A note on the beautiful picture above: I'm not the artist. I could only wish I was the artist. This picture was drawn and sent to me by a fan who said that I had inspired her with the first chapter of this story. Unfortunately, her name has been lost somewhere amongst data transfers between computers. If you drew this, or you know who did, please contact me and let me know. Besides wanting to give credit where credit is due, I'd love to get in contact again. I didn't get a chance to really get to know her... 


A Road Not Taken


As far as field trips went, any kind of museum had to be the most boring place ever invented. At least that's what Jack O'Neill thought about the latest trek he'd been dragged along for. Although the dinosaur exhibit was kinda cool, and the new Egyptian display was sorta promising, this wasn't the kind of thing he'd expected to deal with when he'd signed up for Art Appreciation. The assumption was that the class would be an easy "A" to help him coast through ninth grade, the so-called tough transition year of high school. Now he was thinking he should have taken Ceramics.

The only good thing about Mister Guilder's latest attempt to "bring culture to today's youth" was that Jack got out of classes for the day.

Lazily rubbing a hand over his crop-cut brown hair, Jack only half-listened to his teacher-turned-tour-guide as the group of thirty or so students finally reached the culmination of the older man's vision of cultural exposure: the Peasants and Pageantry of Ancient Egypt exhibit. "All of the structures and artifacts I'll be showing you were recently excavated and brought to the United States by Doctors Melbourne and Claire Jackson," Guilder expounded in the superior tone he always used with his students. It was just one reason for his lack of popularity. "You will all need to be extremely careful as we make our way through the exhibit, and be sure not to touch anything."

Jack rolled his eyes. How old did this guy think they were, six? If something was old enough to be referred to as an artifact, it was probably easy to break. It was also pretty sure to be very expensive. So logic would say don't do anything that would break something it would take you the rest of your life to pay for. But that was just him.

A light tugging on the arm of his jacket made Jack realize he'd fallen to the back of the group, and Guilder was in the middle of a long-winded spiel about some weird squiggles carved into a block of grey stone. The teenager looked down to see who or what was trying to get his attention.

A small, thin boy with unruly blond hair looked up at him with wide blue eyes. "Excuse me," he said politely, a slight accent there Jack couldn't quite identify. "Is there a way to tell the man he's made a mistake without causing offense?" The boy gestured toward the still-babbling art teacher.

"I doubt it," Jack replied with a snort of amusement. "Guilder doesn't take criticism very well, especially from people younger than him." He cocked his head to the side. "What did he make a mistake about and how do you know he did?"

"He referred to the hieroglyphs inscribed on that stone as a royal cartouche. There is no line encircling them, so it probably wasn't used in reference to the pharaoh."

The seriousness in the younger boy's tone made Jack smile. "You know a lot about this stuff, don't you?"

The little blond nodded eagerly. "I've spent most of my life around things like this. There's always so much to learn. But someday I'll know as much as my mom and dad, and travel to places and do what they do."

"And what's that?"

"They're archaeologists," was the proud response.

The older boy grinned and lifted his head to see if anyone else had overheard the conversation. He was surprised to see they were alone. "Crap. I think the tour went on without me."

"I can give you the tour," Jack's young companion offered shyly, but with confidence underlying the tone.

Brown eyes looked down on the light-haired tyke in contemplation. Well, it couldn't be any worse than Kill-joy Guilder and his "you-need-to-experience-culture-but-I-know-you'll-never-understand-it" attitude. Heck, it might even be fun, if that light in the bright blue eyes staring up at him so trustingly meant anything. "Why not?" Jack said finally with a conspirator's smile. "I'll just meet the class in the reception area right before we're supposed to leave. I bet Guilder won't even miss me." He thrust out his right hand. "My name's Jack."

"I'm Daniel," the boy responded, delighted, shaking the offered appendage.

The next three hours were the most interesting the teenaged young man had ever spent in a museum. His companion was amazingly knowledgeable about the different exhibits, especially considering he was six years old as Jack found out. The kid was obviously a genius in the making, telling Jack about the stories behind some of the artifacts and translating some of the foreign texts without even thinking about it. And he had a good sense of humor, laughing at the jokes the older boy told him without reservation. Not bad for a kid who had spent most of his six years on various digs throughout Egypt and the Middle East being home-schooled by his parents along the way.

Had you told the smart-ass teenager even the day before that he would find himself becoming friends with a kid eight years younger than himself, Jack would have laughed in your face. By the time he and Daniel were returning to the museum entrance so Jack could rejoin his class with no one the wiser, however, the fledgling friendship they'd begun was the most natural thing in the world. It was just too bad the younger boy was only visiting the Twin Cities.

"You know," Jack began as Mister Guilder started taking a head count, "today turned out a lot better than I thought it would. Thanks, Danny." Daniel's face lit up at the diminutive, his eyes sparkling like twin stars in the rounded features. "What?" Jack asked, confused by the reaction.

"My mom and dad call me Danny. I guess this means you really like me."

The older boy shook his head with a wry smile at the proud tone. "Well, yeah. You're pretty cool for a kid."

"I like you, too, Jack. I hope I can come see you again someday."

"Tell your mom and dad they need to set up an exhibit here. I'll be sure to come and visit, and you can give me another tour. I bet I'll forget everything you told me by then."

The bright blue eyes were far too knowing for so young a child. "No, you won't," Daniel said confidently. He leaned in to whisper, "You're really smart, even if you don't want anyone to know about it. If you really want to fly airplanes for the Air Force like you said, you have to be smart and go to school. I bet the better in school you are, the better airplanes they let you fly."

Jack considered it. "My dad says something like that whenever I gripe about my homework." He grinned. "Your way sounds better. We'll see, though." Daniel straightened and laughed.

"O'Neill!" Guilder called out, aiming a jaundiced gaze in his direction. "Stop picking on the young child and get over here! We're just about ready to leave."

"He's not!" Daniel cried, his indignation overcoming his desire to avoid causing offense. "Jack never picked on me!"

"Daniel, don't worry about it. It doesn't matter," Jack said softly, his eyes hard as they glared at his teacher.

Daniel gave him an incredulous look. "Yes, it does. You're my friend."

"O'Neill, we're leaving. I expect to see you on the bus in five minutes." Guilder shot the brown-haired teenager a haughty, exasperated look - that was totally ignored as Jack stared with complete surprise at the boy at his side - before turning on his heel and leading his snickering students out to the waiting bus.

Jack turned back at the sound of the group leaving. "God, he's a prick," he muttered with a roll of his eyes.

"I don't like the way he talks to you," Daniel grumbled. "He's not very nice. And he's not a good teacher, either."

"Tell me something I don't know." The taller boy looked down at the young blond speculatively. "You didn't have to do that."

"But you're my friend." Blue eyes looked up at him earnestly.

Jack gave a half-smile of disbelief. "You are something else, Daniel. Friends are really important to you, aren't they?"

Daniel shrugged. "I don't have very many. We move around too much."

"Well, I guess you've got me. Remember that." He ruffled the unruly golden locks and laughed at the scowl the action produced. "I have to go or they'll leave without me. I'll try to get my dad to bring me down this weekend and maybe we'll run into each other then, okay?"

The boy gave him a thousand-watt smile. "I'll be here. Thank you, Jack."

Jack waved as he started to walk quickly toward the front doors. As he reached them, he heard a woman call out, "Danny! That's where you ended up!" A glance over his shoulder as he paused in the act of leaving showed him a lean brunette woman with her long, straight hair tied back in a ponytail running over to his new little friend and gathering him up in her arms, nearly dislodging her horn-rimmed glasses. "Your father and I were worried when you weren't in the exhibit."

"You were busy double checking your Isis sculptures, and Daddy was talking with Mister Tilton, and Jack needed someone to give him a tour when his class left him behind because he was talking to me. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

"Did you find him, Doctor Jackson?" a lady that Jack recognized from the information desk when he'd first come in asked as she hurried over to the mother-and-son pair.

Doctor Jackson? He probably should have put it together sooner, but it took that final piece for Jack to realize that his little tour guide was the son of the two archaeologists that had put together the Peasants and Pageantry of Ancient Egypt exhibit. He wanted to smack himself in the forehead. How could he have missed it? "I guess you really will be here this weekend, won't you, Daniel Jackson?" he muttered under his breath with a smile before finally leaving and catching the bus just in time.

* * * * * * * *

Jack's father was unable to take him to the Cities and the museum where he'd met the boy who had made such an incredible impression, much to Jack's disappointment. He read that the Egyptian exhibit had moved on to a museum somewhere in Madison, Wisconsin by the time the next weekend had rolled around, and regretted not giving in to the impulse he'd felt to give young Daniel Jackson his address to keep in touch. He couldn't believe the bond he felt with the boy. It was actually somewhat unnerving. 

As time went by he thought of Daniel less and less, although he always stopped by the museum every time he was in Minneapolis. It was during one of those visits two years later, the fall semester of his junior year, that he heard a stunning piece of news. He'd been looking forward to finally getting to see his young friend again; the Jacksons were scheduled to open a new Egyptian exhibit just before Halloween. After saying hello to Sharon, a gorgeous, blonde sophomore at one of the Twin Cities' high schools who worked at the information desk and doubled as a tour guide on the weekends, Jack moved on to the Custer's Last Stand exhibit. This was the traveling display that would be leaving in just over a month to make room for the wonders of Egypt.

The sixteen-year-old was scowling at the fake-looking arrows the Indian models were using - he gave an internal sigh when he realized he'd obviously been spending way too much time looking at stuff like that if he was able to make that distinction - when Nancy Jacobson, the assistant curator whom he'd befriended during his frequent visits, walked over to the sign announcing the upcoming Egyptian exhibit that stood next to Jack. Her green eyes were filled with tears.

"Miss Jacobson, what's wrong?" Jack asked, surprised.

The older woman started to take down the sign. "I'm afraid the Jacksons won't be coming back to Minneapolis, Jack," she said sorrowfully. "There was an accident when they were setting up their exhibit at the New York Museum of Art."

The young man's brown eyes widened. "What kind of accident?" The words were barely audible.

"I'm not sure; I didn't get all the details. I was just told that the Jacksons died while they were setting up the exhibit." Tears began to fall unnoticed down her cheeks.

"All of them?" His last question was even softer than the one before.

"I can only guess that's the case. Claire and Mel always took Daniel everywhere. He was always so proud when he could help." Nancy paused in the act of rolling up the promotional poster to fight back a sob. She'd always been fond of the young, idealistic couple and their bright, precocious son. "And now it's bound to be splashed all over the evening news with no regard to the grief it will cause to the people that loved them." She started losing the struggle against expressing her own grief. "I'm sorry, Jack. I have to go." She hurried off in the direction of her office.

Jack stood where the honey-blonde woman had left him, staring after her without really seeing anything. The little boy with the wide, trusting blue eyes and the never-ending fountain of knowledge so incredible for a child his age was gone. This had been a child who had subconsciously inspired him to try harder in school - as much as he still didn't care for it and kept hiding his aptitude from his friends - by knowing intuitively that the older boy he had given a tour was more than he'd seemed and telling him so. This had been a boy that had stood up to a man he'd previously not wanted to offend to defend someone he'd seen as a friend, even though he'd only known him for a little over three hours. This was someone Jack had felt an immediate connection to, as improbable as it seemed, no matter the age difference. And now he'd never see Daniel again.

He couldn't stay at the museum any longer. His jaw clenched, Jack ran from the place with no regard for the other patrons, hopping into his car - some hand-me-downs from his oldest brother he could live with - and taking off for home. Forty-five minutes later, the old beater pulled into its home in the O'Neill driveway and jerked to halt, Jack flying out of the vehicle and into the house. The teenager immediately dashed into the living room and turned the television to a channel that was just starting the evening news.

"You know, I was watching something," a sarcastic voice said from the couch to the right of where Jack sat on the floor directly in front of the screen.

"Sorry, Chris. Gotta watch the news," Jack said to his brother shortly.

"Since when do you desperately need to watch the news?" Chris asked, bewildered by his younger sibling's behavior. Jack said nothing.

"And in other news, a sudden, tragic accident at the New York Museum of Art has claimed the lives of two up and coming, well-received archaeologists. Melbourne and Claire Jackson were killed this morning when the stone exhibit they had been supervising the construction of as part of their latest traveling exhibit collapsed. Museum officials told the press that an investigation into the cause of the accident would be begun as soon as possible. Back to you, Jim."

Jack gasped as the newscaster wrapped up the short story, the even shorter film footage taken earlier that day

and played back in a small viewing screen above the co-anchor's left shoulder showing the young man something he never expected. There, in the far corner, amazingly enough being totally ignored, was Daniel Jackson. He was taller and his face had begun to lose the roundness Jack remembered from their encounter two years previous, but there could be no doubt that this was the same boy he'd been waiting to talk to again, and he was most definitely alive. He was in complete shock, but alive.

"Jack?" his brother asked, a little worried. "Are you okay? Did you know those people or something?"

Jack shrugged. "I know their son," he said shortly.

Chris' brow furrowed with confusion. "How?"

"Do you remember that art appreciation class I took my freshman year?"

The older boy snorted. "Oh, yeah. I told you you should have taken ceramics. Mister Guilder won't let me live you down."

"Mister Guilder is an ass," Jack retorted, knowing Chris held the same opinion of the man, even if he was stuck with him for his advanced painting class. "Anyway, he took us on a field trip one day to see this one exhibit on ancient Egypt. The Jacksons were the ones who had put it together, and their son Daniel was with them."

"Was this at that museum you're always going to?"

"So what if it is?" the younger of the two said defensively.

Chris held up his hands in surrender. "Don't take my head off; I was just asking."

Jack sighed. "Sorry. So I was lagging behind everyone kinda griping to myself about what an idiot Guilder is when this kid tugs on my sleeve and asks if there's a way to tell the guy he's wrong without offending him. We talked for a bit, found out the tour had left without me, and he offered to show me around. I took him up on it figuring it had to be more entertaining than Guilder could ever be." He shrugged, a smile threatening to make an appearance. "I was right. I never thought I'd get all buddy-buddy with a six year old, but that kid was already smarter than I could ever dream of being. And then Daniel yelled at Guilder when the jerk claimed I was picking on the kid. Said it was because I was his friend. The kid had only known me for maybe three hours and he considered me his friend."

His expression grew serious again. "I'd heard that Daniel's parents were supposed to be bringing a new Egyptian exhibit here around Halloween. I was looking forward to it. Then, today, Miss Jacobson told me she'd heard there was an accident in New York and the Jacksons had been killed. She didn't know for sure, but she thought it had been all of them. I had to know for sure."

"Well, that explains the bum rush to the television," Chris said wryly. "I take it you found out what you needed to know?" There was a thread of concern and sympathy beneath the lazy tone.

Jack nodded. "I saw him in the little clip they showed. Daniel's alive. No one was paying any attention to him - which does not make me happy, by the way - but he was there." He frowned. "I wonder if there's any way to get a hold of him."

"There might be. You'd have to do some research though, and we both know how much you like doing that."

Jack's expression lightened a little as he smiled slightly to acknowledge the truth of the statement. "Maybe, but Daniel looked really lost, and no one was there for him. I told him a long time ago that he had me. That's close enough to a promise to count, and, well..."

Chris nodded. "An O'Neill doesn't break a promise. I know the drill. Let me do a little looking, see if I can help you out. With senior privileges during study hall, I should be able to spend a little more time in the library than you can."

"Thanks, Chris. I really appreciate it."

"Any time, bro. Besides, it's the least I can do for the kid who got my little brother to acknowledge he actually had a brain." He laughed at the shocked look Jack gave him. "Don't think I didn't notice about what time you actually started doing your homework and Dad stopped griping about your grades after parent-teacher conferences. Now that I know some background, things make a little more sense. This Daniel Jackson must have had some effect on you to change you from a Neanderthal to a human being!"

Jack just growled and pounced on the older boy, starting an impromptu wrestling match, happy underneath it all that he had someone like his brother in his life and hoping he might have the chance to do the same for Daniel. It was the least he could do for such a special young man.

Back to Ship Fiction          Go to Part Two

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