Incidents Series Part 2: The Zoo Incident
by Maureen Thayer
Categories: Friendship, Drama
Content Warning: None
Spoilers: Fragile Balance
Author's Note: This is the 2nd fanfic in the Incidents Series. You need to read the first one, The Squirrel Incident, in order to make any sense of this story. This story is told from Sam's point of view.
Looking back on it now, I really wish we'd stood by our original decision. This whole thing wouldn't have happened if we had.
When Daniel asked if we could go to the Denver Zoo, my first instinct was to say no. Given what we knew about his strange ability with animals, logically, going to a place that was filled with all sorts of creatures might lead to trouble. So, I said no. Colonel O'Neill said no as well. But I ask you this. If you had this cherubic little five-year-old boy looking up at you with enormous, silently pleading eyes and you hadn't built up a resistance to it over years of practice, how many of you could keep saying no? It took about five minutes for my will power to crumble. The colonel took a few minutes longer. With that Jaffa fortitude of his, Teal'c didn't crumble, but it didn't really matter since he wasn't completely against the trip anyway, stating that the animals were in enclosures, so, and I quote, "It would not be possible for Daniel Jackson to physically interact with them." He was rewarded with a big hug from Daniel for saying that, and I'd swear that those brown eyes of his softened like butter. Maybe Jaffa fortitude wasn't complete proof against a downsized Daniel Jackson after all.
So we went to the zoo. Daniel was so excited and wanted to go everywhere at the same time. He had no memories of going to a zoo before. I guess it's not surprising. From what we'd learned so far from the memories he was regaining of his life, Daniel's first few years were spent mostly on digs. He spoke about that life with enthusiasm, so he obviously enjoyed it, but it was far from a normal life for a young child. Not that the life he had now was normal. Daniel is probably the only child on the planet living inside a super-secret, high security military facility deep inside a mountain. He's definitely the only child on the planet who ages a year over the span of just four days.
Ever since Daniel was mysteriously reduced to the age of four years old, I've been struggling to keep in my mind that this sweet, innocent, delightful little boy is actually my thirty-eight-year-old teammate. I find myself wanting to kiss him, and cuddle him, and shower him with affection. It was so different from the time we thought that the colonel had been reduced to a fifteen-year-old. I'd found that whole situation more than a little uncomfortable. I was actually enjoying this. At first, I didn't think about the future ramifications of all those displays of affection, not until after a conversation I had with the colonel.
The conversation took place two days after Daniel had been transformed into a child. The previous day, we'd learned from Thor that Daniel was going to be fine and would soon mature back into an adult, and we had decided that we needed to get down to the business of how we were going to work everything out during the weeks that he would be too young to be left to his own devices on base. The general had put us on stand-down so that we could spend our time with Daniel and help him adjust, but, once we were back on active duty, it was going to be tough working things out. Even with the stand-down, we'd need some kind of schedule for which of us would take care of him on what days and times.
We were discussing that schedule when Colonel O'Neill stated that he and Teal'c would take turns babysitting Daniel at night. I objected. I wanted a turn, too.
"Carter, think about it," the colonel said. "In just a few months, Daniel is going to be an adult again. How embarrassing do you think it's going to be for him to have memories of you helping him bathe and get dressed?"
It dawned on me that he had a very valid point. "You're right, sir. I didn't even think about that."
The colonel nodded. "It's bad enough that he'll have memories of me and Teal'c doing it, but at least we're guys. Once he gets old enough to take care of all that stuff by himself, then you are welcome to have him any night you want, although, eventually, we're going to have to give him a room of his own."
I was pretty disappointed that I'd have to wait. I always loved the sleepovers I had with Cassie when she was young. We'd share a bed and spend hours talking and giggling in the dark. So, I came up with the idea that the colonel could get Daniel ready for bed, then bring him over to my quarters. He agreed.
I'll never forget the first night Daniel spent with me. I answered the knock on the door to find this adorable little boy dressed in jammies with penguins all over them and holding a stuffed monkey that was suffering from a permanent bad hair day. Daniel gave me a huge smile and launched himself into my arms. I don't care if Janet would say it was physically impossible. I swear that my heart literally melted inside my chest cavity.
It was an hour later before Daniel finally got to sleep, which was totally not his fault. I kept tickling him and chatting with him. I'd have gone on even longer, but he finally conked out.
As I lay watching him sleep, I suddenly realized that what the colonel said applied to more than just bathing and dressing. There was a very good chance that Daniel would remember most of these events once he'd finally reached his correct age. How embarrassing would it be for a grown man to recall his teammates doing these kinds of things with him? The chatting and laughing were fine, but the tickling, cuddling and little kisses? Probably not so much. I needed to ignore my rampaging mothering instincts and cool it a bit.
Since then, I've been cutting back on the displays of affection, just enough that the adult Daniel won't feel embarrassed and uncomfortable every time he looks at me. Today, however, I was itching for more cuddles. Daniel looked so darn cute excitedly running from exhibit to exhibit, his bright mind asking all kinds of questions about each animal and absorbing every answer like a sponge.
At one point, he got into a lively conversation with a German family – in their native language. Daniel could now speak three languages. He could already speak Arabic when he was four, but he's added German to the list, and he knows a smattering of several other languages as well. Apparently, he's in the process of learning Greek or, rather, he's regaining the memories of learning Greek. I've always recognized that Daniel was exceptionally brilliant, but witnessing him gradually regaining his incredible storehouse of knowledge really brings that fact home.
It's sad, though, to hear him talk so lovingly about his parents, who taught him pretty much everything he knew in his early life. He doesn't know the truth about their deaths. We've avoided answering questions about his family, merely telling him that they died years ago. He was upset when he learned that, but I know he's under the mistaken belief that they died in their later years, after he reached adulthood. We should have told him the truth. We're going to have to tell him soon. In around nine or ten days, he's going to regain the memories of the accident. We have to tell him before then so that he'll be prepared.
Anyway, back to the zoo. We made the mistake of going to the gift shop first, and I ended up buying three stuffed animals, two puzzles, and several other toys for Daniel. But if any of you think that I'm the only one, you should take a look at the pile of stuff the colonel got for him. Even Teal'c bought him some things.
Not wanting to cart them around with us, we put all the purchases in lockers, all except for a stuffed camel that Daniel had latched onto and didn't want to let go. I felt a sense of pleasure and pride that it was one of the toys I got him.
One of the problems we had to overcome was Daniel's height. Quite a few of the open exhibits had not just a railing between them and the visitors, but also a low wall with some shrubbery in between it and the railing. Daniel was too small to see all the way over the wall and bushes and down into the exhibits. The first time we came to one of those exhibits, Daniel started climbing onto the railing. I smiled at how fast Colonel O'Neill was at his side, holding onto him, and I wondered if the colonel had encountered this same issue with his son. He lifted Daniel up onto his shoulders so that our downsized teammate could see.
After the fifth or sixth time, this started bothering the colonel's right shoulder, which had gotten wrenched a few days ago. Teal'c offered to take over, but we were afraid that his hat would get knocked off, so, instead, the colonel started sitting Daniel on the top railing and wrapping his arms around Daniel's waist to keep him safe and steady.
The first inkling we got that coming to the zoo may have been a mistake after all came inside Bird World. You see, Teal'c was wrong about Daniel not being able to come in physical contact with the animals. We'd forgotten that in some of the bird exhibits there were no barriers to keep the birds separated from visitors. Most of the birds were keeping their distance from everyone. That changed when there was a brief thinning of the crowd, creating a space of several yards between us and everyone else. A small parrot, some kind of conure, flew down and landed on the railing right beside Daniel. He smiled in delight and held his hand out to it. After pausing a moment, it got onto his hand, then walked up his arm to his shoulder. It nibbled lightly on his ear, which made him giggle, and talked to him with various chirps and whistles. I suppose it was inevitable for the colonel to make a wisecrack about Doctor Doolittle, but I seriously doubt that Daniel understood a thing the bird said.
At that point, several people had closed the gap, so we were no longer isolated. Apparently, though, that one bird making friends with Daniel had "broken the ice" with the others. It was followed by a second bird, who took up residence on Daniel's other shoulder. When a third bird settled on his chest, latching onto his jacket with its claws, and then a fourth landed right on his head, we decided that it might be a good idea to leave. People were starting to stare, and we heard more than one comment of surprise and amazement.
It was pretty easy to shoo the birds away. They may have liked Daniel, but they didn't want anything to do with the rest of us. We hustled our budding Doctor Doolittle out of there pretty quickly, though he really didn't want to leave.
We steered clear of the Lorikeet Adventure. We knew that the lorikeets were tame enough that you could feed them by hand with little cups of nectar, and we feared that Daniel would have so many perching on him that he'd disappear beneath them – even without the nectar. If we'd actually been stupid enough to buy some nectar, we may have had to call Search and Rescue to find him.
It was after that little adventure that I noticed something I hadn't paid attention to before then. At almost every exhibit, the animals seemed to show an interest in Daniel. Thinking back on it, I realized that the monkeys had seemed to be especially fascinated by him.
I couldn't help but wonder about this strange power he appears to have over the animals. I know that animals possess instincts we lacked. They can sense things humans can't. Is there some special quality about Daniel that they're able to pick up on? What was happening there at the zoo was going a lot farther than the incident in the woods. Those wild animals had merely shown no fear of Daniel and allowed him to get quite close to them. They did not approach him. Why was it different this time? Was it because the zoo animals in the zoo were not so wild, accustomed to being fed and cared for by humans? Perhaps.
The colonel, Teal'c and I were a little leery of taking Daniel to see the wildlife show, uncertain about what might happen. Fortunately, we managed to get through the whole thing without any of the animal stars abandoning their trainers in favor of a certain blond-haired little boy.
It was an hour before closing when we reached the Northern Shores exhibits. Daniel loved the part of the polar bear exhibit where you could watch them playing under the water. One of the bears was doing just that, and we watched for several minutes as it dove under the water to fetch what looked like a bone, brought it back to the surface, then dropped it and repeated the performance. Daniel was delighted and really didn't want to leave. We had to exercise a bit of gentle persuasion to get him out of there so that we could go up top to see the rest of the polar bear exhibit.
A big male bear was pacing back and forth at the edge of the steep embankment of the dry moat that separated the exhibit from zoo visitors. Within seconds of Daniel coming into view, it paused, and I swear it looked right at him. Then it resumed pacing.
We'd been there for just a couple of minutes when a sound drew our attention away from the bear to see that two young teens, who'd most likely been running, had knocked over a heavyset elderly man using a walker. Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill went to help the man, the colonel telling me to watch Daniel.
It couldn't have been more than two or three seconds, a brief moment between the time that the colonel let go of Daniel and I moved in to take his place. What happened in those seconds will be burned into my brain for the rest of my life.
The man who had been standing beside Colonel O'Neill was paying more attention to what had happened than what he was doing. He swung his arm back, most likely to grasp the railing. Instead, he struck Daniel, knocking him off the railing to land on the wall. Before I could grab him, Daniel was over the edge, accompanied by my scream of denial and the horrified cries of several witnesses.
I was over the railing in a flash and looking down into the moat, soon followed by Teal'c and the colonel. Daniel was lying on the concrete, and I was relieved to see that he was conscious, but he was wailing and clutching his left arm, and I feared it might be broken, possibly along with several other bones. There was some blood on his pants, over his knee.
That fear was nothing compared to the stark terror that swelled in me upon seeing the polar bear. It had been at the far end of the exhibit, but was now coming back, aiming right toward Daniel.
Teal'c was all set to jump down there, and I truly believe that he would have battled that bear to the death to keep it from Daniel. But three zoo employees had just arrived. Seeing what had happened, one of them made a frantic call on their radio as the other two ran off to get inside the enclosure. They didn't get there in time.
After pausing only a moment, the bear started descending the embankment. People began yelling at it in an effort to keep it away from Daniel. I have never been so scared in my life as I was in the seconds that followed. The bear walked up to Daniel and sniffed him. Daniel had stopped crying and was looking up at it. I have to wonder how many of the people watching were still breathing at that moment. I know I wasn't.
I've seen some amazing things during my years in the Stargate Program, things that I'd have thought were impossible, but what I saw next beat them all. Instead of attacking, that gigantic beast put its nose right up to Daniel's face – and licked the tears from his cheeks. Apparently deciding he had a friend, Daniel petted its massive head.
At that moment, the two employees, along with a third man, entered the exhibit. They began to call and whistle, one of them waving a piece of meat. For a moment, it didn't look like the bear was going to leave Daniel, but the scent of the meat was probably too much for it to ignore. It hurried back up the embankment. The man holding the meat tossed it as far as he could, and the bear went after it. One of the other men scrambled down into the moat, scooped up Daniel, and hurried back up. The bear was still eating when they all got out of the enclosure, accompanied by cheers from the crowd that had gathered.
We were taken to Daniel. I was immensely relieved to see that he was sitting upright and appeared not to be seriously injured.
"I think his arm is broken," said one of the men who'd rescued him, "and his knee is pretty scraped up."
Those things didn't stop me from pulling Daniel into a shaky hug. Colonel O'Neill then took his turn. There was a look his eyes that I recognized as the feeling you get after coming a hair's breadth away from losing someone you love. Also in those eyes was guilt.
The employees told us that an ambulance was on the way. We knew that under no circumstances could Daniel be taken to a hospital, but we couldn't be sure that there were no other injuries besides the broken arm, and it would take us a couple of hours to drive back to the base.
We told them that we'd take Daniel to the hospital ourselves. They didn't like that idea, but we were adamant. It had become increasingly apparent that we had to get Daniel out of there ASAP. A bruise had formed on his cheek and was already starting to change color. With his accelerated biology, every minute was equivalent to several hours for his body.
On the way to the exit, I called the base and told them we needed an emergency evac. They said they'd send a helicopter to the Denver airport.
The colonel probably broke a few speed limits on the way to the airport. I was in the back with Daniel, holding him as close as the booster seat would allow.
"My arm hurts," he whimpered.
"I know it does, Danny, but Janet will fix it all up like new," I told him, brushing the hair from his face. "Does it hurt anywhere else?"
"A little, not as much now as before."
"Where else does it hurt?"
"My knee and my shoulder. My head hurts, too, but it's a lot better now."
Colonel O'Neill glanced back at him. "Well, you probably got pretty banged up in that fall. That was a long way down. You're lucky you didn't break a lot more bones."
Daniel's head hung low. "I'm sorry," he mumbled.
"Daniel, this was not your fault. It was my fault. I shouldn't have let go of you until Sam was there to take my place."
Daniel started crying. "I lost my camel."
It wasn't until then that I realized he no longer had the toy. It was probably lying at the bottom of that moat.
"We'll buy you another one," I told him, "even better than that one. And you still have all your other toys." We'd made a quick stop at the lockers on the way out. The colonel hadn't wanted to take the time, but I impressed upon him how sad Daniel would be if we left all the purchases behind.
The colonel and I rode on the chopper with Daniel, Teal'c offering to drive the car back. Even being in pain, Daniel found the ride thrilling and wanted to look out the window rather than lying still.
Upon reaching the infirmary, Janet took Daniel off to get x-rayed. When she came back, the look on her face told us that he was okay.
"The bone has already started healing," she announced. "Thankfully, it was only cracked, so that's not a problem. If it had been a full break or a greenstick fracture, we would likely have had to operate on his arm to rebreak the bone and align the ends properly. We're going to put a brace on it instead of a cast. There's no point in a cast since he'll be fully healed before morning." Janet smiled. "He was disappointed that he wouldn't be getting a cast. He wanted to go around the base and have everyone sign it. I told him that I'd make him a plaster plaque that he could have people sign instead."
"Were there any other injuries besides his arm and his knee?" I asked.
"Just some bruises, all of which are also well along in the healing process. I think it's possible that he also had a very mild concussion, but the symptoms have disappeared."
"It's a shame Daniel doesn't heal that fast normally," Colonel O'Neill remarked. "It would make your life easier."
"You can say that again. We are going to have to keep this in mind for the future, though. Daniel was lucky this time, but, until he's reaches his full age and this whole thing is over with, any fractures could result in complications if the bone is not set right away."
Once Teal'c had arrived, we all went to talk to the general.
"I don't have to tell you that I'm not happy about this," he said once we'd filled him in on everything. "The last thing we need is to have outside attention drawn to Daniel. This could have resulted in a serious problem. It is still going to be necessary for us to keep an eye on the situation. We can only hope that someone didn't take videos or that a reporter won't manage to find out who you are." His expression grew even more somber. "I'm afraid that I'm going to have to suspend all future outings for the time being."
"But, sir," I objected. "Something like this wouldn't happen again. We'll be so much more careful in the future."
Hammond shook his head. "I'm sorry, Major, but I can't take the chance."
Colonel O'Neill was frowning. "With all due respect, sir, you'll have to be the one to tell him, then, because I don't think I have the heart. He's going to think he's being punished, and this wasn't his fault. I am fully to blame."
Hammond sighed. "Very well. I'll talk to him tomorrow."
When Daniel took his plaque around the base to get it signed, he got more hugs in two hours than all the previous days of his "second childhood" combined. I lost count of how many times Daniel was asked if he was okay.
Daniel was a little on the clingy side that night. I think the fall scared him more than he was willing to admit. Normally, he'd have been sleeping on a cot over in the corner, but I was able to tell that he needed to be in physical contact with someone tonight, so I let him stay with me in the bed.
"Were you afraid when the bear came up to you?" I asked him as I did some of that cuddling that I wasn't supposed to be doing as often. I was trembling on the inside, reaction having finally set in. Daniel could so easily have died.
"I little bit. But animals like me, so I hoped it would like me, too." He looked up at me. "How come the animals like me? I don't remember it being that way before, when I was little the first time."
"We're not sure, Daniel. It might have something to do with what happened to you."
"Will they always like me or will it go away when I grow up?"
"That's something we don't know. I guess we'll find out."
I found out the next morning that the story did make it on the news and that someone did get videos. Fortunately, the video-taker apparently didn't arrive until the point when Daniel was rescued, and his face was never clear enough to be identifiable. The person who gave the report talked about the mystery of the child's identity, bringing up the fact that no child matching his description was taken to one of the Denver hospitals. We were all concerned that the police would be brought in to investigate. The employees we talked to would be able to give descriptions of us.
After it was confirmed that Daniel's arm was fully healed, Hammond broke the news to him that he couldn't leave the base again, at least not for a few weeks. Tears welled up in Daniel's eyes. He looked so sad that it almost broke my heart. The colonel was right. He thought he was being punished, and the general had to explain what the reasons were for him being restricted to base. But for a little boy who had just turned six, the reasons didn't matter all that much. All he cared about was that he wasn't going to get to have any more trips to the park, or the ice cream parlor, or anywhere else.
"Hey, we can still go up to the top of the mountain," the colonel said, trying to cheer him up. "We can have picnics up there. I'll get a rope swing and tie it to one of the trees. Then you can have lots of fun."
That made Daniel feel only marginally better. He was in a low mood for the rest of the day. I felt awful, and I know that Colonel O'Neill felt even worse since he blamed himself for what happened. I'd guess that General Hammond wasn't feeling all that great either, but he was in a difficult position. It would be so easy for someone to figure out that Daniel was not an ordinary child. And, if that happened, it would be a really big problem. The general had to consider the secrecy of the program first and foremost.
"I wish I was in Egypt," Daniel mumbled that evening over dinner in the commissary. "I wish I was with Mommy and Daddy on a dig."
Teal'c, the colonel and I all shared a long look.
"You getting tired of our company already?" the colonel asked, trying to interject a teasing tone to his voice.
"I could play outside all I wanted to. And there was lots sand, and ruins, and artifacts and things."
It was then that I realized how different this life must be to what was in Daniel's memories. Before his parents died, he lived a free life out in the deserts of Egypt and on digs around the world. He was home-schooled, so he didn't spend hours each day inside in a classroom. The lion's share of his life was spent outdoors. And, now, he was stuck inside a mountain. That was quite an adjustment to make. When he knew that he could leave the mountain with us, it was okay, but now that he was confined to base, it must seem like a prison to him.
"Well, I can't do anything about the sand or the ruins," Colonel O'Neill said. "As for the artifacts . . ." he smiled, "there's someplace I think you should see."
After the meal was finished, we took Daniel to Level 18. Up until now, we had chosen not to show him his office, thinking that it would be too strange for him, but the time had come for him to see it.
Upon entering the room, Daniel's eyes widened as he looked at all the books and artifacts on the shelves.
"What's this room for?" he asked.
"It's your office, Daniel," Jack replied.
A pair of wide blue eyes turned to him. "My very own office?"
"Uh huh. Well, it was your office before you got turned into a kid, so I suppose it's still yours."
Daniel wandered around, looking at everything and asking all kinds of questions about the artifacts. We could only answer some of them since we had no idea where a lot of the items came from, though we did know that virtually all of them had been found off-world.
"Most of these came from other planets," Jack told him.
Jack held out his hand. "Come on. We have another room for you to see."
We took him to the base archives, where the majority of the things brought back from other planets were stored. There were a great deal more artifacts in there, and Daniel was acting like an ordinary child would act in a candy store.
Watching him with a smile on my face, I got an idea. I got started on the project that night. I was at it until midnight and returned to it the next day. By late afternoon, I had enough to present to Daniel. I brought a laptop to him.
"I have something for you," I told him with a smile.
"What?" he asked curiously.
"We've been to lots and lots of other planets, and you often took videos. I've put some of them on this computer. There's still a whole lot more for me to go through, but this should keep you busy for a little while."
I turned on the computer and started the first video. It was of Abydos, taken by Daniel when he stayed there for a few days after Sha're died. I'd considered not including it, but I knew that Daniel would love seeing the pyramid and the cartouche room. I carefully edited out all the stuff to do with Sha're, Kasuf, and the other personal things. When I saw the look of wonder on Daniel's face at the sight of that pyramid with the three moons behind it, I was glad that I included it.
"You did good, Carter," Colonel O'Neill said to me as he watched Daniel pore over the videos that evening.
"Thank you, sir. Hopefully, it will make him feel less unhappy about having to stay on base. I'm going to have to get busy on gathering more videos, though. At this rate, he'll be through the ones I put on that laptop in no time."
"Get some people to help you. It would take weeks for one person to go through all the stuff Daniel filmed, probably months."
"Thank you, Colonel. I'll do that. Um, sir, what's the status on the . . . issue?" I was deliberately vague because I didn't want Daniel to know that his accident had caused a problem.
Colonel O'Neill lowered his voice. "It's been dealt with. The cops had been brought in, but a couple of calls from some . . . people of importance encouraged them to back off. As long as some nosy reporter doesn't start doing some digging, we should be okay."
He, Teal'c and I all turned back to Daniel. This latest incident may have caused a problem and put a scare into all of us, but it looked like everything was going to be all right. Daniel would be fine . . . at least until the next incident.
THE END . . . until Part 3.