Goodbye to Dreams by babs and devra

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 as 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 injures based on the Goa'uld's thought process. His bruised body was testament to its effectiveness. This virtual reality weapon that 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 being 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. Daniel could hear the blood pumping in his ears, feel abused lungs struggling for air. His senses strained with heightened anticipation; 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'm with you. With every synapse that is fired, with every beat of your heart...with every breath that you take. As you break...I will move to the next...until your tortured and abused bodies are all that is 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 SG1

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

The cursing of Wepwawet and Jack's 'that's our boy' brought momentary satisfaction to Daniel before the next wave of pain began

"I am your nightmare...among your thoughts...Imagine the feel of the whip on your body." Daniel collapsed face first onto the floor, Wepwawet's counting off as Daniel's body jerked with every impact of the 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'm done with you Dr. fail to amuse me further." Daniel squirmed as he felt the weight of Wepwawet's foot grind into his chest. "I'm going to move on to my next playmate...whom shall it be? Oh but wait, I can't have you leave without a present can I? I would never want it to be said that the great Wepwawet wasn't an hospitable 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 appendages, 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'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 night's dinner not to make a return visit on his bedroom floor. As an experiment, Daniel 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 Daniel's 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 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. The colonel 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 Jack for comfort. Daniel thought with despair that Jack had obviously misread Daniel's signals and had begun to distance himself from his lover, sure that Jack believed that Daniel blamed him for their capture and the subsequent torture. Subconsciously Daniel 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 show appear normal." In a swift motion, before Daniel 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, the mission that would be Daniel's first trip through the Stargate in almost six weeks. Not even an overnight jaunt to the planet, a just few hour's visit, just enough for Daniel to get his feet wet before submerging himself back into off-world travel

Janet tossed the board onto the end of the bed, stepping up 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 being greeted by the vision of a very haggard, tired, Dr. Fraiser. 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 had 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 Daniel's mouth, she smiled at his question. Clearing his throat, he 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 had received at the hand of Wepwawet. While she had checked his vitals, Janet had kept up the flow of words, touching on the viral memory that had been 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 into eyes that didn't lie

She picked up the chart, patting him on the arm with the cool metal. "Go...get outta 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 a really an inopportune time...we ship out in..." checking his watch, he sighed in exasperation. " 30 minutes Daniel, on a mission that you begged, lectured, and power pointed the hell outta us for. Don't tell me you are 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 his lover's body, cursed the timing, wishing he had 24 hours and 30 minutes to show Jack 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 Daniel 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, Daniel," Jack said softly, his hand sliding up and down Daniel's arm. "I thought I...I thought we were..."

Goosebumps 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. 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, Daniel." Each finger loosened their hold before Jack mumbled, "I know it wasn't me that Wepwawet tortured...but damn 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 wanted solitude...I gave you what 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..." Clear blue eyes 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, Colonel." 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 BDU's, resisting the urge to point as Jack did the same. He felt a sense of completeness in his world, hoping that maybe the UAV lied, that there would be no temple on that planet, and that SG1 would be back 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. Daniel 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 checked 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

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 up 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, Colonel?"

Daniel watched Jack check his watch. "Hold that thought for about three hours 20 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 eyes 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, Jack. 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 to 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 flipped on his radio when he heard Jack calling his name. "Daniel, I'm right outside, I'm just a radio page away."

"Jack, in reality you are a whisper away. Enjoy the fresh air, let you mind wander, and if you interrupt me again or distract me in the less than 3 hours I have will be sleeping on the couch for many a night. Goodbye." Daniel didn't give Jack a chance to respond before he 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 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, hearing his commanding officer call his name again. He bent to pick up the notebook and was overcome with a horrific sense of dizziness. 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 in 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 stuffing 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. Daniel felt Jack grip his arm to steady both their bodies' forward motion

"Okay, Daniel?"

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


"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."

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 wasn't 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 it 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?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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

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


"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

"Danny?" 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 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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Everything after that seemed to happen in that strange mixture of slow motion and fast forward that occurred in a time of crisis. They hadn't quite made it to the infirmary, Daniel collapsing by the elevators. The fever and delirium Daniel experienced after his run in with Wepwawet's device returned with a vengeance and although the fever had broken after twenty four hours, Daniel was still sleeping, exhausted from his latest bout with the viral memory

"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, Doctor Jackson is 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? Daniel'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 Doctor Jackson suffered some brain damage."

It was one of those moments that Jack would always remember, along with the moment 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

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 it 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 are you doing?"

"I'm scared, Jack," 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, Doc. 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..." Janet 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

Doctor 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, Jack."

"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 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, Daniel," Jack nodded with a sense of numbness and unreality. This could not be happening. This wasn't real. Daniel was going to be fine. Doc 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, Daniel. 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, Daniel. Always." Jack bent over to speak to Daniel 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, sir, 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 multiple PhD'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. 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. "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 O'Neill, 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

"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, Doc." 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 off-world, 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 Colonel O'Neill'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 nodded. "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

Jack looked up from his paperwork. A half an hour's more work and he'd be able to at last take Daniel home. Doctor Fraiser had finally released from the infirmary him 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, 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 Doc 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. No, no, sir. We'll be fine. You don't need to send anyone else up here. 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 Jack. Jack smiled back, unable to resist the infectious giggle

"That he is, Daniel." Jack nodded

"I was being real good and quiet, Jack." 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, Jack?"

"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. "Daniel, 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, Jack." 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 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, Danny. I know he would." Jack reached over to switch off the computer. "We've got to get going, Daniel."

"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 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 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 turned to dust in Daniel's hands, Jack found himself helping Daniel regain the ability to dream. And for the past year there was 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 Goa'uld was a fight for younger folks 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 and smiled back at Daniel's grin, wondering if all the dreams had died

"Jack? Are we soon going home? 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, Jack."

"Sometimes, Daniel," 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, Jack."

They were just preparing to leave when there was a knock at Jack's door Daniel opened it, his grin fading to a frown as he saw it was Doctor 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 must have scared him silly

"It just means that we need to do things the same way most of the time, Daniel," Jack reassured him. "And we are 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, buddy?" Jack asked after one last look around the office



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 behind the sofa. Daniel's attention was fixed on the TV screen 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?"

"Jack, 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. Sponge Bob 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, Daniel. May I watch it too?"

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

"I'm glad you're here too, Daniel." 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, Jack. 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, Daniel." Jack leaned back on the cushions and listened to his first lesson on Sponge Bob's antics

* * * * * * * * * *

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 that General Hammond had handed him along with a bag of children's books and videos 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 Jack 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, Jack. I didn't like them."

"Who was, Daniel?" 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, Jack," Daniel shuddered

"He can't hurt you, Daniel. 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 Daniel's 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, Daniel." 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 being thrown at him in the week since Daniel's awakening overwhelming at times. "I don't want to," a small voice said

"Remember we talked about this, Daniel? 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. 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 Daniel worked on a translation. Daniel wasn't going to be giving one of his power point 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, Daniel." 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 nodded, 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 doesn't seem right, Jack. 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, Daniel," 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 nodded 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, Daniel." 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, Jack. You can't. I need you not to forget."

"I won't, Daniel." Jack patted Daniel's shoulder. 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 fresh 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

* * * * *

Jack heard the arguing before he opened the door to the common room at the rehab center

"No, you can't make me. Jack said he'd be here when the little hand is on the five and the big hand is on the six. 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. Daniel, 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, Daniel." The therapist smiled. "Can you get your backpack? I need to talk to Jack."

Daniel hesitated, looking at Jack

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

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

Jack shook his head. "Go, scoot; get your backpack." He watched Daniel slowly walk to the small bin where his 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 is making good progress."

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 Monday?"

"Yeah, buddy. You do." Jack sighed

"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, Daniel." 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 nodded. "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, Daniel. You can't come to work with me." Jack hated this. He hated every minute he was away from Daniel

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 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, Daniel. 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 seat belt

"No, Danny. 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, Daniel. 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 nodded. "And I don't want a smushed Daniel."

Daniel giggled. "Nope. No smushing, Jack. 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


"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 you told me you wanted earlier this week?"

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

"Didn't you say something about wanting a watch?"

Daniel pulled Jack's watch from his pocket. "Can't I have yours anymore? Do you need it back?" He offered it to Jack

Jack took in the downcast eyes, the teeth worrying at the lower lip. He smiled at Daniel and closed Daniel's fingers around the watch. "You know what, buddy? Maybe you should keep that one and you can help me pick out a new one. How's that?"

"I get to help?" Daniel was opening his car door. "I'll pick you the coolest one there is. Do you want a Sponge Bob one? Or how about one with Bugs Bunny?"

"I don't think General Hammond would let me wear one of those, Daniel. Although I'd sure like one of those cool watches," he said as Daniel's face fell. "C'mon. Let's go see what we can find."

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 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, Daniel. They can be dangerous and they don't always look out for you."

"Okay." Daniel tugged on Jack's hand. "C'mon, Jack. 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 Time and Again, Jack was relieved to enter the relative peace of the store. Daniel headed for the display case that was filled with cartoon character watches and stood fascinated

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 Jack, 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

Jack studied the watches in the display case. Daniel still held Jack's tightly clutched in his hand and Jack knew he wasn't getting it back anytime soon. Evidently Daniel had found his security blanket to get himself through the days at the center

Jack motioned for the sales clerk to open the case and less than five minutes later he was handing over his credit card and signing his name

"Hey, Daniel," Jack turned around, "you ready to..."

His mouth went dry. Two young children and their mother stood in front of the cartoon character watches while a clerk opened the case

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

"Yeah, sure." The clerk 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 Daniel stay by Jack's 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. When Daniel started naming each and every fish and quizzing Jack on them, Jack had promised a return visit after they bought the watch. 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 walked in the entrance. But there was a chain bookstore that Daniel insisted on visiting every time he and Jack came to the mall. 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

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 Daniel

Jack took a deep breath and straightened as he left the bookstore. Daniel may look like a grown man, but Jack reminded himself that Daniel was, for all intents and purposes, a child. Jack knew exactly where a five year old would be found. 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? 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 was 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, Daniel. 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 Daniel's head up. "Look at me, Danny. I need you to tell me the truth. Tell me what's wrong."

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

"I'm not mad at you, Danny. 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 well 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 Jack needed Daniel. He hugged the younger man tightly. "You don't need a keeper, Daniel. You're smart and brave. Guess what? When you get somewhere and you are 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 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, Daniel." Jack got to his feet. "A very good plan."

"And then we will go home and eat supper and I will 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, Jack."

"Angry eyes, Daniel?" 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 Doctor 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, Jack?" 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, Jack. I promise." Daniel looked at Jack sideways

"I know, Daniel. 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

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 was 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. 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 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 Daniel hunched over the journals by a campfire off-world 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 two 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 and found Daniel huddled in his seat

"One, two, three, four, five, six..please come back. I'm sorry. I don't know it. One, two, three, four, five, six..." 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, Danny. What do you say we head home?"

Daniel gave a small smile. "I'm glad you came back, Jack." 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, Daniel. 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 Jack. "I know. You always do."

They drove in silence the rest of the way home

"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, Jack," Daniel nodded agreement. "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 though 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 Jack closed Where the Wild Things Are. Jack had found the book in a box of Charlie's things. Seemed like Daniel loved the book as much as Charlie had

"Daniel?" 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, Daniel. That bit..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, Danny." He kissed Daniel's cheek and pulled the blankets higher over Daniel's shoulder

'I'll always take care of you, Daniel,' he vowed 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

Daniel was bored; Jack sensed it as Daniel's 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 24 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 Doc." Jack had been annoyed with the lecture

"I know this is hard, Colonel. You are 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 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 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 is comfortable with...won't frustrate him by forcing him to be an adult when he can't. You need to let him be a child."

Those words of Fraiser's 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 retrieved it from the parking lot. Armed with a list of ideas from the General 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 Daniel 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 Colonel, but you're right, mentally he is five years old. You have 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's 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 works 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: Legos, colored pencils, drawing pads, etch-a-sketch, more Legos, playdoh, the newest handheld Gameboy, 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 little brown stuffed camel that Jack had grabbed as an afterthought sat atop this 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 Advance, 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 playdoh...well..."

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

"Sorry...good luck. Tell him happy 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."


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

" 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 Carter's voice when she responded

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

"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 to be done. "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 Sponge Bob. 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 will get it for you. It might 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

He had cleared off all of Daniel's books and artifacts from the spare room. Jack remembered with painful clarity the day that he had 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

* * * * *


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 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


"Yes Carter?"

"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 Carter. 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 Carter, 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, Carter?"

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 Carter...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 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 is 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 Daniel at home. The cab of the Avalanche reverberated with Daniel's continuous questions

"Take a breath, Daniel. Please, I beg 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 Sponge Bob 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, 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. Jack opened the door to the spare room, stepping aside, instructing Daniel to now open his eyes

Jack wasn't sure what he had 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 Sponge Bob 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." There appeared a lump 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 Sponge Bob 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 standing, 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

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

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

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, Jack." 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

"I wish you could too, Daniel. 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 nodded

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 the Nox or the Tok'ra. 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, Jack?" 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 month 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. You can color and draw me some pictures. You have your Lego's, right?"

Daniel looked at him in alarm. "Alone, Jack?"

"Alone, Daniel. 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, Jack. 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 Jack's office

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

"Jack said I've got to stay alone," Daniel confided 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, Jack?" Daniel asked, searching Jack's face for reassurance

"Not alone, Daniel." 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 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 off world

"Hey," Jack put a finger under Daniel's chin. "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 nodded

"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 back, 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."

"Yes sir." Jack saluted and turned on his heel, hoping that this plan wasn't going to end in disaster. He 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, 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, entering 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. "He's pretty nice, isn't he, Jack?"

Jack smiled at Daniel. "Yeah, yeah he is, Daniel." 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, Colonel O'Neill. 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 he went to the park, 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 gate

"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 was seated 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." 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, Daniel. 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 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
click for larger picture Daniel and Lumpy,

sketched by Ximeria

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


"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 Colorado 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 the zoo...and have a picnic and fly a kite and..."

"I know, Danny. " He audibly 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. "Need to get these fixed before you lose them."

"Today, Jack?"

"No, not today. Today is 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 about we do things a little backwards today. Instead of a bath tonight...take one now..."

"Now? It's not dark Jack. 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 laughter echoed in the tiled bathroom as Jack bowed before him. "Your wish is my command."

"You're funny today, Jack." 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 ...hmmmm 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 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 upstairs 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?"


* * * * *

Sitting next to Daniel on the couch, Jack noted that Daniel's sweat pants were pock marked with water spots. The gray pants were 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 sweatpants 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,"

"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


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're having a nightmare."

Daniel turned on his back, opening his eyes slowly. "No with you. No monsters in the closet, or glowy eyed 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, sweatpants askew, 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 3 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."


"MMMM, 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. "Not today Danny. 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 descend the staircase

"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 fading 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...chess." Wanly smiling down at Daniel, Jack plopped himself down in the seat across from the again smiling Daniel

Jack played by rote, his brain still making an attempt to register the fact that Daniel had set the board up correctly; the correct 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


"If you didn't wanna play, 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?"


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 pawns

"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 the Daniel's sprawled form, resting his hand lightly on Daniel's 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? Daniel's fine." Jack propped the phone between his shoulder and chin as he went to retrieve a beer from he fridge. "I just have a question..." Jack repeated to Fraiser Daniel's ability to play chess, remembering the moves, and his forgetfulness with regard to the names of the pieces

Jack cringed. "That's horrible terminology, they really refer to it as ...yes I just sounds like. I I'm sure someone at the Center could explain it to me.'d prefer not to subject Daniel to any more testing. Thanks...say hello to Cassie for Daniel and me, okay? 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 the hockey game playing out on the TV Daniel had been sleeping comfortably the last time Jack 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 hockey game went into overtime, 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 being home or on a mission caused Jack to pause before throwing the recliner into an upright position. On and on they 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 forearm 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 afraid."

"Shh. 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."

Jack placed a finger under Daniel's chin, pushing it up until Daniel was making eye contact with Jack. "It's a nightmare, nothing else, Danny. See." Jack opened his arms. "I'm 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..."

"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. Jack tossed and turned, unable to shut down his overactive mind; visions of Daniel playing chess overlapped fishing in the bathtub and finished with 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 Jack, the bedroom filled moments later by the flash of lightening. The storm that had been threatening all day chose now to make an appearance. Jack turned on his side, pulling the blanket tighter around him, closing his eyes, feeling himself drift again into the oblivion of sleep


Jack counted to 10 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 lightening 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 scare me." Eyes moved from the window to Jack, resting on the empty space next to Jack. "Can I come into bed with you?"


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 was scared."

Daniel had never been allowed into Jack's 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 proving 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 closeness of Daniel's hand on Jack's pillow, the closeness of Daniel, the smell of Daniel, the essence of Daniel, and the painful erection that Jack now sported

Jack 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 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 cum 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 this, this 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

Part 9

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 know 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, sheets...

"The 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 Sponge Bob clock which sat on the dresser "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 Daniel 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. " 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 Daniel's nightmare replaying 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, Daniel...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

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, 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 young man's shirt as he 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 Daniel 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 prone figure. "...and I'll cover you."

"Can you put a tape on...the one where Sponge Bob 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 this 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 Sponge Bob's maniacal laughter was the only sign of life in the living room

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 metal base

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 body 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 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

"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? It's got all kinds of neat stuff in it."

"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, Daniel. But I need to speak to the colonel too," Sam 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, Jack. 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, Jack?" Daniel held up his hand, pressing his palm against Jack's, his long fingers warm and strong

"How many of us are there, Daniel?" 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 nodded. "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 ribbon device, there is nothing that even the Tok'ra can do, unless Daniel would be willing to be blended."

Jack collapsed onto the sofa cushions. "That's unacceptable."

"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 to you, O'Neill and to DanielJackson."

"And?" Jack knew the news was not good. There was no miracle in the wings, no healing of the damaged brain

"Lya of the Nox regrets that they can not 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, Jack?" Daniel giggled

"Hmm..." Jack covered Daniel's hands with his own. "Teal'c?"



"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 are going 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 nodded. "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, DanielJackson." 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, DanielJackson," 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 Candyland 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, DanielJackson."

Even from his position, Jack could see Daniel's downcast expression

"That means you win the game, Teal'c. 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, Daniel," 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 Trouble. I'm real good at that one, right Jack?"

"Right, Daniel," Jack agreed as six feet of exuberant Daniel grabbed him in a hug

Jack leaned back in his deck chair drinking the last of his iced tea. Teal'c and Daniel were currently engaged in their third game of Trouble while Carter sat on the steps looking into the yard and munching on her second 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 place a hand on his shoulder

"Look at the sky!"

Jack smiled at Daniel and then at Teal'c. "Lots of stars tonight, huh, Daniel?"

Daniel smiled back and walked down the first two steps of the deck before jumping off the final three

Jack shook his head. Seemed like 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, this 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 Daniel and Teal'c, the Jaffa's voice a low counterpart to Daniel's excited questions. "You tell me, Carter."

Sam watched, a sad smile gracing her lips. "He seems happy."

"We've got to accept him as he is, Carter. 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, Daniel. Miles and miles and miles. And how many? Millions. Billions."

"Billions," Daniel repeated before turning his attention back to Teal'c

"That is the Big Dipper, DanielJackson." Teal'c motioned and took Daniel's hand to point out the stars when Daniel seemed confused

"What's it dipping?" Daniel demanded

"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, DanielJackson?"

"Sponge Bob. See he's right there." Jack laughed as Daniel sketched a pattern with his right index finger

"Yes, DanielJackson. I believe you are correct. That does indeed look like the sponge that wears pants even though he has no need to."

"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?"

"Okay, Jack," 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, Daniel. Maybe someday, okay?"

Daniel got up, coming over to the deck. "When I get smart again, Jack? Then?"

Jack couldn't speak for a long moment. "You are smart, Daniel. Just not enough time tonight. It's getting pretty late."

Daniel nodded. "Okay, Jack." 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 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 Sam'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, Daniel," she said

Jack settled back on his deck chair, Teal'c taking the one beside him

"The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein," Sam 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, Daniel," 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, Daniel." 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? Get on your sweats, okay?"

"Don't be sad, Sam. The tree was happy, remember? The boy came home to her." Daniel gave her 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 in a minute, Daniel. Get your towel and your sweats, okay?"

"I love you, Jack," Daniel gave him a gentle hug for seemingly no reason at all

"I love you too, buddy," Jack whispered. "Now skedaddle."

He waited until he heard the sliding doors close softly as Daniel went inside

"I just have to go check on him. Make sure he doesn't get the water too hot or anything," Jack explained. Carter's eyes seemed filled with pity and Teal'c nodded in understanding. "It's getting kind of buggy out here. Why don't we all move inside?"

"Sir, we probably should be going." Carter was still clutching the book, Jack noticed

"Daniel will want to say good night. Can you wait a few minutes?"

"Fine, sir. I don't have to be home at any special time tonight."

"We will bid DanielJackson good night, O'Neill," Teal'c added


Jack motioned for them to precede him into the house. He hoped he could convince them to stay for just a little bit longer. Not that he'd ever admit it to Carter's face, but he was actually longing to hear some of her techno-babble just so he could interact on an adult level

He excused himself once Teal'c and Carter were seated in the living room

Daniel was waiting in the bathroom. "I thought you were never going to get here, Jack. And I'm not a baby. I can take a shower on my own."

"I know you can," Jack reassured him. "Just let me get the water started for you, make sure it's not too hot."

He reached behind the shower curtain, starting the flow and holding his hand in it to test the temperature and turned around to see Daniel with his jeans and boxers halfway down his legs

"Daniel!" Jack resolutely kept his eyes on Daniel's face. "Holy shit, wait 'til I'm out of here."

"I have to take my clothes off to shower," Daniel reasoned

"I know you do...just..." Jack turned his back on Daniel, his breath coming faster, his groin tightening despite his stern admonitions to the contrary. "Don't forget to turn the water off, okay? We're in the living room."

"Okay, Jack." The shower curtain snicked open and then was closed quickly

* * * * * * * * * *

"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 need 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 was 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, Daniel. 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, Daniel. There are no needles here." Jack kept his voice soft and low

"I was in a bad place, Jack. 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, Daniel. But you're here now. Safe with me."

"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, DanielJackson." Teal'c rested his hand on Daniel's hair

"We are here, Daniel. 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. "And maybe you should speak to Jan..." She stopped at Jack's raised finger. "I know you'll do what's right, sir."

She patted Daniel's knee. "Good night, Daniel. 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 DanielJackson."

"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 Sam leave by the front door. He hugged Jack as Jack came back to the sofa

"This was a fun night, Jack." He sighed happily

"You know what, Daniel? It was; it really was," Jack agreed and urged Daniel to stand so he could lead a pliant Daniel towards his room

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. Doc Fraiser hadn't mentioned anything about it when she'd checked him out last week, 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 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, Jack?" 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

"" 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, Daniel," 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. 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?"

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, Daniel. You can't ride in the cart. You're too big."

Daniel giggled. "I know that, Jack. 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, Jack." 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 thrown 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's 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, Jack?"

"It's okay, Daniel. 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

"Jack? Did I do something wrong?" Daniel looked at him worriedly

"No, no, Daniel. 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."

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, Jack." 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, Daniel." 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

"Did you have fun today, Daniel?" Jack asked as he sat on the edge of Daniel's bed

"I liked going to the waterfall place, Jack. That was fun." Daniel yawned, reaching for Lumpy and pulling the camel close

"Seven Falls, Daniel," Jack corrected gently. "Yeah, that was pretty fun 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

"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."

"Uh huh." Daniel obeyed, pulling his blanket closer to his chin. "Jack?"


"I'm sorry."

"Daniel?" Jack frowned. "What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry that I'm a blessing." Daniel wouldn't look at Jack. "Last night I heard Teal'c tell you that 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 that man in the store didn't like me?"

"It doesn't mean any of that, Daniel." Jack rubbed a slow circle on Daniel's back. "Blessings aren't bad. They're wonderful. They're like Christmas 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 and tomorrow we go to the zoo."

"Okay," Daniel whispered. "Good night, Jack."

"Night, Daniel." Jack patted Daniel's shoulder once and then left the room, thinking of what he'd just said. Maybe Lya was more right than Jack had been willing to accept at first. Jack went to his room with a smile on his face. After Daniel's enthusiasm for a trip to a waterfall, he could hardly wait to see Daniel's face when they stopped at the natural history museum before going to the zoo. General Hammond called in a favor from a friend in order to get tickets for the special Egyptian exhibit that was on tour

Jack woke with an insistent ache in his groin, surprised to see that it was daylight and that both he and Daniel 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 Sponge Bob 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 Daniel to follow him to the kitchen

"I was excited, 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 every one ate chocolate chips and maple syrup on their waffles

"Put in lots, please, Jack," Daniel smiled at him. Jack smiled back, kissing Daniel's hair

"You got it, Danny. Chocolate chip waffles coming right up."

Daniel stopped on the sidewalk, his eyes darting from the big building in front of them to Jack and back again

"What's wrong, Daniel?" 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. Daniel, 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, Egypt stuff," Jack agreed, pulling out two tickets to show Daniel

"Then can we go in, Jack? 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 he 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, Jack?" 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. "Jack, 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 is 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, Daniel. 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

* * * * *

"Yes, General. I understand." Jack listened to Hammond on the other end of the cell phone. "No, I'm not sure how he knew it, but I have no reason to doubt that he did."

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..yes, sir." Hammond's voice sounded in Jack's ear. "Understood, 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. "Grandpa George, 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?"

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 was entranced by the polar and grizzly bears and watched the bald eagle intently. Jack sat down beside him and smiled

"Are you having fun, Daniel?"

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."

"Where are the mastadges?" Daniel pushed up his glasses with one finger never losing his grip on Lumpy

"Uh," Jack hadn't been prepared for that request. He squeezed Daniel's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Daniel. 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, Daniel?"

"You always say I hate those fucking snake heads," 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...tokra." Daniel finally got out

"You know what, Daniel. 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, Jack," 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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"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 being 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, Daniel." 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, Doc 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 wish I could go to work with you."

"I wish you could too," 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 at the zoo. 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

"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."

"Lieutenant, 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..."

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 PhDs 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

"Sorry," he mumbled. "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 SG9 as they returned to Earth; attacked because the SGC's Archaeological Department misread one important word causing the inhabitants to misinterpret SG9's appearance on PX3590

* * * * *

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 ending 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 Jack...whatever you want."

Fast food would have been the best, drive thru...bring it home, no muss...but the thought of another burger and fry turned his stomach. 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 stuff 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. " 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 night's 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

* * * * *

Jack stood surveying the pictures that he had removed from Daniel's backpack, fixing tomorrow's lunch 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 book that was opened on Daniel's pillow. "Look see...that's an "A" and that word is at..and there..there is another "A" and that word is"

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 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. "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


"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 told me..."

"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." 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 frightening that is."

"When did the throwing start, Daniel?"

"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 is not 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 stupid. Then I ripped up my paper and threw it off the desk. And my pencil... I threw my pencil too. Not at Joe though...even though I was mad I didn't want to hurt him."

Jack laughed to himself, even with the mind of a five year old Daniel had more self control than he did, because 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 would be angry. He was going to talk with you and tell you how I behaved." Daniel gulped as the tears started anew. "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 my stuffed toy 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, 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 always make me laugh and see the best in people."

"I don't always remember my letters, and I can't read...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 is agreement

"Extra bubbles, 'cause you had a bad day?"

'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 a 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." Six weeks ago those two words had a completely different meaning to Daniel, to Jack, to the whole SG1 and the SGC. Jack 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, gray sweatpant-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."

* * * * *

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 Jack, all the things I can help with. Like tonight, I brought down the towels for wash. I can you don't have to do it all. 'Kay?"

"Sorry, Daniel. 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 1 fixing my bed in the morning. Good, Jack. Now number #2...."

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 Daniel. 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 Jack, isn't it?" Cleaning off the table?"

"Yup, Daniel, you're right, number 16 to be exact." Jack posted the list to the refrigerator. "Putting it right there 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 he drawings, smoothing out the lines. "Wanna tell me about these."

"I forgot about these, Jack. 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 Daniel, 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 Daniel's 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 outta order." Jack watched as Daniel shuffled the four drawings. "They tell a story Jack...," Daniel's eyes widened at the prospect of some hidden agenda. "Can I tell you a story tonight Jack? 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 Daniel as he pointed to the first box. "This is a story about Sponge Bob 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. Sponge Bob 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 Sponge Bob doesn't know that Patrick is lost...cause Patrick is still there. But the real Patrick keeps calling and calling Sponge Bob telling him to find him. Sponge Bob and Sandy and Squidward and even Gary think Patrick is crazy...'Patrick you're right here'....pffft Patrick says."

Daniel paused, taking a deep breath, turning to the last drawing. "One day Sponge Bob 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 Daniel. 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 you read me a story. Two stories tonight you agreed...remember. I read can read the other one."

"You're right, a deal's a deal." Jack walked over to the overflowing bookcase. Even though Daniel was unable to read, books had 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 sharing 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."

"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 Captain Dennis Rogers, one of Daniel's therapists."

Jack cycled through the people he'd met at the rehab center, recalling a young man with black hair. "Captain, is there a problem?"

"Sir, did Daniel appear ill when you brought him in for his therapy sessions 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. He 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."

"Understood, sir," Captain Rogers said crisply. "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. Daniel had worn his usual downcast expression when entering the center with Jack, smiling only when he saw one of his therapists

He gave Jack a rough hug and asked the question he asked every weekday morning, "You'll come back for me?"

And Jack gave his usual, "Of course, always."

Jack just couldn't understand this clinginess of Daniel's. Daniel was the most independent person Jack knew. Of course, that had been the old Daniel, not the new one. It was as if the brain damage had also taken some of Daniel's resiliency with it

"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 captain. "Daniel doesn't sleep very well at night," he explained

Captain Rogers nodded and continued, wearing a troubled expression. "I'm concerned that Daniel isn't progressing. He hasn't made any cognitive gains since he's joined us. And we haven't seen any increase in his abilities. In fact in a few areas Daniel appears to be regressing."

"Regressing?" Jack stopped the young man before they went any further

"He's been having trouble processing multi-step directions. I know that Doctor Fraiser is in charge of Doctor Jackson's medical care. The most recent information has been sent to her, sir."

Jack thought back to earlier in the day when Fraiser had said she had things to discuss with him, but that was before SG-6 came back from off-world where they'd been caught in an earthquake

"I believe she is setting up a meeting for all of us to discuss Doctor Jackson's progress to this point."

Jack nodded. "Thank you, Captain. I can take care of things from here."

Captain Rogers nodded sharply. "Yes, sir."

"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

Daniel continued his rocking, humming 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," 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 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, Ellen," 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, Jack." 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, Daniel. 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, Daniel.' Jack settled for patting Daniel's knee instead of voicing the thought aloud. "You're not lost, Daniel. You're right here with me. We're going home."

"I am, Jack. 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, Jack." 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 of the brain damage. 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, Jack."

"I love you too, Daniel." 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 Sponge Bob tapes?"

"Anything you want, Danny. Anything you want." Jack swallowed past the pain in his own throat

"Thanks for always taking care of me, Jack." 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 ginger ale and crackers too?"

"Ginger ale 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, Doc," 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, Daniel." 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, Daniel," 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. "I told you he was getting fevers. You said it was just a left over from the viral memory and nothing could be done. His temperature's never gone over one hundred. 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."

Janet held up a hand, "Colonel, let me start over. Sir, I can see Daniel's lost weight since the last time you brought him to the SGC. He looks exhausted and not just exhaustion from today's allergy attack either."

"He doesn't sleep very well, Doc," Jack finally admitted. "He has nightmares."

"You should have told me, Colonel," Janet chided gently. "Daniel appears to be very anxious. I noticed the way he hung on to that stuffed camel the whole time I was examining him."

"Lumpy, the camel's name is Lumpy," Jack said inanely

"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?"

Jack nodded and thought of two nights previously when he'd tried to teach Daniel to tie his shoes for the umpteenth time. "I know, Doc."

"Sir, I understand that..."

"No! No Doc, forgive me but you do not understand." Jack slammed his hand down on the counter. "You do not understand what it's like to see someone as brilliant as Daniel unable to count to ten. You do not understand what it's like to have him screaming in terror at nightmares he can't begin to understand."

"Sir, you have a right to be angry," Janet said

Jack looked at her in shock, giving a short bark of laughter. "A right? A right to be angry? Gee Doc, that just makes it all better. Daniel Jackson, owner of three PhD's is fucking five years old and my being angry is a right?"

"It is, sir. You're allowed to grieve and so is everyone else."

Jack curled his hands into fist and rested them on the counter. He didn't have time to grieve. Taking care of Daniel took too much energy for 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."

"Too bad you didn't think of that before, Doc." Jack would never know just why he said what he did although Janet would later tell him that sleep deprivation made all emotions rest a little closer to the surface. "Maybe if you had, he wouldn't be in the condition he's in."

He gasped as he finished the venomous outburst genuinely shocked by his words. The doctor stood before him her face pale but determined

"That was uncalled for, sir. And you know I'm right."

"Doc, Janet, I...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. I had..." Jack rubbed his face. He wondered if the night could possibly go more badly

"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 get some things in the open."

"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, Doc," Jack nodded, "both of us." He sent Daniel up to the bathroom to brush his teeth before following Janet to the door

"Doc, I'm truly sorry. I didn't mean..."

Janet looked at him a long moment, her brown eyes searching his. "No, Colonel. You did mean it. And I meant what I said too. Don't apologize for your anger or your grief at what you've lost. But don't forget what you still have."

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 pills in his hand earlier in the day was just another reason he hadn't had time to write out the checks. Daniel truly didn't understand the danger, didn't want to upset Jack. He knew that, but Jack just didn't seem to be able to anticipate every possible bit of danger Daniel could experience in his own house

The attempt to mow the grass before supper had to be ended when Daniel decided he wanted to help. He really didn't think the neighbors would appreciate the sound of the lawn mower late tonight

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's all he wished for any more it seemed; 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. "Yes, Daniel. Later on After we're done doing some cleaning up."

"You make us clean an awful lot, Jack. 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, Jack?" Daniel pushed the Legos under Jack's nose

"I see, Daniel," Jack answered without looking

"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 Legos on the floor and carefully placed Lumpy on the counter. "Let me help, Jack." He put his hands in the soapy water, nudging Jack out of the way with one hip. "I want to help."

"Not tonight, Daniel. 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."

"Two." He placed another in the rinse water

He pulled out a coffee mug. "Three."

"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, Daniel," Jack yelled. "Why couldn't you just let me finish?" He looked at the shattered mug, one Daniel, his old Daniel, his lover, had given him less than six months ago. 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 dust pan 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. 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, Daniel." 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, Daniel. 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 left Lumpy behind

He picked up the camel, stroking its fur absently, 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."

"Daniel, 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

"Jack, 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, Daniel." 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, Jack. 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, Daniel. 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, Jack. I don't want to bother you anymore."

"Open the door, Daniel." Jack made a fist to pound on it once more and then flattened his palm against it instead. "Please, Daniel."

"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, Daniel?" Jack asked gently, knowing in his heart what Daniel was planning

"I have to go away, Jack." 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 anymore either."

"Where are you going to go?" Jack moved closer to Daniel, reaching out to touch Daniel's shoulder

"Far away, Jack. When we watched that show on TV, Jack? Remember? Where the big triangles were? I'll go there."

"The pyramids, Daniel. 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 though. And then I'll go to Egypt. Then you won't need to remember me anymore."

Jack held out Lumpy. "You forgot Lumpy, Daniel."

Daniel looked at the overstuffed duffle bag and then back at Jack. " better keep him, Jack. I..I t..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 Jack, 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, Daniel." 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, Daniel. 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, Daniel?" Jack asked. Hopefully a bath would help relax Daniel and let him sleep

Daniel nodded happily. "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 Sponge Bob theme song once more

"Daniel," Jack called up the steps. "I think it's about time to get out of the tub, okay?"

"Okay, Jack," Daniel called back. "Are you gonna read me a story?"

"Yep." Jack put his checkbook back in the desk drawer. "I'll be up 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, Jack," 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, Jack."

"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, Jack."

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, Jack," Daniel sighed. "There's so many books to read."

"I know, Daniel." 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, Jack." 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, Jack," Daniel admitted

"We were both mad," Jack agreed. "That's okay, Daniel. 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

"Til you fall asleep," Jack whispered. "Everything will be brighter in the morning, Daniel. 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 find a new path together the same way they always had

The sound of the TV 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 nightmares 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

"Jack!" Daniel got up from his position on the floor and hugged him. "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're 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."

Well that might explain a lot Jack thought as 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. His new Daniel. The blue eyes still sparkled with joy and excitement, maybe even with a brighter expression than Jack had seen for months. The curiosity, the intelligence, was still there. 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, Daniel." 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, Jack." The aquarium in Daniel's apartment hadn't survived the move to Jack's house a few weeks ago. Well, the aquarium had, it was the fish that hadn't done so well. Daniel insisted at that time that he didn't want any other fish, but now it seemed the short period of grieving for his lost pets was over

"We can do that, Daniel. We'll 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 and then got up and wrote his letter of resignation. There was no answer through the gate and last night had been his epiphany. 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 after giving him a few days off. 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. 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 will have to go." At Daniel's frown, he continued. "We'll talk to Doc Janet and all your therapists and 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 and nodded as Hammond began talking. "Yes sir. I know sir." 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, sir. Sir, 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."

"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 center today."

"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 a 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. "Please. Don't start with that too."

"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, Jack."

Jack felt his heart rise to his throat and stepped closer to bring his own hand to Daniel's forehead. "God, Daniel, you're burning up."

How the hell did the slight heat he'd felt earlier turn into this burning fever? Jack grabbed the afghan from the sofa, throwing it over Daniel's shoulders. "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 Daniel

"Here, Daniel. You just hang on." He was praying Daniel made it to the Avalanche. He tightened his grip around Daniel's waist, encouraging Daniel's slow, unsteady steps. What the hell was going on? There had to be an answer for this. Doc told him just a few days ago that the viral memory didn't seem to be the cause of any of this. Jack was putting in a call to Carter as soon as they were on the way to the SGC. He didn't care if she had to rip Wepwawet's device apart again and rebuild it from scratch. There was an answer to this and they were going to find it. They had to, Jack vowed. If they didn't, 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

"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 the Doc'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 knew 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 knew it as he drove with a restraining hand on Daniel's shoulder, the heat of his body burning his hand. 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. There is no trace of the virus that Daniel had before. And he's weak sir. I know he hasn't been sleeping well, he's been regressing. Colonel, 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

"If I can't find out what this is. Sir, Daniel 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, Doc."

"I just hope it will be enough," her eyes not reflecting the confidence of her slight smile

"I'm just going to go sit with him a that okay?" Jack knew Fraiser wouldn't turn him away, not now, under these conditions. "I'm sorry for all those things I said that night..."

"Colonel, go sit with Daniel. 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 Sponge Bob. Homemade pizza and trains. 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

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 in 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 appeared 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, Jack. There's not much time." Daniel's eyes appeared clear, lucid

"You're going to be okay, Daniel. 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, Jack. 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, Daniel."

"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, Jack. That's good."

Jack was humbled by that simple statement of faith

"Can I have some water, Jack? And I'm hungry." Daniel moved his legs restlessly

"Doc?" Jack called to Janet 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. Doctor Fraiser must have been wrong. Daniel was going to be fine. It was just a particularly bad bout with the implanted memory 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 Sponge Bob got pretend muscles. Did you ever see that?"

Jack followed Janet

"He's feeling a lot better. Maybe he just needs rest, Doc. 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, cut the crap." 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, Colonel, but I'm afraid that combined with what Daniel's therapists 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 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, Colonel." 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 two months ago 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

"Janet asked me if there was anything that I've been able to find in the device to indicate..."

"Carter," Jack interrupted her, "you haven't been able to find an answer have you?"

"No sir." She didn't look at him other than a brief glimpse. "I'm sorry." She watched Daniel and began speaking slowly. "I'm sure that if we contacted the Tok'ra, they would still consider a blend..."

"No, Carter. I told you no before." Jack knew he was raising his voice. "Sometimes there aren't answers Carter. Sometimes you just need to..."

"Sir, I'm sorry."

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

"Not so good, Jack. I've been getting pressure from Washington. SG-1 hasn't been off-world since Doctor Jackson's collapse."

"Because there isn't a SG-1 anymore."

"That's not what the top brass wants to hear, Jack." Hammond looked at his top commander in the field, "They want an answer within forty-eight hours, Jack. Major Carter will be returning to field duty at that time as will Teal'c."

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. "It can wait until then, Jack. I'm not asking you for a decision right now."

Jack leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees and placing his head in his hands. "He's getting worse, George."

"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 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 . "Glyphs, Carter?" He recognized a few from the story Daniel told him several nights back feeling his heart start to pound. "Glyphs. Carter, these are glyphs."

"Sir, this is the address to P4W-555. The last planet we 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 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 O'Neill."

* * * * *

"You what?" Doctor Fraiser crossed her arms over her chest. "Colonel, a trip through the gate could kill him."

"Doc, listen to me. Something happened to Daniel on that planet, 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 are the ones haven't listened to him. We're the ones who are failing him. This may be his last chance," Jack pleaded, matching Janet for sheer stubbornness in this instance

"It's very dangerous, Colonel." 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 Doc, can you guarantee me that Daniel is going to survive?"

Jack knew she would agree the moment he'd 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 would, Doc." 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, gang," 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. "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 gate." 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 of the 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 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 glyphs 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 light intensified and small colored beads of light floated out from the walls. He stepped back, closer to Daniel's unconscious body as the lights came closer. "We are friends. We mean you no harm," he continued. The beads 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 seemed to be 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 would not 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."


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 heart beat. "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, 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 are playing here. I don't even care what it is. This is what I know. What I judge. That you aren't worthy to judge him. Daniel is dying. Dying and it's your fault because of some stupid test. Your it's my fault. I stopped him. I told him to come out because we had to get back through the gate. Always in a rush. I have no answers for you. Daniel's the smart guy, not me. If he was able, he'd know the right answers. I'm sorry. I don't have any. All I know is this: I love Daniel. He loves me."

"He is damaged." The voices sounded disdaining. "He is not what he once was."

"No," Jack shook his head, "he isn't. But damaged? No. Something happened in here. You did something or he touched something, but whatever it is it's killing him, and I don't want him to die. I love him." Jack was too tired to argue anymore, and Daniel's pulse gave that same skip again

He was vaguely aware of the voices discussing something, almost as if he was a child again listening to an adult conversation from the upstairs hallway, but a few words registered: nothing, sacrifice, heal. And suddenly they ceased to matter or have meaning because that faint life beat was no longer there

Jack pressed his fingers harder against Daniel's neck. He hadn't been concentrating. That was it. Daniel wasn't going to die here, not on some alien world, not when Jack was so sure that this was the answer. He looked down into Daniel's face; saw the half open eyes that held no spark of life

"No," Jack murmured. He held his hand at Daniel's mouth, his nose and there was nothing. No warm breath, no moist heat on his fingertips

"Damn you, Daniel." Jack was galvanized into action. He tilted Daniel's head back, breathing into Daniel's mouth, turning his head, hoping that there would be an answering one. He pressed shaking fingers to Daniel's neck, knowing the truth this time, that there was no pulse. That Daniel's heart had stopped

The movements were automatic. He performed them without thinking, detaching himself from the situation as the only way he could get through it. Compress, compress, compress...he counted with fierce concentration, only the numbers mattering. Breathe, compress. Time stood still until his hands cramped and he knew. He knew that it was over

The detachment ended although Jack longed for it now. He sat the cold floor and pulled Daniel's lifeless body into his arms

"No, no, no." He looked down into that beloved face and brushed hair back from Daniel's forehead. He'd meant to take Daniel for a haircut earlier in the week. He thought there'd be enough time. "No, Danny. I'm sorry, so sorry. I thought I knew...I thought there was an answer here."

But there wasn't of course. There wouldn't be. Jack would never have his answers now

He rocked Daniel in a soothing rhythm. "You're not alone, Daniel. Never alone. Remember that and wait for me." He traced his fingers over Daniel's eyebrows, down his nose, across full lips that were locked in an enigmatic smile. "It wasn't supposed to happen this way. I was going to give George my resignation today. Had it in my pocket when Fraiser came in to show us those glyphs. I thought I knew what you were trying to tell me. Doc was right. I shouldn't have brought you here. I didn't get a chance to take you fishing." Jack's voice broke. "I was gonna take you to Minnesota, to the cabin. Just you and me. No therapists for a few weeks. No people saying you can't learn. Just you and me and Lumpy." The words stuck in Jack's throat. "Oh Danny. Not enough time. Not enough." Jack continued his rocking, the words coming out in a broken whisper, " You need a song to help you sleep. My family would laugh to think my voice could actually help you sleep. More like a dying sheep, they'd say." Jack gave a painful laugh and then started the melody that helped soothe Daniel's nightmares. "O Danny boy...," Jack faltered for a few lines finding his voice again. " 'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide But come ye back when summer's in the meadow Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow 'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so."

"Jack O'Neill," the voices surrounded him, "he is damaged."

"He's fucking dead." Anger surged within Jack. "Dead. Not damaged."

"You cared for him even though he is not as he was."

"I love him," Jack yelled. "Love. Do you think I loved him less because his mind was hurt? Do you think I would abandon him? He needed me. I love him and he needed me. How could I stop loving him?"

"You didn't need to do any of those things."

"I didn't need to; I wanted to do all of them. I love him. Can't you understand that? He'd do the same for me without question."

"We understand, Jack O'Neill. More than you know." The voices turned gentle. "The true testing is complete. All is restored to what it should be."

The small beads of light floated from their hidden places in the wall, surrounding both Jack and Daniel. There was a tingling in Jack's arms where he held Daniel. He looked down to see Daniel bathed in the multicolored lights for a few moments before they once again disappeared into the walls

The body in his arms moved. Jack nearly dropped Daniel's upper body onto the floor. Yeah, he thought, just what Daniel needs...a concussion. Before the next thought registered, Daniel moved. Jack looked down to see confused blue eyes blinking up at him

"Danny, it's okay. You're okay," Jack began in a rush. Surely Daniel was going to be scared and confused waking up and not knowing where he was. "We're going to go home soon, okay? Doc Janet is right outside."

Daniel just blinked at him a few times before he gave a slight cough. "Doc Janet, Jack?"

"You got sick, Daniel. I had to take you to the SGC. But you're going to be okay now. Understand?"

"Um..Jack, much as I love being held in your arms like this, I have a strange feeling that a) we're not in this position because you just gave me mind blowing sex and b) we're not in Kansas anymore."

"Daniel?" Jack listened to Daniel's speech with growing amazement. "You're you. My God, you'!" He pulled Daniel close in a hug

Daniel suffered the tight squeeze and then squirmed away. "Jack? Not to complain or anything, although my ass is very cold and dirt floors never have been my favorite places to sleep, but uh..well..I can't help noticing that I'm..well...I'm wearing scrubs."

Jack couldn't speak. He grinned at Daniel pulling his scrub top away from his body and looking down at in disdain. He grinned at the almost non stop flow of words

"And where are my shoes? This floor is cold. You know I hate my feet being cold."

Jack stood and offered a hand to Daniel, pulling him up with ease. Jack was well aware of the concerned glances Daniel kept throwing his way. Daniel accepted his glasses from Jack with a small smile

"Oh hey, Jack. I didn't get a chance to finish translating these walls. Maybe I could, you know," Daniel took a few steps in the direction of the wall before Jack pulled him back

"No," Jack said. "Just no. I'm sure you were able to get it all on video before...well...before."

Daniel tilted his head to one side. "Before what, Jack? This is P4W-555, isn't it?" At Jack's nod, Daniel continued, And we were here and I remember going back through the gate. I didn't feel well. We were walking to the locker room. Was I sick, Jack?"

Jack steered Daniel towards the doorway. "Yeah, you could say that. Look, Daniel, let's just get back home and then we can have explanations to your little heart's content." Jack thought he was going to be sick. This was too much. Daniel was back. Not just back but totally back. He had no idea how whatever had just happened managed to heal Daniel's brain damage. A frightening thought occurred to Jack. What if they stepped through the gate and it all disappeared? What if the illness, the damage to Daniel's immune system was cured, but the regression returned? He paused a moment and Daniel was speaking to him, his voice soft and concerned

"Jack? You okay?"

Shaking himself, Jack smiled at his friend, his lover. "Me? I'm fine, Daniel." He realized he really was. If these few moments he had with the old Daniel were all he'd have the rest of his life, he would mourn the loss but he would rejoice in having the newer Daniel, the Daniel with the mind of a five year old with him too. He wasn't going to get his hopes up for a miracle, knowing that they could be snatched away. For now, he was going to enjoy what he had

"Jack!" Daniel grabbed at Jack's arm as he squinted out into the sunlight. "Uh, you know Sam and Doctor Fraiser are out there."

"Yeah," Jack took a step forward only to be pulled back by Daniel

"I can't go out there like this," Daniel whispered urgently. He gestured down at his very thin scrubs. "The sun will, well you know, make them see through."

Jack shook his head. For a guy that had been dead, dead not too long ago, Daniel was playing the modesty card a little too much. Of course, Daniel didn't know he'd been dead, so maybe it didn't count. Not that Daniel was ever going to find out that little bit of information from Jack. "Trust me, Daniel. No one's going to mind at all. Come on, Daniel." Jack just sort of tugged on Daniel's arm, pulling him out into the sunlight




Three voices sounded at once, three hopeful faces were turned on them

Jack threw an arm over Daniel's shoulders and guided him down the stone steps. He didn't even have to open his mouth, Carter seeming to recognize what had happened. Or maybe it was the grin that was beginning to make his face ache that gave her the clue

"Daniel," she whispered and ran questing fingers over Daniel's face, smiling up into his eyes before hugging him as if he was a precious artifact. "You're...back."

"Sam?" Daniel looked from her, to Jack, to Fraiser, and Teal'c before sighing and giving in to the inevitable. He obviously wasn't going to get answers now because Jack had decided answers could be given later. Jack ignored the glance directed at him and only nodded

"Yeah," he heard Daniel say in a quiet voice. "Yeah, I am, Sam."

"DanielJackson, I am pleased to see you fully recovered." Teal'c nodded and clasped Daniel's forearm

"Sir, I believe that we should get Doctor Jackson back to the SGC as soon as possible." Fraiser smiled at Daniel before moving closer to Jack and speaking in a tone that Daniel' couldn't hear. "We need to do some tests, make sure that everything is..."

"I know, Doc," Jack sighed, his grin beginning to fade. "Come on, gang. Let's saddle up and skedaddle."

"Saddle up and skedaddle, Jack?" Daniel let out a snort of laughter

"There are no horses here, O'Neill," Teal'c joined in the banter. "Have you given thought to Daniel Jackson's mode of transport back to the SGC?"

Jack motioned to the stretcher. "Get in, Daniel."

"Jack, come on, you've got to be kidding. I'm perfectly fine. I can walk." Daniel folded his arms over his chest. Jack closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, the posture too close to Daniel's yesterday

"Shoes, Daniel? You ready to march through some rocky terrain barefoot?"

Daniel stared at Jack, that stubborn gleam in his eyes. It faded quickly although Daniel muttered a, 'can't believe I don't have a pair of boots,' before lying down

"Yeah well, we kinda had more important things on our minds at the moment," Jack said. He didn't understand why he was feeling this way. Where was the overwhelming joy he should be feeling at the moment? The only thing he was sure of it seemed was an extreme weariness and a longing for home. He looked down into Daniel's face, not surprised to see Daniel's eyes closed. "Going home, Danny," he whispered and saw a minute nod

"Let's move out, people," Jack called out in his commander's voice and tightened his grip on the stretcher, his throat suddenly tight

Daniel wrapped his arms around himself as he stood on the ramp, the metal burning cold beneath his bare feet. He shifted from one to the other in an attempt to warm up

"Told you so," Jack said softly beside him. "You should have let us carry you through on the stretcher."

Daniel shook his head. "I feel fine. I can walk." He smiled at Jack. It wasn't a lie, he felt perfectly well

Jack had been surprisingly closed mouthed on the return trip to the Gate and at the time Daniel simply chalked it up to the exertion of carrying the stretcher in the heat and humidity of the planet, but now he wasn't so sure. Jack looked weary beyond belief

"Doctor Jackson?" General Hammond stood before them, his eyes searching Daniel. "You're well?"

"I'm fine, sir." Daniel followed Jack off the ramp. "Things are a little fuzzy right now, but I'm fine."

He didn't mention the strange images that were floating through his head. And why did the name Grandpa George come to mind when he saw General Hammond?

"I want everyone in the infirmary, sir." Doctor Fraiser stepped off the ramp

"Debriefing in one hour?" Hammond asked

"I need to do scans on Doctor Jackson, sir. It appears he has made a complete recovery."

Daniel caught the emphasis on the word complete and looked to Jack, hoping for some sort of comment or answer. But Jack was as silent as he'd been on the planet, the grin he'd been wearing then had faded and his mouth was now set in a firm line

For once Daniel decided that his curiosity could be kept in check. Sam came into step beside him as they left the gateroom, her hand brushing his. He glanced at her and she smiled back. Teal'c walked so closely behind him that Daniel could feel his body heat. There were no comments from Jack, none of his particular brand of humor

A few hours later, Daniel, despite his protests, was resting in an infirmary bed with Fraiser, Hammond and the rest of SG-1 gathered around

"In other words, Daniel is fine. Completely recovered," Doctor Fraiser finished her report with a broad smile

"I told you I was fine, Doctor," Daniel said from his position on the bed. He crossed his arms over his chest, the effect he was hoping for lost since he wasn't standing. "Now, may I please leave?"

"Humor her, Daniel." It was the first time Jack had spoken since the gateroom. "Just humor her."

Daniel raised his eyebrows in astonishment. Jack O'Neill, hater of the infirmary, the person he could count on to help persuade Janet to let him go, was telling him to grin and bear it

"Colonel O'Neill, since Major Carter, Doctor Fraiser and Teal'c witnessed nothing on the planet, perhaps you could tell us what happened in the temple?"

Daniel watched Jack closely. He'd learned a number of new languages since joining the SGC, Jack O'Neill was one of them and by far the most challenging. And right now, Jack O'Neill was very uncomfortable and wanted to be anywhere but where he was

"We entered the Temple...they called it the Temple of Souls. They asked me some questions, there were some lights, and then Daniel was better," Jack reported in a monotone

"I...I remember lights." Daniel kept his eyes on Jack. "Not sure if...well, I don't know if it was the first time I was there or this time, but lights. They came from the walls, little beads of light. Like Christmas ornaments."

"They scanned us, sir," Jack added. "At least, that's what I thought they were doing."

"You said they asked you questions, Colonel. What type of questions?" Hammond pressed

There had been voices. Daniel remembered that now. "Do you desire to be tested? Do you come to be judged?" Voices and lights, feelings of abandonment and loss and then Jack calling him, telling him their time on the planet was up. They started walking back to the Gate and then...nothing, just those same vague images. A place he didn't like to go to, sleeping alone but Jack there, always there

"It was a test. They said it was a test." Jack studied his hands

"Doctor Fraiser?" Daniel looked up as General Hammond motioned in Jack's direction

"No, sir. Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, and Teal'c all check out fine."

Daniel's mind raced, trying to recall the writings in the temple from memory. He began talking out loud, the way he always worked when solving a puzzle. "Stand and be judged, something, something, something, desires a true testing, something, for he stands innocent." He looked at them, surprised to find everyone watching him. "I really need my notes from there to give a correct translation."

"No, no notes, Daniel." Jack stood, hands clenched in fists. "Doctor Fraiser told you to rest and damn it, you're going to rest."

Daniel's own ,"Jack?" was echoed by a, 'sir,' two, 'Colonel's,' and an 'O'Neill.'

"He fucking died in that temple," Jack exploded. "Died as in dead, not breathing, no pulse, nothing, nada."

"I don't remember," Daniel began, hoping that the others realized how close to the edge Jack was and left them

"No shit, you don't remember, Daniel!" There wasn't room for Jack to pace and he put his hands on his head instead. "You were dead. How the hell could you remember anything when you were dead?"

"I'm alive now, Jack." Daniel started to get out of bed and subsided at Janet's glare

"Sir, I think it might be best if everyone were to leave," Fraiser nodded to General Hammond

General Hammond motioned for Sam and Teal'c to leave. "We'll leave you to your... whatever it is you still need to do, Doctor." He smiled paternally at Daniel. "And son, it's good to see you again."

"Thank you, sir." Daniel only risked a quick glance at Hammond, returning his attention to Jack who hadn't moved from his spot

"Colonel O'Neill?" General Hammond called

"I think that the colonel is needed here for a little while longer, sir." Janet moved away from Daniel's bed, motioning for Hammond to follow her

"Jack?" Daniel began. He didn't know what he expected Jack to do and his own urge to get out of bed was fast fading. His chest ached and he pulled the gown away from his neck to peek down at his chest even though he knew there were no bruises

"You were dead, Daniel," Jack repeated once more, sinking into a chair at Daniel's side

"You tried to save me." Daniel knew Janet hadn't given him any medicine but he wondered why he was suddenly growing sleepy

"Tried is the operative word," Jack muttered. He leaned forward, putting his head in his hands

"Jack, I can see," Daniel had to stop to yawn, "that you're exhausted. Go home, get some rest. You heard our favorite doctor. She's not letting me out of here until tomorrow morning." He frowned. "I hope my being dead doesn't make her keep me longer." Daniel thought that comment would at least earn a grin from Jack but no such luck

"Go to sleep, Daniel." Jack rested his hand on Daniel's for a moment. "I'll be here when you wake up."

No, Daniel wanted to say, we need to talk about this. I need to know everything. But his eyelids were heavy. He guessed being dead took a lot out of you. Jack's hand tightened on his slightly and Daniel let out a sigh as he gave in to sleep

The dim lights of the infirmary told Daniel that he'd slept at least until the night shift. He stretched cautiously and turned onto his side. Jack still sat in the chair, his head resting on his chest. Daniel winced in sympathy for the stiff neck Jack was going to have when he woke up

Daniel didn't move, afraid that any movement would disturb Jack's rest, uncomfortable though it was. He wanted to run his fingers through Jack's hair, ease those lines from Jack's face. He wasn't alone. Wouldn't be alone, Daniel knew that now. He stretched his legs out in the bed, searching for the cool spot in the sheets

"Daniel," Jack woke up with a start and was leaning in towards Daniel's bed

"You okay?" Daniel asked in a whisper. He often wondered why one felt the need to whisper in the middle of the night even if Jack and he were the only two people in the infirmary

"Yeah." Jack rubbed at his neck. "Hey you were the one who was dead. What about you?"

There was none of the joking that Daniel expected in Jack's tone

"Confused," Daniel finally admitted. "True testing." He couldn't let go of the puzzle. "I didn't know what they meant. I still don't know exactly." He trailed off. "What if there's no answer, Jack? What's the point of a test if you don't know the reason for it? If you don't even know the question?"

"I don't know, Daniel." Jack rubbed at his eyes and at the back of his neck once more

"You're both awake." Janet came up to the bed, smiling at them

"May I go home?" Daniel asked

"It's 0300, Daniel," Janet said shaking her head. "But Colonel O'Neill, I'm going to ask you to leave now."

"I can go bunk down on base," Jack answered. He stood and stretched

"No, you can go home." Janet stepped closer. "I mean it, sir. You're exhausted. It's time to rest."

"Jack, go." Daniel flicked his fingers in a shooing motion. "Janet's right. I can see you're beat. I'm sure that the good doctor will be releasing me in the morning, although technically it's morning already."

Daniel wanted to take off after Jack as he left the infirmary when he realized that Jack hadn't even bothered to argue with Janet but his body just didn't seem to want to do what he wanted it to and he closed his eyes once more

Daniel shifted uncomfortably in Sam's car as she pulled into Jack's driveway. He still didn't have many memories of what had transpired over the past two months, but images of being tucked into bed and being read to, kept appearing in his mind. Janet had been unusually silent regarding the whole issue and Daniel had finally managed to corner Sam in her lab after Doctor Fraiser had given him the green light to go home

Sam spilled it all: his collapse in the gateroom, the high fever that Janet couldn't seem to reduce, the certainty of all of them that he had been left brain damaged from the fever and the virus, that it was some sort of residual effect from Wepwawet's torture, Jack's insistence that he could care for Daniel, and the rapid deterioration of the final week that convinced them that they were going to lose him until Jack latched on to the cryptic clues Daniel was giving them

"The colonel was amazing," Sam said as she stood in her lab, her eyes shadowed with pain. "He truly was. He wouldn't give up."

"He wouldn't," Daniel replied with certainty. "Not on any of us. You know that Sam."

Sam had laughed lightly then, nodded her head and given Daniel a kiss before offering to drive him home

"Sam?" Daniel asked. He watched as she tightened her hands on the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. "You okay?"

She shook her head, lowering it to rest on the wheel. "I'm sorry, Daniel."

Daniel frowned, unable to understand her reaction. "Sorry? Whatever for?"

"I couldn't have done it, Daniel," she whispered, her words coming out broken. "I couldn't have done it."

"Sam," he reached out and touched her shoulder, "it's okay."

She sat back up, her face tear-stained and her nose running. "No, no it's not okay, Daniel. I just don't like what I see when I look in the mirror. I thought it would have been better if you had died."

"Sam," Daniel shook his head, pulling Sam into a hug, " I remember you. You made me laugh. I remember that. It's over, Sam. No time for regrets."

Sam gave a shaky laugh and pulled away. "I'd better let you get going."

Daniel studied her. "Maybe you'd better come in the house. Are you going to be okay to drive yourself home?"

Sam took the tissue he offered her and blew her nose. "I'll be fine, Daniel. Really, I will." She smiled at his raised eyebrows. "I just..I missed you, you know?" She reached out to touch his face and he leaned into her hand, placing a kiss in the palm

"Take care, Sam," Daniel whispered. "Call when you get home, okay? Let me know you got there safely."

She nodded firmly as he got out the car and gave him a bright smile and a wave as she backed out of the driveway

Daniel watched as she drove down the street, telling himself it was because he was concerned about Sam, not because for one of the first times in his relationship with Jack he felt hesitant and afraid

He straightened his shoulders and headed towards the back door, pulling out his key as he walked. A small brown toy caught his eye, laying abandoned by the door, a small toy camel that seemed to be winking up at him. Daniel picked it up and smiled

"Lumpy," he murmured in sudden recognition, "how did you get out here?" He tucked the toy under one arm as he opened the door

"Why should I be embarrassed by any of this? It's not as though I did anything wrong," Daniel muttered and hoped none of Jack's neighbors saw him. "And it's not as if Jack hasn't seen me at my worst before either." He wasn't sure if remembering anything more than the bits and snatches that flitted through his head would be a blessing or a curse

The house was quiet as Daniel entered. No television, no sounds of Jack's CD player. Daniel toed off his shoes and placed them by the kitchen door. He didn't want to run the risk of waking an exhausted Jack. He placed Lumpy on the kitchen table, giving it one last pat, laughing at himself for petting a child's toy, but visions of holding the camel when he was away from Jack, bringing the toy to his face to capture the faint smell Lumpy held of Jack, soon had him taking a deep breath of returning memories

Daniel thought of the smudges under Jack's eyes, the disheveled hair, and the weariness that Jack exhibited on the journey back to the Stargate; the trouble Jack had stringing two coherent sentences together in the debriefing. Jack was exhausted, that much was apparent. Exhausted with a bone deep weariness that made him appear almost defeated

Smiling at how quiet the house was, he figured Jack must be in bed. Daniel left the kitchen and turned to walk up the few steps to the next level. He was going to undress and simply lie in bed next to Jack, watching his lover sleep

He frowned as he stepped on something hard, round, and small. Daniel bent to pick up a lemon yellow crayon. As he held the broken pieces of warm wax in his hand more memories rushed back. A patient Jack, showing him letters, wrapping his hand around Daniel's, "This is a D," and moving Daniel's hand in writing; Jack soothing him through nightmares he couldn't understand; being held close, and rocked when he was sick

Daniel turned back towards the living room, remembering being scared and feeling so lost and alone. Remembered needing Jack as much as he needed air and throwing crayons in anger

Jack wasn't in the bedroom sleeping, Daniel soon discovered. He was on his knees, methodically picking up scattered crayons

"Jack?" Daniel spoke softly, but Jack continued his precise movements. Pick up a crayon, place it in the box, point side up. Pick up a crayon, place it in the box, point side up

"I've gotta get these cleaned up," Jack said, his voice flat. "You can trip on crayons, you know. Fall, break a leg."

"Jack?" Daniel knelt down beside him, reaching out to cover Jack's hand. "I'll do it."

"No, Daniel. Gotta get this done." Jack shook off Daniel's hand and began stretching to reach the sky blue one that was near the sofa

"Jack, c'mon. You're exhausted. Janet sent you home a good six hours ago. You should be in bed." Daniel tugged at Jack's shoulder, alarmed by the pallor of Jack's skin, the tension he felt in the muscles under his hand

Jack shook his head stubbornly and Daniel finally reached out to take the crayon in Jack's hand

He pulled, Jack resisted, and the crayon broke in two

"Damn it, Daniel." Jack grabbed the piece out of Daniel's hand. "I said I'd do it."

"It's just a crayon, Jack."

"No, no, no," Jack muttered, shaking his head violently. He held the two pieces in his hands, pressing them together as if he could fix what had been broken

"Jack," Daniel persisted, keeping his voice quiet and calm despite his own fears

Jack's hands were trembling and the crayon fell to the floor. He grabbed at it with a frantic movement, unable to grasp it

"Enough," Daniel whispered. "Enough, Jack." He moved closer, slipping an arm around Jack's shoulders, pulling Jack's head to his own shoulder. "It's over. I remember, Jack. I remember."

Jack said nothing. Maybe he was beyond words, had hit that state of exhaustion where everything was dream-like and unreal

Daniel felt warmth and wetness on his shoulder and looked down to see tears leaking from beneath Jack's closed eyelids

"Oh, Jack." He hugged his lover tighter

"I didn't believe," Jack managed to say. "I was giving up on you, Daniel. On us. And then you died. They said it was a true testing, and I didn't know what they meant. I couldn't figure it out, Daniel, just like I couldn't hear what you were trying to tell me. You died and I failed you."

"You didn't." Daniel shifted as Jack sat up and looked at him

Jack reached out a hand and ran a finger across Daniel's face, tracing his nose, brushing over Daniel's lips. "Oh God, Danny. I thought.."

Daniel smiled. "You believed in us, Jack. You loved me. What more could you have done?" He touched Jack's cheek, one finger rubbing along lines that hadn't been there a few months ago

Jack's smile twisted at Daniel's touch. He took in a deep shuddering breath and opened his mouth to speak. All that came out was a gasp

He pulled Jack close as the other man began to sob, great gasping sobs that released the fears, the worries, the tension of the whole ordeal

Daniel caught a word here and there, "Scared, alone, love," and although he couldn't remember all the details, he remembered knowing that Jack loved him, that Jack would take care of him, and that he wouldn't be alone

"Sorry," Jack finally said, pushing away. "Sorry."

Daniel shook his head and wiped Jack's tears away with his thumbs. "No, don't be. Don't you ever be sorry for doing the best you could. Maybe," Daniel added, thinking aloud, "maybe that was the test. Letting go of the past, facing fears. And maybe we'll never know what the test was at all." He smiled at Jack. "Do you think it matters?"

Jack pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose. "God, I don't know why women want to cry all the time. It makes you feel crappy."

"We'll have to ask Sam and Janet." Daniel laughed despite the pressure in his nose from the tears he'd shed along with Jack

"Carter and the doc?" Jack placed one hand on the floor to push himself up. "Get real, Daniel. They..never mind." The smile that had appeared on Jack's face for a second or two faded

Daniel took Jack's hand. "You're nearly out on your feet, Jack. Let's get you to bed. Let me take care of you for a change."

Jack just nodded and let Daniel lead him towards the bedroom, apparently exhausted enough that he was content to let Daniel take charge

He didn't speak as he guided Jack to the bed, bending down to untie Jack's sneakers and pull off Jack's socks. Jack sat, head down, staring at nothing, Daniel supposed

Daniel stood to go grab a threadbare pair of sweatpants that Jack sometimes wore. He didn't like the shivers that Jack was still experiencing, but a steely hand clamped around his wrist. Daniel looked down into confused brown eyes

"I'm just getting you your sweats, Jack," Daniel reassured. "Won't even be out of your sight." He placed a hand on Jack's cheek, not liking the coolness of Jack's skin. Jack released his wrist and Daniel took the few steps to the dresser to retrieve the pants

He placed a hand at Jack's elbow pressing gently, urging Jack to stand. Seeing Jack so subdued, so utterly exhausted, touched Daniel's heart. He undid the button at the top of Jack's Dockers and then gently unzipped them, sliding the pants over Jack's hips, noticing that Jack had lost some weight. He tapped Jack's left calf first and then his right, silently urging Jack to step out of his pants. Daniel tapped Jack's calf again as he replaced the Dockers with the sweat pants. Jack obediently stepped into the pants. Daniel stood once again, pulling the pants up over Jack's hips

Familiar callused hands slid over Daniel's forearms and Daniel smiled at Jack

"Why don't you lie down, Jack?" Daniel rested his hands on Jack's shoulders and squeezed slightly. "Don't worry, I'll stay right here."

Jack nodded and sat down heavily, closing his eyes. Daniel guided him to the pillow, lifting Jack's legs onto the bed

He took off his own khakis and pulled his shirt over his head. Daniel went over to the dresser once more, finding a pair of cotton pajama bottoms that were softly fuzzed from repeated washings. He pulled them on quickly, aware of Jack watching him carefully from the bed

Daniel sat on the bed and tugged off his socks and then plumped up a pillow and leaned against the headboard

Jack sighed, curled up on his side, threw one arm over Daniel's waist and was asleep. Daniel had always been amazed by Jack's ability to catch sleep whenever and however he could. He shook his head in vague amusement now, looking down at his sleeping lover, wishing there was some way to erase the sadness those brown eyes had held earlier

Daniel closed his eyes, threading his fingers through the short silver strands of Jack's hair and massaging Jack's scalp gently, the motion soothing him as much as it did Jack. The hum of the air conditioner, the slow even rhythm of Jack's breathing, soon had Daniel yawning and despite his best efforts to stay awake and alert in case Jack needed him; Daniel soon joined his lover in slumber

Daniel moved closer to the warm body next to his, snaking an arm out to pull Jack's head towards his. He kept his eyes closed, pressing kisses on Jack's skin, tasting the salty tang of sweat on Jack's neck, moving up, seeking Jack's lips

"What the hell are you doing, Daniel?" Jack's voice was strident, jarring Daniel out of his pleasant relaxed state

Daniel opened his eyes only to find Jack looking at him angrily. Daniel frowned

"What am I doing? It's called kissing, Jack. You know, I place my lips on yours and..." Daniel sat up straight in bed as Jack pushed him away. "What the hell are you doing, Jack? Maybe that's the better question."

"We..I...we just can't, that's all." Jack pulled at the blankets that were down around his thighs up over his hips and waist

"We can't?" Daniel asked, hoping that his voice didn't really come out in the squeak it sounded like to him. "Jack, has something...did I..." Daniel gave up, totally puzzled by Jack's behavior. Maybe it was still the exhaustion. Daniel studied Jack, tilting his head to see if Jack looked any more rested

"What?" Jack snapped

"Nothing." Daniel shook his head and moved slightly closer to Jack, noticing Jack's barely imperceptible movement towards the edge of the bed

Daniel reached out to touch Jack's shoulder, letting his hand fall in the space between them instead. He stared at his hand a moment, wondering how on earth a few inches distance could feel like light years

"I'm not him, Jack," Daniel whispered, never taking his eyes from Jack. The slight jerk Jack gave at the words confirmed all of Daniel's fears

"Look at me," Daniel ordered. Jack shuddered once and then turned to face Daniel

"Do you see me or him?"

"Daniel, I..." Jack shook his head. "I thought I'd never know you, what you were, who you were, again. I thought...hell, I prepared myself for a life with a brain damaged Daniel, for living the rest of my life with you having the mind of a child."

"See me, Jack."

"I need time, Daniel. I look at you and I see who you were. I can't just erase the past two months."

"I know that, Jack. I'm not asking you to." Daniel was heartened by Jack's hand resting on his, Jack staring down at their intertwined fingers

"I had to put my love for you away, lock it away, throw away the key. You, the Daniel I fell in love with, that Daniel was dead. I had to tell myself that." Jack hung his head as if he were ashamed. "And now, now, you're back and..." Daniel had to lean forward to hear the next words, " that scares the shit out of me."

"Scared ," Daniel repeated, not questioning, trying to understand, "of me."

Jack shook his head slowly. "Not of you but...that it isn't real, that it's not the real you anymore, that that Daniel will come back at an inopportune time. I don't know what to do, Daniel. Don't know what you can do. Damn it, it was your body, your face, your eyes, but it wasn't you. And I learned to love that Daniel. God, this is so confusing." Jack covered his face with his hands, rubbing at his eyes, his temples

"And I thank you for that, Jack. For loving me, for keeping me safe. You didn't have to do any of that, you know."

"No," Jack's voice was pure anguish, "I didn't...I wasn't...Daniel, you were calling out for help the whole time and I didn't listen. I didn't understand what you were telling me. You were dying, and I couldn't stop it."

"But I didn't. It didn't happen, Jack. I'm here now. I'm here and I'm safe and whole." Daniel tilted his head, studying Jack's face, unable to read all the emotions reflected in his lover's eyes. "I'll wait, Jack. For as long as you need me to, I'll wait. But I need you to see me for me."

Jack nodded and reached out to touch Daniel's cheek before pulling back as if scorched

Daniel smiled. "Can I keep you safe, Jack? Like you did for me? Just let me sit here by that okay? Or I can move to the guest room, Jack? You decide. It's okay. Whatever you decide, it's okay. We're going to get through this, Jack. It's your turn to lean on me. Let me take care of things."

Jack's breathing was harsh in the silence of the room and Daniel watched as the last rays of the setting sun bathed the floor in reds and golds

"Stay, Daniel," Jack whispered, his voice only a rough approximation of its usual vigor. "I want you to stay. I just don't know if..."

"We have all the time we need, Jack. No rush." Daniel slid down in the bed, turning onto his side to face Jack. He was relieved to see his lover do the same, unconsciously mimicking Daniel's position

Jack watched him; Daniel could sense it even though he kept his own eyes closed. He felt Jack's hand come to rest on his hip, one of Jack's feet worm its way between his ankles, and then smiled as Jack's breathing evened out, deepening into snores

"All the time we need, Jack," Daniel whispered, opening his eyes to look at the beloved face that was finally relaxed. Jack had guarded Daniel's soul for the past few months; it was time to return the favor

"No!" Jack's voice startled Daniel out of his own sleep. "No, you can't have him. Don't take him from me." The words were mumbled, Jack's voice almost tearful, not angry. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I failed."

"Jack," Daniel kept his own voice low but didn't touch Jack. "Jack, it's Daniel. C'mon, wake up. You're having a nightmare."

"Please," Jack pleaded, his hands coming up in supplication, "please."

"Jack," Daniel repeated

"Daniel?" Jack asked, sleep dazed. "Daniel? What are you doing in my bed? I told you.."

"Jack, wake up." Daniel shook Jack's shoulder slightly and reached over to turn on the lamp on the night stand

"Huh?" Jack finally opened his eyes, squinting in the dim light. "Daniel? What's wrong?"

"You were talking in your sleep." Daniel pulled his legs up and rested his chin on his knees. "Bad dream?"

Jack shook his head. "I don't remember Daniel." At the incredulous look Daniel gave him, he continued. "I really don't, Dann..Daniel. Can we just go back to sleep now?"

Daniel switched the light back off. "Yeah, how about we do that?"

He was hot, very hot, and he couldn't move and he really had to pee. Daniel pushed at the weight, wondering why the blankets were so heavy. But blankets were usually soft and squishy, not hard and muscular. Daniel opened one eye, surprised to see the room bathed in the pale gray light of dawn. Things slowly came into focus and one very familiar, muscular arm was thrown possessively over Daniel's chest. He turned his head slightly to the right, only able to see the top of Jack's head as his lover's face was currently pressed into Daniel's shoulder. As for the rest, Jack lay half on top of him. Daniel pushed slightly, trying to get Jack to move. Even his squirming brought no reaction from Jack whom. with Daniel's final push, rolled off of him and promptly curled on his side, grabbing at Daniel's pillow as he did so. Daniel lifted his head an inch or two, just enough to give Jack access to the pillow and then hurriedly got out of bed. Now he really, really, needed to pee

Minutes later, his bladder thankfully relieved, Daniel peeked back through the bedroom door. Jack was currently sprawled on his back, taking up at least two thirds of the bed, Daniel's pillow clutched tightly in his arms. From the way Jack was snoring, it didn't seem likely that he'd be waking any time soon

Daniel glanced back longingly at the shower. He didn't want to wake Jack, the dark circles under Jack's eyes, the perceptible weight loss, all added up to an exhausted and at the end of his rope Jack, but Daniel really didn't think even a sonic boom would wake Jack at this point

* * * * *

He shivered as someone opened the shower curtain and let in a draft of cold air


"I certainly hope so," was the dry reply. Daniel stood silent as Jack faced him

"I..I forgot how beautiful you are," Jack said hoarsely

"Jack?" Daniel didn't move as Jack reached out, his hand skimming over Daniel's shoulder, across Daniel's neck. Daniel closed his eyes as Jack stepped closer

Jack's hands slid lower, brushing across Daniel's chest, one hand ghosting down Daniel's flank to his hip and over his lower back

"So beautiful," Jack was murmuring as if he was exploring Daniel's body for the first time

Unbidden, tears leaked from the corners of Daniel's eyes as Jack became reacquainted with his lover's body, as he saw Daniel was whole and himself again

"I missed you, Daniel. Missed you so much." Jack's voice became more urgent. A gentle kiss was placed in the hollow of Daniel's collarbone and then more kisses were bestowed upon his neck, his ear, his shoulder, his chest

"Oh God, Daniel, I need you. Touch me, no more waiting. Please, Daniel. Please."

Daniel nodded, opening his eyes to look at Jack, bringing his hand up to trace the dark circles at Jack's eyes

"I'm here, Jack." His own hands found their way across the planes of Jack's face, across the breadth of shoulder and over the soft hair of Jack's chest. "I'm here because you saved me, Jack. Thank you for that. Thank you for saving me. For coming back."

Jack pulled him closer until they were tight against each other. "No, Daniel. You saved me. All those years ago. You saved me, and you...hell I didn't even know it."

Jack placed his hands on Daniel's face and placed his lips on Daniel's. Daniel gripped Jack's shoulders; little gasps escaping as Jack eagerly tasted him

Pulling back, Jack moved his attentions lower, nipping at Daniel's shoulder before running his tongue in a circle around Daniel's nipples

"Daniel, I need you. Oh God help me, I need you." Jack was nearly moaning

Daniel nodded. "Yes, Jack." He couldn't even find words, just knew that this time Jack had to be in control, needed to be in control. Jack's hands rested on either side of Daniel's hips and Jack looked at him uncertainty in his gaze

"It's okay, Jack. It's fine." Daniel smiled and gave a short nod

"I love you, Daniel," Jack whispered. Daniel cupped Jack's cheek in his hand before turning to face the wall. He stretched his arms up and out, feeling Jack press closer, Jack nuzzling his neck, murmuring nonsense words as Jack's fingers, coated with conditioner, slipped inside him

He squirmed at the familiar pressure and then Daniel relaxed into the touch, arching his head back onto Jack's shoulder

"Feels good, oh God, Jack."

Jack said nothing, although his breathing was harsh and gasping in Daniel's ear. Daniel closed his eyes once more, letting the sensations wash over him

"Ready?" Jack asked some time later

"Are you?" Daniel curled his hands into fists on the tiles

"Daniel," was Jack's only reply

Jack's body was a heavy weight against Daniel's back, Jack's cock filling him slowly. Jack slid his hands from Daniel's shoulders, up the length of his arms until they rested on Daniel's closed fists

Daniel opened his hands, resting them flat on the tiles. Jack's hands covered his, and Daniel studied those hands, scarred, the pinky on the right with a small bump where it had been broken years before Daniel ever met Jack, calluses on them from handling weapons, the left thumbnail broken roughly. Those hands had cared for him when he had nothing to offer Jack. Those hands had tended to his needs unceasingly and without complaint. Daniel twined his fingers into Jack's, pulling one hand closer to place a kiss on the knuckles

Jack's breath was coming faster as he found his rhythm and Daniel moved with him, his own breathing faster

"Daniel, Daniel," Jack was chanting, and Daniel felt warmth fill him even as Jack pushed him against the wall and leaned his weight on him. There was heat on his shoulder, wet heat, and Daniel stood still, letting Jack's tears mingle with the warm water of the shower

They stood there awhile until Daniel realized that if they didn't move, they were soon going to be standing in a cold shower

"Jack?" he whispered after he reached out to turn off the water


"We'd better get out of the shower." Jack pushed off him and Daniel shivered with the loss of Jack's body heat

Daniel turned, grabbing his towel and drying off his lover. Jack was smiling, still looked tired, but he was smiling, and Daniel couldn't keep his own smile from returning

Jack held out a hand as Daniel finished drying himself off. Daniel took it and squeezed lightly

"Coffee?" he asked hopefully

Jack just smiled and Daniel followed him into the bedroom. They dressed in silence, throwing on old sweat pants and t-shirts before starting to walk down to the kitchen

"Jack?" A flash of yellow caught Daniel's eye as they passed the spare bedroom. His ever present curiosity compelled Daniel to open the door a few more inches. "Umm...Jack?" He turned back to face Jack, his eyebrows raised in question

"You, uh, well you like..liked Sponge Bob Squarepants." Jack gave a nervous smile

Daniel stepped into the room, taking in the yellow shelves, the toys in a laundry basket in front of the closet, the Sponge Bob alarm clock and blanket. " did this all for me," he whispered in wonder

"Well, d'uh," Jack joked, although Daniel noticed the brief flash of pain in the brown eyes

"Jack, that was...after my parents died, I never really had a room just for me." Daniel wandered to the bed and sat down. He felt humbled in this room, a room that a grieving Jack had created for Daniel despite his pain of loss. He spied the books laying on the night table and reached out for them

The bed dipped as Jack sat down next to him. "Daniel, maybe we better...I thought you said you wanted coffee."

Daniel barely heard him, looking at the two books. Where the Wild Things Are; it had been his favorite as a child, and a simple alphabet and number book. He felt warm and safe, the heat of Jack's body seeping through his jeans where their knees met, remembered Jack's voice reading the simple books to him over and over

"I couldn't read, could I?" Daniel whispered. He regretted asking as a shadow haunted Jack's eyes

Jack shook his head, taking the books from Daniel's suddenly lax grasp

"No," Jack cleared his throat. "You tried so hard, Daniel. We practiced letters every night and no matter what we did, you couldn't seem to retain them. They said.." Jack coughed slightly. "Of all the things you lost, Daniel, that was.." Jack hung his head, staring at the books but not seeing them. Daniel watched as Jack ran his fingers over the covers, tracing the titles, the books looking very small in Jack's large hands. "I wanted you to have that one comfort at least, Daniel."

"'If you can't read, I'll read them to you until you can,'" Daniel quoted. He smiled. "You told me that one night. I remember that."

"I couldn't teach you."

"It didn't matter, Jack. You still gave me words." Daniel rested his hand over Jack's, squeezing lightly. He took the books from Jack placing them back on the night table

"Hey, I think you promised me some coffee," he teased gently, getting a weak smile from Jack. "Now come on, I need some serious caffeine. I'm way behind in my intake." That comment got a snort of laughter

"If Juan Valdez ever came here, I think you'd run off with him," Jack joked

"Well, hey, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." Daniel shrugged as they walked down the hall

Daniel sat at the table, watching Jack fill the coffee maker. He picked up Lumpy, stroking the camel's fur absent mindedly

"Do you know..." Jack cleared his throat, "the whole time you were...I missed doing this, Daniel." He sat down at the table, thrusting his chin towards the toy in Daniel's hands. "You remember Lumpy?"

Daniel glanced down at Lumpy before placing him back on the table with a sense of embarrassment at being caught holding him

" Yeah, yeah, I do. He was lying on the ground by the door." Daniel shrugged. "Janet said she's not sure how much I'll ever remember about, you know, everything that happened. But I want you to know, Jack...words aren't enough to..."

Jack held up a hand, silencing Daniel. "For better, for worse, Daniel. In sickness and in health."

"Me too, Jack. You know that."

"I know that, Daniel." Jack picked up Lumpy, his eyes darkening. "You loved this camel. Carried him everywhere." Jack's voice trailed off, his fingers rubbing the fur against the grain. "I think he comforted you somehow." Jack cleared his throat, replaced Lumpy on the table and got up to go stand by the coffee pot

"Jack?" Daniel went to Jack's side, laying a hand over Jack's where it rested on the counter. Jack's head was down, his breathing harsh and uneven. "He smelled of you. When I held him, no matter where I was, you were with me."

Daniel had to lean closer when Jack spoke. "I thought it was time to say goodbye to dreams, Daniel."

"Jack," Daniel smiled and was relieved when Jack looked up at him, "our dreams are just beginning. Just beginning."

Jack grinned back; his eyes alight with that spark that Daniel loved for the first time since they'd returned from the planet

Daniel retrieved his mug and held it out towards Jack. "Now how about a cup of coffee?"

Jack obliged along with a half hearted grumble. He picked up the camel as they sat down at the table once more

"So, Daniel, what do you say we give Lumpy a place of honor in our bedroom? You know as a reminder."

Daniel nearly choked on his coffee. "Jack, much as I love Lumpy, there is no way I am, uh, you know," he twirled a finger in the air, "with a stuffed camel watching us."

"It's a stuffed animal, Daniel. Geez, chill."

"No way, Jack."

"Yes way."


"Yes." Jack stopped, meeting Daniel's eyes. He broke into a big grin and raised his mug in a toast. "Welcome home, Daniel. Welcome home."

Daniel smiled behind his mug. He had a whole day's worth of welcome home activities planned. And he didn't care what Jack said. Lumpy was so not going to watch them in the bedroom  

The End!


Our thanks to everyone who voted for us!


Authors' Comments: Thank you to Darcy, Majel and Jo for encouragement. Thank you Sharon, for beta'ing this monster. And thanks to Debi C, DebA and Theresa for some medical information. Any errors are ours, not theirs, believe us

See "Amusement Park" for a missing scene to "Goodbye to Dreams"


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