Major Edward Hancock entered the office of the base commander and stood at attention. The fact that he was not told to stand at ease confirmed that he was in a lot of trouble.
"Major Hancock, it has come to my attention that you have made some remarks that are disrespectful to women and, specifically, to the mother of my son."
"May I speak freely, sir?"
"Yes, you may."
"My comment was just guy talk, sir, things guys say all the time. If Major Carter hadn't gone off about it, it would have been no big deal."
George frowned. "Major, I don't care if you consider it to be guy talk. Showing any disrespect toward women while you are on this base will not be tolerated. Is that understood?"
Hancock stiffened his spine. "Yes, sir."
"Regarding your first remark, not only was it disrespectful to Doctor Jackson's mother, it also showed disrespect toward me."
"No, sir!" Hancock objected. "My remark was not in any way meant to disrespect you, General."
"Nevertheless, that's what it did. I do not appreciate such a comment being made about a private moment in my past."
"I'm sorry, sir."
The general's features hardened even more. "Now, in regards to your second comment, the one you made directly to Major Carter—"
The ringing of the phone interrupted him. He answered the call, talking for a few seconds with the person, then put the call on hold. He focused his attention back on Hancock.
"I need to take this call, so I'll be brief, Major. I am appalled that a man under my command would show such disrespect toward women. Such an attitude is a disgrace and unbecoming a member of the United States Armed Forces. I would suggest that you learn to show greater respect toward women in the future. If you cannot do so, then I will gladly accept your resignation from military service. Do I make myself clear?"
Hancock's back stiffened even more. "Yes, sir!" he snapped out.
As Hancock left the office and walked down the hall, every woman he passed glared at him, some with temperatures approaching that of an iceberg, others as if they'd like to add a few more bruises to the one Major Carter gave him.
Perhaps it would be a good idea to request a transfer.
By the end of the week, things on base had pretty much settled down, at least in regards to the whole story about Daniel and his parentage. From what the archeologist had heard, Major Hancock was still in boiling hot water with the female personnel. Word around base was that he was going to transfer out. Whether or not that was true was something Daniel didn't know, although if he was Hancock, he would definitely transfer.
It was just after lunch on Friday afternoon when George came into Daniel's office, giving him the warm, gentle smile that he'd come to know very well since the day he learned that he was the man's son.
"How are things going today?" the general asked.
The general took a seat. "I'd like you to come to the house tomorrow evening for a little family gathering."
Daniel was instantly nervous. "Oh. Um . . . O-okay."
"It seems that Kate has been talking up a storm about you, and Gary and the kids all want to meet you."
"She'll be there as well, though she'll be coming later in the evening."
Daniel nodded. "Do you want me to bring anything?"
"No, Daniel. Just bring yourself. Kate will be doing the cooking. Thankfully, she inherited some of her grandmother's skill in the kitchen."
"What about your wife? Couldn't she cook?"
George smiled fondly in remembrance. "I loved my wife dearly, but cooking was not one of her strengths. She never gave me food poisoning, but indigestion was not uncommon."
Daniel smiled. "On Abydos, learning how to cook is a must for any woman who wants a husband since married men do not cook . . . although that didn't stop Sha're from getting me to grind the flour." His smile softened. "I think she took advantage of the fact that I was from a society in which husbands do things that are considered woman's work to the Abydonians."
George chuckled. "It sounds like she was a smart woman."
Daniel nodded, his expression softening into remembrance with a touch of deep sadness. "Yes, she was."
Understanding what Daniel was feeling, George briefly touched his shoulder.
"Well, dinner starts at 6:30," he said in a bright tone, "so don't be late."
Late that afternoon, Daniel returned to his office to find an envelope on his desk. He opened it to discover that it contained the resignation of Dale Bayless. Sighing, Daniel read over the words. The man had been pretty blunt when citing his reasons for leaving, basically saying that he didn't see eye-to-eye with "management", meaning Daniel, and that he believed his chances for advancement to be slim.
Daniel considered going to talk with Bayless, but decided that there probably wouldn't be any point to it. Obviously, the man was right. He and Daniel were never going to see eye-to-eye about how things should be done, and, apparently, Bayless was unwilling to adapt and change the way he did things.
Unhappy that it had to end like this, Daniel began filling out the necessary paperwork to process the man's resignation.
It was 6:29 Saturday night when Daniel pulled up in front of the general's house. Feeling like he really should bring something, he'd gotten a bottle of wine and a six-pack of beer.
This time, it wasn't his father who answered the door, but a fair-haired little girl of around seven.
"Are you my uncle Daniel?" she asked bluntly.
Daniel smiled. "Yes, I am. You must be Kayla."
George appeared with a smile. "Ah, I should have known she'd beat me to the door. She's opened it five time in the last fifteen minutes, looking to see if you were here yet."
As Daniel came into the house, a dark-haired man around his age came up to them.
"Hello, I'm Gary, Kate's husband."
Daniel shook his hand. "Hello."
"George has probably already told you that we've heard quite a bit about you from Kate." Gary smiled. "I think the word 'genius' was used more than once."
Daniel's head ducked in embarrassment. "She probably exaggerated."
"Not unless you don't have the three PhD's and can't speak the twenty-three languages she told us about."
"Oh. Um . . . yeah, that part's true."
"What's a genius?" Kayla asked.
"Someone who is very, very smart," her father replied.
George called out, "Tessa, come say hello to your uncle Daniel."
A few seconds later, a girl of around nine appeared from the kitchen and came up to stand close to her grandfather.
"Hi," she said a little shyly.
Daniel smiled brightly. "Hello, Tessa. It's nice to meet you. That's a pretty dress you're wearing."
Tessa ducked her head shyly. "Thank you."
"Here. Let me take those," Gary said, gesturing at the beer and wine.
Daniel handed them to him, and they all went into the living room, Gary making a brief trip to the kitchen first to put away the beverages. Daniel sat on the couch, Kayla plopping right down beside him.
"You're really, really smart?"she asked, gazing up at the archeologist innocently.
"Oh, I'm not nearly as smart as a lot of people. In fact, there's a woman I work with named Samantha who's a lot smarter than me."
George smiled. "I doubt that Major Carter would agree with that statement, Daniel. Your knowledge and expertise just lie along different paths."
Just then, Kate came out into the dining room, carrying a casserole dish. "Dinner's ready," she announced. She put the dish on the table, which was already set. As everyone came into the dining room, she hugged Daniel, then grabbed his hand.
"Come help me get the rest of the food," she said.
Not really having a choice, he let her pull him into the kitchen. She loaded his arms with a basket of rolls and a bowl of mixed vegetables, then she grabbed a plate of yams and baked potatoes.
The dinner was anything but a silent affair, everyone chatting animatedly as they ate. Not surprisingly, it was Kate who pulled Daniel into the conversation.
"So, Daniel. When's the last time you had a real home-cooked meal?" she asked.
"Um, not counting the ones I've cooked and the ones Jack has tried to cook? A long time."
"Jack O'Neill. He's a friend of mine in the mountain. I believe you know him."
"I like Jack!" Kayla piped up.
"Yeah, he's cool," said Tessa.
"So, you and Jack are friends?" Kate said. "That's surprising. You and he aren't anything alike."
Daniel smiled slightly. "Jack would be the first one to agree with you on that. Our friendship is rather . . . unusual, sometimes more of a love/hate relationship. We butt heads a lot."
"That doesn't surprise me a bit."
It didn't take too terribly long for Daniel to get into the spirit of the dinner. He just wished that he had more of an appetite and that the stomachache he'd had since last night would go away. Regardless, it felt good to be a part of something like this, to feel like a member of a loving family. How long had it been since he'd done something like this? There had been the family dinners on Abydos, all of them sitting on the floor in a circle around the platters of food, but for memories of a dinner similar to this one, he had to go back to sometime while his parents were still alive, perhaps the Christmas before Melburn's mother died, when they all went to her house to spend the holidays. Even though he was only six at the time, Daniel still recalled all the fun they had that Christmas and the way his grandmother doted on him. That Christmas, he met his uncle, Melburn's brother, for the first time in his memory. It also turned out to be the last time, the man dying just a couple of months later in a car accident.
"Hey, you okay?" Kate asked, giving him a nudge. He realized that he hadn't spoken in a while.
"Oh, um, yeah, I'm fine. Just thinking."
Daniel looked at her. "Is there anything that you consider to be private?"
Kate grinned. "Nope. So, what were you thinking?"
Daniel hesitated. He really didn't want to say, but he knew his sister wouldn't leave him alone until he did.
"I was just thinking that I haven't really been part of a family dinner like this one since . . . since my parents died," he admitted in a low voice. He glanced at Kate and saw her looking at him sadly.
"Your foster parents never did things like this?"
"Well, there were family dinners, of course, but I never really felt like I was a part of any of the foster families I was in. I wasn't with any of them long enough to feel a connection to them, so at those dinners, I always felt a little like an outsider."
"What's a foster family?" Kayla asked rather loudly. All the other conversations came to a halt.
"Um, that's a family that takes in a child who either doesn't have any parents or can't be with their parents for some reason," Daniel replied.
"How come you were in foster families?"
"Because . . . because my parents died when I was just a little older than you."
"But I thought Grandpa George is your daddy. Mommy said he is."
Daniel met his father's eyes.
"I'll explain this, Daniel," the man said. He turned back to Kayla. "Honey, Daniel's mother was a lady I met before I married your Grandma Margaret. We only knew each other for a little while, and I never saw her again after we said goodbye. When Daniel was born, I didn't know about him. He was raised by his mom and the man she married. I didn't find out that Daniel is my son until a little over a week ago."
"Oh. If you had known he was your son before, would he still have stayed with the foster families?"
"No, Kayla. I'd have brought him home, and my wife and I would have raised him with your mom and Aunt Vee."
"Then we wouldn't have just met him today."
George smiled. "That's right, sweetheart."
Satisfied with the explanation, the girl went back to eating.
The meal was finished a while later. George put on a video for the kids in the family room so that the adults could talk. The bottle of wine was opened and served.
"So, how did you meet Jack?" Kate asked. "When you came to work under Dad's command?"
"Oh, um, no, it was before then. I was hired by the military to do a special translation job. Jack was in charge of overseeing the project."
Kate studied him. "There's more to it than that, I'm betting."
"I can't talk about most of it because it's classified. We ended up going to a very remote part of Egypt, and there was . . . trouble. Most of Jack's men were killed, and I. . . . Well, it was bad for me for a while. But we had help from the natives, and we managed to take care of the ones who were causing the problem." Daniel smiled. "That's where I met my wife."
"She was Egyptian?" Gary asked.
Daniel nodded. "Her name was Sha're."
"Ah, so I finally hear about where you met your wife," Kate said. "You kept insisting that it was all classified."
"Well, the details on how and where I met her are classified, as is some of the stuff that happened during the year I stayed with her and her people."
"You stayed there for a year?"
"Over a year, actually." Daniel smiled again. "It was one of the best times of my life."
"What happened?" Kate asked quietly, sensing that there was a tragedy in this story.
Daniel didn't reply, and George stepped in.
"Kate, honey, it's something Daniel can't really talk about. I can only say that there was a terrible event that resulted in him coming back here and going to work in Cheyenne Mountain."
Kate looked at Daniel, whose head was down, shoulders hunched slightly forward. It wasn't tough to guess that, whatever happened, it had been really bad.
"All right," she said, knowing when not to push. She'd learned years ago that, when her father said something was classified, no amount of pushing would get her answers. She just had to accept that her brother was a part of that same world of secrecy.
"So, it sounds like that incident back when you met your wife was pretty terrifying," Gary said. "I can't imagine being in that kind of situation."
Daniel shrugged. "Oh, you get used to it eventually."
"So, you're saying that you've been in situations like that a lot? I didn't realize that you'd be in dangerous situations that often."
"Um . . . I travel out of the country a lot, often into volatile, war-torn areas. Jack's usually there with me, often keeping the bad guys away while I try to make friends and allies. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't."
Kate stared at him, frowning. "Well, now, I'm going to be worrying about you."
George reached over and patted her hand. "Daniel is underplaying his own impressive survival skills, honey. He's managed to get himself out of situations that would have proven fatal to many people."
Daniel was smiling slightly, eyes lowered. "Jack once tagged me with the name Lazarus because I've been clinically dead more than once and presumed dead more than once, not to mention missing a few times and injured more often than I care to count, but I still keep popping up to go out and do it again." He paused. "Well, not always popping up exactly."
The complete silence that followed made him look up. Kate and Gary were both gaping at him.
"Um . . . I . . . I guess I shouldn't have said that," he murmured in embarrassment.
"Damn," Gary said. "I didn't realize that diplomatic work could be so dangerous."
"Well, I also spend a lot of time on base doing translations and other things that many people would find pretty boring. But if you ever see me looking a little worse for wear, it probably means that I was off somewhere out of the country again, and things didn't go quite as uneventfully as we'd hoped."
Kate looked at her father. "Dad, how are you going to send Daniel off on these missions knowing that he might not come back alive?"
George's eyes went to his son. "The same way that other fathers do the same. Yes, I know that every time Daniel goes on one of those missions, there is the chance that he won't come back, but I also know that what he is doing out there is important, often vital to the security of both this country and others. Daniel made the decision to do this, and I respect and admire that choice. Being a civilian, it was not one he had to make. He and I have both made the choice to do what we can to protect all of us."
Kate looked at Daniel, smiling. "So, my brother is a real hero."
"Yes, he is," George agreed.
A pink-cheeked Daniel sat staring at his glass of wine.
"Oh, my!" Kate exclaimed. "You're the one who was lost, aren't you!"
Daniel looked at her. "What?"
"Kayla had a school play, and she called Dad to ask him to come, but he said that he couldn't because a very close friend of his was lost and needed help. But he showed up at the play anyway, saying that the person had been found. It was you, wasn't it."
Daniel met his father's eyes, remembering the telephone conversation he'd witnessed while out of phase and the words about him that had touched him so deeply.
"Yes, it was me," he admitted.
"So, what happened? Where were you?"
"Ummm. . . ."
"Let me guess. Classified?"
"You know, there are times when I'm tempted to enlist in the Air Force just so that I can be told all these secret things."
It was obvious that Kate was joking, so Daniel didn't bother telling her that, even if she did enlist, she still wouldn't be told all the secrets.
Deciding that the subject needed to be changed, he asked, "When is Veronica supposed to arrive?"
George looked at the clock. "Actually, I was expecting her to be here by now."
"She probably got stuck doing something at the office again," Kate said.
"It's Saturday," Daniel remarked. "Where does she work?"
"She's an interior decorator. She's really quite good, actually. She went to work for a company in Denver as an assistant shortly after getting out of college, and she's already been promoted to the position of one of their decorators and design consultants."
"Some of the little extra touches here are thanks to Vee," George said proudly.
Kate smiled. "Yes, if you don't want her to start giving you tons of advice on your apartment, you might want to keep her out of there. She'd have redecorated our entire house, if we'd let her."
"I'll keep that in mind," Daniel responded.
At that moment, a young woman with long brown hair and light blue-grey eyes came through the front door.
"Hi, everyone," she said. "Sorry I'm late again. It's not my fault this time. I had to get gas, and there was a mile-long line." Her eyes landed on Daniel and stayed there, examining him critically.
He got to his feet, feeling nervous again. "Um, hi. I'm Daniel."
Veronica stepped forward and held out her hand. "Veronica."
"For Pete's sake, Vee," Kate said in exasperation. "He's your brother, and you want him to shake your hand?"
Shooting her a glare, Vee dropped her hand.
Daniel, feeling extremely uncomfortable, said, "I, um . . . I hear that you're an interior decorator."
"It must take a good eye and artistic talent to do that."
Veronica relaxed a bit, always willing to chat about her job. "Well, that all depends. Some of the interior design work I've seen looks like it was done by a troop of color-blind chimpanzees."
Daniel smiled. "Do you lean toward traditional designs or modern?"
Surprised, Vee stared at him. "Do you know something about interior decorating?"
"No, not a thing, but I have seen rooms and houses decorated in everything from Old Kingdom Egyptian to futuristic designs." He smiled. "I like old better."
Taking off her coat, Veronica sat in a chair, Daniel taking a seat to her right.
"Actually, I like both old and new," the woman said. "I love the Victorian look and recently did an old B&B from top to bottom in a traditional Victorian motif. It looked fantastic."
As Veronica chatted away, Daniel occasionally asking probing and intelligent questions, his attention focused solely upon his youngest half-sister, Kate just watched in admiration. After a while, she leaned toward her father.
"I think I can see why Daniel is so good at diplomacy," she whispered.
George smiled. "He's even more amazing when he's making friends with the enemy."
Twenty minute later, Veronica had decided that maybe Daniel was an okay guy. He was friendly, intelligent and seemed to honestly be interested in her as a person. And she hadn't gotten the sense that he was stuck-up. She couldn't stand guys who were conceited, and if everything Dad and her sister said about Daniel was true, he had good reason to be proud of his own achievements. Actually, thinking about it, he hadn't really talked about himself at all.
"So, you work with Dad in Cheyenne Mountain?" Veronica asked, deciding it was time to learn more about him.
"Claire told me that you have three PhD's. I can't even imagine putting in that kind of commitment and devoting that many years to school. How many years of college are we talking?"
Daniel shrugged. "It wasn't really that many. I started college when I was sixteen and got my final doctorate at twenty-three."
"How the heck did you manage that?!"
"Lots of hard work and long hours of studying. I had the advantage that, while the other kids were off with family and friends during spring break or the holidays, I could make use of the time to study. I also took summer courses."
"You mean to say that you didn't go home at all?"
"I, um . . . didn't really have a home to go to. I became an emancipated adult at fifteen so that I could get out of the foster care system. For the few months between then and when I went off to college, I stayed in a room above somebody's garage and took a temporary job to cover living expenses and the bus fare to California. Fortunately, I had a full scholarship for college, and a student loan took care of paying for the things the scholarship didn't."
"Okay, that is just really sad," Veronica said.
Daniel gave a shrug. "I didn't mind, not really."
Veronica's response was interrupted by her cell phone. She answered the call. As she talked to the person, Daniel watched her expression change to horror and grief.
"Oh my God. When?" There was a pause as the other person answered. "Where is she? Which hospital?" Veronica began crying. "I'll be right there." She disconnected the call.
"Vee, what it is?" George asked in concern.
"M-my friend Amy was in a car accident a few hours ago. S-she's in the ICU at Memorial Central here in The Springs. It's really bad, Daddy. I-I-I need to go there. I need to be there. Her mom and dad are both dead, and she has no other family."
George got to his feet. "I'll drive you. You're too upset to drive yourself."
Kate also got up. "I'll go, too." She turned to her husband. "Gary, can you take the kids home?"
"Of course." He stood.
As Gary went to get the kids and the others put on their coats, Daniel didn't know what to do. He wanted to be there for his sister, but he didn't know if he'd be welcome.
"I'm sorry the evening got cut short, Daniel," George said.
"No, it's okay. I, um . . . I'd like to be there, too, but I don't, uh . . . want to intrude."
"Daniel, you are a part of this family now. You would not be intruding. Would you like me to ask Vee if it's okay for you to come?"
Upon getting a nod from Daniel, George gently asked his daughter if she'd mind having Daniel along. She gave a distracted shake of her head.
A short while later, they were at the hospital. As Daniel, Kate and George sat in one of the waiting rooms, Veronica was taken to her friend.
It was two hours later that Veronica came back, tears pouring down her face. She threw herself into her father's arms.
"She dead, Daddy. Amy's dead," she sobbed.
"Oh, sweetheart. I'm so sorry."
Kate came forward and wrapped her arms around her sister.
Daniel watched as father and sister comforted the grieving woman, his heart aching for her. He understood her pain, was all too familiar with it.
It was quite a while before Veronica's sobbing quieted. George asked her gently if she wanted to leave, and she nodded her head. They all silently left the hospital.
"I'm so sorry, Veronica," Daniel said once they were outside. "I understand how you must feel."
The woman suddenly rounded on him. "How could you know how I feel?!" she yelled. "I barely know you! How could you possibly know the way I feel, how it feels to watch someone you love die in front of you?"
Intense pain speared through Daniel. He took a step back.
"E-excuse me," he stammered, then turned and hurried away.
"Veronica," George said. "I know you're upset, but there was no good reason for you to say something like that to Daniel."
The woman looked at him. "How could he say that he understands? He couldn't possibly understand."
George stared at her intently. "He does understand, Veronica. He understands all too well. His parents were killed right before his eyes, and only last year, he witnessed the death of his wife."
Veronica's hands flew to her mouth, eyes wide in horror and shame.
"Oh my God. Daddy, I didn't know. I'm so sorry."
"I'm not the one who needs your apology."
Veronica nodded. Wiping her face, she went to look for her half-brother. She found him standing at the edge of the parking lot, head down, arms wrapped around himself in a self-hug. As she hesitantly approached him, he became aware of her presence and turned his face away, wiping away what she knew were tears.
"Daniel, I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have said what I did."
"It's . . . it's okay," he said in a low voice, not looking at her. "You were upset. I understand."
"No, it's not okay." Veronica paused. "Dad told me about what you saw, the stuff about your parents and . . . and your wife."
Daniel's shoulders hunched a little more, his head ducking lower.
"I'm so sorry, Daniel. I know how awful that must have been, how much it must have hurt. You . . . you loved your wife a lot, didn't you."
"Yes," Daniel whispered unsteadily. "I loved her very much."
Slowly, hesitantly, Veronica came forward and wrapped her arms around her brother. Pausing only a moment, Daniel returned the hug. He felt his little sister's tears wetting his neck and pulled her a bit tighter against him, shedding a couple more tears of his own.
That's how George and Kate found them a moment later. They came up and pulled the two into their embrace, a family sharing love and comfort.
The drive back was quiet and subdued. They dropped Kate off on the way to George's house.
The woman gave her sister a long hug. "You give me a call tomorrow, okay?" she said. "I can come over, and we can talk, or just sit, or whatever you want. All right?"
"Do you want me to come over now? Gary won't mind."
"No, I'm okay," Veronica replied. "I want to be alone for a while. And, um . . ." her voice trembled, "I need to make some calls to . . . to some of Amy's friends."
Kate hugged her again. "Okay. But you call any time you need to talk, any time at all."
At George's place, he said the same thing, telling Veronica that if she felt like talking any time during the night she was not to hesitate to call him.
Daniel accompanied his sister to her car.
"I want to say again that I'm sorry," she said.
Daniel shook his head. "You don't have to. I really did understand. We say a lot of things when we're upset that we don't really mean."
Veronica studied his face. "You really are a sweet guy, aren't you."
Daniel's head ducked, eyes turning away. He was surprised when she leaned forward and placed a quick kiss on his cheek.
"You know what?" she said. "I think I'm going to like having you as a brother."
Surprised blue eyes met sincere blue-grey ones.
"Maybe we could get together one of these weekends," Veronica said. "Do you ever get over to Denver?"
"Sometimes. I'd like that."
Veronica noticed that Daniel was rubbing his stomach. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, it's just a stomachache. I've been pretty nervous and tense lately, what with all this stuff going on."
Veronica gazed at him. "I've been so busy thinking about how I felt about this whole thing with you that I never thought about how you must be feeling. I've just gained a brother. You've suddenly gained an entire family."
Daniel's lips curved into a tiny smile. "It's been . . . a little overwhelming."
"I bet it has."
Daniel looked at his sister earnestly. "I'm here for you, too, if you want to talk, Veronica."
She gave him a little smile. "Thank you. It means a lot that you would offer. Well, um, I'm going to go." She opened her car door. "Oh, and, Daniel? Call me Vee."
He nodded and smiled. "Vee."
He watched her drive away, then headed for his own car, feeling like the final link to his new family had been forged.