Wayward Son/Sarah Connor Chronicles:

- Life has its Moments by devra and JoaG

life has its moments


Daniel had never been on this end of the infirmary waiting game. Up until now, he'd always been the patient, the one who'd been cared for and comforted. Never had he been left in the dark like this.

He never expected the gut-wrenching fear and anxiety that prevented him from sitting still more than two minutes at a time. He'd felt like he hadn't been able to take a deep breath since he'd gotten called out of class this morning and saw his grandmother waiting for him in the principal's office.



Daniel jumped to his feet the second Janet entered the infirmary's waiting area, almost running towards her, searching her face for a hint while his grandmother got up more sedately and waited for Janet to approach.

"How is he? How's Jonathan?"

"How's my dad?" Daniel reiterated, turning around and keeping pace with Janet's quick steps.

Gruesome as it was, he checked out first her opened lab coat, then her shirt and skirt underneath for any signs of blood.

Janet stopped when she reached his grandmother. "Rose, I'd like a word with you in my office, if you don't mind."

His grandmother nodded, her face going white. Daniel grabbed his backpack from the chair where he'd tossed it earlier and dogged Janet for three steps until she stopped suddenly. He almost bumped into her, twisting to keep his footing.

"Daniel, I think you should wait here."

"Why?" It was bad. He knew it was bad. But he needed to hear what was wrong with his father. "Why can't I go with you?"

"Let me talk to your grandmother first and then we'll see about you visiting your father."

"I can see him?" Fear caused his heart to race and he felt light headed. He didn't want to see his dad, afraid of what he'd find, and at the same time he wanted to rush into the Isolation Room where they'd been treating him and see for himself that his father was still alive. Emotions conflicted wildly, and he started to tremble.

"Of course. Just for a minute. We won't be long."

His grandmother left him standing there, backpack hanging heavily from one shoulder, and suddenly anger replaced the overwhelming fear and anxiety. He tossed his bag back onto the chair, not caring if he damaged his laptop, and paced back and forth, taking longer sweeps until he was passing the closed door to Janet's office.

He wanted to lash out, kick something, smash something. Instead he kept his hands tightly fisted, shoved into the pockets of his hoodie and began to take measured steps. He started counting his steps from wall to door but couldn't concentrate, and gave up after he lost his count the second time.

The longer that door remained closed, the more terrified he became. He had rarely felt this alone in his life before; he knew Sam and Teal'c were still offworld, continuing to assist with the rescue mission of the village decimated by a rockslide.

His dad was a hero – he'd saved a couple of kids and had gotten injured pulling them to safety. That was all he knew from the little bit the driver assigned to collect him and his grandmother had told them; and now his grandmother knew more than him and nobody was coming out to tell him!

Then the door opened, and Daniel froze. His grandmother slowly followed Janet out and it was clear from her red-rimmed eyes that she'd been crying. Daniel's mouth went suddenly spitless as his ears began to ring.

"Grandma?" He ignored Janet as he gazed directly at his grandmother.

"Your father's been badly hurt—"

"I know that," he spat at Janet while keeping his eyes on his grandmother. "Tell me what I don't know."

"His back's broken, Daniel." Janet took hold of his arm and shook it, forcing him to look at her. "While there's swelling to the spinal cord, it doesn't... We don't know... We don't think he'll be able to walk again."

"But he's okay? He's going to be okay?"

"He's got a concussion, a deep laceration on his right leg and a couple of cracked ribs and a sprained wrist."

"But is he okay?"

"He's unconscious; we don't know how severe the head injury is and won't know until he wakes up."

"And when will that be?"

Janet shook her head slowly. "We don't know."

"But he'll be okay when he wakes up, right? He'll be okay?"

"Daniel." Janet shook his arm again. "Did you hear what I just said? Your father won't walk again."

"But is he going to be okay? Is he going to live?" Daniel heard his voice echoing in the room and realized he'd been yelling.

"He's going to live," Janet said softly.

"He's going to be okay," Daniel whispered, barely getting the words out before his throat choked up. He blinked back tears, walking slowly back to the chairs to get his backpack. He picked the bag up, wondering why it felt so heavy.

His dad was hurt – hurt bad – but he was going to live. Suddenly he couldn't wait to see his father and he hurried to catch up on legs that were strangely wobbly.


For a while, Daniel fought tears and nausea while he stood helplessly next to his dad's bed. His grandmother had unhesitatingly pulled a chair close to the bed and sat there holding his dad's hand, occasionally wiping her tears with her other hand. At first glance, there was so much medical paraphernalia that Daniel was overwhelmed.

Then he began to visually trace each and every wire and tube connected to his father; some of them he'd had up close and personal experience with, like the IV, oxygen mask, catheter, heart monitor, pulse oxymeter. His dad's left wrist and ribs were bandaged. His bare chest and arms above the sheet were bruised and scratched, there were a few scrapes on his cheek, and a bruise was peeking past the bandage over his right eyebrow.

When Daniel began examining the equipment related to his dad's back injury, it slowly began to make sense; everything there was to keep his dad still so he wouldn't make things worse. That, Daniel could understand.

His face was so white, paler than the bandage. He had a day's worth of stubble. The nurses had washed the dirt from him but hadn't shaved him.

What bothered Daniel so much was seeing his dad so motionless. His chest went up and down, the only sign that his dad was still alive. That, and the steady beeping of the heart monitor. Daniel allowed the sight and sound to fill him, to reconfirm that there was hope. Always, hope.

Janet touched his back and rubbed gently. "I'll go and see about a driver to take you home."

"What?" Daniel blinked as he turned to stare at Janet. "But we just got here."

"There's nothing you can do. Your father's resting comfortably. You're better off going home and I'll call if there's any change—"

"I'm not going home."

"Daniel. I said I'd let you see your father—"

"You didn't say you were going to kick me out two minutes later." He glanced in his grandmother's direction, hoping for support from her, but she was ignoring them. "What about Grandma?"

"I'd suggest she go home also but..." It was obvious from his grandmother's unmoving position that she had no plans on leaving quite yet.

Without a word, Daniel grabbed a chair from the far end of the room and dragged it over to his dad's bed next to his grandmother. He dared Janet to say something when he dropped his backpack next to the chair and sat down.

Janet just looked at him with a sad expression. "Let me know when you're ready to go home," she said before leaving them alone with his dad and a nurse.

Daniel leaned forward, arms resting on his thighs, wishing his chest would relax enough so he could take just one, easy breath.



Daniel startled, lost in his thoughts as Sarah walked into the room.

"Hello, Sarah."

"How is he?"

His grandmother gave a small head shake. "There's no change."

"I'm sorry. I talked to Janet and she told me about..."

"Thank you."

Daniel straightened slowly and leaned back in the chair. He glanced at the clock on the wall and was shocked to see that it was nearly nine. He'd been sitting in this chair for hours, unmoving, just watching his father breathe.

"Cameron and Derek have gone to help... you know... offworld, but I'm here, if you need a lift home."

Daniel glanced anxiously at his grandmother. He didn't want to leave. He didn't want to go home.

"Thank you. I... Would you mind if Daniel spent the night?"

"Of course not!" Sarah sounded almost indignant. "It's the least I can do for all the times you've helped with John." She moved closer and put a hand on Daniel's arm. Her fingers were warm, the heat leaching through the thin sweater he was wearing. "Daniel, do you need to go home and get anything? Clothes for school tomorrow?"

"School?" He felt like he'd been pulled out of a deep dream, unable to focus on anything. "Tomorrow?"

"Rose? I'm taking that you're staying here tonight?"

His grandmother nodded; she looked like wild horses couldn't tear her away from his dad's side.

"I'm staying, too." Daniel slunk down into the chair, ignoring his aching back and numb butt.

"No, mhuirnin. You're going to go stay with Sarah tonight so you can get some sleep, and then go to school tomorrow, and then come visit your dad after school."

"But Dad—"

"What would your father say if he knew you were cutting school because of him?"

Daniel lowered his head to his chest. He could just hear his father's lecture in his head and wished his father was actually yelling at him right now for even entertaining the idea of cutting classes.

"He'd understand." His dad had been Daniel's rock all those times he'd been sick in the past year. Daniel couldn't even understand why his grandmother wanted him to leave. "I know he'd—"

"Go with Sarah," his grandmother said with soft steel in her voice, not even turning to look at him. He knew he could argue but he could see his grandmother's mind was made up. Without another word, he reached for his backpack and stood. "And don't forget to do your homework," she added as he leaned down to kiss her cheek.

He froze, his lips an inch from her skin, then moved to finish the act. He felt like he was kissing a statue until she turned around and hugged him close to her.

"I love you. I'll call you in the morning."

"Call me if there's any change," Daniel said quickly, searching his grandmother's face. She nodded slowly.

Daniel moved around her and kissed his dad's cheek. His skin was warm, warmer than his grandmother's. "Love you, Dad," he managed to whisper, feeling his throat tighten. He shrugged his backpack onto his shoulder and left the room, not looking back, listening to Sarah's footsteps behind him as he tried not to cry.

By the time they reached the parking lot he was in control. He followed her to her truck, got in and stared out the window. Sarah didn't say anything, for which he was grateful. He just watched the lights whiz by in the dark, wondering how he was going to get through a full day of school.

A quick stop at home, just long enough for him to toss his pajamas, a few changes of clothes and toiletries into a bag, and then they were off to Sarah's place. It was odd walking into their house and not his grandmother's. He felt numb; earlier he'd fought to rein in his emotions, now he felt like he should be crying or something.

"You can sleep in Cameron's room."

Without a word, Daniel moved through the house, ignoring John when he came out of his bedroom. His friend's glance went towards his mother, and Daniel knew she'd given him a sign, warning him to not say anything. He entered Cameron's room, catching a glimpse of John who was still standing in the hallway, staring at Daniel with a shocked look on his face until the door Daniel shut hid him from view.

He slumped on the bed, not sure what to do next. He could barely make out voices, most likely Sarah filling in John. He pulled out his cell phone to make sure he hadn't missed a call from his grandmother. There were four voice mails from Alexandria, two from John and Corey, and another from Nate. None from his grandmother.

Moving woodenly, he pulled out his pajamas and changed. All the while, his father's figure kept flashing through his mind as well as the sights and sounds of the infirmary. In an attempt to stop the images and needing to hear a friendly voice, someone he knew who cared, he grabbed his cell phone and called Alexandria.

"Daniel. Are you okay? What happened? Nobody would say anything but Mrs. Connelly hinted that something had happened to your dad."


"Daniel? Oh, God. Please, no."

"He's been hurt," he said quickly when he realized Alexandria had jumped to the wrong conclusion. "But he's going to be all right," he said with conviction.

"What happened to him?"

"I..." He realized he'd been stupid. He hadn't thought this through. "I don't know. They won't tell me. It's classified."

"Are you okay? Do you want me to come over?"

He was torn. He wanted to have someone with him but just having to answer her questions was difficult, forcing him to focus and he didn't have the energy to sit through her angst and put on a happy face. "I'm not at home. I'm staying with John. My grandma's still with my dad."

"Are you saying you don't want me to come over?"

He hesitated... "Yeah. I... I'm fine."

"Are you sure?"

He licked his lips, wondering why he felt so detached. "I'm sure. But, um, thanks."

"Will I see you at school tomorrow?"

"I don't know." He was going to try and talk Sarah into driving him back to Cheyenne Mountain in the morning, so he couldn't promise anything.

"Call me?"

"You know I will."

"No, I don't know. We all know you left school right after lunch, and you never called. We were worried."

"I..." He closed his eyes. Alexandria was right. His only thoughts had been on his dad, and everything and everyone else had flown out of his mind. "I'm sorry."

"I know. Just call me tomorrow, okay? If you're not coming to school?"

"I will." He was suddenly filled with anxiety; he'd have to get through the night and he knew there was no way he'd be able to lie in Cameron's bed and replay the last hours of watching his father lie there, unmoving.

He paced back and forth, not quite sure what he'd said next to Alexandria, just knowing that he'd hung up and was clutching the phone in his hand. He continued pacing until a soft knock on the door brought him up short.

The door opened before he could answer and Sarah stepped into the bedroom.

"I made you a sandwich." She carried a plastic plate with what looked like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk. "I thought you might be hungry. I wasn't sure if you ate anything tonight."

The thought of eating something made him sick, even though he hadn't eaten since a lifetime ago at lunch. He forced himself to be polite. "I'm really not hungry."

Sarah put the food on the nearly-bare bureau and turned towards him, wiping her hands on the back of her pants. "I know that food is probably the last thing on your mind and that the thought of eating makes you sick, but one thing I've learned over the years. You do what you have to, to stay strong. Your dad will need your strength in the coming days and the last thing you want is to worry him."

"I don't think I can eat," Daniel admitted, sitting back down on the bed, arms hanging between his legs. He stared at the wood patterns in the floor between his feet.

"The body sometimes doesn't realize what's good for it. Even in the most stressful situations, you learn to eat and sleep whenever you can." She sat next to him and he could sense her watching him.

"Maybe later," he lied, knowing he'd just throw up whatever he'd eat.

"Let me know if you'd rather have something else."

He nodded, and was both relieved when she left, and disappointed that she hadn't tried harder to coax him. Or maybe his disappointment lay in the fact that he didn't know what he wanted – did he want company? Did he want to be left alone?


He jerked upright, not having heard John come in the room. His heart beat frantically for a few seconds, reminding him of the fear he'd felt on the drive to the Mountain.

"I didn't mean to scare you." John held up a handful of DVDs. "I thought, if you have trouble sleeping tonight, you might want some diversion." He dumped them on Cameron's bureau, then stood there, looking like he wanted to say or do something and wasn't sure what. "I'm sorry about your dad."

Daniel stood and walked determinedly to the bureau, picked up the DVDs and looked through them. They were all action movies, burned onto discs, two of which he hadn't seen and a couple he knew weren't available yet in stores. Hell, they weren't even out at the movies yet.

"Thanks." He tossed the DVDs onto the bed and pulled his laptop out of his bag. While he might watch some of the movies later, he needed to occupy his mind. Homework might just do the trick.

"Look, man, if you need to talk or something..."

Daniel kept his head down, feeling as embarrassed as John sounded. The first time they'd truly talked, both of them had had help from a bottle of whiskey. At the moment, Daniel felt the only way he'd be able to verbalize what he was feeling was through a similar aid – either liquid or from pills which he knew would ease the numbness and help him forget— "No, I'm fine. These are perfect." He knew he was talking too fast, but he needed to do something to get his mind off the lure of the pills which he knew were sitting in his kitchen cabinet. It would be too easy to ask Sarah to drive him home before going to school and palming the bottle— "Thanks."

His dad would need him; Sarah's words came back to him. He needed to be strong for his dad, and maybe even for his grandmother. They'd been there for him all those times – now it was his turn. This wasn't the way. He knew that. Once John left the room, he closed the door again, shutting out both the Connors and the temptation of addiction. His mind made up, he put the visual of the pill bottle out of mind and pulled out his math textbook.


He'd been up, showered, dressed and ready to leave long before anyone in the Connor household was up and about. He'd tossed the sandwich in the garbage, poured the now sour milk down the drain and stood watching Sarah make breakfast. He wasn't hungry but, mindful of her words last night, had managed to choke down half of one pancake when his cell phone rang.

"Hello?" he answered breathlessly. "How's Dad?"

"There's no change, honey. I was just checking to see how you were doing."

"Just peachy." He couldn't keep the disappointment and sarcasm from his voice as he walked down the hallway, away from the Connors who were giving him looks he couldn't face right now. "Are you coming home? Can I go back to the infirmary with you?"

"I'm going to stay a while and I want to ask Sarah if she'd mind bringing me a change of clothes and a few things from home. Janet said she'd ask Cassie to drive you over after school, so wait for her, okay?"

"After school?" He couldn't envisage going to class. What was the point with his dad still unconscious in the infirmary? He didn't belong in school, he belonged with his family.

"There's nothing you can do for your dad sitting here with me, sweetheart. I'll call if there's news."

"I can be with you." Daniel swallowed back tears. His dad had always been there for him. He wanted to be there when his dad woke up. Wanted to see him wake up, to make sure Janet's assurances that his dad was going to be fine were true. And he wanted his dad to know that he was there for him, too. All these thoughts flew through his brain too fast for him to be able to put them into words.

"Is Sarah there? Could I talk to her, please?"

"Please, Grandma. I want to be there."

"Daniel, there really isn't anything that you can do here. Please, don't argue with me on this. I have enough to worry about without having to worry about you."

It was the hint of tears in her voice that kept Daniel from arguing back. He mumbled, "Just a second," then handed his cell to a surprised Sarah. He walked back to Cameron's room, grabbed his backpack, then went outside to wait, refusing to even look across the street at his grandmother's house.

John came out two minutes later, carrying his cell. "Mom says she needs the key to your grandmother's house."

Daniel handed it over without a word.

He watched Sarah cross the street a moment later, go into his grandmother's house and then come back out in ten minutes carrying a small suitcase. She placed the suitcase in their Nitro and rushed past him and John. "Five minutes, John."

Within three minutes, they were on their way to school.

Daniel stepped out of the Nitro, feeling disconnected to everything. He walked up the steps into the school and headed for his locker, not quite sure if this was a dream. Maybe it was a dream, because he couldn't get his combination to work. After several tries, he slammed his palm on the metal, welcoming the pain that jarred all the way up to his elbow.

"Daniel." Alexandria took his hand between her palms and slowly massaged the reddening skin. "It's not your locker," she said softly.

A glance at the numbers on the locker proved that Alexandria was right. Without a word, he drew his hand away and shifted one locker to the right of the one he'd just dented and with a few flicks of the tumbler, had the door open.

"Are you okay? Is there any news?"

He double checked the schedule taped to the back of his locker door and grabbed the books he needed for the first three periods.


"I'm fine."

"And your dad?"

"The same." He shoved his books into his bag, slammed his locker closed, and brushed past his locker neighbor who was staring in confusion at the dent in the middle of the metal door.

Alexandria hurried after him, doing nothing more than grabbing his hand and holding it tight. He slowed after a moment, then pulled her close, his arm around her waist. "I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry your dad's hurt," she replied, just loud enough that her voice carried over the normal hallway babble. She pressed closer and he slowed his steps even more.

They entered the classroom together and he immediately was surrounded by Cassie, Corey, Nate and Li.

"There's no change," Alexandria said quickly before anyone could ask him any questions.

"My mom said if she can do anything to help..." Corey broke off awkwardly. Daniel nodded just as awkwardly as he took his seat.

Classes came and went in a haze; he left the class whenever the bell rang, moved automatically to the next and sat, unable to concentrate on what the teachers were saying for more than a minute at a time. All he could focus on was his father lying unconscious in the infirmary bed. He was aware of Alexandria, Cassie and John at his side whenever they shared a class and walking with him from one classroom to the other.

Suddenly he found himself in the cafeteria and the noise was overwhelming. He stood in the doorway, unable to move forward as kids streamed past him, jostling him in their hurry to get in line for the food. He hadn't realized until that moment how badly his head was aching.

"Come on." Alexandria grabbed his hand and pulled him back into the flow of kids, away from the cafeteria, until they were able to stop in relative quiet next to an empty classroom. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he answered automatically. Then he saw her face as she gazed at him worriedly. He forced his attention back to the here and now. "Okay, maybe I've got a headache." He slid his back down the wall until he was crouching.

Alexandria followed him down. "Did you get any sleep last night?"

Daniel shook his head slowly.

"See? You're tired and you're probably hungry." She put a hand on his chest, leaning close. "Did you eat anything this morning?"

He couldn't remember.

Alexandria must have mistaken his silence for reluctance to admit to not eating. "Stay here and I'll get you something—"

She looked around in surprise when John and Cassie joined them.

John crouched next to Daniel, holding up two brown paper bags, and said, "My mom made lunches." He offered one to Daniel.

"You're a lifesaver." Alexandria grinned at John as she grabbed the bag. She looked inside and pulled out a sandwich wrapped in a sheet of Saran Wrap. She shoved it at Daniel and ordered, "Eat."

"We're not supposed to be eating out here." He didn't want food but Sarah's words stayed with him. He took the sandwich, wondering why his hands were trembling. The peanut butter was thick and cloying in his mouth and he nearly gagged before he was able to force it down. "What about you?" He realized that Alexandria hadn't had a chance to buy anything to eat.

"I'm not hungry—"

"Bullshit," John said angrily. "You and Cassie go and get something to eat. I'll stay here with Daniel."

"It's okay—"

"Dria, it'll take you five minutes to grab something. The lines must be nearly empty now. We'll be right here waiting."

"I'll be fine," Daniel whispered, staring at the half sandwich with only one bite missing that he still held in his hand. "Go and get something to eat."

"Sorry about the peanut butter." John waved his own sandwich in Daniel's direction when the girls had left. "We ran out of sliced turkey."

"It's fine." He took another smaller bite and chewed slowly.

"You look like shit, man."

"I'm just tired," Daniel said once he'd swallowed.

"Your grandmother was wrong. You should have just stayed home. This is too much. I'm having trouble concentrating; I can't see how you can be expected to get anything out of school today."

"She has enough to worry about." He contemplated tossing the sandwich away, but forced himself to take a third bite.

"Well, two more periods and then... You're not going to soccer practice, are you?"

He shook his head. "Cassie's supposed to drive me to the mountain after school." The words came out mumbled through the sticky peanut butter.

"I'll go with you."

"John, you don't have to—"

"Cassie'll be upset. I don't want her driving home alone after..."

"After she sees my dad," Daniel said in a dull voice. He took another bite so he wouldn't have to answer John's apology.

Cassie and Alexandria came back through the cafeteria doors, each of them carrying a tray. They hurried over and sat down. Daniel glanced at the sandwiches they'd purchased, accepted the bottle of water that Alexandria handed him and drank down half of it before coming up for air. He popped the last bite of sandwich into his mouth, surprised that he'd manage to eat half of it.

The door opened behind them, and one of Daniel's former teachers, Mr. Santiago, stood staring at them. His face was livid until he caught sight of Daniel. Immediately his expression changed to one that all of the teachers had been giving him all day long. He gave a quick nod, and said, "Please don't leave your trays out here when you're done."

"We won't," Cassie said quickly. "Thank you."

Embarrassed that he was being given preferential treatment – allowed to eat a picnic in the hallway, Daniel lowered his head, unable to meet the teacher's gaze. Alexandria took his hand and squeezed his fingers, and he sighed softly, allowing his head to fall onto her shoulder. She wrapped her arm around him and held him until everyone had finished eating.

He found himself in math class with no recollection of having gotten there. The taste of peanut butter was strong in his mouth and he wished he had more water. Mr. Haus' voice droned in the background as he opened his textbook and sat staring at his watch, watching the minute hand go around and around, willing it to move faster so that the ninety minutes would speed by.

Until Mr. Haus called his name, his nasal voice loud enough to cause him to jump. He raised his head to see the teacher staring down at him over the top of his reading glasses. The teacher wasn't one of his favorites; while he'd never had reason to pick on Daniel, the man never missed an opportunity to do so on those students who weren't fortunate enough to have a sound grasp of math.

"If you're done daydreaming, Mr. Jackson, perhaps you could go up to the board and show us how to solve problem number two from last night's homework?"

Already students from each row were busily copying down their homework assignment on the blackboard. Daniel grabbed his book and hurried to an empty spot, found the assigned problem and began transcribing his work.

Halfway through, he discovered his calculations didn't add up. Not only did they not add up, but he had no idea what he'd been thinking last night, and worst of all, had no idea how to solve the problem. He started back at the beginning, checking his work, all too aware that everyone else had finished and had taken their seats.

This wasn't right – he'd never had problems – he'd always breezed through math assignments and usually was the first one back in their seat. His face red with embarrassment, he was too tired and distracted to continue trying. He put the piece of chalk down and, staring at his feet and nowhere else, went back to his seat.

"Now, class, this is a prime example of what happens when you think you can breeze through all your assignments without studying. Even the jocks, it seems, can be sidelined when they don't practice faithfully."

"That's not fair," Alexandria hissed, just as Daniel's cell phone went off.

"Is there something you wished to share with the class, Miss Montalbano?"

Daniel heard the touch of eagerness in Haus' voice even as he reached into his pocket and took his phone out. He'd ignored school protocol and had left the phone on, just in case his grandmother called. Haus was itching for a fight – he always was, although Daniel and his friends had always been prepared for class and much to Haus' regret, had never had reason to pick on them.

Caller ID showed the caller to be his grandmother. His heart stuttered, then began racing and the half sandwich he'd eaten suddenly felt like a lump of lead in his stomach. Without hesitation, he ran out of the classroom, punching the connect button the moment he passed through the door.

"Grandma? Grandma? How's Dad? Is he better? Did he wake up?" he whispered into the phone, striding quickly down the hallway, away from the classroom.

"Mister Jackson!" Mr. Huas bellowed into the hallway, drowning out his grandmother's voice. "Get back here, right now."

"I didn't hear you," Daniel said hurriedly as Mr. Haus stormed down the hallway after him.

"Give me the phone. Give me the phone, right now."

With one hand held against his ear in an attempt to block Haus' bellows, Daniel turned his back on the teacher, trying to make out his grandmother's words. "What?" he yelled into the phone, frustrated that he couldn't hear anything.

"I'm serious, Jackson. Hand me the phone immediately."

Daniel thrust the phone against his chest to lessen the sound of his yelling, and to try and control the shaking of his hands. "I need to take this call."

"You need to go to Mr. Pansini's office—"

"I need to take this call," Daniel repeated, yelling while Alexandria and John, who'd obviously followed them out of the class, were yelling at the teacher, each of them trying to make themselves heard.

Haus pointed down the hallway. "Pansini's office, now! All of you."

Daniel didn't have time for this. "Fuck you," he said under his breath as he turned and ran for the main doors. Haus screamed at him, and the sound of his voice disappeared only when he'd burst through the doors and he stopped outside. Legs trembling, he dropped to the top step and put the phone back to his ear. "Grandma?" he whispered, suddenly afraid to hear what she was going to say.

"Daniel, what just happened?"

"Nothing. Just a fight. What happened? How's Dad?"

"Did I call at a bad time?" She sighed. "I'm so sorry. I thought you were still on your lunch period."

"Grandma. How's Dad?" He dropped his head, leaning his elbow on his knee.

"He's doing better. He actually woke up for a few minutes. He wasn't quite with it but he did recognize me and Janet. He grumbled a bit, answered her questions and went back to sleep. Janet's pretty confident there won't be any lasting problems with his head injury."

"He woke up?" Daniel licked dry lips with an equally dry tongue.

"He woke up, mhuirnin. He's sleeping now. Real sleep. He's still very weak, and it's a small improvement, but it's an improvement nonetheless."

"He woke up," Daniel breathed softly, jealous beyond belief that he hadn't been there to witness it himself.

"I just wanted to give you the good news. I didn't mean to get you into trouble. Should I call the school?"

"No, it's fine," he lied. There was no way he was going back inside, anyway. "Thanks, Grandma. I'm glad you called."

"I'll see you later, sweetheart."

"Bye, Grandma."

He disconnected the call as he stood, flew down the steps and began running. His legs were shaky at first but the more he ran, the better he felt. He ran until his lungs burned and his legs felt like they would collapse, and he wound down to a slow sprint, but by then he was only two blocks from his house.

He jogged up the driveway, punched the security code to open the door, grabbed his bike, shut the garage door and began pedaling for all he was worth, ignoring his fatigue, heading in the general direction of Cheyenne Mountain.


An hour and a half later, Daniel pulled up to the security guard at the main gate. He put his foot down to hold his balance and his leg shook. "Doctor Fraiser is expecting me," he said, trying to sound authoritative and not like an exhausted fourteen-year old with wind-whipped hair and flushed face from his exertions.

He waited anxiously as the guard made a phone call to the infirmary, then pushed off tiredly when the man waved him through. He rode his bike towards the main entrance. Leaving the bike out of the way, leaning against a tree, Daniel entered, went through the checkpoints, and hurried to the isolation room where his dad was.

Janet was waiting for him right outside Iso Room two, arms crossed, blocking his way in. She didn't look happy.

"Aren't you supposed to be in school? And how the hell did you get here? I told you to wait for Cassie."

"I took my bike. Grandma said my dad woke up? How is he?"

"You rode your bike here? From school?"

"From home. How's my dad? Where's my grandmother?"

"Keep your voice down," Janet said sharply, her own voice deceptively soft. "Your grandmother finally agreed to lie down and she's sleeping."

"And my dad?" His anxiety was starting to rise; was Janet hiding something from him?

"Mind telling me first why your ass isn't just stepping out of your last period right about now?"

"I cut class. Isn't it obvious?" Daniel snapped, having just enough self-control to keep his voice above a whisper. "Can I go in now?"

Janet moved away from the door, giving him access. He went to brush by her, then stopped. "Is he okay? Will he wake up again?" He tried to keep the eagerness out of his voice but failed when Janet brought a finger to her lips, reminding him to be quiet.

"Your father's doing as well as can be expected. He did wake up but, Daniel, I'm sorry. He was in a lot of pain so I had to give him something... He won't wake up for a while."

"Oh." He bit back his disappointment and went inside.

His dad looked exactly the same as when he'd been here last night. The only difference was a small military cot in a corner of the room where his grandmother lay curled up under a blanket.

"Why didn't you give her a VIP room?" He turned to look at Janet, who had followed him in. "She looks uncomfortable."

"General Hammond offered, but she wouldn't leave your father," Janet said, putting a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Honey, I know now's not the time or place, but we're going to have to talk about you cutting classes."

"It's no big deal, Janet." He shrugged away from her touch and sat in the chair his grandmother had occupied earlier. He looked at his dad carefully and saw lines of pain that hadn't been there last night. Was that because he wasn't unconscious anymore, but in a drugged sleep? He'd lost the oxygen mask to a nasal cannula. Daniel figured that was an improvement. "Is my grandmother okay?" He glanced in her direction as he took his father's hand between his. His dad's fingers were cold.

"She's fine. Just very tired."

Daniel waited until Janet left, then lowered his head to the edge of the mattress, pressing his forehead against the back of his dad's hand. He was so tired, and he just wanted the heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach to go away. "Hey, Dad," he said softly, raising his head to watch his father's slack face. "Sorry I wasn't here earlier; Grandma wanted me to go home and then go to school. I'm here now."

He cleared his throat, trying to get past the growing lump. He'd expected to feel better once he'd gotten to see his dad again, but if anything, the anxiety kept growing worse. Maybe it was knowing his dad had been in so much pain. His grandmother hadn't mentioned that; he couldn't help wondering if she'd done that deliberately.

"I think you're gonna have to talk to Mr. Pansini tomorrow. Mr. Haus kinda got pissed at me and I sort of walked out. I'll tell you all about it when you wake up. You're probably gonna yell at me."

His eyesight got blurry as his eyes filled with tears, stinging for a minute before the tears slid down his cheeks. He dabbed at them with his free hand. "Cassie's coming over to see you later," he added after swallowing a few times. "Actually, she'll probably be here soon. And she's gonna be pissed at me, too. I was supposed to wait for her."

He pressed a finger lightly against the bandages wrapped around his dad's torso. "Does it hurt? Janet said you were in a lot of pain. Was it your back? Your ribs? Your head? I wish there was something I could do to help. I hate waiting... I can't imagine how you did it with me all those times..."

His dad muttered something in his sleep and pulled his hand away from Daniel's, his fingers falling onto the mattress. "Sorry. I'll let you sleep in peace," he whispered, excited even at that small bit of reaction. He stood, leaned over his father and kissed his cheek. "I love you, Dad."


"What happened? Why did you take off—" Cassie's words faded as she stormed into the Iso room, her face going pale as she took in Daniel's dad.

"He's going to be fine," Daniel whispered as she stared at his dad, fighting not to cry.

She reached blindly back with one hand until she caught John's hand and pulled him close. John dropped Daniel's backpack which he'd brought with him from school next to the door. "He looks so..."

"I know." His dad was always full of energy and it was hard seeing him lying so still.

John glanced towards the cot in the corner. "Is Rose okay?"

"Janet said she was." His grandmother hadn't stirred at Cassie's outburst. "She didn't get any sleep last night."

John gave Daniel a hard look. "Neither did you."

"I'm fine," Daniel answered quickly.

Cassie took a few steps closer to the bed, pulling John along with her. "Mom said that he..." She turned to Daniel, her eyes brimming with tears. "He won't be able to..." She sobbed once as she dropped John's hand and ran out of the room.

John stood there looking awkward and uncomfortable. Daniel stood and gave John a pat on the arm as he walked by. "I've got this," he said with a smile. "I've had years of practice."

He followed the sound of her sobs and found her inside an empty treatment room. She threw herself into his arms the moment he walked inside.

"I'm sorry," she sobbed, burying her face against his neck.

"What are you sorry about? He's going to be fine."

"No, h-he's not. H-he won't be able to walk again," she wailed.

"But he's alive, Cassie," Daniel breathed into her ear. "He's alive," he repeated, raising his voice over the sound of her sobs. "And I'll take that over anything else."

"But it won't be the same." Her body shook; her words were barely understandable.

"No, it won't." To be honest, Daniel hadn't envisioned his future or his dad's. Suddenly images of his dad in a wheelchair, inside their house, were incomprehensible. They'd have to move; there was no way they could adapt the house for a wheelchair. Maybe they could stay with his grandma for a while until they could find some place better equipped; his dad could have his bedroom there.

"Cassie?" John peeked into the room and Cassie released her grip around Daniel's waist, exchanging him for John. "You okay?" He brushed back her hair from her face. When she looked at John adoringly, Daniel suddenly missed Alexandria. He suddenly hated the fact that they were in the infirmary and so she couldn't be here, giving Daniel her support.

"Dria was worried. You should call her," John said, as if reading Daniel's mind.

"I know. She's going to ask why she can't come and visit. I don't know what to tell her."

"She knows Uncle Jack works on a military base." Cassie sniffled and wiped her hands across her eyes, smearing eyeliner and mascara. "Just tell her they're only allowing family in to visit."

Daniel blinked at Cassie. It was all so simple; why hadn't he thought of that?

His confusion must have shown on his face, because Cassie gave him a wobbly smile. "You're tired," she said simply. She sniffed and pulled away from John, who seemed reluctant to let her go. "I must look awful. I'll be right back."

Daniel turned to John the moment she was out of earshot. "Look, you can't tell Alexandria that you and Cassie saw my dad today. She'll start to wonder why you got in and she can't."

"Chill, man. I got it covered." John pointed to himself. "I've been living with secrets all my life; don't sweat it."

"I hate all these secrets," Daniel huffed as he stepped into the hallway. He leaned against the doorjamb. "It was easier when I didn't remember anything – I didn't have to lie to the people I love."

"Comes with the territory," John sighed. He was about to say more when they were interrupted by Sam and Teal'c.

"How's your dad?" Sam asked as she grabbed him and hugged him close. She smelled of soap and shampoo, her hair still damp from the shower. "Janet told us it wasn't good."

"He woke up today," Daniel said as he hugged her back. He turned his head to look at Teal'c. "Janet's got him doped up, but he woke up."

"Doctor Fraiser led us to believe that your father's prognosis was grave. Has she not informed you of this?"

"He's doing better already." He let go of Sam and hugged Teal'c.

"Daniel, Teal'c's talking about his back—"

"I know. I know, Sam," Daniel huffed, pulling back, oddly irritated at Sam's deliberately soft tone. "But it could've been worse, right? And Janet's not sure yet how much damage there is because of all the bruising and swelling."

John shifted awkwardly and Daniel changed the subject. "Did Cameron and Derek come back with you?"

"Yeah." Sam rolled her shoulders and stretched her neck forward. "Cameron was a lifesaver. We managed to not only rescue those people who'd been trapped by the rockslide, but helped relocate the village to a safer area. It would have taken weeks without her help."

"That's good. What about the kids my dad—"

"They're fine. Scrapes and bruises. Their parents are very grateful. You look tired." Sam brushed her fingers along Daniel's jaw. "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine." He didn't meet either of their eyes, looking at his sneakers instead.

"Have you eaten yet? Perhaps you and JohnConner would like to join MajorCarter and I for supper."

"Um, I'm with Cassie," John said quickly. "We were going to meet some friends for supper and study."

"I'm not really hungry," Daniel admitted when all eyes turned on him. Then he was saved by the bell when Cassie came out of the bathroom and brightened when seeing Sam and Teal'c.

Their group slowly meandered towards the Isolation room, and when they walked in, Daniel was relieved to see his grandmother was awake. He hung back while everyone spoke in whispers, waved goodbye to Cassie and John when they left a few minutes later, then found he had no excuse to stay behind when Sam invited his grandmother to go eat with them.


"It's getting late, mhuirnin." His grandmother leaned against the back of his chair and placed her fingers on his shoulders. "Are you almost done?"

Daniel straightened, his shoulders and neck tight from leaning over his laptop which he'd balanced on the foot of his dad's bed.

"Just about." He leaned back, resting his head against his grandmother's abdomen. She laced her fingers loosely under his chin, holding him there. "I just need to write a Spanish essay."

"You've been at it for hours. I hate to send you away but it's after ten and the Connors are probably wondering where you are."

Nobody had mentioned his staying with the Connors tonight. He'd hoped, selfishly, that Sam would've asked him to go home with her. But supper had come and gone and she'd left without an invitation. "Can't I stay here?" He pressed back, looking at her upside down.

"I'd rather you slept in a bed—"

"Who says I'm going to sleep," Daniel snapped, and then felt a surge of guilt at the sight of his grandmother's stricken face. He pulled away and she lowered her hands. "Sorry, it's just that I'd rather sleep in my own bed. It's weird, sleeping in Cameron's room."

"Too girly?"

"No, too bare. You'd think it's a spare guest room. Then again she doesn't sleep, so..."

"Is it really that bad? Staying with the Connors?"

Daniel began to save his work in preparation of powering down his laptop. "No," he said after a moment. "They've been nice. Really nice. But it's not home."

"I'm sorry." His grandmother helped him gather his books into a pile. "I know it's hard and that things have changed so quickly. I'm not comfortable going home until I know for sure your dad's out of the woods."

"He's going to be fine. Janet said he—"

"I need to see it for myself, sweetheart. As soon as I'm satisfied, I'll come home."

"I'd rather stay here." He stuffed a textbook roughly into his bag, then jammed two notebooks after it. When he grabbed another textbook, his grandmother caught his hand.

"I know. But I don't have the energy to worry about you as well as your father at the moment."

"And what about me?" He pulled his hand away and continued packing his books, but more gently this time. "I've got you and Dad to worry about."


"You didn't get any sleep last night, did you? And you barely ate at supper."

"You didn't eat much either."

Daniel put the last book in, clipped the bag shut, and put it on the floor. He stood and turned to face his grandmother. "Promise me you'll sleep in a bed tonight?"

She gave him a quick smile as she glanced to the cot in the corner. "I have a bed."

"I've slept on those and I know they're not comfortable. I mean a real bed, in a VIP suite. I know General Hammond offered you one."

Her smile faltered as she turned to look at Daniel's dad. "I want to be here if he wakes up. I think that my sleeping on a lumpy cot for a few nights is worth your father knowing he's not alone."

"Then let me stay here and help. We could take turns—" He stopped talking when she put a finger to his lips.

"Tomorrow's Wednesday. I'm hoping by Friday your dad will have shown improvement. But if not, then we can talk about it on the weekend, okay?" She moved her finger to his cheek, brushing a strand of hair aside. "Come on. Let's go see about getting you a lift home."

He grabbed his bag and together they stepped out of the room and stopped short at the sight of Cameron leaning against the wall.

"Didn't you go home, sweetheart?" his grandmother asked as Cameron watched them approach.

"I'm waiting to drive Daniel home. Are you ready to go home now?" She turned to stare at Daniel.

"You waited around all this time for me?" For a moment Daniel forgot Cameron wasn't human. The guilt he'd felt was replaced with irritation. "You waited for me?" he said angrily.

"Sarah's worried about you and Rose. I can drive you home, too, Rose, if you'd like."

"Thank you, Cameron, but I'll be staying here tonight. But I appreciate you waiting for Daniel. Thank Sarah for me for her thoughtfulness?"

"I will." She turned back to Daniel. "Are you ready to leave now?" she asked again.

"I'll see you tomorrow—"

"After school," his grandmother admonished as she hugged him. "No cutting classes."

"Oh." He gave her a one-armed hug. "Let me know if there's any change?"

"I will. Speaking of calls, what happened today at school when I called?"


"That didn't sound like nothing. Did I get you into trouble?"

Daniel sighed tiredly. "Mr. Haus didn't appreciate me answering my cell."

"Oh. I'm so sorry. I didn't think. I'll call the school first thing in the morning and let them know it was my fault."

"That's okay, Grandma." He had too much on his mind to worry about that class and quite honestly he didn't give a crap. "By tomorrow he won't even remember."

"Good night." She waved from the hallway as Daniel began walking down the hall.


John rinsed out his cereal bowl, listening to his mother go to try and wake Daniel up for the fourth time this morning. He glanced at the clock; they had ten more minutes. Any later, and his mom would have to drive them to school again.

"He's up," his mom announced, rolling her eyes as she picked up her coffee cup.

A moment later, John heard the shower turn on.

"And he's going to be late," she added, sounding exasperated.

"I don't think he got much sleep again. I heard him talking with Cameron last night."

"I know." His mom paused, staring into her coffee cup before drinking the last of it down. "Thank goodness you've never had problems getting out of bed." His mom gave him a grateful smile as she moved past him on her way to the sink.

"I'd rather not have a bucketful of water dumped on me as my wakeup call, thanks." He grinned at the childhood memory of his mother doing exactly that to a soldier in Central America who'd delayed their plans because he'd slept in. At the time it was funny, but as he grew older, John realized his mother wouldn't hesitate to use the same tactics on him to teach him a lesson.

The sound of the shower being turned off had his mother looking at the clock. "Looks like I'll be driving you three to school." She left the kitchen, heading for her bedroom while John leaned against the counter, watching Cameron stare out the window.

"He's worried about his father." Cameron glanced down the hall, towards the bathroom.

"I know." John couldn't even bear to think what he'd be going through if his mother were in Jack O'Neill's place. Seeing her get shot last year had been bad enough.

"You should talk to him."

"Me?" He had a vision of him and Daniel sharing a bottle of whiskey again. "Maybe I should talk to Dria, get her to get him to open up—"

John shut up when the bathroom door opened. Daniel shuffled out of the bathroom, trying to pull his tee shirt over his still-damp torso. His hair dripped down the back, already darkening the material.

Without a word, John poured the last of the coffee into a cup and handed it over. Daniel, eyes swollen and red-rimmed, grunted something in his direction as he slurped a sip. Without a word, he stumbled to the fridge and poured a liberal amount of milk into the coffee.

"Are you ready?" his mom asked, her eyes raking over Daniel as she entered the kitchen. "Do you want something to eat before we go?"

Daniel buried his nose in his coffee cup and gulped it down. "I'm fine." He dragged his hand across his mouth, then followed the movement by dragging his fingers across his hair, pulling the sodden mess out of his eyes. "Thank you," he added after a moment. "I just need to get my shoes." He finished his coffee, nearly dropped the cup while rinsing it, then went back to his room.

Two minutes later he came out, his backpack over his shoulder. He took the bagged lunch John's mom handed to him, dropped it as he tried to stuff it into his backpack, and nearly tripped over a kitchen chair on his way out the door.

"Cameron will drive you to the SGC after school," his mom said suddenly as she pulled up next to the school."

"You're leaving the car?" John asked his mom, confused.

"No." Cameron swung a set of keys in John's face. "Rose gave me the key to her Santa Fe."

Dria and Cassie met them the moment they stepped out of the Nitro. Without a word, Dria went up to Daniel, wrapped her arm around his waist, and glued herself to his side until they walked into the first class.

They had barely taken their seats when Daniel was called to the principal's office. They all watched Daniel get up again and leave, exchanging worried glances. John had trouble concentrating on the lesson, relaxing only when Daniel returned fifteen minutes later and slouched into his seat.

"What did Pansini say?" Cassie demanded the moment the bell rang.

"He just gave me a warning," Daniel mumbled as he gathered his books, impatiently thrusting his hair behind his ears, finally putting his hair up into a ponytail when Dria handed him an elastic band.

"All that for just a warning?" Dria asked.

"Pansini was more upset about you guys leaving class to back me up than Haus reporting me." They shuffled into the hallway and immediately the girls flanked Daniel, leaving John to follow behind until they had to go different ways to their respective classes.

He didn't see Daniel until lunchtime and while he still looked tired, at least now he seemed to be functioning.

Daniel still wasn't eating much, however, and his lack of appetite seemed to affect everyone sitting around the table.

Last class of the day was gym. Somewhere Daniel had garnered energy and seemed to have one goal in mind, and that was to run himself into the ground. He ran circles around everyone, doing double the exercises, hogging the ball, until Coach called him on it. Even then, Daniel still managed to outperform everyone until the end of the class.

When Daniel hogged the shower, nobody said a word. They all averted their eyes to the sight of one lone boy, arms thrust against the ceramic tiles, head down, letting the water wash over him. Even John felt awkward, and was more than grateful to finish his own shower and hurry into the locker room to dress.

By the time Daniel came out of the shower, most of the kids had left. John had no choice but to wait; Cameron had the keys to Rose's car.

Dria was waiting with Cameron and John saw Daniel hesitate when he spotted her.

"I just wanted to say goodbye." Dria went straight to Daniel and kissed him. "I hope your dad feels better today. Tell him I said hi and I hope he's up and around soon."

"Daniel's father is suffering from a spinal injury. It's unlikely he'll be up and around anytime soon."

"Cameron!" John hissed.

Daniel turned to her with dead-looking eyes; he seemed too tired to even get angry at her. Then he turned to Dria and his expression softened. "Thanks." He kissed her, hugged her tight for a moment, and then walked stiffly towards their bus.


Daniel was quiet on the ride home. They got off the school bus and went directly to the Santa Fe parked in Rose's driveway.

"It's okay to be angry," John said in the awkward silence.

"Cameron just tells it like it is," Daniel said tiredly, waiting for Cameron to unlock the car door.

"I don't mean angry at Cameron. I mean angry at your dad. For getting hurt in the first place." He looked at Daniel's suddenly cold face and regretted saying anything. "When I was ten, I was angry at my mom for getting caught and locked away in a mental institution. For the first time in my life, I felt she'd abandoned me. All that training, all that preparation for the future, and then she was carted off to the loonie bin and suddenly I was doubting everything she'd taught me."

"I don't think your mom's situation is the same as my dad's." Daniel opened the car door and slid inside.

John grabbed the door to stop Daniel from shutting it. "No, it's not. But I kept thinking she should have been more careful, could have done something different to prevent capture. Kept a lower profile—"

"My father got hurt saving people." Daniel's voice was tinged with anger.

"Your father was a hero. The people in that village kept praising his name." Cameron slid in and shut the door. "He had no other option. The children were in danger and had he done nothing, they would've died. He saved them, and he survived."

"Yeah, what she said," Daniel said adamantly, glaring at John.

"Look, man, I meant no disrespect. I'm just saying that sometimes you want to blame someone when something bad happens that changes your life."

"John, do me a favor and stop Googling Psychology 101 already."

Smiling weakly at Daniel's obvious forgiveness of his faux pas, John crossed his middle and index fingers together and raised them in the air. "Promise." He shut the door and stepped back, watching as they drove off.


Daniel tried to muster up enthusiasm as he stepped into his father's room, but he was just too tired and numb. He glanced at his father, noting there wasn't much change except that they'd removed the oxygen. He dropped his backpack on the floor and went straight to his grandmother, who stood upon seeing him and greeted him with open arms.

Her touch and smell were familiar and he clutched at her, unwilling to let her go. He hadn't realized how alone he'd felt today until just now.

"Did you have a good day at school?" she asked as he buried his face against her neck.

He nodded.

"Did Mr. Pansini give you a hard time? I called the office to explain."

"He just gave me a warning." Daniel sighed and slowly loosened his grip around his grandmother's body. "How's Dad?"

"Better." She glanced around Daniel, and grinned. "Look for yourself."

Daniel twisted, turning to look at his father and blinked in surprise. His dad's eyes were open, and he stared at him groggily. He licked his lips once, then croaked out one word. "Icky."

"Dad!" Immediately his exhaustion was forgotten. He planted his ass on the chair next to the bed, grabbed his father's arm, and grinned down at him. "You're awake. How are you feeling?"

His grandmother leaned over his shoulder as she pulled another chair close, and whispered in his ear, "He doesn't know."

Her words couldn't faze the smile that he was sporting.

Blinking slowly, his dad's gaze seemed to take in the medical paraphernalia in the room. "Infirmary?"

"Yeah. You had an accident," Daniel said slowly, "but you're gonna be fine." These last words exploded from him and he leaned down to give his dad a kiss on the cheek. "I'm so glad you're awake."

His dad's eyes seemed to close on their own. "Me, too," he mumbled. Daniel waited for his dad to open his eyes again but after several seconds, realized his dad had drifted off.

"He's been like that for the last couple of hours. Keeps asking where he is and doesn't remember our answers. Janet says that's normal with a concussion, as well as the painkillers she's been giving him. He should start making more sense in a day or so as he recovers."

"Why didn't you call me?" He fought the sudden surge of envy that everyone had known of his dad's improvement except him. "You could have left me a message on my voice mail."

"Sweetheart, I did."

Daniel glared at his grandmother as he took his phone out of his pocket. He quickly checked his messages, and as he heard his grandmother's voice telling him that his dad had woken up again, he realized he'd never once checked his calls since lunch period. He snapped the phone shut and pocketed it. "Sorry."

He didn't deserve the caress she gave him; still, he leaned into the hand cupping his cheek.

"Are you hungry? I could go for a cup of tea and stretch my legs."

"What about Dad?" His stomach rumbled suddenly at the thought of food, and he squelched down the first hunger pangs he'd had in nearly two days.

"He'll be fine." She stood, held out her hand to him and he put his father's hand back down onto the bed before taking hers.


He'd planned on only eating a snack, but ended up having not only a full meal of chicken, potatoes, vegetables and two rolls, but had a slice each of pecan pie and cheesecake, along with a container of milk. He licked the last of the whipped cream from his fork, sighed in satisfaction and then blinked in surprise when he burped long and hard.

"Good pie, eh?" His grandmother smiled at him as she sipped her tea.

"Great pie. Didn't realize I was so hungry, though." He patted his stomach as he leaned back in the chair, waiting impatiently for his grandmother to finish her tea. The adrenaline-high of seeing his father awake was wearing off, and he felt a near-addictive need to be by his dad's side again.

He felt almost like a new person; there was a little bounce in his step as he walked down the hallway with his grandmother. He held the door open for her as she stopped at the sight of Sam and Janet surrounding his dad's bed. Cameron was there also, standing a little further apart, observing with obvious interest.

"What's going on?" He felt his grandmother's hand on his shoulder as the feelings of well-being disappeared and his overly full stomach suddenly became this heavy, almost-painful lump in the middle of his body.

It took him another few seconds to realize Sam had something in her hand which she was holding over his dad. He couldn't quite make it out but he knew it was familiar.

"I wanted Sam to try using the healing device," Janet explained.

"Oh shit. Is it working?" He hurried towards the bed excitedly, his stomach suddenly invisible inside his body again.

"What is it? What's Sam doing?" His grandmother grabbed his arm, slowing him down.

"It's a Goa'uld healing device, Grandma. Sam can use it. She can heal Dad's back."

"She can?" His grandmother's grip became painful as both of them turned to watch Sam.

Daniel could see how much Sam was struggling to maintain some sort of composure. There was tension in her face and she kept trying to relax. Her shoulders were tense and she held the position of arms extended over his dad for nearly two minutes before dropping her hands. From her tormented expression, Daniel knew she had failed.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, slipping the device off her hand.

"Try again," Daniel begged.

"It's no use, Daniel. I've never been able to control this thing. Maybe if my dad was here... but there's just too much damage. I can't focus enough to... I'm sorry." She blinked back tears, then put the healing device down and turned away.

"It's okay, Sam," his grandmother said, "you tried," just as Daniel said, "Try again. Maybe this time you'll figure it out."

Sam brushed her hands across her face, shaking her head slowly. "I've been trying for the past fifteen minutes. I wasn't able to do anything." She turned back to face him, her eyes red and watery. "I tried. Oh God, Daniel, if there was anything I ever wanted to do in this lifetime, it would be to heal your dad."

His grandmother went to Sam and hugged her. Daniel turned away, disappointed, watching as Cameron picked up the healing device and put it on her hand.

"It won't work," he grumbled, sitting down heavily on one of the chairs.

Cameron stretched her hand over his dad's body, just like Sam had done.

"It won't work," Daniel snapped angrily, wanting to snatch her hand back when she ignored him.

Several seconds later she lowered her hand. "It's broken."

"I told you. Only people who've been hosts to a Goa'uld can use them. They leave certain markers in your blood. Sam's the only one here on base who can use it."

"Oh." Cameron slipped the device from her hand and put it back down. "Thank you for explaining."

Daniel sulked for a while until Sam and Janet left; Janet to go home, Sam to put the healing device back into storage. His grandmother sat down with a soft sigh. "I don't know if this old body can take all this stress."

"She should've been able to fix Dad," Daniel said grumpily.

"She tried, mhuirnin."

"The device is broken," Cameron repeated from where she'd remained standing next to the bed.

"Yeah. Sure." He took off his glasses and rubbed his fingers across his eyes. When he put his glasses back on, Cameron had gone.

Twenty minutes later Daniel was bored with staring at his father sleeping. He took out a textbook and notebook and moved to the foot of his dad's bed, intending to do some homework.

He tried to find a comfortable position, but there wasn't much room. He shifted the books around and his fingers brushed his dad's blanket-covered feet. He paused, fingering his dad's toes, and couldn't help smiling when his dad wiggled his toes beneath his fingers.

"Why don't you spread out over there?" His grandmother pointed to the cot in the corner. Daniel weighed the decision for only a second – why sit on a hard plastic chair with only a corner of a mattress to work with when one could have the whole length of the cot?

Ten minutes later, half his backpack had been emptied along the cot's length and Daniel had managed to find a way to curl up without the supports digging into his body.

What felt like five minutes later, he woke up, totally disoriented, a pillow under his head, a blanket over his body, with his grandmother staring down at him with a smile on her face.


"Morning, sweetheart."

"Morning? What...?" He stretched lazily, feeling rested and hungry. "Did I fall asleep?"

"You were exhausted."

"Dad? How's Dad?"

"He's doing fine. Doctor Brightman said he had a good night. Now you need to get up and get ready for school. You have just enough time for me to drive you home so you can shower and change."

Daniel sat up, then shifted his weight when the cot moved with him. Someone had taken off his shoes; he wiggled his toes inside his socks. "Can I skip school today and stay here with—" He gave his grandmother a tight lipped smile when she raised her eyebrows. "Guess it couldn't hurt to ask." He looked around for his glasses and saw them lying folded on a table nearby.

He stood and stretched, then reached for his sneakers, which he spotted underneath the cot.

"Did you sleep well?" He glanced up at his grandmother as she nodded, noting that she didn't look quite as tired.

"Come on, say goodbye to your father. We don't have much time."

"We?" Daniel paused in tying a bow.

"Janet's got a slew of tests scheduled and she ordered me out. Going to go home, going to try and soak the shape of the plastic chairs out of my butt, get some fresh air, and come back later this afternoon."

Daniel grabbed his backpack, did a quick check of its contents, and then went over to his dad's bed. He pressed his fingers against his dad's cheek, and smiled when he opened his eyes. "Morning," Daniel said softly.

His dad blinked sleepily, gave Daniel a lopsided smile, and closed his eyes again. "Please tell me it's Saturday," he muttered.

"Yeah, you can go back to sleep, Dad."

"Kids? They okay?" his dad asked groggily.

"They're fine," Daniel said after his grandmother nodded permission. "Cameron said you were a hero. Everyone's really grateful."

"Good, that's good."

"Dria says hi," Daniel said into the following silence.

"How is she?" His dad turned to look at Daniel, his eyes glassy and slightly unfocused.

"Worried. Like all of us." His grandmother cleared her throat in warning, and Daniel forced a smile. "Cassie and John were here the other day, but you were sleeping."

His dad's gaze moved over Daniel, then fell to his face. He waggled a finger in his direction. "Go change your clothes. You look like you slept in them."

"That's 'cause I did," Daniel laughed. "We're heading home to go change."

"Ah, then in that case, I won't say anything about your hair."

Immediately Daniel reached a hand to his head, feeling strands of hair that had escaped his ponytail.

"Give the boy a break, Jonathan," his grandmother scolded with a smile as his father's eyelids slowly closed.

"Sorry. Love ya, Icky..."

She placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder as his father drifted off.

Daniel leaned forward, gave his dad a goodbye kiss, and smiled at his grandmother. "Think we can detour to a drive thru for breakfast?"


"You didn't call last night," Alexandria exclaimed the moment she saw Daniel. She was upset, keeping her distance and pulling away when Daniel reached for her.

"Sorry. I sort of fell asleep not long after I got to the hospital and woke up this morning."

"You slept at the hospital?" Her demeanour changed, her body relaxing slightly.

"I was doing my homework and – oh shit, Mrs. Fennelly is gonna kill me. I didn't write the essay on—" He broke off when Alexandria grabbed his shirt collar and kissed him. Soundly.

"What was that for?" He blinked at Alexandria, who was busy wiping lip gloss from his mouth.

"I was worried. I thought something bad had happened to your dad."

"Oh." He leaned forward, teasing another kiss out of Alexandria before speaking again. "My dad's doing better. He woke up enough to talk to us last night and again this morning."

"That's great." She threw her arms around him and hugged him.

"I just wish he were home." Wished everything were back to normal, wished his dad had never gone on that mission, wished he were a Goa'uld so he could heal his father. He even contemplated sneaking through the Stargate, finding a symbiote and coming back triumphant, complete with healing device, to heal his dad. He basked in that memory until common sense prevailed when the first bell rang.

The day dragged, but not as painfully as the last two. Somehow he got through all the classes and left the school with Alexandria. He kissed her goodbye, watched her a moment as she headed for her bus, then hurried to the parking lot.

Cassie was with John, both of them leaning against her Jeep, too involved in one another to notice his approach.

"You two are disgusting." He made gagging noises as he walked around the Jeep and got into the passenger side. John flipped him the bird through the window, and Daniel laughed as he leaned over and rapped on it with his knuckles.

"I appreciate the lift, Cass," he said when Cassie and John finally parted and she slid behind the wheel.

"It's no problem. I was going to head out anyways to visit Uncle Jack tonight. I'll just see him a little earlier than planned." She started the car and slowly merged with the departing traffic trying to leave the parking lot and enter the main street. "How is he? Did Rose have any news?"

"More awake. He managed to eat a little at lunchtime. I think they were going to tell him about his... They were going to do it when Grandma was there. He probably knows by now."

Cassie shot him a shaky smile. He didn't miss her turning her head away from him to look out the window and brush away tears.

"It'll be okay, Cass. This is my dad we're talking about. He's the strongest person I know." A memory of his father, hard and cold as he cruelly interrogated a prisoner, reinforced that assessment. "If anyone can deal with this, it's him."

"I know," she said as she brushed the back of her hand across her nose.

"Oh, gross."

"Yeah?" She wiped her hand against his thigh, grinning at him evilly, then shifted her attention to her driving when the way was clear for her to merge onto the street. She honked as she drove past John, who was just reaching his bus. He waved, and then they were on their way to the SGC.


"Hi Dad!"

Jack forced himself out of the dredges of misery and focused on his son. Daniel literally bounced into the room, exuding an energy that Jack knew he would never be able to attain, ever again.

Cassie followed Daniel in, at first looking wary and then her face lighting up with a smile when she saw him.

It was one of the hardest things he'd ever done, but he forced his mouth to curl upwards, making it look like he was pleased to see them.

Daniel started talking a mile a minute and Jack was hard pressed to push past the haziness of the drugs circulating in his blood stream and the emotional blow he'd been dealt a few short hours ago. Daniel, young or old, on a good day, could speed-talk from subject to subject, babbling so fast that Jack was often a sentence behind. Today, Daniel sounded like someone on speed, and his voice, god help Jack, was grating into his already frayed nerves. Daniel touched upon school, Cassie and John, his grandmother, something he'd eaten for breakfast—

"Did you see your mother yet?" Jack deliberately interrupted Daniel, and enjoyed the silence for all of the few seconds between the time Cassie shook her head and Daniel moved on to talking about Dria. He started describing a dream he'd had last night when a miracle happened. Cassie's phone rang, and Daniel paused to suck in air.

"It's John." She smiled apologetically at Jack. "I'll be right back."

Jack waved her away with a lethargic waggle of fingers and she hurried into the hallway. He heard her answering the phone the moment she left his room, at the same second Daniel started up his auctioneer-quick monologue again.

He was a prisoner in this bed. Head throbbing, ribs burning with every breath he took, his back a screaming agony, all was barely muted by the pain medication.

Unable to sit up, unable to stand, unable to walk, he was forced to lie here, paralyzed, and listen to his son do the audio-version of the Chinese water torture. One word instead of one drop - a steady flow, drip, drip, drip, yadda, yadda, yadda, driving him crazy, and with no outlet of escape.

This was how it was going to be, for the rest of his life - a prisoner in his own body.

The pattern in the ceiling tiles he'd been staring at most of the afternoon became more appealing than listening to his son and he did something he hadn't done in nine years. He deliberately tuned Daniel out.

The rest of his life loomed depressingly before him, and the thought of the few decades Jack contemplated having left, now threatened to choke him with their uselessness.

It was the silence that eventually pulled Jack back into the here and now.

"Dad, are you okay?"

"No, I'm not okay," Jack snapped. "Does it look like I'm okay?"

"Do you want me to get Janet?" Daniel's voice was suddenly subdued, and on some level Jack knew he needed to shut up now, but he'd held it together in front of his mother and Fraiser and Warner and that Kramer specialist Fraiser had called in who had done absolutely nothing for him except tell him that he'd never walk again.

"What's Fraiser gonna be able to do for me? Wipe my ass when I shit myself?"


"I'm paralyzed, Daniel. Fraiser can wave all those papers with her name that she has hanging on her wall, but she can't fix a broken spinal cord."

"I know." Daniel suddenly seemed at a loss for words. He wrapped his arms around his torso and lowered his chin to his chest. "But it'll be fine. We'll work this out. Grandma's house is all one level; we could sell our house, move in with Grandma. We might have to make some adjustments for a wheelchair but I bet John and I and Teal'c could—"

"That's right, Daniel. A wheelchair. A god damned, fucking chair on wheels for people who are crippled. That's what I am. A cripple. And no, it won't be fine. It'll never be fine again."

"I know you're upset, but—"

"Upset? You don't know the half of it," Jack yelled. This wasn't supposed to happen to him. He'd retired from going offworld to prevent this very thing from happening. "This is what happens when you spend too much time sitting at a desk. You lose your edge. You slow down. You get old!"

"You're not old and you're not slow. You saved those kids, Dad—"

"And what do I get for it? A thank you plaque that I can hang on my wheelchair?"

"A wheelchair might not be that bad. I can take care of you. I can push you around. Grandma can drive you places until I'm old enough to get a licence—"

It was ironic that this was the first time Daniel hadn't whined about letting him drive even though he was underage. For some reason, Daniel's apparent consideration made Jack even angrier.

"Oh, get real, Daniel. Your grandmother's old. She's not going to be around forever to play chauffeur. And you – you'll lose interest the moment your libido decides a girl is more important than your crippled father. You're fourteen. You can't even take care of yourself, how do you expect to be able to take care of me?"

Talking was starting to become an agony – the angrier he got, the sharper the pain in his cracked ribs. He was gulping for breath and feeling more and more light headed.

"I'm fourteen, Dad." Daniel's voice had gone soft, almost shaky. "I can take care of myself. I can get a job, if we need money... I can go ahead and skip a grade so I can graduate from high school early—"

"Do the laundry? Clean the house? Get the groceries? Cook? Give me a bath? Clean my shit—"

"If I have to—"

"You can't even keep your room clean. How do you expect to take charge of a household—"

"Grandma can help—"

"How dare you put this burden on your grandmother? She doesn't deserve this. You can't take care of yourself, and I certainly can't take care of you, let alone you taking care of me."

"Don't worry about me, Dad. It's you we have to concentrate on. Once you get better—"

"That's just it!" Jack screamed. "I'm not going to get better. Can't you get that through your thick skull? Damn it, Daniel. You never listen. Even as an adult, you just never listened. My back is broken. I'm never going to walk again. It's not a fairytale. It's not the romantic ideal you seem to have stuck in that juvenile head of yours."

Despite the deer in the headlights look Daniel now sported, Jack couldn't help himself. At first the outburst had been triggered by the hopelessness of his situation, but now it was fueled by the growing agony in his body. He raged and ranted at his son, who stood there, taking it all, while Jack explained to him, in detail, why he'd never want Daniel to be responsible for him.

He was a child, an irresponsible child who might always be susceptible to the temptation of addiction; he'd already been hospitalized twice through experimentation with drugs, even though one of those times it hadn't been his fault, Daniel still wasn't street savvy enough to watch out for himself. He'd shown irresponsibility with booze, passing out on the rooftop one evening. Should he mention his fiasco with the dirt bikes when he'd disobeyed Jack's number one rule? And all this within the scope of several months.

Why would Jack trust his son to care for him? Wasn't his body broken enough now without fearing whatever damage Daniel would eventually inflict on him?

"All right, Colonel, that's enough."

The sound of Fraiser's voice startled Jack, enough to pull him from his diatribe. Fraiser stormed into the room, a white-faced Cassie following meekly behind her.

"Oh, no, I'm just getting started," Jack snapped. But before Jack could continue, the object of his anger turned tail and left, hurrying out of the room. Cassie gave him a horrified look before she ran after Daniel.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" Fraiser's petite form seemed to tower over Jack. Her eyes snapped with anger as she moved around the bed jerkily. "Your son has been here every single moment he wasn't at school. Rose had to order him home so he could get some rest, and this is how you treat him?"

"You should have heard what he was saying! He thinks he can finish high school, get a job and take care of me. He's fourteen – he needs to be out there with friends, not stuck with an old woman and a cripple for the rest of his life."

"Colonel, you need to calm down." Fraiser wasn't looking at Jack, but at the monitors around his bed.

"Then give me something for the pain. My ribs and my leg are killing me."

"Your..." Fraiser stared at Jack, a shocked look on her face. "What did you just say?"

"My ribs and my leg are killing me."

"Your leg. Your leg hurts?"

"Of course my leg hurts. You said yourself the damned thing was sliced open."

"Sir, that's impossible. Your spinal cord was damaged; you shouldn't have any feelings below your waist—"

"Then tell that to my leg!"

Fraiser moved quickly to the foot of the bed and raised the sheet. Her fingers were cold on his bare feet. "Sir, can you feel my—"

"Don't you dare poke me with a needle. Your fingers are uncomfortable enough as it is." He moved his toes to prove his point.

"Oh my God."

"What?" Jack snapped impatiently.

"Can you move your other foot?"

Jack obliged, and his anger began to fade as Fraiser's face turned from astonishment to happiness.

"I'm ordering an MRI. I'll be right back." She turned and ran out of the room, her lab coat billowing out behind her.

"Wait. What about the... painkillers," Jack sighed.


"Daniel, wait up. Daniel."

Cassie's voice echoed as she followed in his wake. Head down, shoulders up around his ears, Daniel dodged the personnel blocking his path, weaving his way to... to where? He stopped at the elevator, shook his head at the soldier holding the doors opened for him, stepping to the side when the doors closed.

He pressed his face into the minute space between the elevator's frame and the cinderblock. The cool kiss of the wall against his forehead was the only thing keeping him in one piece.


"Take me home." Daniel shrugged off the hand Cassie dropped onto his shoulder. "Please take me home."

"Okay," she whispered. "Whatever you want. Just let me—"

Daniel spun around. "No!" The pitch of his voice was loud enough to draw attention, which was the last thing he wanted. "No," he repeated, his voice a shade above a whisper. "I just want to go. Now." Daniel grabbed her hand and squeezed. "Please," he begged.


Daniel had thought he was safe. Thought he would make it all the way to his house without Cassie saying a word.

"Your dad didn't mean it."

Obviously, Daniel had thought wrong. "Don't take this the wrong way, but could you shut up?"

Cassie blathered on as if Daniel hadn't even spoken. "I mean, he had a million IVs connected, and if I know my mother, one of them had to have been painkillers. I mean, come on, you know what it's like being on painkillers—"

"Shut up, Cassie." This time there was no please attached to the words, and the hard, palpable unhappiness in his voice silenced her immediately.


Daniel wandered from room to room. Living room. Dining room. Den. Bedroom. Bathroom. Kitchen. And then did the cycle again. Closing his eyes, he stood in the kitchen listening to the echo of the morning when his father had gone offworld. They'd been rushed, tripping over each other in their haste to get out the door. Heck, his dad's coffee mug was still in the sink. A lifetime ago. Daniel felt older, but not any wiser.

He dumped out the coffee, washed out the mug, meticulously dried it then smashed it against the wall. His father was right. Maybe that's what hurt so much, every word had been the truth.


Rose entered her son's room. Truth be told, she was tired and selfishly glad that she was going to sleep at home on a mattress tonight. "Where's Daniel?" She glanced around, surprised that her grandson wasn't warming his usual chair by the bed.

"Hi to you, too, Mom."

"Hello," she said sarcastically. "Where's Daniel?"

"Here and gone, probably couldn't stand to hang around here. He and Cassie were here. He popped in. Said hello. Rattled on about school, then left. Had more important things to—" Jack shifted, grimaced and tried to reach for the buzzer.

"Hold on, I'll get that." Rose reached for the buzzer and pushed it.

"What the hell did you do that for?" Jack snatched it from her hand and using his thumb, pressed incessantly. "I can do it for myself. See." He raised it up to her face.

"I can see."

A nurse that Rose had seen numerous times appeared by Jack's bedside. "Colonel O'Neill, is there something I can—"

"Where the hell is Fraiser?"

"Is there something you need?"

"Yes, her." Jack made shooing motion with his hand. "Go get her for me."

The nurse hesitated.

"Now would be nice."

Rose waited until the nurse left before ripping her son a new one. "What the hell was that all about?"

"What are you talking about?" He twirled the buzzer then dropped it off the side of the bed.

"That." She pointed in the direction the nurse had just left.

"I wanted Fraiser."

"There's a way to ask, and there's a way to—" she explained slowly as if talking to a child.

"And I asked."

"Stop it," Rose ordered. "Just stop it. Do you hear yourself?"

Jack snorted. "Do I hear myself? Who the hell else listens to me? No one. Not you. Not Fraiser and especially not Daniel. Get it through your head." He waved his hand down the length of his body. "This is me now. This. What you see is what you get."

"What I see is a man full of self pity. Angry and bitter."

"Angry? I'm not angry, I'm furious."

"I'm going home. I'm tired. I want to sleep in my bed. I love you, Jack, but right now I don't have the energy to get into this."


Okay, she definitely shouldn't have left. She should've stayed, soothed Jack's ruffled feathers and made all the appropriate noises, but she couldn't. Not tonight.

Tonight she was stopping by Jack's house, picking up some clothes for Daniel, getting them takeout dinner and just pretending for one evening that all was well with the world.

Rose trudged up the walk to Jack's house, fished the correct key on her key ring and opened the door. Wearily, she dropped her purse on the table by the door and tossed her coat over the chair. This was going to be fast. Jeans, socks, shirt, sweats, Daniel usually had a full contingent of clothes at her house, but she didn't feel like doing laundry and the last thing she felt like doing was running back here in the early morning hours to get Daniel a clean pair of boxers.

She stopped short when she came face to face with the last person she expected. "Daniel?"


"What are you dong here, mhuirnin?" He stood before her in the hallway, a bucket in one hand, glass cleaner and spray bleach hooked onto the edge of the bucket by their spray handles. The elastic for his ponytail held maybe three strands of hair, the rest were hanging wild and free.


"Cleaning," she stupidly repeated. The unasked 'why' hung in the air.

"It needed to be done."

He refused to meet her gaze, studying every inch of the hallway until she took pity on him. "Why don't you clean up?"

"I am." Daniel blinked at her.

"No, I meant you. Physically. Clean up so we can go."

Daniel backed up two steps and water sloshed over the edge of the bucket, staining his jeans. "Go? Go where?"

"Back to my house."

"Your house. Oh." Relief flooded his face. "Let me just clean up."

"I'll go get some clothes for you to take to my—"

"No!" Daniel shouted. "I'll do it. You just, ummm," he glanced over his shoulder and swallowed nervously, "you go wait in the den. I won't be long."


Rose wandered through the house, making sure to stay out of Daniel's way. Her grandson had lied, he hadn't cleaned. He'd scrubbed the place - from the fridge, which was dazzling in its brightness to the laundry baskets and hampers devoid of dirty clothes. Counters. Floors. Sinks. Toilets.


Rose's guilt bubbled up and threatened to overflow. She'd turned tail and ran from Jack; Daniel had been the mature one and made himself useful. Maybe what she should do was toss Daniel into the car and hightail it back over to the hospital, but at that moment Daniel appeared in her line of vision. Still dressed in the wet jeans, the leg of his pants had now faded a lighter denim. Bleach. Great. Even his shirt wore the splatter pattern of getting up close and personal with the Clorox.

His ensemble wasn't what changed her mind about heading back out to Jack. What changed her mind was the exhaustion etched in Daniel's face.

"I'm ready, Grandma." He had a suitcase in his hand. Not an overnight case or a plastic bag stuffed with clothes. Daniel had clutched in his right hand a suitcase and in his left, his overstuffed backpack.

"Me, too, mhuirnin, let's go."


Rose was taken back at the gentle peck to her cheek. She raised two fingers to the spot and turned around, drying her hands on her apron. "What was that for?"

Daniel cocked his chin at the store bought roast chicken on the counter. "I'm not hungry."

"If you want something else—"

"I'm not hungry," he repeated, sterner and firmer than the question required.

"Go watch some TV."

"I don't want to watch TV. I don't want to eat anything."

What the hell was up with the O'Neill men today? "You and your dad obviously got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."

Daniel snorted. "Newsflash, Grandma. My father's not going to be getting up on any side of the bed in the near future. He made sure to remind me of that fact."

Daniel had obviously borne the wrath of Jonathan today. "I see you and your father had words. Welcome to the club."

"Words?" Daniel blanched.

"Yes, words. I'm chalking it up to all of us being tired. Stressed. Me. You. Your father. I'm sure after a good night's rest—"

"I have homework," Daniel said, briskly cutting off the rest of Rose's sentence. "I'll see you in the morning."


Fully clothed, Daniel lay on the bed, stared at the ceiling and waited expectantly for his grandmother to come in with a dinner tray and a side order of smothering. When she showed up, Daniel convinced himself that he'd talk to her. Tell her about the words his dad had imparted on him.

Curiosity got the better of him around nine-thirty but he didn't have to go very far to check on his grandmother's safety. She wasn't watching TV or reading, knitting or even having a cup of tea. She was already in bed, fast asleep, snoring loud enough to rattle the house's foundation.

Standing in the doorway to her bedroom, hurt snowballed into a myriad of emotions. Anger. Desertion. Confusion. Loneliness. Sadness. He was on his own for this.


A good night's rest would actually constitute resting. He was horizontal, in sweats, in his bed, but there was no resting tonight. Every time he hovered on the cusp of sleep, eyes closed and drifting, he would hear was his father's accusatory, hateful words again and see the expression of disgust on his face.

According to this father, their family was a sham. Daniel had driven them apart, pushing his dad away by his stupid choices. He scrubbed at burning eyes. What now? Go back as if nothing happened? Yeah, right. Having his father in a wheelchair for the rest of his life sort of made that impossible. Daniel wasn't that good of an actor.

He rose with the sun, showered and dressed, accomplishing each step with exaggerated slowness and precision. His grandmother was sitting at the table and the kiss he planted on her cheek was done by rote, cold and unforgiving, but his grandmother didn't appear to notice and Daniel felt invisible.

"You must be starving."

"I'll have a bowl of cereal."

She pushed the chair away from the table. "Let me make you something a little more substantial."

"I said cereal is fine." Habit had taught him to soften the harshness of his words with a smile. It was a forced, fake smile, but his grandmother bought it, hook, line and sinker and she smiled back.

"At least slice a banana with your cereal."

It wasn't worth an argument and Daniel did as instructed, eating the cereal while standing, leaning against the counter.

She pushed out the chair. "Sit."

He drank the remainder of the milk from the bowl then held it up. "I'm done." Like a good boy, Daniel rinsed it out and stuck it into the dish drain.

"Give me a second to throw something on and I'll drive you—"

"Don't bother. I'll go with John and Cameron."

He got as far as the kitchen before she called his name.

Looking over the rim of her glasses, she studied him. "Are you okay?"


"See, we both just needed a good night's sleep."

Obviously, if Daniel tossed around enough shit, it would eventually stick. "Yeah, I guess that was it."

"How about I pick you up from school and we'll go visit your dad?"

"I have practice." He raised his hand when she began to interrupt. "The coach understands but he did sort of warn me about all the—"

"That's not right, doesn't he know—"

"Of course he knows," Daniel stumbled, trying to figure out how to get out of the corner he'd just painted himself into. "It's just that," he lied, "I feel guilty. I'm sure Dad will understand that, at least just for one day."

"Call him and let him know."

Daniel patted his pocket. "I will."

She nodded.

Daniel echoed her nod, thankful that she hadn't made him promise to call, because he didn't want to do either, promise or make the call.


It wasn't until Daniel was outside, ready to cross the street to the Connor's home, when he realized that his grandmother had neither given him money for lunch nor given him a brown bag. Great, maybe Sarah could throw a turkey sandwich together for him.

Ever vigilant Cameron opened the door even before he knocked. "I saw you coming."

"Morning, Cameron."

"John's in the shower, he's running late."

Sarah was a blur as she rushed past. "Morning, Daniel."

"Everyone overslept," Cameron added.

"Not you?" Daniel asked already knowing the answer, because sometimes those were the safest questions in the world.

"I don't sleep."

"Yeah," John said as he walked into the living room. "And she doesn't play alarm clock either."

"You needed your sleep."

Daniel left the living room - their stupid banter, even though one of the participants wasn't human, bothered him. It made him uncomfortable, stirring his anger. He ended up in the kitchen. Derek was sitting at the table, his hands gripping the mug in front of him and Sarah was busy putting together two bagged lunches.

"Hey," she said, not missing a beat.

"Hey." Daniel dropped his backpack between his legs and watched Sarah.

"How's your dad?" She handed him a chocolate chip cookie which he declined with a shake of his head.

"Already complaining." Not exactly a lie.

"He's a strong man," Derek added from the table, giving Daniel a nod before going back to concentrating on his coffee.

Daniel just nodded, thinking maybe coming here had been a mistake. The Connors, on a good morning or hell, even any time during the day, were dysfunctional with a capital "D" and he'd been counting on that. A family that made his seem like the Brady Bunch. But today they were almost normal. It was scary, creepy and more than a little disappointing. Especially today.


Cameron exited the back seat of the Nitro first, followed by Daniel then John.

Sarah leaned over the front seat and shouted out the door Daniel hadn't yet closed.

"We're at the mountain today."

John spat the single word at his mother. "Fine."

The sarcastic undertones didn't go over Sarah's head. "I thought you..." She shook her head. "Never mind. This isn't the place to discuss this."

John slammed the door in response.

It was cruel, but Daniel was happy that things weren't as Norman Rockwellish at the Connor home as they appeared.

"Go," John ordered Cameron. "Shoo. Go find Corey and make his day."

Cameron cocked her head at John. "You need an attitude adjustment, John."

He waved her away with his hand. "Go away."

She stood rooted to the spot.

"I'm asking you nicely, please," John begged.

Daniel went to walk away, but John grabbed his arm. Not hard, but in an insistent, I-don't-want-you-going-anywhere type of grip that pissed Daniel off.

"Let go."

Cameron had disappeared by the time the red mist of anger faded from Daniel's vision.

"Sorry about that, dude."

John didn't let go and Daniel found himself propelled to a quieter, less congested side of the building. "Let go," he repeated, popping his arm up and down, trying to break the grasp.

"Sorry." John dropped his hand and fiddled with readjusting his backpack. "I just wanted you to know—" He sighed, obviously exasperated.

Daniel couldn't really care, and he found himself echoing John's sigh. "What?"

"Parents suck."

Daniel blinked. He'd never thought that before, until yesterday. "Yeah," he agreed slowly. "They do."

"If you ever need to talk... I'm here."

"As long as your mom doesn't move your ass to another city."

John dropped his gaze.

"So don't make any promises you can't keep." Okay, that was uncalled for and Daniel was sorry the minute the words were out of his mouth.

John grasped Daniel's bicep. "You're an asshole, Jackson, but you're still my friend. Try to remember that."

Daniel watched him walk away, then touched the area where John's hand had been. The symbol for Earth, the tattoo, burned under his fingers. It was a constant reminder of their present and future friendship, even when Daniel wanted to forget.


No matter how much he stared into the depths of his locker, Daniel was fucking clueless. Focus and function, it couldn't be that hard, could it?

"First period is English," a familiar voice whispered in his ear. A hand appeared around his and slid the book to the edge of the shelf. "Does this help?"

He nodded but he didn't reach for the book.

"It'll be okay, Dannysaur. I promise." With a quick tug on his ponytail, Cassie left him in peace.

Promise. Yeah, right. Daniel didn't believe her. Didn't believe John. People made promises they didn't keep. They couldn't keep. People lied.

Two arms snaked around his front and covered his heart.

Alexandria. Daniel waited expectantly for her promise. Of friendship. Of love. Of hope. But there was nothing except her presence and the pressure of her cheek as it rested between his shoulder blades. In her silent understanding, Daniel found strength of purpose.


Daniel surprised himself by focusing, functioning and surviving all the way to lunch period. It was a reprieve not being in class expecting to perform and he was hungry enough that even the unappealing meatloaf and mashed potatoes smelled good. Then he remembered. No money and no lunch was a problem.

Sharing or borrowing was an option, but today not something Daniel wanted to do. He stole a glance at their customary table. Empty. Great, he could sneak out. He turned, ready to bolt out of the double doors of the lunchroom and ran right into Cameron. Bouncing backwards was embarrassing enough, but thankfully he didn't land on his ass.

"Sorry," Daniel mumbled, even though Cameron should be apologizing to him.

"It was an accident."

"Yeah, it was but—"

"Why are you standing here?"


Corey came in, walked past Daniel then backtracked. He shouldered Daniel, prodding him towards the table, but his eyes were on Cameron. "Let's go sit."

Cameron didn't move, she pinned Daniel with her gaze. "Don't you want to join us for lunch?"

He couldn't breathe. Too many people, too much noise. He bolted out the doors, down the hallway, slamming open the side exit. Standing on the bottom step, bent over, hands on his knees, gulping down lungfuls of air with his backpack dangling painfully in the crook of his right arm was how Cameron found him.

"Would you like my lunch? You need the extra treat my mom always puts in there."

Daniel glanced up from the mere act of breathing and stared at the creased brown bag Cameron was dangling in front of his face.

"You'd give me your lunch?" He straightened slowly, pulling the strap of the backpack across his shoulder.

"You're my friend."

God, Cameron was so much like a simple child, that at times, like now, Daniel found her refreshing. "You're a good friend."

She grabbed his arm in the same spot John had. "John needs your friendship, like you need his."

Daniel tried to jerk from her grasp, but she was unrelenting.

"Don't test the bonds of your friendship, because you'll both lose."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Cameron gave a girly little shrug, one shoulder higher than the other. "It would be in your best interest not to find out."

"Are you threatening me?"

"No, I'm warning you."

"Same difference."

"I'm here to protect both you and John. I have no intentions of failing either of you." Her hand slipped from his bicep to grab his hand and she tugged. "Come on, let's make sure you eat lunch before the period is over."

Daniel didn't feel like playing.

"Eating is important. Like sleeping." She shoved the brown bag at Daniel. "So you need to attend lunch."

"Are you going to drag me to the lunch room?"

"Do you want me to?"

Oy, was it only a few minutes ago that Daniel had thought Cameron's naiveté was endearing? "No, I can manage to get there by myself." It was his turn to wave the bag in Cameron's face. "Thanks."

"There's only twenty two minutes and eight... seven... six... "

"I'm on it."


Daniel dropped the brown bag onto the table before he took his seat and John raised one eyebrow, visibly relaxing when Cameron entered the lunchroom a few seconds later. John's reaction gave Daniel his first smile of the day.

"Did ya think I murdered Cameron for her lunch?" Daniel reached into the bag and pulled out an exact duplicate of John's lunch.

John peeled back his white bread and stared at the turkey which he obviously found as unappealing as Daniel did. "Not worth murdering anyone over."

"Poor babies," Cassie said, giving John her pudding.

"I would've shared, Daniel." Alexandria rested her chin on his shoulder.

"I'm sure you would've." Corey winked at Daniel.

Cassie stuck her arm around Cameron and swatted Corey in the back of the head. "Grow up, asshole."

"Ow. John did you see what your—"

"Nope, didn't see a thing." He held up the plastic bowl of vanilla pudding, examined it from all sides, then passed it over to Daniel.

"Daniel, you took Cameron's lunch?" Corey asked, giving Cameron a handful of his pretzels.

"He didn't. I offered. He accepted."

"I didn't really have a choice." He bypassed the sandwich, stuck his hand in the bag and pulled out the promised cookies and apple.

"Do you have four cookies?" John pushed aside all that blocked his view between his side of the table and Daniel's. "Four?"

"Yeah," Daniel said, elongating the word beyond its one syllable.

"Cameron," John pointed to the cookies in front of Daniel. "Mom gave you four cookies?"

Cameron leaned over to get a better look at Daniel's cookies. "Mom always did like me better."


Daniel hesitated outside the locker room, the temptation to cut and run was great. Really great. The scale was tipping towards escaping and he took two steps backwards—right into John.


Best laid plans and all that.

"We can always skip practice," he whispered in Daniel's ear, tempting him.

"We can."

"Go hang out at Donovan's Park."

"Got a bottle in your backpack?" A part of Daniel wished the answer to that would be yes.

"Not today." John pushed his shoulder into Daniel's. "What do you say?"

The yes was right on the tip of his tongue when the locker room door slammed open.

"Well, well. Jackson, Baum, are you going to grace us with your presence, or are you just going to stand out in the hallway and gossip?"

There were times, most of them recent, like right at this moment, that Daniel's hatred of his soccer coach knew no boundaries.


Okay, maybe running around the field to the point of collapse wasn't such a bad thing. His mind was blank except for the plays, the need to score and the coach's ranting as he paced up and down the sidelines. Gracelessly, Daniel dropped onto the grass, collapsing onto his back.

The rest of the team fell like rain around Daniel, groaning and complaining good-naturedly about the workout.

The coach clapped his hands, gaining their attention. "Nice work, boys, lets go for perfection and make it two laps around the field before hitting the showers."


John stood with his forehead pressed against his gym locker. "Considering that running is a way of life for me, please tell me again why sports are fun? I've forgotten."

Daniel poked his arm. "They keep you out of trouble?"

"That's what Cameron is for." John pushed himself upright. "Come on, Derek's going to pick me up, he'll give you a ride home to Rose's."


"Still think we should've gone to Donovan's Park," John commented with a groan as he swung his backpack up onto his shoulder.


Daniel had the back door of the Nitro opened when a car horn caught his attention.

"Is that Rose?" John pointed to the Santa Fe that pulled up behind them.

"My grandmother?" Everything came flooding back. Everything. "Next time," he spat at John, "I hesitate in making a decision to go to Donovan's Park, zat me." Daniel slammed the car door and dragged himself over to his grandmother's SUV.


His grandmother started even before Daniel snapped the seatbelt into place.

"You didn't call today."

"Hello, Grandma."

The glance she shot him wasn't all warm and fuzzy. "You didn't call," she repeated.

"No, I didn't call." It wasn't worth making up an excuse that she'd rip apart at the seams.

She didn't ask why, and Daniel melted into the seat, relaxing incrementally as she drove, last night's lack of sleep finally catching up.

"Well, don't you want to know how your father is doing?"

Daniel wondered what her reaction would be if he answered 'no, I don't want to know how my father's doing', but that would be opening a can of worms that he didn't have the energy to deal with. "How's he doing?"

"Janet believes that your dad has regained feeling in his legs—"

Daniel tried to tamper down the flutter of hope. "He can walk?"

With her eyes still on the road, his grandmother smiled and Daniel could see the happiness even from the passenger seat. "Yes. No. Well, not yet."

What kind of answer was that? "When?"

"One hurdle at a time, okay? Janet ran a battery of tests and from the preliminary results everything looked good." She drew a breath, stole a glance towards Daniel then hurriedly returned her eyes to the road. "Looks really good."

"Sounds encouraging."

"It would've been nice if you could've called."

"I couldn't," Daniel lied.

And he kept on lying - claiming he wasn't hungry, feigning an overabundance of homework. His grandmother was floating so high on cloud nine about his father's supposedly recovery that she nodded distractedly at Daniel's excuses.


She dropped her keys on the table by the door, slipped off her shoes, hung up her coat and strangely, Daniel trailed after her like a puppy.

"You know, I'm not really hungry either." His grandmother put up the kettle for tea and Daniel stood awkwardly in the kitchen while she ignored his presence and headed for the phone, checking on his father's condition.

"It's only been an hour, what could've changed?" he pointed out softly, but she was too busy trying to make a connection to the infirmary. She stuck her hand in the cabinet and pulled out a box of cereal.

'For you', she mouthed, shaking the box in his direction.

Daniel swung his backpack onto the counter, just because he hoped he'd get a rise out of his grandmother, but the only thing he received was her back as she began to pace the kitchen.

Bowl. Spoon. Milk. Daniel grabbed the cereal from her hands as she made a pass by him.


"It's okay," Daniel answered. But it wasn't and anger began to overshadow hurt.

A bowl of cereal for dinner. He ate standing, not even tasting the soggy flakes, and definitely not even rinsing out the bowl and spoon when he finished. Daniel grabbed his backpack and stomped out of the kitchen.


"Your dad was sleeping."

Daniel removed his ear buds. "Huh?"

"Your father. Sleeping."

"Oh, okay." Daniel wasn't exactly sure what she wanted him to say.

"I was talking to Doctor Warner first. Then I called Janet at home."

"And..." Getting from point A to point B in the least amount of time had never been one of his grandmother's strong points.

She sank down at the edge of his bed, and gently took his hand. "Janet was honest, your father's in a lot of pain."

Daniel's heart hurt.

"You know how he gets when he's like that."

"I know," Daniel said sadly, slipping his hand out from under his grandmother's.

"I'm glad you understand." She took back his hand and squeezed it tightly.

"Yeah, I understand." But he didn't. Daniel did not understand how he could have been so stupid. He'd lived a lie. Stupidly believed in the happily ever afterness of his life. John was right, he was an asshole.

"It's going to be an uphill battle."

"I thought you said—"

"The spinal cord injury..." She drew a shaky breath. "Guardian angel is all I can say. In time, your dad will walk and regain—"

"Time?" If there was no injury to the cord itself, and his dad could feel and move his feet, why was time mentioned?

"Let's see if I can remember. Janet said extensive swelling around the cord. Lots of bruising. Between that and his other injuries, rehab is the next step with intensive physical therapy." She fumbled in her pocket for a tissue, then swiped at her eyes. "He's going to be okay. We're going to be okay."

Daniel allowed his grandmother to drag him into a hug but they were never going to be okay again. Hope had died not when his father had taken the fall to save those children, hope had died when his father had spoken the truth.


During the weekend, his father's words would come out to haunt him at the strangest times. In the shower. Doing homework. On chat. Listening to the Coach's 'rah rah' speech before Saturday's game. The weekend seemed longer than forty-eight hours and Daniel prayed for Monday. At least with Monday, school would occupy some of his brain cells and not have him have to scrounge up a lie as to why he couldn't go visit his dad.

Sleep was hard earned and full of nightmares and he woke up forty minutes before the alarm, far from rested. He stared at the clock, at the ceiling, at basically nothing before just giving up and throwing back the covers. He sat up with a groan when the all too familiar feeling of an allergy-induced headache made itself known. Burying two sneezes in the crook of his right arm, Daniel used his left to root through the side pocket of his backpack, trying to find a blister pack.

The blister pack had seen better days, but then, based on how Daniel felt, he'd seen better days also, but beggars certainly couldn't be choosers. He popped out one of the pills, refusing, for the sake of his sanity, to check the expiration date.


The shower didn't help. The allergy medication didn't help either. Neither did the rare cup of tea Daniel made for himself.

"Morning." With curiosity, his grandmother eyed the mug Daniel gripped in his hands.

"Tea," he croaked, saluting her with the mug.

"Tea?" she echoed, her eyes widening in surprise. "Are you sick?"

Daniel sneezed and his grandmother flew to his side, plastering her hand against his forehead.

"You don't have a fever."

He sneezed again. "Allergies," Daniel replied hoarsely.

"Stay home," she ordered. The stern quality in her tone announced loud and clear to Daniel that she didn't believe him. Not one iota.

Daniel stole a glance at the clock and hurriedly downed the remainder of the tea. "Can't."

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" No way was he staying home today, not when school was a distraction that he needed to survive.

"Can't take the chance of you going to see your father today, even though you say it's allergies, there's always the possibility that it might be—"

"Contagious." Daniel coughed for good measure. "You're right."

"He'll understand."

Daniel couldn't give a shit if his father understood and truthfully, he was pretty sure his father would be overjoyed by his continued absence. But for his grandmother's sake, Daniel pasted a downtrodden, and hopefully what would pass as an expression of disappointment, on his face.


Well, it would appear that every single Connor, Reese, Baum and terminator in the truck had woken up on the wrong side of the bed.

John was exceptionally quiet, slouched down in his corner of the back seat, glaring at his mother sitting in the passenger seat. Sarah turned around when Daniel sneezed for the third time.

"Are you sick?" There was concern in her eyes, but the expression encompassed John as well.

"No, not sick." Daniel jumped when Cameron's hand skimmed his neck. He shouldered her away, very uncomfortable with the familiarity in the feathery light touch.

"Daniel's heart rate is accelerated, nasal passages appear to be irritated but—"

Daniel pasted himself to the car door. "Not sick," he hissed.

"He's not sick," Cameron finished as if Daniel hadn't spoken.

Cameron's word was enough for Sarah. Satisfied, she turned around, basically ignoring the two teens and one terminator in the back seat.

John's hand clamped over Cameron's. "Don't do that," he warned, stealing a glance at his mother. "People don't like to be touched like that. I don't like it. Daniel doesn't like—"

"Did you mind when I touched you?" she asked, turning to Daniel to stare at him curiously.

Either way, no matter what Daniel answered, he was going to be screwed. "Alexandria might take offense."

John released Cameron's hand with a snort, and for a second, Daniel thought he was laughing, but there was no sense of joy from either his body language or his narrowed eyes. Worst part, the anger wasn't directed at Cameron, but at him. Daniel.

Whoa. What the heck had he done? Daniel leaned around Cameron. "What the hell is up with you, Connor?"

John opened his mouth. Then he shut it and stared at Daniel as if he'd never seen him before. The expression his friend wore was years older than it had a right to be and a cold icicle of apprehension settled in the pit of Daniel's stomach.

Cameron sensed something as well and raised her hand, reaching towards John, but Daniel grabbed her fingers, fighting her resistance, and it was a silent struggle in the backseat of the Nitro. "Don't," he pleaded, cocking his head at the front seat occupants.

"Listen to him," John said sadly, joining his hand to theirs. "Sorry, Jackson."

The true warmth of John's smile melted the icicle just a little. "Daniel," he said with practiced exasperation.

"Cameron," the cyborg said, moving her head from John to Daniel, once again totally missing the point.


By lunch he felt totally lousy. He stared at the tray of chicken nuggets and fries for a good two minutes before shoving it to the middle of the table. Crossing his arms, Daniel lowered his head into the pillow they made.


Daniel lifted his head mere inches and opened one eye. "What?"

This time neither John nor Daniel objected when Cameron's hand settled on his neck. "Your heart rate is—"

"Freak." John's voice was loud enough to carry across the lunchroom table.

"Daniel has a fever." Cameron quickly switched gears.

He burrowed back into his arms, praying that the kiss to the nape of his neck was Alexandria and not Cameron.

"Let me take you home," Alexandria whispered in his ear.

"Hmmm." It was tempting, but practicality won over the draw of lying in a bed with an actual to goodness pillow. Daniel forced himself upright. "I can hold out until the last bell."

And he would've held out, except during gym class, Coach Dawson sort of took offense when Daniel walked off the court during the volleyball game and benched himself. Obviously, Daniel looked bad enough that all the Coach needed was a visual assessment before sending his ass to the nurse.


"One oh one." The nurse checked her watch before she actually glared at Daniel.

"Allergies," Daniel said, struggling to sit up on the uncomfortable cot-like thing the woman in white had forced him to lie down on. Since Michelle, Daniel had a deep mistrust for school nurses.

"Allergies or not," she said, flashing the thermometer across Daniel's line of vision. "Temperatures warrant a call home—"

"No one's home."

"I'm sure there must be an emergency number."

"My father is... in the hospital and my grandmother is with him," Daniel faltered, deciding to go all out. "I don't have a mom and I'm sure there's no one else listed on the emergency card."


He'd been wrong. There had been two other people listed on the emergency card, above and beyond his grandmother, Sam, Teal'c and Janet. Sarah Connor and Derek Reese. Derek had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, drawn the short straw and had been the one who'd responded to the nurse's call.

John's uncle had scraped together enough civility when speaking to the nurse but Daniel wasn't so lucky. Derek voiced his unhappiness at pulling babysitting duty even before he burned rubber leaving the school parking lot. "You've got to be kidding me."

"This wasn't my idea."

"I'm not babysitting you."

"I'm not a baby that requires sitting."

"Well, what am I supposed to do with you?" Stuck behind someone making a left hand turn, impatiently Derek slapped the steering wheel.

"Do with me?"

"Yeah, DJ. Do. With. You."

Daniel sneezed. "Take me to my grandmother's. I'm a big boy."

"Ha!" Derek wove around two cars, beating them to the red light. "Jeesus." He flashed Daniel an expression of exasperation. "Believe me, you're not a big boy. Hell, your behavior makes John look like—"

"Shut up, Reese."

"What did you say?" Derek stole a glance at Daniel, studying him long enough that the cars behind them took exception and honked loudly.

"Just go," Daniel said, sinking down in the seat as low as the seatbelt would allow.

Derek stepped on the accelerator, but it didn't stop him from repeating the question. "What did you say?"

Daniel paused to think of what he had actually said. "Oh. Shut up Reese?"

"You said it with a little more feeling." There was a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

"Shut up, Reese." Daniel coughed then cleared his throat.

"There you go." Derek clamped a hand on Daniel's shoulder and gave a gentle shake. "I was wondering where the hell your balls were."

Daniel dropped his head backwards against the headrest and groaned. "Did anyone ever tell you that your bedside manner totally sucks?"

Derek laughed and it was a strange, freaky sound, underused and damned scary. "Yeah, you did. Do. Will do." He cursed under his breath, something about time travel and tenses. "In about ten years from now you'll mention my bedside manner again."

Daniel coughed again, then followed it up with a handful of sneezes. "Why?"

"You'll find out."

"Should I worry?" Daniel had enough problems dealing with the present; the last thing he wanted was to worry about ten years into a future that included a Judgement Day.

"Get back to me in about ten years."

"Yeah, I'll write myself a Post It." Daniel hid his sarcastic eye roll by turning his interest to the scenery flashing by the passenger window.

Derek laughed again but this time Daniel just closed his eyes and groaned. Derek laughing two times in less then fifteen minutes didn't do one thing to help his headache.


Having someone hover was bad enough. Daniel had grown up with hovering. Having someone hover over him who was uncomfortable enough with being the hoverer as Daniel was about being the hoveree was enough to make him stand in the middle of his grandmother's kitchen and have an honest, one for the record books, two year old-like temper tantrum.

"Go home. Go to the SGC. Go somewhere that's not here," he finally yelled when he turned suddenly and bumped into Derek.


"I'll be fine."

"Fine?" Derek's eyebrows flew upwards.

"Okay, I'm sick, feverish, but I'm safe."

"No one is ever safe," Derek whispered. "You should know that by now."

"I do, sometimes it's so easy to forget."

"I know it is."

"Thanks, Derek."

Derek patted Daniel's cheek. "You have a fever," he tsk'd. "How about some Tylenol?"


As soon as Derek stopped pacing the house, checking and rechecking windows and doors, Daniel was able to relax. Derek settled for the recliner, he settled for the couch until Derek began to randomly flip through the television stations.

It was all Daniel could focus on. Newscasters blended into sitcoms into talk shows into soap operas into cartoons into infomercials into sports. Stations counted up, then down. Then up again, then down.

Without a word he dragged himself upright and off the couch, then shuffled into his bedroom, all done without Derek even noticing.

Maybe this was where he should've been from the start, in his bedroom instead of fulfilling some perverse belief that he had to entertain Derek. Shoving every non-essential item off the bed, Daniel threw back the covers and crawled, fully clothed, under the blankets. Pulling them up while he slid downwards, Daniel effectively created a cocoon with the covers for all of two minutes.

"Why are you here?"

All of Daniel's hard work was for naught, destroyed by Derek roughly ripping down his nest of blankets.

Daniel turned on his back and groaned. "Why are you here, Derek?"

"You didn't answer my question."

"Why do I—"

Derek glared at him and Daniel would never admit it anyone, but John's uncle had a glare that even booted Teal'c's death glare down a rung or two on the glare ladder. "I'm here because you picked me up. According to the nurse," Daniel sneezed, "I'm sick, complete with fever and all the other good stuff. My father can't walk. My grandmother is holding his hand so I'm not exactly high on her list of priorities. Between Sam, Teal'c, Janet and Sarah, lucky you drew the short straw and won the booby prize." Daniel turned his head and buried a cough in his shoulder.

Derek tried to suppress a smile. "I just wanted to know why you came into your bedroom."

"Oh." Daniel prayed for a black hole or Judgment Day right at this moment. "You were annoying me tripping up and down the stations on TV."

"You could've just asked me to stop."

"Would you have stopped?"

Derek settled the blanket around Daniel's shoulders. "After complaining, yeah, I would've stopped." Derek leaned over, grabbed the box of tissues on the nightstand then slammed said tissues onto Daniel's chest. "Use them and not the blanket, okay?"

"Okay." Embarrassed at being caught in the act, Daniel lowered the blanket from under his nose. "Derek," he asked, reaching for a tissue, "You didn't answer my question. Why are you here?"

"Because you're sick and because I was the best man for the job."

Daniel's burst of laughter dissolved into a coughing fit and Derek pulled him into a sitting position, disappeared then returned in a flash with a bottle of water.

"Drink this slowly."

With streaming eyes, Daniel reached for the bottle only to have Derek pull it away. "Slowly," he repeated, elongating the word.

"Give me," Daniel gasped.

"Just making sure."

As commanded, Daniel drank slowly, taking just enough to sooth his burning throat. "You were the best man for the job?"

"Carter and Teal'c are offworld. Your father and grandmother are previously engaged. Sarah does well with things like broken bones, gunshot wounds and blood. She loses her cool with fever, cough and all these other germie things."

"So basically, like I said, you drew the short straw."

Derek pushed Daniel back onto the bed. "Lie down," he said absently. "No. I. Didn't. I volunteered."

"I would've been fine by myself."

"You're not by yourself. You're with me."

"But I would've been fine by myself. Pick me up, drop me off would've been fine."

"You don't realize how important you are, DJ."

Daniel snorted. Important wasn't a word that he would attach to himself right about now. Or ever. Now, or in the future.

It was Derek's turn to chuckle, a sound that made Daniel's skin crawl. "You and John... "

Daniel put the tissue box by his pillow, turned on his side and drew the covers up to his shoulders. "Want to share? Any coming attractions? Stories? Something that I should be aware of? Maybe a bedtime tale or two?"

"Remember to duck."

"No surprise there, Derek, that's the story of my life."

Daniel didn't breathe as Derek reached over and tapped his cheek, tenderness from the soldier of the future wasn't given lightly or comfortably. "Never worked, did it?"


Derek reached over and switched off the bedroom light, the late afternoon's tentacles of sunlight reached into the room through the slits in the blinds. "You taught Kyle how to decipher coding. Damn, you were good."

"Will be," Daniel yawned. "I will be good."

"You'll be great."

"And important." On the cusp of sleep, it was amazing what slid from his brain right out of his mouth.

"Very important," Derek agreed.

"To someone?"

"To John. To us. To humanity."


"Can I help you carry your bags to the car, ma'am?"

Wonderful, it was bad enough she was old, now obviously the entire world was in on it. "No, thank you," she said to the eager kid who had helped her bag up her items. "I can manage. I'll let my grandson do all the work when I get home."

She checked her watch when she got to her car. Five. Daniel should be home by now. Actually, Daniel should've been home a while ago, but Rose had only gotten voice mails. Maybe she should be worried, but right now, she was sticking to the adage that no news was good news because she was too tired, stretched too thin and just plain exhausted. Anxiety and stress over Jack's condition due to pain and the road ahead was beginning to cloud any elation she might have felt over the news that her son was going to make a full recovery.

Dinner tonight was going to be cold cuts, fresh rolls and soup out of a can and even then, it was going to be every woman and teenager for themselves.


Through the living room curtains, Rose could see the glow of the television set, and she could also see the mail sticking out of the box and the paper sitting on the walk. Too tired to hold her anger in check, she pulled into the driveway, slammed the car into park and left the trunk full of groceries for her grandson to take care of.

Rapping on the door with her right hand she attempted to fit the key into the lock with her left. "It's about time. There are bags in the car that need bringing into the house." She grabbed the mail out of the box. "How many times have I told you—"


"Derek?" The old adage went up in a puff of smoke. "Where's Daniel?"

"Right here, Grandma."

Derek stepped to the left, giving her a bird's eye view of her grandson, who stood about three feet behind Derek, knuckling the sleep from his eyes, still yawning.

"Hard day, Daniel?" God, where had that come from?

Shocked, Daniel dropped his hand and glanced at Derek then glared at her.

"I picked Daniel up from school today."


"No, he was sick."

"Sick?" Rose skirted around Derek. Up close to Daniel she could see what the shadows had been hiding. High color on his cheeks, glassy eyes and a nose that would make Rudolph jealous. "Why wasn't I called?" she demanded, turning her frustration back on Derek.

"He," Derek jerked a finger at Daniel, "told them you were unavailable."

Rose turned her attention back to Daniel. "Can he speak for himself?"

Daniel's hands crept up his arms and he rubbed his biceps, refusing to meet her eyes. "The coach sent me to the nurse." He sneezed twice and hugged himself a little harder.

"I told you to stay home."

"I felt fine—"

"You didn't."

Daniel closed his eyes and spoke slowly, as if he was explaining something beyond her comprehension. "I felt fine until after lunch. It was only another three periods. I thought I could make it." Daniel coughed then cleared his throat. "Coach Dawson had other ideas. Sent me to the nurse who wanted to call home." He shrugged, meeting her eyes, begging her forgiveness. "You weren't home. Dad's not—"

"I went," Derek jumped in. "Picked him up. Plied him with Tylenol. Sent him to bed."

"Thank you kindly," Rose said to Derek, "but Daniel, you should've had the school call me. You're resourceful, you—"

"Sorry," Daniel apologized. "But I knew you were with Dad. He needed you more than I did."

Rose hadn't meant for her words to bite as much as they had. She hadn't meant to accuse Daniel of doing the wrong thing and guilt swept over her. She floundered, trying to find her grandma hat to put back on her head. "Go back to bed, mhuirnin. I'll be in soon."

Slowly, Daniel nodded and stepped forward to kiss her, but Rose couldn't. She took two steps back and placed a hand on the center of Daniel's chest.

Daniel couldn't see beyond his own needs.

"Let's just keep your germs contained, okay? Last thing your dad needs is whatever you have."

"Sure. Got it. Stupid me."


Derek placed the last bag on the kitchen table and rooted around, pulling out a container of milk.

"Go home, Derek."

Derek opened the fridge, put the milk inside, then turned to her. "Go talk to your grandson, Rose."

"Go home." She wanted her house back, her life back, and this soldier from the future back where he belonged, across the street. Damn it, she wanted a shower.


"Thank you for what you did today, Derek."

"Daniel's fourteen. He's sick. His dad's been injured—"

Rose knew what was coming. "His father is my son and at this point, his needs take priority. Daniel will just have to understand that."


"Take the Tylenol, Daniel." Rose just wanted to go to bed. She didn't want to battle with Daniel. This was the third time she'd tried to get him up to take the fever reducer. Once after Derek had left, again after her shower, and now, just before she was getting ready to fall into bed.

She slammed the water down onto the night stand and shoved the pills into the pocket of her robe. "I need you to wake up." She needed him to get up, take the pills so she could get a good night's rest. Rose did not need this nor did she have the time for him to need her now.

Success. Daniel turned to the sound of her voice and slowly opened his eyes. "Where's Dad?"

Christ. Rose lowered her butt to the edge of the bed and swept the back of her hand across Daniel's cheek. Feverish. "You need to take some Tylenol."


It was sleep-induced confusion, nothing more, because she didn't have the strength for it to be anything more. "Your dad's sleeping. Full of Janet's good drugs. Just like you should be."

He flopped onto his back and Rose could see exactly when the synapses began to fire. "Grandma?"


"My head hurts."

Great. Wonderful. Fantastic. "Take the Tylenol. It'll help with the headache." She was being bitchy. She knew she was, but she was also banking on Daniel being so sleep addled that he'd never remember this conversation or her attitude at all.


What a difference a few hours of sleep made. She hadn't slept late and she hadn't slept long, but she'd been horizontal in her own bed. Daniel was still sleeping, and kept on sleeping even after she smoothed back his hair from his sweaty forehead.

No fever.

She was coherent and once again had joined the human race.

According to the nurse at the SGC, Jack had slept through the night.

Life was good.


Life sucked. Standing under the warm shower, Daniel wondered how many more times he could get kicked in the head before he just gave up and stayed down. It was scary when the only thing he had to look forward to was Judgment Day and the promise of importance that Derek had mentioned.

Selfish much?

The depression and self pity didn't leave him and Daniel wore it like a suit of armor.

"Hi, mhuirnin." His grandmother greeted him with a huge smile but her warmth didn't even put a chink in his armor. "Feeling better?"

Daniel wasn't exactly sure if he should consider that a question or a statement. Was she asking? If she was asking, the answer would be 'shit, no' and if she was telling Daniel that he was feeling better, then he didn't have a chance in hell of staying home. Internal assessment revealed an entire litany of aches and pains, topped off with the start of a headache, scratchy throat and his chest feeling like a herd of elephants had stopped by for a visit. He was going to be honest with her, truly he was, but why? His grandmother hadn't take a step towards him, hadn't really even looked at him beyond the 'hi, hello, howdy'. What was the use? She was worried about germs, his father and... and basically that was all she had room for. "I'm fine."

"Good." She spilled the rest of the tea she was drinking down the sink then rinsed out the cup. "Though I still don't think it's a good idea for you to go see your dad."

Dad. Dad. He should ask how he's doing, because that was expected. He moved past the hurt in his chest at the thought of his father's betrayal. "How's he doing?"

Now, her face was full of concern. "I'm hoping that a good night's rest helped." His grandmother's eyes filled with tears, hurriedly she swiped them away. "He's in so much pain, and Janet's afraid to give him more painkillers, because it'll mask..."

Blah. Blah. Blah. Daniel heard none of it. What about me? No one cared. No one understood. Armor or not, his heart hardened against the stranger his grandmother was shedding tears over. None of this mattered, not to him. Not anymore.


"Mom?" Cassie blocked her mother's exit from the kitchen.


Cassie didn't miss the quick glance at her watch, trying to ascertain how much time her mom had for her daughter's crisis.

"Talk quickly, better yet, follow me."

Bathroom first, Cassie just wanted to get the first sentence in before her mother stuck the toothbrush in her mouth.

"It's Daniel."


Too late. "Maybe not really Daniel. Maybe Uncle Jack."

Her mother caught her gaze in the mirror and Cassie got the hint. Wait a minute.

Brush. Rinse. Spit. Rinse again. Wipe her mouth on the hand towel, then curse, swiping away the toothpaste on her shirt. "Want to run that by me again?"

"Uncle Jack said terrible things to Daniel. Horrible things."

"I know he did, honey, but he was in a lot of pain. And the medication—"

"They were hurtful words, Mom." Cassie drew a deep breath. "And if it were you saying just half of those things to me—"

"I never—"

"Uncle Jack did." Damn, she wanted her mother to see this. Pay attention. Listen.

"Look, I'm running late."

Cassie hated that dismissal smile.

"Let's discuss this when we have more time."

We? Cassie had lots of time to discuss this. It was her mother who didn't. "Fine."

"Lose the attitude, missy."

Cassie remained silent, she hated when she had to play the adult.


"Call your dad when you get home."

Been there. Done that. Daniel had heard that request before and his grandmother got the same response, a quick head nod.

She grabbed her purse and keys and Daniel watched as she went to kiss him, then stopped.

"Germs," he said.

For a second, his grandmother appeared to sit on the fence, germs be damned, but it passed as quickly as it had come. "I'm sorry, Daniel, but you understand."

"Yeah, I do." He did. It was all about his father. Gotcha.

"Lock the door when you leave—"

Confused, Daniel allowed his backpack to slip off his shoulder and thud to the floor. "You're not going to drive me?"

His grandmother peered at him over her glasses. "I'm sure Sarah or Derek will give you a lift. I need to head out, I don't want to get stuck in traffic." She leaned over, pulled back the curtain then let it drop, smoothing out the creases. "Their truck is still in the driveway." She kissed the tip of her fingers, then waved at him. "Don't forget to lock up."

"I won't."

Daniel stood in the doorway, jacket on, backpack slung over his back, waving at his grandmother. He watched her pull out of the driveway, then leaned forward, observing until she was out of sight and he still, for good measure, counted to fifty before going back into the house, closing the door and doing what he promised he would do. He locked up.


It was tempting, so god damned temping. Tempting enough that Daniel actually had his hand on the childproof lid of the pain pills before changing his mind and exchanging them for the Tylenol.

Three Tylenol and half a bottle of Snapple later, Daniel toed off his sneakers and crawled back into bed, hoodie and all.

"Damn." Annoyed at his own forgetfulness, Daniel threw back the covers, grabbed the strap of his backpack and dragged it to the side of the bed. With a blindness based on familiarity, Daniel stuck his hand into his backpack and found his cell phone nestled in the corner under his sketch pad. With a flick, he changed from ring to vibrate, then laid down again, clutching his phone in the hand he tucked under his pillow. Just in case someone cared enough to call.


"Let me go see if Daniel..." John tossed his backpack into the truck and closed the door.

His mother reached out, grabbed his arm and pointed to Rose's empty driveway. "All gone. I'm sure Rose drove him already."

"Yup," Derek said, walking around the two of them and opening the driver's side door, much to his mother's annoyance. "Daniel is going to be on time, while you and the tin girl are going to end up being late."

"Radar," his mother said with a condescending pat to his cheek.


"Let's go." She pushed him in the direction of the Nitro. "Get in." She checked her watch. "Nine minutes before first bell, plenty of time."


"Earth to Baum. Earth to Baum." Corey had to kick the back of John's chair for him to even connect that he was talking to him.

"What?" he whispered out of the corner of his mouth, not taking the chance to draw the teacher's wrath down on him.

"Where's Daniel?"

John shrugged, then hoped that would be enough for Corey. He prayed that would be enough to shut Corey up.

"Because of his dad, is he staying at his grandma's?"

So much for shutting Corey up. John nodded, keeping his eyes front and center.

Corey poked him in the back, and John turned, angry enough to forget the teacher and any repercussions he might inflict. "Stop it," John hissed, his two words echoing loudly in the quiet of the classroom.

Cameron's attention was diverted from the notes on the board to John's distress. "John asked you to stop."

Corey was playing with fire, waving his pencil at Cameron. "Only a pencil. See?"

Cameron plucked the pencil from Corey's grip, broke it in half and offered both halves to John. "Do you want to hold these?"

John shook his head, then turned back around, slinking down in his chair, trying to hide from the teacher's scrutiny.

"Anyone care to explain?"

"Corey was playing with his pencil," Cameron offered up both halves, "and it broke."

"How did you come to be in possession of both halves, Ms. Baum?"

'Don't be a freak. Please', John's internal voice begged. 'Please. Please. Please'.

"I was trying to help Corey."

John exhaled slowly.

The teacher put out his hand, palm up and waggled his fingers. "Can I have the pencil, Ms. Baum?"

"What am I going to take notes with?" Corey complained.

"You should've thought of that before you began poking John in the back," Cameron answered smugly.

There went John's hope of slipping under the radar today.


"Looks like you and I are going to be spending the afternoon together." Corey bumped shoulders with Cameron, waving his detention slip under her nose. If John hadn't been so furious, the fact that Corey actually bounced off his tin sister's immovable weight would've been funny. Hysterical, maybe. But not at this moment. The three of them sported matching detention slips, though John was pretty damn sure that of the three, only his mother was going to rip him a new one.

"Thanks a lot, Middleton." John stomped through the door of his next class, brushing close enough that Corey had to step back.

Corey was on his heels and dropped his backpack on the seat of John's desk. "Hey, give it a break, Baum. I just asked a question, you chose to ignore me."

John had one hand on the handle of Corey's backpack, ready to fling it off and quite possibly through the windows of the classroom.

"Don't be a freak, John." Cameron forcibly removed John's hand, picked up Corey's backpack and shoved it at his midsection.

Corey back pedaled from the force, his detention slip fluttering to the ground.

"Sit," she ordered John, then picked up the detention slip and put it on Corey's desk. John stood there, watching as Cameron pulled a pencil from the side pocket of her backpack and placed it on the slip, holding it in place. "For you, Corey." Her voice held a seductive quality and her finger lovingly traced the length of the pencil. Corey blushed bright red and dropped down into his seat, his backpack still clutched to his chest.

Cameron winked at John.

John glared at Cameron and began to make an origami crane from his own detention slip.


John pointedly ignored Corey during lunch. Corey pointedly ignored everyone but Cameron.

Cassie and Dria arrived at their table at the same time. Cassie had a tray, Dria had nothing but her cell phone, which she tossed onto the table with disgust before sitting.

"Hate that stupid thing."

John tore himself away from his own pity party to look up.

Dria was close to tears. Watery eyes. Red nose.

"You're crying over your phone? Ow." John rubbed the spot on his arm that Cassie had just smacked. "Watcha do that for?"

"Because it's not just a phone."

John picked up the cell. "It looks like a phone."

Dria snatched it from his grip and slammed it onto the table with enough force to draw Corey's attention away Cameron. "What gives, Dria?"

"Her cell phone's not working." Cassie picked it up. "No bars. No reception. No nothing."

"I can't call Daniel."

John had tried earlier. He'd put two and two together when Daniel hadn't shown up for class and he'd called, woken Daniel up, who had pissily informed him that he was sick and promptly hung up. "He's sick."

"I figured that out," Dria said, with a haughty toss of her head.

What the hell was with everyone's attitude today? "I spoke to him." John lifted his ass, rooted around in his pocket and handed Dria his cell. Come rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor dead of night, one thing John's mother always made sure of, was that their cell phones and cell phone service were of the highest quality. "Call him."

Dria's face lit up and John tried to give her a confident smile, hoping she had better luck communicating with Daniel than he had.

"I'll be right back," Dria said, glowing, holding up the phone like a prized possession.

"Tell him I said hi," Corey yelled as Dria ran from the table.


John shook away Cassie's offer of a pretzel.

"What's your problem?" Cassie demanded.


"You? What's your problem?"

"John hasn't been sleeping well," Cameron answered for him, totally ignoring his angry eyes.

Cassie made a mothering, tsking sound, and laid her hand on the nape of his neck, which he shrugged off. "Poor baby."

"Shut up, Cameron." John shoved this uneaten sandwich into his brown paper bag.

"Even though she's your sister, Baum, there's no reason to talk to her like that."

John wished he could wipe that smug expression off Corey's face. Anger was bubbling way too close to the surface and he counted to ten, stood, kissed the top of Cassie's head, put his paper bag on Cassie's tray then put the detention slip slash origami crane on the table between Cameron and Corey. "Keep yourself busy."

"Thank you," Cameron said, pulling the tail then watching the crane's neck bob.

John made it as far as the double doors before Cassie caught up to him and grabbed his hand.

"I don't believe Cameron." She pulled on his hand, tugging him to her side.

"You don't?"

"Nope. You're much too crabby for it to be just not sleeping."

He lied easily. "Sorry to disappoint you, it's just the need for a good night's sleep." John sealed his fib with a kiss.

Cassie creeped him out. She didn't believe it. He knew that expression. Most of the woman in his life seemed to have a patent on it, especially when it concerned him. He gathered Cassie in a one armed hug, separating quickly when he saw Cameron get up with Corey at her heels.

"I need to find Dria. I only have twelve hundred minutes on my cell plan and I certainly don't want to have to explain it to my mother why all my minutes were used in one call to Daniel."


John stood in the gym locker room, staring into the depths of his open locker. God, he didn't want to be here. He wanted to be... He had not a clue where he wanted to be.

"Think you forgot something." Corey placed the origami crane on the shelf in the locker. "Look, John, I'm really sorry."

John grabbed the crane, rolled it in a ball, then tossed it into the corner garbage can. Without a word to Corey, he slammed his locker shut and left through the back exit.


'Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house I go'. Not that he had a grandmother or a grandmother's house to go to, but he was obviously screwed up enough that those words were on a replay loop imbedded deep in his brain.

John was counting on Corey's fear of the coach weighing more heavily than his need or concern to rat out his cutting to Cameron. Or Cassie. That being the case, John had the forty five minute length of the gym period as a head start. After that, another five minutes before Cameron made the connection and left school to hunt him down.

Crossing the street, a blaring horn and a curse shouted though an opened window smacked him into the present and John jumped backwards. Damn. Taking a deep breath, this time he glanced both ways before walking across the street. His mother would kill him if he got hit by a car. Talk about anti-climatic, being taken down by a Dodge and not a terminator. John shrugged, metal was metal, didn't make a difference who was behind the wheel.


He knocked. He rang the bell, then knocked again. Okay. That didn't seem to be working. John dug out his cell phone and called Daniel's, growling in frustration when the call went to voice mail not once but all three times.

"Damn you, Jackson." John paced Rose's porch. He could break in. He'd done it on a number of occasions, but John knew her house was alarmed to the hilt and the last thing he should be adding to his list of things his mother was going to murder him for today was breaking and entering.

Time was ticking. John knew Rose's house almost as well as he knew his own and he began a slow perimeter check, chuckling evilly at the sight of Daniel's opened window. Window opened as wide as it was meant the alarm wasn't engaged.

John opened the window a tad wider, slipped his backpack through the opening and lowered it gently inside the room. He followed, wiggling his way in, trying and succeeding, based on the fact that the lump in the bed didn't even move, to maintain silence.

"Figured you wanted some company." John poked what he assumed was a shoulder.

No response.

"Okay, I'll admit, I would like some company as well." John stared down at the bed. "I'll be in the kitchen. Are there cookies? Apple pie?" John paused. "It's Rose's house, I'm sure there's something in the kitchen. I'll be right back, okay?"

John turned suddenly, tripped over a book on the floor and painfully slammed his shoulder on the edge of the opened bedroom door. "Crap." He rubbed the heel of his palm against the ache, mumbling under his breath about books not being good for one's health.

Heading towards the kitchen, ten steps into the hallway, John heard a noise. He came up short, listened and was slowly turning when a force slammed into his side. Talk about being caught with his pants down, totally unprepared - and this over and above detention, cutting, breaking and entering, and almost getting hit by a car, was going to be the reason his mother was going to kill him - for the ambush.

Arms flaying, John tried to break his fall. His elbow smashed into something and numerous items hit the ground and shattered. Reflectively, John brought his knee up, felt the short victory of a connective grunt before his head hit the floor and darkness descended.


"Fuck." Daniel fell back onto his ass. "John?" He prodded the prone body with his foot.

Under the blankets, Daniel had feigned sleep, waiting until the klutzy robber was heading out of his room before making his move. Then he'd slowly extracted his earbuds from his ears, slid out of bed and had tackled him. Except it had been John. He'd made his move against John. Knocking him out. Cold.

On his hands and knees, Daniel carefully moved forward, gingerly brushing aside glass slivers scattered around John's head. He picked a few slivers from John's hair, cursing when he pricked himself. Daniel stuck his bloody finger into his mouth and stared at John.

"We're tho fucketh." His words were garbled by his finger.

John groaned.

Daniel sneezed, then wiped the finger on his pants. "Took the words right out of my mouth."

John opened one eye, closed it again, then opened both, his eyes crossing in the middle.

"Sorry." He was. Truly he was. "I thought you—"

"What hit me?" Slowly John brought his hand up to his head.

"Remember that table in the hallway—"

"Table. Hallway."

"I'm going to call Janet." Daniel began to pull himself to a standing position, using the wall.

"No!" John grimaced as he levered himself onto his elbows. "I'm fine."

"That's my line and no, you're not. You took out the knick knacks, your head hit the wall, the floor—"

"Who hit me?"

Daniel stared at the wall above John's head.

"You hit me, Jackson?"

"Daniel," he replied with an indignant snorty sneeze.

"Bless you." With a grimace, John sat up, then scooted backwards, leaning against the wall. "How are you feeling?"

Daniel made a face, then touched his own left cheekbone and temple in response. "Your mother is going to kill me."

"What?" John mimicked Daniel's actions. "Ow. Crap. You did this?"

"I didn't punch you, if that's what you mean. I thought you were a burglar..." Daniel's voice trailed off into nothingness.

"You didn't answer your phone. So I snuck in through your window."

Daniel ignored his statement. "Your mom's so gonna kill me."

"You'll have to get in line behind me."

Daniel raised his eyebrows? "Didn't have a good day?"

John snorted. "Ow. Crap," he said with a smile. "Good day? How do you rate a day when getting knocked out by your best friend in the hallway of his grandma's house is the highlight?"

"That bad?"

"Well, it was probably one step below getting chased by a terminator," John said, fingering the lump on his head. "One very small step."


Daniel realized that somewhere between walking from the hallway to the chair in the living room, John stopped looking on the bright side. There was a bag of peas pressed up against the side of his face.

"No, you're not."

They'd been having this discussion for the past few minutes. "I'm calling Janet." Daniel was literally curled up on the loveseat opposite the couch, wrapped up in the afghan, threatening John with his cell phone. "You were knocked unconscious."

"Whose fault is that?" He glared at Daniel, lowered the bag of frozen veggies and began to toss it from side to side.

"Hey, you came in through my bedroom window. That's breaking—"

John tossed the frozen food onto the table. "I didn't break anything." He glanced in the direction of the shattered figurines still scattered across the floor. "I didn't break anything trying to get into the house," he said, clarifying his statement.

"Fine." Angrily, Daniel tossed the cell phone onto the table then pulled the blanket up, hunkering down under the cover. "I feel like crap."

"Maybe I should call Janet for you." John's smile was evil.

The doorbell rang, cutting off whatever else Daniel was going to say.

"It's your house, aren't you going to answer it?"

"No," Daniel snarled, draping the afghan cape-like over his shoulders as he rose to answer the door. "I thought I'd wait for them to come in through my opened bedroom window."


"Cameron's here."

"I can see," John groused, pointing to the pink detention slip she had clutched in her right hand.

Daniel skirted about her when she zoomed in for a closer inspection of John, who flinched at her touch.

"John crept in through my bedroom window."

"I don't understand." Cameron cocked her head at Daniel.

He took a deep breath and tried again. "John snuck into my bedroom."

"Daniel wouldn't open the door." John scooped up the frozen veggies off the table and stuck it back on his face.

"I was sleeping." Daniel tucked his feet under the afghan.

You didn't answer your phone, either."

"This isn't helping me understand."

"Me either," John agreed, slinking lower into the chair.

As sick as he was, as sick as he felt, Daniel didn't miss the slow, defeated way John closed his eyes and tentatively rested his head against the back of the couch. Daniel put his finger to his lips, shushing Cameron.

Silently, Cameron slid her hand up John's neck.

"Go away." John pushed her hand off his neck.

"Your blood pressure is elevated."

"You're hovering. Breathing down my neck. Stressing me out." He pointed at Daniel. "Go check out Jackson. He'll keep you entertained. He's sick. Go feel him up for a while."

"Leave me out of this," Daniel insisted, tossing one of his grandmother's hand-stitched pillows at John.

John caught the pillow and covered his face with it, barely offering a struggle when Cameron grabbed the corner of the pillow and flung it like a Frisbee back to Daniel, who watched it bounce off his blanket-covered body and fall to the floor.

"You have a contusion." Cameron's finger traced an impressive, burgeoning, very colourful bruise spreading down the side of John's face.

"Put the vegetables back on," Daniel ordered.

John prodded the bag with his foot then looked at his sock. "They've melted already."

"You have a headache," Cameron said, tilting her head towards John. "Your forehead is—"

"Yeah, I have a headache." John smoothed out the furrows Cameron was referring to before sliding sideways and stretching out the length of the couch, rested his head on the bolster. He closed his eyes. "Falling and hitting one's head on the floor will do that."

"Becoming unconscious and unresponsive will do that also."

"Tattletale." John gave Daniel the familiar one finger salute.

Cameron stood over John, walking the length of the couch, pacing, and Daniel was surprised when John didn't even respond to her hovering or move a muscle when she gently pushed aside a lock of hair to study the bruise. "Sarah isn't going to be happy."


That was the understatement of the year. Daniel was making himself as small as possible, becoming one with the loveseat and hopefully as far from Sarah's peripheral vision as possible.

Stoically, John sat there, hands folded in his lap, eyes everywhere but on his mother.

"What part of remaining under the radar don't you understand?" Sarah picked up the now defrosted bag of veggies and tossed them back and forth as she walked. "Detention..."

John mumbled something too low for anyone to hear.

"I'm sorry." Sarah tapped her ear. "I didn't hear you."

"Corey poked John with a pencil. I broke it."

Eyebrows raised, Sarah turned to face Cameron. "You broke what?"

"The pencil."


"Because Corey was poking John with it."

"He was? And what did John do?"

"I didn't do anything, Mom."

"You made an origami crane from the detention slip," Cameron replied helpfully.

John glared at Cameron.

Sarah glared at John. "You did?"

"I did. The slip eventually landed in the garbage."

Sarah waved away the offensive thought. "Of course it did."

"John broke into Daniel's house."

With a hand on either side of John, Sarah leaned into his personal space, going nose to nose. "Are you stupid? Were you aiming to get your picture on the post office wall?"

Shit. Daniel grabbed Cameron's hand and slapped it against his neck. Diversion. If he couldn't throw poor John a life preserver, the least he could do was provide some type of distraction.

"Daniel's body temperature is elevated." Cameron's monotone, clear cut, no nonsense voice penetrated Sarah's anger and she stopped mid-rant and turned towards Cameron.

Daniel jumped when Sarah slapped her hand to his forehead. He would never again comment about anyone's bedside manner.

"You're sick." Her hands slipped to the back of his neck, then around to his chin. She grabbed it and forced his gaze to meet hers. "You have fuckin' horrible timing, Daniel."

The manner in which the sentiment was delivered was in direct contradiction to the harshness of the words. Daniel was taken aback by the gentleness of Sarah's tone and the softness that settled on her face. She wore the tiniest of smirks while her hand moved to cup his cheek. A motherly concern.

It definitely felt weird.

"How about I get you some Tylenol and a cup of tea?"

Weird, but damn nice.


John stood on Rose's porch, the brightness of the afternoon sun momentarily blinding him and he shielded his eyes, bending his head against the offensive light.

Cameron tugged on his arm. "I have to take you home."

John pushed at her hand and perfected his Popeye expression while glaring at her. "I know the way. I don't need you."

"You're angry."

John took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "I'm not."

She blinked at him.

"Honest. I'm. Not."

"I don't think you should play poker."

John's head hurt too much to even follow her train of thought. "Whatever," he said, stepping off the porch, making his way towards the street.

In two strides, Cameron was by his side. "I need to see you home."

Arguing wasn't worth it. Sarcasm was lost. Cameron, at this moment, was just too much effort, but he saw red when she again made a grab at his arm.

"I'm a big boy." He shrugged off her touch until he realized her motive. She didn't want to guide him, Cameron was tugging his backpack. Lowering his shoulder, he gave her access.

"I'm lightening your load." With little effort, she swung it over her shoulder to join her own. "You're injured."

"No, not injured." Tentatively, John touched his bruise. "I'm just stupid." He glanced back towards Rose's house. Back to the place where his mother was fussing over Daniel. "I'm really stupid," he said with disgust.


John stood Cameron-like, staring through the window at the house across the street.

"You've been standing there for twenty minutes and forty-five seconds... six... seven..."

"Stop," John ordered. "You made your point."

"What's your point?" Cameron positioned herself on John's left, mimicking his stance.

"Point?" Damn, he needed a bottle of Tylenol.

"Why are you staring at Rose's house?"

John kept his eyes trained, front and center. "Why are you?" he asked without even turning towards her.

"It's part of my job description."

"Job description? That's an interesting way to put things." John's snort of laughter sent daggers through his brain. "Ow."


The headache finally drove John away from the window. Three Tylenol and a mouthful of Snapple later, John slumped against the kitchen counter. Normalcy wasn't all it was cut out to be and suddenly their old life in California held much more appeal.

At least then, their goal - his - his mother's - Derek's - had been to stop Judgment Day. John rubbed the cool bottle of Snapple across his head. Now? Judgment Day had become entrenched in the SGC, complete with Goa'uld and Super Soldiers. And his team - his family - was losing focus and John felt he was getting lost. Was already lost.

What a mess - his grades, cutting, detention, missed detention. His mother was going to kill him. With a self-deprecating snort, a light bulb went off. Yeah, she was going to kill him, but at least she was going to notice him while she committed murder. Good or bad, her attention wouldn't be so self-directed and maybe she'd remember that once upon a time, they'd fought a common battle.

He recapped the Snapple, put it back in the fridge then trudged into the living room. "I'm going upstairs."

For a moment, Cameron turned her attention from the window. "Did you take Tylenol for your headache?"

And there was John's life in a nutshell; his self-proclaimed protector cared more than his mother. "Yeah, I did."

"Do you feel better?" From across the room she assessed him. "Go lie down."

John tiredly rubbed his eyes, the weight of the day suffocating. "I have homework."

"Do you want me to do it for you?"

Tempting. So damned tempting. He wanted to say yes in the worst way. "No, but thanks for the offer."

"In case you change your mind, I'm here."

"Yeah, thanks for that also." He whispered the words, but she heard. John knew she'd heard, and Cameron's answer was in her hesitation before turning back to the window.


Ten minutes in, John's intentions were good. Books opened. Laptop on. Pencil in his hand. But the only thing he managed to focus on was his clear view of Rose's house from his bedroom window.

It was a mental struggle to return his attention back to homework, and he'd actually answered two questions of Global History when his cell phone rang. Cassie.

"Hi." John slammed his book shut, then held the phone away from his ear when Cassie began to yell.

"I was friggin' worried. Where the hell were you?"

John could hear the tears in her voice. "I'm sorry."

"You should be. I couldn't call, Dria's phone didn't work, mine needed to be charged so I had to wait until I got home, and of course—."

"I'm sorry," John repeated softly. "Really."

"John? Are you okay?"

He had always strived for independence, fought with his mother over his right to be just like every other teenager and now that she awarded him what he wanted, why the hell did he feel so bereft and adrift?


"I'm fine. Just not a great day." He slid the pencil out from where it had been holding his place and began to doodle on his homework.

"I know," she soothed, old before her time. "Tomorrow will be better."

"I wouldn't count on it." He'd fucked up too much today and he was pretty damn sure the principal wasn't going to grant him immunity because he was John Connor, humanity's self-proclaimed savior. Nope, he wasn't walking away from this one unscathed. "Look," he said, not even waiting for Cassie to draw a breath and protest. "I gotta go."


John hung up the cell phone, tossed it onto his desk then stared at it, daring it to ring. When it didn't, he wasn't too sure if he was relieved or disappointed.


"I wouldn't be calling you, Rose, if I didn't think it was important." Sarah paced the kitchen, pissed that this conversation had been going around in circles for the past fifteen minutes and annoyed that the woman was proving more stubborn that usual.

"Can't you stay with him a while longer?"

Sarah sank into the nearest kitchen chair. She felt horrible about this and was feeling worse by the moment. Stubborn on not, this was a woman who'd come to their aid more times than Sarah cared to admit, but she just couldn't, not now, not under these circumstance. "Daniel's sick." It was time to get down and dirty. "He's asking for you."

"Please, Sarah—"

She drew a deep breath. "No." It was killing her to listen to this proud woman beg.


"I'm truly sorry, Rose, but no."

Rose changed tactics, coming in for the kill. "I seem to recall John staying at my house on more than one occasion when he was under the weather."

Sarah cringed at the truth. Guilt was a great motivator. But not here. Not now. "I know you have, which is why this is so hard."

"Obviously not hard enough."


Daniel was curled on his side, propped up on a mountain of pillows. Eyes closed, snoring, the blush of fever coloring his cheeks. Sarah began to straighten up the nightstand, making order out of the disarray of medical paraphernalia. She wrote down when his last dose of Tylenol had been and noted his fever at the time.

"Sarah?" He coughed, cleared his throat and tried again, her name stronger the second time around.

Oh, crap. "Hey, sweetie." She sat on the edge of the bed, tucking a loose strand of hair behind his ear. He was still so damned hot. "How about some Motrin?"

"Didn't you just give me some?" He looked up at her, glassy-eyed.

"It was Tylenol, and that was over an hour ago."

"Oh." He pulled his arm out from under the covers and peered at his watch. "You don't have to stay with me."

"Don't worry about it." She tried smiling convincingly. "Anyway, your grandmother's on her way home."

"Grandma's coming home early? Is my dad okay?" His face suddenly lost the little bit of color he had.

"I'm sure he's fine. She's a little worried about you, is all," Sarah said quickly. She stood and took a step back from the bed. "I'll be right back with the Motrin."

Two minutes later, armed with pills and the last of Daniel's favorite drinks, she leaned against the bureau and watched as Daniel sat up and gulped down a Snapple like he'd not had anything to drink for days. He stared at the bottle forlornly once he'd emptied it.

"Sorry." She took the empty bottle from him. "That was the last one. I can get you some water."

Daniel shuddered suddenly. He collapsed back onto the pillows, shivering so harshly that he had trouble pulling the blankets up.

"Where does Rose keep the extra blankets?" she asked as she helped spread the blankets over his shuddering body.

"Linen closet," Daniel said through chattering teeth. "In the hall."

"I'll be right back." She gave his shoulder a gentle pat through the blankets and hurried to the closet. She pulled out two fleece blankets and spread them over Daniel, then watched helplessly as he continued to tremble.

It took a good twenty minutes before the Motrin kicked in. The shivering ended just as Daniel, now sporting a fine sheen of sweat on his body, shoved the blankets aside. She was folding the two she'd borrowed when she heard the front door open.

"Your grandmother's here," she announced as she put the blankets close by on an empty chair.

Daniel simply nodded, looking at her through heavy-lidded eyes.

"I'll just go and..." She pointed towards the door and had only taken two steps away from the bed when Rose stormed in.

Lips tightly pressed together, the woman's expression and body language announced to all and sundry that she wasn't happy. A quick glance towards Daniel showed that he'd caught on to his grandmother's mood. He lowered his eyes as he shifted restlessly on the bed.

"I just gave him some Motrin," Sarah started, then paused when Rose seemed to truly get a good look at Daniel. "Let me just write down the time." She added the notation to the piece of paper by Daniel's bed, then gave Rose a quick smile. "I should go."

"Thank you," Rose said stiffly. Sarah nodded, unsure if Rose was thanking her for giving Daniel the medication or for having called her home.

She left quickly, hating the awkwardness she'd created. But damn it, the boy was sick and shouldn't have to deal with being sick on his own.

"Daniel, what happened to my Hummels? The ones on the table..." Rose was saying as Sarah closed the door behind her. Sarah winced; she'd seen the broken bits of porcelain in the garbage and had hoped that they weren't the real thing.

Speaking of boys, she had her own teenager to take care of; skipping detention and cutting classes, breaking and entering and getting caught. She strode across the street, her worry over Daniel now surpassed by her anger at her son.

She slammed her front door shut and listened a moment. There was no sound from either the kitchen, living room or den. Would it have killed John to start supper for once?

Running up the stairs, she turned and entered his bedroom, not bothering to knock. John had been half-lying on his bed, a textbook on his lap, but his eyes were closed. He startled when she strode in, obviously caught on the cusp of sleep. The tin miss was sitting on a chair next to the window, her attention on Sarah rather than on doing a visual assessment of the street outside.

He winced in obvious pain, and concern fought to overshadow her anger. His temple and cheekbone were already showing signs of bruising and swelling.

"How about we start with you telling me why you broke into Rose's house?" She stood there, arms crossed, forcing herself to remain cool and distant as John struggled to sit.

"I was worried about Daniel," he said defiantly.

"Worried enough that you cut classes and a detention? What the hell is going on with you, John? How many times have I told you to stay out of trouble—"

"I did stay out of trouble. I didn't do anything, Mom. I ended up getting a detention slip because Cameron was flirting with Corey and I got pulled into their mess. It wasn't my fault. And why are you yelling at me? She got a detention slip, too."

Angrily, Sarah turned to Cameron. "Is that true? Did you cut out on detention also?"

"I had to look for John."

"And you had to look for Daniel," she spat at her son.

"What difference does it make?" John asked, his voice suddenly sounding weary as he hung his head.

"You two are going to accept whatever punishment the school dishes out, without one word of complaint." She took a step to the side, observing her son as she spoke. "And there's the small matter of breaking and entering—"

"Daniel thought John was a burglar." Cameron turned to stare out the window again.

"I can see how he made that mistake," Sarah replied sarcastically.

"He hit John—"

"And ended up breaking—"

"And knocked him unconscious," Cameron finished.

What she'd been about to say about John destroying Rose's small fortune of collectibles fled her mind when she saw the look John flashed Cameron, begging her, a second too late, to be quiet.

Sarah leaned forward. "You were knocked out?"

"Just for a few seconds."

Sarah looked at John, really looked at him and saw the pain behind his eyes, the tightness around his forehead that usually bespoke a headache, and the way he stiffly held his head. She sat on the bed next to him and gently took his chin between her fingers, holding him steady as she reassessed his injury.

"I'm fine," he mumbled, eyes downcast.

"Did you take something for your headache?" She released his chin and watched him carefully.



"It's not really helping. And no," he said quickly with a hand raised in her direction before she could speak, "I'm not seeing double and I haven't thrown up."

"Lie down. Try to sleep. I'll come get you when supper's ready."

"I'm not hungry." John was already sliding back onto the bed, but paused when Sarah raised an eyebrow. "But I guess I might be a little later," he amended, his voice still a tad belligerent.


Rose leaned wearily against the doorjamb, watching Daniel as he tossed and turned restlessly in his sleep. She felt torn in two; part of her wanted to be here with Daniel, part of her wanted to be back at the SGC's infirmary to be with her son despite Jack's difficulty in coping with his injuries.

Her son's bad temper she could deal with; even she could see how much pain he was in when his medication began to wear off. And he was scared. Terrified. He would never admit it but she could see it in his eyes.

She needed to be there with him; to help him through each step of recovery. And recover he would; Daniel had been the one who'd had faith in him, now it was up to Rose to carry the flag onwards.

So why did Daniel have to get sick now? She couldn't help but feel irritation when what she should be feeling was concern. She sighed as she surveyed Daniel's bedroom. She slowly trudged around the room, picking up Daniel's discarded clothing, deciding she may as well do a load of laundry now since Daniel obviously hadn't bothered to. When that was done, she tackled the kitchen. With each swipe of the dishcloth over the table and countertop, her anger mounted.

When she opened the refrigerator door to seek out supper, she was assailed with the pungent odor of rotting food. A quick peek in containers showed the remnants of leftovers dating back to the previous week.

She opened the garbage can to toss out the food, and froze when she spotted her missing figurines.

Rose pulled the remnants of her cherished collectibles and with great care, lined up the broken pieces until all five Hummels and two Lladros sat on the counter in all their spoiled beauty. She'd had these for ages; one of them had been a Christmas gift in Charlie's name. Three of them had been given to her by her late husband.

She blinked back tears as she traced a finger over the exquisite face of a smiling child, the only recognizable piece from a jumble of broken porcelain. "Damn it, Daniel." She choked on the words, seeing what her life had become in the pieces before her. Everything was in pieces; her life, her son, her beloved memories.

Unable to hold back the sobs, she swept the ruined mementos into a pile and ruthlessly tossed them back into the garbage. By the time she finished the dishes, her tears had ended but for the first time ever, she truly felt her age.


While John had told his mom earlier that he hadn't thrown up, it hadn't meant that he wasn't feeling nauseated. The last thing he wanted to do was eat, but he made an effort to eat one of the burgers Derek had grilled for them.

"How's Daniel's dad?" John hoped to distract his mother; she was staring at him, making him self-conscious.

"They're still running tests." His mom nudged the open bag of chips closer to his plate.

"So they really don't know yet if he'll walk?"

"No. But part of the problem is that they don't know the full extent of his injuries. Plus the fact that he healed spontaneously. There was definitely damage to his spinal cord. Now, they're not so sure."

"Colonel O'Neill's spine was badly damaged." Cameron sat there, hands folded on her lap, watching them eat.

"Was damaged?" John's mom's voice rose slightly. "You scanned him?"

"No. I looked at his medical charts. Injuries like that don't heal on their own."

"Sam tried to use that alien healing device on him." Cassie had told him all about it, having gotten the story firsthand from both Sam and her mom.

"The Goa'uld healing device isn't very effective. It requires manipulation on a frequency impossible to attain by humans and it's too fragile and couldn't sustain the amount of energy required to fully heal an injury that severe."

"What did you do to him?" John whispered, the pounding in his head suddenly increasing with his growing anxiety.

"You healed him?" Derek's voice was incredulous. "You fucking healed the colonel with a Goa'uld machine?"

"The injuries were too severe. I could only repair his spinal cord."

"Sonovabitch!" John jumped when his mom smacked her palm against the kitchen table. "You used an alien piece of technology on him? Do you have any idea what kind of damage you could have done?"

Cameron tilted her head slightly to the right as she looked at his mom. "I didn't damage him. I healed him." She turned to look at John, then Derek. "Or as much as the alien device allowed me to."

"And you didn't tell anyone?" John sat there, stunned, his mind racing. All he could think of was that Daniel's dad was really going to be all right. He could only hope that this news would help cheer his friend up.

"Should I have?"

"Damned right you should have," his mother spat at Cameron as she got up from the table and strode to the phone. "Do you have any idea how worried Rose and Daniel have been?"

Nobody ate as they listened to his mother recount Cameron's words to Doctor Warner over the phone. Her anger wasn't apparent in her voice except for the tightness of her voice as well the glares she was giving Cameron.

Suddenly John felt exhausted. His headache was wearing him down and he'd be able to deal better with his growing nausea if he didn't have the sights and smells of food to deal with.

With everyone's attention deflected, John grabbed his uneaten burger and slipped it into the garbage. He dumped his plate into the dishwasher and headed for his bedroom just as his mom hung up with the doctor and called Rose.

He grabbed his cell and began dialing Daniel's cell, but disconnected the call before it went through. While he wanted to tell Daniel the news, he figured it wasn't his place to do so.

Suddenly even the thought of doing homework was overwhelming. He cleared his bed of homework paraphernalia, dumped everything on his desk and crawled under the covers.

A cool touch to his cheek woke him up.

"Hey. Do I need to call Janet?" His mom was sitting next to him on the bed, her fingers still pressed against his skin. She wasn't smiling; she looked worried.

"No." John sighed, wishing he had more blankets to ward against the chill he was feeling. "I think I caught what Daniel's got."


Daniel swallowed the last of the Tylenol, leaning against the kitchen counter, staring at his four a.m. reflection in the window as he gulped down the glass of water. When he tossed the empty bottle into the garbage, he spotted the pieces of grandmother's figurines half-buried underneath what looked like days' old Chinese food and half-rotted vegetables.

His face heated up at the remembered look of disappointment she'd given him when he'd tried to explain how he and John had accidentally knocked them over. He'd felt even worse when she'd waved away his offer to buy her more with the money he had saved in the bank; he knew how expensive they were because his dad had shown him once when he'd thought about getting her one for her birthday.

He wondered if he was finally getting over this flu. He felt better, despite not having slept very well and with the lingering touch of fever. He was still shaky, though, and his head felt like it was floating just an inch above his neck.

Maybe he was hungry; he didn't remember eating much of anything in the past twenty-four hours.

A quick look-see in the fridge showed that it was pretty empty, so he settled on a handful of crackers spread liberally with margarine and peanut butter. He ate at the kitchen table, listening to the faint sounds of his grandmother's snores wafting down the hallway.

She hadn't come to check on him once during the night. He'd gotten up himself for a drink and while he knew she was tired, he couldn't cast aside the seeds of loneliness and abandonment his father's words had planted in him.

Morning found him still sitting at the kitchen. His grandmother's cheery greeting grated on his raw nerves and he couldn't help wonder if this was all an act also, and if it always had been an act.

"I got great news last night from Janet." She bustled around the kitchen, making herself a cup of tea and dropping two slices of bread in the toaster.

"I didn't hear the phone."

"Your father's spine is healed." His grandmother bowled right over his words, as if he hadn't spoken. "Janet knew something had changed in your dad's condition but short of calling it a miracle, she just kept running tests. It looks like Cameron managed to cure the actual damage to your dad's spinal cord with that alien healing machine that Sam couldn't get to work."


"Cameron said the damage was too great, that she couldn't do anything else for him but heal his spinal cord before the machine broke down." His grandmother was bustling around the kitchen, taking out the jam and the margarine, pulling out a tea bag from the container in the cupboard, talking so fast and so loud that Daniel was getting tired just watching her. "Your father's going to be all right, Daniel." She finally stopped, giving Daniel a wide, heartfelt smile. "He's going to walk again. I just know it."

Daniel felt a spark of hope and happiness, and then his dad's words, forever burned into his brain, reminded him that he had truly never been wanted. He averted his eyes as his grandmother swept down and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"Hey, no fever. Are you feeling better?"

"Yeah." Thanks for finally thinking about me, Daniel thought to himself.

"Want some breakfast?"

"I ate already."

"Really? I didn't hear you get up."

Daniel shrugged. He'd been up for three hours already but it wasn't worth telling her. Not anymore.

The toaster spat out her toast and she plopped them onto a plate. "You don't mind asking the Connors to drive you to school today, do you? I've got to hurry to the SGC." She slathered margarine and jam over her toast. "This means a whole new look at treating your dad's injuries, plus Janet mentioned that she's thinking of moving him to the Academy Hospital in a couple of days. Hey, if they move on the weekend, you and Dria can come and help get him settled in."

Daniel mumbled something, then followed it up about having to get dressed. He escaped her exuberance, finding solace in his bedroom. He sat on the edge of his bed, wondering what to do. While his grandmother seemed to expect him to go to school today, he wasn't sure if he was really up to it.

He took a shower and while it felt great, the whole process left him drained. He dressed slowly, thinking maybe he could stay home for one more day.

"Maybe you can talk Cassie into coming to the mountain after school today," his grandmother said, coming up behind him as he exited the bathroom.

"Grandma, maybe I shouldn't go to—"

"If Cassie can't make it, I don't want you taking your bike up there. I know you're anxious to come see your dad but that's too long a trip for you to make by yourself." She gave him a quick peck on the forehead. "Unless maybe Cameron would be willing to drive you there."

She passed him, purse already tucked under her arm, and walked to the door. "You better get a move on. You don't want to be late."

"No, I don't," Daniel said softly to the closing door. Once the sound of her truck faded, the house felt huge, empty, and lonely.

His hesitancy about going to school finally made the decision for him. Feeling the all-too familiar chill and body ache coming on, he dug out the thermometer from the bathroom and took his temperature.

Nearly two degrees above normal constituted being sick. He was almost happy when he went to his bedroom and changed back into his sweats and slid under the covers. At least this way, he didn't have to find another excuse to not go visit his father tonight.

His delight in still being sick soon evaporated when he had to get out of bed and grabbed the extra blankets. He spread one over his comforter, the other he wrapped around his shuddering body. In the process of doing so, the corner of the blanket knocked his cell phone from the night table to the floor. As he bent down to pick it up, a sudden wave of vertigo nearly sent him crashing next to it. He caught himself just in time on the edge of the mattress.

He slid back under the pile of blankets, leaving the phone on the floor, curling up into a tight ball, tucking his frozen feet into the loose folds of the blankets.

This was worse than before; the fever, the pain in his joints and muscles, the headache all slammed into him like a two-by-four.

He wanted his father; he wanted him so bad. He wanted this all to be a bad dream and to wake up with his dad smiling down at him and telling him to get up and get ready for school. He wanted everything to be the way it was, even if it had all been a lie.

Daniel started to cry. He shoved the blankets aside and slipped his feet to the floor and fell to his knees, reaching blindly for his cell phone. Sobbing, he dialed his grandmother's number, trying to pull the blanket around him, struggling with it one-handed as he pulled at the half of it still caught under the load of blankets on the bed.

The phone rang and rang, and eventually reached her voice mail. "Grandma," he sobbed. "Please come home." Between his sobs and chattering teeth, he wasn't able to get any more words out. He disconnected the call and with arms wrapped around his abdomen, kneeled there crying until the chill of the floor under him forced him to move.

He felt so awful. He thought maybe he needed to take something for his fever.

Just the idea of walking out of his room seemed monumental. Wiping his eyes and nose with a hand that felt lined with lead, he struggled to his feet. His socks, which had been pulled half off his feet when he'd gotten out of bed, hampered his efforts, and it took him three tries before he was standing. He pulled the blanket out and with it wrapped around him Linus-like, he staggered to the kitchen, looking for the Tylenol. When he couldn't find it in the cupboard, he realized that he'd taken the last one earlier this morning.

Sarah had given him Motrin, hadn't she? He didn't see it in the kitchen, so he searched the bathroom and came up empty.

The few minutes he'd been on his feet had exhausted him. With legs that felt like they were going to give out on him any second, he barely made his way back to his bedroom. Getting back into bed felt like climbing into an ice box.

"Daddy," Daniel moaned, burying his head under the blankets in an effort to get warm again.


"Well, at least Daniel's feeling better." Sarah turned away from the window where she'd checked to see whether Rose had left yet or not. "Although I'm surprised she let him go to school today."

"Maybe she left him alone again?" Cameron shouldered her backpack and turned to look at the empty driveway.

"He was pretty sick yesterday." She felt a twinge of concern and wondered whether she should ring the bell before leaving, just in case Rose had left Daniel home alone again. "Then again, kids bounce back pretty fast. And no," Sarah said, pointing to Cameron's bag, "you're staying home today."

"Shouldn't I be keeping up appearances?" Cameron blinked at Sarah in wide-eyed terminator innocence. "What about detention?"

Yeah, she should keep up appearances, Sarah admitted to herself but she'd rather Cameron remain at home than be let loose alone at school without John to keep an eye on her. "No. Officially, you're sick, too. You can take John's temperature and feed him Tylenol every four hours." Sarah waved her hand through the air. "About those detention slips. You're sick. John's sick. By the time you go back to school..."

Sarah could have sworn that Cameron's eyes glowed with pleasure. "Now? Can I give him Tylenol now?" There was definite optimism in her voice.

"I'll let you know when."

"Oh." She sounded disappointed.

Sarah shook her head. Most times the machine rarely showed emotion; whenever she did, it was at the oddest times which Sarah couldn't make sense of.

"Maybe I should check and see if Daniel's home?" Cameron was already walking towards the door as she spoke. Sarah didn't stop her; at least this way she's assuage her guilt if Daniel was home.

She watched again as Cameron strutted to the front door and rang the doorbell. When it was obvious that nobody was home, Cameron turned away and came back home.

"He's not home," she stated needlessly.

"Go check on John," Sarah ordered, hoping that Daniel truly was at school and hadn't been brought to the SGC because he'd gotten worse.



"Hi, Janet." Rose lowered the bundle of medical information she'd printed off the internet onto her lap. She'd been reading straight for nearly three hours and she was grateful for the break. "Funny how looking at this stuff with a different view can bring on a whole different meaning." She smiled – the information that had once been so depressing now gave her hope. "Are you guys almost done with your tests?"

"The Colonel should be back in his room in a few minutes." Janet entered the room and walked into the empty space where Jack's bed had been. "That's not what I'm here for, though."

Rose nodded expectantly at Janet.

"I have to go; the school just called to say Cassie was sick."

"Oh. Is she okay?"

"I think so. Looks like she's caught what Daniel's got – along with about one third of the school. The whole soccer team's sick; and according to Cassie, Dria, Corey, John, Nate and Li as well as Daniel didn't come in to school."

"Daniel went to school. He was finally feeling better this morning."

Rose's alarm bells went off as Janet slowly shook her head slowly from side to side.

"Nope. Cassie said he wasn't in."

"Damn it. He should have called me." Rose stood and hurried to the table, fumbling through her purse for her cell phone.

"Rose. I have to go and get Cassie at school." Janet had followed Rose across the room and put a hand on her wrist. "But more importantly, I need you to go home, too."

"I'm sure Daniel's fine. He must have just felt a little weak, right?"

"I'm sure he's fine. It's just a virus – fast hitting and very contagious. Which is why I need you to go home. I can't chance either of us being infected and passing it on to Colonel O'Neill."

"Jack? But I'm not sick."

"But you could be. I need you to stay away from here for at least three days, just to make sure you're not infected. Come back Sunday."

"Janet, I can't up and go and leave Jack."

"You can and you will. Rose," Janet said sternly, taking her hand and covering her fingers with hers. "You're tired and stressed. You're not doing yourself any good coming here every day. You need a break and when you come back, the Colonel will be in a much better mood."

"I know that he's a little cranky. You said so yourself, it's because of the pain he's in."

"And the bruising will have had a few days to heal between now and when you come back. Let him stew a little; it'll do him good."

"How can you say that?"

"You're coddling him, Rose."

Anger filled Rose and she pulled her hand away. "He's been hurt—"

"I know. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Janet ran a hand through her hair. "I didn't mean it to come out that way. I just... You need to take time for yourself right now, honey. Let us finish our tests and let him heal a little. I'm sure by the time you come back, he'll realize how much he missed your company. Maybe by then, Daniel will feel up to visiting."

"Daniel," Rose sighed. "You're sure Cassie said he wasn't in school?"

"I'm sure." Janet checked her watch. "Want to go say goodbye to the Colonel before you leave?"

"Isn't he having that procedure for—"

"I gave him another room. I can't take a chance putting him back in here, at least not until we'd have disinfected."

"In case I've been spreading germs in here, right?" Rose said sullenly.

"I'm sorry."

"No. You're right. Lead me to my son." She grabbed her purse, the packet of papers and her coat and followed Janet to a room two doors down.

"Here." Janet pulled a mask and gloves from a dispenser next to the door and handed them to her. "Five minutes, Rose. Don't push it, okay? I have to go. Cassie's waiting for me at the nurse's office in school."

"What's wrong with Daniel?" Jack huffed at her the moment she stepped inside, trying to get the ends of the mask tied into a bow behind her nape.

"Daniel? He's fine," Rose lied as she assessed her son. From the look on his face she could tell at a glance that he was in pain. She did the math in her head and knew he wasn't due his pain medication for another thirty minutes.

"I could hear you and Fraiser talking. Daniel's not in school. What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. I told you already; he's got a cold. Or rather, some sort of virus running rampant in school. And now I have to stay home because—"

"Yeah, yeah, I know. So you don't spread your germs." Jack turned his head away and stared at the wall. "Go home, Ma."

"Honey, I'm sorry—"

"Go home. I don't need you here. You don't have to waste your time watching me lie here."


"You said Daniel's sick. Shouldn't you be taking care of him?"

"I'm sure Daniel's fine," she said with forced confidence.

"You've been telling me he's sick for days now."

"Only two days..."

"Two days." Jack sighed and turned to stare at her. "Feels like an eternity. Then again, every day is the same when you're just lying here paralyzed."

"Jack, you're not—"

"Mom. Go. Just go, okay?"

"I'll call later."

"Yeah, you do that." Jack turned his head away from her again. With a sigh, she left the room. She struggled with the mask and then the gloves, and with each tug at the plastic covering, her anger and frustration rose, until by the time she'd gotten them off, she was almost running out of the infirmary. She tossed them into a garbage can next to the exit, and by the time she reached the elevators, she was breathing hard.

She slammed a finger down on the button for the top floor, glaring at the captain who got in the elevator at the next floor. She struggled into her coat and it was only after she'd signed out and was stomping to her truck did she remember she hadn't called Daniel.

Holding back the urge to slam her purse against the opposite door, she dug her cell phone out and checked her messages, truly not expecting to find one from Daniel. When she saw he'd left one on her voice mail, some of her anger faded, leaving her tired. Wearily, she put the phone to her ear.

"Grandma, please come home."

It was more than evident that Daniel was crying. Immediately she dialed his cell, struggling one-handed to put the keys into the ignition. When Daniel didn't answer his cell, she called the house instead. She floored the gas, worry escalating with each unanswered ring.


"Daniel! Daniel?" Rose hurried through the door and nearly ran to Daniel's room. She burst into the room, immediately seeing a lump under a pile of blankets. She pulled the blankets back to expose the face of her grandson. A quick touch to his cheek confirmed what the flushed face showed her.

"Oh, mhuirnin. You're burning up."

Daniel stirred, opening red-rimmed and bloodshot eyes.

"Did you take something for your fever?"


"Yeah." She swept back his hair from his face. "Did you take any Tylenol?"

"No. There's no more left." He blinked and tears spilled over, flowing down his cheeks in twin lines.

"Shhh. It's okay."

"I don't feel good," he sniffled.

"I know. How about I get you some Snapple and a couple of Motrin?"

"I couldn't find the Motrin."

Rose spotted the bottle of Motrin sitting on Daniel's bureau. "I got that covered. Hang tight, I'll be right back."

There was no Snapple to be found, no juice, not even a bottle of water in the fridge. She settled for a glass of cold water from the faucet, the thermometer from the bathroom and a damp washcloth.

"Open up," she coaxed as she sat on the bed. She slipped the thermometer into his mouth and wiped his face with the washcloth as they waited for the thermometer to register. The digital figures rose quickly and only began to slow once they passed 103. The final count was nearly 104 degrees. "Shit," she breathed to herself.

"Here, sweetie, can you swallow these?" She poured three Motrin into her palm and offered them to Daniel. He sat up, visibly shaking as he plucked them from her. He swallowed them down and then gulped the water greedily. "More?" he asked, his hand shaking as he held the empty glass out to her.

"I'll be right back." She waited until he laid down and she folded the washcloth in two before placing it on his forehead. She came back armed with a pitcher of water, wondering how she could have gotten so caught up with Jack's plight that she hadn't even thought of doing a grocery run. While Daniel gulped down a second and a third glass of water, she rinsed out the wash cloth and brought it back.

"I'm so c-cold." Curling up on his side, Daniel brought the blankets up to his chin, leaving little skin for Rose to reach with the cloth. She put it aside and instead, tucked all the edges of the blankets around Daniel's body.

"Were you feeling sick this morning when I left for the infirmary?"

"After." The word was muffled through the blankets.

"You got sick after I left?"

His head rocked up and down under the blanket.

"Why didn't you call me?"

There was a long moment of silence. "I did." Daniel peeked out from beneath the blanket at her. "I called."

"I'm sorry. Of course you did. That was my fault; my phone was on vibrate and it was in my purse and you must have called when I stepped out of your dad's room. He's doing better, by the way. A little stronger."

She waited a moment for Daniel to reply. When he didn't, she kept on. "Speaking of being sick – did you know that nearly half the kids in your school are sick? Janet had to go and pick up Cassie; apparently Dria and Corey and John as well as your whole soccer team are sick."

"I g-gave it to everyone?"

Rose couldn't help smiling. "No, silly. You're just one of the unlucky ones who got it first."

"You? Are you g-gonna get sick? Because of me?" He pulled the blankets down so he had an unencumbered view of Rose.

"Don't you worry about me." She leaned down to kiss his still too-hot temple. "I won't get sick."

"But what if you d-do? Who'll t-take care of you?"

"I'm not going to get sick. But if I did, we've got friends. Don't worry about it."

"I d-don't want you to g-get sick." Daniel was whining now, obviously obsessing over her.

"Shhhhh." She grabbed the cloth, dribbled some water from the pitcher onto it, and dabbed at his face with it. "Just try and rest a little."

"My head hurts."

"I know. It's the fever."

Daniel turned his head restlessly, shifting his legs to and fro under the blankets. She swiped the cloth down his neck, and was just about to go rinse it anew when the doorbell rang.

"I'll be right back."

She wasn't surprised to see Sarah standing at the door.

"Cameron spotted your car in the driveway. You're home early. Is everything all right?"

"Janet sent me home; you heard that about half the school came down with the virus?" She moved aside so Sarah could come in.

"No. Really?" Sarah thrust a hand through her hair. "John's got it."

"I know. As well as Cassie, Dria and the rest of the gang."

"How's Daniel?"

"Fever's pretty high. I shouldn't have left him alone this morning. But he had no fever and he said he felt better."

"I'm sorry, Rose." Sarah put a hand on Rose's arm. "If I'd known he was here, I'd have come to check on him."

"He said he was going to go to school..." Rose sighed. "How's John?"

"Tylenol's keeping the fever down just enough that he's whiney and cranky. He's bunked down on the couch in the living room and dozing in front of the TV." They'd walked down the hallway together and found themselves in front of Daniel's bedroom door.

Sarah stepped inside and sat down on the bed. "Hey, sweetie."

"Hey," Daniel croaked.

"Still not feeling so hot, huh?"

"No. I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For giving this to John."

"I'm sure it's not just you. These things can spread so fast that everyone's infected before you realize what hit you." She pushed aside a loose lock of hair that had fallen across Daniel's eyes. "Don't you worry about John. Just concentrate on getting better."

Sarah got up and gave Rose a worried look. "He's burning up," she whispered as they walked down the hallway.

"I just gave him some Motrin about ten minutes ago."

"Do you need anything? Errands? Medicine? I can send Cameron if you need anything."

Rose could have hugged Sarah. "If you don't mind, I do need some groceries as well as some more Tylenol."

"Not a problem. I'll send Cameron over to get a list of what you need. An hour okay?"

"Perfect. Thank you, Sarah. I really do appreciate the help."

"Don't mention it. And Rose," Sarah said as she put a hand on the doorknob. "Take care of yourself. I know it's probably too late now, we've probably both been exposed to this virus, but try and take some precautions—"

"I know. Washing my hands, not drinking out of the same glass. I think it's probably too late but I'll be careful."

Sarah gave her a quick nod. "I'll see you later."

Rose went back to Daniel, wet the wash cloth again and for the next twenty minutes, she bathed his face, neck and chest, until suddenly, she was wiping away beads of sweat that popped onto his forehead and above his upper lip. Within seconds, sweat was pouring down his face and neck.

"Hot. I'm hot," he panted, awkwardly pushing away the blankets. She pulled down most of them, wanting to leave only one blanket and a sheet, but Daniel would have none of it. He kicked those off too, then after a moment, pulled his socks off his feet.

"Looks like the Motrin's done its job," she said with heartfelt relief. Daniel's pajamas were already damp with sweat. She handed him another glass of water to drink while she went to get clean sheets and pajamas. When she came back, Daniel had drank what she'd given him and was pouring himself water from the pitcher.

His hair was lying in damp, dirty-looking strings across his scalp. His face was pale, the pallor more pronounced now that the flush of fever was gone from his face. His hands were unsteady and she took the now empty pitcher while he drank down the last of the water.

"How about a shower and some dry clothes?"

At Daniel's hesitation, she quickly amended it to, "Or a bath?"

This time he gave her a tiny nod.

"Stay here. I'll go run the bath."

Daniel showed up a minute later after she'd adjusted the water temperature, swaying slightly where he stood. "Sit," she ordered, pointing to the toilet. She went back to the bedroom, grabbed the clean pajamas and thermometer, and stuck the thermometer in Daniel's mouth on her return. He sat there leaning against her, his cheek squished against her abdomen as he held onto the thermometer. She ran a hand across his chin and cheek, relieved to feel that his fever seemed to have gone down quite substantially. A beep a few seconds later confirmed that Daniel's fever was now hovering around the 101 mark.

"Can you manage?" she asked as she turned the water off.

"Grandma," he whined, rolling his eyes at her. While his movements were awkward as he pulled his pajama top off, the tone of voice and expression sounded like her teenaged grandson and not a sick child.

By the time Daniel came out of the bathroom, she'd changed his bed and aired out his room.

"You hungry?"


"Come with me."

It took only a moment to pull out a couple of hard boiled egg from the pot they'd been simmering in and a few seconds to butter the toast that had just popped in the toaster. She added a jar of jam to the table while Daniel peeled his eggs and poured him a cup of freshly brewed tea.

He scarfed down the eggs and toast, and then a bowl of cereal supplemented with a sliced banana before her toast was ready and she was able to sit down with her share of the eggs.

"Thanks." He licked a dab of jam from the back of his little finger, watching her eat.

"I'm glad to see you're feeling better." He looked better, too, with a touch more color in his cheeks and his eyes weren't quite as sunken as before.

She ate while writing her grocery list. When she finished, she glanced up at Daniel. Eyes at half-mast, he was drifting, staring into space.

"Why don't you go lie down?"

He seemed to force himself to the here and now. "I'm not sick."

"And you weren't sick this morning, either, and look what happened."

Daniel's eyes widened behind his glasses and she mentally kicked herself for her choice of words. She stood and walked over to him, bent down and kissed his temple. His skin felt slightly warm, just a bit more than normal. "You're sleeping sitting up," she whispered in his ear.

"I'm not sleepy," he mumbled around a jaw-cracking yawn.

"I'm glad to see that," she answered with a grin as she picked up the dirty dishes in order to rinse them.

"Maybe I'll go lie down for a little while," Daniel muttered after two more yawns. She followed him into his bedroom, and was just finishing tucking him in when the doorbell rang.

"That's probably Cameron. Sleep tight," she teased, ignoring Daniel's grumbles.

Five minutes later, after handing Cameron her grocery list and money to cover her expenses, when she checked on Daniel, she found him fast asleep.

For the first time since she'd gotten home, she was able to sit and relax. She poured herself another cup of tea, tried to decide if she should do housework, and instead reached for the phone, intent on getting an update on Jack.


A sudden silence in the room dragged John from a semi-doze. He forced his eyes open and focused painfully on the television, which at that moment, erupted in a loud crescendo of music.

His headache spiked, the one that hadn't left him since the moment he'd woken up in Rose's hallway, covered with bits of plaster and glass. Rising onto his elbow, he emerged from the blanket he'd bundled himself in, reaching for the remote that was just out of his reach.

"Damn it." The music blared on, the movie coming to its noisy climax as John sat up and finally got hold of the remote.

He pressed the off button with a combination of satisfaction and relief, then fell back onto the couch, wincing as his head bounced painfully off the cheap throw pillows his mom had picked up at the local Walmart.

"What happened?" Derek said quickly, hurrying into the room, a large bowl of popcorn under one arm and a bottle of beer in his other hand. He sat on the recliner, and then froze, staring at the blank screen. "The movie's over?"

"Yeah." John shivered and pulled the blanket up to his chin, then had to bend his knees because now his feet were uncovered.

"Aw, damn it. I was sure they said the movie was two hours long." Derek put the beer down, looked forlornly at his popcorn, and got up. "So what happened?"

"The hero saved the world, killed the monster and got the girl," John lied, closing his eyes, wishing the throbbing in his head would stop.

"Monster? There was a monster? Damn. I wasn't gone more than ten minutes."

John heard Derek reach for the remote and the sound of the television was suddenly more than he could stand. He got up and shuffled out of the living room, not sure where he was heading, until he found himself outside, walking towards the garage, lured by the sound of leather hitting leather. It was a relief to step inside; the bright sunshine hurt his head.

"Hey," his mom said, slightly out of breath as she sparred with a canvas bag. "What's up?"

John shrugged as he sat on the bench, watching her, relieved that she didn't seem quite as angry at him anymore. His mom's tee shirt was darkened with sweat and her hair had come loose of the clips she'd used to hold it back. "Where's Cameron?" he asked after a few minutes of silence.

"She went to run a few errands for Rose."

That surprised him; he'd never heard Cameron leave the house.

"Rose didn't want to leave Daniel, he was pretty sick when I went over earlier."

"Is he okay?" John couldn't help but feel jealousy over his mom's obvious worry over Daniel and her near-indifference to his own headache and fever.

"Yeah, I think so," his mom huffed, giving the bag her attention for nearly a minute. "Movie over?" She gave the canvas bag several last jabs in succession, then blew her hair out of her face as she walked over to him and sat down.

"It's boring." As his mom unstrapped the gloves from her hands, John rubbed the back of neck.

"Why don't you try lying down?" His mom tossed the gloves onto the bench next to her.

"I was lying down," John answered with an eye roll.

"I meant in your bed, where you won't be disturbed." This time her voice was colder than before.

"I'm not tired," he lied, turning his head away from her.

"But you have a headache." She wasn't asking, and he didn't answer. "Come on." She grabbed her gloves and tossed her hair back from her face. She was out the door before John got to his feet.

She was waiting for him in the hallway; when he reached her, she jogged up the stairs. He followed more slowly.

"Bed," she said from the door to his bedroom, her voice reminding him of her no-nonsense approach when he was a child. She went with him to the bed, straightened his crumpled sheets and blankets as he toed off his shoes, and then pulled the blankets over him once he got into bed, tucking him in. "Try to sleep."

John had expected a kiss or a touch before she left the room, but she was gone even as he was still waiting for that small sign of affection. He sighed and couldn't help feel that Daniel was the lucky one for staying with Rose.

Lying down should have felt better, but he found himself tossing and turning. Even under the blankets, he felt cold, and there was something... elusive... that he was craving.

When his cell phone chirped, he debated getting up or letting it ring, but the song it was playing hurt his head so he half-sat up and grabbed it. Caller ID had him smiling.

"Hey," he answered, falling back onto the bed, anxious to hear a voice from someone who cared.

"I'm soooo sick," Cassie whined. "I hope you're feeling better than I am."

If his head could stop pounding, he probably wouldn't feel half bad. "I'm sorry you're sick."

"It wouldn't be so bad if my mom would stop hovering. I mean, I know she's a doctor and all," Cassie said, without taking a breath, "but there's only so much apple juice and orange juice one can drink without having to run to the bathroom every five minutes and then she yells at me for running around with bare feet when I'm sick but if she'd stop bringing me juice and stuff, I wouldn't have to go that often.

"She's just worried—"

"I just wish she'd go worry at work and give me some peace and quiet," Cassie suddenly hissed into the phone. "Hold on—" Cassie's voice became muffled, as if she had the phone against her chest. "I'm talking to John." There was a pause. "Yes, Mom." John could picture her rolling her eyes to go along with the long-suffering tone of voice. "She wants me to keep it short," Cassie whined a few seconds later, "and she brought me more juice."

John shoved back the feelings of jealousy of Cassie and her hovering mom. "Guess you'll be running to the toilet again pretty soon," he said lamely.

"Give me five more minutes and you can bet on it."

"Did you hear from anyone else? Daniel? Dria? Corey?"

"Dria's got this stupid bug, too. She tried calling Daniel to give him shit for infecting us all but he's not answering his cell."

"I don't think it was Daniel's fault," John began, but stopped at Cassie's laugh.

"I know that, silly. But one has to blame someone for making us sick and since Daniel's the first of us to take the plunge...

"Mom said earlier that Daniel was pretty sick."

"He is? Damn. You know, I'm not going to tell Dria. I don't want her to worry. Do you think I should tell my mom?"

"I'm sure if there was a problem, Rose would've called."

"Yeah." The word was drawn out. "Yeah, you're right. She would have."

John struggled for something to say, and was relieved when Cassie told him she'd better go before her mom came back to check on her.

He lay there for a few minutes, remembering how when he was younger, he had wished for a miracle to happen so that he wouldn't have to become the savior of the world. His mom had made sure he knew exactly what was going to happen and what his role would eventually be and he'd have given anything to lay it on someone else's shoulders. She had also made sure he didn't grow up with delusions of grandeur; that he take his adult role seriously.

Right now, he wished himself that younger child again, having a mother who cared about him and their quest instead of handing the threat of Judgment Day over to the military and going off to play with classified stuff while leaving John on the sidelines. He'd never, ever, felt so left out of anything; he'd always been front and center, her first priority, doing whatever it took to get him some new training she thought he'd need. His health had been a priority; now, if they couldn't stop Judgment Day, he was pretty sure his future wasn't the one that Derek had lived through. With the military involvement, chances were John would be sent offworld if and when the end of the world happened.

Talking with Cassie made him realize he was thirsty. That was probably the elusive feeling he'd been experiencing.

His mom was in the kitchen, busily peeling potatoes. As he walked past her, she asked, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Just thirsty." He grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and once he'd shut the fridge door, he wasn't sure if this was what he wanted. He stood there, cold bottle slowly chilling his hands as his mom shoved back a lock of hair from her forehead with the back of her hand.

"Are you going to drink that?" she asked with a teasing smile.

"It's not what I want." He exchanged the water bottle for the carton of orange juice but once he opened the container, the smell turned his stomach. He wrinkled his nose as he put the orange juice away and settled for a bottle of Snapple Lemonade.

He sat on a kitchen chair and pulled his feet up onto the bottom rung, trying to escape the chill of the linoleum floor, watching his mom work. While the sip of Snapple tasted good, the temperature made him uncomfortable. He capped it and pushed it aside.

"Something wrong with your drink?" His mom dumped the potatoes into a pot of water and turned to him.

"Guess I wasn't thirsty."

"Go back to bed," she ordered distractedly as she took out a roast chicken from the oven and basted it.

Instead of obeying, John rubbed his forehead with his fingers, trying to ease away the pounding.

When his mom left the kitchen, he put the bottle of Snapple back into the fridge and found himself following her into the den, where she sat down on a recliner with a pile of papers he presumed she'd brought from work.

"John, go to bed," she said when she noticed him leaning against the doorjamb.

"I'm not tired," he lied. While bed hadn't felt appealing fifteen minutes ago when he'd been in it, now that he was up, it was calling his name. Still he knew its comfort wouldn't be long-lasting. He perched on a second recliner whose footrest was broken and wouldn't rise. Tucking his feet into the cracks between the cushions, he watched his mom study the papers. "Can I help?"

She shook her head quickly. "No. These are classified. Sorry," she added with a quick smile.

"Oh." He swallowed back his disappointment.

He rested his head against the recliner's back, watching his mom read and make notations for a few minutes. His earlier restlessness was gone and he felt content to just rest here. He closed his eyes, only to open them a few seconds later when he felt something brush his arm.

"Sorry," his mom whispered as she spread an old afghan over him. "Go to sleep."

Drowsily, under heavy-lidded eyes, he watched as she settled back into the recliner, and when it appeared she wasn't going anywhere, he obeyed, listening to the occasional rustle of paper in a far-away, dreamlike zone, secure that he wasn't alone.


"Thank you, honey. I really appreciate the help." Rose indicated the dozen grocery bags now filling every inch of her countertops. "Although I think you might have bought a few items more than I'd asked for."

"Oh." Cameron tilted her head a fraction to the side. "I bought a couple of things I know Daniel likes." She walked to one bag and pulled out a bag of chocolate cookies. "He always takes these from Dria when she brings a lunch." She replaced the bag and went to another, pulling out a large package full of orange cheese snacks. "John likes these cheese things. The crunchy ones."

"Daniel likes those, too," Rose said with a smile.

"And I bought Snapple." She raised another bag and glass bottles clinked together noisily inside.

"Didn't I put that on the list?"


"You're sure?" Maybe she hadn't; buying Daniel's favorite type of drink was something she never truly had to remind herself to buy.

"And I bought a chicken, and vegetables, and rice, so you can make him some chicken soup."

Rose couldn't help laughing as Cameron took out each article, finding each item unerringly in the multitude of bags and holding them up for Rose's inspection. "That was very thoughtful of you."

The way Cameron stared at her, if she'd been human, Rose would have sworn that she was trying to see if she was being sarcastic or not.

"Isn't chicken soup a cure for the flu?"

"Some swear by it but it's just really a comfort food. Which Daniel will appreciate, I'm sure."

"And I bought this." She held open one bag and when Rose peered inside, there were a dozen boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Rose had to place a hand in front of her mouth to hide her smile. She coughed, cleared her throat and thanked Cameron again, proud of herself that she didn't laugh out loud this time.

"I'll make the soup for supper; I'm sure Daniel will enjoy it. And I'll bring some over for John."

"He'll like that. Thank you."

Rose had expected Cameron to leave, but wasn't surprised when she asked if she could check on Daniel first.

"He's sleeping," she warned as Cameron strode down the hallway. She had only put one bag of groceries away when Cameron returned.

"He's sleeping."

"Told you so." Rose grunted as she tried to fit three boxes of pancake mix into the top of the pantry.

"He's better."

"Yes, yes, he is. His fever broke about an hour ago."

"His temperature is only slightly elevated. John's was higher."

"I'm sure John will be feeling better soon."

"Yes. Chicken soup will help."

"Tell Sarah that I'll be bringing some over for John so she doesn't cook him something, okay?"

"I will."

The moment the door closed, Rose burst out laughing. It felt good; after the stress and worry of the last couple of days, she needed the release. Except that a few heartfelt guffaws later, the laughter turned to sobs.

She hurried to the bathroom, hands held tightly against he mouth to hold in the sobs and shut the door, hoping that Daniel didn't wake up now and hear her.


The urge to pee got Daniel out of bed. He felt better, much better than before but still shaky and weak. He had all intentions of burrowing back under the covers but his growling stomach convinced him to go search out sustenance.

"Look who's awake," his grandmother quipped from the kitchen table as Daniel walked into the kitchen. He grunted at her, intent on his quarry.


Too hungry to even bother waiting for something to zap in the microwave, he grabbed a box of cereal and went to pour himself a bowlful.

"Ack. Don't eat that. I have something better."

"This is fine—"

His grandmother took the bowl from him and brought it to the stove. Only then did the wonderful aroma of cooked chicken register. "Sit."

He obeyed, watching as she ladled out soup into his bowl. His mouth was watering as she put the bowl down in front of him.

He inhaled deeply, then dipped his spoon into it. It was steaming and he blew on it, impatient to taste it. The soup was hot, it was tasty and best of all, it was filling.

"Feeling better?" She slipped a hand around his neck, holding it there for a moment before sitting next to him, cupping her hands around the mug of tea she'd been drinking when he'd come in.

"Mmmm." Still groggy from sleep, he ate silently.

Two bowlfuls, half a sleeve of crackers and a handful of cookies later, he sighed contentedly. "Thanks, Grandma. That was delish."

"You're welcome. But you should thank Cameron when you see her; she's the one who thought of getting ingredients for soup."

"She did? When?"

"Earlier this afternoon."

"Afternoon? What time is it?" He remembered feeling really awful earlier this morning but it couldn't be much later than lunchtime, could it? Oddly, the clock stated that it was nearly seven. "I slept all day?"

"Like the dead. Your fever broke and you literally passed out after."

"I'm sorry." He remembered calling his grandmother, crying, begging her to come home to him. Now that he felt better, that particular memory was more than embarrassing. He ducked his head, only to raise it when she reached across the table and took his hand in hers.

"I'm just glad you're feeling better. For real, this time?"

"I did feel better this morning," Daniel mumbled, looking at the cracker crumbs next to his bowl.

"I'm sure you did. I just wish..." She sighed.

"Did anyone call?" Daniel asked, wondering how his friends were doing.

His grandmother's eyes lit up. "Your dad's doing pretty good, although that may be because they've finished with all the testing. According to Doctor Carmichael, they've finally gotten the right combination of meds and his pain is more manageable. You should call him, sweetie. He keeps asking about you."

"It's late. I don't want to wake him up," Daniel said evasively.

"I'm sure he won't mind if you do. After all—"

"I'm gonna shower first." Hurrying to his feet, he rinsed out his bowl and stuck it in the dishwasher. He nearly ran to the bathroom, but once he shut the door, he leaned against the sink, trying not to cry. He knew he'd need to speak to his father one of these days and he was afraid of getting yet another tongue lashing. He had to figure something out before his dad was released from the infirmary; maybe he could stay with the Middletons. He could get a part-time job and pay them rent or something. Because he knew there was no way he'd be able to live under Jack O'Neill's roof, not after learning what his father really thought about him.

His father. Daniel snorted as he turned the shower on and began to strip. His other self had been better off; he'd had no parents to disappoint. As he stepped under the spray, he recalled the emotions that Daniel had felt every time he was brought to a stranger's home and expected to assimilate into the family. He'd been reticent, aloof, accused of being shy or stuck up but it had been a coping mechanism from the pain of separation into each foster home, one Daniel realized now that he needed to employ.

By the time he shampooed his hair and rinsed, he'd pretty much worked himself up into an emotional state. His heart was pounding and his legs were shaking as he got out of the shower. No matter what his dad thought of him, he knew he loved the man. Or loved the man he'd thought his father had been. The only thing he didn't get was if Jack O'Neill thought so little of him, why had he bothered sticking by his side during all the days he'd been sick over the past year?

He thrust that thought out of his mind as he dried off; because that would mean that he was wrong about him. And the words he'd spewed at Daniel in the infirmary had rung with truth.

With a towel wrapped around his waist, Daniel stood at the door, fingers wrapped around the doorknob, trying to listen and see where his grandmother was. He could hear her talking; it sounded like she was in the living room. Slowly opening the door, he headed for his bedroom.

In just the short time it took him to make it to his bedroom, he'd gathered that his grandma was talking to his dad. He tried to compartmentalize his heart; putting a mental shield around it so it wouldn't get bruised again when he had no choice but to pick up the phone and talk to him.

He felt strangely tired as he got into a fresh pair of pajamas, considering he'd slept all afternoon. He sat and rubbed at his hair with the towel, feeling almost like his fever was coming back. But he wasn't cold or achy, just really tired. Maybe if he just lay down for a moment, he'd feel better.

With the towel folded in two over his pillow to avoid dampening it with his wet hair, Daniel got under the blankets and waited for his grandmother to come by and hand him the phone.


Once again Daniel woke up with a raging need to pee. A towel on his pillow reminded him that he's stretched out in bed with wet hair, but the sun streaming past the closed edges of his blinds told him that it was daylight.

He'd fallen asleep.


His glasses were folded next to his bed, testament that his grandmother had come by and removed them because he normally hung them off the headboard. A quick glance at the clock showed that he'd slept nearly ten hours.

Scratching his scalp with both hands, Daniel stumbled sleepily to the bathroom. The shakiness was pretty much gone, he just felt tired, like he'd played two soccer games back to back.

He glanced at himself in the mirror as he made for the toilet; his hair was in disarray and it took him a moment, once he'd peed and washed his hands, to tie it all back with a rubber band.

From the snores rolling up the hallway, it was obvious his grandmother was still fast asleep. He returned to his bedroom, checked his voicemail and was disappointed to find absolutely no messages from anyone. A check on his laptop showed none of his friends had felt up to emailing him either.

After sending Dria a text message saying he hoped she was feeling better, he headed for the kitchen.

He grabbed the box of cereal his grandma taken away from him last night and liberally added milk to the bowlful he poured himself. Three servings later, he stepped out the back door and walked down the stone path, staring at his grandmother's overgrown and badly-in-need-of-weeding garden.

It was Thursday, and Daniel really should be getting dressed to go to school. He stood and contemplated making it through the entire day. He'd been bitten in the ass already thinking that he'd felt okay in the morning only to feel like death by twelve.

The morning was fresh, the stones under his stocking feet cool but not yet damp enough to chill him. He leaned a shoulder against a tree and breathed deeply of the fresh, morning air.

He felt restless despite the lingering tiredness. Felt hemmed in, like the walls were closing in on him. He needed to get out of here; needed to be somewhere without his grandmother's nagging about talking to his dad, visiting his dad.

Nobody was up and about; and everyone was probably still sick. He contemplated just crossing the street; surely Cameron was there, most likely willing to keep him company. But across the street was someplace easily found when his grandma woke up and came looking for him.

Maybe he just needed to get away, be by himself for a little while. Odd that he'd longed for her company all week long and now that he had it, it was overshadowed with his dad.

He slipped back into the house, tiptoed into his bedroom and dressed. A quick trip to the bathroom and then he was out of the house again, this time with his bike, no true destination in mind.

Cameron was at the window, watching him. He waved his hand at her as he straddled his bike and she responded with a raised hand and a waggle of fingers. He took off before she came looking for him, because stopping to talk to her might be all it took for his grandmother to wake up and find him outside before he could take off.

There was the usual morning traffic and Daniel cycled aimlessly for a while, going past first Dria's house, then Corey's, then his own. The overgrown lawn around their house made it look uncharacteristically neglected. He cycled away from the house, pedaling as fast as he could, trying to outrun the ache in his heart.

Twenty minutes later, out of breath and legs shaking, he found himself coming to a stop at the edge of Donovan's park. A little bit of privacy where nobody would find him, just what the doctor ordered.

He walked his bike into the clearing, only to freeze at the sight of five teens sprawled comfortably on the old car seats. Each boy, dressed in jeans and leather jackets, sported either piercings, chains or rings. Their appearance and demeanor screamed gang, something Daniel knew better than to antagonize.

From the number of empty cans of beer, food wrappers littering the popular spot and the still smouldering bonfire in the middle of the clearing, it was obvious they'd been here most of the night. Programs from last night's Linkin Park concert in Denver were scattered on the car seats, left him assuming they'd been to the concert and then had come back here.

All of them were watching him as he stammered an apology, taking a step back. "Sorry, I thought nobody'd be here."

"Hey, you're on the soccer team." A teen with bright blue streaks in his hair sat up from his sprawl on the couch and leaned forward, peering at Daniel and making him uncomfortable.

"Um, yeah, I am." Daniel froze, wary of upsetting them, not sure if they were drunk and looking for trouble. He was also keenly aware that he hadn't brought his cell phone with him.

"I saw you play. My little brother played against your team." He turned to his friend with a buzz cut next to him and poked him with his elbow. "Kid here's pretty good."

"So what?" the other teen grumbled.

"So he can probably run circles around your fat ass, that's what." The teen winked at Daniel as he sat back against the seat.

Relaxing slightly at the demeanor of the teen who'd spoken to him, Daniel concluded that maybe they weren't quite as inebriated as he'd first thought.

"Saw you at Brughman's party this summer," another kid, this one with multiple piercings on his eyebrows, nose, ears, lips and tongue. His long, straggly dark hair fell into his face and he pushed it away.

Daniel nodded cautiously. That party had definitely not ended on a high note; in fact, it had ended with him and Alexandria in the hospital.

"You were with Bloch's girlfriend—"

Daniel bristled. "Alexandria's my girlfriend."

Another teen with long, shaggy hair, sneered. "Yeah. Right." He looked Daniel up and down with a mocking grin.

A goth teen with smeared eye makeup lazily reached out with his foot and kicked the one with the shaggy hair on the ankle. "Chill, dude. You're just pissed that Bloch got to her first."

"Well, hell, did you ever look at that chick? She's got melons just asking to be squeezed." He wriggled his fingers up and down, holding his hands out in front of him. "And that ass on her—"

"Hey. Shut up." Angrily Daniel took a step forward, daring the guy to keep badmouthing Alexandria.

"Oh look, the pup's got a bark." The shaggy haired guy laughed and looked around at his cronies. The one with the buzz cut joined in, the others were oddly silent. "Little soccer boy here thinks he can compete with a man."

Suddenly Daniel relished a fight. All the stress and hurts of the past days surged into one primal emotion, and he wanted to pound that kid's sneer into a bloody pulp. He knew he was outnumbered but didn't give a shit. And maybe, if he got hurt, hurt really bad, maybe then his grandmother would stop talking about his father.

The guy stood up, all six feet of him. "You don't wanna mess with me, little boy."

Daniel dropped his bike, letting it fall to the side. "You don't want to mess with me, asshole."

"Rob, knock it off." The guy with the blue streaks in his hair spoke with an authority that made Daniel believe he was the leader of this gang. Daniel, like shaggy-haired Rob, ignored him. Daniel took one step closer with no intention of backing down. He saw Rob's eyes open in surprise; only later did Daniel realize that Rob probably never expected Daniel to want to fight, instead had most likely expected him to run away screaming for his mother.

"Both of you. Knock it off." This time the leader got up and stepped between Rob and Daniel. "You," he said, shoving Rob roughly on the shoulder, "you keep your mouth shut and don't blame Tony's ex just because she turned you down. If you had any brains, you'd apologize to the kid."

"Fuck you, Brad," Rob spat back at the leader as he sat back down onto the mattress. "You ain't my mother."

"You," Brad said, turning to Daniel, "have either got balls, or you're just plain stupid."

With his adversary suddenly out of the picture, Daniel deflated.

"C'mon, sit down."

Daniel found himself tugged forward towards an empty car seat where he sat down, almost primly, afraid to relax. He glanced around at the others and most were looking at him with curiosity, except for Rob, who was glaring at him.

"We were just about ready to leave; it's been a long, sweet night but school awaits." At Brad's words, the other four got up, slowly gathering their belongings. One of them picked up their litter, the unspoken agreement among all who frequented the park – to keep it clean. As Daniel watched, he realized that some of the beer cans were weathered. His first impression of Brad and his friends had been a little off.

"Here. Souvenir." Brad tossed Daniel the program from the Linkin Park concert. "Great concert."

"I bet. I wanted to go but waited too long to order the tickets," he lied. Rather, he'd wanted to go with Corey, Nate and Li but his father had nixed the idea that he travel to Denver alone with his friends. Chalk one more strike against Daniel Jackson-O'Neill, the boy who could not be trusted. "Thanks."

The other four boys left, but Brad stayed behind and studied Daniel, his brow furrowed together. "Don't you have school?"

Daniel shrugged. "Been sick. Still on recovery time."

"Did you have that virus thingie? High fever and shit?"

"Yup," Daniel answered simply.

"Been there done that. Took me a few days without a fever to feel human again."

Daniel nodded. "Yeah, it really sucked."

"You got my sympathy, man." Brad cocked his head in the direction of the other guys who were loudly screaming his name and chuckled, pulling a ring of keys out of his pocket. He dangled the keys in the air. "They only love me for my car."

He watched Brad leave Donovan's park, losing him once he was past the trees. One of them started singing one of Linkin Park's song and the others joined in. Envious of their camaraderie, he listened until the sound of multiple car doors and a ruptured muffler drowned them out.

For the first time in his life, he envied the other Daniel. The adult Daniel. The one who had his own life and the hell with Jack O'Neill. The one he should have been living.

He leafed through the program, reading it from start to finish, then lay on his back, watching the leaves sway in the breeze. He had no idea how long he lay there; it was his stomach that reminded him that the sun was high in the sky. And it was hindsight that told him he'd left his wallet next to his cell phone in his bedroom.

There were several choices open to him; he could go home, he could go to the Connors, or he could go visit a friend. The first two were out of the question – the whole idea of getting out of the house was to get away from his grandmother's demands, so that left him with door number three.

He got up and righted his bike, deliberating between going to Corey's or Alexandria's. He knew that Gina would welcome him into her home even with Corey sick in bed, but her association was too close to that of his dad. Instead of seeking long-time familiarity, he headed for the one place he wasn't that certain of his reception under the circumstances.


"Daniel." Mrs. Montalbano stood in the doorway, staring at him in surprise.

"I'm sorry, I know I should have called but I forgot my cell and I was wondering how Alexandria's feeling."

"Not that great." Mrs. Montalbano stepped back, waving him in. "I'm sure she'd appreciate some company, though."

He gave her a thankful smile as he stepped inside.

"She's in the living room."

"Thank you."

He walked down the hall alone, Mrs. Montalbano returning to the kitchen while he went to find Alexandria.

"Wh-what are you doing here?" Alexandria, curled up on the couch, a flowered pink and yellow bathrobe peeking out from beneath a blanket, hair mussed, cheeks flushed with fever, stared at him in open shock when he stepped into the living room.

"I wanted to come and see how you were." He stood awkwardly just past the doorway, watching as she sat up and tried to smooth her hair back and adjust the edges of her bathrobe. "You look awful," he said when her hair fell back into her face.

The moment Alexandria's eyes filled, he realized he'd said the wrong thing. He stood there a moment, feeling like a total asshole and debated whether to run out of the house and pretend he'd never come over. Then common sense won over and he went over to her.

"I'm sorry you're sick." He pushed aside the edge of the blanket and sat next to her.

Alexandria sniffled once and rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand, keeping her face averted.

"I heard that half the school caught the virus."

"I know," she mumbled.

"You probably caught it from me. I'm sorry."

"I'd probably have caught it anyway." She shivered suddenly, and brought the edge of the blanket up to her chin. "Mom said they closed the school today and maybe Friday and Monday."

"Really?" Guess that was the reason Alexandria's mom didn't seem too surprised to see him.

"Too many kids sick and to try and stop the virus from spreading." She squirmed around on the couch, still trying to get comfortable. Finally she leaned against Daniel, laying her head on his shoulder. He snuck his arm around her back and with the other, helped her reposition the blanket around her. He could feel the heat of her fever through his clothes.

"I feel awful," she whined softly.

He kissed her temple. "I know. Been there, had the fever to prove it."

"But you're better now? There's hope for me to survive this?"

"You'll probably be better in a day or two. Maybe feeling a little wiped out but no more fever."

She sighed. "Is that how you feel today? Wiped out?"

"Yeah. But at least I don't have a fever."

"Lucky you." Alexandria fidgeted around until she was leaning half on him, half on the couch.

He moved around slowly until he was slouching on the couch, wishing he dared put his feet up on the coffee table. He let his head fall back against the couch, feeling oddly at ease right now. He glanced down at Alexandria who had her eyes closed and looking like she was already half asleep. He closed his eyes, relishing in the closeness, realizing how much he'd missed comfort of any kind.


Jack never thought he'd admit it, but he missed his mother's company. For the first time in what felt like forever, he was awake, alert, able to carry on a conversation without feeling like his head was full of cotton and struggling to keep his train of thought in line. And the pain was a helluva lot more manageable and he actually got a genuine smile out of the nurse who'd brought him breakfast. Then again, he hadn't thrown his morning glass of juice at her today so that must have counted for something.

He'd been an ass; he was well aware that his way of coping with physical pain was to withdraw into himself and refuse help from anyone. This was why he was more than grateful that his mother had stayed with him; she'd never accepted that behavior when he'd been a child and she certainly didn't today.

But his new-found clarity also brought something plainly into focus; he hadn't seen Daniel since he'd woken up in the infirmary a lifetime ago. And now, thinking back, had his mom been evading his questions every time he'd asked about his son? So, he was taking matters into his own hands before they took him to physical therapy.

"Here you are, Colonel." A nurse carried a phone to his bed and plugged it into a wall socket. She placed it on the bed next to him with a smile.

Eagerly he dialed Daniel's cell, tapping his fingers impatiently as he counted each ring. "Hey, it's me," he said when the call went to Daniel's voice mail. "Give me a shout in the next twenty minutes when you get off the phone before Carmichael sends in the physical therapist."

Knowing Daniel could talk for hours, he decided to call his mom.

"Hey," he said when she answered.

"Jonathan. Is everything all right?"

"Everything's fine. I was just trying to get a hold of Daniel."


Jack paused a moment, confused at his mother's tone. "Yeah. Blond, five foot six, glasses. Lives with me but currently staying with my mom while I recuperate. Tell him to get off the phone and give me a call. You know once Fraiser's people get their hands on me, I'm done for the next several hours."

"Daniel's not here."

"Oh crap. He's in school, right? I tell you I have no idea what day it is, sorry. Okay. I tried calling his cell and it went to voice mail."

"I'll, um, tell him you called."

"Okay, what's wrong?" Jack demanded at the sound of his mother's almost curt tone.


"Bullshit. What happened to Daniel?"

"Nothing's happened to him."

"Something's happened, Ma."


"Then where is he? He is in school, right? With Dria? Corey? John? Nate?"

"I don't know where he is," his mom admitted after a moment. "He was gone when I got up. There was one of those automated messages on the phone that school was closed due to the virus."

So he wasn't in school, then where the hell was his son? The clock on the wall showed that it was nearly lunchtime. Jack swallowed back his fear. "Are you sure he got the message?"

"If he didn't get it, I'm sure someone would've conveyed it to him, you know kids and their cell phones."

"That's not like him."

"No. But he's been cooped up here in the house with that virus so he probably needed some air."

"He's feeling better?" Ah, right. Daniel had been sick, and his germs were the reason his mother was at home and not with him right now. He rubbed the area above his right eyebrow in frustration. Damn, those drugs Fraiser had been plying him with had really done a number on his memory.

"Yeah. His fever broke last night. What about you? How are you feeling? I tried calling earlier but they said you were with a doctor."

"Yeah. They had some other specialist look at my back."


"Nothing new. Same old, same old. Bruising's going to take time to heal, swelling's gone down some, PT, rest, yadda yadda."

"That's still good news."

"Yeah," he mumbled. It was good news as opposed to the contrary, but he was already getting impatient with the whole thing. He wanted to be able to jump out of bed, walk out of here and just go home. Instead he was stuck either in bed or in a wheelchair for the time being, looking forward to weeks of PT and days, if not weeks, away from going home.

He hated being helpless.

"Oh, Carmichael said tomorrow was a go. So next time you see me, I'll have my own room in the Academy Hospital. Just don't forget and drive down here out of habit." He forced a laugh, which quickly faded at his mother's silence. "Ma?"

"Do you need anything from the house?"

"No, I don't need anything. And would you please tell me what's wrong?" There was something up. Something more than him being in the hospital, he knew the woman his entire life and was pretty damn good at reading her, even when she wasn't in the room with him.

"Honey, it's nothing. I just wish Daniel and I could be there tomorrow to help you settle in."

Maybe that was part of it, their not being here, but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was more. "I'll be fine." He broke off when his physical therapist stuck her head into his room and held two fingers in the air, indicating she was coming back in two minutes. "Damn, gotta go. Jenny's here."

"I'll call you later."

"Okay, call and leave a message with the infirmary so I know Daniel's made it home safely and speaking of the boy, tell him to call me back."

"I will. Love you."

Jack hung up the phone and sighed. The torture was about to begin.


Daniel woke up with a start, unsure what had disturbed him. Then he heard it – a snicker, the sound triggering an echo of a memory, knowing that the same noise had woken him up. Alexandria's brother, Tommy, was standing in the doorway watching them.

Tommy snickered again and this time woke up Alexandria. "Get out of here." Her words were sleepy and slow.

"Make me." Tommy was holding something in his hand and Daniel realized it was a phone and that Tommy was taking pictures of them.

"If you share even one picture of me in PJs, I swear, I will kill you." There was a little more vigor in her voice.

"I can do whatever I want. It's my phone."

"Mom!" Alexandria yelled suddenly, causing Daniel to jump. "Tell Tommy to delete the pictures he just took of me and Daniel."

"Bitch," Tommy spat before Mrs. Mantalbano swept down on them and ordered Tommy to hand over his phone. She scrolled through the pictures herself; obviously trust was an issue with her son at the moment.

Daniel shifted on the couch; his butt had gone numb and his legs were stiff. Alexandria sat up, glaring at Tommy as her mom handed his cell back to him.

"Come and eat, sweetheart, I've got lunch on the table."

"I'm not hungry," Alexandria whined, even as Daniel's stomach gurgled at the thought of food.

"I know you're not, but you'll feel better if you eat. You too, Daniel. There's more than enough."

"Are you sure? I don't want to impose," he said politely while his stomach tried to tell everyone around them that it wasn't interested good manners.

"There's more than enough," she replied with a kind smile.

He got up eagerly, then reined in his enthusiasm when Alexandria joined him with obvious reluctance. She draped the blanket over her and cuddled up with it on a kitchen chair. Her mom was right; there was a platter of sandwiches on the table, chips and an assortment of cut-up vegetables with a dip, and a small bowl of soup for Alexandria. Daniel and Tommy dug into the sandwiches while Alexandria barely touched her soup.

Tommy had begun eating with gusto but even before Daniel started on his second sandwich, he pushed his plate away and whined about his head hurting.

"Well, I guess it was just a matter of time before you caught it," Mrs. Montalbano said as she reached over and pressed a hand against Tommy's forehead.

"Serves you right," Alexandria snapped as her mom shook out two Tylenol from a bottle. "If you'd stayed away from me like I told you to—"

"If you'd stayed in your bedroom so you didn't spread your germs—" Tommy snapped back, "I wouldn't have caught them."

"My grandma was saying the virus is really contagious." Daniel reached for a handful of chips and dropped them in his plate.

"I know. She's taking precautions, I hope?" Mrs. Montalbano went to the kitchen sink and washed her hands.

"Yeah." At least Daniel hoped she was.

The rest of the meal was spent with Tommy whining and Dria sitting there looking miserable. When Mrs. Montalbano finished eating, Daniel jumped up to help her clear the table.

Alexandria hadn't moved, and when Daniel went to pick up her bowl of soup, he leaned down and said, "Go lie down."

"I'm fine." She blinked slowly at him, her eyes glassy.

"Trust me, you're not fine." He put the bowl on the counter. "I'll give you a call later, okay? To see how you're doing?"

She nodded and wrapped the blanket more securely around herself before she stood. She went to her mom and gave her a kiss, then put her arm around Daniel, leaning close against him. "Thank you for coming." Her cheek was hot against his and he looked to Mrs. Montalbano, who thankfully was reaching for the bottle of Tylenol.

Daniel said goodbye to Alexandria's mom and let himself out. On his bike again, he detoured to Corey's house, wondering if he should stop and say hello. But if Corey was as sick as Alexandria, then he really wasn't up to seeing any visitors. With nowhere else to go, he kicked off and headed for his grandmother's.

As he walked his bike to the back of the house, he realized he didn't really want to go inside just yet and face his grandmother and her nagging. As he locked up his bike, he realized there was a way to delay. Five minutes later, he was busy weeding.


"Where have you been?"

Daniel froze just as he stepped through the back door. He was exhausted and had run out of steam halfway through the weeding but had persevered, partly because he'd wanted to do something for his grandma and partly because he knew she'd be pissed that he'd taken off and he'd wanted to avoid exactly this.

"I was weeding." He raised his filthy hands as proof and looked down at his mud-encrusted pants.

"So you're telling me you've been outside weeding since before I got out of bed this morning." His grandmother was standing, arms akimbo, blocking his way through the kitchen.

"No. I went to see Alexandria, her mom invited me for lunch and then I came home and did the weeding." Daniel knew his voice was bordering on sarcasm, but her anger was fueling his and he was just too tired to care.

"And it didn't occur to you to maybe leave me a note? Give me a phone call?"

"I hadn't planned on staying out for long," Daniel mumbled, knowing he was in the wrong, "so I didn't bring my cell with me."

"And none of the Montalbano's phones were working?"

"I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean to worry you." He walked past her, heading for the bathroom, intending on taking a shower.

"You didn't only worry me; you had your dad worried, too."

Daniel breathed a sigh of relief that he'd missed that phone call. "Sorry."

"He's been asking about you." She followed him down the hall.

"Yeah, you said that before," he tossed over his shoulder as he entered his bedroom.

"They're moving him to the Academy Hospital tomorrow."

"Good." He tossed the program he'd tucked under his arm onto his bed and toed off his sneakers. "I'm going to take a shower." He tried to ignore the look of disappointment on his grandmother's face as he left his bedroom.


His grandmother was busy in the kitchen when he got out of the shower so he lay down in bed with his cell phone, intending to check his voice mail before calling Alexandria.

His heart dropped when he saw the SGC's number on his phone's call log. His dad had pushed the issue – he'd called just as Daniel was having lunch at the Montalbano's, and a second time while he'd been out weeding.

"Well, screw him." Daniel went to delete the messages, then stopped at the last second. He was undecided; he brought the phone up to listen, moved to delete the messages, decided to call Alexandria and then, unable to stand it, gave in to his morbid curiosity and put the phone to his ear and listened.

"Hey. Tried calling you earlier before my PT session. Sorry I didn't call again sooner – those sessions are killers and they knock me out for a few hours afterwards. So hey, give me a call when you get in, okay? I should be in my room until around four – then I've got a hydrotherapy session – oh joy."

Daniel couldn't believe how normal his dad sounded – like nothing had happened between them. Like he was... Dad.

"Otherwise, I'll be here after six. At least till they knock me out for the night. So, kiddo, give your old man a call, okay? I miss you, Icky."

The message disconnected, and Daniel lay there in shock. He'd expected his father to give him hell, rake him over the coals for not calling, for taking off today without telling his grandma, for being the jerk his father had accused him of being earlier. The last thing he'd expected was this.

Here was his chance, maybe to get his grandmother off his back for a while and his dad as well. It was four-thirty – well past the time his dad had said to call back. Moving quickly before he changed his mind, he dialed the number on his cell, and with his heart beating heavily in his chest, he waited nervously, praying that nobody picked up. After several rings, a nurse picked up the phone and Daniel, who was just about to hang up, hurriedly tripped over words, telling them who he was and to please just tell his dad that he'd called. Once the words were out of his mouth, he closed his cell, not even waiting for the person at the other end to acknowledge the call.

He texted Alexandria, telling her to call him if she was up. When she didn't call back, he assumed she was sleeping so he sent text messages to John, Corey, Nate and Cassie.

A minute later, Cassie called him back.

"You're feeling better? You're sooooo lucky," she whined.

"My dad called today." Daniel jumped right in without exchanging any pleasantries. There was a moment of silence before she answered.

"What did he say?"

"Nothing, really. He left me a message and asked me to call him back."

"Did you?"

"I left a message with whoever answered the phone."

"Daniel, maybe you should talk to him, like really talk to him. No messages type of talk."

"No." His father's words still reverberated though his dreams, and there was no way he wanted to set himself up for more hurt like that again.

"Mom said the meds might have made him say weird things—"

"Maybe it was the meds. But then, they just brought out the truth, didn't they?"


"How can I talk to someone who hates my guts? Who thinks I'm a loser. Who always thought I was a loser, even before." This last word he whispered. He'd always secretly thought his adult self had been a pretty neat guy – apparently his perception of everything was totally screwed – maybe his dad was right. Maybe he truly was a loser – he hadn't wanted to face the truth but his dad's words had hit the nail on the head.

"You're not. You've made some mistakes, but haven't we all? And you've made up for those. He didn't mean what he said, Daniel."

"I know I made mistakes. That's not it. It's that..." Daniel bit his lip, fighting back the tears that wanted to come. "He never believed in me. All those times he said it would be all right, he lied to me. I can't, Cassie. I can't talk to him."

"Then talk to Grandma Rose."

"Grandma doesn't want to talk to me. She's upset over Dad and doesn't have time for me."

"I'm sure that's not true."

"Yeah? Every spare minute she's home, she's either studying stuff she brought back from the infirmary about Dad's injury and treatments, or she's looking it up on the internet or she's talking to his doctors."

"What's she doing now?"

"Making supper."

"So go talk to her now."

And have his grandmother agree with his father about how much of a loser he was? "She's mad at me right now." Tears flowed down his cheeks and he tossed his glasses onto the bed, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hands. Damn, hearing his father's voice had brought back all the hurt.

"I gotta go," Daniel said when his grandmother called him for supper.

"Daniel, I'm sorry..."

"No, I'm sorry, Cassie. You're sick and I didn't even ask how you were feeling." He wiped his eyes again, trying not to sniffle into the phone.

"I'll survive. Are you crying?"

"No," he lied. "I'm sorry I dumped on you."

"It's okay. I was there. I know what happened."

"Daniel. Dinner."

"Grandma's calling. I gotta go. I hope you feel better soon."

"Me, too."

"Talk to you later. Bye."

"Talk to Grandma Rose—" Cassie's tinny voice cut off when he disconnected the call. He tossed his cell onto his bed, grabbed his glasses and went to the kitchen.

Supper was eaten in uncomfortable silence. Even if he wanted to broach the subject about what his father had said, now certainly wasn't the time with his grandmother giving him cool looks every few minutes or pointedly ignoring him.

Daniel excused himself as soon as he could, barricading himself in his room. He made short work of getting into pajamas, even though it was early. He had just slid into bed when his cell rang.

"Hey, man," he answered, recognizing John's number. "How're you feeling?"

"Been better. Been worse. What about you?"

"Better. Finally." He grabbed the program the guy, Brad, had given him this morning and leafed through it. "I talked to Cassie."

"Yeah. Me, too."

"I went to see Alexandria this morning."

"How's she doing?"

"Feeling miserable."

"Janet told Cassie this thing should last three days so we should be better by tomorrow."

Daniel quickly counted in his head the days he'd been sick and came up with three. "Yeah, that's about right."

"Hey, I got another call coming in. It's probably my mom. Give me a sec; I'll call you right back."

"She stuck you with Cameron?"

"Oh man, you have no idea."

Daniel was laughing when John cut the connection. He hadn't even finished looking at the next page of photos when his cell rang. He picked it up and answered, "Just think, not everyone gets a gorgeous nurse twenty-four seven to look after you."

"Actually I have two gorgeous nurses, they just split their shifts. Hey, Icky. It's great to hear your voice."


There was a suspiciously long silence at the other end. "Daniel, you there?"

"Yeah" The now sullen tone of voice definitely didn't resemble the one that had answered the phone.

"Grandma said you've been sick. How're you doing?"

"I'm fine."

"Virus is bad enough it shut down the school. You got lucky. You get a day of vacation and don't have to spend it in bed."

"Guess so," Daniel muttered.

"I called a couple times today and left messages. I was hoping you'd call back."

"I called. Left a message. Didn't you get it?"

This time Daniel's tone of voice sounded almost accusing.

"Sorry about that. That last session ran a little late. Did Grandma tell you they're moving me to the Academy Hospital tomorrow? Do you have any idea how much I miss looking out a window? I was desperate enough to start asking for pictures of trees to stick on the wall just to change the decor."

There was more silence, and Jack found himself struggling for something to say.

"It's too bad Grandma's under quarantine for another couple of days. It'd been neat if you could have been there tomorrow when I'm transferred to the Hospital."

Jack waited for Daniel to jump at suggestions on getting there himself – taking a cab, hitchhiking, driving himself, asking Cameron to drive him, taking his bike – but there were no words forthcoming.

This wasn't good.

"Hey, are you okay?" Jack asked when the silence became worrisome.

"I'm fine, Daniel parroted.

"Okay. You just seem quiet," he said into more dead air. Jack switched gears, "How's Dria?"

"She's sick."

"Ah, right. Grandma said you'd gone out today. Did you go visit her?"


Jack waited for, but didn't expect, any elaboration. "Is Grandma taking care of herself?"

"She's Grandma."

Jack laughed. That was so true; there was no changing his mother. "Is she home?"


"Okay. I'll give her a call. Look, Icky, you know you can call me any time, right? By tomorrow I'll be all settled in and I'll call and give Grandma the new number and the times for my therapy sessions but otherwise, I should be in my room."

When there was more silence, Jack sighed. "Okay, I'll hang up now. Just remember I love you, Daniel."

Jack hung up without Daniel reciprocating. Something was wrong. And he was stuck here with no way to help his son.


Breakfast was slightly better than the previous night's supper; at least his grandmother was in a better mood this morning. While Daniel ate pancakes, she chatted on the phone with Janet.

His cell rang just as he was finishing up. He double checked the number before answering.

"Please come save me from Cameron." John's voice was oozing with desperation.

"What?" Daniel replied, picking up his plate and rinsing it. "Can't deal with a little TLC?"

"Dude, I'm drowning in her attentiveness. Mom and Derek are gone and it's just me and her. Please, do something."

"You're sick. She's taking care of you," Daniel said with a chuckle.

"I'm feeling better, but she says I've still got a touch of fever."

"Can you ask her to go to the store and get you something?"

"Only so many times you can ask for junk food. Especially when you're feeling too crappy to eat it."

Daniel walked to his bedroom and began pulling out clean clothes. "You got those crunchy cheese things?"

"Yeah. Two bags."

"Hold on. I'll be there in ten."

He dressed quickly, then pocketed his cell phone and wallet, and went to find his grandmother.

"I'm going over to John's."

She lowered the newspaper she'd been reading and deliberately took a sip of tea, all the while watching him. "Fine. Will you be back for lunch?" Her tone was close to sarcastic.

"Don't make anything for me. If I don't eat at John's, I'll come back and make a sandwich."

"Have fun." She lowered her gaze back to the newspaper and Daniel made his escape.


John was dressed in an old pair of jeans and a tee shirt, he had horrible bed head, but his smile lit up the room when he opened the door to let Daniel in. "Thank God. Do something, please." He nodded over at Cameron, who was standing by the window, watching them.

"Hey." Daniel walked over to her. "My grandma could use some company today."

"Is she sick?"

"Grandma? No. I think she's a little lonely, though."

"Then why didn't you stay with her?"

"Because she's mad at me and we're not really talking."

"Oh." Cameron's eyes darted from Daniel to John.

"I'll stay with John," Daniel said hurriedly.

"John had a temperature of ninety nine point eight degrees this morning. He took Tylenol approximately two point four hours ago. He needs to drink water to keep hydrated—"

"I know. I went through all of this myself, remember?"

"You'll come get me if you need me?" She looked at John as she said this.

"I promise."

"I'll go visit Rose."

"Cameron," Daniel called out just as she reached the door. "When you were at the SGC this week, did you see my dad?"

"Why? Have you lost him?"

"I just thought you might have gone by the infirmary, maybe visited him."

"Should I have?"

"No. No. Forget it. I was just..."

"Major Carter mentioned Colonel O'Neill was being transferred to the Academy Hospital."

"Yeah, today."

"Will you be visiting him?"

Before Daniel could come up with some lie, John hurried to the door and whipped it open. "Go on. Rose is waiting."

"Rose doesn't know I'm coming. How can she be waiting?"

"It's just an expression," John replied with obvious control.

"Oh." She gave a little tilt to the side and a quick smile. "Thank you for explaining." She left the house and John and Daniel were alone.

"Thank you. I owe you my sanity." John flopped onto the couch, bounced once, and sighed happily.

"You look pretty healthy."

"I feel wiped, but no fever."

"That was me yesterday." Daniel stood watching Cameron through the window, admiring the way her short, tight skirt hugged her bottom.

"I spoke to Cassie last night."

Daniel forgot Cameron as he turned to stare at John. He realized at that moment that this was the reason he'd wanted him to come over. He went and sat down slowly on the couch.

"Is that why you just asked Cameron if she'd gone to see your dad?"

Daniel shrugged. "I don't know." He wasn't sure why he'd asked the question, except that right now, morbid curiosity was getting the best of him.

"Do you wanna talk about it?"

"No," Daniel said hurriedly.

"Wanna hit the mall? The new FYE opened this week."

Daniel blinked, taking a second to process John's question and deliberately pulling himself out of his mental funk. "What about Cameron?"

"What about her? She's keeping Rose company, isn't she?" John grinned at Daniel, who couldn't help grinning back. "Give me a second."

Daniel got up and went to the window Cameron had been standing at earlier and looked across the street at his grandmother's house. From this angle, to the perfect stranger, it looked like an inviting home, with well-tended flowers front and back. Ironic how appearances could be so different from the real thing.

"Ready?" John came back, his hair dampened and combed into a semblance of order.

They got into the Jeep and even as John backed up out of the driveway, Daniel expected Cameron to come running out to stop them. So he was surprised when they actually managed to make their escape.

"She's going to be angry."

"She's a robot. She doesn't get angry."

"I need to call my grandmother," Daniel finally admitted two blocks down. The tension in the house was bad enough after yesterday. To his surprise, when he called and told her they were heading to the mall and asked if she needed anything, she was in a good mood and simply told him to enjoy himself.

They strode through the mall and ironically, for a Friday and considering school was still closed, it was pretty devoid of people. They went into Pet City because Daniel could never walk by without having a peek at the puppies and kittens for sale.

"Wait." Back in the mall, Daniel pointed to a tiny collectibles store. "Maybe I can find something in here for Grandma."

"I thought you said she didn't want anything." John followed Daniel in, looking like he wanted to be anywhere else than in a store full of delicate knick knacks.

"She doesn't. But maybe I can find something to help replace all the figurines we broke."

"That was your fault, dude. Don't put that blame on me."

"I didn't," Daniel snapped. "I just thought I could find something." He started to storm past the store but John stopped him, grabbing his arm.

"Won't hurt to look," John said. He inclined his head towards the store. "Come on."

Daniel thought most of the stuff in the store was stupid or corny, until he came across a tiny, three-inch figurine of two little fairies, one holding a mushroom-umbrella over a much tinier one. "Grandma would love this," he said with awe as he picked it up to examine it.

"It's nice." John agreed when Daniel showed it to him.

"I'm getting it. This is perfect."

"What's the price?"

He'd never even thought to check the price tag. He turned it upside and swore. "Thirty-five dollars?"

"Your grandmother collected other stuff, right?" John pointed to the locked and closed glass cases. "Like that?"

Daniel nodded. "Other stuff," he snorted. "Expensive things. Lladros. Hummels."

John shrugged, totally clueless.

"Never mind, it doesn't matter. I have enough money to buy this." Barely, Daniel thought. He'd come out with a couple dollars to his name after he paid for this.

"If you think she'll like it."

"She will. Grandma will love this," he repeated, more to convince himself than to make a point and he put the figurine on the counter and pulled out his wallet.


In FYE, Daniel knew exactly what he wanted. He headed for the new music releases.

"It's out." Daniel spotted the multi-hued, blue-faced cover art and grabbed the Psyanotic CD.

"You could have bought the songs off iTunes."

Daniel gave John an embarrassed smile. "I used up all my gift cards. Anyways, I've been waiting ages for this—Hey!"

Someone grabbed the CD from behind him and he spun around, expecting one of his friends to be teasing him. The words he'd been ready to yell froze in his mouth when he came face to face with the blue-streaked teen of yesterday. With him were the teens with the buzz cut and the Goth, both sporting leather jackets and enough chains to tie an anchor to a rowboat.

"Brad," Daniel began, only to be shoved aside by John, who got into the kid's face.

"Hand that back."

"John, it's okay—"

"Daniel, stay out of this." John didn't take his eyes off Brad. "I won't tell you twice," he said to Brad.

"Hey, man, it's cool." Brad raised both hands in the air, smiling at John. Daniel could see that the sentiment never reached his eyes.

"John, stop it." He cringed as his voice cracked, as it had been wont to do over the past few weeks. He shoved John aside with his hip, trying to get everyone's attention. "They're cool." He nodded at the other two, and pointed to the CD Brad was still holding. "You know Psyanotic?"

Brad shrugged.

"Guy's amazing." Daniel reached sideways into the display case and took out two more of the same CDs, tossing one to each of the teens. "You like Simple Plans? Panic at the Disco? Nine Inch Nails. ICP?"

Goth guy nodded as he examined the cover, then turned the case over to look at the back.

"Then you'll like this. Trust me."

Buzz cut guy tossed the CD haphazardly over the neatly piled selection of CDs, obviously not interested.

"Thanks for the rec." Brad handed Daniel the CD he'd snatched from him, giving John a sarcastic grin. "Misha, there," he said, indicating the Goth, "loves Panic at the Disco. Dave, on the other hand, prefers Miley Cyrus."

"Fuck you." Dave smacked Brad on the shoulder and it was obvious this was an ongoing joke between them.

Brad took the copy that Dave had tossed aside. "I'll let you know what I think."

"Is there a problem?" One of the salesmen came up to them, staring defiantly at them.

"No problem," Daniel said quickly. "Just discussing music." He waved the CD he was holding in his hand. "I've been waiting forever for this."

"See ya around." Brad nodded at Daniel, while Misha held up the CD and gave him a thumbs up.

The three of them walked off, looking through the displays, leaving Daniel alone with an obviously seething John.

"What was that about?" Daniel hissed at John the moment it was only two of them.

"How the hell was I supposed to know you knew them?"

"I don't know them. I mean, okay, I bumped into them yesterday at Donovan's Park and they were cool." John was still staring at their backs. "So they look kinda..."


"Different. I was going for original. Actually, I wonder what my dad would say if I dyed my hair..." Daniel froze. For a few seconds, he'd forgotten his dad's hatred for him, for how nine years ago he'd tied Jack O'Neill down to a life he'd never planned. "Let's go pay for this." He started down the aisle and came to a stop so suddenly, John bumped into him. "Shit."


"I don't have enough money to pay for the CD." He swallowed back disappointment. After giving his grandmother a gift he'd freely chosen for her, it wouldn't look right if he went begging for twenty bucks to buy himself an album.

"Told you so." John took the CD from Daniel's lax fingers. "You might not have enough, but I do."


"Don't worry. I'll share," John called out over his shoulder.

Disappointed, Daniel hung back near the doors, waiting while John stood in line.

"What's with your buddy?" Brad, slowly passing his newly purchased CD from one hand to another, leaned a shoulder against the store's window.

"You just caught him by surprise."

"Kinda protective. He your brother?"

"John? No, he's just a friend."

"It's Daniel, right?"

He nodded. "Jackson. Daniel Jackson."

Brad stuck his hand out. "Brad McFadden."

Daniel shook Brad's hand.

"You go to Cheyenne Mountain High, right?" Brad was watching John, whose turn it was at the cash register. Misha and Dave were still browsing the music racks.


"That's why I haven't seen you around school."

"But you know Steve Brughman." Daniel had tried, but couldn't remember seeing Brad's friends among the partygoers that fateful evening.

"Bruggie? Yeah, doesn't everyone?"

Daniel laughed. "Yeah, I guess that's true."

"You and Brughman close?"

Daniel shrugged. "Not really. We both play soccer..."

Brad's lowered his voice even though there was nobody around them. "You didn't hear this from me. I'd steer clear from him; guy attracts trouble, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah, I know. Thanks," he said in a quiet voice.

"Hey!" Brad was suddenly overly boisterous. "CMHS is closed today 'cause half the kids are sick." Brad punched Daniel lightly on the shoulder as John walked out to them. "Us too. Virus struck again. We're damn lucky, huh?"

"Trust me. It didn't feel that lucky when I was sick in bed."

"Tough break, but hey, we're off today." He pushed off as John joined them. "Enjoy your freedom." He gave them both a salute with his matching FYE bag. "I know I am."


John thought they'd been heading for the exit, and he nearly groaned out loud when Daniel veered off towards the food court. He was tired, his appetite had been hijacked by a headache, aches and pain and possibly the return of a fever.

Daniel splurged the last of his money on a burger, fries and a Coke. John, at the last moment, changed his selection to Chinese.

"Go get a table. I'll be right with you." He waved Daniel on as he walked several kiosks back, ordered a won ton soup and an egg roll.

As he carried his tray through the tables, searching for Daniel, it took him a full minute to realize that Daniel was sitting at a table with the three kids who'd ticked him off royally at the FYE.

The last thing he wanted was their company but he had no choice but to paste a pleasant look on his face and join them.

Introductions were made this time around, and John nodded to them as he stirred his soup, trying to decide whether he just wanted only the broth or the full content of the soup.

He remained quiet, watching and listening as Daniel befriended the three. All of them, despite their tough appearances, seemed to be normal kids on the inside, talking and laughing, sharing their food.

"Hey." Daniel knocked his leg with his knee. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Fine." He slurped a spoonful of lukewarm soup which tasted so greasy it turned his stomach.

"You're quiet."

"You're doing the talking for the both of us, as usual." John added a quirky smile to take the sting out of his words.

"Are you feeling sick?"

"I said I was fine." He tried to cut one of the won tons with his spoon and nearly shoved it out of the Styrofoam container.

"Do I need to call Cameron?"

John rolled his eyes at Daniel.

"Did you bring anything?"

John could picture the bottle of Tylenol sitting on the bathroom counter back home. He shook his head.

"I could run to the pharmacy, pick up a bottle of Tylenol."

"Hey. You need pills?" Misha leaned over and unzipped one of several pockets on his pants and pulled out a tattered blister pack with half the pills missing.

"Thanks, but I'm not into that." John tried to remain polite as he shoved the pills back towards Misha, biting back the irritation he felt at such a blatant exposure of drugs.

"They're Extra Strength Tylenol, man." Misha picked up the pack and held it out to him. For a moment, John was mesmerized by the black nail polish right beneath his eyes, then he turned his gaze to the pack, which clearly read, Tylenol.

Slowly John reached out and took the pills from Misha. "Thanks."

"No sweat. My mom always insists I be prepared. I get allergy headaches." He ducked his head, trying to hide his embarrassment. "My mom, she worries."

"I hear you, man." John took two of the pills, swallowing them down with the last of Daniel's Coke.

"You sick?" Dave pushed his chair back, more than obviously keeping his distance.

"I've got a headache." Which truly wasn't a lie.

"We better get home." Daniel shoved his chair back, stacked his garbage and John's uneaten food together, and tossed everything into a nearby trashcan. John got up more slowly, gathering the results of their shopping expedition.

"See you around." Daniel took his bag from John as everyone said goodbye.

"Hey. Tomorrow afternoon, if you've got nothing better to do, drop by Gilly's park after lunch."

Daniel raised an eyebrow at Brad's offer.

"We're just hanging, man. No trouble; I swear. Maybe toss a ball around or something."

Daniel gave John a quick sideways glance, as if he were studying his reaction. "I won't promise, but I'll try to come."

"Both of you," Brad added, including John in the invitation.

"Like Daniel said, I'll see." The way he felt now, he didn't think he'd have the energy to get out of bed tomorrow, let alone go to some party.

"Tomorrow sounds interesting," Daniel said as soon as they were out of earshot.

"Tomorrow's Saturday," John shot back.

"Yeah, and the soccer game's cancelled 'cause everyone's out sick."

"It's just I don't think your dad might approve of you hanging around with those guys."

"So? What's my dad gonna do? Ground me if he doesn't think I should go?"

"Maybe not, but your grandmother sure as hell will."

"For playing in Gilly's park? Yeah, right."

Daniel was quiet during the drive home. They parted ways, Daniel heading for Rose's while John went inside. He went straight to his bedroom, Cameron right on his heels.

Cameron glanced at the bag he held in his hands. "CD," he said, upending it and tossing it next to his PC, intending to burn a copy for Daniel later on. As he sat on the bed and toed off his boots, Cameron did the usual swipe and diagnose that he hated so much.

"No fever."

"Told you I was feeling better." He lay down, relieved that his discomfort was probably due to overdoing it and not illness.

"Sarah wasn't happy when I told her that you left the house and didn't call."

John glared and her and groaned. "Tattletale."


"Grandma?" Daniel walked through the house until he found his grandmother in the den, sitting at her computer.

"Did you have a good time, mhuirnin?" She swiveled in her chair to face him.

"It was okay." He handed her the bag from the Shoppe in the Forest collectible boutique. "I got you something."

"For me?" She looked at him she took the bag from him, startled. "What's this for?"

"Just something I saw..." He stood there nervously rocking back and forth on his tippy toes, worrying his bottom lip as his grandmother removed the bubble-wrapped gift from the bag.


"Oh." Rose held the small figurine and examined it from all angles.

"I know that it's not a Lladros or a Hummel, but I was hoping it could sorta like replace, not that this little thing could replace what I broke, until I could, you know... get enough money to buy you..." Daniel swallowed, "sorta like an IOU?"

"It's lovely." It was a cute, almost childish-like statuette, something that should be adorning a young girl's bedroom rather than an old lady's curio cabinet. But the look on Daniel's face, full of hope and anticipation and, yes, nervousness, nearly broke her heart. Plus, if the sticker underneath was truly the price tag, her grandson had literally blown a couple weeks' allowance on her gift.

She stood and kissed his cheek, taking a moment to push a long strand of hair behind his ear that was falling over his forehead. "Thank you. It's perfect."

He grinned at her, his eyes lighting up, his cheeks dimpling, looking so much younger than his fourteen years. It seemed almost like forever since she'd seen him smile like that; and it did her heart good to see him happy.

She placed the figurine front and center in her curio cabinet, vowing to herself that even if she ever managed to fill it up again with her beloved favorites, this one would always have this place of honor.

Her eyes filled and she brushed a finger beneath her glasses to wipe the tears away.

"Are you crying, Grandma?"

"Me? Of course not. My eyes are just tired from doing all that reading on the computer," she lied as Daniel wrapped his arms around her and gave her a hug.

"I should go check and see what homework I've missed when I was sick." He sighed with exaggeration."


They were already tossing around a football by the time Daniel rode his bike to Gilly's park. Daniel took his time as he walked his bike through the park, watching the players chase one another as they tossed the ball back and forth. Rob , the long-haired idiot who'd given Daniel grief over Alexandria, was easily recognizable, taller than most of the kids. Misha's dark clothes stood out and Daniel smiled when he caught the ball, lowered his head and plowed through half the teens coming at him. Apart from the five he'd met at Donovan's park, Daniel knew three he'd played against in soccer games and two more he'd seen around. But when he recognized Steve Brughman and Tony Bloch, Daniel was sorry he'd come.

Before he could turn around and leave, Brad caught sight of him and waved him over. With a sigh, he walked his bike over the rest of the way.

"Ready to play?" The guy with the body piercings slapped Daniel on the shoulder. "Game's pretty easy; just no body tackles since we're not wearing protection."

"Actually," Daniel said slowly as Tony and Steve approached, "I can't stay."

"What's the matter, Jackson," Tony Bloch sneered, "afraid of a little competition?"

Daniel ignored Tony and nodded to Steve. "Hey, Bruggie."

"Jackson." Steve greeted Daniel more amicably than Tony Bloch.

"Sorry, my grandmother—"

"I always knew you were a loser. Thinks he's a big guy on the soccer field." Tony snorted loudly. "Not so big when Coach isn't around to watch his back."

Daniel ignored Tony and tried to finish his flimsy excuse. "My grandmother needs me to—"

"Me, personally, I think you're just a great bench warmer. Guess you aint gonna live up to your nickname, eh, Twinkletoes? We know you can run, but are you man enough to play a man's game."

"Can it, Bloch." Brad glared in Tony's direction. To Daniel's surprise, Dave and the guy with the body piercings flanked Brad, backing him up. Brad turned to Daniel. "Sure you can't stay fifteen minutes?"

"Maybe fifteen minutes," Daniel said, wishing Tony, of all people, hadn't been part of the group. He vowed to stay as far away from Tony, and by association, Bruggie.

"Hey, everyone," Tony bellowed, "Jackson's going to stay out past curfew." When Rob took a step forward, Tony finally shut up.

Daniel leaned his bike against a tree, out of the way and joined the game.

"Terry," the guy with the body piercings said, holding out a hand to Daniel. They shook, grinned at one another, and jumped into the game.


For a few minutes he stayed on the sidelines, warming up as he ran back and forth with the play. Then when Terry got hold of the football and found three teens heading right for him, he turned and tossed the ball straight for Daniel. Surprised, Daniel nearly fumbled the ball and started running. He managed to outmaneuver everyone, dodging them, grateful for his skill on the soccer field as he outran everyone and reached the end zone.

"Holy shit!" Dave yelled, slapping Daniel on the back hard enough to nearly knock him off his feet. "Bloch wasn't kidding. You sure you don't want to change schools and play for our team?"

Daniel grinned as he tossed the ball back to Brad. For the next several minutes, Daniel's agility and speed kept his team in control of the ball. Daniel glowed in their praises, enjoying himself, until he became overconfident and forgot his vow to stay away from Tony. He was running with the ball when suddenly something slammed into him and he landed heavily on the ground. For a moment he saw stars, then Tony Bloch's sneering face was inches away from his.

"Is Dria still hot in bed?" Tony whispered sneeringly. "Does she still do that little thing with her tongue when she—"

Before he could throw himself on Tony and beat the crap out of him, three of Brad's friends surrounded Daniel. Hands reached down to help him up.

"Hey, man, you all right?" Terry asked worriedly as Tony got up and danced out of his sight.

Daniel winced at a sharp pain in his knee when he put his weight on his right leg. He shook his leg out and took another cautious step, and the pain eased considerably. "I'm fine."

"You sure? You went down pretty hard." Misha was frowning as Daniel walked the stiffness out of his knee.

"You damned idiot!" Brad's voice rang out and everyone turned to see Brad shoving Tony. "You could have killed him."

"I didn't hit him that hard—"

"Get out of here." Brad shoved Tony again.

"It was a stupid game anyway." Tony turned, opened his mouth and waggled his tongue at Daniel, and walked off. Brughman muttered something under his breath before following Tony.

"You okay?" Brad asked as Daniel began walking towards his bike. Thankfully his knee seemed to be getting better with each step.

"I'm fine."

"Sorry about that. Tony Bloch's an asshole."

"Yeah. Tell me about it."

Brad held his hand out. "It was a good game."

Daniel stopped and took Brad's hand. "Yeah. It was."

"You must be pretty awesome on the soccer field."

Daniel started walking again, staring at his feet. "I do okay." He reached his bike and straddled it.

"See you around Donovan's?"

"Yeah. Okay." He waved at the others, and shoved off. His knee felt a little stiff but had loosened up by the time he reached his grandmother's house.


"Don't make any plans after lunch."

Daniel yawned as he reached an arm back to scratch the middle of his back. He glanced sleepily at the clock. "It's nearly lunchtime now. Why? Are we going out?"

"It's been three days – I think it's time to go celebrate your dad's move to the Academy Hospital."

Daniel froze. "Today? But I had plans—"

"If you hadn't slept half the day away, you'd have had time to chat with Dria, Cassie and Corey."

"They called?" He'd never heard the phone ring.

"Let's see. Dria called at eight; Cassie at eight-thirty and ten; Corey at nine-thirty."

Daniel collapsed into a chair, holding back a curse.

"You've got time to shower; pancakes sound good? I seem to have a ton of pancake mix."

"I need to call Alexandria—"

"You can call her on our way to the hospital."

Visiting his dad was the very last thing he wanted to do in this lifetime. But other than pleading illness, he could see no way out.

He lingered in the shower, took his time eating his pancakes, deliberately deliberated over his clothes, and still only managed to kill an hour. By the time he was dressed, his grandmother was ready to go.

"Bring the bag, will you?" She pointed at a large plastic bag next to the door. Daniel lugged the bag to her Santa Fe, tossed it into the back and slid into the passenger seat, already speed dialing Alexandria's number.

His conversation with her was stilted but, even though Alexandria still didn't feel great, she managed to catch the subtext. The drive to the hospital passed all too quickly and as his grandmother pulled into the parking area, he wanted nothing more than to throw a full blown temper tantrum, kicking and screaming so she wouldn't take him inside. Instead, teeth clenched tightly together, he walked stiffly behind her as she inquired what room his dad was in.

Daniel's head felt strange as he stepped into his dad's room, like it was floating a few inches above his body. His stomach was a hard, heavy lump in the middle of his abdomen. He stayed near the door, dropping the bag to the floor and leaning a shoulder against the door jamb, wrapping his arms around himself. His dad was half-sitting, half-lying in the bed, and most of the medical contraptions that had been attached to him when Daniel had last seen him were gone.

He was dozing, but woke up at the thud the bag made when Daniel dropped it.

"Hey, Icky. It's so good to see you." The way his dad's eyes lit up and his quick smile hurt more than Daniel thought it would. He turned his head away, looking instead out the window.

"Jonathan. Look at you." His grandmother went straight to the bed and gave his dad a kiss and a hug. "You're sitting up. How are you feeling?"

"A helluva lot better." He pointed at his feet. "Get a load of this." He moved his feet from side to side and then slowly bent one knee, then the other. "Not bad for an ex-cripple, eh?"

"Oh my goodness, Jonathan. That's wonderful." His grandmother turned and grinned at Daniel. "Your dad could barely move his feet last time I saw him." Excitement tinged her voice as she turned back to his dad. "You'll be walking in no time!"

"The therapist says another couple days, a week max, and I'll start weight bearing exercises."

"I can't believe it. Isn't that wonderful, Daniel?"

The room fell quiet as both of them turned to look at him.

"Yeah. S'great," he said sullenly.

His father was staring at him, making him uncomfortable so he shifted his gaze to the bag he'd carried in for his grandmother.

"Oh, I nearly forgot. I picked up a few things from your house." She swept down, picked up the shopping bag and dropped it on his dad's bed, removing each item at a time. "I have three pairs of pajamas, robe and slippers. Sweat pants. Sweat shirts. Some tees. Socks. Boxers." This last was said with a flourish.

His dad laughed. "Hopefully in a few days, I'll be using those socks and slippers. And Ma, you're a godsend. Now I can strut around the hospital without worrying about my butt hanging of my hospital gown."

"Wouldn't want to scare the other patients, now, would we, dear?" His grandmother turned to include Daniel in the joking, which felt flat to him.

She turned back to the bag. "Shaving kit. Toiletries. I brought home a couple of subscription magazines that came in your mail last week. Picked up a couple of novels."

"Great. I was starting to go stir crazy in here."

"And, last but not least." She removed another smaller bag and from it, took out a half dozen medium-sized Ziplock bags, each filled with a small handful of treats. "Brownies. Muffins. Shortbread cookies. Fudge. Chocolates. Chocolate chip cookies." She stacked each Ziplock bag on the rollaway table near his dad, within easy reach.

"Holy shit, Ma. You trying to fatten me up?" Laughing, his dad reached for the bag of chocolate chip cookies. He took one from the bag and then waved it in Daniel's direction. "Want a cookie? And hey, come on over here and sit. There's only one chair in the room but there's plenty of room here." His dad patted the edge of the mattress.

"I'm fine here." He glared at the display of home-baked goods, jealous that his grandmother hadn't shared any with him while she'd baked them.

"When did you cook all this?" his dad asked with his mouth full of cookie.

"This morning, while Daniel was sleeping." She turned to wink at Daniel.

"You sure you don't want any? These are pretty good."

The thought of eating made Daniel nauseous. He shook his head, staring out the window once again.

"Positive?" Daniel could see him holding out the half-eaten cookie through his peripheral vision. "C'mon. Have a cookie, or a muffin."

"I'm not hungry."

The only sound in the room for several long seconds was his dad munching. "So, half the school's out sick, huh? How's Dria feeling? Cassie?" He licked his fingers, examined the see-through bags, and chose the fudge next.

"Alexandria's fine."

"And the Connors?"

"Everyone's fine." Daniel tried to hold back the exasperation but was pretty sure some of it bled through in his voice.

"And school? Any problems?"

"I wouldn't know. I've been off sick from school most of last week." This time the frustration got the best of him.

His dad laughed it off, but even Daniel could tell that the laughter was strained. "Sorry 'bout that. My memory's pretty much one big blur."

When his dad reached for a piece of chocolate, his grandmother shoved the treats she'd brought out of his reach.


"That's enough for now. You're going to make yourself sick."

"Am not."

"You're just as bad as Daniel when it comes to sweets. No self-control whatsoever."

Daniel watched his grandmother and father continue to banter over the food, and slowly, despite himself, the hurt he'd been hoarding over the past weeks began to ease. This was his dad – the man who Daniel had always believed loved him unconditionally. Maybe Cassie had been right; maybe it had been the pain and the meds that had made his father react the way he had. There were no signs of anger or depression; this was the man Daniel had pictured his father to be: a fighter, willing to do anything to overcome any obstacle. The man Daniel had been so eager to help support right after the accident.

"I'll go get some fresh ice water." His grandmother picked up the plastic pitcher.

"The water's fine just as it is, Ma."

"It's not cold."

Maybe he should give his dad another chance. He missed his father terribly, missed his bad jokes, missed his attention, missed his love.

"It's fine."

"It's not fine."

"I don't want any water, Ma. Just leave it."

"Ah, but I want some." As his grandmother turned to leave the room, she slowed and gave Daniel a worried look. He tried to give her a smile but his cheeks felt tight and he was pretty sure it didn't come out right.

Daniel cleared his throat. He was about to throw caution to the wind and ask his dad if he'd be using a wheelchair when he came home, when his father beat him to it.

"What the hell's gotten into you?"

"Wh-what?" His father's barked question startled him into answering.

"I hope to god you're not half as rude to your grandmother as you've been to me."

"I... I didn't do anything—"

"Exactly. I get it that dragging you here today to see me put a dent in your plans. But your grandmother's been pretty damned worried and she's stressed and exhausted and does not need your attitude right now."

"I didn't do anything," Daniel repeated, raising his voice. Those few seconds of weakness had obviously been a mistake.

"You had better not. Because if I hear you've been giving her a hard time, so help me, I'll—"

"You'll what?" Daniel took a step forward, his voice rising. "Ground me and force me to tidy up my room? Clean the yard? Mow the lawn? Newsflash, Dad. Despite what you think, I've been pulling my weight around the house. If that's not good enough for you, tough."

The two of them stared at one another defiantly; the only reason Daniel remained in the room was for his grandmother's sake. One thing his dad had said was true; she was tired. Even with the three days spent at home, she hadn't done anything for herself. Most of her spare time had been spent researching, cleaning and, obviously, baking.

When he heard her footsteps coming back, he backed up again so he was leaning against the wall.

"I didn't tell you, Jonathan. Daniel bought me the cutest little figurine yesterday," she said as she breezed back into the room. "I just may have to start a brand new collection." The smile she gave Daniel was painful to bear because she really looked happy.

"Really?" Despite stating he hadn't wanted water, his father accepted the cup Daniel's grandmother poured for him. "Wasn't that nice of him." He took a sip.

"It's the least I could do," Daniel mumbled, "considering."

His father raised an eyebrow.

"Daniel and John had a bit of an accident and some of my Lladros and Hummels paid the price." Daniel could see his grandmother tried to sound like it didn't matter but he could hear the sadness in her voice.

"What? What the hell did you do?" his father spat at him.

"Jonathan. It was an accident."

"How many? How many did you break?" His father pushed himself up off the pillows, using his hands.


"Do you know how much those things are worth? We're talking hundreds of dollars. And I know for a fact you don't have that much cash on hand so do you really think a cheap dime store figurine is going to replace what you've ruined?"

Without a word, Daniel turned and walked out of the room. Five steps down the hallway, with his father bellowing his name, Daniel broke into a run. It was a miracle he didn't slam into anyone because when he reached the elevators, tears had blinded him.


By the time his grandmother came outside looking for him, he'd managed to gain some control over himself. He'd sat down in the shade of a tree on the hospital's grounds, wallowing between bouts of anger and self-pity. And to make matters worse, the unexpected sprint had brought back a nagging pain in his right knee.

His grandmother sat down on the grass next to him with a soft grunt. "What happened back there?"

"You tell me." Daniel plucked a strand of grass and ran it across his jeans.

"No. Because I came back into the room and the tension between you too was obvious. What happened?"

"Nothing happened." He plucked another strand of grass and began twisting it around the first.

"Bullshit." His grandmother put her hand over his, stilling his nervous fidgeting.

He stared at her hand, not even knowing where to start. "I'm sorry about your figurines," he said, feeling extremely guilty over the whole thing.

"It was an accident."

"They were expensive. I didn't realize that..." He laughed, which came out wet, a half sob. "You must have thought I was such an idiot when I gave you that statue yesterday."

"Why would I think that? I love my little fairies."

"It's cheap crap."

"It's a priceless gift."

The tears started up again. "Don't shit me, Grandma. I gave you a piece of junk."

"You gave me a precious gift that I will always treasure. And do you know why? Because my grandson went out and bought something for me that he chose because he thought I would like it and not because it's Christmas or my birthday or Mother's Day. He thought about me when choosing it and that, in my opinion, makes a gift like that irreplaceable."

She gave his hand a little shake and hooked her other hand around his neck, pulling him close so she could kiss his cheek. "So don't ever call my little fairies a piece of junk again, you hear me?"

Daniel sniffled and nodded.

"Want me to take you back home?"

He nodded again.

"Are you okay with me coming back here after I drop you off?"

Better you than me, he thought to himself. And while he'd rather have had his grandmother to himself, he nodded again, jealous that she was giving his dad all the attention.


Daniel fidgeted at the front door, shifting his weight as he waited for someone to answer. From the look on Mrs. Montalbano's face when she saw him, he realized he should have waited to talk to Alexandria before heading on down to her house.

"Dria's sleeping, Daniel."

"Oh. I'm sorry." He waited a moment, half-expecting her to invite him inside to wait but she simply looked at him expectantly. He felt like an idiot. "Could you tell her I came by and to give me a call when she wakes up?" He tried to hold back the disappointment; he'd wanted to be with someone who understood, someone who cared. Now he'd have to just head home again.

"Of course."

The sound of the door closing behind him sent a shudder through him – it reminded him that everything he'd believed in was gone, as if he'd stepped through a door and had found himself in another world living a stranger's life.

He walked his bike to the street, debating whether to go see Cassie. Not wanting to make a repeat performance, he called her, only to find out that while she was home, John was with her. Cassie understood, and so did John, but being with them right now would make him feel like a third wheel.

"John says to check your mailbox," Cassie said just before she hung up.

As he rode his bike back to his grandmother's house, he couldn't help thinking that a year ago, his first thought would have been to head on to Corey's and confide everything to his mother.

Yet another proof that things had changed drastically for him. He hadn't seen Gina Middleton in weeks. Once upon a time, he'd have hung out there every weekend.

Inside the mailbox was an envelope with the words sharing, as promised, written across it. Inside the envelope was a CD.

He popped an Advil, hoping it would take care of the nagging pain in his knee and without prying eyes, limped his way into his room. The copy of Psyanotic cheered him up for a while. He began the process of transferring it to his iPod, at the same time playing the music on his computer speakers as loud as possible, singing the lyrics at the top of his voice until the transfer was complete.

His iPod kept him company as he indulged in a pity party of one in his bedroom. Until that got too depressing, and he went into the kitchen looking for something to snack on. Not sure if he was hungry or thirsty, he opened and closed every cabinet door at least twice as well as the refrigerator, checking again and again just in case he missed seeing something that might actually be appealing. He finally settled for a bag of chips, then at the last minute, decided he was thirsty.

The soft drinks in the fridge didn't appeal to him, and for once, neither did Snapple. He wanted something with flavor, something that he could sink his taste buds into.

Hurrying back into his room, he rooted around the junk on his bureau until he had enough loose change to buy a Slurpee. A quick bike ride to the 7-Eleven down the street would definitely set him right.


It was a tossup between Strawberry Banana and Limewire Orange. Daniel finally decided on the Limewire Orange, but at the last moment, detoured to the Sour Peach dispenser and filled his cup.

As he stood in line to pay for his drink, he saw Frank, the owner, who seemed preoccupied with something near the back of the store.

He glanced back and spotted Brad, Misha and the others huddled around the magazine rack. One of them let out a hoop and the others chortled loudly. Even as he watched, Rob walked over to the refrigerator, grabbed a soda, opened it, then walked back to his friends, drinking deeply.

Frank was downright angry as he took Daniel's money, slapping down the few cents' change on the counter while glaring towards the gang.

Daniel grabbed the coins and moved away from the counter to let the next customer pay. He glanced back just before reaching the door and saw that the group had broken up, moving quickly through the aisles. Brad caught his eye and waved, so Daniel stopped and waited to talk to him.

The Slurpee in his hand was cold, so he switched it to his other hand, feeling suddenly childish next to them. As he wiped the condensation on his pants' leg, he wished he could toss his drink somewhere, out of sight.

"Hey." Brad dropped four large bags of chips and a package of Twizzlers on the counter while Misha's selection was more in the cookie and sweets department. "Slurpees. I love those." Brad gave the dispensers a longing look just as Terry came out of nowhere behind Daniel and tossed a bag of marshmallows and a box of graham crackers. "Crush lime at the bottom topped with Coke. My favorite."

Feeling slightly less stupid, Daniel took his first sip, reveling in the cold rush of flavor in his mouth.

Terry reached around Daniel to grab a couple bars of chocolates and added them to the pile. Dave tossed several magazines onto the countertop, all of them sporting pictures of semi-naked women on the cover.

"Is your friend going to pay for the soft drink he just guzzled down?" Frank demanded coldly, making no move to ring up the selection of purchases.

"He sure as hell better," Brad said just as frigidly, "I ain't paying for his stuff."

"I think it would probably be best if you just remove yourself from the premises and we—"

"Hey, Frank?" Daniel quickly interrupted, moving to stand next to Brad. "These guys are okay."

Frank's gaze met Daniel's for a moment, then deliberately moved over each of the four.

For a moment Daniel thought Frank was going to ignore him, but then he nodded. "If you say so."

The asshole who'd caused all the trouble chose that moment to come sauntering down the aisle, carrying an assortment of chips and pretzels. He added them to the pile, as well as his empty can. He gave Frank a sarcastic smile before pulling out his wallet.

Two minutes later, all six of them left the 7-Eleven.

"You didn't have to speak up for us," Brad said as he waited for Daniel to pick his bike up and walk it towards their car. "But I appreciate what you did."

Daniel shrugged. "I come out looking like a geek. I don't like being treated like one even though I am." He laughed. "Okay, that didn't quite come out right."

Brad and Misha laughed as they tossed their purchases into the trunk. "I know what you meant," Brad said, leaning against the car door. He shrugged. "One look at us and everyone thinks we're ready to cause trouble. So, you coming with us?"

Daniel had been taking a long sip of Slurpee and nearly choked trying to answer. "Now?" he asked, clearing his throat awkwardly.

"Why not? We can put your bike in the trunk."

"I don't have any..." He glanced pointedly at the pile of bags.

"Hey, no worries. We got more than enough junk food. We're making a run through the golden arches drive-through. We can get an extra order of fries and nuggets."

"I ain't sharing any of my nuggets," the troublemaker said warningly as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and withdrew one.

"Fine, Rob. I won't share my fries with you." Brad gave Daniel a wink and nodded his head towards the open trunk. "So? Coming?"

Daniel's father would have a fit if Daniel ever got into a car with strangers. And that fact alone was the deciding factor; Daniel grinned, walking his bike to the car. Misha and Brad, after several minutes of maneuvering, finally got the bike positioned so that they could shut the trunk and not crush the junk food sharing the space. Daniel slid into the back seat and was groping around for a seatbelt when he realized none of the others were wearing theirs. Feeling slightly daring, Daniel didn't bother with his.

Misha, sitting in the front seat, craned his head around to look at Daniel. "Thanks for the rec on Psyanotic. CD's cool." He fished out a cigarette and lit it.

"That reminds me..." Brad, with one hand on the wheel, leaned over and popped the glove compartment. A car horn honking had Brad giving a hard jerk to the wheel as he nearly sideswiped a passing car. Daniel got a glimpse of his angry-looking grandmother at the wheel of the Santa Fe and he closed his eyes and prayed that she hadn't seen him inside the car.

"Your mother teach you how to drive?" Dave teased next to Daniel.

"No, it was your mother, asshole." He handed Misha a bag from FYE. "Open that for me, willya?" Brad came to a sudden, hard stop at a red light, nearly throwing Daniel into the back of seat in front of him. "My mother's a Nascar driver and didn't have time to teach me."

"Will ya hold the car still?" Misha griped as he tried to tear the plastic wrapping off the CD while Daniel clutched at his Slurpee.

A moment later, music pounded from the speakers, loud enough that conversation was nearly impossible. Daniel sat back and slurped his Slurpee, trying to ignore the cigarette smoke filling the car.


While supper wasn't exactly filling, the S'Mores, chips, cookies and pastries more than filled up what McDonalds hadn't. Daniel was actually enjoying himself until Terry left the group and came back carrying a small cooler and pulled two six packs of beer from it.

When Brad offered him a beer, Daniel was torn with indecision. Should he take it and look cool in front of these older kids who'd accepted him and feel like the child that his father had accused him of being? Or refuse the beer, accept that he truly was younger, and act like the adult he wanted to be.

Defiance made him reach for the beer, and common sense made him pass it to Misha, sitting next to him. Whether painkillers or alcohol, addiction was addiction.

"I don't drink," Daniel said with a shrug. "But if you've got anything else in there..."

He nearly didn't catch the can of Coke Terry tossed his way. The Coke, however, caught him, spraying his face and tee shirt when he opened it. Hooting loudly, Misha nudged Daniel's elbow, further spilling more coke over his pants this time. "Way to go, Daniel."

"Yeah, thanks." He faked a glare in Terry's direction, only to yelp along with Misha when the kid pulled the tab on his beer and sprayed both of them with the brew.

Laughter erupted around them while Daniel took his glasses off and tried to wipe them with the hem of his tee shirt.

"Damn it, Terr, that was meant for him." Misha put the foaming can to his mouth, trying to swallow the beer before it dripped to the ground while trying to save the girlie magazine he and Daniel had been looking through earlier from the fallout.

Daniel froze and looked up at Brad in dismay. He'd thought they'd befriended him, not make him the scapegoat for their amusement.

"Yeah, it was," Brad chuckled. "Good call, Daniel. Figured you were as smart as you look."

"He probably saw Terry shaking the can," Rob mumbled as he speared a marshmallow on a twig.

Daniel kept quiet, concentrating on wiping his face with his tee shirt. He could smell the beer in his hair, on his clothes.

"Here." Brad passed him a stick and the bag of marshmallows. "No hard feelings?"

Daniel wanted nothing more than to get up and storm out of the place. But his bike was still in the car. He shook his head to indicate he wasn't mad.

"Good. Too bad you weren't here two weeks ago. You know the reason why Dave cut his hair? Misha spilled caramel all over him and he had no choice but to chop off his golden locks."

"S'not true." Dave shot a marshmallow at Brad, and it bounced off his shoulder and landed on the ground. Brad shoved it into the embers with his foot. "Caramel came off with ice. I just wanted another look." He rubbed a hand over his buzzcut. "I got tired of combing it every day."

"Don't let him fool you," Terr said in a stage whisper. "Dave's father cut his allowance and he didn't have enough money to buy all the products he put in his hair to make it soft and shiny and manageable and stop the frizz and fly aways. So he cut it off instead."

"Asshole," Dave shot back. He stuck his tongue out at Terry, who retaliated in kind, showing off the stud on his tongue.

Daniel realized that he'd been wrong; the camaraderie here was similar to that he'd had with Corey, Nate and Li, he just couldn't read them yet because he didn't know them. He took a marshmallow, reached for one of the twigs that Brad had collected earlier, and stuck the marshmallow on it.

It was only when Daniel began having trouble seeing the pictures in the magazines that he realized it had gotten late. A glance at his watch showed that it was just past eight. Not past his curfew, for sure, but he'd been gone for hours and his grandmother would probably be worried about him by now. Funny that she hadn't called. Or Alexandria.

He took his cell phone from his pocket and saw that it had somehow gotten turned off. There were four voice mails waiting for him; one from Alexandria telling him she was up and if he wanted to come over, and three from his grandmother – the first one asking if he was coming home for supper, the second one asking him to check in and the third one similar to the previous but with a tinge of worry in her voice.

"Guys, I gotta get home," he said, snapping his phone shut.

"Need a lift home?" Brad offered.

He shook his head. "I just need my bike. But thanks." He stood and flexed his knee a few times. It felt stiff and tight but the motion seemed to loosen it up.

"I gotta go, too." Terry shoved the beer can and wrappers into a plastic bag. "I have to go study for my French exam next week."

"It's only Sunday, dude." Rob began pulling a Twizzler apart and held one red string over the embers.

"Yeah, and I'm going to fail Français if I don't start studying. I've no idea how to hablez the damn language."

"Parler," Daniel said.


"Hablar is Spanish. Parler is French."

"Tu parles Français?"

Shrugging, Daniel followed Brad down the path leading to the street, with Terry following behind him. "I'm taking advanced French—"

"Damn. I can barely conjugate the basics."

"Want some help?"

"You'd do that?"

Daniel shrugged. "Sure. Tomorrow?"

"After supper?"

Terry sounded eager, which to Daniel, meant that he really was struggling. "Sure. Where do you want to meet? At your house?"

"How about here?" Terry said quickly. Daniel got the distinct impression he didn't want him at his house.

"Okay. I'll see you then. Around six?"

"It's a date."

"Thanks for inviting me," Daniel said as they pulled his bike from the trunk.

"Anytime." Brad slammed the trunk shut. "We usually hang out in that little park right behind the mall's parking lot."

"I know where that is." Daniel straddled his bike.

"They're repaving the parking lot so we've been hanging around here until the job is done. So if we're not here, we'll be over there."

"Hopefully next time I'll cover my share of the eats."

"Hey." Brad clapped him on the shoulder. "I told you. It's not a problem."

"Later." Daniel knocked his fisted hand against first Terry's, then Brad's, then pushed off, heading for home.


"Grandma? I'm home." Daniel breezed into the house, heading towards the sound of the television in the den.

"Daniel. Where've you been?" She met him in the hallway. "I called you several times."

"I know, and I'm sorry," he said hurriedly. "I accidentally shut my cell phone off and didn't realize it."

"I was worried."

"I'm fine. I met some friends and we went to McDonald's for supper and then I just hung around... with... them." He watched as his grandmother leaned close to him and sniffed several times. "What's wrong?"

"Have you been drinking?" she demanded.

"No." He realized how much he smelled of stale beer. "Not me. Some of the kids were and Misha spilled some on me."

Her eyes narrowed as she stared at him silently.

"Honest. Smell my breath." He leaned forward and blew, open-mouthed, in her direction. "I didn't drink anything. I swear."

"Who are these kids? Misha? Misha who?"

"I don't know his last name."

"And where'd you meet them?"

"At Donovan's Park," Daniel answered, exasperated with the grilling. "Grandma. We just had some nuggets and fries, hung around and talked."

"While drinking beer."

"I didn't drink."

"Go take a shower. You stink." She turned around and headed for the den.

"Why are you mad at me?"

"I'm not mad." She froze midway down the hall.

"I didn't do anything wrong. I said I was sorry about my cell."

"I was worried," she finally admitted.

"I'm sorry," Daniel said softly. He held her gaze for a moment before heading for the shower.


"Sorry I missed you yesterday." Daniel walked up to Alexandria as she stood at her locker and put his arms around her. She turned and leaned against him, kissing him back.

"Where were you? Your grandmother called and she sounded worried."

"I turned my cell phone off without realizing it. I just hung out with some guys at Donovan's Park."

Alexandria twisted in his arms, turning back to her locker and finished pulling the books she'd need for the morning's classes.

"I missed you." Daniel leaned close to whisper in her hair. "How are you feeling?"

"Better. Still tired, though." She shut her locker and together they walked through the milling students towards their first class.

Daniel had barely sat down when Cameron strode over to him and towered over him. "I found your father for you. He was moved to the Academy Hospital yesterday," she announced.

"That's old news," Daniel snapped at Cameron. He felt Alexandria's eyes on him and a quick, sideways glance her way showed that he was right.

"Oh. I thought you wanted me to find him. You asked if I'd seen him."

"That was before."

"Before what?"

"Cameron," Alexandria hissed. "Drop it."

"No, it's all right." He had been planning on telling Alexandria anyway. "My grandmother dragged me down to the hospital yesterday to see my dad."

"Oh. Thank you for explaining." Cameron took her seat and took out her textbook, already dismissing him.

"Oh, Daniel. I'm so sorry." Alexandria reached across the aisle and wound her fingers with his. "I wish my mom—"

"It's all right." He twisted his hand slightly so that he was holding hers.

"What happened?"

"My dad was an asshole again." He pulled his hand and began rummaging through his stuff, making a show of searching for a pencil.

The teacher's call to attention prevented further conversation, for which Daniel was grateful.


Daniel hadn't really expected his grandmother to be there when he came home from school, but the hope had been there. He tossed his backpack onto his bed and followed right after it, the mattress bouncing noisily as irritation replaced the good feeling he'd had after a half-decent day at school with his friends.

He contemplated heading over to the Connors but John's good mood had evaporated as well when he'd seen the trucks gone from the driveway. Misery might love company but company seemed to constantly be out of reach.

Rolling over on the bed, Daniel snagged his iPod from his packsack. But even before he turned it on, he knew isolation wasn't what he wanted. He replaced the iPod with his cell.

A call to Alexandria went to her voice mail. A call to Corey was short and sweet because he had to go help his mother with something. Nate didn't answer his cell and Cassie was with a bunch of girls whose chatter was drowning out her voice.

A trip to the kitchen revealed a note stating there were leftovers in the fridge and a list of chores for him to do. While normally he didn't mind the tasks, today they were slowly aggravating him because it didn't seem fair for him to be doing everything while his grandmother sat around with his father all day long.

He brought up the load of clean laundry and began folding it, but lost patience halfway through and did the job haphazardly, leaving a pile of precariously balanced clothes on the kitchen table for his grandmother to put away.

The garbage he took out only because it was starting to smell and tossed the bag into a corner of the garage. He lugged out the recycling, then took one look at the overloaded dishwasher and decided he'd done enough. Instead of heating up his supper, he slapped a few slices of ham between two pieces of bread, wrapped it in foil and stuffed his supper into his packsack.

A minute later, he was pedaling towards Donovan's Park.

There was nobody there when he arrived so he took out his homework, chomping on his sandwich while he worked. He was midway through his physics assignment when Brad, Misha and Dave showed up just before six. He listened to them talk about kids in their school while he put his books away, wondering how things might be different for him if he'd gone to their school instead of CMHS. Terry arrived just as he put his backpack aside.

"Holy shit," Daniel exclaimed when Terry sat down on the ancient seat next to him. "What happened to you?" Daniel found himself staring at the kid's black eye until Terry ducked his head. "Are you okay?" Daniel asked gently.

"Yeah. I walked into a door last night." Terry didn't elaborate, simply pulling out his French textbook and leafing through pages. Daniel let the subject drop; none of the others had commented on Terry's eye and he got weird vibes that this was more than it seemed.

Terry found the chapter he needed to study so he and Daniel went to work. While the contents were easy for Daniel, it was obvious that Terry was truly struggling. With much patience, Daniel began breaking down the words, taking meticulous care that Terry understood each sentence before moving on.

He was immersed in the work, both of them working diligently when something small landed with a wet plop on the opened page. When both he and Terry looked up in surprise, they were met with three guys who were trying to keep a straight face.

Terry brushed the spitball aside with a curse and before they could finish the sentence they'd been working on, three more spitballs landed on the page, followed by one bouncing off Daniel's neck.

It was the mocking laughter that did Daniel in. It wasn't the first time he'd been on the receiving end but tonight, his patience was frayed.

"Fine. If you guys don't care if Terry fails French, then I don't give a shit either." Daniel shoved the papers he'd been writing on to emphasize and explain onto the ground and stood. He ignored the apologies as he grabbed his backpack and walked away. But after just a few steps, he was filled with guilt. He knew it wasn't Terry's fault that he was short-tempered tonight. He had promised.

He slowed, paused, and turned around when he got to his bike. Terry was sitting there, head lowered, looking uncharacteristically dejected.


Terry looked up.

"Wanna go find a more quiet place to study?"

"You don't have to leave," Brad hurriedly said as Terry grabbed his stuff and stood.

"Tomorrow, dude," Terry called out as he followed Daniel out of the park, stuffing his book and papers into his bag.

They walked quietly together until they reached the street. "Where are we going?"

Daniel had thought about taking Terry to his grandmother's but he had a better idea. "Do you have a bike?"

"Better than a bike," Terry said with a grin, pointing to a small motorbike which had been chained to a tree.

With Daniel leading on his bike, both of them made their way to his house.

"This where you live?" Terry asked as Daniel unlocked the front door. While his grandmother had come by daily to pick up the mail, with the grass and flowerbed overgrown, his home decidedly looked deserted.

"Not right now. I'm staying with my grandmother." Daniel had trouble getting the words out; for a moment when he'd stepped through the door, he'd gotten the feeling that he'd come home. It was the loss of that emotion that caught at his throat; the realization that he could never look upon this house as a home again.

Daniel shut the door behind them and pointed towards the kitchen. He followed more slowly, heading for the fridge as Terry pulled up a chair and took his textbook out of his bag once again. Daniel pulled out two Snapples from the back of the nearly empty fridge and handed one over to Terry wordlessly.

"Your parents are away?" Terry asked, sounding slightly hesitant.

"My dad's in the hospital," Daniel said curtly, hoping Terry would get the message and not push. He shook his Snapple, popped the cover, and tossed it onto the countertop.

"Sorry about your dad." He gave Daniel a forced smile, and Daniel did the same. They turned to the lessons, Terry obviously feeling that studying was safer than talking.


Daniel shut the front door with more force than warranted, hating the mixed feelings being in the house again had given him. It was almost a relief to walk his bike to the street and wait while Terry kicked his motorbike to life.

"I don't know how to thank you," Terry began.

"Ace that test; that'll be thanks enough."

Terry laughed. "You sound like my mom."

Actually, Daniel thought he'd sounded like he'd channeled his father. He leaned his weight over the handlebars, examining his front tire in the glow of the streetlight.

"I'll see you around?"

"Yeah. Probably." They stood there awkwardly for a several long seconds until Terry pulled out into the street. He waved goodbye as Terry headed in the opposite direction.

He took his time cycling to his grandmother's. Her car was in the driveway when he coasted alongside it. But she hadn't been home long; he could hear the pings of the engine cooling as he opened the garage door to lock up his bike.

"Thank God you're okay," his grandmother exclaimed the moment Daniel entered the house. "Where the hell were you?"

"I was helping a friend study for a French exam." He dropped his backpack by the door.

"And you couldn't call to tell me you were coming home late?"

"You weren't even here, Grandma." He walked past her, intent on finding something to appease his stomach which had long finished with the ham sandwich he'd fed it.

"I still want to know when you leave the house. What if you'd had an accident?"

"Geeze, Grandma. Chill." He grabbed two cookies and bit into one. "I promised Terry I'd help him study. It's not like I was out joyriding."

"Who's Terry?"

"Another kid I met on the weekend."

"A friend of that Misha?"

"Yes, actually." He took another bite of cookie.

"What about your other friends? Corey. Nate. John—"

"They weren't around," Daniel said, exasperated. "I gotta go finish my homework." He grabbed his backpack and headed for his room.


Ever since he could remember, John had always hated Tuesdays. Tuesdays used to mean late shift at the diner, so he was stuck at home with a bowl of cereal for supper and their small TV for company while his mom worked.

Looking at the empty driveway, he thought today felt like those Tuesdays. His mom was working late at the SGC. Same scenario, slightly better electronics, different state. So it was just him, a bowl of cereal and their TV for company tonight.

Never mind, rephrase that – these days he hated every day of the week. He grumbled a goodbye to Daniel, who was heading into an equally empty house. Dragging his feet, he crossed the street, pulling his key out of his pocket, wondering how he'd come to feel so useless lately.


He turned and watched Daniel jog up to him.

"Wanna go grab some pizza or something?"

"Anything beats sitting around doing homework."

"Let me just dump my bag." Daniel ran back across the street while John unlocked the door, tossed his bag onto the kitchen table, reset the alarm and retrieved his bike. Figured, both trucks were gone; couldn't his family at least carpool to the SGC and leave him with an easier means of getting around?

Pizza filled a gnawing hole in his belly, but didn't do much to ease the crack in his destiny.

The small talk between him and Daniel felt strained today. They ate mostly in silence, both of them lost in their thoughts.

"Wanna head out to Donovan's Park?"

John shrugged. It was a better option than going home.

The park was empty, and John got the distinct impression that Daniel had been searching for someone. As they lounged on one of the car seats, John noted the remains of a fire that had burned just a few feet away. He kicked at the charcoal with one foot, rolling a half-burned piece of wood back and forth until soot began to stain his boot.

When he heard footsteps approaching, he half-expected Corey and the others to come charging through. Instead, five tough-looking kids came into the clearing. John tensed, sitting up, then relaxed when he recognized three of them from the mall.

Daniel greeted them enthusiastically; obviously they were the reason he'd headed out to the park. John couldn't help wondering why he'd been asked to come along when it was clear it hadn't been his company he'd wanted tonight.

"John Baum," the tall, shaggy-haired Rob asked once introductions had been offered to those he hadn't met yet, "you've got a sister, right?"

"Cameron. Yeah." He kept his answer short; he didn't like the guy's tone.

"Saw her with Dria the other day. Girl's got legs up to here and an ass that's just begging for—"

"Don't even go there," Daniel barked, a split second before Brad shouted Rob's name in warning.

John didn't say anything; he caught Rob's eyes and held them.

"That's his sister, man." Dave gave Rob an irritated look. "Will you knock it off already? Just because Brenda dumped you doesn't mean you have to act like an asshole."

"Maybe that's because he is one." Misha laughed at his joke; someone else joined in but the sound fell flat as John kept his eyes glued on Rob.

"Look," Rob said after nearly a minute of staring. "No offense, dude. I just thought your sister was hot. A little strange, but hell, with a body like that—"

"Okay. Enough." Some guy with a black eye and piercings on his face interrupted. John couldn't help staring; the black eye he could deal with, but five hoops hanging from his eyebrow, the ones attached to his lip and nostril just looked so painful that he had trouble looking away.

"Hey, Terr." Daniel leaned forward enthusiastically. "How'd the test go?"

"You know what? I think I aced it."

"Yes!" Daniel pumped a hand in the air. "Way to go!"

"That's the first time ever that I breezed through a French test."

"Then let's make sure it's not the last time."

"Oh, you guys make me want to puke. You sound like you enjoy school." Misha leaned back against the couch with a huff and crossed his legs.

"School's not so bad," Daniel began—

"Oh, that's because you don't have old man Myers," Rob moaned. "Guy's deaf as a doornail but he's got eyes in the back of his head. And he took the copy of Playboy I'd borrowed from my dad's stash. And never gave it back."

"Maybe that's because you're not supposed to be reading Playboy in Social Studies class." Dave smacked Rob on the arm.

"Would you help me again with French? I could pay you, Daniel. I don't have much but—"

"No." Daniel held out his hand, and John knew Daniel exactly what Daniel was going to say.

"Oh." The look of disappointment on Terry's face was almost painful to see.

"I'll help you," Daniel said quickly, "but I don't want any money."

"Ah shit, you're crazy, man," Rob snorted.

"I don't want you to feel you have to help me."

"I want to help you, Terry. Let's give it a couple of weeks and see how it goes, okay?"

"You good only in French?" Dave asked.

Daniel paused, and John, knowing what Daniel's workload was, figured he was trying not to brag.

"He's in advanced Spanish as well as French," John answered for Daniel. "He knows German and Russian—"

"Da?" Misha said excitedly. "Tee gavareesh pa-ruskee?"

"Da. Ya gavaryoo."

"What a bunch of geeks," Rob exclaimed, rolling his eyes.

"Hey, I never said I wasn't one," Daniel shot back. Rob glared at Daniel while Brad and Dave tried to hide their smiles as Daniel continued talking with Misha in Russian.

John could see that Daniel fit amongst these kids better than with his long-time best friend, Corey. Even though this tougher-looking gang was the same age as Daniel's friends, Daniel could hold his own, and John could see the respect in everyone's eyes when they talked to him.

"Hey, talk English and stop showing off." Rob kicked at the remains of the bonfire in Daniel and Misha's direction.

John quickly modified his earlier observation; everyone less this idiot seemed to respect Daniel. And the guy was quickly getting on his nerves.


Daniel's apology set John's teeth on edge.

"I know Daniel plays soccer," Terry asked, turning to John. "Do you play also?"

"Yeah. I do."

"You on varsity, like Daniel?"

"We're not varsity," John answered.

"Ah shit. Bad enough he's a geek, you gotta be jocks, too?" Rob kicked the soot-covered wood again, spraying bits of charcoal all over John and Terry.

"You do that again," John warned as he shook out his tee shirt, "I'm going to make you eat it."

"Oh yeah? You and what army?" Rob sneered at John.


He ignored Daniel and leaned forward, silently daring Rob to come at him, disregarding the warning bells in his head. Everyone went quiet, watching as John quirked an eyebrow, staring at Rob through his bangs.

Rob glared at him for several seconds before deliberately reaching his leg out and repeating the motion. John scrambled to his feet, as did Rob, realizing at that very moment he was itching for a fight. Some sort of weird reasoning made him want to feel like he was in control of something – if not his life or his destiny, then he'd settle for this moment in time.

"Hey, cut it out." Somehow Daniel was there, in his face, pushing him back. John tried to get around him to get to Rob, but Daniel moved with him. Rob's sneering face incensed John more. "John, stop it."

"Come on, Jocko," Rob taunted. "Stop hiding behind the geek and come and come get what you deserve."

"Rob, that's enough." Brad and Dave flanked Rob, and John knew that his chance was gone. If he tackled the kid now, he'd come out looking as the cowardly bully.

"Fuck you," John spat back. "Nice friends you got," he couldn't help hissing back at Daniel. He grabbed his bike and stormed out of the park, the sounds of the jeers aimed at Rob not doing much to improve his mood as he walked his bike through the short path to the street.

He was angry at himself, first for losing his temper; and at Daniel for bringing him here. Somehow he'd expected Daniel to stand with him, not against him. He got on his bike and was about to kick off when Daniel called his name.

He nearly rode away without acknowledging his friend. But at the last moment he decided to wait, listening to Daniel's footsteps as he ran towards him. To John's surprise, Daniel had his bike with him.

"Rob's an asshole," Daniel said as he climbed onto his bike.

"You got that right," John grumbled, feeling slightly mollified now that Daniel had followed him out.

"But the others are cool."

John couldn't help making a face as he pushed off.

"Admit it," Daniel yelled behind him, struggling to catch up.

John pedaled for all he was worth, grateful that traffic was light. When he braked in order to make a turn, Daniel caught up to him. They rode silently side by side until they reached home. They pulled up to a stop in front of John's house. The Nitro was parked in the driveway; there was no sign of the Jeep. Either his mom or uncle was home.

"The others are okay," John said softly, looking at the living room window, trying to catch a glimpse of whoever was home. It took him a second, but he spotted Cameron staring back at him from behind the blinds.

Daniel's smile was immediate. "Told ya."

"You didn't have to come back with me," John said grudgingly.

"Nah. I have homework to do."

"Geek," John teased.

"Jock," Daniel answered right back, not missing a beat.


"You went out with John?"

Daniel nodded as he picked up his backpack and walked past his grandmother.

"You didn't eat supper—"

"We went for pizza." He tossed his bag onto his bed and began pulling books out.

"You couldn't have done your chores before going out?"

Daniel tossed books haphazardly back onto the bed, heading for the kitchen.

"Don't bother. I've already unloaded the dishwasher."

Daniel kept walking, planning on detouring to the mud room.

"And finished folding the laundry that I'd asked you to do on Monday."

He stopped and turned, exasperated. He really hadn't wanted to come home this early; he'd rather have hung around longer with the others but John's near-fight had put an end to the good feelings he'd had tonight.

Throwing up his hands in defeat as his grandmother headed into her bedroom, Daniel headed back to his and settled down to try and finish his homework before it was time for bed.


The next afternoon, after a lousy day at school where he'd gotten caught unprepared for an exam and handed in a homework assignment he'd realized last minute that he hadn't finished, by the time he cycled back to his grandmother's house, he was in a pissy mood. He slammed cabinets and drawers as he prepared to eat the leftovers that had been meant for last night's supper.

Nobody had shown up at the park today. He'd thought Rob had wanted him to tutor him again. He'd even cycled to the park Brad had mentioned behind the parking lot, but it, too, had been empty. He felt abandoned and ignored, even knowing his other friends would most likely be online in an hour or two. Somehow he felt disconnected from them; these new friends felt more real to him.

He'd told John yesterday that they were okay but he barely admitted to himself that he felt a thrill when he was around them. Maybe it was what they represented – they looked tough, and people gave them a wide berth at times in public. He hated himself for it, but he enjoyed the attention – the feeling of power and fear that he was a part of when he was with them.

But he hated feeling torn explaining them to people he knew; Frank at the 7-Eleven. His grandmother, whom he'd managed to skirt the issue of his new friends. John, whose antagonism had actually upped the thrill last night when he'd almost tackled Rob. It was Daniel's sense of fairness that had him trying to stop John from humiliating Rob because he knew John could take him with one hand tied behind his back. And it had been his loyalty that had him saying a quick goodbye and running after his friend when he'd left in a huff.

He ate, rinsed his dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Seeing the near-empty dishwasher reminded him of the guilt his grandmother had rained down on him last night. He cleaned all signs of his supper from the kitchen, tidied up the living room and den and vacuumed the house, all the while trying to convince himself that it didn't feel like atonement.

His grandmother came home while he was lazing on his bed, listening to the songs John had burned for him from his newly-bought CD. He watched her come in, looking tired and sad as she perched on the edge of his bed. He pulled his ear buds off, waiting for her to talk.

"Want to tell me what's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," he answered with a shrug, putting the ear buds close by on the pillow so he could catch some of the now-tinny sounds coming out of it.

"You've been moping and ignoring your chores. That's not like you."

Daniel shrugged again. "I've been busy."

"Hanging out with your new friends?"

Daniel shrugged again.

"I'm worried about you, mhuirnin."

Daniel raised an eyebrow in question. Worried?

"You seem preoccupied all the time. I know it's been hard with your dad's accident. But he's making good progress and the doctors are hopeful he'll be home soon."

Daniel felt a surge of alarm at that news; he didn't know how he was going to cope with his father's charade and attitude on a daily basis.

"In the meantime, could you at least try to help around the house? It's bad enough I'm at the hospital all day long but I really don't feel up to coming home and cleaning up after you."

"What's to clean?" Daniel snapped. "You're never home and I'm at school all day long. It's not like you're actually living in the house—"

"What's gotten into you?" his grandmother said, voice rising to interrupt Daniel's tirade. "Do you think I want to spend every single waking moment sitting with your father? I have a life, too, you know. And I've given it all up to make sure your father is comfortable and taken care of while he recovers. He did the exact same thing for you on several occasions and the very least you could have done was to spend some time with him, take up the slack, given me a break once in a while instead of spending your time loafing around in your little corner of the Daniel Jackson universe."

Daniel lay there, stunned, staring at his grandmother, whose pinched face suddenly went slack. "Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean that—"

"Yes, you did." Daniel pushed up off the bed and stalked out of the bedroom. "Just like Dad did," he yelled over his shoulder, breaking into a run as his grandmother followed him out. He had no idea where he was going, but as long as it wasn't here, he was fine with it.

He slammed out of the house, tore down the stairs, the sudden chill of falling rain almost taking his breath away. He kept on running down the street, soaked within seconds as he sobbed and fought for breath.

After several blocks the stiffness in his knee forced him to a pitifully slow walk, the rain chasing the tears as they fell. He had no idea where he was going; right now he just needed space and turned right at the next street, heading for the tiny playground he used to play in as a child.

It was dark inside the playground; streetlights were burned or broken, which suited him just fine. He crawled underneath a kid's slide and huddled in the meager shelter it offered from the rain.

He was shivering, either from the sudden chill or reaction from his grandmother's words. He pulled his legs to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, lowering his head to his bent knees.

He had no idea what he was going to do.

When he heard footsteps, he turned his head to look, needing to peer over the fogged lenses of his glasses. He wasn't surprised to see a familiar pair of boots approaching. The red leather looked almost black in the dimness. He sniffled, wiped his eyes and nose on his arm, and tried to pretend that he wasn't upset.

Cameron crouched down and stared at him; the cold and rain didn't affect her at all as she pushed back a lock of hair that fell across her eyes. "I saw you leave; is everything all right?"

He was going to answer yes, he was fine, but it was idiotic to lie. She'd obviously seen him run out of the house and had chased after him. "No," he said, his voice coming out strangled.

"You're upset."

"No duh."

"Do you want me to call Rose?"

"Are you kidding me?" Daniel asked, deliberately sarcastic.

"Rose looked worried after you ran out."

"I don't give a shit," Daniel snapped half-heartedly.

"You argued with Rose. You're upset over your father."

"Did John tell you?"


For a moment Daniel thought that Cameron was more in tune with human emotions than she usually demonstrated, until she spoke again. "I overhead Cassie telling John about what your father said to you."

"What did Cassie say?" Daniel asked, curiosity getting the best of him.

Cameron's voice suddenly became Cassie's as she repeated, most likely word for word, the tone and cadence exactly as if it were Cassie talking. "I can't believe what Uncle Jack said to Daniel. He can't have meant it. He loves Daniel, I know he does. I know Uncle Jack, he'd never say that, he'd never even think that about Daniel."

Daniel shuddered at the uncanniness of her mimicry, even while he tried to not think about the words that Cameron had overheard. For a moment the only sound was the patter of rain on the metal slide.

"Your father wouldn't say things to deliberately hurt you," Cameron said.

"You don't know my dad. I don't know my dad, obviously."

"Pain can make people say or do things they normally wouldn't. Make them delirious. Medication can have the same effect. Your father was in extreme pain, suffering from a concussion and was under strong medication."

"But there has to be a foundation to make people say things like that in the first place, right? A doubt in their mind? Something?"

"Sometimes humans have nightmares and do or say things they would never say when awake."

Daniel tried to swallow past the lump in his throat. "My father was wide awake," he whispered.

"He might have been delirious, out of his head with fear about his injury and confused from the medication."

"No." Daniel shook his head. "He hates me. Resents me." He buried his face again against the damp material of his jeans.

"Does Rose hate you? Does she resent you?"

"Right now, yeah, she does," he said into his knees.

"Because she's upset. She said things to hurt you. She won't be angry in the morning."

Daniel didn't answer. Yeah, maybe there still would be hard feelings come morning, but in a few days, this would have blown over and they'd be back to their old new routine.

"Maybe she said things because she was tired."

"You don't know that."

"Janet told her to go home. Janet thought Rose was tired."

He felt twice as awful, now, considering his grandmother was probably right in that he hadn't done much around the house this past week. Guilt began to eat at him while resentment at the time she spent with his father made him angry at feeling guilty.

"You should go back home. You're cold."

"Not yet. I'm not going back there. I just want to be alone."

"Okay." To Daniel's surprise, Cameron stood and walked away. For a few seconds he was glad that she'd left, then he realized how alone he truly was. The only person who cared wasn't even human and she abandoned him, took his complaining to heart because even though he'd said he wanted to be alone, he wanted someone to come and take care of him, coax him out of there, tell them it would all be okay.

His misery went up yet another notch.

Daniel sat there alone, shivering, not even bothering anymore to huddle against the cold, letting the chilly air sweep against his bare arms, the slight breeze brush against his nape, sending goose bumps down his back. He wanted to be warm and dry and cared for so badly, he was almost willing to go back to his grandmother's house. Almost, but not quite.

When he heard footsteps again a few minutes later, he was too miserable to acknowledge who had come for him this time. He turned his head just enough to glance to the side, watching as Cameron's legs came into view, followed by yet another pair of booted feet.

"Daniel?" This time it was Sarah who crouched down next to him. "How about you come home with me?"

That was all the coaxing he needed. He crawled out and, head bent against the pounding rain, meekly followed Sarah to the street and the parked Nitro.

She turned the heat on but by the time they pulled up into the Connor's driveway, warm air was just starting to come out of the vents. He trudged up the walkway, sandwiched between Sarah and Cameron.

"Get towels," Sarah ordered John, who'd met them at the door. She herded Daniel into the bathroom. "Strip."

Numb inside and out, Daniel started to pull his tee shirt over his head when Cameron, who'd been watching out the window, called out, "A police car just pulled up in front of Rose's house."

Daniel shoved past Sarah, running for the front door. He pelted down the driveway, running past the police car and into the house, arriving almost on the heels of the policemen.

"Grandma! Are you okay?" Daniel exclaimed, hurrying past the policemen as he anxiously looked his grandmother over.

"I'm fine." She motioned to the policemen to wait a moment as she hurried out of the room.

Daniel stood there, watching water pool under his feet until his grandmother came back with a large bath towel. She wrapped it around his shoulders and he leaned close to her, offering support to whatever the cops had come here for.

Sarah, John and Cameron came into the house, and the living room suddenly got crowded.

"We had report of a break in at 4233 Pine Grove Road—"

"Someone b-broke into our house?" Daniel exclaimed, his chattering teeth making speech difficult.

"Was anything taken?" Sarah asked.

One of the cops shook his head. "We don't know yet. A neighbor spotted the front door wide open and called us."

The other one answered, "They gave this address as next of kin. We understand the owner is in the hospital?"

"Yes, my son." His grandmother took Daniel's glasses off and wiped them with the edge of the towel. "My grandson's been staying with me, but I've been going to the house every couple of days to check on it."

"Whoever broke in disabled the alarm system. We need someone to come over and see if anything's been taken."

"I'll be right there." She turned to Daniel, wiping his face with the towel and sticking his glasses back on. "You go shower and dry off."

"I'm coming with you."

"You're half-frozen."

"Just give me a second to change, okay?" Daniel turned to the cops, who nodded. "I'll be right back." He ran his bedroom, his sneakers making squeaking sounds on the hard wood floor. He changed as fast as he could, his chilled fingers clumsy as he wiped himself down with the towel and kicked his sodden clothes into a corner. Finally dressed, he squeezed as much water as he could out of his hair, changed his shoes and ran back into the living room. The officers were gone, and his grandmother was waiting by the door, an umbrella in hand.


It was evident the thieves had taken everything they could get their hands on in as little time as possible. The house was a mess but by poking around, they discovered that the DVD player and all of their DVDs were gone, as were their music collection, his portable DVD player, his old laptop and most of the alcohol his dad had in the house.

"Daniel." One of the police officers called him over. Busy folding clothes that had been tossed out of the hall closet, Daniel handed them to Cameron and went to see what the man wanted.

"When was the last time you were here?"

"On Monday," he answered distractedly.

"Neighbors say they saw you come by with a stranger."

Daniel shrugged. "He's a friend."

"The neighbor said he'd never seen the boy before."

"You brought someone here?" His grandmother's voice sounded shrill.

"I brought Terry here so I could help him study." He looked at his grandmother in confusion, wondering why she was upset.

"You brought a stranger here, knowing the house was empty?"

Suddenly Daniel knew where they were heading with this. "No. No. Terry didn't come back and rob us." He shook his head adamantly. He caught John's look from across the room and dared him to say something.

"Can you give me his name and address?"

"I don't know it."

The cop stared at Daniel.

"I don't know his last name. Or where he lives."

His grandmother threw her hands up in the air. "Oh, for god's sake, Daniel. How could you be so stupid?"

"Stupid?" He turned on his grandmother. "I brought someone to my house so I could help him study. I don't see what the problem is!"

"You don't know these boys—"

"They wouldn't do this."

"Honey, you haven't known these boys that long. You don't know what they're capable of or not."

"Have you met these kids?" The cop addressed the question to the Connors. While Sarah and Cameron shook their head, John gave a slow nod.

"When was the last time you saw this Terry?"

"Yesterday. I saw all five of them yesterday."

"And today?"

"No." A thought popped into his head - that he hadn't seen any of them today after school. He shoved that thought back into oblivion, not allowing it to take root and send doubts into his conviction that Brad and the others hadn't done this.

"Could you give me a description of these boys? We'll ask around, see if any of your neighbors might have seen them—"

"No. They didn't do anything," Daniel insisted, fighting the doubt that was slowly building despite his efforts at tamping it down.

"Then if they're innocent, nobody here will have seen them, right?"

"Fine." Daniel gave descriptions of each of his friends, knowing that they were all unique enough to stick out if any of the neighbors had seen them walking around. When the police finally left, Daniel ignored his grandmother's grumbles and went into his bedroom to clean up there.



Busy folding his clothes, Daniel was surprised to see Alexandria standing in the doorway. "What are you doing here?"

"Mrs. Gordon down the street called Tricia Fowler's mom who called my mom and told her about the break in. Are you all right?"

"Yeah." He took another piece of clothing from the pile on his bed and folded it. "Just pissed," he said shortly. Pissed that someone had done this to them. Pissed that Brad and the others hadn't been around tonight and pissed that he was starting to think that maybe, just maybe, his grandmother was right and Terry had set him up.

Alexandria walked up to him, took the sweatshirt from his hand, tossed it back onto the bed, and wrapped her arms around him. He held her close, grateful beyond words that she had come.

"Did they take much?" she asked when they separated and began folding clothes side by side.

"Mostly electronics and booze."

"Do they know who did it?"

"No. Someone who knows electronics enough to disarm the alarm system."

"Not many people know how to do that—"

"John knows how," Cameron said, walking into his room. "Daniel probably does also."

Alexandria gave Daniel a teasing smile. "Could you?"

He thought about it. "Yeah, probably, with a bit of research and time."

"Sure you could." Alexandria made a face at him. "After you set the alarm off and electrocute yourself."

"Your grandmother wants to see you. She's in your father's bedroom." Cameron took the tee shirt that Daniel handed her and looked at it with near-confusion on her face.

Sarah and his grandmother had pretty much cleaned up his dad's bedroom. The earlier strewn clothes were put away, the only things remaining were a few boxes where his dad had kept trinkets. His grandmother was holding a small, velvet-lined box.

"I know your dad kept stuff in here. Do you see anything missing?" She handed the box over to him.

Daniel glanced at the assortment of mismatched cufflinks, a couple of tarnished chains, the beaded bracelet he'd made his dad a couple of years ago which he'd worn religiously until it the cord had broken, a hospital bracelet with Daniel's name on it that would never fit him today, and a variety of other things. Then it hit him. "Dad's wedding ring. It's gone." Daniel dumped the contents of the box on the bed and ruffled through the items again, hoping he just wasn't seeing it.

"That's what I thought." Rose sighed as she scooped up the trinkets up and put them back into the box. "All in all, they only took a few hundred dollars' worth of stuff but this... Your dad's gonna be upset."

"It didn't fall on the floor?" Alexandria got down on her hands and knees to peer under the bed.

"It's not there." Cameron walked to the end of the room, bent down and teased a small object that was mostly hidden underneath the electric heater. "Is this your father's wedding ring?" She dropped it in Daniel's hand, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

"Thank you. Yeah, that's it." He dropped it back into the box.

"How did you see that?" Alexandria was staring at the heater.

Cameron shrugged, then smiled. "Lucky, I guess." Her smile disappeared as fast as it had come. "If it's so valuable, shouldn't it be in a safe?" She sounded genuinely confused, and Daniel shared a look with Alexandria, who was trying not to smile.

"It's not the monetary value, sweetie," his grandmother said as she replaced the box in his dad's sock drawer. "It's the sentimental value."

"Oh." She watched as his grandmother shut the drawer. "Thank you for explaining."

"I've finished cleaning the kitchen," John announced from the doorway.

"That leaves the den. Daniel, are you almost done with your room?"

"Yeah," he answered his grandmother as she put the last of the boxes away.

"Dria, honey, you wouldn't know where these new friends of Daniel's live?"

"No, Grandma Rose. I've hardly seen Daniel all week except at school and he's hardly mentioned them to me except that he was tutoring someone."

"Leave Alexandria out of this," Daniel snapped. He grabbed her hand and started pulling her out of the room.

"Daniel. This is serious. Someone broke into your home and went through your belongings. We need to get to the bottom of this."

"Isn't that the cops' job?"

"They'd got their job done a lot faster if you helped."

"Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty, huh?" Even as he said the words, he realized he was baiting his grandmother because he was still angry with her, and not because he believed in his new friends' innocence. That alone made him angrier as he stomped out of the room.

Thirty minutes later, he was kissing Alexandria goodbye in the hallway. "Thank you," he said, letting his forehead rest against hers.

"For what?"

"For being you."

Her hand went slowly up and then down his back. "I gotta go. It's late."

"I know." He stepped back, let her open the door and watched her run down the driveway and get into her mother's van.

It was only as he was riding back home in cool silence with his grandmother that he realized he'd never done his homework. Tired, discouraged and sick at heart, Daniel also realized that he didn't care.


His got off the school bus the next afternoon, tossed his books into the house and grabbed his bike. He was coasting down the driveway when John, still standing outside talking to his mother, called his name.

"Wait for me."

Daniel ignored John, pedaling hell bent down the street, heading for Donovan's Park. He got there just as the Connor's Nitro pulled up alongside him.

"Damn it, Daniel, I said to wait for me." John slammed the car door and ran to catch up as Daniel rode his bike along the dirt path.

Ignoring John, Daniel tossed his bike angrily to the ground as he saw Brad, Dave and Misha lounging on two of the old car seats.

"Where is he?" Daniel demanded, stomping over to them.

"Who?" Brad answered slowly, his gaze taking in first Daniel, then John behind him.

"Terry. He set me up, didn't he? How many of you were there last night going through my things?"

"Daniel, what are you talking about?"

"You fucking broke into my house last night," Daniel shouted at Misha.

"Hey. Who're you calling a thief?" Dave stood up, took one step forward but froze when Daniel turned to glare at him.

"I brought Terry over. I told him I was living with my grandmother. He knew there was nobody living in the house right now."

"And what makes you so sure it was us, huh?" Brad stood up, quickly followed by Misha.

Daniel stared at Brad, his years of experience in his previous life telling him that this wasn't teenage belligerence that he was facing. "You weren't here last night. None of you were." Suddenly his accusation sounded stupid and childish.

"We were with Terry," Brad began.

"You don't owe him anything," Dave said angrily. "Obviously we're scum and not to be trusted."

"We were with Terry at Penrose Memorial yesterday. All of us."

"Penrose? The hos-hospital?" Daniel looked at all three in confusion. "Terry? Is he okay?"

"He's gonna be fine, but his little brother isn't doing that great."

"He..." Daniel turned to John for help, realizing he'd just made an ass of himself. "What happened? Is his brother gonna be okay?"

"Not everyone has it easy like you, Jackson—"

"Dave," Brad said softly, putting a hand out to silence him. "Last night Terry's father decided he didn't like Terry's face and threatened to rearrange it. His little brother got in the way, trying to defend Terry."

"Oh shit. Oh shit."

"So while you were out counting your losses and blaming us all, we were sitting with Terry while the doctors patched him up and operated on his kid brother."

"Is his brother going to be okay?" Daniel repeated, his voice shaking.

Nobody spoke. Misha finally nodded. "Internal injuries. The doctor said he'll be fine."

"And Terry?"

"Cracked ribs. Broken arm. Concussion."

"I'm sorry," Daniel whispered. He turned around and walked out, stumbling over the uneven path. It wasn't until he reached the street and stood there, confused, that he saw John pushing his bike.

"Can you take me to the hospital?" he asked meekly.

Without a word, John opened the back of the truck. Daniel helped him put his bike inside.


It took a lot of talking, but Daniel finally managed to find out what room Terry was in. He walked down the corridors, John walking next to him, counting the room numbers until he came to Terry's. The door was open and Daniel peeked inside.

Two beds, both occupied, Terry was lying in the one in the corner near the wall, a curtain separating him from the other bed and the view from the window.

Nervously, Daniel stepped into the room. He glanced back, making sure that John was still with him.

Terry was sleeping. All his piercings were gone. The black eye he was sporting looked ghastly compared to the paleness of his face. There were new bruises along his cheek and his temple that looked like they would soon be competing against the black eye. His right arm was in a cast and supported by a sling. He was wearing an old, tattered robe which gaped open at the chest, revealing a light blue hospital gown beneath. His feet were covered with socks with rubber grips on the bottom.

Daniel didn't know what to do; he didn't want to wake Terry up but wanted him to know the magazine he'd brought was from him. He was about to back out and go ask a nurse for a pen, when Terry opened his eyes.

Terry blinked slowly, blinked again, and smiled. "Hey."

"Hey." Daniel nervously rolled up the magazine he'd picked up on his way to the hospital.

"Didn't think I'd see you guys here." Terry blinked again, and Daniel realized that he was dopey on some sort of medicine.

"Brad told us. How're you doing?" Feeling a little braver thanks in part to Terry's reception, he moved closer to the bed.

"Been better." He raised his casted arm slightly, pointing out one of his injuries.

"I, we, brought you something." Daniel handed Terry the magazine.

"Cool. Starlog." He stared at the cover, then gave Daniel another slow smile. "It's the latest one."

"Yeah. It came out today."

"Thanks, man. I love this magazine." He blinked again, as if trying to focus on the writing.

"We got something for your brother," Daniel said anxiously. Terry's head popped up, giving Daniel and John a wide-eyed look. "It's not much." Daniel held the bag containing the cheap electronic game he'd purchased. "But I know how boring it gets in the hospital and when you're at home recuperating. I thought he might have fun with this." He showed Terry the game and got yet another smile.

Daniel thought it was amazing how with no rings or studs on his face, how much younger and vulnerable Terry looked.

"Do you want to come and meet Ritchie?" Terry started to sit up, winced and gasped, then rolled to the side, managing to sit up before Daniel could even think of helping him.

"I don't want to intrude," Daniel stammered.

"Nah, it's okay. He's doing good. Mom sent me back to my room so I could lie down for a while." He stood up and, moving very slowly, shuffled out into the hallway.

Daniel and John followed silently as Terry led them down another corridor. He walked into another room similar to the one he'd been in and headed to the bed nearest the door. A petite woman sitting next to the bed, carding her hands through her younger son's hair, gave Terry a warm smile.

"Hey, butt head," Terry said in a soft, teasing tone.

Ritchie, about nine or ten, looked like a very young Terry. "Snot face," the kid shot back dully. While he seemed listless, his eyes lit up at Terry's approach.

"You doing okay?"

"I wanna go home."

"I know, kiddo. You will, soon."

Daniel stopped just inside the door with John.

"Mom, these are my friends, Daniel and John."

Both boys stepped forward simultaneously. Daniel ducked his head, then straightened and held his hand out.

"Nice to meet you." She shook first Daniel's hand, then John's.

"We brought something for Ritchie." Daniel extended the gift towards Ritchie, who looked first to his mom and only took it at her nod.

Ritchie turned the game around a few times, examining it listlessly before giving Daniel a semi-forced smile. He turned the game on and it beeped as he scrolled through the first level. His interest seemed to pique the more he fiddled with the controls.

"Ritch?" His mom gave Daniel a resigned look that was softened by the quirk of a smile at her lips.

Yeah?" Ritchie's response was distracted. His lethargy notwithstanding, his interest was more on the game at hand than on his visitors.

"What do you say?"

"Oh." Ritchie lowered the game and gave Daniel and John a more heartfelt smile. "Thank you. This is really cool." He closed his eyes, his fingers still wrapped around the game.

"Thank you," Terry's mom said also. "I'm sure he'll enjoy it when he's feeling a little more himself."

Terry rounded the bed and slowly eased himself into a chair. "Mom? Why don't you go take a break?"

"Thanks, hon." Terry's mom leaned over the bed, kissed Ritchie's temple, and stood. "I'm just going to stretch my legs. I'll be back in a little while."

"I'll be here."

Daniel and John got another smile and thank you before Terry's mom left.

"How long before they let you out of here?"

"Me? Doc said I should be able to go home tomorrow. Ritchie might be stuck here for another day or two." Terry reached for the game but Ritchie moved his hand, hugging it to his chest when Terry tried to take it from him.

"Nope. I'm going home tomorrow with you," Ritchie said with conviction, opening his eyes to glance quickly over at Terry.

"Depends on what the doctor says, Ritch." From Terry's tone, it sounded like they'd had this discussion many times already today.

"He'll say I can go home tomorrow."

"It kinda sucks being stuck here, doesn't it?" John said, moving around the bed.


"Especially when your brother's gonna be at home and not here."

"I don't wanna be here alone." There was a surge of desperation in Ritchie's voice.

"You won't be," Terry said quickly. "Mom'll stay with you, just like today, and even though I'm not going to be a patient here, it doesn't mean I won't be hanging around either."

"It won't be so bad. You'll be home before you know it." Daniel felt awkward, not really knowing what to say to Ritchie. He knew exactly how he felt.

"You've been stuck in a hospital?" Ritchie stared at Daniel.

"Oh, yeah. I had my appendicitis out not too long ago. I know, it's not fun."

"Did it hurt?"

"God, yeah." Understatement of the year.

"But it's better now?"

"Just a scar."

"Can I see?"

Daniel laughed nervously as he pulled his tee shirt up and the waist of his pants down, exposing his still-red scar.

"Wow. Will my scar look like that?"

"Probably. For a while. Then in a few years you'll hardly be able to see it."

Daniel dropped his tee shirt and found Terry was staring at him.

"Thank you," he mouthed.

Daniel shifted his weight, watching as Ritchie poked at his game. He needed to tell Terry about his accusations, before Terry heard them from Brad or Dave.

"My house was broken into last night," Daniel finally said, staring at the linoleum floor.

"Ah, shit. Was anything stolen?"

"Yeah. Electronics. DVDs." Daniel cleared his throat. "Thing is, I thought... that... well, I brought you over on Monday..." He hoped that Terry would catch his meaning, but all he got was a blank look. "The cops think it might have been... well, they were asking about you."

"What? You think I broke into your house?"

"Terr?" There was fear in Ritchie's voice, and Terry put his good hand on his brother's leg.

"No! I told them it wasn't you. But... then, well, I started thinking maybe they were right... I didn't know you'd been hurt, and there was nobody at the park last night, and, well, I sort of accused you in front of Brad today."

"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence."

"Terry, I'm sorry. I just wanted you to know what happened today. I guess we should go now." Daniel turned and started walking for the door.


Daniel paused, looking back.

"That took a lot of guts."

"I got more of that than brains, obviously."

"Thanks for telling me." He gave Daniel a quirky, lopsided grin. "You don't want the Starlog back, then?"

Daniel shook his head, smiling back. "It's yours."

"You still willing to help me with my French?"


"How about you call me Monday or Tuesday. If things get settled here, I'd be willing to put in a few hours."

Daniel pulled out his cell phone and programmed Terry's number into it. "I'll call."

As Daniel and John walked out into the hall, a man came barrelling into the room, knocking a shoulder into Daniel, shoving him into the hall.

"Watch it!" John called out as Daniel recovered, rubbing his arm and glaring at the newcomer.

"Where is she? Where's that bitch of a mother of yours?" The man stomped straight to the bed and Daniel saw Ritchie cower against the pillows. Terry stood up and it was an almost pathetic sight as he moved to try and stand between what was must obviously be his father and his brother.

"Hey." John followed the man inside, going straight to Terry and backing him up. "Watch the language, mister. There are children in the room."

"Who the hell are you?"

"Your worst nightmare," John said coldly as Daniel stood behind John, there not being enough room to get to Terry's other side.

"You got a problem, asshole?"

"No, sir. But I'm going to ask you to leave this room. You're upsetting the boy."

"That boy is my son—"

"And no child should be terrified of their parent," Daniel said, his voice sounding just as cold as John's to his ears. Ritchie was sobbing, half out of the bed, clutching at Terry, while the IV pole hung precariously between the two of them.

"Screw you. You," the man shouted, pointing at Terry. "We've got some unfinished business."

"You can't come here," Ritchie screamed. "The cops said you couldn't hurt us anymore. You can't come here."

"Mom's got a restraining order. Get the hell out of here before I call the cops."

The man took a menacing step towards Terry, who was backed up against the head of the bed with Ritchie still in his arms. It all happened so fast; John reached out, and in an instant the man was lying on his back. There was a scuffle but it was no contest, their father was fighting a losing battle. But before John could restrain him, he twisted out of reach, scrambled to his feet, and was out the room.

"Get security," John said to Daniel as the families of the other children came around the privacy curtain to gawk.

Daniel was out in a flash, running down the hall, searching for a nurse. He found the main desk several rooms down and took a deep breath, explaining what had happened. A moment later, a code was reported over the intercom. He hurried back to the room, a nurse on his heels.

Terry was sitting on the bed, holding a still-sobbing Ritchie. Daniel stood there, feeling awkward as the nurse went straight to Ritchie. Thirty seconds later, two security guards ran into the room. John told them what had happened and they hurried back out, obviously going to see if the man was still in the hospital.

Terry was shaking as he helped coax Ritchie back into bed. "I gotta call my mom," he said between chattering teeth. Immediately Daniel handed over his cell phone, standing next to John as Terry visibly tried not to cry as he spoke to his mother.

"She's on her way back." He handed the phone back to Daniel with a wince. "Thanks."

"How about you sit down now, honey?" The nurse took Terry's good arm and tugged gently. He sat in a chair, pulling the edges of his robe closed with one hand. "You're safe now."

"No. He'll just come back. He always does," Terry whispered.

Daniel felt horribly awkward, not knowing what to say.

"Security will call the cops," John said, pulling a spare blanket from Ritchie's bed and draping it over Terry's shoulders. He inclined his head minutely towards Ritchie.

"Yeah. Right." Terry seemed to pull himself together. "Thanks, guys."

Their mother came running into the room. She glanced at Ritchie, but went straight to Terry and wrapped her arms around him, kissed his temple, then gave her attention to Ritchie who had started crying again on seeing his mom.

Daniel waited until he caught Terry's eye. He pointed towards the door, then motioned that he'd call him. Terry nodded, gave them a weak smile and waved as he and John left.

Daniel couldn't imagine living a life with that type of fear. While his father might not love him, he was more than positive his dad would never hurt him.

"He'll be fine," John said as they stepped into the elevator.

Daniel simply shook his head.

"No, really." He gave Daniel a wink as the elevator doors closed. "I think maybe Cameron should give the guy a visit."


"They didn't do it." Daniel stomped past his grandmother as she came out of the kitchen. He ignored the wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen as he headed for his bedroom.

She dogged him down the hall. "We've been over this, Daniel—"

"They didn't do it," he nearly yelled, barely holding in his pent-up emotions. "I talked to Terry. Do you know where everyone was yesterday?" He spun in the doorway to his bedroom, leaning forward into his grandmother's space. "At the hospital. Terry's father beat him and his brother up and they were all at the hospital with him."

His grandmother shook her head. "You can't know if that's true or not. They could just be exaggerating—"

"Exaggerating? Does a broken arm and ribs count as an exaggeration? I just came from there. His brother's just a kid. His father beat them up, Grandma. How can someone do that to somebody they love?" He found himself on the verge of tears and tried to breathe deeply to control himself. Despite himself, his chin began to waver.

"Are they sure..."

"His father came to the hospital while we were there. If it wasn't for John..." Daniel's breathing hitched and his eyes prickled painfully. "He would have hurt them again. How can someone do that? How c-can a father h-h-hate his son so much?"

And he lost it, barely able to get the last words out. All he wanted right now was his father here with him, the way he used to be – the man who'd pretended he'd loved Daniel. He cried for himself, and he cried for Terry and Ritchie, and he cried because he missed his dad.

He clutched his grandmother when she pulled him close, wailing again at all the injustices, all the hatred, all the lies. When he pulled back an eternity later, his eyes swollen, his nose clogged, his breathing still marred by uncontrollable hitches, he felt empty and numb inside.

His grandmother's words surprised him as he wiped his eyes with the bottom of his tee shirt, holding his tear-speckled glasses in one hand as he did so. "I'm sorry I doubted you."

"You worry," Daniel admitted with reluctance, despite his earlier misgivings this afternoon that she might have been right about his new friends.

"Damn straight I worry." She took his glasses from him and wiped them on the edge of his tee shirt. "That's what Grandmas are good at. By the time we have our grandchildren, we've had tons of practice worrying so we're damned good at it."

He gave her a wobbly smile as she handed the glasses back to him. "Damned good," Daniel repeated, putting on his glasses.

"Will your friend Terry be okay?"

"I don't know." Daniel swallowed hard "He's scared, Grandma. He doesn't know where his dad is right now and he never knows when he's gonna show up."

"What about the police?"

Daniel shrugged. "His mom's got a restraining order..."

"But it does no good if he doesn't obey it." She gave him a quick hug. "Go wash your face. Supper's ready; I was just waiting for you to come home."


"Who pissed on your parade?"

John really wasn't in the mood. Pent up anger must've been bubbling close enough to the surface for Derek to pick up on and he tamped it down, unwilling to share what happened today at the hospital. Talking about it wasn't the answer. Wouldn't make the anger lessen. Sending Cameron to pay Terry's father a visit might help, but there was a part of John that wanted to be the one teaching the man a lesson.

Difference was, Cameron would stop and right now, John wasn't too sure that he would be able to.

"No one," John groused, forcing a smile as he took the plates from his mother's outstretched hands.

His answer may have shut his uncle up, but his mother, not so much. John quickly averted his gaze from her, hating her ability, at the most inopportune times, to see right through his lies. "Dinner smells good."

That was no lie, it did. Okay, it was a store bought roast chicken with pre-packaged sides, but at least it wasn't sliced turkey or pancakes or cereal or pizza.


Derek ambushed him while passing the mashed potatoes. "You never answered my question."

John dropped a tablespoon of potatoes onto his plate, handed the bowl over to his mother and played dumb. "What question?"

"Derek asked who pissed on your parade?" Cameron parroted.

"Oh, that question." John used his fork and dug out a mashed potato valley. "I told you, no one."

Three pairs of eyes stared him down, only Cameron had the stupidity to speak what was on their minds. "You're lying."

John dropped his fork, crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. "You're right. I'm lying. Today Daniel and I went to the hospital to visit a friend whose father beat the crap out of him and his little brother. Father showed up at the hospital—"

"While you were there?" his mother asked.

John gave a quick nod, and barrelled forward. "The bastard showed up at the hospital and went after Terry and his brother. Again. He was..." John stopped, realizing there was absolute silence around the table. Not the clink of utensil against the plate, no chewing of food, no secondary conversation. Nothing.

"What did you do, John?" Derek's question was asked with slow precision.

"What do you mean, what did I do?"

"Answer Derek's question," his mother commanded.

"There were no adults in the room—"

"What did you do?" his mother hissed.

"His little brother was terrified. Terry was terrified. His father already beat him up. Broke his arm—"

His mom bolted upright, slammed her palms onto the table, locked her elbows and stiffly leaned forward. "What the hell did you do?"

"I took him down. I wanted to make sure— "

Derek wrapped his hand around his mother's forearm and tugged. "Sarah. Sit."

She shook him off. "It wasn't your battle, John."

John stood up so fast, his chair fell over. "You don't have the right to decide when it's my time to be a hero."

"What you did was stupid."

"You weren't there. You have no idea." John was shouting, the anger he'd fought so hard to keep under control was spewing forth. "I listened to your bullshit with Jordan—"

"Who?" His mother's expression was one of confusion.

"The girl who jumped off the roof." Cameron supplied.

"What roof?" Derek asked.

Cameron began to explain and his mother began to talk right over her. "This isn't the same and you know it."

"Yeah, whatever. Obviously, I can only be a savior on your terms." John leaned forward until the two of them were almost nose to nose. "I have a better idea. How about you be the savior and I'll be a normal teen."

"That won't be possible," Cameron began.

"Shut up," his mother ordered.

Cameron glanced towards John and he waved her on. "Come on, Cameron, why wouldn't it be possible?"

"John," Derek warned, shaking his head.

"Your mother—"

"I'm dead, John. I don't make it to Judgment Day."


Anger had dissipated, leaving John with a hollow ache. The kitchen had been exchanged for the semi-darkness of his room, but shutting everyone out didn't make the reality of his mother's words go away.

There was a low knock on the closed door, but before John could feign sleep, his mother walked in with a soft "Hey."

He cleared his throat. "Hey."

She closed the door, walked over to the foot of the bed and stood there. "I'm sorry."

"You have nothing to be sorry for."

With a sigh, she sat down on the edge of the bed, the mattress dipping with her weight. "You're right. You did nothing wrong. I was—"

"How do you die?" The question was out of his mouth before he could stop it.

There was a slight hesitation, his mother taking great interest in the quilt's design. "Cancer."

John wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the answer. "Cancer?"

"I know. I was hoping for a blaze of glory."

"I was hoping for preferably never."

With two fingers, she swept his bangs away from his face. "I won't go down without a fight, I promise."


John lay in bed, listening as the house and its occupants settled in for the night, the hunger in his belly doing the job of keeping him awake.

When Cameron's footsteps were the only sound in the house, John still waited another thirty minutes before slipping from his bed and making his way downstairs. He got as far as the kitchen before Cameron blocked his way.

"I'm hungry."

"There's leftover chicken in the fridge," Cameron said, stepping to the side.

John opened the fridge, moved the tinfoil to the side then realized he really didn't want chicken or mashed potatoes. He wanted answers. John slammed the fridge shut. "I want you to scan my mother. You know, like you did to me," he ordered.

"I already have."


"Sarah is healthy, there's no sign of cancer."

God, that was too easy. "Are you lying to me?"

Cameron shook her head. "I wouldn't lie to you, John." There was a slight hesitation before she continued. "Not about your mother."

Hunger forgotten, John glared at her. "You better not be," he warned. John opened the kitchen drawer, took out the sharpest knife in the drawer and placed it on the counter top, positioning the blade so it pointed at Cameron. His glance went from the knife's point to Cameron.

"I understand," she answered, staring at the knife before raising her eyes to meet John's. "Thank you for explaining."


"Earth to John," Cassie said, bumping his shoulder.

"Hmm?" John turned towards her, blinking a few times as if bringing her into focus.

"You're a million miles away." Her smile was tentative. "You've been staring at your sandwich for the past five minutes without even taking a bite."

"It's turkey." John dropped the half he held in his hand onto the brown bag. "I'm not in the mood for turkey."

"Our mom always makes turkey." Cameron mimicked John's actions, but waved away Corey's offer of half his grilled cheese.

"You need money for lunch?" Daniel offered.

"No, man, thanks." John stuffed his sandwich into the bag and crumbled it up into a ball.

Cameron reached into her own bag, withdrew cookies, slid them over to John, then shoved her sandwich into the bag and made a ball out of it.

The cookies John took and ate, the sweetness just enough to satisfy him, though not enough to satisfy Cassie who plopped an apple in front of him. She slapped her hand on top of his when he went to slide it back over to her.

"Eat it."

She might not have been Janet's biological daughter, but John was hard pressed not to laugh at the 'don't mess with me' expression which was an exact replica of her mother's.

Daniel had no self-control and burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?" Cassie asked, her gaze bouncing between the two of them.


"It wasn't about the turkey sandwich, was it?"

John slammed his locker shut. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Cassie ran to catch up with him, bypassed him and stood in front of him, walking backwards while John walked forward. "Like I said, you're a million miles away."

He grabbed the front of her hoodie and pulled Cassie right up to him, saving her from getting sideswiped from a group of seniors. "I'm not a million miles away." John tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, gently tugging on it. "And you've already asked me that question."

"You didn't answer me the first time I asked."

"I did," he lied.

"The turkey?" She snorted. "I'm not stupid." Her expression changed, laughter disappeared, overtaken by concern.

John hated that look. His mother wore it and she got the same answer he'd given Cassie. "I'm fine."

Someone pushed into them, and John tightened his hold on Cassie. "I think we're blocking traffic."

Her smile was sad. "I think you're lying."

John answered Cassie with a kiss, effectively shutting her up and eliminating his need to continue to lie.


John was distracted. Well, more distracted than usual, his mother's confessional conversation catching him unaware when he least expected it. Thankfully, Daniel was distracted enough not to notice, Dria was too engrossed in Daniel's well being, Cassie kept eyeing him with concerned suspicion and Cameron was astute enough to keep her physical distance.

John pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up and over his head. The dark day had turned into an afternoon rainstorm, suiting his mood. He wound his way away among the throng of students trying to get to the busses, head down, focused, stopping short so not to barrel down the person blocking his way. "Hey!" He looked up into the face of his uncle.

Derek pulled him out of the way of people traffic. "The... ummm... SGC needs the," he brought his voice down to a whisper, "metal."


Derek shrugged, grimacing as Cameron appeared by John's side. "You," he said pointing to Cameron, "get in the Nitro. Second aisle, third..."

Cameron glanced over at John, as if waiting for him.

John stood there in the rain, waiting for his invitation, unsure of his feelings when there wasn't one forthcoming. "Go," he said to Cameron.

"We won't be back late," Derek apologized.

"Whatever," John answered. "Look, I have to go catch my bus before it—"

"Let me give you a lift."

"No, forget it." John brushed Derek's hand off his shoulder. "Bus is fine. If they need Cameron that badly, you better get back. I'll be fine," he added, not that his uncle had even inquired.


Daniel wasn't on the bus. There wasn't anyone on the bus, anyone that would give him the time of day, which was just fine by John.

He trudged home, the rain had increased in intensity and he burrowed even deeper into his sweatshirt. In hindsight, John was pissed at himself for not accepting Derek's offer of a lift. Annoyance bubbled over into anger at his mother for not seeing what was happening. Judgment Day had gotten mixed up with the SGC, and now the two were so intertwined, she couldn't unravel the mess. In a strange reversal of roles, John was almost taken back by his need to pack a bag and run - a not so gentle reminder to his mother that 'no one is ever safe'.

But then, John had had first hand knowledge of the state-of-the-art medical facilities at the SGC and maybe this was the place they were supposed to be. The place where his mother would get help in case, one day...

His cell phone began to vibrate, and he shoved his hand into his pant's pocket, glad for the interruption. "Yeah," he said, committing the cardinal sin of not checking the caller ID before answering.

"Are you home yet?"

John smiled as he swung his backpack around and dug out his keys. "Just opening the door now." He jingled the keys loud enough for the sound to carry over the phone, fit them into the lock and opened the door. "Hold on a minute," John said, hurrying to punch in the alarm's disarming code. "Hey." Pushing back his hood, doglike, he shook out his wet hair and dropped his backpack to the floor.

"I'm soaked," Cassie complained.

"Me, too," John slipped out of his hoodie, dropped it onto his backpack and headed towards the kitchen for a snack.

"I swear, everyone's parents must have been afraid their poor darlings were going to melt in the rain. No one was on the bus. No one to talk to. Daniel went home with Alexandria, she drove him, and I sorta felt like a third wheel so I didn't want—"

"Ditto. I know the feeling." John opened the fridge, rooted around and found a package of processed American cheese. He was on his second slice before Cassie spoke again.

"What the hell are you eating?"

"American cheese, you know the kind that comes—"


John tossed the remainder of the package back into the fridge, took out a Snapple, then searched the cabinet for the package of chocolate chips cookies, biting into one, ignoring the crumbs that fell to the floor. He chewed loudly into the phone. "Better?" he said around a mouthful of cookie.


John swallowed. "You're good."

"Of course, I am," she said teasingly. "Oh, I got an email today from the girl I met online—"

"Shit!" John dropped the unfinished cookie onto the counter. "I gotta get the mail, mom's weird about that, doesn't want it to get wet." He smiled at her giggle. "I'll talk to you later?"

"I'll call you. I'm going to the mall tonight."


John didn't bother with his hoodie, he just opened the door, ready to reach around and get the mail. The body slam threw him and his attacker into the house. John landed hard on his side but recovered quickly, sixteen years of survival training kicking in. He struck out with his left leg and there was a grunt of a connection having found its mark. A wave of satisfaction washed over him and John moved out from under the weight trying to pin him down. And he did, only to be knocked down again, this time with more force. He slid along the wood floor, his head impacting the wall with a painful thud.

His vision greyed out for a moment and he flopped onto his back, trying to find purchase along the wall to stand. A booted foot to his chest thwarted John's attempt. He squirmed, attempting to grab the boot with his hand.

"This little one's a fighter, eh?"

John squinted at the person standing over him, blinking as one person separated into three and for a second he thought the knock on his head had been hard enough to concuss, until he was hauled upright by two of the three. The third limped over to him, recognition catching John off guard.

"You're Terry's father." John increased his struggles, using the other men's weight to counteract his leverage, bringing his leg up to kick Terry's dad in the balls.

"You sonofabitch," he howled, doubling over, clutching his groin.

John slammed his elbow into the side of the guy to his right and the man's grasp on his bicep lessened, distracting John into thinking maybe he had a chance, never noticing Terry's father recover enough to backhand him. His head whipped to the left; his eye on the side of the impact tearing.

Bullshit. There was no way, after spending his life running from machines, that he was going to be taken down in his own living room by a trio of overgrown bullies. He growled in frustrated anger, catching them by surprise.

He'd been taught his entire life that size wasn't an issue. John managed to land more than a few well placed punches that were going to leave a mark or two. He felt invigorated, adrenalin pumping, and his fist connected with the nose of the largest of the three men. Blood flowed and the men stared in shock at the damage John had done. He used their momentary shocked hesitation to head towards the kitchen. Phone. Gun in the cabinet with the glasses. He actually was reaching for the cabinet when his legs were swept out from underneath him and he went down hard, the right side of his face hitting the countertop as he fell.

In the moment it took him to stop the world from spinning, he was hauled to his feet and pinned to the wall, his captors making sure to secure his arms as well as his legs.

"Are you done playing?" Terry's dad asked.

John spat in the man's face, catching him right in the eye. Instead of angering him, he wiped the sputum off with a smile.

"You don't know what the fuck you're—" John never saw the backhand coming, and it hurt, more than the first, catching the rest of his words in his throat.

"Don't curse, do you hear me?" the man to John's left commanded.

"Fuck. You. Asshole." John turned and snarled the words directly into the man's face.

It was the sudden feel of the sharp blade of a knife laying against his jugular that caught John's attention.

"Ah, that's a good boy," the knife wielding man said as John stopped struggling. "Do me a favor, Henderson," the guy said to Terry's dad, "let me, okay?"

"My pleasure." The two quickly exchanged places.

Knife man was also the man whose nose John had broken and he allowed himself a slight victory smile.

"What are you smiling at?" the man demanded.

"Nice nose," John said innocently.

Viciously, the guy grabbed John's hair and used it to hold John's head in place. "This. Is. Why," the back of John's head met the wall with every word, "you should never have long. Girly. Hair." In one swift motion, he sliced the knife through the hair he held in his hand then let the cut locks flutter to the ground in front of John's eyes. He did it again and again, the knife on more than one occasion coming too close for comfort, the other two taking perverse pleasure watching John's hair being chopped away.

It was only hair.

Only hair.

And if that was how they got their kicks, so be it. John wouldn't resist but he wouldn't let them have the last word. When broken nose/knife man came at him one more time, John head butted him.

The guy staggered backwards, dropping the knife, but he recovered quicker than John thought possible and charged, hauling off and punching him in the gut with such force that John's knees gave way and the cheese and the half chocolate chip cookie he'd eaten made an immediate reappearance, splattering the floor.

The guy laughed again. "Not so tough now, are you?" Standing far enough way, but still within arm's length, he punched John twice in quick succession.

John's knees buckled, but they'd learned not to let him go and they held him up. Terry's father exchanged places once again with the guy with the knife.

"Don't you ever," he warned, punching John in the face, "come between me and my kids."

John spit a mouthful of blood on the floor. "Fuck you."

A terminator would've been quicker and probably less painful. Machines weren't torturers, they killed for a reason. They didn't play with you, taunt you, beat you until the only reason you were still standing was because the two men holding you up had a death grip on your arms.

In the end, John begged for his life, he knew he did, through split and swollen lips. They relented, releasing him with a laugh as John slid down the wall, tilting, then falling to his right side when his ass hit the floor.

Eyes closed, he never saw the kick to his midsection and he curled protectively into himself. He wasn't fast enough and two more kicks to his ribs met their mark with devastating accuracy.

Someone grabbed his chin, forcing eye contact. Through blurred vision, there was no missing the feral and self-satisfied grin Terry's father wore. "Tell anyone," he warned, "and next time we'll kill you."


The sound was distracting, tugging John's concentration away from the job at hand - breathing. Short, shallow inhalations and exhalations, sort of like panting. Not right, but at least he was able to draw oxygen into his body with the least amount of pain.

There was an elongated beep followed by a click, and for several seconds, John didn't breathe.


"Mom?" He coughed, pain narrowing his world, smothering the rest of his mother's words. "Mom?" When the coughing spasm lessened to a manageable level, John weakly

slapped the floor in frustration as awareness cut through his all encompassing pain.

Through the haze, John connected the dots. He needed the phone to call his mother. His mother would know what to do. She'd make it better. Fight this battle. But the phone wasn't going to come to him. He needed to move. Sit up.

'Move! John! Let's go, soldier. Move your ass', his inner Sarah Connor voice demanded. John clamped down on a giggle that was too close to hysteria for him to feel comfortable.

Sitting up was accomplished in small, incremental movements, with his hand pressed to his left side. John's ribs protested just the mere act of breathing; sitting had them screaming in agony. His clothes were soaked with sweat and the cuts on his face burned as the moisture dripped into the opened wounds.

Okay, he was sitting. Standing might be another problem because the yelp of pain he produced just by the act of dragging his ass two inches to the wall was embarrassingly loud.

"Crap." John rested his head against the wall, the yelp was bad enough, John didn't even want to admit the tears leaking out from swollen lids. Defeat was so close. Closer than the phone and much closer than his mother.


A miracle.

His pocket vibrated. Damaged synapses and confusion were clouding John's judgment and he fumbled with the thought process. So focused had he been on getting to the kitchen phone, he'd stupidly forgotten about his cell. John reached fast, too fast, losing precious time when his arm refused to obey his order.

"Damn. Damn." Not at this angle. He couldn't get the phone at this angle as his mother's muffled voice went to voice mail. "No, I'm here." John banged his head backwards, hitting the wall behind him.

All his hard work was for naught and John slowly slid down the wall. Horizontal gave him more mobility and he moved with extreme care, digging his phone out of his pocket.

John couldn't see, his vision was distorted to the point that his world was just pinpricks of light, but he was a child of technology, able to visualize the touchpad on his phone even in the dark.

Flipping it open, he closed his eyes, ran his thumb over the keys and forced himself to bury the urgency and try to pretend he was in his room, at night. Dialing Cassie. Daniel. Anyone. This was no different.

Step one, images.

Step two, focus. Ignore how much he was shaking. How cold he was. How even holding the phone up and away from his body was tiring.

Step three, dial. One number at a time.

His fingers ran over the keys. Finding the first. Counting until he got to the six.

Backtracking two until he got to the number four.

The kitchen phone rang, abruptly interrupting John's intentness and he jerked in surprise, dropping the cell. With his sudden movement, the pain John had tampered down exploded and became all he could focus on.

Cell phone forgotten.

Ringing kitchen phone forgotten.

Remaining conscious and breathing was all he could manage. John came back to reality in starts and stops. The answering machine fading in and out.

"Where... you. John. An... r."


His ribs ground sickeningly under his right arm while he patted the floor, searching for his cell phone. Just as his fingers were about to close around the cell, it began to vibrate. John lunged, whimpering, trapping the phone under his hand before it moved out from under his grasp.

John fumbled the phone, his fingers and movements felt sluggish in the wake of his need to just flip it open. He managed, catching the call just before it went to voice mail.

In true Sarah Connor style, his mother began to yell even before John was able to bring the phone up to his ear. Loudly. Her voice carrying crystal clear. Angry. Berating. John had never heard a sound as beautiful.


Sarah's worry over John's whereabouts flew out the window the second John picked up. "Where the hell have you been?" She took a breath, honked at the car in front of her and swerved around him. "Better yet, where the hell are you?"


"John?" The worry returned in an instant. "Where are you?" she repeated.

He choked out her name, the one syllable catching again in her son's throat.

"Where. Are. You," she screamed into the cell.

He got the 'h' sound out.

"Home? John, are you home?" Sarah made a sharp right, illegally cutting through a parking lot, bringing her five seconds closer to home. "Answer me," she screamed.

"Yes," he stuttered. "Here."

"Metal?" Sarah ignored the honking horns and squeezed into oncoming traffic.

"No," he whispered softly.

A horrific thought struck Sarah. "Is there someone there with you? Someone listening?"

Silence. Short panting breathing but no words.

"John," she yelled, switching the cell to her opposite hand, "Are you alone?"

"Yes," the word rolled out on an exhalation.

She breathed a sigh of relief.

"Coming home?"

"Almost there." She accelerated, closed her eyes, gave a silent prayer and sped through the just-turning-red light.

He coughed, whimpered and her heart seized. Idiot, what did she expect? Sarah clutched the phone in her hand, unable to speak, but she couldn't bring herself to disconnect.


The front door wasn't closed, almost, but not quite. Sarah quickly assessed the immediate grounds, pulled her gun out of the waistband of her jeans, released the safety and entered the house.

There were signs of a struggle. A crooked picture, the hallway table was on its side. "John!" She whipped her head from side to side, bent and touched the splatters on the floor under her feet. Blood. Vomit. And something else. Sarah picked up a pile of brown tufts and ran it through her fingers. Hair. The color sickeningly familiar.


"John!" Sarah shot up, she was done playing games. "Where the hell are you?" She didn't wait for an answer, didn't listen for one actually. She turned the corner into the kitchen.


Sarah dropped the gun on the table and fell to her knees. "Oh god, John." He was battered. Bruised. Bloody. Rage flew through her, clouding her sight and her judgment. "Who did this to you?"

He swallowed, struggling, turning his head towards the sound of her voice. Slowly, John held his cell phone to his ear. "Mom?"

"I'm here," Sarah said, peeling John's fingers off his cell. "Don't need this anymore."

Surprisingly, John fought her, refusing to give up the cell. "No."

Sarah gave up, letting him keep the phone. "Okay." She closed his hand over the cell. "It's okay. You hold that."

He gave a nod, clutching the opened phone to his chest.

A cursory assessment didn't ease Sarah's mind. Boot prints on his tee shirt, the way his arm was tucked against his body and the swelling around his eyes... confusion. John needed help.

She ran a thumb along his bruised lips and for that action, John responded. "Mom?" Like a baby bird he followed her touch.


John sighed. "Thirsty."

"I bet," she answered, gently wiping away the moisture leaking out from under grotesquely swollen lids. "How about sitting up?"

John opened his hand and Sarah caught his cell before it slid to the floor.

"Got it," she said, waving the cell in her son's face then made a one armed grab for John as he struggled to sit up. "Got you, too." Sarah flashed him an encouraging smile that fell from her face as fast as the cell when her touch elicited a scream. Weakly, John fought her.

"Where does it hurt?" There was command in her voice. The 'wake up and pay attention, John Connor' command, but she kept her actions slow and deliberate, lowering him back to the floor with gentleness.

He curled away from her, turned his face into the floor and blindly slapped backwards at her hand.

"Hey." She scooted forward on her knees, her brow furrowing as she stroked his exposed neck. "John?"

Sarah didn't panic, though her shaking fingers quickly flew to whatever part of her son's face she could gain access to.

"Sorry," Sarah said, apologizing to John, because protesting or not, she had no choice but to flip him onto his back.

John's hands were like ice and the pulse under her fingers was fast. He wasn't happy with her. Too bad. To offset his complaints, she made placating soothing, inane sounds, which strangely enough, had a calming effect on him.

His cheeks were cool and clammy to the touch. With his eyes so swollen, the last thing Sarah wanted to do was manipulate his lids to see if his pupils were dilated.

Experience was a wonderful teacher. Sarah knew how to recognize shock, how to treat shock. Training with guerrillas in Central America, she's seen the same if not more than any field medic. And she was good, confident and sure, eliciting trust in the victim.

But this was John.

Not a guerrilla that she'd had a passing acquaintance with. This was her son. John Connor. She was in her kitchen, in her rental house in Colorado Springs and there was no margin for error.

"Thirsty." John's tongue darted out, running along the split bottom lip, worrying at the blood pooled in the corner.

"I'll be right back." Not exactly a lie, just a little stretching of the truth. Sarah was coming back. Only not with water, but with the two afghans from the living room. One she folded again and again. Elevate his legs, she repeated, sliding it under John's feet. The second she tucked around him.

Sarah sat back on her haunches. She could handle this.

John was a mess, his face alone was evidence of extreme trauma. A beating. Someone had beat her son. Her son. John Connor. Savior of mankind. Anger welled up, exploding, and by the time Sarah refocused, her kitchen counter had been swept clean and she had John's cell phone in her hand. Sarah scrolled through the cell phone's address book, located the SGC and dialed.

John reached out for her, and she took his hand in hers. The panic set in as the phone rang and John's hand clawed at her, searching for purchase, scrabbling up her arm.

She shook off his hand and cupped his cheek.

Oh, damn.

"Sarah Connor, connect me to the infirmary."

His cheek damp and sweaty under her fingers, but now there was the slightest of tremors.

"Infirmary, Fraiser speaking."

The words tumbled out fast, furious, and Sarah tripped over them, backtracking, filling in the blanks when she was met with Janet's silence.


"I know that, Janet." Sarah took a breath, adjusted John's blanket, anything to ground herself.

"Elevate his legs at least ten inches. Cover him with a blanket. Make sure to check—"

"For dilated pupils. I. Know. That," Sarah ground out between clenched teeth.

"I'm sending an ambulance."

"Don't bother." Sarah stuck the insanely small phone between her shoulder and chin, freeing up her hands.

"Sarah, shock isn't something you should be playing around with," Janet admonished, speaking slowly as if Sarah were an idiot.

"No shit, Janet. I didn't call you to get a lecture." Sarah pulled down the blanket covering John, pushing away his hand that tried reaching for it. "I called you to make sure the doors are opened and the red carpet is down when we arrive at the Academy Hospital."

"An ambulance. The SGC infirmary."

"No," Sarah spit back. "Shock isn't something you should play around with." Sarah threw Janet's words right back at her. "Too much time for the ambulance. SGC's too far. Academy Hospital is closer. I can get him there, I need you to work your magic." The lump in her throat was huge and swallowing past it was difficult. Harder than she imagined. "Please."

"Hang up the damn phone, Sarah, get your boy to the hospital. I'll make the phone call and work my magic. We'll talk about this later."

"Thank you," Sara whispered.

"Hang up the phone. Get John into the car. Make sure he's warm—"

Sarah hung up the phone, effectively cutting Janet off mid-sentence.


Getting John upright and moving was actually easier than getting the poor kid to sit up. Confused and compliant, John pretty much had stood on her order, using the wall and her arm for support.

She held onto his left elbow, guiding him down the walk. "Come on, John," Sarah cajoled, taking tiny baby steps to match John's.

John stopped, standing firm. "I don't want to go to school."

Sarah stared at John, biting back words of frustration. "Okay," she said slowly, "Don't worry. No school."

His smile was lopsided and confused, but her answer didn't make him move any faster. By the time they got to the Nitro, she was covered in sweat.

He baulked when she opened the passenger door, digging in, dragging the back of his hands across his eyes. "Ow."

"Don't do that," she said, pulling down his hand. Sarah used her sleeve to blot at the moisture pooling in the corner of John's eyes, taking caution not to rub the material too hard against the swelling.

John didn't answer, but he moved forward and stumbled, instinctually throwing out his hand to save himself from going down. The side of the Nitro and Sarah simultaneously fought to keep him upright. He groaned, clutching his side, slowly sliding down the Nitro.

She fought the gravitational pull and struggled with his weight. "Not on your life, John Connor," Sara grunted, battling to keep him horizontal. "Stand up straight, soldier."

"Ha," he grunted through closed lips. "Easy for you to say."

Her kiss to his temple as she maneuvered John into the passenger seat caught him by surprise.

"I'm fine, don't worry."

If the situation weren't so dire, Sarah would've laughed. "Fine is in the eyes of the beholder. I'm beholding and you're not fine, John."


Sarah stood on the running board, settling John into the seat. He didn't object to her buckling him in, reclining the chair or the blanket she'd grabbed from the trunk and tucked around his body. Sarah shoved the tool box from the trunk under John's feet and rolled up the second blanket, lying it flat on top of the tool box.

John got the idea, stretched out fully and gingerly lifted his legs to rest on the tool box.

It was makeshift, and definitely an ambulance would've been better, but this was John. And the Connors never did things the easy way. That wasn't their way.


Sarah drove like a madwoman. Weaving in and out of traffic, honking her horn as she sped through a red light.

He groaned and for all of two seconds, Sarah let up on the gas pedal until John resettled. "We'll be there in a few minutes."

John dragged the edge of the blanket up, swiping at the moisture dampening his face, then with his arm outstretched, leaned forward with a grunt.

"Tell me what you want," she demanded, throwing out a restraining hand. Fuck. Couldn't he just cooperate? Driving through the traffic with two hands on the wheel was hard enough. Driving through traffic with one hand holding John in place was going to get them killed.


Sarah pumped the heat in the car and within seconds her clothes were sticking to her body. John was shivering, hard body tremors that rattled his teeth and her nerves.

John mumbled something and it wasn't until he repeated the same phrase two more times before he drew Sarah's attention. "What?"

"You. Were. Right."

Sarah focused on the gasping breaths rather than the words and she went even faster, slowing for a second at the four way stop, barrelling through at the all clear. "Don't talk," she ordered.

A block from the hospital he began to gag, vomiting on himself before Sarah had a chance to pull over.

She entered the ER parking lot too fast, narrowly missing an elderly couple walking to their car. Sarah leaned on the horn, warning everyone in their path to move. As John emptied his stomach one more time, fighting the seatbelt locking him in place, Sarah honestly didn't care if they bowled over anyone in their path.

Slamming the Nitro into Park, turning off the motor, Sarah threw open the door and jumped from the driver's seat, ignoring the security guard's warning to move because she was parked in an ambulance zone.

"Fuck you," she screamed at the police officer wanna be. "I need a doctor. My son—"

"I've got this, Sarah."

She whirled around, eyes widening as the diminutive doctor rushed past her. "Janet." Sarah turned and dogged the doctor's footsteps. "He's vomiting. Once... no twice. Cold. Sweaty, clammy. I think his ribs on his left side—"

Janet opened the door, jumped onto the running board and disappeared into the car, bending over John.

Sarah went to follow, but she was gently pushed aside by an orderly. His partner waited by the gurney. "We need you to step aside. Let Doctor Fraiser do her job."

Numbly, Sarah stepped back, hating herself for giving in and letting someone else take care of John.

She came to her senses when the gurney disappeared into the hospital and Sarah took off at a dead run, ignoring the security guard's words of warning.

"You're going to get a ti—" The remainder of his sentence was silenced by the whooshing of the closing doors.


Sarah sidled up to the gurney, but again she was rebuffed, closed off from getting to John by the sea of medical personnel. She tried again, but this time she was more than pushed out of their medical assembly line, Sarah was dragged to an empty cubicle.

"What the hell do you—"

Janet glared, her icy gaze piercing through Sarah's anger.

"That's my son—"

"Then let me do my job. Don't make me call security and drag you out of here."

"Don't threaten me," Sarah bristled.

"I don't have time to get into a pissing contest with you." Janet glanced over her shoulder. "Your son doesn't have time for your temper tantrums."

Janet didn't wait for Sarah's rebuttal, she left, leaving her standing there feeling awkward and bereft. And not in control. Sarah hated not feeling in control, but what she hated more, was being put in her place. Like Janet had just done. Like she'd deserved.


Derek burst into the waiting room and descended on Sarah with Cameron on his heels.

"What the hell happened?" Derek broadcasted.

"Keep your voice down," Sarah warned.

Cameron skirted around Derek and sat in the chair next to Sarah. "I need to see John."

Sarah snorted. "That makes two of us." Bowing her head, Sarah played with a broken fingernail. "He was beaten," she said softly. "Badly." She rubbed her nose with the back of her hand. "Broke a rib or two. There were boot prints on his shirt." Sarah glanced up at Derek, wondering at the trick of lighting that blurred his image. "They cut his hair. His hair."

"Hair grows back," Cameron stated tonelessly.

Sarah ran, she was out the sliding doors before Derek caught up with her, grabbing her by the arm. She turned with a roar, fists flailing, Derek's chest catching the brunt of her anger. "He was beaten."

"I know. We'll get the bastards that did this to him."

"He was in the kitchen." Anger clouded everything. "The cabinet door was open. He was so close to the gun."

"Shooting is too good for the bastards."

"They cut his hair. Little pieces were all over the... They. Cut. His. Hair."

Derek wrapped his arms around her and forcibly pulled her into a hug.

With Derek's chest inches from Sarah, her pounding fell into a staccato beat. "I'm going to fucking kill whoever laid a hand on my son."

"Stand in line," Derek whispered in her ear.


Cameron met them as they walked through the doors. "Doctor Fraiser wants to see you, Sarah."

With a curt nod, Sarah acknowledged Cameron and kept walking forward, Derek and Cameron trailing a respectful distance behind. She found the cubicle where John had been treated.

No Janet.

No John.

"He's not there." For a second the world stopped. She couldn't breathe. Couldn't focus.

"John's not here," Cameron said coming to stand next to Sarah. "Why isn't John here?"

"Because he's up in x-ray," Janet said. She walked up to Sarah, and moved her forward with a nod of her head. "Follow me."


"Daniel, your grandmother wouldn't have called you if it wasn't an emergency."

Daniel kicked a loose stone from the walkway with enough force that it bounced once and skipped into the street. Score one for the home team.

"You're not even listening, are you?"

Daniel hooked an arm around Alexandria's neck and pulled her against his chest. "I'm listening," he whispered into her curls. "Honest." He listened to everyone. His grandmother. His teachers. His coach. Friends. And as silly as this was, he'd been looking forward to eating dinner with Alexandria's family. A little bit of normalcy. They'd gotten as far as setting the table when his grandmother had called, breathless and demanding that he be ready to leave in ten minutes.

And Daniel had listened. Apologetic and embarrassed to the Mantalbanos. Angry and annoyed at his grandmother. But he listened and was outside, waiting to be picked up.

"I wonder what's the problem?" Alexandra asked, hugging him back.

"Well, it's not my dad." That much his grandmother had revealed in her conversation. "So your guess is as good as—"

"She's here."

That she was. "I'm sorry, Alexandria."

"Not your fault, now go." She kissed his chin.

Fuck this. His grandmother could wait a minute or more. He bent and captured Alexandria's lips and she protested at first, then melded against him, sighing into Daniel's opened mouth. God, he didn't want to go. No emergency offworld or on was worth leaving...

The horn from the Sante Fe cut though Daniel's libido like a knife.

"Go." Alexandria pushed him away.

"I'll try and call you." Daniel bent and picked up his backpack, slinging it over one shoulder.


Daniel opened the passenger door, got in, shoved his backpack between his legs and buckled in.

"You could put your backpack in the—"

"It's fine right where it is."

His grandmother sighed.

"Well, come on, you're in a hurry, aren't you?"

She pulled away from the curb and Daniel kept his eye in the side view mirror, watching Alexandria waving from the front lawn, getting smaller and smaller as they drove down the block.

"You could've said goodbye to Dria in the house."

"You could've let me stay there for dinner." The cramped condition made his knee burn and he tried to stretch it out around his backpack. Finally, Daniel moved his backpack, trying to find a place to put his legs that wasn't so confined.

"I know you wanted to stay, mhuirnin, but—"

"Why couldn't I? It's not Dad. You look fine. So what's the—"

"John's been hurt."

"Terminator?" No, his grandmother said hurt. If it had been a terminator, his grandmother would've said 'John's been killed'. Terminators don't hurt. They kill.

"Janet said someone broke into their house, beat him within an inch of his life."

Daniel stole a glance at his grandmother, red rimmed eyes and nose. He felt horrible for not noticing that before. "Beat him?" He'd been on the receiving end of John's ability to hold his own, defend himself. "There was more than one guy, wasn't there?"

"Janet didn't say. Just that she was afraid for... Afraid that whoever did this to John would go after you."

He thumped back in the seat and closed his eyes. "Sarah? Derek?" Obviously, Cameron hadn't been home because the ending to the story would've been completely different. "Are they okay?"

"They were at the mountain. Sarah came home..." A shaking hand wiped at the corners of her mouth. "Poor woman came home and found him."

"He's bad?" Daniel said softly, rubbing the glyph on his arm.

"Janet was upset. Very."

"Oh." Janet got upset. Daniel had known her long enough to know that she occasionally lost her cool but for his grandmother to pick up on it, it was bad. "Does Cassie know?"

"I don't know." His grandmother's voice was soft. "I think Janet didn't really have the time—"

"I'm calling her." Daniel tugged his backpack up and plopped it onto his lap.

"Daniel, don't."

He glanced at the hand his grandmother had latched onto his forearm. "Why?"

"Because if it's bad..."

"Cassie needs to be there," Daniel finished, digging out his cell from his side pocket. Frustrated, he shoved it into the pocket of hoodie when his 'call me back, I need to talk to you' message went to voice mail.


His grandmother stayed glued to his side, as close as she possibly could be without touching him. The clerk at the desk hesitated before giving them John's room number.

"It's after afternoon visiting house, ma'am, but there's a cafeteria just down the hallway where I'm sure you and your grandson can have something to eat and pass the time."

"Doctor Fraiser sent for us. Now you can either page her if you wish, or Daniel and I can go and have a snack to pass the time, and I'll be sure to mention it to the doctor that we were just following orders. Yours, in case she's curious."

"Hold on a minute, please."

A call was placed, the clerk's concerns were addressed and minutes later, armed with instructions and room passes, Daniel and his grandmother were on their way.

In silence, the two of them rode in an empty elevator and it wasn't until they exited onto the fourth floor that Daniel grabbed his grandmother's hand.


"How bad is John, Grandma?"

"I wasn't lying when I said I didn't know." She reached out and cupped his cheek, public or not, Daniel was so starved for her affection that he leaned into the touch, reaching up to hold her hand in place. "I think Janet was worried about your safety. That's why she wanted you here, in a secure place." His grandmother squeezed the hand that held hers in place. "Not because John is..."

"Let's go see," Daniel said, but he didn't move an inch.

"He'll be fine."

Daniel allowed himself the slightest of smiles. "He has no choice, Sarah would kill him otherwise."


Sarah was standing outside the room. Okay, standing wasn't the right word. She was pacing, like a caged tiger. Derek wasn't there and Cameron was staring out the window across from the door of John's room.

"Sarah?" His grandmother warily approached her, calling her name softly.

"Rose." There was a smile in the tone of her voice, but not on her face, though her face softened when she saw Daniel. "Hey," she said, gently rubbing his arm with the tattoo in greeting.

Cameron stepped away from the window and planted herself next to Daniel. "We needed to wait out here while they get John settled in."

Daniel wasn't sure what to say, hospital time existed outside the realm of normal time, but explaining it to Cameron would be an exercise in futility so he shrugged in response.

Sarah leaned against the door frame. "Janet said it wouldn't be long," she said, speaking into the room, dropping not so subtle hints.

"Sarah." His grandmother attempted to guide her away from the door, but she'd have none of it. "John will be okay."

"Okay?" Sarah looked at his grandmother as if she'd lost her mind. "John was beaten in our house. In the living room. Kitchen. They broke two ribs. Janet x-rayed not only his chest but she did," Sarah hesitated, "an orbital x-ray to make sure the bones surrounding his eyes aren't chipped. Broken. Shattered. He's got a foley because Janet needs to monitor his urine output and also to make sure there's no kidney damage." Sarah's voice rose in anguish, but his grandmother did nothing. She didn't stop the tears that were flowing, nor interrupt Sarah. She held herself tall and proud and listened.

"Some of his bruises are boot prints. Boot prints, Rose. They kicked the shit out of my son."

Finally, his grandmother's resolve broke and she enveloped Sarah. "Shush," she said. Daniel watched as she began to rub Sarah's back, big circles, then smaller, the constant repetition mesmerizing Daniel and breaking through Sarah's emotional barrier.

"Sarah didn't mention they cut his hair," Cameron said.

"Hair?" Daniel pulled his gaze away from his grandmother and Sarah. "Why?"

"Because they could."

Daniel whipped his head around to stare at Cameron. "Who told you that?


Daniel wasn't sure if he was more disturbed by what Cameron had repeated or that it was the truth. That someone could break in and beat the crap out of John and no one had been the wiser. Hell, he'd been stolen out from under their noses. They should've known better, no one is ever safe.


John would've appreciated if everyone just went away and left him alone. They were talking around him as if he was invisible or unconscious, which considering where they'd placed the last tube, he sorta wished that he had been.

"We're going to put some ice—"

"No," John objected hoarsely, peering into the dimness. Literally blind thanks to his swollen eyes, he made a grab for the side rail, got pissed when he missed, even more pissed when he flopped back onto the bed, awakening a cacophony of pain and unhappy monitors.

"Let's get you sorted out here."

It took a moment for the familiar voice to cut through John's self-absorption. "Janet?"

Sure fingers tried to pry John's death grip off the side rail. Not Janet, this interference wasn't her. "Stop it!" he ordered, thrashing on the bed, his ribs screaming in protest.

Panting through the pain, John incrementally calmed at the gentle hand tapping the side of his face. The touch was Janet, but the tone of her voice was anything but gentle. "You can tell the people in the hall to give me five more minutes."

John heard the scurry of feet, a shadow passing through his limited line of vision. "Where's my mom?" The inability to see clearly was making him anxious, too dependent. "Where's my mom?" he repeated when Janet didn't answer and he fought the hysteria trying to creep into his voice.

"Five more minutes. Give me five more minutes," she said. Her voice went from doctor voice to mommy voice in seconds. Soft and soothing, familiar, John had heard her used this exact tone with Cassie a handful of times. "I just want to get you all sorted out before your personal entourage comes in here, okay. They're all outside waiting. Your mom's wearing a hole in the floor. They're fine. Safe. Just a bit worried."

John concentrated, feeling the pull of the IV. He nodded. Virtually a prisoner, he had no choice but to wait the damned five minutes. Begging wasn't going to work. He was in no position to demand and his thoughts were... were... were like slogging through mud. "What..." His tongue was suddenly too thick to form words, "give me." John tried to raise his arm with the IV, but it was sluggish and unresponsive.

"Just to take the edge of. Relax and don't fight it."

"I want," John swallowed, "my mom."

"Let me put ice on your eyes."

"Mom first." His vision was so obscured as it was, ice would cover what little he had. "No. Please." His mom would understand. "I want my mom." He began to panic. "Did something happen to her?" He thought Janet had mentioned something about them being safe, but holding onto any thought was next to impossible.

Janet's touch was different than his mother's. Softer. Smaller. Not as calloused. But there was strength.

"Nothing happened to your mom." John could hear the smile in Janet's voice.

"I want my mom."

"I know you do."

"Now." Whatever sight John had was now blurred through emotions.

He heard the lowering of the side rail, felt the bed dip under her weight, sensed the tissue she used with exaggerated care and John turned away, averting his face in the pillow. "I'm fine."

"Word to the wise, John," Janet said, being totally unprofessional and kissing his forehead. "Don't try to bullshit your mom, okay?"


Janet met them in the hall, placing an arm across the doorway, stopping their stampede into the room.

Cameron gripped Janet's arm. "You need to allow us access into the room. See John. Assess for ourselves—"

Janet's glare was wicked enough that even the machine picked up on it and her hands slowly slid from Janet's. "Just another moment."

"You had more time—"

"I know, and I'm sorry. John's—"

"A mess," Sarah filled in," I know, Janet."

Janet went on as if Sarah hadn't even spoken. "I pretty much explained it all to you before, but I just wanted to let you know that I gave him a minimal dose painkiller in his IV, to take the edge off, but he's fighting it. So try to make this short and sweet. Sarah, I'll make arrangements for you to stay the night."

"Me, too," Cameron interjected.

Janet nodded. "Of course. And, Sarah? Be gentle."

She nodded, impatiently waiting for Janet to move.

"I'll see you in a little while. Behave," Janet warned, dropping her arm and stepping aside.

Sarah could do gentle, but behaving, that was a horse of a different color, because right off the bat, she entered the room like gangbusters. Ignoring the monitors, the leads, the IVs, she focused on John. Only John. The rise and fall of his chest, the fact that he was breathing. That was all she cared about, until she got up close and personal.

"John." The tendrils of a murderous rage was slowly taking hold.


His tentative smile was her undoing. "Who did this to you?"

"Sarah, maybe now's not the time..."

Sarah shook off Rose's hand, and she turned to face her. "When's the time, Rose? When Daniel gets hurt and he's lying in the hospital bed?"


She ignored John.

"Grandma." Daniel appeared and tugged at his grandmother's hand. "Maybe we need to wait in the hallway. Let Sarah and Cameron..."

Daniel got through to her more than John and the heat of shame warmed Sarah's cheeks. "I'm sorry."

"Nonsense, Daniel and I will be..." She pointed towards the doorway. "We'll go see how Jack is doing."

Sarah watched them go, embarrassed at her actions but happy to know that Daniel was safe. She hated to admit it but she was glad to know they were out of her hair for a while. Enough time for her to...

"Not telling." John wasn't smiling.

"Why not?" Cameron asked.

Sarah grabbed John's hand as he went to rub his left eye. "No. Bad idea."

"So's telling." John's sigh was buried in a mighty yawn. "Not fair. Bringing Daniel."

"Why not, John?" Something in his tone piqued her curiosity. An exposed nerve. Something.

"I look a mess."

He was lying. Sarah knew it, but she had all the time in the world to get the information out of John.

He yawned again.

Okay, she had until Janet's medication truly kicked in.


They kept at it, Sarah and Cameron double teaming John, wearing him down, hating herself but the necessity of the information taking precedence.

John was drifting, taking longer to answer, the painkiller working its magic.

So Sarah upped the ante. "Derek and Sam are at the house now."

"No clues," John finished for her. He tapped his head. "Hair. Blood."

"Damn it, John, this isn't a game." Sarah slapped the bed rail. "Do you want Daniel's death on your conscience?"

"Daniel's not going to die."

"You don't know that. If the people who came after you go after Dan—"

"Cameron!" The tin miss had stepped over the line. Motherhood kicked Sarah's conscience into gear and a wave of guilt swept over her. "It's okay," she fussed, "tomorrow's another—"

John searched out, found and grabbed her hand. Hard.

"It's okay, I'm not going anywhere."

"Daniel?" There was uncomfortable panic in his voice. Damn the machine.

"Shush." Over her shoulder she glared at Cameron. "Daniel's fine. As a matter of fact," Sarah said, giving John's hand a slight pat, "he and Rose are visiting Jack."

There was the slightest of nods. "Good." He turned on his side, never releasing her hand.

She sat there, Cameron had taken up guard dog position by the opened door and John lay there, relaxing incrementally, until it was only Sarah's fingers that were holding John's hand in place. Gently, she released his hand, laying it across his stomach. "Sleep," she ordered. Standing, Sarah stretched out stiff muscles then bent over and kissed her son's forehead.

"You were right," he exhaled groggily. "This wasn't my battle. Remind Daniel."

She didn't breathe and two minutes was all it took for Sarah to connect the dots. "Damn it," she hissed under her breath.


Daniel rode the elevator in silence. He couldn't speak, couldn't discuss John's appearance with his grandmother or Sarah's lack of control. Or his anger.


The one word tugged Daniel from his introspection. "What?"

Frantically, his grandmother began to punch the elevator buttons.

"Whoa," Daniel grabbed her hand. "What's the matter?"

Her free hand flew in a million different directions. "My purse. I have no idea..." Tears welled up in her eyes.

His grandmother never got upset over crap like this. Missing keys. Wallet. Glasses. She'd been there, done that a million times. Daniel read it for what it was.

"John's going to be fine, Grandma." Daniel pulled her into a hug. "How about we go find your purse then look in on John and then you can check on Dad?" Daniel hoped she wouldn't notice that he wasn't included in the 'you can check on dad' statement.

She sniffed once, broke from Daniel's embrace then hurriedly searched her pockets for a tissue. Lifting her glasses, she wiped her eyes and offered Daniel a watery smile. "I'm sure I left it downstairs. Or maybe in John's room."

The elevator doors opened and a quick glance upwards revealed that it was his father's floor, but Daniel didn't budge.

"Go," his grandmother said, pushing him towards the opened door. "I'll be up in a minute."

"No. Let me come and help you." One final push and Daniel found himself outside the closing elevator doors. "Grandma," was all he managed to say. "Damn!" Frustrated, Daniel punched the down button, but the elevator was in the process of hitting every floor his grandmother had touched.


Daniel trudged to his father's room. A look see, a hello, and he'd be gone. Yup, that's what he'd do. He could do this. But for all his bravado Daniel was a happy camper when he saw that his father's room was empty. "Yes!" he whispered triumphantly.

Dutifully, he hung around the room just to placate his grandma, knowing she'd ask. Daniel walked the room, touching the items on the table. Flowers that were in dire need of a drink. A current bestseller. A Suduko puzzle book. His father's glasses. Photos - of him, him and his dad. Suddenly this didn't seem like such a good idea anymore and Daniel turned on his heels and ran smack dab into his father, nearly ending up in dad's lap.

Shocked, Daniel back pedaled, flying out of his father's wheelchair before his dad could hold him in place.

"Glad to see you, too, Icky."

Daniel nodded, his gaze straying to the wheelchair and then focusing somewhere over his dad's right shoulder.

"Yeah, I know," his dad said, rolling closer to Daniel. "You were expecting a walker. A cane. I know. " His father shrugged. "Long day. Tough, torturous workout. Sometimes this is—"

"It's okay. Really." It was. Daniel hadn't been expecting anything. Wheelchair or crutches, it meant nothing to Daniel. He told himself it really didn't.

"So, to what do I owe this honor?"


"You. Here." His father rolled closer to Daniel.

Daniel took a few steps towards the door. "Oh. Here? Grandma brought me."

His dad looked around the room. "And where is your grandmother?"

"She left her purse somewhere and went to track it down."


"We're... I'm," Daniel corrected, "here to check on John." Daniel conveniently left out the fact that protecting his ass was also a factor in the equation.


"He got beat up. Badly. Broken ribs." Daniel paused for effect. "At home. Sarah found him at home."

His father grimaced. "Any idea who did it?"


"Kids from school?"

Daniel shrugged. "I said no one knows who."

"A termin—"

Back injury had obviously affected his father hearing. "He'd be dead. No, not one of.... those."

"Did John say who?"

"No," Daniel said, annoyed. He opened his mouth. Closed it. And a light bulb went off. "Shit."


"I gotta go."

"Wait." His father rolled forward, arms outstretched.

"I can't," Daniel said.


How could he be so stupid? Daniel punched the down arrow then paced the hall waiting for the elevator to arrive. Knowing it was ridiculous didn't stop him from hitting the arrow every time he walked past it.

The door opened and Daniel literally ran the short distance, colliding head on with Sarah who was exiting the opened elevator. She steadied him, but Daniel fought her embrace, trying to get to the opened elevator.

"Damn it, Sarah, why'd you..." He squirmed, but she wouldn't release her hold as the elevator doors slid shut.

"What was the name of the kid that—"

"Terr... Terry's dad is the one who—"

The two of them stopped and stared at each other.

"Talk," Sarah ordered.

He jerked from her grasp and poked the down button a few thousand times. "Terry's dad did that to John." Any question he had about his accusation dissipated in the face of Sarah's nod of agreement.

"I know."

"But not only him." Daniel thought how easily John had brought down the man in Ritchie's hospital room. "There had to be other people."

"Where can I find Terry. His dad?"

There was a bing, distracting them both for a moment, then Sarah dragged Daniel into the opened elevator.


Quickly, he glanced sideways, capturing his father's confused expression as he rounded the corner in his wheelchair. Daniel shook his head, said nothing and disappeared inside the cab of the elevator, thankful that the doors closed as quickly as they did.

"I'm not too sure where Terry is," Daniel answered the question once inside the elevator. "I don't know where he lives but—"

"His brother. What hospital is his brother in?"

"Penrose Memorial. Henderson is the last name." There was no hesitation. Nothing. Daniel supplied the information she requested without a second thought.


"Whoa." Daniel dug his heels in when he realized he was dogging Sarah's footsteps to John's room. "Sarah."

She kept going.

"Sarah. Stop," Daniel yelled, ignoring the shushing from the hospital personnel working the floor.

She turned, exasperation and impatience written all over her face. "What, Daniel?"

John looked around. "I want to go with you. To Penrose..." He let the rest of the sentence dangle.

Her smile was condescending and Daniel's face burned with embarrassment. Slowly, Sarah shook her head. "Your grandmother would kill me."

"Sarah." Daniel was close to stamping his foot.

"No." No room for argument and Sarah left Daniel standing there in the hallway. With nowhere else to go, Daniel followed her like a disgruntled puppy right into John's room.


John slept.

Cameron watched.

Daniel paced.


Daniel looked up, happy for the distraction of counting his steps. "Grandma, hi." He pointed to the purse hanging on the crook of her arm. "You found it."

"Found it. Found a friend I haven't seen in ages. We stopped and chatted." His grandmother glanced around the room. "Sarah?"

"She needed to talk to someone," Cameron lied.

Bless her for not being totally honest. Daniel owed her one. Big time.


"Sleeping," Cameron answered before Daniel could. That one was not a lie, John had been sleeping since he and Sarah had returned.

"I'm going to go visit your father."

"I already did," Daniel answered. Not a lie. "I'll be here," he glanced over at the bed, "keeping John company."

"And I'll be here—" Cameron began.

Daniel interrupted her before she could mention anything about keeping them safe. "Keeping me company."


He tried Cassie again, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Janet was going to kill him. He got her voice mail again, and Daniel left another message.

He waved the phone at John's sleeping form. "Damn, you know that Cassie's gonna scream at me that I didn't tell her." Flopping back in the chair, Daniel called Alexandria who answered on the second ring. "Hey."

"Where are you?"


"What? I'll be right there. What happened. You? Your dad? I'm on my way—."

Daniel heard rustling. Rushing around. "Alexandria." He paused and tried again. "Alexandria!"

Silence. "What?"

"It's not me. John's in the hospital." He paused knowing that one day these omissions of truth were going to catch up to him. "My grandmother was really upset and that's why she pulled that drag my ass outta your house scenario." There was also the threat of his life being in danger but Daniel didn't feel like going into that at this time or any other time in the near future.

"John?" she snorted. "Well, that makes me feel so much better," she said sarcastically.

"You know what I meant."

Alexandria sighed. "I know. Sorry. I just... I just..."

Daniel could hear the tears in her voice. "Alexandria? John's going to be okay. He was..." Daniel got up and moved away from the bed, covering the phone, pushing it closer against his ear, he finished his thought. "Beaten. Badly. He's going to be okay, though. Honest."


Daniel stayed silent, giving her a moment to process the information.

"I... Do they know who did this?"

Something stopped Daniel from voicing his suspicions. "No."

"What about Cassie?"

"I tried. More than once. Voicemail."

A nurse entered the room, glaring at Daniel and pointing to the sign affixed to the wall. "No cell phones."

"Sorry," Daniel muttered. "Look, Alexandria I have to go. Just got nailed. Cell phones. Hospitals."

"Rules. I understand. Daniel?"


"I'm glad you're okay."

Reading between the lines, the reason for the tears, guilt that she was relieved it was John in the bed and not Daniel. "I understand."

"Call me when you can. Let me know. I'll try Cassie also."

"Academy, if you can reach her. Make sure you tell her that he's going to be okay." Daniel glanced over to the bed, watching the nurse check the IVs and his vitals, listening the mewls of annoyance from John. "He's already complaining."

"Tell him I'm thinking of him and Daniel, make sure you stay safe."


He shoved the phone back into the pocket of his hoodie, waiting until the nurse left before going back over to the side of the bed.


With shaking hands, his friend tried to reach for the blanket the nurse had pushed down.

Cameron was there before Daniel could even reach for the cover. With precise movements, John was covered, tucked in all nice and pretty, but it was the added touch of Cameron smoothing the blanket across his chest that had Daniel smiling.

She tilted her head at Daniel, not getting his amusement. "John's still sleeping, he couldn't do it for himself."


"I would do the same for you."

"Thanks, I think."

Daniel pulled the chair away from the bed and over to the window. He stuck in his ear buds, slouched in the chair and stretched his legs out onto the windowsill. Playing the music loudly was distracting but it didn't stop him from watching Cameron watch John and the door, then complete the circuit by watching him.

There was no emotion in her glance. Nothing accusatory. Daniel took out his ponytail and redid it, checking his reflection in the window. Accusatory? Where the hell did that come from? Daniel rubbed his hand across his stomach, suddenly queasy, the darkening sky a reminder that he'd never eaten dinner. But it didn't feel like hunger. It felt like...

Daniel peered through the window, noticing the lights in the parking lot had switched on. Late. Not only had he missed dinner, without checking his watch, he was pretty sure it was way past dinner time.

Sarah had been gone a while. It sure seemed like a while. Daniel squirmed, flicking with superhuman speed through his playlist, finding something nondescript, but after a few minutes that began to bother him as well and he ripped out his ear buds. His attention was drawn to the flashing lights of an approaching ambulance. Lifting his feet off the window sill, he got up and pressed his face against the glass, watching with pounding heart as the ambulance pulled into the bay then disappeared from view. Out of a habit born of nervousness and an ever persistent ache, he rubbed the palm of his hand across his knee. Distracted. His thoughts a million miles away.

He jumped when Cameron's hair brushed across his neck as she leaned over his shoulder.

"What are you watching?"

"Ambulance." Daniel wiped away the condensation his breath had made.


Daniel opened his mouth. Closed it. Good question. "I, umm, don't know."

"Sarah wouldn't be in that ambulance."

"What?" Daniel stuttered. "Why would Sarah be in—"

"Because she's not here. You're worried."

Daniel made a note to ask John about Cameron's mental intuitiveness. "Why would I be worried?" Cameron blinked at Daniel and he felt like an idiot. "Never mind. Forget it." Daniel collapsed back into the chair and stuck his ear buds back in, cranking up the volume.

Two songs in and it was no use. The pain in his stomach was still there, uncomfortable, and it certainly wasn't helping that Cameron's words were on a loop in his brain, overpowering even Nine Inch Nails.

It was more than worry. It was guilt. This was his fault. Never mind throwing Sarah into the lion's den, but John, in the hospital with tubes and monitors, was a direct result of Daniel interfering. Being lost and alone and unsatisfied. Donovan's Park. Terry. Brad. All his fault. Everything.

And he had sent Sarah to commit murder. Or be murdered.

By the end of the day would John be an orphan or would Terry be without a father?

Daniel wrapped both arms around his midsection and doubled over. What had he done? He hadn't even hesitated.

The ear buds were yanked from his ears and he jumped when a hand skimmed his neck.

"Heart rate and respirations are elevated."

"Don't do that." He pushed away her hand and stood, his iPod clutched in his hand.

"You appeared to be in pain."

"I'm fine." He couldn't breathe and he tucked the hand with the iPod into his pocket to hide how much it was shaking.

"You're not."

"I'm just hungry."

"You're sweating."

"It's warm in—"

"It's 76.5 degrees in this room."

The pain in his stomach moved up to his left temple and the room appeared smaller. The air heavier.

"I need to get something to eat."

"Oh, mhuirnin, I didn't even realize—"



It would appear that Cameron was as shocked as he was that Rose had entered the room.

"Daniel doesn't—"

He cut her short. "I'm starving. I'm going to go down and see if the cafeteria has anything interesting. I'll bring you back..." Daniel swallowed a lump of bile.


He nodded, skirted around his grandmother and left the room, praying that Cameron wouldn't decide to follow. Down the hall and to the left, Daniel pressed himself against the wall, eyes closed, breathing through the feeling of claustrophobia.

"I hear the solarium has a great view of the Burger King across the street."

Great, his father. Wonderful. Fantastic. "I'm fine."

"Sure. Whatever. But in my personal opinion, you're even greener than this wonderful hallway shade."

Daniel wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"You're shaking."

Shit. Daniel shoved his hand back into his pocket. "Want to go see John?" He pointed around the corner. "Third door on the left. Or I can take you if you want. I mean, Grandma..." His father had rolled his wheelchair too close, hogging his air. Daniel tugged at the collar of his shirt then grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and began to steer it towards John's room, stumbling forward when his father slammed on the breaks.

"I don't want to see your grandmother," his father said, looking over his shoulder. "I don't want to see John right now."

"Do you want to go back to your room?" Though the idea of being in an elevator right about now had Daniel breaking out in a cold sweat.

"I want to look at Burger King. Could you take me to the solarium, please?"


The solarium wasn't big, but it made up for this shortcoming with one wall being completely constructed of glass.

"Look," his dad said rolling right up the window. "I can see Burger King."

"I'm sure Grandma will bring you a Whopper if you—"

"Fries and onion rings and I'll be a happy camper."

"I'm glad." Daniel flopped down into a large cushioned chair, but the second he was down his father rolled over to him. "Please," he begged, looking everywhere but at his father.

"Please what, Icky?" His father tapped the arms of the chair. "Is it this? Is that the problem?"

Daniel shook his head. "No, the problem is you were right. I was wrong. Everything... the repercussions... I didn't think. I don't think."


He knew that voice. Soft and gentle. The light, encouraging touch on his knee was more than familiar. He remembered this man. This comfort.

Head down, Daniel studied the ceramic floor underneath his sneakers. "I'm irresponsible."

His father nudged him with the wheel of the chair.

"Stop," Daniel whispered.

His father butted him again.


"Look at me, Icky."

His dad was going to nudge and butt him until he was black and blue. Or until Daniel looked at him.

"That's better," his dad said.

For who, Daniel wanted to know, but he lacked the courage to ask.

"So, Daniel, where the hell did you ever get the idea you were irresponsible?"

Daniel stared at him in shock, waiting for his father to admit ownership of that phrase, but he didn't and it took Daniel a moment. He decided that two people could play this game of ignorance. "A little birdie told me."

His father shook his head. "And you believed it?"

Daniel shrugged. "I trusted the person. Respected their opinion."

"They don't deserve your respect."

"Yeah, I sorta came to the same conclusion."

"Smart boy," his dad said, patting Daniel's knee. "So tell me," his dad asked with an expansive arm movement, "how your supposed," air quotes, "irresponsibility led to John ending up in the hospital."

"I was looking for something different."


Daniel snorted, "Are you going to listen or are you going to keep interrupting me?"

His dad closed his mouth with an imaginary zipper, locked and threw away the key.

God, his father had done that so many other times. It was familiar. Comfortable. Suddenly, the words spilled out, a broken damn, and Daniel couldn't stop them. "I met a group of kids in Donovan's Park." Automatically, he threw up a hand, cutting off his father's objection. "Don't, okay?"

His father rezipped his lips then nodded.

"Thanks," Daniel uttered, distracted, formulating how to tell the story so it made some type of coherent sense. "I met a group of kids. I told you that already."

His dad nodded.

"Brad, Terry, Dave, Misha and Rob." Daniel chuckled at the memory. "Piercings. Goth. Streaked hair. Every parents' nightmare."

"I trust you," his dad said. "I've always trusted you to make the right decision."

"Once upon a time I trusted myself also." Daniel shook head.


"Let me get this straight." Daniel didn't miss how tightly his dad's fingers gripped the arms of the wheelchair. White knuckled angry time. "You befriended this kid, Terry was his name. Tutored him. Helped him pass French."

Daniel nodded.

"Went to visit him in the hospital after his father beat the shit out of him and his brother?"

"Yeah," Daniel replied hesitantly.

"And his father showed up, threatened those kids again and John took the man down, protecting—"

"Terry's dad escaped before hospital security could get to the room."

"But he took offense to John's interference," his father finished. "Got John when no one was home."

"Sarah. Derek. Cameron. They were at the SGC. There was no one." Daniel pushed his glasses up so they rested on his head and he scrubbed at his burning eyes. "Sarah found him."

His father rubbed his thighs, a sign of contained anxiety that Daniel knew well. "I need you to backtrack and tell me why this scenario has anything to do with irresponsibility on your part."

"I met the guys." Daniel began to tick the list of things off on his hand. "I introduced them to John. I tutored Terry. I dragged John to the hospital."

"And what? You made Terry's dad beat the crap out of his kids?"

"I dragged John into a battle that wasn't his. These kids didn't even go to our school. There were—"

"Kids, Daniel. Nothing more, nothing less. You extended your hand in friendship to people—"

"I have enough problems with the friends I already do have."

"Okay." His dad made a time out sign with his two hands. "What is it about Terry and his friends that you're not sharing?"

"They know nothing about me."

"Hmmmm." His dad nodded. "I can certainly see where that would be appealing."

"I wasn't the geek genius who was younger than all his friends who'd spent the past year screwing up his life. They didn't know that. They didn't know me." Daniel sighed. "It was," he shrugged, "sorta cool."

"And John felt this same type of..." His father's gaze bounced around the room as if looking for the right word. "Attraction?" he finally settled on.

"No," he said softly, studying the Burger King, wishing that he could just transport himself there. Away from here. Anywhere. "John watched out for me. Made sure I..." Inexplicably, his vision blurred. Swiping his sleeve across his eyes, Daniel waited a few seconds before continuing, surprised at his father's silence and patience. Unable to meet his father's gaze, Daniel mulled over the wheelchair's worn wheels. "John made sure I was safe." He snorted. "I didn't return the favor though, did I?"

"Damn it, Daniel." Frustrated, his father pounded the arm of the wheelchair. "This isn't your fault. You didn't act irresponsibly at all."

"I didn't? I didn't?" Daniel's voice gave an emotional crack. "Tell me then, what do you think's gonna happen when Sarah gets her hands on the guy that did this to John?"

"She's going to kill him."

"Or he's going to kill her."

His dad almost laughed. "I don't think there's anyone, except maybe Teal'c, who can get the upper hand as far as..."

Daniel wasn't laughing.


"I pointed Sarah in the right direction. I told her where to find Terry and his family. Tonight someone's blood is going to be on my hands." Suddenly, Daniel stood up. "I gotta get something to eat. I promised Grandma a tea. She's probably wondering where the heck I took off to."

His father grabbed his hand.

Daniel glanced down at the hand that held his and it would've been so easy to just forget and pretend. And he was close to throwing himself at this father's mercy. Beg forgiveness.

"Maybe telling Sarah..."

Daniel shook his hand free and managed to take five steps before anger and hurt got the best of him. Slowly, he turned to face his father. "Wouldn't it have been easier to just say 'I told you so'?"


Sarah didn't remember how she managed to arrive at Penrose Memorial safely without killing herself or anyone else on the road and she certainly couldn't recall parking the truck, entering the hospital and appearing presentable to the patient information person. So much for fucking assessing a situation, all she wanted, all she could focus on, was getting face to face with Terry's father.

Kill him.

Commit murder.

Draw blood for what this man did to her son. There would be no regrets. No second thoughts except...

Sarah drew up short at the opened door. A dark haired woman in her thirties was sharing a bed with a young boy. Long haired, about ten, the kid was leaning into her, eyes closing, listening to the words she read out loud. He was pale, deathly pale and Sarah watched as the mother's glance kept sliding over to the steadily dripping IV.

Even from where she stood, Sarah saw the worry in the woman's eyes and the way her arm tightened around his shoulder every time he moved. Her voice dipped and rose with his restlessness.

She looked tired.


Lion-like protectiveness in how she wrapped herself around the child.

"Can I help you?"

This boy was older, John's age. Even with a blackened eye and his arm in a sling, there was no mistaking the physical resemblance between himself and the young kid on the bed.

Terry Henderson.

The son of the man who beat John.

This kid was old beyond his years. Sarah was very familiar with the haunted/hunted shadows on his face and even with a fast food bag balanced awkwardly in his free hand, he stood blocking Sarah's sight and entrance into the room. She could take him with one hand, but he would go down fighting. Protecting his family.

"Terry Henderson?" She smiled slightly, ever so slightly, trying to set him at ease. "My name is Sarah Baum. John's mother."

Terry Henderson smiled back at her.

The sins of the father didn't extend to this boy.

"Come on in." He raised the bag. "Not much but you can join us for dinner if you'd like. I know my mom would really like to meet you."

"No, no." Sarah backed away, changing her mind suddenly at the hurt expression on Terry's face. "I don't want to intrude." She used her chin to point towards the scene on the bed. "Your mother..."

"Could use the company."

"Your brother," she searched her memory for the name John had mentioned, "Ritchie, I thought, I mean, John said..."

"He developed a fever, the doctor said it's common after surgery, but my mom, she's a mom. She worries."

"I'd be a distraction?" Sarah asked.

Terry rolled his eyes.

"You got fries in that bag?"

Terry laughed, and Sarah used the opportunity to grab the bag from his grip and entered the room. Terry cut in front of her, making sure he reached his mother before Sarah.

Respectfully, Sarah held back.

"This is John's mother, Ma."

Sarah put the bag on the table. "Don't get up," she whispered, peering over the woman. "You're a bit occupied."

Terry's mom glanced over, exhaling slowly she eased herself away from the sleeping child. Standing, she shook out her legs before offering her hand to Sarah. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

She was shorter than Sarah, slight of build, light eyes, light skin, the area on the right side of a face sporting a bruise, partially hidden by hair, the makeup she'd used to cover the darkening area, worn off. Embarrassed at Sarah's scrutiny, she dropped Sarah's hand and fingered her hair so it covered the bruise. "Their father," she whispered.

Terry walked over to his mother and lazily slung an arm over her shoulder. "He's not going to come around again." He planted a noisy kiss on her cheek and glanced at his sleeping brother. "I promise."

"Mrs. Henderson—" Sarah began.

"Nicole, please."

"Nicole," Sarah corrected, she opened her mouth to continue but was interrupted.

"I never had a chance to thank your son for what he did for my boys that day. Him and Daniel. Did they come with you?"

And she had been going to tell her, but it wouldn't have done any good. They wouldn't sleep any better at night. They wouldn't feel safer. She glanced towards the bed, and it wouldn't erase memories. "No, they didn't come. They wanted to."

"Next time," Terry asked, blushing when his mother kissed the hand still around her shoulder.

"Go eat something," Nicole prodded. "Make sure you save Ritchie some fries and nuggets. I'm going to take a walk with Mrs. Baum."

Sara didn't correct her about the missus.


They made one circuit around the floor before Nicole spoke. "Sometimes, I think marrying Aaron was the worst mistake of my life, but then," she glanced towards Ritchie's room, "I look at my two boys and wonder how I could even think that."

"He beat you. He beat those boys."

"I know," she bristled, "but without him, they wouldn't be here. So what do I change? Meeting him? Or having his children?" Nicole shook her head. "To get them, I have to deal with the hatred and anger he brought into my life."

"Tough decision."

"Tougher than you could ever imagine."

"I have a pretty good idea."

"Is your husband still alive?"

"John's father died before he was born."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Never learned to keep my mouth shut. I always do that."

Sarah was pretty damn sure that Aaron had made sure that Nicole kept her mouth closed more often than not. "It's been a long time."

"Well, he would've been very proud of John."

"You're right," Sarah said, the sudden urge to leave almost overpowering. "I need to head on back to... my home. John's probably waiting.."

Terry stuck his head out the room door. "Ritchie's up, Mom, he's asking for you."

"Excuse me," Nicole apologized. "I need to go."

"Go. Tell Ritchie that John and Daniel said hello."


Terry appeared while Sarah waited for the elevator. "I just wanted to say goodbye, Mrs. Baum, and to make sure you tell John thank you for what he did for me and Ritchie."

"I'll make sure," said Sarah, watching the elevators. Something just occurred to Sarah. "What did you mean when you said to your mom that you promise your dad will never come around again?"

Checking over his shoulder, Terry reached into the right hand pocket of his jeans and her blood ran cold. A gun.

Sarah fought the urge to whip the small caliber weapon from his hand, but he wouldn't see her actions in the manner she desired. The decision to give up the gun and the violence attached would have to be Terry's decision. Slowly, she closed his fingers around the weapon, her hand resting on his. With her heart pounding in her chest, she moved the gun ever so slightly, flicking the safety back in place. "You need to make sure the safety is on at all times."

Terry blushed. "Stupid me."

The elevator binged, but she ignored it and pushed Terry forward, against the far wall. "What are you going to do with that?"

"I'm making sure my father can never hurt us again."

Sarah measured her words. Her emotions, her voice and face. This wasn't John. Terry was going to fight a losing battle and she needed to stop the inevitable. "You'll be caught. Thrown in jail. Your mother will mourn you and Ritchie won't have your guidance. Your father's violence will have come full circle and in the end he'll have won because your family will be destroyed."

Terry's eyes filled and the grip on gun lessened under Sarah's hand. "It's my job to protect them."

"No, Terry, it's your job to grow up. Be a son to your mother and a brother to Ritchie."

"But I'm afraid."

Sarah was pretty damn sure Terry's mother would go down fighting for her son. For either of her sons. But there was another way. "Run and don't look back."

Terry was taken back. "But that's being a coward."

"It's staying alive. Together. And that's what matters the most."

"My mother won't—"

"Talk to her."

"I don't know."

"I'll make you a deal. Give me the gun. Let me hold it for safe keeping until you talk to your mom."

Terry hesitated a second then released the gun into her hand. "I don't want to run."

"Present your mom with all the options. Talk to her, Terry, can you promise me that? Make her see there's more than one way to live your lives."

He nodded. "I promise."


It was like a little party when Sarah returned. Cameron and Derek book ended John, the two of them making fools of themselves while fussing over him. Janet was checking monitors and tubing, Sam was questioning John in short, easy to understand sentences. There were half-eaten sandwiches, cups with straws and a few coffees littering the dresser.

The surprise was that Daniel was fast asleep in the bed closest to the window. Rose was sitting on the edge of the bed, patting Daniel, listening to the goings on around John's bed, shaking her head.

Ringmaster John didn't look too connected to reality, though he turned towards the sound of her 'hello' and gave her a crooked grin.

"Hey." The Red Sea of people parted, allowing Sarah to get up close and personal with John. She kissed his forehead, the heat of his bruises warmed her lips and burned her soul. "Having a good time?"

"Are we going home?" The words were slurred, distorted by swollen lips.

"Tomorrow," Janet answered for her. "In the afternoon."


Janet glanced around the room. "Unless everyone wants to start paying rent, I'm thinking yes."

Sarah smiled, Rose, Sam and even Derek smiled. Cameron was clueless, glancing towards Sarah for an explanation, which she ignored. John shivered and Derek beat her to covering him with another blanket.

"Maybe it's time we put an end to this little shindig," Janet said.

Sarah didn't miss her faint canting of the head towards the open door. She got the hint, nodded and mouthed 'give me five'.


Daniel was beyond confused when he woke up. Definitely wasn't home. The sheets and blankets were too rough to be his grandma's and the smell, while familiar, wasn't intensive enough to be classified as the infirmary.

It was the low murmur of voices that gave him the answer.



He laid still and listened, making sure not to change the depth of his breathing, doing nothing to alert his grandmother that he was awake.


So much for that idea. He opened his eyes at her gentle touch to his shoulder. "Hey." Flopping onto his side, Daniel slowly opened his eyes. "How's John?"

"Janet's giving everyone an update." Her gaze slid to the opened door.

"Oh." It was then Daniel realized the low murmur was due not to people whispering but because everyone was out in the hallway, except him, his grandmother and Cameron, who was primly seated by John's bedside.

Levering himself up, Daniel pushed at his grandmother's leg with his knee. "Please?"

Squeezing his knee, she stood. "I think I'll go see where the party went to."

Daniel waited until she left, then slid off the bed. He stood, shaking the kinks out of his legs, disgustedly trying to smooth down the length of his jeans.

"Yo, man," Daniel said, leaning over Cameron, "you're looking like a box of Crayola crayons." That was putting it mildly, in the hours John had been here, his bruises had erupted into a rainbow of colors.

"John's bruises will get worse than before they get better."

Daniel patted her on the back. "Thank you for explaining."

"Thanks," John mumbled with what sounded like a mouthful of marbles.

"You're welcome," Cameron answered, sitting up a little straighter.

John's eyes were opened to mere slits. "Where'd my mom go?"

"She's discussing your condition with Doctor Fraiser."

Daniel knew the feeling as John took a minute, licked his lips and appeared to be thinking, probably slugging through a myriad of IV meds. "Go listen," John ordered.

Cameron hesitated. "Why?"

Daniel answered for him. "Because John wants the truth, not what his mother is going to spoon feed him."


Daniel stared out the passenger window. It was late, really late, late enough that if he pushed his grandmother she wouldn't be on his case about skipping soccer tomorrow, but truthfully, that wasn't an option. He did mental calculations in his head over the time needed to finish the homework due on Monday, rubbing his hand across his forehead. Too much work. Too many obligations. Too little time and he pushed the niggling voice about too many aches in his knee.

The nap had revitalized Daniel enough to know that he'd have problems falling asleep. Anxiety over his inability to get Sarah alone to find out what'd happened with Terry's dad wasn't helping pave his way into slumber either, and he found himself fidgeting uncomfortably, anticipating what the rest of the night would hold.

"If you want, you can sleep in tomorrow."

The relative darkness of the car protected Daniel as he rolled his eyes. He hated when his grandmother did that.


"I can't. Soccer."

"I'll write you a note."

"Grandma, please, don't make me hand the coach a note that you're excusing me from a game."

"Should I call him?"

Oh, god, she totally missed the sarcastic edge of his voice. "No! You don't need to call him. Or write a note, I'll be fine, honest."

"John's going to be okay," his grandma said, shifting gears and changing the subject, mistaking his antsyness for concern.

"I know." And he would be in time, but Cameron had reported back with slightly different news. Guarded optimism was how Daniel had viewed her report. John had remained silent, the color under his bruises leeching out as Cameron hurriedly reported John's laundry list of injuries and concerns. Internal. External. Bruised inside and out, his recovery wasn't going to be as bounce back as the adults had presented.

Peaceful solution, his ass. Daniel could only hope that the man's death hadn't been an easy execution with a bullet to his head. The coward needed to suffer. Taking his anger out on children, people unable to defend themselves. Maybe Sarah...


Daniel swallowed the anger that was waiting to overflow on a river of bile. His little temper tantrum of revenge sat uncomfortably on his stomach. John was going to recover. Focusing on that was more important than anything else. That's what he needed to concentrate on. Revenge wasn't sweet, it was overpowering. Now was not the time.

"You don't have to worry." His grandmother interrupted his thoughts.


"You know, about someone coming after you. Teal'c's at the house tonight. Derek's going to be..."

Daniel didn't have the heart or the energy to tell her that his safety had never been an issue. He hadn't been the hero. John had, and for that, he was ashamed.


Something told John when he'd thrown up around ten for the third time that he wasn't going to be going home this afternoon. He handed his mom the emesis basin and laid back down, at least this time he got it in the basin and not on himself or the bed. The aide had had to change him and the sheets once already today. Two times in a span of less than an hour would be pushing it.

"Janet said you'd feel better if you try to—"

"No," John whispered, already knowing what his mother was going to say. He didn't want to eat anything. Eating meant puking. Puking meant pain. Horrific pain. Stomach. Chest. Head. Pain meant more pain meds. Which led to puking. This was cyclical. He could see it, why couldn’t anyone else?

Sleeping had worked for a few hours, until the nausea had woken him. That was how he'd spent the entire night.

Everything hurt. And the plastic mattress crackled and crinkled with each turn that he made. "I want to go home." He burped, long and loud, bile burning his throat. "I want to sleep in my own bed. Puke in my own toilet."

"Eat something." His mother paused. "And keep it down."

Neither was an option he wanted to entertain.

His mother lowered the side rail and John awkwardly shifted to the right, making space. First, she leaned into the mattress. John skirted over even more and she sat on the edge of the bed, turning away as gentle fingers carded themselves through his shortened hair. "Don't." He felt nakedly exposed with the short hair.

"Shush," she ordered in true Sarah Connor style. No room for argument. "You look like your father."

"It's the bruises?"

Her thumb scraped along his face. "It's the chin. The dimple. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you."

John shrugged. "I should've been—"

"No," she said adamantly, gently cupping his chin. "You did nothing wrong. That man. He—"

John stiffened. "What did you do, Mom?"

He heard the sigh. "I didn't do anything. I wanted to kill him for what he did to you."

"But you couldn't, right?"

She sounded disappointed. Angry with herself. "I couldn't. I met Terry. Ritchie. Their mom." Suddenly, there was a sweep of a kiss across his forehead. "I can't be angry with you for caring. That's what makes you Kyle Reese's son."


The little bit of apple sauce his mom had guilted him into eating tasted worse on its return trip than it had going down. Janet gave up trying to explain to him the Catch 22 of not eating with the pain meds and just stuck some anti-nausea medication in his IV, which pretty much was killing his ability to stay awake, forget about having the coordination to eat anything.

His mom was sitting on a chair, her feet up on his bed, keeping herself busy playing with the TV remote.

"Go home." His tongue felt thick and uncoordinated in his mouth.

"Throwing me out?"

"Am I interrupting anything?"

John heard his mother's feet hit the floor with a thud, and the scrape of the metal legs along the floor as she stood. "Cassie."

Oh god. Bad timing. Reaching for the bed's remote, he raised it to a sitting position, expecting and waiting for Cassie's reaction. He knew he hurt, but he had no idea how he looked to the outside world. Daniel and Cameron had been honest. Everyone else sugar coated his appearance.

Without hesitation, Cassie strode over to the bed and kissed his cheek. "I was so worried."

"I'm fine," John stuttered, embarrassed over every tube and wire attached to his body.

"Bullshit." Cassie glanced at his mother, blushing a bright red. "Oh, sorry, Mrs. Baum."

"Sarah. And there's no need to apologize, you're right. John's been shoveling the bullshit all day."


"Sorry," his mother apologized, but she really wasn't sorry. Even with limited eyesight there was no mistaking the slight smile tugging at the corner of her lips. "I think you're in good hands. I'm going to go get some coffee."

Bless her for remembering that sometimes a mother's place wasn't in the same room as her son.

Cassie broke down seconds after his mother left the room. "I was at the mall last night. After I left you, I went... I didn't know—"

"Stop it, Cass, okay?" John didn't have the energy to deal with anyone's guilt. "Don't cry."

She didn't listen.

"Please don't cry because if your mom comes in here and sees you in tears, she's going to think I did something wrong. Don't want her mad at me."

Cassie sniffed and John reached out, with uncoordinated slow movements, to wipe away her tears.

Then it was her turn, and she tentatively extended her hand, touching his head. "They cut your hair." Tears began anew, overflowing, quiet emotions that broke John's heart. Making him feel as if he'd failed.

"It's only hair."

"Damn." Cassie tucked her hands under her armpits and spun around, giving John her back. "I promised myself I wouldn't go all emo and my mom made me promise I'd behave myself. Not cry."

"I won't tell."

Her shoulders rose and fell with her sniffling. "Promise?"


Then there was a pause and without someone occupying the conversation, as much as John fought it, the lure of sleep was too great.


Cassie's voice appeared to come from a long tunnel. Muffled. Echoed. Far away. But John felt the need to explain. Didn't want her to be angry that he drifted off to sleep. "Your mom's fault," he mumbled. "Blame her."


Right now Daniel wished he'd agreed to his grandmother's offer to excuse him from this morning's soccer game. Not only had he played the worst game of his life and had to endure Coach Dawson's wrath and sarcastic comments post-game, now his knee was bothering him worse than ever and a hot shower hadn't done much to ease the tightness around it. He gave in and swallowed a couple of Advil then stretched out for a well-deserved nap. He shifted slightly, making himself one with his pillow and mattress, and sighed softly with contentment.

"Dria's here," his grandmother said from the doorway.

Daniel raised his head off the pillow and frowned at his grandmother. "Here?"

"Wasn't she taking you to see John?"

"Shit. I forgot." Daniel scrambled up off the bed and hurriedly grabbed his cell. He ran out the door and into Dria's van, mumbling an apology as he buckled himself in.

"I wish I could go with you." Dria backed out of the driveway and pulled into the street. "But I promised Mrs. Dreyfuss weeks ago that I'd baby sit."

"I know." He gave her a quick smile as he leaned forward to massage the area around his knee. He extended his leg, then bent it, trying to find a position that wasn't overly uncomfortable. "But Cassie'll be by soon. I think I can stand playing third wheel for a while."

"Tell John I'm thinking about him," she said as she pulled up in front of the hospital.


John was going to kill whoever was dancing up and down the TV channels. Up. Down. Up. Then down. Even with his eyes closed, there was no mistaking the person's limited attention span.

Talk shows blended into cartoons, into news programs, into soap operas, into cooking shows, into old sitcoms.

The torturer paused on a Burger King commercial and John's stomach lurched.

"Damn those fries look good."

Gagging had a way of ripping one from slumber.


"I'm really sorry about that." Jack glanced sheepishly at the nurse carrying the emesis basin out of the room.

John was lying on his side, feeling miserable, trying to find a comfortable spot, bringing his knees up to tuck against his aching stomach. "Cassie?"

"Yeah, that. Fraiser drove her back home for the afternoon. Actually, it was more akin to dragging her out the door with Cassie yelling something about seeing you tonight. Tomorrow. Calling you. Texting you. Something." Jack looked everywhere but at him, "Just in case you weren't sure, Fraiser's not releasing you today."

"Thanks." Yeah, the news wasn't a surprise. Not at all.

"And before you even ask, your mom went home to shower and grab some clothes, considering you're still going to be here..." Jack let his voice trail off. "Your mom did say she'd be back in a little while. I told her I would keep an eye on you."

"Doing a bang up job."

"Yeah, could you kinda not mention that puking thing. It sorta ruins my reputation."

John gave him a thumbs up.

"You know I get brownie points, extra credit if I can get you to eat something."

John paled.

"Never mind, the eating wasn't a necessity."


"How about water?"

John raised his IV'd arm. "Taken care of."

Jack rolled his wheelchair along side the bed. "You look like crap."

"Did my mother pay you to say that to me?"

"No," Jack laughed. "I made that observation all on my own."

"You should see the other guy. Guys," John corrected. Now it was his turn to look everywhere but at Jack.

"Yeah, I'd heard rumors that there were more than one?"

"Three." John had spoken to Sam and Derek about this yesterday, filling in some blanks, but he wasn't exactly sure if he'd made any sense. He remembered talking, babbling actually, trying to connect threads that hadn't made sense. "Broke one's nose. Another's balls."

Calloused fingertips touched the swollen skin under John's right eye. "They didn't like that much, did they?"

"No," John answered softly, swallowing against the assaulting visuals. "They didn't."

"But you're here to tell the story, that's the important thing."

"But I begged for my life," John argued then stopped. Beyond embarrassed, he was mortified. Thought processes were obviously being processed without stopping off at his brain. John had never, ever intended to share that. Begging for his life was something he'd intended to carry to his grave, but as they say 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions', he was just getting a head start.

What hurt more was Jack's silence. This was the man who had earned his respect on more than one occasion and John felt himself sink into the mattress in failure. "I was a coward."

He jerked in surprise at Jack's burst of laughter. "Coward? No, you're no coward. You knew the stakes."

"I begged." The two words stuck in his throat.

"Hey, you listen to me." Jack stilled John's restless fingers with the weight of his hand. "Whatever it takes to stay alive, you do it. Begging. Lying. As long as you walk away."

"Listen to him, John," Daniel said from the doorway. "My dad knows what he's talking about. That lying thing," he paused, waving a hand at the two of them, "he's got that down pat." Daniel nodded. "He's pretty damn good at it. He even managed to convince his son that he loved him. Amazing what one would do to get through the day."

Jack withdrew his hand, maneuvered the wheelchair to face his son then rolled away from the bed. "What the hell are you..." The words were angry, but look on his face was one of confusion. Hurt. Betrayal.

The minute his father moved towards him, Daniel pushed himself off the doorframe and took off.

John had the feeling there wasn't going to be a winner in their battle.


Daniel hit the down arrow for the elevator. Once, twice, looking over his shoulder with every prod.

Screw it. He slammed the bar on the exit door to make his escape. He could make it down three flights of stairs before the down elevator ever made it to the floor.

He was out of the hospital and down four blocks before stopping. Heart pounding, leaning up against the nearest building, head down, hands on his knees, Daniel was gasping for breath, trying to fill lungs that refused to inflate.

It was the looks from passers by that forced him regain composure as well as the burning in his knee from his quick departure and jog. Last thing he needed or wanted was unnecessary attention. Wiping sweaty palms on his jeans, Daniel stood, got his bearings then walked to the corner. He checked his watch, shaking out his leg while waiting for the light to change.

Cassie was his lift home but she wouldn't be here for a while. Dria couldn't come by and pick him up. His grandmother had visited the hospital contingent earlier. Everyone's plans had been discussed ad nauseum for the benefit of the people watching his ass. Backwards. Forwards. All bases covered.

Yeah, right, his father had fucked that up.

Daniel crossed the street and limped towards Donovan's Park.


Daniel dug out his cell phone then he and his backpack flopped down onto the dilapidated car bench seat, experience reminding him to avoid the second cushion with the sprung spring. Settling into the corner, he dialed Cassie's number.

"I'll be there in about an hour, my mom's being a real bitch about chores, homework," Cassie drew a deep breath,"I mean, doesn't she realize that I can't concentrate on... Do you want me to bring dinner? I know John's not really eating, which is why he's not coming home today."

Daniel jumped in. "I'm not there."

"You're not where?"

"I'm at Donovan's Park."

Years inside of living inside of each other's head made this easy. "What happened?" she asked softly.

"My father was visiting John."

"Did he say something to you again?" Cassie asked protectively.

"No," Daniel admitted, "I started it. Said something to him. And now," Daniel sighed, "I need to sort a few things out. By myself," he hurriedly added before Cassie decided to come down here and hold his hand. "I'll be okay."

"You know where I'll be."

"I know," Daniel said softly. "Thank you."


Daniel was so engrossed in what he was doing that he never heard Brad, et al approach until a bag of Doritos was tossed into his lap.

"Shit!" He jumped, thought fast and caught his laptop before it slid to the ground.

"Put away your toys, Daniel, the big boys are here to play." Terry dropped next to him, grabbed the bag and ripped it open with his teeth.

"Gross, Henderson." Brad shoved his hand into the opened bag and pulled out a handful.

"Hey, I'm working with one arm, give me a break." He spilled some onto his lap and handed the bag over to Daniel.

"No, thanks." Daniel had been enjoying the peace and quiet and was trying hard not to let his annoyance seep out as he silently restuffed his backpack. "How's Ritchie?"

"Thanks for asking, man. He's cool. Maybe coming home tomorrow."

Rob punched his opened hand with his fist. "I'll tell you, if my dad ever laid a hand on my mom or my little sisters, I bet I'd—"

"Kill him?" Terry finished the sentence.

"Yeah. And I'd make sure that he'd know it was me." Rob joined his two hands together in the shape of a gun and pointed the make believe weapon at the circle of guys. "Pow. Pow. Pow."

Laptop or not, Daniel dropped his backpack and stepped into Rob's personal space, smacking down his hands. "Don't be more of an asshole than you already are, Rob." Daniel didn't miss Rob's right hand curling into a fist.

"Cool it, dude." Brad dropped a hand onto Rob's shoulder and slowly moved him to face Terry, who sat, head hanging below his shoulder.

"I bought a gun." Terry spoke to the ground between his sneakers.

"What? You bought a gun?" Daniel shouted, the words reverberated in the open area. "Are you crazy?"

Terry shot up, towering over Daniel by a good six inches. "That's my mom. My little brother." He gestured wildly in the direction of the street.

"Where's the gun, Terry?" Sarah taking care of the man was one thing. A gun in the hand of someone who probably was totally clueless was more than an accident waiting to happen. It was death personified.

Terry deflated. "I don't have it."

"Where is it?" Daniel insisted. Oh god, he only hoped that Terry wasn't going to say at home. In his locker. In the car.

"John's mother has it."

Daniel was speechless. Oh. Crap.

"You fuckin' gave the gun to his mom?" Rob sputtered. "What kind of idiot are you?"

"Do your lips ever stop flapping?" Misha picked the bag of Doritos off the couch and dug out a few triangles.

"Shut it or I'll—"

"You'll what?" Misha offered the opened bag to Rob. "Beat the crap outta me?"

Daniel ignored both their posturing, skirted around the two of them and lightly touched Terry on the arm. "Why does John's mom have the gun?"

"Because she asked."

Good answer. Daniel tried another approach.

"What she said to me," Rob said before Daniel could ask him, glancing around the circle of guys, "made sense. That killing my dad meant in the end I'd lose my mom and Ritchie. That I'd go to jail."

Daniel could only hope that Sarah listened to her own advice.


Daniel trudged home. He was tired, his knee hurt and there was still a Global History DBQ he had to work on for Monday. It was after five, he was hungry and after the conversation at Donovan's, hell, the entire atmosphere at the place had left him searching for silence. The walk seemed longer than usual and by the time he got to the front door his hunger had moved to ravenous and a headache had begun to inch up.

Dinner smells assaulted him and without putting down his backpack or taking off his sweatshirt, he walked right into the kitchen. "Smells great," he said, sniffing the air as he walked to the cabinet and took out the bottle of Tylenol.

His grandmother glanced at the bottle in his hand and in true grandmotherly fashion, her hand found a place against the back of his neck. "You're a little warm."

He shouldered away her attention. "I'm fine."

Now he knew where his father inherited the eyebrow raise. "Then why are you home?" She checked her watch. "If I remember correctly, Cassie was going to drive you home."

Oh crap. "I went. I saw. Talked to Dad, grabbed a ride home with some friends." Quickly, Daniel rolled around what he'd said. Nothing was a lie. Not really, okay, maybe the ride home with friends was, but that was so she didn't worry. A white lie for her own good. Daniel distracted her with a kiss on her cheek.

She rolled her eyes, pursed her lips and for a second, Daniel was positive she was going to call him on it. "Put the backpack down. Take off your sweatshirt. Two Tylenol. And let's sit down for dinner."

Thank god for trusting grandmas.


Daniel ate and tuned out his grandmother. He smiled at the right places, nodded, even remained silent when she got up under the pretense of getting another Snapple from the fridge and felt his forehead on her way back.

"You're still warm." The Snapple was put next to his nearly empty bottle.

"Tired." Now he lied, trying to get her off his back. Hovering wasn't something he wanted tonight.

"Your dad's coming home on Monday," she said, taking her seat.

"Home?" Slowly, Daniel put down his fork, the dinner which had been delicious just minutes ago now turned to lead in his stomach.

"Yup." Her smile was joyous.

Daniel's expression was anything but. "Home? How's he going to manage? The house..."

"I went there today. Cleaned up. Called the gardener. Aired the house out. Fresh sheets. I figured tomorrow you and I would go shopping."


"Food shopping. The cupboards in your house would give Mother Hubbard a run for her money." His grandmother smiled at her own bit of levity.

Not Daniel, he couldn't dredge up any happiness. Not one iota. And to add insult to injury, he was going to cry. Horrified at the tears pricking the back of his eyes, Daniel hurriedly excused himself, snatched up his backpack and stopped himself from running into his room. Keeping his hand on the doorknob, he made sure to close the door slowly, hoping to bide some time before his grandmother was hot on his heels.

All thoughts of homework snatched away, Daniel dropped his backpack onto the floor and fell into his bed, feeling detached and horrible. Maybe he did have a fever, because no one could or should feel like this and not be sick.

She walked in without knocking, something his grandmother had never done his entire life. Closed door meant privacy, something she'd always respected.

Daniel remained silent.

His grandmother didn't. She began to talk even before both feet were in his room. "Want to share?"

"I just thought that..."

She sat at the edge of the bed. "I'm just warning you, don't bullshit me, Daniel."

"There's nothing to bullshit," Daniel said, sitting up, lethargy giving way to anger. "I'm just surprised. He's coming home. Who's going to take care of him during the day? Take him back and forth to therapy. Help him—"

"Whoa." She threw up her hand. "That's what you're worrying about, mhuirnin?" Before Daniel had a chance to react, his grandmother pulled him into a hug. "I thought that there was a problem between you and your dad."

She bought his bullshit, his lie. Fell for it hook, line and sinker. Thankfully now she couldn't see his face or read the truth in his eyes.


Sunday had started out great. Daniel had woken up late, his knee cooperated with no creaking and clicking and he stumbled into the kitchen, yawning and running his fingers though a horrific case of bed head. He opened the fridge, then shut it. "Oh." He snagged the note his grandmother has stuck to the fridge She'd gone to see his dad, lunch was on the second shelf, reheat it, yadda yadda yadda.

"Yes!" Daniel punched his fist in the air. He wasn't going to be forced to visit his dad. Daniel sighed deeply. Lunch. Cell phone. Chat. Homework. Lazing in bed. The whole day stretched out in front of him.

Yeah, that worked until about three. His grandmother burst into the house and Daniel's lazy Sunday flew out the window.

"Come on."

Daniel tugged out his earbuds. "Huh?"

She smacked his leg. "Come on," she repeated, "we're going shopping."


Daniel and his father shopped because they had to. They'd shopped by rote. Same cereal. Same veggies. Same snacks. Cold cuts. Breads. Meats. Truth be told, Daniel could probably do an entire week's worth of shopping with his eyes closed.

His grandmother? Daniel loved the woman, but he could've flown to Disneyland, hopped on a few rides, flown back and he'd still have found her squeezing tomatoes in the fruit aisle. He leaned heavily on the bar of the cart, suppressing a groan.

"Look at this," she said, holding up a head of broccoli.

Daniel slowly raised his head. Yeah, the broccoli appeared a tad wilted but he'd be damned if he'd even mention the drooping stalks. "I love broccoli with melted cheese sauce." That wasn't a lie, he did and his dad had hid many a wilted spear under a gallon of cheese sauce.

With a snort, his grandmother tossed the offending veggie back onto the pile and turned her attention to the cauliflower. She picked up a bunch, tossed it from hand to hand then placed it lovingly into the cart. "Much better."

"I don't like cauliflower," Daniel whined.

She patted his hands. "Hide it under cheese sauce and you'll love it."

This time Daniel didn't work at hiding his groan.


Cold cuts. Fresh rolls. Salads from the deli counter. Daniel put his two cents in just as his grandmother was finishing up placing their order.

"I want hummus."

She looked at him. "Hummus?"

"Yeah." Daniel pointed to the side. "Hummus."

"Daniel, this is for your house, you can get whatever you want, mhuirnin."

He surprised her with a quick peck on the cheek, trotted off and grabbed a huge container of hummus, walked towards the cart then backed up and snatched two bars of halvah. His father hated both, and Daniel rarely if ever bought them when they shopped because they hadn't been worth his father's quips about his strange food rules.


Daniel was close to stamping his feet. "You said to get whatever I wanted." He hugged the box of Rocky Road Pop Tarts to his chest.

"Put that down."

Daniel placed it in the already overflowing cart.

"Not down there, Daniel." She picked it up, found the appropriate place on the shelf and gave the box a little pat. "Down as back where it belonged."

"It belonged in the cart," he groused.

"Wouldn't you rather have a box of Cheerios?"

Daniel didn't answer, he just walked ahead, grabbed a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch with the prize in the box and balanced it on the cart. "Dad loves these," he said with a smirk, daring her to deny his dad his favorite cereal.

She accepted the addition to the cart without comment and Daniel, feeling stupid and inexplicably hurt, turned his back and let her push the cart.

Two more aisles, forty-five minutes later and Daniel was dragging, walking so slowly his grandmother was prodding his ass with the cart. "Move it, before I run you over."

Running him over was an acceptable way to put him out of his misery, but he walked faster, grabbed the front of the cart and pulled it towards the bank of registers. "I'd like to get outta here before midnight."

"No need to be fresh, mhuirnin."

He wasn't fresh, he was hungry and stressing out over unfinished homework. Without asking, he guided the cart and his grandmother to the register with the shortest line.

She unloaded. The woman behind the register rang up the items and Daniel packed. A well oiled assembly line. Daniel made no comment over the bags his grandmother had brought to pack up the groceries. Her 'save the environment totes' had little kittens and puppies on them. Cute if you were six.

"Those bags are adorable," the cashier gushed.

His grandmother beamed and Daniel blushed, submerging his face in the yawning opening of the puppies r us bag. It was only when he packed the box of Rocky Road pop tarts that he smiled, holding it up. "Grandma?"

"Your house. Your choice."

"Thank you."

"Just don't eat them in sitting and don't leave the silver wrapping hanging out in the bedroom under a pile of books. Got that?"

"Thank you," he said again, placing the box on top of an already packed kitty tote sitting in the cart.


"I'm sorry," his grandmother said as she waited for the green light to exit the parking lot. "I should've done this on my way home from the hospital. Instead of waiting for..."

"No, it's okay," Daniel lied.

Taking her gaze from the light, she turned towards him. "You're a good boy, Daniel Jackson."

"Green light, Grandma."

"Oops." The car took off with a jerk.


After the two hour shopping trip, the two of them spent another hour at Daniel's house carrying the bags in and putting the items away with just so precision.

Daniel slammed the fridge door then leaned against it with a sigh. "I'm starving."

She folded the last of the puppy bags, bending a golden retriever in half. "Pizza?"

"Drive thru. I don't think I can wait for them to make a pie."


"I don't care," Daniel said, "whichever one we come to first." But for good measure, just because his grandmother wasn't actually the fastest driver in the world, Daniel opened the cabinet the second she turned her back and grabbed the box of Pop Tarts.


Daniel opened the box, ripped the silver wrapping and ate one before his grandmother had even pulled out of the driveway.


"Thowwy." Daniel fought to swallow the chocolate, marshmallow lump in his throat. "I know," he said after a moment, "you said not to—"

"Forget what I said," his grandmother said, reaching out a hand to him. "Is there another one in there? I'm starving."


His grandmother drove through Wendy's. They had fries and some sloppy burger, eating most of the fries on the drive home and they ate the burgers in the living room with the TV.

Daniel dragged himself off the couch and settled on a shower before doing homework. Then he decided to call Alexandria after the shower, who was grouchy beyond belief, which led to a call to Cassie. At nine he settled in to finish his homework. By nine ten he was drooling on the pages of his opened Global History book.


Maybe the fact that he'd fallen asleep without finishing his homework or that Alexandria had been PMSing big time when he'd called her were part of the reason that he'd gotten up on the wrong side of bed.. His knee, which had been so cooperative just twenty-four hours ago, decided it hated Mondays as much as Daniel did, which wasn't helping his mood at all.

"Don't come back here after school," his grandmother commented when he walked into the kitchen. "You can actually go home, your dad should be home by the time you get out of the school." She never even looked up or turned around.

Daniel grunted at her and reached for the box of cereal on the counter.

"Get yourself a bowl, don't eat it out of the box."

Daniel slammed it on the counter. "I'll get breakfast on the way to school."

For an old woman, his grandmother moved fast and made it to the front door the same time Daniel did. "Stop."

Already, he had one hand on the door knob. Close, but yet so far. "Why?" Daniel asked, turning to face his grandmother. "I'll be back home. Not here home. The other home."

"Daniel, mhuirnin, a clue here?"

If he knew, he'd tell her. Well, he knew. Knew that he was furious at being betrayed by his father. Angry at being hurt, but those feeling were compartmentalized and buried. But this feeling was brand spanking new and it was confusing the hell out of him.

"Not a clue, Grandma." What was he going to tell her? That he was tired of being shuffled around? If it's Monday morning, he must be at his grandmother's. Tuesdays would probably be at the Connors and so on and so on. He was so done with being handed off like a baton in a race so he pasted a smile on his face and kissed his grandmother's cheek. "Just got up on the wrong side of the bed."

She gave an exaggerated shudder. "I feel so badly for your poor classmates."


One person in a bad mood can be ignored. Two people, as long as they kept their distance from each other, can coexist. Three people, not so much and four people were a volatile mix.

"Cameron can't come to school because John's not here?"

Cassie's glare at Corey would be enough to kill a Goa'uld without benefit of a weapon. "Stop whining."

"Me? Have you heard yourself talking about John?" In an exaggerated manner, he threw his hands over his heart. "Oh, John," Corey added with an over the top feminine tinge to his voice. "Let me be your nurse."

"You're an asshole, Corey." With a fell swoop of her carefully manicured hand, Corey now wore Cassie's lunch, complete with an untouched, opened Snapple.

"You're a bitch," Corey jumped up, but not before his crotch and shirt were completely christened.

"I'm sorry," Cassie said sweetly.

"You deserved that," Alexandria said with a smirk. "Didn't he, Daniel?"

Alexandria had barely spoken to him the entire day and now Daniel didn't want to play. He paid no attention to her, or to Cassie or even to Corey, who was jumping around like an idiot.

Alexandria slammed shut the book he'd been reading right on his fingers. "Hey," he said, pulling back. "Leave me out of this, okay?"

"We don't have to leave you out," Cassie spit at him. "You very nicely disappear all on your own."

"No argument here." Alexandria had a smug smile on her face.

"I'm done." Daniel got up, gathered up his stuff and shoved it in his backpack.

"Fine. Go." Cassie waved at him. "You're just making my point, Daniel."

"Fuck. You," Daniel growled then turned to Corey. "Go change your clothes, you look like an ass."


Alexandria was up his butt before he got two steps out of the lunchroom. He stopped dead, heart pounding, and waited the few seconds for her to catch up with him. He turned slowly. She was mad, red-faced, tight-lipped and with a clawlike grip, her fingers dug into his bicep.

Objecting to her dragging him to an alcove between two glass cases would have been futile so he stumbled after her. His anger returned when she pressed him up against the wall, her arm across his stomach. To get her to move meant he'd have to push her out of the way. And he wouldn't touch her in anger. Ever.

"Please don't walk away," she whispered.

Oh. Stupid. Alexandria had been hiding her tears behind a mask of anger. "I need to leave," he whispered, his voice even lower than hers. He looked at the hallway behind her, over her shoulder. "I'm not angry." He tugged on a curl and leaned forward to kiss her nose.

Alexandria tightly gripped his hand, the one still wrapped around her hair. "Sometimes, this doesn't work. Doesn't make it right," she said sadly.

"Sometimes it's all I have."

Her smile was sad, but there was a hint of strength as she studied him to the point of uncomfortableness.

"What?" he asked, squirming.

"When are you going to talk to someone?"

"I'm not," he said, anger slowly seeping its way back in.

"Why is keeping how much your knee is hurting a secret?"


"Yes, your knee. I'm not blind, Daniel. I've seen you favor it. Rub it."

"It's fine."

"It's not fine. It's been bothering you for days."

"My father needs to get better before anyone has time to worry about me." With a quick hug, and before Alexandria realized what happened, he traded positions with her, kissed her again and continued doing what he'd set out to do when he left lunch. He walked out of school.


Daniel found himself almost two blocks away before he realized what had happened. He stopped, turned around, ready to head back, but instead he took a deep breath. It was nice outside. Way too nice to be inside. And he had the perfect excuse if he got nailed for this. He wanted to be home to welcome his father. Too bad that wasn't where he was headed.

Daniel made a pit stop at Frank's Deli, splurged and bought himself a sandwich, a bag of chips, a Coke and a black and white cookie. Just because. Because his day sucked. His life sucked. And right about now he'd take forty-something over being fourteen.


Daniel was stretched the length of the battered bench seat, ear buds in place, his iPod was resting on his satiated stomach, the rest of the world was pretty much tuned out. Seeing a shadow through his closed lids blocking out the sun gave Daniel a heads up that someone was sharing the park with him.

He opened his eyes and Daniel had a two second reprieve. One second was all it took to register that it was Terry standing over him and the other second to connect the dots that Terry was far from happy.

Daniel tugged out the earplugs and started to sit up.

Terry helped him the rest of the way. And it wasn't an assistance of friendship. The iPod fell to the ground, pulling the ear buds with it as Terry, even with one hand in a cast, managed to drag him upright then shoved him down. Hard.

"What the fuck is your problem, Henderson?" Daniel scrabbled to regain his footing, his sore knee complaining as he did so. He found the wire of the iPod and began to reel it in but Terry grabbed him by the front of his hoodie and hauled him to his feet again.

Terry had size on his side but Daniel had a lifetime and a half's experience which gave him the ability to block the first punch. But Terry was angry, angrier now when he wasn't able to inflict pain on Daniel. Frustrated anger gave him an adrenalin high and enough strength to toss Daniel and Daniel, he couldn't bring himself to take advantage of the fact that Terry was literally trying to beat the crap outta him with one hand tied behind his back.

The tree trunk stopped him and for a second Daniel saw stars, which slowed his reflexes enough that Terry was able to swoop down and grab Daniel again. This time, slower but definitely more aware, Daniel joined both his legs together, used the tree for purchase and swept Terry's legs out from underneath him, praying the cast protected Terry's arm when his body met the ground.

He fell with a resounding thud.

Using the tree trunk as assistance, Daniel stood. "What the hell's your problem?" Daniel yelled. Short lived satisfaction flowed as Terry rose as slowly and cautiously as he had.

Terry attacked just as Daniel was reaching back to test out the size of the lump in the back of his head. The first punch was awkwardly delivered but it found its mark and Daniel doubled over, clutching his stomach, refusing to regurgitate his lunch. The second punch was more successful as his glasses when flying and Daniel dropped to the ground, protectively curling into himself.

"Jeezus Christ, Henderson."

Daniel felt the displacement of air as Terry's booted foot whizzed past his face.

"Get the fuck off of me, Brad."

Without opening his eyes, Daniel could hear the scuffle as Brad and Terry fought over who was going to beat the shit out of him. He sat up, slowly, pressing the back of his hand to the corner of his mouth. "Someone want to tell me—"

"Shut the fuck up," Terry hissed, jabbing a finger at Daniel over Brad's shoulder. "You have no right to—"

"Stop it." Brad shoved Terry hard enough that he took a few steps backwards to maintain his balance. "Right now you're no better than your old man. Come in here, all pissed, beating Jackson's ass, being all angry and shit."

"Shut. Up." Terry screamed, hugging his casted arm against his body. "I'm not like him. I'm nothing like him."

Brad pointed to Daniel. "Take a look, man. A good look."

Warily, Daniel walked over to the two of them. Terry's anger had made him dangerous, but Brad wasn't angry. He was cool, calm and collected, and probably, between the two of them, Daniel, at fourteen, didn't stand a hope in hell of coming out of the situation alive if Brad and Terry decided to make it so. "What happened?"

"What happened?" Terry echoed and moved forward.

Brad put a restraining hand on Terry's stomach. "Cool it. Think with your brain, douchebag, and not your fists."

Terry's good hand curled into a fist and Brad grabbed Terry's shirt but Daniel didn't move. Running wasn't going to solve this.

"What happened?" Daniel repeated.

"Why didn't you tell us about John?" Brad asked quickly, and his question was tinged with actual curiosity and a side order of hurt.

"How did you find out?" Daniel's gaze bounced between the two of them.

"A friend of a friend's mother is a nurse in the Academy hospital. Wanted to know if he knew the kid. Our age, blah blah... that's how we found out that he's hurt real bad. Beaten up. He's blind and won't ever walk again."

Daniel shook his head. "Rumors. John's not blind. He can walk fine."

They didn't believe him.

"Honest. His girlfriend's mother is a doctor and a friend of the family. I've been up to see—"

"Then why the hell didn't you tell us?"

Daniel answered with an offhanded shrug. "I didn't think you'd care?"

Brad's punch was checked, but Daniel still landed on his ass. Point taken, and he stayed down. "I didn't want to... Terry, I'm sorry..." Daniel cupped his cheek and moved his jaw from side to side. "You had enough on your plate with your mom and your brother. I didn't want you to feel responsible for what your father did to John."

Brad extended a hand to Daniel, and he hesitated. "Don't be a bigger jerk than you already are, Jackson."

Reluctantly, Daniel accepted the offer.

Terry began to pace, running his fingers through his hair, pulling and teasing at the ends. "Don't you see. Don't. You. See? I needed to know this. I'd hoped my dad just took off and that we were safe. But we weren't. We aren't." He flew into Daniel's space. "And you knew that. But you didn't tell me. Fuck, John's bitch of a mother didn't say anything, except spout some shit about not needing a gun."

"She's right. The gun wasn't the answer."

"I bet if John had had one while my," Terry choked on the word, "father was beating the shit outta him he would've blown him away. I know I would've."

Daniel couldn't deny the truth.

"John's mother was right, you know." Brad threw an arm over Terry's shoulder. "If you would've killed the bastard and gotten thrown in jail, your mother—"

"I hate him." Terry dropped his head. "I hope he dies. Gets hit by a car. Struck by lightning. Something. Anything long and painful." He paused for a second. "I'm sorry," he mumbled to his feet.

"John knows that," Daniel answered.

Slowly, Terry raised his head. "I didn't mean John." He pointed to Daniel's face and grimaced. "I meant you."


They gathered his stuff. Glasses. iPod. Ear buds. Dusted them off. Dusted him off and thankfully nothing was broken but Daniel.

Brad drove him home, but Daniel felt like a total asshole, because at first he gave the guy directions to his grandmother's house out of habit and displacement, then corrected him two blocks before the house.


"What?" Brad quickly turned to Daniel in the passenger seat.

"I don't live there."

Terry leaned over between the two seats. "I thought so." He knocked on Daniel's head. "I was wondering if your brains got scrambled 'cause I've been to your house, and this ain't the way."

Daniel sat back with a groan. "No. Sorry. My dad came home from the hospital today and I'm not staying at my grandma's anymore. Force of habit." He quickly changed the directions and held his breath and the sides of the seat while Brad made an illegal U-turn.

"You don't sound too, ummm, enthusiastic about this." Brad hadn't even taken his eyes from the road.

"My dad and I aren't..." Daniel couldn't even think of the word he was looking for.

"Close?" Brad supplied.

"Yeah. We're not close. He works a lot. Shuffles me off to my grandmother's a lot. John's mom." Daniel shrugged. "I've gotten used to it."

"Doesn't sound like it."

Daniel didn't answer Brad. He didn't want to say anymore. There was nothing more to say, except that this was going to be another chapter in his life and in another few years he'd either be off on his way to college or helping John lead the resistance, both of them more attractive than stepping foot into his house.

"Is this it?" Brad asked.

Daniel nodded.

"Hey," Terry asked, his head popping between the seats again. "Do you need me..." He turned towards Brad. "Us? Do you need us to explain about..."

Daniel could feel the fat lip and the scab already forming in the corner of his mouth. His stomach felt sore, and even without touching his cheek he just knew that this day had just become suckier. "Nah, I got this." He pulled his backpack from the floor to his lap. "I'm sorry, Terry. Brad. I thought..."

"Me, too, man." Terry's smile was apologetic. "I'm sorry. I'm not like my dad."

"I know you're not. Look." Daniel began to play with the zipper of his backpack. He was probably breaking some nondisclosure rule, but he didn't give a crap and if it let Terry sleep a little better tonight, then what the fuck. "John's mother has connections. Military connections. And by six degrees of separation John's sorta a VIP. The military is on your father's ass, Terry, he won't get within two feet of you or your family." The information that the military was keeping watch over Terry's house hoping to maybe catch the bastard, Daniel kept to himself.


"Please don't say anything," Daniel begged, for a number of reasons. The fact that he'd truly stretched and elaborated the truth being number one on the list. "I shouldn't have even said—"

"Thanks a lot, man." Terry scrubbed at his face. "My mom—"

"No! Please don't tell your mom. Please. Just know that you're safe."


The same couldn't be said about his safety. Daniel's grandmother was on his case the second he walked in the door.

"Oh my god, mhuirnin." She grabbed his face and Daniel could do nothing but grimace and push himself away from her. "Was this Terry's father? Did that man do this?"

"No." He averted his face, but she held tightly to his chin.


"It was a misunderstanding."

"Misunderstanding? What type of misunderstanding would lead—"

"We worked it all out, honest, Grandma."

She pursed her lips and shook her head.

"I said something I shouldn't have." Daniel touched the corner of his mouth. "I got off easy." He forced a smile on his face.

"Using one's fists in anger is never the answer, Daniel, no matter what was said. Don't condone violence."

His father. Home. In the flesh. Walking slowly towards him with an aide of a cane. The smile that flashed on Daniel's face was as autonomic as taking a breath or blinking because the heart remembered before the brain. "Dad."

His father stopped, shook his head, lifted a hand and pointed to Daniel's face.

Daniel dropped the smile and his backpack, there was no fucking way he wanted to hang around and listen to his father reiterating his shortcomings. Once, no make that twice, was more than Daniel could handle. "I'm going to wash up for dinner."

Daniel gave his father and the cane a wide berth, voting down the glare he felt building up, settling on ignoring the man's presence.


John's mother turned the heat up in the car another notch. "All you had to say was that you were cold," she chastised gently, "rather than sitting there and suffering."

Did her actions necessitate a 'thank you' or 'I'm sorry'? John wasn't too sure. He directed the vent so it was aimed chest level and remained silent.

Being released had been a cross between hard work on his part by making a concerted effort to keep something in his stomach and a dedicated ophthalmologist who showed up, re-reviewed the x-rays and John. His mom was given a card with the instructions to call to make a follow up appointment, which, John was pretty sure, knowing his mom's track record, would never, ever be made.

He was let go from the hospital later than most discharges which was fine with John. His mother, the woman who was strong enough to be able to defeat terminators, stand up to Derek Reese and spit in the eye of authority, seemed unable to handle John's slow movements and silence.

She was making up for it by incessantly chattering and trying to circumvent his every need and desire which really hadn't been many, considering they'd just left the hospital less than ten minutes ago. She was definitely annoying. He was on edge and uncomfortable. And the two didn't mix well. Not even a little.

"Mom." His throat was dry and the one word came out too low to even attract her attention. John swallowed and tried again. "Mom!"

"What's the matter?" She took her eyes off the road for a second, her glance was already full of worry and concern, the lines in her forehead making her appear older than she was.

John tapped his finger to his lips then felt incredibly guilty. "I'm okay."

"I have a three page list of discharge instructions from the hospital and Janet that sort of says the opposite."

John sighed in defeat.

His mother sighed victoriously.

It was going to be a very long recovery.


Derek and Cameron swarmed around the passenger door even before his mom had removed the key from the ignition.

"Don't move," she ordered, flying out the driver's side door.

He could move. The moving wasn't the problem. It was that everything was done with exaggerated slowness because of abused, uncooperative muscles. Limited vision wasn't helping and it was by feel rather than by sight that he unlatched his seatbelt.

His door jerked opened just as he was guiding the seatbelt back into position.

"I told you not to move."

"Stop it," John hissed. "Back off."

They didn't. Cameron, Derek and his mother stood there, breathing his air.

Oh, well. John pivoted in the seat, using the dashboard and the doorframe for leverage.

"It would be easier and less painful if you'd allow me to help you." Cameron threw out the suggestion, but she kept her arms tucked to her side.

"Easier, yes," John said through gritted teeth as he lowered himself down. "Less painful," he grunted when his feet hit the ground, "I'm thinking not so much."

Pasting themselves to his side. Watching his ass. That was acceptable. Finding a place to touch him and guide him where it wouldn't hurt was impossible. The three of them got the message when helping hands reached out. John backed away with a loud 'ow' when his mother's fingers fit themselves under his elbow. Derek and Cameron pretty much got the same reaction.

Three strikes and they were out, getting the idea it was look and don't touch.


This shouldn't have been hard. Walking into this house should not have made the butterflies in his stomach take flight or made his head hurt worse than it did. He'd killed a man in the kitchen. Ate breakfast at that table. Slept here. But he couldn't bring himself to move forward into the hallway.

"Ya gotta take a step, John." With extreme gentleness, his uncle placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Give him a minute, Reese."

John was pretty damn sure he was going to need more than a minute.

"He's gotta go in the house."

No, he didn't have to do anything and he stood there, the weight of Derek's hand increasing exponentially as the minutes ticked away. Eventually, it occurred to John there was no going backwards. As always, the Connors moved forward. Towards the future. Towards Judgment Day. Towards getting past whatever shit was thrown their way.

Painful or not, he managed to shrug off Derek's hand and stepped into the lion's den. He'd already killed someone here. Almost been killed himself. Short of dying or having someone he cared for be killed, what could be the worst that could happen now?


It only took John about forty minutes to find out the answer to that question. The fact that his mother had herded him onto the couch instead of his bed upstairs was bad enough, but this?

"Mom," he hissed, not even caring if he sounded ungrateful. "The only thing I want," John responded to her hundredth request asking if he wanted anything, "is to lie in my own bed."

"We discussed—"

"You discussed. I was an innocent bystander."

It was her tolerant smile that nearly pushed him over the edge. Like who the hell was this woman, and what had she done with Sarah Connor?

"I sent Derek and Cameron out to go shopping." Strange behavior or not, his mother still held the gold medal for avoidance techniques.

"You expect them both to come back? Alive?" John shifted, the couch was uncomfortable, but he bit back a groan because there was only so much mothering he could handle or his mom could dish out before she imploded.

An idea flickered, dimmed then held. "Mom," he said softly with a touch of melodrama for effect. "Do you think you could make me some cinnamon toast and hot chocolate?"


Somewhere between the seventh and eleventh step, with the banister caught in a death grip, John began to wonder if this had been such a brilliant idea after all. That was, until he slowly lowered himself onto his bed. The blankets had been thrown back, the sheets were cold, and the two pillows were thrown haphazardly by the headboard. Just how he'd left it that morning. The day he'd...

"Not funny, John." His mom was pissed.

Some things were worth it. Getting horizontal on something that wasn't a sheet-coated plastic bed or had cracks and lumps like the couch was worthy of his mother's wrath.

The plate of toast and hot chocolate were not placed on his nightstand with any sort of gentleness and the bed bore her weight as she sat. "You didn't want the cinnamon toast or the drink, did you?" She tapped him gently. "I was had?"

"This isn't about you." He was too tired for his words to hold onto the anger he felt.

"Care to clarify that?"

He'd thrown the gauntlet, might as well crawl with it. "Control. It's all about having some control in my life. Damn it, Mom, would it have been so hard to just let me make the decision about going up the stairs to lie down in my bed?"

"No climbing steps was on Janet's list of instructions."

This coming from the woman who'd broken more laws than John had fingers. And toes. "Sometimes, rules are made to be broken."

"And sometimes mothers know best."

Lovingly, John stroked the bedcovers, paying no attention to the moisture blurring his limited vision. "This," John said stroking the blankets, "isn't one of those times."


"Okay?" His mother was agreeing with him?

"I'm thinking that eating the soggy toast and lukewarm hot chocolate will be your punishment."

John gave in with a tight smile. His brains must've been scrambled more than he thought if he believed he was going to have the last word.


Silently, she sat with him while he ate the toast and drank the hot chocolate, never admitting that it tasted great and satisfying, and that maybe sometimes his ideas weren't that fucked up. He licked his fingers as his mom took the plate and the mug and placed them back on the nightstand.

John expectantly waited for her to say something. And he waited until sitting was too painful. Without a word, and all on his own, John lowered himself back onto the bed. And then he knew. His mom was waiting to make sure the toast and hot chocolate stayed down. Admittedly, now that he was horizontal, the food was laying heavily on his stomach but not the nauseating sick feeling he'd experienced in the hospital.

She sat again, this time closer to the edge of the bed. "I was so scared."

There were tears in her eyes, and for that John owed her the truth. "So was I."

There was nothing left to say, but his mom must've sat with him until he'd fallen asleep. John woke to the sound of good natured, comfortable bickering from downstairs wafting through his open bedroom door. Derek and his mom. A Connor lullaby. But just as he was being lulled back to sleep, true anger detoured the bickering into an out an out argument. There were muffled words that John couldn't decipher, but he understood the tones for what they were, release of tension and fear and he was jealous over their ability to air their feelings. His were buried deep inside, because admitting to his mother that he was scared just wasn't going to cut it in the long run.


It should've felt great to be home. His room. His bed. Daniel opened the drawers one by one to check that a part of him still lived in this house, because once he saw his father in the living room, this house no longer felt like his home. It wasn't that he didn't feel safe here after being robbed. He did. The new state of the art alarm system Sam had installed was awesome - even if he'd lost the argument about laser beams - coupled with the fact that the police had caught the two bit robbers, sans their stolen items, helped. But it wasn't that. It was his father that had changed his feelings about this house.

He couldn't hide here forever, however tempting, because delaying the inevitable wasn't going to make it any easier. The first step was going to be the hardest. Once Daniel got through this, tomorrow's breakfast and every meal thereafter would be easier. There wasn't any doubt in his mind. All he had to do was get through dinner.


He was late. He'd pushed the envelope. His plate was already done up and he noticed before sliding into his chair that neither his grandmother nor father had begun to eat. Daniel slid into his seat and kept his focus on the plate in front of him. It was highly doubtful they were waiting for him to say grace so he mumbled out an apology, picked up his fork and dug in.

"Come up for air, Daniel."

Teasing or not, Daniel picked his head up and hit his dad with a deadly stare. "I'm hungry," he challenged. Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel saw his grandmother's hand reach out and cover his father's. Ahh, the good old Universal sign for 'shut up while you're ahead'.

"So, you never told you us how you managed to get that..."

His father was never really good at following orders. "Misunderstanding." Slowly, Daniel raised his head. "Don't worry. It's been cleared up."

"Cleared up?"

Daniel dropped his fork and touched the bruise on his face. "I fucked up," he said to his father. "Did you expect anything different?"

"You apologize—"

"You're right." Daniel nodded at his grandma. "I'm sorry. For the language. For ruining the dinner you prepared. And according to my father, for everything else I've done, am doing or will do in the future. May I be excused?" Daniel didn't wait for an answer, he just stormed out of the kitchen.

So much for getting through one dinner. Only one thousand four hundred and fifty nine more to go before he left for college.


Jack turned to his mother who appeared as confused as he was. No help there, he'd been hoping she'd have an answer as to Daniel's behavior. Every time he'd seen Daniel, something had been off and Jack had just chalked it up to Daniel's emotional state of mind over the situation. After today's outburst, in his own house, Jack wasn't sure what the hell was going on. "Mom, do you have any clue as to what I'm missing?"

There was a hesitation before she answered, enough that Jack thought maybe she knew what bug was up his son's ass. "Mom?"

"It hasn't been easy for him, Jonathan."

Jack opened his mouth, sharp words hanging on the tip of his tongue.

"What were you going to say?" she bristled.

Conceding to his mother, Jack slowly shook his head. "Nothing. Just that I agree." He slid his hand out from under his mother's and now covered her weathered appendage. "It hasn't been easy for any of us."

"He's fourteen."

"He was rude to you."

"I don't need you to fight my battles for me."

Exasperated, Jack sat back in the chair and threw up his hands. "I'm sorry. I just feel like I missed something. Something important," he added.

"Daniel's trying so hard."

"Mom, I'm not judging him. I'm just trying to figure out if something's been broken."

"Be patient."

"Aren't I always?" Jack's smile fell from his face when his mother didn't smile back. "Kid gloves, I promise."


"Let me stay."

It was tempting. So very tempting to let his mother stay and help, but then it would be so easy to rely on her. Like a crutch. A walker. A cane.

"Daniel's here." Jack draped his mother's coat over his arm and thumped it over to her. "I'll be fine. We'll be fine. Plus," Jack said as he manuevered so he could kiss her cheek. "You're a phone call away."

"I don't feel quite right leaving you."

"Bye, Mom."


"I have to do this. Please. I need to do this."

Reaching out, she cupped his cheek. "I'm so proud of you."

Jack turned his face and gently kissed the palm of her hand. "Thank you. From me. From Daniel."

"Shush!" she admonished. "You never have to thank me. I love you and Daniel. Though there are times..."

Jack laughed. "We drive you nuts?"

"Understatement of the year."


He moved slowly, hesitantly, leaning heavily on his cane and passing pieces of furniture as added support while he closed up. It was comforting, yet not. Familiar, yet it seemed like forever since he'd done this.

Admittedly, his body hurt but his brain wasn't tired. Maybe a beer, some ESPN and his beloved recliner would help with the transition back into real life. Into who he used to be. One step at a time to acclimate both him and Daniel, that's what they needed to do. Take one step at a time.

Step one was a beer.

Daniel looked up from the bowl of cereal he was pouring. A slew of emotions flashed over his son's face, flicking by so fast that Jack couldn't grab onto a single one.

"I'm getting a beer," Jack said stupidly, pointing the fridge with the tip of his cane.

"Cereal," Daniel said, lifting the bowl in the air.

"If you'd eaten dinner, you wouldn't be hungry."

Daniel blinked at him. Then dumped the cereal into the garbage.

Shit. If all of his limbs were in working order, Jack would be kicking himself right now. "Daniel..."

Thankfully the bowl Daniel angrily tossed into the sink was made of that unbreakable material.

"Look, I'm sorry." Jack tried to keep his voice calm.

"A little late for that, isn't it?" Daniel cocked his head at the fridge. "Enjoy your beer. I'm going to bed."


Bless his mom for her foresight. Bless Carter for her electronic know how. Bless Teal'c for his brute strength, because the fact that the den TV, complete with cable plus a few extra bonus stations and his beat up recliner were now center stage in the living room, was proof positive that teamwork wasn't dead and buried.

So beer in one hand, Jack lowered himself into the recliner and used the hook of his cane to pull the remote over to him. Beer. Recliner. TV. Damn, he'd dreamed about this. This was heaven.

His time in heaven lasted until the first commercial. The recliner was lumpy. The beer tasted off and with a million and one stations, there wasn't one thing that held his attention for more than ten seconds.

"Daniel," he bellowed. That's what was missing. Company. Flipping around the stations, he settled on a hockey game. "Daniel!"

Jack smiled at the pounding of sneakered feet running down the hall then a thud as Daniel flew down the three steps.

"Dad?" Daniel was in his face. "Are you okay? Do you need me to call Janet? Are you all—" His son stopped mid-sentence and stared.

"There's a couch with your name on it." Jack pointed the beer at the TV. "And hockey's on."

"You. Want. Me. To. Watch. TV. With. You?"

Jack had held onto the slimmest of hope that Daniel's temper tantrum over dinner had been just a one time occurrence, but obviously he was deluding himself. Daniel's behavior in the kitchen. His attitude in the hospital. And now this? The recliner. Beer. TV. His mom's home cooking. All those items had been in Jack's homecoming agenda. Teenage pissiness, not so much. He'd worked too damned hard to get here. "I'm sorry I disturbed you. Go back and finish—"

"I thought something happened." Daniel's voice was toneless. Cameron-sounding, like the emotion had been sucked out of him.

"Sorry." And he truly was. "I didn't mean to—"

"I'm glad you're okay."

Meaningless words which Jack acknowledged with a nod. "I'm fine."

"Good." Daniel's retreat was slower and more subdued than his entrance.


As aggravated as he'd been, Jack's bed was still his bed. Long missed, he'd slept deep and long. Sun shining through the blinds lightened the room even behind Jack's closed lids. And he woke with a gentle stretch, treating his body with a gentleness that at times was still foreign to him, but which had been drummed into him by his therapists.

It was late. He felt good. Time to get up and start the day.


Daniel hadn't slept.

His dad had. His loud snoring would've disrupted Daniel's slumber if Daniel had been able to close his eyes.

"Morning." His father was all cheery and well rested.

Daniel grumbled his greeting.

His lack of enthusiasm didn't stop his father from giving him a broad smile.

Balancing like an expert, he poured himself a mug of coffee from the pot Daniel had started. "I'm impressed," his dad said with a shake of his head.

"Necessity is the mother of invention. Grandma isn't a coffee lover so..." This was so easy. So damn easy to fall right back into the way it had been, and seeing his father standing in the kitchen, smiling at him over the rim of the mug, it was tempting. Too tempting.

"Feeling better than yesterday, Daniel?"

Temptation flew out the window and Daniel slammed it shut. "I feel fine," he ground out. "I felt fine." With exaggerated slowness, Daniel placed his mug of coffee on the counter. "Nothing wrong with me."

His father appeared taken back. "Hey, give me a chance, okay? Takes more than twenty-four hours for me to get my mother henning wings back." His dad paused, studied him, some connection was being made that Daniel wasn't getting though he got it the second his dad glanced at his watch. "Aren't you late for school?"

"Superintendent's day."

"Ahhh," his dad nodded like he knew, but he didn't have a clue, but the smile was familiar and warm.

Temptation began to beat at the closed window. Daniel had to get out of here. Now. He stuttered out some lame excuse about homework or Alexandria or something. All he knew was that his dad accepted his blathering with a blank look on his face as Daniel made a hasty retreat.

Heart pounding, Daniel sat on his bed, facing his closed bedroom door. With his back pushed up against the headboard and his knees drawn up to his chest, he fucking resembled a kid hiding from the bogey man. No. Wait. For that, he'd be under the bed.

Daniel sighed. Loudly. He couldn't fit under the bed nor could he handle the two years holed up in this room. He was being irrational. Crazy. Ludicrous. Asinine. The ultimate in stupidity. He knew this.

Slowly, Daniel exhaled. One, his father wasn't the enemy. Two, he wasn't the Goa'uld. And three, his dad wasn't a terminator or even someone from the NID. His dad was... a stranger. A foster parent. Those memories were there. Not always pleasant, but he could recall how to behave. Paste a smile on his face/have a nice day. Speak when spoken to. Do when asked. Don't question.

Quickly, Daniel tampered down the sick feeling foster parents brought to the pit of his stomach. No, it wouldn't be like that because this time, when it got too bad, there were places he could run to. His room. His grandmother's. John's. Alexandria's. Donovan's Park. Plenty of options. Friends. Nothing like before. This time he had a place in the world.


John could admit, with twenty-twenty hindsight, that climbing the stairs to his room may have been a stroke of stubborn independence, but making the return trip, with a white knuckled grip on the banister, wasn't being accomplished with the same exuberance, bravado or pigheadedness.

Each step was torture. Muscles that had rejoiced at being reintroduced to their bed had second thoughts about being made to do their job.

His eyesight had improved, at least now he could see the insurmountable amount of steps he was going to fall down, but he took each stair one at a time, slow going but accomplished without bloodshed.

On sock-covered feet, with the speed of a ninety year old man, John shuffled his way towards the kitchen. He couldn't even bring himself to look at the spot. Pretty soon every room in this house would have some horror story attached to it. Fuck. Another hour or two on Liz's couch for this one.

Going down the steps had nothing on trying to reach up and open a cabinet.

"What are you doing out of bed?" Cameron's question was presented out of curiosity and not out of reprimand.

"I'm hungry," he growled. Actually, hungry didn't fit the bill. John was starving. Famished.

"It's early."

"I know, and it looks like everyone else is still sleeping. Which is why," he hissed out of frustration, "you need to be quiet and not wake anyone—"

"John, what are you doing up?"

Aching ribs wouldn't let him exhale as loudly as his heart desired. "I just wanted a frigging bowl of cereal."

Cameron gave a quick nod. "Thank you for explaining." She reached around him, opened up the cabinet and took out a box of some bastard brand corn flakes.

His mother got the bowl and the milk.

Cameron got a banana and a knife.

John stood there waiting for Derek to show up and spoon feed him.


The problem with getting up early was that it fucked with your internal clock. Right? One would think that it should, but what it was doing was making the day longer than average and what wasn't helping were the people shadowing his every movement.

"Why don't you sit down?" John's mother smiled invitingly from the corner of the couch, her arm extended over the back.

"It's okay," John replied for the thousandth time. Sitting was uncomfortable. Walking was bad. Lying down was okay, it was the getting up and down that was the huge deterrent.

"You're wearing a hole in the floor," Derek mentioned as he passed him by.

"For John to wear a hole in the floor, he would have to—"

John ignored the remark. His mom just rolled her eyes. Derek was like a hound dog with a bone.

Derek backtracked, coming within an arm's length of Cameron. "Did anyone ask your opinion?"

"It wasn't my opinion. I was just stating fact. Would you like my opinion?"

John sat down. Slowly. Not in the alcove of his mom's arm, but at the opposite end of the couch. "I'm sitting, okay? No more walking back and forth. No more hole wearing. Eh." He pointed a finger at Cameron. "Just shut it." John's glance encompassed his uncle and his terminator, and he made a circular motion with his hand on the cushion to his left. "Sitting," he repeated, elongating the word into more syllables. "Is everyone happy now?"


One by one they crept away. Maybe they thought he'd fallen asleep. Maybe they thought if they left him alone he'd stay in one place. Maybe they just got tired of watching his ass. Any of these excuses worked for John.

In the quiet solitude of the living room, John noticed if he turned his head just right, there was a slit in the curtain large enough to see Rose's house. John's stomach wondered if Rose was making lunch. Cookies. Suddenly he was sorry that he'd turned down his mother's offer of a sandwich. Lots of hours between a bowl of cereal and early afternoon.

His stomach growled loudly. John wished for a Rose in his life. Someone who could anticipate is every need. Anticipate a hungry stomach. All cookies and milk.

Okay, whoa, that was random because Rose's smothering love probably would drive John nuts within minutes. Daniel had grown up with it, but there were times he knew that his friend was in danger of drowning from over-concern.

Daniel? John bent his head backwards a tad so he could see Rose's driveway. Yeah, the Santa Fe was parked right there. He figured maybe Daniel didn't realize he was home yet, but no, that made no sense because all their cars were in the driveway. Which meant...

"Mom?" he called pushing himself upright. "Where's my cell?"


"I'm going to go out." Daniel stood in front of his father trying not to fidget, remembering the foster parent rules. "See how John's doing," he waved towards the door, "he's home."

His dad looked up from the newspaper he was reading and studied him over the rim of his glasses.

"Would that be okay?" Daniel stuttered. "I mean, if you need me here to help you? Shop. Clean or something. Laundry. I can stay home and see John after school tomorrow."

There were pursed lips, glasses pushed on top of his head and silence.

Daniel waited, eyes downcast, at parade rest, looking up only when his father exhaled loudly. "Fine, go ahead."

Daniel could feel the lure to stay. Spend the day with his dad. But he wasn't stupid, he'd heard the disappointment in his dad's dismissal. Confirmation of what he thought of Daniel. "Cassie's picking me up."

"Not too late," his dad said, slipping the glasses back into position. "And tell John I said hello."


"Do me a favor and keep your eyes on the road, alright?"

"Are you going to tell me what the hell your problem is? Because you're driving me nuts. Stop it!" Cassie thudded the steering wheel with her opened palm.

"How am I driving you nuts?"

"Because you haven't said a word. And the only time you're ever silent is when—"

"My dad's home."

"I know." Her voice was soft and full of pity.

Daniel cringed. "Look, you and I both know what my father thinks of me. It's just an adjustment living in a house—"

"I can talk to my mom—"

"No!" Daniel shouted, drew a deep breath and repeated the word. "No." Leaning over, he pulled on a strand of her hair. "Thanks, but I need to work on this myself."


"I'm fine, promise."

"I know," she said, sounding so much like her mother that Daniel did a double take. "You're always fine and you always promise." She remained silent for exactly one heartbeat. "Are you going to tell me the reason you're all bruised, or do I get to play twenty questions. I'm really good at that game."

Experience had taught Daniel that Cassie wasn't good at the game, she just hounded you, beat you down, until you were left screaming "uncle" and telling her everything she wanted to know.


"This was John's idea," Cassie hissed.

"I know," Daniel's answered with a reciprocal hiss, "but he looks like— Ow!" Daniel rubbed the side of his head and from his seat up on the couch, glared backwards at John. "What'cha do that for?"

"Because I'm not deaf. And I'm certainly not blind, so you want to tell me, Jackson, why you're vying for the bruises of the year award?"

Daniel sighed, glared at Cassie who he'd admitted the truth to, and sorta gave John the same answer he'd given his father and grandmother. "A misunderstanding that's been cleared up."

The fact that John didn't push, didn't question, didn't make any type of sarcastic remark was a testament to how horrible he must've felt.

Cameron walked into the room and picked up the conversation in the middle. "There was no damage to John's auditory canal. He can hear perfectly."

"Yeah," John said, lowering himself onto the couch then pointing at Cameron. "What she said."

John may have kept a smile on his face, but yup, there it was, more evidence, the set of John's jaw, the way his eyes closed as he lowered himself on the cushions, the way he slowly leaned back into the couch, that he was hurting and he and Cassie, though she'd gotten up and was sidling up to John, needed to leave.

"John has been up since early this morning."

Wow, was that Cameron subtly kicking their respective asses to the curb?

"I'm okay," John insisted, glaring at Cameron. "I'm okay," he reiterated, trying to hide a grimace as Cassie moved closer.

"You're not okay. It's time for your medication."

Daniel burst out laughing. "Oh god, Cameron, has my grandmother been giving you lessons?"

"Rose hasn't taught me anything. Not even how to prepare ziti."

Cassie giggled but John barely acknowledged the exchange.

"We're leaving," Daniel said, standing, bending his knee a few times to work out the stiffness.

"God," John exclaimed, grinding his opened palm against his forehead. "I'm not breakable. I wish everyone would stop treating me with kid gloves."

"We're staying." Daniel dropped back into the sofa with an exaggerated expulsion of air.

At least his action made John smile. "Are you trying to prove a point, Jackson?"

"That you're an asshole?"

"Who's an asshole?" Derek used the end of the beer bottle in his hand to point to the two of them? Do I get to choose? Eenie. Meenie. Minie..."

"Thanks." John glared at Daniel. "It was bad enough you brought Cassie girl here—"

"Hey!" Cassie objected good naturedly, checking the light punch she was going to inflict on John.

John smiled at her, then shook his head. "Cassie. Cameron. Derek. Next thing you know, my—"

"Hey everyone. What'cha doing?"

John groaned. "See? They're going to ply me with medication and I'll be a blithering idiot within seconds."

"And that's different than any other day because why?" Daniel smirked smugly at John.


Now it was Cassie's turn to be silent.

"What gives?" Daniel prodded. "I mean you're never... Hey, are you crying?"

She sniffed.


"Did. You. See. Him?"

"See who?"

"John." She did that really girly, very out of Cassie character shuddering type of breathing.

Daniel popped open the glove compartment, pushed aside a tampon, chapstick, two packs of gum, a candy wrapper and enough receipts to choke a horse, before finding a wad of fairly fresh looking fast food napkins. He shoved a handful at Cassie.

Prissily, she picked one and blew her nose. Tried to speak, failed, blew her nose again, then scrubbed at her nose. "John looked terrible."

He did. Worse than in the hospital. All swollen and bruised. The mere act of looking at him had made Daniel hurt. His every movement had been measured and calculated, like an old man unsure of his limits. "Your mom wouldn't have let him go home if he wasn't okay."

She threw the snot covered napkin at him.

He batted it away, then wiped his hands on his pants. "Ewww. Gross."

"Shut up."

"Don't get pissed at me, you're the one that threw the tissue."

"Well, how about some sympathy, empathy, whatever, for your friend?"

"Hey!" Daniel smacked his chest in indignation, "I was sympathetic. I agreed with you."

"No. You said my mother wouldn't have let him go home."

"That's being sympathetic."

Cassie shook her head. "No, it's being a jerk."

"John usually thinks of me as an asshole."

"Works for me," Cassie growled as she turned into his driveway.

Daniel unbuckled his seatbelt and reluctantly placed one hand on the door handle. The lights in the windows felt anything but inviting, but then changed his mind. He grabbed another of the napkins which he'd stuffed between the seat and the console, slid then leaned over and dabbed awkwardly at the corner of Cassie's right eye with the napkin he had crumpled in his hand.

"Stop that." She grabbed at Daniel's hand. "Stop being all grown up and mature and... and... old."

Daniel threw the napkin at her. "I may be an asshole but you're a bitch."

The corners of her mouth twitched slightly with a hint of a smile. "You don't scare me, Dannysaur."


Daniel was still smiling when he walked into the house, the good feeling dissipating at the sight of his dad watching TV from the relocated recliner. "I'm home," he said, almost forgetting his self-imposed rules of behavior.

His dad flicked off the TV. "How's John?"

John was a safe subject. Daniel could talk about his friend and he confidently walked over and stood by the chair. "He looked like crap. Black and blue. He's hurting. Going there was probably a mistake."

"Didn't John call you? Ask you to come over?"

Daniel nodded. He came, he saw, he conquered. He really didn't want to get into the logistics of his visit. "Yeah, but I think Cassie and I might have been more than the poor guy could handle."

"Been there. Done that," his father agreed with nod. "Do you want—"

"I'm fine." He pointed towards his room. "I'm going to do some homework." Daniel slipped away before his father could say anything.


Daniel was a pod person. There was no other explanation for the 'yes, sir/no, sir' answers to every question or the things he was doing without complaint or discussion, because Daniel, well the other pre-hospital Jack Daniel rarely, if ever, did anything without a debate.

Most parents of a teen wanted a pod, an overly polite teen, in exchange for the one they had. In theory, yeah, even Jack had wanted that on more than a handful of occasions, but now that desire had become reality, the dream had turned into a nightmare.

"Do you want some juice?" Daniel stood in front of the opened fridge, the container of OJ pressed against his chest.

"Sit down."

Daniel poured him a glass of OJ, put the container back in the fridge then took a seat. He pushed the glass over to his father.

Jack pushed it back. "I don't want it.


"Did your grandmother put you up to this?"


"Yeah. This." Jack waved at his son. "Your attitude. Your mother henning. It's my mother's way of getting back at me, isn't it?"

"My attitude? What's wrong with my attitude?" Daniel blinked at Jack and then just like that, he shut down. Right before Jack's eyes. "I don't have an attitude."

"Hey, buddy." He reached out towards Daniel. "I was only—"

Daniel jerked his hand back, upsetting the glass. "Shit," he said, jumping up, grabbing the roll of paper towels before Jack could even stop him. "You should've just drank it," he muttered, sopping up the spill with a handful of paper towels.

"Hey," Jack said, trying to make a joke. "No use crying over spilled OJ."

Daniel's head jerked up. His lips were a set in a straight angry line, but emotions spilled from his eyes. "It's always a joke, isn't it?"

"What the hell is your problem?"

From across the room, Daniel tossed the paper towels into the sink. "You're my problem, Dad."


Expectantly, Daniel sat in his room, tucked into the corner between the dresser and the bed, waiting for the repercussions from his outburst. Damn. Damn. Damn. He hadn’t meant to do that, to get angry. Foster parent. Foster family. It was supposed to work, but he couldn't even make it one fuckin' day.

Frustrated, he pounded his thigh. Control. He needed control and an entire shitload of lies so he could go back in there and make some asinine excuse to his father that would pass off as a reason as to why he'd gone postal.

It took only a matter of minutes.


"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." Daniel licked his lips and flashed an awkward, uncomfortable smile.

"It's okay," his dad answered, waving Daniel's apology aside with a flick of his wrist. "It's all about adjustments. Yours as well as mine. A little space and a lot of patience will go a long way."

"I had no right to, you know..." Daniel picked up the glass that had held the OJ. "Lose patience."

"It's fine." His dad stopped, a slow smiling lighting up his face. "We're fine."

Daniel nodded, a ghost of a false grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Yeah, fine."


They'd made nicey/nice smiles, shared an unemotional hug and Daniel had made another excuse before he back pedaled to his bedroom, leaving Jack alone in the kitchen.

Bullshit, Jack wanted to scream. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. Daniel had lied through his teeth. Some excuse about John. School. Blah. Blah. Blah. Words. Lies. All of it.

Jack shook his head. Both of them had played their parts. Daniel the liar and him, the stupid dope who his son believed would fall for the shit he was shoveling.

Something was going on. Something that didn't involve school, or Alexandria, John, Cassie, his grandmother, friends or soccer. Daniel's behavior had to do with him. And him alone.

Jack dropped his head into his hands. Would it be too much to ask for the powers that be to cut him at least a little slack?


John didn't want to go to school. He'd spent a portion of last evening locked in the bathroom, studying his face, touching first the bruises then the mirror, staring at the stranger staring back at him.

Yeah, he didn't want to go to school, but he didn't want his mother making the decision and he bristled at her 'no'.

"Mom..." Nothing like beating a dead horse.

"No," she said, not even looking at him.

He dropped his backpack that he'd dragged from upstairs. "Yes."

His mom lowered the heat under the pancakes, wiped her hands on her pants, then turned to face him. "No."

It was her tolerant smile that was annoying the crap out of him.

"Why not?"

She laughed, picked up the spatula and waved it at him. "Do you want a list? The meds. Janet would kill me and/or you if she found out. And have you looked in the mirror?"

"Yeah, I have."

"Okay. Let's make a deal." She flipped two pancakes onto a plate and handed it off to John. "Eat these."

John held his breath.

"Then," his mother continued with an evil smile, "if you can drag your books to the car and get in without a grimace or a wince, you will have won your 'get out of jail free' card and I'll drive you to school."


Sarah's 'know it all attitude' was making a u-turn to come around and bite her in the ass. Shit.

After drowning the two pancakes in syrup, John used the side of his fork to cut them slowly, chewing them even more slowly with his head bent mere inches from the plate.

He was forcing himself. For someone who'd barely eaten in days, the pancakes were probably as filling as a ten course meal.

The stubborn genes were all Connor.

The fortitude for fighting what he wanted was all Reese.

The two sets of DNA were a lethal combination.


Damn him.

Damn the tin miss who kept glancing at her in the rear view mirror.

John sat ramrod straight, no expression on his face, his backpack was sitting on his knees, leaning forward, resting on the console. Sarah wasn't too sure he was even breathing because the only thing John appeared to be working on was making sure there was no emotion on his face.


It was creeping Sarah out.

"John shouldn't be going to school."

"It's my decision." The words were spoken through gritted teeth.

"It's John's decision," Sarah agreed.

"It's the wrong decision," Cameron stated, leaning forward, her hand inching out towards his neck.

John jerked to the side and Sarah shot him a look, hoping for a grimace, a moan, a groan. something so she could turn the car right around. She got a pissed off, angry John without a change of facial expression.

"Don't do that, okay?" John adjusted the backpack, moving it closer to his knees and away from his injured, wrapped ribs.

The tin toy glanced at her. "You need to be home."

"You need to mind your own business."

"You are my business."

"Mom, make Cameron shut up."

"Cameron, shut up," Sarah said, turning her head towards John. "Is that what you wanted?"

"Close enough."

"I don't follow your orders," Cameron said, getting in the last word with a sweep of her fingers across his neck.

"You'll follow my orders, or will follow..." John began.

Sarah hated this walk down future memory lane Cameron was taking them down.

"Not now. Not in the future. Not when you're being stupid."

Sarah checked her rear view and side view mirrors then made a quick turn around.

"Umm, mom, the school's the other way."

"I know," she said, easing up on the gas pedal.

"You said. You promised."

"She lied," Cameron interjected.

"Yeah, she did," John said.

"I'm not arguing with either of you. I did lie. I thought—"

"That I'd be too weak to do this?"

Sarah hesitated, pulling her foot off the gas pedal.

John filled in the blanks and he gave a disparaging snort. "Derek thought the same thing."


Sarah was on slow simmer and she didn't boil over until she got home. The only assistance she gave to John was opening the passenger door and stepping to the side as he slid out.

She grabbed Cameron's arm before the tin girl could shadow John. "No way," she whispered, the two of them watching John drag himself into the house. "He'll be fine."

Cameron blinked at her. "John's not fine now."

"He will be," Sarah said. "Will." She gave Cameron a little shake, more for her own benefit than to even make a dent in the machine's endoskeleton. "What did Derek say to John?"

"That John needed to stay home today."

"Huh?" What John had said didn't seem to coincide with what Sarah had expected Derek to have said. "Derek was caring?"

Cameron appeared to think a moment before tilting her head at Sarah. "John didn't take it that way. John took it as a challenge."

Sarah sighed, her fingers slipping off Cameron's arm.

Cameron freaked her out by echoing her sigh. "Derek needs to explain himself to John."


Daniel was up early. Way earlier than he needed to be. Part of it was trying to get comfortable in a house that didn't feel like home and part of it had to do with his father's presence.

Exhaustion had overtaken him around one but by four-thirty, he was staring at the ceiling and he gave himself fifteen minutes before slipping out of bed and into the shower. Daniel dressed in record time and slipped carefully down the hall, years of experience steering him around the floor's squeaky spots.

He started a pot of coffee and was on his second mug, distractedly pouring himself a bowl of cereal before the caffeine ate a hole in his stomach lining, all before five fifteen.

Daniel and his breakfast sat at the table and he ate, his mind a million miles away.

"Penny for your thoughts."

Daniel jerked, dropped the spoon, then used the tips of his fingers to wipe up the splatter.

"Didn't mean to scare you."

"Didn't scare me," he shot angrily back.

His father raised one eyebrow.

Quickly, Daniel changed his tune. Don't anger the foster parent. Damn, he needed to have that tattooed across his forehead. "This is early, even for you."

His dad shrugged. "Hospital. Rehab. They kinda screwed with my sleeping/waking cycle."

"You're," Daniel forced a smile, "home. You should take it easy."

"Relax? Nah. PT today. Going to do some errands." His dad threw up a hand before Daniel could even comment. "Nope. Grandma's going to play chauffeur."

Daniel smiled as if he was interested. As if he cared.


Jack waited until the bus pulled away before heading to Daniel's room. He maneuvered the three steps carefully then took his time walking down the hall. Arguing with himself, he tried to justify what he was going to do.

He stood in the entranceway, surveying, assessing, trying to remember if anything besides Daniel himself seemed different. Bed was made. Room was pristine. That in and of itself creeped Jack out.

Daniel wasn't a slob, but he was a teenager. Barring the fact that he had been forty just about eight years ago, Daniel was a normal teen. But this? What Jack was looking at right now? This wasn't the room of a normal teenager, unless the teen had a maid. Or was trying to make amends for something.

Well, since there was no maid that Jack was aware of, he began to lean towards the making amends. Or maybe Daniel was trying to cover something up. Without hesitation, he entered the room.


Twenty minutes later, and Jack was no closer to getting to the bottom of Daniel's behavior than he had been when he'd entered the room. Honestly, Jack wasn't too sure what the hell he was even looking for. A note? Kids didn't even write notes anymore, they just AIM'd, or text'd or twittered and for him to check those things he'd need Carter to explain them to him. Frustrated, Jack sighed. This was a waste of time and was getting him exactly no where.


Daniel came up behind Cassie and threw his arms around her. "Are you okay?"

With a sigh, she slid her binder into the locker. "I don't know," Cassie said, slamming her locker then turning around to face him, "are you?"

Daniel opened his mouth.

"Don't you dare lie to me," Cassie warned.

"It's hard."

Alexandria came up behind him and leaned into him. "You know," she said with a voice dripping with honey, "if I didn't know any better, I'd be jealous."

"Jeeze, Daniel." Corey shook his head as he passed by the trio. "I think you took 'share and share alike' a little too literally."

"Jealous much?" Cassie purred.

Corey leaned over, studying Daniel. "Ummm, nice bruise." He touched his own face in sympathy. "John give you that as a warning to keep his hands off—"

Daniel slapped his hand over the bruise; he'd truthfully forgotten all about it because between his father and his knee, he'd been too distracted to remember Terry's mark of anger.

"Grow up, Corey." Always his champion, Alexandria never knew when to let it lie with Corey. She was worse than Cassie.

"Hey, I'm just making a deduction. Like math. One plus one equals two."

Give Corey an inch or an audience and he'd go on and on like the frigging Eveready Bunny.

"I'm going to lunch," Daniel announced. "I'm hungry. Hungry enough that yesterday's meatballs aka today's meatloaf sandwich is appealing."


Daniel dropped his lunch tray on the table, slid into the usual spot and sat. He'd lied. The meatloaf sandwich wasn't appealing. He stared at it while massaging his knee with one hand.

"You're an asshole." Corey put his own tray down, looked around then sat. "You hate meatloaf sandwiches."

"And you hate mac and cheese."

"You're right," Corey said with a huge smile then switched the trays. "There that's better," he said, tearing the sandwich apart.


Alexandria cornered him when he went up to get dessert. "You look like someone just beat the crap out of your best friend," she said with the slightest of smiles.

"John's going to be okay." He glanced towards the table. "I'm sure he'll be back soon."

"That's not what's bothering you, is it?" She handed him a cupcake, then grabbed one for herself. "John?"

"John. My dad being home. It's just..."

She stuck her hands into his back pocket and pulled out two singles, handing them over to the woman at the cash register. "Nothing that a cupcake can't handle."


Corey cornered him while they changed for gym. "Look, I heard what happened to John."

"He's going to be okay," Daniel repeated by rote.

"Who did a number on you?"

"No one you know," Daniel said angrily.

"Whoa, dude. I'm trying, okay? Really trying. The least you can do is—"

"Pretend?" Daniel asked softly.

"Forgive me," Corey mumbled. The blush was fast and furious, flowing up his neck onto his cheeks.

This apology was heartfelt. Not one Corey's mother forced him to do.

"You're forgiven." Daniel said, reaching around and slammed Corey's locker. "Let's get a move on before Coach rips us a new one."


Cassie sat next to him on the bus and for once, Daniel was relieved he could be truthful and relaxed.

He slunk down into the uncomfortable seat. "Don't feel like going home." He flexed his knee; it didn't really hurt but all day it had been feeling weird and tight again.

"It'll get better," Cassie said.

Daniel laughed, her seriousness catching him unaware. "You sound like—"

"Don't you dare say it!"

Daniel pretended to zip his lips.

"I can only hope."

Daniel poked her, focusing on the outside scenery when her squeal drew the attention of the bus driver.

"You're dead meat, Dannysaur," she whispered.

Her nickname was enough to silence him for a few minutes.

"I called John." Cassie leaned into him.

"And?" Daniel felt like a horrible friend, John had been just a passing thought today.

"Went to voice mail."

"Ahhh. You're worried over that? Pffft. Drugs. I'm sure your mom made sure he's feeling no pain."

Cassie paused then smiled at him. "You always know what to say to make me feel better."

"I aim to please."

She touched the bruise on his face. "Next time duck, okay?"


"I'm going to school tomorrow."

John's mom looked up from the papers spread across the dining room table. "We'll see."

"No. We won't see. I'll see. The decision will be mine."

"You slept the entire day." She glanced at the clock on the microwave. "It's almost dinner."

"You drugged me."

"Two Motrin doesn't constitute drugging, John. Sleeping was your body's way of..."

Derek walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge and his words were lost behind the opened door.

"Care to share with the class, Mr. Reese?" His mom tapped her pencil on the table with the precision of Mrs. Higgins, his hated third grade teacher.

John would've preferred not to know what caustic remark his uncle had mumbled and he turned to leave, but he wasn't fast enough.

"John, wait."

He didn't want to. He really didn't want to listen to Derek's words of wisdom, but experience had taught John that running didn't solve anything. People and terminators still found you no matter how much distance you placed between yourself and them. Using the doorframe, he turned, slowly, wearing a mask of exasperation.

Derek had a beer in one hand and a Snapple in the other. With a shake of his head, John refused to accept the peace offering being extended to him so with a shrug, Derek placed it on the counter. "Suit yourself."

John pointed to the Snapple. "That's why you wanted me to wait?" He didn't work to tamper the sarcasm in his voice.

"Yes. No."

He could see the smirk tugging at the corner of his mom's mouth. Derek was squirming. Derek never squirmed and admittedly, it was sorta fun to watch.

Cameron walked into the kitchen, opened up the Snapple and handed it to John but he shook his head, turning down her offer. "Sorry. No." The one he'd had early today had tasted funky.

"There are no drugs in this one."

John blinked. "Drugs? Mom?"

"I... Ummm..." Derek palmed his still unopened bottle of beer.

"Derek?" John grabbed the bottle of Snapple from Cameron's hands and slammed it on the counter. His gaze bounced to his mother, who suddenly didn't appear to be so caught up in Derek's discomfort. "Mom?"

He might've been slow on the uptake but he pieced together what they'd done. His mother and Derek. Betrayal. Removal of choice. "You drugged me." He pointed first his mother then to Derek. "You. And. You."


Surprisingly, his mother gave John about five minutes worth of peace behind his closed bedroom door before she entered with a light knock.

"I'm sorry."

John shook his head, not even allowing her to finish. "Not good enough."

"I didn't know Derek—"

"Whoa. The two of you didn't..." John touched his pointer fingers together. "You didn't collaborate in this?"


"So I got double the fun? Double the pleasure? Do I get double the apology?" John lowered his body onto the bed. "You had no right."

"You're not listening to your body. You're not resting. You're not eating."

"I slept through lunch," John growled.

"I'm so sorry."

"No, you're not. You're not sorry. Not you. Not Derek. Under your thumb. That's what you wanted. That's what you got."

"You know that's not true."

"Don't bullshit me, Mom. You're going to use what happened to me to tighten the reins. Suffocate me. Reel me in. You dangled what other people have right in front of me, then told me not to touch. Look but don't touch." With one arm tucked tightly around his waist he leaned closer to her. "Well, you're too late. I've touched and I'm holding on. I'm not letting go. I'm going to fight for this life."

His mother's smile was slow in building.

"What so funny?"

She touched her lips. "This isn't humor. This is pride."

"Am I supposed to understand?"

"Maybe not now. Maybe never." With what John could only describe as reverence, his mother cupped his cheek.


John wasn't too sure if his mother had finagled his acceptance of her apology, or if she'd just redirected his anger.

"Did you come here to apologize also?"

Derek shrugged.

"Don't waste your breath."


"No." John waved his hands in front of his body. "Just no. I don't understand you. Why I've failed you. You haven't even given me a—"

"Failed?" Derek rubbed his five o'clock shadow. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm not him. And god willing, I'll never be him. I'm sixteen. I'm a kid. I'm sorry I haven't gone through what you've gone through. What he's gone through. I'm sorry I couldn't stand up to the men who did this to me. I'm sorry I begged for my life. I'm sorry I disappointed you. Failed you."

Derek slammed the bedroom door and in two steps he was in John's face, finger out poking at his chest.

The prodding hurt but John held his ground, grabbing his uncle's hand in his own. "You can make your point without touching me."

Derek's glanced downward. "You begged for your life?"

His bravado was slipping away. "Yes." John licked his lips.

"I'm going to fuckin' kill them."


"You listen to me, John. Rule number one is to stay alive. Got that?"

"Got it."

"Rule number two is to escape."

"Didn't do too well with that one."

"Rule number three is to stay alive so you can escape."

"I didn't escape," John insisted.

"You're alive."

"I begged for my life."

"Jeeze, John, don't you get it? This is war. The object of the game is to stay alive. The object of our lives is to make sure you stay alive. And we... I almost failed you. You did what needed to be done. Me, on the other hand." His uncle clasped their conjoined hands, "should be the one begging for forgiveness."


Jack had been exhausted. Since the accident, his body had adjusted to the regimen of PT, it had been the shopping excursion with his mother that had been the killer. Embarrassingly, his mom had pretty much put away what they'd bought, fed him lunch and tucked him in.

He woke to a wonderful smell. The bedside clock let him know it was close to dinnertime and his stomach growled in agreement. Tentatively, he stretched, nodding in satisfaction when his muscles smoothly responded, but he still got up slowly, not wanting to push his luck.


The table was set. Plates. Napkins. Utensils. Glasses filled with ice. A roasted chicken was cooling on the counter. A dish of string beans was sitting in the middle of the table next to a plate of fries, and a bottle of ketchup. Jack plucked a fry off the plate, blew on it, then took a bite. Just the way he liked. It was strange that there were only two plates set, considering his mother had worked at this, Jack felt more than guilty that she'd decided to cook and run.

Then he remembered that she had a dinner planned with friends this evening and his guilt increased threefold, shamed that she was taking care of him and Daniel as if neither of them were adults.

Crap. He shoved the rest of the fry in his mouth. "What the hell?"

The sink was full of dishes - pots, pans, all overflowing. Jack could just picture the conversation that had taken place between his mother and Daniel. She'd cooked. He was supposed to clean. She'd probably warned him to do it before his father woke.

"Daniel!" he bellowed. Too pissed to make the trip to his son's room, he yelled again, this time smacking his cane against the kitchen chair.

"Dad?" Daniel arrived breathless, eyes wide behind his glasses.

Personally, Jack didn't care if he'd scared the crap out of Daniel. "What the—"

"Sorry. I didn't realize you were up." He pointed over his shoulder towards his room. "I had my iPod in and I was—"

"Making excuses?"

Daniel ran his fingers through his hair, tugged out the rubber band, then pulled back only the top.

Jack hated that.

Daniel knew that.

Jack used the cane to point out Daniel's infraction.

"Yeah, I know," was his pat reply. "I was going to do the dishes when we were done eating." He offered up a noncommittal shrug.

"You were?"

"Yeah, I was." Daniel skirted past Jack, jerked open the cutlery drawer and picked out the carving knife. "Sit," he ordered as if the dishes were no big deal.

"The dishes?" Admittedly, he was never one to let sleeping dogs lie.

"After dinner." Daniel turned his back on Jack and began to carve up the chicken.


They ate in uncomfortable silence. Actually, Jack was uncomfortable. Daniel finished in record time and began the dishes before Jack had even made a dent in his dinner.

"How was school?"

"How was PT?" Daniel asked without even turning around.

"PT I can deal with. It was your grandmother's—"

"School was okay."

Oh god, they were so out of sync.

Daniel said nothing more.

Jack remained silent as well, the delicious dinner no longer holding any appeal. Pushing his plate away, he grabbed his cane, then his plate.

"Thanks," Daniel mumbled, taking the plate from Jack, his soapy hands spraying across the remainder of food.

"Well, so much for lunch tomorrow."


"Kitchen's all clean." Without a hint of emotion, Daniel stood, head down, hands shoved into his pockets.

"Okay." Jack pointed the remote at the TV. "Want to watch—"

Daniel shook his head. "No, I have homework. Shower. Thanks for the offer, though."


'Thanks for the offer'? What the hell? Jack looked over his shoulder, down the hallway and shook his head in amazement. He definitely needed a healthy dose of reality. And a beer.

"Hey, Mom." Jack tucked the cordless between his shoulder and chin, leaving his hands free for the cane and beer.

"Did you have a good nap?" There was the slightest hint of mirth in her voice.

"Yes." Jack used the edge of the counter top to open the beer. "And dinner was delicious. Thanks."


"Yeah, dinner. Chicken. Fries. The string beans with the little almonds that I—"

"I didn't cook you dinner, Jack." There was a pause of disbelief. "Do you feel—"

"I'm okay, but if you didn't cook me dinner. Then," he asked, lifting the cold bottle and rested it against his forehead, "who?"


"Shit. Daniel?"

"Good boy. Now go hang up the phone and thank him. Properly. And don't forget to apologize for whatever you yelled at him for."


"I'm sorry." Jack didn't even knock, he just walked in, but Daniel had his nose in a book, tapping a pencil in time to whatever was playing on his iPod. "Daniel?" Gently, he lowered his hand on his son's shoulder.

Daniel jerked, ripping the ear buds from his ears. "Crap!"

Hurriedly, Jack back pedaled, giving his son space. "Whoa. I'm sorry," he repeated, this time for a completely different reason. "Didn't mean to scare you. I knocked." Jack leaned heavily on the cane, doing a little Charlie Chaplin move as he lied, "but I guess you didn't hear me."

Marking his place with the pencil and his iPod, Daniel closed the book. "Didn't hear you," he parroted, staring at him.

"Dinner was delicious." If Jack would've blinked, he'd have missed the smile. "I'm sorry." Oh god, what was it like, the thousandth time he repeated those words? "About the dishes. About thinking that Grandma cooked dinner."

The smile might have been a flash in the pan, but the disappointment and hurt froze on every feature of Daniel's face. "I cooked dinner."

"I know, your grandmother made sure to tell me."

"You could've asked me," Daniel said softly.

"I just assumed." Jack shrugged. "You know me, Guinness Book of World Records assumer."

Daniel reopened his text and fingered the ear buds. "I have to finish this."

"Sure. Sure." He felt like an idiot and he snuck away, tail between his legs.


Jack turned a sense of reprieve washing over him.

"I told you I'd take care of you." Daniel said.

Now it was Jack's time to stare at Daniel, because he had no idea what the hell his son was talking about.


John wasn't too sure when he made the decision not to go to school. Maybe it was sometime around two in the morning when he was dragged from a nightmare with a heart-stopping jerk when a terminator wearing Terry's father's face had him cornered in the attic of their old house, or maybe it was two hours later when the same dream woke him for the night around four.

He stayed in bed, last thing he wanted to do was alert the troops that the general was having problems sleeping, because he was positive that they'd trip over themselves drugging him into oblivion. Closing his eyes, regulating his breathing, John feigned sleep each and every time he heard Cameron's approaching footfalls. It must've worked, because she never entered, the closest she got was pushing open his bedroom door and he only opened his eyes when he heard the snick of the doorknob.

From four to six-thirty, John balanced his time in bed either pretending to sleep or staring at the digital numbers changing.

His mom got up at six thirty three. She hesitated by his door for the space of a breath then continued down the hall and down the steps. Tired as he was, John smiled as the smell of pancakes wafted into his room about fifteen minutes later.


"Morning," his mom greeted him with a plate of pancakes. "You look like," the smile slid off her face, "crap."

John took the pancakes then put the plate onto the table. "Morning to you, too," he croaked.

Her hand flew to his forehead before John had a chance to step away.

"I don't have a fever." He cleared his throat and stepped backwards. "Honest."

"No," Cameron agreed, walking into the kitchen, "John doesn't have a fever."

"See?" John gave his mom a quick peck on the cheek. "Even Cameron says—"

"John didn't sleep last night."

"Oh?" His mom's eyebrows danced up to meet her hairline. "He didn't?"

It wasn't worth it. "I didn't." He swallowed his pride and took a baby step towards maturity. "I can't go to school today. I'm, ummm..." John shook his head, not even objecting to Cameron's hand skimming his neck.

"John's—" she began.

"Exhausted," his mother finished.




A four hour nap.

Followed by half a sandwich and another nap, this one shorter but when John woke up, he felt good. Stiff and sore, achy. But more awake and alert than he'd felt in, well, since Terry's father had paid him a visit.

John stretched slowly, cautiously, extending his arms over his head until the pull of abused abdominal muscles made him contract.


John slapped another piece of maple turkey on top of the lettuce, added a slice of tomato then topped it off with a more than unhealthy smear of mayo. He folded it up, not even bothering with a second slice of bread. Taking a huge bite, he groaned appreciatively.

"Just nod when you come up for air."

He nodded, swallowed, then washed down the mouthful with a gulp of Snapple. "Air," he said with a smile, turning the sandwich around to lick up the mayo leaking out the side.

"Even though you are my son, there are times you're too gross even for me." His mother balanced a plate on top of the opened bottle of Snapple he held in his hand. "Use it, okay?"

He smiled. Damn, he felt good, or maybe it was that he felt better than he had.

Until Jack and Rose showed up bearing a fresh apple pie and expressions on their face that they couldn't wipe away fast enough when they greeted him. Suddenly, the sandwich on the counter no longer held any appeal. The apple pie being sliced and passed around didn't interest him either.

It was very obvious that the only person John was fooling was himself.


"I won't even ask you how you're feeling." Jack lowered himself to the chair to John's right and rested his cane across his legs.

The colonel's statement didn't require an answer or acknowledgement, so John ignored him and his words and rested his head against the back of the deck chair. The sun felt wonderful and believe it or not, if he allowed himself, right here, right now, in this position, he probably could fall asleep.

"God, I probably could fall asleep out here."

John opened one eye. "I know," he admitted.

He liked Daniel's father, but there were times, like with Derek, he didn't feel comfortable around him. As if the man could see right through him, not believing that he was John Connor. The John Connor. Hell, who could blame them, he had a hard time believing that as well. John sighed.

"Everything okay?"

Damn, he'd forgotten he had company. An audience. "I'm fine."

Jack laughed. "You and Daniel. Fine. Always fine."

"I'm alive," John said, suddenly and inexplicably angry with this man. "Consider it selfish of me, but I think that's important."

"It is," Jack said softly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean—"

"Speak first? Then apologize?"

"Whoa?" Jack threw up his hands. "What's with you and Daniel?"

"You want a list?" John spread out his fingers and began to tick off items. "I got beat up by someone who broke into my house. I've spent my entire life running." John's voice broke.

"I'm sorry," Jack said softly, reaching out and squeezing John's bicep.

John sniffed, sucked in his lips and slumped down in the chair, embarrassed beyond belief. So much for pride.


John swiped at his nose with his forearm. "I think I should be apologizing to you."

"You're allowed to be human."

There was no pity in Daniel's father's voice. Acceptance. Resolve. Faith. Tears weren't a form of weakness, they were part of the healing process. "Maybe you could mention the human thing to my mother?"

"Gladly." Jack chuckled as nervous fingers traced the curve on the head of his cane. "I'll mention the human thing to your mom." He hesitated, cleared his throat, fidgeting in the chair, uncharacteristically uncomfortable.

Oh, god, that's all John needed was the colonel mentioning something that his mother would construe as a disparaging black mark against her parenting skills. "Don't say anything. I didn't mean—"

"What's going on in Daniel's head?"

"Huh?" John turned sideways to stare at Jack. "What does Daniel have to do with you not mentioning to my mother about me being human?"

"Oh." Now it was Jack's turn to be embarrassed.

Once again, John's social ineptitude was a hindrance - taking him longer than the normal person to put two and two together and get the correct answer. "You were never going to mention the human thing to my mother, were you?"

Jack shook his head. "I may be crazy, but I'm not nuts enough to comment on your mother's parenting skills."

John hid his embarrassment behind a chuckle. "My mother is like an open book, isn't she?"

"She loves you."

"She's my mom." And he was her mission in life, which had nothing whatsoever to do with love, but would he ever say that? No. Never, because there wasn't anyone in this world John felt close enough to admit that to.

"Something's wrong with Daniel," Jack said, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Is Daniel sick?" John stuttered.

"No. No. No," Jack quickly answered. "He's just, there's something not right."

"Not right?" John hoped he was a good enough liar that Jack couldn't pick up on it.

"All fooling aside, John..."

Obviously, he needed to work on his poker face. Honesty, he could do that. Jack deserved that. "You're right. Something's wrong and please believe me," he begged, "if I knew what it was, I'd tell you."

The smile was filled with sadness and he looked older. Older than he had when he first had joined John on the deck. Jack didn't deserve this. Daniel didn't deserve this. And once upon a time, Jack had offered him something that he'd never had before. Security. "Ask Rose. Maybe Rose..."

"I did. She has no idea.""

"Oh. Ummm. Corey?"

"What was once there, is there no longer. So, no."


"Ya think?"

John nodded. "I don't know who else."

"Is everything okay at school?"

John extended his hands to his side. "I really haven't been in school, so I really couldn't give you an answer."

"Yeah, thanks." Jack put the cane down and went to stand.

"Hey." John reached out and grabbed Jack's hand. "I'm sorry I didn't have the answer you were looking for."

Jack nodded. "Me, too."


"I saw John today," his father said as he flipped open the pizza box.

Daniel reached for a slice, taking a bite even before he put it on his plate. "I called," he said, grabbing the napkin his father offered. "Went to voice mail. Figured he was sleeping. Thought I'd stop by after supper."

"He looked like shit."

Daniel grimaced, then swallowed. "Still?"

His dad reached for a slice of pizza and dragged it onto this plate. "An amazing rainbow."

"So I guess no school for him anytime soon."

His dad picked off a piece of pepperoni, folded the circle and stuck it in his mouth. He licked the grease off his fingers and wiped them on a napkin before answering. "I think he's going to go. Sarah, on the other hand, would rather he didn't."

"Sarah would like to keep John under lock and key to keep him safe."

"She's no different than any parent."

Daniel dropped the slice onto his plate. "Really?" He blinked at his father. "I beg to differ."

Jack sat back in the chair with a long suffering sigh.

Daniel lowered his head, giving his pizza all his attention. He'd tried. He really had attempted the foster parent trick, but it wasn't working. Too many years, and now Daniel couldn't control his mouth. And that was dangerous. Saying things. Arguing. Admitting. Forgiving. Nope. Not now. Not ever.

Daniel scooped up his plate and the half eaten slice of pizza. "I need to finish my homework."


"I need to..."

His father pointed to the chair then checked his watch. "It's early."

"Fine." Daniel dropped into the seat, favoring his knee. "I'm sitting."


He broke off another piece of pizza and devoured it in a handful of bites. "Eaten." Daniel washed down his gluttony with a mouthful of Snapple.

His dad gazed at him with an intensity that broke down Daniel's resolve.

"May I be excused," he asked hesitantly.

His answer was a quick nod. "Sure. The Rolaids are in the cabinet to the left of the sink. I'm sure you're going to need one or two."


Daniel wouldn't take a Rolaids on principle and now he was paying for it as his stomach churned angrily. "Sorry," he mumbled, rubbing his belly in attempt to quiet it. "I was stupid."

Damn it. He didn't realize how stupid he actually was until about ten minutes later when it dawned on him, even after dumping over his entire backpack on his bed, that he'd left his History book in his locker. If he closed his eyes, he could see it, top shelf of his locker leaning against two old marble notebooks.

Shoving things to the right and left, he found his cell phone and called Alexandria, without even looking at the keypad.


Dria had already showered and was in her favorite pair of well-worn pj's. A wonderful shade of blue, they had been a gift from Cassie's mom, an oversized pair of scrubs. They were comfy beyond belief. Added to the mix were her fuzzy pink, so valley girl slippers and the first words out of her mouth when Daniel had called, asking for her to bring over her social studies book, hadn't been 'sure I'll be there in ten seconds'. It had been more of a groan and that he owed her big time.

She pulled her wet hair on top of her head, fluffed it, because pj's or not, she still wanted to look good. A little bit of lip gloss, one last look in the mirror and she was good to go.

"I'll be back in a little while," she said, scooping her keys off the table.

Her quick escape was thwarted when her mother reached out and grabbed a handful of hair.

"Where do you think you're going?"


"Your hair is wet." His mom squeezed her fingers and a few drops of moisture dripped from Dria's hair.

"Oh please, Mom." Dria rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to catch a cold."

"Once upon a time, parents had power."

She giggled and tugged her hair from her mother's hand, then pulled her hood over her head. "Compromise?"

It was her mother's turn to roll her eyes. "You're too smart for your own good."

Dria leaned in and kissed her mom. "I promise I'll take a zinc with breakfast and drink a large glass of orange juice."

"Don't be late."

"I know, it's a school night."

"And just because you're wearing scrubs doesn't mean you should be playing doctor."

"Oh, Mom." Dria made a gagging sound. "Don't be gross."

"I'm not being gross, honey," she said innocently. "I'm being a mom."


The minute she saw Colonel Jack bringing out the garbage pails, Dria felt totally self-conscious in the scrubs. Self-conscious and half-naked, even though she had the scrubs and a hoodie on.

She turned off the van, pocketed the keys and grabbed the social studies book. "Hello, Colonel Jack." Her smile was self-conscious.

"Hey, Dria."

One handed, she latched onto the handle of the pail and helped him moved it to the curb. "Daniel should be doing this."

"I trust you," he said, in a voice that sorta creeped her out.

"What's wrong?"

He glanced over his shoulder towards the house. "Daniel," he said awkwardly.

"Is he sick again? I just spoke to him." She held up the textbook.

"He's fine. He's just... Do you know what's going on with him?"

"Going on?"

"Please, Dria, just be honest with me. Daniel has had—"

"I don't know, Colonel Jack. I mean I know something's going on, but I have..."

She was taken back by the expression on his face. "I'm not lying."

"I didn't say you were."

"You didn't have to."

"I'm sorry, it's just that I'm at my wit's end. I know something's wrong. But he's not talking. Hell, he's barely—"

"John? Maybe John."

"Nope. Not John. Not Corey. Not his grandmother."

"Cassie. Try Cassie."


"Cassie's driving me to school." John shook his head at the proffered plate of pancakes and reached for the box of cereal on the counter.

"No." The plate was slammed down on the counter.

"Yes." John pushed aside and grabbed a bowl from the first shelf in the cabinet.

"John." His mother put another slab of butter in the pan and for a second or two the loud sizzle of butter was the only sound in the kitchen.


With great precision, she measured out four ladles of pancake batter into the pan, lowered the heat, then dropped the ladle with a plop into the bowl. "John."

"I'm going to school."

"I'm going to drive you."

"No." John opened the fridge, took out the milk and placed it on the counter with enough force to draw his mother's attention.

She gave him a slight, very sarcastic round of applause. "Yes, I am."



"Damn it, Sarah." Derek breezed into the kitchen, snatched up John's discarded plate and began to eat the pancakes with his fingers, his right hip leaning against the counter. "Let the poor kid go to school."

"He can go to school—"

"Only if she drives me." John poured an overabundance of milk into his cereal, trying not to smile at Derek's grimace. "Yup, that's right, drive me."

"Well," Derek said, "wouldn't you rather get a lift than take the bus?"

"Bus?" John pointed at his mother with the spoon. "Bus never come up in the conversation. Cassie wanted to drive me."

"Gotcha." Very gently Derek lowered his plate into the sink. "Your mother or Cassie?"

"Yup," his mom said, flipping over the pancakes.

"Good luck, John, I wouldn't touch this one with ten foot pole."

"Chicken," John whispered as he uncle left the kitchen.


She acquiesced. John wasn't too sure how or why his mother gave in but she did. And because she did, John allowed her to fuss, muss, and embarrass the crap out of him. He drew the line when she raised a hand to fix his hair.

"No." He grabbed her hand and gently returned it to her. "Don't."

"If you don't feel good and want to come home—""

"I'll be fine. Honest. I have the note for the nurse. I have your cell number. The SGC's number. I know where to find you."

"You're placating me."

Quickly he kissed her cheek. "Damn straight I am, hovering motherhood is so not a good look for you."


His mother didn't raise no idiot and John was well aware of the sidelong glances Cassie was tossing his way while driving. He remained silent, though Cameron, queen of subtlety, didn't.

"It would be safer for all concerned if you'd keep your eyes on the road while driving rather than on John."

Cassie blushed.

John shook his head, leaned over and tugged on a strand of Cassie's hair. "Ignore her," he whispered.

"I can hear you."

John stuck his head between the passenger and driver seats and smiled evilly at his metal sister. "I know you can."

"Then why were you whispering?" She canted her head, truly curious at his reasoning.

"Never mind," John said, slowly sitting back into his seat.

"Never mind what?" Cameron inquired.

John growled in frustration.

Cassie laughed. "Your poor mom."

"My mom?" John asked with mock indignation. "What about me?"

"And me?" Cameron asked innocently.


John waited until Cassie parked her truck in the school parking lot before throwing Cameron out. "Go," he ordered. "We'll be right behind you."

Even Cassie looked at him strangely.

"I can wait if you need to walk slower."

"No. Thanks. It wasn't really a request, Cameron, it was an order."

"I don't take orders from—"

"Yeah, whatever, I know. Then it's a request."

"A request should be followed by a please."

"Damn. Would you please just go inside."

Cameron opened the back door. "Only because you said please."

Through the front windshield John and Cassie watched Cameron strut across the parking lot.

Cassie sighed and shook her head. "Look, every single guy is watching her walk. I don't think it's fair."

"You're telling me. They should only know that underneath her well built exterior is the endoskeleton of a pain in the ass."

John jumped when Cassie smacked his bicep. "Ow," he said, rubbing the spot. "What the hell was that for?"

"For grossness? You just called your sister well built."

John let Cassie pout for a moment. He had an ulterior motive to wanting her to drive him to school which had nothing to do with his mother, taking the bus, or looking like he'd gone ten rounds with the heavy weight champion and lost.

"Jack talked to me the other night about Daniel."

"About Daniel? What about Daniel?"

Cassie was a horrible liar.

"I screwed up once, abused our friendship and I could've gotten us killed because I was selfish. I'm not going to let that happen again. Daniel deserves better than that. He needs help and..." He paused, wondering how much he could push. "You know that he does."

She wouldn't look at him. She stared at the car next to hers, then the line of busses and the ocean of kids flowing into the school. "We're going to be late."

"I don't care."

"I do."

"You can fix this. I know you know what's going on. In more detail than I do."

Cassie began to fidget with the key ring hanging from the ignition.

"You were there," John insisted.

"I can't."

"Can't what?" John insisted. "Can't tell Jack. Can't break a confidence. What?"

"All of the above." She swiped at her eyes.

John felt horrible. "Don't cry."

"You. Weren't. There!" She slid here hands around the steering wheel. "I was. I heard. I saw what Uncle Jack's words did to Daniel. What they're still doing to him."

"Awww, jeeze, you have to tell him, Cass."

"I know," Cassie whispered, then kept her head bent, the curtain of hair hiding her face.

He leaned over and tucked a chunk of her hair behind her ear. "I'm sorry, but it has to be you. It has to come from you." John fidgeted, he needed Cassie to know that he wasn't a coward. "If I go and talk to Jack, it's like I'm going behind your back. Daniel's back. You were there. You saw. You heard. Getting the story from me? It's like playing telephone. He said. Daniel said..." John let his voice trail off.

"I know," she sniffed. "Don't be sorry. You're right."

The sound of the bell ringing permeated the closed windows.

"You're going to be late."

John heard the click of the door opening. "You're not?"

"No," she said, running her finger under her eyes, smearing her makeup even further. "I'm not going."

"Want me to go with you?"

"And have Cameron hunt me down and kill me? Nope. I'll take my chances with Uncle Jack."

"That's only because Jack's more afraid of your mother than he is of Cameron."

She pulled down the visor, flipped open the vanity mirror, and shuddered. "Do you blame him?"


"Oh, I look a mess." She began to root through her purse nestled on the console.

"You look beautiful."

Cassie glanced at John as if she were surprised that he was still in the truck with her. "You need to go," she said softly.


"Otherwise I'll never have the nerve to do this."


John went right to the nurse's office. Head down, hugging the walls, he didn't even look up until he scooted through the opened door. Without his hair to hide behind, he felt naked and exposed.

Dropping his backpack on the chair across from the desk, he dug into the side pocket and pulled out the note his mother had written. Only when he realized that he was waving the note in the air did he look up. "My mother wrote this explaining..."

The nurse was staring at him, pity oozing from every pore.

Anger surged through him and he slammed the paper on her desk. "I'm going to first period, if there's a problem with what my mom's written, please call her."


John was buffered. Daniel. Dria. Cameron. Hell, even Corey managed to play defense, blocking every 'what the hell happened to you, dude'? John wasn't stupid nor was he blind, and while he appreciated what they were doing for him, he missed Cassie.


It wasn't until Cassie pounded on the horn that it dawned on her that she was taking her anger out on the tiny foreign job of car who had the stupidity of waiting two seconds too long at a stop sign.



If she didn't pull over she was going to kill someone. Or get killed. So with shaking hands she slowly steered the truck to the curb and cut the engine.

Uncle Jack had feigned innocence to John? How dare he! Pretending he never said those words, words that she'd heard spew from his mouth. Hurtful words. Painful, angry words. And by disavowing any knowledge of them, did he honestly believe he could wipe them from Daniel's memory? From hers?

She beat an angry staccato rhythm on the steering wheel. She wasn't stupid and there was no way she was going to play into Uncle Jack's hands and allow him to sweep this under the rug while she held the rug up? No fucking way.

Apologize to Daniel while he pleaded ignorance. She gave a disparaging, unlady-like snort. Yeah, right, the man who always made sure that Daniel took responsibility for his actions had better learn to practice what he preached.

Daniel didn't deserve to have his father get away with a just 'I'm sorry, please forgive me'.

Going into this with anger was better than going in all girly and full of emotions.

She started the truck.

Fuck this.

Cassie checked the traffic before pulling out.

Uncle Jack was never going to know what hit him.


The kid didn't mean it. Crowded halls, with only limited space and time to get to class, from John's point of view, was an accident waiting to happen. When the dude's elbow made contact with John's midsection, the groan escaped his lips before he had a chance to process.

He must've turned a lighter shade of pale because the next thing he knew, his back was pressed up against the locker and Daniel was in his face, whispering something along the lines of 'breathe through it, man'.

He nodded, breathed and focused on whatever faculties he could muster to make sure he remained upright.

"Want me to get the nurse?" Dria's hand on his face forced his attention beyond himself.

"No," he stuttered. "Just give me a min—"

Cameron pushed through the crowd, dragging the guy who had accidentally bumped him. "Is this him?"

The guy was taller than Cameron, football build and not taking too kindly to having his ass dragged through the halls by a girl more than six inches shorter than he was. He was pissed, red faced and angry. "Call off your frigging guard dog, asshole."

Radar. Under. Yeah, not so much today. "It was an accident, Cameron, let him go."

"Yeah." The guy tried to shake off Cameron's death grip. "Let me go, Cameron."

"You should apologize to John first. Accidents call for an apology."

"Did he get an apology from the first guy who beat the crap outta him? Because he's certainly not going to get it from me after I—" The guy's face contorted in pain. "Let go of me, you bitch."

Cameron released him and he fell hard to his knees, his hands spread out on the floor in front of him.

John grimaced when Cameron placed her booted right foot over his right hand. "Don't," John shouted. "Please don't."

"He didn't apologize."

"Well, yeah." Dria petted Cameron's arm. "Gordy here is a jerk. The words 'I'm sorry' are not in his vocabulary."

"Should I teach him?"

Gordy whimpered as Cameron pressed a tiny bit harder.

Dria hesitated, she was obviously thinking about it. "No," she answered with an exasperated sigh. "Can't teach an old dog new tricks."

"It's okay, Cameron, honest."

"Hey, break it up, what's going on here." Mr. Olsen, a big burly math teacher who looked like he'd be more at home on the playing field than standing in front of a class, pushed his way through the sea of kids.

Cameron, in one move, removed her foot, stuck her hand under Gordy's armpit and hauled him upright.

"Oh, Gordowski," Olsen said with what John could only deduce to be a look of disgust, "I should've known. Everyone okay here?"

Dria, Daniel, John and Corey nodded while Cameron flashed Olsen her prettiest, human smile, smoothing down her miniskirt. "Gordy accidentally bumped into John." She disarmed Gordy with a sexy stance that was worthy of a Playboy centerfold complete with a finger twirl of her long hair. "He was just apologizing, weren't you, Gordy?" Cameron licked her lips, her tongue hesitating a second too long in the corners.

"Apologizing, yeah. I was doing that. Sorry, dude."

"His name is John."

"Sorry, John," Gordy apologized, never taking his eyes from Cameron.

"Hey, man." Corey stepped forward, blocking Cameron from Gordy's view.

Olsen clapped his hands loudly. "Enough everyone. You have about fifteen—"

"Thirteen," Cameron butted in.

Olsen ignored her. "Seconds to get to class," he finished with a wave. "Go before you all need late passes." Olsen stepped in front of John before he could even take a step. "You okay, kid?"

"Fine." John flashed him a smile. "I'm going to be late."

"Might work out better. Not so many kids in the hall. Based on how you look, the last thing you need is to be a human pin ball in the hallway."


It wasn't until Cassie parked her truck in Uncle Jack's driveway that it dawned on her that maybe she should've called ahead to make sure he was home. Or awake. Though in all honesty, she wanted the element of surprise on her side. And if she had to wait for him to come home from wherever he was or drag him out of bed, then so be it.

She rang the bell once, knocked twice and as Cassie was raising her hand to knock a third time, he opened the door. Dressed in sweats, Uncle Jack was leaning on his cane, his hair still wet from the shower. He wiped away from his forehead a trail of moisture as he gazed at her in utter confusion. Bravado slipped a notch, faltered, then stayed in place. "Cassie?"

"Uncle Jack," she said in her most grown up voice. "I need to talk to you." Cassie didn't wait for the invitation into the house, she skirted around him and walked in.

Uncle Jack slowly closed the door and turned to face her. "I need to talk to you also."

Bullshit. This was her show. "How dare you."

"Huh? How dare I what?"

Cassie began to pace, dropping her purse on the couch and her coat on the recliner as she passed the furniture. "Ask around. Pretend you're innocent. Wanting to know what's wrong with Daniel."

"Whoa. Whoa. Slow down. You lost me."

"Don't pull this crap with me, Uncle Jack. I was there. I heard. I saw." Her heart was pounding out of her chest and it was painfully distracting.

"Heard and saw what? Cassie, honey, I have no idea what the heck you're even talking about."

"I don't believe you."

"Start at the beginning before you call me a liar." There was no warmth in his voice and his face hardened into a mask of anger that Cassie had never seen before.

This was hard, harder than she imagined and tears were just a word or a blink away. Crying would do nothing, though. It wouldn't solve the problem. Not for Daniel. Big and small, Daniel had always been her friend and protector. She drew a deep breath and took the plunge. "Daniel went to see you right after you regained consciousness, after the accident." Giving him the benefit of the doubt, she stopped, waiting, hoping that he'd make the connection without her having to actually repeat the words he'd said.

But her statement was met with silence and an expectant stare.

"You said things to Daniel."

"I don't remember."

"Daniel does. I do. I was there with Daniel. Hateful things, Uncle Jack."

"Never. I never would've—"

"Daniel offered to quit school. Help take care of you."

Uncle Jack's snort of disbelief threw grease on the heat of Cassie's anger. "He's fourteen, what could he have done? I wouldn't want him giving up his life to take care of me."

"You said the same thing then also, but not as nicely. You called him irresponsible—"

"Me?" Uncle Jack shook his head. "I called Daniel irresponsible?"

Cassie nodded. "Yeah, that was one of the nicer words you threw at him. He disappointed you. Unable to resist temptation. Drugs. Alcohol."

Uncle Jack's lips disappeared into a thin line of disbelief and his face became an unrecognizable puzzle of stone features.

"You told him at fourteen he wasn't able to even take care of himself so how the hell did he think he was going to take care of you." She was on a roll, no longer seeing the man in front of her, but remembering with clarity Daniel's expression when he'd left Uncle Jack's hospital room. How he begged her to take him home. "You made sure he knew exactly what you thought of him. Irresponsible. Unable to wipe your ass, clean your shit." Tears came readily, but Cassie didn't even bother wiping them away. "According to you, Daniel never listened. Didn't make a difference if he was an adult or a fourteen year old. Untrustworthy." Cassie dragged her sleeve over her eyes. "I tried to convince him that it was the drugs in your system, Uncle Jack, but now? I know Daniel wasn't wrong. Your words, the feelings attached to what you said to him, had to come from somewhere. And right now, I might love you, but part of me hates that you won't own up to the responsibility of destroying his heart."


"Let me call Mom," Cameron said, sneaking up behind him on the lunch line.

Nerves shot, the tray dropped from his hands, the metal runners saving the tray and John's dignity. Shit, another tiny present left behind from Terry's dad, the beating that kept on giving and giving. He stood there, eyes closed, literally shaking in his Converse, trying to ignore the muttering of disgruntled kids who were pissed that John was holding up the line.

"I'm sorry," Cameron said softly.

John opened his eyes at her apology. "It was an accident."

"That's why I apologized."

A soft snuff of air escaped John. He pushed the tray back towards Cameron. "I'm not hungry anymore."

She didn't reach for the tray, she reached into her pocket. Quickly, John tamped down her hand. "Do. Not. Call. Mom."

Cameron pushed the tray back towards him. "Eat lunch and I won't."

"Are you threatening me?"

"Will you eat lunch or do I have to call Mom?"

John sighed. "I'll eat lunch."

"Then I'm threatening you," Cameron said with a victorious smile.


"Have you spoken to Cassie today?" Dria put half an apple on his plate.

Carefully, John rubbed gritty, tired eyes, wishing that people would stop worrying about him eating three balanced meals a day. "Yeah, this morning."

"And?" Daniel asked. "Why isn't she here today?"

John took a bite of apple, then shoved the entire piece into his mouth. Hurriedly, he chewed, glancing over his shoulder at the clock on the wall. "Think I'm going to get an early start, like Olsen said." He pointed towards Cameron. "Stay. I'll be fine. I know the way."


The bathroom was the only place John could escape to call Cassie and he felt horrible, especially after the tears, but now was the first time he'd been able to get away from his defensive squad to call her. Even now, as he dialed her number, he half expected John or Corey or hell, even Cameron, who had no sense at times, to follow him into the boys' bathroom to check on him, making sure he remembered how to take a piss.

Three calls in a row ended up being dumped into Cassie's voice mail. The fourth time he texted her with a Hope you're okay. Miss ya, which he deleted before he even sent it. The second text read Worried. Sent you into the lion's den. He left off the 'miss ya' and added instead one of those stupid smiley faces with heart shaped lips. The closest thing to saying 'I love you' without writing the three little words.

John waited, leaning against the wall in the bathroom, avoiding the mirrors, staring at the phone in his hand. The late bell penetrated his brain on some level but he pushed his luck, biding his time, willing the phone to ring.


She'd said her peace and waited for Uncle Jack to do something. Anything. Acknowledge what she said. Agree. Disagree. But he said nothing. Not even an apology. Seconds passed into minutes until Cassie couldn't take the tension anymore. Grabbing her coat and her purse, she flung open the door and stomped down the walk to the truck. Her hands were shaking so badly it took a few tries to fit the keys in the truck door but she blocked the struggle with her body. No way did she want to show any weakness to Uncle Jack.

Cassie flung her purse onto the passenger seat as soon as she got the door opened. Crawling in after it, she slammed the door and thankfully was able to insert the keys in the ignition on the first try. She peeled away from the curb and surprised herself by holding onto her cool for two blocks.

Detached, she pulled into the parking lot of the Colorado Springs library, parking at the very end of the lot. Turning off the truck, leaving the keys in the ignition, she stared without seeing through the windshield.

What was done was done. She couldn't take back the words and pretend they never happened like Uncle Jack had done. What she'd done, she'd done for Daniel, but part of her was terrified that he'd never forgive her for sticking her nose in. Even though the nose sticking was John's idea, she was pretty damn sure that her ass was going to be on the line for this one.

Her cell phone rang and she rooted around in her purse for it, tugging it out just as the call went to voice mail.


She stared at the display as two more calls followed in quick succession. She wasn't sure how she felt at the moment. Angry. Sad. Pissed. And until she had her own feelings compartmentalized, she couldn't deal with John.

Then came a text message and it was the stupid kissy face smiley at the end that touched her more than any stupid voice message. Cassie gently ran her thumb across the smiley face.

She was only sixteen and an alien to this world. John was sixteen and the savior of the human race. They were fucked no matter which way you looked at them, but damn it, even though she'd never admit it to him or anyone, there was the distinct possibility that sometime in the very scary, according to John, future, she might be able to fall in love with him.


Cassie had called her mother. Not that she wanted to, but it was always a little bit, though not a lot, better to hear it from the daughter's mouth that she'd cut school today rather than the computerized telephone snitch. Her mom hadn't been happy, but replaying the conversation in her mind, Cassie realized that her mom hadn't exactly been unhappy either. She'd been left with the spine chilling we'll discuss it when you get home closing sentence before the dial tone.

Could she have gone back to school? Yeah, probably, but instead she treated herself to fast food, including a chocolate shake, large fries and shit load of chicken nuggets. She ate in the parking lot of the school, waiting for the final bell to ring. Why? She was still debating who she was going to drive home. John? And see how he survived the day. Or Daniel? And confess to the poor unsuspecting guy what she'd done.

Her decision was leaning towards Daniel. Oh. Ummm. She squinted, opened up her window. Shit. The decision was now taken out of her hands when she saw Uncle Jack park his truck and slowly, complete with cane, hobble to the front entrance of the school and lean heavily against the side pillar.

Crap. Daniel was going to be blindsided.

John was easy to spot. He was different than most, scanning his surroundings, smiling rotely at anyone who spoke to him. Cameron, she was just two steps behind him, at arm's length, close enough that she nearly mowed John down when he caught sight of Uncle Jack.

Cassie grimaced, but Uncle Jack didn't see John, or maybe he was so intent on the stream of students flowing from the building that he didn't notice John who pulled Cameron away from him.

John waited until he got to the bottom of the steps before moving to the side, in direct line of her vision, but out of sight of Uncle Jack. That's when the gesturing to Cameron began. It was like some weird silent movie sitting here watching an abundance of hand movements and head shaking but she was too far away to pick up the gist of John's conversation. Not until he pointed to the direction of her truck. Ahhh. Then it clicked. John was begging. Pleading. Pushing Cameron in the direction of the busses.

It was a losing battle; Cameron wasn't budging.

"Come on. Come on." Cassie began to do a little bit of begging on her own. The last thing she wanted was Daniel to come out while John and Cameron were still there and she was still in the parking lot.

"Huh?" She gripped the wheel and pulled herself closer to the windshield. There was an expression on John's face. Even from her vantage point, it was an unfamiliar one. Dark and demanding but for some reason it was enough, and drove John's point home. Cameron gave a nod in response and moved in the direction of the busses. Seconds later with a quick, furtive glance over his shoulder, John advanced towards her truck. She unlocked the doors and started the engine, more than ready to pull a zero to sixty the minute John's butt was in the passenger seat.

He got in.

She locked the doors.

One minute she was astutely listening for the click of John's seatbelt before putting the truck in gear, her focus on the movement of traffic in front of her and the next John's fingers were carding through her hair, demanding her attention.

"Please don't." She tried to bat his fingers.

John's grasp tightened as he wrapped her hair around his fingers. Not hard. Not in anger. But with a soft, gentle insistence. "You told Jack."

"I did, isn't that what..." Her vision blurred, distorting the images through the windshield.

"Shhhh." His hand slid from her hair, then cupped her cheek, the pad of this thumb wiping away the moisture pooling in the corner of her eye. Unencumbered by his seatbelt, slowly, John leaned to the side, into her personal space, and kissed her. One kiss, then pulled incrementally back as if waiting for her to object.

There was no objection.

He kissed her again. Harder. Deeper. Cassie grabbed him by the sleeves of his hoodie, his mewls of pain not even penetrating her desire. Her need.

It was John who started this. It was John who backed off, winded and flushed, with his knuckles skimming her cheek. "I think..." He swallowed, then glanced back towards the front entrance of the school, drawing Cassie's attention. There they were. Daniel. Jack. Standing and staring at one another. "We need to get going before we get caught in the crossfire."

She captured his hand against her face. "I know."

He kissed her nose, and she giggled.

"You know," John said as he buckled his seatbelt, "besides my mom, you're the strongest woman I know."

"Besides Cameron?"

"Ha. Ha."

"Didn't think I was funny?"

John rolled his eyes.

Cassie's attention was drawn to the Avalanche. "You know, I think I might just go to Daniel's house and wait there in case he needs an escape route, you know, after—"

"No," John said, his voice more serious than warranted. "Daniel can't run from this."

She'd been kidding and John's attitude pissed her off. "Why not? You run from your future all the time." Shit. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realized she'd crossed the line and screwed up royally. "I'msorryI'msorryI'msorry."

"No need to apologize," John said, his gaze fixed through the passenger side window. "You're right. If I could, I'd run without looking back." He shrugged. "Guess I'm just a coward."

She struggled, but managed to unbuckle her seatbelt and all but flung herself at him. Awkward and cramped, the rare dimple producing smile on John's face when he ended up with an armful of her was priceless but within seconds, Cassie saw the hooded, guarded afraid to get involved mask start to smother his happiness. Gently, she grabbed his face and massaged the bruises under her fingertips. "Not a coward," she whispered. "Not now." Cassie moved her fingers and kissed him on his left cheek, then his right. "Not in the future."


Jack was pretty sure that the only people remaining in the damn school were the principal and the janitors. Driving here had probably been a mistake, waiting was probably an even bigger mistake and the fact that he had absolutely not a clue what he was going to say to Daniel when he finally did show his face.

His muscles ached from standing. Or maybe it was tension or better yet, fear? What the hell was he going to do? Say?

Hell, he wanted to pound his chest and let out a caveman howl. Let people know. He, Jack O'Neill, was a hero. He'd saved people. Worlds. This world. He'd faced down System Lords, First Primes, but here he was standing in front of his son's high school, shifting nervously, with his bowels quivering like Jell-O. Scared shitless.


Drum roll, please, it was time to let the show begin.


This was uncomfortable. Actually, as Daniel warily eyed his father, it was awkward. He felt it and his father felt it as well.

"Your grandmother's okay," his dad answered before Daniel could even ask the question.

"Oh, good." Now what the hell are you doing here, Daniel wanted to ask, but that was out of foster parent decorum so instead he just smiled, nodded and shifted his backpack.

"Hi, Colonel Jack."


Daniel shot her a grateful smile. "Alexandria." His gaze shot to the line of busses. "Do you want a lift?" Please say yes. Please say yes.

"No, thanks." Her smile was broad, her gaze was filled with apology.

It took everything for Daniel not to yell 'traitor' at her. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm positive."

"It's not a problem." His dad must've realized how rude he was being by remaining silent. "Really."

"Thanks, Colonel Jack." She kissed Daniel lightly on the cheek, gave a little wave and rushed off towards the bus.

He and his father watched her and Daniel had the distinct impression that in hindsight, his father was sorry that Dria hadn't accepted a lift home.

"I guess it's our turn." His dad raised his cane and pointed to the Avalanche. "Ready?"

Daniel wondered what would've happened if he said no.


They weren't going home. Two blocks away from the school it dawned on Daniel his father wasn't headed in the direction of home.

"Nice day today."


"Thought maybe we could go for a drive."

"Drive? Should you be driving?"

"Not far. We're not going far."

"Does Grandma know you're driving?"

"Maybe we can keep it our little secret?"

"So I can mention this driving thing to Janet?"

His dad grimaced. "Ummm... I'd rather she not be in on the secret either."

"I can keep a secret," Daniel said solemnly.

"I know you can," his father answered. "And I'm sorry for every time you have."


The playground? He had to be kidding. Daniel tried to school his emotions as his father pulled the Avalanche into the parking lot. "Dad? Don't you think I'm a bit old—"

"Pfffft. One's never too old for a playground." His father turned off the engine, dumped the keys into the cup holder, smiling at the kids playing on the swings. "You know I was luckier than most parents..."

Great, a story, just what Daniel wasn't in the mood for. He slumped down further in the seat. Based on his father's tunnel vision when he got into this type of mood, five minutes into the tale he wouldn't even notice if Daniel tuned him out.


"Yeah, luckier than most, I'm paying attention." For about the next three minutes before zoning his dad out.

"Most parents, myself included, wish through their child's life. Wish them to sleep through the night. Sit up. Eat solid foods. Crawl. Walk. Give up the bottle. Be toilet trained. Go to pre school. Go to school. Parents almost wish away their children's life and before they know it, babyhood, toddlerhood, adolescent, teenage years, they're all done. Gone. And you can't get them back." His dad pointed through the front windshield to the parents standing around the park, talking amongst themselves instead of watching their kids on the playground equipment. "I want to tell them to pay attention. Listen. Think before you speak.

"I learned from Charlie." His dad snorted. "This is sorta clichéd, but I learned to stop and smell the roses because in a blink of an eye you want to ask for a do over of all the days, hours, years you wished away. And there's no do over. No redemption. You're only left with memories that dim with time.

"I need a do over, Daniel. I need redemption. I need forgiveness."

Shit. With the palm of his hand Daniel rubbed away the all too familiar ache in his chest. "I forgive you." There that was easy.

"No, not that easy, Icky."

Okay, not so easy. Daniel wished himself back to a time when the most horrible thing in his life was his dad not taking him to the playground. "You needed forgiveness. I forgive you."

His dad scrubbed his hand over his face. "I need to forgive myself."

"Don't, Dad, please."

"I little birdie told me I said things. Hateful things. Things that—"

"Please." God, once was enough, he didn't need a word for word rehashing of what happened.

"It was the drugs. Honest. I never would've said those things to you otherwise. I was scared."

"So was I. I was terrified. I was terrified that you were going to die and for the second time I was going to be left alone."

"You were never going to be alone. Grandma. Teal'c. Carter. Hammond. Fraiser."

"Shut up," Daniel yelled. "Just shut up. You have no idea how it felt. How I felt. I wasn't allowed to be with you unless Grandma said so. Or Janet. You're my dad." Daniel was crying but he was beyond caring. "And I had no rights. None."

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah, me, too. Because when I finally heard that you were awake, and going to be okay - damn, do you think I cared at that point if you walked? I just wanted you." He swiped his hand under his running nose. "But I didn't get you that day when I went to see you. I got your hatred. Your anger. And the truth."

"Oh God, no, Icky. None of it was the truth. None of it."

"I don't believe you."

"I love you, Icky. I'm sorry for going offworld. Getting hurt. Almost dying. For people not letting you be part of my recovery in the hospital. And if I could wish any part of your life over again, I'd wish you'd never come to see me that day. I wish I'd taken out my fear on a stranger and not on someone who means the world to me and more than anything, I'd wish for a do over."

"And I'd wish for my father back. And since you're not going to get a do over and I'm not going to be able to erase what you said, I think we're both going to be more than a little disappointed." This hurt Daniel. Part of him wanted to throw his arms around his father and the other part, the part that was winning, was filled with so much anger and hurt.

His father appeared taken back, as if his confession and apology should've been enough to convince Daniel that all was once again right with their world.

"I'm sorry, Dad," Daniel said with a slight headshake, "it's not going to be that easy."

His father's tears were silent, moisture overflowing from the mere blink of an eye. "I'm sorry, too," he whispered, not even acknowledging his emotions.

"I love you," Daniel admitted and the weight that had been crushing his chest all these weeks slowly lifted. He could breathe and he did, inhaling deeply, filling his lungs.

"Love you, too, Icky."

"I know you do. I just need time to dim the memory, okay?"

"Fair enough." His father turned his attention back to the afternoon playground scene and Daniel settled in his seat, closing his eyes, the sounds of laughter filtering through the closed windows. "Daniel?"


"Sometimes I hate that you're more mature than I am."

Daniel opened one eye and stared at his father. "Sometimes I hate that also."


"Your mom's not home," Cassie said as she pulled up in front of John's house.

"Yeah." And John wondered if Cassie was trying to finagle an invitation into his house. His empty house.

"I wonder if Cameron is home already." Cassie let the sentence trail off as she grabbed the two cups of Starbucks from the drink holder in the console. John hadn't really wanted any, he'd just wanted to head on home after school, but since he hadn't been the driver, he'd smiled pleasantly and acquiesced silently to Cassie's need for caffeine.

Oh. Insert mental sigh. "Cameron," he repeated like an idiot because how does one forget about one's terminator watchdog? His lapse would probably fall under the thinking with your dick and not with your brain category. Not something to make his mother proud. "Want to come in for a while? Maybe we can start some homework? Rumor has it that my mother bought a brand new bag of Oreos." He tapped the top of the Starbucks. "Coffee and Oreos."


Cameron wasn't home, but there was a note on the table. Something about she'd gone food shopping with Rose. 'Thank you, lord', John silently prayed, stopping short of hugging the note with Cameron's perfect terminator handwriting to his chest.

Derek had struck again, though, because there were only two Oreos left in the package, but he'd take the two cookies with the double stuff cream in the center and no Cameron in the house any day.

"Are you going to share one of the Oreos?"

John blushed, embarrassed, fumbled with the wrapping and handed one of the cookies to Cassie, keeping one for himself.

He was a cool, calm and collected sorta guy. Growing up with his future, he was basically trained to keep his emotions carefully guarded and in check and he wondered what exactly it was about Cassie that totally demolished him.

Cassie stood before him, her tongue sticking out, covered with white double stuff cream.

He kissed her. Hard. Fast, sucking the cream off her tongue and she laughed into his opened mouth.

And there was the answer. In her laughter. In her vibrancy. Cassie was everything that was right in the world and in his dark bleak, one sided vision of the future, she was his hope.

They were going to get out of hand really fast, and even though John's bruises ached and protested as Cassie fisted his shirt, he wasn't exactly thinking with his brain. He pushed against Cassie, she didn't resist and the two of them did a little two step until her ass hit the kitchen table.

He paused.

She stopped. Placed two hands on John's chest. "Ummm." Cassie licked her lips and pulled her head back when he tried to kiss her. "Bad idea."


"No. No." She grabbed the front of his shirt and gave him a simple peck on his lips, a teaser after what John had just had. "Good idea. Great idea."

John connected the dots. "Gotcha." Empty house. Temptation. Too much temptation. "I understand." He just had to explain it to his dick, which was having a way harder time understanding.

"Don't take this the wrong way, John." Cassie reached up and touched his face. "But I need to go home."

"Don't take this the wrong way, Cassie, but I need you to go home."


He needed a cold shower. An ice cold shower. But all John found himself doing was wandering around the house, a stupid smile on his face.

The doorbell rang the same time John found Cassie's scarf on the seat of a kitchen chair. Shaking his head, he grabbed it. "I found it," he yelled, jerking open the door.


The scarf slipped from his fingers and he back pedaled, the wall saving him from landing on his ass.

"Whoa, dude." Helping hands reached out to keep him upright.

John closed his eyes, then opened them. It hadn't been Terry's father at the door, it was Terry. Sans piercings, the resemblance to his father had been heart stopping. Close enough to scare the crap out of him.

"Holy shit, man." John stumbled after Terry as the guy basically dragged him to the couch. "Sit down," he said, pushing John down onto the cushions.

John sat. "I'm okay," he stuttered, feeling more than a bit stupid.

"Yeah, right." Using his good arm, Terry shoved John's head down between his knees.

John struggled, but Terry was insistent.

"Would you stop it, asshole, and just cooperate. Head between your knees, that's what you're supposed to do when you feel like you're going to pass out."

"Terry," John said, voice muffled, body beginning to protest this very enforced, uncomfortable position.

"Nope. Just stay there a few more minutes."

"No!" John shot up, panic fueled adrenaline allowed him to push Terry's hand off his back. "Get your fuckin' hands off me." Terry he could deal with. Terry holding him down against his will, not so much. Fists raised, John turned to face Terry.

"Whoa." Terry backed away, his casted arm snug against his body, his free hand raised in submission. "Only trying to help."

Shit. Flashback time. "I'm sorry." John dropped his arms. "You just sorta..."

"I'm sorry."

"No, you don't have any reason to be. Me, on the other hand," John picked up his hands, "I have every reason..."

Wide-eyed, Terry gave John the once over. He waved his arm up and down the length of John's body. "My father did that to you."

John nodded.

"I'm so sorry."

"Why are you saying you're sorry? You didn't do anything to me." John laughed, hoping that Terry wouldn't notice how forced it was. "You didn't pick up a hand to me. Scared me," John admitted, pointing towards the door, "but you didn't lay a hand on me."

"It just feels like a part of me..."

"Nope, no part." John was a living example of the sins of the fathers and it was a horrific burden, no way Terry needed to live with that. "Not you. How did you even know it was your dad?"

"Jackson told me."

God, he was going to kill Daniel. Slowly dismember him. Screw Judgment Day. "He shouldn't have said a word."

"I made him tell." Terry blushed and looked everywhere but at John. "I wanted to know, because," Terry shrugged, "I was afraid he was going to come back and hurt my mom. And Ritchie. Again. I wanted to be prepared."

Now it was John's turn to avert eye contact, he understood being prepared, he'd had sixteen hard years of preparedness. "Yeah, I get where you're coming from."

"Iboughtagun," Terry confessed in one breath.

"Huh?" John's face scrunched together in confusion.

"Gun. I. Bought. A. Gun."

No. No. No. John was pretty damn sure that Terry's experience with a gun was somewhere between nil and void. This kid, with anger issues, was an accident waiting to happen. "Give me the gun." John waggled his fingers at Terry.

"I don't have it."

"Don't have it have it or don't have it here with you now?"

"Don't have it have it, your mom has it."

"My mom?"

"Damn it, John, you're doing that Casper imitation again, would you please sit down?"

Frustrated, he pushed back non-existent bangs and ended up just tugging on the ends of his hair. "I'm fine."

Terry snorted, plucking at his white tee shirt. "No offense, Baum, but you're this color."

John totally ignored his concern. "How did my mother get your gun?"

"I gave it to her."

Oh god, this was worse than getting information from Cameron. "Terry, when did you and my mother cross paths?"

"Your mom came to the hospital to say hello to my mother. And to see how we were doing."

Nope, not his mom. John could pretty much stake his life that his mother went to visit Terry with an ulterior motive and her own gun. "And you just handed her your gun?"

"Don't even know how to shoot the damn thing. I still had the, ummm..."


"Yeah, that's it. I had the safety off when I showed it to your mom. Told her what I was going to do. Your mom said it was my job to protect my family and that if I murdered my father and I went to jail then he'd won. She's pretty smart, your mom."

"Smart..." There were plenty of other things he could think of to describe his mother at the moment, and smart wasn't at the top of the list.

"She was right. What if the police had caught me with the gun. What then? Who would watch and protect my mom and Ritchie?"

"That's my mom. A smart woman."

Terry flashed him a smile and John smiled back, but he was the first to let his smile slide away into oblivion.

"I better be going."

John didn't argue, didn't say stay a while, he just nodded his acceptance.

Terry got as far as the door, even had one hand on the knob before turning around to face John. "I'm sorry my father did this to you. I'm sorry he hurt you."

"I'm okay."

"Shut up, Baum. You don't look like that and be okay. I've been on the receiving end of the man's fists more than once, and I don't remember being too okay."

"It's getting better. Honest."

Terry clamped John on the bicep, squeezed, but John schooled his emotions, refusing to allow Terry to see how much that hurt. "One of these days, he's going to get his." Terry's hand slid from John's arm. "Your mom also told me we should run. My mom, me and Ritchie, just take off and don't look back." Terry shook his head. "We can't, my mom doesn't want to. She said there's a strange sense of safety in familiarity."

He and his mom were experts in this running and not looking over their shoulder at what they'd left behind, but that didn't mean that John didn't understand where Terry's mom was coming from. "Sometimes moms are smart," John begrudgingly conceded.

"I'd like to leave." Now it was Terry's turn to sigh. "My mom refused. Sometimes, even though I love her, she ain't so smart."

John didn't want to get into this. He wanted Terry to leave already and he was grateful when Terry mentioned something about getting home in time for dinner. "Thanks for stopping by."

"Thank you, John," Terry said in a voice filled with humility and gratitude. "For everything. For protecting us when I couldn't. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry."

"I am. For it all. And Baum, you're really not such a bad guy."


By the time Terry had left, John flopped down on the couch, mentally exhausted. Physical exhaustion must have been right up there because when he woke, his mother was sitting on the coffee table, staring at him. "I hate when you do that."

"Well," she said, "I hate when I come home and find you stretched out on the couch, fast asleep, not even opening an eye when we walked in the door."

Here it came. The lecture. John beat her to the punch. "I hate that every now and then I'm a tired, normal teenager who does things like fall asleep on the couch." He pushed himself to a sitting position with a groan, "and has a mother who doesn't want a normal teenager."

His mother pulled back in surprise. "The whine's getting old, Connor."

"Not as old as you going to the hospital to kill Terry's father." He punched the couch. "Damn it, Mom, can't you do anything without a gun?"

"That's not fair."

"Not fair? Not fair is having Terry come here apologizing to me over what his father did. What's not fair is you and Daniel doing some fuckin' covert operation without my knowledge. Terry didn't need to know this and you certainly didn't need to go to the hospital, gun drawn, ready to blow the guy away. Practice what you preach, Mom. You told Terry that his family would've been destroyed if he'd been caught with the gun. What about me? Are you that infallible that you actually believed you'd have been able to walk into a hospital and blow someone away?"

His mother gave a deep sigh, not born of contrition but the product of a woman who was waiting for her child's temper tantrum to run out of steam. "Are you finished?"

"No," John shouted. "I'm not done. I have a question."

"Well, I hope I have the answer."

"Why weren't you home to protect me? Not you. Not Derek. Not Cameron."

His mother reached out towards him. "You know the answer to that."

He pulled away from her. "Yup, damn straight I do, not even sure why I even asked. Maybe I was just waiting for you to say you were sorry."


"Was your little jaunt to the hospital to kill Terry's dad going to appease your guilt over your not being here to protect me?"

Eyes downcast, his mother remained silent.

"Yeah, that's what I thought." John stood. "Thanks for your honesty. I appreciate it."


Hours later his mom showed up in his bedroom. She put the expected peanut butter sandwich and glass of milk on the dresser. Leaning her ass against the furniture, she crossed her arms and stared down at him stretched out on the bed. "Can we talk?"

His mother always asked permission but never waited for an answer so John remained silent.

"You were right, you know. I failed you. Derek. Cameron. We all screwed up. And I did go to the hospital to put a bullet in that man's brain."

"What changed your mind?" John softly asked.

"Terry's mom was a woman who was trying to protect her sons from the monster who had ruined her life. Destroyed her children's lives."

"She was no different than you, huh? Just fighting a different monster."

His mom hugged herself harder, head down as she nodded.

John sat up slowly, swung his legs over the side of the bed, got up and walked over to the dresser. Taking half the peanut butter sandwich, he passed the other half to his mother. She hesitated all of two seconds before taking it.

Shoulder to shoulder they stood, eating the sandwich, leaning against the dresser. "There's a lot of monsters in this world," John said, "we don't need terminators to destroy us. Left to our own devices we probably can do it all by ourselves."

"Not on my watch," his mom whispered. "And not on yours, I won't allow it."


"Want dinner?"

Daniel glanced up from his keyboard. Since they'd come home, his father had interrupted him countless times. Over stupid things. Smiling pleasantly each and every time.

Daniel had reciprocally smiled back to his father each and every time, but now his smile was broader than his dad's. "Yeah, dinner sounds good."

His father appeared taken back. "Really? Any idea what you want? Pizza. Greek. Chinese?" The choices were rattled off one right after the other with barely a breath in between.

"Italian. How about heroes?" It had been ages since Daniel had had a hero.


"Chicken parm?"


"Sausage and peppers?"

His dad made a comment about teenage metabolism before giving Daniel the thumbs up and turning away.

"I take it that's a yes?" Daniel yelled.

"Yes!" His father voice echoed from the down the hall.

"Extra cheese, please."

"But of course, sire," came the faint reply.

It felt good, that exchange, but Daniel was afraid to let himself be sucked in all the way and he'd be right back where he started from. So this was going to be incremental, little baby steps, and he was going to be in the driver's seat. Worked for him, just had to make sure his dad understood that in this case, Daniel was old enough to drive.


Jack called in the order then had to fight with himself to not go back into Daniel's room. That exchange about dinner, that had been natural and Jack felt like a fool, all the time that had passed, all the energy he'd wasted pretending everything was okay.

The last smile, the dinner smile, had been all Daniel. God, he'd missed him. A lot. Jack owed a tremendous amount to Daniel's friends, who'd thrown a trail of breadcrumbs along the path so Jack and Daniel could find their way home.

"Hey, ummm," Daniel burst into the kitchen then stopped dead, staring at Jack, "you're standing there with the phone in your hands." Daniel checked his watch. "I'm starving, please tell me that you already ordered."

Embarrassed that he'd been so lost in thought that he hadn't hung up the phone, he fumbled, playfully swatting Daniel on the arm with the cordless before placing the phone back in the cradle. "Ordered. Set the table."

Daniel flung paper plates onto the tables like he was playing Frisbee and with a swift movement, Jack stopped each one before they slid off the table. "Please," he begged, "let's not play this game with the knives, don't want to explain to Fraiser why I have a knife embedded in my hand." Jack checked his smile at Daniel's 'I'm not that stupid' eye roll.

Daniel dropped two forks into the middle of the table. "I want salad,"

"I know."

"You know?"

"I'm good like that."

Daniel raised his eyebrows in response.

"I ordered you one."

"Hmmm. With garlic bread?"

"There's bread on the sandwich."

"Not the same." Daniel dragged two plastic cups through the ice cubes in the freezer, dropping a few on his way to the table.

Like a well trained professional golfer, Jack used the end of his cane to swat the cubes onto the rug in front of the sink then made a sound mimicking a cheering crowd.

Daniel didn't even turn around at the sound. "Grow up, Dad."

"What fun would that be, Icky?"

Daniel spun around and Jack's heart skipped a beat, fear that he'd carried this familiarity too far, too fast. Remembering that Daniel had asked for time.

"You're right, it wouldn't be any fun."

Jack tried and failed to hold in his smile of happiness.


"Holy crap." Daniel stood surveying the food covering the table. "You ordered enough to feed an army. Did you forget to tell me that you've invited the neighbors?" Daniel opened a bag of garlic knots. "Or maybe the entire population of Colorado Springs?"

Daniel crumpled the top of the bag. His father was trying hard. Maybe a touch too hard. Like he wasn't sure when enough was enough or when too little was too little. He seemed to be in overabundance mode and he was going to drag Daniel down with his good intentions.

"I thought you were hungry?" His father placed the plastic covered tin of salad in front of Daniel's plate. He opened two of the wrapped heroes. "Meatball. Sausage and peppers."

"This is just like a lot." Daniel shrugged self-consciously.

"Share. Save." His opened another wrapped hero. "Eggplant."

"Eww," Daniel said, digging into his meatball. "Howcouthanyoneeaththat?"

"Don't know what you're missing." He pulled a piece of melted mozzarella out of the side, strung it along then popped it in his mouth. "Hmmmm."


His father's banter toned down as the dinner progressed and the conversation ended up being light and comfortable and Daniel, he ended up eating more than he should've, leaning back with a groan. "Full."

His dad snorted, beginning to wrap up the unfinished food. "Sure. By ten you'll be in the kitchen rummaging through the fridge, looking for something to eat."

"No, I'll be in the kitchen," Daniel burped, "looking for Rolaids."

The cover was replaced on the salad. The garlic knots were wrapped in plastic. "I think we have enough leftovers to last a night or two."

Daniel stood, gathered up some of the things his dad had already wrapped and put them in the fridge. He closed the fridge, held onto the handle and began to move around the magnetic letters that had been there since he was a little kid. Matching colors, letters, just basically goofing off so he didn't have to help out.

His father didn't seem to mind, there were no words of complaint, no grousing for Daniel to get his butt into gear, just the running water in the sink and the clink of silverware being dumped into the dishwasher.

There was homework to be done and Daniel couldn't procrastinate any longer. He finished playing around and smiled at his handiwork. "I'm going to go shower and do homework."

"No problemo," his dad answered, giving Daniel a sideward glance. "Not too late."

"Not late," Daniel echoed, wondering what his father's reaction would be when he read the message Daniel had spelled out in the magnetic letters. He'd let the stupid plastic Fischer Price toy say the words he couldn't say, just yet. Okay, maybe what he'd done was as over the top as his father buying out the Italian restaurant, but dinner had given him a contentment that Daniel hadn't felt in what seemed like forever.


Jack stared at the fridge. The image blurred, coming back into focus again as he swiped the back of his hands across his eyes. Oh. He'd forgotten. Those stupid magnetic letters, how many times had he made a promise to himself to just throw them out, but then another note or message that he needed to remember and not lose would appear and he'd use a "d" or an "L" to hold it in place.

School calendar. Lunch menu. Coupons for McDonalds. Free coffee coupon for Starbucks, and eight letters that Daniel had moved around, a mixture of capitals and small letters i LoVE You. It was stupid. Really stupid, but Jack couldn't help but let his fingers travel over the letters, careful not to move them.

The message was clear, the delivery was clearer. Look but don't touch. I'll get there in my own time.

"I can do patient," Jack whispered to the fridge.


The phone rang just as Jack was sorting through a week's worth of papers and junk mail. "O'Neill."

"You sound distracted, everything okay?"

"Mom, yeah. Fine." He tossed a local magazine into the recycle pile.


A Victoria's Secret catalogue got a quick skim before ending up in the recycle pile. "Fine."

"What are you doing?"

Jack held up a gardening magazine. "Did you lose a magazine about gardening with some type of plant on the cover?"

"Yes, it's mine, do not put it in the recycle pile, okay?"

Jack threw the magazine into the keep pile.

"The Victoria's Secret catalogue?"

Jack laughed, his fingers tapping the cover with the scantily clad girl. "That's yours also?"

"I'm old, son. I'm not dead."

Jack tried the blink away the image of his mother...

"Dria gave it to me", she paused, "undergarments, son."

"Ewww. TMI, Mom, shouldn't you be shopping in like Sears. Penny's?"

She blew off his disturbance with a short laugh and changed the subject. "How's Daniel?"

Jack looked over at the magnetic letters on the fridge. "He's good. We talked. We're good."

"Talking is good. Now go finish what you're doing. I'll catch you tomorrow. Tell your son to call his grandmother."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Stop placating me and just give him the message."


Jack was still sorting through the pile when Daniel padded in the kitchen. Rubbing his eyes, sans glasses, he looked as if he'd been sleeping rather than doing homework. "Are you okay?"

Daniel took a glass from the cabinet, ran the faucet then filled the glass, not coming for air until he'd drained the water. "Yeah, just thirsty."

"Your grandmother said you owe her a phone call or two."

He yawned. "I'll send her an email. Don't want to call her and wake her."

Jack was unsure if Daniel would be awake enough to form a coherent email to her. "Were you sleeping?"

"No. Finished my homework and was just in chat with Corey and Alexandria."


"Twenty with John. I think he sorta fell asleep during chat. Mentioned something about his mother drugging his Snapple."

Jack remained silent.

"You don't think Sarah would..."

Jack shrugged. "Parents do strange things."

"John was a little strange even before he signed off."

"How does one act strange in chat? It's not like you can see or hear."

"Vibes, Dad, it's all about the vibes."

Between his mother and his son, Jack felt very, very old and out of touch.


The weekend flew by, even though John had pretty much kept to himself, using his room as a hidey hole. Surprisingly, the people whom he lived with had given him space. His friends kept in contact by cell or chat. By Sunday night, John felt like he was a good place. A little more healed and a lot more in control.

Monday dawned bright and sunny and the good feeling from the weekend carried itself forward. School, was good, or as good as school could be. Dinner homework, hell, everything flowed smoothly and it felt great. John slept the sleep of the exhausted, long and dreamless.

Tuesday was a completely different story. If he'd spent the entire weekend healing plus Monday getting back into the swing, John wished someone could explain to him why on Tuesday morning, he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Tired. Cranky. Crabby. He dragged himself out of bed, turned off an alarm that had yet to ring and basically bounced off the hallway walls all the way into the bathroom.

The shower marginally roused him from his stupor, loosening stiff and still way too sore muscles. He dressed slowly, ran his fingers through what was left of his hair and debated for all of five minutes to not go to school today.

He buried his face in his cereal and acknowledged his mother's offer of a lift with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Didn't sleep well?" His mother put a humongous sized glass of juice within arm's reach.

A spoonful of coffee grounds. A cup of espresso. A case of Red Bull. A bottle of coke. Mountain Dew. Something more caffeinated than Captin' Crunch and a glass of pulpless OJ. "I'm fine."

"John didn't sleep well," Cameron said.

He dropped his spoon into the cereal, not caring if he splattered the table with milk. "What? You're Supergirl now? X-ray vision and all that shit? See through walls?"

"I'm not Supergirl."

John ignored the smug expression his mother was wearing, listening to their exchange. "Then how the hell did you know I didn't sleep well?"

"I thought you said you were fine?" His mother said, stepping into the foray.

"Your bedsprings squeak when you try to find a comfortable position. There was an inordinate amount of squeaking compared to silence."

Derek walked into the kitchen, stopped and stared at the three of them. "Do I even want to know what you're talking about?"

Abruptly, John pushed himself away from the table, ignoring the screech of the legs dragging along the kitchen floor and the uncomfortable pull on his ribs. "Please feel free to fill in Derek in, I'm leaving." He stood, ready to make a quick exit.

"It's too early." His mother moved to block his path.

"I'll be early, it'll be a change." He gazed menacingly at his mother and Cameron, choosing not to comment on Derek's smug smile he was hiding in his mug of coffee.

Cameron stood, stepping close to his side, skimming her hand across his neck before he could stop her.

"Don't!" He lurched sideways and hit his side against the counter. He gasped, wrapping his arm around his midsection.

"You're agitated."

"No shit, metal." Derek slammed his mug onto the counter top. "You and you," his uncle said pointing at Cameron and his mother. "Back away from the kid, give him breathing room."

"John's agitated."

"John's agitated," Derek scrubbed his hand over his face, "because the two of you are as annoying as shit on a good day. Give the kid a break, he hasn't even finished breakfast."

"I'm not hungry."

"Bullshit," Derek said. "Grab your backpack, I'm driving you to school."

"I told John I'd drive him—"

"You can drive the metal, Sarah, I've got John." Derek headed out the kitchen cocking his head at John to follow.


"I already had breakfast."

"No, you didn't." Derek parked the truck in the diner's lot and tapped the dashboard clock. "We have enough time for you to have breakfast. Real breakfast."

Eggs. Hashbrowns. Bacon. Toast with grape jelly. Matching breakfasts, though John had a large glass of coke much to Derek's consternation.

"Breakfast calls for coffee." Derek lifted his mug.

John raised his glass. "More caffeine in soda."

"Didn't sleep last night?"

"Not according to Cameron, didn't you hear? Squeaky bed springs."

"Want to play hooky? Go home?"

It was tempting. Very tempting. The bed that had become his enemy during the night was calling out seductively with its siren song. "No," he said checking his watch. "Tempting," he admitted, "but no."

"Your loss." Derek tossed a twenty on the table, took one more mouthful of coffee then stood. "Come on, don't want you to be late."


Jack finished wrapping Daniel's sandwich in plastic wrap and thrust it into the paper bag, putting it on top of the three pieces of fruit at the bottom and adding a baggie of cookies on top. He scrunched the top of the paper bag just as Daniel came into the kitchen. He frowned as Daniel rummaged through the bag and took out the banana and apple Jack had thoughtfully added. "Hey, that's for lunch," he exclaimed when Daniel opened up the baggie and chomped on one of the cookies.

"I know." He thrust the cookie into his mouth and dug another one out.

With a sigh, Jack handed Daniel five dollars so he could supplement his lunch. "Remember, I've got an appointment with Chadway today after PT. I'll be home later."

Daniel nodded, pocketing the five dollars. "Good luck."


"Last chance, kid."

John knew what Derek was offering. Bonding time, which coming from his uncle was almost unheard of. With Derek, he was either the tag along or the drag along, but John had fought so hard to be normal and go to school, that staying home felt wrong. "Thanks, Derek." John smothered a grimace when he had to bend down and retrieve his backpack from the floor in front of him.

He jumped when Derek clamped on his bicep. "Are you okay? I caught it in the kitchen and in the diner. And again now."

"I'm fine."

Derek raised one eyebrow. Then two.

"Honest. Just didn't sleep that great last night."

"Bullshit," Derek said, popping open the door. "Go. I'll work on making your room lead lined so Super Terminator can't use her x-ray vision."


John had been standing in front of his locker, staring at the contents for way too long.

"Hey, man," Daniel said, "you okay?"

John grumbled something under his breath, slammed his locker and turned to face Daniel.

John's visible bruising had blossomed into a myriad of colors. From his cheeks to his jawline on both sides of his face, he was a mixture of yellows and greens, as well as the corners of his eyes and the left side of his forehead. If it were at all possible, John really looked worse now than right after the beating. There were smudges of darkness shadowing his eyes that had nothing to do with bruising, and everything to do with sleepless nights. Daniel knew that from experience. Been there. Done that. Self-consciously, he touched the side of his face that had gotten up close and personal with Terry. John's gaze as it raked over Daniel was hard and old. A possible peek at the John Connor that Derek referred to? Whatever the hell it was, it was damn creepy.

"Whoa." Daniel threw up his hands and took a step back. "I give up, okay?"

"Whatever," John said, with a disdainful sneer and stomped away, leaving Daniel standing there feeling like he'd missed something important.


Daniel watched John. He was never one to become involved in class, John was smart, not in Daniel's league of intelligence, but he was quick. His gift was in absorption. Osmosis. Like a sponge, he'd soak up lessons and Daniel always had a good laugh at the expression of surprise teachers wore when handing back John's work.

Today though, John was distracted. From where Daniel sat, he could see John was doodling and not taking notes, head down, concentrating on the marks he was creating on loose leaf. Something was up. More than the savior of mankind shit.

The teacher turned his back for a second, and Cassie, who was sitting behind John, laid the flat of her hand against his back.

Daniel waited for the blow up, for the shrug, but it didn't come. Cassie got a smile for her effort of concern.

Cassie smiled gently back at John and her smile spilled over to Daniel when she caught his eye. Daniel didn't smile back at her. They needed to talk and he let her know. Placing his pointer finger against his pursed lips he moved it forward. Sign language for talk.

Cassie stared, then nodded, remembering the two years Daniel had been her student when she'd studied sign language.

Cassie answered with an upright opened hand, palm facing left. She moved her hand straight up and up from a position beside her right temple, then cocked her head at Daniel.

He went blank and she repeated the movement.

"Cassandra? Are you done waving at Daniel?"

Daniel groaned and slunk down in the chair. Cassie glared at him, blushing a deep red. John didn't even turn around to acknowledge the disruption in class.

Daniel closed his eyes, slightly banging his head on the back of the chair. Later. Cassie was just telling him that they would talk later. He was such an asshole.


The three of them danced this really weird dance throughout the day. Alexandria and Cameron sorta hovered around the edges and Corey was truly confused.

Lunch was a strange affair. Alexandria overcompensated for the tension. Being talkative and sunny, joining in Cassie's and John's conversation, Daniel listened as their words would fade away the second Alexandria dragged him in.

Gone was the thought that John's attitude was the result of him feeling like shit. John wasn't subtle. His anger was directed at Daniel.

What goes around comes around, his grandmother was so fond of saying, and Daniel usually smiled tolerantly at her, but now he understood because he could feel his own inexplicable anger begin to build.

John began to twitch, fingers tapping on the table, Daniel would bet his life that under the table, his leg was bopping up and down, going a mile a minute. Cassie placed her hand on top of his.

"Stop," she ordered.

He snorted, stood, untangled himself from the bench and grabbed his backpack. "I'm out of here." John pointed at Cameron who made a motion to rise. "You. Stay."


John ended up in Donovan's park and he tossed his backpack onto the well worn car seat. He paced. Nervous energy made him more uncomfortable than usual in his own skin.


John didn't even turn around. "Hey," he answered.

"We're going to take a ride."

Slowly, John pivoted to face Cassie. "A ride?"

"It's not a question," she said. "It was more of a statement, 'we're going for a ride'."


Cassie shrugged and held out her hand.

"You're not going to ask me to trust you?"

"I shouldn't have to." She smiled innocently at him.


If John could've squeezed himself between the seat and the passenger door, he would've.

"Where's Cameron?"

"She's fine."

John laughed. "I know she's fine, she indestructible. I just wanted to know where she was."

"She and Dria are out shopping."

"Shopping?" John sat up and moved over. "Why?"

Cassie ignored him.

"It's one of those trust you things?"

"By George, I think he's got it."


Cassie blushed. "Never mind. And if you ever tell my mother I used that phrase, humankind is going to be short one savior."


"Daniel's house? What happened to this trust thing?"

Cassie took the keys from the ignition. "Trust. You can trust that I'm going to give Daniel a piece of my mind for what happened today in school."

"I can watch?"

Cassie tugged on his shirt. "You're going to have a ringside seat."


Cassie strode in, didn't knock, just opened the door, and if John had been thinking clearly and not gloating over the anticipation of the argument between Cassie and Daniel, he would've put two and two together.

They were expected.

Alexandria was shopping with Cameron for a reason.

This was not only between Cassie and Daniel. This was going to be between the three of them.

This was a set up.

Trust was an illusion. His mom was right - trust no one.

"What the fuck was your problem today, Baum?"

John was going to kill Cassie. He turned to leave, only to find Cassie blocking the door.

"You're not running, John. Not now."

His hands curled into fists. If one couldn't take flight, they fought. Connor philosophy, and John turned, ready to face off against Daniel.

"Do you want to hit me?" Daniel threw his arms to the side, presenting himself as the perfect target. "Would that make you feel better to take a punch at me? Would it help?" There was no malice in Daniel's question, no anger in his face.

John's fists relaxed then opened in the wake of Daniel's concern. "You had no right to tell Terry his father did this to me."

"No, I didn't." Slowly, Daniel's arms dropped to his side.

"You're agreeing with me?" John felt, but didn't acknowledge the pressure of Cassie's body against his. Her front to his back. Her chin resting in the hollow of his shoulder blade. Her warm breath against his neck.

"Yes, I had no right, but Terry was terrified. Scared shitless to think that his father was still in town and they were his next stop. I weighed your privacy against Terry's need to know."

"I lost."

Daniel shook his head, then moved the hair that had fallen out of his ponytail. "You both lost. You and Terry."

Cassie stepped out from behind John. "You should've told John you'd spoken to Terry."

John was pissed, ready to make sure that Cassie knew he was more than able to fight his own battles.

Daniel beat him to it, anger exploding out of him. "And you should've told me that you spoke to my dad."

"He asked what was wrong and I weighed the options. Just like you did with John and Terry." She stepped up to Daniel and poked him in the chest. "But with you and your dad, it was a win/win situation, wasn't it?"

Daniel pushed her hand away. "You should've said something," he hissed. "I deserved at least that. A warning."

Cassie grabbed both of Daniel's hands and tucked them against his chest. "You deserved to make up with your dad. Your dad deserved to know."

"A warning," Daniel insisted.

"What? So you would've built up a line of defense so strong nothing your dad said to you would've penetrated? Don't bullshit me, okay?"

Eyes front and center, John shuffled backwards, reaching behind him, his right hand floundering around until making contact with the doorknob. Turning it in what he hoped would be a fluid, silent motion, John slid sideways, moving his body so he could squeeze it out of the opening and to the outside.

"Where does he think he's going?"

John froze.

"Messiah," Cassie asked in a smoky, seductive voice, "going somewhere?"

He waved at the two of them. "Figured the sideshow was about over. Time for me to leave."

"Run," Daniel spat the word at him. "You were going to run. Not," Daniel made air quotes, "leave."

"Tomato. Tomato, what the fuck's the difference, Jackson?"

"That's the problem, John, you don't see the difference." Cassie took a gentle step toward him.

"This wasn't about you ever being pissed at Daniel. Or Daniel being pissed at you."

Cassie whirled around. "If you ever draw attention to me in class and get me in trouble, I'm going to make sure my mom knows. As a matter of fact," she threatened with evil, narrowed eyes, "I'll make sure my mom knows this just before she does your physical." Finished, she turned back to Daniel. "I'm done. I had my say."

"I'm done, what Cassie did..." Daniel stepped up to her side, flung an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close and kissed her temple, "she did because I couldn't."

John shook his head. "I'm not done."

Daniel rolled his eyes and smiled at John.

A condescending little smirk that John wanted to wipe off his face.

"Cool it." Cassie had read his mind and stepped between the two of them. "You wanted normal, John?" She didn't wait for an answer. "This is normal."

"Intervention like some fuckin' reality show is normal?" John tucked his arm against his aching midsection and he swallowed, wishing he had a Tylenol or two.

"This is friendship, asshole."

"I don't need people sticking their noses into—"

"Not people, friends," Cassie corrected.

"I can't do this." John backed up, the door closing with his weight. "I don't want to do this."

"Do what?"

Damn Daniel and his 'inquisitive minds wanna know' way of thinking. "This. You. Dria. Corey. Li. Nate. Soccer. School." John took a deep breath. "Cassie."

Daniel stood there, lips drawn in a straight, judgmental slash. Knowing. He knew what John meant.

Cassie's eyes filled. She had no idea. She wanted John to spill it out. Spell it out. Explain it verbatim what the hell was going through his mind and eating away at his gut. "I don't understand," she whispered.

John opened his mouth.

"He's afraid," Daniel answered.

Not exactly how John would've put it, but yeah, Daniel had pretty much nailed it. Screw him for being an adult in a kid's body.

"Is that true, John? Are you afraid? Like of Terry's dad? And that he might come—"

"Ask Daniel, I'm sure he knows the answer." John's perfected petulant glare fell short in the wake of Daniel's maturity.

"We scare John. More than any terminator."

"Is that true? We... I scare you?"

"Because I know what to expect from a terminator. He's out to kill me. I haven't a fucking clue what to expect from you. Or Cassie. Or any of you." John closed his eyes and leaned against the door, dragging his second arm to support his first, to counter the pressure in his ribs. "Or me," he said after a moment's hesitation. "I don't know what you want from me."

Cassie kissed him, pressing him against the door, wrapping her hands around his forearms like the bar on a roller coaster ride.

John wanted to push her away, wanted to tell her that this wasn't the answer he needed. Or wanted. But he couldn't and was actually bereft when she broke the kiss.

"I don't want anything from you," she whispered in his ear. "Or maybe I do, but we'll talk about that at a different time."

John couldn't stop the burst of laughter and Cassie stepped back, beaming at him.

Daniel stood there and gave him a half smile. "You don't expect me to kiss you, do you?"


Dria and Cameron showed up with chips, soda and a pizza. Add to that last night's leftovers Daniel had in the fridge and they ended up with a feast. And a lot of noise.

A lot of laughter.

And all John wanted to do was go home. He knew Cameron skimmed his neck, but he was too drained to object. She made no comment, so he figured he'd passed inspection.

"I'm taking you home." Cassie stood and grabbed John's hand. "Come on."

John didn't even hesitate. He said his goodbyes, his thanks, and followed Cameron and Cassie to the door. Last one out, Daniel grabbed the back of his hoodie before he made it out the door.

"You're not going to kiss me, are you?" Quickly, John glanced out the opened door, toward Cassie's car. So close and yet so far.

"Don't be an asshole, asshole."

"I wouldn't think of it, Jackson."

"We're cool, man, right?"


Daniel sighed. "You're working too hard at this friendship thing. Let it come naturally. It's not that much work."


'Not that much work', yeah right, easy for Daniel to say. John sat in the passenger seat of Cassie's car, silent. Cameron sat in the back seat, just as silent, Cassie was silent as well, but she wore the hint of a smile as if she knew the greatest secret in the world and wasn't sharing.

John turned the radio on zoomed through the stations, then switched it off. He began to play with the heater controls and got his hand slapped at the next stop sign. "What was that for?"

"Because you're annoying," Cameron answered from the back seat.

"Yeah, what she said," Cassie answered, turning onto their block.


"I'll be right in," John assured Cameron, waving her towards the front door. "Honest."

She appeared to hesitate, but John was pretty sure she was just scanning the surrounding area for threats.

"Ten minutes," John said.

Thankfully, Cameron accepted the timeframe, gave a quick nod that encompassed Cassie and strode into the house.

"She's just doing her job," Cassie said.

"Sometimes I'd wish she'd take some time off or something."

"I don't, she protects your ass." Cassie's hands slid around to his back pockets. "And I like this ass."

Oh, god, this girl was going to be the death of him. Cold showers or implosion were in his future, definitely. "Yeah." He reached around and stopped her hands from further exploration. "Everyone has my best intentions at heart."

"Aren't you ever happy?"

"I'm happy," he lied, tightening his grip on Cassie's fingers.

"You're lying."

"I'm not." He hated that the women in his life had the uncomfortable, uncanny ability to see right through him.

"Don't ever play poker, John."


Cassie studied him, no mirth in her expression. Serious and old before her time. "You wear your heart on your sleeve, savior boy."

"Stop calling me that." It always came down to that. Always. He dropped her hand and stepped back, flinging his backpack over one arm.

"If the future fits, wear it." She was getting pissed, talk about wearing one's heart on their sleeve.

He was taller than her, and he hovered, staring down at her, "You might be an alien, but you're still a bitch."

"You might be the savior but you're still an asshole." She slapped his backpack. "I thought we had this discussion about running."

"Discussion? Discussion? You and Daniel talked at me—"

"You stayed and listened."

"You were my ride home, I may be an asshole but I'm not stupid. I'm not walking five miles."

Cassie knocked his backpack off its perch on his shoulder. Frustrated at her immaturity, John went to hook it back onto his shoulder.

He should've learned.

Experience was a great teacher if one paid attention.

Guard down. Distracted. That's all it took for Cassie to pin him up against the side of her car, the door handle digging into his back. His yelp of surprise was swallowed up by her opened mouth.

He protested, this was the goddamn street, no one was doing lookout duty. His mother would have his head if he got killed engaged in a lip lock.

Cassie was relentless.

Eventually John's brain traveled south and he stopped thinking about terminators and lookouts and judgment days and mothers.

"Your ten minutes are up."

Cameron's voice broke through his libido and his balls ran and hid inside his body while his dick guiltily shriveled to microscopic size.

They'd been too involved to even register the terminator's approach.

He blushed furiously and resisted the urge to hide body parts behind his backpack.

Cassie licked her lips, smiled evilly, dug her hands into the pockets of her hoodie and pulled out her keys. She dangled them in front of her. "Think I'd better be going."

"Good idea," John and Cameron echoed simultaneously.

John watched, with Cameron pasted to his side, as Cassie drove away. "Do not say a word," he hissed. "Got it? Not a word."

"What Cassie was doing," she said, canting her head at John, her gaze raking over his body, "made you feel good?"

"What part of 'not one word' didn't you understand?"

"I understood all three words."

John growled in frustration, slung his backpack over his shoulder and stomped up the walk.


He smelled something delicious as soon as he entered the house and he sniffed the air with an appreciative groan. Either his mother had brought something in or Rose had sent something over.

"You ate at Daniel's, you shouldn't be hungry," Cameron mentioned as she walked past him.

"I'm a teenage boy, insatiable hunger is one of my attributes," John sneered at her back.

With a toss of her head, Cameron glanced at John over her shoulder and winked. "You have many attributes."

"I also have thermite and I'm not afraid to use it," John countered.

"Behave yourself, children." His mother stood in the doorway of the kitchen, holding up the doorframe with her right shoulder. "John, do me a favor? Next time you decide to cut school, a phone call, preferably from you and not from tin girl or the school itself would be appreciated."

John waited until his mother turned around before he rolled his eyes. As he'd told Cassie, he wasn't stupid. "Ass kisser," he whispered at Cameron.

She touched her lips with the pads of her fingers, pulled them away and studied them. "Lip kisser," she shot back at John.

For a fraction of a second John contemplated explaining the wrongness of the exchange, but changed his mind, it wasn't worth the effort.


He was working on homework when a bottle of water and two Tylenol were plunked down in the middle of his opened notebook. John played with them first, moving them across the lines of the paper. Up and down.

"What happened that you left school early?"

John took the pills so he didn't have to answer because with him, his mother excelled in patience. Or maybe it was borderline stubbornness, seeing which one of them would break first.

Dealing with that unblinking gaze was making his head hurt. "I had a headache." Okay, just a little lie.

"You have a headache, now. Before, during school, I'm thinking that wasn't the reason you left."

Elbows resting on his desk, he dropped his chin into his cupped palm. "Normalcy sucks."

"Yeah, I know. Being the kid next door isn't all it's cracked up to be, is it?"

"No." At least she didn't say that she'd told him so.

"But the alternative isn't so great either." Gently, his mom rubbed his temple, like she had when he was younger and instinctually, John leaned into her touch.

"Sometimes it was easier to be on the run," he said sadly.

"I know," she chuckled, a sound John still had problems getting used to, "but then Rose wouldn't send over food and you'd be stuck with pancakes. You need to weigh the good and the bad."

John didn't know how to tell her, but sometimes he missed the pancakes.


Daniel stepped in front of Alexandria, took the dirty paper plates from her hand and tossed them onto the counter.

"New style of cleaning up?"

He twined a curl around his finger, reeled her in and kissed her. A warm, empty house was way more conducive than a parking lot.

Minutes later, Alexandria's hands were working at freeing Daniel's shirt from his jeans, while his fingers were creeping under her sweater.

Daniel began to hear an annoying hum. A tugging, Jiminy Cricket type of voice that filled his soul. He knew the voice, understood the message, but the fuckin' timing left a lot to be desired.

"Daniel?" Alexandria had picked up on his hesitation. "Hey." Gently, she raked her nails across his back. "You okay?"

He swallowed, bargained with himself, tried to keep his mouth shut, to silence the voice. "This is..." The words wouldn't come. Damn, he was fourteen years old and right under his fingertips was the golden ring.

"I know." Alexandria buried her face in his shirt. Her words where muffled, hidden.

Sadly, Daniel moved his hands from the warmth of her skin, cupped her chin and lifted it up so he could look into her eyes.

They matched the voice that filled his soul.

"Too tempting," she said.

"I know." Her hands slipped from under his shirt. Reaching up they linked behind his neck. "My old soul," she said affectionately. "It's not time."

For a fleeting second, Daniel wondered if his adult self had also whispered in Alexandria's ear, warning her like it had Daniel. Too much. Too soon. Eventually, just not now. Not in his kitchen with dirty paper plates on the counter and an opened pizza box on the table. "I know."

Alexandria glanced around the room, a tiny smile pulling at her lips, but the amusement didn't reach her eyes. "I guess I was hoping for something a little more..."

"Not so kitcheny?"

"Yeah, not sure if that's a word, but yeah, that's the idea."

He moved his finger to wrap around a curl.

She drew his hand up to her lips and this time the happiness reached her eyes. "We need to finish cleaning up."


"We seem to have lost some heroes but gained some pizza. Wanna explain?"

Daniel blinked and stared at his dad, trying to make the transition from staring at the monitor to focusing on another human being. "Oh, Alexandria and Cameron brought over a pizza. We ate some of the heroes." Daniel's face fell, worried that he'd done the wrong thing. Sometimes he wasn't sure. Sometimes the line was too thin to walk... sometimes he ended up treading it. This patched up relationship was, in his opinion, shaky at best, and he didn't want to rock the boat. "I'm sorry," he added hurriedly.

"Stop." The word was harsh, the hand thrown up, palm outward halted any more conversation on Daniel's part, but the way the word was spoken was with soft tolerance. "It's okay."

"Sure?" At face value, he and his dad seemed to have fixed all that was broken, but underneath the two of them were still had a lot of work to put everything back in order. Daniel was pretty sure that time would be the answer.

"Sure," his dad answered with a nod. "I'm going to heat myself up some pizza."

"I'm not really hungry." Did his dad look disappointed? Daniel rubbed his eyes, but the expression on his father's face was gone in an instant.

"You go ahead and finish your homework."

"Dad," Daniel said hurriedly before Jack could leave the room, "what did Doctor Chadway say?"

His dad smiled at him. "Looks like I'll be going back to work in a couple weeks."

"Hey, that's great."

His dad nodded, paused a moment as if he was going to say something, then left the room.


Daniel padded into the kitchen, gathered up a bowl, a spoon and a box of Frosted Mini Wheats then dropped them on the table.

His father put down the slice of pizza he was eating, grabbed the cereal box then quickly studied the pictures. "Did I buy this? Did we buy this? Because this looks way too healthy to take up residence in our cabinet."

Daniel plucked the box from his dad. "Grandma. Notice they may be covered with sugar but they're whole grain."

"And they're good?"

Daniel put the milk next to the bowl. "It's got sugar, how can it be bad?" He opened the box, stuck his hand in, removed two covered squares, popped one in his mouth, handed the other off to his father.

He snatched his father's napkin and spit out the semi-chewed square of cereal.

Cautiously, his dad placed his untried cereal square next to his plate. "I guess there are some things that even sugar can't fix."

He scrapped the semi-healthy stuff and settled on a box of Reese's Peanut Butter Crunch and added a banana to make up for the loss of whole grain.

"Better?" His dad looked up over the folded up triangle of pizza he was getting ready to take a bite out of.

Daniel took a spoonful of cereal, chewed, swallowed and contemplated. The cereal was probably a day or two away of being thrown in the garbage, almost stale, but even in that condition, it was actually better than the other stuff. "Much."

"How was school today?"

With his spoon, Daniel created a whirlpool in the bowl of cereal. "Something's up with John."

The pizza was slowly lowered to the paper plate. Elbows on the table, his dad tented his fingers. "Something's always going to be up with John."

"Ouch." Daniel picked a banana out of the cereal, stuck it in his mouth and licked his fingers. "That wasn't cool."

"You're right, I'm sorry. It wasn't. I just meant that the poor kid has had a screwed up—"

"I wouldn't be throwing stones until I took a look at the glass house we live in, Dad."

"Touché and properly reprimanded." He picked up the pizza and ripped the triangle in half. "Are you sure you're not the adult?"

"Not anymore." Daniel reached over and grabbed half his father's pizza. "He was pissed that I told Terry his dad was the one who beat up on John."


"John said I had no right to do that." Daniel tore the crust away from the sauce and cheese.

"No. I meant why did you tell Terry?"

"Basically Terry knew, I was just confirmation." In memory, Daniel touched the side of his mouth Terry's fist has used for confirmation. "John was pissed. Said that Terry didn't need more crap on his plate that he already had." Daniel pulled the cheese off his crooked triangle of pizza. "Terry was pissed that I knew that his dad was still around." Daniel shrugged. "I think it was a no win situation."

"I think you're right. But as far as John goes..."

"You don't like him?"

"I like the kid. A lot. Hell, how he's made it to sixteen with the knowledge that one day he's going to command the resistance..." His dad let his voice trail off. He cleared his throat and began again. "He's a hell of a lot stronger than I would ever be."

Daniel snorted. "I doubt it."

"I wouldn't want to walk in the poor kid's shoes," his dad admitted.

"Derek and Sarah, they're sorta... intense?" Nice people. Caring. But there were times when Daniel had seen them glance at John when he wasn't aware and in the heat of their gaze he'd seen a myriad of emotions, some of which had made him damn uncomfortable.

"Yeah, that's a perfect word."

Daniel began to pull the cheese apart, popping a piece in his mouth when his father glared at him. "It's almost like he has no choice in life, does he?"

His dad didn't answer, he just averted his gaze.

"I don't have a choice either, do I?"

"We're working on it. Sarah. Carter, Teal'c, McKay, Derek, we're working on giving you choices."

"We have to be prepared, though." The pizza no longer held any appeal. How the hell did this conversation go from Terry and John to Judgment Day and beyond?

"We have to be prepared for a lot of things, Icky."


His dad nodded. "Sometimes the danger is right in front of our noses and sometimes," he pointed his thumbs upwards towards the ceiling, "a thousand light years away. You be aware, and remember what you're fighting for."


"That's my Icky." Leaning across the table, his dad cupped his face and patted his cheek.

Daniel leaned into his dad's touch. It had been too long. The contact. The conversation. The comfortableness. Even though the conversation was dark, Daniel hadn't felt this happy in a long time.


Daniel helped clean up, not really talking, just lending a hand.

"Don't you have homework?"

His son blinked at him with a look of confusion so strong that Jack had to fight the urge to check for fever or some other strange ailment. "Homework? School stuff that you do at home?"

"Yeah. I have..."

"Then go." Jack plucked the container of milk from Daniel's hand. "Scoot. Go finish whatever you have to finish."

Daniel hesitated and gave Jack a look that he couldn't decipher. The two of them faced off with the container of milk in the middle until Daniel shrugged. "Guess I'd better go do homework."


Beer. Recliner in the living room. Hockey News in his lap. Remote tucked between his thigh and the arm of the recliner. ESPN on the flatscreen. The Advil kicking in, loosening the knot in his leg, a not so gentle reminder that maybe he should start using the cane more than he'd been. All was right in the world.

Daniel came into the living room and became one with the couch. Sinking deep into the cushions, he stretched his legs out onto the coffee table and opened a text book the size of the bible.


"Hmmm?" He turned a page, not bothering to even look up.

Desk. Better lighting. Computer. iPod. Chat. All of those things were less than 20 feet away in Daniel's bedroom, Jack didn't think his presence and/or the widescreen TV were the difference, but hell. "Wanna watch hockey?"

"Sure," Daniel answered, never picking up his head up. He gave Jack a thumbs up, his eyes never leaving the opened page.

And so they sat, Jack stealing glances at his son. Strange as it may seem, there was a contentment about him that Jack hadn't felt or seen in a very long time.

"You're staring." Daniel glared at him over the top of his glasses.

Jack wanted to ask Daniel what the hell was he doing keeping his old father company when he should be connected to his friends, but why look a gift horse in the mouth. "Want to go out for dinner on Friday?"

"Can we ask Grandma?"

And the little light bulb went off. Just like that. There was a side to Daniel that Jack still had a problem understanding. Like now. Daniel's first go around at life would rear its ugly head. Abandonment. Loss. After a rough patch in their familial life, Daniel would hold on for dear life. To him. To his grandmother. "Sure," Jack said with a nod, "we can ask your grandmother."


"Chinese is fine." Jack went to continue but he'd already lost Daniel, he had his head buried in the book, tapping his pencil against his knee in sync to a rhythm in his head.


Daniel wouldn't give up the ghost. He was drifting. Jack would watch his chin hit his chest then pop up again. Then his son would glance at him, smile lethargically then start to drift. It was a cycle, but satiated and comfortable, it took Jack a while to make the connection.


Jack O'Neill was an asshole. Daniel wasn't going to hit the hay until Jack was safely tucked in. He hit the record button on the DVR. Oh, well. The rest of the hockey game would be recorded for posterity. Plunking the chair into the upright position, Jack got up slowly. Feeling his age, it took him a moment to gather the strength and coordination to stand and a few deep breaths before he was able to shuffle over to where Daniel was sitting. Prodding his son's knee with his own, it took him a number of taps before Daniel opened his eyes enough to acknowledge his presence.


"Fine," Jack said. "I'm fine. You're fine. Tired."

Daniel yawned. "Tired. Me, too."

"Really," Jack said, "I never would've noticed."

They walked up the steps slowly, Daniel dragging his ass as much as Jack was. "Hey Dad? I'm glad you're going back to work soon."

"Glad to be rid of me, eh?" Jack tugged gently on Daniel's ponytail.

"No. That's not what I meant." Daniel glanced over his shoulder with a worried look. "I'm just glad you're getting better. Really better, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah, Icky, I know." Daniel's reaction warmed Jack's heartstrings.


The house was big, but the rooms were close and the walls thin enough that Sarah could hear John's restlessness. He'd gone to bed late, and that was only after she'd admonished him with a stern voice. More than once.

Twelve-thirty. Fifteen minutes since the last time she'd checked. Fifteen minutes since John had gotten out of bed. He was pacing. Sarah counted the fifteen steps before the creak on his sixteenth step signified the need for John to turn around and pace in the opposite direction.

This was torture and Sarah could feel her fingers tighten and draw the blanket closer with each step John made. She began to count, the urge to scream cut off suddenly when instead of the step there was the squeak of bed springs.

And Sarah, who wasn't a praying woman, prayed that maybe her son would finally sleep. Lying in bed, she felt herself relax incrementally the longer silence emanated from John's room.

Cameron's footsteps approached paused by John's door. Same routine. Different day. Count to twenty-five then she moved on and Sarah waited.


A different squeak, not of shift in bed but of the weight being removed. And the pacing began again.

Maybe it was time to slip sleeping pills as opposed to pain pills into John's Snapple.


John sat up in bed. He pressed the heels of his palms against his temples but still the visuals didn't stop.

The dreams had started again, intensified after the beating but if he really wanted to admit it, they'd never stopped. They'd dimmed, they'd interrupted his sleep, but he'd been able to turn around and go back to sleep. But these? They stopped his slumber in its tracks, waking him with tears on his cheeks and heart pounding.

On a good night, Terry's father took Brad Morrison's place and in the kitchen John pumped him full of holes. On a bad night, terminators began to wear the faces of people he knew.

Tonight Terry's father appeared, full of apologies. Warily, John had invited him into the house and they'd shared pancakes. Even in his dream state, John could taste the blandness of the pancakes and turned to ask his mother for syrup when he noticed his hand was covered with blood. The table, the floor under his feet, sticky with blood.

He'd jumped up, noticing for the first time the blood soaked bodies of his mother, Derek, Michele scattered across the floor. Cameron was propped in the corner like puppet with severed strings, the bottle of syrup resting in her lap.

"The tinker toy has the syrup, if you're looking for it." Terry's dad leaned back in the chair, picking his teeth with Cameron's chip.

He wanted to run.

He wanted to cry.

He wanted to just fuckin' wake up.

"Maybe this is what you're really looking for," Terry's dad purred seductively as he pushed the Glock towards John.

"I can't." John pushed his plate to the center of the table, stopping the progress of the weapon.

"Why not?" Bad Morrison asked, making a cameo appearance in his kitchen, his blood adding to the puddles on the floor. "We all die for John Connor, I'd think at the very least John Connor could die for us."

It had been a dream. Hell, even while his brain had been conjuring up the visuals, he'd known he'd been dreaming, but that didn't stop him from remembering the blank, dead eyed stare of his mother. Or Derek. Or Michele.

So he'd paced until his legs couldn't walk another step. Then he crawled into bed until pretending to sleep took more effort than pacing.

John tried not to look at the clock, not count down the hours until the alarm would ring, shouting at him that it was time to start the day.

He didn't need a visit with Liz to know what the problem was. No degree in psychology was needed. He used to know the enemy, well aware of the reason he was number one on their hit parade. Savior. Messiah. Judgment Day. He understood that.


The newest enemies came in all shapes and sizes, but they all had one thing in common, they were human.


John took his pacing downstairs. Derek gave him space. His mother stayed in her room. Cameron dogged his footsteps, stopping when he stopped, reaching out to catch him when exhaustion caused him to stumble.

He shook off her hand and she let him, which in and of itself was off, but John didn't have the energy to even frigging care.

"You need to sleep."

There was no heat behind his threatening glare and his sarcastic words were swallowed up in a yawn.

"You have insomnia."

John skirted around her, walked to the couch and threw himself into the cushions. Closing his eyes, he rested his head on the back of the couch and stretched out his legs on the coffee table.

"Insomnia can be caused by metabolic imbalances."

The cushions dipped under her weight, but John refused to acknowledge her presence.

Cameron didn't care, she just kept right on talking. "Your insomnia isn't caused by any—"

"No shit." He just couldn't resist.

"Your insomnia has nothing to do with bodily functions."

"What?" John turned his head sideways and opened his eyes, thoroughly confused.

"No shit?"

John groaned. He was way too tired to play this game with her. "That's just an expression. No shit. Crap. Asshole."

"Bodily functions," she repeated with conviction.


"Thank you for explaining."

She hadn't a clue. She didn't understand and that made him smile and wake up just enough to want to play her game. "So, what's the cause of my insomnia?"

"The weight of humanity."

"Good guess." But far from the truth. He'd lived with that knowledge his entire life, and he'd had nightmares and night terrors; however, life had gone on and he'd balanced and made it through each day.

"I wasn't finished."

She never was and sometimes John wondered if his future self had programmed just a bit of Sarah Connor into the cyborg.

"Brad Morris—"

"I'm done." John got up and this time when Cameron grabbed his arm, he couldn't shake her off.

"You're a liability in this condition."

"Let go of me."

"You're too self-involved, focused on Brad Morris and Terry's—"

"Let. Go." His voice carried and echoed in the quiet of the house.

"Metal bitch, let him go."

Great, Derek. The next thing would be his—

"I'll use your chip as a can opener if you don't release him."

Reluctantly, Cameron's grip lessened, but her fingers stayed.

John scrubbed at his face. This was a little bit of hell on Earth. "Sorry. Didn't mean to wake anyone. Cameron and I were just discussing—"

"Bodily functions."


John waited until his mother left his bedroom before he spit the sleeping pill into his hand. Shoving it into the pocket of his sweatpants, he drank a little more water then forced himself to lie down.

He hated sleeping pills. The tablets forced you into unconsciousness, trapping you in dreamland. Waking after a dose of enforced sleep left him bouncing off the walls and feeling anything but rested.

Sorry, Mom.

John woke with a start, arms flaying, fighting off Brad Morrison's cold hands.

"Whoa, John, it's only me."

"Mom?" Even without the sleeping pill, waking was like treading through layers of muck.

"We're going out for a while. Not long." Gentle hands patted his blanket covered arm.


His mother waved his cell in front of his face then tucked it into his hand. "Call, if you need us. Call."

Call? Yeah, John was thinking there wasn't anyone who could save him from the bogey man.


"Your mother is going to kill you." Daniel fidgeted from foot to foot, tugging on one of Dria's curls in a thoroughly embarrassing, making Cassie feel like a third wheel even in the middle of the school parking lot, type of gesture.

Cassie ignored Daniel's words and glanced towards Dria, hoping for support or for her to at least smack Daniel's hand away from her hair.

"Do you even know if he's home?"

So much for support or for taking care of Daniel's annoying habit. "Look, if he's not, I'll find him." Cassie understood the unspoken words behind Daniel's glare. Trying to find John Connor when he didn't want him to be found or if his mom decided now was a good time to up and change addresses wasn't going to be easy.

"Call," Daniel insisted.

To make sure she was safe, Cassie nodded, reading between the lines. "Promise," she added, trying not to stare at the public display of affection.


She blended into the traffic, exiting the parking lot. Through busses and parents, Cassie merged her way into the line. Keeping her eyes on the red taillights of the car in front of her, Cassie leaned over and blindly stuck her hand into her purse. Two aborted tries later, she dug out her cell phone and called her mother at the SGC.

She was two blocks away from the school before she was connected to the infirmary and Cassie lied like a rug to her mother. Feigning cramps and a headache and the undeniable need to lie down, Cassie rambled, feeding off her mother's distraction of whatever was going on around her. She knew better than to ask. "Don't call me, I'll call you," she fibbed to her mother. "When I wake up, I'll call you."


Grandma Rose would know her car, so Cassie went all secret agent and parked two blocks over and walked, hoping Grandma Rose wasn't looking out the window, getting the mail or taking out the garbage as she walked down the block. Head down, face hidden, she had a pretty good chance of being undetected except for the color of her hair.

Today was one of those days that she would've sold a body appendage for Dria's hair. Dark, curly, a place for John to wind his fingers... Stop. Stop. Stop. A little mental kick there and she was good to go because honestly, who was she kidding? John wasn't the curling fingers through a girl's hair type of guy.

No car in the Connor's driveway didn't bode well for her mission and when her first knock went unanswered, Cassie's emotions fell somewhere between worry and stupidity. One more knock, with feeling this time, accompanied by a side order of doorbell did the trick.

In true Connor fashion, the curtain moved first before she heard the beeping of the alarm being disarmed.

John looked horrible. Dark purple shadows under his eyes and the paleness of his skin only accentuated the fading bruising.

"Did I wake you?"

Roughly, John rubbed at his face and snorted out a disparaging sound that on some level must've resembled laughter.

"I'll take that as a no."

John didn't invite her in, he just stared at her before walking away and leaving the door wide open. Cassie followed, closed and locked the door, then stared at the complicated alarm system. "Screw that."

She caught up with him in the living room standing in front of a TV staring at some talk show. Cassie stood shoulder to shoulder, trying to decipher what was holding his interest. "Something I should know about? Like is your mom going to appear—"

He dug the remote from his pocket and flicked the TV off. "What are you doing here?"

Cassie bent and picked up the pill that had fallen to the floor, palming it she presented it to John. "Obviously, the Ambien's not working?" Cassie would've like to give John the benefit of the doubt and believe that missing the couch when he flung the remote was unintentional, but she wasn't too sure. "Was that an ooops moment, John?"

Ignoring her, John made a futile attempt to skirt past her, but Cassie blocked him. Growing up with Daniel, the master of avoidance, she'd learned from the best.

"Why are you here?" he repeated, frustrated.

"Because you weren't at school. Daniel was. Usually the two of you disappear together. Separately, I'm sorry, but it concerned me."

"No need to be concerned. I'm fine. "

"They must've changed the definition of the word then."

"I just need to sleep. I was sleeping," he yawned, "before you interrupted me."

"Your tell is showing, John."

"I have a mother. A terminator—"

"So you don't need me?"

John was a lot of things. Master of the comeback line. Sarcastic on a good day. Downright nasty when crossed. Cassie waited, steeling herself.

There was nothing.

Cassie waited, eventually she walked around John and put the sleeping pill on the coffee table. "You haven't slept."


"Fine, yeah I got that. You had your chance. Now it's my chance, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. You can't sleep. Mommy dearest handed you a sleeping pill, thought you'd taken it, and she and the other musketeers have gone out somewhere."

John shrugged.

"I'm going to take that as a yes." Cassie placed a hand against his cheek and he closed his eyes at her touch. "How about we try it my way?" Oh god, she was channeling her mother?

Arms crossed protectively, John mumbled something under his breath. Words of a derogatory nature that Cassie didn't want or need clarified, she wasn't playing into his hands. She wasn't going to argue with him. "Where do you feel safe?"

He blinked at her. Confused. "Safe? Me?"

"Yeah. Safe. You."

"Oxymoron, Cassie. Safe is not an adjective I'd ever use to describe me."

This was worse, he was worse than Daniel. A million times worse. "Within the walls of this house. Where do you feel relatively safe?"


What the hell had she been thinking? Coming to John's house, being all psychoanalytical, where did she think they'd end up? On the porch? "You feel safe in your bedroom?"

"Only place besides the bathroom I can lock the door."

She found his hand and grabbed his fingers, squeezing his cold digits between her warmer ones. She swallowed, looking for the shovel that she had so unwittingly used to dig this huge hole. "Do you want to lock the door?"

"I want to sleep. Doesn't make a difference if I lock the door or not." He disengaged his fingers from her grip then brought his hand up to tap his temple. "All the bad guys are stored right in there. Locks don't really keep them out."

"So if locks made you feel safe, but the locks in this room aren't working, why do you feel safe in here?"

"My windows."

Windows? There must be a story in there somewhere and considering John was pretty much punch drunk, Cassie knew if she pushed, she'd get the answer to the window question. But right now, heart on his sleeve, John deserved his privacy and since she was basically flying by the seat of her pants, the only thing that kept her going was that she couldn't fuck John up anymore than he already was. "Stay." She pushed the flat of her hands against John's chest. "Don't move." Cassie gently touched his lips with her pointer finger. "Don't say a word."

As she rearranged his room, Cassie stole a glance or two at John, working faster when she saw that the doorframe was starting to do a piss poor job of holding him upright.


Cassie toed off her sneakers, then slipped into the nest of blankets and pillows she'd arranged on the floor.

"The floor?"

"No." She flipped onto her back. "The window. And doing this was way easier than moving your bed." And Cassie held her breath, waiting for John to disagree or poo poo her or at the very least, leave her standing, or rather lying here.

Using the doorframe for support, John unlaced his boots and kicked them to the side. He lorded over her prone form, moved the blanket to the side then slipped in between her body and the wall.

"Safe?" she whispered and could feel his nod displacing her hair. Leveraging to a semi-sitting position, she adjusted the blanket around them and slowly laid back down. A floor was harder than a bed no matter how many quilts she'd put down.

John's back was flush with the wall, his window within arm's reach.

Cassie spooned up again him. Her back to his front.

Dangerous. Very dangerous. Made more dangerous when John anchored himself to Cassie by wrapping his left arm around her waist, pulling her closer. Her comments were on the tip of her tongue when it dawned on her that John was already sleeping, his breathing deep and regular, tickling the base of her neck.

She'd done good.

Faith in her abilities didn't last long. Hell, it lasted as long as John's cat nap.

He jerked awake and in one fluid motion, sat up and curled into himself, legs, knees, arms, all tucked in tight.

John flinched when she touched his back. Cassie was hesitant at first but then she rested her entire hand against his sweat soaked tee shirt, her fingers spread wide, his heart pounding with such strength she could feel its erratic rhythm reverberating.

So much for feeling safe. She was an asshole, believing that she could fix what was broken just by a blanket on the floor.

He turned his face to study her. "I thought..." Slowly, he reached with shaking fingers to tuck an errant strand of hair behind her right ear and Cassie held her breath as his fingers skimmed down the length of her hair.

Oh. Her heartbeat quickened while John's slowly returned to normal.

"You're okay." This time his fingers traced the chain of a tiny gold replica of earth she wore around her neck. He picked up the tiny charm, studied the intricate details then smiled at her. "Earth?"

"Turn it over," she whispered.

The writing on the other side was worn and John squinted, moving closer to her, holding it higher. "Han... ka? Hanka?"

"My first home."

"Tell me about it."

She gave an adamant shake of her head, this wasn't about her. This was supposed to be about John. Not about her.

"I'm sorry, I didn't meant to upset you."

"You didn't. It's just that... Lie down," she ordered, patting the blanket.

He gazed at her as if she had grown another head, then laid down. "Happy?"

"No. Face the window."

"Face the window?"

"Yes." She didn't hold back her exasperated sigh. "Face the window."

He did and this time it was Cassie who spooned against John's back, flinging her arm around his waste.

"Windows are good for escaping," Cassie said. "My older brother used to do it all the time."

"Bedtime story?"

"You asked about my life."

"Right. Life. First life. I'm all ears. Windows. Running. Escaping. I would've liked your brother. I can relate."

"My brother never learned from his mistakes." Cassie chuckled at the long forgotten, buried memory. "Even my father would laugh, betting my mother how far my brother would get before he realized running away and escaping wasn't the best idea." It had been a long time since she'd thought about her parents or her brothers and while she could remember events, their faces, their voices, their laughter were inaccessible to her.

She talked. And John listened, asked questions and listened some more. Cassie kept on talking until she was hoarse and long after John's breathing had deepened into slumber.


There was no beeping when they entered the house and the tin miss, in true terminator fashion, stated the obvious. "The alarm's disengaged."

Nope. No way. Shouldn't have happened. Sarah had given John a heavy duty sleeping pill then tucked him in bed with a blanket and then secured him in the house with the alarm. They hadn't been gone long enough for him to have woken up, never mind coherent enough to disarm the house alarm.

Without hesitation, guns were drawn and Sarah, Derek and Cameron split up.


Sarah was pissed. Pissed at John and pissed at Cassie Fraiser who was staring her down in her own kitchen with an almost defiant smile.

Derek was sitting back, relaxing, sprawled on a kitchen chair, taking in the show, hiding his amusement behind a bottle of beer.

"He didn't take the sleeping pill." Cassie's glance drifted over to the Ambien which now was sitting front and center on the kitchen table.

"You already said that."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Baum. Really. I know it looked bad."

Sarah's eyebrows did a little dance upward.

"Okay, it looked horrible. Me and John..."

Cameron entered the kitchen, flashed Cassie a smile then leaned against the counter, mimicking Sarah's pose. "Cassie and John didn't engage in sexual intercourse."

"Thank you for explaining," Sarah said sarcastically, feeling a tinge of satisfaction as the flush of embarrassment worked its way up Cassie's face.

"I came over to make sure everything was okay," Cassie said with more than a hint of challenge in her voice. "He let me in."

Sarah sighed, trying to keep this conversation on target. "I never insinuated that you broke down the door, Cassie."

"I asked John where he'd feel safe."

"Safe? My son is never..." Sarah stopped mid-sentence. "You and you," she said pointing to Derek and the tin toy. "Out."

Derek was reluctant, but he wasn't stupid and his healthy fear of losing his body parts to her anger was motivating enough. Cameron had other ideas and gazed at Sarah with a blank look.

"Shoo." Sarah waved at her, cocking her head in the direction that Derek had just left.

"John won't be happy if you injure Cassie."

Cassie laughed. "John? I'm thinking my mother would be a bigger worry."

"That's true," Cameron agreed. "Your mother is commonly referred to as—"

"Out," Sarah shouted, then took a deep breath, forcing herself back into control. "Go watch John."

"Don't wake him though," Cassie interjected. "Please."

She and Cassie stared at each other, Sarah from her position against the counter and Cassie from her vantage point of holding up the fridge.

"John said the windows made him feel safe."

"He told you that?" Sarah bristled. She was jealous, and it was an uncomfortable emotion that she didn't wear well.

"Mrs. Baum, John's sleeping. I mean really sleeping. Does it make a difference—"

"The two of you were sleeping. The alarm wasn't set. Do you realize what would've been lost if someone came in and—"

"Two lives."

"The world."

"Two," Cassie insisted. "Mine and John's."

Sarah shuffled over to the chair that Derek had vacated. "John isn't just some cute teenage boy that you want to go to the movies with on a Saturday. You're playing with fire."

Cassie stuck her hand into her jeans and pulled out her keys. "I'm going to leave, Mrs. Baum, you've made it quite clear I'm not welcome here."

Teenagers were exasperating. Didn't make a difference if the teen belonged to her or someone else. Sarah pointed to the chair across the table. "Stop with the emotional blackmail. If you want to leave, you know where the door is, if you want to stay, sit."

The girl had balls, Sarah had to give her that. She sat, albeit primed and ready to go. Edge of the seat, her hands on the table, her key ring still hooked around her pointer finger. "I know how important John is."

"I didn't mean to imply that you're not."

Cassie snorted. "Yeah, my mom will be glad to hear that."

Oh my god, this girl. This young sixteen year old, more cute than beautiful, freckle faced, snub nose spitfire, was like gazing in a mental mirror and seeing yourself reflected back.

"Did I say something funny?"


"You're smiling at me and it's sorta creeping me out."

"Deal with it."

"I see where John gets all his good qualities from."

Sarah's fierceness flew out the window and she burst out laughing. "You're either incredibly brave, Cassandra Fraiser, or you're incredibly stupid."

"You know my mother?"

"Yes, of course."

"Which do you think it is? Bravery or stupidity?"

Sarah didn't even take a second. "Bravery." Because in their life, stupidity would get this poor girl killed.


Cassie threw in a load of laundry, thinking that collecting all the brownie points she could now before her mother found out exactly what she'd been up to today, was probably the smartest thing she could do.

That had been weird, and if someone asked her exactly how or why John's mom had gone from wanting to end her life in a not so pleasant manner to wanting to plan the wedding, Cassie wouldn't be able to answer.

She was beyond confused. She didn't want John's mom to hate her, but she never figured she'd be welcomed into their enclave with opened arms.


Though the words 'Mrs. Savior' certainly did have a nice ring.


Sarah stretched out on John's bed and as her eyes adjusted to the darkness in the bedroom, the lump in the corner, with the glorious, regular breathing took shape. Buried under the blankets tucked around him, John was visible from the nose up. The poor boy was going to have a horrific case of bed head when he woke and she allowed herself the tiniest of smiles, the joy of the emotion hidden in the room's shadows.

The plus side was that Sarah knew exactly where John was and in their lives, that was a plus, though worry tugged at her. Had tugged at her as John's sleep had stretched onward. Through lunch. Late afternoon. Dinner. Evening. They'd checked on him on more than a handful of occasions, she and Derek. Hell, she'd even found Cameron standing at the edge of the Cassie-made bed, watching, making sure he was breathing.

By midnight, Sarah had stepped into John's room, closed the door behind her and had crawled into his bed, watching and waiting for the inevitable nightmare.


Jack had tried three times to wake Daniel, gave up and waited for the whirlwind when his son's internal ticking clock would kick in. He was pouring his second cup of coffee when Daniel's 'shit' echoed through the entire house.

"Language, Icky," he answered.

"I'm going to be late," Daniel shouted back.

Thunk. There was the sound of the linen closet with the door that always stuck, being unstuck with the incredible force of an angry, late teenage boy grabbing a handful of towels before the door hit the wall and slammed shut again.

Next time Jack saw Carter, he'd have to ask how a bathroom door could close while a shower could turn on almost simultaneously. He'd tested it a number of times, but Carter was probably going to spout something that made as much sense as trying to explain to him about the men who worked the light in the fridge, you just had to believe.

Jack swallowed one more mouthful of coffee, spilled out the rest of the mug, then filled a travel mug with coffee, more than the required milk and five packets of sugar. He stopped listening to the banging and cursing as Daniel, finished with his two second shower, made trying to gather himself together.

Nope. Not enough time for toast. Jack screwed the top on the travel mug, checked for leakage. The variety box of Pop Tarts was almost empty and he stuck up a mental post-it to remember to add the 'I'm too late for breakfast' food to the grocery list.

Daniel blew into the kitchen. "I'm late."

There may have been a moment of silence for the shower but based on his son's bedraggled, dripping tee shirt stuck to his torso in more than one place, he'd probably dried himself with a square of toilet paper.

Jack put the coffee and the unopened package of Pop Tarts on the kitchen table then rooted around in the basket. "Here." He held out a worn elastic rubber band for Daniel.

"What?" Daniel touched his wet hair. "Oh." He dropped his backpack onto the floor then reached to snatch the elastic from him. Carding his fingers through the top of his head, he pulled a handful of hair back, secured it with the rubber band and allowed the rest to hand free and drip down his back.

Jack hated that.

Daniel was oblivious.

It wasn't worth a few harsh words to upset the fragility of this house so Jack remained silent.

Daniel adjusted his hoodie, picked up and swung his backpack into place took the coffee, the Pop Tarts and turned to Jack with wide eyed innocence. "I need a lift."

Tugging on one of the untied, dangling cords from the hoodie, Jack smiled. "Come on, I've been waiting for you."


"Don't forget." Backpack on the floor by his feet, coffee mug anchored in his groin, Daniel ripped into the silver wrapping of the Pop Tarts using his two front teeth.

"Forget?" Crap, what had he forgotten? It wasn't even zero-seven thirty hours yet and he'd forgotten something? Damn, age and this holey memory.

"You forgot, didn't you?"


"Dad, we're the only people in the car, who else would I be talking to?" Daniel took a bite of the Pop Tart, made a face and slid the rest of the pastry back into the silver foil with its mate. He stuck it in between the seat and the console and reached for his coffee.

Jack promised himself he would not forget to trash that. "Maybe you were just talking out loud."

Daniel laughed, the pure sound of it made Jack smile. "Admit it. You forgot."

"Forgot what?"

"Dinner tomorrow with Grandma."

"Oh, that? I thought it was something more—"

"If you say important, I'm going to tell Grandma."

"Blackmail?" Jack pulled into the school parking lot. "Are you blackmailing me?"

"Me? Blackmail you?" Daniel put his travel mug in the cup holder and reached down to get his backpack. "It's payback for you trying to poison me with pink frosted Pop Tarts."


Sarah woke with the feeling of being watched. She went from sleeping to wakefulness in a matter of seconds and searched for a gun that wasn't there. Crap. She flipped onto her back, hands clenched, ready to do battle with whoever decided to interrupt her sleep.

"You're in my bed." Hands tucked under his armpits, lids heavy with sleep, John was staring down at her.

Sarah came to full alertness, aware of two things. First, John wasn't truly awake and he was eyeing his bed with an insatiable desire and second, she'd never understood John's complaint of waking up with a pair of eyes cutting through his slumber. Now, she did. It was damn creepy.

"Sorry," she apologized, sliding out of the bed.

John dropped onto the mattress before Sarah had fully pulled herself into a standing position.

"Whoa, give me a second," she said, tugging her hand out from under his head.

Ignoring her, John curled up, eyes closed, but his hand was patting the bed, looking for something.

"Got it, just give me a second," Sarah dragged the blanket from the floor to cover him.

Double fisting the quilt, John tucked it under his chin with a down to his sock-covered toes sigh.

Slowly, Sarah backed out of the bedroom door, holding the knob, incrementally releasing her grip so the lock would silently click into place.


It was a crazy morning and it took Daniel until lunch to get to himself, playing catch up in every class, which considering, with his dad driving him, he hadn't even been late.

Sliding into the bench seat, he inhaled half of his grilled cheese before Alexandria even sat down.

"Hungry much?" Alexandria put down her tray then sat, sidling up to Daniel.

"Didnthavebreathfath," he mumbled around a mouth full of fries.

"Here, you can have mine." Cassie centered her sandwich in the middle of the paper plate, grabbed a handful of fries, leaned across the table and dropped them on top of Daniel's lunch.

"How's John?" Alexandria asked.

Daniel used a gulp of Snapple to wash down a mouthful of food. And he accused his father of being forgetful? He knew John hadn't been in class, well peripherally, Daniel had known John wasn't there, but it hadn't truly registered.

Cassie broke her chocolate chip cookie in half and didn't take a bite of either piece. "Sleeping. At least he was when I left yesterday."

"Where was Cameron?" Corey glanced to the empty space next to him. "Where isshe?"

"Not here," Cassie asked with more sarcasm than was called for.

Alexandria ignored them. After years of listening to Cory and Cassie dance around each other, Daniel was pretty much immune to their sniping at each other.

Cassie and Corey glared.

Alexandria dunked one her fries into Daniel's overabundance of ketchup. "Cassie, was your mom pissed that you cut school?" Alexandria asked distractedly, more interested in the hearts she was drawing in the ketchup than she was in facing the two of them.


Daniel saw right through it. "She bought your lie? Your mother believed you?"


Daniel studied her over the top of his glasses. "Really?"

"Kinda. Sorta. Said we'd discuss it tonight."

"Oops," Corey said, nudging her shoulder. "Guess you're going to be sneaking out your window for the next couple of weeks."


Daniel cornered Cassie, backing her into a break in the lockers.

"People are going to get the wrong idea," she countered.

When Cassie sparred with him, more times than not, Daniel didn't even counter her remarks. Ignoring her was easier. This was one of the times that ignoring would work better than getting into it. "Tell me about John."

"What's there to tell? He's as screwed up as we are." Cassie thought a moment. "As you are."

"Is. He. Okay?" Daniel asked, exasperated. The clock was ticking and he so didn't want to have to go get a late pass.

"He was exhausted. I told him a bedtime story. Made him feel safe and he fell asleep."

"Cassie, why can't you just answer me?"

The first bell rang.

"I'm not lying, Daniel. I tucked him in and told him a bedtime story."


"He was sleeping when I left. And considering he's not in school, I'm thinking he's still sleeping."


The shower was wonderful. The temperature was perfect and there was just the right amount of pressure. Her son was sleeping and even she had managed to capture more than her usual time sans nightmares, always a plus. Shower. Sleep. Safety. The three Esses in the life of the Connors. Times like these were far and few between and one learned to hold onto them for dear life.

The coffee mug that she had her hands wrapped around after the shower was an added plus. The time, however, when her glance caught the numbers on the microwave, was unbalancing. She blinked. Amazed. She had not only slept. Sarah Connor had slept. Bed at midnight, the microwave now read two, as in pm, as in afternoon.

That was abnormal. People don't sleep for fourteen hours. Hell, even normal people didn't sleep that long. Did they? It had been so long since Sarah had done normal, she wasn't too sure exactly what fell within the realm of normalcy anymore.

Strange, freaky and fourteen hours of sleep didn't sit well with her. Loss of control. Sarah didn't do well with losing control and the good feeling of the shower dissipated in a cloud of distaste at her perceived failure.

So, when her still buried in her back pocket cell rang, she slammed the mug on the counter and dug out her phone. John's school. Great. Obviously, before Derek had disappeared for the day, he hadn't bothered to call John absent.

Sarah flipped open the phone. "I'm sorry, it totally slipped my mind. Yes, John—"

"Mrs. Baum, it's Mr. Donnelly, John's guidance counselor."

Wonderful, Sarah reached for the nearly empty bottle of Tylenol in the cabinet next to the sink.


John needed a shower, take a piss, down a handful of Tylenol and a side order of a pot of coffee. And food; he was fucking hungry.

He felt drugged, confused and the farthest thing from well-rested as he could possibly get. It took more than one try to drag his lethargic, uncooperative, and uncoordinated body into a standing position.

Peeing was orgasmic.

Next Tylenol. Coffee. Food.


Uh oh. His mom was sitting at the kitchen table, an opened bottle of beer in front of her was in danger of losing its life as she spun her closed cell phone.

She was pissed. Maybe pissed was too gentle a word. If he backed out of the kitchen, maybe he could go back to where he'd come from.

Too late. She glanced up and there wasn't a hope in hell that John was going to be able to slip gently into the night, or afternoon.

"Sit." She kicked out the chair closest to him.

He eyed the still filled coffee pot with longing. And look at that, the Tylenol was sitting right on the counter calling his name.

"Sit," his mother ordered again.

"Sitting." John sat, protected himself against his mother's wrath by folding his arms across his chest.

"I had an interesting call."

"Can I get some Tylenol and a pot of coffee before you start?"


John slunk lower in the chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. His head was too heavy and he let the back of the chair hold it up. "I'm listening."

"You know, John, going to school, being normal, was your choice."

John sat up. No pancakes, no guns and he didn't think there was an overnight bag by the front door, but this conversation sounded suspiciously like the 'we're going to run' chat they usually had.

"You're not saying anything." She grabbed her cell mid-spin then slammed it onto the table.

"Say something about what?" He hated when his mom played 'Let's be Obscure' because John always lost. Screw this. He got up, helped himself to three Tylenol and a mug of semi-lukewarm coffee. "Okay, now put sentences together that are coherent, okay?"

"You've been cutting school."

John wasn't going to deny the inevitable. "I've had reasons."

"Damn it, John, on a normal note, cutting has pinned you right on the map, under the microscopic gaze of officials. School officials. And you know what the next step in all of that mess will be.

"And on top of that, for all the times Donnelly informed me of your indiscretions, I don't think," Sarah tossed her cell phone to John, who caught it, "you ever called me to let me know any of your great reasons."

"It's harder than I thought it would be." With one hand, John grabbed the edge of the chair and with legs dragging and scraping along the floor, he moved back to the table. With intense precision, he slowly put the cell in the middle of the table. "Being normal becomes overwhelming."

"You can't straddle the fence."

"Why not?" He was learning from his mistakes. Not to empty his gun into a man skulking in this kitchen before confirming his terminator status. No drinking on rooftops. No saving children from psycho dads. Yup, mistakes made once, he'd never make them again. "I'm learning. Trying."

"Not good enough."

"What are you saying?"

"You don't get another get out of jail free card, John. You got one phone call." She flicked the cell phone. "That was it."

"I need a shower."

"John." She reached out towards him, but he pulled back.

"I. Need. A. Shower."

"We'll talk—"

"No. You'll talk at me, that's how things work around here."

"You screwed up, John. You wanted normal."

"I wanted normal. I didn't get normal, did I? I got nanocytes. I killed a man, right about where you're standing. I got the crap beaten outta me. I've traveled to different worlds and sometimes, like now, this shit gets overwhelming and I'm doing the best I can."

"It's not good enough."

"Start the pancakes," John hissed, "I'll be ready in an hour."


He cried in the shower, like a fucking baby, he sobbed into the tiles while the water beat on his back. Done, he dried his tears, toweled off, dressed, then pulled down the ladder to the attic and dug out his duffle bag.

His life used to fit in this duffle bag, but all it had taken was a few months in this house and in this life to realize the pieces of who he was couldn't be compacted.

Fuck this.

He grabbed his hoodie, checked his watch and bounded down the stairs. "I'll be back," he yelled over his shoulder, not even giving his mother a chance to hunt him down and block his exit. Without a thought, he snatched up the truck keys on the table by the door. If he was going to go down, he was going to go down in a spectacular ball of flames.


Hands on his knees, back to the bench, Daniel was bent over, panting, hiding the massage his fingers were performing on his knee behind his exertion.

"Jackson. Bench. Now."

He straightened slowly, making sure not to limp.


Silently the coach pointed to the wooden bench, waiting until he sat before he spoke. "Falen, go take Jackson's position." There was no warmth in his voice as he ordered the newest kid on the team onto the field.

Dawson was pissed, and if Daniel had learned anything while playing on the team, it was patience. The coach would take time, process his anger, then make sure to let whoever had raised his blood pressure past the boiling point that in no uncertain terms they'd fucked up.

The coach blew the whistle and the team came to an abrupt halt. "Go through the play again," he said, gesturing, "Middleton and Falen, switch positions." He clapped his hands, "make it work, boys."

Daniel watched the coach watch the play, absentmindedly stretching his leg. Damn it, his knee had barely bothered him for the past week or so. And now it felt ten times worse.

"Next time," the coach said, spinning around and glaring at Daniel, "you keep playing when your knee hurts, I'll kick your butt all the way home. Then your knee will be the least of your problems."

Oh god, this man had taken lessons from his dad and Daniel guiltily pulled his leg into a more normal, sitting position. "I'm okay."

The coach sighed, rolled his eyes then glanced heavenward. "I know you are. And I want to keep it that way. While I know you thought it was great fun to have your own whistle, I prefer you on the field and not warming the bench."


Daniel took a quick shower. Practice had run later than normal and he had about five minutes to catch the late bus. Running without trying to favor his leg, he vomited up a string of curses when he was greeted with the red taillights of the departing bus.

Next bus was forty minutes away and Daniel ran through his options. Wait. Walk. Call for assistance. Waiting sucked. Walking... He flexed his knee, grimaced then settled on the call for assistance. Alexandria. Cassie. Hell, even his grandmother's call went to voice mail. So much for the women in his life watching his ass when he needed them.

With his good leg he kicked the cement step. Temper tantrums always worked well in situations like this, but, Daniel realized with a quick scope of the parking lot, only if there was someone around to watch. Losing his patience without an audience sorta sucked.

He gave an involuntary shiver. Late afternoon, the temperature was slowly dropping or maybe it was the fact he was still basically wet from his shower. Dropping his backpack on the cement ledge, he carded his fingers through his still wet hair, leaned sideways, squeezed out the extra moisture, then pulled it tightly back. Sweatshirt zipped to his neck, he pulled up the hood then shouldered his backpack. Oh well, at least if he walked, there would be a bottle of Advil at journey's end.

A wildly honking horn drew his attention away from his search for his iPod. "What the...?" Daniel peered at the approaching SUV, stepping back onto the sidewalk out of harm's way. Daniel stepped back two more paces when the vaguely familiar SUV stopped in front of where he stood. He froze, then stared dumbfounded when the passenger door flew open. "John, what the hell are you doing driving—"

"Shut the hell up and get in."

There was no hesitation. Admittedly, a part of his brain traveled somewhere along the 'what the fuck is John doing driving' road, but it didn't stop him from tossing his backpack on the floor then climbing in after it.

"Miss the bus again?" John asked, glancing at Daniel, motioning for him to buckle his seatbelt.

"Miss school again?" Daniel countered, hating that John sometimes made him feel like he was a little kid. He was going to say more, add even a little more sarcasm until it dawned on him that even with his seatbelt buckled, they weren't moving. "What's wrong?" he asked softly, pushing down the hood of his sweatshirt.

John's fingers tightened around the steering wheel, hard enough that the color leeched from the digits. "I came to say goodbye."

Daniel heard the sentence. Understood what each and every single word meant. It was when they were strung together that he had problems with comprehension. "Huh?"

"Goodbye. As in me leaving. Adios. Arrivaderci. Sayonara." John swallowed whatever else he was going to say and pulled away from the curb.

They drove in silence but Daniel could sense the effort to hold back emotions was tangible, like a living, suffocating thing. "Don't be an asshole."

"Too late. Already was." His gaze slid over to the clock on the console. "Got about twenty minutes in Colorado Springs."

"No," Daniel said with an adamant shake of his head. "Bullshit."

There wasn't an ounce of amusement in John's laughter and Daniel was smart enough to ignore the sheen of moisture in his friend's eyes. "That's how Sarah Connor operates. Told ya so."

"You told me that this was home."

"I lied."

"No, you didn't lie."

"Whatever," John said, an eerily resigned calm leaking into his voice. "I lied," he shrugged. "My mother lied. Truthfully, does it really make any difference, Jackson? You'll get over it. We'll just make a date to meet after Judgment Day."

With all his might, considering there wasn't much because of the angle he was at, Daniel drew back his right arm, hauled off and punched John in the shoulder.

"Shit!" The Nitro veered left and crossed the yellow line into oncoming traffic.

Daniel slammed his eyes shut, cursed and waited for the inevitable collision. Only when he heard the engine shut off did Daniel risk opening his eyes. Daniel recognized the area. Two blocks from his house. Right by the park. Slowly, the breath that had frozen in his chest began to melt. "I'm..."

John's upper body flew over the console and he grabbed the front of Daniel's hoodie and shook him. "What the fuck did you do that for?"

Daniel really hadn't known why he'd hit John until now. Yeah, it had been stupid and could've gotten them killed, but gazing into John's angry expression inches from his own drove home the point. "Because for a minute there..." God, this was going to come out wrong no matter how many ways he said it. "I thought maybe you had a chip in your head instead of a brain. No emotions. Just cold hard—"

John released Daniel with a shove and he bounced against the seat. "You just don't get it. You'll never get it." He fumbled with the seatbelt and the door, practically falling out of the SUV. The door was slammed before Daniel could even unlatch his seatbelt.


Daniel didn't move from the passenger seat and with his gaze front and center, he had an unobstructed bird's eye view of John sitting on the furthest park bench, head down, hands clasped and dangling between his legs. With his left hand, Daniel removed the keys from the ignition and with his eyes glued to John, he pulled his cell from his backpack.

He dialed his dad's cell because home or at the SGC, it was the one phone his dad always answered.


He took a breath and plunged in, hoping for coherency. "I'm at the park with John. He picked me up after soccer."

"John was driving? I didn't know—"

John had driven before, Daniel has just assumed that he was perfectly licensed, but Daniel did that a lot with John - he assumed. It was easier that way. Way easier than asking questions and getting answers he really didn't want to hear. Stupid, yeah, but before his dad got mired in that one unimportant driving question, Daniel had to pull him out. "Sarah's leaving. She's pulling up stakes and going. John came to say goodbye." Daniel pushed his glasses on top of his head and swiped the back of his hand across his eyes. "You need to hurry."


Jack didn't want to hurry. He wanted to eat the lasagne and garlic bread cooking in the oven. He wanted Daniel for company and a beer after dinner, his recliner and the remote, his son and a great hockey game. He slipped on his jacket, grabbed his keys then went back into the kitchen, turned off the stove and said goodbye to a nice moist dinner. The cell phone was an afterthought and Jack shoved it in his pocket with a curse. He wanted peace and quiet. He didn't want to get involved in the Connor's affairs. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe never.

Was he selfish? Damn straight he was and he was sorry that poor John was going to get caught in his apathy.


This was going to be an in, out, grab the kid, make some noises then drive him back home to his mother, talk her into staying until morning or at least until he had dinner. That was his plan and nothing was going to veer him from the path. Yeah, that was until he drove into the parking lot.

Daniel was by his side the second he had both feet on the ground. "He hasn't moved, Dad. He doesn't want to go. He won't tell me..." Daniel glanced over his shoulder as if to check on John's whereabouts.

Jack clasped Daniel by the arms. "You're limping."

The limping, like John suddenly obtaining a license, got pushed into 'a discussion for another day' pile. "I'm fine."

Yeah, he probably was but his son was frantic, loose wet hair had broken free of the rubber band and curled around his flushed face.

"You have to stop this," Daniel begged.

Best laid plans.

Daniel was looking at him to make it right. To fix something that was broken. God, it had been quite a while since his son had looked up at him with expectancy. And hope.

"Let me go talk to John, you stay here." He pushed Daniel back towards the Avalanche. "I want you to sit down and rest that knee. Eh..." He raised a finger when his son started to interrupt him, then softened the order with a quick hug. "I've got this covered. Trust me."

"Always," Daniel whispered against his shoulder.


Once Jack got close enough, he could see that John was rocking, slowly and with imperceptible movements, but it still constituted rocking in his world.

"Nice car," he said as he slowly approached.

John raised his head and blinked at Jack as if he was awaking from a dream. "Yeah," he snorted, "Nice."

"You can drive?" Jack sat a good arm's length away from the kid.

"Since I was twelve." John's fingers were accustomed to longer hair and they reached up for a second before falling back into his lap. "Hotwire. I can hotwire a car."

Maybe Sarah was right and the rest of them were wrong, maybe this kid needed to be kept away from Daniel. Far away. No, that wasn't right. He knew it, Daniel knew it, these kids needed each other. Oh, well. "Interesting skills for a sixteen year old."

John's blank expression hardened. "They're survival skills, Jack. I've got a whole shit load of stuff. My own bag of tricks."

"Yeah, you're a regular Felix the Cat."


Jack waved away John's confusion. "My age is showing, forget it." He glanced up, the afternoon sun was hanging low on the horizon.

As if reading his mind, John gave a slight shudder.


John plucked at his hoodie. "Nope, I'm fine."

Thanks to Sarah, Jack was pretty sure John was the perpetual boy scout. Always prepared. And he could stake his life on not everything in John's backpack or pockets were the normal pieces of everyday life that most teens carried with them. "Look, John, I'm sure your mom trained you well, but there're other skills needed to get through Judgment Day." He was slowly creeping in the back door. John needed to make the connection. Sixteen or not, this kid, according to future authorities, was going to lead the resistance, but if he couldn't stand up to his mother or at least put in a good fight for what he believed in, humanity didn't stand a chance.

"Yeah, soccer and school. I'm sure knowing which ruling family in France sat on the throne during the American Revolution is going to help me." John snorted. "Or help mankind. And let's not forget the if one train leaves New York traveling—"

"Honestly, that train thing, except for Carter, no one really cares or can even figure it out."

There was no humor in John's smile.

And Jack thought Daniel was old before him time? Jeeze, his kid couldn't hold a candle to John Connor. "You learned something in soccer though."

"Lately?" John huffed. "What would that be, how to get my ass kicked?"

Okay, maybe that was a bad analogy because according to Daniel, the team hadn't been having one of their better seasons. "Is that all you've learned?"

He got a one shoulder shrug in response.

God, Jack didn't want to spoon feed John the answers, that would prove nothing nor would it make his point.

"To think on my feet. To pass the ball. To rely on others." John glanced up.

Jack followed his gaze. Daniel. John was looking at Daniel who was leaning against the Avalanche. Good boy. Smart enough to connect the dots.

"That battles aren't won by the strength of one person," he said softly.

"No, they aren't."

John turned towards Jack, horror etched on his face. "I don't want to go. I screwed up, but I don't want to go."

"I know you don't."

"I can't go." He lowered his lids, deliberately, and the moisture that had filled his eyes just moments before leaked slowly down his cheeks.

Damn it. "John..."

He scrubbed at his face, the opened his eyes. "Help me."

There it was. The two words that Sarah Connor had never taught her son. The one thing missing in his training was the ability to reach out to others. Self-reliance wasn't always the virtue she made it out to be. Maybe now it was time for her son to teach her a lesson.


His father had his arm around John's shoulder, well, maybe not really because that would imply they were walking closely to each other, and they weren't. They'd started out that way, his dad's arm casually flung around John but with each step, John had inched to the side until his dad's arm was stretched to the limit and now only his fingers were making contact with John's shoulder.

With a slightest of limps, his father kept his distance.

And John no longer inched to the side.

Daniel exhaled, it was going to be okay.

"We're going to take a ride to John's," his dad said, sliding his hand off John's shoulder.

Daniel dug into his pocket and held out the keys to the Nitro. "I'm going to ride shotgun with John."

Head down, John snatched the keys.

There was hesitation from his father, the wheels were turning, not exactly comfortable that Daniel was going to drive with John. "Please," he hissed.

"He has no license."

That was better than an out and out no and Daniel stole a glance over his shoulder. The Nitro's motor was running, John was waiting. "He's waiting."

"Speed limit. Green makes go. Yellow means stop just like red—"

"Maybe we should drive in your car and let someone come back and get their car later."

His dad patted his cheek. "Always the diplomat."

"But if you drove him home it would be as if he'd done something wrong. Tail between his legs sorta thing."

"Go. Make sure—"

"Green means go. Yellow and red means stop. No speeding. Yield."


Daniel pulled himself into the Nitro and shut the door. "You don't want to read the list of driving rules my father tattooed on my chest, do you?"

John laughed. "Not really interested in seeing your bare chest, Jackson."

"Daniel," he replied abstractedly, while his right hand rubbed his aching knee.

"Dawson run you ragged?" Eyes forward, he cocked his chin at Daniel.

Guiltily, Daniel slid his hand off his knee. "Didn't warm up. My fault."

"I doubt that, but if that's the story you want to tell your dad, I've got your back."


John leaned over to flick on the radio.

Daniel turned it off.

John turned it on.

This time when Daniel turned it off he explained. "Nowhere on my dad's list was 'listening to the radio'."

"Your entire family—"

"Has got your back," Daniel answered with a wink and a click of his tongue.

John groaned.

Daniel laughed.


Two blocks from John's home the silence between the two of them was stifling. Conversation that Daniel had tried fell flat, John shutting down every word.

God his knee hurt and he dug the heel of his palm into his aching muscle, at least when John was talking it was distracting. "It's going to be okay."

"Just in case..."

"It will be. I promise."

"Stop." John smacked the steering wheel. "Don't make promises you can't possibly keep."

"Sorry," Daniel said meekly.

The silence returned like a blast of frigid air.


Sarah was angry and like John, when emotions got the better of him, silence reigned supreme.

Daniel wanted nothing more than to sit and take the weight off his leg, but no one was sitting; they were all skirting around each other, pacing like caged animals. Daniel tried to ignore the carryall by the front door.

"You took the Nitro." Sarah took a step towards John.

"It's not the first time," John mumbled.

Sarah's glare was murderous.

"I know how to drive." John stood his ground.

"I know that you do, but what if you'd been stopped by a cop?" Sarah was slowly inching herself forward.

"I wasn't."

"You were damn lucky."


"You weren't so lucky with school, were you? Cutting. Poor attendance."

This time John did a quick backstep right into Daniel's father, who protectively looped his arm around John's shoulders and tugged him against his front.

Sarah stopped short and her eyes widened in surprise.

Daniel shook his head in disbelief, so focused on John, their presence hadn't truly registered with Sarah.

"Thank you for bringing John home, Jack."

"The Nitro's in the driveway. Jack didn't bring me home, Mom."

Wow, even Janet's 'you've really pissed me off now, let me show you my big needles' gaze couldn't hold a candle to the look Sarah gave his dad.

"Well then, a thank you isn't necessary, is it?" Sarah said sarcastically.

"Look, Sarah, maybe you need to think about—"

"This is none of your business."

John reached up and Daniel could see the gentle squeeze he gave his father's arm. His dad understood the unspoken request and slowly, allowed his arm to slide down, but he didn't move. With his dad, support came in many fashions, and while there was the slightest twinge of jealousy, Daniel was so damn proud of him, it was hard to hold back a smile.

"Stop it," John commanded. "Mom, just stop it. We need them. We need the SGC, their resources and their protection."

"We've gotten by on our own."

"I don't want to get by anymore. I want—"

"You should've thought about what you wanted before your guidance counselor called."

Crap. Daniel shot a glance towards his dad, who didn't turn to meet his eyes, but Daniel could see the emotional indicator on the right side of his jaw that always jumped when his father was pissed. Or surprised.

Silence. Daniel's gaze bounced from one person to the other, wishing someone would say something. Anything.

"I screwed up," John admitted in a quiet, soft voice.

"No shit, John."

"Sarah." Daniel was very familiar with the soft, soothing undertones in his dad's voice.

She sighed, rolled her eyes then put all of her attention on his dad. "Go home, Jack. Go back to your life, but make sure your ass is covered when Judgment Day—"

"Would you just shut up and listen to me?"

John started and looked backwards at Daniel's dad. Not too many people used that tone of voice with Sarah Connor and lived to talk about it. He stepped sideways out of the line of fire.

To take the weight off his leg, Daniel leaned against the wall.

"Listen to you?" Sarah spit back. "Why the hell should I listen to you?"

Oh, man, this wasn't going to be pretty.

"You know, you're right, you shouldn't listen to me, you should listen to your son."

"Why?" Sarah said, not giving John a chance to speak.

"Because I don't want to go," John repeated for the millionth time.

"That's not good enough."

"You've told me that already, more than once, but nothing is ever good enough for you, Mom. Not Central America. Not Mexico. Not Charley. Not me. Nothing."

The hardness slid from her face and Daniel watched her transform in front of his eyes, to being just a mom, hurt and confused by John's words. "That's not true."

"It is," John said softly. "And you know it."

Daniel felt like a voyeur as he watched as John squared his shoulders and stepped up to bat. "Maybe it's not me. Maybe it's you. Maybe you're just looking for a reason to run because isn't that how the Connors operate? Isn't that how your operate? Get too comfortable and the walls begin to close in and it's pack the bags and pancake time." He began to tick the reasons on his fingers. "Skynet. Terminators. FBI. John's fucked up."

John grabbed Sarah's hands, pulled her in and kissed her cheek. "I'm not going. Not this time. Not yet. Not now. What I'm going to do is unpack my bag and hope that maybe you'll make some eggs and bacon to go with those pancakes."


Daniel followed John out of the kitchen and made no comment over his shaking hands when he went to pick up his carryall by the front door. "You done good, man."

John shrugged, not making eye contact. "The answer will be if I'm on the bus tomorrow."

"Wait." Daniel clasped John's arm. "Just in case..."

John dropped his case and stared at Daniel, the silence between them awkward. "I'll find you."

Daniel snorted. "You won't have to, I'll just follow Cassie, she'll hunt you down."

"Cassie. Oh." John's face fell, "Tell her—"

That was damn stupid, Jackson. Daniel tried to bring a spark of levity into the doom and gloom. "What? You want to take her to the movies on Saturday?"

"You're a jerk," John said, shaking his head.


Daniel barely waited for his father to pull away from the curb. "Well?"

His dad shrugged. "Well what?"

Loved the man, hated when he played stupidly obtuse, believing that he'd always hated that. "Please don't, okay?"

"I'm not being stupidly obtuse, Daniel."

How the hell did he do that? "Then what are you doing?"

"Being honest? I have no idea what Sarah is going to do. I explained to her that the SGC could offer them protection and buffer between them and the school system, but John has to do his part. Walk the straight and narrow."

"It's not easy."

"I never said it was. For you. For him. But you seem to manage."

"Not always, don't fool yourself into thinking that I'm the poster child for 'my child was student of the month'."

His dad burst out laughing. "You? You blow my socks off with your intelligence, but your ability to respond well to authority figures was never one of your strong points no matter how old you were. Are." His father clapped him on the shoulder. "Love you anyway."

"That's the difference between me and John, you know." Daniel began to draw a tic tac toe board on the passenger window.

"Sarah loves John."

"She does?"

"Okay, talk to me, Icky, what am I missing?"

"Sometimes I feel John's an obligation to his mother."

"Please tell me that you didn't say that to John?"

Daniel scrubbed away his tic tac toe board. "No," he answered sarcastically, "of course I didn't."


"Responsible. Obligation. I just don't know how to explain it."

"What? My son is at a loss for words?"

"Ha. Obsessed with keeping John alive."

"Newsflash, Daniel, most parents are pretty damn obsessive about keeping their kids alive."

Frustrated, Daniel began to scrub away the moisture on the entire window. "You know what I meant. It's about Judgment Day. The future. What will be, not what is going on now. John needs her now."

"So he cut school for her to sit up and take notice?"

Daniel shook his head and his hand went back to his knee, waiting until his father's attention was fully focused on the road in front of him before he began massaging away the ache. "I think for all of his talk, John's just as afraid as Sara is. Friends. Permanence. They're foreign concepts to the Connors. But John wants to be the one making the decision. Not his mother. So maybe he did cut school for her to see him."

"So, Icky, do you think John's brilliant idea might have backfired?"

Daniel exhaled loudly. "I have no idea, what do you think?"

"I think we're going to go home and eat some dried out dinner. You're going to do homework, take a muscle relaxant, a hot shower and then go to sleep. No computer. No cell phone."

Well, his father didn't exactly miss his hand becoming one with his knee. "Am I being punished?"

"No, I'm being an overly concerned, father henning dad. Live with it."

"Father henning?"

"Be quiet, or I'll make you set the table and clean up."

"I love you, Dad." Oh god, where the hell had that come from? Embarrassed because his emotions were showing, Daniel turned to face the window and study the passing scenery.

"Right back at'cha."


Dinner ended up going in the garbage and his dad ended up making bacon and eggs. The power of suggestion was a wonderful thing, while Daniel showered, taking longer than his after practice one and revelling in the warmth of the water.

Dinner was ready and waiting when he walked into the kitchen. Juice and a pill were sitting to the right of his plate. He sat, dug in and ignored the medication, just like he ignored the throbbing in his knee..

"Umm, don't forget dessert." His dad flicked it over to him.

"After my homework, promise. Otherwise I'll be drooling in my Global History book."


According to his clock, his father held off ninety minutes, which in and of itself was a record, before delivering his pill and a bottle of water. Daniel gave his dad a grateful smile, took the pill and the water, hoping that it was enough. But it wasn't, his father stood there, waiting.

"I'm going to take it, honest."

His father sat at the edge of Daniel's bed. "I know you're going to take it, what I'd like to know is the reason why it's necessary."

Daniel stuck the pill in his mouth, chased it down with a mouthful of water then shrugged. "Didn't warm up enough today?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

"I think that's what it is." Because it had to be, he was terrified that it could be something more. Something he didn't want to face. Or discuss. Or treat.

"What I'm going to say isn't up for discussion. This isn't something to be bartered. In this, my word is law."

"Does it involve a firing squad?" Okay, his father wasn't smiling. "Sorry."

His dad gave him a quick nod, apology accepted. "Tomorrow if you're having problems with that knee, a visit to the orthopaedist is in order. PT. No soccer."

"No soccer? Crap, Dad." Daniel slammed the bottle of water on the desk. "Look, I told you it was nothing."

"No, you told me that you thought it was because you didn't warm up."

"I don't want to sit on the bench."

"I know you don't."

"And if I wake up tomorrow and I feel better and my knee is okay? What then?"

His father was silent, his fingers tapping a thoughtful rhythm on his thigh.


"I'm sorry, Icky, but I'm really not comfortable with you playing without getting this checked out."

Having a tantrum wouldn't do anything, wouldn't gain him any ground or sympathy. Maybe he could suck it up and take a step towards adulthood. Something maybe he should have done days ago. "Maybe you could make an appointment with the doctor anyway. Just to, you know, cover all bases?"

"How long has it been bothering you?" His father's voice was gruff and demanding.

Crap, talk about something coming around to bite you in the ass. "Just today," he answered hurriedly. When his dad's eyebrows went up, Daniel came clean. "A couple weeks." He lowered his head, rubbing his index finger on the edge of his laptop. "I just thought to make you feel better..." A yawn caught him by surprise and his father's expression softened.

"I appreciate you're trying to help me out, Icky, but it's you I'm worried about."

Daniel glared at his father. "Now you know how I felt." Daniel tapped his dad's knee. "I still worry. You should be using the cane more than you do. You shouldn’t be doing as much as you do... shopping. PT..." Daniel's voice trailed off at the expression on his father's face. Damn. He sucked in his lips, preventing any more of emotional outbursts. He hadn't even realized he'd felt that way anymore. "Sorry," he mumbled head down.

His father placed his fingers under Daniel's chin and guided his face up until they made eye contact. "I'm fine. Honest."

Yeah, right, but Daniel kept those thoughts to himself. "I'm fine, too."

"That's only because you're drugged." His dad got up, stretched his arms over his head, almost to show Daniel that he could, then planted a quick kiss to the top of his head. "Go to sleep." He checked his watch. "Now." He flipped closed the textbook Daniel had opened on the desk.

Daniel really shouldn't. He should be... He totally lost his train of thought. "I think I need to go to sleep." He stood, surprised that his knee didn't appear to be feeling any pain and he easily flexed it back and forth. "See? It works fine."

"Yup. Just fine." His dad tossed back the covers on the bed then pointed the mattress. "You. Sleep. Now. We'll talk in the morning."


Sarah had a beer but what she wanted was a whiskey, straight up, no ice, no nothing between the liquor and her. But to get the whiskey, she had to get up out of the big wicker chair on the porch.

Cameron was doing her walk, appearing then disappearing from Sarah's peripheral vision.

Derek and she had exchanged more than a few words after Daniel and O'Neill had left. Out of sight but forever the soldier, he'd heard every word. "Out of the mouth of babes" was the key phrase that had stuck in her craw.

A little posturing and a lot of gun waving on her part was enough to convince Derek to put some distance between the two of them.

So now, Derek was out, Cameron was on border patrol, John had shut himself up in his room and she and her beer were sitting outside.


Sarah turned her head. "Thought you were sleeping."

"Not yet." Dressed in sweatpants and a baggy white tee, bare feet curled unto themselves against the cold of the wooden porch, he looked ready to crawl into bed.

"It's late."

"It's cold," he said.

"I'm fine." She held up her beer, "I'll be in as soon as I finish."

"I'm sor—"

"Don't, John. Okay? Everything's fine."

He blinked at her once, his face, once so open to her, now unreadable, and he turned and left her to sit once again all by her lonesome with the beer out in the cold, the door slamming in his wake.

Minutes later he was back, his arms full of blanket, his smile Cheshire Cat wide. "This should help."

One for her. She sat silent and awkward, unaccustomed to allowing anyone to fuss over her. The second blanket was for him. He wrapped it around himself then dropped into the chair next to her.

"It's late," she repeated.

"Not that late. I promise I'll be able to get up tomorrow."

Sarah smiled. Suddenly the beer was just what the doctor ordered, the porch didn't seem that lonely and the night wasn't that cold.


Ten minutes before the alarm, Daniel woke. The temptation to fall back to sleep for another precious few minutes was great, but he knew the extra time wouldn't make a dent in the drug-induced grogginess. Tentatively, he stretched out his bent knees. No problem with the left, the right was stiff and sore. He got up slowly, cautiously, and refused to exhale while he put weight on the leg. One step. Two. Three. He managed four without holding onto a piece of furniture.

No problem. Stiff and sore he could live with for now, the problem was, could his dad?


When he walked into the kitchen, he ignored the once over his dad gave him and instead made appreciative Homer Simpson noises at the two plates of French toast and bacon on the table. "Wow! And it's not even Saturday," Daniel said as he slipped into his seat and pulled the dish even closer.

"Wise ass." His father poured himself a cup of coffee, filled Daniel's mug halfway then added a smidge of cream to his while Daniel's was lightened with way more than a smidge.

As always, his dad rolled his eyes at the amount of sugar Daniel used.

"You're making my teeth hurt just looking at that." His dad sat and wrapped his hands protectively around his own mug.

Daniel smiled over the rim of the mug, smacking his lips with an exaggerated "ahhhh" when he put the coffee down. He was allowed one triangle of French toast before the inevitable.

"How's the knee?"

"Better than yesterday."

Based on the pursed lips and the scrunched, furrowed brow, it was obvious his dad wasn't too satisfied with that answer.

"Much better than yesterday," he sighed, dragging a small triangle through the syrup.


"Not as great as the day before?"


"I'm not trying to be difficult, Dad, please believe me, especially after you made me such a great breakfast." Daniel put down his fork and pushed his plate away. "You're disappointed?"

"I'm not sure if disappointed is the right word."

"I think I'm going to be late for school." He pushed out his chair and leaned over to grab his plate.

"I'll drive you."

It wasn't a request. It wasn't a demand. It was a statement but Daniel knew he had no choice in the matter.


"Tonight's Friday."

"Yeah." Daniel nodded, a little surprised that his dad would mention the obvious.

"You have practice today after school?"

"We have a game tomorrow." Which meant in no uncertain terms there was practice after school.

"Do you want me to call Coach Dawson?"

Crap. Shit. Fuck. "No," Daniel sighed, "I'll do it myself, I'll talk to him today."

"You know..."

"I know, Dad, this isn't a punishment." It sure felt like it was, though. Between disappointing his dad and the coach...

"Don't forget we have dinner with your grandmother tonight."

He'd forgotten. "I remembered. Italian, right?"

"I thought Chinese, but whatever, your choice." There was a hint of good natured teasing coloring the tone of his dad's voice.

Daniel stared out the window while his father waited in the line of cars pulling into the circle in front of the school, fidgeting with the seatbelt in anticipation. "I'll see you later," he said, unclipping the belt and opening the door. He was going for a quick, dignified getaway but his right knee had other ideas and it buckled just enough to draw his dad's attention.

His father slammed the Avalanche into park. "Get back in the truck."

Daniel turned, and as much as he wanted, he refused to use the opened door for support. "I'm okay."

His dad's eyebrows flew heavenward. "Could've fooled me. Your ass was almost one with the—"

He swung his right knee back and forth, bending and straightening. "Honest. Fine. Me. Look. See?" God, he hoped he had Tylenol in his backpack. "I'll talk to the Coach. I'll be good. If I need you—"

"I'll make sure he calls, Colonel Jack." Alexandria popped around Daniel, sticking her head in the car, buffering him from his father's over-exuberant smothering even before the first bell rang.

His father laughed, and Daniel relaxed just a little. "I trust you to keep our boy in line, Dria."

She saluted him and smiled hugely. "Got it covered, sir."

"Go," his dad said, waving at them to close the door. "Have a good day. Call me—"

Alexandria slammed the door before Daniel could answer, then waggled a little apologetic wave. "So..." She turned to face him, her brows knitting together in true girlfriend knows best annoyance. "Your dad finally nailed you because of your knee?"

"Yeah," he shrugged.

"Good," Alexandria pushed his glasses up so they hugged the bridge of his nose, "because if your father didn't catch it, I was going to tattle your ass."

Daniel pouted.

"Don't pout." She leaned into him, pulling on his bottom lip with her teeth.

"You know," Corey said, bumping into the two of them. "If you don’t move it or get a room or hell, even a classroom, someone's going to run you over. Splat. Road pizza."


"How's your knee?" Cassie asked, cornering him by the locker.

Daniel slammed his locker shut. "I'm fine."

"Good. That's nice. I'm glad. You suck at lying. Where's John?" She poked him in the chest. "Remember, I know that you suck at lying. I know your ticklish spots and I can make your life a living hell."

"Even more than you do now?"

"Not funny. Where's John?"

"Not here?"

"Daniel," Cassie began slowly, "when someone asks you a question, you answer it. You don't answer their question with a question."

She was snotty and pissy and in Cassie's world, that translated to she was upset and hurt.

"I don't know where John is," Daniel answered softly. "I wish I did."

"I called." Cassie swallowed, looking everywhere but at Daniel. "Last night. This morning. No answer."

Whether he was in Colorado Springs or not, Daniel couldn't answer. "He's safe."

"Not good enough." She turned and stomped off, but not before Daniel noticed the tears in her eyes.


John showed up during third period, handed the teacher the note then dropped into his seat, head down, not acknowledging anyone's presence.

Cassie's expression was at first filled with relief and she reached out, but pulled back as anger took over. Daniel cringed in sympathy as she jabbed John with her pen. Hard. In the back. John jumped. Bruises notwithstanding, that must've hurt.

She realized her mistake just as John's hand wound around to soothe where Cassie had left her mark. "Sorry, sorry, sorry," Cassie stuttered, her hand rubbing the offended area.

"Mr. Baum. Ms. Fraiser," the teacher warned, shaking a piece of chalk at them, "do I need to separate the two of you?"

"No. Sorry," they added in perfect sync.

Daniel smiled. Life was back to normal.


"You should've called." Cassie hadn't even let John sit down.

"Enough," Alexandria warned before Daniel had a chance to. "I'm getting tired of it, Cass. He's a guy. Guys screw up." She glanced at Daniel and rolled her eyes. "Get over it."

"Whoa. What?" Daniel sputtered. "When did I screw up?"

"You want a list?"

"Recently. When have I screwed up recently?"

"We don't screw up." Corey pulled himself from drooling over Cameron to add his two cents.

John looped his arm around Cassie's shoulders, pulled her over and kissed her on the cheek. "I screwed up."

Cassie preened. "Told ya so."

"Benedict Arnold," Daniel hissed.


The locker room was the first time Daniel was able to talk to John alone. He stood, leaning against a bank of lockers. "Reprieve?"

"Yeah. Just overslept this morning." John glanced at him. "I should thank you. Your dad." He blushed, ducking his head.

Daniel patted John's exposed tattoo. "Hey, purely selfish. Keeping you here saves me from having to look for you after, you know?"

"I know. I think I got my mom to understand, at least for now."

"You playing gym?" Daniel asked changing the subject. With John's hoodie off the bruises, though faded, were still evident.

"Not today." Quickly, he donned his hoodie, pulling down the sleeves so they covered his arms almost to his fingertips. "No."

Daniel wanted to kick himself. "Sorry, man. I just..."

"Opened your mouth and inserted your foot?" John grinned forgivingly at him. "Are you playing gym? Or are you finally going to confess that your knee's hurting you again?"

"Asshole," Daniel growled.


"Coach Dawson?" Daniel waited until the other kids were out in the field. John was sitting on the bench, involved in a self hug. He wanted to wave, let him know he'd be joining him in a few minutes but John was intently studying the ground beneath his sneakers.


"I'm not..." Daniel cleared his throat, trying to get the words out. Damn, this was ridiculous.

"Look," Coach Dawson said, "that knee is as precious as that brain in your head."

Daniel snorted. Not exactly the perfect analogy, but he understood where the guy was coming from. "I'm going to go to the doctor."

"As soon as possible, I hope. Playing yesterday was a mistake. I knew. I saw it. I apologize, son."

"My fault, I should've..."

"It's been bothering you for a while."


Coach Dawson's eyebrows traveled to his crew cut. "No?"

"Just an ache... Nothing..."

The coached tapped Daniel's chest with his clipboard. "Listen to your body, Jackson, and remember there's always a clipboard and whistle with your name on it."

"Thank you, sir, but I'm sure the doctor will say it's nothing."


"It's not the end of the world," Jack placated. He'd been a little surprised that the doctor hadn't said that the ache in Daniel's knee was nothing. He was trying to be supportive and understanding but Daniel wanted no part of his empathy.

Daniel wouldn't even look at him. Realistically, he knew his kid wasn't mad at him, but damn, it sure as hell felt like he was on the receiving end of all the nasty one syllable grunts.

He'd known there was going to be problems when the doctor called him back and told Jack they could squeeze Daniel in today at three. Which meant he'd had to pick him up early from school. No warning. Creature of habit, Daniel hated when Jack would do that.

And there'd been the lines of pain and uncomfortableness etched into the corner of his son's mouth, so as much as Daniel had complained about being picked up early, Jack was positive he'd made the right decision.

"A weekend off your leg. DVD's. Reading. Listening to your iPod." Jack was grasping at straws. "Me at your beck and call."

"We were going out for dinner with Grandma tonight."

"We can bring in."

"I wanted to go out."

No, Daniel probably didn't want to go out, but right now if Jack said the sky was blue, Daniel would argue until his last breath that he was wrong.

"Maybe Grandma will make us a pot of spatini."

"I want chicken parm."

Jack pasted a smile on his face, not mentioning that Daniel's very first choice has been Chinese. "Sure, chicken parm from Paradisio's is a doable. I know Grandma loves their chicken pannini." Oy, it was going to be a long weekend.


Daniel ripped his glasses off his face and double fisted his eyes until Jack leaned over and pulled them away.


"You should have never made me take the pill."

"You were hurting. The doctor said—"


"I'm not hungry." Daniel shoved the chicken parm platter away.

Jack's first reaction was anger, but his mother put an immediate stop to that emotion with a restraining hand on his arm.

"Dinner will keep, honey. Want to go lie down on the couch? Your bed?"

"Couch," he mumbled.


Jack got the talking to the second Daniel was out of earshot. Maybe Daniel had been right, maybe they should've put this dinner off for another day.

"Don't you dare raise your voice to that boy, do you understand me?"

"He was rude," Jack said lamely, already knowing he was going down in a ball of flames.

"He's fourteen. He's hurting. He's upset. Actually, except for the age thing, he reminds me very much of his father."

Sometimes, he just hated his mother. "I'm going to get him a pillow and blanket."

"Sit. He's fine."

"He's not fine," Jack shouted, banging the table with his flat of his hand. His mother and the silverware jumped at the sound. "I'm sorry," he apologized, immediately lowering his voice. "He's not. There might be residual damage that was left over... not enough healing? Mom, the kid can't catch a damn break."

Her weathered hand covered his. "I know."

That didn't make him feel better. His mother wasn't supposed to agree with him, she was supposed to poo poo his dark cloud and provide the silver lining.


Daniel was asleep, drooling and snoring, totally oblivious to his grandmother's fussing as she tucked the blanket around him.

"He can't sleep on the couch the entire night."

"I know, Ma."

"Don't you dare try and..."

Jack laughed, "What? Carry him? He's a little too old and I'm a lot too old for that."

She bent down, kissed Daniel's temple, tucking a piece of hair behind his ear. "Years go too fast."

Jack gave her a one armed hug. "Don't you dare go all maudlin on me because that emotion certainly doesn't go well with Penne a la Vodka."

Daniel moaned in his sleep and his left hand slid down to his blanket-covered knee, his thumb rubbing back and forth across the sore area.

"He'll be up soon," his mother observed with a slight shake of her head. "The pill didn't work that long, did it?"

Jack did mental calculations in his head. "Not long enough."

"Do you want me to stay?"

"No. Go home. Get some rest."

"You too, Jonathan. Remember it hasn't been that long since..."

He grabbed her hand and squeezed tightly. "I'll call you in the morning." Jack paused at her look of disbelief. "Honest."


Right smack in the middle of the first period, score tied, Daniel woke with a start. Coming awake with an indistinguishable word that Jack wasn't even sure was English, he bolted upright, then bent at the waist. Daniel ripped out his elastic, rubbed his fingers through his hair then massaged his temples.

"Headache?" Jack asked softly.

His son pushed back his hair and glared at him. "Drug induced. I told you I didn't want the pill."

"Maybe it would help if you ate something."

"I'm not hungry. You know I don't want pills of any kind. Stop pushing them at me."

Jack raised his hands. "Okay," he said, elongating the two syllable word. Truthfully, Jack had been surprised that Daniel had taken the first muscle relaxant without an argument, he had a feeling the next one wouldn't be so easy. "Not pushing."

"Fine, I'm going to take a shower then go to my room."

"The doctor mentioned keeping weight off that leg as much as possible for the weekend."

Daniel struggled to stand. "I know," he spit back at Jack, "I was there. Remember?"

"How about a bath?" Jack asked, totally ignoring Daniel's attitude. "Bubbles?"

"Don't treat me like a child."

"You're behaving like one, Daniel."

"Good, then don't forget to tuck me in before you go to bed."


Stress was doing a number on his own back and Jack stretched slowly as he stood outside the bathroom door. He wasn't spying, he was just listening, making sure his son's limbs stayed attached and upright, waiting until he heard the water shut off before heading back to the living room.

He watched the game and listened to the night noises coming from Daniel's room. He lowered the volume, leaned to the side and was able to pick up the light tap tap of the keyboard. Hoping it was chat and not homework, Jack raised the volume again and sat back to watch the end of the game, even though the team was down by two goals.


Jack turned off the TV. Wasn't worth the effort trying to stay awake. He checked the perimeter, locked the door and set the alarm.

He actually bounced a muscle relaxant in his hand, then settled for a Motrin. One for him, which he chased down with a cupful of water and one for Daniel, hoping the bottle of Snapple would tempt him enough to take the pill.

Age was relative, but tonight as he climbed the three stupid steps up to the bedrooms, he felt old. Horizontal would be the answer. That and a few hours of worry-free sleep. Though he probably had a better chance of winning the lottery than capturing those few hours of sleep.

"Hey." Jack pushed open the door with his elbow.

Daniel slammed the lid down on his laptop and turned to face Jack. "Hey, come to tuck me in? It's kinda early."

"Going to bed. You can tuck yourself in." Bottle of Snapple and the Motrin were placed where Jack could see desk.

"What did I say—"

"It's Motrin. That's Snapple. I'd think it would benefit you greatly if you took that one orange pill."

Daniel stared at him through lowered lashes.

"I'm not making it an order. Just a suggestion."

"Taken under consideration." Daniel's thumb was playing with the latch of his laptop.

Jack got the hint. "Sleep well."

"You, too. Night."


Something woke him at zero three hundred hours and Jack rose slowly and padded barefoot out into the hall. He pushed the door to Daniel's room open. Empty. Figured.

Daniel's left hip was one with the counter and he had the tin foil tray of chicken parm in one hand and he was picking the cheese off it with his other. He looked half awake, disheveled and appeared to be eating by rote and not because it was either good or appealing. The majority of his hair had escaped from the elastic and was falling around his face, which he kept blowing away in between bites.

Daniel flung the tray on the counter. "Either come in or go to bed, okay? I'm sorry I woke you."

Up close, Daniel looked horrible. Dark smudges under his eyes were testament that Daniel hadn't slept nor had taken the Motrin.

But of course, Jack was a father and he needed to state the obvious. "You didn't take the Motrin, did you? You look like crap." He didn't miss that Daniel used the countertop to push off.

"No, I didn't take the Motrin." He dropped heavily into the closest kitchen chair. "And I look like crap, because I feel like crap."

"Pain management, we've discussed this." God how many times were they going to have this argument? Hell, it was enough, how many times were they, was Daniel going to find himself in this situation?

Daniel slapped his open hand on the table. "This isn't about the pain. This is about," he rolled his eyes heavenward, "everything. School. Soccer. Friends."

Jack opened his mouth, trying to find something, anything that would make it all better, but Daniel shut him down, threatening him with the salt shaker.

"Don't you dare start spouting platitudes in my general direction."

"I wasn't," he lied.

"You were," Daniel slammed the salt shaker on the table, "you definitely were. You always do, and right now, in case you haven't noticed, I'm not in the mood for your 'don't worry tomorrow will be better' speech."

Jack crossed his arms. "Feel free to tell me what you're in the mood for. Come on, I'm all ears."

"I'm in the mood for god or whoever the heck is in charge to please decide to go pick on someone else for once."

"Yeah, I will admit—"

"Admit what?" Daniel screamed. "That I've been fucked over—"

"Daniel. Language."

Daniel growled. "Screwed over. I've been screwed over, and from what I can remember, I was fu—screwed over the first time around. Third time must be the charm, but hey, for now, I get another go round on the merry-go-round. Lucky me."

"You always liked rides."

"Just go back to bed, okay? I promise I'll lower the sound on the pity party so not to disturb you."

"Do. You. Hear. Yourself?" Jack was finding it hard to remind calm and civil, no matter what he'd promised his mother.

"Hear myself? No. All I hear is everyone telling me what I need to do. Blah. Blah. Blah. Pills. Rest. No school. Go to sleep. Eat. No soccer. Believe me, I hear everyone loud and clear." He gave a disparaging snort. "But me? No, I can't hear myself over everyone else's voices." Daniel grabbed the salt shaker again, poured a mound of salt onto the table and began to draw glyphs in the white stuff.

"Like father, like son. Your grandmother was one hundred percent correct."

"Huh?" Daniel lifted his head and stared. "Care to explain that?"

Jack didn't know how to explain, and he waited a heartbeat, hoping that Daniel would understand.

Silence. His genius son, with a heart of gold, had blinders on. So he tried again, palms on the table, leaning closer. "Do you hear yourself? Does it sound familiar? Glass house. Shoe on the other foot. Feel free to stop me if any of this begins to sound familiar."

Now, okay, Jack had wanted to make a point, have the light bulb go off over Daniel's head then they'd laugh, because the realization would chip away at Daniel's attitude, and Daniel would blush in embarrassment then all would be well. Yeah, right, that certainly wasn't what Jack ended up with. What he got but didn't expect was all the color to leech from Daniel's face, as wide, angry eyes filled with moisture. The blink was a slow motion reaction, and the single tear made a steady path, sliding down his face, hanging on the edge of his chin before landing on the salt glyphs.

Daniel swallowed, fought to gain control then failed miserably, collapsing into himself even before Jack could reach him. His head on the table, arms hiding him from the world, not so silent sobs wracked his shoulders.

Open mouth insert foot. Head. Heart. What had he done? To drive home a point? To win? Checkmate? To what end? To show Daniel that being in pain made you say things you'd regret? Great, maybe Jack needed a reminder as to who the fuck was the adult in this situation. He was around the table in three strides. "Look at me." Jack's voice was soft with the no nonsense edge reserved for sit up and take notice situations, but he didn't wait for Daniel to listen.

There was the slightest hesitation and if it were any other time, Jack would've stepped back and given him space. But not now. Now Jack firmly tightened his grip on Daniel's shoulders. "Please, look at me." Maybe the words finally penetrated. Maybe it was the 'please' or the begging tone Jack used, because Daniel lowered his arms and slowly lifted his head.

"I'm so sorry, Icky." Jack placed the fingers of his right hand under Daniel's chin and with his left hand brushed away the salt that had adhered to the moisture.

Daniel stared at the floor. "I said things." Disbelief colored his words.

Apologizing to his knees, Jack squatted in front of Daniel, then rocked back on his heels when his son flew into his arms. He expect a hurried apology, an embarrassed expression on his face, what Jack didn't expect was for Daniel to cry long enough that he lost feeling in his legs.

"It's okay," Jack repeated, rocking slightly to take the pressure off tightening muscles.

There was a shaky inhalation, but Jack couldn't tell if the tears were beginning anew, the only thing he knew was that the noise Daniel was making was killing Jack.

"Stop it." Jack pried Daniel off of him. God, he looked about ten. Red eyed and snot nosed, he attempted to latch back onto Jack.

"I'm so sorry, Daddy."

"Oh god, Icky." It was Jack's turn to latch onto Daniel. "It's me who should be apologizing."


As one, they moved to the couch, Daniel glued to his side, shuffling along, matching step for step. The tears had stopped, but the quiet acceptance even as they settled on the couch was making Jack twitchy. A silent Daniel meant that genius boy's brain was working overtime.

Jack sat and tugged on Daniel's arm. Daniel fell into the cushions, sidled up to Jack and dropped his head on Jack's shoulder, sighing deeply.

Jack echoed the sigh.

Daniel's breathing was congested and he sounded out of breath. Crying would do that but he was also tight, as if each inhalation was a battle. At fourteen he was too old to get the croup, right?

"Hey." Gently Jack massaged Daniel's bad knee to get his attention. "How uncomfortable are you?"

Daniel coughed.

"Is that a hint for an antihistamine?"

Daniel wrapped his hands around Jack's arm. "Fine."

Jack didn't believe Daniel for a second, but if Daniel wanted to play the game, Jack would play right along with him. "Okay, just checking."


Jack didn't remember slipping into sleep but the silence woke him. The lack of congested breathing by his side tugged him awake. "What the hell?" He tossed aside the afghan covering his body that hadn't been there when he and Daniel had been sitting on the sofa. Groaning, he stood, shaking out muscles that were still trying to sleep.

The sky was lightening, just enough to chase the shadows into the corners. The approaching dawn didn't make Jack feel any more awake and he stumbled into the kitchen, helped himself to a glass of water, another Motrin then squinted at the clock on the stove. Zero six hundred hours. Military time or not, he was going to crawl into bed for another hour or two. But first...

Daniel was sleeping, snoring loudly, holding onto his pillow for dear life. The Snapple he'd left on the dresser was drained dry and the Motrin was gone.

"Good boy," Jack whispered, bending down to adjust the blanket. "Sleep well. See ya." He glanced at the sunlight streaming through the blinds, "probably sometime closer to lunchtime."


There was only so long he could hide in his room before he passed out from hunger, pain or the need to pee. Daniel was stuffy, headachy and he'd been awake long enough to see the daylight disappear and clouds and rain take over. Dark and dreary. Admittedly, it suited his mood perfectly.

Out of the three necessities, peeing was the one that dragged Daniel out of bed. Definitely dragged was the key word. Right knee joint was far from cooperative and he ended up doing this cartoonish hop, skip and drag to the bathroom.

He peed, washed up, brushed his teeth and basically ignored his reflection. His fingers sought to pull just the top of his hair back, thought better and just ended up wetting his hands and running it through his bedhead.

Hugging the banister, Daniel awkwardly made it down the three steps. The kitchen was empty. The living room also and then Daniel realized, when he stood at the bottom of the steps, he'd been so intent on not alerting his dad that he was wake that Daniel hadn't even realized his father was still sleeping; his snoring echoing loudly down the hallway.


Daniel was starving and he really wanted breakfast with a capital 'B' but he was too hungry to take the time to make something that didn't come out of a box. He ate the bowl of cereal standing up and dumped two pieces of bread into the toaster.

He was liberally sprinkling cinnamon on his buttered toast when his dad walked into the kitchen.

"Morning," he yawned, leaned over and grabbed a triangle of toast.

Appetite suddenly gone, Daniel pushed the plate at him. "Here, you can have it."

His dad pushed it back. "Share," he said with a full mouth.

Daniel felt awkwardly embarrassed. He'd behaved like an idiot yesterday. He'd been all over his father for treating him exactly like he'd treated him last night. And then he'd cried like a baby. A kid, caught in the act, turned on the waterworks.

"It's easy, isn't it?" his dad asked gently.

Daniel took the remaining triangle and began to rip it in piece. It certainly didn't feel easy.

"Pain and disappointment."

"I already feel horrible." Daniel scrunched up the napkin with the shredded toast. "I don't know how you can make me feel any worse than I already do."

"I love you."

Daniel snorted. "Yeah, that made me feel tons better," he said sarcastically. "Thanks."

His dad took the napkin and flung it into the garbage, then stuck two fresh pieces of bread in the toaster. "That's not what I wanted to do."

Daniel hung his head and concentrated on wiping the butter off the knife he'd laid across the top of the tub. "You weren't trying to throw a stone or two at my glass house?"

"Never, though I'd recommend some curtains."

He couldn't help but stare at his dad, trying to decide if the man was weird or if he was incredibly lucky.

"Shit! Toast is burning." Quickly his father freed the smoking bread from the toaster.

Weird, Daniel decided with a smile. Definitely weird.


His dad made omelettes to go along with the toast. And it was great and delicious, but he was relegated to the couch when it was time to clean up.

"You. Off. That Leg. Relax. Take it easy."

"Chair?" Daniel began to lower his ass in the kitchen chair.

"No," his dad said, grabbing him by the shoulders. "Do not make yourself comfortable. Couch has your name on. Remote is calling."


Daniel was stretched out on the couch. It had taken him a while until he'd finally found the right position - a pillow under his right knee and the afghan folded under his head.

"You're reading?"

Slowly, he lowered the book. "Yeah, I'm reading."

"So the remote's all mine?"

"All yours," Daniel said, trying to find his place on the page.

"Watching TV won't bother you?"

Daniel stuck his finger on the line he'd read three times already. "No. It won't bother me."

And it wouldn't, but his father started to watch Saturday morning cartoons and began to laugh. "God, I love Scooby Doo."

Okay, now his father was being annoying and he lowered the book, ready to do battle, but his annoyance disappeared. "I used to have the Scooby Van, didn't I?"

"Teal'c put the stickers on it. All those flowers..."

Daniel closed the book around his index finger, he'd find the page, maybe not the line, but this was way more fun. Eventually, the book found its way to the coffee table.

Scooby Doo held onto his father's attention only so long and it wasn't worth protesting when his dad grew bored and began to flip around the channels before Daniel found out if the kidnappers were going to release Scooby.

"Look, Daniel. Sponge Bob."

Nickelodeon. This was like coming home. It was a comfort and even his dad must've sensed it because he placed the remote on top of the book and settled in the recliner. Rainy Saturday mornings. Cartoons and his dad. Okay, he'd grown up and moved from his dad's lap to the couch, but the feelings were still there and Daniel looked backwards towards the chair.

His dad captured his gaze and smiled.

Some things in life were better off shared.

Like memories.

Rainy weekend mornings.



Too much of any good thing wasn't good and Daniel sat up with a groan. He lifted his hand to ward off his father's good intentions. "I'm okay. Just want to get up and walk."

"Doctor said to stay off your feet," his father said in a singsong voice.

"Can't pee lying down," Daniel said, ignoring the raised eyebrows. "Can't email anyone. Can't call anyone. Can't—"

"Bring your laptop in here, okay?" His father glanced at his watch. "Shit. Past lunch." He showed his wrist to Daniel as if he could read the time. "What would you like?"

"Nothing?" It came out as a question because Daniel was sure they were fighting words because in their household, the way to good health always meant three meals a day.

"Okay," his dad agreed a little too quickly. "I'm going to make myself a sandwich."

"Nothing for me," Daniel reminded him.

"And nothing for you, got it."


Daniel's room was inviting but he wasn't stupid enough to think that his dad would give him a moment's peace on the off chance he decided to park his ass on the desk chair or the bed and stay here. As always he pushed his luck and called Alexandria, Cassie and John.

Alexandria was out shopping with her mother and the conversation was short, sweet and left Daniel was a smile. Cassie, not so much. She was working on a paper that she'd left for the last minute and for some strange reason, after making sure that Daniel was okay, felt it was her god given right to blame Daniel for being stuck doing homework on the weekend. Yeah, that conversation didn't end well. John's call went to voice mail, which considering John, always made Daniel nervous.


Cameron strode into the kitchen, purposely invading Sarah's space and stood there.

Sarah gripped the knife she was using to cut a tomato just a little tighter, angling it so it was pointing at Cameron. "Do you want something?" Sarah refused to take a step back.

"John's sleeping."

Sarah's gaze slid to the clock on the stove. Two in the afternoon was late, even for a teenager. Then she remembered. "He was up. Had breakfast before I got up. There was a bowl in the sink. Spoon. Milk." Sarah remembered cursing under her breath that John hadn't even put the box of cereal away.

"John's sleep was interrupted by nightmares."

"Occupational hazard."

"John needs to sleep. Insomnia can cause people to make mistakes. John can't afford to make a mistake."

"That's what we're for. Protection from the mistakes that are made."

Cameron continued as if Sarah hadn't even spoken. "John talked in his sleep."

"He always has."

"John dreamed about Terry's father coming to the house. Numerous times. And he was always alone."

Sarah slammed the knife into the other half of tomato, impaling the vegetable to the counter. "What happened in this house should never have happened. Ever."

"We weren't able to protect him from the mistakes that were made. Your plan failed."

Sarah stared at the tin girl, eyes wide in shock. The machine was right and for the first time, she had to agree with her. "You're right," she said, wiping her hands on her pants. "We've failed John. All of us."

Cameron picked up the knife and the speared tomato slid to the end and rested on the handle. "What should I do with this?"

"Finish making lunch, then you can finish off Terry's father."


"No. No." Sarah's sigh of exasperation was loud. "I wasn't serious, just..." She shrugged. "Kidding."

Cameron just stared. "It's my mission to protect John."

And Sarah didn't clarify, didn't stress her 'ha ha I was only kidding' attitude just because, well maybe just because maybe she really wasn't kidding.


The bacon his dad was frying smelled delicious and Daniel's stomach gave a betraying growl as the odor awakened his slumbering belly. He limped into the kitchen with his proverbial tail between his legs. "Smells good."

His dad walked away from the stove, took Daniel's laptop from him and put it on the table. "Whole wheat or rye?"

Daniel lowered himself into the chair. "Rye. Extra mayo. No lettuce and slice the tomato really thin."

The plate was in front of him in the blink of an eye and Daniel glanced at his father. "I can wait, you don't have to give me yours."

His dad swooped down and kissed the top of his head. "I love you dearly, Icky, but I'm not giving you my lunch." He grabbed a second plate from the counter. Bacon, with thick slices of tomato, a moment of silence for the mayo, no lettuce on whole wheat, just the way his dad liked it.

"I said I wasn't hungry."

Swift fingers grabbed the edge of Daniel's plate and pulled it to the middle of the table. "So you don't want it?" was the question before his dad took a huge bite out of his sandwich.

Quickly, Daniel retrieved the plate. "The key word was 'wasn't'. I'm hungry now."

His father reached into his breast pocket and came up with two Motrin. "Good, I'm glad, because there's always room for dessert.


"I'm going to start a fire."

"Hmmm." Once again stretched out on the couch, the laptop was resting on belly, Daniel was intently studying an image on the screen.

"Was that a yes hmmmm or a no hmmmm?"

The house was damp. The rain has increased in intensity, the day had grown progressively darker and the Motrin had taken the edge off the pain in his knee. Life was good. "Fire's fine," he mumbled without making eye contact. Daniel didn't object when his father tucked the afghan around his legs, complaining only slightly when he had to lift his laptop.

"What the heck are you watching?" His dad stuck his head between Daniel's sight and the monitor. "Is that an eagle? A bald eagle?" He sat his butt on the coffee table.

"It's a live feed."


"Yeah. From some preserve." Daniel tapped the monitor. "Wait. She's getting up. See the eggs?"

"Eggs?" His dad squinted at the picture as the eagle maneuvered the eggs around with her feet. "Well, I'll be damned. Live?"

"Live," Daniel repeated. "The eggs are going to hatch any day and I—"


Daniel laughed. "Dad, she can't hear you."

"This is cool."

Daniel lifted up his laptop and offered it to his dad. "Here you go. I'm going to go read for a while."

His dad gingerly accepted the laptop, as if Daniel was handing over the nest of fragile eggs. "Really?"

"Really. Let me know if anything happens."


Daniel had good intentions but between the silence, the heat of the fire and the Motrin, he was fighting an uphill battle trying to stay awake. "Dad?"

"Yeah?" His dad tore his gaze away from the screen.

"I should never have been angry with you."

"Angry? When were you... oh. Icky, I deserved your anger."

"Then I deserved yours."

"Go to sleep."


Grumbling, his father put the opened laptop on the coffee table then sat on the tiny space on the edge of the couch.

His father's fingers were rough and calloused against Daniel's cheek and against his better judgment, because he was too old for this, he leaned into the touch.

"No more, okay? This is enough, Icky, can you understand that? Words were said, words I can never forgive myself for."

"I forgive you, Dad."

"I've already told you, it's myself I have to forgive."

Daniel grabbed his dad's hand. "I understand why you said what you said."

The kiss to his forehead was gentle. "I know you do. A lesson learned, huh?"

"A hard lesson."

"Most lessons are, Daniel." His father patted his arm. "Now go to sleep."

"Not tired."

His dad took off his glasses, folded them and stuck them on the table. "Don't ever play poker, okay? You'd suck at it." With a wink, his dad got up, got the laptop and sat back down in the recliner. "Damn it, I missed the egg hatching, where the hell is the replay button on this?"


Saturday's rain might have been horrible, but it couldn't hold a candle to Sunday's torrential downpour. Daniel did a nervous pacing limp waiting for his friends' visit.

"Did you call?"

"Yup." Daniel moved the curtain aside for the thousandth time. "Cassie said if I called one more time, when she did see me, she was going to... She threatened me."

"Ah, like mother, like daughter. It's always the innocent ones you have to watch out for."

"They didn't have to stop off for pizza. We could've had pizza delivered."

Two strong hands clamped him on the shoulder, stopping Daniel mid pace. "Your hair is going to turn grey if you don't stop worrying."

"Like father, like son."

"You know, I truly hate when you spit my logic back at me."


They entered the house in a whirlwind of noise and food and wetness. His dad threw towels at the bunch of them in exchange for the pizza boxes and Daniel stood at a safe distance, watching them with a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Cassie was all enthusiastic, good natured bitchiness. Alexandria joined in, but the bite was missing from her words. John was quiet, quieter than usual. And Cameron, always the intrepid terminator, was glued to his side, doing everything but towel him dry. The surprise was Corey's presence, not that Daniel minded, but it was odd to see him back in the fold.


Ignoring the glare, Daniel plopped a slice of pizza in front of John.

"Eat," Cassie ordered. Picking up the baton, she shoved the pizza back at John when he went to push it away.

Poor John didn't have a chance. Cameron on one side, Cassie on the other.

"Jeesus, Baum, how many mothers do you have?" Corey asked.

"Too many," he grumbled, but he picked up the pizza and took a bite.

Alexandria plucked a pepperoni off Daniel's pizza, waved it teasingly in front of him then shoved it in her mouth, licking her fingers. "How's the knee?"

Gently, Daniel tapped Alexandria's fingers when she strayed too close to his slice. "Knee's..."

"I know your tell, Daniel," she warned.

"Been better," he said.

"What the hell's a tell?" Corey asked, reaching for another slice of pizza.

"It's a quirk or an expression which is an indication that someone isn't being truthful," Cameron said.

"John has a tell."

"So does Daniel," Alexandria answered smugly.

"Do I have a tell, Cameron?"

Cameron blinked at him. "I can't tell if you have a tell."

Daniel burst out laughing and even John chuckled.

"What?" Corey dropped his half eaten slice onto the plate. "You're just jealous because I'm perfect."

Cameron picked a slice of pepperoni off of Corey's slice and handed it across the table to Alexandria. "If I had to use one word to describe you, Corey, perfect wouldn't be the adjective I'd use."

Cassie began to laugh and John shushed her, his own smile broadening. Daniel had to avert his gaze to the pizza on his plate, because if he so much as glimpsed at John he was going to lose it.

Alexandria put the slice of pepperoni on Daniel's pizza then began to giggle.

Corey slung an arm around Cameron's shoulders, attempted to pull her towards him, then gave up when she wouldn't budge. "Sure, yuck it up, guys, one day when you least expect it—"

"Are you threatening John?"

Whoa! This was going to get bad really fast.

"No, Cameron, no one's threatening anyone." John jumped in before Daniel could. Months of anticipating Cameron's behavior had honed John's skills. "We're just playing around."

"Oh," she said, flashing the entire table a smile. "Thank you for explaining."


Daniel was relaxed, wishing for a Motrin, but he was totally too lazy to get up. He'd finished eating, feeling uncomfortably full after one slice and he was listening to the conversation with half an ear, concentrating more fully on the curl he was winding around his finger.


"Hmm?" He didn't even look up when his father entered the kitchen.

"There's someone at the door for you. Terry?"

"Huh?" The name captured Daniel's attention. "Terry? Here?"

"At the door." His dad made a hurry up hand motion. "Waiting."


Terry was standing, leaning against the closed door and Daniel pretended that he didn't see his father's eyebrows travel to his hairline. Terry was pierced, but if the nose ring, lip ring and row of hoops traveling up his right ear lobe caused his dad to sit up and take notice, Daniel couldn't even begin to imagine his father's reaction if his friend had shown up at his door looking as he had when Daniel had first met him.

"Hi, Terr. Everything okay?"

"Busted knee?" Terry cocked his chin at Daniel's bad leg.

Daniel's knee had ached enough that he hadn't been able to masquerade the limp so why bother denying the obvious. "Yeah."

"Sorry, man."

Daniel shrugged. "How's Ritchie?"

"Fine. That's sorta... Do you know where John is? I tried calling your cell."

Daniel patted his pockets. "Damn. It's probably in my room."

"That's okay," Terry mumbled, looking everywhere but at Daniel. "I just needed to talk to John."

"John's here. In the kitchen." Daniel hitched his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the kitchen. "Why don't you come in. There's pizza."

"Everyone's in the car."

Daniel stole a glance at this father, who was leaning against the wall by Daniel's side. He truly was doing a horrific job of being a wallflower pretending not to listen. "Dad?"

His dad shrugged, as if Daniel had asked him if he needed mayo on his sandwich. "Sure. No problem."

"Thanks, man." Terry dug into the pocket of his wet black hoodie and pulled out his cell. "Going to call in the invitation." He smiled at Daniel. "It's a little wet to make the trip twice if I don't have to."


One would've thought that spending the last couple of years visiting other planets and meeting aliens, that his dad would be a little more adept at handling teenagers in their home.

Daniel had already seen his dad's response with Terry and his piercings and it was kind of comical to watch his eyes grow wider and his eyebrows creep slowly up his forehead as Daniel made the introductions.

It wasn't Brad's blue streaks, which looked even bluer under the living room lighting, or Dave's buzz cut which earned him a perfunctory nod from his dad and was probably the most acceptable, nor was it Rob's six foot lanky frame that appeared even taller due to his black leather duster, it was Misha's Goth appearance and makeup that was the straw cracking the proverbial camel's back.

His dad pointed to Misha's face. "Your, ummm, makeup is running."

"Fuck, Misha, you look like a damn clown." Rob's snort of laughter turned into an indignant "ow" when Brad smacked the back of his head. "What the hell did you..." Rob grabbed the back of his head and turned to glare at Brad.

"Behave. Yourself," Brad warned. Inches shorter than Rob, Daniel noticed without comment how quickly the much taller Rob backed down. "I gotta apologize for Rob, Mr. Jackson, he doesn't get out much."

"It's Colonel O'Neill."

Oy, leave it to his dad to pull out his military alter ego.

"Colonel. Military. Gotcha. My dad was a Marine. So was Misha's. They served together. Desert Storm."

Misha, caught in the act of rubbing a well used tissue under his eyes, just nodded.

"Daniel..." Brad's confused glance took in both Daniel and his dad. "I thought your last name was Jack—"

"Jackson O'Neill." Daniel spoke with a no question finality in his tone.

"Ahhh, okay, totally understand the multiple parent thing," Brad said, clapping Daniel on the back.

Daniel just shook his head at his father, hoping his dad got the 'don't even go there' message.

His dad read him loud and clear. "Why don't you guys hang up your, ummm, coats and dry off. There's pizza in the kitchen."

"Thanks, we're going to go..."

"The den." His dad filled in the blanks. "I'm going to watch the game."

"Hockey?" That definitely drew Dave's attention.

"Yeah," his dad answered, drawing the word out.

"Love hockey." He began to spout something and his dad smiled. A kindred spirit.


They never made it out of the kitchen and into the den because the introduction of the Donovan Park group to Cameron, et al, was awkward at best and made Daniel feel like that old, stupid movie West Side Story.

The Jets.

The Sharks.

And one kitchen that had suddenly gotten exponentially smaller.

Terry didn't wait for an invitation. He went straight for John and sat down in an empty chair next to him. "Guess what, man?"


"My dad got arrested for murder. Threw his ass in jail. It'll be a long time—"

Daniel noticed the color leech from John's face before Rob. "Dude, are you okay?"

"Murder?" John softly repeating the word.

"Yup. Some deal gone bad. Smoking gun in his hand—"

"Excuse me." John practically crawled over Cassie to get out of his seat. "I need to..." Like a cornered animal, his gaze bounced around the room. "I need..." he swallowed convulsively.

Daniel waited, unsure if John needed to puke or run. Even John hesitated, probably not even sure himself, but once he decided he was fast. Fast enough to skirt past everyone and he was out the door before Daniel could even grab him.


"You're a fuckin' asshole," Cassie yelled, pounding the table.

Daniel was forever grateful that there was an empty seat between the two of them.

"What the hell did I do?" Terry demanded.

"Your father nearly killed John. Do you think he needed to be reminded that it was only luck that saved his life?"

Experience had taught Daniel that Cassie was beyond mad, gaining steam and soon he was pretty damn sure that even Cameron wouldn't be able to hold her back.

"Zip it."

Surprisingly, the two words, spoken with soft authority, came from Alexandria.

"Why? Why should I... This..." Cassie sputtered.

Cameron stood and Daniel put a stop to that with a hand on her shoulder, praying for her to please listen to a simple order. "Stay."

"John is my—"

"Yeah, I know," Daniel said, cutting her off. "But I've got this covered. You and you." He wagged his finger at Terry and Cassie. "Please, just shut your mouths, okay?"

"How can you say that?" Cassie began, followed by Corey who decided to sit up and take notice. "Jeeze, man, you got shit for brains?"

"Who the fuck do you think—"

Thankfully Brad put an immediate end to Rob's anger with a not so gentle punch to his bicep. "Shut the hell up."

Great. Wonderful. The Jet versus Sharks rumble in his kitchen had been loud enough to cut through even his dad's hockey game and he stomped into the kitchen, Dave in quick pursuit. Daniel watched him assess the situation and he got it in one.

"Where's John?" his father growled.

"Outside," Daniel answered. No elaboration. Nothing. This wasn't embellishment time. This was just answer the questions asked. He got it. Cassie got it. Misha and Brad got it also - raised by a military officer will do that. Corey and Alexandria got it also, they'd lived in Daniel's life long enough to get it. Rob and Terry, not so much.

"The kid's a freak. Just totally lost grip with reality..." Rob's voice trailed off when his dad nailed him with a look.

"It's my fault," Terry said with a slow shake of his head. "I never should've told him. I didn't think. I mean, I thought he'd be happy knowing that he didn't have to worry about my dad anymore."

"Whoa," Misha said, stepping up to Terry and placing a hand on his shoulder. "That man deserves to be behind bars. Terry's brother ended up in the hospital. And what he did to Terry's mom and even Terry..."

Terry reached up and grabbed Misha's hand. "Not here. Not now." He turned towards Cassie who had the good graces to know she'd overstepped her boundaries. "Maybe not ever."

"Discussion for another time." His dad left the kitchen then came back with his jacket, jerking up the hood. "I'll be right back. If anyone moves, speaks or breathes... Well, just don't."

Cassie waited until the kitchen door snicked closed behind his dad before she slid into John's empty chair and offered Terry a watery smile. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "I didn't think—"

"No, you didn't," Rob interjected.

"You know, Rob—" Daniel started.

"No, don't, Daniel, he's... Rob's right. I didn't think. I just got mad."

Alexandria's hand snaked across the table to cover Cassie's. "You spoke from the heart and sometimes," she said with a smile at Terry, "that's not such a bad thing."


The rain had slowed down to a misty drizzle, enough to be annoying, but not enough to warrant the hood Jack had so hastily stuck on his head. He shoved it down, scanning the back yard.

Truth be told, Jack was pretty damn clueless when it came to John. It wasn't the teenage emotional highs and lows, that he understood; but there was integral part of this kid, a layer to his psyche that Jack hated to admit, even to himself, scared the crap out of him. Strength? Fortitude of character? A crystal ball into a future none of them wanted to face.

John was totally unaware that he wore his future self on his shoulder, like a muse who oversaw his daily decisions, coloring his way through life. Jeezus, the poor kid didn't stand a hope in hell for normalcy, no matter how hard he tried.

"Running is so ingrained that I forget that it's not always the answer," John said from his corner of the deck.

Crossing his arms, Jack leaned his hip against the railing and faced John. "Fight or flight?"

"No." John began to tap the water puddles on the deck railing. "Terry was right, sad to say, having his dad behind bars is reason to rejoice. He's safe now. His family's safe."

"But?" Jack asked, moving closer to John. "There's gotta be a reason why you're outside, and I'm thinking that it's not because of the weather."

"Terry's father killed a man. I'm not stupid, ten more minutes and the man would've been arrested for my murder."

"Your mother would've killed him before the cops would've been able to slap the handcuffs on him."

"That's not making me feel better." He rubbed his hand through his short hair, then dragged his hand along his pant's leg.


"Anyway, my money would be on Cameron getting to Terry's father first."

"Before your mom?"

"She runs faster."

"You're probably right." Jack laughed. "Speaking of your mother and Cameron, want to go back inside before I'm on their hit list because you caught pneumonia at the O'Neill house?"

John looked over his shoulder at the light from the kitchen bleeding into the backyard. "No. I don't."

"Okay, so you don't feel like going in." What the hell. Jack sat down on the railing in front of John, trying not to let the cold dampness of the wood soaking through his pants show on his face. "Feel like talking?"

"Talk?" John studied Jack as if the four letter word was foreign language.

"Talk. You understand the concept. You say a bunch of words. I listen. Talk. Listen. Talk. Listen. You can stop me when you get the idea."

"I got the idea."

"Good." Jack waited. Waited some more then gave up and prodded John's leg with his foot. "I'm waiting for the talking."

"I don't want to die because I stood up to someone's dad. I don't want Skynet to win by default."

"You stood up to Terry's dad because that's who you are, John. If you would've just walked out of that hospital room and done nothing, then Skynet would've won. Your humanity is what makes you shine and sets you and the human race hands above the machines."

"I thought I was supposed to talk and you were supposed to listen?"

Jack shrugged. "Oops. I changed my mind."

John's fingers again began to dance through the puddle. "Thank you."

"I didn't say anything that wasn’t the truth."

"I wasn't thanking you for your words, but that you listened."

Maybe it was Sarah Jack needed to talk to, and not John. "Ready to go inside?"

"I'm wet," he said as if realizing it for the first time. "Really wet."


They kissed. They made up. They ordered more pizza and got along but that didn't mean that Daniel wasn't glad to see them all go when they finally said goodbye. He practically knocked his father over trying to get to the Motrin.

"Age before beauty," his dad acquiesced, filling two glasses with water.

"You, too?" Daniel put two Motrin on the counter and palmed two for himself.

"Old bones. Rainy weather."

No, it was still recovering from an offworld accident bones and Daniel felt a stab of guilt as he pushed the two pills at his father. "Why don't you go relax?"

"I will if you will," his dad said.

"I'll race you to the living room."

"Race all you want. I get the chair and the remote."

Daniel hated when his father pulled rank.


Mid-afternoon pizza screwed with Daniel's schedule and he wasn't hungry. By dinnertime, the bowl of stew his father offered him wasn't even appealing. By seven thirty, Daniel was sitting at the kitchen table eating a bowl of cereal.

"Thought you weren't hungry."

He shrugged, making a whirlpool in the bowl. "Wasn't hungry for food."

"Cereal's not food?"

"Not at night. It's a, umm, filler."

"Translation - you're too lazy to get up and make yourself something else."

Daniel glanced sideways at his dad and smiled. "Yeah, something like that."

"I would've made you—"

"It's over, you know." Daniel interrupted his father, the starting point of the conversation he'd been trying to figure out how to bring up since Friday flying out of his mouth.

"Over as in what? You and Dria?" His dad pulled out the chair, sat down and moved the bowl of cereal away from Daniel. "Focus."

"Me and Alexandria? What the heck are you talking about?" Where the hell did his father get that idea from? "Did Alexandria say something?"

"To me? What? No? Why would she? I'm just pulling at straws, Daniel." There was a pause in his dad's sputtering. "Did you... I thought things between me and you were better. Icky, what's wrong?"

"Not wrong," Daniel replied, swallowing the lump in his throat. "We're good." He'd practiced this a million and one times, in the shower, in his room, looking in the mirror, always putting it off, positive that he'd been wrong. And now the only person he had reason to be angry with was himself. Berating himself for his stupidity for not saying something sooner. Because he'd know. Hell, maybe he'd always known. Now? It was too late. Big fat baby tears welled up, spilling over, hitting the table where just moments ago his cereal bowl had been. "I'm sorry." Grabbing the collar of his sweatshirt, he struggled to wipe the tears.

Gentle fingers gripped his chin, pushing down his own fumbling hands and a tissue replaced his sweatshirt.

Daniel was too shocked to fight his father's actions. Embarrassment flooded his extremities, making it impossible even to divert his face. A fresh tissue was pressed into his lax hand.

"I can still wipe your tears." His dad pushed the hand with the tissue up towards Daniel's face, "but I'm not blowing your nose for you."

He blew his nose, then began to make short work of the crumpled tissue, shredding the pieces onto the table. Disgustingly infantile, definitely, but not enough for his father to take it away from him.

"Please don't make me play twenty questions, okay? If this is too hard for you to tell me—"

"Soccer was mine, always. Set me apart from the other Daniel. Made me different from him." God, it wasn't helping that there were no contradictory words from his dad. No 'you're crazy, you're so different from him I wouldn't be able to tell you apart'. Nope. Nothing. "Loving sports. Being good at it." Daniel couldn't stop the disparaging snort. "Being great at it was me. For me. About me." Subconsciously, he palmed away the growing ache in his knee.

His dad's brow furrowed in confusion. "Huh? This has something to do with soccer?"

"It has everything to do with soccer," Daniel drew a deep breath, "and me."

"Ahh, Icky, you're not defined by how well you do on the field."

"I am. To me I am. It's the only thing that makes me different from him."

"I know to you it seems like forever, but your knee will heal and you'll—"

"It's never going to be right. I don't think it was ever right. I just played 'let's pretend', doused myself with Motrin and it worked for a while. But last week showed that it won't work forever." Daniel cupped the pile of tissue shreds, got up and tossed them in the garbage. "I'm a lot of things, Dad, but I'm not strong enough to keep setting myself up for disappointment. Ending it now, yeah," damn those tears blurring his vision, "may be the coward's way out, but I need to—"

Daniel was enveloped in a bone crushing hug even before he could finish his sentence. Then strong hands gripped his shoulders and forced him to take a step back.

"I wished you would've told me about the knee."

"I've disappointed you?" There was a hitch at the end of his voice. A prepubescent little squeak that Daniel once again had thought he'd left behind.

"Icky." The sigh was loud and long. "You—"

Daniel was positive his father was going to tell him that he'd never disappointed him but he could see the moment the past year's memories kicked in. "I know there's been times that I haven't made you proud."


Daniel had to turn away from the sadness in his dad's face but two fingers against his jawline wouldn't allow it.

"Hey, you need to look at me, okay?"

Daniel nodded, looking but not seeing, trying to mentally place himself a million miles away.

"I don't always understand you. How you get from point A to point B, well, you sometimes leave me in the dust. You amaze me, surprise me, frustrate the hell out of me, and last but not least, you scare the shit out of me. You're the reason I'm as grey as I am but you're also the reason this house is filled with joy. You brought my mother back into my life. Laughter. The reason I stay alive and the reason I get up I the morning. You made me live instead of just existing. Does that make me proud of you? Well, it makes me damn proud of myself for being able to roll with the punches. So, Icky, maybe the question shouldn't be if I'm proud of you, but that you're proud of yourself."


Daniel dragged himself into the kitchen, tying his hair back as he limped along. He was up early, his dad was still in the shower so Daniel started the coffee and put two slices of bread in the toaster without pulling down the lever.

A bowl. Milk. Juice. Cereal. A half of banana. Which he assembled and ate standing up. He was just reaching for the Motrin when his dad walked into the kitchen.

"Bad night?"

"No," Daniel lied, and thought quickly, shoving the pills in his pocket. "I just wanted to take two with me in case it turns into a bad day." Daniel pushed the lever down on the toaster. "Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes."

"Thanks." His dad poured a mug of coffee and took a sniff. "Ahhhh..." The word dropped in pitch as he lowered himself into the chair.

"You're drooling," Daniel commented as he walked to the fridge to get butter for the toast.

"And you're limping."

"You noticed that, huh?"

His dad pointed his coffee mug at him. "Noticed? Kinda hard not to."


"It's sunny outside."

"Residual from yesterday."


Daniel placed the butter on the table and got his father a knife and the two pieces of toast. "Eat your breakfast, it's too early for mother henning."

"I'm not."

"Believe me, you are." Daniel surprised his father with a quick kiss to the top of his head. "But then since you grew up with Grandma where mother henning is as automatic as breathing, you can't help yourself. I totally understand."


"You haven't said a word," his dad commented just as they were pulling into the school parking lot. "Do you want to stay home, give yourself—"

"Another day off, that's the last thing I need."

"In case you change your mind."

"I know," Daniel said opening the door, "Grandma is only a phone call away."

"So am I."


"You're still limping."

Daniel slammed his locker. "God, Cassie, I thought I left my father in the Avalanche."

"He called me on my cell. Told me to nag you."

Daniel's eyes grew large. "He did not. Did he?"

"No, he didn't." Cassie's smile was sly and she appeared to be interested in something behind Daniel.

"You're so gullible," Alexandria whispered in his ear.

"You owe me a dollar." Cassie stuck out her hand and wiggled her fingers.

"You bet on my gullibility?"

Alexandria shoved a dollar into Cassie's waiting hand then linked her arm through Daniel's. "No, I thought you wouldn't fall for Cassie's bull. By the way, you owe me a dollar."


Daniel took one Motrin after third period, dry swallowing the pill.

"You okay, man?"

"You're not going to comment that I'm limping?"

John shook his head. "Why bother commenting on the obvious."

"You mean like you look like crap?"

John scrubbed his fingers though his hair. "Yeah, being sleep deprived sorta does that to a person."

"Our lives suck."

"On a good day they suck," John added, walking into Global History.

"And on a bad day?" Daniel smiled at Alexandria before dropping into his seat.

John groaned and he slipped into his chair. In one fell swoop, he dropped his backpack on the floor and pointed to the board. "On a bad day you walk into class totally forgetting there's a unit test today."


"I'm fucked." Instead of a tray, John slammed his backpack on the lunchroom table, sat down and buried his face in the backpack.

"It was one test," Daniel said, pushing at the backpack with his lunch tray.

John picked his head up and glared at him. "Easy for you to say, Jackson. You hold a book in your hand and wham, through osmosis, it's sucked into your brain."

That wasn't it. Okay, yeah he was able to retain and see things differently than the average person but when things got bad, it was knowledge he hid behind. Learning and studying had always been, no matter which lifetime he lived, a great buffer between him and the real world.

"Look, John, do you think—"

"What's wrong with John?" Cassie asked as she sat down.

"He's fucked," Cameron deadpanned.

"Oh." Cassie put down the tray and patted John on the back. "Poor boy. Happens to the best of us."

"Getting fucked?" Cameron asked.


"I really thought Corey was going to choke to death." John wasn't doing such a great job hiding his grin.

"Sometimes I think Cameron's not as naïve as she pretends."

"No shit, Sherlock. I think she does it for shock value." John held open the locker room door for Daniel, then glanced down at his knee. "Coming?"

Daniel dug into his pocket and pulled out a note that had seen better days. "Gotta give this to the Coach. So yeah, I'm coming."


Coach Dawson took the note, read it, folded the paper into minute pieces and stuck it in his pencil holder.

"Doesn't that have to go into my file or something?"

"Sit down, Daniel."

"Don't you have to, you know, go to..."

"Class? Mr. Hammerson can keep the class in check until I get there."

Daniel doubted that. The wrath of Coach Dawson was what kept people in check. Hammerson was a nice guy but he was easily overpowered by the class on the days that he was an extra hand for Dawson.

"Daniel... Jackson, would you sit already."

"Oh, sorry." Daniel flashed a smiled then lowered himself into the chair. "Sitting."

"You have that look."

"Look?" Damn this man was worse than his dad. "What look?"

"That you have something to tell me and you're trying to figure out how the hell to start."

"I thought the note explained everything?"

"Yup, explains why you're excused from gym but not why you're leaving the team."

"The note didn't say anything about the team." Daniel fidgeted. This was a conversation for after school, when time wouldn't be measured by bells and late passes.

"The note didn't have to. I see it. I saw it when you limped off the field."

"PT and my knee will get better. I'll play. It'll hurt again. PT and my knee will be better. It's a cycle, Coach Dawson, a merry go round and I want to get off. I need to get off."

"What did the doctor say?"

"According to Doctor Chadway, I'm healed. Was healed. Will be healed. Take your pick."

"You're walking away?"

"You make me sound like I'm a deserter. That I'm leaving." Damn him, Daniel refused to get emotional over this. This was one decision he wasn't changing his mind about. "I can't. Don't you think I want to be on that field, but if I'm going to play and be afraid, I'm worthless to everyone except the opposing team."

"Worthless. Deserter. Any other words you'd like to put in my mouth, Jackson?"

Daniel mumbled out an apology.

"I sit behind this desk because I pushed my body, I didn't listen to what it was trying to tell me. The surgery on my shoulder didn't stop me from playing sports, just put the kibosh on my professional status. Don't get me wrong. I'm one of the lucky ones, I like where I ended up. At fourteen you embarrass me, an adult, with your ability to be mature beyond your years."

The poor guy should only know. Daniel squeaked out a barely discernible 'thank you' and found great interest in a threadbare patch of denim on his thigh.

"There's a whistle and a clipboard with your name on it."

"Maybe when it doesn't hurt so much..."

"Ahhh, your knee, I can so totally understand."

"No." Daniel touched the area by his heart. "Maybe when it doesn’t hurt so much here, I can..."

The coach cleared his throat and was silent for a few minutes, before digging around his desk for a box of tissues. He plucked on out and blew his nose. "Damn cold." He balled up the used tissue and threw it overhead into the garbage pail across the room.

"Good shot," Daniel said.

"Always." He slapped his opened palms on the desk and stood. "Always remember, Daniel."

Daniel waited for the profound statement that he was sure was coming.

"That girls love a guy with a whistle and a clipboard."


His mother and Derek had been arguing for the past thirty minutes. Not about machines. Or Judgment Day. Or leads. Or weapons stash. Or money. Or safe houses. No, the two of them had been arguing about where to order dinner from.

"I don't understand why you're being so damn stubborn about this."

"Me?" Derek said. "I'm being stubborn?"

"Yes, you."

"All I said was that I didn't want—"

He had enough. "Where the hell are the keys?" John began to rifle through the basket by the door. "I'm starving." He found the keys and waved them in front of his mother and Derek. "I'm going to get something to eat and you'll eat whatever I bring back. Greek. Chinese."

"You know I really want—"

"Shut up, Derek," John hissed. "I don't give a crap what you or Mom want. The decision is mine. The choice is mine. Got it?" John stormed out of the house, not waiting for either one of them to answer.

Cameron got to him just before as he was opening the car door. "What do you want?"

"To drive," she answering, sticking her hand out for the keys.

"I can drive."

"You're angry."

"I'm hungry."

"You're distracted. Distracted people make mistakes. Distracted people have car accidents." She smiled at him. "Distracted people forget they don't have licenses."

"I'm not that angry or that hungry."

"Give me the keys, John." One-handedly, Cameron caught the keys John tossed her way.


"Where am I going?" They'd gotten to the end of the street and were just sitting there. Motor running.

Decision time.

"I have an idea."

John pulled out his cell phone, hit speed dial and in quick succession ordered a pizza, three gyros and a glut of Chinese food. "There," he said, snapping the phone shut. "That should keep them quiet for awhile."

"Gyros don't reheat well. You complain about that all the time."

"Just drive, okay. Strip mall by the Home Depot."


John fiddled with his cell phone, letting out a soft 'yes' when he got the answer he was looking for. "Turn left at this block," he ordered.

"That's not the way to the restaurants."

"I know. Turn left." John grabbed the 'oh shit' handles as Cameron made a sharp left.

"Two blocks, make a right, third house on the left."

"Where are we going?"

"We're not going anywhere. Me, I'm going." John shoved his cell into the pocket of his hoodie. "You're going to pick up the food, then come back and pick me up."

"I'm picking you up from the third house on the left."


"Who lives there?"


"The son of the man who beat you? The son of the man whose ass was thrown into jail? The son of—"

"Yes," John yelled cutting her off. "That Terry," he said softly.

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"I'm not asking you." John tapped the passenger window. "That's the house. Pull in the driveway."

Cameron pulled in, John unbuckled his seatbelt. "Um, what do you think you're doing?" he asked as Cameron turned off the engine.

"I'm going in Terry's house with you."

"No. You're not. You're going to pick up the food. Then come back to get me." He grabbed her arm before she could object. "Honest, Cameron. See that house. Mother and two boys. No guns. Nothing. Just family."

"And John Connor."

"Yes," John sighed, "and me, just for a visit while you go pick up dinner."

She waited.

"How about you stay there. I'll go ring their doorbell, if no one answers, I'll get back in the truck and we'll go get dinner. If the door opens. I'll wave. You'll know I'm okay. You'll go get food then pick me up. Either way you'll still be bringing me home."


He rang the doorbell. Knocked. Rang one more time and was just getting ready to give up when the front door opened. He gave a quick wave to Cameron then turned his attention on Terry's mom. "Mrs. Henderson."

It took her a second. "John! Come on in. Terry, John's here."

Ritchie came around the corner at a high speed, skidding to a stop next to his mother. "Hi. Are you here for dinner?"

There was a little hair ruffling and an awkward smile from Mrs. Henderson and John made quick haste to dispel that rumor. "No. Thanks for the invite, though, my sister just went to pick up dinner for our family."

Mrs. Henderson drew Ritchie into a one armed hug then gently pushed him away. "Go get your brother, he's probably plugged in and can't hear my bellowing."

Ritchie took off at the same speed he'd entered the room.

Mrs. Henderson smiled at John.

John smiled back. Before he could comment that Ritchie had bounced back pretty fast, she reached out and touched the side of his face. "I'm so sorry."

"Sorry?" John stuttered, back-pedaling until he met closed door. "For what?"

She dropped her hand then tucked them under her armpits, a stance Terry had used on more than one occasion. "For what my husband did to you."

John could feel the heat of embarrassment warm his face. The bruises had become so much a part of the face in the mirror he'd forgotten they were even still visible.

"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, I mean, you can hardly see the marks anymore, it's just, I know they're there. I know who put them there."

"There's no reason for you to apologize. This had nothing to do with you."

Tears filled up her eyes and spilled over.

Aw, crap. "Mrs. Henderson, I didn't come here to make you cry. Please don't—"

"Baum, you made my mother cry?"

Great. Perfect timing.

Terry walked up to his mother, slung an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. "Something I should know about? Hmmm?"

Mrs. Henderson scrubbed at her eyes, sniffed and gave both John and her son a watery smile. "No, just me being emotional. Again." She patted his stomach. "I'm okay, you can let go now so I can start dinner. Play nice, okay?"


"Is there someplace we can... talk?"

"Follow me."

Their basement looked like an indoor version of Donovan's Park. Except there were worn couches instead of the old car seats. The feeling was the same and John plopped down without waiting for an invitation.

Terry followed suit, sitting across from him, stretching his legs out on a scarred coffee table. "My mom doesn't come down here. Says it's all mine. And Ritchie's." He cocked his head at the overflowing cardboard box of toys. "My dad had the garage. Went in there once, still have the scar to prove it." Terry spoke as if he wore a badge of honor, but then again, maybe surviving to the Henderson's was a medal to be proudly displayed.

John leaned forward. "I'm sorry about yesterday. For what happened. My reaction... I just..."

"It took me a while but with," he searched for a name, "Cassie's help, I managed to connect the dots."

John cringed. "Yeah, Cassie's sorta outspoken."

Terry laughed. "Understatement, Baum. That girl's words are nuclear powered. I pity the poor guy..."

Slowly, John raised his right hand. "That poor guy would be me."

Terry snorted. "Ya got my sympathy, man."

"Thanks." John clung to Cassie like a breath of cool air on a hot summer night, a weakness he would never admit to anyone. If his mother knew, or Derek, Cassie would be considered friendly fire and they'd be gone. All of them, without a glance backwards. There'd be no pancakes or bags to pack.

"John." Terry was doing a castanet imitation using snapping fingers.

John jerked to attention. "What?"

"You were a million miles away."

"Sorry." John gave an apologetic half smile.

"What'cha want? You came to my house..." There was no malice in his statement, just curiosity.

"Your mother knew what your father did to me?" This wasn't something John had expected.

"My father beat the crap outta you."

John cringed at the brutal honesty. "He did, but I didn't think it was something your mother needed to know about."

Terry swung his legs off the table and leaned forward, mimicking John's posture. "I don't know about your family, but here, there are no secrets. Knowledge is protection." Terry stuck out his tongue. "These piercings? This hair. What I wore? It was all to piss my father off. I drew his anger away from my mother and my brother. I did what I needed to do. Can you understand that?"

Terry should only know. "Yeah, I get it. I'm sorry for misjudging you. Now and when we first met."

"You should be," Terry huffed.

John wondered when he would ever learn. Books. Covers. Judging. He'd made that mistake with Cameron. And with Daniel. You'd think he'd get it by now. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay, we're cool now."

"We are."

Terry stood but John didn't. Terry looked down at him, confusion emanating from every pore of his body. "I thought we were cool?"

"You father killed someone? Right?"

Terry may be slow, but he was far from stupid. "Yup. Killed him. Smoking gun in his hand and all that. The bastard was screaming setup when he called my mom to bail him out of jail. Imagine the balls on him to think that my mom would do that. Fuckin' asshole. Poor guy he killed? Undercover cop.

"No get out of jail free this time. Weapons charge. Drug charge. Menace to humanity and all things great and small. Here's hoping he fries." Terry stopped talking and stared at John. "Does that make me a terrible person?"

"No," John said. "Not at all, just someone who loves their family a whole lot."


"Cameron." John tried to wipe the shock from his face when he found her sitting in the kitchen with Ritchie while Mrs. Henderson was chopping veggies by the sink.

"I'm in trouble," she said to John.

He could feel his eyebrows creep up his hairline. "Trouble? What did you do?"

"You're sister's just being silly, John," Ritchie giggled. "She's not in trouble, we're playing Trouble."

"Oh. Right. Trouble." He nodded, opened mouth, as Cameron rolled the die.

"What happened to the popper thingie in the middle?" Terry asked with a wave of his finger.

"Pffft," Mrs. Henderson said as she dried her hands on a dish towel. "Game's old. Poor Cameron pressed on the plastic popper thing and the plastic gave way." She smiled at Cameron. "She was very lucky one of those little plastic pieces didn't cut her too deeply. As it was..."

Cameron waved her fingers at John. A Terminator thumb sported a Pokemon band aid. "Mrs. Henderson washed it and Ritchie put the band aid on." She turned over her hand and examined the bandage. "That's Pikachu."

"I'm so sorry."

"About what, man?" Terry asked clapping him on the back.

"The game. I mean..."

"Don't even concern yourself. Like I said. It's old. Garage sale old. I'm just so grateful your sister didn't get more than a cut on her finger," Mrs. Henderson said.

"My sister's sorta indestructible." Wasn’t exactly a lie, wasn't exactly the truth either. Kinda fell in that grey area.

"Thank you for letting me play the game, Ritchie." Cameron flashed a pre-programmed smile at the kid. "But John and I have to get going, the food is in the car and John doesn't like gyros reheated."


"You broke that poor kid's game."

"It was an accident."

"Yeah, try to keep those accidents in check, will you?" The mix of foods in the truck stirred his hunger. "Smells good."

"I also got garlic knots."

John stuck his hand between the seats and snatched up the bag on top of the pizza box. "Garlic knots." Opening the bag, he didn't even allow the smell to wash over him, he just stuck in his hand and pulled out a greasy knot. He bit into it, his tongue flicking out to capture the oozing oil. He finished the knot and licked his fingers before mumbling "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Cameron, did you have anything to do with Terry's father being arrested for murder."

"You weren't sleeping."

"That's not an answer and you know it. Did you have anything to do with Terry's father being arrested for murder?"

"The police will lock him up and throw away the key."

"Did you murder the undercover cop."


"Are you lying?" John prodded.

"The undercover police office wasn't a threat to you, John. There was no reason for me to kill him."

"And Terry's father? Was Terry's father a threat to me?"

"You were having nightmares. You weren't sleeping. People who don't sleep are distracted."

"Yeah, I know, distracted people have car accidents."

Cameron shot him a glance before turning her attention back to the road. "Distracted people get themselves killed."

John rolled his eyes. Hello, brick wall. Meet Cameron. He could push, he could prod and maybe he'd get the answer, but honestly, at this point, there were only two words he wanted to say. "Thank you."


"John's sleeping," Cameron reported as she passed through the kitchen, working on her nightly continuous circuit.

"Sleeping?" Sarah glanced up from the papers she was sorting through, checked her watch then shook her head. "It's only eight." She pushed her chair back, checking herself at the sound of its legs dragging along the floor. "He must be sick."

"Sick? John?" Derek leaned against the counter, shaking his head. "Kid ate two slices of pizza, half a gyro and the walnuts out of the honey walnut chicken, I doubt he's sick,"

"He's not sick."

"Oh god, I'm agreeing with the machine?" Derek gave an exaggerated shudder, opened up the fridge, took out a beer and saluted Sarah and Cameron. "This is where I take my leave."

She waited until Derek left before continuing the conversation. Sarah crossed her arms and confronted the tin miss. "And you know John's perfectly healthy because..."

"John sleeping at this time of night isn't the norm."

"And? Do not tell me that you went into his bedroom and scanned him?"

Cameron remained silent.


"You told me not to tell you if I went into his bedroom and scanned him."

"Don't do that anymore. It's an invasion of privacy."

Cameron canted her head at Sarah in true terminator confusion. "Weren't you going into his room to check on John?"

"I'm his mother. It's..." Sarah sought the correct word. "Acceptable. Different."

"You want to protect John. Do what's in his best interest. That's why you were going to check on him."


"Protecting John is my mission. Checking falls under the parameters of protecting. If John was sick he'd need protecting."

Sarah could so see where this was going and if she didn't put a stop to it she'd fall down the proverbial rabbit hole. "Okay. I get it. You're following your program."

"And you're being a mother."

"Whatever." Sarah wasn't even going to go there. "My house. My son. My rules. If you have any concerns regarding John's health and/or wellbeing in my presence, I'm to be asked first."

"If someone threatens John there may not always be time to ask you."

"Scanning. I meant the scanning ability. Shooting anyone that is threatening John falls completely under your mission protocols," Sarah paused, then added, "except at school. No shooting kids or doing bodily harm to human teenagers."

Cameron blinked at her. "John isn't sick."

Sarah fought the urge to bang her head on the table. "Thank you for explaining, now go do whatever you do for entertainment and let John sleep."


John was putting books in his locker when the press of a very familiar body pinned him place with just enough weight to make itself known, but not enough for him to feel threatened.

"Am I mistaken? Do my eyes deceive me? Was it a trick of the light or were you actually smiling when you walked into school today."

John laughed, bent his head to the right and nuzzled Cassie.

She gripped him tighter around the waist. "You're very sexy when you're smiling."

He grabbed her hands and held them in place. Taking a single step backwards, he kicked his locker shut and spun her around, so her back was against his locker.

Cassie glanced down at their joined hands. "Nice. I'm impressed. Cameron show you that?"

John shook his head. "Nope, figured that one out all on my own."

"You know, Cameron," Corey's unwelcomed face squeezed into the space between John and Cassie's, "how come you don't do something like this to me?"

"Do you want me to pin you up against the locker." Cameron appeared on the other side of John and Cassie.

"No," John shouted, releasing Cassie and putting himself in front of Cameron. "You don't want that, Corey, believe me."

"Whoa, I got that she's your sister, but come on."

"Are we missing something?" Daniel and Dria approached from behind Corey.

"John's smiling." Cassie's grin was evil.

Daniel's eyes grew wide. "Really? John never smiles. What happened?"

"John's not sick," Cameron added.

"Shit, I smile."

"Hello. This isn't about John," Corey huffed, patting his chest. "It's about me... and... and... and the fact that John is going all brotherly on Cameron's ass, not letting her pin me up against the locker like Cassie and—"

"You want Cameron to pin you up against the locker?" The snort escaped Daniel before he could stop it.

John glared at him.

"No!" Daniel amended, vigorously shaking his head. "Not a good idea, because you know..."

"Cameron is John's sister and it's just not right," Cassie answered.

"I think that's bullshit," Corey complained.

"My sister," John said, stepping into Corey's personal space. "My rules."

"Corey." Cassie punched him lightly in the arm. "Look what you've done. Now John's not smiling anymore. Thanks."


John had to ask. He had to know and since at the moment Dria was the only person at the lunch table, by process of elimination she got the $ 64,000.00 question. "I don't smile?"

"Huh? Oh. Yeah," she said slowly, "you smile."

"You don't sound really convincing, you know."

"You do smile, just not a lot. You're more... serious."

The weight of the world would do that to a guy. "Serious?"

"Who's serious?" Cassie dropped her tray down on the table then sat down.

"You have to be talking about John," Daniel said as he joined them.

"I was."

"He's not serious, he's an asshole."

"Shut up, Corey." Dria leaned across the table and took a fry from Corey's plate. "You're just pissed cause he won't let you have your way with Cameron." She smiled at Cameron. "Sorry."

"I won't let Corey get into my pants."

Corey groaned.

"Please," John begged, "promise that you won't say that to Mom."

"I promise."

"And, Corey," John said, "pinning my sister to your locker is bad enough, but you want to get into her pants?"

"Just shoot me now."

"That can be arranged," Cameron said.

John slammed his hands on top of Cameron's. "He was only kidding."

"I know," Cameron said, smiling broadly.

"See." Daniel pointed at Cameron. "Even she can smile."

"I. Smile," John hissed.

"Out of John and Cameron, Cameron definitely smiles more." The gleam in Daniel's eye was wicked.


Jack knew he was early. He knew Daniel wouldn't exactly be happy where he was going to spend the afternoon, but hell, his son would roll with the punches, he usually did. He paced back and forth in front of the cement stairway by the school's main doorway.

Leaning against a column, he watched the busses pull in and line up as he checked his watch.

The doors burst open and the first trickle of students turned into a wave within seconds.

"Daniel is getting some books from his locker."

Cameron stood in front of him, and in true terminator fashion, her personal space boundary was a little too close for comfort. But with his back up against the column, Jack was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

"That's okay. We have a few minutes."

"His knee was bothering him today."

"I know. Today. Last night... that's where we're going.... to check it out."

Cameron gave a short nod, as if she'd just judged Jack and found that he'd met with her approval. "Daniel's not going to be happy."

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing," Jack agreed.

"But it's the right thing to do."

"Thanks. I thought so as well," he bristled, trying, but based on the raise of her eyebrows, he'd failed to keep the sarcasm from his voice. He took a deep breath. He wasn't fair to her. This was the person who, according to Fraiser's medical expertise, had saved him from seeing life from a wheelchair. "Where's John?" he asked after a few moments of uncomfortable silence.

Her gaze swiveled mechanically towards the door. "With Daniel. Corey. Dria. Cassie."

Jack's grimace was lost on her. "Came out where it's relatively quieter? Saner?"

She blinked at him.

It wasn't worth explaining.

"Cameron," he reached out with a tentative touch, "I just want to thank you. For what you did. With the," Jack lowered his voice, "Goa... with the healing device. Fraiser said you made it work. Healed my back. Thank you."

"I broke the device."

"That's okay. Whatever you did," Jack rotated from side to side, "worked."

"I'm glad to have helped you and Daniel. I'm sorry I broke it. For good."

"No one said anything to you about breaking it, did they?"

Cameron shook her head. "No. General Hammond said it was an acceptable loss. You wouldn't have been an acceptable loss."

Jack laughed. "Thanks for explaining." He checked his watch again. "Could you do me a favor? Could you just go get Daniel for me. Tell him I'll be waiting in the truck." Jack was going to tell her to light a fire under his son's ass, but he was afraid her literal interpretation of his order's wouldn't bode well for Daniel.


Daniel adjusted his backpack, waved to his friends and got into the Avalanche. He buckled his seatbelt and waited for his dad to pull out of the parking lot before asking the question. "Okay, Cameron said you needed me? Why? Is everything alright?"

"Doctor Chadway called, he wants to take another look. After the weekend and all."

His dad sucked at lying. Actually, his dad sucked at lying when it came to Daniel. He didn't have to be a genius to know that his dad pulled some SGC strings to get the doctor to take another look at him. Fine, if it made his dad feel okay, then he'd go along for the ride, literally.

"I figured we'd also stop off and get dinner on the way home. Go see Grandma..."

"That's fine. We won't be too late though, right? I have homework."

"Let's keep our fingers crossed that the doctor's office isn't that crowded."

That was like praying to win the lottery, the odds were slim to none Daniel would be seeing the outside world before sundown.


When Daniel walked into the empty waiting room, it was pretty damn obvious his father had sold his soul to the devil.

"Looks like our lucky day," he said with a clap to Daniel's back.

"Why isn't there anyone here, Dad?"

"Because we're the first appointment of the afternoon?"

"Because Doctor Chadway didn't have office hours today and he came in because you pulled some strings?"

"That's a possibility."


"Humor me, okay. I needed this."

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Icky. Honest."


Daniel sat on the examining table while the doctor ran through the drill. Bend. Stretch. Prod. Does this hurt? That? This? By the time the doctor was finished, Daniel was mentally exhausted.

"MRI's not showing any new damage." Chadway switched off the lightbox and turned to Daniel. "Four weeks of PT and you'll be—"

"Good as new? You said that last time."

"Yes, I did."

The doctor smiled at his father and not at him, which pissed Daniel off. "So you lied?"

"Daniel!" His father's anger was swift.

"No, it's okay. Daniel's right. There may always be a tendency to have a weakness in that knee. You need to learn to listen to your body and step back. Your knee was hurting before you came in on Friday, wasn't it?"

Daniel dropped his head. "Yes," he answered the floor.

"Listen when your body talks to you."

He slid off the table. "That's what my coach told me."

"Smart man."

"Maybe from where you sit. Not from where I'm standing in this examination room."

Daniel was out the door and waiting by the Avalanche for a while before his father strode over to him.

"Get in the truck. Now."

Without argument, he got in the car, saving his words until his father slammed his own door and settled in his seat. "Don't you be angry with me. It wasn't my decision to come here."

"You're right. That decision was mine. But you were rude. Downright nasty."

"Do you know what it's like to be fed a line of crap?"


"Over and over again."

"Yes," his father answered.

It wasn't worth it, getting into a battle with his father. He bent down, picked up his backpack and stretched out his leg.

"Call your grandmother and tell her that we're bringing over dinner."


"You're limping."

"Hello, Grandma." Daniel glanced at his father for help, but he was still unable to see past his anger to help him divert his grandmother's hovering.

"Everything smells delicious, put the packages in the kitchen, the table's all set."

"Hi, Mom. And yes, Daniel's still limping."

"Motrin's on the second shelf in the hall bathroom, make sure you put some by Daniel's plate."

"I'm going to my room to do start my homework."

"Okay, mhuirnin. We'll call you when dinner's ready."


Daniel jumped at the touch on his shoulder and he ripped out his ear buds. "Shit." He grabbed his knee, which had slammed into the side of the desk when he'd been jerked into the present.

"Crap, I'm sorry, Icky."

" 'K." He rode out the worst of the pain, nodding when the throbbing became bearable. "Sorry, I didn't hear you call."

"Didn't mean to scare you."

"I didn't mean to be such an asshole to the doctor."

His dad looked like he was going to say something, but he didn't. He just pasted this really strange, fake smile on his face and pointed to the door. "Come on, dinner's going to get cold."


Daniel was peeling the crispy fried batter off his chicken, concentrating on not missing a part when his grandmother interrupted his hard work.

"How long do you have to stay out of soccer?"

"Until the PT therapist gives him the all clear," his father answered for him.

Daniel dropped the half naked piece of chicken on his plate. "I already spoke to Coach Dawson."

"Gave him the heads up? Good."

"I quit."

"Oh," was all his grandmother managed.

His father on the other hand. "Excuse me? You quit? As in you don't want to play anymore? Why the heck would you—"

"My life. My choice."

"We'll talk about this when we get home."

"There's nothing to talk about. We already discussed this. This was—"

"Your decision. Yeah, I heard that, but don't you think—"

"I think the two of you need to keep quiet. While Daniel's decision may need to be discussed," his grandmother threw up a finger to ward off Daniel's interruption, "I would prefer you do it at home. I don't want to choose sides. I want to be..."

"Sweden?" Daniel asked tentatively.

"Sweden works," she agreed with a smile.



"I thought we promised Grandma we wouldn't discuss anything until we got home."

"We're two blocks from the house."

"Please," Daniel begged, stunned when his voice caught over that one word.

"Fine, we'll talk about this when we get home."


Daniel was surprised his father had the restraint and waited until he'd showered and dressed in a pair of ragged sweats before cornering him in his bedroom.

"I'm thinking you need new sweats," his father said with a grimace, pointing at a mid-calf hole.

"I like these. They're comfortable."

"Doesn't meant you shouldn't get new ones."

Daniel sat on the bed and made a nest of pillows behind his back. "Are you making an analogy or something?"

"No, I'm just talking about your pj's."

"Oh." Daniel got a smile out of his dad for that one and the knot in his stomach loosened up a little. Just a little.

"Why didn't you tell me you quit soccer?"

"I really just did it." Okay the knot tightened up again.

"We should've talked about it."

"Why? I would've said I wanted to quit. You would've said no, give it time."

"Isn't that what you told me when I was in the hospital and I wanted to quit. Didn't you tell me no?"

Daniel shrugged. "I might have."

"Didn't you tell me to not give up? That together—"

"But this isn't about together, Dad. This is me out on that field doing something I love and being sent back to Home over and over again without passing Go."

"Are you making an analogy?"

Daniel pulled the sleeve of the sweat down to cover his hand then swiped it under his nose. "I guess I am."

"How about you skip the analogies and just tell me what the hell is bothering you."

"This is about fear."

"The doctor said—"

"I know what he said, Dad. I can go back on that field. But I can also get hurt again."

"There's a chance that you won't."

"And there's a very good chance that I will!" Daniel swallowed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell."

"What happened to hope?"

"Cameron fixed you, Dad. It had nothing to do with anything I said to you."

"She did."

"So to spout about hope. And not giving up, that's sorta an oxymoron isn't it?"

"If she hadn't been able to fix me, do you think you would've ever given up on me?"

"I did give up on you," Daniel said softly. "I walked away."

"So, is that the reason you're giving up on yourself? Because you think you failed me?"

"You don't understand." Frustrated, Daniel pounded the bed.

"I sure as hell do. It's much easier to play it safe, isn't it? To not take risks."



"It is, okay? Is that what you want to hear? I'm afraid of getting hurt. Permanently. Of something happening to my knee and ending up on crutches. Or worse." He pushed up his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "It sounds stupid."

"No, it doesn't. You saw with me, firsthand. And you got scared."

"Am scared."

"It's okay to be scared. But you can't let it rule your life. Otherwise the Daniel Jackson I first knew would have been holed up in a school, probably teaching history to high school students without the guts to fight for what he believed in." His dad inched closer and laid a hand over Daniel's right knee. "And the Jack O'Neill I once knew would never have taken a second chance on parenthood."

"So fear is a good thing?"

His dad shrugged. "It has it moments."

Daniel chuckled. "Sorta like us?"

"Yeah, exactly like us," his dad answered with a wink.

So tomorrow Daniel might change his mind and go back to soccer. Or he might not. Or he might try again when PT was finished. Or he might not. The decision would be his with a side order of support from his dad. And that was okay. There might be no us in the word family, but even though life had its moments with him and his Dad, without the us, the word family was non-existent.


The End!

Authors' Comments: This fic was finished a while back, it honestly took us longer to edit than it did to write. For the record, two pairs of eyes went crosseyed rererereading this story. *G*

After many hours of editing, we thought we'd caught all the errors. And then we coded it - sheesh. Those little suckers do know how to hide. Here's hoping we caught all the glaring ones.

And our OC Terry Henderson - the moment we spotted Taylor Kitsch in Friday Night Lights, we both agreed - there was our Terry. Long live eye candy.


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