Wayward Sonby devra and JoaG
Authors' Note: This is a Teen Daniel story. If this isn't your cup of tea, you may leave now and not say that you weren't warned.
Also, yes, it's AU, so don't rely on canon to keep you on the straight and narrow :)
He couldn't get rid of the odd taste of the mushrooms, but at least they weren't as bitter as the peyote. Pretty soon the aftertaste wouldn't matter. He paced from window to window, constantly checking his watch, staring down the driveway towards the street, on the lookout for Cassie's green Jeep. Needless to say, she was late again.
"C'mon, Cassie," he muttered. He knew he should have waited for her but he'd been impatient and had taken the mushrooms the moment he'd gotten home from school an hour ago, anxious to take advantage of a rare evening when his dad would be coming home late and his grandma wouldn't be babysitting. He checked his watch again. Cassie was thirty minutes late and the drugs would supposedly kick in anytime now.
He walked back to his bedroom where he'd placed a candle on a tray, the matches sitting next to the candle, ready to be lit. He'd stuck the meditative CD in his stereo already and dimmed the lights. Anxious that he was going to be doing this alone, he hurried out of the bedroom back to the living room, and pulled the curtains back to peek towards the street again.
"She's going to kill me," he said to himself. Their agreement had been, she'd get the drugs for him, and he'd take them under her supervision. This was his fourth time; the previous attempts had been with peyote, but Cassie hadn't been able to get a new supply and she'd gotten him mushrooms instead.
So intent was he on staring out the window, he jumped when the telephone rang. He debated answering it, walking slowly towards it as it continued to ring. It could be Cassie, and then again, it could be his dad. He waited for the answering machine to pick up and immediately gritted his teeth when his dad's voice came through the speaker.
"Just wanted to check in with you and remind you that I won't be home until midnight. There's leftovers in the fridge, but if you and Cassie would rather have pizza, I left a twenty on the counter in the kitchen next to the phone. "Don't forget your chores. You didn't cut the lawn yesterday like I asked you and I'm expecting you to have picked up your things from the den. I don't know what's gotten into you, but if you're going to live in this house with me, you will not turn it into a pigsty." There was a long pause. "Look, talking to the phone is ridiculous. We're going to have to discuss what's going on with you. How about Saturday, you and I go out for a hike, have a picnic and talk about things like we used to, okay? Just you and me? " Once his dad hung up, he felt overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. He loved his dad, of that there was no doubt. But if he told him what was really happening, his dad would have to tell Janet and then he'd have to talk to a shrink and he'd be locked up. Because how many people had nightmares about men and women with eyes that glowed?
The mushrooms had to work. He'd been trying to meditate, just like Teal'c had taught him, but every time he tried that, his nightmares got worse. He'd read, however, how peyote could accentuate the meditative effects and each time he'd tried the drugs, he'd been nightmare-free for just over a week. But the nightmares had recently gotten worse; the past two nights he'd dreamed of a fish that looked like a man that caused him great pain, and watched as his father suddenly grew very, very old. That had scared him the most, seeing his dad looking so frail and vulnerable and the feelings of helplessness that had accompanied it.
He pulled the stash out from behind his bed, next to his bedside table, and counted the remaining mushrooms. He was pretty sure he'd taken just under the prescribed amount; he'd weighed them and everything, but he was anxious because he'd never done this by himself. Cassie was his anchor and if anything went wrong...
He was thirteen, for crying out loud. He should be worrying about girls and school and soccer, and not about whether he was losing his mind. He wanted to talk so badly about this to Cassie, and had been hoping to do so tonight before the drugs hit his system, but no, she had to go and be late. Most probably she was out with Dominic. He wanted to lash out at her for her tardiness but he knew she'd gotten the drugs through her boyfriend and for that, he should be grateful. But they weren't even allowed to talk about the Stargate unless they were at the SGC – he giggled when the word showed up in his mind's eye as a whisper.
Okay, deep breath, he told himself. He needed to be calm. That was the whole reason for this experimentation. Thrusting the mushrooms back into their hiding place, he stood, and the room swirled around him, his light green walls leaving streaks across the windows.
He stood a moment, taking in the odd striations, then walked to his stereo and turned the music on. Soft drumbeats filled the room, their rhythmic percussions echoing oddly in his ears. He smiled as he turned to the tray and picked up the box of matches. He fumbled one out; the wood didn't feel like wood but like soft clay and he couldn't quite get a grip on them. Finally one of them stuck to his fingers and he struck it, and carefully brought it to the wick of the candle.
Immediately the room exploded in colors; small rainbows formed over the walls and windows, ceiling and floor. They shifted around on air currents, making delicate jingling noises that were a soft accompaniment to the shamanic drumbeat.
He dropped the match, watching it flare and then go out in a spectacular show of sparks next to the candle. Taking a deep breath, he forced his vision from the lightshow around him and concentrated on the flickering flame. He could feel himself swaying from side to side with each heartbeat, each thud vibrating through his chest and upper back, growing stronger and stronger with each pulse.
Using the methods instilled in him by Teal'c, he began to relax. The mushrooms were working, and he just knew he'd be dream-free after this. He couldn't help smiling as the flicker of flame grew larger and larger before him, like a red-tinged television set. Within it he saw that his life was a mockery, and everyone listening to him jeered. His best friend Corey, sitting in the front row of the auditorium, stuck his tongue out at him. Catherine Langford stared at him from the back of the room and shook her head in disgust. He tried talking faster.
"I don't know who built the pyramids." It was imperative he make them understand but nobody was listening. His classmates laughed and jeered, and someone, he thought maybe Tyler, yelled out to be careful, aliens were coming to abduct them.
Then the television screen changed from that fiasco of a seminar, and he saw his small circle of family: his dad, Sam, Teal'c, and himself, and they were all dead. Another Teal'c, sporting a ponytail, turned and aimed a long, metallic weapon at him and he ducked. His foot hit the candle and it went flying in a long, slow arc. The bolt of energy from the weapon flew out of the floating television screen and hit his arm. He screamed in pain. He had to warn them all. "They're coming," he screamed. "They're coming!"
He struck out at the red-haired demon with glowing eyes coming towards him, feeling his knuckles connect, and when the demon fell back, roaring in anger, he scrambled to escape. The floor tilted, trying to throw him off like a bucking bronco but he persevered, until he drew himself into a small cavity, hidden from view. He closed his eyes, trying not to see the pictures of the solar system as he flew past the planet Jupiter.
Jack shifted his weapon, readjusting the position until its weight felt comfortable against his chest. He'd missed this, going out regularly with SG-1, but he'd been more or less sidelined over the past eight years – his choice, and no regrets – but it was on these few occasions that he missed his old life.
He watched the Stargate turning. Walter's voice echoed in the room, announcing each locked chevron. So when the Stargate suddenly shut down, he turned towards the Control room in confusion. What he saw there sent his stomach lurching into his throat.
Fraiser was on the phone, and even from down in the Gateroom, her expression conveyed that something bad had happened. He was running for the corridor even before Hammond ordered them to report.
"I know, sweetheart. Try and calm down." Fraiser glanced up at Jack, and her face was tight and white. He listened intently, trying to find out what had happened to Cassie.
Jack glanced at Hammond, who stepped closer to him. "It's Daniel," he said softly.
Jack's hearing dimmed and his vision greyed momentarily as Fraiser asked, "Did you call 911?" A large hand, gentle despite its size, gripped his shoulder and squeezed, anchoring him, and he was grateful for Teal'c's support. "Okay, when the ambulance gets there, honey, I want you to tell them to take Daniel to the Academy Hospital." There was a pause and Jack could hear Cassie's panicked voice coming through loud and clear. Her words were incomprehensible, merging one into the other over the receiver but apparently her mother had no trouble understanding her.
"How badly?" Fraiser's voice suddenly turned sharp. "No, do not go back in there. If Daniel's hallucinating, he may do more than punch you—"
"Daniel hit Cassie?" Jack swore. He wanted to be home now, and not thirty minutes away so that he could kick his son's ass to the curb. Fraiser's hand shot out, stopping him in mid-rant as she pressed her palm against his chest.
"Is he conscious?" Sobs were the only thing coming through the receiver now. "Honey, can you tell if Daniel's conscious?"
Jack held his breath.
"No, don't go into the room. If you can't see, I want you to stay well away from him."
"Doc?" Jack managed to ask during a lull in the conversation.
"I can't be sure, but I think it's drugs, sir."
Fraiser winced, then motioned for him to be quiet. "The EMTs are there now, sir. Cassie, sweetie, I want you to take a cab and meet me at the hospital, okay? I don't want you to drive."
"Okay. I'm leaving right now." She glanced at Hammond, who nodded. His dismissal included SG-1, and they all ran down the stairs to hand over their equipment.
No matter how many strings Jack pulled, no matter how many names he mentioned, there was no way the sour-faced biddy behind the desk was letting him cross the yellow line into the area marked Emergency.
"That's my son they just brought in by ambulance. I'm his father and I—"
"As I mentioned to you before, Colonel O'Neill, the doctors will call you after they've examined him—"
"The doctors, they have the paperwork I filled out on Daniel, don't they?" Jack jabbed a finger at the stack of papers covering her desk. "He has a ton of allergies—"
She made a show of shuffling clipboards. "I don't see it here, so I would assume that—"
"You do know what happens when you assume?" Jack growled.
"O'Neill!" The tight grip on his bicep was a warning that he was damn close to stepping over the line. "Doctor Fraiser is with DanielJackson. She will make sure to apprise all who are in attendance of his allergies."
He patted Teal'c's hand. "Thanks."
Carter tugged on his sleeve. "Let's go sit over—"
The group turned as one as Cassie barreled into Jack and latched onto him. She was shaking, mumbling unintelligible words into his shirt, the material of which was quickly soaked through with her tears.
"Shush," Carter said as she smoothed down her hair. "It'll be alright."
Gently, Jack pried her hands apart and pushed her away from him, remembering part of Fraiser's conversation with her daughter. "What happened—ah, crap, Cassie, did Daniel do that?" His thumb traced the burgeoning bruise forming on her left cheek.
She ducked her head, her long hair covering the bruise. "It's nothing. I'll be fine."
"It's not fine. I don't give a crap what..." Jack swallowed, "...drugs Daniel took, there's no reason for him to hit you or anyone else. He's thirteen, for god sake, where the hell did he—"
Cassie opened her mouth then shut it, her gaze flicking around the waiting room.
"Come here, honey." Jack put an arm around her shoulder, guiding her to the bank of chairs against the wall. "Why don't you have a seat and tell us what happened."
Jack gave Carter the lightest of nudges and without words, she got the hint and took the seat next to Cassie, sitting as close as the plastic chairs would allow.
"It was an accident," she said, cupping her hand over her cheek. "Daniel didn't mean to hit me. It was my fault, I shouldn't have—" Cassie glanced up at Jack and Teal'c and dropped her voice to a whisper. "He was talking about people with glowy eyes, Uncle Jack. Daniel called me Hathor."
Shit. "Cassie?" Jack's voice was hard and he felt the sudden tension radiating from Teal'c.
"Sir, do you think... after all these years—"
"Not possible. Cassie must have misheard—"
"I didn't," she sobbed. "Daniel said—"
"Yes!" Jack barked, pivoting to face whomever interrupted him.
"I'm Doctor Preston."
Jack deflated and stuck out his hand. "I'm sorry, Doctor Preston. I'm Colonel O'Neill."
"Would you mind coming with me? Doctor Fraiser and I would like to speak with you."
"Normally your son's condition wouldn't require hospitalization," Preston began turning to Fraiser, "but seeing that he'd become violent, Doctor Fraiser's daughter did the right thing in calling an ambulance. He hasn't overdosed; he's simply experiencing a bad trip."
Jack clamped his mouth shut, concentrating on the way Fraiser wasn't quite meeting his eyes as she took up the explanation.
"We've ascertained he's taken Magic Mushrooms, and one of the more potent kinds out on the streets at that. The drug's effects usually last between four to six hours. So just keep in mind that his words may not make sense and he may be a little more emotional than normal for a few more hours.
"He was violent when he was brought in, babbling nonsense." Fraiser finally raised her head, giving Jack a frank look of warning, and he nodded tightly in understanding. This Daniel may not be with the Stargate program anymore, but he knew about it and chances were, some of his rants had been about top-secret things. "They had to restrain him until they could give him some Valium to counteract the worst of the drug's effects."
"So he's not in any danger?"
"No, sir. Not unless he does something stupid without supervision while under the influence."
"Right now I wouldn't trust him to put his socks on," Jack muttered.
"Cassie told me that Daniel had some sort of meditation tape playing, and candles in the room." She rubbed a hand through her hair, threading her fingers through the strands. "I know it's not an excuse, but it sort of sounds like he was trying to use the mushrooms to amplify the meditative effects—"
"No, it's not an excuse. He could have just asked Teal'c to help him out. Those two sometimes spend hours..." Jack sighed, hating the fact that Doctor Preston was in the room with them.
"Right now it's important to keep him calm until he sleeps it off. Keep the lights dim, talk to him, but don't upset him needlessly. The Valium should make him sleepy so that shouldn't be a problem. If you're going to bawl him out, wait until morning. At least then he'll remember what you're saying."
"Oh, you can be damn sure I'm gonna do just that. And then ground his skinny ass for the next ten years of his life."
The room was dimly lit. Soft music was playing on the radio stuck in the corner. So here he was; music, dim lighting, talking... Well, he was managing two out of three; it was the talking Jack was having problems with. So he sat in the dark, on an uncomfortable chair, with soft elevator music adding ambiance while trying his damnedest to process everything Preston and Fraiser had told him.
"What the hell has happened to you, Daniel?" He reached out and touched one of the marks on his wrist caused by the restraints.
Daniel stirred, moaning and muttering in his sleep before settling down with a sigh.
Jack pushed a stray lock of too-long hair from his son's head. "What happened to my little boy, huh? When did you become this angry, unhappy young man?"
Daniel opened his eyes, his pupils large, capturing Jack's gaze. Even in the limited lighting, Jack saw they were so dilated there wasn't even a hint of blue. "Go home," Daniel muttered, sliding away from Jack.
"You're not going anywhere tonight, buddy."
Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Not me. You. You go."
Jack had the explicable urge to beat Daniel even more senseless than he already was. "Hate to tell you, but I'm not going anywhere."
Daniel's eyes slid shut. "Sorry."
"I bet you are."
Tears leaked from under Daniel's closed lids.
"You hit Cassie."
A second tear followed the first. "I hit her?"
"Yup." Jack was sure his anger and sarcasm was, for the moment, miles beyond Daniel's grasp. "You punched her really good. Gave her a—"
Daniel's face crumbled and he began to sob, as he had as a child. Quietly, shoulders shaking, his face averted from Jack's scrutiny. Suddenly, Jack couldn't equate this Daniel with the angry, rebellious teenager who'd been sharing his house for the past few months.
"Daddy..." Daniel coughed on tears then cleared his throat.
One word. That's all it took, and Jack's anger fled. "I'm right here, buddy." So as not to dislodge any of the tubes or wires snaking into Daniel's body, Jack cautiously lowered the bed rail and leaned over his son. He used the edge of the blanket, trying to capture the tears as they fell.
"I. Hurt. Cassie," Daniel hiccupped, his gaze flittering around the room. "Where is she?" He tried to peer over Jack's shoulder, struggling to lever his body up as though trying to get a better angle to see.
"Lie down, Daniel."
"No!" he shouted. "Where is she?"
"Downstairs, with her mom."
Violently, Daniel shook his head. "She's here in this hospital. In a bed... I hurt—"
"Stop it." Jack grabbed his arms, making sure to avoid the IV site. Anxiously, he glanced over his shoulder; the last thing he wanted Daniel to do was to draw more attention to this room. "Please, stop it," he softly amended. "Cassie'll be okay."
"Liar." Daniel spit the word into Jack's face.
"Not lying," Jack whispered. "I'd never keep anything like that from you."
Daniel melted, falling against Jack. "Promise?"
"Shush, Icky," Jack said, wrapping his arms around his son. "We'll work this out together."
Daniel sighed, rubbing his face on Jack's tee shirt. "You haven't called me that in a long time."
"No. I haven't." Icky. Short for Icarus. A name from the past that Jack had once, many years ago, thrown at a younger Daniel, and it had stuck. The wayward, carefree boy who'd traveled too close to the sun. Because he could, because his father had told him not to. Inquisitive, bull-headed, just like his son. Like Daniel of old. Once his best friend.
Daniel's hand with the IV latched onto Jack's tee shirt. "I'm so tired, Daddy."
"I know you are." Jack began to rock slowly. "Why don't you close your eyes and go to sleep?"
"I'm so afraid. Afraid to close my eyes."
"Dad's here. Nothing to be afraid of. Promise. I won't let anything hurt you." These were a-monster-under-the-bed words, not something he should be saying to his child who had ended up in the hospital after experimenting with drugs. But he didn't remember Dr. Spock or Dr. Brazelton covering this in any of their books.
"Will you always love me?"
Oh, crap, Icky. Were things that bad? Jack kissed the top of the long, sweaty hair. "Always. Fathers and sons never stop loving each other, no matter how close they fly to the sun."
Daniel was dead weight in his arms, breathing heavily, his nose stuffed from his emotions leaking out all over the place. Jack had lost feeling in his arms a while ago, but he didn't stop rocking. Back and forth. The movement turning the clock back to another time, when the most difficult thing had been trying to get Daniel to eat his vegetables.
Jack turned an incredibly stiff neck towards Fraiser. "Hey."
She laid a hand on Daniel's head. "I'd like to monitor his vitals."
Fraiser gave him a tolerant smile. "Take a break, Colonel."
Jack held Daniel a little tighter. "I'm not going anywhere."
"I'm not asking you to leave him. I'm telling you I need to examine him. You need to take a break. Grab a coffee. Go wash your face. Talk to your teammates who are wearing a hole in the floor in the family waiting room. Then come back here. I promise I won't leave him alone. Let them know Daniel's—"
"He's not fine."
"No, he's not," Fraiser agreed. "But he will be. And so will you. In time."
Jack just hoped that they had enough time to fix this before irreparable damage was done. "Okay, you made your point." Slowly leaning forward, he lowered Daniel's limp body onto the bed, then sat up, his body creaking in protest. He stood, stretched, the popping sounds his back made as he straightened making even the doc cringe in sympathy.
Jack walked into the family waiting room, honing in on the complimentary coffee and prepackaged muffins, ignoring Teal'c and Carter. He needed to take care of himself before he could take care of his friends. He poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot sitting on the burner. It looked like sludge, and probably would coat not only the cup, but his stomach as well. At the moment, it was better than nothing. He skipped the powdered creamer, grabbed what looked like a chocolate chip muffin and sat on the chair closest to the table piled with outdated magazines.
Jack placed the coffee on a two-year-old Time magazine then struggled to open the plastic wrapping holding the muffin captive. Once. Twice. He was just about to chuck it across the room, when it was plucked from his hands.
"Allow me, O'Neill."
"Be my guest." Jack buried his embarrassment in the horrible coffee.
"Try this, sir, it helps." Carter handed him more packets of sugar than any person should have in a lifetime, never mind in a single cup of coffee.
"Thanks, guys," Jack said, opening up the packets. One by one, he began to methodically dump sugar into his coffee. The muffin appeared on a napkin, devoid of its wrapping. Jack looked up, his gaze bouncing around the room. "Where's Cassie?"
"Janet called Dominic to take her home." Carter sat on the couch next to him.
"Oh. She's okay?" Jack pointed to his face. "I mean..."
"DoctorFraiser advised CassandraFraiser her injury was treatable with a bag of peas. Though I am not sure I understand how a frozen vegetable—"
"Not now, T."
Teal'c nodded. "How is DanielJackson?"
Jack took a tentative sip of the coffee. He grimaced. All the sugar in the world wasn't going to help this. "How's Daniel?"
"That was my query; do you wish me to rephrase it?"
Jack shook his head. "No. Just trying to figure out how to answer it." He tried for a piece of muffin, which was horrible on a different level. Moist and plastic tasting, Jack began to pick out the chocolate pieces. "He's confused. Upset. Sorry. Scared. Terrified."
"What did Janet say?"
"Bad drugs. Bad trip. Damn it, he's thirteen years old. He's a baby. What the hell is he doing—"
"On Chulak, boys younger than—"
Jack jumped up. "This isn't Chulak," he yelled. "This is Earth. The Tau'ri homeworld, and Daniel isn't—"
"I did not say I was in agreement with this practice. I was simply stating this fact to illustrate that other boys DanielJackson's age have—"
"I don't care about other boys, Teal'c. Right now my only concern is my son who's lying in that hospital bed—"
"—And who doesn't have a stinkin' sym—"
Carter's voice pulled him from the rant back into the waiting room. "Shit." He grabbed his head, tugging at his hair. "Oy, this is not exactly a place to have this conversation. I'm sorry, Teal'c, you didn't deserve that."
Teal'c clapped him on the arm. "There is no need to apologize."
Jack shook his head. "Yeah, there is. You guys don't deserve me taking my anger out on you."
Carter took his other arm and pushed him back down into the chair. "As bad as the coffee is, sir, drink it. Eat the muffin. Teal'c and I will come back with something later."
"Are you bribing me?" Jack broke off a piece of the muffin, shoved it in his mouth, washing the pasty taste down with the coffee, then swallowed the lump. "Make it something good. Something Daniel would—"
Carter sat on the arm of the chair. "Daniel is a curious kid. He always was, even before he... got shrunk," she finished in a whisper. "This—"
"Are you telling me that doing drugs is Daniel's way of satisfying his curiosity?"
"Yes—I mean..." Carter didn't flinch under his seething gaze. "Yes, I believe that's why he took the drugs. Just like every other teenager."
"That's a copout, Major."
"That's reality, sir."
Teal'c said, "As a father, I would not lightly treat Rya'c's experimentation of mind-altering drugs."
Carter bristled. "I'm not telling the Colonel that this should be treated lightly, Teal'c. I'm trying to—"
Jack threw the muffin across the room, and it was only sheer luck it hit the wall and bounced into the garbage pail. Carter and Teal'c were shocked into silence. "Good. I have your attention. Look," he said. "It's not that I don't appreciate your two cents, but not now, okay?"
Carter and Teal'c had the good grace to look embarrassed.
"I must apologize, O'Neill, I did not mean to overstep my confines."
"Boundaries," Carter said, filling in the blanks. "Yeah, me too, sir."
Jack accepted their words with a nod, staring into the coffee. "You don't think Daniel remembers, after all this time?" He sat back with a groan. "Eight years? And now he—"
"Mission reports, sir. I'm betting Daniel has hacked into some computer somewhere or bribed Walter..."
"Not memories?" Carter's explanation was what he wanted to hear and believe, and he hated himself for grasping at whatever straws she was throwing his way.
"Not memories. Daniel's too curious..." Carter had the grace to blush, "...without asking someone."
"Yeah, mission reports. Makes sense." With a slap of his hands against his thighs, Jack stood. "Just have to add that to the list of things Daniel and I will be discussing."
Fraiser was sitting by Daniel's bedside, humming softly along with the radio. Daniel was lying in the bed, staring at the ceiling, a slight smile on his face as his eyes seemed to follow something up there that Jack couldn't see. Jack leaned against the doorframe, watching Daniel track some invisible thing down the wall and across the floor. He couldn't help but roll his eyes at Fraiser as she stopped humming and stood to join him.
"He's been quiet." They both watched Daniel watch his invisible friend move back up onto the wall and cross from one side of the room to the other, stopping occasionally to simply stare into space.
"How much longer..." Jack waved at the bed and his obviously spaced-out son.
"Another hour or two. The effects should begin to wear off slowly."
"Any idea what he's looking at?"
"Rainbows, he said when I asked him. The drug apparently creates some pretty intense psychedelic hallucinations."
"Wonder if he'll find the pot of gold at the other end." Jack made a face. "I'd just settle for some answers."
"I know." Fraiser patted his arm. "I'm going to see what goodies they might be serving in the cafeteria. Is there anything I can get you?"
"Nah. Carter said she'd bring me something a little later. But thanks."
"I'm thinking you can both go home by midnight. Dr. Preston had been worried at first that the mushrooms he ate might have been tainted, but Daniel hasn't exhibited any symptoms of poisoning so as soon as he's lucid, you can take him home."
"Great." He sure as hell wasn't looking forward to taking Daniel home, because that meant he and Daniel were going to have to discuss some pretty unpleasant issues.
He sat down heavily in the chair, forcing it noisily back an inch on the linoleum tiles. Daniel turned lazily towards him and gave him a lopsided smile. So much for the tears and apologies earlier. Jack couldn't help but wonder if he remembered their conversation and his regret about hurting Cassie.
"What'cha looking at?"
Daniel's relaxed state disappeared, and the look on his face turned to nervousness. He turned away from Jack, looking back up at the ceiling, legs shifting restlessly, only to give Jack a quick, furtive glance which was so reminiscent of the old Daniel that Jack's heart skipped a beat. Nervously, he fiddled with the bandage that Fraiser had put over the recently removed IV site. In the past year, Daniel had grown a few inches and had lost his baby fat, and his face had taken on the more angular shape of his adult form. There had been a few times recently when a look or action had reminded Jack of the friend he'd lost. Those early days had been so hard, but then, look at what he'd gained.
He forced a smile, trying to make it genuine, pushing away the anger and disappointment when Daniel glanced at him a third time.
"Um..." Daniel swallowed and turned his gaze back towards the ceiling. "Colors. Kinda like the Aurora Borealis. They're really... pretty." Jack must have done a good job at hiding his true feelings, because Daniel kept on talking, his voice turning dreamy. "Sometimes there're faces looking through the colors, watching me watch them." He turned onto his side, facing Jack. "Sometimes they whisper to each other, thinking I don't hear them. But I do." He winked conspiratorially and returned to his ceiling-watching.
Clearing his throat, Jack was reminded of when Daniel was younger and made up stories and proudly related them to Jack. "What are the voices saying?"
"I dunno, they're talking ancient-gyptian."
The last word was mumbled, but Jack's heart skipped a beat. "What did you say?" There was no way this Daniel should know anything about The Ancients. Ferretti had never truly recovered fully from his ordeal with the face-sucking device; the only good thing out of the whole experience was that they'd found the little grey men who'd been keeping an eye on Earth and had become their allies.
"Ancient Egyptian." Daniel deliberately stretched the words out.
"Like Teal'c speaks?"
Shrugging, Daniel kept his eyes on the ceiling.
"So why can't you understand the voices?" Jack wondered if he should be pushing this; what he really wanted was to get to the bottom of the whole fiasco but he knew Fraiser was right. It was frightening to see his child staring in awe at something only he could see.
"The words... are odd... different... but the same... like French, and Italian, close, but not..."
"Did Hathor speak Ancient?"
"Hathor. Cassie said that you called her Hathor."
"I don't remember." Daniel turned his face away, his eyes tracking the invisible lights again.
"Where'd you come up with that name?"
"Hathor? She was a cow-goddess." Daniel's voice held contempt while his attention seemed mostly on the invisible show taking place on the ceiling.
"And you know this, how?"
"The book on Egyptian gods." Daniel's brow furrowed in confusion. "You gave it to me." He glanced quickly at Jack before turning his gaze upwards again.
"So, you didn't slip into the SGC's computers and try to look up files you weren't supposed to?"
"Upon threat of never setting foot there again? Dad, I'm not stupid."
So much for Carter's theory. They sat in silence for a few minutes until Daniel stiffened. Frowning, he looked around the room in short, agitated bursts, as if he were searching for something or watching something unpleasant... or frightening. "Dad?"
"What is it?" Jack leaned forward, not quite sure what to expect.
"Dad?" Daniel's voice rose in volume and there was a hint of fear. He scrabbled up towards the top of the mattress, shifting towards Jack. "Stop them. Oh shit, Dad, stop them. They're coming—"
"There's nothing there, Daniel." Reacting to the rising near-hysteria in Daniel's voice, Jack moved from chair to bed without thought and pulled Daniel into his arms. The thin body was shivering violently as he buried his face into Jack's chest. "You're just hallucinating."
"They want us, they want us. We have to get out of here." Daniel began to pull away, but Jack held him solidly against him.
"What? What do you see?"
"Snakes. Snakes, Dad, they want to get inside of us. Dad!" Flailing wildly, Daniel tried to bat the imaginary snakes away from them. "Don't let them get near your neck." With a strength belying the size of his too-skinny arms, Daniel grabbed Jack, pulled him forward and folded his arms around both their necks. Sobbing and panting, Daniel mumbled against Jack's throat that he'd protect them both.
"It's okay, Icky, it's okay. You're doing good." Speaking softly, Jack held Daniel close with one arm while he rubbed his back with the other. There was something sickeningly reassuring that Daniel chose to run to Jack for comfort even in the grip of a drug-induced hallucination, especially after the hard times they'd had the past few months. Jack whispered softly to him during the long minutes it took before he calmed down. Daniel's arms grew incrementally heavier as his grip loosened by the minute.
Having learned his lesson earlier, Jack eased himself back onto the mattress before Daniel was fully asleep. He mumbled something sleepily but came willingly, nestling against Jack with one arm still keeping hold around his neck. He opened his eyes once to look at Jack, his gaze unfocused, a small sliver of blue finally beginning to appear in the too-black irises. Then his eyelids slid shut and he relaxed, a dead weight, lying against Jack.
Well, his remorseful and frightened child had woken up from his drug-induced nap and had returned to the belligerent, impatient and sarcastic asshole that had taken hold over the past months. Both of them walked in stony silence across the near-empty parking lot to the Avalanche, with Carter, Fraiser and Teal'c trailing a few feet behind.
Jack unlocked the doors with the remote and Daniel grabbed the passenger door and pulled it open. He slid inside but before he could slam it shut, Carter grabbed hold of it and held it open. Jack stood next to the driver's side door, leaning his forearms against the cool metal, reluctant to get inside and be alone with the stranger that had once been his son.
"You going to be all right?" Carter was leaning into the truck.
"Janet said I was okay. Isn't that why she let me out of the hospital?"
Jack tensed at Daniel's answer and he could feel the pressure against his temples begin to pound with the promise of a headache.
"That's not what I meant." Carter's voice was soft. "And you know it."
"If you want me to promise I won't use mushrooms again..." There was a rustling sound as Daniel probably shrugged. "I ate them all."
Anger flowed through Jack and he jerked the car door open. "Where did you get the drugs, Daniel?"
The reply he got was a stony glare.
"I should have offered this a long time ago." Carter put a hand on Daniel's knee. "But if you want to talk... about anything, anything at all... call me. Even if you don't want to talk and just hang out, you know, like we used to—"
Carter looked at Jack over Daniel's head, her eyes haunted. "You know I've always been there for you, I just wish there was something I could have done to help so that you didn't feel the need to go and get high."
Daniel was looking straight ahead, and Jack saw him swallow. He was obviously struggling to maintain the look of indifference, and before he could get himself fully under control, Carter swept inside, kissed Daniel's cheek, bade them both goodnight, and began walking towards Fraiser's car.
Teal'c leaned into the space Carter had just vacated. "Once you are recovered, you and I must talk. I have missed your company these past months." Daniel's eyes flicked towards Teal'c, but he didn't answer.
"Hey, why don't you two come over for supper on the weekend?" Jack asked as Teal'c straightened. He got a nod in reply and a smile from Fraiser. "You tell Carter she's also invited. And Cassie—"
Daniel's reaction startled Jack when he reached out to grab Fraiser's arm as she came closer to the truck. "Cassie, she's okay, isn't she? Dad told me... I think... I wasn't dreaming, was I? I hurt... Oh, God... Janet, I hit Cassie."
Fraiser didn't take Daniel into her arms; his body language obviously told her to keep her distance. But she did reach out and push a lock of too long hair that'd fallen into his face. He looked like a stranger, not quite himself, without his glasses.
"She'll be fine; although she may give you the bill for a pair of new designer sunglasses to cover her black eye—"
"Oh shit. Anything, Janet, anything. Can I see her? Dad, can we stop over and—"
"No, sweetie," Fraiser said before Jack could say the words himself. "She's gone to bed by now. I'm sure you'll see her at school tomorrow. And you'll see her when we come over—"
"But I wanted to tell her..." He sat back against the seat and brought his arms across one another, a posture Jack had rarely seen since Daniel had been turned into a child.
"She knows." Fraiser looked over Daniel's bent head, and smiled at Jack. "We'll see you soon, okay? And like Sam said, if you ever want to talk..." She stood and wiped her skirt down. "Well, it's late, and I still have to drive Sam and Teal'c back to the mountain. I'll see you tomorrow, sir."
"Night." Jack waited until Fraiser shut the door before starting the engine. Daniel remained in that same position, head lowered, not saying a word during the drive home. Jack didn't try to initiate conversation; that would be for tomorrow, when he'd calmed down a little more.
The lights were on in the house when he pulled into the driveway and he parked next to his mom's Santa Fe. Without a word, he got out of the truck and then stopped and waited until Daniel seemed to realize they'd arrived. Moving slowly, his son shuffled up the walkway and Jack wondered if the drugs were still affecting him.
The door opened just as they reached the first of the steps and Rose stood there, waiting. Without a word, she simply opened her arms and with a tremulous "Grandma," Daniel stepped into her hug.
Jack maneuvered around them into the hallway, closing the door softly behind him as Daniel buried his face in his Rose's neck. Jack squeezed past them and went into the kitchen to grab a beer, then leaned against the wall, watching as she slowly rocked Daniel from side to side.
"You wanna go to bed?" Rose asked in a soft voice. Daniel's reply was unintelligible but it must have been in the affirmative because she let him go, and with one arm still around Daniel, walked with him to his bedroom. Daniel turned to look at Jack as he passed him, and for a moment Jack saw uncertainty and fear reflected back at him, then the mask was back and the hardness Jack had come to see in Daniel's face returned. He stood there, drinking his beer, listening to his mom talking to his son as she got him ready for bed.
He stepped back into the kitchen after draining the bottle, then went to Daniel's room, stepping through the door just as Daniel, clad in tee shirt, shorts and socks, was sliding under the covers which his mom was holding up invitingly for him. When Daniel grabbed her hand and tugged, she sat on the edge of the bed and smiled down at him.
Daniel's defenses were down at that moment and he looked younger than his thirteen years. He lay on his side, obviously trying not to cry, and despite the quick glances he threw his way, Jack knew Daniel was trying to ignore him. He had the feeling Daniel would break down if he were to show any sign of either comfort or anger towards him. At this point, Jack didn't know what his son wanted, or what he himself wanted. His brain wanted to lash out at him now, while he was this vulnerable, but his heart wanted to take him into his arms and protect him for the next twenty years of his life. So he did what any intelligent father would do; he let his mom take care of the problem.
"Do you want me to stay with you until you go to sleep?"
Daniel nodded, sliding his legs up towards his chest, making a small lump under the blankets. Rose leaned over and kissed Daniel's forehead.
"Everything will be okay, mhuirnin. It'll all look better in the morning. Are you going to school tomorrow?"
"He's got an exam," Jack said gruffly.
"If he's sick—"
"He's not sick. If he's hung over, then it's too damn bad."
He ignored his mother's pressing of her lips together, a sure sign she was angry at him. He watched as Daniel's eyelids began drooping and after a few minutes, it was obvious he was fighting sleep, something he used to do a lot when he was younger. But the events of the evening, combined with the remnants of whatever drugs were still coursing through his system, plus the late hour, finally caught up to him and his eyes closed, and stayed closed.
Rose stood slowly and adjusted the blankets. Jack waited, and when Daniel didn't move from her fiddling, stepped up to the bed. After pushing back the thick hair from Daniel's forehead, he placed his lips to the warm skin, wishing he knew what he'd done wrong in bringing up Daniel.
"I love you, Icky." The words came easily now, unlike the early days when his best friend had been changed into a five-year old boy, confused, exhausted, frightened and without any memories of his life before or after the alien device had transformed him. Child-Daniel had been so easy to love despite Jack's fears of raising another son.
"There's fresh coffee," Rose whispered as he flicked off the light. As they stepped out of the bedroom, he left the door ajar, just in case.
Sitting at the kitchen table, fortified with a piece of cake and a cup of coffee, Jack lowered his face into his hands and sighed deeply. "Do you think there's any chance he might confide in you? Because he's sure as hell not planning on talking to any of us."
"Not after tonight, I don't think so." Rose got up from the table and reached up into one of the cabinets. From behind a stack of rarely used bowls, she pulled out a small baggie that held a handful of long stemmed mushrooms. "I found these hidden under his bed when I was cleaning up the mess in his bedroom." She handed the drugs to Jack, who rolled them around in his hands.
"How the hell did he get his hands on these? Who does he know that... no, strike that. There are probably dealers by the dozen in his school. It's just that I never thought he'd... I thought he was happy. Up until a short while ago, I would have sworn that he was happy. Hell, for all I know, he's been taking this stuff for months."
"I did some research while waiting for you." She took his cup and without even asking, refilled it with coffee. "By the way, Daniel's laptop is on its last legs." She walked to the fridge and added cream. "The mushrooms apparently aren't addictive. That I find hard to believe, but I'm guessing they're not as bad as say, cocaine or marijuana."
"If he'd taken them with some other kids, I'd have said it was peer pressure." He accepted the coffee and took a sip. "But Daniel certainly doesn't have the type of personality to give in to peer pressure, and he was alone when he took them. Hell, he waited until the night I was going to be away and—"
"Wasn't Cassandra coming to stay with him since I couldn't come?"
"I'm sorry you missed your bowling party, and damn it, you're right." Jack stood abruptly, the chair sliding noisily on the ceramic floor. He'd taken several steps towards the phone when he realized it was too late to call. "Do you think Cassie knew? Because Daniel wouldn't be so stupid as to try and take drugs while I was in the house. But Cassie?"
"Do you want me to call Janet in the morning?"
"No, I'll do that when I get to work. I think young Cassie Fraiser may have some 'splaining to do."
The large stone hovered over the top of the pillars, rocking just enough to make one of two persons standing underneath it a little nervous. "Jake, it's swinging a bit." The couple standing beneath the large piece of stone were hauntingly familiar to Daniel. He knew how this dream was going to end, he'd experienced it several times already and he didn't want to experience it again. He knew he was dreaming and he couldn't pull himself away from the horror he knew was going to happen in a few more seconds.
It wasn't just the shock of seeing strangers killed in such a horrible fashion; it was the agonizing loneliness and confusion that followed their deaths. Isolation and abandonment, which he didn't totally understand but which wouldn't leave him for hours whenever he had this particular dream.
This time, however, just as the chain holding the stone snapped, he startled awake, gasping in shock and fear and reaction. Images and feelings flooded through him, as if the dream itself had been more, and this, only a small chapter of a larger nightmare. It took him several minutes to realize that he was remembering some of the hallucinations he'd seen in his mushroom-induced stupor and confusing it with this latest nightmare.
Thankful for the small sliver of light coming through the open door from the hallway, Daniel sat and pulled his knees close to his chest, curling up against the chill in the room. He shivered as he heard low voices coming from the kitchen - so his Grandma was still here.
The Magic mushrooms had done exactly the opposite of what he'd been trying for. The hallucinations had been more vivid than usual; the visions more real, as if he'd truly lived through them. He wondered what he'd been seeing when he'd hit Cassie. He had no memories of her coming into his bedroom; the last thing he remembered clearly was waiting for her and then waking up in the hospital, strapped down to a bed.
There was no way he was ever going to take these particular drugs again. He slid out of bed and getting down on his knees, reached for his hidden stash. He was going to flush them right now, before his dad found them, and this way he could swear on a guilt-free conscience that there were no more mushrooms and that he'd never, ever take them again.
He groped underneath the bed, coming up empty. Confused, he slid onto his stomach and peered underneath, and his heart caught in his throat when he realized that other than a few dust bunnies and one Cracked magazine he'd misplaced, there was nothing there.
"Oh, shit. Grandma's gonna kill me."
The last thing Daniel wanted to do was go to school; he was exhausted, felt like he could sleep for a week and had no energy. Yawning, he rummaged clumsily through his closet, searching for his favorite jeans.
He stepped into his pants and as he zipped the fly, he realized that his feet were sticking out abnormally. He glanced down and swore. Either the jeans had shrunk, or he'd grown another inch since the last time he'd worn them. In a fit of anger, he jerked them down, stepped out of them and kicked them across the room. They landed on the pile of books he'd been reading for the past several hours in an attempt to stay awake so he wouldn't dream again. He grabbed another pair of jeans, ruing the soft, worn cotton of his favorites and jerked the newer, stiffer pair on instead.
Sitting down warily at the kitchen table, Daniel glanced at his dad but he didn't bother looking up from the newspaper he held in front of him. He grabbed a box of cereal his dad had put out, poured milk over it, and contemplated his breakfast.
Pushing the soggy cereal from one side of the bowl to the other, he made small piles, watching while the flakes slowly disintegrated into mush. His father wasn't talking, and Daniel was afraid to open his mouth, unsure of his dad's reaction to anything he'd say.
He felt extremely foolish at having gotten caught; he'd thought he'd be able to handle just about anything, including the effects of the drug – obviously he'd thought wrong. He was weak, he couldn't control his nightmares and now, he'd lost control in front of everyone he cared for. But worst of all was that he knew he'd disappointed his dad, both because he'd done the drugs, and because he refused to talk to him about the reason why he'd felt he needed them.
"You better get going, or you'll miss your bus."
The normalcy of his dad's voice had him looking up at him in surprise. His dad was sitting across the table from him, newspaper folded neatly with the crossword puzzle exposed, breakfast barely touched. Daniel met his father's gaze and held it, swallowing at the sudden tightening in his throat. He nodded, stood, grabbed his uneaten breakfast and dumped it down the kitchen sink. His schoolbag was on the floor next to the door and as he grabbed it, his father followed him out of the kitchen.
"Good luck on that exam."
One hand on the doorknob, Daniel simply nodded. He stood still and held his breath as his dad came closer and cupped the back of his head. Maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe he should tell his dad that he was afraid he was losing his mind. Maybe he couldn't do this by himself and needed to be locked up for a while, until he got better.
"You do realize you're grounded, don't you?"
Daniel nodded within the confines of his father's surprisingly gentle hold.
"You're coming straight home?"
Again, he nodded. Maybe he should talk to his dad. Maybe he should let his dad take care of everything. He was about to open his mouth to say something, when his father's words sent all thoughts flying.
"Good. I'll be home early tonight."
His dad didn't trust him. Daniel knew, deep down, that he didn't deserve his father's trust but the words hurt. He clamped his lips together to stop himself from flinging back a retort. He pulled the door open and stepped outside, flinging his backpack against his back so hard that he was sure he left bruises.
Daniel trudged up the block, legs heavy, body wanting nothing more than to crawl back home and fall into bed, despite the awful fear he had of dreaming. He got to the corner just as the school bus was pulling up and he climbed in and sat down heavily on a seat. He fished his cell phone from his bag and hurriedly speed dialed Cassie before his friends arrived.
"Daniel! Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." He wanted to apologize, but the words suddenly wouldn't come.
"Are you sure? Mom looked really worried last night and you..." She cleared her throat awkwardly. "You scared me to hell, Daniel."
"I scared myself, Cassie," he managed to say in a whisper. "Look... I'm sooo sorry about what happened. I never meant to hurt you. I don't even remember—"
"I know. Mom said you probably wouldn't. It's okay. It doesn't hurt." Daniel could hear the lie in her voice. "But you just... you were sitting there in the corner of your room, crying... Don't you ever do that to me again. Ever."
"I promise. I don't ever want that to happen again. But I need you to do something for me. I need the other stuff—"
"No! I told you I don't ever want anything like that to happen to you—"
"And it won't. The other stuff was better, Cass. Please, you have to ask—"
"I can't. Daniel, I can't." She was nearly in tears, and Daniel felt anger surge through him. She'd promised to help him. "You won't even tell me why you wanted the drugs. I can't do this. I think mom suspects. I don't want Dominic to get into trouble. I don't want to get into trouble."
"Your mom knows?"
"She was talking with your dad this morning. They wanted to know why you took drugs knowing I was coming over. It's like they knew I knew what you were doing. Mom asked me if I'd noticed any signs that you'd taken drugs before this. I denied everything, but I think she knew I was lying. Damn it, Daniel, why didn't you wait until I came over last night?"
"You were late."
"And you were high. Not like the peyote. You were so fucked up, you had no idea where you were, who you were. You said you knew how much to take, and you overdosed—"
"I didn't—" Realizing his voice had risen, Daniel whispered the next word, "—overdose. I just had a bad trip."
"I don't care. If you want to kill yourself, fine, but don't ask me or Dominic to help you do it. "
"Cassie, please. I need... I have to try the other stuff again. Please."
"No. And don't ask me again. "
She hung up on Daniel, and the dial tone was loud in his ear. He turned his cell off and threw it into his backpack, wondering how he was going to get the peyote now. He didn't think he'd be able to last till the weekend if he didn't find some way to get some uninterrupted sleep.
Thankfully, the exam was first period and he aced it. Half-asleep, the words blurring in front of his eyes and he aced it. Younger than all of his classmates, Daniel outshone them in all of his classes. To Daniel, learning had been a sport in which he'd excelled. Like soccer. A well-rounded kid, accepted by the geeks and the jocks, and a wunderkind to boot.
Daniel turned over his paper and resisted the urge to drop his head down on his desk and close his eyes. He was so tired. A full night's sleep was a thing of the past. His concentration was shot to shit and his appetite was non-existent. His grades were dipping also, enough to raise the eyebrows of the teachers when they handed him back his homework or tests, but not enough to draw his dad's attention. Yet. It was only a matter of time.
And his soccer career was in its death throes – too many missed practices coupled with his sullen attitude had earned Daniel several warnings. He loved soccer and once upon a time, he'd been good at it. But that was before. Before the nightmares, and before the growth spurt, which now left him feeling uncomfortable and awkward in his own body.
The bell rang and he tossed his completed paper on the teacher's desk, ignoring the teacher's reprimand to slow down. He had exactly four minutes to catch Cassie, whose second period classroom was right next to his.
"Cassie," Daniel yelled, skirting around students in his way until the last student wouldn't move.
"Could you please—oh hi, Dominic, can I please..."
Daniel had gained inches this past year, but Dominic was taller and outweighed Daniel by a good thirty pounds, which he was using to his advantage by blocking Daniel. "No. You can't." He poked Daniel in the chest. "I don't want you talking to her in school, looking at her, or even acknowledging her presence." Dominic leaned into Daniel, whispering in his ear. "And if you dare tell anyone where the drugs came from—"
"Fuck you," Daniel hissed. "What are you going to do—"
"Stop it." Cassie wedged herself between the two of them. "Dominic, don't you dare say who I can and cannot see, got it?"
"He hit you—"
"That's between me and Daniel. Not between you and Daniel, understand?"
Meekly, Dominic nodded but the 'I told you so' smirk was wiped off Daniel's face as soon as Cassie turned towards him. "Because of you, because of your impatience, I'm probably going to be grounded until I'm a senior in college." She lifted the sunglasses to show Daniel his handwork.
"Oh, god, Cassie—" He reached out to touch the bruises, but she dropped the sunglasses into place.
"Remember this, Daniel. But better yet, I want you to remember how much I love you and how much you scared the crap out of me. I thought you had—"
The bell rang, long and loud.
"Do not ask me about the peyote, again," Cassie whispered in his ear. "Because if you do, I'm going to go to your dad."
Daniel was left standing in the hall long after the late bell rang.
Because Daniel was an excellent student, the teachers turned a blind eye when he transgressed and was late for class. Or missed a homework assignment. Or cut a class completely, because he never had. So the school librarian, Mrs. Dotterman, just looked up and smiled at Daniel instead of questioning why he was here instead of in his last period class.
"Can I help you, Daniel?" Mrs. Dotterman asked as she walked past him, pushing a cart of books.
"No. No, thank you, Mrs. D. I'm, ummm—looking for books on psychotropic drugs. It's for a Health project. Can you point me in the right direction?"
The table Daniel sat at was as far away from Mrs. Dotterman's desk and her prying eyes as he could get, though under the ruse of working on a Health project, he was pretty sure he wouldn't arouse any suspicions as he took notes on mind-altering drugs.
Daniel worked until the bell rang, then put the books away, shoved his notes into his backpack and left the school with the throng of other kids. Head down, he walked towards his assigned bus, ignoring his surroundings.
He jerked, suddenly aware and turned to the person tugging on his arm. "What the hell—oh hi, Tyler."
"I think that blonde lady over there is trying to get your attention." Tyler pointed to the lane of cars. "See?"
Daniel glanced in the direction Tyler was pointing.
Sam gave a quick wave the second they made eye contact.
Damn, there was no way now he could get on the bus.
Daniel settled in the passenger seat, his backpack and all the incriminating evidence it contained tucked between his knees.
"You can throw your backpack in the backseat if you want."
"No, that's okay."
Sam started the car. "I just thought it would give you more leg room."
She shot him a glance.
Daniel sighed. "Really."
Sam reached over and squeezed his shoulder. "What I said last night, about always being here..."
Daniel looked out the window, jealously watching all the people getting on the buses. Milling around the parking lot. Laughing. Just recently, he'd been a part of all that. His biggest care in the world had been fitting in schoolwork and soccer. Now he was as far removed from them as night and day. Maybe it was more than being envious of their lives, maybe Daniel was angry. He flopped back into the seat with a grunt. "If you don't get out of here before the buses leave, we'll be stuck here for a while."
Sam didn't move the car.
"Are you waiting for Cassie?"
Sam blinked at Daniel, as if Cassie hadn't even figured into the equation. "No," she stuttered. "I thought you and I could maybe spend some time together. Talk."
Daniel rolled his eyes. "Don't take this the wrong way, Sam, but pretty much all of yesterday is one big blur. I don't remember any conversation with you or anyone else, for that matter."
He could tell she was hurt by his abruptness. "I'm sorry," he grumbled.
She turned the motor off and swiveled awkwardly in the seat to face him.
Daniel turned his gaze back out the window.
"I would never judge you, Daniel."
He pointed out the window. "See, there goes the first bus, now we have to wait for all the buses to pull out—"
"We're—I'm worried about you."
Daniel traced the outline of the third bus with his finger. "Did my father put you up to this? Picking me up in the car? Driving me home?" he asked wearily.
Sam restarted the car. "No, he didn't. I thought that maybe you and I could—"
Daniel's vision blurred and through the veil of unshed tears, the outside scenario resembled an abstract painting of colors and indistinguishable images. Afraid to trust his voice, he remained silent.
"I'm here for you, always."
Daniel just nodded.
Daniel had his seatbelt off before Sam pulled up to the curb. "Thanks."
One hand on the door handle, with his back to her, he waited.
"If you ever want to talk. About anything. I promise I won't say anything to your father."
Daniel looked over his shoulder. "I doubt that, Sam."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her reach for him. "Bye," he said, opening the door, grabbing his backpack and sliding out. "Thanks for the lift." Daniel slammed the door before she could continue the conversation. He hesitated, just for a moment, before taking a deep breath and shuffling up the walk.
Sam drove away just before he noticed his grandmother's car in the driveway and he hurriedly spun around and waved his arm, hoping Sam would notice; but she continued driving down the block unaware of Daniel's plight.
Now what? Sam. She would respect his silence. Give him space. Patiently wait for him to make the first move. His grandmother? She would chip. Chip. Chip away at him, until he finally broke down.
Daniel stared at the glass of juice and the sandwich in front of him. His stomach growled noisily, reminding him that the breakfast he hadn't eaten had been hours ago and that he'd skipped lunch. Tentatively, he took a bite, chewed and swallowed.
"Eat, mhuirnin," Rose ordered.
Daniel felt like he was caught in that stupid kids game of hot potato. Being passed around from person to person. Sam. His Grandma... until his father came home.
His stomach growled again, the meager bite had only served to remind his belly how empty it was, and he tried another bite, larger than the first, but this one got stuck in the lump in the middle of his throat, and he hurriedly reached for the glass of juice to wash it down.
"Do you want something else?"
Freedom. Peace of mind. A good night's sleep. "No, Grandma." He gave her a peck on the cheek as he stood, grabbing both his plate and his backpack. "I've got some homework to do."
"Do me a favor, before you start your homework, could you carry the basket of laundry downstairs—"
Daniel bristled. Having his grandmother here to baby-sit was bad enough, but to have her washing his socks and boxers? "I can do my own laundry."
"Of course you can. And I have no intention of doing your laundry, or your father's. My washing machine is on the fritz, so I'm borrowing yours until the lonely Maytag repairman can make a visit."
Daniel stared at his grandma. "You didn't come here—" He shook his head, the heat of his mistake coloring his cheeks. "Never mind."
"Come here for what, honey?"
"You know... to keep an eye on me?"
"I trust you've learned from your mistakes?"
To not get caught? To be more selective with his drug of choice? "Yes, I have."
Daniel was drifting, he could feel his eyes close and his body begin to slump to the side. Once. Twice. By the third time, he pushed his chair away from the computer desk, grabbed the plate of cold grilled cheese sandwich and walked out of his room.
His grandmother was sleeping in the recliner, an opened book in her lap. Daniel crept into the kitchen, dumped the sandwich in the garbage, the plate in the dishwasher and got a bottle of Snapple from the fridge.
The blinking light on the answering machine caught his eye even before he opened the top. The first message was from someone trying to sell them a satellite dish. The second message was from his soccer coach asking Daniel to call him back. Daniel deleted those two messages and let the machine run to play the one saved message. The saved message was yesterday's news. A verbal lashing from his dad regarding responsibilities, etc. and his finger hovered just above the delete key, waiting for the message to play out.
"Look, talking to the phone is ridiculous. We're going to have to discuss what's going on with you. How about Saturday, you and I go out for a hike, have a picnic and talk about things like we used to, okay? Just you and me?" 'Just you and me'. Part of Daniel was relieved that his father was forcing his hand and part of him felt like dead man walking, knowing that once he revealed his nightmares, his life as he knew it, would never, ever be the same.
His dad came home early, just like he'd said. Daniel could hear his grandma and father talking in the kitchen but he was sitting on his bed reading, caught between actual sleep and awareness. Too comfortable and way too lazy to get up. He rested his head against the headboard and glanced at the ceiling, giving his eyes a rest.
Huh? Daniel blinked. Then blinked again. An array of multi-colored lights spun over his bed, like a baby's mobile. For a second he panicked. With his heart pounding in his chest, he believed he was experiencing an aftereffect of the mushrooms, a flashback, but these lights were different. The way they moved seemed strangely familiar and Daniel squinted overhead, trying to understand and unravel their mystery, because for some strange reason he knew there was a message in those lights.
Daniel jumped, the book sliding off his lap and onto the floor with a thud. "Dad." He fumbled around, bent over the side of the bed and picked up the book, almost afraid to look towards the ceiling.
His dad sat at the foot of the bed. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Daniel was pretty damn sure he hadn't been sleeping. Sleeping people weren't aware of conversations going on. Sleeping people couldn't feel the weight of heavy books in their laps, or headaches or gritty eyes that would no longer focus. "Dad, I—" He was going to dispute his father's claim that he'd been sleeping, but that would mean admitting to something he wasn't ready to face, that the nightmares had crossed into Daniel's waking reality.
Jack and his mother watched as one as Daniel slid out of the booth and shuffled off to the bathroom.
"He didn't want to come."
Jack slammed his menu shut. "I wasn't leaving him home alone."
"I would've been happy with a scrambled egg. A piece of toast."
"No one's going to be a martyr because Daniel screwed up."
"I'm not being a martyr, I'm being a grandmother."
"Mom, it wasn't like Daniel took his bicycle and rode to your house without telling anyone. We spent last evening in the hospital because he experimented with drugs." Jack jabbed his finger in the direction of the bathroom. "He gave Cassie a pretty damn impressive black eye." Jack flopped back against the booth. "I'm losing him and I have no idea why. He won't talk to me. Or Carter. Or Teal'c... Did he talk to you?"
Rose picked up her menu and hid behind it.
Jack leaned over and pushed it down to the table. "Mom?"
"Daniel didn't want to come out to eat. He's exhausted."
"I know," Jack said softly. "He doesn't sleep. I hear him walking around the house at all hours."
"Do you get up? Go to him?"
Jack averted his face. "I did. In the beginning. Made him hot chocolate. And it worked for a while, but now..." He shrugged. "Even at three AM, Daniel finds it impossible to be civil to me. So it's easier to stay in bed."
"Easier for who, Jack? You?" His mother shook her head. "I never knew you to give up."
"Why did you order a burger deluxe platter if you weren't going to eat it?" Jack's appetite had slowly diminished as Daniel moved his uneaten food from one side of the plate to the other. He tossed his napkin over his own uneaten food.
"Shush," his mother said. "Just get the waitress to wrap it up to take home."
"I don't want to take it home." Daniel pushed the dish across the table.
"You'll take it home—"
"And what? You'll make me eat it for breakfast? Lunch?"
"Can it, Daniel," Jack ordered. "Keep your voice down."
"I'm done," Rose said, opening her purse and tossing two twenties on the table. "You two can continue to fight it out. Dinner was my treat so Daniel doesn't have to bring it home if he doesn't want to."
Jack caught up to his mother in the parking lot, just as she was opening her car door. "I'm sorry, Mom."
Daniel brought up the rear, passed by Jack and enveloped his grandmother in a hug. "Me, too," he said. "Please don't be angry."
"Never, mhuirnin," she said, patting his bent head.
Jack didn't miss the tears in the corner of his mom's eyes and he walked over and planted a kiss on her temple, while his hand rested on the nape of Daniel's neck. "Come on, son. Let your grandmother go home."
Daniel stiffened under his touch. Jack sensed it and obviously, so did his mom.
"Would you like to come home with me, Daniel?"
Slowly, Daniel lifted his head and his glance shifted from his mother to Jack.
"No, he can't. He has school tomorrow."
She repeated the question as if Jack hadn't spoken. "Want to come home with me and sleep over? I'll make pancakes in the morning. You can sleep in."
Daniel hesitated and Jack was positive Daniel was going to disobey him. "Not tonight, granny," he said. His smile was sad. "I have school tomorrow."
His mother's smile was just as sad. "I know."
Daniel shrugged and stepped back. "Maybe next week?"
"Maybe next week for a couple of days," she amended. "Would you like that?"
Daniel glanced at Jack and nodded.
"Maybe during Thanksgiving vacation," Jack offered.
"Why can't I sleep at Grandma's house?"
They hadn't even made it out of the diner's parking lot.
"You have school tomorrow."
Daniel flopped back against the seat. "I don't feel good, I'm staying home tomorrow."
"No," Jack said, looking both ways before pulling out into traffic. "You're fine."
"Yes, you are. Fine, that is. Except for a case of obnoxiousness, stubbornness and stupidity, you're fine."
"I'm not stupid."
"This time yesterday you were in the hospital recovering from the effects of a hallucinogenic drug. If that's not stupidity, I don't know what is."
"I said I was sorry," Daniel yelled.
"Prove it," Jack yelled louder. "Show me you're sorry."
Daniel stayed silent.
"Well, aren't you going to say anything?" Jack prodded.
"I hate you," Daniel answered. "There I said something. Happy?"
Jack listened as Daniel spent the night walking the floors while he spent the night lying in bed staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out what the fuck had happened. When had he become such a hard-ass? What came first, his hard-ass behavior or Daniel's attitude? Chicken or the egg? Jack used to be fun. A rule breaker. What the hell happened to him? When had he become... his father?
Jack turned off the alarm minutes before it was set to go off, threw back the covers and stumbled into the bathroom. He would be able to grab a few minutes of peace and quiet with the paper and his coffee before he had to wake up Daniel.
With two cups of coffee, the sports page and two slices of toast under his belt, Jack felt awake and aware enough to drag Daniel out of bed.
"Daniel?" Jack opened the bedroom door. "It's time to—"
"Five minutes," Daniel begged without opening his eyes. He curled into a ball, his hand patting the bed, looking for the blanket. He found it just as Jack was stepping into the room to help.
"I got it, Icky." Jack unrolled the twisted mass of quilt, chuckling over the state of Daniel's bed. "Five minutes."
"Five," Daniel repeated, curling the blanket around his body. In his sleep, Daniel reached under his pillow and grabbed a brown, barely distinguishable, well-loved stuffed animal, tucking it under his chin.
"Holy shit." A smile bloomed on Jack's face and he walked over to the bed to pet the stuffed toy on the head. "Hey, Lumpy, it's been a while."
Daniel looked down at hands that didn't belong to his body. They were older hands. Calloused and rough, but oh so familiar. They seemed to be covered with a type of... He brought them up to his nose and sniffed. Flour? "Dan'yel." Daniel turned toward the voice calling his name, and the hands followed. She was beautiful. Exotic. Daniel opened his eyes. "Sha're," he whispered. He closed his eyes, trying to recapture this dream. There had been endless sand dunes and oppressive heat, but it felt safe. He had felt safe, safer than he had in a long time.
Turning onto his side with a groan, the sound of crinkling paper had him opening up his eyes again. He found the source and pulled it out from under the covers. "Lumpy? How the hell did you..." He had vague memories of digging through his closet during the night, unsure of what he'd been looking for until he'd found his old favorite stuffie. Tied around Lumpy's neck was a string with a piece of legal pad paper attached.
Daniel sat up in bed, reached for his glasses, stuck them on his face and began to read the note.
Lumpy reminded me that sometimes there are more important things than going to school. Like sleep and staying overnight at your grandma's. I'm sorry. I'll be home around five with Greek and after dinner we'll go shopping for the weekend. Love, Dad
This dream's good feelings stayed with him most of the morning and Daniel caught himself smiling and looking forward to spending Saturday with his dad. Maybe they both needed some time away, even if it were only for a day.
Around twelve he made himself a sandwich, and brought it down into the den. He flipped through the channels, shaking his head over the poor choice of daytime television selection, allowing himself to get sucked into a soap opera until commercial break.
He stretched out on the couch, closed his eyes, the remote slipping from his fingers and falling to the floor as he relaxed.
He never made it up the stairs. Daniel never even made it into a sitting position, he just vomited right where he lay on the couch, losing his lunch and breakfast all over himself, the couch, and the floor. In misery, he hugged himself, puke and all, as he tried to hold himself together. He was freezing. Teeth chattering, unable to get warm.
He had stepped into the middle of a puddle of water. Enclosed in a giant circle. With symbols around the outer edge, and it had been cold. Freezing cold. And best of all, it had been amazing - like the best roller coaster ever invented.
It was something he knew existed, a well-kept secret that only he and Cassie knew outside his dad's work – something he'd always dreamed of doing. Something he had consistently begged Cassie in whispered pleas over the years, to tell him how it had felt, because he had no memory of doing so himself.
He had traveled through the Stargate in his dream.
In slow motion, he cleaned up the couch and the floor, opened a window to air out the room and stripped off his clothes and threw them in the laundry. He jumped into the shower, gagging at the still lingering smell of vomit that clung to his body. He was fried. Done.
He was shampooing his hair for the third time when he heard it.
"What fate Omoroca?" "Huh?" Daniel rinsed the shampoo from his hair, squinting under the spray of water.
"What fate Omoroca?" Daniel slipped and fell in the shower, an ungainly twist of arms and legs as a horrific image of an upright fish man stepped into the shower to join him.
Barely dry, Daniel left a trail of wet footprints from the bathroom to his bedroom. He dumped the contents of his backpack on the bed, grabbed the notes he'd made in the library, and went into his dad's bathroom.
He compared the myriad of pill bottles with his list and settled on two, fingered them for a long time, and put the bottles neatly back where they belonged. His safety net. He couldn't meditate the dreams away, so maybe he'd find solace in another way.
Just in case, Daniel kept repeating. Just in case. A bottle of Vicodin. A bottle of Ambien. Painkillers versus sleeping pills. Euphoria versus sedation. His last resort. Talk. He was going to talk to his dad. A little hiking. A little bonding. A lot of talking. And if the talking didn't work, he'd have this to fall back on.
He made sure everything looked the same before shutting the medicine cabinet and returning to his room. Grabbing Lumpy, he went to sit on the couch and wait for his dad.
Daniel made a concerted effort to make small talk with his dad, but all he was getting was one-word answers in response, so he remained silent and picked the meat out of the gyro.
"The gyro's really good."
"I'm glad," his father said with a nod.
"Did you have a bad day at—"
"I got a call from your history teacher."
"Mrs. McCarthy? Why did she call—"
"You failed your test."
"No, I didn't." Daniel gave a little smug laugh. "I didn't fail that test."
"Yeah, you did."
"No, she must be mixing me up with someone else."
"You got a thirty, Daniel."
"No," Daniel insisted, "I aced that test."
"You didn't answer the essays."
Daniel could feel the hot flush working its way up his body. "There were essays? I don't remember any essays."
"No kidding." His dad closed the Styrofoam container. "You cut class on Thursday and Tuesday—"
"So what's the big deal? You didn't wake me up today and you let me play hooky."
"It's not the same thing—"
"Oh, right. So it's okay for you to say I can skip a full day's worth of classes but I'm in deep shit because I failed one exam and cut two class—"
"I have a meeting with the principal on the 15th. They're talking about sending you back to grade level."
"What? No! Please. I promise." This couldn't be happening. "It was one time. I didn't see the essays. I'll take the test again. I'll write whatever reports she wants. I'll stay after school—"
His father's fist slammed onto the table. "Stop it. Just stop it, Daniel. Stop making promises you refuse to keep. Stop lying to me. And just accept the consequences of your actions." He stood up and tossed his whole dinner in the garbage. "Is it so hard to talk to me?"
"Is it so hard to listen to me?"
"Yeah, it is when you're continually lying to me."
Daniel was out of sorries. He honestly didn't remember seeing the essays and he really had nobody to blame but himself for having been so confident. Or so damned tired. Maybe if he could sleep, maybe if he could get rid of the damn nightmares—
"Put your shoes on, we're going to the store to shop for—."
Daniel was taken aback. "You still want to go hiking with me?"
"Hiking? What are you talking about?"
Daniel pointed to the answering machine. "You said..." Daniel had to swallow the golf ball sized lump in his throat. "You said," he repeated, "that you wanted to talk. To me. And that we were going to spend Saturday—"
His father's face remained stony as he looked at Daniel in confusion. "Crap. Well, it's too late now. I've invited everyone over so we're committed to the barbeque."
"But you wanted to talk," Daniel said in a small voice. Their time together had seemed like a lifeline to him and he couldn't believe his dad had forgotten about it.
"Okay, so we can talk in the truck," his father said over his shoulder as he shoved the leftovers into the refrigerator.
All hope gone, Daniel sat back sullenly, arms crossed against his chest. "I'm not going."
"Oh yes, you are. Go put on your shoes."
Wishing he had the guts to stand up to his father when his dad was in this mood, Daniel stood and noisily shoved the chair behind him before stomping out of the kitchen. He grabbed his iPod from his bedroom, shoved his shoes on his feet and stomped outside, breathing heavily as he slammed the front door behind him. He stood by the Avalanche, looking down the street as he waited for his father to come out and unlock the truck for him.
With music blaring in his ears, Daniel could pretend he couldn't hear anything his father said. He sullenly walked five steps behind him and the cart, turning to look at the nearest produce whenever his father asked his opinion for something.
He watched his father's stiff back, half-wishing he could throw something at him and half-wishing he could jump onto the front of the cart and have his dad race down the aisle, like he used to do when he was a kid. When had his dad stopped caring? He used to be able to talk to him about just about anything, except for his work. And even then, like Cassie, he knew things about Cheyenne Mountain that most adults had no inkling about what was going on in that old missile silo. He knew so many secrets, and none of them could help him.
Realizing he'd lagged behind, he shuffled along the aisle and turned the corner, where he spotted his dad at the meat counter ordering steaks. Daniel continued forward, detouring past the meat and chicken and stopped at the fish counter. He wrinkled his nose at the smell and studied the shrimp and fillets laid out in all their slimy goodness on trays of chipped ice. A particularly disgusting mess of eels drew his attention, their shapes almost familiarly different...
One eel raised its head and spread its hood as it hissed at him. As if it were a signal, all the others rose up, hissing and milling about, their hisses and high-pitched squeals almost deafening over the sound of his music. Daniel looked around anxiously, trying to gauge the reactions of other customers in the store but nobody seemed to be paying attention to the fish that were no longer dead.
Okay, he could do this. Breathe, he'd just breathe, look cool and relaxed and would simply walk away from the hallucination. He wouldn't attract attention, and maybe if he didn't look at the eels, they'd just go away.
Then one of the eels sprung from the display, jumping over the glass and landing on the floor with a wet plop, squirming towards him. Daniel backpedaled quickly out of its way and, forgetting his own advice, ran in a panic towards his dad.
It was the fact that nobody else seemed to notice the fish that stopped Daniel from gripping his father's arm like a little kid. He glanced back towards the fish counter and all the eels appeared to have returned to their former dead state, without the odd-looking hood around their heads. The only thing he could hear was the music blasting in his ears.
Daniel ripped the buds from his ears, shut down his iPod and pocketed it while leaning against the cart, close enough to his dad that he could press against his back if he only moved forward an inch. He eyed the fish display warily. He remembered vague images and feelings of fear that the eels had attacked his dad before, and he vowed to stay close, just in case it truly wasn't a dream. And maybe, just maybe, his dad would be there to protect him, too.
When the butcher handed over the wrapped pile of meat, Daniel quickly stepped forward and grabbed it before Jack could. He watched in surprise as Daniel carefully rearranged the products in the cart to make room for the steaks, giving Jack a quick, nervous glance as he wiped his hands on his jeans.
The iPod was gone from his ears and he peeked over Jack's shoulder at the list in his hand. "We don't have any corn on the cob."
Jack stared at his son, wondering how he'd suddenly turned from Mr. Hyde back into Doctor Jekyll. He noted the pallor that accentuated the few freckles on Daniel's face and the shadows under his eyes. Were these signs that Daniel was addicted to drugs, or that he was exhausted and something more sinister might be going on? Maybe he needed to drag Daniel back to the hospital, or even better, the SGC's infirmary, where Fraiser could run a battery of tests on his son just to rule out illness.
"Dad, corn?" Blue eyes stared at him in confusion.
"Um, yeah. I was gonna pick some up from the market on Friday, along with salad fixings."
Jack pushed the cart and Daniel was right there with him. Jack went straight to the last items they needed. "Want to grab some chips?"
"Sure. What kind?"
"Get a couple bags. Doesn't matter."
Although Daniel didn't quite run to make his choices, it was obvious that he seemed to feel a need to hurry back to Jack, arms laden with four different bags of potato chips. He dumped the chips into the cart and walked again right by Jack's side. He couldn't help but glance at his son, who was doing some covert peeking at him also. Something had happened, and Jack had obviously not only missed it, he had no idea what had brought it on in the first place.
Daniel was helpful at the checkout counter, dragging the filled bags into the cart and insisting on pushing it to the truck. As Jack pulled out of the parking lot, he thought about their argument over supper and considered he might have been just a tad hard on the kid. And he had promised to go hiking with him so they could try and bond and get Daniel to open up. Of course he'd made the alternate plans after spending several hours in the hospital watching Daniel go through one of those traumas one never wants their children to experience.
Since Daniel had had such a change of heart, maybe tonight Jack could entice him to watch a movie with him, and maybe his old son would try to come back to him. He glanced at Daniel, who was staring out the window, lost in thought, eyes at half-mast, and suddenly wondered if maybe Daniel had taken some pills or drugs back in the store, which had caused the sudden shift in personality.
He listened with half an ear to the radio, swallowing back a curse when the weather report predicted rain for the coming weekend.
He waited until they stopped at a red light.
"Hmmm?" Daniel blinked and yawned as he turned to look at Jack.
"How about a movie tonight?" He looked carefully at Daniel's eyes, but they looked clear and normal. Actually Daniel just looked tired and sleepy, nothing more.
"Yeah," he answered enthusiastically. A slow grin spread over Daniel's face. "We got plenty of snacks to go with the movie," he added with a soft laugh.
"Hey, you eat everything and we'll have to come back to get refills."
Relieved that his son seemed okay, Jack swore to hold his temper in check and that they were going to enjoy their evening together.
Daniel couldn't help sighing at the sight of his dad on his knees, peering behind the television set. One hand pressed the cell phone to his ear while the other followed the myriad of wires coiled behind the entertainment unit. "Yeah, that wire's plugged into the DVD and the other end is plugged into the..." He paused, swore, then followed the wires again through the contortions they'd worked themselves into. "I don't know, Carter, you tell me. The DVD was working fine the last time we used it. So why isn't it working now? I didn't touch a thing."
"Maybe it's the batteries," Daniel suggested for the tenth time in the past two hours.
And for the tenth time, his dad ignored him and began pulling the wires out again and repositioning them. With a sigh, Daniel tossed the remote onto the couch and got up to look for a new set of batteries. With his dad still grumbling over the phone with Sam, Daniel replaced the batteries, aimed it at the DVD player, and smirked when the power came on.
"Hey! I guess you were right, Carter. It was a loose wire." His dad eased out from behind the entertainment unit and gave Daniel a thumb's up while he stared proudly at the lit power light on the DVD. "Thanks for the help."
Daniel fiddled with the remote as he watched his dad push the entertainment unit back into its proper position. With a flourish, he popped the new DVD out of its case and dropped it into the DVD holder, then joined Daniel on the couch. He picked up the TV remote, pointed it at the television, and both of them sat there staring at a blank screen.
Without a word, Daniel got up and went to the kitchen for a snack while his dad picked up the phone and speed dialed Sam again.
"Sorry about the movie." His dad was leaning against the bedroom door.
Daniel shrugged as he pushed his laptop aside. "It's okay. We can watch it another night. That is, if the TV is..."
"I think I got everything working again." His dad gave him a lopsided smile. "How about we go to BestBuy tomorrow night and see if we can find a new game for your PSP?"
"Sure." Daniel tried to drum up some enthusiasm but sadly missed the mark. He'd rather have spent the evening watching a movie with his dad instead of watching his dad curse at the DVD player. And then the last two hours, it had been his turn to swear at a recalcitrant laptop which had decided to operate at a speed that was slower than a cyber crawl. It was starting to look like all the electronic equipment in the house was slowly having a breakdown, just like his mind.
"Don't stay up too late." His dad motioned to the laptop. "We'll have another movie night soon, okay?"
Daniel longingly fingered the widescreen laptops, dreaming of owning one someday. He slowly walked from one to the other, reading the descriptions, picturing the expensive laptop sitting on his bed while he played his favorite online games on it.
Sighing regretfully, he placed his fingers on the keyboard, trying out the feel of the laptop. The keys felt perfect, as if they were made for him. He glanced at the price tag and knew his dad would never get him one of these because the three year-old laptop he owned was still functional. Barely. Maybe it was time that he asked Sam to have a look at it, see if she could boost some power into it.
Hearing the familiar voice calling his name, Daniel suddenly froze. Then, as Corey Maddison joined him, he had no choice but to acknowledge his friend. "Hey, Corey."
"Hello, Mrs. Maddison." Corey's mom was holding a couple of DVDs in her hand. She peered at the laptop Daniel had been playing with. "Wow, that one's pretty impressive. Planning on buying a new computer?" She turned quickly to her son, who was eyeing the laptop eagerly. "And no, don't you get any ideas."
"No, I was just looking," Daniel said mournfully.
"But my sixteenth birthday's coming up in a few months," Corey whined.
"Eight months is not a couple of months, Corey." Mrs. Maddison's raised eyebrow could have given Teal'c a run for his money, and had the same sobering effect on Corey. "It's kind of hard, isn't it?" She smiled at Daniel. "Every time I come in here, I'd love to walk out with a bigger and better TV or a shinier and faster computer. Unfortunately," she sighed, "money doesn't grow on trees. It's bad enough I have to get more of those." She pointed to the boxes Corey was holding.
"Wii controls," Corey said with a grin as he balanced the boxes, trying to show Daniel.
"You'll be coming this weekend, Daniel? You did invite him, didn't you, Corey?"
Daniel felt a cold sweat begin to drip down his back. He hated being put on the spot. "Um, yeah, he did, Mrs. Maddison, but... I..."
"Invited where? Afternoon, Gina."
"Jack. How are you?"
"I'm great, thanks. You? Steve?"
"Oh, we're fine, thanks. We were busy remodeling one of the bathrooms. It's incredible how such a small room can cause such a mess."
"Yeah, I can imagine. I haven't seen Corey around lately." His dad turned to Corey and smiled at him. "You and Daniel have a fight or something?"
"N... No, sir," Corey stammered. "It's just been, you know..."
"So, you didn't tell me what you got invited to, Daniel."
"Um, Corey was having a sleepover on the weekend." Daniel turned to stare at the laptops, wishing they'd never bumped into his friend.
"Yeah. We're having a Harry Potter marathon tomorrow night. Mom's buying all the movies, and then we're going to the theatre to see the latest movie on Saturday."
"That sounds like fun. What time do you want Daniel to be there, Gina?"
"Dad, I can't—"
"I have things I need to do... and there's the barbeque..." He could feel the blush spread down his cheeks and the back of his neck. The last thing he wanted to do was sleep over at Corey's. What if he had a nightmare again? There? At the Maddison's? His friends didn't understand, couldn't understand. Nobody could.
"Jack, if Daniel doesn't want to come, it's okay."
"No, Gina, actually it works out perfectly because I have to work on Saturday so he can spend the day with you rather than at his grandmother's. That is, if you don't mind watching him."
"You're working?" Daniel hissed at his dad. "What about the barbeque?"
"No, of course I don't mind. We've missed you, Daniel. You haven't been over in a while. I'm really glad we bumped into you today." Mrs. Maddison ruffled Daniel's hair and he ducked his head in embarrassment. He never minded when she did that whenever she'd babysat him but not in front of his dad. It made him look like a kid. "You can come around six, Daniel. The kids are going to order pizza for supper so you don't have to worry about eating first."
"He'll be there. Can I have a word with you for a second?" His dad pulled Corey's mom several feet away and Daniel just knew what he was telling her. Keep an eye on Daniel, make sure he's not taking drugs, make sure he's not—
"Why don't you want to come over tomorrow?" Corey looked angry and hurt, and Daniel felt even guiltier.
"You've been avoiding me on purpose."
"Do you know what they're saying about you in school?" Corey's lowered his voice so that nobody else could hear them, especially their parents. "That you took some drugs and went to the hospital. Is that true?"
Daniel didn't know what to say. He stood there, shocked that the news had gotten out. He wanted to lie to Corey, but his friend knew him so well that he'd know it. "Yeah, it's true," Daniel finally admitted. He glanced over at his dad and Mrs. Maddison, who were both talking in hushed voices. His dad looked over at him and Daniel quickly glanced at the floor.
"What? It's true? Do you know I told everybody it was a lie? That you'd never take drugs. Jeez, Daniel, you made me look like an idiot."
"I never asked you to defend me," Daniel snapped.
"I thought that's what friends did," Corey hissed back.
Daniel bit back the insult he wanted to say, and instead, spoke softly. "Corey, I don't know what to say. I... I had to do it."
"So that's why you don't wanna hang with me anymore. You found better friends, huh? Friends that can get you high? What's gotten into you? I don't know you anymore."
"I don't do drugs, Corey." The bottles of pills in his dad's bathroom didn't count, he hadn't taken any yet, and maybe he would never have to. He wasn't an addict; he wasn't taking the drugs to feel better. Pills were medicinal, weren't they? They were supposed to make you feel better, and he wanted, desperately, to feel better again. "It was just one time," he lied, "and it was a mistake. Anyways, I think maybe now your mom won't want you to hang out with me anymore." Mrs. Maddison looked angry, and Daniel walked away from Corey and began looking at the video cameras. His hands were shaking and he'd never felt so embarrassed.
He felt someone come up behind him and he tensed, expecting it to be his dad. "We'll see you tomorrow night, okay?" Mrs. Maddison said in a gentle voice as she placed a hand on his shoulder.
Daniel nodded, fighting back a lump in his throat.
"Good. We'll have movies to watch, games to play, food to eat, and just plain fun." She gave his hair a quick ruffle again and called out to Corey to come with her. Maybe Mrs. Maddison might be willing for him to stay over at her house, but he had a feeling Corey might never understand.
"I don't want to go." Hands in pockets, Daniel walked beside his dad. He'd lost all interest in shopping and deliberately didn't point out the game section to his dad as they walked towards the cash register.
"That's too bad. I've already made the arrangements."
"I thought I was grounded."
"You are. You're staying with Gina and Steve tomorrow and Saturday because I'm working."
"I can go stay with Grandma."
"Your grandmother has plans. This way she doesn't have to break them."
"You told Grandma you were working on Saturday, but not me?"
"It came up suddenly. I called her before I could commit."
"Then I can go stay with her since she said yes."
"No, Daniel. You're going over to Gina and Steve's."
"What about the barbeque?"
"It's going to rain. I postponed it till next weekend."
"That's enough. End of discussion."
Daniel pushed past the line of shoppers and shoved through the doors angrily. Once outside, he stomped a few feet past the doors and waited for his dad, fighting back the tears that had been threatening for the past couple of minutes. When his father came out of the store, Daniel accompanied him back to the truck, both of them wearing invisible veils of uncomfortable silence.
It was worse than he'd expected. Everyone here in the Maddison's home had once been his friend. Now, they were strangers, more or less ignoring him, talking amongst themselves, roughhousing with one another when not watching the movie. But he could feel their eyes on him whenever his back was turned, and conversation stopped whenever he walked into the room. Never before had he felt the age difference between them and him. And he felt he was the oldest one of the group, not the youngest.
Frustrated, wanting nothing more than to have things the way they were before he started losing his mind, he left the movie and went to the kitchen for a drink of water. Immediately the inane chatter in the living room stopped and he was pretty sure the only people talking were not Harry Potter and his wizard friends.
He stared out the window, watching the slowly darkening sky, the music from the movie's soundtrack filling the kitchen.
"How's the movie?"
Startled, Daniel nearly dropped the glass of water, spilling some on his shirt before he righted the glass. "It's fine." He forced a smile for Mrs. Maddison.
"Are you hungry? Do you want some pizza? You hardly ate tonight."
"I'm fine." She looked unconvinced, and he tried the smile again. "Really."
"How about some chips? Popcorn?" She reached into the pantry and took out two large bags of potato chips and opened one. That one she placed next to Daniel, and then busied herself with other snacks. He picked up a single chip and took a small bite, savoring the taste of oil and salt. "Would you mind giving me a hand?"
Immediately Daniel grabbed the bags of chips while she brought in bags of popcorn, Twizzlers, pretzels and other goodies he couldn't quite make out.
As he put the bags down at either end of the living room, he realized he had nowhere to sit, as his friends Christian, Li and Nate were sprawled on the couch, taking up all available space. He hesitated, unsure what to do. Where just a month ago he wouldn't have hesitated to throw himself on the couch and laughingly push one of them aside, their attitudes were cold now, and none of them even looked his way.
Corey pushed his pet lab off the loveseat and patted the space next to him. The dog made to jump back on, but he pushed it away. "C'mon, hurry, before Cassidy jumps back up."
Daniel stepped over the large, blond dog and sat nervously next to Corey. The material was warm from the dog's body heat. He pulled his feet up, hugging his knees and was trying to focus on the movie when Corey nudged him in the ribs. Startled, he nearly dropped the bag of chips Corey forced into his hands.
"Ripples, your favorite. Mom bought these especially for you."
Daniel took a large handful of the wrinkled chips before passing the bag on to Benny, who was half sprawled over the ottoman.
"Oh, this is my favorite part." Corey nudged Daniel again and stole a chip from the bunch held loosely in his hand. "Watch, this is incredible. I wish we could fly around on brooms like that."
For several minutes, Daniel ate his chips and watched the movie unfold, hardly daring to breathe while Corey commented to him on it. Then when Corey got up to snatch the bag of pretzels from Li and threw it at him, Daniel knew things were back to normal. He laughed, grabbed some and threw it back. Several pretzels fell out of the bag as Corey caught it, and Cassidy quickly gobbled up the mess and then came looking to Daniel for more, licking his lips hopefully.
"No, you don't," Daniel laughed, raising the pretzels out of the dog's reach. Benny pounced on Daniel at that moment and he screeched, dropped the pretzels, and a second later, the two of them were wrestling on the living room floor, laughing and yelling while Cassidy tried to catch the pieces of pretzels spilled amongst their limbs.
"Okay, that's enough." Steve Maddison's voice quickly cut through their mirth and chastened, both boys climbed back onto their seats, the evidence of their wrestling match quickly obliterated by the large dog. "The next one who decides to wrestle in this house is going to find himself cooling off outside in the rain."
Daniel grinned at his friend's father as he reached for more chips. "Yes, sir." He knew the man's warning was as good as his word, but that didn't prevent him from poking Benny in the ribs the moment Mr. Maddison left the room.
Daniel's earlier reservations were gone as he sprawled on the loveseat, sated with junk food. The third movie was playing, and by now all their rambunctiousness had evaporated due to the late hour. Daniel was sleepy and was only paying partial attention to the movie. His thoughts were drifting, and he found himself nodding off a couple of times.
He forced himself to sit straighter, but ended up sliding back into the same lazy position after a minute. Despite the show's intensity, the peril of the young wizards didn't seem to be enough incentive for him to keep his eyes open. Even as the Dementors invaded the train, Daniel allowed himself to drift off, just for a few minutes...
The prisoners, they weren't heading for an escape route – they were heading for certain death. "Excuse me. Listen to me." He couldn't let them die, so he desperately stood between the three and the 'gate, knowing with a cold dread that when the chevrons locked, he'd be just as dead. He had to act fast. "Look, this won't save you." He ignored his father's shout to get out of there. "You won't escape, you'll die." Through some twist of fate, the prisoners threw him aside in their fervor to escape into the backwash of the Stargate. He couldn't believe this was allowed to happen. He got up, incredulous at the needless deaths. He ignored the hulking Vishnor, concentrating on Linea instead. To his horror, large hands grabbed him from behind, choking him, cutting off his air supply. There were screams in the background, the Dementors all around him, and he couldn't breathe. He fought, but the arms were like steel. His vision began to fade, and he saw his dad fighting, trying to get to him and he knew it was too late. And then, he felt himself fall—
"What?" Corey was staring at him, wide-eyed.
"SG3, they were scheduled... they were..." Disoriented, his throat burning with each gasped inhalation, Daniel looked around in confusion at the room full of kids staring back at him. "What?"
"You fell asleep, egghead," Li shouted, throwing a string of Twizzler at him as the room erupted in laughter. Daniel watched the red piece of candy slide to the floor and land on Cassidy, who merely raised his snout to sniff at it, then lay back down without touching it.
Confused, embarrassed and sick to his stomach, Daniel stood and nearly tripped over the dozing dog. His friends shouted insults at him, and deep down he knew they were meant to be teasing, but he couldn't seem to separate their words from those reverberating in his head. He headed for the bathroom, seeking solace, but at the last moment continued down the hallway and slipped out the front door.
The night air was chilly, and immediately the dampness clung to him, cooling his hot, sweaty skin. Although the rain had stopped, his socks were soaked by the time he lurched to the large oak tree in the center of the Maddison's front yard and leaned against the trunk. He was dizzy, the phantom memories of fire and brimstone, unwashed bodies, and intense heat clashed with the cool night air, the smell of grease on his hands and the taste in his mouth. Slowly he slid down the coarse bark, leaning his back against the tree. He was shivering, and the lights along the street danced like the fires of Netu.
He swallowed back bile as he curled his arms around his bent knees. He'd go home now, if he had his shoes but he was afraid that the fire would burn his feet. No, that wasn't right. His feet were wet, as was his butt; but he was sweating. That meant he was hot, didn't it?
"Daniel? Are you all right?"
He looked up at the shadowy form of Mrs. Maddison, her face backlit by the open door so he couldn't see her expression. Afraid that he'd throw up if he opened his mouth, he simply shook his head.
"Mom? Is everything okay?"
"Stay there, Corey." She knelt beside Daniel and he felt her hand against his face and it was warm and cold at the same time. "You're shivering. Come on back inside, okay?"
Instead of getting up, Daniel huddled more tightly into himself.
"Do you want to tell me what happened? Did the movie frighten you?" She took her hand away, and his skin twitched where she'd touched it. "Did someone say something?"
How could he tell her that he was responsible for those people's deaths?
"Are you feeling sick? Does something hurt?"
Again, all Daniel could do was shake his head. Now his teeth were chattering and he couldn't stop them from making noise. Mrs. Maddison stood. "I'll be right back, okay? Don't worry, I'm not leaving you."
Daniel could hear her footsteps as she swept through the wet grass, the sound eerily loud despite the echoing wails of tortured souls in the hell he'd visited. People had died, because of him; he'd tried to save them but they'd died anyway. Horrible deaths, all his fault. His fault. People were whispering, blaming him, pointing fingers at him. He'd died, or almost died. A part of him thought that he'd deserved to die and another part of him was terrified of it happening again.
He jumped when he felt something heavy around his shoulders. He hadn't heard Mrs. Maddison come back. "There, that should help." She fiddled with the blanket, tucking it around his legs, lifting each of his feet so the blanket was between him and the rain-soaked grass. She sat next to him, and he could feel her body heat. He wanted to lean against her, have her hold him close and tell him everything would be all right, but the heat reminded him of the fires burning and he pulled away.
Jack held his truck to the very limit of the law, despite the urge to want to run through every red light and stop sign on his way to the Maddison's. He made it in seven minutes, and his headlights illuminated two figures sitting in the middle of their front yard, underneath a tree as he pulled into the driveway.
He slid out of the seat and half-jogged across the lawn. The streetlights gave a dim illumination and he saw Daniel, wrapped in a blanket, with Gina sitting next to him. Steve was in the doorway, and he could see curious heads trying to peek from behind.
Ignoring everyone but Daniel, he knelt next to him and put a hand on his blanket-covered leg. "Hey, buddy, what's going on?"
"Yeah, it's me. Wanna tell me what happened?" Daniel turned to look at him and his glasses caught the light from the streetlamp, hiding his eyes.
"Yeah. What's going on, Daniel? Are you sick?" Jack put a hand to Daniel's cheek and breathed a sigh of relief when he felt no fever. But the relief turned to worry when he felt chilled and clammy skin.
"Can we go home?"
"Sure thing. Can you get up?" Jack caught Daniel by the arms and hauled him to his feet. He held on for a moment, and when Daniel seemed steady, he began leading him back to the truck. Daniel held the blanket close, both hands clenched tightly in the material.
Gina fell into step beside them. "Corey said he fell asleep for a few minutes and woke up disoriented. He went outside and didn't want to come back in. Actually he was almost non-responsive for a while."
Jack opened the passenger door and waited until Daniel got in. "Wait here a sec, okay?" He peered at Daniel in the harsh light, noting the paleness of his skin. Daniel nodded and pulled the blanket closer, ducking his head and not looking his way.
As he walked away from the truck, Steve came out to join them. "How's he doing?"
"I don't know. If I didn't know better, I'd say he's in some type of shock. Or..." Jack didn't say the word but Gina and Steve immediately understood.
"I kept my eye on him, Jack. He stayed with the boys, he didn't go off anywhere by himself, he didn't eat anything different. If he took any drugs, I didn't see him and I was watching him like a hawk."
"What about the boys? Did they notice anything?"
"No. They just said he'd fallen asleep and—" Gina turned and watched as her son hurried down the driveway. He was carrying Daniel's overnight bag and his sneakers. "Here's Daniel's stuff, Mom." He went to hand the bag to Gina, but Jack took it from him.
"What happened, Corey?" Jack glanced quickly back towards the truck, but Daniel hadn't moved.
"Nothing, Colonel O'Neill. We were watching the movie and Daniel was yawning and he fell asleep. But just for a couple of minutes and he woke up yelling some numbers and letters and was saying they were scheduled. He must have been dreaming about school or something. And he got up and went outside."
"Corey, this is important. Did you see him take anything? Because if you did, I'll need to take Daniel to the hospital."
"You mean drugs?" Corey looked uncomfortable, rubbing at the grass with his sneaker-clad foot. "Daniel said he wasn't taking drugs. That he'd only done it that one time. And I believe him. And no, sir, I didn't see him take anything. He was... Daniel. He wasn't high. He was just sleepy and he fell asleep."
"Okay, thank you." Jack tousled the boy's head, shifted Daniel's bag to his other hand, and nodded to the Maddisons. "Thank you for calling me. I'm sorry about all this."
"It's nothing. I just hope he's okay. He did eat a lot of junk food. Maybe it's just a combination of indigestion and a bad dream. You'll let us know?"
"Of course. I better get him home. I'll bring the blanket back later."
"There's no hurry, Jack," Steve said as they walked him to the truck. Gina leaned partway inside and gave Daniel a kiss on the cheek. "Hey, feel better, okay? You'll need to come over again soon and finish the movie. You and I can have an afternoon together, if Corey doesn't want to see it again."
"Hey, I'm game for watching it again. Will you be coming to the movies with us tomorrow, Daniel?"
When Daniel didn't react to any of the banter, Jack shook his head. "Not tomorrow, Corey."
"Oh. Okay. I'll catch you later, Daniel." Jack slowly closed the door and the Maddisons moved aside.
Niceties over and done with, Jack slid into the driver's seat and glanced over at Daniel, who was still staring at his feet. He started the truck and backed out of the driveway. Once they were on their way, Jack debated between taking Daniel home or to the hospital. They drove in silence for several minutes and Daniel's trembling started to ease, so that convinced Jack. As they turned onto their street, Daniel finally looked up and glanced out the window. Seeing it as a sign Daniel was recovering from whatever had happened, Jack said, "Okay, spill. What happened?"
"I don't... I had a nightmare."
"I got that much. What about?"
Daniel shrugged. "The movie? I don't really remember."
"But it was enough to send you running out of the house."
"I don't remember."
Jack pulled into their driveway and stopped the Avalanche. He opened the door and turned towards Daniel, examining him in the overhead light. Pale, as before, but his eyes were clear and his pupils reacting normally. Daniel stared at him nervously, still wracked with occasional shivers.
"Let's get you to bed." Jack reached into the back and grabbed Daniel's stuff.
Moving lethargically, Daniel stepped out of the truck and followed Jack up the stairs, into the house. It was only when Jack dropped Daniel's bag by the door that he realized Daniel wasn't wearing any shoes. He cursed at his thoughtlessness, then watched as Daniel moved slowly to his bedroom. Jack hurried behind, and when Daniel sat on the bed, Jack ordered him to strip.
He pulled out a clean pair of pajamas and watched as Daniel changed his clothes, each motion appearing to be a task of monumental proportions. Assessing his child, he finally concluded that Daniel had not taken any drugs, but was suffering from some sort of shock or illness, as he'd originally suspected. Probably Gina was right; he'd eaten too much junk food, had dozed off and had woken up with an upset stomach, which had caused a humdinger of a nightmare.
Finally Daniel was done and he slid under the covers. "What about tomorrow?" Daniel asked in a small voice.
What about tomorrow?"
"You have to go away, and Grandma's too busy to baby-sit me."
"We'll figure something out tomorrow."
"Can I stay with Sam?"
"Sorry, she's coming with me." Jack sat on the edge of the bed, concerned that the trembling wasn't stopping. "Do you want to go back to Steve and Gina's tomorrow?" The moment Jack asked, he knew it was a mistake. Even if Daniel had recovered from whatever ailment he'd been afflicted with tonight, he'd probably be too embarrassed to go over there and join the other kids. "I'll call Grandma in the morning and see if we can arrange something. If not, maybe Fraiser or someone at the base'll be willing to have you play gopher for a few hours."
"Really?" Finally, there was a touch of enthusiasm in his voice.
"We'll talk about it in the morning, after we see what your Grandma says, okay?"
Jack was partway upright when Daniel asked, "Are you mad at me?"
"For getting sick?"
"For ruining your plans."
"No, of course not." Jack brushed Daniel's hair aside and kissed his forehead. He was pleased to see that his skin felt closer to normal. "Now, go to sleep."
"Are you sure, Daniel?" His father hovered over the bed, looking as miserable as Daniel felt.
"If I said I wanted you to stay home, would you stay?" His dad's hesitation was all the answer that Daniel needed. "Yeah, that's what I thought." He coughed into the crook of his arm. "It's only allergies."
"It's been a while since..."
And it had been a while since he'd had an allergy attack. So long, in fact, that his medication had expired.
"Fraiser's going to stop by and assess you—"
"It's allergies." Daniel pushed back the covers, huffing in annoyance when his dad pushed them right back up. "I'm not sick. I don't need to stay in bed."
"You say it's allergies. Why don't you just—"
"Just go, Dad. You're not staying no matter what Janet says, Grandma's already in the kitchen." Daniel sighed. "It's okay for you to leave."
His dad got up, then sat back down, and before Daniel could protest, drew him into a bone-crushing hug. "I'm so sorry about last night."
"I don't want to talk about it," Daniel protested, but his face was smooshed against his father's chest and the intensity of his words were buried.
Strong hands rubbed his back, their movements bringing with them bittersweet memories of comfort during previous allergy attacks. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have made you go to the Maddisons. You said you didn't want to go—"
Daniel pushed away and looked up. "I'm not angry," he said with resignation. "Wish you were staying home," he blurted out then dropped his head, embarrassed.
His father cupped his chin and guided Daniel's face upward. "Nothing to be embarrassed about. Hell, I wish I was home with you today."
Daniel sneezed three times then gratefully accepted the tissue his father waved under his nose. "Arrghhh," he said, dropping heavily back onto his pillow. "I forgot how much I hate this." He coughed then turned on his side, fighting sleep, but his father's hand was heavy and familiar as it rested on his arm. And the sense of security was enough to lull Daniel back into slumber.
He stumbled into the kitchen, dressed in sweats, a box of tissues stuck under his arm.
"Grandma," he croaked.
"Well, well, look who's up." She looked up from the paper she was reading.
Daniel growled, sat in the chair to her right then dropped the box of tissues on the table. He began to spin the box and was building up a nice rotation before his grandmother slammed her hand on top of it.
"How about you occupy yourself with a bowl of soup?"
Bleary eyed, Daniel blinked at her. "Crackers?"
"Of course, crackers. Give me a second to warm it up."
Daniel stirred the soup with the cracker, leaning over the steaming liquid, breathing heavily, and for one heaven-sent minute, the steam opened up his nasal passages.
"It helps if you eat it."
"This is better than eating." The cracker dropped into the soup as he fumbled for a tissue to blow his nose. "Okay, maybe not." He made quick use of one tissue before moving onto another. "Maybe a roll of paper towels would be a better idea."
"A little rough on the nose, wouldn't you think?"
"A little." Daniel picked up the spoon and stirred the soup before capturing the disintegrating cracker and swallowing. Daniel scarfed down two bowls of soup and a half sleeve of crackers within minutes.
"You can come up for air, mhuirnin."
Daniel reached for one more cracker and managed to take a bite before a sneeze caught him unprepared and a shower of crumbs exploded out of his mouth.
His grandmother's laughter overrode his embarrassment and he hurriedly reached for a tissue to catch another sneeze riding on the heels of the first. A few more sneezes, two coughs, a couple of tissues and Daniel was finally able to come up for air.
Daniel drew a shallow breath. "Yeah, I think so. Unless you can think of a way I can remove my eyeballs, scrub them with steel wool and put them back in."
"Not in the kitchen, okay?" She stood, took the empty bowl from him and kissed his head. "Maybe Janet can help you with the eye thing. I wouldn't want to be responsible for putting them back upside down."
Daniel showered, the warm water, like the soup, clearing his nostrils for mere minutes before they slammed shut. His eyes burned. He couldn't breathe and his throat hurt from breathing through his mouth. His head was stuffed with so much crap, coherent thoughts couldn't even trudge through the muck and mire of grey stuff. He sat on the couch, eyes closed, listening to the inane chatter of Saturday cartoons, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. He was okay. He didn't want to say he was happy, because saying the word would just curse his okay and make it go away.
He may not have been able to draw a deep breath without coughing or sneezing but since the early morning hours, since his first sneeze, Daniel hadn't hallucinated. Not a single glowy-eyed monster had invaded his dreams or stalked his waking hours.
Daniel fought sleep, afraid to ruin the good day, but eventually exhaustion won out and he slept, on the couch, with the chatter of Pokemon characters in the background, and for the first time in a long time, without the presence of monsters.
"Go 'way." Valiantly, he pushed against the hand on his shoulder. "Sleeping."
"I know," the voice answered with a touch of amusement. "You're worse than Cassie."
"Huh?" He pried one eye open. "Janet?"
"The one and only."
"Nice," he said, closing the lone eye. "I'm fine."
"How about we let my medical degree do the talking?"
"How about you examine me and I'll just lay here, eyes closed, and pretend to be awake."
"Works for me."
"Really?" Daniel didn't wait for her to reconsider. He burrowed deeper into the couch, yelping in surprise when the cold bell of her stethoscope found its way to his chest. "Hey! Watch where you put that thing." Hastily, he sat up, coughing and sputtering indignantly.
"Shush," Janet ordered, moving the cold instrument all around his chest. "Hmmm."
"Aren't you supposed to warm that thing?" Daniel sneezed three times in quick succession.
Janet pulled back. "Warn a girl first, will ya?"
"Sorry." He didn't fight his smile.
"You're not sorry."
"Shush. For five minutes, okay?"
Daniel leaned sideways, resting his head on the couch, actually drifting while Janet performed her examination.
"Your blood pressure's a little low."
Daniel gave her a thumb's up, never opening his eyes.
"You're congested, your throat is rough—"
"You're good," Daniel said obnoxiously.
"And you're a brat."
Daniel opened his eyes and smiled at Janet, who was already smiling at him. "That's what Cassie calls me."
"Takes one to know one, Mr. Jackson." His smile slowly faded as she packed her equipment away. "All kidding aside, Daniel..."
Oh, oh. Here it comes. Daniel stiffened, waiting for the accusations.
"You need to make sure your allergy medication doesn't expire."
Okay, that wasn't what he was expecting. "My allergy medication?"
"Yes, don't look so surprised. Now that you're thirteen, you should be responsible enough to remind the Col—your dad—"
"My allergy medication," Daniel repeated in disbelief. He'd expected a tongue-lashing or at least an interrogation, being a captive audience and all. "Is expired," he managed.
"I know it's been a while since your last attack, but let this be a lesson to you."
Daniel nodded. "Lesson. Right."
"And if you'd had an antihistamine to take as soon as you felt the first symptom, I wouldn't have to be—"
"You're giving me a shot?" Daniel eyed the syringe in her hands. "Hate those."
"I know you do, but it's faster acting that an oral dosage." Janet winked at him. "Turn over and pull down—"
"Not on your life."
"You used to let me—"
"I was a kid, Janet." He rolled up his sleeve and presented his bicep. "Use this." He sneezed then coughed. "It'll be easier for all concerned."
Janet and his grandmother were sitting in the kitchen talking over a cup of coffee when Daniel walked in, eyes at half-mast, dragging his body. His yawn was interrupted by a cough. "This is all your fault," he croaked, pointing at Janet.
"Go to sleep, Daniel," Janet ordered.
"Thirsty," he managed, shuffling past them towards the fridge.
His grandmother got up and maneuvered Daniel away from the refrigerator, giving him a gentle push back towards the kitchen doorway. "Janet said the medication she gave you would make you sleepy."
Daniel gave a snort. "Understatement."
"I'll get you a drink and bring it in—"
The phone rang and Daniel made a move to answer it, only to be beaten to the punch by his much older grandma.
Daniel waited. He hated phone calls whenever his dad was gone through the Stargate. Impending doom, to him, was always a phone call away.
"This is Daniel's grandmother. Why, hello, Mrs. Maddison. Yes, of course I remember you."
Daniel froze. Today it wouldn't be hallucinations that were going to ruin the day, but his dad's big mouth.
"Thank you for asking." Rose smiled and nodded. "He'd recovered by the time he'd—yes, I'd probably chalk it up to too much junk food and a nightmare."
Janet reached out towards him but he sidestepped her concern.
She got up and pushed him towards a chair. "Sit down, before you fall down."
Daniel plopped down into the chair, then glanced up at Janet. "You know?"
She had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Your father was concerned."
"So that's why you came here today? Because my father was concerned? Not for—"
"For both. Daniel, we're all concerned. Your father, grandmother, me, Sam, Teal'c, Cassie... and even Mrs. Maddison."
"Concerned?" Daniel's snort turned into a cough. Shakily, he stood, holding onto the table. "How about talking to me if you're concerned?" He swung out his arm, taking down the mugs on the table. "Instead, I'm a discussion over coffee and cake."
Janet backed up and sat herself in the chair opposite Daniel, simultaneously crossing her arms and legs. "Go ahead. Talk."
His grandmother stood, the phone cradled against her chest. Hastily, she returned it to the base. "I already said goodbye. Told Mrs. Maddison you really weren't well enough to go to the movies—"
"Stop it!" Daniel yelled. "Stop putting words in my mouth." He was shaking, fighting the effects of the medication.
"Well, then, talk to us, mhuirnin."
He skirted around Janet and his grandmother and was almost out of the kitchen when Janet grabbed his arm. "There's only so much running you can do, Daniel, until it catches up to you."
He shrugged from her grip and stumbled backwards into the wall. "It hasn't caught me yet," Daniel hissed at her then turned and exited the kitchen, bouncing up the few steps to the hallway, his speed decreasing dramatically once he realized neither of them were on his heels.
In one fell swoop, everything on his bed went flying. Books, papers, pens, pencils, Lumpy. Shit. Shit. Shit. What had he been thinking? How stupid was he? He kicked his chair. Hard. Once. Twice. On the third time it toppled over, spilling his backpack and its contents onto the floor. Crap.
Asshole. He should have closed the door. Locked it. Pushed the dresser in front of it. Barred anyone from seeing. "Don't come in." His back was towards the door, his arms crossed in front of him, the only way to quell their shaking and stop their destructiveness.
"I'm not, mhuirnin, I'm standing right here in the hallway. If you would turn around..."
Daniel ignored her request. "And Janet. Where's Janet?"
"I told her she should leave."
"And did she? Did Janet leave?"
"She left a blister pack of antihistamines on the counter for you."
Daniel kicked the pile right in front of him. "My cell phone's in here somewhere. I'll call her and thank her when I find it." Exhaustion stole the bite from his words and he yawned. He fought it, but it was impossible to suppress and his head hung heavy. "I'm so tired, Grandma."
"I know you are, sweetheart. How about I'll stay right here when you get into bed."
"In the hallway?"
"Is that what you want?"
"Yes, please," he politely requested.
"Take off your shoes."
It was so nice to have someone make the decisions for him. "Okay." He toed off his shoes, watching his sock-covered toes scrunch and unscrunch against the carpeting.
"Are you cold, Daniel?"
"No," he sighed. "Just tired."
"Why don't you sit on the bed?"
"That's good, honey. You can lie down now."
"Grandma?" There was panic is his voice.
"I'm right here, mhuirnin."
"Promise me..." Daniel slid sideways, pulling his feet up and over the side of the bed. "You'll keep the nightmares away."
"Ah, baby." A sob seemed to stick in her throat. "I promise. I won't go anywhere. I'll stand right here. No monsters will get past me."
"Be careful," Daniel whispered.
"Shush, and get under the covers, okay?"
Daniel nodded, snuggled under the blankets, opening his eyes when Lumpy rested his head on his cheeks. He blinked hazily into his grandmother's face.
She glanced towards the doorway. "I just figured the two of us could join forces to ward off the nightmares."
He woke himself up with a cough, annoyed to be pulled from a dream that bordered on entertaining, yet slightly bizarre. A young child. A dead planet. Fear and then friendship. Daniel rubbed his face into the pillow, recalling how the little redheaded girl had hauntingly reminded him of Cassie. Hazmat suits. Dead people. A terrified child who'd latched onto both Sam and Janet. And his father. Daniel shuddered with residual images. Okay, maybe the dream wasn't that entertaining. Maybe it was just entertaining because he'd been comparing it to what usually haunted his waking and sleeping hours. And now he couldn't get Cassie out of his thoughts.
He needed his cell phone, and as he blindly reached out for his backpack, his stomach growled, interrupting him with an uncomfortable emptiness that bordered on nausea. Slowly, he threw back the blanket and got out of bed. Food and cell phone, he could multitask.
"What the—" Daniel slipped on something, reached for a chair that wasn't there and fell on his ass with a jaw-snapping thud.
His room was in shambles, as if someone, in a fit of anger, had ransacked his room. Rubbing his ass, he held onto the bed and pulled himself upright. Everything was on the floor.
Daniel looked up at his grandmother standing in the doorway. "Um, hi." Bending down, he picked up the chair. "Do I really want to know?"
She grimaced, but didn't set foot into the room. "How do you feel?"
"Good answer, I'm thinking Janet's shot has just about worn off."
"Shot? Janet?" He scrubbed his hand across his forehead, attempting to erase the fuzziness from his brain. He remembered a child that reminded him of Cassie and her tears, feeling like crap, coughing and sneezing, but everything else seemed more than a little blurry. "I need to call Cassie." He looked downward. "I'm guessing my cell phone is buried in this pile of stuff."
His grandmother never entered the room, and it was the visual of her standing in the doorway that brought the earlier hours back to him.
"I'm sorry," he said softly, pointing at the floor then at her. "I really—"
"Did you have nightmares, mhuirnin?"
He shook his head.
"Grandma," he called to her as she walked away.
"Yes?" Her eyes held a hope he wasn't able to kindle.
He moved some papers with his foot. "Please don't tell my dad about this."
Sighing, she turned and walked away without answering.
He found his cell phone, a package of peanut butter cheese crackers and the return of his allergy symptoms all without setting foot out of the bedroom door.
He flipped open his cell phone. Three messages. One from Cassie, one from his soccer coach and one from Corey. Just seeing Corey's message brought back images he'd rather pretend he had no memory of, and with a quick, silent apology, he deleted that one. His coach, in no uncertain terms, reminded him about tomorrow's game. Final warning. Too many missed practices. Missed games. Daniel hit delete before the man finished.
He didn't listen to Cassie's message, he just called her. "Hey," he said with a mouth full of crackers.
"Daniel?" she whispered. "Where the fuck are you?"
"Where would I be?"
"I called and you didn't answer. My mom was pissed when she came home from your house—" She drew a breath. "What the hell happened?"
Daniel located a bottle of warm water that was sticking out from under his bed, screwed off the top and took a long swallow before answering her question. He looked around his room. "I think I lost it."
"You think—shut up, Dominic—Dominic says hello."
Daniel didn't think that was what Dominic was actually saying. "I had an allergy attack, your mom stuck a needle in my arm and the rest is..."
Cassie giggled. "Pretty hazy? Yeah, I've been on the receiving end of my mom's needles a few times—Dominic, my mother's a doctor, remember?"
"Cassie, I saw you in my dream last night."
"Oh, Daniel," she said dramatically. "How sweet."
"Not like that," he hissed. "Your planet. You were wearing a blue thing." Daniel closed his eyes, trying to concentrate. "That tied at the neck. But you didn't have it tied and there were—"
"Shut up, Daniel."
"The sleeves had these stripes... not the shoulders, they were—"
"Shut up!" she screamed. "I don't know what kind of practical joke you think you're playing on me—"
"It's not a practical joke, I actually saw, and people, they were wearing hazmat suits, and everyone was dead—"
"Then you know something, Daniel Jackson? You're sick. Sick in the head. And maybe my mom is right, that you do need help."
"Nope, ending this conversation now." She was crying and Dominic was saying something in the background. Shouting more than saying.
Devastated, Daniel was the one who ended the call.
He wasn't hungry anymore. He crushed the remaining crackers and was burying them in his already overflowing garbage can when his cell phone rang with Cassie's personalized ring. Opening it slowly, Daniel half-expected it to be Dominic threatening him.
"I'm sorry," Cassie sobbed, her voice echoey and hollow. "I didn't... mean..." she hiccupped, trying to catch her breath.
"Where are you? Are you okay? Did Dominic—"
"Ahh, Daniel." She sniffed and Daniel could hear some nose-blowing. "I'm in the bathroom at the movie theatre. I wanted you to know I wasn't angry at you. Just surprised—"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you—"
"Just took me by surprise, that's all. Pictures," she added. "You must've seen pictures of me when I first came to Ea—here."
"Pictures," Daniel repeated, knowing that he was agreeing to a lie. He'd never seen pictures of Cassie as a very little kid that didn't have Janet or his friends or his dad in it. And how did that explain the bodies he'd seen? It didn't. He knew that. And he was pretty damn sure Cassie knew that as well, but this was an easier game to play. "Mission reports, Cassie," he whispered. "I hacked into the SGC computer and read mission reports," he added, compounding to the lie.
"Daniel! How many times have you been warned—"
"Please don't tell my dad about this, okay? Or your mom. Or anyone, okay?"
"I promise. Cross my heart, pinky swear and all those other good thingies."
"I can't listen to you cough anymore."
Daniel gazed up from his piles on the floor right into the concerned face of his grandmother. He'd figured that this would be a good a time as any to clean out his backpack since the majority of its innards were already strewn across his floor. "Oh." He cleared his throat, rubbing his hand against the base of his neck. "It's late?"
"You should be sleeping, yes, that's how late it is." She put a tray on his desk. "A bowl of cereal, juice, toast and one of Janet's antihistamines. You ignored me when I called you for dinner so I figured you wanted some space today. So I gave you space."
Space. Obviously, his world had narrowed down to his room the entire day. He had ignored the redheaded, seductively dressed glowy-eyed temptress who had been one of many hallucinations that had been his company this rainy Saturday. The one time he'd ventured out to the bathroom, the fish man had appeared in the mirror and it was then, as he stifled his scream in the hand towel, that Daniel realized it was easier to school his emotional outbursts if he just stayed in his own room. "Sorry, didn't mean to be a recluse."
"Forgiven." His grandmother sat on his desk chair.
"Not moving until you eat."
"Okay." Once Daniel stared on the cereal, he realized how hungry he was and the bowl and toast were finished in record time.
"More toast? Cereal?"
"No. That just hit the spot." He kissed her cheek, put the bowl on the tray then threw his arms around her neck. "Love you."
"I know you do, mhuirnin. I just worry."
"Isn't that part of the job of being a grandma?" Daniel fingered the pill, pushing it around the tray.
"Yes, worrying is part of grandmahood. Just stop testing my limits, okay?"
He nodded, unable to speak. His apology wouldn't get past the lump in his throat.
"Take the pill," she said gently, placing her hand atop his. "You've been coughing and sneezing, this will help you rest."
"Where's Dad? Shouldn't he have been home already?" The heat of worry burned in his stomach and his cereal/toast dinner suddenly turned to lead.
"He's fine. Your dad called about ten minutes ago. They got held up. Don't worry."
"I can't help but worry." He took the pill, chasing it down with a mouthful of juice. "You're not driving home in this rain?"
"Sleeping on the den couch. I'm leaving really early in the morning, though. I'm helping with an auction at the seniors' center."
"You're not a senior, Grandma," he laughed. Not his grandmother.
"Daniel, honey, yes, I am."
"Well, don't you dare die on me, Grandma. Ever. Got that!"
"You're an old soul, my Daniel."
"Is that a yes?"
"That you're not going to die?"
"That's a promise I can't keep, you know that."
"But what would happen," Daniel could feel the start of tears, "if something happened to Dad?"
"Shush!" She pressed a finger to Daniel's lips. "Your dad will be home safe and sound and I'll go to sleep on the couch. You'll sleep in your bed. Everything will be fine."
Daniel collapsed into her arms. "Don't make promises you can't keep, Grandma."
She turned tired eyes on her son, closed her magazine and stood. "Can I get you something?" She nodded towards the coffee pot. "Coffee?"
"What happened?" Jack could see it her eyes. In the slump of her shoulders, in the way she shuffled around him to get a mug for coffee. Gently, he grabbed her arm. "Mom, talk to me."
"Did Daniel do something—"
"No! Daniel did nothing. Absolutely nothing. He's terrified, Jack. He won't talk. He barely eats."
"Where is he now?"
"In his room."
His mom nodded. "You could call it that. Internal demons."
Jack tiptoed over the mess on the floor and looked down at his sleeping son. "I love him."
"I know you do, and he loves you. But he needs help."
With a kiss to the temple, Jack drew the blankets around Daniel's shoulders. "I'm going to give it a little more time."
"Son, time may not be on either our side, or Daniel's."
It figured. The one morning when he could have slept in, thanks to his allergy medication, the one Sunday where the house was quiet and still, the one time he could have given in and stayed in bed, and he had to go to an early soccer game.
He had no choice. This was his last chance. He'd missed too many practices, and coach had reminded him yesterday that if he wasn't on the field today, he'd be off the team.
He pushed all thoughts of his pillow and blanket aside when the play started, until the referee blew the whistle and he skidded to a stop, bent over for a moment and tried to catch his breath. His legs were shaking as he straightened, and he walked, rather than jogged, to the kickoff point. As he took his position, he acknowledged he was probably too exhausted to actually be playing today. His nose was still stuffed up and he kept yawning whenever he wasn't moving around.
Then everyone was running and Daniel was caught daydreaming. He hurried to maneuver, trying to block the oncoming player, when Li, with a burst of speed, stole the ball from him and passed it to Corey. Daniel slowed, staying on the outskirts as his defensive position required him to. And slowed some more as the field began to darken. Within seconds, it was almost pitch dark, and the players were no longer running, but were standing around in a circle, throwing a large hunk of scorched meat around to one another, teasing a smaller female cowering in the center of their group.
She was his. They had no right.
One of the large hulks moved towards the woman, and Daniel didn't hesitate. He wanted her, he would have her and he'd stop anyone from claiming her. He ran and tackled the hulk before he could get to the woman first, and both of them went down hard in a tangle of arms and legs. The guy beneath him was screaming, high-pitched sounds that hurt his ears. Daniel rolled onto his back, trying to block the noise when suddenly the sun came out again.
"That's it, Jackson. You're out of here." Coach Dawson was staring down at him, his face red with anger. He was pointing towards the referee, who was holding a red card.
"What?" Daniel looked around, and with horror, realized that there was a player down next to him, and he appeared to be injured. The announcement came that he was being removed from the game due to unsportsmanlike behavior. "But I—"
"But... what happened?" he whispered. Oh, he had a pretty good idea what had happened. The other boy was crying, clutching his leg, and as Daniel slowly got up, the other team's coach called for a stretcher. Daniel trudged along slowly, favoring his right ankle as jeers and boos followed him all the way to the bench. He sat there, still caught in the horror of his hallucination, while the rest of the game played on in a daze.
The urge to have that woman had been so strong, it terrified him. He'd been willing to go against the whole tribe to claim her, and the anger and rage he'd felt had been so all consuming for those few seconds that he'd literally seen red. And that had terrified him. The sensations clung to him; the basic rage, the urge to possess anything he wanted, the wanting to hurt - and he couldn't seem to shake it off.
"What the hell did you do that for?" Christian shoved Daniel as he walked past. Confused, Daniel looked up to see that the field was empty. The players were huddled near the other end of the bench, several of them staring at him. His friend didn't seem to want an answer, though, because he kept moving. Daniel realized he should have left before the game finished, that way he could have reached his bike and taken off before facing the rest of the team. Now, he'd have to wait until they'd gone. He stared at the ground, counting the pieces of gum littering the worn earth, until a pair of size 11 shoes moved into his range of vision.
"Mind telling me what happened out there?"
He couldn't. He searched desperately for an excuse. "He called me a name," Daniel finally said.
"What could he have called you that prompted you to hit someone for no good reason?"
"He called me..." Damn, he couldn't think of anything insulting enough for him to have attacked someone. "Shol'va," Daniel finally said, coming up with the worst insult possible, then realized his mistake the moment the word came out of his mouth.
The coach gave him an odd look before shaking his head. He sat down next to Daniel with a heavy sigh. "I'm sorry, Daniel, but I have no choice but to pull you from the team."
He'd been expecting this, but hearing it hurt. A lot. "I... know."
"Look, if there's anything going on at home, problems between you and your father, or school, or just... I'm here, if you want to talk to me. Sometimes it helps talking to someone who's not involved in... whatever's going on."
"There's nothing, sir. Everything's fine. I'm just... a little behind with assignments. I know I shouldn't have..." He trailed off, not knowing what else to say. "How is he?"
"It looks like his knee's sprained. He probably won't be playing for the rest of the season."
"I'm sorry," Daniel whispered.
"Better get on home." Coach stood, waiting, and Daniel grabbed his gear and slowly made his way to his lone bike. His ankle was stiff and he wished it hurt. He slammed his foot down, but it didn't make it hurt more.
He took the lock and chain off his bike and threaded his arms through his pack. As he started off for home, he'd never felt as alone as he did at this moment. This was the first time he'd ever left the soccer field by himself. He was pretty sure his friends would never talk to him again and he'd just lost any chance of playing soccer for the rest of the year. Or maybe for the rest of his life.
"Colonel O'Neill? "
"This is Ryan Dawson. Daniel's soccer coach? "
"Yes, Mr. Dawson." Jack felt his stomach clench; this couldn't be good.
"I'm afraid Daniel got into some trouble on the field today. "
"Is he hurt?" he asked quickly.
"No, no, he's fine. Unfortunately, one boy from the opposite team, Jason Keyes, suffered a sprained knee. "
"What did Daniel do?" Jack's voice was clipped and curt.
"He tackled Jason without provocation, which resulted in the injury. I'm afraid that Daniel was not only thrown out of the game, he's been expelled for the season. He displayed undue violence and that'll probably wave a red flag before the school board. There's a good chance he won't be accepted on the team next year. "
"That doesn't sound like Daniel. He's not the kind of kid who loses his temper easily."
"I know. That's what's so shocking about the whole scenario. " "What started this?"
"I tried to talk to Daniel after the game and he said that Jason insulted him. He said he called him a sholver or something." Dawson laughed and the sound grated on Jack's nerves. "I'm afraid I don't know any foreign languages so I have no idea how bad an insult that was, but it still doesn't explain why Daniel lost his temper."
"I'll talk to him." Obviously Daniel was lying; and why would he tell the coach he'd been called a shol'va when it had been made abundantly clear that he was not to share that particular language with anyone outside the SGC? Something had rattled Daniel, big time.
"I'm afraid it may be too late for talking. This wasn't one of those incidents where a child insults another and then the other retaliates without thinking. Daniel stopped, in the middle of the field, while the play continued around him. Then when Jason ran past him, Daniel tackled him, taking him down. There's no doubt about it, it was premeditated. This is why I'm afraid the school board will be taking a harsh stand on this."
Jack stood there in shock. Although Daniel was your typical teenager, he was very similar in character to what he had been as an adult, and would never attack anyone without provocation. Then again, he'd never thought Daniel would have been the type of child who'd want to experiment with drugs. He'd been wrong once, he most likely was wrong again.
"Colonel... Daniel didn't look all that great today. Actually, he looked sort of sick. He was pale and he's got circles under his eyes and he certainly wasn't playing with anywhere near his usual zeal. I hate to bring this up but, there were rumors about his being involved with drugs, and I honestly have to say that he—"
"It was an isolated incident, Mr. Dawson. We've got that under control."
There was a short pause. "I understand. I'm sorry to have bothered you, Colonel, but I thought you should know what happened and... Well, I'm worried about Daniel and figured I would—"
"Thank you, Mr. Dawson. Daniel suffered an allergy attack yesterday and the medication is still affecting him. And like I said, I'll speak to him when he gets home. I do appreciate the head's up."
"I'm just sorry to have been the bearer of bad news. Goodbye."
Jack hung up the phone and stared out the kitchen window. It was a fifteen-minute bike ride from the soccer field so Daniel should be home any minute. He shrugged his shoulders, trying to get rid of the tension that had been with him constantly for what felt like forever.
When he heard the front door open, Jack straightened and walked to the hallway in time to meet Daniel. His son looked at him, assessing him, while Jack stared right back. Dawson was right; Daniel was pale and looked like he hadn't seen any sun in weeks despite the two hours he'd spent at the soccer field. His hair was windswept and stringy with dried sweat, and he desperately needed a shower. And his eyes were red, as if he'd been crying. Or something worse. At least his pupils weren't dilated, if that truly meant anything.
"It's not what you think," Daniel finally said, clutching his pack to his chest as if it were a life preserver.
Jack leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, giving an appearance of nonchalance when inside, he was shaking with anger. "How do you know what I'm thinking?"
"You're thinking drugs. Honest, it's not drugs."
Jack waited a long moment while Daniel squirmed. "Convince me. Because it sure as hell looks like it's drugs."
"I..." A determined look came over Daniel and he let go of his pack with one hand and swept it to the side. "Fine. Take me to Janet and let her check me out. I swear, Dad, I didn't take anything."
Jack simply watched Daniel, trying to figure his son out. Right now, he'd have sworn on his life that Daniel was perfectly earnest and was telling him the truth. But that didn't excuse his recent actions.
"So if it's not drugs, what prompted you to attack some kid?" When Daniel opened his mouth, Jack continued. "Without provocation, so I understand. And since when do children in Colorado Springs understand what the word shol'va means?"
"I... um..." Daniel bent his head to stare at his sneakers. "I lied to the coach."
"Why did you lie?"
"I didn't know what to tell him." Daniel's head came up and color slowly crept into his cheeks. "I was angry, Dad. I can't seem to do anything right anymore, I can't even spend time with my friends without making a fool of myself. My allergies are still flaring up, I was tired, the game wasn't going well, and I lost my temper and I took it out on Jason. There's no excuse for what I did, and I know it. So I'll just go to my room since I'm probably grounded for the rest of my life." Daniel swept by Jack, stomping to his room.
Jack only let him get two steps from him before he spoke. "Go shower. Lunch will be ready in fifteen minutes."
"I'm not hungry."
"You're not grounded."
"I have homework to... What?"
"You're not grounded. While I don't condone what you did, being thrown off the soccer team is probably punishment enough." The bit of color that had made its way into Daniel's face quickly faded. He nodded quickly, turned around and headed for his room, looking dazed.
Jack busied himself with preparing lunch and when Daniel finally showed up, tee shirt stuck to his half-dried body and wet hair pushed back behind his ears, he motioned for him to sit. Both of them ate while studiously ignoring one another, which had become the norm for the majority of the past week. Daniel was reading a textbook while listening to his iPod, and Jack watched his son as Daniel concentrated on his homework.
They cleared the table off, a routine they did every day usually with much chatter and joking. The silence today tore at Jack's nerves. When the kitchen was clean, Daniel walked out of the room without acknowledging him.
Jack let him go, concentrating instead on Sunday's crossword puzzle and while he wouldn't admit his attention was more focused on any strange sounds coming out of Daniel's bedroom, he did manage to get a good portion of the puzzle done before it lost its appeal and he wandered down to the den to watch TV with a beer in hand.
Jack grimaced as he squinted at the alarm clock. One a.m. – way too early to be up. He shut his eyes, looking for that perfect position that'd allow him to slide right back into sleep, and was almost there when his stomach grumbled.
He tried to ignore it but it rumbled again, no thanks to the strained atmosphere that had started at lunch and carried right over into supper, which had led to a diminished appetite at the table. He rolled out of bed, staggered to the kitchen and grabbed a handful of crackers. Chomping on a couple, he poured himself a glass of orange juice.
Armed with juice and crackers to appease his stomach, Jack stopped before the half-open door of Daniel's bedroom. He pushed it open to peer inside, looking for Daniel amidst the jumble of blankets on the bed. And even though he saw the bed was empty, it took a few seconds for his sleep-addled mind to register that Daniel wasn't in the bed.
His first instinct was to check the bathroom down the hall. Finding that empty, he began checking every room methodically, fear and worry escalating with every step he took. By the time he'd searched the house, his breathing was quick and rapid and the orange juice was burning a hole in his stomach. Holding back the urge to run through the house again, he stopped and tried to think things through.
He went to the front door and found the deadlock engaged from the inside, which meant Daniel hadn't left the house through this door. He hurried to the back door and found it unlocked. He stepped onto the back deck and saw no sign of his son. A quick perimeter check showed he wasn't in the yard. So that meant, up.
Jack climbed the ladder and then froze at the top, staring incredulously at his son who was sitting on the rooftop, huddled in a tight ball against the edge of the railing, his chin leaning against his shoulder, dead to the world with his laptop open next the telescope.
Jack winced as Daniel slowly raised his head, bringing a hand up to massage what must be sore muscles. Daniel looked around, obviously confused, before turning to find Jack, who was still standing on the ladder.
"Come on back to bed, Daniel."
Moving slowly, obviously chilled, Daniel got to his knees and reached for his computer. Jack saw the star map on it before he shut the cover. Even with the short glimpse he got, he recognized the area Daniel had been searching. A cold shiver ran up his spine as he reached a hand for the laptop.
"You able to get down on your own?"
"Yeah." Still moving slowly and shakily, Daniel slowly descended the ladder. Jack hurried him inside, the chill of the spring night already cutting through his sweats. Once inside the house, Jack shut the patio doors and put the laptop on the kitchen table. Daniel did a full body shiver when the heat of the house hit him. "Now, mind telling me what you were doing outside in the middle of the night?"
Daniel glanced at the clock on the microwave and his eyes widened. "I couldn't sleep, so I decided to go and check out the sky." He rubbed his hands over his arms to warm up.
Jack flipped the laptop's cover open and pointed to the star charts. "Where'd you get these?"
"Off the internet."
Jack merely raised an eyebrow.
"Did Carter sneak these to you?"
"No. I told you. I got the charts off the internet."
"Why this particular section of sky?"
"I don't know. They just seemed... interesting." Leaning back against the counter, Daniel stared at Jack. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to fall asleep up there. I just wanted to see if I could find the sun and you were watching TV and I got tired and closed my eyes for just a minute and—"
"It's okay, I'm not mad. Just next time, tell me you're leaving the house, okay?"
"Okay. I wasn't going to stay out for long, Dad. Honest." Daniel shivered again and Jack motioned for him to leave the kitchen.
"Go to bed, Daniel."
"Night, Dad," Daniel said hesitantly.
He waited until Daniel was in his room before staring at the star Daniel had mapped off the internet. The direction of Abydos' sun. There was no mistaking it. With a sigh, he powered down the laptop, frowning at the amount of time it took the machine to finally shut itself off. He spotted the box of crackers on the countertop and remembered he'd been eating a snack just before he'd discovered that Daniel was missing. He walked around the house, looking for his glass of juice and the crackers he'd never eaten. He finally found the half-full glass on the bathroom sink and the crackers on the banister leading to the den, with no memory of placing either of them there.
He dumped the juice down the sink and threw the crackers out. He passed by the laptop and realized it hadn't shut off yet. With a curse, he watched for the next several minutes as it moaned and grumbled its way to cyber-oblivion.
For the first time in his life, Daniel sat in the school bus, alone. The empty seat next to him was a cold reminder that he was now a pariah. The atmosphere in the bus was dull, and instead of exuberant chatter, there were whispered comments and occasional nervous giggles.
He stayed behind in his seat while everyone left, pretending to be rummaging in his pack for something. Then he got behind the last few students, watching through the windows as his friends gathered together and ran off without him.
He slipped between the milling students, head down, intending to head straight for the library before his first class. He'd say this was one of the worst days of his life but a quick flash of him talking to an auditorium that was quickly emptying brought back other memories of desolation, frustration and loneliness.
But halfway there, something zipped in front of him, wings blurring so quickly, it made a faint buzzing sound. He stopped, staring at the creature hovering before him that looked like a hummingbird on steroids. It made a high-pitched squeal and took off, zipping between the students.
"Did you see that?" The moment the words left his mouth, Daniel knew nobody else could see the creature, and the two girls who'd been giggling together turned as one to give him an annoyed look. "Never mind." He turned away from the apparition, deliberately ignoring it despite the fact that he could hear its wings as it flew around to his right. It did acrobatics between two girls, coming up to brush against long hair, causing it to flutter as if moved by a gust of wind. Then it dove down and flew between students' legs, nearly tripping a boy who stopped walking just as the... Fenri... made a pass past his ankles.
Fenri, that was the name of the flying creature. It was supposed to be invisible, and the moment he realized that, it disappeared from view. Daniel turned around in a circle, trying to follow the sound of the wings, which faded a little as it flew away on his right. He pushed past students, going against the flow, and caught a glimpse of the Fenri as it reappeared just in time to grab a cigarette one of the seniors was putting to her mouth. The cigarette flew in one direction as the Fenri fluttered off in the other.
By now Daniel was near the edge of the school grounds. He stopped, watched the Fenri fly off into the street and disappear around the corner. With a sigh, he turned around to return to the school when he heard the metallic jangling of armor as rhythmic marching neared. The sound caused him to break out in a sweat as his heart sped up, thumping almost painfully in his chest. These were the bad guys; these were the enemy his dad and the rest of his dad's team were fighting.
His dad had never come out and spoken about the Jaffa, but Daniel had overheard enough over the years to understand that they were formidable. And dangerous. And he knew that he couldn't be spotted, otherwise they'd shoot to kill on the spot.
The urgency to escape and hide overwhelmed him so completely that it was only when he stopped to relieve a stitch in his side that he realized how far he was from the school grounds. And the marching was relentless. It kept coming from different directions, as if there were more than one battalion out there, searching for him. He crouched behind a van, catching his breath, only to be forced to run once again when the sounds got too close. Several times he caught sight of a flash of silver, knowing they were gaining on him. He ran down streets and gold-covered corridors, myriads of mazes and sidewalks and hidden recesses. By the time the sounds faded, the sun was high in the sky, and he was hot, sweaty, exhausted and terrified.
And lost. Very, very lost.
"Colonel, there's a phone call for you."
All eyes turned to Walter, who stood at the top of the stairs leading to the briefing room, then turned to Jack, who shrugged. "I'm not expecting—"
"It's one of Daniel's teachers," Walter said quickly.
"Go ahead, Colonel."
Nodding his thanks to Hammond, Jack hurried to his aide's desk and picked up the phone. "O'Neill."
"Colonel, this is Ryan Dawson again—"
"What'd he do this time?"
"Daniel's truant. I was just calling to make sure he was okay, after what happened yesterday. "
"What? He left for school this morning."
"He wasn't in Health, and a couple of other teachers have confirmed that he wasn't in school today. I take it that he's not sick? "
"No." Jack turned to look back at the group sitting at the table; their meeting was still far from finished and he couldn't simply walk out. "Thank you for letting me know, Mr. Dawson."
"I just hope he's all right."
"So do I." He hung up and immediately called Daniel's cell and got his voice mail. "Daniel. Where the hell are you? Call me the minute you hear this." He tried his home phone number next. He punched the code to activate the answering machine and listened to the prerecorded message advising him that Daniel hadn't been in school today. Then on a hunch, he called his mom's number.
"Have you heard from Daniel today?" he asked without preliminaries.
"No, should I have?"
"I don't know, Mom. He's not in school and his phone's off. I was hoping he might have gone to you, but..."
"I haven't seen him. Do you want me to go to your place and see if he's home?"
"Yes, please. I'm stuck here for at least another hour. If you find him, call back and leave a message with Walter. If you don't... Well, I'll be home as soon as I can."
"I'm sure he's okay, Jonathan. He probably went home because he wasn't feeling well or something and forgot to call and let us know."
"Yeah," Jack said, knowing that the Daniel of a few months ago would have called, unlike the stranger that was now living in his home.
Jack returned to the meeting, trying to hide his impatience. He fought back anger and worry and tried to ignore both Carter and Teal'c's looks as he forced himself to concentrate on the work at hand.
Every time Daniel stepped out into the open, the Jaffa returned. It took him an hour just to walk four blocks, forced into hiding every few minutes while the Jaffa tramped past him. Part of him knew this wasn't real, but fear and worry ate at him and he couldn't take the chance. A couple of times he felt searing pain in his chest and he had to stop and rest before he could go on.
If only he could find a street he recognized. Crouched behind a hedge on a well-manicured lawn, Daniel suddenly remembered his cell phone. For some reason, calling for help had never occurred to him. He pulled his backpack off and searched for his cell phone with shaking hands. But when he turned it on, he found, to his dismay that his battery wasn't charged and the phone was dead.
He resisted the urge to throw the phone across the street in frustration; only the fact that he might draw the attention of the Jaffa stopped him from giving in. He needed to find a payphone, there had to be one somewhere nearby. He stood up slowly, glanced around, saw the coast was clear, and began running.
An hour later, having neither seen nor heard any Jaffa, Daniel came across a convenience store. Footsore and so tired, he could hardly put one foot in front of the other, he made it to the payphone and started dialing his father's cell. Before he punched in the last digit, he hung the phone up and leaned his head against the cold metal.
His dad was going to be so angry. Fear of his dad's wrath paled in light of the fear of discovery by the Jaffa, be they imaginary or not. But he couldn't stay here. He reclaimed his change, fed it into the phone again, and this time dialed the number to completion.
"Dad?" he said in a small voice when he heard his father answer. He choked back tears; just hearing his dad made him feel a lot better.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes." He felt the sobs wanting to escape. He fought for control.
"Where are you?"
"I... don't know."
"Are you outside? Can you see the names of the streets?"
"Yes." He looked outside past the grimy windows at the street signs. The names blurred as tears welled up, but he repeated them to his father.
"Stay right there. Don't move. I'm on my way to get you as we speak." Daniel heard the sound of a car door slamming and the engine turn. "Daniel, are you okay?"
"I'm scared," he whispered into the phone. He was terrified. Terrified of the Jaffa that had been hunting him, terrified that the Jaffa would hurt his dad when he came for him, terrified that he was truly and irrevocably certifiable, and terrified that his dad was going to be angry and hate him for this latest caper.
"Icky, I'm on my way. I'll be there in just a few minutes. Can you tell me what happened?"
Oh shit. He couldn't tell his dad that he'd been running for his life from an enemy that only he could see. Still, he couldn't stop the words from coming out. "They were chasing me."
Tears slid down his cheeks as he fought against the lie he'd have to tell. "Kids... from the soccer team."
"The ones you played against yesterday?"
"Yes," he managed to squeeze out of his frozen throat.
"Did they hurt you?"
"N... No. They didn't catch me."
"Are they still around?"
"I... don't think so."
"Are you safe?"
His chest hitched once, and he nodded. "Yes. I think so."
"I'm almost there."
Hurry, he thought to himself as he leaned backward as far as the telephone cord would allow. The second he saw the front of the Avalanche pull up, he dropped the phone and ran out of the store. He was in his dad's arms even before he managed to step out of the truck, banging his shin painfully against the truck as he half fell inside. The tears he'd managed to hold off overcame him and he started to cry.
Big, heaving sobs, leaving him unable to catch his breath, crying just like a baby. His dad's arms tightened against him and Daniel cried harder, all the fear and confusion and loneliness of the past weeks catching up with him.
"Shhh, mhuirnin." A hand passed through his hair and through a shimmer of tears, he saw his grandma sitting in the truck next to his dad. He wanted to reach out for her also, but settled for her touch as he lost himself in the storm of his emotions.
Finally, the tears began to ease and all that was left were the hitching breaths, which he couldn't seem to stop. He half sat on his dad's lap, limp as a wet rag, for once living in just the moment and not the fear of what was going to happen to him if these hallucinations didn't stop. He was almost content, sleepy and tired and more than a little hungry. If they were home, he could go to bed, shut his eyes, go to sleep and—
"Do you know who these boys were? Can you give us their names?"
The idyllic sensation faded at his grandmother's question. Slowly, he pulled away and shook his head, as if not saying anything would be less bad than actually speaking. He blinked through tear-splattered lenses, too tired to take his glasses off and clean them.
"Get in." His dad pushed him gently and Daniel opened the back door and climbed inside.
"Where's your schoolbag?"
Dumbly, Daniel looked around the truck, half-expecting it to be on the seat next to him. He watched as his dad got up and walked into the store, and came out two seconds later with his backpack. He handed it to Daniel, who nearly dropped it when its weight suddenly felt too much for his shaking arms. He buckled his seatbelt, fumbling with the latch, then sat there with his arms crossed, trying to keep the chill from settling in.
Still cursed with an occasional gasping breath, Daniel leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He was shivering, and he turned his face into the sunshine as his dad pulled away from the curb. He looked outside lethargically, only to stiffen in fear as they cruised past eight Jaffa who were watching them go by. In unison, they all raised their weapons and aimed it at the truck just as his dad turned onto the next street. He closed his eyes, waiting in fear for the truck to blow up, then slowly opened his eyes after a few long seconds when nothing happened.
He breathed a sigh of relief. They were going home.
"Go take a shower."
Daniel glanced up at his dad as he shut the front door.
"Are you hungry? I can make you an early supper." His grandma took his backpack from him and placed it on the floor next to the door.
"What time is it?" The supper comment had confused him; he had no idea how long he'd been running.
"It's nearly four."
Daniel just stood there in shock; he'd lost nearly the whole day.
"Go on. Shower."
Each step hurt; his feet and legs ached horribly. He went straight to the bathroom and lethargically began to undress. When he took his sneakers off, he examined his feet. No blisters, but there were areas of his feet that were red and sore. He rubbed his feet a moment then reached for the faucets.
The shower felt wonderful. Too tired to do anything but let the water run over him, Daniel tried not to think of what had happened today, but the memories kept coming back. But the worst part was knowingly having lied to his dad and grandmother. With a resigned sigh, he reached for the soap.
Jack watched his son. Each bite of the sandwich he was eating seemed to take a huge effort. Whatever Daniel had done today had taken a toll on him. He didn't quite believe his story about being chased by other school kids; okay, maybe part of it was true but he doubted Daniel had been running from them for seven hours straight.
"I called Fraiser while you were in the shower."
The eyes his son raised towards him should never belong to a thirteen year old. There was a multitude of suffering and hurt reflecting out of them.
"She's stopping by tonight, going to give you a once over."
Daniel simply nodded; there was no need to say it, she was going to be testing for drugs. Daniel turned his attention back to his sandwich while Jack exchanged a look with his mother. He turned his attention to his own meal, forced himself to take a bite and chewed the tasteless lump of dough until he was able to swallow.
Jack stood as Fraiser came down the stairs to the living room, vials of blood and urine clasped in her hands. "He's half-asleep. Better go say goodnight to him right now."
Jack started for the stairs then stopped when he reached Fraiser. "Is he all right?"
"Physically, yes. His pressure's a little high, which has me a bit worried, and he's exhausted. Has he been having trouble sleeping?"
Jack nodded slowly. "Yeah." He glanced at the vials she held.
"There's no physical signs that he's on drugs, but these will tell me more. I'll have the results for you by the time you come in tomorrow."
"Thanks." Jack moved onto the stairs as his mom talked with Fraiser. He stopped before Daniel's bedroom, praying that the tests Fraiser was going to run showed that Daniel had been telling the truth. Then he pushed past the half-closed door and stepped inside.
Daniel was lying on his side, facing away from the door. As Jack leaned over the bed, Daniel opened his eyes and looked at Jack sleepily. There was a suspicious bulge beneath the blankets, right next to Daniel's chest.
Daniel pushed the covers back, exposing the bulge beneath them to be Lumpy as he let go of his old stuffie to circle his arms around Jack's neck. He pulled Jack closer. "Night, Daddy," he whispered.
Jack reached down and hugged Daniel back. "Love you, kiddo. Sleep tight."
He let Daniel back down onto the pillow and kissed his cheek after he arranged the blankets around both child and stuffie. Daniel snuggled into the pillow as Jack straightened. He stood there a moment and sent a silent prayer that the old toy would give Daniel enough comfort that he'd sleep through the night.
At least one thing was going right this morning. Fraiser's smile wasn't aimed only at the two cups of coffee Jack was carrying into her office.
"Daniel's blood works show no sign of any drugs in his system except for antihistamines," Fraiser said, reaching for the Styrofoam cup.
Jack felt a huge knot in his upper shoulders slowly release. "So, physically..."
"He's exhausted. At this point I'd say he's suffering from stress." Fraiser sighed and fiddled with the plastic lid. "Honestly, I'm worried, sir. I'm afraid he's heading for a nervous breakdown. I'd suggest maybe he talk to someone. I can give you a name—"
"Doc, I'm not so sure that—"
"Colonel, it's more than obvious that Daniel needs help. Maybe all he needs is to talk to someone who's not closely involved. Someone who he can see will be objective."
"And if it's more than that?"
"Then we deal with it. The important thing is getting Daniel well. And he's not. Far from it." She took a sip of coffee, watching him over the cup. "How about I set up the appointment? As a favor to me, Doctor Kayton might be able to squeeze Daniel in early next week."
"Sir, the sooner, the better."
Jack so didn't want this, but Fraiser was right. Something had to be done. And at least this way, he was covering all the angles.
"Fine," Jack said reluctantly. Fraiser gave him a sad smile as he walked out. He had no idea how he was going to break the news to Daniel. He returned to his office in a daze, mind churning. He sat down and powered up his laptop, checking his emails by rote. It was Hammond's email informing him that SG-1 was unexpectedly scheduled to go offworld that forced him to concentrate on what was before him.
Yawning, Daniel dropped his schoolbag by the door and shuffled into the kitchen. He was exhausted; his hallucinations at least had stayed with him during the night and hadn't haunted him during the days. He grabbed a bottle of iced tea from the fridge and popping the top, hit the button on the answering machine. He'd started to chug back the tea when he heard his dad's voice.
"I'll be stuck at work until late tonight. I'll be out of touch till then so, you know the drill. Your grandma'll be coming over as soon as she gets back from Denver. There's leftovers in the fridge for supper. And don't wait up for me; I don't know how long I'll be."
"Great." He drank some more tea as the second message played.
"This is the office of Doctor Kayton. We're calling to confirm Daniel Jackson's appointment next Tuesday evening, at 7:15. You can reach us at—"
"What?" Nearly choking on the tea, Daniel reached for the phone and replayed the message.
It didn't change.
"Doctor? What doctor?" Daniel said to the empty kitchen. With fingers that had suddenly gone cold, and not due to the chilled bottle he'd been holding, he replayed the message a third time and wrote down the phone number.
Twenty minutes later, after lots of swearing at his recalcitrant laptop, Daniel had googled the phone number and was staring, dumbfounded, at the front page of a website which advertised a medical center specializing in behavioral problems in teens and young adults.
He sat back against the pillows and stared at the computer, feeling absolutely empty. Slowly the emotions began to filter in: anger, disillusionment, hopelessness and finally, betrayal. His mouth was dry, and he reached for his drink with shaking hands. For a moment he felt an overwhelming urge to throw it at the window. The violence would have felt good, but he knew it wouldn't solve the problem and he didn't want to sleep with a boarded up window tonight.
With a sigh, he carefully placed the bottle on the bedside table and stared at the webpage once again. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream. He wanted to get up and punch something. Instead he felt hollow inside, unable to believe his dad was doing this to him.
Without even telling him about it. What next? Boot camp?
He wanted desperately to call his grandma, but then, she hadn't mentioned anything about this doctor, either. Obviously she was in on the big secret.
"But what if..." Daniel sat up suddenly, fear causing his heart to start racing. This was a shrink he was going to see. Doctor Kayton would be able to know if he was lying. Weren't shrinks supposed to do that? They'd make him do tests, know what he was thinking, and then she'd know how crazy he was and she'd lock him up anyway.
He rocked back and forth on the bed, seeing his freedom coming to an end. By next week, he could see himself locked up, tied up in a straightjacket, sleeping in a padded room. No visitors. Not even his dad or his grandma.
"Get a grip, Jackson." No, this couldn't be true. He knew he was overreacting, and just speaking the words out loud eased some of his fears. Maybe he could research this. Maybe he could figure out some of the tests he could expect, and talk his way out of them.
He focused on the laptop again, but what he saw there caused him to frown.
A picture of a longhaired guy wearing glasses stared back at him. But it was the name attached to the stranger that caught his eye.
Jackson, Daniel - Current address unknown, phone number unknown, last place of residence, Egypt as of 1997.
The picture was familiar. It should be, considering Daniel Jackson, senior, was his dead biological father, even though Daniel had no memories of him since he'd died eight years ago when he was five. But why had his biological father been out of touch ten years ago when he'd supposedly been living here, in Colorado Springs, working at NORAD with his dad? His adoptive father, that was. And why was it saying Daniel Jackson had been in Egypt? Not visiting, but living there?
His vision swam for a moment and he saw the blue screen of death. With a disgusted snort, he forced the laptop to shut down and decided on another form of action. He pushed it away from him where it slid precariously close to the edge of the bed.
Moving determinedly, Daniel hurried to his dad's bedroom and found the box he wanted stuck in the back of his closet. He sat down on the floor, leaning against his dad's bed, and began rifling through the pictures. At first he went through them quickly, the anger he was still feeling causing him to snap the photos to the side impatiently, but then he slowed down as memories came with the pictures.
He couldn't help smiling at seeing his younger self with his dad. He looked so happy; both of them looked happy except for the few token pictures taken of him in the midst of a tantrum. His dad loved to snap the camera at him whenever he lost his temper. He smiled now at how furious that used to make him.
He'd been so innocent then. Living a lie, obviously. His dad had changed, or maybe was it Daniel who had? That younger Daniel in the photos would never be brought to a center for kids with behavioral problems. He swallowed hard, forcing the lump down in his throat, refusing to cry.
A picture of him holding Lumpy in his arms reminded him of his stuffie somewhere in his bedroom. He shoved the photos back and stood, box and all, and returned to his room. He fished Lumpy out from under the mess of blankets and pillows on his bed after pushing the laptop to a safer position in the center, and sat.
Thirty minutes later he had the pictures spread in front of him in various piles. His family and friends, his dad's family and friends, those of Charlie, whom he often wished hadn't died so he'd have an older brother, and those of people he didn't know. He picked up the small handful of pictures of his biological dad and examined them carefully. Most of those photos had Sam and Teal'c as well as his dad in them.
He wanted these visions to stop. He wanted his dad to love him again. He wanted to be normal again. He wanted — to get away from Teal'c. Panic filled him as the Stargate stopped turning and a flash filled the room. Heart pounding in his head, Daniel rushed up the ramp, his feet nearly sliding on the metal as he dove through the only way of escape. Just as he thought he was safe, he felt a flash of pain on his arm and—
"No!" Daniel woke up in a panic and ran across the room, slipping and sliding over the pictures that had tumbled all over the floor. He crouched in a corner of the room, looking around warily, confused as to why Teal'c had tried to hurt him. A different Teal'c. An angry Teal'c. A Teal'c who had hair.
Slowly he straightened, realizing he'd done it again. "Damn it. This has got to stop."
Meditation had worked before, so Daniel decided he had to give it another try. He didn't have the peyote, but he had the pills. It took him only a moment to retrieve them from his dad's bathroom.
Moving quickly before he could change his mind, Daniel popped open the bottle of now tepid Snapple, read the instructions on the bottle of Ambien and swallowed two of the pills. He gathered the pictures into a pile and grabbed a candle. Then with the meditation music playing softly, he sat down again on the floor, the lit candle on the tray before him, and tried to relax.
Jack tapped his fingers nervously on the steering wheel as he pulled into his street. He needed to tell Daniel about his and Fraiser's decision and he was pretty sure Daniel wasn't going to take it well. He turned into his driveway just as his mom's Santa Fe pulled up behind him.
"Hey, Ma." Jack waited by his truck as his mother emerged from her car.
"Jack. I thought you were working late."
"I was, but something came up and the project was canned." Being attacked by Jaffa moments after exiting the wormhole would do it. Taking four hours to get to the DHD and dialing out was enough to put a crimp in anyone's offworld missions.
"Did you eat?" Jack raised the pizza box as an explanation. "I'm not sure if Daniel's eaten supper yet, but there's more than enough even if he has." He juggled his house key and stuck it into the lock.
"You sure there's enough for all of us? I admit I'm pretty famished."
A few months ago, he'd have been worried about a large pizza not feeding the three of them, but what with Daniel's appetite, but these days, he rarely finished his plate. "There's more than enough."
"Daniel? Your grandma's here. Did you eat yet?" Jack bellowed as he dumped the pizza box on the table and tossed his keys into the basket on the counter. "Daniel? You hungry?"
"He's probably got those things in his ears and can't hear you." Rose tossed her purse on a chair and motioned towards the bedrooms. "I'll go get him."
Jack hit the button for the answering machine and while the machine rewound the tape, he grabbed dishes out of the cabinet... and froze when he heard the message from Doctor Kayton's office. Just as his mind came to grips with the fact that the message had already been played, his mother screamed out his name.
Jack dropped the dishes onto the table, hearing china shatter as he ran out of the kitchen, his heart pounding so fast that he was afraid it was going to jump out of his chest.
His worst suspicions were confirmed when he burst into Daniel's room and found him slumped between the bed and his bureau. His mom was kneeling next to Daniel, trying to rouse him. With legs shaking so badly he could hardly walk, Jack skirted the tray with the burning candle and reached for his son. He pulled him up and slid his fingers up his throat, until, to his relief, he found his pulse beating slowly but strongly. Daniel moaned and his eyes opened, his unfocused gaze obviously having trouble fixing on Jack's face.
"He's alive." There were photos strewn all around the room, photos of their life together. Him and Daniel. Daniel, shortly after he'd been downsized. Confused, scared, with vague memories of his team, he'd turned to Jack for comfort. Daniel at his sixth, seventh and eighth birthdays, surrounded by a number of folks from the SGC. Daniel and Jack at Christmas, wearing goofy Santa hats and even goofier grins. The impression Jack got was that Daniel had tried to recreate the better times of his life with him.
"Should I call an ambulance?"
"God damn it." Fear battled rage when he saw the bottle of pills mixed in with the pile of pictures. He picked it up and saw that it was his, prescribed over a year ago when he'd been injured during a foothold situation at the SGC.
For a moment Jack thought Daniel had attempted to commit suicide, but a quick glance at the remaining pills proved that Daniel hadn't taken enough to do much damage. And the meditation paraphernalia Teal'c had encouraged indicated that Daniel's goal had been something else.
Without thought, he grabbed Daniel's shirt and hauled him to his feet. He ignored both his mother's cry and Daniel's mumbled moan of protest. When Daniel's knees gave out, he simply grabbed him under the arms and hauled him bodily towards the bathroom.
"Jack, what are you doing?"
"Lemme go." Daniel struggled weakly in Jack's grasp.
Good, he was awake enough to not enjoy what Jack was about to do. With one arm holding Daniel securely, Jack reached into the shower and turned on the cold water.
"Jack, what are you doing? The boy needs medical help. I'm calling an ambulance." His mother's voice suddenly rose in pitch. "Jonathan, don't you dare—"
Rose's protests were drowned out by Daniel's screams as Jack literally threw him under the flow of the shower. He lost his balance and went down hard, harder than Jack had truly intended and he winced, but he kept himself from trying to see if Daniel was hurt, because if he tried to reach out in sympathy for his son right now, he was afraid he would hurt him.
"Dad—" Coughing and spluttering, blinded by his sodden hair which was covering his eyes, Daniel tried to crawl away from the cold water. Jack simply reached down and shoved Daniel back into the cold stream of water.
"Jonathan, that's enough."
His mother reached past him and Jack, knowing that if he attempted to stop her, he would end up physically hurting her, and allowed her to turn the water off.
"I said, get out." She shoved Jack, hard enough that he staggered against the vanity. Then she was reaching down towards Daniel, who was sobbing and crying, trying to clamber out of the tub. She helped him out and sat him on the toilet, then glared at Jack so he'd move out of her way while she reached for a bath towel hanging on the rack behind him.
Too angry with the situation, Jack stepped out of the bathroom and allowed his mother to wrap Daniel up in the towel. He returned to Daniel's bedroom and pocketed the pills. Two minutes later, every drug in the house, including Tylenol and Advil, were locked up with his gun in the top shelf of his closet.
He came out of his bedroom in time to see his mother leading a shivering and sobbing Daniel, covered in nothing but a bath towel, back to his room. The boy looked disoriented, almost pliant as Rose guided him with an arm around his back. Jack leaned against the wall and watched.
"I'm taking him with me." Rose's voice was curt and final.
"No argument, Jack. There's no way I'm leaving Daniel here until you've calmed down." She coaxed Daniel to the bed and when he sat, moved away to start gathering clothes.
"I'm calm," Jack said, deliberately unclenching his teeth.
His mother's reply was a piercing glare with upraised eyebrows.
"I'm calm," he said, in a more normal voice.
"You not only scared your son back there, you scared me. And until I'm sure you've got control of the situation, Daniel will be staying with me."
Fear for his mother's wellbeing had Jack surging forward. At the movement, Daniel cringed away from him and he stopped at the terror he saw reflected back at him from his son's face. That Daniel was still under the effects of the sedative was clear, but the fear... that was something he never thought to ever see.
"You can't handle him, Mom," Jack said softly as he rubbed a shaking hand across his face. "He's managed to hurt Cassie and he could—"
"He won't have an opportunity to take any drugs while he's with me."
His mother's accusation hurt almost as much as the fear Daniel was exhibiting towards him. Jack clenched his fists, wanting to strike out at something. Instead he turned his back on his family for a moment while he took the few steps back to the wall. "That's not fair."
With a gentle pat to Daniel's leg, Rose urged him to step into a clean pair of underwear. Jack watched, mesmerized, as Daniel stood unmoving as his mom pulled his underwear up. The fear had faded, leaving Daniel's face slack and unexpressive.
The events of the past days finally boiled over. "I thought I could trust him!"
Jack's outburst reached Daniel and his gaze lethargically moved towards him.
"Shhhh. Come on, let's finish getting you dressed." Rose pulled a tee shirt over Daniel's head, stepping in front of him and hiding Jack from his view. With a softly uttered curse, Jack went back to the bathroom and cleaned up the water that had splashed on the floor. By the time he finished, his mom had Daniel dressed and was leading him towards the door.
"Mom?" He didn't want her to take Daniel but maybe she was right. At this point he had no idea what to do, whom to turn to.
"He'll sleep this off, and I'll call you in the morning when he wakes up."
"There's the barbeque tomorrow..."
His mother stood silently, staring at him, hugging Daniel to her while he leaned in against her. "We'll be there. Then I'll see."
Rose coaxed Daniel outside and Jack watched while she buckled him in. Daniel's head was leaning against the window and he seemed to be asleep by the time she pulled out of the driveway.
Jack shut the door, and the noise it made had the sound of finality.
"Come on, sweetie, you're a bit too big for me to carry you into the house. I need some cooperation. Think you can do that?"
Daniel pushed at the hand persistently shaking him. "G'way." He smacked at the annoying interruption with a hand that was strangely uncooperative. Giving up with a huff, he tried to find a comfortable position.
"Mhuirnin, wouldn't a pillow be more comfortable?"
"Grandma?" Slowly, Daniel swung his head around and blinked, trying to bring her into focus. He could feel a lazy smile starting to form. "Dad said I could spend the night?"
His grandma hesitated then nodded. "That's it," she said, rubbing his arm. "Dad said you could sleep over, 'cause tomorrow's Saturday."
"No school," Daniel sighed. "Sleep late."
"As late as you want," she promised, latching onto his elbow and giving a slight tug. "How about you come inside?"
Daniel swayed when he stood, unsure why the simple act of being upright seemed to be such a difficult accomplishment. "I think I'm going—" The ground tilted dangerously.
"If you fall, Daniel Jackson O'Neill," his grandmother sternly admonished him, "I'm going to leave you there until morning and I won't say anything when Mrs. Reynold's schnauzer lifts his leg and pees on you."
"You're a mean grandma." Daniel smacked his lips and tentatively studied the ground, which now appeared to have righted itself. "Ready."
"Good boy," she said, grabbing him under the arm and guiding him up the walk. "Let's go."
Daniel hesitated. "Long..." He struggled to find the word. "Long..." He started again, pointing at the front door. "Walk," Daniel finally managed.
"It's okay," she said patting his arm. "We're in no hurry. Little tiny steps will get us to our destination."
Daniel dragged himself up the walk, head down, watching his feet shuffle towards the front door, one step at a time. He stopped and gripped the railing on either side of the steps. "Grandma?"
His grandma pulled up short. "Yes, honey."
"Is Daddy mad at me?" Daniel touched the spot on his cheek where his grandmother kissed him.
"I love you," she said and all thoughts concerning his father got lost in his muddled, tired brain.
Gently, Daniel pushed his grandmother's hands away. "I can do it," he mumbled, fumbling with his shirt.
"Okay." She smiled gently and sat back on the bed.
Daniel tried another time, then gave up. Frustrated, he stepped away from his grandmother when she offered her assistance again. "No." Angrily, he toed off his shoes and lay down on the bed, fully clothed.
"That works, too." His grandmother opened the trunk at the end of the bed and withdrew a quilt. She flicked it open and the smell of cedar assaulted him.
"Where's Lumpy?" Daniel asked, reaching out to the place on the bed where his stuffie now slept once again.
"Home, keeping Daddy company."
Daniel began to cry. "Rather Lumpy than me?"
"Nope," she said, adjusting the covers around Daniel, kissing the tears away. "Lumpy's keeping Daddy company while you're with me."
Daniel nodded, his eyes closing. He could feel his body relaxing, drifting and then the weight on the bed shifted. "No!" he yelled, sitting up, reaching for his grandmother. "You were leaving. Don't leave."
She stood, two feet from the bed, staring in shock at the spot she'd just vacated.
Daniel buried his head in his hands when his grandmother hesitated. He was confused, his head hurt and he knew he was acting like a baby. "Sorry," he stuttered, falling into her arms the second she sat back down.
"Not going anywhere, my Danny. Just you shush now." She patted his back. "Everything will look better in the morning. I promise."
"My beloved." Daniel shivered, the air in the unfamiliar room was cold. Even to his thirteen-year-old eyes, the woman standing before him was centerfold gorgeous. But there was nothing warm about her. Her touch was as cold as the room and he shivered again, stepping back from her reach.
"Go away," he ordered.
She laughed, repeating those same two words. "My beloved."
"Not your beloved," he hissed. "I'm married." Married? He wasn't married. "Sha're?" The name rolled out of his brain and off of his tongue before he could apply the brakes.
"See how they help?" The scantily clad vixen opened her right hand and held it out towards Daniel. In her palm danced the relatives of the pills Daniel had taken. "They hold the answers." She grasped a pill between her fingernails and enticingly rolled it across his lips. "For you, my beloved." Daniel closed his eyes, opened his mouth, and accepted her gift. He ignored the lone tear creeping down his cheek and swallowed.
Daniel woke up in the dark, choking and gagging. The odor of cedar was suffocating, and he clawed at the blanket, punching at it. While trying to push it off his body, he succeeded in pushing himself right off the bed. Which hurt, a lot, jarring his headache until it was front and center.
"Dad?" No. Not dad. Grandma. Dad was—Daniel was so tired. The exhaustion made the ability to think cohesively an impossibility. His grandmother had promised it would all be better in the morning. That he remembered. What would be better? Maybe he should ask her.
It took Daniel two tries before his legs agreed to support his weight. He took a step, stumbling, nearly taking a header when his feet got tangled in the blanket. His stomach churned. He really didn't feel good. And it was dark in this room. And... and... and... He opened his mouth, ready to cry out for his grandma, but no, he was a teenager. Daniel nodded. A teenager. Teenage boys were too old to cry out for grandmas or daddies.
He groaned. Opened one eye then slammed it shut, curling into an even smaller ball. He was in his grandmother's room. In her bed. Under a pile of blankets. He didn't remember... He paused. He didn't remember too much of anything past looking at photos in his bedroom.
And a dream about a red-haired lady in a harem outfit and his wife Sha're. Wife? Daniel whimpered.
"Go back to sleep."
"Can't. Head hurts."
A cool hand touched his forehead. "No fever."
"Headache." Understatement of the year. Just the act of breathing was sending shards of glass though his brain.
"Sleep, mhuirnin." This time the gentle command was accompanied by a kiss to his cheek. "I'm here if you need me."
Daniel brought his hand up to massage his temple. "Tylenol?"
"I don't think your dad wants you to have any Tylenol. Or any medication."
"Dad?" His father's name was spoken on the cusp of a sigh. "Why?"
"He said it's more important for you to sleep."
His grandmother stood, sighed then left the room, leaving Daniel to his solitary suffering. He tried to find a comfortable spot, but while each new area would be fine for a minute, it would either become too hot or too cold as soon as he began to relax.
A tepid washcloth was placed on his forehead.
"Leave it," his grandma said as Daniel lifted his hand. "See if this works." She held it in place, mindlessly humming while massaging the cloth against his skin.
Daniel sat at the kitchen table. His right elbow was resting on the flat surface while he pressed the heel of that hand into his forehead to counterbalance the ache in his head. It wasn't a headache. More like a slogging through mud type of feeling. Add to that, dizziness and a nauseated feeling in the pit of his stomach, and Daniel wasn't a happy camper. The plate of pancakes drowning in butter and syrup and a hovering grandmother wasn't helping at all.
"Do you want something else?"
To vomit. To take two frigging Tylenol. To go home. To stay here. To do over the last day of his life, foregoing ingesting the two Ambien. "No, I don't want anything else."
"Daniel, you need to—"
He turned his head and glared at her. "What, Grandma? You tell me what I need to do? What will make this all better?"
She just added another teaspoon of sugar to her morning cup.
"Yeah, you don't have the answer either."
She got up, taking her cup her tea.
"Where are you going?" Daniel panicked, terrified she was going to leave him with his hallucinations.
"Where am I going?" She gave a sad chuckle. "I'm going into the living room to drink my tea in peace."
"You said you wouldn't leave me." Suddenly, Daniel couldn't fill his lungs with enough air to take a deep breath.
"Daniel." His grandmother slowly put the cup on the table. "I'm only going into the living room."
"Can I come?"
"It's just the living room."
Daniel pulled at the collar of his shirt; the material was slowly cutting off his air supply.
His grandmother took his hands in hers. "I'll stay here and have my tea."
"Please sit down?" he implored.
She sat, never reaching for her tea. Never taking her gaze off Daniel.
Daniel took a deep breath, filling his lungs with air.
The clarity, whether he wanted it or not, was returning incrementally. Daniel sat staring at the television, pressed against the arm of the couch.
"Can I get you anything, mhuirnin?"
He shook his head.
"I don't want to go to the barbeque, Grandma." He gazed up at her, pleading.
"I know you don't."
"I'll stay here—" He saw the mistrust in her eyes and turned away. "Never mind," he said quietly.
"Want me to make something special to bring with us?"
"No, I think Dad has—" Daniel swallowed, the lump in his throat making it hard to speak. "We went shopping last week... corn, he needed corn and salad stuff."
Daniel nodded slowly. "He was going to pick it up at the market, but he may've forgotten with everything..." Daniel's voice trailed off.
"Like he forgot you and he were going hiking?"
"He's busy." Daniel picked up the remote and began flipping through the channels. "I understand. He's always busy these days."
His grandmother stepped in front of the cable box, cutting off the connection between the remote and the box, effectively halting Daniel's relentless run up and down the stations. "You're alone a lot."
"Dad doesn't have a nine-to-five job." Annoyed, Daniel tossed the remote to the other end of the couch. "It was his idea to talk. He forgot, so I'm thinking talking wasn't a priority." Daniel shrugged. "I wasn't a priority," he mumbled.
"You want your father to pay attention to you."
Stunned, Daniel paused before answering. "You think I took the drugs because I want him to notice me?"
"If that's not the reason why, then what is?"
He was close. So close, he could taste the freedom that just admitting the words to another person would give him. But then he looked into her face, and he couldn't. Daniel didn't have the heart or the strength to tell the woman who'd been his ally and staunchest supporter his whole life that her only living grandson was crazy.
Daniel neither denied nor affirmed her question but answered her with an expression of indifference before closing his eyes and sliding down the length of the couch. "Wake me," he said, "about twenty minutes before we have to leave. That way we'll have time to go get the corn and stuff."
"Looking for something?"
Daniel jumped and the kitchen cabinet slammed shut, the loud sound so not helping his headache. "Oh, Cassie." Relieved that it was only her, he was still unable to look her in the face. "Sorry."
"Daniel," she sighed, her expression of exasperation so like her mom's that he couldn't help but smile. "Stop apologizing already." Cassie narrowed her eyes at him, her suspicious gaze raking over his body. "Why are you smiling?"
Daniel's smile broadened. "You're so like your mom."
"Did you just insult me?"
"Oh. No." He peered at her. "Did I?"
"No, silly. You didn't, my mom's pretty cool." She wagged a finger in his face. "But if you ever tell her I said that..." Cassie made a slicing motion across her neck. "I may have to kill you."
Daniel laughed. "I'm glad we're still friends."
Cassie sobered. "We never stopped being friends. I just wish you'd talk to me about what's bothering you."
"I have a headache."
"You took peyote and mushrooms because you have a headache?" Cassie snorted. "Nice diversionary tactic, Jackson."
"I do have a headache," he insisted.
Cassie nodded at him. "Yeah, you got those funny little lines on your forehead." She shrugged. "So take a Tylenol."
Daniel pointed to the cabinet. "I would if I could find any. Cupboard is bare. Bathroom medicine cabinet is bare..."
"Hold on." Cassie left the kitchen and came back with a little wristlet thing and began to empty the contents on the counter.
Daniel leaned over the counter. "You fit all that in there?"
"It's magic... Here you go." Cassie pulled out two white pills. "Hmm..." she said with a smile. "I think they're Tylenol and not Pamprin. Though one can never be sure."
"Ha. Ha. Very funny." Daniel paused. "You're sure, right?
Cassie exhaled loudly. "Yes, I'm sure. Jeeze, what happened? You used to be able to take a joke. Here you go." She put the two pills in her palm and offered them up to Daniel. "These will really help."
Daniel couldn't breathe, almost afraid to look into the face of the person across from him. Terrified that Cassie had morphed into the sexy redhead—
"Are you going to take them? I swear, Daniel, they're not Pamprin."
Daniel blinked and gave an embarrassed chuckle. "Oh. Yeah. Take them." Tentatively, Daniel reached for the two white pills in Cassie's hand.
"You little shit!" His dad entered their space with a roar, pulling Daniel's hand away from Cassie's.
Daniel tried to jerk his hand from his father's grasp. "Let me go," he yelled, struggling against the tightening grip.
His father snarled at him, an expression of anger masking his face until it was unrecognizable as he turned his attention on Cassie. "And you? In my own house?"
With a shaking hand, Cassie showed the pills to his dad. "Tylenol," she stuttered, shooting a glance towards Daniel. "Honest. Daniel has a headache."
Daniel was shaken, hard enough that his teeth rattled painfully. "Daddy, please. I didn't do anything."
"Like all those other times you didn't do anything? Like last night? Why don't you just tell her why you have a headache?" He shoved Daniel in front of Cassie. "Tell her."
"I..." Daniel glanced at Cassie and the two pills in the palm of her hand. Embarrassed, he swiped at the tears sliding down his cheek. "Sorry," he mouthed to her.
Defiantly, Cassie put the pills in Daniel's hand. "For your headache."
Jack smacked Daniel's hand so hard that the pills went flying across the kitchen floor.
"No!" Daniel dropped down to the floor, searching for the two pills, and managed to get one before he was hauled upright by his shirt. "See," he said, shaking the pill at his father. "Tylenol. Just Tylenol."
"Yeah, and those were just sleeping pills you took, Daniel."
"I have a headache," Daniel screamed, throwing the single Tylenol at his father. "A fuckin' headache. I just wanted a Tylenol—"
"Try that again and your ass will be—"
Daniel stared at the stranger standing before him. "I have a headache," he said softly, enunciating each word clearly.
"Give him the pill, Jonathan."
An audience. They had an audience. In a flush of shock, Daniel realized the barbeque had moved into the kitchen and he shrank into the corner, horrified.
"No. Everything is locked up. Tylenol. Pain pills. Sleeping pills. Antacids. Cough medicine. Everything. I won't lose another child because of my stupidity."
"I'm not Charlie, Dad."
The smile on his father's face held no warmth at all. "Damn straight you're not Charlie, Daniel."
Daniel sat on his bed, staring into space, praying for a nightmare. A hallucination. He would gladly embrace anything that would scare his dad's expression right out of his memory.
"Please go away, Sam." He put his arms over his head.
"Open the door." The doorknob rattled insistently.
"Please go away." Daniel closed his eyes.
"Awww, Daniel, sweetie."
Words of endearment from Sam's mouth sounded strange and uncomfortable to his ears.
"You know if you need me..."
"I'll be okay."
Daniel lay on his side, Lumpy shoved under his stomach. He was hungry and his head hurt, badly.
"Mhuirnin, can I come in?"
"I'm worried, honey."
Me, too, Daniel wanted to cry. "I'm fine."
"Please don't lie to me."
Daniel envisioned all the barbeque people taking a ticket, like in a bakery, then lining up at his door. "I'm not lying. Please just tell everyone I'm okay." Daniel stopped. Listened. Then slowly sat up in bed. "Don't cry. Please don't cry."
"Can you open the door for me?"
"No," he said softly. Opening the door would allow the daddy monster he'd created into this sanctuary. "I can't open the door."
"I promise your dad's not going to hurt you."
"Doesn't make a difference, Grandma, I think the damage is done. I don't think he's ever going trust me again."
"I love you, Danny."
Daniel just nodded, burying his tears in the stupid stuffed animal's hump. "I love you, too," he whispered into the well-worn fur. Baby toy. He flung the stuffie to the ground, then jumped off the bed, picking it up and hugging it to his chest when he heard his grandma walk away from his door.
Come back, he wanted to cry after her, after Sam. I can't do this all by myself. But no one seemed to hear him.
He sat up and tried to blink the fuzziness out of his eyes.
"Try these, DanielJackson."
Daniel took his glasses from the large dark blur standing in front of him.
"Please pack a bag. I have come to take you to the SGC."
"Why?" His heart began to pound painfully in his chest.
"At the moment, I do not believe this household is a nurturing one."
"My father's throwing me out?"
"I did not say that. I requested that you pack a bag and accompany me to the SGC."
"I believe the correct terminology is sleep over."
"With my father's permission?"
Teal'c hesitated. "At the moment—"
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Not throwing me out, not exactly lighting a candle in the window for me." He slid off the bed, got his carryall from the closet and threw it on the bed. He began to sort through his drawer, tossing stuff over his head and behind his back.
Teal'c grabbed his arm. "I believe you have reached the storage capacity of the case."
"Good. Then let's go." Daniel began stuffing errant items into the bag.
"Stop." Teal'c grabbed his arm. "You need to cease this action."
"You asked me to pack." Daniel stuffed a shirt into the yawning mouth of the carryall. "See, I'm packing."
"No, you are not. You are expending unnecessary energy being obnoxious. It does not suit you." He plucked the shirt out of the case and threw it at Daniel. "You will pack enough for three days."
He hugged the shirt to his chest. "What about school?"
"I will write a letter explaining the reason you cannot attend."
"What will the letter say, Teal'c?"
"The wording will be between myself and your school officials." Teal'c paused. "Please do not procrastinate."
"Would you rather remain here?"
If he could turn back the clock to a few months ago, yeah, Daniel would stay, but now? He shook his head and began to pack in earnest. Slowly. Methodically. Until the carryall and his backpack were filled to capacity.
Daniel made his bed, placed Lumpy at the foot of it and gave the stuffie a pat on the head. He picked up his backpack and Teal'c lifted the carryall as if it weighed nothing. "Let's go," Daniel said, flicking off the lights when they walked out of the room.
Janet and Cassie were waiting at the door. Daniel stopped and gazed up at Teal'c.
"Doctor and Cassandra Fraiser will convey us to the SGC."
Daniel dropped his backpack on the ground with a thud. "I'll be right back."
Teal'c clapped him on the shoulder, picked up Daniel's backpack, slung it over his shoulder and then took the carryall from Daniel's grasp. "We will wait in the vehicle."
His grandmother and Sam were sitting at the kitchen table, sharing a bottle of wine.
"Did you remember to pack your toothbrush?" His grandmother reached out and grabbed his hand.
"Good boy." Quickly, she stood and hugged him to her chest before he could object. "You listen to—"
"I want to go home with you."
His grandmother gently pushed him away and held him at arm's length. "I think your father needs me right now, mhuirnin. Can you understand?"
He nodded reluctantly. Sam came up behind him and hugged him tightly from behind, whispering in his ear. "The Colonel—your father is stargazing."
Daniel climbed the ladder carefully, cautiously, hand over hand, until he reached the top.
Dusk had fallen and the sky was not yet alight with the night stars, but his father was studying the expanse of sky through his telescope, ignoring him as he stepped onto the rooftop.
"I came to say goodbye." Daniel stood there, waiting for his father to say something. Anything.
"What, Daniel? What should I say? That it'll be a long time before I can trust you again? I think that one's a no-brainer."
Okay, maybe that wasn't what Daniel wanted to hear and hurt turned to anger. He snorted. "Yeah, I sorta got that impression from your behavior in the kitchen."
His father turned towards him. "Let's see," he began, ticking off Daniel's indiscretions on his finger. "In the past two weeks, you've ended up in the hospital from ingesting magic mushrooms and yesterday you got into my prescription medication. Let's not forget failing a test, cutting class, a Monday morning meeting with the principal and having a fight on the soccer field, which resulted in you getting kicked off the team. Yeah, I'd say that my behavior in the kitchen was warranted."
"They were only Tylenol."
"Jeezus H. Christ." His father stood and began to pace in the small space, his hands fisted and punching his sides in frustration. He stopped in front of Daniel. "You just don't get it, do you? You can't see that you're scaring the crap outta me."
"You're scaring me, too, Jack," Daniel said, backing away from his father. And froze. Holy shit, where had that come from?
The man paused and stared at him.
Daniel stared back, confused as to why at that moment, he'd been more comfortable calling his dad by his given name.
"What did you call me?"
"Huh? What do you mean what did I call you?" Daniel played stupid and hoped his poker face would win him a round or two.
"Just now. When you said I was sca—just now."
"Dad. I said dad." The tiniest of white lies flowed off of his tongue as easily his father's given name had.
"No, you called me Jack."
"Why would I call you that?"
"I don't know, Daniel. Why would you call me that?"
Daniel shrugged. "I don't know." That wasn't a lie, because he honestly had no idea why the name had flown out of his mouth.
A car horn honked and both of them looked towards the street, a not-so-gentle reminder that Daniel had people waiting for him.
"You'd better go," his dad said gruffly, turning away from Daniel and going back to his telescope. "Don't want to keep Fraiser waiting."
Daniel took a step forward, and hesitated. "Dad?"
Once again the horn honked. "Go, Icky."
This time Daniel didn't hesitate. He took the few steps separating him from his father and flung his arms around his neck. "I love you, Daddy. Please, don't give up on me."
Jack watched the car drive away, staring down the street long after the rear lights had disappeared. He studied the heavens through the telescope, an activity which, even after all these years and his job, still gave him pleasure. Except tonight. Tonight, he gazed at the night sky, seeing nothing but his own failure.
He waited until Carter got into her car and drove away before coming down.
His mother was out on the deck, staring into the sky. Never taking her gaze from the heavens, she reached out a hand towards Jack, who took it and squeezed.
"What a fuckin' mess."
"Well, how else would you describe it?"
She paused, then pulled their conjoined hands towards her and kissed the back of Jack's hand. "Okay, I concede defeat. Maybe that's a perfect description."
"Strangely enough, it doesn't make me feel any better to know that you're agreeing with me."
"Let's go for a walk."
She stood. "A walk."
"Mom, I really don't feel like walking."
"I do," his mother said, tugging persistently on his hand. "And since I'm one hundred percent positive you don't want your poor, elderly mother walking by herself in the dark."
Jack checked his cell phone again. Opening and closing it, just to make sure he had a dial tone, he slipped it back into his jacket.
"Do you expect Teal'c's going to call?"
They crossed the street and his mother linked her arm through his.
"Or maybe it's Daniel's call you're waiting for."
"Fraiser thinks Daniel might be having some type of nervous breakdown."
His mother nodded, but said nothing.
"She's set up an appointment for next week with a shrink. Daniel found out about it yesterday from a message on the answering machine before I could tell him myself."
"You think that's why he took the pills?"
Jack couldn't deny the guilt that was tearing him apart. "I think that's probably one of the reasons." He huffed a breath. "And Carter? She thinks this is all an attention-getter, and I'm beginning to think she may be right." He walked, following his mother's lead. "I work too much. Daniel's reminding me that he's still around..." Jack let the sentence trail off, hoping his mother would say something. Anything.
"Teal'c thinks Daniel and I are just pushing each other's buttons. Without saying anything, I know he's disappointed in my parenting skills." Jack snorted. "Considering my track record pretty much sucks, I'm thinking Teal'c might have the right idea as well."
"Daniel reminded you today, quite succinctly, I might add, that he's not Charlie."
"Don't you think I know that?"
"No," she said, guiding them into the deserted children's playground on the corner. Rose walked to the swings, and slowly lowered herself down. "I don't think you do." She smacked his hands when he went to push her.
Jack sat on the swing next to her, walking his feet back and forth in the sand beneath him.
"Charlie died. And because he died, to you, in your eyes, he's achieved perfect status."
"So I'm wrong?"
"No, Jonathan. There's no right or wrong in this situation. Something is slowly eating away at Daniel. You can see it in his actions. I think you're all wrong. Something is scaring him. Frightening him so much that I believe he's trying to escape. Cutting school. Failing, mainly because he wants you to sit up and take notice. Your child wants you to be a mind reader because he can't find it in himself to speak to you."
"I've never given Daniel any cause," Jack paused and sighed, "...except maybe for today, to ever be afraid of talking to me."
"He's not the linguist anymore, Jack. He's a scared teenager. You bait him and speak to him like he was the old adult Daniel. Your friend. Quit it. He's your son. You need to take a long hard look at the person standing before you and remember who he is, and not who he was."
"I'm just so afraid of..."
"You're so afraid of screwing up, that you're screwing up."
"I'm afraid of not getting any second chances, Mom."
Daniel pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and stared at it.
"Do you wish to call your father, DanielJackson?"
"I don't think so."
"Are you expecting your father to place a call to you?"
Hurriedly, Daniel closed the phone. "It's okay. I said goodbye." He yawned before he could stop himself.
"Would you like to accompany me to the commissary to procure a snack?"
Daniel tried to figure out how to tell Teal'c no without sounding rude.
"Would you rather I bring the snack back to you?"
"Back to me would be fine."
"As you wish." Teal'c pointed to the mass of cushions on the floor. "Please, make yourself at home, they are quite comfortable."
Daniel stared at the cushions and yawned. Right now he was so tired, sleeping on the cement floor was enticing. Quickly, even though it wasn't that late, he changed into a pair of sweats, washed up in the bathroom then lit a few of the candles. Like a dog searching for the most desirable space, Daniel circled the cushions and dropped down heavily on the three farthest from the door.
Without waiting for Teal'c, Daniel began the steps he'd been taught to reach a meditative state. Deep breathing. Clearing his mind. Concentration and focus.
He awoke to a room alight with all the candles, lying on his side, covered with a warm blanket. "Teal'c?"
Teal'c was sitting outside the circle of pillows and he waited a beat before slowly opening his eyes. "You are awake."
Groggily, Daniel levered himself to a sitting position. "I don't remember falling asleep."
"You were quite agitated when I returned from the commissary. Do you remember the cause of your—"
Daniel blushed. "No."
Teal'c's right eyebrow shot upwards.
"No, I really don't." Daniel stopped and thought about it. Admittedly, he felt a sense of disquiet, but he wasn't able to latch onto a visual behind the feeling. "Did I say anything?"
"It appeared you were engaged in a verbal battle. Pleading for a life."
Daniel shook his head. He was coming up blank. "Sorry."
"There is no need to apologize."
Daniel shrugged. "At this point, apologizing is second nature."
"I do not believe that is a good thing."
The best way to avoid a subject was to ignore it. "What snacks did you bring back from the commissary?"
Daniel slept horribly, tossing and turning the entire night, the pillows shifting under his weight until he finally fell into an exhausted sleep just as Teal'c was waking for the day.
He sat up with a jerk, grabbing the arm that had been shaking him. "We're all in trouble," he panted, his gaze bouncing around the room. "They're coming!"
"Who is coming, DanielJackson?"
"Um..." Daniel looked around in confusion.
"It is a dream, nothing more."
"Dream?" He rubbed his eyes with his right hand, his left one hurt too much to even lift it from his lap. This was one of the most hated of all his frequent nightmares, but the residual pain this morning was a new experience.
Teal'c's glance fell on the arm Daniel was favoring. "Do you wish me to call for DoctorFraiser?"
Daniel fell back into the pillows with a groan. "No. No Janet. I'll be fine."
He moved slowly and cautiously in the shower, rotating his arm under the hot steam. And it worked to a degree, but Daniel continued to favor the arm and during breakfast, Teal'c brought it to his attention.
"You do not appear to be fine."
"It's stiff and sore. I probably slept on it the wrong way."
"I did not notice you sleeping long enough to damage any muscle."
"You're worse that my dad." Appetite gone, Daniel pushed the tray away.
Teal'c pushed the tray back towards him. "I am no different than any father. Do you not believe that I worry about Rya'c?"
"Why doesn't Rya'c live here with you?" This was a question that Daniel brought up continuously to his dad, to Teal'c, because once upon a time he found it inconceivable to understand how a father and his child could be separated. Now? A part of him could understand the light years separating the two.
"Rya'c is learning the way of our people. He cannot learn to be a warrior living among the Tau'ri."
"You could teach him."
"I have imparted lessons to him, now it is time for him to learn from Master Bra'tac, because there are some lessons that I am unable to teach him."
Daniel pushed the tray to the side and out of Teal'c's reach. "Why can't you teach him?"
"Because I am his father and he is my son." Teal'c began to peel an orange.
"I don't understand." Daniel pilfered a strawberry from Teal'c's plate.
"Sons will spurn their father's words of advice and wisdom, and will turn to others for the information they seek. Bra'tac feels as I and is therefore an excellent substitute."
Daniel finished the strawberry in two bites then reached for the piece of orange Teal'c offered. "No one can take the place of a father."
Teal'c offered Daniel a knowing, slight smile. "I do believe that Rya'c imparted those same words to me."
The SGC was a place where Daniel had always felt comfortable. He'd grown up here. Played in the corridors, learned to ride his two wheeler in the hallway right outside the infirmary and the length of corridor had been a wonderfully safe haven to hone up on his roller-blading and skateboard skills. He'd spent Saturdays here when his Dad had to work, and did homework after school, sharing Sam's workbench.
This was his second home. He knew where Sam kept her stash of cookies. Where Janet's Godiva chocolates were, and where General Hammond kept his bag of Twizzlers. His dad's Gameboy was in the lower left hand drawer of his desk and Siler had always had a lollipop to share when no one was looking. In Teal'c's closet there'd been a box of crayons and a pad of paper to keep him entertained for hours. He'd respected what was touchable and what wasn't. Daniel had known whose way to stay out of, when to be silent and when to ask questions.
But today was different. Today, he had a large, hovering shadow keeping tabs on him and he was slowly getting very, very angry.
"Would you like—"
"Nothing," Daniel hissed. "I don't want to go to the infirmary. I don't want lunch. I don't want—"
Teal'c remained silent and used his passkey to call for the elevator.
"I'm going to—" Daniel tried to skirt around Teal'c's bulk, only to find that he was effectively trapped between the wall and Teal'c and he had no choice but to enter the elevator followed by Teal'c. He marched in and hugged the corner, immaturely pouting at Teal'c's back.
"I believe I should rephrase my sentence. I did not intend to ask you a question."
Daniel studied the floor between his feet.
"You are going to accompany me to the infirmary."
"Why? Are you sick?"
"I am fine."
"Then why are we going to the infirmary?"
"Because, DanielJackson, I would be derelict in my duties if I did not have your arm examined."
Doctor Lam was on duty in the infirmary and Daniel sat on the gurney, staring off into space, allowing Teal'c to do the talking for him. She nodded in the right places and Daniel forced indifference into his voice as she asked him a multitude of questions, though her gaze was fixed on Teal'c.
"I'm right here. You can speak to me." He jumped as she hit a sensitive area. "Ow." Daniel jerked out of her grasp.
"Ow. Ow. Ow." Daniel tried to slide down the gurney as Doctor Lam began a hard massage to his upper arm.
Teal'c put out a hand, stopping Daniel before he toppled to the floor.
She shook her head. "I'm going to recommend an X-ray if it doesn't improve by Monday. Still, based on range of motion, it's not broken, so I'm following my instincts and going for some type of muscle pull. Or strain. Do you remember doing anything that might have caused this?"
"No, I don't," he mumbled, distracted by the sudden horrific odor clinging to the air around him. The smell of burning flesh was nauseating and Daniel could feel his stomach churn painfully, sweat immediately popping up on his forehead as he argued with whatever he'd eaten at breakfast to stay put. He shifted on the gurney, which was no longer a gurney, but the cold, hard floor of an ornately over-decorated gold corridor. The pain and fear of loneliness blinded him. He threw his hand out blindly to the side, towards Teal'c. And as Teal'c grabbed his hand, everything dissipated. The smell. The nausea. The corridor. The pain in his arm.
"I'm fine," he said, sitting up straighter.
Doctor Lam gave him the 'yeah, sure' look that Daniel was positive was a requirement when doctors took their Hippocratic Oath. Janet used the same exact expression. "I'm going to give you a few muscle relaxants in case you find it uncomfortable to sleep. Or if the pain interferes with your daily activities."
Teal'c had the pills in his pocket. Daniel hadn't expected the doctor to hand them to him, but he was still a little put out when Teal'c took them from her outstretched hand. "Would you like some lunch?"
Daniel shook his head. "I need to finish a report. I thought I'd go to Sam's lab—"
"I will accompany you."
Daniel stopped and stared up at Teal'c. "Why? Because you'll be derelict in your duties if you don't?" He'd stunned Teal'c into silence and Daniel used the opportunity to move around him, find the staircase and take off before Teal'c could stop him.
He was sitting in the Gateroom, back pressed up against the wall, staring at the SGC's main attraction, the Stargate. His cell phone was on his lap.
"My father figured out the secret of the Stargate."
There was a short pause before Teal'c answered. "Yes, he did."
"I wish I could remember him. Or my mother."
"They would be very proud of you."
"It would be nice if I could recall just one thing about them." He tapped his temple. "But it's empty."
"I beg your forgiveness."
"Huh?" Daniel craned his neck upward. "For what?"
"My choice of words."
"Oh, the duty thing." Daniel opened his phone and began to play Bejeweled, his thumbs flying across the keypad. "I'm a kid. Who, at the moment, seems to have a whole plethora of issues." The game whistled and beeped as he spoke. "Duty and obligation are the perfect words to describe your responsibility."
Teal'c sat next to Daniel, close enough to watch him play the game on the tiny screen. "I am truly sorry, DanielJackson."
"Want to try?" Daniel handed the opened phone over to Teal'c and explained the finer points of the game. Now it was Daniel's turn to watch, and he rested his head against Teal'c's bicep.
Teal'c harrumphed in frustration. "It would appear that my fingers are too large..." he handed the phone back to Daniel, "...to play this game with the speed and accuracy you have exhibited."
Daniel took the phone back and began to flip it opened and closed, but didn't lift his head.
Teal'c lifted his hand and cupped Daniel's head, holding it against his arm.
"Would you feel badly... would your feelings be hurt if Rya'c confided a secret to Bra'tac and not you?"
"I have trusted Bra'tac with my life and now with my son's. If Rya'c chooses to confide in someone other than myself, I can only hope that he will turn towards the wisdom and guidance Bra'tac will offer him."
"Would Bra'tac tell you what Rya'c confided in him?"
"I am not sure of the answer to this question. As Rya'c's father, I would want to know all that concerns him. But if Bra'tac's revealing my son's conversation would cause Rya'c to lose faith in the one person I trust my son to, then the answer would be no." Teal'c stopped and took a breath, waiting as if mulling over his own words. "It is very confusing, is it not?"
"Yeah, it is."
And the words were there, on the tip of Daniel's tongue, all ready to spill out on the Gateroom floor. "Teal'c—"
"Unscheduled offworld activation."
Crap. Daniel wasn't sure if he felt like crying or throwing the phone across the Gateroom in anger.
"I believe it would be prudent for us to depart." Teal'c stood and offered his arm to Daniel.
Daniel shook off Teal'c's assistance, got up, tucked the phone into his back pocket and led the way out of the Gateroom.
Daniel was pacing Teal'c's quarters like a caged animal, annoyed that Teal'c was quietly meditating in the corner. "Why did you tell me to pack clothes for three days?" He was rubbing his arm, the ache and the odor had returned while he and Teal'c had been in the commissary eating lunch, once again destroying Daniel's appetite.
"I had thought you would like to accompany me to Chulak."
"Through the Stargate?" He shook his head. "Duh, how else would we get there?"
"So?" Daniel rolled his hand, encouraging Teal'c.
"We're going to Chulak to what? Take in the sights?" Now that his dream of going through the Stargate was finally here, excitement rivaled the disappointment of the past weeks and the manner in which he'd gotten to this point.
"I would be honored if you would attend Moc'rat with me. That is, if your arm does not pain you unduly."
"Moc'rat?" Daniel rolled the word around on his tongue. "State of progression," he said proudly. Since he could remember, Teal'c would speak to him on occasion in his native language. Now at thirteen, with eight years under his belt, Daniel was damn proficient in the language, recalling with a stab of sadness how much his dad had hated this, always claiming Teal'c was just instructing Daniel on all the curse words.
"You are correct." Teal'c smiled one of his rare smiles.
Daniel basked in the glow of Teal'c's happiness. "So what is this state of progression?"
"Rya'c has been accepted into the next and final step of his training. It is a great honor."
Teal'c's smile deepened, the pride he obviously felt seeping from every pore.
Daniel could see it, could smell it, and Teal'c's euphoria over his son's accomplishment overshadowed whatever good spirits he'd experienced. "That's really nice."
"There will be a celebration."
"Yeah, sounds great. Can't wait." Once again, Daniel began to pace, massaging his arm as jealousy burned a hole in his empty stomach. Daniel Jackson - a replacement son to Teal'c when he wasn't with Rya'c. Even to his dad - filling in the hole that Charlie had left behind. Sloppy seconds.
"Can I have one of the pills Doctor Lam gave to you?" He rotated his arm for Teal'c, contorting his expression into one of pain. "It hurts." And it did, though not enough to warrant anything more than a hot shower or a heating pad. But hey, if everyone thought he was experimenting with drugs to escape his reality, who the hell was he to prove them wrong.
Daniel's sleep was dreamless and deep and he woke not because his body was ready to awaken, but because the need to pee was so great, it had tugged him from his drug-induced slumber. Teal'c's quarters were dark, the tiny lamp on the little table was on, and it took Daniel a second to orient himself.
No Teal'c. Thankfully, Daniel wouldn't be smothered by a hovering audience as he stumbled to the bathroom. Switching on the bathroom light, he groaned as he was bombarded with the fluorescent's harsh, blinding glare. His bladder wouldn't give him any time to adjust to the light.
Daniel swayed while peeing, making it hard to remain on target and he chuckled idiotically at the puddle he made to the right of the toilet. Later, he'd tell Teal'c about his mess, but right now, to Daniel, washing up took priority. Well, that, and going back to sleep.
He stood in front of the mirror, yawned then reached for the soap. Daniel washed his face, rinsed then ran the excess water on his fingers through his hair, finally focusing on the image in the mirror. "Shit." Jumping back, he kicked over the garbage can and it was only the close proximity of the wall behind him that saved him from landing on his ass.
"Teal'c!" he yelled, glancing around the bathroom in horror, trying to locate the person in the mirror, but Daniel was the only person in the small room. Daniel and the ancient-looking, elderly, bewhiskered man in the mirror. Daniel leaned forward and the old man leaned forward as well. He touched his own smooth cheek and simultaneously the reflection touched its own weathered cheek.
He began to shake and the old man mimicked his every action. Daniel panicked, picked up the garbage can he'd tripped over and flung it at the mirror, watching with satisfaction as the image of the old man shattered into a million pieces.
Slowly, he backed out of the bathroom, breathing heavily, his heart pounding in his chest as if he'd run a marathon. "Teal'c," he whimpered into the empty room. But Teal'c, his shadow, was gone and Daniel was alone. With shaking hands, he picked up the pitcher to pour himself a glass of water. The pitcher slipped from his fingers as he caught sight of the old man in the pitcher's reflective material.
He spun around in the hopes of catching the smirking elderly man standing behind him, but the room was empty. Daniel rushed to the door, opened it and caught the surprised glance of a passing airman.
"Excuse me." Daniel swallowed, attempting to school his emotions. Now what question could he ask that wouldn't make him seem like an idiot.
"Yes, Daniel, is there something I can do for you?"
"Umm... no." Daniel shook his head. If the airman saw him as Daniel then the old man was someone only he could see. Another hallucination. Another visual of his sick mind. "Sorry."
Daniel stepped inside and closed the door. His gaze fell on the pile of pillows he'd been sleeping on. Sleeping without a care in the world. Without any hallucinations or old men haunting him.
He found the blister pack Lam had given to Teal'c with the one muscle relaxant missing, and this time there was no hesitation as Daniel popped out another and dry-swallowed, too terrified to pick up the pitcher for a drink of water.
Confused, Daniel did a three-sixty, staring at the room. He didn't remember leaving his desk in this much of a mess. He was anal like that. Before missions, he made sure to leave his office and his desk a clean slate because god alone knew that by the time he came back, his inbox was usually overflowing. But now? There were piles of papers covering every square inch of surface and where was his wedding bowl? He moved some of the papers aside, silently cursing as they slid to the floor. The floor moved when he went to pick them up and he swayed, holding onto the corner of the desk.
Maybe Janet shouldn't have released him from the infirmary. He'd been in the infirmary? Hadn't he? No. Teal'c's room. He'd been in Teal'c's room... because? He was... tired? Yeah. Too tired to think coherently or even move further than the couch against the wall.
Daniel stepped over the mess on the floor and fell onto the couch, turning to face the back cushions. Strangely, the couch seemed even more threadbare than he remembered and the ever-present afghan seemed to be on its last legs. Maybe this was a time/space continuum discussion for Sam. Later. After he took a nap.
"DanielJackson. You will wake up."
He knew that voice. Knew the tone in that voice, and as much as Daniel wanted to stay asleep, he had no option but to obey. He flipped onto his back, overbalanced and would've ended up on the floor if Teal'c hadn't used his knee to keep him on the couch.
Daniel blinked and the three Teal'cs merged into one. "Teal'c." He waved with an arm that for some strange reason was slow to respond and fell onto his belly with a thud.
"You have given me great cause for worry."
Incrementally, it all began to slowly leak back into his brain. "I..." What was he going to tell Teal'c? Oops, sorry about the mirror, but you see, there was this old man in the bathroom who was bothering me? Ain't gonna happen. "I woke up," he stuttered. "And you were gone..." He closed his eyes, unable to meet Teal'c's eyes as he saw his friend's anger melt into guilt, due to Daniel's story. "I had a—I had a nightmare. The mirror..." Tears leaked out from under Daniel's closed lids. "I'm sorry. I think I was sleepwalking. I remember taking another pill—"
To Daniel's embarrassment, Teal'c gathered him in his arms. "I must apologize," he whispered. "I had believed you to be sleeping soundly."
Mortified, but caught between a rock and a hard place, Daniel kept silent. He hadn't yet crossed the line into officially becoming a horrible person, betraying and lying to everyone he loved.
"I didn't mean to make you worry," he sobbed into Teal'c's neck.
"Please, it is I who must apologize. My anger at you was based on speculation, all of which I can now see was wrong."
Daniel sniffed and rubbed his nose against Teal'c's tee shirt like a baby. "I don't know how I ended up at Doctor Lee's office."
"There is no damage done."
Daniel leaned to the side. "I knocked over papers. I'm—"
"You are sorry. I understand. Do you feel well enough to make it back to my quarters?"
Abruptly, Daniel sat up, shaking his head. "Yes. I'm fine." He yawned. "Or I will be as soon as this wears off."
"And your arm?"
"The reason you took—" Teal'c's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Oh." Daniel recovered quickly. "My arm." He moved the arm for Teal'c. "It feels better." He gave an embarrassed, one shoulder shrug then forced a yawn. "Sorry, still a little out of it."
He hadn't realized how much he hadn't been lying until he and Teal'c entered the corridor. The fluorescent lights were blinding and Daniel took a step back, right onto Teal'c's feet.
"It would appear you are in need of assistance."
The corridor was cold and he shivered, which was a signal for Teal'c's hand to work its way up to Daniel's forehead. "Taking lessons from my dad?"
"You are in my care. Today alone you have broken a mirror, taken an unsupervised dosage of medication and gotten lost. I do not wish to tell O'Neill that you have also developed a fever."
"Just tired." Daniel yawned. "Really tired."
Teal'c was pressed against Daniel's side and Daniel was pressed against the wall as they walked.
Daniel knew he accomplished the last few steps with his eyes closed. Teal'c propped him against the doorframe, used the passkey to unlock the door and literally guided him to the pillows on the floor. Daniel heaved a sigh of appreciation and twisted and turned until he found a comfortable spot.
A hand, heavy and warm touched his forehead, then pushed a strand of hair to the side. "I promise I will not leave you again while you sleep, DanielJackson."
Closed eyes or not, Daniel couldn't stop the handful of tears his betrayal of Teal'c's friendship evoked.
The noise was muffled but insistent, dragging Daniel from sleep. Annoyance was the only reason he rooted around in his back pocket to dig out his cell phone. "Hello," he croaked without even opening his eyes.
"Daniel? You okay? You sound like crap."
He held the phone away from his ear. Smacked his lips, cleared his throat and slowly opened his eyes. "Sleeping."
"Sleeping?" his dad snorted. "It's not even twenty one hundred hours." He paused. "Are you sure you're okay? Teal'c mentioned your arm, maybe I should—"
Daniel turned onto his back and smiled up at Teal'c who was gazing down at him. "My dad," he mouthed.
Teal'c gave a slight bow and turned his attention back to the TV in the opposite corner of the room.
"You don't have to do anything, Dad. The medication—"
"Yeah, about the medication..." The harshness of his voice rivaled tempered steel.
Even though Daniel had crossed the line and lied, his father's unspoken accusation sparked a flame of anger. "Prescribed. My name was on it. Muscle relaxants. Took one. Slept. Took another... was sleeping."
His father sighed. "We can't speak without arguing, can we?"
All these angry words were lined up, ready to be spoken, but he just didn't have the energy anymore. "No, we can't."
"Yeah, it does." Daniel yawned into the phone.
"It wasn't always like this."
"No, it wasn't." Daniel didn't skip a beat. "I'm going to Chulak."
"Yes." There was a resignation in his father's voice that scared the shit out of him.
He threw the blankets to the side and he, his cell phone and his father went into the bathroom. The room was minus a mirror, but the glass had been swept up. Daniel closed the door, then the toilet lid and sat. "Daddy? Are you sending me away to Chulak?"
"Dad!" Daniel begged. "Don't do this."
"It's just for a few days. Teal'c wants to take you to his son's ceremony. There'll be food, dessert... balloons."
"I'm not a little kid."
"I know that. I know you're not a little kid. I know you're having a tough time of it. I know you don't want to talk to anyone..."
"So you're punishing me?"
"No. You're going with a friend who asked for you."
"Am I coming home?" Daniel began to cry, terrified.
"Ah, shit, Icky, of course you're coming home." "But I don't want to go," he sniffed, wishing he were home in his bed, instead of sitting in a cold bathroom at the SGC at 9 o'clock at night. "Can I come home?"
"You're leaving tomorrow. You'll be home by Tuesday night."
"Icky, I swear. This is not a punishment. You are not being sent to Chulak to be trained to be a Jaffa warrior. Your grandmother would kill me."
"How do you know?"
"Because I'm your father, and I know what tickles your funny bone, even if I'm not there to do the tickling."
"I love you."
"Ditto. I wouldn't let you leave without saying goodbye. I'm going to see your principal tomorrow around zero eight hundred hours then I'll be there to send you off. Bottle of champagne... it's your maiden voyage through the 'gate; you need some type of fanfare to send you off."
Daniel had expected some confetti, a bottle of sparkling apple cider, a cup of forbidden Starbucks with three shots of espresso. Fanfare, like his dad promised. What he didn't expect was fireworks.
Daniel knew better than to speak when his father was on a tirade. He stood in his father's office, hands behind his back, staring at the point right above his father's shoulder while trying his damnedest not to yawn. He'd slept horribly, fearing what would happen at his dad's meeting with the school bigwigs.
Daniel shifted his weight from one leg to the other. Right here. Right now. This was one of those rare occurrences where the imagination didn't do justice to the actual outcome.
"Look at me."
Daniel jumped as his father hit the desk then brought his gaze front and center.
"Now that I have your attention, let's go through this again." He walked from behind the desk, stood in front of Daniel, parking his backside on the edge. His dad crossed his arms across his chest. "As I stated before, you're on academic probation. A genius, Daniel. You're a fucking genius and you've been placed on academic probation. Even that was a fight. Your principal was ready to kick your ass back to the middle school. Eighth grade." His dad rubbed his temples. "It wouldn't have been pretty. I argued, quite effectively I might add, which is why you're on probation."
Daniel was terrified to give any sign of recognition. Not a yes. Or a no. Even the thought of his father's reaction to a slight head nod scared the shit out of him.
"You're failing. Science. Math. You've cut school more than a handful of times." He began to tick off Daniel's indiscretions on his fingers. "You've forged my name on letters that have been sent home. It would appear that you had a meeting or two with the school psychologist—"
"I didn't tell him anything."
"Obviously, this Doctor Channing made a brilliant deduction based on your silence. Drugs." His father dug into his pocket and pulled out a small blue business card. "Rehab. Sunshine House. Recommended that I give them a call, set up a tour. Talk to some of the residents. Good thing we already got a date set for Tuesday night with a shrink, isn't it?"
"What about... Teal'c... I—"
"You're not getting out of this one, Daniel. Tuesday night. You, me, Doctor Kayton. You better take the time between now and then to get your act together because that Sunshine House is looking like a pretty damn good idea at the moment."
Daniel was crying. Silent tears.
"Stop with the waterworks." He flung the card backwards and it missed the desk and fluttered to the ground. "I've been falling for them for the past few months. You've made a fool and a mockery of the people you call your friends. Teal'c. Carter. That's unconscionable. And unforgivable." His father's voice softened. "You've made a fool of me."
Daniel shook his head. "I'm sor—"
"Don't." His father threw his hand up to silence him.
Daniel used the back of his hand to wipe his nose, ignoring the box of tissues his father offered.
He tossed the tissues back onto the desk. "Go with Teal'c. Think about what I just said. It's time you owned up to your mistakes. We'll talk on Tuesday, after you see Dr. Kayton. Go." He pointed to the door.
His feet refused to move. In shock, Daniel realized he'd been dismissed, as he'd seen his father dismiss other SGC personnel when he was done with them.
"Fine," his dad said, walking past Daniel. "You stay, I'm going to go."
Stupidly, Daniel stood there after his father left. Staring into space, unsure of what to do. A few ideas moved through his brain and he toyed with the idea of running away—that seemed like an okay option. Maybe if he could modify that. The SGC was a big place. Big enough to get lost in, maybe not forever, but long enough for him pick up the pieces.
He looked over his right shoulder then his left before trying the doorknob. He held his breath as the door opened with a slight squeak. Though the room was pitch black, Daniel stepped inside, shutting the door, blocking out the corridor's light. Three steps to the left, Daniel reached up and found the pull cord. The overhead bulb flickered a few times before staying on.
The closet was small. Minute almost, just a tad bigger than a shower stall. Two sides had floor to ceiling metal shelving. Filled with... toys. This had been his toy closet at the SGC. General Hammond had forced his dad and Janet to find a place for all of his and Cassie's stuff after he'd slipped on a Parcheesi piece and sprained his ankle.
Games and toys. A bucket of cars. A few Barbie dolls with missing limbs. Crayons. Legos. A tub of oversized chalk. Daniel removed the tub, the chalk and the memories from the shelf. He smiled at the verbal reprimand he and Cassie had received when they got caught creating a huge hopscotch board on the floor of the Gateroom. He remembered when Walter, from his omnipresent seat in the control room, disavowed any knowledge of ever having seen the two of them hard at work.
Daniel and the tub slid to the ground. Daniel was here, he wrote on the cement floor next to his right leg.
Then he took the chalk and drew a squiggle. And then another.
He didn't know what happened. He remembered writing some nonsensical markings on the ground and now? He was covered in chalk dust, the floor and the bare walls in this closet were covered with these markings, set in groups of seven, some repetitive... Horrified, he looked at the floor. Scattered around were the remnants of pieces of chalk, which meant that—Daniel glanced at his watch—he'd been in here for close to two hours. Two hours! Hurriedly, he began to slide his foot across the markings on the floor, stopping when he realized he was making an even bigger mess. There was no time to clean it correctly so he just cut his losses, turned out the light and slowly backed out of the room.
This was bad. Fugue states where he remembered nothing were bad. He knew this. Head down, he strode down the hall, entered the first men's room he came to and promptly emptied the contents of his stomach into the toilet.
He washed his hands, patted down his clothes, and sent a cloud of chalk dust into the air. Thankfully, the bathroom was empty and Daniel didn't have to answer to anyone as to why he looked like a walking/talking chalkboard eraser. He shook out his hair, then ran his fingers through it, then shook it out again until finally the halo around his head dissipated into the air. Once again his hands were coated and once again he washed them, staring into the mirror as the warm water sluiced over his fingers.
Drawing a deep breath, he pumped soap into his right hand then scrubbed the two of them together under the running water. He washed his face, rinsed his hands, ran damp fingers through his hair and then, then he shut his brain off.
"Daniel?" Glancing up from the paperwork on her desk, she looked at him and smiled.
"Hey," he said, suddenly embarrassed, wondering how he could back up and get the hell out of here without arousing her suspicion.
"Come on in."
"Daniel?" She studied him, confused.
"Have a few minutes?"
"Sure." Sam made a face at the paperwork on her desk. "Actually, I'm glad for the interruption."
Slowly, Daniel entered her room. He loved her office and the red welcome mat was always spread out for him, no matter the time of day or night.
"I know," she agreed.
"No, you don't know, Sam. I'm having a hard time—"
"I've been looking all over for you, Daniel."
Daniel lowered his head and sighed.
"Sir, Daniel and I were just—"
"Teal'c's waiting for him."
"I'm coming, Dad." Lifting his head, he gave Sam a slight smile before turning to face his father.
"Put these on." His dad waved an armful of burlap-looking material at him.
"What are those?"
"Robes. Ceremonial robes."
Daniel shook his head. "I don't want to—
"I don't care what you want at this moment. Put these robes on and let's go. Teal'c's waiting for you."
"SG-1, you have a go."
"Well, what're you waiting for?" Jack grinned at Teal'c. He motioned jauntily towards the active Stargate, allowing Teal'c to lead the way. He let Carter and Daniel precede him, turned to wave at General Hammond who was watching from the Control Room, and strode through the Stargate, heading for Chulak.
A welcoming party was waiting for them: Bra'tac, Rya'c and four other Jaffa whose names Jack couldn't remember. He stood back while Teal'c embraced first his son, then Bra'tac.
"Hey. Congratulations." Jack waved at Rya'c, who was grinning from ear to ear.
"Thank you, Colonel O'Neill. And thank you for participating in my Moc'rat."
"Hey, my pleasure." Jack nodded at Rya'c, marveling at how much he'd grown. The young man stared back at Jack, his gaze not quite as intense as Teal'c's but promising to be one day when he grew older and wiser.
"Colonel O'Neill. Major Carter. Doctor Jackson." Bra'tac smiled warmly at them all, and extended his hand towards the path leading to the village. "Please."
With his hand resting comfortably on his P-90, Jack stepped in beside Carter. Daniel was talking to one of the Jaffa, and Teal'c with Rya'c. Suddenly the Stargate behind them began turning and the Jaffa fanned out, covering the 'gate from all angles.
"SG-1, this is Stargate Command."
Startled to hear Walter's voice, Jack quickly keyed in his radio. "Stargate Command, this is SG-1 niner."
"Colonel O'Neill, please return to the SGC immediately."
"Sir?" Jack said, bewildered at Hammond's command.
"Now, Colonel," General Hammond tersely repeated his order and before Jack could protest, the 'gate quickly blinked out.
Without a word, all four of them began hurrying towards the Stargate. Carter, closer to the DHD, veered in that direction and began punching in the 'gate address.
"What could have happened? We just left." Daniel, standing next to Jack, looked as worried and bewildered as Jack felt. Whatever it was, it couldn't be good.
"We'll try to make it back for dessert," Jack yelled over his shoulder as he jogged up the stairs and into the wormhole.
"General, what's going on?" Jack hurriedly led the way down the ramp, pausing a moment as he got a whiff of puke then spotted the vomit-splattered metal and carefully stepped over the mess. "We barely got past the hugs and hellos, let alone start in on the mockrat party, when you called us back. I'm sure there's a couple of Jaffa we missed and they're going to be pouting for a good long ti—"
A tentative voice called out and Jack stopped in mid-rant. There, next to the exit, surrounded by several SFs, was Teal'c and a young, blond, bespectacled kid, both of them wearing robes. Hammond was standing next to them. Jack turned to his team and looked at Teal'c. His Teal'c, who was dressed in fatigues. And then at the second Teal'c. "I'm not seeing double, am I?" he said to Carter.
"Only if I am, sir."
"Good, because for some strange reason, I thought we were in the middle of a commercial with the DoubleMint Twins."
Carter smiled at Teal'c and the kid as she absently handed her weapon over to a technician. "I, um, guess you called us back because of... our visitors?"
"That's one reason. And another is because they stepped through your outgoing wormhole, Major."
"General?" Carter frowned and looked at Jack, who simply shrugged. "You mean they came through after we left—"
"No, Major. There was one wormhole, you left through it to go to Chulak, and they arrived through the same wormhole. It did not disengage."
"Sir, that's impossible—"
"I know that, Major, which is why Walter is pulling the computer logs as we speak."
"I'm on my way, sir." With another curious glance at Teal'c and the boy on her way out, she quickly jogged up into the Control Room.
"Dad, what's going on?"
The kid took a step forward, only to be stopped by the other Teal'c's firm hold on his shoulder.
"Teal'c, mind enlightening us here?" Jack asked the visiting Jaffa.
"I am unsure, O'Neill, but I believe we may have traveled to an alternative universe."
"Ya think?" He moved closer to their guests, flanked by Daniel and his Teal'c. The boy was staring at them, staring at him, actually. "I know who you are, but who's the kid?"
"You're not my dad, are you?"
The boy looked exhausted, sick, and was obviously nervous as he continued to stare at Jack. "Sorry, son." Jack shook his head, more than a little confused. And although he knew the possibilities of alternate worlds were endless and that on at least one of them, his son Charlie might just be alive and healthy, the kid before him definitely didn't look like his son. As a matter of fact, he looked like—
"I'm not your son." The kid sounded crestfallen. "My name's Daniel Jackson O'Neill, and," he turned to Daniel and stared at him intently, "you're my dad. My real dad."
"Um... no, I don't think so." If anything, Daniel looked almost pole axed. He and Jack exchanged a look and Jack could tell that Daniel was going through, in his mind, the names of all the girls he might have dated a dozen or so years ago.
"DanielJackson was adopted by Colonel Jack O'Neill eight years ago," the visiting Teal'c said, speaking more quickly than any Teal'c usually would, "after a mission gone awry to planetary designation P3P 387—"
"Planetary designation?" The kid turned to squint at Teal'c. "That sounds so weird."
"Daniel Jackson? Adopted?" Hammond's outburst had the boy suddenly looking down nervously at his feet.
"His family was killed in an unfortunate accident on that planet. The boy was left without a guardian, and O'Neill took him in as his own son."
There was something in Teal'c's voice and body language, almost a desperation, which was so out of place in the Jaffa that Jack couldn't quite figure it out. If Jack didn't know any better, he'd swear he was being lied to.
"Where's my dad, Teal'c? Who's he? What's happening?" The young Daniel leaned into Teal'c, obviously searching for comfort, and Teal'c casually wrapped an arm around him, pulling him close.
"All will be fine, DanielJackson. I do not believe these people will hurt us and they will attempt to help us return to our own world."
"Own world?" the boy repeated.
Jack had to hand it to the kid; he should have been freaking out but he seemed to be holding together pretty well.
"P3P 387..." Daniel made a quick whirling, nervous motion with his hand. "Jack, that's the place where I..." The hand motion stopped and he lowered it to the side, palm flat towards the ground as if indicating the height of a child.
"Where you were shrunk." Understanding suddenly dawned on Jack. "This is Daniel? Your Daniel?"
"That's me?" Daniel asked simultaneously.
"Did the device not reverse the procedure when used a second time on DanielJackson?"
Jack felt like he was in a ping-pong game when the visiting Teal'c answered his Teal'c. "We did not attempt to reverse the procedure. Doctor Lam had proclaimed the process too dangerous and there was a strong possibility he would not survive—"
"Doctor Lam?" Jack asked nobody in particular. She'd only joined the program a few months ago.
"Our DanielJackson nearly did not survive the second transformation, but DoctorFraiser was very adamant that he do so. As were we."
Jack bit back a grin when Daniel blinked in surprise at Teal'c. They'd never really told Daniel how close it had been, the shock on his body going from adult to a child and back to adult nearly was his undoing.
"Teal'c? What's going on? What are they saying?" Okay, maybe he was wrong. The kid looked like he was on the verge of panicking.
"This is not our world, young Daniel."
"I know that. But why do they think I'm him?"
"You didn't tell him." Jack had stepped forward, curiosity pressing him to examine this younger version of his friend more closely, but he stopped at the wariness and fear in the boy's face. He turned to the other Teal'c accusingly. "You never told him what really happened."
"It was not my decision."
"Didn't tell him what?" Daniel turned to the visiting Teal'c, wariness lacing his words. He whirled quickly to face Jack, and the deepening glare was a promise that he was going to follow this up in private the moment the opportunity arose.
"Didn't tell me what?" There was fear and indignation in the kid's voice, but his mouth was pressed together in a very familiar, very stubborn manner, mirrored in the adult version standing only a few feet away.
"It is not my place to divulge your past, DanielJackson." There was regret in Teal'c's voice and he stared at SG-1 in a manner that begged that they spare the boy. Now Jack understood what this Teal'c had tried to get them to understand.
"My past? But..." The kid turned to Teal'c, his chin quivering as he tried to hold everything together. "But this is another dream, right? It's not happening. It can't be happening."
Guilt coursed through Jack, knowing how he'd contemplated this possibility eight years ago while they'd debated putting a five-year-old Daniel through a second exposure of an alien machine that had done a splendid job at reducing his friend into a child with no memories of his past, except for vague recognition of his teammates. Before he could explain to either of the Daniels, Hammond spoke up.
"Gentlemen, how about we resume this discussion once Doctor Fraiser has examined our guests."
Daniel couldn't stop shivering. This particular nightmare was different than all the others. Not only did it not feel like a nightmare, he couldn't wake up. His thoughts were clear, focused, and he couldn't escape.
Had he taken another drug? Oh God, his dad was gonna kill him. He couldn't remember, could only remember the anger he'd felt towards his dad, and the frustration and disappointment that he was finally going through the Stargate, but not in the expected positive manner he and Cassie had always fantasized about.
The infirmary was familiar; and at the same time, not. And Janet, what was up with her? Her hair was long, down to her shoulders. Just today, her hair had been short, shorter than his own.
And two Teal'cs. And his dad who wasn't his dad. He'd rather face his father's anger than have him look at him without recognition. Without acknowledgment. Without love.
Janet smiled at him and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders, which he gratefully squirmed beneath so that his whole body was covered.
"I'll be right over here with Teal'c, okay?" Janet's voice sounded the same, and although her smile was the usual one she gave him, there was no recognition in her eyes.
He nodded dully as he clasped the edges of the blanket beneath his throat, watching the curtain which separated him and Teal'c and listening to the sounds behind it to get an indication of when his examination was also over.
Although he'd been expecting it, he jumped when Janet pulled the curtain between them open. Without a word, he thrust his legs off the bed and jumped onto Teal'c's, leaning against his body, needing to know that he wasn't disappearing in a nightmare of his own making, that this wasn't the final hurrah, that he had finally gone over the edge and would be stuck in a world where nobody knew him, especially neither of his... fathers.
When Teal'c pulled him close, he nearly lost it again and he swallowed several times against the hard lump in his throat.
"Are you ill?"
He shook his head against Teal'c's chest, afraid if he opened his mouth, it would set off the terror he was holding at bay and he'd bawl like a little kid. He clutched Teal'c tighter as the blanket was readjusted around him.
"How about I give you two a few minutes alone? I'll tell the General you'll be down to see him in fifteen minutes?"
"That will be acceptable."
When Janet snicked the curtain shut, and with the unexpected privacy, Daniel found himself unable to hold back. Ashamed at his loss of control, he dug his face against Teal'c's chest and sobbed.
"We shall return home, and you will be reunited with your father."
Daniel shook his head, the sobs so violent he couldn't speak.
"Why didn't you tell me what really happened?"
Jack was never one to run with his tail between his legs, but he found himself taking an involuntary step back when Daniel rounded on him in the briefing room. He couldn't help casting a glance towards General Hammond's office and was relieved to see him through the glass window, his attention on some papers on his desk.
"You have to understand, the choice was taken out of my hands when you got turned back into an adult—"
"That kid thinks you're his father. Or rather, that smaller version of me thinks you're my – his – father."
"Technically, I'm not his father—"
"He's got no memories of me being an adult, just like I didn't for those days when I was a child. Do you have any idea how frightening that was?" Daniel slashed the air in emphasis.
"You said you didn't remember being downsized—"
"I said I didn't remember anything while I was downsized. I remember being scared out of my wits, and the only vaguely familiar things around were you, Sam and Teal'c. So you're telling me, if I never got turned back into an adult, you would never have told me the truth about who I really was?"
"That's a moot point, you know—"
"That's beside the point."
"Okay, yeah, the thought had crossed my mind," Jack hissed when Hammond turned to look at them through the window. He tried not to glance at the time, wondering where the hell the others were. Carter, he knew, was still trying to figure out the glitch in the wormhole that had brought their visitors here.
"You actually entertained the thought of not telling me who I was if I'd never gotten changed back?"
Jack wished Daniel had waited until they had time and privacy to discuss this. "Yes, Daniel, I did. Had you remained a kid, I might have done exactly what that other Jack O'Neill did. Given you a fresh start, without the stigma of knowing how different you were from other kids. I'd have made sure you were happy and healthy and grew up in a normal life."
"So you're saying you would have lied to me—"
"I'm saying I'd have taken you home, given you a solid foundation, a family, a—"
"A total lie!"
"A family, Daniel. Along with the lies, I contemplated adoption. The way Fraiser did with Cassie." This conversation needed to end now, because Hammond was coming out of his office. "The way that other Jack obviously did with your other self." He left Daniel standing there, mouth open, and went to stand next to a chair, waiting for the General.
"Our visitors are on their way up." Hammond sat, waving Jack down as Teal'c entered the briefing room.
Teal'c gave Daniel a curious stare when he noted the man just standing there, staring into space. Jack shrugged when Teal'c raised a questioning eyebrow.
Jack sat in uncomfortable silence, aware of Daniel's agitation, until the other Teal'c and Daniel were escorted into the briefing room.
The kid had obviously been crying, his eyes were swollen and his face was splotchy. He started to pull out the chair next to Jack, stopped, moved over to the next chair and then aborted that move when his Teal'c waved him to the original seat. Teal'c sat next to Daniel, sandwiching him between him and Jack.
"You okay?" Jack asked. Curiosity ate at him and he wondered what kind of a father his counterpoint had been, and what kind of a child Daniel had turned out to be.
Bloodshot eyes glanced up at him and he nodded. "Fine," he said softly.
"You don't look fine," Jack couldn't help saying. "You do know we'll do everything to try and get you home?"
The kid nodded and a thick curl of hair flopped in front of his glasses.
Jack reached for the carafe of water and poured the kid a glass. He got a quick, sidelong look as he pushed the water in front of him. Trembling hands encircled the glass and pulled it close as he murmured his thanks. After a moment, he took a sip, and after swallowing noisily, left the glass before him as he clasped his hands together on his lap.
"We're almost ready to start." Jack was aware of the uncomfortable silence and if it bothered him, he couldn't help wondering how the poor kid felt. He realized something suddenly; this boy, this child sitting next to him, could have been his son. He cleared his throat and couldn't help glancing at the adult Daniel sitting across from him. He cleared his throat again when he realized his friend was watching him. "We're just waiting for Fraiser and um, Carter, to join us. Fraiser, to tell us how the two of you are doing and Carter, to see if she figured out how you both got here and if we can find a way to send you back home."
Jack knew he was rambling but suddenly, making the kid feel at ease was important.
"It's okay," the kid replied softly, mumbling into his lap. "You don't have to bother. It'll all go away eventually."
The adult Daniel leaned forward, his arm coming across the table, as if extended in friendship. "What do you mean, it'll all go away?"
"This is all a dream, a – a – a nightmare. I've been having them for a few weeks. Months." He turned quickly to look at his Teal'c, his teeth worrying his lower lip. "I'm sorry, Teal'c. I didn't want to tell anyone that I was going... crazy." His voice broke and as he lowered his head again, Jack could see the kid was on the verge of crying. "I don't know if I pulled you into this or if you're just a figment of my imagination, and if I did, I'm sorry, but I didn't mean to—"
"Daniel." Jack couldn't help himself. He placed a hand on the kid's trembling shoulder, and all of a sudden, his arms were full of a sobbing, trembling teenager. He was amazed at both the strength in the kid's grip as well as the feel of skin and bones beneath his hands. He held the boy close even as Teal'c placed a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder. He met Teal'c's gaze above the bowed head.
"DanielJackson has become withdrawn from both his father and his friends in recent months. We were aware of an underlying reason but he has chosen not to confide in us. When he experimented with drugs, O'Neill permitted me to take the boy to Chulak where I would have, hopefully, gained his trust once more and enticed him to confide in me."
"Daniel?" Jack lowered his lips close to the boy's ear, hoping the relationship with his other self would be enough to let him listen to him so they could get answers. "Why are you saying you're going crazy?"
"Because all of this is impossible," he hiccupped. "Because I keep seeing things, dreaming thing—"
"Like what? Can you tell us what you've seen?"
Tears and snot streaming down his face, Daniel looked up and caught his adult self's gaze. "Tell me who Sha're is."
"Sha're?" Daniel looked quickly over at Jack. "She's, she was, my wife. She's dead now."
"Why did her eyes glow? Why do people's eyes glow? Why do they want to hurt us?"
Teal'c grabbed Daniel by the shoulders, forcing him to turn towards him. "You have seen this, DanielJackson?"
Daniel nodded, his sobs abating as he tried to get himself under control. "Snakes. I saw snakes, too. They wanted to hurt Dad. They wanted to hurt everyone. And Jaffa, they chased me. For hours. And there was a fish, a giant fish, who looked like a man. And you, you wanted to hurt me. You had hair," he added with a loud sniff. "And the Stargate. I dreamed I went through it and it was exactly like..." He looked down at his hands again. "I threw up, just like I threw up here."
"And the drugs?"
"To try and meditate. To try and conquer my fears. You always said that I could do anything if I had the right mental attitude." He was getting worked up, his words coming faster and faster together until they were difficult to make out. "I couldn't do it by myself because I kept falling asleep and dreaming, so I took the peyote and then I couldn't get anymore so I got the mushrooms instead and they were a mistake because I couldn't stop the nightmares and then I tried the pills because I just wanted... to... sleep." Daniel was breathing heavily, and when Teal'c pulled him close, he went unresistingly, resting his head against Teal'c's shoulder with his eyes closed. "I just wanted to sleep," he whispered.
"Memories," Daniel said from across the table. "His memories are coming back." He leaned forward over the table. "Daniel, you're not going crazy. These are memories that were suppressed when you were turned into a child—"
"DanielJackson!" The other Teal'c, the one who had an arm around the kid, leaned forward and glared at Daniel. Their Teal'c, the one sitting beside Daniel, leaned forward just enough to answer the other Teal'c's challenge.
Daniel didn't back down. "He's got to be told, Teal'c. If he'd known from the very start, he might not have had such an adverse reaction to it happening." Daniel turned to Jack, eyes wide in supplication. "Let me talk to him, let me explain to him what's been going on."
"It is not your place."
"Sorry I'm late. I was waiting for the results of a few tests to..." Fraiser hurried into the room and her words faltered as she glanced at the animosity spread out around the table. "Um..." She cleared her throat awkwardly as she took a seat at the far end of the briefing table, opposite Hammond.
"I'm sorry, Teal'c, but I have to agree with Doctor Jackson," Hammond said as Fraiser watched them all curiously. "The boy's wellbeing is now in our hands and I think if these truly are his memories, then the best person to speak to him about them is Doctor Jackson."
"Sir," Jack said quickly, pushing away from the table. "Permission to accompany Daniel, and... Daniel."
"Denied. I think your presence complicates things enough as it is. The boy's confused, let's not put a father figure into the mix right now." Hammond turned to Daniel. "You can use my office for now."
"Thank you, General." Daniel stood slowly and put a hand out to the kid. Although he'd given the impression that he'd tuned them all out, the boy turned to look at Daniel warily. "We're just going to talk, over there, okay?"
The kid glanced up at Teal'c, who, for a moment, Jack was afraid would refuse, then he nodded curtly. The boy stood, swayed slightly until he used the table to balance himself, and eased himself past Jack and around the table. He walked slowly to Daniel and Jack watched the two of them make their way to the office, both of them, from the back, having the exact same stance and pace, one somewhat smaller and thinner than the other but Jack could so see the boy growing up to be the man.
Hammond turned to Fraiser. "Doctor?"
"Yes, sir." She tapped the folders she'd brought with her. "Barring the results of the DNA tests, both of them are identical to our own... Teal'c and Daniel, except that Daniel's thirteen. Teal'c, like ours, no longer has a symbiote and is dependent on Tretonin. Otherwise, he's in excellent health.
"Daniel, on the other hand, appears to be suffering from exhaustion and stress, along with the residual effects of an allergy attack. I was reluctant to let him out of the infirmary, sir. I would have preferred that he get ten hours of sleep and an extended vacation but figured separating him from Teal'c, at the moment, would just have added more stress that simply wasn't necessary." Her gaze slid to the window where Jack could see both the boy and his friend sitting in Hammond's guest chairs.
"Tell me your earliest memories."
Daniel huddled in the chair, the air in the base was cold and the robes he was wearing were for hot weather, not air-conditioning. He glanced at his scuffed sneakers, rubbing the edges of the tiles with their tips. "I'm not sure. I had an accident when I was five and I had amnesia—"
"Then let me see if I can get this right. You remember waking up, your whole body hurt, and you were so sick, you could barely move. There were people around you, talking to you, but you were so scared you couldn't understand what they were saying."
The man who he'd believed had been his real father sat next to him, eyes closed, obviously concentrating on his words. And his words were so accurate, it was scary.
"And then you felt a little better, and some of the faces were familiar. You couldn't bear to be left alone, though, and would only calm down when one of three people held you. But you wanted to be with just one of those three, because he made you feel the safest." The man opened his eyes and caught Daniel's gaze. His eyes were blue, just like the reflection he saw when he looked in the mirror. "So, am I close?"
Daniel nodded reluctantly.
"Eight years ago, I was on a mission, with Jack, Sam and Teal'c. I stepped onto a small, marbled area which triggered an alien device, and I know this is going to sound totally fantastical, but I was turned into a five-year old boy."
It was maybe the seriousness of the man's tone, or the way his gaze never wavered from Daniel's, but he believed every word the man said. He gave a small grin. "Doesn't sound any worse than seeing snakes jump across a room and try to attack people."
"No, I guess not." The man's lips rose in a slight grin.
"And, I guess you're telling me all of this because the same thing happened to me?"
"And you were turned back into a grownup, while I stayed a little kid?"
"Yes. I don't know why our timelines changed at that point, because most of the time, there are similarities in alternate universes where a certain event changes the sequence and..." The man smiled again. "Okay, so I'm not an expert on this, I usually let Sam do the explaining." The man looked up and Daniel turned, seeing Sam come up the stairs and walk past them, heading for the people still sitting around the table.
"I can't explain it, sir." Carter looked primed and ready to tackle the mystery of the Stargate, like a racehorse chomping at the bit. "Somehow, something affected the wormhole, changing it from outgoing to incoming. I don't even think it's something I could ever recreate."
Jack didn't believe her words, she looked like she was ready to run to her lab and actually start attempting to duplicate whatever had happened to the Stargate.
"Our equipment was unable to trace the anomaly; it was totally off the scale. I could, however, reverse engineer a device that eventually could trace it, in the off chance it ever happened again. But for the moment..." She shook her head and Jack realized then that her excitement was aimed in a totally different direction.
"But I may be able to help you return to your own world," she said, turning to the visiting Teal'c. "I..." She stopped and looked around the table. "Where's Daniel?"
Jack caught her gaze and simply shifted his attention to Hammond's office. Carter turned, saw the two Daniels talking, and nodded. "Oh. Well." She folded her hands together and gave Hammond her full attention. "While I was unable to figure out exactly what did happen to bring you both here," she said, nodding at the visiting Teal'c, "the anomaly did leave a very definite... fingerprint, if you will." She tapped on the glossy table with her index finger, leaving an oily mark. "Given the early studies at Area 51 with the quantum mirror and the information we garnered when we fixed the ripple effect last year, I'm pretty confident I can reprogram the Ancient's time ship to bring you back to your world."
Even though he had very little clue as to what Carter was talking about, Jack did understand two things. However, he felt like he wanted to raise his hand and make 'ooh ooh' noises to get the teacher's attention. Instead he just leaned forward and tried to look intelligent. "It's a time ship, Carter," he spat out. "Emphasis being on time machine, and not mirror technology."
"Oh, I did a little fiddling in my spare time. I'm sure I can adapt the Ancient's technology to bring us through another universe rather than just backwards or forwards in time."
"Spare time?" Jack rolled his eyes, and Carter at least had the sense to look embarrassed.
"So my dad didn't really lie to me?" Daniel asked hesitantly. His whole world had been turned upside down and now he was more afraid that his dad truly didn't love him than the idea that he was going crazy.
"No, he just decided to try and... protect you. I don't know if I agree with his decision, at this point, I think I'd like to say I'd have wanted to know if I had been you, but... well, my childhood hadn't been the greatest – I lost my parents when I was eight and I guess your father wanted to give you a second chance."
Not quite convinced, Daniel nodded, pretending he understood.
"Now, tell me about these memories you've been having. You mentioned Sha're?"
"She's beautiful. Long, dark hair. She called you, me, Dan-yel?"
The adult Daniel's face softened, and when he smiled, his eyes had a faraway look for a moment. "Yeah. She was beautiful."
"What happened to her?"
The smile disappeared. "She died." The smile reappeared, but it was obviously forced. "But that was a few years ago. What else did you remember?"
Daniel felt he could trust this man. His gaze was so sincere. He thought back to all the memories he'd tried to ignore. He tried to suppress a shiver, and failed. "A woman, with long, red hair. And eyes that glowed. She called me—"
"My beloved," the man said simultaneously. "Hathor. She's not a very nice person."
Daniel nodded, agreeing emphatically.
"But she's dead, or at least she is in our world. Maybe yours, too."
"So these are all memories I had before? They're from when I was... you?"
The man nodded. "So far, all of these are experiences I had before I was... well, Jack likes to say I was shrunk. I'm not sure that's quite the right analogy." Again, the smile was gentle and understanding.
A sudden thought hit Daniel. If this man wasn't his father, then who were his parents? His real parents? "What about my mom and dad?" he asked in a nervous voice.
The man sighed, and Daniel knew the news wasn't going to be good.
"Knock, knock." Jack added words to action as he opened the door to Hammond's office. Both Daniels were sitting side-by-side, leaning forward in the chairs, heads close together in a very chummy and intense manner. Both of them looked up at him in surprise. Identical blue eyes framed by wire glasses stared back at him. "How're you two doing? We've finished out here and General Hammond was wondering whether he could have his office back. You need to either move the party to a VIP suite or come join the rest of us for lunch."
"I think we're pretty much done here." Daniel smiled at the kid, who smiled back a little less tentatively than before. The strain the kid had projected had eased, and although he still looked exhausted and not quite healthy, he looked a damned sight better than when he'd gotten here.
The kid glanced at Jack and nodded. The boy got up off the chair and moving slowly, stopped next to Jack, as if expecting something. For a moment Jack wondered if he should put an arm around the kid's shoulder or something, but the moment passed when the kid inhaled deeply and walked over to his Teal'c. The Jaffa, however, didn't hesitate in pulling the boy close in a one-armed hug. He spoke softly to the boy, who nodded and smiled again, hesitantly, up at Teal'c.
"Okay, it's settled. We'll go get some chow while Carter gets to play with her toys."
"Are we going home?" The kid looked up at Teal'c again, who inclined his head as they began walking towards the elevator.
"The odds are very favorable that we shall. MajorCarter has assured us she will do everything in her knowledge to return us to our own world."
"Sam's pretty smart. If she can't do it, nobody can." He grinned at Carter, who smiled back at him.
Dinner was an awkward occasion, with the kid pushing most of his food from one side of his plate to the other while Daniel glared at Jack at every opportunity he had. Thankfully, most of Daniel's attention was on the kid and he and his Teal'c managed to pull the boy out of his shell.
Jack got the impression that young Daniel wasn't usually shy or reticent, but most likely he was still a little embarrassed by his breakdown and maybe just a little overwhelmed by recent happenings.
The party, so to speak, moved to the VIP suite once everyone finished eating. The kid and Teal'c, now showered and dressed in one-piece fatigues, sat on the large double bed while everyone else pulled up a chair.
"Daniel, how about we continue where we left off earlier?" The adult Daniel reached out and patted the kid's leg. "I think maybe Teal'c might like to hear about what you've been going through. Do you think you could talk about what happened when you took the drugs?"
"Do we, um..." The kid looked around, obviously uncomfortable. Jack wasn't sure if it was due to the fact that he had an audience or whether the boy was going to be confessing to his friend what he'd been hiding from him all these months.
"Okay." The kid glanced over nervously at Jack, who simply slid down low in his chair, making himself comfortable. "I took peyote because I thought it would help me meditate." The boy's voice was low, barely audible. "I was having nightmares at least twice a night, but the two times I took the drugs, I didn't dream for nearly ten days in a row."
"Did you attempt to meditate without the drugs?"
"Of course I did." The boy's voice rose with exasperation as he turned his head towards his Teal'c. "Every. Single. Night. Nothing worked. Teal'c, I really, really thought I was... Normal people just don't see and hear things like what I was seeing."
"Wait a sec." Jack sat up and leaned forward. "You said you were dreaming."
"I was. At first. When I was sleeping but then a few weeks ago, I started seeing and hearing things, once in a while, when I was awake."
"Okay, I can understand why you were a little worried and scared." The kid snorted and rolled his eyes at Jack. "But why didn't you tell your father?"
Immediately the boy's demeanor changed and Jack wondered how strict his other self was with this kid. "Because I was afraid he wouldn't believe me if I told him," the kid finally admitted, turning his head away from Jack.
"Hey." Jack patted the bed to get the boy's attention when he didn't look up at him. He waved a finger in front of his face. "He'd have believed you. With all the weird things that go on in this place, you seeing and hearing things that aren't there, well..." He cleared his throat awkwardly. "He'd have believed you." He avoided looking at his Daniel. Even though it had been years ago, both of them had always danced around Daniel's enforced stay in the asylum.
The kid laid his head back and stared at the ceiling, looking as though he was trying to rein in his emotions. Jack ignored the quivering chin, giving the kid some time to compose himself, and turned his attention to Teal'c. "What were the repercussions to the drugs?"
"O'Neill was concerned. And infuriated. As I mentioned before, it is the reason why we were traveling to Chulak."
"I messed up."
"Desperate times lead to desperate measures," Daniel said softly.
"Indeed," both Teal'cs said together.
"You didn't mess up. Now that you know what's happening, things will work out."
The kid yawned and turned to Jack. "But what do I do about all the nightma... memories?"
"I don't know." Jack shrugged. "Let them happen? Now that you know what they—"
The kid's eyes, earlier starting to get heavy with drowsiness, suddenly went blank. A look of horror crossed his face and he jerked back, landing against Teal'c's side. He raised his hand to ward off an invisible blow, still backpedaling away from his imagined assailant. And that was when the screaming started. "No, no, don't hit me. Sam's my friend, too! She's hurt. I want to - Daddy, no, you're hurting me!"
Everyone stood, unsure what was happening. Teal'c had the presence of mind to grab the kid before he rolled off the bed, but still the screams continued and it was obvious that he truly wasn't in the here and now.
"Oh my god." Daniel stood there, mouth open, staring at the boy, aghast.
"DanielJackson. It is a dream. You are aware of these episodes. Return to us. You are amongst friends."
"Daddy!" Daniel howled. After a moment, his eyes focused on Jack and he thrust his arms out towards him.
Without hesitation, Jack put a knee on the bed and reached for the kid. For a moment Jack thought Teal'c wouldn't allow him to take the boy, but then he relented, released Daniel and the kid scurried into his arms.
"Don't hurt me, don't hurt me," the kid mumbled as he wrapped his skinny arms around Jack.
"Shhh, nobody's gonna hurt you." Jack hugged the boy close as he sobbed, his words half-incoherent as he continued to beg. He looked at Daniel and saw the pain reflected in his face as he continued to stare at the boy. "Daniel, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." He wasn't sure which Daniel he was apologizing to, but the adult one seemed startled at Jack's words. The incident with the parasitic virus had happened nearly ten years ago and it was something neither of them had even really, truly, discussed.
It came to Jack as he rocked the boy from side to side, shushing him, that there was plenty he and Daniel had never discussed. Thankfully their friendship had survived what the Stargate had thrown at them.
He continued rocking the kid, waiting for the shivers and the sobs to ease. The kid had been through so much today, it was no wonder he was so emotional. So Jack wasn't surprised when the death grip slowly eased and the body in his arms relaxed. Pretty soon Daniel's was snuggled against his shoulder, the edge of the boy's glasses digging into his neck.
It was a little awkward, moving the boy's lax body to the bed without waking him, but Jack managed it. He was just handing the kid's glasses to Teal'c when the boy smacked his lips and his hand reached out until it touched Jack's leg. Then he hauled himself forward, away from the pillow Jack had arranged beneath his head so that he was lying plastered against Jack's leg and side. While Teal'c repositioned the pillow, Jack brushed the long hair away from his face.
"This must end." Teal'c pulled the comforter over the boy.
"No, the dreams have to continue." Daniel had paced while Jack comforted the boy, and now he hurried back to the bed. "He's got to get them out of his system. I'm sure he'll be fine once he's come to grips with what happened."
"Then tell me something," Jack said softly. "Why are all the nightmares centered right after the time you... he, went through the Stargate?"
"Oh." Daniel seemed to think about this long and hard. "I don't know," he finally admitted. "Maybe it has to do with the time he became a child, most recent memories first, and then he'll work his way down though..." Daniel's eyes widened at the ordeal he realized the poor kid might be facing.
"Perhaps it is a short-lived affair."
Jack wasn't sure which of the Teal'cs said this but he heartily agreed. "Anyways, right now he's sleeping soundly so maybe we should vamoose so he stays sleeping." He slid off the bed slowly and thankfully, the kid didn't move a muscle. "I'll stay the night on the base, just in case you should need... something." Teal'c tilted his head and they both knew that Jack was really staying for the kid's welfare.
"I'll, um, stay here, too," Daniel said quickly. He shrugged. "I thought maybe I could see how Sam's doing and... maybe Teal'c and I can talk a little more about Daniel's memories?"
Jack walked to the door, and his Teal'c stood and followed him. "Don't keep him up too late; you both need your beauty sleep."
Whistling, Jack sauntered down the corridor, ignoring his grumbling stomach and paused before the door. One of the assigned SFs knocked before swiping his passkey to unlock it. Jack entered and was surprised to find that the kid was still sound asleep. Teal'c, however, opened his eyes to look at Jack.
"I thought you'd be up by now."
"I am. DanielJackson, however, still sleeps."
"I can see that." All that was visible was a lump in the middle of the bed, with only a bit of cheek and chin visible in the dim light. "Did he have a good night?"
"His slumber was undisturbed by nightmares."
"Good. I thought I'd entice the two of you to some breakfast but I guess he needs sleep more than food right now. Poor kid looks like he could use it, too."
"Did you and Daniel... uh, my Daniel, have a nice chat last night?"
"That DanielJackson is DanielJackson, no matter what his age."
"Okay." Jack rubbed his palms together, starting to feel uncomfortable. "Do you want me to have some breakfast sent up?"
"That would be acceptable."
Jack scratched his head. He felt awkward around this Jaffa, and he wasn't quite sure why. "Great. I'll go get some breakfast and... check with Carter and Fraiser and... come back later." He sidestepped towards the door. "If you need something, just—"
"Make my request known to the guards."
"Yeah. Right. Okay." He headed for the door, only to stop when Teal'c spoke again.
"There is one thing I would wish."
"Permission to utilize your gym. I feel the need to—"
"Get rid of some tension?"
"That would be a close approximation."
"Let me get someone to come sit with the kid while you..." He held his finger up in a 'it'll be just a minute' sign and he left the room thinking his own Teal'c was so much mellower than this one.
Daniel came awake in increments. He was comfortable, he was warm, he didn't hurt anywhere and the huge weight on his shoulders had, for some reason he couldn't quite remember, dwindled to something almost bearable. The worst thing he felt was a need to pee. He turned onto his back and stretched, then blinked in the dim light.
Teal'c was sitting at the small, round table, reading some papers. Daniel sat up and groped for his glasses. "Morning," he mumbled as he pushed back the covers and headed for the bathroom.
"Good morning, DanielJackson."
"What time is it?" He hadn't felt this good in a long time. "Did you guys stay up long? I don't remember going to sleep," he called past the half-closed door. "Did you eat breakfast? I'm kinda hungry. I wonder if they have anything good to eat here. Do you think the waffles are just as good here as at home? Is there any news? Did Sam, not our Sam, but their Sam, I mean, the Sam from this place, did she find a way to get us home yet?" Daniel finished peeing and washed his hands. He didn't need to get dressed since he'd obviously gone to bed fully dressed.
"I have not yet consulted with MajorCarter this morning. And it is well past ten am."
"Wow." Daniel stepped out of the bathroom and climbed back onto the bed, looking around the room, which looked similar to a normal hotel room except for the fact that the walls were made of cement. His stomach gurgled. "Can we go get something to eat?" He slid off the bed and grabbed his sneakers, leaning against the table where Teal'c had been working in order to tie them.
"I have already eaten but I will accompany you to the commissary."
"You ate already?" Daniel felt strangely disappointed that Teal'c hadn't woken him up so they could have eaten together. He finished one shoe and started on the other. "What about my dad... I mean, the man who..."
"ColonelO'Neill stopped in earlier while you slept. He will meet us in the infirmary when you have eaten so that we may continue to discuss options while DoctorFraiser continues her examinations. She has spoken with DanielJackson and they have come up with a theory."
Daniel froze in the process of tying his shoelaces. Slowly, he put his foot down. "You're not Teal'c, are you?"
"I am not your Teal'c."
Panic filled Daniel and thoughts of people experimenting on his friend, like they did in the books he'd read and movies he'd seen, had him rushing to put his back against the door.
"If you wish, I will take you to him. He is not harmed; he merely wished an hour or two in the gymnasium."
"He's working out?" Despite Teal'c's nod, Daniel wasn't convinced. This whole scenario was just too creepy; still, his dad, no, Colonel O'Neill, and everyone else, had been nothing less than kind and understanding. "Can we stop at the gym before we go eat?"
When Teal'c inclined his head again, Daniel tied his shoe in record time and was ready before Teal'c got to his feet.
He walked next to Teal'c as they headed for the elevators. "My dad must be worried sick. I wonder—" A sudden horrible thought hit Daniel. "The moc'rat! We missed it. Shit, Teal'c, you missed Rya'c's ceremony." He stopped in the middle of the corridor, barely aware of personnel brushing past them.
"My son will understand. He will relay to me the words he spoke and Bra'tac will tell me how distinguished he appeared and both will tease me mercilessly about deliberately staying away from a ceremony which at times is so tedious that some Jaffa have been known to fall asleep."
Daniel giggled at the thought of Jaffa listening to speeches and nodding off. "You're not mad?"
"I am not. As I am sure your Teal'c is not angry, either. I must admit that if anyone were to be at your side in such a situation, I would not wish it to be anybody but myself."
"I think my dad might disagree with you on that. But I'm glad it's you."
The kid seemed nervous now and Jack realized maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to let Teal'c sit with him while the other Teal'c had taken a break. Still, he let Fraiser examine him and answered her questions, although the moment she released him, it wasn't lost on anyone that he went to stand next to his Teal'c, pressing into him for support.
"Well," Fraiser said, leaning a hip against a table in the small room and smiling at the kid, "I'd bet my bottom dollar that the nightmares began when you started puberty."
The kid blushed suddenly and looked down at his feet and Teal'c wrapped an arm around his ribs, pulling him close in a quick hug. It was odd, seeing the two of them react together. He glanced at his own Teal'c and wondered how much he missed Rya'c.
Stupid question; about as much as Jack missed Charlie. And seeing this kid interact with Teal'c, and knowing who had been his surrogate father for the past eight years, brought back the longing he thought he'd put behind him.
"So short of fiddling with the hormone levels in your body, Daniel, I'm afraid there's not much else I can do to help you with the surge of memories."
"What about the device itself?" Daniel asked absently as he fiddled with a file he had open on his knees. "We still don't know its true purpose and since General Hammond locked out the planet's designation after you guys got me back, we never had a chance to study—"
"No." The word was out of Jack's mouth even before he realized he'd said it. They'd nearly lost Daniel getting him back, there was no way he was going to put this kid through that kind of torture.
"It probably wouldn't work, sir." Carter, who looked exhausted, testament that she'd worked the night through, rubbed a hand around the back of her neck. "It would need to be the one that did this to Daniel, in his own universe. Even if we got permission to go back to P3P 387, we don't know what it would do to him."
"We don't know why it made him into a kid to start with," Jack blurted, "who the hell knows what it would do if we stuck him into it now. He could end up being older or younger with the memories of a teenager."
"Well, it's obvious his memories are linked to his hormones," Daniel continued, eyes bouncing from Jack to Carter as they argued. "There's no information here." He raised the folder in the air to emphasize his point. "If we went to P3P 387, maybe we could find some information which could help us understand—"
"The device didn't come with a handbook, Daniel." There was no way in hell he was letting Daniel, forty-three or thirteen years old, anywhere within several hundred light years of that planet and its alien technology from hell.
"But maybe there's something there that you missed. If I could go—"
"No." This time Teal'c beat Jack by a millisecond. "I agree with O'Neill. The radiation the device emits is too dangerous. We do not know what damage exposure to it may incur a second time around."
"But it didn't affect you. That was how you got me near the device in the first place."
"I no longer carry a symbiote. I may no longer be immune to its effects."
"Teal'c's right, sir." Fraiser moved forward so she was in the center of the room. "The radiation made you and Daniel sick the first time. We don't know what might happen if any of you are exposed again. And Sam's right, while the two universes may be very similar, we don't know what the technology here might do to Daniel," she smiled at the kid to indicate which Daniel she meant, "if we exposed him to it here. We still don't know what would happen if we exposed him to the device in his own universe."
"Regardless, we would need the permission of his father. His life is not endangered and so I see no reason to continue this discussion."
The kid seemed nervous and Jack couldn't blame him, the way they were talking about him as if he weren't here. He smiled. "You're right, T. But it may be a subject we'll have to bring up to his father."
"Are you going to take me... us home?"
All eyes turned to Carter, who was in the middle of yawning behind her hand. "Sorry. Um, yeah. I was just about to run a few simulations and if those work, I'll be able to load it into the ship's computer hopefully by tonight and—"
"And when were you planning on sleeping?"
"I was going to—"
"Get Bill Lee to run those simulations and hie yourself off to bed for a few hours."
"But—" Her words of protest were stopped by another yawn.
"Is Lee capable of running those tests?"
"Yes, if I leave him the parameters, but—"
"Then hand them over and get some sleep. We'll need you fresh and alert for the actual test."
"He's just like my dad, isn't he?" the kid said, staring at Jack in awe.
The five of them descended one floor to the commissary while Carter staggered to bed. The kid seemed more relaxed now, talking softly with Teal'c as they made their selection. Soon all were sitting at two tables, both Teal'cs with identical trays laden with food before them.
"How's the burger?"
Jack waited until the kid had taken a huge bite and bit back a grin, watching him hurry to chew and swallow before answering.
"S'good." He popped in a few fries while eyeing Jack's slices of roast beef and vegetables.
"So, you got a girlfriend?" Jack asked when the kid took another huge bite of burger. He was sorry after a moment when the boy nearly choked. He shook his head quickly, though his face was red as he swallowed the half-chewed meat.
"No, although Cassie's been trying to hook me up with the cousin of her best friend's boyfriend's sister." He cleared his throat, coughed, and picked his burger up again.
"Cassie? As in Fraiser's Cassie."
Daniel nodded, holding his burger to his lips warily. He hesitated a moment, his eyes on Jack, and took a small bite while Jack turned to his own meal. The roast beef was dry, the gravy cold and lumpy and the vegetables overcooked and tasteless. He envied the kid his fries and hamburger.
"CassandraFraiser and DanielJackson attend the same school, and even share two of their classes together."
"Do you like school?"
"Mmm hmmm," he answered, nodding, but not rushing to volunteer more as he chewed slowly.
Jack tried the mashed potatoes and decided they weren't much more appetizing than the roast beef. He snuck a couple of French fries, and when the kid was stuffing the last of his hamburger into his mouth, he asked, "Do you like sports?"
The boy's eyes lit up and he nearly choked again, trying to swallow. "Hockey, baseball, soccer. I play soccer at school."
"Really? You any good?" Jack watched as the second burger was picked up, then held loosely in one hand as Daniel expounded on the game.
When the kid came up for air five minutes later, Jack pointed at his burger. "You gonna eat that, or what?"
"Oh." He grinned a little shamefacedly and bit into his burger. Jack took pity on the kid and concentrated on his own meal for a few bites. He was about to tease him some more when he realized the kid was staring into space, his fingers clutching the burger so hard, the bun had squeezed between his fingers.
All eyes turned to the kid, whose face was caught in a rictus of horror. "He's dead. It killed him." He moved so quickly, his chair went flying in one direction, the burger in another and the tray spilled onto the floor with a loud clatter. "He's dead!" he screamed as he started running.
They all reached for him but he was too fast. He ran towards the exit, screaming words that Jack couldn't make out, bouncing off a Major who happened to get in his way, rebounding off the wall and continuing through the swinging doors. The two Teal'cs were right behind him, but Jack and Daniel both had to circumvent the tables, losing precious seconds.
By the time they slammed through the doors, the kid's legs had given out and he slid against the far wall, hitting it hard with his shoulder.
Immediately his Teal'c was there, holding him down as he struggled against him. "It killed him, it killed Kawalski," he sobbed.
"Hold him," Jack yelled as Teal'c tried to hold down the struggling body. "Someone get Doctor Fraiser."
Daniel's cries stopped as he vomited his burger and fries, nearly choking as he struggled for breath. Then as suddenly as it came, the vision was over and he hung limply in Teal'c's arms.
"This isn't a memory, it's a goddamned flashback." Jack tried to keep his voice down but his anger at Daniel's words earlier about letting the memories come got the better of him.
"Daddy?" A pain-ravaged visage that looked older than it should turned to look at him. Even without Teal'c's silent begging, nothing would have kept Jack away from the kid. He stepped over the vomit-splattered floor and knelt next to him, accepting his weight as the kid moved away from Teal'c and into Jack's arms.
"I'm here," Jack said.
"I don't want this anymore." The voice was low and nearly breathless. "You said it would stop, that it wouldn't happen anymore. I want it to stop. I don't want my memories, I want to go home."
"I know, I know," Jack whispered as he cupped the back of the kid's head and held him close.
"Actually, we never said the memories wouldn't stop. We thought it would be best if we—"
He never knew whether it was his glare or the hand he put up, but Daniel quickly got the message and shut up.
Daniel didn't want to come out of the shower. Even though his dad... no, Colonel O'Neill - for some reason he kept forgetting that he wasn't his father - was waiting for him on the other side of the half-open door, he would have preferred the continued privacy so that he could simply die of embarrassment.
But all good things had to come to an end and, with a reluctant sigh, Daniel turned the water off, grabbed the towel and quickly toweled himself dry before stepping out of the tiny shower cubicle.
To his surprise, there were clean clothes waiting for him, neatly folded on the toilet seat. He dressed in them and hesitantly opened the door.
He'd expected everyone to be there, watching him, but to his intense relief, it was just the Colonel, and Teal'c.
"Get into bed."
Daniel glanced at the bed, which had been made at some point and the blankets turned down invitingly. "Why? I'm fine."
"Because the doc said you're stressed, gave you something to help you relax and ordered that you should rest. Resting means lying in bed."
"I'm not tired." He flopped down into a chair and glared at the colonel, trying not to remember how he'd cried in his arms after throwing up all over himself earlier.
"You don't have to be tired to lie down."
Daniel made a face because it sounded like he was being talked to as if he were a kid. "But I—"
"Enough. You will rest now."
With an exasperated sigh because he knew Teal'c had reached his limit, he got up out of the chair and climbed into the bed. "But we're going home soon, aren't we?"
"Carter's still sleeping and she has to check out the results of her diagnostics, so I'm guessing at the earliest, not before morning."
Lying down felt good although he wasn't about to admit it to the colonel, or even to Teal'c. He stretched his legs, thinking that maybe he could shut his eyes and take a short nap. He heard a voice next to his ear. "My beloved."
"What?" he whispered. Feelings of hopelessness coursed through him – he couldn't get the Stargate to work and Sam and his dad were stuck out there, somewhere – his dad was old, so old, and he was going to die in maybe a matter of hours, and there was nothing he could do except say goodbye – all the information, right there, in front of him, and he had no choice but to leave it behind because the whole castle was on the verge of collapsing and this was their only chance to leave through the Stargate – everyone thought he was dead and there was water, water, everywhere – the enemy was flying straight to Earth and they'd run out of time—
"They're coming," he whispered. There was a vision of himself reflected in a piece of blue crystal – stepping through the Stargate into total darkness – the momentary flash of pain as he ran before Sha're, trying to stop Ra from shooting her – the desperation he felt as the conference room before him emptied, his last chance, ruined, his career, ruined. Daniel closed his eyes, suddenly too tired to fight the visions as they came, faster and faster, overwhelming his senses.
"He should sleep for a couple hours. I'll go and check on Lee, see if he's had any luck."
"I shall await your news."
Jack paused, looking down at the kid, noting the moving eyelids. Poor thing was so tired, he'd already gone straight to REM sleep. "What about your world? Is there any information gathered from P3P 387?"
"Very little, I am afraid. Once we ascertained the danger of the device, we did not return and the Stargate address was removed from our computers."
"Yeah, ditto." Jack shrugged. "I guess it was worth a shot," he added as he left.
He wasn't surprised to find Carter already in her lab, busy working. He didn't chastise her for only getting a couple hours' worth of shut-eye; he'd feel a lot better reuniting the kid with his father. He had the impression his other self and his son had some issues that needed to be addressed.
"It looks like we're on the right track, sir." She grinned up at him, the light from her laptop accentuating the dark circles that had faded slightly from beneath her eyes. "Several of the simulations have proven that my theory will work, so barring any unforeseen problems, we should be up and running in about twelve hours."
"I thought you said this was easy?"
"This part? Not so hard." She made a face. "Getting my laptop to speak to the Ancients' computer? The ship doesn't seem to like its accent."
"Great. A comedian."
She tapped a few commands on the keyboard. "But you know, it's only in scifi shows that you see the computer geek interface their computers with alien technology with an enemy breathing down their necks with only seconds to go and wonders of wonders, it works the first time they switch it on."
"You mean it's not supposed to?"
"Only with hours of hard work and planning, sir." She finished typing and looked up at Jack. "How's Daniel doing—young Daniel?" she quickly amended.
"Sleeping. Had one helluva flashback earlier, and it took a lot outta him. I can pretty well understand why he felt the need for drugs to help him deal with what he's going through, I just wish he could have confided in someone first, might have made things a little easier on him."
"Well, Teal'c knows now and they both understand what's going on, so I'm sure he'll have a great support group when he gets home."
Carter looked at him patiently and Jack realized he was holding her up. Normally her attitude wouldn't bother him but he knew time was of the essence. They hadn't talked about the entropic cascade failure thingie that would happen in a couple more days. But they still had plenty of time, if Carter couldn't get the ship working by morning.
He waved goodbye and wandered down to Daniel's office. He wasn't surprised to see him poring over the files of the '387 mission and questioning Teal'c about what he'd seen. Both men looked up when Jack walked in.
Daniel stopped talking and his eyes widened in anticipation. He took a breath, obviously getting ready to speak when Jack threw up a hand, stopping him.
"You are not going back there," Jack growled before Daniel could ask the question.
"But Teal'c just told me he thought he might be able to make it to this rock formation here, without any adverse effects. It's well away from the device and just a dozen feet from the safe zone." He turned, pointing to a grainy image on his computer screen. "From there, he could tape—"
"O'Neill, I believe the attempt is worth the risk."
"You don't have to do this, T. There's no need to put yourself in danger for—"
"I understand. But I shall be doing it for DanielJackson."
"He's not our Daniel."
"He may indeed not be our DanielJackson, but the boy is whom he would have been had we made different choices. I do this for both DanielJacksons, and for both O'Neills."
"Teal'c..." Daniel seemed touched, or at least he was at a loss for words.
"You're sure about this?" Jack watched Teal'c long and hard and recognized the man had made up his mind. If Jack didn't go to Hammond, he was sure Teal'c would do so himself. "I'll go talk to the General."
At a loss of words himself, Jack simply gave Daniel a quick head wag before heading up to Hammond's office.
"Chevron six, encoded." The words echoed in the Gateroom.
"You don't have to do this, Teal'c," Jack said again as they both turned towards the spinning Stargate while Daniel stood aside and examined the pictures he'd brought with him. "You can change your mind now, and I'm sure Daniel will understand."
"I am confident there will be no danger. My physiology still differs from yours."
"Chevron seven, locked." The wormhole exploded into the room, bathing them with light.
"In and out, right?"
"I will proceed as quickly as I can."
"The moment we see there's a problem—"
"You will not come for me."
"Like hell we won't," Daniel exclaimed as he met them at the bottom of the ramp. He glared first at Teal'c, then at Jack, daring either one to contradict him.
As if Hammond's words were their cue, the three men climbed onto the ramp and went through the 'gate.
"But he might miss some—"
"You are not stepping beyond this point. You move one inch and I'm hogtying you and dragging you back through the 'gate."
Before Daniel could retaliate, Teal'c arrived at a quick jog, video camera in hand. He handed the camera over to Daniel.
"I regret I did not find any additional information that we may have previously overlooked."
Daniel stared at the camera in his hands, nodding. "Okay." He turned and started heading for the Stargate, Jack and Teal'c following behind. "I'll look at the footage anyways. Maybe there's something that we missed the first time. At least now I can see it for myself." He dialed Earth and they were home a mere fifteen minutes after they'd left the mountain.
"You're sure?" Jack looked at himself in a hand-mirror and rubbed his face. "I could swear the crow's feet are not as pronounced as they were this morning." He made a couple of faces, turning his head from one side to another as he examined himself critically.
"You haven't gotten any younger, sir," Fraiser said with a smile. "At least not physically. You weren't close enough to the device to get affected."
"So we can go?" Daniel sat on the bed, grabbing the video camera.
"There's no sign of radiation poisoning, so yes, you can go."
Like sheep, Jack and Teal'c followed Daniel back to his office. They stood quietly, watching as Daniel connected the camera up to his PC and then played back the footage Teal'c had gotten. Jack managed to endure three viewings at different speeds before his patience ran out. "There's nothing there."
"I haven't played it back with any of the filters yet."
"Oy, by the time you're done looking at this, I'll need that machine to make me young again." He turned on his heels just as the phone rang. He was out the door when Daniel answered, and was two steps down the hallway when Daniel called his name.
He turned and nearly bumped into Daniel in the doorway.
"Something's wrong with Daniel."
You could run all you want in Cheyenne Mountain, but all the seconds you saved ended up being lost waiting for an elevator. By the time they rushed to the VIP room, the kid had been placed on a gurney and was being wheeled out of the room.
All three of them fell back against the wall, making room for the gurney then followed it back to the elevator. Fraiser started speaking the moment she spotted Jack.
"Teal'c couldn't wake him up," she said as she half-trotted next to her patient. "He thought Daniel had fallen asleep but when he tried to wake him up to go to supper, he wouldn't wake up."
"Is he sick?"
"There's no sign of fever or infection. I think he might be caught up in a dream—"
"Flashback. They were more like flashbacks." Jack leaned over and swiped his passkey in the reader. Sometimes, though, luck was with you and elevators chose to arrive without any litany of prayers or curses. This was one of those times.
They all squeezed into the elevator, forcing a few of them to hold their breath as the car traveled between floors. Then Teal'c and Daniel all but exploded out of the elevator, making room for the gurney and the medical personnel while Jack and the other Teal'c exited a bit more gracefully.
Teal'c looked really scared. The kid's Teal'c, that was. That in itself told Jack how much he cared for the kid, and not for the first time, Jack wondered what life would have been like if Daniel had never been returned to adulthood. Somehow he figured it would have been different, but no less rewarding, judging by the care exhibited by the Jaffa.
It took Fraiser exactly an hour and two minutes to run all her tests. Jack knew, because he spent more time staring at the clock than at the horde of medical personnel that came and went around the kid's bed. When they were finally permitted to approach, the scene before them wasn't pretty.
Jack had seen Daniel rigged up this way once, a long time ago. And the result had eventually been Daniel's coming so close to dying that Jack still had nightmares.
An EEG had been set up, the leads still connected to the kid's face and scalp. Although this time the activity on the monitor was all over the place, unlike the few zips and blips Daniel had shown when his brain had started shutting down oh so long ago. His eyes were moving behind his lids and his breathing wasn't even.
"He's not in a coma; if anything, he's in REM sleep. But the dreams, or nightmares, he's experiencing have already taken a toll on his body. His blood pressure's very high and his pulse is much too rapid for normal sleep. His body's not responding well to sedation, and if this goes on long enough, he could suffer a stroke."
"Carter said she might have the ship up and running by the middle of the night," Jack said cautiously.
"Right now, I'd say getting it up and running in the next hour or two isn't soon enough. And I was talking about his physical health. We don't know what's going on inside his head and what it's doing to his mental status."
"I should go see if Carter can speed things up a bit."
"Before you go, sir, could you try seeing if you can get him to wake up? Maybe hearing his father's voice—"
"I'm not his father—" Jack realized it didn't matter. He sat on the bed next to the kid and leaned over. "Hey."
He put a hand on the kid's upper abdomen and rubbed below the EKG leads. He could feel his heartbeat vibrating through his chest. "You going to lie in bed all day and sleep? Teal'c was looking forward to trying that new Chinese place in town." He gave the still body a little shake. "C'mon, up and at 'em." Hoping that his Teal'c was similar to Jack's, he continued. "You know how upset Teal'c gets when he has to use chopsticks and we all have a laugh watching him struggle. You don't want to miss out on the fun, do you?"
There was no response. He leaned a little closer and moved his hand up to the kid's shoulder. "Wake up, Danny—"
"Icky," Teal'c said.
"It is the endearment his father uses based on the Greek god Icarus."
Jack grimaced at the weird name, but said it anyway. "C'mon, Icky, you can wake up. Just open your eyes. It's not hard, you do it all the time. Or hey, I'd be happy with just one eye." Careful of the leads, he placed a finger on the boy's cheek. "How about this one? Wanna give it a try, Icky?"
Jack watched, holding his breath, but nothing. Not a twitch, not a sigh, not a blink.
"Don't do this, Da... Icky. I need you to wake up for me, okay?"
There was a soft mewl from the kid as he scrunched his eyes tightly. For a moment Jack thought his cajoling had worked, but when there was no further reaction, he supposed it was just a part of the nightmare he was experiencing.
"Sorry," he told Teal'c as he straightened and got up off the bed.
"I appreciate that you made the attempt."
"Try it now, sir."
Biting back a stinging comment that he'd tried it now for the past two hours, Jack concentrated on the console beneath his hands. This time, to his surprise, the ship powered up, its thrum of engine noise a welcome sensation at the power he had under his control.
"That's it!" Carter exclaimed, brushing past Jack to enter several commands into her laptop. A light on the console blinked twice, and shut off. "We're good to go, sir." She brushed past him again, moving towards the back of the ship and disconnecting all the leads and wires that littered the ship.
"How do you know that whatever you did to the ship is going to make it work the way you want it to?"
"I don't. But we don't have time to start testing it, not if we want to get Daniel back as soon as possible."
"True." Jack reached for the radio. "This is Colonel O'Neill. Please inform General Hammond that we are now operational and require all passengers to embark as soon as possible." He clicked the radio off and stood, then reached to activate it again. "And anyone who detours to the commissary and brings me a coffee and donut will have the privilege of riding shotgun."
He sidled past Carter, and when she turned to stare at him with a questioning rise to her brows, he shrugged. "Gotta go before we take off. One never knows how long before one gets to have another pit stop."
"Just think of flying—"
"I know," Jack growled. "I've done this before." He ignored the injured look Daniel gave him and concentrated on thinking about flying. As before, nothing happened, and he realized his thoughts were on his passengers and not on the controls.
Trying to ignore the fact that the two Teal'cs were sitting behind him with the kid sitting like a rag doll in a wheelchair between them, Jack closed his eyes, thought up, and smiled when the ship rose.
Carter called out from the back where she was still fiddling with her laptop, which had one lone wire connected to the ship itself. "Okay, Colonel. I need you to think about Daniel and getting him home. Once you've activated the computer, it should access the program I wrote and that'll take us through to their universe."
Jack latched onto the one word that shouldn't have been in that explanation. "Should?"
"In theory, it works. My simulations showed it had an eighty-nine percent chance of working and since we didn't have a chance to test it—"
"What if it brings me to the wrong universe?"
"You can't think of that, sir. You have to concentrate on this Daniel, this Teal'c, and getting them home."
"Right." Jack shut his eyes again.
"Maybe you should activate the cloak first," Daniel said.
Daniel was right, if this worked, they sure as heck were going to cause a stir upon arrival. A flick of a thought and the ship was out of sight.
He thought of the kid, of Teal'c, of their situation, how the other Jack O'Neill must be worried sick, and the engines on the ship suddenly changed pitch. Thrumming loudly, energy built and Jack could feel the little ship actually want to go, and then, they were there. He hoped.
Jack opened his eyes. "Did it work?" He looked out the view port and saw the exact same scene he'd seen before he'd closed his eyes.
"How about contacting Cheyenne Mountain?" Daniel said, reaching for the radio.
"DanielJackson. Perhaps I should be the one to speak to General Hammond. If this attempt at transportation was successful, it might be less confusing were it to be I who contacted the SGC."
"Not for nothing, but aren't you supposed to be on Chulak?"
"There is that," Teal'c conceded. "But O'Neill must by now be aware there was an incident with the Stargate."
Daniel swiveled his chair to look back at Teal'c. "True. When you two never showed up..." He got up and exchanged seats with Teal'c, leaning over to check on his younger counterpart while Teal'c tapped the control for the radio.
"Stargate Command, please respond."
There was a pause, then General Hammond's voice came through the speakers. "Teal'c? It's good to hear your voice, son. But where in tarnations are you calling from? And what about Daniel?"
"We are presently in a ship several meters from the main entrance. We are requesting permission to land and enter Cheyenne Mountain."
"We? I assume there's more than just you and Daniel?"
"Indeed. It is a long story, General. But time is of the essence. DanielJackson requires medical assistance..."
Immediately Jack heard whispering in the background and he could envisage the sudden flurry of activity within the base.
"... And we must immediately transport him to P3P 387."
There were a few more whispered comments before Hammond answered. "You are aware that that planetary designation has been removed from our computers."
"I am. I would not request it if it were not necessary."
"You have permission to land, son. There'll be a medical team waiting for you at the entrance, and I've alerted Colonel O'Neill, who's on his way up."
"Understood, GeneralHammond. Thank you."
As Jack uncloaked the ship and brought it down towards the main parking area, edging it as close to the entrance as he could, he wasn't surprised by the slew of SFs who came out at a run, weapons pointed at them. By the time he got the ship positioned and powered down, medical personnel were waiting in the background, their white lab coats standing out amongst the sea of BDUs. And standing in the center of everything were three very familiar faces. Hammond. Carter. And himself.
He'd never seen ships like this before; smaller than a tel'tak, it was snub-nosed and compact. Parked sideways, he could only make out that there was someone inside, the angle of the ship, however, prevented him from seeing clearly through the main view screen. He assumed that Teal'c and Danny were getting ready to step out and he waited anxiously to greet them.
All anger at Daniel had fled when Bra'tac had contacted them, wondering why Teal'c had never shown up on Chulak. He hadn't slept in what felt like forever, having led an S&R to Chulak while Carter checked the 'gate diagnostics on this side of the wormhole. All they'd found was some sort of power surge that nobody was able to identify.
So when the back of the ship slid apart, revealing the interior, he took several relieved steps towards it. He came to an abrupt stop, while everyone around him tensed, when the man who stepped out of the ship was the spitting image of himself.
"Don't shoot." The man stepped to the side of the ship so he wouldn't block the exit, hands extended to the side. "We're returning something that belongs to you." Exiting right after him was a second Carter. Jack glanced at the woman who stood next to him, quickly comparing the two women, noticing that for the slightly different lengths and styles of hair, they were identical.
"They must be from a different dimension or universe," Carter said excitedly. "I wonder how they—"
She bit off her words as the third person exited the ship and gasped in shock. It was someone Jack had never expected to see for at least another twenty years.
"Danny?" His feet were moving of their own volition as he went towards his grown son.
"Colonel." Hammond's hand caught his arm, holding him in place. He stared at Daniel, wondering why he was hanging around with the other version of himself when it dawned on him. This wasn't Daniel Jackson O'Neill, former shrunken friend and adopted son - this was Daniel Jackson, adult-sized, and friend to the other O'Neill and who didn't belong in this world.
His heart both soared at seeing the friend he'd lost, while at the same time, it ached in worry for the son who was missing.
"Where's Daniel? Where's my son?" he called when the fourth member of the team exited the ship. There they stood – his former team, SG-1 in all its former glory. He met the other O'Neill's gaze and the eyes were both hard and understanding, and there was something in them that frightened him. Some depth of despair he'd seen reflected in the mirror nearly twelve years ago when he'd lost Charlie.
Then he had eyes for nothing except the man who stepped out of the ship, burdened with something large and loose in his arms. It took a moment for Jack to make out arms and legs hanging limply, and then he was running.
"Daniel! Teal'c, what happened? Is he okay?"
Teal'c stopped, allowing Jack to ease Daniel's face back from where it lay lax against his neck. Daniel was unconscious, his face pale, his skin warm to the touch. "Icky? It's Daddy. Danny, wake up. Daddy's here." He dragged his gaze from his son and looked at Teal'c. "What's wrong with him?" The look of despair on Teal'c's face nearly sent him to his knees.
"Colonel, please, let me." Doctor Lam pushed past Jack, the gurney rattling noisily on the pavement behind her. Teal'c reached down and gently placed Daniel onto the thin mattress while Jack supported his head, easing it down onto the pillow.
"We've got his medical chart." Surprised to hear his own voice, Jack looked up at the man who looked just like him. O'Neill pointed towards the ship. "It's inside. I think it'll make the doc's job a little easier if she can read it."
"O'Neill. Listen to me. We must return to P3P 387."
"Stand down, people." Jack startled, having forgotten for a moment all the security staff that had come out in force. The SFs put their weapons down at Hammond's order but many of them looked uncomfortable and stared warily at their visitors.
When Hammond motioned permission, Daniel, the adult Daniel, stepped back into the ship and returned a moment later with a manila folder. He walked over to the gurney and handed the folder to a nurse while Lam gave his son a quick look over.
"You said that before, Teal'c. But you know I can't just allow you to go back to a planet that's potentially dangerous. We already lost Doctor Jackson to..." Hammond swallowed and rubbed a hand over his mouth, obviously uncomfortable with what he'd just said. Jack understood; it had taken him a long time to stop missing his friend Daniel, but he'd gotten so much joy from the little tyke who'd needed him that it had almost made up for that loss.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but could someone tell me what happened to Daniel?" Doctor Lam asked, giving them a quick, exasperated look over Daniel's body.
"He's having flashbacks," Daniel said, his voice much deeper than Jack remembered. "Teal'c said that he had no memories prior to having been turned into a child. But he's remembering everything now, and has been for the past couple of months. Janet... our Doctor Fraiser says she thinks it's the hormonal fluctuations that have triggered the memories—"
Jack swiveled to Teal'c, the pieces falling in place. "A few months? I didn't... So that's what he was hiding—"
"Indeed. He failed to confide in us because he—"
"He thought he was losing his mind." Jack's conversation with his mother hit him like a ton of bricks. Daniel had probably been too scared to talk to him and had tried everything to get his attention so Jack would notice. Wasn't that what parents were for? Weren't they supposed to know when their little boys were hurting and be able to fix the problem?
He looked up, his heart heavy and nearly breaking, and for a moment he thought he was staring at himself in a mirror. He watched as his lips moved and his voice came out of the stranger's mouth.
"He was too scared to tell anyone because he thought he was going crazy. Some of his flashbacks... well, they were pretty hard on him."
Guilt coursed through Jack when he thought of all the awful things he'd accused his son of doing, even if only in his mind.
"Excuse me, I need to get him to the infirmary." Lam grabbed the folder and began perusing it as the gurney was pushed towards the doors. Jack watched them leave, very much aware that Hammond hadn't dismissed him.
It was more than being uncomfortable. Daniel had been through this once before but in that first universe, nobody had known him. Now Daniel was assaulted with all sorts of looks, from curiosity to sudden recognition to shock to indifference. Jack, Sam and Teal'c were getting some odd looks, too, but everyone seemed to be honing in on him.
So it was with relief that they entered the infirmary and only had to contend with the nurses. Jack and Teal'c's doubles went with the boy, while this world's Sam accompanied Daniel and his team, along with a small contingent of guards. He could hear Teal'c telling Jack about the drama that had been going on in his household before their fateful trip through the Stargate.
Daniel sighed, sitting through the lengthy examination, made longer by the fact that one doctor was taking care of young Daniel while Janet had to handle all five of them. The sooner they got this SOP out of the way, the sooner he could try convincing General Hammond to get Daniel back to P3P 387. He knew no amount of talking would convince them until they saw how serious the situation was for themselves.
"I'm not convinced the answer is returning Daniel to that planet." General Hammond steepled his fingers together and looked around his crowded briefing room table. His gaze finally stopped on Daniel, who didn't feel it was his place, yet, to speak. "We have no idea what that machine will do to him, or whether it'll cure him, or make him an adult again. Hell, son, from your descriptions, it killed you."
"I do not believe we have a choice." This world's Teal'c only turned his head, moving his gaze from Hammond to Jack and O'Neill, both of whom were involved in a staring contest across the table. "DanielJackson's condition continues to deteriorate despite the efforts of Doctors Lam and Fraiser."
"We don't know yet what exactly's wrong with him. He may still recover from this." Doctor Lam stared hard at Teal'c.
"He's remembering forty years of a lifetime that's no longer his," Jack, sitting next to Daniel, finally growled out. "Even if he wakes up, do you really think that the kid's gonna be the same person he was before all of this happened?" The other Jack's face grew stone cold and expressionless, and Daniel knew they were treading over deep water here. "We don't know what that alien doodad will do to him but it's better than taking a chance that the kid will come out of this a vegetable—"
"You don't know that—" The fury on the other Jack's face was chilling as he thrust himself forward, halfway over the briefing table. For a moment Daniel thought he was going to go for Jack, but he seemed to pull himself together and sat down, though it was obvious every single movement was hard fought for control.
"No, I don't know that. But I did see a very courageous kid go through hell and back, and it wasn't pretty. You chose not to take him back to P3P 387 and then kept his background a secret. That was your decision and it's not my place to question it, but when I exposed a very confused and sick little boy to that machine eight years ago, it made him whole again in both mind and body. Your only chance is to hope the machine fixes whatever it did to him in the first place—"
"I decided not to put him back in that machine because the chances of him dying from the transformation were pretty astronomical."
"And they were right," Daniel said quickly before these two came to blows. "And as awful as that experience was," he added, despite not remembering much of the first few days after he'd been brought back and recovering for weeks afterwards, "I have to agree that there's not much of a choice right now. We either sit and wait and hope for the best, or we go back to that planet and give the alien device a try."
"So you'd be willing to put him through the hell you went through—"
"If it saves his life and brings him back sane and whole, yes, in a heartbeat." Daniel held the boy's father's gaze, his pulse pounding heavily in his temples. When Jack lowered his gaze to his clenched fists, Daniel knew they'd won. He'd seen that look of resigned capitulation before. He felt dizzy with relief, and realized after a moment that he was exhausted. He closed his eyes as Jack asked Hammond to allow them to return to the planet.
The planet looked just the same as the one he'd 'gated to just a few hours ago in his own universe. The only difference this time was that there were nine of them instead of just three.
The other Daniel, wrapped in a blanket, was in Teal'c's arms, and Daniel could see how much it hurt his father to not be the one to bring the kid to what would hopefully be his salvation. All of them came to a stop at the safe point and watched in silence as Jack caressed the slack face and then bent to kiss the boy's forehead.
Sam approached next and with a shaking hand, moved a lock of hair before kissing Daniel's cheek. She gave Teal'c a slight smile and stepped back. Teal'c had taken a step away from them when Jack, his Jack, approached. He looked down at Daniel, ran a finger down his cheek and then looked up at Teal'c.
"Get out of there as fast as you can."
"Do not fear for me." Teal'c's voice was soft and understanding and he adjusted the body in his arms, holding Daniel closer before jogging towards the odd rock formation that had caught both Daniels' interests eight years ago.
It took Teal'c only a moment to put Daniel down on the marble floor, rise and run back towards them. The screams began just as Teal'c made it into what they'd deemed the safe zone.
A foggy layer hid the suffering child from them. They all winced, their helplessness reflected in everyone's eyes. Daniel moved closer to his team, knowing how hard it must be for them, reliving the moments when this had been him over there, screaming in pain as his body changed.
The other team closed around their Jack, who was staring past them toward his son with a haunted expression. Janet and Doctor Lam stood on the outskirts, looking anxious, surrounded by the medical supplies they'd brought with them.
"How long?" Daniel asked in a strained voice.
"Not long. A few minutes." Jack touched his arm and held on tightly. "Feels longer than it really is." His fingers squeezed painfully, and after a while, Daniel began to think Jack wasn't aware of what he was doing.
Then the screaming stopped, and Jack released his arm, turning swiftly to the other group. "Teal'c—"
The word wasn't out of his mouth when Teal'c raced back to the marble slab.
Hands were holding him back from his son and he fought savagely.
Carter's voice broke through his frenzy. His vision cleared and the hands loosened but still held on. Carter was standing in front of him, and her eyes shifted over his face. Then she blinked and moved aside, and he was able to see Teal'c, who was racing back with a blanket-covered form in his arms. He shook off the hands holding on to him, realizing that O'Neill and Teal'c from the other world had prevented him from running off to get to his son.
He ran the two steps out of the safe zone, trying to take Daniel away from Teal'c and was forced to run back in as Teal'c easily sidestepped him and made for the medical personnel. Swearing, Jack pivoted and ran after him, dropping to his knees faster than Fraiser and Lam as Teal'c put Daniel down on the stretcher.
Daniel was still a boy. Jack uttered a quick prayer of relief, not realizing until this point how much he'd come to love the child he'd raised for the past eight years, that he really and truly didn't want the adult version back. He felt a rush of guilt, which he thrust aside when Lam spoke up.
"He's not breathing."
"I can't find a heartbeat." Fraiser was bent over Daniel, her body hiding his face from Jack.
And then Jack couldn't pull in any air. He watched, as if in a dream, as Fraiser began performing CPR and Lam got the portable defibrillator out. He winced as Daniel's body jerked from the electrical shock, then held his breath as Fraiser checked for a pulse.
Lam shocked Daniel again and the vice around Jack's chest loosened when Fraiser cried out, "I've got a pulse."
Daniel gasped noisily, and immediately an oxygen mask was slapped on his face. As Jack became aware of his body, he realized someone had a death grip on his shoulder in a death grip. He looked up and realized O'Neill had come to stand next to him at some point, and was staring at the scene before them. Jack, still on his knees, patted the hand and immediately the other man let go.
"We need to get him back."
Carter ran for the DHD, and by the time Jack and Teal'c grabbed the ends of the stretcher, Carter had finished the dialing sequence. They hurried up the stairs leading to the dais and through the wormhole, Fraiser and Lam walking next to the stretcher. Jack trusted Carter to make sure their visitors were escorted safely back; at this point he didn't give a shit.
There was a waiting gurney and they placed the stretcher right on top of it. He followed behind as the nurses pushed the gurney out of the Gateroom, hearing Hammond asking what had happened and again, relying on his team to fill him in.
In the elevator, Daniel suddenly opened his eyes. Jack was pressed back behind the medical personnel, but Daniel's panicked struggle had him forcibly pushing the male nurse to the side so he could lean over the gurney.
"Hey," he said softly. To his intense relief, Daniel looked at him. He was surprised, though, when without a word, he reached his arms up and grabbed Jack by the neck. Without thought, Jack reciprocated the movement, grabbing Daniel and holding him close. "It's okay, Danny, Daddy's here. Everything's going to be okay."
Then the elevator doors opened and Jack found himself with a thirteen year-old with a death grip, and the conundrum of trying to figure out how to move the gurney with a kid who didn't want to be separated from him. He did the only thing he could. He reached down, pulled his son's legs off the gurney and held him awkwardly in his arms.
Someone adjusted the oxygen mask and someone else wrapped a blanket over Daniel's shoulders. And then they were off, hurrying down the corridor to the infirmary.
Daniel had never been this clingy since the first months when Jack had taken him in. And he'd made his confusion and displeasure known very clearly and loudly, thank you, whenever Jack had been separated from him. This time, however, Daniel was eerily silent, and only his physical hold on Jack let them all know that there was some sort of intelligence that hadn't been wiped out by the alien device.
Fraiser worked around them both, where Jack sat on the infirmary bed with Daniel lying on his lap, his arms still twined around Jack's shoulders, his face pressed close against Jack's neck. He was trembling, and his body temperature was slowly climbing from the cold clamminess of just a few minutes ago. Jack held him close, rocking him gently and talking nonsense while Fraiser and Lam continued to exam him.
"Hey, Daniel." Fraiser moved to Daniel's side and eased her hands between Jack and Daniel's face and gently pulled his head away. She smiled at him, although Jack wasn't sure whether he was really seeing anyone. His eyes were vacant and he stared a little past her shoulder. "I'm going to attach these to your face and your scalp, okay? It won't hurt, but it may feel a little weird." She began attaching leads to the EEG, moving Daniel's head back and forth so she could reach. When she was done, she flicked a switch and his brain waves became a bunch of squiggles on a monitor. Daniel hid his face again against Jack. Jack sneaked a hand between himself and Daniel, making sure he hadn't dislodged the nasal canula.
"Well?" Jack asked when both Fraiser and Lam watched the squiggles go up and down across the monitor.
"It's good," Lam said with a relieved sigh.
"Then why does he not speak?" Teal'c asked from where he stood at the foot of the bed.
"While the EEG shows Daniel's not caught in that dream-state he was in before, he's in shock. We don't know what that alien device did to him and we don't know how cognizant he is outside of his own awareness—"
"Doc, he knows who I am."
"Yes, there appears to be basic recognition, but if you'll remember, that also happened the first time around. He may not know you're his father but just that you represent security to him."
"You think he's lost his memories of the last eight years of his life?" Jack cupped the back of Daniel's nape, his thumb rubbing gently in the hollow there.
"I don't know, sir," Fraiser said softly. "I'm just hoping this is only a side effect of his exposure to the device. We should hopefully know a little more when he calms down. He's stable now, what he needs is rest and quiet." She showed him a syringe. "Just a mild sedative."
She injected the contents into Daniel's IV and then pulled a blanket up over the two of them, grabbed two pillows from empty beds and brought them to him. Jack leaned forward, allowing her to place the pillows behind his back. "Try to get him to relax," she said quietly as Daniel clutched at Jack when he moved.
"It's okay, I'm not going anywhere." He rested his cheek against the top of Daniel's head. Fraiser pulled the curtains partway around the bed, closing them off from everyone except Carter and Teal'c, who were both sitting on the bed on his right.
"Where're the others?" Jack asked when he realized that the infirmary was no longer the crowded, noisy place it had been when they'd first gotten here.
"VIP rooms. I told them I'd let them know if there was any change."
"You two go get some rest as well."
"We don't mind staying—"
"I know. But Daniel and I are going to take a nap, and unless you want to watch the two of us snoring and drooling..."
"Yes, sir." Carter smiled sadly at him as she stood.
"Call my mom and tell her we found Daniel."
"Do you want me to tell her that—"
"No, just tell her he's not doing well, and that I'll talk to her when I have more news."
"Okay. We'll be back in a few hours."
Jack sighed as he listened to their footsteps fade. He inhaled deeply and Daniel shifted restlessly again. "You okay, Icky? D'ya need anything? Water? Bathroom? You still cold? I can get another blanket if you need it?"
At first Jack thought the motion was from Daniel's restiveness, but when it stopped, he wasn't so sure that maybe Daniel hadn't shaken his head in answer to his questions. Jack squirmed a little, trying to turn onto his side because Daniel's weight was beginning to send his butt to sleep. His son tensed again and made a soft sound of protest.
"It's okay, I'm just trying to get comfortable. How about you try moving with me?" Jack placed one hand onto Daniel's back and slowly shifted both of them so they were on their sides. He pulled Daniel up against him and Daniel wriggled and fidgeted a bit until he was plastered against him. Jack slowly eased his back and neck onto the pillows and Daniel followed so he was using Jack's shoulder as a pillow.
"Comfy?" He rubbed his hand up and down Daniel's spine, feeling the taut muscles slowly begin to loosen. "So, you had yourself quite an experience, I hear? Ended up in another universe, huh? That must have been pretty wild. I'm glad you had Teal'c with you, though. I can't think of anyone better... unless it was me."
Jack watched Daniel's face, noting the slowly drooping eyelids as Fraiser's drug began to take effect. Almost like when he read him bedtime stories. Damn, where had the years gone? "You're gonna have to tell me all about it. It must have been weird to see everyone, huh? I got a chance to meet them but didn't really get a chance to talk to them. I wonder if the other Jack O'Neill is as charming as me."
Jack continued on in the same vein, talking softly until Daniel's eyes closed. His hold around Jack loosened but there was still tension in his arms. Jack had a feeling that if he moved, Daniel would wake up and grab at him. He didn't try to test his theory; he lay there next to him and prayed that when he woke up, his son would come back to him.
The fever had climbed so slowly that it took Jack a while to realize that Daniel was like a small furnace. His restlessness had pulled him from a light doze, where he'd escaped hours wrought with self-recriminations and twenty-twenty hindsight. He slipped a hand beneath the too large scrubs to confirm the fever, then reached for the call button. Daniel slept on, oblivious, as Lam came up to the bed.
"He's got a fever," he said before she could ask what the problem was.
It took her a few seconds to confirm it for herself, and then she stepped away, only to return a moment later. She repositioned Daniel and reached for his pants while Jack's tired mind couldn't quite grasp her intentions.
"It's a suppository." She held up the oblong form. "We can't risk him swallowing anything at the moment, there's too much of a danger that he'd choke."
Jack half-expected Daniel to buck when she administered the medication, but he simply pulled his legs back up when she adjusted his scrub bottoms and settled back against Jack.
"Why the fever? I thought you said he was in shock and that—"
"We said we don't know what that device did to him. If it affected him physically as well as mentally, his body might still be trying to adapt to those changes." She made a notation in his chart. "Do you want to get up, sir? I could lift him off you and—"
"No, it's okay. We're good for now." He'd get up in just a minute. He needed to visit the bathroom, have a shower, coffee and something to eat, and not necessarily in that order. But he didn't want to leave Daniel alone and nobody had come by since he'd sent Carter and Teal'c away.
"I'll be back to check on him in thirty minutes."
Left alone again, Jack kissed the too warm forehead, putting to memory the amount of heat his lips registered. He couldn't get past the guilt he felt, and wished he had taken the time before to really, truly talk to Daniel instead of jumping to all sorts of conclusions.
"I'm so sorry, Icky. I should have known better." He pulled back a little from Daniel's body heat, sticking his butt off the edge of the mattress. "How the hell are you ever going to trust me again?" He sighed, wishing there was something he could have done differently. "I thought we had a good enough father-son relationship that you could talk to me about anything. I guess I was too sure of myself, eh? 'Cause I gotta tell you, kiddo, I screwed up and I screwed up royally."
Jack was silent for a while, reliving all those arguments, all those days of heartache.
"I tried, Danny, I really tried to be a good father to you. I don't know what I did wrong, or how I could have made things easier so you could come and talk to me when you started remembering stuff. I really am sorry, and I love you so very much." He lowered his head, not caring that his tears were dripping onto Daniel's hair.
Two things happened simultaneously. One was the wet warmth which suddenly flooded his legs and the other was his double walking into the cubicle.
"Shit." Jack slid off the bed and managed not to disturb Daniel, moving instinctively even though the damage was already done. He stared down at his urine-soaked pants.
"I'll call the nurse." O'Neill left the cubicle while Jack sighed, shaking out one leg then the other where the pants' material clung uncomfortably to his skin. He stretched out his lower back and shoulders until the nurse arrived with fresh linens and scrubs.
"Why don't you go shower and change while we take care of Daniel?" The nurse began stripping the bed and her patient, while a second nurse arrived with a basin of water.
"I don't... um—"
"I'll stay with him. Anyways, you look like shit."
Jack stared at his double, noting the bloodshot eyes and bags beneath them. "Have you looked in a mirror lately?"
"I don't have to," O'Neill said with a wry grin. "Go on, I'll stay with him. Take a break; you've been here for hours. He'll never know you were gone."
That decided Jack, and with a last glance at his son, he hurried to his on-base quarters for a change of clothes.
Jack stood back, watching in the wings as the nurses cleaned Daniel and inserted a Foley catheter, replaced the soiled scrubs with a clean hospital gown and changed his sheets. At first he thought the kid was asleep, but then realized he was probably drugged because his eyes were partly open but didn't seem to be really seeing much, not even reacting to what was going on around him.
The nurses smiled at him when they left. He stood there, not quite sure what to say or do now that Daniel was sort of awake. He pulled up a chair and sat.
Now if this were Daniel or Carter, he'd simply reach out and take their hand and try to let them know they weren't alone. Teal'c, well, he wasn't quite the touchy-feely type of guy but he'd at least talk to him. But this wasn't somebody he really knew well, despite the fact that the kid had looked to him for comfort.
"Hey." He shifted awkwardly in the chair. "Is this as awkward for you as it is for me?"
Daniel didn't react to his voice. His eyes closed, stayed shut for a few seconds, and then opened sluggishly.
"Okay, I guess you're comfortable with the situation." Jack shifted again, wondering if it was the chair that was bothering him, or the whole scenario about this kid not knowing who he was. He'd had way too much time to think what he'd have done and he hated second-guessing himself. "Me, not so much." He watched as the kid's eyes closed again, and this time stayed closed.
"I mean, you seem like a good kid. Although I hate to admit I'm almost jealous of your father, but don't tell Daniel... my Daniel, that is." Jack laughed softly. "Because he's a great friend. The best friend anyone could ask for."
He sat and simply stared at the kid for a moment. He was pale, so pale that the few pimples on his forehead stood out prominently. A splotch of color high on his cheeks looked like it had been painted on. He looked so lost, so vulnerable, that Jack couldn't help himself. Pretending for just a moment that things had been different for him eight years ago, Jack reached out and caressed Daniel's cheek with a finger. "You doing okay? You must be glad you're back home." Jack frowned at the fever-heat beneath his finger.
Back home? Daniel wanted to ask, but couldn't seem to pull up the energy. Home. That meant safety. That meant love. That meant anger and recriminations and gentleness and laughter and yelling and tears and... his dad.
He hurt, he hurt so much. Everywhere. His head, his back, his legs, his arms. He just wanted his dad.
Where was he? Daddy? Where are you?
Scared. He was so scared. He could make out the sounds, but the words were cold and distant. His dad, his dad had said words, words of love, words of pain, words of anger, words of comfort. Daniel knew, if he could just talk to his dad, just for a minute, the words of pain wouldn't matter anymore. And all that'd be left would be love, and understanding.
Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Daddy. Forgive me.
The shower was a rushed affair and he strode down the corridor, focusing on getting to the infirmary in record time, skirting around personnel blocking his way.
He didn't need this. Didn't want this. And so far he'd been successful in avoiding the inevitable.
"Jack, wait up."
He would've been a sitting target waiting for the elevator, so Jack made a quick right through the doorway to the stairway and he was halfway up a flight of stairs, when the door banged open behind him.
"Colonel O'Neill, you can run, but you can't hide."
Jack stopped short and drew a deep breath before turning. "Doctor Jackson."
"Can you spare a few minutes?" Daniel took the steps two at a time until he was level with Jack.
"No, I can't spare a few minutes," Jack whispered under his breath. This was beyond weird. This was even beyond weird in terms of SGC weirdness. Standing here, talking to an older version of his friend who'd been downsized eight years ago was... bizarre.
Daniel's hand rocked between himself and Jack. "This is bizarre," he said with an embarrassed smile.
Jack had forgotten how in step he and Daniel had been and he suddenly missed his friend very much. "Yeah, this is very... bizarre." He studied the man before him. This was his friend Daniel, and on so many other levels, it wasn't. The hair. The air of confidence. How he now seemed to blend into the SGC without any awkwardness. His grief over years lost with his friend lessened if this Daniel was the end result.
"I really need to get back to Daniel... well, not you, Daniel. My Daniel. The kid, Daniel, well, not that he's a kid. He'll kill me if he hears me refer to him as a kid. Teenager. He's a—"
Jack grimaced. "I am, aren't I?"
"Yeah, you are."
"I never ramble, do I?"
"Not in my universe."
"Not in my universe either," Jack admitted with a sigh.
"So that means..." Daniel started.
"We're going to walk and talk 'cause I have to get to the infirmary." Jack didn't give him time to answer; he just started to climb the stairs.
Daniel matched him step for step. "You know, you did the wrong thing for all the right reasons."
"Excuse me?" Jack stopped and stared at Daniel who continued walking up the stairs.
"Oh." Daniel turned and leaned against the railing.
"Could you clarify what you just said?" Jack put his finger in his ear and rubbed. "I must have misheard you. 'Cause it seems as if you were passing judgment on me. Eight years' worth of judgment."
"And now? Don't you think he's going to feel like you lied to him?"
"Daniel. My Daniel has had eight years worth of happiness. Can you say the same thing?"
There was a flash of shock on Daniel's face, followed by hurt.
Jack scrubbed his face. "Damn it. I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."
"No, I deserved that." Daniel cleared his throat. "I didn't walk in your shoes. In your universe. I wasn't there, per se... well, I was, but not really—"
Jack leaned forward and dropped his hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Now who's rambling?"
Daniel had the good grace to duck his head before Jack saw the blush of embarrassment. "Thank you," he said quietly.
"For loving your Daniel."
"You're welcome." Jack squeezed Daniel's shoulder. "I just hope I didn't make that much of a mess—"
"He loves you, Jack, just give him time for his mind to catch up to his heart."
The voice wouldn't stop. Lies, they were lies. He wanted to go home. His home. Real home. His dad's home.
The hands were back, touching him, but they weren't his dad's. He wanted his dad, and he pushed the hands away. Why did he hurt so much?
Daniel wanted to sleep, but he had to talk to his dad. Wanted him. Needed him.
"I'm here, Danny, it's your dad."
"You're not my dad. You're not my dad. You're not my dad. You're not my dad! You're not my dad! You're not my Daddy! Daddy!"
"Daddy's here, Daniel." Jack pushed past the medical personnel and swept his son into his arms. Immediately, the screams stopped and Daniel pulled back so that there was just one inch separating his flushed face from Jack's.
"Daddy?" The voice was low, anxious and on the edge of self-control.
"It's me. I'm right here." Jack shifted awkwardly on the edge of the bed, trying to ease his butt cheeks properly onto it.
"You went away... You were..." Danny frowned and blinked, watching him with sleep-encrusted eyes. "Daddy?"
"Where are we... um..." Daniel squinted as he looked around their small private space. "Oh, hospital or infirmary?"
"Infirmary. How are you feeling?"
"Tired." Daniel dropped his head on Jack's chest. "What happened?" His head popped back up, and he stared at Jack in alarm. "Are you okay?"
Jack couldn't help smiling and he pulled Daniel close. "I'm fine. I'm great, as a matter of fact."
"Oh. Good." Daniel snuggled back down again, only to push back up. "Are you... um, are you Colonel O'Neill or—"
"Relax, Danny. It's me. It's Daddy." He couldn't help smiling as he pushed gently against Daniel, urging him back down. Daniel had not only recognized him, but he'd remembered the other O'Neill, which meant his memories were intact. "You're home."
"It wasn't a dream? I've been dreaming... weird things."
"Some of it was a dream; some of it might seem like a dream." Fraiser waved the medical personnel away, leaving him alone with Daniel while she hung around in the background, keeping an eye on them.
Daniel laughed softly. "Ow."
"What? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I just have a headache." The smile faded quickly. "Are you... are you still mad at me?"
Jack pulled Daniel into a bone-crushing hug. "No. And about what happened... I need to apologize to you big-time."
"I didn't understand what was going on with you—"
"How could you? I never told you—"
"I'm your dad. I should know when something's troubling you—"
"I didn't want you to think I was..." Daniel swallowed hard and he turned his head away.
"Think that you were what?" Jack urged.
"No, Danny, tell me. This is where it all started."
"Will you still love me if you think I'm crazy?" Daniel's voice broke and he started crying.
"You're not crazy, Icky. You're not. Do you hear me?" Jack gave his son a gentle shake, swallowing the lump growing in his throat. "And yes, even if you were, I'd still love you. I mean, you're kooky and crazy, but in the good sense. How can I not love you?"
"I'm sorry, Daddy. I'm sorry."
"I know. I am, too." They sat there for a minute, Jack holding Daniel tightly until the tears began to subside.
"I feel weird," Daniel said, rubbing his face against Jack's tee shirt and leaving more than just the dampness of tears.
Immediately Jack looked up at Fraiser, who took that as her cue to step closer to the bed. "He says he's feeling a little strange."
"Not strange. Weird." Daniel pulled away from Jack, sniffling again as he rubbed one eye with the back of his hand. "My head's full of stuff, like all those dreams I was having."
"You're still hallucinating?" Fraiser exchanged a worried look with Jack.
"No. I remember some... I remember a lot of things, but they're not me."
"I'm not sure I quite understand."
Daniel rubbed his other eye. "It's like a dream."
"You said what you were experiencing were like dreams—"
"No, Janet. This is like when I remember a dream after I've woken up. Like, I remember going through the Stargate with Teal'c." Daniel's voice took on a touch of excitement. "That was wild," he said, grinning at Jack. "But I also remember going through the Stargate lots of times." His voice slowed and the last words came out as a whisper.
"What else do you remember?" Fraiser leaned back against the foot of the bed, arms crossed, giving Daniel her full attention. Daniel glanced at Jack, as if asking for permission, and he nodded. That seemed to be what Daniel wanted, although he ducked his head and began fiddling at a broken nail with his thumb.
"All sorts of things. People, weird animals, school, working, lectures, fights." He glanced quickly at Jack then went back to worrying his nail. "I fired a gun. I fired Teal'c's weapon. I was on a ship in outer space. I... died," he said, his voice ending in a surprised squeak. "I remember being hurt. And being scared so bad, it took everything not to pee my pants. But you were there. And Sam and Teal'c and... other people. Kasuf, Skaara, Sha're—"
"You said you remember school?" Jack quickly moved the conversation away from Daniel's dead wife. Thoughts of a thirteen year old talking of marriage and sex just suddenly seemed out of his league. When Daniel blushed and squirmed uncomfortably, Jack realized he was too late.
"Languages. Archaeology. So many years." He looked up at Jack, affronted. "I'll never finish school!"
Jack couldn't help but chuckle. "Do you remember any of the languages? I mean, can you speak any?"
Daniel frowned, then shook his head. "I know I knew them but I can't speak any now."
Jack quickly rattled off a phrase in Arabic and Daniel squinted up at him, frowning. "I have no idea what you just said."
"Good, because you're too young to hear it anyways." Jack couldn't help but grin at the forced pout Daniel gave him.
Daniel's stomach gurgled suddenly and he rubbed his abdomen. "I'm hungry."
"Let me see what I can do about that," Janet said. "But first, I'd like to examine you and maybe take some of those tubes out."
Daniel glanced around the bed, seeming to notice the IV for the first time. He followed the trail of tubing to his arm and then the one sneaking up under the sheet. He blushed again a second time, and when he went to lift the sheet, Jack grabbed his hand and held it back. "Trust me, you don't want to see."
"Can you take it out? Now?" There was an edge of hysteria to Daniel's voice and Jack wrapped a hand around his neck.
"Easy." Trying to distract Daniel as Fraiser bade him to lie back while she took care of the catheter, Jack asked, "When do you think Daniel can go home?"
"Well, if his stats look good and he can keep food down, I'd be willing to release him to a VIP room for a day or two just so we can keep an eye on him. I want Daniel to speak to Doctor Kayton, however, just to be sure that he's integrated everything properly. It sounds like he's integrated his memories but I'd be doing both of us a disservice if I didn't insist we probe more into—"
"No. I'm sorry, Doc, but you're not going to use him as a guinea pig."
"That's not what I meant, Colonel. I just want to make sure that Daniel is okay with his memories, and that they don't start to overwhelm him again."
"They won't, because Daniel will tell us if anything odd begins to happen, right?"
Daniel had been lying there with his eyes squeezed shut while Fraiser removed the catheter and IV. His eyes popped open, found Jack, and he nodded vigorously. "I promise. If I get any dreams or hallucinations, I'll tell you."
Jack held his son's gaze a moment and nodded, satisfied at the sincerity he saw. "Good." He pulled out the drawer of the bedside table and removed Daniel's glasses. "I'm holding you to that."
Daniel nodded as he took the glasses and put them on.
"Let's see about getting you out of here," Fraiser said as she squeezed Daniel's ankle.
"No, Ma, he's fine. Really."
"That's not what Sam said—"
"I know." Jack rubbed his forehead with a finger. Right now, all he wanted was a week of uninterrupted sleep and some quality time with his family. That, unfortunately, wouldn't happen for a few more days. "She told you about how he got his memories back, right? And how it made him sick?"
"Yes." His mother's voice was short and clipped. She'd been kept on a need-to-know basis in respect of Daniel's background. She didn't like it much, especially when it meant the well-being of either Jack or her grandchild.
"Well, his body's adapting well to the change. He slept nearly eighteen hours straight, but Fraiser wants to keep him here for a few more days."
"How is he, Jonathan? Really?"
"He's Daniel, Mom. The old Daniel. He's back." The relief in his voice was palpable even to his own ears. His mom gave a short sob, and he sighed. "Mom..."
"I'm fine." Her voice was thick and muffled. "Just give me a minute."
"Daniel's fine, Mom."
"You said that already." Her voice was still raw with emotion but she'd obviously gotten control of herself. "Will you let me know when you're bringing him home?"
"You know I will."
"Okay. Tell him to call his old grandma if he's got the time, okay?"
Obligatory phone call over and done with, Jack hung up the phone and inhaled deeply. He had a feeling his mom would be doting on Daniel for a few weeks when they went home. He couldn't help smiling. All in all, it meant home cooking, so he wouldn't have to eat his own meals.
So engrossed was he in his game, that when someone shook his leg, Daniel jumped. His dad was standing by the bed, staring down at him with a look of amusement on his face. Quickly Daniel peeled the ear buds out of his ears and paused his computer game. Tinny music blared from his iPod and he quickly thumbed the volume down. "Hi, Dad. I didn't hear you come in."
"I can see that." His dad motioned towards the door with his head. "Feel like coming for a walk?"
"I can leave?" The words were barely out of his mouth before Daniel slid off the bed and was searching for his sneakers.
"Not exactly. But Fraiser's given permission to let you come topside for a short while so you can say goodbye to your friends—"
"They're leaving?" Daniel stood there in shock, one foot awkwardly stuck inside his sneaker, the tongue of which had folded inwards in his haste to put it on. He hopped on one foot, trying to tug his foot out of the sneaker and managed to pull his sock half off in the process. "I haven't had a chance to see them. I've been stuck in here all day," he huffed as he sat on the bed and fixed his sock. "I thought they'd be staying longer." He jammed his shoe on and tied the laces angrily. He felt abandoned and ignored; he'd wondered why nobody had come to see him since Janet had let him out of the infirmary the night before.
"Hey." The bed dipped as his dad sat down next to him. "They did what they had to do, and that was to bring you home and save your life. Now they need to go back before their lives are in danger."
"In danger?" He slowly lowered his foot to the ground. "Why would they be in danger?"
"Something to do with the same two people occupying the same reality. You'll have to ask Carter for the explanation but let's just say it's not pleasant."
"And it'll hurt them if they stay?"
"It'll eventually kill them."
Guilt flooded Daniel, chasing away the earlier disappointment. Silently, he picked up his other sneaker and put it on. He followed his dad out of the base into the parking lot, suddenly ashamed. He'd taken it for granted that someone had taken charge of him and Teal'c when they'd found themselves over there. But he'd never truly realized the risk they'd taken to bring him back home.
Hands in pockets, he fingered a bit of lint pooled at the bottom, waiting in the background while General Hammond thanked the others for bringing their lost sheep home. The Colonel, who at this moment looked exactly like his dad because they were wearing the same clothes, glanced over at him and winked. Daniel smiled back and leaned appreciatively into his dad's embrace when he pulled him into a one-armed hug.
Then everyone was milling around, and Daniel was suddenly tongue-tied. He stared at his sneakers, comparing the sizes of the bows, listening to the conversation around him but choosing not to join in.
As the group slowly began walking towards the ship that had brought him home, Daniel held back, watching his dad interact with the grown up version of himself. He felt a surge of jealousy, wondering why his dad was laughing and teasing the other man. Even though his memories of that other time were in his head, he didn't remember that kind of camaraderie with his dad.
Watching them as they came to a stop several yards from the barrier erected around the ship, it suddenly hit Daniel, in a way he hadn't understood yet, that that Daniel would have been him if his dad had chosen to expose him to the alien device a second time when he was five. That man, that adult, was him. Even with the vague memories he now had of his adult self, Daniel had no way of competing with someone who could share things with his dad that he never could, or would, for a good many years yet to come.
Daniel jumped, startled by Sam's approach. The other Sam, not his Sam. She was smiling at him and he forced himself to smile back. "Hi."
"I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to get to talk. I'm glad to see you're doing better."
"Thanks." He fingered his iPod, which he'd shoved into his pocket earlier, running his fingers over the edge as he twirled it around.
"You know, I sort of envy your Sam."
"Because she keeps saying what a great kid you are, and I'll never have a chance to get to know you better."
"You..." Daniel coughed and cleared his throat nervously. "What about your Daniel?"
"What about him?"
"Don't you like him?"
Sam laughed and looked over at his adult self. "Yeah, I do. I just meant that it would have been pretty neat to have the kind of relationship she has with you. I have two nephews but—"
"You never get to see them. I know."
She stared at him for a long moment before pulling him into a hug. "Take care of yourself and your dad," she whispered.
"I will." Daniel hugged her back, thinking she felt just like Sam did; hard and soft at the same time while she held him for those few extra seconds that always felt like she was reluctant to let him go. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before moving away to join the group. Embarrassed, Daniel turned around and came face to face with Daniel.
"Well, I guess this is goodbye." His adult self stuck his hand out and Daniel took it cautiously, half-expecting sparks or a physical shock or something. To his surprise, he just felt warm flesh. Daniel's hand was callused, evidence of manual labor.
He glanced back towards his dad and the Colonel. "You'll make sure my dad, I mean, Colonel O'Neill, stays safe?"
"I'll do my best." He smiled at Daniel, his eyes shining behind his glasses. "Of course, he doesn't always listen to my suggestions..."
"But you don't let him go off alone into danger, right?" He remembered arguments with his dad, when he wasn't his dad but his commanding officer and how the two of them had often been at odds. "You make him listen, right?"
"Of course. We've come a long way in the past ten years. We're a team; we've gone through a lot together during that time. Things are better now since... Well, we understand one another. We're a family. So don't worry about us, okay?"
Daniel nodded as the man pierced him with an intense stare.
"You going to be okay with what you have stuck up in here now?" His older self tapped his forehead lightly before resting a hand on his shoulder.
Daniel nodded again.
"You sure?" The hand squeezed his shoulder lightly.
"Yeah. Thank you," Daniel finally remembered to say as the man lowered his hand.
He started to move away, maybe head for the cordoned off area where the ship was parked so he could get a look at it, but his dad called his name.
"Um, not exactly."
"Oh. I thought—"
"Yeah, I understand." The Colonel grinned. "People say we look identical but I disagree. I'm more handsome."
Daniel snorted. This was something he was comfortable with; Jack O'Neill sounding just like his dad.
"What? You don't think so?"
"I think your magic mirror has been lying to you. You better trade it in for a newer model."
"What? Everyone's a critic. I've earned every single one of these laugh lines and grey hairs."
"That's what my dad says. But he blames them all on me." Daniel was grinning, but his laughter faded as he blurted out the question that had been bothering him. "Do you, um, ever regret changing me, I mean, Daniel, your Daniel, back into an adult?"
"Oh wow." Jack stepped next to Daniel and stared at the ground. "That's a hard one to answer. Because there's no right answer to that. At the time, I did what I thought was right, but I was willing to accept whatever consequences my actions caused." He paused a moment, thinking. "If Daniel had stayed as a five-year old, I think I'd have been more than willing to take him in. Actually, I think any of us would have. But circumstances gave me back the adult Daniel, whereas you... well... you know, I don't think your dad regrets his decision."
Daniel wasn't so sure. The other Daniel had regrouped with his dad and they were laughing again.
"Talk to him, Daniel. It's not me you should be asking this question to. My circumstances were different, and I can only speculate. Although I do know I would have been proud to have had you as my son." The Colonel opened his arms and Daniel stepped into the embrace as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
"Thank you," Daniel finally managed to say when they separated. He might have imagined the look of longing in the Colonel's eyes just before he turned away and he told himself that maybe he missed Charlie. Maybe he didn't get a chance to hang around kids all that much anymore.
This time he finally made it to the barrier. There were guards around the ship, though, not letting anyone get too close. He smiled at one of the SFs that he knew, and the man nodded back, all business-like. Daniel knew none of them would let him get closer without his dad being present, so he just stared at the odd-looking ship from a distance so he wouldn't have to look at his dad enjoying himself with the other Daniel.
"Do you wish to visit the ship?"
"Hey, Teal'c." Unsure of which Teal'c this was, Daniel simply nodded. Teal'c placed a hand on his shoulder and together they walked past the SFs. "O'Neill is one of very few who is capable of controlling the ship."
"You mean my dad, I mean, the Colonel, is better than everyone else?" Daniel walked around the ship to the back where the doors were open and looked inside curiously, feeling a bit excited as he wondered if he could ever get as good as his dad and fly a jet, or, a time ship like this one.
"It is not a question of skills, but of genetics. He has a certain gene which the ship responds to."
Daniel's enthusiasm waned before he got a foot in the door. "So I guess there's no chance of me ever..."
"Unfortunately not. DanielJackson does not have the Ancient gene; therefore, it is logical to presume you also do not."
"Yeah," Daniel sighed as he stepped past the seats and a wheelchair, of all things, to the pilot's seat. Then he realized what he was standing in. A spaceship. And one not built by anyone on Earth, if the bits that he'd overheard were true. And his dad could fly this ship! He walked around the ship once more, paying more attention to the layout. "Do we have a ship like this?"
Teal'c's expression didn't change, but Daniel heard the slight censure in his tone. "It is not my place to discuss the security aspects of your world. If your father has not discussed this subject with you, it certainly is not my place to do so."
"Of course. National security and all that. I know." Considering his life story was probably listed in the Top Secret files of the government, Daniel knew better than to question his dad about anything dealing with his work. But hell, he'd flown in the ship, even though he didn't remember any of it. It just wasn't fair. Suddenly he wanted to be outside. He didn't belong here. He wasn't part of this and Daniel knew his dad probably had to pull some strings to have gotten him here.
"Thanks for letting me visit." He turned away and began heading for the exit.
"It was O'Neill's suggestion."
"Dad?" Then Daniel knew, and turned back. "The Colonel."
Teal'c inclined his head.
"Why?" Daniel stared out the view port and watched as the whole group began approaching the ship.
"O'Neill believed you would enjoy it."
"I remember some ships. A..." Daniel closed his eyes, searching for the elusive word. "A hatak," he said, unsure if it was the right word. "It was huge." He turned to look at Teal'c. "I think I had lots of nightmares about getting lost inside that."
Teal'c's eyebrow rose. "I was unaware DanielJackson had difficulties."
Daniel could hear the others talking as they got nearer. "And you?" Teal'c asked. "Will the memories of the hatak cause you nightmares?"
Slowly, Daniel shook his head. "They're like dreams already. Like when you go to the funhouse when you're a little kid, and today you remember that it was scary and spooky but you can only remember some of the feelings and not the details, but then when you go back when you're older, it's just not so scary anymore."
"What's not so scary anymore?" The adult Daniel, the first one to enter the ship, smiled at him as he sat in one of the seats, swiveling around to look at him.
"The funhouse," Daniel added succinctly, not wanting to go into details with him about his memories.
"Ah, I remember that. It scared the hell out of me as a kid. I had nightmares about getting lost in there."
Daniel snorted, and his adult self looked confused. "What?"
"It's nothing," he answered with a polite smile. He brushed past him to get a look at the computer Sam had just turned on. It had a wire coming out of it, connected to the ship. She smiled at him while Colonel O'Neill moved past him to sit down in the pilot's seat Daniel had coveted earlier.
Daniel moved closer to the exit to stand next to his own people. Sam put an arm around him and gave him a quick hug, pulling him off balance and he pushed against her once in friendly retaliation, then leaned against her, enjoying the closeness. They were all waiting for something, and he guessed it was the computer.
"We're good to go, sir," the other Sam said after a few seconds.
"Thanks again," his dad said, addressing the departing SG-1.
"C'mon," Sam whispered in Daniel's ear. Together, he, Sam, Teal'c and his dad left the ship and stood back with the SFs and General Hammond as it powered up. It rose silently, then it waggled quickly from side to side, and Daniel could see the Colonel inside grinning broadly. Then it sped up into the sky and disappeared into thin air.
Daniel stood there, staring at the spot where the ship had last been visible. "That was so cool." He didn't want to sound too interested because he knew that was one sure way his dad would never mention it again, but he wanted him to know that he was interested, in case his dad ever took their ship, if they did have one, on a test flight and so would maybe think of letting Daniel tag along if and when he did.
"You think so?" Jack ruffled Daniel's hair as they headed back for the Mountain's entrance.
"Maybe by the time I grow up and join the Air Force, all pilots will fly something like that." Well, a kid could dream, couldn't he? He envisaged himself flying through time, until they got into the elevator and his dad pressed the button for the floor with the VIP rooms.
"Bed, for an hour," his dad ordered as they stepped out the elevator together. "No computer, no laptop, no books."
"Fraiser said you could go outside for a short while as long as you rested after. Let's not ruin her good intentions by making things worse." He slid his passkey into the slot and opened the door, letting Daniel enter first.
Because he knew better than to argue with his dad when he was in this mood, Daniel toed off his sneakers, put the laptop on the floor and the iPod on the bureau, and lay down on the bed. His dad snagged the edge of the comforter and whipped it over Daniel. Then he sat on the bed and smiled down at him.
"Just for an hour. I'll come and get you myself so we can go have some lunch."
"Okay." Daniel yawned suddenly, surprising himself. "Do you think they're home yet?"
"Oh, most definitely. Didn't take long to travel here. It took longer getting permission to land."
"Do we have one of those ships?"
His father simply quirked an eyebrow in reply.
"Right. Sorry." Daniel turned onto his side. He felt like a kid, forced to take a nap. He swallowed a yawn, and a quick tidbit entered his mind. "Is Teal'c really over a hundred years old?"
"You tell me."
Daniel removed his glasses and handed them to his dad, burrowing his face into the pillow. "Yeah, he is." He felt the bed move as his dad leaned forward to kiss his cheek. He was asleep before his dad left the room.
Jack shifted in the chair then tossed the dog-eared magazine onto the coffee table. He crossed and uncrossed his legs. Two weeks and five sessions - no, make that six sessions - under their belt and still, Jack felt uncomfortable in the waiting room. Was progress being made? He sighed, it wasn't as if Doctor "please call me Liz" Kayton had any case studies to compare Daniel to, but Fraiser had again recommended therapy, and at this point, Jack would pretty much do whatever needed to be done.
He wore his guilt as a shield, protecting him from Daniel's glut of emotions or lack thereof. Everything had been fine, in the beginning. Daniel had appeared, quite successfully, Jack might add, to compartmentalize his memories. "My boy," he'd proudly thought, as he fell back into their routine. Key words would have been he and their. Jack had moved on quite nicely, while Daniel, well, Daniel seemed to be having issues.
Okay, maybe Jack had needed a bit of prodding from Carter and Teal'c to really see. Or maybe it was Fraiser asking him if he'd ever made an appointment with the psychologist she'd recommended. Well, whatever it was, here they were, six sessions into therapy and Jack was still waiting in more ways than one.
The door opened and Jack jumped to attention.
"Liz wants to see you for a minute," Daniel said sullenly as he fell into the nearest chair and shoved his earbuds into his ears.
"I'll be right out," Jack said, rolling his eyes when he realized his statement was drowned out by whatever music Daniel was plugged into.
Doctor Kayton was young. Younger than she had any right to be. She was warm and friendly and Jack would bet dollars to donuts that the woman's parents were from the sixties and that her name probably was Liz of the Light of the Sky or something similar.
"You're smiling, Colonel." She pointed to a chair. "Care to let me in on the secret?"
Jack just shrugged then lowered himself into the chair. His sitting more at the chair's edge than relaxing into it had nothing to do the doctor and everything to do with her profession.
"I believe it's time for a change in therapy sessions."
"Works for me." It really didn't. Jack didn't see any type of change in Daniel's behavior, but the woman, in this instance, with the initials after her name was the boss. "You want to cut Daniel's sessions?"
"Yes and no. Not exactly. I want to include you in them two times a week."
"What's the matter, Colonel, it doesn't work for you anymore?" A quick blush brightened her complexion. "Sorry, that was extremely unprofessional of me."
Jack snorted. "Daniel has that effect on people."
She paused. "You're right."
"So, he's not talking?"
"About school. Yes. He's putting on an excellent show for you, Colonel. He's only thirteen—"
"That's never been an issue before."
"No, Daniel didn't say that it was. But now he's having problems finding his niche. The person he was, before the memories interrupted his life, isn't the person he is now."
"I know," Jack said sadly.
"Based on the tenor of your voice, you're not happy."
"Daniel's not happy."
Her lopsided smile was slow in coming. "Daniel is thirteen. In many ways, he's old beyond his years, which may or may not have to do with his memories. But in many ways he's still a child looking to his father for acceptance."
Jack checked his watch. "Isn't your next appointment going to be upset that you're spending time with me?"
"Surprise, Colonel, you are my next appointment."
As they drove home, Jack took it as a sign of encouragement that Daniel's iPod was tucked away. "Doctor Kayton is nice," he volunteered.
"Have to admit, I was a bit surprised that I ended up sitting in the hot seat today." Jack stole a glance at Daniel just in time to see a flash of an evil smile before he turned his attention to the passing scenery.
"I think she was afraid that if she actually gave you an appointment, you'd bolt."
"Where did Doctor Kayton get that idea?"
This time the evilly innocent smile was delivered at full wattage. "I have no idea."
"Honest." With eyes sparkling with laughter, Daniel made a little cross sign over his heart.
"Trust me on this one, don't play poker, okay?"
Jack's heart soared as Daniel laughed. Score one for the doctor.
Considering his dad had had an enforced visit with Doctor Kayton, he appeared to be in a great mood tonight. "Dad?" Daniel ventured, carrying their dinner plates to the sink.
"Hmmm?" His dad reached for the plates with soapy hands. "Daniel," he asked with a nod of his chin, "could you please wrap the rest of the chicken in tin foil?"
"Sure." Daniel tried again as he tore off a piece of foil. "Can I go to the mall tomorrow? It's Friday..."
Daniel could feel his defenses shore up just by the quirk of his dad's eyebrows. "After school. I need some books from the bookstore."
His dad grabbed a towel. "What's the problem with the library?"
"I want to go to the bookstore."
"I'll take you tomorrow after work."
"Dad." Daniel finished wrapping the chicken. "I want to go the mall. With us, no offense, but the best laid plans... I need the books."
"I'll call your grandmother."
"To hold my hand while I'm in the mall? Dad, please," Daniel whined. "I love grandma, but put yourself in my shoes."
"Mortified would be a better word." When he opened the fridge door with more force than necessary, Daniel earned a scowl from his dad, so with exaggerated slowness, he walked the door closed.
"Are your friends going to be there?"
God, I hope not, Daniel quickly thought. First the debacle at Corey's house and then his being MIA from school for several days, Daniel had done everything in his power to stay away from his friends. Not that it had been much of a stretch, after blatantly ignoring Corey the first couple days of school, his friend had stopped trying to talk to him. His only true contact now was a few classes and soccer practice, and considering he was barred from playing any official games for the rest of the year, keeping his distance wasn't all that difficult. "I don't think so," he answered, carefully keeping his voice neutral.
"What?" Daniel warily inquired.
"How about Grandma picks you up after school then drops you off at the mall. I'll come and get you around eighteen hundred hours and we'll do dinner."
"Yes, Daniel," his father drew a breath, "really."
His grandmother maneuvered the car in front of one of the mall entrances. "You have your cell?"
"Yes, Grandma, I have my cell." Daniel patted his side pocket. "And money. And the key to the house."
Daniel rolled his eyes.
"Do not roll your eyes at me, young man," she reprimanded with a hint of a smile.
"I'm sorry," Daniel drawled. He was itching for freedom and he glanced at the mall with longing. He hadn't been out of the house on his own for what felt like ages.
"If your dad is late, or you want to come home earlier, remember I'm only a phone call away."
Daniel leaned to the side and planted a quick kiss on her cheek. "You're the bestest."
"Buttering me up won't help."
Daniel sat up straight. "Buttering you up for what?"
Daniel patted his pocket with the money. "I'm fine."
"Look, Daniel, honey. No teenager is ever fine with the amount of money they take shopping."
"No, Grandma, I'm fine, honest."
"Well, then, no grandma is fine with the amount of money their grandchildren are carrying." She stuck her hand in the side of her purse and pulled out a small roll of bills.
"No." Daniel waved his hands. "Really—"
"Buy yourself something totally ridiculous."
"I know, I know, you don't do ridiculous. Just—" She shoved the money into the pocket of his hoody. "Enjoy yourself."
Daniel wandered the mall, walking slowly and with exquisite pleasure. It was stupid to feel such freedom within the mall, but damn it, there was no other way to describe it. Freedom.
Up one side, down the other. Up to the second level. Up one side. Down the other, finally entering Borders on his second go round. He gave a gentle nod to the greeter, took a deep breath and entered the bowels of the store.
"What the—" Daniel batted behind him with his right hand, turning so suddenly he nearly demolished the neatly stacked books at the end cap.
"Whoa." The person stepped backwards, holding up her hands in surrender.
"Alexandria?" Protectively, he pulled out his ruined ponytail and redid it.
"Sorry," she said with a slight grin and a tilt of her chin as she handed him back the elastic she'd stolen. "Didn't mean to upset your hairdo."
He couldn't help but smile. "What are you doing here?"
"Hello, Daniel. Mall. All girls love malls, didn't you know that?"
She was pretty. She was popular. He'd had a crush on her for ages. She was in two of Daniel's classes and for the first time, while standing in the aisle of the bookstore, he realized he was taller than she was. Cool.
"I didn't think girls like..." He swept his arm across the aisle.
"Reading? Being intelligent?" Alexandria snorted. "Talk about your typical stereotyping."
He ducked his head, embarrassed. "Sorry."
"Don't be." Alexandria grabbed his arm and gave a little squeeze that went right down to his groin, darkening Daniel's blush. "I was just kidding."
With great trepidation, Daniel lifted his head.
"Don't be shy."
"Well then, do something. Say something besides blush and mumble under your breath."
"I don't mumble."
Alexandria smiled. "Yes, you do."
"You do, and you're damn cute when you do it."
This time the heat of the blush was a tsunami and he dropped his gaze, too horrified of his body's betrayal in response to her words.
"Oh crap," Alexandria whispered. "Please tell me I just didn't say you were—"
Daniel nodded. "You did." He ventured a look at her face and laughed. "You're blushing worse than I am."
Her smiled wavered then blossomed. "Well, I just broke rule ten of the teenage book of etiquette."
She nodded. "Thou shalt not reveal to any teenage boy their cuteness."
"Can I let you in on a little secret, Alexandria?"
"Why do you call me that?" She tucked an errant dark curl behind her ear.
"Call you what?" Daniel stepped back, thoroughly confused.
"Isn't that your name?" he inquired.
"Most people call me Dria."
"Oh. Sorry, I'll call you Dria."
"I like when you call me by my full name."
"I hate when people call me Danny." He paused. "Except my dad. My dad can call me Danny and it doesn't make my skin crawl."
"My Oma... grandmother, can call me Alexandria. She's the only one. Just her..." She paused. "And you. You can call me that."
Daniel checked his watch.
"Are you going somewhere?"
"My dad's coming to pick me up around six." Daniel pointed to the display he was standing in front of. "I still don't have an idea for the English report."
"Look, we're supposed to choose two different authors. One current and one past. Same type of genre. Write a comparison. Stephen King with Cujo and Poe's The Raven are the perfect match."
Daniel blinked at her.
"Wait here. Don't move," she ordered. "I'll be right back.
"You're sure about this?" Daniel asked as he handed the money over to the cashier.
"Positive." Alexandria took the bag from the counter. "It's a sure winner."
"If I don't get an A... thank you," he said, taking his change back from the cashier. "It's all your fault."
"Yeah, right, Daniel." She gave a very unladylike snort. "Tell me another one."
"Want to get a soda?" Daniel cringed, hating himself for even asking something so stupid. "Never mind," he added.
"Hey, no back-sees. You offered to buy me a drink."
"I want a coffee. Coffee's a drink. A soda is a drink; therefore, both the coffee and the soda are drinks, so by offering me a soda, you were also offering me a coffee."
"Yes, you were. Come on." She pulled Daniel towards the coffee bar.
They sat by the window overlooking the mall, watching the people go by.
"You never told me your little secret?"
Daniel blanched, jerking back so fast, he nearly spilled his coffee.
"Whoa." She reached out a hand and helped right his cup.
"Secret?" Daniel stuttered.
"You said, and I quote, - Can I let you in on a little secret, Alexandria - close quote." Her smile was evil. "I have a photographic memory." Her snort of laughter made the patrons at the next table turn around. "You can close your mouth now."
"I better never say anything to piss you off."
"Stop avoiding the question, Daniel, what's your little secret?"
He bent forward, leaning on his elbows, inviting Alexandria to come forward to meet him. "I'm not cute," he whispered. "Honest. I wear glasses. I have horrible hair. Occasional face breakouts. I blush, and my pants are too short when I sit down." Daniel and Alexandria leaned sideways. "See. Sock, skin, pants, so not cute."
"Oh, you're right," she t'sked, sitting up. "I promise I won't tell anyone, your secret's safe with me."
"So..." Alexandria veered away from Daniel and sat on a bench facing the fountain.
"So..." Daniel echoed, sitting down on the same bench.
"Do you think your dad could pick you up later?"
"Thought you'd want to hang out..."
"With who?" Daniel asked slowly, suddenly feeling as if he'd been set up.
She shrugged. "A bunch of people."
"A bunch of people?" he echoed stupidly.
"Corey, Li, Li's sister..."
"Lena?" Idiot. How could he be such an idiot? Li's twin sister, Lena, and Alexandria were friends, which meant that by default Li sometimes hung out with them and Corey and... "Nate?"
"Nate. And Matthew. Sandy..."
Daniel gave himself a mental kick in the ass. This wasn't school. There wasn't a bathroom to duck into when he saw his friends coming down the hall. Sitting in class with them was hard enough, ignoring them was like ignoring the pink elephant in the middle of the room. Something he'd been able to do to survive the day. Severing the friendship was easier than the pity he saw in their eyes.
He checked his watch again then squirmed, wondering how it was possible that time seemed to have slowed down.
"I understand, you know."
"Huh, understand what?" Daniel was brought out of his musings by Alexandria's whisper of a touch to his arm.
"Being nervous. Awkward."
"Anyone ever tell you that you're a terrible liar?"
He narrowed his eyes at her then slid his gaze away. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Angrily, he gathered up his package and stood. "I'm not sure who put you up to this, to be nice to me. Thanks, but no thanks."
Daniel got two steps before he felt her hand dig into his bicep. He tried to shake her off, but she held fast. "What do you want, Alexandria?" he said without turning around.
"What?" He shook off her hand and did an about face. "You want me to apologize? Why? I don't want any of your psychoanalytical bullshit about being nervous and awkward."
"Do you think I'm so shallow that I would allow someone to manipulate my actions?"
"If the shoe fits—"
"You're a sanctimonious son of a bitch, do you know that?"
Daniel paused, drew a breath and grabbed a quick glance at Alexandria. "I thought you said I was cute?"
She exhaled then blinked at Daniel. "Oooookay. You're cute for a sanctimonious son of a bitch. There, does that make you feel better?"
He kissed her. Leaned right into her space and kissed her. And it wasn't premeditated. He hadn't thought about this. He hadn't obsessed over it. Agonized over it. It hadn't even entered his mind the entire time they'd been together.
The crowds in the mall disappeared and Daniel allowed himself a smidgeon of happiness that lasted until she reached for his hands.
"Oh crap." He stepped back in a panic. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean. I mean... You're..." He waved his hand in front of her. "You're you, and me? I'm thirteen. Thirteen. I'm sorry. Sorry. Sorry."
"Shut up," she said softly, just before she kissed him.
Someone bumped them, and they guiltily separated.
"Robbing the cradle, Dria?"
Tony Bloch. Great. Talk about getting your hand caught in the cookie jar. Senior. Epitome of the big man on campus persona. Cocksure of himself at the expense of others. All-around asshole and Alexandria's boyfriend.
"What the hell do you want, Tony?"
Okay, maybe ex-boyfriend. Only, that didn't make Daniel feel any better, because Tony wasn't looking at her as if they weren't a couple. He looked downright possessive. And angry.
He jerked the soda he had at Daniel, and a stream of Coke shot through the straw and flowed down his hoody. "Oops, sorry, Jackson."
"I'll ask you again, what do you want, Tony?" She glanced at Daniel and shook her head. "Is it that you don't understand the question? Do you need me to repeat it slower?"
"I'm not an idiot, Dria."
"Prove it, just leave. Prove to me you can take a hint."
Tony didn't move.
She sighed. "Leave me alone, Tony." There was no hesitation as she captured Daniel's hand.
Daniel, on the other hand, wasn't really in the mood to be a pawn between the two of them. "Look, if you two need to talk—"
"No," she replied empathically.
He winked at them. "Your boy toy is giving us permission to speak. How sweet."
Strong front, but she was shaking. Daniel could feel it through her fingers.
"Excuse me?" Tony stepped closer; close enough that Daniel could smell the alcohol on his breath.
"Let's go." Daniel tugged at her hand. This wasn't going to end well.
"Fuck you," she hissed at him.
There was no warning. Tony threw the soda. The cup with the lid bounced off Daniel's chest and hit the floor, splattering in all directions, and although Alexandria was splattered, Daniel absorbed the majority of the sweet syrupy drink, that had, by the smell of it, been mixed with something stronger.
Tony pointed at Daniel, laughing. "Oh, clumsy me. Wet your pants, Jackson? See Dria, that's what happens when you date younger guys. No bladder control."
Daniel pulled Alexandria away from Tony. "Come on." He spied the overhead sign for the bathrooms and dragged her in that direction, checking over his shoulder to make sure Tony didn't follow them. Tony captured Daniel's gaze and gave him the finger as he kicked the cup over the tiled floor in their direction.
"Asshole," Alexandria yelled, struggling for a moment as Daniel pulled her into the corridor leading towards the bathrooms.
Alexandria flung her hand downward and separated herself from Daniel. "He's always drunk," she said angrily.
Daniel gave her a second to rant and seethe, but her frustration was boiling over, catching Daniel in the overflow. "Who does he think he is? Do you believe that he would—"
"I'm going to clean up," he said sadly. Shaking his head, he backed away from her.
"Daniel." She reached out and then snaked her hand around the bag of books in his arms and latched onto him. "I'm sorry."
He glanced down and shook out his legs. "They're only pants."
"It's not just the pants." Alexandria gave a heavy sigh and looked towards the opening. "It was Tony. He ruined—"
Daniel reached out and pushed back a dark curl that had fallen in her face.
He smiled back. "Tony didn't ruin anything."
He slapped the hand dryer on and leaned awkwardly under the hot rush of air, rotating the plastic bag of books under the warmth.
Daniel sniffed the air. Bent his head then sniffed his sweatshirt. His hands. Damn! The smell of alcohol was overpowering. Daniel elbowed the wall in frustration and threw the bag of books across the bathroom. The books slid out of the bag, Cujo taking a hop and a skip to land in a spot under the urinal. Fuck it. There's no way his dad was going to believe that he'd spent the afternoon at the mall. Especially now that he didn't even have the books he'd gone to the mall to buy.
He flung open the bathroom door. "Alexandria, I'm—"
Daniel could hear her sounds of protest but Alexandria was hidden from Daniel's view, Tony's sheer size had her pinned to the wall.
There was no thought that Tony was five years older than Daniel, outweighed him by at least fifty pounds and was drunk. Adrenalin saw none of that. Daniel double-fisted the back of Tony's jacket and pulled. Surprise coupled with Tony's level of alcohol worked in Daniel's favor and Tony stumbled backwards.
"Leave her alone," Daniel warned.
"Oh, and who's going to make me?"
Daniel remained silent, noticing Tony's clenched fists.
"Cat got your tongue, asshole?"
It was Alexandria's shouting Corey's name and Corey's response that was Daniel's undoing. He turned for a second and that was all it took for Tony to bring Daniel to his knees with a right hook that sent his glasses flying across the cement floor. He saw stars and tasted blood, and stayed on the floor, trying to breathe through the pain. Slowly, he raised his head, his vision distorted.
"Daniel!" Corey's voice echoed in the tunnel as he ran towards him.
Daniel had already been dismissed in Tony's book, taken down with one punch. With a sneer, he turned his back on Daniel, fists raised, ready to take on Corey.
Intelligence had never been one of Tony's strong points, but it was Daniel's, and in a move that would've made Teal'c beam with pride, he took Tony down with a sweep of his legs.
Face first, Tony fell, his reflexes too distorted by alcohol to throw his arms out to soften his contact with the cement floor. On his hands and knees, Daniel crawled up Tony's back; he latched onto his right arm and twisted the appendage behind his back. Daniel's left knee pinned Tony's left arm to the floor.
Tony bucked, trying to throw Daniel off his perch, but Daniel twisted the arm in his hold a little harder.
"Get off me, you little shit," Tony groaned.
Daniel twisted harder and Tony's groan turned into a high-pitched squeal of pain. "Stay away from Alexandria."
Daniel ground Tony's arm into the floor with his knee. He leaned forward, until he was close enough to his ear to whisper. "You don't really want me to—"
Tony began to whimper then cry. "I promise, just get off of me—"
Alexandria bent down in front of Tony, her cell phone opened. "Nice picture, Tony. In case you can see... Look, there's Daniel making you beg for mercy. Touch me again, touch Daniel or any of our friends, and the little video I made of Daniel making you cry like a baby will be all over Youtube before you can blow your nose."
Daniel was cold, wet, miserable and confused. He remembered Corey and Nate dragging him off Tony. Now? Daniel covered his injured eye and blinked his good one. Outside. They were outside the mall, sitting on one of the wooden benches by the exit.
"No!" he yelled as Corey pulled out his cell phone.
"What? I'm calling your dad—"
"Please," Daniel begged. "Not my dad, he's never going to believe..." Daniel swiped at his pants. "That this wasn't me..."
"What time is it?" Daniel's words were garbled, the split skin on the corner of his mouth swelling and tightening.
"It's five fifteen," Alexandria answered. She placed her arm around Daniel's shoulder and he leaned into her, appreciating her body's warmth.
Corey's gaze bounced around their group. "My mom, I'll call my mom. Is that okay, Daniel?"
"Just call someone, Corey. He's freezing."
"Freezing," Daniel repeated, nodding in agreement. And he hurt. And his glasses were MIA. And he had no books. And he stunk like he'd drunk a bottle of whiskey. And his father was going to kill him.
Alexandria rubbed his arm and rested her head on his shoulder. "My knight in shining armor," she murmured.
Maybe, just maybe, this Friday wouldn't be a total washout.
Daniel cowered in his seat, staring at the passing scenery as Corey and Nate regaled Mrs. Maddison with the details of his run-in with Tony. For the second time. He was way past embarrassed and was working on mortified.
"Daniel was amazing, Mom. I mean, Tony was headed straight for me—"
"Are you okay?" Alexandria whispered in his ear.
"Yeah, except for..." Daniel flicked his tongue out at the blood on his top lip. "...not being able to see out of one eye. My entire face hurting. Having no glasses. No books. Stinking like a bar." Daniel found her hand and squeezed. "I'm fine."
"You're still cute, you know."
"Funny," Daniel sighed, the rush of air making his split lip tingle painfully. "I don't think my dad is going to think the same thing."
The bright lights of the Maddison's kitchen hurt. A lot. Daniel closed his eyes and averted his head.
Mrs. Maddison placed a hand on Daniel's head, gently smoothing back the bangs from his face. "Corey, could you lower the lights? Thanks."
Daniel breathed a sigh of relief, the change in illumination bleeding through his closed eyelids. Lifting his head, he opened his eyes a smidge to look into Mrs. Maddison's concerned face. "It looks worse than it is."
"It looks pretty damn bad from where I'm standing," Mr. Maddison growled.
"It wasn't Daniel's fault, Dad. Honest."
"Oh." Mr. Maddison stood behind his wife. "You didn't think I was blaming you for anything—"
"Dria has it all on her cell phone—"
"We can download it—"
The cacophony of voices was deafening and Corey's mother glanced upward at her husband, who took the hint immediately.
He opened his arms, herding the gang out of the kitchen. "Come on, let's go check this out."
Mrs. Maddison got up and filled a plastic bag with ice. She wrapped it in a towel then handed it to Daniel. "Hold this right here." She moved his hand to the side of his face.
He jumped when the already cold towel made contact with his face and he pulled it away, only to have Mrs. Maddison put it right back.
"Keep it there," she ordered.
He nodded mutely.
"I'll be right back."
Daniel lowered the ice pack the second Mrs. Maddison stepped out of the kitchen and began to prod his face, hissing in pain the closer his fingers got to his eye.
"You were damn lucky," Mrs. Maddison said with a shake of her head.
Guiltily, Daniel reached for the ice.
"Wait." Mrs. Maddison put her hand on his. "I can't offer you much—" She held out a sweatshirt for him. "But here's something—"
He reached for the shirt, but then changed his mind. "Thanks," Daniel fingered the blood already staining the towel wrapped around the ice. "But I don't want to make a mess of the sweatshirt."
"I called your dad."
Daniel smiled from the half of his mouth that worked then glanced at the sweatshirt. He was pretty sure the phone call had been masked behind the sweatshirt retrieval. "He's on his way here?"
She nodded and smiled but the smile didn't make her eyes any happier. "He's not angry, Daniel. I won't let him be angry. There's a whole contingent of your friends who'll stand by your side. And from what I hear, there's visual evidence—"
"I lost my glasses," Daniel interrupted.
"I know." She touched the corner of his mouth. "And you might need a stitch or two."
"I don't have my books, they'll still in the bathroom at the mall." Daniel began to fidget. Alone with Mrs. Maddison in the kitchen and suddenly his good deed didn't seem that good.
"Books are replaceable."
"I should've called my dad; he's going to be angry that you called and not me." Frantically, he began to pat the pockets of his jeans, pulling out his wallet, his iPod, his keys, the money from his grandmother, and finally his cell phone. "I'm going to—"
"No," Mrs. Maddison said, plucking the phone from his fingers and snapping it closed. "Ah, honey. It'll be okay. Honest, your dad's going to be so proud of you."
Jack hurried up the walk to the Maddison's house, caught between seething anger and worry. He was brought up short when the front door opened just as he was about to ring the doorbell.
"Jack." He was pissed that Maddison stepped out to meet him.
"Um... I got a call from Gina." He attempted to skirt around his friend, and was more than a bit put off when Steve stopped him. "Daniel was involved in—"
"Gina warned me that I'm not permitted to allow you into the house until I've extracted a promise from you that you won't get mad at Daniel."
"Fine, I'm not mad. Can I please go see my son?"
"There was a fight at the mall."
"Ah crap." Jack's headshake was accompanied by a sigh of exasperation. He'd known something was going to happen. Just a gut instinct that Daniel... "Is he okay?"
"He's got a nice shiner."
"And?" Even without Steve saying anything, Jack knew there was a but to the story.
"Long story short. This senior—"
"A senior? Daniel's not even fourteen yet, what the hell was Daniel doing hanging—"
"Jack." Steve placed a hand on his arm. "No offense, buddy, but could you shut the hell up and just listen?"
"Can't I just see my son and then he can tell me the story? Or you can tell me the story after I've seen him." As wrong as it was, Jack was more than willing to punch Maddison out then step over his unconscious body to get to Daniel.
"No?" Jack could feel his hands close into fists.
"You need to calm down and listen. And you may be able to get past me, but Gina will take you down in a second."
Jack inhaled then exhaled for Steve's sake. "All calm." He threw his arms to the side. "See. Calm."
"Look, Steve, Daniel and I are just putting things back together in our lives. I spend my days walking on eggshells waiting for the phone to ring - for something to, well, you know, happen. So when I got Gina's call—"
"A senior was harassing a girl, who, from what I can see, had taken a shine to Daniel. Your son stepped in, the guy took offense to Daniel's interference and decked him one. And Daniel came back and took the guy down. Reduced the senior to tears, as a matter of fact." Steve gazed at Jack. "Bugs are going to fly into your mouth if you don’t shut it."
He blinked at Steve. "A girl was interested in Daniel? My Daniel?"
"Jack, when was the last time you looked at Daniel? He's growing up but more importantly, where the hell did he learn a take down move like that?"
Teal'c. Daniel had been a sponge when it came to learning. Whether it was stuff from books or defensive moves from Teal'c. Well, hot damn. "You remember our friend, Teal'c?"
"Big black guy? Quiet?"
"Yup. He gave Daniel a few pointers on how to protect himself."
"Would he be interested in teaching some moves to a middle-aged, overweight balding man?" Steve chuckled.
"Can I go in and see my son now?"
Steven nodded and held the door open. "Just so you know, with the power of technology, your son's abilities were videoed for posterity."
"Blackmail. Let's just say that this girl who's enamored with your little Daniel has got one good head on her shoulders."
"That's my boy," Jack said and he allowed himself a smile. The tension that had been his constant companion since receiving the call from Gina was finally easing.
Jack checked his rearview mirror again as he tried to wrap his disbelieving brain around the fact that one of the two chatterboxes in the backseat was Daniel. At first, his nose had been out of joint when Daniel slipped into the backseat with Dria, but not now. Between the teenage girl and the senior bully, the two of them had done more for Daniel in less than six hours than every session with Doctor Kayton.
Dria held the cell phone up with a triumphant giggle. "I'm going to go home and download this onto Youtube."
"You promised you wouldn't."
"I know. But I want to make sure all of our bases are covered. I mean, the phone could get lost. Broken. Or stolen," she added with a whisper. "Downloading it will just be our safety net."
Jack wondered if it was possible to earmark this girl for the Stargate program in another ten years. "Put the ice back on, Daniel." Another quick glance in the mirror revealed that the ice pack had once again slipped from the side of his face.
"Do what your dad says, Daniel."
Screw the Stargate program, maybe Daniel should just marry this girl.
"Oh, you need to make a left at the next light, Colonel O'Neill."
"Oh, sorry, Colonel Jack."
Daniel snorted. "I think he meant just Jack would be fine."
"Not if you're my mother. Trust me on this one, Daniel. It's all about respect."
"Colonel Jack is just fine," Jack interjected.
"Daniel," Dria asked innocently, "what are you going to say on Monday?"
"Umm. That you kissed me?"
"Daniel!" she shrieked, "Your dad! And you kissed me first."
"My dad doesn't care. Do you care, Dad?"
"About what?" Jack feigned playing along just because of the joy in Daniel's voice.
"See, he's not even listening," Daniel crowed.
"I think I liked you better shy."
Jack was familiar with the street Dria lived on, but she didn't seem to notice that he was taking the long way there, just to spend extra time with Daniel.
"I'm serious," she continued. "What about Monday? How are you going to explain—"
"I was on the receiving end of a lucky punch."
"You're not going to tell anyone?"
"Tell them what?"
"That you kicked Tony's ass. Oh, sorry, Colonel Jack."
"Why are you apologizing?" Jack said. "What you said is the truth. Tony got what he deserved and telling people that you kicked his ass—"
"No," Daniel said. "Who knows, knows. I'm not saying anything."
"I know," Dria said, probably soft enough for what she thought was only for Daniel's ears.
"That's all that matters," Daniel responded, just as gently.
"Right here, Colonel Jack. The house with the green minivan." She shuddered. "Do you believe my mother wants me to practice driving in that thing? I'd rather walk."
Daniel unbuckled his seatbelt. Dria undid hers and both of them got out of the backseat.
"I'll be back in a sec," Daniel said, just before he shut the door.
Jack watched as Dria reached for Daniel's hand as they slowly made their way up the walk. Daniel went to climb up her porch stairs, but she pulled him back to her. He shook his head, but she tugged harder until he gave in.
He faced her and Jack smiled. His little boy wasn't so little anymore. This was obviously the first of many growth spurts that was going to lead towards the eventual six-foot stance.
In the shadowy outline, as Dria reached out to touch the bruises on his face and Daniel leaned down to kiss her, Jack smiled sadly, because it was a strange moment for him to be missing his friend, but he was, because only adult Daniel would be able to understand the pride that was causing his vision to blur.
Jack didn't miss Daniel sinking down in the seat, allowing the oversized sweatshirt to swallow him up. Steve Maddison's sweatshirt was swimming on him, but at least only his pants held traces of alcohol and not the rest of him.
Daniel nodded. "Yeah."
Jack turned up the heat. "How're you doing?"
"Good." He turned and smiled at him, the movement reopening his split lip. "All in all, I had a great day today."
Jack laughed. "You've obviously not looked in the mirror recently."
"Oh, that." Daniel's tongue worried his top lip, playing with the split skin. "Yeah, I know, but I... did you see... I mean... Teal'c would be proud of me," he said.
"Really?" Daniel appeared taken back. "You're not angry?"
"Of course, I'm angry."
Daniel sunk lower in the shirt.
"I'm angry at the SOB who hit you. Who poured soda on you. Who tried to hurt Dria. Who made you lose your books and your glasses. But I am not, nor will I ever be angry with you for this."
"Okay," Daniel said slowly. "Please tell me you're not going all military man and going to Tony's house and speaking to his parents, are you? Please tell me you're not going to—"
"I should. I should and press charges, send his ass to jail—"
"Oh, god, please Dad, no."
"Fair warning, if he touches you again, I'm not going to tell you, Daniel, I'm just going ahead and do it."
"Do it? Like have him arrested? Send Teal'c to discuss this matter with him. Sam?"
"All of the above and your grandmother."
Daniel's smile wasn't as deep this time and his tongue stayed pressed against the split in his upper lip.
"Fraiser's expecting us."
"Yes, now. It's either her home, the SGC infirmary or the Academy Hospital."
Daniel groaned. "How about "D" none of the above?"
Cassie was bouncing around her mother like an Energizer bunny. "Holy shit—"
"Sorry, Mom." She peered into Daniel's face. "Tony Bloch did that?"
Daniel pulled back from Fraiser's poking and prodding to nail Cassie with a one-eyed stare. "How did you know?"
"Nate went home and told his sister, who told—"
"Ahhh, the old game of telephone." Jack gave a nod of understanding.
"No." Cassie gave him a look that was pure disbelief. "Telephone, Uncle Jack?" She snorted.
"He's old, Cassie, take pity on him."
"Old?" Jack took a mock threatening step towards Daniel. "I'll show you old."
"Everyone. Just behave. Please. And you, Daniel, stop fidgeting."
"Text messaging. Emails," Cassie hissed. "Maybe cell phone."
"I said phone," Jack said indignantly.
"You didn't say cell phone."
"No, they aren't, Colonel, believe me. I pay the cell phone bill." Fraiser stood up and shook her head. "There's no need for an orbital x-ray. Nothing's broken. Bruised but not broken."
Daniel's fingers reached towards his lip.
Fraiser captured his hand and brought it down to his lap. "Leave it. I know it's annoying—"
"Stitches?" Jack's need to get his hands on this Tony fellow was increasing exponentially with the length of Fraiser's examination.
"No, not stitches. Close, but no cigar."
"Glue," Cassie added.
"Elmer's?" Daniel asked with a slight giggle.
"Rubber cement?" Cassie countered.
He and Fraiser exchanged a look of parental indulgence just before she reached into her medical bag. "Don't tempt me," she said, waving the tube at the teenagers. "A little slip of my hand and I won't have to worry about cell phone bills anymore."
Cassie wiggled her fingers at her mom. "There's always text messaging."
Jack realized it was late, and that the issue of food had never occurred to him. "Me, too. Fast food?"
Daniel pointed through the front windshield, squinting. "McDonalds is right there."
"Drive thru?" Jack changed lanes, heading towards the golden arches.
Self-consciously, Daniel touched the left side of his face. "Yeah. Just a chocolate shake and fries. I don't think I can manage—"
"Leave it to me."
"Hey, leave some fries for me." Jack slapped the bag closed.
"Hungry," Daniel whined.
"I know. But see. There's our house. Right there."
"I'm not that blind, Dad."
"I wasn't insinuating you were." Jack's kidding tone removed the bite from his words. "I was just hoping to distract you from scoffing down all the food. All my food."
"I have my old glasses, the old prescription. I can use those—"
"We'll call Doctor Albert tomorrow and see how long it would take—"
"Though I don't know how long it'll be before I can put glasses on. What does it look like?" Daniel pulled down the passenger visor and flipped open the mirror. "Whoa. Check this out." He turned his head a number of different ways. "Cool."
"That isn't exactly the word I would use to describe it, Daniel."
"Can I call Teal'c when I get home and—"
"Yes, you can call Teal'c when you get home. First things first." Jack pulled the truck into the driveway then leaned over and flipped the visor back up. "Quick shower, I'll throw the burgers and fries on a plate—"
"Please," he begged. "Can I eat first, then shower? Then call Teal'c."
"Compromise. Shower. Teal'c, then eat."
Daniel was standing in the kitchen, fresh from the shower, so fresh that, even though he was dressed in clean sweats, his hair was still dripping down his back and there was a trail of wet footprints leading, Jack was sure, all the way back to the bathroom.
He paced the floor, dodging around Jack as he talked on the phone to Teal'c. "Everything you taught me I put to good... no, he's still breathing... okay, not everything. But all the stuff about size not mattering." Daniel nodded. "Yes, I know you're proud of me." Daniel gave a slight bow as if Teal'c was standing right in front of him. "Thank you," he whispered into the phone.
"Was I bragging?"
Jack looked up from his plate.
The shake had been a fiasco, the sucking motion hurt too much for Daniel so he'd taken to dipping the fries and bite-sized pieces of the burger into the drink. Unorthodox, definitely, but Daniel didn't seem to be suffering. As a matter of fact, there wasn't much left and Jack didn't miss the way Daniel was eyeing his food.
Without a word, Jack transferred a handful of fries from his plate to Daniel's. "Were you bragging?"
"Yeah." Daniel plunged a long fry into the chocolate shake, took it out then proceeded to lick it clean. "Bragging is bad. I mean, I hurt someone."
"Who hurt you first. Unprovoked." Jack shook a fry at him. "You had every right to defend yourself."
"And Alexandria," Daniel added. "I mean I couldn't just stand by and let him—"
"Yeah, you always were a sucker for dark-haired damsels in distress."
The second the words were out of his mouth, Jack regretted them, but by then it was too late. There was an expression of registered shock on Daniel's face just before he slowly stood and exited the kitchen, leaving Jack with the remains of his dinner and the empty echo of silence.
Daniel was antsy; once again his gaze slid from the book in front of him to the open window. It'd been hard. Who was he kidding? This was still hard. Trying to regain his academic footing was an uphill battle and had been more difficult than he'd thought and it was definitely more difficult than he would ever admit to his dad. He was still struggling to play catch up with the work he'd missed, while maintaining his current workload in addition to the mental strain of ignoring the rumors circulating regarding his absence from school.
He forced himself to concentrate, dragging his finger over the lines of text, getting halfway down the page before realizing he could remember nothing from the previous paragraph. Frustrated, and without gentleness, he ripped his new glasses off his face, flung them across the table then dropped face first into the open book with a groan.
The weather was beautiful. He could feel it. Sense it. The breeze bringing the warm air into the dining room wasn't helping at all. Day in and day out, Daniel had been working his ass off. Late nights on the computer after his father had turned in for the night. Extra help after school. No time for his friends, for Alexandria. Assignments coming out of his ears, and he was tired. Mentally exhausted. The problem seemed to be that his body wasn't tired. And the only times he got to physically move these days were soccer practice, which were few and far apart since the team was playing finals and he, of course, was not officially permitted back onto the team until next year.
Daniel checked the time, retrieved his glasses, left his books on the table and went to change into a pair of sneakers and sweats.
Mindlessly, he ran. Block after block he pounded the pavement. And for the first time, in more weeks than Daniel would even care to admit, his mind was a complete blank except for thinking only of placing one foot in front of the other. He'd tied his hair back in a ponytail, but the escaped strands were stuck to his face, glued on by the layer of sweat covering his body.
Damn, this felt great.
And he ran until he couldn't run anymore. Until his chest was tight from the exertion and his throat was raw from lack of water. Until his body was exhausted and his mind was one big smile, and until he noticed the lengthy shadows.
He walked the last block to his house, practically dragging his body up the street. From the corner, he could see his dad's car already in the driveway. Dinnertime. His stomach growled in anticipation. Shower first, then food, he promised it.
"Hey, Dad." Daniel burst into the house, walked past him without really seeing him and headed directly towards the refrigerator.
Daniel held up a finger, got out a cold bottle of water and drank three quarters of it before coming up for air. "Sorry." He used the hem of his sweatshirt to sop up the sweat from his face, careful of the fading bruise. "I'm going to go jump in the shower before—"
"Yeah... before—crap. I was supposed to start dinner."
His father gave him a tight nod.
"I have some money in my room. How about pizza, my treat?" He gave his dad a hopeful smile.
"You didn't finish your homework."
Daniel looked at the opened books still spread out on the dining room table and sighed. "I know."
His father answered his sigh with one of his own and raised the ante with a shake of his head.
"You're disappointed?" Daniel was a bit taken aback.
"Well, come on. Think of it from my point of view. We discussed this morning about dinner and you said you'd take care of that—"
"I am... I'm going to get us pizza."
"That's not what I meant and you know it." His father's arms swept the length of the table. "You didn't finish your homework. You left the window open. The door unlocked—"
"I know, you're always sorry, but you want my trust, you need to do your part and start acting your age."
The control that Daniel had been struggling to maintain shattered. The pain he'd been burying in schoolwork raised its ugly head. "Which age? Thirteen or forty."
"Whoa." His father took a step back. "Where the hell did that come from?"
"I don't know. Maybe from the same place my memories were. Buried."
His father shook his head. "Remember, we're supposed to talk when things—"
"Talking now. Okay? Why did you take me in? Obligation? Guilt? Or to make up for what happened to Charlie?"
His dad opened his mouth, but Daniel was in a blind rage. The endorphin high from his run was gone. "For once I need you to tell me the truth." Daniel stopped and drew a shaky breath. He wouldn't cry. He refused to cry. "Damn you, I'm thinking the last time you were honest with me was when I was five years old. This..." Daniel pointed at his father, at the kitchen table. At the window. "All of this is a lie. My whole life has been built on lies." Daniel wrapped his arms around his midsection and turned towards the opened window. He lifted his head, allowing the cool breeze to wash over him.
"In the beginning," his dad began, "I took you in for all those reasons. Obligation. Guilt. Charlie."
"You didn't love me?" Daniel chewed on his bottom lip, distracting his body away from the pain in his heart.
"No, not as you should've been loved. Not as a child needs to be loved. Not as you needed to be loved. It's different now."
"Why is it different now?"
"Because I love you."
"That's not good enough," Daniel said to the opened window. "When did you start loving me? When I was six? When I was seven... two weeks ago?"
"One day," his dad said, moving in closer, "you and I went to the mall. About a month after you'd been downsized. I was cocky, too sure of myself. Hell, how hard could it be? I was an adult. You were a kid. Piece of cake."
His dad snorted at the memory. "I was wrong. I'd forgotten about parenthood and needing eyes in the back of your head, and handholding. I lost you. For hours. And in those horrible hours, when I thought I'd never see you again, that I'd have to drive home in an empty car to an empty house to your empty room... right there, while the SGC combed that mall, I knew. While the police asked me for a detailed description over and over again, without you even being with me, I knew that I loved you."
Daniel paused and tried to dig up that memory, but his brain was chockfull of memories. Visuals overlapping and it was too hard trying to compartmentalize them. "How do I know you're not lying? You lied for all these years..."
"I did what I thought was best." A ribbon device was less painful than this.
"You did what was best for you." Daniel shook his head. "Not me."
"I did what was best for a five year old child who was confused and lost."
"I should've gone to Janet's."
"Turn around, Daniel," Jack pleaded. "Please."
He turned slowly and Jack's heart shattered at his inability to make this right. There was no anger in his son's face, just the pure and utter devastation of betrayal. He should've lied, but it was too late for that; there was no turning back. "I did want to pawn you off on Fraiser. And she did take you in, initially. Figured she was a doctor, already had Cassie, what was one more?"
"One more?" Daniel shook his head, disgusted. "What did you think I was, a pet?"
"You were a kid. A little kid, and with my track record with kids, I thought it was better for all concerned if you went to Fraiser's."
"What happened?" Daniel swallowed and it took him a few tries to rein in his emotions and get the words out. "Janet didn't want me either?"
"You didn't want Fraiser. You cried the whole time you were with her. You refused to sleep. Eat."
Jack sighed, remembering five-year-old Daniel reaching out to him when he showed up at Fraiser's house in response to her panicked phone call in the middle of the night. Daniel had thrown himself at Jack the second he'd crossed the threshold. "Jack. Home," the little blond-haired boy had demanded as he'd held on for dear life. "Why, Daniel? Because, you wanted me."
Daniel gave him a very Teal'c-like curt nod. "I'm going to go take a shower."
"Pizza?" Daniel tentatively asked from the doorway.
"Meatball and sausage? My treat?"
Daniel bristled. "My treat."
"Your treat," Jack remembered. "Camillo's?"
Daniel crinkled his nose. "Paradisio. Camillo's always takes forever and I'm hungry."
"And you stink. Chop chop, go shower. I'll call. You better hurry," Jack yelled at Daniel's departing back. "I'm hungry and I can't vouch for my willpower if it gets here while you're showering."
Jack stood there, phone in his hand, sort of shell-shocked at Daniel's recovery powers. Bing bang and it was over just like that. They talked... Daniel forgave him. Something wasn't right, but who was he to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Jack dialed the number for the pizza place, placed the order then hung up the phone. He listened. He heard only the hum of the fridge and the running water of Daniel's shower, but he knew it was there, his ears just weren't attuned to picking up the sound of the other shoe dropping.
Jack was exhausted. The worst part was that it wasn't a physical exhaustion but mental - when your brain was fried and just wanted to shut down, but your body was still up and raring to go. He dropped his briefcase by the door and toed off his shoes. It felt good to be home before dinnertime, for the first time in a week. Maybe he could convince Daniel to go out for dinner. Beer first, though, and maybe two minutes in the recliner.
"Daniel, what do you think about—" The rest of the sentence died on his lips. The kitchen table was set. A huge bowl of salad was holding court in the middle. Some fresh rolls. Cut up tomatoes.
Jack turned, smiled at his son and raised a hand in greeting.
"I made dinner."
"I thought we would—yeah, I see. Thanks."
"Grandma stopped by yesterday with all these cold cuts so I figured... sandwiches?"
"Perfect." Jack hadn't even known his mother had stopped by. Between work, Daniel's schoolwork and recent turtle-in-a-shell imitation, he'd pretty much been out of the loop. Actually, this was the most Daniel had spoken to him in a few days.
"Sit," Daniel offered, pointing to Jack's usual chair. "I'll get everything."
Jack sat. Straightened his plate, his knife his fork, the napkin, while Daniel foraged in the fridge. This wasn't right. It was awkward and uncomfortable. This wasn't Daniel. This was forced... their relationship. This wasn't him, but he was too afraid of saying the wrong thing, so he said nothing at all.
"Was your day as bad as mine?" Jack asked while slathering mayo on his roll.
Daniel pulled at the pieces of turkey sticking outside his roll and shrugged.
"I'm taking that means—"
"It was okay."
Okay was okay. Not great but definitely better than a call from the principal. "I was in meetings all day." Jack slapped a slice of tomato on top of the ham and squished the sandwich together. "I don't know how you stand to listen to people lecture you all day."
"Some days are better than others." Daniel rubbed his earlobe as he stole a glance at Jack.
Jack took a bite of his sandwich, chasing it down with a swallow of beer. He pointed to Daniel's ear. "Everything okay?"
Instead of answering, Daniel tucked his hair behind his ear. He hung his head and concentrated on tearing his sandwich in two. He dropped his sandwich with a grunt of exasperation and got up to get a knife. "I got my ear pierced," he said as soon as his back was to Jack.
"You got your ear pierced," Jack repeated inanely.
Daniel slid into his chair and sliced through his roll with such extreme disregard for fingers that Jack cringed. "Yeah, Jason's sister—" Daniel dropped the knife then showed Jack the exposed earlobe.
"Nice." Jack schooled his sarcastic tone. "Who is this Jason person?"
"A kid from my Spanish class. I've been, you know—"
"Tutoring him..." Part of his academic probation stipulations.
Daniel nodded. "Yeah, helping him. Well, his sister works in this tattoo parlor and he had to drop off the key to their place so we—"
"A tattoo parlor?"
"I'm sorry, go ahead." He really wasn't sorry.
"She's an artist, she does tattooing and piercings to pay for her college. Jason's sister, Sue, was grateful that I'd been tutoring—"
"So she paid you with an ear piercing. You're underage, Daniel... Did she realize that—"
"It wasn't payment; it was her way of saying thank you. They have no mother. Their dad works a lot of hours, she's trying to... I thought you'd understand." Daniel put down the sandwich he'd yet to take a bite out of and reached towards his ear. "I'll take it out."
"No!" Jack shouted.
"Fine, if you're squeamish, I'll go into the bathroom."
"No," Jack lowered his voice. "It's okay."
Daniel studied Jack with a skepticism that made him smile. Skepticism turned into confusion. "What?"
"Nothing. You just reminded me of—"
Daniel made the connection before Jack did. "The other Daniel. The grown up me." He pushed his plate towards the middle of the table and stood. "I'm done."
Jack pointed to Daniel's chair. "No. You're not done. Sit."
Daniel hesitated before sitting.
Jack leaned across the table and pushed the plate back towards Daniel. A memory of Sara getting her left ear pierced with a second hole wandered through Jack's mind. "Do you have anything to put on your ear?"
"Sue gave me stuff." Daniel tore half his sandwich in half.
"Bacitracyn," Jack proudly crowed. "You need Bacitracyn for your ear."
"Sue gave me stuff," Daniel repeated as if Jack were an idiot.
"I know, sorry. Part of me was just trying to remember—"
Daniel blinked at him.
"Never mind, it's an age thing."
Daniel rolled his eyes and finally tucked into the sandwich.
"Want any dessert?"
"Why? Did Grandma leave anything interesting?" Jack got a flash of a smile.
"Hmmm... How about I clean up and stick the pie in the oven for dessert."
"Okay," Daniel answered hesitantly. "Do you want me to stay and help?"
"No, I got it under control."
"Oh," Daniel said, heading towards the doorway. "If you want—"
"Nope," Jack flicked the towel at Daniel. "Go."
The pie heated while Jack cleaned up, the smell of cinnamon filling the kitchen. Jack took a deep breath, folded the dishtowel, removed the pie from the oven and wondered why the odor of freshly baked pie wasn't magnetically drawing Daniel into the room like it usually did.
Well, if Mohammed wouldn't come to the mountain, maybe the mountain should go to him. Jack cut a piece of warm pie and poured a glass of milk, adding a splash of chocolate syrup.
"Hey," Jack said, standing in the doorway of Daniel's room, the milk in one hand, the plate with the pie in the other.
Daniel was curled up on his bed, earbuds in place, the iPod at the other end was being used as a bookmark in a large book by his elbow. His laptop was open and he was concentrating intently, staring at the screen with a pencil stuck in his mouth. Daniel didn't look happy, the thirteen year old looked stressed and in need of a break.
Jack used his elbow and flicked the light a few times to get Daniel's attention. He held the plate and glass up when his son turned to face him. "Dessert."
Daniel appeared to fold into himself as he popped out one earbud and stuck the pencil behind his ear. "Did you have your—"
"Not yet, going to make a cup of coffee, read the paper—"
"Just put it over there," Daniel interrupted, pointing to nightstand.
"It's hot now."
"I'll have it in a minute. I just need to finish this." Daniel put the earbud back in and went back to staring at the computer, dismissing Jack.
Jack ended up falling asleep on the recliner and woke stiff and sore just before midnight. Performing his nightly ritual, he checked the house before checking on Daniel. Daniel was sleeping fully dressed, still plugged into the iPod, with his glasses askew.
Experience had taught Jack to save whatever Daniel was working on the laptop before powering it down and moving it off the bed. This three-year-old laptop took forever to power down and Jack waited impatiently, cringing as it finally signed off, leaving a cheering sound in its wake.
Daniel was exhausted. Jack could see it in the darkness under the eyes, the pale skin that hadn't seen much sun beyond a few hours at the soccer field, let alone the daylight since he'd come back. The bruises had faded until they were barely visible, the split lip, a slight red mark. With a swell of pride, Jack admitted that Daniel was working his butt off to get back on top. Damn, he was proud of this kid. Maybe a little gift was in order. The laptop he'd caught Daniel drooling over what seemed like ages ago. A gift to say the words that Jack couldn't.
The piece of pie sat uneaten with the fork jabbed into the center of it, though the glass of chocolate milk was finished down to the last drop. Jack shook his head and leaned over, gently touching the gold ball on the newly pierced ear. "Bet you didn't put on any of the medication," he softly whispered. He kissed him on the cheek then used the pad of his thumb to wipe away the telltale sign of the chocolate milk mustache Daniel wore.
Daniel groaned, rolling away, effectively distancing himself from whoever was attempting to interrupt his slumber.
"Time to get up, sleepyhead," the cheerful voice chirped.
There was a burst of laughter. "Nice try, genius boy."
Something warm and fluffy smacked him in the face and he hugged it against his body, curling around it.
"Oh, not on your life."
Slowly the warmth was tugged from his grip. Annoyed, Daniel opened one eye. "Dad?"
His dad winked at him then flung the towel at Daniel. "You slept in your clothes and forgot to set the alarm." His father flung his arms open wide. "So here I am, your own personal alarm clock."
Daniel flung his pillow at his dad, who caught it.
"What the heck did you do that for?"
"I always throw my pillow at the clock, it kicks in the snooze and I get eight more minutes of sleep." He pulled the towel over his head. It was early. Earlier than he usually got up for school. "Too early," he complained from under the towel.
"Nope, it won't be. Get up and shower. I repeat: you slept in your clothes."
In one swift movement, Daniel got up, snagged the towel, grabbed a pair of socks and clean boxers from the basket in the corner then stomped into the bathroom, slamming the door in his wake.
"Good morning to you, too, Daniel." His father's shout was loud enough to be heard through the closed door.
Laptop on, Daniel was sitting in bed in the same position as last evening, except for the iPod, which was charging its battery on the night table. "Damn it." He pounded the keyboard in frustration, then ripped his flashdrive from the USB port and slammed the recalcitrant laptop shut. "I'll deal with you later," he warned. "You better get your act straight or I'll toss you out the window."
"Dad?" He looked up, embarrassed.
"Were you just talking to your laptop?"
Daniel studied his sock-covered feet. "Yeah, I was—"
"Did it answer you back?"
"No, it didn't," Daniel responded sarcastically. "It's old and doesn't want to play nicely."
"Hey." His father threw his hands up. "I was only kidding, Icky, you're in here, talking to your computer—"
Daniel slipped his feet into his sneakers, shoved his flashdrive into his pocket, then disconnected his iPod, shoving that and the accompanying earbuds into his other pocket.
"Where are you going?"
"To school." Daniel ran his fingers through his still shower-damp hair, pushing it off his face and reaching for a rubber band on his dresser, he tied his hair into a low ponytail. "I'm going to leave early so I can try to use one of the computers in the lab."
He nodded at the plate which had held the slice of apple pie. "Not the breakfast of champions."
"I don't know. There's fruit and carbs—I'm sure it's somewhere on the rung of the food ladder."
"Ha." One short bubble of laughter was all Daniel spared. "I gotta go."
"Wait, I'll drive you."
"The mountain is the opposite way—"
"Daniel, I said I would drive you."
All the fight left him and he gave a short mixture of a shrug of the shoulders and a nod. "Fine, I'll meet you in the truck."
It had been a horrible day and seeing his father's truck in the driveway didn't make it any better. Today he craved solitude. Yesterday, he'd craved company only to be disappointed when his dad had handed him the pie in the bedroom.
He unlocked the front door, stepped into the house and let his overstuffed backpack fall to the floor with a loud thud before closing the door. He was two steps toward the kitchen before he heard it.
"Dad, I'm just going to get a drink." He pointed towards the kitchen.
"In a minute, I've got something to show you."
Daniel counted to ten before turning around to face his father, who stood in front of the coffee table, arms crossed, with a huge shit-eating grin on his face.
"Did we win the lottery?"
His father stepped to the side. "Ta da." He drew Daniel's attention to the table with a sweep of his arms.
"For me?" Daniel squeaked.
"For you." He waved Daniel forward. "It's not going to bite, though for the money it cost, it should at least sweep the floor."
Daniel walked slowly towards the gift, waiting for his father to pull it from his reach just before he touched the box. But he didn't. His dad remained rooted to the spot overseeing Daniel's reaction.
"I figured you deserved it."
Daniel kneeled down and fought the urge to rip open the box, because that would be way too infantile for a thirteen year old. Instead he studied the photo on the box, leaning in to read all the small print. A new laptop. Not just a new laptop. The one he'd been drooling over, the one with the hefty price tag. The Sony Viao, seventeen-inch wide screen, blue ray technology... the rest of the words were lost on Daniel. He was beyond stunned. His father had never, ever... Daniel gazed at his father's smug features and began to back away.
"Daniel? Don't you want to open—"
"Later," Daniel answered, never taking his eyes off the box.
Daniel pulled the cheese off his pizza, stretched it until it broke into two and then put the first wad into his mouth.
"You know," his dad said, folding his pizza in half before taking a bite. "I rue the day Carter showed you how to eat pizza."
Daniel shoveled the other cheese mound into his mouth.
"So you want to set the 'puter up after dinner?"
Daniel pulled the crust off the triangle and took a bite. "No, it'll take too long."
"I'm going to go shoot some hoops."
"Look, if there is a problem with the laptop, just let me know and I'll exchange it." His father dropped the pizza onto his plate. "Or you can exchange it for something else—"
"It's fine." Daniel dropped the crust atop the now naked slice of pizza.
"Fine? Daniel, that machine better damn well be more than fine for the amount of money it set me back."
Daniel finished the one slice he'd been demolishing and pointedly ignored his dad's confused glance when he declined his offer of a second slice.
"You always eat a second slice."
"Can I be excused?" Daniel stood then waited expectantly for his father's okay.
He took off like a bat out of hell, giving the box on the coffee table one last look before leaving.
Daniel was halfway to his grandma's when he realized he was shaking so badly, he was having problems steering his bicycle. He didn't even know why he was on his bicycle. He'd gone into the garage to get his basketball. Next thing, he was on his bike, pedaling like mad, heading in the direction of his grandma's house.
His dad was going to be beyond pissed, but his grandmother? Daniel shuddered at the thought. But, he was halfway to his grandma's and in the other direction, halfway back to his home. He gave his decision a full two seconds worth of thought before continuing on to his grandma's house.
"Oh shit." He skidded to a halt, got off the bike and slowly walked it up the walk to where his grandma was standing, arms crossed with an expression of thunder clouding her features. "Leave the bicycle on the porch and come inside." She turned and walked inside, leaving the door open for Daniel to follow her
"You know the rules."
He'd followed her into the kitchen, standing awkwardly while she cleaned the remains of her supper off the table.
"Pick up the phone and call your father and tell him you're safe."
Daniel shook his head. "I don't want to talk to him. He's going to be angry—"
"He has every damn right to be angry." She pointed to the phone. "Now call him."
"No," Daniel said softly.
"Okay, but you have to tell me why you won't call him."
"I wanted to see you."
"Ahh, mhuirnin, that's nice, though bordering on bullshit."
"I..." Daniel swallowed his tears. "I needed to talk to someone."
"Daniel?" She stepped forward, arms outstretched, ready to hug him.
"No..." He stepped backwards. "I just want to talk. I'm not a baby who needs coddling anymore."
Her face crumpled for an instant, then recovered. "I know you're not a baby..." She walked to the phone, grabbed it off the base and shoved it at Daniel. "So be a grown up and call your father."
Daniel reached for the phone, he truly did. He extended his hand, ready to accept it, the only problem was the rest of his body followed his hand and he ended up in his grandmother's arms, the phone stuck between them. There was no hesitation in the arm she wrapped around his body. None at all. And all of Daniel's maturity went flying out the window as he buried his face against her shoulder.
"Don't make me call Dad, please," he begged.
"Okay." Her hand tightened around him then released, and Daniel relaxed his grip as well. His grandma stepped backwards, holding up the phone. "I'll call your dad, but first you have to tell me why you don't want to talk to him."
Daniel hesitated, his gaze bouncing around the room.
"Daniel." She poked at him with the phone's antenna. "Speak."
"He bought me a laptop."
She blinked at him. Once, twice then her forehead crinkled in confusion. "Did you do something to the laptop? Drop it?" Her hand flew to her mouth, then slipped away. "You didn't pawn it... for... you know... drugs? I thought you had that—"
"Forget it. Forget I said anything." Daniel turned to leave.
"Stop right there," she ordered. "I'm not going to apologize for what I'm thinking, but if you want to change my mind, you pretty much have to speak to me, otherwise I'm going to be putting words in your mouth."
Daniel remained silent, his back to his grandmother, one hand on the doorframe.
"Good, while you mull that over, I'm going to let your dad know that his wayward son is safe and sound."
Slowly, Daniel turned and watched as she punched the numbers into the phone, then held it up to her ear. Based on how fast she said 'Jonathan?', his father must've answered on the first ring.
Daniel squirmed under her gaze.
Daniel studied the floor, digging the toe of his sneaker into the grout between the ceramic tiles under his foot.
"No, I'll drive him home." She sighed deeply. "I know it's a school night." His grandmother paused. "I don't think so." And a moment of listening accompanied by the slightest of eye rolls. "Yes, he mentioned that and no, I haven't a clue." Quickly, she glanced at him, a ghost of a smile gracing her face, softening her features and Daniel relaxed just a bit. "I'll drive him home. No, don't come and pick him up... Why? Because I want to spend some quality time with my grandson, that's why. Goodbye, son."
She disconnected the call then placed the phone back into the base. "I swear, sometimes your father can be slightly overbearing."
"That's an understatement." He shrunk under his grandmother's glare. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"So..." She picked up her teakettle and filled it from the tap. "You got a computer."
"A laptop. Yes."
"And it's still in the box on the table in the living room." His grandmother placed the kettle on the stove and turned on the gas, then put out two cups and two plates. "Why?"
"Powdered or chocolate crumb?"
Daniel peered into the opened box of donuts his grandmother shoved under his nose. "Chocolate."
She shook her head and smiled. "Don't even know why I asked." Daniel got the chocolate crumb on his plate and his grandmother hesitated then took half a chocolate and half a powdered donut.
"That's cheating," Daniel said, sitting down at the table.
"No," his grandmother said, putting the box in the middle of the table. "That's compromising." The teakettle whistled and she poured hot water into both the cups.
"Can I have raspberry tea?" Daniel asked before she made the choice for him. Tea was something he only drank in this house.
The tea was too hot to drink, so Daniel busied himself by picking the crumbs off his donut.
"Stop it." His grandmother's warm hand covered his. "Tell me why you're here and not at home with your dad and your new laptop. I would've thought that you'd be sleeping with the thing instead of being here—"
"Because I know you love me."
"What?" His grandmother withdrew her hand and blinked owlishly at her grandson. "Are you implying your father doesn't?"
Daniel thought about her question. "He bought me a laptop."
"Buying your children a gift isn't a crime. You're treating your father like—"
"It was expensive, Granny."
"I'm missing something, mhuirnin."
"It's the computer. It's the apple pie. It's the driving me to school..." His vision blurred, his grandmother melting into an abstract image through the veil of tears.
She cupped his cheek, her thumb capturing a tear. "Help me understand, okay?"
"He—" The words wouldn't come. They stuck in his throat and in his heart. "He never did these things before. So much money for the laptop... a lot," Daniel hiccupped. "More than—"
"You're worth? Is that what you're thinking?"
Daniel dropped his hands into his lap and turned his head away from his grandmother's touch, focusing his gaze away from the woman who looked so much like his father. "It's not my birthday. Or Christmas... so why did he buy it?"
"He always bought me things out of necessity. Not because he loved me. For Christmas. For my birthday—not just because." Daniel wiped his eyes, then shrugged. "He was never a 'just because' dad—and that was okay."
"It's different now." Damn, his father had said the same thing to him. And it was different, but for all the wrong reasons. "Dad's changed. He's..." Daniel searched for the right word. "...Uncomfortable around me. He didn't always love me—"
"That's not true."
"Don't lie to me."
"Yes, you are." Daniel took off his glasses, and put them on the table, smiling sadly. "He told me that he took me in out of obligation. Guilt. And because I reminded him of Charlie."
Now it was his grandma's turn to pick the crumbs off the donut. "It was hard," she said softly.
"It still is..."
Slowly, she lifted her head. "Not to me. I love you."
"To me, it's all been a lie, Grandma."
"It took your father—a while." She said the words with hesitation, as if they were painful.
"I'm still thinking that—"
"No!" That word was shouted, tinged with anger. "Your father loves you, Daniel—"
"He loved the little boy who reminded him of Charlie. But the little boy is growing up and now—" Daniel hadn't admitted this to anyone, not even himself. "Now I'm reminding him of the other me and he doesn't know what do with me. Or who I am. I'm not his friend. I'm his son."
"I'm not Charlie. And I'm not that other Daniel." He got up, tossed his donuts in the garbage and spilled his tea down the sink. "I'm me," Daniel said turning towards his grandmother. "And I don't think he knows how to love me anymore."
There was silence in the car as they drove home and the knot in the pit of Daniel's stomach twisted and turned the closer they got.
His grandmother made a right.
"Grandma—" Daniel pointed out the window to the street they'd just turned from. "This isn't the—"
"Shush, I'm not lost. Don't worry, I know what I'm doing."
"Okay." Daniel sat back his seat, shooting anxious glimpses out the window in the direction they should've been driving.
"Am I making you nervous?" She made another left and then a right, then pulled into a deserted parking lot off a children's playground.
Daniel smiled. "I haven't seen this place in a while."
"I know." She turned off the car and unlatched her seatbelt. "Come on," his grandmother said, opening the door. "Let's go for a walk."
They ended up on the bench next to the jungle gym instead of walking. "I used to think this place was amazing."
"Because," his grandmother said, patting his knee, "you were seeing it through the eyes of a child."
"I remember you used to take me here all the time." Daniel pointed to the smallest swing on the swing set. "You'd push me on that one. Right there. I felt like I was flying."
"I can remember the sound you used to make the higher you went."
"Did you know the other Daniel, Grandma? Daddy's friend."
Slowly, she shook her head. "After Charlie died, your father and I didn't speak to each other much."
"Really? Dad never mentioned that."
She sighed, then smoothed down her pants. "It's not something either of us is proud of."
"Were you angry at Daddy because Charlie shot himself with his gun?"
Daniel's fingers found an almost threadbare spot on his pants and he worried at the worn material with his thumb.
"I'm sorry, mhuirnin."
"No, I should have known better. Dad doesn't like to talk about that either."
She placed her arm over his shoulders and pulled him towards her. "Charlie finding the gun was probably the only thing I wasn't angry with your dad about. Accidents happen, and sometimes those accidents have tragic endings. There were other issues. Issues that drove us all apart. We tried to reconnect but it was… difficult."
"What brought you back together?
"You. You came into our lives."
"Oh, Dad couldn't do it alone?" Daniel snorted.
His grandmother laughed. "I never saw a man more terrified. You, mister, all blue eyes and blond hair, full of trust, you scared the beejeezus out of the big, strong, military man." She preened. "He had to call for reinforcements."
"You were the reinforcements? After all that time, all that anger, you came?"
"Yup. First just for you. Then for Jonathan. Because we became a family, until, eventually, I just moved here." She planted a gentle kiss on his temple. "I couldn't bear to leave you."
"I'm glad you're here."
"I'm luckier than my son. I met you only once when you were an adult. Meeting you isn't the same as knowing you, so I didn't have the other Daniel in my life to mourn. To me, there's always been only this Daniel. I didn't have to lose a friend before I gained you in my life."
"I guess I'm not enough for Dad."
"No. You need to cut your dad a little slack and remember he's human, and that he needs to remember who you are." His grandmother sighed.
Daniel knew that sound. She was exasperated. Annoyed. "I want to go home, Grandma."
"Do you want me to come in with you?"
Daniel shook his head. "No, I've got this covered." He unhooked his seatbelt, placed one hand on the door handle, then stopped. "Did you call Charlie mhuirnin?" Thankfully, the darkness hid his blush. It was a baby question, but the words had been festering in Daniel's brain until they just burst out of his mouth.
There was that sigh again. "Charlie is dead."
"I know that," he said softly.
"This isn't a competition."
"I know that, too. Forget it, it was a stupid question." He opened the passenger door a crack before he felt his grandmother's hand on his arm.
"You're the only mhuirnin in my life, Daniel." Her fingers on his arm tightened. "Before you go into that house, there's something you need to know; I love you because of Charlie, not in spite of him. His death taught me to treasure each and every day you have with someone."
Daniel stood at the door and watched the red taillights of his grandma's car travel down the block.
"It's a school night."
Daniel closed the front door. "I know. I'm going to do my homework now."
"I was spending time with Grandma."
"You took off without permission. You rode your bike there. You didn't call. You know the rules."
"I wasn't hanging out on the street corner. I wasn't doing drugs. I was with your mom," Daniel tried to futilely explain.
"Where's your bicycle?"
"I was with Grandma," he repeated brokenly.
"Go to your room," his father ordered.
"That's where I was going, before you stopped me."
Daniel was in sweats and a tee shirt, lying in bed, reading. No iPod. No laptop. But he was so absorbed in reading that it took three knocks before he glanced up. "Yeah?"
His father was holding the laptop box as a shield. "Am I returning this?"
"Then what am I—"
His father placed the box next to the dresser. "I thought you'd be a bit more... exuberant about..." His dad sighed, a sound that sounded very much like his mother's. "Just for the record, I was worried about you today."
"I'm sorry, Dad."
"Yeah, me too, Daniel."
They studied each other for a long time, until his father just shrugged and left the room and Daniel went back to reading his book.
The headache that Daniel had woken up with, the one that had plagued him all day at school, increased in intensity when he noticed his grandmother's car in their driveway. He opened the door, walked in and closed it gently behind him, gagging as the overwhelming odor of garlic assaulted his sensitive stomach.
"Have a good day at school?" His grandmother appeared in the doorway, wiping her hands on a towel.
"What are you cooking?"
"Spaghetti. Meatballs. Garlic bread. Dinner."
Daniel pasted the expected smile on this face.
"I had to drop off your bicycle so I figured—"
"Ah, Grams, I would've gotten it over the weekend."
"Nonsense, I never miss an opportunity to cook for my boys." She paused, her gaze raking over Daniel. "Are you okay?"
"Fine, just have a lot of homework." He reached behind and tapped his backpack.
"Do you want a snack first?"
Food was the last thing Daniel wanted. "No." He rubbed his belly. "Saving my appetite for dinner."
"That's enough." Daniel practically shouted the words, then offered an apologetic shrug when he was nailed with two pairs of eyes.
"Spaghetti and meatballs is your favorite—" His grandmother's face was screwed up in confusion. "Especially my spaghetti and meatballs."
"That just means there's more for me," his dad said with a wink. He passed Daniel's plate back to him then gave his plate to his mother. "Fill 'er up."
His grandmother did as his dad asked, but her glance kept flicking back to Daniel, who bowed his head over the plate of food. He managed a forkful of spaghetti and chewed it until it was paste before swallowing. Three more forkfuls and that was it. His stomach, in no uncertain terms, was letting him know that any more would lead to disaster. "I really need to do homework." Daniel stood, a hand on either side of the plate.
His dad used his fork and pointed to Daniel's chair. "Sit."
Daniel ignored the sympathetic glance from his grandmother and did as he was ordered.
"Are you sure you're feeling all right?"
Daniel shrugged, his hands full with the remains of their supper as he brought their dirty dishes to the sink. "I'm fine, Grandma." He ran the dishes quickly under the faucet before loading them into the dishwasher.
"Are you sure, mhuirnin? You look a little pale." She ran a hand over his bent neck and her fingers were warm against his skin. "And you hardly ate anything," she said as he scraped the mostly uneaten remains of his spaghetti into the garbage.
"I've got a bit of a headache. It's nothing." He'd thought the pain was due to hunger, but the headache had just gotten worse.
Daniel turned and forced a smile on his face, hyper-aware of his father watching them as he finished dumping the leftovers in Tupperware. Daniel slid the dish onto the counter, wrapped his arms around his grandma and gave her a quick hug. "I'm sure," he said as he smacked a quick kiss on her cheek.
He slid the last dish onto the wire rack and dumped the cutlery into the holder, then shut the dishwasher door. "I've got homework to finish."
"That boy needs new clothes," he heard his grandma say as he walked towards his bedroom. With a sigh, Daniel glanced down at his still too short pants. He climbed onto his bed and sat leaning against the headboard, staring at the several textbooks strewn over it. Listening to music was a definite no tonight; even the sound of neighbor's lawnmower outside was painful.
He'd finished most of his homework earlier; he just needed to finish his math and Spanish assignments. With a wince at the pounding in his head, he opted for the easier of the two and grabbed his Spanish textbook. He usually saved it for last because he really enjoyed working with languages.
By the time he'd written the Spanish essay, his head was pounding so badly, he felt like he'd be sick. Once upon a time, he'd have taken a Tylenol and wouldn't have thought twice about it. Now, after the mistrust between himself and his dad, he was almost afraid to ask for one. But he was feeling so awful that he put pride behind him and slid off the bed.
His dad and grandma were in the living room, talking. Daniel took the easy way and walked into the kitchen, intending to lean his head over the half wall and ask his dad for the medication, but his father's words brought him up short in the middle of the kitchen.
"I just don't know what to do, Mom."
"You just need to give Daniel time to accept what's happened."
"I know that. But he won't talk to me. He comes home from school, does his homework, plays on his computer and goes to bed."
"Honey, that sounds like every teenage boy I know."
"But that's not Daniel. We used to talk, do things together. I wanted to go out and buy clothes last weekend and he showed no interest. I didn't push the matter because I'm afraid he's going to blow up again. He doesn't hang around with his friends, even that girl he was interested in."
"Haven't you tried talking to him?"
"You saw how he was at dinner. Our little chatterbox is now reduced to using the words yes and no. Trying to get him to talk about anything is like pulling teeth. You got more out of him tonight than the usual grunts that come my way."
"He said he wasn't feeling well."
"He's like that all the time, Mom."
Daniel stood transfixed. He hadn't realized his dad really cared. There was a quality in his voice that sent shivers down his spine.
"But have you tried talking to him?"
"Other than one spectacular argument, no. I don't want to push him. The psychologist said that even though Daniel says he's come to grips with all the memories inside him, I'm terrified that he's hiding something from me. That he's holding a grudge against me for the decision I made eight years ago."
"Then don't you think it's time you find out?"
"Mom, I'm scared I'm losing him. I'm scared I'm losing my son."
Daniel backed out of the kitchen and tiptoed back into his room. His dad's words frightened him. Had he changed so much that his dad didn't recognize him anymore? Was he becoming someone else, maybe changing into the adult he had been? He stared down at his jeans, and swore as all he saw was an over-abundance of white socks on stick-thin legs. Maybe he was growing too fast. Maybe he hadn't only been cured of his hallucinations, maybe the alien machine was making him grow but at a faster rate than normal.
With a curse, he took his too-short jeans off and threw them angrily into a corner. He got his pajamas out and slipped them on, then sat back onto the bed as his head pounded with his exertions. He picked up his math book and stared at the mathematical problem he needed to solve and realized how much he hated math. His gaze shifted over to the advanced Spanish book.
Then his attention turned to the National Geographic DVDs he had on ancient civilizations and archaeology, and he realized at that moment that he didn't want to follow in his dad's footsteps. As much as flying a jet or a space ship would be neat, he knew that actually reaching that goal would be drudgery and a chore. And what came after? He just couldn't see that far in the future, but just thinking of it churned his stomach even more.
He didn't want to take advanced math, even though Sam had said she'd coach him. Had he always felt this way? Or did this have something to do with the fact that he vaguely remembered knowing many languages when he'd been an adult?
He also had fuzzy visuals of crouching for hours at a time, painstakingly clearing bits of rubble from artifacts stuck in the hard ground, and the elation of those discoveries, even muted as they were in his memories, was definitely something he wanted to experience again.
That truth hit hard, and he immediately felt guilty. He'd always told his dad he wanted to be a pilot, just like him, but the last couple of weeks he knew that that wasn't where he was headed. And like every other time these thoughts came to him, he pushed them away. He tried to ignore his headache and concentrated on his homework.
Instead his dad's words kept reverberating in his head. I'm scared I'm losing my son.
Did Jack O'Neill really care for him? Did he dare believe that his dad really did love him?
"Grandma?" Daniel put the pencil down and watched as his grandmother came to sit on the bed.
"I just came to say goodbye." When she leaned over and kissed him, Daniel wrapped his arms around her again and held her close.
"I love you, Grandma." Maybe his dad had never believed in him, but he trusted in Rose O'Neill's love. He had to, because otherwise there would be nobody else, and he'd be totally alone.
"I love you, too." She pushed his hair out of his eyes and smiled. "Wanna go shopping with me this weekend?"
Daniel coughed, embarrassed again at the state of his clothing. Then a thought came to him. "I was, um, sort of hoping to go with Dad." Maybe he could make the first move; maybe they could fix this.
"I understand. You don't want to be caught dead shopping with your old grandma."
"You're not old!" Daniel said quickly. "And... maybe you could come with us? The three of us? Maybe we could go to the movies or something after?"
"That sounds nice. I'll talk to your dad and we'll see about making plans, okay?" She stood and smiled down at him. "I'll see you soon."
It was the headache that woke him up. Daniel squinted at the large LED numbers on his alarm clock and swore. It was the middle of the night. He got up and staggered to the bathroom, his head pounding so badly that he felt like it was going to explode. His stomach churned sickeningly and he still had the taste of garlic from the garlic bread in his mouth.
He peed and started back for his bedroom when a wave of nausea hit him. His face felt hot and he broke out into a sweat. He barely made it back into the bathroom when he lost the meager contents of his supper. The heaving made his head feel like it was going to blow right off his skull, and when he was finished, he just knelt there, head leaning over the toilet, panting in pain.
It took him a few minutes to gather the energy to stand up and flush. He brushed his teeth gingerly, the action causing his stomach to contract and threaten to spew again. He stood there, eyes barely open in the harsh bathroom light and waited, leaning against the vanity with his elbows locked, fighting the pain.
Daniel couldn't go back to bed. He knew he'd never sleep unless he took something. Feeling like a beaten dog with its tail between its legs, he walked down the hall. He stopped at the entrance to his dad's bedroom and peeked inside.
His dad was lying on his side, looking almost like his shoulder was jammed into the mattress, his butt sticking up into the air. Walking into the dim room, with only the light from the bathroom faintly illuminating his way, he stopped next to the bed.
Although not a light sleeper, his dad always seemed to know when something was wrong. He jerked at Daniel's softly spoken word and was awake immediately. "Daniel?" He sat up. "What's wrong?"
"I don't feel good."
His dad switched the bedside light on and the glare sent shards of pain into his eyes. But his dad took his arm and pulled him closer, and his hand on his forehead felt good; cool and gentle. "You're warm. Still got that headache?"
"Yeah. And I threw up."
"Did you take any Tylenol?"
Daniel swallowed and pulled away from his dad's grasp. "I can't. You locked it up."
"Oh, Daniel. It's in the medicine chest." He sighed heavily. "It's been there for weeks."
"I..." He'd never thought to look. "I thought..."
"Go back to bed. I'll get the Tylenol."
"Go back to bed, Icky." His dad put an arm around his shoulders and Daniel had no choice but to walk with him. He leaned against his dad, not realizing how much he'd missed this until this moment.
He went back to his bed, listening to his dad rummage in the bathroom. A moment later he was lying there with a thermometer in his mouth while his dad tucked him in. "Headache and upset stomach. Anything else I should know?"
Daniel held onto the plastic grip of the thermometer and carefully shook his head.
"Okay." The thermometer beeped and Daniel took the Tylenol from his dad, swallowing the pills with just a sip of water.
"You've got a touch of fever. How long did you have a headache?" His dad took the glass from him and put it on the bedside table.
"Since after lunch. But it got worse by the time we had supper and..."
"You didn't want to ask for the pills. I get it." He scooted up until he was lying on his side leaning on one of Daniel's pillows. "Go to sleep, Daniel. I'll be right here."
"Until you go to sleep."
"You don't have to—"
He couldn't help the smile and he turned his face into the pillow to hide it. "Yes, Dad."
With his backpack bumping painfully against his hip, Daniel hurried into the kitchen. He dumped the bag on the table and hurriedly stuffed some fruits into it. "My alarm clock didn't go off. I'm late—"
"Sit down and eat your breakfast."
"I don't have time to eat. Dad, I'm late."
"You're not late. You're not going in today."
Daniel froze in the process of trying to get a banana into his bag without crushing it. "I'm not... why? What did I do this time?"
"Nothing. But you were sick last night and I just want to make sure you've recovered."
"I'm fine. Must have been a virus." Okay, maybe his stomach was still a little off and his head was heavy but he felt a lot better than he had last night.
"I just thought, maybe, you and I, we could..."
Daniel carefully extracted the banana and stared at his father. "Could what?"
"Spend the day together?"
"You're not going in to work?"
"I called us both in. I shut your alarm clock off last night so you could sleep in. You can go back to bed, if you want."
"I... no, I could eat."
"I made pancakes. There's some in the oven that I kept warm for you."
Daniel helped himself to some pancakes and a glass of juice. He ate slowly, watching his dad, who seemed engrossed in his newspaper. He finished his breakfast and did his chores, emptying the dishwasher, then leaned back against the counter. "Dad, it's not that late. I could still make second period—"
"Do you have to go to school today? Is there a test or something?" His dad put the paper down and folded it in half.
"Then relax." He frowned. "Unless you don't want to spend it with me."
"Um, no, it's not that."
"You'd rather go shopping with your grandmother?"
Daniel couldn't help smiling. "She'll want me to have all the latest clothes and I'll end up with a pair of jeans with my crotch down to my knees and I'll look like a penguin when I walk."
"You mean I've got cool tastes?"
"It means you always let me pick out what I want. So we're going shopping today?"
"If you want to, if you feel up to later. Or, we could just hang around."
"Because I told Grandma we could all go together on Saturday."
"That's fine. Then we'll just hang. Unless you want to do something."
Daniel shook his head. This had taken him so completely by surprise, he couldn't think of anything.
"I do have... one thing... I thought you might like to see..."
"It's in the living room. On the coffee table."
Curious, Daniel pushed away from the counter and walked down to the living room. On the coffee table was a large, square box. He pulled the flaps open and peered inside.
There was a photo album, a couple of old leather-bound journals, a ratty stuffed camel, two passports, and a bunch of things wrapped in bubble wrap. Daniel looked at his dad in confusion as he sat down on the couch next to him.
"What's all this?"
"It's your parent's belongings. Your... real... parents."
Daniel picked up the passports and looked at the first one. "Claire Jackson," he read out loud. Her picture showed a young-looking woman with bright, wide eyes, brown hair, and a smile that resembled his own. "Melburn Jackson." His dad had piercing dark eyes, framed by glasses and a shock of dark hair. "These are really my parents?"
"There's a couple of newspaper articles inside, explaining what happened... how they died. You can read... that is, if you don't remember..."
"I remember. And Daniel told me, but I'd still like to read the details. What's this?" Daniel put the passports on the coffee table and picked up the stuffed toy. "Lumpy? But—"
"You, um, obviously had it as a kid."
"But Lumpy's in my bedroom." Daniel stroked the threadbare fur. It had seen better days and smelled moldy, and one leg had obviously been sewn back on at one time. But it looked like it had been well loved and well used, with a few stains that he didn't want to even question as to what they were.
"That's the original Lumpy. I knew, from the pictures and from some of... Daniel's... comments, that he'd dragged that thing all over the place with him as a baby. So when you were having trouble sleeping, you know, when you first stayed with me, I had Carter search high and low on the internet for a lookalike Lumpy and... Well, the day I gave it to you, that was the first night you slept without waking up screaming from a nightmare."
"I don't remember him." He stroked the long neck, trying to invoke memories of the caramel colored stuffie. "I mean, I remember my Lumpy but not this one."
"You might have been too young to remember." His dad pulled out the photo albums and placed them in front of Daniel. "And I thought, maybe, we could learn about your family together."
Daniel smiled, and the pressure of the past weeks lifted from him. He put the stuffie back into the box with a loving pat and picked up the top album, then stepped closer to his dad so he could sit next to him. "You're my family, Dad." He turned and hugged his dad, resting his face against him chest, listening to his heart beating as his dad held him close for a few seconds. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Icky." His dad's voice was muffled and thick against Daniel's head.
Finally Daniel pulled away and opened the album, placing it on both their knees. "But I'd love to know who the other Daniel's family was."
Authors' Comments: This is one of those fics that never would have made it this far if it hadn't been for a number of people. Lyn planted the seed for this story and offered her beta services even after the tale had grown to epic proportions.Thank you for allowing us to water the seed and watching it sprout.
To Annie and Lynne, we can't thank you enough for lending your eyes and your talents as well in the alpha/beta department.
Babs, we owe you a box of tissues and a big thank you for reading the story because you wanted to.
Thank you, jo, for your vision and your visuals. For being my cheering section and my supporter. And, of course, for falling in love with Icky.
Thank you, dev, for your cheering and patience and wonderful visuals. And for introducing Icky into my life.
to contact devra
to contact JoaG
DISCLAIMER:The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.