Summary: A little gardening causes more that a little problems.
Word Count: 4190
Notes: The final story in the Little Danny Group Summer Challenge Trilogy. The prompt was ‘In the Garden’. Beta by annejackdanny.
The view out of my French windows onto the back yard is depressing to say the least. The winter seems to have lasted longer than I ever remember; the pristine white snow that made the world look bright and clean is long gone. The sky is a uniform military grey and the temperature is hovering just about zero; too warm for snow but too cold for anything to even consider wanting to grow, including the grass which is just laying dormant, mashed under the heavy weight of a world waiting for spring. Now all that’s left is dirty slush and a muddy trail leading from the deck to the half melted remains of Daniel’s snow Jaffa, complete with drooping arms and a gold braid snake tattoo that seems to have migrated from its forehead onto its deformed cheek. I don’t think Apophis would be too impressed with his Frosty First Prime right about now.
Even Daniel’s usually irrepressible spirit seems dimmed. He trekked out to that damned snowman every day at first, futzing and fiddling with it, making sure it looked its best. Once the fresh snowfalls had stopped and the world stopped being quite so bright, the kid seemed to lose colour right along with it. He’s been struggling with his ataxia; every faltering step forward seems to be followed by something that sets him staggering back, both actually and metaphorically. The latest of these was two weeks ago. A fall caused by his weaker leg turning under him while he was having his PT at Academy Hospital.
Usually I’m right there when he has his therapy with Karl. It helps me to know what exercises the Marine Sergeant has set and also gives me a good idea what Danny’s limits are. As Janet pointed out to me, I may have been injured in the past and had to undergo therapeutic treatments and so had adult Daniel, but he’s a kid now and his body has different needs and tolerances. The Jarhead is good at what he does and seems to know when to push and when to back off and up until now Daniel was making progress; building the muscles in his affected arm and leg and generally getting more in-tune with the new, damaged body the Other’s have foisted on him.
Wouldn’t you know the one time I get called into the SGC – for a waste of time meeting with Pentagon brass as it happened – is the time the kid has to go and fall, causing a nasty sprain to his ankle and bruising all down his right side. Karl was beside himself, eaten up with guilt that it had happened on his watch. The look he gave me when I arrived back at the hospital wasn’t quite fear but I could see he was expecting to be bawled out. Thing is, Daniel has done what he always did so well in the field; made friends. He has that rough tough Marine sonuvabitch wrapped around his little finger. Members of the Corps, who’ve had to undergo his particular kind of sanctioned torture, would love to witness that 6 foot 6 inch, 230 pound, man-mountain pretending to be a ballerina as he encourages Daniel to work on his balance. I knew he would rather die than let my kid be hurt, so I cut him some slack. I only gave him the level five, Black ops, ‘I-can-kill-you-with-my-pinkie’ stare, rather than the full out ‘I-can-kill-you-so-quick-you-won’t- know-you’re dead-till-you-see-your-feet-flash-by-as-your-severed-head-rolls-past-them’ glare I know he was expecting. Hey! I’m Colonel Jack O’Neill – my reputation precedes me.
So the poor kid was set back a couple of months and building and maintaining that stupid snowman has been the only thing keeping him from dwelling as only Daniel can. But now even that small joy has been taken away and the mood in the house is less than happy.
I turn as I hear him limping across the wood floor. He makes a very interesting sight. His left arm is too weak and uncoordinated for him to use crutches so Karl suggested a walking cane. Teal’c decided that he was just the right alien to find one for his favourite 6 year old and came up with what I can only describe as a pimp cane; black lacquered and banded with ornate silver rings, topped with a metal skull with red crystal eyes. It had to be shortened by at least ten inches, having been made for a man of at least Teal’c’s size. Of course the kid loves it and never has to be reminded to use it. Strutting around the house like some gangsta rapper, all he needs is several pounds of gold chains and a ‘bling’ ring and he wouldn’t look out of place on MTV.
It’s a surprise and a pleasure to see a big smile on his face as he limps up to me and strangles my leg with one of his patented hugs. Since we signed all the paperwork to make him officially my son he’s been much more tactile and I love it. I’d forgotten how much the feel of a little body squeezed tight against yours can make the worst day seem like Christmas and birthdays all wrapped into one.
That’s another thrill I hope I never get over. Hearing him call me that makes me feel twenty feet tall. He says it like there is nothing I could possibly do to ever disappoint him; I hope he’s right. I’ll do my best.
“I was wondering…”
And those are three words that usually cause me trouble or cost me money – or both.
“What were you wondering, buddy,” I ask with more than a little trepidation. Even as a little boy Daniel still has the ability to make the simplest request into the most complicated mission.
“Well,” he drawls, “I’m not sure you’ll say yes, but…”
He’s still so unsure of what it means to have someone who loves him unconditionally. He’ll often hold back on asking for something and I have to prise it out of him with a crowbar.
“When I was talking to Mrs Desala this morning she suggested…”
The rushing of blood in my ears joins the block of ice in my belly to give me an almost out of body experience. The fear is so tangible I swear I can taste the adrenalin as it rushes around my body. The kid gives a startled squeak as I gather him up and hold him tightly against me. I know it’s futile, (Mrs.’Oma-god I’m a freaking glowy squid’ can incinerate a platoon of Jaffa without even breaking a sweat after all) but I swear if she tries to take Daniel again I’m not letting him go without a fight.
“Daddy…daddy, you’re hurting me.”
Finally his scared little voice gets through the scream of ‘no, No, NO’ that’s echoing around my head and I look down into big round blue eyes that are staring back at me. I’m scaring him and there are two fat tears rolling down his cheeks. Dragging up every mind control trick I know I manage to will my fingers from their death grip on his little body and I plaster a grin on my face.
“Sorry, Danny. It’s just…” I’m disgusted to hear the tremble in my voice. I’m supposed to be trained to show no fear; but I am afraid, scared outta my tiny little mind. I sink shakily into the reclining chair and with great difficulty let the kid sit up on my lap. I do a quick sit rep of the room and then kick myself for reacting like a wet-behind-the-ears recruit.
I clear my throat and I’m glad to hear my voice come out a little more like normal.
“So, Mrs. Desala came to see you this morning,” I ask him, trying not to grit my teeth as anger starts to ride the wave of adrenalin started by fear.
He nods, still looking at me as if I might explode like a primed block of C4. “Yes,” he shrugs, “just like every morning.” His expression is guileless and I realise he thinks this is OK. If the Wicked Witch of Glowland has been visiting him every morning then it will seem normal to him. I take my rapidly escalating temper by the throat and ram it back down into a small corner of my brain, where it growls and prowls, waiting to be let out. But I have to stay calm; have to think this out carefully. If she wanted to take him away then she would’ve had ample opportunity over the last few months. Something else is going on and I need to tread softly to find out what it is.
“Daddy? Did I do something wrong?” His bottom lip is trembling and I realise I’ve been sitting here looking like I’m about to fly apart. Danny being who he is – or was – immediately thinks it’s his fault. I need to nip that in the bud right away.
“No buddy, I was just thinking. Soooo,” I try for nonchalant but probably just look constipated. “What did your…erm…social worker have to say this morning.”
“She said there were new shoots from old roots and that one must plant the seed in fertile ground for it to flourish,” he quotes and I know it’s verbatim because he still has the most amazing short term recall even if his long term memory is shot.
“So what do you think she means,” I ask him, hoping he might have some idea as I have nothing, nada, niet.
He nods, this time enthusiastically. “We need to plant a garden, daddy.”
Of course it seems obvious but my experience with the ascended tells me that they never, ever say what they mean and what they do say never means what you think it does. But still, the kid seems to be excited by the idea and it’s the first time in weeks I’ve seen that little spark of excitement in his eyes. Only trouble is…
“It’s a bit early in the year for planting in the garden, Danny. The frost and snow will kill things before they get a chance to grow,” I explain apologetically.
“We can plant bulbs,” he exclaims. “I went on the internet…”
Well of course he did; Daniel’s first port of call – when in doubt, research, research, research.
“…and there are lots of spring-planting bulbs that we can plant now and then in two or three months when the weather gets warmer we’ll have lots of flowers.” His eyes are shining with hope and I can’t refuse him when he looks at me with those big baby-blues.
I hug him to me, struggling with the compulsion to hold onto him and never let him out of my sight but I know that’s just plain stupid, so I kiss the top of his white blond head and with a massive force of will set him on his feet.
“I feel a trip to the garden center coming on,” I wink at him and try on my best grin, hoping it looks natural. I’m obviously covering better than I thought ‘cause he gives me a huge smile of his own and then picks up his cane from the floor (where it fell when I scooped him up) and limps off as fast as his lopsided legs can carry him. I fight the insane urge to chase after him; instead I pick up the phone and dial the mountain. When in doubt get your team around. They didn’t make me a colonel for trying to go it alone and as well as getting physical help I can fill them in on our uninvited guest. After all three minds are better than one – in fact Carter’s mind is better than a hundred of me, so maybe together we might make sense of all this.
Back from the garden center and $250 lighter in the wallet, me, Danny, Sam and Teal’c go out into the back yard to scope out the best place for the kid’s bulb garden. I’m not surprised when he informs us that he has a design in mind.
He was very adamant about the bulbs he wanted; just three varieties. It didn’t matter how much we tried to sway him, he was set on some tiny Iris Reticulata in dark and pale blue along with white Grape Hyacinths. We bought up the entire stock of both as Daniel said the bed was going to be – and I quote – ‘quite big’. We also managed to get Daniel a ‘Young Gardener’s’ kit with a trowel and hand fork and some rather neat little gardening gloves that fit him like…well like a glove.
With Daniel as foreman, Teal’c as an alien back-hoe and Carter and I in charge of transporting spoil there’s soon a large round bed cut into the lawn at the back of the house, with the topsoil turned over and raked flat. By the time we were finished us three adults were sore and weary. Daniel, however, had to be physically lifted by Teal’c and taken into the house to be bathed and jammied, complaining all the way about how he wanted to plant the bulbs “right NOW.” We managed to deflect his pout with pizza and a round of tall tales told by yours truly.
So now he’s fast asleep, curled in my lap. I look down at his sweet little face and I’m fighting tears at the thought that Oma is still hanging around and may try to take my boy from me; take Daniel away – again.
“If she was going to take him, she could have done it anytime,” Carter says quietly, trying her hardest to reassure me.
“There is little we can do if the Others decide to ascend DanielO’Neill again, O’Neill.” Teal’c intones, “But you cannot hold him in your arms forever. We have to trust that they will not.”
“I know, T,” I sigh, “I just feel so damn helpless.”
Sam nods. “Perhaps I could set up some kind of proximity alarm, or an intercom, so at least you’ll know if there is anything or anyone in his room.” She bites her lip as she thinks about the logistics. “I’d have to key in human physiological parameters so you and Danny don’t set them off, but it’s doable I think.” Now she’s got that far away look in her eyes which means she’s already drawing plans in her head.
“Thanks, Carter,” I say with feeling. Sometimes I forget these people are not just my team, my friends but they’re also our family – mine and Danny’s and they’ll do anything they can to protect him.
My night was long and dream filled – nightmares really, with Danny being taken from me in a thousand different ways. I dashed into his room at least ten times during the night, just to make sure he was still there. Eventually I must have fallen into an exhausted sleep because as I open my eyes it’s obvious that dawn was a fair few hours ago. The house is quiet – too quiet and I jump out of the bed as quickly as my poor old legs will let me and hobble painfully across the hallway to Danny’s room. My heart stops beating for a long moment as I take in the empty bed and the pyjama’s thrown haphazardly across the floor. I almost give in to the compulsion to scream when I hear the faint sound of a sweet little voice coming from downstairs.
“Baby, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the gray. Ooh, The more I get of you, The stranger it feels, yeah. And now that your rose is in bloom. A light hits the gloom on the gray. There is so much a man can tell you, So much he can say. You remain…”
I manage to creep up on him to find him sitting at the kitchen table wearing his outdoor clothes which are liberally covered in soil as is the floor around his feet. But the sound of him singing a Seal song – one I know he had on repeat on his iPod when he used to go running – is what stops me in my tracks. Once again his old life comes bleeding out when I least expect it and my heart aches for my friend and the life denied him. I don’t want to scare him so I wait for him to realise I’m there.
“Morning, Daddy,” he says cheerily when he finally catches sight of me, his grin lighting up his face. “I planted my bulbs.”
He says it as if it was the work of minutes but I know that there must have been 400 bulbs in those nets we bought and I would be hard pressed to plant them in a day let alone a couple of hours.
“All by yourself?” I ask, warily looking around for Sam or Teal’c. But we’re alone in the kitchen and a trickle of ice water runs down my neck. Suddenly he looks a little unsure.
“Well I went out at…erm…” he falters as he realises that he shouldn’t have been able to go outside the house at all. My alarm system is state of the art, especially since a certain ex-archaeologist came to live here and only I know the code. I’m certain I armed the system last night and yet obviously Daniel has been outside as there are several pounds of soil on my kitchen floor.
He swallows and his eyes are full of wary concern. He knows he’s broken one of my most steadfast rules – He goes nowhere and does nothing without telling me first. It’s a punishable offence but I’m more concerned with the fact that I slept through what should have been enough decibels to wake the dead – on another planet.
“Did you turn off the alarm, Danny,” I ask evenly, trying not to let him see how very freaked I am. He’s too small to reach the control panel even if he stood on a kitchen chair, but given the company he’s been keeping lately I’m not ruling anything out.
“N…no, Daddy,” he stammers out, finally realising potentially how much trouble he’s in. “I just went outside with Shifu and we planted…”
That’s it; I am finally past my last nerve. “Fuck it, you glowy bitch,” I shout at the ceiling, knowing I look stupid but too angry to care. Daniel’s eyes are round as saucers as he watches his daddy curse at the empty room but I don’t have it in me to reassure him. “Why don’t you and the Others leave my son alone,” I rant, feeling every shred of control I thought I had melt away. “Haven’t you hurt him enough?”
Suddenly there are little hands clawing at my sweatpants and I look down to see Danny’s terrified face staring up at me. “Daddy, please don’t. No one is hurting me. I’m fine…”
And just like that my anger is gone and I see what I’m doing to him. Scooping him up into my arms I take us both to the master bath and sit on the closed toilet seat, cradling him in my arms. He’s crying now and all I want to do is join him. I feel so useless. How can I protect him against something I can’t see? How can I fight beings that could crush me with a wave of a tentacle? I need him to know that I don’t want him to leave.
“Please, Danny, even if Mrs Desala says you have to go with her, please try to stay here with me,” I beg him. “I’d miss you so much.” I do miss him – the big him – every day and I think it would kill me to lose this little version of him as well.
“I don’t want to go anywhere, Daddy,” he sobs and even though it must be hurting his damaged leg he kneels up on my thighs and puts a hand each side of my face. I’m so close to losing it; just hanging on by a thread, determined not to make him anymore upset than he already is.
“Mrs. Desala and Shifu said goodbye today,” he sniffs. “I think they know I’m alright now I’m your real son. They helped me plant my garden and then they left.” He looks into my eyes beseechingly. “Is that alright, Daddy?”
I hold him to me and breathe him in; the sweet smell of his little boy hair mixes with the rich dark loam of the soil that’s clinging to his clothes. “Yes, son, that’s very alright,” I press a kiss into his hair and rock him gently as his tears wet my neck. I don’t know why, but I think he’s right. She really has gone for good this time and I’m shaking with relief.
Daniel’s stopped crying now, so I help him strip off his clothes and start a bath running. I need to get him clean and then put a smile back on his face. I try to put the last few days out of my mind but I can’t help this unsettled feeling that there was more to Oma’s visits than checking up on Daniel and the result of their screwed up form of justice. I resign myself to never knowing what she was up to, but I don’t have to like it.
Three months later
Spring is finally here. The grass looks green and ready to be mowed and Daniel’s garden is in full bloom. I have to say he chose well. The flowers look really good together and bring a vivid splash of spring colour to the back yard.
Daniel has been meticulous about looking after the flower bed. No weed has stood a chance against his trusty fork; slugs and snails have been picked off by hand and transported to the other side of the garden, away from the tender leaves. There were no chemicals allowed and somehow he managed to keep it all healthy.
I’m thinking about taking the mower out of the shed to give it an overhaul before the first mowing of the season when Daniel comes sidling over, wearing a very Daniel-ish look on his face – you know, the one that says he knows something you don’t know and he’s going to take great delight in showing you.
“You look very pleased with yourself,” I comment, waiting for the shoe to drop.
“Can we go up on the observation deck,” he asks. There’s an air of suppressed excitement about him that doesn’t exactly bode well. I get a sinking feeling.
“There’s no stars out yet, buddy,” I tease him, “we’ll have to wait till its dark.”
“Daaa-ddy,” he drawls, giggling. “We won’t be able to see it in the dark.”
He tugs on my hand and I’m dragged over to the ladder before I can ask exactly what it is I’m supposed to be seeing. He knows he’s not allowed up here without me and it seems like it’s important to him so I just give in. So I’m a push over – so sue me.
I stand behind him as he makes his way carefully up the ladder. The PT has really helped his coordination and he manages it much better than he would have done three months ago. I stay a few rungs behind him not wanting to get kicked in the face by an errant sneaker, so I hear him gasp before I can see what he’s so excited about.
As I join him at the railing I’m rocked back on my heels by what is spread out in front of me.
Daniel’s flower bed lies right beneath us. But, rather than just being a random sea of blue and white, there’s a definite pattern only fully recognisable from up here. Concentric circles of dark and pale blue irises make a pretty faithful reproduction of the Stargate puddle, the ripples intricately picked out in the two colours. Right across the middle, formed by the white hyacinth’s, are eight glyphs, almost pristine in their precision.
“Danny,” I whisper, What…?”
He’s so enthralled he’s almost vibrating with excitement.
“It’s an address,” he says confidently.
I can’t even begin to understand how, with his Swiss cheese memory, he knows that or how he knew what we’d see when we came up here. All I can think is ‘there are eight glyphs’. The only eight chevron address I know is the Asgard home planet and it isn’t that one (believe me that’s one address I will never forget). If this truly is an address it must be for a planet in another galaxy. But which one? There’s only one thing left to say; just one question I have to ask.
“To where, Danny?”
He turns to me with shining eyes and breathes out one word with such reverence that it’s almost like a prayer.