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Still Jack and Daniel Series 1- Not in Kansas anymore 7 - Biting the Bullet

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Biting the Bullet

I

"Daniel, the witch is waiting."

"Last week you called her Dorothy."

"She might turn out to be the good witch, you know."

Daniel snorted. He indulged himself to another brief moment of sulking before he rose to his feet and brushed the grass from his pants. He looked at Nashi who was sitting on the tree log in the middle of his kennel. The raccoon watched him with his dark eyes, then let out a friendly squeal.

Daniel absently pulled a handful of Froot Loops from his pants pocket. Crouching at the kennel door he called Nashi. When the raccoon came over, Daniel handed him two pieces of cereal. Nashi took them with his good paw and munched them happily, before returning to his tree.

"One week," Jack said sharply behind him, causing Daniel to jump. He'd forgotten he was being watched.

"What?"

"The critter has been here one week and you’ve already broken the rule about hand-feeding him."

"Um, he likes me. And he likes Froot Loops," Daniel defended himself.

Jack rolled his eyes. "And who introduced him to Froot Loops?"

"It's just a treat. When I give him a Loop he'll let me have his toys and bowls to disinfect them," Daniel explained. "It also helped to get him into the cage for the drive to the vet, when we had to get his paw checked yesterday."

"Ah. And right now you bribed him for...?"

"Uh... just..."

"Right."

Daniel shot Jack an angry look. His guardian was standing there, arms crossed over his chest, glowering.

"I know Nashi isn't my pet, Jack," Daniel sniped.

The raccoon responded very nicely to him after just one week. Daniel sat by the kennel a lot. He took his books and translation work outside to be near the little mammal. He talked to him and liked the squeaking or crooning sounds the raccoon uttered in return. Nashi seemed to feel comfortable in his kennel which was very roomy and had enough space for the raccoon to pace or climb the tree log Jack had put inside. There were lots of toys as well - soft balls and rubber bones. Nashi liked to play and Daniel liked to watch him play. The raccoon was much better already. The worm meds had worked and he'd gained weight. His fur didn't look so shaggy anymore. Daniel thought he was still a little skinny though.

"I hope you do," Jack replied, doubt in his voice. Then he changed the subject by putting a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "So. Are we gonna play chase again?"

"No, I'm coming," he agreed reluctantly.

"I could carry you to the truck," Jack offered smugly.

That was a very serious threat. Daniel didn't want to be carried under Jack's arm like a puppy. There were neighbors out here who might witness this act of cruelty. So he wouldn't run. Besides, they had talked about the meeting again last night and Daniel had promised not to fuss over it.

His eyes, however, darted over to the deck.

"Don't even think about it," came the warning from behind him, along with a crisp swat to his jean clad rear.

"Ow! I didn't," Daniel answered, all innocence, as they reached the driveway.

"Sure you did."

Mumbling “Bite me,” under his breath, he climbed in the truck.

Once Jack was in the driver's seat, he turned around to look at Daniel with sympathy shining in chocolate brown eyes. "I can't cancel the appointment again, Daniel. We have to do this some time. And you'll never be ready on your own. You know that, don't ya?"

He refused to answer. Jack was wrong. He would be ready someday. Just not today. Or next week. Well, maybe not next year... And maybe Jack was right, but that didn't mean he had to admit it.

"Stop sulking," Jack said.

"I'll go to the meeting. I don't have to like it."

When Jack started the truck and left the driveway, he said, "No, you don't. But it's not going to change things. So go with the flow."

"This won't work," Daniel explained firmly.

He heard Jack sigh. "Maybe she's nice. Give her a chance, okay?"

"Pog mo thón."

"You know somewhere down the line, I have Irish ancestors."

"You don't speak Gaelic."

"Nope. My grandfather used to swear a lot in Gaelic when he was drunk, though."

Daniel didn't buy it. First Arabic, now Gaelic? And how exactly did Jack get away with playing a little dumb all those years? “Yeah? So?"

"Sooo... if you ever tell me to kiss your ass again..."

"Ouch."

"Ouch covers it."

Before he could hold himself back, he asked, "Can you please name a language you can't swear in? One that you can neither speak nor understand? Just so I can choose a safe one next time?"

"I like to surprise you. Besides... what is it with you anyway? You're the linguist. Can't you come up with something better? You never swore that much when you were big, you know."

Daniel really didn't want to say it. It just slipped his lips before he could think about it. "Well, maybe I decided to get down on your level, so you'll get the point."

When the colonel steered the truck into the parking lot of a supermarket, Daniel was sure he had gone just one little step too far. But when Jack came around to the back door, he just climbed in and seated himself next to Daniel. “Look," he started, voice calm, "I know how hard this is for you, okay? It isn't a piece of cake for me either. Can we work together here?"

Daniel glanced at him. "You're not mad?"

Jack shook his head. "Thought you could use a hug."

Daniel was in Jack's arms in a heartbeat. He nestled his head under Jacks chin and snuggled in, glad for the comfort. Then he snickered. "This is what I get for insulting you?"

"Only this time. Special Ops conditions. You know even though I'm rather loose with the swearing, there's a fine line."

"Sorry for... I didn't mean that."

"I know that."

"I'm a little tense. And I know that's no excuse for... um... you know...just... sorry," Daniel mumbled. Then he tipped his head back and looked up at Jack. “What if I don't like her, Jack? What if she's mean?"

"Cassie said she likes her and trusts her. Don't you think that counts for something?"

"I don't know. I was in therapy before. When... As... " Daniel grabbed Jack's hand like an anchor to hold on.

"Daniel?"

He pulled at Jack's thumb and then let his own fingers wander over Jack's knuckles. "Um... nothing."

"You know, that's a line I don't want to hear too much anymore. Comes right after ’I'm fine.'”

"Just old memories," Daniel explained, still cradling the callused hand absently in his little one.

"Bad memories, huh?"

"Yeah."

"The kind of things you locked away and buried as deep inside as possible," Jack said softly.

Daniel nodded and looked down at their entwined fingers.

"And now you're scared the shrink might drag them out and they’ll start haunting you again."

"Sleeping dogs," Daniel whispered.

"Yeah, I know."

In a sudden impulse he let go of the hand, turned around and wrapped his arms around Jack's neck. Hugging him tightly he pressed a kiss to his cheek.

"Whoa, what was that for." Jack grinned.

"Just because."

"Ready to bite the bullet, Wretch?"

"No. But let's do it anyway." Daniel went back on his backless booster seat. He'd hated this thing with a passion when Jack first brought it home. But now he was so used to it he didn't even think about it anymore. He fastened his seat belt and Jack got back in the front.

When they left the parking lot, Jack said, "Just try to be nice, okay?"

Daniel crossed his arms over his chest. "If she's nice to me, I might consider it."

"I'm asking you to. I don't want to actually order you to behave yourself. But if you want to try being a monster on purpose, just remember that this woman is a shrink. She'll know what you're doing."

"I know how to handle shrinks," Daniel said.

"Daniel?"

"Jack?"

"Behave yourself. That's an order."

"And I'm good at following orders," Daniel grinned, sticking out his tongue.

Jack snorted, but then sobered up. "Come on. I don't want her to think I'm a complete failure in dealing with you. Though I guess she thinks that already since we canceled this three times. I really wonder why she hasn't called Hammond yet to make him kick my butt."

Daniel frowned. He knew Jack was as nervous about their first appointment with Doctor Svenson as he was. They had discussed it over and over again the previous weeks. He was aware how they both felt uneasy about the whole thing. So he sighed and nodded. "Okay. I'll try."

"Sweet."

***

They reached Memorial Park around eleven so they had an hour left before they'd meet Svenson. That should be enough time for Daniel to calm down a little.

Or maybe not.

Jack thought it was a great idea to have their first meeting somewhere outdoors. When she'd suggested meeting at a place Daniel would like, they had come up with Memorial Park.

Not because of the playground, of course.

Even though Jack knew Daniel liked to play there. In fact they had explored the playgrounds already and the kid felt safe enough to have some fun as long as the place wasn't too crowded. Daniel was very reluctant to use any of the equipment if there were other kids around. But if they got here early in the mornings or late in the evenings they often got lucky and there weren't many kids.

They'd come here for picnics sometimes and Daniel liked the lake. There was a path around Prospect lake they had walked a few times.

Since Daniel was a kid, Jack was allowed to be flexible with his work hours, unless there was an emergency or they had to go off-world. So they took the opportunity to come in late or take a long lunch outside the mountain. O'Neill enjoyed those rare moments when his kid was acting eight in a positive way. For some reason Jack had less problems climbing the scaffolding or using the swing than Daniel. It was really difficult to get the munchkin to loosen up.

But what else was new?

As an adult, Daniel had been entirely too wound-up. But there had been several nice ways to get Doctor Jackson relaxed. None of them would work now, though. Jack had tried to convince Daniel to go skating with him. There was an ice skating center at the park. He hadn't been skating in ages, so he'd thought it would be fun to try it with the kid. But there was little chance Daniel would ever say yes to that. He had never been the sporty kind of guy and it didn't change with the downsizing. So no skating and no baseball. Well, there were worse things than that, but it might have been fun to try.

When they reached the picnic area, they still had over thirty minutes until their appointment. They found a free table and put their backpacks on the bench. There was a woman at the table next to them. She was reading a magazine and didn't even look up when they made themselves comfortable.

Jack watched Daniel reluctantly putting sun block on his arms and legs. He pulled a blue cap from their backpack and placed it on the blond head, ignoring the grumbled comment about mother-henning colonels.

Daniel had brought a book. He sat on the warm grass to read, while Jack got out their sandwiches, drinks, and his newspaper. He looked through the sports section and read a few of the political articles, then he went to the cartoon page. When his eyes wandered over to the kid, Danny was watching the other youngsters playing at the water’s edge not far away. They were digging in the sand and running around. Lots of people went in and out of the water.

It was the end of July and the lake was warm enough to swim. He saw the longing in the blue eyes and suppressed a sigh. They had played in the sand at the shore some time ago. It had been fun. Daniel had built complex sand castles and stuff. They had dug deep ditches for the water to spill in and surround the sand buildings. But then the sandy shore of the lake had been almost deserted and nobody had watched them. Today it was different. School was closed for the summer and there were kids and people everywhere.

Why was it still so hard for Daniel to just let go and give in to his childlike streak in public? No one knew he wasn't a kid. And even at home he still tried to suppress it. Which didn’t always work, of course. Jack had caught the kid watching a cartoon series based on the Wizard of Oz one day. Daniel had finally gotten his own TV, so he could watch the Discovery Channel all he wanted. One afternoon Jack had entered his room to put some laundry away. And there his kid had been lying on his bed, watching little Dorothy and her friends following the yellow brick road. He hadn't even noticed O'Neill, standing in the doorway with the laundry in his arms. Daniel had forgotten to close his door, so Jack didn't knock. He'd just stood there for a moment and then carefully retreated, making sure not to disturb the kid.

"There's no sign on your forehead telling your real age, you know," O'Neill said.

"I know my real age," Daniel answered automatically. They had had this discussion before. He put his book aside and came over to where Jack was sitting. He picked up the bag with the food and stuck his nose into it. "Can I feed half of my sandwich to the ducks?"

"There's some old bread in one of the other bags. Use that. I put mayonnaise on your sandwich. I don't know if the ducks will eat that."

"Okay. How far can I go? Can I go to the big oak over there?" Jack followed Daniel's outstretched arm to a very impressive old tree near the shore.

"Sure. As long as you stay in sight.” Jack wasn't taking any chances in letting the Wretch get out of sight. Not with his tendency to wander off. And not after what Simmons had said at the hearing. Daniel needed security. There was a speed dial number on Jack's phone. Just on the off chance the kid did vanish, security would be here in no time.

"Yes, sir, as ordered, sir," Daniel quipped and was about to run.

Jack grabbed his arm and pulled him close. He put a hand under Daniel’s chin and made him look at him. "I'm not joking, Danny-boy. You can go with the rules or sit here next to me for the rest of the day."

“All right, all right. I'll stay in sight. There by the tree.”

"Okay. Now scoot. And don't fall in the lake, or we have to go home."

Daniel's eyes went wide behind his glasses. "Oh yesss. That's true."

Now it was Jack’s turn to roll his eyes. "Do I have to tell you not to fall in the lake on purpose?"

Daniel just grinned and was on his way, duck food in hand.

Jack watched him as he reached the shore and started to rustle with the paper bag. Excitedly quacking ducks surrounded him in no time, eager to get their lunch. Daniel broke off little pieces of the bread and tossed it. After a moment, he crouched and held out the crumbs to one of the ducks. The bird waddled over to him and took it.

It was a very peaceful sight. So innocent in itself. Just a kid feeding ducks. And maybe right now Danny wasn't even thinking about the reason they were here today. Jack could feel the smile spreading over his face. Daniel was good with animals. He took good care of his raccoon, too. Jack never needed to remind him to feed Nashi or clean the kennel.

Suddenly, he remembered something he'd almost forgotten over the years. When they had gated to Abydos for the first time, Daniel had been adopted by one of those beasts of burden. He had bribed it with chocolate or a power bar. Oh, and then the beast had panicked about something and dragged Daniel along with him through the sand, all because Daniel had his foot stuck in one of the reins. That was the very first of oh so many times where Jack had to run after his archaeologist to rescue him. When they had found him, the beast was slobbering all over him to wake him up.

"Colonel O'Neill?" a voice suddenly came from behind him.

When he turned, he saw the woman with the magazine. She was now standing next to their table and held out her hand to him, smiling. "I'm Brit Svenson," she introduced herself.

While they shook hands, he gave her a quick look over.

She was in her mid thirties, at least as far as he could tell. Tall with light blond hair. She somehow reminded him of Carter, but was a more Nordic type with high cheekbones and crystal blue eyes. She looked like someone who was spending most of her free time outside. Her skin was well tanned and she wore small reading glasses, which she took off now to slip them into the pocket of her blouse.

"You were observing us," he stated, not sure he liked the thought.

She shrugged. "I wanted to get a first impression."

Jack raised an eyebrow at her. "And? What's your textbook telling you?"

"There is no textbook for a situation like this," she briskly informed and sat down on the wooden bench across him.

"O-kay. What is your trained eye telling you. You must have some opinion already. All... psychologists are quick on that. They can't watch anything without analyzing it," O'Neill answered.

"You can call me a shrink if you like. I don't care. I know your history with psychologists and I also read Doctor Jackson's file. This is going to be hard work, Colonel. For all three of us," she let him know, her cool eyes not leaving his face.

Jack looked over at Daniel who was still feeding the ducks. When he turned back to Svenson, he felt a little foolish for sniping at her right away. He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck and sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. I..."

"That's okay, Colonel. I get this kind of response from military guys all the time. I mostly work with kids. But most of their parents are military and most of the fathers have lots of issues when it comes to getting help for mental problems. They like to deny the fact that there are problems you can solve with therapy."

"Some things are better left in the closet," Jack said before he could hold back.

"There's no closet that stays closed forever. Things come back and haunt people. Even military men like you," she answered seriously.

They looked at each other over the table.

He couldn't do it.

It simply wasn’t right. Daniel and he had always made it without some stupid all-knowing psychologist. He wouldn't let that woman screw around with their minds. Daniel had gone through enough shit in his life. There was no need to drag it all out and let him suffer through it again. What the hell had gotten into him, to think this was going to work?

Jack grabbed their backpacks and got up. "This was a bad idea," he said through gritted teeth.

The ducks started to fly and run in all directions, when he approached the kid and put Daniel's pack on the grass next to him. "Let's go home."

The boy looked up at him, surprised confusion in his eyes. "Home? Why? Didn't she show up?"

Jack glanced down at Daniel who was sitting in the grass, the half filled bag with bread between his outstretched knees. "No, she... She's over there."

"Did you talk to her? How is she?"

"She's... a shrink."

Daniel twisted his neck to get a glimpse on the doctor. Jack sat beside him, pulling his pack from his shoulders.

"It's the woman with the magazine," Daniel said. "She's been watching us."

"Yeah."

"What happened?"

"Nothing. Let's go."

"Who is trying to run away now?" Daniel asked with a grin on his face.

"I..." Jack began, but was interrupted by Daniel's alarmed voice.

"Jack! She's coming over here."

Doctor Svenson settled on the grass across from Daniel and smiled at him. “Doctor Jackson, I'm Doctor Svenson. I guess Colonel O'Neill told you I've been watching you for a while. I didn't mean to spy on you. I was just a little insecure what to expect. I read your files and to be honest I was a little scared about this meeting."

Daniel blinked. His hands clutched the brown paper bag as he shifted closer to Jack. "You were?"

"Yes. I've never been confronted with a situation like this. I needed some time to watch you. To study. It is entirely new terrain for me."

"Daniel isn't a study object," Jack sniped. He put a protective arm around the small shoulders next to him.

But Daniel didn't seem to mind. He nodded. "I understand that. Um... it must be weird. What did you learn?"

"Not much, yet. Can I ask you a couple of questions? To understand this situation better? I read the files and the mission report about the incident. And I talked to Janet. But I would like to hear it from you personally, if you don't mind. Not any specific details for now. Just the big picture."

"You want me to tell you how it happened?"

"Yes."

Daniel looked at Jack, who quickly let his eyes wander over the shore to make sure that nobody was in ear shot. After all they were discussing classified things here. Suddenly meeting in a public place didn't seem to be such a cool idea anymore. But most people were at the beach, not close enough to pay attention or listen, so Jack gave his permission with a nod.

Daniel drew a deep breath and began. "It was a temple on a deserted planet. There's not much to tell. I explored the walls, but couldn't find much. The only thing I discovered was a shiny little knob. I touched it, a beam of light came out of the wall and... here I am. It was simple and happened fast. We have no idea about the background or what’s the purpose for a transformation like this for the civilization that used to live on the planet. There was no instruction manual on how to handle it. And no way to reverse it."

"What was the planet like?" Svenson asked out of the blue.

"The planet?"

"Yes. I have never been on another planet. I am working with Cassandra and the young Loran. I also spent some time with Nyan. That's how I am involved with the program. I love to hear about the planets. I've never seen the gate myself. I'm curious," Svenson said, keeping her voice low.

"How is Loran doing?" Jack inquired.

"He is fine. He settled in very fast with his new family. I think he likes being here."

"Sweet."

"Wasn't he adopted by Colonel Michaels and his wife?" Daniel asked.

"Yes, that's true. Listen, why don't we eat our lunch and then take a walk around the lake?"

Jack opened his pack and handed the lunch bag to Daniel, who took his sandwich out and went through the routine of peering under the upper half

"Cheese and salad," Jack informed him.

"No peanut butter?" Daniel wrinkled his nose.

"Peanut butter was out. It's mayonnaise instead."

"I'm not hungry," Daniel said and put the sandwich back in the bag.

"I have turkey and tomato on mine. You want that?"

"No, thanks."

Jack sighed. He knew Daniel was nervous and it was no wonder he didn't have much of an appetite right now. But he had skipped breakfast and had promised Jack he’d eat at the park.

"Here's the deal. I want you to take two bites from the sandwich. Then you drink your chocolate milk at least."

Daniel considered this. "Can I have one bite from each sandwich, please?"

"Sure."

Jack was aware of Svenson watching him. He was relieved Daniel didn't start a fight because Jack was forcing him to eat. Most of the time their arguments started with these little power fights. But they managed to keep them at a minimum lately. With the psychologist watching them, Jack wasn't sure how the Wretch would react to any kind of guidance or boundaries.

The kid started eating. "That planet wasn't really exciting. It rained the whole time. Jack said there would be things growing out of his hair because it was so wet all the time. It was gross. We've been on much nicer worlds. Those are all classified things, so I can't tell you much about the missions. But some of the places we visited were very cool."

"I know everything is classified and we can't really talk about anything except the things I'm cleared for. I read in your file that you lived on Abydos for over a year before you came back. That must have been an amazing time."

"It was one of the best times in my life," Daniel replied quietly.

Svenson seemed to sense she had touched a sensitive subject. She unpacked her own sandwich and started to eat. So did Jack and for a while they just sat there and concentrated on their lunch.

O'Neill had to grin when he realized that Daniel had finished his whole sandwich without even realizing it. He felt himself slightly relax. He was a little surprised that Daniel was actually talking to the shrink. He seemed to like her. Maybe the trick was to find things to talk about that weren't really personal. Even though Svenson had started with the incident that turned Daniel into a child, she asked him about it in a scientific kind of way. Not like someone who wanted to hear a sad story or felt pity.

And not once had she called him Daniel. They were talking like colleagues. Maybe that was what had lured him out to talk. She didn't even treat him like a child. Jack decided to rethink his opinion about this woman. Yet, he knew Daniel. Things were going far too smoothly for Jack's liking. He was sure the Wretch was very aware of what Svenson did. And that he was observing her sharply.

When they had finished their sandwiches, they packed their bags and strolled along the lake. Daniel stayed very close to Jack and even grabbed for his hand a couple of times, but let go again as soon as he realized what he was doing. In the meantime Svenson kept him talking. She asked questions about his work and it became evident soon that she was interested in historical things. Jack wondered if she had just done her homework, or if she was really into that stuff. But Daniel seemed to believe her fascination was real.

He responded amazingly well to Svenson.

They reached the playground while the doc was telling Daniel how she'd been to a dig site once, when she had been a teenager, on a school excursion, to a cave where native American artifacts had been found. Jack tried to figure out if Daniel was just playing nice or if he really was enjoying the conversation.

They sat down on a swing set with three swings. For some reason Daniel didn't insist on going to the benches for the adults. Maybe he didn't object to make sure Svenson wouldn't think he was paranoid or bratty. Jack wasn't sure what game the munchkin was playing at, but he knew that under normal circumstances Daniel wouldn't sit on the swing with so many other people around. He had a feeling Daniel was double checking his every move.

A few yards away Jack spotted the giant sandbox. There were kids everywhere, shoveling and building castles or baking sand cakes. To their left was a huge climbing area with rope bridges, slides and towers. It looked like a huge castle. The closed slide was coming down in spirals and looked big enough for even a grown man to enjoy.

He grinned at the thought of the one evening when they'd stopped at the playground over at Vehr Street on their way home. They had been in a good mood. When Jack had told Daniel how he used to go to that playground with Charlie years ago, Daniel had asked if he'd like to try the slides and swing sets. There had been all kind of cool equipment. And a slide similar to this one. They had played until it got too dark and too cold to stay any longer. When Daniel had taken his bath that evening, they laughed about the sand that seemed to be everywhere in his clothes and hair.

It had been the first time Daniel played on a playground. And it was the day after that, that Jack had bought the swing set for the backyard.

When he turned back to Daniel, the kid had started swinging, both hands tightly holding onto the ropes. He looked like he was in deep thoughts.

Svenson was gone.

"Where's the doc?" Jack asked, a bit puzzled.

"Looking for the bathroom."

Jack shrugged and pushed off on his swing. "What do ya think?"

"She's trying to make nice with me." Daniel shrugged.

They were swinging in sync now. "And you were trying to...?“

"Figure her out,” Daniel muttered.

"Well, she got your attention there for a while," Jack pointed out.

Daniel didn't answer to that. He was too busy concentrating on the swinging now.

"Look, I'm higher." Jack couldn't resist challenging him.

"That's not fair. Your legs are so much longer," the kid complained, trying to bring more force into his swing.

"Ah, but I am ooold... and my knees are shot."

"Yeah, that's true. Rotten. Don't fall off," Daniel snickered.

"I'm still higher," Jack said.

"You're a brag."

"Higher... come on, Space Monkey. You already tired?"

"I can swing higher!" Daniel was gaining speed now, his jean clad legs swinging frantically.

"Words, just words..."

"Just wait for it!" Danny was breathless now, but his swing kept going higher. It was one of those rare moments where Jack got him to forget and play along. He was good at that. He'd managed to distract the adult version, too, got him to relax, to goof around, to let go... The kid version was fighting for control much harder than the adult version did. But Jack knew how to get him here and there.

When Daniel's bottom suddenly left the board for a second, Jack decided that was high enough. "Slow down, buddy," he laughed, "before you'll go flying."

Daniel was laughing, too, as he let his swing slow down and when it wasn't flying high anymore, he just jumped and landed in the sand. By the time Jack had reached him, clapped him on the shoulder and said, "Who's last on the slide is a rotten egg," Daniel seemed to have forgotten about Doctor Svenson.

 

 

***

Daniel ran after Jack, who was already climbing one of the rope bridges to get on the higher levels of the castle. Without thinking, he followed Jackup the bridge and balanced himself on the swaying wooden planks. He even lifted his feet and started to swing himself, his hands curled around the ropes. Then he jumped down and ran further up.

They chased around the different stages of the castle, playing catch. Jack's tall figure didn't even look funny between all those kids. He was a natural player. There had always been a little boy lurking underneath the hard military O'Neill bravado he used to show the world most of the times. Well, there was a lot more lying beneath that surface. And sometimes Daniel felt honored that he was one of the very few people who knew.

Other parents were in the play castle, too, assisting younger kids or having fun themselves. Daniel had never noticed that grown-ups could do this, too. Of course they were entertaining their kids. But maybe they had just as much fun doing it as their kids had.

All of a sudden he realized there were so many kids around him. He stopped in his tracks on the highest tower and let his eyes skim over boys and girls of all ages, who were climbing, chasing, laughing and yelling. He hadn't noticed before... he had been too absorbed in playing and running after Jack.

His friend had stuck his head into the slide already. It was a closed blue slide with lots of spirals. "Cool," Jack yelled, his voice hollow and muffled. "It's real dark in here. Come on, Danny."

"Jack!" He could hear his voice squeak like a little mouse. He didn't feel good all of a sudden. Unlike Jack, who was very easy with children, Daniel had never been comfortable around them. Even when he had been a real kid himself, he'd never got along well with other boys and girls his age. And as an adult he had avoided kids' company most of the time. Well, he’d gotten along well with Cassie. They had something in common. They were both orphans and had both somewhat weird backgrounds. But other than that he'd rather not spent too much time with children. It was not that he didn't like them. He just felt uneasy around them.

He wanted Jack to stay close, but couldn't call after him. He was tongue-tied. The part in him that was always trying to keep things under control called him a coward. There were kids around here, so what? They didn't take any notice of him and he would be down the slide in a second. No harm done, all was well.

Jack was already swinging his long legs into the slide. Without looking back at Daniel, he hollered, "I go first!" A second later, he was gone with a loud and cheerful, "Woohoo!“

Daniel reluctantly walked over to the dark opening. From somewhere he could hear Jack yelling. "Come on down, Daniel. It's fun!"

He peered into the slide, but couldn't see a thing. Daniel felt his hands become sweaty and wiped them on his jeans. For a moment he imagined Svártil whispering at him from inside the chute. “Dannnieeelll, come, be the guardian of the Yggdrasillll.... you'll have funnn...”

He jumped backwards and slapped a hand over his mouth. “No,” he whispered. Then he straightened and mentally thumped himself over the head. Stupid. This was just a slide. It wasn't dangerous.

It was...

Something bumped into his back and he was pushed aside by a boy who jumped into the slide and went down. A girl followed, giving Daniel an odd look as she passed him.

He could do it. It was really no big deal. He'd gone down slides before. But that had been before... before... Daniel swallowed.

Another girl went past him and in the slide. Before she went down she turned around and stuck her tongue out at him. Daniel decided to go back down via the bridge. He liked the bridge. There was no need for him to take the dark, long slide.

And once he was down he'd give Jack O'Neill a piece of his mind for making him play along instead of helping him to keep in control of his child-side and concentrate on dealing with Doctor Svenson. Daniel cursed under his breath. Sometimes little things like sitting on a swing would make him forget who he was. What he was. And Jack shamelessly took advantage of it, because he thought it was good for Daniel to let go and play.

When he turned to leave the slide tower, there was a boy blocking his way. He was bigger than Daniel with wild black curls and piercing green eyes.

Green eyes that sparkled in the sunlight. Just like Svartil’s eyes had. Daniel’s throat went dry and he swallowed hard.

The boy said, "It's a slide, four eyes. It won't bite you."

"Who are you calling four eyes?" Daniel snapped, recovering from the shock rather quickly.

"There's nobody else here with four eyes. Get moving or I'll push you down," the other kid told him with a menacing grin.

"You can go first," Daniel offered, determined not to be provoked by a snotty brat.

"Oh, yeah? And why don't you go? Are you afraid? Do you want your mommy?" The bully snorted. Two girls who came up the tower started giggling.

Daniel groaned inwardly. Wasn't that just wonderful? Some things never changed. "Let me pass," he sniped at the boy.

"Make me, four eyes."

"Look. There's no need for a fight here, okay? I'll just go down the rope bridge and you can use the slide all you want," Daniel said, trying to stay calm. He could talk. He was way ahead of this brat.

Only the brat wasn't willing to see that.

"Eh, baby boy. Maybe I want a fight. Just because you look so stupid," the boy laughed.

"I don't fight kids," Daniel snapped.

"Har har, dumb cheek. You're just a baby yourself."

"I'm not."

"Baby, baby, baby," the boy sing song-ed and crossed his big arms over his chest. Then he spit his chewing gum into the dust at Daniel's feet. He felt the rage bubbling up in him. Words weren't working here. He would just knock this disgusting little kid off his feet and run.

Except he couldn't.

Daniel stood frozen on the spot, while his brain was trying to tell him he knew how to knock somebody down. He had learned how. He wasn't that shy helpless kid anymore. He had grown up, had learned how to defend himself. He was learning to fight Jaffa style right now.

But he just stood there, paralyzed. And to make matters even worse he felt tears welling up in his eyes.

The boy started laughing at him, grabbed his arms and shoved him towards the slide with both hands.”Little cry-baby. Wanna go down the slide with me?"

He had to go down the slide to escape this. But he didn't want to. The slide was dark and Daniel would never go down such a dark, fast slide ever again if he had any choice.

He felt the tears now pooling in the corners of his eyes. Gritting his teeth he tried to free his arms from the boy's grip. He started to kick out at the boy's shins in a desperate try to avoid the slide, when a familiar voice called out from the rope bridge, "HEY! What's going on up there?!"

"Oh, your daddy is here..." The bully punched Daniel aside and jumped into the slide just when Jack appeared on the tower.

Jack helped him up and looked him over. "Are you okay, Daniel?"

For a moment he leaned against the safe solid body, trying to get his shaking breath under control. Then he pulled back. Before he really knew what he was doing, Daniel lashed out at Jack, pummeling his friend's chest with both fists as hard as he could. "This is all your fault! Can't you just leave me alone!"

He spun around and stumbled down the rope bridge, tears rolling down his cheeks. When he reached the ground, he just ran. He heard Jack yell after him, but he didn't care. All he wanted was getting away from the slide and the playground and the bully-kid.

II

At first, he was too stunned to react when Daniel pummeled him with his small hard fists.

When he shook himself out of his stupor and realized the kid was already climbing down the rope bridge, he went after him. But he was blocked by a couple of girls and by the time Jack reached the ground, he was gone.

"Oh damn," he cursed and whirled around. Daniel had been here a second ago. How could a kid disappear that quickly? Jack stormed out of the castle area, but the kid wasn't in the sandbox or on the swing. Of course not. He was hiding somewhere. And there were so many kids everywhere...

"What happened?" It was Doctor Svenson. She hurried over, carrying their backpacks in both hands.

"Daniel is gone," Jack told her curtly as he snatched his phone from his jeans and punched in Daniel's speed dial number.

"Gone?"

"Yeah. Ran away. Now he’s hiding somewhere. He was pretty upset. Something happened on that tower...” The call to Daniel went out unanswered. “I don't have time to explain. Watch the packs."

"Sure, but..."

"I’ll go through the castle again. Stay here in case he's coming back," Jack ordered in his command voice, then left her without waiting for an answer.

He searched the towers, but there was no trace of his kid. When he returned to her, Svenson asked worriedly, "Can you tell me what happened?"

"There was a kid up there bullying him or something. He was pretty upset. He... he attacked me and ran off," Jack explained hastily, his eyes scanning the lake area. Pulling his mobile from his jeans again, he typed in a text message. Where R U?

Damn.

"He attacked you?"

"Yeah. Come on, I have an idea." He grabbed the backpacks and jogged across the grass, and down the path they had been coming from earlier.

Svenson followed him. "Has he done this before?"

"Done what? Running away?"

"And attacking you."

"Yes and no."

They reached the big old oak tree. Jack searched the heavy arm-thick branches with his eyes. When he spotted a blue shirt somewhere between the leaves, he let out a huff of air. He tossed the packs at the roots of the tree and tipped his head back to have a better view at the branch the boy was sitting on. It was far out above the water. He had nestled himself into a tight spot.

"Daniel," Jack tried to stay calm. He had no idea what exactly had happened on that tower and why Daniel thought it was Jack's fault. But he was determined to find out.

"Go away," the Wretch hiccupped, frantically wiping at his face.

Well, that was a surprise. Not. "Two choices," Jack said. "You come down or I'll come up. I'm not mad. But I want to talk to you."

"I'm not coming down."

"Right." Jack sighed and started climbing the tree. It wasn't a problem for him to reach Daniel. Finding a comfortable spot in a crotch, Jack squatted down near the kid.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Nothing."

"Ah."

When Daniel didn't say anything else, Jack tried again. "You know, I thought you had a good reason. But if you hit me and ran off because of nothing, I will be mad."

Daniel sniffed. "I want to go home."

"Talk to me, Daniel. Now."

"Can't we go home first? I don't want her to listen."

Jack looked down to where Doctor Svenson was leaning against the tree, gazing up at them. "You will talk to me when we're home. ASAP."

"Okay."

"No stalling."

“Okay.”

Daniel climbed down, followed by Jack. Doctor Svenson handed Daniel his backpack. She didn't ask anything and just remarked, "I guess we’ll meet again next week. Do you want us to meet here again?"

Daniel shrugged, staring at his feet.

"Or is there another place you'd like to go?"

"Don't you have an office," Daniel grumbled. “With a couch?“

"Sure. But I thought it'd be nicer to go somewhere outside. The weather is great," Svenson explained.

"I don't care about the weather."

Jack opened his mouth to step in, when he saw her subtle head shake. Apparently she wanted him to stay out of it.

"Well, I do. I like being outdoors," Svenson replied briskly.

"And who cares?" Daniel snapped.

"I'm just saying. We can meet in my office if you insist." She didn't seem to care about Daniel's attitude at all.

"I don't want to meet anywhere. Just leave me alone, will you? I don't want to do this," Daniel said through gritted teeth, his chin tightly set.

”I know. But you have to keep in mind that you're doing this for yourself in the first place. I don't expect you to like me right away. And why would you? You hardly know me. But I would like you to be fair and give this a serious try.”

Daniel bit his lip. “Whatever.“

Jack shouldered his own pack and put a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "How about we call you and figure something out," he suggested to Svenson.

"And you won't cancel again three times?" Now she was smiling.

"No. We’ll meet next week," Jack said. This newest incident had – again – driven home the point that they needed help.

Daniel started to walk faster. Jack grabbed his pack and pulled him back. "You're not running off again."

Daniel mumbled something under his breath and slowed down his pace just a little. Jack let go of the backpack and reached for Daniel's hand instead, taking it in a firm grip. Glowing with embarrassment and anger, the kid hissed, "Let me go," and tried to yank himself free.

"No," the colonel said, his tone carrying a warning. He didn't let go until they reached the parking lot and were close to the truck. He was well aware of Svenson watching them. But right now he didn't care. He was not going to chase after the brat twice in one day.

They separated after shaking hands a moment later. Even the kid got a grip on himself and managed to say goodbye to the doctor. But he didn't look at her and when Jack ushered him into the backseat, he sat there bearing a gloomy expression on his young face.

The drive home was very quiet. Daniel, apparently emotionally exhausted, fell asleep.

When they arrived at the house he woke up, but was still sleepy. He allowed Jack to pick him up and carry him inside. They walked directly to his room and sat down on the bed. Daniel made a halfhearted try to free himself, but when Jack didn't let him go at once, he just slumped back against him, his head resting at Jack's right shoulder.

"Talk to me, Daniel," he whispered.

"I'm tired."

He really was. Jack could see it. But if he let it go now, Daniel would probably find a way to get around the subject. Again. And this wasn't going to happen. Cruel as it seemed, Daniel was more approachable after one of his outbursts. Maybe because he didn't have enough strength to fight for control as tantrums always tired him out. Maybe the part of him who wanted the comfort and the help – or the boundaries – got the upper hand then. Jack didn't know. But he had learned to take the opportunities as they came.

"You can take a nap right after we sorted this out."

Daniel fiddled with Jack's dog tags for a moment. "There was that boy. He wanted me to go down the slide. I told him to go first, but he said I was a baby and that he'd push me down if I wouldn't go on my own. And..." Daniel let out a shaky breath, "he called me four eyes. And when you came up he knocked me over."

Jack waited for more. When he realized Daniel wasn't about to share anything else, he said gently, "It was just a bully. Dumb kid. I bet you talked his head off."

"I couldn't. I tried words. I really did. He wouldn't listen. I wanted to knock him out. I know how it works. I mean, I'm trained to defend myself. But I just stood there like I did when I was little, and everyone was bullying me through elementary school... it was like I was back there all over again."

Now the tears were coming. Jack rocked Daniel until he calmed down a little. He wondered if it would be a good idea to buy a rocker or something. After a moment, the kid hiccupped. "I'm sorry I hit you."

"Care to tell me why you did that? Aside from the fact that you were mad at the other kid?"

"I didn't want to go down the slide," Daniel breathed, ducking his head.

Jack nudged him a little. "Why? And why didn't you just tell me?"

"I didn't realize until you were gone. And when I wanted to go back over the bridge, the other kids were there."

Jack winced. He just realized this had been Daniel's first real encounter with other kids. He had been with Cassie before and had made friends with the little alien boy Tink-ah. But other than that Danny refused to get involved with real children. And nobody had forced him to. There was no need for that. Now the first time he had faced "real" kids, it couldn't have gone more wrong.

He cleared his throat. "Why did the slide scare you, Daniel? I had no idea. You did the slide before. You had fun on the slide."

"It's so stupid. Do I have to tell you?" He squinted up at Jack with knitted eyebrows, a deep frown on his face. It was unbelievable cute. And he really looked worn out. Jack needed all his willpower not to let it go for now.

After a long moment of silence and pitiful looks, the kid sighed and said, "It reminded me of the doorway on Tink-ah's planet. When I crawled in there, there was this slide. It was dark and I had so much speed when I went down there, I tumbled over and over. I didn't know I would be afraid to go down that playground slide. I didn't even think about it... until right before I was about to go down. Pretty dumb, huh?"

Jack shook his head. "No, it's not dumb. You'll probably get over it after a while."

"I was angry with you for luring me up there. And then you left me and I know it's silly. I was so mad at that stupid jerk. I just needed to lash out at someone."

Jack closed his eyes. Oh, for Christ's sake... he had left him alone up there. It hadn't even crossed his mind that something bad could happen.

"I'm sorry, I left you," he apologized while he rubbed Daniel's chest with one hand. His other hand was conquered again by Daniel's fingers. It seemed to sooth him.

"It's okay," the kid shrugged.

"No it's not. I should have let you go first. Then you could've told me you don't want to go down and none of that would've happened."

Daniel didn't answer. He just stroked his thumb over Jack's. After a while he mumbled, "Jack?"

"Yes, Daniel?"

"I did it again, huh?"

"What?"

"The five year old thing," Daniel sniffed, blushing.

“Why don't we talk about that later, kiddo? Right now I think you should try to sleep a little.“

"I didn't mean to hit you, Jack. And I didn't mean to run... I don't do this things on purpose. They just... happen."

Jack lay down on Daniel's bed and cradled the small body into his arms, rubbing his back in soothing circles. “Shhh, I know, I know. C'mon. Try to get some rest, buddy." He held him until Daniel's breathing became even and deep, a sure sign he was asleep. Then he carefully untangled himself from the kid and pulled the blankets over the pliant small body.

Rubbing his aching temple, Jack went into the living room and slumped on the couch.

What a rotten day. It hadn't been that bad since Daniel's breakdown four weeks ago.

And all because Jack had been too thoughtless to see the trouble coming immediately when Daniel didn't come down that slide right after him. He’d waited far too long, thinking Danny was just taking his time or climbing somewhere else instead of sliding down.

No, he never should have left him up there alone in the first place. Not with all those other kids around. Why hadn't he thought about that?

Dammit.

Daniel had been bullied through elementary school... hell, had there been anything good in his first childhood? It seemed there were a lot of things Jack didn't know about that time. Didn't even want to know. But needed to know.

It dawned on him they really might have to start from scratch. Some of Daniel's problems seemed to have roots in his first childhood. So maybe those outbursts weren't just normal reactions to his frustration over the downsizing. It could be a side effect to his shrinking that all bad things from the first time around, which had been buried deep inside him, were now bubbling up.

What had happened in the park had shaken Daniel to the core. Jack hadn't seen him like this in weeks. And Daniel had never lashed out physically at him before. The last thing he wanted was another breakdown. But Jack couldn't let him lose it like this. And he had to put an end to this wandering off habit. If the NID had been in the park, Daniel might have been kidnapped. So... What the hell was he going to do now?

He needed to talk to Daniel again after he woke up. No, Jack corrected himself. He would have to punish him for running off. He had learned the hard way that talking alone wouldn't do the trick with the downsized version of Doctor Jackson. That, and Jack had vowed not to chicken out of giving the kid consequences. As if this day wasn't bad enough already.

He decided he needed to move. To do something. Anything but sitting here and brooding. So he went to the backyard and spent two hours weeding the flowerbeds and mowing the lawn. Being out in the sun and working helped him to calm down. When he was done he went inside, washed up and got himself a beer from the fridge.

He had just settled on the couch again when a little figure showed up in the hallway, eyes still half closed. He had Amab with him; the poor monkey got dragged along by its ear.

"Hey, grasshopper. How're you doing?" Jack greeted him with a smile.

Daniel yawned and came down into the living room to sit on the couch next to him. "I'm better, thank you," he said quietly.

"You want a drink? No coffee though."

Daniel shook his head, then glanced at the beer in Jack's hand. “If I was big I would want one of those now,” he said with a grimace.

"Tough day." Jack patted his lap. "Hop up."

"I'm fine."

"Ah!" Jack waved his finger in front of Daniel and raised his eyebrows.

That got him a smile. Then Daniel leaned his head against Jack's arm. Jack was still searching his brain for the right words to begin with when Daniel, Jack's hand firmly placed between his, suddenly asked, "Are you going to spank me?"

"You think I should?"

"I ran off. And I hit you. I made us both look like fools in front of Doctor Svenson. And I bitched at her. None of it was her fault."

Jack absently gazed at Daniel's hands clasped around his own as he was thinking it through. That would be the easiest way out. It would get it over with and... and then what? What about next time something like this happened? And he knew there'd be a next time. That was as sure as the fact that there was no snow in hell. And next time he would do what? Spank him harder? And the time after that? Yeah, right.

And besides... the kid had cried enough for one day. Jack couldn't handle more of those tears.

He would never tell Daniel, but seeing him cry was one of the hardest things. The angry tears were bad enough. But the sad and depressed ones, or the guilty tears, were plucking at Jack's heartstrings, making his guts twitch. Bringing down an army of Jaffa warriors was easier to face than those tears.

"I think we should call Svenson," Jack said, not knowing where exactly that had come from. It just popped into his head. Seemed the right thing to do. "I want you to apologize for snapping at her, and for running away. I want you to tell her what you told me. That you don't want to do it, but that it happens. That, sometimes, you don't have control over it. Maybe she has an idea how to deal with this."

Daniel groaned. "Nooo. I don't want to tell her about it."

“I'll be here. It'll be okay.”

"No-o. It's embarrassing."

"Daniel, she's there to help us with crap like this. You scared me, you know? I don't want you to break down again," Jack admitted, worried.

Daniel shrugged. "You could just spank me. I mean, for real. Like you did on the planet and... later. "

"And then what?"

"Then... Then we are over it and I promise not to do it again," the kid suggested.

"Until the next time. You know what? I think you see this as an easy way out. But it's not that easy."

Daniel shifted away from Jack. "You did it after I had the breakdown. And it's not 'easy' – it hurts. But it makes me feel better afterward. And even admitting that makes me feel like a creep."

"That was to get you to cry. You practically asked me to do it."

"I'm asking you again now."

"Daniel, knock it off!"

"You said if I behave like a five year old you would treat me like one," Daniel objected. “We also agreed that I have a say in how you punish me if you had to.”

“I know. But if I'd start spanking you every time you throw tantrums or go against the rules you'd end up with a sore butt every other day. That what you want?”

Daniel bit his lip. “No.”

“I can't have you run away every time you get upset. But I'd rather reserve spankings for when I don't see any other option.”

Daniel didn't reply, he just scowled at him.

Jack rolled his eyes. He couldn't believe he was having this discussion. "All right. When you were six or seven – before your parents died... you remember that?"

Daniel nodded. "Yeah. Why?"

"Did your parents spank you every time you did something wrong or had a tantrum?"

Jack knew he was walking a thin line here. If Daniel said yes, he had to think of something else to make this clear to him. But he could tell the Jacksons had built a good foundation here. They had given Daniel many good values in his early years. There was something special about him. Something unbelievably good and strong, aside from all those traumas he was carrying around. You didn't instil this kind of good foundation by just smacking your kid around. They must have known what a precious kid Daniel was. They had just left him way too soon.

All of a sudden, O'Neill got angry with Claire and Melbourne Jackson for leaving Danny behind, without making any provisions in their wills for the kid, just in case something happened to them. There had been no godparents, no nothing. Just an old selfish guy who didn’t want to have anything to do with the kid.

Daniel chewed on his bottom lip and thought about the question for a while. Finally he shook his head. "No."

"What did they do?"

"Lots of things. When I wandered off I was grounded for a day or two. Can you guess that I did that a lot?"

"No, really?" Jack quipped.

"Yeah. I don't remember much. I got scolded when I crossed the line. I guess I also got warning swats like I get from you sometimes."

"So basically the same things we agreed on when we started dealing with your... tantrums, right?

"Um. Yes."

"And we agreed on natural consequences. You said you made a fool out of us in front of Svenson and you snapped at her. So, I want you to talk to her and apologize. Face the music. You are also grounded for the weekend for running off."

He could see how Daniel was going from Defcon 5 to 1 in a flash. He jumped up from the couch and snapped, "I don't want to talk to her. Not about today. I don't want to talk to her, period! She's going to jump to all sorts of assumptions over it!"

"It's what we’ll do."

"But..."

"It's up to you if you want to talk to her now or on our next appointment, but you... we will talk to her about what happened today." Jack said firmly.

“I am NOT talking about this to her.”

“Daniel!” Jack felt his blood pressure rise.

"I'm going to the tree house now. I need a time out."

"No, you're not. You are grounded, remember?And we have an appointment to make."

"Make an appointment all you like, Jack. I'm not talking to her about what happened today. I hardly know her. You can't expect me to do that," Daniel explained coolly, all childishness gone from his eyes and tone now.

"Oh yes, you will talk to her," Jack sniped. “You’ll apologize to her for behaving like a brat, too.”

"You always say apologies are only worthy if they are honest! I don't want to apologize! I don't like her and I don't care if she knows that. If I tell her I'm sorry, it's just because you can make me! Not because I want to do it," Daniel yelled.

"What?! You just told me you're sorry! You just said you feel bad about it – so you tell her that.”

Daniel was bristling with anger. "I am going now!"

"Great! Running again, are we?"

"I don't need to listen to this!"

Jack could feel his self-control slip. Giving him a few smacks seemed to be a very tempting idea right now.

“Daniel, so help me, if you’re going out there now, you will get that spanking you’ve been asking for. And that will not get you out of talking to Svenson or the grounding,” Jack warned.

"Bite me!"

He grabbed Daniel by the collar of his sweater and gave him a light push towards the hallway. "You want a time out? Go to your room! Don’t come out until you’ve calmed down.”

Daniel scurried out of reach, then stopped at the doorway, turned around and sucked in his bottom lip, apparently trying to decide how much further he could go.

“Move it or you’ll end up standing in a corner,” Jack warned sharply.

Daniel’s eyes grew big. “You wouldn’t...”

“Try me.”

Jack watched his little monster run down the hallway and a moment later he heard Daniel’s door slam shut. That went well. Not. Jack was so close to tear out his hair; it wasn't even funny a nymore.

He downed his beer in a few big gulps. After that he picked up the phone, just glaring at it for a minute.

He put it down again.

He started pacing the room.

Picked up the phone.

Threw it on the couch.

Paced a little more.

Picked up the phone again.

And dialed. He had put Svenson on speed dial a while ago, even though he had never called her before.

When he heard the doctor's pleasant voice on the other end, he was undetermined about what to say for a second. He grabbed one of the chess figures and played with it. "O'Neill here..."

"Colonel? What can I do for you? I was just about to leave my office," she answered. But she didn't seem to be annoyed about the late call.

"Sorry..."

"No, it's okay. I don't have plans or anything. What happened?" she encouraged him.

"Well, today at the park..." Jack started, then stopped, not sure how to continue.

"Did Daniel talk to you about why he was so upset?" she asked.

"Yeah. Listen, I think we need to talk. Soon. Not next week. If you could squeeze us in somewhere?"

"Sure. When? Tomorrow?"

"Yes."

"Do you want to talk to me alone or will you bring Daniel with you," she asked after a short silence.

Jack rubbed a hand through his hair. "I'm not sure. Right now he doesn't want to talk to you at all. I want him to, though."

There was a pause on the other end. "Are you at the SGC tomorrow?"

"Yeah. Eight to five."

"How urgent is this, Colonel? I would rather meet you somewhere neutral. Maybe we could take a walk topside? Bring Daniel with you if he wants to. If not, we'll talk alone. But tell him that you're going to meet me. Don't do this behind his back."

"Okay," he agreed.

They arranged to meet at ten in the commissary and go from there. When Jack hung up the phone he didn't feel much better.

Daniel was going to be mad when he found out Jack had really called Svenson. But Jack needed some advice here and that was what the shrink was for. After he pondered the situation some more, he decided to give the kid a choice. Daniel could come with him or stay in his office if he didn't want to talk to Svenson tomorrow. But Jack needed to talk to her. He was still not sure if he liked that woman. But apparently he'd made a few major mistakes today.

Again.

He needed to know how to deal with this. ASAP.

He marched into the kitchen and set up a pot with water. He had gotten Daniel's favorite pasta and wanted to serve it with a homemade tomato sauce. Daniel liked spicy tomato sauce. So Jack had bought red onions and everything else to spoil his little friend a bit after the meeting. He was very tempted to cook some green vegetables now instead.

He put a pan on the stove next to the pot and turned the heat on after pouring some oil into it.

He had known it was going to be a long, difficult day for the kid. Yet, right now he wished he could be cruel enough to send the Wretch to bed without dinner. But that was out of the question. First off, he was glad if Daniel was eating on a regular basis and refusing him dinner wouldn't solve anything. Secondly, Daniel had been upset when he ran off. And the seven year old part in him probably really lacked control of his emotions when he got riled up like that.

He peeled the red onions, blinking away the tears he always shed when he did that. It was annoying. Soon his eyes got red and puffy. Every time he peeled onions, he forgot to wash them under cold water before slicing. Daniel had told him doing that would prevent the tears. Sniffing Jack put the ingredients into the now hot pan and then wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

"Aw, for cryin' out..." he yelped when more of the onion juice got into his poor eyes. Blinking, he searched for the kitchen paper roll. But he didn't find it. More tears made everything blurry. "Shit," he sniffed and headed for the bathroom after turning down the stove.

He grabbed a washcloth from the closet and opened the faucet of the sink. When Daniel's voice came from behind him, Jack got startled and the washcloth fell to the floor.

"Jack? What are you doing?"

"I..." He turned around to Daniel, still blinking tears away.

"Jack!"

Before he knew it, he was pushed back on the toilet seat and a moment later Daniel's arms were around Jack's neck, hugging him to death. "Wh... why are you crying? I'm sorry! Don't cry because of me, please! You have to stop now, okay?"

"Daniel," Jack croaked, partly because of the lack of air and partly because he needed the damn washcloth.

"Nonono... I know I screwed up again... I'm sorry."

"Daniel, will you please stop..."

"Jack?"

"Da..."

"You smell funny."

"That would be because of the onions."

"Onions? Red onions?" Daniel sniffed Jack's face like a little dog at his bone.

"Give me the washcloth," Jack sighed, blinking.

Daniel let go off Jack and a minute later the damp cloth was carefully and tenderly wiped over his swollen eyes.

"Thank you," Jack breathed.

"How often do I have to tell you to wash the onions before you chop them," the Wretch scolded mildly.

"Ouch... I forgot."

"Again."

"Yeah, peachy, and then I..."

"Then you wiped your eyes with your hand."

Jack cringed.

Daniel wet the cloth once more and started wiping again. "You don't learn, Jack. I think we have to figure something out so you won't forget next time."

"Yeah? I know just the thing, smart ass. You'll peel them, you'll wash them and then you can cut them. I'll even watch you, so you won't cut off one of your little fingers. What are you doing here anyway? Didn't expect you to come out of your room before next week. You were... What the hell?"

They both froze and sniffed. There was a distinct smell of burnt onions hanging in the air. Jack jumped up, shoved Daniel aside, and ran, the kid on his heels, in the kitchen. Dense smoke drifted from the stove where the onions had turned to black in the pan. Jack cursed and grabbed the pan with one hand while Daniel opened the back door. O'Neill just threw the smoking pan into the sink, then glared at the stove.

His eyes fell on the big pot with the water for the pasta.

The water wasn't boiling. So instead of turning the heat of the pan down he had turned the pasta water off in the haste to get his eyes rinsed out.

Great.

Daniel almost fell over, as he flailed both arms to get the smoke out of the room. Jack watched him and started laughing. Without stopping what he was doing, Daniel asked, "What's so funny?"

"You making like the propeller blade of a helicopter," he chuckled.

"At least I'm trying to do something instead of just standing there and laughing," the Wretch grumbled

"Hey, this was my attempt to serve you a great dinner with hot tomato sauce and pasta. It's ruined now, though. And it's your fault by the way. You attacked me in the bathroom and tried to kill me with all that hugging," Jack snorted.

"I was worried! You looked horrible! I thought you were crying because of me! And that's what I get for trying to comfort you? A ruined dinner?" Daniel was huffing and puffing with indignation, while he was blinking rapidly to get the smoke out of his eyes. And he was still whirling his arms around like sails of a windmill.

Jack leaned against the kitchen counter, roaring with laughter. He was stopped short when Daniel took a leap and climbed him up like a little monkey until he could clamp his arms and legs around O'Neill's neck and waist. As soon as Jack’s hands were holding him he let go of his neck and let his hands crawl under Jack's armpits.

"You are mean, Jack! I'm going to tickle you to death, since the hugging didn't work," he squealed.

"Argh... stop it! I'm going to drop you," Jack guffawed. He tried to get the little fingers out from under his arms while he was holding Daniel with one hand.

"I’ll stop if you make up for the ruined dinner," Daniel chortled, gloating over the impact his wriggling hands had on Jack, who was unable to defend himself without dropping the Wretch.

Still laughing, he turned around and placed Daniel's butt on the counter, to get at least one hand free. He pulled at one of the little octopus arms, but the other was still there, torturing him merciless.

"Whatdoyawant," he gasped.

"Susssshhhiiii," Daniel purred.

"Nooowaaayyy," Jack squawked back.

"We are going out having sushi, we are going out having sushi," Daniel sing song-ed into Jack's ear, his tiny fingers scuttling over Jack's ribs now.

O'Neill managed to press his arms against his body to prevent Daniel's fingers from continuing the torture. He grabbed the skinny knees and tried to unclasp them from his waist, but the Wretch was holding on for good. Jack couldn't get those legs away from him without giving the kid access to his poor armpits again.

"Sushi, sushi, sushi," Daniel squealed in delight.

"All right, all right! Stop! You'll get sushi," Jack finally growled, grabbing Daniel and lifting him off the counter.

Daniel's arms went back around his neck and they left the house through the back door, to escape the smell of burnt onions. Jack carried a giggling Daniel over to the swing and settled on the wooden seat. When the kid had calmed down while they were swinging gently back and forth, Jack said, "Monday."

"What?"

"Sushi. Monday."

"Nooo! You said today," Daniel complained.

"Ah ah, I said sushi for dinner. Didn't say when."

"But that's not fair! I'm hungry and you ruined the dinner, meanie," Daniel pouted. Somehow that made Jack chuckle again. He ruffled the tousled blond hair.

"Meanie? That's a new one," he snorted.

"You are a meanie. A BIG meanie," Daniel said, pouting a little more.

Jack sobered up and aimed for serious. “We'll go out for dinner on Monday. Today we'll see what's in the fridge, okay?"

"Wa-hy?" Daniel asked in a way only Daniel could do it.

Jack had to bite his lip not to crack up again. "You're grounded. And we're both a little tired and cranky. Let's eat something and get comfortable on the couch."

"I'm not cranky," Daniel insisted.

"Yeah, well, I am. What about tired?"

"Not. I napped like a good boy."

"Have mercy on an old guy then, okay?"

"Um... okay... we can still have the pasta. Goes with ketchup."

"Ya think? Daniel Jackson the great gourmet settles for Heinz ketchup?"

"Well, I'm an O'Neill now, too. So I guess I have to fit in the family. And I like the squeeze bottles. They make funny noises when you squeeze them."

"Goofball," Jack snickered.

"Yep, but I'm your goofball."

"That's for sure. Come on. Let's go and tackle the pasta."

***

When the pasta had been tackled and Indiana Jones finally discovered the mysterious ark of covenant and saved it from the Nazis Jack announced it was bedtime for grounded archaeologists.

“It's just eight...“

“You know the drill. You got lucky I let you watch TV,” Jack said. “Off to bed you go.“

Once Daniel had brushed his teeth and drawn out bedtime by needing a glass of water, selecting new shorts and a t-shirt and having to use the bathroom again, he finally couldn't ignore the looming colonel anymore and crawled under his covers, Amab in his arms.

 

 

"Jack... am I still grounded ALL weekend?"

"Oh, yeah."

"The whole time?"

"Yep."

"But you said you understand why I ran..."

"I do. But I can't let you run away or wander off, not even when you're upset. And you know it."

Daniel sighed deeply. Of course he knew. That didn't make it any better though. Being grounded on weekends was something he despised the most. They had agreed to use weekends for groundings since it wasn't really working during the week. Daniel needed breaks with fresh air and running around in between on work days. They also had to go shopping and run other errands. So if he got grounded it would be the weekend. The bad thing was that they got almost every weekend off since he had been littled. And he had spent a few of them in the house already. Daniel wondered why he had said yes to that. But he had. And he hated it.

Today was Friday. He got kind of lucky this time because they had to go to work tomorrow, but he'd still be stuck at home all Sunday.

He wouldn't be able to work. There would be chores, like cleaning his room. Oh, yes, and if he threw a fit or sulked the whole time, he would end up going to bed right after dinner around six thirty. He had tried sulking. He had also tried to run out and hide in the tree house. All it got him was a full week of early bedtimes and no TV. Daniel had considered ignoring that, too, but Jack had promised him a sore butt if he did and sometimes these days Jack was really sticking to his rules, no matter what.

If he cooperated there might be some fun after all, since Jack would find something for them to do. Like playing board games or working on the thousand pieces jigsaw puzzle of a sphinx that was still laying out in the basement. But it was still gross since it was cutting his personal freedom to do what he wanted and when he wanted to do it.

However, there was something that bothered him even more. "Are you really going to meet Doctor Svenson tomorrow?"

"Yep. I'd like you to come with me. Would make me feel better. Oh, and by the way... You are still going to apologize. If not tomorrow, then at your next meeting."

"I know. I will."

"I'm going to tell her about today, Daniel. I need to. We need to get over this yelling and fighting thing. Days like this really really suck," Jack said wearily.

Daniel pulled at Amab's tail. "It wasn’t fair to use it as punishment," he quietly stated. He had felt cornered. The thought of going into the details of his problems so soon had panicked him.

"No, maybe not. But I'm a little desperate here, buddy."

Daniel pulled a face.

"This isn't to embarrass you," Jack said softly. "You know I'm no fan of this shrink stuff either. But this is going over my head from time to time. And I don't want to screw it up."

"I really hate this," he said with feeling.

"Yep. Me too. But you want to go back to gate travel. I'm going to miss you out there. And we might get along much better if we give it a try. What's grown up Daniel saying to this?"

"He... He is mad. He doesn't want this. But he has started to realize that it might be necessary," Daniel whispered.

"He's a big guy, you know. And sometimes he's pretty reasonable."

"I don't know. Am I? I feel so little right now. And it frustrates me that I can't find the right language for the writings, so I can start to search for the stone."

"You know what? You're the toughest little big guy I know. We'll figure it out."

"We're good together, right?"

"We're the greatest, Space monkey."