"Hey," Jack called from the table. "It's your move."
Daniel's head shot up and he turned, startled. "Oh, sorry," he murmured, walking back over to examine the chess board.
"Whatsamatter with you?" Jack wanted to know.
"Huh? Nothing…I just can't believe the summer's half over already," Daniel replied.
"Yeah, it'll be good to have them back in school," Jack nodded.
"I dunno," Daniel shrugged, sliding back into his seat. "Seems like it comes faster every year."
"That's a problem?" Jack asked pointedly.
"Well, I just--I haven't had much of a chance to spend time with Nicky this year at all," Daniel bit his lip. "I keep meaning to; I don't know what happens."
"Carter and I are going fishing this weekend," Jack shrugged. "Real fishing, I mean, not in the pond. Why don't you guys tag along?"
"Fishing?" Daniel's eyebrows rose. "Jack, I honestly don't know why any kid would want to go fishing. I mean, you gotta get up in the middle of the night. Then you go sit in a boat in the dark, freezing to death, and you can't say anything without scaring the fish away. The only thing that gets Nicky out of bed before 10 in the summer is Saturday morning cartoons…"
"…and the only thing that shuts him up is a book in his hand," Jack laughed, receiving a half-serious glare from Daniel for his trouble. "Look, it's not about what you're doing, Daniel. A kid just wants to hang out with you."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Daniel nodded. "By the way. Checkmate."
"What?" Jack's jaw dropped and he stared down at the board in front of him. "How?"
"Manda…" Nicky called with a touch of despair in his voice. Without waiting for her to answer, he poked his head in the door, this time willing to risk the lecture about invading her privacy.
She spun quickly away from the wall mirror, her hand dropping away from her ear, and she opened her mouth to complain, but frowned instead at the sight of him. "What's wrong?" she asked, walking over to the trash can to throw away the cotton ball she was holding.
Nicky squeezed through the door, pushing it shut with his back. "Daddy wants to go fishing with Carter and Uncle Jack."
"He what?" she narrowed an eye, mouth popping open in surprise.
"He wants to go fishing with Uncle Jack and Carter this weekend," Nicky repeated, covering his face with his hands. "What am I gonna do!?!"
"Nick, you gotta tell him you hate fishing," Manda told him.
"But I can't. He's all excited," Nicky sighed.
"Well…um…you could get a headache?" she suggested.
"He never believes mom when she does that," Nicky reminded her.
"Yeah, you're right," Manda bit her lip thoughtfully. Before she could say anything, though, their father's voice sounded from the bottom of the stairs.
"Nicky, Manda! Supper!"
"Coming!" she yelled back automatically.
Nicky pulled the door open again and they both clattered down the stairs to where Daniel still waited. "Did you wash your hands?" he asked them, slipping a hand lightly onto each of their shoulders as they walked into the kitchen.
"Mmm-hmm," both kids lied.
"You all had better appreciate how long I slaved over a hot stove today," Vala was saying as she set the platter of roast chicken down on the table. "And in this heat, too!"
"It smells great, babe," Daniel replied with genuine gratitude. "Really can't believe you found time for this."
Nicky and Manda's eyes met as they scrambled into their chairs, but neither said anything. Vala, however, wasn't so generous. "Go wash your hands," she told them without looking at either.
"Vala, they said they--" began Daniel, but stopped short as Nicky let out a familiar complaint.
"Aw, c'mon, Mom!"
Vala's eyebrows rose and she peered imperiously at both of them, pointing a finger. "Go. Wash. Your hands."
"Couldn't keep your mouth shut, could you?" Manda rolled her eyes, sliding off the chair again.
"Not really, no," Nicky retorted, ducking to avoid the hand that swatted toward the back of his head.
He followed Manda up the hall to the bathroom and kicked the door shut behind them. "Can you talk to Dad for me?" he asked as she turned on the faucet.
"What am I supposed to say?" she asked.
"I dunno, tell him you want him to take you to the museum again," Nicky suggested.
"That's not gonna work," Manda shook her head knowingly. "He wants to do something with you."
"Well, tell him he can take you this weekend and go to my soccer game next weekend or something, then."
"He always goes to your soccer games, Nicky. That's not special," objected Manda.
"Ok, what about--" began Nicky, breaking off as the door slid open and Vala's head came around it.
"Everything all right in here?" she asked suspiciously.
"Fine, Mom," Manda shrugged, reaching behind her for a towel to dry her hands.
"Supper's getting cold," Vala said, eyeing them both carefully.
"Be right there," Nicky told her, casually grabbing the towel as Manda went to swat him with it.
Daniel wasn't surprised to hear the screen door slam and a pair of sandaled feet race out to catch up with him. He hefted the trash bag, swinging it lightly into the barrel at the curb as Manda appeared beside him. As it landed, the edge of a familiar looking cardboard container poked through the plastic, and he paused, staring at it. Frowning, he worked his finger into the hole and split the bag open enough to confirm his suspicion.
"Boston Market," he nodded to himself. "Yeah, she slaved over a hot stove all right."
"Well," Manda spoke up, eyes crinkling in amusement. "She did stand in line for twenty minutes. It was busy in there."
"You knew what she--?" Daniel turned in disbelief.
"You mad at me?" Manda asked.
"No," Daniel sighed.
"Mad at me about the earrings?" she asked, biting her lip.
Daniel frowned. "Your mother did say yes. Don't know why I'd be mad at you."
"Mad at Mom, then?" she asked candidly.
Daniel tilted his head in thought, bottom lip jutting out, and he shrugged, more confirmation than denial, and Manda looked away for a moment. "Dad, can we go to the museum this weekend?" she asked abruptly, and he felt a touch of relief for the change in subject.
"I'm sorry, monkey, Nicky and I are going fishing this weekend," he shook his head.
"But Nicky doesn't even--" she started to say, then caught herself as Daniel raised an eyebrow. With an inward sigh, she shifted her tone just to the edge of entreaty. "Please, Daddy? Can't you take Nicky another time? I really want to see Nefretiri again before the exhibit closes."
"Manda, we've seen that exhibit four times," Daniel reminded her, frowning.
"I like it," she asserted. "C'mon, Dad, you don't really want to spend the whole weekend listening to Uncle Jack snore."
"No, I don't," Daniel chuckled, turning toward the house as the screen door opened again.
"Daniel, Jack's on the phone," Vala called.
"Right there," he replied, then turned to look at Manda, who was chewing a lock of hair in thought. Absently reaching to remove it from her mouth, he said, "Listen, next weekend we'll do something, okay?"
"All right," she sighed, following him back up the front steps. Vala's hand moved lightly to brush the top of her hair as she slid inside, but she didn't pause, and Daniel frowned again, certain that her sudden rush up the stairs would mean that she and her brother were up to something he wouldn't like.
Nicky dropped his book and ran to the bedroom door as soon as he heard Manda's footsteps on the stairs. He pulled it open and grabbed her arm, yanking her inside before she'd even had a chance to knock. She immediately yanked away, glaring at him pointedly, but he didn't step back.
"C'mon, Manda, what did he say?" he asked urgently.
"I told you it wouldn't work," she sighed.
Nicky let out a groan and walked back to the bed, collapsing onto it with a loud sigh of his own. "Now what?" he asked.
"You could try telling him the truth," Manda suggested.
"I told you, I can't!" Nicky insisted. "He was all, 'Won't this be great! Just us guys…hangin' out…doin' guy stuff?' How am I supposed to tell him all I wanna do is stay home?"
"He actually said that?" Manda's eyes went wide.
"Our Dad? " she tilted her head skeptically.
"The one and only," Nicky sighed again.
"Geez, Nick. You really are doomed," Manda declared. "There's, like, no escape."
"Thanks a lot," Nicky replied, shooting her an annoyed look.
She grinned apologetically and wandered over to pick up a plastic paddle ball from the shelf beside Millennium Falcon model and began to absently bat it around. "Maybe Mom could tell him?" she offered.
"Yeah, but he'd still be disappointed," Nicky shook his head, picking up his book again.
Neither spoke for a while, and Nicky rolled onto his side, propping his head on his elbow to read. Every few minutes, though, Manda lost her rhythm, and it took her at least three tries to get the ball going again. The noise made it impossible to become engrossed in the book, and finally he slapped it down on the bed beside him, shoving his fingers through his hair.
"Would you stop that?" he snapped.
"What?" she asked innocently.
Vala was leaning on the doorframe as he hung up the phone, her head tilted casually to one side. He opened his mouth to say something about the chicken and found he didn't want to, instead walking over to gently kiss her exposed neck. "So what are you ladies going to do while we're off on this fishing…thing?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know. Fly to Paris…run up some credit card bills," she said teasingly. "Maybe find some handsome European to buy us roses?"
"Very funny," he growled against her skin. Her hands slid slowly up to his shoulders, but a moment later, she pushed him back, and he raised his eyebrows in surprise. "What?"
"Daniel, why are you taking him fishing?" she asked.
"Of all the things I could think of for the pair of you to do together, fishing is the last. No. Fishing doesn't even make the list," Vala shook her head.
"Yeah, but you should've heard him when Jack and I told him," Daniel sighed quietly. "He was all, 'Oh, yeah, Dad--I can't wait. It'll be awesome!' I can't back out of it now."
"Nicky said that?" Vala asked, frowning.
"Mmm, why?" he nodded.
"I don't know," she shrugged. "It just doesn't seem like something he'd enjoy."
"I guess Jack's right; it's more about the hanging out than the actual fishing," Daniel mused. "Anyway, I'd better go up and talk to him. Jack wants to leave insanely early."
"You could get a headache," Vala suggested half seriously.
"Right," Daniel rolled his eyes, turning to head up the stairs.
"What?" she called after him. "It works for me."
"It does not," he replied, stifling a laugh at her offended huff.
Outside Nicky's bedroom, he raised his hand to knock and froze with his knuckles still in the air as a loud,
"Would you stop that?" issued from the of the door.
"What?" Manda asked, clearly oblivious to whatever was bothering him
"You with that paddle ball!" Nicky exclaimed. "Every time I start getting into my book, you miss and have to start over."
"So?" Manda retorted.
"It's just--distracting, Manda!" Nicky said with an exasperated sigh. Daniel stifled another laugh, his thoughts turning to the rather distracting presence of their mother sitting on his worktable at the SGC, and pushed open the door.
Manda whirled to face the door and Nicky bolted upright in bed, both kids staring at him with wide-eyed surprise. Manda recovered first and tossed her head in annoyance. "Geez, Dad. Knock much?
"Shut up, Manda, it's not even your room," Nicky glared at her.
"You shut up!" she snapped back.
"All right, all right," Daniel closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry, okay?"
"Hey, it's not my room," Manda shrugged, going back to her paddle ball.
"Right," Daniel bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing again at the glare Nicky leveled at her. "Anyway, Nicky, Uncle Jack says that we need to meet our fellow… fishermen… at the lake no later than three AM."
"Three?" Nicky's eyes widened again, and Daniel momentarily thought he saw a way out.
"You sure you can handle that?" he asked. "Because if not, I need to let Uncle Jack know we're not coming."
"Oh…no, Dad, it's okay," Nicky shook his head. "I can be up."
"Are you sure?" Daniel persisted, not quite willing to let go of the fragile hope he felt.
"Positive, Dad," Nicky nodded firmly. "Don't worry about a thing!"
Nicky, in fact, wasn't up. Nor did he and Daniel make it to the lake by three AM. They were only about half an hour late, which apparently annoyed Jack not because they should have been on time but because he'd had the misfortune to lose a bet with Carter as to how late they would actually be. Having lost, he had earned himself the dubious honor of cleaning the day's catch.
"Y'know, under other circumstances, I might find that funny, Jack," Daniel commented as they trooped to the end of the dock where the rented boat waited. "At the moment, I'm sure it says something rather insulting about me, but I can't tell what."
"Maybe that you're about as much of a fisherman as Dad is an archaeologist, Uncle Daniel," Carter spoke up.
"That--that," Daniel started to say, then broke off thoughtfully. "That could actually be it."
"Oh, yeah?" Jack laughed. "What do you have to say about that, Nicky?"
"Huh?" Nicky mumbled absently, glancing Jack to his father and back again. "Oh, yeah, sure, Uncle Jack. Whatever."
Jack opened his mouth to reply stopped, frowning down at him. "Are you even awake?" he asked.
"Not really," Nicky yawned.
"Didn't think so," Jack replied, but said nothing else, for which Daniel was especially glad when they had to spend another forty-five minutes fumbling with life-jackets because Nicky seemed incapable of waking up.
The first hour or so on the boat, while indescribably boring, passed with relative ease. Nicky slumped against Daniel's side, and except for the occasional snore, did nothing to earn more than an irritated glance from Jack and a quiet snort of laughter from Carter. That changed, however, after sunrise, when both boys became fascinated with the swirling patterns of red-gold light on the water's surface.
Commendably, Jack tolerated this as well, at least until Nicky reached idly over the side of the boat to dangle his fingers in the water. "Nick, whaddaya doing?" he snapped before Daniel could do more than open his mouth. "You're gonna scare the fish!"
"And you yelling isn't?" Daniel glared as Nicky hurriedly pulled back his hand.
"Sorry, sorry, Uncle Jack," Nicky bit his lip. "I didn't mean to!"
"It's all right, Nick, it doesn't matter," Daniel told him quickly, shooting a quelling look at his friend.
"Whaddaya mean it doesn't matter?" Jack demanded. "Whaddaya think we got up in the middle of the night to drive out here for?"
"Funny, I thought this was supposed to be about us 'hangin' out, doin' guy things', not about whether we caught anything, Jack," Daniel responded.
"Well, maybe, Daniel, but if I wanted to spend my morning watching the kids make swirly sunlight patterns in the water, I coulda taken them to the science museum…" Jack broke off with a sigh.
"For cryin' out loud, Dad, he said sorry," Carter mumbled, shaking his head.
"Yeah. Look, Nicky, I'm sorry," Jack said, but Nicky's eyes by then had begun to fill with tears.
"Dad…?" he said in a quavering tone. "I hate fishing!"
They got home just as Vala and Manda were leaving for a day of mall-hoping. Mother and daughter took one look at the returning pair, gave a mutual sigh, and left without a word. Daniel raised his eyebrows slightly, looking down at his son.
"What was that about?" he asked.
"No idea," Nicky shrugged.
"Hungry?" Daniel asked, his hand lightly touching the boy's back as they walked into the kitchen.
"Mmmm," Nicky nodded once, hurrying to the table.
"What do you feel like?" Daniel asked casually, walking over to open the cabinets.
"Froot Loops," Nicky replied.
"Just Froot Loops?" Daniel asked, looking over his shoulder.
"Love Froot Loops," Nicky nodded.
"Uncle Jack doesn't," Daniel smirked.
After breakfast, they spent the majority of the day on the living room floor with books in hand. Vala and Manda found them there as the sun began to fade again, Daniel stretched out on his side with Nicky's back propped against his stomach. Manda started in, but Vala caught her quickly by the shoulder, raising a finger to her lips in a shushing motion. She jerked her head toward the door, and Manda grinned, following her back out to the car, certain that neither of them would even guess they'd been watched.