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Still Jack and Daniel Seires 1 (Interlude) - Not in Kansas Anymore - Colors

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Still Jack and Daniel The First Year

Interlude

Colors


Jack approached Daniel's room with caution, ready to duck should a book or any other hard object be thrown his way. They had established that rule about throwing things of course. Civilized people, big or little, didn't throw stuff at their well meaning friends.

Daniel knew that.

But he forgot it from time to time.

Well, Jack didn't have all these cool Special Ops skills for nothing. He could dive for cover and catch flying objects at the same time.

Wasn't the point though.

He placed his fingertips against the wooden door, which stood ajar, and pushed gently.

No flying books.

All was quiet.

Could be a trap...

Jack had won the fight over leaving the mountain at a decent hour. He had also won the argument over whether coffee was a good substitute for dinner. As a result of those two victories he'd better be careful around Daniel for the rest of the evening and watch out for payback.

But there were preparations to make and things to consider and Jack was a man with a mission.

Taking a deep breath he walked into the lion's den.

And stopped short, blinking at the sight that met him.

Daniel Jackson, 3 PhD's, currently 7-ish going on 34, was seated lotus style on his desk, staring at the opposite white wall with the frown of all frowns on his face; forehead crinkled, eyebrows doing the V thing, lips pursed.

"Uh, Daniel?" Jack followed his little friend's gaze. There was a white wall, not much to look at.

"I don't want kid's furniture," Daniel said finally, not taking his eyes off the fascinating whiteness.

"Ah. Who said you'd have to... "

"I saw all the stuff you ordered."

"Define `stuff'?"

"The Ikea Kidsworld catalog and Firefly Furnishings... I don't want those."

There went Jack's mission. Sometimes he wondered if the kid could read his mind He hadn't mentioned the catalogs, yet. He had waited for a `good moment' to tackle this particular subject. But Carter and Fraiser had cornered him at the commissary during a much needed break (with pie) today to let him know that Daniel needed a room. Not just Jack's spare room where he was currently living in, but a `real room' with everything a boy his age ... his current age... needed. With colors to cheer him up and furniture that was the right size.

"He needs an atmosphere that allows him to relax and recharge," Fraiser had said.

"You ordered the catalogs weeks ago, sir. Did he even take a look at them?" Carter had asked.

"Have you talked about wallpapers and what kind of theme he'd like?" Fraiser had prodded.

Jack had opened his mouth to explain that a theme for his room was nowhere on Daniel's agenda. That Daniel was okay living in the guest room as it was. Heck, they hadn't even gone to sort out the apartment. Something Jack was dreading as much as Daniel. So they kept putting it off.

But Fraiser had pointed out, "You have a week of leave from tomorrow on. You should figure out what he wants and get to work, Colonel."

"Because who knows when we'll all be on leave for any length of time again," Carter had added. "We can help with the painting and putting everything together – if you go for IKEA."

And Jack had swallowed down all his reasons for not doing this `right now' and waiting to do this `later' because he knew a week of leave was a rare treat in their venue of work and he could use the offered help to turn his spare room into a Daniel-room. He also didn't need their looks of pity and worry if he told them Daniel was in one of his depressive moods again. So he had shrugged, said, "Yeah, sure, why not," and spent the rest of the day mentally preparing for this talk

Turning back to Daniel now, Jack asked, "What do you want?"

"Oh," Daniel said sourly. "Getting big again? Going home? Getting my life back?"

"Ah, yes, I think IKEA has your life on sale this week," Jack replied, then winced. Good start, O'Neill. Not.

"Why don't you go and fu..." He swallowed the rest with some visible effort and grimaced. "Find something else to do."

"Sorry," Jack said. "Bad humor."

Daniel snorted. It wasn't a nice sound coming from the munchkin; it held way too much bitterness. "Sorry. Bad choice of words. Almost."

Jack leaned against the desk Daniel was sitting on. It had come from a discounter, probably a job lot sale, with matching bookshelves and the bed. All dark wood, looking okay, but without much style. The spare room furniture had come with the house and he had kept it in. Big Daniel had spent some time here after his return from Abydos. And later, after they'd gotten rid of his apartment when he'd been with Nem. But as time had gone by, Daniel had stopped using the spare room and moved his stuff to the master bedroom... and Jack was not going there right now... Bottom line was; when he'd moved in here, he hadn't expected to have lots of sleep over guests. He certainly never expected to have a kid living here at any length of time.

Jack looked at the room. Really looked at it.

It was boring.

Depressing even.

And it lacked any Daniel-ness. Except for the few books Daniel had brought from the SGC and some of his recent possessions like the Nintendo, some jigsaws and DVDs. His brand new kid's clothes were in the built-in-closet – except for the jeans and t-shirts scattered on and in front of the bed, waiting to be put into the hamper.

"So, not counting the things you can't have. What do you want?"

Daniel huffed a breath. "Dunno." Sometimes his linguistic skills seemed to have downgraded with his size. At other times – not so much.

"We have a week of leave. Perfect time to brush this place up a bit. Give it some paint, some..." Jack waved at the room at large, "...new colors, maybe? Get some nice shelves and... plants?"

"It'll be a waste of time and money," Daniel said. "I'm not going to stay like this, remember?"

You don't know that, Jack thought, but wisely kept that to himself. "I don't care. It needs a do over anyway. It's dull."

"It's been dull for years. It never bothered you," Daniel countered, not missing a beat.

"It bothers me now."

"Why?"

"Because you're living in here and you should have a real room."

"With little chairs and an Indiana Jones theme?"

"I didn't say that."

"Then what? Why change it? It's not the Hilton, but it's serving its purpose."

Jack knew he wasn't going to keep the upper hand in this conversation. Daniel might have been shrunk, but he was still on top of the ball in the verbal sparring department. In the bitch and bratty department, too.

Changing tactics, he moved in front of Daniel, blocking the view on the white wall. He searched for eye contact and when the troubled blue ones reluctantly locked with his, Jack said, "This is your home, Danny..."

"Don't call me `Danny'," he blurted out. "I'm not seven."

"I called you Danny when you were big. Occasionally."

Daniel pressed his lips together and hugged himself. Right. Not Danny then.

"Okay, Daniel..." Jack put his hands on Daniel's shoulders.

So scrawny and small. Fragile. Still unfamiliar sometimes. Still freaking him out on occasions. Five months. Two months of living together – like this.

Jack fought for control, just briefly, then continued, "This is still your home. Just because we're sleeping in separate rooms now doesn't mean that's changed." Daniel flinched slightly at the separate rooms part and Jack briefly tightened his hands on those small shoulders, trying to be reassuring. Strong. Confident.

All of those things he was not. Not always. Not right now. Because this new mess they had gotten themselves into still cut down to the core more often than not.

"I have my own home," Daniel blurted out. "I could live there. I'm little, not handicapped."

"But you live here. You used to spent more time here than at your own place anyway. You know you can't go back and live there on your own," Jack said, drawing from a well of patience he didn't think he had in him – until he'd become Daniel Jackson's hopefully-not-permanent-guardian.

"We could live there. Who says we have to live here anyway? My apartment is big enough for two. Why was I the one who had to move?" Daniel didn't try to break the hold Jack had on him, which was a good sign. He could have moved away and Jack would have let him go. But he didn't. He just sat there, eyes boring into Jack, waiting for an answer.

"The house is bigger," Jack said. "And you didn't complain when we decided you move in with me. You didn't even want to go back to your place."

Daniel started chewing his bottom lip, probably thinking up a smart-ass remark. Before he could come up with something, Jack said, "The point is, this isn't a guest room any longer. It's yours. And when you get big... " IF you ever get big again "...we can always change it if you want to. But until then – make it yours."

Daniel sighed. "I have furniture. I've got shelves and a bed and a desk and...," he shrugged, "...stuff."

"Yes, but is this really what you like?" Jack asked. "C'mon, Daniel, live a little. You're entitled to have a room you feel cozy in."

To his surprise Daniel shook his head and said, "No, no, no... what I mean is. I, uh, I have my own furniture. At the... at the apartment. I just... I don't know if... " He bit his lip again, leaving the unspoken words hanging in the room.

I don't know if I can stand going there, yet... if I can bear being faced with my old life...

Jack could hear them loud and clear.

"You want your own things in here?"

Daniel shrugged, then shook his head, then nodded. "I guess. But I don't know... which ones. And you'd have to get Teal'c to help `cause I've somehow lost three foot and a lot of muscle power." He gave Jack a lopsided grin, trying to blink away the wayward tear pooling in the corner of his eye. "Can we... go to the apartment and... can we just... try?"

Jack's hands moved from Daniel's shoulders, settled on his back and pulled him forward. Daniel unfolded his legs, came to his knees, wrapped his arms around Jack and buried his face in Jack's sweatshirt. He took deep gulping breaths. One. Two. "I'm okay," he murmured after a moment, voice muffled.

"Whenever you're ready," Jack said softly.

"What if I'm going to chicken out when we're there?" Daniel asked, pulling away and looking up at Jack with bright eyes, sniffling a little.

"Then we'll go back home and try another time."

"But we only have a week of leave..."

"We could start by painting the walls. Swapping the furniture is just a matter of getting it done on a weekend," Jack assured him. The rent was paid for another three months, just in case... so no problems there.

"No Ikea Kidsworld," Daniel said firmly.

"No Kidsworld," Jack promised.


SG-1 was the flagship team of the SGC. Life and death scenarios, dealing with unfriendly aliens, blowing up suns and battling nasty little techno bugs was something they handledbetween breakfast and lunch.

Tackling Home Depot with their newly downsized civilian consultant looked like it was going to be a challenge on its own.

They had all squeezed into the truck and Daniel sulked his way from the house to the Spring's Home Depot Center. Carter was trying hard to make nice and small talk to which the Wretch replied monosyllabically.

"So, Daniel, you have any idea what color you want your walls to be?"

"White."

"Uh, but they are white now. Don't you have anything else in mind?"

"No."

"Okay, white is good. Do you want any stencils or decals? Maybe they have some cool stuff."

"No."

He'd been a lot more vocal this morning when Jack had told him where they were heading. It had been a tooth and nail fight from the get go, starting with the question why they couldn't just order white paint from Amazon and slap it on the walls - and no, Daniel didn't think he needed to consider different colors because white went with anything - moving right into the fact that Daniel didn't think he really had to come along just to choose white paint, which had lead into the re-run of the argument about the reasons why Daniel couldn't stay home alone...

And when Daniel had run out of ways to negotiate, demand (Daniel rarely went down to the level of pleading) or yell in order to have the trip canceled or stay home, he had retreated into showing his displeasure by shutting up like a clam.

By the time they turned into the parking lot of Home Depot, Jack was ready to turn the truck around, go home and dump Daniel in his dull boring room for the rest of the day. Except Jack knew that behind all the attitude and high built walls there was a bottomless pit of pain and hurt that had to be covered up somehow so it didn't spill out. Painting his room and getting his own stuff from the apartment might not seem a big deal if you looked at it from the outside.

But Jack wasn't on the outside.

Jack was right down in that pit with Daniel and while he couldn't always look past the bad attitude and bratty outward expression – because they were all just human, too, and Daniel had to actually learn how to live with what he was now – he just got that today was a milestone in good and bad ways.

Good, because they were moving forward. Bad, because they had to let go of yet another part of Big Daniel's life. The keys to Daniel's apartment were tucked away in the kid's jeans jacket.

At least the shopping was going smoothly – so far.

Teal'c was pushing the cart containing plastic tarps and masking tape as they reached the paint aisle. Carter was all over some gizmo hanging on a wall in a row with other gizmos while Jack was looking at some old-fashioned paint rollers. He had all the tools to paint a room, mind you, but they were old and battered and he could probably do with some new equipment.

Daniel was traipsing along, pretending to be bored out of his skull, but giving the different types of paint some covert glances. He stopped at a wall containing all kinds of color samples in the form of cardboard sheets that came in all kind of colors and shades for people to take home to decide what shade of blue, yellow, red or whatever, you wanted your room to be in.

He thumbed through some of the color samples. Then, when he realized what he was doing, he hastily put them back on the wall and stuffed his hands into his pockets again.

Gotcha, Jack thought, congratulating himself on not giving in to just order white paint from Amazon. Sometimes, just occasionally, you had to force Daniel out of his comfort zone just a little to make him see the world hadn't suddenly turned into shades of gray just because he got littled. To make him see there were still colors.

"Sir, this is awesome," Carter's voice pulled him out of his musings. "I think you should consider getting one of these."

`One of these' looked like a Ghostbuster Proton Pack – one of those cool ghost catcher thingies Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd used to rid NYC of the slimy creatures – complete with a ghost trap.

"It's the newest model," Carter went on, pulling out the hose and aiming what vaguely looked like a paint roller at Jack. "It has a 20 foot hose that allows for over 40 foot work area. And it also has a 5 gallon tank for paint."

"Ah. So... not a ghost trap?"

She frowned. "Ghost trap?"

"You know... Who you gonna call? Ghost-bust-ers?" Jack was about to elaborate further, when she made the connection and grinned.

"It could come in handy for sucking in snakes, but actually it pumps out instead of sucking in."

Jack considered the visual of SG-1 storming through the gate with snake suckers on their backs that looked like huge honkin'electrical paint rollers and thought it was kind of cool.

"...has a high-speed motor that applies 1 gallon of paint in 9 minutes. Actually, I think I can make it faster, so it's more efficient. It has a 16 inch of handle extension and it also comes with a two year warranty," Carter prattled on, studying the Ghostbuster gizmo more closely.

"Will it still have the two year warranty if you make it faster?" Jack asked, eying that thing with healthy distrust. High-speed motor to put paint on a wall? Sounded like science fiction to him.

She grinned again, a twinkle in her eyes, like a kid in a toy store. "It won't be a big deal to rig it up a bit. Give me until tomorrow, sir, and Daniel's room will be painted like this." She snapped her fingers.

Jack looked at the nice trustworthy solid paint rollers on the other wall. "Aw, Carter, I don't know. These look just fine to me. And cost a hell of a lot less."

"Yes, but you said on our way here that your old paint rollers are sticky and paint crusted even after you rinsed them the last time you used them, right? Now, this baby won't become sticky and there'll be no paint crust because it'll pump any unused paint back into the tank and it's easy to clean. Also, if you have to stop painting and still need it the next day, it has a roller keeper store that'll keep it wet over night. No dried paint to wash out the next morning," she said. "It'll save you the money of going back to buy a new paint roller every couple of years. And, sir, what's really neat is that it has a splatter shield to protect floors and ceilings."

What sold this thing to Jack was when she added, "It's like having the newest power tool. This is the power tool of paint rollers, sir."

Oh, hell, yeah. Jack loved his power tool. He probably wasn't as obsessed with it as the guy from Home Improvement – the TV show – but whenever he had to fix stuff around the house, his cordless 18 volt combo kit was part of him like his P90 was part of him off world. The combo kit included a hammer driver drill, an impact driver, angle grinder, a circular saw, a jigsaw. All running on two lithium-ion batteries and purring like a cat.

Jack grabbed the electric paint roller from the wall and put it into the cart.

Then he realized that part of his team had gone AWOL. "Carter? You seen Daniel and Teal'c anywhere?"

***

"Heirloom Tulip," Daniel read the sign on the color sample wall and shook his head. Heirloom Tulip promised an invigorating copper hue with dusty apricot and clay shades, a fresh twist of orange. Rich, earthy tones. The color samples to go with this descriptions were dark purple, brown-ish, dusky pink and something that sort of resembled orange. He moved on to a variety of colors called `New Bloom'. According to the sign they were soft greens, pale yellows and airy blues that were supposed to give you a feeling of blossoming spring and the relaxed ambience of a cozy cottage. Daniel saw green, blue, yellow – but bland colors, nothing that held his gaze for much longer.

Bland, however, would fit well into his new room. Into his new life. Because that's what his life was most of the time now; bland. And if it wasn't bland it was black and frightening. Or dark red like the fire of rage he tried to keep inside, but didn't always manage to.

Maybe he should paint his room pitch black and raving red. Just to make the others cringe and to see if he could get away with it if they really thought that's what he wanted. But he had to actually live in that room for a while longer and he'd go crazy with walls like that, so this little act of rebellion would just come back to bite him.

"Cherry Punch," Daniel murmured, wondering who was coming up with these kind of names? Cherry Punch offered a color palette straight from the runways of Paris and Milan, vivacious and versatile, going from vibrant cherry red to rich purple. The next category on the color sample wall was called `Aged Saffron'. Warm golds and aged greens combined to add to any room with this elegant palette.

But what Daniel saw as he pulled the `Aged Saffron' sheet from the wall was the glow of the desert during sunset, the spices that were sold at the Cairo bazaars, the rich heavy colors of the gold covered mask of pharaohs.

"Have you chosen a different color than white for your room, DanielJackson?" Teal'c was suddenly beside him. Or maybe he'd been there for a while and Daniel hadn't noticed.

He quickly hid the color sample behind his back. Then, realizing how childish he was acting, he shrugged and showed it to Teal'c, who took it and looked at the different shades of gold, sandy colors and patinas of green.

"It reminds me of Egypt, sort of. And of Abydos," Daniel blurted out, almost defiantly.

"Which of the colors do you prefer?"

Daniel hesitated, then shrugged again and tipped his finger on a sandy color. The small adprint written underneath it said that it had tiny amounts of gold dust in it.

"A good choice," Teal'c said.

"Yeah, but I won't take it. I said I wanted white," Daniel muttered, shuffling his feet.

"You changed your mind. We did not buy anything yet."

"No-o, but..." But he'd given Jack a lecture and a rant about why white was the only color he wanted in his room. It went with anything. It wasn't complicated and it didn't require much thinking. It was just a color. What was all the fuss about anyway?

"Is there a reason to deny yourself a wall color you like?"

"Um, no, I guess not, but I don't even know for how long I'm going to live there." Forever, the cold reasonable voice cackled in the back of his mind. You're not going to change back. Stop lying to yourself.

"Why does it matter for how long you will stay in that room? You are living in it now," Teal'c said. "Maybe you do not feel at home at O'Neill's house? When I came to live at the SGC I did not consider it my home. It was merely a place to live in. I did not see the need for decorations or color on my walls."

Daniel looked up at this big friend, curiosity distracting him from his dilemma. "Do you ever think about moving out of the SGC, Teal'c? Like having a real place? With windows and a balcony or a garden? To grow plants? Or to have the sunlight waking you up in the mornings?"

Clasping his hands behind his back, Teal'c gave Daniel the hint of a smile that showed more all over his face and in his dark eyes than on his lips. "I occasionally do so. However, I am not lacking anything at the SGC, so it is not necessary."

"Do you feel at home at the mountain now?" Daniel asked, realizing he had never really thought about whether or not Teal'c considered the SGC his home.

"It has become, as the Tau'ri would say, a home away from home," Teal'c said and repeated his earlier question. "Do you not feel at home at O'Neill's house?"

Daniel looked at the color samples again. Sandy with a hint of golden dust. "You know I do," he said. "I used to feel at home there long before... this happened." I felt at home there more than at my own place, he thought and for a moment the pain was back. Right there. In his face. Taking his breath away.

He focused on the Sandy Dusty Gold – the name of this particular color. He took the sample card from Teal'c's large hand and tried to imagine Jack's spare room... his room... with walls in the color of the desert during sunset.

"Here you are! What'cha looking at?" Jack pushed the cart down the aisle, followed by Sam.

Daniel squared his shoulders and held out the color sample to Jack. "Um, can I paint my room like this?"

Jack took the card and squinted at it. "The sandy one or the weird green one?"

Daniel had to grin. "The sandy one. With the gold dust sprinkles."

"I love it," Sam said. "It's so... you, Daniel. I mean, it just... you know, suits you."

"When I looked out of our tent on Abydos and the sun was just setting... I looked out and there was the desert and it looked like this and when we took a walk sometimes... we'd see the great pyramid in the distance. When I was a kid, we had kind of the same view at Giza and there was the Sphinx," Daniel explained before he could hold himself back. A bit embarrassed he shrugged it off. "The color is just... close to what the desert was like at sunset."

Sam gave him that sad smile he usually hated, but he couldn't blame them for being sad, right? Not when he was sad himself more often than not? Memories of Egypt and Abydos were just the tip of the iceberg and they all knew it.

Daniel could go with a theme of `Shades of Woods' - rich green and brown tones giving the room a sense of the great woods and nature spells fairies and elves hidden in age old trees. He could go with that theme and find a well of memories made in Minnesota that felt warm and cozy – but also too raw and fresh to really enjoy.

"So," Jack said, rubbing his hands, "Let's see how many buckets of that stuff we need."

***

"Jack?" Daniel's voice was just a tad raspy, his eyes just the slightest bit red rimmed. He was sitting on one of the packed boxes, holding – no clutching – a framed picture with both hands. It was a photo of SG-1 at Jack's house, out on his deck. Better times, pre-downsizing times.

Jack stopped hammering the nail in the last box that was labeled `Storage'. "What's up, buddy?"

"Do you want to have this?" He held the picture out to Jack, almost thrusting it at him.

Jack straightened up, strolled over to where Daniel was sitting and crouched next to his box. "Why don't you keep it? Put it on a shelf or on your desk."

Daniel shook his head. "No!" Then he amended it by saying, "Not yet. Can you keep it... for me?"

"Yeah, sure. Put it to the other stuff we're taking home."

Daniel nodded, got up and carefully placed the framed photo in one of the two cardboard boxes that were labeled `home' in Daniel's neat handwriting. The writing hadn't changed with the downgrade. It was still Daniel's. Neat and easy to read, not like Jack's sloppy scrawl.

They had worked all day in here, getting everything ready for the storage guys to pick up in the morning and deciding what to take home into Daniel's new room. Jack had his own box with things Daniel didn't want to keep, but Jack wanted to keep for him. Or keep to remember him. Big him.

He'd sneaked in a spare pair of Big Daniel's glasses, an old cream colored sweater – the one Daniel used to wear at home a lot, the one Jack had loved to take off him, the one that had been soft to the skin, worn and washed a hundred times, but had still held the scent of what used to be Jack's Daniel. A bandana, a green one, that should have been at the mountain because it belonged to Daniel's green BDUs, but had found its way into Daniel's apartment for some reason and never made it back to base. There was also an old stuffed toy, resembling a monkey with battered brown fur and dusty beady eyes. Daniel wanted it to go into trash, but Jack had rescued it and put it into his box. He wasn't sure why. Maybe someday Daniel would like this leftover from his first childhood back. Who knew?

Daniel had chosen books and books and more books to go with him. Some of his artifacts; Vessels, a papyrus scroll, some jars and other pottery Jack had forgotten the back-story off, if Daniel had ever shared it. There was an Egyptian funerary figure that would help its owner in the afterlife... just little things.

He decided not to take any of his swords or other medieval weapons that used to hang on his walls. That, and the piano, and most of his furniture went into storage. Daniel wanted his bed, his desk, chair, and bookshelves.

Jack had expected tears on this trip. Either open ones or hidden ones, later. He had expected that being confronted with his possessions, the artifacts, his journals, his furniture...any or all of it... would trigger the waterworks for Daniel. That it would deepen the pit Jack and Daniel were in ever since this had happened, with little breaks thrown in between when life seemed to go on as usual despite anything. Moments Jack was beginning to be grateful for because they meant a break from the constant reminder of what had turned their lives upside down.

But Daniel had gone through his stuff almost stoically, detached, like he was sorting out someone else's place, not his own.

It was the bathroom that had done it.

Or rather something he'd found in there.

Daniel had gone to take a leak and didn't return. It had taken Jack a while to notice because he and Teal'c had been busy dismantling the bed and carrying the parts down to the truck while Carter had been on her way to Jack's place with a couple of book-filled boxes in her car.

Jack had found him sitting on the closed toilet seat, holding his electric razor and sobbing quietly. Sometimes it was the little things in life he couldn't do anymore...

They had dried the tears, dumped the razor in the trashcan together with Daniel's after shave and the two glasses with two toothbrushes which were telling another sad story. Before Daniel had moved out of his base quarters and into Jack's spare room, Jack had done a clean sweep of his house, making sure the most glaring reminders of their past had been gone. Why the hell hadn't he thought about doing it here, too? Instead they had left Home Depot and decided to rush right over here and get things done before they changed their minds again.


It was already dark outside when Jack took a last look around the place. He and Teal'c would have to come back here tomorrow, let the storage guys in and clean it up, then return the keys to the landlord. But Daniel could stay with Carter. No need to drag him in here again.

"You ready to go?" he asked Daniel, who had dust in his hair and a bit of grime on his glasses. You didn't clean out an apartment without getting dirty and scaring spiders out of their hiding places

"Yeah." Daniel huffed a breath and gave him a lopsided grin. "Can we have pizza?"

"Team dinner at our place," Jack said. "My treat."

Teal'c shouldered a last box with books like it contained cotton candy. "Indeed."

Carter opened the door for them and they went out into the crisp night air to go home.

***

Daniel watched with growing interest as Jack and Sam discussed the handling of the shiny new electric paint roller they had gotten from Home Depot on Saturday. Sam was explaining to Jack how she'd rigged up the high-speed motor and where he could adjust how much paint he wanted to use. Jack was appropriately impressed and Daniel thought his friend couldn't wait to get started.

He didn't get the excitement over an electric paint roller, but he knew how much Jack loved his combo kit power tool. Maybe the paint roller was another of those cliché male things Daniel never embraced or was interested in. Tools were tools. They had a purpose; he knew how to use them and that was all there was to it. Like cars, they were just a useful thing to make life easier.

"All right, kids, watch this."

Humming the tune of the Ghostbuster movie, Jack adjusted the hose and made a show of drawing the paint roller and aiming it at the wall. The paint tank was strapped to his back, filled to the brim with Glidden Premium Sandy Dusty Gold.

They dutifully gathered behind Jack and watched with bated breath as he pulled the trigger and demonstrated to them the quick and efficient way this paint roller worked.

In theory.

In reality Daniel and Sam jumped out of the way while Teal'c did his eyebrow climbing thing when Sandy Dusty Gold was spraying the wall, the ceiling, the (thankfully tarp covered) wood floor, Jack and all of them. The paint was shooting out of several small openings in the paint roller.

"CARTER!" Jack bellowed, wrestling with the off switch.

"It appears this machine does not work properly," Teal'c pointed out, wiping Sandy Dusty Gold from his tattoo.

"Oh my god," Sam murmured, rushing towards Jack just as he was spinning around, showering her in paint.

"The damn switch is stuck," Jack groused, jerking the paint roller away from her, to the left.

Daniel sidestepped the spluttering volley of Sandy Dusty Gold coming his way.

"Let me try, sir...." Sam reached for the switch with one hand, brushing paint out of her hair with the other. "It's stuck," she confirmed.

"Ya think?!" Jack tried to shrug out of the straps holding the paint tank to his back and the window got splattered in paint.

"Get the batteries out," Sam suggested, flustered, pulling at the tank to help.

"I'm TRYING!"

Daniel watched as the paint tank hit the floor, the hose still chucking out Sandy Dusty Gold. He watched as Sam's now slightly golden hair gleamed in the sunlight coming through the gold streaked tarp protecting the window, saw Jack tackling the machine, trying to find the battery slot.

He turned to Teal'c and saw the silent mirth in his eyes. And as he watched all this, something stirred in Daniel's belly like a feather, like a tickle and it rose into his throat and he slapped his hands over his mouth in an attempt to keep it inside, but it wanted out and he started to giggle. Then to laugh.

The fountain of paint died and the motor stopped purring, Jack and Sam stared at him, perplexed, then at each other. Both with sprinkles of Sandy Dusty Gold in their hair, on their arms and t-shirts.

"Sorry," Daniel sniggered. "Sorry, that's really... I shouldn't... I... just..."

"You think that's funny?" Jack growled as he surged to his feet much faster than his knees should allow him to.

"No, of course not," Daniel said, and burst out laughing again. He couldn't help it, it was just like in that show with Tim Allen Jack used to watch occasionally. He wanted to stop, but somehow couldn't. It was that childish thing which usually annoyed him to no end, but right now made him think that Jack and Sam looked hilarious.

Sam, who was crouched by the Ghostbuster paint machine, snorted. "Actually, it is."

Jack flicked paint off his fingertips at her, hitting the front of her shirt. "Yeah?"

She made a ewww face, but grinned. "Yeah!"

"Right," Jack said and lunged for Daniel, who saw the glistening wet paint on Jack's hands and, with a little screech, tried to hide behind Teal'c. But it was too late. Jack was after him, grabbed him and scrubbed a hand through Daniel's hair, leaving it spiked and paint streaked. "Let's share the fun," Jack shouted with glee.

"Noooo..." Daniel was jerked off his feet and found himself upside down, held by one of Jack's arms, his shirt slipping from his pants. The paint slick fingers of Jack's free hand scuttled over his belly and ribs. Oh, how much he hated this. "Stop, stop, Jack!" he howled, shrieking with laughter. Oh god, how much he loved this.

Just as his glasses started slipping off his nose, Jack flipped him over and put him back on his feet. Dizzy, Daniel dropped on the floor and watched Sam fiddle with the paint machine.

"I'd say we get out the old fashioned paint rollers," Jack said dryly. "But at least it gave paint-boy here a good laugh."

"Wait a minute, sir, I think I found the problem," Sam said. "You forgot to close this valve to adjust the paint flow."

Jack glared at her. "What, you saying it's my fault?"

Sam shrugged. "Yes." After a pause, she added. "Sir."

Jack scowled, wiped his hands on his jeans and said, "Anyone up for lunch?"

Everyone was.

They washed up as good as possible and when they all met in Jack's kitchen to make sandwiches and heat up leftover tomato soup in a pot on the stove, only faint layers of Sandy Dusty Gold were left on them, except for their clothes which were probably ruined for good.

"I have an idea," Sam said, stirring the soup in her bowl when they were at the kitchen table, eating. "I was thinking about what you said about Abydos and Egypt when we were at Home Depot, Daniel. What do you think about a painting on the back wall of your room? Over your bed."

Daniel looked at her, nonplussed. "A painting?" he parroted.

"Yes, an airbrush. I was thinking of a pyramid or a sphinx. Or both. And palm trees."

"But how are we going to do that?" He glanced at Jack. "Could we do that? Would you be okay with that?"

Jack dipped bread into his soup. "It's your room, Daniel, so it's your call. But I gotta ask, Carter, how are we going to do that?"

"I've done it before. I know how to airbrush. I airbrushed my motorbike. It can't be that different. We need a pyramid stencil and a sphinx, but I'm sure we can find those online. And palm tree stencils," Sam said.

Teal'c surprised them all when he told them that he had decorated his home on Chulak with wall murals. "Drey'auc asked me to decorate the wall of our bedroom with the Chulkian fertility tree, which was believed to help couples to conceive many healthy children."

"That's great," Sam said, then looked expectantly at Daniel. "What do you think?"

Daniel instantly liked the idea, but as usual couldn't just say he liked it because it seemed like a lot of work and time consuming and he didn't feel they should do something like that for him. "I don't know," he said reluctantly. "It's a lot of trouble and you all just have a week of leave and I don't want to hog all your time."

"It will be fun," Sam assured him.

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. "I have no obligations for the time of our stand down."

"I'm game," Jack said. "I guess that means a return visit to Home Depot to get all the stuff we need."

Daniel still wasn't sure. "All my stuff is taking up all the space in your garage."

"Where it can stay until your room is ready." Jack ruffled his hair. "C'mon. You want it and you know you want it, eh?"

And he did. It sounded like something he'd like to look at when he got up in the mornings or went to bed. Or when he was just sitting in his room, reading.

Doing this would make a cool distraction, too. From having to be off work for a whole week and being confronted with lots of free time to think about... stuff. There was only so much reading or watching TV one could do while the weather was still drizzly and windy with not much to do outside.

Daniel gave his friends and teammates a tentative smile. "Yes. Yes, I think I... I like the idea."

***

Daniel stretched leisurely, pulled his covers up to his chin and gave Jack one of those rare contented smiles that made his face light up in a certain way, making him appear very young.

"Happy in your own bed, buddy?"

"Oh, yes," Daniel said. "I missed my bed." He let his gaze swipe across his room. "And my stuff." Some of the books were still in boxes on the floor because they had to put up the last bookshelf which was still propped up next to the door in pieces. But most of Daniel's things were sorted and put away. His desk was by the window, his other two bookshelves opposite the bed. The artifacts he had taken from the apartment were dusted off and placed on a wallboard above the desk.

"It feels huge though," Daniel said after a moment of more stretching and snuggling deeper into his blankets. "The bed. It's so big because I'm so small now."

Jack had to agree. Daniel should look lost in the spacious adult bed. It was bigger than the old spare room bed had been. But somehow he didn't. Maybe because he seemed so much at home in there. Snug as a bug in a rug.

Daniel tilted his head to look at the pyramid and the sphinx in the distance, and the palm trees by the sphinx. There was just the hint of blue-ish sky and clouds merging with the overall tones of sand, terracotta and dusty gold. The airbrush matched the other painted walls perfectly, the leaves of the palm trees a touch of green in the desert.

Carter, Teal'c and the kid had done a marvelous job with this one. And Jack had gotten the hang of the Ghostbuster gizmo and painted all the other walls. Together with the light birch wood of Daniel's furniture the room was now a warm comfy Daniel-zone.

Cozy.

"It's very beautiful," Daniel said as though he was reading Jack's mind again. And then he added, "I love it. It seems so real, like an opening in the wall. Like you step through the gate and are in another world."

"Yeah," Jack said, moved by the touch of wonder in Daniel's voice over a painting on the wall. Sometimes this mix of Big and Little Daniel was a cosmic pain in the neck. Sometimes it was precious and endearing. "Turned out great."

"Jack?" Daniel asked in that voice that usually started a meaning of life conversation. They were having a lot of those at night these days. Sometimes it was just to draw out the bedtime, sometimes there was more to it. Mostly Jack didn't care because these moments were usually the best of the day, no matter how difficult a day it had been.

"Daniel?" Jack replied, going with the familiar script

"I'm going to get big again one day." There was a glare, daring Jack to say otherwise. But it melted away quickly.

"But?"

"But until I do, this is the best room I ever had. Thanks for not letting me order white paint and be done with it," Daniel said, a faint blush creeping into his cheeks.

Jack smirked. "You're welcome."

When they had said their good nights and Jack pushed the light switch by the door, he turned back and looked at the small form under the covers, curled up like a ball now, hopefully ready to go to dreamland.

No matter how much he loved this Little Daniel - and he did - Jack's heart still ached for the lover he'd lost and he knew they had a long way to go until all the wounds were healed and they'd made their way out of that bottomless pit.

But today, at least, they had moved forward.

And they had put some colors back into Daniel's life.

Fin