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Still Jack and Daniel Series 1 - Not in Kansas Anymore 6 - The New Friend

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The New Friend

I

“Daniel! You ready?"

"No!"

Daniel stared down at his skinny knees. It was warm and sunny outside and the idea of wearing shorts appealed to him. He had never worn them as an adult. He thought they looked funny. But at his current age it seemed to be okay to wear shorts. There was a scab on his left knee, from when he'd fallen off the swing a couple days ago.

Sighing, he decided to change and wear jeans after all. He couldn't look ‘eight’ at an appointment like this. Oh, he would, no matter what he was wearing, but he wanted to feel older. Much older. And khaki shorts didn't make him feel grown up. Neither did the bruise on his knee. It just proved he didn't behave like a grown up most of the time.

Yep. He was eight now.

Big deal. Not.

He had grown about three inches during the months since he’d become mini-Daniel. That was something; some kind of improvement. Or... not. Jack had stuck a growth chart to Daniel's wall and they were measuring him on a regular basis. He remembered how proud he'd been when he had grown out of his first pair of kiddie-sneakers. They had celebrated that with ice cream and then buried his old pair solemnly in the garbage can.

The boots he wore at work seemed to grow along with him though. So did his pants. But he had gotten a few new shirts last week, one size up.

Little by little, he was growing. And even though he didn't pay much attention to it most of the time – what are a few inches anyway – he needed those little steps. It proved to him he was at least growing up somehow.

Right.

Jeans.

Daniel slipped out off the shorts and opened his dresser to get out a pair of mini-Levi’s. Everything around him seemed to fit the word 'mini' now. Well, his bed and desk were still big. They used to be in his apartment before.

Daniel glowered at the jeans. There was a hole in the right knee.

Great.

He tried another pair which turned out to be okay.

"Daaaniel, I'm waaiting," Jack sing-songed from the hallway.

He rolled his eyes. Why bother with clothes anyway? He wouldn't go. Plain and simple. He would run to his tree house and wait everything out. If he stayed up there long enough he could avoid the appointment and Jack's anger.

Well, to wait out the latter he'd need a basket with food for several days. Oh. And a door that withstood an outraged colonel. Right. Maybe that wasn't such a bright idea after all. But he could at least try... Jack might have mercy on him, if he really didn't want to go.

He had managed to talk Jack out of this twice over the last few weeks. Oh, Daniel was well aware the only reason Jack had given in to canceling the appointment before was because he didn't feel comfortable about it either.

But they had run out of reasons. The crutches were gone, Daniel had survived his birthday by ignoring it and not having a party... sort of, the weather was great...

So Jack had said no more delaying. No more chickening out. End of story.

Daniel changed into the jeans while his mind was running a mile a minute.

If he could get past Jack in the hallway and reach his tree house, he'd at least win some time… it probably meant he'd get his butt grounded or smacked... but if he could win enough time by trying to dodge Jack and fight it out with him, maybe he’d get around the meeting with Doctor Svenson one more time. She probably had a tight schedule. If Daniel locked himself up in the house, the time for their appointment had come and gone by the time Jack had forced him out.

Yep. Could work.

Daniel laced his shoes and opened the door to his room. Peering out into the hallway he checked the terrain. The front door was open and Jack was nowhere in sight. Maybe he was already waiting by the truck. That was even better. Daniel would just walk into the kitchen and slip out the back door. By the time Jack would check on him, he'd be up in the tree house. Daniel was very fast on his short legs, mind you.

He tiptoed down the hallway and almost reached the kitchen door, when Jack stepped out of living room, phone in hand. "Forgot my phone."

Daniel changed plans in a split second and, instead of running into the kitchen, made a beeline for the front door and zipped out like a speeding bullet. All he had to do was run around the house into the backyard and reach the tree house in time. He jumped down the steps and made a leap over the small flowerbed, almost stumbling and falling on his knees when he darted around Jack's truck currently parked in the driveway.

He made it around the corner before he was stopped short by a hand on the back of his t-shirt. "That's not the way to the truck, Doctor Jackson."

Daniel let out a deep sigh. “Oh, but, Ja-ack...”

He was sure Jack could see how desperate he was. He turned and tried the puppy dog eyes. He had lots of practice in that. "I don't feel so good."

"That's too bad. I'll call Janet and we can make a detour to the mountain," Jack sighed back dramatically.

Daniel pouted. He had lots of practice in that, too. "I'm not sick. I don't feel well mentally. I'm just not ready to face this. And you know I also have lots of work to do. SG-5 needs their translations back and they're just half way finished. Doctor Svenson would understand that. Look... those translations are really very important and... um..."

"And you can do them tomorrow. Now scoot, oh munchkin mine, Dorothy's waiting."

"More like the wicked witch, if you ask me," Daniel groused as he walked to the truck. He could hear Jack chuckle behind him.

When he crossed the driveway, he realized the front door was still open.

He stopped, hoping... and yes! Jack didn't insist on him getting into the truck first. He just sad, “Get in,” as he walked past Daniel to lock the house.

Daniel waited until the colonel was at the door, fiddling with his keys. As soon as Jack had his back on him, he spun around and started running again. Oh, he knew it was silly. He also knew that this wouldn't save him from meeting Doctor Svenson long term. But his eight year old streak just kicked in and told him to run.

He'd almost made it to the stairs of his tree house when he heard Jack yell and come after him. Daniel changed course and dashed over to the bush under the smaller living room window, next to the chimney. Squatting behind the bush, he could hear Jack storming up the stairs to the tree house and hammering against the door. Very carefully Daniel sneaked to the corner of the chimney and peeked around it.

He could see his friend peering through one of the windows. “If you're not out of there ASAP, I'm going to call Svenson and invite her to come here," Jack hollered. Apparently he had lost his humor, and fast.

Daniel, however, had to bite the inside of his cheek when, all of a sudden, laughter bubbled up in him.

He imagined Svenson standing in front of his tree house door, talking to no one while he was sitting down here, watching. This was just too funny and he couldn't hold it back. He let out a chortle.

Uh-oh, Jack was coming down the stairs. Had he heard him?

"Oh Daaaniel... I know you're hiding somewhere," O'Neill called sweetly, while turning around in the middle of the yard. "Come out, so I can wring your neck!"

Daniel pressed both hands over his mouth to keep himself from giggling. He felt adrenalin jolt through his body. If he got caught now he’d probably regret it. But somehow it was hilarious to watch Jack trying to figure out where to search first.

His grim face didn't exactly look funny, though.

And yet, Daniel was near hysterical by the time Jack decided to walk around the four trees carrying the tree house.

Where was he now? Daniel craned his neck, but couldn't see him. Oh, Jack was smart. He would hide behind a tree and wait for Daniel to come out and then grab him. But Daniel was smart, too. He'd stay where he was and see who could hide the longest.

The clock was ticking and no matter the outcome, they’d be too late to their appointment in the end.

A few minutes passed before Jack came back into view, his phone in hand. He dialed a number. After a moment, he snarled, "O'Neill here. I need security teams to my house ASAP. Daniel's missing."

Daniel frowned. That had to be a trick, right?

"I don't know where he is! Maybe the NID has him! Get over here!!"

Jack didn't really call security. He was just trying to get him out... Daniel wiped his suddenly sweaty hands on his jeans. Then he cleared his throat and left his hiding place, peering around the bush. "Jack? You didn't... did you?"

O'Neill just glared at him, hands on hips. Daniel was about to duck his head and apologize, when he saw the smug expression in those brown eyes.

"Ah-hah! I knew it was just a ploy.” The urge to laugh was back.

Jack was crossing the backyard, and fast. "Now you laugh. Just you wait till I get my hands on you!"

Daniel squeaked and was running again.

He darted sideways and then, without thinking, crouched on his hands and knees and crawled under the wooden deck as fast as he could. A hand grabbed for his sneaker. He couldn't hold back the hysterical laughter anymore as he felt his shoe leave his foot and Jack cursed loudly behind him.

When he was sure he was out of reach, he turned around to look back. He could see Jack's knees on the grass and a moment later, the silver haired head came into view. "Out – Now!"

Uh-oh, the colonel was not happy.

"No, I think right now it's much safer where I am," Daniel pointed out.

"Ya think?"

"Yep. I'm a smart kid after all."

Jack thought for a moment, a frown on his face. Then he shook his head and said, "You know... I think, I remember there was a garter snake living under the deck last year."

Daniel, still on his hands and knees, looked around. It was very dusty and dark underneath the deck. He could see lots of cobwebs. The air was a little stale and there was a sharp scent, like... Daniel couldn't make out if it was some animal excrement or just the smell of old rotten leaves and dirt.

"You're just trying to scare me," he shouted.

But when there was some rustling behind him, he whipped his head back to stare into the darkness.

"You never know what lives under your deck," Jack said thoughtfully.

"Um... what's in it for me if I come out and don't run?" Daniel was no dummy. All that talk about snakes was just another trick to lure him out. He wasn't afraid of spiders and mice or beetles. And the garter snake wasn't venomous and would probably be more scared of him than the other way around.

"You'll live. That should be enough," Jack growled.

"No. Not acceptable. There's too much that can happen in between getting killed and staying alive. I guess I’m gonna stay here a while longer," Daniel answered, grinning again, even though he was trying not to.

"I am NOT going to cancel that meeting. Get your butt out of there, right now, Daniel."

"Uh... I think, I'd rather wait until you've cooled off. You better call her and tell her we won't make it to the park in time," Daniel fired back.

"I will call her, all right. And let her know where you are. Maybe she’ll come and talk to you right here. You want that?" Jack asked sharply.

"No-o. Not really."

"Then get the hell out!"

 

He was finally able to stop grinning. Jack was furious. Daniel felt his heart pound against his ribs. He didn't mean to push it that far. It had just been so much fun. He couldn't even explain why anymore. But it had been a rush, being chased through the yard.

Now the fun was gone and Daniel felt a little sorry.... Until his imagination kicked in again and the mere thought of a therapy session where the counselor sat on the lawn and tried to talk to him while he was lying down here in the dirt had him crack up again. He pictured himself falling asleep during the session.

He saw Jack change position. He was now lying on the ground, sticking his head under the deck. "Daniel, stop laughing!"

"I'm sorry," Daniel snickered.

"It's not funny," Jack insisted.

Was it only a figment of the dim light under the porch or was there a twitch around Jack's mouth? Daniel wasn't sure. He crawled a few inches backwards to get more distance, now that Jack's head and shoulders were under the deck. But the colonel couldn't come further. There wasn't enough space.

"Daniel, you can't stay there forever," Jack said, a desperate expression on his face.

"Promise me you’ll stay... uh... calm?"

"I am calm. This is me when I'm calm, Daniel," Jack said through gritted teeth.

He shook his head. "No, this is you when you're pissed."

"Nope. I'm not yelling. See? All peachy." Jack stretched out his right arm, but couldn't reach Daniel, who shifted backwards again.

"Um... This is a difficult situation for me."

"Difficult situation. Sure. I understand that," Jack said with mock pity in his voice. "Get out and I'll show you how understanding I can be."

"Uh, nooo... you're still upset. Upset isn't good," Daniel decided. Then he had to sneeze five times in a row because of the dust. His hands and pants were dirty and he had a spider web somewhere in his hair.

Jack glared at him. "O-kay. I’m going to back off. You'll come out. Then we’ll go inside and change. Then we’ll drive to the park. I can do calm." He started crawling back and when he tried to get up he banged his head at the wooden planks. "Ah, f... Daniel! I'm going to smoke you out! Damn!"

"Upset! Furious! No good," Daniel yelled, watching Jack's legs pace along the deck.

"I'm not upset," Jack yelled back.

"Yes, you are!"

"Am not!"

"Are!"

A moment later, Jack's head was back down. "Okay. I’ll go into the house and change. I expect you to do the same. We’ll meet at the truck in twenty. It's my last peace offer."

“No smacking?”

There was a pause. “No smacking.”

Daniel sighed. This was probably his last chance to get out of this one with his dignity intact. “Okay.”

He was about to leave his hiding place when there was more rustling behind him.

A deep growl, followed by a hiss had him freeze.

He felt his throat go dry and his heart skip a beat. Very slowly he turned around to look back into the shadows. He saw something white and black and two brown eyes. Then he heard a growl. "Jack.." he croaked out, "there's a sk... skunk..."

But Jack was gone.

The skunk started stamping its feet and hissed at him. Daniel crawled backwards again. He hit his back on the edge of the deck, but he didn't pay attention to it. "I’ll leave, see? This is me leaving. Good skunk. It's your deck, yes, I'm gone." Daniel mumbled at the animal.

The skunk was not amused.

The boy tried to get out from under the deck as fast as possible. But before he left for good, Daniel stopped and turned around to see if the animal followed him. Instead of coming after him, however, the skunk retreated further and let out a low squeak.

"Are you hurt?" Daniel asked in a soothing voice, sticking his head back under the deck. He licked his lips. Going back to check on the skunk might be a very bad idea. It could spray him.

The animal squeaked again and in the dim light Daniel could see it was holding a paw in an unnatural angle. "Your paw is broken," he crooned. "Wait, I'll get Jack."

Another squeak was the answer, and more hissing, as the animal hobbled backwards.

Daniel was on his feet in a heartbeat and ran around the corner. He jumped over the flowerbeds again and dashed through the open front door.

He ran down the hallway, leaving a trail of sand and dirt behind.

They almost collided at the bathroom door. Jack had changed into clean jeans and was holding a new shirt in his hand.

Daniel didn't even stop for air. He grabbed his friend’s arm and tried to drag him with along. "Jack! Jack, there's a..."

He was stopped short when Jack snatched him up by his t-shirt and wedged him under one arm like a sack of potatoes.

"Hey! You have to come out with me," Daniel yelled, kicking his legs and leaving more sand on the floor as he was carried into the bathroom and placed back on his feet none too gently.

"You always have to go just one step too far, right? Look at you! You look like a damn mole," Jack yelled and started to yank Daniel's dirty shirt over his head.

"There's a..."

"If you're not under that shower by three..."

"JACK!" Daniel twisted and jerked his head until he was free of the shirt. His glasses started to slide down his nose and with an angry push he brought them back up again.

"WHAT?"

They glared at each other for a second before Daniel found his voice. "There's a skunk under our deck. And it's injured." Before Jack could respond to that, he added, "You have to take a look at it. I think its paw is broken and it's squeaking. It's in pain. You need to get out and do something, call a vet or somebody."

Jack stared down at him, his expression worried now. "A skunk? Did it attack you? Are you all right?"

Daniel could barely stop himself from rolling his eyes. "No. Do you smell something funny? I'm fine. But the skunk is..."

"Well, this has to wait until we're back. I have a nice pepper recipe to get rid of those little critters."

Daniel wiped at the dirt on his cheeks. Sometimes he really wanted to kick Jack's shin. "You are not poisoning it or chasing it out! It's hurt. It needs help. And it can't wait until we're back!"

"If you're making this up to get out of the meeting with Svenson..."

“I'm not making anything up. I'll show you where it is and you take a look. That won't take long."

"Daniel..."

"Please?"

Jack let out a resigned sigh and pointed at the shower. "You stay here. Shower, dress, comb. I'll take a look."

"But I need to show you where..."

"My deck isn't that big. If it's there I'll find it."

"You're not going to hurt it, are you?"

"I’ll just take a look. Now will you please..."

"Are you sure you..." Daniel took one look at Jack's face and backed off. "I'm showering, I'm showering." To his dismay Jack waited until he was under the running shower before he left the bathroom.

***

Shaking his head, Jack slipped into the new t-shirt on his way to the kitchen. He got a flashlight from the pantry and went out to take a look under his deck.

A skunk. Great. Just what he needed. He was just glad it hadn’t showered Daniel with its odor, or even worse, biten him.

Jack knew he needed to be very careful. Otherwise he'd end up in a bath with tomato juice or vinegar. When he'd been a boy, he had to bath his dog several times in water with vinegar after encounters with a skunk. There had to be other recipes to get rid of the stink today, but he wasn't too eager to find out.

He crouched on his hands and knees and looked under the deck. Once his eyes adapted to the dimness he could see the wooden posts and cobwebs. He switched on the flashlight and let the beam wander into the deeper and darker corners. He heard the hissing before the light hit two big dark eyes and some white and black fur.

"Hel-lo," Jack said, taking the light away, when the hissing turned into growling. But the animal didn't come any closer. It was obviously scared and definitely in pain. Daniel had been right. It held out one of its paws which looked twisted. "What happened to you, hm? Looks bad," he soothed while he tried to get the light back on the little mammal without blinding it. He saw a bushy tail and two pointed ears.

"You're not a skunk, are you?" More hissing and growling, then a sound that reminded him of a little kitten. It tried to get further away under the deck. “That's not such a good idea, pal," Jack mumbled and turned off the light.

"Did you find it? Is it badly wounded? Can we get it out?" Daniel's anxious voice was coming from behind him. Jack automatically raised his head and bumped it on his deck panels - for the second time.

"Shit, Daniel." He crawled out and sat up, rubbing a hand over the back of his head. "First off, it's not a skunk. It's a raccoon. I think its paw is twisted.”

Daniel crouched and was about to crawl under the deck again, but Jack was faster. He held him back by the belt loops of his new clean jeans. "Oh no, you don't!"

"But Jack!"

"Don't but-Jack me, Daniel. It's scared enough already. We need to get it out of there to take a closer look. Therefore we need to buy a few things after our appointment with Svenson."

"We can cancel Svenson," Daniel pointed out.

"Nope, we can’t."

They both got back to their feet and as far as Jack was concerned, this discussion was over. Daniel could do reasonable, right? At least from time to time there had to be some part of his adult self in there... well, the part of his adult self that was able to make compromises and see things from a pragmatic angle, at least. The part of Daniel that was able to set priorities and think by using his mind, not his heart.

Well, not going to happen right now.

Daniel got this look on his face. Narrowed eyes, stubbornly set chin and hands on his hips. He was going to go into lecture mode. "You will let it sit there until we are back? What if it crawls somewhere else and we can’t find it anymore? What if it dies? And maybe it has other injuries we can't see yet? Jack, we can't just let it sit there. We have to do something now!"

Jack took hold of the kid’s shoulders and steered him around to the driveway. “Get in the truck."

Daniel stomped his feet into the ground. "It's in pain! You have to call a veterinarian or some Wild Life organization to rescue it!"

Jack checked his watch. All he wanted was to get over this meeting with the shrink. The bad thing was; Daniel had a point here. "All right," he said, weary, "Let's go inside and call a vet."

Off he ran. Jack followed. He wouldn't give up just yet. There was still time. They had planned to meet at Memorial park around lunchtime for a picnic. Jack had wanted to take the kid to the park and get him to relax first, go swimming or something like that. It was ten thirty, so they could still make it in time for the meeting at least.

When he entered the house, Daniel was already checking yellow pages. "I found one," he said finally. "It's a guy named David McDaniel. He removes animals from homes and barns... but I don't know if he takes them to a vet if they are injured."

"Let's call," Jack said, grabbing the phone from the coffee table.

"But... he’s not a vet. What if they want to kill it because it's injured?" Daniel objected.

"We'll ask." Jack looked over Daniel's shoulder and dialed the number. A moment later he was talking to Mr. McDaniel himself. He explained the situation and pointed out that the raccoon might be severely injured.

Daniel was staring holes into him the whole time, worrying his lower lip between his teeth.

"So, you can trap it and take it to a vet," Jack asked the guy. He listened and frowned. "What do you mean, I don't have to pay for the euthanasia?"

Daniel was tugging at his sleeve now, shaking his head and making "No, no" motions with his mouth.

"Its paw is broken. It can heal. If there's nothing else wrong with it, there's not need to kill it." Jack jerked his arm out of the kid's grip and made a shushing gesture in Daniel’s direction. He listened to what the guy had to say and answered, "Listen, I know that. I could take it to a vet to check that out... yeah... of course I won't touch it. Nope. Look, why can't you come out, trap it and take it to a vet. I'll pay for it. If it's too bad, you can go ahead and kill it, but..."

Daniel was back with the tugging and head shaking. "No, don't let them kill it, Jack, you can't let them do that."

"Daniel! No, not you, Mr. McDaniel... my kid... yeah, his name is Daniel. Okay, when can you be here? What? Listen, that raccoon is in pain and scared to death. If we wait until tonight it might as well be gone or dead... for crying out loud, no, I don't have a raccoon trap in my garage! You know what, forget it! I'm going to trap it myself. Yes, I know how to do that. Thank you, bye." Jack placed the phone back on the coffee table and was attacked by Daniel, who hugged his waist like a little sumo. "Thank you!"

"Aht! Get in the truck, will ya? We need a trap and some other stuff. And I'm telling you this right now. If it's more than the paw, I'm not torturing the little thing by putting it through surgeries."

"But... you just told that guy there's no need to kill it," Daniel said.

"If it's only the paw, that is. If it has more severe injuries I’ll put it out of its misery and that's it. Now don't give me puppy dog eyes and get in the truck."

He ushered Daniel out of the house.

Daniel, apparently miffled by Jack's persistence, chose to climb into the backseat which was just as well.

Once they were driving, he told the Wretch to call Svenson. "Tell her we might be a little late. We set the trap and then leave. Hopefully it's in there when we're back."

Daniel didn't say anything to that, but he got out his own phone and called the doctor.

Jack had to concentrate on the traffic. There was a construction area and he needed to maneuver the truck through it with care. So he was only half listening to the conversation that took place on the backseat. But he paid attention when he heard Daniel say: "That's very kind off you, Doctor Svenson. Next Tuesday, same time then? Okay. And thank you for being so understanding. Yes, I hope it will, bye."

Jack waited until he had passed the road workers, before he asked, "Did I just hear you postponing the meeting to next week?"

"She said she has an emergency appointment and if we don't mind she'll take that now."

“And that's just too bad, right?“ Jack growled.

“It's not my fault, really. I wasn't suggestive or anything,” Daniel said nervously. “But... I'm... you know... not angry about it.“

“Could've fooled me.“

"I don't want that raccoon to be in the trap for so long all alone," Daniel stated. "I can't stand the thought of the animal sitting there the whole day. It must be hungry. If we can lure it out with food it might get in the trap faster. But then it will sit there all alone... I know this might sound silly to you and maybe it is. But please... try to understand this, okay?"

O'Neill stared at the street in front of him, avoiding looking into those blue eyes behind him in the mirror. But his anger faded at the softly spoken words coming from the backseat. Without another word, he pulled the truck over to the parking lot of FLY FISHING SHOP & OUTFITTERS.

He got out and opened the back door for the Wretch, who gave him a worried look. Daniel seemed a little sheepish about his attitude from earlier, at least. "Well, let's get a trap and some food for our little friend," Jack sighed and waved him out.

II

Daniel peered into the bags Jack loaded into the truck thirty mintues later. Dog food for a raccoon? And strawberries? Peaches? Looked like a weird mixture. But he bit his tongue. He hadn't gotten more than a few curt answers from Jack to all his questions since they had bought the trap and goneto the supermarket for the food.

He knew he had managed to overstep a few lines again today and he was sorry. He didn't mean to make Jack angry. It just... happened. Starting with the chase across the yard and him crawling under the deck. But it wasn't his fault that the raccoon had been there. And he hadn't told Svenson to cancel the meeting. Yet, he knew he'd agreed all too quickly when she suggested delaying it once more. He was also very well aware he was walking a thin line with all the backtalk and his questioning of every step Jack took.

He let out a sigh. It was one of those days...

The drive back home was very quiet. Daniel stared out the window, wondering why he couldn't get himself to just let things go sometimes. Was it really necessary to have the last word all the time? It was only making things worse.

When they arrived home, Jack gave him the keys and the trap to carry, while he brought in the grocery bags. Daniel unlocked the front door and put the trap on the kitchen table. It was a bucket trap, made of steel. He had read the instruction manual on their way to the supermarket. It seemed to be a good choice. Jack had explained it was better than a normal life animal trap made of wire. In the bucket trap the raccoon wouldn't injure its feet because they couldn't get stuck between wires.

While Jack went down to the basement to put away some of the groceries they didn't need for the raccoon, Daniel quietly got out the vacuum cleaner and started to clean the hallway off the sand and dirt he had carried in this morning. The vacuum was very heavy and it took some effort to maneuver it out of the broom closet, but he managed without help.

Afterward, when he tried to move it back into the narrow space, he accidentally hit his shin with it and the cleaner slipped his fingers. Daniel let out a yelp and jumped backwards to prevent his feet from getting hit by the heavy thing.

"Damn, dumb, rotten thing," he ranted, blinking away tears as he bent down to rub at his leg with one hand, while he tried to heft the vacuum up with the other.

But suddenly two big hands were there, taking the vacuum from him and putting it away. Then Daniel was picked up and sat on the kitchen table next to the raccoon trap.

"There, let me see... it's not bad." Jack pulled up the leg of his jeans and gently rubbed the aching spot. There was already a light bruise. Jack went to the fridge, retrieved the icepack, wrapped it into a tea towel and pressed it to Daniel's shin.

"Thanks," Daniel mumbled, holding on to the pack, glad when the pain finally subsided. Jack continued unpacking grocery bags for a moment, then turned back to him.

Tweaking Daniel's nose, he smiled for the first time since Daniel had crawled under the deck. "Don't fight with household aids that are bigger than you," he teased before he removed the ice pack and put it back in the fridge.

"I’ll try to remember that."

Jack picked up the trap and looked it over for a moment. "This looks like something only Carter can handle," he grumbled.

"There's an instruction manual here." Daniel pulled out the piece of paper he had shoved into his jeans’ pocket after reading it. "Problem is the English part is missing somehow."

"Where's the problem? You pick a language you can read and tell me what to do." Jack shrugged.

"Oh. I thought you want to do it alone. Since you were a little..."

"Hey. That's your raccoon out there, buddy. No way am I doing this all alone. So, read on. I guess we need a bucket."

"Yep. This package includes: one bait holder, a threaded trigger rod for adjusting proper length. Then one horizontal door-locking bar. A door, door frame, and flange and carrying handle," Daniel read aloud, translating from French .

Jack nodded as he got out each piece of the box. "All here," he finally said when everything was laid out on the table. Daniel started reading the instructions while Jack followed his lead, step by step, until the trap was put together.

"Now all we have to do is stick a bucket on the open end and hook the door open," he finished.

"Run down to the basement. There should be a bucket that fits," Jack told him.

Daniel was back in no time, slamming a big white bucket on the table. "Is this the right one? Do you think it fits? And what are we doing next?" He knew he was babbling again, but this was exciting and he really hoped the little raccoon would go into the trap. He also hoped its injuries weren't too severe.

Jack seemed to have regained good mood. He didn't roll his eyes at him. "Now you get out the can opener and open the dog food. Then you can slice the peach and wash the strawberries."

"Why dog food? Isn't there any special food for raccoons we could have bought?" Daniel opened the food can, his tongue firmly pressed between his lips. He had to concentrate on this job. It wasn't easy to handle the opener with his small hands. It was just another one of so many things that had been much easier when he'd been an adult. As was slicing the peaches. But since he didn't have to peel them, he managed that, too.

"Trust me on this, Danny. Raccoons love dog food. And fruit. They eat almost everything. But dog food is on top of their list. That's why they like living close to humans. Pet food is a real delicacy on their menu."

A few minutes later Daniel put the sliced and washed fruit in a bowl and a spoon in the dog food can. "Do you think it will go into the trap?" he asked, worried. The trap looked huge and he thought the raccoon must know it was a trap.

But Jack nodded as he got something out of the fridge. It was a box. "I guess it can't go hunting or searching for food. So it'll be hungry. Shouldn't be a problem. We good to go?"

Daniel took the food and nodded while Jack grabbed the trap and the white box.

They positioned the trap close to the deck stairs and Jack told Daniel how to lay out the food. After he had put some of the fruit into the trap, he lined the rest of the strawberries and peaches up on the lawn. Then he placed spoonfuls of dog food in between. When he was about to crawl under the deck, Jack held him back. "It'll smell the food out here and come looking for it. There's no need to upset it. "

"Can I at least take a look to see if it's still there?"

"Just look. Don't crawl under," Jack ordered.

Daniel stuck his head under the deck after Jack handed him the flashlight. It took a moment to find the raccoon. But there it was, squatting itself against a wooden post. Blinded by the light it hissed and growled as it had done in the morning. Daniel could now see that the bushy tail had brown rings. When Jack patted his back, he pulled his head out.

"How's he doing?"

"He's still there. I think he's scared. We should leave him," Daniel said.

"Right. Take the box up to your house. I'll get some stuff and be right with you," Jack told him.

Daniel took the mysterious white box and shook it a little. "What's in there?"

"Well, if the little rascal gets something to eat, why should we stay hungry? Might take some time until it comes out. I thought we'd sit on your porch and watch. "

Daniel opened the lid and peered inside. "Donuts!"

"Yep. Bought them for the picnic in the park. But somebody canceled it, so we have to eat them here."

"Um, I think the donuts don't care where we eat them," Daniel teased. Then he made his way to the tree house without waiting for an answer.

When Jack returned from the house he had a bottle of alcohol-free Heineken in one and two bottles of Doctor Pepper in his other hand. He was also carrying a bag over his shoulder. Daniel watched him as he came up the stairs and placed everything on the porch next to the little bench. He pulled out a paper bag with sandwiches and a box of cheese and onion Pringles.

"Wow, that's cool. I'm so hungry," Daniel said happily, his stomach growling in agreement.

"After all that running and crawling under the deck I'd be hungry, too," Jack snorted.

"I have a blanket inside," Daniel suggested, ignoring the teasing.

He went and got the blanket. It was a quilt Cassie and Janet had made for his birthday. It contained just two different shades of blue, since they knew about Daniel's preference for plaid. It had been awkward. Daniel had refused to have a party and told everyone not to bring gifts or even say "Happy Birthday." He had just wanted the day to go by unnoticed.

But everyone had dropped by "just because" at his office that day. And Jack had given him a metal nameplate for his tree house door that said "Refuge of Doctor Daniel Jackson - Keep out!" Jack said he had wanted to give it to him on the housewarming party, but it hadn't been finished then. So it hadn't been a birthday present. But when they had gotten home, there had been a little chocolate cake with no candles on it. They had never mentioned his birthday specifically, but Daniel remembered feeling oddly good that evening.

After they had spread the quilt out on the wooden deck, they made themselves comfortable on it. "Look. We can watch the trap through the banister and the raccoon won't see us," Daniel pointed out.

"Yep. That's the idea. Once it's in the trap it might get a little upset, but that's okay. It can't hurt itself in the bucket."

"Why do you know so much about raccoons?" Daniel was curious.

Jack shrugged and munched his cheese sandwich. "When I was a boy, we had raccoons living in our attic or in the barn. They are cheeky little beasts. Digging holes, eating the pet’s food, destroying the garbage cans. And they make a hell of a mess. So we trapped them and... well..."

Daniel's eyes narrowed behind his glasses. "You killed them."

"My dad did, yes."

"Why? Why not release them somewhere far away from home?"

"Well, if you don't release them far enough, they come back. And times were different. They were considered pests and they carry all sorts of fleas and viruses."

Daniel nodded. Of course. It was the easiest thing to do. "When I was little, my parents taught me that every life has value and is precious in its own way. That even though we eat meat, we have no right to kill an animal just because it's there. I believed this is a rule every human being should understand and internalize. It took me a very long time to realize that most humans don't understand it, or don't want to understand it," he said, not able to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

Jack looked at him sincerely. "It's a good rule. I think it's one of the basic things you learned and internalized, that makes you... you. "

"Yes, but it's a lie. There are lives out there which aren't valuable," the boy said barely audible, suddenly sad that he had come to this conclusion. Even though he tried so hard not to think like this. He had never wanted to think like this, but life had taught him otherwise on some occasions. Yet, he tried to hold onto what his parents had tried to convey – after all, the things he had learned from them was all that was left of them.

He felt his throat tighten at the thought of all the evil they had seen and fought on their travels through the Stargate. And a small part of him was almost glad he didn't have to do that anymore. He wouldn't have to kill anymore. As long as he was little he wouldn't be forced to end a life again. He would never be tortured, whumped, killed or shot on an alien planet again. And Jack was here to protect him and keep him safe.

"But raccoons aren't one of those," Jack soothed, rubbing his back.

"No, they're not."

"And lots of others are valuable enough. No need to get depressed here, kiddo."

"The Salish were nice," Daniel mumbled.

"Who?"

"Tonane's people."

"Oh, yeah. And the Touchstone guys..."

"Medrona."

"Yep. Nice folks. So were the guys from Edora."

"Especially the women," Daniel chuckled, poking Jack's ribs.

"Hey. It was only one woman. And I thought I'd spend the rest of my life there. What did you expect me to do? Become a monk? They didn't even have monks there, by the way." Jack poked him back. Then he sobered. “I never...”

“I know.”

Daniel knew exactly what Jack wanted to say. He had never set out to cheat on Daniel. Had never been 'in love' with Laira. It had been a desperate need for someone to fill a hole. To comfort. To keep him going.

They had had this talk a long time ago, had worked through the fallout of what had happened on Edora. Jack had thought he'd never go home again. And they had promised each other to settle down and find a new life, including a new partner, if they were ever separated for good. Death was a real possibility in their line of work. But other circumstances like being stranded off word without each other for good was something they had to take into consideration, too. Jack had found comfort with Laira, a way of trying to cut himself loose from Daniel when he'd thought they weren't going to see each other again. They'd been through all that and Daniel had hurt and they had gone separate ways for a couple of weeks, trying to figure out how to get through this. But Daniel had thought Jack was dead, that the whole planet had been destroyed. And finally the knowledge his lover was still alive and they could still be together had outweighed the hurt. That, and Jack being so devastated with regret and at the same time very persistent in not giving up hope for them.

Daniel wondered if Jack would become a "monk" now. There had been something nagging at him for weeks. How long would it take until Jack wanted a new partner in his life and his bed? And what would happen if... He forced the dark thoughts away. It was a wonderful day. The sun was shining and it smelled like grass and summer. Daniel didn't want to get depressed. Not today.

They got rid of their shoes and socks. It was really hot now and after a moment they pulled off their shirts. Jack rummaged around in the bag he had brought and pulled out a bottle of sun lotion.

Daniel groaned. "Ewww... do I have to?"

"No. You can put your shirt back on any time," Jack said as he was rubbing lotion on his own arms and chest.

Reluctantly, Daniel did the same. He hated the smeary stuff on his skin. But as an adult he had seen the necessity in applying sun lotion. Well, he could see that now, too, but he still complained about it. "It's greasy," he whined while Jack was now applying lotion to his upper back and shoulders.

"And a sunburn will hurt. Remember?" Jack answered, unimpressed.

Daniel cringed at that. He had refused to put on sun lotion on his birthday and ended up with a light sunburn. Jack had put yogurt on his back and he had to lie on his bed for twenty minutes before he was allowed to wash it off.

"Can I put it on your back, too?"

"Sure. Just not too much. It's gross and greasy."

They giggled over that while Daniel applied lotion to Jack's back. Without thinking what he was doing, he let his hands stroke through the silver hair in front of him.

"Ewww, Daniel... stop that," Jack groused. "You're smearing sun block all over my hair."

"Oh, sorry," Daniel chortled. Jack’s hair was now standing up in funny little spikes, as if he had gel in it. Daniel tried to smooth it down. After a moment he said absently, "I always loved touching your hair."

Jack tipped his head back and looked at him. "Yeah, I know."

"It feels so different now. Everything feels... different about you," Daniel said, gazing back into the deep warm brown eyes.

"How does it feel for you now?" Jack wanted to know, his voice soft.

Daniel let his hands roam through Jack's now greasy hair one last time. Then he sat back, leaning his head against Jack's side.

"Warm," he said after a brief pause. "Being with you feels warm and cozy... and sometimes sad. And it hurts from time to time.”

“Yeah, it does.”

“Jack? Do you miss... him?”

Jack didn't look at Daniel when he answered. “Yeah, I do. Maybe just as much as you miss being him. If that makes sense.”

“Being big was easier,” Daniel said. “When I was big and we argued, I knew I was right most of the time. I knew I had reasons for doing the things the way I did them. But now... now that I'm little, you seem to be right so often. I can't deal with that very well. And when you scold me or yell at me or something, I just have to fight and talk back. I'm used to doing it. Even when I know you are right. It makes me mad to see you're right and I just fight more and can't stop."

"You weren't right that often," Jack said, sipping at his beer.

“I was.“

“Weren't.“

“Was.“

Jack gave him a playful whack to the back of his head. "You're such a smart mouth."

"Sorry."

"I'm not always right, Daniel. But the subjects of our daily fights have changed. And while you're still brilliant in all the historical stuff, dealing with foreign cultures and translating, you have to listen to me from time to time when it comes to daily life things. And just so you know – next time you're trying to get out of that appointment with Svenson, you are toast. You got extremely lucky the raccoon got in my way. Well, but then again you get lucky most of the time when my hand starts itching real bad."

Daniel blushed. "Sorry. But, Jack – I used to live alone. I used to be perfectly able to master my life alone. Why do I need you to take care of me now? And I really do. I always needed you. But now it's so different. And it still freaks me out sometimes," he whispered, cuddling closer to Jack.

Jack stroked his hair and said, "Let's not go into this right now, Danny. Warm and cozy is good. And getting under my skin isn't always a bad thing. I need you as much as you need me. You're pushing all my buttons. But you get me to look at things differently. You always made me look outside the box. And you still do. You make me remember... things. Good things. Like picnics on tree houses or going to the zoo. Carrying you inside when you fall asleep in the truck. I know I'm a sap. But I did those things before. I just forgot how good they are."

"Charlie things," Daniel said softly.

“Yes. It's cozy."

"And cozy is good." Daniel smiled.

"Yeah. Pretty good."

***

They just sat there for a while, enjoying the warmth and their drinks. Most of the food had found its way into their stomachs and Daniel was licking donut glaze from his fingers.

Jack hoped the little mammal wasn't severely injured. He really didn't want to kill it with the kid aiming those big, sad eyes at him. Especially not after the meaning of life stuff discussion they just had. He had both his arms around a sleepy Daniel now. The trap was still empty and the food untouched.

"Don't let me fall sleep," the Wretch slurred, yawning.

"I'll wake you as soon as it comes out," Jack promised.

Which happened to be the case five minutes later.

Jack nudged Daniel's shoulder until he was fully awake. He put a finger to his lips and pointed through the panels of the banister. They both crouched on their hands and knees to have a better view at the raccoon, which was now coming out from under the deck, sniffing excitedly.

It was a little guy with a black mask around his eyes, a gray coat with black sprinkles in it. His tail was white with dark brown rings. And it was hobbling on three paws, holding out his left front paw in an odd angle to its body. The raccoon tried to get the dog food between its paws, but failed. It used only the uninjured paw now and managed to wolf down some bites. After a moment it hobbled further towards the trap, sniffing at the fruits before gobbling them down.

"Well, it's eating. That's a good sign," Jack said.

"It looks so skinny. And the fur is shaggy," the kid whispered. Suddenly the raccoon stopped and started to sniff the air. Jack could see the little ears twitch.

"Come on," he breathed, cheering the little guy on. "Just two more steps."

He felt Daniel's hand clamping around his right wrist. "It's almost there... look!"

The raccoon hobbled a little further until it was sitting in the entrance of the trap. One more step and it would pass the trigger for the door. The need for food was stronger than fear. The animal made another step and the door fell shut behind it.

Jack let out a breath and Daniel jumped up, already putting on his shirt. "Let's go look, Jack! Come on! We have to see how badly it's hurt!"

But he needed to get something straight with Daniel first. Holding him back by his arms Jack pulled him close, so that the kid had to look at him. "Listen, Daniel. You can go down with me and look. But you will not touch it."

Daniel yanked at his arms, impatiently. "I know, I know."

Jack pulled him close again, tightening his hold. "Raccoons are carrier of rabies, Daniel. If it is infected and bites you, you can die. So no touching. Keep your little fingers away from him. Is that clear?"

Daniel nodded. "Okay. No touching."

"Not even holding your fingers near the holes in the door."

"Jack, I'm not stupid..."

"If you can't listen to me, you'll stay here," Jack said, using the "colonel-glare" that rarely worked on Daniel.

"I won't touch it. Promise."

"Well, then let's take a look," Jack decided.

They walked down the stairs and went over to the trap.

The raccoon was quiet. Jack assumed it was still eating the fruit. Poor thing must have been starved. It didn't even try to get out of the bucket by scratching at the door. He crouched in front of it, Daniel at his side, and looked through the small slits in the door. Dark eyes gazed back.

"Hey, pal," Jack greeted the little creature.

"Isn't he cute," Daniel said in awe.

Now the raccoon started ranting. It squeaked and hissed, and stomped his good paw against the metallic door of the trap. Jack picked the bucket up and carried it to his truck, while Daniel ran into the house to get his cell phone. When he returned, he was already talking to a vet.

Jack had just put the trap in the backseat when Daniel smacked the phone in his hand. Rolling his eyes he snapped, "They want to talk to you - daddy."

O'Neill smirked as he took the phone. He talked to the doctor for a minute while Daniel climbed into the truck and sat next to the bucket.

A moment later they were on their way to the veterinarian clinic to meet Doctor Jenks. Daniel was on the backseat, talking soothing nonsense to the raccoon while Jack was driving and trying to keep an eye on the Wretch through the rear mirror.

When they arrived at the pet clinic, the raccoon was surprisingly quiet. Daniel still talked to him in a language, Jack had never heard before. It sounded vaguely like some native American tongue, but he couldn't make anything of it. However, he liked it. And apparently so did the raccoon.

As soon as Jack carried the bucket into the clinic, the animal started to hiss and growl again, running around in the trap, not happy about the movement. They walked up to the front desk and explained the situation to a young woman. After a short look at the bucket and its occupant, she ushered them into a separate waiting area and told them the doctor would be there soon.

 

 

Jack watched Daniel who was down by the bucket, again talking to the raccoon. He really hoped the animal wasn't sick or had internal injuries. The kid was already bonding way too much here. What a shock. Jack snorted softly. This was Daniel. That guy would bond with every life form that wasn't going to kill him right away. And even then he'd try.

"Daniel," he called him, keeping his voice low so he wouldn't upset the now calm raccoon again.

"Hm?"

"You know we can't keep it, do you?" It was better to make that crystal clear right from the start. Jack wasn't sure how maturely the kid could deal with this. But there was just no way he could or would harbor a raccoon in his house. It was illegal, first off. And those little critters destroyed everything, ate everything and carried fleas and worms and all sorts of other unpleasant things.

"Yes, I know. It's a wild animal anyway. It has to be released when the injury is healed," Daniel answered absently.

"And until then it will stay here where the docs can take care of it," Jack said.

Now that got Daniel's attention. He stopped gazing at the raccoon and turned around. "Why? We can take it home and nurse it. I will do everything the doc tells me to do. And it can stay at the tree house. You can build a box or something. I will surf the net for research."

"They have a nursing station here. When it's healed they'll release it somewhere far enough so it won't come back and camp under our deck again," Jack said, ignoring everything Daniel had just pointed out.

Before the Wretch could protest some more, a friendly looking man entered the room and shook Jack's hand firmly. "Hi, I'm Doctor Jenks. You must be the guys with the raccoon."

Jack introduced himself and Daniel. Then he pointed at the trap. "It's in there. Paw is broken, I guess. But it looks okay otherwise."

Jenks picked up the trap and nodded. "I'll do some tests and examine the paw."

Then he looked at Daniel. "Hey, did you find it?"

"Yes. It was hiding under our deck this morning."

"Why don't you join me and watch the examination. So you can take a closer look at it. I'm going to sedate it though."

"Sure. Will you test him on rabies, too?"

"Yes, I'll draw blood samples and saliva samples from our little friend here. But first we have to check out the paw and see if he has other injuries," Jenks explained.

Jack took the bucket and followed Daniel and the doc into the examination room. A nurse handed Jenks a pair of thick leather gloves before the trap was opened. The doctor reached into it and grabbed the hissing raccoon by its neck fur.

"It's very important that you don't touch the raccoon until you know for sure it’s not infected with rabies. It could bite you," Jenks said. He had a tight grip on the wriggling and squeaking critter who was now on the table. Jack watched the doc as he gave him a shot into the flank. A moment later the raccoon’s movements slowed down and then he was out like a light.

"Can I touch it now?" Daniel asked hesitantly.

"Sure. Go ahead," the doc encouraged him.

Daniel reached out and very carefully caressed the shaggy dark fur. He sighed in awe and looked like he wanted to purr. But he was also worried. "He's so skinny. And his fur is so shaggy. Look at this, there's an old bite scar at his belly. Awww... just look at this mask. He's beautiful. How old do you think he is?"

Jenks had pulled off the gloves and was now prodding and probing the raccoon’s body with both hands to search for internal bleeding or other injuries, while one of his nurses drew the blood and saliva samples.

"I’d guess two years. Do you know how the raccoon got his mask?" the doc asked Daniel.

"It's a native American myth. Something with fire and snow," Daniel replied.

Jack smiled at the impressed look on the doc's face. Oh, yeah. Smart kid.

Jenks nodded. "That's true. You know, a long time ago the raccoons had no masks. One winter when it was a very cold night, some Indian ancestors lit a fire to warm themselves and cook. After the fire was out and the humans had left, the raccoon went into their loam house and stuck his nose into the ashes to sniff at the food. He was very hungry. He burnt his nose because the ashes were still hot. He ran out and stuck his nose in the snow to cool it off. But it was too late and since then the raccoon have their masks."

"I think it's a Seneca folk myth. I can remember several folk stories that had to do with animals," Daniel mumbled while he watched the doc examining the broken paw.

"Are you interested in American history?" the vet asked.

"I... um... am interested in history. Mostly ancient Egypt and Greece. But I know a little about native Americans, too," Daniel replied, blushing a little.

Jack hoped the doc wouldn't tell Daniel what a smart kid he was. Daniel hated that. But Jenks just raised his eyebrows and concentrated on the raccoon. "The paw is broken and so are two toes. Otherwise there seem to be no internal injuries. As soon as we have the test results back, we can decide what to do with him. If he is infected with rabies, we have to put him down. You understand that, do you?"

Daniel gave a firm nod.

Jack thought it might be better to leave before the decision had to be made. He grabbed the empty trap and put a hand on the kids shoulder. "I think we're done here, Daniel."

But Daniel didn't agree, of course. "What? No, we’re not. I want to know if he's going to be okay. And if he needs nursing I want to take him home. That's possible, isn't it?"

He turned to the doc, who was signing a chart. Jack tried to send telepathic signals to Jenks to tell Daniel it wasn't possible to take the critter home. That he needed to be treated in the clinic. But either Jenks didn't get the message, or he was ignoring it.

Smiling, he turned back to Daniel. "It is possible. But you have to be aware of some things if you want to do that. To be honest, we are a little overbooked right now. The clinic is undergoing some construction, so if you can take the raccoon home with you, I'm going to make you a list of the things you'll need. If your dad agrees, of course."

Jack bared his teeth. "Well, it's nice I have a say in this," he started, but was interrupted by Daniel.

"My dad is a cool guy. And he can't refuse me anything."

Jack wasn't going to fall for the cute-thing. Nor was he going to succumb to the daddy-talk.

Jenks smiled and put the chart down. "Raccoons can be very cheeky. As soon as he feels better and starts to run around, you'll have to do a few things to prevent him from destroying, well... everything. It might be best to keep him in a barn. As long as he has the splint and the bandages you need to keep him in a cage. You can build one or buy one. "

"Dad and I can build one. He's good with things like that. He built a tree house for me and a shelf for my books," Daniel gushed, eyes big and a sappy smile on his lips.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Forget it."

"A tree house? That's cool." Doc smiled back and gave Jack an approving look.

"Yes. A HUGE one. I can take the raccoon there," the Wretch babbled on.

"You are not taking the raccoon anywhere," Jack interrupted a little more forceful.

Doc Jenks continued to give instructions, ignoring Jack. "You also need to give him a diet, so he won't get sick or too fat. Raccoons eat everything, but not everything is good for their little bellies."

"I can do that," Daniel beamed.

"No, you can't do that," Jack snapped.

"Why don't we wait for the test results? You can stay in the waiting area until the results are here. And we need your personal data for the bill, Mr. O'Neill," Jenks said, a broad smile on his face.

"It's Colonel O'Neill." Jack couldn't believe this guy was setting him up.

"My dad is a colonel in the Air Force. He has a purple heart and a bronze star," Daniel chatted. Jack grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and maneuvered him out of the room.

He didn't let go of the little brat until he sat down on the orange plastic chair in the corridor. Then he pulled Daniel close until he was standing between Jack's knees. "My dad is a cool guy and can't refuse me anything?"

"Uh... maybe I overdid it a little." Daniel squirmed.

"A little? And it's not working."

Daniel bit his lip and then started talking very fast and very insistently, "But, Ja-ack... we can't let it stay here. You heard the doc. They are running out of space. And it won't stay long. Only until his paw is healed. I won't make a fuss about releasing it, really. I know it has to live in the wild. I'm not that stupid. But it will be scared here. And it likes me. Jenks said it's possible. And it won't live in the house. I’ll take it into the tree house and we can buy a cage. Say yes, Jack."

No way. "No."

"Yes!"

“No.“

“But...“

"Daniel!"

"Please? Come on, Jack. You don't have to do a thing for it. I'll do everything the doc tells me."

"Why is it you can say please so nicely when you want something? And no, Daniel. It's not going to happen. So stop it right now or we're out of here before the doc is back. I'm going to pay for the treatment. I'm not taking the critter home," Jack stated firmly.

"But..."

"Right. We're outta here. I’ll pay the bill." The last thing he needed were tears. Tears were a very bad thing. And the big blue eyes were even worse.

He got up, shoved Daniel aside and went to the desk. As long as he was talking to the nice woman, he didn't need to look at the Wretch. And that was good. So he could convince himself he was doing the right thing.

Having a raccoon in the house, even close to the house, was screaming for trouble. One raccoon would find a family one day. It would bring his wife and kids... they would camp under his deck and plunder his garbage can. They might even find a way into the house. Nope. It wasn't going to happen.

Jack left his data and credit card number at the desk. When he turned to get Daniel, he was confronted with a sad slumped figure, sulking on the chair, arms around himself, head down. The full powerful little Daniel dose.

This was SO not working.

He walked over and picked up the trap. "Let's go home."

Daniel didn't look at him. "I want to wait for the results," he informed him curtly.

"No more about taking it with us," Jack warned.

"No. I know you're cruel and pragmatic. I just forget it from time to time. But it's nice of you to remind me every once in a while," Daniel said gloomy.

Jack sat down next to him. He wasn't cruel. He was just... yeah, well, pragmatic. And realistic. Somebody had to be the grown up here. "We can't take it to work with us. It would be alone a great part of the day," he pointed out.

"It's in a cage. It can't do any damage," Daniel objected.

"It will be bored. We'd have to buy him some dog toys or stuffed animals. And a cage isn't good enough. It needs space to walk at least to keep that leg in motion when it's better," he heard himself say. Why was he discussing it anyway?

"We can build a larger cage. An outdoor kennel maybe."

"It's illegal to hold raccoons as pets in Colorado." There it was. The law. There was no arguing about the good old law. No raccoon pets in Colorado. Jack loved Colorado.

"We are not holding it as a pet. It's just until it heals. Then we’ll let it go," Daniel lectured him, still gloomy.

"Once it knows it can expect food from you it'll always come back. And it will bring all its relatives with it. One day we will be forced to shoot them to get them out of our yard."

He tried to hide it... but there must have been something in his voice that alarmed Daniel. He had always been that way. Knowing. O'Neill had spent a great part of his life learning to hide emotions or to cover them with sarcasm and keen wit. It was better not to let everybody know too much about how you feel or what was going on in your head.

But Daniel... Daniel always knew. He slipped under the radar of Jack's Special Ops training, looked right through his barriers. If he found something, he prodded and poked gently, but demanding, until he got his answers. Jack had managed to resist adult Daniel on occasions. But the kid was a total different story.

"Is that what your dad did? Shot a raccoon that was yours?" he asked in that soft comforting voice, eyes huge behind the glasses.

Jack groaned inwardly.

"Tell me," Daniel said. He got up and climbed Jack's lap. He almost never did that in public.

"You are fighting a dirty war here, Wretch," Jack grumbled.

"Did you have a raccoon when you were a boy?" Daniel asked, placing one of Jack's hands in his, starting to play with Jack's fingers.

O'Neill shrugged. He could as well tell him. It wasn't going to change anything. Maybe it would even help the kid to see this from the right angle. "Yeah. It was a baby. My dad had killed the mother and all its siblings. I found it when we cleaned up the attic to get rid of the mess the raccoon family had left. It was hiding under a blanket. Was nine weeks old or something, I guess.“

“Oooh,” Daniel said in a very soft voice.

“I nagged my mom until she promised to help me raise it. The old man wasn't happy about it, but didn't exactly forbid it. He just didn't want to see the critter anywhere in the den or kitchen. I guess he thought it’d die anyway because it was so little."

"But it didn't die."

"Nope. I fed it with an old baby bottle. Mom helped me a little. Well, it grew into a stubborn little bugger. As long as it was little I carried it around with me when we were in the house. But when it got older it started to open closets and the fridge door. It stole food and it ate everything available. It also dug and bit holes in the couch. He got along with my dog though."

"You had a dog?"

"Yep. His name was Rascal... However, little Zorro liked the dog. They used to eat from one bowl. If Rascal started to fuss about the sharing, Zorro would hiss a little and that was it."

Daniel giggled. "Zorro? You called the raccoon Zorro?"

"The mask, you know. Kind of reminded me of Zorro or the Lone Ranger," Jack said, grinning. Then he sobered again. "My dad wasn't happy with Zorro. I tried to keep him out of trouble. I even trained him to use a litter box. But the guy was a real handful. I think I got strapped twice a week for some mischief he did."

Jack felt the kid tense and his hand was clutched tightly for a moment. "Hey, that's okay," he assured Daniel.

"No, it's not."

O'Neill hid a smile at the outraged words. This was his Daniel. The brat had given him hell all morning and now Jack looked into those vulnerable blue eyes full of empathy and love – and the slightest bit of a grudge Jack might still have held was flying out the window.

"My dad was a short tempered man." Jack shrugged it off. "It's how it was. You got in trouble, you got busted and life went on." Sometimes he wondered if it could still be that simple in some ways. Daniel got lucky most of the time because he somehow managed to turn the tables and made his own view on things look right.

Jack was aware it had a lot to do with what they had been before and that he still tried not to humiliate or restrict the adult part in this Daniel all the time. Jack would never ever use a belt on any kid. But if Daniel had been his real son or didn't have the memories of his former life intact, things would go a lot differently around here.

"Doesn't make it okay. Like killing the raccoons," Daniel insisted.

"No, maybe not, but that’s how it was. One day Zorro went too far. He dug a hole in our new couch and that was that. Dad said either I'd get rid of him or he’d shoot him. So I chased him out, but he refused to go. I put him in a bag and got on my bike. I rode real far and left him in the woods with some food and water," Jack told Daniel, absently gazing down at their entwined hands.

"And he came back?"

"Took him a while and he was in bad shape, but yeah, he came home. Mom and I worked together and coddled him up. Dad had no clue. We didn't let him into the house anymore. He got a place in the barn and when he was okay, I started to feed him outside only. He was better and able to get his own food after a while. One day he was gone for good. Until he got himself a family. They came back to settle in our shed. Dad found them and the rest is history," Jack said, suddenly surprised at the sting of hurt and grief he still felt after all those years.

He had forgotten about all this. But now he remembered how mad he'd been at his dad for killing his little raccoon family. His father hadn't been exactly a cruel guy at heart. He had tried to explain to Jack that it had been necessary. Raccoons were carrier of diseases and parasites. And aside from the fact there wasn't enough money to pay a vet, some of the viruses didn’t even have vaccination at the time.

Times had been different.

But Jack had been... eight. He had been eight and he had loved the little creature as much as he had loved his dog. And Daniel was eight, too, and he understood how Jack had felt back then. The kid snuggled against him and squeezed his hand. “I'm sorry, Jack.”

He raised his free hand and ruffled the blond hair. He knew he was manipulated and even if the kid didn't do it on purpose, Jack shouldn't let Daniel talk him into this.

"I don't want you to hand feed him. And he's not a cuddle pet either," he said gruffly. "He's going to live in a kennel in the yard. Not the house and not the tree house. And when his injuries are healed you're going to release him. No fussing about that. If he comes back we'll find a zoo or a park that will take him."

"Okay," Daniel agreed simply. His face, however, lit up like a Christmas tree.

"You got the not in the house part? And the releasing part?"

"Yes, sir." The Wretch beamed.

Jack nudged him. "Stop gushing, munchkin. You already got what you wanted."

And there was the possibility that the raccoon was infected with something and had to be put to sleep anyway. Jack didn't say that out loud. But part of him hoped it wouldn't come to that. He let the kid hug and kiss him. The fact that Daniel did such a thing in a public place spoke volumes on how important this was for him.

Doctor Jenks came in a few minutes later, a smile on his face. "I have good news, Daniel. Your raccoon is a little dehydrated and needs lots of food. But there is no trace of rabies or any other virus in his blood. He does, however, have a roundworm and will need medication for that. You have to be careful and wash your hands every time you touch the animal or anything that touched him. You have to clean the food and water bowl after each meal and you have to disinfect every toy he has once a day."

Daniel's head bobbed up and down several times. He even forgot to leave Jack's lap. Doctor Jenks addressed O'Neill. "Do you want me to vaccinate the raccoon? There are several diseases for which we can do vaccination. Feline Panleukopenia, Canine Distemper, Raccoon Parvovirus and Rabies. It will cost you more, though."

"That's okay," Jack heard himself say. Maybe he would get a nice payback later. He was thinking of forcing Daniel to do the laundry for a month. Or the Wretch could clean the basement... maybe he’d let him write some of his reports. That would make up for his going through all the trouble a raccoon was sure going to be.

And then again, maybe not. Maybe more of those bear hugs and lots of smiles were enough to make up for all of it.

III

They returned home late that afternoon. Daniel felt exhausted from all the errands they had to run. Doctor Jenks had given them a long list of medications, food and other items they needed in order to nurse little Nashi.

He'd thought about a name for the raccoon while they waited to take him home. What he'd come up with was a Native American name from a tribe named Mandan. Nashi meant blackened face. And Nashi's face was almost black. The mask spread around his eyes and nose.

They had gone to a drugstore to get the medication. Then they'd done some more grocery shopping and ended up at FLY FISHING SHOP & OUTFITTERS again, to get everything for the kennel they were going to build for Nashi.

Nashi was still sleepy from the sedative and didn't make too much of a fuss in the cage Doctor Jenks had given him for the drive home. Daniel had been worried about the heat in the truck and that the raccoon might get dehydrated.

But Jack had assured him that as long as the mammal was asleep he wouldn't drink anything, no matter where he was. So they had hurried through Colorado Springs and gotten everything they needed.

Nashi had to sleep in the cage this first night. They would work on the kennel tomorrow. Jack promised Daniel to finish it as soon as possible, so Nashi didn't have to stay in the cage longer than one night. Daniel had the urge to object and point out that it'd still be a few hours before it was getting dark. But he felt he had pushed his luck enough for one day and for once accepted that they were doing this Jack's way.

Sort of.

When they got home, they put the cage on the deck and brought Nashi water. Jack carried all the rolls of wire and wood into the yard and placed it there while Daniel started to carry the groceries inside. Then he went outside where Jack was looking through all the items for the kennel.

"Jack?"

"Hmm?"

"Where does he sleep tonight?"

"In the cage."

"Yes, I know, but... where?"

"On the deck. It's warm at nights and no other animal can harm him," Jack said.

"But..."

"Daniel, stop it. Go, get the worm meds and some food for the critter."

He swallowed his protest for now and ran in the house to carry everything out. When he returned, Jack sat on a chair. The cage was on the table and Nashi was sitting upright now, holding out his splinted paw. He squeaked pitifully as if he was complaining about the inconvenience.

"You got lucky, pal," Jack said. "Could have been worse, ya know?" When he spotted Daniel, he grinned. "Here comes the room service."

They prepared the food with the medication. Jack put on his heavy garden gloves and opened the cage. Nashi immediately started hissing and growling, showing his sharp little teeth. Jack held him down at his neck while Daniel put the bowls with food and water into the cage. Jack released Nashi and quickly closed the door. The raccoon hissed and growled some more before he calmed down. He sat in the farthest corner of the cage and stared at the bowls.

Daniel knew it would take some time for Nashi to accept the food and water and that the hunger and thirst would help him to get over his distrust sooner or later. But he was still worried.

"Do you think he'll eat the medicine with the food?" he asked Jack.

"We'll see. But I guess he's hungry enough to do it. So, what do you think about pizza?"

“Oh, yeah!”

Daniel was very hungry. When the pizza arrived half an hour later, they sat on the deck and ate in silence. The cage was on the floor close to the door now. Nashi was pacing on three legs. He stuck his nose through the wires and sniffed.

"He smells the pizza," Daniel said.

"Yes. They really eat anything you give them."

Daniel pondered whether or not it was a good idea to tell Jack what he had in mind. He watched his friend and decided he could risk it. Jack had a beer – a real one this time - the pizza had been good and right now he looked relaxed. It would be easy to convince him.

"Jack?"

"No."

Or maybe not. "But you don't even know what I want to ask," Daniel whined. He knew he was whining, but he didn't care right now.

"I know that look. And the answer is still no. Nashi stays out here."

"I know that. I didn't want to take him to my room."

When Jack raised his eyebrow at him, Daniel was confident enough to ask, "Can we take our sleeping bags up to the tree house and sleep on the porch with him?"

"And tomorrow night you’ll want to sleep in the kennel with him," Jack sighed.

"No, I won't. It's just his first night and the cage is so uncomfortable. And he is still scared," Daniel tried.

"And you think snoring in his ear might help him settle?"

Daniel blushed. Sometimes Jack made him feel so childish. He hated that. But maybe it was childish. He knew the raccoon would eat eventually and settle in for the night with or without him. "I just... I know how it is to be somewhere new and alone. The first night is always the worst," he mumbled, feeling even more silly.

When Jack's hand patted his arm, he looked up. “It's eating."

Nashi had started to inspect the bowl and decided it was safe. Now he was carefully going through the food, sniffing and taking a few bites.

The next couple of minutes they watched the little raccoon eat. He struggled with the broken leg and had to pick up the food with only one paw. But it worked very well after a while. Daniel was happy, when he realized the raccoon was eating the hidden meds, too. He put his arms on the wooden deck table and laid his head on them. He was tired. It had been a real long day.

"I'll get the sleeping bags," Jack said.

Daniel smiled.