Incidents Series Part 9: The Idaho Incident
by Maureen Thayer
Categories: Drama, Friendship, Action/Adventure
Content Warning: Mild Profanity
Author's Note: This is the 9th fanfic in the Incidents Series. I would highly recommend that you read the previous parts before this one, if you have not already done so, in order to understand the plot.
This story is told from Jack's point of view.
We all knew that this time would come, but we sure couldn't have foreseen what would end up happening because of it.
Daniel had turned thirteen, and puberty in all its pain and glory had commenced full force. That time in the life of any boy is a pretty big deal, but, for Daniel, it was anything but fun. I'm sure that you guys out there recall all the many changes that occurred during puberty. Now imagine all those things happening within a matter of days – and no one had bothered to enlighten you beforehand on what was going to take place. Scary thought, huh.
Kids these days usually have at least some knowledge about what goes on during puberty by the time it arrives, but Daniel's original childhood memories were all from the 60's and 70's, when such topics were not quite so freely discussed. If his parents had lived, his father might have given him some idea on what to expect, but, apparently, none of his foster parents chose to delve into that stuff, and he didn't get any kind of sex education in school. I wish we'd known this beforehand so that we could have seen to it that he was filled in on all that stuff before this started.
It was Daniel's failure to come to breakfast one morning that led to us finding out what was going on. Carter called his room, and he claimed that he wasn't feeling well. Fraiser went to check on him. Teal'c, Carter and I were all gathered outside his room when she came back out.
"Is he sick?" I asked.
"No, that's not the problem. From what I was able to gather, he's entered the stage of puberty when the physical and hormonal changes are becoming quite evident. Apparently, he started noticing the changes a couple of days ago. I'm afraid that we all failed to consider how overwhelming this was going to be for him due to the fact that it's happening so quickly. I couldn't get much out of him, but, judging by the way he's acting, he's a little scared and more than a little embarrassed. I'm guessing that he had no prior knowledge of what would be happening, which would make it even more frightening and embarrassing."
"Crap. I assumed that he learned about that stuff from his foster parents or in school."
"Apparently not. It's possible that the school Daniel attended didn't have a course in sex education. Or it could be that, at the time the course was taught, Daniel was opted-out because he was considered to be too young." Fraiser's gaze turned penetrating. "Sir, Daniel is going to feel a lot more comfortable talking to a man about this than he would with me."
Crap again. "Uhhhh, not that I don't want to help him out, Doc, but I wouldn't even begin to know the right way to talk about . . . all that." I squirmed under her gaze. "How about Teal'c? He probably had the talk with Rya'c."
"I did not, O'Neill," my Jaffa teammate corrected. "I was not present when Rya'c entered the time of prata, so it fell upon his mother to explain much of what would be occurring. However, if you fear to speak of such things to Daniel Jackson, I will endeavor to do so."
"Hey, I didn't say I was afraid. It's just that it's . . . you know, and I . . . well, it isn't. . . ." My voice trailed off as I looked back at the three pairs of eyes staring at me. "Oh, all right! I'll do it."
Fraiser nodded. "Good. I'd suggest that you do so now."
I suddenly got very nervous. "Now?"
Oh, wonderful. How did I keep getting myself into these things?
I turned and looked at the closed door of Daniel's room.
'Okay, Jack. You can do this. You've been through it yourself, so how hard can it be to explain all that stuff?'
Taking a deep breath, I stepped up to the door and knocked. A quiet voice told me to come in.
"Hey there," I greeted with a smile upon sticking my head in the room. I saw that Daniel was sitting on his bed. I came in all the way and shut the door. "So, how are you doing?"
"Okay," Daniel mumbled, not looking at me.
I sat down beside him. "So, I understand that some things are going on."
Daniel promptly blushed, his head ducking a bit lower.
"You know, it's nothing to be concerned about, Daniel. All us guys go through the same thing when we get to around your age."
Daniel glanced up at me. "You do?"
"Uh huh. Granted, it doesn't normally happen nearly as fast, but it's still nothing to worry about. It means that you're becoming a man. In no time at all you'll be shaving and everything." The thought occurred to me that that was probably not a good thing. As long as Daniel's physical growth was accelerated, so too would be his facial hair growth. The poor guy would be shaving constantly. It was bad enough that he had to get his hair cut once or twice day to keep it from getting too long.
"Soooo . . . is there anything in particular that's bothering you about this whole thing?" I asked tentatively.
Daniel's blush returned, and it took him a while to answer. "I feel . . . things," he finally said in a low voice.
I knew right off what he was referring to with that statement. "Ah. Things to do with girls?" I got a nod from him. "Yeah, that can be pretty distracting. It'll get better after a while, probably just a few days in your case, which makes you pretty lucky. We won't go into how long I had to deal with that and all the stuff that came with it. Talk about embarrassing!"
By the look that was on Daniel's face, I knew that he was already having trouble with that other stuff as well. The poor kid. As hard and fast as this was hitting him, it was no wonder that he didn't want to come out of his room.
I put my hand on his shoulder. "You know, Daniel. You don't have to be embarrassed or nervous about talking with me about this. Like I said, I went through it all, too. There's nothing you can say that'll shock me or make me think less of you."
With a lot of coaxing and patience, I managed to get Daniel to slowly open up to me about the things that were going on with his body and emotions. I think I did a pretty darn good job of allaying his fears and most of his embarrassment, even if I do say so myself. I also gave him a few tips and some advice to help him cope.
By the time our man-to-man talk was finished, it was after ten, and Daniel's stomach had been making growling noises for an hour.
"So, you wanna go get a late breakfast?" I asked.
Daniel immediately shook his head. "I don't want to go anywhere."
"Daniel, you can't stay shut up in your room until this is all over." He didn't respond.
I decided that, until he got a better handle on this, perhaps it would be all right if he did stay here. There was no sense in making the kid even more stressed out.
"All right, Daniel. You can stay in your room today. In the morning we'll see if you feel better. Would you like me to bring you something to eat?"
Getting an answer in the affirmative, I left the room. After supplying Daniel with enough food to last him a while, I headed over to the infirmary.
"So, how did it go?" Fraiser asked.
"Okay, although I suspect it's going to be a struggle to get him out of his room. I told him he could stay in there today."
The doc nodded. "That might be for the best. I can only imagine how severe some of the physical and emotional manifestations must be. The first few days are going to be the hardest for him."
"Yeah. Um, Doc, I know that the brass don't want Daniel leaving the mountain, but do you think there's any way that you could tell them something to get them to agree to a temporary furlough?"
Fraiser frowned. "For what reason?"
"I just thought that Daniel would feel a lot more comfortable if he was away from other people for a while . . . especially people of the female persuasion, if you catch my drift."
"Ah. Yes, I agree that it might make this whole thing a little easier on him. What did you have in mind?"
"Well, being this late in the year, I think a trip to my cabin is out of the question. I've got an old friend who has a place in Idaho. It's on ten acres of forest land. Kent's never there this time of year, so I'm sure he'd let us use it."
"Just you and Daniel?"
"That's what I was thinking."
Fraiser appeared to ponder the idea for a while. "All right, I'll see what I can do."
I don't know what Fraiser said to Hammond, but, whatever it was, it did the trick. The next morning, the higher-ups agreed to allow Daniel to go with me to Idaho for four days. In that time, he would age a year. By the time we got back, he'd be fourteen and hopefully to the point where he could handle things better.
I hadn't told Daniel about my idea since I didn't want to get his hopes up only to have to tell him that the guys in charge said no. Upon receiving the good news, I went straight over to his quarters.
"Hey, Daniel. How'd you like to get out of this place for a while?" I asked.
"You mean up to the mountaintop?"
"Actually, I was talking about a bit farther than that. We got permission from the bigwigs to go to a place a friend of mine has in Idaho. It's nice and secluded, out in the middle of a forest. We could go hiking and do some of that fishing that you and I haven't had the chance to do yet. It would be just you and me, two guys paling around and shooting the breeze." I paused. "So, how does that sound?"
Daniel's eyes had brightened. "They really said that I could go?"
"They sure did. It wouldn't be for long, just five days including travel time, but I bet it'll still be nice to get away for a few days."
Daniel smiled. "Okay. I'd really like that."
"Great! You'd better get busy packing. I'm going to see if I can borrow Captain Penn's plane. If he says yes, we'll be leaving in a few hours. Oh, and make sure you pack stuff that's going to fit you in a few days. You know how fast you're growing now."
In case you're wondering about that last comment, let me explain. As I'm sure you know, all boys go through major growth spurts once they enter puberty. Couple that with Daniel's already accelerated growth rate, and I think you get the picture. Fraiser said that Daniel could grow as much as an inch and a quarter per day, which meant that by the time we got back, he could be a whopping six inches taller.
Mind-blowing, isn't it.
Captain Penn generously agreed to let us borrowing his single engine Piper Cub, which meant that we didn't have to wait for a commercial flight.
"I think I'm jealous," Carter said to Daniel with a smile as she and Teal'c wished us a safe trip. "I bet you're going to have lots of fun doing all those cool things."
"You can come if you want to, Sam," Daniel responded, though the rest of us all knew that her presence would sort of defeat the whole purpose of this trip.
"Thank you for offering, Daniel, but even if I didn't have lots of work to do, this is supposed to be a guy trip. You wouldn't want a girl around." She smiled again to let him know that she wasn't unhappy about that.
Daniel ducked his head and blushed. "It would be all right," he mumbled. "Girls are nice." His blush brightened dramatically. "I-I-I mean girls a-are okay."
I was trying really hard not to smile over Daniel's discomfiture.
"Well, I'm happy you feel that way," Carter responded, appearing to be fighting a grin as well. "So, do I get a hug goodbye?"
I hadn't thought it was possible for Daniel's blush to get any brighter than it already was, but I was wrong. As Carter hugged him, his face looked in danger of combusting.
"You're welcome to come with us, T," I said to our other teammate once Daniel and Carter had separated. I grinned. "There won't be any mosquitoes."
"Thank you, O'Neill, but I intend to ask General Hammond for permission to visit Rya'c and Master Bra'tac during the time that you are gone."
"Cool. Well, say hi for me and Daniel if you see them."
We said our goodbyes, then Daniel and I headed off to the Colorado Springs airport.
The flight to Idaho was uneventful, the weather remaining good throughout the trip. Even so, by the time we got to Kent's place in our rental car, it was pretty late, and we were both a little tired. After firing up the wood stove to warm the place and putting away all the food that we'd brought, we headed off to bed.
The next day dawned cold and clear. According to the weather report, the clear skies were supposed to last throughout our time there, but that was no guarantee that we wouldn't get some snow. I'd made sure that we were prepared for all weather. At least we wouldn't have to worry about freezing. There was enough wood to last a good month.
After breakfast, Daniel and I went for a hike. It didn't take long before the wildlife began paying more attention to us than normal. I suspected that if I wasn't present, Daniel would have half a dozen or so furry and feathered friends keeping him company.
"I was thinking that we could go fishing this afternoon, once it gets warmer," I said. "Kent told me that there's a good fishing spot several miles from here on the river. Actually, morning is the best time for fishing, but it might be a bit cold for wading out into a river. I brought some waders for us, by the way."
"We can go in the morning, if you want to," Daniel responded.
I glanced at him. "Are you sure? I know you don't care much for the cold."
"Well, okay, then. We'll go in the morning instead, bright and early."
That afternoon, Daniel and I played catch. The first time we played, which was when he was ten, he didn't know how. I had fun teaching him and watching him come to enjoy it. Every time we played, I couldn't help but think about my games with Charlie. He had loved to play catch. After he died, I bitterly regretted all the times that he'd wanted to play, but I was too busy.
Shaking that thought from my head, I looked at the boy I was playing catch now. He'd grown so fast. Only five weeks ago, he was a little four-year-old carrying around stuffed toys and giving everyone hugs, and kisses, and cuddles. Now, he was starting the transition into manhood. In less than a month, he'd be a fully grown adult. A big part of me still wished that he was aging a bit more slowly, that we could have held onto his childhood for a few months longer. On the other hand, I missed having Daniel on missions, missed sharing beer and a pizza with him.
I hadn't realized how much I'd miss those times with Daniel until after he ascended. And then I missed him every day. At least this time he was still here. During the past weeks, I'd really come to appreciate and enjoy our times together, though, for obvious reasons, they weren't quite the same as they were before he got downsized, at least not yet.
We left on our little fishing trip just as the sun was beginning to peak through the trees. After parking the car on the side of the road, we hiked the remaining distance down an overgrown trail.
Once we got there and found the perfect spot, I began instructing Daniel on how to fish.
"I know how to fish," he soon informed me.
I stared at him. "You do?"
"Uh huh. I learned in the Yucatan. One of the natives who was working on my grandfather's dig taught me." He looked at the fishing rod I held. "But we didn't have poles like that. It was just a stick and some twine."
I was more than a little surprised. The adult Daniel hadn't shown much of an interest in going fishing, and I'd assumed that he didn't know how.
"Well, fishing with a rod is quite a bit different than a stick and string, but I'm sure you'll catch on in no time."
Daniel proved to be a fast learner. In fact, within the space of the first hour he'd caught four fish – all of which he let go. I swear that his power over animals was actually drawing the fish to him, because he'd barely put his line in the water when another one would be caught.
I finally convinced him to keep the bigger ones, telling him how good they'd taste cooked over an open fire. We did that very thing for lunch.
The fish were nearly done, their appetizing aroma filling the air, when I heard Daniel catch his breath. I followed his gaze to a spot across the river.
The wolf was white, its bright coat standing out in stark contrast to the foliage. It stood unmoving at the edge of the water, its eyes fixed unswervingly upon us . . . upon Daniel.
"Beautiful, isn't it," I said in a low voice.
"Yeah," Daniel replied in a hushed tone, a smile of wonder on his face. He'd seen wolves at the zoo, but that couldn't compare to seeing them in the wild.
The wolf was joined by another, that one light grey and a little smaller. I wondered if they were part of a pack.
For the next ten minutes, the wolves watched us, occasionally pacing along the riverbank. There was not a doubt in my mind that if Daniel was alone and there was no river separating them, those wolves would be a whole heck of a lot closer. Did that thought scare me? Yes and no. It would be natural for me to get nervous thinking about a pair of wild wolves cozying up to Daniel, but, on the other hand, I'd witnessed a polar bear licking his face like they were the best of pals. I still had no idea how Daniel's power over animals worked, but there was no denying that it was real.
The wolves eventually left, and we got down to the business of eating.
"So, how are you enjoying the trip so far?" I asked.
"It's great. I wish we could do it again sometime."
Daniel's comment made me smile. "Well, once you're an adult, there would be nothing to stop us from doing so. Maybe we could have Sam and Teal'c join us next time."
"That would be cool."
I nodded. "The four of us have never gone on a vacation together, so I think it's way past time that we did."
"Did we do other things together when I was an adult?"
"Sure. We had team get-togethers and dinners out. We celebrated a lot of holidays together."
"Were we really good friends?"
The question threw me, and I guess something must have shown on my face. An expression of doubt and insecurity formed in Daniel's eyes.
"Weren't we friends?" he asked in a timid voice.
"Yes, Daniel," I hastily replied. "Of course we were friends."
"But . . . but not really good friends?"
I cursed inwardly. I wasn't exactly sure what I should say. I couldn't lead him to believe that he and I had a relationship that was always close since, eventually, his memories would prove that to be a lie. I thought about some of those memories – moments like me telling Daniel that our friendship had no foundation, telling him to shut up in front of a room full of people, calling him a pain in the ass as he lay dying – and it made me sick. I didn't want him to remember those low points in our friendship. I wanted him to remember only the good stuff. But that was not possible.
I set aside my plate and looked Daniel straight in the eyes. "When it comes to you and Sam, you two have always been really close, just about from the day you met. Your friendship with Teal'c took longer, but it's as solid as a rock. As for the two of us . . . there are a lot of ways that you and I are different, Daniel. When you were an adult, sometimes those ways made us clash on things. I won't lie to you and say that we didn't argue, that we didn't have some bad times."
I felt awful as I watched Daniel's face fill with sorrow and disappointment, his eyes dropping from mine to stare at the ground.
"Daniel, look at me," I ordered. After a long moment, he obeyed. "What I'm going to tell you now is something that I never had the guts to say when you were an adult, but it's something that I want you to know. In spite of all the ways that we're different, in spite of the arguments and the bad times, you were and are my best friend, probably one of the best that I've ever had."
Daniel swallowed. "I . . . I am?" he whispered.
"Yes, you are. I want you to remember that when you start getting back the memories of our relationship that aren't so good." I picked up my plate. "Now, finish your fish before it gets cold."
Neither of us said much during the remainder of the meal. After lunch, we headed back to the car, our cooler bearing the fish that I intended to fix for dinner.
Daniel was quieter during the remainder of the day than he'd been the day before, and I knew that he was thinking about the things I'd told him. It really bothered me that I'd had to destroy the ideal image he probably had of our friendship. I wished that image was true. After Daniel ascended, there were so many things that I regretted. I regretted them even more now.
But, in a way, we'd been given a second chance, I'd been given a second chance, the chance to make up for some of the ways I'd failed Daniel as a friend. I intended to do that very thing.
"I'm thinking about those wolves we saw," I said. "They might be part of a pack. Kent told me that there's a place up the river a ways from where we were today where it's shallow enough that we could get across. Maybe we could go back there tomorrow and see if we can find the rest of the pack. I bet with that magic touch you have with animals, they'd let us get pretty close. How would you like that?"
The spark returned to Daniel's eyes. "That would be really cool. Maybe they even have puppies."
And so it was that, early the next morning, we returned to the river. We found the place where the water was no more that two feet deep and went across wearing our waders. We shed the waders on the other side and began our search for the wolves. Though Daniel didn't know it, I had my sidearm in the pocket of my coat. I wasn't about to take the chance that something in this forest would turn out not to be as friendly toward Daniel as I was hoping it would be. Wolves weren't the only big predators out here. Despite what was often shown in the movies and on TV, most wild predators had no interest in attacking humans, but there were always exceptions.
We'd been looking for not quite an hour when a flash of movement off to the right made me stop. I grabbed Daniel's arm and pointed. A young buck stood staring at us from around a dozen yards away.
With a smile, Daniel began walking toward it. I stayed where I was and watched as he slowly approached the deer, which remained where it was as if waiting for him.
He was around four feet from it when he lifted his hand and held it out. After a pause of several seconds, the deer took a slow step forward, halving the distance. Its nose touched his hand, and he began to pet it. I shook my head, yet again amazed at this power Daniel possessed. The telekinesis was something I could understand, a power I'd seen wielded by more than one individual. But this was something else entirely. It was almost magical.
Just then, I noticed that the deer wasn't the only wild creature to be showing an interest in Daniel. A rabbit was tentatively making its way up to him, and more than the usual number of birds were adorning the limbs of the nearby trees. I had to wonder how many animals would be added to the bunch if Daniel were to stay there for a couple of hours and I was nowhere around.
Daniel was bending down to the rabbit when, suddenly, it and the deer bolted away. Several seconds later, we found out why. The white wolf was back, along with its companion. And then I saw that they were not alone. I tensed as five others came into view. My hand slipped into my pocket to rest on the grip of my pistol.
Daniel did not move as the seven wolves paced back and forth, gradually drawing nearer. I was nearly holding my breath, watching the animals for any sign of aggression.
It was the white wolf that at last closed the distance, and I pegged it as the leader of the pack. It inched up to Daniel, who was holding his hand out to it. Oh so slowly, it extended its head and sniffed his hand.
I don't know if it was Daniel's scent or something else, but the wolf apparently decided that my young teammate was a friend. It came the rest of the way up to him and licked his hand. Daniel began petting it.
The next one to come up was the smaller grey wolf that we'd seen before, and I had to wonder if it was the alpha female.
Eventually, all of the wolves had taken their turn greeting Daniel. My nervousness returned when he knelt down in their midst, but it faded when the wolves took advantage of the position by licking his face.
The wolves stayed with Daniel a solid twenty minutes, then slipped away into the trees. When he came up to me, his eyes were shining.
"Did you see, Jack? They let me pet them and everything!"
"Yes, I did see. It was pretty darn cool. I bet there are lots of people who would be green with envy." I gave Daniel a little one-armed hug around the shoulders. "So, you ready to head back home? I'm starving."
The peace of the woods was abruptly shattered by the sound of a distant rifle shot. Daniel started badly, and I frowned.
"Hunters," I muttered. I'd hoped that there wouldn't be any around here. Seeing the way that Daniel's eyes clouded up, I cursed. What a way for the mood to be ruined.
"Come on. We need to get out of here," I said. "I don't want to take the chance of one of us getting mistaken for a deer."
We made our way back to the river and followed it upstream. We'd covered perhaps half the distance to where we'd crossed when we heard another shot, this one much closer. I started to get worried. Daniel and I were both wearing brown jackets. From a distance, a hunter might see the movement and shoot before making sure it was an animal in their sights.
We picked up our pace. The crossing was within sight when there was a third gunshot. Pain blazed through my shoulder, and I was suddenly on the ground, the sound of Daniel's scream of fear ringing in my ears. My vision greyed out for a moment. When it came back in focus, I saw Daniel kneeling over me, tears swimming in his terrified eyes.
"Oh, God. You're shot. You're shot," he cried. The tears spilled over. "Please don't die, Jack. Please."
"I'm not gonna die, Daniel," I managed to force out between clenched teeth.
Just then, I saw two men with rifles come running into view.
"Oh, damn!" one of them cursed. "Damn, oh damn!" He hit the other man in the shoulder. "I told you that wasn't a deer, you idiot!"
The two men approached.
"How bad is it?" asked the one who'd spoken before.
"I've had worse," I replied, trying to sit up. There was something about these two that had me a little concerned. And then I saw part of a pelt that was peeking out from the backpack of the man who had apparently shot me. It was most definitely not from a deer, and I had to wonder if I'd had the really bad luck of getting shot by a poacher. There was probably more than one endangered species that lived around here, including those wolves.
Trying to hide my suspicion, I asked Daniel to help me sit up. He did so, although I know he saw how much it was hurting me to move. The presence of the gun in my pocket was a comforting weight, but I knew that one injured man with a pistol was no match for two able-bodied men with rifles, especially when the wound was in my right shoulder and would make it necessary to shoot with my left hand if things went sour.
With some help from Daniel, I covered the wound with the gauze pads that were in the small first-aid kit we'd brought. I knew that they weren't going to help much with a wound like this, but they were better than nothing.
"If you guys would be so kind as to help get me back to our car so I can get some medical attention, we'd sure appreciate it," I told the hunters in the most casual tone I could manage.
The man who shot me was starting to look very nervous. "What do we do, Steve? I don't wanna go back to jail."
"You won't go to jail," I assured him. "It was an accident, right?"
"Well, then it'll be fine." I pretended to be ignorant of the fact that if this guy was a parolee, he might be breaking the law just by carrying that firearm.
Taking a lesson from Daniel about diplomacy in bad situations, I gave the man a little smile. "What's you're name?"
"Nice to meet you, Ned. I'm Jack, and this here is Daniel."
The friendly attitude seemed to work, Ned showing signs of calming down a bit. Unfortunately, that didn't last long.
"Jack, you're bleeding an awful lot," Daniel said in a frightened voice.
I looked down at myself and saw that he was right. The blood had already soaked through the gauze. I didn't think the bleeding was life-threatening yet, but if I didn't get to a doctor pretty soon, it could be.
I looked back up at the guy who put the bullet in me and saw that he now appeared to be on the verge of panic. He was probably thinking that if I died, he'd be thrown in jail regardless of whether or not the shooting had been an accident.
Steve, who seemed to be the more level-headed of the two, said, "Come on. Let's get you to a doctor. Ned, give him a hand."
Ned hesitated, then came forward. With the help of him and Daniel, I got to my feet.
And then everything quite suddenly went spectacularly downhill.
Ned abruptly sprang away from me, causing me to almost fall, Daniel's grip on me the only thing keeping me from ending up back on the ground.
"He's got a gun!" Ned cried, pointing his rifle at me. "Y-you're a cop or a ranger or something! You'll make them throw me in jail!"
Oh, this was so not good.
"I'm not a cop or a ranger, Ned. I brought the gun for protection, just in case we had trouble with a bear or something."
"I don't believe you!" Ned shrieked, his rifle pointing straight at my chest.
"Dammit, Ned! Put the gun down!" Steve yelled.
For a dreadful moment, I was certain that Ned was going to pull the trigger, and I knew that, if he did, the next one to die would likely be Daniel.
In the fear of the moment, I forgot about one very important thing. In the next instant, I was reminded of it.
All at once, Ned staggered back and fell as if he'd been struck a powerful blow. My gaze immediately went to Daniel. The boy was glaring at the man, a hard look of determination on his face. I knew that look well.
Yep, I was right. This was so not good.
Steve, looking totally befuddled, was staring down at his companion, who was now sitting upright, his eyes looking a bit wild. He reached for his rifle, which had flown out of his hand.
He never even got close to it.
A blood-curdling snarl made all of us turn. Less than twenty feet away, the white wolf stood, teeth bared, golden eyes fixed upon Ned with terrifying intensity. And then we saw a second wolf, followed by another, then another. Soon, all seven members of the pack Daniel befriended were visible. They were no longer the gentle, friendly creatures Daniel had petted. They were now snarling wild beasts – and every single one of them was staring at Ned and Steve. I knew what that meant. Somehow, the wolves had sensed that Daniel was in danger and had come to protect him.
My thoughts went back to the video of the Rottweilers attacking the men who were after Daniel. If his influence over animals would drive domestic dogs to attack their own masters in order to protect him, what would it make these wolves do? I didn't think I wanted to find out.
Steve was swinging his rifle to and fro, obviously not knowing which way to point it. He must have realized that he couldn't possibly shoot all those wolves before they were upon him.
"Daniel," I whispered. "I really don't think you want to see those wolves rip Steve and Ned to bits. Can't you do something?"
"I don't know what I can do, Jack. I can't talk to them. I'm not Doctor Doolittle."
"Then you need to calm down. The wolves can probably sense that you're scared. They came to protect you, just like those dogs did. You need to calm down and let them know that you're okay, and everything is fine."
I watched as Daniel made an effort to calm himself, visibly relaxing his stance. I got worried when it looked like it wasn't going to work. In fact, the wolves had drawn closer. I noticed that they were focusing their gaze mostly upon Steve, whom they probably perceived as the bigger threat since he was on his feet.
"Steve, my advice to you would be to get down on the ground," I told him. "Make yourself look less threatening. And don't look at them in the eyes. That goes for you, too, Ned."
It seemed to take forever for the man to follow my advice, but he finally got down on one knee. He didn't let go of the rifle, though. I couldn't really blame him.
"Let's put a little more distance between them and us," I murmured to Daniel, thinking that if we weren't so close to the 'threat', the wolves would relax.
With Daniel helping to support me, we backed up a couple of paces.
Gradually, the wolves began showing signs of reduced aggression. The snarling stopped, and the show of teeth lessened. Finally, they were doing nothing more than staring at the two hunters, although even that was likely more than a bit unnerving to the men.
Figuring that the wolves probably weren't going to leave until they were certain Daniel was out of danger, I decided that it was way past time for us to get out of there.
"Okay, Daniel and I are going to get back across the river," I said. "I'd suggest that you two stay right where you are until we're across. Then you can follow us. I doubt the wolves will come across."
Very slowly, Daniel and I covered the last few yard to the shallow part of the river. Though some of the wolves watched us, they didn't move from their positions.
Getting across the river wasn't easy. I was starting to feel weak from blood loss, and the current that hadn't seemed so bad before now felt like it was going to knock me off my feet. It also didn't help that we hadn't put our waders back on. I almost fell a couple of times. How Daniel managed to keep me upright is a mystery.
Once we were on the other side, I called to Steve and Ned, telling them to very slowly get to their feet and come across. There was a moment of tension when they got up, and the wolves let out a few growls. But none of the animals appeared to be on the verge of attacking.
The two hunters probably covered the distance to the crossing a bit faster than they should have, but, again, I couldn't really blame them. Ned stumbled and fell a couple of times in his haste to get across the water. He'd left his rifle behind.
"Do you have a truck or car around here somewhere?" I asked once they'd joined us.
"It's back on the other side of the river," Steve replied. "There's no way that I'm going to get it now."
"You can come with us, then," I told him. "I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to drive anyway."
"They're going to put me in jail," Ned whined.
"Oh, will you just shut the hell up?!" Steve shouted. "This is your own damn fault for shooting at something you couldn't really see. Your lack of common sense is what put you in jail the first time, and it's obvious that you didn't learn anything while you were in there."
Ned shut up, looking more than a little sullen.
Steve handed his rifle to Ned and stepped up to me, putting his arm around my waist to support me.
"It's okay, kid," he said to Daniel. "I've got him."
Daniel hesitated a moment before releasing me.
We began the long walk back to the car. I fervently hoped that I'd be able to make it all the way on my feet. I was starting to get a little light-headed. I really wished we'd brought along better medical supplies.
"I suppose you guys wouldn't have some medical supplies with you," I said to Steve.
"Uh . . . yeah, we do," he replied reluctantly. He shared a glance with Ned.
I suspected that I knew the reason for that look. "Okay, let's put our cards on the table. I saw that pelt in Ned's backpack, and I'm guessing that it belonged to an animal that you shouldn't have been hunting. I don't really care about that right now. All I care about is me and Daniel getting to safety. If you help us, I promise you that we won't say a word about your poaching."
There was a very long moment of silence.
"It wasn't really intentional," Steve finally said.
"So, Ned shot something else he couldn't really see?" I couldn't resist saying.
Though Ned clearly didn't appreciate the remark, Steve looked a little shame-faced.
"No. We just hadn't planned on shooting something that's out of season when we got here," he said. "But I swear we didn't shoot anything that's endangered."
'No, you just shoot people, and they're not an endangered species,' thought I. 'Although, if we get many more people like Ned running around with guns, that could soon change.' This time, I chose keep my mouth shut and not speak my thoughts aloud.
"Get the medical supplies, Ned," Steve said. "We've got some better bandages."
We stopped, and Steve lowered me to a sitting position, my back against a tree. Ned began rummaging around in his backpack. I saw Daniel frown at the sight of the pelt the man had pulled out, which I now recognized belonged to a black bear. Thankfully, he was wise enough not to say anything, though I'm betting that Ned felt the weight of that disapproving stare. I'd been subjected to that stare more than once in my life, so I knew how it felt. Even coming from a teenaged Daniel, it probably felt pretty heavy.
Ned produced some bandages, which Steve used to cover my wound.
"We are sorry about this, you know," he said in a low voice.
"Yeah, I know," I responded.
"Ned's not a bad guy. He's just not very bright, and he tends to get worked up easily. I don't think he would have shot you again. And in case you're wondering, he isn't violating his parole by carrying a rifle. His parole ended last month."
"I did wonder about it."
Once I was all bandaged up, we continued the journey to the car.
"Oh, God! They followed us!" Ned cried.
The rest of us turned, and I caught a glimpse of white through the trees. The wolves were shadowing us. I was amazed that they'd actually crossed the river so that they could watch over Daniel and make sure he was safe.
"It's all right. They won't hurt you," Daniel assured the man. "If they were going to kill you, they'd already have done it."
"Come on," I said. "Let's just keep going."
We resumed walking, Ned glancing often over his shoulder, keeping a tight grip on Steve's rifle.
"You know, I've been hunting in this area for quite a few years," Steve remarked, "and I've never seen wolves acting like this before. In fact, I've rarely ever even seen one. They usually stay away from people, especially anyone carrying a gun."
"Is that so?" I responded nonchalantly. If these guys came to suspect the reason for the actions of the wolves, there could be some trouble. Not that many people would believe them. Who would believe that a pack of wild wolves came rushing to the rescue of a lone human boy? Even so, I could already hear what the guys in charge of the Stargate Program would say.
"Yeah. I also happened to notice that boy of yours doesn't seem to be the least bit afraid of those wolves."
"Well, he's . . . got a thing for animals."
Steve stared at me for a moment, but said nothing else.
By the time we got to the car, Steve was having to support quite a bit of my weight. Every time Daniel looked at me, I saw fear in his eyes. I knew he was afraid that I was going to die. I assured him more than once that I was going to be all right.
Steve was in the process of opening the car's back door for me when something happened that totally blew my hopes that we'd get out of this situation without any more uncomfortable questions being aimed at me or Daniel.
Steve, Ned and I were all on one side of the car, Daniel on the other when the wolf pack leader decided to come up and say goodbye to him. Or maybe it was just looking for some assurance that he really was all right. Either way, the sight of that wild wolf walking right up to Daniel and nuzzling his leg had Steve's and Ned's jaws nearly hitting the ground. Of course Daniel being Daniel, he couldn't just ignore it, so he knelt right down and stroked its fur, receiving a lick on the nose. The wolf I was pretty sure was the alpha female came up and got in a lick or two of its own. I was afraid that the entire pack would get in on the goodbyes, but, thankfully, they didn't. That might have proved too much for Ned and Steve to handle. As it was, their eyes were threatening to pop right out of their sockets.
As Daniel got in the car, sitting on the back seat beside me, the wolves vanished into the forest.
We'd been driving for perhaps ten minutes when I'd finally come up with what I figured was a plausible explanation for what happened.
"I suppose you fellas are wondering about those wolves," I began. "The fact is that they were raised in captivity as part of a program to increase the wild population. Daniel here is part of the program and personally helped raise them. They're pretty fond of him, as you could see. That's probably also why they nearly attacked you. They saw you as a threat to him and were just trying to protect him."
There was silence for several seconds as I waited to see if my story would be accepted.
"Yep, that does explain things," Steve said at last. I had to wonder if he'd bought the story or was just playing along. "It must have been tough for you to release them into the wild, Daniel."
To his credit, Daniel didn't hesitate in his reply. "Um, yeah, it was. I hope they don't get shot by somebody. They're an endangered species here." He looked pointedly at the two hunters.
"Don't worry. We won't be shooting any wolves. Isn't that right, Ned?"
"Yeah," the man in the passenger seat mumbled.
By the time we made it to the nearest clinic I was feeling pretty woozy, and Daniel was even more worried. They had to pry him away from me as I was taken off to be treated.
The bullet wasn't in very deep, so it was removed just with a local anesthetic. Because of the blood loss, the doctor wanted me to stay in one of their rooms overnight, but I knew that wouldn't be possible. Instead, I promised him that I'd rest for the remainder of the day.
While all this was going on, I received a visit from a deputy, who questioned me about the shooting. I made it clear that it was a hunting accident, saying nothing about Ned's later actions and explaining how he and Steve helped get me here.
Because of the shooting, our vacation was going to have to be cut short, which made me feel bad for Daniel. As vacations went, this one had turned out to be a bust. I suppose I could look on the bright side, though. This little adventure had probably driven all other thoughts and feelings right out of Daniel.
Daniel and I spent the night in a motel room. Needless to say, when I called Hammond and told him about what happened, he was somewhat dismayed.
"I know what you're thinking, sir, and trust me when I say that getting shot by a hunter was not on my list of activities for this vacation," I told him. I had not said anything about the incident with the wolves. The restrictions upon Daniel were already so tight that I was afraid if the bigwigs found out about this latest event, they might never allow him to leave the mountain again.
"I'll send someone over first thing tomorrow to get you and Daniel home," Hammond said.
"Send someone who can fly Captain Penn's plane. I don't think he'd appreciate it being left behind."
We'd purchased some clothes and other necessities, so we were all set in that regard, but we needed to be careful that none of the people who saw Daniel this afternoon would be around to see him tomorrow. Most people might not notice his increase in height unless they'd been paying close attention, but his hair was another matter. What with my arm in a sling, I wouldn't be able to give him a haircut in the morning, so his hair would be quite noticeably longer. I was glad that I'd brought along a baseball cap for him to wear in case of emergency.
After dinner, which we ate in our room, we watched some TV.
"Am I going to get into trouble because of the wolves?" Daniel abruptly asked during one of the commercials.
"No, you won't get into trouble."
"Those guys saw them being friendly with me."
"Yeah, but I think they bought the story I told them. I didn't tell Hammond about it, and I don't intend to do so when we get back."
Daniel looked at me in surprise. "But he's your superior. You're supposed to tell him everything."
"Well, not everything."
"But you're supposed to tell him things like this, aren't you, because it has to do with the program."
"Daniel, this wouldn't be the first time that I've kept certain things a secret from my superiors. As long as there isn't a problem, they don't need to know."
Daniel frowned. "I don't want you to get into trouble because of me."
"I appreciate that, Daniel, but I know that, if our situations were reversed, you'd do the same thing for me. Telling the higher-ups is just going to cause a lot more problems and make things even harder for you. So, it'll be our secret, all right? Nobody else will know."
"Not even Sam and Teal'c? I wouldn't like keeping secrets from them."
I thought about it. Telling Teal'c wouldn't matter since he was not in the military and, therefore, wouldn't be subject to disciplinary action if the truth came out, but Carter was a different story.
"How about if we wait a while before telling them? We'll wait and see if there are going to be any problems."
"Okay." Daniel paused. "What about the other thing?"
"What other thing?"
"I used my telekinesis on Ned."
That fact had slipped my mind. I wondered now why Ned didn't say anything. It was doubtful that he'd figured out it was Daniel who pushed him, but he couldn't be so stupid as to not know that something strange had happened. All we could do was hope that he kept his mouth shut.
"We won't say anything about that either," I answered.
The TV program came back on, and I returned my attention to it. Glancing at Daniel, however, revealed that he was no longer watching. Instead, he was staring at the hands in his lap. I got the remote and turned off the TV.
"Do you need to talk about what happened?" I asked.
Daniel didn't reply for a moment. "I was really scared," he murmured. "When you got shot, I thought you were going to die."
"But I didn't die, did I. I'm right here, just a little worse for wear."
"But you could get killed someday on a mission or . . . or Sam or Teal'c could."
I didn't reply since I couldn't assure him that wouldn't happen.
"You, Sam, and Teal'c are like my family now, and . . ." Daniel's voice lowered to barely more than a whisper, "and I don't want to lose you, too."
I sighed silently. It had been a while since Daniel said anything about losing loved ones. He'd stopped talking about his parents quite some time ago. But it was clear that deep inside him was the fear that he'd lose still more people he cared about.
"You know I can't promise you that none of us will die, Daniel," I finally said. "Sooner or later everyone dies. But you have to know that you will never be alone. It's not like it was before. You will always have someone who loves you. You have a whole base full of people who care about you." I put on a smile. "Now I don't want you thinking about these things anymore. Technically, we're still on vacation, so we're supposed to be having fun, bullet wound or no bullet wound. Okay?"
Daniel paused, before saying, "Okay."
I turned the TV back on and found a comedy for us to watch, figuring that I needed to lighten the mood.
"Oh, and Daniel?" I said after a while.
"For keeping Ned from shooting me. He probably wouldn't have anyway, but we can't really be sure. You might have saved my life back there."
Daniel looked at me and, in a voice that sounded so much older than his present age, said, "That's what friends do."
I smiled. "Yes, it is, Daniel. Yes, it is."
It turned out to be Carter who came to bring us home the next day. She explained that Teal'c was still off-world.
"Sir, are you all right?" she asked, studying my sling-supported arm.
"I've had way worse than this, Carter. I'll be fine."
She turned to Daniel and gave him a hug. "How are you doing?"
She smiled. "I can't believe how much you've grown!" Her smile got bigger. "Fourteen years old. Wow. In just a few more days, you'll be getting back memories of college. I bet that's exciting."
Daniel's response wasn't as enthusiastic as one might expect. Carter glanced at me with a question in her eyes.
"Later," I mouthed.
She gave a short nod, understanding.
With Carter behind the wheel, we drove back to Kent's place to get mine and Daniel's belongings and to close up the house.
"This is really nice," Carter said, looking around.
"Well, maybe we can come here again someday, and you can join us," I suggested. "Up until I got shot, we were having loads of fun."
"Sure. I think I'd like that."
I was a little surprised by her answer. I'd been trying for years to get Carter to take some time off and come enjoy the great outdoors, but she always said that it wasn't her thing. I looked over at the teenaged boy who was our teammate. But that was before Daniel was turned into a child. That event and these weeks of watching him grow up had affected all of us in a lot of ways, and I'd like to think it was for the better. I know that I've learned to enjoy life more, to let myself go and have more fun, and I think that both Carter and Teal'c have as well. And there certainly wasn't anything wrong with that.
As we loaded the last of the stuff in the car, we all heard the distant sound of a lone wolf howling. It was joined by a chorus of others. Daniel gazed off into the woods, probably thinking about the lupine friends he'd made. If we ever did return here, I had no doubt that he'd go back across that river for a visit. I also had no doubt that they'd welcome him eagerly.
"Ready to go, Daniel?" I asked with a smile.
He turned to me. "Yeah."
I rested my hand on his shoulder, and we turned to the car, ready for the trip home and a return to the day-to-day routine of the SGC – or at least as routine as any day in the Stargate Program could be.
THE END . . . until Part 10.