A Road Not Taken - Part Three


 "Dear Jack,

"You'll notice my new return address on the envelope (I'll still put it at the end of the letter just in case). I was placed back in the orphanage for a while until my social worker could find me another family, which is where I am now. I guess Mrs. Stephens didn't want to deal with me anymore. That's what she said, anyway, when she called Miss Walker and demanded she get me out of her house. What am I doing wrong, Jack? I don't talk very much, except sometimes with the younger kids, and I do my best to be as quiet as I can otherwise. I don't mean to get lost in my books. There's just so much information there, and some of the novels are so captivating. But I always get my chores done, even if I sometimes have to be reminded that they need to be done. Maybe I don't do them well enough. I'll have to try even harder here with my new foster family.

"Congratulations on being accepted to the Air Force Academy. I always knew you could make it if you tried. Now you'll get to fly the best planes, just like you always wanted. Are your parents and siblings proud? They should be. I know I am.

"I did a little research and I found out you can get your degree there just like at any other college. Do you know what you want to major in? Are you going to go for a graduate degree? If you are, do you know what you want to get it in? I know you can do whatever you set your mind to; you're just really good at hiding how smart you are. You never have told me why you think you need to do that. One of these days you'll have to. I really want to know.

"I'm glad I'm going to be able to get used to the Rogers before I have to go back to school. Now that all the testing that Mrs. Michaels insisted the school do for me is over, they want me to skip two grades ahead. Well, three really, since they had me placed a year behind where I guess I should have been for my age. Public school is so much different than learning at home. I'm still not always sure what I can and can't say in class, so I try not to say anything at all.

"Thinking of things I still don't understand, I still can't believe Mr. Michaels was so jealous of you. Mrs. Michaels always told me it was okay if I didn't want to talk to them yet, but Mr. Michaels always said if I could talk to you, I could talk to them. And I'd always hear banging when I'd run upstairs to my room. I know I never told you all this before, but Mr. Michaels made me nervous, and I was afraid he'd come into my room and read my letters over my shoulder. He did that a lot, and then ask me why they weren't good enough to say things to. I just couldn't, Jack. Mr. Michaels always seemed so angry with me. Mrs. Michaels was so nice, especially after your visit. I wish I could have been braver with her, but I didn't get a lot of time alone with her. Maybe I'll write a letter to her and tell her all the things I always wanted to say. Do you think she'd like that, Jack? She seemed sad when I left right after the new year, and I don't want to make her sad again by making her think of sad things.

"I have to go now, Jack. Mrs. Rogers just came to the door and said dinner was ready. I'll put this letter in the mailbox tomorrow when I get the chance. I can't wait to get your next letter.

"Your friend,


* * * * * * * *

"Dear Jack,

"Thank you so very much for keeping me updated on how Daniel's doing. I really appreciate it. I understand your concern for him, and I share it. I wish I could have done more for him, but Bill just... wasn't right for him.

"Because you asked - for the hundredth time, I'd be willing to bet - I'll try to explain what happened over the Christmas holiday. As Daniel told you, Bill had been pushing him, trying to get him to talk to us like he did with you. I knew Daniel wasn't ready for that; he'd already formed a bond with you before the accident. Bill couldn't accept that. I think he had this notion in his mind when we agreed to become foster parents that he'd be able to save the children that would come to live with us, maybe even adopt one or two of them. He wanted to be the one that would heal their wounds, straighten out their lives, make everything right for them. He saw Daniel as the perfect opportunity to prove what he'd be able to do.

"Oh, Jack, I wish I could have seen how things were going to turn out! Bill had been warned that Daniel wasn't talking - but that was just grief. We'd shower him with love and affection and everything would be as right as rain by Christmas. He'd been warned that Daniel still wasn't adjusted to life in the United States - but that was nothing to worry about. This was a little boy, and all that needed to be done was to expose him to cars and sports and eventually girls and Daniel would fit right in. He'd been warned that Daniel wasn't performing well in school - but, again, that was nothing. As long as Daniel passed it would be good enough, and Bill would have all the more time to expose him to cars, sports, etc. I tried to tell him that we needed to take things slowly with Daniel, be willing to try a few different approaches and find the one that would work best. But what did I know? I'm just a woman, and I supposedly have no idea how the male brain works.

"To make a long story short, Bill's plan didn't work. At first he thought it was just going to take a little longer to get through to Daniel. He was really starting to get frustrated, though. He'd been worried when Miss Walker brought your letter to Daniel, true, but in the end I think what made him hesitate like he did was how Daniel's eyes sparkled as he clasped that envelope to his chest, even through his confusion, when he thought we'd take it away. He'd never reacted to anything we did like that. Don't get me wrong; Daniel would smile to show his appreciation or something similar. But the smile never reached his eyes. Then there he was gripping your letter like a lifeline...

"And to cap things off, Bill found out Daniel talked to you during your visit. He saw how happy Daniel was when you and your mother stopped by for brunch. And he saw how good you were with Daniel. His place as Daniel's 'savior' had been usurped, and he didn't want to admit it. So he pushed. Invaded Daniel's privacy, sent the boy running to his room with outrageous demands that he treat us like he treated you. I do believe his heart was in the right place when this all began, but after Christmas morning, I find myself questioning my husband.

"Daniel gave me a hug and a true smile after he'd carefully torn the wrapping paper from the empty journal I'd gotten for him from both Bill and myself. When he turned to do the same to Bill, my husband gripped Daniel's shoulders tightly, too tightly, and told him he wanted to hear the words, that it didn't mean anything without the words. After a moment of complete and utter shock, I got Daniel away - he immediately ran upstairs to his room - and demanded to know what Bill was thinking, scaring Daniel like that. My God, Jack, Bill told me that we couldn't coddle him anymore, that Daniel had had more than enough time to wallow in self-pity. That's when I realized Daniel was no longer safe in our home. I called Miss Walker and asked to meet with her the next day. When we discussed the situation, we decided that it would be best to move Daniel as soon as possible.

"So, after the New Year, Daniel left my home. When he gave me a tight hug good bye, I whispered that I would miss him, but this was for the best, even as I fought not to cry. When I pulled back he looked me right in the eyes - it suddenly hit me that Daniel has a soul much older than his body - wiped away the few tears that had escaped down my cheeks, and gave me a shaky smile of understanding. I love him, Jack. Daniel is such a special child, and he deserves so much more than he's gotten. I can only be grateful he has someone like you.

"Do what you can to make him understand these things life throws at him are not his fault. Tell him I would be more than happy to hear from him. And both of you take care of yourselves and each other. You have something special, I can tell. You've both made my life brighter, and I can't thank you enough.


"Jane Michaels"

* * * * * * * *

"Dear Daniel,

"I don't know how long this letter's going to be; I'm taking a break from helping my dad pack my things up to put into storage for when I leave for Colorado Springs in a couple of days. You know, I never realized just how much crap I had until now. What exactly did I need with all this stuff?

"Anyway, it's great to hear how well things are going for you with the Rogers. They sound like a great family, and you seem to be fitting in well. I'm also glad you decided to write to Mrs. Michaels. I know she really cares about you, and your letter will mean a lot to her.

"You know what's interesting? My mom showed up last week and begged me not to go to the Air Force Academy. She was scared for me. Now I don't really buy into this one, but she says she saw me facing incredible dangers and couldn't be sure I'd survive them. I told her at least I'd survive some of them. I can't face more than one if that one kills me, now can I? She didn't like that logic and said that death would be my companion far more than I would know how to deal with. My dad told her she was overreacting. She finally gave me a huge hug and told me I'd do what I needed to do, and she would always be there for me when I needed her. And then she looked me in the eye and said that I had to hold on to you. If I didn't, things would be even worse. I love my mom, don't get me wrong, but there are times when she's just weird.

"Mom didn't really help my nerves any. I'm a little anxious about this move. Definitely still very excited, but a little anxious. I know we moved when I was seven, but I've never been out on my own before. I can handle it though, so don't worry about me. My next letter probably won't be until I settle into a routine and figure out what's going on out there. But I know my address now, so I'll add it at the bottom. Keep writing me. I'll be sure to answer your questions when I write next. The most important thing for you to remember, though, is this: no matter when I write, know that I will be thinking of you all the time. You're too good a friend for me to do anything else.

"Okay, enough mushy stuff. I've got to get back to work. I'll talk to you soon.

"Your friend,


* * * * * * * *

Jack flopped onto his father's couch with a wide grin, the sounds of pots and pans clattering in the kitchen amidst a three-way discussion between his father, sister, and brother Chris telling the tale of Thanksgiving dinner in the making. He let himself slouch excessively, a wide grin firmly in place. "Well, you seem incredibly happy," his brother Gabriel said from the recliner, the football game quietly being ignored on the television.

"I'm not at school. That makes all the difference," Jack replied, waggling his eyebrows.

"So how are things going at the Academy? Any different from a regular college?"

Jack gave his older brother an incredulous look. "Of course, dummy. It's a military school."

Gabriel sighed. "So how is it different?"

"It's pretty regimented, that's the main difference I guess," Jack answered with a small shrug. "A bunch of extra rules and regulations and stuff like that. Could we talk about something else? I want to enjoy my vacation." He took a long drink from his bottle of Pepsi. "By the way, things are going fine. I'm on the hockey team."

The older sibling laughed. "I should have guessed that would happen. You've always been hooked on that."

"What's the score?" a voice called out from the kitchen.

"Detroit hasn't scored yet," Jack yelled back after a quick glance at the TV screen.

"God damn it."

"I thought you were a Vikings fan, Dad," Gabriel said with a chuckle.

"The Vikings aren't playing. And I don't like the Rams."

A moment later, a tall brunette with her shoulder length hair pulled back in a ponytail walked quickly out of the other room. "I'm not going to help if all you're going to do is gripe about football, Dad," she called back over her shoulder.

"I didn't want your help anyway," was the haughty response.

The woman rolled her eyes then looked at the two males ensconced in the living room. "Well, don't you two look comfortable? I suppose it never occurred to either of you that we could have used some help in there?"

Jack and Gabriel shared a look. "Oh, it occurred to us," the younger of the two replied, smirking.

"You can only fit so many people in the kitchen you know," Gabriel added, fighting back a grin.

"You two are awful." She stormed over to the couch and flopped down next to Jack. "I didn't see you when I got here. Jet lag?"

Jack shook his head. "Purposefully oversleeping. It's a luxury I don't plan on taking for granted while I'm home."

His sister smiled. "Oh, come on. You haven't ever overslept at school?"

The young man's expression turned serious. "No. I can't afford to. I want to take the advanced pilot courses, and a spotless record will do nothing but help me get there. The Academy isn't high school, Beth. There really isn't any leeway. You either do things their way or you get out."

Beth's smile faltered. "You're really taking this seriously, aren't you?"

"This is what I really want. And I'll do whatever it takes to get it."

"I suppose this is something else we have the young Daniel Jackson to thank for," Chris said with a knowing grin as he came out of the kitchen.

"Maybe." Jack's brown gaze took in the flour-spotted form of the younger of his two brothers. "Something explode in there?"

Chris looked down at himself. "Biscuits aren't easy. And I was distracted."

Beth laughed. "So was I. I just decided not to put up with it anymore."

"Says you. Dinner's just about finished. We didn't need you anymore."

As the boys laughed and Beth stuck her tongue out, the phone rang. Chris moved quickly to answer it. "Hello, O'Neill's." He listened for a moment. "Sure. Hold on a second." He covered the receiver and looked toward the couch. "Hey, Jack. It's for you. Sounds like a kid."

Jack's brows furrowed in confusion. "A kid?" He managed to struggle to his feet and take the phone from his brother. Then he waited for Chris to take his place on the couch before putting it up to his ear. "Hello?"

"Jack? Is that you?"

"Daniel?" Jack blinked and just barely noticed his siblings take a greater interest in the conversation.

"Yeah, it's me." Jack could hear the smile in the younger boy's voice. "I have some really good news to tell you and I didn't want to wait to exchange letters to know what you thought."

The first-year cadet gave a short laugh. "I'd say that's a good enough reason to call, although you don't really need a reason. What's your news?"

There was a short pause as the child on the other end of the line took a deep breath. "The Rogers want to adopt me, Jack. They want me."

Jack blinked again then picked his jaw up off the ground. "They do? That... that's great news, Daniel! When's it going to happen?"

"They said they had just started the paperwork, so it would be a while yet. But they're hoping that by this time next year everything will be in place. Oh, Jack, it's so wonderful! They really want me!"

"They'd have to be brain dead not to want you, Daniel." Out of the corner of his eye, Jack could see his brothers and sister share a startled look at his gentle tone. "What did Miss Walker have to say, do you know?"

"I guess she's pretty excited about it. Mrs. Rogers said that Miss Walker was hoping they'd want to take the next step with me. I'm so excited, Jack. Ever since Nick..." Daniel's voice trailed off sharply.

Jack frowned. "Daniel? Who's Nick? I don't think you've mentioned him before." If this was the guy that abused Daniel before he went to live with the Michaels, Jack was going to hunt him down and give him a dose of his own medicine.

There was a long pause. Jack would have said something, but he had a feeling this was a subject he couldn't push Daniel about. "Nick's my grandfather. Nicholas Ballard. He's an archaeologist. He spends a lot of time in Central America on digs there." The volume was barely enough to make it through the connection.

"Your mom's dad?" Jack asked gently.

"Yeah." Jack could hear Daniel fighting back tears and felt like a first-class heel for keeping the topic alive. Why hadn't he just let Daniel change the subject? "I didn't see him very often before... the accident. Then he said he was too busy with his work to take me. That's when they put me in my first foster home; I was in an orphanage before that while they tried to reach him. He didn't want me."

The eighteen-year-old's jaw clenched as fought back the wave of anger that threatened to overwhelm him. Daniel still had a living relative and was stuck in foster care? How wrong was that?

Daniel continued before Jack could formulate any kind of response. "Nick still writes me every now and again. He tried to remember my birthday. The letter was pretty late, but he did try. I just wish he would have wanted me."

Jack cleared his throat - and the random homicidal thoughts running around in his head - and managed to maintain a calm, rational tone. "Daniel, it's not your fault about Nick. He's an idiot for not wanting you. And now you're with a family that does want you. You're going to have a second mom and dad that love you, and little brother and sister that love you, too. That's what's important right now, Daniel. You have to remember that."

There were a couple of sniffs before Daniel replied. "I know, Jack. It still hurts, that's all."

"I know, Danny. I know. And if I could do something to take that hurt away, I would. You just need to focus on what you have. Everything else will get better with time."

"I love you, Jack."

Jack's breath caught at the soft, candid admission. He replied in the only way he could, his shock making it easier than it would have been otherwise. "I love you, too, Daniel. Don't ever forget that, okay?"

"Never, Jack. I'll never forget. You can't forget either."

"I won't. I promise I won't."

The next moment Jack jumped about five feet in the air as his father tossed open the door to the kitchen and emerged carrying a bowl full of mashed potatoes. "You kids get your lazy butts in there and bring out the rest of the dinner. I'm not as young as I used to be you know."

"Jack? Did I interrupt your Thanksgiving dinner?" Daniel sounded guilty and embarrassed.

Jack shook his head, not thinking that his friend couldn't see the motion. "No, no, don't worry about it. My dad just got done with dinner. And he doesn't know how to give a guy some warning he's coming out with it, either." His last statement was aimed just as much at the man with the reddish brown hair peppered with grey as it was at the boy on the other end of the line. His dad just grinned and disappeared back into the kitchen.

Daniel laughed. "Your family sounds like fun, Jack."

"They're also nosy," he said with a glare at his siblings as they passed him to do as their father requested.

"But they love you," Daniel said matter-of-factly.

Jack couldn't help but smile. Fortunately the rest of his family was out of the room. "Yeah, they do. And just think - now you get the same kind of deal. I'm really happy for you, Daniel. It sounds like you've found a great home with the Rogers."

"I have, haven't I? I guess I have a lot more to be thankful for this year. I said my thanks for you last year, and now I get to add my new family. It feels really, really good."

Jack was surprised at the warm, fuzzy feeling he got at Daniel's words. "I'm thankful for you, too, Daniel. And I suppose I should get going, let you get back to that family of yours. Then I can get my dad back for that little stunt of his."

There was another laugh from the other end. "You're my family, too, Jack. But I wouldn't want to get in the way of your revenge. Tell me about it later, okay?"

Jack grinned. "You bet. And I want to hear all the details about what's going on with you, too. I'm looking forward to that next letter."

"Me too. Talk to you soon, Jack. Good bye."

"Bye, Daniel." Jack hung up the phone and gave it a satisfied little grin before heading off to take care of his promised revenge. It looked like everything was falling into place for his little friend - maybe not so little anymore - and that made his world that much better.

* * * * * * * *

"Dear Jack,

"I sent this to your dad's house because I figured you'd be home for Christmas break before it would get to you, and I really wanted you to know this before you went back to Colorado. It looks like I'll be moving again; I'll put the address at the end of the letter. Mr. Rogers got the position he was trying for as a Professor of History at the California State University in Sacramento, and everything is in place for the move. We'll be living in Wheatland, a small town about thirty miles north where Mrs. Rogers is going to be a substitute teacher at the elementary school.

"I know you have to be wondering how I can be moving to California when I'm a ward of the state of New York. I wondered too. I guess, since the paperwork has been started for my adoption, it's considered in my best interest to transfer me to the California Department of Social Services and let them complete the process of my adoption. Miss Walker explained it to me. I'm just glad that the move won't stop the Rogers from being able to keep me.

"Dalton will be in the second grade at the school where Mrs. Rogers is going to teach while Laura goes to day care, and I'll be in seventh grade at the Bear River Middle School. I had to take another bunch of tests to prove to the people in California that I belong in that grade. It was annoying. Why couldn't they just take the results from all the tests I took before the summer?

"Did you know that Wheatland is really close to Beale Air Force Base? I thought that was interesting when I found that out. It was kind of exciting to think you might get stationed there when you get done at the Academy. I'd love to be able to live that close to you. Of course, that'll be a few years yet, so we'll have to see.

"I've been working on my Russian while I still have a chance. Mr. Stepanov has been teaching me since I moved in with the Rogers. He owns the small grocery store just down the street from my school, and I go in every day after class to talk with him. The second day I was there, I used one of the few phrases I knew in Russian, a simple greeting one of the temporary workers on one of my parents' digs taught me, and he was so delighted to hear a child use his native tongue he insisted I learn more. How could I refuse? Besides, I was more than happy to learn. Languages fascinate me, and they make me feel closer to my mom. She was fluent in seven different languages, and could read another three. That doesn't count the four ancient scripts she could decipher. My dad always said she saved him so much money on translation work. I still miss them.

"I'll be the new kid one more time when the spring semester starts, but hopefully this will be the last time. I'm really looking forward to making some friends. I never felt comfortable doing that before, since I never knew when I'd be leaving, but now I have a chance. I'll finally have a real home, and I'll get a chance to really understand the culture and what's expected of me. I can't wait, Jack.

"I'll wrap this up now. You'll find a little something I drew for you in the envelope with this letter. I hope you like it. It's supposed to be a full moon over the Great Pyramid, just like I remember from when I was there. The image just strikes a deep chord in me, I can't say why. I thought you'd like it, too.

"Merry Christmas, Jack, to my brother by choice.

"Your friend,


* * * * * * * *

Five months later, Paul and Connie Rogers sat together in their living room sharing a smile as their four-year-old daughter Laura ran up the stairs shouting, "Daniel! You have a letter fum Jack!" and waving the envelope in her pudgy little hand.

"She really loves him," Paul said with a sigh, holding an envelope of his own.

"It's nice to see," Connie agreed. She gestured to the piece of mail her husband held. "Who's that from?"

"Nicholas Ballard."

Connie gasped. "Another letter? What does he want this time? Doesn't he understand that he can't legally stop us from adopting Daniel?"

Paul nodded. "I don't think he's worried about legally." He handed the letter to his wife. "Read it."

The slim brunette did as requested, her eyebrows furrowing deeper and deeper as she reached the end. "Paul, he's threatening us."

"But not overtly. Unless Daniel disappears I don't think anyone else would read anything into that."

"You don't think he'd kidnap Daniel, do you?"

Paul shook his head. "That would be stupid, and Nicholas Ballard is anything but stupid. But I don't recognize the name of this judge."

"And what did he mean that we wouldn't be taking Daniel with us when we move? We're not moving any time soon." Connie paused and looked closely at the frowning man seated next to her. "We aren't moving, are we?" she asked suspiciously.

"Dean Myers called me in to see him this afternoon, Con. They've decided to give the full professorship to a Doctor James Burnett from UCLA, and they won't have an assistant professor position open next fall. Since I wasn't scheduled to take a class for the summer session, I'm done at California State at the end of the semester." The man's eyes were filled with hurt and regret.

"Oh, no, Paul, no. What are we going to do? The state will never go through with the adoption without your steady income. I don't work enough as a substitute." Tears began to spill down Connie's cheeks.

Paul reached out and wiped the moisture away while fighting his own. "I know. Which brings me to the second part of what Dean Myers had to say. Supposedly they had been considering Doctor Burnett for a while, so the dean asked a couple of his friends at some other campuses if they had any positions available in their history departments. Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana was the only one available on such short notice."

Connie blinked. "Louisiana? They expect you to just pick up and move to Louisiana?"

Her husband gave her a somewhat bitter smile. "And here's the capper. The only way the position's open is if I can take on some summer classes starting in late June. We already know there aren't any other schools in this area that are accepting new applicants from my last search. This may be the only chance I have at getting tenure as a professor at a four-year college in the foreseeable future." He let out an explosive breath and fell back on the couch, staring at the ceiling. "I have a feeling that if I did a little research I'd find that Dean Myers and Doctor James Burnett are somehow connected to Nicholas Ballard. And this is just a warning. If I don't take my exit gracefully, I may never find another job in my chosen field again."

Connie looked back down at the letter she still held. "'Just a reminder to not look a gift horse in the mouth,'" she read aloud. "'Good luck, and say hello to Judge Byron Sanford for me. And I wouldn't expect to take Daniel with you when you move.'" She glanced at the man on her right. "Why wouldn't we be able to take Daniel with us? Can't we just make the same arrangements we did when we moved out here?"

"Louisiana would have to agree to it, and if Ballard's gone to so much trouble to send me there, there has to be something in it for him."

"Judge Sanford."

"That's my guess."

"So... we're just going to roll over and take it? All because a man who can't be bothered to care for his own grandson refuses to see the boy a permanent part of a family that doesn't include his daughter? This isn't right, Paul!"

Paul shook his head as he raised it to look the woman he'd pledged his life to in the eyes. "No, it's not," he said quietly. "But do we have the right to make Dalton and Laura suffer for our pride? Life will be incredibly hard if I get stalled in my career, and either way we won't get to keep Daniel. You said it yourself. If I lose my job without another one to back it up the state won't let the adoption go through."

Tears flowed freely once again down Connie's face. "He'll have to go back into the foster care system, and because he's as old as he is, and gifted to boot, he may never find another family that's willing to adopt him."

Paul let his head fall back once more, his eyes closing. "I know. It breaks my heart. But I can't let the rest of my family suffer. Daniel wouldn't want that. And he'll find another good family to take care of him."

"You're talking like it's a done deal," Connie accused.

"That's because it is. I told Dean Myers I'd take the Grambling position. And I called Daniel's social worker from my office right afterward and explained the situation. She said to give it a try with Social Services in Louisiana, but the short amount of time since our last move and change of placement wouldn't be in our favor. I should be hearing back from the people in Grambling about Daniel in the next couple of days."

"How in the world are we going to explain this to Daniel?" Connie stared at her husband with wide, stricken eyes, her heart already breaking for the devastation she knew this news was going to cause the quiet young boy she'd taken into her heart as well as her home.

"We'll find a way, Con. We'll find a way."

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