Wayward Son - The Journey Begins:
Counting your Blessings
by devra and JoaG

Authors' Notes: This is a Little 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 :) Characters may make cameo appearances in odd places where they didn't normally belong.

This story is the introduction to Wayward Son.



"Daniel, don't wander off."

Daniel sighed at the shortness in Jack's voice, and did what he did best - ignored him. If there was anything dangerous around, Jack would be sure to let him know. In no uncertain terms.

So Daniel waved in Jack's general direction and concentrated on the pyre of stones, which most obviously was a marker for something. There were no etchings or marks other than the high pile of rocks, but about fifty feet further was a large marble slab in the ground, and he was sure the two were connected. Straightening, he brushed the dirt from his knees and slowly walked towards the marble slab.

He circled the slab, looking for signs of writing, sketches, or anything to indicate what it was. Oddly enough, the grass around the slab was high and wild, but for about a foot surrounding it, the growth was short, closely cropped, as if someone had dragged a lawnmower right around the edges. He stopped and squatted, putting a hand to the grass when Sam's voice came through his radio.

"Colonel, I'm reading a spike in the level of radiation!"


"Sir, you and Daniel are in danger. Get out of there."


Even before Jack bellowed his name, Daniel was up and running. Except that he only got one foot onto the marble slab, intending to cut across it, when he was hit with pain so intense, he was unconscious before he hit the ground.


The screams cut a swath of fear up and down Jack's back as he skidded to a stop on the grassy ground. The level of pain coming out of Daniel's mouth was so intense that all fear for himself was gone as he turned around to go back after Daniel.

But he couldn't see him. There was a blurry, gaseous section right where Daniel had been earlier, coming up about a foot off the ground. The screams were coming from that area; obviously Daniel had fallen into the mist. From the sounds of him, the gas was caustic and he was being burned alive.

"Colonel, no! Don't! The radiation!"

Carter's cries came from behind him. He glanced back, torn between his own life and Daniel's. Then Teal'c raced up to him, slid to a stop and grabbed his arm. "You must leave."


"I will retrieve him."

"I can't see him—"

"O'Neill, it is dangerous. You must..." Teal'c's voice wavered and faded, only to come back with a few words missing. "...deems it safe."

"What?" The world spun around him and his knees felt funny. Then the world tilted, and the next thing he knew, he was staring at blades of grass.


Jack tried to turn around, but his head felt like it was too big for his shoulders. He grunted, wishing the noise in the background would stop. It was high-pitched, almost like a child screaming in fear or pain.

"Sir? Are you all right?" Carter put a cool hand on his cheek and he blinked in confusion. Then everything came back to him and he sat up, clutching his head when the movement upped his headache a notch and set his stomach rebelling.

"Daniel?" he managed to mutter without throwing up.

"Teal'c's... Sir... Something's... He can't get to Daniel."

Suddenly the noise stopped and his ears rang from the silence. "Radiation—"

"We're safe here."

"No... Daniel. Teal'c."

"Teal'c said his symbiote would protect him—"

"CaptainCarter, you must dial the Stargate immediately."

There was something in Teal'c's tone of voice that scared Jack, just as much as Daniel's cries of pain earlier. He forced himself onto his knees as the world did a quick dip to the right while Carter ran and began hitting the glyphs on the DHD.

He remained there, on his knees, while Teal'c ran towards them, carrying something small in his arms. Then it hit Jack that Teal'c was going to reach the Stargate in just a moment, while he was still kneeling there, in a daze. He managed to get to his feet and walked unsteadily towards Carter, who was already on the horn with the SGC, asking for medical aid while sending their ID code through.

As Jack staggered up the stone steps, he caught a flash of BDUs flapping loosely as Teal'c ran past them, into the wormhole. Jack went through the Stargate, only to come back onto the base in such a rush of dizziness that he had to hold onto the metal handrail for a moment while the room spun. Then there were hands helping him down, and he saw Fraiser kneeling on the floor, obviously working on Daniel who - was the size of a young kid?

"What the—" He shrugged off the hands and stood, swaying as he took in the shock of long, wavy blond hair, the too large glasses, the open mouth which was gasping for air and the adult-sized BDUs which swallowed up the tyke. A chocolate bar was sticking out from a vest pocket; the same brand chocolate bar which he himself had stuck in there just before they'd left the base.

"Colonel, what in blazes is going on?"

Jack swayed, and couldn't for the life of him come up with an explanation. "I think that's Daniel, sir," he said with a mouth so dry, his tongue actually made rasping sounds.

"DanielJackson was affected by an alien device. At first he was hidden from my sight, but by the time I reached his side, his physical form had been reduced to that of a child."

"You saw him turned into a child?" Hammond's tone, while disbelieving, held a hint of command and Jack forced his gaze from Fraiser shoving an IV needle into the tiny forearm and met his commanding officer's confused gaze.

"Yes. No. He was there, behind me. I—" The room spun again and Teal'c grabbed hold of his arm, holding him steady. "Carter said something about radiation. We ran. Daniel screamed. I couldn't see him—"

"The radiation levels spiked, sir." Carter's face was white, almost as white as the kid lying on the cement floor. "Colonel O'Neill passed out and Teal'c carried the child out of the immediate area, into a safe zone."

"Colonel," Fraiser said, glancing up at him quickly as she held a stethoscope to the boy's chest. "I want you to report to the infirmary stat."

"Daniel..." He waved towards the kid, but Fraiser's attention was now on the heartbeat coming through her instrument. "Teal'c went after Daniel. I couldn't see him from where I was but he came back with that little boy."

"Would there have been time to remove Doctor Jackson's clothes and dress the boy in them?"

Jack had no idea how long he'd been unconscious. He turned to Carter, who shook her head and answered, "No, General. The whole thing didn't take more than two minutes."

"So you believe this is truly Doctor Jackson?"

Fraiser removed the stethoscope and looped it around her neck. "I need that gurney, now!" She went to pick up the kid but Teal'c moved more quickly, and with a gentleness belying his size and strength, carried the child to the waiting gurney. "Colonel, I thought I told you to report to the infirmary."

Jack nodded slowly. He tried to take a step but his knees felt locked in place. With a huge effort, he began walking, and when Teal'c occasionally steadied him as his body threatened to list to one side or the other, he didn't complain.


"Well, you'll live." Despite Fraiser's smiling face, Jack wasn't so sure. His headache and dizziness had gotten so bad during her examination that he didn't think he'd manage to get out of bed if he wanted to, and now he was cold enough that the scratchy infirmary blanket wasn't doing much to keep the chill away.

"I'll prescribe something for your discomfort, sir. It shouldn't last more than a couple of days. Thankfully, you weren't exposed to enough radiation to do any permanent damage." She wrote something down in his chart, and the sound of the pen scratching on the paper was like nails on a blackboard.

"What about Daniel?" he asked with his eyes scrunched shut.

"Sir, we're not certain that the child Teal'c brought back truly is Daniel. Until Teal'c returns from his search on the planet and until I get the results of DNA tests and—"

"Doc." He opened his eyes. "It's Daniel." He'd nosed around once in Daniel's apartment while waiting for him, and had found a couple of black and white photos of him with his parents. The kid in those too big BDUs had looked identical to pictures of Daniel when he was five years old.

"The boy's condition is critical. He's suffering from shock and his organs are showing signs of extreme stress. If, and I stress the word, if, this is truly Daniel and his body was somehow changed from that of an adult to that of a child, it's very possible that the shock of the transformation is what's affecting him now." She shook her head sadly. "On the other hand, according to Sam's readings, the radiation emanated from the device where Teal'c found him. While your symptoms are relatively minor—"

"Doesn't feel minor to me—"

"The radiation could be what's making Daniel, I mean, the boy, sick." She looked over Jack's bed to where the kid was lying unconscious in the next bed. "Only time will tell."

When Fraiser walked away, Jack turned onto his side to look at the kid. Daniel. He looked lost in the bed. His face was turned to the side, towards Jack, and even though the oxygen mask hid a large portion of his face, Jack could see the bloom of fever on his pale cheeks.

An eternity later, a nurse showed up with a couple of pills in a tiny cup, and a glass of water. He managed to raise his head just enough to swallow the pills and water without choking and then lay back, watching the kid's chest rise and fall in a rhythm that was obviously too fast for normal sleep. With Teal'c offworld and Carter examining the results of her readings, there was nobody to sit with either one of them, a situation that Jack didn't really mind, personally, because he really didn't feel like, or want company. But Daniel, lying there in that bed, alone, deserved someone to watch over him, even if it was from the next bed.

But despite his best efforts, Fraiser's drugs slowly began to take effect and his eyes got heavier and heavier. He'd just started to drift off when a small whimper pulled him out of the lure of sleep.

He opened his eyes, only to see large, blue eyes staring at him. Eyes that were filled with pain, and fear. The kid was crying quietly, the sounds muffled by the oxygen mask. Those glazed eyes followed Jack's movements as he sat up. He wasn't sure what he was about to do, reach for the call button to alert the nurse on duty, or try to comfort the kid himself, but when Daniel reached out his arms to him, he reacted without thinking.

"Shhh, it's okay. Nobody's going to hurt you." He lowered the guardrail and leaned over Daniel. "Hey, don't cry," he crooned. To his surprise, Daniel raised his arms and caught his neck, trying to pull him closer. Jack allowed himself to be tugged down despite the position making his head pound. He eased a hand against the small chest, feeling the heat of fever through the thin, oversized scrub top the child was wearing.

Daniel pressed his face against his neck. Hot, tear-dampened skin rubbed against his and he felt the plastic of the oxygen mask shift as Daniel sobbed in his ear. Memories of Charlie's demands for comfort came to the fore and he pulled the small body into his arms as he stretched out on the bed. He murmured inanities as he repositioned Daniel so he could get the oxygen mask back on.

The sobs began to ease as soon as he lay against Jack, the breaths turning into hiccups that caused the heart monitor to stutter every time. Within seconds, a nurse ran up to the bed, her gaze flitting from Jack and Daniel, to the monitors. "I can take him now, sir," she said, reaching to pull Daniel off of Jack.

At her touch, Daniel began crying again, this time more loudly. Even muffled by the oxygen mask, his howls were enough to send Jack's headache escalating, as well as sending the monitors racing, and the alarms triggered added to the cacophony in the room.

"No, I got him," Jack said over the noise. He laid his hands over Daniel's back and ribs, making sure the kid knew he wasn't going anywhere. Unable to maintain the level of hysteria, his cries became whines, shortening into moans as he fought for breath.

As he seemingly became aware nobody was going to take him away from Jack, the boy calmed. Jack pulled back slowly so he could see Daniel's face and smiled at him while he wiped the tears away with his fingers. Daniel's eyelashes were spiky and dark, accentuating the blue eyes that were glazed over with fever. A small hand came up and reached for the oxygen mask, but Jack caught it and held it loosely down. "Nope, leave that alone for now, okay?"

Daniel looked at his hand, which was swallowed up in Jack's, and sighed.

Even as he watched, Daniel's eyelids drooped. After each blink, the eyelids opened less and less, until finally, they stayed closed. He occasionally drew a hitched breath even in his sleep but overall his breathing was slower than before, his body more relaxed as he lay nestled against Jack.

"He's doing a little better," the nurse confirmed after a moment. "His breathing's a little stronger, despite that little exhibition. And his heart's slowing nicely." She looked away from the monitors and looked at Jack. "How are you feeling, sir?"

"Better. Wouldn't mind a blanket, though."

Soon, with the two of them covered with a double layer of blankets, Jack allowed himself to relax.



Jack startled awake at the sound of Hammond's voice. "Sir?" He opened bleary eyes then wrinkled his nose as something soft tickled it. He blew away the flyaway strands of Daniel's hair and turned onto his back as the headache from hell moved from the top of his skull and settled somewhere near his forehead, right between his eyes. Daniel whimpered softly and clutched at the material of his scrub top, his fingers latching onto chest hairs along with the cotton material. Jack stared at General Hammond and the SGC's CMO, both of whom were standing at the foot of his bed. Aware of more eyes on him, he noted Teal'c and Carter on one side of the bed with Fraiser on the other.

"Sorry to wake you, Jack. Doctor Lam has news and I thought you'd like to hear it."

Lam gave Jack a no-nonsense nod. "DNA results have proven without a doubt that the child is Daniel." She looked serious, and serious usually meant something bad.

"Well, that's good, isn't it?" Jack croaked as he shifted sideways, trying to move away from the small, living furnace plastered against his side when the small fingers lost their grip on his shirt as Daniel slid back into a fevered sleep.

"Good in that we've made a positive ID, bad in that it doesn't appear that we'll be able to reverse his condition."

"You can't reverse... You mean he's going to stay like this forever?" His head felt like it was going to split open and his mouth felt slimy and thick.

"No, sir," Lam said. "If Daniel recovers from the shock of the transformation, he'll grow at a normal rate. Give him another thirty years, give or take a couple, and he'll be the same person you knew two days ago."

Jack slowly sat up, adjusting the blanket to keep Daniel well covered.

"What about the device on the planet?" He turned to Carter. "You were going to go back and study it. Did you find out anything about it? We can't just give up."

"We can't approach the device because of the radiation, sir. It's too dangerous." Lam helped adjust the blanket as Jack moved away from Daniel. "Even Teal'c suffered some minor effects from it—"


"I am fine, O'Neill. My symbiote has protected me."

"So far. But we don't know what repeated exposure might do to you, or it." Lam put her hands in the pockets of her lab coat, looking down at Daniel. "We did try putting a couple of lab rats in the device, Colonel."

"Rats? And? Did it work?"

"Yes, sir. They turned into babies the first time around." Lam stared at Jack, her dark eyes hard and determined. "The second time they were turned back into adults. But they didn't survive the reversal. I'm sorry, sir, but based on these results, I recommend that Daniel not be returned to the planet and placed in the device. His body won't be able to sustain the secondary shock."

Jack stared at Lam unbelievingly. He turned to his team, trying to see their reactions. Teal'c's face was expressionless but Carter looked devastated.

Fraiser, on the other hand, looked angry. She'd remained out of the conversation, letting Lam do all the talking, but she caught Jack's gaze, then set her shoulders back as she cleared her throat. "With all due respect, General, I disagree. I think we should make the attempt and put Daniel back in the alien device. He's a fighter. He stands a good chance at survival if we have a medical team standing by at the safe zone when he changes back—"

"We don't know that, Janet." Lam raised her chin in determination. "He's alive now, and that's what counts. His chances of survival are slim, given the shock to his body along with the radiation. You saw the rats—"

"Rats, not a human being—"

"I'm sorry, but as Chief Medical Officer, my decision stands. Based on Daniel's vitals, he's too weak to even be transported, never mind being exposed to an alien technology we know nothing about."

Jack watched the two women face off and was eternally glad neither of their attention was on him while sparks flew over the bed.

"In that case, seeing how potentially dangerous the radiation levels are on the planet, notwithstanding the device itself, I'll have the 'gate address struck from the dialing computer." Hammond sighed heavily as he stared down at Daniel. "I'm sorry, Jack."

"Yeah, me, too," Jack said morosely.

Hammond left the infirmary with Lam, while Carter fiddled nervously with the edge of the blanket. "Sir, those rats died horribly. As much as I hate to say so, I think Carolyn's right. I wouldn't want Daniel to have—"


"We'll let you rest now, sir." Fraiser's voice sounded as discouraged as he felt. Actually he felt deflated; all the hope he'd held on to had degenerated into depression. He slid back onto the bed and closed his eyes, faking fatigue as he listened to their footsteps fade, telling himself the only reason he didn't get up off this bed right this minute and go sulk in his own was because of the little boy whose hand had snuck back onto his chest and who was slowly fingering the material of his scrub top in his restless sleep.


Even with his eyes closed, Jack could feel Daniel staring at him. Sighing in resignation, he turned on his side to face him. After eight hours' sleep in his own bed, he still felt like crap, though less crappy than the day before. Lam, on the other hand, wasn't too impressed with the kid's recovery powers. And this morning, as Jack stared at the next bed, Daniel's huge blue eyes were fever-glazed.

"Morning." Jack waggled his fingers.

A small hand snaked through the bars of the bed and waved.

Jack smiled back, reining in the intensity of his smile. "Hey, sleep well?" He didn't expect an answer. Actually, that little wave was the first sign of communication Jack had seen outside of tears and screams. Jack held up his right arm, the one with the IV attached. "This sorta makes getting comfortable an impossibility."

Daniel's kid-sized arm was strapped to a board, he had wires and leads attached to every part of his body but at least the oxygen mask had been exchanged for a nasal cannula. The lights in the infirmary were dim, the voices of the staff hushed.

"It's really early," Jack whispered.

Daniel blinked, a single tear escaping, tracking over the bridge of his nose, before falling onto the pillow. He shivered, and a monitor answered, its blip off tempo, before dropping back into its regular rhythm.

Jack knew that look. Recognized the tears for what they were. "Give me a minute, okay?" Slowly, Jack sat up, testing his equilibrium before sliding off the bed. He and his IV pole walked cautiously to the infirmary's bathroom, Daniel's eyes tracking his every shuffling step.


Between Daniel's tubes and Jack's IV, it wasn't an easy feat to crawl into Daniel's bed without setting off any monitors. Patiently, Daniel waited as he readjusted everything, plastering himself against Jack before he had a chance to settle down. "Whoa, let me—"

Daniel howled in protest as Jack held him at arm's length.

"Shush," he said, firmer than he meant, but at least it achieved the desired reaction.

Daniel clamped his mouth shut.

"Good." Jack chose to ignore the trembling chin and the tears, as long as the screaming was kept in check. Screaming, at the intensity level this pint-sized Daniel chose to express himself, reminded him too much of that planet. And those screams. The screams nightmares were made of.

With a shake of his head, Jack dismissed the nurse who'd come to investigate. With a thumbs up, she backed away, blending back into the infirmary's scenery. "There you go," Jack soothed once they both got comfortable. "You need to give me a chance, okay?" He thought he felt a tiny nod of understanding against his chest. "I'm usually sitting on that ugly plastic chair over there, waiting for you to wake up. Getting into the bed takes some doing."

God, holding the kid so close was like leaning into a blast furnace. "I'm betting you feel really lousy. Headache. Body ache." Jack forced a yawn. "And it's way too early in the morning to be up. How about you and I just close our eyes for a little while?" He looked up at the big clock on the wall. Oh four hundred hours. "How about we catch a little shut-eye until a doctor comes on duty?"

Daniel touched Jack's wrist, his fingers reaching for the tape that secured Jack's IV. When he began digging at the edge with his fingernail, Jack picked up the tiny hand and pulled it back. "Not a good idea. If Fraiser or Lam catches you playing with that, there'll be hell to pay."

Daniel frowned, looked at Jack's IV then held out his own arm, similarly bound with tape securing an IV.

"Yeah, I know, it sucks, doesn't it?" Jack rubbed a finger around the site as he gave Daniel a quick smile. "It's for medicine. To make us feel better, so no touching, okay?"

In answer, Daniel closed his eyes, snuggling closer.



The sun on the beach was high overhead, the temperature of the planet increasing exponentially with every mile they walked. As soon as he wiped the sweat off his forehead, beads of moisture popped up, replacing the ones he'd just swiped away. And he was—


— In the infirmary. "Doc," he croaked. His throat was dry and parched as if he'd been hiking under the hot sun or - Jack looked down - slept with a pint-sized, feverish Daniel.

"Hold on a minute, sir."

Jack gratefully latched onto the straw Fraiser stuck in his mouth, finishing the cup of water in seconds flat. "Tha—" He cleared his throat. "Thanks."

She put the cup on the bedside table and glanced down at the bed with a smile. "Don't mention it, Colonel. It's the least I can do considering you're..." Gently, Fraiser smoothed down Daniel's unruly cowlick and he opened his eyes, blinking sleepily at her. "Hey, honey."

Daniel whimpered, shrugging away from her touch and tried to crawl into Jack's skin, setting off a cacophony of monitors.

Jack felt Daniel draw a breath, getting ready to scream. He threw his arms around him and drew the trembling child tightly against his chest. "I gotcha," he whispered into Daniel's ear. "Promise, hang with me and I won't let the big, bad doctor—"

"Colonel," Fraiser threatened.

But Jack's words had the desired effect, and Daniel stopped, his tense body relaxing in Jack's arms, and he sighed. And if Jack stretched his imagination, in that sigh there was a hint of chuckle. "Okay, she's not big—"

"Watch it, sir."

"Doc's not going to hurt you, Daniel. Remember how you said you didn't feel well—"

"Daniel spoke?"

"Not in words, but you know... He waved at me early this morning." Jack lifted his arm and demonstrated Daniel's previous finger waggle.

"How did you know he didn't feel—"

"His eyes." Jack released Daniel, but he still held onto Jack, burrowing under his neck. "That and the fact that his hot little body has been plastered to me for hours."


It had been a struggle, but Jack had eventually convinced Daniel to release him, allowing him to get off the bed and permitting Fraiser to examine him without screaming. The poor kid was trembling like a leaf. Even from where Jack stood by the side of the bed, he could see that. And his eyes never met Fraiser's; they were glued to Jack's, silently begging and pleading with him to make the torture stop.

Daniel's eyes. God, they reminded him of Charlie. Trusting Jack to save him. Protect him. He shook his head. They all knew how that had turned out. "Stop it, Daniel." His voice held a gruff, nasty undertone, close enough to the surface that Fraiser shot him a look of confusion. "She'll be done in a minute."

But that blue-eyed gaze never wavered. It stared at him, until Jack couldn't take it any longer and he turned away, his IV pole rolling at his side. The sounds of frantic whimpers built the closer he got to the bathroom. The screaming started as soon the lock clicked in place.

He leaned against the door, fighting the urge to cover his ears. Or crawl into a hole. Or rip out the IV, dress and escape. Or at the very least, wipe out the past days and make Daniel an adult. Again. None of this kid shit. Daniel didn't need a do over of his formative years and Jack didn't need his own skeletons in his closet making an appearance.

A sharp rap on the door and Jack jumped, the IV pole rattling against the sink. "Are you okay, Colonel?"

"I'm fine," he said, borrowing a line from Daniel's book. Hurriedly, he moved to the sink, turned on the faucets and slid his hands under the water. "I'm almost done," Jack lied, before turning off the water then wiping his hands on his scrubs.


Fraiser didn't give him a chance. She just herded Jack towards his bed, pushing him along right past Daniel's bed. "I sedated him," she said before Jack could inquire about the reason there was only silence from Daniel's bed.

She pointed to Jack's bed. "You. Get in."


"With all due respect, sir, I would highly recommend that you get your six into the bed before I have to sedate you as well."

Jack grumbled, but followed her orders.

Fraiser began to take his vitals before his ass was settled under the blanket. "Hey, you didn't say anything about examining me."

"Your temp's elevated. Blood pressure is—"

"Low, I know. You said these are the results of the exposure to radiation."

"Yes, those symptoms are." She flipped her glance over to Daniel.

"He's very sick, isn't he?" Jack followed her gaze to the tiny, flushed child.

"Do you want me to lie to you?"

"Doc..." he said as she began to walk away.

"Colonel?" She stopped and gazed at him. "Is there something you need?"

He dropped his hand when Fraiser stopped. "Do you think he's gonna be... You know..." Jack twirled his finger by his temple, "...in the head?"

"There are sensory issues."

"Come again?"

"Daniel's aversion to light. Loud noises. His inability to allow touching and comfort from unfamiliar people..." She drew a deep breath and continued. "Daniel cannot or chooses not to speak. He hasn't reached REM sleep since returning from the planet. Irregular vitals. Inability to maintain consistent body temperatures."

"So, what are you saying? Is that a yes or a no?"

"I don't know, sir. Honestly, it could be his body's readjustment to this size. The radiation. Or—"


With a placating pat to his arm, Fraiser gave a small smile. "I think we should just wait and see."

"How long?" Jack levered himself to a sitting position. "How long before it's decided—"

"Decided what? That he's permanently a child? That he's a child without the ability to interact with people. Or that we should say, screw it all and head back to the planet and touch whatever he touched and return him to the Daniel we all know and love?"

Jack jumped on her hesitation. "You're really thinking that, aren't you? The planet—"

"Don't get any ideas, Colonel. At the moment, neither you nor Daniel are up to traveling through the wormhole, especially to the planet that put you both in this infirmary."


Jack stared at the ceiling. The Styrofoam container of pancakes, bacon and eggs that Carter had brought from his favorite diner sat closed and untouched on the rolling tray. Even though he didn't feel one hundred percent, inactivity was making him nuts. He needed to do something, hell, even working on mission reports was more appealing than counting the ceiling tiles.

His stomach growled, reminding him that it had been a long time between dinner and the number two breakfast platter from Lou's sitting within arm's reach. "Okay." Sitting up, he pulled the rolling tray across the bed, opened the Styrofoam and inhaled deeply. His stomach gave a gentle roll of contentment. "You're so easy," he said as he shoveled in a mouthful of eggs.

Then he felt it. He turned to the right. "Sleep well?" Jack asked.

There was no answer except he realized that Daniel's gaze wasn't centered on him, but on the container he was eating out of. "Wanna share?"


Like a baby bird, Daniel opened his mouth, waiting for Jack to spear another triangle of pancake.

"You know," Jack teased with the fork, "if you ate like this for the doc, I'm sure she'd disconnect some of your tubing."

Daniel chewed then pushed Jack's hand to the last piece of pancake.

"You know, Daniel, it doesn't make a difference what size you are, my food is never safe whenever you're around."

Daniel dragged his finger through the syrup lake sitting in the corner of the Styrofoam container then stuck his finger in his mouth. He reached into the container again and Jack snapped it shut, gently capturing Daniel's hand. "Gotcha."

Daniel pulled his hand back, dragging the platter out of Jack's hands and onto his bed, dumping the crumbs and unfinished eggs all over him.

"Crap." Jack stood up and grabbed a handful of tissues from the stand on the side of the bed. "Let's see if we can get you cleaned up before we get into trouble."

Daniel began to slink up the bed, moving away from Jack, cowering and brushing so frantically, he began to disconnect the leads. The monitors and Daniel began to wail simultaneously and medical personnel descended on him like a plague of locust.


It had been a horrifically long afternoon. After a severe tongue-lashing by Fraiser that had something to do with playing doctor, liquid diets and 'you're lucky he didn't vomit pancakes all over me', Jack buried himself in the paperwork Carter had brought him, ignoring the huge eyes boring a hole into him.

"I'm ignoring you."

Daniel coughed; the sound was wet and congested.

"Nope," Jack said, clicking his pen. "There'll be no medicinal sympathy from me. I got burnt once today with the pancakes. Contrary to popular belief, I do not have a death wish."

Daniel coughed again, the sound was hard to ignore.

"Drink?" Jack said, tossing the report onto his bed. "Sounds like you've got a frog in your throat. Hmmm." Jack situated the straw from the cup to Daniel's lips. "Ever wonder where that saying came from?"

Daniel's tongue flicked at the straw then pushed it aside, turning his face away from Jack.

"Whoa, Daniel, I'm not angry at you." He put the cup down with a sigh then reached over to push a strand of hair from Daniel's forehead. Without hesitation, he grabbed the call bell and rang repeatedly for the nurse.


Pneumonia. How the fuck did that happen? A fever high enough to fry an egg. Respiratory treatments and a step backwards to the oxygen mask. Daniel had no screams left in him; the only noise he was now able to make was a congested cough or a whimper, all of which were smothered by the mask.

Jack held his hand, made soothing noises, patted him, made nice, listened to the doctors and nurses as they spoke in hushed voices, and worried. A lot. Worried more than he had every time Daniel had gone with them through the 'gate.


Gently, Carter swiped the damp washcloth over Daniel's arms, lifting each hand, wetting each finger. "Sir, I've got this. I'll sit with him for a while. Why don't you go lie down?"

"Listen to your second, Colonel," Fraiser commented with a slight smile as she took Daniel's vitals.

"I'm fine," Jack protested.

Carter and Fraiser glared at him.

"Okay, I'm doing better. Feeling better."

"I'm glad to hear that." Fraiser snapped off her gloves and tossed them in the bedside trashcan. "Daniel's doing better, too. Fever's down."

Jack leaned around Fraiser and Carter. "Good job, buddy. Play your cards right and I'm sure Carter and Teal'c will make sure there's pancakes for breakfast tomorrow."


Jack woke up slowly, and for the first time in what felt like forever, realized that he actually felt almost normal. The low-grade fever that had been plaguing him wasn't aggravating his joints and muscles, and as he turned to stretch, his head didn't feel like it was on the verge of blowing his skull off.

He lay there half-asleep, enjoying the feel of near-normalcy, beating back the feelings of guilt when he acknowledged how much more comfortable he was without having Daniel glued to his side like a giant leech. And with those guilty thoughts, he listened for the telltale residual cough and wheeze.

He heard, instead, an odd rhythmic squeaking sound. He opened his eyes in alarm, coming fully awake when he realized he hadn't heard Daniel cough or cry, only to relax when he saw what was causing the odd noises.

Carter had appropriated one of those aluminum and canvas deck chairs with tube rockers from one of the rec rooms, the cheap kind that someone had brought in from home. And Daniel was sitting on her lap, his head on her shoulder, his thumb in his mouth, and his gaze trained on Jack, his half-opened eyes moving back and forth as Carter slowly rocked him.

Awareness seemed to come slowly to Daniel, but Jack actually saw the moment Daniel realized Jack was awake as something clicked behind those fever-bright eyes. Without even a whimper, Daniel simply took his thumb out of his mouth and stretched his arms out towards Jack.

"Carter?" Jack said, sitting up. She'd been staring into space and seemed surprised to see that Daniel was not only awake, but was asking to leave her lap. She half-stood and handed Daniel over to Jack.

For the first time since Daniel had been downsized, his body heat wasn't frighteningly high, though he was still warm, and probably enough so to make him whiney and crabby. Daniel happily curled himself up next to Jack, the change in position causing him to start coughing, while Carter adjusted their IV lines so they didn't cross as Jack raised the bed so he was sitting up.

"He looks better," Jack said when Daniel finally stopped coughing. Even with his face flushed from the bout, his eyes were clearer and he was more alert. The wheezing wasn't as pronounced as before, and he was definitely breathing easier.

"So do you, sir."

"I'm beginning to feel human again. Where'd he get the new pajamas?" Jack ran a hand over the soft cotton pjs, which fit Daniel a whole lot better than an overly large scrub top. Daniel looked down at his new clothes and gave Jack a shy smile as he imitated Jack and felt the material of his top, tracing the pattern of a puppy dog with his index finger.

"I went out and got him some clothes, sir. I think everything will fit. There's four pairs of pajamas, and a couple pairs of pants and tee shirts."

"Thanks, Carter. I think Daniel likes his new clothes, don't you, Daniel?"

In response, Daniel fingered the sleeve of Jack's scrubs.

"Yeah, I know. Nothing fancy for me while I'm here. The scrubs will do for now."

"I brought you a few things to read and some games for Daniel, for when he feels up to it." Carter pointed towards a small pile next to the bed; there was a newspaper and a few magazines, a coloring book, a small pack of crayons and what looked like a book of puzzles for children.

"Hey, sweet." Jack reached for the newspaper and puzzle book, which he flipped through, then showed it to Daniel. "I used to love doing these." He pointed to a page filled with dots. "Connect the dots. You ever play this?"

"There's a pencil, sir." She handed him a pencil, and Jack immediately began drawing lines from one dot to another. Memories of doing exactly this with Charlie were painful, but the sight of Daniel watching curiously as the picture on the page slowly took shape was worth the hurt.

"Oh look, it's a bunny rabbit," Sam exclaimed when Jack closed the line on the last dot. Daniel was smiling, obviously recognizing the animal.

"Wanna try?" He handed Daniel the pencil, and waited as small fingers grasped the implement awkwardly. Then Daniel tentatively touched one of the dots with the tip of the pencil on the next page and drew lines, moving slowly as he tried to keep his outline accurate.

They watched while Daniel filled two and a half pages. They encouraged him whenever he finished a page, and Daniel's smile sent pangs through Jack's body. The smile was so reminiscent of that of his adult friend that it was painful to see, while at the same time it pleased Jack that they were finally beginning to get a reaction from Daniel. But halfway through the third page, after another bout of coughing, Daniel was making mistakes, losing sight of the hidden picture. After several false starts, in a fit of rage, he scribbled over the page and pushed both pencil and book away from him, his lower lip jutting out even as it was obvious he was having trouble keeping his eyes open.

"I guess you've had enough for the moment." Jack wrapped an arm around Daniel's chest and he turned to Jack, seeking comfort, his head on Jack's chest, his thumb in his mouth. Carter pulled the blanket up around him and seconds later, Daniel was fast asleep.


"Has he been sleeping long?"

Jack looked up from the crossword puzzle and blinked at Fraiser. He'd been concentrating so hard he hadn't heard her approach. He checked his watch. "About an hour."

"And you? How are you feeling?"

He put the paper aside as Fraiser began to check him out. "Better."

His examination went quickly, and when she was done, she examined Daniel, who slept through the whole thing.

"Well," Fraiser said, putting her stethoscope away, "I think I can say you're well enough to leave the infirmary, as long as you remain on base for a couple of days so we can continue to monitor you to make sure there are no secondary effects from the radiation."

"Okay." Freedom was looming, even if it meant a VIP room. "What about Daniel?"

"The infection is down. His lungs are still congested but clearing up with the antibiotics. His sleep cycle is still a little off but at least now he's getting the rest he needs. He still has sensory issues but some of those have eased off. My biggest concern right now is his dependence on you, sir."

"Oh, you noticed that, did you?" Jack smiled down at Daniel, who'd curled up on his side, his back against Jack's chest.

"He's very easy to spoil, sir. It's wonderful that Daniel's bonded with you but it's not helping with his recovery. He needs cuddling; actually he appears to crave it. But his dependence on you is making it harder for everyone else to deal with him.

"I think we need to begin weaning him from that dependence. It might be a good time for you to leave him, now, while he's sleeping."

"He's going to be mighty scared and unhappy when he wakes up and I'm not here."

"I know. But he needs to learn separation, and I'm beginning to think allowing him to sleep with you wasn't such a good idea after all."

"He was sick—"

"Yes, he was. And he was scared and confused and we still have no idea how much damage was incurred from the transformation, but by indulging him, we may have impressed that dependence onto him and now his recovery may suffer a setback due to our actions."

"He was sick," Jack repeated, deliberately keeping his tone soft despite wanting to rant and rage. "He was sick and scared and confused and hell, he's still sick."

"Yes, he is, but his life's no longer in danger. We have to start thinking long term from now on. Daniel Jackson isn't the person we knew. We need to start testing him, try to find out how much, if any, brain damage has occurred. And based on those tests, we need to determine what level of institution he may require to live out his days—"

"What the hell are you saying?"

"Have you even thought about what will happen to Daniel when he's well enough to be discharged from the infirmary?"

Jack blinked. No, he hadn't. He'd spent most of his time trying to get over the effects of the radiation and trying to keep Daniel from screaming his little brains out whenever he wasn't sleeping with him.


"No, not really," Jack was forced to admit.

"General Hammond has already started looking into foster homes. There are a couple of families who have experience dealing with children who have sensory issues and who can—"

"Can't one of us take him?"

"Who, Colonel? You?"

The thought was almost appealing, but the memories of Charlie's death were still too close to the surface and to be honest, the idea of being responsible for a child, whether healthy or not, scared the hell out of him. He'd failed Charlie; there was no way he was taking on the responsibility of this Daniel's life.

"What about you? You've got Cassie. I'm sure Cassie would love to have a younger brother."

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me. By myself? A single parent with two kids? Yes, I have Cassie and I love her dearly, but I don't have the time to give Daniel the kind of care he truly needs."

"What about Carter?"

"She doesn't have the time either, sir. There is no way a single parent could deal with a child of Daniel's needs and be able to remain on your team."

"Damn." Fraiser was right. He'd need to think on this because there was no way he was abandoning Daniel to the Foster Care system. Daniel had been through that during his first childhood; he certainly deserved a second chance this time around. And he wasn't about to let his friend out of his life; he couldn't take care of a child, but there was no reason that someone close to Daniel couldn't. Maybe there was a way that they could all help and chip in. That way, Daniel would remain in their lives, and Jack wouldn't have the responsibility of his welfare.

"I'll have someone bring you clean clothes. I'm sure you'll be happy to change before you get out of here."


The shower felt great, the change from scrubs to fatigues even better, and the meatloaf in the commissary tasted ten times better sitting at a table than in an infirmary bed. But during the whole ninety minutes he was gone from the infirmary, he was filled with a sense of guilt.

Three hours of paperwork left him with a headache that reminded him he hadn't fully recovered from the radiation poisoning. He decided to go lie down in his newly appointed bed in a VIP suite, but instead of heading for that floor, he found himself punching the button for the infirmary.

The guilt that followed him through the afternoon caused him to slow down and not go straight to Daniel. He couldn't hear any crying or coughing, which had to be good. Still, he stopped at the intersection and peeked around the corner. Teal'c was sitting on Daniel's bed, holding the boy in his arms. Daniel was almost a rag doll, his head resting on Teal'c's shoulder, his arms hanging straight down. Figuring Daniel was sleeping, Jack backed off, and nearly bumped into Fraiser.

"Just going to take a nap," he said hurriedly at her raised eyebrow. "I wanted to see how Daniel was doing first."

"He was pretty inconsolable when he woke up," Fraiser said hesitantly. "He didn't want to have anything to do with any of the doctors or nurses, and only stopped crying when Teal'c picked him up. There's definitely some sort of memory pattern going on. I just wish I knew what was going through his head."

"Do you want me to...?" Jack waved to the infirmary section beyond the intersection.

"No. You need to rest and we need to try and get Daniel over this. Teal'c's got him well in hand so go get some rest before I order your ass back in one of my beds."

"Yes, ma'am." Jack sidestepped past her and hurried out of the infirmary.


Despite his fatigue, Jack couldn't sleep. Fraiser's words kept going through his head, and he just couldn't fathom putting Daniel in some sort of institution or foster home. The trust in those eyes... He just couldn't do it to him. There had to be some way they could do this; Fraiser hadn't sounded like she was against taking Daniel in, she just didn't have the time to deal with his issues. Maybe Carter and Teal'c would be willing to help out, until Daniel got the help he needed and adapted.

And Daniel would adapt. He refused to think of the alternative.

So maybe that was the solution. Fraiser would take him in and the rest of them would help where they could. He'd talk to Carter when he got up. Decision made, sleep came easily.


A glance at his watch indicated that he'd slept for five hours. He stretched and sat up slowly, wincing as his back, hips and shoulders complained. His bladder was full and demanding, forcing him to half-shuffle, half-run to the bathroom before he could work the kinks out. His stomach grumbled loudly as he washed his hands so he decided he'd grab some supper before hunting down Carter.

He walked into the commissary, thinking roast beef might be good for supper, and stopped short at the selection of eggs, ham, bacon and other breakfast items. He scratched his head and rubbed a hand over his cheek before checking his watch again. It still read nineteen hundred hours, give or take a few minutes. It was only when his fingers rasped against stubble that he realized he hadn't slept for five hours, but for seventeen.

Shocked at the amount of time he'd slept, Jack walked through the line in a daze while trying to tell his stomach it would have to make do with scrambled eggs and bacon instead of roast beef. He was pouring himself a cup of coffee when he spotted Carter sitting alone at a corner table.

He headed on over to her and sat. She gave him a quizzical look, watching him avidly while he sat. "I, um, sort of fell asleep yesterday," he said as he brought the coffee cup to his mouth.

"Yes, sir, I can see that."

He ignored the comment. He'd been too groggy when he'd gotten up to really notice what he looked like in the mirror.

"How's Daniel doing?"

Carter's face immediately reflected the worry she must have been feeling. She gave him a quick, glancing look reminiscent of the adult Daniel before turning her attention to her waffles. "I think he's missing you, sir."

"Fraiser said we had to deal with his dependence on me." He forked eggs into his mouth and chewed the suddenly tasteless food.

"I know," Carter said into her plate. "But, well, he seems depressed, sir, since you were released. He's not eating or sleeping, and he's shown no interest in anything. If Teal'c or me aren't with him, he'll start crying. He made himself sick crying last night until Carolyn had someone get Teal'c. He quieted down but, well, I think we've lost whatever ground we'd gained. His fever was up this morning but Carolyn said she thought it was due to his weakened state and lack of sleep rather than the pneumonia."

Jack sipped his coffee and forced himself to eat despite his quickly declining appetite. "They're wrong. This isn't doing Daniel any good."

"I have to agree, sir. Carolyn and Janet thought it would be best to try and do it this way but he's just so unhappy."

"Teal'c's with him now?" Jack took a large bite of toast, chewed quickly and washed the whole mess down with the last of his coffee. When Carter nodded, Jack wiped his fingers on his napkin and started to stand. "Then I'll see what I can do about cheering Daniel up." Then he froze, remembering. "There's something I wanted to talk to you about regarding Daniel."

"Me, too, sir. Janet mentioned putting him in an institution or—"

"Putting him in foster care?"

"Yes, sir. I don't feel comfortable with that."

"Neither do I. I was sort of hoping you or Janet would take him in—"

"Me?" Carter squeaked. "I was sort of thinking maybe you could—"

"I don't think so. But Fraiser, she's got Cassie, she just doesn't have the time to deal with Daniel's issues at the moment. But if we gave her a hand, took some of the responsibilities—"

"Yes, sir." Carter's smile almost lit the room. "That's what I was thinking. Even though she'd have primary care, we could be surrogate parents, or aunts and uncles."

Some of the tension he'd been feeling eased and he nodded. "Good, I'll bring it up again and see what she says."

"You'd still be the best choice, sir," she said quietly as he walked away.

"Not gonna happen."

Carter's words haunted Jack on his way to the infirmary. He was torn. As much as he didn't want the responsibility of bringing up a child, he couldn't help but feel smug at the thought that Daniel had turned to him for solace and comfort. He was smiling as he stepped out of the elevator and his step had a bit of a bounce in it as he walked into the infirmary.

His cheerfulness faded when he saw Daniel curled up on his side, his back to Teal'c. With a hand on Daniel's leg, Teal'c was sitting forward, talking to him. There was a bit of an audible wheeze in Daniel's breathing. As Jack approached, Teal'c stopped talking as he raised his eyes towards him and nodded.

There was a breakfast tray on the rollaway table, the food on it untouched. Daniel appeared to be asleep, until Jack saw his fingers moving across a piece of blue material bundled up in his arms. Slowly Jack circled the bed until he was facing Daniel.

Face splotchy with emotions rather than fever, Daniel was staring at what looked like a wrinkled scrub top, which he held tightly to his chest. Jack had a sneaking suspicion that top was the one he'd left on the bed next to Daniel's once he'd gotten dressed yesterday.

"Hey, Sport."

Large, sad eyes turned to look at him, and Daniel's chin began to quiver. As tears began to flow down his cheeks, Daniel silently held his arms out to Jack.

"Awww, c'mere." Quickly sitting on the bed, he reached for Daniel. He was shocked at the limpness of the kid, who only made an effort to hang onto the scrub top as Jack took him into his arms. "I'm sorry I was gone for so long." He stood with Daniel and moved to sit in the rocking chair. "Shhh, don't cry." Jack tried to use the edge of the cotton scrub to wipe the silent tears but Daniel suddenly twisted in his lap, his knees digging into Jack's thighs as he buried his face against Jack's shirt, coughing and crying.

"Perhaps DanielJackson would now partake of his meal. He has not taken sustenance since last night and DoctorLam was considering replacing his intravenous fluids."

"Nah. Daniel's going to eat some breakfast, aren't you, buddy?" He rubbed a hand up and down Daniel's back while he slowly rocked back and forth. When the coughing stopped, Daniel sniffled and rubbed his nose against his shirt. Jack turned him around so that he was sitting in his lap. "Now, here's the rules." Jack reached for the rollaway table and pulled it close. "I sit with you for a while, and you eat all of your breakfast."

There was buttered toast with jam, so Jack picked up a triangle and handed it to Daniel, only to have Daniel rebuff him by shoving his hand away.

"I didn't finish. You eat all of your food so you can get your strength back, and then we'll be able to do things like go out and take walks. Go to the park and the zoo." Daniel's expression changed from that of defiance to almost longing as Jack spoke. Then his eyes shifted to the piece of toast in Jack's hand, and slowly he extracted his fingers from where he'd buried them in the folds of material and reached for the toast.

Two triangles and a quarter bowl of cereal later, Daniel was dozing in Jack's arms. Mindful of Fraiser's concerns, Jack gently placed Daniel on the bed. And when Daniel went to scramble back into his arms, he put a firm hand on Daniel's chest. "Rule number two. You sleep here, in the bed, while I, or Carter, or Teal'c, sit in a chair next to you."

Daniel glanced over at Teal'c, then back at Jack, and although he wasn't happy, he allowed Jack to pull the blanket up over him. He clutched the scrub top like a lifeline and brought it so that it was tucked under his chin and he could fit his thumb into his mouth without letting go. Jack smiled down at him and cupped his cheek. "Go to sleep, Danny."

Almost as if Jack had given him a subliminal command, Daniel's eyes drifted shut and his fingers relaxed their hold on the top. Jack gently wiped the last traces of tears away and sat back with a satisfied sigh.

"Have you made arrangements to take possession of DanielJackson once he is released from the infirmary?"

"I just had this conversation with Carter. I think Fraiser's the best choice for him."

"And is DoctorFraiser of the same opinion?"

"Well," Jack said, evening out the creases in the blanket. "I'm working on her."

"I see." Teal'c stood and left the infirmary, leaving Jack with the uncomfortable feeling that he'd let Teal'c down.


"Are you ready?"

Instead of replying, Daniel tightened his grip on Jack's hand.

"Okay, let's go." Slowly, Jack led Daniel down the infirmary, taking slow steps so the boy could keep up. Even though this was their third time walking today, Daniel craned his head every which way, checking out the empty beds as they headed towards the far end of the infirmary. When they reached the exit, Jack turned around but Daniel looked at the closed doors curiously.

"You sure? There's lots of people out there and I don't want you getting scared."

Daniel tugged on Jack's hand and led him through the doors and down the long corridor, only to stop to watch as personnel walked back and forth in the busier main corridor. A moment later Daniel had shrunk back against Jack, clutching an arm tightly around his legs, nearly tripping him.

"Told ya." Jack put a comforting hand around Daniel's shoulders. "How about we stay here a minute and just look?" The arm relaxed its grip but Daniel didn't move it away. He watched, wide-eyed, until Jack gave him a gentle tap to get his attention. "How about we go back? I think Carter said she'd be coming by with a treat so we don't want her having to wonder where we are."

They made their way back to Daniel's bed and it was obvious that the short walk had tired Daniel. Still, he gamely climbed onto the bed and reached for the coloring book and crayons, busying himself while looking up every few minutes, glancing towards the entrance.

Ten minutes later Carter arrived, carrying three small bowls on a tray. "Hey, Daniel. Colonel." She placed the tray on the rollaway table and smiled. "I brought ice cream. Do you want some?"

Daniel looked eagerly inside the bowl as she handed it to him. Jack smiled as he ate his own ice cream, watching Daniel devour his treat. Daniel caught Jack's gaze and grinned happily at him before returning to his coloring book, alternating between eating and coloring.

"So did you speak to Fraiser?" Jack asked, leaning back and speaking softly so Daniel wouldn't hear.

Carter nodded. "She's pretty much convinced that we can do this. We still need to have Daniel evaluated but if we help, she'll take him."

Daniel paused, yawning mightily. He shoved the coloring books and crayons aside and slid off the bed, coming to stand next to Jack.

"What?" Jack asked, knowing full well what Daniel wanted. Despite agreeing to sleeping and napping in the bed, he had come to expect a cuddle session first. In which Jack indulged him. He just wished Daniel would try to start talking.

Placing a tentative hand on Jack's knee, Daniel looked up at him pleadingly. Giving Daniel a smile, Jack picked him up and sat him on his lap. Daniel leaned back, his thumb immediately going into his mouth and he sucked for a few seconds then pulled it out. Ever since Jack had laid down the ground rules yesterday, Daniel's thumb sucking had eased off.


Jack smoothed Daniel's shirt. Again. Brushing off an imaginary spot. "Remember what I told you?"

Daniel nodded but remained silent.

After a parade of doctors and therapists over the past days, selective mutism had been the final diagnosis. "Hey," Jack said with a soft touch to Daniel's cheek. "I'm sorry I ever complained that you talked too much."

Daniel answered by throwing his arms around Jack's neck and holding on.

For a minute, Jack reveled in the tiny body clinging to him and the memories it invoked.


Jack looked up. "He's all yours." He pried Daniel's hands apart then patted them down to his sides. "Fraiser's ready for you." Jack hated having to push Daniel away as he reached for him. "Nope, not this time, buddy."

On cue, the chin quivered.

Without making eye contact, Jack lifted Daniel off the infirmary bed, grabbed his hand and led him over to Fraiser. "Here you go."

Fraiser bent down until she was eye level with Daniel. "Cassie can't wait to meet her new brother."

Panic stricken, Daniel glanced at Jack, who just offered him a smile and a pat on the head.

Fraiser and Daniel left, the little suitcase packed with Daniel's clothes swinging from the doc's left hand while Daniel clung to her right, stumbling along, his focus on Jack, who was still standing in the infirmary's doorway.

"Shit!" Jack ran back into the infirmary and located the tiny shopping bag of crayons and coloring and game books. He took three steps towards the door, then backed up, found the scrub top and shoved it into the bag, under the other items. He caught up to them right by the elevators.

For a second, Daniel's face lit up when he saw Jack and he dropped Fraiser's hand and stepped towards him.

"You forgot this." He raised Daniel's hand, then forcibly gripped it around the shopping bag's handle.

Daniel glanced at the bag then at Jack. Confused, he held out his free hand to Jack.

Jack knew what Daniel wanted. What Daniel thought he needed. What Jack would like to, but was unable to give him. Jack shook the tiny hand extended in his direction just as the elevator doors slid open. "There's your ride, buddy. See you soon, okay?"

"Let's go, Daniel." Fraiser's voice was soft, yet insistent, leaving no room for argument.

Jack was grateful that Daniel got on the elevator without a fuss, and with a thumbs up, he turned and walked down the corridor even before the elevator doors slid shut.


The incessant buzzing pulled Jack from his restless sleep. Strange. He was always up before the alarm. From under the blankets he pulled out a lethargic arm and slapped at his alarm clock, only opening his eyes when he realized that after pounding it a few times, the clock was still emitting its annoying sound.

"Huh?" He opened one eye. The large luminous numbers read zero three hundred hours, which was approximately three and a half hours before the alarm was due to go off. Phone. His hand slid from the clock to the phone, knocking it off its cradle before he was able to pick it up.

"This better be good. O'Neill."


Fraiser. Daniel. Emergency. Jack shot up and swung his feet over the side of the bed.

"I think I need your— I think Daniel needs you, sir."

And then Jack heard it. Fraiser's voice was echoing as if she were making this call from her bathroom. Muted, yet still managing to travel through her closed door and miles of telephone wires, was screaming. Deafening, breathless screaming. "Is he sick?"

"No. Inconsolable. Hysterical. Hours upon hours of tears. It's either you, sedation, or a trip back to the SGC."

"I thought you said he needed to—"

"Maybe I was wrong." Her voice was brimming with self-condemnation.

"I'm on my way. Tell him I’m on my way."


A hug, a kiss, and he'd sit by Daniel's bed for a few minutes until the poor kid fell back to sleep. Stick the scrub top that he'd adopted as his security blanket back into his arms, but this? Getting up in the middle of the night? This was not going to be a habit. Not if he could help it. And not if anyone wanted to get any sleep for the next ten years of Daniel's life.

Fraiser's house was like a beacon in the darkness. Bright enough that Jack was surprised that planes weren't mistaking her block for a landing field. Every light was on, their luminosity increased due to the darkness of the surrounding homes.


Cassie greeted Jack at the door, wearing an expression no child her age should wear - exhaustion, exasperation and thorough annoyance. "Uncle Jack," she said as he stepped into the brightly lit living room. "Are you here to take him back?"

In consideration of Fraiser's neighbors, Jack quickly shut the door behind him in an attempt to hold the screams within the house. He cringed sympathetically. "Why don't you point me in the direction of your mom and then take yourself back to bed. I'll take care of this in a minute."

Cassie snorted. "Yeah, that's what my mom said as soon as he started this." She turned with a flip of her braid. "She's in the kitchen. Good luck."


Jack walked into the kitchen, Daniel's screaming covering his entrance, allowing him a few extra seconds to get his bearings. Fraiser was disheveled, wearing a pink sweat suit, her hair tied up in a ponytail. She looked frazzled, exhausted and so out of her element. "Come on, baby," she said, attempting to rock the unwilling child. "Shush."

Daniel might have been sitting on Fraiser's lap, but he wasn't there of his own volition. The hands that anchored him there around his waist, from where Jack was standing, seemed to tighten every time Daniel drew a breath.

Daniel's eyes were closed to mere slits. His face was a mass of blotches, and the wadded-up tissues piled on the table in front of him led Jack to believe Fraiser had given up the battle to stop the flow of snot streaming from his nose.

Daniel lowered his forehead onto the edge of the table and Fraiser relaxed her hold and brought up one of her hands to rub his back. Jack stepped directly into Fraiser's line of vision. He gave a sharp nod then brought his finger up to his lips, stopping her from announcing his arrival.


Daniel's head shot up and he pulled Fraiser's hand from his waist. "Jack. Home," he said hoarsely and he slid from her lap. "Home. Home," Daniel repeated as he wrapped his arms around Jack's legs, looking for purchase as he attempted to climb his way up his body.

Jack wasn't sure who was more shocked at Daniel's verbal utterances, him or Fraiser. They were probably equal, though Fraiser, bless the poor woman, recovered faster.

"It was only a matter of time." She stood, swept the tissues off the table and into the garbage. Realizing how she must look, Fraiser shot Jack an embarrassed smile and began to fix her hair.

"Home," Daniel said, smacking Jack's leg. "Jack. Home." He raised his arms to Jack, opening and closing his fists.

"Sorry, big guy." Jack bent down and swung Daniel into his arms. "You sorta distracted me."

Daniel immediately snuggled against Jack, burrowing his head under his chin, eyes closing. His finger found his mouth and he settled in with a sigh. "Home." Around his thumb, the word was muffled, yet decipherable.

"You are home," Jack said firmly.

Daniel lifted his head so fast, he clocked Jack in the chin. "Ow." Daniel clamped his hand over the injury.

"Yeah, I know," Jack said, rubbing his chin across Daniel's hands. "Easy."

"Jack. Home." Incessantly, he patted Jack's chest.

"Yes." Jack held his hand. "I'm Jack. And this is your home."


Jack planted Daniel's ass on the countertop. "I think we need to get you cleaned up before we have an intelligent conversation, Dannyboy."

Fraiser pressed the box of tissues into Jack's hand. "Start with those. I'll go get a washcloth."

Daniel blew. Jack blotted. And half the box of tissues was gone before Fraiser returned with a wet washcloth and clean pair of pjs.


"I'm going to be in the living room."

"I'll just get Daniel cleaned up, then I'll put him to bed."

"No!" Daniel screamed. "No!" He batted blindly at Jack.

"Enough. You have to sleep," Jack insisted.

Daniel hiccupped and blinked at Jack. He inhaled shakily. "Wanna go." Daniel glanced at Fraiser. "Jack's home." He leaned forward, collapsing against Jack's chest, as if finding the words to make himself understood was exhausting.

Jack glanced at Fraiser.

"It would appear, sir, that Daniel's made his decision."

"Let's be realistic, how the hell can I take—"

"Please," Daniel whispered. "Please, home."

"I'll pack up his things, sir."


Daniel was fast asleep in the booster seat before Jack even got to the end of Fraiser's block. "Just so you know, I'm too old for this."

Daniel whimpered as he shifted positions, slumping sideways.

"Hell, don't complain. This... me, I was your choice. You know, it's not too late to change your mind. I could be right back to Fraiser's house in less than a minute." Jack made a left, turned on the radio. Turned the radio off. "Sure, now you're quiet? You going to be like that damn friggin' singing frog in the Warner Brothers Cartoon? Hello, my baby, hello, my darling," Jack mimicked as he pounded the steering wheel. "Wake up, Daniel. Wake up!" he shouted.

Daniel roused himself. "Jack's home."

Jack took the forty seconds at the red light to bang his head on the steering wheel.

Daniel's head fell forward and he began to snore.

"Oh, great. I couldn't get you pre-allergies?" Jack continued to drive. "Okay, my mother always said that every cloud has a silver lining." Jack paused. "My mother? Not even ten minutes into my life and you've brought my mother into the conversation. Not good. So not good.

"You do know, you live in my house, you live by my rules. There will be sports. Hockey. Basketball. Baseball. ESPN. There will be no Egyptian documentaries, History or the Discovery Channel, and don't for a second think there will be Tellie Tubbies, Barney or Thomas the Tank Engine playing on any television in the O'Neill household." Jack stopped. "Thankfully, you're housebroken. Piss anywhere but the toilet and you'll be cleaning it up. Mark my words. Nothing makes me grumpier than stepping in warm pee in the early morning."

Jack pulled into his driveway. "You'll eat pancakes for breakfast and like them. There will be Froot Loops and Captain Crunch. Granola is a no no. And never, ever, request yogurt." Jack shut off the engine, unbuckled his seatbelt and peeked around the opening between the seats. "I hope to god you know what you're doing, Daniel, 'cause I have a bad feeling about this."


Jack had saved the world, traveled to different planets, yet here he was, all thumbs trying to figure out how to open the locks to the damn booster seat. Okay, this was a conundrum; maybe he should bring Daniel's stuff into the house first and then come out and get Daniel. Or bring Daniel into the house and then come out and retrieve his baggage. Either way, Daniel would be alone. House. Truck. House. Truck. Daniel wasn't even in the house and already there were issues.

He opted for taking Daniel into the house first, that way if he began to scream when Jack ran out to collect his stuff, at least he'd have four walls to contain his vocal diatribe as opposed to just the truck. "Upsie daisy," Jack said triumphantly as he finally opened the booster seat and lifted Daniel out. He hugged the limp body tightly, then amazingly grew another pair of hands and managed to drag out the suitcase as well, carrying both to the front door without dropping either.


"Aw, shit." Jack wasn't too sure when he realized that the body he was holding so closely was damp and not sweaty damp, but damp as if 'no one had reminded Daniel to use the bathroom before they left Fraiser's house' type of damp. Jack turned in circles, trying to figure out the safest place to put Daniel down that didn't involve changing sheets or steam cleaning at this hour of the night.

The old, battered, threadbare rug in front of the fireplace became Jack's changing table of choice. Gently he placed Daniel on the rug, and the little bastard didn't even open one eye as Jack unsnapped the bottom of his feetsie pajamas and peeled off the sodden mess. He struggled with the top because Daniel was sucking his thumb, which obviously was more important than removing a pissed on pj top. A sudden thought occurred to Jack and he shook Daniel awake. "Do you have to use the bathroom?"

Daniel sat up, rubbing his eyes. He scrabbled onto all fours and stood. "I gotta pee." Buck-ass naked, he took off at a dead run down the hall right in the direction of the bathroom.

Open-mouthed, Jack stared after Daniel. It took a moment for the shock to wear off. "Shit." Jack bounded after him when he realized how much trouble a naked five year old could do in a bathroom.


Jack jiggled the door handle. "Open up, Daniel."

"Pee-ing," the singsong voice answered.

"You don't need to pee with the door shut."

"Almost done."

"Remember the rules about peeing. Only in the toilet. Not on the—"

"Oh oh."

"Oh oh? Daniel, why doesn't that sound good?"

"I'm all done."

Jack pressed his ear against the door. Toilet flushed. Then there was childlike humming. A grunt or two then there was water running. The faucet.

"Ow. Ow. Ow. Jack!"

This was a cry of anguish and Jack shouldered the door, the old hinges gave way and he stumbled into the room. Daniel was kneeling on the bathroom countertop, the faucet running full blast, the sink threatening to overflow.

Jack got it in one. Hot water - too hot for a five year old's tender skin. He scooped Daniel off the countertop before turning off the water. "Let's check out the damage, okay?"


There were tears and squirming but the boo boos were all fixed. Though reddened, Daniel's hands were fine and he was once again jammified, this time in the ones with tiny jet planes. "Carter's got a warped sense of humor, you know that?" Jack peeled Daniel off him and onto the bed in the spare room. He expected some resistance, but Daniel offered none and just yawned as Jack covered him with the quilt.

"Home," Daniel announced with satisfied smile and closed his eyes. "I'm home."


It was already zero five hundred hours by the time Daniel was settled in the spare room. Not enough time to go to sleep and barely enough time to formulate the wording for his retirement letter. Jack sank into the recliner, clunked it into the upright position then instantly regretted not grabbing a pre-dawn beer before settling in. The living room was littered with the contents of the suitcase. The soiled pjs were in a pile by the stone hearth. Daniel had dumped the shopping bag so there were crayons and kid's game books in an untidy pile.

Jack sighed. His once pristine living room, after today, was going to become a thing of the past. And that sucked. Or did it?


Daniel was still sleeping. Good. Slowly, Jack backed from the room and headed to the kitchen. The coffee pot was now filled and Jack poured himself the biggest mug of black coffee and picked up the phone and dialed General Hammond.


"We have a situation, General." Jack sank into the kitchen chair.

"According to Doctor Fraiser, Jack, it would appear that you have a situation." There was a deep, grandfatherly chuckle.

Oy. "Doctor Fraiser has been in to see you already?"

"And the good doctor even brought me an egg white on bagel sandwich with freshly brewed coffee when she came to see me this morning."


"It would appear, Jack, that I got breakfast and you got Daniel Jackson."

"Yes, I did."

"You do know that I allowed you to delude yourself into believing that Daniel would end up with Doctor Fraiser..."

"Excuse me, sir?"

"The boy's exactly where he belongs, Jack."

"I'm too—"

"No, you're not too old. If you're not too old to travel across the galaxy, you're not too old to raise a child."

"My track record with raising a child, if you'll excuse my language, General, sucks."

"You'll never forget and Daniel doesn't remember. It's a perfect match."

He was speechless.

"Yeah, I figured you'd be at a loss for words. For now, I'll put in the paperwork for leave time. Give it a few days then we'll discuss the situation and your duty roster."

"General, I—"

"I'll make sure Captain Carter and Teal'c get in contact with you."

Jack watched as life as he knew it sped past his eyes.

"Don't worry, Jack."

"Considering I'm middle-aged—"

The General graciously cleared his throat.

"Well into my middle-age years," Jack amended. "That don't worry part, is pretty much an oxymoron when referring to raising a child."

That statement earned him a full belly laugh from the General. "You're the best man for the job."


Best man for the job? Bullshit, Jack thought as he bent down to add the wet pair of pjs on the hearth to the laundry basket. He was doing laundry. When he was supposed to be at work, he was doing laundry. And he had to go shopping. As in food. Not for beer, chips or pretzels, but for things like milk and juice.


Jack spun around. "Daniel."

Daniel knuckled his eyes and yawned. "I'm hungry."

Jack dropped the laundry basket. "Want cereal?"



Daniel thought a moment. "Chocolate chip."

"Blueberry-chocolate chip?"

"Yummy. Okay."

"Go pee and wash your hands, and then join me in the kitchen."

" 'K." Daniel bounded down the hallway.

"Daniel!" Jack yelled. "Do not—"

"Close the bathroom door. I know," Daniel shouted back. "It's broke, Jack, can't close."

"Great," Jack grumbled to himself as he got out a pen and a piece of paper and began to make a list, Home Depot's hardware department being number one.


Jack watched as Daniel stared at the pancake covering his plate. He speared it with his fork and struggled to rip off a piece, but instead, managed to pull the pancake, in one big circle, up to his mouth, the front of his face hidden behind the pancake's circumference.

Frustrated, Jack dropped his fork, leaned over, pulled the pancake off Daniel's face and dropped it back onto the plate, its nucleus gone. Daniel was chewing furiously, using his fingers to make sure he didn't miss a crumb.

Jack wiped his syrup-covered fingers on his napkin. Daniel picked up his napkin and mimicked him. Little pieces of the napkin stuck to his fingers and Jack rolled his eyes. Obviously it was going to take more than a napkin to clean Daniel. "Would you like me to cut up your pancake so it's easier for you to eat?"

"Oh. Please?" Daniel pushed the plate towards Jack.


Daniel ate two huge pancakes and drank a large glass of milk and was now sulking in a bathtub full of bubbly stuff Cassie had given Jack on his last birthday. He'd never had a use for it, until now.

"I took a shower at Janet's last night."

"And you ate pancakes covered in syrup. Now you're covered in syrup. We need to go out shopping—"

"I don't wanna go shopping."

Jack opened the medicine cabinet, took out the large bottle of Tylenol and dry swallowed three. He flipped down the toilet seat and sat. "How come now you're talking?"

Daniel drew his attention away from the bubble pyramid he was constructing. "Because I'm home."

"Okay." Jack wasn't too sure how to answer that. He decided on another approach. "What do you remember? When you woke up, when you were sick?"



"Hurting. But I don't hurt no more." He smiled brilliantly at Jack.

"I'm glad."

"And Teal'c and Sam. I remember them... Where are they?"

At work. Where Jack wished he was at that moment. "They're with—"

"I don't wanna go where they are. I wanna stay here." Daniel slammed his pyramid flat, bubbles and water flowing over the side of the tub. "Jack's home."

"What about before the hurt?" Jack tossed a towel to cover the flood Daniel had made.


"How do you feel now?"

"Wet." Daniel scrunched his face and looked at Jack. "How do you feel?"

The words Jack wanted to use to describe his frustrations were certainly not meant for a five-year old. "Good." Too little sleep, heartburn, headache, a bathroom full of water, a kitchen full of syrupy residue and more laundry in the making. "Nothing's hurting now?"

"Nope." Daniel leaned forward and brought a huge armful of bubbles forward against his chest, exposing his legs. He forced the bubbles up until they hid his face and then blew on them, forcing an opening.

"What if Carter and Teal'c were to come here later?" Oh, bad move, Jack decided the moment Daniel's face lit up. What if Carter and Teal'c couldn't make it, and then he'd have to deal with a kid with an attitude. As if he hadn't been dealing with that since Daniel had been shrunk...

"When? Now?"

"Later." He held a hand out when Daniel made to get up. "Tonight, maybe after supper."

"Oh. Okay." Daniel smoothed the bubbles out with one hand.

"So, before the hurt..." Jack wasn't sure how much probing he should attempt but a talking Daniel, after the silent treatment of the past weeks, was a gift horse he needed to take full advantage of. "Do you remember anything before that?"

Daniel paused, his hands going still then slipping under the suds as he stared at the bubbles. He shook his head violently. "Nope. It hurt, then it didn't, and you were there." Daniel didn't look up, remained still for a long moment, then began reshaping the bubbles.

"Okay, I think you're about done now. How about we go get dressed?" Jack reached into the water and pulled Daniel out of the tub, settled him between his knees and wrapped him in a large bath towel. He rubbed Daniel dry while the kid stood there, one hand braced against his knee for balance. The motion was familiar, but it wasn't until he pulled the towel away and Daniel grinned impishly at him did the memories of doing this with Charlie hit him like a blow to the gut.

"C'mon." He went to wrap the towel around Daniel but he took off towards his bedroom at a run, the wet slap of damp, bare feet echoing down the hall. "Daniel!" he shouted as he followed after him, then sighed. No use trying to tell a kid not to run in the house, especially naked. Streaking seemed to be a built-in mechanism in kids.

Daniel had already pulled open the drawers that Jack had temporarily liberated for him, haphazardly pulling clothes from it. Jack picked out a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, handed them to Daniel, pointed at the underwear he'd dropped on the floor, tossed a balled-up pair of socks on the bed, and pushed a pair of sneakers towards Daniel with his feet.

"Don't forget your socks and shoes."

While Daniel got dressed, Jack called Fraiser. "He's talking," he said the moment she answered the phone."

"He said a few words last night."

"No, I mean, full sentences. Like a regular kid. I asked him what he remembered before and he said pain. He remembers Carter and Teal'c—"

"Sir, I think you need to bring Daniel in so we can re-evaluate him—"

"He started talking the moment he was away from the SGC. Doesn't that say something to you?"

"With all due respect, sir, Daniel wasn't talking last night at my house. That happened only when you arrived."

Jack rubbed a hand across his face, getting a whiff of the bubbly stuff from Daniel's bath. "Look, how about you and Cassie come over for supper tonight? I'll ask Carter and Teal'c also. That way you can see him in action and we can try to figure out what to do next."

"Next?" Fraiser laughed. "Seeing that he's talking, I'm thinking the next step is enrolling him in school and setting up a fund for his graduation day."

"Hey, that's not funny. Hammond gave me three days off to be with Daniel. By then, you'd better—"


"Just a second, Daniel," Jack shouted. "Gotta go. Shall I get two extra steaks?"

"We'll be there, sir."

"Great." Jack put the phone on the counter and returned to the spare room. Daniel was more or less dressed, but he was staring at the waist of his pants. "What is it?"

"I can't get the button buttoned."

"Here." He crouched and reached for the small, metal button. With fingers that felt too clumsy for the tiny sized button, he finally managed to force it through the similarly tiny hole. "We'll need to get you some more pants. Maybe something easier to do up."

"Who were you talking to?" Daniel dropped onto the floor and began to thread his socks onto his feet.


Glancing quickly at Jack in a motion so reminiscent of the adult man the boy had once been, Daniel pursed his lips. "I'm not going back."

"No, we're going shopping. So hurry up."

His bare foot made a screeching sound on the wood floor as Daniel brought it forward so he could put the second sock on it. "I don't wanna go shopping."

"Well, that's too bad. We need to fix the bathroom door, we need food, and you need clothes, and those aren't going to fill the fridge or closet without our going out there to get them."

"But I wanna stay here." Daniel's voice picked up a whine.

"How about we get a couple of movies while we're out? I'm sure there're a couple of Disney movies I haven't seen."

"Movies?" The whine was gone and his face perked up in interest. "What kind of movies?"

"I dunno. That's why we need to go shopping so we can look at the titles and choose."

"Can I choose a movie?"


"Yippee." Daniel hurriedly reached for his sneakers, stuck his feet in them and pulled the Velcro closed then stared at his feet. "I don't need the sticky stuff, you know."

"You don't?"

Daniel did a little kid two step, testing out the shoes. "Nope. I know how to tie a bow."


To Jack's surprise, Daniel, the adult who'd never given a shit about what he wore, was downright vocal in his choice of clothing. Embarrassingly vocal. His 'no's!' cut through the mid-morning quiet of the store and forced more than one person to give Jack a sympathetic glance.

"Ra had nothing on you." Jack dumped two armfuls of clothing, socks, boxers and pjs onto the conveyor belt of register ten.

Daniel smiled at Jack and pointed to the three-pack of Matchbox cars right by the endcap of the register. "Please?"

"Don't you think you got enough?"

Daniel blinked at Jack then sighed, his shoulders rising and falling with the effort. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

"All right." Daniel gave up and instead, stood on tiptoes, watching in amazement as his new clothes traveled down the moving belt and into the waiting plastic bag.


"Hmm?" Daniel didn't take his eyes off his traveling clothes.

Jack shook his head. "Do you want the red cars or the blue trucks?"


Wide-eyed, Daniel sat in the booster seat, arms raised, while Jack buckled him in. His gaze was glued to the three-pack of red cars in his hands. "Thank you."

"All done."

Daniel lowered his hands, then hugged the box to his chest. "Thank you, Jack."

Jack reached towards the box. "I can take them out if you want—"

"No!" Daniel swung around, protectively covering the box of cars with his body.

"Sorry." Jack offered up a gentle squeeze to his shoulder as an additional apology. "Sit up, okay?

Daniel righted his body in the seat. "I like them just the way they are."

"Got it. Ready to go food shopping?"

"Can I bring the cars?"



Daniel sat in the child's seat of the shopping cart, examining the cars. Jack thought he was mumbling to himself until he realized that Daniel was actually reading the print on the boxes. "Once a genius, always a—"

Finally, Daniel looked up. "Mac 'n' cheese."


"Kraft macaroni and cheese." Daniel leaned over the seat. Right. Left. "Where's the mac 'n' cheese."

Jack thought a moment. "Don't you hate macaroni and cheese?"

Daniel shook his head. "Nope. I don't think so."

"Well, Carter and Teal'c are coming over tonight. So are Fraiser and Cassie. I don't think that's what they want to eat."

"Why not?"

"Because they want steaks. Burgers. Franks."

"I want mac 'n' cheese."

Jack sighed.

Daniel waved the box of cars at him. "Mac 'n' cheese?"


"Mac 'n' cheese," Daniel insisted.

Jack sighed again.

Daniel smiled.

Jack pushed the cart with the brilliantly smiling child to find a box of macaroni and cheese.


"How are you doing, sir?"


"And Daniel?"

Jack looked into the living room. Daniel was fast asleep on the couch, a three pack of Matchbox cars and a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese tucked against his body.

"Daniel's doing okay. Making me grey before my time, but doing okay."

"He hasn't even been with you twenty-four hours, Colonel."

Jack sunk down into the kitchen chair. "It just seems like forever."

"Do you need me to bring anything tonight?"

Jack thought a moment. "Something sweet. Something chocolaty."

"Something for Daniel? No problem. I know just the thing."


Jack opened the cabinet and the can of baked beans took a nose dive. Before Jack had a chance to stop it from landing on the glass microwave-safe dish sitting on the counter, the can took a weird bounce and caught the corner of the dish. In horror, he watched the bowl and the can perform a graceful pirouette through the air. The can landed on the floor with a thud and rolled to safety. The bowl, while being able to withstand the heat of the microwave oven, was unable to save itself from the hardwood kitchen floor and shattered into a million pieces. Jack wasn't sure if his curse stemmed from the mess he now faced or the terrified screams of a five year old in the living room.

Daniel was clambering off the couch with the cars in one hand and the box of food in the other. His balance was off, but at least Daniel was luckier than the can, Jack was able to get to him before he took a header off the couch.

He was a pool of sweat and his heart was pounding so hard, Jack could feel the vibrations as he held him. "Scared you, huh?"

Daniel nodded. "I was sleeping."

"Yeah, you were."

Daniel yawned and settled against Jack.

This really wasn't what Jack wanted - Daniel sleeping on the couch while he did barbeque preparations was more what he had in mind. Not this. "How about if I just put you down on the—"

"No! Here's fine." Daniel patted Jack's chest with the box of macaroni and cheese.

"No, here's not fine." Jack settled into the corner of the couch.

Well, here was actually fine enough for Daniel and Jack because somewhere during Jack's protests, Daniel closed his eyes, then Jack followed suit, waking up stiff and sore with an armload of Daniel and a whole lot of eyes staring down at them.

"How cute."

"Carter," Jack hissed, trying to stretch out his legs and allow the blood to once again begin to flow.

"I meant Daniel, sir, not you."

Cassie giggled.

Carter turned beet red. "It's not that you aren't cute, it's just that—"

"Carter, there's a shovel in the backyard; it can help you with the hole you're digging yourself into."

Carter huffed indignantly. "I think I'll go put dessert in the fridge."

"Watch the—" Jack yelled after her.

"Sir, you have broken glass all over the floor."

"I know," Jack said. "Give me a moment—"

Daniel gave a whimper of protest as Jack placed him on the couch.

Cassie bent down before her mother could stop her.

"Cassie, he's sleeping."

Gently, Cassie reached out and touched Daniel's cheek then looked at the adults standing behind her in awe. "Wow, Uncle Jack, he's so much cuter when he sleeping."


"Uncle Jack?" Jack settled on the wooden bench across from Cassie. Daniel was still sleeping, cuddling with his boxes. Jack had left the sliding glass door open just a smidge on the off chance Daniel woke up terrified. He reached for a plate, then a hamburger, answering Cassie as he dressed his burger for consumption. "Yeah, honey?" "Where's Uncle Daniel?" Teal'c raised an eyebrow. Carter abandoned him by finding sudden interest in examining the ingredients of her potato salad, and Fraiser? She looked at Jack as if to ask 'where is Daniel'? "Ummm..." There wasn't any doubt that Jack was floundering. Cassie wasn't stupid. She was a little girl in size only. Her experiences had made her galaxy-smart, held back only by her size. Her eyes grew huge and she turned to gaze at her mom. "Did Uncle Daniel die?"

"Oh, God, no," Carter answered. "Daniel didn't die, he's—" She glanced at Jack to finish her sentence.

"He's in the living room, sleeping on the couch. You know, that cute, sleeping kid? That's Daniel."

Cassie began to giggle. "Uncle Jack, you're so fu—" She looked around the table. "Mom?"

"Uncle Jack's not kidding." Fraiser threw an arm around her daughter's shoulders and hugged her.

"Daniel's a kid?"

"Yeah. A kid. Like you."

"Uncle Jack," she huffed with a young girl's indignation. "I am not a kid."

"Sorry, how silly of me." Jack bit into his burger and chewed thoughtfully.

"Does he know?"

"It would appear that DanielJackson is not aware of his previous life."

"He doesn't remember being a grown up?"

"No, he doesn't." Carter smiled sadly.

"He doesn't wear a diaper or anything 'cause that would be just too ewwww."

Jack thought back to last night's ewww time with Daniel and suddenly feared for the safety of his couch. "No, he's housebroken."

"Phew," Cassie smiled. "Because there was no way I was going to change a diaper when I babysat—"

"Who said you were ever going to babysit for him, young lady?"

Cassie just rolled her eyes at her mom. "Give it time. Then Uncle Jack will be knocking on my door and I'll be raking in the big bucks."


"Don't be difficult, Uncle Jack."

"Cassie... You are not allowed to say anything to Daniel about this."

She made a zipping sound across her lips. "If I promise, can I go wake him?"

Fraiser pushed Cassie's plate closer to her. "You can eat your lunch."

"Does he remember his mom and dad, like me?"

"He is not yet comfortable with the English language and chooses not to speak."

"Yeah, about that," Jack smiled over his hamburger. "Daniel's gift of the gab returned."

Carter's smile was brilliant. "That's fantastic news, sir."

"What about DanielJackson's memory?"

Jack sighed. "Nothing. Pretty much remembers nothing except..." In deference to Cassie, he didn't want to make inference to the pain Daniel remembered. "Waking up and being five."

"Does that mean he doesn't know he's an orphan?"

"If you look around this table, CassandraFraiser, you will see that DanielJackson will never be without family. As you are not without."

"Cool. I get to be a big sister and he lives at another house. I think I like this arrangement. So when he cries, the only person he wakes up is Uncle Jack."


Blindly, Daniel walked onto the deck, the boxes tucked into his arm, and zeroed in to where Jack sat, a bottle of beer hanging loosely from his fingertips. "I'm hungry." He dropped the macaroni and cheese box in Jack's lap.

They descended as one on him - Carter, Fraiser, Teal'c and even Cassie. All touchy feely, with bright exclamations of happiness.

Panicked, Daniel clambered up Jack, stiffening as caring hands reached out.

Jack waved everyone back. "Have a good nap?" he whispered, just loud enough for Daniel to hear.

Daniel nodded nervously, burying his face in Jack's chest.

"Want to say hi to everyone. Sam. Teal'c..."

At the mention of their names, Daniel raised his head, looking around with interest.

"Hi, Daniel," Carter said from a safe distance.

"DanielJackson, it is good to see you are awake."

"Hi." Daniel's greeting was soft.

"Don't forget Cassie and Doc Fraiser—"

Daniel looked at Jack.

"Don't worry, you're staying here." Jack felt the little body relax in his grip. Any hopes of sharing the kid with Fraiser or the rest of his team in the near future went out the window with Daniel's reaction.

Daniel waved at Cassie and Fraiser, they both waved back.

"How about I get you something to eat? You gotta be hungry after sleeping—"

Daniel pulled the box of macaroni and cheese from between their bodies and shoved it in Jack's face.

"No. We have burgers. Franks."

Daniel insistently tapped Jack on the nose with the box.

"I do not believe DanielJackson desires flame-broiled food."

"Daniel, can I make this for you?" Hesitantly, Carter stepped up and touched the box smushed into her commanding officer's face.

"You're going to cook in my kitchen, Carter?"

"Come on, Daniel." Carter plucked the box Daniel and held out her hand, waggling her fingers in invitation. "How about I make this for you?"

Daniel slid off Jack's lap, the sleeve of Matchbox cars still in his right hand. He reached up and took Carter's hand, then glanced towards Teal'c and Cassie, inviting them. Fraiser and Jack were obviously excluded from their little party.


Jack glanced over his shoulder. "Carter can't burn down my house making macaroni and cheese, can she?"

"I don't believe so, sir."

"I'm thinking Daniel's pulling the Marcel Marceau routine in the kitchen."

"I think it's time for Mackenzie."

Jack snorted - his run in with the SGC's psychiatrist hadn't been pleasant. Actually, the man wasn't a favorite of anyone on either SG-1 or the entire SGC. "Daniel's not talking for the people he knows best, what in god's name makes you think he's going to utter a sound for that quack?"

"I'm concerned that there's more going on—"

"Ya think? A few weeks ago when I spoke to Daniel, we both stood pretty much eye to eye. Now? When and if Daniel decides to speak, he comes up to below my crotch. I'm thinking that's a pretty big adjustment for him, whether or not he even remembers the scenario that led up to this."

Jack got up suddenly, finished the rest of his beer and tossed the empty into the recyclable bin. "Time to make sure Carter read the instructions on the box."

"Sir..." Fraiser stood and blocked his way.

"Doc, not now, okay? Maybe sometime in the future we can look back at this and laugh. But not now. Now I just have to make sure that my kitchen is still in one piece."


Daniel was sitting on Teal'c's lap, which in and of itself was a sight to behold, but to see Carter smiling while wearing an apron, stirring a pot on his stove, in his kitchen, was downright surreal.

Teal'c placed a restraining hand on Daniel as he began to squirm. "DanielJackson is most impatient."

"Almost done." And surprisingly, the macaroni was drained, prepared and placed in front of Daniel within a matter of seconds.

"I'm impressed, Carter."

"If I can save the world, sir, I can handle a simple box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese."

Ouch. Jack had definitely stepped on his 2IC's Achilles' heel.

"DanielJackson." Teal'c placed a hand over Daniel's as he dug a spoon into the orangey mess. "I believe it would be most prudent to allow this food item to cool."

Daniel pursed his lips and blew into the steam wafting from the bowl.

Cassie jumped up. "I have an idea."


Cassie preened as Daniel ate the frankfurter that she'd cut up and put in the bowl with the macaroni and cheese. "Isn't that good? I learned how to do that when I went on my Girl Scout Jamboree in the spring."

Daniel smiled and scraped the bottom of the bowl, then handed it to Sam.

"All done?"

Daniel shook his head.

"You want more?"

"Isn't that box supposed to feed a family of four?" Jack shook the opened and empty box.


Daniel stood leaning against Jack's leg, looking out the front door, waving along with Jack, saying goodbye to their guests. He was hot, sweaty, and a touch of sun had brought out a smattering of freckles across his nose. Daniel yawned. Loudly.

Jack moved his leg and Daniel bopped up and down. "You need a shower."


Jack rested his head against the doorframe; that one word had been the first word Daniel had spoken in hours. "Why?"

"I don't like showers."

"No, I meant—forget it. Bath it is."


Daniel refused to sleep. Jack cajoled him with everything he could think of, but refused to take him into his bed. Daniel followed him around, getting underfoot, nearly tripping them both down the steps between the living room and the hallway.

"Stop it!" Jack yelled, grabbing the wall and Daniel at the same time.

Immediately, tears welled up in the huge blue eyes. "Don't yell."

"I'm sorry. But I'm tired and cranky."

Daniel held up his arms.

Exasperated, Jack took the sleeve of cars from Daniel's hand and angrily slammed it on the low wall. He ignored Daniel's whimper of protest and with a growl of annoyance, Jack bent, lifted Daniel up, then settled him on his hip. "I'm too old to walk around the house like this so don't you dare get used to this."

"Can I have my cars?"

"Here." Jack picked the box up and shoved them at Daniel. "Happy?"

"Why're you mad at me?"

Because since Daniel had been downsized, Jack had spent a lot of time thinking about Charlie. Fatherhood was a thing of the past with too many memories that belonged in the past. Jack dropped heavily into the recliner and popped the footrest up. "I'm not angry."

"Open my cars for me?" Daniel settled against Jack. With his back to Jack's front, he forcibly pressed the box into Jack's hands.

"No. It's late."

Daniel took the box back, turned it over a few times, then cuddled with it. He sniffed and Jack knew he was crying but he didn't have it in him to verbally offer Daniel words. Emotionally spent, he was all tapped out. He wrapped his arms around Daniel and cuddled with him without cuddling. He tried not to relax, tried to keep his arms at a distance, but it was hard. He was tired and as Daniel drifted into sleep, he grew heavier. His weight was like a comfortable blanket and against his better judgment, Jack's eyes closed.


Jack woke disorientated with empty arms. He was up in a shot. "Daniel!" Shit.

Daniel was in the kitchen, sprawled out, sleeping on the floor, the three Matchbox cars meticulously removed from their box and were parked next to Daniel's right hand.

Great. Jack gave his face a frustrated scrub. Gently he prodded Daniel with his toe. "Hey, Daniel," he hissed. "Wakey, wakey. The floor isn't the softest place to sleep. And there's no way I can bend down and—"

Daniel sat up with a soft sob. Eyes closed, he patted the floor until he located the cars, then gathered them into his lap. "Bedtime?"

"Yeah, how about..."

Daniel scrabbled up, thrust the cars at Jack, then scampered off, heading to—

Jack groaned, then yelled, a moment too late as the sound reverberated throughout the house. "I just fixed that. Please don't slam the bathroom door—"


Jack waited while Daniel crawled into bed before driving his toy cars over the blanket into Daniel's waiting hands. "What was with sleeping on the kitchen floor?"

"Didn't wanna wake you." Daniel made a tunnel and drove the cars under the blanket with him. "You were mad. I wanted to play. Done playing now." He yawned, deep enough for Jack to get a visual of his tonsils.

Jack covered Daniel up with the blanket, patting down the entrance to the car tunnel.

"You're not mad anymore?"

Yeah, he was angry. But his anger was directed at the fates more than at the poor unsuspecting child getting ready to sleep in his spare room. "I had a little nap. Think my anger got lost in my dreams."

Daniel sat up suddenly and threw his arms around Jack's neck. "It was fun today even with you being mad."

Okay, Jack was definitely going to have to work on Daniel and this grudge-holding thing.


His twenty minute power snooze left Jack out of sorts. It was a perfect night for some stargazing and he actually had one hand on the door until he realized that he couldn’t in good conscience go up onto the roof, enjoy a beer and check out the universe while a five year old slept inside.

Jack settled for a beer, keeping the sliding door open and sitting on the back deck, the chair pulled up to the opened door, just in case. The bottle was half finished when the phone rang. He checked out the time, surprised that it wasn't later than it felt.


"It's not too late, Jonathan, is it?"

Shit. "No, Ma. Not too late."

"I just wanted to make sure we're still on for tomorrow."

Tomorrow. Tomorrow was... crap. His mother was coming to town tomorrow. A friend's grandchild's wedding. They had talked about this a few weeks ago. The obligatory visit. The nicey nicey. Breakfast in the diner before the wedding. Stilted conversation.

"You forgot, didn't you?"

"No, I just didn't remember." Jack cleared his throat. "How about you come to my house for breakfast?"

"Instead of the diner?"

There was no mistaking the panic in his mother's voice. They had barely spoken since Charlie's death. Distance had made that an easy accomplishment, living hours apart from one another simply making it convenient to stay out of touch. But time had been a slow healer and when his mom had reached out with a telephone call just before his mission to Abydos, Jack had reciprocated. Tentatively, they had been working on mending their relationship, telephone calls and visits, but one of the unspoken rules was meeting in neutral territory.

They never met at Jack's house. Ever. Or at his mother's house. Until now. Weighing the odds, Jack would rather deal with his mother in his home than deal with Daniel at a diner. "Yeah, my house. Breakfast at my house."

There was hesitation.

"Do your coffee making abilities still suck, Jonathan?"

Doctor Daniel Jackson wouldn't have allowed Jack to make horrible coffee. "No, I think you might be surprised at my coffee making abilities."

"Tomorrow then. Around nine?"

"Nine's fine, mom, see you then."


Jack wandered around the house, picking up things, refolding the afghan, wiping down the table, until there was nothing left to straighten up. Finally, he made one more visit to a sleeping Daniel before he headed off to bed.

In the bed that had been too small for an adult Daniel, Jack literally had to move the quilt down to locate the kid.

He sat at the end of the bed, pushing the sweaty strands from Daniel's forehead. "My mom's coming tomorrow." Jack sighed. "Yeah, you remember her. Met her once."

Daniel sniffed, then sleepily rubbed his nose against the side of the pillow.

"I know, I know, she's a bit overpowering. Feel free to not talk to her. Maybe selective mutism is contagious. What'cha think?"


They were awake by six. Jack was up, dressed and showered thirty minutes later. Daniel, on the other hand, was sitting in the living room still wearing his pjs, running his cars along the bumpy route of the bricks by the fireplace.

"Ten minute warning, Daniel."

"Warning about what?"

"Getting dressed."


"Because we need to go to the store."

"To buy some more mac 'n' cheese?"

"Among other things."

Daniel took off and Jack proudly preened. That was easy. Not a problem. Daniel listened. Hell, Daniel listened much better in this little body than he did as an adult.

"This is the macaroni and cheese I want you to get." Daniel dumped the empty box from last night into Jack's lap.


Jack strapped the pajama-clad Daniel into the booster seat. The three Matchbox cars were stuffed into the empty macaroni and cheese box.

"Look," Jack said, looking at Daniel though the rear-view mirror as he backed out. "I'm sorry I yelled."

Daniel stuck his hand inside the box and pulled out one car and made it drive over the bar of the booster seat.

"Guess I'm getting the silent treatment."

"You're mad. I don't wanna talk when you're mad. I didn't wanna get dressed. I didn't wanna go out. I wanna play with my cars."

"You're playing with your cars now," Jack tried to reason.

"Are we gonna go to the store with the mac 'n' cheese?"

"Yes. Yes we are."

"Can I get the pack of blue cars?"

No, you can't, Jack wanted to say. Actually his brain was already formulating the words and his body was preparing for the onslaught of tears, the problem was, his heart wasn't connected to his brain. "Sure. As a matter of fact, we'll pick out the cars first before we start shopping."


Jack looked at Daniel wearing the feetsie pajamas and at the asphalt parking lot, then at the wagons all lined up neatly at the entrance. "I'm going to carry you."

Daniel's face lit up.

"Don't get used to this," Jack groaned, awkwardly lifting him out of the truck.

"But I like this."

"Ow." Jack pulled down the little hand holding the box with the cars that had just attempted to slice open his jugular with its cardboard edge. "Next time," he hissed, "clothes and shoes."


Up until the moment that Daniel clutched himself and began to cry that he needed to pee now, Jack had never known that grocery stores came equipped with bathrooms. "Are you finished yet?" He could feel a cramp beginning to build. At his age, holding a five year old under the arms and having an empty box of macaroni and cheese stuck under his arm while said peeing was going on, could not be good for Jack's back.

Daniel began to squirm then giggled. "You're tickling me." And the stream of piss from his movement began to make a wide arc.

"Pee on my shoes and you're going to be in big trouble."

Daniel tried to turn his head. "Do you still have my cars?"

"Damn it, Daniel, you just peed on the wall. Yes, I have your cars."

"I don't want you to lose them."

"No, I'm not going to lose them. Though in about another two seconds, I'm going to lose you."

Daniel giggled. "You're funny."

"Hysterical." Jack peered over Daniel. "You done?"


"Good, we're done."

"No, we have to wash our hands. I remember that."

"If you can remember that, why couldn't you remember to pee before you left the house?"


Jack was pretty damned impressed that they were home. Daniel was dressed and sitting in the living room, his cars driving up and down the multitude of macaroni and cheese hill boxes, playing quietly.

The coffee was brewing. The French toast was made and warming in the oven, the ingredients for the omelettes were all cut up. The pan for said omelettes was prepared and ready. The juice was chilling. The bagels and fruit were the centerpiece on the dining room table, which was set. God, two days with a child in the house and Jack was turning into Martha Stewart. Teal'c would be so proud.

Now, all he had to do was wait. And pace. And come up with a believable lie as to why said child was now living in his house.

The doorbell rang. Great. It's show time. Jack drew a fortifying breath, wished for a drink in his hand and went to answer the door.

"Mom." Jack held the door open.

"Jonathan." She stepped into his house and he could see how much she was fighting the urge to assess his humble abode.

"Pssst." Jack glanced down as Daniel tugged on his pants' leg. "Who's she? Is she a babysitter? And who's Jonathan?"

Maybe silence would've been better. Jack reached down and picked up Daniel, who eyed his mom with a mixture of confusion and suspicion.

"I don't need a babysitter. Jack's job is to take care of me. You can go home now. Tell her there's a mistake. Go away."

"Shush, Daniel."

"She's not leaving, Jack. Make her leave."

Jack clamped his hand over Daniel's mouth. "Mom—"

"Obviously, there's something you're not telling me."

Jack grinned sheepishly and dropped his hand.

"Mom?" Daniel stuck out his hand, car and all, to his mother. "Hi. My name's Daniel. What's yours?"

"Why, hello, Daniel. My name is Rose." She wrapped her hand around Daniel's and gave it a little shake.

"Like the flower?"

"Yes, just like the flower." His mom smiled at Daniel.

Jack remembered that smile. He hadn't seen it for a long time and it hurt to see it now, directed at Daniel.

"Why are you here? Are you going to be my babysitter when Jack goes shopping? He made me go shopping with him today. I don't like shopping."

"No, honey, I live too far away."

Daniel's face fell. He glanced suspiciously at Jack then back to his mother. "Are you really Jack's mommy?"

"Yes, I'm Jon... Jack's mother."

"I don't remember my mommy or my daddy. I live with Jack now. So, if you're Jack's mommy, are you my gramma?"

"I'd have to be your father for Rose to be your grandma, Daniel."


"And seeing I'm not your father—"

"Then Rose can't be my gramma?"

"Daniel, could you let the poor woman take off her sweater before you start to—"

"It's okay," Rose crooned to Daniel, holding out her arms. Her gaze, directed at Jack, wasn't as soft as her voice or her actions. Talk. Later. And this better be good.

Daniel went willingly to his mother and Jack stood there, trying to sort out his feelings as Daniel settled comfortably against her.

"I think I'll start breakfast..." Jack pointed towards the kitchen.

"I'm going to show my not gramma my cars, Jack."

"Sure, you do that."


"Where's Daniel?"

"Playing with his cars."

"He let you leave?"

His mom tweaked an eyebrow at him. "I told him I needed to speak to my son."

Jack threw a handful of cheese into the omelette he was making. "Talk away."

"I don't think I'm the one who needs to do the talking."

"His name is Daniel Jackson, Jr. His father, my friend, was killed, along with his wife. In an accident. Tragic accident. And the little guy in there was privy to their deaths. First hand visuals. He remembers pretty much nothing of the first part of his life, just that he lives here and has no parents." Jack exhaled then waited. Not all of the story had been a lie. Only the names had been changed to protect the innocent. Sorta.

Gently, his mother touched his arm. "I'm sorry your friend died."

He clamped his mouth shut and nodded. Daniel, his friend Daniel, had, by some stretch of the imagination, died, and in some strange way Jack was still mourning his loss.

"So you're this child's guardian?"

Jack nodded. "Guardian," he repeated. "Yeah, that's what I am."


Daniel pushed his eggs to the side. "I want mac 'n' cheese."

"There's cheese in the eggs, Daniel."

"I hate eggs." Daniel pushed the plate away.

"Then you won't have breakfast."

"I'm hungry."

His mother said nothing. She got up, went into the kitchen and returned with a second plate and a banana. She filled the empty plate with French toast, peeled then sliced the banana.

Wide-eyed, Daniel watched, raptly following her every move, practically salivating when she covered the whole mixture with more than a generous portion of syrup.

"Is that for me?"

"I don't know, Daniel," she said, examining the plate from all sides. "There's no cheese on it at all."

"Oh... that's okay. Can I try it?" The little brat only had eyes for his mother and the plate in her hands.

"You may not like this. All this syrup. And cinnamon. Bananas. What do you think, Jonathan, do you think Daniel'll like it?"

"Hmmm. It's not macaroni and cheese, I'm not too sure."


Jack flashed his mother a grateful smile as Daniel sopped up the last remaining drop of syrup with a miniscule crumb of French toast. "So, Daniel, better than macaroni and cheese?"

Daniel nodded vigorously as his tongue darted out to clean up whatever syrup hadn't made it into his mouth. "Almost as good."

Rose stood up and began to clean off the table.

Daniel slid off his chair and went to help her, grabbing his own plate and half-filled glass of juice.

Jack saw it. Knew it was going to happen, but he wasn't quick enough.

The plate was too big. The juice glass was too full and Daniel's hands were too small. And in a blink, Jack lost a plate from his grandmother's good china.

"Don't move," Jack shouted, more concerned about Daniel trying to clean up the mess than the actual loss of a plate.

Daniel froze.

His mom froze.

And with one arm out, stopping Daniel from taking a step into the shattered glass, Jack bent down to clean up the mess.

"I'm sorry," Daniel whispered softly, gently touching Jack's bent head.

"Come on, sweetheart," Rose said, pulling Daniel backwards, away from Jack. "Let's let him clean up the mess. You and I can go sit outside while he calms down."


Twenty minutes later, Jack walked onto the back deck. Daniel was squatting in the grass, playing with his cars and his mother was watching with a slight smile on her face.

Jack dropped down into the chair next to his mother with a sigh. "It was just a plate. I got upset because I was afraid Daniel was going to—"

"I understand. You didn't want him to get hurt. As an adult, I understood. But he's not an adult. He's an extremely intelligent, precocious child, but he's still a child."

"I suck at this." Jack encompassed the backyard with a sweep of his arm.

"At what? Making breakfast? Cleaning up messes. Caring? Parenthood is like riding a bicycle; you never forget how to do it."

Jack snorted. "I'm not his parent."

His mother shook her head. "That's right. You're his guardian." She leaned over and patted his forearm. "Why don't you get back to me in a few months and let me know if that's changed."

"I don't want to be Daniel's parent. I don't want to be anyone's parent."

Daniel chose that exact moment to look up and wave.

They waved back in unison.

Daniel gathered up his toys and headed for them.

"As far as being a parent to Daniel, I'm thinking you don't have a choice in the matter."

Jack's rebuttal took a backseat as Daniel stood in front of him, a car nestled in his outstretched hand. "Daniel?"

There were tears in his eyes, and his hand shook a little. "I'm sorry I broke your plate. You can break my car if you want. Then you won't be mad anymore."

Jack took the car from Daniel, ignoring the tears that started the second the miniature Mustang was lifted from his palm. "This belongs to you, right?"

Slowly, Daniel nodded. "It's my special car."

"Then you better make sure you take care of it." Jack stuck the car back into Daniel's palm and pressed his fingers around it.

"But that was a special plate."

Jack tugged Daniel onto his lap. "You were trying to help. It was an accident. If I broke your special car, it wouldn't be an accident. And that wouldn't be right."

Daniel settled against Jack with a contented sigh.

"Don't get too comfortable," Rose warned.

"No?" Jack and Daniel responded simultaneously.

"Nope," Rose said with a tight nod. "I think maybe we could take a drive to the toy store."

"I have toys."

"Mom..." Jack unburied a long ago memory of having an argument with his mother about the amount of toys she always brought when coming to visit Charlie. "Not today." He appeased his mother with a smile. "Maybe next time."

"Next time?" She repeated the words as if the concept was an alien one.

"Next time. Jack's mom, you're coming to visit again? When? Will you make me the French toast with the bananas? And we don't have to go to the toy store—"

"See, Mom, Daniel doesn't need—"

"We just have to go the food store 'cause that's where Jack buys me all the cars."

Jack groaned.

His mother laughed.

And Daniel gave a high-pitched giggle, and Jack was pretty damn positive that he was totally unaware as to why they were laughing.


By fourteen hundred hours, the pleasantness of the morning had worn off. Conversation between Jack and his mother had been and still was strained, but instead of leaving, she was hiding behind Daniel. She had relegated herself as Daniel's personal protector and Daniel was playing off of it, soaking up the attention, running to her every time Jack so much as breathed in his direction.

Daniel was whiney. The last straw and the stretching of Jack's last nerve came when he shed crocodile tears as Jack accidentally tripped over him in the kitchen, then yelled because he was underfoot.

"Don't cry. This never would've happened if you would just..." Jack took him by the shoulders and walked Daniel to the kitchen wall. "...Stand here. Please. This way I won't hurt you and you won't hurt me."

"I'm sorry," Daniel sobbed, sinking to the ground in an emotional outburst that was worthy of an Academy Award. It wasn't until his mother ushered Daniel out of the kitchen with a dirty look that guilt washed over him.

"Aw, crap." Jack slammed the fridge door shut, drew a deep breath and walked into the living room.

Daniel was curled on his mother's lap, thumb in his mouth with lids at half mast.

"He needs to take a nap."

"You don't have to hold him, he can just sleep—"

"In his bed," Rose finished before Jack had a chance to.

Daniel resisted for a second as he was lifted from Rose's lap, then settled against Jack with a kid-sized snore that made Jack smile, but did nothing to improve the look of consternation on his mother's face.


His mother was down his throat before his foot had even hit the last step. "He's five."

"Okay. Daniel's five." He was pretty damn clueless where his mother was going with this.

"He's an orphan."


"And you're the parental figure in this—"

"Guardian," Jack shot back. "I'm his guardian."

"Personally, Jonathan, I don't give a crap what you call yourself, you just need to be aware of his needs. When did we have breakfast?"

Maybe his mom was suffering from dementia. "We had breakfast at nine."

"And what time is it now?"

Jack checked his watch. "After three, but what does this have to do with Daniel?"

She shook her head. "Therein lies the problem. He was hungry. He needed a nap. He needed you to pay attention to him."

"He could've told me that he was hungry."

"Oh, come on, Jonathan, behave like the adult I know you are."

"This is my house. You have no right to come in here—"

"Down that hall, in that room, is a lost little boy who needs you." Rose grabbed her sweater and purse. "You have no right to be his guardian."

"I don't deserve that."

"Daniel doesn't deserve this, son." She planted a light kiss on Jack's cheek. "I know it hurts, but try to get past the pain and remember what a good father you were to Charlie. Daniel needs you to remember that."


"I'll be by tomorrow, before the wedding, and you and I can show Daniel what a toy store really looks like."


"Jack's mommy! Jack's mommy!" Daniel's screams pulled Jack's wandering attention away from the ESPN announcers.

"Hey." Jack made it up to the room in record time. He sat on the bed and a confused Daniel glanced at him before scrambling into his lap.

"Where's your mommy," he sobbed. "I want your mommy."

"I'm not good enough for you?"

"No," Daniel answered without hesitation.

"She'll be back tomorrow."

"Promise?" Daniel used the front of Jack's shirt as a tissue.

Jack ignored the snot trails. "Promise."

"Will she make me bananas with syrup and toast again?" The sobbing eased, the tempest becoming hiccupping breaths.

"Well, she won't be here for breakfast, but I can make you some if you'd like." Jack made a mental note to pick up more ingredients for making French toast when they went for groceries next week. He rubbed the sweaty back. "Why did you talk to my mom?"

"Because." The word was muffled, stuck between Jack's snotty tee shirt and his chest.

"Because why?" Jack cupped Daniel's chin and forced eye contact.

"Because she's a part of you." Daniel sniffed loudly and squirmed in Jack's grip. "I'm hungry." Knuckling his eyes with one hand, he sat back against Jack in a quick motion, nearly knocking the breath out of him.

"Okay. What'd you like? I can heat you up some soup and how about a grilled—"

"Mac 'n' cheese."

"—cheese sandwich to go with it? Or there're bagels left over. How about some melted cheese over a bagel?"

"Mac 'n' cheese."

"And we got plenty of franks and hamburgers from last night. I can heat one of those up—"

Daniel sighed loudly. "I want mac 'n' cheese, Jack."

"Or, I could make you some Kraft Macaroni and Cheese."

"Yeah!" Daniel bounced against Jack, then wriggled free and ran out of the bedroom. Jack could hear Daniel's footsteps as he raced to the kitchen. "C'mon, Jack, I'm hungry."

Shaking his head, Jack went into the kitchen and began preparing Daniel's supper, aware of the pair of bright, blue eyes watching his every move. While the pasta was heating, Jack toasted a bagel and heated soup for himself, slapped a few pieces of ham and a slice of cheese over the bagel and declared that as supper for himself.

"Can I have a hotdog in my mac 'n' cheese, like Cassie made for me?"

Without a word, Jack pulled a frankfurter from the fridge and chopped it up. "Go wash up, supper'll be ready in a few minutes." When Daniel raced out of the kitchen, Jack couldn't help smiling.

Five minutes later, Jack had their suppers laid out on the kitchen table. "Daniel, supper's ready."

Daniel hurried into the kitchen, carrying a book in his arms. He placed it on the table, climbed onto the chair, scooped up a large spoonful of macaroni, then carefully blew on it and delicately teased a few strands of pasta off the spoon, his teeth clanking on the metal.

"S'good." He shoveled the rest of the spoonful into his mouth, then reached for the book. Although there were pictures, there seemed to be a lot more text than Jack felt a five-year old should be familiar with.

"Where'd you get the book?"

"Janet gave it to me. It was Cassie's." Eyes glued to the book, Daniel shoveled food into his mouth, his attention focused on the story within the pages.

Jack took a bite of his sandwich and watched Daniel. A few times the chewing stopped as he peered closer at the book, obviously studying a word. Several times he frowned, but after a short while, he'd resume reading. The food disappeared quickly and soon the spoon was scraping the sides of the bowl. Daniel peered at his empty dish, surprise apparent on his face.

"Want more?"

"Please?" He smiled up at Jack a moment before falling back into his book, fingers still clutching his spoon. Jack stood, dished out more macaroni and cheese and slid the bowl before Daniel. Once more, Daniel began eating by rote, his concentration still on the book.

Jack contemplated enforcing the no-reading-at-the-table rule that Sara had imposed on Charlie. Then he realized that if he stopped Daniel from reading at mealtimes, he'd have to follow that rule himself. The realization of not being able to read the newspaper with his coffee in the morning quickly had him dismissing the whole idea.

"Can we watch a movie tonight?" With his face smeared with cheese sauce, Daniel reached for his milk with both hands and slurped it down. He stared at Jack over the glass as he gulped the milk.

Jack thought of the hockey game starting up in about an hour's time, and sighed. "Sure."

Daniel came up for air with a loud 'ahhh'. "Can I go pick the movie?"

When Jack nodded, Daniel began sliding off the chair. "Dishes," Jack warned. Daniel had been obvious in wanting to help and despite the accident this morning, Jack wasn't going to discourage him from doing chores. He finished his soup while Daniel brought his dishes to the dishwasher, then came back for Jack's empty plate, and made yet another trip for the soup bowl.

"Ack, just a sec," Jack said quickly as Daniel started to race out of the kitchen. He crooked his finger at him and tore off a piece of paper towel as Daniel approached. He wet it under warm water and washed the supper evidence from his face before letting Daniel go.

A quick clean up, and he found Daniel sitting in the den, four movies spread out in front of him while he read the back of the VHS box.

"This one." Daniel waved a tape at Jack, then scrambled up onto the couch. Once the movie started, he snuggled close to Jack, watching avidly, while Jack spent the next hour alternating between watching the minute hand on his watch tick forward, and Daniel's eyes slowly begin to drift shut.

"Okay, bedtime," he announced five minutes before the hockey game's start time.

"But the movie's not done." Daniel tried to burrow closer.

"We'll finish watching it tomorrow." He turned the movie off and set the TV to the sports channel before he took Daniel into his arms. As he carried him upstairs, Daniel snuggled sleepily against him. It was only when he tried getting Daniel into his pajamas that he remembered how difficult it was to undress and dress a limp, sleepy child. "Next time, you put your jammies on before the movie," he grumbled as the strains of the hockey game's theme song echoed into the bedroom.

The national anthems had been sung and the puck dropped before he got a sleepy and pliable Daniel under the covers.

"Can I call your mommy and say goodnight?" He blinked sleepily up at Jack.

"No. She's probably not in."

Daniel turned on his side, and his hand came out from beneath the blankets and began patting the top of the bed. Jack reached down for the crumpled scrub top and handed it to Daniel, who snatched it back with a sigh and snuggled his face against the cotton material.

"Sleep tight." Jack turned the light off and eagerly headed back down to the den.

He hadn't quite plunked his butt into the recliner and put his feet up, when he heard a pitter patter on the stairs.

"What's wrong?" Jack said with a sigh, bringing the footrest down as Daniel trotted over to him.

"Nothing." With the scrub top under his arm and a blue Matchbox car in his hand, Daniel tried to scramble onto Jack's lap.

"Oh, no, you don't." Jack grabbed Daniel before he could gain purchase and stood. "It's bedtime, and your bed's upstairs." He brought Daniel back to the bedroom and stood him next to the bed. Again, he waited until Daniel got under the covers and wished him a good night.

This time Jack hadn't quite gotten to the bottom of the stairs when he heard Daniel running down the hall and starting make his way down the first steps.

"Daniel. I said, get to bed."

Daniel froze and raised his head, staring down at Jack in disappointment. Jack simply raised a finger and pointed toward the door. When Daniel slowly came down one more step, Jack went up the stairs, picked him up again, and brought him back to bed.

"Okay, what's the matter? Are you hungry? Thirsty?"


"Now, how can you be lonely? I'm downstairs, we're in the same house, and if you close your eyes for just a few minutes, you'll be asleep and have all these wonderful dreams to keep you company."

"I wanna call your mommy."

"Daniel... I don't have her telephone number where she's staying." Not quite true, he could probably find it listed on his call display but he sure as heck wasn't going to have Daniel start demanding what he wanted to get out of a bedtime routine. "Now, close your eyes, and go to sleep."

This time Jack stayed there, by the bed, watching as Daniel turned restlessly for a few seconds, then settled down. He listened to the hockey game, grimaced when he heard the team score twice in a row within two minutes, and when he was certain Daniel was asleep, he went back down to the den.

Once more, he'd just gotten settled when he saw Daniel's pajama-clad feet start to descend the stairs, this time more slowly than the first. Daniel came down two more steps, until his head came into view, and then he sat down and stared pitifully at Jack.

Jack tried to ignore him, keeping his attention on the game and watching Daniel out of the corner of his eye. After a minute, Daniel descended one more step and sat for a few seconds, repeating the action until he was at the bottom of the stairs. Then he stood, and slowly walked towards Jack. He stood there, a hand on the edge of the recliner until Jack finally turned to acknowledge him.

He plunked the footrest down once more, fully intending to bring Daniel back to bed but when he reached down to pick Daniel up, and the kid wrapped both arms and his legs around him, his instincts were to lean back down into the chair. Before he knew it, the footrest was back up, Daniel was plastered against his chest and his soft snores accompanied the sound of the game's announcer. By the time the game ended and he carried a deeply slumbering Daniel back to the bed for the fourth time, he wondered how this five-year old pipsqueak version of his friend still managed to get the last word in.


Jack was out of bed and running even before his brain registered the screams coming from Daniel's bedroom. He burst into the room, flicking on the light just in time to catch Daniel as he threw himself into his arms.

Jack fell back onto the bed, holding the shaking and damp body close as Daniel screamed into his ear. "Shhh, you were having a bad dream. It's okay. I'm here. It's okay." The screams changed into hysterical howls as Daniel fought for breath, his small body shuddering under the onslaught of his emotions. Daniel clamped his legs tightly around Jack's torso while his arms had a death grip around his neck. Jack simply held him close, and waited out the storm.

"You went away," Daniel finally hiccupped against Jack's chest, almost in an accusatory tone.

"It was a dream. It was only a bad dream."

"You went away, and I couldn't find you. I yelled and yelled and you wouldn't answer and there were people and they didn't wanna look for you." He took a deep, shaky breath, and repositioned himself, trying to get an even tighter grip around Jack's neck.

"You know I'd always answer you. You know that, don't you?" Daniel hesitantly nodded his head, his cheek rubbing against Jack's sweatshirt. "And that I'd find you if you were lost?"

Again, the head nodded, and the arms loosened slightly. Jack took the opportunity to stand up and carry Daniel into the bathroom, where he pulled a facecloth from the rack and ran it under the faucet. With one hand, he wiped the tear-stained face, then pulled a handful of tissues for Daniel to blow his nose. By the time he walked back into the bedroom, most of the tension was gone from Daniel's body and he appeared sleepy and complacent. Jack laid him back into the bed and sat down next to him. He rubbed Daniel's back through the blankets as he watched Daniel's eyes slowly close. Having learned his lesson from earlier in the evening, he waited several minutes before going back to bed.


"Jack's Mommy!" With the sound of the doorbell still echoing through the house, Daniel raced towards the front door.

"Daniel, don't open the door!" Although his mom hadn't said what time she'd be by, Jack certainly wasn't expecting her at 9 a.m. He hurried to the door, where Daniel was frantically attempting to open the deadbolt.

"Daniel." Jack grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the door. "You are not to open the door by yourself. Do you understand?"

"But it's—"

"It doesn't matter. Do not open the door until I say so. Ever. Is that clear?" The words came out harsher than Jack had intended, especially when he happened to glance through the windows and saw his mom standing there, watching the interaction.

Pale-faced, Daniel nodded. Jack let him go and released the deadlock, then motioned for Daniel to open the door. Daniel stared at him nervously for several seconds before reaching for the door. The moment he cleared it, he literally jumped into Rose's arms, burying his face against her neck.

Without a word, Jack stepped back to let her in. "You're early."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I should have called first but I had to run to the church to deliver something and then when Tina offered me a lift back to the hotel, I figured it'd be easier to just have her drop me off here instead of me having to call a cab yet again."

"Jack went away," Daniel announced. "He went away and left me all alone."

"He what?" His mother's expression seemed caught between a glare and confusion.

"Daniel had a nightmare last night."

"Yep." Daniel nodded solemnly. "I had a bad dream. I dreamed that Jack went away and I was lost and then Jack came and found me and told me it was a dream."

"Ahhh, no, mhuirnin." She kissed Daniel on the cheek and he hugged her tightly.

"What does that mean?"

"What? Mhuirnin? It means darling."

Daniel's grin nearly lit the room. "Does that mean you like me?"

"Of course I like you, sweetheart."

"Can you be my gramma? Even though you're not really my gramma and Jack's not..." The look of joy on Daniel's face dimmed. "Can you still be my pretend gramma?"

Rose's face went through a series of emotions, and suddenly Jack wondered if introducing Daniel to his mother at this still-awkward part of their relationship might have been a mistake. His mom turned her head but not before Jack saw the tears brimming behind her glasses.

"Oh, yes, mhuirnin. Of course you can. I would love to be your grandmother."

"Want some coffee, Ma? Or tea?"

"Tea would be wonderful." She smiled gratefully at Jack as she put Daniel down. Holding his hand, they both followed Jack into the kitchen and he busied himself making the tea, giving his mom a moment to collect herself.

"And what about you, young man? Did you eat breakfast this morning?"


"And what did you eat?"

"Bananas and toast and syrup."

"What? No macaroni and cheese?"

"Nope. That's for lunch."

"Ah, then we might have a problem." Rose sat down at the table and Daniel climbed onto the chair next to her.

"What problem?"

"Well, seeing that we'll be going out to the mall, I'd been hoping we could eat an early lunch together. But the stores there don't serve macaroni and cheese."

"Then why can't we come back and eat here?"

"Because I won't have time to come back here. I have to go back to my hotel and change for a wedding this afternoon."

"Then we don't have to go to the store. We can stay here and play with the toys I already have. Jack got me lots of cars. I can lend you a couple."

Jack bit back a grin as he put he put a cup of his mom's favorite blend of tea before her and gave Daniel a glass of juice. He sat down with his own coffee and watched Daniel and his mom interact.

"That's mighty generous of you, Daniel." Rose took a sip of tea while Daniel slurped his juice. "So, do you think you might be willing to try something different at the restaurant?"

"Different?" Daniel lowered the glass and licked his lips. "How, different?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe some chicken nuggets and fries or a cheeseburger with a chocolate shake?"

Daniel seemed to ponder the choices. "I want mac 'n' cheese," he said slowly.

"Okay. Then I won't be able to join you for lunch." She gave Daniel a sad smile and looked away.

"That's okay. We don't have to go to the store. Do we, Jack? We can stay right here." Daniel reached across the table for his Connect the Dots book and flipped through the pages, looking for an unmarked page.

"Oh, what's this?" Rose reached for the book Daniel had been reading the previous evening. "Is this yours?"

"Uh huh. Janet gave it to me."

Jack watched his mom slowly turn the pages. "There aren't many pictures in here. You know, there are lots of books to choose from at the toy store."

"There are?" The pencil stopped its movements and Daniel looked at Rose avidly. "Like that one?"

"Well, this is a little too old for you. But there are—"

"Actually, I don't think the book's giving Daniel too many problems," Jack said quickly.

"I can read the book. There're words I don't know but I can read it. Mostly," he added quickly. Sliding off the chair, he went to Rose's side and pulled the book to him. In a clear voice, he began reading the page before him, stuttering only on three words, which Rose explained to him each time.

"That was very nice." Rose ruffled Daniel's hair and he clambered back onto his chair.

"Can we get some more books, Gramma?"

Jack's heart skipped a beat at actually hearing Daniel calling his mom Grandma. For a moment, he remembered Charlie sitting at the table, looking pleadingly at his mom while Sarah chided him for begging for gifts. He swallowed. The memories still hurt but somehow the pain wasn't as bad as it used to be when Daniel turned his guileless gaze to Jack.

"Of course we can," Rose replied.

Jack nodded his agreement when Daniel's gaze included him.

"And speaking of books, are you ready to go?"

"Yeah!" Daniel raced to the door, waiting impatiently while Jack got their jackets.


Jack couldn't help hold back an amused snort when Daniel walked into the toy store and stopped dead, gazing around in wide-eyed amazement. Jack put a hand on the back of Daniel's shoulders and pushed gently. Daniel started walking blindly, guided only by Jack's hand as he tried to take in the overload of possibilities of things to play with. His mom was smiling as she grabbed a cart and Jack picked Daniel up and sat him down in it, figuring they'd get through the store faster this way.

Aisle after aisle, Jack watched as Daniel's eyes glazed over. Taking pity on the poor kid, he started picking out what he figured Daniel might like. "Here, Chutes and Ladders, this is fun. We might try playing this tonight." He waved the box in front of Daniel's face and then tossed it into the cart. He grabbed a couple more board games that looked vaguely familiar, and then continued through the store, stopping at the video section.

"I don't think this is too hard to set up." He waved a Nintendo Game System at his mom, then turned the box over to look at the picture on the back. "Then again, I can always invite Carter over for supper one night, I'm sure she'd enjoy setting this up for you."

He placed the system into the cart, then held out a selection of games to Daniel. "Which ones?"

Daniel looked at the boxes, then up at Jack, then back to the boxes. "What are they?"


"How do we play them?"

"Well, I don't know. Which ones do you think you'll like?"

Daniel fingered the one Matchbox car in his hand, the only toy he'd pointed to in the whole store. "I dunno."

"Okay, well, this one looks interesting, someone called Zelda. And this one's Mario Brothers, oh, oh, oh, look, Pac Man." Jack grinned at his mom. "This one I like." Jack dropped all three games into the cart and started looking at more. "Race cars. This we gotta get." He added it to the pile. "Oh, Space Invaders. This looks like fun."

"Jonathan, I think that's enough."

Jack looked at the other three games in his hands, and reluctantly put them back. "Yeah, as it is, we won't have enough time to play them all." When his mom snorted, he looked at her in confusion. "What?"

Her smile was all-knowing. "Nothing."

She moved on past him and Jack had no choice but to push the cart forward. Until he saw something that caught his eye. "Racetracks. I remember owning a set like this when I was young." He grabbed the large box and showed it to Daniel. "This is the real thing, kiddo. We can race these together." He stood there for a minute, looking at the pictures on the box, reliving those days he'd played the game with his own dad, before shoving some of the purchases aside to make way for the bulky box.

By the time he'd left the aisle, his mom was coming back towards them, her arms full of coloring books and a large box of crayons. "I think we've got enough."

"But we've not even gone through half the store." Aisle after aisle of wonderful stuff still awaited them. He waited for Daniel to add his complaints as he stared defiantly at his mother. She simply smiled and nodded her chin at Daniel.

And Daniel was totally lost in a jungle play-set his mother had handed him earlier, which was comprised of plastic creatures and a few fake trees. With the Matchbox car in one hand and the jungle play-set in the other, Daniel showed no interest in any of the other toys piled high in the cart.

"Wasn't there a farm animal set also?" Jack asked with a resigned sigh.

"You head for the checkout; I'll go and get it." His mom patted his cheek, bent down to give Daniel a quick peck on the forehead, and headed off deeper into the store.

"Are we going home now?" Daniel asked when Jack got into line to pay.

"Well, we didn't find any books so we'll stop at the bookstore first, and then what do you say? Do you think we can take your grandmother out for lunch? Even if there's no macaroni and cheese?"

Daniel nodded solemnly. "I like Gramma. Can she come back and play with me?"

"She has a wedding this afternoon, remember?"

Daniel lowered his head, his fingers stilling where a moment before they'd been outlining each of the animals behind the plastic.

"So, what'd'ya think of all these toys?"

"I want Gramma to play with me."

"I know. But I'll play with you."

"Can I have these?" Daniel raised the car and jungle set.

"Of course you can. And what do you say? You and me can put up the race car set this afternoon and give it a go?"

Daniel glanced at the contents of the cart and nodded slowly.


"Can I have these?" Arms piled with books, Daniel staggered towards Jack and Rose.

"Well, let's see." Jack squatted and took the books from Daniel and began going through them. Daniel watched anxiously as Jack looked through each one and gave his approval, taking each one back from Jack as if afraid he'd forget them on the floor.

"Here, let me take these. They're a little heavy for you." Frowning at the look of panic on Daniel's face as his mom reached for the books, Jack pointed at the cash register. "We're just going to pay for these, okay?" Daniel followed his mom and the books to the checkout, watching avidly as each book was thrust into a plastic bag while Jack waited, credit card at the ready.

Jack paid for the books, thinking that he'd put out a small fortune today just for toys and books.


Daniel giggled loudly at a comment his mom made, then gnawed on a piece of chicken nugget, a wide grin on his face. Rose was laughing, and Jack found himself in the past again, with Charlie, Sara, and his mom. Suddenly he didn't want to do this. He was more than ready to pack Daniel up and ship him back to Fraiser, toys and all. Then Daniel turned to him as he reached for his chocolate shake.

"This is good." He slurped noisily through the straw and grabbed a French fry.

"Better than macaroni and cheese?"

Daniel shook his head, his hair swinging wildly into his face.

"Almost as good as macaroni and cheese?"

Daniel stuffed a nugget into his mouth and nodded, mouth full as he rolled his new Matchbox car around his plate.

"Can I drop you anywhere, Ma?"

"If you wouldn't mind taking me to my hotel." Rose glanced at her watch. "I need to start getting ready soon."

"Sure. I think we're almost done here," he added as Daniel pushed his plate away and took a long slurp of shake.

Jack paid for the meal while Rose took Daniel to the bathroom in the back of the restaurant. He opened the door for them and with Daniel holding both their hands, walked them to the Avalanche. As he opened the door, Rose put a hand on Daniel's shoulder, stopping him from climbing inside.

"Daniel, I'll be flying home early tomorrow morning so this is going to be goodbye for now."

"You're going away?"

"No, I'm going home. I just came to Colorado Springs for a wedding and dropped in to spend some time with Jack."

"When are you coming back?"

Jack held back a grimace. It'd been a year since he'd last seen his mom in person even though they'd spoken on the phone a handful of times since.

"I don't know, mhuirnin."

Daniel grabbed onto Rose's legs. "I don't want you to go away. Why can't you come live with me 'n' Jack?"

Rose bent down and picked Daniel up. "Because my home isn't here, Daniel."

"Why not? Why can't you move here? I want you to stay with me 'n' Jack." Daniel began sobbing, continuing with the tears even as Jack took him from Rose and put him into his car seat.

"He's tired," Jack said, shutting the door and temporarily shutting out the sound of Daniel's tears. "He was up early and I think that nightmare affected him more than he's admitting."

By the time they pulled up to his mom's hotel, Daniel's sobs had turned to sniffles and he was starting to nod off. Rose got out and opened the back door. She leaned in and kissed Daniel's cheek. "Bye, Daniel."

The tears started up again as he pushed Rose away. Lowering his head, his bottom lip pushed out mutinously, Daniel crossed his arms around his torso in a motion so reminiscent of his adult self that Jack couldn't help grinning.

"I'll call you, okay?"

In response, Daniel kicked at the seat in front of him, jarring Jack. "Daniel, quit that." Daniel raised his head just long enough to glare at Jack while the tears continued to fall. Rose moved away from the car and Jack got out and took her in his arms.

"Thank you," he said simply.

"He's a wonderful boy, Jonathan. I'm almost jealous that I don't live closer."

Jack shut the door, giving his mom and himself a few seconds of privacy. "Ma—"

"I've seen the two of you together and the boy adores you. And I know how painful this is right now, and not just because of how much he looks like Charlie at that age, but believe me, I think the rewards will soon surpass the pain." She smiled at him. "I'll call him when I get home tomorrow, okay?"

"Thanks, Ma."

Rose turned and waved at Daniel through the window, but Daniel turned his head and didn't reciprocate.

"Enjoy the wedding."

"Thank you."

The ride back to the house was quiet, punctuated with a few sniffles as Daniel pointedly ignored Jack's attempts at conversation. Without a word, he unbuckled Daniel from his seat and grabbed the shopping bags with their purchases. He brought them all into Daniel's room and stacked them on the floor while Daniel watched him from the doorway.

"Feel like taking a nap, big guy?"

The lower lip came back into prominence.

"How about you lie down and I'll read to you from one of your new books?"

The lip relaxed slightly into a more normal position as Daniel took a few, slow steps towards him. Jack pulled out a book randomly from the pile. He sat on the bed and patted the mattress. Daniel climbed on and lay down next to him. With one hand reaching under the pillow for his scrub top, Daniel brought his knees to his chest and gave his thumb a couple of quick sucks before finding solace in the top.

Jack got through four pages before Daniel's eyes closed. He finished the fifth and when he was sure Daniel was out for the count, put the book next to Daniel and left the room.


"Doc, you called?" Fraiser's message on his answering machine had sent a surge of fear down Jack's spine.

Despite her's and Lam's reassurances that Daniel was recovered from the pneumonia and the downsizing, with the way Daniel's luck had been running, Jack was ready for just about anything to come crashing down on them.

"I'm sorry to disturb you on your day off, Colonel."

"Not a problem. Daniel and I went to the store for a few things."

"Well, I won't take up much of your time. I forgot to tell you that Daniel has an appointment on Tuesday for testing at the kindergarten we enrolled him in."

"Testing? They test kids for kindergarten? I mean, what happens if they fail the test? They're just babies."

There was laughter in Fraiser's voice as she answered him. "It's just to see what skills a child has and whether he's ready to be separated from his parents. Daniel won't have any problems in the skills department, although his mutism may be a cause for concern."

"Will they take him even though he's not speaking?"

"The school psychologist assured me it wouldn't be a problem, sir. And General Hammond will have Daniel's paperwork changed to show that you're now his legal guardian."

Jack gulped. "So... I'm..."

"You are okay with this, aren't you, Colonel?"

In for a penny, in for a pound. "Yeah," Jack said tentatively. "Yeah, I am." Daniel had been his friend. This was the least he could do for him. Take him in, make sure he got a decent education, a home, toys and books to keep that sharp mind stimulated. He cringed at the thought of it being him in Daniel's shoes and nobody wanting to take him in. "So tell me what I need to do, where I need to go."

He took down the information, promised to let her know how everything went, and called the SGC to make sure that the legal documents were delivered to him before Tuesday's appointment. He'd need to talk to Hammond, and would have to decide in the coming days whether he was resigning from the SGC, or from SG-1 only.

The screams pulled him from his melancholy. He found Daniel tangled in the scrub shirt, trying to fight his way free. He stopped screaming when Jack ran into the room, simply raising his arms up the instant Jack freed him from the tangle. "You went away. You and Gramma went away," he hiccupped, his words slightly mangled from the thumb that had found its way into his mouth.

"You were dreaming again, Danny. I'm right here. I didn't leave you." He stood and pressed his face close to Daniel's. "I'll never leave you," he whispered. The decision had literally been taken out of his hands. Daniel had chosen him, and he'd stand by that choice.

He took the sobbing child into the living room and sat on the couch while Daniel leaned against him, diligently working on his thumb. Slowly, as the tears eased, so did the sucking, until he pulled his thumb out and relaxed completely against Jack.

"So, you wanna help me set up the racetrack?"

Daniel shook his head, his movement slow and lethargic, enough so that Jack figured he hadn't gotten enough sleep. Easing down slowly onto the couch, he pulled Daniel with him until he was lying against his chest. Daniel shifted slightly, one arm around Jack's chest, and sighed deeply. His eyes were half-closed and he was looking at Jack.

"Still sleepy?"

Daniel nodded and closed his eyes as if to confirm his affirmation. Jack somehow felt at ease, despite knowing that his life was going to be topsy turvy in the coming months. Hell, his life as he knew it now was going to be so different for the next few years.

And somehow, it all felt good and right.


Jack wondered where those feelings of wellbeing had gone as Daniel stood mutinously in the kitchen and stamped his foot.

"I don't want pizza. I want mac 'n' cheese."

"I'm not making two meals for us every day and I definitely don't want to eat macaroni and cheese. You're either eating the pizza or you're going to bed," Jack said imperiously with an upraised finger. To his surprise, Daniel turned on him, stomped to his bedroom and slammed the door.

With a sigh, Jack called the order in for pizza, then set about boiling water for the macaroni. At this rate, Jack figured maybe he'd better buy some stocks in Kraft because the kid was on his way to eating his fair share of the product.


Dinner was a strained affair, with Daniel pointedly ignoring Jack and concentrating on his book. Jack cleaned up, leaving Daniel at the table when he was done, and went down to the den to finish setting up the race car track they'd started setting up after their nap earlier that afternoon.

It was probably the sound of the tiny engines racing along the track that caught Daniel's attention, because he came downstairs, a handful of jungle animals held precariously against his body and a couple of Matchbox cars in his other hand. While Jack fiddled with the connecting rod of one of the cars, Daniel sat opposite Jack and dropped all the toys before him, picking each one up and placing them in a neat little line next to the racetrack.

Jack waited till Daniel finished, then put the car down onto the track and picked up the controller. When the car whizzed around the track, Daniel's eyes tracked it curiously, until Jack missed the curve and the car jumped off the track. He repositioned the car and put it through its paces again, and when it went off the track yet another time, Daniel picked up his little Matchbox car and began running it along the track, making motor noises at the same time.

On all fours, Daniel rolled the car around the track, then finally on the straightaway, gave it a mighty push and sent it flying down the track, off the track and along the wooden floor, to bounce to a sudden stop against the far wall. He looked over at Jack with a big, wide grin on his face, got up, ran to retrieve the car and repeated the whole procedure.

"Where's my mommy?"

He'd been so preoccupied watching Daniel play, it took Jack a second for his question to truly register. "What?"

"Where's my mommy? If Gramma is your mommy, where's mine? And my daddy?"

Daniel stopped rolling the car and sat back on his heels, staring at Jack avidly. Jack swallowed, hard. "Um, your parents, are, um, well, they're—"

"Are they dead?"

Jack closed his eyes against the pain he knew he was going to inflict on this child. And the pain in his own heart, because by admitting to this, he was finally admitting to himself that Daniel, the adult Daniel, his friend, was dead. He nodded. "They're dead." His voice sounded thick and strange in his ears.

"I don't remember them. Should I remember them?"

"It's okay not to remember," Jack finally managed to say.

"Do you remember them?"

Jack nodded.

"Am I like my mommy?"

"More like your dad."

"Not like you?"

"I'm not your dad, Daniel."

"You don't wanna be my dad?" His chin began to quiver and he looked down at his hands.

"Hey, c'mere." Jack opened his arms and Daniel nearly threw himself into Jack's arms. "I'm not your real father, but I can be your friend, can't I?" Jack said when Daniel had plastered himself against him.

"I want you to be my daddy."

"I know." Jack bent down and kissed the silky hair. For a moment, he was extremely grateful he was the one Daniel had chosen, and not Fraiser. Then the whole reality of the situation kicked in and he wished Fraiser was the one dealing with all of this. "It's getting late. How about a bath?"

"With bubbles?"

"Well, of course, with bubbles."



"Bedtime." Jack walked into the bedroom where Daniel was lying across the comforter, his stack of jungle and farm animals corralled by various folds in the blankets.

Obediently, Daniel swept the figurines up and dumped them into a small box, dropped the box over the side of the bed and slid under the covers.

Jack pulled the blankets up to Daniel's neck and smiled down at him. "Sweet dreams."

"I don't like my dreams, Jack."

"That's because you're only remembering the bad ones. There has to be good ones mixed up in there, too, aren't there?"

Daniel shrugged. "I dunno."

"Well, how about when you wake up next morning, you try to remember if you had any good dreams and you tell me all about them if you did, okay?"

"Okay." Daniel wriggled around until he found the scrub top and closed his eyes. Jack waited a moment, watching Daniel, before he turned out the lights and left the room. His plans for the rest of the evening were to try and set up the Nintendo game as a surprise for Daniel the next day.

He'd barely made it halfway down to the den when he heard Daniel's footsteps behind him. Damn. The kid had been fine playing in his bed for the last thirty minutes. What was it with him and lights out?

Jack paused in the stairs. "Daniel? Something you need?"

The footsteps stopped, then started up again, more slowly this time. Daniel appeared at the doorway and peered down at Jack. With a sigh, Jack went back upstairs, took Daniel by the hand and led him back to bed.

"This isn't going to become a habit, is it?" he asked as he tucked Daniel in again a second time.

Daniel didn't answer; he just gazed at Jack with a worried look.

"What is it? Why don't you want to stay in bed?"

Daniel shrugged and turned onto his side.

"How about I read you a story?" Jack grabbed a book at random, opened it to the first page and began reading. When he finished the short story, he glanced down at Daniel, who hadn't moved throughout the tale. Jack bent over, kissed the exposed forehead, turned off the light again, and started for the den.

He'd barely gotten the parts of the game out of the box when he heard footsteps heading his way. He decided to ignore Daniel and concentrated instead on the instruction book. Daniel slowly circled the room, dragging the scrub top, climbed onto the couch, and lay down, watching him from that vantage point.

Sixty minutes later, Jack had no luck in getting the game to work. Giving up, he climbed the stairs once more with a slumbering kid in his arms.


Jack rocked a sobbing Daniel, whispering nonsense words, trying to calm the boy down while waiting for his own speeding heart to start to slow. This recurring nightmare was becoming worrisome, and if it continued, the two of them would start to feel the lack of sleep pretty soon.

"You went away. You went away and you were dead, and you wouldn't come back when I called you."

"Just a dream, Danny, just a dream."

"I don't want you to die," he sobbed.

"I'm not going to die." And Jack knew, with those words, that his offworld days were over. There was nothing more he could do or say to Daniel to ease those fears except provide him with a stable routine. And that meant a nine-to-five job, or as close an approximation to it as he could get.


"Daniel, eat your eggs and toast."

"I don't want it. I want syrup and bananas on it."

"We have no more bananas left. Just eat what I gave you, okay?"

Two nightmares during the night had taken their toll on both of them. Both were grumpy and short tempered, Daniel more so than Jack even though Jack was the one who'd spent a portion of the night worrying. Daniel sat there, kicking his feet against the opposite chair, until Jack just couldn't take it and pulled the chair away, earning a glare from Daniel for his trouble.

Hunger finally got the better of him and Daniel began eating the toast once Jack liberally spread it with jam. He ate enough of the eggs to satisfy Jack, who didn't say a word when Daniel slid off the chair and brought his plate to the dishwasher.

He was halfway out the kitchen when he paused. "Is Gramma gonna call today?"

"Probably not before tonight."

"Can I call her?"

"I don't think so. She's not home yet."

"But I wanna talk to her."

"She's catching a plane this morning, Daniel. She'll probably call when she gets home, not before."

"But I wanna talk to her now." He stood there, arms crossed, a pout on his face as he glared up at Jack.

"Daniel, you can't talk to her because she's not—"

The ringing phone interrupted Jack's explanation and he reached over to answer, glad for the interruption.


"Hello, son. I'm at the airport and thought I'd give you two a quick call to say goodbye before my plane gets here."

"Funny, we were just talking about you. Daniel's right here." Jack motioned for Daniel to come closer, and when realization hit Daniel, his face lit up and he reached eagerly for the phone.


Jack finished his breakfast as Daniel chatted non-stop about his new toys, barely letting Rose getting in a word edgewise. Finally after several minutes, he said goodbye, and his voice changed to a tearful tone. When he reluctantly handed Jack the phone, he leaned against Jack, who held him close in a one-armed hug.

"Hey, Ma."

"He sounds like he's enjoying his new toys."

"Yeah, he is. Except that he can't stop talking about you. Thank you for that."

"It was my pleasure. You've been blessed with him in your care, Jonathan. Make sure he knows it."

"I will."

"I'll call again soon, okay?"


"Look, you can have him call me anytime."


"Honestly. I wouldn't mind... I mean, I'd really like to..."

"Okay. We'll take you up on that."

"Thank you."

"Love you, Mom."

"Love you, Jack."

He hung up and gave Daniel a wink. "How about we phone my mom tomorrow night? Would you like that?"

"How about tonight?"

"We need to give her a chance to get home and get settled. Tomorrow, okay?"

Some of the gloom disappeared from Daniel's face. "Okay. Can I go play with the cars?"

"Sure. Just make sure you keep your toys downstairs in the den, okay?"


Jack poured himself a second cup of coffee, listening to Daniel run to his bedroom, then stomp down the stairs to the den. He picked up the newspaper and relaxed, the sounds of Daniel playing occasionally making its way upstairs.


"Carter? Teal'c?"

Jack held the door open, inviting his teammates to enter. Carter smiled at him and looked around, obviously searching for Daniel.

"He's sleeping." Jack indicated the living room, where Daniel had fallen asleep on the couch a couple of hours earlier while reading a book. He motioned them into the kitchen, and offered to make coffee.

Carter nodded. "Oh, I hope we didn't wake him. General Hammond received the legal papers and we volunteered to bring them over. I hope you don't mind."

As if on cue, Daniel's sleepy voice came from the living room. "Jack?"

"In the kitchen. Come and say hello to Carter and Teal'c." Jack took the papers from Carter and tossed them onto the table. He'd look at them later. He pulled out the coffee and began measuring it into a filter.

The once-overly talkative boy that had been living with Jack walked into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes with one hand while his other clutched an ever-present Matchbox car. He went straight to Jack and leaned against him shyly, barely glancing at their visitors.

"Hi, Daniel." Carter smiled at Daniel and he mumbled a hello when Teal'c inclined his head in greeting.

"So what have you been up to, Daniel?"

In response, Daniel raised his hands to Jack, begging to be picked up. Jack obliged him, holding him close for a moment while Daniel clung to him.

"You wanna show Carter and Teal'c your new toys?" he whispered in Daniel's ear.

Daniel shrugged.

"What? You're not talking to me now?"

He got another shrug as an answer.

"Want some juice?"

This time Daniel nodded. When Jack opened the fridge door, he asked Daniel if he wanted orange or apple. Daniel pointed towards the two containers of juice.

"Orange or apple, Daniel. You're going to have to tell me which you want."

"Orange, please." The voice was soft, close to his ear.

Jack put Daniel down, reached for the juice and poured the boy a glassful. Daniel took the glass with both hands and sipped, watching Carter and Teal'c over the glass. When he was done, he put the glass on the table and walked over to Carter. He took her hand and tugged it.

"Do you want me to go with you?"

Daniel pulled on her arm again and when she stood, he led her out of the room. A moment later, he looked at Teal'c pleadingly.

"Do you wish me to also accompany you?"

Daniel's smile was slow but the meaning was clear. Teal'c nodded at Jack and followed Carter and Daniel into the bedroom.

Jack sighed as he leaned against the counter a moment before busying himself. The coffee was ready by the time Daniel let Carter and Teal'c out of his room.

He poured coffee for both himself and Carter and got a bottle of Snapple for Teal'c out of the fridge.

"Juice?" Daniel asked hopefully.

Jack poured him some more and Daniel clambered onto a chair next to Jack.

"So, are you all excited about going for the test at school tomorrow?"

Daniel's eyes suddenly grew wide as he turned to stare at Jack, the glass of juice forgotten halfway to his mouth.

"I, um, haven't told him about that yet."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I just assumed—"

"It's fine." Jack turned to Daniel and took the glass out of his hands and put it on the table. "We're going to the kindergarten tomorrow so you can meet the teacher and take a small test before you start there on Wednesday." "We're going to school?" Daniel asked slowly.

"Well, you'll be going to school while I go back to work."

"Why can't I go to work with you?"

"Because you have to go to school before you can go to work."

"But I can help. I helped with the dishes and I picked up my toys."

"It's more than that, Daniel." Carter reached over and caught Daniel's hand. He turned his large, blue eyes towards her. "You'll learn to read and write—"

"No." He pulled his hand away from Carter and slid off the chair. "No." He ran out of the kitchen and into his bedroom.

"Sir, I'm sorry. I didn't realize he didn't know."

"It's okay. I was really putting this off because I was afraid of this very reaction from him."

"DanielJackson appears to be extremely attached to you, O'Neill. This separation will most likely be a good thing."

"Yeah, probably. But you know, he's having nightmares about being separated from me, and at the moment I'm really wondering if he's ready to go to school. Maybe taking him to the SGC for a few days might not be such a bad thing."

"I disagree. By coddling him, you will ensure he continues this behavior. A child must learn separation—"

"But he's not some normal kid that's been living with a normal family for the past five years," Jack hissed. "This is Daniel. And we have no idea what's really going on in that head of his. You saw how he acted just now when you guys got here? I've been living with blabbermouth Daniel for the past two days and suddenly he clams up when there are people in the house. Just that in itself isn't normal, even for Daniel."

"The only thing you can do is give the kindergarten classes a try, sir. He's obviously got Daniel's intelligence; he may just need a longer adaptation period before he's ready. You won't know until he's actually in school."

"Yeah. In the meantime... If you'll excuse me a minute." Jack took a quick sip of coffee and then went to find Daniel.

He was curled up on his bed, his back to the door, with the scrub top in his arms. "I want my gramma," Daniel said in a small voice as Jack sat down next to him.

"I know."

"I don't wanna go to school. I wanna stay here. With you."

"I know." Jack put a hand on Daniel's back and rubbed the tense muscles.

"I don't want you to go away."

"I'm not going away. I'm going to work, like I've always done. And you'll be going to school."

"I don't remember school."

"I know." Jack began feeling like a parrot. "But it's where you'll learn all sorts of things, just like Carter said. And there'll be other kids there, too. You might even see Cassie—"

"Cassie goes to school?" That seemed to pique his interest and he turned onto his back and looked at Jack.

"All kids go to school."

"Did you go to school when you were a kid?"

"Yep. And so did Carter. And see how smart we are?"

"Can Sam make the game downstairs work?"

"Um. Yeah. I hope so."

"So if she went to school, and you went to school, how come she's smarter than you?"

"She's not smarter, she just has different... skills. Like you like to read, right? A lot of little kids your age can't read."

Daniel seemed to ponder that. "If you were my daddy, would I still have to go to school?"


"Oh." Daniel stretched out his arms and legs, most of the earlier tension seeming to have disappeared. "If I go to school, will I be able to make the game downstairs work?"

"Probably. In a few years."

Daniel grinned at Jack. "Does that mean I can make it work and you can't?"

"Let's give it a few years and see, huh, smart guy? And how about we ask Carter to take a look at it and see if she's really as smart as I think she is."

Daniel rolled out of bed and was running out of the room before Jack managed to stand. He grinned as he stood in the doorway watching as Daniel tugged Carter by the arm, all the way to the stairs to the den.

"C'mon, Teal'c," Jack said with a clap to the Jaffa's bicep, "let's see if Carter can prove to Daniel that going to school is worthwhile."


Jack reluctantly left the game of Space Invaders to answer the phone. Daniel's giggles accompanied him up the stairs as he played against Teal'c.



"General?" Jack felt his stomach clench in anxiety. General Hammond calling him at home was never a good thing.

"I'm afraid I've got a favor to ask you."


"You need to bring Daniel in tomorrow to the infirmary."

"Is there a problem, sir?"

"No, not a medical problem. But I'm afraid that the situation is out of my hands. The NID have requested permission to examine him and—"

"No! No way in hell. Sir," he added quickly. "They are not getting their hands on Daniel."

"I'm afraid the President has sanctioned this. They have two days to run full tests on him—"

Jack's mind filled with various scenarios, and all of them were of taking Daniel and running. "Sir, he's five years old. I can't just hand him over to them."

"I know. Which is why I've talked the President into agreeing to your presence while they administer the tests."

"Why now? What's so important about him now?" he barked into the telephone.

"Jack, to be honest, they wanted to take him the moment they learned about him. I managed to hold them off and the President agreed, while Daniel was so ill. But he's well now, and I've stalled all I could. I'm sorry, but like I said, the matter's out of my hands. You're both to report to the infirmary at 0800 hours tomorrow."

"Daniel's got an appointment at the kindergarten tomorrow," Jack said sullenly.

"I'll have Walter postpone it until Thursday."

"What kind of tests?" When Hammond didn't answer, Jack repeated the question.

"I'm not sure. But they won't be invasive."

They sure as hell wouldn't be invasive. Jack suddenly understood why Hammond insisted Jack be there for this. "Would it help if I spoke to the President?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Two days?"

"They initially wanted him for a week. I'm sorry, I did all I could."

Jack swallowed hard at the thought of Daniel at the NID's mercy for seven days. "Thank you, sir." Two days were going to be bad enough.

He stayed upstairs for a while, trying to tamp down the rage he felt. He heard heavy footsteps on the stairs and turned to face Teal'c as he entered the kitchen.

"CaptainCarter and DanielJackson are now competing."

"That was Hammond."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow.

"The NID want Daniel for two days. I have to bring him in tomorrow."

"That is unacceptable. Cannot GeneralHammond stop this?"

"He did all he could. I just..." Jack only barely stopped himself from pounding his fist through the kitchen table. "He's just a kid! He's the innocent party here. They have no right to try and do this. Here he is trying to adapt to the concept of going to school and I have to bring him in for god knows what kind of tests and—"

"Can you not refuse?"

Jack wished he could say yes, but he knew that any move he made against orders would mean Daniel being taken away from him. He shook his head slowly.

"Then I shall accompany you and DanielJackson and will help ensure that he is not harmed."

"They may not allow it—"

"They will have no choice."

"Thanks, big guy." Jack felt some of the anger seep out of him. At least he wasn't completely alone, and even if the NID didn't allow Teal'c in the room with him and Daniel, he was sure Teal'c would remain on the other side of the door, ready to barge in if Jack so much as called out for help.


"I don't wanna go." Daniel stood mulishly at the door and stamped his foot.

"I don't want to go either, but we've got no choice."

"You said I was going to school. I don't want to go back to that place."

"That place happens to be where I work, Daniel."

"No, it's not."

"Yes, it is." Jack ended Daniel's lack of forward motion by picking him up and carrying him through the front door. Unsurprisingly, the night had been wrought with nightmares, and Daniel had woken up screaming a good three times.

"I don't wanna go. I wanna stay here. I don't wanna go!"

Jack forcibly got Daniel into his car seat, trying to ignore the tears. This whole debacle with the NID was bad enough on a good day; with both of them tired and grumpy, Jack certainly didn't envy the doctor who'd be examining Daniel today.

Jack tossed their overnight bag on the seat next to Daniel and got in the truck.

"I want Gramma," Daniel hiccupped.

"We'll call her tonight, okay?"

"I don't wanna call her tonight. I want her now."

Daniel cried and whined the whole way to the mountain. Jack turned the radio on to try and drown some of the grating sounds coming from the back seat. He should have felt relief when he finally pulled into the parking lot but he'd have driven with Daniel carrying on all day long if it meant they could skip this whole examination.

He unlatched Daniel from the car seat and when he picked up the crabby, still-whining child, Daniel latched himself on to Jack, refusing to be put down. Jack grabbed his bag and headed for the main entrance.


"No! Jack! No!" Daniel reached out towards Jack as NID doctor Number One, after spending two hours poking and prodding Daniel, picked him up off the medical bed without warning and started walking towards the labs in the back of the infirmary.

"Hey!" Jack shouted, dropping the magazine he'd been reading and running to catch up, with Teal'c one step behind him. "You heard what Hammond said. Where he goes, I go."

"Jack. Jack. Jack." Daniel continued to hold his arms out to Jack, and Jack reached out to take Daniel, trying to force the issue. For a moment he thought the doctor was going to resist, but he finally allowed Jack to take Daniel, which probably worked best for everyone because Daniel quieted immediately.

"I wanna go ho-home," he whined.

"I know, buddy. But we gotta do this. Just think," Jack said, forcing his voice to sound enthusiastic. "The faster we get these tests done, the faster we get to go home."

"I don't want tests. I want Gramma. I want Sam. I want Sam!" Daniel screamed into his ear. As Jack winced, he caught a glimpse of a smirk from the doctor who opened the door to the MRI room. The doctor pointed to the space next to the door, motioning for Teal'c to wait outside.

NID doctor Number Two was already in the room, waiting for them. He motioned for Jack to put Daniel on the bed, where he promptly scrambled off and tried to run out of the room. His little bare legs were pumping fast enough that Jack missed catching him as he sped by. He started running after him, but NID doctor Number One slammed the door just before Daniel made it out.

"I want Sam! I want Teal'c!" he screamed, kicking as the doctor put Daniel back on the table.

"Here, put these in his ears." Number Two handed Jack a pair of earplugs and turned away.

Number One grabbed Daniel, who was still kicking and screaming as he got plunked back on the table. Jack manipulated the earplugs and forced one into Daniel's ears. The screams grew louder as Daniel tried to squirm out of his hold. Jack put the second plug into Daniel's ear just as Daniel pulled the first one out and tossed it at Number One.

"You're going to have to make him lie still on that bed."

"You've got to be kidding." Jack glared at Number One. "There's no way I'm going to get him to lie there long enough for you to get him inside that."

"You wanted to be part of this, Colonel. Then you calm him down." Number One handed Jack the discarded earplug.

Jack leaned against the table as Daniel clutched at him, and slowly rubbed his back. Now that the doctors weren't attending to him, he was calming down. Daniel was exhausted already from a sleepless night and overly stressed from the examinations. Maybe Jack would end up lucky and get him to fall asleep.

He urged Daniel to lie down on his side and he leaned over, hiding the view of the doctors with his body. The sobs began to quiet and Daniel's eyes got heavier. Jack teased the earplug into Daniel's ear and gently rubbed at his temples. That seemed to do the trick as Daniel's eyes closed all the way.

Two minutes later, Daniel seemed to be totally out. Number Two covered Daniel with a blanket and slowly eased the bed into the cylinder. He motioned to Jack to come with him. Together they moved through a door, into a small room that contained the MRI's controls. Before either doctor could fiddle with the equipment, Daniel's tiny body appeared at the edge of the bed, and he clambered awkwardly off.

Daniel stood there, in tee shirt, underwear and socks, and looked around fearfully. Immediately Jack ran for the door, grabbing Daniel as he rushed to him, wailing loudly.

"Look, this isn't going to work." He snagged the blanket from the bed and wrapped it around Daniel's shivering body.

"You're right, Colonel. We need to find another way." Number One pulled the bed out and motioned that he put Daniel down on it. Jack resisted a moment, wanting nothing more than to walk out and take Daniel home. But at the moment, Daniel belonged to the NID and there was nothing he could do about it.

Daniel realized Jack was letting go of him and tried to grab hold of him with his legs, but the blanket hindered his movements. Number One moved quickly, grabbing hold of Daniel's arm and injected something into him before Jack could react.


Daniel looked up at Jack in surprise, his mouth falling open in a little 'oh', before the realization hit him and the wailing began anew at full decibel.

"What the hell did you just give him?" Jack demanded as he picked Daniel up again.

"Simply a sedative, Colonel. I trust you'll set the boy down on the bed once he's asleep?"

The wails suddenly lost their intensity, as if Daniel couldn't seem to get enough breath to continue screaming. He began moaning as his hand reached for Jack's neck.

"It's okay, Daniel," Jack said, nuzzling his face against Daniel's. "Just go to sleep. I'm here."

Daniel suddenly went limp, and the arm which had had a death hold around Jack's neck eased and let go. Carefully, Jack laid Daniel down on the bed. His eyes were partly open and they looked trustingly at Jack. "I'm right here." He took the edge of the blanket and wiped the tears as Daniel's eyes closed completely.


For two hours, Daniel lay unconscious inside the MRI machine while the two doctors took their pictures. When they finally pulled him out, they immediately transferred him to a gurney, stuck him in a cat scan for another fifteen minutes, and then brought him back to the isolation room they'd examined him in earlier.

"He should be waking in about another twenty minutes." Number Two began placing EEG leads on Daniel's scalp. "We'll be watching him from up here." He pointed to the Observation Room, where Teal'c was already situated.

"Fine." Jack went to pull a chair up, but Number One put a hand forward, stopping him. "The idea is to monitor the boy and see his reaction when he's alone."

"You mean scare the crap out of him? Like hell." Jack shoved the chair past him and sat down.

"Colonel, your presence will adversely affect this test."

"Daniel's terrified enough as it is. I think you'll get accurate readings whether I'm in the room or not."

The two men moved away and conferred in hushed voices for a few minutes. Jack ignored them and concentrated on Daniel, who'd look angelic if not for all the wires stuck to his hair. A short time later the two broke off and returned to their monitors.

"You're right, Colonel," Number Two said. "But I would ask that you allow the boy to react first without your interference so that we can measure his reactions, and only console him when it becomes necessary."

"I'll decide when it's necessary," Jack said angrily as he leaned over Daniel proprietarily. He pushed back the silky hair from his face. Traces of tears were evident on his face and Jack hoped that this was the worse of the tests.

Twenty minutes later, as promised, Daniel began to stir. Jack sat back and watched as Daniel mewled, opened his eyes for a moment and turned on his side to face Jack. He pushed his hand out from beneath the covers and reached towards Jack but the movement seemed to take a lot of effort and he fell short of the edge of the gurney.

Jack reached out and Daniel curled his fingers around Jack's, gave a heavy sigh, and closed his eyes again. But his sleep was restless now, and he turned onto his back a few minutes later, only to try and kick the blankets away.

Looking up, Jack saw the doctors glaring at him, while Teal'c was glaring down at them. As hard as it was, Jack obeyed the two doctors and didn't try to reach out to Daniel again. He pushed the chair back against the wall, just out of Daniel's immediate sight and watched as Daniel slowly woke up. After yawning and rubbing his eyes, Daniel sat up and looked around the room.

"Jack?" There was anxiety in his voice and Jack figured, screw Asshole Numbers One and Two.

"Hey, Sleepyhead."

Daniel twirled on the bed, the look of fear suddenly replaced with one of relief when he caught sight of Jack. He reached for the leads and even as his fingers caught the wires, Jack grabbed his hand, stopping him from pulling them off.

"Leave them."


"Because the doctors need to check something."

"But I gotta pee."

"Okay." Jack looked around, searching for a urinal. He found one stacked on a shelf nearby and helped Daniel position it so he could pee into it. When Daniel finished, Jack shoved the urinal back to where he'd found it, and to his disgust, Doctor Number One slipped into the room, grabbed the urinal and emptied its contents into a container. Jack was pretty sure the boys in white would be examining Daniel's pee late into the wee hours of the night.

"My head hurts." Daniel fell back onto the pillows, pouting. He sniffled loudly, the sound of clogged sinuses, making it evident that his hours of tears this morning would be bothering him for some time to come.

Jack glanced up at the observation room, but before he could ask for some Children's Tylenol, Number Two shook his head.

"Wanna go home."

"I know you do." So do I, Jack thought, glaring back at Number Two.

Daniel followed Jack's gaze, turning on the bed so he was looking towards the observation room. "Teal'c! Jack, Jack, there's Teal'c." Daniel waved excitedly, and Teal'c raised a hand and waggled his fingers at him.

"Why is he up there? Why isn't he coming to see me?" He turned to Jack, his face earnest and worried. "Is he mad at me?"

"No, of course not. The doctors don't want him getting in the way so he's just staying up there."

"Can we call Gramma?"

Jack checked his watch and was surprised to see it was early afternoon. "Maybe later, when the doctors are finished, okay?"

"But I wanna talk to her now."

"The doctors aren't finished."

"I don't care. I don't want these stupid tests." Daniel reached up and grabbed a handful of wires and yanked. Some of the glue caught his hair and he cried out, "Ow." He tossed the wires aside and pulled on the rest. Jack made no effort to stop him and rolled his chair out of the way when Number One ran out of the Observation Room and into the Iso room.

"Couldn't you have stopped him?" Number One growled.

"You asked me not to interfere." Jack held the man's gaze until he swung around and turned the monitor off with an angry motion.

"Can we go home now?"

"No," Number One snapped. "We're not finished." He began to walk towards the exit. "Keep him here until I get back," he ordered over his shoulder.


Daniel pushed the rolling table aside with a mutinous pout, and milk sloshed over the side of the glass, splattering the bottom of the tray.

"You must be hungry, seeing you missed lunch," Number Two cajoled as he pushed the tray back next to Daniel. "It's your favorite, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese."

"Hey, how'd you know that?" Jack had visions of the NID bugging his house and it was only the sight of Daniel sitting on the bed that kept him from grabbing the man's scrawny neck and demanding answers.

Despite trying to rein in his anger, there must have been something showing on his face because Number Two swallowed. "It's in his medical file. It's just about the only food he ate while he was in the infirmary."

"It was?" Jack had spent plenty of time visiting with Daniel as he recovered but he didn't remember him eating just the macaroni and cheese. Then again, he hadn't spent that many mealtimes with him. He made a mental note to double-check this with Fraiser because otherwise he and Hammond were going to be having a chat.

"Colonel, he needs to eat."

"He'll damn well eat when he feels like eating." The words came automatically but Jack knew the doctor was right. Breakfast had been hours ago and both of them had missed lunch and the smell of the damned cheesy pasta in the bowl was making his stomach gurgle.

"Sir, the sooner he eats, the sooner I'll get my second blood sample and the sooner we can get the last remaining test of the day over and done with."

"Daniel," Jack said, pushing the tray closer while inching his chair nearer to the bed, "aren't you the least bit hungry?" He picked up the spoon and eased a few orange pieces onto it. "C'mon, open up the hangar door so I can bring the plane in." He made airplane noises as he zoomed the spoon around Daniel's face, then stopped in front of his mouth. He tapped his bottom lip gently. "C'mon, open up." He continued with the plane sounds, and Daniel, his eyes wide with interest, opened his mouth just a bit. Jack slipped the spoon in and Daniel's lips closed around it. When Jack pulled back, the spoon was empty.

"And that's one. Hurry up and chew, the rest of the fleet is on its way." He dug into the bowl, filled the spoon, and sent it flying once more towards Daniel's mouth.


"Oh, come on." Jack rolled his eyes as Number Two held up a pack of flashcards, hidden behind a small divider. "You're not going to tell me you think he can read minds."

Ignoring Jack, Number One was asking Daniel to point to a variety of symbols printed on a sheet of paper before him. Number Two, sitting opposite Daniel, had flipped the top card up and was staring at it.

Daniel pushed the paper away and began scrambling on all fours, towards Jack. Number One grabbed Daniel and unceremoniously plunked him back into the center of the bed.

"Hey, careful." Jack glared at the doctor, then raised a finger towards Daniel when he kicked at the doctor and tried to go to Jack again. "Stay there. Do what the doctor says. All you have to do is choose one of the pictures on that sheet."

In reply, Daniel swept the paper aside so that it fluttered to the floor. When Number One reached down for the paper, Daniel took the opportunity to slide his leg from under his hand and tried to reach for Jack. Jack caught Daniel's arms just as Number One slapped his hand on Daniel's leg and tried to pull him back.

"What the hell are you doing?" Jack snapped as Daniel began to scream. Number One let go of Daniel's leg as if it were a rattlesnake on the verge of striking. Daniel immediately fell into Jack's arms, pulling half the blankets on the bed with him. The screams stopped but Daniel changed gears, hitting that annoying whining, overtired cry that to anyone within a five-mile vicinity, sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard.

"Colonel, if you would please stay out of this, we could get through these tests more quickly. We're behind schedule and you are not helping." Number Two had put down the card and was sitting there, prim and proper.

"Let me tell you something." Jack raised his voice over Daniel's vocalizations. "This is a five-year old child you're dealing with, not some lackey that you can torture because someone's got pull with the President. And this child is both groggy from the sedative you forced on him and fed up with being poked, prodded and manhandled. Any one of the tests you've put him through today would be enough to tax the limits of a child's patience. I think we've had enough for today."

"Colonel. Let me tell you something. We have permission to administer these tests to Daniel Jackson for forty-eight hours. If we are unable to finish our mandate within this amount of time, we will request, and receive authorization for an additional twenty-four hours. Your choice, Colonel."

Jack was pretty sure the man's threat was credible. His hands were tied. There wasn't much he could do here except make sure they didn't hurt Daniel.

"If you ever put your hands on him again, you may be getting extra time to finish your tests but let me assure you, someone else will have to finish them for you." He stared at Number Two, who stared back at him calmly. But Jack could see in his eyes that he'd gotten his threat loud and clear. "What's scheduled after this?"

"Believe it or not, Colonel, we are not inhumane. We realize a child does not have the endurance of an adult and attempted to compensate for such. This is the last test scheduled for the day."

Jack had been ready to push the limits and force the man's hands in order to give Daniel a break, even if it meant their being stuck here for three days instead of two. But if this was the last test, maybe he could get Daniel to cooperate.

"Fine. Give us a couple of minutes." Jack sighed as Daniel buried his face against Jack's shirt. When the two doctors got up and left the room, Jack rubbed Daniel's back. He was angry, and bored and hungry. He'd finished off the macaroni and cheese Daniel had barely eaten, but it had hardly made a dent in his hunger pangs. And if he felt this way, he couldn't begin to imagine what the little tyke was feeling.

Jack stood and began walking around the room. With the change in position, Daniel raised his head and gazed towards the door with a hopeful look. "Home?"

"Sorry, buddy, not quite yet." He put Daniel down, who immediately tried to hold onto Jack and clamber back into his arms. "Look, I know you're tired," Jack said as he crouched before Daniel. "We have just one more game to play, and as soon as we're done, we can get out of here."

Daniel stopped trying to get into Jack's arms. He changed tactics instead, grabbing Jack's arm and pulling him towards the open door.

Jack swept him up into his arms and walked back towards the bed. On seeing the direction they were going, Daniel began kicking and screaming.

"Daniel, settle down." Jack plunked him down on the bed, and as Daniel began to scamper off, he shouted Daniel's name. Jack's admonishment obviously caught Daniel by surprise. Large, wounded eyes stared up at him, and to Jack's dismay, his thumb crept up into his mouth. "Look, when the doctors come back in, let's just play with them for a little while and then we'll be able to go call my mom." With a quick snap of the blankets, Jack covered Daniel's bare legs.

"Promise? We can call Gramma?" Daniel asked around his thumb.

Jack nodded as he took hold of Daniel's hand and gently pulled his thumb out of his mouth. "I promise."

"We can go home when we finish playing?"

"Not home. We're sleeping here tonight."

The chin began to quiver, and tears pooled and spilled out of Daniel's eyes.

"Not here," Jack said quickly as he waved a hand around the Iso room. "We've got a room with a big bed that we can share, and a TV, and Carter and Teal'c might even drop by and say hello."

Daniel turned his gaze at the Observation Room, where Teal'c still kept watch. Daniel wiped his face, sniffled wetly and then pointed up at Teal'c. "Can Teal'c come down now?"

Jack waggled his fingers, inviting Teal'c to come down. Teal'c wasted no time. One moment he was there, the next he was half-jogging into the room. "DanielJackson. Do you wish me to procure you something?"

Daniel smiled and shook his head shyly.

"He just wanted your company." Jack motioned to an extra chair at the far side of the room and Teal'c picked it up and brought it over. "So, we gonna do this last test?"

Daniel sighed and rolled his eyes. "Okay," he said in a long-suffering manner.

Numbers One and Two took that moment to enter the room. They stopped upon seeing Teal'c there, then, with a dirty look at Jack, took their previous positions. Daniel slipped out from beneath the blankets and slid onto Jack's lap, leaning against him, but not making any sounds of protest.

"I trust we're ready to continue?" Number Two asked as he shuffled the cards. He gave Daniel a pointed look. When the man turned his attention to the card that he had hidden from Daniel's view, Daniel stuck his tongue out at him. Jack silently applauded the kid and hid his grin as he tugged one of the blankets off the bed to cover Daniel with.

"Pick a picture," Number One ordered.

Daniel pointed to the square.

"Pick a picture," Number One ordered once he'd written down the results on a chart.

Daniel pointed to squiggly lines.

"Pick a picture," Number One ordered.

Daniel pointed to the circle.

"Pick a picture," Number One ordered.

Daniel pointed to the square.


"Pick a picture," Number One ordered for the thirtieth time.

Daniel began pointing to a triangle when he jerked. That was the only warning any of them got before Daniel lost his meager supper, soiling the table, the sheet and even the cards. The two doctors shoved their chairs out of the way as Daniel continued to throw up. Jack could do nothing but hold him as the poor kid coughed and wheezed. The moment he was finished, Daniel started crying.

"I think we're done now." Jack stood, leaving the doctors with their smelly mess.

"Yes, I believe we have enough data for now." Number One tossed the chart onto the bed and moved quickly between Jack and the door. "I'm sorry, where do you think you're going?"

"VIP suite."

"Your forty-eight hours aren't up yet, Colonel. The boy needs supervision, especially in the next twelve hours, to ensure that he doesn't fall asleep. Please place him on the bed so that we can proceed with another EEG."

"You sonofabitch. You said we could go when we got through this last test."

"I said that this was the last test scheduled for today." Number Two was at the sink, washing his hands. "Now we prepare for tomorrow."

"With a sleep-deprived child?" Instead of putting Daniel on the bed, he handed Teal'c the sobbing child. He half-expected screams at the transfer, but Daniel simply laid his head on Teal'c's shoulder and continued to cry. Jack took two steps forward. "You missed your chance this morning, or didn't you recognize the signs of a child that's cranky as being overtired? You couldn't have performed that test then? No, instead you jab a needle into his arm and send him off into lala land so that he wakes up groggy and nauseous and you still force him into doing things no adult should be put through." He pointed at the telephone on the far wall. "You make your phone calls. I'll make mine."

Jack waited for Teal'c to precede him and he took his and Daniel's six. The walk to the elevators was punctuated by Daniel's crying. He had his arms around Teal'c but his eyes followed Jack.

"You feeling up to calling Grandma after you take a bath?"

Daniel took a shaky breath and gave Jack a small nod.

"Good." Jack winked at him and brushed the hair out of his eyes.

"Would you allow me to tend to DanielJackson's bath while you apprise GeneralHammond?"

Jack glanced worriedly at Daniel, wondering how he'd take to being separated. "How about it, partner? You okay with staying with Teal'c for a little bit while I go tell General Hammond what a bunch of idiots those two were?"

He'd expected a smile from Daniel, but the tight nod and grim face set his anger bounding once more.

"I won't be long. You listen to Teal'c, okay?"

In answer, Daniel laid his cheek against Teal'c's shoulder and closed his eyes.


"I understand. Thank you, Mr. President."

Jack rocked forward onto his toes then back as he waited for Hammond to put the phone down. The general sat there a moment, contemplating the instrument.

"He was royally pissed," Hammond finally said.

"I sort of got that." The angry voice coming through the receiver had been a dead giveaway.

"He knew the tests would be intensive, but he had stipulated right from the start that they get what they could in the amount of time provided without causing harm."

"I guess that leaves things pretty much open to interpretation."

"Well, seeing that you're now Daniel's legal guardian—" Hammond's words were a sudden punch to the gut— "the President understands your concern but requests your cooperation so, and don't quote me, that we get these idiots the hell out of here as fast as possible."

"But sir, today—"

"I know, Jack. But you have to admit that they didn't actually harm Daniel—"

"No child should have to go through what he went through—"

"The grandfather in me agrees with you there. Unfortunately, the situation isn't a simple one and for all we know, these tests may eventually help Daniel—"

"You honestly don't believe mind reading tests are going to turn him back into an adult?"

Hammond slowly shook his head. "The President has allowed that you keep Daniel with you tonight. But don't let their actions of today influence what they may do tomorrow. If you act again out of revenge—"

"Begging your pardon, sir, but I think I got my revenge when Daniel puked all over their test."

Hammond smiled, and Jack knew he was dismissed. Discouraged, he headed out to the VIP room, stopping for a moment to order an airman to get him and Teal'c an early supper and have it delivered to them.


"Gramma?" Daniel clutched the phone almost like a lifeline. Jack's mom must have said something because his face lit up and the tiny fingers relaxed their death grip on the receiver. "I miss you, too, Gramma. When are you coming back?"

Daniel frowned at her answer, and Jack reached over and rubbed his pajama-clad leg.

"But—" He listened, head bowed, nodded at one point, then smiled tentatively as he glanced over at Jack. "Yeah, I know." He nodded again. "I wanna go home. No. I dunno. They stuck needles in me. They weren't nice and Jack yelled at them. I don't like them and I don't wanna play with them again. I wanna go home. And then I was sick and Jack and Teal'c took me away and now I'm here and I wanna go home and I want you to read me a story." Daniel looked over at Jack again. "Okay." He handed the phone to Jack.


"Jonathan, what the hell is going on? Where are you? What's Daniel talking about?"

"I'm at work, Mom." He made a face in Teal'c's direction, hoping for some help, and simply got a raised eyebrow in response. "I had to bring Daniel in for some tests and we didn't get to finish them so we're sleeping on base."

"He said he was sick."

"Yeah, upset stomach. He's fine now." To prove Jack's words, Daniel turned onto his stomach and rolled his Matchbox cars up and down the bed.

"Jonathan. I can tell that you're not telling me everything—"

"Ma. Everything is fine." His mind was racing as he tried to find a way to lie to his mom and make it sound believable. "Because Daniel's been out of the country, the docs just want to make sure that he hasn't caught any weird bugs—"

His mom cleared her throat noisily and Jack felt his face get warm. His mom could always tell when he was lying or bluffing.

"—And he does need a clean bill of health before he starts up kindergarten," he added lamely.

"He sounded upset."

"Yeah, he didn't sleep well the night before so he's been a little cranky all day long."

"Sometimes I wish..." She sighed, her voice sounding melancholy.

"Do you have a couple of minutes, Ma?"

"Yes, of course."

"I know this is putting you on the spot but would you mind telling Daniel a story, like you used to do with Charlie? I know he wanted you to read to him but this would be just as comforting."

There was a long pause, and when Rose spoke again, her voice was filled with emotion. "Of course I don't mind. But isn't this call going to cost you a fortune?"

"Don't worry. I have an expense account." Jack was already planning to send the paperwork to the NID, insisting that they foot the bill for this call. The longer it lasted, the better. "Don't rush the story, take your time."

"If you insist." There was laughter in his mom's voice. "Is he close by?"

"Yeah. Just give me a second." He put the receiver against his chest. "Daniel, do you want Grandma to tell you a story?"

Daniel smiled at Jack and reached eagerly for the phone.

"Hi, Gramma. I'm here again."

Jack watched as Daniel crawled up to the pillows, lay down, and balanced the phone against his ear. His eyes soon lost their focus and the smile remained on his face while his mother made up a story. Jack wondered idly whether it was the one of the bunny rabbit that got lost in the woods, or of the little boy who wanted a dog.

A few moments later there was a knock on the door. Daniel gasped and sat up. "Jack!" he exclaimed, dropping the phone. Teal'c reached over and put a hand on Daniel's leg and handed him back the phone. Jack answered the door and when he saw the airman carrying a tray laden with food, motioned him inside and bade him place it on the table.

Daniel seemed visibly shaken as he brought the phone back up to his mouth. "Someone brought food, Gramma." He sat back against the bed, the earlier relaxation gone. "No, I want you to finish the story. Please?"

"You can eat and listen to Grandma at the same time, how's that?"

Daniel nodded, and Jack poured a small portion of the chicken soup into his coffee mug and handed it to Daniel, waiting to see if the boy could handle the cup. When Daniel slurped a sip without any problems, Jack exchanged the half finished cup of soup for a half of a grilled cheese sandwich on a plate on the bed next to his leg.

Daniel bit into the sandwich and chewed absentmindedly, his attention obviously on the story Rose was weaving. Slowly he relaxed again. Once in a while a small smile would form, or else it was apparent he wanted to say something, his jaw and lips working as if waiting for a chance to jump into the story. But Jack's mom was an expert storyteller, she'd been practicing the art since Jack was a baby, and Daniel would relax and then take a bite of sandwich when prodded.

Jack wasn't about to push him about eating. As long as he kept down whatever he managed to eat, Jack would be happy. He and Teal'c finished their meal about the time his mother finished her long, convoluted story. Daniel had finished the entire sandwich by the time Jack placed their dirty dishes on the tray.

"But what about Honey Bunny?" Daniel asked, yawning as he said the last word.

Ah, the lost bunny lost in the woods scenario. She had dozens of adventures to put Honey Bunny through; Jack was already wincing at the thought of his future long distance bills.

"Okay... Promise?" Daniel yawned again, nearly swallowing the telephone receiver. He giggled and rolled his eyes. "Okay. I love you, Gramma." He handed the phone over to Jack before getting up to go to the bathroom. "I gotta pee," he announced as he ran into the bathroom.

"You should have seen his face," Jack said into the phone.

"I wish I could have."

"It did him a world of good, Ma. Thank you for that."

"No, thank the people who are paying this phone bill."

Jack laughed. "I think I'm going to have to start putting money aside to pay for my own long distance calls in the future."

There was silence at the other end. "Do you mean that?"

"Yes, Mom, I do." And he did. Seeing his mother this past weekend with Daniel underfoot had reminded him how much he really did care for her. Maybe they could get over all the hurt of the past years, and maybe Daniel was the person to help them over that hurdle. They'd already had a running start; they'd just needed that bit of momentum to get them to the finish line.

"You'll call me when you get home?"

"Probably won't be until tomorrow night."

"You'll have the results of these tests by tomorrow night?"

Probably not, Jack thought. Probably they'd never get the results of any of these tests they were putting Daniel through. "Yeah."

"You'll let me know if they find anything..."

"Of course. But I'm sure Daniel's fine. Like I said, these are just precautionary. If they'd had any misgivings, do you really think they'd have let me take him home?"

"No, I guess not." His mother gave a short laugh. "I guess I'll have to brush up on the Honey Bunny's exploits if Daniel's going to want to listen to them."

"I'm sure you'll do fine." Jack smiled at the memory of Daniel's face as he'd listened raptly to his mom. "Talk to you soon."

Daniel came out of the bathroom just as he hung up. "Is Gramma coming?" He leaned against Jack, resting his head against Jack's abdomen.

"No, Sport." Jack cupped the back of Daniel's skull. "But we'll call her when we get home, okay?"

"Okay." Daniel gave a huge, theatrical sigh.

"And, I think it's bedtime for you."

"Do I have to?" He looked up at Jack, and yawned so widely, his eyes crinkled shut.

"Wow, I just saw all of your supper in there."

Daniel giggled as Jack walked with him the few steps to the bed. "Are you going to sleep here with me?" he asked, walking on his knees towards the middle of the bed.


"So you'll be here in case I have more bad dreams?"

"Wouldn't want to be anywhere else." Jack teased the blankets down and Daniel let himself fall back, then brought his knees to his chest and thrust his legs under the blankets.

"Are you sleeping now?"

"In a little while."

"You won't leave me?"

"I won't leave you, Daniel." Jack reached down to bring the blanket up to his shoulders but Daniel raised his arms, and Jack leaned into the proffered hug.

"I love you, Jack."

I love you, Daddy.

He'd never expected to hear the words coming from Daniel. He stiffened, then patted the tiny back. "Sleep tight," he managed to mumble.

"Night, Jack." Daniel let him go and burrowed into the blankets. "Night, Teal'c." He'd just closed his eyes when there was a hard banging at the door. Jack opened the door and somehow wasn't surprised to see Doctor Number Two standing there, the expression on his face brimming with rage. Teal'c quickly stood next to the bed, placing himself between Daniel and Number Two. The man glared at Teal'c a long moment before his hard eyes met Jack's.

"You may have gotten the upper hand this time, Colonel O'Neill, but let me just remind you that we still have tomorrow to finish our research. I'll expect Daniel in the observation room at seven sharp." He turned sharply and disappeared down the hall.

Jack resisted the urge to slam the door but the look of fear on Daniel's face prompted him to shut it gently.

"I don't wanna go back there. I hate this place. I wanna go home. I wanna go home now."

There was nothing he could say to Daniel to make this better. Wishing he could sic Teal'c after the doctor, Jack sat on the bed as Daniel burrowed into his arms, crying tiredly.

Daniel stiffened when there was another knock at the door. This time Jack motioned to Teal'c to answer it while he pulled the blankets over Daniel and rocked him gently from side to side.

"Colonel? I hope I'm not interrupting..." Carter peered over Teal'c's shoulder and her words faded as she took in Daniel's tears. "Is everything all right?"

"DanielJackson has had a trying day." Teal'c moved aside and Carter stepped into the room, pushing a small two-wheeler bike complete with training wheels. "It's not brand new, my neighbor was selling it but it's in great condition. As I drove by their house on my way home last night, I thought that Daniel might enjoy it. I... I'm sorry, I should have waited until..." She positioned the bike against a wall, out of the way.

"No, it's fine." Jack gently coaxed Daniel's face away from his chest. "See what Carter brought you?" Jack pointed to the bike and although Daniel's sobs didn't abate, he saw a spark of interest in his eyes. "Maybe Carter can come over on Thursday after supper and teach you how to ride it."

Carter sat on the far edge of the mattress. "Would you like that, Daniel? It's got training wheels on it so it helps you balance until you get good enough to ride without them. I bet you'll learn to ride a bike really quickly."

There was a slow, tentative nod as Daniel's eyes roamed back and forth over the shiny metal. The sobs were slowing and his clutching fingers eased their hold on the material of Jack's fatigues.

"I gather today didn't go well."

"That's an understatement," Jack said curtly. Daniel shifted so that he was leaning shoulder and head against Jack's chest. His thumb came up and he sucked at it slowly.

"Is there anything I can do?"

"I think that, there," Jack said with a nod of his chin towards the bike, "is more than enough." Daniel's gaze was still on the bike, although his eyelids were slowly closing. "Thank you."

"It was my pleasure, sir. And I'd love to teach Daniel how to ride a bike."

"As would I." Teal'c examined the small bicycle, nearly dwarfing it. He crouched to examine the training wheels. "This is an interesting concept."

"Then it's settled. You guys come over for pizza Thursday and we'll go to the park and get Daniel up on that thing." He looked down at Daniel to ask him if he'd eat pizza, and noticed that the thumb had slid out of his mouth and was now resting alongside his chin, with a string of saliva connecting it. Although Daniel was asleep, Jack decided to wait a few more minutes to make sure he was sleeping soundly before putting him back down.


Jack was so angry, he was shaking. He wanted to sic Teal'c on these two sadistic idiots after he'd done as much damage as possible to them with his bare hands in retaliation for what they were doing to Daniel.

All morning long, they'd forced Daniel to undergo a battery of tests that had left him cranky and whiny. He'd barely eaten anything for lunch, and right now Daniel was so ready for a nap, Jack felt sorry for him.

The worst was seeing Daniel slowly losing the will to speak to him. The refusals and complaints had eventually turned to one word vocalizations, complete with tears and tantrums, causing delays and stringing what should have been short tests into hour-long ordeals. Now Daniel was mulishly refusing to speak at all during a few minutes of quiet time while the doctors set up their final test.

But instead of clamping his hands around Number Two's throat, Jack fisted them tightly and kept his arms locked at his side. He tried to ignore Daniel cowering under the table where he'd run off to the moment they'd released him from the latest examination. He swallowed his pride.

"Look, these tests are hard on an adult, let alone a child. Daniel's been up since early this morning. Let him sleep for a couple hours and—"

"I'm sorry. You were the one who insisted on a timetable, Colonel. You wouldn't permit us to finalize this examination last night so I'm afraid we've had to reschedule it for this afternoon." Number Two looked pointedly at the table under which Daniel was huddled. "If you'd be so kind as to get him and put him on the bed?"

"Get him yourself." Jack returned to the chair where he'd spent the whole day watching, daring the man to show any sign of violence as he got down on his knees and pulled a screaming and kicking Daniel from under the table.

The moment he placed him on the gurney, Daniel slid off and ran back to his hiding place. Number Two glared at Jack, then waited as Number One came to his assistance.

By now they'd had plenty of experience in retrieving Daniel and keeping him on the gurney. They both flanked the gurney, cutting off his escape route, and proceeded to attach the EEG again. But each time they got a lead glued to his scalp, Daniel promptly pulled it away. After several failed attempts, Number One grabbed Daniel's hand and leaned in close.

"You do that one more time, and I will tie you to the bed."

Daniel turned, looking at Jack, his face expressing fear. Jack remained expressionless, waiting to see how things would play out. He wished that Daniel would cooperate, just this once, so they could get the tests done and over with and get the hell out of here, but at the same time, he was silently applauding the boy's stubbornness. When Number One attached the lead and Daniel, with his chin jutting out defiantly, pulled the lead away, Jack remained in the same relaxed position, and simply called out, when Number One grabbed a towel and forced Daniel's hand to the metal railing, "Oh, I wouldn't do that, if I were you."

Number One froze in the process of trying to restrain a now howling, kicking, wriggling and hysterical five year old.

"And why wouldn't I follow through with my threat?"

"Because I'll just ask Teal'c to come down here and tie you up to that gurney instead of Daniel." Jack shifted his eyes only towards the Observation Room, and as expected, there was Teal'c, already on his feet, awaiting the word.

Slowly, Number One released Daniel, who promptly took the opportunity to half-slide, half-fall off the gurney and run back to his hiding place.

Number Two closed his eyes, and it was obvious he was trying to keep his temper. "Colonel, if you were to assist us, this would go much faster."

"And why should I help you?"

"Because you've made it abundantly clear you want to get out of here. This is the last test. In and of itself, if the boy were to behave, it would take a couple of hours. We need his cooperation for about sixty minutes. After that, he can be allowed to sleep, if he so wishes."

"Why should I believe you?"

"Because we have a jet waiting to take us away from this god-forsaken hole so that we can return to Headquarters and begin analyzing our data. Trust me, we want to get the hell out of here as much as you do."

Jack stared hard at Number Two and got up slowly. He walked over to where Daniel was huddled and sobbing, and crouched down to look at him under the table. "Did you hear what he said, Daniel?" Jack said softly. "We finish this one test and these guys get the hell out of the Mountain and leave us alone. What'd'ya say? Let's give them what they want so we can get the hell out of here also."

For a moment he didn't think Daniel would come into his open arms, but he did. Jack picked him up and then frowned as he carried him back to the gurney.

"Just a second," he snarled as the two men approached them like hyenas favoring another creature's kill. Jack pressed his hand against the back of Daniel's neck, feeling the heat of a fever. "You sick, kiddo?"

"Oh, give me a break," Number One bitched.

"Get me a thermometer."

Number Two placed a hand on Daniel's forearm, then on his cheek, which Daniel promptly tried to push away. "He's not feverish. He's just warm from all that carrying on."

"I said, get me a thermometer."

Number One rummaged through a tray and handed Jack a thermometer. Jack turned it on. "Open up," he bade Daniel. For a moment Jack thought Daniel would resist, but he obediently opened his mouth for Jack. His small teeth clamped on the plastic edges a moment before his lips pursed closed over it.

Jack held the thermometer in place while he sat on the gurney. Daniel immediately let himself fall back and Jack nearly dropped the thermometer as Daniel landed against him with a thud. The heat of fever could be felt through Jack's shirt; it wasn't high but it was definitely there. A moment later, the thermometer confirmed a fever of 100.2.

Jack simply handed the thermometer over to Number One. "Get whatever doctor's on duty in here."


"No argument! Just do what I've asked."

"Let me get something for his fever and we can get on with the test while the medicine does its job."

"I'm sorry, you obviously didn't understand what I was saying. The tests are over."

"And I'm sorry, Colonel, but the tests aren't over until either I say so, or the time is up. We still have a few hours. We can either do it my way, or your way. Let me just say that your way will be most unpleasant for all of us, especially the child."

The urge to tear this idiot limb from limb was back. He breathed deeply, trying to control himself before he could speak. After a moment, he managed to speak through a clenched jaw. "Get the medication, and get this fucking test over with as soon as possible."

Jack waited until the doctors returned with the pills before he allowed them to continue with the test. He waggled his hand, palm up, until they dropped the medication into it. He examined them, ensuring they truly were Children's Tylenol, before allowing Daniel to swallow them.

Then, with Daniel secure in his arms, it took moments to reattach the EEG leads. Jack thwarted Daniel's attempts at pulling on the wires by simply locking his arms around Daniel's. At first Daniel tried to resist, but after a few attempts, simply decided to sit quietly while the doctors finished.

Just when Jack began thinking maybe he should have done this in the first place and saved time, his good wishes were shot to hell when Number One slapped some sort of round, metallic device onto Daniel's temple that had Daniel howling in pain.

"What the hell is that?" Jack demanded as he pulled Daniel's fingers away from the small piece of metal, which was firmly embedded into his skull. "What did you do to him?"

"Don't worry, it's painless—"

"Did that look painless to you?" Jack tried digging his fingernails beneath the metal but he couldn't get a grip. "Get it off him."

"Relax, look at him. The pain only lasts for a few seconds."

The men fiddled with some sort of machine that looked like a small VCR. "Okay, we're ready."

Number One pulled a chair and brought it close to the gurney. "Now, Daniel, I want you to look at these pictures, okay?" He held up a photograph which showed several symbols on the Stargate.

Daniel turned his face, clearly ignoring the man.

"Isn't that classified?"

Number One gave Jack a look which he himself had perfected ages ago when he'd had to deal with stupid questions from young, wet-behind-the ears recruits.

"Are we recording?" Number One shifted the picture so that it was still right in Daniel's face.

"All systems green."

"Daniel, I want you to look at this picture and see if it reminds you of anything."

Oh, what a stupid waste of time. This one was even more ridiculous than the mind-reading cards of last night. "He doesn't have any memories."

"We don't know what's deep within his subconscious, Colonel. While performing this test when he's this exhausted, his defenses will be down and if there's anything in there worth retrieving, we'll get it."

"You make it sound like that thing records his thoughts."

"His memories," Number Two said absently, twiddling with the machine. "We're recording them to analyze later instead of viewing them now."

"Now, where did you get such a sweet piece of technology?" Jack forced his face into what he hoped was an innocent look.

"We have our own contacts, Colonel. Although the SGC has control of the Stargate, it doesn't mean we're totally shut out."

"Funny, I never heard of the NID having a team going through the 'gate."

"You really don't expect me to divulge my sources, do you?" Number Two snapped. "Wake him up, he's falling asleep."

Daniel cried out when Number One shook him and forced a second picture in front of Daniel's face. "Look at it," he ordered. Jack glanced at the Abydonian pyramid, the two moons clearly visible in the sky.

Picture after picture were presented to Daniel. Artifacts, samples of alien writings, the head and torso of a Horus guard, all things that were clearly aimed at seeing if Daniel would recognize any. Fifty minutes later, Number One tapped the pile of pictures on the edge of the bed, placing them into a neat pile.

"You can let him sleep, now. The machine will automatically record his subconscious thoughts as he's sleeping, as well as his dreams. Please don't disconnect anything or else we'll be forced to start this whole test over again." Number One put the pile of pictures on a table. "We'll be back in two hours." Before Jack could yell Hallelujah, both men had gone.

He turned towards the Observation Room, but it was empty. Seconds later, Teal'c and Fraiser entered the room.

"Help me lay him down." With the others' help, Jack slid off the gurney.

"What is that thing?" Fraiser asked as she bent close to look at the metallic piece on Daniel's temple.

"They said it records his memories."

Fraiser looked up at Jack, startled.

"I know, I never heard of it either." He watched as Fraiser began examining Daniel.

"His glands are a little swollen," she said, palpating Daniel's neck. "My guess would be he's picked up some sort of bug and that this has nothing to do with the tests they've put him through."

"How do you know that for sure? He was fine yesterday. Hell, he was fine this morning."

Fraiser teased Daniel's jaw open and flashed her penlight into his mouth. "His throat is red." She clicked the penlight off and stuck it into a pocket while Daniel mumbled something and turned on his side. "I'll draw some blood later, when they've gone, just to be sure." She smiled down at Daniel as she brushed aside a strand of hair that had spilled onto his forehead.

The next two hours of watching Daniel sleep were in and of itself boring, but at least he was sleeping, and none of the mad scientists were running around tormenting him. By the time their two hours were up, Carter and Hammond had joined them in the Isolation Room, as well as a contingent of security guards, ready and willing to escort the NID out of the mountain.

The doctors disconnected the EEG and removed the alien device from his temple by doing exactly what Jack had tried, wedging a nail underneath and popping it out. The thing coming out must have been as painful as it had been going in because Daniel woke up with a shriek, nearly tumbling off the gurney. Teal'c caught him just in time and in one smooth move, handed Daniel to Jack.

Arms and legs wrapped themselves around Jack as Daniel clung to him desperately. "Shhh, it's okay." Jack rubbed Daniel's back, hoping he wouldn't dissolve into tears. Fraiser moved closer and examined the spot where the thing had been stuck to Daniel's face. There was no blood, only a round, red mark.

"Does that hurt, honey?" She pressed on the skin around the mark.

Daniel shook his head as he buried his face against Jack.

"Can we get out of here?"

"Would you mind letting me have another look at him before I draw some blood? Just to be sure that—"

"We can do that. What's another few minutes, right?" Actually Jack was relieved. As much as he wanted to go home with Daniel and put this day behind him, he wanted to make sure Daniel really was fine.


"I'm worried about his withdrawal, sir."

Jack and Fraiser were standing at the other end of the infirmary, both of them keeping watch on Daniel, who was sitting listlessly on an infirmary bed.

"I am, too." Daniel wasn't talking, he wasn't playing, and he wasn't eating. There was a glass of orange juice from which he'd only taken one sip; the bowl of macaroni and cheese virtually untasted. His Matchbox cars were sitting parked at the foot of his bed, his crayons still pristine and unused in their box.

"I know you're anxious to take him home, but I'd prefer you both stay on base up until tomorrow morning, just so I can keep an eye on him. The blood tests should be back in a couple of hours and if he's not improved by the morning, I'll make an appointment with Doctor Colton."

"I thought we'd done with the shrinks?"

"Just as a precaution, sir."

"What about the kindergarten?"

"Well, we may have to postpone that for a while if he doesn't recover from this setback."

"We can stay in the VIP suite?"

"Of course. I'll let you know the results of the blood tests. In the meantime, try to get him to eat, and rest if he wants to."

Daniel watched him walk up to the bed, his expression one of defeat. Jack took the bright red Matchbox car in one hand and ran it over the palm of his other hand. "Fraiser wants us to stay here overnight, just to make sure you're okay. She's a little worried that you're not eating so we'll see about going home in the morning instead of tonight." Jack put the car down on the mattress and rolled it over to Daniel's leg. "In the meantime, how about we get out of this place and go back to our room?" He let go of the car and put his hand out to Daniel. Tentatively Daniel reached for the Matchbox car and clutching it in one hand, he reached out to Jack with his other.

He left Carter to pick up the rest of Daniel's belongings, and heard her footsteps racing to catch up to them at the elevator. Jack waited for Daniel to ask to punch the button, but at his continued silence, did it himself.

Daniel paused when Teal'c opened the door to the VIP suite and his eyes bounced all around the room. "It's just us, kiddo," Jack said softly. The hand that was holding onto his was now damp and clammy. "How about we send Teal'c in to check the place out, just to be safe?" Daniel looked up at him with a look of pure relief. Jack motioned Teal'c inside, who promptly stepped into the center of the room and declared it empty.

"Check the bathroom," Jack ordered. Teal'c stepped into the room, turned on the light, and came out. "It is empty."

"In the closet."

Teal'c opened the door to the small closet, exposing their jackets. "There is nothing here."

"Under the bed."

Teal'c's eyebrow quirked upwards momentarily and for a moment, Jack thought he'd pushed the limit. But Teal'c obediently got down on his knees, pulled up the bedspread and peered underneath. "There is nothing there. The room is empty."

Jack took a single step forward and Daniel, clutching tightly to Jack's hand, took two small steps and stopped to look around once again. Then he let go of Jack's hand and made a round of the room himself, following Teal'c's path while Jack sat on the edge of the bed, watching him.

When he seemed satisfied, Daniel came up to Jack and leaned against him. Jack put an arm around him, feeling for fever, and finding none. "So, what do you want to do tonight?" He'd hoped for a verbal answer, but the immediate glance towards the bicycle against the opposite wall was clear enough to Jack.

"Well, I guess we could give 'er a try. If Teal'c and I run interference, Carter, do you think you can guide Daniel how to ride that baby?"

Carter shrugged. "Sure."

Five minutes later, Daniel was pedaling jerkily while Carter kept a grip on the handlebars. The bike lurched from one side to the other, the training wheels catching his uncoordinated attempts to balance himself while Teal'c warned any oncoming personnel to step aside while Daniel rode the hallways. Slowly, the tense look that had been on Daniel's face faded as he pedaled faster during each pass up and down the corridor outside their VIP room, to be replaced by one of concentration and eventually, one of enjoyment. By then Teal'c had replaced Carter, jogging alongside Daniel.

Finally Daniel flashed Jack a grin as he sped by. By now he'd become slightly more adept at steering the bike, although Teal'c still attempted to stay close to him. "Once more down the hallway, Daniel, and I think we can say that's enough for tonight." He watched as Daniel hurtled down the hallway, this time outdistancing Teal'c, and then coming to a stop just before the far intersection. This time there was a true grin on his face and he pedaled back to Jack, the bike still lurching back and forth on the training wheels with each thrust.

"Hey, you caught on pretty fast." Jack held the bike while Daniel clambered off. "I can't wait to see how you do when we get you onto a bike path. Then you can go on and on and not have to stop and turn around." The grin was still in place as Jack wheeled the bike back into the room.

Daniel ran to the bed and jumped on, grabbed a Matchbox car and ran it around and around the comforter, turning on his knees over and over. "Yeah, just like that," Jack said with a smile.


"Daniel, you have to talk to Grandma, otherwise she won't know you're there."

Regardless of Jack's words, Daniel clung silently to the phone. Rose's voice could be heard through the receiver. Daniel nodded at something she said, and then curled onto his side and balanced the audio part of the telephone on his ear so he could listen.

Ten minutes later, Jack gently took the phone away from Daniel's lax hands. "He's asleep." He'd asked his mom to keep it short tonight, and she had.

"Are you eventually going to tell me what is going on?"

"There's nothing to tell, Ma. He picked up a bug and—"

"And you told me he wasn't talking. I knew he was on the phone, I could hear him breathing, but I didn't get one single word out of him."

"He's had a rough day."

"Five-year-olds don't have rough days. Five-year-olds spend the day playing."

"I think... you've heard of the white-coat syndrome?" he said, sounding almost flippant. "Like when you've got a toothache and it goes away the moment you step into the dentist's office."

"Yeah. Unfortunately my bones don't stop aching when I go see the doctor."

"Well, I think Daniel's just had an overload of medical staff poking and prodding him and it's reminding him of the time he was sick—"

"He was sick?"

Jack winced at the sharpness of his mother's tone. "He had pneumonia recently, remember? That, coupled with the shock of his parents' death, was partly to blame for his earlier withdrawal."

"And you think seeing all these doctors the past two days brought back those awful memories?"

"I guess we'll see if I'm right when we go back home."


"I hope so." Jack paced the short length the tether of the telephone allowed him to. "He's got a fever and a sore throat. Fraiser doesn't think it's anything but—"

"He's a child. Children get sick."

"I know." But he couldn't tell his mom how this could be so much more. If the NID had snuck something past him... "Carter gave him a bike."

"A tricycle?"

Jack laughed. "No, a two-wheeler with training wheels. We tried it out earlier in the hallway."


"He loved it. He rode that thing up and down the hall a good dozen times. A veritable speed demon."

"I wish I'd been able to see that."

"Me too." And Jack realized he meant it. "We're going to the park tomorrow to try it out properly. I'll bring the video camera and film him for you."

"Thank you."

They talked for a few more minutes and once he'd hung up, he sat down at the table with a stack of files he'd planned on working on. But when he started reading the first file, the words blurred before him. Instead he shut the folder, took a quick shower and climbed into bed next to Daniel.


"Drink your juice, Daniel." Jack nudged the glass of orange juice close to Daniel's hand. Daniel ignored him and continued to push a small piece of waffle through the river of syrup on his plate.

Daniel was bringing the dripping piece up to his mouth when he froze, his eyes going wide as someone walked past them, lap-coat flapping against his legs.

"It's okay." Jack gently prodded his hand and with eyes still following the lab technician, Daniel slowly put the waffle into his mouth. Jack watched him chew and chew and chew, then grimace as he swallowed.

Jack suddenly realized why Daniel wasn't drinking his juice. The orange juice was like acid when it encountered a sore throat. Without a word, Jack got up, retrieved a container of milk and exchanged it for the juice. "Maybe that won't hurt so much going down," he said with an apologetic smile. He sipped Daniel's juice as he watched with satisfaction as Daniel gulped down the milk.

"I thought I might find you here."

Jack had been so intent on getting Daniel to eat, he hadn't heard Fraiser come in. Daniel watched her with wide, anxious eyes as she pulled up a chair and sat. Even her smile didn't seem to dispel his obvious fear.

"Hello, Daniel. Are you ready to go home today?"

Daniel's eyes widened and he looked at Jack, as if looking to him for confirmation.

"You sure, doc? What about the fever? He's still warm today and his throat's hurting him."

"His blood tests do show a slightly elevated white blood count but that's most likely due to whatever bug he's caught. As long as his fever doesn't go over 103, or he refuses to eat or drink or vomits. If that happens, call me or Carolyn. Otherwise, give him Children's Tylenol or Motrin for the fever and have him continue gargling with warm water and salt."

"Well, then, Daniel, it looks like we're going home as soon as we finish breakfast."

Immediately Daniel pushed his plate away and slid off his chair.

"You heard what the doc just said. You have to eat. Otherwise you're coming right back here."

With a soft huff, Daniel climbed back onto the chair and speared another piece of waffle. He nibbled at it, the effort he made to eat palpable and downright painful to watch.

"I hear you had a bit of fun on your bike last night."

Daniel gave Fraiser a quick sideways glance before looking back down at his plate.

"Cassie loves to ride her bike. Maybe when you get a little better at it, she can take you out on the bike paths in the park." She gave Jack a quirk of an eyebrow. "That is, if Colonel O'Neill thinks that's okay."

"Yeah," Jack said slowly, suddenly reluctant to have Daniel out of his sight. "Or maybe I can get myself a bike and we could make it a group ride." He quirked his own eyebrow at Fraiser.

"Oh, don't look at me. These short legs weren't made for pedaling." She laughed as she stood up. "I'll call you later about the kindergarten, sir. And Doctor Colton."

After Daniel finished two more pieces, Jack made a show of wiping his hands with his napkin. "I'm done. You almost done?"

Daniel nodded and dropped the fork onto the plate. "Home?" he said in a small voice.

"Home," Jack said softly. He cupped Daniel's face. "Do you need to use the bathroom?"

Daniel seemed undecided, then finally nodded.

Holding Daniel's sticky hand, Jack escorted him to the men's room.


The moment he was released from his booster seat, Daniel made a beeline up the walk to the front door. He jumped impatiently from one foot to the other while Jack gathered, along with their overnight bag, the bags of groceries they'd stopped to buy. After a few moments of bag juggling, Jack got the door open.

Daniel rushed inside, running up and down the hall, into every room of the house, while Jack dumped the bags in the kitchen, next to the refrigerator. He'd sort their stuff out in a minute. As he went back into the hallway, Daniel sped by him and ran to the back of the Avalanche, watching impatiently as Jack removed the bicycle from the back.

Daniel grabbed the bike and walked it up the driveway, parking it next to the garage door. He turned and looked anxiously out onto the street.

"It's still early. We have plenty of time to order the pizza before they get here. Ya hungry?"

In response, Daniel grabbed Jack's hand and pulled him into the house, straight into the kitchen. It took him only a second to hone in on the bag that held several boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. He pulled one out and handed it to Jack with a wide grin on his face.

"Okay, I can make you this for lunch, but you won't have room to eat any pizza. Are you sure this is what you want?"

The box was tentatively pulled back and clutched to his chest. "How about we compromise? I'll cook some macaroni and cheese and you can have some with pizza. In the meantime, you can have a snack." Daniel dove back into the groceries and came up with a bag of carrots.

Jack smiled as he peeled and washed a small carrot for him. Honey Bunny had obviously made an impression.

While Daniel gnawed noisily on the carrot, Jack put the groceries away. Occasionally Daniel would make a few little bunny hops, and a mischievous little smile would curl up his lips whenever he noticed Jack watching him.

Jack finished clearing the groceries about the same time Daniel finished his carrot.

He grabbed the phone. "So, what do you think? Two or three pies? We get three, then we got more than enough for leftovers later in the week."

Daniel popped the last bite of carrot into his mouth and nodded, exaggerating the chewing motion of his jaw as he nodded his head up and down as he walked out of the kitchen.

Grinning, Jack put in the order, set the table, and unpacked their overnight bag. He could hear Daniel downstairs playing with the racing cars, the motor sounds hitching as he tried to get the hang of it.

When the doorbell rang, the sound of Daniel's footsteps echoed through the house as he raced up the stairs.

"Hi, Daniel—Oomph." Sam caught him as he threw himself against her, acting as if he hadn't seen her just a few hours ago. He let her go, grabbed Teal'c's hand, and pulled him into the house, trying to lead him down the hall. He walked backwards, his eyes on Carter, as he headed towards the stairs to the den.

"I think he wants you to go play with him. Want something to drink?"

"Beer would be good."

"Teal'c? Snapple?"

"Iced Tea, if you have it."

"Comin' right up."

He poured a glass of apple juice for Daniel, grabbed two beers and the Snapple, and headed downstairs where the sounds of race cars were coming loud and clear, accompanied by Daniel's giggles.

He was greeted by the vision of Teal'c, Carter and Daniel sitting cross-legged around the racing track, which was surrounded by Daniel's farm and jungle animals. Occasionally one of the racing cars would jump the track, narrowly missing the animals, and then Daniel would reposition them around the track again. Jack handed everyone their drinks and sat back on the recliner to watch.

Fifteen minutes later he went back upstairs to cook Daniel's macaroni and cheese. He'd just returned downstairs and settled into the recliner, when the doorbell rang. Daniel startled. He jumped to his feet and ran towards Jack, making it halfway there before freezing.

"Just the pizza guy," Jack said, trying to act nonchalant as he got up. He ruffled Daniel's hair as he walked by and thought Daniel would go back to the game. Instead he shadowed Jack, hanging right next to him while Jack accepted the pizzas and paid for it.

"Chow's on," he yelled, although he could hear Teal'c and Carter already making their way up the stairs.


Daniel eyed his pizza suspiciously. He prodded it with a finger, then pushed the plate aside and reached for his bowl of macaroni and cheese.

"You're not even going to try it?" Jack held his own folded slice in front of his mouth, salivating at the smell coming from it.

"Try the cheese," Carter said as she removed part of the topping off the large slice before her. She pulled the cheese apart and placed a large wad into her mouth. "S'good."

Daniel reached for his own slice of pizza and with almost prim precision, removed a small bit of cheese. He put it to his mouth and chewed, slowly at first, then with more gusto.

"Good, huh?" Jack said, taking a large bite of his pizza.

Daniel pulled off a larger piece this time, complete with pepperoni and vegetables, and following Carter's lead, stuffed his mouth with it. The kid looked like he was in complete rapture as he chewed.

"And let me fill you in on a little secret," Carter said in a conspiratorial voice. "This way, the pizza will last longer."

Jack looked at his nearly devoured slice of pizza, then at Carter's crust still sitting on her plate, and snorted.

"And then that means I can get the last piece, since you're such a slow eater."

Daniel giggled, nearly choked, and swallowed. Jack exchanged a look with Carter, and mouthed thank you when Daniel turned to look and see how Teal'c was eating his pizza.

Jack was on his third piece when Daniel finished devouring the topping. He looked at the bare slice of pizza, then over at Carter.

"It's good, it's just like bread."

Daniel raised the now limp piece of dough and took a bite from the tip. He chewed, put it down, and poured his bowl of macaroni and cheese over it. A lot of the pasta spilled over the edge but a good portion remained on the crust. With a happy sigh, Daniel ate his macaroni cum pizza.

"Best of both worlds," Jack said with a sigh. "I wish everything was that easy to fix."


"Yes, yes, yes," Carter yelled as she jogged behind Daniel, whose little legs were pedaling furiously. "That's it, that's it. Okay, now go around the curve and go back towards the colonel."

Daniel obeyed, pulling the bicycle into the loop and headed back towards Jack and Teal'c. Jack zoomed the camera onto the grin on Daniel's face, pulling back as he got closer, trying to keep him in focus. Daniel braked and grinned up at the camera, slightly out of breath.

"I think come next spring, I'm going to have to get a bike so I can keep up with you," Carter panted as she stopped next to the group, hands on her knees, gasping for air.

They'd all taken turns accompanying Daniel over the past hour and he'd become more and more proficient, to the point that with a few more hours' practice, Jack was sure he'd be taking the training wheels off. He had a feeling, though, that Mother Nature wasn't going to be so kind. He shivered as a gust of cold wind blew over them.

"C'mon, let's head for home." Jack pulled Daniel's handlebars, aiming the bike in the direction of the parking lot. They walked briskly while Daniel pedaled slowly next to them, nearly bumping into one or the other as he fought to steer the bike.

"You'll let us know how Daniel's tests go tomorrow? Will he be starting kindergarten on Monday?"

"Yeah. Monday."

Jack saw Daniel flinch at the words; it wasn't much, just a jerk of his shoulders. He realized they'd need to talk about this testing and reassure him it had nothing to do with the recent medical tests he'd just gone through. Maybe this wasn't a good idea; maybe this was too soon. He'd wait and gauge Daniel's reaction, and then call Fraiser and see what she thought if Daniel still had reservations about this.

He packed up the bike, said farewell to Teal'c and Carter, and headed for home. "So, was that fun?"

A look through the rear-view mirror got him a smile and a nod in reply. "I think Carter's right. I think next year, I'll have to get myself a bike also. Do you think you'd like that, if we went for rides together?"

This time the smile turned into a grin and the nod was enthusiastic.

"Great. It's almost too cold to go out biking now, but next spring, it's a date."

A few minutes later, Daniel was walking the bike back up the driveway and Jack realized he'd have to clear some stuff in the garage so he could hang it up for the winter. A project for a coming weekend, he decided.

"How about some hot chocolate to warm us up?" Jack shut the garage door behind him and pulling off a glove, punched the security code in the console, allowing them to enter directly into the house. He herded Daniel inside, and when he pulled the door shut behind him, he was surprised when Daniel turned and grabbed Jack's waist in a hug.

"Hey, what's this for?"

"I'm glad we're home," Daniel said into Jack's belly.

"So am I." Relieved that Daniel was speaking to him again, he rubbed the wind-tousled hair until Daniel let him go. "How about that hot chocolate?"

Daniel nodded, and watched from the vantage point of a kitchen chair as Jack heated milk in the microwave and added sugar and cocoa powder. He presented Daniel with the steaming cup as he sat down next to him. "Careful, it's hot," he admonished when Daniel pulled the cup closer.

For the next few minutes, the only sounds in the room were Daniel's constant blowing into the cup and his noisy slurps as he tried to drink his treat.

"So, about tomorrow."

Daniel's head popped up, the chocolate moustache making the apprehension on his face look almost comical.

"First of all, tomorrow's test is nothing like what you've gone through the past two days. This is just to see how smart you are. I guess they might want you to count, or read out loud or something. Do you think you could do that for the teacher?"

Daniel continued to look at him with wide eyes.

"It's okay if you don't want to talk, they won't kick you out or anything. Or hurt you," Jack said quickly. "I'm not even sure why they want to put you through the tests; maybe to figure out what level to start teaching you at? I mean, I don't think all kids in kindergarten can read the books you're reading."

Jack hated the continued fear expressed on Daniel's face. "It'll be fine. All kids go to school and they all have to go through tests to prove that they've learned what they were taught. You're going to go through hundreds of tests before you grow up. Look, how about we practice? I'll be the teacher, and you be the little kid going to kindergarten next week."

Jack sat with his hands folded on the table, trying to look prim and proper. "Okay. You're Daniel Jackson, right?" When Daniel didn't answer, Jack looked around the kitchen, as if searching for someone. "Hey, is there a Daniel Jackson in the room? Daniel? Daniel Jackson, are you..." Daniel gave him a tentative smile and waved a hand at him. "Oh, you're Daniel Jackson, are you? Well, you could have said so in the first place." Jack waved a hand towards the back of the kitchen. "Okay, kids, never mind. I've found him; go ahead and play."

He leaned forward, looking Daniel in the eye. "Okay, Daniel, can you count to ten for me?"

The smile was back, and this time it reached his eyes. Daniel stuck out a hand and folded his fingers until his index finger was the only one remaining. Then he raised his middle finger, and Jack knew where he was going with this. Yep, now the fourth finger was up and Daniel showed him the sign for three. He continued until he had all five fingers splayed on both hands.

"Okay, very good. Do you know your alphabet?"

Daniel frowned, slid off the chair and ran to his room. A moment later he came back with a piece of paper and a pencil. He promptly began writing his ABCs.

"Very nice," Jack said when Daniel shoved the paper towards him, the letters slanting crookedly to the right, "but we'll need to work on your penmanship." He got up and retrieved one of Daniel's books from his bedroom and opened it up to the first page and set it in front of Daniel. "Now, would you read the first page to me?"

The satisfied smile on Daniel's face suddenly disappeared. He dropped his head and stared at his lap. Immediately contrite, Jack reached over and touched the top of his bowed head. "It's okay. If you're not ready, you're not ready. You can still read your books, but you have to remember that the teachers won't be able to help you if you don't show them whether or not you understand something. Capiche?"

Daniel swept the book from the table and sent it flying across the room. His hand caught his mug of chocolate, spilling it all over the table.

Jack grabbed some paper towels and wiped up the spill, then picked up the book from the floor.

"Temper tantrums are not going to go over very well, by the way. Neither here, nor there."

Flinty blue eyes glared up at him. "I don't wanna go to school. I hate school."

"How do you know you hate it if you've never been?"

"I don't wanna do any tests." Daniel thrust his chin out in defiance.

"Fine. I'll cancel the tests and you won't go to kindergarten on Monday."

Jack caught the slight curve of Daniel's lips.

"Instead you'll be going to daycare with the rest of the babies."

"I wanna stay with you."

"Uh uh. I go to work. You go to school, or daycare."

Daniel slid off the chair and stomped out of the kitchen. His footsteps sounded into the living room and stopped. A moment later Jack got up and followed.

Daniel was seated on the hearth, arms hugging his legs, the picture of utter dejection.

Jack bent down, picked him up and carried him to the couch. He lay down on the couch, letting Daniel's body slide down between him and the back of the couch. He should have put Daniel down for his nap in his bed, but right now, he figured maybe the two of them needed this quiet time together.

"How about we just give tomorrow a chance, see how it goes, and then we'll decide after, okay?"

Daniel didn't answer, but he didn't refuse either.


"And this is our daycare and after school facilities." Mrs. Beckerd opened one of the two doors she'd indicated. Jack caught a glimpse of several toddlers sitting on the floor, playing with toys. Immediately Daniel stepped closer to Jack as he peered around his legs. The guidance counselor waved to one of the caregivers, and opened the door opposite the hall. There were tables and toys galore.

They walked along the corridor where the drone of kids reading out loud, or teachers talking, could be heard through the closed classroom doors.

"And this is one of our kindergarten classes." Mrs. Beckerd opened the door where about twenty children around Daniel's age were seated on the ground on mats, doing a sing along. Daniel stared avidly as he and Jack listened to the off tune singing for a moment.

"We'll go back to my office; I'll test Daniel there." She pointed at a chair in the hallway, and Jack let go of Daniel's hand.

"I'll be right here, waiting." For a moment Jack thought Daniel was going to bolt, but he nodded and turned to face Mrs. Beckerd. "This won't take long. An hour at the most." She ushered Daniel in, and shut the door behind her.

Jack wasn't sure what to expect: Daniel running out of the room in tears and throwing himself into his arms, screams and tantrums, the guidance counselor escorting a sulking, angry boy back to him. What he didn't expect, at the end of the hour, was a smug, self-satisfied kid who came to give him a hug while Mrs. Beckerd spoke to the secretaries to ensure Daniel's records were entered into the computer so he could start school on Monday.

Twenty minutes later, after signing what felt like more paperwork than he did in a normal workday, Jack exited the school armed with Daniel's schedule.


Ding dong.

Cursing under his breath at the timing, Jack shifted a sobbing Daniel, who still hadn't shaken the nightmare he'd had during his afternoon nap, in his arms. He carried Daniel to the door and opened it, then stood there, shocked, at the delivery van parked outside his driveway and the delivery person standing at his door next to a large stack of boxes and bags.

"Colonel O'Neill?"


The man held out a clipboard. "I need your signature."

"I didn't order anything."

The delivery man pulled the clipboard back, pointed to the address on the bill, then to the numbers above the door. "Right address." He held the clipboard out to him again.

Jack glared at the man, wondering how he expected him to sign. With a twitch of his eyebrows, the man handed Jack a pen and held the clipboard in both hands in front of Jack. Writing awkwardly, he signed his name.

"Have a good day."

"Wait, who are these from?"

The man raised both hands, indicating he had no idea.

"Great." By now, Daniel's sobs had eased and all that were left were sniffles and occasional shaky breaths. He was looking at the packages curiously. "Wanna give me a hand bringing these in?"

When Daniel nodded, Jack put him down and together they brought all the bags and boxes into the kitchen.

He opened the first bag and found a large, colorful comforter decorated with cars. There was a matching sheet set, and a second that was decorated with little dinosaurs. There was a children's alarm clock in the shape of a car that was also a lamp, with the light coming from its headlights.

"Wow!" Daniel fingered one of the cars on the bedspread. "Is this for me?" He looked up at Jack hopefully.

"Well, I got plenty of sheets and a bedspread, so I think, yeah."

Another bag was full of clothes: underwear, socks, thicker tops and pants, pajamas. A winter jacket and boots. Daniel pawed through everything, exclaiming at the quantity of stuff.

One of the boxes held movies, all for young children, and as Jack rifled through the VHS tapes, he realized that not one was a duplicate of those he'd bought the other day.

The other box held books; several a little too old for Daniel but in a year or so he'd certainly be able to read them without a problem.

The last box was a bookcase, something in which Daniel could store his books and movies. An unassembled bookcase. A bookcase which Jack just knew he was going to have not so much fun putting together.

"Jack, who sent these?" Daniel asked, excitedly flipping through the books.

"I'm not sure, but I have a pretty good idea—" The ringing phone cut short his words. He glanced at the call display as he picked up the phone.


"Did you get my surprise? The store said it'd be delivered by four and it's that now."

"Yeah, we just got it. Mom, you didn't have to do this—"

"Shush, Jonathan. I wanted to do this. The poor boy's bedroom looks like something you'd invite a friend to sleep over in if he'd had too much to drink, nothing like what a child's bedroom should be. I'm just hoping he likes it."

"He's in heaven," Jack said after a moment, watching Daniel as he scrambled back and forth on his knees through the debris of paper, cardboard and gifts. "Do you want to talk to him?"

"Of course I want to talk to him."

Jack covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "Daniel, it's Grandma. She wants to know if you like the gifts she sent you."

"Gramma!" Daniel yelled the moment he got his hands on the phone. "You sent all this? It's so great. Jack, can we put the sheets on my bed now? I got all these books and movies and clothes and stuff. Thank you, Gramma, thank you."

Jack grabbed the matching set of sheets and bedspread, and with Daniel trailing along with the phone, talking a mile a minute, Jack stripped the bed and replaced the linen. This verbose dynamo was a different child than the one he'd brought home yesterday and brought to kindergarten this morning. He couldn't help hoping, as he smoothed the last wrinkle from the comforter, that this Daniel would be the one the whole world would eventually see.


"Teal'c and I packed up Daniel's apartment."

Carter, standing at Jack's front door with a large cardboard box under one arm, looked not only physically exhausted, but emotionally as well. Jack swallowed. He'd forgotten that SG-1 had been requested to take care of Daniel's personal belongings; he'd done the whole packing up thing once when Daniel had been presumed killed by Nem and he certainly hadn't wanted to repeat it.

"I'm sorry, I forgot—" He stepped back to let her in while Daniel peeked around the corner of his bedroom door.

"No, it's all right, sir. You had the kindergarten tests and everything. How'd it go?"

"Great. He's starting Monday."

Daniel came out into the hallway and stood there, appearing undecided. It was only when Carter noticed him and said hello that he ran to her and hugged her. She hugged him back with one arm while she held onto the box.

"Is that for me?" he asked.

"No, it's not. I'm sorry—"

"It's okay. I had lots of presents today. Wanna see?"

"Sure. Just give me a second?"

Jack realized Carter needed to talk. "Daniel, Carter and I have to talk about work for a little while. We'll be in to see your room in just a minute."

Daniel looked disappointed but he obeyed and went back into his room. Jack led Carter into the kitchen, where she put the box down on the table.

"We're putting all of his stuff into storage until you decide what to do with it, as agreed." She kept her voice low. "These, however... Teal'c and I weren't sure what you might want to do with them. They're things from his past, mementos of his parents—" She began to open the box and Jack put a hand out, stopping her.

"He doesn't remember who he was, so these have no meaning for him. You should have just packed them up with the rest of his things."

"I thought you'd want to keep them to show him when you tell him when he's older—"

"Oh, I'm not telling him. I think he's got enough problems as it is without confusing him more. As far as I'm concerned, Daniel Jackson was his father." "But when he's older—"

"No. By then he won't understand why we kept all of this from him. As far as I'm concerned, the Jacksons never existed for him except as a long-lost memory."

"Sir, there's a photo album, an old toy, papers that belonged to his parents. You can't just deny him all of this—"

"I can. It's my decision. This way he can grow up without the pain of knowing that he'd already lived a life and lost everything. If I can make him happy for the next fifteen years, then, that's what I'll do. That," Jack said, pointing to the box, "belongs to the other Daniel."

"Jack?" Daniel's voice came from the bedroom. "Are you guys done?"


He and Carter stood in the doorway, admiring the bedroom. The bland room had been transformed with the comforter and additional toys, which were piled haphazardly in the corners.

"It works okay." Jack waved to the slightly lopsided bookcase leaning against the wall in Daniel's bedroom. "It's just a little wobbly." It had taken him two hours to get this project put together, and he wasn't about to let Carter know how grateful he was that she'd stopped by to find out how Daniel's foray into kindergarten went.

Carter pushed the sleeves up on her sweater and looked at the myriad of tools littering the floor of the bedroom. "Just give me a few minutes; I can see where you went wrong."

"What went wrong is that the instructions make no sense." Jack picked up the folded paper and waved it in front of her face.

"That's okay. I don't need it, sir."

"Oh." Jack crumpled the paper and tossed it over his shoulder. "Need any help?"

"Nope, I've got it covered." Already on her knees, she was prying his work apart.

Jack left her to it, with Daniel sitting on his bed watching avidly, clad in a pair of his new pajamas, his animals and cars spread around him on the new comforter. He'd been a little quiet since supper and Jack wondered if the stress of the testing this morning might have affected him more than he'd thought.

By the time Jack finished cleaning up the living room and kitchen, Carter had not only fixed the bookshelf, but she and Daniel had put away his quickly growing library of books and movies on the now perfectly straight shelves.

When Jack sat on the bed and admired their handiwork, Daniel left the bookcase and leaned against him. Jack could feel the abnormal heat wafting off him and brushed a hand over his cheek. "Not feeling good?"

"My throat hurts."

"Let's go brush your teeth and you can gargle with some salt water." Daniel accompanied Jack to the bathroom with a lack of exuberance and Jack made sure he chewed the pills he gave him before brushing his teeth.

"I don't like these." Daniel made a face as Jack handed him his toothbrush. While Daniel brushed his teeth, Jack poured some salt into a glass and filled it with warm water. He waited while Daniel gargled, spat out the water and made a face before climbing onto the toilet and leaning over the sink. He stuck his tongue under the faucet to rinse it. "Tastheth awful," he said, trying to brush his tongue with a towel as Jack lowered him down to the floor.

Carter had cleared his bed of toys and had pulled back the sheets. Daniel paused at the edge of the bed, then looked towards his bookcase, then at Carter.

"Do you want me to read you a story?"


Carter grabbed the top book off the pile, and upon seeing and recognizing the title, Jack cleared his throat. "You might want to pick another one—"

She glanced at the cover. "The Giving Tree? Nah, it's fine. My brother says his kids love this story."

"Okay." Jack decided to give her some privacy. As he left, he contemplated putting a box of tissues in the room but figured that might be too obvious.

He'd gotten a quarter of the way through the daily crossword puzzle when Carter finally came out and joined him in the living room. Her eyes were red and swollen, and she was sniffling conspicuously. "He's sleeping. I'll, um, just head on home." She gave him a wobbly smile and left hurriedly.

Jack shook his head as he locked up behind her, then checked on Daniel, who appeared to be sleeping peacefully. He went down to the den to watch some TV and as he'd half-expected, he had barely raised the footrest of the recliner when Daniel came pattering down the stairs.

Without a word, Jack pointed to the afghan on the couch and Daniel detoured, grabbed it and dragged it back to Jack. As he climbed onto the recliner, Jack spread the afghan around them both. Daniel settled quickly and was asleep within minutes.


The screams pierced the house and Jack groaned, wanting nothing more than to bury his head under his pillow and wish Daniel would sleep through just one night without a nightmare. He got up and stumbled to the bedroom, where the moment he turned on the light, Daniel reached up for him, arms begging, tears and snot running down his face.

"Hey, kiddo—" Jack paused as he felt the heat of Daniel's body. He hoped it was nothing more than body heat from the comforter, but then Daniel shivered in his arms, dashing his hopes that they'd beat the fever. "Bad dream again?"

Daniel nodded, face pressed against Jack's neck, spreading a sticky dampness that he didn't even want to think about. He carried Daniel to the bathroom so he could get some more medicine, and while Daniel chewed the pills, he got the container of apple juice from the fridge and with one hand, managed to pour a little into a glass. Daniel gulped the juice and laid his cold lips against Jack's neck as Jack rinsed the glass out. The chill of the juice seemed to set off a bout of shivering, so Jack hurried back to Daniel's bedroom.

Knowing from experience that he wouldn't be able to peel Daniel off him until he fell asleep again, Jack sat on his bed and pulled the comforter up so that Daniel was covered.


"No, his temperature's been around 100, give or take a half degree, but he doesn't want to eat." Jack glanced at Daniel who was sitting at the kitchen table, a bowl of macaroni and cheese before him and only two small spoonfuls missing. That had been the deciding factor in calling Fraiser.

"At this point, sir, there's nothing you can do except keep an eye on him—"

"But you said to call if he didn't eat or drink."

"It's normal to lose your appetite if you have a fever—"

"But he's not eating his macaroni and cheese." Jack lowered his voice as he stepped into the hall.

"It's perfectly normal if he has a fever. This could be anything. You said he's still complaining of a sore throat. If it gets worse, bring him in and I'll do a culture. It could be the start of a cold. There's a bug running rampant in the schools, that's why I'm home with Cassie."

"Cassie's sick?"

"Just enough to make us both miserable. Not sick enough to stay in bed, but whiney enough to not want to do anything to occupy her time."

"Wait, you said the bug's in the schools. I was just there yesterday with Daniel."

Fraiser laughed. "It's a little too early for him to develop any symptoms from something he might have been exposed to in the school, sir. Just keep an eye on him and call me if he gets worse."


"Why do I need all these clothes for kindergarten?"

"What?" Jack finished spooning half the pot of macaroni and cheese into a thermos and turned around. Daniel was sitting on the floor, backpack between his legs and the neatly folded spare set of clothes Jack had just placed in the backpack was now strewn all over the floor, along with Daniel's crayons, which had spilled out of the box, and two Matchbox cars that he'd spent most of last night deliberating over which ones to bring. "Daniel, what're you doing?"

"I decided to bring the green one instead of the blue." He held up said green Matchbox car in his hand to show.

Jack wiped the edge of the thermos and screwed the top on, deliberately holding his temper in check. He didn't have time for this. "Okay, go put the blue one away." Jack began repacking the backpack, adding the thermos and some fruit. As he hefted the pack, trying to judge if it was too heavy for Daniel, the phone rang.

Caller ID showed it to be his mom. This had to be a record. They'd spoken more often on the phone in the few days Daniel had come to live with him, than since Charlie had died.

"Hi, Mom." Jack couldn't help smiling as Daniel ran back into the kitchen, sliding to a stop and nearly tumbling into a kitchen chair.

"Can I speak to Gramma? Please, Jack? Can I speak to Gramma?"

Jack raised his index finger in the face of the excited boy jumping up and down in front of him. "Just give me a second to say hello."

"You said hello already. I wanna say hello."


The jumping stopped, a pout appeared, and disappeared nearly as quickly as Jack frowned down at Daniel.

"You're up early, Mom."

"I know. I just wanted to make sure I got to say hello to Daniel before he went off to his first day of school. How's he feeling?"

"Fever's gone. It came and went over the weekend, and he had a touch of a sore throat this morning but it went away after he gargled."

"That's good to hear. Look, I won't keep you. I know you have to leave soon. Have him call me tonight, okay? I want to hear all about his day."

"Okay. Love you, Mom."

Jack handed the phone to Daniel who all but grabbed it out of his hand and began jabbering excitedly. Grabbing Daniel's backpack, Jack went over the list of things he needed, and satisfied he was set, put the pack next to his briefcase, by the door. He checked the time. They still had ten minutes before he had to walk Daniel out to the bus stop, so he started cleaning the kitchen, listening to Daniel talking with his mom.

He was just finishing up when Daniel said goodbye and handed the phone back to Jack. "Gramma wants me to call her tonight so I can tell her all about what I did today. Can I call her?" Daniel tipped his head back, staring at Jack with such a look of happiness that Jack felt guilty at the rush of irritation he'd had earlier.

"Of course you can." Jack ran a hand through Daniel's hair as Daniel hugged him. "C'mon, get your jacket. It's time to go."

Two minutes later, Jack was walking a suddenly subdued Daniel down the driveway to the sidewalk. Daniel was holding on tightly to Jack's hand, lagging behind just a half step. When they stopped at the corner, Jack put the backpack down and crouched down. "It'll be fun. I know you're a little scared right now, but you'll have all those kids to play with, and you'll have books to read—"

"I can read at home. We can go home right now, and I can read."

"I know, but I have to go to work. And, you'll see Cassie after school's out. You'll both be in after care together; you'll like that, won't you?"

"Will she play with me?"

"She might, if you ask her to." He glanced down the street and saw the school bus approaching.

"Do you think she'll want to play cars with me? Maybe I need to go get more—"

Jack grabbed Daniel before he could take a step back towards the house. "You've got two cars; that's more than enough for today. Here," he said, picking up the backpack and handing it to Daniel. "The bus is here."

With one hand clutching the backpack, Daniel stared as the bus pulled up and the doors opened.

"Give me a hug?"

Daniel threw himself at Jack. For a moment, Jack thought Daniel would refuse to let go but he slowly released him and backed away. He shuffled to the door of the bus, looking back with an expression that reminded Jack of a prisoner on his way to the gallows and hoping for a last minute reprieve from the judge. When Jack simply waved, Daniel sighed and walked up the steps. He watched as Daniel found a seat near the front and then stared out the window, looking back at Jack.

Jack continued waving, standing there until the bus was out of sight. He turned back to the house to grab his briefcase. He thought once he'd seen Daniel off, he'd be anxious to get back to work. Instead the silence and emptiness were eerily haunting.


Jack was whistling as he pulled into the school's parking lot. Despite playing catch up at work while fielding two briefings and a meeting, the day had dragged on and he'd worried about Daniel. He'd even contemplated calling the school to ask how he was doing, and had even once reached for the receiver, at which point Walter had beaten him to the punch and had phoned him first, calling him to the second briefing.

The majority of the children had already left, and the few in the after care program were slowly drifting out of the school, accompanied by their parents. Jack paused inside the school, for a moment unsure of the direction to take; his tour of the school had been brief; but as he walked down the hall, he saw several children inside a large room and realized this was it.

He gave his name as he stepped in and a woman at the desk waved him inside. He stopped, searching the remaining children and spotted Daniel immediately, sitting by himself, legs crossed, leaning elbows on the table as he read a book. His green Matchbox car was parked next to the book, forgotten as he concentrated on reading.


Daniel started, looking up with an almost deer-in-the-headlights stare for a few seconds until recognition hit him.

"Ready to go home?"

Jack didn't have to ask twice. The car and the book were stuffed carelessly into the backpack and he shrugged into his jacket. His arm got caught in the sleeve and Jack had to pull it off to straighten it so he could put it on properly. Daniel reached for his hand as Jack picked up his backpack.

"Bye, Daniel," the woman at the door said as they walked past her. Daniel slowed, seeming unsure of what to do. Then he raised his hand and gave a weak wave before hurrying to catch up with Jack. This time, Daniel was almost tugging him as they walked down the hallway, towards the school's main door.

"So, did you like it?" Jack asked as he buckled Daniel into the booster seat.

Daniel shrugged, seeming more preoccupied in finding something in his pack.

"I hope your day was more exciting than mine." He snapped the last buckle in place and tugged on Daniel's foot. "I spent several hours sitting at a table in very boring meetings."

Jack got into the Avalanche and drove off. "Did you learn anything neat?"

Jack got another shrug in response.

"Did you sing? Remember the kids were singing when we went to visit."

"We sang, Row, row, row your boat."

"Sweet. That's a fun song to sing." Jack had doubts that Daniel had participated, but at least the mention of the song got him talking again. "Did your lunch stay hot? Was it good?"

"Mmm hmmm."

"So, you sang songs. What else did you do? Read? Write? Rithmatic?"

"What's... rithmatic?"

Jack smiled. "Numbers."

"We didn't play with numbers."

"Well, what else did you do?"

Daniel shrugged again.

"You know, if you didn't do anything today, how are you going to tell Grandma all about your day?"

"We colored."

"Ah. And, what else?"

"Counted. Played a counting game."

"And, was it fun?"

The nod was tentative, almost as if he was afraid he hadn't been supposed to enjoy himself.

"Did you see Cassie?"

"Yeah. But she was playing with her friends already."

"Ah. That's too bad. Did you make any friends today?"

Daniel shook his head, staring down at his shoes.

"So, what else did you guys do?" Jack asked, his heart almost breaking at the look of dejection on Daniel's face.

"We played word games, and Madeleine said it was okay if I wrote the words down..."

"And that was fun, too?"

Another nod, this one a little more assertive.

"Good." Jack made a right turn and pulled onto their street. "What else?"

"We had a nap, and we danced a little, and then we had playtime."

"Wow, you really had a busy day, huh? That sounds like so much more fun than all my meetings."

"Maybe you can come to kindergarten with me tomorrow instead of going to work?" There was such hope in Daniel's voice that Jack hated to burst his bubble.

"Ah, no. I need to go to work, otherwise I won't get paid and we won't have enough money to buy you any more macaroni and cheese." Jack pulled into the driveway and grinned at Daniel through the rear-view mirror.

Daniel grinned back. "Can I call Gramma right now?"

"Sure." Jack stepped out of the Avalanche and freed Daniel from his seat. Daniel slid out of the truck and ran up the walk, seeming revitalized now that they were home.

"Hurry, Jack. I wanna talk to Gramma."

"Hold your horses." Jack carried both backpack and briefcase to the house, collected the mail, and unlocked the door. He had barely had time to drop the items in the kitchen before Daniel ran in, phone in hand.

Knowing he'd get no peace, he speed-dialed his mother's number, and handed the phone to Daniel. There was a look of intense concentration on Daniel's face as he waited for Rose to answer. Then pure happiness with the words, "Gramma! Guess what I did today."


"Colonel O'Neill?"

Jack, in the middle of a rant, looked up in irritation at Walter. "What?" he barked while trying to ignore Rodney McKay's sputterings as Jack backed up Carter's suggestion to the problem at hand.

"I'm sorry, sir, but you wanted me to remind you that it's time to leave."

"Leave?" Jack raised a hand, trying to get Walter to expand on the reason for the interruption.

"It's almost eighteen hundred hours, sir. The facility will be closing soon." Walter raised his eyebrows meaningfully. Too bad Jack couldn't figure out what the meaning of the waggling eyebrows was.

"And that facility would be...?"

"I believe Sergeant Harriman is referring to the after-school facilities which DanielJackson is currently attending."

Teal'c's words nearly sent him into a panic. Daniel! He needed to go and pick up Daniel from the after school program, and being the senior officer on base at the moment, he needed to oversee this meeting until a solution was found - otherwise two SG teams stranded offworld were in danger of losing their lives. And he couldn't spare either Carter or Teal'c to go and get Daniel.

"Sergeant." Jack stood, raising a finger at the table to indicate he'd be right back, and hurried Walter away. "Could you do me a favor and go pick Daniel up? In and out. Bring him back here. I can stick him in a corner with his toys, he won't bother anyone—"

"Sir, I have... I can get an Airman to go pick him up."

"Actually, I'd rather you do it yourself. I wouldn't trust anyone else and, well, it's not like he knows you, but if he remembered who he was and all that before he got shrunk, I'm sure he'd be extremely grateful for you taking the time to go and get him and bring him back."

"Sir, I'm not sure I—"

"There's nobody else I trust other than my team to go and get him, Walter. Well, there's Fraiser, but with SG-12 coming back injured, I don't think it's fair to them to have her leave the infirmary at this moment to go and pick Daniel up."

"What about Cassandra Fraiser? Doesn't she go to the same school and daycare?"

Jack paused a moment. He'd never asked Fraiser what Cassie did whenever she couldn't pick her up.

"Yes, but Cassie's in school, Daniel's in kindergarten. I don't think they're exactly crossing paths all that often." Jack had a hand on Walter's shoulder by now, slowly pushing him out of the briefing room. "Thanks, Walter. Oh, if you don't mind, you could maybe get him something to eat on the way back? He's going to be starving."

"Something to eat? What does Daniel like?"

"Oh, doesn't matter. Anything is fine," Jack added quickly, hoping that Daniel would be hungry enough to eat at least part of what Walter would buy him. "You better get a move on." Jack made a show of looking at his watch, and when he was sure Walter was on his way, he hurried back to the meeting.


"Colonel O'Neill?"

An angry insult was on the tip of Jack's tongue, until he realized the person calling his name was Hammond's aide. The man motioned to Jack, and he pushed the chair away reluctantly. He followed Captain Griffin to his desk, trying to listen to the discussion taking place without him.

"It's Doct—Daniel Jackson's school, sir." He picked up the telephone receiver and handed it to him.

He looked at the phone in confusion. "Didn't I send Walter?"

"Yes, sir. But the school says they don't have authorization for Sergeant Harriman to pick up Doctor Jackson."

Jack suddenly remembered one of the forms he'd filled out were the names, addresses and phone numbers of those people authorized to come and get Daniel. Himself. Carter. Teal'c. Fraiser. For some reason, he'd never foreseen that they'd all be unable to go and get Daniel, at the same time.

Sometimes he was such an idiot.


"Colonel O'Neill. We appear to have a problem."

"Yes, and I'm sorry. It's my fault. I'm stuck at work and I asked Sergeant Harriman to go and get Daniel, and I honestly forgot that he wasn't authorized. Look, let Daniel go with him, and tomorrow I'll fill in the paperwork to give him permission to come and get Daniel on those days I'm not able to."

"I'm sorry, Colonel, but we would require your signature now before we can release Daniel to Sergeant Harriman. Could you please fax us your authorization so that we can compare your signature to—"

"Oh, for crying out loud! I'm telling you that it's all right to hand Daniel over to the Sergeant—"

"Yes, I understand that, sir. But I have only your word that you are who you say you are. I would need concrete proof that permission has been granted—"

"Look. Put Daniel on the phone. He'll vouch for me—"

"I'm afraid that's not enough, sir. Besides, the boy is a little upset that you're not here. If you could please fax us the information immediately, then we'd be more than happy to allow Daniel to leave with the sergeant."

"Great. Give me the number—" Jack jotted down the fax number, then grabbed a sheet of paper from Captain Griffin's desk and scribbled a note and signed it. Griffin took the paper and was putting it through the fax machine even as Jack pitched the pen back onto the desk.

"The fax is coming through now," he grumbled, waiting as the sound of rustling papers came through from the other end of the line.

"Thank you, Colonel. Please wait a moment while we verify your signature."

He turned his attention to the on-going discussion, trying to figure out what he'd just missed, and was just catching up when the person at the other end of the line came back. "Everything checks out. We'll release Daniel immediately."

"Thank you," Jack said sarcastically. "By the way, don't you think this is overkill?"

"Not if you value your child's welfare and security, sir." Before Jack could reply, the line cut off.

"Sounds like that school's on the ball." Griffin gave Jack a sympathetic smile. "Better to be safe than sorry, with all the crazy people out there."

"Yeah. Right," Jack mumbled, his attention back on the meeting.


Sometime later, Harriman arrived with Daniel in tow. Jack was only aware of it when someone slammed into him, hard. He took a moment to absently hug Daniel then peeled him away from him. He pointed to the corner near Griffin's desk. "Look, I'm busy. I need you to go sit over there and play with your cars, okay?"

Daniel stared at him with disbelieving wide, red-rimmed eyes.

Harriman stepped closer to Daniel, placing a hand on his shoulder as he dropped his backpack next to Jack's chair. "Colonel, I think Daniel got the wrong impression with me picking him up tonight. He thought he was being taken away from you."

In other words, Daniel had most likely given everyone a repeat performance of his early days in the infirmary. The tear-tracked face, snot-filled nose and swollen eyes were testament to the tears. And most likely Daniel hadn't eaten anything, so now he had a clingy, hungry and scared kid on his hands, and a dire life and death situation that was far from being solved.

"Sir, why don't we take a ten minute break?" Carter pushed her chair back and stood. "I think we could all use a cup of coffee and some time to clear our heads." Almost everyone at the table agreed as they stood and walked over to the table where coffee and sandwiches had been delivered a short while before.

Jack reached out a hand to Daniel. Daniel took it tentatively. His demeanour was subdued and he was no longer looking Jack in the eye. Jack picked up the backpack and led him to the far corner, where he pulled up an extra chair and had Daniel sit. He searched through the pack for a tissue and had Daniel blow his nose. He'd just tossed the soiled tissue into the garbage when Carter arrived with a sandwich and a glass of water.

"Are you hungry?" She put the food on Griffin's desk and crouched down next to Daniel. "Did you have a good day at school, honey?" She passed her fingers through his hair and Daniel leaned slightly into her palm. "Sir, I think he's got a temperature."

Oh, great, just peachy. Jack made a mental note to buy some more Children's Tylenol to keep in his desk drawer. He pressed fingers to Daniel's cheek and noted that, although he was a little warm and flushed, it could also be a result of his earlier tantrums.

"It's not high. He's fine." He waved towards the food. "Eat your supper. You can stay here and play. We shouldn't be too long." As an afterthought, Jack dug into Daniel's backpack till he found a coloring book and crayons, and a toy car. "Here. You can play after you've eaten." With a nod to Griffin, Jack returned to his seat, while Carter spent an extra few minutes with Daniel before resuming her seat.

"He's still not talking," she said while they waited for the rest of the teams to join them.

"He's sulking. He's got no problem talking at home."

"He's not eating either."

Jack glanced at Daniel, who was fiddling with the Matchbox car in his hands, looking more forlorn and pathetic than Jack had ever seen him. Then the rest of the people were back and Jack's immediate view of Daniel was blocked by Colonel Santini as he took the seat opposite him.

He tried to bring his attention back to the emergency at hand but the memory of Daniel's face when he'd told him to go sit in the corner kept haunting him. He pushed his chair back slightly and shifted to the right to look past Santini. Daniel was sitting there, head down, one arm bent around himself as he stared at his feet. There was something more about the body language other than disappointment. Jack wasn't sure if it was restrained fear, or illness, but he knew then and there that Daniel needed him.

He stood, motioned to the people to continue talking, and walked over to Daniel. Without a word he picked him up and Daniel immediately tucked close to him with arms and legs. Jack grabbed the sandwich, passed it to the hand supporting Daniel's thighs, and then picked up the glass of water with his free hand. He carried Daniel back over to his chair and put the meal on the table before sitting. It took a moment for Daniel to reposition himself but he managed to tuck his body into the small space while continuing to lean against Jack's chest.

Without a word, Jack handed him the sandwich and Daniel took a tiny bite, laying his head against Jack's shoulder as he chewed.

"There's a child in the room," McKay said, glaring at Jack as he broke off his monologue that was about to put half the people at the table to sleep.

"Very observant, McKay," Jack replied.

"This isn't a day care."

"No, it's not. And he's not bothering anyone."

"Do you have an idea how many bacteria children carry? They're walking germ factories."

"And your point is?" Jack asked sarcastically.

McKay suddenly looked flustered. "No point. I was just saying that some of us may be more vulnerable to catching germs..." He shoved his chair back and pointed towards the far side of the table. "I'll just move on down a little..." He took his chair and pushed it away from Jack and Daniel.

"So, now that we're all settled, let's get on with it." Jack made a motion with his hand as people moved to fill in the space McKay had left.

McKay settled himself and returned to his original spiel, which Jack had to concentrate on to understand. Little by little, the sandwich disappeared, and a solution was eventually reached.

Jack stayed there with Daniel while everyone left to go do what they had to do to save the teams. His job was done. Slowly he pushed the chair back. "Ready to go home?"

Daniel nodded and slid off Jack, staying close as Jack collected Daniel's things. They went down the stairs into the Control Room and he stopped by Walter's station. "Thank you for helping me out earlier."

Walter nodded and gave Daniel a gentle smile. "I think Daniel was a little confused about what was going on. The snafu didn't help the situation either." He put a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "But at least now, if you see me at the school, you'll know that the Colonel is stuck here and can't go pick you up. Right?"

Daniel nodded shyly as he leaned against Jack's leg.

"Then you won't mind, if there's another emergency—"

"No, of course not, sir. Now that we got all the paperwork done, it's a shame to put it to waste."


Daniel gave Walter a quick smile and waved just as they stepped through the door, into the hallway.

Daniel was silent all the way home, staring out the window. He followed Jack quietly into the house, took his bath without complaint, and when Jack put him to bed, for the first time since Daniel had adopted Jack, he stayed put and didn't come downstairs to fall asleep in Jack's arms.

Worried, Jack tiptoed upstairs and peeked into the bedroom. Daniel turned his head, obviously not sleeping.

"Feeling okay?" Jack asked as he sat down on the bed and checked for fever. It was there, low grade, not even worth having him get the Tylenol.

Daniel nodded.

Jack adjusted the blankets and saw the scrub top scrunched in Daniel's arms.

"Not feeling sick or anything?"

Daniel shook his head.

"Is your throat sore?"

Daniel shrugged, dislodging the blanket, which Jack readjusted again.

"Okay. Sleep tight. I'll see you in the morning." He leaned over and kissed Daniel's temple a second time that night, and went back to his TV show.



Jack repeated the whole mantra on his way to the school the moment he left the mountain. After grueling hours of meticulous planning, rehashing and execution, the rescue was a success and the captive teams were home recuperating from their ordeal.

Jack, on the other hand, was exhausted from both the strain of the past days and broken sleep, thanks to Daniel's continuous nightmares. The last two nights had been doozies, and Jack was just about ready to ask Fraiser to get that psychologist to see Daniel again.

At least they had the weekend and hopefully being home with Jack for the next two days would help Daniel settle back into that carefree little boy who'd taken over his home. The quiet child who'd come home with Walter and who seemed overly careful in obeying was not one Jack was comfortable with. It was almost as if Daniel was attempting the opposite tactics to get Jack's attention. No tears, no tantrums, no exuberance, no chatter, he'd become the epitome of 'children should be seen but not heard'.

So tonight's agenda called for a phone call to his mom, pizza for supper, a Disney movie and some quality time playing together – maybe they'd try out that Space Invaders game on the Nintendo.

He sauntered into the school, knowing the path by heart by now. Daniel was sitting at a table, busily coloring on a piece of paper. He looked up as Jack approached, and for the first time since Walter had brought him home, Daniel smiled at him.

Really smiled at him.

Without a word, he handed the picture to Jack. Now, the Daniel he'd known, the one who'd been an integral part of his team up until a month ago, had been a fairly decent artist. He'd sketched plenty of artifacts and ruins while on missions, and occasionally had drawn one of his teammates, sometimes out of boredom in the evenings while they'd camped offworld. This Daniel's talents were nowhere close to the adult's, but it was already apparent in his rough sketch.

Jack recognized the den; there was the racetrack on the floor, the TV, his recliner. And there was stick figure Jack, sitting back in the chair, and Daniel lying on his lap, both of them watching TV together.

"Looks like we're watching a movie together." Jack pointed to the blank TV screen. "Any particular movie?"

Daniel shrugged and pulled the paper back towards him, examining it closely.

"Well, how about we choose a movie tonight, and when we're done watching it, you can stick in a picture on the TV?"

A slow smile spread on Daniel's face.

"Good. Ready to go?"

Daniel started to grab his crayons by the handful and dumped them loosely into his backpack.

"Hey, hey. In the box, first, please." He plucked the crayons from the backpack and helped Daniel put them away.

"Colonel O'Neill?"

"Hello, Mrs. Beckerd."

"Could I have a word with you?"

"Put your jacket on and finish putting your things away while I talk with Mrs. Beckerd." They stepped away out of earshot while Daniel stuck the last of the crayons into the box.

"Something wrong?"

"I'm a little concerned with Daniel. He fell asleep today during playtime this morning."

"He's been dragging a little. His doctor thinks he's fighting some bug."

"It's more than being a little sluggish, Colonel. Daniel not only fell asleep, he was down for the count. He refused to get up at our urging and—"

"He's a child. He needs a nap—"

"Not a three-hour nap."

"Three hours?"

"I know that you and Daniel have been together for only a short period of time. I think, sir, you should appreciate that regularized bedtime hours are beneficial for a child. By establishing a bedtime routine, Daniel will soon go to bed at an appropriate hour and get a sufficient amount of sleep instead of—"

"Excuse me?"

"—Spending his time here sleeping. He'll be less cranky and crabby, more alert and—"

"There is nothing wrong with Daniel's bedtime routine—"

"Colonel, we've all noticed that Daniel is lethargic and tired at times—"

"He's a kid. Kids get tired."


"He's been having nightmares. That's why he's so tired."

"Then maybe—"

"Look, it's a period of adjustment for both of us. Give him a chance, okay?"

"Of course. I'm sorry, it's just that..."

"You were concerned. I understand." Jack turned and went back to the table, where Daniel was waiting for him.

"Got your drawing?"

Daniel nodded.

"Good, let's go." Daniel reached for Jack's hand and as they walked down the hallway, Jack couldn't help smiling as Daniel skipped down the linoleum floor.


The high-pitched, blood-curdling screams were a thing of the night, which meant a nightmare and lost sleep. Hearing them in the early evening was something Jack wasn't expecting, and which immediately sent his pulse racing as he dropped the wet load of laundry onto the floor and rushed up the stairs.

The sound was coming from the bathroom and Jack opened the closed door, bursting into the small room where Daniel was crouched over the toilet bowl, his underwear half-pulled up onto his butt and his pajama bottoms pooled at his ankles, all the while screaming bloody murder.

"What? What? Are you sick?" The smell suddenly hit Jack, and he waved a hand in front of his face as he pulled Daniel to him.

"It fell in. It fell in. I can't see it. Jack," Daniel hiccupped, pointing to the throne that was full of human waste and toilet paper. "I can't see it."

"What? What fell in?" A quick visual showed that Daniel wasn't hurt. Automatically he finished pulling up Daniel's underwear and pants, while Daniel struggled to get back to the toilet bowl.

The smell was nauseating and Jack reached for the handle to flush.

"No! Don't! It's going to go flush away with my shit." Daniel's face paled, and Jack stopped him just in time before he plunged his hand into the bowl of crap.

"Daniel. Language." He pulled Daniel to him roughly. "What fell in the toilet bowl?"

"My car. My car. Mycar-mycar-mycar."

Jack sighed loudly as he peered into the toilet bowl. There was no sign of the toy, and he couldn't help but picture the small Matchbox car sitting at the bottom of the bowl amidst a pile of... He couldn't flush, not because Daniel wanted the car back, but because he couldn't chance having it block the toilet.

"Okay. First off, go wash your hands."

"But I want my car."

"That car's a goner, Daniel."

"But it's my green car!"

"You have other cars." He pulled Daniel to the sink and opened the faucets. He pulled a struggling Daniel closer and squirted soap into his hands. "Wash."

"But I want my car."

"Daniel, first things first. Wash your hands, and I'll go take care of the car. Do NOT touch the toilet."

Daniel stared up at him a moment, then slowly climbed onto the edge of the tub and began rubbing his hands together under the running water. Jack took the opportunity to hurry and get the items he needed.

Baggie. Large baggie. And a garbage bag. Long handled spoon. Definitely one that he wasn't attached to.

He came back and swore when he saw Daniel leaning over the toilet, trying to move the toilet paper around with a finger.

"What did I just tell you?" He pulled Daniel back, a little more roughly than he'd wanted to, and shoved him to the sink again. "Wash your hands."

"I just did—"

"Then wash them again. I told you not to touch anything."

He waited until Daniel obeyed, then gingerly began probing with the spoon. "God, what the hell did you eat?" Jack gagged at the smell. Then he felt something hard, deep inside the bowl, almost inside the pipe. Gingerly he teased it back, rolled it up out of the water and with a quick twist, got the green car into the spoon.

Moving fast, he shoved both spoon and car into the baggie and hurried to flush. Then he paused. "Daniel, how many cars were there?"

"Just that one." Daniel reached for the baggie eagerly, and Jack held it out of his reach.

"Just one? You're sure?"

"Yep." Daniel got up on tippy-toes, reaching higher. "It was in my pocket and fell out when I pulled my pajamas up." He turned around and pointed to the small pocket in his flannel pjs.

Sending a silent prayer, Jack flushed the toilet. Everything exited the bowl, and the water level rose to a normal level.

Jack blew out a puff of air, relieved that Daniel had been right. He closed the baggie and stuffed it into the garbage bag, tying it securely before dropping it on the counter so he could wash his hands.

"Jack? My car?"

Daniel was looking forlornly at the closed bag.

"Sorry, kiddo. It's a goner."

"No. You said you'd take care of it. You got my car. I want my car."

"Daniel, you've got plenty of other cars. Go play with those."

"No, I want that car. I want that car. You got it out. Why won't you give it back?"

The tears, the tantrum, the whining, and the lingering odor of shit had Jack grabbing the bag and walking out of the bathroom. Daniel followed on his heels, jumping and trying to get the bag from him until Jack turned on him and yelled, "Daniel, that's enough."

This wasn't the first time Jack had raised his voice in this manner but it was enough to startle Daniel into compliance. Unfortunately, those few moments of silence didn't last long when the whining turned into a full blown tantrum.

Jack hurriedly left the house and discarded the toy in the garage, out of Daniel's reach. He could hear Daniel screaming even from there, and when he came in, the decibels coming from Daniel's mouth felt like they were enough to shatter glass.

Jack knew there was only one way he would get peace and quiet tonight. He grabbed a blanket, wrapped Daniel in it, and grabbed his car keys. At least the grocery store was still open; that was the one thing so far he had going for him. He just prayed they still had green Matchbox cars left.


Daniel was snuggled contentedly against Jack, sharing the recliner and an afghan with him. Jack's old scrub top was bunched against his shoulder and Daniel was using it as an impromptu pillow as he slowly rolled a green Matchbox car up and down Jack's arm.

Daniel yawned loudly, and Jack glanced down at him. His eyes were half closed and Jack had a feeling that Daniel might just not quite make it to the end of the movie. It was apparent he was fighting sleep despite the long nap he'd had today at kindergarten. Then he squirmed and sat up abruptly, all sleepiness gone.

"Jack? Gotta pee."

"Okay." Jack paused the movie and put the footrest down as Daniel slid off the chair, the scrub top falling to the floor, forgotten.


Daniel stopped halfway across the room and turned to look at Jack.

"The car?" Jack waggled his fingers. "Remember what I told you?"

"No more toys in the bathroom." Daniel hurried back to Jack, slammed the toy into his palm and ran upstairs.

While Daniel was gone, Jack picked up the scrub top and folded it neatly, trying to brush away the myriad of wrinkles. Daniel returned, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, the earlier sleepiness nowhere in evidence.

He clambered back onto the chair and wriggled around until he was settled. A small hand reached out and grabbed the scrub top and pulled it back under the afghan, then took the toy from Jack. Just as Jack reached for the remote, Daniel shivered.

"Are you cold?"

"A little." He shifted against Jack, shoving his sock-clad feet under Jack's knees.

Jack touched Daniel's neck, testing for fever, but his temperature felt normal.

"Jack? Gramma asked what I was doing for Halloween. When's Halloween?"

Jack groaned inwardly. With all the decorations out there, it was hard to miss but somehow he hadn't really thought about doing much except answering the door and handing out candies, like he normally did if he wasn't on a mission that evening. "Do you know what Halloween is?"

"Yup." He nodded. "Gramma told me. She said kids get dressed up and go and get candies from people. Trick or Treat, she said."

"That's right. It's the only day of the year where accepting candies from strangers is allowed. And, only with a parent's supervision," he emphasized. "Halloween is next Tuesday."

"Do I get dressed up? Don't I get dressed when I go to school?"

"What Grandma meant was that you got dressed up in a funny outfit. In a costume."

"Do you get dressed up, too?"

"Sometimes. When I give out the candies."

"Why do you give out candies?"

"Because little kids come to the door."

"Oh." Daniel leaned his head back against Jack's shoulder then tilted his head to look up at him, upside down. "But if you give out candies, how can you go get candies from other people?"

"You can't. We have to make a choice. Either you dress up and I take you trick or treating, or we stay home and give out candies."

"But if you stay here and give candies out, then why do I have to go and ask for them from strangers? Can't I just have your candies?"

Jack couldn't help but grin at Daniel's logic. "Of course you can. But it's also fun going out and knocking at doors and seeing what sort of loot you'll collect." He had fond memories of taking Charlie around the neighborhood one year that he'd been home on leave, notwithstanding the upset stomach and the night of vomiting that had ensued.

"I have to knock on doors?"

"Of course. You have a bag, and you open it up when the person opens the door, and you say, 'Trick or Treat'. And they'll put some candies in your bag."


"But you won't be alone. All the little kids will be out there also, going from door to door."

"If someone knocks on our door, do I have to say Trick or Treat?"

"Nope, all you have to do is hand out some candies." Jack could sense that Daniel was torn; he wanted to experience Halloween - what kid didn't? Next to Christmas and his birthday, Halloween had been Jack's favorite time of year as a kid. Half the fun was in choosing a costume, not to mention comparing what goodies he'd gotten with his friends. But then again, with Daniel's mutism, he could see how much of an ordeal going door to door could be.

"Can we stay home and hand out the candies, Jack? Do I still get to dress up?"

"Of course we can stay home. And I'll tell you what. We'll go to the store tomorrow and choose the candies that we give out, and then we can put some aside, just for you. Just like you'd gone out Trick or Treating."

"Yay!" Daniel rolled on the chair, his knee coming close to giving Jack a good, swift knock on more sensitive areas of his anatomy as Daniel repositioned himself. "What about dressing up?"

"Well, we'll look for a costume tomorrow at the same time. How's that?"

"Can we take a picture for Gramma to see?"

"You bet."

Suddenly Jack was engulfed in a full body hug. "I love you, Jack."

Jack hugged Daniel back, wishing he could utter the words back without making it feel like a lie.


"Wow, look at all the candies." Daniel's head swiveled from side to side as Jack pushed the cart down the grocery store aisle. Jack grabbed several large bags of assorted miniature chocolate bars and a smaller variety of candies. "See anything you like?"

Daniel examined each bag carefully, then pointed to tiny bags of potato chips. "We had that at school last week. They were good."

Jack tossed the bag of chips into the cart. "Anything else?"

"There's so much!"

"Yeah. I know." Jack added mini Twizzlers to the cart, and as an afterthought, added some SweetTarts.

"I think we're good. Now we just gotta get a couple of pumpkins."

"We're going to eat all that?"

Jack laughed. "No, we're going to give most of this away?"

"All of this? Wow, that's a lot of candy."

"There's a lot of kids out there on Halloween night." Jack continued down the aisle, stopping at the other end where the costumes were. There wasn't much of a choice left; Jack flipped through the meager selection and finally chose a pirate costume. "Here, how about this? It's got an eye patch and a plastic sword and a hat."

Daniel fingered the sword through the plastic. "It doesn't look like a pirate."

"Well, it will once you put the patch on, and the hat. A pair of jeans and you'll be good to go." He took the package from Daniel and tossed it into the cart.

"What about you?" Daniel asked as Jack began heading towards the cash.

"I've got my costume at home."

"Is it a pirate costume, too?"

"Nope. I'll be a devil." Trusty devil horns, an old black silk cape and a drawn-on moustache would be good enough for him.

"Do you go out Trick or Treating?"

Jack swallowed back those memories of Charlie. "No. It's for kids." He told himself sternly it was time to make new memories. Watching Daniel enjoy himself surely wouldn't tarnish the visuals he had of Charlie and himself. So why did he feel guilty because he was glad he wasn't taking Daniel out on Tuesday night?


"I don't want to take a ba-ath," Daniel sobbed, clinging to Jack, the sour aroma of vomit nearly overpowering in the bathroom.

"Just a really quick one, okay?" Jack tested the water with one hand while Daniel tried to squirm away from the tub. He peeled Daniel from him and plunked him into the tub.

Immediately Daniel began shivering despite the heat of the water. His cries increased in pitch when his feet touched the water. Fever and a nightmare had contributed to this middle of the night sickness. Jack hurriedly passed a washcloth over his body, rinsing him off as best he could, and then wrapped a towel around him.

Daniel stopped screaming the moment he was back in Jack's arms, although the sobbing continued unabated. Drying Daniel and getting him into clean pajamas took another couple of minutes, and now Jack had the odious job of changing the soiled bed linens. "Wait here." He left Daniel next to the door and holding his breath as much as he could and gagging when he had to take a breath, Jack quickly stripped the bed, added the now filthy scrub top to the pile, hurried downstairs and tossed everything into the washing machine. He added soap, slammed down the lid and rushed back upstairs to finish making the bed.

Daniel hadn't moved. He had slid down the wall, making himself into a small ball, still crying. The pitch of his cries had changed; he sounded hoarse, as if he'd strained his voice. Jack quickly made the bed.

"C'mon, get in." While Daniel got up and shuffled to the bed, Jack dug in the back of the closet for Daniel's old comforter. He unfolded it, snapped it into the air with a flick of his wrists, and let it gently float down over the bed.

"I'll be right back."

With Daniel and bed now cleaned and changed, Jack quickly got some more Tylenol and a bit of water. "Here." He held the two tiny pills in his palm, but Daniel didn't pick them up. "C'mon, it'll make you feel better."

Daniel shook his head.

"You've got a fever. These will help." He stroked the sweaty bangs away from Daniel's forehead.

"My throat hurts." Daniel's voice was definitely raspy.

"Just swallow a little bit of water, okay? Enough for the pills?"

"I don't wanna."

"Daniel. I know you're not feeling that great, but you've taken these before. C'mon, just one big swallow and they're gone."

Daniel raised himself on his elbows, took the pills and chewed. Jack held the glass as Daniel guided it to his lips. He slurped noisily, swallowed, made a grimace and plopped back down onto the pillow.

Jack moved the small lamp closer to the edge of the table. "Open up and let me see your throat."

Daniel obeyed, opening wide, and Jack maneuvered the light until he got a good look at the swollen tonsils. "Okay, I'll call Doc Fraiser tomorrow morning and we'll see if she can do something for your throat, okay?"

"Can I have scrubby?"

"It's in the wash."

"But..." Daniel sighed and turned onto his side. Jack adjusted the blankets, wishing Daniel, and himself by default, could get at least one night's uninterrupted sleep. "Read to me, Jack?"

"Okay." He picked up a book at random, held the cover up for Daniel's inspection, and when he got a nod of approval, began to read. After a few minutes, he began glancing over at Daniel, watching as his eyelids slowly began drifting lower and lower. He continued reading a few minutes after Daniel's eyes had closed, then put the book down, turned off the light and tiptoed out of the room.


"Hi, Gramma. I'm sick."

Raspy voiced, at the moment, this was the only outward sign that Daniel actually was sick. Tylenol had taken care of the fever, had helped ease the sore throat, and a quick trip to the infirmary got him antibiotics. The meds, plus rest, fluids and time would take care of the tonsillitis.

Jack prepared supper, listening with half an ear as Daniel chattered with his mom about their trip for Halloween candies. He winced at how lacking Daniel's costume sounded as Daniel described it, and he was extremely grateful at the moment that Daniel wasn't expecting to go out trick or treating, because the forecast was for cold weather, and the last thing he needed was for Daniel to catch a chill on top of everything else.

"Honey Bunny, please." Daniel settled back on the couch as his mom regaled him with his favorite made up story. Jack wished his mom was right here in the house with them so he could listen to them again as well. Despite the number of times he'd heard the stories, he'd never gotten tired of them. And neither had Charlie, and obviously, neither would Daniel.

Supper was in the oven, Daniel's macaroni was bubbling away, and the table was set when Daniel walked into the kitchen. "Gramma wants to say hi." He handed Jack the phone then opened the refrigerator door.

"Hi, Mom." Jack grabbed the container of apple juice that Daniel was trying to drag out of the refrigerator.

"What's wrong with Daniel?"

"Tonsillitis." One-handed, Jack poured a bit of juice into a glass. "Doc gave him antibiotics. So tomorrow we're staying home, just to give him an extra day to recover."

Daniel grabbed the glass and downed the juice, coming up for air with a loud, satisfied, ahhh. Jack raised the container, and Daniel eagerly put the glass down next to it.

"You need to find yourself a babysitter. I know, I know, these are the days of single parents, but raising children with two adults is hard enough. Being on your own with a full time job like yours—"

"You're right, Mom. I have friends who'd be more than happy to sit with Daniel but unfortunately their schedules are just as crazy as mine." He poured some more juice. "We'll manage, for the time being. Worst case, I can always bring him in to work with me—"

"Don't you dare!"

"Well, it's not the best scenario but as you know, there is a well-maintained medical facility and if he's sick, he can get immediate attention." While Daniel drank up, Jack opened the refrigerator door and put the container away.

"You're not thinking about taking him out for Halloween, are you? He told me you were staying in and handing out candies. I saw on TV that you're getting cold weather on Tuesday."

"It feels cold enough to snow, and yep, we're staying in. Daniel figured out that he can get the best of both worlds this way. Get dressed up, get candies from me and not brave the cold. Mom, I gotta go and finish making supper."

"Have him call me Tuesday, after all the excitement's over."

"I will. And I'll take pictures." He took the dirty glass from Daniel and rinsed it in the sink.

"Good. I'll look forward to seeing them. Along with all the ones you've taken which I haven't seen yet."


"Jonathan. Language—"

"Sorry, Mom." He winced at the realization that he hadn't printed any of the photos he'd taken of Daniel. "Look, I'll have all the pictures developed and mail them out right after."

"If you say so."

"Mom, I'm sorry. It's just been a bit crazy. I promise."

There was a pause. "I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures. And the video tape."

"I'll make you a copy as soon as possible and mail it to you. Mom, I have to go, otherwise Daniel's macaroni and cheese will be mush."

Daniel giggled. "Musharoni and cheese?"

"Give him a kiss from me."

"I will. Bye, Ma." He hung up the phone and drained the pasta. "Go and wash up. Your musharoni and cheese is coming right up."


Daniel's eyes grew wide as Jack inserted the candle into the freshly carved Jack-O-Lantern and lit it. The scary face leered eerily at them from the kitchen table.

"That's so cool."

"Yeah, isn't it? We'll put it in the windows so kids know we have candies for them." Jack blew the candle out and put the pumpkin aside. "How about you draw a scary face on this one." Jack put a pumpkin before Daniel, and handed him a marker. "Just like the ones in the magazine." He pointed to the dozen different schemes for Jack-O-Lanterns.

Twenty minutes later, he had three carved pumpkins ready to go. He carefully arranged them in the windows, ready for tomorrow. He'd strung little orange lights along the walk leading up to the house, and strung glow-in-the-dark cut-outs of cats and witches in the door and window.

"There, we're all set. All we have to do tomorrow is put all the candies in a big bowl and get our costumes on."

"It doesn't look scary. Gramma said Halloween was scary. Even the pumkins aren't so scary."

"Oh, trust me. It'll look scary when it's dark and most of the lights are out."

"Can we put the candies in the bowl now? Then we won't have to do it tomorrow." Daniel looked away from the window and up at Jack with an eager expression.

Jack couldn't help but smile at him, knowing the kid was trying to be sneaky and get his hands on some early treats. "Nope."

When the hopeful look disappeared, Jack ruffled Daniel's head. "But, I could open one of the bags so we could at least see what the chocolates taste like. How about that?"

"Can I choose?" Daniel jumped up and down, and trotted up the stairs, anxiously prancing back and forth in front of the kitchen counter. Jack removed the bags of candies from the top shelf of the pantry, safely out of reach of eager little hands, and spread each bag on the counter. Daniel examined each one, reading the names out loud. Seeing they could be here a long time, Jack made a decision.

"You know, you probably like all of these." Jack ripped open one of the bags and took out one of the miniature chocolates. "But I bet you'll like this one best." Adult Daniel had loved 5th Avenue Bars so there was no reason this little one wouldn't either.

Daniel grabbed it eagerly while Jack helped himself to a mini Twizzler. Daniel struggled with the wrappings, and Jack had time to put everything away before Daniel was able to uncover enough chocolate bar to take a bite.

The expression on Daniel's face was priceless.

"Thish ish good," he said with his mouth full.

"I know."

"Can we stay home tomorrow, too?"

"Only if you're sick. And," Jack quickly said as he saw the proverbial gears turning, "if you're sick, you won't be helping me with Halloween. You'll be in bed, while I dole out the candies."

"But I'm sick now. And I helped with the pumkins." A chocolate smeared mouth extended into a pout.

"Pumpkins," Jack repeated, putting the emphasis on the p.

Daniel gave him a perfected five year old eye roll. "Pumkins, that's what I said Jack."

Jack just smiled, giving up without a fight. "The front door will be opening and closing all evening, and it's going to get cold in here. If you're still sick, I don't want you catching a chill. So tonight, you're going to eat the vegetables I put on your plate and go to bed early and if you're well enough to go to kindergarten in the morning, you'll be well enough to help out in the evening." Of course it wasn't all that black and white but at least this way he knew Daniel wouldn't be faking illness in the morning.

"Now, how about we clean up the kitchen so I can start making supper? Wanna get me a garbage bag?"

The doorbell interrupted cleanup duty. Daniel ran out of the kitchen while Jack wiped his hands, waiting for him anxiously as he peered through the glass windows. Jack opened the door and saw a Fed Ex truck parked at the end of his driveway.

He signed for the box, saw that the return address was his mom's, and brought it inside.

"What is it? Is it for me?"

"I don't know. Let me open it."

"Who's it from?" Daniel danced around Jack and pulled the box down so he could get a look at the writing. "It says Rose O'Neill on the box. Is that from Gramma?"

"Yeah, it looks like." Jack put the box on the kitchen table and opened it. Inside was a neatly wrapped bundle of fuzzy material, and when Jack shook it out, he held a child-sized Halloween costume.

"It's Honey Bunny!" Daniel exclaimed, grabbing the costume from Jack and dancing around with it.

"Grandma bought you a costume," Jack said slowly. It was a full-length bunny outfit, complete with feet, tail, and head. It would be cozy and warm, and Jack could actually take Daniel out to a couple of houses for the Trick or Treat experience without worrying that he'd catch a chill before handing out their own candies.

"Can I put it on now?" Daniel ran a hand down the soft material, looking pleadingly at Jack.

"Just to try on." He helped Daniel take his jeans off and get into the costume, which fit him perfectly. Daniel pulled up the head and his voice came through muffled. "I can see." There was a screen inside the head, allowing Daniel fresh air and a clear view. Daniel hopped around the kitchen with his arms bent in front of his chest until Jack told him to take the costume off.

"You're going to get overheated if you keep that up." He pushed back the head and already Daniel's face was flushed and sweaty. "Let's put this away until tomorrow."


"Tomorrow. Right now, you can call Grandma and let her know you got her gift."


That night, once Daniel had snuggled with him and had fallen asleep, Jack went through the boxes on the top shelf of his closet, looking for the Halloween accessories he usually used. The first box he took down was the one Carter had brought back from Daniel's apartment just a few weeks ago. He'd put it away without looking through it but, curious now, he put the box on his bed and opened it, wondering if there were any photos of Daniel at Halloween.

He flipped through the pictures, smiling at the identical little boy. Most of the photos had been taken in Egypt, and it was pretty obvious his parents had taken him with them on the digs rather than the usual practice of leaving him in town with a nanny. Many of the pictures showed Daniel to be in possession of the scruffy looking stuffed toy that Carter had packed, and Jack had a sudden idea.

He took the toy from the box and carefully examined the small tag sewn into a seam. It was dirty and faded, as was the stuffed camel itself, but he managed to make out the brand name.

A moment later he found himself on the phone, talking to Carter.

"I know it probably isn't around anymore, but if you could find one that looked the same—"

"But sir, Daniel has no memories. It doesn't matter whether or not the stuffed camel looks the same as this one or not—"

"I know that. Just consider it a gut feeling. Maybe deep down, he still remembers things. Like how he remembered me, and you and Teal'c. You saw the photo album; you saw how that camel was in just about every single picture. Maybe somewhere, subconsciously, having that camel back might help him sleep through the nights—"

"What about giving him the original one. The one in the box—"

"Have you seen how filthy it is? Besides, it's so threadbare that it'll probably fall apart the first time he sleeps with it."

"That's true." There was a pause and Jack could hear typing in the background. "I'll see what I can do, sir. I'll let you know in the morning."

"Hey," Jack said quickly before she could hang up. "What're you doing tomorrow night?"

"Tomorrow night?"

"Yeah, you know. Ghouls and goblins and all that?"

"Giving out candies, sir."

"Have you bought them yet?"

"The candies?"

"No, the ghouls and goblins. Of course the candies. Knowing you, you're going shopping on your way home from work—"

"I was planning on stopping by and getting them on sale—"

"Would you consider giving me and Daniel a hand doing that tomorrow? My mom sent Daniel the cutest costume and I'm sure he'd love to see you guys—"

"What, you're afraid of a hundred little kids coming to your front door?"

"Terrified, Carter. There's more of them than there are of me," he said with a smile. "Actually, Daniel's been under the weather and I'm afraid he may conk out before Halloween is over and I may need some backup just in case."

"Janet said he'd been sick. How's he doing?"

"Fever's coming and going. Throat's pretty sore. Yesterday he didn't want to eat, today he was better but it's so unpredictable that I'd like to cover all my bases."

"Are you springing for supper, sir?"

"Of course. And oh, maybe Teal'c would like to get in on the act?"

"I'll ask him tomorrow. Should I bring anything?"

"Just a costume."

"I'll see you tomorrow, sir," she said, laughing.


"Jack!" The moment Daniel spotted Jack, he slid off the chair and ran to him, only to come to a skidding halt when he spied Carter and Teal'c with him.

"DanielJackson. You appear well."

"T-Teal'c. Sam." The hug that had been heading for Jack suddenly went to Carter, who went down on one knee and hugged him back. "Are you coming to see my Honey Bunny costume?"

Carter appeared startled at the spoken words and she looked at Jack a moment before giving Daniel a bright smile. "Yep. And we're going to help with handing out candies, too."

"Yippee!" Daniel let go of Carter and threw himself at Teal'c, who bent down and picked Daniel up and tossed him up into the air before catching him and holding him close. Teal'c got a full body hug, complete with arms and legs, and Daniel nearly dislodged Teal'c's cowboy hat from his head. "You, too, Teal'c?"

"Indeed. Colonel O'Neill has invited us to share a meal and distribute the small delicacies to the local children. You will have to explain this holiday, as I have never celebrated it."

Jack grabbed Daniel's backpack and green car from the table and motioned for Teal'c to lead the way. Daniel jabbered on non-stop, explaining the finer points of Trick or Treating, presumably something Rose had told him all about.

"He's talking," Carter whispered as she leaned closer to Jack.

Jack blinked, then suddenly remembered that Daniel had seldom spoken to his teammates. Obviously things were looking up. He ignored the startled look from the teacher at the door as they left, who watched as Daniel kept up the monologue all the way to the Avalanche.

"Can I ride with Sam?"

"No, it'll take too long to take your seat out and install it in her car."


"Daniel. She's coming over for supper. The longer we stand here and discuss this, the longer it'll take to get home and get ready for Halloween."

"You'll be right behind us?" he asked Carter worriedly.


"Even better, Carter, why don't you take point and we'll follow you in."

"Sure." She laughed as she slid into her car. Before Teal'c could squeeze his bulk into the passenger side, Daniel grabbed his arm and tugged. "Come sit with me?"

Jack motioned silently for Teal'c to join them, and the Jaffa regally inclined his head, accepting the invitation.

"Are you wearing costumes, too?" Daniel asked as Jack buckled him in.

"Indeed. I am dressed as a cowboy."

"And Sam?"

"She did not confide what her disguise will be."


Dressed in an over-the-shoulder flowing white blouse, cropped black vest, skin-tight black pants with knee-high boots, Carter hardly needed the eye-patch, tri-corner hat, fake goatee and sword to complete her outfit. One look at her, and people would hardly notice the actual disguise. Jack often forgot how good looking Carter was; he was so used to her as being one of the guys, that occasionally, like tonight, it was almost a shock to be reminded she was a woman.

Unless, of course, you were a five-year old child.

"Did Jack buy you your costume, too?" Daniel tilted his head to the side and stared up at Carter. "I like your beard." He reached a hand and fingered the false whiskers when Carter knelt down to his level.

"Why, thank you. And you are... Bugs Bunny?"

"No," Daniel giggled. "Honey Bunny." He raised the costume's head so his face was covered. "See?"

"Ah, I see." She glanced quizzically at Jack.

"One of my mom's stories about a rabbit lost in the woods. She's been regaling him with tales about Honey Bunny."

"Your costume's lovely, Daniel."

"Thanks. Gramma made it." He bunny-hopped over to the mirror in the hallway to examine his costume.

"Wow, your grandmother's pretty talented."

"Actually my mom bought it. While her skills are many, sewing isn't one of them. Daniel's only been with me a few weeks and already she's spoiled him rotten." Jack scowled at the mirror he'd propped up on the kitchen table as he drew a moustache around his lips. "It was always a thing of contention between me and Sara, the way my mother kept sending Charlie gifts. Mom didn't visit very often so she made up for it by buying him things. Sara and I tried talking mom into moving here but she wouldn't sell her house."

"I'm sure her gifts were appreciated." Carter sounded uncomfortable, and Jack realized he'd shared more of his personal life with her and Teal'c in just these few sentences than in the two years they'd worked together.

"Yeah, well, I'm sure Charlie would rather have had a grandmother close by than getting toys in the mail every few months."

"Well, I guess it depends on a child's perspective."

"Charlie seeing his grandmother as someone who showers him with gifts rather than love and affection isn't exactly what I wanted. Mom and I... argued... and by the time Charlie died, we weren't exactly close."

"And now, Daniel..."

"Has worked his magic more in these few weeks than the years of our dancing around one another, trying to reforge our relationship. Mom's showered him with gifts, there's no denying that, but she's also made the effort of actually being there, as much as a telephone conversation can bring two people together." Jack put the final swirl of color on his face and stared at his reflection. "She's making an effort, for which I'm extremely grateful. And if I have to pay a small fortune in long-distance bills to keep them both happy, so be it."

"DanielJackson appears to be content."

"Yeah. He's a good kid."

"Can we light the pumkins now, Jack? It's nearly dark outside."

"Yep, that we can. Looks like we're all ready."

"Can I choose my candies now?" Daniel pushed the costume's head back, so it hung along his back.

"Sure." Jack grabbed a plastic bag and held it open for Daniel. "Help yourself."

"You're not going out Trick or Treating?" Carter grabbed some SweetTarts and opened the bag.

"Jack said I can have some of his candies."

"But every kid's got to go out Trick or Treating." Carter popped a SweetTart into her mouth, crunched down on it, and made a face. "It's fun. You get all kinds of candies, every house is a surprise."

"But..." Daniel looked at the handful of chocolate bars he'd chosen, then back at Jack.

Jack would rather Daniel stay here, with him, under his supervision, out of the cold, but at the same time, he couldn't deny Daniel having a bit of fun. "You can go if you want to. Maybe just down the street? I'll get my coat—"

"Would you permit me to accompany DanielJackson on this quest of Tricking or Treating?"

"You, T?"

"It would please me greatly to share this adventure."

"Can I, Jack? Huh? Can I?" Daniel jumped up and down in place.

"I'll get you a bag." Jack hurriedly found a medium-sized shopping bag that wouldn't be too big for Daniel to carry around. By the time he came back, Teal'c had put his leather jacket on, completing the cowboy disguise.

"Thanks." Daniel took the bag and peered into its empty depths. "Where's Teal'c's bag?"

"He's not going Trick or Treating, Daniel. He's just walking with you."

"But how can Teal'c get candies if he doesn't have a bag?"

"I do not require candies—"

"Yes, you do. You have a costume and everything. Here, you can have mine." Daniel slapped his bag into Teal'c's hands. "Jack, I need another bag."

"Coming right up." Jack rolled his eyes in Carter's direction as he got another bag for Daniel.

"Yay!" He grabbed the bag and ran to the door. "You didn't light the pumkins, Jack! C'mon, Teal'c, hurry up."

"Wait, DanielJackson. Perhaps we should attempt a rehearsal before we leave."

"Yeah, good idea." Jack lit the Jack-O-Lanterns as Teal'c and Daniel went out the door. A moment later, the doorbell rang.

Jack opened the door, and stood there, staring down at Daniel, who was looking up at Jack through the material of his costume. Jack didn't budge; he just stared, not saying a word.

Daniel fidgeted.

"I believe you must request your treat, DanielJackson."

"Oh. Right." Daniel cleared his throat. "Trick or Treat," he demanded.

"Ah, what a cute little Bugs Bunny." Jack ruffled the top of Daniel's costume. "And my, oh my, what a big boy you are," Jack said, looking at Teal'c with a critical eye as he absently dug a hand into the bowl of candies. "Aren't you a little old to be Trick or Treating?"

"I am not."

"Well, you carry your age really well. Great costume, by the way." Jack held out two small candy bars, waiting expectantly for the two to make a move. "Um, guys," Jack finally said, "you have to open your bags so I can put the stuff in them."

When Daniel eagerly thrust his bag forward, Jack dropped one chocolate bar in it. Daniel's head followed its descent, and then he thrust a gloved hand onto Teal'c's fingers as he reluctantly began to open his bag.

"You didn't say Trick or Treat," Daniel scolded. "You have to say it so you can get the candy."

"Kid's right, you know." Jack heard Carter snort behind him and he had trouble holding back his grin as Teal'c's face hardened.

"Trick. Or. Treat," Teal'c growled.

Jack was certain that if Daniel wasn't around, he would be getting the trick rather than giving out the treat.

Daniel watched avidly as Teal'c, almost reluctantly, opened his bag and allowed Jack to drop the second candy bar into it.

"That's all?" Daniel whined as Teal'c closed the bag shut nearly as fast as Pandora must have closed the box before Hope managed to escape.

"You got a stash of stuff in the kitchen. I need to save some for the other kids." Jack waved them away. "Go on. Go do the houses down the street." A bunch of giggling kids came running up the driveway and nearly bowled Daniel aside in their eagerness to be the first to thrust their bags in front of Jack. Several Trick or Treats rang out simultaneously, and Jack handed out the goodies while commenting on their costumes. When the kids ran off, Daniel was still standing to the side of the door, arms clutching his bag with his single candy bar, his costume's head pushed back and a look of utter terror on his face.

"Hey, it's okay. The kids were just a little over-eager."

When the sound of laughter trickled down the driveway from the street, Daniel scampered into the house and hid behind Jack. He watched as two more kids ran towards them and this time Jack allowed Carter to do the honors, while he stood with a hand on Daniel's shoulder.

"See how it's done? Do you want to go and try it with Teal'c?"

Daniel adamantly shook his head.

"Perhaps you would allow ColonelO'Neill to accompany you?"

"W— Would you?" Daniel looked up at Jack. The kid appeared torn between wanting to hide here in the house and go out there into the dark and experience the fun the other children were having.

"Would you two mind—" Jack waggled a finger towards the candies.

"No, not at all." Carter smiled at Daniel. "We've got it covered."

"But you only got one candy." Daniel handed Teal'c his bag. "You can have mine, if you want."

"Thank you, DanielJackson." Teal'c took the candy bar from Daniel's bag, dropped it into his, and returned the empty bag to Daniel. "Perhaps you would share what candies you are able to obtain from the others on this street? I would be curious to see what others are giving away for free."


"You sure about this?"

Daniel nodded slowly. "Just a couple of houses?"

"Just a couple." Jack hurried to get his coat while Carter answered the door to another bunch of giggling, shoving kids. He and Daniel left on the coattails of the group, walking slowly down the street, Daniel clutching his hand while examining the Halloween decorations on all the properties. They stopped at the next door neighbors, and Daniel waited next to Jack as the kids got their loot and continued noisily down the street.

"Go on." Jack gave Daniel a gentle nudge.

Slowly Daniel mounted the stairs and stood before the door, unmoving. For a moment Jack thought Daniel was going to change his mind and come back, when the door opened. Mrs. Reynolds stood in the doorway, exclaiming over Daniel's costume while Daniel stood stock-still. She grabbed a handful of candies, opened his bag, dropped them inside, and waved to Jack before shutting the door. In the light streaming through the windows, Daniel stuck a hand into the bag, took out the three small chocolate bars and examined them before putting them back.

"Next time, try saying Trick of Treat," Jack urged as they moved on to the next house. There were sounds of children's voices everywhere; it was almost like they came out of the woodwork.

Daniel slowly walked down the driveway and stood in front of the door.

"Ring the doorbell," Jack called out when Daniel turned to look at him. Slowly, Daniel reached for the button and pressed.

Again, he stood frozen when the door opened and the neighbor spoke to him. A sudden onrush of children overwhelmed them, coming in from behind, and for a moment, Jack lost sight of Daniel in the crush of children. Then the wave of kids left, and Daniel was still standing there, unmoving, in front of the door.

"Are you okay?" Mr. DiMateo asked. Hurriedly, Jack ran up the stairs and Daniel ran into his arms.

"It's his first time out, and he's a little overwhelmed by it all."

"Oh, I totally understand. Kids, these days. No manners, none at all. Saw you with him these past few days. Nephew?"

"Not exactly," Jack said tightly. "Ready to go, Daniel?"

"Wait, he never got his candies." DiMateo went back inside and came out with a small, decorated bag bulging with goodies inside. "Here, open up. Daniel, you said? These, my wife made for the few kids that come around that we know." Daniel opened his bag slowly, almost fearfully. He leaned closer as Jack pulled away, the bag still tightly clutched in his arms. "They've got the good stuff in them." He winked as Jack thanked him, took Daniel's hand and continued back along the driveway.

He thought Daniel had had enough, but to his surprise, but after stopping by the road to examine the bag of candies carefully, Daniel continued along the sidewalk, moving away from their house. He had to hand it to the little guy; he sure was tenacious. This time, before going up the stairs, Daniel checked the street in both directions. The only kids around were across the street. Probably feeling a little safer without the threat of a crowd, Daniel walked up the stairs with more assurance. He rang the doorbell and started to open his bag.

Unfortunately, just as the door opened, the gang of kids ran across the street and once again, surrounded Daniel. These kids were older, noisier, a couple of them pushing one another in a bid to get closer to the door.

Old Mr. Weber, however, never took any sort of nonsense from anyone. "All of you, stop pushing," he yelled in a voice that would have made a parade sergeant proud, "or none of you are getting anything. Now, move back, the bunny rabbit was here first." Speaking more softly, Weber smiled down at Daniel. "Now, young rabbit, was there something you wanted to ask me?'

Jack winced. He'd forgotten how Weber could be. He should have gone up there with Daniel, at the very least to explain to Weber how he was a little shy. Daniel stood there, as still as a rabbit caught in headlights, his bag once again clutched against his chest. Slowly, the bag opened and was slowly extended.

A couple of the kids snickered. "Hey, rabbit, cat got your tongue?" One of the kids shoved his bag on top of Daniel's. "Trick or Treat," the kid yelled loudly.

Weber merely glared at the kid, who quickly withdrew his bag. Three more kids ran past Jack and joined the melee on Weber's porch. A young woman, obviously accompanying the three, stood next to Jack, watching. "Is there a problem here?" she asked after realizing nothing was happening.

Jack sighed. "My boy's a little shy and old Weber's trying to get him to talk. I think I'd better go up there—" He'd only taken a step when the woman put a hand on his arm, stopping him.

"You don't want to do that. Trust me, your son's humiliated enough as it is. If his father comes to rescue him now, he'll never get the courage to overcome his fears."

"Yeah, well, I think Daniel's beyond humiliated and is more in the terrified zone."

"Very well, young rabbit," Weber said. "I fear if you will not speak up, then you will have to move aside."

Anger flooded through Jack but before he could walk up and get Daniel out of this ridiculous situation, a young voice spoke up. "Hey, that's not fair. He's just a little kid."

"Yes, my little vampire. But little kids have to learn the rules of the game. Now, who was next?"

"Trick or Treat," the boy in the vampire suit yelled out. "Trick or Treat." A second later, everyone in the group was yelling out the words. When the din died down, the vampire spoke up again. "Okay, you go first." To Jack's surprise, the vampire took Daniel's bag and opened it up. "I heard him yelling Trick or Treat," the vampire said, standing next to Daniel, daring Weber to disagree. "Me, too," another kid in a clown outfit piped up.

"Oh boy," the woman next to Jack said. "Now, that is my son Corey. Always coming to the rescue."

"Smart kid," Jack murmured as Weber had no choice but to give Daniel candy. Stuck as he was amongst the children, Daniel had to wait until everyone had their turn and left. The three latecomers stayed with Daniel and accompanied him back to Jack.

Daniel was crying quietly. Jack pushed the costume's head back and wiped the tears from his face. "Wanna go home now?"

Daniel nodded, and put his arms up. Jack complied and picked him up.

"That man was mean, Mom." The little vampire sounded angry. "That wasn't fair."

"No, it wasn't," Jack said as they started walking towards home. "And thank you for what you did."

"No problem. Hey, Nate, did the old guy give you a sucker, just like me?" Corey held up a red sucker and tossed it into his bag with disgust.

"Is your child mute?"

"No. He... he's had a shock lately and although he can, and does talk, it's only under circumstances where he's comfortable. And tonight was..."

"A little out of his league?"

"A lot of out of his league. But I'm really, really proud of him." Jack gave Daniel a squeeze, and Daniel squeezed back. "It took a lot of courage for him to go up to houses and beg for candies."

"But it's fun," Corey said. "But I guess if you're all alone, it's not that much fun and can be really scary. I'm glad that Li and Nate are with me. Are you really going home? It's still early?"


"Yeah, I have friends holding the fort for me and I need to get back. Thank you."

"Hey, Daniel, maybe next year you can come with us. Mom, that'd be okay, wouldn't it?"

"Well, we'll see, Corey." She smiled at Jack and mouthed the word, Sorry. "I'm Gina, by the way. Gina Middleton." She extended a hand and Jack awkwardly shifted Daniel so he could quickly shake her hand.

"Jack. Jack O'Neill." He stopped in front of his house. "Well, I live here."

"Wow, you didn't get to go very far. Are you sure you want to go home now?"

Jack laughed. "Yeah, I'm sure, Corey. Look, next year, you come around to the house before Halloween and we'll see about getting together, okay?" Jack made the offer knowing it most likely would never be followed through. "Thanks again."

To his surprise, Daniel waved at them as he walked back to the house.

Carter took one look at Daniel when Jack put him down, and held out her arms. He ran to her without hesitation and hugged her tightly, then, with his bag of candies still in his hands, went to Teal'c and offered him the bag.

"For you."

"DanielJackson." Teal'c looked stunned. He got down on one knee, and took the bag, upending everything onto a small side table. "Let us see what you have procured."

There were a couple of chocolate bars, a few toffees, a sucker, which had to have come from old man Weber, and the bag from DiMateo. Inside the bag were a variety of more expensive, individually wrapped chocolates. Teal'c chose the sucker, half the toffees, one chocolate bar, and then put everything else into Daniel's bag.

"Thank you. It has been an interesting experience and I appreciate the effort you have made in procuring these candies. I will relish the opportunity to taste them later."

"You like 'em?"

"Indeed." The doorbell rang. "Now, perhaps you would wish to aid me in distributing candies to the children at the door?"

With his hand firmly grasping Teal'c's, Daniel opened the door to a chorus of Trick or Treats.


"One stuffed camel, as ordered, sir."

Jack looked up and saw Carter standing in the doorway, a lopsided grin on her face and a caramel colored, stuffed camel in her hand. She waggled the toy and its head bopped from side to side.

Jack motioned her in, and she plopped the toy on his desk. "So, pretty good match, eh?"

He picked up the toy and examined it critically. Not quite the same, but close. Very close. "Good job, Carter." He gave her a relieved smile. "I think Daniel will like the camel. How much do I owe you?"

Carter quickly put her hands out. "No, no, please. It's my pleasure."

"Hey, I asked you to get this, and I do appreciate that you must have paid extra for delivery just to get it here this fast."

"If it helps Daniel, sir, then it's the least I can do." She nodded at the stuffie on Jack's desk. "Let me know how it goes.


"Carter and I got you something." Jack glanced at Daniel in the rear-view mirror and saw his head come up. The earlier moping was gone and he looked back at Jack with greedy interest.

"What did you get me?"

"You'll see when we get home."

"Why can't I see it now?"

"Because I'd have to stop the truck to get it out of the bag and give it to you." Sorry now that he'd brought it up, Jack concentrated on driving in the dark, rainy night. Yet another confrontation with Daniel's teacher about Daniel's lack of sleep, his crankiness and his inability to stay awake during the day; why was nobody fighting for Jack's right to sleep? Every hour Daniel spent awake crying in Jack's arms, meant two or three hours' lack of sleep for Jack as he lay in bed afterwards, worrying about Daniel.

Maybe he couldn't do this. Maybe he shouldn't do this. Maybe they needed to rethink everything and give Daniel to someone who could give him enough security that he'd sleep the nights through.

Thankfully Daniel didn't start carrying on. He continued playing with his little green Matchbox car, and Jack managed the rest of the drive in peace and quiet. He grabbed Daniel's backpack and the bag containing the camel, and escorted Daniel into the house.

Supper was leftover pizza, quickly prepared and eaten without much of a fuss. Playtime, bath, and Daniel was uncharacteristically not fighting sleep and was willing to be put to bed early.

"Remember I said I had a something for you?"

"Uh huh." Daniel dragged the scrub top under his chin and stared up at Jack.

"Just a sec. I'll be right back." He hurried into the kitchen, took the stuffie out of the bag and brought it back to Daniel. "Here." He put it on the pillow next to Daniel.

Daniel got up on his elbows and stared at the camel. Slowly he raised a hand to pet it then pulled it onto his chest. "It's a camel?"


"It's nice." Daniel went to put it back on the pillow, and Jack reached out and stopped him.

"It's a magic camel."

Daniel smiled and rolled his eyes. "There's no such thing as magic camels."

"What?" Hurriedly Jack put both palms over the camel's ears. "Don't let him hear you say that. You'll hurt his feelings."

Daniel's eyes widened and he looked at the camel, then at Jack, then back to the camel. "You're just saying that—"

"Yes, of course I'm just saying that. Carter went to all this trouble to find this magic camel especially for you, and here you are, insulting him."

"Why's he so magic?"

Slowly, Jack peeled his hands back and gave the head a loving pat. "He stops nightmares."

"Camels don't do that."

"Well, this one does."

"No, he doesn't."

"Yes, he does."




"Hey, who's the adult here? I'm telling you, this is a magic camel that stops bad dreams."


"Well, it's really simple." Jack sat back, watching Daniel absently stroke the long, soft neck. "See, the camel represents the people who care about you. Me, Carter, Teal'c, Fraiser. Lam. General Hammond. Walter."

"And Cassie?"

"Yep, even Cassie."

"Don't forget Gramma."

"Of course I can't forget Grandma."

"But it's a camel, it's not you."

"Ah, but this is where the magic comes in. See, whenever you feel alone, you just pick up the camel, hold it in your arms, and know one, or all of us, is thinking about you at that very moment."

"Oh." He shut his eyes and squeezed the camel to his chest. A few seconds later, he let it go, opened his eyes, and looked at Jack. "Were you thinking about me?"

"Just now?"


"Yes, I was."

"Oh." Daniel grinned sleepily. "And Sam and Teal'c? Were they thinking of me?"

"Well, I'm pretty sure Carter was, and Teal'c, well, he's probably meditating, so he may not be thinking of anything at all at the moment. But if he were thinking of something while meditating, well, I'm sure, then, it would be of you."

"And Cassie?"

"Well, if Cassie's sleeping, then she's not thinking about you, unless she's dreaming about you."

Daniel giggled. "And Janet?"

"Definitely thinking about both you and Cassie."

"Does Cassie have a magic camel?"

"I don't think so. But then, she hasn't been having bad dreams."

"Oh." Daniel pulled the camel under the blankets, laying it on top of the scrub top. "Does the camel have a name?"

Jack shook his head. "You can call it whatever you want."

"Okay." Daniel yawned, burying his mouth on the camel's neck.

"Night, Daniel." Jack left the room, waiting for the sounds of footsteps behind him. He made it down to the den, grabbed the afghan from the couch and got into his recliner. Right on schedule, Daniel pattered down the steps, the scrub top now hanging from the camel. Boy, camel and scrub top clambered onto the recliner and Jack, ready with the blanket, covered them all.

"I'm gonna call him Lumpy," Daniel announced with a yawn.


The alarm clock was insistent; Jack rolled over and reached for it blindly, fumbling a few times before shutting it off. He stretched, feeling oddly refreshed. He lay there for a moment, reveling in feel good sensations, when suddenly it hit him that he'd slept the whole night through.


He was up and running just as if it were the middle of the night and Daniel was screaming the house down. He slowed to a controlled skid right in front of the bedroom and eased the half-opened door all the way to peek inside. He'd half-expected to find Daniel cowering in the corner, traumatized by having to deal with his nightly nightmares by himself. Instead, Daniel was sleeping peacefully, his face snuggled against Lumpy the camel's body. There were no signs of distress; the blankets didn't look overly disturbed, and there were no signs of tears on his face.

"Good job," Jack told the stuffie.

Tiptoeing out of the room, Jack headed for the kitchen to start the coffee. A quick shower later, Jack was sitting in the kitchen and enjoying his coffee and reading the paper without feeling like he needed another few hours' sleep. He was starting on his second cup when Daniel walked in, carrying Lumpy.

"Sleep well?"

"Uh huh." He leaned sleepily against Jack's side and plopped the camel on the table.


"Uh huh."



"French toast?"

"Uh huh."

"You sure?"

"Uh huh."

Jack stood, picked Daniel up and sat him on his chair. As he poured him a glass of juice, Daniel yawned and knuckled his eyes. "It's morning?"


"I didn't have a bad dream last night."

"No, you didn't. Looks like the magic camel worked his magic, eh?" He ruffled Daniel's hair then gave the camel a quick pat on the head. "Way to go, Lumpy."




Still staring unbelievingly at the note from Daniel's teacher, he motioned the boy over. "Can you tell me what this says?" He motioned for Daniel to stay put and propped the morning's newspaper on the table.

He looked at Daniel and realized that the teacher was right. Daniel was squinting in order to make out the details of the large print.


Daniel kept taking his new glasses off to examine them as Jack pulled out of the parking lot of the optometrist's office. Jack could see the movement in his peripheral vision in the rear-view mirror.

"Leave them on."

"Why can I see better with them on?" he asked, putting the glasses on again and worrying the arm of the glasses.

"Because that's the way glasses work."

"You don't wear any."

"No, but Grandma does," Jack replied, watching Daniel through the mirror. Daniel's mouth opened as if he were going to say something, but he closed it and seemed lost in thought. A moment later he pulled out a Matchbox car and started playing, glasses apparently forgotten.


"Gobble, Gobble, Gobble."

"Gobble, Gobble, Gobble."

Jack couldn't help smiling, watching Daniel taking small, birdlike steps, hands tucked under his armpits, walking around the house, practicing for his role.

"How was that, Jack?"

"Very birdlike."

"But was it turkey-like?"

"Yes, very. And the gobbling has gotten better." Jack couldn't help smiling; Daniel had been practicing his gobbling for the past two weeks in preparation for tomorrow's Thanksgiving play.

"Gobble, gobble, gobble." Daniel proudly chicken-walked out of the room. "Gobble, gobble, gobble."

"Bedtime in ten minutes."

"Gobble, gobble," Daniel replied, moving slowly down the hall towards the bedroom.

"Don't forget to brush your beak."

"Gobble, gobble, gobble."

"You better be perched in your roost by the time I get there, or there won't be any bedtime stories for Mr. Turkey."

"Gobblegobblegobble." Daniel ran down the hall and skidded into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind him.

Jack's smile faded as he thought about the upcoming play. With Daniel's continued mutism, the teacher had thoughtfully given him a role where it wouldn't matter whether he spoke or not. But he was afraid Daniel would be disappointed in himself if he wasn't able to articulate the three words he was expected to say along with a half dozen other classmates. Three words that had rung throughout the house for days on end and he was looking forward to tomorrow just so he wouldn't have to hear a turkey gobbling every couple of minutes.

"Gobble, gobble, gobble," Daniel crowed as he flapped his arms, moving slowly into the bedroom. Jack rolled his eyes as he went to tuck him in. He stood there patiently by the bed, Lumpy tucked under one arm while Mr. Turkey Jackson made his slow, majestic way to the bed.

"Do you think people will know I'm a turkey?" Daniel asked as he slid into bed.

"I think the gobbles give it away." Jack smiled gently, then frowned when Daniel's teeth caught his bottom lip. "And then the walk is pure turkey. Everyone's gonna take one look at you and want to capture you and roast you and grab a drumstick and—"

Daniel giggled as he handed Jack his glasses to put away. "They'll have to pluck me first."

"Never mind. I think I'll stick to the grocery store turkeys. They're already featherless."

"When is Gramma coming?"

"Day after tomorrow."

"I wish she were coming tomorrow so she could see my play."

"I know." Jack handed Lumpy to Daniel and tucked them both in. "But she'll watch the videotape I'm gonna make."

"I can't wait for tomorrow." He hugged Lumpy to him. "Sam and Teal'c and Janet are coming, right?"

"Yep. They wouldn't miss this for the world."

"I'm gonna be a great turkey," Daniel sighed as he snuggled against Lumpy.


"Gobble, gobble... croak." Daniel coughed and tried again. "Gobble, croak." He gave Jack a horrified look from the kitchen door. "My throat hurts." His voice was hoarse.

"C'mere." Jack put his hands on either side of Daniel's head and immediately felt the fever. He maneuvered him so the overhead lights illuminated his mouth and asked him to open up. The sight wasn't pretty; swollen and red, it was a miracle that Daniel could talk at all. "Sorry, kiddo, I think you're staying home today."

"But the play—"

"I know. But you're sick."

"But I'm a turkey—"

"A sick turkey, kiddo." Jack pulled Daniel onto his lap, where he snuggled against him, hiding his face against his chest.

"Wanna try some breakfast?"


"I can make some French toast."



"Nu-huh "

"Mac 'n' cheese?"



"Jaaack." Daniel coughed, open-mouthed, into Jack's shirt. "Ow."

"Okay, let's start with some Tylenol and juice."

"Don't want juice."

"Let's start with the pills, then." He stood, and with Daniel in his arms, got the Tylenol from the bathroom. While Daniel chewed the pills, Jack poured him a bit of juice. It was obvious that swallowing was painful when Daniel handed back the juice after taking only a sip.

"How about you get back into bed for a while?"

"Not tired." Daniel rested his forehead on Jack's shoulder.

"You don't have to sleep. Just rest."

Daniel was pliant and let Jack put him to bed. Armed with his scrub top and Lumpy, a few books, his Matchbox cars and animals, Daniel propped himself up on his pillows and began playing while Jack called the school to report Daniel as being sick. Again.


"But I'm better now." Mouth sticky with syrupy goo, Daniel frowned at Jack. The Tylenol may have done wonders for Daniel's fever, but his voice was still horribly hoarse. "See? Gobble, croak, croak." Daniel's face fell. "I wanna go to the play." His voice cracked and the last few words were nearly inaudible.

"I think we'll sit this one out."

"But I'm not sick no more." Daniel slid off the chair, and began to walk around like an angry chicken, flapping his elbows and making sounds that resembled a chicken in the process of being tortured.

"I want the doc to take another look at you. We're going to the infirmary."

Daniel stopped fooling around and turned to give Jack a horrified stare. "I don't wanna go there. I wanna go to school."

"I'm sorry, Daniel." Jack picked up Daniel's dish and threw out the nearly untouched French toast. "But if you're sick, you don't want to make the other kids sick, too, do you, by giving them your germs?"

"It's not fair!" The words had intended to be a shout but they came out hoarse and indistinct.

"I know." Jack rinsed the dishes and placed them in the dishwasher. "Go wash your face and hands, then brush your teeth."

"I wanna go to school."

"Daniel!" Jack turned around and glared at Daniel. "That's enough. You're not going to school, and that's final. Go wash up."

The bathroom door slammed shut behind him. Jack let it go, finished cleaning up and had just taken out fresh clothes when Daniel stomped into the bedroom.

"I hate you. I wanna go live with Janet."


"Well, his tonsils are pretty swollen and inflamed." Fraiser discarded the tongue depressor and palpated Daniel's neck. "Does it hurt when you swallow?"

"Uh huh."

Daniel tried to reach for Lumpy, whom he'd placed on the pillow behind him when he'd climbed onto the infirmary bed.

"Hold still, honey." She examined Daniel's ears, then switched to a thermometer and took his temperature. "Low grade fever—"

"It was 102 a couple hours ago."



"Well, I don't think it's strep but I'll take a culture just to be sure." Fraiser pulled out a long cotton swab and showed it to Daniel. "I'm going to rub this inside your throat. It's going to tickle for a moment, and might be a little uncomfortable. I want you to stay still and it'll be over in just a second. Now, open wide."

Despite Daniel's continued silence and sulking, the moment the swab went into his mouth, his eyes searched for Jack. He held still, even when Fraiser's actions caused him to gag.

"Good boy." She placed the cotton swab in a plastic bag and stood, smiling at Daniel. "This will only take a couple of minutes."

Jack approached the bed and sat next to Daniel. Daniel fidgeted and reached for Lumpy, dragging him into his lap. "Why did Janet tickle my throat?"

"So she can see what germs are living in your throat and making you sick."

"She can see that? The germs are on the stick?"

"Sorta. The germs are in your mouth and that's why you can't go to school, because you can give them to other kids and then they'll be sick, too."

"I don't wanna be sick. Can I go and play?"

"Don't go far."

"I won't." Daniel thrust Lumpy onto Jack's lap and slipped off the bed, pulling a Matchbox car out of a pocket. A second later, he was on his knees, pushing the car across the cement floor.

Jack watched Daniel get up and run down the length of the infirmary. Sick or not, the kid had energy to spare. He stopped at the doors leading from the infirmary, glanced at Jack, then turned around and ran back. Throwing himself onto his knees again, he ran the car around and around, until Jack began to fear he'd wear a hole in his pants. He was just about to tell Daniel to stop, when Fraiser returned.

"Good news. It's not strep. There's not much we can do except give him Tylenol for the pain and fever." She watched Daniel get up and run to one of the beds and run his car over its length. "Keep him comfortable. Plenty of fluids, rest."

"Right. Easier said than done."

"You might want to try giving him something easy to swallow. Soft foods; soup, yogurt, Jell-O, ice cream."

"Macaroni and cheese?"

Fraiser grinned. "That, too. You'll need to keep him at home for at least three days, or at least until the fever goes down."

"Any objections if I keep him here with me today?"

"Not at all. Bring him up here later for a nap. I've got plenty of beds as you can see."

"Right." Jack grabbed Lumpy and stood. "I've got work to do in my office."


Work? Did Jack really expect to get any work done with Daniel running back and forth the length of the hallway, in and out of his office? He did have a sick child, didn't he? Maybe he'd made a mistake; maybe he should have sent Daniel to that play. He sure as hell had the energy to walk like a bird halfway across a stage.

Grabbing the next folder, Jack began reading, finally managing to tune out Daniel, who was at his feet and crawling under his desk with his little green car. Jack had actually ended up making a small dent in his inbox when he came up for a break. He contemplated getting a coffee, when he realized it was quiet.

Too quiet.


Jack started to push his chair back and it was then he realized there was a weight on his feet. He glanced down and there was Daniel, curled up in a small ball, head pillowed on Lumpy.

Slowly Jack extricated himself and got down on his knees. Two glassy eyes stared back at him. "What're you doing down there?"

"I'm cold." Daniel shivered, as if to emphasize what he'd just said.

Jack picked him up and sat him on his lap. The fever was back; there was no mistaking it.

"Time for some Tylenol." He stood, put Daniel down on his chair and ruffled through the small duffle bag he'd brought with Daniel's toys and other necessities. "Here." He put two Children's Tylenol in Daniel's palm. "Chew these."

Daniel made a face but obediently took the pills.

Jack picked up his coffee cup, walked to the water fountain in the hall, rinsed the cup and filled it halfway. By the time he got back, Daniel had swallowed the pills and seemed eager to rinse the taste from his mouth.

"Hurts." He pushed the cup back after taking a swallow.

"Okay, I think it's time to go and visit the doc again. How about a nap in one of her beds?"

"I don't wanna." Daniel pulled his feet up onto the chair and hugged his knees. "Can't I stay here with you?"

"I don't think a cold, chilly office is the place for you right now. I'd feel better if you were in a bed, kiddo."

"I don't need a bed." Daniel glanced around almost desperately. Jack guessed what he was searching for and extricated Lumpy from beneath his desk. Daniel grabbed the stuffie and hugged him, burying his face in the fur.

Silently cursing his small office, Jack wished he had the space to put in a small couch for times like this. Then he got an idea. "Okay, let's see how this works out." He pushed his two visitors' chairs together against the far wall, out of sight of the hallway, making an impromptu cot. Even with the padded seat, the space was small but if Daniel curled up...

He picked Daniel up and placed him on the chairs. Daniel laid down, his head once again pillowed on Lumpy. "Comfy?"

"Mmm hmmm." Daniel closed his eyes, shivering hard enough to make the chairs rattle. "See, I don't have to go to Janet."

Jack was pretty sure if Fraiser happened to walk in, he'd never hear the end of this. Still, he took his jacket off and covered Daniel with it, then left a hand lingering against his neck. He decided that if Daniel's fever broke, he'd leave Daniel here. If it got higher or didn't go away, then he'd take him to the infirmary.


Having a sick, feverish Daniel in his office for one day was overlooked. On day two, Hammond came to visit and took one look at a squished Daniel and Lumpy sleeping on the makeshift cot. "This isn't fair to Daniel. Make it right," had been his only comment.

So here it was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and he was trying to cook, clean and keep a whiney child entertained. And as he prepared the stuffing for tomorrow with Daniel trying to climb up his leg, Jack lost the battle to keep his patience in check.

He slammed the bowl down into the sink, grabbed Daniel and planted his tush on the countertop in one fell swoop. "Can you please just sit down for two minutes?"

Shocked, Daniel sucked his lips in until they all but disappeared and his eyes grew huge behind his glasses, but he didn't cry.

"Good," Jack continued, forgetting that he was talking to a five year old who didn't feel well. "I have your attention."

Daniel nodded.

"All I'm asking is for you to go to your room. Or the living room. The den. Or hell, even sit on the chair right over there." Jack pointed over his shoulder to the kitchen chair. "Can you do that?"


Now it was guilt and not Daniel that was distracting him. He stuck the wooden spoon in the bowl of stuffing and went searching for Daniel.

"Hey, buddy."

Daniel looked incredibly tiny lying on Jack's king-sized bed. And sick. Glassy eyed and flushed.

"Comfy? Jack brought the quilt over to cover Daniel's body then eased himself down onto the bed.

As he burrowed under the blanket, Daniel gave a slight shiver when the cool quilt met his overheated body.

Stuffing forgotten, Jack lay down next to Daniel. "I'm sorry," he whispered, cupping the hot cheek in his hand.

Daniel's eyes filled and overflowed, the moisture breaking Jack's heart when it touched his fingers.

"Don't cry," Jack pleaded. "Tomorrow's Thanksgiving and Grandma's on her way to see you."

The mention of his mother brought a smile to Daniel's face. "You can give a guy a complex." Jack used the pad of his thumb to catch his tears.

Daniel sniffed and stuck tiny, chubby fingers under his glasses to rub at his eyes. "Gramma's not mad. You're mad."

For a second the lie was on the tip of Jack's tongue, denying his anger, but he couldn't do it. So much of Daniel's life now was built on lies. He couldn't bring himself to add to them. "You're right. I was mad."

Daniel settled under the quilt and turned on his side, one open palmed hand tucked under his cheek, the other snaked out and fisted in the front of Jack's tee. "Why?"

"Why?" The one word floated out on a sigh. "I dunno."

Daniel giggled. "Silly answer."

"Yeah, I guess it is." Jack smiled. "I have an idea?"

"Am I gonna like it? Is it gonna be a surprise?"

"No. No surprise. Just a nap."

"Eww. A nap? I don't wanna take a nap. I'm five," he whispered conspiratorially. "I don't take naps."

"You do in school."

"I don't nap in school. I rest my eyes."

"Oh... Really?" Jack decided this wasn't the best time to call Daniel's attention to how deeply he rested his eyes, along with the rest of his body during nap time.


"Well, how about you rest your eyes?"


"Now would be good." Jack placed his hand over Daniel's in an attempt to pry the fingers from his shirt.

"Stay." Daniel gripped harder.


Daniel nodded. "Rest your eyes with me."

"Daniel, I can't..." There was so much to do. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving and the spoon was still stuck in the stuffing sitting on the counter. The cornbread needed to be made. The Jell-O needed to do what Jell-O needed to do. The china needed to be run through the dishwasher and... Jack realized when he glanced at Daniel that the resting of one's eyes was going to take precedence over every single thing that needed to be accomplished. "I can't sleep, I mean, rest my eyes, for too long."

"Just a little while," Daniel yawned, closing his eyes.



"Mmmmm." Jack rolled over onto his back.

"Why is there a bowl of stuffing with a spoon in it sitting in the kitchen sink?"

"Mom!" Jack's resting eyes flew open and he shot up in bed. "Holy crap. I fell asleep."

"Obviously," his mother said with an evil grin.

"How did you get—"

"Shush." She placed her finger to her lips and glanced at Daniel, who was barely visible under the blanket. "Don't want to wake up your bunkmate."


Jack sat at the kitchen table watching his mother pour him a second cup of coffee. "You took a cab from the airport? You should've called—"

"No. We discussed that. I'm quite capable of getting into a cab."

Gratefully, Jack accepted the mug of steaming coffee, hoping the second cup would do the trick and sweep away the cobwebs from his brain. "Ummm... How did you get into the..."

"You know... Carole?"


"The nice lady across the street?"

"Mrs. Hargrove?"

"Yes... that's the one. Carole Hargrove. She took pity on me and used the key you'd given her to let me in."


"She really likes you, Jonathan. She told me she worries about you and—"


His mother barely had time to turn before Daniel barreled into her and buried himself against her legs.


They sat around the kitchen table. Jack was nursing his third cup of coffee, watching his mother listen intently as Daniel chattered on and on, obviously not caring if his words weren't reciprocated.


"And then we had show and tell." He took a breath. "And I wanted to bring in Lumpy, but Jack said he was too special to—"


"So I had to find another stuffed animal in my room, but there was no one I wanted to take so I took my book about—"


Daniel and his mother glanced over at Jack, though Daniel's expression wasn't one of annoyance.

"Jonathan, that was quite rude. Daniel was talking."

"He yelled at me before."

"Oh, he did, did he?"

"Yup." Daniel nodded enthusiastically. "Loud. But I didn't cry," he said proudly. Daniel grinned broadly at Jack, then reached over and patted Rose's hand. "Don't be mad at Jack," he insisted. "He rested his eyes so he's all better."

"Rested his eyes?"

"Nap, mom. I took a nap. Daniel took a nap."

"And you're all done yelling, Jonathan?"

"I didn't yell." Jack slammed his coffee cup harder than he intended and the liquid swished over the side onto the table. Jack took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Okay, I did yell. And I got angry."

"But you're not angry now?" Daniel whispered.

"Nope." He leaned over and tickled Daniel, his fingers working their way under Daniel's shirt, overjoyed to feel normal body heat.


"No." Rose shifted on the couch and a half-asleep Daniel, who was resting against her side, sighed in protest. "Jell-O is not a dessert for Thanksgiving."

"With a little bit of Cool Whip, no one will—"


"If you're so sold on apple pie, I think I have a Mrs. Smith frozen one—"

His mother shuddered, crossed herself and pulled Daniel protectively closer. "How could you do that to this poor child?"


"Stores are open in the morning. You stay home and finish whatever it is that needs finishing and I'll run to the store—"

"You have no car."

"I'll use that monster truck of yours sitting in your driveway."

"My truck?" Jack squeaked.

She glared at him over the rim of her glasses. "Yes, your truck. If I trusted you to drive my brand new Impala—"

"I was seventeen years old—"

"And I'm a lot older and therefore much more trustworthy."


"I don't wanna watch the parade." Daniel scowled at the television then gave Rose a smile of cherubic proportions. "I wanna go with Gramma."

"You had a fever yesterday."

"And I don't now. Can I go with you, Gramma? Please?" He grabbed her hand and held on.

"It's up to Jack."

Great. He hated playing the mean, evil one. "Daniel, do you really believe—"

"Yes," Daniel practically shouted. "I'll be good. I won't whine or ask to use the bathroom."

"See, he'll be good." She held up their conjoined hands.

Double-teaming. Nice. "I'm not sure—"

"I won't even look at the cars by the door. Or beg Gramma to buy me any. Even though I need a new blue one—"

"Daniel..." Jack warned.

"I'll be good."


"We'll both be good," she said, winking at him as she waved his key ring in the air. "Promise."


Rose drove the Avalanche through the crowded parking lot, enjoying the power of the truck more than she would admit. The wipers slowly swept the windshield free of drizzle. She couldn't help but smile as she pulled into a parking slot; she'd always wanted a large truck rather than her small compact car. It would soon be time to change her car; maybe she should think about getting something a little more powerful.

She sighed. If only she had a good reason to get something larger. Like a family. Like... a grandson?

"Are we there, Gramma?"

"Yes, Daniel." As she clambered awkwardly out of the truck, she decided that maybe if she did buy a truck, it wouldn't be one that she needed a small ladder to get out of. "Where's your hat?" She searched the seat, found the cutesy, green woollen hat she'd bought him and placed it on his head before unbuckling him from the booster seat. "C'mon, let's go."

With Daniel holding tightly to her hand, she hurried through the cold, windy parking lot, while Daniel half-skipped, half-ran. He was giggling when they hurried into the grocery store, looking up at her over the edge of his hat, which had fallen past his eyebrows.

Laughing, she pushed the hat back. He smiled at her, and her heart melted at the thought that this wonderful child loved her unconditionally. She didn't know what she'd done right in this lifetime to get a second chance, but she added a thank you every night in her prayers.

She picked Daniel up and sat him in a cart, helping him thread his legs through the metal openings. "So, do you like apple pie?" She still couldn't believe Jack had thought a meager bowl of Jell-O was good enough for Thanksgiving dessert.

"I don't know. Do I?"

"Well, do you like apples?" She pushed the cart towards the fruit section.

Daniel made a face. "I think... yeah, I like apples."

"And do you like ice cream?"

She got an enthusiastic nod for that.

"Well, you put ice cream on the apple pie—"

"Then why isn't it called ice cream pie?"

"Because the apples are in the pie, not the ice cream." She took a plastic bag and started choosing apples from the bin.

"Oh." Daniel reached for an apple and handed it to her.

"Thank you." She dropped it into the bag without examining it. "Remind me to get you some vitamins before we leave."


She accepted another apple from Daniel. "Yes. They'll hopefully help prevent you from getting sick so often."

"Are they medicines?"

"No, not exactly." She knotted the bag closed and placed the apples in the cart. "They help keep you healthy. Sort of replace some of the things your body is lacking when you don't eat properly."

"I eat." Daniel sounded affronted and he tilted his head back to look up at Rose.

"Yes, you do." She tapped his nose and he giggled. "But if you ate other things other than macaroni and cheese, like fruits and vegetables, like apples, you might not get sick as much."

"I like mac 'n' cheese."

"Yes, I know you do." Rose stopped next to the tomatoes and looked them over. She had an idea and since she was here, she decided she was cooking tomorrow. She debated over the tomatoes and chose several ripe ones. "How about spaghetti? Do you like that?"

Daniel kicked his leg back and forth, hitting his heel against the edge of the cart. "I dunno. Does it taste like mac 'n' cheese?"

"Spaghetti sauce? It does, sort of. But better. And I bet you'll like it. Jack does."

"I dunno. Jack likes brocli and peas."

Rose laughed. "Your fath—" Quickly clearing her throat at her near faux pas, Rose tried again. "Jack doesn't like broccoli."

"Yes, he does. He ate some on Saturday. It was yucky."

"Oh, it was, was it?" With a mischievous grin, Rose pushed the cart towards the broccoli. As she chose one from the pile, Daniel pointed to it.

"Is that going in the spatini sauce? Because I don't like brocli."

"No, mhuirnin, it's not. I think Jack would enjoy eating the broccoli as a side dish, however. Now," she said, leaning close and handing him the broccoli. "What if I cooked the broccoli for you and you found it to be good, would you eat it?"

"But I don't like it."

"I know. But you only tasted Jack's. You haven't tasted mine. How about it? One bite? If you like it, then you can eat a little more. For me?"

Daniel looked unsure and nervous. "But—"

"Just one bite. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it. But I'm betting you'll like it, just like my spaghetti sauce."

Daniel still seemed uncertain, but seemed to be wavering towards her coaxing. She made a mental note to pick up some cheese before they left.

"Rose? Rose, is that really you?"

Rose turned in surprise, recognizing the voice. "Sara? Oh, my Lord. Look at you." She hugged Sara, noting in that one quick glance that Jack's ex-wife looked just as lovely as ever. There were a few more lines in her face, a few grey hairs amongst the blonde, but her smile was as warm as ever and her blue eyes sparkled as she examined Rose just as critically.

"What are you doing in this part of the world? Are you visiting Jack?"

"Yes. Believe it or not, he's making Thanksgiving dinner. And he forgot the dessert."

Sara laughed. "Yeah, that's Jack, all right."


Rose turned to acknowledge Daniel, who was holding out the broccoli to her. "One bite. I promise I'll try it."

"Grandma?" Sara's voice was accusatory and the joy in her eyes turned to anger and hurt. "Grandma? What the hell is this?"

"Sara, this is Daniel—"

"I know for a fact that Jack doesn't have any brothers or sisters, so obviously Jack's been playing me for a fool, hasn't he—"

"Sara, it's not what you think—"

"How the hell can it not be? Obviously Jack was cheating on me all the while. And he got himself a cute little bastard—"

"Sara, please. Let me explain—" She deliberately kept her voice low while Sara's had gone up an octave.

"Obviously Jack was doing more than working overtime when he was married to me. And you knew? And you never told me Jack was cheating on me?" Sara's face was red and her words were gathering attention.

Shoppers had stopped and were staring at them.

"Sara, Jack never cheated—"

"From where I'm standing, it certainly looks like he did." She turned on her heels and walked away. "And here I was thinking that he'd changed." She pushed aside a couple of teenagers who were grinning at them evilly and wouldn't step out of her way.

"Daniel's not Jack's son," Rose said softly, refusing to make more of a spectacle than they already had. She was shaking as she turned to Daniel, who was watching her with a wide-eyed, frightened look. She forced a smile. "Good boy," she said, surprised that her voice sounded normal as she took the broccoli from him and put it in the cart. "I'm so proud of you."

"Is that lady mad?"

"A little."

"At me?"

"No, sweetheart. It's just a misunderstanding."

"But she doesn't like Jack? Is she mad at Jack?"

"Yes, she likes Jack and as I said, it's a misunderstanding." Face burning with embarrassment, she held her head high and headed for the next ingredients on her list.


"Jack! Jack! We got apples and brocli and Gramma's gonna make spatini sauce." Daniel dropped the bag in the hallway and immediately pulled his hat off and started on his jacket.

Rose hurriedly balanced the remaining grocery bags in one hand and took the wet jacket from him, awkwardly hanging it up on a doorknob with one hand.

Jack popped his head out of the kitchen and grinned at them. "Spatini sauce?"

"Spatini, spatini," Daniel echoed as he ran into his bedroom.

"Spaghetti. Figured since I was here—"

"You're making spaghetti? Mom, have I told you lately that I love you?"

"You just love me for my pasta, son." She handed him the bags so she could shrug out of her own damp coat, remembering how much Jack had always loved her spaghetti sauce, and that meant it had been years since she'd made any for him.

"Well, that, too." He plunked the bags on the counter, and Rose rummaged through them until she found the vitamins.

"Daniel, would you come here, please?" She got the bottle of Flintstones vitamins open and poured one out. "I got him some vitamins."

"Do you think it'll help?"

Daniel came skating into the kitchen in his stocking feet.

"It can't hurt. Here, try this." She handed Daniel the vitamin. "You can chew it."

Daniel examined the cartoon-character carefully, turning it this way and that before taking a careful bite. He chewed thoughtfully then popped the rest of the vitamin in his mouth. "S'good." He gave Rose a quick hug and ran back to the bedroom.

While Jack put the groceries away, Rose began rolling out the pie crusts she'd prepared earlier. "I saw Sara—"

"What? Where?"

"At the grocery store."

There was a pause. "How is she? How did she look?"

"She looked great."

"Yeah." Jack smiled, his focus obviously going inwards. "I saw her last year and she looked wonderful."

Rose hated to bring this up but figured Jack needed to hear about Sara's reaction before he heard it from any friends. "We didn't get a chance to talk because—"

"Gramma. Can I have an apple?" Daniel came barreling into the kitchen.

"Of course." She opened the bag and let Daniel choose one and handed it to him after washing and drying it. He bit into it, his small teeth gnawing furiously as he worked his way around its circumference.

"Jack..." He held the three-quarter eaten apple up for Jack to see. "Gramma said I would be better if I ate apples." He went to take another bite, stopped then stared at Rose. "Gramma, would the mean lady in the store feel better if she ate an apple?"

"Mean lady? Mom, did someone—"

"Sara. And shush, Daniel, she wasn't mean, she was upset."

Daniel shrugged and put the gnawed core on the counter. "She seemed mean to me. I'm glad you didn't cry, Gramma. I would've cried if someone yelled—"

"Yelled?" Jack shouted. "Sara yelled? In a store? Sara yelled in a grocery store?"

"Yup, she yelled." Daniel opened his arms wide. "Everyone in the store turned to look at us."

"That doesn't sound like Sara—"

"I know. She misunderstood something..." Rose rolled her eyes toward Daniel. "Let's take this up later?" She picked up the dough and placed it into the pie plates. "Daniel, do you think we have enough apples for two pies?"

"We have lots of apples." He rose on tiptoes to look over the edge of the countertop and wrinkled his brow as he pointed to the pie plates. "How are you going to fit the apples in there?"


It had been the biggest one Jack had found and he'd thought it humongous, but now, with all the people eyeing the bird, he was pretty sure any hope of having a late night leftover turkey sandwich just went up in smoke.

Daniel breathed deeply. "Are we going to eat it, or just look?"

McKay picked up his knife and fork in each hand and banged them against the table. "Hear, hear, little man."

Daniel leaned forward, peering around the people between him and McKay. "Don't be rude."

Jack hid his snort behind a throat clearing while a few chuckles erupted around the table.

"Wait," McKay said nervously. "There's no citrus in this, is there? I have told you I'm deathly allergic to citrus." He glanced worriedly at the turkey.

"Then you better stay away from the salad dressing," Jack said.

"Oh." McKay looked at the glistening salad next to his plate. Without remorse, he grabbed the bowl, reached over and exchanged it with Ferretti's plain salad. Jack knew he shouldn't tease the man but he seemed to keep asking for it. Biting back a grin, he turned to the turkey. "Teal'c, please, would you help me do the honors and help me carve the bird."


Daniel stared at his plate. "My mashed potatoes are orange."

"I mashed sweet potatoes," Carter said, plopping a blob onto a corner of Daniel's plate.

He wrinkled his nose then turned to Jack for help.

Jack just shrugged and tucked into the stuffing. "Just try a little. And if you don't like it—"

"He'll like it," Carter insisted indignantly.


Daniel ate three helpings of mashed sweet potatoes, two slices of apple pie and not much else, except the sliver of turkey Jack was able to cajole him to taste.

Jack was uncomfortably full, and based on the way everyone was sitting back in their chairs, he could pretty much ascertain that the dinner and the overabundance of desserts had glued people to the dining room chairs.

Glancing around the dining room, Jack couldn't help but smile at the people who'd accepted his invitation. A rag tag group, he was glad he'd offered the invitations to those folks he was pretty sure would have no plans for the day as they had no families close by.

His mom was talking with McKay, her head canted to the side as she listened avidly to the man, who was talking a mile a minute, his finger tapping against the table insistently as he tried to get a point across. Lam was mercilessly teasing Daniel while Janet watched on in amusement. Teal'c and Cassie were discussing the merits of Nintendo versus Playstation, of all things. Ferretti was sitting quietly, watching all the goings on with a quiet smile.

Yep, life was good.


The fragrant smell of tea floated upwards as Jack poured hot water into the cups. The guests were gone, the kitchen was now clean and Daniel was playing in the living room, on the couch where he'd be sleeping for the next couple of nights. "Now, tell me about Sara." He brought the cups to the dining room table, where his mother was fiddling with a spoon.

"It all happened so fast. We were talking and—"

"Gramma?" Daniel came up the stairs and into the dining room, dragging Jack's old scrub top along with Lumpy. "The vitamins didn't work." He trudged around the table and leaned against Rose. "I don't feel good."

Jack saw the blush of fever on Daniel's cheeks as his mom picked Daniel up and placed him on her lap.

"Ah, my poor mhuirnin." Jack got up to get the Tylenol while his mom rocked Daniel. "Is it your throat again?"

"Mmm, hmmm." Daniel laid his head against her shoulder. "And my head."

Jack gave Daniel a few more minutes with his mom after he took the Tylenol. When he put his arms out, Daniel slid off her lap, took Jack's hand and allowed himself to be led back to the couch. "Think you can sleep, sport?"

"Mmmm." He snuggled against the pillow, shoving his butt against the back of the couch as he pulled Lumpy against his chest.

Jack touched the warm face as he bid him another goodnight.

"You should bring him to a doctor to get a full workup," his mother said the moment Jack entered the kitchen.

"I have." He picked up his tea and took a sip. It had cooled off just enough.

"Well, it's not normal for him to get these fevers."

"Fraiser said it's a virus—"

"And how many viruses has he caught over the past weeks?"

"Kids get sick, Mom. You know that. As a matter of fact, I think those are your words."

His mother sighed. "Yes, I know. I remember Charlie during first grade where he caught just about every single childhood disease imaginable. Sara nearly pulled her hair out because it was one thing after another."

Jack nodded; he'd only heard about this once he'd gotten home from his stint in Iraq. "About Sara, Mom..."

"While we were talking, Daniel called me grandma, and Sara immediately drew the wrong conclusion."

"And she insulted you right there, in public—"

"I really can't blame her. She assumed you'd cheated on her during your marriage—"

"What? Didn't you tell her about Daniel?" Jack hissed the words, hyper-aware of the child lying on the couch just past the half wall.

"I tried. But she wouldn't listen and honestly, that wasn't the time or place to be having that conversation."

"So now she's sitting at home, furious at me because she thinks I had an affair." Jack threw his hands in the air. "Thanks, Mom. Thanks a lot."

"Think about it, Jack. What other conclusion could Sara come to?"

"You could have explained things—"

"But Daniel was right there. You live in the same town, Jonathan, maybe you should have been the responsible one and called her and told her about Daniel."

"Why?" Jack bit off his words at the sound of the doorbell. He stomped down the hall, swung the door open, and froze at the sight of Sara standing there.

"Um... Hi, Jack."


"I'm looking for Rose. Is she here?"


She held up a bottle of wine. "I came to apologize."

Jack recognized the label and knew it was the good stuff.

"Well, in that case." He held the door wide and stepped aside, letting her enter. His mom was standing in the entrance to the kitchen, looking a little worried. Sara looked around curiously as she walked over to her.

"Rose? I'm really sorry about earlier. I was... Well, I guess shocked doesn't even cover it, and I wasn't thinking." She handed his mom the bottle and Rose took it almost reluctantly. "Jack, I guess Rose told you about what happened."

Jack gave a nonchalant wave of his hand. "She might have mentioned it."

"I jumped to the wrong conclusion." Sara gave him a smile that didn't quite meet her eyes. But he had to admit that she gave it a good try. "I know you, Jack, and I know you wouldn't have cheated on me."

Nodding, he pulled out a chair for Sara. "Coffee? Tea? Wine?"

"No, thanks. I'm not staying that long. I just wanted to come over and say I was sorry. I..." She passed a hand through her hair and leaned a hip against the back of a kitchen chair. "I hadn't realized you'd met someone." She cleared her throat and a blush spread up her throat to color her cheeks. "I guess the idea of you and a child—"

"I'm not."

"—took me by surprise. Obviously my brain went in the wrong direction. I never thought that you might have met someone who had children and that—"

"I haven't," he said quickly, trying to get her off that particular track. He hadn't believed how awkward this whole conversation would be, especially with his mom in the room. No wonder she'd had trouble getting Sara to listen in the store. He'd forgotten how stubborn she could be when she got stuck on some idea.


"I'm not seeing anyone."

"But the boy—"

"Is the son of a friend who—" Jack stumbled on the word "—died."

Sara looked to him, then at Rose. "But he called her Grandma."

"Yeah. I'm Daniel's guardian and—"

"You are?" She laughed, almost derisively. "Forgive me for saying this, Jack, but that's a little hard to believe. You couldn't be there for Charlie, and now you're a single father?" She turned to Rose. "Is that why you're here? To help him bring the boy up?"

"It's Thanksgiving, Sara," his mom said simply.

"How the hell are you going to take care of him when you couldn't even be home for more than a couple months out of a year? You couldn't be there for me and Charlie, what kind of life are you giving that child?" Her voice started to rise, and although Jack realized there was hurt and possibly even jealousy, he started to get angry. He didn't deserve this from her, and he didn't like the way she was referring to Daniel, as if he was something dirty.

"I've adjusted my hours; Daniel and I are doing fine—"

"Oh, right." She walked to the far end of the kitchen and then whirled to face him, obviously trying to work off nervous energy. "You've adjusted your hours. I saw the weird things going on where you work, remember?" Her eyes flashed angrily. "You're going to subject a little boy to all of that? What the hell are you thinking?"

"And what the hell do you expect me to do, Sara? The kid's got nobody else. I can't just abandon him. I may as well toss him into a back alley so he has nowhere to sleep but in a cardboard box." He took a step forward and rested his palms on the kitchen table, leaning forward, towards her. He couldn't believe this. This was almost as bad as the last weeks he and Sara had lived together before they separated; what had happened to the understanding woman he'd met again last year?

"Jonathan—" Jack glanced towards his mother when she called his name, but turned back to Sara when she answered in a sarcastic tone.

"Oh, cut the drama, Jack. As much as you loved Charlie, you never took fatherhood seriously. Your job always came first, and you can make as much noise as you like about adjusting your working hours. We both know that sooner or later, you're going to have to give that child up so you can go back on your secret missions again. National security and all that—"

"Jonathan. Sara. Enough."

His mother brushed past both of them and at first he thought she was heading to her room. Instead, she turned right and went down the stairs. It was only then that he realized Daniel was crying.

"Ah, crap." He turned to Sara, tamping down his temper, keeping his voice gentle as he tried to be understanding. "He's my best friend's son. I couldn't leave him with strangers."

"Then I wish you good luck with him. Or maybe it's him I should be wishing good luck to." She walked past him and headed towards the door. He followed, and the sounds of Daniel's sobbing and Rose's croons were loud in the hallway. "I'm sorry about..." She waved her hand towards the living room and stopped in front of the door. She raised her eyes towards the ceiling, blinking back tears. "I just... I..."

"I know." Life wasn't fair. She thought Jack was having a second chance at fatherhood, and probably wanted the same for herself. Whereas Jack would give anything to give back the little boy who was crying, and to have his best friend returned in his place. He understood. More than she probably knew.

He moved behind her and wrapped his arms around her. She took hold of his arms and held them tightly against her while she leaned her head back. He felt her take a shuddering breath, and then another. "I'm sorry."

He kissed her temple. "I know."

She swallowed loudly. "Tell Rose—"

"She knows."

Sara nodded. "Okay." She raised her head and pulled away. Jack let her go and regret for the last three years of his life hit him hard. She turned to face him and smiled. This time, it reached her eyes. "Good luck." Then before he knew it, she was gone.


Daniel clung to Rose for the remainder of the evening, which was probably a good thing, because Jack couldn't seem to get past the look on Sara's face or the accusation in her eyes. She'd been right on so many levels. While he loved being a father, he'd had difficulty adapting to fatherhood as a whole. He'd always assumed there'd be more time to correct his absenteeism during Charlie's formative years. Well, Jack thought, as he tested the water for Daniel's bath, one always knew what happened when you assumed.


"Hey, buddy, ready for your bath?"

Daniel slid off Rose's lap, gave a glance back at her and hesitated for a second.

She shooed him forward with a wave of her hand. "I'll make up the couch for you, okay?"

He put up his hand for Jack to hold.

And Jack saw it. Saw the hand. Felt the presence, but just couldn't at the moment. Suddenly there were too many memories connected with little fingers holding onto him. "Come on, sport." He ruffled Daniel's hair, hoping against hope that maybe there was some part of adult Daniel in this little body to understand his reluctant behavior.


"Bubbles." Dejections forgotten, Jack received a huge smile for his effort of tilting the bubble bath bottle a little too long under the running water. Daniel stripped in record time and was up and over the side of the tub before Jack could offer assistance.

He blew a path and giggled as the bubbles separated on his command. Jack's silence didn't seem to affect Daniel and he kept himself entertained with only his fingers, a washcloth and a tub of bubbles. Sitting on the closed toilet seat, hugging the towel for Daniel to use when he got out of the tub, Jack watched him without actually seeing him.

Jack jumped when his mother took the towel from his grip.

"I think it's time for him to get out of the tub."

Daniel stood, bubbles sticking to his body, shivering and shaking.

"Oh, yeah." Jack reached for the towel his mother now held.

"I got this covered," she said softly, "why don't you turn down his bed?"


Jack held two books up for Daniel's perusal. "Which one?"

Tonight was a scrub top and Lumpy night. Wide-eyed, with both comfort items sharing the couch with him, Daniel stared at Jack. "I want Gramma to tell me a story."

"Oh." Jack flashed a smile, trying to hide how inexplicably hurt he felt and handed the books to his mom. "I guess you're up." He stood, and gave his mother the seat of honor next to Daniel.

"Which book?" She sat on the edge of the couch, both books in her lap.

"Not a book." Daniel sat up, took the books and tossed them onto the floor. "I want a Honey Bunny story."


"Is there one about when he's lonely or sad?"

Jack's smile faded and he slowly left the room, using Daniel's question as a cue to leave them alone.


Jack was emptying the dishwasher, one-handed, while his other hand was wrapped around a tumbler of Scotch, something he believed he deserved after today.

"Does that help?"

Jack raised the glass and took a drink before answering. "Are you going to pass judgment on me, too?"

She took the dish he held in his hand, opened the cabinet and put it away. "No. I'm not. I was literally asking if having a drink helped."

Jack gave a soft huff. "Is that a hint?"



"Yeah, it is. But just a little, I have to—"

Jack closed the dishwasher, grabbed a glass and poured his mother a healthy splash of whiskey.

They both sat at the kitchen table. "So, Ma, why can you only have a little?"

She twirled the liquid around in the glass, examined it then took a sip, smiling in appreciation. "Have to make spatini sauce tomorrow."

"No, you don't. You're visiting."

"You love my sauce."

"Yes, I do. But—"

"I enjoy cooking for an appreciative audience. So shush. I'm thinking we may have to stop by the store tomorrow and pick up a few items..." She pulled a pad and pencil from the basket on the table, and began tapping the pencil while talking out loud. "We already have tomatoes. Garlic. But bread. Going to need fresh bread. Is that bakery on the corner of—"

Jack nodded. "Benkerts? Yup, still there." His mouth watered at the thought of his mother's sauce.

"Oh." She stood, surveying the kitchen with a slow turn of her head.


"Show me the biggest pot you have for boiling up spaghetti."

"It's just me and Daniel. And before that it was just me... And Daniel's not a big eater..."

"Show me," she demanded, holding in a look of shock when Jack placed a medium-sized saucepan on the counter. "We definitely need to go shopping tomorrow."

Shopping on Black Friday was on par with going head to head with a platoon of Jaffa. Though with the Jaffa, he was kitted with a multitude of weapons; on Black Friday he would be armed with only his mother and Daniel for protection. "Bad idea."

She poo poo'd him. "So the stores will be a little crowded. We know what we're going for. We'll be in and out in a flash."


This was the third time they'd passed the toy store and the third time Jack had to pull Daniel away from the display of Matchbox cars. "Later."

"When later?"

"I don't know, Daniel." Jack shifted the load of coats he held in his arms. He'd forgotten rule number one, no matter what the temperature outside, the temperature in the mall was always tropical. "As soon as your grandmother finds the right pot."

"When will she find the right—"


"Then it'll be later and I can get a car?" Daniel ran a finger over the box with the bright purple car inside.

"Come on, Daniel," Jack prodded him forward with his knee. "I think I see her over there."

"What if someone takes the car I want?"

Jack looked over at the floor to ceiling display of cars. "I'm sure you'll be able to find another one. Come on..." Jack's heart sank when he realized his mother had exited the store she'd been in empty-handed. "I think grandma wants to torture us a little more."


Jack walked with a spring in his step, mentally crossing the hardest to buy for person off his Christmas list. In the plastic bag swinging from his hand, he'd found Carter the perfect gift. And if his eyes didn't deceive him, sitting on the bench outside the expensive cooking store Jack had finally forced her to go into, was his mom with a huge shopping bag tucked between her knees. Smiling.

He dropped the coats on the bench and waved his bag in front of her. "Well, I can see we were both—"

She ignored him, looking around.

He followed her line of vision. "What?"

Her smile faded. "Where's Daniel?"

"What do you mean, where's Daniel? Isn't he with you?"

"Why would he be with me?"

"Because I sent him into the store to tell you that I was going into—"

She glanced over at the store with the sea of people milling around. "You sent a five year old in there?" She stood up, confronting Jack, shouting at him in a voice from his childhood, loud enough that the people walking by turned to look. "What the hell were you thinking?"


"Let's go through this again."

Jack was on his last nerve and he paced the postage stamp-sized room that he'd been called to a handful of times. He stopped, one hand on the doorknob. "You need to explain to me, how having a different person ask me the same questions every twenty minutes is going to find Daniel, or I'm walking out the door right this minute."

"In situations such as this..." The plainclothes officer cleared his throat. "When children are missing, as time moves on, parents remember..."

"I'm not his parent. I'm Daniel's guardian. And if you would've conferred with the first officer I spoke to, you'd have known that." Jack turned the doorknob.

"Please close the door, Mr. O'Neill."

"Damn it," Jack screamed, flinging open the door with such power that it hit the wall and closed again. "It's Colonel. Colonel O'Neill. And no, I have no idea what Daniel was wearing. And yes, I was beyond irresponsible to lose a five year old in the mall on Black Friday." Jack stopped, his chest heaving with exertion. "Look..." He carded his fingers through his hair. "I'm sorry. I know you're doing your job. I know there's a mall full of people waiting out there for my blood..."

That remark got a slight smile.

"And I—" Jack's cell rang. "O'Neill."

"We're here, sir, but we've run into a problem."

"This is not the time for problems, Carter."

"I know that, Colonel. But it would appear that the police officer standing at the door has issues with—"

"Hold that thought." Jack held the phone to the side. "Officer..."

"Detective Pete Shanahan."

"Detective Shanahan. Fine. The woman at the end of this phone is Captain Samantha Carter. She, and I'm sure more than a handful of military and civilian personnel from Cheyenne Mountain, are at the door to this mall. We do not want to step on any toes. We do not want this search for Daniel to be a tug of war. I'm offering our expertise in search and rescue, as well as knowledge of possible factions who might have attempted to kidnap him."

"Let me speak to the officer on duty." Shanahan put his hand out for the phone, and Jack handed it over. He listened, pacing again as Shanahan gave instructions, then handed the phone back. "I'd like to coordinate the search efforts with your people," he said as Jack put the phone to his ear.

"Carter, I'd like you and Detective Shanahan here to work together in coordinating the search."

"Of course, Colonel."

"We're on our way to meet you. We'll meet you outside Borders."

"We'll be waiting."

Jack stepped out of the small room and once again into the crowded mall. Although the majority of people weren't affected by the mall's lockdown and were still happily shopping, those who were attempting to leave were forced to congregate at one door only, and then permitted to exit only after it had been verified that there were no children of Daniel's description accompanying them. And it was his mother's hapless job to be the one to ensure that none of those children was Daniel.

"You really believe this may be more than your losing track of a child in a crowded mall?"

Jack pushed past a couple of sauntering teenagers, forcing Shanahan to sidestep to the right and jog to keep up. "Anything could be possible, Detective. Which is why we're not taking chances." All the while, Jack kept his eyes peeled for Daniel, and his heart would leap into his throat every time he spotted blond hair or remembered that silly green hat his mother had bought for him.



"He had a green hat on. You know, with long pom poms that go down his back?"

"Okay. That's a start." Shanahan gave Jack a quick smile.

"Ah, here's Carter." He waved, and Carter stepped away from the twenty or so reinforcements she'd brought with her. He introduced the two as he accepted a radio from her and fitted the earpiece.

He recognized most of the faces she'd brought with her. There were two teams of marines, a half dozen airmen, and he was touched when he saw Siler and Walter as well as Bill Lee.

"And how, pray tell, are we supposed to find a kid in this sea of humanity?" Rodney McKay stepped away from the pack and looked around in disgust.

"Up until now, we haven't had the manpower to do a door to door search," Shanahan said. "It's taken all our efforts to maintain the lockdown and crowd control." He grinned evilly towards McKay, and despite the fear and worry coursing through Jack, he felt himself smiling also. "That's going to be your job."

"No nononononono." McKay actually turned white. "Have I mentioned that I'm claustrophobic?" He shuddered. "Have I? Huh?" He pulled back and pressed against the wall while said living sea of humanity continued to move to and fro between them.

Carter's grin matched Shanahan's. "Buck up, Rodney. It's not like you're stuck in an elevator."

"No, but with all these people closing in on me, an elevator would feel like a wide, open field compared to this." He stared all around, his glance heading more often towards the exit than the crowd of people.

"I appreciate you coming to help," Jack said, feeling guilty at the man's obvious fear.

"Help?" He gave Jack a quick glance. "Oh, right. Not that I had much of a choice. General Hammond ordered me to drop everything and come and help with the search," he said in a distracted manner. "Do you know I was in the middle of a very important experiment that's probably absolutely worthless right now because there's nobody monitoring the..." He caught Carter's glare and coughed, and gave Jack a worried look. "Not that I didn't want to come, mind you." His words stumbled one over the other, in a way reminiscent of the adult Daniel's. "I mean, what better way to spend an afternoon, in a shopping mall, with a bunch of shoppers..." He pressed himself flat against the wall as a dozen teenagers pushed between him and Jack. "A lot of shoppers," he added in an almost whine. "Do you have any idea of the amount of germs circulating in the air right now?" He sneezed. "Oh great, I can feel myself coming down with something already."

"Rose gave us a description of what Daniel was wearing, sir." Carter turned her back on McKay and nodded at Shanahan. "I suggest that half our team head for the other end of the mall and both teams start working their way towards the middle. Sir, would you like to join one of the teams?"

Jack shook his head. "I'll keep trying those stores I know he might go to." Although he'd checked several times, he was going to head back towards the toy store and the shelves full of Matchbox cars that Daniel had wanted.

Jack nodded, stood aside as she assigned teams – some were to search the stores on either side of the mall, some were to go to the food court, some to the parking lot, and others were to travel up and down the mall, searching the crowds. Jack watched with an oddly numb feeling as everyone hurried off, leaving him alone with McKay, Teal'c, Carter and Shanahan. And the hordes of shoppers.

"We have a room we can use."

Shanahan pointed in the direction he and Jack had come from. "Does Mr. McKay know your son, I mean, Daniel, on sight? If he does, maybe he'd like to relieve Mrs. O'Neill at the door?"

"At the door?" McKay suddenly looked extremely relieved. "Of course I know what Doctor Jackson looks like. I can stand at the door and keep watch. And it's Doctor McKay. Oh wait." He pointed into the crowd. "There. There he is. There's Daniel."

Jack twirled on the spot, ready to run and grab Daniel. But all he saw were strangers.

"There, over there, in the blue jacket and grey pants."

The boy McKay was pointing to was at least ten years old. Jack caught Carter's gaze and she rolled her eyes. "You're with us, McKay."

"But I can stay at the door and keep a watch from out there." Carter grabbed his shoulder and pushed him away from the wall. Despite his protects, McKay followed her lead. "I did mention I was claustrophobic, didn't I?"

"Doctor Jackson?" Shanahan said, his voice almost drowned among the babble of shoppers. Jack didn't hear Carter's explanation, but wished her luck.



"Do you have a plan?"

"No," he sighed. "Just a lot of prayers." He opened up his cell phone and dialed his mother's number. "Carter's started searching the mall," he said when she answered.

"And you?"

"I'm heading back towards the toy store. Then the bookstore. The pet store—"

"Jonathan. What if he's hungry? Is someone checking the food court?"

"Yeah, we've got people on it." He pointed to the right. "How are you holding up, Mom?"

"I'm fine. One of the nice policemen got me a cup of tea." They made their way through the throng of people, to the toy store. "We'll find him, son."

"Yeah..." Jack hung up and stopped right inside the store. "Here. Daniel was hoping that I'd buy one of these for him." Like every time he'd come back here, Jack's gaze went to the one missing box of Matchbox cars that was at arm level of a five year-old. The purple one that Daniel had coveted earlier today.

"Still no luck?" The store's owner came up front to meet Jack.

"No." He glanced down the aisle and the owner stepped aside, giving him free rein to search. Jack slowly walked down the aisles, searching out places where a small kid could hide. Teal'c shadowed him and on their way out, Jack nodded to the owner.


"I'm sorry, Colonel." Shanahan looked tired, as did Carter. His mother, however, looked exhausted. "We've searched the mall three times over, and there's no sign of the boy." The crowds had thinned considerably, making the search easier. "We're going to have to assume this is a kidnapping. I've already asked for the surveillance tapes and Samantha and I are going to start looking them over. Why don't you both go home and we'll let you know if we find something."

Jack was about to object, when he saw the look of fear on his mother's tired face. "I'll have someone take my mother home. I can keep searching, just in—"

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Ma, you've done all you can here. And we need someone at home, in case the..." Jack bit back the curse. He would keep his anger aimed at the culprits. "... Kidnapper calls."

"You really think someone took him?"

"He's not here. There's really no other explanation we can come up with." Jack prayed fervently it was the NID's doing, because the only other option he could come up with was someone who had a hankering for blond, blue-eyed little boys. "Excuse me," he spat as he ran towards the nearest bathroom. He spent the next few minutes dry heaving over an unoccupied toilet.


The Matchbox cars display had been disturbed, and the space where the purple car had been was now sporting a blue one. There was nobody inside the store except for the owner.

"We will find DanielJackson."

Jack nodded.

"And if he was taken, we will avenge whoever has done this."

"Hammond says it's not the NID. The President has sworn they're not involved."

"It has been known for military sects to go rogue."

"Yeah, I know." He didn't want to talk about it; the fear for Daniel's safety was almost overwhelming and he'd never thought he'd experience this sort of anguish over a child that wasn't his. Daniel wasn't Charlie, but he was pretty damn sure that had this been Charlie who was missing, he wouldn't be able to feel any sicker and worried than he was now.

He left the display and walked up and down the aisles, certain that if Daniel were still in the mall, he'd come back to this particular store. And until Carter and that detective guy found video footage with proof that Daniel had been taken, he was going to spend every second he had searching.

He passed the cash register and nodded to the owner again. He was turning into the next aisle when Teal'c suddenly grabbed his arm. "O'Neill."

Jack turned, and Teal'c was staring intently towards a door behind the register.

"What is it?"

Teal'c raised his hand to his ears, indicating he should listen.

"I don't hear anything."

Without explanation, Teal'c walked behind the counter and opened the door. The shop's owner became flustered. "Your men have been in here already. They checked the storage room—"

That was when Jack heard it. He motioned the man aside and hurried into the room after Teal'c. Daniel, crying, in the midst of a nightmare. The sound was unmistakable; he'd heard it way too often over the past weeks.

The room was tiny, packed floor to ceiling with stock. Still, Teal'c maneuvered between the items and reached into a large box, and pulled out Daniel, who on seeing Teal'c, opened up the dam and began screaming and crying.

Teal'c handed Daniel over to Jack, and the boy immediately wrapped arms and legs around him like an octopus. A very vocal and fever-ridden octopus. The ear-splitting shrieks were the most welcome sounds he'd ever heard.

"It's okay, Daddy's here," he murmured as he sank down onto the ground and cuddled Daniel. He listened as Teal'c radioed the news that they'd found him. "Daddy's here," he repeated as Daniel clutched him as if he'd never let go.

They'd found Daniel. Safe, and sound. All the while whispering that everything was okay, Jack slipped his cell out of his pocket, and dialed his mother. He didn't say a word when she answered; he just let Daniel's cries tell the story for a few seconds as Teal'c reached back into the box and pulled out the purple Matchbox car, still in its wrapper, and showed it to Jack.

"He's fine," he finally said when she said his name. "Well, he's feverish, but he's not hurt."

"Oh thank God, thank God. Where was he?"

"In a box, in a storage room behind the toy store. I think he might have crawled in here and fallen asleep." Daniel's cries were turning to sobs and hiccupping breaths. "Wanna say hi to Grandma?"

"Gramma," Daniel stuttered, turning into the phone when Jack placed it against Daniel's ear. "I wanna go home." He listened a moment and nodded, then pushed his face again into Jack's neck, abandoning the phone.

"In a minute, kiddo. We'll go home soon." He turned back to the phone and his mom. "I'll be home as soon as I can. If I can't get away immediately, I'll send Daniel home with Teal'c."

"I'll have supper waiting." His mom's voice was choked, and he realized she was on the verge of tears.

"I love you, Mom." Jack squeezed the words past the lump in his throat. Up until this moment, he never truly realized how much he loved his family.

Family. Yes, that's what he had. His mother, his son. A family.

There were voices outside, and Carter stuck her head into the room. Jack nodded as he caught her gaze. He spotted Shanahan behind her as she entered the storage room, stepping over his feet as she knelt next to them.

"Hey, Daniel." She pushed his hair back and he sniffled. He let go of Jack just long enough to wave a few fingers languidly at her before wrapping his arms around him again. "You gave us quite a scare. Were you hiding in here?"

Daniel shook his head but didn't answer.

"Wanna tell me what you were doing in that box?" Jack asked, rubbing Daniel's back.

"You went away," Daniel mumbled against his skin. "And I found the box and wanted to sleep in it, just like you told that mean lady."

For a moment Jack had no idea what Daniel was talking about, then it hit him. The mean lady was Sara, obviously, and hadn't Jack tossed a comment at her about throwing Daniel out and having him sleep in a cardboard box? "I'm so sorry, Daniel. Daddy's so sorry."

"Daddy?" Daniel raised his head and pulled back enough to look Jack in the eye. "Are you my daddy?"

"Yeah, kiddo. I am."

"But... you weren't before?"

"No, I think I always was. I just didn't know it."

"Daddy." Daniel dropped heavily against Jack, and sighed. "Daddy, I wanna go home. My throat hurts."

Jack looked past Carter, at Shanahan. The detective nodded, so Jack slowly stood. "Okay, we're going home." He stepped into the toy store, and stopped. "I'm sorry about this," he told the owner.

"Oh no, no, please. I'm so sorry I never noticed that the boy had sneaked into the back room. There were so many children... and..." He waved away the purple Matchbox car that Teal'c tried to hand back to him. "Please, keep it. For the boy?"

"Thank you." Jack gave the man a heartfelt smile as Daniel took the toy and clasped it to his chest.


"Oh, mhuirnin!" Rose didn't even let Daniel through the door before he was in her arms and she was smothering him with kisses. "Oh, you're so hot. Did Jack give you anything for the fever?"

"Daddy gave me this," Daniel mumbled, thrusting the Matchbox car in Rose's face.

His mom gave him a startled look, and Jack simply shrugged, unable to hide his smile as his mom mouthed the word, daddy. He couldn't even begin to describe how much that one word, coming from Daniel, warmed his heart. His mother's slow smile showed she obviously understood.

"Then let's get you some Tylenol. Are you hungry? I've made some macaroni and cheese, just for you."

"Not hungry."

"Let's see if we can deal with the fever first." Jack grabbed the bottle of Children's Tylenol and shook out two. "We can reheat the macaroni when his fever breaks."

"You do know that they can take out his tonsils," his mother said on the way to Daniel's bedroom. "If a child is repeatedly prone to tonsillitis, they'll remove them."

"Yeah, I know." Jack took a pair of Daniel's pajamas from a drawer and sat on the bed as his mom helped Daniel undress and change. "Fraiser thinks he'll outgrow this."

"Well, in the meantime, the poor thing is suffering."

"Where's Lumpy?" Daniel knuckled his swollen eyes as he leaned against his mom's legs as she buttoned his top up.

"I'll get him." Jack got the stuffie from the living room and jogged back up the stairs. "Put him in my bed," he offered, not knowing whether Daniel would end up sleeping the night through if they put him down. "How about it? Want to sleep there for a little while? Until you feel better?"

"No." Daniel grabbed Lumpy and crushed him to his chest. "I don't wanna go."

"Well, Grandma's sleeping here in your bed, remember? Do you want to lie on the couch instead?"

Daniel moved from his mother and threw himself against Jack. "I don't wanna go to bed. I wanna stay with you, Daddy."

After today's ordeal, he really didn't want to separate himself from Daniel either. "Okay, how about we all settle down in the living room together?"

"Gramma, too?"

"Grandma, too."

A few minutes later, Jack was settled on the couch, his stomach a pillow for Daniel's head, his mother's lap a cushion for his feet, and a blanket covering all but the tip of Daniel's nose. Jack had a cup of coffee within reach and a sandwich to tide him over for a while, while his mom sipped a cup of tea. There was apple juice for Daniel if he wanted it.

"We're going to have to talk about you running off like that, young man," Jack said, his fingers resting against the curve of Daniel's hip.

"I didn't go running off. You were there, and then you were gone," Daniel declared sleepily in a hoarse voice.

"It would just take a second to lose sight of us in those crowds, Jonathan."

"Then we need to create ground rules. From now on, if you're with an adult, and the adult gets lost," he said, ignoring his mom's gentle snort of laughter, "then you stay right where you are, until you see us again. It's a rule. If you get lost, say, in the woods, you don't keep trying to find your way home, because you can go deeper into the woods and anyone who comes looking for you will have a harder time finding you that way." Jack reached for his coffee and took a sip.

"But if you get lost, Daddy, shouldn't you stay where you are so I can find you?"

"What?" He hurriedly swallowed his coffee. "That's not what I meant—"

"Boy's right, you know. If you get lost, you stay put. You just said it yourself."

"Okay, let me try to explain it differently." He put the coffee cup down on the side table. "I'm taller than you are so it's easier for me to find you. So if you lose me or Grandma again, you just stay put, and we'll come back and look for you, instead of you coming to look for us, okay?"

"Were you looking for me today?"

"Oh, yeah. Me and Grandma. And Carter and Teal'c. And a couple of folks from the SGC."

"And you found me." He turned onto his back and smiled up at Jack.

"And we found you," Jack reiterated, tapping Daniel's nose with his index finger. "So, next time I get lost?"

"I stay where I am. Okay, Daddy. Even if I'm scared 'cause there's lots and lots and lots of people?"

"Even then, mhuirnin. Now, you can always ask for help if you see a policeman..."

Jack listened to his mom explain the rules of not going away with strangers and the fear of the past few hours constricted his gut once again. Somehow life had seemed so much easier facing off a threatening world-dominating alien race than worrying about a five-year old walking away with sick people.


"Hmm?" He turned his attention to his mom. Daniel hadn't moved in a while, and Jack was pretty sure the kid was sleeping.

"I realized, after today..."

Jack waited patiently; it was obvious his mother was nervous about what she was going to say.

"After today, I realized how much I care about Daniel, and about you."

"The feeling's mutual, Mom, on both counts."

"What would you say if I were to move here—"

"Here?" The supposedly sleeping child thrust away from Jack and turned to look at her. "You're gonna come live with me and Daddy?"

His mother laughed and opened her arms. Daniel dove into their depths, squirming until he was half lying against her. "No, not live here, in this house. But get my own house, not too far from here."

"But Gramma can come live with us, can't she, Daddy?"

"She could if she wanted to, Daniel. But I think Grandma would like her own home." He turned to his mother. "Are you sure about this? Because, to be honest, we haven't had the best track record in recent years..."

"Yeah. I am." Her tone was serious, but the gleam in her eyes showed how much this meant to her. "I really want to be here. And admit it, you two need my help."

"We do?"

"Yeah, Daddy, we do. We need Gramma's help. 'Cause she can cook mac 'n' cheese for us while you go to work and make spatini sauce and..." Daniel wrinkled his forehead. "Gramma? You didn't make the spatini sauce. Is it because you and Daddy got lost?"

"No, sweetheart. I've got everything I need. We're going to make the sauce tomorrow. How does that sound?"

"Sounds good." He wriggled off Rose's lap and reached for his juice.

"You hungry, sport?"

"Uh huh," he said after downing the juice. "I'm hungry. Can I have some mac 'n' cheese?"


Fraiser clicked off the penlight and disposed of the tongue depressor while Daniel closed his mouth. "Well, I think you may be right, sir. With the number of tonsillitis attacks Daniel's suffered in the past weeks, a tonsillectomy might be the only sure way of curing him of this."

"My mom thought vitamins might help..."

"Well, they can't hurt. But his labs came up fine so it's not as if he were anemic. I think this is just one of those things that he'll probably outgrow in a few years, but..."

"He'll end up being sick all the time between now and then?"

"Yes, sir."

"It's no big deal, is it? The operation?"

"Colonel, all surgeries are a big deal—"


"But," Fraiser said with a smile, "Daniel would be home the same day. And after a few days of pain that's usually no worse than the tonsillitis itself, he should be fine."

"So, when can we do this?"

"Let me give you the name of a pediatric surgeon. That way you can get a second opinion, and set up an appointment for the surgery, if you want to go that route."


"It sure smells good, Gramma." Daniel sniffed loudly at the plate of spaghetti and meatballs placed before him.

"I hope you like it, sweetheart." His mother sat at the table as Jack picked up a container of grated parmesan cheese.

"Try some of this."

"What is it?"

"Cheese." Jack liberally sprinkled the parmesan cheese over the pasta.

Daniel lowered his face to the plate, peering at the flaky mess. "It doesn't look like cheese."

"It's not the same kind of cheese as in your macaroni and cheese. But it's good. Try it."

Both of them waited anxiously as Daniel awkwardly speared the long strands with his fork.

"Here, let me." Jack took Daniel's fork, cut a smaller-sized portion with the tines and twirled a tiny portion onto the fork. Daniel watched, mesmerized, then obediently opened his mouth as Jack fed him his first taste.

"Mmmm," Daniel said, sauce dripping down his chin as he chewed happily. "Gramma, s'good!"

They both heaved sighs of relief.


Jack left the bathroom door open. "I'll be back in a minute, okay."

Distractedly, Daniel nodded, his attention focused on the plastic animals lined up on the rim of the tub.

He stood in the doorway and watched the giraffe in Daniel's hand perform a perfect swan dive before going to find his mother.


No matter how many times Jack reminded his mother he had a dishwasher, she chose to ignore him. Like now, as she stood at the sink, humming while washing the dinner dishes. Jack snuck up on her, leaned over and kissed his mother's neck, laughing when her shoulder popped up by reflex.

"What was that for?"

"Because there were too many years in our lives when I didn't do that."

She glanced over her shoulder and flicked a soap bubble at him "Guilt is a two way street, Jonathan. I could've picked up the phone and—"

"It's done. You're coming home now. That's all that matters."

"You started it."

Jack gave a self-deprecating shrug of his shoulders. "Oops?"

"Oops is right. Where's your better half, by the way?"

"Trying to get the spaghetti sauce off. I swear he wore more than he got into his mouth."

"He really enjoyed it."

"I did, too."

"I think after your third helping, I got that hint."

"Hey, you should just be thankful that Teal'c wasn't here... And Mom?"


"Do you think that Daniel will ever eat anything but pasta?"


It was still dark when Jack woke and he lay in the darkness, trying to ascertain what had pulled him from sleep. It took him only a few seconds to identify the source. Voices. In the living room. Actually, one voice, the other was a low keening sound.

With his heart somewhere around his knees, Jack threw back the covers and got out of bed. Dollars to donuts, Daniel was sick and feverish again.

"Hey." He stood by the fireplace, barely making out the outline of his mother and Daniel on the couch, the sound Daniel had been making had eased off. "Feverish?"



"I'm sad."

She moved over and patted the couch.

Jack took up the invitation. "What's making you sad, buddy?"

Daniel sat up and used Lumpy to wipe his nose. As he spoke, he began to tick things off his fingers. "Gramma and I went to the store and met the mean lady. We made apple pies. We had turkey. Then, you got lost at the mall. We went to the doctor and I had spatini sauce." He shoved his splayed fingers in Jack's face. "There's no more fingers, that means Gramma's going home." Daniel's wail was loud enough to wake the neighbors and Jack cringed... It was going to be a long night.


"Let me drive you to the airport."

"No." She smiled through her tears and reached out to touch the sleeping Daniel. "My heart would never take it."

Jack shifted the hot, sweaty body he held in his arms. The fever had bloomed right after daybreak, and was probably the reason for Daniel's emotional state in the middle of the night.

"I already called a taxi." She checked her watch. "It'll be here in a few minutes."

"I don't want you to go." Jack swallowed; the words were harder than he thought. "Please. I need you. Daniel needs you."

"Jonathan... Don't do this..."

"I'm so afraid I'm going to screw up... And I need... Please, for Daniel's sake, don't leave me. Us."

"My house..."

"I'll buy it. Then rent it. According to my accountant, I need a tax write off." He was pulling at straws, he knew it, but he was terrified. "Think of how happy Daniel will be when he wakes up and—"

"Stop it, Jack. Don't do this. It's not fair to me."

"I want you to stay."

"I want to stay also, but I have a life that I need to put some type of closure to."

A honking horn drew their attention.

"Your chariot awaits, Mom." Jack tried to bury his fear behind his sarcasm.

"You'll do fine, Jonathan," she said with a knowing smile, seeing right though Jack's cover-up. She kissed her fingertips and touched them to Daniel's face. "I'll be back."

Daniel didn't stir when Rose left. Jack watched his mother leave, waved goodbye, and with great trepidation, closed the door. Daniel woke up as Jack laid him back on the couch.


"Yeah, Danny." He covered him up with the blanket, kissing his forehead to gauge his temperature. "Something you need?

"Gramma left?"

"She sure did."

He yawned, then grabbed his throat. "When's she coming back?"

"Not soon enough, buddy, not soon enough."


Jack rested Daniel's ass on the ledge while he one-handedly signed the clipboard by the receptionist's desk. The young girl turned it around and read his name. "You can have a seat, Mr. O'Neill, the doctor will be with you in a few minutes.

Jack walked to the line of blue cushy chairs. "Can I put you down?" Please? Jack was fairly close to residual arm damage from carrying Daniel. He bounced him up and down a few times to get his attention. "Look at these nice chairs. Don't you want to sit in these nice, soft chairs instead of my boney lap?"

Daniel shook his head, totally miserable. He was sick again and Jack was ready to throw in the towel and cancel his appointment for the pediatric surgeon, but Fraiser had nixed that idea in the bud, argued and sent him and Daniel on their merry way out of the infirmary. Sent him here to the semi-crowded waiting room with the large, inviting, soft-looking chairs.

"I don't know about you, but I'm going to sit." He lowered himself and Daniel into a corner chair, as far from the maddening throng of children as he could manage. Sliding Daniel off his lap, he lifted him up and over to the empty seat on his right.

Daniel would have none of it and scrabbled over the arms of the chairs, trying to get back to Jack.

"No." Jack placed a hand to his shoulder. "Stay put just for a little while."

Daniel plopped back down in the seat. Then got up on his knees, took off his backpack and dropped it with a resounding thud to the carpeted floor. Daniel pouted and rubbed the front of his throat. "I want to go home," he rasped.

Jack sighed. He agreed with Daniel. He wanted to be home. Or at work. Daniel's chronic bouts of tonsillitis were wearing on him also. Four days at work for him. Four days at school for Daniel. Then a day home. Three days for Daniel in the infirmary while he worked and worried, then the cycle would begin all over again.

"Well, fancy meeting you here."

Jack stood and extended his hand. Damn, he knew her face, even recognized the kid that had ambled over to play with Daniel. But he couldn't remember the woman's name. Not if his life depended on it.

She shook his hand and then took the seat opposite him.


"Jack," she said. "Hopefully I can remember that the next time we meet."

Jack hesitated.

"Gina. Gina Middleton," she filled in with a smile. "And that mini person is Corey."

"Oy." Jack shook his head. "Honestly, I used to have a memory."

"Parenthood does that to a person."

Jack laughed.

"Honest, it's the truth. In my previous life, I used to be a professional. I wore suits and shoes... not sneakers and sweatpants."

Jack smiled, a little overpowered by this woman, though Daniel, who didn't usually warm up to kids on a good day, was showing the contents of his backpack to Corey.

"So, Jack, if you don't mind me asking, why are you and Daniel paying a visit to Dr. Bennett?"


"Aaahhh," Gina nodded in understanding. "Been there, done that."

"And..." Jack stomach was somewhere around his bent knees.

"Daniel will bounce back faster than you will. He'll have ice cream and cuddles..."

"And me?"

"Make sure you have an endless supply of coffee. A new bottle of Tums... and, oh yeah, don't forget the Tylenol."

"Oh, sounds like a blast."

She had the good grace to blush. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make light of it. It certainly wasn't fun when I was going through it with Corey."

"Is that what you're here for?"

"No, he's here for his post op check up. Hernia."

Jack stole a quick glance at Corey, who was sitting on the floor playing with Daniel's favorite green car while Daniel drove the cars in his hands up and down the arms of the chair. "He doesn't seem any the worse for wear."

"Youth," Gina said with a sigh. "Me? I rely on a good supply of hair dye."

Jack gave a noncommittal shrug, his gaze trained on Daniel's interaction with Corey, who had reached for one of the cars in Daniel's hand. Jack waited for the inevitable explosion.

"Those aren't your cars, Corey."

"We're sharing," Daniel answered Gina.

"Sharing?" Jack was stunned. When it came to his cars, Daniel didn't share well. Hell, not even his mother was allowed to touch a car without Daniel keeping his hand on the car being examined. Here... Daniel was giving freely of part of him. This was nothing short of amazing.

Jack smiled guiltily when Daniel caught him looking at him.

Daniel smiled back, then rubbed his eyes.

Ahh, the fever headache was probably still bothering Daniel, but right now social interaction and sharing took precedence over the whining and crying that had been so prevalent this morning.


"You call your dad by his first name?" Wide-eyed. Corey stared at his mother, then at Daniel.


"What? I was just asking him a question."

"None of your business, Corey."

Daniel began to gather up his cars, and Corey handed them over slowly. "Don't be mad, Daniel."

"Jack's my guardian daddy," Daniel said, giving Jack a half, almost apologetic smile. "But that's okay, I love him anyway."

"Mr. O'Neill?"

Jack looked up at the nurse hugging a clipboard to her chest. "Yes."

"The doctor will see you and Daniel now."

Jack nodded his thanks. Saved by the bell.


Jack hated waiting. At least in the waiting room, Daniel had been occupied with Corey. Here in the tiny room, there was nothing to hold Daniel's attention. Five minutes rolled into ten and out of desperation, Jack took two of Daniel's cars from his backpack and then a red crayon.

Daniel watched, puzzled, the intensity of his smile building as realization dawned.

"Ready?" Jack asked.

Daniel nodded enthusiastically and stepped up onto the chair Jack had pushed up against the examination table.

Jack put both cars behind the starting line he'd drawn. "Red or green."


Jack put his hand on the red car.

Daniel put his hand on the green car.

"On your mark. Get set. Go!"


They were on their third lap along the racetrack Jack had drawn on the paper covering the examination table when the doctor knocked and walked in.

Guiltily, Jack stood up, the car still clutched in his hand, while Daniel continued around the bend and finished the lap.

"Mr. O'Neill?"

Jack stuck out his hand, realized he still held the car and dropped it on the track. "Colonel O'Neill."

The doctor accepted his hand with a grin and glanced over at the track. "Nice work."

"Jack did that," Daniel answered proudly.

"And he did a wonderful job."

Thankfully, Fraiser had filled the doctor in on his and Daniel's familial relationship so the man didn't even blink an eye when Daniel called Jack by his first name. "Well, it's no Indy 500," Jack replied, "but I figured it'll do to pass the time."

The doctor picked up the paper and examined it. "You probably could make a mint selling stuff like this to doctors. Keeping the patients occupied."

Jack laughed. "I'll keep that in mind in case my day job doesn't pan out."

"Pleasure to meet you, Colonel, and you? You must be Daniel."

Daniel jumped off the stool and skirted behind Jack.

Jack scooped him up and held him close. "Daniel, this is Doctor Bennett. Doctor Bennett, this is Daniel."

"Pleased to meet you." The doctor offered congeniality and nothing more, but Daniel eyed the doctor suspiciously.

Bennett pointed to Daniel's right hand. "Is that a green Mustang?"


"I used to have one."

Daniel's eyes grew huge. "A real one?" He turned to Jack. "He had a real one."

"I'm jealous," Jack said.

"I was much... much younger," Doctor Bennett said, smiling wistfully. "Now, Daniel, how about you let Jack, your dad, put you on the racetrack and let me take a look at you."

"Are you going to hurt me?"

"Nope. Just going to have a look."


Jack sat in Bennett's office, once again waiting, but this time, Daniel was half-asleep in his arms, the green car clutched in his hand.

Bennett walked in, dropped Daniel's folder on the desk then took a seat, his leather chair squeaking as he settled in. "I'm sure Doctor Fraiser spoke to you about..."

"Surgery." Subconsciously, Jack hugged Daniel a little tighter and he mewled in protest. "He's had more than a few bouts of tonsillitis in the past months."

"I know. Even now they're pretty badly inflamed. He's running a low-grade fever. And I'm sure both of you are pretty miserable." He scribbled something on a pad. "I'm giving you a prescription for an antibiotic. A little stronger than what he's been taking."

Jack could only nod.

"We can't do the surgery unless Daniel's feeling a hundred percent."

"Yeah, I figured."

"I'd like to see him again in two weeks."

"Two weeks," Jack repeated idiotically.

"Hopefully, at that time, I'll be able to clear him for surgery." Bennett wrote a note on Daniel's file. "I'm going to pencil him in for surgery the day after that exam. Do you have any questions?"

A million of them. "No. Not at the moment." Two weeks and one day. Piece of cake. Nothing to worry about. Nothing at all.


Daniel was playing in the living room and Jack was in the kitchen, pacing the floor, talking to his mother on the phone.

"I'll be out there for the surgery."

"Why? I'm not even sure if it's going to take place on that day."

"Just in case. Because I want to be with you. With Daniel. Because that's what Grandmas do."

"I guess I can't argue with that logic."

"No, you can't argue with your mom."

Jack didn't really want to argue with her. He wanted her. He needed her and he wasn't afraid to admit for the first time in a long time, he needed his mommy.


Daniel swallowed the teaspoon of antibiotics, grimaced and hurriedly plucked a strand of spaghetti off his plate. "That's yucky."

Jack took a whiff and fought back his own grimace. "It's different than the one Fraiser gave to you."

"I like the pink stuff better." He slid off the chair, opened the fridge, took out the bottle of amoxicillin, placed it on the table then hoisted himself back into the chair. "See, there's more of this left. I don't need to take that stuff."

Jack exchanged the bottle of pink stuff for the yucky medicine. "This is the one you have to take now."

Daniel put down the fork he'd just picked up. "I don't wanna."

"Do you want to feel better?"

Daniel sighed, stared into his plate of spaghetti, then gave the bottle a sideways glance. Obviously he was weighing his options. "Can I have Snapple every time I have to take it?"

Always the diplomat. "Not a whole bottle."

Daniel lifted the fork and tapped the prongs against the plate. "A small cup. Like the cups in the bathroom?"

Jack got up, went to the bathroom and pulled out a number of small paper cups. Back in the kitchen, he took a bottle of Snapple out of the fridge, poured two fingers' worth and placed it with great flourish in front of Daniel. "Here you go."

Daniel finished chewing his mouthful of spaghetti and with a mouth outlined by a ring of sauce, he downed the drink. "I love Snapple," he said, eyeing the opened bottle on the counter.

"I know you do, now finish your spaghetti." Jack made himself a plate and sat in the chair across from Daniel.


Daniel was bathed... all traces of the spaghetti dinner had been soaped up and rinsed down the drain. He was under the blanket on the couch, because even after Jack had read him two books, getting Daniel to sleep in his own bed had been an exercise in futility.

At least the couch was better than the recliner and Jack's lap. "Why don't you close your eyes?"

"I can't." He glared at Jack as he rubbed his throat. "You said this medicine would make me feel better."

"You had one dose. I'm sure by tomorrow—"

"When tomorrow?"

"How about we call Grandma tomorrow and you can tell her how yucky your new medication is." Proudly, Jack remembered distraction was the secret of parenthood. "And about the Snapple."

Big, huge tears overflowed from Daniel's eyes. "I want Gramma."

Shit. So much for distraction.


Daniel, the blanket, his pillow, Lumpy and the scrub top all sat on Jack's lap.

"Can Corey come over and play?"

Damn! Stupidly Jack had thought Daniel was sleeping. "When you feel better."

"Tomorrow? You said tomorrow—"

"Let's wait on this."

"Okay," Daniel sighed. "What are we going to wait for?"

It was Jack's turn to sigh.

Daniel settled against Jack, tucking the blanket around his body and Jack's, trapping his fevered body heat.



Sure, now he was falling asleep. Though this was the perfect time to pry a truthful answer from him. "Why did you call me Jack in the doctor's office?"

" 'S your name."

"Yes. It is. But I kinda like Dad."

Daniel lifted his head and stared at Jack. Fever-bright eyes filled with joy. "Dad?"


"All the time daddy?"


Daniel's giggle was one of pure happiness.

Jack saw his opportunity and ran with it. "What'cha say I put you to bed?"

"Okay," Daniel said, sliding off Jack with his entourage.

He stood, stretching out cramped legs. He scooped up the blanket and put his hand out for Daniel. See, he hadn't been wrong, it was all about distractions.


Jack glanced at the clock then poured himself another cup of coffee. Waiting for 0600 hours was taking longer than the two weeks they'd had to endure before the okay from Bennett. And when the doctor had given Daniel the thumbs up for surgery at their appointment yesterday, suddenly Jack had wanted to change his mind.

At six he could wake Daniel up. Dress him. Then throw him in the truck and head off to the hospital. Hopefully, all of that would be accomplished without Daniel being too awake or coherent.

"Daddy?" Daniel walked into the kitchen, rubbing his right eye and yawning.

"Daniel?" Best laid plans and all that crap.

Daniel smacked his lips and leaned into Jack. "What'cha doing up?"

"Couldn't sleep. What about you?"

Daniel's yawn was so large that Jack caught a glimpse of his soon-to-be-gone tonsils. "Thirsty."

"Sorry, buddy."

Daniel's jaw snapped shut. "I'm thirsty," he repeated, slowly.

"I heard you." Jack tapped the already dog-eared list of Bennett's instructions that were laid out on the kitchen table. "But remember, no food or drink or—"

"I'm thirsty."

"I know you are."

He stood on tiptoes, peering into Jack's coffee mug. "You're drinking."

Guiltily, Jack pushed the mug to the side, but that wasn't enough for Daniel, who nailed him with an accusatory squint. "Excuse me." He grabbed the mug, stood then tipped the contents down the sink. He followed that with the three quarters filled coffee pot. Jack turned around to find Daniel still staring at him.

"I'm still thirsty."

"Let's get out of the kitchen. Maybe that will take your mind off the fact that you're—"


Jack groaned. Six couldn't come fast enough.


And suddenly it was six, the sky was lightening and it was time to leave.

Daniel was pissed. Thirsty and upset that Jack wouldn't let him brush his teeth and he buried his face in Lumpy's body as Jack buckled him in.

Jack was worried. Heart-pounding worry that was gnawing at his insides and turning the coffee into an acid that was slowly burning a hole in his stomach.

The ride to the hospital was quiet, interrupted only when Jack's cell phone rang. Quickly, he attached the hands free headset. "O'Neill."

"How's Daniel, sir?"

He checked the rear-view mirror. Daniel was pointedly ignoring him. "We're on our way now."

"I'm taking that means you can't talk."


"Ahhh. How are you doing?"

"I've been better."

"I got the surprise covered."


"My pleasure. We'll make sure the package is delivered safe and sound."

Carter was obviously in the mood to play special ops.

"Give Daniel a hug from me and from Teal'c. Tell him we'll see him later."


Daniel tugged at the front of the hospital gown. "I want my own pajamas."

Jack took Daniel's hands in his. "As soon as you get home, I promise. You can get right back into your pajamas."

"My tush is sticking out." He turned his head to stare accusingly at his very visible butt.

"Hold on." Jack released Daniel's hands and began to retie the strings, holding the flimsy gown together. "Better?"

Daniel nodded then pulled at the neckline. "Choking me."

"I can fix that." Jack pasted a smile on his face and loosened the top. "How's that."

The nurse came into the room, carrying a tray and Daniel tensed. "Hi, Daniel."

Nervously, he glanced at Jack.

"I'm right here." Jack sat on the edge of the bed and put his arm around Daniel's shoulders.

"I'm going to give you a shot." The nurse looked over Daniel's head towards Jack. "It'll just make you relax."

"It's not surgery time yet?"

"Nope, not yet."

Daniel smiled.

Jack smiled.

And the nurse looked thoroughly confused at the little boy who barely flinched when she stuck him, but Jack knew, as sad as it was, Daniel was used to and was very familiar with needles and testing.


The sedative worked quickly and Daniel gazed up at Jack, blinking in confusion. "Over?"

"Close your eyes," Jack said, softly stroking Daniel's cheek with his knuckles.

Daniel fought Jack's order and lethargically raised his arm. The one with the plastic hospital ID band. "Read."

"Well, here's your birthday. And a long number and your name."


"July 8th..."

"Name," Daniel insisted, the word garbled.

"Daniel Jackson O'Neill... oh. Daniel, I didn't—"

"My Daddy... Same name." Daniel closed his eyes, a dopey smile on his face.


Jack paced the family waiting room. He'd lost count of the amount of times he'd circled the bank of blue print chairs in the middle of the room, Lumpy hanging by his tail from his fingers. The stuffie swung and bounced with every step he took. He checked his watch. Fifteen minutes. He tapped the face because there obviously was some sort of space-time continuum going on in this room and time was standing still.

Two sets of parents had entered in tandem and Jack stopped, waiting until they picked out their seats before he resumed. He was annoying them with his pacing. There was no missing their grumbling every time he passed them, so he dropped into the chair closest to the door. He sat there for a few minutes then got up and moved so he was now facing the door. First Lumpy had the chair to his right, then he moved into his lap and he began to pet the camel.

He checked his watch again. Okay, Carter was on her way to the airport with Teal'c riding shotgun and suddenly Jack felt terribly abandoned. It was stupid. Carter and Teal'c were doing him a favor, but that didn't change the way he felt.

He stood with a growl and began the circuit again, this time smiling slightly at the parents sharing the room with him. They smiled back. The second time he passed them, one of the woman spoke. "I hate waiting."

Jack stopped and shrugged. "Me, too."



The father laughed. "Our son is having tubes put into his ears."


"You're here for?"


"Our daughter had that done last year," the father from the other set of parents said. "Hernia for our son this year."

Jack gave an uncomfortable smile, unsure if this was the type of club he wanted to be a member of.

"Daniel Jackson's father?"

Jack whipped around to the opened door. "That would be me," he said, waving Lumpy.

The nurse stepped into the room. "You son is doing fine. The surgery went well."

"Can I see him?"

"At the moment he's on his way to recovery."

"I need to be there when he wakes up. I promised."


The nurse checked Daniel's vitals and Jack remained silent as she recorded them. "Daniel," she said when finished. "Come on, Daniel, it's time to open your eyes for me." She tapped him on the cheek and he mumbled something but only turned his head. In invitation, she gave Jack a quick nod.

"Hey, sport, can you open your eyes for Daddy?"

He struggled with returning to the land of the conscious, whining and moaning in protest.

"Come on, the sooner you open your eyes, the sooner..."

Daniel's hand went to his throat. "Ow. Hurts."

"You had your tonsils out, sweetie." The nurse moved to push Daniel's hand down.

It seemed it was the touch of a stranger that sliced through Daniel's sleep and he awoke with a bang and a flood of tears.

"It hurts... Ow. Ow. Ow." He thrashed across the bed, yelling in pain as loud as his hoarse voice would allow.

"Shush." Jack put Lumpy down on the bed, then with shaking hands, he pulled Daniel into his arms. "It's over. Done."

He was crying, soundless sobs and Jack glanced helplessly at the nurse.

"It's just a reaction to the anesthesia. Give him a moment. Talk quietly to him. It would be in his best interest if you could get him to calm down."

Jack nodded, but waited until the nurse walked to another patient. "You did it, Daniel." Jack took a breath and hugged him a bit harder. "We did it."

The crying eased, Jack felt Daniel relax in his arms, and couldn't help but smile when Daniel reached out, latched onto Lumpy and drew him into their embrace.

"Time to leave?" Those three words sounded as if they hurt.

"Don't talk. Listen."

Daniel nodded.

"Well, Doctor Bennett's gonna come and have a look-see at you and your throat. Maybe give you some Jell-O—"

"No!" came out as an emphatic whisper. "Just home."

"Okay," Jack promised. "No Jell-O. Just home when Bennett says."

Happily, Daniel curled in Jack's embrace, gave a little sigh of relief and within minutes, much to the consternation of the nurse who had made a return trip, he drifted off.


Four hours later they were on their way home. Jack wasn't sure if it was the after-effects of the anesthesia or the pain medication Bennett had administered, because he was out like a light, slumped over in the booster.

Daniel looked a bit better. The two teaspoons of Jell-O that Bennett had insisted Daniel eat before discharge had almost backfired. A wave of nausea had almost forced an overnight stay, but the extra time seemed to have done the trick.

Jack used the rear-view mirror to once again check Daniel, and from an adult's point of view, he shuddered at the boneless way Daniel was sleeping. Arms hanging down, he was practically bent in half, his stomach pressed into the bar across his midsection. He was tempted to reach around and wake Daniel, advise him to change positions, but Jack could readily admit that he wasn't that crazy. Sleeping children weren't in pain. They didn't cry. And they didn't need a pair of hands for hugging; the same pair of hands Jack needed for driving. So a sleeping Daniel was fine for now.


Even before Jack withdrew the keys from the ignition, Teal'c was by the truck's side, his hand on the passenger door, shooting Jack a look of impatience. Jack hit the switch on the console to unlock the door and in record time, Teal'c flung open the door, then stopped. Jack caught a glimpse of his friend in the rear-view mirror reaching with incredible gentleness towards Daniel. Teal'c hesitated, stepping back.

Jack opened his door, slipped out and went to stand behind Teal'c. "He won't break."

"DanielJackson does not appear to be awake." There was no missing the disappointment in the baritone voice.

"Believe me, the kid's uncomfortable. Sleeping is preferable to awake and crying."

"The operation was not the cure to his ailment?"

"It was. It's just that right now he's hurting. In his throat."

Teal'c answered with a tight nod. "May I carry him into the house?"

Jack stepped to the side. "Be my guest."


Daniel looked small and fragile in Teal'c's arms and Jack watched as his mother approached him, eyes huge and watery behind her glasses.

"He's fine, Mom. Uncomfortable, but the surgery was a success."

"Teal'c, step away from the door with him," she ordered.

Teal'c bowed, stepped further into the house, but didn't move, waiting for further instructions.

"Couch. Let's make up the couch for him so we can keep an eye on him."

Teal'c obeyed her without hesitation and a burst of laughter spewed out of Jack, which he quickly silenced when two pairs of eyes burned a hole into him. Punch drunk, that had to be the excuse for the visual of his mother leading a platoon of Jaffa bending to her every whim.


Already his transgression was forgiven as Teal'c and his mom focused their attention on getting Daniel settled. Teal'c hurried off to retrieve the pillow and blanket from his room while Rose stood guard. They fluffed. Gently arranged. And covered on the couch as per her orders.

Jack placed Lumpy into Daniel's arms just before the covers were tucked in, backing away, giving his mother access to assess. Daniel slept on.

"I'm here, mhuirnin."

A smile, then Daniel slowly opened his eyes. "Gram—" was all he managed before swallowing. Tears filled his eyes as pain registered.

"Shhhh." She sat at the edge of the couch. "No need to talk. Because I'm sure it hurts."

Daniel nodded.

"You know what will make you feel better? Ice cream."


It took two bowls of ice cream, a small sip of water and a trip to the bathroom before Daniel was resettled on the couch and his eyes began to close. The three of them stood watching Daniel breathe when Carter entered, her arms filled with bags.

"How's he doing?" she whispered, taking her place next to Teal'c.

"DanielJackson is sleeping."

She gazed at Daniel with a look that Jack had never seen from his 2IC. "Carter?"

"He's okay?"

"I've been warned that he might be cranky."

"Cranky, I can deal with." She smiled broadly at Jack.

Jack sniffed the air. "Is that Chinese I smell?"

"Yup. Your mom figured you might be—"

"Ravenous?" Jack tried to peek into one of the bags.


Jack was exhausted and full. Satiated and semi-content as he settled himself in the recliner. He figured his snoring after Chinese had given Teal'c and Carter the hint because when he woke up, they were gone and it was only the three of them in the living room. But he'd been the only one sleeping.

Daniel was sitting in his mother's lap, head resting on her shoulder while she read him a story.

Jack blinked a few times, forcing his uncooperative eyes into focus. "Ma?"

She placed the flat of her hand against Daniel's forehead. "He's a little warm."

Jack thunked the chair into an upright position. "Bennett said that a fever was a possibility." The discharge papers also said that, but still Jack had hoped that maybe, just maybe, Daniel would have skipped right over that. He stretched then walked over to Daniel and squatted down. "Hey, sport."

"Gramma gave me ice cream again." The voice was raspy and breathy, and it hurt him just to hear Daniel struggle.

"Again?" Jack stuck his hand under Daniel's shirt and rubbed the too-warm belly.

"Yup... Ow... My throat hurts." Tears welled up and spilled down.

"Maybe it's time for some of the medicine Doctor Bennett—"

Daniel leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Jack's neck, melting into Jack's return embrace.

Damn, he was warm. "How about we run you a nice warm bath with bubbles, get you in fresh jammies and get you ready for bed. Wanna sleep in my bed?"

Hurting or not, Daniel recognized a treat and he pushed away from Jack, sat up and smiled.

"I'm taking that as a yes."


The bath had been a good idea in theory, but in reality Daniel was half-asleep on his feet as Jack dried him off. "Don't go to sleep yet."

Daniel needed pain medication, Jell-O and antibiotics before he went to bed, but instead he collapsed against Jack like a limp noodle.

"You're not going to make me carry you? Are you?"

Daniel made a sound that sounded something like a giggle.

"So really not sleeping, are you? Just wanted to get outta your requisite Jell-O quota for the day."

He nodded against Jack's shirt.

Jack wrapped the towel around Daniel with a playful growl. This experience was definitely not as bad as he thought it would be. Daniel seemed to be in good humor, his pain would be controlled with some medication, and his fever wasn't anything more than a bump on the road.


"Eat this."

Daniel clamped his mouth shut and shook his head.

"Daniel..." The good feeling from the bathroom had disappeared about twenty minutes ago. Just about the time Jack made the offering of Jell-O, which Daniel had flatly refused.

"You need to eat something. Or drink—"

"No drink." Daniel pushed the bottle away.

Jack could almost understand Daniel not wanting to drink past the hurt but Bennett had been emphatic about Daniel's fluid intake. "You need to drink."

Daniel clamped his hands over his mouth.

"Does your throat hurt, mhuirnin?"

His glance slid from Jack to his mother but his hands stayed over his mouth. He answered her question with a nod.

"You like Dr. Bennett, don't you?"

Daniel hesitated a moment before nodding again.

Jack sat back and watched an expert at work, taking mental notes.

"Dr. Bennett said that your throat would hurt. Does it hurt?"

There was the slightest nod at this question.

"See, Dr. Bennett didn't lie. He told you the truth." She pulled two bottles out of her sweater pocket. "Dr. Bennett said these will help you. One for the pain in your throat. One for the fever and headache. And we both know that Dr. Bennett tells the truth. Right?"

Damn, Jack saw right where his mother was going. Painting poor Daniel right into a corner and the kid never saw it coming.

Slowly, Daniel dropped his hands, reached for Lumpy and pulled the stuffie into his lap. He pointed to the bottles his mother held. "Help?" was all he could manage.

"Oh, definitely," she promised.

The two spoonfuls went down easily, his attempt at turning away the water was half-hearted at best, and he managed two swallows before settling down under the covers with Lumpy, the scrub top, Jack's mother, and a book.


Jack stood in the doorway of his room. It wasn't late, and with the nap he'd taken, he shouldn't really be tired, but he was. Worry had worn down into exhaustion and he had kissed his mother goodnight and headed to bed, but he couldn't bring himself to go into the bedroom and disturb Daniel.

"To sleep usually means you lie down in bed."

He put his arm around his mother's shoulders and pulled her close. "Fatherhood isn't like riding a bicycle... You forget."

"Forget what, Jonathan?"

"Never mind... I'm just tired."

"Forget what?" she prodded in a soft voice. "Jonathan?"

"I love him, Mom. God forgive me, I love him."

"And why is that a bad thing?"

"Because I don't want to." He released her and pounded his fist against the doorframe.

His mother grabbed the fist and held it between her two hands. "Why?"

"Why? Why? Because I'm afraid and way too old to survive another—"

"Daniel's not Charlie."

"I know."

"No, you don't." She tugged his hand and while he held his ground for a moment, frustrated, he eventually followed her to the side of the bed. "Look at him."

Jack averted his face.

"Look at him," she ordered.

"This is ridiculous."

"Either you look at him and see him for who he is, or you find someone who will love him how he needs to be loved and not the half-assed way you claim to love him."

"That's not fair."

"To who? You or Daniel?" She sat on the bed and smiled up at him. "This is parenthood. Are you going to face what you've been given and thank God for a second chance? Or are you going to cut your losses and run? I beg of you to tell me now, before I love this child more than I already do."

"Daniel's not Charlie."


"Because I failed Charlie and I won't fail Daniel."

"Jonathan, guilt is not a reason to love someone. That's a lesson you and Sara learned."


Jack was drinking a beer, staring out the living room windows into the darkness.

"I hit a nerve." His mom's voice wasn't apologetic.

"A nerve? I'm thinking you didn't leave any unscathed."

"I can't say that I'm sorry."

"No, I wouldn't expect you to," Jack said. He raised the bottle, toasted their reflection in the glass and swallowed deeply. "Would you hate me if I ended it now with Daniel?"

"I'd hate you more if you forced us all to live a lie. The decision is yours."


The house was quiet. Dark. And Jack had graduated from a beer to a tumbler of whiskey. He hadn't drunk any of it, just palmed the glass with contemplative slowness as he stared and saw nothing.

He was cold and damp, but getting up and starting a fire would take too much of an effort. So here he sat, cold and damp, facing a dark fireplace with a full tumbler of alcohol and no answer to his mother's questions.


Shit. Bad timing. He wasn't ready yet.

Daniel stood before him. Pillow. Blanket. Lumpy, scrub shirt all hanging from his grasp. "I called for you." The words were a mere whisper and he stared at the drink in Jack's hand.

Jack put the glass on the table. "I'm sorry, buddy." He stood and checked his watch, surprised that it had been four hours since they'd put Daniel into bed. "Hold that thought, I'm going to get you some of Bennett's magic elixirs. Good for what ails you."

Daniel dropped the blanket, and followed Jack with Lumpy and the scrub top stuck under his arms.

This time there wasn't a complaint and Daniel downed the teaspoon of pretty colored medications in quick succession. Then had a bowl of Jell-O and some water.


Jack sank back into the recliner and without waiting for an invitation, Daniel picked up the blanket and he and his belongings crawled into Jack's lap.

He was hot, so hot, and Jack's heart constricted with worry. "Feeling pretty lousy?"

Daniel nodded, fumbled for the blanket and waited while Jack settled it around them. "It's dark. Inside and out," he rasped.

"Yeah, it is." The scrub shirt was tucked under Jack's chin and he pushed it away, only to have a little hand push it back. "Daniel!" Annoyed, he shoved the scrub top back into Daniel's hands.

Daniel took the top with a grunt, and tucked it against his own body. "Is it still today?"

The windows showed nothing but darkness and their reflection. "It's been a long day."

"... Feel better tomorrow?"

"A little better every day. Promise."

Daniel's sigh, as he fought to find a comfortable spot, was one of disbelief.

"Do you want to go back to bed?"


"The couch?"


"How about something to—"

Daniel lifted his head, digging his elbows into Jack's chest for leverage.

Immediately, Jack moved to reposition the bony little daggers. "Ow! How about you—"

"Who's Charlie?"


" 'Cause whenever Gramma says his name, you get sad." Breathy words, said fast, rushing past the pain he must be feeling.

It was so tempting to cut this conversation short with a lie, but denying the truth would be almost like denying who Charlie was. "Charlie was my son."

"Like me?"

Jack bought time. He moved Daniel's elbows off his chest, pushed and prodded until Daniel was curled in his lap, his head now resting against his chest, Jack's arms holding him there. It was safer than looking into those eyes.

"Charlie was your real son?" Big or small, hurting or not, Daniel was a persistent SOB.

"Sara and I were married—"

"The mean lady in the store?"

"Daniel, she's not—"

"She yelled at Gramma, she's mean." There was finality in Daniel's judgment that left no room for argument.

"When Sara and I were married, we had a little boy. His name was Charlie."

"He doesn't live here anymore?"

"No, he doesn't."

"Charlie lives with Sara? You left your son with the mean lady—"

"Charlie's dead."

Daniel prattled on for a few more seconds and then was silent as Jack's words sunk in. "Charlie's dead?"


"Was he sick? Like me?"

"No. No. No. He died because of an... accident."


"Nope. Not a car."

"Crossing the street? Didn't hold your hand—"

Damn, Jack wished somewhere in his heart that Bennett's pain medication hadn't worked so well. "Please, can we not talk about this?"

A little hand patted his chest. "I'm sorry."

There was a long pause and Daniel lay quiet and still, hopefully heading towards sleep.

"Did you get me to take Charlie's place?"

Daniel hadn't been sleeping; he'd being thinking of the question that would pull the rug out from under Jack. "Get you... What? No."

"Was Charlie sick like me?"

"No, Charlie wasn't sick like—"

"Did he play Lego's?"

Since Charlie could walk, his favorite toys had always been balls. Baseballs. Footballs. Tennis balls. "No, Charlie didn't play with Lego's. He liked airplanes though. And playing ball."

"Did he like books?"

"He liked Gramma to tell him stories, but no, he really didn't like to read."

"Crayons and paper?"

"He would draw airplanes."


"Not really."

Daniel began to fiddle with Jack's buttons. "I don't think I want to play Legos anymore."


"We can give my books away. Unless they're airplane books. And the puzzles that Sam brought me, will she be mad if I—"

"What the hell—"

"I don't want you to be sad anymore. And if I were more like Charlie, then you wouldn't be sad."

"But where would Daniel be?"

"Do you want to call me Charlie... Then I can—"

"You're Daniel. I want you to be Daniel. I love Daniel."

"But you love Charlie."

"Yes, I loved Charlie and I love Daniel. I want you to love your books, Legos, puzzles. I don't want you to be anyone else. Ever."

"Then why did you get me?"

"Because I needed someone to share my home with. Someone who needed a family as much as I did."

"Do you love me?"

The one word was spoken without hesitation. "Yes."

"Just wanted to make sure."

Jack kissed the bent head. "I'm glad we got that straightened out."

"I promise not to die."

"Daniel..." Jack was bordering on exasperation. Shouldn't Daniel be tired? Shouldn't talking be next to impossible? Didn't Bennett mention something about the painkillers making him sleepy? Because Jack was tired, and tired people said things that shouldn't be said. "Charlie didn't want to die."

"Am I going to die?"

"When you're older. Much older."

"But Charlie wasn't old when he died."

"No, he wasn't."

"Did you ever tell Charlie he wouldn't die until he was older?"

"Charlie found my gun."

"You have a gun?"

Jack ignored the question. The last thing he wanted was for inquiring, inquisitive minds turning the house upside down looking for the gun. "Charlie found where the gun was hidden and was playing with it. He—" Jack couldn't say the word.

"Didn't he know he wasn't supposed to play with the gun?"

"Didn't you know you were supposed to stay with me at the mall and you didn't?"

Daniel began to cry.

Shit. Jack wanted to cry, too. But he would do the next best thing. Sleep. Sleep was an excellent method of escapism. He moved the lever, pushed back on the recliner so it was almost horizontal. "Sleep."

"Not tired," Daniel sniffed, then dragged his nose across Jack's shirt.

"I am," Jack said with a finality that left no room for argument. "Close your eyes."

"I don't—"

"Close 'em," Jack growled, taking the bite from his words with a more than gentle squeeze of his arms. "And give your voice a rest, 'cause your throat must hurt."


Jack woke up in a panic. Unable to breath, an incredible weight pinning him down and he moved and the weight shifted—

"Stop it." A warning hand fell heavy on his shoulder.

"Huh?" He tilted his head backwards and gazed up into the amused face of his mother.

"Daniel." She pointed at Jack's chest. "He's sleeping."

That was definitely a 'no duh' comment, but his mother, bless her, only flashed him a grin. "You were sleeping, too."

Where there had been darkness beyond the living room window, there was now the brightness of morning. "What time is it?"

"Closer to lunchtime than to breakfast."


"Why? Are you going somewhere? I thought taking care of Daniel was the only item on our agenda today."

Properly reprimanded, Jack nodded. "I'm just not used to sleeping—"

In his sleep, Daniel's mewl quickly progressed to a whimper of pain when he began to stir.

Jack's "easy, sport" fell on deaf ears as Daniel's inhalation must have awakened a drugged surgical hurt. He let out a bloodcurdling scream which in and of itself must have been incredibly painful to produce. Jack moved, tried to sit him upright just about the time Daniel began to panic and thrash around in earnest.

His mother tried to help, but Daniel wasn't really awake. He was stuck in the throes of pain and he moved away from her touch, painfully digging his head into Jack's sternum, as if trying to burrow his way inside.

Finally, Daniel woke. The only problem was it took him peeing in his pants to come to full consciousness. Jack was stunned into silence as he was soaked in warm urine, along with the blanket and the chair they had slept on, as well as Lumpy and the scrub top. Now the tears Daniel wept were ones of mortification.


Jack was dressed in fresh sweats. He'd showered while his mother had been on Daniel cleanup patrol. Daniel was now soaking in a bath filled with bubbles, just sitting there, refusing to even look up at Jack.

"It's okay."

"I'm not a baby."

"No one said that you were."

"I peed in my pants. Only babies pee in their pants."

"I'll let grandma tell you the time I peed in my pants when I was twelve, but you gotta pinky swear that you're not going to tell anyone."

Daniel's head shot up. "Twelve?"

Jack nodded.

"I can't tell anyone?


"Not Sam or Teal'c?"

"Especially not them."

"How about Cassie or Janet? They keep good secrets."

"No, Daniel."

Daniel pouted and pushed at a mountain of bubbles. "Okay, I promise not to tell Sam, Teal'c, Janet, or Cassie how you wet the bed—"

"Anyone, Daniel. And that means the entire SGC, your teacher and your whole kindergarten class. Got that?"


The story got a few giggles out of Daniel and was enough to distract him for Jack to get some applesauce into him, two spoonfuls of Jell-O, the antibiotic and some Tylenol with codeine, but an hour later the humor of Jack peeing his bed was gone and he was left with a whining, crying and clingy Daniel who refused to be foisted off on his mother.

"I'm just going to the bathroom, I'll be right back."

"I want Lumpy."

"I'll check to see where he is in the wash cycle after I pee, okay?"

Daniel glared at his grandmother. "You didn't put the white stuff in the wash with him? Daddy says the white stuff takes out all the color."

"I didn't, mhuirnin. Promise. I'm sure he'll be as brown as ever when he returns from his adventure."

"Gramma, he's not on an adventure. He's in the wash—"

"Shush now... That's what Lumpy wants you to believe. Do you want to know where he really is?"

Daniel nodded emphatically, and for the first time all day, crawled up close to her to listen.

"I'm just going to the bathroom, guys. I'll be—"

His mother continued weaving her tale and dismissed Jack from the room with a wave of her hand.


She was sitting in the recliner, her eyelids at half-mast. Jack was on the couch, stroking Daniel's blanket-covered legs. Daniel was sleeping, a fresh-from-his-adventure Lumpy tucked under his chin.

"Well, that was exhausting." Jack's voice was barely above a whisper.

She nodded. "I don't think I have any voice left."

Yeah, who the hell thought that a mere stuffed camel would take two cycles of dryer time to make sure he was fluffed and dried through and through. "I think he has a fever."

"Touch him and wake him, Jonathan, and I will kill you," his mother rasped.

Thwarted, Jack just closed his eyes. Afraid to move, or breathe, or watch television, but slowly, his fingers walked towards the remote.

"Don't you dare."

"I'm not. I'm just going to—"

"Don't lie."

"Sorry. Guess I'll just close my eyes and—"

"Go to sleep."

"Not tired."

"Too bad."

"You know, Mom, you haven't changed."

"Good, that means I'm doing my job."


At 0200 hours, Jack was damned glad his mother insisted he napped. Daniel was wide awake, hurting, bored and refusing to do anything but sit in Jack's lap and complain about every TV station Jack paused on for more than a minute.

"You looked at this one already."

"I know."

Daniel grabbed the remote from him and honed right in on Nickelodeon. "Better."

"That's Sponge Bob."

"You don't like him? Teal'c likes him." He stuck the remote back in Jack's hand. "Fine."

Right now Jack would watch the snow and listen to the National Anthem if it meant Daniel would lie still and shut up. "I like the little yellow guy, too," he lied.

"Really?" Daniel slid off Jack's lap and squished himself into the crook of his arm, between Jack's thigh and the arm of the chair. "I love this episode. Sponge Bob is working at Crusty Crab's and this..."

The remainder of what Daniel was saying was lost to Jack. He'd perfected sleeping with his eyes open just about the time Carter had perfected her Power Point abilities. He could nod in all the correct places, smile, and even manage an inane question or two, while his brain slept on. But Spongies' annoying high-pitched giggle wouldn't allow Jack to reach a restful state of slumber. And to make matters worse, it was a Sponge Bob marathon and once they were two shows into the marathon, needles to his brain would've been less painful.

"I'm putting you on the couch."


Jack picked up Daniel's legs, held the blanket up and thunked the recliner down. He reached around Daniel and used the arms to push himself upright and out of the chair. "Come on."

"No." Daniel cowered in the chair. "Not tired."

"I am. I'm going to bed. You have three options. Recliner is one. Couch is the other. Bed with me is the third."

"Can I watch Sponge Bob?"

"Sure, go ahead. Though please keep the volume down to a roar."


He was lying in bed, warring with himself about getting up and taking a peek at what Daniel was doing. He was just throwing back the blanket when he heard a familiar voice.

"I'm tired."

"Ready for bed?" Jack made a show of stretching and yawning. "It's comfy here."

Daniel eyed the bed with great longing. He even went so far as to put Lumpy, et al at the foot of the bed, but then he hesitated.


"What if I..." He dropped his gaze.

"What if you what?"

"Pee in your bed."

A different Jack, a Jack of just a few months ago, would've answered that if Daniel so much as drooled on a pillow, it would be a cold day in hell before his head would ever grace these sheets again, but he couldn't do that now. Sharp-edged witticism didn't seem to work as well with a five year old as they had with a thirty-year old.

"We can solve that..." Jack tossed back the blanket back.

Daniel's head shot up. "A diaper?"

Jack stopped and stared at Daniel. "A what? Diaper?"

Daniel's head did a slow bob.

"Don't be silly. No. Not a diaper. Come with me." Jack grabbed Daniel's hand and gave a slight tug. "I'm not going to bite you. Come on."

Daniel took his hand, but Jack had to slow his walk to Daniel's reluctant steps and it took them a few minutes to get to the bathroom from the bedroom. Jack swung open the door, leaned in and flicked on the light. "Go."

Daniel looked up at him in confusion.

Jack fought to hold back the twitch of a smile. "The best offense is a great defense."


"If you pee now, I'm pretty damn sure you're not going to pee in the bed."


Daniel and Jack lay face to face, their view to each other blocked by Lumpy's hump. "Are you there, Daniel?"

A low giggle was his answer.

"That's what I thought."

" 'Night, Daddy."

Jack reached under the camel, searched around until he found what he was looking for. He took Daniel's hand in his. Just slightly warmer than normal, the fingers wrapped trustingly around his. " 'Night, buddy. Sweet dreams."


"Can I come with you?" Daniel looked up at Jack. He was fidgeting as Jack buttoned his coat, nervously bouncing from foot to foot.

"Not today, sport." Dressing a moving object wasn't as easy as it looked. "You have school."

The fidgeting began to work its way up Daniel's body, and soon his fingers were reaching out and zipping and unzipping Jack's jacket. "I don't feel well."

It had been a long recovery and Daniel had ended up being absent from school longer than anticipated with a slight setback that left Jack with an additional grey hair or two, and was probably the reason for Daniel's anxiety.

"No one's going to remember me. I'll be the new kid all over again."

Jack kissed the pale cheek. No fever. "Forget you? Never. Remember the class sent you all those wonderful cards and even Corey called—"

"He's a big kid. He's not in kindergarten."

"But he's a friend and takes the bus with you."

Daniel gave a solemn nod. "I don't want to go to school."

"You said that already."

Tears welled up and spilled over. "What if no one remembers me?"

Jack pulled him into a hug. Two weeks to a child was a lifetime. "How about I drive you to school. Would you like that?"


This was stupid. Driving had just prolonged the agony, and in the sea of parents and children waiting in the lobby, Daniel plastered himself to Jack, who made sure to stick the two of them into the farthest corner of the lobby away from the maddening crowd.

"Well, hello, Daniel."

Daniel's incredibly young teacher, Diane Flaherty, smiled at Jack, then bent down to Daniel's level.

Daniel buried his face in Jack's leg, but that didn't deter the teacher.

"We really missed you. And you'll never guess what? We got gerbils for the classroom. They're great fun, though I have to get some oil for their wheel because it squeaks so loudly." She stood up and extended her hand. "I'm going to Mr. Tom's office to get the oil. Would you like to come with me?"

"Can my dad come?"

She appeared to hesitate. "Sure, you're more than welcome to come along with us, Mr. O'Neill."

"Wouldn't miss it."


Mr. Tom turned out to be the maintenance man, who greeted Jack with a grunt and a crushing grip. "Marine."

"Air Force." Jack returned the handshake.

Ms. Flaherty cleared her throat, drawing attention to herself and Daniel. "We need some WD40..."

"For the wheel in the gerbil cage," Daniel finished.

Tom's face lit up at the sight of Daniel and to Jack's surprise, the kid glowed under the maintenance man's reaction.

"Welcome back, Mr. Jackson, heard you were under the weather."

"I had my tonsils out."

He grimaced and rubbed his own throat. "That must've hurt."

Daniel nodded. "It did. But I got ice cream and my gramma came to visit. I was very brave."

Tom glanced at Jack for confirmation.

"He was brave, braver than I was."

"Well, I'm glad you're back, I missed our morning chats." He handed the WD40 to the teacher, opened his drawer and pulled out a comic book for Daniel. "Here you go, I wanted to mail this to you, but well, you know..." Tom shrugged. "By the time I remembered, I heard you were coming back."

"Thank you, Mr. Tom." Daniel stuffed the comic in his backpack.

Ms. Flaherty raised the oil and Jack offered his hand. "Thank you."

"My pleasure. You got a real special kid there. Polite, mature and damn smart."


Jack followed behind Daniel and Ms. Flaherty, shaking his head in amazement as children and adults alike greeted Daniel with enthusiasm. They entered the classroom but Jack hung back, standing by the door, playing voyeur. He was shocked and speechless at the squeals of delight when Daniel's presence was noted.

"Class," Ms. Flaherty said. "Everyone please make sure your coats are hung up. Lunchboxes on the window sill, then take a seat on the rug."

The children scattered like the wind, Daniel laughing and intermingling with the rest. Part of Jack swelled with pride and part of Jack was more than a tad hurt. Forgotten and replaced so quickly.

"Mr. O'Neill?"

"Yes, Ms. Flaherty."

She glanced over her shoulder and Jack followed her gaze. "He's wonderful. I know there were more than a few tough spots in the beginning, but now..." She gazed at the children. "He's wonderful," she repeated.

"Yes, he is."

"I'd like to speak to you about having the psychologist test him."

Jack knew exactly where this was headed. "Been there, Ms. Flaherty, done that. He's a genius." He pointed to the rug where the class was seated. Daniel was laughing. "That's what's important to me. At this moment, it's imperative for Daniel to find his place in this world first."

"Daddy." Daniel jumped up, scrambled around the desks, skirted around Ms. Flaherty and flung himself at Jack's legs. "You were leaving without saying goodbye."

"I'd never do that." Old knees or not, Jack squatted in front of Daniel. "Goodbye."

Daniel flung himself at Jack, the doorframe saving him from landing on his ass. "I'll see you later, Daddy."

Jack hugged him back so hard, Daniel grunted. "Have the best day," he whispered in his son's ear, stealing a quick kiss before Daniel could object.


Jack was rattling off a list of questions about school. Shooting from the hip, not really waiting for an answer until his mother touched his arm.

"What?" Jack asked as he stopped at the red light two blocks from the school parking lot.

His mother looked over her shoulder into the back seat. "He's sleeping. I think he was sleeping before you pulled out of the spot."

"Guess the poor kid missed his afternoon nap."

"Maybe we should just skip—"

"Nope." Jack shook his head. "He'll be disappointed. I'd rather he be tired than disappointed he didn't get a chance to see the house you've decided on."

At the mention of the house, a slow smile lit up her face.

It had been the third house they'd seen after dropping Daniel off at school that morning. And like Goldilocks, the first had been too big, the second too small and the third just right. He'd seen his mom's face the second she'd stepped through the door. Actually, he probably knew it before she had. The floors. The windows. The dining room and two large bedrooms, but it had been the sunroom that had sold her.

The house was on the market for a quick sale. The owners, due to a job relocation, had already moved. The offer his mother had presented through the realtor had been accepted and her signature had been placed on the appropriate line.

"I wish it were closer."

"Umm, mom, it's two miles. Door to door, two point three miles."

"When he gets older, Daniel will be able to bicycle back and forth."

"Older? Like twenty-one?"


Daniel was heavy and limp in Jack's arms. He was awake, but unwilling to walk, no matter how much Jack complained. "This is Gramma's house?"


Daniel leaned forward in Jack's arms, intently watching his grandmother. "How come that rock had a key in it?"

She fit the key into the lock and opened the door.

Daniel glanced at Jack, stunned, then struggled to be put down. "Gramma," Daniel exclaimed, rushing to her side. "Is that a magic rock?"

"No, mhuirnin. It's a fake rock that stores the key."

"Can we get one of those?"

Jack placed his hand on Daniel's head. "Sure we can, when you're twenty-one."


Daniel went from room to room, nodding his approval. Living room. Huge dining room with the built in cabinetry. Updated kitchen. The sunroom brought a grin as Daniel smooshed his face against the glass. "I like this," he said, drawing a smiling face in the condensation left behind.

"I'm glad."

Daniel grabbed his grandmother's hand and pulled her back through the house. First to one bedroom. Then to the second bedroom. "Which one is mine?"

Now, Jack knew the one with the master bath was his mother's, but he remained silent, waiting to see how she explained the choice to Daniel.

"This one is yours."

Daniel looked up at her. "Why?"

"Let me show you."

Excluding the bathroom, based on size, the rooms were basically the same size, but the one chosen for Daniel had something a bit different.


"It's a closet."

"Remember the rock with the key?"

Daniel eyed his mom, as if not really trusting her. "Yeah, I remember."

"Remember how the rock hid the key?"

"Gramma, it's a closet door."

"Open it."

Daniel opened the double louvered doors, ready to prove that a door was just a door. "Oh."

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

The closet was more than a closet. It held a built-in desk, shelves, drawers of all shapes and sizes, and a place for a five year old to shut out the world. Daniel was speechless and he stood, as if unable to move.

"You can touch, mhuirnin." Rose pushed him forward.

His fingers skipped over the desk. Slowly he opened and closed the drawers, the cabinets and the shelves, finding each and every hidey hole. "Thank you, Gramma."

"Pretty cool, huh?"

"Can I sleep here tonight?"


Daniel sat on one of the oversized boxes reading a book, his swinging feet banging the side. Over. And over. And over.

"Please stop that."


"Stop. That." Jack pointed to the denim-covered legs. "Now."

"I'm just waiting."


"You said that when you were done putting up the decorations, we could—"

Daniel missed his grandmother. A lot. And so did Jack, almost hating how much he'd come to rely on her presence and her extra pair of hands in helping out with Daniel. She'd left three days ago to oversee the packing up of her house, scheduling the task so she would be back in time to spend the holidays with them. Jack was trying to manage all the holiday preparations along with work and school for Daniel. It was overwhelming and Jack was at his wit's end and it was beginning to show.

"I told you when it gets dark. Honestly, Daniel, look outside, does it—"

Daniel slammed the book shut. "I forgot," he said. "Sorry."

Okay, now he felt like a heel. "No, I'm sorry. You're being really patient and I—what are you doing?"

Daniel had put the book to the side and had begun to peel apart the folded flaps of the cardboard box. "Just looking. Oh, this is pretty." Slowly, he began to extricate a strand of reddish gold garland, pulling and tugging the long strand until he reached a point where it wouldn't budge.

Jack grabbed him just as he was jumping off the box. "What are you doing?"

"Helping?" Daniel still held onto one end of the reddish monstrosity. "It's stuck."

Jack glanced around the room. "How about..." He spied a box in the corner with the word 'ornaments' scribbled on the side. "You open that box." Jack pointed to the box and gave Daniel a little push in that direction, because honestly, how much trouble could Daniel actually get in with a box of ornaments?


"I need you to move the ornaments." Jack dropped the box that he was holding onto the couch.

Every ornament was spread along the length of the coffee table, and while Daniel had been playing quietly, Jack needed the space.

"Okay." Daniel scooped up an armful of ornaments, struggled to his feet and before Jack could stop him or yell out a word of warning, two slipped from his grasp and landed on the floor, shattering.

Jack grabbed the box they'd come out of and shoved it under Daniel's arms. "Drop them," he ordered.

"You said to take them—"

"Drop them... gently, back into the box."

"But you said—"

"Drop. Them. Now!"

Daniel slowly released his burden into the box then went to reach for the remainder strewn across the table.

"Just go and sit down. Somewhere. Anywhere."

Daniel backed away from Jack. Hit the wall and slid down.

This was his fault. Really, giving the kid the ornaments had been pure stupidity, though in his defense, Jack really hadn't thought Daniel was going to play with the pieces. He placed the remaining ornaments back in the box then knelt beside Daniel. "I shouldn't have yelled."

"I shouldn't have dropped them."

"How about..." Jack wracked his brain, trying to think what would occupy Daniel. Looking, but not touching, was out of the question, because well, that just wasn't Daniel. "How about you go down in the den—"

"Can I take out my Legos?"

Jack sighed. Daniel didn't just take out his Legos, he took out his overabundance of Legos, constructing elaborate structures way beyond a five year old's capabilities. Impressing everyone except Jack, who inevitably would step on a lone, abandoned Lego in the middle of the night in his bare feet. Legos had been banned from the den; their usage confined to Daniel's bedroom. "Yes, you can take your Legos into the den," he agreed, knowing he'd rue this later.

He could see in Daniel's eyes, the lure of the treat he was being offered, and Jack could only hope for the next few weeks he remembered to wear shoes in the den.


Daniel burst into the living room, narrowly missing tripping over a string of lights Jack had laid out across the floor.


"Sorry, Daddy. Do you want to... Teal'c!" He flung himself at the Jaffa. "I didn't know you were here."

"Hello, DanielJackson." Teal'c leaned over, put the box on the arms on the chair, then bent down and scooped up Daniel.

Monkey-like, Daniel wrapped himself around Teal'c. "Are you helping Daddy?"

"Indeed I am."

"I can't."

Without even looking, Jack was positive Daniel was turning a full blown pout in his direction and he busied himself testing a string of lights, ignoring Teal'c's accusatory glare.

"I was under the impression that the holiday season is for the children. Am I mistaken, O'Neill?"

"It is."

"Then why is DanielJackson not permitted to assist us?"

"He was playing with his Legos." His answer sounded lame, even to him.

Daniel wiggled in Teal'c's grip. "I'll clean up my Legos and come and help you." He took off in a flash, his foot catching on the string of lights he'd missed on his way into the living room, jerking it halfway across the room. "Oops. Sorry, be right back."


"DanielJackson, please put down the those lights until O'Neill and I make sure they are operative."

In a huff, Daniel threw down the lights. "I just want to help."

Now it was Jack's turn to glare at Teal'c. "Remember Christmas is about the kids," he whispered as he passed Teal'c. "The ball's in your court."

"Would you like to play a game of basketball, DanielJackson?"

Jack groaned. "How about a break?"


Daniel had about three seconds' worth of patience and left Jack and Teal'c still eating their cookies and milk and took off.

"There's nothing in the living room that he can... You know..."

There was a loud childlike oops from the living room. "Don't worry, it didn't break."

Teal'c drained the last of his milk. "I do believe that the one thing I had concerns about, DanielJackon has found."


Jack tripped over the legs protruding out from under the tree. "Daniel!" he bellowed as he slammed into the couch.

"That is not a safe place for you to spend your time." Teal'c was a few steps behind Jack.

"I'm done." Daniel rolled out from under the tree.

"Done? Done?" Jack turned to look at him. "Done with what?"

Daniel slapped his hands against his thighs. "I was checking out where the ornaments should go."

"They don't go anywhere until the lights go up on the tree."

"Put the lights up."

"Put the lights up?" Jack echoed. "The tree is the last thing that gets done."



Daniel nodded.

"It is, DanielJackson, what is referred to as a tradition."

"What's a tradition?"

"It's the way we do things."


"Because," Jack huffed, "it's just the way it's done."

"I don't like that tradition. I want to do the tree first." Daniel flicked a bare tree branch.

Jack took a deep breath. "Tree is last. After dinner. We put on some holiday music. Make some hot chocolate, put on the lights—"

"Will it be dark?"

"Yeah, that adds to the ambience—"

"I though we were..." A boy with a mission, Daniel skirted around Jack and moved aside strands of lights on the coffee table. "This." He held up the astronomy book. "I thought we were doing this tonight."

"I didn't forget. How about Teal'c and I put up the lights on the outside of the house. Then we'll go up to the roof, study the stars... then come in and do the tree?"

Daniel's face lit up. "A new tradition?"

"Yup, a new tradition."



Jack looked down from his perch on the ladder. "Go back inside, Daniel. It's dark—"

"Can you come down for a minute? I want you to show you something."

"Not right now, Teal'c and I—"

"For all concerned, it would be in your best interest, O'Neill, for you to see what DanielJackson wishes to show you."

He looked back up at his friend. "It's gonna be bad, isn't it?"



The living room looked like Santa's elves had decorated it. Okay, Daniel had listened and not touched a tree decoration, but everything that wasn't an ornament was spread throughout the living room at eye level. Daniel's eye level. The family of delicate china snowmen, a legacy from his grandmother, were precariously balanced on the back of the couch. The hand-carved, expensively robed Santa was right in front of the fireplace, ready to burst into flames the second the fire was ignited. The Christmas village that was a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation was...

"Daniel, where are the houses?"

"Houses?" Daniel attention was focused on picking what looked suspiciously like tree garland off of his shirt.

"Houses. Village."

"Oh. Those. On the kitchen table."

"The kitchen table?" Jack rushed into the kitchen, Daniel at his heels.

The entire village was squished into the center of the table.

"I made a town." He pushed out a chair and scrambled up onto it, then onto the table, before Jack could even reach him. "I was careful. I didn't even get on the chair." He gave an impish grin as he knelt on the table, apologizing for his actions. "I just put one on the table. Then another. Then another. Pushing them to the middle. I didn't run or anything." He looked up at Jack, reading his open-mouthed expression of shock as something different than it was. "Don't worry. I didn't get hurt."

"Thank god." Jack picked him up, then planted him firmly on the floor. "What else did you do?" He reached out and plucked a reddish piece of garland from Daniel then waved it in front of his face.

"I decorated everywhere."

"You did?"

Daniel nodded vigorously.

Jack leaned forward, pushed up Daniel's glasses, and pasted what he hoped would pass as an enthusiastic smile of appreciation on his face. "Would you like to show me?"

"Then can we go see the stars?"

"Why don't you show me first?"


The bathroom in the hallway had the little people from the village positioned around the faucets. The snow-covered miniature fir trees were lined with anal precision along the toilet tank.

"You like?"

Jack nodded mutely.

"Wanna see your room?"

"My room?"


"Oh, joy."

Daniel tugged on Jack's hand, pulling him down the hallway, singing an off key rendition of 'Joy to the World'.

"That's interesting." On the doorknob was a huge wreath constructed of bells that when he pushed the door open, reminded him of the echoing timbre of the klaxons. Great, just what one wanted in their bedroom. He could feel the smile slowly fading from his face at the sight of the garish Santa Claus rug that Teal'c had given him last year as a gag gift. The rug was part of a set that included a—"Daniel, the rug, where's the rest of the..."

"Wait, you'll see, I don't want to spoil the surprise."

Bingo. Daniel's surprise was in Jack's bathroom. The toilet seat cover that was part of that set and featured Santa's rear, was on the floor by the bathtub. The toilet paper cover was turned upside down on the sink and had the water glass, tube of toothpaste and his toothbrush sticking out of it. The clean towels had been replaced with kitchen dishtowels that had a smiling Santa on one and Mrs. Claus on the other. Peachy.

"Where's the garland, Daniel?"

"In the den."

"The den?" Crap, Jack wasn't even letting his imagination travel there.


To say the garland was in the den was an understatement. Obviously, Daniel had never experienced the phenomena of what occurred when you cut a string of garland. It unravels. Comes apart. Loses all cohesion. There was barely an inch of carpeting that wasn't sprinkled with the stuff. What pushed him over the edge was that the TV was covered with the stuff. Static electricity. "Clean it up."

"Clean what up?"

"This." Jack's hand waved over the room. "All of this. Every last piece of garland. Every towel. Every wreath. Everything." Jack thought a second. "Do not touch the houses on the kitchen table or the snowmen in the living room."

"I didn't touch the ornaments," he whispered.

"But you touched every other damn thing, Daniel."

"I was only trying to help."

"Don't help anymore okay? Just clean up and go watch TV. Teal'c and I will be finished—"

"Then we'll go look at the stars?"

"No. We won't, not tonight."

"You promised," Daniel shouted.

"And you promised to behave." Poor Teal'c was probably wondering what the heck had happened to him. "Look, I left Teal'c doing the job alone..." Jack threw up his hands in disgust. "Just do what I told you to do."


"No questions asked. Do it."


Jack folded up the ladder, tucked it under his arm and went to stand next to Teal'c. "We done good."

Teal'c remained silent, gazing up at their handiwork. Not that he wanted to brag, but his house had the best decorations on the street.

"What's the problem, big guy?"

"There is no problem, O'Neill."

"You got that thing going with your mouth." With his free hand, he pointed to the deep scowl lines marking Teal'c's face. "Come on, 'tis the season. Relax. Christmas is for—"

"Children. I am aware of that. Though the one child among us is not around to enjoy the lights we have erected."

Jack felt a twinge of guilt. "You're right. Let's go get the little guy, show him the efforts of our labor then order a pizza or two."


"I have not been able to locate DanielJackson."

Jack stood in the kitchen, frantic. Teal'c had rechecked the bedrooms while he had scoured every nook and cranny from the garage, to the den to the laundry room and found neither hide nor hair of Daniel. He even picked up the cordless and scrolled through the recently dialed numbers.

He needed to stop the irrational thoughts running through his brain at breakneck speed and just focus. Focus and assess. Staring through the window, all Jack was able to concentrate on was how dark it was outside. Dark. Daniel. Stars. He was out the door in a flash, screaming Daniel's name as he ran to the ladder leading up to the observation deck.



It was Teal'c's bellow that did it. A pale face appeared over the side of the roof. "Daddy?"

"Awww, jeeze, Daniel. What the—" Fear gave way to anger.

The face disappeared, and a little leg swung around, trying to find the foothold.

"DanielJackson, I do not believe that is such a good idea."

"What the hell... Stop!" Jack ordered.

Daniel swung his other leg around and he would've made it, but he had only the use of one hand, the other hand held onto a book and that was his undoing. Jack could swear Daniel hung in midair before he slipped and with a shriek of shock, fell.

He came down at an angle, falling in what appeared to be slow motion, arms and legs flailing. Despite his bulk, Teal'c moved like a Superbowl quarterback, shouldering Jack from below the ladder, honing in on his prize.

Daniel landed in his arms, and Teal'c stumbled two steps under his weight. In a flash, Jack was by his side, hands ready to assess.

Daniel blinked in confusion, seeming to focus on where he'd come from, not where he was now. There were tears in his eyes and Jack wasn't too sure if Daniel had even drawn a breath.

"You are safe, DanielJackson."

"Yeah, Teal'c did this great catch." Jack flashed the Jaffa a grateful smile. "Too bad we don't have instant replay." His voice sounded normal, though his heart was beating through his ribcage.

Teal'c gently shifted Daniel just as Jack reached for the damn astronomy book still in his grasp. His hand bumped his arm instead of making contact with the book.

There was a loud gasp. A harsh intake of breath. Then Daniel's howl of anguish cut through the night, rising in pitch as a panicked Teal'c shot a glance at Jack.

"House. Now." The yard wasn't lit well enough for Jack to see if Daniel's screams were from shock or from an injury, or just to add another grey hair or two to his head.


It was one long scream, from the yard to the kitchen. One breath. Jack cleared the table with one swipe, barely registering the destruction he'd just inflicted on the village still on the table. Whatever. Heirlooms suddenly meant nothing. His previous annoyance and anger was totally forgotten. "Put him here," he ordered Teal'c.

Gently, but with reluctance, Teal'c laid Daniel on the table.

Immediately, Jack placed a hand on either side of Daniel's face, leaned over and put his own face into Daniel's. "Breathe, Daniel," he shouted, his voice overpowering the scream.

Daniel hiccupped, then stopped. Shocked. "Fell," he stuttered, beginning to shake.

Jack planted a kiss on his forehead and straightened.

"Fell," Daniel repeated, shaking and stammering so badly the one syllable word was stretched and elongated.

Teal'c disappeared, then reappeared, knowing the drill without being prompted, returning with the afghan.

"Teal'c's going to place—"

"No," Daniel howled. "Hurts."

Jack lifted the edge of the blanket still in Teal'c's hands. "See? It's just the afghan. It's not going to—"

"Are you in pain, DanielJackson?"

He didn't even finish his nod before Jack was all over him. "Where?" Sure hands traveled up Daniel's legs, his belly, while Daniel's whimper increased in volume.

"Stop, O'Neill."

"What?" Jack froze and he glanced over his shoulder at Teal'c.

"It would appear that his right hand—"

Daniel's left hand was covering his right, cupping it tightly against his body.

He'd been so focused on how pale Daniel was. How safe he was. How close he'd almost come to losing him that he really hadn't seen anything above the fact that Daniel was alive and breathing. "Let me see." Jack didn't wait for him to answer, slowly he began to peel the fingers of his left hand away.

Daniel's scream rattled the window and quickly convinced Jack the kitchen wasn't where they needed to be.


Jack drove, breaking a few rules. Speed was the first. Rolling through stop signs was the second. The third... Daniel wasn't in the booster seat. He was in the back seat, cradled in Teal'c's arms, wrapped in the afghan, sitting right where Jack could see them in the rear-view mirror.

He'd also called Fraiser while pulling out of the driveway, disappointed and a little pissed when she recommended the Academy Hospital rather than the SGC. She promised to call in an orthopedist who specialized in pediatric patients.


They arrived before the doctor and Jack was given a clipboard of paperwork to fill out, and the three of them were directed to have a seat in the corner of the semi-quiet waiting room. Jack began to protest, demanding that someone at least take a look at Daniel. He knew his voice was rising. He knew the handful of people in the waiting room were making a concerted effort to ignore him. He knew he was frightening Daniel, and that Teal'c was trying his damnedest not to punch someone, Jack probably topping the list.

Strangely enough, he couldn't give a rat's ass how much attention he attracted. "My son is in pain," he repeated, tapping the clipboard against the counter. "He needs an x-ray and a doctor."

"Doctor Metcalf is on his way."

"Yeah, you said that."

"And we'll call your son in for an x-ray the moment the technician is free."

"See, that you didn't say."

"Yes, she did, O'Neill."

"She did?"

"I did." The receptionist gave Jack an 'I told you so' nod.

Jack ducked his head. Embarrassed. "Oh. Stress. Sorry."

"Please just fill out the paperwork, sir."

Jack lifted the pen. "Filling. Now." He pointed over his shoulder to the bank of chairs they previously had been directed to. "We'll just be right over there; feel free to call us."


Daniel whimpered when Teal'c shifted his blanket-wrapped body, distracting Jack from the plethora of forms. "You're being so good, buddy."

"I did not mean to cause you any pain, DanielJackson." Teal'c laid his cheek against Daniel's head.

The contradiction of Teal'c's sheer bulk and his gentleness formed an uncomfortable lump in Jack's throat, and he turned his attention back to the forms, otherwise he was going to do or say something which would embarrass both him and Teal'c.

"There is a story among my people about an adventurous little boy such as yourself who was full of questions and his desire for learning was legendary. However, he was not patient and he desired to see all the wonders of the world, though he was warned not to during his escape from the legendary Minotaur—"

"Icarus," Jack interjected without looking up. "You're talking about the myth of the boy who didn't listen to his dad and flew—"

"Like me?"

Jack turned towards Daniel. "Yeah, sorta like you."

"What happened to Icky—" He paused, stuck on the name.

"Icarus?" This really wasn't the time or the place to expand on the fact that Icarus didn't have a Teal'c to catch him, his wings melted and he went splat right into the sea, leaving behind a very sad and guilt-ridden dad. Maybe Daniel and Jack had a lot in common with Icarus and his pop. "Icarus and his dad lived happily ever after," he lied, because there was always time later for the truth.


"We're going to have to sedate him."

Jack leaned against the x-ray table with Daniel plastered to his side, cradling his arm against his body, the room still echoing with his screams. Jack hadn't put two and two together until Daniel caught sight of the technician's lab coat. The white coat combined with the machinery and the claustrophobic feel of the room. The same type of coat the NID had worn when they subjected Daniel to the myriad of testing in a room such as this.

"No sedation," Jack insisted. "Just give us a moment and I promise he'll cooperate."

The technician shook his head and turned his back on them, which, Jack realized, was as alone as they were going to get, meaning he had to keep his message to Daniel pretty damn cryptic. "It's not the same men, I promise."

In pain or not, Daniel gazed at him with a look of mistrust.

"I'll hold your hand the entire time."

"It hurts." Tears overflowed.

"I know. And I promise, I'll hold your other hand." He picked up Daniel's left hand and held it between his. "We're ready," he called out to the technician.

"Ready," Daniel agreed with a tentative nod.


Doctor Metcalf was wonderful. She was warm and gentle with Daniel and sympathetic with a no-nonsense approach for Jack. He wondered, given Daniel's history, if it were possible to keep the woman on retainer.

She read the instructions from the clipboard. "The cast can't get wet. Physical activity is to be restricted for the time being. Sleeping with his hand propped up on a pillow will probably be more comfortable."

Shocked, Daniel gazed at the cast. "I thought it wouldn't hurt anymore."

"We're working on that, sweetie. Can you swallow pills?"

Daniel looked at Jack who shook his head.

"No problem." She pulled a pad from her pocket. "What's your favorite flavor?"


"Grape it is."


They left the hospital with two prescriptions, a follow-up appointment for the day before Christmas, a huge list of instructions and a telephone number to call in case there were problems. Jack was driving. For the return trip, Daniel was sitting in the booster seat with Teal'c plastered to his side, softly petting Daniel, not saying a word.

Daniel, after his initial meltdown in the x-ray room, now appeared shell-shocked. Both he and Jack jumped when Teal'c spoke.

"CaptainCarter is on her way to your house."

Jack glanced up into the rear-view mirror. "May I ask...?"

"While Daniel Jackson was having his wrist encased in this material, I took it upon myself to call her."


"We will fill the prescriptions the doctor presented while you remain at home with DanielJackson."

"Thank you."

"Is that not what families do for each other?"

"Yes, it is, T. But you still deserve a thank you. You and Carter."


Contrary to what Doctor Metcalf promised, the grape flavored medication did nothing but dull the edge of the pain. Daniel's bed hadn't worked. Jack's bed, treat that it was, also hadn't worked, and with dawn mere hours away, Jack needed to get some sleep, so he settled them on the old faithful recliner, complete with blanket, pillows for his head, Daniel's wrist, and Lumpy. Hoping to distract Daniel, he'd turned the lights on the Christmas tree which Carter and Teal'c had finished putting up for him. The blinking was mesmerizing and Jack was hard-pressed not to become hypnotized by their flashing.

Daniel yawned.

"Why don't we close our eyes?"

"Christmas is coming."

"Hmmmm." This was an easy conversation, one that Jack could conduct with his eyes closed. "Soon."

"I don't have presents."

"Santa brings your presents."

"What about everyone else? Santa doesn't bring my presents for everyone else."

Ahh, maybe he needed his eyes open for this. "You mean like Carter? And Teal'c?"

"And Gramma."

"Yeah, those presents are sorta your responsibility." Jack really didn't want to use the "M" word if at all possible. "You could draw some pictures."

"Yeah..." Daniel didn't sound entirely convinced. "Cookies? Gramma loves cookies. What if we bake some cookies for Gramma?"

"That's a great idea."

"You'll help?"

"Of course, I will."

Daniel settled against Jack. Jack settled against the chair, wishing all of their problems could always be settled so easily.

"I'm sorry, Daddy."

"Me, too. I should've done what I promised."

"No," Daniel said softly, his fingers stroking the cast. "You should've watched the stars with me because you wanted to, not because you promised me."

Out of the mouth of babes. Daniel fell asleep. And Jack? Suddenly, he didn't feel so tired; he felt shitty, as if he'd disappointed the most important person in his life.


Daniel was sitting on his mother's lap while Jack prepared dinner. The cast, the center of attention, was resting on the table. "Everyone signed it, Gramma."


"Yup. There's Sam. Teal'c." He rotated the cast, pointing out each signature. "General Hammond. Janet. Cassie. My teacher. Mrs. Beckerd. Corey. Corey's mommy." He lifted the cast over his head, peering underneath. "That blue mark is Jeremy, he has problems signing his name. That funny face Daddy drew. See the moustache—"

"I see."

"Everyone," he said proudly, snuggling into her.

"Not everyone."

Daniel popped up. "Yes, everyone," he said with an indignant attitude that Jack corrected.

"Watch the tone, son."

"Sorry. Sorry, Gramma, but everyone did sign the cast."

"Nope, not everyone."

"Well, who then?"

"Daniel..." Jack warned as he opened the fridge.

He sighed. "Well, Gramma's teasing me. And what do you always tell me about teasing? How come you're not yelling at her?"

"Mom? Daniel's right. Stop teasing and tell him who didn't sign the cast," he answered distractedly while searching through the fridge for the toppings for the burgers.

"I didn't sign it."

"Oh, Gramma!" Daniel jumped off her lap and ran out of the room.

Jack put the tomatoes, onions and lettuce on the counter, searching for the cutting board and knife. "He missed you. I missed you."

"I missed my boys as well."

Jack loved her dearly at that moment. More than he probably could ever tell her. For so many reasons. Because she was moving out to Colorado, but more importantly, she'd accepted the cast at face value, hugging Jack with as much fervor as she did Daniel when she saw it for the first time.

Daniel ran back into the kitchen, a purple marker in his hand. "It's purple," he announced. "Your favorite color." He dropped his casted hand into her lap then handed her the marker.

"Hmm." She pushed her glasses up with the marker. "Close your eyes," she ordered, and Daniel, without being asked a second time, slammed his eyes shut.

Jack tried to look while his mom searched for a blank area, but she moved, situating herself so that she blocked his view. "Cut the veggies."

"Spoilsport," Jack whispered.

"Huh?" Daniel opened one eye. "What veggies?"

"Close 'em so I can write something."


Daniel allowed his grandma to cut his burger in half. Actually, based on the smile Daniel wore, Jack was pretty damn sure Daniel would allow his mother to do things that he proclaimed he was now too big for. Like Jack cutting up his food. Or wiping his mouth. Or kissing the tip of his nose.

Daniel giggled throughout dinner and Jack couldn't help but smile at his son's happiness.

"Can I sleep over at Gramma's tonight?"

"Not tonight, mhuirnin."

Thankfully, his mother had objected before Jack could, and while Daniel pouted, it didn't last for more than a second.

"Why not?"

"Not all my furniture is in—"

"And you have school tomorrow."

This pout lasted a bit longer. "I don't wanna go to school tomorrow."

Jack pouted, too. "I don't want to go to work tomorrow."

Both of them looked at his mother and she shrugged. "I don't want to unpack. How about I go to school for Daniel and he gets to come to my house and unpack—"

"You're being very silly." Daniel shook his head and rolled his eyes, obviously believing he was the only adult among the three of them.

"Yeah, Daniel, but could you just picture your grandmother—"

"I'd stop right there, son, before you say something you might regret."

"You're no fun, Mom."


Daniel had fought getting ready for bed. He was a perfect angel when his grandmother told him a bedtime story, but the tears and complaints started up the second he realized that going to bed was the only thing in his future.

"No, I'm not tired."

Jack was so tempted to point a finger at him and scream "liar," but his mother would've been all over him in seconds. "Tomorrow's your last day before vacation and then you're off for ten whole days."

"I wanna be off for eleven."

"Yeah, and I want a little boy who'll go to sleep without any problems." Jack averted his eyes from his mother's scathing stare. "As you can tell, we don't always get what we want."

"Watch it, buster, or your attitude is going to send you right to bed," she warned.

"No, we don't," Daniel replied, with a pout. " 'Cause if we did, I'd be going to Gramma's."

"Grandma told you why she can't take you toni—"

"I bet Icky could do what he wanted, and that his dad didn't send him to bed when he didn't want to go—"

"Boys. Boys. Enough."

"You won't be here when I wake up."

She hesitated, and Jack was positive his mother was trying to work out the logistics of getting up early enough to join them for breakfast and he cleared his throat, loudly, to let her know that her answer better be a 'no'.

"Not tomorrow morning, mhuirnin."

Good, his mom got the message. "How about Grandma and I pick you up after school?"

Daniel hesitated, not willing to let go of this argument.

"Sweetie, look at me."

Daniel refused to meet her eyes, obviously disappointed that he didn't win this argument.

Jack knew his mom wouldn't just let Daniel have the last word.

She sat at the edge of his bed and gently took his casted arm into her hand. "What does this say, Danny?"

He looked, tracing her purple words with his tiny fingers. "You wrote, 'I'm home'."

"That's right. 'I'm home', in this town, and in here," she placed her hand over his heart, "to stay."


Christmas Day, Jack was up before Daniel. He took the time to dress in a pair of sweats, wash up and set up a pot of coffee, all the while listening for the telltale signs of an awakening child. He flicked on the lights to the tree and smiled at the impressive piles of gifts. A few were opened... the gifts from Hammond and a handful of people who'd stopped by last evening, but the remaining wrapped ones were to be opened today.


Jack and his cup of coffee sat on the chair in Daniel's room. This wasn't how he'd expected Christmas Day to start. He had expected to be woken by an overjoyed, overenthusiastic boy bounding into his bed. He so had not expected to be sitting, waiting for Daniel to wake up. Okay, he was more than disappointed. Yes, Daniel had gone to bed way past his bedtime. Yes, he'd had a hard time getting to sleep, but damn, it was Christmas, for goodness sake. No one oversleeps on Christmas morning.

He checked his watch again. 0700. This was so not right.

He cleared his throat.


Slurped the coffee.


Drastic times called for drastic measures. He got up, walked the fingers of his injured hand reaching for the stuffed animal who was now Jack's hostage. He whimpered and pulled his arm back against his body.

Shit, that wasn't what he wanted. "Hey, buddy."

There was moaning and complaining, but eventually Daniel slowly opened his eyes.

Playfully, Jack rubbed Lumpy's snout in Daniel's face, causing him to sneeze three times in quick succession then reached for his stuffie, pouting when Jack moved it from him.

"It's Christmas morning."

Daniel sat up in a shot. "I overslept?" He threw back the blanket and began to scramble out of bed. "Was Santa here? Did he eat the cookies? Drink the milk?"

This was much better. Jack placed a restraining hand on Daniel's arm. "Whoa. Bathroom first, then let's see about this Santa guy, okay?"


If Jack had thought the pile of presents was impressive, it couldn't hold a candle to the pile of discarded wrapping. As he cleaned up, stuffing the paper into the garbage bag he was dragging in his wake, he admitted that maybe, just maybe, he had gone a bit overboard with this gift giving.

Daniel looked up from admiring the picture on the front of his Lego box. "I have a present for you."

"Really?" Jack pulled the strings of the garbage bag and tossed it in the direction of the kitchen.

Solemnly, Daniel nodded. "It's a surprise."

"I love surprises." Jack collapsed on the couch, overseeing Daniel's presents. "Looks like Santa was pretty good to you."

Daniel turned, resting his chin on Jack's thigh. "What did Santa bring you?"

Jack didn't hesitate. "You."

"That's only one present. Wanna share one of my new cars?" He handed Jack a sleeve of Hot Wheels. "Pick one. Not the green one, though. Or the blue one. Or the red. Would you like the orange one?"

An orange Dodge Aspen. Joy. "Sure, that would be fantastic. Though maybe after breakfast?"



"Waffles it is." Jack went to get up, but Daniel pushed at him, forcing him back onto the couch.

"Wait, my surprise." Daniel jumped off the couch and ran out of the room, down the hall, and into his bedroom. Jack heard the closet door opening and closing, and then Daniel ran back, clutching something in his hands.

"Mrs. Flaherty helped me make it," he said as he solemnly offered the gaily-colored package to Jack.

It felt very light and very fragile. Carefully Jack teased away the thin paper and revealed a small piece of clay within. On the clay was a small handprint, and a Polaroid picture of Daniel next to it. A small card was attached to the keepsake: My little hand holds yours so tight, never letting go, 'cause it feels so right. I trust in you, to show me how, to be a good person, this I vow.

Jack's throat tightened at the first glimpse of the long poem. Corny as the words were, they touched a part of him he thought he'd never feel again.

"Do you like it?" Daniel stared at him, worrying his lower lip.

"I love it." He pulled Daniel into a hug and held him close, fighting his emotions, until Daniel squirmed and Jack released him.

"Mrs. Flaherty wrote the poem for me, and she took my picture, and she helped me put it into the clay." He traced the edge of his handprint with a finger. "I had to squish my hand into there. It felt weird."

"I bet it did." Jack was proud that his voice sounded normal. "I'm going to put it right here, so everyone can see it." He got up and moved a few items around so that the clay keepsake had the place of honor on the mantle. "So, how about those waffles?"


And they came. Carter. Teal'c. His mother. Fraiser and Cassie. A full house, and while Jack had his hands full, he kept one eye trained on Daniel, who flitted from one person to another, his smile blinding.

"Can I have an apple juice, Daddy?"

Jack snatched him up, and he squealed in surprise, giggling loudly when Jack planted his butt on the counter. "So you want an apple juice?"

Daniel nodded eagerly.

"I want payment."

The smile slid from his face. "I have to check my piggy bank. I don't think I have enough—"

"Well, then, how about a hug?"

"I got lotsa those."

Jack threw open his arms. "Show me."

Daniel launched himself at Jack, his arms wrapping around his neck in a stranglehold and squeezed. "Like this?"

Jack gave a mock gag. "Yeah, definitely worth a glass of apple juice." One-handed, he opened the fridge, removed the apple juice and poured a glass, all with Daniel clinging to him.

"Aaahhh," Daniel said with a satisfied exhalation of air, followed by a loud burp.

"Hit the spot?"

Daniel nodded, handed Jack the empty glass then wiggled to be put down.

Jack released Daniel and he slid down the side of his body. "Go forth and shake the presents."

Daniel took two steps, then came back and rested his head against Jack. "I love you."

The words wouldn't come, but his hand crept down, found Daniel's shoulder and pulled him against his leg. "Me, too."


The presents were opened and Carter and Fraiser were cleaning up the wrappings. Cassie was showing Teal'c the finer points of her newest Barbie while Jack was leaning against the wall, listening for the oven timer. Daniel was sitting in his grandmother's lap, running the tiniest green car that Jack had ever seen up and down the arm of the chair.

"Did you like the cookies I made you, Gramma?"

She captured Jack's attention and smiled. "Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite."

"I know." The car traveled up her arm then down. "Dad said peanut butter chips but I said chocolate chips."

"Obviously, your dad doesn't know everything about his mother."

Jack hid his snort behind a cough.

"Were the cookies your favorite gift? Or the gift certificate to the bookstore? Or the movie tickets? The pajamas? The robe? The pink fuzzy slippers? The cookbook?" Daniel was intently driving the car up and over her fingers. "If I were you, I'd like the gift certificate to the bookstore."

She plucked the car from his fingers and began to run it up and down his belly. "Want to know what my favorite gift is?"

Daniel giggled and tried to steal the car back. "What your favoritest?"

"My favorite and most precious gift this holiday is sitting here. Right on my lap."

"I'm better than books?" Daniel just shook his head as if his grandma had a couple of screws loose.

Jack was saved from making a comment by the well-placed ding of the oven timer.


The snow had started right after dessert and Jack ushered everyone out. They left amidst complaints about eating and running, but he would have none of it and practically shoved them out the door with hasty goodbyes, presents and promises to call when they got home.

Daniel grabbed his grandmother's hand. "You're going?"

"No, I'm staying here tonight."

Daniel jumped up and down. "That's my favoritest gift. That and the little green car. And the bigger green car and—"

Jack grounded Daniel with a hand on his head. "Calm down, buddy."

"Calming." Daniel stopped boinging and looked up at Jack.

"Thanks." Jack spread his fingers over the width of Daniel's skull and pivoted him in the direction of the hall. "Brush your teeth. Wash up and get in pajamas."

"I'm not tired."

"I'm not tired either, mhuirnin, but I'm going to get in pjs after I help your dad clean up the kitchen."

"And then I'll start a fire, set up the new blow up mattress for you and we'll hang out in the living room. The perfect way to end a perfect day." Jack's gaze moved from his mother to Daniel. "Last one in the living room is a rotten egg."


The bouncy, exuberant child was gone, replaced by a subdued little boy, who sat in the corner of the couch, eyes downcast.

Jack exchanged a glance with his mother, but grabbed her arm when she went to approach Daniel and silently pushed her towards the bedroom to change into pajamas. She stood her ground, but he insisted, the two of them miming the conversation. Jack's victory was hard-won, but it was a victory.

Jack waited until his mother closed her bedroom door with a not so gentle slam. "Brrr." He made a show of slapping his forearms. "Gonna start the fire that I promised."

With years of practice, he accomplished the task silently and efficiently. The flames took a moment to catch around the arranged firewood. He stepped back and admired his handiwork then shot a glance over his shoulder at Daniel. "Time for the blow up bed."


Jack had finished blowing up the oversized bed just as his mother walked into the room. "Nice pjs, rotten egg."

She harrumphed, shouldered past him, the bed and the coffee table as she went to sit with Daniel, hugging him before he could object then whispered something in his ear. Daniel nodded, lifted his arms and allowed her take off his shirt, holding his position when she turned his pj right side in and slipped it on over his head and threaded his casted hand through the arm hole. "Better?"

Daniel nodded. "Dad? Gramma?" His glance bounced from one to the other.

"I'm just going to get your pillow and blanket, I'll be right back."

"No, can you... okay."

Jack gave him a mini salute and Daniel gave him a mini smile, which was better than the face he'd been wearing. "Be right back," he promised.


He did come back in record time, dropped the blanket, two pillows and Lumpy on the bed. "How about we—mom?"

His mother had been crying. Actually, she was still crying.

"What happened?" He sat on the coffee table facing the two of them. "Daniel, care to explain?"

"I made Gramma cry," he whispered, rubbing her arm, tears filling his own eyes. "I didn't mean to make her cry."

"I can see you made her cry. Care to tell me why?"

"I didn't mean to," Daniel insisted, swiping his arm under his nose.

"I know you didn't mean to," Jack repeated, frustrated. "Is there anyway anyone sitting on this couch can explain to me what's with the waterworks?"

His mother fished in the pocket of her robe, drew out a tissue and blew her nose. The tissue disappeared into the sleeve of the bathrobe then Rose reached between the cushions of the couch and withdrew a picture frame. "Let Daniel explain. He can do a much better job than I can."

"Scoot over." Jack took the offered picture, then squeezed his butt on the other side of Daniel. He didn't even really look at the picture until he put it in front of Daniel. "Explain."

"I wanted to give Gramma something besides the cookies."

"So you drew her a picture?"

Daniel nodded. "Sam helped me put the frame around it."

His mother sniffed.

"Please don't cry, Gramma," Daniel begged, his voice breaking. "I'll take it back—"

"Don't you dare, mhuirnin, I love it."

"But you're crying—"

"Focus, Daniel. Tell me what's in the picture." Jack studied it, but he couldn't see what would draw tears from his mother.

"This is us." Daniel pointed to the three stick figures. "You. Me. Gramma.

Those were pretty self-explanatory. "Okay. Got that."

"Our houses. Gramma's and ours... and look, see, we're holding hands." Daniel opened his arms wide. "And when we stretch, we can touch our home and Gramma's home. Can you see?"

Jack traced the straight line the stick figures with the outstretched hands created. "I can see, perfectly."

"Look. Look in the windows to the house." Daniel began to point to the windows of each house. "Sam. Teal'c. Janet. Cassie. General Hammond. Lumpy."

Jack nodded.

"It's my family."


Okay, now Jack understood why his mother was crying. "Your family."

"At school, we were talking about family. Some kids have mommies and daddies. Some kids have brothers and sisters. I have a daddy."

"Yes, you do." Jack touched the picture.

"And a Gramma."

"Who loves you dearly, my mhuirnin."

"And two houses. And enough people to fill both houses. This is my family."

His mother handed him a tissue. "You're leaking, son."

"No. I'm not."

"Yes, you are. You're leaking all over my beautiful picture."

Jack took the proffered tissue, blew his nose, wiped his eyes and sighed.

"I know," she said.

"You're both crying?" Daniel asked.

"No, not crying," Jack corrected. "I'm leaking. It's the eye strain."


"Yes, why, Jonathan?"

"Because counting your blessings is hard work."


The End!

Authors' Comments: Once again our trio of betas, Lyn, Annie and Lynne have stepped up to the bat and have given their time and their talents in this universe - huge hugs for all of them.

To the people who read and enjoyed Wayward Son and Subterfuge, we can hope that this sequel measures up to your expectations.


to contact devra

to contact JoaG

Free HTML Counters
matchmaking service
Since 1 March 2008



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.