"You don't have to do this, y'know," Jack said as he walked into the room.
"So you've said three times this afternoon, Jack." Daniel looked up from where he sat on the floor, folding clothes. "No, I know I don't. But I want to. You shouldn't have to do this..." He paused and gestured around the almost empty room. "Alone."
Jack flashed him a grateful smile. "Thanks." He sank down on the edge of the bed and looked slowly around the room.
"Yeah," Jack nodded slowly, then stopped and shrugged. "I don't know. Don't think so. Am I supposed to be?" He opened a photo album that was sitting on the bedside table.
Daniel placed the folded clothes into a bag. "No, and it was a stupid question. Sorry." He took a deep breath in and exhaled slowly. "Jack, I..." He shook his head and pressed his lips together. "That's the last of your mom's clothes ready to donate," he said. "I'll take the bags out to the truck." When he came back in a few minutes later, Jack was still sitting on the bed but had moved so his back was against the headrest and his legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed. The photo album was on his lap, a photo in his hands and his brow furrowed. "Jack?"
"Anyone in this photo look familiar to you?" Jack handed Daniel the photo as he asked.
"Uh... why would they?" Daniel frowned, moving to sit on the bed next to Jack before looking down at the photo. He blinked, his lips parting and his eyes widening.
"Yeah, see that kid right there? I can't help but think he looks a lot like..."
"...me," Daniel breathed, looking from Jack to the photo and back again. "That's... Jack's that's me."
Jack took the photo back and stared at it; it was a picture of him, in his early twenties, in his fatigues resting his elbow on the head of a skinny, scowling boy with his arms wrapped around a large leather-bound book, shaggy hair that was too long and sticking out at odd angles. "I was home from basic," Jack said slowly. "Had a week's break and came home to find some kid... you... sitting on the couch in my old hand me downs."
Jack dropped his bag by the door. "Mom?" He called out, kicking his boots off and hanging his jacket up. He strode into the living room, stumbling to a stop at the sight of a kid sitting in his place on the couch. "Mom!" He yelled. "There's a kid here. Why's there a..."
"Stop yelling, Jack!" His mom came in from the kitchen, drying her hands on a towel. "His name's Danny and he's staying with us for a while. He's had some..." she paused, a sad look on her face. "Difficulties in the last few months and needs a place to live. Danny - this is my son Jack, you remember me telling you about him?"
"Hi, Danny." Jack dropped down on the couch next to the boy.
Danny looked up from his book long enough to scowl at Jack before ducking his head back down.
"Friendly kid," he commented dryly, one eyebrow raised.
"He's been through a lot. Come into the kitchen with me."
Jack stood up and followed his mom into the kitchen. "What's going on, Mom?"
"Danny's parents died, Jack," she said softly. "Just a few months ago, and he saw it happen."
"Shit, no way?"
"Mind your language."
"Sorry Mom." Jack frowned and looked back over his shoulder into the living room. "But he's so young. "
"And he's all alone in this world, so you be nice to him."
Jack opened his mouth but no words came out. What the hell did he know about kids? And that skinny little thing sure didn't look like he played hockey. Or any other sport, for that matter. He frowned and nodded, hugging his mom briefly. "What's for dinner?"
"Are you ever not hungry?" His mom asked, laughing. "Meatloaf. And it'll be ready in about 30 minutes. Now go and keep Danny company while I finish up"
"He doesn't look like he wants company," Jack started to argue, backing up when she shooed him out of her kitchen. He rolled his eyes before sitting back down next to the kid. "Mom's making meatloaf and it’s the best," he told Danny. "You'll love it." Danny didn't even look up from his book that time and Jack sighed. "You're not the chattiest kid, are you? So, what're you reading?" He pulled the book from Danny's hands and was not expecting the maelstrom that followed; Danny crying, yelling and punching at him, grabbing the book back and curling in on himself, clutching the book protectively against his chest.
"What on earth is going on in here, boys?" Mum's eyes widened and she gasped at the sight of Danny trembling and crying. "Danny, what's wrong? Jack, I thought I told you to be nice!"
"I was! I asked him about his book."
"It's my dad's book," Danny yelled. "You can't have it!"
Jack ignored his mom, turning his attention to Danny. "Hey, Squirt, I'm sorry. I wasn't gonna take your book."
Danny nodded and sniffed. He reached up to wipe his face, the rolled-up sleeve of Jack's old shirt falling over his hand and he had to shake it to get his fingers free. His hair tumbled into his eyes from the shaking and a sob escape him. He curled even tighter into himself, face crumpling in misery.
Jack couldn't help but laugh and reached over, rubbing his knuckles over the kid’s head. "You'll be ok," he promised softly.
"That reminds me, Jack. Can you take Danny to the mall tomorrow, get him a haircut and some clothes? None of your old stuff fits him."
"My name isn't Danny!" The kid yelled, fresh tears running down his face. "Stop calling me Danny!" He slammed his book down on his lap, knuckles turning white from his grip on it.
"Um, mom? I don't think he likes being called Danny."
"Yes, thank you, Jonathan." Jack's mom shot him a look and he grinned back at her. "Your social worker said your name was Danny," she said to the kid gently.
"It's not!" He shouted back.
"OK then, Squirt." Jack wrapped his arm around the boy's shaking shoulders. "If you don't like being called Danny, what's your name?"
"Daniel," he replied quietly. "Only my dad calls me Danny."
"I'm sorry, Daniel." Jack pulled Daniel in against him. "I didn't know." Daniel stiffened then whimpered, sniffled and leaned against Jack. "I didn't mean to make you cry." Jack looked up as his mom nodded and went back into the kitchen, leaving them alone. "So... this is your dad's book?" Jack tapped the cover with one finger. "What's it about?"
"The pyramids." Daniel hiccupped and wiped his tears away with a frayed cuff. He shuffled away from Jack, moving to sit next to him, one leg tucked under him. He flipped the book open to show Jack one of the color illustrations. "They're in Egypt."
Jack laughed "I know where the pyramids are. I'd love to see them one day"
"They're amazing!" Daniel smiled brightly despite his tears
"You've seen them?"
Daniel nodded then bit his lip. "With my mom and dad."
Jack winced and kicked himself; the last thing he wanted to do was make the kid cry again. He looked down at the book and pointed to a picture of the Sphinx. "So, what's that?"
"That's the sphinx," Daniel answered. "It has the head of a person and the body of a lion and sometimes wings like a bird and it guards the pyramids and you have to answer its riddle to get past it and..."
"I remember that," Daniel nodded, taking the photo out of Jack's hands and looking at it, running one finger over the faded image. "I had no idea that was you. You took me to the mall like your mom said, I got a haircut, you bought me some clothes and... and a coloring book with pictures of Egypt."
"Only way I could stop you from crying or yelling that night was to get you to talk about the damn pyramids. Not much has changed," he chuckled.
"Yeah, you're still a dick." Daniel snarked back. "You gave me this huge lecture about how you knew I was scared and angry and hurting and tired and shit but that I needed to be nicer to your mom because she was only trying to help."
"Yeah," Jack made a face. "That was kind of a dick move."
Daniel shook his head and passed the photo back. "You were right." He stared up at the ceiling. "I didn't know it at the time but..." He trailed off and looked at Jack. "The next foster home I went to, I really tried being nicer to them, and they were the ones I stayed with for the next 10 years. I should be thanking you. Jack, I..."
"I know," Jack nodded and stretched his arms over his head. He popped the photo in his shirt pocket and put the album back on the table. "Come on 'Squirt, we've got work to do..." he teased, reaching over and impulsively giving Daniel a noogie.