Chapter V - Revelations
She stepped inside and looked around, curious and a little shy all of a sudden. "Your family?" she asked.
"Um, no - well, sort of, I suppose. They're my friends, but I kind of think of them as my... family. I don't know who you are, though?"
"Oh. I-I'm s-sorry," she stammered, " I d-didn't mean to embarrass you."
"Your name?" Daniel persisted.
"Um, Serena. Serena Peruzzi."
"Oh. That is the name of my patrigno."
"Your step-father. Right."
"My mother's nome nubile was Vecelli"
"Rosa Vecelli," they both said together.
"Mm, I can see your mother in you. Let's see, you must be... "
"Seventeen?! Yes - yes, I suppose you must be. Jesus, Rosa wasn't that much older than you when we er, when we met," he finished quickly.
Jack self-consciously ran a hand over his silvering hair and gave Serena a rueful grin.
"He's sitting between George and Sam - er - Samantha, that is. On the other couch are Janet's daughter, Cassie, and Teal'c."
"Daniel, now might be a good time to open the Champagne, don't you think?" Janet said, "...while Jack finishes opening the presents. Then we can all eat."
"Oh, yes. Good idea," Daniel agreed, and led Serena through into the kitchen area.
"Oh dear, I have come at a very bad time, I can see," Serena said unhappily.
"Not at all. Couldn't have timed it better really Under the circumstances..." Daniel chuckled, getting two bottles of champagne out of the 'fridge.
"You are not upset, Papa?"
"Ah, well... I admit to being a little - stunned. You're quite a surprise but a very nice one."
He gave her a quick peck on one cheek as he untwisted the wire from around the neck of the first bottle, and reached for a tea-towel.
"Could you pass me a glass off the table, please," he asked putting the cloth over the bottle and carefully twisting the cork.
It began to rise slowly under the cloth, speeded up and came away with a satisfying 'pop'. Serena held the glass to catch the small amount of the wine that escaped.
"You are very good at that, Papa," she approved. Daniel was amused.
"We don't all drink Bud' over here," he grinned, reaching for the other bottle. "Um, what are you doing over here? Now? And how did you find me?"
"I wanted to find you many years ago, but Nonno Vecelli forbade me to do so. He wouldn't let your name even be mentioned in his hearing. So I had to wait."
"Your grandfather is dead now?"
"He died at the beginning of the year."
"It didn't take you long to track me down," Daniel said, wrapping the tea-towel over the second bottle and twisting the cork.
"Oh, it wasn't difficult. I'd been using the Internet on the school computers to search for you before that. The big breakthrough was when I found an account of Dr. Jordan's funeral."
Daniel jumped as she spoke, jerking the cork out of the bottle sharply. Some of the wine fizzed through the cloth over his hand before he reached the glass.
Serena laughed. It was a musical laugh, much like her mother's. The years fell away as he remembered his eighteenth birthday. Only it was Chianti then, not champagne.
"How is Rosa? Is she here, too?"
"No. Stefano would not permit."
"Stefano? Your patrigno?" he guessed.
"Yes," she scowled.
Daniel caught the look and wondered what lay behind it. Teenage tension, or something deeper? He wanted to know more, but it would have to wait.
"Are you here on your own then?" he asked, his concern showing.
"Oh no. One of my schoolfriends has come to visit her aunt in Kansas, so I came with her."
"We are staying in a Travelodge on Ore Mill Road for a few days - so maybe I can get to know you - a little?"
"Daniel! You gone grape-picking in France, honey?" Janet yelled.
"Is she your... girlfriend?" Serena asked.
Daniel blinked in surprise.
"No! No, she just a friend - a very close friend," he said. "Sometimes closer than I'd like..." he added, sotto voce.
"You are not - married?"
"Ah no. Actually I'm a... I'm a w-widower."
"Oh Papa, I am so sorry!" she said, giving him a hug. Jack came through in search of a beer.
"Is this a private hug or can anyone join in?"
Chapter VI - Fire and Water
There wasn't much opportunity for private conversation during the party, and Serena was under instructions to be back at the Travelodge by eleven o'clock.
"Hey, no fair!" Cassie complained, "Even Cinderella got to stay out till midnight."
The two girls had hit it off straightaway.
"Well, missy, it's time we were going home too," Janet said, "and I dare say you'll have time to meet up again before Serena has to go home."
Daniel called a cab which arrived all too soon. He escorted his guests down in the elevator. While Janet and Cassie climbed into the cab, Daniel gave his daughter a hug.
"I'll come and see you tomorrow - take you out for lunch," he promised. "We'll go out together, just you and me and - and... get acquainted, I guess."
"I would like that very much," Serena replied, and slid into the cab beside Cassie.
The party began to break up shortly afterwards. Daniel had already asked Jack to stay over in the expectation that he wouldn't be up to driving home. He also thought it likely that stuffing all the presents into - and out of - a cab might be a bit of a challenge, depending on his level of inebriation... Soon they had the flat to themselves.
"So, Daniel," O'Neill grinned, "archaeology isn't all boredom and hard work?"
Daniel returned a sheepish smile.
"Not all the time, no," he agreed, pouring a stiff whisky for himself and another chaser for his guest.
"Fatherhood takes a bit of getting used to, doesn't it? Even when you have a few months advance notice, it's quite an upheaval," Jack said, accepting the crystal whisky glass from his host. "This 'instant family' stuff takes a lot of adjusting to."
Daniel sat down beside him.
"At least you'll see a little of Adam and Brendan growing up," he sighed. "Serena's practically grown up already, and I've ...missed it all."
"Makes you wonder, doesn't it, how many more there are out there, waiting to turn up on the doorstep..."
"Uh, nothing. Just thinking..."
Daniel shot his friend a quizzical look.
"I mean, for all we know," Jack said expansively, "Sam might've"
"Sam?!" Daniel choked as he inhaled some of his whisky.
"No? Well, perhaps you're right," Jack conceded, rubbing Daniel's back until he stopped coughing.
"You're sure Serena is your daughter?" Jack went on. "I mean, I don't want to rain on your parade at all, but she could just be someone on the make - wanting a means of living in the U.S. permanently."
Daniel looked shocked and hurt at the suggestion.
"I just don't want you to get taken advantage of to get... hurt," Jack explained softly.
"But, everything fits, Jack."
"She could have checked you out on the Internet."
"She did actually - found me through the Internet, that is."
Jack raised his eyebrows.
"After Dr. Jordan died, and I met Sarah and Steven again - well, I thought there might be a few more people out there that I used to know and might want to get in touch... For old time's sake, you know. So I left my contact details with the University."
"So why didn't she write - or call? Or e-mail, dammit?"
"I don't know. But I'm seeing her tomorrow..."
"You want me to come with?"
"Threat assessing, Jack? I think I can handle one teenage girl without your help."
"Well, you know I worry..."
"Don't. It feels right - she's right. Don't you think I wouldn't recognize my own My own flesh and blood?"
"People have been fooled before, you know."
"Yes, but as soon as I saw her, I kind of recognized her on some sort of instinctive level. I couldn't quite place her at first. I mean it's - um - going on eighteen years since I last saw Rosa, but the likeness is there."
Daniel fetched the whisky bottle and replenished their glasses with the fine single malt.
"It's kind of hard to take in, you know. I mean, Rosa wasn't much older than Serena when I"
"Archaeological experience, dolt! Rosa was working on the dig too. We got on well together and started dating. That was a little tricky. She - er - said her parents wouldn't approve. Her father's father was shot for looting during World War II - by American soldiers. Aldo Vecelli - her father that is - blamed 'americanos' for what the family suffered afterwards. God help me, we thought we were in love - a modern Romeo and Juliet, avoiding la famiglia. The imagined danger made it all seem so much more"
"Well, I was going to say 'romantic', but, exciting? Yes."
"Romantic? Daniel, who knew you were such a sap!"
"Oh come on, I was young and in"
"love," Jack giggled.
"Rome! Would you please stop trying to finish my shen - sentences! I won't tell you any more."
"Aw, g'won... Danny... Lipszipt. Ook!"
Daniel gave him a look askance and took another swig. He was in a mellow, reminiscent mood.
"Well, all right, but no more int'rrupsh'ns, O.K.?"
"Right. Sho, for my eighteenth birthday - which was a Friday, I remember - Rosa told her parents she was going to Bianca's - that's a friend of hers - and we put together a picnic. I bought a bottle of cheap Chianti. It was a dark and starry night - with just a crescent moon. I guess we were a teenshy bit drunk..."
Daniel ran the edge of his glass along his lower lip, a faraway look in his eye. Jack passed the bottle over.
"No thanks Jack - better not. Got to visit Sherena tomorrow - er, later today. Don't want to let her down."
Jack grunted acquiescence.
"Anyway, Rosa wanted to make love - well, so did I, obviously. I'd - um - I'd taken a pack of condoms to Italy with me - hoping to get laid - thought it might be hard to find any condoms in a Catholic country. But, I'd left them at the bunkhouse 'cos I didn't want to look like I was after sex. She meant more to me than that - but she wanted it - wanted me... Which was so Wonderful! She was very Italian - very passionate... I hadn't felt such warmth, such affection, such love for so long, and... well it just seemed so right - at the time..."
"It was, actually. The first time was a bit of a fumble, as you might imagine, but we learnt quickly."
Daniel's gaze was unfocussed and slightly smug. Then it faded and the look darkened.
"The following night, Rosa didn't come, but Signor Vecelli did - along with Luigi and Paolo - Rosa's brothers... older brothers ...big brothers. Interr'gated me - went through my things - found the condoms in my night stand - dragged me outside and kicked the shit out of me - 'feelthy americano'. Three broken ribs, punctured lung, broken collar bone, broken cheekbone - was lucky there - hairline skull fractures..."
"Jeez, Danny!" Jack, horrified, stared at the fixed, dead expression on Daniel's face.
Slowly the look crumbled.
"I never saw her again... Never knew" he whispered, and choked back a sob.
Jack reached out and pulled him into a hug.
"It's O.K. to let go, Danny..." he said gently, and Danny did.
Chapter VII - Paternal Instinct
Daniel was too overwrought to sleep despite the soporific effect of alcohol. Even though the bout of crying had worn him out physically, sleep was elusive. His brain seemed unable to shut down for the night. Dizzying thoughts chased each other around his skull like the Indianapolis 500.
Serena had appeared in his life and turned it upside-down. It would never be the same again. The first inkling that he was a father had sent him over the moon. Now he had to face all its ramifications.
Seeing Jack's pride and elation over Adam and Brendan, when they were on Edora, had sent a spear of unexpected pain through him. Later at home, in his mind, his life had rewound back to Abydos, and delivering the harcesis child - Sha're's child, but not his child. He loved it for her sake, but it had given him an empty feeling inside. It should have been his child. If he hadn't been so keen on discovering the secrets of the cartouche room, hadn't uncovered the Abydonian 'Gate... All his fault. He deserved to be childless. It was a judgement upon him.
He'd cried himself to sleep that night. Then Serena had arrived, like sunshine after rain. He wanted her - wanted to call her his own. Fell for her, hook, line and sinker. But he hadn't been alone - had guests - had to play the good host - carry on as normal - whatever that was. All too soon, she'd had to go. He'd felt the shadow of loss - of death - fall upon him again as he'd watched the cab disappear into the night. Feared never to see her again - feared he'd bring her bad luck. All his relationships had turned to dust so far. He remembered the loss of his parents, of Rosa, of Sha're, of Sarah - twice now. He was obviously cursed. How could he inflict his curse on Serena - young, vibrant Serena?
Then Jack had flung a spoke in his wheel - rained on his parade:
"You're sure Serena is your daughter?"
"She could just be someone on the make - wanting a means of living in the U.S. permanently."
"She could have checked you out on the Internet." - "She did actually..."
"People have been fooled before, you know."
Of course he'd defended her - how could he not? - but he'd felt the icy chill of imminent loss just the same. Same old, same old. Not for you, Danny - no love for you. Not for long anyway. Well, it was nice while it lasted - no, it was beautiful while it lasted. But of course, he couldn't ever get that lucky, could he. Not Danny the geek, Danny, the misfit, Danny the loser Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...
Again, he cried himself to sleep.
The sunlight hit his eyelids like a physical blow.
"Wakey, wakey, rise and shine!" came the revoltingly enthusiastic cry of his not-so-beloved commanding officer as he flung back the drapes. "I brought you coffee."
Daniel groaned and pulled the bedclothes over his head.
"It's one o'clock. What time did you say you were meeting Serena?"
Daniel shot up abruptly, flinging back the covers. With adrenaline barrelling through his system he scrabbled frantically for his glasses and his watch from the night stand. O'Neill deftly fielded the mug of coffee.
"You bastard!", Daniel screamed.
It was eight o'clock.
"Thought I'd let you lie in, as it's Sunday," Jack grinned, "Here, drink your coffee."
It took a shower and several more mugs of coffee before Daniel could respond with anything like civility. Jack had busied himself in the kitchen making breakfast and waiting for the full-blown snit to die down. Daniel had never been a morning person. Of course, if he drank a little less coffee, he might sleep better and wake earlier...
"I've been thinking... About what you said last night," Daniel said slyly, as he pushed his plate aside. "How do you know Adam and Brendan are yours?"
Jack shot him a surprised look.
"How do you know Laira isn't trying to pull a fast one?" Daniel went on.
"She's not like that."
"But you think Serena is?"
"No! I didn't say that. I just meant that there's a possibility"
"Which there isn't with Laira?"
"No. Laira isn't the devious sort"
"And Serena is?"
"No! Look, I lived with Laira for three months - not all of that time 'together', granted - but she was never that sort of... 'friendly'... with any other man."
"Because she wanted you."
"She liked me and I was... available... at the time. She just wanted a child..."
Daniel sighed. He could understand that, now.
"If she'd wanted to keep me on Edora - to support her," Jack continued, "don't you think she'd have kept quiet about it when she heard voices on my intercom? No one would have known. Teal'c would've died, and probably Hammond would've locked Edora out of the dialling computer. And we wouldn't be having this conversation now. Furthermore, if she was just after a man to keep her, don't you think she would've battened on some other guy on Edora? It would've been a lot easier. As it is, she's asked me for nothing. Nothing except our sons. So yeah, I believe they're mine."
"Yeah, well, that's kind of how I feel about Serena - and Rosa," Daniel said quietly.
An introspective look settled on his face. Jack was disinclined to say more on the subject - felt he'd said enough already. At least now Daniel wouldn't be a sitting duck if Serena wasn't on the level.
"You gonna give me a hand down to the truck with all these presents?" he asked instead.
Daniel dragged himself out his reverie and nodded.
After Jack had gone, Daniel poured himself another mug of coffee and returned to his meditations. He had to be sure. But how? Oh. Well, there was one way to be sure...
He picked up the 'phone and dialled.
Chapter VIII - New Ground
"You're a doctor?"
"Of archaeology, yes, Ms...?"
"I am Mrs. Dillamore - Emilia's aunt, yes - and before I allow you to meet Serena, I want to know what sort of a man you are."
"Before I Ri-ight." Daniel suddenly felt the mantle of parenthood settle very heavily across his shoulders. It seemed he was going to have to tread very carefully here.
"I'm in loco parentis to Serena for the moment, and I cannot allow her to go driving away with a strange man who may, or may not, be her father."
"What? You think Serena isn't my daughter?"
"I only have your word for it. You might be some sort of pervert trying to advantage of an innocent young girl for all I know. Do you have any proof of your identity?" she asked, wrong-footing him.
"Oh. Oh, yes." Daniel produced his I.D. Mrs. Dillamore looked at it and raised her eyebrows slightly.
"Well, you seem to be above board," she conceded grudgingly. "I'm only concerned for Serena, you understand. Pardon me, but you've already abandoned her once. She's a good girl and I don't want her to be hurt - in any way... Capiche?"
She reminded Daniel forcefully of a Rottweiler on guard. Looking at the lopsided way her large purse dangled from her arm, he wouldn't have been at all surprised to find that it contained a high calibre handgun - or that she was willing and able to use it. Maybe he should have brought Jack along, he thought whimsically.
"Ur, yes - capiche..."
"Very well. I will bring her to you, but be warned. If you don't treat her as she deserves, you'll have me to reckon with."
With that, she turned on her heel and strode out. Daniel didn't have long to wait before Mrs. Dillamore returned with an apprehensive-looking Serena in tow.
"Dr. Jackson, may I present Serena Peruzzi to you?" she said formally.
Daniel offered Serena his hand for an equally formal handshake.
"Good morning, Serena," he said smoothly, "I'm most happy to make your acquaintance."
Her eyes suddenly met his, relief and gratitude twinkling there.
"Like mother, like daughter," he added cryptically, thinking that Serena was the second generation to creep away for a clandestine meeting with Daniel Jackson.
Wishing to maintain the aunt's rather grudging goodwill, he detailed his plans for the day.
"And I'll bring her back to you at, shall we say, eleven o'clock tonight?" he concluded with a sideways look at Serena.
She bit her lip and looked studiously at an interesting spot on the carpet.
"No papa," she responded with a faint hint of contrition in her voice. "I wanted to see you in person and alone."
"So you what...? Just took off on your own?!" he asked, aghast, suddenly thinking that perhaps Jack's reaction to his own errant peregrinations off-world wasn't as unjustified as he'd previously thought. "Didn't Mrs. Dillamore do anything to stop you? She seemed pretty reluctant to let you come with me just now."
Serena seemed to have inherited her father's love of coffee, staring into the depths of a tall caffellatte - or else she was reluctant to meet his eye.
"Great," Daniel thought, "less than twenty-four hours and I'm already sounding like a Victorian father!"
"Emilia's cousin, Bonnie, has an old school friend in Colorado Springs, so we all went to visit her..."
"And you told them you were coming to see me? Gave them my address? So that if I turned out to be a a serial killer or something..."
Serena continued to stare into her coffee.
"You didn't, did you?" he said, appalled.
She looked at him then.
"I told them I was coming to see you, Papa," she replied, wide-eyed, as if that guaranteed her safety.
"Oh boy!" Daniel breathed, shaking his head and suddenly feeling as old as Methuselah. Being a parent was one hell of a responsibility.