause the whole thing to -"
"Blow up in our faces," Jack finished for her. He groaned and smacked his head on his updrawn knees a few times.
"It was worth it," Daniel said. He sipped on the brew presented to them by the local villagers and smiled. "You know, accidents not withstanding," he gave a rueful smile as he brushed a hand over his head, "this has been the best birthday I can remember having. Thank you." He raised his cup in a toast, waiting until each of his teammates touched their own cups against his. "To friends."
"To friends," the others agreed and Jack added, "And birthdays."
General Hammond stared in open-mouthed astonishment as Daniel made his way down the ramp, preceding the rest of the team. "Doctor Jackson? What happened? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, sir," Daniel assured him. "If you'll excuse me, after the med check, I have an appointment with a barber."
Hammond watched him leave and turned his attention to Jack. "Colonel O'Neill, perhaps you could enlighten me."
Jack shrugged. "What can I say, sir. It was Daniel's birthday and we had a blast."
Jack did a double take when Daniel walked into the gate room. "Nice haircut."
Daniel gazed at him miserably. "It looks awful, doesn't it? The barber said it was the best he could do until the singed bits grew out some."
"No," Jack said gamely. "It's you. It's very you." He gave up. "Leave your helmet on, no one will notice." His grin faded when Sam gave him a withering look. Waving a hand at the stargate, he led his team up the ramp. "Let's go, kids. A new world awaits."
July 9th 2004 (at least in Australia - Happy belated birthday, Daniel)