"Some... WHERE! Ofer the raaainbow!"
"Oh, fer cryin' out loud!"
"Waaaaay uuuuup hiiiiiiiigh!"
"Daddy said a bad word, Cammie!"
Jack O'Neill had to count to ten twice just to keep himself from repeatedly slamming his forehead into the steering wheel, and even then the urge was nearly over-whelming. "If you two don't knock it off..."
Twin pairs of soulful blue eyes pinned him from the rearview mirror, doing their absolute best to melt his heart. And it was working, too, darn it, despite the fact that the two-star general was currently very, very annoyed with the owners of said eyes. Cute though they were, Dan and Cam should have come with their own warning labels.
The problem was, Jack was firmly wrapped around the boys' fingers, but thirty-plus years of military-instilled discipline kept him from capitulating to their childish capriciousness. Danny was, for the most part, a very sweet and well-behaved boy, but could often be every bit as rambunctious and adventurous as his brother Cam. Cam of the fearless tree, garage, drainpipe, and pantry-climbing escapades. Cam of the never-look-before-you-leap approach. Cam of the do-what-you-want-and-beg-for-leniency-when-you-inevitably-get-caught-because-your-best-laid-plans-are-the-fundamentally-flawed-concoctions-of-a-five-year-old ideas.
Jack was now regretting having let Cam and Danny watch The Wizard of Oz at the motel last night. The boys had begged, and since it was his own favorite movie anyway, Jack had relented. It was, unfortunately, one of the dumbest ideas he'd ever had, ranking higher than assigning a hero-worshipping colonel to the team of his dreams without first informing him the members of said team had all moved on to other pursuits. It even ranked above convincing his own commanding officer that a civilian archaeologist with a complete inability to follow orders should be put on a front-line combat team. He couldn't know for certain without making a list, but at this time, Jack was almost convinced that it was his penultimate dumb idea, second only to leaving his gun case unlocked so that a young boy could--
Well, he just wasn't going to go into that right now.
So far this morning, the two extremely vocal youngsters had given him an almost word-for-word replay of the movie, displaying an uncanny knack for rote memorization that always managed to fail them when it came to Jack's instructions about What Not to Do, Which Includes Climbing Things, Cameron, Digging in the Backyard, Daniel, and Hitting Your Brother, Both of You. He'd called a halt to the recitation when Dorothy was being introduced to the Munchkins, getting off the interstate to feed his own version of the Lollipop Guild an early lunch. He'd mistakenly believed the boys to have forgotten their thespian pursuits over the dubious delights of fast food kids' meals, but almost from the moment the truck's tires hit the on-ramp, Cam and Dan resumed their narrative.
Jack drew the line at mangling Judy Garland, so when Danny realized that they'd forgotten the most important part of the movie--the music--and Cam obligingly started in on the opening song, he was quick to interrupt. That hadn't prevented Danny from massacring the second line, though, much to his brother's gleeful enjoyment. If the general was in the market for small favors, it would be that the boys were currently content to torment their dear old dad and not each other.
In fact, it was remarkable that they were behaving as well as they were, especially when one considered that they'd been sitting in their booster seats for the better part of the last twenty-four hours. They'd left Colorado Springs early yesterday afternoon on a road trip that ordinarily would have taken Jack a maximum of eight hours to accomplish on his own, but was considerably complicated by hauling along a pair of mischievous youngsters who naturally needed bathroom breaks nearly every half-hour.
He hadn't told the boys their destination, letting the mystery of the journey keep their inquisitive minds occupied for at least a little while. Had it been just Daniel, Jack was sure the pint-sized genius would have come up with several logical destinations and used his deductive reasoning skills to narrow it down to a mere handful. With his new brother Cam along, it became a game, instead. Each subsequent guess was sillier and more imaginative than the last--which was saying a lot given that both boys had only recently been highly-qualified professionals who journeyed to other planets on a regular basis.
So here Jack was with two very excitable five year-olds crammed into their much-despised booster seats on the back bench-seat of a four-door pick-up, fourteen hours into an eight hour trip. All things considered and mutilations of much-beloved movies aside, the little family was doing quite well. Another glance in the rearview mirror revealed Danny and Cam leaned close together, whispering quietly and no doubt plotting something else guaranteed to turn what remained of Jack's gray hair stark white.
And to think it had been brown when he first met the adult Daniel...
Much to Jack's relief, the sign ahead announced that the next exit was the one he wanted, and he was grateful he'd taken the time and effort to memorize the directions so that there weren't any traitorous papers to fall into enemy hands (most likely Daniel's instead of Cam's) and give away the secret of their intended destination. He wanted it to be a surprise, and hoped it would be a welcome surprise, at that. He was pretty sure one of the boys would be delighted, anyway, and was counting on the kids' camaraderie to put the other in the same mood.
A quick inhalation was his only warning.
"Weee're OFF to see the Wizard! The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!"
Ouch. For such small fries, the boys were incredibly loud, and the close confines of the truck's cab only amplified the volume. Moreover, since they'd begun... singing... at the same time, Jack got it in stereo: perfect two-part disharmony.
"Oi," he groaned, turning off the interstate.
Cam took a solo. "You'll find he is a wiz of a wiz, if efer a wiz there was!"
Daniel jumped right in with his part. "If ever, oh ever a wiz there was, the Wizard of Oz is one because--"
And once again in excrutiatingly adorable discordance, "Because, because, because, because, BECAAAAAAAAAAAUSE!"
To quote the old Peanuts strip: if you can't lick 'em, join 'em. "Because of the wonderful things he does!" Jack added, enjoying the looks of surprise on the boys' faces. Astonished, they forgot about singing the last line, which suited the general just fine. He wasn't sure his battered eardrums would remain intact much longer anyway.
The conspirators went back to their quiet and careful planning, giggling and whispering to one another. Jack kept one eye on the road and one eye on the rearview mirror, wondering what machinations the boys were up to now. When, after five minutes, nothing suspect had been forthcoming, Jack grinned and inwardly congratulated himself on interrupting their karaoke hour. He turned the truck onto a narrow two-lane road, then almost immediately hung a left down another. Any minute now...
"Daddy is taking us to visit my real mommy and daddy!" Cameron exclaimed excitedly, bouncing in his booster seat and practically plastering his nose to the window.
"You have a real mommy and daddy?" Danny asked quietly, worrying his lower lip.
"Uh-huh," Cam replied, "but I fink they're older 'n' stuff, 'cause I used-ta be growed up."
"Oh," was the other boy's reply, leaving Jack to mentally urge Cam to reassure his brother.
Perhaps Cam was capable of taking telepathic instruction, a thought that was so inane Jack just knew he was going to have to test it further. "It's okay, Danny... I bet my real mommy and daddy will love you as much as they love me, 'cause you're my brother! An' if they don't, then we always have Daddy Jack, right?"
To Jack's dismay, Daniel didn't look convinced. The general wasn't about to panic, though, as the whole purpose of this visit was to inform certain people about certain things they didn't know. One of the first things he'd done after becoming the head of Homeworld Security was to grant his ex-wife Sara the necessary clearance to learn the truth about the "crystal Charlie" incident she'd witnessed nine years ago. Cam's parents, he decided, needed to know why their son wouldn't be coming home for family holidays for the foreseeable future. They'd had one such scare only recently in their lives--the long months Cam spent in the hospital and physical therapy following his crash during the Battle of Antarctica--and deserved the truth or close to it for both incidents.
Well, as much of the truth as was necessary to understand the circumstances, anyway.
He pulled the truck into a short gravel drive, parking in front of a split-level house that had been painted red to match the barns and shed next to it. Rose bushes lined the sidewalk, waving gently in the breeze. Just as he switched of the engine, a gray-haired man on forearm crutches and a blond-haired woman in an apron stepped out the front door.
Jack turned around and pointed at each of the boys in turn. "Stay in here for a minute while I explain this to your parents, Cam." Not waiting for a reply, he pulled the documents he needed out of the glove box, opened the truck door, and stepped out into the yard.
"General O'Neill," called the man, letting go of his left crutch to grasp his wife's hand.
"Mr. Mitchell," he acknowledged, offering his own right hand. "Call me, Jack, please, I'm not in uniform."
"Frank," the other man responded in kind, shaking his hand, "and this is my wife, Wendy."
"I know when you called you said there was nothing wrong with Cameron," began Wendy nervously.
"But the last time an Air Force General showed up on our doorstep," continued Frank, "it was to tell us that Cam had been severely injured in a crash."
"Ah, good ol' George Hammond. And no, it's nothing like that," Jack assured them, then unfolded the papers he carried. "These are non-disclosure agreements. What I'm about to tell you is classified under section 11C9 of the National Security Act. The nature of the classification means that you can't tell anyone what I'm about to tell you."
Frank looked up from the paper. "Not even Cam's brother?"
Jack blinked. "Brother?"
"Kevin," Wendy explained. "Cam's younger brother? And his wife, Alice, and their kids David, Hayley, and Kaitlyn--"
"Right. Just got a little confused there." For a moment, he'd thought they meant Daniel. Grinning, he pointed to his hair. "This used to be brown until all the gray matter started sneaking out through the roots."
That did the trick, provoking a smile from Frank and an easing of tension from Wendy. Just as Jack was about to open his mouth to urge them to sign the agreements, he heard the truck door open and a pair of sneakered feet hit the gravel. Telepathically willing Cam to stay in the truck had been a futile effort. Rats.
"C'mon, Danny!" cried an excited voice in a too-loud whisper.
Wendy's jaw dropped. "He looks just like Cameron did at that age!"
"You mean Cam has a son?" Frank asked.
Jack pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket and presented it to the Mitchells. "That's classified, too."
Mrs. Mitchell snatched the proffered pen out of his fingers so quickly it looked like the writing implement had simply vanished. Using the glass panel of the front door, she signed and dated the form, then thrust it at Jack. An amused Frank intercepted the pen and signed at a more sedate pace than his wife.
Once both agreements were filled out, folded, and tucked into Jack's shirt pocket, he suggested they sit down for this information. Wendy and Frank gestured to the picnic table in the front yard, and after much careful manuevering on Frank's part--the former test pilot wore prosthetics after his legs had been lost in a crash--they were soon seated.
"What about, er... the boys?" asked Wendy.
Jack turned around, watching the youngsters racing across the field behind the barn, shrieking with delight. "They've been sitting in a car for a while. If you don't mind, I'd like to let them just run off some of that energy."
"Of course," Frank replied. "Now, what's this about Cameron? And if that isn't his boy, he looks mighty da--"
"That's not Cameron's son," Jack interrupted. "That is Cameron."
Wendy's mouth formed a perfect 'O'. "That's Cameron? But he's... he's..."
"Been turned into a child, yes," he confirmed. "Two years ago, when Cameron's jet crashed, it wasn't an F-16 that malfunctioned in a training scenario as you were told. Cam was the leader of an elite squadron of pilots specially chosen to fly one of the planet's most closely-guarded secrets: the F-302."
"What's that?" Frank asked. "Uh, if we're allowed to know, that is."
"It's an advanced aerospace tactical fighter."
"You bet. It was primarily designed for space combat, but it works pretty well in the atmosphere, too."
Wendy shook her head. "So Cameron's accident wasn't in Siberia but in space?"
"It was in Antarctica, actually, but let me back up a little further. Approximately ten years ago, a team of Air Force Special Forces--including yours truly and a civilian with more brains than any one person has any business having--encountered a hostile alien force on a planet called Abydos."
He held up a hand to stave off the inevitable questioning. "The hostile in question was eliminated at the time, but what we didn't realize was that he wasn't the last of his species as he'd claimed. A year later, one of his rivals dropped in for a visit, and eventually led an assault on Earth. My team and I stopped the attack before it started, but that was by no means the last time we clashed with these guys.
"The aliens, called the Goa'uld--" and he was sure Daniel would be proud of him for pronouncing it "Go-Ah-Oold" "--have tried several times to conquer this planet. The Battle of Antarctica was one such attempt, and Cameron's actions and that of his squadron saved me and my team so that we could accomplish our mission and blow the bad guys out of the water. I was, er... 'incapacitated' for some time following the fight, but as soon as I could--well, as soon as the sneaky civilian with too many brains guilt-tripped me into it--I went to visit him at the hospital. I told Cameron that if he recovered fully, he could have anything he wanted... within reason.
"He decided--and I suspect said sneaky civilian had a hand in his decision--that the one thing he wanted more than anything else, was to join the team I'd led for seven years. I'd just been promoted to general and put in charge of the, er, defense project--code-named 'Stargate Command' or the 'SGC'--so there was a spot open on the team. So, a year and active duty clearance later, Cameron transferred from the world's top fighter squadron to its number one ground unit, SG-1."
Jack drew a deep breath, glanced over his shoulder to make sure the boys were still content to play "chasey", then turned back to the incredulous faces of Cameron's biological parents. "A few months back, SG-1 visited a planet on a routine exploration, but there was some sort of accident involving a piece of technology they encountered. When the proverbial smoke cleared, two of the team members were just fine, but two of 'em had been shrimped."
Narrative finished, he crossed his arms and leaned on the tabletop, waiting patiently for the Mitchells' brains to catch up to current events. Finally, Wendy ventured, "So Cameron is--"
"--Still Cameron--" Frank continued.
"--Just younger?" she finished.
"That's about right. And Daniel--the other kid--is still Daniel, just younger."
"But why only the two of them?" Cam's father asked. "Why not the other two members of their team?"
Jack blew out a gust of air. "Well, near as the science people can figure, it's because Dan and Cam are, for the most part, one hundred-percent human. The other two..."
"Are aliens?" Wendy guessed, incredulous. "And just what do you mean by 'for the most part'?"
"One of their teammates is an alien, the other one just has some proteins and stuff in her blood that mimicks certain alien physiological whatevers. And they're both biologically one-hundred percent human, but Danny's got some extra stuff buried in his head from a trip he took with an advanced race."
With an excited squeal and exuberant yell, Daniel and Cameron barrelled into Jack, wrapping their skinny arms around his chest. "Come look, Daddy!" Daniel exclaimed. "Cammie found this great big bullfrog, which I thought was really weird 'cause I didn't see a pond anywhere around, but it was huge and it--"
"Hold your horses, there, Doctor Jackson," Jack scolded playfully. "Frank, Wendy, you already know Cam."
"Hi Mom... hi Dad!" Cam beamed, still latched onto his new dad.
"And the rugrat here is Daniel, the civilian I told you about."
"Hello, Mister and Missus Mitchell," Daniel offered politely.
Frank and Wendy were beginning to look suspiciously misty-eyed, so Jack decided to move things along quickly. "The reason why I went through all the trouble of bringing the boys here is that I'm still holding onto my job in Washington D.C., but the boys and I live in Colorado Springs."
"You want us to take care of Cam?" Wendy guessed. "And are Daniel's parents going to--"
"Well, Danny doesn't have parents any more," Jack interrupted, wrapping his arms around the boys on either side of him and giving each an affectionate squeeze. He knew this was the part that had had Daniel so worried as soon as he realized who they were going to be visiting. "Besides, I wouldn't dream of separating these two. They're brothers now, and look after and love each other as much as they pester and get each other into trouble."
"Both boys, then?" Frank asked incredulously. "Kevin's ten years younger than Cam is... uh, was, so we never had more than one wild kid to try to keep up with. They still broke an awful lot of Wendy's old broomsticks when they--"
Jack shook his head. "I couldn't possibly ask you to do that. I mean, you already raised Cam once, and even though he turned out well enough, you deserve to kick back and enjoy life. And I love the boys, too, and couldn't imagine giving them up for anything. The thing is, my superiors back in Washington have been bugging me to head back for some of my meetings, and I'd have to leave the boys with someone I could trust to watch them until I got back. Carter--that's the woman from their team--could do it if she's not off on a mission, and Carolyn, the base doctor, can if there isn't a medical emergency on-base.
"When the boys first got shrunk, initial thought was that it'd be for a short time only, then the scientists would figure out how to reverse it and put things back to normal. It's been three months, now, and I'm beginning to think--based on what Carter said he said before it happened--that the only one who might ever have been able to tell us how the device that kiddified them worked is this little guy right here." He tapped Danny on the top of his little dark blonde head.
"Me?" the boy gaped.
Cam crossed his arms. "How come Danny gets to be the one who knows stuff?"
"'Cause Danny used to be an Ascended and you're the one who got to be the hotshot pilot, remember?"
"Oh yeah!" Cam exclaimed and stuck out his tongue at his brother. "Rock-dweeb!"
"Fly-dork!" Danny responded with an echoing gesture.
Jack cleared his throat. "Boys..."
"Sorry, Daddy!" they apologized in unison, then took off across the yard to settle their name-calling in a more "civilized" manner. As long as it remained harmless wrestling, Jack was going to let it go for now. They were on vacation, after all.
"You're good with them," Wendy began softly. "And Cammie seems so happy... and Danny, too."
"They're good kids," he answered. "Misbehave a lot, but boys will be boys. I just thought the two of you deserved the truth about Cam, especially if the boys end up having to grow up the normal way." He dug into his shirt pocket once more and withdrew one of his newly-revised business cards. "My assistant in Colorado, Captain Leonard, should be able to help you establish a cover story for you to use if anyone asks where Cameron is right now--probably the one they were initially going to tell you before I nixed the idea."
He cleared his throat again. "You don't have to agree to anything now, and even if you do, there may not actually come a time when I'd have to call upon you to take care of the boys for me, but--"
The Mitchells exchanged a look, then Wendy placed her hand over Jack's forearm, interrupting him. "We'd be delighted to have the boys stay with us for a little while. And please don't wait until there's a meeting in Washington before you bring them to visit." She smiled warmly at her husband, then back at Jack. "It's been thirty years since we last saw Cammie like that, you know."
Jack let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. "Thanks. To be honest, I've been a little worried about who was going to watch them back when the Pentagon first started trying to get me to end my emergency leave. It was really tempting to just hand them my retirement papers and tell them where to shove the job."
Cam's parents laughed, but then a squeal of pain alerted them to the not-so-friendly end to the wrestling match. Jack rolled his eyes and shouted, "Cameron! Let go of your brother's arm; he can't breath with his face in the dirt like that!"
Frank chuckled, carefully rising from the picnic table and gathering his crutches. "I'll handle this one, Jack."
Wendy patted the general's arm again. "Stay for dinner, too. I have a pie ready to go in the oven."
"Mmm, pie," Jack grinned.
He watched as the elder Mitchell hobbled over to the glowering boys and told them he'd show them where the bullfrog's pond was. After reminding the children that he couldn't go as fast as they could, Frank and the kids set off toward one of the fields. Cam and Dan apparently decided to regale their captive audience with the wonders of The Wizard of Oz, breaking into song once again.
"Some WHERE! Ofer the raaainbow!"
"Bluuuuuue biiiiiirds flyyyyyy!"
Jack O'Neill shook his head and grinned some more. The bluebirds, as far as he was concerned, could have their rainbow: Kansas was just fine.