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Daniel curled already abused muscles into a fetal ball on the cold cement floor, bringing his arms over his head, trying to leave as little of his body exposed to the Goa'uld standing before him. "Moot point," he thought. "Protecting what?" he asked himself. Daniel had learned early on that this new technologically-advanced weapon inflicted actual pain and injuries based on the Goa'uld's thought processes. His bruised body was testament to its effectiveness. This virtual reality weapon caused actual injury, and Daniel was sure, very soon it was going to cause his death.

Passage of time had become secondary to the pain inflicted, hours, minutes, day or night, every nerve ending taut with anticipation of the next move, the next vile thought. His teammates' voices had faded into the background as Daniel concentrated on keeping and maintaining control against Wepwawet. In, out... in, out. Daniel could hear the blood pumping in his ears, feel battered lungs struggling for air. His senses strained with heightened anxiety; Daniel knew the Goa'uld was taking a step closer, the brush of the obscenely ornate robes against Daniel's exposed arm forcing him to pull himself in tighter.

"I am in your mind, Dr. Jackson; no matter what you do, I am with you. With every synapse fired, with every beat of your heart, with every breath you take. As you break, I will move to the next, until your tortured bodies are all that are left. Then, and only then, will you be returned to the Tau'ri through the Chaapa'ai and I will have succeeded in breaking the mighty SG-1."

Breathing heavily, sweat and blood dripping from his forehead, Daniel shakily untangled himself, rising up on all fours, and spat in the direction that he hoped the Goa'uld was in. "Kelsha," he muttered. "You may have taken my body but you'll never touch my soul."

Wepwawet's cursing and Jack's, "That's our boy," brought momentary satisfaction before the next wave of pain began.

"I am the nightmare among your thoughts. Imagine the feel of the whip on your body." Daniel collapsed face first onto the floor, Wepwawet counting off as his body jerked with every impact of the imaginary whip across his already raw back.

"Step aside, Danny. Let it go, please," Jack's voice echoed in his mind. "Let me take your place."

"No... not you... only me... please, only me," became his mantra. Keeping the Goa'uld focused on him, buying his teammates, his lover, time before the cavalry from the SGC made an appearance to save the day.

Wepwawet kicked Daniel over, the metallic taste of blood filling his mouth as Daniel bit his bottom lip to withhold a moan. Since the torture had begun, he refused to acquiesce to the Goa'uld and had remained silent.

"I am done with you, Dr. Jackson. You fail to amuse me further." Daniel squirmed as he felt the weight of Wepwawet's foot grind into his chest. "I shall move on to my next playmate. Who shall it be? Oh, but wait, I cannot have you leave without a present, can I? I would never want it said that the great Wepwawet wasn't an inhospitable Goa'uld. Enjoy, Dr. Jackson, a slow and unpleasant way for you to pass to the other side."

Daniel drew a breath once the pressure of the Goa'uld's foot was removed, but his relief was short lived as his back arched against the new onslaught as an indescribable sensation encompassed his body, tendrils touching veins and arteries down to the cellular level. Traveling up limbs, through his groin, chest, and then - nothing.

Gasping as the pain released him, his breathing so unsteady and labored it took him a few minutes to register the sounding of alarms and the clattering of P90s being fired echoing in the hallways of the cement structure.

The alarms, the grating sound of the alarms reverberated within Daniel's head, causing a whimper of pain behind his lips. "Shut it off," he whispered hoarsely. A short burst of laughter, followed by a cough, as he realized how ludicrous his request actually sounded. An alarm, a stupid alarm, a signal of help on the way, was making him do what the Goa'uld torture device couldn't do - plead for mercy.

"Please," he murmured, turning towards the cool hand soothing his hot forehead. "Please, off," he begged.

"Wet-behind-the-ears is gone, Danny, SGC to the rescue - you'll be fine. Just need to get you home to Fraiser," he heard Jack say, callused fingers using surprising gentleness to check Daniel over.

"The alarm, Jack, turn off the alarm. Please." Daniel slowly inched his hands up to his temples to—

"Oh, God!" Daniel shot up in bed, covered in sweat, his tee shirt sticking to his body, the sheet twisted around his legs. He moaned as the sudden movement intensified the pounding behind his eyes. With shaking hands, he leaned over to switch off the offensive noise emanating from his bedside alarm clock. Cautiously he slid his legs over the side of the bed, willing last night's dinner not to make a return visit on his bedroom floor. As an experiment, he began to breathe more deeply, filling what seemed to be oxygen-deprived lungs with air. Bending from the waist, he rested his elbows on trembling knees, cradling his aching head in cupped hands. "See, a nightmare," he said to no one, the red digital numbers changing time as Daniel whispered soft words of reassurance to his vibrating body and pounding heart. "Nothing more than a nightmare."

Pushing off the bed, he shuffled into the bathroom, peed, and turned on the shower. While waiting for the temperature to adjust, he studied his reflection in the mirror; fingering the area under his eyes, memories of bruises still vivid in his mind. They'd faded now to oblivion; there were no longer any visual signs of Wepwawet's torture left on his body. "Nope, need x-ray vision for that, Dannyboy," Daniel said to his reflection.

Carding his fingers through short, sweat slicked hair, he sighed deeply at the man reflected back at him. There were no answers in those blue eyes, no reason why more nights than not, the Goa'uld would again visit him, torturing his sleeping body.

Jerking open the medicine cabinet, he popped the top off the aspirin bottle and dry swallowed three. He replaced the bottle, finding its place on the glass shelves, pushing aside the sleeping pills that Janet had prescribed. Daniel wasn't going to let the past mission get to him; he was going to do this without the help of medication, learn to face the demon that had tortured him on his own.

* * * * *

The shower and coffee had done him a world of good. Between the healing powers of the aspirin, the warm shower, and very strong coffee, the headache had all but disappeared, taking with it the feeling of helplessness that had been Daniel's companion every morning.

The promising warmth of a late spring day began filling his body on the drive to the Mountain. Turning the volume on the radio up, music now blasting, the top down, Daniel exhaled in appreciation as the Thunderbird handled beautifully on this drive along the winding roads. He felt his body relax, releasing for the first time the pent up emotions that he had been withholding since the Goa'uld first turned on the device. This simple release awarded Daniel a sense of freedom as control slowly seemed to seep back into his life.

A small smile started, followed by the stark realization that he missed Jack. For the first time since returning from Wepwawet's stronghold, he honestly and truly felt an emptiness... he missed Jack. He had been a constant presence during Daniel's recovery in the infirmary and the days afterward; but Daniel had shut down, needing to repair himself before he would be able to turn to anyone for comfort. Daniel thought with despair that Jack had obviously misread Daniel's signals and had begun to distance himself from him, sure that Jack believed that Daniel blamed him for their capture and the subsequent torture. Subconsciously he pressed harder on the accelerator, needing to see Jack, and needing Jack to see before they departed on their next mission.

* * * * *

Daniel fidgeted on the gurney as Janet finished entering her notes in the clipboard. "Well, Daniel, all your tests appear normal." In a swift motion, before he had a chance to bolt, Janet placed a restraining hand on his chest. "Not so quick."

Eyes shifting to the clock on the infirmary wall, Daniel watched it ticking away the minutes, calculating how long he had to speak to Jack before the mission he had requested, the mission that the general had given the green light for, the mission that would be Daniel's first trip through the Stargate in almost six weeks. Not even an overnight jaunt to the planet, simply a few hours' visit, just enough for him to get his feet wet before submerging himself back into offworld travel.

Janet tossed the clipboard onto the end of the bed, stepping into Daniel's personal space. "I know what the test results show, but how are you?"

Daniel wanted to give a cursory, "I'm fine," but he remembered waking in the infirmary and greeted by the vision of a very haggard and tired-looking Janet. He recalled how she relegated the responsibility of his recovery to only a select few, assisting with even the most mundane patient care. He remembered her shaking hands and the apparent joy in her voice when he awoke after being in the throes of the residual effects of Wepwawet's virtual reality weapon.

"Jack, Sam... Teal'c?" he'd managed to inquire through fever-parched lips.

Janet had laid her hand on his forehead before answering his question. "I banished them to get some sleep. They're fine, Daniel, just worried about you. We all were worried about you."

"Dead, again? Was I dead?"

Gently spooning ice chips into his mouth, she'd smiled at his question. Clearing his throat, he'd reiterated the question. "Was I dead?"

"Close, but no cigar this time. Not that you didn't try."

Daniel remembered fighting to keep his eyes opened as Janet had explained the injuries he'd received at the hand of Wepwawet. While she'd checked his vitals, Janet had kept up the flow of words, touching on the viral memory implanted in his mind, the delirium, and roller coaster ride of fevers his body had endured as a result of that weapon.

Janet's hand on his arm brought him back to the present. "You haven't answered me, Daniel. How are you feeling?"

Janet deserved honesty and today Daniel could tell her without lying, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he felt good. Janet was seesawing accepting that answer until Daniel smiled at her and she looked in his eyes.

She picked up the chart, patting him on the arm with the cool metal. "Go. Get out of here. You better be upright when you return from P4W-555 or..."

"Or what?" Daniel asked as he jumped off the gurney, heading for the exit.

"Or you'll have to answer to me, Dr. Jackson," she yelled after his departing back.

* * * * *

"Now?" Jack asked. "You need to see me now? This is really not a good time. We ship out in..." checking his watch, he sighed in exasperation. "...In 30 minutes, Daniel, on a mission that you begged, lectured, and PowerPointed the hell outta us for. Don't tell me you're reconsid—"

"I need to speak to you, Jack," Daniel answered succinctly, hoping that Jack wasn't going to make him beg for an audience.

Jack stood, stamping his boots on the locker room floor, tucking in his shirt.

Daniel's eyes traveled the length of Jack's body, cursed the timing, wishing he had 24 hours and 30 minutes to show him how sorely he missed him. He closed his eyes against a flow of very visual images where the two men's actions spoke louder than their words, mentally berating his stubbornness in not allowing Jack help him put the pieces of his shattered psyche back, not letting him into his life, into his arms, or into Daniel's bed during his recovery. In the flash of a second, he could feel the heat of hating Jack flushing his face, for not forcing the issue with him.

His eyes flew open as a persistent tug on his arm brought him back to reality. Daniel turned towards Jack, unable to hide the smoldering desire apparent in the depths of his eyes.

Never releasing Daniel's arm, Jack glanced furtively around the deserted locker room. "Now?" he hissed. "Oh, damnit," Jack said softly, his hand sliding up and down Daniel's arm. "I thought I... thought we were..."

Goosebumps rose as Jack's fingers began a teasing dance on the exposed warmth of Daniel's arm. An involuntary shudder ran through his body as he softly issued an apology. "I'm stupid... so stupid. Habit, I turned you away because..."

Jack squeezed his arm. "Why, Daniel? I need to know why."

"Failure, fear... faced with my own mortality. I survive best by myself."

Jack's fingers tightened around Daniel's arm. "And I survive best with you." Each finger loosened their hold before Jack mumbled, "I know it wasn't me that Wepwawet tortured, but damn it, it sure felt like it."

Daniel averted his head, swallowing audibly, the warmth of the day becoming a distant memory. "But it wasn't you, was it? I survived the torture alone. I thought I could pick up the pieces by myself."

"That's the way you wanted it, you wanted solitude... I gave you what I thought you wanted." Jack tried desperately, but failed, to keep the anger from his voice.

"I was wrong, Jack, and you were wrong to give me what I wanted," Daniel whispered. "Damn it! Why did you choose this one time to listen to me?" He lifted his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose before continuing. "I'm sorry I didn't remember how important your place in my life is. I'm sorry we leave within minutes..." He scrutinized the face of the man he loved. "I'm sorry I didn't realize how much I missed you, Jack, and how much I need you. Missed you and need you," he softly reiterated.

In the drabness of the locker room, the two men faced each other, close but not touching, SGC regulations prohibited the type of touching that was running through their minds. Jack rocked from leg to leg with nervous tension. "I so want to jump your bones right at this moment, Dr. Jackson."

A burst of laughter flew from Daniel's mouth. "Trust you to say the right thing in a tense moment." Daniel checked his watch. "Gonna have to hold that thought, Jack."

"Wasn't exactly that thought I was thinking of holding," he answered Daniel with a wink.

Daniel adjusted his suddenly too tight BDUs, resisting the urge to point as Jack did the same. He felt a sense of completeness in his world, hoping that maybe the UAV had lied, that there would be no temple on that planet, and that SG-1 returned before the mission started.

* * * * *

The temple was visible from the platform that the ancient circle stood upon; a fairly short walk, Daniel's enthusiasm increasing exponentially with each step in the temple's direction.

All thoughts of Jack jumping his bones dissipated as Daniel stood before the temple. He could feel the tolerant acceptance of his teammates as they split to cover their respective jobs. Teal'c and Sam went to collect soil and local fauna samples. Reminding them to check in at 20 minute intervals, Jack surveyed the perimeter of the temple while Daniel moved closer, occupying his time with tracings and rubbings of the raised pictographs lining the doorway.

Jack walked the perimeter twice, radioing Daniel more times than was necessary. Daniel barely held his annoyance in check when he heard Jack approach him.

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Folding the tracings carefully, he placed them in his backpack and then slung the heavy bag over his shoulders. "Can I go play now, Jack?" Daniel questioned sarcastically, canting his head towards the temple opening. "Are you done making sure the playground is safe for me?"

"Daniel," Jack said menacingly. "Safe for you is tying you to the bed and never letting you see the light of day."

Wagging his eyebrows at Jack, Daniel tried to hold in a smirk and failed. "Propositioning me, are you?"

Daniel watched Jack check his watch. "Hold that thought for about three hours twenty minutes, give or take debriefing, showers, and a visit to Fraiser." Jack stepped ahead of Daniel, instructing his lover to watch his six as they entered the temple. Daniel opened and shut his mouth audibly as Jack fixed him with a warning glance. "No smart remarks, oh linguist of mine."

Daniel followed Jack into the coolness of the dim interior of the temple, his gaze darting all around, more intent on studying the pictographs that lined the walls than to the safety of his surroundings. The interior of the temple was no bigger than 18 feet in diameter with two marble altars in the center. Daniel rotated 360 degrees before dropping his backpack onto the dirt floor. Crouching, already mumbling to himself, planning, he unzipped and removed the video camera and notebook from the confines of the backpack. Standing, adjusting the camera to the lighting, Daniel smiled as Jack stepped towards him, having already completed his rotation.

"Um, not exactly the Pepsi Center here. Think I'll wait outside while you play, a little too claustrophobic for my tastes. There's no light—"

"That's okay. I'll be fine; you go sit outside and I'll play like a good boy." Daniel placed his free hand on Jack's shoulder, pushing and guiding him towards the entrance. His time in this treasure trove was severely limited due to Fraiser's restrictions, and having Jack in this enclosed space so near to him would be detrimental to his getting any work accomplished.

"Daniel, I'm right outside, I'm just a radio page away."

"Jack, in reality, you're a whisper away. Enjoy the fresh air, let your mind wander, and if you interrupt me again or distract me in the less than two hours I have left, you'll be sleeping on the couch for many a night. Goodbye." Daniel didn't give Jack a chance to respond before he pointedly switched off his radio. He picked up where he'd left off, examination of the inscriptions in the wall not five feet from the marble altars.

* * * * *

Daniel sat up straight, unsure of his unfamiliar surroundings. Jack's voice cut through his fog, calling his name, something about time being up. Looking down, it registered that he was sitting on a cool bench... the marble altar... in a temple... he had been examining the inscriptions. The video camera was hanging from his limp right arm, his notebook opened on the floor between his legs.

"Coming Jack," he answered automatically, hearing his commanding officer call his name again. He bent to pick up the notebook and a horrific sense of dizziness overcame him. Scooping up his notes, he sat breathing heavily, willing control back into his body before he tried standing again.

Jack's loud voice reverberated within the walls of the temple; he stood at the entrance tapping his watch. "Now... come on. Fraiser will have our hides if we don't return exactly on time with you." Daniel gave Jack a wan smile, which Jack returned before again pointing at his watch face. "Now, Daniel."

Daniel walked over to his backpack, noting the video camera was still running. He switched it off, stuffed his notebook and camera into their appropriate sections and preceded Jack out of the temple. He slammed his eyes shut in the brilliance of the afternoon sun, pulling himself up so short that Jack bumped into him. Jack gripped his arm to steady both their bodies' forward motion.

"Okay, Daniel?"

"Ummm... fine... bright after the darkness."

"Glasses?"

"Wearing them."

"I'm talking about your sunglasses."

"Oh." He blinked a few times, feeling his eyes adjusting. "No, it's okay now."

"Let's go. Carter and Teal'c are going to meet up with us at the 'gate."

Daniel trudged next to Jack, listening and responding in the appropriate places, wishing they would hurry their pace along, wanting to put as much distance between the temple and himself as possible. He was relieved to see that Sam had spotted them and begun to dial the glyphs for home. From his vantage point, Daniel saw her hit the center jewel, the Stargate spring to life, and she raised her arm to enter their IDC.

"Come on, Daniel," Jack said, grabbing his arm. "Let's head for home. There's some unfinished business we have to attend to."

* * * * *

"Get a move on." Jack finished tying his boots. "Debriefing's in ten."

Daniel sat with his hands hanging loosely between his legs, staring at his shoes.

"Jack?"

"Yes, Daniel." Jack gave him a look of long suffering patience. All he wanted was to get the debriefing over with and head home, hopefully with Daniel following behind him.

"Never mind."

"Well, c'mon then." Jack shook his head and pointed. "Daniel, shoes. I don't want you tripping over your shoelaces."

Daniel's eyes followed Jack's pointing index finger.

"Daniel?" Jack felt alarm bells going off as Daniel stared puzzled at the laces. "You okay?" The hand he placed on Daniel's shoulder answered the question, heat was pouring through Daniel's shirt. He kept his voice calm. "Okay, we're just going to take a little side trip to the infirmary." Placing his hand under Daniel's elbow, Jack urged him to stand.

"Jack?" Daniel asked again, his eyes moving from Jack and back to his shoes.

"Don't worry about it," Jack said and knelt down to tie Daniel's shoelaces.

"I should know how to do that, right? Right?" Daniel looked at him in panic.

"It's okay, Daniel. Let's get going." He urged Daniel towards the locker room doors.

* * * * *

Daniel appeared dazed, swaying in the moving elevator, staring at the changing numbers as they ascended from 25 to 21. Jack hated the all too familiar fever flush and glazed eyes that had plagued Daniel these past weeks. But this time there was something different. Jack couldn't put his finger on it, but something was out of place. Daniel's reaction, or actually, his lack of reaction to his immediate surroundings, was more than the fever and delirium usually experienced from the viral memory.

When Daniel didn't make a move to step out of the opened car, Jack grabbed his arm. He belatedly felt the heat of fever through the jacket sleeve as Daniel took two shuffling steps forward. But as he stepped out, he lost his balance and fell against Jack with that strange mixture of slow motion and fast forward that occurred in a time of crisis. It was all Jack could do to prevent them both from crashing to the ground.

"Can I get some help over here?" Jack yelled. Two nurses came running towards him, one kneeling beside Daniel while the other took one look and ran for a gurney.

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Jack stirred his bowl of vegetable soup, not really hungry but knowing that Fraiser probably had spies ready to report on his eating habits. The commissary was nearly empty in mid-afternoon. He watched one of the cooks fill the big coffee makers and swallowed hard. His own coffee sat untouched and cold. Carter was in her lab working on taking Wepwawet's device apart yet again. Teal'c was assisting her, providing what knowledge he had of the Goa'uld. And Daniel, well, Daniel was still lying unconscious in the infirmary. Because he needed to get something, anything, inside him, Jack took a spoonful of soup, mentally berating himself.

He should have listened to the niggling voice that had told him Daniel hadn't been ready to go through the 'gate. He should have demanded that Fraiser do more tests. He should have never let SG-1 be captured by Wepwawet in the first place.

His stomach doing another flip-flop, Jack placed the spoon back on the tray and studied the pack of crackers there, wondering if he could force them down. He decided against the effort and glanced at his watch. Thirty-six hours. Could it really only be thirty-six hours since they'd come back through the 'gate from P4W-555?

"Colonel O'Neill?" Jack startled out of his light doze. He looked at the orderly standing by the table, unable to remember the man. His mouth was dry and his heart pounded in his ears as the young man spoke. "Doctor Fraiser would like you to come to the infirmary ASAP."

The soup was forgotten as Jack took off for the infirmary at a near run.

"Doc?" Jack reached out his hands to steady the nurse he nearly knocked over. "Daniel?"

Doctor Fraiser held a clipboard close to her chest, her eyes fixed on his.

"Sir, Daniel's awake." Jack let out a whoosh of breath before he realized that Janet wasn't smiling at the news.

The hope he'd first felt at her words plummeted somewhere to the vicinity of the floor. "Doc, what's wrong? He's awake. That's good news, right?"

"Let's go in my office to discuss—"

Jack cut her off with a short choppy motion of his hand. "Spill it, Doc."

She studied the clipboard a moment. Jack could see her taking deep breaths before she looked back up at him. "Sir, it appears that..." She shook her head, starting over. "We have to do some tests to get more information, but it appears that Daniel suffered some brain damage."

It was one of those moments that Jack would always remember, along with the time when the doctors at the hospital told them that there was nothing they could do for Charlie. He had the same punched-in-the-gut feeling, the same knowledge that somehow, once again, he'd hurt and failed someone he loved, the same belief that somehow he knew better and the doctor was wrong. And he said what he'd said all those years ago.

"Let me see him."

He thought Fraiser was going to say no, but she pursed her lips and then nodded curtly, motioning for him to follow.

"He's very weak and confused, sir. The change in him is... very evident. Just..."

"I won't upset him," Jack replied curtly as he turned into the Intensive Care section of the infirmary.

Daniel was awake, lying on his side. At Jack's approach, a shy smile appeared.

"Jack?" he asked, his voice a different timbre, a younger sounding voice.

"Oh God, oh God." Jack wasn't sure if what he was mentally repeating was a prayer or not, but he forced a smile to his face for Daniel's reassurance because despite the very small smile Daniel was wearing, Jack didn't like the way Daniel's eyes were flitting from Fraiser, to the bed, to Jack and back again. He saw Daniel swallowing hard, trying to keep his fear under control. And because Daniel was scared that meant Jack couldn't be. It was a prayer, he decided. "Oh God, help me. Help him."

"Hey, Daniel." Jack pulled a chair to the bedside, reaching through the rail to rest his hand on top of Daniel's. "How're you doing?"

"I'm scared," Daniel whispered. He looked up at Janet before fixing his eyes on Jack once more. "I don't like this place. Can we go somewhere else? Will you take me to your house?"

The voice was plaintive, confused. Jack forced his own emotions down and smiled at Daniel reassuringly. "Not just yet, Daniel. You've been sick for a little bit and Doc here has to make sure you're getting better."

Daniel twisted his hand out from under Jack's and grabbed Jack's fingers. "Don't leave me, okay? I don't like it here."

"Doc, you want to tell us what's gonna happen next?" Jack asked evenly.

"Sir, I don't think—"

"Well, I do. I think Daniel would feel a lot better if he knew what was going to happen. Right, Daniel?"

His guess was rewarded with a small nod.

"I'm going to order some tests. MRI, PET scan, CAT scan, EEG—" Fraiser began.

"Whoa, Doc, stop with the alphabet soup." Jack held up a hand and heard a very quiet giggle from Daniel at the comment. "Plain English for me, please." He patted Daniel's hand and stilled the restless fingers that were worrying the edge of the blanket.

Fraiser nodded and gave a slight smile of understanding at Jack's request. "In other words, Colonel, we want to take some pictures of Daniel's brain."

"No, no, no," Daniel whispered, beginning to pick at the blanket once more. "Don't let her do it."

"Daniel, we need to see what's going on in that noggin of yours." Jack placed a finger on Daniel's chin, forcing the younger man's eyes to meet his.

"My brain's in here." Daniel reached up to touch his head. "How can she take a picture of it without opening it up?"

Jack thought the pain he felt at Daniel's innocent question would swallow him whole. This was real, not some dream. Daniel was hurt in some way Jack couldn't even begin to fathom. Daniel needed him, maybe now more than ever.

"No, Daniel. They have a special camera. It sees right through your head. They don't need to open anything up."

"You promise?"

"I promise. No opening up your head." Jack nodded and smiled despite the ache that was in his chest, the lump that was in his throat. "Doc, will it hurt?"

Janet shook her head. "Not a bit. Only a pinch when we take some blood. That might hurt a little bit. Okay, Daniel?"

Jack noticed that Daniel fixed his gaze on him once more, a trusting look that he'd seen before, the belief that Jack wasn't going to desert him. If Jack told him it wasn't going to hurt, it wouldn't. That blind faith overwhelmed Jack.

"It'll be fine," Jack nodded with a sense of numbness and unreality. This could not be happening. This wasn't real. Daniel was going to be fine. Fraiser and her minions would run their tests, find out this was just some momentary leftover glitch from Wepwawet's torture and fix him up. SG-1 would be going through the 'gate together next week.

"Okay, Doc Janet," Daniel nodded decisively. Jack had to smile at the name. "Jack says it's okay." He pulled at the blanket nervously and looked to Jack once more. "You're not going to leave me here, are you?"

"I can't go with you to the tests. But I'll be waiting right here for you when you come back."

Daniel nodded, his expression guarded as the orderlies came to wheel his bed to the radiology department.

"I'll be here for you. Always." Jack bent over to speak to him and relaxed as Daniel gave him a small smile. He closed his hand over Daniel's momentarily, enough to give him a quick squeeze of encouragement.

"You won't leave me alone," Daniel repeated, "and it won't hurt."

Jack watched as Daniel disappeared through the double doors before turning back to Fraiser.

"Doc? You have any idea what's going on?"

"Not yet, sir. You're welcome to wait here, but it's going to be awhile. I can call you when Daniel's on his way back."

Jack glanced at the empty space where Daniel's bed had been. There was a book resting on the small table, one of Daniel's very boring tomes. He'd brought it to the infirmary just last evening, figuring that when Daniel woke up, he'd want to read.

"I'm just going to..." Jack picked up the book, the weight of it strangely comforting. "I need to take a walk. Return this to..." Jack wondered why he wasn't able to string a coherent sentence together. "I'll be back."

He left before Fraiser could offer any of her meaningless platitudes, making a list in his mind. He needed to speak to Carter and Teal'c. They needed to hear what was going on from him. Needed to return this book to Daniel's office. Daniel would kill him if anything happened to it. He wondered if Fraiser had contacted Hammond. No matter, he could manage that duty, too. Jack squared his shoulders and walked out of the infirmary on his self-appointed mission.

* * * * *

Jack studied the faces gathered around the briefing room table. It was by his request that Carter and Teal'c were here. They were part of Daniel's family, too, and it appeared that Daniel was going to need all the family he could get. Jack rested his hands on the table, forcing himself not to curl them into fists as Doctor Philips, the psychologist, gave his report. Couldn't the man just bottom-line it? The brilliant Doctor Jackson that had unlocked the key to the Stargate, the man who held three Ph.D.'s, the linguist who knew twenty-three plus languages, was gone.

Regression, Philips was explaining. He was repeating test results he'd shared with Jack the day before. The Daniel who just three days ago had been translating an ancient language halfway across the galaxy now couldn't read or write his own name. The Daniel who headed the archaeology department and routinely managed the budget for said department now couldn't count above five.

"Thank you, Doctor Philips," Hammond said. Jack lowered his head and glanced at Carter out of the corner of his eye. She looked stunned, unable to believe the results she'd just heard. Teal'c was staring at Philips and Jack wondered if he was about to strangle the man with his bare hands. He turned his attention back to the general who was nodding at Fraiser.

"Doctor Fraiser, can you tell us the cause of Daniel's regression?"

Janet closed the thick files that contained the results of Daniel's testing. Her eyes skirted around the briefing room table, hesitating for a moment on Jack. "No, sir, I can't."

"You can't?" Jack asked. "What do you mean you can't? Millions of dollars of taxpayers' money at your disposal and you can't give us a reason why Dr. Daniel Jackson, genius extraordinaire, now has the mentality of a five-year old?"

"Colonel—" Hammond attempted to intervene, Dr. Fraiser held up her hand to halt him.

"No, I can't, Colonel. With Daniel it could be a number of things. His last run in with the Goa'uld torture device, damage from the virus."

"What about P4W-555. Could something have happened to Doctor Jackson while he was alone in the temple? Your mission report states he was alone inside for approximately two hours."

"I was right outside the damn door the whole time." Jack squeezed his hands together, the pain of his grip nowhere close to the guilt he felt for not having stayed inside the temple with Daniel instead.

"MajorCarter and I ran through DanielJackson's equipment," Teal'c replied in a calm voice that was belied by the muscle jumping in his cheek. "He had documented the interior of the temple with his video apparatus, but the last twenty minutes of footage was corrupt."

Carter sat forward as she spoke. "I tried to enhance the video but it's beyond saving."

"So something could have happened to Doctor Jackson during those twenty minutes?"

"There's a remote possibility, sir, but the walls of the temple are peppered with a mineral that puts out small amounts of energy. The footage Daniel taped was full of static and it's just more likely than not that he put the camera down right on top of the mineral, which corrupted the video."

"So you still believe the damage was from Wepwawet's device?"

"Sir, we just don't have enough information about how that device works."

"I'll continue working on it, General." Carter spoke with surprising fierceness as she glared at Fraiser. "We'll find an answer."

"Even if you do find out the why, Sam, there's no guarantee that anything will change. I'm sorry, Colonel, but that's my medical opinion. I don't see Daniel's condition changing. I'm sorry."

Sorry, Jack thought. Sorry. As if that word made it better. Fraiser looked beat. They all did, he thought as he scanned the faces of the doctors, his teammates, his CO. They were military, damn it. They needed a plan. "What about the Nox? The Asgard?"

"We've put out a call to them, including the Tok'ra, but not surprisingly, none of them have replied. We won't give up hope, Colonel. But up until we do, we must take the best course of action for Doctor Jackson's wellbeing."

"So, Doc, what happens next?" he heard himself ask. Maybe he wasn't a colonel for nothing. He'd led his team through hell before. Surely he could do it again, no matter the cost. Daniel needed him, needed them. He placed that mission objective in his mind. Nothing was going to swerve him from the course.

Jack thought of all the times he'd sat at this table, his mind drifting as Carter or Daniel went through long-winded explanations about upcoming missions when they could have summed up their points in two or three sentences. This was different. This was Daniel's life and Jack began taking notes as Fraiser began speaking of Rehab at the Academy hospital, occupational therapy, speech therapy. He held up his hand to stop her.

"I'm taking him home with me."

"Colonel, Daniel needs skilled care. For all intents and purposes, he is a five year old."

"And I was a dad to a five year old." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look, you know medicine, but I know Daniel. And he's going to do a lot better being at home with me, with someone who knows him, rather than spending not only his days, but also his nights, in a hospital."

"Sir, you go offworld, your hours—"

"Then I'll resign," Jack said, leaning forward.

"No, Jack." Hammond spoke softly. "We'll work this out. Doctor Fraiser, is there any medical reason that Doctor Jackson can't be released to the colonel's care?" At her head shake, he continued. "It appears that Daniel will be spending most of his days in therapy sessions at the Academy hospital. I'm sure we can manage to keep Colonel O'Neill busy for the same amount of time each day."

Jack smiled grimly. The battle may have been won but victory was so not sweet.

"I'll arrange for a team meeting on Doctor Jackson's case at the hospital. 1300 tomorrow, Colonel O'Neill."

Jack nodded and wrote the time down on his notes.

"I'd like to keep Daniel on base until everything's arranged. Perhaps a VIP room, sir?" she asked General Hammond.

"It'll be taken care of, Doctor," Hammond said. "Dismissed."

Jack watched as the others trickled out of the room, until only he and the general remained.

He stood to leave, but found himself drawn instead to the Gateroom and the Stargate. He was aware of General Hammond beside him, a fatherly hand placed on his shoulder.

"If anyone can do this, Jack, you can."

Jack nodded, wishing he had as much faith in himself as General Hammond did. "Daniel needs me," he repeated in his mind.

* * * * *

"See anything you like?" Jack nudged Daniel's tray to get his attention as Daniel perused the assortment of lunch items displayed before them. This was Daniel's first outing away from Fraiser's clutches, both having decided that Daniel needed the exercise and some food. They'd toured the base's corridors until Daniel had pleaded fatigue. Now hopefully Jack could get some food into him and then coax him into taking a nap.

Daniel shrugged as he stared at the various steaming dishes.

"How about some chicken?" Jack pointed to the grilled meat on his right.

"I want this." Daniel pointed to the meatloaf in front of him.

"I don't think you'll like that, Daniel. There's some fish. Fish is good. You like fish."

"I don't want fish. I want this."

"He'll take the chicken," Jack informed the man behind the counter, who had been staring at Daniel with wide eyes and open mouth.

"I don't want any chicken." Daniel's voice rose as chicken, rice and vegetables were spooned onto a plate. "I don't want any of that. I want some of this stuff and I want some mushy potatoes with gravy." He grabbed his tray before Jack could put the food-laden plate on it and held it against his chest. Utensils slid from the tray and clattered loudly onto the floor while Jack became hyper-aware of everyone's eyes on them.

Most of the base personnel by now knew of Daniel's regression; many people they'd seen today had either averted their eyes as he and Daniel had strolled down the corridors; only a few had actually smiled and greeted Daniel.

"Give him the meatloaf and mashed potatoes," Jack said stiffly, placing the chicken and rice onto his own tray. He bent down, picked up the knife and fork and handed them to Daniel. "Go put them over there." He motioned to the area where dirty dishes were dumped while he grabbed another fork and knife.

Daniel walked slowly, eying what everyone else was eating. By the time he returned, Jack had gotten himself some coffee and was waiting for Daniel by the drinks area. "What do you want to drink? Water?"

Daniel eyed the variety of drinks in the refrigerator. "I don't know. There's lots and lots."

"Let's start with water."

Jack opened the door, grabbed a bottle of water then moved their trays to the cashier. He paid for the lunches then joined Carter and Teal'c, who were already seated at a table at the back of the room.

Daniel grabbed the bottle of ketchup and liberally squirted the condiment over his meal. Jack rolled his eyes as he caught Carter's grin. He watched Daniel as he took a bite of meatloaf, expecting him to spit it out and state he didn't like it. But to his surprise, Daniel chewed and swallowed, and eagerly took another bite.

"Thith ith good," he said, a dab of mashed potato mixed with ketchup stuck to the side of his mouth. He swallowed and Jack pointed to the bit of pinkish white. Daniel wiped it off with the back of his hand and licked the blob off. He reached for his water, then leaned over to sniff at Jack's coffee.

"Whatcha drinking?"

"Coffee."

"Can I have some?"

"You don't like coffee, remember?" That discovery two days ago had stunned everyone. And soon after that Jack had discovered, to his dismay, that this Daniel was a fussy eater. Gone was the adventurous, "I'll try anything once," iron stomach Jackson. Instead it seemed the virus had not only affected Daniel's cognitive abilities, but his taste buds.

Daniel ignored Jack's comment and picked up the Styrofoam cup. He sniffed the coffee, then quickly put it down.

"I don't like coffee," Daniel repeated.

"Want to try some of my Snapple?" Carter asked. She removed her straw and handed the bottle of Kiwi Strawberry juice to Daniel, who took a cautious sip.

"This is good." He took a long drink, made a loud smacking noise, and burped. "This is really, really good." Even as Daniel raised the glass bottle to his mouth again, Jack quickly reached out and caught Daniel's hand.

"Carter offered you a taste, not the whole thing. You've got water, you can drink that."

* * * * *

"Okay, what would you like me to read to you?" Jack glanced at the pile of young children's books that Hammond had delivered earlier this morning, leftovers from his granddaughters who had outgrown the books for subjects geared towards pre-teens.

Daniel shrugged, more interested in walking around and exploring the VIP room that Hammond had assigned Jack. Although Daniel had miraculously recovered from the high fever which had caused such damage, he was still somewhat weak and Jack could see his energy was beginning to wane. He hoped getting Daniel to lie down and relax would lead him to taking a nap; yesterday Daniel had become so tired and overwrought that he'd ended up crying himself to sleep before lunch.

Jack flipped through the books, found one that he remembered reading to Charlie and tossed it onto the bed. He sat on the bed, uncovered the pillows, shoved one against the wall and leaned against it. Daniel stopped his pacing and turned to look at Jack when the bed squeaked beneath his weight. Jack patted the empty side of the bed invitingly, trying to squelch down memories of having done the same thing before at home, except he'd patted the bed while stroking himself, the wordless invitation leading to Daniel pouncing on him and—

He coughed, trying to not picture that Daniel with the one that was still looking around the room, obviously uncomfortable in the cement-womb of the mountain. There was a loud rattle and bang outside and Daniel jumped, taking a couple of quick steps closer to the bed. He eyed the door before letting himself fall onto the bed, jarring Jack and dislodging the pillow from behind him.

Daniel crawled the few inches separating them and tried to plaster himself on top of Jack. The heat of Daniel's body plus the memories Jack had just invoked had him pushing Daniel off, albeit somewhat more forcefully than he'd intended to.

"Don't," Jack said gruffly, but was immediately contrite when Daniel looked at him with a hurt expression. "Just lie down quietly while I read, okay?"

He opened the book, cleared his throat again, and began reading. He finished the first two pages, short as they were, and glanced over at Daniel. He thrust his lower lip out in a pout, which would have been endearing on a five year old, but definitely looked ridiculous on the face of someone more than thirty years older than that.

But it wasn't the sulking that had Jack asking what was wrong; it was the slight tremor in Daniel's hands where they plucked at a thread in the bedspread.

"Daniel, what's wrong?"

"I don't like it here."

"You don't? Would you rather go back to the infirmary?"

The fingers nervously worrying the thread stopped, then started up again, this time with more visible trembling. "No," he said softly. "There're no needles here, right, Jack?"

"No needles, that's right. But why don't you like this room? It's quiet, not like the hustle and bustle of the infirmary." There was a loud thud outside and Jack swore under his breath. They were moving equipment outside and it figured it would have to be during the time he wanted Daniel to try and get some rest.

"No windows. How'll I know if Sam or Teal'c or Doc Janet or – or – or – the guy with the funny hair on his mouth that brings me food or the lady who gives me water even though she gave Doc Janet a needle once. I saw her. She tried to hide it but I saw her—"

"Daniel," Jack interrupted, trying to be patient. "How will you know how they...?"

"How'll I know if they come to visit?" His voice rose into a wail. "There's no windows. Just walls and walls and walls."

"That's what the door's for. If they come and visit, they'll just knock and ask to come in."

"Oh." Daniel stared at the door a moment, got up and padded to it, opened it quickly and peered outside. He looked around, closed the door, rapping on it with his knuckles. Seeming satisfied, he returned to the bed and lay down. He began shifting close to Jack. When he stopped, he looked up at Jack underneath his eyelids and sighed.

Jack opened the book and began to read again.

"Can I have some water?" Daniel interrupted.

Without a word, Jack put the book down, walked to the bathroom and ran the water. He returned with a glassful and waited as Daniel sat up and drank it down. By the time he put the glass back in the bathroom, Daniel had crept closer to Jack's side of the bed.

Jack sat back down, picked up the book, and began reading again. Slowly Daniel crept closer until his shoulders and cheek were lying against Jack's hip and ribs. By the time Jack finished the book, Daniel had inched upwards so that he was leaning in against Jack's chest.

The old Daniel had been a snuggler; it looked like this one was going to be one also. Jack had a feeling he was going to be fighting with his libido for a while, until his body stopped reacting to the feel and smell of Daniel lying next to him.

Jack reached out with one arm and circled the curled shoulders, hugging him gently. Daniel heaved a heavy sigh, relaxing visibly at Jack's touch. Jack put the book down, reached for Daniel's glasses and placed them next to him on the night table for safekeeping. He rubbed small circles on his back with his fingers while he reached for the next book on the pile. He opened it to the first page and began reading, hyper-aware of Daniel who began playing with the button on his jacket.

Jack read slowly, his attention half on the printed words and half on the moving fingers. When the movement began to slow, Jack softened his voice. Daniel's breathing had become deep and rhythmic. Soon the fingers barely moved, twitching occasionally as sleep began to overtake the body in his arms. Jack continued reading, and by the time he finished the second story, the fingers had stilled and Daniel lay heavy in his arms. He leaned down and kissed the top of Daniel's head, then sighed, throwing his head back and staring at the ceiling.

* * * * *

"Danny, glasses."

Daniel squinted at him in confusion and Jack waved to the folded glasses beside the infirmary bed. With a sigh, Daniel picked them up, unfolded them and looked through the lenses at arm's length.

"Why do I need to wear these? I don't like 'em."

"Because you see better when you have them on. C'mon, I'm hungry."

"I don't see better with 'em. Look." Daniel shoved the glasses onto his face and stopped in the middle of the hallway. "Oh." He turned his head, looking at everything. For the whole trip to the elevator and to the commissary, Daniel spent taking the glasses off and then putting them on.

"Oy," Jack thought to himself as Daniel brought the glasses closer to the scrambled eggs in the display case to see out of them.

* * * * *

Jack looked up from his paperwork. A half an hour's more work and he'd be able to take Daniel home at last. Doctor Fraiser had finally released him from the infirmary a few hours ago. But now Daniel was nowhere to be seen, the papers he'd been drawing on scattered across the table. Jack only spared a glimpse at the pictures, childish stick figures, nothing like Daniel's detailed drawings of artifacts.

"Shit, shit, shit," Jack muttered. He had no way of knowing just how much of the base Daniel remembered. He had visions of Daniel wandering around lost and confused.

"Colonel?" He bumped into an airman as he rushed down the hall.

"Call General Hammond. Let him know that Doctor Jackson is missing," Jack shouted after the woman. He punched the button for the elevator and counted the seconds until it arrived.

Jack ran down the hall towards Daniel's office, hoping against hope that he was guessing correctly. He pushed open the door and paused, a huge sigh of relief gusting past his lips.

Daniel was sitting at his computer, the bluish light from the screen casting a glow over his hair. Jack's heart pounded faster. What if Fraiser had been wrong? What if it hadn't been brain damage after all? Daniel was the bounce back kid after all; maybe this time he needed just a little more time to recover. Maybe coming to his office had been the catalyst.

"Daniel?" Jack called tentatively.

Daniel turned to face him, giving him a big grin. "Jack, look at the pretty pictures."

The illusion was broken, shattered. Daniel frowned.

"Jack? Don't be sad. Look, I can make this drawing dance. Just press this button. See?" Daniel's voice was rising in reaction to Jack's distress.

Jack nodded, unable to speak. He picked up the phone and dialed Hammond's office.

"Sir? I've found Daniel. He's in his office."

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"Do you need assistance, Colonel? Have you contacted Doctor Fraiser?"

"No, no, sir. We'll be fine. You don't need to send anyone else up here."

"Very well. I'll call off the search."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

Daniel motioned rapidly. "Jack, c'mere. C'mon. Give me your finger. I'll show you."

Jack pulled up a chair beside Daniel, offering his hand. Daniel took his hand and pressed Jack's index finger to the space bar.

"Isn't he funny, Jack?" Daniel laughed and looked at him. Jack smiled back, unable to resist the infectious giggle.

"That he is."

"I was being real good and quiet." Daniel turned his attention back to the screen. "I like this room. There's lotsa fun stuff in here. Do you like this room, too?"

"Yeah, yeah I do, Danny." Jack reached up to stroke Daniel's hair. "This room belongs to my very best friend in the whole universe."

Jack wasn't prepared for Daniel's sudden frown. "What's wrong?"

"I'm not your friend," Daniel whispered.

"What gave you that idea?" Jack pulled on Daniel's chair, swiveling it so Daniel was facing him.

"I want to be your very best friend in the whole universe." Daniel continued looking at his hands, pulling on the hem of his T-shirt.

"Daniel?" Jack had to pause and cough. "Daniel, listen to me. You are my very best friend."

"I am?" Daniel smiled widely. "Really?" He bounced in his chair. "But what about... you know...?" He waved his hand in a gesture so reminiscent of the Daniel that was, that for a second, Jack couldn't focus.

"I think he'd be really happy that I have you. I know he would." Jack reached over to switch off the computer. "We've got to get going."

"Can I come back here and play another time?" Daniel asked as Jack led him to the door.

"We'll see," Jack offered as a compromise. "We'll see."

Jack didn't miss Daniel's last lingering look at all the treasures in his office. No, Jack corrected, his former office. More tests during the past two days only served to confirm the same results the first ones had. Jack looked at Daniel who was smiling at each person they met in the hallway. He hadn't ever expected this, had no way of foreseeing such a devastating accident to Daniel. They were supposed to have had the rest of their lives together. Together as equals, as people who were whole, as lovers and partners.

Daniel was the one who had taught him how to dream again. Jack thought back to the first time he'd met a shaggy haired Daniel, a man sure of his convictions, unafraid to argue with Jack. He remembered Daniel's wonder stepping through the wormhole and total fascination with the people of Abydos. And when Jack left Daniel on that alien world, he discovered he was able to begin to dream again. As he'd sat on his deck, watching the night sky, dreams flitted through his mind, elusive, never quite coalescing until he stepped through the Stargate once more and Daniel was there.

He shared Daniel's dream that they could rescue Sha're and, when that dream had turned to dust in Daniel's hands, Jack found himself helping Daniel regain the ability to dream. And for the past year there had been a new dream. A dream that he'd finally found someone that accepted him as he was, someone who knew his faults and loved him despite them. A dream that he was going to grow old with someone, with Daniel. When they both decided the fight with the Goa'uld was a fight for folks younger than they, Daniel would write books and translate on the side for the SGC, Jack would fish and watch hockey and fish some more. And in between he and Daniel would argue, drive each other crazy, and then have mind-blowing sex.

Jack watched Daniel push the elevator buttons and laugh as all the numbers lit up. He smiled back at Daniel's grin, wondering if all the dreams had died.

"Jack? Are we going home soon? I've been waiting for it forever." Daniel followed Jack out of the elevator.

Jack nodded, momentarily unable to speak. Less than a week ago those words had a totally different meaning when they came from Daniel's lips. He coughed. "Just a few more minutes, Daniel. I have a few more papers to do."

Daniel sighed. "You sure have lots of stuff to do."

"Sometimes," Jack agreed. "And you can help by hanging some of those pictures you drew up on my filing cabinet. I'll give you some tape to do it."

Daniel smiled at him as he followed Jack into his office. "I can do that."

They were just preparing to leave when there was a knock at Jack's door. Daniel opened it eagerly, his grin fading to a frown as he saw it was Fraiser.

"I don't have to go back to the sick room, do I?" Daniel asked very quietly.

"No, oh no, Daniel," Janet quickly assured him. "I just need to speak to Colonel O'Neill for a few minutes."

Daniel went to stand by Jack's desk, still warily watching Janet.

"Doc? Is there a problem?" Jack stood, placing his hand on Daniel's shoulder, hoping that he was conveying confidence that there was indeed nothing wrong.

"No, sir. I just wanted to check in before you take Daniel home." She glanced from Jack to Daniel and Jack didn't miss the sadness in her eyes "I wanted to remind you of your appointment to visit the Rehab Center at the Academy Hospital tomorrow at 0900." She turned her attention back to Jack. "It's going to be very important to make sure that you establish routines for Daniel."

Jack held up a small notebook to show Janet. "Taken care of, Doc. Appointment at 0900 tomorrow. Check up for Daniel in two weeks here." He didn't even need to look at his notes. He'd been spending most of the past two days filling the notebook with questions, appointments, and ideas.

Janet smiled. "Yes, sir. I'll be going. If you have any problems, well, you have my number both here and at home." She focused on Daniel once again. "Daniel, you take care of yourself."

"Jack? What's a routine?" Daniel sounded worried. The mention of the hospital must have done it. Jack didn't blame him. Daniel had undergone so many tests in the past few days that the thought of more doctors probably scared him silly.

"It just means that we need to do things the same way most of the time," Jack reassured him. "And we're going to visit the hospital to meet some people who are going to help you learn things."

"Oh." Daniel watched as Jack shut down his computer and straightened up his desk.

"Ready to go, big guy?" Jack asked after one last look around the office.

"Home?"

"Home."

Daniel smiled. "I'm ready, Jack. I've been ready forever."

* * * * *

An hour later, Daniel was ensconced on Jack's sofa, remote control in hand, and Jack was staring in the refrigerator wondering just what he should make for supper. Another bout of laughter from the living room helped Jack decide. They'd call somewhere for delivery. Daniel was having way too much fun without him.

Jack paused beside the sofa. Daniel's attention was fixed on the small TV screen Jack had set up in the living room and he laughed again, holding his stomach. Jack couldn't remember ever hearing Daniel laugh like this, totally uninhibited, totally abandoned to the moment. He watched as Daniel bit his lip, trying unsuccessfully to hold back his laughter and then as he gave up the fight and dissolved once again into helpless giggles.

Jack sat down beside Daniel as a commercial came on. "You having fun, Danny?"

"It's funny." Daniel smiled at Jack. "He's a sponge and he's got a friend who's a starfish and there's a squirrel and a crab and a squid. SpongeBob went to school to drive and the lady fish puffed up and then he cheated and—"

"Whoa," Jack held up his hand. "Take a breath. May I watch it, too?"

Daniel's smile grew impossibly larger and he nodded. "I'm so glad I'm home with you."

"I'm glad you're here, too." Jack smiled back even though he felt brittle. This was real. This wasn't some nightmare. Daniel was changed and he wasn't ready.

"Look. It's back on." Daniel pointed to the screen when Jack appeared to not be watching. "I'll explain it to you, okay?"

"You do that." Jack leaned back on the cushions and listened to his first lesson on SpongeBob SquarePant's antics.

* * * * *

"I'm cold."

Daniel got up where he'd been sitting on the floor, flipping through the TV Guide, and came padding to the sofa, the threadbare sweats he was wearing leaving nothing to Jack's imagination. Daniel shifted closer to Jack so he could lean against him.

"Here. Snuggle under this." Jack pulled the afghan over the back of the sofa and spread it over Daniel, effectively hiding the bulge beneath the thin material which Jack couldn't seem to keep his eyes off of. He hated this; hated how his body kept reacting to Daniel's proximity. Daniel and he had always snuggled here, together, in front of the TV in the winter, using their body heat to keep them warm. Often the snuggling had led to another method of keeping warm and—

"I'll turn the heat up a bit." Jack stood, quickly putting distance between himself and Daniel and raised the thermostat in the room to a more comfortable temperature.

"I'm still cold," Daniel whined, shifting closer to Jack when he sat back down. He clutched the blanket close to his chin and stared at Jack woefully.

"Give it a minute. The room'll warm up and..." Jack couldn't resist the look Daniel gave him. With a sigh, he put an arm around Daniel, blanket and all, and pulled him closer. And Daniel hadn't been exaggerating. The hands that curled up against Jack's chest were icy.

"You really are cold, aren't ya?"

"Uh huh." My butt is freezing, Jack."

"What about your toes, are those cold, too?" Teasingly, Jack reached and tweaked Daniel's sock-clad feet. He could feel the chill through the thin cotton.

"Cold. Yep, my fingers and toes are all cold."

"How about we buy you something warmer to wear?"

"A jacket? I already have jacket and gloves and boots to wear outside."

Jack smiled. "No, I was thinking maybe some flannel pajamas. They'll keep you nice and toasty warm."

"Okay." Daniel leaned his head on Jack's shoulder, giving a slight shiver. "Now?"

"No, the stores are closed. We'll go later this week."

"Do I have to wear the pajamas to the Center?"

"No, they'll only be for sleeping in."

"But if they keep me toasty warm, then why can't I wear them outside?"

Jack grimaced and instead of answering, buried his face in Daniel's neck and made a loud, farting sound. Daniel giggled and squirmed, and hopefully he'd have forgotten his question. Jack wondered how Sara had managed alone with Charlie, considering how much of the time he'd been away on missions. He hoped he managed half as well with Daniel.

* * * * *

"But why do I have to sleep here?" Daniel stood in the middle of Jack's spare bedroom, staring forlornly at the bed.

"Because this is your room now." Jack stepped around Daniel and pulled the comforter down, then plumped the pillow invitingly.

"But the other Daniel didn't sleep here. He slept with you. I wanna sleep with you." Daniel took a couple of steps backwards, moving towards the door.

Jack straightened up, passing a hand over his eyes in frustration. Bad enough Daniel had retained snippets of his old self's memories, the last thing he needed was Daniel sharing his bed. He needed to set the ground rules right now.

"That's because you... the other Daniel, didn't live here. He had his own home and only stayed here once in a while. This is your bedroom now, your home. So you get this room all to yourself."

"Mine?" There was a quizzical look on Daniel's face as he processed the idea. "This is all mine?" He moved slowly back into the center of the room, turning around and looking at the four walls. "I get to sleep here all the time?"

"Yep." Jack patted the bed. "C'mon, get in."

Somehow Jack had found the right words, because Daniel hurried to the bed and slid in. "This is bigger than the bed in the sick room. I like this bed." Daniel spread his legs and arms out, scissoring them several times.

"Good, I'm glad." Jack sat on the bed and reached out to remove Daniel's glasses. As he folded them, Daniel blinked up at him sleepily and smiled.

"You gonna read to me?"

"Of course." Jack eyed the pile of books and realized he'd have to go buy some new ones at the rate he was going through them. Of course Daniel couldn't quite retain the stories Jack read to him so he'd be rereading them over and over. He wondered how long it would take before he himself got fed up of reading the same thing. The variety, he feared, was going to be for himself and not Daniel.

* * * * *

Jack pushed open the door to the spare room. Daniel was sprawled in the bed, one hand tucked up under his chin, the other arm flung out to the side. His covers were twisted and half-falling off the bed.

The night light cast a soft glow in the room as Jack made his way to Daniel's side.

Daniel was frowning in his sleep and moaning slightly. Jack put out a hand to touch Daniel's forehead. It felt slightly warmer than usual, but he wasn't sure if it was due to the excitement of the day or a fever. He'd set his alarm and check on Daniel in two hours, see if there was any change.

Daniel's hands came up as if he was pushing someone away and Jack sat down beside him.

"Daniel?" Jack whispered. He stroked back Daniel's bangs. "I'm here."

Daniel came awake with a gasp. "Jack?" He sat up and reached out for Jack, seeking comfort.

Jack rubbed a big circle on Daniel's back, not speaking, just waiting for Daniel's breathing to slow.

Daniel pulled away a few minutes later and looked at Jack with wide eyes. "They were after me. I didn't like them."

"Who was?" Jack cast his mind back over the TV they'd watched earlier, wondering if Daniel had been scared by something he'd seen.

"The man with glowy eyes. His voice was all scary and he said he'd hurt you and Sam and Teal'c. I didn't like him," Daniel shuddered.

"He can't hurt you. He's gone." Jack rubbed at his face as Daniel scooted back under the covers. Okay, so Daniel was having nightmares about Wepwawet's little sessions with him. Now how did one explain the Goa'uld to a five year old?

Evidently, Jack found out as he looked at Daniel, one didn't. Jack's reassurance that the glowy-eyed man was gone and couldn't hurt him was enough for Daniel. Jack bent over and kissed his forehead. Too bad he couldn't reassure himself. Too bad he understood that although Wepwawet was dead, he was still torturing Daniel and those who loved him.

"Sleep tight, Danny," Jack whispered as he stood up to leave. "Busy day tomorrow."

Jack paused at the door. He had the feeling this was going to be a long, long night.

* * * * *

"Here we are." Jack pulled into a parking space on the Academy Hospital lot. "Let's go inside, okay?"

Daniel was rubbing his hand on denim-clad thighs. Jack wondered if the nervous habits Daniel now exhibited were frustration with his limitations. He'd have to put that in the small notebook in which he was keeping questions to have answered, the overload of information thrown at him in the weeks since Daniel's awakening was overwhelming at times. "I don't want to," a small voice said.

"Remember we talked about this? Remember when we visited a few days ago?" Jack prodded. He motioned for Daniel to undo his seatbelt.

Daniel nodded and got out of the truck slowly. His eyes darted back and forth from the building to Jack. He licked his lips and pushed his glasses up on his nose.

"Here." Jack handed Daniel the backpack they'd picked out last night and put his hand on Daniel's shoulder, feeling the tight muscles. He began guiding Daniel towards the doors, their feet crunching loudly over the snow in the parking lot. If his own stomach doing flip-flops was any indication of how Daniel was feeling, it was no wonder Daniel had simply stirred his cereal listlessly at breakfast. It didn't matter that Jack knew Daniel needed the services the Rehab Center could provide. He was going to leave Daniel here, alone, while he went to the base and he wasn't going to be popping down to Daniel's office to pester him while he worked on a translation. Daniel wasn't going to be giving one of his PowerPoint presentations, telling them all about some obscure Egyptian deity, his speech getting faster as he got more excited. SG-1 wasn't going to be walking through the Stargate together anymore. So even though he knew in his head Daniel needed this, Jack's heart stubbornly refused to get with the program.

"Hi, Daniel." The speech therapist they'd met two days ago smiled at them as they came through the double doors.

"Hi." Daniel ducked his head.

"Good morning." Jack smiled back, nudging Daniel.

"I want to go to work with you, Jack. I belong there," Daniel pleaded. Jack nodded to the therapist as she stepped back a few paces.

"Not right now." Jack took a deep breath. "You need to come here for awhile so they can help you."

"Because I'm stupid now," Daniel muttered.

"No, because you need some help," Jack corrected gently. "You just need some help to remember how to do some things. I'm sorry, buddy. I wish you could come with me, too."

Daniel frowned and then raised a finger to his lips, a gesture that said Daniel to Jack. "I used to know lots."

"Yes," Jack replied, nodding, his throat tight at the hesitant tone.

"You have to go to work and I have to stay here," Daniel continued as if he was solving a puzzle. "It's not right. You, me, Sam, Teal'c, we're a team. We should be together. No one gets left behind. Isn't that right?" He looked to Jack for approval.

"That's right," Jack agreed, knowing that the team that had been was no more. "But sometimes we have different jobs to do before we figure things out and well, for now, this is your job. To come here and work hard."

"Okay, Jack," Daniel said, nodding slowly. "You'll come back? You won't leave me here?"

"I'll come back," Jack promised, steering Daniel towards a table and chairs.

"How long?"

One of the skills Daniel had lost was the ability to tell time, but Jack didn't hesitate. He pulled off his watch, placing it in Daniel's hand.

"Look here." Jack pointed to the watch. "When the big hand is here and the little hand is here, that's when I'll be back for you."

Daniel traced a finger over the watch crystal. "I don't want you to forget me. You can't. I need you not to forget."

"I won't." Jack patted Daniel's shoulder, frowning at the faraway look in Daniel's eyes as he'd spoken. He smiled as the therapist approached once more. "And when I come to get you, you can tell me all about what you did all day, okay? I'll tell you what I did, too."

Daniel nodded and turned his back on Jack, studying his hands as they rested on the table.

"He'll be fine, Colonel O'Neill," the therapist said.

Jack left the room, emotions crashing around him. How the hell were they going to live like this? How the hell were they going to cope?

Jack didn't remember getting in the Avalanche and driving towards the base until he glanced down and saw he was speeding. He immediately slowed down. No time for his stupidity. Daniel was counting on him. He opened the window and breathed in the cold air. They would cope. He didn't know how, but they would cope. Cheyenne Mountain loomed in his sight. He wondered if he was ever going to feel the excitement he used to when he came to work each day.

* * * * *

"I'm thirsty. Can I have some Snapple?"

Jack glanced away from the hockey game to Daniel, who was sitting on the floor with a Lego creation strewn all over the den.

"Just give me a second, the period's nearly over." A fight broke out on the ice, riveting his attention back to the screen.

"I can get it, Jack." As Daniel quickly stood, his foot kicked several Legos under the couch. "I can shake it first and then I can open the cover really, really carefully."

"Five more minutes, Danny. Then I'll get you your drink." He leaned forward as both teams threw off their gloves and began pushing and shoving one another. The players on the benches were jumping over the barrier and joining the melee.

"Jaaack, I want something to drink now." Daniel stomped a foot hard onto the floor.

"Okay, go." Jack knew he shouldn't give in to Daniel's peevishness but he just wasn't in the mood to deal with it tonight. "But be careful with it. You stay in the kitchen and drink it there. I don't want you walking around with that bottle in your hand."

"Thanks! I'll be careful. I promise." Daniel ran out of the room and up the stairs, thumping loudly overhead as he entered the kitchen.

Jack heard the sound of the fridge door closing, and then silence. The fight broke up and the game went into a commercial.

"You got your drink, Daniel?" Jack hollered.

"Yeah!"

"You coming back down?"

"I'm not finished yet."

"Come back down when you're done, okay?

" 'K."

Jack picked up a handful of Legos, fiddling with them as he waited through the commercials. The game came back on and he tossed the toys to the side.

The next ten minutes flew by and the hockey game went into intermission. That was when Jack realized Daniel hadn't come back down.

"Daniel?" Jack realized he hadn't heard any noise from upstairs but then again he'd gotten immersed in the hockey game. He began to get worried; normally Daniel guzzled down the treat, not taking time to savor it. He should have come back down already.

He jogged up the stairs, listening intently to try and figure out where Daniel was. He glanced in the kitchen and saw Daniel, his hands resting on the kitchen table, leaning forward, head down.

"Hey, what'cha doing?" Jack entered the kitchen and saw three empty bottles of Snapple on the table, and a fourth one that was three quarters empty.

"Jack?" Daniel raised a pale face and looked at him. "I don't feel good."

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

Another week. Two whole damned weeks and there had still been no reply to their request for help from any of their allies. He stood before the door to the Rehab Center and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself after the frustrations of the day. He heard the arguing before he opened the door to the common room.

"No, you can't make me. Jack comes to get me when the little hand is here and the big hand is on there. I don't want to eat it. I don't like it."

"Daniel," Emily's voice was infinitely patient, "you haven't eaten anything all day. You have to be hungry."

"No, I don't and I'm not. Jack said he'd be here." Daniel's voice rose louder. "I'm gonna see if he's coming."

"You are not. Remember the rules. You can't go outside alone."

"Why not?"

"It's dangerous for you to go out alone." Emily was gently leading Daniel away from the door when Jack entered.

"Jack!" Daniel launched himself at Jack and Jack found himself on the receiving end of a very enthusiastic hug. "You're here." He turned to Emily. "I told you he'd come."

"Yes, you did." The therapist smiled. "Can you get your backpack? I need to talk to Jack."

Daniel hesitated, looking at Jack.

"It's okay." Jack smiled and patted Daniel's shoulder. "You get your pack and then we're gonna have a surprise."

Daniel narrowed his eyes. "It's not gonna be needles, is it?"

Jack shook his head no. "Go, scoot; get your backpack." He watched Daniel slowly walk to the small bin where his winter jacket and backpack were stored before turning his gaze to Emily.

"Colonel, I wanted to let you know that Daniel has made a good adjustment to being at the Center. He still refuses to eat for us at lunchtime but other than that, he's making good progress. Although he was somewhat worried when you called."

Jack nodded. "He didn't sound too happy when I got here."

"Daniel doesn't have a very good sense of time. He couldn't understand that you were going to be late even after you phoned us. He did try to leave the Center a few times in the past hour. He also doesn't understand the dangers of being out alone. We took the clients to McDonald's for lunch today. He started running across the street without waiting for the traffic light."

"I'll watch him closely, Mrs. Reese." Jack accepted another hug from Daniel as he came back to his side. "And we'll see you on Monday."

"Bye, Emily." Daniel ducked his head in a manner so familiar that Jack felt his heart squeeze. "And I'm sorry I yelled at you."

"That's okay, Daniel." Emily smiled. "You take care."

"Jack?" Daniel asked as they were pulling out of the parking lot. "Do I have to go back there on tomorrow?"

"Nope, we have the weekend free. You go back on Monday."

"Why do you have to leave me there?" Daniel was rummaging in his backpack.

"I have to go to work, Danny."

"I could come with you like before. I wouldn't be any trouble at all. I can be very, very quiet." Daniel finally pulled out a piece of paper from his pack. "And look. Look what I did!"

Luckily the light was red and Jack was able to take the piece of paper offered to him.

"I wrote it all by myself." Daniel was beaming. "Emily showed me how and I did it."

Jack nodded, his throat tight. Daniel had printed his name in big letters across the page. "Good job." Jack reached out to briefly touch Daniel's cheek. "It's beautiful. Just beautiful."

"I can write, Jack. If you show me how, I'll write all your letters for you."

"I know you would, buddy," Jack said. "I know you'd do anything to make me happy."

"I don't want to go back. Please don't make me go back," Daniel pleaded.

"I have to. You can't come to work with me." Jack hated this. He hated every minute he was away from Daniel. Hated this argument they'd had every evening on their way home.

Daniel took the paper with his name on it and tore it up. "I hate you. I hate you. You're a big meanie."

Jack remembered the first time a sobbing Charlie had said those words to him, the way it had cut to the bone. It still did. He remembered the words he'd said to Charlie all those years ago.

"I know you're mad at me and I'm sorry. But I still love you. I will keep on loving you."

There was no answer from the passenger seat, only a small sniffle. Jack kept his eyes on the road; traffic increasing as he approached the mall. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Daniel begin to fiddle with the seatbelt.

"No. Keep it on. It keeps you safe." He covered Daniel's hand with his. "It's in case we're in an accident."

"You keep me safe, Jack." The voice was a whisper. "You drive good. You won't hit any cars."

"Thanks. But sometimes other people are busy and not paying attention and if you don't have your seatbelt on, you'll get hurt."

"Smushed," Daniel agreed. "Like remember in that show with the policemen. The car was smushed."

"Yep, like that," Jack said. "And I don't want a smushed Daniel."

Daniel giggled. "Nope. No smushing. I won't take it off until you tell me. I promise."

Jack pulled into a parking space not far from the west entrance to the mall. "Here we are."

Daniel watched as Jack unbuckled his own seatbelt and then motioned for Daniel to do the same.

"Jack?"

"Yeah, Daniel?"

"This isn't home." Daniel looked out the window dubiously.

"Remember I told you a surprise?" At Daniel's nod, Jack continued. "This is the mall. There are lots of stores in here. And do you remember what I told you I was gonna buy you earlier this week?"

Jack watched as Daniel thought, one finger coming up to press against his lips. Daniel finally shook his head.

"Pajamas, remember? Something warmer than those old sweats you've been wearing." Which Jack was extremely anxious to get Daniel. Seeing him in the old, threadbare sweatpants the old Daniel had worn around the house had just been too hard to take.

"Can we get SpongeBob pajamas? What about Krusty the Clown?"

"Maybe not today. Let's just look for something in flannel to keep you nice and warm for now, okay?"

Daniel started off at a rapid pace, intent on reaching the mall entrance before Jack. A car came across three lanes of parking spaces towards an unaware Daniel.

Jack ran to catch up, the pounding of his heart having more to do with his fear for Daniel than any exertion.

"Take my hand, Danny," Jack ordered and squeezed the gloved hand that slipped into his trustingly. Remember when we went for our walk the other evening?" At Daniel's nod, he continued. "You have to watch for cars. They can be dangerous and they don't always look out for you."

"Okay." Daniel tugged on Jack's hand. "C'mon. Let's go."

A half an hour later, Jack was wondering how on Earth he used to keep up with Charlie. A grown up Daniel Jackson tested his patience; Daniel Jackson with the mind of a five year old was exhausting. When they finally reached Sears, Jack was relieved to enter the relative peace of the store. He led Daniel straight to the men's section and together, they went through the assortment of flannel nightwear.

Jack smiled as he watched the now quiet man. Their trip through the mall had been interspersed with questions.

"Can I get a cookie? How about an ice cream cone? Jack, why is that man smooching that lady? Look, a merry go round, can I ride it later? Oh, look at those ladies. They don't got all their clothes on. I want some fishies, can I have some? Can we fill up the bathtub and let them live there? Jack, why do I have to hold your hand? I'm big. Do big people have to hold hands so they don't get lost? I got lost. Lost and alone. I don't want to be lost, Jack. Will you find me?"

He'd given Daniel the reassurances the younger man seemed to need almost obsessively since the devastating damage from Wepwawet's virus and promised an ice cream cone for later. The request for fish, though, prompted Jack to realize he needed to think about doing something with Daniel's apartment. The fish he could do something about, though.

"How about these?" Jack held up a maroon top and tossed it over to Daniel.

"Oh, it's soft." Daniel brought the material to his face and rubbed his cheek on them.

"Yeah, and warm. You'll be nice and toasty when you wear them."

"Can I have these ones, too?" Daniel fingered a pair with a light blue-checkered pattern, glancing up at Jack over the top of his glasses.

"Sure." Jack chose Daniel's size and tucked the pajamas under his arm. "How about another pair?"

"What about you, Jack? You need to be nice and toasty too."

Jack had also been wearing sweats at night. Maybe he needed a change as well. "Sure. How about these?" Jack grabbed the first pair he came across in his size.

Armed with their selection, Jack headed for the cashier. Daniel followed but as they waited in line, he stepped off to the side to examine a display full of DVDs. Jack pulled out his wallet and removed his credit card, waiting impatiently as the small line moved slowly. He'd take Daniel to the bookstore to get more books and then they'd go have that ice cream to tide Daniel over until supper.

He glanced back at Daniel, who was still examining the covers of the DVDs. Then it was his turn and he paid for his purchases. Grabbing the bag, he turned towards Daniel.

His mouth went dry. Two teenagers stood in front of the DVD display. Daniel was nowhere in sight.

"Excuse me?" Jack interrupted. "Did any of you happen to see a man here about five minutes ago? Light brown hair, my height?"

"Yeah, sure." One of the teens popped her gum. "He left a couple of minutes ago. Didn't see where he went, though."

"Thanks." Jack exited the store and stood, debating. God, he should have never taken his eyes off of Daniel, should have insisted he stay by his side. He thought Daniel would be safe. It had only been five minutes, after all. Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was a mall. Daniel probably wasn't going to wander out the doors, not with all these distractions. Daniel may have been a child mentally but he certainly didn't look like one. It wasn't likely someone would try to snatch him. It was those earlier pleas, though, that kept playing through Jack's mind, Daniel's anxious questions about getting lost and needing Jack to find him.

Jack rubbed a hand through his hair, trying to come up with a plan. It wasn't as if he didn't have experience tracking down a wayward adult Daniel. Lord knew he did it often enough on missions.

The aquarium store, Jack decided, and took off at a brisk pace. They'd spent a good five or ten minutes there earlier, Daniel standing entranced by the elaborate tropical fish tank that the store had in their window. Jack had promised a return visit after they bought the pjs. Jack wove his way through the crowds, keeping his eye out for Daniel. A quick circuit of the aquarium shop didn't produce his missing charge.

Jack headed toward the opposite end of the mall, the end he and Daniel hadn't begun to visit. Jack wasn't sure if Daniel had any memory of the mall. It certainly hadn't seemed like it when they'd walked in the entrance. But there was that chain bookstore that Daniel insisted on visiting every time he and Jack had come here. Although Daniel complained about the lack of adequate selections of books, Jack always knew where to find him, engrossed in some book he pulled off the shelf and reading it in the middle of the aisle. And Jack had mentioned buying some more books for him.

Jack was halfway back to the literature section before it hit him. This Daniel, this new and injured Daniel, couldn't read. And, from tests that the neurologist and psychologist had performed, indicated that he would probably never regain that ability. A wave of what he, but more importantly, Daniel, had lost, hit him in the gut so hard that Jack needed to reach out a hand to grab a bookshelf. The enormity of the challenges ahead, the prognosis of Daniel's future, came crashing around him and he had to close his eyes to regain his balance.

Jack remembered a priest telling Sara and him that they'd learn to deal with Charlie's death one day at a time, sometimes one hour, one minute at a time. He hadn't been willing to believe it then but he knew it was true. That was what he needed to do now. Deal with this hand Daniel had been dealt by the day, by the hour, by the minute, and the first order on the agenda was to find him.

Jack took a deep breath and straightened as he left the bookstore. Daniel may look like a grown man, but Jack reminded himself that he was, for all intents and purposes, a child. Jack knew exactly where to find a five year old. He headed to the toy store three doors down.

A woman's strident voice coming from the back of the store reached him. Jack saw the other customers trying hard to ignore the commotion. He hurried towards the sound of the voice.

"I want you to call security now. If you don't, I will. My husband is a lawyer. I could..."

Jack turned the corner and saw Daniel sitting on the floor with a young boy of perhaps five or six. They were playing with a train set, oblivious to the adults around them. A well-dressed woman, evidently the boy's mother, held a little girl tightly by the hand while the store manager stood perplexed.

"Daniel!" Jack didn't mean to yell but the relief at seeing Daniel safe and unharmed took over. "Why did you run away from me? I though you were lost."

Daniel blinked at him, pushing up his glasses with one finger. "I wasn't lost, Jack. I was right here. And look. Look at these trains. Aren't they cool?" Daniel's look of wonder and bright smile were replaced with a quick frown. He pushed himself to his feet and went to Jack's side.

"I thought I told you to stay with me. To stay by my side." Jack caught Daniel's hand. "You can't just wander off. You'll get hurt."

"You said to stay away from cars. I did. I didn't even go near them in here." Daniel hung his head and whispered, "I like trains."

"I know you like them. But I also like when you stay by me." Jack shook his head in exasperation at Daniel's confused look. "We'll talk about it later."

"Cars can't hurt me in here, can they, Jack? Did I forget?" Daniel tugged at Jack's hand.

Jack saw the expression on the woman's face turn from anger to pity. The pity was worse, he decided. Her eyes moved from Daniel to Jack and then to her own children.

"Come here, Bobby," she said brusquely, holding her hand out to the little boy. She finally met Jack's eyes once again, totally avoiding looking at Daniel. "I didn't know he was special." She said the word distastefully, as if Daniel's presence had somehow contaminated her child.

"Bye-bye, Bobby." Daniel waved to the little boy. "We had lots of fun. I liked playing with you."

"Some people should be kept at home," Jack heard her say to the store manager as she herded her children towards the front of the store.

"Yeah, some people should," Jack muttered. "People like you."

"Jack?" Daniel tugged Jack's hand again. "Can we go now?"

Jack finally looked at Daniel. "Huh? Go, yeah, sure."

Daniel was silent as they walked through the mall, the excitement he'd shown earlier gone.

"Hey, Daniel. Let's go get our ice cream cones now. They have lots of flavors." Jack smiled. "I think I'm gonna get chocolate and peanut butter. What about you?"

"I'm not hungry. I don't want an ice cream cone," Daniel mumbled so that Jack had to bend slightly to hear him.

"Why not? You were hungry awhile ago."

Daniel shrugged. "Just not. No ice cream. No trains. Just go home. I'm sleepy."

Jack spied an empty bench near the fountain and guided Daniel to it.

"Danny?" Jack placed a finger under Daniel's chin and forced his head up. "Look at me. I need you to tell me the truth. Tell me what's wrong."

"Don't get mad at me," Daniel whispered.

"I'm not mad at you. I was scared; scared because you were lost. I didn't know where to find you and I told you to stay..." Jack stopped realizing something. "I didn't tell you to stay with me in the mall, just on the parking lot."

"Lots of rules, Jack. I can't remember them all." Daniel sighed and placed his head on Jack's shoulder. "It's because I'm a retard. That store man said so. 'Can't you see he's a retard'? That's what he said. The lady said some people need keepers. Do I need a keeper? Are you my keeper? Like a zookeeper like on Animal Planet? Too much to remember."

Suddenly Jack didn't care that they were sitting in the middle of a mall. Daniel needed him and he needed Daniel. He hugged the younger man tightly. "You don't need a keeper. You're smart and brave. Guess what? When you get somewhere and you're lost, you should sit right down and not move from where you are so someone can find you. You were smart. You stayed in one place and I found you right there."

Daniel's face lit up with a smile as Jack smiled back at him. "I stayed in one place. And I didn't touch the cars either, Jack. That was good, right?"

"That was very good." Jack gave him one more quick, hard hug. "So?"

"If I stay with you and don't let go of your hand, can we have ice cream cones?" Daniel stood up, his enthusiasm coming back. "And then can we go look at the fishies some more? And the trains?"

"Sounds like a plan." Jack got to his feet. "A very good plan. And don't forget the books we have to buy."

"And then we'll go home and eat supper and I can take a bath and go right to bed." Daniel was nodding as he outlined the rest of the evening. "You won't have to get angry. No angry eyes tonight."

"Angry eyes?" Jack searched his memory. Surely when he had been angrier earlier, he hadn't looked that angry.

"You know. Like when Mrs. Potato Head says it to Mr. Potato Head in that movie."

"That movie?"

"Toy Story, Jack." Daniel sighed and pulled harder on Jack's hand to get him moving faster. "I really like that movie. Can we watch it tomorrow?"

"When did you see Toy Story?" Jack slowed down as they approached the ice cream stand.

"Sam and Teal'c showed it to me when I was staying with Doc Janet." Daniel's mouth opened in awe at the sight of thirty flavors. "You know, when I had to wait to come home with you."

Jack smiled. He was going to having a talk with his second in command and her cohort in crime. Since when did the commanding officer get left out of the fun?

"What's that one?" Daniel started pointing to the containers one by one.

Jack studied the signs and prepared himself. He had the feeling that Daniel was going to want to hear every flavor and then stick with chocolate or vanilla.

* * * * *

Daniel's hand tightened around Jack's as they exited the mall.

"I won't run ahead. I promise." Daniel looked at Jack sideways.

"I know. I know you won't." Jack gave Daniel's hand a little squeeze of reassurance. "So, did you like your surprise?" he asked.

Daniel smiled at Jack. "I liked the fishies and the trains."

"Not the ice cream?" Jack teased.

"Nope," Daniel giggled and shook his head. "I loved the ice cream."

Minutes later, both of them safely buckled in, Jack maneuvered the Avalanche into the Friday night traffic.

Soon soft snores came from Daniel's direction. Jack risked a glance despite the heavy traffic, made slower in the softly falling snow.

Daniel was sound asleep, head canted to the right and against the window. It was a position Jack had seen more times than he cared to count. He and Daniel driving home after a mission; Daniel's batteries finally run low. Jack turned his attention back to the road and swallowed hard.

He'd made a promise to Daniel. He would take care of him, but it hurt, oh God, it hurt. The memory of Daniel's face when he'd first found him in the toy store flashed into his mind: the look of utter trust and the smile of sheer joy and wonder Daniel had shown him, and that brilliant smile fading to a puzzled look of worry before the whispered, "I like trains."

Jack smiled and turned at the next light. Daniel liked trains; Jack knew exactly where to find one.

"Danny?" Jack shook Daniel's shoulder. "Danny? Wake up a sec. I have to run in this building for something. You stay right here, okay? Don't get out the truck."

"Umhm." Daniel opened his eyes and regarded Jack groggily. "I'm sleeping." He pulled his jacket up higher and put his head against the window.

"I'll be back by the time you count to ten," Jack said and patted Daniel's thigh.

"Okay." Daniel yawned, obviously unconcerned.

* * * * *

Jack took a deep breath as he entered Daniel's apartment building. The last time he'd been here... Jack punched the elevator buttons, glaring at the man who was waiting. No one followed him into the elevator. Jack leaned against the wall, muscles tightening in his shoulders and neck. He'd been in the apartment a week and a half ago, grabbing Daniel's clothes in a haphazard fashion, stuffing them into a suitcase, and getting out as quickly as possible after leaving a note for Daniel's cleaning woman to feed the fish daily as Doctor Jackson was on an extended expedition.

Jack opened the door cautiously, memories crowding from every corner. The last time he'd been here and stayed any length of time had been a few nights before their second to the last mission. Daniel had been sitting on the couch providing acerbic commentary to a documentary on Egyptian mythology while Jack cooked Daniel's favorite spaghetti sauce and complained about the game he was missing.

He'd have to look into subletting the apartment, Jack thought. Get Daniel's stuff that he wouldn't be using anymore packed into storage. Move the aquarium to his place. Daniel was never going to be able to live on his own again. Jack trailed his fingers across the piano keys, wondering if Daniel would be able to relearn that skill, trying to figure out just where he could put a piano in his home.

Jack entered the bedroom, going straight to the closet and avoiding looking at the bed. Maybe Carter and Teal'c would be willing to take care of Daniel while he came back in a week or so and started packing things for storage. Jack let his fingers linger over one of the sweaters he'd forgotten in his haste, a heathery blue one Jack had given him for his last birthday. Jack shook his head at the maudlin turn his thoughts were taking. Daniel was alive. He needed to remember that. Daniel was alive and seemed happy. That had to be enough for Jack. It just had to be.

Jack reached up to the shelf and pulled down the box that held the train set he'd given Daniel a few years back, able to still see Daniel's shock and delight at the present in his mind. Daniel had faithfully set the train up every Christmas season. Jack had begun giving him a new car for it each year. Jack rummaged for the box that held the rest of the train supplies and pulled it out of the closet, carefully placing the train set on top. He lifted the box, turned out the light, and carefully shut the bedroom door behind him.

"Goodbye, Daniel," he whispered to the ghost of what had been.

Jack found himself standing before the bookcases that lined one of Daniel's walls without remembering having crossed the room; so many books, all of them well worn and used. How many evenings had he sat on that couch watching Daniel pull books off the shelf while he researched some ancient culture? Jack ran his fingers over the spines of Daniel's journals, seeing him hunched over the journals by a campfire offworld or sitting in bed writing before he went to sleep.

He pulled some of them from the shelves, unable to resist them, unable to let go of Daniel's words. He placed them in the box almost reverently. He couldn't let go yet, he just knew he couldn't. The pain was too fresh, too raw. He turned to leave and a familiar yellow box caught his eye—a box of sixty-four crayons he'd given Daniel on the same day he'd given him his first train set. Jack pulled the box off of the shelf and flipped back the top. He smiled even though a lump suddenly formed in his throat. Very few of the crayons had pristine sharp tips. Daniel had evidently found uses for them over the past years. He added the crayon box to his collection and zipped up his jacket before closing the door and locking it.

Jack opened the back of the truck and carefully placed the box inside. A frantic mumbling reached his ears.

"Daniel? Daniel, you okay?" Jack slammed the door shut and ran to the front of the truck. He climbed in, the cab's overhead light showing Daniel huddled in his seat.

"One, two, five, four, six... please come back. I'm sorry. I don't know it. One, three, four, five..." Daniel rocked back and forth, tears running unheeded down his cheeks. "One, two, three—"

"Daniel? Daniel, what's wrong?" Jack reached out a hand to stop Daniel's rocking. "I'm here. I told you I'd be back soon."

Daniel stopped his movement and looked mournfully at Jack. "You said you'd be back by the time I could count to ten. I tried and tried, Jack. I couldn't remember. I only know my numbers to six. I couldn't remember what came next." Daniel reached out to clutch at Jack's neck, his crying increasing.

Jack leaned across to hold Daniel closer. "Shhh. Daniel, I'm sorry. I'm back. I shouldn't have left you alone. It's okay. It's okay." He rocked Daniel in an awkward rhythm. "It's okay."

"I thought you wouldn't come back. You left me before. Will you find me if I get lost? Find me and take me home?" Daniel's words tumbled out in between hiccups and lessening sobs.

Jack brought a hand up to cup Daniel's nape. "I'll always find you, Daniel. Always." He straightened and pushed Daniel slightly away, wiping Daniel's tears with his thumbs. "It's been a long day. What do you say we head home?"

Daniel gave a small smile. "I'm glad you came back." He reached up to wipe his nose with his sleeve. Jack grabbed a tissue and handed it to him.

"Blow your nose with this," Jack suggested, giving Daniel's leg a pat. "You know," he continued as he pulled from the parking space and headed home, "you did a good job. You stayed right where you were and waited. That's what you need to do if you're lost or if you can't find me. Just wait. I'll come for you. I promise."

Daniel blew his nose and then smiled at him. "I know. You always do."

They drove in silence the rest of the way home. Daniel made a beeline for the television set, but Jack hurried into the living room after him.

"How about you go right up, get your towels and get ready for your bath?" Jack shooed Daniel ahead of him. "I'll order us a pizza. That sound good?"

"I like pizza a whole lot," Daniel said in agreement. "And Snapple. Can I have some with the pizza? And then will you read me some stories?"

"Then I'll read you some stories." Jack placed his hands on Daniel's shoulders, gently guiding him towards the steps. "C'mon. Get going."

"Jack?" Daniel turned on the second step.

"Yes, Daniel?"

"Can we eat dessert first every night?" Daniel asked.

Jack laughed. "How about we save that for Fridays? A special treat?"

"Okay." Daniel jumped up the next two steps. "Can I put bubbles in the bath?"

"Yes, Daniel. You can put bubbles in the bath." Jack watched as Daniel jumped up the final two steps. "Not too much, though. You wait until I come up to run the water, okay? Just get the towels from the closet."

"Okey dokey, you old slow pokey."

Jack couldn't hold back his laughter at that comment. Despite the sadness, the adjustments, the love he felt for Daniel was still there. Changed but still strong, still as much a part of him as breathing.

* * * * *

"Jack?" Daniel snuggled closer to Jack as he closed Where the Wild Things Are. Seemed like Daniel loved the book as much as Charlie had.

"Yeah?" Jack placed a kiss on the top of Daniel's head. Daniel was yawning now, his head listing further to the side.

"Am I special? You know, like that lady said in the store? She said I didn't know I was special. Is special bad? I don't think she liked me."

Jack sighed and hugged Daniel tight. "Special isn't bad. That bi—lady thinks it is, but she doesn't know any better. Special is good, very, very good. And you are the most special person I know."

Daniel looked up at him, giving a smile that Jack rarely saw from him. "I love you, Jack."

"I love you, too, Danny. You never forget that," Jack whispered, afraid to show any more emotion. He slid off the bed and stood. "Now, it's time for you to go to sleep."

He watched as Daniel slid under the covers. Daniel turned on his side facing the door. "Comfy?" Jack asked.

Daniel nodded, closing his eyes. "Comfy."

"Night, night. Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite," Jack whispered as he bent to turn off the lamp on the nightstand. "Sweet dreams." He kissed Daniel's cheek and pulled the blankets higher over Daniel's shoulder.

"I'll always take care of you," he vowed silently as he went to his own lonely bed. "Until the day I die, I will love you and care for you."

Jack stripped, slipped under the sheet, and pulled the other pillow close, inhaling the fading scent of his lover.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"Now hand me the other plants." Jack shoveled gravel around the large pieces of coral and waited as Daniel fumbled through the box of aquarium paraphernalia they'd brought back from the apartment. Daniel shoved a bunch of long strings of green plastic into an empty corner of the aquarium and Jack moved them around, smoothed the gravel around their bases, anchoring them in the tank.

"Okay, let's put the water in." He turned one of several buckets that had been sitting overnight and slowly began filling the aquarium.

"Can I pet the fishies, Jack?" Daniel picked up one of the bags containing the transported fish that had been sitting in the buckets of water, and held it up to his face.

"No, they have to stay in the water."

"But I can put my hand in the water and pet 'em." Daniel scratched the plastic bag with a nail, making the fish swim away in fright.

"They're too fast for you to catch—"

"I can be fast."

"I don't want you sticking your hand in the water. You'll end up making a mess on the floor." Jack winced at the mess they'd both already made; they'd set the aquarium up in his living room and as careful as he had been, the bits and pieces were wet and had dripped all over the place.

Jack grabbed a second bag of fish and handed it to Daniel, then took the bucket the bag had been floating in and began pouring the rest of the water into the fish tank.

Five minutes later, Daniel's fish had found a new home. Daniel was on his knees, face plastered to the tank's glass, trying to entice the fish to come to him. Jack hoped the humming of the aquarium's filter didn't drive him crazy.

"Can I feed the fishies?"

"Sure." Jack found the can of fish food and handed it to Daniel. "Just make sure you give them just a pinch, okay? We don't want to overfeed—"

Daniel twisted off the cover and a good portion of the multi-colored flakes flew out of the can, landing in just about every single puddle on the floor.

"It's okay, I have to clean the floor anyways," Jack said with a sigh. He grabbed a rag and began mopping up the mess.

"Here, fishies, fishies, fishies. Come and eat. Jack, can we get some Chicken McNuggets for supper? D'ya think the fishies would like some, too?"

Jack's reply got lost when he looked up and saw Daniel had emptied half the can of fish food into the aquarium.

* * * * *

Daniel was bored; Jack sensed it as Daniel wandered through the house, touching things, following him - a restlessness that sat uneasily on Jack's shoulders. It was almost as if he couldn't find a place in this house, Jack's house. A place that only weeks ago, had been Daniel's refuge, his home away from home.

Fraiser's words from Daniel's last infirmary visit had cut him to the quick, hurting him now as deeply as they had over twenty-four hours ago.

"He's inquisitive, sir. You need to realize that in the scheme of things, he is a normal five year old. He's social and wants to please the adults that are important in his life. But you need to remember, first and foremost, he's a child."

"I know that." Jack had been annoyed with the lecture.

"I know this is hard, Colonel. You're giving Daniel everything he needs at the moment, but you're missing the big picture. Daniel is five. Besides a loving, structured environment, you need to allow Daniel to be a child even if he appears to be an adult. You are treating this like it's temporary—"

"I'm not!" Jack had replied, unable to hide the anger and indignation in his voice.

"Yes, you are. I've seen your house; I've spoken to Daniel... I know, sir." She'd touched his arm in quiet support. "He needs to play, to stretch his imagination. Games and toys teach... will give Daniel confidence... will rebuild his confidence on a level he's comfortable with and won't frustrate him by forcing him to be an adult when he can't. You need to let him be a child."

Fraiser's words forced Jack to see what he hadn't wanted to acknowledge. Short of a miracle or a Nox or Asgard intervention, this wasn't temporary - this was permanent. He needed to let go to let this Daniel in.

* * * * *

This was Jack's second go round through the huge toy store. The shopping cart he was pushing was as empty now as when he'd retrieved it from the parking lot. Armed with a list of ideas from General Hammond on down to what this Daniel would want to play with, Jack berated himself for not following his instincts by letting Carter take on this mission to find ways to occupy Daniel's mind.

She and Teal'c were home with Daniel, Carter insisting that they were more than capable at taking care of him for the afternoon without incident, also reiterating her earlier words that the two men need some time apart from each other.

"He's not a man, Carter."

"He's a man in height and build, sir, but you're right, mentally he is five years old. You've been his constant companion almost every waking hour since this incident and honestly, sir, that's not too healthy. Even children need a change of stimulation.

"Are you saying I'm not stimulating, Carter?"

"What I'm saying, sir, is that... maybe you better be going."

* * * * *

That was how Jack found himself wandering the wide aisles of this store, confused as hell. Deciding to put his military training into effect, he approached this analytically - a rear attack always worked best as he rounded the cart to the ends of the aisle. Military mindset is a wonderful thing, Jack thought as he stood at the checkout line with a now overflowing cart.

He surveyed the items, comparing it to the now crumpled list in his hand: Lego, colored pencils, drawing pads, Etch-A-Sketch, more Legos, Play-doh, the newest handheld Game Boy, a few games, board games, puzzles, Lincoln Logs, books, books on tape, a cassette player, batteries. There was no space left to fit anything else and the brown stuffed camel that Jack had grabbed as an afterthought sat atop the mountain of toys.

The woman and her young son in the check out line parallel to Jack looked first at the cart then at Jack. "Someone got a birthday coming up?"

"Nah. You see—" Jack began before the little boy, who had been squatting near the cart trying to peek through the bars at the treasures inside, piped up.

"Wow, mister, your son sure is lucky. You got him all this stuff and the new Game Boy DS, with those cool games, that great Lego set—"

The woman cut her son off, smiling indulgently at Jack. "Hope his room is big enough for all those toys. Believe me, Legos have a tendency to breed, especially in the middle of the night when you step on them with your bare feet and Play-doh... well..."

"Come on, mom, it's our turn."

"Sorry... good luck. Tell him happy birthday... love the camel, by the way."

* * * * *

Something the woman with the young son had said to him wasn't sitting well with Jack and was prohibiting him from finding joy as he loaded the toys into the back of the Avalanche. Daniel didn't have a room; he had four walls with a bed. That was it. There was nothing that bespoke of Daniel's personality in the house, their house. Jack had allowed Daniel to live with him, but he hadn't permitted Daniel to move in and not just reside in the house, because moving in meant permanence, and permanence meant reality, and reality meant this Daniel was going to stay forever, and forever was a very long time. Doctor Fraiser's words seemed to finally sink in. Jack was doing Daniel an injustice by keeping him at arm's length waiting for the return of a person who was not coming home, no matter how many candles he kept burning in the window or yellow ribbons he tied around the tree trunks.

He slammed the Avalanche's rear trunk door, removed his cell phone, and dialed his home phone number. Leaning against the truck's side panel, he waited impatiently for someone to answer the phone.

"O'Neill residence."

"Carter?"

"Yes, sir. Is there a problem, sir?"

"Ummm... no. No problem. How's Daniel?" Jack smiled despite himself as he heard Daniel's laughter echoing in the background." He could actually hear the smile in her voice when she responded.

"Daniel's fine, sir. Right now he is explaining to Teal'c all about SpongeBob."

"I take it, Carter, that..."

"Precisely, sir, Teal'c is trying to understand why a sponge that lives under the sea needs to wear pants."

"Aaaahhh. Had the same question myself, actually, so I understand perfectly. I have a favor to ask you."

"Anything, sir."

"I need to do a few more errands and I need to work on a surprise for Daniel. Is there a possibility you can take him out to McDonald's for dinner and then bring him to your house? Pop in a few videos..." Jack checked his watch, mentally calculating the remaining errands that needed doing. "I'll pick him up around 1900 hours?"

"Not a problem, sir."

"Thanks, Carter. Can I talk to Daniel?"

Jack listened as Carter yelled for Daniel, muffled conversation ensued, and soon he heard an enthusiastic "Hi, Jack."

"Hi, yourself. Having a good time with Carter and Teal'c?"

"Sam and I made these cookies that you slice and put in the oven... but they burnt a bit and the smoke alarm went off... oh, Sam just said I really wasn't supposed to tell you that. Sorry, Sam."

"Tell her that's fine, Daniel."

Daniel whispered conspiratorially into the mouthpiece of the phone, his voice low but clear. "Jack, I don't really think that Teal'c understands SpongeBob. He's trying really hard... but I just don't think he gets it."

"I'm glad he has you to help him. Would you mind spending some more time with Carter and Teal'c today? As a special treat, they'll take you to MickyD's for dinner and then back to Carter's house for some videos, and I'll pick you up later. Does that sound okay with you?"

"Oh, yeah. Can I have chicken nuggets with fries and a chocolate shake... and I'll take the videos that we got last night from the video store... and ..."

"Slow down, okay, Danny? Just tell Carter what you want and I'm sure she'll get it for you. It'll be dark when I get home, so I don't want you to worry. I'll be there."

"I know, Jack, you won't leave me behind. I trust you."

"Never, Daniel, never."

Before Jack could even ask to speak to Carter one more time, Daniel gave him a quick goodbye and hung up the phone. With a shake of his head in quiet amusement of Daniel's behavior, he got into the cab of the truck and started off to finish the gathering of this spur of the moment surprise.

* * * * *

This was hard, harder than he ever would have expected. With every placement of the masking tape, with every labeling of every box... this had become a difficult, but cathartic, experience for Jack.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

He had cleared off all of Daniel's books and artifacts from the spare room. Jack remembered with painful clarity the day that he'd constructed the shelves in this room for that Daniel. The books that Daniel had stored here were now being boxed with love to be replaced with other things. Items better suited for the Daniel that now filled that special place in Jack's heart.

Jack sat on the carpeted floor and sealed the last of the cardboard boxes, gently caressing the carton which sat between his splayed legs. Done, over, finished, sealed away, memories of what had been, and dreams of what would never be, filled the boxes that sat in this spare room. Not a spare room, Jack thought as he stood. Daniel's room.

* * * * *

"Carter?"

Jack approached his 2IC as she stood in the shadows of her back deck. He had finished his project, showered, ate dinner, and came to pick up Daniel. Teal'c had let him in and then went to rejoin Daniel on the couch. Within moments Teal'c became as engrossed as Daniel in the movie on the screen. Daniel had pointed to the back door when he had asked where Carter was.

Jack slowly slid the door shut as he stepped towards her unobtrusively as possible. He mirrored her stance, arms leaning on the railing, staring off into the dark of the back yard.

"Sir?"

"Yeah?"

"How do you deal... with Daniel, how he is now... knowing what he was? Lost... it's lost. All that brilliance... that intelligence... that knowledge... gone. And we're left with what? A shell of a person?"

Jack gently placed his hand on her forearm, giving a small squeeze in a gesture of comfort, acknowledging without words that he understood her red nose and red-rimmed eyes that still shone with unshed tears.

"He's happy. Can anyone really ask for anything more than that? Daniel doesn't remember his foster homes, or being destitute, or ridiculed, or Sha're, or what he's lost to the Goa'uld... all those things that held Daniel back from gaining true happiness... are gone. He's a clean slate, he has issues—hey, don't we all—but he wakes up every morning glad to be alive... taking pleasure in the littlest things. And if you look and really listen... he's brilliant in his view of the world and in his innocence... and his unconditional love he has for all of us."

She drew a ragged breath. "I didn't mean to get maudlin... but the movie... damn, it was a stupid Disney movie, 'Atlantis', about an archaeologist and the team that goes on this adventure with him... and he meets and gets the girl in the end. Stupid movie," she reiterated, trying to hold back a sob.

"Does the hero live happily ever after?"

Unable to trust her voice, she nodded yes in response to his question.

"Think of it this way. Our hero in his own way is going to live happily ever after, okay? Surrounded by people who will always love him and care for him... and treat him with respect. His ability to see the wonder and good in those around him haven't changed... we need to see past our own shortcomings and our loss to remember that."

"I know, sir, but it's hard."

"Carter, believe me, I never said it was going to be easy—"

"Hey guys." Daniel's voice cut through the night air, interrupting their whispered conversations. "The movie is over and can I put on another one? Teal'c said that—"

"Nope, big guy," Jack said as he stepped forward towards Daniel. "You've had a nice day... but Carter's tired..." Jack looked at her and gave his head an almost unnoticeable nod of appreciation as she hid a forced yawn behind her hand.

Jack stood to the side while Daniel gathered all of his paraphernalia and stuffed it into his backpack. He pretended he didn't see the tears well up in Carter's eyes as he bent to tie Daniel's shoes.

* * * * *

Jack berated himself for even mentioning to Daniel that he had a secret waiting for him at home. The cab of the Avalanche reverberated with Daniel's continuous questions.

"Take a breath, Daniel. Please, I'm beggin' you."

Daniel made a zipping motion across his lips. "Zipping it up now, Jack. See?"

Within minutes, Jack's peripheral vision caught Daniel's energy being transferred as his right knee began to vibrate up and down. The humming of the SpongeBob theme song was the next unspoken sign of Daniel's excitement. By the time Daniel's left hand began beating a staccato rhythm on the console, Jack had had enough. Snaking his right hand out and grabbing Daniel's left hand in his effectively brought a halt to Daniel's nervous energy. "Okay, talking would be all right now, Daniel."

* * * * *

"Can I open my eyes now, Jack? Pleeeeeaaassse?"

"Not yet."

Daniel's eyes were screwed shut at Jack's request. Jack cautiously walked backwards through his house, guiding Daniel by the forearms. He opened the door to the spare room and stepped aside.

"Open 'em now."

Jack wasn't sure what he'd expected, but Daniel's reaction wasn't it. Eyes wide at the transformation of the guest room to a child's room, Daniel didn't move. He stood transfixed by the toys that lined the book-vacated shelves, the posters that adorned the wall, the child-themed comforter on the bed.

Jack placed his hand on the small of Daniel's back, urging him forward. Daniel walked to the bed, sitting down with great trepidation, gently fingering the outline of SpongeBob on the comforter.

"Daniel?" He walked to where Daniel was sitting on the bed. Placing his hand under Daniel's chin, he lifted up the head until Daniel's eyes met his. "Don't you like your surprise?"

"For me? You did this for me?"

"All for you."

Daniel wrinkled his brow in concentration, before he answered Jack. "I don't think anyone has done this for me before - ever-never." A lump appeared in Jack's throat, one that his voice couldn't find its way around at Daniel's next question. "Does this mean you're gonna keep me, Jack?"

He hugged the still seated Daniel to him. Jack bent his head, planting a kiss atop Daniel's hair. Daniel threw his arms around Jack's waist, the rims of Daniel's glasses making their presence known through the thin material of Jack's shirt. "Forever and ever, Daniel. I'm gonna keep you forever and ever."

* * * * *

It hadn't been easy getting Daniel to sleep that night. Jack smiled as he adjusted the SpongeBob comforter around Daniel's shoulders. Chuckling to himself as Daniel lay sleeping, his favorite acquisition, Lumpy the Camel, held tightly in his right hand. Tomorrow Daniel was going to learn the art of keeping his bedroom clean as Jack gingerly stepped over the half-built Lego and Lincoln Log creations.

He bent to place a kiss goodnight on Daniel's temple, and before he could think about how absolutely silly this action was going to be, he placed a matching one on Lumpy with a request to the stuffed camel to protect Daniel in his dreams.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"Where did all the fishies go?"

Jack continued trying to tease the dead body from amidst of the plastic plants of the last of the angelfish that had gone belly up.

"Sorry, buddy, this one didn't make it either." He should have known – moving fish in the middle of winter was always a recipe for disaster. Then again, after the initial newness of the aquarium, Daniel had quickly lost interest, leaving Jack with the chore of feeding them and trashing the bodies. "We can go to the store and get some new ones, if you want?"

"Is that one dead, too?"

"Yeah, I'm afraid so." He finally got it free and it floated sideways. He caught it with the net and hurried to the kitchen with it. He wrapped it in a paper towel and threw it into the garbage; the body was too big to be flushed down the toilet.

Daniel had followed him and was staring at the closed garbage pail. "Why'd it die?"

"I guess it was too much of a shock, moving them here." He wasn't about to try and explain to Daniel about ecosystems and water temperature or any of the 101 things that could go wrong.

"So, you want to check out the internet and see what other kinds of fish we can get? Or do you want to get more of the same?"

Daniel shrugged first one shoulder, then the other. His body language told Jack he was unsure.

"What, you don't want more fish?"

"They just die and they're no fun when they're dead."

"I know. But maybe if we try another kind of fish instead, we might have more luck."

Daniel shifted his weight from foot to foot.

"You got an idea what kind of fish you want?"

A slow nod was Daniel's answer.

"Well?" Jack went to the sink and washed his hands. "What kind would you like?"

"A starfish, and a sponge," Daniel said slowly.

Jack, in the middle of lathering his hands, paused, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.

"Like SpongeBob, huh?"

"But I don't want to get a starfish if he's gonna die like the others did," Daniel said in a rush, his voice rising with each word.

"Well, I think we don't have to worry about that." Jack rinsed his hands and reached for a dishcloth to dry them on. "Starfish and sponges live in salt water. Our aquarium was a freshwater one, so that's way out of our league. Sorry, Daniel. I don't think we're ready yet for a real SpongeBob in our home."

"Oh." Daniel's shoulders slumped and he slid his sock-clad toe across the linoleum.

"So, any other ideas?"

A shoulder lifted in a half shrug. "I don't care."

"Okay, tell you what. How about we dismantle the aquarium for the time being and then later, when you can think of another type of fish you like, we'll set it up again."

"Okay. Can I go watch SpongeBob?"

"You don't want to give me a hand taking the aquarium apart?"

The toe continued tracing an invisible line across the floor; Daniel didn't answer, he just kept his eyes on the moving foot. It was just as well. Jack figured he'd probably get the job done faster and more efficiently, especially as Daniel seemed to have lost all interest in the aquarium. "My head hurts," Daniel said after a long pause.

"Damn," Jack said under his breath. He placed the back of his hand on Daniel's cheek and thought that maybe Daniel felt a little warmer than normal. This would make it three nights in a row that Daniel developed a temperature.

"Go ahead, get your SpongeBob DVD. I'll bring you something to help your head and... want a Snapple?"

"Can I have the red one?" Daniel grinned at Jack at the prospect of a treat, then turned and raced out of the kitchen, leaving Jack to get the Tylenol and drink before he had to start lugging buckets.

* * * * *

"This is fun." Daniel smiled at Jack as he pulled an Egg McMuffin from the sack. "Can we eat in the car every day?"

"Not every day." Jack shook his head. "Just once in awhile. Come on, keep eating. We'll be at the mountain soon."

Daniel finished the sandwich in record time, squirming in his seat as they approached the checkpoint. He burped loudly.

"Daniel!" Jack tried to sound upset but it was ruined by his laugh.

"Sorry." Daniel didn't sound in the least repentant. "Where do burps come from anyway?"

"How about you ask Doc Janet that when you see her?" Jack handed their passes to the guard.

"Have a good day, Colonel O'Neill, Doct... Daniel." The guard handed back their passes and waved them through.

"I wish I could come to work with you every day, Jack." Daniel sighed as he waited for Jack to grab his briefcase from the back of the truck, shifting from foot to foot in the cool winter air.

"I wish you could, too. But you know this is just a special day because you haven't been feeling well and because Doctor Fraiser wants to see you." He studied Daniel as they walked.

"I know." Daniel walked with his head down. "I've got lots to learn. That's what they say. I'm working hard, Jack. Working hard for you."

"I know you are, buddy," Jack said.

This felt right, coming to work with Daniel at his side. He couldn't let himself get used to it, not when Carter wasn't making any progress with Wepwawet's device, not when they were unable to reach any of their allies. Believing there would be a miracle would just make it harder when there wasn't one.

Daniel waved to people they passed on the way to the elevator.

"Can I push the buttons?" Daniel's long fingers hovered over the buttons for a moment before Jack nodded. Jack ignored the groans of some of the other passengers as Daniel pushed them all.

* * * * *

"Colonel, I think it will be best if we wait until Doctor Fraiser is available to see Daniel." Doctor Warner smiled apologetically.

Daniel was currently trying to hide behind Jack, hard to do when Jack was only two inches taller. Jack nodded with a sigh. Daniel had evidently had his fill of doctors in the past and wasn't going to let any other doctor see him besides Fraiser.

Jack had a meeting with the Peronians in less than fifteen minutes and he had no idea what he was going to do with Daniel for that time. Carter and Teal'c were both needed at the treaty signing and he doubted Daniel would go with anyone else. He and Janet had picked this time for the appointment so Daniel would be in her care during Jack's meeting. He'd forgotten that emergencies were going to take precedence.

"Come on, Daniel." Jack left the infirmary, making plans. Daniel had his backpack. Surely he could leave him in his office while he met with the delegation from Peronia.

"Daniel, listen to me." Jack pulled out the chair to his desk. "I have to go to a meeting and you are going to need to stay here while I'm at it. Look, I'll get you some Snapple. You can color and draw me some pictures. You have your Legos, right?"

Daniel looked at him in alarm. "Alone?"

"Alone. You can't come along and Doc Janet is busy." Jack began backing out of the office.

"No." Daniel shook his head, bolting for Jack. "Don't leave me here."

Daniel followed him into the hallway, nearly in tears. "I can come with you. I'll be real, real quiet. You won't know I'm there. You can't leave me alone. I'll get lost."

"Daniel," Jack began, looking at his watch. Five minutes and he needed to be in the Gateroom. "Please."

"Colonel? Is there a problem?" General Hammond asked and Jack wondered briefly if someone had called him to his office.

"No, sir, I mean, yes, sir." Jack ran a hand through his hair.

"Jack said I've got to stay alone," Daniel confided tearfully to Hammond. "I don't want to. I don't want to be alone."

"Of course you don't," Hammond agreed. "The Peronian delegation, Colonel?" He fixed his eyes on Jack.

"Yes, sir." Jack began to explain the situation, stopped by General Hammond's raised hand.

"Bring Daniel to my office, Jack. I'm sure we'll get along just fine." Hammond smiled at both of them and continued his walk down the hall.

"Get your backpack, Daniel. Looks like you're going to get to visit the general while I'm in my meeting."

"Not alone?" Daniel asked, searching Jack's face for reassurance.

"Not alone." Jack breathed a sigh of relief and hoped that the general was up for a few hours of Daniel guarding.

* * * * *

"Daniel?" Jack led the other man into General Hammond's office. "I'll be back soon, and no," he raised a hand to stem the inevitable question, "you can't come along. There wouldn't be anything there for you to do." Jack studied Daniel's face, his own frown appearing at Daniel's downcast expression. It was so damn unfair. By all rights Daniel should be at the meeting. He was the one who had established the first contact with the Peronians four months ago. It had been Daniel's interest in and understanding of their culture that had allowed other teams to visit the planet. It had been Daniel's careful and slow negotiations that had persuaded the Peronians that the Tau'ri were their allies, not their enemies. The brief discussion that SG-1, minus Daniel, and General Hammond had held yesterday with the ambassador had the man expressing his deep concern for Daniel. He agreed that the delegation would come to Earth with permission instead of expecting SG-1 to travel offworld.

"Hey, I'll be back, I promise. Not long."

Daniel nodded and looked shyly at the general.

"You sit right there and don't bother General Hammond." Jack pointed to a chair and Daniel left Jack's side reluctantly, sitting in the chair and holding his backpack close.

"I'll be real good," Daniel said.

"Why don't you pull that chair over here, son?" Hammond motioned for Daniel to move his chair.

Daniel looked quizzically at Jack to Hammond and back to Jack.

"Jack?" he asked as he finished moving the chair. "He called me son. Isn't he too old to be my daddy?"

Jack had to turn away to smother the laughter he felt bubbling up inside. He just knew when he turned back those guileless blue eyes would be fixed on him.

He turned, not sure exactly what he was going to say to Daniel. General Hammond was smiling himself, his eyes twinkling with amusement.

"You go on to your meeting, Colonel. Daniel and I are going to get along just fine."

"Jack said I could have some Snapple." There was a slightly hopeful nuance to Daniel's statement. "But I can only have one and I can't get it myself."

"Yes, sir." Jack turned on his heel, hoping that this plan wasn't going to end in disaster.

"That's fine, Daniel. I'll have my aide run out and get us both a Snapple."

Jack paused, hand on the door, unable to resist one last peek.

Daniel had his pack on the general's desk, pulling out its contents and explaining each one to a bemused Hammond.

"These are my crayons. Jack got them for me. Lots and lots of colors, and this is Lumpy." The stuffed camel was placed carefully on the desk. "He doesn't want to be alone, like me. You can hug him if you want to, he likes hugs. And this is my paper. Jack gives me lots of paper. He said, here, Daniel, you may as well use this, it's a just a bunch of yadda yadda anyway. What's yadda yadda?"

Jack ran a hand over his face and tried to hurriedly close the door.

"Jack gave you memos to write on?" Hammond's voice rose and Jack felt laser eyes on him.

"I only used the back. See?" Daniel eagerly showed the paper to Hammond. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No, no, Daniel. Nothing wrong. It's okay," Hammond reassured the anxious man. "Now how about you show me some more of these pictures? You've really been busy, haven't you?"

Jack closed the door in relief and straightened, getting ready to meet the Peronians.

* * * * *

"Perhaps the Ambassador and his delegation would enjoy partaking of the food our commissary has prepared, O'Neill," Teal'c murmured.

Jack nodded. He stood and stretched, smiling at the Peronian ambassador and his two aides. "Ambassador Issarla, would you care to join us in some refreshments?"

"We would enjoy it immensely, Leader Jack." He stood and motioned for his two aides to do likewise. "We will speak with Scientist Samantha for a time. She has shown an interest in our recent experiments with Naqadah."

Jack smiled and excused himself, understanding the implicit dismissal. He knocked on Hammond's door, stepping through at the general's response to enter.

"Hi, Jack!" Daniel looked up from his position on the floor where he was currently showing General Hammond his collection of Legos. "Grandpa George and me are playing. Can you play, too?"

Jack shook his head. "Sorry, Daniel. I still have stuff to do in my meeting," Daniel's nickname for Hammond only beginning to register with him.

"I used to have a Grandpa Nick, did you know that, Jack? But he went away. He wanted to explore. I told Grandpa George about it. He said he'd be my grandpa if I wanted him to." Daniel stopped his rapid-fire explanation to look at both men. "And he gave me some Snapple. Just one drink, though, like you told me I can have when I ask. He's pretty nice, isn't he?"

Jack smiled at Daniel. "Yeah, yeah, he is." Jack stood a moment longer watching Daniel play with his Legos and then turned to the general. "Sir, I..."

"Don't you have a meeting to attend, Colonel?"

"He's not being any trouble is he? Because I can always..."

"Go. That's an order."

From the floor, Daniel snickered. "And if you come back, Grandpa George will make you go to the time out chair. Right?" He grinned at Hammond.

"Right, Daniel. Now let Daniel and I get on with our business. We have important things to take care of."

"Bye, Jack." Daniel was busily showing Lumpy his newest Lego creation, not even bothering to look at Jack.

"Are you sure..."

"The door, Colonel? Now go," Hammond ordered.

"Yes, sir." Jack sighed as he exited the office. Guess he wasn't needed after all. He wiped a hand over his face as he made his way back to the briefing room.

Two hours later, the treaty signed by all parties, Ambassador Issarla stood in the Gateroom with Jack, Carter, and Teal'c. Carter was still talking to Issarla's two aides, writing something in a notebook as they spoke.

"Leader Jack, you will convey our greetings to Speaker Daniel? On our world, the head-touched are considered very precious."

Jack bowed his head in acknowledgement, wishing the same could be said on Earth, thinking of the children who were pulled out of Daniel's way when Jack and went out, the strange looks people gave when Daniel and he went to the supermarket. Not that everyone did it. There were people that understood, Jack knew. It was just those who didn't that you remembered.

"He is very precious to me," Jack finally said.

"He has special gifts, Leader Jack. If you ever need someone to care for him, when you no longer can, you may send Speaker Daniel to us. We would see that he is well cared for, that he is happy and understood."

"Thank you, Ambassador." Jack smiled. "I am beginning to understand that he is a blessing. It's taken awhile. But yes, I am beginning to understand."

The familiar sound of the chevrons engaging had them all looking towards the Stargate.

"We wish you well." Issarla bowed to Jack.

"As we do you," Jack intoned in the traditional Peronian farewell. He stood watching the small delegation go through the wormhole and then nearly ran to General Hammond's office, his need to see that Daniel was safe and happy overwhelming.

"General Hammond said you're to go right in, sir." Hammond's aide looked up from his computer monitor. "And sir?"

"Yes, Robbins?"

"It sounded like both of them were having a lot of fun in there." Captain Robbins smiled.

"Thanks, Robbins," Jack nodded, opening the door to his commanding officer's office, and felt his face break into a grin.

Daniel was seated behind Hammond's desk, in the general's chair no less, his tall figure hunched over and industriously drawing. The general himself sat on the opposite side of the desk, having just a small corner to do his paperwork on.

"Oh, hi, Jack. I'm drawing." Daniel glanced up at Jack a moment and then returned his attention back to his picture. "Grandpa George says I draw real good. Right, Grandpa George?" Daniel gave one of his room-lighting smiles to the general.

"That's right, Daniel."

"You can sit down, Jack. I have to finish this picture." Daniel motioned towards another chair. "I'm not ready yet."

The ringing of the red phone had all of them jumping a few moments later. Despite Hammond's efforts, Daniel had the phone before anyone else could grab it.

"Hi, this is Grandpa George's office. I'm Daniel. Who are you?"

"Daniel, give the gen... General Hamm... Grandpa George the phone." Why oh why did Jack have the feeling this was going to end in disaster.

"Jack, I'm busy talking. Don't interrupt," Daniel scolded. He turned to face Hammond. "He says he's the president. Do you know him, Grandpa George?" He didn't wait for an answer, getting back to the phone. "What's a president? Is that someone who calls while you're busy? I'm drawing pictures. I'm a good drawer."

Daniel nodded, totally ignoring Jack's desperate attempts to get the phone receiver from him. "Grandpa George can't talk right now. He's busy playing with me. He'll talk to you when he's done, okay? Bye."

Daniel hung up the phone to the dismay of the two men who stood open mouthed. He smiled up at them. "He won't bother us anymore."

"Daniel!" Jack groaned. "Sir, I'm sorry. Daniel, you have to apologize to Grandpa George."

"Did I do something bad?" Daniel looked puzzled.

"The president is my boss, son," Hammond explained. "He only calls me when he has something important to tell me."

"Oh." Daniel looked at his papers. "I'm sorry. I won't do it again. Will you still let me come and play with you?"

Hammond nodded as Jack slowly gathered up Daniel's Legos, crayons, and Lumpy. "Yes, Daniel. You can still come and play with me. I think the president will understand when I explain that I was playing with my friend."

"That's good." Daniel came out from behind the desk, carrying two pictures. "These are for you, Grandpa George. They're very special."

Hammond took the pictures from an anxious Daniel. "I can see that. I'm going to hang them up right over there." General Hammond pointed to a filing cabinet. "Then I can look at them everyday and think of the fun we had today."

He rocked back as Daniel threw enthusiastic arms around him. "I love you, Grandpa George."

Jack held Daniel's backpack tightly, ready to apologize once more for Daniel's answering the phone. But Hammond looked over at him, a sad smile on his face and a suspicious brightness in his eyes.

"I love you, too, Daniel." Hammond patted the younger man's shoulder.

"Thank you," Jack mouthed before Daniel turned.

"The pleasure was all mine," Hammond answered, hiding his emotions with a cough.

"C'mon, Daniel. Let's go see if Doc Janet's available," Jack motioned towards the door right as the phone began to ring again.

Daniel's hand snaked out, intercepted by a quicker Jack. "Not this time. Let General Hammond speak to his boss."

Daniel nodded. "Tell Mister President I said hi."

"I'll be sure to do that," Hammond said as he put the receiver to his ear. "Hello, sir. Yes, well, it's a long story."

* * * * *

Jack began gathering the supper dishes, rinsing them and loading them into the dishwasher with the ease of long practice. He shook his head slightly, thinking how domesticated he'd become and how one of the hated chores he always put off became a daily occurrence.

"Go get ready for your shower," Jack ordered as he nudged the dishwasher door closed with his hip.

"Okay." Daniel was out of the dining room and rushing to his bedroom before Jack had time to turn off the running water.

Today had been a good day. Daniel had come out of the Center cheerful, had eaten with appetite and wonders of wonders, didn't complain about having to shower. Of course Jack had an inkling what all of this was about; the colored sheets of paper peeking out of Daniel's backpack were a clear hint of his good mood.

Once he got Daniel into the shower, Jack finished up in the kitchen and went into the den to relax, flicked the television on and began channel surfing while waiting for the start of the hockey game later. Eventually the shower turned off and he heard Daniel's footsteps as he entered his bedroom.

"I'm down here," Jack yelled. "You gonna come watch the hockey game?"

There were a few seconds of silence, then loud thumping as Daniel ran down the hall and descended the stairs. He stopped on the bottom step and fidgeted. "I have something I need to do," Daniel finally said.

"Okay." Jack turned his attention to the television, trying not to look at the damp curl of Daniel's hair as it flicked down across his forehead. He squeezed his hands into fists, holding back the temptation of brushing the hair away from Daniel's face.

He'd need to bring him in soon for a haircut. The old Daniel used to tease him that when Jack began obsessing with the length of his hair whenever they made love, it was past time for a trim.

Daniel pounded back up the stairs, his bare feet slapping the wood loudly.

"Put some socks on!"

"I will."

Jack listened as Daniel ran back into the bedroom, then more slowly, walked into the dining room. The loud screech as he pulled back a chair. The sound of drawers opening and closing. A few minutes later, Daniel rushed back down the stairs.

"Jack," he said breathlessly, "where are the scissors?"

"In the hutch in the dining room."

"Oh." Daniel turned and ran up the stairs again. Jack noted he was still barefoot.

"Daniel. Socks! It's not even close to summertime yet."

"Okay, just as soon as I..." The rest of his sentence was muffled as several items fell loudly to the floor above Jack's head.

"Daniel?"

"It's okay. I found them."

"You need help with anything?"

"No."

Jack smiled at Daniel's quick reply and then Daniel's rapid march to the head of the stairs. "I'm fine. You can watch the hockey game. I'll come down when I finish, okay?" Before Jack could reply, Daniel anxiously called out a little more loudly. "Okay, Jack?"

In response, Jack raised the sound of the television and the swells of the opening theme of the hockey game filled the room. "Come and join me when you're done."

"I will."

As Daniel began hurrying back down the hallway, Jack yelled again, this time allowing a touch of irritation tone his voice. "Daniel, didn't I tell you to put socks on."

"That's where I was going."

Jack smiled to himself as Daniel doubled back and then when he walked into the kitchen, the footsteps were softer, attesting to the fact that Daniel had finally obeyed.

There was the sound of a chair being inched forward, and then quiet. Jack turned his attention to the game, not realizing how much time had passed until he heard Daniel moving around again. There was the unmistakable sound of drawers opening and closing.

Daniel moved to the stairwell again. "Jack, where's the glue?"

"In the junk drawer in the kitchen," Jack answered automatically, his attention on the power play in front of the net.

"I looked. I can't find it."

"Second drawer." He leaned forward as the puck ricocheted off the goalie's leg and everyone scrambled for it.

"I looked." The exasperation in Daniel's voice matched Jack's when he pulled his attention from the game.

"Did you use the glue recently?"

"Yeah." Daniel came down a few steps and sat, peering through the banister poles. "I glued those cutouts in the book the other day, remember?"

"And where were you when you were working with the cutouts?"

"I don't reme... In my bedroom!" Daniel shouted. He stood and twirled on one foot, then ran up the stairs and into his room just as the crowd erupted in cheers when Jack's team made a goal.

"Damn it," Jack groused, leaning back and watched the replays. It wasn't half the fun when you didn't see the goal made in the first place.

"You were right!" The house reverberated as Daniel ran down the hallway again, then silence as he entered the kitchen and Jack could just picture him sliding across the wooden floor in his sock-clad feet. He tensed, waiting to hear a thud or a bang, then released his breath as Daniel's chair scraped loudly above him.

The hockey game continued for several more minutes, and then the first period was over. Jack contemplated going upstairs for a snack and checking on Daniel at the same time. He went up the stairs slowly, his muscles stiff and sore from yesterday's impromptu mission, and envied Daniel's energy. He'd barely made it to the top of the stairs when he heard Daniel's softly spoken, "Oh, no."

But it was Daniel's cries of panic that had Jack running into the dining room. "Jack, Jack, it's ruined!"

Jack's first impression was of multi-colored bits of paper everywhere; on the table, on the floor, Daniel had even tracked some into the hallway. On the table itself were several lopsided cutout hearts of varying sizes, each one carefully placed on top of one another to make a large card. The center of the last heart was a piece of lined paper with block letters written on it in colored ink.

Daniel was swiping at the card and the table with his hands and the sleeves of his pajamas. The plastic bottle of glue had rolled along the length of the table, its top missing, and the white adhesive leaked out every time Daniel nudged it in his attempts to clean up the spill.

Jack quickly caught Daniel's hands, feeling the tacky stuff on his fingers. "Stop it," he ordered when Daniel struggled to free himself, his gaze on the wet paper cutouts. "I'll get some paper towels." Jack let go of Daniel once he'd stopped trying to pull away.

"But it's ruined," Daniel wailed as he brushed his sleeve along his cheek, leaving streaks of glue behind on skin and glasses.

"Maybe not. Daniel, keep your hands away from your face, you're full of glue." Jack hurried into the kitchen and grabbed a handful of paper towels and dampened them.

"Yes, it is," Daniel whined as he followed him into the kitchen. "And you saw it. It's supposed to be a surprise. You weren't supposed to see it until tomorrow. Now it's all ruined." He trotted behind Jack back to the dining room. Daniel leaned over the table again and reached for the mess.

"Ack, don't touch." Jack handed Daniel a piece of wet paper towel. "Here, wipe your hands." Then Jack gently dabbed at the excess of glue on top of the hearts, careful not to pull them apart. Still, despite his care, the ink smeared slightly, giving the words "I Love You, Jack," and "Daniel" underneath them, a slightly blurred look to them.

"You're messing the letters!" Daniel's hand whipped out, his finger accusingly pointing to what Jack had just done. There were tiny bits of red and yellow paper stuck to his hand.

"I know, but see, it's giving it a bit of a fancy look to it." Jack decided to leave the letters alone and concentrated on the paste that had spread across the hearts and onto the table.

"The glue wouldn't come out," Daniel said in a rush, bending close to Jack as he worked. The paper towel he'd handed Daniel was tightly clenched between his fingers. "I tried and tried and then squeezed really hard and suddenly it farted and it came out all over everything."

"You squeezed a little too hard, Daniel. It's okay, though, see, I got most of the glue off." Jack eased the sticky paper off the table. There wasn't much more to be done except let it dry.

"But the paper is all wet."

"It'll dry. Here, how about if we do this?" With the tacky papers balanced on his palm, Jack rummaged in the hutch drawer until he found two pencils. He set the papers on top of the pencils, allowing air to circulate underneath. "It'll be fine tomorrow."

"Are you sure?" Daniel leaned over Jack, resting his chin on top of Jack's shoulder.

"I'm sure."

"But you saw it. I wanted to give it to you tomorrow." Daniel pulled back and crossed his arms, his lower lip sticking out in a pout. There were bits of tiny paper stuck to Daniel's cheek where he'd wiped his face again.

Jack looked back at the words written on the paper, and felt his throat close up. He swallowed hard, the words evoking conflicting emotions in him as he remembered Charlie giving him homemade cards. Those memories warred with the one of last year's Valentine's Day when Daniel had surprised him with a new tube of lube and a night of extraordinary sex. "I know, Danny," he said, his voice slightly strained. "But since tonight's the night before Valentine's Day, it's Valentine's Eve, kinda like Christmas Eve," Jack lied. "So giving gifts the night before is perfectly okay."

"Really?" Daniel's arms fell to his side and he leaned closer to Jack to peer at the still-wet paper.

"Really." Jack wrapped his hand around Daniel's nape and squeezed. "Now, how about you jump back into the shower," he said, shaking Daniel a little when he spied a smear of glue on Daniel's hair.

"But I already washed."

Jack couldn't help smiling over the look of confusion on Daniel's face. "Yeah, but you've got glue all over you. C'mon." He led Daniel back to the bathroom and adjusted the water temperature. He carefully removed Daniel's glasses and put them aside. As Daniel began pulling the pajama top over his head, Jack saw the paper towel was still clenched in his fist. He took the dirty top from him then with a slight shake of his head, grabbed Daniel's hand before he could take his pants off. The paper had dried to his fingers so Jack ripped as much as he could until there were only small strips adhered to the skin.

"Put your hand under the faucet." He pumped out several generous dollops of hand soap into Daniel's palm, watching as the water washed away the glue and paper towel remnants.

Daniel finished stripping and with a flash of bare butt, stepped into the shower.

"Don't forget to wash your hair." Jack picked up Daniel's glasses and cleaned them with soap and water.

"I won't."

When he finished, Jack put the glue-smeared clothes into the pile of dirty clothes and with a sigh, returned to the dining room to finish cleaning up. With plenty of water and soap, the glue came off easily. By the time he was done, Daniel had come out of the shower. He padded to the counter and looked at his drying handiwork.

Jack joined him and Daniel leaned against him.

"Do you like it?" Daniel asked tentatively.

Jack put his arms around Daniel's shoulders and squeezed, smelling soap and shampoo. "I love it, Daniel. Who helped you with the letters?"

"Sam. She wrote them on the paper and then she had lots of pens in different colors and I drew the lines on top."

"You did a great job, buddy."

"It doesn't look the same anymore. The letters are all wavy." Daniel's forehead scrunched up, frown lines appearing between his eyebrows.

Jack wanted nothing better than to kiss the frown lines away. Instead he smiled at Daniel. "It doesn't matter. It's still very special to me."

"Jack?" Daniel pulled away, looking a little shy.

"Yeah?"

"Did you...?" He looked at his toes, then back up at Jack. "Did you get me something?"

"For Valentine's?"

"Mmm hmmm."

"You think I'd forget you?"

Daniel's face lit up as he grinned.

"You want your gift now? Seems fair, since you gave me mine already."

Daniel opened his mouth, then he took a deep breath.

"No, I can wait until tomorrow."

"You sure?"

Daniel nodded quickly. "Yep. I'm sure."

"Then how about we go finish watching the rest of the hockey game?"

"Okay." Daniel bounded out of the kitchen, bare feet slapping the wooden floor as he ran towards the stairs. Jack followed, detouring into the bathroom to pick up the socks Daniel hadn't bothered to put on.

Daniel was already sitting on the couch and Jack threw the socks at him. Daniel missed the catch, the rolled-up socks hitting him in the chest. Giggling, Daniel reached for them and began pulling them onto his feet.

Jack sat beside him, stretching his legs out on the coffee table before him. Daniel, instead of stretching out like he normally did, bundled himself into a ball, arms wrapped tightly around drawn-up legs.

They watched the game in silence. Although Daniel couldn't quite grasp the concept, he enjoyed watching the players skating from one end of the rink to the other.

After several minutes, he leaned against Jack's shoulder. Jack looked down at him and noted that Daniel's eyelids were beginning to droop. Daniel rested his head against Jack's neck and closed his eyes.

Jack slid his legs from the coffee table and slowly eased himself from underneath Daniel. If he didn't get him to bed before he dozed off, he knew from experience he'd be difficult to rouse.

"Okay, time for bed."

Without a word, Daniel stood and followed Jack upstairs to his bedroom. Jack pulled the blankets back and Daniel sat, yawning loudly. He took his glasses off and reached over to put them onto the bedside table, accidentally knocking over Lumpy as he did so. Jack bent over to pick up the stuffed toy.

As he lay down, Daniel looked around him. "Where's—"

Jack handed Lumpy to Daniel without a word and Daniel pulled the blankets over his shoulder. When he settled, the toy camel's neck and head lay across Daniel's cheek, his body tightly clasped in his arms.

"Night, Danny." Jack bent over and kissed Daniel's temple. "Night Lumpy." Jack kissed the camel's cheek as well, eliciting a sleepy giggle from Daniel.

"Night, Jack," Daniel yawned in mid-word, already half-asleep.

Jack went back to his bedroom and took out the SpongeBob Valentine's Day card he'd bought for Daniel and the box of Belgium chocolates. Thankful to Carter for having reminded him, he tiptoed into Daniel's bedroom and placed the gift beside Daniel's glasses, certain that Daniel would spot it the moment he woke.

* * * * *

"I can give these to Sam and Teal'c myself?" Daniel's eyes seemed wider than usual without his glasses as he eyed the three small boxes of chocolates Jack had picked up for his team members. "Are they coming here?" He bit into his toast and chewed happily.

Jack bit back a sigh when he realized Daniel had forgotten about his checkup with Fraiser. "No, Daniel, you have an appointment with Doc Janet, remember?"

"Today?" Daniel asked, nearly choking as he swallowed his mouthful of food.

"Yes, this morning."

"So I won't be going to the Center? I'll be going to work with you?"

"That's right, just for this morning. I told you that yesterday." And the day before that, and the one before that. Daniel's memory was fickle at the best of times, but there were times when Jack felt it seemed to be getting worse.

"But it's Valentine's Day." The affront in Daniel's voice was equal to the old Daniel responding to a statement that no offworld archaeological digs would be budgeted for in the future.

"I know that. But just look at it this way; you'll get a chance to see Carter and Teal'c. And one of those boxes is for Doc Janet."

"It's not fair." Daniel pushed the uneaten portion of his breakfast away, running a finger instead through a dab of half-melted butter on the plate.

"We've been through this already." Jack drained the last of his coffee, setting the mug down with a loud thud. "If you're not going to eat, go and get your stuff – and don't forget your glasses. We're leaving in ten minutes."

There was a mutinous expression on Daniel's face. Jack waited silently, staring Daniel down, until he stood up and stalked out of the room. Jack dumped the uneaten toast into the garbage and the plates into the dishwasher, then swept the gifts into his jacket pocket.

The ride to the Mountain was silent as Daniel continued to sulk. Still he was happy enough to see Fraiser, despite the circumstances. He sat still for the exam, only beginning to squirm when the dreaded syringe for blood tests showed up.

Fraiser tied a rubber band around Daniel's bicep and he began to whimper softly. As always, Jack sat beside Daniel and allowed him to hold his hand. As she disinfected the inside of his elbow, Daniel lowered his head, resting his forehead against Jack's chest.

"Ready?" Fraiser warned. She looked at Jack and he nodded as Daniel tensed.

"Ow ow ow ow ow," Daniel moaned as Fraiser pressed the needle into Daniel's vein. He squeezed Jack's hand painfully but he didn't attempt to struggle.

With his free hand Jack rubbed Daniel's back, feeling the muscles straining. "She's almost done," Jack said softly, his lips pressed against Daniel's ear. Daniel whimpered a response, then relaxed against Jack when a piece of cotton was pressed against the pinprick. Jack reached over and held the cotton down.

"Okay?"

Daniel nodded and sniffed as he pushed away from Jack, letting go of his hand. He looked at the cotton, watching as Fraiser placed a Band Aid over it.

"You wanna give Doc Janet her surprise now?"

Daniel nodded wordlessly and Jack drew the small, fancy box from a pocket. He handed it to Daniel, who had already begun to lose the funky mood. He hopped off the bed and stood beside Fraiser, box in hand.

"For me?" Fraiser grinned at Daniel as he handed the sweets over.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Doc Janet." He stood there grinning wildly as she made happy noises and pulled him down so she could kiss his cheek with a loud smack.

"Thank you, Daniel. I can't wait to taste one."

"They're good." Daniel smacked his lips. "Jack gave me some and he let me have one with breakfast this morning."

"And speaking of which, we have more deliveries to make. If you're finished, doc, we'll just go on our merry way."

"Yep, all done," Fraiser said with a flourish, the box of chocolates disappearing into a pocket of her lab coat. "Thanks again." This time the smile was aimed in Jack's direction.

"You're welcome," Daniel shouted as he began hurrying towards the door.

"My pleasure," Jack said softly with a wink. She nodded and Jack followed Daniel out the door.

Daniel hopped from one foot to another during the short trip in the elevator, even the pleasure of being allowed to push the button of Carter's floor not enough to keep his level of anticipation down.

"Can I have Sam's box?"

Jack handed it to him and Daniel impatiently twirled it around and around. The moment the doors opened, Daniel sprinted out and began running down the corridor.

"C'mon, Jack!"

"Daniel, slow down." But Jack's warning was too late as Daniel turned to look over his shoulder at Jack while running through an intersection. He plowed into an unsuspecting airman who was turning the corner at the wrong moment.

Both went down hard. Daniel rolled lay still a moment before sitting up groggily.

The airman didn't move.

By the time Jack got there, several personnel were leaning over the unconscious accident victim. A bruise was already appearing over the man's temple. Daniel, however, had pulled away, leaning against the wall, knees to chest, mouth open in shock. Sergeant Siler knelt beside Daniel and reached over for the dropped box of chocolates. He handed it to Daniel, who ignored him, rocking slowly to and fro. "I'm sorry. I'msorryI'msorryI'msorry," Daniel repeated.

"Doctor Jackson, are you hurt?" Siler nodded at Jack as he knelt beside him. There was nothing Jack could do for the airman, so he reached over and took Daniel's chin between his fingers and forced him to look at him. "Danny? Did you hurt yourself?"

Daniel stopped the rocking motion but couldn't seem to take his eyes off the downed airman, even as the airman moaned and began to come to. "I'm sorry, Jack. I didn't mean to. Honest, I didn't mean to hurt him."

"I know. It was an accident." An accident waiting to happen, Jack admitted to himself and he knew it was his own fault for not having kept better control over Daniel.

To Jack's relief, a moment later the airman was sitting up, looking a little dazed but definitely not seriously hurt. He was helped to his feet and aided to the infirmary.

"Daniel." Jack deliberately moved to put himself in front of Daniel's view of the corridor and the small party moving towards the elevator. "Did you hurt yourself?"

Daniel dropped his head to his chest and shook it minutely. "No." His voice was soft and muffled.

"You wanna get up? We can go sit in Carter's lab."

Daniel shrugged and with both Siler and Jack grabbing hold of Daniel's arms, they hauled him to his feet. "Thanks, Siler, I got it." Jack took the small box from the sergeant and handed it to Daniel, who took it listlessly from him.

The sergeant nodded, smiled at Daniel even though Daniel wasn't looking at him, and went on his way. With shuffling feet, a very subdued Daniel allowed himself to be led to Carter's lab.

Carter took one look at Daniel as he walked into the lab and dropped whatever doohickey she was working on. "Daniel? Are you okay?" She gave Daniel a worried look when he didn't answer, followed by a questioning look at Jack. "Sir, what happened?" She rubbed Daniel's back and he leaned towards her.

"There was a small accident in the corridor. Daniel's feeling a little guilty."

"Accident? You didn't hurt yourself, did you?" Carter put a finger beneath Daniel's chin and tilted his head so he was looking at her. Daniel shook his head, his bottom lip trembling as he fought back tears.

"It was my fault," he said in a strangled voice.

"It was an accident." Jack mentally stepped back and allowed Carter to do all the mothering. At this point in time he knew Daniel was feeling guilty for having not only caused the accident, but because he had disobeyed Jack and had been careless. He and Daniel would have their little bonding time later; Daniel was obviously looking for comfort with Carter and he let her.

"Oh, Daniel." She put her arms around him and he immediately clutched at her, his quiet sobs muffled against her shoulder. The box of chocolates dropped from his hand and Jack bent down to pick it up, placing it on Carter's worktable.

"It's okay." Her eyes expressed her worry as she looked at Jack over Daniel's bent head. "What happened?" she mouthed.

"Daniel was running and plowed into an airman. Knocked him out for a few seconds and gave Daniel one helluva scare."

"I th... thought he was d... dead," Daniel said, his voice breaking between deep, hiccupping breaths.

Jack suddenly felt hot guilt spread through him; he'd never even considered Daniel might have thought the guy was dead.

"He's fine, though, isn't he, sir?"

"Just a bump on the noggin. I'm sure he's gonna be fine."

"But you don't know that for sure," Daniel cried, lifting his head from Carter and turning to look at Jack.

"I can find out." Jack picked up Carter's phone and dialed the infirmary. After a few inquiries, during time which Daniel finally calmed down and was convinced to sit down while he waited anxiously, Jack got the good news.

"Fraiser says Airman Pringle is suffering from a mild headache and she sent him home for the day. He'll be back at work tomorrow, good as new."

"Really? He's okay?"

"He's really okay."

Daniel squinted at Jack, tilting his head sideways as he spoke. "You're not fibbing to make me feel better, are you?"

"Do I look like I'm lying? And since when have I started fibbing to make you feel better?" Jack asked in an exaggerated pained voice.

Daniel finally smiled a little, his face splotchy and eyes swollen from crying.

"So, you gonna give Carter her goodies or are you going to keep her wondering why we came to visit?"

"Goodies?" Daniel sniffed and then looked at his empty hands in a panic. "I lost 'em, Jack."

"No, they're here." Jack pushed the box towards Daniel, letting it slide along the tabletop. Daniel scooped it up with a relieved sigh and handed it to Carter.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Sam."

"Thank you, Daniel." She examined the label on the box and grinned. "Belgian? Oh, you shouldn't have." Immediately she broke the seal and opened the box, offering Daniel, and then Jack, a chocolate. Jack refused but Daniel eagerly accepted one, and Jack had to laugh as both he and Carter had twin orgasmic looks on their faces as they savored their goodies.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

Jack stretched under of the warmth of the blanket covering his body. Without forethought, he instinctually reached for his lover and with a physical ache, reality came crashing through the cusps of his dreams. He was alone; there was no one sharing his bed except memories.

With a sigh, Jack got out of bed, steeling himself for the start of another day.

Morning ritual complete, Jack ran through their plans as he descended the stairs into the living room. "Daniel?" he called out nervously. The house was quiet, Daniel's usual chatter conspicuously absent, the drone of the television nonexistent.

Heart pounding his chest, Jack retraced his steps back to the bedrooms, taking the stairs two at a time. "Dan—" Throwing open the bedroom door, Jack's anxiety softened when he caught sight of Daniel sleeping, sprawled across the bed. One arm hugging the pillow under his head, the other curled tightly against his chest, clutching the stuffed camel.

Jack stood in the doorway, afraid to take a step towards the slumbering body, not wishing to disturb Daniel's relative peace. His sleep patterns were horrible; the shadows under Daniel's eyes darkening as his nightmares increased, forcing him awake the majority of nights. Last night it hadn't been the nightmares that had awakened first Daniel and then Jack; the coughing and sneezing had done that. He remembered asking Daniel the last time he had taken his allergy medication. "I forgot something again, Jack?" was Daniel's plaintive question. Jack regained his mental footing, reassuring Daniel that it was something he had forgotten, and apologized. Jack had located a blister pack of Daniel's allergy medication and he had taken the pills from Jack, finished the glass of water, and allowed Jack to fluff his pillows and tuck him in.

"Stay?"

"Of course, Daniel," Jack replied, sitting at the edge of the bed. Listening as Daniel's breathing eased with the medication, Jack stayed long after Daniel had fallen asleep.

Obviously the medication had alleviated Daniel's allergy attack and aided him in gaining the sleep his body was so desperately craving. He backed out of the room slowly, closing the door behind him.

* * * * *

Jack made himself a simple breakfast of toast and coffee, the morning paper his only companion at the table. Jack felt out of sorts in the solitude of his own house, gladly admitting that he missed Daniel's exuberance within these four walls. After refilling his coffee mug, Jack entered the living room with the desire to start a fire. The early spring day was damp and rainy, dreary and cold, creating an uncomfortable chill in the house.

"Daniel?" Jack's voice was filled with concern as he glimpsed the forlorn figure standing before the picture windows in the living room. Placing the coffee mug on the end table, Jack physically forced Daniel to turn and face him. The shadows under the eyes had lightened, but the blue orbs reflected utter devastation.

"It's raining... I didn't want it to rain," he whined. "We were gonna go to the zoo, and have a picnic and fly a kite and—"

"I know," he sighed, confirming Daniel's observation. "The weather didn't cooperate and I'm disappointed as well." Jack leaned forward, gently pushing Daniel's glasses back up his nose. "I see you remembered to put your glasses on this morning. We need to get these fixed before you lose them."

"Today, Jack?"

"No, not today. Today's an inside day." Jack thought wildly, floundering in a decision on what could be done to soothe a disappointed Daniel and keep his active mind busy.

Jack checked his watch, confirming what he already knew. "It's late for breakfast... how about we do things a little backwards today. Instead of a bath tonight, take one now?"

"Now? It's not dark. I take baths when it's dark." Jack's heart melted as Daniel smiled at the ludicrous suggestion of bathing in the middle of the morning.

Jack walked up the stairs, continuing to mentally outline his plan, Daniel close at his heels. "With bubbles, Jack. I need bubbles... not too hot. You know I don't like... Baby Bear, I want it just right."

Daniel's laughter echoed in the tiled bathroom as Jack bowed before him. "Your wish is my command."

"You're funny today." Daniel giggled as he added a generous squeeze of bubbles to the bath, putting his hand under the faucet. Daniel nodded his head. "Just right."

While the water filled the tub, Jack sat Daniel down on the closed toilet seat. This was an out of body experience for Jack, something that he had literally closed off from himself, refusing to allow himself to feel and remember. Daniel wasn't astute enough to comprehend the smile on Jack's face was forced, his body mannerisms stiff and uncompromising.

Jack carefully removed Daniel's glasses, folding them, placing them gently on the rim of the sink. Even Daniel's eye-lighting smile couldn't break through Jack's shell of self-preservation.

"The tickle machine?"

Not being able to trust his voice, Jack just nodded. Daniel closed his eyes, Jack guided Daniel's head until his chin rested in the cup of Jack's left hand. Jack flicked the switch and began to shave Daniel by rote. This was one necessary task that Jack had a problem facing. Visions of sharing simple pleasures came unbidden to his mind. Bathroom morning rituals... Daniel's voice thankfully cut through Jack's daydreams.

"Can I put on the good smelling stuff like you wear? The kind that always makes Sam go hmmm good?"

Clearing his throat to find his voice, Jack produced a small, harsh laugh. "So Carter thinks I smell good, huh?" He turned away from Daniel, blinking hard to clear the bathroom steam from his eyes. "Sure. Bath is almost ready... how about sweats today, socks, no shoes."

Pulling his shirt over his head, Daniel's voice was muffled as he answered Jack. "Comfy, inside day?"

Jack stepped forward helping Daniel. "Great description, Danny. Comfy inside day, I kinda like that."

* * * * *

The remnants of their indoor picnic were still spread in front of the fire. Daniel's excitement when he saw the quilt, complete with picnic basket on the living room floor, had been infectious. Jack had left Daniel enjoying the contents of the wicker basket and went to prepare the second surprise for Daniel. Cleaning the tub and then refilling it, Jack waited until he deemed the water level would be appropriate before turning off the flow and rejoining Daniel downstairs.

"Finished?" Jack asked, noticing that Daniel had begun to play with his food as opposed to eating it.

Daniel nodded yes, placing his plate containing the uneaten portion of food on the blanket.

Jack stood, reaching out a hand and hauling the younger man to his feet.

"Another surprise?"

"Yeahsureyabetcha."

* * * * *

Sitting next to Daniel on the couch, Jack noted that Daniel's pants were pockmarked with water spots. The beige cotton was still damp from their little "fishing" expedition in the bathtub. Using an old, plastic toy rod and reel, complete with little fishes, Daniel's laughter had reverberated throughout the bathroom while he fished into the oversized tub. Both men had slid their pants to their knees, taking turns trying to reel in the multicolored fish.

And Daniel was still laughing as he and Jack were sitting on the couch watching a video. One of Daniel's choices... Daniel's day. So Toy Story 2 was showing on the television, Daniel's happiness and contentment an emotion that flowed easily into Jack.

Glancing at Daniel's profile, wondering if his Daniel had ever been this content. Laughter had usually been a mere chuckle, or a wide smile... but this... this belly laughter had not been part of Daniel's repertoire. A sudden lump appeared in Jack's throat, making breathing difficult. Without thought, his hand went up to smooth Daniel's errant cowlick. This person sitting on the couch... this was his Daniel now.

Daniel's laughter had turned to yawns through the second showing of Toy Story. It wasn't late in the day, but Jack was thankful for any sleep that Daniel's exhausted body was willing to take. Placing a couch pillow on his lap, he patted it as an unspoken invitation for Daniel to lie down. He turned towards Jack, a confused expression on his face. "Sleep?"

Jack removed Daniel's glasses, placing them on the table. "Yes Daniel, sleep."

"But it's still day. I don't sleep in the day."

Jack had to laugh at Daniel's argument. Blue eyes, heavy lidded with fatigue, he was going to fight Jack every step of the way. "It's a crazy day. Bath during the day, picnic... fishing..."

"An inside, comfy day," Daniel murmured, giving into Jack's reasoning and sliding down the couch. He rested his head on the proffered pillow with a heavy sigh. Jack leaned one arm on the side bolster of the couch, the other he laid on Daniel's shoulder, subconsciously kneading the muscles.

"Safe."

Gentle squeezing the shoulder, Jack repeated, "Safe. Yes, Daniel, you're safe."

"Protect this part of me. Please?" Daniel squirmed as Jack tightened his hold.

"Daniel, what are you talking about?"

"This isn't all of me. Find me." Jack's hand stilled.

Heart thudding painfully within his ribcage. Jack shook Daniel's shoulder. "Wake up... you're having a nightmare."

Daniel turned on his back, opening his eyes slowly. "No nightmare... safe with you. No monsters, or glowy-eyed people... you protect me. Safe." Daniel offered Jack a small smile before turning back onto his side and returning to sleep.

* * * * *

Jack awoke with a start, aware that the warm body under his hand was no longer there. Righting himself so fast that the room swam before him, the flushing of the toilet registered through his sleep-addled brain; mentally exhaling a sigh of relief as to the obvious whereabouts of one errant archeo... five year old. The VCR clock confirmed the lateness of the day as Jack stood, stretching out sleep-stiffened muscles.

Daniel shuffled into the room, sans socks and glasses, hair sticking up in every direction. Squashing down a smile and the question of Daniel's ability to remember to wash his hands, Jack settled on asking about Daniel's sleep.

"Safe," was the only word Daniel was able to use to describe his three hour nap, before the rest of his sentence was swallowed by a sneeze, followed by a wheeze-filled cough.

Jack guided him to the chair in the kitchen, placing before Daniel a glass of apple juice and two allergy relief pills. "Drink, swallow..." he commanded. Daniel acquiesced without argument, much to Jack's satisfaction.

"I'm hungry."

"Pizza?"

"Mmm, pizza... okay." Daniel's eyes followed Jack around the kitchen as he gathered kitchen utensils and ingredients onto the counter. "Jack, the telephone brings pizza."

Facing Daniel, leaning against the counter, Jack explained, "Not today, Danny. Today, we're going to make our own."

* * * * *

Though a success and delicious, the pizza making experiment warranted a hosing down of the kitchen and another bath for Daniel. Both of them covered in flour, Jack was just finishing cleaning the last of their dinner party when he heard Daniel pad from the bathroom.

"Set up the game board on the table, I'm almost done... I'll join you in a minute. 'K?"

"All right," Daniel answered.

* * * * *

"What did you do, Daniel?" Jack hissed, his stomach clenching painfully, swallowing to prevent the recently eaten dinner from making a repeat performance.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry..." The hopeful glance faded in the wake of Jack's reaction. "I'll clean it up... I didn't mean—"

"No, Danny, I'm sorry, I thought a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders. I didn't quite expect, I didn't realize that you could... play... Chess." Wanly smiling at Daniel, Jack plopped himself down in the seat across from him.

Jack played by rote, his brain still making an attempt to register the fact that Daniel had set the board up correctly; the proper pieces in the correct spots, the white pieces on one side, the black on the other. Both queens and kings in their respective spots, all the pawns...

Exasperation was apparent in Daniel's voice as he reprimanded Jack's next move. "No Jack, you can't move that there because my horsie will eat up your lady, and then the pointy one will get your guy with the crown if I do this. Are you even paying attention?" Shocked, Jack looked down and realized that Daniel was two moves from checkmate.

"Danny, I—"

"If you didn't wanna play Chest, I understand. If you wanted to play Chutes and Ladders, that was okay. But you always win at that game, and I wanted to play something I could win at—"

"No, I'm sorry. This is fine. I'm just..."

"Not paying attention?" Daniel's accusatory glance over his the rim of his glasses brought back memories too painful to rehash right now. "Wanna try again? I like Chest."

"Sure."

Jack watched as Daniel set up the pieces and Jack began to supply the names as Daniel found their homes on the chessboard. "Rook, knight, king, queen, pawn, bishop..."

"You go first, Jack."

And Jack did... and he played like his life depended on those wooden pieces. Daniel beat him two games in a row and Jack was going for whumping number three when he noticed Daniel's yawn while setting up the game again.

"Bedtime for Bonzo, Spacemonkey. Come on. Leave the pieces like they are; we can play tomorrow."

* * * * *

Jack turned off the lights, the nightlight casting a glow to the room, affording Jack enough illumination to see that Daniel was truly asleep. He adjusted the blanket around Daniel's sprawled form, resting his hand lightly on his forehead, softly whispering, "Good job," when his hand came in contact with cool skin. Every night he prayed for uninterrupted sleep, the majority of time, his prayers went unanswered. Jack gently shut the door behind him hoping that tonight someone was listening to his prayers, for Daniel's sake, as well as his own.

In the kitchen he checked the time and picked up the phone, dialing the now familiar number without thought.

"Doc?"

"Colonel, is something wrong? Daniel—"

"No, no, Daniel's fine." Jack propped the phone between his shoulder and chin as he went to retrieve a beer from the fridge. "I just have a question. Daniel and I played some chess tonight."

"Chess?" There was a note of incredulity in Fraiser's voice.

"Yeah, and get this. He not only knew how to play, he beat the crap out of me. But the weird thing is, he knew all the moves but couldn't remember the name of the pieces."

"Somehow that's not surprising. There are some autistic patients or people with developmental disorders who have extraordinary skills not exhibited by most people. The fact that Daniel's retained some of his skills from before could be a trace of whatever creates that phenomenon in some patients."

"Yeah, I heard of that, actually. Like someone who can memorize baseball stats or multiply stuff in their heads."

"That's right. They're called idiots savants."

"That's horrible terminology. They really refer to it as—"

"It's also called autistic savant. Actually the word 'savant' is French, meaning someone who's knowledgeable."

"Ah. I see. It just sounded like..."

"I can give you more details on the syndrome, if you'd like, Colonel."

"No, I'm sure someone at the Center could explain it to me."

"Would you like me to set Daniel up for more tests? We could determine exactly what he's forgotten and what knowledge he actually has retained?"

"No, no, I'd prefer not to subject him to any more testing. Thanks, doc. Say hello to Cassie for Daniel and me, okay?"

"Of course."

"Night."

Jack hung up the phone with a deep sigh of exasperation. Placing his unopened bottle of beer on the table, he went to collect his notebook. Writing "idiot savant" on the next available blank page, he underlined it before slamming the book shut. Baptism by fire... words and a language that not so long ago were as foreign to him as Sanskrit. Now he knew the names of tests and scores and what they stood for - a knowledge he would rather have done without.

* * * * *

Jack sat on the recliner, the remote in his right hand, the ice-cold bottle of beer gripped in his left. He hunkered down, settling his ass into the well-worn groove of the leather chair, eyes glued to ESPN on TV. Daniel had been sleeping comfortably the last time he'd checked and he allowed his body to relax for the first time today.

The beer finished, Jack placed the empty on the table, contemplating and then dismissing the urge for another. By the time the announcers were talking about spring training, the TV was broadcasting to a slumbering colonel.

Screams of anguish and pain cut through the levels of Jack's sleep. A moment of disorientation of whether he was home or on a mission caused Jack to pause before throwing the recliner into an upright position. On and on the screams went, no pause for breathing, increasing in pitch as Jack bounded up the stairs two at a time. He threw open the bedroom door and made an attempt to pull a shaking Daniel into his arms.

"No, no, no, no, no. Don't touch me." Daniel's eyes were opened, unseeing as he pushed himself away from Jack's embrace.

Jack threw his hands up in surrender. "Daniel?" A touch to Daniel's wrist resulted in Jack having to ward off a punch thrown in his direction. Jack grabbed both of Daniel's forearms, giving the younger man a shake. "Wake up, Daniel! Damn it, wake up!"

Daniel paused, blinking a few times, eyes focusing on Jack's face. Before Jack could brace himself, Daniel launched his body into Jack's arms, his screams fading to sobs. Even through the sweat-soaked tee shirt, Jack could feel the heat of fever.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry," Daniel sobbed into Jack's shoulder. "I would never. Believe me... but it hurt so much and I was scared."

"Shhh. Danny, it was just a nightmare." Jack patted Daniel's back, cupping the back of his head, rocking the younger man gently until the sobs lessened, turning to ragged breathing. Jack disengaged Daniel from his body, smoothing the hair back off his forehead, wiping residual tears with his thumbs. "It's okay, Daniel, you're safe."

Daniel's face crumbled at those words, tears again flowing unrestrained down his cheeks. "But you weren't, Jack. I was trying to hurt you. In a dark place. It hurt so bad, and you wouldn't let me go back to the box. And I hurt... and I tried to hurt you. My bestest friend... and I wanted to hurt you."

"It's a nightmare, nothing else, Danny. See." Jack opened his arms. "I'm fine. See? I'm in one piece. You would never hurt me."

"But I wanted to... I shot a gun... and the lights went off... and I was so scared... and, and, and..." Daniel began to stutter, hiccupping as he drew a breath Jack placed a finger against Daniel's lips.

"No more. Nightmare... that's it. You have a fever."

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"My head hurts."

"I know, that's the fever. Here you go." Jack pushed the pillows against the headboard, indicating with a wave of his hand that Daniel should lean against them. "I'll be right back."

Jack washed Daniel's tear-streaked faced, took his temperature, changed his shirt, and fed him two Tylenol with a glass of water.

Once Jack finished with his ministrations, Daniel slid without complaint under the covers. "Sorry, Jack. Sorry." Tears leaked between closed lids as he buried his face into the pillow, his hand wavering until it made contact with Lumpy who he had flung to the side during the height of the nightmare. Daniel gripped the stuffed camel, bringing it up to face, running the body of the toy over fever-stained cheeks.

Jack sat speechless on the side of the bed, unconsciously carding his fingers through Daniel's hair in silent comfort. No amount of reassurance on Jack's part was able to stem the tide of emotions from Daniel. No words halted Daniel's continued apologies to his friend. Jack settled on touch to calm the body that lay in this bed in the spare room.

* * * * *

Jack was exhausted beyond words; too tired to shower, he brushed his teeth, peed. He barely had the energy to change into sweats before he collapsed onto the bed. Then he tossed and turned, unable to shut down his overactive mind; visions of Daniel playing chess overlapped fishing in the bathtub and finished with him standing in the doorway only moments before, gazing upon a slumbering Daniel. Jack sat up, punched the pillow into submission and threw himself back onto the bed, eventually falling into an uneasy sleep.

A crack of thunder woke him, the bedroom filled moments later by the flash of lightning. The uncommonly warm, damp spring day had finally been chased away by the storm. Jack turned on his side, pulling the blanket tighter around him, closing his eyes, feeling himself drift again into the oblivion of sleep.

"Jack?"

He counted to ten before he cracked open one eyelid. Daniel stood to the side of the bed, his body outlined in the dim light. He opened both eyes, but didn't rise in the bed when he asked, "What are you doing here, Daniel? Feel all right?"

"Scared," was the shaky answer.

Shifting his body to a sitting position, Jack turned on the bedside lamp. Two pairs of eyes squinted in the brightness of light. "Scared?"

Daniel hung his head, hugging the stuffed toy tightly to this chest. "Scared," he echoed.

"Look, Daniel, it's late, go back to bed. The nightmare is finished, I'm fine." Jack stopped abruptly as rolling thunder echoed within the bedroom, lightning following on its heels. Daniel screwed his eyes tightly shut and brought his shoulders to his ears in avoidance of the storm.

"Jack," he warbled and then swallowed audibly, his eyes drifting towards the window. "The noise outside... the noise and lights... I'm scared." Eyes moved from the window to Jack, resting on the empty space next to Jack. "Can I come into bed with you?"

"No."

Daniel drew a shuddering breath, eyes glued to the unoccupied section of bed. "I called for you and you didn't come to me. No matter how loudly I yelled from my bed. I called and called but my words got lost." He hung his head and whispered, in a tone so low that Jack almost missed the words, "I'm scared."

Jack had never allowed Daniel into his bed, this bed, their bed, since returning from the planet. The scales were unevenly tipped, and Jack knew that his body's desire for what had been before was now prohibiting him from providing comfort to the one who stood before him. Jack was too tired to fight himself any longer and without a second thought he pulled back the covers, inviting Daniel into the bed.

* * * * *

Dreams upon dreams, visions of Daniel through the years of their friendship, their relationship. Jack smiled at the warmth of Daniel's hand on his cheek. "Thank you," Daniel whispered, all childish inflection having vanished from his voice. Eyes bright in the darkness of the bedroom, Daniel began to caress Jack's jaw line with his thumb.

"For what?" Jack questioned, his voice echoing Daniel's whisper. Any louder and Jack knew the spell would be broken.

"For taking care of him. For loving him... keeping him safe." Daniel's hands halted their exploration of his lover's face, his eyes bright with tears. "God, I miss you so much, Jack."

Before Jack could respond the bed shifted and Jack's dream state changed into reality. The reality that included a bedroom bathed in dim light, the storm outside, the proximity of Daniel's hand on Jack's pillow, the closeness of Daniel, his smell, his essence, and the painful erection that Jack now sported.

He slowly backed out of the bed, placing the blankets gently over Daniel's slumbering body. Cursing his mind and his body for playing tricks on him, teasing and taunting him, Jack made his way to the bathroom, shuffling and dragging his body along like a man 30 years his senior.

Closing and locking the bathroom door, he leaned against it... not even turning on the lights. Jack didn't want to see the reality of the cold harsh bathroom; he wanted the dreams of the darkened bedroom. Jack's hand touched his cheek, where only minutes before Daniel had placed his own hand. Imagination, or was it warm? Slipping his hands slowly down his own body, touching his intimate areas, like Daniel would touch him. Playing both parts to this horrific drama Jack gasped, arching his back against the closed door when his hand made contact with his engorged cock. Tender, feather-like, Daniel-like touches along the shaft made Jack moan in the back of his throat. He cursed his lover as his come shot over his fisted grasp, dripping to the floor.

He stood, panting and sweating, leaning against the closed door, blinking his eyes back into focus, hating his empty release. Because to Jack that's all it was... empty, void of emotion, void of love, void of what used to make Daniel... Daniel. And he hated himself for not being able to let go of what was, but it was hard, leaving his Daniel behind and accepting the new Daniel.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"Jack?" Daniel swiveled as they drove by the park, turning to watch the small playground slowly recede behind them. "You promised next time we drove here, you'd stop."

Jack glanced into the rearview mirror, noted that the park was packed with kids, and sighed. "Maybe another time, it's kinda crowded today."

"But we never-ever come this way," Daniel whined. "I want to play on the swings. You said I could go on the swings and you'd push me."

Daniel was right. Jack had promised. And he'd forgotten all about it until Daniel spotted the park and now he'd probably have Daniel whining all afternoon if they didn't stop. He turned right at the next corner, slowly heading back towards the park, looking for a parking space. Daniel didn't catch on right away and he kept complaining until Jack pulled in and stopped the Avalanche.

"We're going?" In a flash Daniel had unbuckled his seatbelt and was out the door. He craned his neck, looking for the playground hidden in the back of the immense park. Jack locked the truck and they began walking along the pedestrian path.

"C'mon, Jack, hurry up." Daniel hurried forward a few steps but nervously returned to stay by Jack's side. Since it was a Sunday afternoon and the first warm, sunny weekend of the season, the place was crowded; people strolling, kids running around or biking and skating on the bike path close by.

As soon as the playground was in view, Daniel skipped a few steps, having obvious difficulty holding his enthusiasm in. One child jumped off a swing and Daniel yelled, "I see a swing," and started running towards it.

"Daniel. Don't run!" Jack yelled a little more curtly than he'd wanted to, but the sight of Daniel running full tilt amongst the small children filled him with fear. If Daniel slamming into an adult several weeks ago had knocked a man out, he didn't want to think what could happen if Daniel bowled a kid over.

Thankfully Daniel skidded to a stop, looked back at Jack with a shamefaced expression, and walked quickly instead towards the empty swing. Jack hated having to curb Daniel's enthusiasm and energy; these days Daniel was either full of energy or listless and sick. There seemed to be no in-between, and the energetic ones didn't seem to come as often as Jack would like.

Jack saw the kid running for the swing and knew what was going to happen before Daniel caught on. Seconds before Daniel reached for the free swing's chain, the kid zoomed past Daniel and grabbed the swing and jumped on, giving Daniel a deliberate sneer just as realized the swing was now occupied. The kid kicked off and began swinging back and forth, leaving Daniel standing there, confused and hurt.

"He took my swing," Daniel said as Jack pulled him away by the arm, wishing instead to take that little brat by the ear and give him a lesson in manners. "If you let me run, I'd beat him. Why'd he take my swing? I was here first." Daniel looked at Jack in bewilderment.

"Some people are just plain mean." He rubbed Daniel's arm and leaned back against a tree whose newly sprouted leaves had barely started growing. "Let's just wait, some kid'll get off soon." Already pissed and bored, Jack scanned the area until his attention was caught by a familiar blond figure running by.

The jogger spotted him and slowed her speed. Then she sped up, a wide grin on her face as she left her circuit and hurried towards him. "Jack."

"Hi Sara." Jack stepped away from the tree and hugged his ex-wife. She was damp with sweat and it felt strange holding someone who wasn't Daniel.

"What the hell are you doing here? Isn't it kinda out of your way?" She hugged Jack tightly before letting go.

"I was driving by and Daniel..." Jack turned to Daniel, who was staring at Sara, a small frown on his face. "You remember Daniel, don't you, hon? Danny, this is—"

"Charlie's mom." He pointed at Sara. "You're Charlie's mom. Jack's got pictures all over the house and I like looking at yours. You have a nice smile."

"Why thank you, Daniel." She smiled politely at Daniel but the look she gave Jack spoke volumes.

"Jack lets me help him dust the pictures sometimes. I'm really careful, and I don't put my fingers on the glass because that makes smudges. Then you can't see the pictures if they're all smudgy."

"I didn't realize you'd kept the pictures—"

"You look like Charlie."

Sara looked at Jack, looking a little uncomfortable.

"Daniel, you're interrupting. Wait before you speak."

"I am? But you always tell me it's okay to say what I want to and—"

"I know. But not when other people are speaking."

"And you just interrupted me. That wasn't nice." Daniel turned sideways, looking away from them.

"Jack, it's fine. Daniel, we met a few years ago, didn't we?"

"That wasn't me. That was the other me." Daniel sighed and leaned against Jack. "The smart me." Jack pulled Daniel in close for a one-armed hug before ruffling his hair.

"It's great seeing you again, Jack." Sara said after a moment. "You look wonderful."

"So do you. When have you taken up jogging?"

"A couple of years ago. I usually jog here with some friends but it's such a beautiful day and Andy wasn't free so..."

"Andy?" Jack waited for his gut to clench in jealousy and although there was a little bit of that happening, he realized that if there was something else between Sara and Andy, he was happy for her.

"Yeah." She grinned sheepishly, but there was a sparkle in her eyes. "We—"

"Is Charlie here?"

"No, Daniel. Charlie's not here. Remember, we spoke about what happened to him?"

Daniel kicked a small rock stuck in the dirt with the toe of his sneaker. "We did? I don't remember. But Charlie's mom is here, so why isn't Charlie playing here, too. Is he on the swings?" Daniel frowned towards the swings, glaring at the kid who'd stolen the swing from him. "That's not Charlie, is it?"

"No, that's not Charlie," Jack said softly. He quirked a cheek in apology to Sara, then gratefully noticed one of the kids getting off one of the swings.

"Danny, look. Go get it, quick, before someone else does."

"But..." Daniel looked at the free swing, then back at Jack, indecisive.

"You brought Daniel here to the park?"

"Yeah. Daniel wanted to try the swings." Jack placed his hand on Daniel's back and gave a gentle nudge. "Go on."

Daniel took a few steps then stopped. He spun quickly and looked at Jack without saying a word before turning and continuing toward the swings.

Jack almost called out when Daniel sat down, facing the opposite direction of all the other kids. Then he looked around, noted he was sitting the wrong way, stood up and sat down again, this time facing the park instead of a gate and street.

Daniel's legs were too long, his knees came almost up to his chin. Still, he pushed his legs back and forth, making small motions with the swing until his legs were stretched before him, his sneakers set sturdily in the grooved dirt where hundreds of children's feet had scuffed it deep and bare of grass.

"Daniel had an accident a few months ago. He's not exactly himself anymore."

"And you brought him here for an outing? That was nice of you."

"Sara, Daniel lives with me now. I take care of him."

"You? He's got the mind of a child. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to—" She laughed softly. "Of course you do. You've been taking care of him all this time?" She leaned back on the same tree Jack had been using earlier.

"Yeah. He trusts me and..." Jack rested his shoulder against the rough bark.

"You never fail to amaze me."

"It's no hardship. I couldn't live with myself if he'd been put in an institution, all by himself."

"Is there any hope of recovery?"

"There's always hope."

They stood there in silence, watching Daniel simply sit there and rock himself with his legs. Daniel was watching them, but trying to look like he wasn't, and not doing a good job of it.

"Does he know how to... you know, use the swing?"

"Yeah, he does. Something's bothering him, though. That's why he's not playing."

"Life's funny, isn't it?"

"How's that?" Jack turned his attention from Daniel to Sara.

"That we ended up separating because of Charlie. I wonder if Charlie had survived but had been... like Daniel is, would our marriage have survived? Was it what happened to Charlie all those years ago? Or was it us?"

"I'd like to think we'd have been there for Charlie if he'd... survived."

"Can you actually call this survival, Jack?" She waved her hand, almost angrily, towards Daniel. "Losing what once was, to something not quite the same."

"Daniel's alive, Sara. At this point, that's all that matters."

"But is it? That's not the Daniel I met. That's certainly not the Daniel you knew and worked with."

"It's still Daniel. Deep down, there's still something of the man I lo-... long him to be." Jack ignored the narrowing of Sara's eyes, and turned to Daniel.

"Hey, buddy, I thought you wanted to swing." He stepped forward and easily dodged the swinging children. He moved to the back of the swing and grasped the chain. "Raise your legs and hold them out straight." He touched Daniel's hands on the chains, and squeezed slightly. "Hold on tight." He pulled the chains back, not getting much momentum because of Daniel's weight. But after several forceful pushes, he had Daniel moving at a good clip.

He stepped back and joined Sara, who was still leaning against the tree, watching him.

"If it had happened to me, would you have stayed with me? Taken care of me?"

"Oh, honey. Of course I would. Without question."

"You love him." It wasn't a question.

"Yeah."

Daniel's momentum slowed and he lowered his feet to the ground. He stood, holding onto the chains while watching Jack and Sara uncertainly.

"Had enough?"

Daniel nodded and let go of the swing, moving towards them slowly. He gave the impression of someone walking to their death sentence, head lowered, shoulders slumped. Jack reached for him when he got into hugging distance and pulled him close but Daniel stood stiffly within Jack's embrace.

"Ready to go home?" Jack kept his hold on Daniel, wondering what was bothering him. Daniel nodded, not looking at either him or Sara.

"I have to go, too." Sara pushed away from the tree and then groaned. "Damn, I'm stiff. I should have used this time to stretch." She leaned forward and kissed Jack's cheek. "It was good seeing you again. Maybe we could... you know... talk, someday."

"Yeah, that'd be nice."

"I'll call. Maybe you could come for supper?" She looked at Daniel as she spoke, making sure Jack knew he was invited also.

"That'd be nice. Maybe some time soon."

Sara nodded. "Good. I gotta go." She raised her hand, walking backwards quickly. "Bye."

Jack waved back, but Daniel ignored her.

"C'mon, buddy, it's getting late and I'm hungry."

Daniel trudged along beside Jack, his feet dragging, his upper body still slumped in unhappiness. It was totally opposite of his earlier enthusiasm, and Jack still couldn't figure out what had caused Daniel's gloominess.

"So what d'ya think about hot dogs and burgers cooked on the grill for supper? We might as well make the most of this beautiful day."

"Did Charlie like hot dogs?"

"Yeah, he did."

"Did you make them a lot? For Charlie?"

"Not all the time. Whenever Sara was tired of cooking, I did. Why?"

Daniel shrugged. "Do you miss Charlie?"

"Yes, I do."

"More than you miss the other me?" Daniel slowed down even more; they were barely moving now.

Jack sighed. "It's not the same thing."

"Sara's Charlie's mom. You're his dad. You must miss Charlie. Just like you miss the old me."

"Daniel, Charlie's not—"

"You like him better than me!" Before Jack could remind Daniel that Charlie was dead, he tore off across the park.

"Daniel!" Jack was after him in a flash, and he knew despite Daniel's younger body, days of illness had taken a toll on it over time and Jack would eventually catch up to him. Daniel looked over his shoulder, saw Jack running after him, and suddenly veered to the left. Straight for the nearest street.

"Daniel! Daniel stop!" Oh, God, please, please, stop running. Now. "Danny, please!" Then Jack stopped yelling, saving his breath and putting on a burst of speed. Still he saw he wasn't going to catch Daniel in time as Daniel reached the sidewalk and burst through between two parked cars.

There was the loud screech of brakes and horns followed by a loud bang as the vehicle which had nearly hit Daniel was rear-ended by another. Then Daniel was safely across the street, running as if the devil were after him while Jack was forced to slow down and stop to let a bevy of cars go by before he could cross.

By the time he got to the other side, Daniel had disappeared.

"Damn." Jack continued on at a slower jog, keeping an eye out for Daniel. Neither of them could have kept that pace up for long and even now Jack's legs were heavy and he was breathing heavily.

The houses lining the street were large with wide, open lawns, with no place for anyone to hide unless they ran to the back of the house. Jack continued on down the street, and crossed to the next block, which had smaller houses, several of them with gates and hedges. As Jack passed one such house with a large cedar hedge, he heard someone breathing heavily on the other side of it. He slowed, listened carefully then backtracked and slipped through a small opening near the driveway. Behind the hedge, sitting on the ground between a large tree and the hedge, was Daniel. His knees were drawn to chest and his hands were folded over the back of his neck.

"Danny?"

Daniel turned quickly, coming up onto his knees and nearly overbalancing, managing to catch himself with his hands. Then as Jack crouched beside him, he threw himself on top of Jack, crushing him in his embrace as he buried his face against him.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, don't be mad, Jack. I'm sorry."

"Hey, I'm not mad." He held the trembling body close, glad that they were hidden from the house's occupants. "But why'd you run off like that? You scared the shit out of me."

Daniel shrugged, his face still buried against Jack's neck.

"Are you afraid I'll go back to Sara?"

The body in his arms tensed as the shoulders moved up again in another shrug.

"Danny, Charlie's dead. Do you remember when you asked me about his pictures and I explained to you?"

"He... he is?" Daniel raised his head, then dropped down onto his butt beside Jack. "I don't remember. Why don't I remember?"

Jack eased his own butt onto the ground beside Daniel, glad to get off his knees. "You were curious about Charlie and I explained he was my son. Do you remember that?"

Daniel frowned, looking at him through tear-splattered lenses. "You were sad when you talked about Charlie."

"That's right."

"You told me about the blond lady. Charlie's mom. She's nice."

"Yeah, she is. She wants us to come over and have supper with her sometime. Would you like that?"

Daniel shrugged again, but this time he didn't look away. "Not if it makes you sad."

"It might. But you'll be there with me to make me feel better if I do get sad."

"I can do that. I can hug you when you feel sad, just like I did when you told me about Charlie."

"Good. Would you give me a hug now?"

"Are you sad?"

"No, I'm not. But I was scared when you ran off like that."

Daniel reached over and placed his arms around Jack. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to run off. I don't know why I always make you mad."

"You don't, Danny. And I know you don't mean to." Jack kissed the sweaty temple and thought he felt more than plain warmed skin beneath his lips. "How are you feeling?"

"My head kinda hurts." Arms still clasped around Jack, Daniel lowered his head to Jack's shoulder.

"How about we head on home now?"

"Home. Yeah. Can we go back another time and play on the swings again?" Daniel asked as they stood up.

"Sure."

Jack led Daniel back towards their truck, detouring to another street to avoid the accident scene and hoping nobody recognized Daniel as the guy who ran in front of the car. By the time they got into the Avalanche, Daniel's temperature was making him irritable and tired.

Jack skipped the franks and burgers for supper, giving Daniel instead a bowl of cereal after an appetizer of Tylenol and juice for his rising fever while he made himself toast and an omelet. As he'd expected, Daniel's appetite vanished and he listlessly pushed the cereal from one side of the bowl to another. His upper body drooped over the table tiredly.

"It's been a long day." Jack put a hand on Daniel's arm. "How about you go to bed early?"

"I'm not tired." Daniel took a bite of now-soggy cereal, chewing quickly to show that he still had a reason to be at the table. A small dribble of milk trickled down his chin and he wiped it with the back of his hand.

"Okay. How about you go shower and we'll watch some television together."

Daniel shrugged as he swallowed and pushed some more cereal to the side.

"Are you done?"

Another shrug, and then Daniel dropped the spoon noisily into the bowl, splattering cereal and milk over the table. He slid off the chair and walked out of the room.

With a sigh, Jack followed, starting the shower. He met Daniel in the hallway, entering the bathroom with his pjs under his arm as he was returning to the kitchen.

"I'll be downstairs when you're done."

He cleaned the kitchen and picked up a few odds and ends before sauntering down into the den. He relaxed in front of the television for a short while until Daniel joined him, Lumpy clutched beneath one arm.

Daniel plopped down heavily on the couch cushion beside him. He sat there quietly for a short time before heaving himself along the couch. "I'm cold," he announced as his shoulder and chest landed forcefully on Jack's lap, eliciting a pained grunt from him as bones and muscles connected with more sensitive parts of his body.

At one time in the past, such a position would have led to more enjoyable moments, and Jack was glad of the throbbing in his groin as Daniel twisted and squirmed until he was comfortable. He'd turned to face Jack's stomach, his legs curled against the back of the couch, the stuffed camel scrunched between them.

Jack put a hand to Daniel's temple, feeling the heat beneath the still-damp skin. More often than not this fever came whenever Daniel became emotionally over-wrought. Jack wondered, not for the first time, if the emotions were due to the growing chaos that was Daniel's body, or vice-versa.

Despite the Tylenol, Daniel shivered, and Jack pulled the afghan down from the back of the couch and covered him with it. He'd get Daniel into bed in a little while. But in the meantime, he'd just sit here and give Daniel the comfort he wanted.

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There had been no problems today, everything had run smoothly. Daniel had gone into the Center without his usual long face, excited to show his favorite therapist the new drawings he had finished last evening. On Jack's front, the budget had balanced, his inbox was empty and he was able to surprise Daniel and pick him up early. Daniel's cooperation through dinner and his nightly routines had lulled Jack into a false sense of security. He should have known it was too good to last. He should have known that something was going to happen to bring reality crashing down once more.

"It's okay," Jack said breathing through his mouth against the vile odor that permeated the room. He had heard Daniel call his name and before he had a chance to enter the room, the sound of vomiting assaulted his ears. "Ah... Danny."

"Sorry Jack... didn't mean to..." were the only words that Daniel was able to say preceding another round of vomiting. Jack moved quickly, but not quick enough to prevent Daniel from throwing up all over himself and the bedclothes.

* * * * *

Daniel stood forlornly in the corner of the room, his eyes following Jack's movements as he stripped the bed, making a mound of the comforter and the bedding.

"The pillow... my pillow?"

With a sigh of frustration, Jack answered. "Yes, Daniel, your pillow, the pj's, even you, all need to be washed. That's why I have the bath running at..." Jack leaned over to see the SpongeBob clock which sat on the dresser. "Oh two hundred... two–forty five AM."

Jack opened the window to get some fresh, albeit cool, Colorado air into the room. "Why didn't you say you didn't feel good before you went to bed?" Mentally annoyed that the night Daniel chose to upchuck his dinner was the night that he'd managed to eat not only his whole dinner, but had cookies and milk before bed.

Daniel shrugged in response. He wiped the tears from first one eye and then the other with the back of his hand. "I didn't feel bad then, honest, Jack." He drew a ragged breath before continuing. "It... it... it was the dream," he stammered. "I was running in my dream... and I didn't feel good but I was afraid to tell you. I was cold and my stomach hurt." Daniel swallowed audibly. "It hurt bad... right here." Jack's eyes widened as Daniel gingerly touched the site of his appendicitis scar.

"You yelled at me to keep running... that glowy eyes were chasing... but I couldn't... I tried."

"But you did keep running," Jack thought, his heart pounding painfully in his chest as Daniel's nightmare replayed in his mind. "You ran like the wind to save your teammates. Teal'c had been carrying an unconscious Carter and I was covering our six. I yelled at you when you stumbled... I didn't know. You dialed home, punched in the GDO code and got us home ...collapsing the minute your feet hit the ramp."

"I'm sorry, Danny." Touching Daniel's cheek gently, Jack winced at the bloom of fever under his hand. "I didn't know... does your stomach feel better now." Daniel nodded yes before adding that his head hurt.

* * * * *

Jack dumped the comforter and sheets, the pillow cases, the pjs and a cup of detergent into the open washer. He turned it on and leaned against it, cradling his head in his hands. Tired, bone achingly exhausted... he acknowledged that he needed sleep, that Daniel needed sleep. One night of uninterrupted slumber was all he asked for the two of them. With a sigh, he pushed himself off the vibrating machine to call the SGC and let them know he wasn't going to be in today, silently praying that the general was in a forgiving mood when he got the message.

* * * * *

"Damn it, Daniel," Jack yelled, pulling himself up short as he stepped into the bathroom. Willing the vision that appeared before him not to spread south, cursing himself when his cock refused to pay attention to his demands. He took a breath, looking anywhere but at Daniel's bare ass sticking in the air while he searched on his hands and knees for some object on the bathroom floor.

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Jack stepped forward, pulled Daniel to his feet, averting his eyes as he grabbed a towel to wrap around the younger man's waist.

"Where's Lumpy?" he wailed as Jack fit the towel into place. "I can't find Lumpy."

"Daniel... he's in the wash," Jack answered, bending to find Daniel's fresh pajamas amid the scattered towels. "Get dressed."

Shaking his head emphatically, squeezing his eyes closed. "No, no, no, no... how could you? He doesn't swim... that's what you tell me all the time when I want to take him in the bath." Daniel grabbed the proffered night clothes from Jack's outstretched hand. "I gotta go save him."

"Get dressed first," was Jack's curt answer before he stepped outside into the hallway, closing the door behind him.

Jack snaked out his arm, latching onto the sleeve of the shirt as Daniel tried to breeze past him out of the bathroom. "Wait."

Daniel attempted to shake himself loose. "I can't wait."

"You can. Poor Lumpy smelled terrible. And he needed a bath, like you did." He brought Daniel's arm up under his nose and ordered Daniel to sniff. "You smell better, don't you?"

"Yes," Daniel whispered.

"Well, Lumpy needed a bath, too."

"I would have taken him with me... I would have been careful."

"I know you would have, Daniel. Really careful, but Lumpy needs different soap than you."

Jack placed two hands on Daniel's shoulders and guided him to the living room couch. "Rest for awhile, okay. I'm gonna shower and change, too."

"I need Lumpy to sleep."

"I know you do and I'm not asking you to sleep... just rest... put your head on the pillow here." Jack grabbed a pillow from the chair and put it against the arm of the couch. Daniel followed his orders, binding himself in a self hug and shivering slightly. Jack grabbed the afghan from the back of the couch, spreading it over Daniel's figure. "...And I'll cover you."

"Can you put a tape on... the one where SpongeBob rips his pants?" Jack was ready to protest but he could tell by the way that Daniel was pulling at the afghan and worrying his bottom lip that his anxiety level was reaching intolerable levels.

Jack stuck in the tape, turning his back quickly, but not quick enough that he didn't see Daniel rubbing his knuckles against his cheek sans Lumpy. Exasperated, Jack went to the washer, stopping it before the spin cycle was complete. Opening it, he grabbed the soggy, dripping stuffed toy, smirking at his own sappiness as he made eye contact with the inanimate object. He gently placed Lumpy in the dryer... put it on the correct setting... and went to take a shower.

* * * * *

Cursing as he dried himself off, remembering that he had given Daniel neither his allergy medication today nor any aspirin for the nighttime fever, Jack hurried through dressing, slipping into sweatpants and a tee shirt before he was fully dry. Pulling his dry clothes away from his damp body, he rushed down the stairs.

An empty couch, the blanket thrown back, and SpongeBob's maniacal laughter was the only sign of life.

Jack heard him before he actually found him, low mumbling matching the thumping of the dryer. His back to the doorway, Daniel's left shoulder and head were leaning against the dryer, his right hand tracing designs in the tile floor.

Jack squatted behind Daniel, resting his chin on the top of the still damp hair. "Whatcha doing, buddy?" he asked, grimacing at the heat of fever though Daniel's shirt.

"Keeping Lumpy company. I left him behind. No one gets left behind, right Jack?"

"Yup, that's right. I'll be right back."

Jack returned with the afghan, tucking it around Daniel's shoulders and body. Cautiously, he lowered his himself down to the floor, until he was shoulder to shoulder with Daniel. Daniel untucked the woolen afghan and extended a corner to Jack. "Thanks," Jack whispered. "Can I wait with you?"

"Lumpy would like that. So would I."

The two men sat in silence, except for the occasional reassurances Daniel would give to Lumpy when the stuffed toy would make an audible thump inside the dryer. "He's okay, right?" Daniel asked after an incredibly loud thump caused him to jump.

Just as the words of solace were about to pass Jack's lips, the buzzer on the dryer sounded and Daniel leaped to his feet with such speed that for a moment Jack tilted sideways.

"Done... done... come on, Jack... don't be such a slow poke." He extended his hand to help Jack off the floor, shifting from one to foot to another in his excitement, his bare feet making slapping noises against the cold tile.

"Okay, hold your horses, Daniel." Jack opened the lid, reached inside, locating the warm, stuffed camel.

Like a precious artifact, Daniel removed it from Jack's outstretched hands. "Lumpy, you're safe." Daniel inhaled deeply of the toy's freshly laundered "fur," but it wasn't until he rubbed its warm body against his cheek did a look of contentment and ecstasy transform Daniel's features into pure happiness.

He threw his arms around Jack, thanking him profusely for confirming that no one ever gets left behind. Ever.

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"Jack! Jack!" Daniel's excited voice echoed through the house, bringing Jack up from the basement in seconds.

"Daniel? What's wrong?" Jack searched the living room, running his eyes over Daniel, worried that something had happened.

"They're here!" Daniel was running to the front door, pulling it open before Jack had time to ask who.

"Sam, Teal'c. I thought you'd never ever get here. Jack said you had to go away for a few days and that's why you couldn't come and visit me." Jack grinned as he watched Daniel pulling Teal'c's hand to bring him into the house.

"Did you bring me a present?" Daniel asked eagerly.

"Daniel," Jack groaned. He waited until Daniel's attention was on him. "Not good manners."

"Not?" Daniel echoed. He ducked his head, studying his feet. "Sorry," he mumbled, smiling up at them again an instant later. "But Sam, did you bring me some cookies? Remember you said you'd bring me cookies."

Sam laughed and held up the white paper bag from the bakery. "I brought you cookies, Daniel. Your very favorite."

Daniel took the bag, opening it with a sideways glance at Jack.

"How about we save the cookies for after dinner, Daniel?" Jack asked softly. "You want to have room for hamburgers, after all."

Daniel caught his lower lip between his teeth. "But I want room for cookies, too." He sighed and handed the bag to Jack.

"Hey, Teal'c." He grabbed at the Jaffa's hand. "You wanna see my room? I got new toys."

"I must speak with O'Neill first, DanielJackson." Jack felt unease curling in his stomach as Teal'c spoke.

"Sam? You come?" Daniel searched her face. "Please?"

"I'm sorry. But I need to speak to the colonel, too," Carter said softly.

"Daniel?" Jack loosened the death grip on the cookie bag. This was so not going to be good news. He forced a smile on his face, seeing Daniel's anxiety beginning to mirror his own. "Why don't you take these to the kitchen? Do you think you can get out the silverware, the plates and the glasses, and put them on the table? That would be a big help. Then once I grill the burgers we'll be ready to chow down."

Daniel took the proffered bag. "I won't eat any of them. I promise." Trusting blue eyes studied Jack. "I'll do a good job. I will."

"I know you will, buddy." Jack cupped the back of Daniel's head in his hand, needing the reassurance more than he supposed Daniel did.

"How many glasses and plates?" Daniel held up his hand, pressing his palm against Jack's, his long fingers warm and strong.

"How many of us are there?" Jack ignored the small noise from Carter, didn't dare to look at her as she excused herself to use the bathroom.

Daniel pointed to Jack, to Teal'c, down the hall, and finally to himself, his counting a low whisper. "Four?"

Jack smiled, folding down Daniel's thumb. "Four, exactly right." He touched each of Daniel's fingers. "One," he waited for Daniel to repeat the number, "two, three, and four."

"Four," Daniel said, nodding. "I can do that." He nodded once more, looking at his extended fingers and then walked to the kitchen muttering the numbers over and over.

Jack waited until Daniel was in the kitchen before motioning Teal'c towards the sofa.

Carter came back into the living room, her eyes and nose slightly reddened.

"I heard from my dad, sir." Carter had a tissue in her hands which was slowly being shredded. "Selmac says that if the damage has been caused by the repeated use of the torture device, there's nothing that even the Tok'ra can do, unless Daniel would be willing to be blended. And even then, it's not a sure they'd be able to repair all the damage."

Jack collapsed onto the sofa cushions. "No, he's not going to be turned into a snake. That's not acceptable."

"For you, sir. We don't know what Daniel would want."

"MajorCarter, I believe that O'Neill is saying DanielJackson is incapable of making that decision for himself now."

"But sir, Teal'c, do you think Daniel wants to live this way?"

"Carter." Jack placed his head in his hands.

She sat down in the recliner, perched on the edge. "I'm sorry, sir."

"The Nox send their greetings."

"And?" Jack knew the news was not good. There was no miracle in the wings, no healing of the damaged brain. And it figured that they'd finally hear from two of their allies now, after all these months. The tiny hope he'd been nurturing suddenly winked out.

"Lya of the Nox regrets that they cannot restore DanielJackson to his former self. She sends a message to you. You are to find the blessings in this situation, O'Neill, and enjoy the moments that are, not the moments that are to be or were."

Jack nodded, unable to say more than a rough, "yeah." Daniel was alive, he had to remember that. He was different but he was alive.

Arms twined around his neck from behind and two hands covered his eyes.

"Guess who?" Daniel giggled.

"Hmm..." Jack covered Daniel's hands with his own. "Teal'c?"

"Nope."

"Carter?"

"Sam's got squishier hands than me." The giggle grew louder.

Jack heard Carter's very unladylike snort at that comment. "I just don't know who it could be. Carter, Teal'c, any suggestions?"

"Maybe it's General Hammond." Carter joined in the game.

Daniel's laugh grew from a giggle to a belly laugh. He took his hands off Jack's eyes to put a finger to his lips.

"Don't tell him it's me," Daniel warned.

"O'Neill, whatever you do, do not guess that it is DanielJackson."

"You know, it's a shame that Daniel isn't here. There's gonna to be plenty of hamburgers and cookies for dessert." Jack was rewarded with a hug around his neck. He tilted his head back to look up into Daniel's smiling face.

"It's me, Jack. And I'm getting really, really hungry," Daniel said. "You better go cook. And don't burn them. I don't like them burned. Sam said she's always ready to call the fire trucks when you cook on the fire."

"Does she now?" Jack got up slowly, loosening Daniel's strangle hold around his neck. "Well, I think then that maybe Carter should help me cook, since I'm so bad at it."

Daniel held his hand up to his mouth as he laughed. "Good, 'cause then Teal'c and me can play some games. You wanna play some games with me, Teal'c?"

"I would be most honored to match my skills against yours." Teal'c inclined his head to Daniel.

"Does that mean yes?" Daniel asked. Jack pointed for Carter to follow him to the kitchen. He just knew he was going to lose his battle with the laughter at that.

"Indeed it does," he heard Teal'c say.

* * * * *

Jack placed the burgers on the table and went to the living room, ready to yell his usual, "Chow's on." He stopped at the scene before him, though.

The Candy Land board was on the coffee table between Daniel and Teal'c and Teal'c was making what looked like his final move.

"I have reached the finish line."

Even from his position, Jack could see Daniel's downcast expression.

"That means you win the game. Again." Daniel sighed. He brought his arm up to his face, rubbing his eyes with his sweatshirt cuff.

Teal'c studied the forlorn figure seated on the floor across from him. "I shall endeavor to lose the next time." At Daniel's shaky sigh, Teal'c moved from his position to kneel next to Daniel. He placed one large hand on Daniel's head, stroking the short hair.

"I am sorry," Teal'c spoke in a low voice. "I am sorry that I am unable to assist you in this trial. I am sorry that I failed you when we were captured by Wepwawet."

Jack swallowed hard, his eyes caught by Teal'c's as the Jaffa looked up from his position on the floor. He hadn't realized, hadn't known that Teal'c carried guilt from the disastrous mission, too. Jack closed his eyes, took a deep breath and forced a smile on his face.

"Chow's on. Anybody who wants anything to eat better hurry before Carter scarfs it all down."

Daniel looked up from his study of the floor and smiled at Jack, the lost game forgotten. "Can Teal'c and me play one more game?"

"After supper, Daniel. Okay?" Jack promised. "The food will get cold otherwise."

"Okey dokey." Daniel scrambled to his feet. "Teal'c, after supper, we'll play chest. I'm real good at that one, right, Jack?"

"Right," Jack agreed as six feet of exuberant Daniel grabbed him in a hug. "Chess it is."

* * * * *

Jack leaned back in his deck chair drinking the last of his iced tea. Teal'c and Daniel were currently engaged in their second game of chess on the picnic table while Carter sat on the steps looking into the yard and munching on her cookie.

Daniel stood up, evidently growing bored with the game, and threw his head back. "Look, look!"

"What?" Jack got up, going to stand next to Daniel and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Look at the sky!"

Jack smiled at Daniel and then at Teal'c. "Lots of stars tonight, huh?"

Daniel smiled back and walked down the first two steps of the deck before jumping off the final three.

Jack shook his head. This new Daniel had little sense of self-preservation when it came to exploring the world, although come to think of it, the old Daniel was always one to rush in where angels feared to tread.

"Teal'c. C'mon out here and look." Daniel motioned excitedly. He sat on the grass and then threw himself backwards, lying with arms outstretched, to view the wonders of the night sky.

Teal'c finished putting the game pieces back in the box and went to join his friend. Jack shook his head in amusement. Who would have thought that Teal'c would seemingly have the least trouble accepting this new, changed Daniel?

Jack lowered himself on the stair next to Carter.

"Is he happy, sir?" she asked, her eyes fixed on Daniel as he lay in the grass pointing out the appearing stars to Teal'c.

Jack watched the two, the Jaffa's voice a low counterpart to Daniel's excited questions. "You tell me."

Carter watched, a sad smile gracing her lips. "He seems happy."

"We've got to accept him as he is. No matter how much—" He broke off as Daniel called his name.

"Jack, why are they so little? How many stars are there?"

"They're very far away. Miles and miles and miles. And how many? Millions. Billions."

"Billions," Daniel repeated before turning his attention back to Teal'c. "That's a lot?"

"Indeed. That is the Big Dipper." Teal'c motioned and took Daniel's hand to point out the stars when Daniel seemed confused.

"It's just so... it feels final now, if that makes any sense?" Carter stared down at her clasped hands, her voice barely carrying. "Before, there seemed like there was hope. Now..."

"What's it dipping?" Daniel demanded.

"Yeah, I know what you mean." Jack stared up into the twinkling sky. If only it were as easy as wishing upon a star, make your wish come true.

"My dad said he was coming to visit. He... he says he's sorry, sir."

"It does not dip anything. It is only the name that the Tau'ri have given the star pattern."

Jack heard Carter's soft chuckle at that exchange.

"And there is the Little Dipper."

"I guess that doesn't dip anything either." Daniel sounded disgusted. "Look, Teal'c!" He pointed to the stars excitedly once more.

"What do you see?"

"SpongeBob. See, he's right there." Jack laughed as Daniel sketched a pattern with his right index finger.

"Yes, I believe you are correct. That does indeed look like the sponge that wears pants even though he has no need."

"Hey, Jack? What are the stars made of?"

"Gasses and other stuff."

"Like the gas you put in the truck?"

"No, not like that." Jack looked helplessly at Carter who was smiling broadly, enjoying the show.

"Oh, then like the other gas. You know when we ate chili the other night and—"

"Daniel, no. Not like that gas either. Tell you what. When we go shopping tomorrow, how about we find a book about the stars?" Jack thought maybe he could find the energy to take out his telescope, introduce Daniel to stargazing.

"Okay," Daniel agreed. "Teal'c, show me some more."

The voices grew quieter then. Jack waved off Carter's offer of assistance as he began cleaning the remains of their meal from the table. It could have been any other night that SG-1 had experienced. Back from a mission, having dinner together on a fine summer's evening except, Jack thought as he scraped the plates into the garbage disposal, there was no anticipation of the next mission. No Daniel expounding on the culture they were likely to encounter. He finished putting the dishes in the dishwasher and went out on to the deck once more, resting his hands on the railing and looking at Teal'c and Daniel.

Sprawled in the yard, Daniel was still looking up at the sky with wide-eyed wonder, arguing with Teal'c over the names of the constellations. As if he sensed Jack's presence, Daniel sat up.

"Jack?" he called. "Can we count the stars?"

"Not tonight. Maybe someday, okay?"

Daniel got up, coming over to the deck. "When I get smart again? Then?"

Jack couldn't speak for a long moment. "You are smart. Just not enough time tonight. It's getting pretty late."

Daniel nodded. "Okay." He went to the door. "I'll be right back. I gotta get something in my room."

Jack shrugged at Carter's and Teal'c's questioning looks. "Who knows?" He certainly didn't. He'd never been able to keep up with a thirty-six year old Daniel. How embarrassing was it that he was having trouble keeping up with the way a five year old Daniel's mind worked?

Daniel came out less than five minutes later, a book in one hand, Lumpy firmly tucked under the other arm. He nudged Jack with one foot, a move Jack remembered from countless times they'd watched TV while relaxing on the sofa. Daniel always did like his fair amount of space.

Jack grunted and obligingly got up, Daniel promptly placing himself by Carter's side.

He offered the book to her. "Here, Sam. Read me a story."

Even from his position behind the two, Jack could hear Carter's audible swallow.

"Sure," she said.

Jack settled back on his deck chair, Teal'c taking the one beside him.

"The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein," Carter began and Daniel moved closer to her.

Light from the kitchen spilled a golden glow on Carter and Daniel, Carter's voice soft and strong as she read.

"Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy."

Jack watched as Daniel slipped one arm around Carter's waist, his head coming to rest on her shoulder.

Carter didn't pause in her reading, but slowly she brought up her hand to stroke Daniel's hair.

The words washed over them all in the calm summer evening. It was different, Jack knew, but it felt right.

"But the boy stayed away for a long time and the tree was sad."

"Jack's sad," Daniel said, startling them all. "He's sad like the tree is sad because the other Daniel went away."

Carter looked back at Jack in alarm not knowing what to say.

"But the boy always comes back. Maybe the other Daniel will come back, too." Daniel sighed.

"Sir, I..." Carter bowed her head.

Jack closed his eyes.

"I'll always come back, Jack."

"I know," Jack whispered. He went over to sit on the step above them, leaning forward to place a kiss on Daniel's temple, sorrow filling his heart when he realized that now, when Daniel couldn't ever be his lover again, it was okay for him to show the affection he and Daniel shared. "Now let's let Carter finish the story."

Daniel nodded. "Read, Sam."

Carter nodded and began reading once more, Daniel giving happy sighs as the boy returned to the tree time and again.

"Come boy. Sit down. Sit down and rest. And the boy did. And the tree was very happy."

"The End," Daniel finished for her. "That's a good story, Sam. Isn't it?"

"Very good." She kissed him on the top of his head. Jack could see Carter's hands shaking as she closed the book.

"Daniel, we have a lot to do this weekend. Grocery shopping tomorrow, zoo on Sunday. Why don't you go get ready for bed? Go put your pjs on, okay?"

"Don't be sad. The tree was happy, remember? The boy came home to her." Daniel gave Carter a rough squeeze before he got up. "You can read it again if you want. Shower, Jack?" Daniel asked as he passed by, his voice reminiscent of times that Daniel's teasing and urgings to get Jack into the shower with him.

Jack swallowed hard, fighting the emotions that one question brought raging to the fore.

"I'll be in a minute. Get your towel and your stuff, okay?"

"I love you, Jack," Daniel gave him a gentle hug for seemingly no reason at all.

"I love you, too," Jack whispered. "Now skedaddle."

* * * * *

"But I'm not tired," Daniel insisted. The effect Daniel obviously hoped for was lost when he yawned, but Jack was ready to ward off the arguments.

"Why don't you lie down right here on the couch and just rest? Carter, Teal'c, and I are going to be right in the kitchen so if you need anything, all you have to do is call." Jack patted the sofa cushions, urging Daniel to stretch out.

"And you'll be here lickety split," Daniel yawned, echoing the words Jack used every night as he left Daniel alone in his room.

"That's right, lickety split." Jack paused a moment, looking down at Daniel's relaxed position and hoped that for tonight Daniel wasn't going to have a nightmare.

"Sir?" Carter asked as she sat down at the kitchen table. "You're not going to let him sleep there all night are you? You don't have to carry him to bed, do you?"

Jack chuckled. "Carter, how many years have we been managing to get a half-asleep Daniel to go where we want him to?"

"Too many," Teal'c said dryly. Jack studied his face and then smiled at the small upraised turn of Teal'c's lips.

Carter laughed. "I forgot about that. Do you remember the time we were on P11-699?"

"The mud planet?" Jack quickly ran through missions in his mind.

Carter nodded. "Daniel insisted that there was a temple under all that mud and he kept digging and digging."

"And digging and digging," Teal'c added. "Despite our requests for him to stop."

"We had to practically throw him in that hot spring to get him clean enough to take back to camp." Jack smiled at the memory. Daniel, warm and relaxed, nearly falling asleep on his feet as he was gently but firmly guided back to camp.

"I remember when DanielJackson decided to participate in the Ganneshian's rituals on P2W-010," Teal' started. "MajorCarter advised him that..."

Jack relaxed as Carter and Teal'c shared memories of past missions, enjoying their company. He missed the camaraderie that had been so much a part of their days on base, Daniel's absence an open wound at present.

"No!" The scream from the living room had them all on their feet, Teal'c's chair clattering to the floor as he stood.

"No!" Daniel screamed again. "No needles, no more needles, please!" The screams were giving way to a half terrified sobbing.

Jack knelt by the sofa, stroking Daniel's cheek, shaking his shoulder. "Wake up, Daniel!" he ordered. "Wake up!"

"Don't leave me here. No!" Daniel shook with fear. "I'm not crazy, I'm not." His eyes were open, but Jack knew Daniel was not with them. He pulled his legs up, scooting back on the sofa until he was huddled against the bolster. "No more needles."

"Daniel!" Jack said sharply, hoping to break through the fear.

Daniel blinked rapidly, trying to focus, Jack surmised. "I'm sorry." He ducked his head down to his knees.

"It's okay. C'mon, it's okay," Jack soothed, withdrawing his hand as Daniel batted it away.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm such a headcase."

"Oh, God." Jack felt his heart sink to somewhere in the vicinity of his ankles. He glanced back at Carter who had that same stricken look she'd had years ago in the padded cell.

"Daniel?" she whispered in a strangled voice.

"Wake up, DanielJackson," Teal'c reached towards Daniel. "You are having a bad dream."

Daniel brought his hands up in front of his body. "No needles. I said, no needles. Don't give me any more drugs. I'm not crazy. The voices—"

"Daniel." Jack caught one of Daniel's hands, rubbing his thumb across Daniel's knuckles. "It's just a dream. Not real, not real."

"It went into..." Daniel closed his eyes and then opened them, searching the room frantically. "Teal'c?" he asked then he took a deep breath before sitting up. He grabbed at Teal'c's arm. "It's in you. It is!"

Jack slid onto the couch beside Daniel. "Danny, it's just a bad dream. C'mon. Come out of it."

Daniel shivered once, convulsively and then looked at Jack. "No needles? Promise? No needles?"

"I promise. There are no needles here." Jack kept his voice soft and low.

"I was in a bad place. All white. All white and soft and you left me. I was alone, all alone."

Jack looked up at Carter and Teal'c seeing understanding dawn in their eyes. "I know. But you're here now. Safe with us."

"Don't leave me alone, Jack. You don't want to but you do. You are." Daniel hugged Jack's waist and placed his head on Jack's shoulder. "Don't go away like you did before."

"I won't." Jack rocked slightly. "I won't."

"Nor will I." Teal'c rested his hand on Daniel's hair.

"We're here. We're here for you." Carter squeezed his hand.

Daniel nodded against Jack's shoulder and closed his eyes. They sat like that for a time until Jack felt Daniel's tense muscles begin to relax and his own heartbeat begin to slow.

"Sir, I think that Teal'c and I should be going." She nodded towards Daniel who was half-asleep once more.

She patted Daniel's knee. "Good night. I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"

"Uh huh." Daniel yawned. "Tomorrow." He pulled away from Jack, sitting up despite his tiredness. "Thanks for the cookies, Sam. Jack doesn't ever bring me cookies." That comment was accompanied by a blue-eyed puppy dog look at Jack.

Jack forbore making any comment for the present time.

"Good night, DanielJackson." Teal'c inclined his head.

Daniel smiled up at him. "See you later, alligator."

"DanielJackson, why would you compare me to a reptile? Alligators do not even inhabit Colorado."

"No, no, Teal'c." Daniel shook his head in despair, "I say, 'See you later, alligator', and then you say, 'After a while, crocodile'. Okay?"

"I understand."

"Okay then. See you later, alligator." Daniel looked expectantly at Teal'c.

"After a while, crocodile," Teal'c intoned. Jack smiled at him and he would have sworn that Teal'c winked at him as he turned.

Daniel crawled up onto his knees to watch Teal'c and Carter leave by the front door. He hugged Jack when he came back to the sofa.

"This was a fun night, Jack." He sighed happily.

"You know what? It was; it really was," Jack agreed and urged him to stand so he could lead a pliant Daniel towards his room. "Now go to sleep."

"Uh huh." Daniel obeyed, pulling his blanket closer to his chin. "Jack?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry."

"Daniel?" Jack frowned. "What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry that I'm a blessing." Daniel wouldn't look at Jack. "I heard Teal'c tell you I'm a blessing. And I don't know what a blessing is but I think it's bad. Does it mean that I forget how to do lots of stuff and can't read and remember my numbers? Is that why people don't like me?"

"It doesn't mean any of that." Jack rubbed a slow circle on Daniel's back. "Blessings aren't bad. They're wonderful. They're like presents. You don't know what's inside but it's something special and you love it just because it's yours."

"So it's good I'm a blessing?" Daniel smiled hesitantly.

"It's good, Daniel. It's very, very good." Jack smiled back and leaned over to kiss Daniel's forehead. "Now, get to sleep. It'll be morning before you know it."

"Okay," Daniel whispered. "Good night, Jack."

"Night." Jack patted Daniel's shoulder once and then left the room, thinking of what he'd just said. Maybe Lya had been more right than Jack was willing to accept at first.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"It's my turn."

"I do believe you are incorrect, DanielJackson. Has not your dragon depleted all of its lives?"

Another weekend. Another barbeque. The summer seemed to be speeding by faster than a flipping cartoon calendar, Jack acknowledged as he stood in the doorway, smiling at the common exchange. Daniel and Teal'c were sitting on the floor in the den, immersed in playing video games, Daniel losing, changing the rules, and Teal'c was doing the usual song and dance routine. Offering just that little bit of an argument so Daniel wouldn't think he was pulling the wool over his eyes.

"You are truly a master at this game."

Daniel flung his arm around Teal'c's shoulders and hugged the big guy close. "That's okay, Teal'c, practice makes perfect, that's what Jack always tells me."

Jack decided it was time to just add his own two cents. "Teal'c's not going to be able to practice if you don't give him a chance to play." He dropped down on the couch behind the two men.

"Oh. Hi, Jack." Daniel tilted his head backwards, blinking up at Jack. "Teal'c was watching me so he could play better."

"He was?" Jack chose not to mention that Teal'c had been learning the finer points of the same game for weeks now.

"I am indeed. I am honored to be instructed by a master of this game, such as DanielJackson and can only thank my friend for his patience and fortitude in allowing me—"

Jack leaned forward and patted Teal'c on the shoulder. "We get the hint." He slapped his hands on his thighs and stood. "Let Teal'c play, Daniel, dinner is in ten minutes."

Daniel was already informing Teal'c the exact error of his ways by the time Jack had walked to the door. Jacob moved to the side, giving Jack access to pass. "Kids," Jack said to Jacob, positive the older man would understand his reference. He was a little put out when his answer was a stiff shake of his head and tightly pursed lips.

* * * * *

"Okay, Jacob, spit it out!" Jack tossed the garbage in the outside pail then began to drag it down to the street, Jacob hot on his heels. Curbside, he turned, yielding the garbage pail lid like a shield. "What bug has been up your ass all day?"

Today had been an impromptu barbeque and Jack had been looking forward to seeing Jacob, but he'd been taken back by the man's silence the entire day.

"It's Daniel."

"No," Jack replied emphatically, slamming the cover onto the pail.

"You don't even know what I'm going to ask."

"Go ahead, feel free, ask it, the answer will still be no!"

Jacob dropped his head.

"Oh, jeeze. Selmak, go home." Jack waved his hands all around, not even giving the Tok'ra a chance to speak. "This isn't between me and you. Hell, this isn't even between me and your host. The decision is mine and Daniel is not, get this, not getting snaked."

"Colonel O'Neill." The timbre of the Tok'ra voice was unmistakable and as soon as Jack heard it, he angrily rushed past him, shoving Jacob out of his way.

"I'm sorry."

Jack stopped. "Me, too."

Jacob walked around Jack, and turned to face him. "Damn it, Jack, why not?"

"How can you even ask me that?" Jack scrubbed at his face, feeling tired and very old all of a sudden. Older than he had a right to be. "No offense, Jacob, but Daniel would rather die than have a snake in his head."

"He's not dead, Jack. He's worse than dead."

"Fuck you," Jack hissed, leaning into Jacob's face. "Get out of my house. Do me a favor, you and all your Tok'ra buddies—"

"Daniel's intellect was the biggest part of him. He lived each day because he wanted to learn. How do you think he would feel knowing he can't even read, tie his own shoes... his friends have become his guardians, wiping his nose, his ass—"

"Shut up! Just shut the hell up."

Jacob grabbed Jack's arms and forced him through the open back gate to observe Daniel laying on his stomach on a blanket in the backyard, drawing with his crayons. "You need to see."

"I see every day."

"I know you do. But I'm asking you to think about something. What would Daniel hate more? A snake in his head that would help him regain what he has lost? Or spending the rest of his life with the mental capacity of a five year old?"

* * * * *

"I had fun today." Daniel moved over in the bed, patting the space next to him.

"I'm glad you had a good day. So did I."

Jack sat in his proffered spot and settled back into the pillows Daniel had already placed against the headboard. Then as soon as his ass was in the bed, Daniel snuggled up to him, then picked up Jack's empty hands and examined them. "No books tonight?"

"Nope, no books." Jack squeezed the hand in his. "I'm going to tell you a story."

"I like stories."

"Good. I hope you like this one."

Daniel sighed once, and relaxed against Jack.

"Once upon a time..."

Daniel giggled.

"I know. I know they all begin like that. It's a requirement, though." Jack lifted his head and kissed Daniel's temple, procuring another giggle for the effort. Daniel lifted Lumpy up and fit him between their two bodies. "Lumpy wants to listen, too."

"Good, I hope he's quieter than you are. Now let's see, where was I?"

"Once upon a time?"

"Bingo, thanks Daniel. Once upon a time there was a little boy who lived with his family in a wonderful village. He wasn't the smartest boy, or the bravest, or the strongest, but he was the happiest boy because he lived with people that loved him. He loved to run in the fields and just walk the dirt paths and visit all the people that lived on the neighboring farms. And then one day a sickness came to the town and the little boy got sick and his family sat by his bedside, hoping he would get well again and smile for them."

"Did he?"

"Of course he did. But the family learned that their little boy, with the best smile, couldn't walk anymore, no matter what they did for him. And so he would sit in his house and just stare at the fields and the roads he used to travel. Time passed, and the little boy adjusted. His father would pull him in a wagon so he could go visiting, and eventually the boy smiled again.

"The king who lived in the castle had heard of the little boy's plight and he called upon his court magicians to ask if they could make the boy walk again. After two weeks of searching they found the potion that would restore the boy's ability to walk.

"But there was a hitch. The king had only daughters and wanted a son of his own very badly. So he approached the parents and promised them that their little boy would walk again if he would come and live with him. The little boy was overjoyed and the parents, though devastated that their son would have another family, also felt joy that he would again be walking."

"I don't like that story. Not at all." Daniel began switch Lumpy's head back and forth.

"I really wasn't finished."

"What were you going to say? That he lived happily ever after? He was stupid. Stupider than me. He had family and people who loved him. He gave it up so he could walk again? Who would he walk with? The selfish king? That's no fair. No fair. I hate the story. He was dumb and the story's dumb."

"I'm sorry that you didn't like it. This one is your choice. You pick what I should read." Jack gestured to the overflowing bookshelf in Daniel's room.

"No," Daniel yawned. "I want to fix the story."

"Fix it?"

"Yup. So everyone can have a happy ending."

"Okay, you fix it."

"See, the little boy wanted to walk really badly, so badly that he almost went to live with king, but he changed his mind. Being loved was better than walking, I think." Daniel hugged Lumpy tightly to his chest. "Because once he started to walk, where was he going to walk? I bet the king would be so afraid of losing him he wouldn't let him out to walk in the fields or the roads. He would be a prisoner in the castle. No one wants to ever be a prisoner. So the boy and his parents lived happily ever after. The end."

"What about the king, he wasn't happy."

"Yes he was. 'Cause he could visit the boy any time he wanted. The boy didn't have to live with him to make him happy. Maybe they could adopt the king like a pretend Grandpa, like we did with Grandpa George." Daniel yawned. "Now can that be the end?"

"Yup. You gave the story a perfect ending."

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"I got it! I got it!"

Laughing, Daniel ran towards the lake, moving to intercept the flying Frisbee that Kayla had tossed. His long legs beat the younger children to it and Jack was relieved to see Daniel taking particular care around them. He missed the Frisbee, but snatched it up from the sandy beach and awkwardly threw it towards Kayla and Tessa. It skidded a few feet and landed upside down on the grass.

Tessa ran for it, picked it up and with much greater skill, threw the Frisbee towards Cassie.

Jack could see Hammond's granddaughters had been grilled about being polite to Daniel, but he didn't miss the older of the two rolling her eyes at her younger sister with a toss of her head in Daniel's direction.

Cassie threw the Frisbee back towards Daniel. Her aim was perfect and it hit his chest. He grabbed it with both arms, holding it against him, caught it awkwardly as it slipped from his grasp, then threw it back towards Tessa before running after the girls as the Frisbee went soaring into a nearby field.

"It's nice to see Daniel having fun." Hammond handed Jack a beer, and Jack nodded his agreement. "Think he enjoyed his birthday?"

"Without a doubt. Thank you for this." Jack used the bottle to indicate the lake and the cabin as he leaned against the veranda's wooden railing, the beer bottle cold and wet against his palm.

"Don't thank me until you've tasted my cooking."

"If you're trying to scare me, sir, it's not working. That's why you invited Fraiser, isn't it?"

"I heard that, Colonel." Dressed in shorts and a halter top, the CMO stepped to the cooler on the veranda and helped herself to a beer. "It's always nice to know you're wanted."

Jack took a sip of the cold brew and winked. "Always, Doc. When it comes to Daniel, it's very reassuring to know you're only a whistle away."

They all watched as Daniel ran across the field towards the cabin with Kayla and Tessa chasing him. The girls were screeching at him to give the Frisbee back but Daniel quickly outdistanced them. He stopped at the edge of the field, turned, and threw the Frisbee their way. With another round of squeals, the girls turned and chased the toy. Daniel began running again, quickly overtaking them and leaving them behind. Cassie wasn't far behind him but Daniel reached the Frisbee and grabbed it, turned, and threw it again, aiming over the girls' heads.

This time his throw was awkward and Kayla caught it. She sent the toy whizzing towards the lake and Daniel began running after it, but after a few strides he tripped and disappeared from sight.

Jack straightened, waiting anxiously. Cassie must have heard him go down because she stopped to look behind her. She'd only taken one step towards Daniel when his head appeared above the long grass. He slowly stood, looked around to get bearings, then walked slowly towards Cassie. Jack saw them talking and Daniel nodding his head. Then together they ran towards the lake, where Hammond's granddaughters had given up the Frisbee and were jumping up and down on the small sandy beach.

"Grandpa, can we go swimming now?"

"Sure, sweetheart. Come and put your bathing suits on." Hammond turned to Jack. "You did remember to bring yours and Daniel's?"

"As if Daniel would let me forget. Let me get our stuff out of the truck." Jack put his beer down and hurried to the Avalanche, sidestepping Kayla and Tessa as they rushed into Hammond's cabin.

Jack had to push away the stash of birthday gifts to get to their bags. He took all three from the truck, and from his, removed a large bath towel, sunscreen, and Daniel's trunks. He put them aside, waiting for Daniel as he stopped to talk to Carter and Teal'c who had been exploring the small grounds.

Kayla and Tessa changed with record speed and a minute later they were running to the lake. "I'd better go supervise," Hammond said with a resigned smile. He followed them, and set up an Adirondack chair beneath the shade of a large tree just to the side of the small pier.

"You planning on going in?" Jack took a sip of beer and looked sideways at Fraiser.

"Nope. Although I have no objections to sitting on the deck and soaking my feet. What about you?"

Kayla jumped into the water, but the older sister stood at the edge of the shore, water lapping over her ankles as she obviously was more reticent about getting wet.

"Soaking sounds good." He turned his attention to Daniel as he ran to stand right below Jack, staring up at him, eyes shining in excitement.

"Jack, can I go swimming, too?" There was dried grass in his hair and grass stains on his pants and shirt.

"Here, you can go change inside." Jack handed him his trunks.

"Okay." Daniel grabbed the item from Jack's hands and hurried inside. Cassie and Carter walked up slowly to the cabin, and while Carter rummaged through her bag for her bathing suit, without a word, Fraiser handed her daughter hers.

Daniel rushed out of the cabin, his clothes in a bundle beneath his arm. "Okay, I'm ready." He thrust the clothes into Jack's arms and hurried towards the beach, running awkwardly in his bare feet on the graveled path.

"Daniel. Glasses."

Daniel stopped, turned around and hobbled back towards Jack and handed him his glasses. Jack pocketed the lenses and laid Daniel's clothes over the veranda and with a tilt towards the water, said to Fraiser, "Shall we?"

Tessa by now had joined her sister. Daniel had run into the water but had stopped. Knee deep, he was shifting around awkwardly.

"Jack, this feels funny on my feet. It doesn't feel like the pool."

"Of course it doesn't, son." Hammond leaned forward in his chair as Jack and Fraiser moved onto the pier. "It's mud, not cement."

"Mud? Is that why it's all sticky between my toes?"

"That's exactly why."

"I don't like it." Daniel came out of the water and wiped his feet on the sand.

"Daniel, it's just mud." Jack sat down at the edge of the small pier and took his shoes and socks off. "It won't bite." He rolled his pants up to his knees and dangled his feet into the cool water. Fraiser kicked her sandals off and did the same.

"It's all squishy. I don't like squishy."

"I don't blame you, Daniel. I don't like it much myself." Hammond waved towards the water. "Why don't you try walking a little deeper? It gets sandier farther out."

Tentatively, Daniel stepped back into the water, this time making it out until the water was up to his thighs.

"Why's there things growing in the water?"

"Those are just weeds, son."

Then one of the girls squealed, laughing. "A fish is nibbling on my toes."

With a loud yell, Daniel ran back to the shore in a spray of water. He stood there, arms wrapped around himself, staring at Jack with a desperate look on his face. "I don't want fish biting my toes. No way. No sir. Jack, there are fish in the lake."

Unable to help from laughing, Jack held an arm out for Daniel to join them. "C'mon and sit here with me and the doc."

"But I wanted to go swimming."

"Then you'll have to swim with the fish."

"The fishies won't bite you, Daniel." As it to prove her point, Tessa threw herself backwards into the water, and immediately began dog paddling towards the deck.

Daniel stepped onto the floating platform, making it sway with his weight. He sat beside Jack, his feet and legs dripping onto the wooden slats as he huddled close.

"Tessa's right, Daniel. The fish won't bother you. Anyways, you're much bigger than they are."

"I don't want fishes. I want it to be like the pool at the Center."

"Hold on a second, Daniel. I have an idea." Hammond got up and went to a small utility shed close by, coming back out a moment later with a small inflatable raft. "You might like this better." Using a bicycle pump, he inflated the raft and threw it into the water. "Go lie down on that, Daniel. That way your feet won't touch the bottom."

"But the fishies, Grandpa George."

"The fish will swim around you but they won't come up to the top."

Daniel hitched his shoulder up to his ear, then with an uncertain look, got up and waded back into the water, wincing and grimacing as he made his way to the raft. He jumped on it, wiggled around until he was comfortable, and was soon paddling around the girls, his fear of the fish forgotten.

Carter and Cassie joined them, swimming circles around Daniel, who tried to follow them on the float. Pretty soon he lost his fear and slid off the raft, swimming awkwardly but enthusiastically.

Jack kept a sharp eye on Daniel, and he saw that Carter never swam far away from him. Teal'c, who'd settled himself beside Hammond, also kept an eye.

"Jack, Jack, lookit me!" Daniel swam to the pier, spluttering slightly before he reached up and reached a hand onto the wooden boards. Carter swam easily up to him and with a wink at Jack, dove under water and caught Daniel's foot. He squealed, threw himself back into the water, splashing both Jack and Fraiser.

"Looks like he's having a good day."

"Considering the way you guys spoiled him? How could he not." Jack swatted away a fly that was buzzing around his beer. "It's hard to believe, but he's actually had a really good week. You think, maybe, whatever's been making him sick is starting to settle down? You know, like his body's adapting to it?"

"After all these months?" Fraiser frowned as she removed her sunglasses to wipe the droplets of water splattered over them. "It's possible, but unlikely. I think it's just like you said - a particularly good week. But of course I could be wrong."

"So I shouldn't get my hopes up?"

She put a hand on his knee. "No, sir, I'm sorry. I'd suggest you just take days like this and treasure them."

"Yeah," Jack sighed.

"Well, I think I'd better get the charcoal heated." Hammond slapped his thighs as he stood and stretched.

"Need a hand, sir?"

"No, I'm fine. The day I can't dump a bag of charcoal onto a BBQ and light it is the day I retire from the SGC." Hammond huffed up the small hill towards the cabin. "Although you can give the kids another twenty minutes and then haul their butts out of the water and get them dressed in time for supper."

"Will do."

"I need another beer." Fraiser stood. "You want another?"

"Sure." Jack drained the last of his brew and handed Fraiser the empty. Daniel came paddling up to the pier once more, breathing heavily as he floated beside Jack.

"Why don't you come and play, Jack? It's really fun."

"Sure looks like fun. But I'm fine right here." He took the fresh beer from Fraiser and took a long swig as the four others swam to the pier.

"You sure you don't want to join us, Uncle Jack?" Cassie splashed some water towards him, earning her a warning from her mother.

"Yeah, we're having lots of fun," Tessa chimed in.

"I'm sure you are. But swimming looks like hard work and old guys like me sometimes like to just sit back and relax."

"You're not old, Jack." Daniel moved around Kayla and put a hand on Jack's upper leg. His fingers were cold against Jack's skin.

"Yeah, tell me another, sir," Carter replied with a sly grin.

"Grampa comes swimming with us sometimes, and he's not as old as you," Kayla stated primly.

"Grandpa is too older. Colonel Jack just looks older because his hair is white."

"Grey. It's grey." Jack self-consciously rubbed a hand through his short strands.

"Grampa isn't older."

"Tessa, Uncle George is older than Uncle Jack." Before an argument could break out, Cassie threw herself back into the water. "Bet I can swim to that rock faster than you can."

With shrieks the two younger girls started swimming after Cassie. Carter and Daniel remained where they were. Daniel shifted to watch them and Jack noted the burgeoning redness across Daniel's shoulders along with the goose bumps that had sprouted down along his arms. Jack realized he'd forgotten to put suntan lotion on Daniel.

"Okay, Daniel, I think it's time you got out of the water."

"No. It's still early."

"And you're sunburned and I don't want you catching a chill. C'mon and sit with me." Jack opened the sun-warmed towel he'd brought with him and Daniel heaved himself onto the pier. Jack wrapped him in the large towel and Daniel leaned against him. He could feel Daniel shivering now that he was out of the water.

Carter lithely hoisted herself alongside Daniel and Fraiser handed her one of several towels she'd brought with her.

"Thanks. It's starting to get a little chilly."

"Cassie!" When Cassie turned to look towards her mom, Fraiser waved her back. "It's time for you guys to come in out of the water now."

"Okay, Mom." The three began swimming to shore, and soon the pier was rocking as they hurried to collect towels.

"You hungry?" Jack asked as the smell of cooking meat wafted towards them.

"Starving." Daniel looked backwards into Jack's face. Drops of water still clung to Daniel's cheeks and nose. "Are we sleeping here tonight?"

"Nope." Jack took a corner of the towel and wiped the drops. "We'll be going home after supper. Carter and Teal'c have a mission tomorrow morning. Why do you ask?"

Daniel shrugged. "This was a fun day."

"And you don't want it to end?"

Daniel shrugged again, shivering as a gust of wind buffeted them.

Carter stood and wrapped her towel around her, sarong-like. "Girls, I think we should go back to the cabin and get dressed." Immediately Kayla and Tessa stood and ran down the pier and to the cabin. Cassie stood also, copying Carter as she tied her towel around her midriff.

"You go ahead. Daniel and I will give you a couple minutes of privacy." The two women began making their way towards the cabin, with Fraiser following behind.

Jack was enjoying this time with Daniel leaning against him for warmth. It wasn't something they could often do before, now he had a legitimate excuse to do so and although it wasn't quite what he'd always dreamed of, it was close. This was still Daniel.

"I'm thirsty," Daniel said after a few moments.

"Then how about we go see if there's any Snapple left in the cooler?" Jack stood and gave Daniel a hand up. The children came running out of the cabin as Jack found Daniel his favorite drink, and he handed the girls each some sodas before herding Daniel inside to change.

Ten minutes later they were all sitting around Hammond's two picnic tables, eyeing the hot dogs and hamburgers, along with salads, coleslaw and chips.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Dig in." Hammond threw another load of burgers and dogs onto the grill and sat down to join the gang.

"Can I have another hot dog?" Daniel stuffed the last bite into his mouth and looked over at the sole remaining wiener.

"You've got quite an appetite tonight," Jack remarked. Maybe it was the exercise, or maybe just the company, but Daniel had eaten everything on his plate without complaint.

"I'm hungry."

"Of course you can, Daniel." Hammond took the plate with the lone hot dog and stood. "But this one's cold. If you can wait another couple of minutes, the last batch will be ready."

"I can wait." Daniel turned to Jack, stealing a chip from his plate. "Grandpa George's hot dogs are good."

"Yeah, they sure are." Jack dished a little more potato salad onto Daniel's plate. "You can eat more of this in the meantime."

"I don't want potatoes. I want another hot dog." Daniel pushed the plate away, his voice starting to get a little whiney.

"You're going to get the hot dog. As soon as it's cooked." Jack pushed the plate back before him. "You can still eat this in the meantime."

"I don't want that. I just want a hot dog." There were lines of fatigue beneath Daniel's eyes and Jack realized he was going to hit the wall soon. Daniel had been much more active than usual today and Jack hoped the crankiness wouldn't hit full tilt before he got Daniel home. He began dreading the hour-long drive ahead of them. Hopefully Carter and Teal'c would be able to create some diversion.

"Here you go." Hammond put down the freshly grilled wieners before them and Jack forked one and put it inside a hot dog bun. He squirted mustard onto it and topped it with relish, and placed it in Daniel's plate. Daniel immediately grabbed it and began eating.

"Daniel's right, these are good." Carter grabbed a bun and wiener and squirted mustard on top of hers.

"They're not your regular run of the mill wieners. These ones are home-made; they add spices to the meat which gives them its flavor."

Jack took Daniel's half-eaten hot dog from him and took a bite. He'd been eating burgers but he had to agree, these were good. He gave Daniel his hot dog back and wiped his hands on a napkin.

Carter raised her hot dog to her mouth and just as she was taking a bite, the wiener slipped out. One-handed, she made a grab for the slab of meat, but instead of catching it, she ended up striking it. The wiener flew across the table and hit Teal'c in the face before landing on his plate.

"Home run!" Jack cheered as Carter sat there dumbstruck. Teal'c raised an eyebrow, yellow mustard decorating his cheek. Then Carter giggled as her cheeks and throat turned red in embarrassment while Teal'c dabbed at his face with a paper napkin.

The table exploded in laughter. "Sorry, sorry," Carter sputtered as she handed Teal'c more napkins, gasping for breath as she laughed hysterically.

The laughter rose in volume as Jack pointed out spots Teal'c had missed. Finally Carter, tears streaming down her face, leaned over the table and wiped the splatters of mustard from Teal'c's tattoo and the top of his bald head. Although Teal'c didn't quite come out and laugh, he did smile, especially as Daniel's mirth was just as loud as everyone else's.

Finally the laughter eased, the table interspersed with a few snorts and giggles and lots of eye-wiping, until one of the girls mimed throwing her wiener at her sister, and everyone started up again.

This time when the laughter stopped, Jack took a deep breath. The release had felt good; he hadn't laughed like this in a long time. Daniel was still caught in the throes of hilarity, leaning over his plate, his shoulders moving up and down as he laughed so hard he gasped for breath. Jack hadn't seen Daniel laugh so much and so hard in nearly a year, when a night of sexual intimacy had been one disaster after another, and their laughter had had them both too weak to do much of anything for a good thirty minutes.

Soon they all composed themselves, wiped their faces dry and blew their noses while a couple of happy sighs echoed down the table. Daniel continued laughing beside Jack, eliciting a few occasional snorts and giggles as someone recalled the mishap once more. Then as people turned back to their unfinished supper, Jack began to worry as Daniel continued to laugh hysterically.

"Hey." He put a hand on Daniel's shuddering shoulders and rubbed, smiling at Daniel's continued amusement. "Your dog's getting cold. You better eat it before Carter gets her hands on it."

Jack's comment elicited a couple more giggles from Carter and Cassie, but Daniel's breathing began to hitch. His face, red and scrunched up in the hilarity of the moment, suddenly fell as his laughter turned to sobs.

"Hey, hey, what's wrong?" Jack physically turned Daniel on the bench so he was facing him. Daniel twisted easily and threw himself against Jack, burying his face against his neck. Jack immediately tightened his arms around Daniel and held him close.

Daniel tried to clamber onto Jack's lap, pushing against him as he looked for reassurance. "It's okay, it's okay," Jack murmured softly. Immediately Carter and Teal'c were there on either side of them, Carter whispering softly in Daniel's ear as he continued sobbing against Jack.

Daniel's tears were warm and hot against Jack's neck, his sobs and cries loud against his ear. He rubbed circles on Daniel's back, feeling the heat of sunburn through the thin cotton tee shirt. "Are you feeling sick, Daniel? Is that what's wrong?"

Daniel shook his head against his neck. Jack tried to pull back to get a good look at Daniel, but Daniel clutched at him tighter, his wails coming louder at the motion.

"He feels hot." Carter had a hand against Daniel's flushed cheek.

"It could be sunburn."

Jack began rocking gently to and fro, hoping to lull Daniel back into calmness. Fraiser stepped in between Daniel and Carter, checking Daniel out herself. "I think he's mostly tired," she said softly. "His temperature is elevated, but that could be due to the sunburn." She caressed Daniel's head a moment, running her fingers through his hair.

"Grampa, why is Daniel crying?" At Kayla's questioning, Daniel squeezed Jack even tighter.

"He's fine, sweetheart. He's just a little sad."

"Why is he sad if he was laughing just now?" Kayla took a bite of hot dog and looked at Daniel in a grown up manner once she'd swallowed. "Maybe he needs to go to bed. You always tell me to go to bed when I'm cranky."

Hammond leaned close to his granddaughter and whispered, "I don't think Daniel's feeling well. Don't tease him now."

"Colonel, if he continues this way, he's going to make himself sick."

"I know. Come on, Daniel. It's all right. Everything's fine."

"Maybe a bit of privacy? He might calm down a little more quickly if there wasn't an audience." She leaned close, speaking into Daniel's ear as Carter had earlier. "Daniel, do you think you can stand up? You and Jack can go sit down near the water. Would you like that?"

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There was an imperceptible nod of the head leaning against Jack.

"Sam, you better stay here. Teal'c, can you give us a hand?" Fraiser stood aside as Teal'c and Jack both took one of Daniel's arms and pulled him up. Jack put a hand around Daniel's waist, holding him close as he slowly urged him down towards the beach. Daniel kept his face hidden against Jack's shirt as he struggled for breath while his emotions continued raging out of control.

Once out of earshot of the dinner table, Jack stopped beneath a large tree while Teal'c dragged a lawn chair to them. "Let's sit here," he said, once the chair was situated near them. Daniel dropped heavily into the chair, still clinging to Jack. He flung his arm out and caught Teal'c's tee-shirt as Teal'c moved away.

"Do you wish me to remain by your side, DanielJackson?" In response, Daniel tried to pull Teal'c closer. Teal'c knelt beside him and took hold of Daniel's hand.

Jack leaned back into the chair, trying to draw Daniel down with him. But he remained rigid, staying in a seated position. Then suddenly Daniel coughed, and just as Fraiser had predicted, Daniel let go of Teal'c, leaned over to the side just in time and threw up.

For a moment Jack thought Daniel was going to choke as he struggled to take a breath while vomiting and crying. But once his stomach was emptied, he leaned back tiredly against Jack, breath hitching stridently. This time he allowed Jack to pull him down so that both were half lying on the chair together.

Breaths still hiccupping and tears still flowing, Jack could occasionally feel Daniel's teeth scraping alongside his neck as he took loud, wailing breaths. His neck and shoulder were wet from tears, saliva and mucus.

Then Fraiser was there with a wet cloth, talking softly as she wiped the bits of Daniel's face that were visible. Gently she turned his face to the side and wiped his eyes and mouth. He settled back against Jack when she finished.

Jack caught the cadence of Daniel's breathing finally beginning to slow, the inhalations coming a little more easily as the storm finally passed. The heavy body relaxed into Jack, the active day and the overwhelming emotions having exhausted him.

Jack kissed Daniel's forehead, feeling the heat beneath his lips. When Fraiser brought out one of the fancy thermometers, Jack shifted Daniel slightly so that his ear was easily accessible. Daniel jumped slightly as she inserted it, but didn't move again. After a moment, Fraiser removed it and said softly, "100.3."

Not high, but higher than normal. So much for a good day, Jack thought.

Jack pulled away and got a good look at Daniel, who by now had calmed considerably.

"You feeling better?" Daniel opened swollen, bloodshot eyes and squinted at Jack. He nodded, sniffling loudly.

"Here, blow." Fraiser handed him a handful of tissues and Daniel grabbed them with one hand and made a half-hearted effort of wiping his nose with them.

"Ack. You heard the doc. Blow." Jack sat up, pulling Daniel with him, then pushed the hand clutching the tissues towards his face. As Daniel obeyed, a couple of hitching breaths threatened another round of tears. But he leaned back against Jack, and the tempest was thankfully deflected.

"Any idea what brought this on?" Jack asked as he rubbed Daniel's back.

Fraiser threaded her fingers through Daniel's sweaty hair. "Exhaustion, I think. He's fine now, aren't you, Daniel?"

Daniel nodded against Jack. "Tired," he said in a croaky voice.

"You want to head home?"

Another nod, followed by a catch in his breathing.

"I will gather our belongings and inform MajorCarter."

"Great. Give us a couple more minutes and then we'll come up to say our goodbyes."

"I don't wanna say goodbye."

"Well, you have to. General Hammond was kind enough to invite us and it's the polite thing to do. You want him to invite us again, don't you?"

Daniel shrugged. "I guess."

"It'll just take a minute. We'll say goodbye, thank you, and then we'll go home."

"Jack?"

"Yeah, Danny?"

"Will Grandpa George be mad at me?"

"Why would he be?"

Daniel shrugged again, and Jack felt him tense alongside him.

"Of course not. You had a good time today, didn't you?"

"Yeah."

"So did I. And so did everyone. Nobody's mad."

"I couldn't stop." Daniel's voice threatened to break down again.

"I know. It's okay. It happens sometimes." Jack pressed another kiss to Daniel's forehead.

"Can Lumpy say goodbye, too?"

"Of course."

Jack was relieved when Daniel moved away from him and sat up. As they walked back together, Jack veered towards the Avalanche and took Lumpy out from the back seat. Daniel immediately rubbed his face against the soft fur and smiled at Jack.

Hammond stood when he saw them coming. Dinner was over; there was cake and coffee on the table.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I think it's best we leave now." Daniel ducked his head and leaned closer to Jack, rubbing Lumpy's face against his cheek.

"I understand, Colonel." Hammond turned to Daniel and spread his arms wide. "You gonna give me a hug, son?"

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With a shy grin, Daniel rushed into Hammond's hug. "Thank you for everything, Grandpa George. Jack says you wouldn't be mad and I'm glad you're not."

"Of course I'm not mad, Daniel." Hammond patted Daniel's back. "Are you feeling better now?"

Daniel nodded as he pulled away.

"I hope you and Jack come back again some day soon."

Daniel stepped away and nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. Can we, Jack? Today was lots and lots of fun. Can we come back tomorrow?"

"Not tomorrow, sport. But some day soon, when the general has another party."

"But Jack—"

"Bye, Daniel." Fraiser came up beside Daniel and smiled up at him, interrupting what threatened to become an argument. "Can I have a hug, too?"

Pouting a little, Daniel turned from Jack and took Fraiser in his arms, almost enveloping her small form. When Daniel pulled away, she smiled sadly up at him and stepped back. Hammond's granddaughters were busy eating Daniel's birthday cake and all but ignored him, but Cassie waved at Daniel. Daniel waved back, a shy smile on his face before he turned to Jack.

"Can we go home now?" he asked plaintively. His eyes and nose were still red, his face held splotches of color high on his cheeks.

"Sure." Jack quickly shook the general's hand and accepted a huge chunk of cellophane-wrapped cake. He gave Fraiser a one-armed hug, then led Daniel to the Avalanche while Carter and Teal'c said their farewells. Within minutes, they were on their way.

Jack glanced in the rear view mirror and smiled at the sight. Daniel was leaning against Teal'c, his head cushioned on his shoulder. It was evident that Daniel was out for the count.

Lumpy was squished between Teal'c and Daniel, the glassy brown eyes staring at Jack as if to protest his position. Jack smiled, and caught Carter watching him.

"What?"

"Nothing." She smiled softly as she turned to look at Daniel and Teal'c. "He really enjoyed himself today."

"Yeah. It's not often that he's this energetic."

"Is that why... did he overdo it today?"

"Possibly. But the same thing happened to Sara once. Of course she was pregnant at the time. But there she was giggling over something stupid I'd said and two minutes later she was crying hysterically. Scared the shit out of me. I thought she was miscarrying."

"But what happened to Daniel isn't hormonal."

"No, but his whole system's out of whack, so who knows." Jack glanced again into the rear view mirror. "Teal'c, you okay back there?"

"We are fine."

"If he gets too heavy, just push him away. You won't wake him."

They drove back in silence, the hour-long trip seeming longer than normal without Daniel's usual chatter.

The sun was just setting as Jack pulled up into his driveway. "You guys want to come in for some coffee, considering we left the party early and all? We've got cake to eat and I've got ice cream in the freezer."

"Sure."

Jack got out of the truck and opened the passenger door. He reached inside and shook Daniel. "C'mon, sleepyhead. Time to go to bed."

Daniel opened bleary eyes, moaned loudly and burrowed more deeply against Teal'c.

"You must wake up now, DanielJackson." Teal'c gently pried Daniel away from him and unbuckled his seatbelt. Daniel slowly tilted towards the door, and Jack put a hand out.

"Let's go. Bedtime."

"I don't wanna go to bed," Daniel complained as he got out of the truck. He shuffled towards the house, eyes half closed.

"I'll bring your stuff in," Carter said. He heard car doors opening and closing and he figured she was transferring bags to her car and Teal'c's borrowed one from the base.

As Jack unlocked the door, Daniel leaned against Jack, throwing him slightly off balance. "Let's go." He threw the door open and herded Daniel into the bedroom.

Daniel sat heavily on his bed, eyes closed. Then his hand came out and patted the SpongeBob bedspread.

"Where's Lumpy?" Daniel looked up at Jack in panic as he twisted to look around the empty bed.

"Lumpy is here." Teal'c entered the room, stuffed toy in hand. Daniel grabbed Lumpy and rolled over onto his side, bringing his knees up towards his chest.

"Oh, no. You're not getting into bed like that." Jack pulled Daniel back up into a seated position. "C'mon, shoes first."

Daniel whined a little but put toe to heel and tried to pry his sneakers off. Teal'c grabbed his foot, drew the lace and pulled the shoe off. Daniel leaned sleepily against Jack, who pushed him away and grabbed the edge of his tee shirt, pulling it up over his head.

"C'mon, go brush your teeth and take a pee." He pulled Daniel up and led him to the bathroom. While Daniel swayed over the sink and brushed his teeth, Jack went back into the bathroom and grabbed his pjs, placed them on the counter beside Daniel, and pulled back the bed's covers. He shook out a couple of Tylenol and brought some water back into the room.

A few minutes later Daniel came back into the bedroom and headed straight for his bed. His pajama pants were bunched up around the knee of his right leg and there was toothpaste smeared on his chin. The skin on his nose and cheeks were sunburned, as was the back of his neck.

Before Daniel could slide into bed, Jack handed him the pills. Daniel swallowed them and some water with an exaggerated grimace, slid into bed, grabbed Lumpy and curled up on his side.

"Good night, Daniel." Jack leaned over and smoothed the hair over his temple, then leaned over and kissed the spot where his fingers had been.

"Night, Jack." Daniel yawned, his eyes already closed.

"Good night, DanielJackson."

"Night, Teal'c," Daniel breathed.

Jack stood there a moment, watching him, when suddenly Daniel opened his eyes and sat up.

"Where's Sam? I didn't get to say goodnight."

"I'm here."

Jack hadn't seen Carter, who must have been standing in the doorway, watching quietly. The bagful of birthday presents Daniel had received was resting at her feet. She went and gave Daniel a kiss and tucked him in. She brushed her fingers over his temple just as Jack had done, then straightened.

They left the room, and by the time Jack turned out the light, he was pretty sure Daniel was fast asleep.

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Jack used the pad of his thumb to wipe away the tears that rested on the flushed cheeks. In response to Jack's invasive touch, Daniel snorted in his sleep and rubbed his face into the unfamiliar pillow, sneezing at the apparent non-hypoallergenic filling.

"Cold," Daniel mumbled, hunkering further down in the bed, tugging an unresisting Lumpy closer.

"I'm on it, big guy." Jack eased himself off the bed and walked to the closet, grabbing the extra blanket from the top shelf. He spread it over Daniel's already blanket-covered body, adjusting the less-than-soft covering so that only Lumpy's head and the top of its owner's were visible. Jack balanced himself on the bed and leaned over to plant a soft kiss to Daniel's head, and for good measure, gave Lumpy a kiss as well, far from embarrassed by his show of emotions to either the man or the stuffed camel.

A warmer than normal hand grabbed a handful of tee shirt before Jack was able to stand.

"Sssssh, I'm sorry I woke you," Jack apologized, sitting back down on the bed. "Go back to sleep."

"We're really here?" Daniel whispered, his sleepy gaze studying Jack expectantly. "An Itch Gardens?"

"Really here. The Six Flags Elitch Gardens. Just like I promised." He adjusted the blanket around Daniel's shoulders. "Remember the hotel? Finding the room?"

Yawning, Daniel nodded. "I remember. No more driving? Right?"

Daniel trapped in a car. Cranky. Excited. And bored with everything he had packed. Jack losing patience. Nope. Not going down in the books as one of their more stellar memories.

Daniel pulled Lumpy down, so the whole camel disappeared under the mound of blankets, and Daniel's arm, with Jack's watch on his wrist appearing in its stead. "What time are we leaving? Can you show me?"

"I have a better idea, what if I set the watch to be like an alarm clock, like we have at home, so it'll ring when it's time to get up and get ready."

"I like that." Daniel waved his arm towards Jack, the older man capturing the undulating arm with a chuckle.

"Hold still." Jack squinted at the watch, mentally calculating the wake up time. "Six thirty," he said. "There you go." Jack showed the face of the watch to Daniel. "When the big hand is here and the little hand is here, then we can get up and wake up everyone else."

Daniel giggled. "Even Cassie? Cassie hates to wake up early."

"So does Doc Janet." Jack pressed his pointer finger to his lips. "But don't tell anyone."

"I promise." Daniel yawned and Jack didn't miss the shiver even under the layers of blankets.

"See you bright and early," Jack promised Daniel.

* * * * *

Jack adjusted the temperature of the room's air conditioner and his hand was still on the control knob when Fraiser gave a "knock, knock" to the opened door between their adjoining rooms.

"It's the fever and not the temperature of the room, Colonel."

"I know."

Fraiser walked over to the bed and placed the back of her hand against Daniel's forehead. Jack held his breath, praying that the doc's touch wouldn't awaken him. "He's still warm. Did you give him Tylenol?"

"Yes," he answered with the twinge of sixteen year old annoyance that Fraiser knew so well.

"If he has a fever, I certainly can't condone a trip to the park tomorrow."

"I understand, but you know something? There's no way in hell I'm going to tell Daniel that and if you decide to tell him that he can't go, you're a much braver woman than I ever gave you credit for."

"This isn't a laughing matter, sir."

"No, it's not," Jack agreed with a sad smile. "I know. But sometimes a little humor is the only way I can get through the day." Jack shrugged and scrubbed his hands though his hair. "Maybe coming here wasn't the best idea in the world, ya know? But maybe Daniel needed this. Heck maybe even I needed this."

"I'm sorry... Jack. I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, and as much as I may be considered the Wicked Witch—"

Jack held his hand up in surrender. "Honest, it wasn't me who called you that."

Fraiser gave an unladylike snort. "Whatever you say, but I could swear last week while Daniel and Cassie watched the Wizard of Oz you made some comment, asking if a house had ever fallen on my sister."

"You laughed."

"Yes, I did," she answered with a waggle of her eyebrows, "but I didn't forget, just like I'm not forgetting your attempt to derail this conversation."

"Go ahead, you were up to the Wicked Witch comparison."

"Yes, I was, wasn't I? And as much as I hate that, I guess I am. I need to be Daniel's doctor before I can be his friend. I know how hard it is for you and Daniel—"

"And for you, too."

"Yes, and for me, but I have to. I just want you to understand that it doesn't mean I love him any less, or that I get a thrill out of thwarting all the grandiose, fun ideas you have, but I'm Doc Janet first because of how much I do love Daniel, no matter how hard and no matter how mean I seem to be."

* * * * *

The laughing and giggling from the girls' room had died down about an hour ago, but still Jack padded around quietly. Teal'c was in a deep state of kel-no-reem on one of the queen sized beds and Daniel was sleeping restlessly in the other. Jack surely didn't want to disturb Teal'c, but neither did he want to get into bed with Daniel. Indecisively, Jack stood, straddling the carpeting between the two beds.

Finally, Jack slipped into bed with Daniel, but not under the top sheet, so in theory he was in the same bed as Daniel, but not in bed, so to speak. Ludicrous, he knew, but also a matter of self-preservation to not lie in bed with Daniel, his placement under the array of blankets providing him with a sense of self-imposed mental protection. He stiffened as Daniel rolled towards him, making a futile attempt to snuggle against Jack's body. Daniel gave a snort of indignation in his sleep as the barrier between them prevented him from leeching off Jack's warmth. Daniel tried once, twice, the third time even making an offering of Lumpy as he pushed the stuffed camel under Jack's nose.

"Not tonight," Jack whispered, pushing an errant strand of hair off the warm forehead. Jack slid his body up and bent over the sleeping man, taking Daniel's arms and physically wrapping them around the much loved toy. He slowly backed out of the bed, grabbed the blanket at the end of Teal'c's bed, and made himself comfortable on the couch stuck in the corner of their room.

* * * * *

Jack nearly took a header off the couch when he tried to turn, forgetting he wasn't at home lying on a much bigger place to sleep, or offworld on a flat surface. "Damn." He stuck his arm downward, levering his body back onto the too-narrow cushions. Jack jerked the blanket from his feet and tucked it around himself, grumbling at the uncomfortableness of his chosen sleeping arrangements.

"And if we go this way..."

In the silence of the room, snatches of conversation floated loud and clear over to Jack. "Daniel," he hissed, sitting up, swinging his stiff legs onto the floor. "Daniel," he called again, exasperated that once his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room, Jack could see Daniel's empty bed. The bedside clock showed that it was too early for Daniel to be up. Hell, it was too early for Jack to be up. Nevertheless, curiosity and worry got the better of him. He pushed himself off the couch, stepping over the blanket that fell to the floor and shuffled in the direction Daniel's voice was emanating from - the bathroom.

The door squeaked as Jack pushed it open and he blinked convulsively against the light until his eyes grew accustomed to the brightness.

"Ummm, Daniel?" Jack's hand swept the bathroom's disarray. Lumpy was perched on the closed toilet lid, and Daniel was sitting with towels under his ass, a very black marker in his hands, on his hands and a smudge or two of black on his face and the shower curtain. There was a large multicolored piece of paper between his legs that was covered with "X's" and squiggly lines. "What are you doing?"

Daniel scrunched up his face as he looked up at Jack. "Doing?"

"Yes, what's all this?"

"Shhhh, quiet," Daniel warned, placing the opened marker against his pursed lips. "Come on in and close the door, you'll wake Teal'c."

Jack stepped into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. He picked up Lumpy, sat on the closed toilet lid and placed the stuffed camel in his lap. Jack leaned forward, tapping the paper that had again captured Daniel's attention.

"Daniel?"

"It's the map of the park. Sam gave it to me when we checked in... you know the man at the desk you gave your credit card to, the guy wearing the suit? Well, he gave it to Sam and she gave it to me. And I've been studying it, to see where we're going to visit. I've been marking the way we should walk. See? Here and here," Daniel said as he pointed to the numbers one and then two written in bold magic marker. "This is where we buy our tickets and over here is the big fountain and the way I figure it—"

"How do you feel?"

"You interrupted me," Daniel said indignantly. "You always tell me that I should wait until the person is done speaking." Daniel wagged the marker at Jack. "That was very rude."

Jack bit his bottom lip and counted to ten to rein in the laughter that was threatening to explode from the absurdity of the situation. "I'm sorry, honest, but you need to answer my question. How do you feel?"

"Wet."

"Wet? Daniel, did you wet the—"

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"Ewwwww... no! I'm not a baby. I meant my clothes are wet." Daniel pulled his tee shirt away from his body and then sniffed his armpits. "I stink."

"Yup, I have to agree with the stinky part." Jack held Lumpy up to his ear, nodding his head. "Oh, I agree totally, Lumpy," Jack said as he comically pinched the area he suspected Lumpy's nose would be. "Even Lumpy says you stink."

"Jack," Daniel looked around before whispering conspiratorially. "Lumpy can't talk."

Jack clapped his hands over Lumpy's ears. "Daniel, don't say that too loud, you'll hurt poor Lumpy's feelings."

Daniel's giggles were infectious and soon Jack's laughter was bouncing off the tiled bathroom walls. "You're very silly this morning." Daniel located the cover to the marker and stuck it back on, and then meticulously began refolding the map.

Jack captured Daniel's hand as he went to reach for Lumpy, pulling him close enough to check for a fever with a gentle kiss to his forehead. He tugged at Daniel's shirt. "You're wet 'cause your fever broke. How about a shower?"

Nervous eyes darted from Jack's gaze to over his shoulder, examining the unfamiliar tub. "No shower... bath... bubble bath."

"Bath I can do... but it's a no go in the bubbles department."

"I don't think so," Daniel responded in a sing song voice. "I'll be right back, you start the bath."

Daniel grabbed Lumpy from Jack's embrace and hurried from the bathroom. Jack was starting the bath, getting the temperature just right, but even over the sound of running water he could hear Daniel's grunts, groans and then the sound of a suitcase unzipping. He returned with two unfamiliar looking yellow plastic bags, with very familiar handwriting adorning their front. "I wasn't sure which one so I brought both of them."

Daniel dumped both bags on the vanity and dropped down on the closed toilet. Lumpy was given a seat of honor on Daniel's lap. "Is the water just the way I like it?"

"Of course it is, Sir Daniel," Jack said with an exaggerated bow. "I know I will be sent to the dungeon if the water temperature is not to your liking." Jack had to smile as Lumpy bore the brunt of Daniel's giggles. "Now let's see what's in these bags, shall we?" Jack ruffled Daniel's hair, which did nothing but make the strands stick out every which way. "Think you're gonna have to wash your hair also."

Daniel pointed to the words on the bags. "Sam gave me these bags. She said they were pieces of home that I would need and told me to stuff them in my suitcase. What do the words say?" Daniel used Lumpy's nose as a pointer.

"This one says, 'Things Colonel O'Neill will forget to bring'. Hey, I didn't forget anything."

"Um, Jack, if you didn't forget anything, where's the bubble bath?"

"Hmpf," Jack replied indignantly.

"I bet there's bubble bath in there... betcha, betcha, betcha."

Jack peeked in and smiled. There was more than just bubble bath. There was suntan lotion, one of those new battery operated toothbrushes emblazoned with SpongeBob, and a bottle of that great smelling shampoo that Carter always bought for Daniel. Jack removed the bottle of bubble bath and poured in a generous amount.

"This smells great, Jack. Doesn't this smell good?" Enthusiastically, Daniel stuck the opened bottle of shampoo under Jack's nose and Jack was assaulted by memories of a different time and a very different Daniel enjoying a shower at his house.

"That is a good smell," he said, removing the opened bottle from Daniel's hand and screwing the cap back on. "I'm going to leave it right over here so you can wash your hair before you get out." 'Damn Carter and her good intentions', he thought, turning his attention back to monitoring the bath water.

Daniel took out the toothbrush, examined it and began to attempt to open up the hard plastic wrapping. Eventually, he just gave up and held it in his hand. "What about the other bag? What's in that? What does it say?"

"This one says 'For Daniel—just because'."

"Because what?"

"I don't know, but I think maybe you should look inside, 'cause it's for you."

Daniel shoved Lumpy and the toothbrush at Jack and grabbed the bag. He opened it, peered inside, then shut it, opened it, peered inside and shut it. This went on one more time before Jack called a halt to it. "Enough. What the heck's in the bag?"

Daniel's eyes had widened in shock as he stuck his hand in the bag and pulled out, with great reverence, a brand spanking new Playstation portable. Daniel clutched the bag in one hand and examined the box like it contained the answers to the universe. "Remember I wanted this and you said it was too expensive?"

"I remember all too well." He knew Carter loved to spoil Daniel, but he would have to have a discussion with his 2IC regarding limitations.

"And this, she got me this."

"There's more?"

"Yup... here's a SpongeBob game," Daniel withdrew the boxes and began to pile them on the counter, "a carrying case, and... and look at this, Jack. Movies, I can actually watch movies just like the TV says. She got me SpongeBob and the Fairly Odd Parents... I need to go wake up Sam right now and thank her." Daniel jumped up and had one hand on the doorknob before Jack intervened.

"No, you don't," Jack said, physically maneuvering Daniel's body back onto the closed toilet seat. The empty plastic bag was clutched tightly to his chest, and every part of Daniel's body seemed to quivering with unbridled excitement that Jack now had to reel in. There were times Jack hated being the responsible parent with Daniel, while Carter, Fraiser, Teal'c and even General Hammond had free reign in spoiling him. He held the bag open for Daniel. "Put everything back in the bag."

Immediate tears sprung to Daniel's eyes. "I have to return them?"

The thought had briefly occurred to Jack, but he wouldn't do that to Daniel, though all guilty parties in cahoots to this "Daniel spoiling" were going to be forced to attend a briefing where Jack was going to be laying down some ground rules. "No, you don't have to give them back. It's bath time and these things and water don't mix."

"Oh, okay." Daniel happily put the boxes back in the bag and placed it on the floor next to the toilet, with Lumpy standing guard. Jack tested the water and turned it off.

"I'm going to take the bag and start charging the Playstation," Jack said. "This way if you want to take it with you to breakfast or while waiting for the shuttle bus, it'll be ready." Jack closed the bathroom door three quarters of the way, pushed aside Daniel's opened suitcase and turned on the bedside lamp so he could decipher the instructions on the box. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," he mumbled to himself.

* * * * *

Jack handed his credit card to the girl behind the window, fully aware of Daniel's growing excitement. He scrawled his name on the slip she'd passed him and handed out the tickets.

"Careful, Daniel. Don't tear it," Jack warned in a low voice as Daniel nearly crushed the paper.

"I won't. I'll be careful." Daniel looked at him, all solemn blue eyes and eagerness to please. "And I'll stay close and not walk away. And I'll listen to what you say."

Memory washed over Jack, bittersweet and filled with regret—an image of Daniel on one of their many missions, excited and rapturous over some ruins, throwing caution to the wind.

"I know you will." Jack smiled, hoping to reassure the younger man as he took in the anxious gaze. Last week's little incident was evidently still fresh in Daniel's memory. It had shaken both of them. Jack tensed as memories of that day assailed him.

* * * * *

He didn't know what awoke him—except a feeling of unease and 'not rightness'. Jack pushed himself out of bed and walked to Daniel's room, needing to check, to make sure. His heart pounded furiously when he realized the bed was empty, although he told himself that Daniel probably had moved downstairs to put in some videos. Shoes were all still lined up in the closet even though Lumpy was gone. His foray into the den, living room, and the kitchen had Jack's anxiety growing, because Daniel was nowhere to be found. A check of the closet where they kept their jackets didn't alleviate his fears, since Daniel's light windbreaker was gone. Maybe Daniel had gone up to the observatory, but it only took a few minutes for Jack to discover Daniel was nowhere to be found on the property. His voice slightly hoarse from yelling Daniel's name, Jack went back into the house, grabbing the phone and dialing Hammond.

"Sir, we have a problem," he said as soon as the general's voice said a gruff hello.

Jack hung up the phone less than five minutes later, knowing General Hammond would be alerting the SGC to begin its own search. Cursing under his breath at his inability to find his keys, Jack stopped his frantic search and closed his eyes, taking a few deep breaths. He needed to think of this as a military operation, not a parent's search for a lost child. The leadership qualities that served him so well in Special Ops and as CO of SG-1 came to the fore. Jack grabbed his cell phone on the way to the Avalanche, finding the keys where they always were, on the hook by the door. He hit speed dial and explained the situation to Carter, giving her a set of orders while he backed out of the driveway and then dialed 911, deeming the situation serious enough to take that step.

It had begun pouring sometime during the night, and the temperature had taken a dip towards the coolish side. If Daniel was out there, he was going to be cold and wet.

"No, you don't understand," Jack explained, proud that he was keeping his temper under control when he was told that a timeframe of less than four hours didn't constitute a missing person's case. He gripped the phone tighter. "He's brain damaged. He has the mind of a five year old and I really don't think a five year old should be out wandering the streets early in the morning."

He rattled off his cell phone number when the dispatcher prompted him for it, having to place his trust in others to find Daniel if he didn't discover him wandering the darkened streets himself. He glanced at the thermometer above the rear view mirror and felt another flutter of fear for Daniel. It might only be fifty five degrees this morning, and Daniel was wearing nothing more than a windbreaker and most likely the cotton pajamas he'd worn to bed last night. His hands shaking, Jack pulled to the side of the street and rested his head on the steering wheel, praying to a God he wasn't sure was listening.

An hour later, his phone calls to Hammond and Carter not giving him any satisfaction, Jack stopped at an all night gas station to buy some coffee. He'd exhausted all his ideas of possible places Daniel might have gone and his thoughts turned morbid, despite his best efforts. Visions of Daniel being lured into a dark alley and assaulted, or worse, made his throat thicken with unshed tears and bile, making the coffee taste even bitterer.

"O'Neill," Jack barked into the ringing cell phone.

"Colonel Jack O'Neill?"

"Yes."

"My name is Bridget Wellington. I'm calling from St. Thomas More Hospital. Are you the guardian of a Daniel Jackson?"

"Yes, yes, I am. Is he all right?"

"He's not hurt, sir. He's a little shook up and pretty soaked through. A policeman found him and brought him to us when he realized Mr. Jackson wasn't able to give him your address. Can you come and pick him up?"

"I'll be there in ten minutes. May I... can I talk to him?"

"Hi Jack." Daniel's voice was suddenly in his ear, but the usual cheerfulness was gone. "Jack? Are you still there?"

"I'm... I'm here, Danny. I'm coming to pick you up, okay?" Jack managed to say. He dialed Carter, letting her know the good news and then reported to Hammond.

"You can give me the details later, Jack," General Hammond said, the relief in his voice evident. "Meanwhile, just take our boy home and see if you can figure out what happened."

"Yes, sir." Jack's relief began turning to anger on the drive to the emergency room—an anger he remembered feeling when Charlie had once wandered away from Sara and he on a trip to a beach. By the time he walked into the hospital, Jack was almost ready to explode, and clenched his fists into his pockets to remove the temptation to throttle his wandering charge.

"Daniel, it looks like your friend is here," a young police officer said as Jack approached. He stepped between Jack and Daniel, who was sitting on a gurney, wrapped in a blanket.

Leaning around the officer, Daniel looked up at Jack, Lumpy clutched under one arm and his face paled. "Uh oh," Jack heard him whisper.

"Colonel O'Neill," the officer, a Lieutenant Wyman Jack noted, motioned for Jack to follow him a short distance away. "We found him sitting outside the public library."

"The library," Jack repeated—a promise to take Daniel there the previous weekend having to be placed on hold because Jack had been called in to the SGC for an emergency. He hadn't even known Daniel still remembered how to get to the library. A small laugh caught Jack's attention and he looked over to see a nurse speaking to Daniel. As if he was aware of Jack's gaze, Daniel glanced their way, the smile on his face fading as he watched him. Jeeze, Jack thought, next they'll be thinking I abuse him or something, his guilt at allowing Daniel to wander off beginning to gnaw at him.

"He came with us willingly—told us that you told him cops were good guys and he should go to them if he needed help," Lieutenant Wyman said with a grin. "I'm glad this worked out, sir." He hesitated a fraction before continuing. "I'm guessing this is a new situation for you, Colonel. You may want to install some locks he can't open."

"Yeah." Jack wiped his face with his hand. The anger was gone, leaving only regret and sadness in its wake. "I'll look into that." He walked over to Daniel's side and reached out to touch Daniel's damp hair. There was no response, only a tightening of Daniel's arm around Lumpy's neck.

"I'm glad you're safe," Jack finally whispered. The head under his hand moved slightly in negation.

"Are you mad at me?" The words were whispered so quietly Jack had to strain to hear them.

Jack sighed. "I was worried. You scared me."

"I wanted to go to the library," Daniel explained. "I didn't want to worry you."

"It's the middle of the night." Jack moved his hand to Daniel's shoulder, feeling the slight shivers and wondering if they were from fear or cold. He shifted his glance to Daniel's bare feet, dirty and bruised, and shuddered himself.

"I'm sorry," Daniel said, his head still hanging down. "I didn't want to scare you." A noisy sob escaped him. "Don't get rid of me."

"Ah crap." Jack moved closer. "Ah, Danny. It's okay. Shh... it's okay." He pulled Daniel into a hug and held him tight, not caring that his own tears were dripping into Daniel's hair.

* * * * *

"Jack?" Daniel was looking at him. "I'll stay with you. I promise."

Daniel had cried himself to sleep after Jack had gotten him home from the hospital, Jack's reassurances that no, he didn't have to go live somewhere else unable to be processed. Jack had sat in Daniel's room long after the other man had fallen asleep.

"Yeah, I know." He held up the map. "So where do we go first?"

"The train." Daniel smiled. He took a step away from Jack, and then stopped, looking at the crowds. He held out a hand for Jack. Jack took it, smiling at the trust in the habit.

"Are we gonna stand here all day?" Daniel finally asked, the impatience sounding exactly like the archaeologist they all used to know.

"Lead on, DanielJackson," Teal'c said, pointing.

* * * * *

Jack watched as Daniel went off with Cassie, Fraiser and Carter. Teal'c was determined to win Daniel one of the large SpongeBob SquarePants pillows being offered at one of the game stands. Finding himself alone, Jack searched for a bench and smiled when he spied one in the shade.

He wasn't sure if Daniel would go on the newest roller coaster, but despite his quietness after the water ride, Daniel had seemed willing. Jack moved back on the bench, adjusting his sunglasses and settling back for some people watching.

"DanielJackson and the others approach, O'Neill," Teal'c announced, startling Jack. Pushing back the brim of his ball cap, Jack was slightly concerned that Daniel appeared to be lagging behind. But he reminded himself, Daniel had been awake way too early this morning. He glanced at his watch, figuring that if the others agreed, they could take a break and eat some lunch. Jack stood, waiting to see Daniel's reaction to the SpongeBob pillow Teal'c was holding. Just imagining the big smile he expected to see put a grin on Jack's face.

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"I have prevailed in the Whack a Mole contest and procured a large sponge that wears pants for you, DanielJackson," Teal'c said as he offered the pillow to Daniel.

Jack noticed Carter and Janet hiding smiles behind their hands at Teal'c's formal announcement.

"Thank you." Daniel accepted the pillow but kept his head down, staring at the ground.

"Do you not like it?" Teal'c picked up on Daniel's subdued response as quickly as Jack did.

"I like it," Daniel said. "It's nice." But there was no inflection in his voice.

Placing a hand on Daniel's shoulder, still not sure what was going on, Jack pasted a smile on his face and announced, "What say we chow down?"

The others quickly agreed, except for Daniel. Jack walked by his side, keeping a close eye on him. Daniel looked fine, no trace of the slight fever from last night.

"Daniel?"

"Huh?"

"Did something happen when you were with Carter, Doc Janet, and Cassie?"

Daniel shook his head and continued walking.

"Because, you know, if something happened, you should tell me," Jack persisted.

"I know." Daniel stopped and handed the pillow to Jack. "I don't want to carry this. It's too heavy."

Jack took the pillow, somehow not surprised when Daniel took off his backpack and pulled out Lumpy. Jack knew something was wrong when he saw Daniel give the stuffed camel a fierce hug. Jack sighed and squeezed Daniel's shoulder, telling himself Daniel always had been a little grumpy when he'd gone without food too long.

Sitting around the picnic table minutes later, Jack watched as Daniel swiped a fry through ketchup and took a small bite of it. Daniel's appetite was iffy at times, but hamburgers and French fries were the one thing he always ate with gusto. Carter and Cassie were talking, trying to get Daniel to participate in the conversation, asking him what rides he wanted to go on after their meal, but unlike his earlier excitement, Daniel was using shrugs, head shakes and nods to communicate.

"Daniel, do you feel okay?" Fraiser asked him, her mouth pulled in a frown. Jack shook his head as she reached out to touch his forehead, not surprised in the least when Daniel pulled away from her.

"Daniel, if you don't feel well, you need to let me know," Jack said, hating how gruff he sounded.

"I'm okay." Daniel pushed his hamburger away, clutching Lumpy even tighter. "I don't want any more of this. It doesn't taste good. They didn't put mustard on it."

"I can get you some mustard," Carter offered. "Or a hamburger instead."

"I don't want it," Daniel said, sounding for all the world like a recalcitrant toddler. "I want to go home. I don't like this place."

"We were going to go on the train again, remember? And you said you'd ride the sky ride with me." Cassie leaned forward, trying to soothe Daniel.

"I don't want to go on the train. I want to go home." Daniel rocked slightly in his seat, stopping the movement when Teal'c put a hand on his shoulder.

"If you wish to go home, DanielJackson, then we shall take you," Teal'c promised. "I am sorry you are not enjoying your time at the park."

Jack didn't miss the look of disappointment on Cassie's face as he began gathering up his and Daniel's things. "Daniel and I will go back to the hotel. Why don't you come back there for supper and, if Daniel feels like it, we'll try coming back with you tonight?"

"Going home?" Daniel was up and waiting by the time Jack had extricated himself from the table.

"Not all the way home, buddy, but back to the hotel," Jack assured him. He rested a hand on Daniel's shoulder.

"You mad at me?" Daniel looked at their other friends, his glance darting from Carter, to Teal'c, to Cassie and then to Fraiser.

"Of course not." Carter got up and gave him a hug. "We want you to be happy."

"Okay," Daniel agreed, and then tugged on Jack's arm. "Let's go. Let's go, Jack."

"Coming, Daniel." Jack waved to the others. He held his hand up to his ear, mimicking a cell phone and pointing to Fraiser. She nodded her head in understanding.

Despite the distractions on the way through the park—stores, games, and food stands, Daniel walked by Jack's side silently, radiating tension that Jack couldn't understand. He almost wished they had driven in the Avalanche instead of taking the shuttle bus in the morning. But Daniel said nothing, sitting on the bench at the shuttle stop and petting Lumpy's head. He moved closer to Jack when a family with two boisterous children came to wait at the same stop.

"I want to go home," Daniel whispered, Jack needing to lean close to even hear the words.

"I know." Jack patted Daniel's knee and sighed in relief when he saw the bus coming. Luckily the only other riders were going to be the family and Jack knew the bus ride wasn't much longer than ten minutes.

Daniel slid into the seat and huddled against the window, all his energy seemingly gone. Jack was sure Daniel didn't have a fever. His skin felt normal where his arm touched Jack's.

By the time they made it back to the hotel, Jack's head was pounding from the two little darlings who thought it was their mission in life to loudly complain that they had the world's meanest parents. Daniel was squinting and pinching his nose, sure sign he had a headache, too.

Reaching their hotel room was a relief. Jack closed the drapes and turned up the air conditioner. He went to the bathroom to get a glass of water for Daniel and smiled as he came back out. Daniel was already stretched out on one of the beds, sound asleep. Jack pulled the comforter out from the side and placed it over his sleeping friend. After carefully removing Daniel's shoes and glasses, Jack stretched out on the other bed, looking over the room service menu, figuring that when Daniel awoke he'd most likely be hungry.

* * * * *

"Mommy! Daddy! No, no, no! Mommy!"

Daniel's hoarse cries woke Jack from his nap. Heart pounding, Jack slid off his bed and sat on the edge of Daniel's. Daniel was sitting up, his eyes fixed on some distant spot, sobbing as if his heart was breaking. Jack extended a hand towards him, unsure if Daniel would respond or not. Hell, he wasn't even sure if Daniel was awake.

"Daniel." Jack spoke in a low voice. "Danny?" His hand was pushed away when he touched Daniel's knee.

"I want my mommy." Daniel gave a hiccupping sob as he looked at Jack.

Okay, definitely awake, but obviously caught up in the aftermath of the dream.

"Your..." Jack paused, rubbing a hand through his hair, having no idea how to handle this, "your mommy isn't here. I'm here to take care of you, remember?"

"I want mommy and daddy." Daniel was still crying, pushing Jack away as he tried to move closer. "I want my mommy and daddy!"

"Oh, Danny." Daniel and Jack were matched pretty evenly strength wise, but Daniel's emotional state put him at a disadvantage, so Jack simply wrapped him in a hug, holding on tightly when Daniel began to squirm. "Calm down. Let's just calm down. It was a bad dream."

"The rocks were falling. All around us." Daniel stopped moving, curling his hand around Jack's forearm. "Mommy and Daddy were in the rocks and then they went away."

"I know, I know," Jack soothed, rocking them both slowly. "I know, Danny. But I'm here and I promise I'll take care of you." He thought back to the water ride, remembering fake rocks seeming to tumble around the boat. Jack cursed himself under his breath for not realizing the possible confused memories that ride could dredge up.

"Promise?" Daniel asked, his fingers digging into Jack's skin and his voice shaky. "Promise?"

"I promise," Jack assured him. "I won't leave. You're safe."

Daniel took a deep breath, pushing at Jack's arms. "You're squishing me."

Jack laughed and released his arms, still keeping Daniel in a light hold. He wasn't sure if it was for Daniel's reassurance or his own.

"I didn't like that roller coaster," Daniel muttered. "But Sam and Cassie said it was a baby ride and laughed when they heard the people screaming. I didn't want to be a baby. I didn't want them to laugh at me."

Daniel looked at Jack, his eyes searching Jack's.

"I know," Jack said. "And you were very brave doing something that scared you." He made a mental note to speak to Carter and Cassie before returning to the park in the evening. He knew they had meant no harm by their comments, but sometimes they seemed to forget that Daniel wasn't the Daniel they had always known. He pulled Daniel close a moment, pressing a kiss on the top of Daniel's head. They both laughed when Daniel's stomach gave a growl.

"Hungry?" Jack asked. "You didn't eat much at lunch. Can you eat something now?"

Daniel nodded his head with enthusiasm. "Chicken fingers and fries with lots of catsup."

"Coming right up, sir." Jack held up the phone with a flourish and dialed room service.

"They bring the food here?" Daniel asked when Jack hung up. "We get to eat in bed?"

"We'll eat at the table," Jack pointed. "I'll get things set up for our food and meanwhile you can go in the bathroom and get cleaned up."

"I'm not dirty," Daniel said. "Look." He held his hands out for Jack to inspect them.

"We got wet on the rides, and your clothes are dirty. I'll start the shower for you and then you can hop in," Jack mentioned.

"You got wet, too," Daniel countered. "I know. We can take a shower together."

Jack stopped mid-step at that suggestion and felt as if he'd been punched in the gut. He looked back at Daniel, schooling a careful smile on his face. "Ah, no, buddy. I think we'd better take our own showers." At Daniel's crestfallen expression, he forced a smile to his lips. "The tub isn't very big." He searched his mind for something to get Daniel's mind off the shower. "And I was thinking we can go swimming after we eat. So why don't you wash off quick and then you can put your swim trunks on right away." He went in the bathroom to turn on the water and adjust it, hoping to God that Daniel remembered the rules about wearing a bathrobe.

* * * * *

Snagging two chaise lounges, Jack threw their towels on them. He motioned for Daniel to sit on one before opening the sun block.

Daniel looked around the pool area with interest. "This is like the pool at the Center."

"Yep, but here you can do whatever you want." Jack squirted some lotion on Daniel's back, imagining himself smearing it on Charlie's back years ago, telling himself he'd been given a strange second chance at fatherhood. At least Daniel liked his therapy sessions in the pool; Monday and Wednesdays were days there was rarely a fuss about going to the Center.

Giggling, Daniel arched his back. "That tickles."

Jack wiped his hand across Daniel's face. "Rub that in, Daniel. I'm all done with your back." He watched as Daniel dutifully rubbed in the lotion.

"Here," Jack said, squirting sun block in Daniel's hands. "You can do the rest yourself."

"Okay," Daniel nodded, applying the lotion with enthusiasm. He looked up at Jack when he was done. "Sit down." Taking the bottle from Jack, Daniel stood. "Now I'll do your back."

"Uh, Daniel, I..." Jack clenched his fingers into his knees as Daniel began rubbing the lotion into his back. He forced himself to think of Goa'uld, of Maybourne and Kinsey, anything but the feel of Daniel's fingers gliding over his skin.

"There," Daniel said, leaning forward and wiping his hand over Jack's stomach. "All done."

"Yeah," Jack replied, his voice sounding weak. He hoped the pool water was cold, cold enough to shock him back into this reality.

"Can I go in?" Daniel was watching him, his gaze darting between Jack and the pool.

"Go ahead," Jack said, getting to his feet, "but wait for me once you get in the water."

"Okay." Daniel nodded once and hurried towards the steps leading into the shallow end of the pool.

Jack knew Daniel was comfortable in the water, but he didn't quite trust Daniel's sometimes impulsive tendencies. Luckily the pool wasn't crowded and he figured he'd be able to keep a close eye on him.

The water was cool and Daniel was happy paddling around, splashing Jack with water and allowing himself to be dunked repeatedly.

"This is fun," Daniel said, throwing his arms around Jack in an impulsive hug at one point. "Really fun."

"Yeah," Jack agreed, hugging him back and not caring who saw. "It really is."

"How about we get out for a little bit?" Jack suggested some time later. It had been the wrong thing to say; Daniel's frown telling exactly what he thought of that idea.

"I like this," Daniel said, and Jack thought a moment. There was a lifeguard, and Jack would be able to see him from the chaise.

"Well, I'll tell you what. I'm gonna get out of the water, but you can stay in the pool," Jack raised a finger, "as long as you promise to stay in this area."

Daniel readily agreed with a heartfelt nod and swam off towards the side. Jack stretched out on his chair, reaching for the cell phone he'd carried down to the pool. He dialed Fraiser's number, all the while keeping an eye on Daniel, who was floating on his back.

"Hey Doc," Jack responded when Janet answered her phone.

"Colonel? How's Daniel?" Her voice was filled with concern and Jack could hear Carter asking a question in the background.

"He's fine. We're at the pool now. He had a little nightmare earlier, but he's fine now. I'm going to see if he wants to come back to the park in a few hours." Jack had to smile as he watched Daniel hold his nose before ducking his head under the water.

"What was the problem?" Fraiser asked, and Jack knew she was asking less as a doctor and more as a friend.

"I think the water ride triggered a memory." Jack paused, taking time to wave to Daniel who was motioning for Jack to watch. "That simulated earthquake with the rocks falling..." he trailed off.

"Oh, sir. I didn't stop to think." There was silence on Fraiser's end and Jack got the feeling that she was walking away from the others. "Cassie was upset after you left. She said that Daniel was afraid of the roller coaster but she and Sam kept telling him there was no reason to be, that he loved roller coasters."

Jack closed his eyes. It was true, the old Daniel would have gone on any roller coaster without hesitation, but this Daniel was for all intents and purposes a five year old child with memories of the Goa'uld, torture and his parents dying. "Yeah, I know. Look, Doc, I'm going to talk to Daniel. I think we'll be able to come back. I'll call back if I can't get him to agree to give it one more try."

"Understood, Colonel. I'll take care of things on this end," Fraiser said.

Jack glanced at his watch, calculating times. "How about we meet at the big fountain in three hours?"

"Sounds good," Fraiser replied. "And tell Daniel we miss him."

"Will do."

Daniel was getting out of the pool, most likely curious about Jack's phone call. He came over to the chairs, shaking his head and spraying Jack with droplets of water.

"Who were you talking to?"

"Doc Janet." Jack threw a towel at Daniel. He looked at his hands a moment before continuing. "You know, they'd like us to come back the park for the evening."

Daniel paused in rubbing his hair dry. He held out his hand to Jack. "I don't think the mark the lady put on it is there anymore."

It was a good attempt at avoiding, Jack had to give him that. "Don't you want to go back?" Jack asked.

"Go back where?" Daniel began fiddling with the edge of the towel, picking at the hem, until Jack placed a hand over it.

"To the park." Jack gave Daniel's hand a shake. "Why don't we go up to the room and we can talk about it there?" He could see the small shivers coursing Daniel's body and he had the feeling it was more nervousness than cold.

He managed to persuade Daniel to take another shower, despite Daniel's protestations that he was already clean and didn't need to wash again. By the time Jack finished with his own shower, Daniel was settled on his bed, Lumpy tucked under one arm and concentrating on his new Playstation.

"Daniel?" Jack spoke quietly. Amazed that Daniel could master a video game but yet had difficulty remembering how to tie his shoes.

"Hi, Jack." Daniel put the toy down then smiled at him.

"I thought maybe we could go back to the park in a little bit. You know, meet the others for supper." Jack crossed the room and sat down on the bed next to Daniel.

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"Oh," Daniel whispered, looking down at the covers and squeezing Lumpy's neck.

"Don't you want to go back? You were so excited about going to the park this morning." Jack felt out of his element, unable to figure out exactly what was bothering Daniel and pretty sure Daniel wasn't going to be able to articulate it himself.

"If you want to go back, we can go back," Daniel said, drawing out the words, looking at Jack with an expression that was conveying his distress.

"Dan..."Jack reached out to stroke Daniel's hair, and then decided on a new plan of attack. "Listen, buddy, how about I ask you some questions and you answer them. Like a game and all you have to say is yes or no."

"Okay," Daniel responded, but he didn't look too sure of Jack's plan.

"Okay." Jack patted Daniel's knee and then took the plunge, figuring to start with an easy one. "Did you want to go to the park this morning?"

Daniel nodded and then at Jack's upraised finger, said, "Yes."

"Did you like the bus ride?" When Jack got an affirmative answer he went further, asking about entering the park and riding the train, not surprised when the answers were all yes.

"What about the water ride?" Jack thought he already knew the answer, but Daniel's body language said far more than the very quiet, "No."

"Hey, it's okay." Jack pulled Daniel's curled up body into a hug, rubbing his shoulders and his nape. Daniel slowly relaxed, finally looking up at Jack.

"That wasn't fun, not at all." As if a dam had been broken, Daniel went on. "Didn't like the dark and the rocks and all that noise." He shook his head. "But everyone said it's a good ride. I didn't think it was a good ride. No way, Jose," he finished with an emphatic nod.

"You should have told me," Jack said.

"I didn't know it was no good until we were on it. You said we can't get off once we're on."

Well, you couldn't argue with that logic. Jack nodded in agreement and reached for an extra map lying on the bedside table.

"I'll tell you what. Let's look at this map, and then you tell me the rides you want to go on." When Daniel looked at him under his lashes, Jack handed him a pen. "I'll read them to you and tell you where to put the circles, okay?"

"Only the ones I want?" Daniel asked.

"Only the ones you want."

"What if I want to go on the train one million times and no one else does?" Daniel was definitely going to be testing Jack's promise.

"Then you and I will ride it as much as you want, even if no one else does. Just you and me." Jack unfolded the map, spreading it over both of their legs.

There was a little fight when Daniel insisted that he wanted to ride space ships despite the fact that he was about two feet too tall, but by the time they finished, they had a list of ten rides that were definites and three that Daniel wanted to watch before making his decision.

* * * * *

Fraiser dropped onto a wooden bench that sat under a large shade tree. She stretched her legs and was in full sprawl out mode as Jack and Daniel approached her.

Daniel ripped off his backpack and sat next to her, dropping it between his knees. "Are you okay, Doc Janet?"

Fraiser whimpered, forcing her feet out of her still tied sneakers. She hooked one leg over the other and began to slowly rub her toes. "My feet hurt," she whined.

Daniel looked up at Jack. "I'm hungry." He glanced at the fast food stands in their immediate vicinity and using his fingers, he began to tick off what he didn't want. "No franks or chicken fingers, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, or hamburger."

"Are you sure you're even hungry?" Fraiser asked, grimacing as she switched feet and began to rub her right toes instead of her left ones.

"I wouldn't say I was hungry if I wasn't," Daniel replied indignantly.

"Hey," Jack reprimanded, "watch your tone of voice."

"Sorry." Daniel dropped his head and began to fiddle with the zipper on his backpack.

Fraiser patted Daniel's knee, glowering at Jack over Daniel's bent head. "It's been a long day, it's hot, we're tired, cranky..."

"Hungry?" Jack added and Daniel agreed with a nod. "Okay, let's see where the rest of the crew is." Jack was just about to key the mic on the walkie talkies that General Hammond had insisted be part of their trip when Daniel jumped up and began to wave wildly. "There they are."

Jack placed a restraining hand on Daniel's arm, pushing him gently back to the bench. "I think they see us."

Impatience was radiating off Daniel, though Jack had to admit he had been very good when Teal'c, Carter and Cassie decided to take another ride on one of the main attractions with a very long line. "Do you think they're hungry?" Daniel asked.

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Cassie was the first to reach them and she squeezed between Daniel and her mom. "That was awesome." She caught Daniel's eye and smiled. "Did you like the train ride?"

Daniel pulled the map from his backpack and pointed out to Cassie the exact route the train took as the young girl listened attentively to the man who used to tutor her. Fraiser started to pet Cassandra's hair and she smiled at Jack over her daughter's bent head as she pointed out to Daniel where they had just been.

Cassie's stomach growled loud enough to interrupt their conversation.

"Young lady!" Fraiser said with a laugh.

"Hey, give me a break, I'm starving."

Daniel quickly folded the map, placed it into the open backpack, and struggled to zip it closed. Jack made a step forward to help before he felt a firm grip on his arm. Teal'c pulled him to the side, out of hearing range. "DanielJackson can accomplish this task. You will wait. If he requires help, he must learn to ask."

Jack knew he had been properly chastised and patted Teal'c's upper arm. The man bowed in response. "I know it is hard, O'Neill, I, too, wish to remove all barriers from him, but as DoctorFraiser informed me, that would be incorrect.

"She's right," Jack agreed with a tight smile. "Come on," he said, slapping his friend on the back, "the natives are getting restless, it's time to feed them."

* * * * *

"I'm with Daniel on this one." Cassie stood next to Daniel, her arms folded defiantly across her chest.

"That's two." Daniel reached behind him and pulled Lumpy from the backpack, holding the stuffed toy in front of him. "Does Lumpy get a vote?"

"No, he doesn't." Exasperated, Jack plucked Lumpy from Daniel's arms and tucked him under his armpit. He joined Carter and Fraiser in reading the menu posted in the restaurant's window.

"I'm afraid I have to vote with Daniel also on this one, sir. The mere thought of standing up and eating a hot dog or hamburger..."

Daniel tugged at Lumpy and Jack turned around, surprised at how upset Daniel seemed. "I'm sorry, Jack." Daniel's attempt at whispering still needed some work, and everyone leaned forward to hear. "I didn't know this place was so much money for dinner. Pizza will be fine." Daniel stopped pulling at Lumpy's head and settled for just smoothing down the fur.

"It's not that." Jack placed Lumpy into Daniel's outstretched arms, wrapping his arm around Daniel's shoulder, pulling him to face the menu in the window. "See." Jack pointed out the various headings on the menu. "This place features food from all over the world." Before, this never would have even been a problem because, of the two of them, Daniel had always been willing to try almost anything. Now, his taste buds were those of a normal five year old, geared towards, hamburgers, fries, nuggets, and Jack would count his lucky stars when Daniel would eat either vegetables or a salad served with dinner.

"I like egg rolls." Daniel pointed to one of the pictures adorning the fancy menu. "And I'll behave, I promise." Daniel squirmed out from under Jack's arm and pivoted, making his appeal to the group standing around him "I'll be good and I won't ask when we're leaving."

Cassie breezed right past them and pulled open the door. "While the bunch of you are standing around deciding, I'm going to get us a table." With a waggle of fingers and a tease of air conditioning from inside the restaurant, she disappeared behind the glass door.

"Jack?"

"Fine."

"Thanks!" Daniel shouted, flinging his arms around Jack's neck and planting a loud, wet kiss on his cheeks. "You're the bestest. Isn't he the bestest?"

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed with a straight face and a lift of his eyebrows.

"Oh, definitely the bestest," Carter said as she walked over to the door and held it open.

Fraiser just snorted as she entered the restaurant.

"Everyone's a critic," Jack complained as he pushed Daniel towards the opened door.

"Aaaaaaah. That feels wonderful." Carter stopped in the foyer and maneuvered her body, lifting her face to the vent in the ceiling.

"Oh, yes," Fraiser agreed, picking her hair off the back of her neck and rotating under the venting.

Jack walked through the foyer into the main dining area, smiling at the smattering of overlapping ethnicities of the restaurant's décor. Though garish in appearance, Daniel seemed mesmerized by the various representations of the different cultures.

The place was fairly quiet, the majority of people in the park obviously not having either the patience nor the inclination of a sit down, more expensive restaurant that featured exotic fare. Daniel didn't hesitate and with Lumpy tucked under his arm he took the lead, while Jack and the others followed behind to the table where Cassie was standing.

* * * * *

Daniel was staring so intently at the waiter that Jack was seconds away from kicking him beneath the table to draw his attention away from the young man, who was becoming uncomfortable under his perusal. Slowly, with a wary expression on his young face, the server handed Daniel his menu.

"Yiasou," Daniel finally said, accepting the menu. "Me léne, Daniel." Daniel smiled hugely at the young man's surprised expression. "Pos se léne?"

"Yiasou, Daniel," the waiter stuttered. "Me léne Nicholas."

"Yiasou, Nicholas." Daniel waved his arm the length of the table, totally missing the wide eyed, slack jawed expressions on his friends. "Afti einai i fili mou.

"Hello, Daniel. I'm happy to meet your friends." Shyly, Nicholas waved at everyone and patted Lumpy's head.

"To onoma tou einai Lumpy," Daniel offered, and gave the waiter one last smile before burying his head in the extensive menu.

"Hello, Lumpy," Nicholas said, his cheeks growing pink in embarrassment.

Jack watched the waiter leave before leaning over to grab the top of the menu Daniel was studying, forcing it down on the table, exposing a very surprised and annoyed Daniel. "Hey," Daniel whined, "what did you do that for?"

Jack waggled his finger between Daniel and the direction the waiter had just left. "What was that about?"

Daniel looked over his shoulder. "Huh?"

"You and the waiter were talking."

"Oh, I was just introducing him to everyone." Exasperated Daniel attempted to tug the menu from Jack's hand. "Can I please have the menu back?"

"That was cool," Cassie said over the top of her menu. "How did you know what language he spoke?"

"His ummm..." Daniel tapped his chest.

"His nametag?"

Daniel nodded enthusiastically, "Yup. The picture on his nametag matched the language."

"Picture?"

"I think Daniel means the flag," Cassie interjected. "Remember you told me that the servers in the park were from all over the world, students who spend the summer here in some kind of program."

"Exchange?" Carter supplied.

"Yeah, so I spoke the language that matched his flag." Daniel shrugged.

Jack concentrated, trying to picture the nation's flag on Nicholas' nametag. "Ya just spoke Greek to him?"

"Was Greek the wrong language? That flag made those words come into my mind and outta my mouth." Daniel blindly reached towards Lumpy, pulling him into his arms. "Are you mad?"

"No, no," Jack said, mentally kicking himself for allowing his surprise at another one of Daniel's streaks of genius to place a damper on the mood around the table. He patted Daniel's hand. "I'm not mad, you just surprised me."

"Did I do something wrong? He was a stranger, right? You told me I shouldn't talk to—"

"You have done nothing wrong, DanielJackson. You extended your hand in greeting as you have always done."

"And that's good?"

"Very good." Jack raised Daniel's menu upward. "Enough, let's order."

* * * * *

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I want the Hunan Chicken."

"It's spicy."

"I know... okay, then I'll have the shredded beef."

"That's spicy also."

"I'll drink lotsa water."

"I have an idea, sir. Why don't we all order Chinese and then we can share. Do you like that idea, Daniel? This way we'll all get a mixture of spicy and not spicy dishes." Carter closed her menu.

"I like that idea, Sam."

"Sir?"

"Fine by me," Jack said, thinking that Daniel was going to order, eat nothing, and Jack would be calling room service at midnight for chicken nuggets and French fries.

"Hola, me llamo Daniel," he said the woman who came to take their order.

"Hola, Daniel," she answered with a smile. "Me llama Rita."

"Hola, Rita. Estos son mi amigos." Daniel held Lumpy up for Rita to see. "El se llama Lumpy."

"Hola, Lumpy." Rita smiled and winked at Daniel. "Can I take your order?"

Jack sat back and allowed Fraiser to order, hoping he'd remembered to throw a package of Rolaids in his suitcase.

"Saki," Daniel blurted out. "Can we get saki?"

"Saki?" Rita asked, looked for guidance.

"Warm saki would be nice."

Jack shook his head as he questioned Rita. "You don't have any saki, do you?"

Rita took a moment to contemplate his question. "No sir, we don't, though I could bring Daniel a Shirley Temple if that would be okay."

Daniel screwed up his face. "A girl's drink?"

"Hey, watch that, buster," Cassie teased good-naturedly. "I'd like a Shirley Temple also, two umbrellas please."

Jack waited until Daniel was distracted before he leaned over and whispered a "thank you" in Cassie's ear.

* * * * *

The food was better than Jack ever expected and he smiled, just enjoying watching Daniel instructing Cassie in the use of chopsticks. Little pieces of genius had been peeking out all through dinner and if Jack squinted his eyes, and if the lighting was just right, he could pretend that all was right with his world. But then Daniel would laugh or giggle and Jack would be shoved right back into reality, because the old Daniel had rarely laughed with the intensity or abandon he did now.

Daniel lifted his head from his plate when the girl came to pour the water, and from across the table, Daniel's sharp intake of breath drew Jack's attention away from his own dinner. Daniel was staring, not blinking, and in his widened eyes Jack saw a spark of remembrance and a glimpse of his Daniel. The girl turned to Jack, raising the water pitcher, asking silently for permission to refill his glass and he realized what Daniel saw. Whoever this person was, she was the spitting image of Sha're, not as she would look now, but when Jack had first met her on Abydos. Young, innocent, shy and very beautiful.

He stole a glance at Daniel, who sat frozen, his chopsticks lowered onto his plate, the only movement was the slow blinking of his eyes. The din of the restaurant faded into the background, the clatter of plates, their table's conversations became almost nonexistent as Jack focused only on Daniel and this Sha're look-a-like.

Daniel resembled someone who was slowly awakening from a long sleep, his mind unsure in which reality he truly existed. Would this unknown person be able to bring Daniel back, something Jack had been unable to do? In a flash of pain that was almost too quick to latch onto, Jack felt a flush of jealously spread through his body as Daniel reached out to hesitantly touch the young woman's waist length, unruly, dark and curly hair.

She started when Daniel tugged at a loose curl, waiting patiently as he fingered the dark strand, examining it as he had his precious artifacts. Jack was almost embarrassed at the intimacy in that one simple gesture, feeling like a voyeur, forgetting for a moment that the woman poised over the table with the water pitcher wasn't Sha're, that Daniel, well, wasn't Daniel, and that he, Jack, wasn't sitting under the double moons of Abydos.

Her smile was gentle, her eyes even gentler when she smiled first at Daniel, then at Jack. She placed the water pitcher on the table. "You are very sweet," she said softly with a French accent, gazing at Daniel, touching the hand that held her hair.

Daniel looked at Jack in confusion, then at the woman, jerking his arm from under her hand as if he had touched a hot iron. "Jack?" his voice, high pitched and anxious, his hands fumbled around until they found Lumpy. With shaking hands he pulled the toy into his lap, clenching and unclenching the squishy body. Recognition was totally gone, and Jack was left looking at a Daniel who had obviously just awoken from a dream.

"I am sorry," the young woman said. "I did not mean to upset you. Your chameau ees very nice. Does 'e 'ave a name?"

Daniel fidgeted, his gaze flittering around the dining room as if he was unsure of exactly where he was. Jack was very familiar with that haunted expression; it was the one that Daniel wore after he awoke from his all too frequent nightmares.

"Lumpy, his name is Lumpy." He spoke so softly, and his head was bowed, so that even Jack had a hard time hearing him.

" 'ow do you do, Lumpy," she extended her hand and shook one of Lumpy's hooves. "My name ees Tina."

"Nice to meet you, Tina," Daniel mumbled into Lumpy's fur. "I'm Daniel."

Tina picked up the water pitcher. "I need to return to work, but eet was a pleasure meeting bot' you and Lumpy. I 'ope you enjoy your dinner."

Daniel nodded, watching Tina walk away through hooded eyes, and once she was safely at another table, he put Lumpy back on the table next to his plate and picked up his chopsticks.

Slowly, the sounds of the restaurant began to seep back into Jack's consciousness. Carter's bantering with Cassie, Fraiser's reprimands, a background cacophony signifying the world was righting itself once more. "Are you okay?" Jack asked.

Daniel looked at Jack over the rim of his glasses, a piece of chicken dangling between the chopsticks. "I remember," he said sadly in an adult-timbered Daniel voice.

"Remember what?" Jack hissed, forcing his voice to remain low and steady as he leaned across the table. "What do you remember, Danny?"

"That you promised me ice cream if I finished my dinner? You did promise me that? Why do you look so upset? Did I do something wrong?"

Jack forced out a smile. "No, you didn't do anything wrong and yes, I remember. Now, are you going to remember to leave room for the dessert?"

Jack didn't have to worry about room for dessert, or even dinner, he realized, as he studied Daniel's bent head. The food's appeal had been lost in the last encounter and he hoped that Daniel would break his promise and beg to leave the restaurant, because he would be the first to volunteer to take Daniel back to the hotel.

* * * * *

"Let me move Daniel over to this bed." Jack slid the blanket off Daniel's slumbering body.

Teal'c placed a protective hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Leave him be, O'Neill. There is no reason to disturb his sleep."

"He sometimes gets restless. I don't want him to disturb you."

Teal'c easily tugged the blanket from Jack's grip and adjusted it around Daniel's shoulders. "Do not fear, I will be here if DanielJackson suffers from a nightmare, and you will only be in the next bed if I require aid. Do you not agree that you will get a more restful sleep in a bed rather than the couch?"

Jack nodded. Teal'c was one hundred percent right. Daniel had fallen asleep instructing Teal'c in the fine art of hand-held video games, and was now down for the count, snoring lightly. He was turned on his side, his back pressed up against the length of Teal'c's leg, his head resting on the enormous SpongeBob pillow, and Lumpy was nose to nose with Daniel, tucked tightly in his grip.

Teal'c grabbed Jack's hand as he went to wipe off a smudge of chocolate in the corner of Daniel's mouth. "Maybe it is you that are restless, O'Neill, and not DanielJackson."

"He missed a spot when he washed his face."

"Is not the fact that he is sleeping peacefully more important than a clean visage?"

"It is. I guess you're right," Jack reluctantly conceded. He stepped closer and pointed at Daniel's nose. "Look, he's sunburned." Jack grimaced in sympathy, tsk'ing and shaking his head. "That's going to hurt in the morning, let me go get some cream."

"O'Neill!" Teal'c fixed Jack with an angry gaze. "I believe it is in the best interest of everyone in this room if you take a walk. Now, while it is still early."

"Walk?"

"Yes, you are still appropriately attired to go down to the coffee shop."

"After that big dinner I'm not in the mood—"

"I did not ask if you were in the mood, I instructed you to take a walk and to allow DanielJackson to sleep."

At the exact moment Jack was forming a snappy comeback to Teal'c's argument, Carter stuck her head into the room. "Anyone interested..." she noticed that Daniel was sleeping and lowered her voice to a whisper. "Anyone interested in going down to the coffee shop? I wanted—"

"O'Neill was just expressing an interest in visiting that place, MajorCarter."

"Hey!" Jack replied indignantly.

"Sir?"

Jack glanced from Teal'c's set expression to Daniel's lax, sleeping one. "Let's go, Major."

* * * * *

The lobby was quiet and peaceful, more so than the bustling coffee shop and Jack cocked his head to one of the leather couches set in the back of the cavernous room. "Care to take a load off?"

Carter smiled, eyeing the couches with relish. She sat with an audible sigh which increased in volume as she took a sip of her coffee purchase. She sipped again and passed it under her nose as if testing the oral perfumes of a fine wine. "Wow." Carter licked her lips. "This is absolutely amazing, I bet Dan... Oh." Clear blue eyes clouded with remembrance, and she leaned forward to place the coffee on the table in front of them.

"Sorry, sir. I didn't mean..."

"You miss him. Why are you sorry?"

"Because it doesn't seem fair to this Daniel to still mourn the other one. I mean... oh, hell, I don't know what I mean." Carter abruptly got up, grabbed her coffee cup and dropped it into the nearest trash can. Jack got up with a sigh and followed her over to where she now stood by the windows overlooking the hotel's gardens. He draped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.

"I miss him, too," Jack admitted.

"I didn't mean to imply that you didn't. It's just that everyone seems to have an easier time than I do dealing with him."

"Is that the reason for the goody bag you stuck in his suitcase?"

Carter nodded. "I guess I overcompensate."

"Yes, and you spoil him rotten."

"And that's a bad thing, right?"

"Very bad," Jack agreed. "But it's okay. This is uncharted territory we're dealing with, even though it's Daniel. We're all feeling our own way along here, sometimes more blindly than others. Finding out what works and what doesn't."

"Spoiling doesn't work," Carter sighed. Jack felt her shoulders sag in defeat.

"Not when you do it out of guilt."

"Do you believe I spoil out of guilt, sir?" Carter slipped from under his arm and turned to face him.

Jack shook his head. "It's not what I believe... what do you believe."

She pushed past Jack and walked back to the couch, dropping into the overstuffed cushions, flinging her feet onto the table and crossing them at the ankles. Exasperated, Jack threw up his hands and followed her. He looked around to make sure he wouldn't receive a reprimand from the hotel personnel and sat on the table facing his 2IC.

"He was a genius," Carter said, and her eyes filled with tears.

Jack nodded, patting her ankles. He had a gut instinct that this conversation was going to destroy him, but he needed his team by his side, all of them united. For strength and guidance, because there were days he wouldn't be able to do it alone. And if Carter, hell, even if Teal'c, wanted to talk, he would sit and listen and die just a little bit more inside. "He was," Jack whispered, the lump in his throat constricting painfully.

"It hurts me to see him have such a hard time with skills..."

"That a five year old could easily accomplish?"

"Yes, sir." Carter began to fiddle with a loose string on the hem of her tee shirt. "I guess I spoil him to give him confidence." She snorted and used the tips of her fingers to wipe away escaping tears. "The old Daniel," she gave a little unCarter-like burst of laughter, "never needed confidence when it came to his intelligence. This Daniel..." she looked at her CO, "I don't know what else to call him, sir, this Daniel, that Daniel, god, it sounds so heartless."

Jack gave a little smile of understanding and an empathetic pat to her leg. There was no way he could trust his voice in this very public place.

She answered his smile with a wavering one of her own before continuing. "This Dan... Daniel's good at video games. He doesn't seem to struggle with them like he struggles with everything else, and when he becomes immersed in them, I can almost pretend... Well, I thought he deserved to feel good about something he can accomplish all by himself. I wouldn't call that guilt, would you?" Carter asked hopefully.

"Not at all," Jack said, standing, giving her a moment to compose herself before offering her a hand to stand.

* * * * *

"Teal'c."

"O'Neill."

"How's..."

Did Teal'c just sigh? Jack was dumbstruck with disbelief and couldn't resist the urge to call the big guy on it. "Did you just sigh?"

"I did not," Teal'c answered tersely. "It is just that I have reached a level on this game in which it appears I must capture the..." Teal'c clicked the game shut and slammed it down onto the bed. "DanielJackson is much more adept at this than am I," Teal'c admitted, gently caressing the sleeping form tucked even closer to his leg than when Jack and Carter had left.

"Frustrated?" Jack shared a smile and a wink with Carter.

Teal'c raised his eyebrows at the mere suggestion that he might be. "I am not."

Teal'c's next statement was interrupted when Daniel threw Lumpy in Teal'c's lap, his hand following to grip the camel's leg tightly.

Jack pointed at Daniel. "I think Daniel's..."

"If you were about to say, 'Out for the numbers', then I concur."

"Numbers?" Jack silently mouthed at Carter.

She smiled and began to put up individual fingers.

"Ah." After all these years with Teal'c you'd think... "Out for the count, Daniel's out for the count."

"Is that not what I said?" Teal'c's hand slipped down and he began to slowly pet Lumpy's head.

"Yeah, it's what you said. Sorry, I'm just..."

"Tired," Carter butted in. "The Colonel was just saying that he could go for a good night's sleep." She added a yawn of her own. "Night, guys." Carter gave a slight wave and a gentle smile at Daniel, but for Jack, her smile was a slight bit broader, and in response, he whispered a soft, "You're welcome."

Jack waited until the door closed between the adjoining rooms. "Think I'm going to get ready for bed. Are you sure you don't want me to..."

"I consider DanielJackson to be a member of my family, as are you and MajorCarter. I am honored to spend time with him, protecting him, sharing knowledge of his video games and watching the sponge that wears pants. I do not mind that, what I do mind is that you do not allow either MajorCarter or myself to be with DanielJackson as much as we wish."

"I'm sorry," Jack stammered. Had he really been doing that, in protecting Daniel, had he cut him off from the people he considered family?

"Do not be. Know that we are there to assist you and help. This is a journey that requires all of our hands and hearts."

Properly reprimanded with almost the same speech he had given Carter, Jack bowed slightly in appreciation. "Daniel snores, T."

"As do you." Teal'c patted the head snuggled against his thigh. "I believe I will feel quite at home."

* * * * *

"Daniel, you need to put the clothes in the suitcase for it to count as packing," Jack said, watching as Daniel wandered away from the open bag for the umpteenth time.

"Uh huh." Daniel was kneeling on the floor, looking under his bed. A heavy sigh came from that direction.

"What's wrong, buddy? Did you lose something?" Jack walked over the bed, but didn't risk his knees by getting in the same position.

"I can't find it." Daniel's voice was muffled and now he was stretched out full length on the floor, one arm under the bed.

"What can't you find?" Jack stood, preparing to get on the floor to help search for the missing item. A quick glance told him that Lumpy was safe at least, propped as he was on top of Jack's suitcase.

Daniel pulled his arm out from under the bed and rolled over to his back, looking up at Jack with an expression that conveyed his disappointment at Jack's apparent inability to understand. "The memory."

"Memory?" Jack frowned.

Daniel got to his knees, placing his hands on Jack's knees and looking at him earnestly. "Last night when we got back here, Doc Janet said we have lots of good memories to take home with us, to carry with us all the time, so I want to find it."

"Ah." Jack leaned forward, hugging Daniel. "The memories are in here." He tapped Daniel's head and then pushed back a little and tapped his heart. "And here."

"Oh." Daniel looked at the floor and Jack wondered if there was a part of him that remembered he used to know things. But then Daniel looked back up, giving Jack a brilliant smile. "I'm glad. 'Cause I didn't know if it would fit in my suitcase."

"Yeah, that's a good thing," Jack managed to say. "I'm gonna go check the bathroom. Make sure we've got everything out from there. And you finish packing."

He closed the bathroom door behind him and found a towel, burying his face in it as he laughed. Jack wasn't surprised that tears were mixed with the smile. Sometimes life with this new Daniel, even more so than with the older one, was a roller coaster of emotions. Jack took a shaky breath and ran some cold water, wetting his face and then wiping it with the towel. He looked at himself in the mirror, wondering if all those lines had been there before. He tossed the towel in the tub and went back out to Daniel.

"Jack!" Daniel gave him a brilliant smile, grabbing Jack's hand and pulling him towards his suitcase. "Look, I did it. I got everything in there."

"That you did," Jack agreed. He looked around the room, not wanting to burst Daniel's bubble and telling him the suitcase actually needed to be closed, and spied the papers lying scattered on the table. "Hey buddy, why don't you do me a favor and get all the papers together? Then when we get home, we can put them in a scrapbook for you."

"Okay." Daniel went to the table, pulling out the chair and starting to arrange the maps, tickets and various papers from the hotel. Jack knew Daniel had no idea what any of the papers said, although Daniel had liked the pictures on all the pamphlets. At least it would keep him occupied while Jack managed to repack the suitcase and get it to close.

He pulled out the SpongeBob pillow that Daniel had placed in the bottom, realizing that it took up the most room. Looking up, Jack saw Daniel talking to Lumpy while he looked at the brochures. Removing the pillow allowed Jack to close the suitcase and he carried it over to rest with his.

He moved closer, listening as Daniel described the adventures of yesterday.

"And see, this is the train. Remember Jack said we could ride it a zillion times if I wanted. And he came with me every time. And there's the Ferris wheel. Teal'c said he'd keep me from falling out and he held onto me the whole time. Remember we could see the whole world from there, way up so high. And Jack let me drive these cars, remember? He said I was a good driver and then he got real quiet." A sigh followed that remark. "I think sometimes he's sad, Lumpy. And I don't know how to make him happy again."

Jack cleared his throat, not wanting to startle Daniel. He smiled and reached out to touch Daniel's head, surprised that when he spoke, his voice was strong. "Hey, you almost done with all this?"

"I was helping Lumpy remember," Daniel said, before looking up at Jack. "We had a good time. Doc Janet was right." Those words were said with a bit of surprise. "I won't forget them? The memories?"

"No. You won't forget. I promise." Jack knew he had a whole lot of happy memories to take home himself.

Jack helped Daniel put the papers in a pile and stuff them in his backpack. He was surprised when he heard a sniffle. "Daniel?"

He looked back to see Daniel biting his lower lip, his eyes filling with tears. "What's wrong?"

"We have to go home." Daniel started to wipe his nose with his hand, but Jack grabbed a tissue.

"Use this," he instructed, putting an arm over Daniel's shoulders as he blew his nose. "Yeah, we do." Jack squeezed Daniel's shoulders in reassurance.

"And then I have to go to the Center and I want to go with you," Daniel said in a low breathless whisper.

"Hey, remember? That's your job. Remember you told me that you know that's your job?" Jack tried to sound enthusiastic, but he wished they could stay here, pretending things were different, too. Pretending that the drive up to the mountain wasn't as lonely as it had become.

Daniel nodded. "I'm trying real hard to be good, Jack."

"I know you are," Jack said, kissing Daniel's temple. "I know." He coughed once. "Now... we have to get going. Okay?"

"Okay," Daniel said, nodding and looking determined to get through this challenge. "Hey, Jack?"

"What?" Jack paused in handing Daniel his suitcase.

"I really really, really, really had fun."

"Me too, Danny. Me too," Jack said, realizing that he had, and maybe come a step closer to acceptance.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"Jack?" Daniel asked in a sleepy voice. "What's today again?"

"Sunday, Danny." Jack turned the radio on low as they headed home on the interstate. He spared a quick glance at his nearly asleep companion, Lumpy held in one relaxed hand.

"Do I have to go to the Center tomorrow?"

Jack sighed. Every weekend ended the same way with the same question. He tried so hard to make every moment of the weekend count, to fill Daniel's and his time together with enough joy to help Daniel face the Center on Monday mornings. But Daniel still resisted every week, every day.

"You know you do." Jack swallowed. Retirement was beginning to look like a possibility but it meant reality, finality, and Jack didn't know if he was quite ready to face that either. Plus, Fraiser had explained that Daniel needed to continue to go to therapy whether or not Jack was at home. For some reason, Daniel did not seem to make any progress or cognitive gains.

"I know," Daniel said in a small voice. "But I wish I didn't have to. I wanna stay with you."

"I know you do," Jack sighed. "I really do." He smiled at Daniel but Daniel had already fallen asleep. Jack blinked hard, trying to get the burning sensation from his eyes. Damn, there must have been something in the air today. He gripped the steering wheel tighter, driving into the twilight, wishing, like this Daniel did, that weekends could last forever. He could see the stars appearing in the night sky and realized he'd missed seeing the first one. Too bad that, unlike this Daniel, he knew wishes really didn't come true no matter how hard you wished them. He brought a hand up to wipe the moisture away from his eyes and continued driving.

* * * * *

"Hi, Colonel O'Neill. Can I speak to you a moment?"

Jack offered one of Daniel's therapists a whisper of a smile before he followed him into his office. He sat heavily on the proffered chair, resisting the urge to check his watch. "Look, I'm sorry I'm so late."

The therapist waved the thought away. "No, sir, that's not it at all. I just wanted to know if you had any objection to adding another OT therapy onto Daniel's schedule. His skills are so scattered, and while he holds a crayon perfectly, he can't seem to carry over the same grip to when he uses a writing implement. There is also the possibility of some type of sensory issue..."

Jack slumped in the chair, exhaling loudly enough that the therapist took that as a sign of rejection. He really didn't need any of this, not after the day he'd just had.

"It was just a thought, Colonel, we don't have to..."

Jack straightened in the chair, scrubbing his hands over his face. "I'm sorry, I understand. Just do what needs to be done. It's just been one of those... Did Daniel have a good day?"

"It was a good day."

"I'm hearing an unspoken 'but'. Is there something that you aren't telling me?"

"I think maybe Dr. Fraiser..."

"I'm thinking I'm here, I'm tired, I'm in a bad mood, I had a bad day at work, and I'm sure you don't want me to have to wait to ask the good Doctor..."

"He had a hard time accepting his limitations today."

"Oooookay... and that means, in Danielspeak... What does that mean exactly?"

"Tantrums, tears, throwing things. His language skills are declining - he's been making up words..."

Jack stood, looking down at the therapist, feeling his misguided anger bubbling inside. "I thought you said it was a good day for Daniel. That doesn't sound like a good day."

"I know it doesn't but the fact that he was getting frustrated at not being able to accomplish—"

"Look, you're fairly new here, new to Daniel's team. The man you are talking about is Dr. Daniel Jackson, who holds multiple Ph.D.'s and speaks over 23 languages. The person you see every day, Danny, remembers none of that. You're getting excited that Daniel got frustrated because he couldn't accomplish what? Coloring in the lines... writing the letter A..." Jack took a deep breath and shook his head.

He, more than ever, needed the old Daniel right now – needed someone who could just be there with him, share today's fiasco with a simple look, touch, gesture. Someone with whom he could talk to if he felt the need, someone he could fuck to remind him he was living, and not existing. And as much as he'd looked forward to seeing this Daniel, hearing about his day, the problems that Daniel had today were the last thing he'd wanted to hear. Still, this wasn't about him, this was about Daniel. But it still felt like it was about him. And that made him angry. The whole situation was nearly intolerable and he had to get a grip on himself before he walked out of here.

"Sorry," he mumbled, straightening up in the chair. "That was totally uncalled for. I didn't mean that... I'll talk to Daniel's team leader about the OT you asked for." Jack left the room in a hurry and ducked into the closest men's room. He walked to the sink, leaning heavily on the porcelain. The person that met his eyes in the mirror, was a stranger. Older than his last examination, exhaustion telegraphed from his eyes and the slump of his shoulders. "Oh, Daniel, we needed you today..." he said to his reflection. Jack turned on the water, gasping as he splashed cold water on his face to ward off the memories of the bloody bodies of SG-9 as they returned to Earth; attacked because the SGC's Archaeological Department misread one important word causing the inhabitants to misinterpret SG-9's appearance on PX3 590.

* * * * *

He was angry. Daniel was upset... not being able to read the reason of Jack's anger was confusing him. His questions on this drive home had been cut short and any attempt at conversation ended before it started.

"Daniel, I'm tired and I don't feel like driving around all night. Choose what you want for dinner." Daniel jumped as Jack pounded on the steering wheel in frustration of the evening traffic.

Nervous hands were crossing and uncrossing Lumpy's legs as the camel sat in Daniel's lap, the repetitive motion in Jack's peripheral vision eating away at his already short fuse. "Daniel! Focus please... dinner."

Daniel shrugged his shoulders, his gaze transfixed by the passing imagery through the Avalanche's passenger window. "Don't care... whatever you want."

Fast food would have been the best, drive thru... bring it home, no fuss, no muss. But the thought of another burger and fry turned his stomach. Pizza? No, they'd had that last night. Chinese? The night before that. "Fried chicken okay with you?"

"Fine. Can I have some of those little rolls and mashed potatoes with the gravy?"

"I'll order it if you're gonna eat it. Last time I ended throwing it out." Jack's response was curt even to his own ears, but he was unable to stop himself. He flipped open his cell phone without waiting for Daniel's answer, placing the order for home delivery. He angrily flipped the phone shut, thinking of all the things that needed to be done after dinner. Clean up, bath, lunch for tomorrow, laundry, ironing... the list was endless... overwhelming, when Jack wanted nothing more than to sit in the recliner with a cold beer in his hands watching some inane comedy show with canned laughter.

* * * * *

"Put Lumpy down, Daniel. You can't eat if you're holding him." Jack's patience was running on fumes at this point. A talking, chattering Daniel he could deal with... the one who was sitting across from him at the table was slowly grating on very exposed nerves. Quietly pensive, shuttered against Jack's presence.

Daniel gently placed Lumpy to the side of his plate, softly petting his head before picking up a forkful of mashed potatoes. Jack didn't miss Daniel's furtive glances towards the stuffed toy as he ate.

"Something happen at the Center today I should know about?"

Daniel's head shot up, eyes large and wide behind his glasses. "No... no... nothing happened... nothing at all." Daniel's hand snaked out to grab Lumpy; only Jack's warning to finish his dinner forced his attention to the task at hand. Jack counted two more forkfuls of mashed potatoes and one bite of a roll before Daniel began to play with his food.

"Can I be excused?" Daniel asked, reaching for Lumpy, pushing the chair away and standing before receiving an answer.

"Seems like I don't have a choice," Jack grumbled, waving Daniel from the room.

Jack finished the meal in silence, cleaned the table and wrapped the remainder of the dinner in tin foil. Jack stood before the opened refrigerator, the wrapped remains of tonight's dinner in his hand, his anger boiling over. He pulled the garbage pail to the fridge and began emptying its contents right into the garbage... slowly at first, building up momentum as uneaten dinners of nights past filled almost two pails. He then washed out the empty shelves, replaced the milk and juice along with the wrapped chicken from tonight's meal. He sighed and rubbed his temples as the need to now food shop registered in his tired brain. Jack slammed the fridge door shut with such force that the freezer door popped open. He closed the doors with deliberate slowness, a colonel in this man's Air Force, feeling old and weary enough to retire tomorrow.

* * * * *

As Jack stood surveying the pictures that he'd removed from Daniel's backpack, fixing tomorrow's lunch got pushed to the back of his mind. Folding the drawings along the pre-existing lines, he climbed the stairs to talk to Daniel.

* * * * *

Daniel lay on his stomach, legs bent at the knees, feet waving slowing in the air. Jack stood in the open doorway, Daniel's name dying on his lips as he listened.

"I won't yell, Lumpy, I promise." Daniel moved his right hand and maneuvered Lumpy closer to the opened book on his pillow. "Look see... that's an "A" and that word is at... and there... there's another "A" and that word is ap... apple."

Jack could feel the all too familiar knot appear in his throat as Daniel grabbed the stuffed animal and rubbed the fur against his cheek. "Good job... see if we work hard... Jack will be proud of us. Remember what I told you about being proud... we need to listen, and do good and learn our alphabet." Daniel placed Lumpy back into his original position by the pillow. "Ready to do more, Lumpy? Okay that letter is—"

"Daniel?"

Daniel slammed the book shut, flipping his long body over, maneuvering until he was sitting up on the bed. "I'm sorry... were you calling me and I didn't answer? I'm sorry... please..."

Jack sat on the bed, placing the pictures behind him, berating himself for missing what was right in front of him. Jack tapped Daniel's knee, physically picking up his chin when Daniel refused to make eye contact. "I spoke to Joe today."

"Joe's new," Daniel whispered, "and he doesn't understand things."

Daniel's hands tightened around Lumpy's body, his fingers kneading the stuffed toy until Jack placed his right hand over Daniel's anxious movements. "Didn't have a good day, did you?"

"No, we didn't," Daniel stated.

"We?"

"Lumpy and me. Both of us. Do I have to go back there tomorrow?" Jack could feel the hands below his radiating with tension.

Jack avoided the much asked question with a sigh. "You threw things today, Daniel. You yelled, you got angry."

"He started it," Daniel blurted out. He lowered his eyes, the thumb that had begun tracing patterns on Lumpy's fur telegraphed feelings into Jack's hand that he needed to keep buried. He pulled back suddenly, covering his movement with a fake cough.

"That's not what he told me... he said—"

"He told me I couldn't take Lumpy into the writing class with me. He wanted me to put him in my cubby." Blue eyes full of innocent indignation met Jack's. "I said no. I said 'no thank you' like you taught me, but Joe got louder. I told him to kree and—"

"You said to what?"

"To kree." Daniel furrowed his brow as a realization struck him. "I don't like Joe... nope, I don't like him at all." Daniel crossed his arms around his body, trapping Lumpy within his self hug. "He didn't understand about Lumpy. I tried to explain it to him... slowly. That it was dark in the cubby and that Lumpy hates the dark and I hate the dark and that I—"

Jack threw up his hands in submission. "Whoa, Daniel. A little slower." He patted Daniel's knee in support. "Take a deep breath... a little slower for me, okay?"

Daniel drew a shaky breath and continued. "His yelling was louder than mine... and he's a grownup. He told me that you were going to be mad at me." Tears dripped from Daniel's eyes, which the stuffed camel blotted up with love as he was swept across Daniel's face. "So I put Lumpy in the cubby and I went with Joe. I tried to pay attention... I really did. But I couldn't think... I left Lumpy behind where it was dark and he was alone. I know how scary that is."

"When did the throwing start?"

"He made me mad, Jack. He wouldn't listen... about Lumpy. Joe kept tapping the paper I was working on over and over." Daniel tapped the bed with his pointer finger, mimicking the therapist's voice. "Pay attention, Danny. Your mind should be here and not on that stupid camel in your cubby. Here." Daniel tapped the bed harder, in anger. "He called Lumpy stupid Jack... and I know Lumpy isn't stupid... you tell me that all the time. Me and Lumpy are not stupid." Daniel hung his head and whispered. "I tried to be nice... but I think I called Joe a hasshak. Then I ripped up my paper and threw it off the desk. And my pencil... I threw my pencil, too. At Joe though I know that was wrong..." Daniel growled in frustration. "I was just so mad."

Despite the situation, Jack bit back a laugh. So these were the made up words Joe had said Daniel had used. At this moment Jack just wanted five minutes alone in a room with Joe to show him how dark and lonely a little cubby could actually be.

"...Joe said you'd be mad. He was gonna talk to you and tell you how bad I behaved." Daniel gulped as the tears started anew. "Not proud... he said you wouldn't be proud of me because of what I did. And that he was going to talk to you about me leaving Lumpy at home. Please, Jack," Daniel sobbed. "I won't complain about the Center anymore. I'll go everyday... I won't ask to stay home... just please let Lumpy come with me."

Jack pulled Daniel into a hug, Lumpy's soft body squished between the two of them. He rubbed Daniel's back in wide circular motions, hating the feel of ribs beneath his hands, not trusting himself to speak. Jack waited until Daniel's tears subsided into hiccups before disentangling himself.

He swallowed audibly before beginning. "Daniel, I'm always proud of you. Always... never let anyone tell you anything else. I'm proud 'cause you're brave and you try so hard. You never give up... you always make me laugh and see the best in people."

"I don't always remember my letters, and I can't read... and I can't always tie my shoes and I forget. I'm too stupid for you to be proud."

Jack grabbed Daniel's shoulders, giving the younger man a slight shake. "That's Joe talking... not me or anyone else that we know. I don't want you saying that or even thinking that. People who try their best are never stupid. Never! I don't know a single person who works harder or tries harder than you." Jack released the tense shoulders, ruffling the hair on the bent head.

"I'm gonna start a bath for you, okay?"

Without raising his head, Daniel nodded his agreement.

"Extra bubbles, 'cause you had a bad day?" Jack wished a bubble bath could work wonders on him as it did on Daniel.

" 'Kay," Daniel answered softly. The guilt that Jack experienced as he watched Daniel fold into himself... knees tight to his chest, his face turned from Jack as his cheek rested on Lumpy who lay obligingly on his knees. He took a step forward, then halted, unable to afford Daniel the comfort he craved.

Getting the towels, filling the bath, adding the extra squirt of bubbles to soothe the tortured soul, Jack allowed his guilt to turn to anger. Hands shaking with the need to spew forth words in retribution to the disgrace that Daniel endured today. Jack would be calling Daniel's team leader to make sure that in the future, Joe's therapeutic ideals were kept to himself.

With a snort, Jack reflected on the usage of team leader. Once upon a time, those two words had a completely different meaning to Daniel, to Jack, to the whole SG-1 and the SGC. He slammed an errant cabinet door shut, angry now at himself for taking what he had had for granted, forgetting past life experiences, that in a blink of eye, things can irrevocably shatter.

* * * * *

Jack finished straightening up the house, keeping one ear tuned to the activities in the bathroom. He put out the garbage, remembering tomorrow as trash day, carrying the pails to the curb. Locking the door behind him, Jack headed to the kitchen to make tomorrow's lunch for Daniel. Peanut butter in one hand, jelly in the other, Jack nearly dropped both jars as Daniel called his name.

"Daniel, you surprised me." Jack canted his head at the image that stood before him. Bare feet, pajama-covered legs, led to Daniel's upper body being totally obscured by Daniel holding a pile of towels, dirty towels, laundry to be done towels. "Whatcha doing... if you don't mind me asking."

"Laundry," came the muffled reply, Daniel's voice hidden by the overflowing pile.

Putting the jars on the counter, Jack took the top of the pile, smiling as Daniel's face came into view. "Follow me."

* * * * *

Daniel sat at the table joining Jack in a bowl of cereal and milk before bed. Daniel got up abruptly, returning with a pencil and paper; he placed them before Jack.

"Write down all the things I can help with. Like tonight, I brought down the towels for wash. I can help... so you don't have to do it all. 'Kay?"

"Sorry. I forget that you can help. I'd like that." Jack mirrored the smile that appeared on Daniel's face.

"Come on, Jack, write," Daniel prompted. "Make number one fixing my bed in the morning. Good. Now number two."

Jack listened and wrote, realizing that sharing the burden of being a family felt like a weight was lifting off his shoulder. "Twenty-two things. That's a lot, thanks for this. I needed help today... Thanks for noticing that."

Daniel pushed his chair back taking his and Jack's empty cereal bowls to the sink. "I think this is a number, isn't it? Cleaning off the table?"

"Yup, you're right, number sixteen, to be exact." Jack posted the list to the refrigerator. "Putting it right there, Daniel, see, so we remember about working together."

* * * * *

Jack forgot all about the drawings that he had removed from Daniel's backpack until saw them sitting on Daniel's bed. He scooped them up, just before Daniel bounded into the room.

"Ready. Brushed my teeth, washed my hands and face, I peed and flushed... just like you reminded me."

Jack held back the covers, allowing Daniel to get into bed.

"Can I have two stories tonight?"

"Two's fine," Jack answered absently sitting on the bed. "First I have to show you something." He unfolded the drawings, smoothing out the lines. "Wanna tell me about these?"

"I forgot about these. I'm so glad you found them." Daniel's exuberance over the pictures dissipated as he remembered. "I drew them after Joe and I fought. Christine, you know the nice lady who talks to me... heard the yelling and came in. Christine told me I didn't have to work with Joe any more today and took me to her room and let me draw." Daniel screwed up his face in concentration, using the painfully familiar gesture of tapping his finger to his lips. "I think... yeah... she said she wrote a note and stuck it in my backpack... and that she... that's right... she was going to call you tomorrow. Did you find the note?"

Jack shook his head, some of the tension regarding Joe leaving his body with the knowledge that other people were aware of the man's definite shortcomings. "No, I found the pictures first, I didn't open up your folders to see if she sent me a note. I will later, I promise." Jack removed Lumpy from Daniel's left hand, placing him on the pillow. "The pictures... what about the pictures... and these?" Jack's fingers traced a series of glyphs that made up the border of one the drawings.

"Silly, Jack," Daniel chortled. "You have the pictures out of order." Jack watched as Daniel shuffled the four drawings. "They tell a story." Daniel's eyes widened at the prospect of some hidden agenda. "Can I tell you a story tonight? Can I tell you this story? My story?" Jack held in his laughter as Daniel mimicked the move of patting the area next to him in indication that it was storytime.

"Sure thing, buddy." Jack picked up Lumpy, settling the stuffed toy in his lap, absent mindedly petting the brown fur. Leaning back, he maneuvered his body against the headboard. "Ready when you are."

Jack noticed that all the papers were divided into four squares, his eyes following as Daniel pointed to the first box. "This is a story about SpongeBob and his friends, Squidward, Patrick and Sandy. See, here they are holding hands... doing things that friends do." Jack tracked Daniel along the "storyboard", following the four crudely drawn figures on their adventures, listening to the drone of Daniel's voice relating their voyages.

Daniel sighed heavily, turning to the next page. "The four friends go on this one adventure, right here... because Patrick wanted to go. He had been begging for this one trip through the water... even though he didn't feel good. SpongeBob said yes because he's Patrick's best friend and he knew how important this was to Patrick. So they all went through the water together... following this road here. Can you see the road, Jack?"

"Yup, I see the road. You drew that road really well."

A smile lit up Daniel's face before he continued. "Um, where was I? Oh, yeah. So they go and Patrick gets lost... but SpongeBob doesn't know that Patrick is lost... 'cause Patrick is still there. But the real Patrick keeps calling and calling SpongeBob, telling him to find him. SpongeBob and Sandy and Squidward and even Gary thinks Patrick is crazy... 'Patrick you're right here'... 'Pffft', Patrick says."

Daniel paused, taking a deep breath, turning to the last drawing. "One day SpongeBob really looked and really listened and he believed that Patrick... the real Patrick, wasn't with him. So he dialed this number." His fingers traced the border of glyphs and went to get the real Patrick... who was very glad to see that his best friend finally listened. So he took him back home, through the water and down the road and they all lived happily ever after. The End!"

He handed the papers to Jack, who took them with a smile. "Great story. Thank you for reading that to me." He handed Lumpy back to Daniel, embarrassed that the toy had been on his lap through the telling of this adventure. "Night, Daniel."

"Wait. Wait. I read you a story. Now you read me a story. Two stories tonight you said, remember? I read one, you can read the other one."

"You're right, a deal's a deal." Jack walked over to the overflowing bookcase. Even though Daniel couldn't read, books had again become treasured acquisitions in his life. "Perfect."

Jack resumed his place on the bed, reading the title of the book to Daniel before he began. The two shared a laugh at the name - "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."

Jack read, content at his position, the warmth of Daniel's head on his shoulder, a feeling of righteousness in his crazy world.

Daniel slid under the covers after Jack finished, watching him through eagle eyes as he slipped the book back onto the shelf. Jack bent, removed the glasses, folding them lovingly and placed them on the nightstand. He placed a feather light kiss on Daniel's exposed temple and was answered in a voice on the cusp of sleep, a simple "Thank you," followed by words that haunted the remainder of Jack's evening. "You need to listen, Jack... what's before you... please, listen."

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

Jack watched Daniel playing with his cereal and then checked his watch.

Daniel sighed and looked at Jack. "It's all mushy."

"It wouldn't be if you had eaten it right away," Jack commented. "Are you done?"

Daniel nodded and dumped the remaining cereal in the garbage disposal. "I don't like that kind anyway."

Jack ran an appraising eye over Daniel's body. Daniel had definitely lost some weight since... well, since he'd changed. Fraiser hadn't mentioned anything about it, so maybe it wasn't anything to be alarmed about. He made a mental note to speak to her on Monday. Finding foods that the new Daniel would eat that wasn't fast food was a challenge. Getting him to actually eat and stay focused on the food long enough to complete a meal was another. Not that the old Daniel didn't have some of the same behaviors, but they seemed exaggerated now.

"What are we doing today?" Daniel carefully placed his bowl and spoon in the dishwasher.

"You tell me." Jack remembered a suggestion from one of Daniel's therapists, have Daniel make lists, repeat directions to help work on his cognitive skills.

"Um... store?" Daniel asked, hesitant. He smiled as Jack nodded. "The store where we buy food."

"Grocery store, Daniel. Or supermarket." Jack grabbed his keys from the little hook by the door. "And then what?"

"We come home and play the rest of the day." Daniel followed Jack eagerly. " 'Cause it's Saturday."

"Right, just because it's Saturday." Jack closed the door. "And Daniel, don't..." But it was too late. Daniel had already jumped down the steps into the garage.

"We're gonna have fun today," Daniel said as he climbed into the Avalanche. "Lots of fun."

"Lots of fun," Jack echoed and smiled at his companion before pulling out the garage and into the street.

Thirty minutes later, Jack was seriously beginning to wonder just how fun shopping on a Saturday morning in a crowded store with Daniel in tow really was. Normally he went shopping without Daniel but the past week had been crazy and now there was no longer a choice. Daniel stuck close by Jack's side, his eyes wide and curious.

"There's lots of stuff in here, Jack," Daniel said as they started through the produce section. "Look at all this stuff."

"Yep," Jack agreed. "Can you get me a bag?"

Daniel nodded and pulled a plastic bag off the roll, handing it to Jack.

"What kind of fruit should we get?" Jack stood before a display of various citrus fruits.

Daniel studied them and then spied another display. "I want those apples."

"Okay, apples it is." Jack held the bag open as Daniel placed six apples in the bag.

They bagged some fresh vegetables and then began to make their way up and down the aisles.

"Hey, Jack," Daniel tugged on Jack's sleeve to get his attention.

Jack followed Daniel's pointing finger. "No, I'm sorry. You can't ride in the cart. You're too big."

Daniel giggled. "I know that. I'd be squished all up. Can I stand on the end?"

"Here," Jack relinquished his hold on the cart handles, "how about you push it? Be careful though. No bumping into people."

"I'll be careful, Jack. You know I will."

Jack ruffled Daniel's hair, ignoring the curious looks of some of the other shoppers. Damned if he was going to deny Daniel the reassurance he needed whether they were in public or not.

They were actually making good time, Jack figured, until they reached the cereal aisle. He watched as Daniel picked up what must have been his twentieth choice and then put it back on the shelf.

"Daniel," he warned.

"That one doesn't have a prize." Daniel looked at him over the tops of his glasses.

"I'm counting to ten and by the time I get there, you need to have one in the cart."

Daniel nodded absently and waved a hand at him as Jack began counting. Daniel must have been the kind of child who, when his parents said don't go over this line, put the tips of his toes right on the edge of the line all the while looking cute and adorable. He drew out his selection until the last possible moment, his hand hovering over a box until Jack enunciated the 'n' in ten. Then quick as a flash, the box was tossed in the cart.

Jack shook his head as he saw Daniel's choice, the very first one he'd declared he'd wanted when they'd turned down the aisle.

"I thought you don't like this kind, Daniel. You told me it gets mushy in the milk."

"Jack," Daniel shook his head, for a moment looking like an exasperated Daniel on a mission, "this one always has the best prizes." He started off once again, looking back at Jack instead of where he was going.

"Oops," Daniel said loudly when he bumped into an older man. "I'm sorry, mister."

"Why don't you watch where you're going?" The man's angry voice carried back to Jack who hurried to Daniel's side.

Daniel looked helplessly at Jack. "I'm sorry, Jack. I didn't mean to hit him." He clutched at Jack's sleeve. "Is he mad at me?"

"It's okay. It was just an accident." Jack glared at the man.

"Perhaps the next time you come you should leave him at home," the man said, evidently assessing the situation.

"Excuse me?" Jack said, moving slightly away from Daniel. "Leave him at home? Why would I want to do that?"

"There are places for people like him, you know," the man continued, straightening at Jack's continued stare.

"People like him?" Jack clenched the hand in his pocket into a fist.

"Jack? Can we go home now?" Daniel tugged at Jack's sleeve.

"Not now, Daniel. Quiet down." Jack wanted to smash the bastard's face in but he forced a fake smile to his face. "And no, I don't know what places there are for people like him. Why don't you enlighten me, mister?"

"Jack, come on. Look, I'll put the cereal back. I don't need it. I'll eat whatever you want me to. We can go home. We have lots of stuff there. I'm sorry, I'm sorry I was stupid."

Daniel's voice was almost frantic, but damn it, there was no way this pompous ass was going to put Daniel down.

A stock boy came over to their little scene. "Hey, mister, you know they have free cookies at the bakery today?"

"Jack, free cookies." Daniel looked hopefully at him.

"Go, Daniel. Get your cookie." Jack waved him off.

"I'll take him, mister," the stock boy volunteered.

"So, why don't you tell me just why I shouldn't bring my friend to the grocery store?" Jack nearly growled. The man just shook his head in disgust. Jack looked around to find Daniel only to discover him gone.

Oh, God, what had he done? Gotten caught up in an ego battle with some idiot who wasn't even worth his time. He grabbed at the cart, ready to take off on a dash through the store to find Daniel and then remembered some kid saying he'd take Daniel to the bakery. Stupid, stupid, stupid, Jack berated himself. Who was the real ass here anyway?

"Jack!" Daniel came running down the aisle, a cookie in each hand. "Look, they gave me cookies!"

He handed one to Jack and held the other out to the man. "Okay? Please?"

The man ignored the cookie and Daniel and brushed past Jack, muttering something about people who shouldn't be allowed in public.

"Did I do something wrong?" Daniel looked at him worriedly.

"No, no. You didn't do anything wrong." Jack threw an arm over Daniel's shoulders. "I'm sorry. I ignored you."

"Why didn't that man like me?" Daniel asked plaintively.

"I don't know."

Daniel looked at the cookie in his hand. "I wanted to give this cookie to him. I thought it would make him happy."

"Yeah," Jack sighed.

"Hey," Daniel brightened. "You don't have a cookie." He offered it to the stock boy.

"Thanks." The teenager smiled. "I like cookies."

Daniel smiled back shyly. "Me, too. My name's Daniel. What's your name?"

The kid laughed. "Guess what? My name's Daniel, too."

"It is?" Daniel turned to face Jack. "His name's like mine."

"I heard that." Jack broke his cookie in half, smiling at both Daniels.

His Daniel took a bite of cookie and Jack mouthed a thank you to the teenager, making a mental note to speak to the manager about the kind stock boy in aisle twelve.

He took over pushing the cart as Daniel munched his cookie.

"Are there more me's?" Daniel asked.

"Only one of you, Daniel. You're the only one like you in the whole world."

"But his name was like mine."

"Yep, lots of Daniels but only one you."

"That's silly." Daniel grabbed a pack of frozen pizzas.

"It's true, though." Jack put the pizzas back in the freezer. "Not this kind, Daniel." There was no way he could ever explain alternate realities courtesy of the quantum mirror, but even those Daniels weren't his Daniel.

Daniel smiled at him, all the hurt of the previous few minutes forgotten. "Can we come grocery shopping every day?"

"Not every day." Jack grabbed the first ice cream container he saw. "But we'll come here again. Gotta feed you, right?"

"Right," Daniel agreed. "Jack, will you let me give the lady the money?"

"Yeah, you can give her the money." Jack steered the cart towards the candy free line. There was no way on earth he was waiting in a line that went past all the candy bars. All Daniel would have to do was look at him beseechingly and the man would have every candy bar in the store.

* * * * *

"I had a good time today," Jack said as he sat on the edge of Daniel's bed.

"Me, too. I liked going to the waterfall place. That was fun." Daniel yawned, reaching for Lumpy and pulling the camel close.

"Seven Falls," Jack corrected gently. "Yeah, that was pretty neat, wasn't it?" It had been too beautiful a day to spend indoors and after they'd brought the groceries home and put them away, he'd decided to take Daniel hiking on the spur of the moment.

Daniel had been transfixed by the waterfall in the narrow canyon and insisted they hike up the two hundred forty four steps to the observation platform. After Daniel's enthusiasm, Jack could hardly wait to see Daniel's face when they stopped at the natural history museum before going to the zoo tomorrow. General Hammond called in a favor from a friend in order to get tickets for the special Egyptian exhibit that was on tour.

"It was fun feeding the fish." Daniel turned onto his side and rubbed his fingers on Jack's jeans. He yawned again. "Tomorrow we go to the zoo?"

"Yep, busy weekend, huh?" Jack agreed, gently placing Daniel's hand back on the bed. "Close your eyes, Danny."

* * * * *

Jack woke with an insistent ache in his groin, surprised to see that it was daylight and that both he and Daniel had slept the night through.

He made his way into the bathroom, turning the shower on cold. The cold spray made his knee ache. He closed his eyes, remembering a time when Daniel would have massaged the ache away. Jack stepped out of the shower a few minutes later, his erection subsided, and his knee hurting. He rummaged in the medicine cabinet for the ibuprofen and took three of them. Jack couldn't stand the thought of disappointing Daniel simply because he couldn't control his sexual desires for the "old" Daniel.

Jack got dressed and went to wake Daniel, only to find the bedroom empty, the comforter half off the bed. Jack made his way downstairs only to hear the muted sound of the television.

"Hi, Jack!" Daniel nearly bounced off the sofa at Jack's appearance. "Can we go now? I'm ready and I've been waiting forever for you to get up."

Jack bit back a grin. Daniel was ready, all right. He had on his jacket already zipped up, Lumpy was on the coffee table apparently ready to join them on their trip to the zoo.

"How long have you been up?" Jack asked and then shook his head. Daniel had no true sense of time any more.

"I watched Toy Story and then my SpongeBob tapes," Daniel said.

Jack glanced at the clock, calculating. Daniel had been up for the past three hours.

"Daniel, you need to sleep." Jack motioned for him to follow him to the kitchen.

"I can't wait, Jack. Can't we go now?" Daniel ignored Jack's, "Sit down, please."

"No, we can't go now. It'll be a few hours until everything opens. So, take off your jacket and sit down. We need to eat breakfast first."

"I'm not hungry. I want to go now." Daniel sat down, glaring at Jack.

"Hm..." Jack looked in the refrigerator. "Let's see. I think I'm going to have some waffles. Looks like there's waffle batter in here." He made a production of getting out the bowl and the maple syrup.

"Uh, Jack?" Daniel fiddled with a fork. "I think maybe I can eat a waffle."

"I thought maybe you'd find some room in there." Jack smiled. "One Jack O'Neill special coming up."

Daniel laughed and went over to watch Jack cook. "Can I have chocolate chips in mine?"

"Chocolate chips and maple syrup?"

Jack sighed as Daniel handed him the bag of chocolate chips, looking at him with an expression of disbelief. He supposed in Daniel's world everyone ate chocolate chips and maple syrup on their waffles.

"Put in lots, please." Daniel smiled at him. Jack smiled back, kissing Daniel's hair.

"You got it, Danny. Chocolate chip waffles coming right up, just like my mom used to make."

* * * * *

Daniel stopped on the sidewalk, his eyes darting from the big building in front of them to Jack and back again.

"What's wrong?" Jack asked, unable to understand Daniel's hesitancy.

"Is this, is this, is this..." Daniel seemed to having trouble finding words and breath.

"Slow down," Jack soothed. "Just slow down and tell me what's wrong, okay?"

Daniel took in a huge breath through his mouth. "Are you gonna leave me here?"

Jack shook his head. "No, this isn't a hospital." Jack knew he'd pinpointed Daniel's fear as soon as he said those words. The fear that was haunting Daniel's eyes faded and he gave a small smile.

"Not a hospital? Not like the Center?" Daniel started walking again, making sure that Jack was close by.

"No, not a hospital. Daniel, this is a museum," Jack explained. "They have lots of neat stuff inside."

"Egypt stuff?" Daniel raised his eyebrows.

"Yep, Egyptian stuff," Jack agreed, pulling out two tickets to show him.

"Then can we go in? Right now?"

The doors swooshed open and Jack watched Daniel as he handed their tickets to the attendant. Daniel's eyes widened as he saw the big sign announcing the touring exhibit. It was the same look of awe and excitement Jack had seen countless times when Daniel made a new discovery or broke the code to understand another language.

"Are we going to see that stuff?" Daniel whispered reverently.

"Yeah." Jack paid for one of the guides to the exhibit, unsure of how many questions Daniel was going to ask. "Come on. You ready?"

Daniel just nodded, his hand coming to rest on Jack's sleeve absently.

They entered the exhibit by going through a passageway that was built to simulate the entrance to a pyramid.

Since they'd made it to the museum right after opening on a Sunday, they were lucky enough to have the exhibit nearly to themselves.

Daniel tugged on Jack's sleeve, pulling him towards a small glass case filled with what looked like gold jewelry.

"What's it say?" Daniel pointed to the small signs inside the case.

Jack read it dutifully, the small ache of Daniel's lost abilities fading as Daniel's excitement and interest grew as they slowly made their way around the hall.

Daniel giggled as Jack read from the guidebook for the final exhibit. "That's silly."

"What's silly?" Jack was confused. The guidebook explained that the hieroglyphs on the two canopic jars were hymns of praise to Ra.

"It's silly, because that's not what this one says." Daniel pointed. He bent his knees to study the jar more closely. "Jack?"

"Yes, Daniel?" Jack wondered if Daniel was truly able to read the glyphs or if it was just some vestige of a memory of Daniel's past life.

"What's goold?"

"Gold? That's what the necklaces were made of." Surely Daniel hadn't just said what Jack thought he heard.

"No, no." Daniel shook his head vigorously. "Not gold. Goold." He drew the word out.

Jack felt his heart begin to pound and looked cautiously around the room. Luckily the few other families that had entered the hall had breezed through the exhibit in half the time it took Daniel and him and the hall was once again empty except for a security guard in the far corner.

"Goa'uld, Daniel. And it's not something good, believe me."

Daniel nodded and pointed a long finger to the jar. "I didn't think so. This one says beware the Goa'uld." He looked back to Jack. "Are you going to tell them to fix the sign, Jack? They shouldn't be telling people the wrong thing, should they?"

"No, no they shouldn't. Let's get going, and I'll make a phone call to someone who can get it fixed."

"Okay," Daniel agreed happily at Jack's assurance.

Jack rubbed a hand over his face as he followed Daniel towards the exit. He was so dreading this phone call to General Hammond.

* * * * *

"I'll send Doctor Lee and Major Carter to speak to the museum's director. If the writing is indeed Goa'uld, then they'll do a search of the rest of the artifacts to see if there are any more."

"Yes, General, I understand."

"How did Daniel know what was written on the canopic jar?"

"I'm not sure how he knew, but I have no reason to doubt he's right."

Daniel reached out to grab the phone. "I want to talk to Grandpa George."

"I'm busy right now, Daniel. Grandpa... I mean, General Hammond, and I are discussing something very important." Jack glanced at Daniel, who was busy glaring back and folding his arms over his chest.

"But I want to talk to him. I have important stuff to say, too."

"I know you—"

"Let me speak to him, Jack," Hammond ordered.

"Yes, sir." He handed the cell phone to Daniel and put both hands on the wheel again.

Daniel beamed at him and put the phone to his ear. "Hi, Grandpa George."

There was a minute pause and then Daniel started speaking rapidly. "We're going to the zoo. Right now. Jack took me to a museum and we saw Egypt stuff and now we're going to the zoo."

He took a deep breath before continuing. "I wish you were coming to the zoo with us. Hey, can I come to your office again and play with you? I'm gonna draw you some pictures to hang on your wall. And guess what, Grandpa George? Jack said I could bring Lumpy to the zoo. He couldn't go in the museum because Jack said he'd be bored, but Jack said he'd like the zoo. He said there's some real live camels there. Jack said we're gonna see a bald eagle. Bald means you don't got any hair, like you, Grandpa George. Where did your hair go?"

"Daniel," Jack held out his hand for the phone. "We'll be at the zoo soon."

Daniel sighed. "Jack says we'll be there soon. I have to give him the phone." Daniel listened intently before beginning to nod. "I will, Grandpa George. Okay. Bye."

Pushing the off button, Daniel handed the phone to Jack, studying him intently. "Jack? Grandpa George said I'm supposed to keep you in line. What does that mean? Should I make sure you get between the white lines in the parking place?"

Jack smiled and patted Daniel's denim-clad knee. "It means that you get to tell me what we do today. Sound good?"

Daniel nodded and pulled his backpack onto his lap. He unzipped it and pulled out Lumpy, holding him up to the window. "Look, Lumpy. It's the zoo. We're gonna see lots and lots of animals."

* * * * *

Jack finally guided Daniel to a bench and had him sit down and drink the bottle of water Jack had bought. Daniel had been entranced by the polar and grizzly bears and had watched the bald eagle intently. Jack sat down beside him and smiled.

"Are you having fun?"

Daniel nodded, taking another long swig of water. "But, Jack, I can't find them. I've been looking and looking. But I can't find them anywhere." He looked at Jack beseechingly.

"What do you want to see, buddy? Tell me and we'll look on the map." Jack spread the map across their knees. "Then we'll go see them after we finish our water."

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"Where are the mastadges?" Daniel pushed up his glasses with one finger, never losing his grip on Lumpy.

"Uh..." Jack wasn't prepared for that request. He squeezed Daniel's shoulder. "I'm sorry. They don't have any here."

A quiet, "Oh," was accompanied by a sigh.

"But they do have a place we can explore. It says they have a ruined temple in this building." Jack showed Daniel on the map. Daniel smiled at him. "Finish your water," Jack reminded him gently. "Then we'll go. And after that, we'll take a trip on the train."

Daniel nodded and drank another gulp of the water, hugging Lumpy in his excitement.

Jack had grown used to the strange glances sent their way but he was also beginning to notice that there was understanding in some of those glances, and he found himself smiling back at the folks who smiled knowingly at them.

Daniel was standing, pulling on Jack's sleeve. "C'mon. You said we have more stuff to do."

Jack grinned and got to his feet. "Let's go."

Three hours later, they only had one exhibit left to see. Daniel shook his head at the picture of the snake outside the building.

"What's in here?" he asked in a whisper.

"Snakes and other reptiles."

"I don't want to go in there." Daniel shook his head.

"Okay," Jack agreed, but he was puzzled. "Daniel, they can't hurt you. They'll be behind glass."

"Don't care. I don't want to see them. Don't you remember, Jack?"

"Remember what?"

"You always say I hate those fucking snakeheads," Daniel said in an urgent tone.

Jack glanced around, hoping no one had overheard that particular comment. He and Daniel began making their way towards the exit.

"And you say there's no good snakes. Not even a to... tok... tok'ra," Daniel finally got out.

"You know what? You're absolutely right." Jack felt Daniel's warm, sweaty hand slip into his. "Let's stop in the gift shop before we leave."

* * * * *

"Daniel?" Jack held up the big camel he'd found in the gift shop. "Hey, look at this. You like it?"

"No." Daniel shook his head and began backing up, clutching Lumpy tightly. "No, put it back. Don't want that one."

"Hey, it's okay." Jack put the camel back down. "I just thought maybe you'd like another one. A better one."

Daniel looked at him, hurt in the blue eyes. "I like Lumpy. I don't want another camel."

"We don't have to get it." Jack steered Daniel towards the small puzzles and models.

"I don't have to get rid of him?"

"Of course not." Jack picked up a small wooden puzzle, showing it to Daniel. Daniel's frown was quickly replaced by a smile and a nod.

"Just 'cause something's not perfect you don't have to get rid of it," Daniel said quietly as they walked to the counter. "I won't ever get rid of Lumpy. Not ever." He looked at Jack.

Jack was once again confronted with the strange mix of old and new Daniel. A lump formed in his throat at the thought that maybe, just maybe, Daniel feared that Jack would get rid of him, that Jack saw him as damaged and without value. He missed what Daniel had been, but what Daniel was now was no less precious to him, no less valued.

"You're very smart, Daniel. Thanks for reminding me of that." Jack smiled at him and handed Daniel a twenty dollar bill to pay the clerk. "Lumpy is very lucky to have you for a friend."

"Like you and me," Daniel whispered as they waited in line.

"Exactly like you and me," Jack whispered back, knowing that Daniel still, as always, would challenge his assumptions about life.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"Are you going to put Lumpy's name on that piece of paper, too?" Daniel leaned over Jack's shoulder as he signed them both into the log at Cheyenne Mountain's, waving Lumpy before his face.

"No, there's no need to—"

"But he's coming with us. You have to write his name because then who will know where he is?"

Jack forced a smile at the security guard watching this exchange and pushed Lumpy aside, clearing the logbook so he could see to write. "We know he's with us, so there's no need to—"

"But you always put my name when I come with you – see, right there. Daniel Jackson." Daniel pointed at the name above Jack's, which read 'Dave Siler'. "If you write my name down and you still know I'm here with you, then why do you write it down? You need to put Lumpy and—"

"Fine. See, I'm writing it. Colonel Jack O'Neill, accompanied by Lumpy." Jack scribbled the last name and hoped nobody questioned what he'd written.

He adjusted the strap to Daniel's small backpack and then herded Daniel into the elevator. In his other hand he carried a small carryall with a few days' worth of clothes. Daniel danced to and fro excitedly and Jack watched him. He'd been excited for the past three days when he'd learned of their small vacation offworld. "Are we going to see Grandpa George first? Lumpy wants to say goodbye."

"Yes, the general is expecting us to drop in before we leave."

"Goodie." Daniel shifted his weight and then suddenly went still. "Jack?"

"Yeah, Daniel."

"It's not going to hurt, is it?"

"Going through the Stargate?"

"Uh huh."

"No, it's not." The elevator doors slid open on the 27th floor and Jack placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder, urging him out. "Remember Ca... Sam explained this to you? You won't feel a thing. One minute you'll be here, and then you'll be over there. Sort of like stepping outside through a door."

"But it won't hurt? Lumpy thinks..."

"Is Lumpy nervous?"

As Daniel nodded, staring at his feet, Jack stopped, pulling Daniel close to the wall. "It's okay to be nervous. But you'll be with me, and I promise, nothing bad will happen."

Daniel looked up at Jack and smiled. Jack ruffled his hair and then continued on towards their destination. They stopped in front of the general's office, and Jack stuck his head inside. When he saw that Hammond was alone, he knocked on the doorframe.

"Jack. Daniel. Come on in." Hammond pushed his laptop closed and stood, coming around his desk while Daniel rushed to him for a hug. He put his arms around Daniel and patted his back while Daniel, Lumpy dangling from one hand, enthusiastically crushed Hammond to him.

"We're going to visit Katsup, Grandpa George."

"Kasuf, Daniel." Jack winced internally at the mix up in names.

Daniel looked at Jack wide-eyed and confused. Then he smiled brightly. "Katsup is the stuff you put on your eggs. I don't like Katsup with eggs, no sir. I like it on meatloaf, though." He parked his butt on the corner of Hammond's desk and fiddled with the pull chain on Hammond's corner desk lamp, turning it on and off in quick succession.

"Are we good to go, sir?" Jack asked as he silently caught Daniel's hand and pulled it away from the chain.

"You have a window in twenty minutes."

"Great. I guess we have time to grab a snack from the commissary and—"

"Doctor Fraiser wanted you to stop by the infirmary before you left."

"Oh, no, no no." Daniel jumped off the desk and waved the hand holding Lumping in irritation. "No needles. I don't want any needles." Lumpy's neck smashed into an award sitting on the credenza, knocking it over. "Jack, can we go home? I don't want no needles." Face red and moving quickly towards a tantrum, Daniel began hurrying towards the door.

Jack quickly righted the overturned award while Hammond moved to head Daniel off at the entrance. "It's okay, son. Doctor Fraiser just wants to make sure the colonel has all the medication he may need for your trip."

"No needles? Promise?" Daniel shifted his weight, looking like he was ready to panic.

"No needles, Daniel." Jack took Daniel's arm and tugged him gently towards the door. "She just wants to talk to me."

"I'll see you two in a few minutes." Hammond returned to his desk as Jack led Daniel to the infirmary.

Fraiser was waiting for them and held up a small bag as Jack pulled a reluctant Daniel towards her.

"Good, you're here. I'm not sure exactly what you packed but I wanted to make sure you had everything you might need." She opened the bag and dumped its contents onto a nearby bed. "Analgesics, anti-emetic, anti-diarrhea, Tylenol—"

"Doc, I got most of this stuff." Jack eyed the various bottles while keeping a watch on Daniel, who had wandered to a nearby table and was examining the various paraphernalia on it.

Fraiser began placing the bottles back into the bag, one by one. She handed him the bag. "Good. You can take these with you in case you're missing something or run out of it."

Jack accepted the bag and dumped it into his carryall.

"You will be careful, won't you? If there's any problem, you'll bring Daniel back. He may not be able to take the heat easily."

"You know I will, doc. But I need to do this. For him, or rather, for Sha're's memory. And his."

"Daniel won't know the difference, sir. It's been two years since his wife's death and—"

"I'll know. This isn't for Danny, it's for... what he was. Before... you know. He'd have gone to this memorial ceremony – hell, he wrote the date in his agenda almost a year ago. It's the least I can do."

"And what about her father and brother? What will their reaction be when they see Daniel?"

"They've already been briefed. Teal'c went to Abydos a week ago and told him what happened. Kasuf was insistent that we come and visit."

Daniel had wandered off a ways, heading towards someone lying in an infirmary bed.

"Daniel," Jack hissed. When Daniel turned inquisitively at him, Jack motioned with his head that he should come back. "We better get going," Jack said when Daniel returned to fiddle again with the items on the nearby table.

"Have a good trip, Daniel."

Daniel turned quickly, his hip bumping into the table and one of the glass jars tinkled loudly as it banged into another.

"I will, Doc Janet. We're going to visit Kat... Kasoop."

"I know. Have fun. You, too, sir."

"Thanks, Doc. C'mon, Daniel. It's almost time to go."

"We're going to go through the big round thing, right?" Daniel turned sideways and skip-hopped his way along the corridor beside Jack. "The one we see from Grandpa George's office and it turns blue sometimes and it's like going through a door."

"That's right." Jack pulled Daniel aside when he almost bumped into a marine.

"And Lumpy's not scared and we're going to visit Kasoop and we're going to go on a vacation and it's gonna be hot and we're gonna visit a grave and—" Daniel squealed as they stepped into the Gateroom and ran to Carter and Teal'c, who were waiting by the edge of the ramp.

"Sam, Teal'c. Are you coming with us to Aby... Aby..."

Carter laughed. "Abydos, and no, Daniel, we're not. We just stopped by to see you two off."

Daniel's face fell for a moment, but he perked up as Hammond entered the room.

"Just in time, boys. Walter's finishing up a 'gate diagnostic and he'll be dialing the moment he's done."

As if the technician had heard Hammond's words, the 'gate began to turn. Daniel jumped and scurried to stand behind Jack, looking up at the 'gate in awe.

"Chevron one encoded."

The look on Daniel's face was priceless as Walter's voice came over the loud speakers. He looked around before he waved when he saw Walter through the glass windows, and then looked back at the still-turning Stargate.

"It's noisy."

"Yep. Sounds a bit different from down here instead of up there, doesn't it?"

Daniel turned and looked up towards the briefing room window. He took a few steps backwards but Jack grabbed him before he could bump into the railing.

"Chevron seven locked." The Stargate whooshed and Daniel jumped back, then grinned at Jack.

"Wow."

"That's our ticket," Jack said, pointing to the active wormhole. "We'll be back in five days. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, kids." He grabbed their carryall and kept a light hand on Daniel's bicep as they walked towards the shimmering puddle.

"We go through that?" Daniel stopped just short of the wormhole.

"Just like going through a door."

"There's no window."

"Trust me, just one step and we'll be through in seconds."

Daniel reached out and touched the puddle, which rippled at the disturbance. Daniel hurriedly took two steps away from the wormhole, forcing Jack to let go of his arm. "Nope, no way. I'm not going through that." He wrapped his arms around himself, crushing Lumpy to his chest, and gave Jack a mutinous look.

"C'mon, Daniel, it's safe." Jack held his hand out to him.

Daniel shook his head, ignoring Jack's outstretched arm. "It's all... funny. I don't like it."

Hammond, bless his heart, walked up the ramp to put a hand on Daniel's arm. Daniel leaned close to Hammond. "You know, Daniel, Jack goes through the Stargate all the time. So do Major Carter and Teal'c. And a lot of other good people. Do you think I wouldn't let them walk through that if it wasn't safe?"

"No," Daniel said after a moment through his pout.

"And I wouldn't let you go through it if I didn't think it was okay."

"See, it's safe. C'mon."

"I don't wanna." He took another step down the ramp. Carter and Teal'c approached the ramp, standing in such a way that they were blocking Daniel from retreating further.

Jack sighed and looked at Hammond. "Kasuf is expecting us. I should just go and I'll come back tomorrow after the ceremony. I know it's short notice but could one of you take Daniel tonight?"

"I would be more than happy to share my quarters with DanielJackson."

"You're leaving me here?" Daniel wailed, unconsciously moving closer to the Stargate as he hurried beside Jack. "I don't want you to go. I want you to stay here with me."

"I promised Kasuf and Skaara I'd be at the ceremony. They're on the other side of the 'gate, Daniel, waiting for us. I don't want to disappoint them, so yes, I'm going without you."

"No, no no no. Please, I'll go with you. Don't leave me here."

"You sure?"

Daniel nodded vigorously.

"Then come on. One quick step through." Jack grabbed Daniel's arm and before he could protest, pulled him through the Stargate. Daniel yelled in surprise, and was still yelling when they stepped out of the Stargate and into the pyramid on Abydos.

Torches lit the room, the smell of burning resin strong in the dry, hot room. Daniel stumbled, righted himself, and turned on Jack angrily.

"That's wasn't nice. You scared me."

Jack smiled at Daniel despite the fury in the beloved face. "I'm sorry. But look, we're here now." He waved an arm towards the two men standing beside the DHD, flanked by several guards, all of them with grins on their faces.

Kasuf stepped forward, nodding politely. "Good Son, it is a pleasure to see you again. You are looking well. O'Neill, welcome. We are happy to have you both."

"Jack," Daniel said in a loud whisper. "I'm not his son. Why did he call me that?"

"That's what Kasuf always called you, Daniel."

Daniel scrunched his nose. "Not me, the other me."

"I am sorry, Dan'yel. I did not mean to confuse you. You may not be the same person you once were, but there is still a part of you who is who he was."

"What did he mean, Jack?"

"He likes you," Jack said with a grin.

"I don't have to call him daddy, do I?" Daniel whispered again.

"No, you can call him Kasuf."

Skaara stepped forward, arms spread out and Jack dropped his bag and took the man into an enthusiastic hug. "O'Neer," he said happily.

"It's good to see you, Skaara. How ya doin'?" Jack patted Skaara's back.

"I am well." He stepped back and grinned at Jack. "I am also very glad you have both come for the ceremony."

Jack noticed Daniel scowling at them and placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder, hoping to appease any jealousy he might be feeling. "He would have wanted this," Jack said softly. Skaara nodded, understanding Jack's statement. "Daniel, this is Skaara. He's Sha're's brother."

Daniel said the name several times to himself, then thrust Lumpy into the man's face. "This is Lumpy."

Jack had to give Skaara credit; he merely eyed the stuffed toy and smiled gently at Daniel. "It is a lovely creature. Is it a brave warrior creature from your world?"

"It's a camel," Daniel said in a derogatory tone. "They're not brave, they're just... camels."

"I see. We have no camels here."

"You don't? It's hot." Daniel wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "We're going to visit with you. Jack said we're also going to go visit someone and say prayers and we're going to stay at Kasoop's place."

"And we must be on our way. Come, it is a long ride home." Kasuf politely showed them the hallway leading towards the pyramid's exit. Jack grabbed their bag and they walked out. The guards stepped forward as they passed, all of them smiling at Daniel and welcoming him. Daniel blushed, looked down at his feet and followed Jack until they turned into the dimly lit tunnel, the glare of sunshine indicating the end.

Daniel reached out and touched Skaara's dreadlocks. "Is that your hair?" He tugged on a dangling braid and Jack reached out and gently tapped Daniel's fingers so he'd let go.

"It is easier to keep them in braids, and the length protects my neck from the heat of the sun." Skaara smiled over at Daniel.

"Jack, can I grow my hair and braid it like his?" Daniel raised a hand to his own short locks and fingered the strand.

"It would take years to grow that long, and you'd be fed up with it in no time."

"No, I wouldn't." Daniel traced a long strand of braids with a finger, trying to see where it led in the intricate hairstyle.

"O'Neer is right, Dan'yel. It takes much time to care for. Were I not living here on Abydos, I would much prefer your own short form."

They stepped outside, with Daniel still staring at Skaara's braids and fingering his own, trying to tug his bangs down over his eyes.

"Daniel, the sun's strong here. Put your hat on." Jack took the boonie hat he'd placed into the carryall's pocket and plopped it on top of Daniel's head, carefully adjusting the strap beneath his chin.

"It's hot," Daniel repeated moodily as he started to remove his jacket.

"I know. Keep your jacket on; it'll protect you a little from the sun. Sunglasses, too." Jack caught the sympathetic glance Kasuf gave him as he patted the jacket back on Daniel's shoulders, raising the collar to protect Daniel's throat. Daniel fumbled through his pockets for his clip-ons.

"I was told of the changes he has experienced, but did not realize how much we have lost," Kasuf said softly as Jack put on his own sunglasses. He was spared answering when Daniel turned and yelled, "Jack! Look!" Pointing excitedly to the two saddled beasts waiting patiently nearby, Daniel grinned at Jack. "Mastadges. Can we go see them?"

"We will do more than see them," Skaara said, sliding down the sand dune towards the beasts. "We shall ride them."

"Really? Jack, we're gonna ride the mastadges." Daniel did an excited little dance before sliding awkwardly behind Skaara. Kasuf, born to this world, managed a much more dignified and graceful descent while Jack, trying to emulate the leader's poise, at least made it down without sliding on his butt.

Daniel ran up to the beasts, but stopped short as one of them snuffled loudly. He peered at it with a grin. "There wasn't any at the zoo. I'm glad they're here."

"Daniel, you better put Lumpy in the bag." Jack unzipped the carryall and held it open.

"No, I want Lumpy to see." Daniel clutched the toy closer to him, rubbing his nose on Lumpy's head.

"It's a long way down, and if you drop him, we might not find him again. It's safer for him in here."

"I won't drop him."

"Do you want to take that chance? The desert out there is pretty big."

Daniel seemed to be thinking it over for a moment, but after a final rub, he reverently put the stuffed camel into the bag. "You won't lose the bag, will you?"

"Nope. It's gonna be tied nice and tight to the saddle." He handed the carryall to Skaara, who made a show of tying it to the beast's side.

"Do you want to ride with me, Dan'yel?" At Daniel's nod, Skaara showed him how to climb up and by the time Jack turned to his own ride, Daniel was already ensconced atop the mastadge, with Skaara sitting behind him.

"C'mon, Jack, climb up. Don't be a slowpoke." Daniel shifted around to watch Jack, and Skaara placed a protective hand on his arm to hold him in place. Jack waited for Kasuf to mount, remembering the one and only time he'd been atop one of these creatures was during a sandstorm when he and Daniel had gotten lost trying to escape from Ra's clutches.

He'd forgotten how much the mastadges stank; as even as he put a foot onto the stirrup to hoist himself up, it noisily passed air. The stench followed him up, the lack of wind not aiding in dissipating the gas.

Within moments the pyramid was hidden from sight as they descended another large dune, the only vista around them was sand, sand and more sand. He heard Daniel whine again about the heat and he simply pulled his baseball cap lower on his forehead, hoping the trip didn't entail any surprise detours because the complaining was getting on his nerves, and he figured Skaara and Kasuf weren't immune either.

"Are we there yet?" The excitement had left Daniel; his voice was one which Jack recognized as bordering on frustration and tiredness. Although it was still early according to Earth's schedule, Daniel had been a bundle of nervous energy all of yesterday and this morning, and Jack was afraid it might end up leaving Daniel in the grips of a fever by this evening. First thing on the agenda when they got to Nagada was to put him to bed in the hopes of warding off any illness.

The trip to the city was mercifully short, thanks to the pace of the mastadges. They entered the city, and Jack wasn't surprised when someone would wave and call out a welcome to him and Daniel. A couple of faces were actually familiar to Jack; Skaara's young militia had grown up but obviously remembered them. There were many more calls to Daniel, though, who waved back, puzzled but enthusiastic.

As they pulled into the corral, Daniel was drooping with exhaustion. This heat was enough to leech the energy from a healthy adult; with Daniel's fitful sleep these nights, Jack began to wonder if all of this might not have been a mistake.

"Are we there?" Daniel looked around, his nose wrinkling at the smell of manure coming from inside the dark stable.

"Almost." Jack slid down the beast's side and stepped to Daniel's beast. Daniel descended slowly, seemed to need a moment to get his footing, then peered curiously into the dark cavernous hold. A grunt followed by a loud animalistic moaning came from one of the pens. Loud sniffing caused Jack to smile. He tilted his head in question towards the door and Skaara nodded, his eyes glinting in amusement.

"Let's go see," Jack said conspiringly. He sneaked a candy bar from the bag, wincing at the softness of the melting chocolate and followed Daniel inside. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust but there was no mistaking the creature who was making the noises.

The mastadge was old, its skin wrinkled, its body gaunt compared to those around it. It eyed them myopically, but called out in that same keening sound as it sniffed the air again. "Go on," Jack said, nudging Daniel towards it. "Nothing wrong with its memory," Jack said to Skaara, who went to stand beside the mastadge, petting its now-scrawny mane.

It raised its head over the pen gate, aiming unerringly for Daniel, who stepped back in surprise. "Here." Jack unwrapped the softened candy bar as best he could and handed it to Daniel. "Give him a bite."

Its bellowing increased when it caught the scent of the chocolate and Daniel cautiously stretched his hand until he dropped the treat onto its tongue. Jack noticed it no longer had teeth.

"Yuck." Daniel wiped the strands of saliva mixed with melted chocolate from his hand on his pants, scrunching his nose in disgust and creating streaks of brown on his beige pants.

The creature chewed the soft candy, making low sounds of contentment. Chocolate-coated saliva dribbled onto the boards, and the long tongue reached out to lick it clean.

"Didja see that, Daniel? It likes chocolate."

"I see." Daniel fed the last of the candy bar to the mastadge, then petted it like Skaara was doing. When the animal finished eating, Jack nudged Daniel and they stepped back into the sun-filled yard.

Kasuf's house was only a few minutes away and before long they were out of the sun. Built of timber and canvas, the building had an airy feel to it.

Jack motioned for Daniel to take his jacket off and he did so with a heavy sigh while Kasuf spoke to someone who had come in from another part of the house.

"It's hot. Can't we turn on the air conditioning?" Daniel plopped down on a cushion and wiped the sweat dripping down the side of his face. His tee shirt was soaked, as was Jack's.

"There's no air conditioning on this planet, kiddo. It'll cool off when the sun sets."

"But it's hot. I don't like this."

"You'll get used to it in a day or two. I warned you it was going to be hot, remember?"

Jack circumvented Daniel's "but" by sticking a finger in his face. "You said you wouldn't complain. No complaining."

"Perhaps Daniel would be more comfortable in our galabia?"

"That's probably a good idea. I brought Daniel's..." The robes were more comfortable, although there was always that little niggling embarrassing, "you're wearing a dress," thought that would creep into his mind whenever he considered wearing one. But Daniel had never hesitated to put one on, and Jack would encourage this Daniel to do so as well.

Jack opened the carryall and Daniel immediately pounced on it, grabbing Lumpy. Jack removed the tan item from the bag and unfolded it. "Here, put this on."

Daniel squinted at the robe, scrunching his nose up at Jack. "It's a dress."

"It's a robe, just like what Kasuf is wearing. You won't be as hot wearing this."

"Go ahead, Dan'yel." Kasuf waved his hand at Daniel.

"Why can't I wear pants, like Skaara?"

"How about we buy some tomorrow at the market? For both of us?" Jack glanced at Kasuf, who nodded.

Standing unselfconsciously before them all, Daniel kicked off his shoes and undressed down to his underwear. Jack pulled the robe over his head while Skaara adjusted it. Jack didn't think Daniel would have the patience with the cowl but he didn't seem to mind.

"Better?"

Daniel shrugged, shook one leg and then another. "It feels funny."

"Cooler?"

He dropped bonelessly onto the cushions beside Jack. "I'm still hot." He looked at Jack eagerly.

"Can I have a Snapple?"

"Sorry, Daniel. They don't have any cold drinks here."

Before Daniel could begin to whine, the woman Kasuf had spoken with earlier entered the room, carrying a tray. She placed it on the floor beside Kasuf.

"The tea will help cool you off," Kasuf said with a smile, handing both Jack and Daniel a steaming cup.

"Careful, it's hot," Jack warned Daniel, reaching out and holding onto the cup to make sure Daniel had a sure grip before letting Daniel take the cup himself.

Jack remembered the Abydonian tea; it was minty, sweet, and hot. It'd cause him to sweat, and then he'd feel better for a short time after. He sniffed the aromatic steam and took a cautious sip.

"It's good," Daniel said, slurping noisily. He stretched out amongst the cushions until he sprawled amongst them. Eyes drooping, he sat quietly examining the room from where he was instead of rushing around touching everything while Jack and the two Abydonians made small talk

"You want to lie down for a while, Danny?" Jack asked softly when Kasuf poured them more tea.

"I'm not tired." Daniel yawned widely, belying his statement.

"Just for a little while."

"I don't want to go to sleep."

"How about you just close your eyes and rest?"

Jack had intended to bring Daniel to whichever sleeping area had been assigned to them and hope he'd nap for an hour or three, but Daniel scrabbled closer to Jack, laid his head on the pillow next to his thigh, and closed his eyes. He made small motions with his head, rubbing his chin against Lumpy's back. Jack reached out, placed his hand on top of Daniel's scalp, and rubbed his fingers gently through the soft hair.

Daniel stilled; obviously he'd been unconsciously looking for comfort which Jack had just provided. Jack was aware of Skaara and Kasuf watching him, but he kept quiet until he was sure Daniel had fallen asleep. Then he eased the glasses from Daniel's face and pocketed them.

"He hasn't slept much – he was pretty excited about coming here," Jack said a little awkwardly. Suddenly he felt out of place; Abydos had always been Daniel's second home. Jack was here with Daniel, but not that Daniel. He wondered again if he'd made a mistake by coming.

He'd thought they'd needed a small vacation; getting a few days off hadn't been difficult. But pulling Daniel from his routine, which was very important to his continued progress, would probably prove to be distracting for him. Jack would give it thirty-six hours; after tomorrow's ceremony, if things weren't working out, he'd bring Daniel home.

"So, I didn't get to set my watch to the local time before coming here. What time is it? Morning? Afternoon?"

"It will soon be time for our evening meal."

"Ah. Okay, gotcha."

Jack forced a smile, feeling more and more uncomfortable. He looked at his hand buried in Daniel's hair and realized this small token of affection was something he'd never have permitted himself to do before. But now, it just felt right.

Skaara began talking in the awkward silence, describing his day-to-day life, thanking Jack once again for his part in ridding him of Klorel. He and Kasuf spoke about people Jack didn't know, but who the old Daniel probably did, but it passed the time, and it was better than staring at one another, desperately thinking of something inane to say.

Time passed slowly, Jack half-wishing Daniel would wake up, if only for something familiar to deal with. There were no windows to look out of; everything was pulled tight to ward off the heat of the day. Sounds outside were muffled, the thick canvas providing a secure oasis for a short siesta.

"So, you got someone around the house to help you?" Jack said in an effort to stay awake when the heat finally started to get to him.

"With my daughter gone, there were some who took pity and were willing to provide comfort to an old man."

Skaara snorted. "Do not let my father fool you, O'Neer. Faleneti has always been willing to provide comfort, for as long as I remember."

"Skaara," Kasuf chided his son with both tone of voice and a look, but Jack was surprised to see a faint blush on Kasuf's face.

Kasuf hadn't spoken loudly, but the sharpness must have stolen into Daniel's sleep. He stirred, opened his eyes to look sleepily at Jack before shutting them again.

"He is very popular with the women," Skaara grinned, not at all abashed at his father's embarrassment. "Our mother died when I was very young and I understand that a man gets... lonely."

"You old tiger, you," Jack said with a grin, removing his hand from where it lay on top of Daniel's head as Daniel turned onto his back and stretched. Everyone was entitled to a bit of comfort and joy in their lives; Jack certainly wasn't going to start judging the man in his own home.

Faleneti entered the room and knelt beside Kasuf to speak quietly to him. He placed a hand on her arm and patted it, then smiled softly at her. "The meal is ready, O'Neill."

"C'mon, Daniel," Jack said, giving his chest a couple of pats. "Chowtime."

"It's still hot." Daniel grabbed a handful of material and popped it several times, trying to make air inside his galabia. "What's for supper? McDonalds?" Daniel turned onto his knees and sat back, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Jack handed him his glasses and got up, knees and back creaking painfully from the unaccustomed position. His feet and hands felt stiff and swollen, not-so-gentle reminders that his body was having trouble getting used to the sweltering heat.

They followed Kasuf into another airy room where they sat around a small table, this time on low cushioned chairs. Faleneti served them shyly; foods that Jack had already eaten here and although while admitting to himself they'd probably never be on his favorite list, at least they were filling.

Daniel took one look at the array of vegetables and meats on the table and declared, "Jack, I want fries and a cheeseburger."

"There's no fast food here. You'll have to eat what's on the table."

"Then I want Taco Bell. A Chalupa would be good."

"Taco Bell is a fast food. Here..." Jack dished a small amount of spinach-like mush that he remembered tasted like celery, "try this." He took a few slices of roast... something, and added it to Daniel's plate, covering it liberally in a spicy gravy. There were tubers although they didn't taste like potatoes, more like a mix of carrots and broccoli. He added a piece of spice-laden pita bread for good measure.

"I don't want this. It's all mushy and it looks weird." Daniel pushed the plate away. "Isn't there any Kentucky Fried Chicken close by? Arby's? I want some French Fries."

"Daniel—" Jack took a deep breath, realizing suddenly that he'd taken the easy way out of cooking over the past months. When was the last time Daniel had eaten vegetables – if fries could still be considered a veggie – and had meat that hadn't been deep-fried, grilled or covered with special herbs and spices to make it taste like it wasn't meat?

"Look, just try a bite of everything. There's surely something here that you'll like." Jack picked up a piece of wilted green stuff and held it out to Daniel.

Jack recognized the mutinous look Daniel gave him, and knew there was no way he was going to get Daniel to eat anything tonight unless he trudged back to the Stargate and drove to the nearest fast food outlet. He dropped the piece of green onto his plate and tried to avoid looking at Kasuf. He felt embarrassed for Daniel, which normally he wouldn't, but this situation was awkward since they were sitting amongst Daniel's other family. One with whom he'd spent a year with and who probably knew Daniel almost as well as Jack did.

"I don't want any."

The look was joined with the pout, along with the infamous Daniel Jackson crossing of the arms to get the point across. Well, Daniel wouldn't starve between now and tomorrow, and by breakfast he'd probably be hungry enough to eat baked lizard, which even today Jack wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.

"Fine. Don't eat." Jack took a bite of the meat, which was juicy and delicious, the gravy spicy and a perfect accompaniment. He tried to ignore the sound of Daniel's stomach rumbling and concentrated on his meal.

"Dan'yel," Skaara said when Daniel's brow furrowed as he glared at Jack. The glower was aimed at Skaara only by reason of association. "The bread is very good, and if you want, I can get you some sweet berries to put on it." Skaara tore off a bite-sized piece of pita bread and held it out to Daniel. "Try it. The berries are very good also. It was my sister's recipe."

To Jack's surprise, Daniel took the bread from Skaara and ate it. When no further argument erupted and Daniel took to pulling a bite from his own portion of pita, Skaara got up and left the room. He returned a short moment later with three small bowls and placed them before Daniel.

"Here, this is fun to eat." He knelt beside Daniel and took a portion of pita and folding it in half, dipped it into one of the bowls as if it were a spoon. He popped it into his mouth and grinned.

Intrigued, Daniel emulated him, and his eyes opened wide in surprise. "It's good."

"I told you it was." He pointed to the other two bowls. "This one is sweeter, and this one is spicy; you used to like it so you may yet enjoy it."

Jack ripped a piece of bread and dipped it into the spicy concoction. It looked and smelled like humus, but it was much tastier. "Hey, this isn't bad." Jack pulled the bowl towards him, only to have Daniel pull it back with another glare. Silently he tried the other two mixtures and began eating from each.

Kasuf silently handed Daniel more bread when he'd eaten his entire portion.

"You know, the meat's pretty good," Jack said, offering Daniel a piece once again. Now that there was something in Daniel's stomach and he had woken up a little from his nap, Daniel was a little more charitable. He looked at the meat in Jack's hand, then at the nearly empty plate before taking it from him. He nibbled on it carefully, then popped the bite into his mouth. Jack doled a portion of the meat onto Daniel's plate and poured a bit of gravy, and was relieved to see Daniel decide to eat it.

Supper over, they returned to the living room with more tea and cookies made with some sort of date-like fruit. Daniel sprawled on the floor beside Skaara after rummaging through Jack's bag and finding a coloring book and crayons.

"See, you have to fill in the spaces," Daniel explained, zipping the yellow crayon over the outline of SpongeBob's body. "You're not supposed to color outside of the lines, but it's really hard." He flashed Jack a bright smile. "Jack can do it really good. See?" He stopped coloring and flipped through the book, showing Skaara the already filled in pages. The evidence between Jack's and Daniel's were painfully obvious, but Skaara praised both of them equally for their artistic talents.

He continued whizzing the crayon across the space, making uneven lines across SpongeBob's body. He stopped and looked at the yellow crayon. "Jack, it's not working good." He got up on his knees and offered the 'banana mania' crayon to Jack.

The crayon had softened in the desert heat, half-melting, causing small blobs of it to come apart on the paper when Daniel pressed hard. Already it had taken a gentle curve from the pressure of Daniel's fingers on it.

"It's the heat; it's melting the wax. There's nothing you can do except be gentle with the crayons." Jack handed the yellow crayon back to Daniel.

He continued filling in the square body, his efforts at being gentle soon forgotten as he enthusiastically finished. Daniel then chose a light blue crayon and pointed to SpongeBob's eyes.

"When I finish, do you want to color a page?" He turned the page and twisted to show Skaara. His galabia rode up his leg, exposing a long, hairy thigh. "See, there's a funny picture of Patrick. You can color that one when I'm done." Daniel lay back down on his stomach, the robe riding even higher along his legs. The tip of his tongue sticking out, oblivious of his disarray, Daniel slowly and awkwardly traced the eyes with the soft, waxy crayon.

When he finished, he plopped the coloring book on Skaara's lap and dumped the crayons on the floor at his feet. "Here, you can play with it now."

Skaara bent down and picked up a bright green crayon, but before he could put tip to paper, Daniel had grabbed it and quickly replaced it with a light pink. "No, no, no, Patrick is a starfish and you have to make him pink."

"Daniel, let Skaara choose whatever colors he wants to use."

"But Jack, everyone knows Patrick's—"

"Skaara's never seen SpongeBob."

"Oh, no." Daniel threw himself onto his back and laughed. "You and Teal'c are so funny. Why didn't we bring the DVDs with us, Jack? We could've watched SpongeBob make all those hamburgers at the Krusty Krab and the algae eat them up." Daniel rolled onto his side, his legs wide apart, giving everyone a good view up his robes. They definitely were going to the market in the morning and getting local pants and tunics.

"They don't have televisions here, buddy."

"What?" Immediately Daniel was on his knees, leaning on the cushions. "But how am I going to watch The Rugrats?"

"I set the VCR to tape them," Jack lied, knowing by the time they got home Daniel would have forgotten how many episodes he'd have missed.

"Okay." He leaned over to see how Skaara was doing. "You could make his pants green and purple," Daniel hinted once the starfish's body was done.

"Show me," Skaara said with a patient smile.

"Okay, this one, and this one." Daniel dumped the crayons onto the coloring book and stood. "Jack, I need to pee," he whispered loudly.

Jack stood; he had to go himself. "Excuse us a second," he said to Kasuf and Skaara. He led the way down the hallway, remembering where the small indoor outhouse was. He pulled the curtain back, exposing the room.

"Where's the toilet?" Daniel scrunched his nose at the faint smell of urine and feces.

"Here." Jack leaned down and removed the ceramic cover concealing the facilities.

"It's a hole." Daniel peered into the opening and covered his nose with his hand as the odor was a little stronger without the ceramic cover.

"Yep."

"But how do I—"

"Just aim into the hole instead of the toilet bowl."

"But what if I have to poop?"

"Then you put your feet on either side and squat."

"But what if I fall in?" Daniel took a quick step backwards. Jack put a hand out to stop Daniel from bumping into him.

Hiding a smile, Jack answered. "You won't, it's not big enough." He pushed Daniel forward. "Go on. You can wash your hands here when you're done." He pointed to a large basin and pitcher. "Don't touch those," he said, pointing to another covered container in the corner in which he knew were full of filthy rags, "they use that instead of toilet paper."

"How will I—"

"I packed some. I'll put a roll in your room tonight, okay?"

"You sure I won't fall in?" Daniel began to pull his robe up and Jack turned his back and stepped into the hallway.

"I'm sure."

Jack didn't envy the person whose job it was to regularly come and clean the shit out of these toilets. It really wasn't something he wanted to think about; give him a flush toilet and running water any day. Then again, getting rid of it would be easier here with the hot, arid weather drying out all the crud in no time. Maybe they used the old Naquada mine to dump the shit in; it was big enough and would take centuries to fill in. A fitting end, Jack thought, to centuries of slave labor.

He heard water splashing and turned back to check on Daniel. "Put the cover back on when you're done. It'll keep the smell down and the bugs away."

Daniel pushed it with his foot, and wiped his wet hands on the sides of his robe.

Ignoring the coloring book that Skaara had placed on the floor where Daniel had been lying, Daniel went to the carryall and took out his Game Boy. Jack recalled their conversation when Daniel had wanted to bring half his toys with him. After a short tantrum, they'd settled on the coloring book and crayons, the Game Boy DS because it had a protective cover to keep out the sand and a toy car. And Lumpy. Daniel settled into the corner of the room, Lumpy tucked beneath his arm, and moments later the sounds of Mario Brothers filled the room.

Someone called out through the house and Skaara yelled back as he scrabbled to his feet to greet the visitors. Two men came into the room, looking a little nervous. Both looked around until they spotted Daniel in the corner. They smiled, pretended they'd come to say hello to Jack but despite their small knowledge of English and their efforts to speak to him, Jack could see they only had eyes for Daniel. Besides, he recognized them from his second trip to Abydos when he'd come to collect Daniel and bring him back to Earth, thereby starting the chain of events that had led Apophis to kidnap Sha're and Skaara. They'd been amongst the group to whom Daniel had said that poignant farewell.

"This is Ankhu and Pentu. They have come to say hello." Skaara stood with his friends, the three of them staring down at Daniel.

Daniel only glanced up at them once as they said hello, his attention focused on the game in his hands.

"Daniel," Jack chided gently.

"Hello," Daniel said, barely looking up from his Game Boy. The men spoke a few words to him in Abydonian, but Daniel's answers were short and his voice testy. They stayed long enough to drink some tea, chatted with Skaara and Kasuf while trying not to throw looks in Daniel's direction, then left, obviously uneasy with the change in Daniel.

"We cautioned all of his friends," Kasuf explained while Skaara walked the two out. "But many have expressed wishes to see him. Will it bother him if more stop to speak with him while he is here?"

"No," Jack answered, wondering if anyone else stopping by would at least attempt to speak to Daniel or would be so unnerved with the changes in him as to pretend they didn't notice. "He's still pretty outgoing with people and will probably enjoy meeting new folks." He stood and walked over to Daniel, recognizing the twin spots of color on his cheeks. "I don't think he's feeling good tonight." With a resigned sigh, he placed the back of his hand on Daniel's forehead, feeling the heat of fever he'd hoped they'd have done without during this outing.

Jack took out the Tylenol and brought Daniel some water. Daniel plucked the pills from Jack's hand without a word, testament to how routine it had become for him to down acetaminophen and ibuprofen on a regular basis.

"I'm cold." Daniel shivered, bringing his legs together towards his chest in an effort to conserve body heat.

"Bed sound good to you?"

Daniel squinted towards the darkening sky. "It's still light out. Can we go look at the mastadges again?"

"Tomorrow, maybe. It's gonna be dark soon. C'mon." He held his hand out and Daniel slowly stood up and took Jack's hand. He leaned against him, his head resting on Jack's shoulder. He shivered slightly. Jack glanced towards the hallway and the back of the house.

"I will show you to your rooms." Kasuf led the way, and Jack urged Daniel to follow. He waited a moment while Daniel picked up Lumpy. They stopped before two curtained doorways. "Dan'yel will sleep here," Kasuf said as he swept open the curtain on his right. "You will sleep in Skaara's room." He indicated the other curtained room opposite this one.

"Where will—"

"My son will stay with friends." Kasuf entered the room, which Jack suspected had been Sha're's. Faleneti showed up at the door, carrying a large pitcher of water. While Kasuf busied himself lighting two small lamps, she poured some water into a basin and left the pitcher on the table beside it. She smiled shyly at Jack as she left.

"You wanna wash up while I get your pjs?"

"I don't wanna shower. I just wanna go to bed." Daniel sat on the low cot which was covered with animal skins.

"No showers here. Look, there's soap and water." Jack pointed out the creamy goo beside the basin. "You get started washing up and I'll get our stuff."

Jack hurried back to the living room, meeting Faleneti as she stepped out of his room. He spotted the pitcher of water which she must have just brought him. He got his carryall, then feeling guilty about the messy room, knelt down and began picking up the scattered crayons.

"Sorry about the mess," Jack told Kasuf. He tried arranging the waxy sticks in their box but a few had melted and were no longer straight. Rather than forcing them in, he simply laid them crosswise in the box and placed them in a pocket of the carryall.

"The fever came upon him sudden."

"Yeah, that's part and parcel of the game." He picked up the Game Boy and turned it off. "I was hoping he wouldn't... but I should have expected it. With excitement and all... but he'll be fine in the morning with a good night's sleep."

He returned to the bedroom and took out Daniel's pajamas, the ones with the little fighter jets on them. Daniel was just finishing up, rubbing a wet cloth over his body. Jack averted his eyes, trying not to look at Daniel's glistening skin in the lamplight. The sun had set and the room was mostly lit by the small oil lamps.

"Here, put these on." Jack tossed them onto the bed and busied himself taking out their toiletries. He heard cotton rustling as he lined up the toothbrushes, deodorant and shaving paraphernalia on a low table, figuring a touch of home might make Daniel feel a little more secure.

"Brush your teeth." Jack squeezed some toothpaste over Daniel's toothbrush and handed it to him. Daniel put the brush into his mouth, then quickly took it out. "Where do I spit?"

Jack eyed the basin, but figured the toilet might be better. "In the bathroom." He watched as Daniel hesitantly walked down the hallway to the proper room before entering his own bedroom. He took out his own pjs and threw them on his bed. Daniel's toys he brought back to Daniel's room. He turned down the covers, arranging Lumpy on the pillow while they waited for Daniel to return.

"I'm done." Daniel threw the toothbrush onto the table and crawled into bed. "I remembered to put the bowl back on over the hole. So nobody can fall in it during the night."

"Good boy." Jack pulled the blankets up to Daniel's shoulders, then sat beside him and played his fingers over his forehead, snaking them into the soft hair. Daniel was still hot to the touch.

"Still cold?"

Daniel nodded.

"Want me to get another blanket?"

"No. Are you going to bed, too?"

"In a little while." Jack pulled Daniel's glasses off, folded them, and put them on the floor near the wall.

Daniel sat up abruptly. "You're not going out, are you? You're not gonna go and leave me here alone?"

"No, I'll just be in the other room talking with Kasuf and Skaara. Then I'll come to bed and be in that room over there." Jack pointed to the shadows beyond the curtain of Daniel's bedroom. "Come on, lie back down."

Daniel slid back under the covers, but he wrapped his hand around Jack's thigh. "Can't you sleep here with me?"

"The bed's a little small for the two of us."

"No, it's not. I can scoot over and lie on my side and you can lie on your side and we wouldn't take up all that room." Daniel pushed himself away from Jack to lean flat against the far wall. "See. There's even room for Lumpy."

"I'm not sleeping with you, Daniel," Jack said, trying to sound firm as Kasuf entered the bedroom. "I'll be right next door if you need me."

"Would you like me to tell you a bedtime story, Dan'yel?"

Daniel nodded shyly.

"Good. I know a story that I am sure you will enjoy."

Jack stood and Kasuf took his place. To his surprise, the old man put a hand to Daniel's cheek and smiled fondly.

"Let me tell you about the brave strangers who, one day many years ago, came to our world and helped my people defeat a false god who had enslaved them."

"What's a false god?"

"Someone who was wicked and ruthless and ruled our people through fear."

"Does that mean he was a bad man?"

"Very bad."

"Did the brave people kill the bad god?"

"Do you not wish me to tell you the story?" Kasuf asked in a teasing voice.

"Yes! Sorry. Jack always says I ask too many questions. I won't interrupt no more." A loud yawn punctuated his statement.

Kasuf glanced quickly at Jack and smiled, and Jack smiled back.

"It was the son of the people's leader who first spotted the strangers. They were standing high atop a sand dune. Garbed in strange clothing and speaking strange words, they approached fearlessly."

Jack left the room, leaving Kasuf to the recounting of their first mission offworld. Daniel was in good hands and he'd bet Daniel would be dead to the world before Kasuf got very far with his tale.

* * * * *

"Look at this," Daniel exclaimed, dancing excitedly at a stall which sold marionettes. Jack glanced at the clay figurines; the workmanship so well done it would be hard to find something of similar quality at home.

"Look. Look." With a sigh, Jack followed Daniel to the next colorful stand that had caught his eye. Bowls laden with spices added drama and vibrant color to the drab and sandy city square.

One man was working jewelry, the gold glinting in the already bright sunshine. He glanced up when Daniel leaned close to examine what he was doing and pushed his boonie hat back in order to see better. The jeweler said a few words to Daniel, probably warming up for his sales pitch, but Kasuf quickly intervened, and they moved on.

"Here you will find the clothes you seek." Two stalls down past the jeweler was a table full of cloth. Kasuf expertly dug through the piles and came up with two pairs of pants and two long tunics. Jack opened up the small bag of goods he'd brought with him to barter, should the need have ever arisen, and he stood back and waited while Kasuf and the clothier came to an agreement.

The clothes were quickly bundled up and Jack hoped they could leave the market before it got too hot. Thankfully Kasuf turned around and began walking in the direction they'd come from. Daniel continued going from stand to stall, fingering things that caught his attention. Jack stopped beside a carpet-maker and admired her workmanship.

"That's pretty." Daniel reached a finger and stroked the soft wool.

"The wool is from the mastadge." Kasuf quickly flipped several of the carpets over, displaying the wares. "Neema's work is always exquisite."

"Mastadges have wool?" Daniel leaned forward and sniffed the carpets. "They don't smell like mastadges. And there weren't no yellow mastadges in the barn last night. Or blue ones. Or green."

Kasuf laughed and clapped Daniel's shoulder. "The wool is washed and dipped in paint. Believe me, no mastadge would wish to be this color."

"Can we buy one, Jack?" Daniel put a hand out and caressed a bright yellow carpet interlaced with blue.

"I don't think we have enough goods to trade with."

"Don't you have money?"

Jack smiled. "They barter here, Daniel. They trade things," he explained quickly at Daniel's frown. "I didn't bring enough with me for something this expensive."

Daniel leaned closer to Jack. "I could trade my Game Boy."

"That's very generous but I don't think a Game Boy would be very useful here." Jack reached for Daniel's hand and removed it, then replaced the carpets, hiding the yellow one.

"O'Neill." Kasuf placed a hand on Jack's arm. "Allow me this."

"Kasuf, you don't need to—"

"I wish to. He is still my Good Son, and if this small gift will make him think of us whenever he sees it, it will make me happy."

"Thank you," Jack said softly. He watched Daniel's eyes brighten as the carpet was displayed once more and the negotiating begun. When the carpet was rolled up and presented to Daniel, he looked uncertainly to Jack, who nodded.

"Thank you, Kasoop. You're the bestest. He's the bestest, next to you, isn't he, Jack?" Daniel did a little dance, the carpet clutched to his chest.

"Yeah, that he is."

"The colors match the creature you painted in your book."

Daniel nodded enthusiastically.

"Dan'yel. O'Neer." They all stopped when two more of Daniel's old acquaintances greeted them. "It is good to see you again," one said in halting English.

"You bought..." the other pointed to the rug.

Daniel quickly opened it up to show off his gift.

"It is very nice."

"It's yellow, like SpongeBob."

The men fumbled for words, and soon the conversation switched to Abydonian. Daniel chattered away with them, and the two appeared less concerned with Daniel's changes than those who had visited the previous night.

One of the two had been eating some type of nuts and he offered some to Jack and Daniel. Jack took one; it had a slightly bitter taste, but wasn't bad over all. Daniel appeared to enjoy them and eagerly took more when offered.

All five of them made their way out of the market and back to Kasuf's house, Jack watching a happy Daniel wave to someone who called out his name in the street.

"These people are nice here," he said, turning to grin at Jack, still chomping at a nut.

Jack stole one from the few remaining in Daniel's palm and popped it into his mouth. "Yeah, they are."

Jack was eager to change his clothes, and the new ones were light, airy and he immediately felt much cooler.

"What're we gonna do now?" Daniel demanded as he sat down on Jack's bed, watching as Jack folded their clothes.

"I dunno. I think we got time to kill before lunch. Hey, I got an idea."

He asked Kasuf for several large bowls, a bucket of water, and led Daniel outside until he found a large sandy area.

"We're gonna make a sand castle." He pushed a large pile of sand together, dumped some water over it, and filled one of the bowls with the damp sand. It was easier said than done. Abydonian sand was much lighter than beach sand, and the sun quickly dried off their efforts. Still, they had a crumbly looking fortress before Daniel inadvertently knocked off a large portion of the East turret.

"It doesn't stay," he whined, trying to rebuild the half-dried out tower only to cause it to disintegrate even more.

"Yeah, I know. Sand's too dry. Let's go back to the house and get out of this sun. You're starting to look pretty cooked."

"Your face is all red." Daniel raised a sand-encrusted hand and pointed it at him.

"So's yours. Let's go get some water. I'm thirsty."

Once at the house, Faleneti informed them that Kasuf and Skaara were in the communal area, waiting for them. Jack led Daniel there and found a lot of familiar faces sitting around the section where they had eaten their first meal here on their initial foray to Abydos, complete with roast lizard.

Thankfully today's lunch was a little less festive; which meant a salad, bread and dried meat. It was tasty, and Daniel ate with gusto.

"Can I go play?" Daniel stared at the dozen kids who appeared, kicking a ball around.

"Only if you're careful. They're smaller than you and—"

"I know, I know." Daniel rolled his eyes at Jack. "I'll be careful. Honest."

"Go."

Daniel was up in a flash, rushing down the few steps to join the children. At first they didn't know what to make of him, thinking an adult was coming to chastise them, but they soon embraced him and Daniel's giggles and yells joined theirs.

Jack half dozed; the heat along with the food and knowledge that Daniel was safe and happy led to him relaxing, which these days didn't happen often. The murmur of conversation flew over him; most of it he couldn't understand anyways.

It took a while before he realized he couldn't hear Daniel anymore. He sat up, alarmed, then relaxed when he spotted him kneeling in the corner with the other kids, and Skaara. They were playing marbles.

He watched from his vantage point as Skaara tried to show Daniel how to get the marbles to roll between obstacles to reach the goal. Jack winced, knowing that the skill to learn such a trick was beyond Daniel, and the resulting tantrum wasn't long in coming.

"I can't do it!" Daniel yelled, throwing the handful of marbles into the sand and kicking sand over them. "I tried and tried and did what you said and I can't do it. This game is no fun no more."

Daniel stomped up the steps and threw himself beside Jack, oblivious to the fact that all conversation stopped and everyone was staring at him. His face flushed red, partly in anger and partly from the heat, Daniel sat pouting, arms crossed against his chest.

Jack placed a comforting hand on Daniel's shoulder, and he leaned against Jack. "I'm stupid, Jack. All the little kids can play better than me."

"Remember they've been playing this a lot longer than you. They have more practice." When Daniel put his face against Jack's chest, he placed a hand against Daniel's head and rubbed through his hair. Jack looked up as Skaara approached.

"I don't want to play that game anymore," Daniel warned as Skaara sat down beside him.

"It only requires practice, Dan'yel. Take these home..." He took Daniel's hand and dropped several multi-colored marbles into it, "And if you practice, when you return to Abydos, you will probably be able to beat me."

"Are we gonna come back, Jack?" Daniel played with one of the marbles in his palm, nudging it with his index finger.

"Of course we will."

"Good." With a flip of his wrist, Daniel dropped the marbles into Jack's lap and ran off to play with the kids, who were trying to throw a spear at a small piece of material in the sand. Daniel danced around them, hoping for a chance to throw and Jack and Skaara watched as he threw wide and missed.

Shoulders slumped in defeat, still, he waited his turn again. Once again he took the spear and shifting nervously, threw it. This time it landed in the sand and skidded several feet. A few of the boys laughed but a couple gave Daniel encouragement. One ran to retrieve the spear and handed it to Daniel. When Daniel went to throw again, an argument ensued.

Kasuf called out angrily, and the boys deferred the spear to Daniel, who threw it just as awkwardly again. Feet dragging in the sand, Daniel moved away from the boys and sat down, watching as the kids all either hit the target, or came close to it.

Jack was just about to get up and go to Daniel when one of Daniel's old friends, young toddler in his arms, went to sit with Daniel. The child put out a pudgy hand and took a hold of Daniel's tunic.

Jack could see the two of them talking so he sat back and relaxed a little. Daniel nodded dispiritedly at something the guy said while the baby clambered over his father's lap, into Daniel's. The man pointed at the kids, then made some kind of motion with his hand. Possibly he was trying to explain the finer points of spear-throwing which honestly, was a waste of time and effort on Daniel. But still, Jack appreciated the guy taking the time to try and cheer Daniel up.

Both men laughed and Daniel seemed to straighten a little. The man stood, thrust his child into the arms of one of the boys, took the spear from one who was getting ready to throw it, and waved Daniel forward. Daniel stood, and stepped forward reluctantly. The man handed the spear to Daniel and stood behind him, guiding him, and together, they tossed the spear.

It landed just on the edge of the target, pinning a corner into the sand. Daniel jumped up in joy, whooping excitedly. He grinned up at Jack, eyes shining with joy. Jack gave him a thumb's up, yelling, "Way to go, Danny."

"Didja see? Didja see?" Daniel yelled as he left the boys and ran up to Jack. He threw himself beside Jack and leaned against him. "I did it. I threw the branch and hit it."

"Yeah, you did great." Jack pulled him into a one armed hug, and mouthed a silent, 'Thank you', as Daniel's friend sat down beside him.

"Dan'yel did very well for his first attempts," the man said in accented English. "With practice..." he laughed, "much practice, he may one day hit a moving mastadge."

"You practice on mastadges? That's... that's mean!"

"It's a joke," Jack whispered loudly.

"Oh." Daniel frowned, obviously not getting it. "Jack, can I go back to Kasoop's house and color?"

"Yeah, it's getting a little hot. I'm thinking a nap might be nice." Jack stood and wiped the back of his pants.

"I'm not tired."

"Well, I am." He nodded goodbye to the man with the toddler and he and Daniel made their way back to the house.

"You know, it's kinda weird." Daniel skipped a little so he was walking in front of Jack, then turned and walked backwards so he faced Jack.

"What is?"

"This place. It's not home but it feels nice. Everyone's friendly. It's a really friendly place, isn't it?"

"Very friendly."

"It feels like home, Jack. It's not, that's why it's weird, but it feels like I belong."

* * * * *

Still groggy from his nap and the ensuing late afternoon heat, Jack splashed water on his face and washed away the day's sweat. When he was done, he pulled his new clothes over his sweatshirt, wrinkling his nose at the smell of sweat already imbued in them, then crossed into Daniel's room to check on him.

Daniel was sprawled out on his back in the small bed, one leg dangling over the edge. His head was turned to the side, away from Jack. Lumpy was on the floor, apparently having fallen off the bed. It was so hot that before Daniel laid down for a nap, Jack had told him to remove his clothes. Clad only in his boxers, a fine sheen of sweat covered his whole body.

Jack picked up Lumpy, absently petting the soft fur as he looked at Daniel sleeping. His cheeks were slightly sunburned as was his nose. He was breathing deep and heavily, so Jack decided to let him sleep a little longer. Giving Lumpy a last pat, he placed the plush toy in the crook of Daniel's arm and went to see how much longer before the ceremony.

"We shall be leaving within the hour," Kasuf replied to his question. "The ritual will be performed just as the sun sets. Does Dan'yel still sleep?"

"Yeah. I'll wake him up in about a half hour." Jack accepted a cup of tea from Kasuf and some sort of date-like fruit; the sweet brew and snack helped clear away the pasty feel that was in his mouth.

"Is there anything special we need to know for the ceremony?" Jack took a sip of tea and immediately broke into a sweat in the airless heat.

Kasuf shook his head. "Your being here is more than enough for my daughter's memory. You may stand with Skaara; you are family."

Daniel padded into the room at that moment, minus his glasses, eyes half-closed, one hand clutching Lumpy while the other scratched his scalp. He plopped down beside Jack and laid his head on Jack's shoulder.

"It's hot."

"I know." Jack eased his arm behind Daniel and hugged him, feeling the sweat on his body. "You should have put some clothes on first," he whispered in Daniel's ear.

"But it's hot." There was a rumbling sound from Daniel's stomach and he giggled. "I'm hungry."

"Want some bread and jam?"

Daniel nodded, leaning more heavily against Jack.

"You'll have to move so I can get up and get you some food." Jack jiggled one shoulder up and down, Daniel's head bobbing with the movement. He giggled and pulled away.

"I will get Dan'yel the food." Kasuf got up before Jack could object and returned with bowls of the sweet jam and humus plus two large pita breads. Daniel accepted them eagerly.

"Thank you, Kasoop."

"Eat fast, Danny. We gotta get you cleaned up so we can leave soon."

Armed with a piece of bread liberally smeared with jam, Daniel nodded. Chewing a bite off the edge, he got up and walked out of the room. A moment later he returned with his coloring book and crayons. He lay on his stomach, feet up in the air, and with one hand, turned the pages of the book.

"Don't get too comfortable," Jack warned as Daniel teased a few crayons out of the pack. In answer, Daniel took another bite and began to color.

Jack gave him a few minutes, then reached over and nudged his leg with his foot when Daniel put part of his uneaten bread down to concentrate on coloring. "Are you finished eating?"

Daniel grabbed the bread, stuffed a huge bite into his mouth, and shook his head. Fingers sticky with jam, he picked up the crayon and then looked at his hands in disgust.

"I'm all sticky," he said with his mouth full.

"Then let's go get you cleaned up." Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to get Daniel bathing, Jack stood. Daniel clambered up and followed him into his room, the crayon still clutched in his hand.

"Wash your hands first," Jack ordered. Daniel did so, dropping the crayon into the basin of water. "Wash up like you did last night, then get dressed. I'll be back in a couple of minutes."

Jack cleaned up Kasuf's living room again and brought both the bread and toys back to Daniel's room. By the time he got there, Daniel, whose chest and arms were shiny and white with soap, was attempting to pull his tunic over his head.

"Hey, hey, you gotta rinse first."

"I did." Daniel frowned at Jack as he tried to untangle the mess of material in his hands.

"Not properly. You better get that stuff off or else you'll probably start to itch."

"I rinsed." Daniel's voice rose as his movements became more agitated.

"Not well enough. Look." Jack passed a finger through the slick residue and showed Daniel. "Do it again." Jack took the clothes from Daniel's hands and handed him the washcloth.

"I did this already," Daniel repeated with a pout. Still he passed the wet cloth over his body several times until most of the residue was gone. Jack handed him the tunic and helped pass it over his head.

"You want this?" Jack took the bread he'd put aside and offered it to Daniel, who took it and finished it in a couple of bites. Jack licked the sticky residue from his fingers.

"Okay, listen to me now." Daniel stopped fidgeting and looked at Jack. There was a smear of jam on the side of Daniel's lip and Jack reached out to wipe it away. "Tonight is why we came here. We're going to go with Kasuf and Skaara and attend a ceremony."

"I know. You told me and told me."

"And I'm telling you again. It's going to be long and it's going to be a little boring." Jack figured it would be a lot boring, especially for this Daniel, but he knew they needed to be there. He ignored Daniel's roll of the eyes. "This is very important to Kasuf and Skaara. I want you to be good. No complaining, no whining."

"I'll be good." Daniel looked at Jack earnestly. "I can be good. I won't complain. I like Kasoop. He tells great stories."

"Thank you, Daniel." Jack pulled Daniel into a quick hug. "C'mon, Kasuf's waiting."

They met Kasuf in the living room. The man had changed into a white galabia. "Are you ready?"

"Yep."

Daniel hurried to the cushions and picked up Lumpy from where he'd dropped him.

"You better leave Lumpy here." At Daniel's expression of misery, Jack tried to explain. "It's hot outside and it'll be hotter carrying Lumpy with you." More likely Jack would end up carrying the piece of fake fur around when Daniel would be too tired and cranky to hold onto it himself.

"I won't mind. It's hot already."

"We'll be standing in the sun. Go and put Lumpy on your bed and bring your sunglasses and hat with you."

Feet dragging, Daniel walked slowly out of the room. "Hurry up, Kasuf's waiting."

Daniel ran the last few feet, and returned a short moment later. There was a pout and a frown on his face as he plopped his hat onto his head.

"Are we riding the mastadge?" Daniel asked, perking up visibly as they began walking towards the stables.

"Yes, we are."

"Are we taking the one that ate my chocolate? Can I ride him?"

Kasuf laughed. "No, Good Son, that one is too old. We shall take the younger ones who do not find it a hardship to carry us."

"Can I visit the old one? Can I give it some chocolate?"

"Of course we can visit. But I do not believe O'Neill brought chocolate with him."

"Ja-ack," Daniel whined. "You knew we were coming here. Why didn't you—"

"I didn't know we'd be riding the mastadge."

"You may give him a piece of fruit."

"Okay," Daniel sighed. "But I bet he likes the chocolate better than an old piece of fruit." He squinted at Jack, as if it were his fault there was no chocolate.

"Daniel, put your sunglasses on."

"I don't have them."

Jack sighed. "I told you to bring them along with your hat. Didn't I tell you to bring them?"

"I forgot," Daniel said, kicking at a small rock. They walked in silence for a time. When Daniel spotted the stable, he ran for the entrance. "I'm going to say hello to the old mastadge," he yelled over his shoulder.

Jack stood outside waiting as the beasts were saddled, and Daniel came out with Skaara, chatting excitedly in Abydonian. As before, Jack got up behind Kasuf, and Daniel and Skaara rode the same beast.

They rode out of the city in the direction of the cemetery, passing others on foot or flanked by other mastadges. Jack recognized the place they were heading for thanks to an obelisk off to the far right. It was a short ride compared to the one to the Stargate. They got off and gathered close to a makeshift altar where about a hundred people were already waiting.

Jack followed Skaara, stopping close to the altar, a few steps to Kasuf's right. The sun was hot despite it being low in the sky. There was no shade and Jack was glad for his glasses. He pulled Daniel's boonie hat low over his forehead so that it would help with the sun's glare on the sand.

"I remembered to bring my hat, didn't I, Jack?" Daniel tilted his head to look beyond the boonie's brim.

"Yeah, you did." Jack smiled at Daniel, then turned as Kasuf began speaking.

The ceremony involved several speeches and offerings of water, oil, foodstuffs and other substances Jack wasn't too sure of. To make things worse, he couldn't understand any of the words. The best he could do was stand here and look sufficiently supportive and not pretend it was hot and wish he were somewhere else.

Daniel was bored. He shifted from foot to foot, sighed loudly a few times, turned and watched the people around them before finally crouching down to play with the sand. He leaned his shoulder against Jack's leg and Jack rubbed his fingers against the hot material of the boonie hat, letting Daniel know that all was fine.

Daniel shifted through the sand, finding small pebbles which he placed in a pile.

"These are all mastadges," Daniel said softly to Jack at one point, pointing to a small herd of rocks surrounded by a fence made of twigs. "They're going to take the strangers who saved Abydos to safety, away from the bad god."

Jack looked up and caught Skaara watching Daniel. He flashed Jack a quick grin, then turned his attention back to his father.

Kasuf turned to look at them and his gaze softened as he saw Daniel playing. It hit Jack suddenly that this man hadn't only lost his daughter, he lost his daughter's husband. The man crouched at his feet wasn't the man they had all loved.

The sun was setting, the shadows from a nearby dune nearly reaching the gravesite as the grueling heat of the day began to diminish. Kasuf raised his arms toward the quickly disappearing sun, and recited a litany of prayers. To Jack's amazement, he heard Daniel saying the same words in a sing-song voice as he walked the stones in his makeshift corral up an imagined road.

Skaara's look was of shock.

"He sometimes remembers some things," Jack said softly. "We don't know how or why, some days he can't remember how to work simple equipment, and other days he comes out with something like this." Skaara nodded his understanding.

"I have seen similar injuries in people who have suffered Klorel's ribbon device."

"Any... cures?"

"Unfortunately..." Skaara's face grew dark as he remembered. "Perhaps the sarcophagus would have cured them; Klorel never gave them that chance."

The ceremony ended a few moments later, and Daniel fell silent. People came up to speak to Kasuf. Jack remained where he was, allowing Daniel time to play while he nodded at those faces he recognized.

Once most of the crowd had turned to leave, either on foot or on mastadges, Skaara turned to Jack. He made a small motion towards Daniel. "Who did this to him?"

"Wepwawet."

Skaara paled. "The god of death. It is to him we made these offerings."

Jack laughed. "Don't worry. He's not going to suddenly appear here. The snake's dead."

"I... it's just that the coincidences are so..."

"Ironic."

"Disturbing."

They rode back to the city in the dark, illuminated only by a lantern carried by a handful of people leading the way. Abydos' two moons were crescents in the sky, hardly giving off any light to help find their way home.

Finally they crested a dune and the lights of Nagada became their beacon.

* * * * *

"Will you join me in a celebration, father? O'Neer?" Skaara leaned against the stable door, waiting while Daniel went to say goodnight to the old critter inside.

"My bones are tired, my son. But O'Neill may appreciate the chance to relax." He patted Skaara's shoulder. "I will see you in the morning."

Skaara led them to the communal area where a few men had already gathered around a pit fire. They called out cheerfully when they spotted them coming.

Daniel wandered off to where he'd played marbles with the children earlier that afternoon and began playing in the sand. Jack sat and wasn't surprised when he was handed a cup of moonshine. He took a cautious sip of the powerful stuff and sighed deeply.

He'd like nothing better at the moment than to down this cup and several more, drinking himself into oblivion for a few hours. Instead he promised himself only a few sips; just enough to try and relax.

The mood of the people around him was somber and they had all probably been touched by the ceremony. He suspected the atmosphere would change pretty soon when the alcohol began to affect them.

"Look, Jack." Daniel stood before him, a shiny round marble in his hand. "Look what I found."

"Sweet." Jack took the marble and rolled it around in his hand. "You think the kids might have forgotten more down there in the sand?"

"Maybe, I'm gonna go dig some more and find out." He held a hand out for the cup Jack had cradled in his hands. "Can I have some water?"

Jack immediately berated himself for not bringing anything for Daniel to drink. "It's not water, buddy." Daniel's face twisted in confusion. "We won't be here long; we'll get some water at Kasuf's." He held out the marble to Daniel, who grabbed it and ran back to the sandy spot where he'd found it and sat cross-legged, sifting the sand through his fingers.

Jack took another sip of the strong alcohol, feeling it catch his breath as it slid down his throat and tingled its way down to his toes. He curled his toes inside his sneakers; he hadn't realized how tense he'd been and this nightcap was exactly what he needed.

He leaned back and closed his eyes, listening to the low hum of conversation behind him. He took another sip, then opened his eyes when he heard cloth rustling.

Skaara and had moved away from his friends and sat down next to Jack.

"You look tired." Skaara was looking at him intently, his thumb playing with a small chip on the rim of his cup.

"I am." He took another sip and was surprised to see how much of the moonshine he'd drunk already. He put his cup down, the lure of finishing it off was too great.

"It has not been easy... with Dan'yel?"

"No. I can't even begin to describe what—"

"You loved him."

"I still love him." Somehow the cup had found its way back into his hands and he was drinking some more. His tongue and lips felt numb. This time he poured the contents into the sand beside him before putting the cup down.

"You know what I meant, O'Neer."

"And I meant what I said. I still love him. Just because he's changed doesn't mean I don't care for him less."

"It is painful to see him like this." They both turned to watch Daniel walk around the communal area, kicking at the sand below the rocky terrace.

"He knows he used to be different. My heart breaks every time he realizes he can't do something that he used to be able to do."

"I have seen much evil," Skaara said softly, and Jack knew he was talking about the monster that'd lived inside of him for years. "But it gladdens my heart to see how much love you have for Dan'yel. And he for you."

"And you and your father. Your people. Despite what it looks like, Daniel's enjoying himself here. I was worried at first, about taking him away from what was routine... familiar," Jack amended when he saw the frown on Skaara's face. "But he's adapted pretty well."

"He has not complained about the heat for about two cycles. I believe you are right, he has adapted well."

Jack chuckled as he turned around to see where Daniel had gotten to. He could see his shoulders, his body partly hidden by the small crowd as he bent down to examine something. Then Daniel straightened, brought a cup to his mouth, and downed it in several gulps.

For a moment Jack wondered where he'd gotten the water. But it hit him the moment Daniel's face turned red and he struggled for air that what he'd just knocked back wasn't water.

"Oh, shit."

Jack was up and running just as Daniel collapsed to his knees, the one breath of air he'd managed to inhale coming out as harsh coughs. His face broke out in a sweat and his eyes were wild as he grabbed onto Jack for support.

Skaara slid to a stop beside him and grabbed the cup Daniel had dropped. The crock of moonshine had been left unattended and obviously Daniel, who had already complained of thirst, had decided to help himself to some water. Damnit, why hadn't he just gone home right away?

"It's okay, just breathe." Jack held onto Daniel as he struggled to get past the fire in his throat and stomach. Daniel coughed, spittle flew from his mouth and tears streamed down his face. A moment later he lost his supper.

Skaara was yelling at someone but Jack was more worried about making sure Daniel didn't fall into his mess. Then someone picked up the crock and carried it away, closer to the men. Right, close the barn door after the mastadge has run off.

The moment he could inhale without choking, Daniel began crying. Jack pulled him close despite the overpowering smell of vomit. He patted his back as Daniel clutched at him desperately.

"It's okay, it's okay," he murmured into Daniel's ear. "You're fine, just got a hold of something a little too strong for you." Ironic, considering the art of making moonshine had been Daniel's gift to the Abydonians during his year with them.

"I was thirsty," Daniel hiccupped when he calmed down a little. "I was thirsty."

"It's my fault. I should have gotten you some water."

"S'not water?"

"Nope. Remember I told you what I was drinking wasn't water and that you wouldn't like it?"

"It burned!"

"Yeah, I bet it did." A cup of a hundred proof hitting your stomach in one shot was something Jack definitely didn't want to experience. He was lucky Daniel had puked it up, it could have been enough to give him alcohol poisoning.

"I didn't like it." He took a shaky breath. "I didn't like it at all."

"Dan'yel, I am sorry." Skaara returned to their side and put a hand on Daniel's shoulder.

Daniel sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "I want to go home."

"Wanna go back to Kasuf's?"

Nodding, Daniel sniffled again. Jack tugged at his arm and Daniel stood.

"He's okay," Jack told Skaara. There was a look of fear on the younger man's face, which eased as he examined Daniel for himself. "We'll see you tomorrow." Jack waved to everyone as they called out farewells as he led Daniel back to Kasuf's dwelling.

"My head hurts." Daniel dragged his feet in the sand along the road.

"I bet it does. You'll feel better after some sleep."

Kasuf wasn't around when they got in. Jack brought Daniel straight to his bedroom. First thing he did was pour Daniel some water. Daniel eyed the cup suspiciously.

"It's just water. I promise." Jack took a sip and then handed it to Daniel. As Daniel made a show of slurping some and tasting it cautiously, Jack shook out some Advil. He handed the pills to Daniel, who took them and swallowed the rest of the water. Jack poured him some more and waited for Daniel to drink that also.

"Okay, strip and wash up." He took Daniel's tunic and pants, then stripped off his own clothes, changing quickly into a tee shirt and jeans before bringing their clothes to the back of the kitchen where he could rinse them out. Both of them stank of sweat, mastadge and Daniel's puke.

He'd just poured water from a pitcher into a small basin when Kasuf entered the room.

"Is there a problem?" His voice was full of concern as he quickly approached Jack. "Someone told me Dan'yel had been sick."

"He got into the moonshine. He's fine, just made a bit of a mess." Jack added a bit of soap and dumped the clothes in.

"Leave that." Kasuf waved at the basin as Jack swirled their dirty clothes around. "I'll have someone look after those." Jack shook his hands free of water and wiped them on his pants. "Who gave Dan'yel the intoxicant?"

"Nobody gave him any. He helped himself to it. Actually it was my fault. He said he was thirsty and thought it was water. I should have paid more attention." Jack rubbed his face with his hands. "I should go check on him... he's washing up."

"I will find Faleneti. She will wash these and they will be ready for you to wear in the morning."

Daniel was sitting on the bed, dressed only in his boxers, Lumpy sitting on his lap. "Ready for bed? Did you brush your teeth?"

Daniel nodded. Jack could smell toothpaste and wondered where Daniel had... he peered into the basin with the dirty water and saw gobs of saliva. He sighed.

"How's your head?" He pulled the edge of the sheet up as Daniel slid beneath it.

"Still hurts." Daniel took his glasses off and handed them to Jack. He took them and placed his palm over Daniel's forehead. Thankfully he was cool to the touch.

"We'll be leaving in the morning."

Daniel sat up in a flash. "Why? Because I was sick? I'm sorry. I won't drink that bad stuff anymore." His face crumpled.

"No, Daniel. We came especially for the ceremony, remember? Now it's time to go home."

"But I like it here. Everyone's really nice."

"I know. But we have to go back. Sam and Teal'c and Grandpa Hammond are probably missing you right now."

"Oh. I miss them, too. Can't we stay for another day?"

"We'll see. Get some sleep." He stood up as Daniel lay back down.

"Jack?"

"Hmm?" Jack stopped near the exit.

"I want Kasoop to finish the story." A hand came out from beneath the sheet to scratch the underside of his chin. Jack could hear the sound of scratchy stubble.

"What story?"

"About the warriors who came to stop the bad god. He didn't finish it."

Jack smiled. More likely Daniel had fallen asleep mid-way through the tale.

"I'll ask him."

Jack found Kasuf in the living room. "Daniel wants you to finish that story you started last night."

"Really?" He stood quickly, smiling. "He fell asleep quickly last night. I am surprised he remembered." Kasuf hurried out and Jack eased himself onto a cushion.

* * * * *

"O'Neill," Kasuf pointed to the house's entrance. "If possible, I would like to speak with you in private."

Jack heard the man, but kept his eyes trained on the doorway to the bedroom where Daniel slept. "I think we should—"

"Dan'yel will not hear." Kasuf extended his arm and pushed aside the blankets covering the entrance. "Please. We must talk."

Jack followed Daniel's father-in-law reluctantly into the depths of the house, standing and blinking into the dimness. Jack stayed his position, giving his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness.

"Sit."

Jack would have rather have stood, sitting on the floor, no matter the number of blankets and cushions surrounding his body, still played havoc on his knees, but when in Rome - so he sat on the pile of material Kasuf indicated, awkwardly arranging the Abydonian clothes around his body.

"My daughter's husband—"

"Daniel," Jack interjected.

"No matter what has happened, he will always be Sha're's husband."

"I didn't mean any offense, Kasuf." Jack scrubbed his hand over his face, the sand imbedded in every facial pore grinding into his skin. "I just want to make sure you understand that the man who was Sha're's husband has been lost to us." Jack couldn't bring himself to say the word 'forever'.

Kasuf seemed taken back by Jack's words. "Even though I have only spent a short time with him, he is still Dan'yel; curious, caring, helpful. Are these not the traits my daughter fell in love with?"

"They are," Jack reluctantly conceded. "But his intelligence—"

"He is truly innocent," Kasuf said with a succinct nod.

"He is," Jack had to agree.

"Dan'yel needs to be among family."

"He is," Jack repeated.

Kasuf sighed deeply. "You love him, as my daughter did."

Jack was going to dispute the implication with a short, nasty answer, but he was unable to lie to a friend from their past. "Yes, I love Daniel."

Kasuf leaned over and patted Jack's knee. "Your love is the problem."

"Excuse me?" The equation of Abydonian sweltering heat, the stress of dealing with Daniel in unfamiliar territory, and the eventual fever, all equaled Jack's paper thin patience, and though the coolness of night was approaching the desert, he was tired, cranky, the tunic was scratchy, he needed a shower, and he was so not into playing head games with Kasuf.

"You are not giving him room to grow."

"In case you haven't noticed," Jack raised his hand as high as it would go. "Daniel's not growing anywhere anytime soon."

Obviously, Daniel's year on Abydos had been long enough for Kasuf to pick up his patented, you cannot really be that stupid, look. Jack gave a smirk of apology. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"Dan'yel needs to fail—"

"No, he doesn't." Jack argued, wondering when all these people who saw Daniel just a few hours a day, became such experts.

"Yes, he does. Because after he fails, Dan'yel will pick himself up and try again, until he perfects the skill. That part of him, his endurance and fortitude, did not die. It is you and the people of Earth who are killing that part of him."

"Okay, now wait one gosh darn minute." Jack drew a deep breath - it wouldn't be beneficial for anyone if he lost his temper. "I live with him on a daily basis. I know what happens when this Daniel fails."

Kasuf shook his head. "There is no this Dan'yel or that Dan'yel." He held his finger up when Jack began to interrupt. "You do not understand."

"No, I don't."

"When Dan'yel fails, he will find another method to accomplish the task he has set out to do. There is always another way. But in the short time that he has been on Abydos, here, with you, failure has not been an option."

Jack recalled, with crystal clarity, countless times since the accident, when Daniel's failures had led to tantrums.

"And because you do not let him fail, he cannot learn. He is spoiled. You allow him all and set poor limitations. Do you not see that? You have become a parent that permits his child to run amok rather than deal with the repercussions from setting limits."

Kasuf was probably right, on the surface that was what their relationship now resembled - the father who kowtowed to his child's demands. But it wasn't, the problem was trying to make Kasuf understand. "You don't understand."

"You are trying to protect him, I understand that."

"No, it's more than that." Jack had never really explained this to anyone, and he hesitated, mainly because saying it made it permanent. "Daniel's sick."

"The injury, yes, Teal'c explained that to me."

Jack shook his head. "There's more than that. There are fevers and nightmares our doctors can't fix. He barely sleeps, and eating, well, you saw that last night, and for that I apologize. This Daniel isn't as adventuresome with his eating habits. He's losing whatever skills he has, or had. There are days he can't remember the words, or how to button and zip—how to dress himself, brush his teeth." Jack tipped his head upwards, to keep the moisture in his eyes where it belonged. He had no time for tears, and he should be feeling sorry for Daniel, not himself. "Daniel can't read."

"He is dying?"

"No!" Jack adamantly yelled, then nodded. "Yes, but dying not in the physical sense. He's dying in the sense that eventually he will forget how to do everything, except how to breathe."

"Surely you exaggerate."

Jack snorted. "Yeah, probably. The thing is, Kasuf, is that nobody knows for sure exactly what happened to Daniel. And nobody knows how to fix him."

"The Tau'ri are powerful people, you are the destroyer of gods. Surely there is a way you can fix Dan'yel?"

"I wish." Jack picked at a stray thread in his outer garment, pulling it along the edging, unraveling the binding.

"You have given up hope, O'Neill." In an uncharacteristic gesture of friendship, Kasuf patted Jack's shoulder.

"I've faced reality," Jack painfully admitted.

"I have seen many horrors in my life. My people lived as slaves under Ra, my children were overtaken, kidnapped and taken away by the demons who lived within them."

"We couldn't save Sha're." Jack averted his eyes. His son Charlie and Sha're, two of his biggest failures.

Kasuf shook his head. "She was saved, by death, from carrying on the demon's wishes. My daughter passed onto the other side in peace. Skaara was returned to his family, whole, as he once was. We now live as free people. All of these things are due to the Tau'ri. These accomplishments are testament to the Tau'ri's power, I have faith that Dan'yel, also, will soon be—"

"Don't," Jack begged, hoisting himself off the ground. "Just don't." He paced in front of Kasuf, pausing by the curtained door, listing for a familiar scream to cut through the peace of the house. "Daniel will be—what he has become. There is no magic cure. There will be no one stepping forth and saving him from the demon that inhabits his body. I've accepted it..." The small smile that touched Kasuf's face made Jack stop in his tracks.

"You do not fool me. You may fool others." Kasuf tapped his eyes. "But I see. You have not given up hope. These words you speak are a shield to protect your heart against disappointment."

Jack shrugged, wishing for a cold beer and a blast of air conditioning.

"Your secret is safe with me, O'Neill. You and I will have enough faith in our hearts to bring Dan'yel back to us."

At this moment, it was easier to bow at Kasuf than risk the use of his voice.

"May the people of Abydos have Dan'yel for awhile?"

"Excuse me?"

"You do not understand the request? I wish to know if the people—"

"No, no. I understood, and I understand that you still think that Daniel's memories will be returned if he stays among his family here, but that ain't gonna happen. I'm sorry."

"What is not going to happen?"

"His memories are not returning and he can't stay here."

"Why not? Do you not trust us to take care of Dan'yel and keep him safe?"

"It's not that," Jack hastily replied. "It's just..."

"Just what?"

"There are so many issues. I wouldn't know where to begin. He needs—"

"Family and friends."

"He goes to a special school. He has—you saw with the marbles."

"I have been the father of a young child, I know of their behavior."

Jack tapped his temple. "Up here, Daniel is young, but he's strong and I am afraid that he'll—"

"You do not trust me."

"I do."

"You just don't trust anyone but you can take care of Dan'yel?"

"Maybe," Jack softly agreed.

"So now that you have admitted that you do not trust either myself, Skaara, or all those who love him on Abydos—"

Jack had to laugh. "That's not true."

Kasuf shot him a scathing glance.

"Okay, it's a little true."

"Dan'yel will remain here with us for a visit."

Jack shut his eyes and just shook his head, exasperated over the man's stubbornness. He sank to the ground next to Kasuf. "Why?"

Based on the look on the man's face, Kasuf was thoroughly confused that he even asked the question. "Dan'yel is my son. You care for him because that is what you wish to do. You will not abandon him so I do not understand why you believe I do not want to spend time with him as well. A day is not enough. I love him as if he were my own."

"I know you do. You. Skaara."

"So he may stay?"

Jack smiled at Kasuf's enthusiasm. "If Daniel wants to, he may stay for a few extra days. But that's it. No more than that."

* * * * *

The house was oddly quiet. Jack turned the page of his magazine and tried to read. Instead, he kept cocking his head, listening for the familiar thud of sock-clad feet despite the fact that those feet were trudging along Abydos' sandy soil.

He flipped through a couple more pages before finally giving up, tossing the magazine onto a large pile of still unread publications. He hadn't had much time to relax and indulge in the past months; but he was on vacation for another three days. You'd think he'd jump at the chance to do nothing.

Jack had the house to himself, and damn if he couldn't stop worrying. From the moment he'd returned home earlier that afternoon, he kept wondering whether Daniel was eating, whether he was feverish, afraid that maybe Kasuf might take his eyes off him for a moment and Daniel might wander off somewhere unsafe.

Sighing loudly, Jack surprised himself when he found himself yawning. There was no use sitting here and staring at nothing. He stood, stretched, and locked up the house.

He slid into bed and spread his body over the four corners of his double bed, just because he could. He hated sleeping on single beds; he was always afraid to turn over, expecting to fall off. He stretched, yawned again, then curled up onto his side.

He loved his bed. And he always realized how much he missed it whenever he came back from a mission.

Or a vacation.

He closed his eyes and let himself go. He felt the stress of the day leach from his body as it grew heavier, the mattress fitting in all the right spots. His mind drifted as he listened to the sound of rain falling against the window. All that was missing was Daniel's warm body beside him, his hand resting heavily against his hip, his groin tucked against Jack's—

Damn it.

Jack turned around abruptly, the bed squeaking with the brusqueness of the motion. He willed his hard on to subside as he slammed his fist against the mattress. He ground his teeth together and forcibly opened his jaw, stretching his muscles, trying to ease the tension.

He tried to find that comfortable place again. His body relaxed, his breathing deepened, his mind slowed... and he listened.

He tensed, not realizing what he was listening for. Until it hit him.

Daniel.

There would be no nightmares tonight. No fever, no upset stomach. No frantic calls in the middle of the night when Daniel woke up confused and scared. No, that was Kasuf's job for the next three Earth days, or two Abydonian ones.

So why was he listening for the sound of Daniel's voice? A cough? A fart?

Jack glanced at the clock. He'd been tossing and turning for close to an hour. It was almost midnight; he'd give it another thirty minutes and then he'd get up and look for a boring infomercial or two to lull him to sleep.

- - - - - -

He groped for the alarm clock, smacking it groggily several times before he realized it was the doorbell that had woken him up from a deep sleep. He glanced at the clock, which read zero two hundred hours.

His first panic-stricken thought was that Daniel had gotten out of the house and couldn't get back in, but almost as fast as that idea hit him, he remembered that Daniel wasn't even on the planet.

Jack stumbled to the door, unable to imagine who it could be. Had there been an emergency, someone would certainly have called him. He stopped at the door and with two fingers, pulled aside the blinds just enough so he could see outside.

Teal'c. And Daniel.

Immediately he flipped the light switch and unlocked the door. He had barely opened the door when he caught sight of a white face with blood-shot eyes and a look of utter despair. Daniel burst past the door and with an inarticulate cry, threw himself onto Jack.

Instinctively Jack put his arms around the man who was sobbing against him. Daniel thrust his face against his neck and he had a death hold on him. Jack managed to tug Daniel forward a few steps to make room for Teal'c. The large man squeezed in and shut the door behind him.

"What's wrong? What happened? Daniel, are you all right?"

At the sound of Jack's voice, Daniel wailed even louder, causing Jack to wince at the sound. The smell of sour sweat, smoke and animal dung permeated Daniel's clothes and hair. Jack took shallow breaths until he got used to the stink. Incredibly enough, he'd probably smelled just as bad right before he'd taken his shower at the SGC.

"DoctorFraiser believes that DanielJackson is domicile-sick."

"Homesick? Daniel, did you get homesick?"

Daniel nodded against Jack's throat, great gulping breaths preventing him from speaking.

"M... missed you," he sobbed.

"I missed you too, buddy," Jack whispered in Daniel's ear. Daniel hugged him even harder. "T, what happened?"

"Kasuf returned with DanielJackson approximately forty minutes ago. He informed us that at first DanielJackson was fine, that he was enjoying himself. But as the morning wore on, he became more and more agitated, refusing to eat. Then late in the afternoon he began asking for you, and when reminded you had returned to Earth, he became hysterical. Kasuf had no choice but to bring him home. He sends his apologies and asks that you both return to visit as soon as possible."

"I should have seen that coming." He played a hand through the soft whorls of hair at the back of Daniel's neck. "It's okay, you're home now, Daniel."

Daniel calmed a little more and relaxed his hold slightly.

"Let's go into the living room. It feels kinda weird standing in the hallway like this, okay?"

Again Daniel nodded, still hiccupping. Head down, feet shuffling, he allowed Jack to take his hand and lead him down the stairs and onto the couch. Jack sat on the couch and Daniel immediately sat beside him, leaning against him and again hiding his face against his chest. Teal'c took the chair in the corner, near the fireplace.

"Why didn't you call me? I'd have come out to get him." Jack patted Daniel's back when he took a deep, shaky breath.

"I believed it would be quicker this way to reunite DanielJackson with you."

"Thanks, Teal'c. I appreciate it."

"Daniel, where are you glasses?"

"T... Teal'c has them," he said into Jack's shoulder.

Teal'c removed them from a pocket and placed them on the coffee table.

Jack drew a small circle on Daniel's back, then drummed his fingers. Tapping lightly, he began teasingly to walk his fingers over the tense back. After a moment he was rewarded with a phlegm-filled giggle. Daniel coughed and drew back, a smile on his face.

"That tickles."

"Oh, yeah? Then what about this?" Jack dug his fingers lightly into Daniel's ribs and he laughed once more. He poked a finger into Jack's ribs in retaliation.

"How about a shower? You stink."

"I don't. You stink." Daniel pushed himself back onto the couch, finally losing his death-grip on Jack.

"No way. You're the one who needs to wash up."

"I'm hungry."

Jack suddenly remembered Teal'c telling him Daniel hadn't eaten. "What are you in the mood for?"

Daniel scrunched his face as he thought about it. "Cereal."

"Okay. Let's get you cleaned up and then you can come eat. Teal'c, can I interest you in something?" Jack stood and looked down at Teal'c.

"Cereal would be acceptable. Unless you have only the multi-colored rings."

"No, I got some stuff other than Froot Loops. I think it has nuts and good stuff in it, you'll love it. It's healthy." He motioned for Daniel to get up. "I'll be right back."

"I don't want Froot Loops, Jack." Daniel was right behind Jack, dogging him step for step.

"You didn't want to try that cereal when I bought it." Jack entered the bathroom and turned on the shower.

"I want what Teal'c's having."

"Fine. Get washed up and I'll have a bowl waiting for you." He turned as Daniel began to strip. "And don't forget to wash your hair. You don't want to smell like a mastadge."

"I like mastadges."

"Yeah, well, not in my house," Jack mumbled under his breath as he went to get clean towels and pajamas for Daniel.

He got the cereal out, poured some into two bowls, took out the milk, and brought everything into the living room. He went back and got himself some Froot Loops. Teal'c was on his second bowlful when Daniel got out of the shower and joined them.

He plopped himself onto the couch beside Jack. "Is that mine?" When Jack nodded, he reached for the milk and awkwardly poured some into the bowl of cereal. The liquid splashed over the edge, bringing flakes of cereal and nuts along with it and splattering the coffee table.

Daniel gave Jack a quick sidelong glance, then visibly relaxed when Jack didn't say anything. He picked up the bowl and began to eat while Jack got up to clean the mess.

Daniel yawned as he spooned the last of the cereal into his mouth.

"Want some more?"

He shook his head and put the bowl down. He sat back and leaned against Jack. Making a show of sniffing loudly, Jack mmm'd. "You smell good." And he did. Of soap and shampoo and fabric softener. He nuzzled Daniel's neck, making more sniffing noises and making Daniel giggle.

"How about you hit the hay? It's pretty late. Teal'c?" Jack turned to his friend before Daniel could complain about going to bed. "You wanna crash here? It's the least I can do for bringing Daniel home."

"I would be pleased to remain the night."

"Great. Just let me get Daniel settled and I'll make up the couch for you. C'mon, Sport, let's get you and me to bed."

Daniel got up and made it to the entrance of the hallway before stopping. "Jack?"

"Yeah?" Jack held back the impulse of wanting to push Daniel in the direction of his bedroom.

"Can Teal'c finish telling Kasoop's story?" Daniel asked, looking down at his feet, knocking his bare toe against the wooden step.

"Kasuf didn't get to tell it all?"

"He did, sorta. Is Kasoop mad at me?"

"Why would he be mad?"

" 'Cause I was a baby." Daniel's lower lip trembled slightly. "I tried to be good, honest. But I m... missed you so bad."

"I missed you, too. It's okay to be sad. And I'm sure Kasuf understood. He brought you back, didn't he?" Jack felt a surge of pride that Daniel had missed him badly enough to have made a fuss to come home. He tried to squash it down, feeling bad for Kasuf, but at the same time he realized how much he'd missed Daniel in just those few hours he'd been gone. "So, T, you wanna tell Danny some stories?"

"I would not wish to be the cause of DanielJackson's nightmares."

"Please, Teal'c? I won't get scared." Daniel looked at Teal'c expectantly. "Kasoop told me how a bunch of strangers came to visit and tol' everyone about the Stargate and showed them how to read because nobody could learn and maybe they were stupid just like me and, and, and how they beat up the bad god – I forgot his name – but then they were free and the bad god was scared and he got married and—"

"The evil God married?"

"No, Jack." Daniel rolled his eyes at him. "The guy who showed Kasoop's people how to read got married," he said in a long-suffering tone of voice.

"Oh, I see. Did he tell you about the First Prime who left his wife and son in order to join these brave warriors and save the galaxy?"

"No." Daniel was all eyes, his voice full of wonder. "What's a First Prime?" he asked after a moment.

"Don't ask me, it's Teal'c's story to tell."

"Was the son sad because his daddy left him?"

"Nuh huh. In bed, buddy. Teal'c can tell you the story there."

Daniel raced down the hallway. "C'mon, Teal'c. I'm ready! I'm ready!"

As he and Teal'c followed more slowly, they heard the springs squeak as Daniel jumped onto the bed. "Just don't give him names," Jack said softly. "It might be easier if he doesn't know this is about us."

"I understand."

Jack stood in the doorway, listening for a few minutes as Teal'c began recounting the adventures of SG-1's first mission. Then he went off to get a pillow and blanket. Somehow everything felt right again.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"You lied!"

Daniel rocked back in the chair, crossing his arms and sticking his lower lip out, he looked at Jack over the top of his glasses.

"No, I didn't. The days on Abydos are longer than those of Earth, so even though we were there for two days, it was really three days here at home. And then you stayed another day with Kasuf so—"

"I don't want to go back to the Center. You said you and me were on vacation and now you're going back to work."

"The vacation's over, Daniel. I know it's hard to understand, but we had a few days together and now we have to get back to our regular day-to-day lives."

"I don't want to." Daniel kicked the table, making the dishes and cutlery rattle loudly.

Jack pointed a finger at Daniel. "Don't."

Daniel's breathing increased as his anger mounted, but he obeyed.

"Are you going to eat your breakfast?"

Daniel glared his answer, so Jack picked up the partially eaten eggs and toast and carried them to the garbage. "Get your stuff," he said as he scraped the remnants with Daniel's fork. When Daniel didn't move, Jack straightened and turned to face him. "This is not an option. Go get your backpack."

Pushing the chair back noisily, Daniel stomped off into his bedroom. Jack loaded the dishes into the dishwasher, poured the last of the coffee into a travel mug and checked the house. He stood by the door, waiting for Daniel, and was just on the verge of going to his bedroom to get him when Daniel came out to join him.

Body tense with anger, Daniel stormed out without a word. The drive to the Center was silent; Daniel's mind couldn't wrap itself around the concept that he'd lost a day here on Earth because Abydonian days were longer. All he knew and understood was that he'd left on Wednesday and had come back on Saturday. Even though he had problems remembering the days of the week, he realized he'd been shortchanged when his favorite TV show wasn't on since it was the wrong day of the week.

Jack walked Daniel to the door and let one of the therapists deal with Daniel's mood. He watched as Daniel continued to sulk until he caught the therapist's eye and indicated with a tilt of the head that he was leaving.

"Bye, Daniel," he said softly. Jack saw Daniel tense but he didn't turn around. Instead he made a show of taking Lumpy out of his backpack. With a sigh, Jack left and headed for Cheyenne Mountain.

More than once throughout the day, Jack wished he was back on Abydos and away from the stresses and rigors of his job. Earlier today, a new enemy had made itself known by swarming through the Stargate immediately behind SG-14's return from P7R 338, and had overwhelmed the security guards. It had been Siler's quick action by closing the blast doors that had saved them from being overrun; unfortunately most of those who had been inside the Gateroom had perished. Now Jack was stuck with the cleanup and the job of trying to figure out what had happened.

The consensus was that the enemy had hidden themselves close to the Stargate, coming through the wormhole immediately after SG-14 had gone through. The security detail on base had lowered their guard when all members of SG-14 had stepped down the ramp. Protocol insisted they wait until the wormhole deactivated.

God, he missed the old Daniel. One of the linguists who'd been called in to try and communicate with these people said he'd thought the language sounded familiar and he was pretty sure that with time and Daniel's notes, he'd be able to get a conversation going, give or take a week.

In order to get rid of the several dozen warriors now imprisoned inside the Gateroom, Hammond had ordered the 'gate address dialed, and once their enemy realized their primitive weapons wouldn't break through the doors or the bullet proof glass, they opted to take the easy way out and had exited back through the Stargate.

So now they had eight dead, four wounded, and no idea why they'd been attacked. And Jack had a meeting in ten minutes with Colonel Bonneville to go over the security tapes and ensure that whatever happened wouldn't be repeated.

Jack looked at his watch and realized he was going to be late in picking Daniel up. He walked to the nearest phone and dialed Carter's lab.

"Were you planning on working late tonight?"

"Colonel? Um, not really. I just wanted to finish some calibrations to the—" Carter sounded a little distracted.

"I need a favor," Jack said quickly. "I'm going to be stuck here at least another hour or two and I need someone to get Daniel."

"The Center doesn't close until seven."

"I know. But Daniel was upset this morning and if I keep him waiting tonight, he might get the idea I was doing it on purpose."

"He wouldn't—"

"It'd just be for a few hours."

"It's not a problem, sir. I have a couple of new movies, Daniel and I can watch one together."

"Good. I'll call and warn the Center that you'll be picking him up instead of me. You can pick something up for supper on the way home and I'll—"

"I got that covered. I've got plenty of leftovers."

"You cooked?"

"Um, not exactly. I had company... he cooked."

"Date?" Jack grinned, holding back from teasing her with a bit of difficulty. "Ah. Okay, so I won't have to alert Fraiser about possible food poisoning."

"Funny."

"Carter. Thanks."

"Like I said, it's not a problem."

Jack hung up with a relieved sigh and hurried. He was now late for his meeting.

* * * * *

Jack stepped out of the Avalanche and looked through the lit windows of Carter's living room. It was much later than he'd planned on picking Daniel up. He had half-expected Daniel to be sleeping in Carter's spare bed or on the couch, but he could see the top of her head, and that of Daniel's. Both were seated side by side on the couch. He shut the truck's door and walked to Carter's front door, feeling somewhat hesitant and hoping Daniel was out of his funk.

He heard the doorbell echo inside and then Daniel's excited shout. "That's Jack! Jack's here. Jack's here."

Then the loud thud as Daniel ran to the door and fumbled with the lock. He could hear Carter saying something but it got drowned out with Daniel's loud "Jaaaack" as he threw himself against him. Jack ooofed loudly and backpedaled a couple of steps. For a moment he thought Daniel was attacking him out of anger, but by the way Daniel was clutching at him, he realized something had happened. He grabbed hold of Daniel, both to keep his own footing and to keep Daniel from falling over.

He looked at Carter's guilty expression as she hung back in the hallway.

"Hey, what's up?" He rubbed a hand against Daniel's back and after a moment Daniel loosened his death grip.

"I'm afraid Daniel got a little worked up about one of the movies we were watching."

"Worked up?"

"Monsters, Jack. There were monsters in the closet."

Jack frowned in Carter's direction. "What did you guys watch?" The stress of the day had left a painful tightness in his neck and upper shoulders. He just felt the vice turn the tense muscles up another notch.

"Monsters Inc. It's not a scary movie, but Daniel couldn't bear to watch more than the first few minutes and couldn't seem to understand it was just a cartoon."

"I was scared." He thrust his face against Jack's neck. "I'm still scared," he whispered.

"I'll get Daniel's things." Carter hurried back into the living room.

Jack hugged Daniel again. "S'okay. There aren't any monsters at home," he whispered back. "You know I'd whup their butts from here to kingdom come if there were."

"You won't see them, Jack. They come when the little kids are sleeping. They come through the closet doors."

"Here you go." Carter handed Jack the backpack, and Daniel, Lumpy. "I've put the DVD in the pack; you might try and watch the movie with him. I'm sure when he sees more of it, he won't be so scared."

"You've seen the movie already?"

Carter nodded, biting her lip. She shrugged. "It's a cute movie."

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

"I bet." Jack patted Daniel's shoulder, gently turning him towards the street. "C'mon, let's go." Daniel half-ran, half-walked to the Avalanche, put his hand on the door, then stopped.

"What if there are monsters in the truck?"

Jack reached beside Daniel and opened the door. Immediately the cab light came on. "See, no monsters. Now get in."

Daniel hesitated a moment then got in slowly. He stared towards the back of the truck, tucking his shoulders up high towards his ears. Jack ignored Daniel's strained looks towards the back and concentrated on driving.

The moment he pulled the Avalanche to a stop in his driveway, Daniel scooted out. With Lumpy tightly held underneath an arm, he hurried to the door, waiting impatiently for Jack to unlock the door.

Rushing into the house, Daniel hit the light switches, rushed down the hall past his bedroom and towards the stairs leading to the den.

"Daniel, it's late. Go get ready for bed."

"I'm not tired." Daniel stood at the head of the stairs and looked back at Jack.

"Well, I am. Go on, get your pj's on. We can skip your bath tonight. You can take a shower in the morning."

"Okay." Daniel hurried to his bedroom. Jack turned around and began to look through Daniel's backpack. A small voice calling his name had him stop mid-step into the kitchen.

He took a step back and saw Daniel standing just outside his bedroom door. Both arms were wrapped around Lumpy, who was crushed against his chest.

"What is it?"

"What if there's a monster in my closet?"

Jack dumped the bag onto the floor and walked to the bedroom. "Daniel, do you honestly think I'd let you stay somewhere that wasn't safe?"

Daniel's face scrunched up, then he shook his head quickly.

"Have you seen monsters in your closet before?"

Again, a quick shake of the head.

"So why do you think there are some now?"

"The movie..."

"Which is just that. Make believe. I promise you, there's nothing bad in your closet."

Daniel dropped his head to his chest, muffling his voice. "There were dead people in my closet once. Nobody believed me then."

Shit. For a moment Jack couldn't find the words. He pulled Daniel close to him and Daniel leaned his not so inconsiderable weight against him. "That was different."

"You promise there's no monsters?"

"I promise. C'mon, I'll show you." Jack entered the room went straight to the closet door. He pulled the door open and looked inside. "Clothes, shoes, a couple of dust bunnies... nothing in here remotely dangerous." He pushed a few items of clothing aside to expose the back. "See, no monsters."

Daniel slowly approached and peeked from behind Jack's shoulder.

"Okay?"

Slowly Daniel nodded. Jack shut the door and took Daniel's pajamas from a drawer. He threw them onto the bed. "Get changed. I'll be back in a minute."

"Will you read me a story?"

"It's late."

"I'm not sleepy. Can I watch TV?"

"Okay, story it is. Give me five minutes."

He returned to the kitchen and finished checking Daniel's bag. No notes; Daniel must have had a good day despite their awkward start. He put the bag near the door and went into his bedroom. He took two Tylenol, promising his aching shoulders a hot shower a little later, and returned to Daniel's bedroom.

Daniel was sitting up in bed, staring at the closet door. He jumped when Jack walked in.

"So, anything special you want me to read?"

Daniel shrugged, not taking his eyes off the closet door. He was tense and Jack could see despite Daniel's tiredness, he'd have a struggle on his hands to get Daniel to relax.

"I told you there was nothing in there that could hurt you. C'mon, lie down." For a moment Jack was thrown back at the trust expressed in Daniel's expressive face as he turned to face him. As scared as Daniel was, he knew Jack would take care of things. Jack swallowed the emotions that found themselves high in his throat as Daniel slid beneath the covers.

He reached for the book they'd been reading last night and began reading, keeping his voice soft and soothing. Jack tensed then relaxed his shoulders, the stooped over position not helping with the strain. He leaned back against the headboard and continued reading.

Despite the occasional glances towards the closet, Daniel finally began to relax. Jack stopped reading when Daniel couldn't keep his eyes open and they were more prone to stay closed than open.

"Night, buddy." He leaned over and gave him a kiss on the temple.

"Night, Jack." Daniel patted Jack's leg then sighed softly.

"Shower," Jack told himself as he entered his bedroom. He quickly stripped and got underneath the soothing spray. He wasn't sure how long he stayed there, but when he finally got out, his neck and shoulders were feeling a lot better. Of course the Tylenol helped. A couple ounces of scotch might help even more; talking over the day with the old Daniel and a massage would have taken away the last of the pain.

Instead he dried off, got into his pajamas and made a last circuit of the house.

So when he went into the living room to check the windows, he was surprised to see Daniel curled up on the couch, watching him with wary eyes.

"You feeling okay?" Jack hurried down the last of the stairs to sit on the edge of the couch. He checked for fever and was relieved to feel normally cool flesh.

"Lumpy saw something moving in the closet."

Jack's neck and shoulders suddenly tensed up again. "Daniel, the door was closed. You couldn't have possibly seen anything." Damn, he didn't need this. Not tonight. How the hell was he to explain that the monsters Daniel feared wouldn't be coming through his closet? They were out there, through the Stargate. Today had been a deadly reminder of that.

Daniel shook his head. "There's monsters, Jack."

"Danny, you didn't believe in monsters before you saw that movie. It's not real."

"But it moved."

"We checked the closet. There's nothing there. It must have been a car driving by and the headlights made it look like something was moving. Come on, go back to bed."

"I'm scared."

"I know you're scared. How about I leave the light on in your bedroom?"

Daniel processed that idea for a moment before nodding reluctantly. He stood up slowly and reached for Jack's hand. Together they went back to the bedroom.

The sheets and comforter had been dragged onto the floor, testament of the panic Daniel had been in when he'd left the bed. Jack fixed the bed and tucked Daniel in once again. "Want me to check the closet again?"

Daniel nodded, turning wide-eyes back to the closed door. Jack opened it and made a greater show of looking through it. "See? Nothing."

"What if they come later?"

"They won't. I promise," Jack added when Daniel opened his mouth to ask another question. "Go to sleep, okay? It's really late."

Jack went back to his own bed, thinking of the trouble he was going to have to get Daniel out of bed the next morning. He slid under the covers and wished it was last week, looking forward to a break in the routine.

* * * * *

Jack shut the alarm clock off with more force than was warranted. He hated the sound of it; he hated being woken up, period. Most of the time he woke up on his own but when he was really tired, he would sleep past his usual wakeup time.

Yawning, he sat up and stretched. His neck still twanged, but it was better than last night. Scratching his chest, he padded to the bathroom.

When he finished, he stepped out into the hall and knocked on Daniel's door. "Time to get up." He stuck his head through the door and froze.

Daniel's bed was empty. He stepped back into the hallway and listened. At first all he could hear was silence. Then he heard it.

Snoring.

He followed the sound to the living room, where he found Daniel sitting on the couch, legs curled up underneath him, his face smooshed against the seat cushions. Lumpy had fallen from Daniel's grasp, seeming lonely where he'd landed on the floor.

Jack descended the steps and stood looking at Daniel a moment. Even in the early morning light, there was the telltale color high on his cheekbones. A touch to his forehead confirmed the fever.

Daniel shifted and began to slide down the couch, his precarious balance broken. He sat up, knuckled an eye, and tried to get comfortable again.

"Danny?"

Daniel turned to look at Jack as he sat down. His eyes were bloodshot and seemed slightly swollen. He looked around the room, then slid down his body down to lay his head on Jack's shoulder.

"How long you been here?" Jack curled his fingers around Daniel's head.

Daniel shrugged.

"Why didn't you wake me up?"

Another shrug.

"Did you get out of bed 'cause you were feeling sick?"

Jack felt the shoulder start to go up, then it relaxed. "No."

"Because you were scared?"

Daniel nodded and pressed closer. Jack rested his chin against Daniel's shoulder and felt him shiver. "I was afraid of the monsters."

"You know that movie was a cartoon. Like SpongeBob. It's not real."

"I know," he said in a small voice. "But I dreamed of the monsters in my closet." Daniel pulled back and squinted at Jack. "Not the monster in the movie, he was all blue and purple and furry. It was the scary ones. The ones that were in the white room. I didn't like that white room, Jack. That was scary too, and I kept wanting you to come and take me home and you came and you went away again. So me 'n Lumpy got up and came here 'cause there's no closets. I'm tired." Daniel yawned and put his head down against Jack again.

"Don't go to sleep," Jack said gently, trying to push down the feelings of guilt that Daniel's innocent words brought forth. At least now he knew what was bothering Daniel. It wasn't the movie itself; it was those few memories Daniel had of his past life it had invoked.

First order of business, get something in Daniel to reduce the fever. Then call the Center. There was no way he could send Daniel there with a temperature and lack of sleep. Jack didn't know how much sleep Daniel did get but he suspected he'd sat here alone in the living room for a few hours.

And Jack absolutely needed to go to the SGC today; there were several meetings scheduled that he couldn't get out of. He had no choice but to bring Daniel to the Mountain with him. His best bet would be to put him under Fraiser's care and let him sleep a few hours. Later, he supposed he could get someone to watch him; maybe Ferretti or one of Fraiser's nurses.

He pushed Daniel away from him and figured first thing was to get him dressed and get to the base. He'd worry about everything else as the problems arose.

* * * * *

"He'll be fine," Fraiser said quietly beside Jack. They both were standing several feet away from the infirmary bed, where Daniel lay sleeping. "He's just a little tired, he'll be fine with a few more hours' sleep. And the antibiotics will take care of the sinus infection."

When they'd arrived, Daniel had gladly hopped up onto the bed and lay down without any prompting. Jack had felt a surge of guilt that he hadn't been aware of how deeply Daniel's fear had been rooted. Daniel had mumbled "no monsters here," and hadn't made a single comment about needles as he'd closed his eyes.

He'd let Fraiser and a nurse examine him without complaint. This acquiescent Daniel always scared Jack, but Fraiser seemed confident about her prognosis.

"I hadn't even realized he was sick," Jack finally admitted.

"It's in the early stages, and of course the recurring fever has a tendency to camouflage any other problems which might be incubating inside of him." She checked her watch. "Sir, I don't want to be rude, but you did mention a meeting..."

"Yeah," Jack replied. "I know, I'm late already." He nodded towards the bed with his chin. "You'll let me know when he wakes up?"

"You know I will. And don't worry if you can't leave right away; we still have a few toys that'll keep him occupied if he has to wait for you."

"Thanks, Doc." Jack forced a smile and left the infirmary, knowing that Daniel would be all right.

* * * * *

"Master Sergeant Siler's made a preliminary sweep of the Gateroom and hasn't found any signs of damage." Hammond tapped his index fingers together; his hands, which were clasped, rested on a small pile of reports.

Hammond's gaze flitted around those seated at the table, and Jack, who had already read everything in the reports, watched as Siler nervously swallowed and admitted that they were still checking things out.

The enemy had shot all the lights out in the Gateroom so even with enhanced video footage, they knew some of the invaders had been probing the iris and one even appeared to have been going around the room, videotaping everything.

"I'm afraid my decision in allowing these people to leave may have been a mistake." Hammond stopped the nervous gesture and looked at each person in the eye. "Everything now points to the attack being to gather intel instead of a full-out attack. We... I underestimated these people and I want—"

Hammond stopped when his aide approached and whispered something in his ear. He nodded, and gave a whispered reply. Hammond looked at Jack while the aide left the room. "Doctor Jackson is awake."

Jack nodded his thanks, wondering how Daniel was doing. Unfortunately Hammond didn't elaborate, but continued with the meeting.

"Major Carter, I'd appreciate if you would gather all the information on the people of P7R 338." Carter nodded. "This doesn't appear to have been a random attack; what I want to know is whether the inhabitants of that planet have the type of technology apparent in our security footage. From what I understand, it's a backwards farming settlement, armed with the equivalent of flintlocks and who still hunt with bows and arrows."

"Someone might have learned that SG-14 was scheduled to return to '338," Jack volunteered.

"See if there's any reference in SG-14's earlier mission reports of the inhabitants mentioning contact with others through the Stargate," Hammond suggested.

"The enemy may have come by ship." Teal'c raised an eyebrow in Jack's direction.

"We may have to go back to '338 and question the inhabitants."

Jack's suggestion was vetoed quickly by Hammond. "There's no telling if our attackers are still on the planet. At the moment, that's not an option." Hammond looked at his watch. "I think we can take a break, people." He stood. "We'll meet here at fourteen hundred hours." Everyone stood hurriedly. As they began filing out, Jack heard Hammond call his name.

"I informed Doctor Fraiser that you'll be joining Daniel for lunch. She said his fever's broken and he was asking for you."

"Thank you, sir."

"Colonel, I know this is an inopportune time for everyone concerned, and you have no sitter for him at the moment. I'm sure Daniel would have no problem in keeping himself entertained in my office while we continue with our meeting."

Jack glanced past Hammond and into the office behind the starmap. From his seat, he'd have a perfect vantage point of Daniel sitting at the desk. He smiled. "Thank you, sir," he said in a relieved voice.

Hammond patted Jack on the shoulder. "Go enjoy your lunch."

* * * * *

Daniel burped loudly, looked around furtively at the other tables, then excused himself.

"Looks like you were hungry." Carter spooned the last of her blue Jell-O into her mouth.

"I was. I like meatloaf." Daniel wiped a large dab of ketchup from his plate onto his finger and sucked it off.

"You like the ketchup." Jack leaned over and with a napkin, wiped a smear of ketchup from Daniel's chin.

"Yeah. But no catsup on eggs. That's yucky." Daniel grinned. "You never make meatloaf, Jack. You should make some. I'd eat it."

Jack raised his eyes at Carter's giggles. "I'll make sure to bring you some next time it's on the menu. How's that?"

"Tomorrow?"

"Probably not before next week." Please, not before next week, Jack prayed silently. Bad enough he had to face the stuff here, but to have to bring it home? He held back a shiver and pushed the remnants of his meal aside.

"Come on, it's time for me to get back." Jack grabbed the small bag of toys Fraiser had given him earlier. Hopefully there were enough items in there to keep Daniel occupied.

"We're not going home?"

"I have to work. And you," Jack put a hand around Daniel's shoulders and pulled him close, "are going to be good and play quietly while I sit at a meeting."

Daniel stopped suddenly. "Alone?" He looked up at Jack with fear on his face.

"No, I'm not leaving you alone. You can sit in Grandpa George's office and play there."

"Oh." Daniel began walking again. "Okay."

"Unless you'd rather stay in the infirmary with Doc Janet."

"Nope. I like Grandpa George."

"He's gonna be in the meeting with me. You'll have to stay really quiet."

"I can be quiet." Daniel began tiptoeing alongside Jack. "See?"

"Clown." Jack ruffled Daniel's hair, making him giggle.

They rode the elevator up to the 27th floor. Teal'c, Siler, and a few other personnel were already waiting by the briefing room table. Jack walked to Hammond's door and knocked on it. Hammond was on the phone, but he motioned Jack and Daniel in.

Jack pointed to one of the chairs and Daniel obediently sat down. He placed the bag of toys on the other chair and stood beside Daniel, waiting patiently. After a moment, Hammond finished his call and smiled at Daniel.

"I hear you're going to be keeping us company."

"Uh huh. Jack says I have to be really quiet," Daniel said in a stage whisper.

"That's true. You do." Hammond stood. "What do you have in the bag?"

Daniel shrugged and with a look at Jack, who nodded permission, took the bag and began rifling through it. "Crayons!" he shouted excitedly. He took out the small pack of 24 Crayolas and a battered coloring book. There was also a story book with pictures, three baggies full of Legos and a yellow toy car. Daniel immediately began running the car over the edge of Hammond's desk.

"Jack and I are going to be right out there, so you won't be alone."

Daniel glanced out the window and nodded. He smiled suddenly and waved. Jack turned to see Carter raise a hand and wave back as she took her seat.

Then Daniel was busy running the car over every single piece of furniture in the room, making small motor noises. Jack followed Hammond to the door, then stopped. "You stay inside, understand?"

Daniel nodded, not looking up as he ran the car down the leg of the chair.

"Daniel, understand?"

With a slight look of irritation on his face, Daniel looked up at Jack. "Yes, Jack," he huffed impatiently. "I understand."

Jack shut the door, cutting off the vrooming noises.

After a few anxious looks toward the closed door and the see-through window, Jack turned his attention back to the meeting. Once in a while Daniel's head could be seen at the bottom of the window as he made his way, on his knees, around the room.

A few hours later, Jack had almost forgotten that Daniel was in the office until the door opened and Daniel stepped out. Jack tried ignoring him and paid attention to what Siler was saying.

"So by remotely activating the canisters, we could alternately render the enemy unconscious, or even kill them, depending on what we load them with." Siler looked at Hammond with a nervous look.

"Doctor, do we have anything on hand that we could use to flood the Gateroom with?"

Fraiser's answer didn't quite register as everyone turned to look at Daniel. Jack could see he was nervous, dancing from one foot to the other. He waved Daniel over and Daniel half-ran, half-stumbled over to the table. He grabbed the back of Jack's chair and leaned close to his ear.

"I have to pee," Daniel whispered loudly, clearly embarrassed.

"I think this is a good time to take a ten minute break," Hammond announced suddenly. Jack immediately pushed back from the table and led Daniel to the men's room.

"Having fun in there?" Jack asked on their way back.

"Mmm-hmmm." Daniel skipped a few steps in front of Jack, and Jack pulled him back when they crossed an airman coming in the opposite direction. "I built a castle. Can you come and see my castle?"

"I'll take a quick peek at it but I have to get back to the meeting."

"Are you going to be much longer?"

"A little while longer, okay? Can you play quietly for a little while longer?"

"Sure, I can do that."

Jack stepped back and allowed Daniel to precede him into the Briefing Room. When he looked inside Hammond's office, it looked like a tornado had hit it. Some of the papers from Hammond's desk had been knocked onto the floor. The top of his desk was in disarray with crayons spread all over it. Jack could see how Daniel, in his enthusiasm, had run the crayon past the edge of the paper and onto the general's desk.

There were paper clips spread over the floor in a curving circuit. The items on the credenza and desk were spread out on the floor, in between the paper clips. Jack bit back a groan and wiped a hand over his face.

"See? See my castle?" Daniel had run over to the far end of the room and knelt beside a large mass of Legos. "Here's the door, and here's the window, and here's another window."

"Daniel, could you please clean some of this up?"

"But I'm not finished playing. See, this is the road." On his knees, Daniel crossed the few feet to where he'd left his toy car. He pushed the car amidst the paper clips. "This is a mountain." Daniel rolled the car up and over a lamp. "This is a garage." He stopped the car before a plaque of an eagle with its wings spread, "and this is our house." A box of pencils was nudged an inch to the left and he parked the car before it.

"Okay, buddy, but clean it up in a little while, 'k?"

"Sure, Jack." The car was rolled back up and around the table lamp. Jack backed out of the room and shut the door, and turned to see Hammond standing near the table, pouring a cup of coffee for himself from the carafe. He grinned at Jack's expression.

"Sorry about the mess."

"Reminds me of my living room when my granddaughters come to visit," Hammond said in a low voice. He gave Jack the cup and poured himself another. Hammond grabbed a muffin from the plate, wrapped it in a napkin, and entered his office. Jack helped himself to a muffin and broke off a piece while listening to Daniel's enthusiastic thanks for the treat.

The meeting resumed, with more people coming and going, reports were produced, discussions ensued. This was one of the parts of his job that he hated; brainstorming wasn't one of his strong points and there were times he had trouble keeping up with the scientific mumbo-jumbo.

They were deep in discussions of alternate safety protocols when the alarm sounded once again.

"Unscheduled Offworld Activation."

Hammond stood and walked to the window overlooking the Stargate. Immediately everyone followed, the lesser ranked personnel standing back and trying to peer over their superiors' shoulders.

The iris clanged shut and the wormhole engaged. Hammond immediately left the group and hurried down the stairs into the Control Room, Carter following a heartbeat later. Jack could hear their conversation as their voices rose up the stairwell.

"No IDC received, sir," Master Sergeant Walter Davis announced.

"There's some kind of transmission coming through the wormhole." Carter's voice was muffled and Jack could picture her as she applied herself to the 'gate's computer systems. Below, the security detail had surrounded the Stargate, weapons aimed at the closed iris.

"Radio?"

"No, sir, but it's—"

Carter broke off as the iris unfolded and opened, leaving the Stargate unprotected.

"Shut the iris." Hammond's voice was loud and clear.

"I can't. The controls aren't responding."

"Sir, I think the transmission that's coming through the 'gate is controlling the iris."

"Damn." Jack hurried towards the stairs until at the last moment, remembered Daniel. He turned around and waded through the rush of bodies that had been following him. He hurried to Hammond's office and threw open the door.

"Daniel, I want you to stay in here."

Daniel looked up at him, confusion evident on his face.

"There's an emergency; I have to go downstairs. I don't want you to leave this room, no matter what. Do you understand?"

"Can I come with you?" Daniel unfolded his legs and began to get up.

"No!" Jack yelled. He took a step inside before stopping. "I'll be back as soon as I can. Promise me you'll stay here."

"Okay, Jack. I promise."

Jack quickly shut the door and hurried down the stairs. He ran for the armory, having to hug the wall as two dozen fully armed security personnel, clad in body armor and shields, came running full tilt down the corridor, heading for the Gateroom.

Jack grabbed a bulletproof vest and a zat. He shrugged into the vest, thrust the zat into the back of his pants, and grabbed a P-90. He shoved ammunition into pockets as he hurried towards the Gateroom. Already he could hear shots fired.

The next ten minutes were a nightmare. The intruders came, much more numerous than before, and their sheer numbers overwhelmed security. By the time the blast doors had been activated and the floor sealed off, Jack had grabbed a handful of soldiers and was able to neutralize the enemy with minimal injuries on their part.

The invaders had appeared confused when they discovered the blast doors wouldn't open. It had been like shooting ducks in a pond. Or rather, gassing them in an airtight chamber.

Jack called the all clear and was ordered to the Gateroom.

"Colonel, Major Carter managed to close the iris, and the enemy has been neutralized. We have visual confirmation, but maintain extreme caution."

A battalion of armed soldiers stood waiting for him and he drew his access card as he signaled Teal'c, who was waiting at the Gateroom's second door. He pulled his card through the reader, then held his gun towards the slowly opening door. Inside the Gateroom, the floor was littered with unconscious invaders and dead or injured SGC personnel.

Thuds came from the iris as the enemy unknowingly continued to come through. Jack felt a frisson of dread when he imagined what could have happened if the sheer number of attackers had actually managed to make it into their base.

Jack kept his gun trained on the downed enemy while Teal'c's team did the same from the other side. Medics came in and quickly assessed the injured. Despite the successful addition of one of the new security features of the Gateroom, it had been a massacre. Too many dead, way too many wounded.

As the medics removed the wounded, the unconscious invaders were quickly tied up. Too many of these had survived and Jack hoped their interrogation was going to be painful.

Carter entered the room, her attention intent on some kind of doohickey held in her hands. She stepped over the bodies and made her way to the Stargate. Since everything was secure, Jack moved in her direction. He climbed the ramp to stand beside her as she ran the device around the edges of the closed iris. Even now, he could hear the telltale thuds as the invasion continued.

"Here." She had the doohickey held at chest level and peered closely at the titanium edge of the iris' housing. She scratched at the metal with a knife, and Jack saw something glint in the artificial light.

"Siler? Is he in here?"

"Here, ma'am." Siler hurried across the room and ran up the ramp. He looked to where Carter was pointing and with a pair of tweezers, he managed to pull the tiny wires from the metal.

"Major, the transmission's been cut off," Walter announced over the speakers. Two seconds later, the Stargate disengaged.

"What is it?" Jack peered over Siler's shoulder; it looked like a couple strands of hair.

"Some kind of receiver. If my theory is right, yesterday's invaders planted this and used it to control the iris. It's a lucky thing I managed to find a frequency that blocked their transmission."

"Good work, people." Jack looked up at Hammond in the Control Room, and nodded. Then the smaller window above the Control Room caught his attention. And he remembered.

"Daniel."

Hurrying down the ramp and swearing beneath his breath, Jack thrust his gun into the hands of a passing airman. He ran up the stairs, past a surprised Hammond, his feet ringing loudly on the metal steps.

He heard a second set of steps behind his and caught Hammond hurrying up the stairs. Jack quickly looked around the briefing room, praying that Daniel had stayed inside the office and hadn't ventured out at the sound of gunfire.

A lone Lego beneath the window caught his eye.

"Damnit," he said under his breath. He wanted to run to the office, but if Daniel had witnessed any of what had just happened, he could be easily spooked.

"Danny?" The door was ajar and Jack stepped inside. The office was empty. Hammond took a quick look and hurried across the office and exited into the corridor. Jack moved to follow him when he saw that the chair has been pushed away from the desk.

Moving softly, Jack saw the edge of a shoe peeking out from beneath the space under the desk. "Daniel?" he repeated softly as he knelt beside the cowering form. "It's over, buddy, you can come out now."

Daniel was huddled in the small space, his neck awkwardly bent over his knees and his hands tightly clasping his legs. Jack put a hand on Daniel's leg and felt the shudders going through his body.

"Everything's okay. You're safe." Jack tugged at the leg, but Daniel didn't react to the touch. "Come on out, Daniel." Shifting his hold, he grabbed Daniel's arm and pulled. Daniel slid sideways, his back and shoulders rubbing against the wooden desk. Jack put a hand to protect his head and neck and eased him until he was laying half under the desk and half in Jack's arms.

Daniel's eyes were tightly closed, his face tear-streaked. He was breathing in short gasps; Jack supposed it could have been from the compact quarters as much as from fear. He pulled Daniel closer, pushing his face in against his shoulder and threaded a hand through his hair while he tightened his hold around Daniel's back.

"It's okay, it's all right," Jack crooned. He heard footsteps coming back towards the office and looked up as Hammond entered. He saw Hammond's shocked expression when he caught sight of Daniel.

"I'll get some help." Hammond hurried towards the phone.

"General, I think the infirmary has its hands full right now." Jack began rocking gently to and fro as Hammond stopped with the phone in his hand. "He's in shock; he needs someplace quiet, where he can feel safe. I don't think the infirmary would be the right place for him at the moment." Jack could picture the beds full of injured personnel; the nurses and doctors running back and forth, the groans and cries of pain.

"A VIP room?"

"That would be perfect."

Hammond put the phone down and knelt beside them. He touched Daniel's face gently and nodded at Jack. "I'll find someone to give you a hand with him."

"Thank you, sir."

Jack lowered his chin and rubbed his cheek against Daniel's hair. "It's okay, buddy. You're fine, I'm fine, everything is gonna be just fine."

"J... Jack?"

The voice was so soft, for a moment Jack thought he'd imagined it, until Daniel's hands convulsed into fists; one grabbed a hold of his jacket while the other caught at his back.

"Yeah, Daniel, it's me. It's okay. I'm here."

Jack felt Daniel shudder, and then the tears started. Jack simply held on while Daniel clutched at him, trying to mold his body to Jack's, looking for physical reassurance. Jack patted and stroked and continued trying to reassure Daniel until Teal'c entered the room.

Together they got Daniel onto his feet. But when Jack tried to get him to leave the office, he balked and ran into the far corner. He squeezed himself into the space between the credenza and cabinet, the position painfully reminiscent to the way Mackenzie had locked the old Daniel up when he'd been infected with Machello's Goa'uld killing machines.

"It's okay, there's nothing out there to hurt you."

"M... monsters. I saw them. They hurt people."

"They're all gone, Daniel. Teal'c and me and a bunch of soldiers took care of them. I promise you, there's nobody here to hurt you."

"No. No. No." Daniel shook his head adamantly and squeezed farther away from Jack's outstretched hand as he continued to cry hysterically.

Jack turned and looked helplessly at Hammond, who said, "I'll call Doctor Fraiser."

To Jack's surprise, it was Mackenzie who showed up. He knelt beside Jack and after a moment, produced a syringe.

"I may require your help." He uncapped the syringe and held it ready.

"I shall restrain DanielJackson."

Jack moved aside and allowed Teal'c to take his place. Teal'c pulled Daniel towards him and Jack tensed, expecting him to resist. Daniel did, but Teal'c quickly held him down long enough for Mackenzie to administer the drug.

Immediately Jack rushed forward and put his arms around Daniel as he continued to struggle. After a few moments Daniel seemed to realize it was Jack because he curled his arm around Jack's neck and pulled himself close.

The sobs began to slow and the tense body relaxed incrementally.

"You can move him now," Mackenzie stated when Daniel half lay against Jack, his fingers nudging a paper clip back and forth.

"C'mon, Danny, let's get you out of here." Jack struggled from beneath Daniel's not inconsiderable weight and groaned softly. Teal'c got Daniel onto his feet and Daniel swayed as Jack stood up.

"C... cold."

"I know. We'll get you under the covers in a moment, okay?"

This time they got a very subdued Daniel out of the room and into the elevators. Mackenzie followed them to the VIP room, and once Jack got Daniel's shoes off and had him under the blankets, Mackenzie performed a quick examination. The moment his head hit the pillow, Daniel was asleep and didn't react to the doctor's touch.

"Let him sleep it off. I'd suggest he not be left alone, just in case he wakes up and panics. He should be more lucid when the drug wears off."

Mackenzie pocketed his stethoscope and walked to the door. "He has some of Doctor Jackson's memories. I'm hoping that he'll be able to put what he's seen into perspective with those memories, and so all of this won't leave him traumatized."

"And if he is?" Jack moved a step closer to the doctor.

"Then we'll deal with it as best we can." Mackenzie put a hand on the doorknob. "He'll sleep for four to six hours," he said as he left the room.

"T, can you inform Hammond that I'll be—"

"That's all right, son, you can tell me yourself."

Jack looked up in surprise as Hammond entered the VIP room, Daniel's stuffed animal in the crook of his arm. His commanding officer walked to the bed and looked down at Daniel a long moment before turning to Jack. "What was Doctor Mackenzie's prognosis?"

"He gave him a sedative. He thinks he should sleep it off." Embarrassed, Jack faced Hammond. "And that someone should be with him in case he wakes up."

"Considering what the poor boy just went through, I heartily agree. We have things under control, Colonel. I think your priority at the moment is seeing to Doctor Jackson's welfare."

"I could get an airman to sit with him." Jack hated that idea because if Daniel did wake, there was no telling how seeing a stranger in the room with him would cause him to react.

"And chance scaring him with a stranger in the room?"

"No, sir, but—"

"There are over three dozen prisoners in the Gateroom at the moment. Area 51 is sending operatives to take them back for interrogation. Hopefully whoever is in charge of this incursion will realize their coup was a failure when none of their people return through the Stargate."

"Who's to say they won't try again?"

"That's why I'm putting you in charge of overseeing the rest of our defenses. The gas worked exceptionally well, but we've used up all our supply with this attack. I need someone to see about getting a stockpile of those drugs we discussed earlier. I'll have a computer and outside phone line set up in here and," Hammond turned to look at Daniel again, "I think he'll sleep through just about anything at the moment. You can liaise the cleanup from here.

"I've ordered Major Carter to look into the device that was placed on the iris. Siler and his people are going over it and the Stargate with a fine-tooth comb, in case there are more, then they'll move into the sections of the base where the invaders managed to force their way through. For all we know, they could have left a bomb or some other nasty surprise. This is technology we haven't seen before."

"Yes sir."

Daniel shifted in the bed, making a small sound. His hand snaked out from beneath the covers and patted the mattress. He opened his eyes a crack, mewling softly.

"Uh, sir..." Jack pointed to Lumpy which Hammond still held.

"Oh, right." He placed the stuffed toy near Daniel's hand. "There you go, Daniel."

Daniel grabbed Lumpy and pulled him close. "Jack?"

Immediately Jack was by his side. "I'm right here, big guy. Go back to sleep." He cupped Daniel's unshaven cheek.

"K," he sighed. A moment later he was asleep again.

True to the general's word, Jack was quickly set up and he began to work. Over the next four hours, Jack worked diligently while Daniel slept. The prisoners were on their way to Area 51; so far Siler's team hadn't found any signs of sabotage or alien technology; and Jack had the paperwork ready for Hammond's approval with regard to the extra defensive measures in the Gateroom.

A short cough broke Jack's attention. Daniel muttered something, coughed again, then sat up, blinking groggily. The moment he saw Jack, he put his arms out.

"My head hurts," he said as Jack sat beside him and wrapped his arms around him. He sniffed loudly. "Ow." Daniel rubbed the side of his nose before laying his head against Jack's shoulder.

"My fault." Jack planted a kiss on Daniel's cheek and pulled back. "You got pills to take. You hungry?"

Daniel raised a shoulder in a partial shrug as he wiped his nose with the back of his hand.

"Well, I'm hungry." Jack handed him a tissue and walked to the door. "I don't think they have any meatloaf left but some soup and a sandwich might do the trick."

"No!"

Before Jack had reached the door, Daniel had jumped out of bed and grabbed Jack's arm. "Don't go. There might be more monsters," he yelled as he tried tugging Jack back towards the bed. "I don't want you to go."

Jack allowed himself to be pulled back as Daniel scrambled back onto the bed. He sat down and put a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "There aren't any monsters. General Hammond had the base searched and all the bad guys were taken away. You're safe."

"Grandpa George said there were no more monsters?" Daniel asked in a small, tight voice.

"Yep. And Carter and Teal'c and a whole lot of other people made double sure. No more bad people. No more monsters."

"Promise?"

"I promise, Daniel." Jack's throat tightened, wishing he was really promising that there were no more monsters out there that could hurt Daniel, or anyone else that he loved. He cleared his throat and swallowed. "So, how about some chow?"

"I... you're gonna leave me alone?"

"What?" Jack realized then Daniel had thought he was going to the commissary himself. "No, I was just going to ask the airman stationed outside if he'd be kind enough to get us some food. Would you rather get up and eat at the commissary?"

"No monsters?"

"No monsters."

"Okay." Daniel slid out of bed, knocking Lumpy over with his knee. He picked the stuffed toy up and tucked him under his arm.

"Do you need to use the bathroom first?"

"Uh huh."

Jack pointed to the partly closed door. "It's over there." Daniel squinted in that direction and handed Lumpy over to Jack. "Don't forget to wash your hands," Jack called as Daniel disappeared behind the door. Jack took the opportunity to save his files and power down the computer.

A minute later Daniel came out and took Lumpy. Jack ushered him into the corridor. Daniel froze in the opening, eyes darting from side to side as his breathing sped up.

"No monsters," Jack whispered as he took Daniel's hand. Daniel squeezed Jack's fingers, and took one small step into the corridor. Another step, then another, and soon he was walking beside Jack, although he twitched every time he heard something.

The atmosphere was subdued in the commissary and the place, even though it was long past supper, was pretty full as everyone seemed to have come off duty now that the emergency was past.

Jack led Daniel through the choices of meals. "See anything you want?"

Shrugging, Daniel glanced at the food with disinterest as he rubbed Lumpy's head against his face.

"Okay, let's try some stew." He got two bowls of beef stew and some fresh rolls, and found an empty table near the back of the room. Daniel glanced nervously at everyone then stared at his bowl.

"No monsters, Daniel. These are the people who helped stop the bad guys. Nobody's gonna hurt you here, okay?"

Daniel seemed to relax at Jack's words and picked up his spoon. Once he'd eaten a few bites, Jack fished out the bottle of antibiotics from his jacket pocket and doled out a dose. Daniel swallowed it down without comment.

Jack buttered his roll, took a bite of stew, and sat back. He noticed Daniel slowly chewing and chewing his mouthful while staring vacantly into space.

"Hey," he said softly. When Daniel didn't seem to hear him, he put a hand on Daniel's arms. Daniel blinked slowly then smiled at Jack. "You okay?"

"Mmm. Still sleepy." To emphasize his words, Daniel rested his other arm on the table and rested his head on his hand.

Okay, so the sedative must still have Daniel in its grips. "Eat." Jack patted his arm and Daniel pulled the spoon through the stew, looking at the bowl from his lowered perspective.

"There's peas in here," Daniel suddenly said in an insulted voice. He raised his head and glared at Jack.

"So don't eat them." Jack scooped the offending vegetable out and ate it.

"Can we go home now?" Daniel put the spoon down and concentrated on shredding his bun.

"Soon."

Jack quickly finished eating, and seeing that Daniel had lost interest in his food, the two returned to the VIP room. Daniel crawled back into bed as Jack read a message left beside his computer.

"Daniel, I have to see General Hammond. You wanna come with?"

"Okay." Daniel heaved a long-suffering sigh, but sat up. "But we're going home soon, right?"

"Maybe after I speak to the General." He took the flash drive where he'd saved his work, pocketed it and led Daniel to the general's office.

There were sounds coming from the office; someone speaking in a language that Jack couldn't understand. But he recognized the cadence of the speech; he'd heard enough of it in the short time where he'd stalked the invaders. A peek through the general's open door showed him watching a video replay on his laptop.

Jack knocked and when the general motioned him in, at first he didn't realize that Daniel had stayed outside. He hurried back out when he realized he was alone. Daniel was leaning against the wall, his arms wrapped tightly around himself.

"Hey, it's okay," Jack said, mentally smacking himself for having brought Daniel back to the scene where he'd been so frightened. "You can stay out here if you want."

"Jack? Is there a problem?" Hammond looked out the door with a concerned look on his face. "Daniel," Hammond said, holding his opened arms out to the side. "Can I have a hug?"

Daniel pushed off from the wall and hurriedly enveloped Hammond. Jack heard him take a shuddering breath before he mumbled something.

"I'm sorry, son, I didn't understand."

"No monsters. Jack said no monsters."

"That's right. All the bad people are in jail now."

"But that's a bad person there." Daniel pulled back and pointed to Hammond's PC, which was still playing. He frowned. "He doesn't like Teal'c," Daniel said when the Jaffa's voice intermingled with the prisoner's.

"You can understand what he's saying?" Hammond looked at Jack with a shocked expression.

Daniel nodded slowly. "Uh huh. He's not a nice man." Daniel cringed suddenly. "Nope, not nice."

"That's definitely not Goa'uld," Jack commented. "Sounds like pigeon English, if you ask me."

Hammond entered his office and stopped the playback. "Daniel, can you tell me what the man is saying?"

Daniel took a step inside and glanced nervously through the starmap, towards the window beyond the briefing room which looked into the Gateroom. "Uh... he was being mean to Teal'c."

"If I play this back, would you do me a favor and tell me what the man is saying?"

Daniel raised a shoulder, hesitant.

"Only if you want to, Daniel." Jack put a hand on Daniel's shoulder and urged him to turn so he was facing Hammond's desk, away from the starmap. "But it would be a big help."

"Okay," Daniel replied after a long minute.

Hammond pulled a chair back and had Daniel sit. Jack leaned against the chair's back, a hand on Daniel's shoulders. He could feel the tense muscles and he kneaded them gently.

"We attempted to interrogate the prisoners while waiting for their escort from Area 51." Hammond sat at his desk and fiddled with the laptop. "None of them have spoken except this one, and only when he saw Teal'c. There's only a couple of minutes' worth of dialogue, so this shouldn't take very long."

Hammond began the playback again, keeping the laptop's screen facing away from Daniel. The sharp guttural words came through loud and clear.

Daniel ducked his head, exposing his nape. Jack's fingers automatically reached for the tantalizing flesh before he realized what he was doing. He immediately stopped stroking, but kept his fingers on Daniel in the hopes of grounding him.

"He's saying really bad words," Daniel said in an embarrassed voice.

"That's okay. What else?" Hammond urged.

Daniel listened carefully, staring at the edge of Hammond's desk. Suddenly Daniel reached out and with a finger and pushed. The small toy car he'd been playing with earlier rolled a several inches, and stopped.

"Danny." Jack squeezed gently to bring his attention back.

"He... he says he's gonna cut out Teal'c's heart and feed it to his god." Suddenly Daniel twisted around to look at Jack. "He's not really gonna do that, is he? Because Teal'c's big and strong and the bad guy can't hurt Teal'c, can he?"

"No, he's just trying to scare Teal'c."

"Ha. Teal'c's not scared of anything."

"Does he say who his god is?" Hammond paused the playback and Daniel nodded.

"Uh huh." Daniel leaned forward again to nudge the small car forward.

"Who was it?"

"Huh?" Daniel looked back at Jack, squinting.

"Who was the god?"

"Oh. Khentamentiu. Can we go now, Jack?"

"That is also what I believed the prisoner said."

"Teal'c!" Daniel charged out of the chair and threw himself against Teal'c. "You beat up all the bad guys. You and Jack. No more monsters here, right?"

"Indeed."

This time when Daniel glanced towards the briefing room, he did so with more confidence. He smiled at Teal'c and shuffled back to Jack, this time picking up the toy car and running a finger beneath one of the front wheels, making it turn.

"Khentamentiu was occasionally allied with Wepwawet. The attack now makes sense."

"Retribution?" Jack put an arm around Daniel as he leaned close.

"It would appear so."

"My head hurts. Can we go home now?" He held out the toy car reluctantly to Hammond.

"Go ahead, Colonel. I think Daniel's had a long day." Hammond took hold of Daniel's hand and pushed it and the car towards his chest. "I think you can keep this, son."

Without another word, Daniel headed for the door as Jack handed the flash drive to Hammond.

"Daniel. Don't forget to thank General Hammond for the car."

"Thank you, Grandpa George," he said, turning and taking a step backwards.

"And thank you for your help, Daniel. You saved us a lot of time."

Daniel stopped at the door and smiled. "You're welcome, Grandpa George." He looked up at Jack. "I did good, huh?"

Jack ruffled Daniel's hair as they stepped down the corridor. "You did great, buddy."

* * * * *

Jack had expected Daniel to sleep on the way home, but instead either the sedative had worn off or he'd shaken off its effects. He played with his toy car, rolling it on the dash and windows of the truck's interior. When Jack pulled up into the driveway, Daniel stepped out of the Avalanche without hesitation. It was only when they stepped inside the house did Daniel look towards his bedroom with trepidation.

"No monsters, remember?"

"Uh huh." Daniel took a few steps and stopped. "You and Teal'c got all the bad guys."

"How about you get ready for bed?"

"I'm not tired." Despite his protest, Daniel yawned widely.

"Grab your pj's while I run you a bath."

"Okay. Don't forget the bubbles."

"I won't."

Thirty minutes later, Daniel, damp and clean and clad in his pajamas, came to join Jack downstairs. Daniel picked up the DVD that Carter had given him the previous night, which Jack had thrown onto the coffee table.

"That movie's scary." Daniel fiddled with the DVD case, turning it back and forth.

"You wanna watch it with me?" Jack prodded gently.

"You won't let the monsters get me, will you?" he asked for a moment's hesitation.

"I promise."

"Okay." He handed Jack the movie and Jack popped it into the DVD player.

Thirty minutes later, Daniel was laughing at the antics of what had earlier he'd thought was the "scary" monster.

"That's so funny," Daniel said, laughing as he leaned against Jack's shoulder.

"Not so scary anymore?"

"Nope. Sulley's big and cuddly, kinda like Teal'c."

Jack bit back a laugh. "Don't let the big guy hear you say that, okay?"

"But he is," Daniel insisted. "I bet he was big and scary to the bad guys, huh?"

"I'm sure he was," Jack said, smiling.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

Jack's stomach rolled dangerously and he burped, wincing at the taste of this afternoon's tuna sandwich.

"Excuse yourself," Daniel giggled.

Jack gave Daniel a tight smile. Daniel needed dinner but the thought of food set Jack's stomach rumbling again and he shifted in the driver's seat, hoping he could make it home before he literally lost his lunch.

"Jack, Jack, Jack..." Daniel was literally bouncing in his seat, pointing out the window to the Burger King on the next corner. "Please... can I have a burger and fries for dinner?"

Jack knew it was impossible, but Daniel's exuberance seemed to set the whole vehicle vibrating, adding to his discomfort. He swallowed bile. "Okay."

Thankfully there was no line in the drive thru, because he didn't think his stomach could tolerate the odor of food cooking.

"Can I have a SpongeBob watch?"

"Not now, I don't really feel like going to the store—"

"No, they're here. They sell them for..." Daniel squinted through the windshield and pointed to the advertisement on the ordering board. "Is that a lot of money, Jack?"

"No, it isn't."

"Can I have one then? Please?" Daniel clasped his hands together and begged.

* * * * *

Jack kept one hand on the wheel and slammed the open bag of food that sat on Daniel's lap shut. "Close it, okay?"

Daniel nodded, and quickly stuffed the French fry that was in his hand into his mouth.

* * * * *

Jack barely made it to the bathroom. He had flung open the front door, leaving the keys in the lock and took off like a shot with his hand clamped over his mouth. He had slammed the bathroom door behind him, away from prying, inquisitive blue eyes. No sooner did the attack of vomiting stop than he was hit by a sudden attack of diarrhea. Jack reached over and pulled the garbage pail between his legs, just in case he needed to puke again while he was shitting his brains out.

He wished he could say he felt better when his body was finished, but he couldn't. His stomach felt abused and sore, his muscles ached, and his throat burned. He averted his eyes from his reflection in the mirror, not wanted to see if he looked as bad as he felt. Brushing his teeth didn't rid the vile taste in his mouth and the shock of splashing cold water on his face didn't help at all.

* * * * *

Daniel must have sensed there was something wrong. The kitchen was decently cleaned when Jack entered, with only a French fry or two on the floor which Jack decided could wait until tomorrow to pick up. The same for the overflowing garbage. Nothing that couldn't wait until tomorrow. He'd feel better in the morning, he rationalized as he downed a mouthful of Pepto Bismol.

Jack grabbed the paper off the counter and followed the sound of the television to the den. Daniel was sitting on the floor, his long legs under the coffee table, with his drawing pad and crayons spread out before him.

Jack eased himself onto the recliner; even the worn, familiar leather provided him no comfort.

"You don't look so good."

"I don't feel so great," Jack admitted.

"Poor Jack." Daniel leaned over and patted Jack's calf. "I cleaned up my dinner, did you see?"

Jack nodded. He didn't even have the energy to answer.

Daniel went back to coloring. "I'll be good," he said, not even looking up from his paper. "I won't bother you at all."

* * * * *

"What!" Jack jerked awake, panting.

Daniel stepped back, obviously surprised at Jack's reaction. "I didn't mean to scare you, Jack," Daniel apologized, his eyes downcast, staring at the glass he held in his hands. "But I thought you might like ginger ale. Like you give me when I don't feel good."

"Ginger ale?" Jack repeated dumbly, squeezing his eyes shut as both his head and stomach vied for his attention. He opened one eye when he felt Daniel's cool hand on his forehead.

"You've got a fever," Daniel admonished with an expression so like the other Daniel that Jack averted his face, unable to deal with those emotions right now. He felt Daniel shove the glass into his chest, and Jack fumbled a little with the wet glass, spilling a bit onto his shirt.

"Damn it, Daniel." Jack shook out one of his wet hands. "What..." Jack stopped suddenly when he realized he was talking to air, Daniel had disappeared. He swallowed convulsively; the cloying odor of the ginger ale had started his stomach churning once again. He popped the chair upright, spilling even more of the soda before he managed to place the glass on the coffee table. Jack ran from the room and barely made it to the bathroom in time to empty his stomach of nothing but pink tinged bile.

* * * * *

He was uncomfortable and he could feel Daniel's eyes boring into him. Jack wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting on the bathroom's cold tile floor with his head resting on the rim of the toilet seat before those two thoughts trounced through his brain.

"Daniel?" God, he was tired. His head ached and he wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and die. Or sleep. Whichever came first. All he knew was even the action of turning his head to meet Daniel's worried glance took more effort than it should have.

"You're sick."

"Very astute, Daniel."

Oh, crap. He had forgotten who this Daniel was and touché to him for now adding hurt along with the concern. Jack was positive Daniel didn't understand the word he'd used, but the tone had telegraphed his anger loud and clear.

"I didn't know." Daniel walked into the bathroom and put the glass of ginger ale and what looked like aspirin on the counter. "I wouldn't have made you go for a hamburger..."

"Don't mention food," Jack groaned.

"Sorry. I'm new at taking care of you when you're sick." Daniel studied Jack's position on the floor. He seemed lost and unsure of himself. Finally, he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and retrieved the glass and the pills. Like Daniel of old, he was willing to meet a challenge head on and Jack had no recourse but to give Daniel a small smile of reassurance when he bent to Jack's level. "Drink this," he said, confidently shoving the glass once against towards Jack. "Take these." Daniel opened his fist and presented Jack with two pills. "They have a "T" on them and I remember you once showed me the letter before I took them."

"Tylenol."

"Yup," Daniel agreed, making Jack dizzy with his bobbing hand and dancing pills. "Good for whatever ails you. That's what you always tell me."

Jack grabbed the pills from Daniel's hand, popped them into his mouth, then snatched the glass and downed the warm soda, hoping that he really had taken Tylenol.

* * * * *

"Stop fussing over me, okay?" Jack had tried to hold his temper in check and was failing miserably as Daniel rearranged the blanket around his body for the umpteenth time.

"The blanket keeps slipping." Daniel stood looking down at Jack, with his hands on his hips. "If you would just go to bed—"

"No." Though that was where he really wanted to be - in bed, but he was terrified that he would sleep if he put his head down on a pillow and he couldn't leave Daniel alone in the house to fend for himself.

* * * * *

Jack stood under the spray of shower water, shivering despite the water's heat. This time he hadn't made it to the bathroom and had ended up throwing up not only on himself but on Daniel, who had rushed to his aid.

Amazed at his own tenacity, Jack had managed to get Daniel showered and changed. Actually, surprised and quite thankful that Daniel had managed to hold his own dinner down and not upchuck along with Jack.

There had been no argument from Daniel when Jack waved off the nightly bedtime time story ritual. For the first time, Daniel had quietly laid down without complaint. Probably terrified, Jack rationalized as he dried his aching body with a towel.

* * * * *

Someone in the distance was yelling his name. Screaming. Crying. Calling for him. Charlie. No, not Charlie. Charlie didn't call him Jack, Charlie called him "dad". The voice began to yell words like Omoroca and Babylon, words that made no sense to Jack in his fevered state. Slowly, the voice decreased in volume. Grateful that he was no longer in demand, Jack hunkered even further down under the covers.

* * * * *

There was a heavy, cumbersome weight on his stomach, pressing down on already sore muscles. Cramps had woken Jack and he tried and was failing to breathe through the waves of discomfort. It wasn't working and Jack had no recourse but to hit the ground running.

Miserable beyond belief, he sat on the toilet, his arms wrapped around his midsection, rocking through the pain. Even after the cramps abated, Jack allowed himself a few more minutes just to be safe, but his stomach seemed to have quieted and he rose, using the edge of the sink to help him balance. He washed up and shuffled into the bedroom feeling as if he had aged twenty years since this morning.

Jack sat at the edge of the bed with a groan, sweating and out of breath from the short walk from the bathroom. He fidgeted, uncomfortable, then lifted his sore ass up to adjust the bunched up blankets, more than a little surprised to find Lumpy in his grasp.

"Great." Obviously, Daniel had taken up sleepwalking as a new habit. Annoyed, Jack stood and slowly made his way to return the camel to its rightful owner.

* * * * *

Daniel was missing. His room was empty, the house was still locked tight but Daniel was gone. Vanished. Jack could feel the hot rush of panic forcing a rush of blood to his already flushed face and he staggered into his bedroom to call the SGC to report him missing, only to find him in there. "Daniel?" How was that possible? How had Jack missed Daniel? He knelt next to him, falling on his ass in relief that Daniel wasn't missing, but had been, and was still fast asleep, on the opposite side of the room, on the floor by the side of the bed he used to sleep in, curled up with his SpongeBob comforter and pillow.

Daniel whimpered at Jack's touch, mumbling, "No bed."

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Jack acquiesced, tucking the comforter tighter around Daniel, moving quicker when he realized that Daniel's face and hands were no longer refreshingly cool to his touch. Damn, the last thing he wanted or needed was Daniel coming down with whatever he had and puking his guts up.

He stepped over Daniel and stretched out on the side that was now left unoccupied. Jack dragged the covers over, wrapped his body in the comforter, and allowed his arm to dangle down, resting on Daniel's shoulder just for reassurance.

* * * * *

"Wake up. Wake up."

Jack buried his face in the pillow, then slapped at the arm that was shaking him.

"You're gonna be late."

Jack groaned, feeling only marginally better than yesterday. "Late?"

The bed bounced sickeningly, and Jack opened on eye to see Daniel sitting at the edge of the bed, dressed in mismatched pants and shirt, hugging his backpack to his chest. "We're gonna be late." Daniel checked his new SpongeBob watch, which was upside down on his wrist. "Yup, we're gonna be really late."

Jack raised a lethargic arm and waved at Daniel. "What do you say we play hooky today?"

"Is that a new game? We've never played that before."

"No, not a game. It means I stay home instead of going to work."

Daniel crinkled his brow and shook his head. "You'll get in trouble. You always tell me I have to go to the Center, no matter—"

"Sometimes there are exceptions to the rules."

"Like today?"

"Yup, like today."

"No Center?"

Jack thought for a moment. He really should call Carter and ask her to come and take Daniel to the Center, but he couldn't deal with the inevitable tantrum so he just caved. "No Center. Hand me the phone, okay."

* * * * *

Jack shuffled down the hallway, into the living room, grabbed the afghan and dropped heavily onto the couch. He tucked the blanket around his body and knew he was taking a risk being so far away from the bathroom, but he was sick of the bedroom and the smell of sickness that permeated it, Daniel's cheerful attempts at taking care of him were in the den and Jack couldn't face one more glass of juice—he just craved peace and quiet.

* * * * *

Jack didn't want to wake up but he was cold and uncomfortable, so he moved onto his side and reached for the blanket, then opened his eyes in surprise when someone who definitely wasn't Daniel snagged his hand.

"Welcome back, Colonel."

"Doc?" He fought against her; he just wanted to be able to get up on his elbows and look around. "Infirmary? How the hell—"

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"Daniel," she said succinctly while she looked over some notes in a chart.

"Daniel's sick?" Jack struggled against her confining hand.

"No, sir. Daniel's not sick. You are." Gently she tugged an arm out from under him, forcing him to lie back down. "Daniel had the foresight to call me. Well, he didn't exactly call me, he called Sam, who called me..."

"Sick?"

"Food poisoning. A damn nice case." Fraiser tapped the IV solution hanging on the side of his bed. "Dehydrated. Fever. Has the nausea abated?"

Jack closed his eyes, concentrated and realized his stomach was simply empty, nothing more. "Feels better. A heck of a lot better."

"Good."

"I remember lying down on the couch..." Jack shook his head. "Nothing after that, well except for waking up here."

"You did go to sleep and from what I can piece together, you were delirious and Daniel panicked."

"Shit." Jack weakly pounded the bed.

"But he had the foresight to call Sam, who called—"

"Yeah, I know. You told me that already." Jack frantically whipped his head from side to side, ignoring the wave of dizziness. "Where's Daniel?"

"He's okay."

"Of course he's okay. If it was food poisoning, he didn't eat what I ate. Where is he, though? With Carter? Teal'c?" Jack squinted at the infirmary's wall clock, unsure of whether the time shown was morning or night. "Is he at the Center?"

"No, he's here," Janet said, walking to the opposite side of Jack's bed.

"Here as in the SGC?"

"No, here as in the infirmary." Janet slid back the curtain that separated Jack's bed from the others in the infirmary.

Daniel was sleeping. Curled on his side, Lumpy's body was tucked under his chin while the camel's long neck and head were peering through the railing of the bed, black plastic eyes staring intently at Jack.

Jack touched his cheek and under his eye then pointed at the bruised skin by Daniel's eye and cheek. "What happened? Who the hell did that to him?"

"Calm down, Colonel. Daniel's fine. Just sleeping... it's tough work taking care of someone who fights you every step of the way."

"Me. It was me," Jack said sadly. "I did that to him."

"Not intentionally, sir. You were delirious, Daniel tried to help—"

"I can figure out the rest on my own. Damn it."

"Jack?"

It took a bit of a struggle, but he got up on one elbow and leaned on his bed railing. "Hey buddy."

"Feeling better?"

Jack lifted his right hand. "Yup, thanks to you and Fraiser's happy juice. I feel much better."

"You're not mad anymore?" Daniel rubbed his injured eye against Lumpy's fur.

"I was never mad, honest, Daniel. Never." Jack pointed at Daniel's face. "I'm sorry, I was just—"

"Stubborn's what Doc Janet said."

"Oh, she did, did she?" Jack's mock indignation was lost in a yawn.

Daniel echoed Jack's yawn with one of his own.

Janet snapped the chart she was holding shut. "I think it's time for you boys to go back to sleep."

"Not tired," Daniel protested.

Jack wanted to add a protest of his own, but once he closed his eyes he reconsidered Fraiser's suggestion and fell asleep with Daniel's soft complaints as background music.

* * * * *

"Morning Colonel."

"Doc." Jack stretched, and rubbed his grumbling stomach. "Hungry?" He said it as if it were an alien thought that would never have occurred to him.

"Good sign," Fraiser whispered. "I'll see about having some light breakfast sent up."

"Eggs, bacon?"

Janet snorted. "Apple juice and Jell-O for starters. Maybe some oatmeal later."

"Oh, yum. I bet Daniel..."

Janet held her forefinger to her pursed lips. "He's sleeping." Her voice was soft in deference to the slumbering Daniel. "He had a pretty rough night. Nightmares," she added at Jack's raised eyebrow. "Let him sleep." She peeked around the curtain and returned to Jack's bedside, pulling over a chair. "You need a Will, sir."

"Will?"

"Who's going to take care of Daniel if something happens to you?"

"Nothing's going to happen to me."

Fraiser gave a very unprofessional snort. "If you don't mind me saying so, I beg to differ."

"Everyone has their own agenda. I don't want to burden..." He sighed. "Burden isn't the word I'm looking for."

"I know it isn't." Fraiser patted his arm. "This isn't a decision to be made lightly, but I want you to know there are more than a fair number of people who love Daniel enough..." She smiled at him. "Just make sure to check out all your options. You'll know when you've made the right choice"

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

Daniel's silence, which had started from the time Jack had picked him up at the Center, had continued throughout supper, worried him. Part of the note Daniel's therapist had written today had mentioned Daniel had thrown up. Again.

"Your stomach still bothering you?" Jack asked as Daniel continued to toy with his stew.

A non-committal shrug and a soft sniff was Daniel's answer.

Jack picked up his own empty bowl and stopped behind Daniel, placing the palm of his hand onto Daniel's forehead. He gently pushed so that Daniel's head was resting against his chest.

"Well, you don't have a fever. Do you have a headache?"

Daniel shook his head and pulled away, continued piling potatoes on one side of the bowl, meat on the other and carrots in the center.

"You finished with this?" Jack indicated the mostly uneaten stew.

With a sigh, Daniel put his spoon down and nodded. Jack picked the bowl up and disposed of the meal while Daniel simply slumped dejectedly at the table. As he cleaned up, Jack didn't miss the way Daniel was clutching Lumpy as he traced the patterns in the table with a fingertip.

Daniel hadn't moved by the time Jack finished cleaning up so he sat down beside Daniel. "Want to talk about what happened today?"

Time to address the second part of the note, something which had surprised Jack greatly.

Daniel glanced up quickly at Jack before lowering his gaze again. He began gnawing at his lower lip, a sure sign that he was debating the question.

"Timmy wanted me to give Lumpy to him," Daniel said, keeping his eyes on his finger as he continued to trace the patterns.

"And?" Jack prompted gently, suddenly realizing where this was going and feeling the rush of anger heat his face.

Colonel O'Neill, the note had read after the part where they'd informed him that Daniel had been sick after lunch. I've noticed a trend recently that Daniel doesn't share well with the others.

"I didn't give him Lumpy. He's got his own Teddy," Daniel said in a sudden rush, turning towards Jack, his face growing from despondent to serious in a flash. "Lumpy's mine and Timmy's always losing his Teddy and because he couldn't find his he wanted mine. Lumpy's mine and I don't want Timmy to lose him."

"I understand." Jack reached over and gave Lumpy's head a pat, which was peeking underneath Daniel's head. "But by letting Timmy hold Lumpy for a while, you could have made him happy until they found his Teddy." Bringing personal effects to the Center was frowned upon but a couple of the clients, like Daniel, were permitted due to extenuating circumstances. Still, the staff knew how attached Daniel was to the fuzzy toy and it was odd that they had expected him to share it.

"I... I don't care. He's mine. Timmy never lets me have any of his stuff."

In the past several days, Daniel has kept to himself, and many times has refused to participate in some of the daily activities.

"It's okay." Jack put a hand on Daniel's shoulder and leaned down and kissed the top of his head. "So, what did you do after you didn't let Timmy take Lumpy?"

"Nothing."

"You didn't get mad or anything?"

Jack felt the muscles beneath his fingers tense.

"I didn't do anything." There was a definite pouty tone in Daniel's voice. "I just colored."

"Okay, how about we try something different tomorrow?"

That statement had obviously caught Daniel's attention. Immediately he looked up at Jack with hope in his eyes.

"How about you leave Lumpy here at home; that way you won't have to worry about anyone wanting him."

"Leave Lumpy alone?"

"Sure. He can stay in your room. Or, I can bring him to work with me and he'll be in the truck waiting for you when you come home."

"He wouldn't come to the Center with me?" Daniel began to pick at his nail with his thumb, the movements quick and almost frantic.

"No, he'd be here. Safe. That way you won't have to share him with Timmy if you don't want to." The movements slowed, then stopped. Daniel brought his finger up to his mouth and began worrying the hangnail with his teeth.

"Okay," he said after a moment.

* * * * *

"Daniel, hurry up, you're going to be—"

"I'm here, I'm here." Daniel hobbled into the kitchen, one shoe on, the other in his hand while trying to balance his backpack beneath his other arm. "I can't get my shoe to fit."

"That's because you have them on the wrong feet."

Daniel looked down at his shoe, toed it off then stomped his foot into the loafer. "That's better," he said with a grin. He dropped the other shoe and fumbled his foot into it.

Jack didn't miss the caramel-colored fuzzy head peeking out of the top of the bag.

"I thought we were leaving Lumpy home today."

Daniel shook his head, fast and furious. "Nope," he said simply.

"You're sure? Because if Timmy asks to hold him, you'll—"

"Jack," Daniel said in an exasperated voice. "Lumpy'll be lonely here without me. And he'll be bored going to work with you."

A Daniel in a good mood in the morning was a rare thing and Jack wasn't about to rock the boat, so he kept his comments to himself and pointed to the door. "C'mon, let's go, or we'll be late."

* * * * *

Jack looked over the second note he'd received in five days.

Daniel appears to be withdrawing more and more and participating less with the various groups. His reluctance to share continues, which is quite perplexing because Daniel has always been very generous with his belongings.

The pasta was bubbling away; Jack had time to try and discuss the problems again with Daniel before supper.

"Daniel." Jack sat down and watched as Daniel haphazardly put together a pile of Legos. Lumpy sat on the table beside Daniel. These days the stuffed animal was rarely more than a few inches away from Daniel. "Did Timmy give you and Lumpy a hard time today?"

"Not Timmy," Daniel answered after a long pause. He pushed down on one of the rubber pieces hard enough that his fingertips turned white for a moment.

Jack sighed. "Who?"

"Eddie," Daniel said in a soft voice.

"Eddie... your therapist? What did he say?"

"He wanted me to let the others play with Lumpy."

"And?"

Daniel dropped the blue Lego and pulled the stuffed animal close.

"I didn't play."

"And Lumpy? Did he play with the others?"

"No.

In particular, Daniel appears reluctant to continue with the library group. His reading skills, as you are aware, are non-existent and we have seen no positive improvement in this regard in the past several months.

"Did you have your library group today?"

Daniel shrugged again. "Think so," he mumbled.

"And when you say you didn't do anything, do you mean you didn't go and read with the others?"

Daniel squirmed on the chair, twisting around and pulling away from Jack.

"Daniel?"

"I don't wanna read no more. I don't like it. It's stupid."

"You used to like reading with the group. What changed?"

With his back still to Jack, Daniel spoke softly. "It's just me and Eddie. Timmy and Stevie and Vince aaand... and Janie don't read with me anymore. They read with Dennis and leave me alone with Eddie."

I don't know why Daniel's experiencing this change; he never exhibited any reticence in sharing any of his things with the others at the Center. I'm worried that this may be a new symptom of Daniel's continued regression and I believe we should meet and discuss at your earliest convenience.

Jack felt anger flood through him at the thought of how lonely and abandoned Daniel must be feeling, and how the therapists seemed to have forgotten the small fact that Daniel would never learn to read. The few pleasures he'd had at the Center was the reading circle, and even though he could never truly participate, he had always enjoyed listening to the stories and even joining in and making up part of what he'd perceived the story to be, and in his own mind, thought he was reading along with the others.

He was oh so going to speak with the therapists. He knew Daniel could be a handful at times, but how could they just not see what was happening here. No wonder Daniel was rebelling.

"How about I talk to Eddie and Dennis in the morning and see if they won't add you to Dennis' group?"

Daniel raised his head quickly, his eyes shining with unshed tears. "They don't want to play with me anymore."

"Of course they do." Jack forced himself to speak slowly and softly, hiding his rising anger from Daniel. "They're probably just making a few changes and I'm sure they were planning on bringing you in with the rest of the group in a day or two. Let's just see if I can speed things up."

"If I go read with them, then Timmy will want to play with Lumpy again and he'll lose him. Just like his Teddy."

"We talked about this a few days ago, reme—"

"Timmy had a new Teddy today. I don't want another Lumpy. I want this Lumpy." Tears threatened to fall as Daniel's voice thickened and deepened.

"They didn't find his old Teddy?"

A sob broke from Daniel. "N... no. I want my Lumpy. I don't want to give him to Timmy."

"Then we won't take any chances, buddy. Lumpy stays home, right on your bed so when you're at the Center, you'll know exactly where Lumpy is every minute of the day."

"But I'll miss him," Daniel wailed, burying his face in the long, fuzzy neck.

"And Lumpy will miss you, too. But this way there won't be any chance of losing him." Jack pulled Daniel close as he sobbed loudly. He rubbed Daniel's back as Daniel wrapped an arm around Jack and hung on for dear life.

* * * * *

"He'll be fine." Jack stood beside Daniel, the two of them staring at Lumpy sitting in the middle of Daniel's bed. Daniel's breath hitched and Jack braced himself for yet another tearful outburst this morning, but to his surprise, Daniel shuffled away from his bedroom and continued towards the kitchen.

"He'll be waiting for me tonight, right?" Daniel asked as he paused in the doorway. A tear tracked down his face and Jack moved closer, took Daniel's glasses off and wiped the tear with his thumb.

"Exactly where you left him." He took the glasses to the kitchen sink and ran them under the faucet, rinsing off the salty residue of teardrops. He wiped them clean and then handed them back to Daniel.

He glanced at the clock and swore. They were already running a half hour behind; Daniel's tears and concerns over Lumpy had made them late. Jack stepped to the table and picked up Daniel's backpack. It looked odd not seeing the little camel peeking out of the flap.

"Ready to go?"

"I don't feel so good, Jack."

Jack sighed. "It's okay to miss him, Daniel." He handed Daniel his backpack, which he took reluctantly. Leaning over, he brushed the hair on Daniel's temple, then kissed the spot lightly while his hand felt Daniel's forehead for fever. He kissed Daniel's temple again when he felt cool skin. "C'mon, I'm late already for work."

Sighing theatrically, Daniel followed Jack out the door.

* * * * *

An even greater concern is Daniel's continued loss of control. His temper tantrums are occurring more and more frequently and as you know, on two occasions, he had to be forcibly restrained until he calmed down. I know you're reluctant to have Daniel medicated, but perhaps we could discuss the possibility once again.

Jack rubbed his face in frustration as he reread yet another note from Daniel's therapists. Two occasions. Two times that Daniel had lost it completely. And here they went again, wanting to dope Daniel up. The subject had come up a time or two and he'd immediately nixed any suggestions to drugs.

The first tantrum had happened a few weeks ago when one of the Center's clients had teased another mercilessly and Daniel had stepped in. He hadn't taken well to being told he shouldn't have interfered. Daniel's sense of fairness, although still on a childish level, was strong in him.

The resulting tantrum had ended with one of the therapists sporting a black eye and numerous bruises on everyone involved in the melee. Daniel had come home in a mutinous mood and due to the stress of the day had ended up with the usual upset stomach, fever and nightmares.

The last tantrum had happened today. His third day without Lumpy, which Jack now admitted had been a mistake to keep the toy at home. Daniel's stress levels had been way up, his emotions on an uneven keel ever since Timmy had decided he wanted Lumpy for himself.

Jack had seen Timmy in action when he'd gone to speak to Daniel's therapists. He'd dealt with Charlie and his friends enough to know manipulation when he saw it. The therapists were onto Timmy, but still the vibes were getting through to Daniel, and no amount of explaining was going to make either one happy. Daniel was going to bring Lumpy to the Center and Timmy was just going to have to keep his hands off of Lumpy.

But that didn't excuse today's tantrum. Holding down a six foot man wasn't an easy task in any circumstances. Holding down a six foot man who was beyond reason was nearly impossible. It had taken all three therapists plus one of the assistants to hold Daniel down. Again Daniel had come home bruised and exhausted. And frustrated.

And angry. Jack might have worked out some of the rage he was experiencing but there was still plenty of it inside of Daniel. And that not only worried Jack, it scared him.

If Daniel's behavior continues in this manner, we may have no choice but to insist Daniel get re-evaluated and placed on medication to keep him calm. I would highly suggest that you speak to his doctor with regard to the choices of medication available. We need to meet and discuss the pros and cons beforehand, so you have an idea what to expect.

Jack threw the note back onto the table and put his head into his hands, leaning his head on his palms. He rounded his fingers and dug the tips into his scalp, wishing he could just squeeze the tension out of his body.

Some of this could have been avoided, Jack realized in hindsight. There had been a couple of missed phone calls and the last two nights Jack had been late picking Daniel up, and to be honest, he had deliberately avoided trying to talk to anyone because he'd been so damned tired.

He had no idea what he was going to do.

No, that wasn't right. First thing, he was going to do was get up and check on Daniel. Then he was going to call Fraiser and talk to her about this. Next, he was going to make an appointment and meet with Daniel's therapists.

He made his way quietly and peered into the bedroom. Daniel was lying on the bed, his back to Jack, knees up against his chest.

Daniel had refused supper, refused the ibuprofen Jack had offered for the strained wrist and multiple bruises, and had gone straight to his room. He'd cuddled with Lumpy and Jack had left him alone, hearing Daniel's voice as it occasionally rose from whispers as he poured his heart out to the furry camel.

But there had been silence for a long time and that usually only happened when Daniel was sick. Jack moved into the room and rounded the bed so he could see Daniel's face. His eyes were closed, his glasses askew where they were pushed sideways by the pillow.

Carefully Jack pulled the glasses off, folded them and placed them on the night table. He reached out again and placed a palm against his cheek and was relieved to feel no abnormal heat. He left his hand there and caressed the rough skin with his thumb for a moment, then left the bedroom. He'd call Fraiser soon, he promised himself.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"Jack?"

Shaking his head in exasperation, Jack glanced up. "Aren't you supposed to be sleeping?" He checked his watch, counted to three, forcing a patience he wasn't feeling into his voice. "You went to bed almost two hours ago."

Daniel fidgeted nervously, shifting his weight from one leg to another under Jack's scrutiny. "I did go to bed," he shrugged, "but I couldn't sleep." Daniel yawned, bringing Lumpy's body up to cover his tiredness.

Daniel looked exhausted and already Jack began to dread tomorrow morning's battle to force a sleep deprived Daniel out of bed. He moved aside all his bill paying paraphernalia; Carter was always after him to have everything automated, but he was still old school enough to want to see where his money was going. "Okay, Daniel, sit and tell me what's on your mind." Jack pointed to an empty chair once his paperwork and checkbook were out of the way.

"Don't be mad."

"I'm not angry, Daniel."

"Yes, you are. You're yelling."

"I'm not..." Jack took a deep breath and lowered his voice. "Yelling. And I'm not angry, honest."

"Good."

"Why don't you show me what you have in your hand? Did you draw a picture?"

"Nope." Daniel placed Lumpy to the side and carefully unrolled the large piece of construction paper, smoothing it down, attempting to iron out the wrinkles.

Jack had a hard enough time deciphering Daniel's scribbling on a good day, and the angle he was at made it nearly impossible so he moved his chair next to his, the quicker he could get Daniel to explain this, the quicker he could get him to bed, hopefully to sleep and Jack could get back to the mind numbing task of bill paying.

"What is it?"

"A Will."

"A Will?" Jack echoed.

Daniel eyebrows drew together as he scrunched up his face. He seemed to totter between the idea that Jack was unable to figure it out on his own and the possibility that he had done something wrong.

"Umm, do you know what a Will is?"

Daniel ducked his head and pulled his shoulders up to his ears. "It's a paper that gives your things to someone when you die," he whispered.

Jack lifted Daniel's head with the tips of his fingers. "That's absolutely correct. Now may I ask where you heard the word?"

"I was listening when I shouldn't have been—one day when Doc Janet was mad at you."

Jack gently patted Daniel's cheek. "She's always mad at me."

Daniel giggled. "You were sick, throwing up and I tried to take care of you. And I couldn't, so I called Sam. Do you remember that?"

"I remember."

"Doc Janet said that you were selfish and needed to draw up a will. 'Cause if you didn't, the-enidee would get their hands on me."

"The enidee, Daniel?"

"I don't know what that is either, and the way Doc Janet said the word scared me, but I was afraid to ask you because, you know, you get mad when I listen when I'm not supposed to... and I know that I made my Will up because I was listening to you talk, but I didn't want you to have to worry about what to do with my stuff in case something happened to me."

"Nothing's going to happen to you, Daniel."

"That's what you said to Doc Janet. And she got more mad and said the enidee again..."

"The enidee?"

"Yes, Doc Janet must have known I was listening 'cause she spelled it out: N-I-D. Like you spell out things you don't want me..."

Jack fought not to laugh, because honestly it wasn't funny. Not the conversation, not the contents of the conversation and certainly not the dead serious expression on Daniel's face. "I got it covered, Daniel. I made Doc Janet happy and wrote out a Will."

"Does it look like this?" He grabbed the corner of the paper and flapped it up and down.

"Sorta." Jack wasn't broaching the subject of lawyers with a ten-foot pole and he was very happy that Daniel didn't question what was specified in Jack's will. "Want to tell me what your Will says?"

"Sure." He pointed to the first drawing. "That's Sam. I couldn't write her name, so I made an S."

"Yes, you did. I like her blonde hair."

"I gave her my Legos. And Lincoln Logs, 'cause she likes to build things. I cut out pictures from the toy catalogue and glued the picture down so you would know for sure what she was getting."

Jack bit his tongue, holding back a line of questioning that involved Daniel, scissors, cutting and glue, settling on a tight smile of encouragement instead.

"This is Teal'c." Daniel tapped his forehead. "I drew his tattoo."

Jack made no comments about the number of cross outs on the paper indicating the Daniel's failure to write Teal'c's name. "I'd know that tattoo anywhere. I see you gave Teal'c your..."

"SpongeBob tapes." Daniel shook his head slowly. "I think maybe Teal'c needs to watch them over and over again." Daniel's voice shrunk to a conspirator level. "Teal'c just doesn't understand SpongeBob."

"No, he doesn't," Jack agreed. "You think if he watches them over and over..."

Daniel sighed, heavily. "Yeah, maybe that would help. That's why I'm also leaving him my quilt, pillow and all my SpongeBob books."

The idea of Teal'c's bed in his quarters being adorned with a SpongeBob quilt set was too much for Jack to handle and he got up to get a drink of water, allowing his smile to burst forth when he stuck his head in the fridge. He returned to the table with a bottle of water for himself which Daniel eyed longingly. "How about a glass of milk instead?"

"Cookies?"

"It's late. Two cookies with the milk, that's it."

Daniel weighed his options and agreed to the two cookies and milk, making a face after he took a sip of milk. "It's warm!"

"Drink it. I just microwaved it for a second or two. According to Granny O'Neill, 'warm milk and cookies before bedtime guides the soul into pleasant dreams'."

"Why?"

Jack shrugged and used his thumb to mop up Daniel's milk mustache. "Who knows," he said, wiping his wet thumb on his pants, "Granny O'Neill had a million quotes on about a million different subjects."

"You must miss her."

"I do..." Jack stole a quick glance at his watch. "It's time for bed."

"No." Daniel anchored himself to the table with one hand on the Will and another wrapped around the half filled glass. "I didn't finish my milk or the reading of the Will."

"The reading of your... go ahead."

"Where was I? Oh, yeah. Teal'c got SpongeBob... I gave Cassie my Game Boy and Playstation portable, 'cause she'll appreciate them. At least she understands Spyro and Nintendogs and I won't have to worry that I lost the instructions. Because Cassie knows what all the buttons do."

"Is that 'K' for Cassie?"

"Yup, just like her names sounds... K, K, K. I listen when you read to me. The sounds the letters make." Daniel pointed to the square next to the 'k' and the small, but recognizably drawn dragon. "I couldn't find pictures of the Game Boy, Playstation or Spyro, and I drawed them, so I need you to remember all of this, Jack. Do you think you can do it?"

"I'm sure I can, buddy."

"Here's Doc Janet..."

"Did you put a needle in her hand?"

"Yeah. Do you think she'll be mad?" Daniel cocked his head at the paper in front of him, touching the crude, but pointy looking needle that had been placed in the stick figure's hand.

"Nah, she won't be angry, you gave her a big smile."

"That's 'cause she always smiles before she sticks a needle in me. Does she smile before you get your needle?"

"Yep, with Doc Janet, I'm thinking the smiles and needles go hand in hand." Jack pointed to a hand drawn box, overflowing with magazine cut outs of many of the toys that were in Daniel's room.

"It's a toy box. Janet gets all the toys from my room."

"Can I ask why?"

"She once told me then when people come to her infirmary, they complain like little kids. So I figured little kids like to play with toys..."

"So Doc Janet could keep everyone entertained while they got better."

Daniel nodded vigorously.

Jack had to laugh at the next person drawn on the paper. A round body, a round head, devoid of hair. "Is that General Hammond?"

"Yup. I don't want him to think I forgot him."

Jack studied the colorful lines that Daniel had sketched next to the Hammond's representation. "And those are?"

"Crayons. I gave Grandpa George my crayons. I figured he didn't need paper 'cause he could draw on the back of the memos he always sends to you."

Jack snorted. "Yeah, there's always tons of memos floating around."

Daniel finished his milk and licked the remainder of cookie crumbs off his fingers.

"Ready for bed now?"

"I couldn't draw you."

"That's okay."

"No, it's not. But I figured since you were going to be giving my stuff away, I could just tell you what I wanted you to have."

"I'm listening."

Daniel took Lumpy off the table and shoved him into Jack's arms. "Here."

"Daniel..."

"No! If something happens to me... I want you to take care of Lumpy."

"I would make sure that Lumpy was happy."

"You won't forget me as long as Lumpy is around to remind you." With frantic movements, Daniel began to roll up his construction paper will. He stood with the rolled up paperwork in his hand and then shoved that also into Jack's arms, then before Jack could stop him, he left the kitchen.

* * * * *

Daniel was lying in bed, his glasses folded on the night table beside his SpongeBob watch and Jack's old watch, when Jack entered the room. It was too late to comment about the state of disarray in Daniel's room with the scraps of paper, glue and scissors littering his desk and surrounding floor area. He was on his back, his arms stiffly at side, staring up at the ceiling.

Jack sat at the edge of the bed and placed Lumpy on Daniel's chest. Arms automatically reached around and encompassed the stuffed animal.

"Where's my Will?" Daniel's voice was muffled in Lumpy's body fur.

"I put it in my room for safekeeping." Jack smoothed back the bangs that were feathered across Daniel's forehead, internally noting an appointment for a haircut should be on their list of priorities. "You gave me a lot of responsibility, Daniel."

Daniel turned on his side, tucking Lumpy under his body, then placed a hand out to Jack, dropping it onto his knee. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. I'm honored that you trust me."

Daniel looked up at Jack. "I love you."

"I love you, too." Jack withdrew his hands. At the moment, with those words, it just hurt too much to touch the body under the SpongeBob quilt.

"You loved Granny O'Neill."

"Yup."

"What did she leave you in her Will?"

"Memories."

"Memories? How do you leave someone memories?"

Jack adjusted the blanket around Daniel, smoothing down the quilt, tracing the outline of one of the characters with his forefinger. "If something happened to me tomorrow, what would you remember about me?"

Daniel worried his bottom lip, and studied Jack. "Your voice when you read to me. Your laugh. That you buy me ice cream even not on Friday. That you smell good. How loud you yell. That you make me go to the Center. That you never forget me at the Center..."

Jack halted Daniel's list with a hand to the arm. "Those are memories. How do you feel when you think of them?"

"Mostly happy, except for the yelling and the Center part." Daniel yawned and Jack waited until he finished, then kissed him on the cheek, and Lumpy on the top of the head.

"Memories are a wonderful thing, something that no one can rob from you." He stood and stretched, yawning also, admitting the bills could wait one more day.

"Jack?"

Jack's hand was already on the door when Daniel called his name.

"Go to sleep, okay."

"Promise me you won't forget your old Daniel."

Jack slammed his eyelids shut against the sudden pinprick of hot tears. Damn, he was never prepared. "I promise you Daniel, his memories are right where they should be."

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

Jack adjusted his butt in the recliner and flicked the newspaper in his hands, hiding his sidelong glance in Daniel's direction behind the extended papers. Daniel was sitting on the floor, using the coffee table as a play area, chatting aimlessly, playing with a mix of small, plastic animals that Carter had presented to him and intricate, not of this Earth wooden ones that Teal'c had meticulously carved for him. Daniel was playing quietly, his voice rising and falling in imaginative play.

The house was snug and warm against the late autumn rain batting against the windows. Lunch had been eaten, kitchen cleaned and dinner tonight was going to be a simple mix of soup and sandwiches.

Jack's ears picked up the background sound of the washer and dryer which for some obscure reason added to his sense of warmth. He really would have loved a beer at this moment, but he didn't want to risk distracting Daniel's focus and his contentment. Quietly, he turned the page, forcing his mind to stay where it was and not wander off unbidden to his underlying exhaustive state brought on by three consecutive nights of nightmare-induced, interrupted sleep.

Mantra-like, he repeated silently that there was nothing pressing, nothing hanging over his head for the rest of the weekend. A pleasant, almost foreign feeling. He buried a jaw-popping yawn in the newspaper, then relocated his place and began to read the current sport standings.

* * * * *

Jack awoke with a start, heart pounding and Daniel's name dying on his lips. For a second he panicked, his vision obscured by the newspaper which lay nestled against his face. Annoyed, he shoved the papers aside then jumped up when he realized that Daniel was no longer sitting and playing at the table.

"Daniel?" He took a step and faltered, his body protesting the wrongness of the position he had napped in. Napped? He had no right to even close his eyes with an awake Daniel in the house. "Daniel!"

Daniel appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, his SpongeBob tee shirt stained with what looked like a smattering of grape jelly and for just a second Jack chided himself for believing that Daniel had been doing nothing more than making himself a snack. But when Jack's gaze traveled from the shirt to Daniel's eyes, he separated the distance between them in three giant steps.

"I'm sorry," Daniel blurted, taking a hesitant step backwards as soon as Jack got within grabbing distance. "Don't be mad." His jaw quivered, he sniffed back his runny nose but he was losing the battle with the tears.

"I promise I won't be mad." Jack tugged at the hands tucked under the armpits. "Why don't you show me—"

"Ow," Daniel cried, jerking his hand form Jack's grasp, leaving a trail of blood across Jack's palm and streaking it across the tee shirt, giving SpongeBob a macabre appearance before tucking it back under his armpit.

"I need to see where you're bleeding from," Jack said softly, staying his position, just wagging his two hands at Daniel.

Daniel shook his head and began to cry, in earnest. "I... I... I..." he stuttered, hiccupping.

"It hurts, I know. But I need to see—"

"Not me!" Daniel wailed, curling into himself, head down, shoulders slumped, the whole nine yards of despair. "Lumpy!"

Jack hooked his hand around Daniel's elbow, strong-arming the reluctant man back into the kitchen, then gently positioned him by the sink, keeping one hand on Daniel's arm while he flipped on the faucet and tested the temperature with his free hand. "Let's see what happened."

"No," Daniel said. "Lumpy first."

"Lumpy's not bleeding, you are," Jack was forcing a calmness that he didn't feel as his gaze traveled to the spreading stain underneath Daniel's hand. "Let me just look and if I say you're okay, then before I do anything else, we'll check out Lumpy."

"No," Daniel sniffed. "Lumpy first."

"Daniel!"

"Just look!" Daniel shouted, then immediately cringed at the shocked expression on Jack's face. "Please," he begged, the request whispered so softly Jack had to lean in to catch the one word.

Daniel had been a stubborn adult and regression hadn't lessened that particular personality trait. Jack knew that unless he was going to forcibly extract Daniel's hand, they could possibly argue while Daniel bled to death in the kitchen. "Show me," was all he said.

"Table," Daniel hiccupped.

Jack hadn't noticed the table before, but he glanced in its direction at Daniel's insistence. Covered with newspapers, dotted with spots and puddles of red, there were small sections of railroad ties for the garden that Jack had been storing in the garage, the fishing knife he used for cleaning and gutting, two of the wooden figures that Teal'c had carved, and Lumpy. Lumpy's left front leg had been sliced so the stuffing was exposed but it was the damage to the stuffed animal's face that drew a grimace. "Daniel?"

"Can he be fixed?" Daniel mewed. "Did I... will he have to be thrown in the garbage?"

"I think maybe..." Jack tried to offer Daniel a smile of reassurance, but he stupidly realized the way he had begun the sentence was not the way to do it and he rushed to change his wording, but Daniel would have none of that as he shouldered past Jack and scooped the toy off the table, it's almost severed snout and head hanging precariously off center as Daniel crushed it to his chest, leaving bloody marks against the fur as he stroked the stuffed animal. "I'm sorry," he whimpered, burying a sob in the camel's body.

* * * * *

Daniel's hair was plastered to his forehead, his glasses streaked with moisture and condensation, the hood on his jacket hadn't done a damn thing to protect him from the torrential downpour on their walk to the truck. Obviously, Jack's condition was no better as he felt droplets of water weave their way down his back, causing him to shift uncomfortably in the driver's seat.

The windshield wipers were on high speed, but they were doing little to increase his visibility and though he would have liked to break the land and speed record to the SGC, the weather was holding him back, leaving him frustrated, annoyed, anxious and more than a little bit angry over the situation.

Daniel's hand was wrapped in a towel that Jack had grabbed from the kitchen, blood already soaking through. Daniel's hand was sliced, across the palm, the injury running parallel to his life line and there hadn't been in any doubt in Jack's mind when he called Fraiser that stitches would be needed. He could only pray as he raced through the water-covered streets that Daniel hadn't severed any nerves or tendons.

As much as the injury to Daniel's hands was worrying Jack, Daniel's deteriorating emotional state was worse. His hand had to hurt like a sonofabitch but still, Daniel kept up the soothing motions of petting Lumpy, rocking in the seat as much as the seatbelt would permit. Daniel's sobs had turned to tired whimpers that broke Jack's heart.

"It was an accident, Daniel."

"People shouldn't hurt defenseless animals, you tell me that all the time." Daniel began to bang his head against the passenger window. "Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why can't I remember things?"

"Stop it, Daniel, just stop it!" Keeping his left hand on the wheel, Jack's right hand shot out, grabbing Daniel's jacket and jerked him upright, giving him a little shake.

Daniel wrapped his free hand against his body, grabbing his injured arm by the elbow, tucking it closer, smothering the camel against his chest.

"I won't do that anymore, I won't play with your knives, I won't try to carve camel friends for Lumpy without an adult. I'll sit and be good. I see what happens when I'm not good. You get mad. Janet has to come to work on her day off. All because I don't listen. See, Jack, I'm stupid. I was right."

"Please, Daniel, you're not stupid. You didn't think—"

"People who don't think things through are stupid, you keep telling me that. I thought everything through. I put the old newspaper down on the table, I got the wood that was in the corner of the garage. I got your knife and I even moved the garbage closer to catch the wood chips like Teal'c does. What did I do wrong?"

"It wasn't you," Jack thought sadly, "I was the stupid one and let down my guard. I didn't learn my lesson from Charlie 'cause somewhere I forgot you can't turn your back for a second."

* * * * *

"No!" Daniel kicked, his foot connecting with the metal tray resting on the table, sending the table careening and the sterile instruments scattering the length of the infirmary floor.

"Daniel!"

At the sound of Jack's angry voice, Daniel's shoulders crept up around his ears and his head sunk even lower.

"Colonel, please!" Fraiser hissed, cautiously approaching the gurney where Daniel sat shivering, still in his wet jacket with Lumpy wrapped in his death grip. "Daniel, I know both you and Lumpy are hurting—"

"Can you help him?"

Fraiser extended her arms towards Daniel. "Why don't you hand me Lumpy and I'll examine him."

"First?"

"First," she promised. "But while I'm looking him over I need you to take off your jacket and allow Nurse Christine help you put on a scrub top. Can you do that for me?"

Hesitantly, Daniel placed Lumpy in the outstretched hands and Jack had to resist the urge to jump up and lend assistance when Daniel had problems unzipping his jacket. But the nurse spoke softy and slowly, with words of comfort as she performed her tasks, something Jack realized, at the moment, he was incapable of doing.

Fraiser had placed Lumpy on the gurney next to Daniel and was blocking his view with her body, distracting him enough that Daniel was more interested in trying to see around her than he was arguing with the nurse as she changed Daniel.

"Doc Janet?"

Jack stepped behind Daniel and placed his hands on his shoulders, the thrumming of Daniel's anxiety seeping into Jack's grip. Thankfully, Daniel couldn't see Jack's grateful smile at the makeshift bandage that covered the stuffed animal's face, and his injured hoof was hidden from view under the blanket she had tucked around Lumpy's body.

"Lumpy's going to be fine, Daniel."

"Really?" Daniel squirmed, leaning forward and around, attempting to steal a better glimpse at his companion. "Can I see him?"

"After I see you, like you promised." Fraiser took Daniel's hand that nurse Christine had begun disinfecting.

"You promised, Daniel," Jack whispered and then kissed his damp hair. With a slight whimper but without another word of complaint, Daniel allowed the doc to examine his hand.

* * * * *

"You're doing really well. I'm very proud. Now I want you to keep your hand on this pillow while I talk to the colonel. Can you do that?"

"You're going to give me a needle, aren't you?" Daniel twisted around, trying to catch Jack's gaze. "I don't want a shot. I did what you said. I sat quiet. Why do I need a shot?"

"Daniel." Imperceptibly, Jack tightened his grip on Daniel's shoulders.

"No!" Daniel said, levering his way out of Jack's grasp, sliding off the bed before either Jack or Fraiser could stop him.

"What are you going to do now, Daniel?" Jack's voice was soft, and he hoped Fraiser and the nurse understood his slight hand movements, ordering them to stay put, though he didn't miss Daniel's gaze straying to the infirmary door.

"If you leave, you know Lumpy will have to stay here." The doctor's voice matched Jack's for pitch and she hadn't moved an inch.

"H... Here?" Daniel hiccupped, his glance sliding over the people surrounding him, settling on the bloodstained camel.

Jack knew he wasn't playing fair. "Lumpy will miss you if you leave."

"Lumpy won't miss me... I hurt him. He'll be glad for me to leave." Daniel hung his head and began to cry, his shoulders jumping up and down as he fought for control. "He'll forget me after a while."

Jack skittered around the bed, his arms wrapping around the distraught figure, his hands slipping and sliding the length of Daniel's back. "I'll miss you. Don't go... please. Lumpy and I need you. How about if I hold you, cover your eyes... you'll never see the needle, promise."

"But it'll hurt," he mumbled against Jack's neck.

"I know it will. I won't lie." Jack felt the body in his arms stiffen and he added hastily. "For a second, I promise you, Daniel. If you count to five, it'll be over before then."

* * * * *

The infirmary was quiet, quieter than Jack could ever remember even as corpsmen and nurses straightened up around Jack. Dealing with their looks of embarrassment as they glanced towards Daniel was one thing, but the looks of pity were eating away at him and he stood suddenly and angrily drew the curtain around Daniel's bed.

He and Fraiser had misjudged the situation horribly. When Fraiser pulled Daniel's hand onto a table to administer the analgesic, with a heartbreaking whimper, Daniel hid his face against Jack's chest, small tremors coursing through his body every few seconds.

"Shhh, it'll be fine." Jack rubbed Daniel's back as Fraiser took the needle and uncapped it.

Despite all the reassurances he and Fraiser had given Daniel before the procedure, the moment Fraiser pricked him with the needle, Daniel jerked back violently. When Jack tried to hold him down, Daniel erupted into a volatile temper tantrum, screaming and kicking, trying to fight his way out of Jack's reach.

"I need some help over here!" Fraiser cried as she stepped away from the bed and Daniel's flailing arms and legs.

Immediately two corpsmen rushed over, each holding down one of Daniel's shoulders while Jack forced his legs onto the mattress. Fraiser thrust another needle into Daniel's arm and it was a couple of long minutes before Daniel finally succumbed to the sedative.

* * * * *

The head of the bed was slightly raised and Daniel's injured hand was wrapped and resting on a pillow, while his right hand clutched a Lumpy who now sported matching bandages, to his chest.

Bleary, swollen, blue eyes blinked lazily at Jack and he sat at the edge of the bed, his hand gently smoothing out the furrows in Daniel's forehead. "You're in the infirmary," Jack whispered.

Daniel smacked his lips and sighed heavily, fighting to keep his eyes open.

"Just rest, I'll be right here."

Daniel nodded, closing his eyes. "Sorry." Twin tears leaked from under closed lids. "I tried to stop yelling and screaming."

Jack swallowed, fighting past his own emotions to answer Daniel. "It's okay," he lied.

Daniel shook his head, eyelids raised to reveal a strangely, lucid gaze. "It's not okay. I felt like I stepped out of myself and was unable to control what's going on." Jack jumped as Daniel's good hand grabbed his in a death grip. "I'm losing control..." Daniel blinked once or twice and Jack watched sadly as the light of recognition slowly faded. "I'm afraid... you need to hurry."

"Daniel?" Jack tried to keep the note of hysteria from his voice as Daniel's grip lessened and the hand drifted back to Lumpy.

"Hmmm?" Daniel's eyes closed and Jack could feel him slipping away in more ways than one.

Jack leaned over, then kissed Daniel's forehead and placed one also on Lumpy's. "Sleep."

"Stay," Daniel begged, sinking lower into the pillows.

"Always," Jack promised, averting his eyes from the childlike expression of sleep on Daniel's face to study the curtain that closed them off from the rest of the infirmary.

* * * * *

Jack stood in the doorway to Fraiser's office, rubbing the kinks from his neck. She was so intent on reviewing the papers on her desk that he had to knock once on the doorframe to gain her attention.

She never even looked up. Fraiser just waved him in and pointed to the only empty chair in the room. Jack helped himself to a cup of coffee from the full pot perched atop the filing cabinet and then chose to stand rather than sit.

She picked up a pen and scribbled something on the paper before finally focusing on Jack.

"Well?"

Fraiser sighed and got up to get her own cup of coffee, then leaned against the filing cabinet. "I'm having Dr. Gintz take a look at Daniel's hand." She took a sip of coffee. "Hopefully he should be here later today or first thing tomorrow morning."

"It's bad?"

"Based upon what you told me, the potential for much more extensive damage was a probability, but from what I saw when I cleaned out and stitched the skin, Daniel's very lucky."

"Dr. Gintz is..."

"Just a precaution."

Jack fell heavily into the chair, a splash of coffee dripping over the rim at the sudden movement and spotting his pants. "Thank god."

Fraiser slid over and sat her ass on the edge of the desk very close to Jack. Close enough to tap his knee with hers. "I have other concerns, sir."

"I know I needed to be watching him and I wasn't—"

"There have been issues at the Center." Janet pointed to her desk. "I know they've spoken to you recently about Daniel's out of control behavior."

Jack gulped the rest of the coffee and pitched the empty cup in to the garbage pail. "They have."

"And..."

"And what? Daniel's had temper tantrums at home, he's got the mental capability of a five year old which everyone keeps reminding me - and from what I remember, an unhappy five year old is loud, and angry. They do kick and scream. But once he calms, he's immediately sorry and apologetic."

"There's a difference."

"And what, pray tell, is that?"

"It took three grown men and a sedative to calm an injured Daniel down. That's the difference."

"So what's your answer?"

Fraiser examined the contents of her coffee cup and Jack felt horrible. This wasn't her fault, hell, it wasn't anyone's fault, least of all hers. She had and still continued to be his and Daniel's staunchest supporter, going way beyond the call of duty.

"Sorry. I didn't mean that."

"I know you didn't. Why don't you make an appointment to see Daniel in action at the Center and then we can discussion the next road to travel."

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"You'll come back, right?" Daniel asked. He pushed his glasses up with one hand while

clutching his backpack to his chest with the other.

"Yep, just like always." Jack watched as Daniel's frown of concern blossomed into a smile. Fraiser's words about further regression echoed in Jack's thoughts, he just attributed Daniel's setbacks as a bounce-back effect from the incident with the knife. And the stitches. Actually, he didn't want Daniel out of his sight anymore than Daniel wanted him to leave. Unfortunately, it was a setback to his adjustment to the Center though, which while never great, had, before the stitches, settled into a routine.

Daniel nodded and then gave Jack a tight hug. "I'm going to miss you."

"Miss you, too, big guy." Jack returned the hug and then spied Carole, Daniel's speech therapist, coming down the hall and waved her over.

"Good morning, Daniel. Colonel O'Neill." Daniel smiled at Carole but stepped closer to Jack as she approached.

"Morning Carole." Jack gave her a knowing smile. "Would you mind escorting Daniel to his class today?"

"Not at all," the young woman said with a smile.

"Carole's going to take me to class today?"

"You don't mind, Daniel, do you?" Easily, she slipped her arm through his and tugged him along.

Jack watch the two of them walk down the hall and he waggled his fingers at Daniel when he stopped in front of his classroom door and gazed longingly at Jack before stepping over the threshold.

Even after Carole and Daniel disappeared, Jack stood studying the now empty hallway.

"Colonel O'Neill?"

He turned, a smile already pasted on his face, ready to face the planned meeting with Daniel's team leader, Captain Collins. "Captain." Jack stuck out his hand, nodding at the firm grasp of the younger man.

"Can I get you some coffee? Juice?"

"No," Jack replied sharply, in a hurry to get this over with.

"Alright." Collins extended his arm to a closed wooden door behind Jack. "Let's just go into my office."

Jack waited for the Captain to sit before he did. Funny, he had attended thousands of briefings in his lifetime, but none made him as nervous as the ones with Daniel's team leader and therapists. "There's a problem?"

"Several," Collins admitted, opening Daniel's voluminous file. "You are aware of Ms. Thorsen's concerns regarding Daniel's cognitive functioning."

"Yes, she's kept me up-to-date. Constantly."

"Mmm. Yes. I see copies of the letters she's sent home to you in connection with Daniel's functioning in the classroom setting." He flipped over a handful of carbon copies. "Regression. Anxiety. There've been quite a number of phone calls regarding this."

"Yes, there have. As well as a number of other issues. Sharing. Temper tantrums. Not to sound rude, Collins, but is there a specific reason you've called this meeting? I'm well aware of Daniel's difficulties. Both here and at home. I'm in constant contact with his teacher, therapists and the after hours' counselors. I've received extensive reports every two weeks regarding his progress."

"I know that, Colonel." He closed Daniel's folder with a sigh. "But there have been increased episodes of temper tantrums."

"I already mentioned that, Captain."

"The tantrums have led to outbursts of anger."

Jack swallowed, dismayed at the apparent deterioration of Daniel's skills. Loss of skills was one thing. Anger was another.

"Our concern appears to be as Daniel's academic and cognitive skills deteriorate, his frustration level increases exponentially so his ability to control his emotions and respond appropriately to frustration has also become a major concern."

Jack had hoped Daniel's anger was contained to home. Throwing things, fits of fury that ranged from dinner choices to frustration over broken crayon tips. The latest occurred last evening when Daniel had gotten angry over Jack's refusal to take him to visit Carter at twenty two hundred hours. Jack's explanation that it was too late was met with resistance. It had taken almost an hour for Daniel to calm down. Even through the tears and the yelling accompanying the tantrum, he kept apologizing and begging Jack not to be mad. It was as if a part of Daniel recognized he was out of control and looked towards Jack for guidance.

"There have been issues at home. With the anger," Jack apologized, embarrassed that he hadn't thought to mention it to Daniel's daily caregivers. "I'm sorry, I hadn't—" He smoothed down the crease in his pants. "How long has this been going on? I mean here... at the Center?"

"In the beginning, the outbursts we attributed to anger as Daniel adjusted to both the Center and his lack of skills. And as he became acclimated to the Center, they faded into the background." Collins closed the file, then placed his folded hands atop it. "Until recently. Now they're almost a daily occurrence."

"Mrs. Thorsen and I had spoken regarding Daniel's anger but she hadn't mentioned that it was—so out of control." Or maybe Jack just hadn't wanted to believe that it was. "Has he hurt anyone?"

"An aide was hit with a book that Daniel threw. With all of the other incidents, we've been able to contain him before it escalated. He's a grown man, Colonel. And strong. And—"

"I understand."

"Colonel, I realize you're Daniel's guardian, and I would be lax in my duty if I didn't suggest you consider looking into other possibilities. Medication or moving Daniel to a group home with people who are specially trained to care for brain damaged adults."

Jack's mouth went dry and he clenched his hand into a fist. "Daniel is my responsibility. I won't abandon him because his condition is getting worse."

"I'm not suggesting you abandon him, but only that you consider it as an option."

Jack nodded and said nothing. Daniel needed him and Jack had promised to take care of his former lover. He would do it as long as he was physically able. He looked at his watch, and Collins caught the hint.

"I told you that we would observe Daniel in a therapy session. He has PT next," Collins said, reading the schedule on the front of the folder. Jack followed him through the halls and through the locker room into a waiting area off the pool. The way the benches were situated, Jack and Collins were able to sit and observe Daniel and the therapist. The acoustics of the indoor pool was better than a microphone as Daniel's giggle, as he stuck his feet into the water, carried to Jack loud and clear.

Daniel sat at the edge of the pool, moving his legs, kicking and splashing, his bandaged hand enclosed in a plastic glove.

"Daniel loved using the pool and it was torturous to have him constantly in tears, so we compromised."

"The glove."

"The glove," Collins agreed. "He's not allowed to go in, but Josh works on his muscle strength and hand eye coordination poolside. Watch."

"Push against my hands, Daniel."

Jack watched as Daniel grunted and lifted his legs.

"Harder."

"That's as hard as I can go."

"No way," Josh encouraged.

Daniel grimaced and tried again.

"Wow. Almost there. One more time."

Daniel pushed and Josh's hands flew into the air with a playful slowness before he did an exaggerated side dive into the water, submerging himself. Daniel was in full out belly laugh mode, and Jack was smiling when Josh rose up sputtering. "See, Daniel, that's what I was talking about."

"I was strong?"

"The strongest. Superman strong."

Daniel kicked out his foot, splashing water in Josh's face. "I want to come in the pool."

"You know the rules. Soon, okay?"

"Soon. Like today?"

"No, soon, like in when you get the stitches out."

"Stupid stitches," Daniel said, kicking out his foot again.

"Hey, don't put all that strength to waste." Josh placed his arms on Daniel's legs. "Throw me over again."

Daniel laughed and they repeated the scenario a number of times.

"Daniel's really enjoying this," Jack observed

"He loves the pool, which is why we didn't want to delete it from his schedule."

"Thank you." Jack leaned forward in his chair, straining to listen to the instructions Josh was giving to Daniel as he situated a floating basketball hoop a few feet from Daniel.

"Hand-eye coordination, like I mentioned before," Collins explained.

Jack nodded knowingly.

Josh tossed a mid-sized ball to Daniel. Daniel tossed it back to him.

"I want to see some hoops, man. Come on, Daniel, you can do it." He gently lobbed the ball back to Daniel.

"I don't wanna do hoops," Daniel whined, throwing the ball overhand to Josh who caught it easily.

Josh slammed dunked it then slam dunked himself. Daniel snorted with laughter when the therapist reappeared, shaking the water off his body like a dog. He dragged the ball over to Daniel and dropped it in his lap. "Come on, you try."

"It's wet," Daniel complained, tossing it off his lap.

"In case you haven't noticed, we're in the pool."

"I'm not stupid, Josh." Daniel crossed his hands across his body. "I know that we're in the water. Well, you're in the water." Daniel giggled at his own joke. "I'm really not."

"You have a bathing suit on and your glove, which means you can get a little wet." He swam, retrieved the ball, then replaced it next to Daniel. "And I know you're not stupid," the young man said, and even from where Jack sat, he could hear the gentle tone of his voice.

Halfheartedly, Daniel aimed it to the basket. Josh pumped his fist in the air and jumped up. "Woohooo, Daniel."

"Yes!" Daniel yelled, equally loud as well. "I got it in!"

"Good job."

Daniel reached for the ball and Jack almost yelled out a warning but Josh was there with a helping hand and the ball, even before Jack could utter his name. "Easy, guy." He gave the ball to Daniel's eagerly waiting hands, who took another shot even before Josh had a chance to make it back to the net.

"I did it again!" Daniel cried enthusiastically. "Give me the ball, Josh." Daniel paused. "Please."

Proudly, Jack couldn't help but be secretly overjoyed at Daniel's success. He silently cheered along with him and Josh every time he scored a basket.

"Okay," Josh said, quickly glancing at the oversized clock at the far end room. "One more shot and then time's up."

Daniel clutched the ball to his chest. "I don't wanna go back to the classroom." He slammed his feet into the water, creating a blinding cascade.

Josh ran his hands over his face, clearing his vision of the water. "I had a good time also, but you need to go get changed and..."

Jack jumped when Collins touched his arm. "Daniel's going to be coming through here. It's time—"

"No." Jack shrugged off the Captain's hand. "I want to see how Josh handles Daniel's frustration. If anger is such a big concern, I'd prefer to observe how it's circumvented. If you don't mind," Jack offered Collins an apologetic smile.

Daniel began to kick in earnest, the water keeping Josh at arms length. "You need to stop," Daniel," he said sternly.

"I. Don't. Want. To. Go. Back. To. Class." Daniel kicked his foot outward, missing the therapist by a millimeter.

"I'm sorry. I know you were having a good time. Please don't make it necessary for me to take away your pool time on Wednesday."

"Noooo," Daniel wailed, hauling off and powerfully flinging the ball directly at Josh's face. This time the young man wasn't as lucky and his nose took the direct blow. Jack had learned that anything could be considered a weapon if thrown with enough power and he wasn't proven wrong as blood spouted immediately from Josh's nose.

"Out. Now. Daniel," Josh said, keeping one hand under his nose to catch the blood. He used his other hand to point to the dressing room.

"Colonel O'Neill, please stay here," Collins ordered, stepping past Jack and hurrying over to the side of the pool.

Daniel was wailing and sobbing by the time Collins lent Josh a hand. "I'm sorry. Sorry. Sorry." He took one look at the young man ascending the ladder with the blood leaking through his fingers, and Daniel's voice reached crescendo pitch, echoing in the enclosed area.

"Go sit by the chairs," Collins requested with a nod of his head, "I need to take care of Josh."

"I'm sorry," Daniel cried.

"It was an accident," Josh answered, his voice muffled through his cupped hand.

"I didn't mean—"

"Daniel. Chair, okay?"

Daniel followed Collins and Josh over to the bench.

"Please, Daniel, the chair, right over there." Collins pointed to the chair with the towel he was getting ready to press to Josh's nose.

Jack intercepted Daniel before he sat down in the chair. "Hey, buddy."

Horrified, Daniel glanced over his shoulder at Josh and Collins. "Don't be mad." He wrapped his arms around his body, shivering. "I didn't mean it. I got mad and it's like..." Daniel pushed past Jack and dropped heavily onto the ordered chair. "I have to sit here. Josh and Captain Collins said I have to sit here." He smacked the side of the chair for emphasis.

Jack sat next to Daniel, rubbing his goose bumped arm. "You're cold. I'm sure Josh and the captain would understand if you changed out of your wet bathing suit."

"No!" Daniel screamed, pushing Jack away. "I have to stay here. They're going to yell at me if I get up and move. Stay here."

Jack was getting worried as tremors began to work themselves up Daniel's body. "You need to change. How about if I go talk to—"

"No. They're busy. 'Sit in the chair, Daniel'. That's what Captain C said. I didn't listen before. I need to listen now. You always tell me I should listen." Daniel clamped his hands to the sides of the plastic chair. "Did you see the blood?" He began to rock, his head banging against the ceramic tile wall. "Do you think he's gonna die? Josh's gonna die."

"He's not going to die. It’s a bloody nose. An accident."

Daniel was shivering in earnest now, more from emotional shock than cold. His rocking increased, his head thwacking the tiles with enough force to frighten Jack into anger. "Stop it!" He stood, anchoring Daniel in place with his hands on his shoulders.

"Stop it, Jack." He twisted from Jack's grasp, and with the sideways movement, Daniel's head made contact with the tiles hard enough, Jack was sure, for Daniel to see stars, because he stopped struggling and his eyes filled with pain.

Jack rubbed the offending spot. "Are you okay?"

Daniel threw his hands over his head, howling, then bent in half, sticking his head between his knees, careening.

Jack was out of his element. If he was home it would be different. And he would handle it. Handle Daniel. But here at the Center, Jack was unsure what was expected of him.

"Colonel O'Neill, please step aside."

"Huh? Jack looked up in surprise at Daniel's teacher.

"Daniel and I need to talk, could you just move a little bit to the right?"

Jack nodded dumbly in the face of Ms. Thorsen's expertise.

She squatted down in front of Daniel. "Look at me."

"No!" Daniel came to life like a fighting tiger, kicking and lashing out with his hands. "I'm bad. I don't wanna look at you. You're gonna yell. Josh's gonna die. There was blood, lotsa blood, blood that's my fault."

Jack had stepped in to save the teacher, but she was a spitfire with lightning fast reflexes and was back in the line of fire the second Daniel drew a breath.

"You will look at me, Daniel Jackson."

Jack almost grabbed her hand when she went to touch him, but she telegraphed him a scathing look. Slowly, Daniel raised his head, though he refused eye contact, focusing somewhere over her left shoulder.

"Good, sweetheart. First, let's get this glove off of you. I bet it's uncomfortable and sweaty." She peeled it off. "There you go." Gently she kneaded his fingers between hers but he still refused to look at her.

"I need to go," Daniel exclaimed, trying to find purchase on the wet floor when he noticed Josh and Collins going into the locker room.

"I'm okay, Daniel," Josh said, stepping behind Thorsen. "Look. No more blood." He lifted his head and moved it from side to side, giving Daniel an opportunity to examine it. "Captain Collins took care of it."

"Sorry. Sorry. Sorry." Daniel resumed rocking, but Thorsen grabbed his forearms.

"Josh is going to go get dressed now." She glanced over her shoulder at him, keeping one eye on Daniel. "Aren't you?"

"Yup, Ms. T." He waved at Daniel as he and Collins entered the locker room. "I want to talk to you after, Daniel."

Daniel whipped his head around and tried to peer into the room. "I can't have pool on Wednesday. He didn't say I'll see you Wednesday. He said he would talk to me."

"Focus on me, Daniel."

"I like pool. I did really well today." He looked up at Jack. "Didn't I do well today?"

Jack squeezed his shoulder. "You did great."

"That was before. I did great before... and then I got mad and I... I... I..." Daniel was losing it. Losing focus. "I want Lumpy." He glanced beseechingly up at Jack. "Can you get Lumpy? He's in my backpack. In my cubbie. Ms. T, can Jack go get—"

"You need to do something for me first. Can you do that?"

Daniel shrugged. "I want Lumpy," he whined, stamping his foot.

His teacher inhaled deeply then exhaled slowly, pursing her lips. "Try that." She repeated the sequence.

Daniel hesitated a moment, looking at Jack.

"Go ahead," he urged, feeling like a fifth wheel and totally out of his element.

Daniel inhaled and exhaled. "I'm done. Can I have Lumpy now?"

Thorsen said nothing but repeated the breathing technique which Daniel mirrored, and within a few series of breaths, the two of them were doing it in perfect sync. In and out, until Jack found he was breathing right along with them.

Her smiling was dazzling. "Feel better, Daniel?"

"I want to go home." His gaze skipped between Jack and his teacher. "Josh told me I had to go back to class, but I want to go home with Jack."

"How about I take you to get dressed, then I'll walk you down to class."

"No home?"

"I want to talk to Captain Collins and then I'll come and get you, if Ms. Thorsen gives us her okay."

"I'm going to send some work home with you, Daniel."

"Okay. I promise to do it. Jack will help. Won't you, Jack?"

* * * * *

Daniel stood outside of his classroom, peering through the glass portion of the door. He sighed heavily. "Are you going to the captain's office to talk about me?"

Jack didn't feel comfortable with lying, so in response he knocked on the door and opened it. "I won't be long." He gave Daniel a slight shove through the doorway and waved at the teacher and the aides.

"Just in time, Daniel," Ms. T said, coming up to grab Daniel's elbow. "We're working on an art project. Do you want to sit next to—" The rest of the conversation was cut off when Jack closed the door.

* * * * *

Captain Collins was waiting for him. Jack walked into his office, shut the door behind him, and then sat.

"Josh is fine, Colonel."

He answered the question even before Jack could ask it and he exhaled.

"This was an unfortunate experience, but one that drove home the point I was trying to make, sorry to say. We want Daniel's experiences here at the Center to be positive and we want to strive for Daniel to achieve as much as possible." He opened the folder again. "I'd like to discuss the possibility of medication for Daniel."

"Medication? To do what? He's not sick."

"No, but there are psychotropic drugs that may help him with his impulsivity, with his outbursts of inappropriate behavior. To address Daniel's anxiety issues."

Jack began to shake his head, but stopped. He didn't want to think of a drugged Daniel—the memory of Daniel in a padded white cell came to mind, but the Daniel he'd just seen had been out of control and obviously distressed. "Because of today's incident you feel he needs to be medicated?"

"No, sir. In our early discussion we'd talked about Daniel's issues. I mentioned group home and medication."

"I don't want to consider a group home."

Collins acknowledged Jack's decision with a Teal'c like nod. "Please understand, there's no reason to make any decision today. I'm just presenting you with options." He handed Jack a sheet of paper. "I've written down the names of the medications and some of the homes I'd recommend. In case you change your mind and might want to look into them. Take some time to read information on them. Talk to Dr. Fraiser. These aren't decisions to be made lightly."

* * * * *

Daniel's teacher noticed Jack standing at the door before Daniel did. She gave quick instructions to one of the aides and stepped outside into the hallway, motioning Jack away from the door's window.

She stuck out her hand. "Nice to see you again, Colonel O'Neill. I apologize for not greeting you properly before.

He shook her hand. "No apology necessary, you sorta had your hands full."

"Luckily, I went to see where Daniel was. He was late coming back to class and Josh is usually very punctual, I just want to—"

"Sixth sense. I admire that in a person," Jack joked. "May I ask you a question? That breathing thing. The in, out—"

"With Daniel, I find when he loses focus, he loses control of the situation. The breathing helps bring him back. Sometimes it works and sometimes it—"

"It worked today. Thank you." Jack cleared his throat, Collin's paper burning a hole in his pocket. "Can you show me how those exercises are done?"

"Of course. Actually I have a book that explains much more than I ever could. I'll give it to you when you come into the classroom. Read it. Keep it. Study it. Any questions, you know where to find me."

"Captain Collins gave me information regarding..."

"Medication and a group home. I know. He and I discussed it. The pros. The cons. The decision is ultimately yours. We can just present the options."

* * * * *

Somberly, Daniel walked by Jack's side towards the truck. "I'm really sorry, Jack. Josh promised he wasn't mad and I understand why I can't have pool this Wednesday, but next week, I can practice basketball again. I was really good at that."

"You sure were, buddy. How about we just have the rest of the day just for us, okay?"

The smile he received in return was one the old Daniel never would have given, totally unguarded and innocent. "Just you and me, like always, right?"

"Like always, buddy," Jack said as they walked to the Avalanche. "Like always." He might need to face some hard questions in the near future, but for the rest of the day, he was going to enjoy the gift he'd been given.

* * * * *

Jack watched as Daniel dragged the same French fry through the mound of ketchup for at least the tenth time.

"Eat the fry," Jack commanded, taking a bite of one of his own fries in example.

Daniel blinked once at Jack, then glanced down at the fry before sticking it in his mouth, leaving a trace of ketchup on his chin.

Jack tapped his own face in the spot where the blob of ketchup had settled on Daniel's, but Daniel wasn't even paying attention, his glance was riveted to the cars lined up in McDonald's drive thru.

"Daniel!" Jack certainly hadn't meant to yell his name so loud that people in the surrounding tables turned in curiosity, but Daniel was just about to rub his ketchup-covered chin over Lumpy's fur. He handed Daniel a napkin. "Ketchup. Chin. Wipe."

Daniel did as Jack ordered, his gaze still transfixed by the stalled drive thru line and he missed the spot completely. Shaking his head, annoyed, Jack grabbed a napkin, leaned over the table and wiped it away, then crumpled up the napkin and tossed it onto the tray littered with the remnants of their lunch.

Daniel sighed. "I don't want to go."

Jack went to pat Daniel on his injured hand, offering up a smile of apology when the bandaged hand moved from his grasp. "I promise this isn't going to hurt."

Daniel hugged Lumpy even tighter. "That's what you said last time. You lied."

Jack didn't dispute Daniel's accusation and instead chose another path. One of least resistance, he hoped. "You're right. I did. But I'm thinking this will be different. Dr. Gintz said that all those fingers are in working order. Right?"

Daniel tapped his fingers on the table. "Right. They work fine."

"Which means the skin is healed. So when Doc Janet removes them, the skin will be all stuck together."

"And Lumpy?"

"What about Lumpy?" Jack began to gather up stray packs of ketchup and threw them onto the tray.

"When his stitches are removed, he'll be all healed?"

"Oh. Um..." Jack leaned over the table and patted the camel's head, his finger trailing lightly down the bandage covering his stitches. The once pristine bandages were now dirty and in danger of falling off the stuffed toy's fur. "No, Daniel. Lumpy's always going to have his stitches."

Instantaneous moisture filled Daniel eyes. "Why won't he heal?"

"He doesn't have skin. His material can't—"

"I did this to him?" Daniel sighed and brought Lumpy up to bury his face in the short fur. "I'm sorry."

* * * * *

Jack just handed Daniel a handful of tissues from the glove compartment and allowed him to cry silently the whole way to the mountain. He had tried to comfort him, but Daniel just shrugged off his words and touches. The tears continued while Jack parked the truck. As they signed in. Rode the elevators down to the infirmary level. Jack waved all concerned inquiries away with a minute shake of his head and a shushing finger to his lips. By the time he was seated on a gurney in the infirmary, Daniel's eyes were swollen, his face was red and blotchy, and he was struggling to breathe through a clogged nose.

"I think we'll wait for Doctor Fraiser," Jack explained to an approaching nurse. "Could you just let her know Daniel's here."

* * * * *

Jack acknowledged Fraiser's sideways glance towards him with an imperceptible nod of his head.

She rolled a stool over and sat down in front of Daniel. "Hey, honey." She patted his leg then stroked Lumpy's back.

"Don't!" Daniel yelled, pulling the toy out of her reach.

"Daniel." Jack warned.

"Colonel." She got her 'keep quiet' across with the harsh tone of her voice. She reached into her pocket, withdrew a tissue and reached up to gently wipe Daniel's face. "The worst is over. I promise taking out the stitches isn't going to hurt."

"That's what Jack said."

"He was telling you the truth. All I'm going to do is—"

"It's Lumpy." Furtively, Daniel grabbed a quick glimpse over his shoulder at Jack. "Jack said his stitches won't come out because—"

"Let's take out your stitches first, and then we'll deal with Lumpy's, okay?"

This time, Daniel reached his good hand to Jack, who grabbed it and squeezed. "I'm right here, buddy."

"It's gonna hurt," Daniel wailed, Lumpy's predicament forgotten as he threw both arms around Jack's neck, and the camel tumbled onto Fraiser's lap.

"Should I take care of Lumpy first, Daniel?"

Vigorously, Daniel shook his hidden face. "No. Me." He pushed away from Jack and offered Fraiser a wobbly smile. He stuck out his bandaged him which she took, gave a playful squeeze to the fingers then rose. She placed Lumpy by his side, between Daniel and Jack. "I'll be right back."

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Jack snuck an arm around Daniel's shoulders and pushed his head onto his shoulder, then kissed the top of his head. "Wanna go rent a movie when we're done here?"

"I guess so."

"How about a trip to Best Buy instead for a treat?"

"They don't rent at Best Buy."

"Yeah, maybe we'll go hog wild, and actually buy something new."

"Really?" Daniel sniffed, and for the first time since McDonald's he managed a small smile.

Janet pushed a cart in front of her, maneuvered it in front of the bed then closed the privacy curtain.

Daniel physically stiffened as he eyed the medical paraphernalia on the tray. "Needles?"

"Nope. No needles," she confirmed, putting on her gloves.

Nervously, Daniel licked his lips then tentatively held out his hand towards her.

"It's okay," she soothed, gently peeling off the tape.

"It's okay," Jack reiterated, tightening his grip around Daniel's shoulder.

"Okay." Though Daniel said the same word as Jack and Fraiser, there was no way he sounded as convinced as they were.

Jack cringed at the sight revealed when the doc removed the bandage. A railroad track of black stitches lined his palm. Daniel, on the other hand, bent closer to examine them, flexing his fingers. "You sewed me up? Wow. Jack, look." He stuck his hand in Jack's face. "These look like the time you sewed up the hole in your favorite tee shirt."

Jack pushed the hand down back towards Fraiser. "I think the doc did a better job than I did."

"You remember, Daniel, when the colonel was done sewing your shirt, he cut off the extra thread?"

Daniel nodded, but his eyes widened when she picked up a pair of small scissors.

Jack removed his hand from Daniel's shoulders and for support, stuck it under the hand Fraiser was working on. He held it in place when Fraiser snipped off the knot at the top line of stitches.

Daniel jerked, surprised. "That didn't hurt."

"Told ya so."

Fraiser did some more snipping then used tweezers to tug the thread through. Daniel jumped once but settled down as he intently watched Fraiser at work. Awed, he touched the thin line that bisected his palm. "That's it?"

"That's it," Fraiser said, placing her tools to the side and holding Daniel's hand in hers. Spreading out his fingers and tracing the scar, she said, "This will fade in time."

"Can you fix Lumpy like you fixed me?"

"Let's see." Fraiser picked the camel up and placed him in Daniel's lap, the bandaged side facing her. She used as much care removing the toy's bandages as she had used removing Daniel's. The doc cut them away, then sat back against the chair, nodding in satisfaction. "So, Daniel, what do you think?"

Daniel flipped the toy around to face him. "Oh!" His face widened into a broad smile.

"Thank you," Jack mouthed to her over Daniel's head as he intently studied Lumpy's scars. Fraiser had used clear thread to stitch up the stuffed animal, pulling the material so tightly that the stitches were nearly invisible to the naked eye, just leaving the impression of a scar.

"My grandmother was a seamstress."

Jack fingered the scarring on Lumpy. "I can see that her granddaughter inherited her talent."

"Lumpy and I have matching scars," Daniel said proudly. He wiggled the camel's face into Frasier's, who giggled at the contact.

"No more matching boo boo's," she warned.

"No more," Daniel promised.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

It looked like an ordinary house--probably built by some lumber baron in the early days of the city. Jack parked the Avalanche and got out. He wiped his hands on his khakis and adjusted his sunglasses. Friendship House - it sounded like such an innocuous name. He walked up to the front door, finger poised to ring the bell, but he hesitated.

Friendship House had been given high recommendations by Captain Collins. Carter had done her wizardry with looking up information on the home and had passed it to Jack with no comment.

Jack took a deep breath and pushed the doorbell. He only waited a few seconds until the door opened. A young man stood on the other side. He smiled at Jack.

"C-can I h-help you?"

The words were slurred but understandable and Jack smiled back.

"My name is Jack O'Neill. I have an appointment with Ted Lelander."

"Oh. I can sh-show you to T-Ted's of-of-...to T-Ted." He took a step back to allow Jack to enter the house and then began walking down the hall.

Jack followed, taking in the polished wood, the brightly colored artwork on the walls, the smell of baking cookies and not antiseptic. Their progress was slow and Jack noticed the pronounced limp and the way his guide held his left arm.

He showed Jack into a sunlit room filled with plants, tables, and chairs.

"Th-this is T-Ted," the young man announced as he led Jack an older man sitting at one of the tables. "And T-Ted, this is... J-Jack."

"Thanks, David," Ted said as he stood. He glanced at his watch. "The van is leaving for the workshop in fifteen minutes."

David gave him a smile. "I-I'll b-be on t-time."

"I know." He smiled back and Jack was reminded of a father watching a son.

As David left the room, Ted turned back to Jack.

"Jack O'Neill?"

Jack nodded and waited until Ted motioned for him to sit. He shifted uncomfortably. He didn't want to be here, even though he knew he needed to check this place out.

"I've reviewed the file on Mr. Jackson," Ted was saying and Jack pulled his attention back to the other man.

"Doctor," Jack said, his voice thick. "Daniel is... was a doctor of archaeology, philology and anthropology."

"I see," Ted said in a tone that betrayed no emotion although he looked at Jack with compassion.

No. No you don't, Jack wanted to yell.

"I can assure you that after a review of the medical records, Doctor Jackson would be a candidate for residential living here at Friendship House." Ted pushed the thick file to one side of his desk and came around to sit in one of the plush chairs across from Jack. "Now why don't you tell me about Daniel? All those things the papers can't."

Jack looked at him, ready to get up and just leave. There was nothing he wanted to say, hell, there was nothing he could say, but Ted continued to sit there, quiet, patient.

"Daniel," Jack said and then coughed to clear his throat. "Daniel is... was... the most brilliant man I've ever known."

Leaning back in his chair an hour later, Jack accepted the glass of water Ted offered with gratitude. He'd explained it all to Ted, the downward spiraling of Daniel's regression, the temper tantrums, the brief moments of genius shining through, the hurt and sense of loss.

"I must thank you for your honesty, Colonel O'Neill," Ted said. "Friendship House—"

"Wait." Jack held up a hand before he placed the glass carefully back on the desk. He pinched the bridge of his nose against the headache he could feel building. "This is wrong." There, he'd said it. He let out his own fears and it was as if it was a release to admit what he'd been denying all this time.

"Wrong?"

"I'm afraid I've wasted your time, Mr. Lelander," Jack explained. "I'm sure, no, I know that Friendship House and the work you do here is exemplary, but this isn't... Daniel's not..."

Ted nodded. "I understand, Colonel." He stood, offering his hand to Jack. "Good luck."

"Thank you," Jack said as he shook Ted's hand. "I'm sorry about..." He made a vague gesture encompassing the room.

He shook off Ted's offer of showing him to the door and didn't begin to breathe easily until he was safe within the confines of the Avalanche. Jack gripped the steering wheel and placed his head on his trembling hands.

It wasn't right. Daniel didn't belong in this place. Daniel didn't belong with Carter or Teal'c or Fraiser or Hammond or even with Jack's mom. Daniel belonged with him. Fraiser had no explanations for Daniel's continuing decline, no one did.

The fear that Daniel was dying, and they wouldn't know it until it was too late, hit Jack again, as it had with increasing frequency over the past weeks. In his mind, he could see Daniel looking miserable as he walked him into the Center each morning, hear the plaintive requests to not be forgotten.

What the hell had he been thinking? Why was he still going to the base each work day? Was it really because each day he hoped that some miracle would come through the Stargate? Was it because he still couldn't accept who Daniel had become, even after all this time?

Jack turned the key and shifted into drive. He pulled away, leaving Friendship House behind.

No, there had yet to be another way. He wasn't quite ready to hand in his resignation and take Daniel up to his cabin in Minnesota. And even that wouldn't be fair to Daniel, taking him away from those he considered family. And it wouldn't be fair to Carter, Teal'c and Hammond. It would only serve in making Jack feel better, and the answer here wasn't about Jack, was it?

It was about Daniel.

The miles seemed to fly by as Jack drove home. Somehow a weight had lifted off his chest and he realized that no matter what, there was no way he'd put Daniel into a home. So maybe he ought to look into the meds Fraiser had recommended. It wouldn't hurt to talk to her about it. At least with those he could try and make the time Daniel had left more comfortable, get rid of the stress and anxiety that was plaguing him. The group home wasn't the answer; if anything, it'd up the stress level to a whole new degree.

He also needed to find someone to appoint as his guardian, and he'd make damn sure Daniel would be with people he loved, and not stuck into a home where he'd be out of sight, out of mind, no matter how pretty the damn place looked.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

Jack knocked on the doorframe and flashed a smile at Daniel's OT therapist, Jan. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything?"

"Colonel O'Neill." She waved towards the closest empty chair. "Of course not. Please. Come in, have a seat."

Jack had specifically arrived at the Center earlier than usual to speak to whichever of Daniel's therapists he could find free. Covertly, he had entered the building, sneaking around corners and skirting past the common room, praying that he didn't encounter Daniel along the way. He could have called to set up an appointment, but catching a therapist unaware and unguarded was more what he had in mind.

With a sigh of relief, he entered the large office, actually glad it was Jan he was going to be having this conversation with. She was a spitfire, younger than most of Daniel's other therapists, but with a strong, no nonsense manner in dealing with both the clients and their guardians that Jack respected. She pulled no punches and Jack, more than once, had relied on her honesty.

She closed the folder she was writing in, and turned to face Jack. As much as Jack tried to fight it, her broad smile was infectious and he found himself reflecting her good mood. "Daniel's doing well."

Jack exhaled. "The medication's working?"

"Yes, it is," her smile slipped for a moment and then returned, though not as bright as before.

"There's a but," Jack prompted.

"He's focused. Daniel's anxiety level has decreased..."

"Why am I hearing things you aren't saying?"

Jan opened her mouth, shut it, shaking her head. "Somehow, Colonel O'Neill, that made perfect sense."

"I was hoping it would."

"I won't lie to you, since Daniel's been on meds, he's been easier to control." Jan rolled her eyes and ran her fingers through her short hair. "Poor word usage. I made Daniel sound like an animal." She took a deep breath. "Let's try this again. He listens. He nods in the correct places. He's amenable and pliable and willing to try everything, but his skills are still scattered. Skills taught one session are forgotten the next, then remembered the following session."

Jack had known the meds he had finally acquiesced to giving Daniel weren't going to be the cure all, but they had stopped the feeling of dread every time he opened the backpack or the knots in his stomach when the phone rang.

The myriad of pills hadn't halted the fevers or the nightmares, but they had given Jack breathing room and removed the cloud of guilt that had seemed to follow his every waking moment.

Bedtimes were argument-free. Mornings were no longer war zones. Weekends were stress-free. Hell, even meal times had become pleasant with Daniel eating whatever Jack put before him, allowing him to gain back some of the weight he had lost, making Fraiser one happy CMO.

"So the meds are working," Jack reiterated. A statement, not a question.

Jan hesitated before speaking. "I know the decision to place Daniel on medication was a hard one."

Jack nodded and stood. "Guess I'm going to get Daniel. Surprise him with an early pick up."

"He doesn't really smile anymore," Jan blurted out.

"Excuse me?"

"Smile. Daniel doesn't really smile anymore. He seems... lost. Like he's misplaced a part of himself."

"He has," Jack replied, trying to keep his anger in check. "He was a brilliant—"

"Since the meds," the young woman clarified. "Daniel's lost his spark. His joy. His—"

"Anger. His anxiety. His aggression. That's what Daniel's lost."

"I'm sorry, Colonel. I've opened my big mouth. I'm sorry, you really didn't ask for my opinion other than the medication. Yes. The meds are working fine. I'm sorry if I intruded—"

"Damn straight you did," Jack fired back, "and as for the sorry, I'm not so sure you are." He stomped out of the room, seething.

* * * * *

Jack studied Daniel during dinner. Bending every which way, joking, smiling, trying to capture eye contact, but Daniel had his face buried in his plate, eating lethargically by rote, finishing his food before Jack had even started on his.

Daniel put his plate and dish in the sink then stood by the counter. "My head hurts," he whined.

"I'll get you some Tylenol."

"No more pills. Please." Lumpy's head was pressed into Daniel's temple.

"No, you take your meds in the morning." Jack stood and walked over to the kitchen cabinet, withdrew the bottle then shook two out into his palm, offering them up to Daniel. "Tylenol."

"No." Daniel shook his head, grimacing at the movement. "I don't want more pills. Now. Or in the morning."

Jack pulled Daniel towards him and kissed his forehead. "You don't have a fever."

"I have a headache. Not a fever." He scrunched his eyes closed, then opened them slowly, halfway, squinting at Jack. "Too much Center work today."

"Yeah," Jack sympathized, "that paperwork will get you every time. So, for days like that, Tylenol will help." Jack dropped the two pills on the counter then filled a glass of water.

"No!" Daniel shouted, slapping the glass out of Jack's hand onto the floor and watched in open-mouthed horror as it shattered into a million pieces.

"Daniel, go to your room," Jack yelled, pushing him towards the hallway. "And don't come out unless I say so."

"No more pills," Daniel said softly before leaving the room.

* * * * *

Jack's dinner went into the garbage, followed by the broken pieces of glass. The kitchen floor got mopped and he settled for two slices of turkey, one slice of American cheese, a lettuce leaf, a moment of silence for the mayo, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper slapped between two pieces of whole wheat bread for dinner. He ate it standing up, leaning against the counter, washing it down with a bottle of beer along with a general helping of crow.

He had lost his temper. Yelling at Daniel because... "Damn it." Jack threw his sandwich onto the counter, lifted his arms and squeezed his head between his forearms. The therapist was right. Daniel didn't smile any more. He didn't laugh. He'd blended into the shadows, become monochromatic and Jack had thought it was okay. Why? Because it had made everyone's life easier. Everyone's but Daniel's.

Jack had tried hard not to examine his own reasons for Daniel's daily meds. But there were times, at night, alone in the dark when he became awash with guilt over the slow moving, amenable, pliable Daniel now sharing his life. But in a flash, quicker than it took to travel through the 'gate, Jack would banish those thoughts to the farthest recesses of his heart. Some how he'd convinced himself, with a logic born of self-righteousness, that this was the only way to face the endless days ahead.

* * * * *

Slowly, Jack knocked, then without waiting for an answer, opened the bedroom door. "Daniel?" The room was pitch black, the only light coming from the sliver of opened door Jack was sticking his head through. "Daniel?" he called again as he walked into the room.

"I'm sorry," Daniel sniffed.

"Me, too," Jack said, sitting at the edge of the bed, pulling the blanket up around Daniel's shoulders.

"I'm not in pajamas," Daniel explained as he slowly flipped onto his back and shoved the blanket back down. Even in the dim light, Jack could see the pinched and drawn lines of pain around Daniel's eyes and mouth.

"Headache still there, huh?" Jack gently ran his fingers through Daniel's hair.

Daniel nodded, shutting his eyes.

"Hey, how about I run you a nice warm bath, with bubbles, keep the lights off the bathroom and let you soak in the tub for a while."

"You used to do that for the other Daniel. When his head hurt."

"I did," Jack answered slowly, remembering. "The water and dark room would help with the headache."

Daniel opened his eyes and stared at Jack. "Did he used to take pills?"

"If his headache was bad enough. Yes, he would."

"Did you make him take pills in the morning? Line them up with his cereal bowl like you do mine?"

The old Daniel had hated the medication. He would rather be in pain than succumb to the need for mind-numbing pills. Antibiotics were always a struggle, even vitamins, and Jack believed Daniel's fear of any medication was a residual effect of his sarc addiction. "No. No medication."

"It was because he was smart." Daniel turned on his side, his hand flopping into Jack's lap. "Are my pills supposed to make me smart?"

"No," Jack admitted honestly.

"Then what are they for?"

Jack's hesitation brought tears to Daniel's eyes, which he hurriedly wiped away. "Go start my bath," Daniel ordered, in a voice so much like the other Daniel, Jack's heart clenched painfully.

"Look, Daniel..."

"The pills are to make me stop yelling. And hitting. You give them to me so there's no more notes in the backpacks or phone calls at night saying how bad I've been."

Daniel moved away from Jack, flipped onto his side, offering Jack his ass for conversation.

* * * * *

Daniel soaked in the bubble-filled tub, in a darkened room long enough to make Jack nervous and he interrupted Daniel's half doze by opening up the drain. "Hey," he complained softly, shutting the drain with his big toe. "I don't want to get out." Daniel snuffed and sunk further down in the tub.

Jack opened the drain again then held out a towel for Daniel. "Come on," he cajoled.

With an exaggerated exhalation of annoyance, Daniel got out of the tub and used Jack as leverage as he stepped over the side, but to Jack's horror he made no effort to grab the towel from Jack's hands. Jack averted his face, trying to ignore the sleek, dripping body as Daniel stepped into the towel and waited for Jack to dry him. He did it quickly and efficiently as Daniel bonelessly listed against him. Finished, Jack hastily dropped the towels to the floor and shoved Daniel's pajamas against his bare chest. "Get dressed," he growled, ignoring the look of surprise on Daniel's face.

* * * * *

Daniel shuffled over to the bed, dropped down onto the mattress and with eyes closed he swung his legs over the side. "Thank you," he said gratefully as he accepted both Lumpy and the covers from Jack.

There were still lines of pain etched on Daniel's face and Jack tentatively reached out to smooth them but drew back, still a bit shell shocked from his encounter with an incredibly naked Daniel fresh from the bath to offer more than a simple swipe to his forehead. "Feel better?" he asked softly, tucking Daniel in.

"Better," Daniel said with a sigh and slight smile. "No books tonight, okay?"

Jack was slightly disappointed. "How about if I just sit here until you fall asleep?"

"Okay." Daniel dragged out the word's two syllables.

Jack waited while Daniel maneuvered his body, blankets, pillows and Lumpy into a comfortable position. He gentle massaged Daniel's back through the blankets, waiting until the grunts of appreciation evened out to regular, deep breathing.

* * * * *

Angrily, Jack punched his pillow into submission and fell back against the flattened fluff with a growl. He couldn't sleep. As in insomnia, staring at the ceiling, blankets on, blankets off, night becomes a thousand hours long, type of night. Daniel was having no problems, Jack hadn't even noticed a hitch in his breathing during the countless times he'd checked on him.

Morning light was peeking through the bedroom window just as Jack found himself drifting. The alarm clock was set and if he played his cards right and hit the snooze once or twice, it shouldn't be a total loss and he'd be able to squeeze about ninety minutes' worth of sleep before he had to get out of bed.

"I don't feel good."

Jack and the alarm both woke up at the same time. He fumbled for the alarm, slammed down on the snooze button and stared at a bleary-eyed Daniel sitting at the edge of his bed.

"Daniel?"

"My head hurts." He rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Right here."

Jack ground the sleep out of his own eyes, changed the snooze to off on the alarm, then really looked at Daniel. "Yeah, you look sorta rough around the edges." Obviously last night's headache, and Daniel's dead to the world sleep, was a precursor to something brewing. Jack pulled the bowed head towards him, kissing it. "Fever."

Daniel snuffled in agreement. "My nose is stuffed. And my throat tickles."

* * * * *

In ten minutes' time, Jack called the Center, the SGC and Fraiser on her cell who promised to do a quick swing by diagnosis on her way to work. "Fraiser will be here soon," Jack said. "Want some toast and tea?"

Daniel placed Lumpy on the table and dropped his chin onto the camel's back. Then he wrapped his arms around the soft body. "Can I have grape jelly on the toast?"

"Sure," Jack said with a nod, filling a large mug with water and putting it in the microwave. He hit the appropriate numbers then stuck two pieces of bread into the toaster. Daniel was still in the same position, watching Jack through heavy lidded eyes as he placed breakfast in front of him.

"You're going to have to move Lumpy if you want to eat," Jack said, dropping two ice cubes into Daniel's tea.

Daniel ran his finger though the jelly then sucked it off his fingers, he grimaced as he swallowed. "I don't think I want breakfast."

Jack added two Tylenol to Daniel's morning meds. "The tea and Tylenol will make your throat feel better." He smiled at Daniel as he placed the pills next to the mug.

Daniel shook his head. "I'm not going to the Center today. I don't need to be smart."

"We had this discussion yesterday. The pills have nothing to do with intelligence." It had never occurred to Jack to stop the medication on the weekends, or days Daniel was off from the Center. Getting Daniel's med dosage stabilized had taken some doing, so the last thing Jack wanted to do was to play around with stopping and starting. "Take them," he insisted, pushing them around Lumpy. Jack went to the fridge and took out a bottle of raspberry Snapple iced tea, a forbidden treat for the morning. He slapped his palm against the top a few times, popped off the lid and waved the drink in front of Daniel. "Use this to wash the pills down with."

Daniel hesitated for an instant before reaching out for the bottle, the lure of the drink outweighing his desire to argue with Jack over the pills.

* * * * *

Daniel was dozing on the couch by the time Fraiser arrived and it took Jack two strong shakes to wake him up. "Someone's here to see you."

"Morning, Daniel."

"Are you going to give me a shot today?" He sat up slowly and eyed her warily.

"I'm going to take your temperature. Look in your throat. Listen to your chest. Make you breathe deeply..."

"My head hurts badly."

"Yeah?" she replied sympathetically. "I'm betting you have a fever and that's why you have a headache."

Jack watched Daniel as he watched Fraiser do everything she promised, shrugging her away when she went to palpitate his glands under his neck. "No. You don't need to touch. I can tell you that that hurts. You're done," he decided.

Before Jack could interrupt, Fraiser gave a curt nod. "You're right, I am."

* * * * *

"Sinus infection. Again." Fraiser waved away Jack's offer of milk for her coffee. She stopped Jack's guilty berating with a frown. "Fast and furious. You didn't miss anything. He's going to be whiney and uncomfortable until the antibiotics kick in."

"How—"

"Give or take twenty four hours. I'll phone in the prescription and have the pharmacy deliver." Fraiser finished the remainder of her coffee in one gulp, then grabbed a triangle of toast. "I gotta run. I'll call later to check in."

* * * * *

And she did check in. And Carter checked in. And Teal'c checked in. Every time Jack started to relax in the den with Daniel, the phone rang. Daniel didn't seem bothered by the interruptions. He took them in stride, spoke lethargically and slowly to whomever was on the phone before handing the phone back to Jack.

The second time Carter called, Daniel answered her with short answers, crinkling his forehead in what appeared to be confusion, then dumped the phone into Jack's lap. "Sam wants to talk to you."

"Carter?"

"Sir, is Daniel alright?"

Jack adjusted the afghan around Daniel. "Hold on a minute, Carter, I'm going to get Daniel some lunch." Daniel didn't agree or disagree, he just pushed Jack from his line of vision then tucked Lumpy tighter against him. "Sorry," Jack playfully groused. "I didn't mean to block your view." He waited until he was in the hallway to continue the conversation. "You still there?"

"Still here."

"What seems to be the problem besides Daniel being sick and feverish?"

"He's off."

"Carter." Jack gave a warning growl. There was no way he wanted this conversation to turn into a PowerPoint presentation that took Carter thirty minutes to get to the point.

"I've seen Daniel sick. I've seen Daniel feverish. And he's still Daniel. I can usually get a response out of him. Even if it's a whine. Now, he just seems..." There was silence as she searched for a word.

"Off?" Jack supplied, annoyed at the whole tone of the phone call. He hated justifying anything. "Honest, I'm not hiding anything from you. Daniel's got a sinus infection. He feels lousy. Hell, he even looks lousy and his extent of movement today has been from his bed to the couch."

"I'm sorry."

Her apology was huffy and annoyed, very unCarterlike and in response to his own attitude. "No, it's me who should be sorry. I'm tired. Daniel's tired, but by tomorrow, with a few doses of Fraiser's magic cure-all pills, he should be feeling better. Dinner. My house tomorrow. Be there or be square."

"Sir? Your age is showing."

Jack smiled. "Everyone's a critic. Do me a favor and let Teal'c and Fraiser know about tomorrow night. Pizza's on me."

"No anchovies please."

"Carter, have we ever ordered a pie with anchovies?"

"No, we haven't, but one can't be too careful."

"Tomorrow. Eighteen hundred hours."

* * * * *

Daniel permitted Jack to hover the majority of the day. Accepting the temperature-taking, fluid-plying and blanket-tucking without a gripe. The more Daniel was pliable to Jack's demands, the more annoying and demanding Jack became until he couldn't even stand himself.

"Want me to set you up with a puzzle while I make dinner?" Jack braced himself for the thousand questions regarding dinner and was a bit taken back at Daniel's hoarse, "Okay. The SpongeBob one?"

Jack did an exaggerated bow with hand rolling starting from his forehead. "Your wish is my command."

The only reaction from Daniel was a look of confusion at Jack's antics as if he was missing something. "Hey, buddy, you okay?" Carter's words doing a little jig in the back of his mind.

"Fine. What about the puzzle?"

* * * * *

Puzzles had always frustrated Daniel, until Cassie had sat with him one night and slowly explained, then showed him, the fine art of putting all the straight pieces together first. He had actually developed a knack for them and was building up quite a collection because as much as Jack hated to admit it, they all managed to spoil Daniel. A lot. Which was why Jack walked into the den with two SpongeBob puzzles in his hands. "I wasn't sure which one."

Daniel shrugged. "I don't care," he mumbled. "Leave them both."

Jack made room on the coffee table and before he could tell him not to, Daniel slid to the floor, stuck his legs under the table and dumped out the puzzle closest to him.

"Why don't you sit on the couch and I'll move the table over to you."

"I'm fine, Jack." Daniel was already lost in the world of his puzzle pieces.

* * * * *

Daniel was so focused Jack literally had to drag him away from the puzzles to come to dinner. "I'll eat here."

"No," Jack said, plucking the puzzle piece from Daniel's fingers. "I made soup and sandwiches and you don't want to drip over the puzzle, do you?" Curious, Jack craned his neck, surprised that Daniel had barely made a dent framing the puzzle, considering how intently he'd been working.

"Want me to help you after dinner?" Jack picked up Lumpy as an incentive to get Daniel up and into the kitchen.

"Okay," Daniel lazily replied.

"Did I ever tell you I was the puzzle champion of the world?"

Daniel got up, shook out his legs and walked by Jack, not even bothering to take Lumpy from his outstretched hands or even cracking a smile at Jack's stupid comment.

* * * * *

One dose of medication wasn't enough to lower the fever and Jack added two Tylenol to the antibiotic. Daniel used his finger and flicked them away. "No. Pills."

"Yes. Pills," Jack countered as he used his pointer finger to slide each of the pills back to Daniel. "Tylenol. Tylenol. Antibiotic." Jack tapped each individual medication. "Headache. Fever. Sinus Infection."

"Can I have some raspberry Snapple?"

"Sure." Jack opened the fridge and hooked his fingers around two bottles. "One for you. One for me," he said, putting them on the table and smiling at Daniel, who only picked up his bottle and offered it up to Jack to open.

Slowly, Daniel perked up during dinner and Jack was able to coax a smile and even a slight chuckle from him. "How about we just put the dishes in the sink," Jack offered, "and go work on your puzzle."

* * * * *

With a lot of hemming and hawing, coupled with procrastination, Jack worked at taking his time with the puzzle pieces he'd chosen. But twenty minutes into this project, Jack had placed all eight into their appropriate spaces, while Daniel had spent an inordinate amount of time just examining his.

"You having a problem, big guy?"

Daniel threw down the piece in his hand. "I don't know," he sighed. "This used to be fun." He shrugged. "It's not fun anymore."

"How about we leave it until tomorrow? When you're feeling better." Jack covered the started puzzle with the top of the box.

"I don't think it's 'cause I'm sick. Nothing makes me smile." He raised his hands and began to tick off items. "My SpongeBob videos..." Daniel looked at Jack with a somber expression. "You know, especially the ripped pants one. My books. My crayons."

Jack grabbed Daniel's hand and crushed it in his, feeling the warmth of fever. "You still have a fever. Your head still hurts, doesn't it?" Jack flexed his fingers around Daniel's for confirmation. "Doesn't it?" he reiterated.

"I guess."

"And your throat tickles."

"That's why I'm not happy?"

"Of course," Jack over enthusiastically answered. "How about a bath, like last night? That relaxed you."

"I'm not nervous. Or upset." He hugged Lumpy to his chest. "I'm not anything."

* * * * *

After the bath, Daniel shuffled around the house as if he had lost something. Going from room to room with Jack as his shadow. Eventually, they ended up in the kitchen and Daniel sat in the chair and watched Jack wash the dinner dishes.

"Well, that's done," Jack announced, drying his hands on the towel then turning around. "Daniel?" Jack shook his head, the chair that Daniel had been sitting in was empty and Jack hadn't a clue how long he'd been talking to thin air. He threw the towel onto the counter and went to find him.

"Whatcha doing in here?"

Daniel was in bed, under the covers, staring into Lumpy's eyes. Nose to nose.

Jack sat at the edge of the bed. "Want to give me a clue as to why you and Lumpy are having a staring contest?"

Lumpy was slid from view, all the way under the covers that Daniel patted in place. "What's going to happen if even Lumpy doesn't make me happy?"

"That's impossible." Jack stuck his hand under the covers and dug out a hiding Lumpy. He pushed the stuffed toy so close to his own nose that he could feel his eyes crossing. "Lumpy even makes me happy." He made the camel dance over Daniel's waiting arms. "And I'm very, very hard to make happy."

"You promise?" Daniel asked somberly. "Because after Lumpy it'll be Sam. And Teal'c. Doc Janet. Cassie. Grandpa George." He drew a shaky breath. "You. Then it'll be you."

"But that's not going to happen, because I promise Lumpy will always make you happy. Just like you always make me happy."

"Really?" Daniel brightened a bit. "Even though I'm not the other Daniel, I still make you happy?"

"Definitely. Happy. Smiling. Laughing." Jack opened his arms wide. "The whole kit and caboodle."

"What's a caboodle?"

"You're a caboodle. And caboodles are great things."

* * * * *

Caboodles may have been great things at bedtime but at oh three hundred hours, after being woken three times by Daniel, the caboodle's greatness was dimming. Jack crawled into bed and collapsed onto the mattress, hoping that the third time had been the charm and he wouldn't be visiting Daniel's bedroom anymore tonight. He groaned into his pillow as the loud whimpering from Daniel's room began anew. Jack waited, holding his breath, hoping it would just fade away instead of building into the deafening crescendo like it did last time. The sound hurt, reminding Jack of a small puppy. Alone. Defenseless and terrified.

Tonight's nightmares were different. There was no screaming. No words, just the whimpering and whining sound that cut through Jack's soul like a knife. Daniel's whining was peaking and with a sigh, Jack once again got out of bed.

Daniel was sitting up in bed, rocking, crushing Lumpy to his chest and he looked at Jack with eyes brimming with tears, the awful keening simmering down at the sight of Jack. He sat at the end of the bed, opened his arms and was nearly thrown off the bed by the force at which Daniel flung his body at Jack. "I've got you," Jack whispered, holding Daniel, rocking him and Lumpy. "Shhhhh," he petted and stroked the feverishly sweaty back.

"I loved Sha're," Daniel said.

Jack stopped, Daniel's confession upsetting the rhythm of his petting/rocking movements. He swallowed past the boulder in his throat. "I know you did."

Daniel sighed. "It hurts to think about her." He ground his forehead into Jack's collarbone. "Make it stop."

Jack tightened his hold and began to rock.

"She was pretty."

"Beautiful," Jack agreed.

"She loved me."

"With all of her heart, Daniel."

"Teal'c killed her to save me."

"He didn't want to."

"I know," Daniel sighed in weariness and understanding. "I forgive him," he yawned.

"Ready to go to sleep now?" Jack asked hopefully.

Daniel's weight against Jack increased. "Sha're keeps coming to me. All night," he said with a little sob. "And it makes me sad."

"No. No." Jack pressed Daniel closer to his chest and slightly increased the pitch of his rocking. "She's looking out for you. Wants to make sure you're okay."

"I'm not okay," Daniel said in a voice that was very much the other Daniel's.

"It's a sinus infection. You'll be okay. Hell, I'm surprised Sha're isn't in my dreams, threatening me. Making sure I'm taking good care of you. She'd kick my butt if she thought—"

"I loved her, Jack," Daniel repeated, the words slow and lethargic.

"She loved you, too."

Daniel pulled away from Jack and gazed at him through heavy lidded, swollen exhausted eyes. "You love me, too, don't you Jack?"

Jack wistfully smiled at his own memories of those words. "With all my heart, Daniel."

* * * * *

Daniel picked up half the grilled cheese sandwich, examined it like an artifact, then dropped it into the plate. "This isn't breakfast."

"No, it's not," Jack agreed, placing Daniel's daily meds and the antibiotics next to the plate. "We sorta slept through breakfast." Jack put a glass of juice in front of Daniel. "Actually, if Carter hadn't called, we'd probably still be sleeping."

Daniel yawned, rubbed his eyes and shook his head. "No."

"No, what?"

"The phone didn't wake me up." He yawned again. "You did. Making all the noise in the kitchen."

Jack chuckled, then for two reasons, he pulled Daniel's head to him. One to place a kiss atop the mussed up bed head, the other to wrap his hand around his forehead and test for fever. Daniel leaned into him with resignation. "You're still warm."

"I'm still tired," he whined. "I don’t want any pills or grilled cheese sandwiches. I want to go finish my puzzle."

"How about company?" Jack released Daniel with a quick ruffle to his head. He went to the fridge and exchanged the glass of juice for a bottle of Snapple which he opened and handed to Daniel.

Daniel hesitated for a moment, then snatched the bottle from the table, drinking half of it before Jack stopped him, upturned his palm and handed him the pills. "One at a time and drink slowly, okay?"

Jack rolled his eyes as Daniel licked each pill, one by one off of his palm, washing it down with a slug of juice. "More," he asked, wiping his mouth on his arm then handing the empty bottle to Jack.

"Eat," he said, pushing the plate back over to Daniel. "Drink the apple juice first and then I'll give you more Snapple."

Daniel picked the crust off one corner. "Why did you ask if I wanted company?"

"Cassie is spending the night over at Carter's and they wanted to come by and bring dinner tonight, a movie and Jacob."

Daniel made the separated pyramids of crust and crustless sandwich lean against each other. "Jacob," he said, concentrating on the two food items. "Sam and Cassie." He separated the two pieces of bread so it would stand. "Is Doc Janet okay?"

"Eat your food," Jack said, playing the monster from a B horror movie and knocking over Daniel's building. "Fraiser's working tonight, so..."

"Cassie's at Sam's and Jacob's who's Sam's daddy is visiting. So they want to come over and play here." He picked up his crust, broke it in half and used it to hold up the other half of sandwich. "What about Teal'c? Doesn't Teal'c want to come for dinner?"

"No one's visiting if you don't stop playing with the sandwich and eat!"

"Yes, Jack." Daniel rubbed his forehead. "You don't have to yell."

Jack gave up, plopped down on the other chair and grabbed a chip off Daniel's plate.

* * * * *

Honestly, Jack hadn't been thrilled about Jacob coming to the house and he half expected Carter's father to pick up the conversation regarding a snake for Daniel right where they'd left off, but he'd been pleasantly surprised. The man was nothing but cordial and fatherly to Daniel the whole evening.

"I'm folding." Jack threw his hand onto the table and glared at the pile of chips in front of Cassie. "Obviously, your mother has taught you the finer points of poker."

The young girl smiled in response and tapped her cards on the table. "I'll take the deed for the house..."

Jack looked over at Daniel, surprised that there was no objection to Cassie's statement, but Daniel was sitting at the head of the table, his chin leaning on Lumpy's hump, playing with a pile of chips, arranging them into different sized towers.

"I'm folding, too, Cassie." With good-natured disgust, Carter threw her cards into the pile. "Obviously, my father hasn't taught me the finer points of poker." She stuck out her tongue out at an innocent looking Jacob.

"If it makes you feel any better, Sammy, I'm folding as well."

"As am I," Teal'c conceded.

"Woohoo... I won. I won." Cassie leaned forward and swept the pot into her corner of the table. Smiling, she flipped a chip at Jack, who caught it deftly in his right hand.

"Okay, Missy," Jack said, biting on the chip then flipping it back into her pile, "why don't you guys take your card shark party into the den, and I'll bring dessert." He watched as they gathered the cards and the chips, cleaning up the table, poking Daniel to get him to move.

* * * * *

Jack sat on the recliner watching Daniel fold against Jacob, resting his head on the older man's shoulder. Carter book ended her father, Teal'c sat on the couch, next to Daniel, while Cassie sat on the floor in front of the coffee table, piquing Jack's curiosity as her interest seesawed from the movie on the TV to Daniel.

She sat up and grabbed two cookies from the tray. "Here, Daniel," she said, biting one and offering the other to him. "Chocolate. I made Sam buy the chocolate walnut ones. Your favorite."

Jacob nudged his shoulder and Daniel leaned forward and took the cookie. "Thanks, Cassie. Sam." He took an obligatory bite, before rolling it up and down Lumpy's back.

"I'll take it if you don't want it," Carter quipped, reaching across her father and snatching it from Daniel's loose grasp.

A memory of Daniel and Carter fighting over a package of Oreo cookies smuggled offworld made him smile as he fondly recalled the loud name-calling and tug of war over the cookies. Carter must have been thinking the same thing, because she paused with the cookie in her hand, waiting expectantly for Daniel to complain. Argue. Say or do something.

"I'm going to get some milk," Cassie said, disappearing from the room in a blur of teenage limbs and flowing hair.

Jack raised his hand to keep Carter in place and took off after Cassie.

* * * * *

He found her with her head in the fridge. "I'll get the glasses," he offered.

She closed the fridge door with her hip and slammed the milk container on the counter. "I'm not a baby, you know."

"I know that."

"So tell me what's wrong with Daniel." She rolled her eyes at her own stupidity. "I mean besides like he now is."

"He's got a sinus infection."

Cassie glared at him and for a second and Jack was amazed how much Fraiser's adopted daughter resembled her. "I know that," she said with a sarcastic toss of her teenage head. "I mean now. Tonight. He's... he's... emotionless. He's going through the motions. He's not annoying. Or in your face. Or laughing. He's not Daniel."

"Cassie's right, sir."

"Carter, I thought I told you to stay put."

She walked around Jack with a slight smile and a chocolate crumb in the corner of her mouth. "I wanted a glass of milk." Carter filled the two glasses on the counter then handed one to Cassie. "This is what I meant, Colonel, about Daniel being off." She glanced at Cassie who nodded emphatically. "That's not Daniel."

"There's nothing wrong with him."

Carter glanced at Cassie and apparently decided to play it safe and save her argument for a more opportune time. Cassie, on the other hand, had no inhibitions. "How blind can you be, Uncle Jack?" unconsciously reverting to her baby name for him. "Sam's right," she pointed down the hallway, "that's not Daniel."

"Jack?" Daniel shuffled into the kitchen and gravitated to Jack, linking his arm through his, dropping his head heavily only his shoulder. "I wondered what happened to you." He raised a Lumpy-filled hand and waved it at the girls. "Teal'c put the movie on pause."

Cassie squeezed Daniel's forearm as she walked past, "Sorry," she apologized, the glass of milk hurriedly finished and defiantly slammed onto the kitchen table.

Carter snatched Cassie's glass of the table and walked to the sink. "You guys go back in and watch the movie." She lifted the dirty glasses in the air. "I'm just going to take care of these."

* * * * *

Jack followed them out to say goodbye. Daniel was sitting on the couch, the curtains drawn back, watching. He was just about to call out to Cassie when he felt a restraining hand on his arm. "Jacob?"

"Jack, I—"

Angrily, he shook off his hand. "We've had this discussion before. No symbiote."

"This isn't about a symbiote. Or Selmac. This is about the drugs Daniel's taking."

"Drugs?" The fact that Daniel was now being medicated wasn't a secret, but Jack was still put off that Jacob felt the need to discuss something that wasn't his business. "Jacob, this really—"

"When Mark was twelve he was diagnosed with ADHD and the doctors recommended medicating him to control his behavior. Allow him to learn. Allow him to function in our world." Jacob offered Jack an understanding smile. "And it took a while to get the medication dosage correct and in the beginning it was amazing to now have living with us this child who acquiesced to our demands and brought home good grades instead of detention slips. But after a while, I remember missing my child. The one brimming with curiosity. Who asked a million questions. The bright-eyed kid who couldn't sit still, but was great at making me laugh. Eventually, after trial and error, the correct dosage fell into place." He grabbed Jack's arm again and gave a painful squeeze. "Have you started missing Daniel yet, Jack?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You do," Jacob answered with a smirk, "You're not stupid; don't insult my intelligence by pretending to be."

"Dad. Come on," Carter yelled from the curb as she jingled her keys in the air.

"Go," Jack sniped, jerking his chin towards his ride. "Leave."

"I'm sorry, Jack. I just wanted you to know, I've walked in your shoes." He patted him on the arm. "It's so easy. Very easy. And though I can't possibly imagine the bravery it takes for you to get through the day, this isn't about you, it's about him."

* * * * *

"Did you have a nice time tonight?" Jack handed Daniel the tray of cookies and put an empty container on the kitchen table. "Could you put these away?"

Daniel nodded and sat, then methodically began to place the cookies in the container.

"That was nice of Carter to bring the cookies, wasn't it?" Jack didn't call attention to the fact that Daniel hadn't answered his first question.

"Nice," Daniel repeated, picking one of the walnuts out of the cookies before putting it in the container.

"Hey," Jack reprimanded, pulling the cookie from the container.

"Sorry," Daniel said, slumping against the back of the chair.

"Don't be sorry." Jack filled a glass of juice for Daniel. "Eat it. Drink this. Because you just reminded me of something."

"What?"

"This." Jack put an antibiotic med on top of the cookie.

Daniel flicked it off.

Jack picked it up and put it back on. "This is for your sinus infection."

Daniel picked it up and examined it before popping it in his mouth, then accepted the juice from Jack. Daniel gobbled down the cookie, stole a quick glance at Jack, then grabbed another one. Jack stopped him when he reached for a third.

"Daniel, if you're hungry, tell me. I'll make you a sandwich."

He looked at Jack, eyes wide, then glanced at his hand which held the cookie before dropping the cookie back into the container. "I don't know." Daniel rubbed his head and his chest, "I think I want to go to my room."

"Why?"

"Tired."

Jack nodded. "It's been a long day." He glanced at the clock on the microwave. "Go get ready for bed, I'll be there in a minute and read you a story."

* * * * *

Jack had reached page five before he realized Daniel wasn't listening. "Do you want a different book?"

"No. This one's okay. I like the pictures." Daniel settled against Jack with a sigh.

"You know... I don't have to read to you at all." He closed the book, not even bothering to mark his place. "Okay?"

"Your choice." Daniel pulled his knees up to his chest and allowed Lumpy to balance there.

"What was my choice?"

Daniel moved his legs and Lumpy tumbled down the pretend hill. "Reading. You said in the kitchen that you'd be in to read a story." He set Lumpy up again. "So reading was your choice."

"You didn't want me to read a story?"

"If you wanna read, that's okay. If you don't wanna read, s'okay."

Jack slid out of bed then tossed the book onto the dresser. "Go to sleep, Daniel, I should have listened when you said you were tired."

Daniel looked at him in surprise. "You don't want to read no more?"

"No, I'm done. We'll have to wait until tomorrow to see if Papa Berenstain Bear builds the kids a new tree house."

* * * * *

Yawning, Daniel shuffled into the kitchen just as Jack was flipping the last pancake. "Great timing." He used the spatula to point to the kitchen chair, then turned off the griddle. "How's chocolate chip pancakes with a side of crispy bacon sound to you?"

"Syrup?"

"But of course."

Daniel looked up at Jack, who wagged his eyebrows at him. "Silly accent, Jack."

"Hey!" With great exaggeration, Jack slid the plate over to Daniel. "All the best restaurants are French."

"This isn't a restaurant, it's your kitchen," Daniel answered with boring logic.

"Party pooper," Jack quipped as he piled his plate high with pancakes, added a handful of bacon strips and snagged the warm syrup from the microwave. He put down his plate and syrup. "You can start eating, you know."

Daniel picked up his fork then put it down. "Can I have a Snapple?"

"Sure." Jack pulled the orange juice, a bottle of Snapple, the butter and the milk from the fridge and deposited them onto the table. "Eat," he ordered Daniel again as he went to pour himself a cup of coffee and gather up Daniel's meds.

* * * * *

It was the absence of appreciative noises from Daniel's chair that drew Jack's attention away from his own plate. "Daniel?"

"Please, Jack," he whispered, cupping his hands over the pills then pushing them away.

Jack was ready to argue, tired of what was becoming a daily routine. He dropped his fork and it clattered against the plate. Loud enough that Daniel jumped. "Look, Daniel."

Daniel tried, and in the beginning, his hands were quick enough to stem the stray tears that overflowed, until he lost the battle against the rising tide and he stuttered and fumbled, trying to hide his devastation with a wad of paper napkins he dragged across his face. Defeated, he slumped against the chair and released his misery.

"Aw, jeeze, Daniel, I'm not angry."

Daniel nodded, but the silent tears didn't stop. Lumpy sat dejected and forgotten, his nose stuck in the pooled syrup on Daniel's plate. "Poor Lumpy looks like he's hungry." Jack forced a smile. Daniel reached out toward the toy, then dropped his hand into his lap. It was Daniel's simple shrug that ambushed Jack and forced him into action.

"Shhhh." Jack picked up the wadded up napkin and wiped Daniel's face, but it was impossible to keep ahead of the tears that continued.

Daniel and the chair turned so quickly, Jack was nearly knocked off his feet, but two strong arms reached out and grabbed Jack around the waist, pulling him in. He did an awkward, two step shuffle closer towards Daniel. "It's okay," he murmured, petting the head buried in his midsection.

Daniel shook his head, painting Jack's shirt with a horizontal strip of snot and tears. "Not okay."

Jack reached around and released Daniel's hands.

"No," Daniel shouted emphatically, scrabbling to regain his grip on Jack.

"Wait. Wait." Jack placated softly, grimacing as he used Daniel's knee and the edge of the table to squat between his legs. "I just want to see you, okay? Talk to you. I can't talk if your head is buried in my belly." Jack took a fisted hand and propped it under Daniel's chin then lifted slowly, ignoring as the tears sidetracked onto his fingers. "There, I can see you now."

Daniel's gaze flicked to the pills then back to Jack. "Don't make me take those pills."

"You have to."

"Why?" He drew his arm under his nose. "I'll be good." He took the tissue Jack handed to him and ended up shredding it before using it for the purpose Jack intended. "I promise I'll be good."

"It's not a matter of you being good."

Emphatically, Daniel shook his head. "Don't lie." He dug his hands into his temples. "It hurts."

Quickly, Jack's hands dropped to Daniel's body and he began to assess, prodding gently, waiting for a reaction. "Where does it hurt?"

Jack felt Daniel's hands on his face, guiding his vision upward. "It hurts that you don't listen. That you can't see. Like the stories. Like the dreams."

"Daniel?" Jack's eyes widened in shock.

Daniel leaned his cheek against Jack's, his skin slippery with moisture. "You're gonna lose me like you lost the other Daniel."

Jack placed his arms around Daniel, who dropped his head onto Jack's shoulder. "Shit." And it hit, the image was akin to being blasted with a staff weapon. It was about a darkened storeroom with a gun held in shaking hands. It was about a handful of pills that was severing the one link between the other Daniel and this one. Emotions. Regressed or a member of SG-1. Either with the mental capacity of a five year old or the mind of a genius, Daniel experienced life down to the cellular level. As a genius it was in discovery. And languages. And love. With this Daniel it was in laughter. And innocence. And love. "Jacob saw." And finally, now, in the daylight, Jack could admit that he, too, had seen.

Daniel nodded. And surprising as it was, Jack could feel even more tears soak the collar of his shirt. "And Sam. And Cassie." Daniel sniffed loudly. "And Jan. Jan at the Center told me she missed me."

"But not me."

"Not you," Daniel echoed. "You like me being good."

Jack's vision blurred and he closed his eyes then opened them in the hopes of bringing the world back into focus. "I'm sorry." Jacob had been right. It had been so easy. Too easy. Instantly, shame burned his face. Unable to justify the blinders he had stuck on his face these past few weeks, he buried his head against Daniel's neck and wept.

"It's okay," Daniel soothed. In a voice thick with tears and mucous, he placated Jack with a pat on the back. "I'm not mad."

"Thank you." Jack sat back on his haunches and accepted the napkin from Daniel. He wiped his eyes, blew his nose and tossed it into the garbage. He got a slight, wobbly smile from his soft, "He shoots, he scores." Jack sobered. "I'm sorry."

Slowly, Daniel shook his head. He lifted Jack's hand and hooked their pinkies together. "I promise I'll try to be good." Solemnly, Daniel gazed at Jack. "What do you promise?

Jack held their pinkied hands together. "I promise to take all those pills and flush them down the toilet."

"Doc Janet's gonna be mad. The Center's gonna be mad."

"Don't worry about the doc. I'll talk to her. And as far as the Center... you'll be happy, right?"

"Yes."

"And you're going to try your hardest to be good?"

"Yup!"

"Then you leave the Center to me."

"I love you, Jack."

Jack kept the grin on his face. Those three words held a different meaning now, but they still felt right. "Love you too, buddy." Slowly he released their joined pinkies and stood, groaning as he used the table and Daniel's knees for leverage. "So much for breakfast," he sighed. "Wanna go out to eat? Your choice?"

"McDonald's?"

Jack grimaced at the thought.

"How about the bagel store with the chocolate chip cream cheese?"

"Sure," Jack agreed. The least of two evils, actually an egg sandwich sounded mighty appealing. "I think we both need to get washed up."

"And clean up the table?"

"Nah, it'll still be here when we get back." He offered Daniel a hand. "Come on, I'm hungry."

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

Jack sat at his desk with a groan. He hated being late. He hated oversleeping worse than being late, but what he hated most was a missing stuffed camel, who had been hiding under the pile of dirty towels in the bathroom, obviously trying to escape from the craziness of two people performing a choreographed panic running around the house trying to gather up the obligatory backpacks, lunch, travel mug of coffee, briefcase and one elusive Lumpy. They had driven through McDonald's for a hasty, Styrofoam breakfast which was now sitting somewhere between his throat and his stomach.

"Sir?"

"Doc." He wondered if he could possibly reach for the bottle of Tums in his right hand drawer without her noticing. He waved her towards a chair and decided to wait for the antacid. "Come in. Have a seat. To what do I owe this honor?"

"Excuse me for saying so, but you look..."

"Frazzled." He ran his fingers through his still damp hair then wiped his moist hands on his pants. "Yeah. One of those mornings."

"Daniel giving you a hard time again?"

Jack laughed. "No, actually it was Lumpy who was being uncooperative this morning."

Fraiser tried and failed to contain the threatening smile. "And?"

"I'm here, aren't I?" Jack said with chuckle. "That camel hadn't a clue who he was dealing with."

"And Daniel?"

Jack sobered. "Daniel knows who he's dealing with. The guy probably has a better handle on me than I do on him."

"How's he doing?"

"Fine." Jack rubbed his stomach then gave up and reached for the Tums, shaking it in front of Janet. "Though I hope his breakfast is sitting better than mine." With his thumb, he popped open the lid, shook out two into his opposite hand then stuck them into his mouth. "Fruit flavored," he said after swallowing. "They're not that bad."

Janet pointed to the plastic container still in his hands. "Something I need to be concerned about?"

"No." Jack shoved it back into the drawer and slammed it shut. "Just fast food breakfast."

Janet clicked her tongue and shook her head.

"I know. I know." He threw open his arms. "Lecture away."

"No lecture, sir. I actually wanted to know how Daniel's doing."

"He's... Daniel," Jack said proudly.

Her eyebrows did a wonderful Teal'c imitation. "And that's supposed to mean what?"

"Everyday's an adventure?" He heaved an expansive sigh. "Just when you think you have a routine that works..." Jack trailed off.

"Without the meds?"

Jack crossed his fingers. "Two weeks and counting and things are..." He tried and failed to reach his goal of a smile. "...Okay."

The same word coming out of Fraiser's mouth didn't sound half as convincing as Jack's. Hers came out more like a question which Jack felt deserved an answer of some sort.

"Yeah, it's been pretty good."

"Tantrums?"

"Much better. Honest," he added at the look of disbelief in her eyes. "He's trying, I'll give you that. We've been working on the breathing techniques his teacher recommended."

"Colonel. Sir..."

"He's smiling again. Laughing."

Fraiser held up her hand. "You don't have to justify your decision to me. Cassie told me. She wasn't exactly a happy camper when she came home from your house. I got an earful."

"Sorry. I deserved the earful, not you. The meds were my decision."

"There was a need for them. And truthfully, sir, I'll admit that I believe there may come a time when you may have to reconsider your decision."

Jack shook his head. "I promised."

"Sometimes promises have to be broken."

He closed his eyes and sank wearily against the back of the chair. "I promised. And for now that's enough."

* * * * *

"O'Neill."

Jack looked up, surprised to see Teal'c standing in the doorway.

"Something I can do for you, T?" He pushed aside the papers he'd been perusing and gave Teal'c his full attention. There was something about Teal'c's body language, even though he had his arms clasped behind his back and appeared relaxed, there were telltale signs that he was hesitant about something.

"I wish to speak to you of DanielJackson's future." Teal'c entered the room and not changing his stance, stood at parade rest before Jack's desk.

"Say what?"

"I have thought long and hard. I would wish to become DanielJackson's alternate guardian." Before Jack could open his mouth and say something, Teal'c continued. "In the event that something should happen to you, I wish to be named his custodian."

"Teal'c..." Surprise wasn't the word to express the emotions coursing through Jack. He'd worried about what to do with Daniel for the longest time. He hated the thought of leaving him in a home, but he worried more about leaving Daniel in someone's care that would be at risk of injury from Daniel's temper. He knew Fraiser or Carter would jump at the chance, if asked, but they were no match for Daniel's strength when he lost control. He'd even contemplated asking his mom. Teal'c had been the best choice but there were problems.

"I don't know what to say." Jack cleared his throat, unsure of how to approach the problem. "But I think if something were to happen to me, that the base wouldn't be the best place for Daniel to live. It's not like I can leave you my house..."

"I understand. The fact that I am Jaffa prohibits me from fulfilling a life here as a normal Tau'ri. But should the occasion arise, there are many worlds where DanielJackson and I may retire to. The Land of Light being one. Abydos. Cimmeria. And with the Stargate at hand, I would not be prohibiting his seeing the people who care for him."

"Um... what about the Rehab Center?"

"We both are aware that the therapy he receives at the Center is superficial, at best. It occupies his time, delays his regression, but there will come a day when DanielJackson's mental capabilities will be too deficient to benefit from their care. If you are unable, or unwilling, to care for him at this time, then I will do so. Gladly."

"T… I..."

"Then it is settled?"

"Yeah. Thanks," Jack said softly.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"I think Daniel and I should get going." Jack looked around the small food court, noting there had been a sudden influx of people over the last ten minutes. "Our flight's scheduled to leave in an hour and we should go through Security while the going's good."

He grabbed Daniel's half-eaten muffin, more crumbs now than actual snack, and wadded the whole thing into his empty coffee cup. He waited as Carter drained the last of her coffee and then stood, picked up her coffee cup and dumped everything into the nearest garbage pail. Teal'c followed with his own empty bottle of juice and sandwich wrapping.

Daniel struggled with his backpack, quickly cramming the toys he'd been playing with back into it. Jack waited patiently as Daniel took out Lumpy to make room, then stuffed the toy camel back inside the pack. Before Daniel could close it, Jack pointed to a book that had fallen to the floor. Daniel quickly picked it up and shoved it into a side pocket.

"I'm ready, Jack. Are we going on the plane now?" Daniel danced from foot to foot, impatiently switching the backpack from hand to hand. "Are we going to fly up in the sky really, really high?"

"Not quite yet." He picked up his own small piece of luggage which held a novel, change of clothing for the both of them and basic toiletries.

"We'll walk you to the Security Area," Carter said as she shoved her hands into her pockets and slowly led the way. Jack nodded while Daniel skipped ahead to walk with Carter while Teal'c joined Jack.

"Jack says that the houses will be really small 'cause we're so high up. But how can houses be so tiny? Do they shrink? Do you think we'll see our house from the plane? Will you wave to us, Sam?"

"You are certain you do not wish MajorCarter or myself to accompany you?" Teal'c asked in a low voice as Carter tried to explain shrinking houses and perception. "There is still time to purchase a ticket."

"Nah, we'll be fine. I know Fraiser's worried about my taking Daniel to see my mom, but I think maybe the change will do us both good."

"I still do not understand why you did not request permission to utilize the Tel'tak we purloined in our last battle with the Goa'uld. I would have been more than happy to convey you to your destination, and back."

Jack slapped Teal'c's shoulder as they all approached the stairs leading to the airport gates. "I know, and I appreciate the offer. But I think the Pentagon might have had other ideas about how we use our... toys."

Jack and Teal'c mounted the stairs in silence while Daniel continued to question Carter. All too soon, they were in line for the security check.

Carter enveloped Daniel in a hug. "Have fun, Daniel. Make sure you ask the colonel to call me, okay?"

Daniel lowered his head into Carter's shoulder and Jack could see his back tense up. "You're not coming with us?" he asked plaintively.

Carter immediately raised her head and met Jack's gaze, her face breaking into a panic. Then she collected herself and kissed the top of Daniel's lowered head. "I have to stay and work, remember? This trip is just for you and the colonel."

Daniel sniffled and Jack waved the person behind them to take their place as Daniel became an immoveable object in the line.

"I'm gonna miss you, Sam. And you, Teal'c." Daniel raised his head and turned to look at Teal'c. Jack sighed as Daniel let go of Carter and threw himself into Teal'c's arms. He waved another family ahead of them.

"I will miss you also, DanielJackson. But you will enjoy yourself. I look forward to your regaling us of all your activities while you are away. You have remembered your camera?"

Daniel pulled away and nodded, lifting his backpack. "Uh huh. I remembered. I'm gonna take lots and lots of pictures so I can show you and Sam what we did."

Jack steered Daniel back into line and Carter waved goodbye as the two of them entered the secured area. Jack grabbed a plastic bin and put it before Daniel.

"Put your pack in here," Jack instructed, grabbing a second bin for himself, "and empty your pockets." A half-empty pocket-sized container of tissues, a few coins, one lone Lego, a couple sticks of gum and half a chocolate bar filled the smaller bin. "Now take your shoes off."

Jack quickly untied his sneakers and dropped them into a third bin while Daniel struggled to unlace his. Finally Daniel kicked them off, laces still tied in a bow. Daniel's shoes went into a fourth bin and then they were walking towards the metal detector.

"Wait till the man tells you to go through, then wait for me at the far side, okay?" Daniel nodded distractedly as he looked up at the metal gate. The security agent waved Daniel through, but Daniel didn't see him. "Daniel. Go on," Jack prodded when Daniel turned to look at him, still lost in thought.

Daniel stepped through the metal detector and sauntered towards the end of the moving belt. Following Daniel through the metal detector, to Jack's dismay, just as he passed through it, it beeped while at the same time an agent spoke to Daniel the dreaded words all travelers hate to hear. "Sir, you've been randomly selected for extra screening. Please come this way."

Jack tried to move ahead, but a security agent approached him with a metal wand.

"Sir, I asked you to step this way." The agent raised his voice, and Daniel, who had been watching their belongings go through the X-ray machine, looked up at him in surprise.

"Daniel, just go with him and do what he says," Jack called out, impatient as the wand was repeatedly passed over his belt, warbling at the metallic contents in the buckle. Jack hated the wide-eyed, near panicked expression on Daniel's face as he stood there indecisively. "Daniel, it's okay. Just go with the man."

Another security personnel picked up Daniel's backpack and other belongings while Jack was thankfully waved ahead. Angrily, he rammed his wallet back into his back pocket, pocketed the few items and grabbed his shoes and bag. He walked in stocking feet so he could see what was happening with Daniel behind the clear plastic partition.

He dropped his shoes and slammed his feet into them as the security agent began going through Daniel's belongings. As the man took out the stuffed camel, Daniel made a quick, furtive move to take the toy from him. The man's eyes narrowed and brought both hands up to not-so-gently palpitate the stuffing inside. He peered carefully at the stitched areas on the toy, picking at it with a fingernail.

Satisfied the toy was just that, he placed it on the table beside the opened backpack. When Daniel hurriedly picked up Lumpy, the man's expression quickly changed to one of disgust. With every item he removed from the pack, once he'd put it down, Daniel picked it up. Soon his arms were spilling over with his Game Boy, extra games, coloring book and crayons, a toy plane, several books, a jacket and a couple of chocolate bars Carter had bought for him earlier in the souvenir shop.

Satisfied that all was in order, the man looked at the now-empty backpack and Daniel's awkwardly held, overflowing with bounty, stance. He finally noticed Jack and motioned for him to join Daniel.

"You can go," he said curtly, stepping away and leaving Jack to cope with the mess and a visibly trembling Daniel.

"Come on, let's put this stuff away." Jack tugged at one of the books in Daniel's arms and placed it back into the backpack. One by one he removed the items then methodically put them away. Daniel tightened his hold on Lumpy when the last item was out of sight and the jacket neatly folded and tucked away on top of everything. Jack simply gave Lumpy a pat and then directed Daniel's attention to his shoes. "You can put those on," he said as he pulled the laces on the sneakers and dropped them onto the floor.

Jack didn't miss that Daniel picked his backpack up and placed it on the floor near his shoes, not trusting anyone not to rifle through his things again. When Daniel straightened up, Jack pushed the smaller bin with Daniel's pocket contents. Without a word, Daniel stuffed them all into one pocket, dropping the Lego in the process.

Jack bent down and picked it up, glancing at Daniel's shoes while he was at it. The laces were loose and would soon come undone, but he'd take care of that later. First things first; get Daniel away from here.

He handed Daniel the Lego and took at look at their boarding passes. "We need to find the Gate. Let's see... we have to go to Gate B23."

He helped Daniel put his backpack on, shouldered his own bag and without a word, held his hand out to Daniel, knowing he needed the physical reassurance right now. Immediately it was tightly clasped as Daniel moved closer to Jack so that their shoulders touched. Daniel's other hand was busy clutching onto Lumpy.

"The man was just doing his job," Jack said after long moments of silence as Daniel stayed closer to Jack than his shadow. "He has to check people's bags to make sure they're not sneaking dangerous stuff onto the planes."

"Lumpy's not dangerous." Daniel's voice was low and hesitant.

"But the people who work here don't know that. For all he knew, we could have hidden a gun or a knife inside of Lumpy."

Daniel stopped and stared at Jack, wide-eyed, letting go of his hand and pulling away from him. He held the stuffed camel out of Jack's reach. "Someone's gonna cut Lumpy up to hide—"

Jack led Daniel away from the crowds and into an unused gate. "Sit." He knelt in front of Daniel and began retying his sneakers. "Nobody's going to hurt Lumpy. I'm just trying to explain that some people might try to bring bad things by sneaking them in toys. Lumpy's fine." He stood and held his hand out again and Daniel jumped up from the chair.

"Okay, we're at Gate 2. We need to find 23." Jack smiled as Daniel began counting the gates under his breath every time they passed one, and he jumped in when Daniel reached the number four and began counting from one again. Daniel repeated the numbers after Jack, then grinned when they reached 23.

"We're here! We're here!" Daniel looked at the small seating area and turned around in confusion as he took in all aspects of the small room. His grin turned into a frown. "Jack, where's the gate?"

"This is it. See the door over there?" Jack pointed to the locked door beside the windows. "That's called a gate because we go through there and into the plane."

"You mean it's not a Stargate?"

Jack chuckled softly as he led a disappointed Daniel to a seat near the windows. "Nope, nowhere close." He placed their bags on the floor beside two free seats and glanced outside. What he saw there filled him with frustration. "Looks like we're gonna get a storm. Kinda late in the season. Ah well, better than snow."

The sky was black and the wind had picked up, blowing small bits of debris along the tarmac. Even as he spoke, a spear of lightning struck the ground far in the distance.

"Look, lightning." Daniel pointed excitedly at the sky, then hurried close to the glass for a bird's eye view of the storm. Jack sighed and sat back in the chair. Storms meant that flights coming in would be delayed once the storm got close enough. Planes would circle the airport until it was safe for them to land; flights scheduled to leave would be stuck on the tarmac as ground crews took cover. Flights would be backlogged; departure times would be rescheduled to at least an hour later.

God, he hated commercial flights. Give him the Stargate, any day.

The sound of thunder was muted; the storm was still a good way's off – though they had a great view of its approach – and that of planes landing on runways right in front of them. Daniel was kept entertained over the next thirty minutes between watching the storm and the planes. But when the storm came directly overhead, the resulting loud crash of thunder had him twitching his shoulders and then hurrying back to Jack.

Jack took the backpack off the only unoccupied seat so that Daniel could sit. Their flight was already delayed; the plane hadn't even landed yet – it was probably up there, above the storm, circling in a holding pattern.

Daniel leaned in close to Jack, jumping slightly every time thunder boomed. Visibility was reduced to almost nothing; all they could see was a grey smear outside, occasionally highlighted by the lightning's bright illumination. Jack put an arm around Daniel's shoulder, rubbing the tense bicep slowly while Daniel leaned his head against Jack's arm.

Then almost as suddenly as the rain had begun, it slowed, revealing buildings, parked planes and vehicles. Daniel got up suddenly to look outside once again only to return when thunder reminded him the storm may have moved on, but it was still nearby.

It seemed to take forever before traffic began moving again. The first plane landed, taxied and moved off towards its scheduled gate. Jack wondered how far back their plane was and how long before it would get here. He went to stand beside Daniel for a while, wondering if the next plane that was landing would be theirs.

After ten more minutes of this, Daniel became bored and restless. He returned to his backpack and took out a toy plane Teal'c had bought for him at one of the airport's souvenir shops. Holding the plane in one hand as if it were flying aloft, Daniel began walking the length of the panoramic window, stepping over bags and legs of other waiting passengers. When he reached the room's end, he turned around and retraced his steps.

Jack saw the irritated faces of some of the passengers, overhearing the callous remark stated loud enough to be overheard.

"That man had better not be sitting next to us." The sour-faced woman and her mustached husband stared at Jack pointedly.

Jack smiled back at the woman and wished evilly that they would be sitting next to him and Daniel. Watching how she'd cope with Daniel's prattling for the next two and a half hours would have made the trip a lot more entertaining than it promised to be. Still, he called Daniel over when he reached their end of the room. With a small smile, Daniel flew the plane over to Jack.

"Come on, sit down here beside me," Jack said, patting the empty seat. He knew how frustrating it was to have to wait for a delayed flight; restless children never did much to ease already frustrated nerves, and adult-sized children always seemed to make people nervous. That last was something Jack had learned the hard way over the past months. "D'ya wanna read a book?" Jack took out one of the primers he'd brought with him, complete with pictures.

"No." Daniel fiddled with the plane, turning it over and over in his hands. Jack decided maybe he needed to help Daniel get rid of the nervous energy that seemed to fill him. "Let's go for a walk." They picked up their bags and Jack led Daniel up and down the concourse.

After passing past the Security area for the third time, Daniel leaned over to Jack and whispered, "Can we go home now?"

"It shouldn't be much longer. Do you want to go back and sit?"

Jack took the non-committal shrug of Daniel's shoulder to mean he wouldn't complain too much if they went back to their gate. Their seats were taken but two more were free near the middle area.

"Can I play with my Game Boy?" Jack nodded and relaxed slightly as Daniel took the toy out and began playing with it.

Ignoring the electronic pinging sounds coming from the toy, Jack continued to watch the planes land. After a few minutes when one turned in their direction, he craned his neck forward, trying to read the lettering on the tail of the plane. He smiled when it corresponded to their airline carrier.

"Our plane's coming in," Jack said, nudging Daniel's arm. Tongue stuck between his teeth, rapt in concentration on playing his game, it took Daniel a few seconds before he realized what Jack had said. He looked up and his eyes widened at the approaching aircraft.

"Is that our plane? Are we gonna get in it? Boy, look, it's really, really big." The toy was immediately forgotten, dropped carelessly on top of the backpack. Jack reached down to pick it up as Daniel stood and hurried to the window again. He turned the Game Boy off as Daniel glued his nose to the glass.

When the door to the moveable ramp opened in preparation for passengers to disembark from the just-landed plane, Daniel made to go towards the open door.

"Daniel." Jack's voice was sharp enough for Daniel to freeze. He turned and looked back at Jack in bewilderment.

"But the door's open. Can't we go now?"

Jack made a 'come here' motion with his finger and when Daniel sighed loudly and came to stand in front of him. Jack took Daniel's hand and tugged gently to get his attention. "The people have to get off the plane first, and they have to get the plane ready for us. It'll be a while longer. Why don't you play with your—"

"I don't wanna play. I wanna go on the plane." Daniel stamped his foot and his voice had risen in pitch. People were either openly staring or trying to ignore them.

"We will. You just have to be patient."

"I don't want to be—"

Jack hurriedly raised his pointer finger in warning, and the mounting tantrum was quickly quelled. Daniel threw himself into his seat in a huff and crossed his arms, his lower lip sticking out in a deliberate pout.

Jack knew how Daniel felt; they'd been sitting here for almost two hours now, he was fed up with waiting and they still had the flight ahead of them. Still, the plane was here and hopefully they'd be boarded and in the air within thirty minutes.

Jack eyed Daniel's jiggling legs and asked the inevitable. "Do you need to use the bathroom?"

Daniel simply stood and waited while Jack, once again, picked up their gear. He led Daniel to the washrooms and waited patiently as Daniel played with the automatic faucets and hand-dryers.

Things went faster than Jack expected and within twenty minutes he was in line before the gate, waiting to hand the ticket agents their boarding passes. Daniel had trouble keeping still, his excitement showing in the non-stop rambling questions and constant shifting from foot to foot.

"We're going to fly in the plane," Daniel announced to the woman who took their boarding passes. She glanced at Daniel, who was holding Lumpy tightly under one arm, and smiled at him.

"I know. It's exciting, isn't it?" she said as she keyed their seat numbers into the computer. "Here you go, Mr. O'Neill, Mr. Jackson." She handed Jack the two stubs. "Enjoy your flight."

Daniel hurried past Jack, through the door and up the boarding ramp until it made a turn to the right. He waited for Jack to catch up then waited before the plane's entrance. A steward stood waiting for them and he smiled at them. Daniel ducked his head shyly for a moment, then looked into the plane's interior with awe.

"Can we go inside?"

"Yep. We got seats right over here." Jack pointed to the business class area and found their seats. "Do you want to sit by the window?"

"Uh huh." Daniel quickly slid into the seat Jack had pointed out and pressed his face against the small window.

Jack stuffed the backpack beneath the chair in front of Daniel and after removing his book from his own bag, placed his bag under the seat in front of him.

"Daniel?"

When Daniel didn't turn, he tapped his shoulder. "Here, buckle up." He lifted the ends of his own seatbelt to show Daniel, who immediately began rummaging around beneath his butt. When Daniel came up with the metal ends, he took them from Daniel and fitted them together, then pulled the strap snugly over Daniel's lap.

Immediately Daniel began fiddling with them, discovering how to unbuckle the belts. For the next five minutes he constantly fastened and unfastened his seatbelt, to the point where Jack was almost ready to grab his hands to make him stop.

"Daniel."

"Huh?"

"Enough, okay?" Jack pointed to the seatbelt. To his relief, Daniel turned to look out the window again.

"The houses aren't small, Jack. Why can't I see the small houses like Sam said?"

"That's because we haven't taken off yet."

"Why?"

"We will, as soon as everyone's on board."

Daniel looked up towards the open plane door. "Nobody's coming in. Can't we leave now?"

"We will. Pretty soon." He watched as a stewardess walk down the center of the plane, closing all the overhead bins.

"Can I play with my Game Boy?"

"Not yet. Wait till we're in the air, okay?"

"But I want to play with it now."

Jack rued the fact that electronics were taboo during takeoffs and landings. Still, reasonably speaking they were still on the ground and the game would settle Daniel down for a while. But he was afraid of a scene when he'd have to tell Daniel to turn the game off so he figured he was safer not allowing him to play with it at the moment.

"Later, Daniel. How about a book?"

Daniel shifted restlessly in his seat. "I don't want—"

The closing of the door captured Daniel's attention.

"Are we going to fly now?" He straightened, turning to look out the window. "We're not moving yet," he said in a disappointed voice.

He quickly leaned against Jack for a better view as the plane's attendants moved into position for the safety instructions. Jack had already noted the exits, so he closed his eyes to the soft, droning voice while Daniel leaned against his shoulder.

"We're moving," Daniel exclaimed loudly when the plane jerked as it was pushed away from the gate. There were a few chuckles around them as the stewardess continued with her spiel.

Daniel was glued to the window as the pilot came over the intercom to apologize for the delay. There would be even more delays as they waited in line on the runway, he estimated at least twenty more minutes before they were airborne.

It was with relief that the plane finally took off. Daniel had wanted to get out of his seat several times and Jack had to insist he keep his seatbelt on. But they were up into the clouds too fast for Daniel to get a good look at the houses and he sat back with a pout.

"It's all white outside."

"That's 'cause we're flying through clouds."

"No, we're not. Clouds are all fluffy." Daniel scrunched his face as he corrected Jack.

Jack laughed softly. "They look fluffy from the outside but it's just plain fog when we're in them. Wait a few more minutes and you'll see them below us."

The plane bounced around as it hit turbulence and Daniel grabbed Jack's thigh in excitement. "It's bumpy!" he exclaimed, giggling as they rocked in their seats.

Jack gritted his teeth together as he tried not to think of the warm hand still holding onto his quivering thigh. He willed his body not to react and pried Daniel's fingers off, squeezing them gently as the plane flew out of the stormy area and reached clear sailings.

By the time they'd climbed over the storm system, Daniel had lost interest with the monotonous view outside. The moment they got the all-clear to use electronic devices, he allowed Daniel to take his Game Boy out and it was with relief that Daniel finally settled down and stopped complaining.

Jack opened his novel and lost himself in it until the steward came by with refreshments.

"I'll have a coffee, please," Jack told the man. "Daniel, you want something to drink?"

"Huh?" Daniel looked up from his game and squinted at the man who had pushed a cart between the seats.

"He'll have an apple juice." Jack pulled the trays down in preparation for their drinks.

"I don't want apple juice. Can I have a Snapple?" Daniel immediately pushed the tray up, fiddled with the toggle that held it in place, and lowered the tray again.

"I'm sorry, sir, we don't carry any. We have a choice of water, tomato juice, orange juice, apple juice, Coke, Sprite..." The man busied himself with poring Jack's coffee. Daniel's eyes glazed over slightly as the selections were stated in rapid-fire sequence.

"You want water?" Jack asked Daniel as his coffee was handed to him.

Daniel shook his head. "Snapple."

"They don't have any. Coke?"

"No."

"Juice?"

"Tomato, orange or apple," the man repeated with feigned politeness.

"Can I have some apple juice?" Daniel by now had opened and closed the tray several times.

With a sigh, Jack nodded for the man to go ahead and pulled down Daniel's tray. "Leave it down." He took the juice from the steward and placed it on the tray. "Careful not to spill any on the Game Boy."

"I won't." Daniel carefully closed the cover, pushed his toy to the far end of the tray and picked up the small plastic glass of yellowish liquid.

Jack handed Daniel his complimentary pretzels and went back his novel. The next hour passed uneventfully until he began to feel stiff and sore from just sitting. He sighed and shifted in his seat.

Daniel looked at him and echoed his sigh, shutting the game off and dropping it into his bag, then dropping Lumpy on top of it. His head fell heavily onto Jack's shoulder. Jack's free hand came up to smooth down the strands of hair that tickled his cheeks. "You okay?"

"I'm bored," Daniel whined. "Really, really bored. Are we there yet?"

"We'll be landing soon," Jack lied. "Do you need the bathroom?"

"No. I just wanna get up."

"There's nowhere to go to."

"I don't wanna sit no more." Daniel straightened up and squirmed uncomfortably. "We've been here forever." With another loud sigh, Daniel dropped his head onto Jack's shoulder with a heavy thud.

"I know, Danny. It feels like we've been gone a long time. Just give it another hour or so."

"I wanna go home," Daniel whispered.

"How about you color a little bit?" Jack reached down and brought out a coloring book and the Crayola crayons. Sighing heavily as if Daniel were doing him a huge favor, he took the book and began leafing through it. When Daniel immersed himself with coloring, Jack went back to his book.

After a while Jack realized Daniel was too quiet. When Daniel coughed, Jack took a good look at him. He was leaning forward, a crayon still clenched in his grip but the movements he was making were slow and lethargic. Without even placing a hand on Daniel's face to check for fever, Jack could see the too-bright eyes, the pale skin that emphasized the darker shadows beneath Daniel's glasses. Jack swore silently when he realized he'd packed the Tylenol in their suitcase.

"You feeling okay?"

Daniel shrugged listlessly.

"Headache?"

"My tummy hurts."

"You gonna be sick?"

Lips pressed tightly together, Daniel nodded, small movements as to not aggravate the headache that always accompanied the nausea and fever. Quickly Jack unbuckled his belt and reached over to undo Daniel's.

"C'mon." Jack scooped up the book and crayons and shut the tray table, dropping half the crayons in the process.

Without a word, Daniel stood. Jack tossed the remaining handful of crayons onto his seat and led Daniel to the bathroom near the cockpit. He opened the door and Daniel, despite his impending illness, stopped in shock at the closeness of the room.

"Go on, it's a bathroom."

With a trusting look at Jack, Daniel stepped inside. Jack shut the door and leaned his shoulder against the edge of the wall. A long moment later, and the sounds of sickness reached him through the thin door.

He wanted to open the door and help Daniel but they never would have fit inside the small space. Then the door opened a crack and Daniel's sweaty face appeared. "Jack?" he asked in a small, scared voice.

"You done?"

Daniel nodded. Jack reached inside and showed him how to turn the faucet on. "Just wash your hands and rinse your mouth. You gotta go before we sit back down?"

"No." Daniel did as Jack had instructed and they returned to their seats. As Daniel buckled his seatbelt, Jack bent down and picked up the strewn crayons. He was straightening up as a stewardess approached them.

"Is everything okay?" she asked softly, glancing at Daniel.

"Headache. You wouldn't happen to have some Aspirin or Tylenol, would you?"

"Of course. I'll be right back."

As promised, she returned with the pills and a glass of water. As Daniel obediently downed the pills and half the water, Jack hoped he wouldn't puke them right back up.

A moment later the captain advised that they were on final approach.

"We'll be landing in about twenty minutes." Jack pointed to his old watch which Daniel still wore. "See, when this hand reaches here," Jack pointed to where it would be twenty minutes later, "we should be on the ground."

Daniel leaned heavily against Jack and kept his eyes peeled on the watch face. Jack could feel the heat of fever through Daniel's shirt; it wasn't high yet but enough to make Daniel shiver.

"Want your jacket?"

Daniel shook his head slowly and tried to get closer to Jack. Without a word, Jack leaned forward and took the jacket from the backpack and spread it over Daniel after stuffing the coloring book and crayons into the chair back's netting for the time being.

Daniel remained glued to Jack's side, watching the minute hands until Jack pointed out the window. Daniel turned and watched, almost disinterestedly, not moving from his position, while the plane dropped closer and closer to the treetops, until it touched down and began to taxi to the terminal.

"We'll be getting off in a few minutes. Wanna pick up your things?"

Jack had to nudge Daniel, who began stuffing the book and crayons back into his bag. Jack checked around the seats after putting his novel away, making sure they hadn't forgotten anything.

Daniel still looked unwell but seemed a little more animated as they strode through the terminal, heading for the luggage area.

"Are we going home now?" Daniel was pressed up against Jack's side, still wanting physical contact.

"We're going to get our luggage, and then go to my mom's, remember? We're not in Colorado Springs anymore."

He hoped his mom had checked out the flights on the internet before coming to the airport to meet them. He was nervous about seeing her again; it had been months since Daniel had... regressed, and he'd done his damnedest to keep her away all this time.

He knew Rose and Daniel had developed a special relationship – one that Jack was eternally grateful for. But after Daniel's latest fiasco Fraiser had decided they needed to get away and his mom had been insistent so here they were.

And there she was, grinning from ear to ear when she spotted them. She waved, and Jack hurried towards her, grabbing her in a hug and lifting her off her feet.

"Jonathan, please." Still grinning, she made a show of pushing Jack's shoulder so he'd let her go. When he put her safely on her feet, she turned to Daniel and opened her arms wide. "Mhuirnin."

To both their surprises, Daniel stepped back in alarm. He looked to Jack for reassurance but glanced back at Rose warily. Rose's face fell as realization must have fully hit her that Daniel wasn't himself anymore.

"It's okay, Daniel. You can give her a hug."

Daniel, who was rarely shy with strangers, simply held Lumpy closer and crossed his arms tightly over his chest.

"Sorry, mom, Daniel's not feeling too good so he's not at his best." He stepped closer to Daniel and put his arm around his shoulders. "Do you remember Rose, Daniel?"

Slowly, Daniel shook his head as he stared at Jack's mom.

"That's okay. I'm sure Daniel and I will get reacquainted over the next couple of days." She smiled at them both and waved her hand towards one of the empty carousels. "Your flight number's up; this is where your luggage will be coming."

* * * * *

The three of them arrived at Rose's house as if they had run a marathon and Jack ignored his mother's look of anger and disgust as he dragged an on-the-verge-of-a-temper-tantrum Daniel from the car.

"Leave the bags," he ordered. "Daniel and I are going to have a little discussion while you go inside and warm up the stew you mentioned."

"I don't want any stew," Daniel wailed, tugging against Jack's grip.

"He doesn't have to eat..." Rose faltered.

Jack cocked his head towards the house. "Go. We'll be in in a minute."

His eyes followed his mother up the walk to the house while his hands pinned Daniel in place. He waited until the front door closed before Jack turned his attention back to Daniel, his hands firmly latched onto his biceps. "How dare you! I am beyond angry with you, Daniel, and if I didn't think my mother would be disappointed, you and I would be on the next plane to Colorado Springs."

"That would be okay," Daniel whispered. "I want to go home."

Jack froze and dropped his hands. Four steps forward forced Daniel back against the passenger side of the car and Jack inches from his face. "I will not tolerate disrespect—"

"I wasn't," Daniel replied indignantly, jutting out his chin. "I don't like stew. I didn't like the perfume she—"

"Rose," Jack spit out the name.

Daniel's face screwed up in confusion. "She didn't smell like a flower."

"No!" Jack yelled. "Her name is Rose."

"Okay. Okay. You don't have to yell. I didn't like the perfume Rose was wearing." Daniel looked down and began to tick items off on his fingers. "I don't like stew. I don't like the way Rose smelled. I wanted to play my Game Boy—"

"You. Were. Rude. And that's uncalled for." He held Daniel's chin in a tight grasp, shaking just a little until wide eyes stared at him. "Look at people when they ask you a question. Do not grunt. Tell them to wait. Or to please be quiet."

"I said please."

"Arrrgh! You need to be aware. Look around. See if your actions or your words are hurtful or rude and if you have a doubt in your mind as to how they will sound—shut up and don't say them."

Daniel clamped his hands over his ears and bent away from Jack. "You're scaring me. I want to go home. I don't like it here. I don't like that Rose person and I don't like you."

Jack forced Daniel's hands down and held them against his sides. "Right now I'm tired. I'm hungry. Angry. Annoyed. Upset and I have a headache. I want a nap, a bowl of the stew and for you to behave, can you do that?"

Slowly, Daniel nodded.

"Good." Jack averted his gaze from the moisture pooling in Daniel's eyes. "I want you to go in the house, find the bathroom, wash your face, then sit at the table and try some stew. That doesn't sound too hard, does it?"

* * * * *

The headache had intensified under his mom's glare and the avoidance of contact from Daniel. The food smelled delicious, but Jack was unable to do anything beyond blow the steam away from the hot dish. Rose spent five minutes buttering a roll, her knife going back and forth over the same spot, while her gaze was glued to Daniel, whose head was bent over his dish, concentrating on breaking up the vegetables into the minutest pieces possible.

"Lumpy." Panic stricken, he turned towards Jack. "Where's Lumpy?" he demanded as he threw his fork down.

"Lumpy?" Rose looked at them in confusion.

"He was your responsibility." The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.

In surprise and shock Daniel blinked at Jack, then stood up so suddenly, his chair toppled over. "What if he was on the plane and they took him back to Colorado—"

Jack threw down his napkin. "He's not on the plane."

"Who is Lumpy?" Rose asked again.

"We gotta find him Jack," Daniel pulled on his arm. "Now!"

"Lumpy is Daniel's stuffed toy—"

"He's not a toy!" Daniel replied indignantly.

"Camel?" Rose stood and bent to pick up Daniel's chair.

Daniel released his grip on Jack's arm and turned so fast to confront Rose that the chair nearly took a tumble in the process, and only his mom's quick reflexes kept it upright. "You saw Lumpy? Where?"

"You were sitting by the luggage with him in your arms. I remember."

Daniel whipped around. "He's in the car. He's gotta be in the car. I'll go get him," Daniel began to behave manically, flapping his arms against his body. "Keys. I need the keys."

"After I finish eating, I'll go get him." Jack picked up the napkin and tucked it into his lap.

"Jack," Daniel whined, hopping from foot to foot.

"I said later!"

"I'll get him," Rose volunteered.

"Thank you."

"No, you won't," Jack ordered. He pointed to Daniel's chair with his fork. "Lumpy will still be there after we finish. Sit. Eat."

"After?"

"Jack, I'll go get the toy—"

"Lumpy," Daniel corrected.

"No, Ma, you won't. We haven't even been in this house one hour, you are not going to jump through hoops—"

"I hate you, Jack. I hate being here." Daniel backed out of the kitchen, into the hallway, a quick glance over his shoulder telegraphed to Jack exactly where Daniel was headed. Outside. To the car. To Lumpy. He gave a heavy mental sigh. Jack wasn't sure what the hell was the problem. Why he was being so unbending to Daniel? Under his mom's watchful eyes, Jack didn't want to bend. He wanted to be in control. Once again he threw down his napkin, but this time he stood and stomped off after Daniel. As soon as Jack's fingers wrapped around Daniel's forearm, the tantrum which he had been struggling to hold at bay was unleashed amidst a flurry of waving arms.

The space was confining and Jack fought to protect himself and his mother's knick knacks from Daniel's fury. Taking Daniel down and preventing injury wasn't an easy task, as he ducked around flaying arms and legs. Jack was panting and his shirt was stuck to his back with sweat by the time he managed to maneuver Daniel and back him up against the wall. Frustrated, Daniel kicked backwards hard enough to dislodge some glass object off the shelf which shattered when it made contact with the hallway's wood floor.

"Calm down," Jack ordered. "You're acting stupid."

Daniel's body went limp in Jack grasp and the sudden shift in Daniel's center of gravity pulled them both to the floor in a heap. Daniel's wail was loud, prolonged and close enough to Jack's ear that he cringed. "Stupid," he keened, elongating the word into one long syllable and with a hard twist to Daniel's body, Jack slid unceremoniously to the floor. Without his weight, Daniel curled face down onto the floor, ass in the air, knees tucked under his stomach and his arms at his side.

Jack didn't have to look up to know his mother was there. Watching. Great. Perfect timing. Leave it to Daniel to demonstrate the temper tantrums the Center had been talking about. Now. With an audience. He bent low enough to whisper in Daniel's left ear. "Get. Up."

Daniel sniffed. Shook his head no and banged it on the floor for good measure. "You. Said. I. Was. Stupid." Each word was sobbed out with a gasp of breath for punctuation. His arm shot out and he connected with Jack's thigh, hard enough to leave a bruise. Immediately, Jack's hand clamped down on Daniel's "That's enough, mister."

Daniel became a mass of arms and legs, moving his hand so quickly he dislodged Jack's grasp then flipped to his side and went after Jack with every moving part he had. Unintelligible words, in more languages than English, Jack was positive, were garbled among tears and snot. He whipped his head around and Jack saw his glasses skitter across the floor out of harm's way.

Jack looked for an opening, then threw his body over Daniel's, using his body weight to pin him to the floor, narrowly avoiding a vicious head butt thrown his way. Daniel bucked underneath him, undulating like an out of control roller coaster trying to rid himself of Jack, but he pressed him harder to the floor, amazed that Daniel wasn't faltering or even slowing down. Unable to lash out at Jack, Daniel turned his fury inward, repeatedly banging his head on the floor.

Jack jerked when something clattered to the floor, looking up in surprise at the car keys inches from his hand. "Go find Lumpy," his mother commanded.

"I'm not leaving you with—" His gaze traveled up until he met his mother's. She was angry. Twin spots of color highlighted her cheeks and her mouth was drawn in a tight straight line.

"Go. Daniel and I will manage."

"In this state—"

"We'll be fine."

"Mom!"

"Get off of him. Now. And go."

* * * * *

Jack rushed to the car, continuously glancing over his shoulder towards the front door and with every step he took he cursed his mother's stubbornness and his willingness to bend to her will.

"Where the hell are you?" Jack growled as he awkwardly bent down and slid his hands under the driver's seat, cursing when he came up empty handed. In frustration, he slammed the door shut and stood like an asshole contemplating the car. Jack didn't need to look at his watch to know that he had been out searching the car far longer than he'd intended. He jerked open the door he'd just slammed. Lumpy was in this car, Jack was positive, and he wasn't stepping foot inside that house without the stuffed, battered toy tucked safely under his arm. Part guilt, part trying to prolong facing both his mother and Daniel, Jack resumed his inspection of his mother's car in search of a camel.

* * * * *

Jack was just about to admit defeat when his third sweep of the car revealed zilch. He stood before the opened trunk shaking his head, dreading the repercussions of telling Daniel that Lumpy was lost somewhere in the airport. Jack could feel his blood pressure rise due to anger at Daniel, who for once had been incredibly lax in keeping track of the toy's whereabouts. The poor unsuspecting suitcases bore the brunt of his anger as he leaned into the trunk grabbed a handle in each hand and flung them onto the street.

"Damn." Jack slammed the trunk closed, pocketed the keys then bent to pick up the suitcase that had fallen on its side and that was when he saw it, out of the corner of his eye - an inexplicable object lying just under the chassis hidden from view by the right front passenger tire. "Lumpy?"

A grown man scrambling around on this hands and knees bending under a car was fodder for his mother's neighbors and he could just imagine the phones ringing up and down the street as he pulled Lumpy from under the car and frantically brushed away the dirt clinging to the stained brown fur before hugging the animal to his chest. Jack sighed and rolled his eyes, remembering Daniel's expression of shock as he had given him a what for regarding his rudeness to his mother. Lumpy had been in his arms at the time, funny how only now, while Jack held the stuffed toy, could he recall that.

"Come on, big fellow," he ordered Lumpy, tucking the camel under his arm then picking up the suitcases. "I know someone who is going to be glad to see you."

* * * * *

"Ma?" Weirdness personified, he had definitely expected something different when entering the house. He hadn't expected to find Daniel still lying on the floor with his mom sitting by his side, making soothing sounds as she rubbed his arm and shoulder.

"Shush." Rose whispered, pressing her pointer finger to her lips.

"He's sleeping?"

Rose nodded then pointed to Lumpy.

"Oh, sorry." Jack handed the stuffed animal to his mother, suddenly feeling totally inadequate in the face of her competence. Daniel was curled on his side, his arms crossed over his chest. His breathing was stuttered as if, even in sleep, he was trying to recover from the crying jag and tear tracks were highly visible on Daniel's red, blotchy cheeks. Daniel was a mess.

Daniel's eyelids fluttered for a moment when his mom lifted his left arm, placed Lumpy against his body then folded it back over his right arm so that Lumpy was now enveloped in a hug. His eyes opened, his breath caught and a smile of pure joy and surprise lit up his face. Daniel sighed out Lumpy's name, rubbed his cheek against the brown stuffed head. His arms tightened around the toy, curling his body protectively around it.

The yawn was long and deep and in response, Rose patted his head. "Sleep, Daniel."

"Okay," Daniel agreed, then closed his eyes and she waited until Daniel's breathing was finally slow and even.

"Get a blanket—"

"No," Jack responded, pointing at Daniel. "First, tell me how you got Daniel to obey you."

Rose ignored Jack's question, squashing any further conversation at this time with a look that should have earned her a place on SG-1. "We'll talk later," she promised. "For now I want you to dig up a pillow and blanket from the spare room."

"Maybe we should just take Daniel to the pillow and blanket in the spare room," Jack offered.

"And maybe you should just do what I ask." Her tone was tinged with an iciness that he hadn't heard for many years and he left to do his mom's bidding, muttering under his breath the entire way.

* * * * *

He and his mom were trying to pick their way through their interrupted dinner, until eventually Rose got disgusted, tossed both their dishes of congealed stew into the garbage and presented Jack with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.

Daniel snorted and coughed loud enough that Jack leaned his chair back so it was balancing on two legs and gazed around the kitchen doorframe into the hallway. "He really shouldn't be sleeping on the floor."

"Priorities, Jack. Parenthood comes down to priorities."

Slowly, Jack brought all the chair's legs onto solid ground, though he himself felt as if the ground had just shifted under his feet. "I'm not Daniel's parent." He shuddered. "I'm his caregiver."

"Caregiver," she repeated softly, agreeing to the word with a slight tilt to her head. "Okay."

Jack took a healthy bite of sandwich then washed it down with a large swallow of milk. He turned his head towards the doorway, listening intently. "He should be in bed."

"Priorities. He's sleeping. That's what's important. A stuffed camel is a priority. Happiness is a priority. Laughter is a priority. Having Daniel behave for me isn't one, Jack, nor is his misbehavior a reflection on you."

"Mom, I—"

"He's a child." She blinked, trying and failing to keep the tears where they belonged and fumbling for the napkin, she wiped her eyes. "Damn. I promised I wasn't going to cry. Hell, I tried to convince myself after all these phone calls that you were blowing this out of proportion, but when I saw him—"

"Please don't," Jack begged.

"You're right," she agreed while dapping at her eyes. "I'm thinking you've cried enough for both of us."

"It hasn't been easy," Jack admitted, tearing the remaining part of his sandwich in half.

"Don't bullshit me, Jonathan," Rose answered quietly. "It doesn't take a mother to see—"

"I have no time to wallow in self pity." Jack dropped the uneaten sandwich onto his plate and pushed it away.

"Taking care of yourself is not self pity. Where would Daniel be if something happened to you?"

* * * * *

Jack stood gazing down at Daniel in amazement. Except for a cough or two, a few mutterings in a language close enough to English to not arouse suspicion, he hadn't moved. "D'ya think he's comfortable?"

"Obviously, it's comfortable enough," his mom countered, bending down before Jack could place a restraining hand on her shoulder.

Damn, Jack had wanted to check on Daniel, but had held back fearing his mother's wrath if he disturbed the sleeping man. He watched in annoyance as her hand gently swept the hair from Daniel's forehead, paused and then moved on to his cheek. "No wonder he wasn't himself, he's got a touch of fever." His mom shook her head, pulling the blanket up around his shoulders. "Maybe you're right, Jack, maybe we should wake him up—"

"No. No, Ma," Jack hurriedly added as he bent down and swooped his mom into a standing position. He didn't have the heart to tell her that the fever was a more common than not nightly occurrence, no matter where he was sleeping. "You're right, I've learned from experience to leave a sleeping Daniel, sleep.

* * * * *

Jack spent the majority of the night tossing and turning until around oh two hundred hours when he finally got up, tiptoed past the closed door of his mother's bedroom, got a glass of water and checked on Daniel. Both the blanket and Lumpy were readjusted and a quick brush of his fingers onto a sweaty forehead revealed the fever had broken. Then he peed and went back to bed, leaving his door open, expectantly waiting for Daniel to awaken.

Into the darkness he smiled as he heard the squeaking of his mother's bedroom door, followed by the soft swish swish of her slippers on the wood floor as she followed in Jack's footsteps.

He awoke disoriented, and for a minute he panicked at the smell of food, his imagination working overtime as he pictured Daniel in the kitchen, unsupervised, until his mother's laughter, echoed by Daniel's, drifted in through the open doorway. Daniel was in good hands and from the sounds of his giggles, obviously enjoying himself.

Stealthy he crept along the corridor towards the kitchen, hugging the wall, staying out of sight with the intention of eavesdropping on Daniel and his mother's conversation.

"Jack's waffles are good, Rose," Daniel said, and Jack could hear and picture in his mind the clinking of the fork against the plate as Daniel ate. "But they aren't as good as yours," Daniel enthusiastically added. "I love yours."

Jack could just imagine the sense of victory running through his mother's evil mind. He knew what she was up to. She'd probably put those tiny chocolate chips into the waffles, the dark chocolate ones, the outrageously expensive ones, not the yellow bagged, bought at the grocery store, milk chocolate Hershey's that Jack kept in his kitchen.

"Why thank you, Daniel. I actually taught Jack how to cook these."

"You let him mix the batter and use the machine?"

"Yes. Of course."

"Jack never lets me cook. Ever. Sometimes he lets me mix the salad, and one day me and Jack made pizza, and I always set the table and help clean up, but cooking is too dangerous for me. Jack said so."

"Yeah, Jack has a tendency to be a bit cautious." There was the sound of pots being shuffled around, their sound loud and disruptive to the conversation Jack was trying to hear.

"Jack's smart and he's always, always careful," Daniel answered with a sigh loud enough to carry into the hallway. "I got this scar, see, right here. And Lumpy—see, he got this because I wasn't careful." Daniel sighed again. "Jack said it was his fault because he fell asleep but I told him it was my fault for not listening to him."

Jack cringed. The sleeping on the job bit was definitely something his mother was going to be discussing with him, ad nauseam, at a later date.

"See that's the problem, Daniel. You need to cook with Jack."

"He's really busy. Most of the time we order from the papers with pictures of food in the basket in the kitchen. Or sometimes we just drive through places."

Jack groaned. This was so not endearing him to his mother.

"Well, this is a vacation for you and Jack. So he's not going to be busy. Would you like to cook with me?"

"Really? You'd show me how to use the waffle machine and do things more than just mixing the salad?"

"Gladly. And how about we make you a recipe book with all the ingredients used for each meal and then you can bring it home to read and make—"

"I can't read."

"Oh." Jack could hear a thousand different emotions in that one word.

"No, I can't read," Daniel stated a matter of factly. "So Jack reads to me. Every night. He's never too busy for that. Sometimes he picks the books. Sometimes I pick 'em. You know the other Daniel could read—how about," Daniel added, "we put pictures of the stuffs I need. I understand pictures. A picture recipe book."

Silence. Obviously, his mom was still trying to process a Daniel that was unable to read. Time to effect a rescue. He cleared his throat, coughed a few times, then made a grand entrance. "Morning."

Jack kissed his mom's cheek and ruffled Daniel's hair on the way to the fridge. "Shower today, buddy. You skipped one last night."

"Don't you dare drink out of the juice carton!" Rose warned.

"Oh, Jack, your mom yells at you like you yell at me."

"He yells at you?"

"I do not yell at you," Jack hissed, pouring himself a glass of juice.

"You can tell me, Daniel, does Jack yell at you?"

"I do not."

"I didn't ask you, Jonathan. I was asking—"

"Jonathan?" Daniel giggled then looked at Jack.

"Mom!"

"I thought your name was Jack?"

"Oy," Jack moaned. It was going to be a long week.

* * * * *

Dangerous territory. Jack shadowed Daniel around while he examined the photos his mother had littered every flat surface in the living room with.

"Mom, are you almost ready?" Jack yelled, trying to hurry her along. The "teaching Daniel to cook safely" bug had taken deep root and the three of them were on their way to purchase ingredients for friendly recipes that Daniel could make.

"Sorry. There are just a few more recipes I want to—"

"Who's the man in the picture?" Daniel interrupted, holding up a picture of Jack and his father.

"That's my father," Jack replied promptly, plucking the picture from Daniel's hands and placing it back on the end table.

* * * * *

His mom dragged the two of them to more stores than Jack believed Daniel had patience for, but he was surprised at Daniel's willingness to follow his mother in and out of little shops. He talked, she listened, and Jack watched as she patiently answered his questions or just smiled at his chatter.

Daniel balked at the door to the bookstore, and Lumpy, who had been in Daniel's backpack the entire shopping expedition, made a sudden appearance. He hugged the toy close and stepped back, right into Jack, who held him place and shook his head and mouthed the word "no" to his mother.

"I'd like you to come in here with me," Rose asked softly, ignoring her son's plea.

Daniel used Lumpy to point to a nearby bench. "Lumpy and I will wait right there. I promise we won't move."

"I want to read to you." Rose opened the door.

"Like Jack does?"

"Yes, like Jack and I don't know what type of books you like." She raised her hand, holding it out to Daniel. "Would you like to show me?"

"Why don't we just go to the library?" Jack commented. "Daniel has tons of books at home."

"He doesn't have tons of books at this home, Jack," she sniffed before turning her attention back to Daniel. "Ready?"

Hesitantly, Daniel nodded but instead of reaching for Rose's outstretched hand, he searched out Jack's, gripping it tightly.

* * * * *

All it took was the Nickelodeon display to break down Daniel's barriers. And Jack's. It was the look of awe as Daniel ran his fingers over the brightly covered books. The loud sigh of contentment and the soft, "Oh, wow," and suddenly Jack found himself standing in the romance aisle, heart pounding, hands shaking, with blurry vision. He hated this weakness, this inability of his to release the past. Sometimes all it took was a look, a word or smile from Daniel that was so reminiscent of the other Daniel that it all came flooding back.

"I'm sorry, son."

Jack averted his face from the gentle presence of his mother. "Nothing to be sorry about." His voice was gruff, forcing itself past the lump in his throat.

"You've never taken him into a bookstore, have you?"

"Once in the beginning... no, not recently." Jack shrugged. "There didn't seem to be any need. He can't read and it seemed, I don't know, too much like torture." Miraculously, Jack found a tissue pressed into his hand. "Daniel remembers, you know."

"Remembers?"

"Segments of his life. Things he used to be able to do, that he no longer can."

"Like reading?"

"Yes, like reading." Jack bent around the end cap of the aisle, smiling sadly at the sight of Daniel sitting on the floor by the children's display, leaning against a large carpeted block, using his finger to trace a line of words. At this distance, Jack could see his lips moving, but was unable to hear whatever words he was sharing with Lumpy. Jack turned to face his mother. "The first time I made the attempt to take Daniel to a library, he accused me of trying to recapture the other Daniel." He shoved the tissue into his pocket. He refused to use it now after all this time, no sense crying over things that weren't changing. "Take it from me, it wasn't a pretty sight." Jack surprised his mother with a gentle kiss to her forehead. "Thank you."

Horrified, Jack watched as her lower lip quivered and tears filled her eyes, but she waved away the tissue he had stuck in his pocket, shaking her head at the offer.

"Give me a minute," she begged.

And he did, studying the titles and exposed bosoms on the covers of the books sitting on the shelves. He looked at his mom only when she cleared her throat. "Daniel doesn't remember me so in his mind I can't remember the other Daniel," she said with sadness.

Screw the tissue. Jack pulled her into a bone crushing hug.

* * * * *

Jack knew the signs. The whiney responses. Saying no when he really meant yes. The slow blinking, the deep sighing, the almost out of touch with reality. It was up to him to teach his mother to learn how to read Daniel's signals. Jack flicked the TV from ESPN to Nickelodeon. Gratefully, Daniel smiled at him.

"I'm going to get a drink, do you want something?"

"No," Daniel answered, already lost in the action on the screen.

Jack's hand swept Daniel's forehead and even before Daniel shrugged off Jack's concern, he could feel the warmth. He should have known. "Head hurt?"

Daniel shrugged, rubbing his hand over his stomach.

"How about some cinnamon toast?" Jack asked as he grabbed a throw pillow and placed it against the bolster of the couch, patting it in invitation. "I'll make a tray like my mom used to make for me when I had a headache. Toast. Tea. St. Joseph's baby aspirin—"

"I'm not a baby."

"No, you aren't, but in those days that was the name of the medicine I used to take."

"When you were little, like in the pictures with your dad?"

"Yup, just like that." Jack patted the pillow again and Daniel took him up on his offer and lay down with a deep exhalation.

* * * * *

"Where's the bread?" Jack asked as he opened and shut cabinets.

"What are you doing? I was just going to call Daniel in to help." Her arm swept the food filled counter. "He wanted to learn to cook."

"I know," Jack agreed. "And you're going teach him. But, mom, believe me when I tell you, now is not the day to attempt it."

"You know, maybe babying him—"

"Come here, mom," Jack tugged at his mother's elbow and pulled her to the opening where she would be able to see into the living room. "See him? Notice how Daniel's holding his hand against his stomach, he's torn between hunger and feeling nauseous. And that there—watch as he continuously rubs his forehead against Lumpy's head. Headache. The flushed cheeks. Fever."

"Jack?" She turned towards him, a thousand questions in her eyes. "He's sick?"

"No." Jack smiled gently at his mother. "This is Daniel. The fever. The stomach upset. The headaches. The temper tantrums. You gotta notice what Daniel won't tell you, Ma."

"He doesn't want to cook tonight."

"No."

"Bread as in cinnamon toast?" She gave Jack a knowing smile and began to put away the ingredients cluttering up the counter.

Jack kissed her cheek. "You're learning."

* * * * *

"I'll sleep on the couch."

"Oh, god, Jack, I never even realized... I mean." His mother blushed.

"I can't share a bed with him."

"No, of course not," she quickly agreed. "I'll sleep on the couch."

Jack laughed. "I'm not letting my mother—"

"For tonight..."

"For tonight, I'll sleep on the couch."

"Tomorrow we'll borrow a cot..."

"Tomorrow. Tonight the couch is mine."

* * * * *

Daniel had eaten, showered, picked two books for Rose to read to him but made Jack sit with him until he fell asleep, which took over an hour. Jack had stayed twenty minutes longer, watching Daniel toss and turn until he finally settled.

Then his mom had prepared a simple dinner for the two of them and they had eaten and talked. Well, Jack talked, which sort of surprised him, but it was nice to have someone to understand how much Daniel's affliction was affecting him, as well as Daniel.

By twenty three hundred hours he insisted she go to bed, argued once again for good measure over the couch and now Jack was lying awake, staring into the darkness.

* * * * *

"Shit," Jack stumbled off the couch, tripped over the coffee table and kept his body upright only by grabbing hold of the love seat. "Damn." He hurriedly limped into the bedroom, arriving just behind his mother, Daniel's cries had been loud enough to wake the entire block.

Daniel was on the bed, cowering, shaking, stuck in some indeterminable nightmare of SG-1's making. Mumbling unclearly, Jack scrabbled past his mother and threw himself over the bed to gather Daniel up in his arms. The last thing he wanted or needed was allowing his mother to have a peek into what Daniel had done for a living. She was far from stupid, and it would only be a matter of time and a few well placed words, for his mom to connect the dots. Jack knew she was almost halfway there.

"Daniel."

He lifted his tear stained face to Jack. "It all goes away," he murmured.

Slam in the gut words and Jack wasn't sure if Daniel was standing on a balcony on a dreary October morning or talking about his life at the moment. "We'll get it back." Jack lied as badly now as he had back then.

"You have no idea what I'm talking about." Daniel dropped his head against Jack's chest and sniffled once.

Jack kissed the head leaning against his chest. "No, I don't. But I'm here, okay? I won't let go."

* * * * *

Jack shuffled into the kitchen, sorely disappointed that his mom hadn't started a pot of coffee or had even turned the tea kettle on. She was sitting at the table, hands folded, slowly twiddling her thumbs.

"Go back to bed, Jack."

"Ma." He made a move to pull out a chair.

"Don't." Her smile was tight and forced. "Just don't."

"I'm sorry. I guess seeing Daniel this way—"

"You don't get it, do you?" Her laughter was harsh and bitter. "This is about the lying. Accident my ass."

"Mom!"

"I'm angry, Jack, and I'm not going to apologize. This," she waved a hand towards the bedroom, "isn't about Daniel hitting his head."

Jack opened his mouth then shut it under her scathing scrutiny.

"I don't expect the truth, but I do expect honesty."

"How can I do that?"

"You figure it out," Rose said rising. "I'm going back to bed. You can do whatever the hell you want."

* * * * *

The fever was still there in the morning, along with bleary eyes, a runny nose and an annoying cough.

"Poor baby," she said, brushing the hair off of his forehead as she placed a cup of steaming tea on the table before glaring at Jack.

Daniel moved the tea and crossed his arms, dropping his heavy head into them. "Not a baby," he replied with absolutely no conviction in his voice. Jack got up, retrieved two ice cubes, plopped them into the tea then added a generous amount of sugar.

"Drink the tea, Daniel."

Daniel stuck out an arm and slid the tea right under his nose and inhaled deeply. He planted his lips around the edge of the cup and slurped.

"Daniel."

"Shush, Jack, let him drink."

"He's—"

"Slurping, I know. He sounds like you when you drink soup."

Daniel giggled and the tea bubbled over the side of the cup. He looked up and her and smiled, wiping his mouth with his arm. "I like you, Rose. You're funny."

* * * * *

Jack dropped the box onto the floor and the bags onto the chair, then under his mother's watchful eyes, he put the bags on the floor as well.

"I could've just called my friend and borrowed a cot; there was no need to go through any of this trouble—"

"What is it, Jack?" Daniel was lying on the couch, covered with the blanket Jack had used to sleep and his head was resting on the pillow that had been Jack's. He turned and coughed into the pillow.

"How are you feeling?"

He shrugged and held Lumpy tighter, using his head to wipe his nose.

"Tissue, Daniel," his mom said before Jack could even open his mouth.

"She's fast, huh?" Jack whispered as he bent to kiss Daniel's temple.

"Worse than you," was Daniel's hoarse reply. "She hovers and," Daniel coughed, then lowered his voice to a barely discernible whisper, "your mom wanted to come with me to the bathroom. I kinda had to yell at her." Guiltily, he glanced at Rose.

"I would've yelled also," Jack confided. He fixed the blanket around Daniel's shoulder then moved over to the box on the floor.

* * * * *

"I wanna sleep on that," Daniel exclaimed as he looked down at the air mattress Jack had just blown up with the aid of the enclosed pump. Before Jack could stop him, Daniel dropped down onto the mattress, giggled as it bounced under his weight then laid spread eagle across its length and width. "Ahhh." He made a few imaginary snow angels against the faux suede covering, then curled into a ball, sighed deeply, and shivered. "Blanket." He stuck his hand out blindly, waving it towards the couch.

"Bed?"

Daniel patted the mattress. "I am in bed."

Jack flapped the blanket over Daniel's body, then allowed it float down, smiling at the look of sheer ecstasy on Daniel's face.

"Lumpy?"

"Oy," Jack kidded as he made Lumpy walk over to Daniel and smothered his face with stuffed toy kisses.

* * * * *

Jack stuck his hand over his mother's shoulder and pilfered a chip from the luncheon plates she was preparing.

"Hey!"

"I'm thinking Daniel's can be put on hold for a while."

"Why?" She turned to face Jack, a plate in each hand, a look of concern on her face.

"I stuck in the SpongeBob video I bought and the last time I looked, the yellow sponge was busy making Krusty Krab Cakes and Daniel was valiantly fighting but losing the battle to stay awake." Jack stole another chip then took the plates from his mom. "Kitchen?" he asked, balancing them like a waiter.

"Kitchen."

* * * * *

Daniel's cough interrupted their lunch and both Jack and his mother paused with their sandwiches halfway to their mouth, and waited.

"Do you want me to call my doctor?"

"I'll call Fraiser after Daniel wakes up and we get some Tylenol into him." He pulled the crust off his bread and popped it into his mouth. "I'm sorry. The temper tantrum. The mattress. Daniel being sick." He rolled his eyes. "I feel like we're... I'm..."

"You're my family. You and Daniel, so I would advise you to not go any further with this conversation."

* * * * *

Jack hung up the phone and turned right into his mother. "Daniel's right. You do hover."

"What did Janet say?"

Jack shrugged and then looked over his shoulder into the living room. "Just what I thought she would say."

"Which is?"

"Call her if the fever goes above 103 or if he seems to be having trouble breathing. Or if his stomach hurts. Or he complains about—actually she just asked that I give her a call within twenty four hours." Jack grimaced. "Seems that we've brought either a virus or the flu to your house."

His mom surprised him with a quick hug. "No, you didn't, you brought my sons to visit me."

* * * * *

Jack woke up with his arms full of feverish Daniel. "Shit!" He jerked away so fast, pulling his arm out from under Daniel so quickly, that he had to reach out and grasp Daniel's shoulder before he fell off the bed. "What are you doing here?"

Daniel mumbled something incoherent before burying both himself and Lumpy even deeper under the blanket.

With a flash he remembered the dream Daniel had woken him from. Not so subconscious memories and feelings that obviously had been triggered by Daniel in his bed. Oh, god. He drew a deep breath and fought to ignore his deflating hard on, waving away his own heat before he uncovered Daniel and placed a hand on his forehead.

"Betcha feeling pretty lousy."

Daniel nodded.

"Wanted company?"

Daniel shook his head. "I wanna go home."

"Soon," Jack lied.

"I want my own bed." Daniel's hand snagged one of Jack's pillows and it disappeared under the blanket.

He used his thumb to wipe away the tears leaking out from under Daniel's closed lids. "Would you like to stay here with me tonight?"

The forbidden was accepted enthusiastically; even sick, Daniel knew this was a treat and he made no comment except for sighs of contentment as Jack covered him with the blankets, tucking them tightly around his body. Jack smoothed them down, rechecked the blanket's security then he lay on top of the coverings, one hand on Daniel to keep him an arm's length from Jack while the two of them slept.

* * * * *

This position was horrible for his back. Scrunched down in the couch, Jack's legs were extended far enough that he was able to rub Daniel's back with his sock covered foot. Daniel shifted on the air mattress, moving closer to Jack with a cough.

"Nice cough, big guy." Jack stretched his leg out and ran it over Daniel's blanket covered arm, eliciting a miniscule chuckle.

"That's tickles." Daniel's voice was deep and raspy.

"Laughter is always the best medicine." For good measure, Jack poked Daniel with his big toe.

"Yeah?" Daniel said, flipping around so fast that Jack hurriedly pulled his legs back to save them from being trapped under Daniel. "If that's true, why am I taking that yucky cough medicine?"

" 'Cause sometimes too much laughter makes you cough."

Daniel eyed him suspiciously. "You're fooling with me, right?"

"Who me?" Jack blinked innocently.

Daniel's giggle turned into a cough which made him giggle even more.

"Hold that thought," Jack commanded when the phone rang. His mother had left to go to the store to pick up some items to make chicken soup with and she had promised to call on her way home to ask Daniel what he wanted for lunch.

Daniel flopped back over onto his stomach, his gaze following Jack as he stepped around mattress-displaced furniture to get to the phone. "If that's Rose tell her I want chicken nuggets from McDonald's and fries."

"Hello, Ma?"

"I don't think so," a lightly accented voice answered.

"Oh, sorry," Jack apologized.

"Don't apologize—oh, is this...?"

"Who's this?"

"Jenna. Jenna Reizner."

"Who are you looking for?"

"Rosie O'Neill."

"Rosie?"

"Jack, is that Rose?" Daniel asked impatiently, his head peeking through the opening between the living room and the kitchen. "Tell her not to forget the barbeque sauce for the—"

"No," Jack mouthed and waved Daniel back to the living room. "My mother's not here."

"I know your mother from our monthly book club." The woman took a breath, but too quick for Jack to interrupt and cut the conversation short. "And when she said she couldn't make it this Wednesday because her boys were coming for a visit, well, she was practically beaming."

"Boys?"

Jenna chortled. "That's what she calls you. 'Her boys'. Your mother talks about you all the time. You make her so proud with all your adventures. Though I have to say, she's been worried about you lately." The woman's voice lowered down to a whisper. "It's such a pity about your friend... Daniel." Her voice descended even an octave lower. "Such a waste," Jenna tsk'd. "All that brilliance, gone in a blink of an eye. Though Rosie never exactly said what type of accident the poor child had."

"I'll tell my mother to give you a call—"

"And you. You're such a brave man to care for him, I mean, personally, I don't think I would be able to look af—"

"Ms. Reizner, I'll make sure to have my mother call you the minute she returns." Jack hung up the phone.

* * * * *

"Quit pacing, Jack, you're driving me nuts." Rose slid a plate of boiled chicken along the length of the counter. "If you need something to do, here, you can shred this —"

"A friend of yours called today."

"Oh, who?" Rose scraped the sliced carrots off the cutting board into the simmering soup.

"Jenna Reizner."

"Oh, crap. I was supposed to drop off the book for next month's—"

"I don't appreciate you discussing my personal life with your friends."

Slowly, Rose put down the cutting board, then lowered the flame under the pot before she turned to face Jack. "Discussing your personal life?"

"She gave me her condolences regarding Daniel's condition."

"That was sweet of her," Rose answered distractedly as she salt and peppered the soup to taste.

"Sweet? Sweet?" Jack's voice rose. "Do you even hear what you're saying?"

Rose placed the salt and peppershakers on the counter. "Okay, I'll be the first to admit that condolence was the wrong word to use, but you have to forgive Jenna, she spends a lot of time taking her foot out of the mouth. But her heart was in the right place, she didn't mean—"

"I don't care if it was Joe Schmoe on the phone. What concerned me was that anyone outside of," Jack pointed to himself and his mother, "us, knows about Daniel."

"You're ashamed?"

"I. Am. Not. Ashamed," Jack yelled, then took a deep breath. "I don't want pity and I certainly don't want to be the subject of a bunch of women's beauty parlor gossip."

"First off, Jonathan O'Neill. This is my house and I refuse to allow you or anyone else to speak to me in that tone of voice." She took a menacing step towards him. "And second, answer me this, do you believe I exist only when you and Daniel need me? That I have no life outside of you?"

"No, I never—"

"Damn straight, you never. You never think of me as a person. I'm the obligatory phone call. And sometimes, the after-the-fact phone call."

Jack opened his mouth, then shut it under his mother's hardened glance.

"Smart move, Jack. You've talked more than enough." She drew a deep breath, squared her shoulders and stood tall. "I have friends. The people I see every day. The people I talk to on a daily basis. The ones who know about my aches and my pains, the TV show I saw last night, the book I've just finished reading. My daily life.

"You're my family, Jack. And I laugh when you laugh, I love who you love, I cry when you cry and I hurt when you hurt, but I can't always do all of those things in private, I am not that strong. So I share with my friends how proud I am of you and how you make me worry. Parental things, Jack."

"And Daniel?"

"I was ecstatic that you found someone who loved you and my friends were happy with me and when Daniel—they cried with me, Jack."

"Mom—"

"Don't 'Mom' me," Rose shouted. "I don't want to hear a word from you about how I handle my hurt when it took you weeks to call me and then months to visit."

"I'm sorry." Jack dropped his gaze and studied the floor tiles. "I couldn't handle it myself—"

"See, therein lies the problem. Coming to terms with Daniel's accident shouldn't be a sole endeavor. I learned that lesson when Charlie died."

"I'm sorry—"

"There's no need to apologize. I'm clearing up a misconception. Like that tree in a forest scenario. I do cry and laugh—without you being around to hear me." She picked up the ladle and stirred the soup simmering in the pot. "Subject closed."

* * * * *

With his mother, closed meant closed. The subject was dead and buried and not to be resurrected. Even during his teenage years, when most of his friends' parents would lament about being out past curfew, not his mother. Hell, even now, in his forties, he had never met anyone as stubborn as she was. She literally put Daniel to shame... Change that. She had put Daniel to shame with her stubbornness, now there wasn't even another contender for the title.

What he had learned was to go forward. File away the discussion and never, ever forget it. So the remainder of the afternoon was spent with the smell of a huge pot of chicken soup cooking, Cartoon Network and a Daniel who was still not up to speed. Slow and draggy with a low-grade fever that was making him achy and cranky no matter how many Tylenol he had been given. They had soup and sandwiches for dinner and he kept both his tongue and his temper when Daniel refused both until it was time to clear the table.

"Sit," he said to his mother as he placed a hand on her shoulder. "Stay and keep Daniel company, I'll clean up." Jack turned to Daniel. "And you, half the soup and maybe a quarter of the sandwich. Think you can do that?"

Suspiciously, Daniel gazed at the soup, eyeing the contents as the carrots, noodles and chicken swirled around the bowl as he stirred with his spoon. "Can we call Sam and Teal'c when I finish?"

"It's a possibility and maybe we'll even call Grandpa George and Doc Fraiser."

"Can I talk to Cassie?"

"If you finish your soup," Jack ordered as he picked up the cups.

"Half the soup."

"All of the soup and half a sandwich," Rose interjected, "and I'm sure Jack will let you dial the phone to call your friends."

"Do you have a lot of friends, Rose?" Daniel asked after the first spoonful.

"Yes, I do. Friends are very important, don't you agree?"

Daniel slurped another mouthful of soup loud enough for Jack to hear over the sink's running water. "Sam and Teal'c are my friends. So is Grandpa George even though he's old."

Jack smiled at his mother's burst of laugher. "Grandpa George?"

"Jack's boss and he used to be my boss, too, but now he's just Grandpa George. He lets me sit in his office and color and I even got to speak to the President. Have you ever spoken to the President, Rose?"

"Why no, Daniel, I can't say that I have."

"Maybe you should come visit us where Jack works. I'm sure Grandpa George would let Jack's mommy talk to the President."

Jack heard the scrape of Daniel's chair as he moved it closer to his mother. "Jack's a very important person," Daniel whispered. "And so is Sam. And Teal'c. But not me. I used to be. But I'm not anymore. The other Daniel, the one that Jack misses so much, he was important, but now people just call me special."

* * * * *

After dinner Daniel had fought him every step of the way, from his bath to his choice of pajamas to where he was going to sleep. Bouncing from the bed to the air mattress until his mother must have seen his inability to hold onto his temper and volunteered to read to Daniel. He left with a quick kiss to Daniel's cheek, a smile of extreme gratitude towards his mom and headed outside.

Fresh air. He breathed deeply, filling his lungs with fresh, cool air, wondering whatever possessed him to believe a vacation to his mom's would be restful. Jack paced the deck off the den countless times, wishing for a punching bag or a Goa'uld to bear the brunt of his frustration.

On paper, everything seemed to be a good idea, but he had to admit, the only idea that had worked had been the one to the Amusement Park. Why? Daniel was loved and revered on Abydos. And here? No one loved Daniel more than his mother. So what the fuck? Maybe it was him. Maybe he himself was sabotaging the different scenarios.

"Don't beat yourself up over this, Jack." She stepped out onto the deck, sliding the door only halfway. "Just in case Daniel needs anything," his mom answered with an apologetic smile.

"Beat myself up over what?"

"A bad day."

Jack snorted. "Mom, the past months have been filled with nothing but bad days."

"A lot of it is your own doing, you know."

"No, I don't know," Jack replied sarcastically. "Why don't you tell me?"

"There was no need to wait this long to visit. Or even have me to your home. An extra pair of hands lightens the burden."

"You think Daniel's a burden?"

"Jonathan!" she yelled. Loud. His mom had gone from understanding and supportive to seething anger in zero to sixty seconds. "Do not go putting words in my mouth just because you're angry at the situation."

Jack snorted. "Anger has nothing to do with it. Hell, I'm so far past angry—" He drew a deep breath. "It's not a situation, Ma." Jack pointed at the opened door. "That's my life in there. Daniel. You may not think so, but I thought coming here would be a respite. For me. For him. But there is no respite. There is no hope."

"Bullshit. There's always hope."

"No. There isn't." He dropped his arm, shoved both hands into his pockets and walked to the edge of the deck to lean against the railing. "I used to believe there was.

"But every morning when I have to help him dress, tie his shoes, shave him. Make his breakfast, argue, drop him off at the Center for therapy, go to work, while leaving more than half my heart and my mind where Daniel is. Then I pick him up, pray he's had a good day. Make dinner. Make him take a bath. Watch TV then read to him until he falls asleep. Then I have to do all the things to keep the house running until I fall into bed just to start over the next day."

He saw it coming, his mother's need to make it all better and she approached him with arms outstretched. Jack warded it off with a wave of his hand. "A hug's not going to make this go away. It's not going to make it right or fix it or make Daniel read or—"

She slapped his hand aside and drew him into her arms, petting his head, pulling him down to her. "I'm not hugging you to make it right. I'm hugging you because I love you. I love him. And I'm sorry for everything."

* * * * *

Jack sat in the kitchen staring at his mother staring at the dripping coffee pot. Daniel's coughing had woken both of them up. Zero five hundred hours was really too early to be up, but too late to go back to bed.

"It's really unfair that Daniel's still sleeping."

"I have to agree, Jack."

"So, what do you want to do?" Jack asked evilly.

"Do you really know the President?"

"Huh?"

Rose rolled her eyes then repeated the question slowly. "Do. You. Really—"

"I heard what you said, I'm just a bit unsure as to why you would even ask such a thing." He forced out a burst of laughter. "Know the President. Please, Ma, where would you get such an idea?"

"Daniel said it."

"Daniel."

"Yup. Right here in this kitchen. Less than twelve hours ago." Rose pointed to the chair across from where Jack was now sitting. "And you were right over there."

"Mom."

"I know. I know. But dammit, Jack. Throw your poor mother a bone. Something. I promise I won't tell anyone."

"Promise?" This was so not a good thing.

"Ohmigod," Rose's hands flew to her face. "You do know the President."

"Well, not to brag or anything, but he and I have had lunch on a few occasions." Jack wrapped his middle finger around his pointer finger. "The President and I are like this."

Rose shook her head and sighed. "Now you're pulling my leg."

"Honest, Mom, I'm not."

* * * * *

This was Hell. Sitting in a doctor's office surrounding by sick people, who were sick enough to be here but not too sick to be staring at Daniel, was hell. Daniel was sandwiched between Jack and his mom, who at this moment was trying to distract Daniel by reading.

Short of flying Fraiser here to examine Daniel, which Jack had offered to do, first class, this had become their only other option when Daniel had finally woken up, still feverish and coughing. They were probably looking at bronchitis. Jack knew the symptoms, Fraiser had confirmed his concern, and insisted they go to a doctor for meds and a look-see.

"Is it our turn yet?"

"Not yet." Jack patted Daniel's thigh in sympathy.

"I don't feel good," Daniel whined. Coughing long and loud for good measure, just in case Jack wasn't sure how Daniel really felt.

"We know that, honey," Rose patted Daniel's other thigh. "Come on, let me finish the story."

"I don't understand. When I'm sick, I get to stay home and watch TV and Doc Janet comes to see me. Why do I have to go see the doctor?" He coughed again. "I'm fine."

"You just said you were sick."

"Mom!" Jack hissed, reaching behind Daniel's shoulders and poking her.

"Ow! What?"

Jack tapped his finger to pursed lips, then shook his head, mouthing the words "not now."

Jack was sure the last thing the doctor's office needed was a pissy, sick, annoyed Daniel getting into a whining match with his mother for entertainment.

"Is it our turn yet?" Daniel turned sideways in the uncomfortable chair and rested his head on Jack's shoulder.

"We're next." Jack snarled at the middle-aged couple glaring at Daniel.

"That's what you said after those other people went in. Then they called someone else's name."

* * * * *

Okay, Jack decided as he checked his watch for the third time, he needed to amend his thinking. The waiting room had been purgatory. But being in a tiny room with three adults waiting for the doctor to make an actual appearance was hell. Daniel had already given up and was curled up on the paper-covered examining table, eyes closed.

"Mom, you really need to consider changing doctors if this is what you go through every single solitary time you're sick."

"Dr. Garrett did me—us—a favor by squeezing Daniel in."

"I know, but jeeze, we've been waiting here so long that Daniel's sleeping—"

"Not sleeping." Daniel turned his face and coughed into the paper. "Lights are hurting my eyes."

"Sorry, buddy." Jack leaned over and flicked off the overhead light. "Better?"

Cautiously, Daniel opened his eyes and nodded just as the doctor walked in and flicked on the lights.

"Are we going for atmosphere here?"

"No," Daniel groused, immediately slamming his eyes shut again.

"Doctor," Jack growled.

"I'm Dr. Garrett." He nodded in Rose's direction. "Mrs. O'Neill."

"Dr. Garrett," she acknowledged his greeting with a slight nod.

He stuck his hand out towards Jack. "And you must be—"

"Colonel Jack O'Neill."

"Colonel." Garrett turned towards Daniel and bent down until he was eye level. "And you are?"

"The light hurts my eyes."

"No problem. Colonel, could you just get that switch for me?"

Jack switched off the light as Garrett adjusted the blinds, allowing the afternoon sun to light up the room. "Much better."

Daniel sat up on the examining table, Lumpy clutched in his arms, glued to his chest, warily watching Dr. Garrett observing him.

"I don't like you," Daniel decided, though his voice was slight and froggy, there was no missing the conviction in his statement.

"Okay, that's fair enough," Garrett agreed.

"Can I leave now?" Daniel gaze bounced from Jack to Rose. "The doctor saw me."

"Can I listen to your chest first?"

"Then can I leave?"

"Daniel—"

"That's right, I never introduced myself to you. I'm sorry. I'm Dr. Ray Garrett and you're—"

"Daniel."

"Nice to meet you, Daniel." Garrett patted Lumpy's head. "Hi, big guy."

"His name is Lumpy."

"Very appropriate," Garrett said. He grabbed the little stool on rollers, sat, and used his feet to drag the seat in front of Daniel. "I'm going to tell you what I'm going to do. Okay? This way there won't be any surprises."

Daniel looked over at Jack, his brow furrowed with concern. "Will there be needles?"

Jack sidled over to Daniel and placed a hand on shoulder, moving down his back, the congestion of the lungs vibrating against his palm.

"Nope. No needles." Dr. Garrett held up the stethoscope. "I'm going to listen to your chest, make you breathe. Check your ears, your throat. Take your temperature and your blood pressure."

"That's what Doc Janet does."

Jack gave an encouraging smile to both Daniel and the doctor.

"Daniel, I'm going to talk to Colonel O'Neill for a minute. So you and Lumpy stay right here with Mrs. O'Neill and we'll be right back."

* * * * *

Garrett led Jack to a small office directly across from the examination room and got right down to brass tacks even before Jack took a seat. "Developmentally delayed?" Dr. Garrett asked.

"No. Head trauma. Something that I'd rather not discuss."

"I see."

"No, you don't see, Dr. Garrett. The man sitting in the room, clutching that stuffed toy is—was a genius. Almost a year ago, Daniel was addressed as Doctor Jackson. The holder of multiple Ph.D.'s and a highly recognized civilian consultant to the United States Air Force."

"I'm sorry."

Jack drew a deep breath, exhaling loudly. "Yeah, me, too." He held up his hand to stop any more inquiries. "I'll answer questions about any allergies to medications. Anything related to his physical health, but not—"

Garrett flipped through the paperwork that Jack had painstakingly filled out. "Everything seems to be in order." He closed the slim file. "I'm sorry if I intruded. My brother is—my older brother is like Daniel. Like Daniel is now," he amended quickly and held the manila folder up towards Jack. "There was nothing in here about that and I just wanted to—" Garrett smiled. "I wouldn't have kept you waiting if I had known. Patience isn't really one of my brother's virtues so I can imagine—"

Jack smiled. "Yeah, I'm sure you can."

* * * * *

Daniel raised his shoulder and swiped at Garrett's hand as he palpitated the glands under his jaw.

"Sorry, does that hurt?"

"You didn't say you were going to do that."

Garrett laughed. "You're right, I didn't. May I?"

"No. I want to go home. Can we leave now?"

"Patience?" Jack whispered to the doctor, who nodded. Daniel had fidgeted through the whole examination, barely tolerating being touched and prodded. His mom had stood patiently in the corner, watching Garrett more than Daniel.

"I think we're done here." In one fluid movement, Garrett rolled the chair over to the counter, clicked his pen and made a few notations in the chart. Garrett got up and moved the stool by Daniel, then patted the seat. "Can I ask you to stay five more minutes?"

"Why?" Daniel plopped his feet on the stool.

"I'm giving you some medication. It's important that I know if you want cherry or bubble gum flavored."

"I'm sorry I said I didn't like you. You're nice."

"Why, thank you," Garrett beamed.

"But you should know, I like Doc Janet better."

* * * * *

Daniel was dozing on the air mattress, Jack had his shoes off, his feet propped up on the mattress and was really just a step behind following Daniel into slumber. Wearily, he opened one eye when his mother walked into the room.

"I'm going to go pick up the prescriptions the Doctor called in."

"No, mom, I'll go," Jack groaned as he unwound himself from his sprawl on the couch.

"Pffft. You can barely keep your eyes open." She slipped on her coat. "And I like both you and my car too much to put you behind the wheel."

"Me and the car?" Jack replied indignantly. "Should I be insulted?"

"No comment," Rose replied as she walked out the door.

Daniel flipped over the moment the door closed. "Is she gone?" Without waiting for an answer he dragged himself, his blanket and Lumpy onto the couch and became one with Jack. "I'm sorry," he sniffed and coughed into the front of Jack's shirt.

Jack anchored his hands on Daniel's biceps and peeled him off, then held him at arm's length. "Why are you sorry?"

"I ruined your vacation with your mom."

"How did you ruin it?"

"I'm sick."

In actuality, Jack had ruined this visit. He was a great one to lecture to his mother about reading Daniel's signals while he himself had paid them no heed. Looking back, Jack had believed Daniel's coughing to be nothing more than allergies and his erratic fever patterns as one of Daniel quirks.

Jack released Daniel and pulled him close, covering him with the blanket. "I'm sorry you're sick. I'm sorry we're not home for you to be in your own bed. And that Dr. Garrett had to take care of you and not Doc Janet." He kissed the bent head and tugged him even closer. "My sorries outnumber your sorries."

* * * * *

Jack was helping his mother unpack the grocery bags. "You were only picking up the medication, not going to the store—" Jack examined the container of ice cream he removed from the bag. "Ooohhh. Nice choice. Is this new?"

Playfully, Rose slapped his arm and pointed to the freezer. "Don't get any bright ideas. That's for later."

"I'm going to wake Daniel up and—"

"Oh, no, you're not," Rose hurriedly exclaimed. "Weren't you the one who told me to let a sleeping Daniel sleep?"

"He needs his medicine."

"And he needs his sleep."

Jack opened the freezer door, forced the ice cream into the over-packed space and gingerly closed it. He took the food items from his mother's hands, put them on the counter then gently guided her to chair. "I need to talk to you." He sat heavily in the chair, folding his hands on the table in front of him. "I need you to understand a choice I've made."

Rose sat and placed her hands atop his. "Johnny?"

"I was sick, awhile ago." He shook his head at her concern. "Nothing serious. Well, serious enough that I ended up being under Fraiser's care for a few days, which started me thinking—about my mortality. And decisions. And Daniel." He audibly swallowed and squirmed under his mother's stare. "I know you love him, but honestly—"

"For Daniel, love may not be enough. He needs strength. And family."

"You're family."

"Ah, I am in my heart, but this Daniel doesn't think of me as family. I'm your mother. Nothing more. Nothing less. He needs continuity and familiarity. I can't offer him those." Grabbing a paper napkin, Rose sniffed and blew her nose. "What are we even talking about, you're not going anywhere."

"From your mouth to whoever resides up there." Pointing skyward, Jack smiled.

"Have you made a guardianship decision?"

"The decision was actually made for me. Teal'c pointed out how he would be the obvious choice."

Jack could see his mother contemplating his revelation.

"He's a smart man. I'm sure he made his reasons quite clear."

"Definitely."

"Because you're going to live to be an old man."

"As old as you?" he asked innocently.

"Don't push your luck," Rose said sweetly.

* * * * *

With a dose of antibiotics under his belt, a puff from the inhaler, a mouthful of dinner, and a spoonful of forbidden ice cream, Daniel was a bit more animated than he had been so Jack left him and Rose playing a rousing game of Go Fish to go shower.

Standing under the rush of hot water, the laughter and coughing from the kitchen muted by the bathroom door and the shower curtain gave Jack time some very rare and much appreciated time.

* * * * *

Jack exited the bathroom, running his fingers through his damp hair and quietly went to peek in on the card sharks. "Mom?"

"Oh, Jack." She appeared shaken. Shell shocked. "Daniel's in the—" she cleared her throat and made a feeble attempt to clean up the cards scattered on the table. "In the living room, I put on a tape for him and he's..."

"What happened?"

"Damn you, Jack." She stood, shouldering him aside as she hurried to sink to fill a glass of water.

Jack watched her drink, removing the glass from her grip when her hands began to shake. He placed the glass in the sink and his two hands on her shoulders. "What happened," he gently repeated.

"I know you said it before... but he, Daniel remembers."

"Oh."

"What do you mean, 'Oh'?" Her voice was barely above a whisper, but it was clipped and angry. "Well, maybe if would have been nice to share that bit of information with me!"

"I did mention it. Remember, in the bookstore?"

"Yeah... but—" Rose growled at him.

"I'm sorry. I thought you understood."

"I thought I did as well, but in the middle of asking if I had any three's, Daniel stopped, blinked and asked me a gardening question. Something about fertilizer. I was too stunned to speak."

"I told you that sometimes that happens."

"Sometimes?" Rose squeaked. "Sometimes? I thought a miracle had occurred in my kitchen when he rambled off about his desire to replant certain annuals."

Jack sighed and pulled his mother into a hug. "Fraiser said there's no explanation as to why—"

She pushed off his chest and looked up at him. "Daniel wanted me to give you a message. Wanted me to tell you to hurry up, 'cause he couldn't hold on much longer."

"There are things—"

"I know, that you can't tell me."

"That I don't understand," Jack corrected. "About what happened to Daniel. And it scares the crap outta me." He tried to force a smile, but failed miserably under his mother's scrutiny.

"He understands what happened to him?"

Jack shrugged and hung his head. "I think at times he remembers what he lost. A glimmer of what he was before, but those instances are getting further and further apart. I guess that's why he feels he can't hold on much longer."

"I thought... maybe." It was her turn to shrug.

Jack kissed her cheek. "Welcome to the club. I thought the same thing the first time it happened. Even now, after all this time, when Daniel, the other Daniel peeks through, I think maybe this will be the time."

Rose threw her arms around Jack's waist and hugged him tightly.

* * * * *

Daniel wasn't tired, which Jack was chalking up to the medication. Rose had already turned in and though he was sitting in an upright position, Jack was drifting, fading in and out. Daniel was sitting next to him on the couch, bouncing Lumpy up and down on his lap, his eyes glued to the television even though he was humming. He dropped his head onto Jack's shoulder and brought Lumpy over to his lap, the stuffed animal doing a little jig to gain Jack's attention.

"What, Daniel?"

"I'm not tired."

"Obviously," Jack yawned.

He coughed, burying his germs in Jack's bicep.

"I bet you still don't feel great, though."

"I don't," Daniel croaked, rubbing his temple against Jack's shoulder. "My body wants to lie on the bed." Daniel bounced his feet up and down on the air mattress. "But my mind doesn't want to shut up."

"Want me to read you a story?" He turned and kissed the hot forehead, maybe it was better if Daniel did stay up for another hour or so, this way Jack could give him another dose of Tylenol and antibiotics, then maybe there would be the slim possibility that everyone would be able to sleep through the night.

* * * * *

"You're up early," Rose said cheerfully as she entered the kitchen.

Jack yawned. "I never went to bed."

"Daniel? Is he okay?"

"Fine," Jack drawled, then corrected himself. "Better. I gave him another dose of antibiotics and Tylenol before he went to sleep—"

"And since I notice he's still sleeping, there's obviously another reason why you didn't sleep." Rose paled then dropped heavily into the chair opposite Jack. "Are you really sick? Is that the reason you told me about Teal'c?"

"No. No," Jack hastily added with an emphatic shake of his head. "It was actually something Daniel said to me." Jack drew a deep breath. "I'm going to retire soon. Take Daniel and go to the cabin in Minnesota."

"That's nice, would be nicer if I knew exactly what you're retiring from."

"Ma, your badge of martyrdom needs polishing."

"I just couldn't help myself."

"I know." Jack smiled in sympathy. "Look mom," He leaned back in the chair. "Daniel's not doing well."

"I just thought you said that he—"

"Not with the bronchitis," Jack sighed. "With his skills. His learning in general. Actually in his ability to relearn old skills or even maintain the skills he's lost. He can't. And it's—going to the Center when I work is nothing more than a continuous lesson in frustration for him. I feel like I'm torturing him."

"Are you running from the inevitable?"

"Damn straight I am."

"Are you sure about Daniel? Maybe this is just a—"

"A setback?" Jack shook his head. "Nope. This is real life. Mine and Daniel's, and I think, for once, I need to get my priorities on the right track."

Rose stood up and kissed Jack on top of his head. "I'm proud of you, because I know this is a hell of a lot harder than you're making it sound. I have a feeling you're walking away from something that's a little more than just a job."

Jack grabbed her arm as she started to walk towards the stove and tugged her back, wrapping his arms around her midsection, resting his head against her stomach in a silent thank you.

* * * * *

Jack awoke to hoarse giggling and laughter filled reprimands. He dragged himself off the couch to investigate. He stood in the doorway to the kitchen and smiled. True to her word, Rose was teaching Daniel the fine art of cooking. He seemed to be wearing more than half of whatever ingredients they were working with, but he was smiling and nodding, holding the measuring cup up to the light of the window, nodding in what seemed to be understanding as Rose explained about measurements. Hands on learning, Jack thought suddenly as Daniel slowly repeated back what his mom had just said.

Jack cleared his throat and Daniel made a sudden turn, the liquid in the cup splashing over the sides. "Oops, sorry," Daniel apologized as he wiped up the liquid with his sock-covered foot.

"No, I'm sorry," Jack said, ripping off a piece of paper toweling and swiping up the splatters that Daniel missed. He stood, crumbled up the toweling and shot it overhand into the garbage. "Didn't mean to interrupt."

"Put the milk into the batter," Rose instructed, nodding as Daniel did what she asked, then took the measuring cup from him and exchanged it for the electric mixer. "Remember what I told you."

"I remember." Daniel took the mixer from her, placed it in the batter, fumbled with the switch and turned it on, smiling at his accomplishment. Rose rotated the bowl while Daniel happily mixed.

Jack peered over his shoulder. "Whatcha making?"

"It's a surprise," Daniel answered, never taking his eyes off the bowl's contents.

"Hey!" Jack cried in mock indignation.

"Leave us," Rose commanded. "Go watch TV. Read. Enjoy yourself. Daniel and I have this covered."

* * * * *

"Mom?"

She walked up to where he stood in the doorway, pushing him gently out of the way. "He's just coughing—"

"It didn't sound like just coughing from the living room, it sounded like he was choking."

"I'm fine," Daniel squeaked, holding up the large glass of water Rose had given to him.

"Try the inhaler," Jack suggested.

With a smirk, Daniel picked up the inhaler and waved it at Jack. "Rose already gave it to me." Daniel drew a shallow, congested breath. "See? It's better."

"Better?"

"Better," Rose insisted. "You need to trust me."

"It's not the trust, ma, it's the control."

"No kidding." Rose shoved Jack out of the kitchen. "The apple is still hanging on the branch with that issue."

* * * * *

"Rose said I need a bath."

Jack looked up from the magazine he'd been reading and suppressed a chuckle. "I'm thinking you need to be hosed down." Daniel had flour in his hair, something splattered across his shirt and a smudge of chocolate in the corner of his mouth, his chin and on his neck, accompanied by more than a few flour handprints on his pants. Jack tossed the magazine to the side, stood, used his index finger to wipe the corner of Daniel's mouth then waved it in front of him. "Licking the bowl and the beaters used to be my job," he huffed.

"Rose said now your job is setting the table."

"Nice," Jack mumbled as he wiped his finger across Daniel's shirt. "I've been replaced."

* * * * *

"Hmmm." Jack stood in the center of the kitchen, the utensils clutched in his grip as he appreciatively sniffed the air. "Smells great."

"Of course it does, you had the dynamic duo in the kitchen." Rose arranged the salad bowl in the center of the table.

* * * * *

Daniel was literally bouncing with excitement, bubbling over with enthusiasm and coughing more than he was eating. "Rose let me make the crust." Daniel made pinching motions with his fingers. "I didn't want to cut up the veggies or the chicken though." He pointed to his scar. "I told Rose what happened the last time I had a knife, but she showed me the right way to cut—did you know there was right and wrong way to hold a knife? I never knew that." He broke off a piece of roll and stuck it in his mouth.

"Chew and swallow," Jack commanded, pointing at Daniel with his fork. "Then eat."

"The cook only enjoys the meal as much as the people they're eating. Isn't that right, Rose? That's what you said."

Rose smiled as Jack shoved a forkful of chicken potpie in his mouth to stifle his laughter. "Don't worry Daniel, I'm thinking Jack's enjoying the meal."

* * * * *

"I mixed the batter, pre-cooked the stove—"

"Pre-heated," Rose gently correctly."

"Pre-heated the stove. Then set the timer. When the cake cooled, I frosted it. Rose even let me measure out all the things, like the oil, the eggs, the sugar—"

"Eh! Don't give away all the baker's secrets."

"Oops, I forgot."

Jack licked the back prongs of the fork. "I don't care what's in this cake. Just that it's delicious."

After dinner, Jack volunteered for clean up duty and gave Daniel a dose of antibiotic, shooed him into the living room, set him up with Cartoon Network then returned to the kitchen to help his mom. He picked up Daniel's dish and shook his head. "He barely ate."

"Believe me, he picked enough while cooking. A veggie here, a piece of chicken there, he did alright."

"Yeah, he did," Jack agreed, swiping two fingers through the frosting of the cake still sitting on the counter.

* * * * *

"Tired tonight, buddy?"

"Yeah," Daniel yawned. "I think my mind will shut up tonight."

"Good." Jack bent awkwardly to kiss Daniel. "You worked hard."

"Did I used to like to cook?"

"Yeah, ya did," Jack whispered in Daniel's ear.

He brought Lumpy up for a kiss. "Can I cook when we get home? Rose told me that she was going to get me some easy cookbooks with pictures and stuff."

Jack kissed Lumpy's nose, then used the edge of the couch to stand. "I'm not a great cook, but I can barbeque."

Daniel laughed. "Why does everything looked burnt when you barbeque?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "Everyone's a critic."

* * * * *

After lunch, Daniel roped Rose into making some muffins, and like last night's dinner, his foray into chef-hood meant he needed sandblasting to rid himself of the ingredients.

Clean, showered and dried, he took his antibiotics, used the inhaler and stretched out on the air mattress, not even commenting on Jack's choice of programming. Lying on his side, Daniel's desire to doze was intermingled with bouts of coughing.

Jack sat on the couch and rested his feet on Daniel's hipbones, listening to the TV while he attempted to finish the crossword puzzle from his mother's local paper, smiling at the childhood memories the odors wafting from the kitchen invoked. A pouring rain had begun while Daniel and his mom were baking and now the weather was conducive to doing absolutely nothing more than relaxing where it was warm and dry.

He prodded Daniel with his foot. "Did you make the brown sugar cinnamon muffins? Those are my favorite."

Lumpy popped up over Daniel's shoulder, bobbing a yes.

"Thanks, Lumpy."

The stuffed animal bowed and disappeared under the blanket. Jack smiled and moved his feet to Daniel's back, rubbing gently, feeling the rattle of congestion under his toes. He tapped the pencil against the paper, trying to pull from memory a word for the puzzle. His mother's humming as she sat at the dining room table sorting through magazines was just so comforting that Jack hadn't even realized he had drifted off until he jerked awake when the doorbell chimed.

"Ow." Automatically, his hand went to cup his neck to rub away the payback for falling asleep at such an awkward angle.

Daniel grunted, flopped onto his stomach, coughed long and hard then pulled the blanket over his head.

Rose flashed Jack an apologetic smile as she rushed to open the door and Jack had a moment to toss the paper and pencil aside and scrub the sleep from his eyes before three women his mother's age burst into the living room.

A tall, lanky, spectacle-wearing, grey haired woman stepped away from the group and shoved her hand out towards Jack. "You must be Jack. I spoke to you on the phone."

Jack rose, stuck out his hand, shook her hand, then looked to his mom.

"Jack, this is Jenna Reizner." She waved her arm to encompass the rest of the guests. "Madeline Conners and Susan Reynolds.

Jack leaned forward and shook each of the women's hands then stood awkwardly in front of them with a smile pasted on his face.

Jenna sniffed the air. "Why, Rose, something sure smells good."

"Oh, where are my manners? Come on in, gals, give me your coats and I'll put a kettle on and we can have—"

"Are the muffins ready?" Daniel asked hoarsely, his gaze flicking in confusion at the gaggle of women now standing in the living room.

"These are Rose's friends. This is—"

"Daniel," Jenna said, kneeling by the side of the mattress. "Hi, honey."

"Jack?"

"You're scaring the poor guy, Jenna," Susan admonished, tugging at her friend's arm. "And now look what we're doing, dripping all over Rose's floor and Daniel's bed." She tsk'd loudly as she guided Jenna back to the foyer to the coat rack Rose had by the front door.

Madeline, who had already taken off and hung up her coat, smiled shyly at Daniel then gave him the minutest waggle of fingers in greeting. She and Rose good-naturedly rolled their eyes at the ongoing nitpicking conversation between Jenna and Susan.

Daniel coughed and the three newcomers stopped in their tracks.

"My nephew had a cough like that," Susan replied with a shake of her head. "Pneumonia. Poor guy ended up in the hospital for weeks."

Madeline just sighed. "Rose, I hope you insisted Daniel go to the doctor."

"Of course," Rose replied indignantly.

"I went to the doctor. Dr.—" He looked up at Jack.

"Garrett," Jack answered, sidling past the group and sitting at the end of the mattress.

Daniel took up the unspoken invitation and slid over to Jack. "He gave me yucky medicine and something I need to inhale." Daniel cleared his throat and coughed again, using Lumpy instead of the crook of his arm.

"Germs. That stuffed animal is now covered with germs," Jenna said with a quick nod of her head.

"No," Daniel answered innocently, his fingers raking along Lumpy's hump. "He's covered in fur, except in this one spot where I accidentally—" Daniel huffed. "Please don't laugh at me."

Rose shot Jenna an evil look. "We weren't laughing at you, Daniel, but at Jenna, because it's quite obvious that Lumpy is covered in fur and not germs. Isn't that right, Jenna?"

"Oh, yes, of course. How silly of me," she embarrassingly tittered, waving at Daniel as she followed Rose and the other two women into the kitchen.

* * * * *

"I wanted some Snapple and a muffin," Daniel whined. "Do you think they'll leave any for me?"

Awkwardly, Jack pushed himself off the mattress, stood and offered Daniel his hand. "Let's not take any chances.

"Come on, girls." Rose got up the minute Jack and Daniel entered the kitchen and there was no mistaking Daniel's stiffening muscles. She was astute enough to understand she'd created a faux pas in Daniel's eyes. "There's not enough room around the kitchen table for all of us," she explained, grabbing the carafe and her tea mug. "I thought we'd go into the dining room. Jonathan, could you and Daniel bring the muffins and put them on the coffee table?"

* * * * *

Daniel pulled his chair as close to Jack as humanly possible and looped his left arm around Lumpy while his right hand held the juice in a death grip.

"We won't bite, darling," Jenna commented. She peeled off the top of the muffin, took a bite and hummed appreciatively. "You've outdone yourself with these, Rose."

Rose toasted Daniel with the muffin she held in her hand. "Can't take all the credit. Daniel and I made them together."

"You bake?"

Daniel smiled. "I used to bake lots."

Silence.

If Jack hadn't known any better, he'd have sworn Daniel had just said that line as payback for how uncomfortable Rose's friends had been making him feel.

"I'm just honing Daniel up on his skills," Rose countered with a smile. "He's a natural at this and I just pity Jack when they go home."

"Pity me?"

"Yeah, I think Daniel's going to bug you to update your kitchen and finally buy some new appliances."

"My appliances are fine," Jack groused, grabbing a muffin from the tray and tearing the top off a muffin.

"Daniel, does Jack still have the ugly green blender?"

Daniel nodded around the muffin he had stuffed in his mouth then took a drink of Snapple to wash it down. "Puke green, Jack calls it."

"Avocado," Rose corrected, glaring at Jack. "I think Daniel and I are going to have to do some online shopping before you leave."

"Oh, wonderful," Jack groaned.

"Online shopping? What's that?" Daniel asked.

"Using your computer, you go shopping in the store of your choice without ever leaving your house."

"Really?" Daniel turned towards Jack. "Did you know that, Jack? That's great. Jack has a computer, don't you, Jack? That's nice and new. Black, not green. Big screen. Now we can go to Toys R Us no matter anytime we wanna. Toys R Us has a place on the computer, doesn't it?"

"Sure does, Daniel," Susan answered with a smile. "I shop for my grandchildren there all the time. I'll even write down the address for you."

"That would be great!" Daniel was literally bouncing. "Won't that be great, Jack? Maybe Game Stop and Best Buy. Are they open all the time? Even during the night?"

"Twenty four hours a day."

"We can shop when we don't sleep. Isn't that a great idea?"

Jack placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder to keep him from bouncing out of his seat. "Yeah, great idea." He shot his mother an evil, vile look which she answered with an innocent smile.

"When are you leaving, Jack?" Madeline asked, suddenly changing the subject.

"Two days."

Daniel coughed and Jack pushed the bottle of Snapple back into his hands.

"Two days?" Susan questioned. "Before I took Daniel on a plane, I'd first ask Dr. Garrett if it's okay if he flies."

"It's just bronchitis, not pneumonia," Jack bristled.

Susan threw up her hands. "Okay, but I would just have Dr. Garrett give Daniel an x-ray—"

"We're not going to see Dr. Garrett any more." Daniel leaned into Jack and rested his head on his shoulder and Jack swore a collective sigh went through the group of women, his mother included. "I'm going to go see Doc Janet when I go home."

"Are you excited about going home?" Madeline asked.

"I miss my friends. My room. My SpongeBob blanket." He lifted his head from Jack's shoulder, scooted forward in the chair and began to sift through the muffin crumbs. "I don't miss going to the Center."

"Is that like a school, honey?" Jenna gazed at Daniel over the rim of her teacup.

"Daniel's therapists—" Jack began.

"No, it's not a school," Daniel interrupted. He began squishing the pieces of the muffin crumbs as he continued to talk. "I gotta go there when Jack's at work and I hate it—"

"Look, Daniel, you know the reasoning..." Leave it to Daniel to not only air their dirty laundry over high tea, but based on the looks his mother's friends where tossing down to Jack, he'd never make it away from the table alive.

"I know why." Daniel shrugged, his eyes still downcast. "That doesn't mean I have to like it."

"Look—" Jack began.

"I don't want to talk about this no more." Daniel reached for another muffin.

"Finish the one on your plate first," Jack said as he grabbed Daniel hand mid-flight.

"It's okay, Jack, there's plenty."

"No. Jack's right, Rose, there's still muffin in my plate." He pulled his hand from Jack's grasp and dropped it on Lumpy.

"I love your little friend, Daniel," Susan pointed to the stuffed animal.

"His name is Lumpy." Daniel took him off his lap and placed him onto the table. "Jack got him for me when I first became... this Daniel."

"Oh," Susan managed, hiding her blush behind reaching for more tea.

"He looks very well loved," Jenna commented.

"He is," Rose and Jack answered simultaneously.

"Lumpy's missing a bit of fur over there?" Madeline pointed to the area by Lumpy's snout where the invisible stitches had been taken.

"Here?" Daniel pointing the area on the stuffed toy without even looking. "Yeah," he sighed. "Lumpy and I had an accident." Daniel held up his palm and waved it across the table. "We've got matching scars."

Madeline tsk'd. "I bet that hurt."

Daniel examined his hand, running his finger over the smooth line. "It did," he admitted with a nod. He pressed harder along the scar then grimaced. "Sometimes it still does."

"It does?" Jack asked, peripherally aware that his mother asked the same question as he gently took Daniel's hand in his.

"It's okay," Daniel answered. "Doc Janet knows—"

"She does?"

"Don't worry, Jack," Daniel said in a voice that was so Daniel of old, Jack's head jerked up in response.

"Daniel?"

"I'm fine."

So close. God. Old Daniel was right there just below the surface and he could have kicked Jenna when she broke the spell.

"How many stitches did you get?"

"I don't know. Doc Janet made me go to sleep while she stitched it up." He averted his head, entranced by the happenings occurring outside the dining room window. "I wasn't very good."

"Well, I bet you were very brave." Susan nodded at Daniel.

Jack patted the hand he still held. "He was."

Daniel's eyes lit up. "I was?"

Rose kissed the top of his head as she walked past on her way to the kitchen. "I'm sure you were very brave. And that you've learned your lesson."

Daniel bent his head backwards and smiled into Rose's upside down face. "I did."

"So did I," Jack echoed.

Rose snorted then leaned in and touched the scar intersecting Jack's eyebrow. "Need I remind you—?"

Jack grabbed her hand. "No. No reminding. I get the idea."

"Anyone wanna see my appendix scar?" Daniel asked, starting to rise out of his seat.

* * * * *

"Nice friends, Ma," Jack said, carrying the tray of uneaten muffins back into the kitchen.

Daniel giggled, trying to juggle two crumpled up napkins. "They were silly." Daniel pouted when Jack snatched the two napkins from his hands and tossed them into the garbage. "Susan turned a funny color when I stood up—"

"And Jenna nearly snorted tea through her nose when Daniel started to unzip his pants," Rose chuckled.

"I'm glad I met your friends, Rose. Like you've met mine." Daniel moved next to her as she washed the dishes and flung an arm around her shoulder, pulling her close. Jack had to turn away at the moisture in his mom's eyes.

"Don't cry, Rose." Daniel patted her back. "I'm sure they'll come over and visit again."

She turned suddenly and engulfed Daniel in a hug, soapy hands and all.

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Daniel looked over her head at Jack, squirming. "Rose," he whined. "I like hugs but you're dripping down my back."

Stepping back, she patted him on the chest, leaving a visible soapy handprint on his shirt. "You're rattling in there."

Daniel stepped away from her and wrapped his arms around his chest. "I didn't cough all afternoon." He gazed at Jack, his eyes wide in panic. "I don't want to go back to the doctor."

"Daniel's fine, Ma. He's right. He hasn't coughed all afternoon."

Rose dried her hands on the towel by the sink. "Maybe Madeline wasn't wrong. Maybe Dr. Garrett should take a look at Daniel one more time—"

"No!" Daniel screamed. "I don't want to go back."

Jack saw it coming before his mother did. Oh, Daniel's yell caught her attention, but Jack wasn't sure if her shock encompassed his fisted hands, squared off shoulders or widening stance.

"Hate to desert you, Mom," he stuck out his hand in invitation to Daniel. "But Daniel and I are going to go watch some TV."

Daniel hesitated, glaring at Jack. "Breathe, Daniel." Jack drew a cleansing breath for an example, moving his hand up along his diaphragm, along the base of his throat and exhaling a puff of air. "Remember what Ms. Thorsen showed you?"

Daniel blinked at Jack and exhaled.

"That's good." Jack nodded encouragingly, holding his arm against his mother to keep her in place. "Can you take another magic breath for me?"

Daniel inhaled deeply, slowly relaxing his fists as he exhaled, coughing when he was out of breath.

"Great job, big guy." Jack pulled him into a hug, kissing his temple when Daniel turned his head to bury his coughing in Jack's neck.

Rose appeared behind Daniel, pressing a glass of juice into Jack's hand. "Make him drink," she whispered.

Jack guided Daniel to a chair before pushing him to sit. "Drink this," he gently ordered, placing the glass on the table in front of Daniel.

" 'Kay." He took a sip. "Can I have Lumpy?" His voice was hoarse, raspy, and it hurt Jack just to listen to it.

"Mom, how about you fix Daniel up some of special tea to go along with his antibiotics? I'm going to get Lumpy for him then he and I have a date with some TV."

* * * * *

This time, Daniel opted for the couch and not the air mattress, sprawling along its length, his head on the bolster, his feet mere inches short of Jack's lap. For the hundredth time, Jack tucked the blanket around Daniel's feet, anchoring it in place with his left hand. Watching the Food Network, Daniel had fallen asleep somewhere around the preparation of the main course, snoring loudly, leaving Jack to salivate all by his lonesome until his mom joined him, chuckling at the TV.

"Go ahead. Laugh," Jack snorted. "Gardening was hard enough but at least we could go to Home Depot. But cooking? Jeeze mom, I hate grocery shopping."

Her chuckled turned into full out laughter. "You'll survive."

"You say that in the safety of this house." Jack shuddered. "Daniel and me and grocery stores don't always see eye to eye."

"He misbehaves?"

Jack picked up the remote and flipped off the TV. "No, mom, it isn't Daniel. People are cruel."

"Aw, honey..."

Jack shrugged. "Reality." He gave a reassuring squeeze to Daniel's feet after he coughed. "People don't understand."

"You're wonderful with him."

Jack gazed and Daniel. "I'd say 'practice makes perfect', but that would be a lie. What works one day, may not work the next."

Jack squirmed under her understanding smile. "That breathing exercise," she pointed to the kitchen. "That you did with him—"

"Daniel had been on medication to help with his anger—his anxiety."

"It didn't work?"

"No, it worked too well," Jack admitted. "Daniel was pliable and agreeable and while I had thought that's what I wanted, I couldn't have been more mistaken. I missed him. He missed him." Jack waved away his mother's confusion. "So I took him off the meds, his teacher and Fraiser helped me with some breathing, which usually works, though the Center he attends had a few issues with his lack of medication and actually have recommended I check out a residential home for him."

"You're not!"

"For Daniel, I'd check out all options but I drew the line at that."

"I know that—I'm sorry, I didn't—"

"I know you didn't."

Daniel coughed, yawned, coughed again then stretched, digging his heels in Jack's thigh. "Hey."

"Good nap?"

"Nap?" Daniel rubbed his face in Lumpy's side.

"Yup," Jack said. "Flipped on the Food Network and you were snoring away."

Groggily, Daniel smiled unbelievingly at Jack.

"Honest, you napped." Jack turned to his mother. "Didn't Daniel nap?"

Rose smiled at Daniel then stood. "Ready for that special tea Jack was talking about, to go with your medication?"

Daniel distorted his face in displeasure. "Do I have to?"

"How about after your tea, I'll show you how to make corn bread to go with the stew for tonight's dinner?"

* * * * *

Daniel sat up on the air mattress and watched Jack straighten the couch pillows then move onto smoothing the blanket on his bed. "Tomorrow is our last day here?"

"Yeah."

"If I go to the doctor and he says I can't fly can we stay longer?"

"Do you want to stay longer?"

Daniel thought for exactly one second before answering Jack with a vigorous nod. "Can we?"

"I have to get back to work..." Jack patted Daniel's blanket covered foot. "You know that."

"Me? How about me? If Rose says I can stay. Can I?"

Daniel's visit to Abydos was too fresh in Jack's mind for him to comfortably say yes for at least the next fifty years.

"Let's sleep on it, okay?"

"Okay," Daniel said, sliding under the blankets. "I'll ask Rose in the morning."

* * * * *

The first screamed, "No!" sliced into his sleep, but it was the plaintive command for Jack to lay down his weapon that had him out of bed in a shot, his brain barely catching up with feet as he ran down the hall, his mother's slippered footsteps right on his heels.

Daniel was sitting up in on the mattress, eyes wide, seeing his history and not the living room in which he'd been sleeping. Jack didn't have to even touch him to see how much he was shaking.

He dropped to his hands and knees and crawled up the mattress to Daniel. Sitting, he gently ran his fingers through Daniel's sweaty strands, cursing the fever under his touch. "Just a nightmare," he crooned.

Angrily, Daniel slapped Jack's hand away, the anger and timbre of the voice was the Daniel of SG-1, and as much as Jack hated this, he wished he could prolong the nightmare just to listen to him. "Why didn't you do what I asked? Was it so hard for you to believe me? Oma had the baby..."

There was no doubt in Jack's mind that his mother was standing in the room and if he didn't manage to change the direction of Daniel's nightmare, his mother was going to get an earful of confidential information that he wouldn't be able to lie away. "I was wrong," he admitted. "I should have listened."

"Oma would have destroyed us to save the baby."

"Jack?" His mom had taken a seat at the end of the air mattress.

Daniel opened his mouth then closed it, taken back by Rose's interruption. He looked at Jack then turned his attention to his mother, blinking in confusion. "Jack?"

"It's okay, you had a nightmare."

"Oh." He dug the heel of his hand into his forehead. "Headache." Daniel squinted against the pain.

"It's the fever," Jack explained.

"Fever? I thought the antibiotics would have taken—" Rose interjected.

"How about some Tylenol?" Jack kept his gazed focused on Daniel, but signaled his mom to wait one minute.

Daniel nodded slowly, his eyes closing as if the mere movement was painful.

"I'll get it, mhuirnin." She stood and hurriedly shuffled off to the kitchen.

Daniel made no comment at Rose's pet name for him but the corners of his lips turned up in a lethargic smile. "I remember that," he sighed.

Jack kissed his temple then pushed Lumpy into his arms. "I'm sure you do."

* * * * *

Sluggishly, Jack sat up and slid his legs over the side of the bed, bending his neck back and forth to work out the kinks. He could tell by the rays of sunshine illuminating the bedroom this was way later than he usually slept and he yawned, wondering why he was so goddamned exhausted. Daniel's nightmare notwithstanding, he really should be used to interrupted sleep. Jack yawned again, stood, grabbed some clothes and headed off to take a shower.

* * * * *

"Morning, Jack." Daniel was bright eyed and bushy tailed, in need of a shave and a shower, but he greeted Jack with a sickening amount of enthusiasm.

"Morning, Daniel." He kissed his mother's cheek and headed straight for the coffee pot, filling a mug and drinking it black.

"Rose said it would be fine."

"Huh?"

"Let Jack have his coffee first." Rose patted Daniel's hand.

"Thanks, Mom," he said appreciatively, breaking off a piece of muffin from the plate on the table.

"Make sure you eat whole thing now," she lovingly reprimanded.

Jack hid his eye roll behind the raised mug.

"Are you finished yet?"

He, the muffin and the half-filled mug took a seat at the table. "I'm not finished, but why don't you—"

"Rose said I could stay with her for awhile." Daniel turned towards his mother with a thousand watt smile. "Isn't that right? You said I could stay. Jack could go home and I could—"

Jack shook his head. "I don't think that's such a good idea."

"Why not? You said last night, we had to ask Rose. So I asked Rose." Jack couldn't help but squirm under Daniel's scrutiny. "Are you mad because we didn't ask together?" Angrily, Daniel sat back in his chair then folded his arms across his chest. "Go ahead. You ask her."

"Jack doesn't have to ask me, Daniel, I already said yes."

Without a word, Jack got up, went to the bathroom, started the shower, then gathered up towels and clean clothes for Daniel, returned to the bathroom, dropped both piles onto the bathroom counter, tested the water temperature then went to round up Daniel.

* * * * *

"You, shower." He pointed at Daniel. "My mom and I are going to have a little talk."

Daniel glowered. "Are you going to make Rose change her mind?"

"Eh! You. Shower. Now."

Daniel's face folded into a deep scowl, but he got up and left the kitchen, grumbling under his breath and dramatically stomping down the hall.

"Don't lock the door," Jack yelled after Daniel, grimacing when Daniel slammed the door in response.

"Okay, there better be a good explanation for your behavior. I'm not sure if I should be hurt or angry."

"Awww, Mom." Jack dropped into the chair Daniel had vacated, shaking his head.

"What? You bring him to visit but you don't trust me with him?"

"That's not it and you know it."

"No offense, Jack, honey, but from this chair that's exactly what it sounds like."

"Daniel tried this once before with his..." Jack paused. "With his wife's family. His father and brother-in-law. A few months ago, when Daniel wasn't quite so... out of control."

"So he has tantrums. Most children do and—"

"Most five year olds aren't over six feet and won't knock you out with one punch." Jack pushed away the visuals of his mom falling victim to one of Daniel's more serious tantrums. She wouldn't stand a chance.

"You're exaggerating."

"Ma, what you saw the other day, that was a really mild episode. I've been lucky so far. He's only caused a bloody nose and some bruises, and these are with professionals trained to be around people like Daniel. He's a time bomb waiting to happen. The only way I could condone him staying with you is to put him back on the meds and I really don't want to do that to him." Jack reached up and caressed his mom's cheek. "Or to you."

Rose took Jack's hand and clasping it in both of hers, lowered it so it rested on the table. She rubbed her fingers along his for a moment before letting go. "So his wife's family... he didn't have these problems at the time he stayed there? The way you said it, it sounded like it didn't quite work out."

"They love him and on paper it looked good—"

"And I hated it." Daniel stood dripping in the doorway. His hair was plastered to his head, dripping down his neck, he was barefoot and his shirt had wet patches where he'd just skipped the towel over his body, the only proof that Daniel had actually gotten under the water flow despite it probably being the world's shortest shower.

"They love you, Daniel." Jack reprimanded.

Daniel sneezed, and before Rose or Jack could stop him, wiped his nose on the hem of the tee shirt. He sniffed. "I never said I didn't love them. I hate where they live... it's hot and smelly with no TV and 'lectriticy —"

"Go dry off before we discuss the merits of Kasuf's home."

"No. You're going to talk about me... I know that's why you made me go take a shower."

Rose smiled. "Jack's right. Go dry off and I promise I won't let him even talk about the weather while you aren't in the room."

"Promise?"

"Promise. I want that hair dried. Get another shirt and put on socks."

"Okay."

Jack waited until Daniel was out of earshot. "You know, you always did like him best."

Rose's responding smile didn't match the sadness in her eyes. "I'm guessing that I'll never find out where Daniel's in-laws live, will I?"

"Do you want me to lie?"

"No," Rose said. "I don't."

"Shush," Jack said. "You promised Daniel we wouldn't talk."

"No, Jack. I promised Daniel you wouldn't talk." She smiled wickedly at him. "I never said I wouldn't be a prying, nosy old woman."

Jack stood. "Mom, I need you to understand I have to talk to Daniel alone." He bent and kissed her cheek. "There are certain things that we..."

"Things along the lines of Daniel's in-laws?"

Jack knew the hurt without being hurt look that flashed across his mother's face, but he refused to call attention to the sad eyes or slight smile of disappointment. "Yeah." Jack nodded his head. "Things like that."

* * * * *

Daniel was sitting with his back up against the headboard with his chin resting on knees tucked close to his body.

"This isn't like Abydos," Jack explained, pacing.

Daniel giggled. "Even I know that. Rose has lights. And 'lectriticy, cold water and good food." He patted the bed. "I have pillows and an air mattress, TV." He drew a deep breath and continued. "McDonald's. Showers. SpongeBob."

"Daniel."

"And there's no Center."

"Aww, jeeze, Daniel." Jack dropped onto the bed defeated. "I'm sorry, but you can't stay. Not without me."

"Then you can stay here, too. With me and Rose." Daniel threw himself back onto the bed as if the subject were closed.

"You know I have to go back to work on Monday." And as he said the words, Jack knew his days at the SGC were numbered. Daniel was getting very little benefit from the Center and one day, soon, Jack would retire and take Daniel away so he could benefit of the little time he had left before whatever this affliction was, took away any ability to enjoy his life to the fullest. Visions of him and Daniel sitting on the deck at his Minnesota cabin were pulled away from him at Daniel's cry.

"Nooo. You hate me. You never want me to have any fun."

"You know that's not true. I only had a week off and I have to go back to work on—"

"Then why can't I stay here?" Daniel wailed, kicking his feet wildly. Jack dodged one foot and pushed the other away from his face with a shove of his arm as he quickly stood and stepped away from Daniel.

"That's why, Daniel," Jack said angrily, pointing at the still kicking feet. "You're acting like a brat, and if I had been Rose right now, you could have hurt her."

Jack's words were enough to shock Daniel into being still. Then his face crumpled when he realized what he'd just done. His wails turned into long, drawn out sobs, the words interspersed with involuntary gasps.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I don't wanna hurt Rose - I don't wanna hurt anyone. I'm sorry - I just wanna stay here. Nobody loves me - nobody can find me - nobody wants to keep me."

"That's not true, Daniel. I love you." Jack sat down on the bed and Daniel threw himself into Jack's arms. He held onto Daniel, his throat closing up with his own unshed tears. "I love you more than you'll ever know." The words were strained and Jack had to clear his throat before going on. "So does Sam. And Teal'c. They both love you a lot. And Doc Janet. And Cassie. And Grandpa George. A whole lot of people love you. And what about Kasuf and Skaara, huh? And that old mastadge in the barn, remember him?"

Daniel nodded his head, the tears beginning to subside a little, but his hold on Jack was still just on this side of a stranglehold.

"That old critter loved you, too, and I know it wasn't just because of the chocolate you fed him."

"It liked me a whole lot," Daniel said, the words punctuated with hitching breaths and coughs.

"And Rose loves you. And she thought she was doing you a favor by saying yes to you staying here without speaking with me first. She didn't mean to hurt you. I don't want to hurt you either, Daniel, but sometimes life isn't fair. We all love you and we're all blessed that you're a part of our lives."

"I want to stay here."

"I know you do. And I wish, more than anything, I could let you and Rose have some fun together. But you know, I'd miss you. And I know that Sam and Teal'c miss you and they'll be waiting for us at the airport when we get back. Anyways, if you stayed, you'd have to fly home by yourself."

"You won't come and get me?" Daniel raised a blotchy face at Jack.

"No. And neither will Carter or Teal'c."

"The other Daniel used to fly all the time, didn't he?" He pursed his lips and frowned, as if it was the other Daniel's fault.

"Well, not all the time, but yeah, he did."

"I'll be good. I'll do my magic breathing and I won't have nightmares and I'll be brave and fly all by myself."

"Danny... I'm sorry, but no."

And Daniel's mention of nightmares had Jack realizing here was yet another reason Daniel shouldn't stay with Rose. How to explain why he woke up screaming in fear from the shining-eyed Goa'uld that were chasing him. Or waking up whimpering because the flying alien with her babies wouldn't come through the Stargate to play with him. Or of bad people coming into the SGC shooting up the place, leaving bloody corpses in their wake. His mom suspected, but she wouldn't have the knowledge, or the words, to soothe his fears. And quite possibly her having to deal with Daniel's nightmares would soon cause his mom to have some doozies of her own.

The tears began to flow again as Daniel pulled away from Jack and threw himself onto his stomach. There wasn't much more for Jack to do but let the storm pass. He reached over Daniel for Lumpy and gently placed the toy camel beside him. After a moment Daniel's hand snaked out and he pulled the camel to him, burying his face in the soft fur.

With a sigh, Jack leaned over and kissed the damp strands of hair on the bowed head. He straightened and slowly left the room. With a bit of luck, Daniel would cry himself out and come join them in a few minutes. Or else cry himself to sleep. Whichever one, they'd have a moping Daniel on their hands for a while.

* * * * *

"Can I sit up front with Rose?" Daniel stood by the opened rear passenger car door. "I'll wear my seat belt and I won't change the radio station. I promise."

"That's a better promise than I ever got from Jack. He never manages to keep his hand away from the radio dial."

"Hey, I'm right here!" Jack complained. "I would appreciate the two of you not speaking as if I were invisible." He threw their bags into the trunk of the car. "Go. Sit. Make my mother happy."

"Jack! Don't stick your tongue out at your mom."

"Yes, Jack," Rose admonished, "don't stick your tongue out at your mom." She waggled her keys over the roof of the car. "Now if you two boys are done?"

"Tattletale," Jack hissed good-naturedly as he switched positions with Daniel. He gave him a gentle push towards the front passenger seat. "Don't forget your seatbelt."

* * * * *

Jack cursed his backseat position. Daniel was way too quiet up there in the front and his mother was whispering things he was unable to decipher. All he could see was the staccato up and down head movements in response to her words. He strained against his seatbelt and patted Daniel's shoulder. "Hey, buddy, it's okay, go ahead turn the radio on. Mom won't yell. Will ya?"

"Sit back, Jonathan, and shut up."

"Mom. I'm wounded. Devastated that you would speak to your son like—"

"I don't want to go home." Daniel's voice was loud and clear in the confines of the car.

"We talked about this." Ad nauseam, Jack wanted to add. From the second Daniel realized Jack wasn't going to let him stay with Rose until this morning. Hours of the same questions followed by the same answers. Over and over.

"I promise I'll come visit you. Remember, Daniel, we talked about that."

"It might be too late by then. If Jack doesn't listen, both Daniels will be lost. Forever. Isn't that right, Jack?"

Thankfully, there was no one behind Rose when she slammed on the brakes, but both Jack and Daniel jerked forward against their seatbelts. Jack caught her horrified glance in the rear view mirror and he ordered, "Pull over." He scanned the world outside the car and pointed to the parking lot of a Burger King.

Rose did as she was ordered, no questions asked, but she flew out of the car like a bat out of hell the second the car was in a parking spot.

"I'll be right back." Jack pivoted his neck around, following his mother. He got out of the car the same time she opened the passenger door. "Mom?"

She stared at Jack. Her eyes were large behind her glasses and she was on the verge of tears. There was also an anger smoldering behind her eyes, and Jack was familiar with the set of her chin, the flare of her nostrils. "You drive," she said, extending a hand to Daniel in the front. "Daniel and I are going to sit in the backseat. You play chauffer."

* * * * *

Jack turned the radio on and he spun the dial, locating the equivalent to the station he listened to at home. Daniel sat in the middle, Rose behind the passenger seat and the tears she had been on the verge of were safely tucked away, not wanting to add fuel to Daniel's own tears of unhappiness. Jack used the rearview mirror to covertly spy on his mom soothing Daniel. She held his hand, rested her head on his shoulder, petted Lumpy and admitted more than once how much she was going to miss Daniel. She certainly wasn't helping the situation and he wanted to pound the steering wheel in frustration. He was right. He knew he was right but that didn't stop him from feeling like an absolute heel for dragging Daniel home. And he wondered, as he pulled into the maze that was the airport parking lot, how Daniel could possibly have any more tears to even shed.

* * * * *

Like two convicts headed for death row, his mom and Daniel trudged towards the airline terminal. The shuffling walk, their silence and tears continued through check in, with Jack giving the airport personnel an apologetic smile and minute roll of the eyes. "Goodbyes," he whispered, accepting the boarding passes. She offered an empathetic smile before greeting the next person in line.

"We have plenty of time." Jack checked his watched and confirmed it with the departure board overhead. "Wanna get something to eat?"

"I'm not hungry." Hanging his head and grinding the toe of his sneaker into the tile floor, Daniel was in full pout mode.

"I am." Rose scanned the food court and began to walk towards a restaurant with waitress service, pulling Daniel along.

Confused, Jack followed.

* * * * *

"I'll have a turkey club. No lettuce. Extra mayo. White toast, please." With a sweet smile, Rose handed the waitress her menu. "Oh, can I have French fries on the side. Well done?"

The young girl nodded at Rose then turned towards Daniel. "What can I get you, sir?"

"Nothing." He was nasty and short and Jack's reprimand at his rudeness was cut short by a quick, silencing glare from his mother.

"What about you?" She looked at Jack with a slight smile.

"Burgers and fries. Platter. Coke." Jack closed his menu and handed it to the girl. "How about something to drink, Daniel? Chocolate shake?"

"Do they have Snapple?" He looked expectantly up at the waitress.

"We have raspberry iced tea. Lemonade..."

"I want the iced tea. Does it come in a bottle?"

"How about a glass? Lots of ice and I'll throw a few cherries in for good measure."

Daniel nodded. He scooted around the circular booth until he was plastered to Rose's side. "Jack, can Rose come home with us?"

She patted the hand that held Lumpy in a death grip. "I wish I could, mhuirnin."

Daniel dumped Lumpy onto the table and dropped his head into the soft body. His fingers fiddled with the neck and tail simultaneously while he remained silent, watching the exchange of conversation between Jack and his mother. He sighed. Exasperated at the lack of attention paid him, he sighed again. Much louder.

"Is there a problem?" Stupid question, Jack realized and Daniel's answer was thankfully cut off by the arrival of their food and drinks.

"Good gracious," Rose exclaimed as the plate was placed in front of her. "Look at the size of this sandwich." She nudged Daniel with her elbow. "Unbelievable. The sandwich is so big they need to hold it together with toothpicks." Rose picked up a triangle of sandwich and examined it. "How am I ever going to get this in my mouth?"

Jack looked up from putting ketchup on his fries and smiled innocently. "No comment."

She ignored Jack. "This is way too much for me to eat. Would you like to share, Daniel?"

Daniel sat up. "Maybe a few fries? And a triangle?" He pointed to one of the pieces on her place. "This one. The one with lots of bacon."

Rose took the plate with the cups of coleslaw and pickles and put those on a napkin, and on the now empty plate, placed the requested piece of sandwich and a handful of fries. "Enjoy," she said pushing the plate towards Daniel. "There's plenty more if you want."

* * * * *

Daniel went to the bathroom while Jack paid the bill. He smiled at his mother as she leaned against the counter, cradling Lumpy. "He looks good with you."

She hugged him even tighter to her chest.

"Thanks for getting Daniel to eat." He tucked the change back into his pocket. "I remember you used to do the same thing with Charlie—when he was... thanks."

"I couldn't have him fly the whole trip surviving on a bag of peanuts, could I?"

"No, ma, of course you couldn't."

She pushed Lumpy into Jack's arms. "He belongs with you."

One handed, Jack shoved his wallet into his pocket and settled Lumpy under his arm.

Rose scratched the toy's head. "It's a good look for you."

Daniel exited the bathroom wiping his hands on his pants. He snatched Lumpy and his backpack from Jack, adjusted the straps' weight then grabbed Rose's hand. "There were only those blower thingies on the wall, and I hate those. So I used my pants to dry my hands."

"I noticed," Jack said, picking up their carryon luggage and leading the way out of the restaurant.

"It's okay. Don't pay any attention to Jack, pants work as well as paper towels."

"Do the two of you get joy out of ganging up on me?" Jack stopped suddenly and turned abruptly, bringing Daniel and his mom up short.

Daniel chortled, covering his mouth with Lumpy.

"I know, Daniel. Jack's very silly." She shooed him with her hand. "Now turn around and lead the way."

Jack grumbled but did as he was told, smiling as soon as he was facing the opposite way. He knew what his mother was doing. Hell, she knew what he was doing. Dealing with their own sadness by focusing on Daniel.

* * * * *

Jack dropped into the seat next his mom. Daniel was plastered against the window, he and Lumpy watching the planes taxi along the runway. He grabbed her hand and squeezed. Hard. "I'm going to miss you."

"Please, Jack. Don't."

"Why a son can't miss his dear ole' mom?"

"Old?"

"Did I say old? I didn't mean old, I meant—"

"Perfect? You meant perfect."

"Yeah, perfect would be a great descriptive word for you, Mom." He dropped her hand and viciously scrubbed at his burning eyes.

"It's time, you know." Rose leaned her head against his shoulder. "There's no use prolonging the inevitable."

"I know," Jack agreed without moving.

"Is Daniel going to okay on the plane ride?"

"If you're asking if I can handle him..."

"No, Johnny," Rose explained patiently. "I'm asking how he fares on the plane ride. If I wanted to know if you could handle him, I would have asked if you could handle him."

"He does..." Jack grimaced. "Okay. It's not something he loves to do. It wasn't something he ever loved doing. He did it because he had to. He does okay."

"Daniel does okay because you love him. Plane ride or home. It's your—"

"Is that our plane?" Daniel knocked his knee against Jack's and motioned towards the window.

Peering around him, gazing out the window, Jack shook his head. "Nope. Probably not, but it is time for us to get to the boarding gate."

"Can Rose wait with us?"

"I can walk with you to the gate, Daniel, but then you have to get on the plane and I have to go home and wait for Jack and you to call me."

* * * * *

"I remember this." Daniel's gaze flittered around the gate area. "Different airport." He picked up Lumpy and shook him. "No camel." He cocked his head at Rose. "Different Daniel."

"Nope, still Daniel to me."

"You cried."

"I'm not crying," Rose answered, confused.

"Not now, then. You cried with the other Daniel." A slow smile took shape. "I remember now. I love you, Rose." He reached out and touched her cheek. "Sorry, I forget. I do that lots."

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"No, you didn't." She touched his chest, gently patting the area over his heart. "It was always there. Damn." She sniffed back the tears then fumbled in her purse and pockets, trying to locate a tissue.

Jack leaned against a nearby pillar, close enough to hear them, but far enough away to give them privacy. He had eavesdropped on the whole conversation and was damn thankful there really wasn't enough time to go into the whole this Daniel, other Daniel discussion again. He handed her his handkerchief. "Don't worry, it's clean."

"Did you know I love Rose, Jack?" Daniel's voice was loudly exuberant at his discovery and more than a few people turned and tolerantly smiled.

"I love her, too, Daniel." He pulled his surprised mother into a crushing hug. "Love ya, Ma," he whispered in her ear.

"Group hug." Daniel threw his arms around the two of them, nearly knocking them over with his enthusiasm. They stayed in that position, Daniel's arms struggling to encompass their bodies. Rose was crushed between the two of them and her laughter was muffled in Jack's chest.

"I think she needs to breathe." Gently, Jack pushed Daniel's arms away. "You okay?"

"I'm fine." Daniel picked up Lumpy.

"I was asking Mom."

Beaming at the two of them, Rose smoothed down her clothes and handed Jack back his handkerchief. "I'm okay."

"Keep it." He pushed it back towards her. "You might need it for later."

"I love you, Jonathan O'Neill." She glanced towards Daniel. "Take care of him," she whispered. "Take care of yourself and remember to call your old mother once in a while."

* * * * *

The fact that the plane wasn't delayed was a big plus. The fact that they were in first class was even a bigger plus and Daniel's happiness and excitement stayed in place. Slowly, his smile faded as the plane leveled off. "Everything is getting smaller." His face was pressed against the small rectangular window. "Everyone's getting tiny. I can't see Rose." He whimpered in anguish and threw himself against Jack's chest, fumbling with the seatbelt. "I want to go back. Now."

Jack threw a restraining hand over Daniel's. "You have to leave this on for awhile, okay?"

"I want to go back. Please?" he pleaded. Abruptly, he turned his glance back towards the window. "I can't even see the ground," he howled.

"Shush." Jack snaked his hand out and unlatched Daniel's seatbelt, practically pulling him into his lap. At least this way he was able to muffle the majority of Daniel's emotional turmoil into his chest and hopefully, end the looks of annoyance from their fellow passengers.

"Sir, is everything okay?"

Daniel lifted up his head. Teary eyed, he stared at the stewardess standing next to Jack's seat and shook his head. "I had to say goodbye to Rose."

"I hate goodbyes, too," she offered with an empathetic nod.

Tears spilled over and Jack cursed himself for giving his mother his handkerchief.

The stewardess disappeared and reappeared moments later with a small package of tissues. "This might help." She nodded towards Daniel. "Would..."

"Daniel," Jack answered.

"Would Daniel like something to drink? Milk, apple juice..."

Daniel just shook his head then laid it back down against Jack's chest, pulling his jacket zipper up and down.

"No, thank you, maybe later," Jack answered.

* * * * *

There wasn't any more loud exclamations of sorrow, just tiny exhalations of sighs and tears. Daniel's acceptance of the inevitable with sadness, until eventually the weight of his upper body against Jack grew heavier and he fell asleep.

Jack awoke to the warmth of a blanket spread over them and the stewardess apologetically shaking his shoulder to wake him.

"Sorry, sir, but you need to buckle your seatbelts. We'll be starting our descent in a few minutes."

* * * * *

Daniel was groggy. Yawning and still looking to rest his head on Jack's shoulder no matter how many times Jack shrugged him off. He had already sent him to pee and wash his face, but he still shuffled back to the seat and tried to snuggle into Jack.

"Look outside. See?" Jack tried to divert his attention. "That building down there? Teal'c and Carter are waiting for us there."

Daniel pouted, kept silent and still looked for Jack for comfort. He kept the attitude up through landing, ignoring the stewardess to the point of rudeness and was so close to Jack when they walked down to the aisle once the plane had landed that Jack had to grip the back of the seats a few times to keep from tripping.

His patience was wearing thin and Jack did everything in his power not to lose his temper and yell.

"Can we call Rose now?" Daniel stopped by a row of public phones.

"Let's find Teal'c and Carter first. Get the luggage." Jack adjusted one of the backpack's straps that was drooping as much as Daniel seemed to be. His hand nonchalantly slid to his forehead. Warm. Which accounted to Daniel's crankiness and need to sleep.

"Can I have a Snapple when I get home?"

Jack grabbed Daniel's elbow and guided him along, scanning the crowd for his teammates. "I'm sure there's Snapple at home." And bread. And cold cuts. Fruit. Bananas and cereal. Jack had called his teammates yesterday and given them the flight information and asked them the favor of filling his cabinets. Thankfully, because at the moment, the last thing he felt like doing was dragging Daniel through a grocery store.

"DanielJackson. O'Neill." Teal'c's voice boomed over the throng of people and airport announcements.

"There's Teal'c!" Daniel began to wave madly. "And Sam. Hey, Sam!" He broke away from Jack and ran, narrowly avoiding a collision with the group of unfortunate people that stood between him and their friends.

By the time Jack offered apologies and made it around to the three of them, Daniel was leaning into Carter, head in the crook of space between her shoulder and neck, his eyes closed and with a cat-who-ate-the-canary-expression on his face. Jack had to smile at his bliss.

"It would appear that DanielJackson is pleased to be home."

"Yeah, it would," he growled. Frustrated, Jack wanted to kick the nearby pillar.

"He's warm," Carter whispered conspiratorily.

"I know, I'd like to get some Tylenol into him if I can." Jack pivoted. "Daniel? You and Carter sit on those benches over there while Teal'c and I go find our luggage."

* * * * *

Jack sank into the back seat of Carter's car with a sigh of relief. Luggage. Check. On their way home. Check. Daniel resting right next to him with Lumpy. Check. Getting Daniel to consume two Tylenol, a bottle of water and chips without too much of a hassle. Check. Daniel smiling. Thankfully yes, and check. Being able to relax. Check.

"Oh, Jack, I almost forgot." Daniel leaned forward and swung his backpack from between his legs onto his lap. "Rose gave me a going away present that she said I should share with everyone." He dug deep into the backpack, eventually unzipping an inside pocket. "Look." He shoved an envelope into the front seat even before Jack could stop him. "Open it, Teal'c."

"What is it, T?" The big guy's silence didn't bode well for Jack. Neither did Carter's giggle or, "How cute," when Teal'c flashed a picture for her viewing pleasure.

"Daniel?" Jack hissed behind clenched teach.

"I do believe RoseO'Neill felt it was appropriate to share your infant pictures with us."

"Baby pictures," Jack squeaked, futilely attempting to snatch the envelope from Teal'c grasp.

"Indeed."

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"What are we doing about Christmas, sir?"

"Carter, can't you see, I'm up to my elbows in dishes." He wiggled his fingers under the suds, sending out little waves of bubbles. "Thanksgiving dishes. Which makes today November and Christmas a whole other month away." Jack handed her a dish and pointed his chin towards the dishtowel lying on the counter. "Dry," he ordered.

"Sir..."

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"Fine. Christmas is at my house."

Carter gazed at him with a look akin to pity while she dried the dish, placed it on the table and grabbed the next one from his outstretched, soapy hand.

"What?"

"I wasn't looking for an invitation for Christmas dinner. I was asking about Daniel."

"What about Daniel?" Jack asked gruffly.

Carter backed up a few steps and bent backwards, peering into the living room. She shook her head and just as Jack was about to join her in whatever she was looking at, she stepped back up to the counter. "Permission to speak freely, Colonel?"

"Carter, it's Thanksgiving. You're helping me do the dishes. You spilled red wine on my white tablecloth right next to last year's gravy stain..."

"At least I'm consistent," she said with pride.

"And dependable."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

He handed her a dripping serving platter. "Feel free to speak your mind."

"Daniel's a child."

"We've had this conversation before. He lives in this house. I'm well aware of his shortcomings."

"They aren't shortcomings. Oh, don't get me wrong. He can't do what he—"

"Hence, shortcomings."

"Sir! Please let me finish."

He grabbed the towel from her hands, dried his own wet ones on it before tossing the dishtowel back on the counter. "Go ahead. Finish."

Carter was angry. And Jack was tired. It had been a long day. Stupidly, he had refused help. Tried to do it all alone. Strived for perfection. The meal had been delicious. But there was no missing the fact that he had trounced all over Daniel's feelings trying to get everything prepared. Squashing down every question Daniel had asked about the Thanksgiving holiday. No one had missed Daniel's lack of enthusiasm. Not Teal'c. Not Fraiser, and obviously, not Carter.

"Daniel's a child," she tried again. Actually pausing as if waiting for Jack to interrupt her. "Christmas is a child's holiday. Trees. Presents. Lights. Let him enjoy it."

"I'm not stopping him."

Jack glared at her when she gave him a very unladylike snort. "Please, sir. Poor Daniel was afraid to try the cranberry sauce. I don't even want to know—"

"He kept sticking his fingers in it. Watching it move like Jell-O."

"Daniel's a child, sir," she tried for the third time.

"No!" He inhaled then exhaled slowly. "He's an adult who by some unfortunate twist of fate has become child-like. There's a difference."

"Only in your mind, sir."

"So what should I do, make him sit on Santa's lap?"

"If that makes him happy."

Jack looked at her. "Shit." He scrubbed his hands over his face then dropped into the kitchen chair. "I'm not good at this."

"I noticed," Carter responded softly.

"I mean with the day-to-day stuff, Daniel and I manage. But throw a holiday in the mix and I flounder. I used to depend on Sara to... I screwed up, huh?"

"I don't think the cranberry incident scarred him for life, sir. You just learn from your mistakes and move on."

Jack shook his head. "I screwed up."

* * * * *

Jack pushed Daniel's bedroom door open with one hip. "Hey."

Daniel looked up from the book he was leafing through and gave him a tentative smile. "Hi."

"You didn't eat much today."

Daniel shrugged but kept his gaze focused somewhere over Jack's shoulder. "I wasn't hungry."

Jack uncovered the tray he held in his hands. "That's what I thought, so here's a bedtime snack."

"Cookies?"

"Nope." Jack sat on the bed. "Dinner."

Daniel warily looked at the tray, then at Jack.

Jack put the tray on the bed between the two of them. "I don't know about you, but I'm hungry."

"You didn't eat either?"

"Nope." Jack grabbed one of the two forks and speared a piece of pre-cut turkey. "Sometimes when you're having people over, you sorta forget to do things like eat. And be nice to those around you."

"You weren't nice," Daniel agreed solemnly. "You yelled..." Daniel went to touch the cranberry sauce on the plate, but guiltily pulled back his hand after a quick glance at Jack. "Loud. Then when Sam, Teal'c, and Doc Janet came in you were nice. You pretended."

Jack shoved the turkey into his mouth and touched the cranberry sauce. He gave Daniel an evil grin then swallowed. "You're right, it looks and feels like Jell-O." Jack speared a piece of the wiggly stuff and ate it. "Doethn't tathe like..."

Daniel giggled. "You shouldn't talk with you mouth full."

"Gulp." Jack did an exaggerated swallow. "Try it." He picked up the other fork, captured a piece of turkey and a dab of cranberry sauce, then passed the fork to Daniel, who hesitated a second before taking it and popping it in his mouth.

"That's good!" He tried to spear another piece but it slid off the fork.

"There's an art to this," Jack said as he took Daniel's fork and did a turkey/cranberry combination for him. "Here you go."

Daniel leaned over and fed himself off the fork that Jack still held in his hand. "You know," he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, "I like you much better when you're nice."

* * * * *

Daniel eyed the tree like an artist would assess his model. He touched the branches, stepped back, walked around the tree, then touched the branch again. "This isn't a real tree?"

Jack had contemplated a real tree. Had actually made a pro and con list but it came back to Daniel being entranced with the tree, turning it on in the middle of the night, which led to visuals of body burns and disintegrating houses. Fake was better. "No, it isn't real." Though Jack had to admit that it looked damn real. "Later we'll put lights and decorations on it."

Jack had tried to desensitize Daniel to the overwhelming holidays. Little by little, on a daily basis, Jack had talked about the upcoming holidays. Over dinner. On the way to the Center. At night before bed. The problem was, Jack himself was getting caught up in the holidays.

"Jack?"

"Hmmm?" Jack stepped back and cocked his head back and forth, checking out the straightness of the tree.

"I need to buy some presents."

"I don't need anything," Jack answered distractedly.

"I have other friends," Daniel replied angrily.

"Huh?"

Daniel began to tick names off on his hand. "Sam. Doc Janet. Cassie. Teal'c. Grandpa George, Rose..."

"Presents?" Jack had stupidly believed that he would be able to sign both their names to the presents' tags. "What do you want to get?"

"I need to go the mall."

"The mall?" Jack hated the mall on a good day. Add to the mix Daniel and the Christmas holiday rush, and he'd rather face a platoon of Jaffa. Maybe he could use a personal day and make it a day trip with Daniel where the only people he would be fighting off would be parents with strollers and people who worked the night shift.

* * * * *

Jack had come prepared to do battle. They had already eaten an early breakfast and the two of them sat in Jack's truck waiting for the mall doors to open. Jack was enjoying his coffee, Daniel his hot chocolate.

"Do you have an idea what you'd like to buy everyone?" Okay, maybe he truly wasn't that prepared. Maybe this question was something he and Daniel should have discussed previously.

But thankfully, Daniel had it covered as he nodded vigorously to Jack's question. "Yep. I made a list with pictures."

"Smart."

"You have my money?"

Ahhh. Now that had been a bone of contention, Jack trying to convince Daniel the money he had withdrawn was actually Daniel's and not his. The discussion of finances had led to tears and confusion and fear of not earning his own way in Jack's house. It hadn't been pretty.

But that had been last week. Today things were looking okay. The weather had cooperated. Daniel had slept through the night with no bad dreams. He had been agreeable to all of Jack's suggestions. So in reality how bad could today's shopping expedition be?

* * * * *

Jack and Daniel did fine in the beginning. Before the counters were filled with people three feet deep. Before Jack had to hold onto Daniel with a death grip in order not to lose him in the crowds. Before they entered the center of the mall, with Santa's village as the centerpiece.

"Come on." Jack tugged on recalcitrant Daniel's arm.

"Santa?"

"Not really. Just sort of a representation of..." Jack stopped and watched Daniel's gaze as he took in, with wide-eyed wonder, the prefabricated candy cane village, the elves and the jolly man sitting on the throne who was accepting the kids with a bellow of laughter and open arms. Jack checked his watch. Closing in on lunch time, the line wasn't that long and they had made quite a sizeable dent in Daniel's list, with only Teal'c's gift left to purchase. "Wanna go see Santa?"

* * * * *

Jack tried to ignore the snide remarks and comments. The whispered under-their-breath-complaints and the pointing. He distracted Daniel by showing him the hidden items in the fake village until there was nothing left to draw Daniel's attention away. The line, which hadn't seemed that long from the other side of the barrier, once entered, was taking an inordinate amount of time to even move a foot forward.

"I want to go home."

"Daniel."

He buried his face in Jack's shoulder. "Please. This was a stupid idea. Stupid. Santa has no time for me."

Whipping his head around, Jack looked for a quickest exit but they were now crushed into position by the throngs of people behind them. Daniel was trying to become one with him and short of yelling and raising a scene, he just wrapped his arm around Daniel and forcibly shouldered his way around the parents and kids.

Daniel was on the verge of hyperventilating by the time they broke free of the crowd and Jack did some fancy maneuvering and guided Daniel to a free space against the wall. "You can open your eyes, now."

He lifted his head, opened his eyes and fought to keep the tears in check.

"Here." Jack pushed Daniel forward a step, giving him access to Daniel's backpack. He unzipped it, located Lumpy and handed the stuffed animal to Daniel, who gripped the toy against his chest, allowed the stained fur to accept more than a few tears, then used the camel's head to blot up the remaining moisture.

"I guess Santa's not for everyone."

Jack forced a smile and dragged Lumpy up to swipe at an errant tear from the corner of Daniel's eye. "Santa's for everyone. People just have to remember that."

Daniel smiled forlornly back at Jack. "Can we buy Teal'c's present and go home?"

"Sure." Jack picked up the packages, switching them to one hand so he could keep the other one around Daniel's shoulder.

Sadly, Daniel's enthusiasm had waned considerably and Jack didn't realize how much he had missed his chatter or seeing the holiday through his eyes until he was left with only quiet.

"Sir?"

Jack turned quickly at the light tap on his shoulder.

"Yes?"

He felt Daniel tighten against him. "It's an elf," he hissed in Jack's ear.

"Santa's number one elf," the young girl said proudly, grinning at Daniel. She shifted her weight from foot to foot, the bells on her pointed slippers heard even above the din of the mall. "Santa sent me on an errand." She pointed to Daniel. "He wants to know if he can speak to you."

"No." Daniel shook his head. "I'm too big for Santa."

Wise beyond her years, the elf smiled at Daniel. "I can see where you would think that. You may be too big for his lap, but no one's too big for Santa."

"Hey." Daniel turned to Jack, his eyebrows raised in surprise. "That's what you said!"

"Santa wants to know if you would join him."

"No," Daniel reiterated, leaning around her to gaze in fear at the crowd still around the village. "I don't want to..."

She looked over her shoulder, and poo poo'd the crowd with a flick of her wrist. "Santa's at lunch in his private room. He wants to know if you and your," she looked at Jack, unsure of how he fit into Daniel's life.

"Friend."

"Jack. Jack's my friend. My name's Daniel."

"Well, Daniel. Jack. Santa would like to know if you'd like to join him for lunch."

* * * * *

Santa's private room was behind one of the doors in the village, but thankfully their elf guide took them around the back way to avoid prying eyes and crowds.

"Come on in."

"Santa, this is Daniel and his friend, Jack."

Santa stood. From far away he had resembled what Jack thought a Santa should look like, but up close - damn, this man looked like he had walked off the front of a Christmas card. "Welcome."

"Santa." Jack stuck out his hand and it got lost in Santa's large, meaty paw. "I'm Jack."

"Pleased to meet you, Jack." He turned towards Daniel with a smile, and softened his voice. "You must be Daniel."

"Daniel," he repeated. "Yes, that's me."

"Enjoy your lunch," the elf said. Quickly retreating before anyone could say goodbye, she left the room, closing the door behind her.

"Sit. Sit." Santa pointed to the other chairs around the table.

Surprisingly, Daniel was the first to take a seat and with a shrug of his shoulders, Jack followed his lead, sitting next to Daniel, across from the Santa clone.

Santa threw open the pizza box in the center of the table. "Sorry, I don't have plates, just napkins and bottles of water."

"That'll be fine, Santa," Jack replied amicably.

Daniel was mesmerized, watching the Santa man eat and talk, eating only when Jack prodded him to do so.

The elf knocked before popping her head into the door. "Ten minutes, Santa."

"Thank you." He folded his napkin onto the table. "And thank you for joining me for lunch, Jack and Daniel. Before I leave, can I offer you a candy cane?"

Enthusiastically, Daniel nodded.

Santa smiled, then magically withdrew a candy cane from his jacket sleeve, offered it to Daniel, then pulled it back. "I'd like a wish first, Daniel. What would you like to wish for on Christmas morning?"

Without hesitation, Daniel said, "I wish for the other Daniel to come back."

This was the first time during their whole luncheon that Jack saw the man hesitate and falter. "Excuse me, son?"

Daniel turned towards Jack and grabbed his hand and squeezed. "I want the other Daniel. The one who's smart. The one who Jack misses so much. I'd want him to come back."

Shocked, opened mouthed, Santa was speechless.

Jack plucked the candy cane from the outstretched fingers and handed the treat to Daniel.

"I'm sorry, Daniel," Santa admitted crestfallen. "I'm not sure if I can—"

"That's okay, Santa, I just figured the more people..." Daniel fumbled with the candy's plastic wrap.

Santa held up a finger and hushed Jack before he could speak. He then opened the door, stuck his head out and summoned his number one elf, whispering something in her ear before she stepped through the doorway.

She popped back into the room and gave them all a winning smile. "Santa, if it would be okay with you, the reindeer need lunch as well, would it be alright if Daniel lent a hand?"

"Real reindeer?"

"Yup," Santa said with a shake of his head. "We open the stable doors after twelve but first they need to be fed. Interested?"

"Can I?" Daniel begged.

"Sure." Jack stuffed Lumpy back into Daniel's backpack, zipped it up and patted the shoulder straps in place with a shockingly reminiscent feeling in his heart. "Be careful and listen," he warned.

"I promise," Daniel said, bounding after the elf.

* * * * *

The two men watched Daniel leave. "It's none of my business."

Jack sighed. He had told this version of the story so many times that this white lie seemed more of the truth than what had actually happened. "Daniel was a brilliant linguist. Archeologist. Holder of multiple Ph.D.'s. He's a doctor. There was an accident." He motioned towards the door. "And that's Daniel now."

"He remembers who he used to be?"

"It was explained to me that Daniel remembers his other self as one can recall a dream. Sorta hazy. But there."

"That's sad."

"Yeah, it is," Jack agreed. "But thankfully, the majority of the time, Daniel's happy."

"I'm sorry," Santa said.

"Yeah, you and everyone else." Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry. Please accept my apologies. You don't deserve my anger, you've been nothing but kind to us. To Daniel."

"The sorry is because I don't know what else to say."

"The anger is because I don't know how to be gracious."

Santa's bellow of laughter filled the room and the story was right, his belly shook like a bowl of Jell-O. "You are a wonderful man, Jack O'Neill." Santa stuck his hat on and winked at Jack. "Daniel is a lucky man. Merry Christmas."

He was gone in a rush of red and white suit and nearly collided with Daniel. "Jack," Daniel yelled. "Oh, bye, Santa. Thank you."

"My pleasure, Daniel." He pulled down his jacket, adjusted his belt and disappeared to the front of the village.

Daniel smiled at his wake then stepped into the room, waving two photos under Jack's nose. "Look. Look."

Jack held Daniel's hand in place and plucked the two photographs from his fingers to get a better look. Two pictures of Daniel wearing the elf's hat, grinning wildly at the camera while a reindeer nuzzled his neck. Jack laughed as loudly as Santa had.

* * * * *
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"You want to get Teal'c a what?" Jack stood in front of the pet store in a state of shock.

"A beta fish." He studied Jack as if Jack were the crazy one. "With a bowl. And fish food. And a book."

"You can't gift wrap a fish."

Jack got that look again. "Of course I can't wrap a fish. I'll keep him in my room in the bowl until everyone comes to our house for Christmas dinner. But I can wrap the book and the food."

"I don't know, Daniel."

"It's a perfect gift!" Daniel argued. "Do you know they're warrior fishies? Like Teal'c. Emily said so, they fight other fishies like them, and the strongest one wins."

"Oh," Jack said, taken aback. "Teal'c's a warrior?"

"Yes, he is," Daniel replied firmly.

"And these are warrior fish?"

"Yup."

"Well, then I have to agree, you're right, a beta fish is probably the best gift for Teal'c."

* * * * *

Daniel held his backpack and the bag containing the fish. Jack was weighted down with everything else and all he could do was nod in acknowledgement as they passed by Santa's village. Santa smiled in return and waved at Daniel when he yelled an enthusiastic, "Hi, Santa," loud enough that everyone in line laughed and waved at Daniel.

"Santa sure was special, wasn't he Jack?"

"That he was, buddy."

It wasn't until Jack was putting the bags in the back of the Avalanche that he realized just how special Santa was, because Jack had never told the man what his last name was.

* * * * *

"Okay, here we go." Jack turned off the living room lights and stepping over the empty decoration boxes, he made his way back to the tree. He could see the glint of Daniel's glasses as he waited anxiously. Jack picked up the extension cord, hit the on switch, and the tree came to life.

"No! No!" Daniel backpedaled away from the sparkling tree, tripped over a pile of empty boxes and began to run towards the stairs.

"Daniel, what's wrong."

"They're gonna come after me, Jack. They're gonna come after me."

"What is?" He dropped the extension cord and hurried after Daniel, who had made it up the four of the steps before tripping and was cowering there, looking anxiously over his shoulder towards the tree.

"The lights. They're gonna hurt me. Please, make them stop. I don't like them, Jack." Daniel buried his face against Jack's chest, and Jack could feel his body trembling.

"The Christmas lights?" He rubbed a soothing circle against Daniel's back. "They're just lights, Danny. Tiny lights. You saw them, you helped me string them up in the tree."

"But they're so bright and they talk and they—"

"Whoa. If you don't like 'em, buddy, it's not a problem. Stay right here and I'll go turn them off."

"No!" Daniel yelled as Jack went to move away from him. He grabbed Jack, crushing his ribs as he tried to keep him close. "Don't leave me alone. If you go, you won't find me again."

"Okay, how about you come with me to the tree and we'll turn the lights off together?"

Daniel shook his head, his whiskers rasping against the nap of Jack's jersey.

"Danny, I know you're scared but you either have to come with me or let me go so I can go turn them off. Which will it be?"

After a long moment, Daniel loosened his grip and allowed Jack to step away. But as Jack maneuvered around the boxes strewn around the house, Daniel shadowed him, nearly plastered against his back.

"See, they're just little lights, stuck in the tree. They can't hurt you."

Daniel leaned over Jack's shoulder, staring at the lights.

"They won't fly away?"

"No. They're attached to the wires. Remember, we put the lights around the tree?"

Daniel leaned closer and tentatively touched one of the lights with a fingertip. He pulled it back and when he obviously saw it hadn't hurt him, began to trace the near invisible wires from light to light. Soon he had relaxed enough that he'd pulled away from Jack. "You sure they won't fly?"

"I'm sure," Jack replied, wondering where Daniel had heard a story about flying lights. "You still want me to turn 'em off?"

Daniel stared long at the tree before shaking his head. "They're pretty." He moved away from the tree and sat down on the sofa.

As Jack began picking up the boxes, he figured he had a couple of days still to get Daniel used to the lights. Daniel began playing with one of his toys, but Jack didn't miss the frequent worried glances he gave the tree.

* * * * *

Daniel yawned and rubbed his eyes.

"How about a nap?" Jack suggested. Just watching Daniel fight a losing battle trying to stay awake was enough to make Jack antsy and glance at the clock.

"I promised to help you." Daniel yawned again; last night's interrupted nightmare-filled sleep had left him dragging.

Jack steered him in the direction of the den. "I'm just gonna set the table. The lasagna and ham just need to be warmed up and it's way too early for that. The cake is made. The veggies just need steaming. Carter's bringing her amazing mashed potatoes, Doc Janet's on salad duty..." Jack forced a comical shudder. "Teal'c mentioned his contribution was going to be a surprise."

Daniel sat on the couch, looked up at Jack and yawned. "You won't put the presents under the tree without me?"

He stuck the pillow against the bolster of the couch and pushed Daniel into position. "Promise. No presents without you."

Daniel's eyes closed even before he had swung his legs up onto the couch. "Lumpy?"

By the time Jack placed Lumpy in Daniel's arms, he was already down for the count, snoring and mumbling, but he accepted the toy with opened arms the second Lumpy's fur was rubbed against his hands.

* * * * *

He could do this. It was just a toy. Nothing more. An engine. A few cars. A caboose. Tracks. Jack opened the box and shook his head at the haphazard way all the parts had been thrown together. He remembered his own frustration and annoyance when this Daniel wanted no part of the train set. The engine still bore the dent mark where it had made contact with the bedroom wall when clumsy fingers fumbled with threading the wheels onto the track for the thousandth time. Jack had seen this train set as a tangible part of his life with Daniel. Stupid. It was just a toy, but it had made the old Daniel happy and setting it up now, under the tree, brought a little bit of that past and some of that happiness into Jack's living room. He snorted, and rubbed the dust from his eyes. Yeah, right. This train set was just a toy to Jack, like Lumpy was just a stuffed animal to Daniel.

Slowly and lovingly, Jack reconstructed the track around the tree, laughing and cursing to himself as he kept dispossessing the string of lights and more than a few ornaments from the bottom tree branches. Finished, he stepped back and surveyed his handwork, then with a shake of his head, readjusted some ornaments. He turned the tree lights on and the train set, then went to check on Daniel.

* * * * *

Daniel was still sleeping, his face was smooshed into Lumpy's torso and Jack gave the poor camel a sympathetic pat on the top of his head. Jack adjusted the blanket and did a gentle swipe across Daniel's neck with his fingers. Thankfully cool. And at the moment, feverless. Jack sent a silent prayer that maybe for once, Daniel would be able enjoy the day.

* * * * *

The table was set. His mom, had she known, would forgive him for having taken the easy way out and gone the way of decorative paper plates, plastic utensils and paper cups. Hell, it looked Christmassy. Everything was red and green and cleanup would consist of a large green plastic bag. No fuss. No muss. This was going to be all about Daniel and their friends and not add the stress of trying to make the day a Norman Rockwell painting.

* * * * *

Jack balanced the plate of cookies on top of the glass of milk and checked his watch. Years of military precision kicking in. Wake Daniel up. Throw him in a relaxing, warm, bubble bath which was a well known technique used to pass the time and lower one's anxiety level. Military terminology for the bath - diversion. If he played his cards right, Daniel should just be getting dressed when everyone arrived. He could do this. Daniel could do this. Jack had planned extensive military maneuvers, saved the Earth countless times, how damn hard could it be to get through one Christmas with the least amount of stress and tears?

Jack tapped Lumpy's head with his knee. "Rise and shine."

"I don't wanna get up." Daniel tucked Lumpy under his chest, hiding him from Jack.

"Okay." Jack put the plate, milk and his ass on the table. "Okay, so when Carter, Teal'c and—"

Daniel shot up. "It's Christmas."

"It is."

"Christmas!" Daniel threw off the blankets and moved to get off the couch, Lumpy falling to the floor in his haste. "I need to get up and see—"

"You need to get up." He handed Daniel the plate of cookies. "Have a snack. Drink some milk. Take a bath."

"I don't have time to take a bath. I need to put my presents under the tree before everyone gets here."

Jack held Daniel in place with the plate of cookies. "You have plenty of time," he assured him. "Cookies. Milk." Jack grabbed the remote and pointed it over his shoulder at the TV. "Relax while I start your bath."

* * * * *

Jack put on some Christmas music to set the mood and started a fire. The decorations. The tree. The train. The fire. He nodded approval at his own handiwork as he rubbed his hands together then spread them before the fire's warmth. But there were still a few more things he needed to do.

He was just coming in from the garage with two cold six packs when the doorbell rang. Leave it to someone to be early. "Hold on, I'll be right there," he yelled as he put the beer on the counter. So much for sitting back and relaxing before the troops stormed over the threshold.

"I got it!" Daniel shouted, almost bowling Jack over in his haste to get to the door.

"Whoa, hold it, partner." Jack grabbed onto one sleeve of Daniel's terry robe.

Daniel skidded to a stop. "The door bell's ringing."

Jack shook his head, tugged Daniel's robe closed, forcing himself not to look at the nakedness or breathe too deeply of the all too familiar scene of Daniel's freshly washed body. He knotted the white belt a bit more forcefully than he intended. "You're still wet, and dripping on the floor." He flecked a drop of water hanging off Daniel's ear lobe.

"But—"

"No." Jack took him by the shoulders and pushed him towards the bathroom. "Make sure the bathroom's clean, get dressed and then you can come back out here."

"The door bell's ringing again."

"Go," Jack hissed, giving Daniel a gentle push down the hallway.

He threw open the door. "Teal'c?" It was the amount of space the figure took up in the doorframe that clued Jack in on who was standing there, because the face was hidden by an enormous pile of presents, and the gloved hands had the loops of overflowing shopping bags balancing out the picture.

"It is I, O'Neill."

Jack hurriedly split the pile in half so at least Teal'c face was now visible. He grimaced sympathetically at the sheen of sweat on his friend's face. "You okay, T?"

Teal'c graced Jack with slight incline to his head and then flashed a smile somewhere over Jack's right shoulder. "Merry Christmas, DanielJackson."

Jack whirled around, then did a quick sidestep to keep the pile of presents now in his arms straight. "Daniel!"

Eyes wide, his mouth agape, Daniel stood staring, still dripping, the white terry robe hanging, barely tied. "Teal'c's here. Hi, Teal'c." Daniel waved enthusiastically. He took a step closer, glanced at Jack, then stopped. "Look at all those presents."

"I did not know the dress for tonight's gathering was to be so informal."

Daniel looked down and blushed. "Ooops."

"Ooops, is right," Jack laughed. "Go change before you catch a cold."

"I do not believe you catch a cold from—"

"Shhh," Jack whispered as he walked around Teal'c and used his hip to close the door. "Don't give Daniel any ideas, he needs to put some clothes on."

"DanielJackson, I, for one, would prefer you to stay healthy for the holiday season. Please do as O'Neill suggests and get dressed."

"But the presents..." Daniel stuttered.

"Will be here when you get back and you can put your own gifts under the tree as well."

Daniel ran from the room with a loud hoot, the bathrobe fluttering behind, the belt following in his wake.

* * * * *

Daniel bounded back into the living room ten minutes later, still in the process of donning his long sleeved tee shirt. Teal'c stopped him and pulled the shirt down, fixing Daniel's glasses after the neck of the shirt upset their perch on his nose.

"Thanks, Teal'c," Daniel replied. "Where did you put the..." His gaze skirted around Teal'c girth and he smiled broadly at the tree. "Oh. I need to put my presents... I'll be right back." Daniel ran from the room and Teal'c remained behind, a look of parental acceptance softening his face. "DanielJackson appears to be slightly—"

Jack placed a bowl of taco dip and chips on the table. "Crazed?"

Teal'c reached into the bowl and extracted a triangle-shaped chip. "He appears happy."

He was just about to reply when a crash and a loud, "uh oh," floated down the hallway. "I'll be right back."

"It's nothing," Daniel yelled from the vicinity of the floor where he was picking up a pile of books that had fallen.

The presents that Daniel had purchased were scattered amongst the books and Jack racked his brain to think if anything was breakable. "Just put the books into the corner, we'll put them away later." Quickly, Jack glanced in horror at the dresser, sighing in audible relief when he saw the beta and its bowl still intact.

Daniel shoved his hand against Jack's calf. "Go on," he said testily, "I got it under control."

* * * * *

Jack was in the kitchen and Daniel was on his fifth round of re-arranging presents under the tree when the doorbell rang. He beat Jack to the door with a giggle. "Loser," he laughed gleefully.

"Cheater," Jack replied, shoving him gently with his shoulder. "You were already in the living room, I was in the—"

"I think it would be wiser to continue this disagreement after you have opened the door."

Jack turned around and stuck his tongue out at Teal'c, then seized the opportunity to open the door when Daniel was overcome by peals of hysterical laughter. Daniel was still snickering as Fraiser, Carter and Cassie stepped into the house.

* * * * *

Cassie was showing Daniel the fine art of how to shake the presents under the disapproving, watchful glare of her mother. "Cassie... "

"It's okay, Doc Janet." Daniel accepted a present from Cassie who placed her hands next to his on the box so they both shook together. "I don't mind."

"I'm sure you don't mind, Daniel, it's just that—"

"Dinner's ready," Jack cut in.

Cassie scrambled up but Daniel stayed on the floor and looked up at Jack. "It's okay. I'm not really hungry."

Fraiser squatted down next to him and gently patted his hair. "We'll open the presents before dessert." Innocently, she gazed at Jack. "Isn't that right, sir?"

Jack shrugged. It made no difference to him when they opened the presents, as long as dinner was first on the agenda. "Sure. Works for me."

"I can eat really, really fast." Daniel nodded at Fraiser, dropped the present, stood and rushed past Jack towards the dining room.

Jack glanced down at the doc and offered her his arm. She gratefully accepted and smiled sheepishly at him. "Ooops."

"You're not kidding - oops. Just for that I'm going to make you sit next to him."

* * * * *

Daniel threw his napkin down so it covered his plate. "I'm finished."

"Daniel," Jack replied patiently. "The bowl of mashed potatoes hasn't even made it around the table." He used his fork as a pointer. "Stay."

Daniel sat back with a pout and heavy sigh.

"Take it from me, Daniel," Cassie offered, pointing at her own lip. "It doesn't work. I've tried."

"Yup, she sure has," Janet added with a chuckle.

Daniel sat watching the meal carry on around him, arms crossed as he leaned as far back in the chair as possible. His arms relaxed, but his fingers began to pick at his shirt and his head dropped to study his fingers. Carefully, Cassie plucked the napkin off his plate and placed it on his lap. She rubbed his arm. "I'm sorry, Daniel. I wasn't making fun of you, honest."

"I thought you were," Daniel said softly. "You laughed and everything."

"I'd never laugh at you—I'll be right back." She jumped up and ran from the table.

"Did she go to open the presents?" Daniel asked suspiciously.

"Nope," she said, pulling Lumpy from behind her back and placing him in Daniel's lap before sliding into her seat. "I just realized that Lumpy needs to have Christmas dinner with us."

Daniel put him one thigh, patted his head then smiled broadly at Cassie. "Thank you," he said picking up his fork and digging into his lasagna.

"Thank you." Jack winked at Cassie over Daniel's bowed head and gave her a thumbs up.

* * * * *

"Now? Is everyone done now?" Daniel's gazed flitted the length of the table and he glared at Carter who was taking another mouthful of potatoes.

"Thorry," she said, dropping her fork and covering her mouth with her hand.

"Okay, everyone's done." Daniel stood up, tucked Lumpy under his arm and tugged on Cassie to stand.

* * * * *

The pile of presents was more than a bit impressive, it was overwhelming.

"I'm gonna play Santa," Jack volunteered, hoping to control what was quickly going to turn into an out of control situation.

"Okay, Santa needs a big chair," Daniel pointed out, "and an elf. I'll be your elf. You sit in the recliner. I'll sit by your side... and Lumpy can pretend to be your reindeer."

So much for control, Jack ruefully thought as he sat his ass down in the well worn leather.

Daniel plopped down on the floor next to the recliner then squeezed Lumpy into the spot between his body and the chair. "Santa and his elf are ready." He waited a moment. "Jack," he hissed, "you need to choose a present giver outer."

Jack leaned over the side of the chair. "Help me with this. I've never been Santa before."

"A giver outer is someone who sits by the tree, hands me the presents, then I give you the presents and you say the person's name and they have to come and get the present from you."

Based on the number of presents under the tree and Daniel's method, Jack figured they would be having dessert around dawn so they had better get started. He clapped his hands together. "Cassie, Santa commands you to be the... what's it called again, Daniel?"

"The present giver outer."

Jack waved at Cassie. "Yeah, what Daniel said."

"Sir, before we start, may I make a suggestion?"

"Sure, Carter, why not?"

"How about all the presents are given out and then we go around the room and each one gets to open their gifts, rather than—"

"Things getting lost in the excitement." He nodded at her. "Good suggestion." Jack waggled his fingers at Cassie. "Get to work."

The first present was for Carter, the second Fraiser, then Teal'c, then himself, followed by one for Cassie and two for Janet.

"Cassie? Honey?" Jack gave her a big false grin when she looked up at him from under the tree. He cocked his head at Daniel, who had begun to hand out the presents with less enthusiasm, and silently pleaded with her for find a present for him.

"Look, Daniel. Three for you."

"Three!" Daniel's sad eyes lit up.

Cassie walked on her knees to him, pushing a large box in front of her, the other two balanced on top. "This one's heavy."

"Three, Jack. Look. Three of 'em. And Cassie said it's heavy, maybe I should try to lift it and shake it—"

Jack leaned over and gently smacked Daniel's hands when, through his peripheral vision, saw him trying to peek around a miniscule tear in the wrapping paper. "Remember Santa's rules. No opening of presents—"

"That was a Sam rule, Jack, not a Santa rule."

"Semantics," Jack said, amazed at the growing pile of gifts by his own feet.

"Huh? Sam. Antics? I don't understand."

Carter buried her laugher in a throw pillow but his reprimand was lost in Daniel's squeal of excitement when Cassie handed him two more presents.

* * * * *

Jack was in a quandary. Should he let Daniel open his presents first, which would probably lead to complaints as everyone else went after him. He hesitated, exhaled. It was funny how everyone who had all these amazing ideas during the time presents were being handed out were now strangely silent.

"I think Santa should go first," Daniel said, taking a present off Jack's pile and shoving it into his hands.

"Me?"

"Yeah. First you. Then Cassie, 'cause she helped. Then me, 'cause I was your elf. Then... Doc Janet, Sam and Teal'c." He danced Lumpy on the present in Jack's lap. "Open."

"Okay," Jack held up the present. This one's from... Carter."

Jack was more than impressed with the presents his friends has given him. Gift certificates. DVDs. Books. CDs. He'd done good.

"Don't forget this one." Daniel handed him a sloppily wrapped, overly scotch-taped present. "This one's from me. I did it all by myself and I can't wait for you to open it. Hurry up." Daniel began to help Jack rip off the paper. "Look, it's a photo album." Daniel stood then sat on the arm on the chair. Daniel flipped open the front page. "See the words. 'To Jack. Thanks for the Memories. Love, Daniel'. Sam helped me with the letters. I told her the words I needed but I wrote them myself." Daniel flipped through the book at breakneck speed. "I took pictures from the box in the basement and made you an album. Jack, do you like it?"

Jack stuck his hand in one of the pages and Daniel stopped. The book opened, revealing two pages of crookedly placed pictures of a Daniel offworld. He remembered that planet, hell, he remembered Daniel's annoyance as Jack had continuously interrupted him by taking pictures with his new digital camera while he'd translated the wall of an abandoned temple. If he listened closely, he could actually hear Daniel cursing at him in Abydonian.

"I figured whenever you missed the other Daniel, you could just open this book and remember." Daniel flipped to the very end. "I put a picture of me in here. The Daniel I am now. See?" Daniel tapped the picture of him at Santa's Village. "Just because I want you to remember me, too."

Jack wasn't going to cry. He refused to cry. He wasn't going to cry in front of his friends or Daniel.

"Jack? Don't you like it?" Daniel repeated.

He pulled Daniel into his arms and hugged him so tightly that Daniel squeaked in protest. "It's the best present ever. Thank you."

* * * * *

Daniel was beside himself with excitement. Every present he opened, he examined. The pictures on the boxes of Lego that Jack had bought were studied and hmmm'd over. He squealed in delight over the portable DVD player from Carter, his eyes widened in surprise at the MP3 player from Fraiser and Cassie, then shook his head and dropped it like a hot potato. "I don't know how to use this."

"Me neither," Fraiser admitted. "That's why Cassie downloaded all songs that she thought you would like."

"Really?" He picked it up again. "Wow." Daniel looked to open the box, pouting in annoyance when Jack told him to wait.

"I'll show you later," Cassie promised. "I even downloaded the SpongeBob theme song so you can listen to it over and over again."

The heavy gift was from Teal'c and left Daniel speechless and Jack thinking that Daniel was going to need a room just for today's gifts. The peeled back paper revealed a small wicker chest that was filled with crayons, drawing pens, paper, colored paper, glitter pens, a myriad of drawing items that Daniel was scrounging through. "This is bottomless, Teal'c. There's so much stuff in here."

"Open the last present," Jack offered before Daniel got lost in Teal'c's Mary Poppin's carpet bag.

"Oh, yeah."

"It's from Rose."

"Rose." Slowly, Daniel petted the present then hugged it to his chest. "I wish she was here."

Jack ruffled his hair. "Me too, big guy, but open up the gift and see what she sent."

He ripped off the paper with abandon, two ends of the box went flying and Daniel stood up and began to jump around, holding the gift tightly in his arms. "A sweater! A sweater with SpongeBob!" Daniel quickly tugged the sweater over his head, fixed his glasses, then patted it in place, turning around so everyone could see. "Look at my sweater." He pulled the bottom up. "She made this? For me?" He reverently stroked the wool and slid back down to the floor. "Can I wear this tonight with my new SpongeBob pajamas?"

* * * * *

Daniel hooted each time Fraiser, Carter and Cassie opened their boxes that contained their own SpongeBob pajamas. "We can have a pajama party."

"Thank you, sir," Carter said as she held her yellow monstrosity up. "It's very..."

"Perfect for a sleepover," Daniel filled in, holding up his own pajama top.

"It would appear that I, too, am invited to your pajama party," Teal'c announced as he held up his SpongeBob night shirt.

Daniel giggled into his sweater. "Come on, Teal'c," he cajoled, "open my presents." Daniel pointed to the box by Teal'c's left knee.

Teal'c responded with a bow and opened the present, quizzically examining the book and the fish food. "Do these items have to do with the sponge that lives under the water?"

"No silly, you'll see." Daniel stood carefully, stepping over the boxes and paper scattered around the room.

* * * * *

Daniel sat across from Teal'c, staring into the small bowl. "Do you like him?"

Teal'c leaned forward and stared into the bowl as well. "I have never received the gift of a warrior fish, DanielJackson. He is truly a gift of the heart. I will endeavor to read all there is about him."

Teal'c stuck his finger in the water and tried to pet the flowing fins of the beta fish. "It does not appear that he likes me," he commented when the fish jerked then tried to swim away.

"Give him time," Daniel promised. "He doesn't know you."

* * * * *

"Dessert, Daniel?"

Daniel sat on the floor, his back against the recliner, the largest of the Lego boxes resting on his knees. He was tracing the outline of the castle with his fingers. "I don't want any."

"There's chocolate cake."

"No, thank you."

"It's your favorite. Carter went to the bakery—"

"No!" Daniel yelled abruptly.

Jack laid a hand on his bowed head, annoyed at the warmth of fever seeping into his fingers. Damn it! Was one day too much to ask for? "Head hurt?"

Daniel nodded.

"How about some Tylenol, chocolate milk and a tiny piece of cake?"

Daniel lifted his head and Jack's hand drifted down to his shoulders. "Dessert means the day is over. And I don't want today to be over."

"I have an idea." Jack grabbed the top to Daniel's SpongeBob pajamas. "Just put the top on over your shirt and sweater. Carter, Teal'c... everyone, come on in here."

* * * * *

Priceless. Everyone sitting at the dining room table wearing their SpongeBob pajamas. Jack had already taken a picture and Carter had already threatened him with death if anyone besides the people sitting at this table ever viewed the picture.

"Does this mean that Hammond can't see the picture?" Jack innocently asked?

"Or Rose?" Daniel took another bit of cake, the pushed the plate away. "I'm finished."

"Take the Tylenol." Jack leaned over and pushed the two pills in front of Daniel.

Without argument, Daniel took the pills, chased it down with the remainder of his chocolate milk then left the room.

"Carter? Doc? Teal'c? Why don't you go sit with Daniel, Cassie and I will clean up."

"We will?"

"You will," Fraiser ordered. "And before you say something, remember you haven't gotten your Christmas gifts from me yet."

Cassie gave her mother a good natured snarl then kissed the top of her head on the way to the kitchen. "Your wish is my command, Uncle Jack." She giggled at the name she hadn't used since she'd considered herself an adult. "Should I wash or dry?"

* * * * *

Daniel was sitting on the couch with the portable DVD player in his lap, Carter and Janet pressed to either of his sides, the three of them laughing and pointing to whatever was playing on the tiny screen. Teal'c sat on the floor by the table, keeping on eye on the beta and trying to read the book.

"Have you given him a name yet?" Jack asked, tapping on the top of the bowl.

"Min'yet," Teal'c answered without hesitation.

"And..." Jack countered.

"Gift," Daniel answered without even looking up from the screen. "The word is Goa'uld for gift."

"That is correct, DanielJackson."

And Jack knew, just by the expression on Teal'c's face, that he hadn't told Daniel what the word meant. "He does that sometimes," Jack reminded Teal'c.

* * * * *

Daniel stood in the doorway, watching forlornly, his head resting on Jack shoulder, refusing to wave goodbye as everyone drove away, honking and waving through their car windows. He was even warmer than before, his heat penetrating through Jack's shirt. He tugged him inside, away from the opened door and closed it. "Why don't you put on your new pajamas?"

"I don't want to go to bed."

"No bed. Not yet. You and Lumpy come on back to the living room when you're finished."

Daniel shivered then trudged down the hallway, then stopped, turned around and retraced his steps. "Forgot the jammies," he grumbled, sidestepping Jack.

* * * * *

The room was as clean as it was going to get for the evening, there was nothing left to be done that wouldn't involve rearranging Daniel's room to make room for all this stuff. But they had a week to accomplish that. Hammond's gift to him had been a week's worth of downtime and all Jack could think of when the general told him was seven days of no morning stress, which was actually better than any gift-wrapped present.

He threw another log on the fire, turned down all the lights in the room, then switched on the train before dropping, exhausted, onto the couch. Daniel shuffled into the room moments later, clad in new pajamas, the sweater from his mom and Lumpy tucked under his arm.

"Come, sit here." Jack patted the couch.

Daniel hesitated, nodded and plopped down next to Jack. "I don't want today to end," Daniel sniffed.

"Me neither, buddy." Jack threw his arm around Daniel's shoulder, as much as for friendship as for a temperature gauge. "But all good things have to come to an end."

"I know, but that—" Daniel sighed again and tucked his feet under his butt and curled up into Jack. "My head hurts," he said seemingly losing whatever train of thought he was working through.

Jack kissed the top of his bent head. "I know it does, how about if you close your eyes for a bit?"

"I don't want to go to sleep."

"Did I say sleep? Just rest your eyes."

"Resting now."

Jack stretched his legs out onto the coffee table, pulled Daniel closer to him, dragging the afghan from the back of the couch to cover them. "Better?"

"Why did you set up the train set?"

"Because it's Christmas and that train set..."

"That train set was special to the other Daniel."

Jack took a moment to answer, tucking the blanket around Daniel. "Yes, it was. I'm sorry if my putting it up bothered you. I'm sorry."

"I dented it. Because I was mad, I threw it," Daniel said slowly, his voice thick with tears. "I didn't mean to break something special."

"I know."

"I'm sorry," he sobbed.

"Hey. Hey." Jack turned sideways, held Daniel's shoulders and shook him gently until he looked at him. "It's Christmas. There's no crying on Christmas."

"No?"

"Nope." Jack wiped the tears up with the pads of his thumb. "You'll shrink the sweater."

Daniel giggled through his tears, shook off Jack's hands and lay back down against the couch cushions. Once again, Jack tucked the blanket around Daniel. "You know, I think Teal'c really liked the fish." He sat back against the cushions and redraped his arm around Daniel's shoulder, pulling him close.

"I hope he didn't catch a cold on the way home."

"Nah, T had it all taken care of, he even warmed up the car for the little guy."

"Can we put the Lego castle together tonight?"

"It's late."

"I'll be good. I won't complain."

"I know you won't. But I also know your head hurts. Which means your eyes hurt which means that it really won't be any fun for you. Though I also know something else."

Daniel didn't answer.

"Aw, come on, don't you want to know what I know?"

"What?"

"I'm off from work tomorrow."

"Tomorrow's..." Daniel stopped to think. "Sunday. You're always off on Sundays."

"Ah yes," Jack agreed. "But I'm off the next day and the next day and the next day—"

"Why? Did you get fired? Does this mean we'll have no money—?"

"No, Daniel, calm down. It means that General Hammond's Christmas present to me was a week off."

"You mean he gave you another present besides the movie tickets."

"Yup. Off for a week. So you know what that means?"

"Yes. Yes. Yes. No Center for the week. No getting up early. Playing all day." Daniel jumped off the couch. "This is great," he said flapping his arms. "We can do Lego and go to the movies and – ow." He touched his temple and squinted.

"Jumping around not good for the head, huh?"

"No," Daniel pouted.

* * * * *

Jack placed the SpongeBob comforter around a SpongeBob-clad Daniel. "There ya go; all that's missing is Sandy and Squidward."

Daniel snorted. "You've been watching too much SpongeBob, Jack."

"Hey," he replied indignantly, "I like the little yellow, square, porous guy."

"Thank you for Christmas." Daniel shifted around the bed until he found a spot comfortable enough for his liking. "I don't think I've ever had a Christmas like that before." He paused, studied Jack then smiled. "Have I?"

"You mean one where you're spoiled rotten and have the privilege of my esteemed company for the next week without interruptions. Nope can't say you have."

* * * * *

Half a book and Daniel was down for the count, snoring and mumbling, restlessly moving around the bed. Experience had taught Jack, based on the fever, that neither of them would be headed for a good night's sleep, but at least, for now, a whole week of afternoon naps beckoned him. He poured himself a whiskey and sat on the couch, the photo album Daniel had made sitting on his lap.

It was one thing to rely on his memories to recall what used to be and quite another for the memories to fill page after page of visuals. Damn Daniel for finding the pictures he had packed away. It hurt.

He stopped at a page that had a picture of Daniel bent over his laptop, immersed in research, his glasses balanced precariously at the tip of his nose, totally oblivious to Jack and the camera. God, he missed that man. Tears that had stayed hidden when the living room was filled with friends were hidden no more. "I miss you," he murmured, fingering the picture. "Merry Christmas to me," he lamented, allowing himself a few minutes of mourning.

He scrubbed his face with both hands, wiping and sniffing away the moisture. Jack turned to the back page and couldn't help but smile at the picture of Daniel and the reindeer. New memories being made. He stood, placed the book on the chair, and took his whiskey and his digital camera on a mission.

* * * * *

The picture Jack had taken earlier and just printed forced out a burst of laughter and he smiled broadly at the image of his family dressed in SpongeBob pajamas. He placed this visual next to the reindeer picture and secured it in place with double back tape. The other prints would be handed out with extra copies for George, his mom and one for Daniel's bedroom, because Daniel needed memories, too. The two envelopes of pictures from their visit with his mom belonged in this book. Tomorrow, he promised, slowly closing the album, they'd fill up some more pages.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

"Jack!"

"Yeah, what is it?" Jack gave the kitchen table a cursory wipe and tossed the dishcloth into the sink.

"It's broke."

"What's broke?"

"Toy Story. You said I could watch it and but doesn't wanna play."

Jack descended into the living room. Daniel was kneeling before the VCR, looking up at him with a woebegone expression.

"Let's take a look at it." Jack reached for the VHS tape half sticking out of the machine and immediately realized Daniel had tried putting the tape in upside down. He squelched down the thought that this was the third time this week that Daniel had done that. He inserted the cassette in properly and the machine thumped, whirred and whined. "There ya go."

"Thanks Jack!" Daniel scooted back to lean against the couch, his arms circling his raised knees.

* * * * *

"Colonel O' Neill?" General Hammond's aide appeared at the door of the briefing room. "Forgive the interruption, sirs, ma'ams but the Rehab Center is on the phone. They've asked to speak to Colonel O'Neill."

Jack looked at the others in alarm. General Hammond nodded.

"Take the call in my office, Colonel." He gestured for Jack to follow the airman. "We can carry on without you."

Jack picked up the phone hesitantly, afraid that he was going to hear very bad news. If something had happened to Daniel, he feared he would never be able to forgive himself.

"O'Neill," he spoke into the receiver, his throat tight with dryness.

"Colonel O'Neill, this is Dennis Rogers, one of Daniel's therapists."

"Is there a problem?"

"Sir, did Daniel appear ill when you brought him in earlier today?"

"No, he was fine. What's wrong? Is he sick now?"

"Daniel fell asleep during my session with him. We're letting him sleep for awhile, but it's entirely possible that he's getting a touch of the stomach virus that's been going around. Heck, half the clients have had it since the Christmas break. Daniel had a slight fever but his temperature's back to normal now."

"I'll be there in about forty-five minutes," Jack assured him. "And if Daniel wakes up, let him know I'm coming to get him."

"We'll see you then."

Forty-two minutes later Jack pulled up in front of the Center. He didn't remember Daniel saying anything about not feeling well that morning and he'd worn his usual downcast expression when entering the Center with Jack, smiling only when he saw one of his therapists.

He'd given Jack a rough hug and asked the question he asked every weekday morning, "You'll come back for me?"

And Jack had given his usual, "Of course, always."

"Colonel?" Dennis met him at the door to the common room. "Daniel's still sort of groggy but he woke up about fifteen minutes ago. He's not responding too well to us, though."

Jack nodded as he followed the young man. "Daniel doesn't sleep very well at night," he explained.

"Yes, sir."

Jack didn't miss the fact that Rogers appeared slightly miffed as if Jack was making excuses, even though he tried to hide it behind a concerned look as they stepped into the room where Daniel was.

"Hey there." Jack knelt before the rocking chair.

Daniel was curled up in it, one ankle tucked under his thigh, his other foot touching the floor and rocking the chair slightly. Lumpy was resting in his lap, Daniel stroking the soft brown fur with one hand while he looked into space.

"Daniel?" Jack rested his hand on Daniel's knee when there was no response.

Continuing his rocking, Daniel hummed under his breath. Jack leaned closer to hear him. He closed his eyes as he recognized the tune. Danny Boy.

"Hey, Daniel." Jack squeezed Daniel's knee and then shook it.

"He'll come for you. He will," Daniel finally murmured. "He will." His hand clenched in Lumpy's fur and then relaxed. Daniel blinked rapidly, looking at Jack.

"Jack?" He smiled then, the same heart stopping grin Jack got every day when he returned for Daniel. "Are you here?"

"I'm here," Jack agreed. "Dennis called and said you fell asleep. Don't you feel well?"

Daniel leaned forward to wrap his arms around Jack's neck. "Better now. But I was with the lights." He pushed away from Jack, that distant look returning to his face.

"Daniel," Jack said sharply, "what lights?"

"The pretty lights. Like the Christmas tree," Daniel said, leaning his head on Jack's shoulder. "My head hurts, Jack." He rubbed at his nose and gave a small cough.

Jack hugged him lightly and then urged Daniel to stand. "We'll get you home and you can rest. How's that?"

"Uh huh." Daniel stood with eyes closed, not even making an effort to get his backpack. "Can I sleep on the sofa?"

"You can sleep on the sofa." Jack took Daniel's arm after retrieving the pack and helping him slip his jacket on. As he tugged the zipper ends together, he realized how many times he'd had to do that simple task for Daniel during the past weeks. He started walking him slowly towards the exit. Ellen, one of Daniel's other therapists, gave Jack a sympathetic smile.

"I hope you feel better, Daniel," she said in a low soothing tone.

"My head hurts, Ellen," Daniel told her. "And my nose and my throat."

"I think it's his allergies," Jack explained. "The antihistamines haven't been working too well. C'mon, buddy." He urged Daniel to walk a few more steps. "We'll go home. I'll call and see if Doc Fraiser can come over later."

"I don't want to see her." Daniel got in the Avalanche, allowing Jack to buckle him in. "She can't help me."

Jack sighed. "You need some other kind of allergy pill. She's not going to give you a shot, okay?"

Daniel leaned his head against the window, holding Lumpy up to his face and rubbing the animal over his cheek.

"Jack, you need to find me," Daniel said, his voice exhausted. "I miss you."

"I miss you, too." Jack settled for patting Daniel's knee instead of voicing the thought aloud. "You're not lost. You're right here with me. We're going home."

"I am. You don't believe me, but I am lost." Daniel sighed and closed his eyes. "Soon it won't matter. I'll be gone forever. You won't ever be able to find me."

Jack nearly rammed the Avalanche into the small compact car ahead of him, Daniel's words chilling him to the core and twisting his gut.

"Daniel, listen to me." Jack pulled into a mini mart parking lot. "You don't feel good right now, but I promise you're going to feel better. You are not going to die." Jack felt his mouth go dry as he said those words.

"Find me." Daniel's blue eyes bored into his, a flash of the Daniel Jack had fallen in love with sparking there, it seemed. "Promise me you'll find me. You know where I am."

Just what the hell was Daniel talking about? Jack wondered if it was some sort of sign that the brain damage was worsening. He couldn't think of anything to say, settling instead for cupping Daniel's cheek in his hand, rubbing his thumb over the slight rasp of Daniel's whiskers. Daniel did have a slight fever. Maybe that was why he wasn't quite making sense. That, combined with his nocturnal ramblings and horrific nightmares, must all be contributing to Daniel's confusion.

Daniel leaned into Jack's touch and then looked up and smiled sadly. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too." Jack let his hand rest on that beloved cheek a moment longer and then patted it gently. "Let's get you home and set up on the sofa."

Daniel nodded. "Can I put in my SpongeBob tapes?"

"Anything you want, Danny. Anything you want." Jack swallowed past the pain in his own throat.

"Thanks for always taking care of me." Daniel held Lumpy up to Jack's face. "Lumpy wants to give you a kiss from me."

Jack closed his eyes, letting the soft brown fur tickle his cheek, trying desperately not to think of kissing Daniel in the past. Daniel made a kissing sound and then giggled, breaking the awkward moment.

"Can I have some Snapple and crackers, too?"

"Snapple and crackers," Jack agreed, forcing his mind back to driving Daniel home.

* * * * *

Two hours later, Jack opened the door for Doctor Fraiser.

"He's resting on the sofa," he explained as he led her into the living room. "I checked his temperature every fifteen minutes like you asked me to. It hasn't gone higher than ninety nine point three."

Jack sat on the coffee table and shook Daniel's shoulder. "Hey, Daniel. Wake up, buddy. Doc's here to see you."

Daniel opened his eyes warily. "Not sleepin'," he mumbled. He pulled the afghan closer over his shoulders when he saw Janet. "You're not gonna give me a shot, are you?"

"No." Fraiser smiled at him and then at Jack. "No shot. But I'd like to listen to your chest, look at your ears and throat."

Daniel nodded. "My throat hurts, Doc Janet. And my nose is all sniffly." He began wiping at his dripping nose with his shirt sleeve before Jack gently pulled his arm away and gave him a tissue.

"We're going to see what we can do about that sniffly nose," Janet promised. She adjusted her stethoscope and bent closer. "Now let's have you take some deep breaths for me."

Doctor Fraiser finished her exam quickly and efficiently and then motioned for Jack to follow her to the kitchen. Daniel was half-asleep again, his breathing eased somewhat.

Jack pulled the afghan up over Daniel's shoulder once again and patted Daniel's cheek. "I'll be back soon, Daniel. You just rest. Okay?"

Daniel nodded and pulled Lumpy up to his cheek. "Move, Jack. You're blocking the TV." He pushed at Jack's thighs.

Jack laughed as he left the room, his smile fading at Janet's severe expression.

"How long were you planning on keeping this from me, Colonel?" She spoke in a low urgent voice.

"Whoa!" Jack held up both hands in mock surrender. "You know he keeps getting fevers. You said it was just a leftover from the viral memory and nothing could be done. His temperature's rarely gone over one hundred unless he's picked up some bug. You've been getting updates from the Center as to his therapy. So perhaps you'd like to tell me just what I've kept from you."

"Sir, can't you... when's the last time you've really looked at Daniel?"

"I look at him every day, Doctor." Jack nearly spat the words out. "I look at him when I shave him, when I help him get his clothes ready, when I drive him to the Center, when I leave him there and he asks if I'm going to pick him up. I look at him when I bring him home and try to get him to eat something, anything, and when I read him a story because he can't even recognize his own name. So I'd say I've been really looking at him a lot over the past year."

Janet held up a hand, "Colonel, let me start over. I can see Daniel's lost weight since Christmas. He looks exhausted and not just exhaustion from today's allergy attack either."

"He doesn't sleep very well," Jack finally admitted. "He has nightmares. But you know that."

"Sir, I'd like you to bring Daniel into the SGC tomorrow. I'd like to do some more exams, do a full workup on him. I'm concerned about his health."

"He's fine."

"Colonel, I wanted to speak to you earlier today about the reports I received from the Center. You realize that Daniel isn't making progress, don't you? That he seems unable to learn any new skills? That in some areas he appears to be regressing even more?"

"Yeah." Jack reached back and rubbed the back of his head. "The therapist from the Center... Rogers... mentioned something about... I know Daniel's... not been able to learn anything knew but... regressing?"

"Daniel's been going downhill ever since the... it wasn't as obvious eight or ten months ago but, there's been a huge decline in his abilities and—"

"I haven't noticed anything," Jack said, his voice beginning to rise. He bit back the temptation of putting his hands over his ears, squeezing his eyes shut and yelling "Lalalalala" at the top of his voice in an attempt at avoidance. There was a hint of truth in Fraiser's words that he had pushed back whenever he noticed Daniel... regressing.

"He's been happy lately, hasn't he? His visit with Rose? Christmas? It's lulled you into a false sense of security. The therapists noticed right away that there had been a huge decline in his abilities just in the past couple weeks since he's been back from holidays."

Jack stepped away from her, beginning to pace. "It's my fault. I kept him away from the Center, took him to visit my mom. Then there was Christmas. He's just gotten out of the routine."

"Sir, it's more than that. He's—"

"Damnit, he'll be fine once he gets back into the routine."

"Colonel, it's been three weeks. It won't get any better. If anything, it'll continue to worsen."

"How bad?" Jack knew he was going to lose it and he couldn't seem to stop himself. Daniel had been happy. Happier these past months than he'd been since he'd been this way. And now Fraiser was telling him, what? "How bad is it going to get? To the point that he'll keep regressing into the mind of a toddler? How bad?"

"Jack?" He whirled at the soft voice.

Daniel was standing in the kitchen doorway, the afghan falling around his feet, Lumpy held tight against his chest.

"I'm sorry I got sick, Jack. Don't yell anymore, please."

Jack forgot Fraiser's presence and went to Daniel. He pulled him into a gentle hug. "No, no need to be sorry, Daniel. Doc Fraiser and I just needed to discuss some things."

"Doc Janet?" Daniel pushed away from Jack and went over to Janet. "Don't be mad at Jack. Sometimes he gets sad because he misses the other Daniel and he just has me instead."

"I'm not mad at the colonel, Daniel. I'm his doctor, just like I'm your doctor and sometimes I need to tell people the truth," she explained. Jack moved closer so he could see her face as she spoke to Daniel. "And sometimes telling them the truth hurts them a little bit even though it helps in the long run." She looked up at Jack, questions in her eyes. "Right, Colonel?"

He smiled at her. "Right, Doc. And sometimes the people don't want to hear the truth but they really need to."

"Like needles?" Daniel finally piped up when it seemed no one else was going to speak.

Jack laughed softly and pulled Daniel back into a hug. "Like needles. Hurt for a bit but you feel better later."

"I'd better be going," Janet said, smiling at both of them. "I'll see both of you at 0800 tomorrow."

"Yes, ma'am," Jack nodded, "both of us." He sent Daniel up to the bathroom to brush his teeth before following Janet to the door. "Doc, how bad?"

Janet looked at him a long moment, her brown eyes searching his. "I don't know, sir." She bit her lip and hurriedly stepped out of the door.

Jack closed the door behind her and went up the steps to the bathroom and Daniel.

* * * * *

"You finished?" Jack hesitated by Daniel's side, his hand hovering over Daniel's plate. Daniel was playing with his food, had been for the past fifteen minutes in between asking Jack innumerable questions and making inane chatter.

The day seemed to be a particularly long one starting with Daniel's nightmare at 0300 and his subsequent refusal to go back to bed. Jack's hopes for a tired Daniel in the afternoon were dashed. Evidently this over tired Daniel was going to be hyped up for the rest of the evening.

Daniel nodded at Jack, giving him a sweet smile and turned back to the Legos he'd brought to the supper table. Jack yawned as he filled the sink with water and soap. No point in running the dishwasher for the few dishes they had today.

He thought ahead. If he could manage to get Daniel to bed by ten, he would be able to write out the bills he hadn't managed to pay this afternoon due to Daniel's incessant chatter and curiosity. And they were going to have to go to the hardware store sometime tomorrow to get a lock for the medicine cabinet. Daniel's coming out of the bathroom with a bottle of sleeping pills in his hand earlier in the day was just another reason he hadn't had time to write out the checks. Daniel truly no longer understood the danger, didn't want to upset Jack. Jack knew that, but he just didn't seem to be able to anticipate every possible bit of danger Daniel could experience in his own house.

The attempt to shovel snow before supper had to be ended when Daniel decided he wanted to help and had ended up with his piling more snow onto the just-cleaned driveway as fast as Jack managed to shovel it away.

They were definitely going to finish cleaning up the living room later. Jack was sick and tired of stepping on the Legos Daniel couldn't remember to put away. Only problem with cleaning was that Daniel insisted on playing with every toy as he gathered it up. Jack shook his head, remembering the old Daniel's pleas for, "One more minute, Jack," on practically every new planet they visited, or Daniel's lingering over the bookshelves in the bookstore totally lost in another world.

He wondered if they'd be granted one peaceful night's sleep. That was all he wished for these day; a night where he didn't have to get up and soothe Daniel out of a nightmare. A night of peace and quiet.

"Jack?" Daniel twisted in his chair to keep sight of Jack. "Can you help me with my letters and numbers later?"

Jack scrubbed the plate harder, images of Daniel bent over his simple alphabet and number book trying so desperately to decipher what had become a foreign language to him assaulting him. "Yeah. Later on. After we're done doing some cleaning up."

"You make us clean an awful lot. Why do we gotta do it so much? You make me make my bed every day and then the covers just get all scrunched up again anyway." Daniel wandered over to Jack's side, carrying a Lego creation in one hand and Lumpy tucked under the other arm. "See what I made?" Daniel pushed the Lego under Jack's nose.

"I see," Jack answered without looking.

"I know it's still cold out, but can we look at the stars tonight? Remember you said you'd help me count them sometime? Can we do it tonight?"

Daniel dropped the Lego on the floor and carefully placed Lumpy on the counter. "Let me help." He put his hands in the soapy water, nudging Jack out of the way with one hip. "I want to help."

"Not tonight. I just want to get them done." Jack didn't relinquish his spot.

"No," Daniel insisted. "I want to help. Look I can even count the glasses." He pulled one glass out of the soapy water. "One."

"Four." He placed another in the rinse water.

He pulled out a coffee mug. "Seven."

"Daniel, please." Jack touched Daniel's arm, knowing that Daniel was going to wind up playing more than working anyway.

Daniel turned at Jack's touch, the mug slipping from soapy fingers and shattering on the kitchen floor.

"Damn it," Jack yelled. "Why couldn't you just let me finish?" He looked at the shattered mug, one which Daniel, his old Daniel, his lover, had given him not long before that unforgettable mission that the damned Goa'uld had captured them all. Shattered, just like his dreams, like the pieces of his life.

Daniel squatted down, starting to pick up the pieces.

"Leave it," Jack barked. "Just leave it." He pulled the dustpan out from under the sink, quickly sweeping the pieces up and depositing them in the trash.

"I can fix it. Maybe we can glue it together, Jack. Like a jigsaw puzzle. Or I can buy you a new one if you give me money," Daniel chattered on, his voice nearly breathless.

"No. No, it can't be fixed." Jack shook his head, the anger dissipating, "It would leak. It wouldn't ever be as good as it once was."

And perhaps things would have ended there if Jack hadn't stepped on the now forgotten Legos with his bare foot.

"Shit!" Jack pulled his foot off the floor. "Daniel, how many times do I have to tell you to keep the Legos where they belong? Five minutes. Five minutes of peace and quiet and you not bothering me. Is that too much to ask?"

He wasn't even looking at Daniel anymore, just limped to the closest chair and sat down. It wasn't until he heard the bedroom door slam that he realized Daniel had left the kitchen. It wasn't until he heard that slam that he realized just how horrible his words must have sounded to Daniel's ears.

"Oh, God." Jack placed his head in his hands. "Oh, God. Help me." He picked up the offending Legos, placing them on the counter and noticed that in his distress, Daniel had left Lumpy behind.

He picked up the camel, stroking its fur absently, fingering the small missing patch near its neck and then held it up and looked it in the eyes. "C'mon, Lumpy. I got a lot of 'splaining to do."

"Daniel?" Jack rapped on the door with his knuckles. "Can I come in?"

"I'm... I'm busy." There was no way Jack could miss the hitches in Daniel's breathing that indicated distress.

"Well, could I come in and help you?" Jack cautiously tried the door, not surprised to find it locked.

"No." The voice was muffled and Jack heard a grunt. "No, I don't need help, Jack."

"I'm going to sit out here in the hall and you can open the door when you're ready." Jack lowered himself gently to the floor.

"I'm sorry I broke your favoritest mug," Daniel said, his voice very clear. Jack heard a thump as Daniel sat down on the other side of the door.

"It's okay." Jack held his hand on the door, wishing he had Daniel's shoulder under his hand. "I know you didn't do it on purpose, that it was an accident."

"I wish I wasn't so stupid. I wish I didn't forget so many things," Daniel sighed. "I think a long time ago, I used to be smart. The other Daniel, he's still smart."

"Daniel, I..." Jack pulled Lumpy close to his heart, pressing the stuffed toy into his chest as if the animal could absorb the pain of Daniel's words.

"I'm gonna find him for you. I promise. I don't know my numbers or my letters but I'm good at finding things." Daniel's breath hitched again. "Remember? You said I'm good at finding things. When you couldn't find the screwdriver and I found it right on the deck where you left it? You said I'm good at finding things."

"That's right. You are." Jack leaned his head against the door, imagining Daniel echoing his own position. There was a scuffling noise and then a loud thump.

"Daniel?" Jack scrambled to his feet, cursing under his breath at the twinge in his knee. "You okay in there?"

"I'm fine." Daniel sounded for a moment so like his former self that Jack's heart pounded faster. "I... I'm really busy. I don't want to bother you anymore."

"Open the door." Jack made a fist to pound on it once more and then flattened his palm against it instead. "Please?"

"Okay," Daniel sniffled loudly, just on the other side of the door. "You can come in. I don't need any help. I did it all myself."

Jack had no idea what Daniel was talking about but he stepped into Daniel's room cautiously, noticing the duffel bag on the bed immediately. One sneaker was peeking out the top along with a sweatshirt. Jack turned in a slow circle. All of Daniel's dresser drawers were open, some clothes half-falling out from Daniel's haste.

"What's the bag for?" Jack asked gently, knowing in his heart what Daniel was planning.

"I have to go away." Daniel grabbed his pillow from the bed and tried to stuff it into the already overstuffed bag. "If I go away and find the old Daniel, you'll be happy again. I'll send him back to you, I promise." Daniel looked at him for the first time, his eyelashes clumped together from the tears he'd shed. "And I won't bother you no more either."

"Where are you going to go?" Jack moved closer to Daniel, reaching out to touch Daniel's shoulder.

"Far away. When we watched that show on TV? Remember? Where the big triangles were? I'll go there."

"The pyramids. Egypt. Egypt is far, far away." Jack urged Daniel towards the edge of the bed, getting him to sit down.

"That's good," Daniel nodded. He caught his breath and let it out slowly and then bit his lip. "I'll find him for you first. And then I'll go to Egypt. Then you won't need to remember me anymore."

Jack held out Lumpy. "You forgot Lumpy."

Daniel looked at the overstuffed duffle bag and then back at Jack. "You... you better keep him. I... I th... think he'd be happier here." Daniel's fingers twitched but he didn't reach out to take Lumpy from Jack's grasp. "You... sometimes at night it's lonely, and until the other Daniel comes back, you need someone to keep you company." Daniel looked at Jack, his face wearing that same sort of resignation Jack had seen in a hallway on Apophis' ship. "I don't need him. He's yours until Daniel comes home."

Jack pulled Daniel close. "You are home." He wrapped his arms around Daniel, holding him in a tight hug, Lumpy getting squished between them. "This is your home. You are my Daniel. The only Daniel I need."

Jack felt the tears soaking into his shirt, heard the muffled, "Sorry."

"No, I'm sorry," Jack whispered into Daniel's hair. "I was mad at me, not you, and that wasn't fair." He rocked Daniel slowly, as much for his benefit as Daniel's.

"Can I stay? Even if I don't find him for you?"

"You are going to stay here forever and ever," Jack soothed.

"I'll pick up all my Legos and all my crayons and I'll use the paper on both sides and not make any noise." Daniel pushed away from Jack, his eyes searching, still needing reassurances.

Jack brought up his hands and wiped the tears away with the pads of his thumbs. "You know, Daniel, I like when you talk to me. I like it a lot." He did. He loved the sound of Daniel's voice, the quiet tones of Daniel lecturing, the slightly higher pitched version of this Daniel's voice with his endless questions.

Daniel smiled at him. "I can talk. I'm real good at that."

Jack cupped Daniel's cheek in his hand. "I know. And you keep doing it, okay?"

Daniel nodded, his hands coming up almost without awareness. Jack smiled and placed Lumpy in them.

"That was very generous. Offering Lumpy to me." Jack moved his hand to Daniel's shoulder, feeling the taut muscles. "But I think Lumpy would have been very sad without you here." He rubbed Daniel's shoulder gently.

Daniel hiccupped and looked at Jack in surprise, a few more tears trickling down his face.

"How about I go fill the tub for you?" Jack asked. Hopefully a bath would help relax Daniel and let him sleep.

Daniel nodded happily, his earlier distress seemingly forgotten. "Bubbles?"

"Bubbles," Jack agreed. "Can you get some of your things put away until the bath is ready?"

Daniel got up and started pulling the things out of the duffle bag. "Jack?" he called as Jack went through the door.

"Yeah, Danny?" Jack poked his head back in the room, noticing Daniel's returning things to the drawers was as haphazard as his packing.

"I'm glad I'm staying." Daniel paused to give Jack a gentle smile.

"I'm glad you are, too." Jack smiled back. And as he went to fill the tub he realized that he truly was.

Jack grinned as he finished writing his last checks. Daniel's singing drifted down the stairs as he sang the SpongeBob theme song once more.

"Daniel," Jack called up the steps. "I think it's about time to get out of the tub, okay?"

"Okay," Daniel called back. "Are you gonna read me a story?"

"Yep." Jack put his checkbook back in the desk drawer. "I'll be there soon."

By the time he washed the remaining dishes, dried them and put them away, he knew Daniel would be tucked in bed.

Jack peeked in Daniel's door ten minutes later wondering if the emotional roller coaster earlier had tired Daniel out. Daniel was sitting up in bed, two books on his lap and Lumpy tucked under his arm.

"Lumpy and me are ready," Daniel announced. He pushed his glasses up onto his head and rubbed at his eyes.

"You want a snack?" Jack asked.

"I'm cozy." Daniel pulled at the comforter. "All snuggly warm."

"Yeah, but how about a snack in bed?" Jack waggled his eyebrows.

Daniel giggled. "You can't eat in bed."

"Tonight's a special night. Bedtime snack in bed."

"Cereal," Daniel decided. "With chocolate milk?"

Jack ruffled Daniel's hair. "Well, since it's a special night. Chocolate milk on the cereal. But not for breakfast, okay?"

Daniel hugged Lumpy to himself happily. "Okay."

When Jack returned with the cereal a few minutes later, Daniel had one of the books open on his lap, a finger running along the line of print, brow wrinkled in concentration.

"Jack?" Daniel frowned as Jack sat on the edge of the bed. "Is this a D?"

Jack looked at the letter and moved Daniel's finger to the only D on the page. "No, but this one is."

"I wish I could read," Daniel sighed. "There's so many books to read."

"I know." Jack echoed Daniel's sigh. He moved Lumpy to the side and handed Daniel the bowl and spoon. "But until you learn, I'll read you all the books you want. Deal?"

"Deal." Daniel said before he took a big mouthful of cereal.

* * * * *

"And it was still hot." Jack closed the book.

Daniel smiled. "That's a good book." He yawned and scooted down in the bed, finally stretching out. "Max's mom loved him even when he was bad and even when he got mad."

"Yep, she did." Jack rubbed a slow circle on Daniel's back.

"I was mad at you," Daniel admitted.

"We were both mad," Jack agreed. "That's okay. For us to get mad at each other. It doesn't mean I stop loving you if I get mad. Or that you stop loving me if you get mad."

Daniel traced a paint stain on Jack's jeans with one long finger. "That's good. I was worried."

Jack said nothing, just kept up that slow soothing rubbing, thinking of the arguments he and Daniel had in the past, arguments that ended more often than not with both of them naked in bed.

"I love you, Jack," Daniel whispered.

"I love you, too, Danny," Jack whispered back. He turned off the bedside lamp, the light from the full moon filling the room and the small nightlight providing a gentle glow.

"Stay awhile?" Daniel asked. Jack reached behind Daniel, placing Lumpy in his arms, the loss of Daniel's finger on his jeans a sudden emptiness.

"Till you fall asleep," Jack whispered. "Everything will be brighter in the morning. We'll both feel better after a good night's sleep."

"Jack?" Daniel was fighting sleep, Jack knew it. He could hear the yawn that Daniel was trying to hide. "Will you sing me the song? Remember the song with my name in it?"

Jack smiled. His singing ability had been a source of great amusement in his musical family. No one ever asked Jack O'Neill to sing at family weddings or funerals. But that very same voice meant safety and love to one Daniel Jackson.

"Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling, From glen to glen..."

Jack sang the song twice, his voice growing softer as he heard Daniel's breathing deepen and slow.

"I love you so, Danny boy," he whispered as he bent to place a kiss on Daniel's hair.

He closed the door part way as he left the room, pausing to look back. The moonlight lit Daniel's form, his hair silvery in the glow. A warm rush filled Jack. Love for Daniel. Different from what he'd had, but love nonetheless. He meant what he said. Things would look brighter in the morning and he and Daniel would continue on this path together, the same way they always had.

~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~ ~^~

It was a whimpering sound that pulled Jack from the depths of sleep. He raised his head, wondering if he'd dreamed the noise. Usually Daniel's nightmares erupted in violent screams and not the quiet, timid mewls he thought he'd heard.

And then he heard the whimpering again, along with the brush of cloth against plastered walls.

"Daniel?"

"Jack!"

The cry was desperate and near panicked. Jack quickly threw off the blankets and rushed into the hallway. Daniel was sitting on his butt, cowering in a corner near the stairs to the den. The moment he spotted Jack, he got up and ran to him, nearly bowling him over in his despair.

"Hey, what's going on?" Jack braced himself as he was propelled into the wall. He held tightly onto Daniel, who was shivering and crying.

"I have to pee."

"Okay, c'mon, let's go to the bathroom." He took a step down the hall, physically pulling Daniel with him.

"I can't find it. I looked and looked and couldn't find the bathroom."

"You must have been sleepwalking, big guy." Jack tried to downplay the incident as he stopped before the bathroom and reached inside with one hand and flicked on the light. "See, the bathroom's right here. Right where it's always been."

Daniel blinked in the sudden illumination, then hurried to stand in front of the toilet bowl. Jack turned his back, listening to Daniel's quiet sobs as he peed, and tried to quell the frisson of fear that this little episode had woken inside of him.

* * * * *

The sound of Daniel's Game Boy registered with Jack as he walked down the stairs. He glanced at his watch. 0630. He shook his head and wondered how much sleep Daniel had gotten.

There had been no more nightmares or sleepwalking incidents during the night; only one plaintive, "Jack," called out in Daniel's sleep. A brief trip to Daniel's room, a few soothing pats to Daniel's back with murmured nonsense sounds to go with it, a rearranging of the blankets, and Jack was back in bed and asleep again in less than five minutes.

As Jack walked into the living room, Daniel looked up at him with a woebegone look. "It's broken." He held up the Game Boy as Jack came down the stairs and went to him.

Jack took the toy and examined it. "It looks okay to me."

"No, it's broken. I can't win the game anymore. It doesn't want to work when I tell it to."

"Do you need to recharge the batteries?" Jack hit the Start button and he began moving through the level.

"No, the batteries are okay. The game just doesn't want to play right."

"There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with it." The music reverberated loudly in his hand as he easily worked his way through that level to the second one.

"I can't get to level two. I always won the game but now it won't let me go there."

"I'll have Carter look at it, 'k?" Jack turned the toy off when he found himself on level three, and put it on the coffee table. "So, did you have breakfast yet?"

"I've been waiting for you to get up forever." He motioned towards the kitchen. "I made you breakfast."

Jack looked at him questioningly.

"I didn't use the stove, Jack. I know I'm not allowed unless you or Rose are with me. But I made you cereal. I put it in the big bowl, lots and lots of it for you and I put your spoon on the table and I didn't put any milk on it so it wouldn't get soggy. I got your glass for juice and the one for coffee, but I didn't get it out because I don't know how to make it yet."

"Daniel, Daniel!" Jack laughed. "Slow down. Making me breakfast was very nice."

"I ate already," Daniel continued after taking another deep breath. "Two whole bowls of cereal."

Daniel followed him to the kitchen, telling him about the cartoons he was watching. Daniel watched him intently as he went about making coffee.

"Why do you like to drink that stuff anyway?" Daniel wrinkled his nose. "I think it tastes yucky."

Jack froze, his hand poised over the coffee canister. He turned and smiled at Daniel. The blue eyes still sparkled with joy and excitement, maybe even with a brighter expression than Jack hadn't seen for a long time. The curiosity, the intelligence, was still there, somewhere, deep inside. And Daniel loved him; not as a lover, Jack knew that dream was gone forever, but with a love that Jack didn't know that he deserved, unreserved and with all of his heart.

"So, Daniel." Jack forced himself to speak past the lump that formed in his throat. "It's Saturday. Our day. What do you want to do?"

Daniel sat down at the table, watching as Jack poured milk on his cereal.

"That was good I didn't make it soggy for you, huh?" Daniel propped his chin on his fist.

"Very good." Jack gave him a smile and took a big mouthful of cereal, motioning with his spoon for Daniel to decide what their day would include.

"Can I have a pet, Jack?" Daniel asked. "I'd take care of it. You wouldn't have to do anything. I'd feed it and give it water and make sure it was clean."

"Daniel, your allergies," Jack began apologetically.

Daniel shook his head emphatically. "I want some fishies."

"We had fish, remember? They didn't last very long."

Daniel looked at Jack with a frown marring his forehead. "We did? Like the warrior fish?"

"No, we had angel fish."

"That's a funny name. Did they have wings, like an angel?"

"Now that'd be a funny fish, if they had wings. No, they didn't have any."

"How many kinds of fishies are there? Are there lots and lots?

"How about we go to the mall, look at the aquarium store, how's that?"

Daniel nodded and went into the living room, coming out a moment later with Jack's keys.

"Okay, I'm ready." He handed the keys to Jack.

"Daniel," Jack shook his head in bemusement at Daniel's enthusiasm, "we can't go yet. The stores won't open for another three hours." Jack took his last mouthful of cereal and quickly rinsed his bowl.

"What do you say we watch some TV?" He studied Daniel closely, noticing the small tremors that seemed to randomly overtake the younger man. "You can stretch out on the sofa and take a little nap until it's time to go."

Daniel followed Jack back into the living room and put his head on the pillow Jack placed on his lap. Bringing up his hand, Daniel rubbed it on Jack's jean-clad knee. Jack covered Daniel's hand with his, stopping the motion for the time being.

"Close your eyes, Daniel." Jack rubbed a small circle on Daniel's temple, frowning at the warmth of the skin. He'd give it an hour or so and then check Daniel's temperature.

Jack sighed and tilted his own head back. He'd lain awake for an hour after he'd tucked Daniel in last night and then got up and wrote his letter of resignation. He'd spend the rest of his days with Daniel, as long as he was physically able to. Daniel needed him more than Earth did and he couldn't do justice to both anymore.

He wondered if Hammond expected Jack would come to this decision so soon. He was pretty sure Fraiser had spoken to Hammond about Daniel's regression. In one sense he blamed himself for everything, and in another he blamed their allies. The Nox, the Tok'ra – all with incredible abilities or devices to heal, and none of them had done Daniel any good. And he wasn't talking joining here – he'd be damned if he'd put a snake, Tok'ra or not, inside Daniel's head, even if it wasn't too late to help him now, after all this time. And the Asgard – he was just as pissed at Thor who in the past year, hadn't even made an appearance or acknowledged their request for help.

Jack smiled as he looked down at Daniel, whose eyes were not closed but instead fixed on the cartoon racing across the screen. After he handed in his resignation, he and Daniel were going to head up to Minnesota for a few weeks. Jack wondered what this Daniel's reaction to fishing would be. The break away from it all would do them both good. And then maybe, just maybe, they'd be able to come back refreshed and renewed. Their trip to visit his mom last year had worked wonders. He'd have to talk to Daniel's therapists, get some instructions on things he could do with Daniel while they were at the cabin.

"Jack?" Daniel's voice drifted up plaintively. "Can I draw you some pictures? I'm rested enough."

Jack patted his shoulder. "Yeah, you do that." If he was lucky, he could get Daniel to rest for a few hours in the afternoon.

Daniel got up, retrieved his crayons and paper from the desk and sat down at the coffee table.

"I'm gonna draw you some nice pictures," Daniel said as he picked out a crayon. "Then you can take them to work and hang them up and not forget about me."

"Daniel," Jack waited until blue eyes fixed on his, "what would you think if I told you I'm not going to work anymore?"

Daniel cocked his head to the side and then hurriedly looked down at his paper. "I won't ask for any more stuff, Jack. And we don't have to get the fishies."

"Why would you say..." Jack paused before he realized Daniel's concern. "Danny, we have plenty of money. We can get your fish and buy you as much stuff as you need."

Daniel looked up at him. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure," Jack nodded. "Plenty of money."

Daniel grinned then. "And you'll be home with me all day and night."

"All day and night."

"I won't have to go back to the Center?" That was asked hopefully.

Jack hesitated. "I think some days you'll have to go." At Daniel's frown, he continued. "We'll talk to Doc Janet and your therapists and teachers to find out, okay?" He watched Daniel drawing for a few minutes. "Danny, no one hurts you at the Center, do they?"

Daniel shook his head. "No, they're nice most of the time." He continued coloring. "But you're not there. I'm all alone again. I don't like being alone. The other Daniel doesn't either. He misses you, Jack." Daniel never looked up from his picture, and Jack just didn't feel like pushing for answers at the moment. He was beginning to believe that Daniel's cryptic references to the other Daniel were some sort of wisps of memory of Daniel's former life before the encounter with Wepwawet.

He listened as Daniel began listing all the activities he wanted to do for the day.

The phone rang and Daniel snatched it off the coffee table before Jack could even move.

"Hi, it's Daniel," he answered the phone. "Hi, Grandpa George. I'm drawing pictures for you and then Jack and me are going to buy me some fishies and go for a picnic and..." He stopped and held the phone out to Jack.

"Grandpa George wants to talk to you."

Jack took the offered phone.

"Colonel. I know this is short notice but SG-7 have run into an incident on P3S 342. Since SG-1 had first contact with the people there, I was hoping you and your team could go and talk to them, calm them down and see to the release of Peters and his men."

"Yes, sir. Of course." He looked at his watch, "I can be there in—"

"No," Daniel tugged at Jack's arm, "it's Saturday. It's always Jack and Daniel day. You tell Grandpa George we're playing today."

"Daniel, please," Jack hissed and turned his attention back to his commanding officer. "About an hour. General, Daniel... if Carter is being called in, I have no one who can watch..."

"No," Daniel shook his head and yelled at the phone. "Jack can't come to work. He gets to play today."

"Bring him along. I won't mind him sitting with me for a while."

"Yes, sir. I'll bring him along. Thank you, sir." Jack finally hung up. "C'mon, Daniel. I have to go to the base."

"No." Daniel crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm not going."

"Daniel, I really don't have time for this. You're coming along."

"No." Daniel stepped away from Jack. "You said you weren't going to work anymore. Why didn't you tell Grandpa George?"

"Daniel." Jack rubbed at his forehead, feeling a headache starting to blossom there. "Go get your shoes and we'll get going."

"No." Daniel picked up his crayons. "I don't want to go. You promised, Jack. You promised that it was Daniel day."

"I'm sorry, Daniel. I truly am."

"I hate Grandpa George. I hate your job," Daniel yelled. He threw the crayons, stomping on one of them that landed nearby.

"Pick them up, Daniel." Jack went to the desk to retrieve his keys. "Pick up the crayons and get your shoes."

"I won't." Daniel shook his head. He tore up the piece of paper he'd been drawing on. "And you can't have this picture either."

The pieces of paper fluttered to the floor like confetti after a party.

"Daniel." Jack forced himself to breathe evenly; he so did not have time to deal with this. "Come on." When there was no response other than a stubborn glare, Jack threw up his hands in disgust. "Fine. You want to stay home, you can stay home." Daniel's brief triumphant smile faded as Jack continued. "Alone. I need to go to work. You won't come with me; you can just damn well stay here alone."

Jack regretted his angry words of course. He knew Daniel's fears of being left alone, of abandonment. He scrubbed at his face. God, lately it seemed that no matter what he did, it was wrong. They couldn't go on this way. He wondered if this was what a dissection felt like, all the little pieces of yourself being removed, twisted, and examined until there was nothing left but an empty shell.

Daniel was shaking his head. "No, no, no," he whispered. "Jack, I... I... I don't feel good."

"Daniel, please." He wasn't even angry anymore, just bone weary and inexpressibly sad. To top everything off, the phone rang at that moment. "Please. Don't start with that, too," he said impatiently as he picked up the phone.

"What?" he snapped into the receiver, half expecting the person at the other end to be Carter.

"I don't, Jack. My head hurts." Daniel touched his forehead gently. "And I... I..."He smacked his palm on his forehead. "Stupid, stupid, stupid. The words are all mixed up."

"And a good morning to you, dear boy."

"Ma, this isn't a good time."

He stepped closer to Daniel and impatiently grabbed his hand before Daniel could smack himself again. Jack felt his heart rise to his throat and stepped closer to bring his own hand to Daniel's forehead. He was burning up.

"So I see. Of course it seems every time I call isn't a good time."

How the hell had the slight heat he'd felt earlier turn into this burning fever? Jack grabbed the afghan from the sofa with one hand, throwing it over Daniel's shoulders.

"Mom, I have to call you back."

"Is everything okay? You sound a little str—"

"Mom, I'm sorry. Daniel's sick. I'll call you back." He clicked off the phone, threw it onto the couch and hurried to get Daniel's boots. He fumbled by the door for them, nearly dropping them in his haste, then slipped them onto Daniel's sock-clad feet. He slammed his feet into his own boots, shoving his arms into his jacket while hurrying back to Daniel. "We need to get you to the doc, Danny."

"No, no," Daniel mumbled. "I'm sorry, Jack." His fingers found Jack's sleeve and caught the fabric. "Lumpy? Where's Lumpy?" Daniel began walking at Jack's gentle urgings. Jack grabbed the stuffed toy from the sofa and handed it to him.

"Here, Daniel. You just hang on." He was praying Daniel made it to the Avalanche. He tightened his grip around Daniel's waist, holding the blanket close against the encroaching cold, encouraging Daniel's slow, unsteady steps. What the hell was going on? There had to be an answer for this. This wasn't the emotional-wrought fever that had plagued Daniel nearly every day since his initial collapse. This was something different, something worse. Something beyond the regression Fraiser had been talking about. He was afraid that Daniel was going to die. He'd seen it in Daniel's eyes and it scared the shit out of him.

"Come on, Danny. Just a few more steps." Daniel was leaning on him, Jack supporting more and more of Daniel's weight.

Daniel was muttering to himself, Jack unable to understand him. He opened the door, helped Daniel take the step into the truck and then raced to the other side. He was speed dialing the SGC on his cell, giving orders before they even left the driveway while Lumpy lay crumpled and forgotten on the back step. Lost, unnoticed, in a mound of dirty, grey colored snow.

* * * * *

"Hell in a hand basket. Hell in a hand basket." Jack cringed as the words danced through his brain, bringing visual images of his little grandmother admonishing him for past indiscretions. Digging the heels of his palms into his eyes, he rubbed, trying to remove the feeling of grit that had settled there.

The click of Fraiser's heels signified her approach and Jack stood, shaking out muscles stiff from the uncomfortable plastic chair. He stood back, letting her check Daniel's vitals before asking for an update on his condition. He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his civilian clothes because his desire was so great to hold Daniel's hand or stroke his forehead, just offer some type of reassurance that everything was going to be fine.

Jack knew better, though. He could see it in Fraiser's eyes and in Daniel's semi-conscious condition as he lay on the infirmary bed, and the worst was, Jack himself knew it. He'd known it two miles from the SGC as Daniel's mumbling turned into screams of anguish biting through his skull, reverberating in the confines of the Avalanche. He'd known it as he drove with a restraining hand on Daniel's shoulder, the heat of his body burning his fingers. And it was confirmed when Daniel stopped his screaming, turned his head, and placed a gentle kiss on Jack's hand, telling him in a hoarse whisper how much he was going to miss him.

"Doc? How is he?" Jack whispered to her as she stepped away from the bed after giving quiet orders to a nurse standing nearby.

"Not here, Colonel." Fraiser motioned for him to follow her a short distance away.

Bad, it was bad, Jack knew. He looked over to see the nurse placing a nasal cannula over Daniel's head.

"Sir, I don't know what's going on. And he's weak, sir. I'm doing everything I can but he can't keep fighting this. It's exhausting him, putting stress on his heart."

"He's dying, isn't he?" Jack kept his eyes fixed on Daniel who was moving restlessly in the bed. "He started forgetting how to do things... last night, he got lost trying to find the bathroom. I thought it was just one of those... no, I knew, something was happening... it just happened so damned fast."

"He simply has no reserves left to fight." Janet stood beside him, her eyes fixed on Daniel. "I'll do everything I can, sir."

Jack gave her a sad smile. "I know you will."

"I just hope it'll be enough." Her eyes didn't reflect the confidence of her slight smile.

"I'm just going to go sit with him a while... is that okay?" Jack knew Fraiser wouldn't turn him away, not now, under these conditions.

"I'm sure he'd like that."

Jack walked back over to Daniel's bed, pulling the chair as close as possible. Sitting sideways on the plastic chair, he snaked his arm around the railing until his hand came in contact with Daniel's limp one. Mindful of the IV, he carefully laced his fingers with Daniel's. With the monitors as background music, Jack began to talk about Minnesota and fishing. Reading and zoos. Museums and SpongeBob. Mastadges and Santa Claus. Homemade pizza and trains. Cookbooks and warrior fish. Rose. He didn't talk about Centers or therapists or nightmares. Jack spoke only about the things that they had smiled and laughed over. When he finished he began to talk again until he felt a change in pressure on his hand.

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The grip tightened as Jack called Daniel's name. He jumped up, calling for Fraiser, and leaned over the side railing. Keeping Daniel's hand tightly in his right, he soothed back the sweat-soaked hair from Daniel's forehead "Open your eyes, come on, Daniel," Jack pleaded. "For me... come on, big guy." He yelled for Fraiser again, rejoicing when Daniel jerked at the sound of Jack's voice.

Fraiser came running and took a stance opposite Jack. Daniel's eyes opened in panic against her ministrations, whipping his head from Jack to the doctor. He batted her hand away and tried to pull at the nasal cannula.

"No," Jack gently caught Daniel's hand, "you need it."

Daniel shook his head, closing his eyes for a moment.

"Talk," he said. "Talk."

"You need to rest, Daniel." Fraiser patted his shoulder. "You're sick."

Daniel ignored Janet, opening his eyes and fixing them on Jack.

"I'll leave you two alone for awhile." Doctor Fraiser met Jack's eyes across the bed. He nodded in understanding.

"I'm sorry, Jack. I'm sorry I threw my crayons." Daniel swallowed hard.

"It's okay, Danny." Jack continued his soothing stroking of Daniel's hair. "Don't worry about it."

Daniel raised his hand, catching Jack's in his, "You've got to listen to me. There's not much time." Daniel's eyes appeared clear, lucid.

"You're going to be okay. Doc Janet's going to give you some medicine that's going to make you feel better."

Daniel smiled. "I don't want to go away. I want to go the museum again and the zoo." He began patting the bed as if searching for something. "Lumpy? Jack, where's Lumpy?"

Jack remembered the camel in Daniel's arm before they'd left the house. "He's at home."

"No!" Daniel rolled his head away from Jack, refusing to look at him. "Left him behind, Jack. I left him behind. He's getting lost. You find him, okay?"

"I will, I will." Jack soothed as he heard the monitors speed up with Daniel's exertion. "I promise."

Daniel sighed and relaxed under Jack's hand. "You always keep your promises. That's good."

Jack was humbled by that simple statement of faith.

"Can I have some water? And I'm hungry." Daniel moved his legs restlessly.

"Doc?" Jack called to Fraiser who was standing with one of her nurses.

"Colonel?" She came to the bed quickly. "Is something wrong? Daniel, how are you feeling?"

"He's hungry," Jack said at the same time as Daniel said, "I'm hungry."

Jack couldn't keep the smile from his face. Fraiser must have been wrong. Daniel was going to be fine. It was just a particularly bad bout of the virus combined with Daniel's lack of sleep. No wonder he couldn't fight it off.

Janet smiled. "No food just yet, Daniel. But I can let you have some ice chips." She motioned for the nurse to come over. "Will you let Thomas give you some?"

Daniel nodded, looking up at the man. "Boy, you're really big. How did you get all those muscles? One time SpongeBob got pretend muscles. Did you ever see that?"

Jack followed Janet.

"He's feeling a lot better. Maybe he just needs rest. You know how he'd get when we were on missions and he wouldn't rest until we got home and you would threaten him." Jack searched her face, not finding the same confidence there.

"Sir," she began.

"Doc, don't...." Jack pinched the bridge of his nose. "He's not getting better, is he? This isn't some last minute miracle?"

"I don't think it is, sir. I'm sorry." Janet shook her head. "I'll do everything I can to get Daniel through this crisis, but I'm afraid that combined with what Daniel's therapists and teachers have already observed, we need to be prepared for further regression. Daniel's self-help skills may diminish; his ability to communicate his needs and wants may decrease."

Jack thought back to the past week. Daniel had been having trouble with buttons and the zipper on his backpack. Two nights ago Daniel had spoken in two word sentences instead of his usual chatter; at the time, Jack had just chalked it up to Daniel's lack of sleep. What if had been more? He should have called the doctor right when he noticed it. Maybe, just maybe, there would have been a chance.

Jack stuck his hands into his jacket pocket, feeling the folded letter of resignation. It was the only gift he had left to give Daniel.

"Can I go back to him, Doc?" Jack asked, noticing the nurse moving away.

"Go ahead." Janet ran a hand through her hair, an uncharacteristic motion, showing just how deeply disturbed she was.

Jack sat by Daniel's bed once more, watching him sleep. The fever had come down on its own. Daniel's breathing was no longer labored and his hand curled trustingly in Jack's own. Jack rubbed his thumb in a small circle on the back of Daniel's hand. Losing the old Daniel had been bad enough. Jack wasn't ready to give up this Daniel, too.

"Sir?" Carter's whisper startled him out of a light doze.

"Carter? Something wrong?" Jack stretched and looked at Daniel who still slept, oblivious to his visitor.

"No, sir." She rested her hands on the bed rail. "I came to see Daniel. How is he, sir?"

"Sleeping," Jack muttered, not in the mood to deal with Carter's grief and guilt as well as his own.

"Sir, I'm sorry."

"Carter?"

"For not being able to find a solution... a cure. Wepwawet's device – I've been working on it in my spare time, trying to see if there was something I'm missing, but I just haven't been able to..."

Doctor Fraiser appeared, ready to poke and prod at Daniel some more. "General Hammond has requested to see you."

"Carter," Jack paused taking in her look of defeat, "just stay with him. In case he wakes up again. Let him know he isn't alone."

"Understood, sir." Carter straightened at his words.

He let his hand rest on Daniel's forehead a moment before whispering, "I'll be back, Danny."

* * * * *

"You requested to see me, sir?" Jack entered Hammond's office.

"Yes, have a seat, Jack." Hammond indicated a chair and came around to lean against the corner of his desk.

"I'm guessing that since I'm Jack instead of Colonel O'Neill that this is not so good, General... George." Jack raised an eyebrow.

"I'm sending Teal'c to P3S 342. He thinks he can talk to the locals... if not, I'm afraid I'm going to have to send you and Carter out despite—"

Jack pulled the now crumpled letter from his jacket pocket. "I was going to give you this on Monday, George."

General Hammond motioned for Jack to return the paper to his pocket. "This isn't because I pulled you in on your day off, is it?" Hammond's joke was weak and he knew it as his smile didn't quite reach his eyes.

Jack leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees and placing his head in his hands. "He's getting worse."

"Doctor Fraiser has been keeping me informed." Hammond placed a hand on Jack's shoulder and Jack was reminded of his own father.

"She said he's going to regress more. Lose the few skills he has." Jack didn't look up, didn't want to see the pain that he knew was reflected in his commanding officer's eyes. Jack silently berated himself for his own selfishness, for thinking that he was the only one who was in pain for Daniel. They all were grieving the loss of someone they loved and cared for.

"We're going to go up to Minnesota for a few weeks when this is over. Maybe a change of scenery will help him," Jack continued.

"Jack," George said gently.

Jack shook his head. Whatever it was, he didn't want to hear it now. He wanted to hang onto hope for just a little longer. It wasn't fair. Not now, when he'd come to accept Daniel as he was and discovered there was joy even in the sadness. He needed more time. He wasn't ready to lose Daniel altogether. Not yet. They sat in silence, no words able to heal the grief they felt.

"General Hammond, Colonel." Carter burst into the room without knocking, Jack's heart beating in triple time at the interruption. "Sorry, sirs, but I need to show you this!" She placed papers on the general's desk and arranged them quickly in a circle.

"Daniel woke up after you left, sir." She nodded at Jack. "He was adamant that we give him paper and a pencil. He drew these."

Jack took a quick glance at the drawings. "Carter, Daniel draws all the time, now that he—""

"Can't read or write, sir. I know that." She pointed to the wobbly sketches. "Look at them, sir."

Jack leaned over the desk, studying the drawings and finally what she was talking about. "They're glyphs, Carter. Daniel always doodles them in his drawings." But the more he stared at them, the more he realized that he recognized them. Drawn haphazardly in nearly all of Daniel's crude sketches, sometimes in pairs, threes or fours, or sometimes all seven together. "Glyphs. Carter, these are a 'gate address?"

"Sir, this is the address to P4W-555. The last planet he visited. The temple."

Jack looked at her in astonishment. "He's been trying to tell us..." He looked at the pictures taped to Hammond's filing cabinet, took the few steps necessary to get there and pulled them off, throwing them on top of the other papers.

"The road, the road to find him," he muttered to himself. "We didn't listen. We weren't listening. Through the water, Carter." Jack pointed to the blue blob in the middle of the drawings. "It's the Stargate." His finger shook as he traced the figures on the picture. "It's us. Four here. Three here."

"Colonel, are you saying that Doctor Jackson isn't here on Earth with us? That some alien entity is masquerading as him?" Hammond frowned.

"No, I'm not. At least I don't think that's what happened, sir." Jack straightened. "I'm saying that we were blind to the possibility that Daniel's initial collapse could have been caused by something other than Wepwawet's device. And Daniel's been trying to tell us in the only way he could. General Hammond, permission to return to P4W-555."

"Permission granted, Colonel," Hammond nodded.

"Carter, go get Teal'c. I'm going to the infirmary to tell the doc we need to get Daniel ready for transport back to the planet."

Carter nodded and Jack turned back to the general.

"No matter what, sir. I'm bringing him home."

"You do that, Colonel."

* * * * *

"You what?" Doctor Fraiser crossed her arms over her chest. "Sir, a trip through the 'gate could kill him."

"Doc, listen to me. Something happened to Daniel on that planet a year ago, in that temple. I have no idea what. But he's been trying to tell us all along that he needs to go back. We're the ones who haven't listened to him. We're the ones who are failing him. This may be his last chance," Jack pleaded, matching Fraiser for sheer stubbornness in this instance.

"It's very dangerous." She glanced over at Daniel who was sleeping once more, his fever beginning to rise dangerously high once again. "I don't know if..."

"If we do nothing, if we play it safe, can you guarantee me that Daniel is going to survive?"

Jack knew she would agree the moment he asked the question because he already knew the answer was no. He'd seen it in her eyes when he returned to the infirmary. Daniel's condition was deteriorating rapidly.

"I'm going along on this mission, sir." Janet pulled herself to her full height.

Jack gave a grim smile. "I never doubted you wouldn't." He looked at Daniel. "How soon can you have him ready?"

"We'll be in the Gateroom in ten minutes, sir." She placed her hands in her lab coat's pockets. "Now, excuse me; I have a patient to prepare for transport."

* * * * *

Jack watched as the 'gate spun and the chevrons engaged. He looked down into Daniel's face as he gripped the stretcher. There was a familiar whoosh as the wormhole formed and then the placid appearance of water.

"SG-1?" Jack twisted his head to look up at General Hammond in the control room. "Godspeed and bring him home."

"You heard him, kids," Jack said to the others and then whispered to Daniel. "You hear him, Danny? Don't make me disobey the General's orders."

* * * * *

Jack took off his baseball cap and wiped his forehead with his arm, the sweat stinging his eyes.

He looked at the others. Carter, her face red with the heat and exertion of helping to carry Daniel's stretcher, Fraiser, wearing a worried frown and concerned not only for a patient but for her friend, and Teal'c, whose eyes were fixed on the stretcher carrying Daniel.

Jack stuffed the cap in his back pocket and crouched by Daniel, unable to resist reaching out to touch him. Daniel's skin was cold and for a brief moment Jack thought he hadn't survived the trip through the 'gate. He watched Daniel's chest until he saw it move up and down in a shallow breath.

"We're going in there," Jack announced, not taking his eyes off Daniel. Teal'c crouched down across from him, his staff weapon at the ready.

"No, Teal'c." Jack motioned for him to relax. "When I say we, I mean Daniel and me. No one else."

"Sir, I don't think that—"

"Carter, that's an order." Jack looked up at her. "We don't know what's in there. Daniel was alone inside that temple last year for almost two hours. I'm not risking anyone else. Understood?"

"Understood, sir," Carter answered, her jaw set.

"Colonel O'Neill," Fraiser began.

Jack reached out to rest his hand on Daniel's chilled cheek. "Doc, is there any other hope? You have an answer?" He heard her quiet, "No," as he studied Daniel's face, took in the slightly blue lips.

"Four hours, Carter. Give us four hours. We're not back out by then, you head back for the Stargate." Jack saw her hands clench at her sides before she gave a curt, "Yes sir."

He moved Daniel into a sitting position and then maneuvered him so he could hoist him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.

Jack stood, looking at his team once more. Carter straightened, Teal'c wore a grim expression as if he was facing another Goa'uld and Fraiser busied herself with her medical kit.

"We'll be waiting, sir," Carter said. She motioned for Teal'c to begin a patrol on the far side of the temple while she strode off to begin her own round of the perimeter.

Stepping into the temple from the heat outside was like stepping into air conditioning. Jack gently lowered Daniel to the floor and removed his sunglasses. He removed his jacket and placed it over Daniel.

"See if that helps warm you up a little, Daniel," he said into the still air. He allowed himself the luxury of running his fingers through Daniel's hair, a bit of him hoping that it would gain some response. But there was nothing. It was as if Daniel was just an empty vessel. Jack straightened once more.

A soft glow filled the temple and Jack tilted his head back, searching for the light source, unable to see anything that provided any type of power.

Jack took a few more steps toward the center of the temple. Without Daniel's expertise he had no way of knowing what the symbols meant, no hope of understanding the stylized pictures that adorned the walls. And Daniel's notes had been incomplete, more theories than actual proofs, because once again they hadn't had enough time to truly explore the ruins.

When in doubt, Jack thought. Daniel taught him well over the years. "Hello?" he called out, feeling slightly stupid since obviously no one was in the temple other than Daniel and him.

"Hello? I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill." Jack rocked back on his feet as the luminosity intensified and small colored beads of light floated out from the walls. He stepped back, suddenly understanding Daniel's alarm at the Christmas tree lights last year, and moved closer to Daniel's unconscious body as the glowing beads came closer. "We're friends. We mean you no harm," he continued. The lights surrounded him, swirling around his body, not touching him. He wondered if they were some sort of alien scanning device. The lights moved away from him, racing along Daniel's body and then dancing away to disappear back into the walls.

"Jack O'Neill. You have come to be tested." The voice was deep. It reverberated in his chest and echoed through his brain.

"I have?" Jack said before he realized that pissing off what might be Daniel's only hope would be a very bad idea. He coughed and then held his arms out to his sides, palms up. "I have. What is this place?" He swiveled his head slowly, trying to see the source of the alien voice.

"Why has Daniel Jackson returned to us? Does he wish to complete the test?"

"Test? What test? Did he...?" Jack shook his head. He decided that maybe honesty was the best policy. "Look, um, whatever you are, wherever you are, he's dying. I don't know what you did to him. Hell, I don't even know if it was you. But he told us to return here; to the round building. He says he's lost and alone. So yeah, if there's some kind of test that I need to take or do or something to save him, tell me what to do and I'll do it."

"He was the first to come to us in centuries. The first in a long time to desire to see the truth of his soul."

"Hey, you know? I've always been sort of bad at riddles. Could you just tell me what the hell is going on? Preferably in plain words of one syllable each? How about if we start by you telling me what this place is?"

"Do you desire to see the truth of your soul, Jack O'Neill?" The voice sounded almost angry. "We are the judges here, not you."

"What happened to Daniel? What did you do to him?" Jack glanced down at Daniel, whose breathing was becoming labored.

"He left before the testing was complete," the voice sighed. "We were hopeful that he was one who desired true testing."

"I ordered him to leave. Daniel wanted more time. But I ordered him to leave." Jack lifted his head, still searching for the source of the voice.

"He did not complete the test."

"Then let me complete it for him," Jack pleaded. "He... I know him."

"Why would he wish to be tested, Jack O'Neill? Why would he choose?"

Jack smiled wryly. "That's Daniel. He wants to know things. He's curious. And if you asked Daniel to try a new experience, well, that would be just too much for him to resist. You did ask him, didn't you?"

"He presented himself to us. Daniel Jackson stood before us in the Temple of Souls as you stand now. We were confused at first. He brought no witnesses with him." Other voices joined with the first one until they overlapped in whispers that reminded Jack of ocean waves. "And then he left us before the testing was complete. Before he answered our questions."

"I told you, that was my fault. If Daniel had known, he wouldn't have left. Daniel Jackson is not a man who runs away from challenges." Jack pivoted as a voice sounded behind him.

"Then tell us, Jack O'Neill. What is the worth of Daniel Jackson?"

The words swirled around Jack and he found himself on his knees beside Daniel. Jack was not a diplomat; he didn't have Daniel's skill with words. He told the truth, he'd never been good with riddles, especially alien ones that seemed made to trick.

"How am I to answer that?" Jack called out. "His worth? Priceless."

"Why?"

Jack reached out, placed a hand on Daniel's cheek, his skin deathly cold. Jack ignored the question and leaned closer to Daniel, placing his fingers at Daniel's mouth and nose, feeling the very faint wisps of Daniel's breathing.

"He's a person, not a commodity." Jack straightened and let his hand drift down to Daniel's chest, searching for a heartbeat. "You can't put a price tag on a person."

"You misunderstand, Jack O'Neill." The voices seemed to be laughing at him, but they did not explain further.

"Then tell me what you want from him, from me," Jack clenched his fist into Daniel's scrubs. "Sorry, I'm sorry, Danny," he whispered as he realized what he was doing.

But there was no answer.

Jack moved a finger to Daniel's neck, trying to feel his pulse. "Come on, come on," he muttered, finally feeling the faint flutter. His own heart froze as the beat faltered.

"Look," Jack lifted his head, "I don't know what game you're playing here. I don't even care what it is. This is