Wayward Son/Sarah Connor Chronicles:

- No One is Ever Safe by devra and JoaG

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Authors' Notes: This fic takes place after Wayward Son: Lies to Live by, and Season one of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. While we finished writing it around April 2008 and had hoped to have it edited and posted before the September 2008 premiere of the show, we got too caught up in writing the sequel to this story and just couldn't find the time and energy to rush the editing before our self-imposed deadline. While we barely mention the after-effects of the Jeep exploding with Cameron in it, we acknowledge poofing over the reason why it happened.

oo~O~oo

"I can't believe it." Rodney looked up from his laptop, his words of dismay loud enough to create a lull in the SGC's commissary. "He lost." Rodney looked around the room as he moaned. "The computer lost. That's impossible."

Daniel had the misfortune to catch Rodney's gaze and now couldn't look away without appearing rude. Rodney, sitting across the table from Daniel, waved at his laptop. "It shouldn't have done that. The program's too good; it should've won the match."

He heard a soft snicker of laughter from Sam as Daniel mumbled, "Sorry to hear that."

But Rodney wasn't finished. "Okay, so the first prototype might have had a few problems and was a little... erratic. But this new and improved version was better. Much better."

"Are you talking about the SoCal Computer Chess Invitation?" Sam asked, suddenly interested in Rodney's complaining. Daniel quickly looked down at his plate, glad he was let off the hook. He stuffed a French fry into his mouth, giving the next one undue attention by dragging it through gravy while he swallowed.

"Yes. It looks like our guys will be offering a contract to the Japanese," he sighed. "He shouldn't have lost." Rodney turned the laptop around, showing them the streaming video of the conference hall where the competition had taken place. "Look at this." He bent sideways, typed in a few commands and the footage replayed.

"You speak as if you participated in the construction of this computer," Teal'c said as Rodney fast-forwarded through the recording.

"Participated? No, I just emailed the guy who wrote the software and gave him a few tips. Well, maybe more than just a few tips. He's brilliant, but he refused to change a few things despite it making the computer a little... moody. After a few weeks of emails, he sent me a copy of his program and we tweaked it together. He'd been using..."

Daniel ignored Rodney's babbling and fixed his attention on the chess game displayed on the screen. It took him a few seconds to acquaint himself with the play, then watched curiously for a few moves. When one player lost his queen, he was sure it would lose the game but to his surprise, his opponent made such an overt mistake, he now understood Rodney's shock.

Anyone else, Daniel would have suspected that the computer's program was faulty or had a few bugs. But if Rodney had a hand in writing the software, and the computer had been winning up to this point, then this wasn't the computer's fault. He opened his mouth to say so, but Teal'c beat him to it.

"Then the computer is not at fault. The individual controlling it caused it to fail."

"That's what I'm afraid of. Why would Andy do that? Winning the match was a done deal."

"Rodney," Sam laughed. "You have a copy of the software and the military is out there ready to offer a contract to the winner?"

"Well, technically it's not mine to use," he said quickly. "I just offered to help – Andy would probably have figured things out eventually – I just helped him along a little sooner."

oo~O~oo

"Dad, are you almost done?" Daniel knew he was whining as he pointedly picked up his backpack and rested it on his lap.

"Yes, another five minutes." His father sounded pre-occupied as he perused several sheets of paper in a folder.

"You said that five minutes ago."

"And it'll be another five minutes if you keep interrupting me."

"But..." Daniel snapped his mouth shut and leaned forward, resting his arms on his bag. As much as he used to love coming to the SGC to be with his dad, lately there had been too many days spent in the infirmary getting physicals. And, he had plans tonight.

"Where's the fire?" His dad finally initialed the bottom of the top sheet, shut the folder and tossed it into his out tray.

"Alexandria's renting a movie and I promised to watch it with her tonight." Plus he owed her a thank you for standing by him during his not so normal bad stretch of craziness. A little crankiness and weirdness during the past year would be an understatement, but Alexandria had been right there by his side.

"Ah. A date."

"It's not a date. But it's getting late and it's a school night and at this rate we won't be able to watch the end of the movie—"

"Wouldn't want you to be late for your date, eh?"

"Are you done?" Daniel asked as his dad put his pen away.

"Done. Let's vamoose." Using his arms to push himself up from the chair, his dad let out a long groan. "And remind me the next time I get on the dirt bike, not to try and keep up with a fourteen year-old."

Daniel was up in a flash, hurrying towards the door as his dad grumbled, only to slide to a stop when he came face to face with Rodney. Annoyed, he nearly said something rude until he saw the expression on Rodney's face. For a moment, he thought Rodney was either going to throw up or pass out.

"Dad!" Daniel cried out, then stepped backwards to let his dad get to Rodney.

"He's dead," Rodney said in a faint voice when his dad wanted to know what the problem was.

"Who?" His dad asked, full of concern.

"Andy. Andy Goode."

"Who?" Concern was replaced by total confusion.

"The computer guy?" Daniel asked, looking around his dad. He suddenly felt awful for Rodney.

"Someone shot him. In the hotel."

"Who's Andy Goode?"

"A guy who programmed a computer to play chess. There was a tournament earlier today," Daniel said quickly. "Andy and Rodney worked together on the computer."

"Aren't there games out on the market that do that?" His father scratched his head as he stepped back, letting Rodney into his office.

"The Turk is much more advanced than a simple computer game," Rodney said, affronted as he paced back and forth in the small space in front of the desk. "It's programmed to learn, and actually shows random behavior in solving problems. This could be a breakthrough in the way we know computers. I've already started writing a few programs to help with the SGC and—"

"And this Goody guy? What's he got to do with Stargate Command?"

"Um. Nothing." Rodney gave his dad a blank look for a second. "I helped him with the software. I'd read an article a while back about what he was doing and contacted him, after his house burned to the ground and he lost his first prototype. We rewrote the software, and he entered a competition where the winner would get a contract with the military—"

"You helped a guy write a software program which the military is going to have to pay for?"

"That's what Sam said," Daniel half-whispered into his dad's ear.

"Hey, it's not my software—"

"But you're using it to write programs for your work here—"

"It's something I thought about doing one day. I just didn't have the time." Rodney shrugged, waving a hand in dismissal. "Andy's program, by itself, was pretty innovative but with my help, he was sure to win the competition."

"And he died because he won?"

"No. He lost."

"Did they catch the guy who did it?" Daniel asked, wishing his dad would show a little bit more sympathy towards Rodney.

"Yeah. The cops chased some guy and caught him in an alley outside the hotel. Colonel, I think someone should go and at least talk to Andy's partner—"

"I thought you were his partner—"

"No. I just helped him write the software. His partner, Dimitri Shipkov, taught the Turk how to play chess. I offered, but Andy had already made a deal with Shipkov."

"You just said the cops caught someone—"

"Think about it. His computer lost, so supposedly it's not worth anything. So why kill him?"

"For the computer," his dad said coldly.

"Bing. Bing. Bing. Give the man a kewpie doll." Rodney stopped pacing and flicked a finger in their direction. "I know what that software can do. The computer lost the competition. It shouldn't have. That in itself is pretty fishy."

"What are the implications of this software falling into the wrong hands?"

"Well, it's got potential but it's not like it can suddenly take over the world and annihilate mankind." Rodney seemed more composed now. "The military aspects are numerous, and actually, out in the real world, someone could probably make themselves pretty damn rich in the gaming community."

"Enough to kill someone for?"

Rodney gave his dad a short nod.

"I'll go speak to Hammond."

Daniel suddenly realized they weren't going home anytime soon.

"Daniel, I'll get someone to drive you home—"

"To Alexandria's?" he asked hopefully.

"Just make sure you're home by ten."

oo~O~oo

"I'll see you tomorrow." John strolled next to Cheri, grinning when she turned to smile back at him. For a moment, she looked carefree, then she turned her head towards the street and her face became serious. "Bye," she said gaily, waving her hand towards Cameron, pretending she'd been smiling at her instead of at John.

She skipped down the stairs, hurrying towards her father's car. John continued after her, resolute in catching a glimpse of the man who terrified this girl so much. The door opened before Cheri could reach for the handle and there was her father, leaning across the seats, staring defiantly at John.

Their eyes met.

John froze.

Sarkissian, his face cold and unforgiving, gave John a nod of recognition. There was a ghost of a smile before he pulled back and Cheri slid into the car.

For a moment, John couldn't catch his breath. "Shit."

"Your mother won't be pleased," Cameron said.

"Understatement of the year," John answered with a heavy heart.

oo~O~oo

"John's girlfriend is Sarkissian's daughter." Cameron went straight for the jugular, announcing to all and sundry even before John shut the door behind them.

"John has a girlfriend?" His mom, poring over printouts John had recovered from the triple eight's chip, gave him a quick, teasing smile.

Cameron looked at him guilelessly for a second when he glared at her before turning all her attention towards his mom. She looked none the worse from the damage Sarkissian's bomb had incurred last week; except for a few burns on her back which were conveniently out of sight under her skimpy top. "Cheri Westin is Sarkissian's daughter."

"And who's Cheri Westin?" When Cameron opened her mouth to answer, his mom put a hand out in her direction to stop her, but her eyes didn't leave John's face. He tossed his schoolbag onto the counter and walked to the fridge, ignoring how she watched his progress across the small kitchen.

"Just a girl at school." He pulled out a Snapple, popped the top, and chugged down half of it before coming up for air.

"And Sarkissian?" Derek said, walking into the room and leaning against a counter top. "What does he have to do with this girl at school?"

"He's her father," John repeated.

"And you know this, how?" his mom asked not so gently, lowering her hand.

Cameron jumped in with robotic gusto. "Her father picks her up after school."

"You saw the bastard that tried to kill us?" Derek pushed away from the countertop, hurrying to the door and peering outside, a gun already in his hand.

"He knows where we live. If he had wished to attempt another coup, he would've done so already."

"I wish I knew why Sarkissian risked so much. For the fun of it? Because he could?" Derek sneered.

"Retribution," Cameron answered.

"Thank you, Dr. Phil," John snorted. "Retribution or just to show us we were getting too close," he said, shrugging as he glanced towards Cameron, "it's not going to happen again." He took another slug of Snapple. "Like Mom said, if he wanted to get to us, he knows were we live," John couldn't help adding. He also wondered if Cheri was going to be in class tomorrow. He had a feeling his new crush would find herself getting enrolled in an all girl's school sometime in the near future.

He pulled a chair from the table and sat opposite his mother, placing his half-empty bottle before him and twirling it round and round, feeing the condensation slick his palms. "Did you figure out what those were?"

"Military plans, I think. I've found a few serial numbers I'd like you to try and run through the computer. Might come up with a location."

John reached for the plans. "Sure."

"John, this girl. Was there something—"

"No." He dropped his eyes, taking a quick swig of iced tea. "Just someone I was partnered with to study for a chem test last week."

He finished his drink and stood, grabbing his schoolbag, the plans and headed for his room. "I'll look up those numbers as soon as I finish my homework." He wrinkled his nose as he passed by the oven. "And mom, I think you need to check on supper. Something's burning."

oo~O~oo

"You're tired."

John fought the urge to roll his eyes at Cameron. Instead he blinked burning eyes, concentrating on the blurry screen and stifled a yawn. "I'm fine." He kept his voice low in deference to the fact that his mom and uncle were both sleeping.

"You've been accessing the chip for four point three hours. It's past your bedtime."

"Stop it. You sound like Mom."

Cameron's words may have been uttered with less emotion than his mom would have expressed, but her usually impassive face stared at him with a hint of concern. Concern that didn't come into being because she cared, but because she was programmed to protect him.

"You require adequate sleep to function nominally, which you failed to obtain during the past two days. And it's a school night."

John held back a sigh. "I know. I'll catch up on sleep on the weekend. We need to find out if there's anything else in here that's worth exploring. And I've almost got this one—" The elusive bits of file that he'd struggled with all evening suddenly fell into place and a room showed up on the monitor. "That's it." John watched tiredly, not quite able to make out the things laid out neatly on the workbenches. "What are those?"

"I'm not sure."

"You recognize anything?" he asked as the triple-eight walked through the room, giving them a pretty good view of much of the articles through the cyborg's eyes.

"Yes."

"What?" he asked with exasperation when she didn't elaborate.

"Tools. They're not from this time. I'm not certain about the other items. They don't appear to be finished."

"So the triple-eight had a secret storage room where he built stuff?" John watched the video for a moment longer, then made a note of the file so he could replay it the next day, when he wasn't quite so tired. He sighed, glancing at the clock. What with homework, doing his mom's research and working on this, it was nearly two in the morning. Maybe he'd make more sense of everything tomorrow. Or make that later today.

Shutting down the chip by rote, John yawned. Five minutes later, teeth brushed, bladder emptied, he collapsed into bed.

oo~O~oo

John smothered a yawn, hiding his fatigue from his mother. School had been tough to get through with only a few hours of sleep. The nap he'd hoped to sneak in before supper was a daydream, and he'd probably have to stay up late to finish his homework because he'd only had the time to come home, search through Vic's chips to find the address to the warehouse and now, they were standing outside that warehouse while his mom picked the lock.

Shifting nervously, John couldn't help looking over his shoulder. A car went by, but nobody paid them any interest. Still, he felt exposed, feeling like someone was watching them doing something illegal and he fought the lure of looking back one more time. He hated being so on edge.

When his mom got the door open, they filed in quickly. Derek shut the door behind them while Cameron walked confidently forward. His mom was right behind her, hand close to the gun in her jacket pocket.

John glanced around as he followed, sandwiched protectively between his mother and his uncle. Derek identified a couple of items while Cameron did the rounds, giving the all clear before they dispersed. John moved away from the group, listening as his mom questioned both of the others about the items.

He couldn't even come close to identifying things; there were bits of metal everywhere, in all shapes and sizes. "Is this coltan?" he called out to Cameron.

"Yes."

"Could these all be spare parts?" He waved at the pieces of metal on the table before him.

"Yes," Cameron answered. "It's feasible, but unlikely. Judging from levels of construction, the triple-eight may have been attempting to build another—"

"You're saying the metal was building another one?" Derek dropped whatever he'd been holding with a loud clang and strode over to Cameron.

"Yes."

John glanced back, satisfied that Derek wasn't going to take his shock out on Cameron, and continued poking and prodding among the pieces.

"Sonofabitch."

"Well, it doesn't look like he got very far." His mom pushed her hair away from her face, a sure sign of aggravated frustration that John knew very well. "We'll need to take all of this with us and get rid of it."

John sighed as he looked for an empty box. He grabbed one from under the table and began sweeping bits of metal into it. He'd cleared half the table when he realized there was a small glass bottle hidden behind the bits he'd just swept into the box.

Curious, John placed the box to the side and picked up the bottle. He examined it closely, and shook it. A white powder inside coated the glass. Slowly he unscrewed the top and peered inside.

"Cameron? What's this stuff?" He waved the bottle towards the others, and a small puff of powder flew out of the opened mouth and onto the back of his hand. He switched the bottle to his other hand, absently wiping the powder onto his pants.

A second later, his hand started to burn.

"Ow."

Another second later, his outer thigh where he'd just rubbed the powder off his hand, burned in unison.

"Ow. Ow. Mom!" He shook his hand desperately.

Cameron left the group, striding quickly towards him. Her boots echoed loudly in the room, bouncing off the walls. As she came nearer, his vision distorted. She seemed to elongate, then popped back to normal as the sound of her footsteps came to him through a long, deep tunnel. Following on her footsteps was his mother's cry, his name one long, unending syllable.

Then suddenly the world flipped, and Cameron was sideways. He opened his mouth to comment on how weird that was, when his muscles cramped in agony.

oo~O~oo

"He's seizing." Frantically Sarah reached for John, only to have Cameron push her hands away.

"No. It's not a seizure."

"Like hell it's not." She scrabbled for John, but despite her petite form, Cameron was an immovable object.

"Don't touch him. The powder contains nanotechnology made for cyborg physiology and not humans." She had one hand clamped on John's hand, the other on his leg. "It may not be too late to save him."

"Save him?" Sarah heard her voice rise an octave.

"The nanocytes aren't programmed for human flesh. They emit a poison that quickly kills."

"And you can save him?" Kneeling next to her son who was shaking so hard, his breath came in agonized gasps, Sarah tore off the light jacket she'd worn over her tee shirt and eased it under John's face, trying to protect his skin from the unforgiving roughness of the cement floor. His eyes had rolled into the back of his head, leaving two white slits visible.

"They're attracted to my physiology. If they leave his body quickly, then the poison won't be fatal."

"How long?"

Cameron lifted a finger to peer at the skin on John's hand, which looked like it was bruised. "Not long."

"How long?" Sarah yelled.

"Another fifteen point two seconds."

"You'll know then? If he's okay?"

"No. It'll take another ten point one second to remove all the nanocytes from his cells."

Sarah couldn't comprehend that and she focused and latched only onto the next ten seconds which felt like years. Finally Cameron released John's hand and leg. A moment later, he went limp. "You can touch him now."

Sarah wiped the sweat from John's face. His skin felt hot, like he was feverish. "Tell me what's going to happen. What we can expect."

"High fever. Delirium. Cramps and intense pain. He may require medical intervention to assist in his recovery."

"We need to take him to the hospital." Sarah reached for John's hand, which was swollen and mottled dark with bruises. "Now."

"We can't," Cameron said.

"The hell we can't," Derek said stepping into tin girl's personal space.

"The echo of the nanocytes in John's blood will raise questions we can't answer."

"Shit." Derek scrubbed at his face, turned away, then turned back. "Okay, metal, what the hell are we supposed to do?"

"It would be safer to enlist the aid of your ex-lover."

"Well, gee, thanks for that tidbit of information." Holding back her tears, Sarah grabbed John and tugged him upright. He flopped bonelessly against her. "Derek and I will get John home. You get all this stuff packed up by the time Derek comes back for you."

"I should go with you."

"You should stay here and pack up this metal. Then you'll dispose of it the same way you disposed of the triple-eight."

Cameron stood, a movement so fluid that belied the weight of her metallic body beneath the skin. "I'll be finished by the time you come back."

For a moment, Sarah could have sworn the pretty face actually looked worried as her eyes raked over John. Then she turned, intent on her job while Derek pulled John up and over his shoulder. Sarah bit her lip as she followed wordlessly, running to open the door.

oo~O~oo

"Mom? Did you get any ice cream?" Intent on his homework, John wiped a hand across his face. He was dying for something cold and wet. "The air conditioning's on the fritz again," he yelled, listening to his mom's footsteps as she moved around in the kitchen. The heat was almost unbearable and he was just about ready to move his laptop outside where there was at least a hint of a breeze. "Mom? Ice cream?"

There was a rustle of a paper bag, and the clink of metal on china. John smiled to himself, licking dry lips in anticipation. A moment later, his mom walked into his room, holding a bowl with a spoon sticking over the edge.

"Here you go." She handed the bowl over, bumped his fingers as he reached for it and a scoop dislodged and landed on his leg. The ice cream was cold, freezing his skin through his pants. He jerked, and the rest of the bowlful spilled out, landing on his hand. Screaming in pain, he tried to stand but couldn't get his legs to work.

oo~O~oo

"Hold still, John." Sarah readjusted the ice pack over John's hand, loosely tying it down with a piece of cloth. She checked the one on his leg, making sure it hadn't dislodged with John's sudden surge of restlessness.

"Hot," John mumbled as he blindly tried to push her hands away.

"I know." She hurried into the kitchen, filled a pot with cold water, grabbed a facecloth from the bathroom and brought both back to John's bedroom. She moistened the facecloth, squeezed it with one hand and ran it over his face and neck. He licked his lips, and Sarah wet the cloth again, this time let it rest against his lips, allowing a few drops to drip there. He licked his lips again, letting out a soft sigh.

"Chocolate," he murmured softly, then frowned, pulling away from the facecloth. "Cold."

"I know."

"Mom?"

"I'm here, John."

"Mom?" His eyes opened for a moment before he curled up on his side. She took the opportunity to run the damp cloth over his neck and shoulders, wiping the sweat from his back. She continued even as the shivering began, until the bed was shaking so much she took pity on him and covered him with blankets.

His fever was so high; if this kept up, he'd be dehydrated in no time. He needed an IV and something to help bring his fever down. But she hesitated to call Charley, she'd sworn to herself never to get him involved in any of this again.

oo~O~oo

For a long while the only sounds were the chattering of John's teeth and his restless moans. Then she heard the sound of the car coming round the back and she sighed in relief. Derek and Cameron walked in a few minutes later, and some of the doom and gloom Sarah had felt eased with their presence. Maybe it was the fact that she wasn't alone with her son anymore, or she had someone in her sights to blame.

She rose from the bed, striding angrily towards Cameron, confronting her in the kitchen.

"How is he?" Derek began, then went silent when Sarah walked over to Cameron, stopping mere inches from her body. "What the hell was in that powder?"

Without a word, Cameron turned sideways, pulling up her tee shirt. She grabbed a corner of the gauze taped over the burn on her back, exposing the perfect skin beneath. "The nanocytes speed healing."

"You knew there'd by some in that room and you didn't warn us? Didn't warn John?"

"I didn't know the triple-eight had created nanocytes and kept them in the room." She calmly smoothed her tee shirt down, tossing the stained gauze onto the countertop.

"But you knew there was a possibility he might have some?"

"Yes."

"And you didn't think to say anything?"

"It wasn't a danger to anyone until John opened the bottle."

"And would John have opened that bottle if he'd known it could be dangerous?"

"No."

"You didn't think to warn anyone."

"They're not programmed to think. They follow orders," Derek said unnecessarily.

"If I had seen the bottle, I would have warned John not to touch it."

"Hindsight isn't worth shit!" Sarah turned from the large, innocent-looking eyes, shaking in anger.

"John needs medical help."

"Sarah." Derek turned towards her, a mix of sadness and panic in his eyes. "The hospital is out of the question."

There would be too many questions at a hospital. Save John's life to lose it when every red flag would be waved the second any name of his would be logged into a computer, never mind the nanocytes. "No." She turned on Derek. "I don't... it's not safe." She ran a hand through her hair, surprised to find her hands shaking. She didn't know what to do. "Let's wait a little while longer before I call Charley." A little white lie for all concerned. "You." She spun on her heels to face Cameron again. "Get rid of those parts. And the nanocytes."

"We'll need more thermite."

Sarah merely glared.

"I'll make more." That was said almost hurriedly, and Sarah felt a glimmer of satisfaction that the robot could at least pretend trepidation at Sarah's authority.

"Mom." John's voice reached weakly into the kitchen.

She looked at Derek a moment before hurrying to John. She glimpsed Cameron heading out of the kitchen while Derek was on her heels, following her into the bedroom. Sarah had just stepped into the room when she froze, hearing her voice coming from the kitchen.

"Charley. John's sick. We need your help."

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Sarah strode out of the room, grabbing her cell phone from Cameron's hand.

"Helping."

"You have no right to bring Charley into this."

"Charley Dixon can help John."

"You have no right."

Cameron glanced at the phone in Sarah's hand. "Then call him and tell him you changed your mind." Without another word, she left the house.

Sarah stood there, clutching the phone, almost relieved that the temptation of calling Charley had been made for her.

oo~O~oo

"Oh God, it hurts!" John arched backwards in the bed, fully awake for the first time since he'd gone down. It had taken both Sarah and Derek to hold him there and prevent him from falling off the bed when he'd surged upright screaming just seconds before.

He collapsed, panting and groaning, eyes wild.

"I know, I know," she crooned, trying to reposition the ice pack against his hand. His eyes stilled, met hers, and she schooled her features. "It'll be okay. Can you drink some water?"

Derek hurriedly grabbed the glass of tepid water she'd left there earlier, holding it to John's mouth as she lifted his head. John took a first sip, swallowed, took a second and choked, forcing Sarah to half lift him up as he coughed and wheezed, spraying water all over her face and chest.

"This isn't good." Derek slammed the glass of water down and they switched. He bore John's weight while Sarah wiped her face in the crook of her arm.

"Don't you think I know that? Shut up," Sarah commanded. "Just shut up." She softened her voice when John reacted to her shouting. "Charley will help."

Derek snorted. "Get your head out of your ass. The guy's an EMT, he's not—"

"He'll help." Mindful of his swollen, bruised hand, Sarah protectively leaned over John, warding off Derek's negative thoughts. "Charley will help, right, John?" She soothed sweaty strands of hair from his forehead, asking the question as reassurance and not because she was waiting for an answer.

"He's not a doctor. The guy's gonna be a band aid, not the solution."

"Hospital is not an option. You know it. I know it. So unless you have another solution up your sleeve, I'm warning you, just shut the fuck up." Sarah advanced on Derek, the nails of her fingers digging deeply into the palms of her hands. "Truthfully, I certainly didn't hear you complaining when Charley saved your life."

oo~O~oo

"Charley boy's not coming."

Sarah and Derek stood in the doorway of John's room, watching, giving him a touch more space than she was comfortable with at the moment. John had fallen into a restless sleep, awakening every time he shifted positions on the bed. Slowly, they'd backed away from the bed, getting as far as the doorway, unable to proceed further.

"Your hero won't be saving the day," Derek repeated.

"Charley will be here," she insisted, never taking her eyes from John's body.

Ever the pessimist, Derek's disdainful chuckle was like nails across the chalkboard. "John's going to die and in the end it was a terminator who killed him. Mankind is going to lose the war."

For once, Sarah didn't care about the war. Fuck Judgment Day. The only thing she was concerned about was the here and now. Her son. Her John was all that mattered.

The glare Sarah shot at Derek was enough to silence him. She wanted to hit him. Punch him. Wipe the smug look off his face with a wave of her hand, but she punished him in a different way. "Go out to the garage. Make sure there's not a particle of dust left over from the warehouse. Make sure Cameron burns everything - but not the powder."

Arm's flailing, Derek resembled a two year old in the throes of a temper tantrum. "Are you crazy? Look what it's done to John. You want to keep—"

"As a precaution," Sarah said, enunciating the words slowly. "In case." She swallowed and tried again.

"In case what?" Derek challenged.

"Go watch her," Sarah ordered again, though this time the bite was missing from her words.

"If you need me..." Derek reached for her, his hand dropped against his side when she caught the movement.

"Charley will be here soon. We'll be fine."

oo~O~oo

Not until the side door slammed shut, did Sarah go back to John's bedside.

"Charley's on his way," she lied as she knelt by edge of the bed.

John opened one eye, smiling at her. It was a tiny lopsided grin and she knew, even before her hand made contact with his forehead, that his fever had risen and for the moment, John was some place else besides this bedroom. A happier place.

There was an urgent pounding at the front door. "Charley's here." She jumped up, relieved, because she never, ever, would have admitted to Derek that she'd had her doubts about Charley's appearance.

oo~O~oo

There was no preamble, as soon as Sarah opened the door, Charley shouldered past her. "Where is he?" Quickly, he paced in a tight circle, trying to get his bearings.

Silently, Sarah led the way to John's room.

Charley was dogging her heels, his equipment banging against the hallway's walls in his haste to keep up with her. They separated upon entering the bedroom to opposite sides of the bed. Charley shrugged off the shoulder strap of the case, glanced at John then nailed Sarah with his gaze. "What happened?" he demanded, not bothering to wait for Sarah's explanation as he sat on the bed.

"Careful." Sarah leaned over and grabbed Charley's hand before he rested it on the blanket covering John's bruised leg.

"What the... Look but don't touch? Makes it pretty damned hard to treat him if I don't know what the hell is going on." He began to open his case. Stethoscope. Blood pressure cuff. Thermometer. "I don't work that way. I can't work that way."

Sarah yelled out a word of warning as Charley folded the blanket down. The icepacks on John's hand and leg shifted and supersensitive, abused skin met air. John jerked and blindly fought to retrieve the blanket, mewling in pain.

"In a second, Johnny. Promise. Just let me..." He gently removed the icepack. "Holy shit." In shock, he gazed at her then back at the hand resting gently in his. "Spill. Now," he ordered Sarah.

"John touched a powder that had nanotechnology created for cyborg physiology and not humans. They're not programmed for human flesh. They poisoned him."

"Poison. Nanotechnology for scary robots." Charley blinked at her. "Sarah, that's really outside my area of expertise."

"It's John." She squeezed his hand. "According to Cameron, he's been poisoned, Charley. High fever. Delirium. Help him."

oo~O~oo

"Help him," Jack yelled as he pushed past the parents on the bleachers, creating a path down to the field.

The collision had been fast, two players, heads down, each of them intent on gaining control of the ball, and there would've been no problem if the forward from the other team hadn't decided to lend some support with a tad more aggressiveness than was called for. The three of them went down in a pile of arms and legs and the stands stood as one, booing the unsportsmanlike conduct of the third player.

A hush fell over the crowd as each of the three players slowly untangled themselves, followed by a round of applause. The two players from the opposite team slowly stood and the third player offered Daniel his hand, which he accepted with a grateful smile that Jack saw from the stands.

It wasn't the getting upright that Daniel had a problem with. Daniel was fine with that, it was staying upright. Jack began his descent from his place in the stands to the field when Daniel's red, sweaty face turned the color of paste the second his right foot touched the ground.

Daniel landed ass first onto the field, bent over his leg, with both hands wrapped around the right kneecap.

Jack shouldered past Coach Dawson and the players from both teams and dropped to the ground. "Let me—"

"Don't touch it," Daniel hissed, when Jack tried to unlock his hands.

"We need to see it, Daniel." The coach's voice left no room for discussion, and he gently pushed Jack's hands to the side. "I'm not going to hurt you. Just want to look. Can I just look?"

Daniel slowly nodded, releasing his hands.

Shit. Already the area was bruised and swollen, and from Jack's medical field experience, the knee looked dislocated and damn painful.

"I'm going to call for an ambulance." Coach Dawson pushed himself upright and cocked his head back towards the team's bench.

"No!" Daniel's head shot up. "Just give me a minute to walk this off. I'll be..." He placed his palms on the grass on either side of his thighs.

Jack leaned across Daniel, slid his hands atop his and pasted a smile on his face. "How about you just stay put." God, the hands under his were shaking, or maybe those were his hands that were shaking, he couldn't tell the difference.

Tight-lipped, with a sheen of sweat covering his face, Daniel inclined his head.

"It's going to be okay. You're going to be okay," Jack crooned.

Daniel dropped his gaze to his damaged knee. "It hurts," he whispered.

"I know," Jack whispered back to his son, feeling for some strange reason responsible for Daniel's injury. "I'm sorry."

oo~O~oo

In the ambulance, Daniel refused to answer any of the EMT's questions. He lay on the gurney, staring at the ceiling of the vehicle, basically, unresponsive.

With one hand on Daniel's shoulder, Jack filled in the blanks with some lies and some half truths, watching the man complete the form, smiling when he tried to make conversation, exhaling slowly in relief when he went to radio the hospital.

"Dad?"

"I'm right here, Icky," Jack squeezed the shoulder under his fingers. "Promise."

"I want Janet."

The familiar hint of petulance in Daniel's voice forced a natural smile to Jack's face. "Me, too."

oo~O~oo

Daniel's muteness vanished in the ER. He was uncomfortable. In pain. And vocal.

"Did you call Janet?" he asked for what seemed to be the thousandth time.

Jack was getting as frustrated as Daniel. He'd been x-rayed and prodded, vitals taken more than once and a call had been put out to the pediatric orthopedist. "Janet's been called, there's an emergency at the mountain..."

Daniel shook his head, nodded and closed his eyes. Finally, and Jack had been waiting for this, a handful of tears leaked out from under the closed lids. God, he knew exactly how Daniel felt, he wanted Fraiser here also, talking care of Daniel.

oo~O~oo

Doctor Chadway wasn't Fraiser, but he was young, younger than any doctor had a right to be, and while his explanation of Daniel's accident was geared for Jack, the doctor didn't break eye contact with his son.

"Based on the x-ray, physical examination and the extent of the bruising, you're looking at a dislocated knee."

Lazily, Daniel blinked at the doctor. "Shit, that doesn't sound so good." With uncoordinated movements, after a few unsuccessful tries, Daniel managed to tuck a stray piece of hair behind his ear.

Jack tapped the tubing to the IV. "Good stuff?" he asked the doc.

"Just to take the edge off."

"I think it's working just fine." Jack tucked the same piece of errant hair behind Daniel's ear.

Daniel gave Jack a crooked, dopey smile. "We can go home now?"

"I don't think so," Jack said, socco voce, leaning into Daniel. "What now, Doctor Chadway?"

The doctor flicked off the light behind the wall mounted light box and gently drew back the blanket covering the bed, exposing Daniel's knee.

"Wow, that looks bad." There was an air of shocked awe in Daniel's voice. "Doesn't that look bad, Dad?"

Jack patted his son's shoulder, hoping the simple touch made up for how nauseated he felt at the sight of his son's injury. The knee looked mangled, hopeless, and he wanted Fraiser. Now. Right now. He swallowed down a mouthful of bile. "Let's hear what the doctor has to say, alright?"

oo~O~oo

The nursed entered the curtained off area and flashed Jack a smile.

"He's still sorta out of it." Jack held Daniel's lax hand, rubbing his thumb over his son's knuckles.

"Daniel," she whispered.

Without opening his eyes, he turned towards the sound of her voice. "Hmmmm?"

"Can you open your eyes for me, sweetie?"

"Yeah."

Jack nudged Daniel's arm with his elbow. "Come on, Icky, let the nurse see your baby blues."

"Ha," Daniel said, "funny." The words were slurred, but at least the eyelids were fluttering.

"Come on," the nurse prodded, taking Daniel's wrist between her fingers.

Experience had taught Jack to remain silent while vitals were being taken, he bore enough scars from interrupting Fraiser.

Daniel smacked his lips, noisily, moving his head from side to side. "Thirsty."

Jack glanced towards the nurse for guidance. At the SGC Infirmary he knew the rules. Hospital, he wasn't so in touch with the do's and don'ts. "Give me a second, Daniel, and I'll see what I can do."

"Okay." Daniel shifted on the bed and Jack held his breath, waiting for the expected yelp of pain, but there was none. Either the drugs still had a damn good hold on him or what the doctor had said, that once the knee was realigned and popped back into place, the majority of pain would have dissipated. Time would be the deciding factor.

Doctor Chadway stepped into the cubicle, stethoscope around his neck, hugging a chart that was bigger than any ER admission had a right to be. "I got this, Lorraine," Chadway said, dismissing the nurse with the slightest of nods.

"Hey, Daniel." Chadway placed the chart on the already crowded bedside table, chatting amiably to a barely responsive Daniel while he finished taking vitals.

"Thirsty," Daniel repeated, touching his lips for emphasis.

"I'm sure that can be rearranged. Ice chips?"

"I want to go home." Opened but unfocused eyes stared towards the hallway with undisguised longing.

"One thing at a time, Daniel." Jack shrugged apologetically at the doctor. "Daniel's a bit..." He made a flighty motion with his hand.

"Let's work on the ice chips first, then see what we can do about getting you home sometime this evening."

"Really?" Jack was taken back, considering how the knee had looked and how Daniel looked now, he had thought they'd been leaving anytime within the next year or two.

Chadway tapped the chart. "Daniel's been here before."

"Yeah," Jack shuddered. "It was the best of times, it was the worst..."

"Spoken like a true parent of a teenager."

Jack's grin was weak at most.

Daniel's head rocked between him and the doctor. "Thirsty?" He broke into a huge smile when the doctor pressed a Styrofoam cup of ice into left hand. "Wow." Apparently ice now held the same reverence as Snapple.

The doctor didn't look that much older than Daniel, but he was assured, confident and gentle as he tucked a spoon into Daniel's free hand then slowly showed him how to spoon the cold stuff into his mouth. "Got that?"

"Hmmm," Daniel answered, even though half the spoonful of ice landed on his chest.

"Based on the x-ray and the ease in which the patella fit back in place, Daniel's one lucky kid."

"Noth a kidth," Daniel said around a mouthful of ice.

"Sorry," Chadway corrected, "one lucky teen."

Daniel stuck the spoon into the ice cup, then shoved it at Jack. "Done." He shifted on the bed. "Now I can go home."

"Patience, grasshopper. How about we just let the good doctor finish?"

"I'll make this quick." The doctor drew a deep breath. "Right now, due to the drugs, Daniel's pretty pain-free, but by tomorrow he's going to be uncomfortable. Today is..."

"Wednesday," Jack filled in. It was only by a stroke of luck that he'd even been at the game today. Finished paperwork, a cancelled meeting and he'd snuck out of the mountain, catching the match five minutes in, where he'd smiled and waved at Daniel from the bleachers.

"Right, thanks." The doctor pushed his glasses on top of his head. "By Friday morning, Daniel needs an MRI to confirm that there's no ligament damage. Right now, I'm going for crutches for him to get around. After the MRI, I want to see you in my office, fit him with a brace to immobilize the knee. After about two weeks, we can start some weight training exercises and based on Daniel's age and his excellent physical condition..."

"Not bad for a forty year old," Daniel blurted out.

Chadway's brows knit together. "Huh?"

Jack chuckled. "It's the drugs."

"Yeah, right," the doctor answered, not sounding convinced. "Where was I? Ah yeah, based on Daniel's physical condition he should be crutch- and brace-free in four to five weeks."

oo~O~oo

"Goddamn it." John was basically a moving target, shaking so badly that Charley struggled to start an IV. "There's a reason the medical profession don't treat their own family."

Family. For eight years, Sarah and John had been out of his life and still Charley thought of her son as family. As Sarah pinned John's shoulders to the bed, she thought maybe now wasn't the time for her ex-fiancé to think of John as family as she watched Charley's trembling hand. A trembling hand coupled with a shaking, uncooperative patient was a recipe for disaster and it took Charley three tries before the needle was in and taped in place.

"Hold this."

Sarah exchanged her son's shoulders for the bag of fluids and observed Charley turn, assess the room then settle on a pole lamp in the corner. He ripped off the shade, tossed it and dragged the pole over to the bedside. She nodded, understanding what he was doing.

"Here." Sarah handed off the bag and with a few minute adjustments and a flick to the tubing, the IV was up and running.

Charley just stood there, staring down at John.

"Well?"

"Well what, Sarah? What do you want me to do? What am I treating? I don't understand the cause of the fever, the pain, the low blood pressure, the erratic heart rate. I don't understand anything."

"Help him," she begged, hating that she sounded like a damn broken record.

"Don't you think I want to?" Frustrated, Charley ran his fingers through his thinning hair. "It's just that—" Shaking his head, he stopped talking.

"What?"

"This is alien, futuristic," Charley whispered, his gaze bouncing between her and John. "What if my helping makes it worse? What if I—"

"You won't." Sarah gazed up the man who once upon a time had shared her bed and her life. "I believe in you."

"That makes one of us."

oo~O~oo

The shaking had stopped, but was replaced by John's nonsensical mutterings. "Dinner's done," he mumbled to Sarah.

She glanced at Charley, who seemed to be doing a second assessment in slow motion.

"I need lunch money." John shouldered the thermometer Charley was trying to stick in his ear.

Sarah gripped John's face in her hands and bent forward until she was nose to nose with her son. "Pay attention, John Connor."

This was a voice John knew and obeyed. Always. The this-is-not-the-time-for-fun-and games order. This was the 'holy shit' tone. The stop whatever the fuck you're doing and listen to me because your life depended on it.

He struggled, but this time it wasn't a fight against Charley, but more of a battle trying to wade through layers of fever and pain.

"Open your eyes. Now."

He whined. A contemplative normal, teenager's whine against her authority.

"Open your eyes," Sarah ordered again, harsher.

"Mom?" Slowly, they opened. Bloodshot. Glazed. But John blinked at her, confused.

Her hands slid up his face and pushed the sweaty strands off his forehead. "Hey."

Awareness brought pain and Sarah saw John lose his focus.

"I need you to look at me, John."

John bucked, trying to throw her off.

"Nice try, Mister," she said, hating the acerbity in her voice

"Sarah." Charley laid a hand on her arm.

She snarled at him then turned her attention back to her son. "This is not a request, John Connor. It's important that you listen to me."

John quieted, concentrated, stared into her face. "Hurts." Tears slipped from the corners of his eyes.

Her heart broke and she used the tips of her fingers to gently wipe away the moisture. "I know. Look who's here."

"Talk to me, Johnny." Charley covered her hand with his. "What hurts?"

Sarah's hand was sandwiched between the heat of John's cheek and Charley's sweaty palm and she smiled at the recognition in John's eyes when he saw Charley.

"Hi."

"Hey, buddy." Charley leaned forward and surprised Sarah by kissing John's forehead. "Think you can answer my question?"

His gaze slid from Sarah to Charley. "What happened?"

"Answer Charley."

"Stop it, Sarah. He's sick. He's in pain. He's confused and you're not—"

"Well, neither are you. I thought that you'd—"

"Stop it," John gasped. "No fighting." His eyes widened and the shaking which had stopped started again, without warning, so intense that John's teeth rattled with the movement. The scream of pain was strangled and he clutched at Sarah, his one good hand clawing at the fabric of her shirt.

"Do something," Sarah cried desperately.

There was no missing the curse or the word hospital as Charley dug into his case.

"What is that?"

"This?" Charley injected the contents of a syringe into the IV. "Valium."

oo~O~oo

Sarah watched as the drug took effect. John relaxed, his breathing slowed, but his hand never relaxed his death grip on her. "Not going anywhere," she soothed, patting his hand. She forced a smile.

John didn't smile back. "Charley?"

"Right here, Johnny."

"Dying?"

Charley shook his head. "Not while I'm on duty."

Now, John attempted a smile and heaved a weak sigh. "Good. Otherwise mom'd be pissed."

"Can't have that, can we?" This time John was too far gone to object to Charley using the ear thermometer.

Sarah did, though. "You just did that."

Charley ignored her until the thermometer beeped. He took a glance then showed it to Sarah, whose stomach ended up around her ankles.

One oh four point six.

"Johnny, your mom and I will be right back, okay?"

oo~O~oo

Once Sarah was off John's bed, Charley grabbed her shirt and dragged her out into the hallway. "We have to get his fever down."

Sarah could've have kissed the man for not even mentioning the word hospital. "Can't you put something in the IV?"

Charley paced. "Towels. Ice. Something that John likes to drink and I hope to God you have Tylenol. Aspirin? Motrin?"

"Yes." She answered, unsure if she was answering 'yes' to anything in specific or just the fact that maybe she had at least two of the items Charley wanted.

oo~O~oo

John was falling asleep and Charley was doing his damnedest trying to keep him awake. "Look, here's your mom." There was no missing the grateful enthusiasm in his voice as he jumped up to help her.

"There's Tylenol. Motrin. A Snapple..."

"Ice?" Charley peered into the large flat Tupperware she had in her hands.

"No one ever fills the ice trays. I always yell at John and Derek for that and—" She shook the Tupperware. "There's not a lot.

"It's okay, Sarah," Charley said with a light touch to her arm, forcing her to refocus. "We can make do for now."

Easier said than done. First, Charley refilled the ice packs on John's injuries. The Valium had relaxed him enough to watch dispassionately.

"Doesn't hurt anymore," he slurred.

"I'm mixing you a cocktail that'll help with the fever." Working with the nightstand as a table, Charley poured two fingers' worth of Snapple into a paper cup, put two Tylenol on top of a book and crushed them, using the edge of his radio and repeated the procedure with two Motrin.

"Ready?" Charley didn't give John a chance to answer. "You too, Sarah, come on."

oo~O~oo

It wasn't easy. John was basically a limp rag doll, uncooperative and unable to help either Sarah or Charley in propping him against a nest of pillows against the headboard.

"Screw this." Sarah crawled into bed, leaned against the pillows, opened her legs, hooked her hands under John's armpits and hauled him towards her.

Instantaneously, Charley got the idea and helped. While this wasn't easy either, it worked. Head down, abashed at his inability to have seen such a simple solution, he readjusted the IV line. "Sorry, I just didn't think of..."

John was hot. Even through his shirt and her shirt, she could feel the unnatural heat he radiated. So hot, Sarah half-expected the air around him to waver and shimmer like heat off the asphalt on a summer's day. Sarah moved her shoulder, jostling John. "Still with us?"

He stirred. "Hmmm."

"Do it," Sarah ordered.

Sarah and Charley managed to get two Tylenol, two Motrin and Snapple into him. John managed to keep it down and from her viewpoint, spent and exhausted, she really wasn't too sure which had been the harder of the two jobs.

oo~O~oo

In deference to Daniel, Jack drove slowly, trying to process all the information that the doctor had vomited up at him. Things stuck, like Friday's MRI and a visit to Chadway's office. Physical Therapy. Crutches. Braces. Weeks of recovery.

He patted his breast pocket. Discharge instructions. Everything that he needed to know for Daniel was written on the yellow pieces of discharge paperwork. What to look out for. When to call. Two prescriptions for medications.

Daniel sat in the passenger seat, straddling the line between awareness and unconsciousness.

He tapped his son's shoulder. "Hungry?"

Daniel thought, then shrugged. "Fast food is okay."

Jack took that as a yes and turned left at the corner, his stomach growling in anticipation.

oo~O~oo

While spreading out the burger and fries on the kitchen table, Jack called first Fraiser, then his mother, not even realizing that Daniel was standing in the middle of the kitchen, leaning heavily on the crutches until he almost bowled him over. "Whoa." He shot out his hand to steady Daniel, nearly losing the cordless phone tucked between his chin and shoulder.

"What the hell happened?"

"Nothing, Mom. Just hold on a second, okay?" Placing the protesting phone on the counter, Jack guided an awkward but compliant Daniel to a chair. "Why don't you have a seat, your grandmother wants to talk to you."

Daniel lowered himself carefully into the chair. Jack took his crutches and exchanged them for the phone. "Hi, Grandma." Daniel picked up a fry, ran it through the ketchup, then put it back down. "I'm fine." He paused, then stared at the fries. "Okay, maybe not fine, fine, but I'm, umm..." Daniel looked up at Jack for an answer.

'Alright', Jack mouthed.

"Dad says I'm alright." Daniel picked up the fry again and painted the edge of the napkin with the ketchup on its tip.

Wonderful. Let's see, there was the point of origin glyph of Earth, and Abydos. Daniel was just about to drag the fry through the ketchup again when Jack grabbed the napkin and crumpled it. Jack pointed to the food then pointed to his mouth in the universal language of 'you better damn eat the food before it gets cold'.

"Hey!" Daniel's brow furrowed in indignation. "I was... Sorry, Grandma. No, I'm okay. Dad just... Okay, yes. Love you, too." Daniel handed the phone to Jack. "She wants to talk to you."

After his mother finished ripping him a new one about not taking proper care of her grandson, Jack scoffed down his meal while Daniel managed a bite or two before the phone rang again. And again. Dria, Cassie, Corey, all in quick succession followed by Coach Dawson, then Fraiser and for good measure, his mother again until the burger and fries looked damn unappealing, Daniel was bleary-eyed and Jack just wanted to scream.

Daniel pushed his food into the middle of the table, folded his arms then dropped his head, face down, into the pillow they made. "I'm not hungry."

Jack was too tired to be angry; concern was sapping all of his energy. "Want a bowl of cereal?"

Daniel shrugged, then shook his head.

Jack laid a hand on his bent head. "I'll take the phone off the hook, how's that?"

Daniel lifted his head. "That would be way cool."

"That's me, the cool dad." Jack shut off the phone then cleaned off the table, keeping one eye zeroed in on Daniel. "Don’t go to sleep," he warned when he saw Daniel lower his head back onto his arms.

With great effort, Daniel sat up. "Not sleeping."

"Good," Jack ruffled Daniel's hair. "Too old for me to carry you."

"I'm too old or you're too old?"

"Very funny. Watch it or I'll turn the phone back on."

"I need to go to the bathroom. Can I..." Daniel pointed to the crutches leaning against the wall.

oo~O~oo

"I can pee by myself."

Jack stood between Daniel and the bathroom door. "I know you can, I just thought you might need some help."

Daniel's face colored in a furious blush. "I don't need another pair of hands. Honest. I'll figure out how to do this without falling face-first. I promise I'll be safe." He shook his head, "It's only the bathroom, for God's sake."

Jack wrapped his hand around the nape of Daniel's neck, tugging him ever so slightly forward and planted a kiss on his forehead. "No one is ever safe, especially in the bathroom."

"Yes, Grandpa." Daniel shook off his hand. "Now step out of the way before I—"

"Sorry." Jack jumped to the side. "I'll be right out here."

"Sure you will," Daniel mumbled.

oo~O~oo

Daniel was taking longer than any peeing had a right to. Jack knocked on the bathroom door.

"Are you okay in there?"

There was hesitation before Daniel answered. "Yeah, I'm fine."

The problem was Daniel had been a hell of a lot finer when he'd goneinto the bathroom than when he came out. Covered in a fine sheen of sweat, his son looked as if he'd just run a marathon instead of taking a piss. "Bed?"

Daniel glanced down the hallway towards his room then towards the three steps leading to the living room. "Bed." He turned slowly and began to thump down the hall, Jack dogging his heels, ready to catch him should he teeter, totter or fall.

oo~O~oo

"Oh." Daniel entered his room and stopped dead.

Jack caught himself before he plowed into Daniel. "Oh?"

Daniel glanced down. "I'm still wearing my soccer uniform." The light bulb above Daniel's head flickered then stayed on. "I need to change. Where's my backpack? I have homework. I'm having a test—"

"I'll get you a clean pair of sweats. Your backpack is in the truck. And there's no school tomorrow." Jack was pretty damn positive this was going to be a fight. One. Two. Three. Four. Five... Jack managed to get to five and a half before Daniel got him on the no school tomorrow.

"It's not a holiday, why is school closed?"

"Well." Jack searched through the basket on the dresser for a clean pair of sweats. "If you consider keeping off your feet on Thursday and an MRI appointment on Friday holidays, then yeah, then the next two days can be considered a holiday."

"I'm having a test," Daniel repeated slowly and a touch louder as if Jack were deaf as well as stupid. "I can't be off, I'm having a test."

"Tired?" Jack laid the clean sweats on the bed.

"Stop doing that. I don't need a nap. I'm not a baby."

"Nap?" Jack looked over his shoulder, and cocked his head towards the window. Only darkness was visible through the blinds. "Thought maybe you were going to sleep for the night."

"Sleep? It's early." Daniel glanced at his bedside clock. "Really?"

"Really," Jack said. "Game. Ambulance ride. X-ray. Hospital. Fast food. Talking with the entire world. See? Time sure flies when you're having fun."

Daniel rattled the crutches. "This is fun? I'm having fun? Fun?" His voice was thick with emotion. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. Take your pick.

Crap. Jack had hoped to lighten the mood but it had sort of backfired in a huge way. "Hey," he said softly, placing his hands atop Daniel's tightly clenched ones. "No, this isn't fun. I'm sorry."

Daniel drew a breath and exhaled slowly.

Jack waited while the fingers under his slowly relaxed enough for him to remove the crutches from Daniel's death grip. "I'm just going to put these over here, okay?"

Daniel lowered himself to the edge of the bed, his left leg bent and right leg was straight out and stiff. His gaze and fingers assessed the damage.

"Stop touching." Jack moved Daniel's hand from knee. "Does it hurt?"

Eyes huge, Daniel's head shot up. "I don't want a pain pill."

"Daniel..." There was no distortion of the knee anymore, but the bruising was horrific and extensive.

"No. Pain. Pill. I don't care what the doctor prescribed."

Damn. Damn. Damn. Jack had never even had the prescriptions filled. "How about an Aleve? Motrin."

"Motrin's fine." Daniel grabbed the hem of his soccer jersey and began to pull it upwards, growling in frustration when it got caught on his glasses.

"Hold it. Hold it." Mindful of Daniel's leg, Jack carefully reached into the shirt, untangled the glasses, removed them, then stepped backwards. "Now try it."

Up and over and the shirt was off. Daniel shivered once, shrugged in embarrassment and reached for his sweatshirt.

"What the hell?" Jack slapped Daniel's hand to the bed, stunned. Daniel was sporting some damn impressive bruising besides the knee.

"Wow. I didn't even..."

Yeah, Daniel's knee probably hurt so much it had overshadowed every other ache and pain. Tomorrow was going to be a different story, of that Jack was sure. "How about, we get you into those sweats and I'll bring you some Motrin."

oo~O~oo

Jack checked on Daniel an hour after the Motrin and found him up. Twenty minutes later he was still up, staring at the ceiling. By the dim light of the bedside lamp, Jack could see the tracks his tears had made. "This isn't working, is it?" Jack sat at the edge of the bed

Daniel squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head.

This must be torture for Daniel, who always had been a restless sleeper. Lying perfectly still was probably more painful to him than his knee. Jack had an idea. "How about relaxing on the recliner?" He wasn't going to mention sleeping, because right now, Jack was pretty sure, short of drugging Daniel to the gills, his son wasn't going to get any sleep.

"Recliner sounds good." No, it didn't. Daniel sounded resigned as if there were no other options left open to him.

"We'll just try that. If it doesn't work, they'll be something else. I promise."

"No pain pill. No sleeping pill."

"No. No," Jack said quickly.

Daniel opened his eyes and turned his face to him. "Promise?"

"I promise." Jack made a tiny cross over his heart. "Come on, let's try this."

oo~O~oo

He was restless. Talking in his sleep. Dreaming out loud. But at least Sarah was grateful that John appeared pain-free. "The Valium worked."

Charley looked up from packing his bag and he opened his mouth to say something when his radio crackled to life. He tossed a saline bag onto the nightstand. "Hook this up when the first bag runs dry."

Mutely, she nodded. "Charley."

The radio's statically call cut in again. Car accident. Charley listened. "I have to leave."

"I know."

Suddenly angry, Charley switched from methodically packing to just shoving everything in his bag. "He needs to be in the hospital. Monitored."

"No," Sarah replied, shaking her head.

He stomped off towards the doorway, then doubled back towards Sarah. "I treated the symptoms. The fever. The cramps. I can't..." He inhaled, then exhaled slowly. "John needs to be in a hospital." Heartbroken, he glanced back towards the bed. "I don't want to leave. I'd feel better if he were in..."

"That would be impossible," Cameron answered as she entered the bedroom. "John can't go to the hospital."

"For once, I have to agree with the machine," said Derek, bringing up the rear.

oo~O~oo

Sarah caught up with Charley by the front door. "Please."

He slammed the door then turned. "How dare you do this to me? In that room is the closest thing to a son I'll ever have. I'm leaving. He's going to—" Charley choked on the word, unable to say it. Frustrated, he scrubbed at his eyes.

"I won't let him die," Sarah said. "I promise."

"I guess now's not the time to say that you haven't kept many promises to me."

Bastard. "Go to work, Charley. Then go back home to your wife. Your house—"

"You called me."

She opened her mouth to dispute what he'd said, then realized it wasn't worth it because in Charley's world, she had called him. "John needed you."

Charley dropped his case and grabbed her. In a romance novel, the author probably would've written it as the heroine being swept off her feet and it left Sarah breathless, annoyed and more than slightly embarrassed to know that her brother-in-law and tin girl were probably getting an eyeful as Charley hugged her. "I'm sorry," he whispered in her ear. "For everything. Me. You. John."

"Life in general," she whispered against his chest, "sucks."

oo~O~oo

Cameron appeared out of nowhere and stepped between Charley and the door. "You can't leave." With a hand to his chest, she stopped his departure. "John needs you."

Charley made a futile attempt to dislodge her hand. "Move, missy."

"If you care about John, why are you leaving?"

"Because he has to." Sarah plucked Cameron's hand from Charley's chest.

"I'm confused. You claimed that John is the son you'll never—"

He tried to shove her aside, but Cameron was unmovable.

"Remember, I'm the very scary robot."

The radio crackled again and Sarah saw how much it took for Charley to turn to her for help. "I. Have. To. Leave."

"Move your ass," Sarah threatened, "or one day I'll take that chip out of your head myself using my bare hands."

Cameron canted her head; she truly didn't get this. "John's sick. Isn't your job caring for sick people?"

"John is not his job, metal."

"Can it, Derek." Sarah turned her anger on Cameron. "Move. Now. I'm not telling you again."

Two steps to the side and Charley was able to fit through the door. "Call me," he whispered. "I'll try—"

"Go," Sarah said, basically pushing him out the door. To safety and normalcy.

"I'll be back."

And on his face, Sarah saw Charley's guilt and his belief that maybe the tin miss's accusatory words weren't far from the truth.

oo~O~oo

Sarah locked the door and came out swinging, using words instead of weapons, spraying anger and frustration at Cameron and Derek. "John may be your mission, tin girl, and, Derek, he may be your general in the future, but right now, he's my son and nothing else. And for the first time, I don't give a shit about Judgment Day. Do your jobs, both of you, I'm going to do mine and go be John's mother."

oo~O~oo

It took another dose of Motrin three hours later for exhaustion to finally overcome Daniel.

It took until the sun rose for Jack to admit that sleep was out of the question for him and he quietly rose from the couch and dragged himself into the kitchen to begin an infusion of caffeine.

oo~O~oo

Jack was on his second mug of coffee, feet on the coffee table in front of him, paper opened on his lap, his cell phone on one side of him, the cordless on the other side, when Daniel began to stir. With the mug frozen inches from his lips, Jack was afraid to breathe. A sleeping Daniel was a Daniel who wasn't uncomfortable, who wasn't in pain and who didn't require a hovering father.

Daniel smacked his lips, rubbed his nose, then groaned in deference to the limitations of the recliner, he shifted only slightly and settled back in with a heavy sigh.

"Good boy." Jack went back to his morning coffee and paper, except two hours later, the coffee pot was empty, he'd read the paper, done the crossword puzzle and drew in a moustache and blackened out a tooth or two in the comics.

And Daniel? Daniel hadn't moved. Never mind, scratch that, he'd burrowed under the blanket Jack had covered him with until nothing was visible except the top of his head.

"You're going to suffocate, you know," Jack warned.

Daniel didn't answer.

"You're going to make me old before my time." Jack rose, complaining to the thin air about how stiff his muscles were and tread softly over to the recliner. Daniel's grip on the blanket was for dear life and he wasn't giving up the cover without a fight.

Leaning over, he kissed the top Daniel's head. "Not worth the effort, Icky. Sleep to your heart's content."

oo~O~oo

God, the coach has worked his ass off today at soccer practice. There wasn't a part of him that didn't hurt and all Daniel could think of was a hot shower and a huge bowl of cereal and milk. Or maybe the cereal first and then the shower. He groaned. Loudly. Loud enough that he woke himself up.

Daniel opened sleep-encrusted eyes, blinked and brought into bleary focus the living room ceiling. Damn. A tidal wave of memories washed over him and he reached down towards his right knee. It hurt to touch, a deep ache, but nothing like he remembered from the field.

"Hey."

Daniel looked backwards. His father was standing at the head of the chair and even upside down, the smudge of lost sleep was visible under his dad's eyes. "Hey, yourself," he said softly.

"How're you feeling?"

Like he'd had the soccer practice from Hell. Like someone had beaten the shit outta him. "I have to pee," which was the only thing he could come up with that wouldn't make his dad worry any more that he was already worrying. Though getting up and out of the chair was the last thing Daniel felt like doing.

oo~O~oo

He'd peed, then leaned heavily against the sink for support while he washed up a much as possible. A shower, he really needed a shower, but he thought maybe he needed to sit and have something to eat. Something good and filling like pancakes and...

"Are you okay in there?"

"Yes. Dad. I. Am. Okay. In. Here." Daniel flushed the toilet. "See, I didn't go down the drain."

"God's going to punish you, Daniel," his dad growled through the door, "and you're going to have a dozen children just like you as payback."

Daniel situated the crutches under his arms, wincing at the already tender, abraded skin. He hobbled on over to the bathroom door, flinging it open. "I may be the father of a dozen children but you'll be a grandfather."

"I'm glad you find this amusing."

Daniel gently pushed him aside with the rubber tip of the crutch. He kissed his father's cheek in passing. "Sure do, Grandpa."

oo~O~oo

Getting to the kitchen was hard work and he shrugged off his father's help, because he may have been out of it yesterday, but he remembered something about five weeks and there was no way he was going to accept coddling for weeks on end.

"Sit down before you fall down." His dad kicked out one of the kitchen chairs.

"Thanks." With a winded sigh, Daniel placed the back of his knees against the chair and using his hands, walked down the crutches until his ass made contact with the chair. "I'm sitting," he groaned. "See?"

"Seeing."

Daniel saw his father reach for the Motrin, unscrew the top...

"I want pancakes."

He turned to face Daniel. Eyebrows raised, the opened bottle of Motrin in one hand, the top in the other. "You do, do you?"

Daniel nodded. "Pancakes before Motrin."

"For someone who can't run too fast at the moment, you're pretty keen on giving me orders."

Two pills appeared on the table in front of him. "Can I have sliced bananas on the pancakes?"

"Pushy kid."

Daniel glowed. "Does that mean you're making me pancakes?"

oo~O~oo

Somewhere after his third pancake but before his fourth, it came to Daniel that he was no longer in a good mood.

"Tell me now if you're full, because I won't make—"

"It's ten-thirty."

His father turned off the electric griddle, put down the spatula and sat in the chair opposite Daniel. "Not reading between the lines, Icky, want to fill me in?"

Ten-thirty was math. Cassie sat in front of him, Alexandria to the right... He rubbed his head, then pushed the plate away. "I think I have school work." He could feel the anxiety begin to build. "Five weeks," he stuttered. "I can't play catch up. Not again."

"Whoa. Jumping the gun there much? Let's hear what Chadway has to say before you—"

"He already said!" Daniel yelled. "Weeks. Lots of weeks." He dropped his voice. "Lots of work. Again."

oo~O~oo

"Are you okay?"

Daniel lowered himself into his desk chair and placed his crutches within reach. "Don't take this the wrong way, Dad, but please stop asking me that question."

"You know, we could set up the dining room table." His dad walked around his room. "I could maybe—"

"No," Daniel said simply. "I work better here. Honest."

"Two hours, that's it."

"What? Two hours isn't—"

"For today. For now. Two hours is just right." His dad dropped a kiss on the top of his head. "Just yell if you need something."

oo~O~oo

He sent a text message to Alexandria. One to Cassie. Settled his books in a coherent order within arm's length and then tried to get comfortable. The position worked for ten minutes. Then he moved again, stretching his right leg out under the desk.

A few keystrokes and he was into the Global History website, scrolling through the current work and future assignments. Scarily, considering that Global History wasn't one of his favorite subjects, Daniel was in pretty good shape. He made a nice sized dent on the research for the paper due in six weeks. "Score one for me," he whispered.

Daniel jumped when his cell phone vibrated across his desktop. "Fuck." He grabbed his knee when his leg spasmed in response to the sudden movement. Tenderly rubbing his right knee, he picked up and flipped the phone open with his left, without checking the caller ID.

Alexandria. Who passed the phone onto Cassie, onto Corey, onto Nate and so on and so on. A short, hi, hello, howdy conversation meant to make him feel better, which it did while on the phone, it was after they'd hung up that he felt cut off and left out.

Concentration lost, Daniel cautiously spun his chair around and closer to the bed, braced both his arms and did a sort of hop, skip and jump onto the bed. Much better. Wiggling his ass into the mattress, Daniel gave a huge sigh of relief as bruises proficiently thanked him by relaxing.

Without looking, he located his iPod on the nightstand. Earbuds in place, Daniel found the song de jour and hit the play button. The fact that his crutches were across the room, closer to the desk than the bed dawned on him just as he was closing his eyes.

oo~O~oo

"Is it safe to come in here?"

"Are you asking if I'll bite your head off?" For the first time in what seemed like hours, Sarah turned her attention away from John, focusing on Derek.

"Yeah, that was my first question."

"Depends. What was your second?"

"How's John doing?"

Sarah dipped the washcloth she'd been using to wipe John's face into the now tepid water. Gently, she wiped his face again. "In what capacity are you asking, because you care or because he's your commanding officer?"

"He's my nephew," Derek answered simply.

And there it was. The truth was out in the open and she neither denied nor agreed with Derek's revelation. "That doesn't answer my question."

"I care," Derek said softly, walking up to the bed. "Besides my memories, John's the only tangible evidence I have of my brother's existence."

Sarah said nothing; Derek spoke the truth. Kyle lived in John.

The hand Derek placed on Sarah's was heavy, rough and calloused. A warrior's hand. "Let me help you. Help John. Tell me what to do."

oo~O~oo

Sarah was standing in her bedroom, shivering despite the warm evening. This was call number three. The first two calls to Charley had gone unanswered. She damned sure hoped that the third one was the charm. She needed help. John needed help, and for a woman who'd faced off a cyborg or two in her life and held her own, right now she was one short step away from panicking.

John had woken, and she'd been heartened at his lucidity. Weak and feverish, but he'd been coherent. And she should have left well enough alone, but she tried to give him another dose of Tylenol with a chaser of Snapple. It hadn't been pretty. She, Derek, John and the blankets had ended up wearing the drink and the meds so they had to change everything. Moving John had been his undoing, and by the time they got him back into bed, his screams of pain were as painful as a sharp knife.

"Charley's here." Cameron opened the door, stuck her head in.

She stared at the phone in her hand, snapped it shut, and stuffed it into her pocket. "Tell him I'll be right there."

oo~O~oo

Charley brought food, supplies, instructions and his presence. He came with drugs that finally quieted John's screams and suppositories to hopefully bring down his fever. He came with ice for the hot spots on John's body and he was a helping hand in quieting John when the ice packs were placed by his groin and armpits. And Sarah was grateful that John wasn't aware enough to realize he had an audience to the degradation he was undergoing.

oo~O~oo

Sarah caught Charley checking his watch. "You'd better leave, before..." She didn't even know his wife's name.

"My wife is working the seven to seven shift. She thinks I'm sleeping, she won't—"

"She might," Sarah said, tugging at his shirt. "I don't want that."

Charley remained rooted, staring at John. Derek was sitting on a kitchen chair that he'd dragged into John's bedroom, arms crossed, legs extended outward, sleeping, his chin resting on his chest, bobbing up and down with every snore.

Cameron was sitting by the head of the bed, gently wiping John's face. Sarah must really be tired because she could swear that the tin girl was humming. Nothing that sounded familiar, just a soothing, restful melody.

"You need to leave, Charley," she whispered.

"John's going to sleep for a while," Charley said, speaking as if Sarah hadn't said anything. "Hopefully, a long while. I pumped as much meds as I could into him. Valium. Tylenol. IV's still going. I shoved an antibiotic in there as well. Steroid for the swelling for his arm and leg." Charley scrubbed at his face. "Sarah, I really don't—"

"You're tired."

"I'm—"

"You're tired," Sarah insisted, not wanting to hear any more.

Charley glanced at her and smiled. "Tired. Yeah."

"Want me to make you a coffee for the road?"

"No, thanks, though. Last thing I need is caffeine at the moment." He shouldered his case and headed out of the room. Sarah followed, stopping when they got to the door. When Charley bent her head forward and kissed the top, tears of surprise sprung into her eyes. "I'm sorry," he mumbled into her hair. "I know you called but I couldn't answer because—"

Sarah threw her hand up, pressing against his chest, separating them. "No apology necessary."

Charley reached over to touch her face and she backed away, rubbing her forearm across her eyes, embarrassed.

"As soon as I can—"

She just nodded, then pointed over her shoulder towards, John's room. "I need to go back."

"I know you do." Charley opened the door, stepped outside into the dark. Sarah waited until the door snicked closed before heading back to her son's room.

oo~O~oo

Jack stayed away for the two hours. It was hard, but he'd promised Daniel the two hours to work. What he hadn't expected when walking into the room was finding Daniel snoring and drooling. "Yeah, that's what I thought," Jack said, covering Daniel with the quilt bunched up at the foot of the bed.

Twenty-twenty hindsight, Jack should've woken him and would've if his mother hadn't stopped by and warned Jack on threat of death he'd better not disturb Daniel.

"He's sleeping."

"He's spent too much time sleeping—"

"Ehhh," his mother said, stepping through the doorway into the bedroom. "Sleep heals all wounds."

"Yes, Florence Nightingale." Jack slung an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close, planting a kiss on her temple. "Now let's let Sleeping Beauty—"

His mother slapped him lightly on the chest. "You making fun of me?"

"Never," Jack whispered, tugging her out of the room.

And his mother was the reason Daniel slept into hour number three and part of hour number four. Past lunch and approaching mid/late afternoon, Jack was beyond antsy. He settled on the couch with an old, familiar, dog-eared best seller, something that was well loved. Something he didn't need to concentrate on. Something he could read without paying attention.

The crash was loud. The book was thrown to the side and Jack took off at a run to his son's room, calling his name as he ran, waiting for him to answer back.

Jack burst into the room, breathless. Daniel was sitting on the bed, the desk chair flipped onto its side, wheels spinning. Slowly, Jack's heartbeat returned to normal. The visual so much less frightening than his imagination. "You're fine." Jack said it more to placate himself than to ease Daniel's angry frustration.

"I'm not fine. I can't even get from—"

Jack threw a hand up. "Whoa. Didn't mean that the way it came out. I'm just glad..." Jack pointed to the chair. "I mean, I thought—"

"That I'd fallen on my ass?" Daniel challenged.

"No," Jack said softly, trying to bring the tone of this down a notch or two. "I thought you'd gotten hurt. Sick."

"Sick?" Daniel scrutinized him as if he were one sandwich short of a picnic.

"You came in your room more than a few hours ago to do some homework."

"And?"

"Check out the time, Icky."

Daniel adjusted his glasses, stared at his bedside clock and paled. He glanced at Jack, horrified. "Why the heck did you let me sleep that long?"

oo~O~oo

Like a baby who'd overslept, Daniel was cranky, hungry and out for blood. Jack knew he could feed him and give him space, but damn, the kid was hurting. Crutches or not, Daniel was dragging, Opening the fridge. Closing the fridge, he was grumbling about the lack of food choices. "Is it too much to ask for... Oh," Daniel hobbled backwards, the packages of cold cuts and the brace bar of his right crutch gripped in his hand. With an awkward toss he managed to get the cold cuts onto the counter.

Without drawing too much attention to the fact he was helping out, Jack quietly placed two slices of bread on the counter. Then he stood to the side, safely out of harm's way, two Motrin and glass of water at the ready.

Daniel slapped a sandwich together and Jack held his tongue as Daniel ate, belly up to the counter, crumbs raining down on the plastic wrapping to the cold cuts. Bravely, Jack pushed the water and Motrin towards Daniel.

Suspiciously, Daniel eyed the two orangey pills.

"It's Motrin." Jack hid his exasperation behind a tight smile. "Honest."

"I know." Daniel scooped up the pills, shoved them in his mouth and chased them down with half the glass of water. "You promised."

"I did, you're right."

"This should've happened to someone else." Daniel brushed the crumbs onto the counter and slowly began to clean up.

"I know." Jack felt no guilt in agreeing with his son.

Daniel eyes widened in surprise. "You're not going to tell me to suck it up?"

"I never have." Angrily, Jack tore the cold cuts from Daniel's hands, wrapped them up with quick, sure movements and slapped them back on the counter.

Daniel thumped from the room as fast as one leg and two crutches would take him and Jack watched him go with a mixture of relief and sadness.

oo~O~oo

Leg stretched out on the coffee table, Daniel sat with his laptop in his lap, but the absence of anything that resembled a textbook had Jack believing the productive thing Daniel was doing was chatting with friends.

"How's everyone doing?"

Daniel slammed his laptop closed and slid it onto the couch. "I wouldn't know, everyone's busy. Homework. Soccer. School things. You remember that place, don't'cha?"

Jack sat silently. Experience had taught him that placating Daniel with words was akin to adding fuel to his anger.

"Are you even listening to anything I'm saying?"

Okay, maybe silence wasn't golden. "Yeah, Daniel. I hear you. I understand—"

"No. You. Don't. You don't understand. Not any of it." The anger was dying down to just a simmer.

"Wanna talk?"

"It's sorta..." Daniel leaned his head back on the sofa and stared at the ceiling. "What's the saying? Beating a dead horse? I know it all. The memories. The drugs. The appendicitis. I'm middle-aged in a teenager's body."

"Knowing isn't understanding, is it?"

Daniel shook his head, blinking furiously.

"I'm always here, Icky," Jack said softly. He expected some type of acknowledgement. Maybe a hint of a smile. Something. What he didn't expect was for Daniel to stuff his laptop into his backpack, maneuver himself up onto his crutches and thump towards the front door. "Jeezus."

Jack clunked the recliner into an upright position and in a handful of steps put himself between Daniel and the door. "I'll take you wherever you want to go."

Daniel rubbed his nose on his shoulder. "I don't know."

"Dria? Want to go to Dria's house. Cassie? Corey?" Jack knew he was pulling at straws. "Janet? Grandma's?" He took a few steps forward, placed his fingers under Daniel's chin and gently forced eye contact. "Do you want me to leave you alone for a little while?"

Daniel swallowed.

"I think we need some fresh milk. Cereal. Probably a few other items. Maybe pick up dinner. Might be gone for a little over an hour. You'll be okay?"

"Thank you," Daniel whispered, turning his head so its weight rested in Jack's hand.

Oh God, his kid was slowly breaking his heart into tiny miniscule pieces.

oo~O~oo

So he got what he wanted, which was breathing room? Solitude? The time alone to hold a pity party for one?

Daniel had crutched around the living room and kitchen, he wasn't stupid enough to attempt the steps without another person in the house but he felt claustrophobic, confined to just these rooms, so he ended up on the deck, gulping down lungfuls of fresh air.

God, he felt like he'd been holed up for years and he eyed the deck chairs with longing, but he was well aware of his own dexterous shortcomings on the crutches. Once down, Daniel was pretty damn positive he was never going to be able to get out of the low slung chairs without a crane or a helping hand, neither of which he had at his disposal at the moment.

He stood there, head tilted upward, soaking in the afternoon sun. Storing it up. Eventually, the cold leeched the joy of his freedom and reluctantly he hobbled back inside. Being outside had granted him a slight reprieve. No longer did he feel as if the walls were closing in around him.

"I'm fine," he said to no one. With the slightest of nods, as if he confirming his words, Daniel lowered himself into the recliner and sat there, staring at the blank television screen, his crutches resting between his legs.

oo~O~oo

"What are you hiding?" Rose watched her son fidget uncomfortably while she put on her sweater.

"Nothing." He shrugged under her scrutiny. "Really."

"Really?" she repeated.

"Really." Jack planted a kiss on her cheek. "Can't a son just pick up his mother to have dinner with him and her grandson?"

She grabbed her purse. "If that's all it is..."

"Stop being paranoid, honestly, that's all it is."

Rose waited until they were halfway to the house before bringing up the subject of Daniel. "How's he feeling?"

"Fine."

Annoyed, she fiddled with the catch on her purse, turning it round and round, trying to rein in her anger. "Stop bullshitting me, son. I'm not so old that I can't see through the crap you're trying to shovel at me." So much for holding back, she really needed to work on that.

Jack stole a quick glance at her. "Physically, he's doing better than I expected."

"That's wonderful news." Rose hesitated, waiting for Jack to continue. "There's a but, isn't there?"

"Yeah, there's a but. With Daniel there always is." Jack tapped the steering wheel with his pointer finger. "He's reached the end of his rope."

"Daniel's fourteen, he's got a lot of rope left." Rose reached out, placed her hand on her son's shoulder and squeezed gently. "He's a strong boy."

Jack raised his shoulder, bringing her hand up to his cheek. "I'm just afraid, given enough rope, Daniel's going to hang himself."

Abruptly, Rose tugged her hand away. "Did you mean that how it sounded?"

Jack's eyes widened. "Crap. No. No. No. I just meant..." Viciously, he scrubbed one handedly at his face. "I just meant that the poor kid needs a break. Something. Anything. Strong or not, Mom, I'm just afraid..."

"I know, but don't ever let him see your fear. Daniel needs you. He needs your support and your outlook on life."

"Tough job."

"The toughest, but eventually there will be perks."

Jack snorted. "I'm hoping I'll still be young enough to enjoy the perks."

"Believe me, you will be." She smiled at her son. "I am."

oo~O~oo

She held the door open for Jack, whose arms were laden with two pizza boxes, a bag of garlic knots, and four heros. "Are you inviting the neighbors over for dinner?"

He shrugged, almost offsetting the precarious balance of food. "Oops."

"Careful," she said, righting the overabundance of dinner in her son's arms. "Wouldn't want you to drop enough food to feed an impoverished country."

"Or," Jack said, stepping into the living room, turning to her with a huge smile on his face. "A houseful of hungry teenagers."

"Uncle Jack! Grandma Rose." Cassie jumped off the couch, followed by Dria, Corey and a handful of other kids that Rose wasn't too sure of their names. Like locust, they descended on Jack and picked his arms free of the food.

"Whoa," he said grabbing back one of the boxes of pizza. "Take pity on the poor adults, okay? We need to eat also."

oo~O~oo

"I'm okay, Grandma." Daniel's friends parted like the Red Sea, giving his grandma space to sit down on the couch next to him.

"Really, mhuirnin?" She checked his temperature with a hand to his forehead.

He did a mental eye roll at her insistence, especially in front of an audience of his friends. "Really." Daniel ducked his head. "No fever."

"No fever," she repeated with conviction.

"Told ya."

She winked at him. "I know you did, but I'm just exercising my Grandma rights." Quickly, she kissed his cheek. "Did I embarrass you?"

Daniel slunk deeper into the cushions.

"Ma, leave Daniel alone," Jack said, dropping a stack of paper plates on the coffee table. "Come play with the grownup and let the kids eat in peace."

"Your dad never lets me have any fun." His mother grinned evilly at Daniel before taking the hand his father offered.

'Thank you', Daniel mouthed in relief to his father.

oo~O~oo

"Why don't you go to bed?"

"Huh?" Daniel had been drifting on the couch in the living room. Pleasantly full, satiated with food and friendship, it was only the deep ache in his knee that stopped him from truly sleeping.

"Why don't you go to bed?" his dad repeated slowly. "I'm going to drive your grandmother home."

"I'll wait until you get back." His hand immediately flew to his knee when he shifted position. Too long in one place had stiffened already bruised and hurting muscles and bones. Alexandria had rebuffed his every attempt to get up and help.

He lifted his head so his grandmother could kiss his cheek. "Make sure your dad gives you Motrin before you head off to bed."

"Yes, ma'am." He mocked her with a salute.

"Dad's not waiting," his father said, turning over his hand and depositing three tablets into his palm. "Take them now; it'll take the edge off by bedtime."

oo~O~oo

Daniel's cell phone rang and he jumped. While not sleeping, he was close enough to slumber that his heart began to pound painfully in his chest from surprise. He dug the phone out from where it was stuck between the couch cushions, squinted at the numbers then flipped the phone open. "Hey."

"Did I wake you?"

Daniel rubbed at his eyes, patted his stomach until he found his glasses and slipped them on. "No. Didn't wake me."

Alexandria giggled. "You're a horrible liar."

"You didn't," Daniel bristled. "I was just..."

"Lying on the couch, staring into space. Were you starting to drool?"

Quickly, Daniel rubbed at his mouth. "I wasn't drooling." He could feel a smile slowly building. "Honest," he answered in response to Alexandria's giggle. He felt connected and missed. While not great on the academic front, being missed on the social scales had felt, and still felt damn great.

"Want to go out tomorrow?"

Daniel was stunned into silence.

"Daniel, did you hear me?"

"Are you asking me out for a date?" His smile turned into a blush of embarrassment.

"Newsflash, it's the Twenty-first Century. Girls can ask guys out on a date." She tried for huffy indignation, but ended up laughing. "Do you think your dad will let you go?"

"My dad?" he snorted. "Hey, are you mocking me?"

"Mocking you? You sound like a middle-aged guy sometimes. Old before your time ".

Alexandria should only know. "Are you making fun of me?"

"Never," she replied softly. "Ever. Never."

"So who else is coming on this date with us?"

"No one. Me. You. My mother's van."

"Oh." Daniel tried to remember if they'd ever been alone. Out alone. On a date alone.

"Oh?"

"Oh, it sounds nice. Really nice."

"Yeah, that's what I thought also. Movies. Pizza. I figured bowling would be out of the question."

"I could keep score."

"Daniel?"

"Hmmm?"

"Could you just say 'I'd love to go out on a date with you'."

"I love you."

"I swear I'm dating a romantic old guy." Alexandria's contented sigh floated through the phone.

"Is that a bad thing?"

"Not on your life, Daniel Jackson."

oo~O~oo

"I thought you'd be asleep." His dad put the four grocery bags on the table. "I finally ended up stopping at the store."

"It's not late." Daniel avoided his dad's once over, covering up his avoidance by peeking in the bag. He leaned forward and reached in only to have his father pull the bag away.

"Hey!"

"Hey, yourself." His dad pointed at him. "Stop pouting."

"You bought donuts."

"Patience, grasshopper."

"You tell me that all the time," Daniel sneered. "I want a chocolate one."

"You always want a chocolate one."

"With chocolate milk?"

His father kicked out a kitchen chair and pointed to it. "Sit down, okay? Before I trip over you and we both fall."

Daniel sat, then pulled back his crutches when his father almost tripped over the tips. "Can I have the donut now?"

"Give me these." The crutches were ripped from his grip and placed in the corner, out of the way. "I feel safer now."

"Don't trust me?"

"I trust you, Icky, it's your nervous, teenage energy that I'm having a problem with."

Daniel surprised even himself by yawning. "I'm not going to bed unless I can have a donut," he said in the face of his father's raised eyebrows.

oo~O~oo

"What are you doing?"

Cameron folded the shirt she had in her hands before answering. "I'm folding clothes." She placed it in the opened drawer and smoothed it out. "Putting them away. Organizing."

"I can see what you're doing—"

"Then why did you ask?"

On a good day, Sarah found conversation with the tin girl trying and today was so not a good day. "I asked because..." Sarah drew a breath. "Because I didn't think folding John's laundry fell under the auspices of protecting him."

Cameron picked another shirt from the basket, held it by the shoulders, flicked it then began to fold it with the same robotic, anal precision she'd used on the other shirt. "You're right. This isn't protecting John."

"Then why are you doing it?"

"Because you'd asked John to clean his room." Cameron glanced over to the bed and paused. "Maybe I was wrong. I am protecting John. Protecting John from your anger."

Sarah leaned over, grabbed a shirt out of the basket and began to fold. She'd done more than ask John, they'd argued over it. Well, looking back, she'd yelled, he'd listened then stomped off into his room and slammed the door. Thinking back, they'd been stupid words. She'd treated an overflowing basket of laundry as if the fate of the world had rested on clean clothes. Ridiculous, the fate of the world rested on her very sick, ill son. Talk about getting one's priorities screwed up.

Sometime while they folded, Derek woke, stretched and untangled himself, standing with hands pressed to the small of his back. Sarah watched as he checked on John. He hesitantly reached out to touch his cheek and Sarah held her breath, praying his concern didn't wake up John.

Derek captured her gaze and held it before pulling his hand back. He walked over to her and cocked his chin at Cameron. "Does she do windows also?"

Cameron blinked at Sarah. "Are there windows that need to be done?"

"I'll let you know." Sarah glared at Derek. "Make yourself useful and put up some coffee. You," she said, plucking a pair of boxers from Cameron's hands. "Go do a perimeter check."

oo~O~oo

The donut had hit the spot. Daniel licked his fingers, then captured the scattering of crumbs on his napkin.

"Oh, jeezus." His dad broke off half of the last chocolate donut in the box. "Take it, Oliver Twist."

Daniel glanced up from his mission of securing the crumbs. "Huh?"

"Please sir, I'd like some more?" His dad shook his head. "Never mind." He placed the donut on the crumb-free napkin in front of Daniel. "Enjoy that little sucker."

Greedily, Daniel reached for it. "Don't worry, I will."

His father grumbled something about teenage metabolism being wasted on the youth before he sat down.

"Alexandria asked me out on a date tomorrow night," Daniel blurted out just as his dad was reaching into the box of donuts.

"She did?"

"Yeah. Movies. Pizza. A date, date."

"Hmmm." His father's head bobbed in contemplation. "I thought you and Dria were already going... What's the word? Steady?"

Daniel rolled his eyes; whoever had said that you couldn't teach an old dog new tricks knew his father very well. "A date. We've never been..." Daniel stopped, saying 'alone' with Alexandria would set off all of his dad's alarms, and that wasn't how he meant it. "We've never been on a date," Daniel said. "We've never been on a date without someone with us. Corey. Cassie. Nate..."

"Daniel..." Slowly, his father put down the donut he was eating.

The donuts Daniel had eaten turned to lead in his stomach. The tone was too familiar and he could feel the 'no' before his father even formed the word. "Why not?"

"Whoa," his father threw up his hands. "Chill."

"I'm not calling Alexandria and telling her that my daddy won't let me go on a date." Daniel wished he could hop out the room and still maintain his dignity.

"I'm not asking you to call her. I was just going to say maybe your decision about this date needs to be done after visiting with Chadway and having your MRI."

"Oh." Daniel deflated. "I..." He wanted to say he'd forgotten, but he hadn't, not really. "We're not going jogging or anything. No bowling. Just a movie. Pizza. Please?"

"What if Chadway wants—"

"To put me in the hospital? I won't go."

His dad crossed his arms and sat back in the chair. "You won't?"

Frustrated, he flailed his arms without thought. "You know what I meant."

His father's sigh proceeded to infuriate him further. "Yeah, I knew what you meant."

"I won't go back in the hospital," Daniel whispered, head down.

"I'm not asking you to. Chadway isn't asking you to, not today. But tomorrow's a different day and I don't want you or Dria to be disappointed."

He lifted his head. "So, if the doctor says I'm good to go?"

"I'm thinking good to go is a little too much to hope for. I'll settle for just good, right at the moment."

oo~O~oo

He laid in bed, in complete darkness and Motrin or not, here in his room, Daniel could finally admit that his knee hurt. Really hurt. Wished he had a pain pill hurt, but he'd be damned if he'd call for help. Whining wouldn't help his dating case at all.

Gingerly, he placed one of the extra bed pillows under the joint, hissing as he raised his knee and groaning as he lowered the limb into the pillow's softness. He hated sleeping on his back, but right and left didn't make a difference. Back was a dull ache while side sleeping was torture. Daniel tore the pillow from under his head and put it over his eyes. Maybe if he breathed in his own carbon dioxide for a period of time, he'd pass out, not feel the pain and wake up refreshed.

Yup, worked for him.

oo~O~oo

Daniel grabbed for the pillow covering his face. "Hey."

"Hey, yourself," his father countered, physically lifting his head and shoving the pillow under it. "You're going to suffocate."

"I was sleeping," Daniel complained.

"No, you were suffocating."

Daniel hurriedly bit back a gasp when his father sat on the bed. Close to the edge but not far enough from his knee, his dad clipped the injury with his hands.

"Damn it, Icky, why the hell didn't you—" His father left in an angry huff, flinging the bedroom door against the wall.

And his date shriveled up and died right in front of his eyes. The idea, especially the aloneness of the time with Dria would remain the things of dreams. Wishful thinking.

His father blinded him with the overhead light and Daniel hurriedly covered his eyes, this time with his arm and not his pillow.

Now, Daniel sensed his dad standing over the bed, hesitating as he tried to figure out where to sit and not hurt.

Daniel grew impatient and dropped his arm. "Just sit down."

"This first." He helped Daniel sit up and gave him another dose of Motrin. Probably too much in a short period of time, but Daniel truly didn't care as long as it took away the pain.

"Now sit." Daniel lay back down, trying to find a spot of comfortableness. "Please."

His Dad's hands danced the length of the bed. "I have no idea where to sit and not hurt ya."

Weakly, he patted the left hand side of the bed. "Safe on this side."

Hesitantly, his father picked his way around the room and sat, with great gentleness, the bed barely dipping under his weight. But with even greater gentleness and a side order of tenderness, calloused fingers pushed aside too long strands of hair. Petting him, soothing away the hurts like he was a little kid. When words and band-aids weren't enough for the boo boo or nightmares.

His knee still hurt, Daniel could feel the residual burn and ache, but it was fading into the background almost as fast as he was.

oo~O~oo

The mug of coffee Derek gave her was hot and strong, but probably even an IV load of caffeine wouldn't help to keep her awake. She yawned yet again and rubbed at her burning eyes.

"Go get some sleep." Derek's hand lay heavy on her shoulder and he reached around and righted the listing coffee mug in her hand.

Sarah shook her head, then shifted in the chair. "No, I need to—"

"You need to get some sleep, not going to do anyone any good if you pass out."

"Maybe I'll put a blanket on the floor..."

"No, go to bed. I'll knock on the wall. Blow an air horn. Shoot off a flare. I'll do whatever you want to wake you up."

"No," she said softly.

"Look." Derek tapped the IV bag. "Looks like there's two hours or so in there. John hasn't moved one iota in a while. I promise that I'll—"

"Twenty minutes."

"Sure."

"Twenty," she insisted with more force.

"I said sure."

"I'll clean the toilet bowl using your toothbrush if it's a minute longer."

"I thought you did that already?"

Sarah was so tired she couldn't even manage a snort. "I didn't." She stood and handed him her mug of coffee, not sure if she could even make it to her room without dropping the cup. "Twenty."

"Twenty."

oo~O~oo

The machine walked past the room and hesitated a moment too long for Derek's liking. Without a word, he got up and closed the bedroom door against her prying eyes.

"Sorry," he said settling back into the chair. "She just creeps me out."

John moved in response, mumbled some unintelligible then tugged at the neck of his tee shirt.

"Come on, guy," Derek begged. "Give your mom at least twenty, okay?" He held his breath, waiting until John finally settled down.

The street was waking up and Derek leaned back, closed his eyes and listened. This was pure entertainment to him. Everyday sounds that people took for granted - a car starting, birds singing, kids arguing, horns honking - they were all little pieces of heaven, providing nourishment to his deprived senses.

Someone was watching him and he opened his eyes, ready to spare no expense in letting the machine know he wasn't thrilled with her intrusion. But it wasn't her. "Hey, John."

"Derek." His name rode the crest of an exhalation.

Quickly, Derek stole a glance over his shoulder. IV bag still had a while to go. With fear in his heart, he checked his watch. Thirty minutes. Ten minutes over the ordered timeframe and his toothbrush was now history. Might as well go for the gusto.

"Your mom's sleeping." Derek answered the question that wasn't asked. "The metal is doing her walk around which leaves me and you. Can I get you something?"

John tried to raise his injured hand. "Ow."

"Don't." Afraid to touch John, Derek moved his own hand, hoping that his nephew would pick up on the mimicry.

John nodded, and lowered his hand. "IV? What for?"

Derek nodded. "All yours. Drugs and everything. Good stuff."

"Oh. Guess that explains the—" John closed his eyes and licked his lips.

"Loss of concentration?" Derek filled in the blank space.

"Yeah." John shifted with a groan. "Can't think straight."

"Then don't. Go back to sleep."

John didn't answer, but closed his eyes and turned his face towards Derek.

It was an invitation, it really was, and without Sarah's protective hovering, Derek reached out and pushed the sweaty strands off his forehead. Still hot. Very hot. "Here, this might help." The basin of water was cooler, but not yet warm, but still, as a precaution he only dipped the tip to the washcloth into the water.

John jerked and Derek pulled back in shock when the cool water made contact with his over-heated skin.

"No, s'okay." John's tongue flicked at a droplet of moisture left behind.

With a steady, gentle hand, Derek ran the washcloth over John's face, his neck and his uninjured hand. His nephew made no movement, no acknowledgement, and Derek was pretty damn sure this wasn't doing anything but making him feel better than just sitting and staring at John. Derek kept it up until eventually he dropped the washcloth back into the water. "Better?" he asked, slowly pulling the blanket up to John's uninjured side.

John didn't answer and Derek couldn't help but feel a momentary surge of pride akin to rocking a crying baby to sleep. Derek relaxed back into the chair, sliding down until the nape of his neck was supported by the back of the chair.

"What were your parents like?"

"Huh?" Confused, Derek studied John. Eyes still closed, he appeared to be sleeping.

"Your parents. My grandparents." Lethargically, he opened his eyes, blinking as if he were unsure where he even was.

Derek's parents had occupied his mind for about two weeks after the machines dropped the bombs. Once was in anger and once was in sorrow, though even now, years later, the anger was the stronger of the emotions. Workaholics, they'd spent too much of their time at their place of business. Too focused. Too intense. Too preoccupied. Kyle had been an oops baby and his formative years had fallen on Derek to be both his mother and father.

"They died on Judgment Day. They worked in the city. They left early for work that day. We never had a chance to say..." The word got stuck in his throat. "Your dad cried for them."

"And you?"

"I couldn't cry." It wasn't a lie. Derek couldn't cry for the parents who'd left him responsible for his little brother. He could hate them and be angry, but he couldn't cry for them. Derek scrubbed at his burning eyes; thirty minutes of sleeping on an uncomfortable chair didn't really count as rest.

John was staring at the ceiling, tears pooling and sliding from the corner of his eyes.

"Whoa." Derek leaned forward and used the pillowcase to wipe up the wetness. "Do you want me to get your mother?"

"I'm sorry," John stuttered.

"Hell, this isn't your fault. The tinny bitch should have—"

"You were orphans. You and—"

Derek didn't want to get into this. Not now. Not ever. It was all in the past. His past. Or maybe his future. He wondered, not for the first time, what would be John's future if Judgment Day never happened. Would young Derek and Kyle live happily ever after at the expense of John's existence?

"Go to sleep, John," Derek ordered. "This is a discussion for another time, when you're not drugged to the gills and I'm not functioning on too little sleep."

With a sigh of reluctant defeat, John turned his head away from Derek and closed his eyes.

oo~O~oo

In response to the water dripping on his head, Derek jerked awake, flying off the chair. "What the—"

"Your toothbrush," Sarah said, shoving the wet object up against his shirt. "Toilet bowl is now sparkling clean, as promised."

"So you slept a little longer than twenty minutes." Derek tried to figure out how to hold the toothbrush without actually touching it.

"A little longer? Four hours and forty minutes longer." Through narrowed eyes, Sarah glanced at the IV bag. "It's full."

"I changed it," he smirked. "I'm capable."

Her anger changed to a slight smile and Derek couldn't help but smile in return. "Thank you for taking care of him. How's he doing?"

"He was awake. Not all connected, but aware." Derek stepped in front of her. "I know you don't want to discuss this, but we're not safe here."

"We're not going anywhere. Not now. Not yet." Once again anger took up residence. "Go shower. Brush your teeth." Her smile was wickedly evil. "There's Chinese left over from what Charley brought yesterday. Enjoy."

Derek knew when he'd been dismissed and he saw, when he gazed at her, reflected in her eyes, her stance and the set of her jaw, her son, years from now. He acquiesced to her demand, as he would to John.

oo~O~oo

John ran, or tried to, but the halls were crowded and he was going against the flow of teenage humanity. The terminator on his tail was tall, heads above the high school students, easy to pick out. John's timing had sucked, he'd literally bumped into the cyborg when he'd exited the lunchroom.

He'd made the connection quicker than the machine had, which had bought him mere seconds. "Cameron!" he yelled, glancing this way and that, trying to find his protector, but it was Cheri who appeared by his side, grabbing his arm and tugging.

"Come with me if you want to live," she offered.

John didn't even have time to process; he just nodded and followed her through a classroom door into a warehouse. A huge warehouse. A huge, very cold warehouse. He began to shake, wrapping his arms around his midsection in an attempt to hold in his body heat. "Close the door." His teeth were chattering so much it was hard to even utter those three words.

Cheri's fingers skimmed his neck à la Cameron and he shivered at her touch.

"You don't feel cold. Hot," Cheri said. "You feel hot." Her fingers moved from the side of his neck and slid to the front, her eyes glowed red as she tightened her grasp around his windpipe.

John gasped, struggled, but his arms refused to respond.

Cameron came out of nowhere, side-checking Cheri, who flew into the cinderblock wall from the force.

John fell to his knees, more intent on breathing than the outcome of the battle.

"You're supposed to run."

John was hauled to his feet. His mother's fingers were wrapped in a death grip in the front of his shirt.

"I was," he stuttered.

"No, you didn't. You took the easy way out."

"I was trying to—" John looked over his shoulder at the door Cheri had led him through. "I thought it was safe."

"Well, you thought wrong." She waved a bottle of white powder in front of him. "No one is ever safe. You should know that."

John had failed. Unsure exactly what he'd failed at, he just knew he'd let his mother down. Derek. Cameron. Disappointed them all.

"I'm sorry." John spoke to her, but his gaze was transfixed on the bottle she held in her hands. "Please. Next time—"

"Don't you get it, John?" One-handed, his mom shook him. "In your life, there is no next time. One fuck up and you're dead and the world's destruction will be your glowing yellow brick road to Hell."

"I'm sorry."

"Too late." His mom released her hold on his shirt the same time she let go of the bottle.

John fumbled for it, but his reflexes were slow and unresponsive and the glass slipped through his fingers and shattered on the cement floor. The powder exploded up and out of the bottle like a miniature mushroom cloud.

"Ooops," she said with a not so innocent chuckle. "Look what you did."

"Me?" John pushed her away. "You dropped it."

"But I'm not the one dying, am I?"

"I'm sorry." John took a step backwards. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to—" He turned his face so he mother wouldn't see him cry. "Die. I don't want to die."

oo~O~oo

John was caught in the throes of a nightmare. In the beginning, Sarah sat back, stupidly thinking that his demons would work themselves out. There was mumbling and indecipherable words spoken out of context. She'd soothed him, wiped his head. Closed the blinds. The curtains. Talking. All the time talking to him.

"I'm sorry," John sobbed.

She stopped her pacing and stared at the bed. "John?"

"I'm sorry."

The plaintive little boy quality broke her heart. "No reason to be sorry," she said while gently lowering herself next to him. Sarah offered an innocent pat to his chest, a motherly stroke of comfort.

John mumbled something then jumped at her touch. Opening his eyes, he stared at her and weakly shoved her hand to the side. "You dropped it."

She gripped his uninjured hand tightly in both of hers. "You're dreaming."

He blinked at her. "I don't want to die."

Her tears were instantaneous, surprising her to the core. "Not my John. I won't let you die."

"Mom?"

Sarah answered with a distracted, "Hmmm."

"You're crying."

She laughed, released his hand then wiped at her face with the hem of her shirt. "How embarrassing, I got caught with my emotions showing."

oo~O~oo

John was curled on his side and he looked better than he had. Sarah managed to get him to swallow some Motrin and Tylenol, but he turned green at the mention of food and made her turn around when he had to use the bedpan.

"I changed your diapers, John." Thankfully, she was facing the window and her son couldn't see the broadness of her smile.

"You're laughing."

Sarah raised her right hand. "Honest, I'm not."

"Liar."

oo~O~oo

John was in pain, it was etched on his face and Sarah knew she was to blame. He'd been awake and coherent so she'd done what she always did with him. She pushed. And he'd let her.

He'd already had the Motrin and the Tylenol. The IV was still running. His hand and leg were packed with ice and she'd schooled her expression at their swollen, bruised condition.

"Derek? Cameron?"

"Keeping busy."

"You threw them out of here?"

"I'm your mother. I have that right."

"Not exactly thinking those were the words Derek used." He tried to smile, but it turned to a grimace and the 'ow' slipped out before he could help it.

"It's okay." Sarah soothed. "I'm right here." She closed her eyes and from memory, and though the words where spoken haltingly, the language rusty and awkward sounding, Sarah began to recite the Wizard of Oz.

oo~O~oo

Even though he slept, the pain was still etched in his face, making him appear older, battle worn, and she saw John's future as he tossed restlessly in bed. Years full of pain. Hurt and anger surged through her, settling in her gut. How dare he? And for the first time, after all these years, she was overwhelmed by the betrayal towards John's father for bequeathing such a heavy burden to the child who wore his face.

"I hate you," she raged, grabbing a bottle of Snapple and flinging it across the room, taking pleasure when it smashed into the opposite wall with a shatter of extreme satisfaction. Sarah was in the process of looking for something else to throw and settled on a plate with hours' old toast when Derek walked into the room and stepped into her line of fire.

"Do you want me to duck or would it be more satisfying for you to hit me?"

"I'm not sure." Sarah lowered her arm but didn't put the plate back on the night table. She reached out and touched John. "I didn't wake him."

"Try throwing the plate, maybe you will."

Guiltily, she put the plate down.

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

Sarah balked. "Depends."

"Who were you hating when I walked in?"

Betrayal dissipated into thin air, disappearing as quickly as it had appeared, leaving in its wake a terrible longing for Kyle. "No one in particular. Everyone in general."

Derek kicked a shard of glass. "Especially a bottle of warm Snapple."

She stood with a sigh. "Guess I have to go clean up my temper tantrum."

oo~O~oo

John opened one eye. "Are you fluffing my pillow?"

Cameron gazed downward, blinking at him. "Isn't that what's done for patients? I've already straightened your blankets. Emptied the bedpan."

John groaned.

"Are you in pain?"

John shook his head. Embarrassment plowed through any pain and grogginess, making itself comfortable as it took over the top of the list. "Fine," he choked. "Just fine."

She skimmed his neck and John shuddered as a not so nice visual of Cheri touching him in the same manner flittered through his brain.

"Don't do that." He couldn't do more than speak words; she basically had him pinned to the mattress.

"Your mother asked for an update on your vitals every two hours."

"And what do my vitals say?"

"You'll live."

"There were some doubts?"

"Do you want me to lie to you?"

"I'm not sure," John said slowly.

"I am. Lying will be much more beneficial. I can't see how telling you the truth will help in your recovery." She patted the pillow under his head. "I've fluffed."

"Thank you."

"I've also folded your laundry."

"What?"

"Your laundry. All your shirts, jeans, socks, and boxers have been—"

"Am I going to die?" Asking that question again was so much better than even thinking of Cameron touching and folding his underwear.

"You were."

"Was?"

She gave an all too human tug on her bottom lip with her top teeth as if contemplating the logistics of the asked question. "The danger of your dying has passed."

"I'm glad." Surprised that he actually had the strength to place a sarcastic spin on those few words.

"Me, too."

"You are?"

"Yes, if you'd died, I would've failed—"

"In your mission to protect me," John filled in for her. Cameron didn't speak, but she blinked at him, wide-eyed and innocent as if he'd offended her. "Stop that. Stop looking at me as if I'm something more than a mission. Stop looking at me like you care."

"The mission failure would've been my doing. I should've mentioned the powder and its dangers to humans."

"You feel guilty," John snorted.

"No, I don't."

"Yeah, you do."

"I don't," Cameron insisted. "I'm just stating a fact. I should've been aware there would come a time we'd encounter this powder. Being forewarned is an excellent defense."

"Keeping my hands to myself would've been a better idea."

"You'll get no argument from me."

John shook his head. "Have you been talking to my mother?"

"Yes. Remember I told you that she wanted your vitals? Are you confused? Is there a need to wake her up—"

Wake up? John turned to the window. "It's dark outside."

"It's night. Both your mother and Derek are sleeping. Your mother fell asleep while eating at the kitchen table. Derek is asleep in front of the television."

"What time is it?"

"Four in the morning."

"Oh."

"You've been sleeping a lot." Cameron began to plump the pillow under his head again. "Is that better?"

John shifted to the side. She was too close. He was too uncomfortable.

"Dorothy vivía en el centro de las grandes praderas de Kansas con tío Henry, que era granjero, y tía Em, que era la mujer del granjero. Su casa era pequeña, ya que la madera para construirla tuvo que ser transportada en un carro muchos kilómetros—"

"What did you just say?"

"Dorothy vivía en el centro—"

"Stop. What the hell are you doing?"

"It's from El maravilloso Mago de Oz—"

"I know what it's from," John said angrily. "How did you know about that?"

"You told me that the story brought you comfort and at the moment you appeared in need of comfort."

"I'm fine."

"You're not fine, John. Your temperature is elevated. You're—"

Suddenly exhausted, John closed his eyes. "Go fold laundry. Fluff someone else's pillow. Walk the perimeter. Clean a gun. Go do your job."

There was a pause. A hesitation. Then a light touch to his shoulder. "I am. I'm taking care of you."

oo~O~oo

"Nervous much?"

Daniel practically snarled at his father and checked his watch for the zillionth time. Of course, today of all days, his dad was driving with caution. Staying in the speed limit. He had plenty of time to get to the doctor, but the sooner they got there, the sooner Daniel would have an answer.

"I'm not nervous. I just want to get there."

"We're early."

"Nothing wrong with being early."

"Daniel, there's early and then there's early. We're the second one." His father flashed him a smile. "How about we stop for some breakfast?"

It was a losing battle. "Sure. Breakfast. Why not? Drive thru?"

"Diner?"

Daniel wanted to beat the dashboard in frustration. This was his father's way of paying him back because he hadn't wanted breakfast at home. He'd just wanted to get going, payback was going to give him an ulcer, and he was way too young for an ulcer.

oo~O~oo

Daniel stared at the ceiling above the MRI machine. He knew the drill. Don't move. Don't breathe while the machine was cycling. The headphones the technician had given him to mask the banging were more of an annoyance than a distraction. The music choices probably would've made his dad break out into song, but it was killing him and he wished he could just rip off the headphones and chuck them across the room.

There was a silver lining to the music though, twenty-five minutes the tech had told him, so he was counting down his time in the damn machine with the songs. Three and half minutes per song.

Yeah, that worked to a point. Daniel hated MRIs. He thought he always did. Enclosed places, no matter what age Daniel had been or now was, never bothered him. Something about the cold metal tubing of the MRI was too coffin-like, and even though only Daniel's right leg was in the machine, there was no missing the feeling of impending claustrophobia.

"Five more minutes, Daniel." The warning cut into some Beatle song.

Daniel exhaled. Five minutes, he could do five more minutes. The worst was over. Concentrate instead on his date tonight. Alexandria. Closing his eyes, he pictured the movies. Their seats. His hand doing a slow walk up and over the chair dividers to hold her hand. She'd smile at him in the dark then drop her head on his shoulder.

"Okay, Daniel, we're done."

Damn, that was a much better way to pass the time than counting stupid songs from the sixties.

oo~O~oo

Daniel fingered the brace. It felt strange and cumbersome. Mid-calf to mid-thigh wasn't one of his better looks and he felt clumsier on the crutches with it than without it.

Once the Avalanche stopped at a light, his dad turned his attention to Daniel. "Good news, huh?"

Daniel had to admit, with a sharp nod, that it had been good news. Not great. But good. No ligament damage. Nothing torn. A week of the brace and crutches. Then just the brace and PT. And if he was good and did all his exercises, there was a strong possibility that he'd be back on the soccer team in a month. Give or take a week or two. A lifetime. "Yeah, good news," he sighed.

"Well, it's about time," his father commented when the light finally turned green.

"I'm going back to school on Monday."

"That's what Chadway said. Personally, I think Monday might be too—"

"No. Monday's good," Daniel insisted. "I want Monday."

"Focus on the here and now. Like tonight and your date with Dria."

Daniel smiled. "Think you feel like buying your poor injured son a new shirt?"

"How about a haircut?"

Daniel scowled and held onto ponytail for dear life. "I don't want a shirt that badly."

oo~O~oo

Okay, this was ridiculous. Why was she nervous? This was Daniel. Daniel. Dria caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror then ripped off the blouse she'd just put on. Too dressy. She didn't want to look like too much of a jerk.

Impatiently, she went through her closet one more time, sliding the hangers back and forth over the bar.

No.

No.

No.

She tossed a maybe onto the bed.

No.

No.

She hesitated over a purple tee then realized that she'd worn that on a date with Tony. Dria ripped it off the hanger and tossed it into the garbage by her bed. Definitely no.

No.

No.

Oh. A definite maybe. A blue peasant blouse, buried in the back of her closet. Tags still on. An impulse buy. She slipped it on, looked in the mirror and laughed at her image. Oh God, her shirt was the color of Daniel's eyes,

She turned sideways, adjusted her bra, her pants and grimaced at her image, hands pressed against her stomach. Sometimes she hated Cassie for lightning speed metabolism and she stuck out her tongue at the mirror.

Bending over at the waist, she wrapped a scrungie in her hair then stood. Her curls, even pulled up high, cascaded down her shoulders. Hoop earrings. A heart necklace and a few bangles. She moved her arm and 'bangled'; no, not conducive to a movie night. They joined her discarded clothes on the bed.

Just a bit of makeup. Eyeliner. Lipstick. Mascara. A little more mascara. Some blush. She fluffed up her hair and tossed her head. Her hoody just didn't look right, even though it was her favorite, most comfortable piece of clothing, and settled on a black shrug.

Fuck it. She shrugged out of the shrug, letting it fall to the ground, kicking it into the corner. Grabbing the originally discarded hoody, Dria hugged it her like an old familiar blanket. Okay, that was better, more comfortable and immediately, the feeling of nervousness disappeared.

oo~O~oo

"I won't be home that late." Dria scooped the keys out of the bowl on the table by the door.

Her mother looked up from her book and smiled. "You look very pretty."

"Thank you." She knew it was a thing that mothers always said, but it made her smile all the same.

"Be careful. Damn, did the referee not even see—"

Dria just sighed and took the time to step into his father's line of sight. "I'm always careful." Quickly, she kissed his cheek.

Her dad tugged on a curl. "I know you are, and," he admitted with the tiniest of smiles, "I know Daniel is also. It's just that the two of you sometimes don't always have the best of luck."

"Mom!"

"Ben!" Her mother made a move to grab the remote. "Tell you daughter how pretty she looks. To have a good time—"

"And make sure she doesn't screw up with the geek. Or screw the geek." Her brother didn't even look up from his video game. Where the hell were all the pointy objects when she needed them?

"Tom, apologize to your sister right now."

"Tommy," Dria asked demurely, "did Suzie from the down the block have a good time keeping you company on Tuesday. You remember, after school. When mom was out shopping?"

Dead silence as her parents contemplated her words. Ahhh, revenge was damn sweet. She left the house just as her parents were ripping her brother a new one.

oo~O~oo

Hoody or not, butterflies took up residence in her stomach the closer she got to Daniel's house. Even her favorite sing-out-loud songs on her iPod were doing nothing. Disgusted, she unplugged it and tossed it into her purse.

Two more blocks. Why hadn't she realized how close they lived to each other?

One more block and then she was there. Pulling down the visor, Dria checked herself in the lighted mirror, applying a smidge more lipstick and color to her cheeks. Her hair was her hair and it had taken her sixteen years to like what genetics had blessed her with.

oo~O~oo

"Good evening, Dria."

His formality made her blush. "Colonel Jack."

"You look very pretty this evening."

"I bet you say that to every girl who picks Daniel up for a date."

"I tell his grandmother that every time." He winked at her. "I'm not stupid."

"Alexandria."

"Oh." Daniel was younger than her. She caught grief from people, robbing the cradle and all that. But oh. Those eyes were full of wisdom. And tentativeness. An old soul. She felt it to her core, that there was more to Daniel than she knew.

It was ridiculous. Of course, there was the fact that he was totally clueless of how good looking he really was. Glasses, ponytail, eyes, crutches and... "Brace? Something new?"

"You look amazing," Daniel stuttered.

"Thank you," she answered softly.

"Truly amazing." He swallowed, his Adam's apple visually bobbing with the effort of maintaining control. "Beautiful."

"The brace supplements the crutches. One more week on the crutches and then the brace is a solo effort," Colonel Jack answered when Daniel didn't.

oo~O~oo

Daniel was so quiet Dria began getting nervous. "My iPod's in my purse, why don't you..." She took one hand off the wheel and pointed to the floor.

"I'm okay," he replied tonelessly.

I'm not, Dria wanted to scream. She was uncomfortable. Daniel was uncomfortable. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I wanted this to be fun. It's not fun."

"You're so beautiful."

Dria sighed loudly. "You're not having fun either."

"Fun?" Daniel smacked his thigh. "You're out with a kid who's got a brace on, and saddled with crutches. You're... Damn it, Alexandria, you're gorgeous. What the fuck are you doing having fun with me?"

Fun was the last thing on her mind when she swerved across two lines of traffic and pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall. Dria slammed the van into park, unbuckled her seatbelt and turned to face him. "You take that back, Daniel Jackson."

"No. I'm not. It's the truth." He shook his head, the fingers of his right hand idly sneaking their way under the top of the brace. "Which part do you have a problem with? That I'm a kid?"

"So am I."

The glance he slid her way was evil. "You're not. I'm still a pimply faced kid and I wear glasses."

"I didn't realize you were having a pity party, am I invited?"

Daniel snorted.

Dria spread her fingers of her right hand and began to tick on the appendages. "You're smart. Oh, wait, you're not just smart, you're brilliant. You're gorgeous—"

Daniel laughed.

"Shut up." Dria smacked his shoulder. "If I can be gorgeous so can you."

"Dria..."

She was on the precipice. Angry, yet so close to tears. "Why can't you believe me? Why do you want proof?" Dria threw herself across the console. The wheel dug into her hip, the gearshift into her midsection, but she was too focused. It was awkward, and she really wasn't tall enough to do this without feeling like an idiot. Fumbling, she grabbed the front of Daniel's hoody and jerked him into her personal space.

She kissed him and for minute, Dria hated Daniel for hesitating before he wound his hands under her hoody and pulled her closer. Now, she hated Daniel for an entirely different reason. For the warmth spreading through her body, for how great he smelled. How wonderful he felt and now for the whisper of butterfly kisses he was feathering up her neck.

He captured her face between his hands. "Are we having fun now?"

Her snort was unladylike. "I think so."

Daniel kissed the tip of her nose. "Just checking."

oo~O~oo

Without a word, except for a look of extreme disappointment, Daniel understood when she pulled back and settled in the driver's side seat.

Dria drove slowly, concentrating on the road, trying to not concentrate on the curls brushing her shoulders that Daniel was winding around his finger. He was humming, distracted, his glance trained on the road through the windshield.

"I bought the tickets online."

"Hmmm."

"Don't you want to know what we're going to see?"

He tugged on a curl then released it, then the bastard used his fingers to walk up her neck, then down, spider-like. "I don't care."

Dria shivered and resisted the urge to slap Daniel's hand away. "So I guess you have no objection to seeing High School Musical Three."

Daniel's fingers stopped.

Score one for the girlfriend. Dria did a mental tick off. "So you do care."

"No," he answered hesitantly. "If that's what you'd like to see."

"No. Actually—"

"We're not going to see that dog in California movie—"

"Twilight." By osmosis, because she'd lived and breathed the books for months at a time, Daniel knew the story about Edward and Bella.

"Cool soundtrack."

Okay, that was probably as close as she was going to get that her choice was acceptable.

oo~O~oo

"You're pouting." She stood over Daniel, watched him try and get comfortable. She'd chosen an aisle seat so he could stretch his leg out, Director's Cut theatre in the multiplex to guarantee a more comfortable chair, waiter service so she didn't have to get up for a candy/food run.

"Sit down," he ordered. "Please."

"Are you—"

"I'm fine. Honest." Daniel glanced over at the empty side of the love seat and patted the cushion invitingly.

Carefully, Dria stepped over Daniel's extended leg into the seat. "I'm sitting." She turned so she was staring at him. "You're still pouting."

"Director's Cut. Movie..." He lowered his voice, "it's expensive—"

"Can I help you?" asked the waitress who'd appeared by the aisle, too close to Daniel's brace-enclosed leg for comfort.

"I'm fine."

Dria rolled her eyes, hating when he went all macho boy on her. "Popcorn. Extra butter. Medium. Two cokes and a box of Nonpareils." The server nodded and disappeared. "My date, my treat." She played with the buttons on his shirt. "So shut up and accept it like a man."

oo~O~oo

Dria smiled in the darkness as Daniel's arm snaked around her shoulder. He was worse than a little kid, finding one of her curls and rubbing it between his thumb and pointer finger. Annoying to the point of distraction, until she realized that Daniel was fidgeting in his chair every few minutes and his right hand was absentmindedly rubbing his injured leg.

As a toddler, she remembered her brother rubbing the satin edging of his blankie against his cheek when he'd been upset. Her mother had explained to Dria that the sense of touch was a powerful thing, offering him comfort. Right now in the darkened theatre, she was pretty damned sure she was Daniel's blankie. Whatever worked for him, because asking if he was okay would be futile. He'd lie. And being an Edward girl, she really didn't want to leave the movie, so she slid even more to the right. Gently, she laid her head on his shoulder. Daniel adjusted, released the curl and settled for rubbing his thumb along the neckline of her shirt.

oo~O~oo

"It was great, wasn't it great?" Dria was literally bouncing and skipping around Daniel as he thumped along with his crutches and brace. "Didn't you just love it?"

"Music was great."

Dria rolled her eyes. "Didn't you think it was romantic?" She sighed and stopped in front of Daniel, halting his forward progress. "Come on, you didn't think it was even," she pinched her thumb and forefinger together, "a teensy bit romantic?"

Daniel groaned. "If I admit to romanticism, will you be quiet?"

"Would you just be placating me?"

Daniel shrugged. "Maybe."

"Maybe?" She narrowed her eyes at him.

"Okay," he admitted. "I did think when what'shisname—"

"Edward," Dria hissed.

"Right, thanks. When Edward kissed Bella was pretty..."

"Romantic?" Dria asked hopefully.

"Hot?"

Playfully, she smacked his shoulder then skimmed her lips across his.

He leaned forward, searched for more.

Dria stepped back. "Romantic," she insisted. "Admit that it was a romantic movie."

Daniel's glance raked over her body. Then he slowly licked his lips, his top teeth worrying his bottom lip.

Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn him. He had no right to look like that at her. Not in the middle of a brightly lit movie theatre lobby. What the hell was wrong with her? Wasn't it supposed to be teenage boys that had problems keeping their libido in control?

"Hot," she admitted shakily. "When they kissed, it was..."

"Hot, I know." Daniel grinned evilly at her. "I knew you'd see it my way."

"Next time," she said, poking his chest, "maybe we need to see High School Musical."

oo~O~oo

Dria was reminded how much Daniel was hurting when he got slowly into the van. His muffled grunts and groans made her feel terrible. Before he could object, she stood on the running board, grabbed the seat belt, extended it over Daniel's chest and buckled him in.

"Nice." He wrapped his arms around her waist.

"Whoa." What the hell was it with them and parking lots? She swallowed up her objection as he methodically, and with leisurely precision, kissed her. Her resolve, as if she'd ever had any, dissolved as Daniel's kisses traveled from her shoulder to her neck. With his teeth, he carefully tugged on her bottom lip, drawing her impossibly closer.

"Now, this," he whispered in her ear, "this is romantic."

She groaned and collapsed against him, a puddle of goo in his lap. "I hate you." Dria kissed his chin, dying from embarrassment when the bulge in Daniel's groin pressed into her thigh. "Oh," she giggled nervously, "I guess this means you're feeling okay?"

oo~O~oo

Dria drove in silence, mortified at what she'd said. How could she? Erections were a fact of life in boys. She stole a sideways glance. And Daniel was a boy, therefore... Oy. She dropped her head on the top of the steering wheel at the next light.

"Maybe we need to stay out of parking lots?"

Dria turned her head. He was smiling at her, showing off his dimple and she giggled again, so thankful that at least one of them was mature.

"Alexandria?"

"Hmm?"

He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "They're honking at you."

"Shit." She sat up, glanced to make sure the light was still green and drove, ignoring Daniel's snickering.

oo~O~oo

"Your knee's bothering you." Dria made it a statement rather than a question, because it was harder to dispute that way.

"It just aches."

Yeah, like it had ached in the movies, or when he first got into the van, or now, as the heel of his hand pressed against the top of the brace.

"McDonald's okay?" Dria asked, putting on the blinker, turning into the parking lot before Daniel could say yes or no.

"Dinner?"

"Drive thru."

"Oh." Daniel looked confused. "That's fine."

Time for her to be the mature one. "You're hurting. Getting in and out of the van is painful. Sitting the entire movie wasn't great..." She sighed. Daniel looked like a wounded puppy. "I'm just taking care of you."

"By using the drive thru? At McDonald's?"

"Shut up and let me take care of you." Dria glared at him. "Okay?"

Daniel raised his hands. "Okay. Just make sure you order me a chocolate shake."

oo~O~oo

Alexandria balanced the bags and the drinks, staying glued to his side as he hobbled up the walk, and Daniel felt all the good feelings drift away. To make matters worse, his father opened the door before Daniel had a chance to get out his key or knock on the door.

"Hey."

Damn. His dad's glance slid over the two of the, imperceptibly hesitating on Daniel, picking up what Alexandria did, that he'd sell his soul for half a bottle of Motrin. "Movie good?" He held the door opened, allowing the two of them to enter.

"I loved it," Alexandria said. "Daniel, on the other hand—"

"The music was good."

"That bad, huh? It was a chick flick?"

Daniel couldn't help but smile. "No," he said glancing at Alexandria. "It wasn't that bad."

"Watch it, Daniel," she warned. "I'm holding your chocolate shake."

His dad sniffed the air. "Smells good."

"I got you an apple pie, Colonel Jack."

"This girl's a keeper, Daniel. Remember that."

"Don't worry; she's never going to let me forget it."

oo~O~oo

Thankfully, his embarrassingly salivating father took his apple pie, along with some stolen French fries, into the den to watch sports game de jour. Impatiently, he sat while Alexandria fussed, laying out napkins and ketchup packets. "Alexandria."

She totally ignored him.

"Alexandria," he hissed while she folded pre-folded napkins. "Dria."

Finally, she stopped and stared at him. "What did you call me?"

"The first two times I tried to get your attention or the last time?" Daniel laid his hand atop hers and moved it off the napkin. "Sit down. Please."

Alexandria sat, primly and stiffly in the chair across from Daniel. "Stop that," he ordered, waving a fry at her.

"Stop what?"

Daniel threw down his fry, sat up as straight as he could, then folded his hands. "This is you."

"Oh." She dropped her head, studying the food in front of her.

"Hey." Daniel rubbed his sneaker across the top of her foot. "Look at me," he said softly.

Slowly, she made eye contact.

"Where's the girl from the parking lot?"

Alexandria blushed then flung a fry at him.

His laughter and smile was instantaneous as the fry caught his shoulder and skidded across the kitchen floor. "Much better." Daniel dragged one of fries through his pyramid of ketchup. "Though we really need to work on your aim."

This time the fry hit him in right on the nose. "Is that better, Daniel?" she asked innocently.

oo~O~oo

Alexandria leaned over, scooped up his wrappers then kissed his cheek. "Wanna tell me where the Motrin is?"

He held onto his chocolate shake for dear life. "I'm okay." Daniel stole a glance at the digital clock in the stove. It had been way too long between pills and his knee, along with his entire leg, was screaming in agony.

"Don't make me go get your father, Daniel."

That's all he needed. A hovering father as well as Alexandria. Hell, maybe someone should call his grandma over as well. "Cabinet to the left of the sink. Three."

She stuffed the remnants of their dinner in the trash then brought three Motrin over to Daniel. "Water?"

He raised his shake. "I'm good."

"Yeah, tell me another one, Daniel."

"I meant," he said testily, "that I had something to drink."

She hugged him, pulled him into her space so the weight of his head rested just above her hip. "Sorry."

His need for the Motrin warred with his need to stay just like this.

She patted his hair, making these strangely soothing, mothering noises.

Daniel nuzzled against her. God this was...

"Kids?"

Alexandria jumped back, offsetting Daniel's balance but he quickly caught himself, latching onto the table.

"Colonel Jack," Alexandria fumbled. "I was... I was just giving Daniel Motrin."

Daniel raised his hand with the Motrin, popped the three into his mouth, then drowned his embarrassment and the pills with the rest of the shake.

"I was just getting a beer."

Great, it sounded like his father was just as embarrassed as Daniel was, which made it a million times worse.

oo~O~oo

His father got his beer then left, but the mood was broken, even though Alexandria was behind him, with her arms draped over his shoulder and her chin resting on the top of his head. "I should be going," she said, sighing.

She couldn't go. Not now. There was no way Daniel could even get his ass up off the chair, get his crutches and hobble her to the door. "Stay for a little while longer?"

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

oo~O~oo

"I had fun tonight." The pain had settled back down to a dull ache, and even though he really didn't want her to leave, it was time. He tried to hold steady on the crutches. Leaning his right shoulder against the door helped maintain his balance.

"Me, too." She stood on tiptoes and gave him a kiss.

"Parking lots are better than front doors and kitchens," Daniel said huskily, slowly bending forward to capture her lips. "I wish..."

Alexandria pressed her fingers to his lips. "Me, too."

"You better go. Your mom," Daniel rolled his eyes, "and your dad, will kill me if you're out past curfew."

"Yeah, they really get pissed when the car turns into a pumpkin." Alexandria smiled.

Daniel didn't. "Huh?"

"You're kidding me, right? Glass slipper. Clock striking midnight. Coach. Pumpkin... You don't have a clue, do you?"

"Should I? Want to explain?"

"No," Alexandria said with a roll of her eyes. "It totally loses something in the translation."

Daniel tugged on a curl. "If you say so. You'll text me when you get home?"

"Yes."

"Don't forget."

"I won't."

"Promise?"

Quickly, she popped up on her toes, kissed him one more time then glanced at his arm leaning against the door. "I promise, though if I don't get out of here soon, I'm never going to see the light of day, compliments of my parents' idea of breaking curfew."

oo~O~oo

John came awake slowly. He hurt all over, but nowhere like the hurt of before. Moving around, at the moment, felt like too much of a feat, so he lay there, listening, wondering where everyone was. Wondering why he was so tired. Wondering why he just wanted to sleep.

After a moment, he heard soft rustling close by.

He opened an eye, blinked, and beheld a sight that he thought he'd never see. Cameron, sitting in a chair next to his bed, knitting needles held awkwardly in her hands, and two pieces of yarn dangling from a tangle through which the needles were poking through.

If he weren't so tired, he'd have laughed. Still, he felt his lips twitch as he closed his eyes. The sounds she made were soft, and it was comforting to know he wasn't alone.

He must have drifted, because his mom's voice sounded close by and he hadn't heard her walk into the room.

"What are you doing?"

"Knitting."

"Is that what you call that?"

"Several of the girls at school say that it relaxes them."

"I'm sure it does." There was a hint of laughter in his mom's voice. "Here, don't hold the tension so tight, or you're going to break the yarn again."

"The yarn is too flimsy. It keeps breaking."

"Relax. You're holding it too tight."

"Isn't relaxing the purpose of knitting? Although I have to admit, these would make formidable weapons."

Unable to resist, John cracked open his eyes. His mom was leaning over Cameron, showing her how to hold the knitting needles. It was such a homey scene that he blinked, wondering if he was dreaming.

"I didn't know you could knit."

John hadn't known his mom could knit, either.

"I used to knit when I was a teen." His mom fiddled some more, and then Cameron seemed to get the knack of it. The needles clacked in her hands, and her hands were a blur.

Then his mom turned to glance at him, and her face softened as she smiled.

"Hey, there."

"Hi." His voice didn't sound anything like himself. He cleared his throat, and tried again. "What happened?" Nope, not any better.

"You've been very sick." The needles continued to clack in Cameron's hands.

John swallowed. "So Cameron wasn't joking," he mumbled. "How long?"

"You've been pretty out of it for four days."

He forced himself to think back. "Wednesday. It was Wednesday when we went to the warehouse. So today is..."

"Sunday evening."

"School?" He shook back a lock of hair that had fallen into his eye. He tried to lift a hand to brush it away but only managed to bring his hand up to his chest before he had to let it drop, too exhausted to do more.

"Officially, you've got mono." She pushed the strand of hair aside.

"Mom, that takes weeks to get over."

His mom's face grew serious. "I know." She kissed his forehead, and her lips paused against his skin. "Fever's down." Her breath was warm as she whispered the words. She didn't move away, but simply rested her forehead against his. "Thank God."

oo~O~oo

"Are you sure?"

Daniel tampered down his anger. This conversation had begun Sunday evening when his father began to second, third and fourth guess the decision that Daniel could attend school on Monday.

Today.

Here he was, dressed, ready and eating breakfast and he was starting that crap again? Daniel dropped his spoon into his unfinished cereal then pushed the bowl into the center of the

table. "I'm sure," he sighed. "Really," Daniel added at his dad's 'you've got to be kidding me' raised eyebrows.

"I'll pick you up."

"Alexandria's driving me home."

"Call me."

"Dad. Cell phones. School. It's a big no-no. Especially if I want to keep my cell phone. Come on. You know the drill." Daniel tried to keep the exasperation out of his voice. "I need to be in school. I'm not doing gym. I'm leaving class earlier to beat the rush of the bell. I'm getting a lift home. I've got all bases covered."

His dad took the Motrin out of the cabinet and plunked it on the table in front of him. "Take this with you."

"I've already taken three. I'll take more when I get home." Daniel forced a smile, trying to get his father to smile. "With my luck, a teacher will catch me with these, and send me down to the principal's office."

"Are you telling me I'm going overboard?"

"You? Never."

"Finish your cereal."

Daniel moved the Motrin to the side and slid the bowl back in front of him. Okay, the cereal was now totally soggy and unappetizing, but he ate it without complaining, just because he had let his dad believe he had some control over the situation.

"Here you go!"

With the spoon halfway to his mouth, Daniel stopped and stared in horror at the brown paper bag presented to him. "What's that?"

"Lunch." Proudly, his father put the bag next to Motrin.

"As inmy lunch?"

"Yup."

"As in, youmade this?"

"Well not me, technically."

Eating soggy cereal was one thing, eating his father's brown-bagged lunches was another matter all together. "No." Daniel inched the bag away from him. "I'll buy."

"No?" His father pushed the bag back at him. "It's roast beef with American cheese, extra mayo, lettuce, tomato, on a fresh hero. And chips." He opened the bag and peered inside. "And two of

Frank's Deli, no, make that three mini black and white cookies." His father crumpled up the top of the bag. "But if you don't want it..."

"You went to Frank's?"

"I went to Frank's."

"When?"

"Early this morning."

"For me?"

His dad opened the fridge and pulled out another brown bag. "Also for me. Meetings. All day. Boring meetings, so I figured I'd treat myself," he paused, "and you, to a better lunch. But if you don't want it, I'm sure Carter or hell, even Fraiser would appreciate it."

"No. That's fine." Daniel pulled the bag to him. "This is fine. I think I can brown bag it."

oo~O~oo

Daniel would rather sell his soul than admit to his father that going to school today had been one of the worst decisions he'd ever made. Okay, maybe not the worst but definitely falling within the top ten.

Alexandria had seen it, had even offered to leave school and drive him home on more that one occasion, but he'd just shook his head, placed a smile on his face and tried not to clock watch.

oo~O~oo

Once home, he downed three Motrin, half a bottle of Snapple, a banana and three Oreos before hobbling off to take a shower. A stupid thing to do when he was home alone but even through his jeans, he could feel the irritation from the brace.

He showered with a slowness that would make an old man proud, holding onto the wall, praying to whoever resided wherever to keep him upright. Naked and in the shower was not how he wanted his father to find him when he came home tonight.

Every movement was done with exaggeration. Turning off the water. Stepping out of the tub. Toweling off excess water. Hissing when even the soft towel skimmed along his reddened skin. Things usually accomplished within minutes were taking so long that Daniel was getting annoyed with himself, but his body refused to cooperate.

Hopping on his good leg, it took him three tries to open the cabinet under the sink and pull out the baby powder which he sprinkled liberally on his thigh. Awkwardly, he managed his socks and his sweats.

Standing, Daniel held onto the sink then took an experimental step. "Oh." Surprisingly, the sweats seemed a better barrier than the jeans.

oo~O~oo

The next morning was better. Not great. But better. All powdered, Daniel had put on a pair of sweat pants instead of jeans, and if his dad noticed a deviance from his usual wardrobe, he said nothing. Daniel took three Motrin and when his dad left the kitchen to get the newspaper, he pocketed an additional three Motrin for dessert with lunch.

oo~O~oo

Alexandria placed a sorry looking hamburger and sliced potatoes in front of Daniel. He picked up one of the potatoes and showed it to Corey.

"I know," Corey said, raising a potato of his own. "Hamburgers call for fries, not potatoes."

"Newsflash, Corey." Cassie slapped his arm when he didn't acknowledge her. "Potatoes and fries are the same vegetable."

"Vegetable?" Corey asked.

Cassie dropped her head to the table with a groan.

"What?" Corey's head whipped from person to person.

"I think this is Cassie's way of telling you that you're an idiot," Daniel said, trying to keep the smile off his own face. He patted Cassie's bent head. "There. There."

Alexandria laughed and linked her arm through Daniel's. "Stop picking on Corey, you two."

Cassie sat up with a huff, pushing her hair off her face. "Killjoy," she spat good-naturedly at Alexandria. "You're no fun."

oo~O~oo

Daniel settled in the chair then used two hands to extend his leg out of the way of people traffic. The Motrin at lunch had definitely helped, taken the edge off the throbbing, but he felt draggy and out of sorts, glad this was the last period of the day.

Cassie leaned her head all the way back until it was resting on Daniel's desk and she looked him straight in the eye. "I'm driving you home today, right?"

Driving home with Cassie was an adventure, a toss up between being better than the scariest rollercoaster or puking up his guts. "Yes, you're honored with my presence."

"Do you want to go straight home?"

"Yes, Cassie," he said, pushing her head up. "I need to go straight home."

Alexandria leaned over. "I'm sorry," she whispered, "but my mom—"

He kissed her quickly, before the teacher could catch them. "Text me tonight."

"Would Ms. Fraiser, Mr. Jackson and Ms. Montalbano please put away the drama and open their books."

oo~O~oo

By dinner he was yawning up a storm and after the thirteenth time of trying to hide how tired he was, Daniel just gave up.

"Tired?"

Daniel kept his eyes closed for a few seconds after the yawn ended. Tired was probably an understatement, thankfully he'd done his homework earlier this afternoon when he'd been awake and coherent. "Tired?" he repeated. "Yeah, I am."

"Why don't you get ready for bed?"

"Too early," Daniel answered around a yawn. "I'll be up at five if I fall asleep now."

"Maybe you won't."

"I will."

"Try it."

"All right, I will!" Daniel yelled, surprising himself with his vehemence.

His dad waved a finger at him. "You're really not doing a great job convincing me that you don't need to go to bed."

"Shut up," Daniel said quickly, the two words blending together in an exact replica of a two year old's claim of independence.

"Go to bed, Daniel." The weariness in his father's voice drew his attention but he was too tired and cranky to feel sorry for anyone else but himself.

oo~O~oo

Great. So he was tired at the kitchen table and now he was wide-awake in bed. Awake as in staring at the ceiling, a really uncomfortable awake. He could text Alexandria, Corey or Cassie. Or he could just stare at the ceiling, and since calling required stretching out his arm and reaching for the phone, staring upwards was his activity of choice.

oo~O~oo

The ache was there, just on the edge of his consciousness, slowly building until it moved from throbbing to downright pain, kicking his ass completely out of dreamland.

"Shit." He flopped onto his back from his side. The wrong side. The side he shouldn't have been laying on. His right side. Slowly, Daniel turned his head to check out his bedside clock, afraid to see if his prediction of five o'clock had come true. "Fuck." Two minutes before his alarm was due to ring was a million times worse than a five am wake up call.

oo~O~oo

John had slept through the next day, waking only long enough to eat, use the bedpan, exchange a few words, and fall back asleep.

Today, though, he felt stronger. More awake. He pulled himself up in bed until he was half-sitting, careful of his bruised hand and thigh.

Derek must have heard him because a minute later, he popped his head into his bedroom. "Hungry?"

"Yeah." He pushed the blankets away when Derek went into the kitchen and made himself sit up all the way. The room lurched violently to the side for a moment and righted itself before he could fall over. Still, he sat there, one hand braced against the mattress, the other resting in his lap, until he was sure he wouldn't keel over before moving his legs over the side of the bed.

There was a bruise on his thigh that was nearly as bad as the one on the back of his hand. He poked at the edges of the bruise, hissing in pain. Slowly he inched forward, preparing to stand. He only made it partway up when he realized his leg wouldn't hold him up and he fell back, sideways, onto his bed.

Teeth clenched against the pain, he dragged himself back up onto the bed, his underwear suddenly damp with sweat from his exertions.

Derek came in carrying a tray, seconds after he'd pulled himself back up against the pillows.

"I wouldn't try getting out of bed just yet," Derek said as he put the tray on John's lap.

"What day is it?" John reached thirstily for the juice.

"Tuesday. Late afternoon. School's nearly out so it'll be home soon. Your mom's gone to do some research."

"What happened to Monday?"

Derek raised an eyebrow and John shook his head. Time had all become a jumbled blur.

"What happened at the warehouse?" he asked Derek, taking his time to sip the juice before digging into the grilled cheese sandwich. He was getting better at using his left hand.

"Nothing much." Derek sat at the foot of his bed, staring out the door, down the hallway. "The place was full of bits of metal the triple-eight was putting together."

"I remember. Spare parts," he said with his mouth full.

"That's right. Your mom got the machine to destroy everything once we packed up."

"What happened to me?" He licked greasy fingers after he put the sandwich down and drank some more juice.

"The machine forgot to warn us against possible poisons in there. You opened something—"

"A bottle full of white powder—"

"It was poison to humans, some sort of antibiotic to cyborg skin."

John swallowed the suddenly cloying mouthful of grilled cheese. "She couldn't have known the stuff would be there—"

"She should have anticipated. Hell, you should have known better than to touch something in there."

"You're right." The bottle was yet another vague memory, interwoven so often with dreams that he wasn't sure which was reality and which the nightmares. "My hand?" He raised his still swollen and bruised right hand.

"The powder touched your skin there. And you wiped it off on your leg. Stuff went right through your pants."

"How did... Nobody else got hurt, did they?" He looked Derek over quickly, checking for signs of bruising or swelling. "My mom—"

"Is fine. The machine saved your life." This was said grudgingly.

"She did?"

"The nanocytes in the powder are attracted to its kind. She got to you fast enough to pull them out of your bloodstream and into her."

"And this—?" He waggled his fingers, relieved that despite the pain and stiffness, everything seemed to work.

"Toxic and allergic reaction to the nanocytes."

"Is Cameron okay? Did the nanocytes harm her?"

Derek rolled his eyes. "The stuff healed the burns on its back while it nearly killed you." Before he could say more, there was a knock at the door. Derek was out the room and hurrying into the kitchen in a flash, while John struggled to push the tray aside and tried to sit up. He relaxed again when he heard a familiar voice.

"Hey, there," Charley said, coming into the bedroom. He had his uniform on and was carrying a small black bag. John guessed he was still on duty. "You're looking pretty good, considering."

John smiled back at Charley, inordinately pleased at the visit. "Did Mom call to tell you I was sick?"

"Actually," Charley said as he sat down next to John, "I've come to visit a couple of times. You've been pretty out of it." He took John's bruised hand and began to gently palpate the area around it, slowly moving his fingers back and forth.

"You did?" The whole concept of having been so sick he'd lost days seemed odd, and he still hadn't quite wrapped his head around it. But hearing that Charley had been here and he hadn't known...

"We needed his help," Derek said quietly.

John laid his head back on the pillows, staring at the ceiling. He ran the fingers of his good hand through his hair and was surprised to find it greasy and dirty. Then he remembered how long he'd been lying in this bed.

"I want to take a shower." He tried to sit up, tugging his hand away from Charley's.

"Not so fast, Johnny." Charley let go of his hand and with his hand against John's chest, pinned him to the bed with what looked like very little effort.

"Please. Let me up."

"You're too weak."

"I'm filthy. I want to take a shower."

"Your mother gave you baths—"

"Please." John felt his ears heat up in embarrassment at his uncle's comment. "Let's not even go there." He turned to Charley. "I want a shower."

A heavy sigh preceded Charley's answer. "Give me five minutes to check you out, and then we'll see what we can do. Get him some clean clothes," he told Derek, "and you may as well change his bed while he's showering."

"You're going to let him do it?"

"I know John." Charley gave him a quick smile as he removed his stethoscope from his bag. "If we don't help him, he'll find a way to do it himself."

oo~O~oo

Five minutes later, John endured the embarrassment of being assisted to the bathroom, practically dragged on legs that were rubbery and unsteady, having his tee shirt and underwear removed by Charley, and then helped into the tub and seated on a small stool sitting in the middle of it.

The heat and rush of water was dizzying and he was forced to throw out his good hand to keep his balance until he adjusted to it. "Do you need help?" Charley had pulled the shower curtain partly closed and was sitting on the closed toilet seat.

John shook his head, swallowed the last of his embarrassment and accepted the dollop of shampoo Charley squeezed onto his upturned palm. He rubbed the floral scented, whatever must have been on sale this week stuff, and worked the lather over his scalp, eventually leaning forward into the stream, keeping his eyes closed and sputtering water until he was sure the residue had been rinsed away.

"Doing okay in there?" Charley's voice was loud and echoey, cutting through the running water.

"Fine," John shouted, reaching over with his good hand to capture the bar of soap in the soap dish. He started washing himself, but by the time he'd done his upper body, his left arm was leaden and his back ached from sitting up unsupported.

When he reached down to rub the soap over his leg, the small, enclosed area spun and for a second he thought he was going to topple over. He yelled out for Charley even as he felt hands grab onto him.

"It's okay, I've gotcha." The shower stream stopped suddenly, and he was engulfed in a large bath towel. Before he could get his bearings, strong arms pulled him out of the tub and seated him on the toilet.

He opened his eyes, seeing two of Charley. It took him a moment to figure out that both Charley and Derek were in the small room with him, both of them stripped to their tee shirts. While Derek held John close against his chest, taking his weight, Charley wiped John down, threaded a pair of boxers up his legs, and a tee shirt over his head. Too spent to help, John felt like a rag doll.

There was no embarrassment as they helped him back to bed. One of them began toweling his hair dry as he snuggled into his pillow. Embarrassment melting away as he settled in, holding back a sigh of grateful appreciation. "Thanks," he mumbled sleepily. The smell of clean linens was comforting.

"His mother's gonna kill us," Derek grumbled from the foot of the bed.

"No. Was worth it," John said with a sigh.

oo~O~oo

"Morning sleepyhead. Did I not tell you that you would sleep - What's wrong?"

His dad must be falling down on his mother henning capabilities if it took him almost the entire sentence to register that Daniel looked like hell. He basically collapsed on the closest kitchen chair. "Slept." If he gently put counter pressure on the ache it felt better. "Wrong."

"Daniel," his dad softly. "I have—"

"No!" He lowered his voice, so the ordered word lost some of its bite. "It's fine."

"Bullshit."

Daniel closed his eyes. This was taking too much effort. "It'll be fine with Motrin. I'll be fine with Motrin."

He opened his eyes when a cool bottle of water smacked his hand. "Thanks." Daniel practically inhaled the Motrin, half the bottle of water and managed two bites of toast before giving up in defeat. "I don't think I can go to school today."

"How about you lie on the recliner. I'll do some work from home and we'll give it an hour or so?"

Daniel nodded. He'd say that he felt like a failure, but right now, he felt nothing but his body's betrayal. Two steps forward, a half mile backwards.

oo~O~oo

Seconds after he settled in, his father came to him with the rest of the toast and the bottle of water. "Motrin's hard on your stomach."

Without protest he did as he father requested.

"How about I call Chadway, see if you can get in to see him?"

"I just slept wrong." He handed the water back to his dad. "Can I have the remote?"

oo~O~oo

Daniel surfed through the channels - up, down - and ended up watching Sponge Bob on Nickelodeon because out of the hundreds of channels, the cartoon was actually the most appealing, distracting entertainment he could find.

The Motrin dulled the ache, but not enough for him to even contemplate getting dressed and dealing with maneuvering through the hallways. He felt old. Tired. Middle-aged. Which was funny. Not funny, ha ha... just funny.

His dad appeared in the living room, blocking the Crabby Patty Shack moment on the cartoon. "Hey," he said pointing the remote at his father, "I'm watching that."

Quickly, his father glanced over his shoulder at the TV. "I'm sure you are."

"I am."

His father moved to the couch grabbed the afghan and covered Daniel. All without asking.

"Thanks." Daniel pulled the cover up to his chin.

"I'm calling Chadway. See if he can take a look see at you today." Before it had been a question, now it was a statement.

Daniel tolerated his father's hand skimming his forehead. "I don't have a fever." Based on the way his father studied him, Daniel realized, in his father's eyes, his behavior would better be explained if he was running a temperature. "Sorry to disappoint you."

"It's okay that you didn't go to school. I'm not disappointed."

Daniel sighed, disappointed that his father didn't get it. "You made me miss the end of the show."

"Before I go lose myself in paperwork, can I get you something?"

"I'm fine."

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

oo~O~oo

"I've been taking Motrin." Daniel squirmed on the examination table. He'd slept out of boredom, had woken up feeling a million times better and had argued with his dad that he'd needed to go to school for the afternoon, rather than Chadway's office. It was no surprise that Daniel had lost the battle and the war.

Chadway glanced at his father. "The pain killers I prescribed would keep the pain level—"

"No. Motrin's fine. I'm sorry, I told my dad I'd just slept wrong. Yesterday at school I had no problem. Honest."

"Daniel doesn't do well with pain killers," was his father's lame excuse.

Chadway gently prodded, humming and nodding as he examined Daniel's right knee. His dad leaned forward as if he understood the noises the doctor was making. Chadway stood with a slight smile on his face. "I have to say, Daniel, you're doing really well."

Impatiently, Daniel waited for the but.

"But..."

Here it came.

"We're going to compromise."

Daniel severely doubted if the doctor was going to be affected by any type of compromise.

"Half days of school for the rest of the week—"

"No!" Daniel glanced at his father for support, immediately getting pissed when he saw his father wasn't watching his back.

"I'm going to give you a prescription for PT starting next week."

"After my half days of school?" Daniel asked sarcastically.

Chadway sat on the chair by the door, crossed his legs and leaned back. "Listen to your body, Daniel. Today your knee was telling you to cease and desist because you were pushing your injury beyond its capability. If you can handle full days next week, that's great. If you can't, that's okay also. You're young. In good physical condition and PT's going to make all the difference in the world."

"Can't I begin PT this week?"

"Doctor Chadway said not to push."

"I heard him." Okay, that was obnoxious and the second the three words and the tone they road in on were out of his mouth, Daniel was filled with remorse. "I'm sorry." He felt the weight of his father's hand as it settled on the nape of his neck.

"Look, Daniel." Chadway stood and rested his hip against the side of the examination table. "I understand that pain killers aren't something you want to take—"

"They don't agree with me." Daniel kept his head bent, unable to see his lie reflecting in the doctor's expression.

"There are other things. Stronger than Motrin—"

"Motrin's fine," Daniel objected, his father's fingers tightening around his neck.

"No, Daniel. The Motrin's not fine, not if you're struggling like this. Pain management is—"

Daniel tucked his chin tighter against his chest, tears pricking his eyes, blurring his vision and his father's supportive hand suddenly became an arm, snaking around Daniel's shoulders, pulling him closer.

"We understand about pain management."

oo~O~oo

"It's not the same thing," his father said for the millionth time on the ride home.

"Feels like the same thing."

"It'll relax you—"

"I'm relaxed."

"Daniel..."

The tears that had been threatening spilled over. "You promised me." Frustrated, he slammed his elbow into the door. Again. And again. And again.

He didn't remember his father stopping the car, or when his father pulled him with a gentle firmness into his arms but he struggled, angry and hurt at his father's betrayal. "You promised," he repeated.

"I know I did, but you're in pain. You're hurting."

"I'm afraid." Weakly he beat at his father's shoulder. "Your fault."

"Shit, Icky. I know. I'm so sorry." Were those tears in his father's voice?

"Please, Daddy. Don't make me."

"Shush," his dad demanded, petting the top of his head continuously, as if he were soothing himself as much as offering comfort for Daniel.

oo~O~oo

Great. So now not only did his knee hurt, but his nose was stuffed, he had a headache and his eyes burned. Barely inside the door, his father drew him into a one armed hug, kissing his temple.

"I'm not going to change my mind."

"You can't keeping taking Motrin. Chadway gave you three prescriptions. One for physical therapy. One for the Tylenol 3 and one for... It's a prescription-strength anti-inflammatory. Stronger than Motrin—"

"Fine," Daniel said, "that'll work." He stared right into the skepticism on his father's face. "I'll make it work."

oo~O~oo

Alexandria agreed with Chadway with too much enthusiasm for Daniel's taste. "You looked like crap yesterday."

"Thanks," Daniel said indignantly. "But I didn't feel bad yesterday."

"I was worried when I didn't see you in school."

"I'm sorry, I should've called." Responsibility of remembering to do the right thing, at the right time, to the right person was suddenly overwhelming and he must've remained silent a heartbeat too long.

"Hey, I just worry."

"I'm sorry," he repeated, pretty much because he couldn't think of anything else to say.

"So, tomorrow, morning only?"

"Yeah," Daniel sighed. "I really haven't gone over the particulars with my dad."

"Can I drive you?"

"Taxi?"

"I can get you early and we can stop for breakfast."

"I'd like that."

oo~O~oo

And he slept. He hadn't meant to. His dad had pried him with lunch and handed him a pill. Daniel remembered opening up his book, powering up his laptop and then nothing. He opened his eyes to a pitch-black room and it took him more than a minute to realize it was early evening and not early morning. He was starving, he felt pretty damned good and he was damned pissed.

"You lied," Daniel yelled the second he hobbled into the kitchen. "You gave me—"

"Sodium Naproxin," his dad answered calmly, his anger expressed only when he slammed the pill bottle on the counter. "I promised you, Daniel. As much as it kills me to watch you suffer and be in pain, I. Promised. You."

"Dad—" He couldn't get the apology out fast enough.

"Did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, my boy genius, that you were overtired, and your body was just catching up on sleep?"

Daniel studied the kitchen floor.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," his father continued. "I made you a promise, Icky."

"I'm sorry," he said softly.

"Damn, so am I." He pointed to the bottle. "Good stuff? You seemed to hobble in at breakneck speed."

"I love you, Dad."

"I know you do. You just gotta remember to trust me."

Daniel didn't know how to answer that. He did trust his dad. Maybe it was himself that he needed to trust.

His father broke the awkward moment by lifting the lid to a deep pot on the stove and pushing the steam towards Daniel.

Daniel sniffed the air. "Is that stew?"

"Yup." His dad replaced the lid then opened the oven, and the odor of freshly baking rolls filled the kitchen.

"Oh." Daniel's mouth began to water.

"You're drooling."

Daniel touched the corner of his mouth before realizing his father was kidding around. "It's not good manners to tease a starving teen."

oo~O~oo

When he woke up, John could hear the sounds of cutlery clinking against dinner plates. His stomach grumbled, adding to the reminder that it was suppertime. "Mom?"

He heard a chair scrape along the floor and a moment later, his mom was smiling down at him. "Hungry?"

"Yeah." He turned around lazily and stretched, until his thigh reminded him it wasn't a good idea.

"I'll be right back."

He took the time to try and shove his pillows up against the wall and dragged himself so that he was sitting. When his mom returned, she had two plates on the tray. One was half-empty and he realized she was going to finish eating her own meal with him. He eagerly dug into his roast chicken, which he made no comment on the fact that she'd shredded his piece into small strips, mashed potatoes with gravy and vegetables. He gave Cameron a small, awkward wave with his fork when she walked into the bedroom and stood next to the door.

"I heard you decided to get out of bed today."

"I wanted a shower." He sucked gravy off his fork, then carefully moved carrots off to the side, giving them more attention than they warranted.

"Derek said you almost passed out in the shower."

"I didn't pass out."

"All you needed to do was ask and I'd have given you a bath—"

"Mom. Please. It was embarrassing enough with Charley and Derek."

"I would have given you a bath if you'd asked." There was no flirtation or guile in Cameron's voice, and that was what made her comment so funny. John chuckled, and his mom joined in a moment later.

"So." John paused, a forkful of speared chicken held just before his mouth. "Derek said you were out doing research?"

Mouth full, still chewing, his mom nodded. She swallowed and fluffed out her potatoes before pulling the fork through gravy. "I went to research the addresses you found."

"I have a perfectly good computer over there." John waved towards it with his fork.

"Which no matter how much I fiddle with it, I wouldn't find the information I need. So I did what people used to do before computers existed."

John blinked at her innocently. "Went hunting for saber toothed tigers?"

He was rewarded with a gentle smack to the shoulder. "Very funny. No, I braved the dinosaurs and went to the library."

"Did you find anything?"

She nodded. "I was right. It's military. The coordinates correspond to NORAD, in Colorado Springs."

oo~O~oo

Considering he'd slept the afternoon away, Daniel had expected to toss and turn the entire night, but by ten-thirty, his eyes were crossing in the middle. Exhaustion? That seemed almost impossible, so he got up, took a shower, changed into sweats, said goodnight to his dad and literally fell into bed, daring sleep to overtake him. Which it did.

oo~O~oo

For the next few days, Daniel's life fell into a comfortable routine and he begrudgingly admitted to only himself, that the half days of school and the prescription-strength anti-inflammatory medication was working. Alexandria. Breakfast. School. His grandma would pick him up, feed him lunch, hover for an acceptable period of time then head back to her house. Daniel spent the remainder of the afternoon doing schoolwork, enjoying the peace and quiet with only his iPod or TV for company.

Saturday, Daniel overrode his father's better judgment and he spent the morning at the mall with Alexandria and Cassie. That was bad enough, but the afternoon? Daniel spent the afternoon sitting in the bleachers and watching his soccer team.

Between periods, Coach Dawson squatted in front of where Daniel sat, his glance sliding from the brace to Daniel's face. "You should be sitting on the bench, Jackson."

An invitation. Part of Daniel wanted take the coach up on his offer, lend his support as a teammate and not part of the cheering crowd. But he hesitated, and the coach misinterpreted his pause.

"I understand," the coach said as he stood. "I'd like you to come to practice, okay?" He winked at Daniel. "I could use your expertise."

His team squeaked by with the win and by the time they walked back to Cassie's car, soreness that he hadn't experienced for a few days settled painfully around his knee.

"You're limping." Alexandria linked her arm through his.

"No. Not exactly limping. I'd consider it dragging," Cassie said.

Daniel was in so much pain, that walking and talking was out of the question. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. All the good he'd done this week was flushed down the toilet.

"Stay here," Cassie ordered with a hand to his chest. "I'm going to get the car and bring it closer to the exit."

Daniel shook his head, standing and waiting was just as bad as walking. Wordlessly, he surged forward, Cassie caught on and sprung ahead.

"You're damned stubborn," Cassie hissed. "I wish I could throw you over my shoulder and carry you—"

"Me. Too." Daniel huffed. "Me. Too."

oo~O~oo

Daniel was sure his father was keeping his temper in check until Cassie and Alexandria left. He waited, standing by his father's side, a smile pasted on his face as they exchanged goodbyes. Daniel waited until the front door was closed and locked. He waited until Cassie's car drove away. He waited for the explosion when he father went into the kitchen.

"Daniel!" his dad yelled from the kitchen.

Here it came. He drew a deep breath, counted to ten, pressed the palm of his right hand into his thigh muscle then shuffled into the kitchen.

oo~O~oo

The second Jack had laid eyes on Daniel, he'd wavered between tearing him from limb to limb over his stupidity and holding him down and forcing a bottle of pain pills down his throat. Instead, he pasted a smile on his face, said goodbye to his son's partners in crime, waiting until they left before going into the kitchen.

He counted to ten, expecting his son to be hobbling right on his heels, but he didn't. So Jack worked backwards and laid on the counter one anti-inflammatory for the knee, two Tylenol for the headache, a Snapple, a few crackers with peanut butter and a partridge in a pear tree. The only thing missing was his son. "Daniel? Can you come in here?"

"Yeah?"

Damn. "Why don't you go lie down? Bed? Recliner? Couch? I'll bring you..."

Daniel collapsed into the closest kitchen chair.

"Or there is fine," Jack amended, pointing to the chair Daniel was sitting in. "Good. Settled?"

Daniel glared at him.

The pills, Snapple and snacks were all set before Daniel, who ate and drank before taking the pills. "Just say it, okay? Get it over with."

"I don't have to, you've punished your body enough today. Anything I would say would just be icing on the cake and the way you look, the last thing you want is dessert."

"You were right." Daniel's began to systematically peel off the Snapple label with his thumb.

"Believe it or not, Daniel, this is one of those times where I don't want to be right. Or to tell you I told you so."

The pile of label shreds grew. "I... We... went to see the soccer game today."

Great. Bleachers. Cold. Damp. Reason number two why his son was moving with the speed of a ninety-year-old man. But he could do supportive. "So did they win?" See? He could do supportive.

"Barely. Henderson was in goal." Daniel shuddered. "I mean he's good, but he's not fast. I think Coach Dawson should—"

"Did your coach see you?"

"Yup." Daniel shook his head, a wry smile touching the corners of his mouth. "He wanted to know why I wasn't sitting on the bench." Daniel shrugged, never answering the question. "Coach wanted me to come to practice—"

"Is he kidding? Holy shit, is that man—"

"To lend my expertise. Don't have cow, Dad."

"Oh, I guess that was me jumping to conclusions?"

"Yeah." Daniel made a pyramid shaped pile out of the destroyed label.

"Think maybe tomorrow you want to spend the day with your old man?"

"I'm under house arrest?" Daniel flattened the pyramid.

"If you can get past me tomorrow, then you're allowed to leave the house."

Daniel snorted. "I'm always up for a challenge."

"We'll see," Jack said, wondering if he should wager a bet on this.

oo~O~oo

Daniel wasn't up for anything, never mind a challenge. Not even a slow wind down, he'd gone to his room after talking to his dad, and the rest, shall they say, is history. Based on the bedside clock he'd slept over fourteen hours, which was fine, well and good. His brain was alert, refreshed but unable to convince his body to move.

Sitting up. He could sit up. And he did. Slowly, cautiously and after four attempts he was up and going... absolutely nowhere. Ten minutes later, Daniel admitted defeat. "Dad?" He rolled his eyes at his own feebleness. "Dad!" he yelled even louder, flopping backwards on the bed in frustration.

"You yelled?" his father walked into the room, wiping his hands on a dishtowel.

Daniel groaned, waving his hand in the air. "Help?"

"Breakfast in bed? Pills. Tylenol? Give them a chance to kick in and I'm sure your body will be willing to cooperate."

oo~O~oo

His dad was right. Breakfast, followed by, believe it or not, a ninety-minute nap, and Daniel felt human. Awake and moveable, enough that he showered, changed, rebraced himself then shuffled into the living room, holding tightly to the handrail for the few steps.

"Hey," his dad looked over the rim of his glasses. "Better?"

Daniel nodded.

"Good." His father cocked his chin at the pile of papers on the table.

Ahh. The Sunday paper filled with ads. And the comics. Lengthy editorials. Want ads. Daniel leaned forward, snagged the Sports section then slowly settled in the recliner. Okay, this was totally geeky, reading the paper, starting with the Sports section, then reading the remaining parts cover to cover then ending up fighting with his dad over the crossword.

But today, Daniel made it through half the Sports before tossing the paper to the side.

"Daniel?"

He plunked the chair into the down position, his leg balancing awkwardly without support until Daniel slowly lowered it to the ground. "I need to get up and move around."

"A walk?"

Daniel glanced down as his threadbare sweats and sock-covered feet. "Outside?"

"No, around the living room, with a side view of the kitchen would work well."

Daniel blinked at this father, he hated, no, abhorred, when his father thought he was being funny. "You're not funny," he said while struggling to stand.

"No?"

"No, Dad, believe me. You aren't."

"Really?"

"Do you want me to call Grandma and ask her?"

"Feel free to grab the phone on your walk, okay?"

oo~O~oo

Fifteen minutes sitting in front of his computer and John's head was pounding, his back was aching, and his typing was atrocious because his right fingers were still stiff, painful and barely cooperative. He began to type with his left hand, hunting and pecking, while his right hand rested in his lap. It took him longer than he'd wanted to hack into the computer system at school but he now had Cheri Westin's home address, and ergo, Sarkissian's.

He printed the address out and handed it to his mom before pushing the chair away from the table. He lurched to his feet and then Cameron was there, holding onto his arm as he limped the few steps to his bed, into which he tumbled gratefully.

"Don't take any unnecessary chances," his mom ordered Derek. "Watch him and don't try to break into the house unless you're absolutely certain there's nobody there."

"Don't worry." Derek reached for the piece of paper she held out to him.

"Go with him," she told Cameron.

"It's not coming with me."

"You're taking her along, or," Sarah said, pulling the paper back, "she's going there alone."

His mom and uncle stared defiantly at one another, until his uncle backed down.

"Fine."

His mother slowly extended her hand, waiting until he took the paper, and turned back to John as Derek stormed out of the room. Ignoring the way his uncle was slamming drawers in the other room, his mom smiled at him.

"You don't have to stay here with me."

His mom simply raised an eyebrow and John relented. This weak, he was a sitting duck should something happen, and he knew it.

Cameron stepped forward, holding something in her hands.

"I made you a get well gift." She held out something bright pink and fuzzy. She opened her fingers, and a long piece of material unraveled, the pink end falling to the ground, the other end, a sick yellowish green, still clutched in her hands. "It's a scarf." Stepping closer, she laid it across John's chest. About eight feet long, the green end was so tightly knit that it was bunched unnaturally together. A few inches down, the stitches eased off into a more normal knit pattern. There were holes here and there where stitches had been lost.

"Thanks," John said, pulling the scarf towards him until it lay in a heap on his chest. "Just what I always wanted." He glanced up at his mom, who was trying not to laugh.

"Do you like it?"

"Yeah."

His mom looked away, one hand held over her mouth.

"It'll come in handy if we get a cold spell. And you know, I can always use it as a restraint, if we get attacked or something. Thanks."

Cameron stared at him for a few seconds before seeming satisfied with his answer. She left the room and a moment later John heard her in the kitchen, checking their weapons.

Throwing herself face forward onto his bed, his mom's shoulders went up and down as she laughed silently. "Cold spell? We've got a heat wave going on right now."

Shrugging, John fingered the material. "I can always use it to tie someone up, right?"

His mom started giggling again, and it was such a strange sound, that he couldn't help but laugh right along with her.

oo~O~oo

"Where's Derek?"

John came out of a half-doze at his mom's almost-angry sounding question.

"He followed Sarkissian." Cameron entered his bedroom and stood at the foot of the bed.

"Dammit. I said to watch him—"

"How can Derek watch Sarkissian if you won't let him follow him?"

"You should have gone with him."

"We need to find the Turk. Searching Sarkissian's house was more important."

"What did you find?" his mom asked with a resigned sigh.

"Sarkissian's not Cheri Weston's true father."

"He's not?" John blurted.

"He married Cheri's mother five years ago."

"What's this got to do with the Turk?"

"Nothing." Cameron gave John a frank stare. "I thought John would like to know."

"Yeah," John said quickly as his mother narrowed her eyes at him. "Thanks."

"What about the Turk?"

"It's not in the house. The house was empty."

"Empty, as in, nobody home?"

"Empty. As in there were signs that they'd packed hastily, taking only the essentials. Sarkissian knows we're looking for him."

"He doesn't seem like the type who'll run easily. He's probably got some plan in the works; he'll be back. We'll keep an eye on the house. Derek's got contacts. Maybe they'll come up with something."

oo~O~oo

The rest of the day was spent pretty much the same and Daniel was embarrassed to admit that after lunch, his body talked his brain into another nap. Sleepiness ambushed him when he least expected it and he slept until late afternoon.

He turned over with a groan. So much for his last day of the weekend. Thankfully, he'd been on top of his work, because today had been an actual waste of productivity. Blindly, he reached towards his cell phone, squinting at the number of unanswered voice messages. Without seeing clearly, he hoped for the best and hit the first one.

"I was getting worried."

Alexandria. "Sorry, my bed and I were one today."

"It was because Cassie and I dragged you all over yesterday, wasn't it? Your knee must be—."

"Fine." And it really was, he wasn't lying to her or himself. "Think it was just a lazy day and I took advantage of it." Daniel paused, then chuckled, "Big time."

"Full day tomorrow?"

"Yeah, then my dad is picking me up and I'm going for a PT consult."

"Daniel!"

Even through the closed door, with his cell phone pinned to his ear, his father's voice had wings.

"I think you have to go," Cassie giggled.

"Yeah, my dad isn't exactly subtle, is he?"

"I'm not answering on the grounds I like your dad a lot."

There was a knock and before he had time to answer with a 'come on in', his father strode into the room. "Tell Dria you'll talk to her later."

"Tell Colonel Jack I heard him."

"She heard you, Dad."

"Good." His father stood at the foot of his bed, slowly dragging down the blanket.

"I'm thinking he wants me outta bed."

"I'm going out to dinner with my grandparents. I'll see you in the morning. Breakfast is my treat."

"Starbucks?"

"Daniel."

He hated when his dad stretched his name out into a multi-syllable word.

"Starbucks," Alexandria hurriedly agreed. "Daniel, there will be no espresso shots in any coffee drinks, do you understand me?"

"Yes, I understand," he slowly repeated. "I think I really have to go now, because my father doesn't look..."

"Love you," Alexandria said.

Daniel tried not to smile, tried to clamp down and hold back the embarrassed grin attempting to fight its way out, and with his father glaring at him. "I have to go. Now."

There was a giggle. Then a dial tone.

Daniel waved the disconnected phone at his father. "I'm off."

"Company tonight for dinner."

Dismayed, Daniel glanced down. He was comfortable. He didn't want to change. Heck, he barely even wanted to get out of bed.

"You're pouting." His dad tugged the blanket down even more. "We're having Greek."

"Who's we?" he asked suspiciously.

"Carter. Teal'c."

For them he didn't have to change out of his 'seen better day sweats'. For them, he was dressed appropriately. His grandma, on the other hand, would take one look at him and drag him clothes shopping, something that he hated on a good day, never mind with his grandma holding his hand.

Lazily, he stretched, careful not to extend or push unwilling muscles. "What time?"

"Time for you to set the table."

"Was that a hint?"

"Does Mrs. Peterson's dog pee on our lawn?"

"Hint. Okay. I got it."

oo~O~oo

Daniel dragged a fry through the yogurt sauce. "I love Greek food," he answered blissfully.

"I never would've guessed," Sam said with a smile plastered on her face. "I think you licked your plate clean."

"And he stole my last fry." His dad feigned indignation, holding up his empty plate. "See?"

"Would you care for some of my fries, O'Neill?" Teal'c grabbed a handful from his plate.

His father held up his hand, waving away Teal'c's offer. "No, that's okay."

Daniel stuck his plate under Teal'c's hand. "I'll take them."

"I hate teenage metabolism," Sam complained.

oo~O~oo

When Sam entered the living room with dessert and his pills, Daniel was going to turn down the offer, until he realized it wasn't an offer.

"Your dad said you have to take these." She pushed them back to him, after he'd put them down on the coffee table. "Please," she said looking over her shoulder. "I'll never live it down if I can't get you to swallow three little pills."

"Beaten by a teen?"

Sam shrugged, embarrassment coloring her cheeks. "Yeah, something like that."

With a sigh, Daniel swallowed them. "Happy?"

Sam smiled at him. "Relieved. Thanks."

"Glad to be of help."

"You know..." Sam sat on the couch next to him, tugging at the rip in his sweatpants. "I think I need to take you shopping. Wanna go with me?"

Daniel hesitated. Shopping with Sam was a mere step above shopping with his grandmother.

She laughed, taking his hesitation for what it is. "Should I be insulted?"

"No, I..." Daniel fumbled.

"I'm not cool anymore?"

"You are."

"Your son called me old," Sam complained to his father when he walked into the kitchen carrying a tray of coffee and a glass of milk.

"I did not!" Daniel cried indignantly.

"You said I wasn't cool enough to go shopping with you."

"I never said that."

"MajorCarter. DanielJackson. Stop behaving like children."

"I am not a child." Daniel stuck his tongue out at Sam who, in turn, crossed her eyes and screwed up her mouth.

"That's it," his dad said with a laugh. "No dessert for either of you."

"He started it." Sam bumped his shoulder

"I'm innocent." Daniel gave his father a beguiling smile. "Can I have a bigger piece of chocolate cake than Sam?"

oo~O~oo

His father placed a hand on Daniel's stomach just as he was stretching. "Easy, big guy."

Daniel glanced up and gave what he thought would pass as a smile. "Time to get up?"

"Give or take ten minutes."

He rubbed his nose, sneezed, sniffed then glared at his dad who was still standing over him. "I need to shower. Get dressed." Daniel turned towards his beside clock, squinting at the numbers. He licked his lips. "Alexandria's taking me for breakfast."

"And I'm picking you up after school. PT."

oo~O~oo

Daniel surprised himself. Really and truly surprised himself, because it wasn't until the last bell that he actually would admit that he'd had serious doubts about making it through the day without falling flat on his face.

Alexandria was by his side in an instant, grabbing his hand and playing defense against the hallway crowds. He should've left earlier to beat the crush of kids, but this sorta felt good. "I'm okay." He tugged on her hand. "Slow down."

She slowed down when they got to his locker and not before. Alexandria dialed his combination, opened the locker and stood there waiting for him.

Daniel kissed her, pinning her to locker next to his opened one. "I'm okay," he whispered in her ear. He felt the pressure of her hand on his chest and he stepped back, disappointed.

"I know you're okay."

Daniel reached for a loose curl and wound it around his fingers.

She sighed.

"Am I distracting you?"

"Your father's going to kill you. PT. Don't be late."

Now it was Daniel's turn to sigh, hating PT even before it started.

oo~O~oo

"I can do this, Dad," Daniel hissed.

"You skipped the second question in the third section." His dad tapped the clipboard Daniel was trying to fill out.

Gently, so as not to draw attention to his father's interference, he shoved his father's hand off his paperwork, then answered 'no' to the question his father had pointed out. "Thank you," Daniel mumbled.

"Just trying to help."

"I know." Daniel handed the entire clipboard over to his father. "Here. For you. Information on insurance cards and you have to sign." Daniel tapped the paperwork his father now held. "Right there," he said sarcastically.

"Not funny," his dad said, slipping on his reading glasses.

oo~O~oo

"What position do you play in soccer?"

Manipulation of his knee made it hard to concentrate and Daniel just sort of gave a mumbled answer in response.

"Sorry, I'm a bit distracting, aren't I?"

Daniel gave a quick nod and there was the possibility of a smile, also, he wasn't too sure. Shannon was a big guy, not Teal'c big, but still a formidable person. Probably in his thirties, military style hair cut, he sorta looked like he belonged more in the halls of the SGC than in a physical therapist's office. Sure, gentle hands manipulated Daniel's knee with confidence.

He'd already done an ultrasound on Daniel, explaining to him and his dad, who was hovering, that the machine heated the gel spread on his knee, increasing the blood flow. It had felt okay, nothing special, accepting Shannon's assurance that it was beneficial.

Shannon wrapped a pillow, placed it at one end of the treatment table and patted it. "How about you lie down."

"Sure." Daniel laid down, and listened intently when Shannon explained the exercises. Strengthening the muscle, taking pressure off the knee. Good, he got that, understood the reasoning and everything, but forty minutes later he was crabby and his mind was filled with stretches and the command of three groups of ten.

"You may be a bit sore tonight."

"Tonight?" Daniel bit back a groan as Shannon helped him into a sitting position. "Think I'm sore right now."

Shannon chuckled, a low rumble. "Make sure you take your anti-inflammatory.

"Yes, sir."

"Don't worry, I've got it covered," his father said, stepping into the picture, throwing an arm over Daniel's shoulders.

"I want to work on one more thing, Daniel, before we call it a day." Shannon helped Daniel off the table and guided him to a chair in the office. "Have a seat."

Slowly, Daniel lowered himself in the proffered chair.

"A little bit of ice, stim and then I'll let your dad take you home."

"Defense," Daniel blurted out. "I play defense for my school team."

"Don't worry," Shannon said as he placed the ice-cold stim pads on Daniel's knee. "You'll be playing again before the season's out."

oo~O~oo

The sensation of the stim pads had been strange but it had felt good, but now sitting in the Avalanche on the drive home, Daniel's knee and the surrounding muscles hurt.

"You're quiet."

Daniel stole a quick glance at the dashboard clock. Almost six. Great. Three days a week of this. Shannon was a nice guy and all, but this was going to get old fast. Really fast.

oo~O~oo

Daniel ate dinner with one hand, did his homework with the other.

"Take a breath."

Daniel looked up at his dad. "Huh?" A pill was placed on his opened book.

"Take it."

"When I finish." Daniel flicked the pill off the book with the end of his pen.

"Now."

Daniel found himself blinking in confusion at his father. "Why?"

"Because Shannon said it—"

"I know what Shannon said," he shot back sarcastically. "What I meant was why now? Right this exact second."

"It's a ridiculous thing to argue over."

"Yeah, it is."

"So just take the pill now and be done with it."

Frustrated, Daniel shook his head then turned his attention back to his homework, only to jump back when his father slammed the pill down on the page he was studying. "What the heck, Dad?"

"Just take it."

Daniel was tired, hurting, pissed and not in the mood for his father to play his 'because' card, which he knew was going to be next. So he took the pill, downed the rest of his Snapple, slammed his book and notebook shut, leaving the table in a huff, wishing he could move faster and with more dignity than his leg and brace permitted.

Shit. His father was on his ass, passing him in the narrow hallway, overtaking him and standing in front of him, blocking his way.

"I'm sorry."

Surprise overtook Daniel, and he stopped short. Too short, and his balance was compromised. He caught the wall which kept him upright, but at the expense of his books, which fell to the floor.

"Don't you dare," his dad ordered as Daniel bent down to retrieve his work. "I've got this." He grabbed Daniel's shoulders, propped him upright then gently turned him back in the direction he'd just stomped off from. "Go finish your dinner."

Slowly, he turned to face his father, waiting, accepting his fallen books with opened arms. "Dad, I'm really not hungry." There was no answer so Daniel skirted around his father to his bedroom and got as far as lowering himself to the bed before his father entered.

"I'm sorry," his dad repeated, getting no further than the doorway.

"I don't know what made me... I should've just taken the pill and—"

"I'm the parent. You need to remind me about that sometimes."

Yeah, not if Daniel valued his life. "I'm going to go shower. Finish my homework." He opened his book, hoping his father would get the hint.

"Before you know it." His father pointed at the brace on his leg.

"Too long already," Daniel answered without even looking up.

oo~O~oo

Physical therapy was three times a week. Monday. Wednesday. Friday. Soccer, sit on the bench, cheer his team along practice was Tuesday and Thursday. He ate dinner with his books and his father. Took his pill before dessert. Showered right after, and most nights he managed to call Alexandria before becoming incoherent and falling into bed.

Saturday morning, Alexandria picked him up brighter and earlier than he would've wanted and dragged his butt to an away soccer game.

"Look," she said with a sickening, sweet voice.

Daniel didn't want to look. Not at her, not at anything but the inside of his eyelids. Didn't she even understand that this was way too early in the day to be even upright, never mind being conversational?

Daniel tucked his hands inside the sleeves of his hoody, leaned against the window and closed his eyes.

"Hell, I don't care. Though your attitude is going to lose you your coffee."

"Coffee?"

"Yup. Hot. Three pumps of espresso Starbucks' coffee which will be ice cold when we get to—"

"Gimme," Daniel said, shoving his hand out through the sleeve and waggling his fingers.

"Open your eyes and be pleasant."

"I hate you," he grumbled. He opened his eyes, yawned, sniffed, then slowly, carefully stretched.

"Much better." Alexandria flashed him a smile before turning her attention back to the road. "Though the 'hate' comment, not so nice. I'm thinkin' you've lost your chocolate chip mu—"

Daniel leaned over. "I'll make it up to you," he whispered in her ear.

"Stop it!" She shouldered him away, giggling. "I so don't want to explain to my dad that I had an accident with the car because you were breathing in my ear."

"Where's the muffin?" Daniel walked his fingers up her arm. "Please."

"I wonder if your name is written on the bathroom wall at Starbucks. 'Will do anything for a coffee and muffin'." Alexandria shook her head. "It's in the glove compartment."

oo~O~oo

Alexandria picked up Cassie, who was once again on the outs with asshole Dominic, and Lena. Daniel felt more awake, the food and espresso working their magic, but their chatter was getting on his nerves. Even though he fought to keep his annoyance under control, he obviously failed big time because the second Alexandria parked the car, and Lena and Cassie were out of earshot, she was in his face, all full of concern and apologies.

"The coffee and muffin didn't make up for them, did it?"

No, it didn't, but he couldn't tell her that. "I'm okay."

Alexandria did a wonderful imitation of his father's 'yeah right' expression.

"Payback," Daniel whispered huskily, pushing against Alexandria, who backed up willingly, with a knowing smile on her face which slid from her face just as Cassie's voice carried over the din of the parking lot.

"Jeeze, come on, you two."

"I'm going to kill her. Slowly."

"Stand in line," Alexandria said, planting a quick kiss on Daniel's cheek. "Maybe we can leave her here."

"That's a possibility, though I volunteer you to tell her mother," Daniel agreed amicably, snarling at Cassie behind Alexandria's back as they passed her in the parking lot.

Mature as always, Cassie stuck out her tongue in reciprocation.

oo~O~oo

The coach had pulled his ass to the bench, leaving Cassie, Alexandria and Lena in the bleachers. Daniel hadn't been thrilled, and he'd been quite vocal about his unhappiness. Being a bench warmer during practice was one thing, doing it for a game was something completely different. That was until the ref blew the whistle, signifying the start of the game.

Five minutes into the game, Daniel's left foot began to tap the grass in agitation. Five minutes after that, he grabbed the coach's playbook and began to scribble in the margins. Ten minutes after that, the coach stood directly in front of him, blocking the field.

"Something you want to share, Jackson?"

"Linderman's intimidated." Okay, so much for the diplomacy Daniel had hoped to go for.

"He is?" The coach turned and observed the field. "Really? I wonder how come I didn't notice that."

There was no hiding the Coach's sarcastic tone, which sorta pissed Daniel off. He could've stayed home. In bed. Sleeping. Instead of sitting on the bench obviously wasting his time. Bullshit. "Yeah, really. Watch him. He's holding back. Switch him with Li. Put Li on defense. Linderman on offense." Li wasn't a tall kid, but what he lacked in height, he made up for it in balls. As in brass set. Living with Lena, the poor guy had no fear of anyone. No matter how big.

The coach stared at Daniel and Daniel stared back. Almost twenty minutes into the game and they were already down by three goals.

Coach Dawson called for a time out.

oo~O~oo

"I'm impressed, Daniel."

Daniel picked up the clipboard and handed it to Coach Dawson. "Impressed?"

"You've got a good eye. Saw what I couldn't see, and you weren't afraid to tell me."

Daniel ducked his head, embarrassed. "I didn't mean to overstep—"

"Overstep?" Coach Dawson's laugh was so loud that people turned and stared. "You didn't overstep, Jackson, you stomped."

The heat of blush worked its way into his face. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. We won because of you."

The blush deepened.

"I think I'm going to have to get you a whistle and a clipboard." The coach clapped him on the shoulder, winking at him. "Going to put you to work until that brace comes off."

oo~O~oo

"Why is he still sick?" Sarah asked, watching her son doze on the living room sofa, huddled beneath a blanket.

"John's alive."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" she hissed. While John had doggedly taken his slow recovery a day at a time, Sarah was beginning to worry. It had been close to two weeks now, and the bad days were still worse than the good days.

"Most people infected with the nanocytes don't survive."

"Still not bringing me comfort, tin girl."

"Fever is better than dead."

Sarah rolled her eyes. "Thanks so much for putting things in perspective for me."

"My pleasure," Cameron said.

oo~O~oo

Weeks fell into a routine of school, physical therapy, soccer and homework and by Sundays, Daniel was spent, tired and crabby. It took his father about two Sundays to realize the best way to deal with him on the seventh day of the week was to leave him alone, speaking only when it was time to call him for meals.

"Grandma's going to take you to PT tomorrow."

He finished the sentence he was writing before looking up. "Are you going offworld?"

"No, going to Washington. I'll be home very late."

Washington was a million times better than offworld, and Daniel exhaled slowly. "Grandma just has to pick me up. Alexandria can drive me there."

"She wants to do. Just let her do, okay? Bad enough you haven't seen her in a while. Let her enjoy your company for a day."

"I've been busy," he said indignantly. Jeeze, it wasn't like his father didn't know. "I have two tests on Tuesday, so it's not like I'm going to be spending a whole bunch of time—"

"You'll eat dinner with her. And for your own sake, close the books."

"I have two tests on Tuesday."

"I've let you do this." His father gestured to the books opened in front of Daniel.

"I'll explain it to Grandma, she'll understand."

oo~O~oo

John smiled at her, turned his attention back to his monitor and Sarah withheld the urge to ask him how he was feeling. The fact that he was up and around was enough confirmation that he was doing better than the last two days, when getting out of bed to use the bathroom was all he'd been able to manage.

The sheets on his bed had more color than he did, but again Sarah resisted the urge to comment. Hell, she even held her tongue at his half-eaten lunch. Half was better than nothing. Half was much better than vomiting up everything that had passed his lips the past forty-eight hours.

"I'm fine." Chin resting in his cupped palm, John didn't even make eye contact.

"I didn't even ask," she said indignantly.

Shaking his head, John looked up at her, tired resignation made him look older than fifteen. "You don't have to ask. You're hovering."

Quickly, she plopped down on the edge of the bed. "I'm not hovering. I'm sitting."

"You can hover from a sitting position."

"Really?" Opened mouth, she feigned innocence. "I didn't know that."

The smile was gone in the blink of an eye, the dimple left in its wake slowly fading into oblivion. "I'm up."

"I can see that."

"I'm even doing research." Quickly, he slid the laptop over so Sarah could get a view of the monitor. "Look."

"Very nice," she nodded, clueless at what she was looking at.

John repositioned the laptop then tapped the plate on the desk. "I ate half my sandwich."

It was very hard not to ask why he hadn't eaten the entire thing, but she was being good.

"I might even ask for a Snapple or something in like half an hour."

"Got a fridge full."

"Maybe a banana?"

"Tin miss can make a grocery store run."

"I like the crunchy cheesy puffs."

Sarah bowed. "I'll add that to the list."

John peeked through the blinds. "Looks like a nice day outside."

"It is."

Slowly, John stood and held onto the desk until he was upright, ignoring Sarah's outstretched hand.

He said nothing.

Sarah remained silent, grabbed the plate with the half-eaten sandwich and just followed him.

oo~O~oo

"No, I don't understand, Daniel."

Daniel had a horrible day at school. Shannon had been running late and besides the two tests, he had reports due and to top it off, his grandmother had been breathing down his neck over everything and she hadn't been happy that PT had run late. And now? She was giving him grief because he was eating and writing. "Please, Grandma, I have to—"

"Mhuirnin, you have to eat."

Daniel held up his forkful of spaghetti, swiftly using his elbow to wipe away the splatter of sauce that fell on his opened book. "See, I'm eating." He shoved the fork into his mouth, stripping the prongs of the spaghetti.

She wasn't happy.

With a sigh, Daniel closed his books and moved them out of the way, then slid his plate in front of him. "I hated that Shannon ran late today, I'm sorry."

"Does he hurt you?"

Daniel shrugged. "Sometimes." He glanced up, caught the horror on her face and quickly amended the sentence. "I tell him when it hurts and he always says not to push. Pretty soon, the brace will be off for good."

"And you'll be done?"

"No." Daniel twirled his fork in the mound of spaghetti. "Still need PT probably only twice a week."

"And soccer?"

Daniel shook his head. "Not yet."

"Soon, though, right?"

"Hopefully really soon."

oo~O~oo

John sat on the swing, face raised into the sun. "Damn, this feel good."

"I'm sure it does."

He stuck out his hand and waggled his fingers at her.

Smiling, because sometimes even the mothers of messiahs know best, she gave him the remainder of the sandwich.

"Maybe next time," John said, peeling back the bread before taking a bite, "I'll be able to go a few more days before feeling like shit."

One could only pray. Recovery was like a see saw. Good days and bad days. Driving John semi-nuts with being cut out of the real world and driving her nuts with worry.

"Did you hear what I said, Mom?" John asked.

"Um, no, sorry."

"Do you think you could bring in pizza tonight for dinner?"

Pizza? Sarah wanted to say no, cleaning up puked pizza wasn't fun. "Sure, no problem."

"Order extra," John said, "in case I feel okay tomorrow, I'll have leftovers."

"Okay." How sad, Sarah thought, that like everything else thrown his way, John was taking this in stride. "I'll order extra."

oo~O~oo

Daniel dreamed of playing soccer. Shannon was on the sidelines yelling something that Daniel couldn't understand. His grandmother was there. His father. Alexandria. General Hammond. Teal'c. Sam. Cassie. Suddenly, he wasn't sixteen anymore, he was forty, and the goal wasn't a net but an active Stargate. He was running, trying to get there before it disengaged, but he couldn't. The brace was hindering his movement and—

"Hey, buddy, wake up."

Daniel woke with a gasp, his heart pounding out of his chest.

"You were dreaming."

Slowly, he opened his eyes, staring into the concerned face of his father's. "You're home."

"And you're sleeping in your clothes."

"That's nice," Daniel said.

"Hold on."

He felt his father untie his sneakers, drop them to the ground then cover Daniel with the quilt. "Better?"

"Much." He turned on his side, wrapping his arms around his pillow.

"Was it a bad dream?"

While the dream was taking place, it had felt bad, scary and foreboding. But now it just felt ridiculously stupid and he was pretty sure that by tomorrow he wouldn't even remember it. "Not bad. Soccer. Gate. Silly."

"It sounds silly." There was a gentle kiss to his temple. "No more silly dreams, okay?"

"Okay," Daniel answered, but it didn't work. The rest of the night he tossed and turned, slumber interrupted to his inability to reach the Stargate in time, until finally, around five thirty, he just got up and went to shower.

oo~O~oo

"Colonel?"

"Rodney." Jack, up to his ears in paperwork, continued typing even as Doctor McKay entered his office. "What can I do for you?"

"Remember the computer software I helped build?"

"The one that was stolen?" Jack remembered something about Rodney's friend murdered and the computer stolen. He continued typing, letting Rodney speak. He grimaced as he made a typing mistake and backspaced to erase the word.

"Yes. The Turk. I've just gotten wind that someone's trying to sell it to the highest bidder."

"Are you positive it's the same computer?"

"Yes, I'm positive. Well, I'm pretty sure it's the same computer. I mean, they haven't come out and said it's the same computer and until I actually see it in action and take a look at the software, I can't be positive, but my source is pretty reliable."

Jack stopped typing and looked up at Rodney. "Why wait all these months before trying to sell it?"

McKay shrugged. "Waiting for some of the heat to die down? The police investigation on Andy Goode's murder has pretty much died down; they have no new leads. I guess the murderer thinks it's safe now to come out of hiding."

"I thought they caught the murdered."

"He escaped. Weird set of circumstances, too." Rodney stared at Jack, obviously lost in thought.

Jack reached for his mug of coffee and took a sip. "And you want the military to approach the person selling the Turk and buy it from them?"

"He murdered Andy for it. For something I helped build. He's trying to sell a piece of software whose applications could be invaluable to the military."

"Aren't you already putting those applications to use in your work?" Jack put the mug down and stared at his report.

"Colonel, Andy Goode was my friend. And while that may come as a surprise to some because I'm not the type of person who makes friends easily, he was murdered, and finding his murderer is the least I can do for him. This lead with the Turk is probably our best chance of finding his murderer. I really would... appreciate... your help."

Jack nodded as he saved his document. "Let me speak to Hammond. It's probably also in our best interest to get our hands on that computer as well."

"Thank you."

"How about you go give Carter the details. If Hammond agrees, she can work with you on setting up a meeting with this guy who's selling... What's his name?"

"Sarkissian. Margos Sarkissian."

oo~O~oo

Daniel made it through the remainder of the week on autopilot; the only good news was that he was now brace-free. And he felt great. Freedom was a wonderful thing. School sucked. Soccer sucked. But now, at least, he could move without feeling as if he were dragging a ball and chain around.

The soccer game on Saturday was a home game but Alexandria couldn't drive him, so his father ended up playing chauffeur, which really wasn’t great because there was no chocolate chip muffin or coffee with some extra pumps of espresso waiting for him.

"You're staying?" Daniel asked, horrified when his father got out of the truck with him.

"Not in the mood to drive back and forth."

Daniel kicked a pebble in his way, resigned to the fact that his father was going to literally be watching his back while sitting in the bleachers. He forgot about his father the minute the ref signaled for the start of the game.

oo~O~oo

Daniel blew his whistle before Coach Dawson could blow his, signaling for a time out. He switched Corey and Nate's position, which he knew would drive them nuts but so be it. They grumbled for a second, but that was it. Experience had taught them, even in the past few weeks, that Daniel was usually right.

"Good call, Daniel," Coach Dawson said. "Next time, though, how about you discuss your idea with me first."

"Sorry."

"You can apologize after the game, okay?"

Daniel pasted a smile on his face, feeling like an idiot.

"Only if we lose. If we win, no apology is necessary."

oo~O~oo

They won. Barely, but Daniel still felt the need to apologize to Coach Dawson because he'd overstepped his boundaries. "I'm sorry, Coach."

"No need to apologize. I told you if we won—"

"I understand that, but I just..." He closed his eyes and sighed. "I miss playing."

"I know you do, Daniel. I miss you on the field. Your team misses you and hell, if you don't get out there soon, I'm going to lose my job to you." The coach looked around the field. "Go. I see you dad's waiting for you."

Daniel handed his clipboard to the coach, then began to head towards his dad.

"Jackson?"

Daniel turned. "Yes?"

"Thank you," the coach said. "For everything."

oo~O~oo

A week later, he was back on the field, this time playing defense. He was allowed half the game. That was it, no more, no less. And those twenty-two minutes were exhaustingly invigorating. Goddamn it, being back to normal felt great.

oo~O~oo

"Where were you?" Cameron strode into the living room even before the door slammed shut behind John and his mother.

"I took John to the pier for some air. Why? What's going on?"

"Derek got a tip from Moishe. Sarkissian's back in town."

"He came back?" His mother froze near the door. John headed for the nearest chair; exercise and fresh air still tired him out immensely.

"He's back, but not for long. Something's going down; he's trying to sell the Turk. Derek followed Sarkissian, while I broke into the house again. I found this." Cameron held out a piece of paper to his mom.

"What is it?"

"Phone numbers. The area code is from Colorado."

"NORAD?"

"Yes."

"Mom, you don't think Sarkissian is selling the Turk to the military?"

"It's starting to look that way, isn't it?"

oo~O~oo

The argument in the kitchen woke John up.

"What were you thinking?"

"Doing my job," his uncle replied almost as loudly as his mother.

John sat up, curious as to what was going on.

"You went out alone, without Cameron."

"I don't need the machine—"

"I don't care. You shouldn't have split up."

John stood and limped to the doorway. He hung onto the doorjamb, resting a moment before going on.

"What's your problem?" Derek blurted as he went to the fridge and took out a bottle of beer. "We went out there to try and find out what Sarkissian was up to. If you're done yelling, I'll tell you what I found out." He twisted off the cap and took a long drink.

"Mom?"

"John. What are you doing out of bed?" The anger on her face was quickly replaced by concern as she hurried over to him. She put a hand on his arm and John walked forward, forcing her to come with him and help support him.

"What did you find out?" He stopped at the table and gratefully lowered himself into a chair. "I'm okay," he told his mom.

"I followed Sarkissian to a hotel where he met with two military stiffs."

"The Japanese got the contract with the military. Would they be interested in the loser also?" He gently rubbed his thigh with his uninjured hand, feeling the muscles throb. The walk earlier today had really taxed him.

"Why not?" His mom spoke softly as she came up behind him and put her hands on his shoulders. "With both computers, they can study them and come up with a mixture—"

"They'll increase the chance of a technological singularity by merging the two computers together," John said tiredly.

"Did Sarkissian finalize the deal with the military?" His mom leaned her chin on the top of John's head and wrapped her arms around his chest, pulling him gently back against her.

Derek shook his head. "I got the impression he was making them an offer. They're meeting him again tomorrow, at one, in the Chinese restaurant in the hotel lobby."

"Anyone feel like Chinese tomorrow?" His mom leaned over his shoulder and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "You can have my doggie bag, okay?"

oo~O~oo

"The big guy doesn't look military," Sarah said as she leaned her elbows on the table, as if she were involved in an intimate tête-à-tête with Derek while looking sidelong at the two sitting a few tables from them.

"He's military."

"He looks more like a mercenary. And the hat, it's probably hiding a crew cut. Now Blondie, she's Uncle Sam all the way."

Derek leaned back in his chair and took a sip of his beer, looking as relaxed as a vacationer enjoying lunch, except for his eyes, which constantly searched the restaurant's courtyard in which they sat. His gaze fixed on something and his face hardened. Sarah sat back also, taking a moment to adjust her napkin so that when she looked up, she was able to turn her head and look at what had gotten Derek upset.

As she'd suspected, Cameron was coming their way.

The robot had, at Sarah's insistence, donned a large, floppy hat which hid her features, as did half the women who sat outside, the umbrellas over the chairs not quite adequate to protect them from the sun's glare. Her apparel was demure enough that she wouldn't stand out in a crowd, but would blend in, unlike her normal teenage garb. Unfortunately, she strode into the courtyard with such assurance, heads turned to watch her.

Sarah herself had her hair pinned up under a hat, sunglasses adding to the disguise. Derek had a baseball cap and sunglasses; most likely they wouldn't fool Sarkissian for long, but just long enough to hopefully stall the sale of the Turk.

"Sarkissian isn't here," Cameron announced as she came to a stiff stop next to Sarah's chair.

"Hey, have a seat," Sarah said amicably, waving to an empty chair and picking up a fortune cookie. She broke it apart and pulled out the paper inside.

Cameron sat, her posture ramrod stiff, and stared openly at the two people Sarah and Derek were spying on.

"Don't stare," Sarah said between clenched teeth. She glanced at their table from behind her sunglasses and gritted her teeth when the blonde woman looked their way for a second.

"That man isn't human," Cameron said, shifting her gaze to Sarah.

Sarah tensed, but Derek sat up straight, looking as if he was ready to bolt. Or grab the gun he had hidden in the shopping bag at their feet and empty its load into the big, black man.

"He's metal?" His voice rose, just loud enough to carry over a few tables and again, the woman glanced their way.

Sarah leaned forward and placed her fingers over Derek's forearm, feeling muscles as tense as a steel rod beneath the skin. Her own stomach, a second ago pleasantly full, roiled nauseatingly.

"Relax," she hissed.

"He's not a cyborg." Cameron had shifted her gaze and was staring openly at Derek now.

"But he's not human," Sarah said, hearing her tone come out almost sarcastically.

"No."

"Care to elaborate a little?" She felt Derek relax just a bit and she pulled her hand away.

"He's flesh and blood, but there are differences. His pulse, his body temperature—"

"I thought you said you couldn't scan—"

"His respiration, bone density. The woman, however, is human."

It wasn't lost on Sarah that Cameron ignored her comment about the scan. She decided to let it go, not quite sure if maybe Cameron had other means of detecting these differences without using the scanning capabilities the old terminator had had.

"The military personnel have been here for fifty three minutes and have not yet been approached by Sarkissian."

Sarah turned to Derek, swallowed, and forced a smile. "She's got a point."

"Maybe Sarkissian's going to stand them up like he did us," Derek said with a matching forced smile.

"And maybe the man's had a change of plans," Sarah said when the blonde woman's cell phone rang. They stopped talking, all of them trying to listen to the conversation despite the distance separating them. When the woman hung up, Sarah sighed. She hadn't caught one word.

"They're meeting Sarkissian in thirty minutes," Cameron said as Sarah tried to figure out what to do next. "They've agreed to purchase the Turk."

"What?" Her surprise at the fait accompli was pushed aside when the man and woman stood and left the restaurant. Sarah and Derek hurried to their feet, following the pair at a discreet distance to the parking lot. It wasn't until they got into their new Dodge Nitro SXT before she realized she'd forgotten John's doggie bag on the table, then breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the bag sitting on the back seat next to Cameron.

She kept an eye on the two military types as they got into their car, then pulled out slowly behind them onto the road. Her thoughts were running a mile a minute, trying to figure out what had just happened, following the rental car and driving on automatic. So intent was she on her thoughts that it didn't immediately hit her when they drove by a sign announcing the airport. She swore when they signaled the turn and headed for the airport.

oo~O~oo

"Can you hear what they're saying?" Sarah squinted against the bright sunshine, watching with growing dread from the moment Sarkissian had approached them at the airport.

Cameron's eyes were glued to the three standing next to a gate which would lead them to a waiting military jet. Sarah had a pretty good idea that the jet would be taking the two soldiers away in a few minutes, along with the Turk.

"Sarkissian is demanding payment before he hands the Turk over to them."

"Can we rush them?" Derek tensed in anticipation. "Grab the Turk and destroy it before they get on that plane?"

Sarah gauged the distance and figured that even if Cameron went for it, bursting through the fence separating them, she'd have no trouble getting the computer from them. Maybe this was it; one last ditch effort to save humanity.

Nodding, she turned to Cameron. "As soon as he hands over the Turk, rush them. Your mission is to get the computer and destroy it completely—"

"Sarkissian isn't handing the computer over to them," Cameron matter of factly stated. Sarah turned back and swore when the two men and the woman headed for the waiting jet. Sarkissian hadn't handed them anything, and didn't seem to be carrying anything even as large as a hard drive in the pants and light sweater he was wearing. Instead, he was going with them.

Silently they stared as their quarry stepped onto the plane, and a few minutes later, watched the plane taxi off towards the runway.

oo~O~oo

Even though his mother had called to say they were on their way home, when the door snicked shut softly, John still jerked, pulled from a fitful sleep. He relaxed when he remembered the call and saw it was just his mom and the others. He started to ask what had happened when he realized, by the way his mother was stomping around the kitchen, things hadn't gone well.

"What happened?" he asked Cameron as she came into the living room and perched stiffly on an overstuffed chair.

"We didn't get the Turk."

"Did Sarkissian fly the coop?" He rubbed fingers over his forehead, trying to ease the headache he'd woken up with.

Cocking her head slightly, she gave a curt nod after a few seconds. "He flew the coop."

"What about the sale? It didn't go down?" His muscles ached and he was cold even with the blanket he'd dragged from his bed.

"Oh, it went down, all right," Derek said as he walked into the living room. "The bastard took off in a jet with the soldiers."

John was pretty sure that when they'd left the house earlier, his mom had had a plan. "What happened to the Turk?" he repeated in confusion.

"Your body temperature is elevated."

"What happened to the Turk?" John asked again, ignoring Cameron's comment. He knew he had a fever; he didn't need to be reminded. He was beginning to feel like he'd never recover. Four days fever-free and now, his body was sliding in the wrong direction.

"He didn't have it with him. He's probably hid it somewhere for safekeeping until the military pay him—"

"John, what the hell were you thinking?" His mother stood in the entrance to the living room, staring down the hall, into his bedroom.

"Why?"

"You've been fiddling with the chip again."

"I was bored," he said guiltily. He'd connected the chip to his laptop in the hopes of passing the time, but working one-handed was not only awkward but time-consuming. After a half hour, he was achy and shaky from sitting up and headachy from watching the flickering feed. He'd moved shop to the couch for a change of scenery.

"You're still sick. You shouldn't be tiring yourself over—"

A horrible thought came to him. "The chip. Did I power it down?" He couldn't remember and now he was deathly afraid it might have been running, unsupervised.

His mom simply rolled her eyes towards Cameron, and she got up, heading towards his room. "John's temperature is elevated," she told his mom as she walked past her.

He tried not to cringe when his mom's gaze pinned him to the couch.

"I'll get the Tylenol." Derek went to the bathroom, leaving John alone with his mom.

He watched her approach and perch at the edge of the couch, next to him. Her fingers were cool on his forehead as she brushed back his bangs. "Want to go back to bed?"

He shook his head. The couch was fine, this way he could participate in whatever was going on. He hated feeling isolated, stuck in his bedroom.

"The chip was powered down," Cameron said as she came out of his bedroom, carrying his ringing cell phone.

"Tylenol, and Snapple," Derek said, coming out of the kitchen.

John sat up, took his cell phone first from Cameron and answered, only to get a dial tone for his trouble.

"You were expecting someone to call?" his mom asked as she took his phone from him and placed it on the coffee table.

"Like who?" John grumbled. "Everyone's here." He swallowed the two Tylenol, drank half the Snapple, and settled back onto the couch. To his dismay, once his mom fiddled with the blanket, making sure he was comfortable, she went into her bedroom. Derek disappeared a moment later, leaving Cameron perched in the chair once more.

"What's everyone doing?" he asked, perplexed.

"Packing."

oo~O~oo

John blinked at Cameron. "Packing?" He pushed back the blanket, stood, gave his body all of two seconds to adjust to this new position, managed a few steps before he stopped and glared down at Cameron's hand gripping his arm. "Let me go."

"You need to rest."

"You need to let me go." John took a deep breath and tried a different tactic. "I'm ordering you to let me go."

"No."

"Huh? I thought you were programmed to—"

"Protect you."

He tried to jerk his hand free, but Cameron wouldn't budge. "I'm just going to talk to my mother and Derek and since I'm pretty damn positive neither of them is going to try to pull a gun on me, please explain to me, in small words that I can understand, why you holding me back would be protecting me?"

"I. Am. Protecting. You. From. Yourself."

John huffed in annoyance.

"Is there a problem? Aren't the words I used to describe the situation small enough?"

Maybe a different approach was called for. Mohammed coming to the mountain. "You're right," he lied, lifting his free hand and rubbing his eyes. "Think I'm just going to go to bed." John forced a yawn. He took a few steps towards his bedroom getting as far as their arms would permit. "Let me go."

She did reluctantly, stepping away from John and over to the couch where she gathered up his blanket. John pulled it from her grasp. "I don't need you tucking me in. I got it from here." And he left her standing, empty-handed in the living room, while he took his blanket, his achy head and his fever to bed.

oo~O~oo

Cameron was a tattletale, though if he called her on it, she'd swear it was for his own good. John began the countdown the second he was horizontal - how long it would take for Cameron to snitch to his mother that he was now not only horizontal, but horizontal in his bed under the covers.

Bingo.

Cool hands skimmed his forehead. "You still have a fever." His mom's voice was full of concern, but her eyes were impatiently flicking to the doorway.

"So, I guess we have to postpone running." He sat up in bed and shoved the blanket to the side.

"No."

"But I'm sick. I was better today."

"You know how it's been – fever comes and goes. But it's nothing that a Motrin or a Tylenol can't take care of."

"I don't want to run anymore." He dropped back onto the bed. "I'm tired. Sick and tired of running."

"The Turk's not going to come to us, John, but Judgment Day will."

"I know." John glanced around at the house that had become a home. "I like it here."

"You know the protocol, one bag."

"I'm taking the laptop." This wasn't even up for discussion.

She looked over to his work desk and nodded. "Plus the laptop. Nothing else," she added as if allowing him to take his computer made up for everything else he was leaving behind. His mother got as far as the door before turning. "We're heading to Colorado, pack flannels."

oo~O~oo

Damn well he knew the protocol. Packing probably was number two on the protocol list, sandwiched between 'no one is ever safe' and 'never get too comfortable in the place you rest your head'.

The duffle bag was under his bed and John dragged it out, shook off the accumulated dust bunnies clinging to its side and packed by rote. Socks. Boxers. Underwear. Jeans. Tees. Sweats to sleep in. A week's worth. No more. No less. Toothbrush. Deodorant. All shit like that got stuffed in the nooks and crannies left in the corners.

John zipped it up, tested its weight then dropped it on the floor. Done. The laptop was going to be another issue. There was no problem with the actual unit itself, but the whistles and bells he needed to read the chips, that was going to take up more than his allotted duffle bag space in the back of the truck. Weaponry took precedence over everything.

"Too friggin bad," John mumbled as he methodically began to disconnect all the pieces. This was his weapon of choice and his mother would just have to live with it.

John wasn't too sure what made him do it. What made him stop packing and pick up his phone? Maybe it was his mother's raised voice in the kitchen. Or Derek's answer. Or the fact that neither of them came to check on him. Stupid. He knew he was being stupid and infantile, but he didn't care. For once in his goddamn life he wanted to say goodbye before he was forced to leave.

There was no preamble. No pleasantries. No 'hi, hello, how are you'? The second the connection was made, John spoke. "We're leaving."

"When?"

"Today."

"Shit. I'm sorry. I wish I could—"

John hung up, disconnecting the call and tossed the phone onto the bed. He felt like a stupid fool. What had he expected? He got what he expected. What he deserved.

oo~O~oo

Sarah hated this. Hated uprooting John yet again. Hated that he argued with her every time they relocated, when he knew there was no choice. Hated that he made her the bad one in all of this. And damn well hated that he'd pulled a disappearing act when she'd asked him to pack.

The room was bare. The duffle bag was packed to bursting and the computer desk was cleared, the only evidence that something had ever occupied that spot was the dust-free rectangle and square shapes on the top. The box of computer paraphernalia was too large for Sarah's liking and she did a mental rearrangement, trying to figure out where it would fit.

John was sleeping, curled up on his side. She knew without even touching him that he was still feverish.

"We have no choice," Cameron said.

For once in her life, Sarah would like to disagree and say that the Connors did have a choice, but that wasn't the case. Not here. Not now. "I know." She pointed to the stuff in the room. "Bring the duffle bag and the box to the truck. The laptop and backpack will stay with John." She grabbed the tin toy's arm as she skirted past her. "Quietly. I don't want you to wake him. And tell Derek we'll be leaving later than we'd planned."

Derek was in the house within minutes to voice his objection. "Just make sure you pack the Tylenol, John can sleep in the car." He reached out to shake a blanket-covered leg.

"Yes, he can," Sarah agreed. Derek was fast, but she was faster and she blocked his forward advances. "But he can sleep here first."

"We have to leave."

"And we will."

"When?" Derek pushed.

"Go pack John's stuff into the truck—"

"Yeah, about that..."

"Make it work. I don't care if you have to unpack everything to make it fit. Just do it. Then give me another half hour."

oo~O~oo

Twenty minutes into her allotted thirty, it broke Sarah's heart to wake John. He woke slowly and silently, throwing back the blanket and getting off the bed. She watched as he shuffled out of the room, then listened as the bathroom door closed.

Standing, she took one last look around John's room.

"Rumor has it you're leaving town."

John's handiwork. Oh God, no. Not now. "We are."

The weight of Charley's hands on her shoulders wasn't comforting. His touch was guilt-ridden and stifling. "Running?"

"No."

"Yes," John said, entering the room. "Except this time we're running to something." He picked up his laptop, grabbed his knapsack and probably thought he'd get out of the room with just a quick nod of his head.

Sarah knew differently. She knew Charley. And she knew John. Charley wouldn't let John walk out of his life with just a handshake and a nod just as surely as John wouldn't have left town without saying goodbye.

Charley grabbed John, his height overpowering her sixteen-year-old son, and he wrapped his arms around him, engulfing him. "Take care of your mom," Charley whispered into John's hair, his gaze never leaving Sarah's.

If Sarah would've blinked, she would've missed John reciprocating, quickly snaking his arms around Charley's back, hugging him and then it was over. John pushed away from Charley. "I don't think my mom needs anyone taking care of her."

Charley pushed John's bangs out of his eyes. "Don't let her fool you."

John wouldn't even look at her, he just readjusted the shoulder straps and stuck out his hand, Charley gingerly engulfed the still bruised appendage, this time keeping his distance. "Thank you, Charley."

Charley dropped the handshake first. "Call me, Johnny. Don't be a stranger."

Finally, John turned towards her and she met her son's icy gaze head on. John knew the rules. He didn't have to like them, but he knew them. Charley was a casualty because she'd forgotten the rules and had become attached. She'd been stupid. In love. Longing for stability. And now, Charley and John had paid the price. She'd learned her lesson, it wouldn't happen again.

oo~O~oo

"This is really goodbye, isn't it?"

Sarah nodded.

"John's not going to call. You're not going to call. You're going to change your cell phone numbers, your names... I'll never know how the story ends, will I?"

"Yes, you will." Tentatively, she reached out and touched his chest. "If we all live happily ever after, then we won." Sarah drew a deep breath. "If you ever look up into the sky—"

Charley touched a finger to her lips. "Not going to happen." He withdrew his finger and let it settle on the pulse point in her neck. "Remember, inside the savior of the human race, is a sixteen year old boy who still needs his mother."

She bristled.

"You don't scare me, Sarah Connor." And Charley smiled in the face of her anger. "Take care of John. He's running a fever."

"Don't you think I know that? That I'd rather toss John back to bed, cover him up and ply him with chicken soup and Tylenol? You're preaching to the choir."

"Please try to remember the war hasn't begun yet."

"That's where you're wrong, Charley." She removed his hand, gently kissing the fingers. "The war began the second John was conceived."

oo~O~oo

John stood, arms crossed, watching Charley leave. Cameron stood watching him watch Charley.

"You're never going to get it, tin maiden. So don't waste your time trying," Sarah hissed as she walked past her.

"It's important to John."

"Yeah, so it's important to you. I get it. Six degrees of separation and all that. But knowing why it's important and understanding why it's important are two different things." Sarah opened up the rear door. "Come on, John, your chariot awaits."

John waited until Charley drove away before sliding into the back seat. Derek was already behind the wheel, and while Sarah preferred to drive, she allowed Derek first dibs. "We got everything?"

"Yup. Guns. Ammo. Everything."

"Lets go—"

"I'll be right back," Cameron said, opening the door and jumping out.

"Holy shit." Derek pounded the steering wheel in frustration.

"What's the matter, Derek," Sarah asked sweetly, "the family not cooperating?"

"Are we there yet?" John asked from the back seat.

Derek growled. "Not funny, John."

Cameron crawled into the opened back door, and passed over to John the pillow and blanket from his bed. "I thought this would make the journey more comfortable."

At that moment, Sarah hated the machine for knowing and understanding what was important.

oo~O~oo

John huddled under the blanket for warmth and with the pillow bunched up against the window, he was spared having to watch the passing scenery.

"We need to stop for gas."

"We still have a quarter tank."

"We need to stop for gas."

John closed his eyes, the same discussion had been going on for the past twenty minutes. Actually, if he thought about it, this probably was the same discussion that had pulled him from sleep. Time to put an end to it. "I need to pee."

oo~O~oo

The gas station had one of those mom and pop luncheonette thingies.

"I'm going to use the bathroom," John said, pointing to the corner of the restaurant as the chatty grey haired owner showed them to a booth. He left them and without even turning around, he knew Derek was dogging him. John blocked the door. "Contrary to recent circumstances and whatever my mother has told you, I'm more than capable of taking a piss on my own."

Derek snorted. "I'm glad to hear that."

"Oh," John blushed. "I just figured—"

Derek reached around John and pushed the door in. "You figured wrong."

The confession came as he and Derek were washing their hands. "Your mom did happen to mention since I was using the facilities the same time you were, that I should..."

John ran his wet hands through his hair. "You should help me?"

Derek dried his hand on his pants. "Make sure you remained upright. Didn't want to come in and find you passed out in a urinal."

John flung the bathroom door open with such force that it hit the garbage can behind it and sent the can skittering across the bathroom floor. "Crap," John said, gazing down at the trail of paper towels.

Derek rolled his eyes, kicked all the paper towels into a pile then turned the garbage pail over to cover the mountain of paper. Quickly, he rewashed his hands, again drying them on his pants. "And this," he said, clapping a damp hand on John's shoulder, "is the reason you keep me around in the future."

John snorted. "Because you follow me to the bathroom?"

"No," Derek said with a serious undertone that sat heavily on John's stomach. "Because I do a good job cleaning up your mistakes."

oo~O~oo

In all the years John and his mother had ever gone out to eat, whether it was the two of them or when they'd added Charley to the mix, his mother never sat with her back to the door. Ever. John never thought anything about it while Charley had joked about it and acquiesced. Now? John sucked in a laugh. Obviously, Cameron and Derek were cut from the same cloth as his mom.

"You look ridiculous." John slid into his side of the both and stretched out his arms along the back of the padded seat. "The three of you squished into one side."

With a curse, Derek stood and John was stunned to think the man was going to give in and come to his side of the table. "You. Move," he ordered, pointing to Cameron.

She rose without question and walked to the side where John was sitting. "You. Move," she ordered, pointing at John.

"What?"

"It makes more sense for me to sit by the window."

"Sure. Whatever." John slid out of the booth and let Cameron slide in, following right behind her.

"Done playing musical chairs?"

Four pairs of eyes turned as one to the waitress who stood hugging the menus to her chest.

"Just give us the menus," Derek growled as he put his hand out.

John cringed over this uncle's rudeness and tried to make up for his behavior with a smile and a polite thank you as he accepted his.

"You know, it wouldn't kill you to be nice. Just once," John hissed before he opened up his menu and hid behind it.

"Out of the mouth of babes," his mother added sweetly.

oo~O~oo

John downed the chocolate milk seconds after the waitress put it down, then smiled guiltily at his mother's widened eyes. "Thirsty."

"Oh, bless you, honey," the waitress crowed over John's empty glass when she returned with their food. "I'll refill that for you, just give me a second."

Derek ate without joy. Cameron ate her sandwich slowly so not to draw attention to herself by not eating at all. His mother ate distractedly, more absorbed by what was going on around them than the food on her plate.

The turkey sandwich platter John ordered was good and filling. But he only managed half the sandwich and a handful of fries before he was uncomfortably full.

His mother pushed two Tylenol and a Motrin across the table the same time Cameron's hand skittered across his neck. "Don't say it," John warned her as he reached for the pills, downing them with the rest of his chocolate milk.

"Say it," his mother told Cameron, overriding John's command.

oo~O~oo

She'd pissed him off. Sarah apologized before they got back into the truck, but John wasn't cutting her any slack. She grabbed John's arm as he went to open the back door. "You, drive." She flipped the keys to Cameron and silenced Derek's objection with a glare. "Ride shotgun and navigate." The tin toy and the stubborn SOB read her body language loud and clear. There would be no argument or discussion over her decision.

Sarah reached up and tucked a piece of hair behind John's ear. "Sometimes I forget you're sixteen."

"Yes, you do, and that's okay. That's a mother thing. Perfectly natural. It's the messiah thing I have problems with. Just once, I'd like you to view me as your son and not the savior of mankind."

"John—" She reached for him but he stepped back, waving away her concern.

"I want to go home. To a home. Any home. For good. I don't want this—"

"Newsflash, mister." Sarah stepped into his personal space and poked him in the chest. "I don't want this either. I don't want to drag your butt from here to eternity when you don't feel well. I don't want to send your big badass uncle to hold your hand in the bathroom, and I certainly don't want you playing with tin soldiers now or in the future, but guess what? Tough shit. For you to get to choice number three you have to endure choices one and two, whether or not you want it."

He deflated right before her eyes, and immediately Sarah realized she'd been yelling. Loudly. Damn. She didn't want to win this argument because she yelled louder, she wanted to just make a point and based upon her son's body language, her sharp words had penetrated and done injury. Good job, Sarah.

oo~O~oo

They traveled for hours. Stopped again for gas and grabbed food on the run. John had gotten out, used the bathroom and made no comment when Derek followed him. He'd come out with eyes at half-mast, taking another cocktail of Tylenol and Motrin without complaint before crawling into the backseat under the blanket.

John slept. Sarah slept. Derek slept. Cameron drove without complaint, her internal GPS keeping them on track. Sarah and Derek woke as the sun rose.

"I need coffee." Inactivity in the backseat of the car made for excusable crankiness.

"Ditto."

And John continued to sleep. Longer than Sarah was comfortable with, and she lost count of the number of times she adjusted the blanket or felt his forehead while they drove in search of a anything serving hot coffee at this time of the morning.

"McDonalds," Derek pointed out. "Use the drive thru."

The coffee was fresh and hot, the only two complimentary adjectives Sarah could think to describe the contents of her Styrofoam cup. John turned his nose up at the small container of OJ she'd bought for him, but made a good dent in the bottle of water. Liquid was liquid, though the mom in her would've preferred the vitamins in the juice.

He was snuggled under the blanket before they went two more blocks. Sleeping and snoring by block number four.

oo~O~oo

It had been a good game, a team effort, and he'd scored the winning goal. Life didn't get much better than that. There wasn't even a twinge in his right knee even though he'd played hard today, which was almost as good as scoring that goal. Daniel endured the backslapping, the laughter, and the disgruntled 'lucky shot' with a shrug, embarrassed by the attention.

He hated away games, hated leaving the field in a pool of sweat, riding an uncomfortable yellow bus back to school either freezing or dying of the heat, there was never any happy medium.

Combing his unruly, sweaty mop with his fingers, he pulled it tightly back in a low ponytail, squeezing out the extra moisture and giving it a quick shake for good measure.

"When are you going to cut this, Jackson?" Lyons asked, leaning over the seat and grabbing the ponytail.

Lyons was their goalie, a good kid, annoying as shit, but on a tolerable level, and Daniel happened to like him. He tugged the ponytail from Lyons' hand. "Does it bother you?"

"When you shake like a dog and shower us with your sweat, yeah, it bothers me."

"Hey." Corey sat next to Daniel and he turned sideways in the seat, so he was facing Lyons and Daniel. "Daniel's ponytail is like our lucky charm."

"Yeah?" Lyons didn't sound convinced.

"It is?" Daniel didn't sound convinced either.

Corey nodded vigorously. "Definitely."

"Like a team mascot?" Daniel asked.

"Mascot works. Lucky charm. Either one. Like the pair of socks the player doesn't change because he wore them the day he scored his first goal and he's never washed them—"

"Whoa." Daniel threw up his hands. "I wash my hair," he said indignantly.

Corey waved away Daniel's comment. "I know you wash your hair, you idiot, I was just trying to make an analogy."

"You were? I must've missed it."

Corey slugged him on the shoulder. "Put your genius away for a second and just follow along."

"Follow along what? Were you trying to make a point?"

Corey stood up and before Daniel could stop him, he opened up his mouth to ask the entire moving busload of their teammates. "Can I have a show of hands how many of you refer to, think of, or believe that Daniel's ponytail is the team's good luck charm?"

"And it smells good, too," Li yelled.

Daniel ducked his head, he was never going to live this one down.

"I don't think I want to know how you've come upon the knowledge that Daniel's hair products are sweet smelling," Corey answered distractedly while counting a show of hands.

"Sit down," Daniel hissed, tugging at his friend's shirt. "Please," he begged.

"Majority rules." Corey turned around, rested his hands on the back of their bench seat and leaned into Lyons' face. "Sorry. The ponytail is here to stay."

"Middleton, please sit down." Coach Dawson's voice was full of resignation.

"Sitting, Coach." Corey plopped down in the seat with enough force that Daniel bounced. "Saved your ponytail."

"Thanks," Daniel groaned, sinking low in the bench seat. "With friends like you, who the hell needs enemies?"

oo~O~oo

Daniel and Corey were the last two in the locker room. Retrieving their backpacks from their gym lockers, the place was basically deserted, the lacrosse team had just left, the last vestiges of the soccer team had disappeared while Daniel was hunting through his locker for a sweatshirt to throw over his tee shirt.

"Let my mom give you a ride home."

"No, thanks." Daniel slipped the prized sweatshirt over his head. "I have my bike and I'm going to my grandma's house tonight, my dad's doing an overnight."

"My mom won't mind driving you."

Yeah, but Daniel would mind accepting a ride. He didn't mind the trip to his grandma's, the bicycle ride there was actually shorter than the route home. Give him time just to let his mind wander. Not that he didn't mind the Middletons but sometimes between Corey and his mom, their constant chatter made Daniel's head hurt.

"Jackson. Middleton."

Daniel slammed his locker. "Sorry, Coach, we're leaving now." Daniel flashed the man a smile.

"Both you boys played very well today."

"Thank you," they said in unison.

"Really well."

Daniel nodded dumbly, unsure of where the coach was taking this conversation.

"Well enough for me to consider moving the two of up to the varsity team." The coach's smile was Cheshire Cat-broad.

Daniel was speechless. Corey, on the other hand, let out a hoop and holler that reverberated in the empty locker room.

Coach Dawson's smile dipped slightly as he studied Daniel. "Jackson?"

"I'm younger than everyone else on the team..."

Corey added. "You're always younger."

Daniel glared at Corey before turning his attention back to the coach. "I'm a lot younger than everyone else."

"But no less talented, Daniel." The coach dropped a beefy hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. "You're good. Very good. You and Middleton. Age isn't a factor, but if your dad has any concerns or questions, let him give me a call." He gave Corey a quick once over. "That goes for either of you. Parental concerns, just call."

oo~O~oo

It was hard holding in his enthusiasm but he couldn't bring himself to tell his grandmother the news before telling his dad. That just felt so wrong. And his dad wouldn't be home until late tomorrow afternoon so...

"You're smiling," his grandma said as she placed the overfilled dinner plate in front of him.

Okay, maybe he wasn't doing such a great job keeping a check on how excited he was. "I had a good day. We won the soccer game. I scored the winning goal."

"Good day," she repeated with a kiss to his temple. "You're right, that sounds like a good day.

Dinner was comfortable, familiar, and Daniel knew he was luckier than most of his friends. His grandmother pried in her usual style and Daniel avoided and parried in his usual style. She cared and he loved her without question. There wasn't any hidden agenda in her love for him and for that reason alone Daniel loved her sometimes even more than he loved his father.

He stood, ready to clear off the table when his grandmother grabbed the dish from his hands. "Go do homework."

"No, it's okay." The argument was futile, a little dance they always played whenever his father wasn't around. She babied him. He let her. Enjoying his lack of chores, his only responsibility was doing what he needed to do. Homework. Chat with his friends. Join her for milk and cookies before bedtime. The lack of pressure in this house cocooned Daniel and he kissed his grandmother's wrinkled cheek, smiling that, for once, he'd taken her by surprise by his affection.

oo~O~oo

Daniel walked into the kitchen, yawning and stretching. He hated mornings. Didn't make a difference what house he woke up in, if it were pancakes or waffles, cereal or eggs on his plate, mornings sucked.

His grandmother gave him space, greeting him with just a kiss and nothing else and Daniel was more than grateful. He ate by rote, finishing two waffles and half a glass of chocolate milk before coming up for air and acknowledging her presence.

"Morning."

"He speaks."

"Do you and Dad have the same script writer?"

His grandmother's answer was cut short by the ringing phone and instantly, Daniel's stomach twisted, tightening around his half-eaten breakfast.

"I'm sure it's just a stupid telemarketer. You know, something about my vehicle's warranty." She patted his hand, flashed him a reassuring smile and went to answer the phone.

Her reassuring smile didn't reassure Daniel until the smile broadened and she mouthed the words 'your father' at Daniel.

"Dad?" He was by her side in an instant, clamoring to grab the phone, pouting when she gently slapped his hand away, finishing her pleasantries. She handed the phone off to Daniel, tapping the face of her watch, reminding him that the clock was ticking for him to get to school.

"You're home?" Daniel hissed into the mouthpiece, looking over his shoulder as he and the phone left his grandmother in the kitchen with her cup of tea.

"Yup, home. Finished what needed to be finished."

"Glad."

"Me, too."

There were voices in the background and Daniel knew his time, for now, with his father was drawing to a close. "Coach Dawson asked me to be on the varsity soccer team."

Silence.

"Dad, did you hear me?"

"We'll talk about it when I get home."

That certainly wasn't what he expected and now it was Daniel's turn to remain silent.

"I'm very proud of you," his father amended.

The enthusiasm was slight, but it was there and Daniel latched onto that, refusing to allow his father's mother henning to burst his balloon. "I'm proud of me also." Quickly, he glanced at the clock on the mantel. Shit. "Dad, I gotta go. Tonight?"

"Tonight." There was a pause. "And Daniel, I really am proud of you."

oo~O~oo

He grabbed his lunch off the counter, opened the brown paper bag and 'hmmm'd' at the contents. On the rare occasions his dad went Martha Stewart and made him lunch, it was usually two slices of turkey, a piece of cheese stuck between two slices of white bread and a moment of silence for the mayo. His grandmother didn't just make him lunch, she made him lunch. Turkey. Cheese. A fresh roll. Tomato, lettuce and spicy mayo. Ring Dings. Or freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Or chips. Or Doritos. An apple, a pear, grapes or whatever was the fruit of the season. And always, always a tiny chocolate kiss. Daniel remembered the kids in elementary school had been willing to trade whatever they had for the lunches his grandmother made. Gently, Daniel shook the bag and noticed the tiny silver candy.

"You're going to be late." His grandmother placed her hands over his and crunched up the top of the bag. "Don't pick."

"Not picking." Daniel dropped his backpack on the chair, shoved the lunch bag in and zipped it back up before slinging it over his shoulder.

"I could drive you."

"I have my bicycle. I'll be fine."

"Daniel... I could load your bike in the back of the car..."

Since by proxy, his dad now knew about the soccer team, there was no reason Daniel couldn't share the news with his grandmother and divert her attention away from driving him to school. "Coach Dawson wants me to go on varsity soccer."

"That's good, right?"

Daniel smiled. "It's great, Grandma."

"It makes you happy?"

"Very."

"Good," she said, laying her hands on his shoulders and steering him towards the door to the outside. "Then it makes me happy. Now have a good day and I'll talk to you tonight."

oo~O~oo

Daniel's cell phone rang as he was locking up his bike, thinking it was Alexandria or his dad, he didn't even check the telephone number before answering.

"Hi."

"Jackson?"

"Yeah?" The voice was familiar in a vague sorta way.

"It's Steve. Steve Brughman."

Daniel was still blank and his silence must've clued the guy at the other end of the phone into his confusion.

"Varsity. Soccer. Right wing."

It clicked. Like turning on a light bulb, and Daniel could feel the heat of a full-fledged blush work his way up from his neck to his hairline. "Bruggie, hi," Daniel said softly. He was a big guy, big enough to scare Daniel with his presence. Popular. Very popular, but he'd never, ever been anything but nice to Daniel, which made him feel incredibly stupid right about now. "Sorry about that."

"No apology necessary, dude. Rumor has it that congrats are in order."

"Congrats?" Daniel looked around wondering if he were on that stupid show where someone was going to jump out with a camera.

"Yup. Heard that the coach offered you and Middleton a place on the varsity team."

Trepidation with a side order of suspicion sat heavily in Daniel's stomach. "Yeah, yesterday after the game." There was no way Daniel wanted to know how Bruggie had found out about this.

"Tradition has it that all new members to the team are welcomed with a party."

"Really?"

"Really. Friday night. My house. Bring your girlfriend. Around seven."

"Thanks," Daniel stuttered.

oo~O~oo

Daniel waited by the doors, watching the stream of kids flowing out of the school, anxiously looking for one particular person. He and Alexandria had been like two ships today, missing each other, too bogged down with testing and class work to do more than kiss in the hallways. She'd been tutoring during lunch, so he hadn't had a chance to talk to her then. Now, he was waiting to corner her before they left school grounds.

"Alexandria," he yelled when he spotted her and hurried into the flow, bumping past several students when Alexandria paused as she heard her name. Smiling at Daniel, she threaded her arm into his as they walked out together.

"You won't believe this." He was bouncing with excitement and unable to hold back a grin. "I'm on the varsity team."

"Coach Dawson put you on the team?" She stopped walking to stare at him, then started up again when someone jostled her.

"Yeah!" He laughed out loud. "I couldn't believe it when he asked me."

"Are you sure about this? Look at all the school you missed this year—"

"Of course I'm sure."

"You'll have to play or practice after school—"

"I know. Isn't that great?" Out of the sea of students, he slowed as they headed out the doors. Taking her hand, he threaded his fingers through hers. "Oh, and Steve Brughman invited me and you to a party at his house this weekend to celebrate—"

Alexandria stopped suddenly and Daniel had to stop and turn around to face her. "A party?"

"Yeah." Things were going so well, he was afraid this might be a dream. He rubbed his thumb against her fingers, feeling the smoothness of her painted nails against his skin. "He said since I was going to be part of the team, he might as well welcome me in properly."

"Lewis Bloch is on the team. Is he going to be at the party?"

Daniel shrugged, suddenly realizing that Alexandria wasn't sharing his enthusiasm. "I don't care about Tony's brother. You were invited also," he repeated after a moment.

"I don't want to go to the party. Do you have any idea why they invited you?"

Daniel looked at her, confused. "Because they wanted to celebrate my joining the team," he said slowly, in case she hadn't understood him the first time.

Alexandria laughed sarcastically. "Yeah, right."

"What?"

"Never mind. We're not going to the party."

"Why are you upset?"

"I'm not upset—"

"I thought you'd be happy for me—"

"Happy because you'll be playing against another team that are all older than you are—"

"Coach wouldn't have asked me if he didn't think I was good enough."

"Oh, right. And you have no problem accepting a position on varsity but you couldn't face skipping a grade? Which is more important, huh? School? Or sports?"

Her words floored Daniel. He felt a cold chill take him while his cheeks grew hot as he dropped her hand. "I told you why I didn't want to move up. I thought you understood." He turned around and started walking stiffly towards where his bicycle was chained up.

"Daniel, wait." She ran to catch up to him and he shrugged her arm aside as she grabbed it. "Daniel, I'm sorry. That didn't come out right. I understand why you were upset with your dad, and why you didn't want to skip a grade. I just meant that learning was more important than playing sports and maybe you should think about this. You'll be away more, and if the team makes the finals, you won't have time to hang out."

"And if I'd skipped a grade, I'd probably spend all my time doing homework, and I still wouldn't have time to hang out." Without another word, he ran to the row of chained bicycles, ignoring Alexandria yelling his name. When his cell chirped a few seconds later, Daniel turned it off without checking the caller ID, knowing it was her.

oo~O~oo

"No."

"But, Dad—" Daniel bit back his next words when his father raised his index finger and stuck it in front of his face.

"No arguments. You're not going."

"But they're having a party because I'm on the team—"

"Do you honestly think they planned a party just for you?"

"Of course not. You know what I meant. But everyone on the varsity team is going and they wanted to celebrate—"

"While I'm proud you made the team, Daniel, you are much younger than the rest of the players and I'm not letting you go to a party by yourself."

His father had made it abundantly clear in the first part of this conversation that it was Daniel's age that was holding him back from giving him his full blessing. "Alexandria is coming with me—"

"Oh, that's really smart. Take your girlfriend to a party where there's going to be booze and most likely drugs. I thought you were more intelligent than that."

Daniel felt the pulse in his head suddenly go from idle to racing in a split second as fury coursed through him. "Are you saying I'm going there to get drugs? I thought you knew me better than that."

"We both know you've had problems in the past—"

"I'm going to the party to spend time with my teammates," Daniel said between clenched teeth. "If they choose to drink or do drugs, that's their business."

"Not when you're involved. Then it's my business."

"I'm not going to drink—"

"You're not going, and that's final."

"Corey's going to be there," he shouted. "And Nate. Nate's already on the team. Nate wouldn't do anything—"

"They're not fourteen."

"You don't trust me, do you? You never trusted me—"

"Daniel—"

"You don't give a shit about what I want. All the trouble I've had, whose fault was that? I never asked for any of this. A year ago, I thought I was your son. I was happy – and then you pulled the rug out from under my feet, threw all these weird, alien things into my life and you won't even let me go to one stupid party? Well, fuck you!"

Trembling in anger, Daniel stormed to his room. He was about to slam the door when his dad grabbed his arm.

"What the hell's gotten into you?" his father yelled.

"This is mine," Daniel yelled back, trying to free his arm. "Not the other Daniel's. Not Charlie's. Not yours, or Sam's, or Teal'c's. It's mine, something I want. Something I'm good at. But it's never enough for you, is it?"

His arm was released suddenly and Daniel fell back against the doorjamb.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Soccer. He never played sports, did he? He always studied. He always worked and never had any fun. Look what it got that other me. I don't want to be like him. I don't want to grow up into someone boring like him. I'm good at soccer. Coach Dawson thinks I'm good enough to be in the varsity team, and this is my chance of not looking like a geek whose father treats him like a baby and locks him up in his room so he'll finish his homework. But you still see me like that stupid five-year old you adopted and won't even let me learn how to drive."

"Maybe that's because you're acting like that five-year old you used to be."

"Maybe I'm acting like a five-year old because you never listen to me—"

"I listen—"

"You listen to what you want to hear. You want me to be a kid, and I'm not. I'm fourteen. And I've got the memories of someone more than twice my age. How can I be a kid, Dad, when I'm not really one, in here?" Daniel slammed his palm against his forehead and the force of it hurt, making him even angrier.

"You want to be treated as an adult, Daniel? Let's start with you learning to speak with respect around here—"

"I didn't—"

"And if you even thought there was any iota of a chance that I'd let you go to that party, you just blew it."

"That's not fair—"

"And you're grounded for the rest of the week."

"What?"

"I think you heard me."

His dreams suddenly went up in smoke. The elation he'd felt coming home was suddenly replaced with despair. "But I have soccer practice this week."

"Then you go to practice and you come straight home afterwards."

Relief at this slight reprieve wasn't enough to satisfy him and Daniel found himself pushing once again. "See what I said? You don't listen to me—"

"Oh, I listened very carefully, and I sure as hell didn't like what I heard."

"You've got no right—"

"I'm your father. I have every right—"

I'm the Colonel. I'm in charge... The words echoed eerily in his head and Daniel had a sudden attack of déjà vu. His adult self had often argued with his father, and he sensed that Daniel had pushed only when he felt he'd be able to get through to his commander. Otherwise, he'd find another solution. Without a word, glaring at his father for all he was worth, Daniel stepped back into his room and slammed the door in his father's face.

"You keep that up, and I'll take away your internet and cell phone," his dad said through the closed door.

Daniel threw himself on his bed and picked up his cell phone. His call to Alexandria went to her voice mail and he swore.

oo~O~oo

"Where were you last night?" Daniel demanded, marching up to Alexandria as she was getting books out of her locker.

She turned to look at him and arched an eyebrow.

"I tried calling you," he said, forcing his voice to a more polite tone.

"My aunt Nicole came to visit unexpectedly and we went out for supper. We got in late, and if you'd checked your phone, you'd see that I answered your calls before I went to bed.

"I needed to talk to you." He leaned against the metal rows of lockers and hung his head.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there," she said softly, grasping his arm and leaning forward to give him a quick peck on the cheek. "Do you want to talk about it at lunch?"

The warning bell rang and Daniel sighed as he pushed off the lockers. "Yeah." Without even a goodbye, he joined the river of kids swarming through the hallway and headed for his first class of the day.

oo~O~oo

When Daniel reached the cafeteria, he was disappointed to see Alexandria sitting at their table, accompanied by Li, Nate and Corey. He joined them reluctantly, quietly greeting them and opening his lunch bag. He ate his lunch without joining in the conversation, listening to his friends talking about the upcoming party and speculating on who was going to attend with whom. He kept his eyes on his lunch, slowly tearing pieces of his sandwich apart and eating them distractedly, feeling Alexandria's gaze on him.

"I'm feeling greedy. I want a brownie," Alexandria suddenly declared. She stood up slowly, and when Daniel didn't move, kicked him under the table and rolled her eyes towards the dessert display.

"That sounds good. I'll go with you." Scrambling to his feet, Daniel walked with her towards the display.

"My father grounded me," he said the moment they were out of earshot.

"So the party...?"

"He said no."

"I won't lie and say I'm sorry. You know how I feel about it."

"And you know how I feel about it. I really wanted to go."

"I know you did."

"I wanted to take you there. I never get to take you anywhere. We've only been on one real date; we just hang out. If you came with me—"

"Everyone knows we're dating—"

"But we never get to go anywhere together." They stopped in front of the desserts and Daniel looked at the selection with no appetite.

"Of course we do, silly." She stopped, turned to face him, put her two palms on his cheeks, and kissed him right there, in front of everyone to see. The feel of her lips and the tease of her tongue sent all thoughts southward. Then she pulled back and he felt himself sway forward, silently seeking her touch again, until the roar of applause and cheers registered. He realized everyone had been staring and he felt himself blushing.

"There aren't any brownies left," Alexandria said as if the kiss had never happened. There was color in her cheeks, though, which Daniel wondered was from embarrassment or from their kiss. "Guess I'll have to make do with rice pudding. Want one?" She shoved a small plastic bowl into his hands and headed for the register.

oo~O~oo

"I don't know what you want from me, Daniel," his grandmother said over the phone. "Your father grounded you—"

"That's not the problem, Grandma. It's the party on Friday that I want you to talk to him about." Daniel opened the fridge door and peered inside, looking for a snack to tide him over until suppertime.

"But he already said no."

"But you can change his mind. Come on, Grandma. This party means a lot to me." A cold slice of pizza would do, he decided, pulling out the cardboard box tucked into a corner on the bottom shelf.

"I'm not so sure that's a good idea, mhuirnin. Your dad's made up his mind and I can't think of any good reason why I should even get involved."

"But it's important. Everyone on the varsity team will be there. I'm the youngest one on the team and if I don't go, it'll just show I'm different from everyone else. It's hard enough proving I'm as good as they are when I play; I don't want them to treat me as a kid." He dropped the pizza box on the counter, opened the top and slid a piece onto a piece of paper towel.

"You're a great player. Just have some confidence in yourself and you'll do fine."

"Thanks for the pep talk, Grandma," Daniel said sarcastically, the food before him losing its appeal.

"Well, you are. And no, I'm not going to try and change your father's mind because I don't think a party with a bunch of older teenagers is where you belong right now."

"And what about what I think?"

"You're thinking too much on appearances and not enough on your skills. So what if you don't go to the party? You are younger, there's no denying that. You might look just as foolish trying to emulate a seventeen year-old instead of just acting your age."

"Okay, you know what?" Daniel tossed the pizza slice back into the box, and slammed the cover shut. "Never mind. Forget I asked."

"Honey, you brought this up. I'm just telling you what I think. I'm sorry you're upset but I've always been honest with—"

"I've got another call," Daniel lied, "I gotta go." He disconnected the call before she could say anything else.

After shoving the box back into the fridge, Daniel went back to his bedroom. He paced angrily for several minutes until he calmed down a little, then he went to his desk and stared at his homework.

oo~O~oo

"This is a waste of money," Derek complained.

Sarah glanced over a John, sprawled across one of the two queen sized beds in bedroom number one of the two-bedroom suite. "No, it's not." She smiled at the memory of John's moan of appreciation at the size of the shower. "Cut him some slack, Derek."

"You coddle him."

She dragged him out of the bedroom by the front of the shirt and slammed him into the wall. "How dare you walk into my life and tell me what I'm doing wrong. Done wrong. Will do wrong. You know how the movie ends. I don't. John doesn't. Don't let jealousy cloud your judgment, Derek, otherwise you'll be no help to anyone."

Disgusted, she dropped her hand. "I'm going to take a shower, get dressed and present myself as a respectful and an upstanding member of society. You are going to do the same thing. Leave your attitude here while we go house hunting."

oo~O~oo

A week of living in the luxurious suite agreed with John and he settled in, enjoying a run of fever-free days, while Derek and Sarah, after a week, couldn't agree on where to get their morning coffee never mind where they should be living.

Sarah's head hurt. She was on her last nerve and she was more than tempted to pull out her gun and end either the realtor's misery or Derek's life. Both choices were appealing.

"No."

Her finger itched; her gun was so damn close. "Yes."

Sarah and Derek stood on the sidewalk of a quiet, tiny, dead end, tree-lined street. The real estate agent was waiting a discreet distance away while she and Derek discussed the pros and cons of the house.

"Know your exits. Those are your words, Sarah. There's exactly one. Unacceptable."

That was the only negative. The house had a basement, an attic and a garage behind the house. Two bathrooms. Living room. Kitchen. Fully furnished. Four bedrooms. Each of them could have privacy. That in and of itself was heaven. Already wired for cable. A dishwasher that didn't walk on two legs or rely on bribery to get it to produce. There was privacy. And quiet. Not enough people around to draw attention to their strange coming and goings.

"We're taking it."

Derek snorted and shook his head. "I know what this is."

"You do? Why don't you share with the class?"

He stepped into her personal space but she didn't move. She had no fear of him. Of his quick temper and action before he thought attitude? Yeah, that scared her, afraid he'd bring their fragile house of cards down around them. But physically? Sarah had no fear of Derek at all.

"This is you trying to give John a normal life."

"No, this is a mother trying to give her a son a life. Normalcy went out the window the second I met your brother."

For a second, Derek blanched. "A house on a tree-lined street isn't the answer."

"Neither is living in a hotel room. Or out of a car." She drew a breath and softened, reaching out a tentative hand to touch his arm. "Your life is our future and I can't begin to know the horrors you had to endure. That John will have to endure. Who's to say that giving him memories in this house—"

"Who's to say living in this house isn't going to get him killed."

"And who's to say that living in this house is a step towards changing the future."

Surprisingly, Sarah got a half smile from Derek. "John always said his mother was a romantic dreamer. Up until now, I have to admit, I thought he was crazy."

"So have you nice folks made a decision?"

"We'll take it," Derek answered before Sarah had a chance to.

The exhausted, exasperated expression on the real estate agent's face was gone in a second.

oo~O~oo

"Shit!" John sat up with a jerk, pressing the heel of his palm to his forehead to provide counter pressure to the brain freeze type of headache brought on when unblinking, unemotional cold eyes bored right through his brain to peek into his dreams.

"You and my mom," he groaned as the headache peaked, flowed and slowly began to ebb. "Do the two of you take some type of perverse pleasure in scaring the crap out of me?"

"Do you have a headache?"

"I didn't. I do now." His glare was lost on her, a total waste of energy.

"Your mother wakes you this way very often. I thought it was acceptable."

"It's not," John growled.

Cameron patted his leg in a way that instantly made John uncomfortable. "Would you prefer the twelve-hour pain reliever or the every four hour relief?"

"Neither, and you need to stop believing in commercials." The leg-patting thing was just mimicry, John realized, from a commercial. "Where's my mom? Derek?"

"Out."

"Out where?"

"Looking for a new crib."

"A crib?"

"An abode. A home. A slang name for—"

Commercials. MTV. John had to talk to his mother about putting a terminator-proof lock on their television.

oo~O~oo

John was prowling around the suite. TV on. TV off. He was still tired but had no desire to crawl back into bed. The view from the windows was breathtaking, even after a week, but today it was hard to enjoy anything while Cameron wanted to share his air.

He was short-tempered and angry. From the en-suite fridge he helped himself to an OJ which was probably going to set his mother back twenty dollars. And he didn't care; indignant teenage self-righteousness flowed through his veins.

His cell phone rang and he jumped to answer it. "Mom?" Annoyed when once again, the only voice he heard was a dial tone at the other end. Again. Just made a wonderful day even better. John slid the useless piece of technology down on the countertop, finished the juice in one gulp then dumped the container in the trash.

"Don't do that." He shrugged his shoulder, trying to put up a barrier to stop Cameron's hand from doing the old swipe and scan.

"Why not?"

"Is 'because I don't want you to' a good enough answer?"

"No."

"Why not? Aren't you supposed to listen to me?"

"Not when you're being stubborn and immature."

John stomped off to the bedroom, slammed the door and dropped onto the bed.

oo~O~oo

John was lying on his back staring at the ceiling. The bed dipped with his mother's weight as she sat at the edge.

"Would you like to talk?"

"No."

"How are you feeling?"

John thought his mother's cool fingers against his warm cheek should be enough of an answer, but he gave her one anyway. "Fine."

"You don't feel fine."

"Fine," John repeated, digging himself in hating his body's betrayal. Once again, he'd been teased into thinking all was well. Wrong.

"Cameron told me that you're being stubborn and immature."

"Well, she was being overbearing. And I'm just not in an overbearing, willing to be smothered mood."

"So," his mother said with a gentle smile, "you were being stubborn and immature."

"I drank an orange juice," John confessed, turning his attention to the design on the quilt. "Sorry."

In mock surprise, his mom threw her hands over her heart. "With vodka?"

John's smile was slow. "No." Though the thought had crossed his mind.

"We rented a house."

A house meant many things to John, but the word never encompassed security or stability. And he never failed to play the game when his mom would tell them about a new home. John would always smile and make the right noises in just the right places. Not today, though. Today, he didn't feel like playing.

She took his silence as encouragement. "You'll like it. Four bedrooms. Attic. Basement. Garage out back."

And he read between the lines. Privacy. Place to hide guns. Destroy terminators. A place to live out their pretend lives while they carried out their mission. John closed his eyes and let his mother's fairy tale of 'happily ever after' lull him to sleep.

oo~O~oo

"I'm going." Daniel walked nervously around his bedroom, keeping an ear out at the same time to determine if his father was coming this way. "Even if I have to sneak out. I'm going to Bruggie's party tonight."

Except for Alexandria's breathing, there was silence at the other end of the line.

"Are you coming with me or not?"

There was a soft sigh. "I'll go, if only to keep an eye on you."

Daniel ignored her comment, latching onto the fact that she had agreed to come. Grinning, he pumped his hand up and down in victory. "I'll be at your house around seven."

"What if your dad says no?"

"He won't." Daniel tried to sound confident. "I'll see you then."

oo~O~oo

"Can I go over to Corey's?" Standing at the bottom of the stairs, Daniel waited nervously for his dad's answer.

"I thought I grounded you." His dad looked up at him over his reading glasses.

"You said till the end of the week. Technically, it's the end of the week." He tried not to fidget, tried not to show he was more eager than normal to leave the house.

His dad stared at him for a long time before answering. "Do you need a lift?"

"No, thanks. I'll take my bike." Daniel's legs felt weak with relief. He was going to pull it off.

"Call me and I'll come and get you."

"Alexandria's going to be there. She'll probably give me a lift home." He turned and went up one step, then stopped and peered past the wall. "But if she can't, I'll call."

oo~O~oo

They heard the music as they approached the house. Daniel grinned at Alexandria, grabbed her hand, and pulled her up the driveway to the front door. The windows were open despite the cool night air, and the stench of cigarettes and something sweeter wafted near the door.

He rang the doorbell and waited, but after a minute, nobody answered. "Guess they can't hear the doorbell over the music," he said nervously, having visions of spending the party here on the front steps while everyone was inside. He tried the doorknob and to his relief, found it unlocked.

They stepped into the house. The music was so loud that it was deafening and the vibrations from the bass actually were painful as he walked past the speakers. The air was thick with smoke despite the open windows, and here and there, someone was smoking a joint.

Something crunched underfoot and Daniel realized he'd stepped on spilled chips. Treading carefully, he did a slow circuit of the house, looking for their host, Alexandria holding firmly to his hand. He finally found Steve sitting in the kitchen with several of the varsity team, each of them with shot glasses in their hands, a bottle of tequila on the table in front of them. A plate of brownies lay forgotten at the far end of the table. Tony Bloch looked at them blearily. Only then did Daniel realize that most of the kids here were drinking; either beer or something stronger.

Already his head hurt from the music and his eyes burned from the cigarette smoke. "Hey," Daniel said, grateful that the music wasn't quite as loud here. "Great party."

"Whatever," Steve slurred as he poured himself a shot and gulped it down with a grimace.

"Look who snuck out of the house," Tony sneered as he reached for the tequila. "Is your daddy going to come break down the door and drag you back home, little boy?"

"I didn't sneak out," Daniel began, but refrained from replying when Alexandria pinched his arm in warning.

"It's nearly past your bedtime." Tony saluted Daniel with his drink, tossed it back and bit into a wedge of lime, all without changing expression. Daniel winced at the thought of the taste of the bitter citrus, his mouth watering in empathy.

Turning away from Daniel, Tony began recounting a story, and the rest of his friends began laughing and making rude comments, laughing drunkenly at their antics.

Daniel stood there awkwardly, until Alexandria tugged on his hand. They left the kitchen and returned to the living room, and this time Daniel went looking for his friends. He found Corey and Nate leaning against the railing of the back deck with a half dozen others, and this time it was Alexandria who tugged Daniel forward, leading him outside.

The chill, fresh air was welcome after the stuffy confines of the house. His friends greeted him warmly, as did the others.

"Want a beer?" Jennifer asked.

Daniel was tempted, but remembered that he'd told his dad he wasn't here to drink. Even though those words had been uttered days before, to Daniel, they still held the echo of an oath. Reluctantly, he shook his head.

"Do you want anything?" he asked Alexandria.

"A Coke."

"I'll be right back." He steeled himself to enter the house again.

"I'll go with you." Nate got up and slapped Daniel on the back. "We need more beers."

"Make sure it's diet," Alexandria yelled as he opened the door.

Nate led Daniel to a cooler full of beers and a few cans of sodas. While his friend grabbed beers, Daniel rummaged through the icy water until he found a Diet Coke. He grabbed a Seven-Up for himself and mission accomplished, began to head back to the deck when he spotted a tray with a few pieces of Jell-O in small paper cups.

Thinking that Alexandria might enjoy the dessert, he put the drinks next to the cups and picked up the tray. Nate had gone on ahead while he'd gotten the Jell-O and was holding the door open for him. He tried to hurry, but the crowded room made walking with a tray in his hands a bit difficult. He was nearly at the door when he spotted a plate of brownies on a side table. It didn't look like anyone was interested in them so he added them to the tray, and grabbed a half-empty bag of chips as well.

"I got munchies," Daniel announced as he placed the tray on the table, pushing several empty beer bottles aside to make room.

"Oooh, look who's living dangerously," Corey said with a laugh as he opened his beer. He saluted them with the bottle and took a long swig while Daniel fumbled with the tab on his soda.

Everyone was drinking. He felt awkward and out of place. Truth be told, he'd rather be hanging out at Corey's house, all of them gorging on sodas instead of him watching his friends drink. Suddenly they seemed grown up, and he truly was the little kid next to them. This party certainly wasn't what he'd expected it to be. He was a nobody here, and most likely everyone inside the house was going to be so drunk by the end of the night that they wouldn't even remember he'd been here. For this, he'd lied to his father?

Randy and Jennifer were devouring the chips so Daniel grabbed one of the Jello-O cups and squished it into his mouth, since nobody else was eating them. It slid into his mouth faster than he'd expected and ended up swallowing it whole. He was sorry he hadn't looked for spoons, so instead, he turned to the brownies, which Alexandria was already enjoying.

The brownie wasn't bad and at least it gave him something to do with his hands. He licked the crumbs off his fingers, gulped down half his soda, and reached for another.

"Are you sure you want to eat that?" Randy asked as Daniel brought the sweet to his mouth.

"Why? You want some?" He shoved the plate towards the middle of the table.

"No, thanks." Randy saluted Daniel with his beer. "Just don't blame me if you get sick, okay?"

"They're not that bad." This one he ate more slowly, trying not to wish he were anywhere but here. He'd never felt so out of place before, his age difference standing out so starkly between him and his friends. What wasn't helping were the memories that started leaking into his brain, how the other Daniel had often felt ostracized because he'd been a loner, immersed in his work in his earlier years, and then because of his academic beliefs. He hadn't liked the feelings then, he hated them even more now.

Several kids came out of the house, five boys and three girls. At first Daniel didn't pay attention to them until one guy, tall, almost as tall as his dad with long, shaggy hair, kept staring at Alexandria. Daniel straightened, giving him a glare, then stared down the other four when they glanced his way. One of them had blue streaks in his lengthy hair, one kid was sporting multiple piercings and enough chains to weigh even Teal'c down. The guy who loved Goth ignored him while another with a buzz cut was too busy trying to kiss one of the girls. While most of the kids in the house he'd seen either at school or at various soccer games, these five were total strangers to him.

He got up and stood behind Alexandria, leaning between her and Corey, trying to join in while at the same time trying to put himself between her and newcomers. Still he missed bits and pieces of conversation, making it difficult to keep up with everyone. For once, he was uncomfortable among his crowd of friends, unable to join in with their fun and acutely aware of the tall guy behind him ogling his girlfriend.

After thirty minutes of constantly turning to glare at Alexandria's would-be admirer, Daniel was just about ready to jump down the guy's throat. It was with extreme relief when the guy sporting the chains and earrings said, "Brughman's an asshole. Let's get the hell out of here and go some place more interesting."

"Hey, Brad." Corey gave the guy with the blue streaks in his hair a wave as they squeezed past, heading back inside.

"Middleton." He and Corey spoke a few words before brushing their knuckles together as he departed.

"You know them?" Daniel asked, but his words were lost in a blast of music as the back door opened.

Relieved that they'd gone, Daniel tried to enjoy himself again but soon gave up, lowering his forehead against Alexandria's neck. He let his fingers fall against her back and up behind her light jacket, moving his fingers up and down her ribs. She felt good, really good.

She stopped talking and raised a hand, threading her fingers against his nape. She titled her head backwards and Daniel took advantage and kissed her lips. He felt her smile against him. "Wanna go?" she breathed into his mouth.

"Bye, guys, gotta go," Daniel said quickly as he straightened up, his hand reaching for Alexandria's wrist. Alexandria stood a little more slowly and said goodnight, but snuggled close to him as they entered the house and threaded their way slowly through the still crowded rooms.

They walked down the street towards Alexandria's van, until the music was a dull rumble behind them. Alexandria unlocked the doors but before she could get in, Daniel tugged on her hand, pulled her to him and kissed her again.

"What's that for?" she asked, leaning close against him.

Daniel sighed. "For not saying I told you so."

"Was it that bad?"

"Worse. I should have listened to you."

"Well, we're here now. What do you want to do?"

"Come over to my house? We can tell my dad that Corey decided to go to the party."

"That's kinda lame. He's going to know."

"We'll just say we stopped for a snack on our way back. Which if you think of it, isn't exactly a lie."

"You're bad, you know that?" She kissed the tip of his nose before pulling away and climbing into the van. A moment later, the party was behind them.

They made a stop at the next corner and Daniel laughed out loud when a police car turned onto the street. Alexandria slowed down and they watched in their mirrors as the cop car stopped in front of Steve Brughman's house.

"Now that's timing," Alexandria stated as she sped up again.

The streetlights seemed brighter than normal tonight, throwing alternating shadows across Alexandria's face. When her face was illuminated, it shone like it was covered with translucent powder. When her face was shadowed, it shone like perfect marble. For a few blocks, he was mesmerized.

She turned her head towards him quickly, smiling. "What?"

"You're so beautiful," Daniel whispered.

She held his eyes a long moment before turning back to the street. In those few seconds, her eyes had seemed fairy-like. Her hair was like spun silk and Daniel found himself needing to touch. He clasped a long strand of hair and twirled it gently around his index finger. He'd never felt anything like it before; it even felt like silk.

"Daniel?"

"So beautiful." He needed to touch her skin, to see if it was as smooth as it appeared in the lamplight. With fingers still caught in her hair, he stroked the pads of his fingertips across her cheek. He leaned across slowly, forcing the seatbelt to move with him, until he could put his lips to her cheek.

"Okay, hold that thought just a second." He felt the van lurch to the right as Alexandria pulled into a corner of the mall's parking lot. She switched off the motor and turned towards him even as he struggled with his seatbelt with fingers suddenly gone clumsy.

Then she was leaning towards him and their mouths met. Her lips were liquid fire, cool and warm at the same time. He pushed her shirt up so he could touch her abdomen, her ribs, her back, slowly making his way upwards while his tongue explored hers. The sounds of their harsh pants excited him even more, a part of him knew he was losing control and warned him he should pull back. He thrust that voice aside, locking it into a small box in the back of his mind and throwing away the key. He'd face the repercussions later; right now, he needed relief. He needed Alexandria.

He fondled her breasts as she moaned. Then her fingers were against his stomach, reaching for his belt. He gasped in anticipation, for a moment the intensity of what they were doing overwhelming him. Nothing else mattered except his erection, his anticipated release, and Alexandria's body against his.

Cold air and a stranger's voice demanding what they were doing was enough to pull him back to his senses – barely. He turned in confusion towards the opened door of the van, trying to catch his breath. It took a moment for him to recognize the uniform.

"Officer?" Alexandria's voice was shaky.

"Mind telling me what you kids are doing in here?"

Daniel snorted, trying to hold in laughter. It was pretty obvious what they'd been doing. He turned his head away from the policeman, trying not to laugh and failing. The lights in the parking lot seemed to leave trails behind his eyeballs as he moved. The sensation was vaguely familiar. He knew it should have been disturbing but couldn't remember why.

"We, um, stopped for a moment, to..."

"Have you been drinking, Miss?"

"No, sir."

Daniel snorted again, unable to stop himself. "No, she did drink. She had a Coke." When the officer didn't say anything, Daniel made a quick twirling motion with his hand. He did it again because it felt like his wrist wasn't attached to his hand and it felt odd, and nice. "She drank a Coke, so yeah, technically, she was drinking. Get it?"

"And what about you? How old are you?"

"Fourteen," Daniel managed to say between snorts of laughter.

"Mind telling me what you had to drink?"

"We didn't drink anything. Honest." Alexandria punched Daniel's arm. "Stop it. What's the matter with you?"

"What about drugs?"

"No. No Drugs. Daniel, stop it."

He tried, honestly, he tried to stop laughing. Even when the cop told him to get out of the van and he stumbled to one knee, which made him laugh even harder. Even when the cop made him walk a straight line and he lost his balance. Even when the cop tried to drag him to his feet and he laughed so hard, his legs were like wet noodles and he flopped back onto the asphalt.

He rolled onto his back, letting the laughter dissolve into giggles, staring at the pulsing colors of lights on the patrol car's hood.

"Yes, we came from a party," Alexandria was saying. "But we had soft drinks and some snacks. We didn't drink any alcohol or do drugs. I don't know what's wrong with him. Please, let me go to him."

He must have let her because the next thing Daniel knew, she was kneeling next to him. She was talking, he could hear her voice but couldn't make out any of the words. Then she laughed. That Daniel understood perfectly. Snorting through her nose, she fell forward face first against his chest. Her puffs of laughter tickled, warm breaths of air which sent sensations across his chest that went directly to his groin. He put his arms around her, and she grabbed at him and tried to tug him upright. Too comfortable where he was, he didn't help her and she collapsed against him again, giggling.

The cops got the job done instead, separating Alexandria from him and hauling him upright, where he stumbled on feet that felt like they were floating two inches above the ground. The cop holding his arm was talking but just like Alexandria, the words were nothing more than noise.

Daniel didn't realize his legs weren't quite supporting him until he was physically placed against the side of the patrol car. He plastered himself against the metal, stretching his arms against the roof, taking advantage of its support, feeling his body mold to the car and take its shape. Tantalizingly, the colored lights on top threw bits of sparkles into the air, floating for a few seconds before disappearing. He reached his fingers towards the sparkles, feeling them tingle against his skin until he was pulled away and his head forced down so he sprawled into the back of the patrol car. The sparkles followed him down, falling to the ground with a dry sizzle.

"Please? What's going on?" Alexandria sounded scared. "Where are we going?"

For a moment Daniel was able to focus on her face as she climbed in beside him. Then someone picked up his leg and put it into the car, shutting the door and locking the sparkles outside. He thought it hilarious, imagining his leg sticking out of the car while the car was driven away. He pictured arriving home with his leg a half-mile long. The whole idea seemed ludicrous, and he started laughing again, slapping his leg.

"I'm Mr. Elastic," he announced between snorts. "Just call me Stretch."

"Daniel, stop it. This is serious." For a moment she looked solemn, then ruined the moment by starting to giggle.

"See? It's made of rubber." He raised his leg, pushing his foot against the back against the driver's seat. He laughed, letting himself slide backwards until he was leaning against Alexandria.

She pushed him away, forcing him to sit upright against the seat. The sparkles drifted over the windshield, catching his attention. They drifted onto the hood of the car where the paint reflected the pulsing lights and he stared at them.

What seemed like several hours later, suddenly things weren't so funny when a sickening flush of heat spread over him, forcing his gaze from the light show. He looked around the car desperately, needing to open a window. He lurched forward, scrabbling at the controls, but his fingers met only vinyl.

"What are you doing?"

"Hot." He ran his hands over the door, then reached over Alexandria, trying to open her window.

"We're in a police car. We can't open the windows or the doors from here. Daniel, they're taking us to the police station. My dad is going to going to be furious, and your dad is going to kill you."

The heat got worse, making him nauseous. "Hot. I need air." He abandoned her side of the door and tried his again. There had to be a lever, a control, a handle, something. Anything.

"Please, Officer. He needs help. I think he's sick."

Alexandria's words were garbled, not making sense. Daniel pressed his forehead against the window, trying to cool his overheated face. The air in the car suddenly became heavy, making it hard to breathe. He could hear his lungs wheezing as he inhaled, the sound filling the car, making the windows rattle. He pressed his nose next to the edge of the window, hoping that some air was leaking in from the outside. His face was sweaty and he slid against the window, making it difficult to stay next to it. He fought to take another breath, and felt himself flying, soaring, into the dark.

oo~O~oo

Calls from the police and hospitals were two things Jack could do without. Still without much of a clue as to what had happened to Daniel, Jack, accompanied by his mother, walked through the Emergency Room, counting the cubicles. Sixth on the right, that was where Daniel was.

"Colonel Jack!"

Dria jumped off a small bed and pushed aside the partly closed curtains. The policeman, who'd been sitting on a chair inside, made a grab for her arm but stepped back when she threw herself into Jack's arms.

"Dria." He held her close, her whimpers quickly threatening to turn into sobs. "What happened, sweetheart?"

"Daniel," she sobbed. "He got sick. The police brought us here. He wasn't... He was having trouble breathing."

"Are you Daniel Jackson's father?" the policeman asked.

Jack nodded. "What happened to my son? Do you know how he is?"

"He's doing better. The doctor's running a tox screen. Would you step this way with me for a moment so I can ask you some questions and—"

"No, I need to see Daniel—"

"Jonathan. Go talk to the Officer. I'll see if I can find a doctor and get some information."

"Ma—"

"I'll be right back." His mom turned to Dria, who was still huddled against Jack. "Sweetie, did you call your parents?"

Dria nodded wordlessly. She turned to look at Rose, her face pale, her eyes watery and bloodshot. "My dad's going to kill me."

"Come on." Jack gently urged her back into the cubicle and sat with her on the bed. She huddled against him, seeming to need reassurance. Shivering, she sobbed into his shoulder.

"What happened?" Jack asked the policeman.

"Thank you. I'm Officer Burt Reide. This young lady hasn't been very forthcoming and only provided your phone numbers—"

"He wouldn't let me see Daniel or tell me how he was doing," Dria interrupted.

"We spotted a van pull into a parking lot and we checked it out, half-expecting an illicit drug transaction—"

"We weren't doing anything wrong."

"We discovered your son and his girlfriend making out; normally we'd have sent them on their way—"

"We were kissing!" Indignation and anger were quickly replacing Dria's distress as she turned her head towards Officer Reide.

"But your son, Daniel, was acting a little strange so we began to suspect he was intoxicated. We were taking them back to the precinct when your son fell ill and passed out."

This last piece of information seemed to deflate Dria's growing anger and she sighed heavily, hiding her face against his shoulder again.

"Dria? Did you and Daniel go to the Brughman party?" Up until he'd gotten the phone call from the police, Jack had totally put the party out of his mind. He'd said no to Daniel, and he'd trusted him to obey. It was only until his mother had reminded him of tonight's party that he put two and two together.

She nodded against his jacket.

Anger warred with worry. "Did Daniel talk you into going?" he asked curtly.

"No!" She managed to gain some control and pushed back, staring at Jack intently. "I went because I didn't want Daniel to go alone. I'm not stupid, Colonel Jack. Daniel's incredible – he's smart and kind and funny, but he's still fourteen. I know that. I just wanted to make sure he'd be okay and that—" She started crying again. "I don't know what happened. We didn't take anything. We didn't drink anything."

"Alexandria," the policeman said gently, "the doctors said they suspected you had taken cannabis."

"No. I don't smoke!"

"What about food? What did you eat?"

"Just a soda and some brownies."

Realization came to Jack then. He'd enjoyed space brownies a time or two in his younger years. Dria's glassy, bloodshot eyes and wavering emotions suddenly made sense. "And Daniel?"

"He ate a couple." Alexandria gasped. "Stupid. I'm so stupid!" She turned to the policeman. "We didn't know. They knew," she snarled, the tears and the trembling gone as she stiffened. "Randy knew what they were and he didn't warn us."

"Dria, honey, are you all right?" The Mantalbanos pushed back the curtains, entering the small, enclosed space. Dria let go of Jack and with a heart-rending sob, she fell into her mother's arms.

Mr. Mantalbano stood there, looking as uncomfortable as Jack felt. He stood.

"I'm going to go see my son." The police officer nodded, obviously expecting to talk to the Mantalbanos. Jack motioned for Mr. Mantalbano to accompany him away from the crying teen and said softly, "Go easy on her. It wasn't her fault."

"We'll talk later."

Jack nodded. "You have one incredible young daughter."

Mantalbano nodded. "I know."

Continuing down the emergency ward, Jack found the sixth cubicle. His mother was already inside, sitting on the single chair, watching him as he entered. "How is he?"

Daniel turned his head towards him, his eyes as glassy and bloodshot as Dria's, his face much paler in the harsh light. "Daddy?"

The dopey expression on his son's face caught at Jack's heart. He'd see this too many times; was this what they would be facing for the rest of their lives? Even with the knowledge that the intoxication hadn't been Daniel's fault, he couldn't curb his irritation. If Daniel hadn't disobeyed him, this wouldn't have happened in the first place.

"How is he?" he repeated, ignoring Daniel's outstretched hand.

"A little, no, make that a lot out of it. The nurse said that his life's not in danger. She said the doctor thinks Daniel had an anxiety attack in the police car which was exacerbated by the drugs. Did you know? They think he took drugs?"

"No." Daniel's voice was thick with unshed tears. "No. No. No drugs. I didn't."

"Yeah, I know." Jack raised his chin and nodded at Daniel. "I know you didn't take anything." He turned back to his mother. "Someone slipped him some brownies that were laced with something, probably marijuana."

"Sorry. Dad, I'm sorry." Daniel started to cry, sliding over to the edge of the bed, pressing as close to the safety bars as he could, and shoved his arm between them, reaching for Jack. "I'm sorry."

Despite his anger, Jack relented and took the few steps separating them and grasped Daniel's hand. "We'll talk about it later," Jack said as he leaned over the bars and kissed Daniel's forehead. Daniel clutched at him and Jack pulled his son into an awkward hug, half supporting him when Daniel obviously didn't have much motor control. The tears abated around the time Daniel's hold on him began to go limp, and Jack and his aching back gratefully eased Daniel back onto the bed. His son laid there, eyes at half-mast, more asleep than awake, a slight smile raising one corner of his lips as he stared at the wrinkled curtains.

oo~O~oo

There wasn't an ounce of his self-respect that wasn't filled with guilt and shame. During the last hour in the hospital, Daniel had remained quiet, answering only when spoken to, determined to stay under his dad's radar for, oh, say, the next thirty years.

He was tired and his head felt a little fuzzy, but at least he was able to think coherently. He'd trailed his dad and grandmother to the hospital's parking lot and then paused when he opened the door to the Avalanche. The memory of what felt like hours spent suffocating inside the police car made him uncomfortable, so he slid in and made sure to crack the window an inch before shutting the door. He now sat there, leaning as close to the window as the seatbelt would let him, breathing in cold air streaming in from the open window.

"Are you feeling sick, mhuirnin?"

"No. I'm fine."

"Then close the window. Your grandmother's getting cold."

Reluctantly Daniel raised the window, and immediately felt hot and closed in.

"It's all right. Leave it open."

He didn't answer. His father would insist he keep it shut if he tried to open it again. Instead he lay his head back and concentrated on breathing. It felt as if the air he was pulling into his lungs held no oxygen. He drew a deep breath, and another, but felt lightheaded despite it all. His pulse was racing, he could feel his heart beating in his chest and in his temples. Despite his controlled breathing, he found he couldn't maintain the rhythm and pretty soon he was all but gasping for air.

Then all four windows went down simultaneously, blasting him with cool, clean, cold air. He drew in a breath, and another, feeling his panic begin to abate. He caught his father's gaze staring at him through the mirror and he wanted to cry, both from relief and from shame.

"Do you want me to pull over?"

Daniel just wanted to go home. He shook his head and turned away from the mirror, staring out the window. It got cold fast inside the truck and he felt bad for his grandmother, but she seemed to not feel the cold. She kept twisting in her seat to check on him.

It felt like forever, but they finally reached home. Daniel got out of the truck and tiredly walked up the steps beside his grandmother. She unlocked the door and went inside. Daniel followed, intent on heading for bed and a good night's sleep. He flipped his bedroom light on, entered, and shut the door behind him. He tossed his jacket on a chair, too exhausted to go back and hang it up in the hall closet.

A moment later his pants and sweater joined his jacket. He put on a pair of old, comfy sweats and headed for his bed. He was about to get in when he heard a light tap on the door.

"Yeah?" he said, really not wanting to talk to anyone. He hoped it was his grandmother, and his heart sank when he saw it was his dad.

"Going to bed?"

"Yeah." To prove the point, he took his glasses off and placed them on the nightstand. He felt stupid just sitting there so he got into the bed, hoping his dad would get the message. Instead his father entered the room.

Daniel watched him with trepidation as he came up to the bed and sat down.

"We'll talk about this tomorrow. Right now, you get some sleep."

Daniel bit back a retort that that was exactly what he was trying to do. Then immediately felt guilty at the thought when his father leaned over and kissed his temple. When his father got up, shut the light behind him and closed the door, Daniel wiped ineffectively at a tear that slid down his cheek.

oo~O~oo

John didn't want to like the home. Didn't want to become attached to something that would never be his. To a life he'd never have, but damn. Damn. Damn. He sat on the bed in the back bedroom on the second floor with his legs drawn up to his chest in shock. This was a home. The type of place other people lived in. Not some out of the way, barely above condemnation hovel.

oo~O~oo

DSL line. Router. Wireless connection. All up and running. Sitting on the floor, he gently rubbed his bruised thigh, willing the ache to subside as he shifted and stretched out his legs, trying to get feeling back.

Derek walked into his room with a knock and a laugh. "I told your mom you wouldn't be unpacking your clothes anytime in the near future."

"Huh?" Then John caught his uncle's gaze at the unpacked duffle at the foot of the bed. "Oh," he laughed. "Priorities."

"Yeah, priorities," Derek said, sobering. "This is for you."

A gun. John always knew where the arsenal was kept. Which drawer. Behind which wall. Under which bed. A million hiding places. Now a million and one. His room.

Derek stared at him.

He stared at Derek who offered him the gun.

John had a healthy respect for weapons. He learned about their care and feeding in the jungles of Central America, before being able to ride a bicycle.

"Just in case," Derek said, "your first line of defense fails."

Translation, in the event a terminator got through Cameron, his mother, and him. John stood and took the gun, shoving it between his mattress and box spring.

Derek took it out and shoved it under John's pillow. "That's better."

"Makes for sweet dreams?" John asked.

Derek dropped his hand on John's neck and squeezed, ever so lightly, before pulling back, embarrassed. "Don't mention it to your mother, okay?"

Crap. He so did not want to get into the middle of this between his mother and his uncle. "Take it back."

Derek reached under the pillow, removed the gun then shoved it back between the mattress and box spring. "Keep it, please," his voice gently beseeched John to do his bidding.

John crossed his arms, but didn't move towards the bed.

His uncle patted the mattress above the spot hiding the gun. "This makes for my sweet dreams, okay?"

He acquiesced.

"Thank you," Derek said with a broad smile.

oo~O~oo

Daniel often slept in on Saturday mornings, but by eleven and no sign of life from his bedroom, Jack began to get worried. He tiptoed to the bedroom door and opened it, peering inside. Daniel lay sprawled on his stomach, one sock-clad foot sticking out over the edge of the bed, one hand curled under his pillow, the other tucked under his chin. When Jack leaned over him to see if he was okay, Daniel opened his eyes.

"You going to sleep all day?" Jack's resolve almost crumbled when Daniel blinked sleepily at him, turned onto his back and knuckled his eyes like a toddler waking from a nap.

"Time?"

"Long past breakfast, just before lunch." Jack shook his shoulder when Daniel's eyes began to slide shut. "Rise and shine," he said roughly. "Go shower. I'll make something that's a reasonable facsimile for a meal. You have twenty minutes."

Thirty minutes later, all resemblance to a five year old was replaced with a moody, sullen teenager who was doing nothing but tearing apart the turkey sandwich rather than eating it.

Jack moved the plate out of his reach. "If you're done, there's a hamper full of laundry that needs washing."

"Okay." Daniel stood and went to walk out of the kitchen.

Jack's hand flew out and grabbed Daniel's arm. "Okay? You just said okay? You hate doing laundry."

"I figured this was punishment."

Jack nodded. "It is, but I thought there'd be resistance."

"Why would I resist? You're fair. I'm sure the punishment will fit the crime."

Daniel had disobeyed him. Ended up not only in police custody but also in the hospital. So pray tell, why did Jack feel so incredibly guilty just making him just do laundry? "What else do you feel would be equitable punishment, may I ask?"

"Yard work?"

There was nothing Daniel hated worse than working in the yard. "Yard work as in mowing? Raking? Clearing the beds?"

"Yes, sir."

"Yard work is acceptable."

Daniel nodded.

"For the entire year. Until I say otherwise. Yard work and laundry." Jack patted the arm he'd just released. "Make sure to take your antihistamine before you rake."

oo~O~oo

John's mother had dragged his ass to lunch, put two triangles of pizza on a plate then shoved them in front of him.

"Eat," she ordered.

He picked up a slice, managed one bite then dropped it back onto the plate once his mother and Derek began conversing. Maybe conversation was too kind a word. They'd been snarling and sniping at each other since his mother had asked Derek if he wanted a pepperoni or a plain slice.

Cameron leaned over, snatched the second slice off John's plate, then took a bite. She chewed, never taking her gaze from him. John tuned out his mother's and Derek's conversation over various leads and watched Cameron.

He pushed his plate towards her. "Feel free to help yourself, I'm not hungry."

"You'll feel better if you eat something." Cameron moved the plate back towards John, complete with her slice minus one bite.

Her words immediately silenced the bickering.

"John?"

"I'm just not in the mood for pizza." He shoved the plate back to Cameron.

"Me neither." Cameron slid the plate to the middle of the table.

John was being difficult. He knew he was. "Sorry," he mumbled, hanging his head.

A minute later, a peanut butter sandwich appeared before him and he lifted his head, ready to thank his mother, but she still was sitting at the table watching Derek screw the cover back on the jar of Jiffy. He took a bite of the sandwich and smiled. Much better. John broke off a little piece and handed it to Cameron. "Careful, it might stick to the roof of your mouth."

Cameron examined the sandwich from all sides. "Is it better than pizza?"

John looked directly at Derek. "Some days it is, yeah."

oo~O~oo

Gazing at Daniel through the kitchen doors, once again there was a chink in Jack's resolve. How was it possible to be angry enough to want to throttle the kid yet be incredibly proud at the adult way he was owning up to the fact he'd disobeyed him?

The throttling was normal, but it was the way Jack couldn't get a rise out of his son that worried him. No argument. No justification of his disobedience. Scary, Children of the Corn acceptance.

Daniel worked.

Jack watched.

Daniel came in around fifteen thirty hours, grabbed a bottle of water and downed it without coming up for air. He put the empty bottle of water on the counter, then rubbed his nose, grimaced and gingerly touched the tip. The afternoon sun had colored his cheeks and nose. And there was a slight dusting of freckles across his cheeks.

Loose strands of hair stuck to his face, little pieces that had fallen from the ponytail, and Daniel was becoming frustrated as he tried to huff them out of his eyes. Muttering under his breath, deft fingers released his hair from the elastic band and Daniel did something that Jack hated; he pulled only the top half of his hair off his face and left the back hanging down.

"You're going out like that?" The words were out of Jack's mouth before he'd even thought about saying them and his fingers had a life of their own as they flicked the air.

"Yes."

The flat affect and toneless answer took all the bite out of Jack's question. "Yeah, it's probably hot outside."

"It is." He pointed his thumb over his shoulder towards the door to the outside. "I'm going to go finish—"

"Why don't you call it a day and we'll go out for dinner?"

"Don't take this the wrong way, Dad, but I'm really not in the mood to eat out."

"How about I bring in. You're—"

"I'm going to finish."

"Go. You go finish we'll talk about it later when you're done."

Jack watched Daniel work for about another twenty minutes before he went into the garage, grabbed a rake and joined his son.

oo~O~oo

And he'd thought he was physically fit? Daniel groaned as he attempted to wash his hair under the shower's spray. "Ow. Ow. Ow." Halfheartedly, he made a futile attempt to scrub at his hair, giving up when the pain was more than the gain. Standing under the water would take care of what aching fingers could not.

There was a knock on the door just as Daniel was donning a pair of well-worn sweats and a tee-shirt.

"Chinese will be here in about ten minutes."

Daniel's response was slowing in coming until he heard his father moving outside the bathroom door, waiting for an answer. "Thanks."

Daniel was fourteen years old. This was the second go around on his life. He'd died. Been married. Traveled to different worlds. Been kidnapped. Drugged. Had appendicitis - twice. Obviously, whoever said they wanted a second chance at life had never walked in his shoes.

oo~O~oo

Daniel had stolen a few extra minutes before being summoned for dinner and now he was sorry that he just hadn't just thrown on his sweats and set the table. "Repeat that?" Daniel was pretty sure the cell phone connection was wonky, because there was no fuckin' way Corey would've just said what Daniel thought he said.

"Repeat what?" Corey sneered. "That you're an asshole or that you're a snitch and to save yourself, you called the cops. Hero Jackson, is that what you were going for?"

Stunned, Daniel dropped onto the edge of his bed. "I didn't call the cops."

"Bullshit. You left. They appeared. That's no damn coincidence".

"I would never—"

Corey snorted. "You know, all these years I stuck up for you and this is how you repay my friendship?"

Daniel thought it was a question, and actually was formulating an answer when he realized the noise in his ear was a dial tone. "Corey?" Shit. Heart thumping, he hit redial.

"What?"

"I never would've called the cops, Corey. Ever. They showed up right after we left—"

"How the fuck do you know that? Did you have the time pre-arranged?"

"No. No."

"Don't call me back, Jackson, next time I'm not answering."

Daniel didn't call back. What he did do was scroll through the multitude of voice messages. Cassie. Alexandria. Their messages were filled with concern, the others, accusations. Hateful messages from friends and some just as hateful from people he barely knew.

And a familiar, forty year old feeling of failure settled deep into the pit of his stomach.

oo~O~oo

Slowly, Daniel set the table, hating that his father kept watching him. Waiting for him to screw up. Again.

"I ordered you shrimp with honey walnuts." His dad followed him, folding the paper napkins by the plates, contrary to Daniel just placing them on the table. He smiled at Daniel as he moved the forks back into place atop the now folded napkins.

"Thank you." Daniel didn't have the heart to say that he didn't, well, have the heart, that was, to mention that even the thought of food was enough to make him puke, walnut shrimp or not.

oo~O~oo

He wasn't sure if it was the smell or the fact that the first taste of food awakened his hunger, but Daniel surprised even himself by eating two complete plates of food, only stopping when he realized he'd captured the last honeyed walnut from the opened white container. With a burp, he pushed it away.

His dad leaned over and peered into the container. "Did you enjoy that?"

"I was hungry." Quickly, Daniel apologized. "I'm sorry, did you—"

"I was just making a comment, it's okay."

Daniel stood up and grabbed his plate.

"What'cha doing, Icky?"

Daniel shuddered at the undeserved use of his nickname. "Cleaning the table."

"I got this." His father began to gather the dirty utensils.

"Please, I have—"

"You disobeyed me. You didn't commit murder. Daniel, I—" His dad sighed. "I'm not angry. Disappointed. But not angry."

"I'm angry," Daniel said softly. "I'm angry 'cause I screwed up again."

oo~O~oo

His father had banished him from the kitchen not as punishment, just to get him away from kitchen chores. But as Daniel laid in bed, staring at the ceiling, his bedroom sure seemed to feel like a prison cell.

Daniel stared at his cell phone. This little piece of technology was now the enemy. Once again, Daniel scrolled through the voice messages and deleted them all sans one. He pulled up the last remaining call in his inbox and hit redial.

"I was worried."

Daniel couldn't even answer.

"I talked to Nate and Corey." Alexandria tried and failed to hide her emotions behind a sigh.

"Please don't cry," Daniel begged. "Please."

She ignored his words, though Daniel could hear Alexandria blowing her nose. "I couldn't let them be angry. They were angry. At you... They thought you'd—"

"I know what they thought. At least I know what Corey thought. Everyone else," Daniel shrugged even though Alexandria couldn't see him, "I can pretty much guess what they think of me."

"How could they think you'd call the cops. Nate, Corey, how could they ?"

"I never would've done that." Nate was his friend, but Corey? That hurt. A lot. "Ever."

"I tried to convince them."

"You shouldn't have had to." A little bit of anger was starting to seep into Daniel's hurt. "They should've known that. They know me."

"Daniel..."

"They know me," he repeated softly.

Neither of them spoke, the seconds stretching into minutes. Until Daniel broke the silence. "What about you? How are you feeling?"

"My father's not angry with you. Or me," she giggled softly.

"You're obviously still hallucinating." Daniel couldn't keep the smile out of his voice.

"He had a few choice words for Steve's parents."

"Your parents aren't angry at me?"

"There was a slight anger overflow, but I talked to them—no one's angry"

"I'm angry, Alexandria. Me. I'm angry at me. I was stupid to think I was—"

"You said I was beautiful. Before the cops came. You said I was beautiful. Did you mean that?"

The feel of her lips. Her smell. The way her hair felt. The way she looked— "Yes. I did. Though I suspect you're trying to distract me."

"Did it work?"

"I'm sorry I didn't believe you. About the party."

"You told me I was beautiful. I'll forgive you for everything."

Daniel smiled into the phone even though Alexandria couldn't see him. It still felt good to smile.

oo~O~oo

"You want any popcorn?"

Daniel shook his head. He didn't want anything. He really didn't want to be watching hockey with his dad, but his dad expected the company. Tradition, his father had reminded him, physically tugging him out of his room.

Truthfully, he wasn't in the mood for anything. Least of all this.

"Popcorn?" His father shook the bowl under his nose for emphasis.

Daniel took a handful more to shut his dad up than anything else. "Thanks."

"There's more if you want."

He held up his hand. "This is okay for now."

Some of the wary tension eased and his dad relaxed, settling back in the recliner, the bowl of popcorn on his lap. "Promises to be a good game. Maybe Corey would like to come over and—"

"No." His answer was too short, too abrupt. Daniel hid the awkwardness of the moment behind shoving the handful of popcorn into his mouth. "Corey's busy," he lied.

"We can have a bunch of your friends over to watch—" Thankfully the rest of the invitation was lost in the action on the TV.

oo~O~oo

Daniel surprised even himself, getting caught up in the action of the game, until the third period when two consecutive goals by the opposing team in a matter of seconds tipped the scales. His dad screamed and yelled, throwing popcorn at the television.

He curled up on the couch, hugged a pillow to his chest and closed his eyes, only to jerk awake when his father hooted in joy. "Well, it's about damn time. Did you see that—why don't you go to bed?"

He closed his eyes without answering.

"Have it your way," his father warned with a chuckle. "But remember, you're a little too big for me to carry up the stairs."

"Not sleeping."

"Of course you're not."

Daniel felt the strong breeze of displaced air as the afghan was settled over his body.

"Not too big for me to tuck you in." His dad tucked the blanket around Daniel. "Never too big."

Sometimes his dad's Hallmark moments were just too much, and sometimes, like now... to Daniel, they felt just about right.

oo~O~oo

A car door slammed somewhere and the sound jerked Daniel awake. He yawned, stretched then stopped mid-stretch. He was in his bed, not on the couch and he could only hope that he'd walked and that his father hadn't made good his threat to carry him.

Three in the morning rolled into three-thirty. Great. Three-thirty became four. Daniel was tired but couldn't sleep. In the darkness of his room, shadows came out to tease him. Conversations at the party. The brownies. The time with Alexandria in the van before the cops showed up made him smile. Corey's hurtful words. Like a broken record, the words kept repeating in a loop. His friends' mistrust of him. Anger fed him, keeping him awake, burning a hole in the pit of his stomach.

oo~O~oo

On Sunday he saw his father at meals, discussing without talking about things. Last night's game. The weather. Next year's vacation. And how heavy Daniel actually was to carry up the steps.

Daniel set the table for dinner. Paper plates for the gyros his dad had picked. Napkins. Cups. A mindless task. Fries. Yogurt sauce. Daniel's mouth watered as he put their dinners on their plates.

"Smells great," he said, sliding onto the seat. Daniel snagged a piece of gyro meet from the side and shoved it into his mouth. "Taste's good," he mumbled around the lamb.

His dad reached over and plucked a slice of lamb from Daniel's gyro. "Yup, tastes delicious," he agreed.

"Hey." Daniel slid the plate from his dad's reach. "Eat your own gyro."

oo~O~oo

Cursing, John flipped away from the opened blinds.

"Sleeping in?"

John groaned and tried to bury his head under the pillow. He'd spent a horribly sleepless night, the gun was like the stupid pea in that ridiculous fairy tale, its hard casing digging into his body the entire night. "Yes." He pulled the covers over his head, but that didn't stop his mother from snaking a hand under the blanket and burrowing under his tee shirt. "You have a fever."

"Sorry." He flipped onto his back and pushed back the covers. God, that was the only word that seemed to be in his vocabulary these days. "I didn't sleep well."

"Don't be sorry, you didn't—"

"Yeah, I did. I screwed up and touched something I shouldn't have." The fact that his mother didn't disagree or protest spoke volumes. "It's a little late, but I learned my lesson."

"We're going out."

John levered himself onto his elbows. "The Turk?"

"A lead. Someone who noticed Sarkissian's meeting with someone completely different than the people..."

John yawned. "Sorry." Damn, there was that word again and he took a momentary pause before rolling his hand. "Go on."

"Tin miss will be here to keep you company."

It wasn't like he had a choice in the matter. New neighborhood. Unfamiliarity. At the moment, he was their weakest link, but he plastered a smile on his face.

She kissed his forehead. "Take two Tylenol, we should be back in a few hours." She gave John an evil, wicked smile. "Maybe I'll drag Derek to the local Walmart and grocery store."

John laughed. "Rather him than me."

"Don't tempt me."

"I'm sick. Fever." He gave a little deathbed cough.

"Don't push it."

"Word of warning. I wouldn't exactly tell Derek where you're going until after you've dragged him into Walmart, I know from experience—" He shut up in the face of his mother's mock indignation.

"Toilet paper, paper towels, they don't just magically appear in the cabinets, John."

He endured another kiss and waited until she was almost to the door. "This house seems nice. Thanks."

"It's good."

His mother was even more afraid than him to get attached. "When do I go back to school?"

"When your fever's gone. Calls from school nurses put you on the radar."

"Mom, it's been weeks. Plus, pulling me out of school for trips puts me on the radar. Keeping me out puts us all on the radar. Last thing we need is CPS breathing down our necks." He'd been there. Done that. He had plenty of memories of foster care that he'd never share with his mother.

"John?"

His mother was on him in a flash, probably because of something he'd been unable to school. Some expression she'd picked up on. "Talk."

"Nothing to talk about."

"I'm not believing you."

"Just sick of being sick." A little white lie, not that he wasn't sick of being sick, he was but this was more of an omission of the truth than an out and out lie. "I'm pretty much fever-free during the day. I can do school." When his mom looked unconvinced, he gave a half-hearted shrug. "Come on, Mom. Admit it. I'm a lot better."

His mom sighed, and gave a reluctant nod. "I'll stop by the school today."

"Before Walmart?" He forced a levity to the conversation just because he couldn't bear to have any more guilt floating around his psyche than he already did. "Not a smart move to drag Derek into a school after shopping—"

"I'll make sure he leaves his weapons in the car. Promise." She made a little cross over her heart.

"Metal detectors, Mom. Remember the last school? Make sure you leave everything except the necessary paperwork in the car. And don't forget to mention Cameron's metal plate."

oo~O~oo

He showered after his mom and Derek left. Hot water and water pressure both - little bit of heaven on Earth. The house was worth it for this luxury alone. A shower stall in a bathroom that was modern and not decorated in either mint green or pink. John stretched under the spray, loosening up achy muscles, trying to decide how long he could stay right here before Cameron came looking for him.

Eyes closed, he turned, and nirvana turned to hell as he hit his still bruised, obviously still tender hand against the not mint green or pink tiles as he reached for the shampoo. The pain was intense and surprising. He stood under the water shocked, cursing.

One-handed he turned off the water, stepped out and gingerly dried off. Dressing wasn't easily accomplished and John moved slowly, trying not to jostle and aggravate his hand. He'd forgotten and now he was paying for his forgetfulness.

oo~O~oo

"Your mom left painkillers on the counter for you to take."

With his good hand, John grabbed the container of juice from the fridge and couldn't down the Tylenol fast enough. He tried to keep his back to Cameron's prying, inquisitive eyes and he wiped up a bit of the juice he spilled with a sock-covered foot.

"You're favoring your hand—"

"I'm fine."

She scowled. "I don't think your fine means the same as mine."

John was saved by the bell and for a split second, he and Cameron stared at each other, then at the door as it rang again.

"I'll take care of it," she said, striding towards the door.

"That's what I'm afraid of." John caught her by surprise, rushing past her only to have her grab him and shove him behind her.

"Hey!"

"You can be civil after I assess the danger."

oo~O~oo

John held back a snort of laughter. Unless cyborgs now came in the form of grandma-type ladies with spectacles and a warm, very human smile holding a tray of something that smelled downright delicious, he was pretty sure they were safe.

"She's—"

"Probably a new neighbor," John said, glaring at Cameron before turning a smile to the woman standing on their steps. "Hi, my name's John and this is my sister, Cameron." Playing it safe, he stuck to first names.

"My name's Rose." She turned her head and cocked it at the house across the street. "I live right there."

"Nice to meet you." Keep your head down, don't attract attention was their motto, which left John almost at a disadvantage on how to behave around strangers that offered their hand in friendship. He was the first to admit that he was a social misfit.

"Our mother isn't home. We'll make sure to tell her which house you live in and that you came by to see who we were."

Between him and Cameron, social etiquette knowledge could fit on the head of a pin. She had an excuse, he had... his mother to blame.

John stuck out his hand and quickly stopped Cameron from slamming the door in Rose's face and gave an apologetic shrug. "My mom is a bit overprotective. New house, new neighborhood... You understand? My sister sorta takes everything my mom - our mom, says to heart."

"Smart mother. Smart sister." Rose smiled at Cameron.

Cameron flashed her an echo of a smile.

"This is for you." Rose held out the platter. "Just a welcome to the neighborhood."

John hesitated, and the old woman picked up on his hesitation. "Oh, honey," she said, glancing down at his hand, her brow furrowing in concern. "That looks like it hurts."

"Oh. Ummm." John shoved his hand behind his back. "Moving accident."

Rose took a step forward. "Why don't you let me carry this to the kitchen?"

"I'll take it." Cameron moved, plucked the tinfoil-covered platter from the woman's hands and stood there.

"It smells really good." John gave the air an appreciative sniff, trying to cover up Cameron's abruptness.

"Baked ziti. Meatballs. Garlic bread. A favorite of my grandson's."

"I can see why." John began to struggle with a way to end this conversation without appearing overly rude.

"You look to be about the same age as my grandson, Daniel. He's fourteen."

"Sixteen."

"He goes to the local high school."

"Oh." All John could think of was that the woman was going to call his mother and arrange a play date. He was pretty clueless as to what to say next so he nodded politely, smiled even more politely, and glanced over at Cameron who was intently studying Rose. "Thanks again. My mom..."

"Isn't a very good cook."

"Cameron!" Sharing things, no matter how mundane or inconsequential about their life, wasn't allowed.

Wide-eyed and innocent, Cameron stared at him. "It's the truth. You say it all the time."

"That's okay, sweetie." Gently Rose tapped the tinfoil. "Just reheat in a 350 degree oven for about twenty minutes. Keep it covered, you don't want it to dry out."

"Thank you for explaining." Without a goodbye, Cameron turned and headed off towards the kitchen.

"Guess that's my cue, John, to get going."

"Sorry," John gazed over his shoulder. "Cameron's a little abrupt."

"Don't worry. No offense was taken. Enjoy the meal."

"We will."

"Make sure you put some ice on your hand."

"I will," he stuttered.

"Goodbye, and welcome to the neighborhood."

oo~O~oo

"Being rude attracts attention." John confronted Cameron in the kitchen.

"I was rude?"

With an exasperated growl, John dropped into the chair. "You weren't nice."

"I don't understand."

John peeled back a corner of the tinfoil, stuck his fingers into the platter and fished out a ziti. "Do you understand friendliness?" He shoved the ziti into his mouth, begrudgingly accepting the napkin Cameron gave to him.

"You want me to ask her about the weather? How she's feeling?"

"Yes. No." He shook his head and resisted the temptation to take another piece of ziti. "Yeah, kinda."

"I don't understand."

Pot. Kettle. Black. Blind leading the blind. "You know something? I don't think I do either."

oo~O~oo

Ninety minutes of sitting on the edge of his bed, with his laptop balanced on a stack of boxes, was not conducive to making headway on anything except his headache. This wasn't working at all. He needed a Snapple and a place to sit where his laptop wasn't in danger of losing its life every time his knee hit the slowly collapsing cardboard.

John lasted another ten minutes before giving up and moved his laptop to the kitchen. While the wireless connection wasn't the best, at least there was a sturdy table and chair but more importantly, he was a hell of a lot closer to the amazing smell of the ziti and garlic bread in the oven.

Cameron had pulled a chair over, sitting at his elbow, staring as intently as he was at the screen.

"You know something?"

"I know a lot of things."

With a quirk of his eyebrows and a shake of his head in frustration, John slammed the laptop shut.

"That doesn't answer the question you asked about me knowing something."

"It's a turn of phrase. Like..." John searched for the right words.

"Have a nice day? Words that you say but don't wait for an answer because you don't care?"

"It's not that you don't care..."

Cameron canted her head like some damn dog.

"You're right. You don't care. You say the words but you couldn't give a crap how the other person's day went."

"Thank you for explaining. I believe I understand now."

John was glad one of them did, because he definitely was lost. Time for a subject change. "How about setting the table for dinner?"

oo~O~oo

John was showing Cameron a ridiculous skill he'd learned a long time ago. And it took three false starts because of his injured hand before he was able to evolve the napkin from a boring square with orangey flowers to an origami swan.

"What's the purpose of this?" Cameron pulled the tail and the wings popped out.

"Not everything has to have a reason."

"Everything has a purpose, John."

Checkmate. Bested by something that wasn't even human. Inexplicably angry, John scooped up his laptop and left the room.

oo~O~oo

The table was set. Mismatched plates paired with different sized knives and forks, but it was the flock of paper napkin origami swans that made John smile. The smile was short-lived at the sound of the front door being flung open.

His mom stormed into the kitchen seconds later, Derek at her heels. "Don't say a word."

"I don't have to," Derek countered. "You've said more than enough for the both of us."

His mother opened her mouth, closed it then sniffed the air.

"Hungry?" John asked. "There's..."

Even Derek stepped back as she opened the oven door hard enough that the appliance bounced. "What the hell is in the oven?"

"Rosesziti." Cameron answered. "Did you have a nice day?"

John watched as his mother's storm clouds gathered as she zoned in on Cameron. "What's Rosesziti?"

"Rose's ziti. Meatballs. Garlic bread. A neighbor," John hastily added, "brought that in to welcome us."

"To welcome us?' his mom echoed.

"Rose was pleasant and concerned about John's hand. She talked about her grandson—"

"So basically she was a nosey bitch."

"John said she was friendly."

"Shut up, Cameron," his mother growled, searching the kitchen until she came up with something that would serve as an oven mitt, then reached into the stove, pulled out the tray and literally tossed it onto the counter. "This could be poisoned, John."

"She was an old lady. Terminators aren't old."

"Terminators also aren't sixteen year old girls, are they?"

Point taken. He wasn't going to win this one. Whatever his mother was angry at, John was getting the fallout so he was leaving.

"Answer me."

He stopped halfway out the kitchen. "She was an old woman who was extending her hand in friendship. A neighbor doing something nice. Not opening the door would've aroused suspicion. Hiding under the bed when the doorbell rings... I can't live like that. Greeting someone at the door with a loaded gun... No," John said. "I'm not answering you. You only want to hear your words, and I can't say them. I'm tired of saying them."

"Those words will save your life one day."

"But they won't save the world." John was done. Finished. "I don't want the job. I don't want to be the savior. The Messiah. Leader of the resistance. I can't be. I don't hate people enough to send them into battle. I don't mistrust people. You." He pointed at his mother. "You, on the other hand, can do the job. Feel free to take it, I'm resigning."

oo~O~oo

"He called me a bitch, didn't he?" She sat at the kitchen table, slowly decapitating the swan napkins.

Derek sat opposite her. "You are. You have to be."

Cameron put a plate of ziti in front of her. "Your strength and anger. Your bitchiness—"

"Thanks, tin girl."

"You're welcome. Because of who you are, John's allowed to be who he is."

"Mind explaining that?" Sarah insisted, using a fork to smash down a meatball.

"John believes the human race is worth saving." Cameron placed a plate of ziti in front of Derek, who waited all of two seconds before digging in.

With an indignant huff, Sarah disagreed. "I believe the human race is worth saving."

"You believe John is worth saving and when you save John, you'll save the human race. John has faith in humanity."

"And I don't?"

"Your faith lies in John and your ability to protect him and keep him safe."

"Go for a walk," Derek said with a dismissive shoo towards Cameron. "Vamoose."

As she canted her head at Derek, Sarah was pretty sure the terminator understood exactly what he was talking about but it was taking cyborg joy in just jerking him around. Maybe if this was another time, it would be funny, but she wasn't in the mood for levity. "Go do what you normally do. Just not here."

With a nod, Cameron left the room.

"The machine listens to you." There was begrudging admiration in his voice.

"If she listened to me, she wouldn't have opened the door for the nosey old lady."

"Eat your ziti," Derek ordered. "It's good." He took another mouthful. "Very good."

"What if I don't want to?"

"Then don't, but stories always go better with a little bit of food in one's belly."

"A story?"

"Eat."

Hesitantly, she picked up a piece of the meatball she'd smushed. "So tell me."

"Once upon a time, someone told me that John Connor, the John Connor I know, had no friends, but that was a lie. He cared... Cares," Derek quickly correctly. "Will care... Damn, I hate this time travel shit."

Sarah speared a ziti and dragged it through the sauce on her plate. "I try not to think about it too much."

"Could drive you crazy."

"Which is a shorter trip for some than for others," Sarah said innocently.

"Funny." Derek waved a fork of ziti at her. "Don't give up your day job."

"As mother of the future savior, I wouldn't think of it."

"Every individual matters to John."

The lighthearted conversation of moments ago disappeared because Sarah hated Derek for knowing a John she had yet to meet. "Get to the point."

"That's what sets him apart. You. Me. We don't give a shit. We're focused. The machine... Focused. One mission and one mission only. Protect John. He's the only individual we see." Derek sopped up the remaining sauce on his plate with an end of the garlic bread. "We see John and John, he sees the big picture. Sees the future, probably in a way none of us ever will. Not now. Not ever."

"This isn't making me feel any better."

"It's not meant to."

"So by being a cold-hearted bitch—"

"You keep your son alive. You insulate him. Protect him."

"We protect him. All of us."

"To the men he commands, he's all you. Hard edged. Tough. Loyal. Expecting nothing he wouldn't do himself. To his friends, he's Kyle, to a tee. Concerned. Caring. All hard edges are softened. And I'm ashamed I didn't see it before. Fit the pieces together."

Sarah raised her fork in a mock salute, pride filling her chest for a man she had yet to meet. "I guess between the Connor genes and the Reese genes..."

"He's done you proud, Sarah."

oo~O~oo

Darkness was just starting to fall when Sarah decided that she'd cooled off enough and sufficient time had passed to take the wind out of John's temper tantrum. For a peace offering, she heated up a plate of ziti and the last piece of garlic bread she'd managed to snatch away from Derek before he finished it all.

She knocked. Waited. Knocked again then slowly turned the doorknob and stuck her head into the darkened room. "John?" Sarah gave her eyes a moment to adjust then stepped into her son's bedroom. The bed was empty. Completely empty, void of not only John but the pillow and blanket as well.

It wasn't that so many years had passed that she'd forgotten, it was life in general that had clouded the memory. Three years without her, shuffled between friends until the system caught up to him, as it had her and he'd ended up in foster care.

It had been after the previous terminator had died, when Sarah had attempted to put some semblance of stability back into John's life that she'd realized some of John's nightmares had nothing to do with terminators and everything to do with an evil of a different kind - humans.

From pillar to post, as they'd moved across the country, John had spent months sleeping on the floor, dragging his pillow and blanket off the bed to the quickest escape route possible, a window. Always facing the door in slumber, his back pressed up against the wall. And he would never talk. Never explain his reasoning, clamming up when Sarah had asked. Now as she stood in John's dark bedroom, with the plate of ziti in her hand, looking down at her sixteen year old son sleeping on the floor under the window in his room, she felt the rush of guilty heat for giving up questioning why John had felt this was necessary. She should've pushed until he'd fessed up, but she hadn't. Insecure over the stranger he'd become in her absence, her questions had eventually dwindled down to nothing just about the time John had moved permanently to the bed... or so she'd thought.

Gently, she placed the plate on the dresser and crept closer to John, crouching down when she got nearer. "Hey, buddy," she whispered. His left hand fisted the blanket, tugging it up close to his body. His right hand was resting on top of the pillow, the bruises still visible but finally fading.

John woke snarling and fighting the minute Sarah touched his forehead. Fuck, like she'd forgotten this screwed up sleeping habit, she'd also forgotten that it was safer for all concerned to just let sleeping boys lie, and she ended up flat on her ass due to her faulty memory.

His scream of 'no' was deafening as he launched himself at her. As a pre-teen, Sarah had been able to wrap her arms around John with little difficulty, hug the shit out of him, rock him until he fell back asleep and come morning, pretend nothing had happened.

At sixteen, he was stronger and taller, and it was a battle to contain John's nightmare without actually inflicting physical harm.

"Get away!" John bellowed. Though his eyes were opened, there wasn't a hint of recognition. Sarah wasn't sure where the hell her son was at the moment, but she'd pretty much stake her life on the fact that he wasn't mentally in his bedroom.

What a goddamn mess. "Wake up," she ordered, trying to find purchase on the wood floor and gain enough balance to flip John off her. But between his adrenalin-backed anger and her refrain, she was losing the war in her attempt to secure the upper hand.

There was a painful cry of anguish and suddenly John was no longer in her arms. She hadn't noticed Derek entering the room but there he was, holding John back, his hand crushing John's injured one.

Sarah sat up, breathing heavily. "Let him go." But it wasn't her words that Derek paid attention to. It was the machine's actions that spoke louder than Sarah's words as Cameron's hand clamped onto Derek's forearm.

"Please release John."

There was no room for argument. No room for discussion. If Derek so much as hesitated, Sarah was sure he would never be able to use that arm again.

Derek raised both his hands in surrender, glaring at Cameron as he stepped away from John, who tucked his arm against his body before awkwardly scooting backwards, stopping only when he hit the wall.

Sarah crawled over to him, but John would have none of her interference, offering her his shoulder as he buried his face against the wall.

"Go away."

"It was a nightmare," she soothed, skimming the back of his neck with the lightest of touches. "That's all."

"Go away," he repeated, louder, turning to face them.

Derek knelt down in front of John. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean..."

There were no tears in John's eyes when he lifted his face, but there was embarrassment and a tinge of sadness. "Please. Just get out."

Sarah and Derek were crowding John and incrementally he began to fade into the woodwork.

Sarah turned, fist raised, when Cameron touched her shoulder. "What?"

"I think John wants us to leave."

"I don't give a shit what—"

"Please, Mom—listen to Cameron."

He was begging, pleading. But it wasn't the words John used, it was the sudden moisture pooling in her son's eyes that forced her hand.

oo~O~oo

John was positive his hand was hurting and he had a fever, but he felt nothing except an all-encompassing embarrassment. It had been years since he'd had that particular nightmare and even now, if he shut his eyes, he could still conjure up the panic that had forced him from the bed to the floor.

He didn't move. Pressed up against the wall, the window was still within reach. That was good. Comforting. Out the window. Onto the roof. Down the drain pipe. Know your exits. Thanks, Mom.

John didn't remember falling asleep. Storming up to his room, slamming his door, yeah, that he could recall. Pissed, he'd dropped onto the bed and stared at the ceiling, watching the shadows elongate against his walls until the room was eventually bathed in darkness, but he didn't remember sleep creeping up on him.

The nightmare was the only evidence that he'd slept. The terror that woke him was the type of terror that even time couldn't dim. Nor would hidden guns under the mattress offer any protection.

oo~O~oo

As the minutes turned into hours, John buried the embarrassment, covering the emotion with pain. Muscles hurt from inactivity and fever. Flexing his fingers, he grimaced. The need for a Tylenol won out and with a groan, John used the strength of his good arm and leg to push him to his feet.

Every step in this new home was an adventure. Unsure where the squeaky floorboards were hiding, John stealthily hugged the wall, pausing and holding his breath as various creaks announced his arrival.

He should've expected it, but her impeccable timing never failed to amaze and impress him. Cameron was standing at the bottom of the stairs. She was patiently staring at him with such intensity that John quickly glanced over his shoulder just to make sure there wasn't anyone or anything standing behind him.

Nope. Only him on the stairs. He said nothing, concentrating instead on getting to the first floor in one piece and not sliding down the length of the steps on his ass.

On the landing, he faced off against her. She'd never moved. Never budged. Never blinked.

"Feel free to wait here for the next savior." He skirted past her. "I'm going to get some Tylenol."

"Should I laugh? Did you just make a joke?"

"No. No joke," John sighed. "A Tylenol. Or two. A spot on the couch. Watch some TV and I'm good to go. In the morning, I'll get on with the STW thing after the Tylenol kicks in."

"STW?" Cameron questioned.

"Saving the world," his mother said, appearing out of nowhere. Quickly, before John had a chance to object, his mother gently kissed his temple. "Stop pulling the tin girl's leg, it's not nice."

oo~O~oo

John was hunting for the Tylenol, going through the kitchen cabinets, getting frustrated.

Two pills magically appeared on the counter. "All you had to do was ask," his mother said, producing a bottle of Snapple to wash the capsules down. Opening the bottle was an impossible struggle and he gave up, dry swallowing the Tylenol.

"Damn it, John." The bottle was swooped off the counter, the plastic wrap holding the bottle top in place was quickly disposed of and the bottle was returned with a thump to the counter. "Ask, okay?"

It was ridiculous that tears stung his eyes at the reprimand and he quickly dragged his forearm across his eyes. "Where's Cameron?" John asked when his voice was strong enough not to sound like a pre-pubescent teenager.

"Sent her out for a walk. Get a little fresh air—"

"At three am?" John glanced around, his mother was blocking the only exit out of the kitchen.

"She never sleeps."

"You both have something in common, then."

"Sit down," she ordered as she sat and pointed to the kitchen chair opposite her.

"I'm going to bed."

"Yeah, me too, but first you're going to put your ass in that chair and talk."

John plopped down and threw his arms to either side. "I'm right here. What would you like to talk about? The weather? What the latest terminator will be wearing these days?"

Annoyed, she slammed the table with an opened palm. "Can it. Being an asshole isn't a good look for you, John."

oo~O~oo

"I'm going to bed," John said and Sarah waited patiently, but he didn't get up. Instead, he pulled the now empty bottle of Snapple over to him and began to peel away the label until he had a nice pile of scrap in front of him. Sarah exchanged the bottle for a stack of napkins and John began to shred them into tiny little pieces.

The sun was beginning to rise when John finally spoke. "I hated you for leaving me."

Sarah wasn't too sure how or if John required an answer or an acknowledgement to his statement. So she just grabbed a napkin of her own and began to add to the pile of shreddings.

"I mean, it wasn't great, but it wasn't bad when you left me with Joseph and Marilyn." John shrugged. "They were sorta cool."

Sarah couldn't help but smile at the mention of their names. John was right; they had been cool. Cool to a twenty-something single mom and John had adored them and they had loved him. They weren't perfect, but they had been pretty damn close.

She'd known what was coming, knew her days of freedom were numbered. Had seen the writing on the wall and managed to be two steps and a hop, skip and a jump ahead of the authorities. Sarah had shown up at the middle-aged couple's trailer. Beyond friends, they'd been a safe haven to both of them more times than she cared to remember. They accepted John and his plastic bag filled with all his earthly belongings with a hug and no questions asked.

She'd given Joseph and Marilyn a quick peck on their cheeks. Enveloped John in a bone crushing hug, and she could remember even now, all these years later, his hot tears on her neck and the fact that she'd left him standing there, book ended by the two people in the world she could consider family.

And that was the last time Sarah saw her son for almost three years.

"I didn't hate you then." He made a pyramid out of the pile of napkins. "Not while I lived with them."

He didn't have to say it, Sarah knew, Joseph and Marilyn had died in a car crash six months into her incarceration.

And John had been set adrift in the foster care system.

"The Dowdy family showed me how to hate you."

"John..." She reached for his hand but he pulled it away, sending the bits of paper to fly off the table.

He dropped his hands into his lap then leaned back in the chair. "Apples don't fall far from the trees, did you know that? Defective parental genes are passed onto children."

"I was speaking the truth."

John shook his head. "I know that now. Hell, I've seen the future with my own eyes. I got a terminator living in the room across from mine. But back then, there was no proof except your word and... and..." John stuttered. "I was ten," he whispered. "The Dowdys made sure I understood where I came from." John rolled his eyes heavenward and sucked in his lips.

Sarah remained silent and waited until John could compose himself.

"A mother who was mentally ill."

God forgive her, but Sarah hoped that every last member of the Dowdy family would be obliterated should they fail to halt Judgment Day. "Are they the reason you sleep on the floor?"

"No, I lived up to the Dowdy expectations. A few school suspensions. An expulsion. A juvee record and I was good to go." He glanced out the window, his eyes widened at the sunshine. "It's morning."

"Yeah."

John shifted in the chair.

Sarah got up and started the coffeemaker. "Pancakes or cereal?"

"Cereal."

She poured John a bowl, stuck a spoon in it, then as an afterthought sliced a banana. Sarah tried to sneak in a kiss, but John averted his face and she hid her disappointment behind preparing a mug of coffee.

"I sleep on the floor because of the Lacson's. Lucky family number four. Heavy handed with all of us."

Sarah retained her adult composure and resisted the urge to fling the mug of coffee against the nearest wall. "All of you?" she squeaked.

"Five. Two biological. Three foster. They left marks one time too many—"

She smashed her mug into the sink. "Fuckin' sonofbitches." Sarah didn't care if John didn't want to be held, touched, or fussed over. She grabbed him so hard, he nearly toppled from the seat. "I'm sorry."

A second's worth of hesitation before John's arms wrapped around her and once again, her son's tears fell warmed her neck. "I'm sorry I hated you."

Gently, she tugged at the back of John's hair. He sniffed loudly and she managed to keep her comments to herself as he rubbed his nose on the shoulder of her shirt before he looked up at her. "Finish your cereal before it gets soggy."

John's smile was grateful, though a bit wobbly. "Mom..."

"I know. You're fine."

The wobbly smile broadened then held fast.

"Eat. I'm going to make myself some coffee."

John shoved a spoonful of cereal in his mouth. "I thought you already did that?" he asked with a full mouth, ducking his head just before she could catch another hint of a smile.

"The mug met an untimely demise."

"Poor mug."

Sarah glanced at the spot on the wall she'd originally been aiming for. "Believe me, it was an honorable death."

oo~O~oo

"I'm not tired."

"I rescued you from falling face first in your bowl. I think that falls under the auspices of tired."

Arms crossed, feet flat on the floor, John had shoved himself into the corner of the couch and glared at her. "Ten minutes."

"Ten minutes," she echoed glancing at her watch. "Ready... Set... Go..." Sarah smiled evilly at him.

oo~O~oo

"Six minutes and thirty seconds."

Sarah's eyes flew open. "What?"

"Six minutes and thirty seconds. You won your bet with John."

She scrubbed at her eyes and stared at the tinker toy who was sitting on the coffee table staring at John as he slept. Examining him was probably a better term.

"Touch him," Sarah warned as she stood and stretched, "and I'll find a short pier for you to take a long walk off of."

Slowly, she turned her attention to Sarah. "I would fall into the water."

"Yeah, you would. Can tinker toys even swim?"

"Our endoskeletons are made of coltan."

"Heavier than water, so you'd sink?"

"I don't swim."

The start of Sarah's smirk disappeared when Cameron went on to say, "But water won't harm me."

"Yeah? But how would you get off the..." Sarah shook her head. "Never mind." She grabbed Cameron's hand as she went to reach for John. "Wasn't kidding about waking him, though. Long walk-short pier type of thing."

"I would fall—"

"It's a warning. A what would happen to you if—"

"Are we making conversation?"

Sarah blinked at Cameron, confused. "I think I need coffee."

oo~O~oo

John had lied to Derek. Couches weren't really as comfortable as beds. Sometimes, in his life experience, couches weren't even as comfortable as a floor and he turned over, trying to find somewhere where a spring didn't make it its life mission to pierce a hole in a tender part of his body.

Something crinkled as he turned, its crumpled edges adding to his discomfort. He stuck his hand under his ribs and was more than a bit disappointed. He'd been hoping for a ten, possibly a five. Hell, he would've settle for a one, instead it was a note from his mother, he'd recognize her scrawl at ten thousand paces.

Took Derek and iron giant out for a ride before their hard edge snipes drew blood or woke you. See you in a while. If you need anything, call the cell.

He flipped onto his back, crumbling the paper further into a tight ball and began to toss it up into the air. Once. Twice. Mindless, repetitive nothingness until he annoyed even himself.

Truthfully, he could get up and work on his computer. Turn on the TV. Watch a movie. His stomach gave a low rumble, winning out over all the other choices.

oo~O~oo

There was a note stuck to the fridge door. This one in Cameron's handwriting. Neat. Precise. Completely straight, even without a line for guidance.

Turkey is in the fridge behind the orange juice. Make yourself a sandwich.

Part of him actually felt a twinge of sympathy for Derek for being stuck with the two biggest bitches in the world.

He opened the fridge and actually had the turkey in his hand when he noticed the tinfoil-covered tray. Peeling it back, he smiled. Much better than a bland turkey sandwich. As upset as he'd been, Daniel remembered the offering his mother had brought into his room and had been sorta annoyed that she'd taken it with her when he'd thrown her out.

While it warmed in the oven, John showered, allowing the hot water to wash away the last of the cobwebs. He flipped his brain onto autopilot, going through the motions without any thought, because it was just easier that way.

oo~O~oo

The shower had run into overtime and the end result was a platter of dried out ziti but that didn't deter John from finishing what was left, using his fork prongs to scrape the bottom of the pan.

oo~O~oo

Monday came faster than Daniel would've imagined and while standing at the bus stop, he was sorry that he hadn't taken up his father's offer to drive him to school. School was going to be bad enough, but the bus ride was going to be torture.

Nate. Li. Corey. Everyone had called him yesterday. Apologies. Amends. Movies. Mall. Tossing the ball into his court. All friendly and chatty and stuff, but Daniel knew better. He was stuck on their not trusting him.

Daniel walked into the bus head down, fighting the urge to drop into the first unoccupied seat behind the driver. And he would have, if Cassie hadn't been screaming his name.

"Back here."

Downtrodden, Daniel moved down the aisle and dropped into the seat next to Cassie.

Corey leaned forward into their space the second Daniel sat down. "What gives, man? I tried calling you all day yesterday."

"Yeah, and we spoke the day before. That message I got loud and clear."

Corey's face colored in embarrassment. "Aww, shit. Look, I'm sorry. I was just pissed. I mean my mom—"

"So you got angry at me. Said things..." Daniel waved his hand in the air. "Forget it."

"Boys, play nice." Cassie sidled up to Daniel, tugged down his hand and whispered, "Sucks to be you."

"Watch it," Daniel whispered back. "I know where your mother keeps all those embarrassing pictures of you. Remember the one where you're going to that boy band concert and you had—"

"Asshole." Cassie elbowed him in the side.

Daniel was thankful for what Cassie was attempting to do. Remind him that today was no different than any other day. That he was no different. Take a breath. Step back. He could do that. Daniel managed a weak smile at Corey who smiled back to say 'all was forgiven'. And for now, it was.

oo~O~oo

Until lunch. Daniel was neither stupid nor blind. He could hear the talk. The not so hushed whispers behind opened lockers. Going through the Stargate had nothing on attending high school.

He snuck up behind Alexandria walking into the lunchroom. Hooking her around the neck, Daniel pulled her from the sea of bodies over to the side, away from the opened double doors. "Guess who?"

She turned on him, pushing him backwards, apologizing profusely to the people they bumped against, until his back was against the nearest row of lockers.

"Ow." He squirmed, his backpack caught between his body and the lockers.

"Ow?" Alexandria wiggled her eyebrows at him. "Did I hurt you?" She reached around and tweaked his ponytail. "Need me to kiss it and make it—"

Daniel shut her up with a kiss, more than a little disappointed when Alexandria stepped back, severing the contact.

"Dessert after lunch," she teased. "I'm starved."

oo~O~oo

Daniel stood staring at their regular lunch table. Their friends were surprisingly absent, maybe it had to do with their table being filled with at least twenty paper plates. Each white plate had a square of brownie right in the center.

"School lunch special, Jackson," someone shouted from a surrounding table.

"Hey, Jackson, heard you had a little problem with the brownies. Maybe these will be more to your liking." A varsity soccer player that Daniel vaguely remembered from the party snorted loudly as he added his own plate of brownie to the mix. "Don't say I never gave you anything."

He could feel the flush of anger from his toes all the way to the top of his head as well as the slight pressure of Alexandria's hand as it gripped his.

"Don't," she pleaded, loud enough for only him to hear. "They're not worth it."

Daniel wanted nothing more than to smash the brownie into the face of the varsity soccer player by the name of Tyler who was sneering at him from the next table. Or clear the table with a sweep of his backpack, but he did neither. He simply left. Turned around and walked out through the double doors, trying to ignore the jibes following in his wake.

oo~O~oo

Down the hallway, out the doors in the back of the school, Daniel didn't stop moving until he had located a secluded copse of trees to the left of the playing field. The punch he delivered to the nearest tree hurt like a sonofabitch, but not enough to make him stop. Alexandria did that, grabbing his arm when he pulled back, fist raised, ready to go another round with the poor defenseless tree.

"Does it help?" Gently, she wiped away the blood on his knuckles with her thumb.

"At least hitting the tree won't get me in trouble." He jerked his hand from her grip then wiped his bloody knuckles on his jeans. "Are you hungry?"

"I sorta lost my appetite."

Without a word, Daniel shrugged off his backpack, then knelt on the grass, unzipping a number of pockets.

Curious, Alexandria sat down, watching him.

"Give me a second." He rooted around in his bottomless pack. "Got it." Triumphant he pulled out two granola bars, a small bag of Cheese Nips and a leftover from Halloween mini pack of M & M's. "Okay," he said, waving the bag of candy by the well-worn corner. "Maybe this—"

"I'm sure it's still good." Alexandria leaned over to grab it, but Daniel leaned in and kissed her, keeping the candy just out of her reach. "I'm sorry."

"I never heard of anyone getting sick from old M & M's."

"That's not what I meant," Daniel said, handing her the candy. "I meant about the stupid party and the fact that—"

"I know that's not what you meant," Alexandria said as she opened the bag and offered it to Daniel.

Daniel peered into the bag, shook his head and settled on a granola bar.

"I love a picnic lunch."

"This isn't much of a picnic."

She gazed at him, eyebrows raised as if he were crazy. "Oh, you're right. There's not an ant in sight."

oo~O~oo

Daniel and Alexandria pretended that everything was okay and their manufactured everything-was-okay-in-their-world attitude lasted up until they heard the late bell ring.

"Do you want to go back?"

Daniel shrugged, then stood. "Do we have a choice? Just prolonging the inevitable if we cut."

"I hate it when you're practical." Alexandria stood up, wiped off her pants then glanced at the school then at Daniel. "Are you okay?"

"No," Daniel said, reaching for her hand. "But I will be."

oo~O~oo

Daniel knocked on the doorframe of the tiny office. "Coach Dawson?"

The man looked up from the paperwork threatening to overrun his desk. "Jackson."

"Can I talk to you for a... ummm, second?" In theory this had been a great idea. In reality, the balls that Daniel thought that he'd grown had shrunk back down to prepubescent dimensions.

"Sure. Have a seat." He pointed to the chairs facing his desk.

Daniel hesitated, then looked over his shoulder, the muted locker room voices making him feel more than a bit uncomfortable.

"It's okay, Jacks... Daniel." The coach got up, gently pushed Daniel into his office, then closed the door. "Are you okay?"

"Fine, sir."

"Sit."

Daniel dropped his backpack to the floor, then sat, staring at the worn tiles between his sneakers. Only when the chair squeaked with the weight of the coach's body did Daniel glance up.

"I know what happened." The coach rustled some papers, unable to meet Daniel's stare. "The two instigators have been benched for three games." Finally, he looked up. "I'm so sorry, Daniel. I never—"

"I was stupid, sir."

"If it were up to me, Steve and Lewis would be off the team, but powerful parents—" He waved a frantic hand in front of his face as if to rid the area of an offensive odor. "Never mind, you don't need to know that. Suffice it to say that—"

"I'm staying on the junior varsity team."

"Excuse me?"

"I've thought it over and decided to—"

"Stay on junior varsity?" The coach cleared his throat and leaned forward. "Daniel, you're—"

"Fourteen," he answered softly. "I'm out of my—"

"What? You're more talented than half the boys on that team. You can run circles around—"

Daniel tried to hide the smile the compliments produced, but he couldn't. "Thank you, sir."

"It's the truth. Fourteen or not, you're one of the most talented players I've ever had the fortune to—"

Daniel threw up his hands. "I need to stay on junior varsity."

"Do you want me to talk to your father, because I'm sure—"

"No." Daniel gave his head a vehement shake. "My dad doesn't... It doesn't make a difference to my dad, as long as I'm happy. I'm happy on junior varsity."

"If you ever change your mind, Daniel, you're always welcome to move up."

Move up a grade. To another team. Everyone was intent on displacing him. Daniel picked up his backpack, stood, then shouldered one of the straps. "Thank you for understanding, Coach." Daniel stuck out his hand, disappointed when the coach hesitated before shaking.

oo~O~oo

Daniel took the late bus home, sitting in the back staring out the window. He thought about homework, Alexandria, and his failing friendship with Corey and Nate. He thought about everything but the conversations going on around him. Passing scenery replaced whispered not-so-subtle remarks about him.

The flavor of the week. That was him, all right. Another few days and everyone's interests would wane and he could go on. Pick up where he left off, maybe this time working on becoming part of the woodwork and not standing out. It was safer that way. And easier.

oo~O~oo

Daniel ate a slice of cold pizza while he prepared dinner. Roast beef. Baked potatoes. His stomach growled in anticipation and he was just reaching for another slice when the doorbell rang.

"Damn." He dropped the pizza back onto the opened triangle of tinfoil and went to answer the door. "What do you want?"

"Can I come in?" Corey stood there, hands shoved deeply into his pockets.

"Why?"

"Shit, you're going to go all emo on me because of what happened at lunch? It was a joke, man, can't you take a joke?"

"Did you think it was funny?"

"Well... You know..."

"No, Corey. I don't know. What I do know, is that I ended in the hospital. Alexandria, too."

"Yeah, I know, and that really sucked, but it was an accident. Come on. No one thought you were going to eat... Or that anyone was going to eat more than one brownie."

"Alexandria did, and guess what, so did I." Daniel swallowed. "What do you want?" he repeated. "You want me to forgive you? Say that it's okay about what happened at the party? At lunch today?"

"No one got hurt."

"No, you're right. No one got hurt. Today."

Corey smiled.

Daniel didn't return the smile.

Corey's smile slid from his face. "Daniel..."

"I left the varsity team. So you don't have to pretend, okay? I know I'm still a kid; you made that abundantly clear."

"I didn't mean that."

"You said it." Daniel shook his head. "I'm fourteen. You're sixteen. This isn't about me sharing my toy cars with you." God, this was hard. "This is about me growing up and never catching up. I'm not five to your seven anymore. It matters now."

Corey tapped his temple. "Only in your head, Daniel." He scrubbed at his face. "I came here to say I was sorry. About it all. The party. The brownies at the table. I was stupid—"

"You'll get no argument from me." Daniel stepped into Corey's personal space. "You thought I called the cops."

"I was angry. My parents were pissed at me."

"You thought I called the cops," Daniel repeated. "I'd never—"

"I said I was stupid," Corey yelled. "You know my mom—"

Daniel blinked at Corey, a light bulb going on in his head. "Your mom made you come over here and apologize, didn't she?"

"No," Corey said, but he wouldn't meet Daniel's gaze.

"Go home and tell her that everything's fine. Still best buds and all that bullshit, okay? I can pretend with the best of them."

oo~O~oo

Jack didn't miss the fact that Daniel spent more time mashing the butter into the potato than he did eating it. "Want some sour cream, because maybe that would help?"

"Huh?" Daniel glanced up at him.

Jack pointed at the potato. "You're killing the poor veggie."

"Oh. Yeah." He flashed him a smile.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Fine." Daniel scooped out a forkful of potato, then turned the fork over and let the potato fall back into the shell. "I'm really not hungry."

"Could it have anything to do with the pizza—"

"Oops. Sorry." He put his fork down and pushed the plate away. "Yeah. I was, umm... Working on a project and sorta missed lunch. I was hungry when I came home. Sorry," he repeated, "I know you hate when I do that."

"It's okay." Jack offered up a smile.

"Can I be excused? I have some homework..."

"Sure."

"Call me and I'll help you clean up."

"I can manage. You go finish up whatever needs to be finished."

oo~O~oo

Jack read the paper while eating, the sports page held more interest than the meal. He ate by rote, more because he had also missed lunch and was starving than because it was delicious. It could've been two slices of toast for all he cared. Daniel's behavior had sucked all the enjoyment out of the meal.

He had just loaded the plate in the dishwasher when the phone rang.

"O'Neill."

"Colonel O'Neill, this is Coach Dawson."

Jack had been expecting this phone call, surprised that it had taken the man until Monday. "Yes, Coach, what can I do for you?"

"It's about Daniel, sir."

Nothing would've pleased Jack more than to borrow Cassie's favorite term and just go "duh" in response; but he was just too damn polite and grown up for that. "What about Daniel?"

"While I can understand why you're making him take a step back and down, is there anything I can say to reassure you that this won't happen again?"

"Whoa, back up a little. What exactly am I doing?"

"Daniel came to see me today. He let me know that he's staying on junior varsity. Personally I think—"

"Staying on jayvee? Since when?"

"Since today," Dawson stuttered. "I assumed because of Friday's incident and Daniel's age, that this was your decision."

"No. This was entirely Daniel's decision, and as much as you and I might feel otherwise, I would ask that you honor his request."

"I told him that there was always a place on varsity for him. He's an amazing player. So, whenever he wants to reconsider—"

"I'll reinforce that. Thanks for the phone call; I appreciate you taking the time."

oo~O~oo

His first instinct was to barge into Daniel's room and demand to know what the hell was going on, but that never worked, no matter what age Daniel was.

Jack knocked on Daniel's door, but didn't wait for an answer before he entered. "Hey," he said, holding up a bowl of cereal. "Thought you might be hungry now."

Daniel was lying in bed, surrounded by books; laptop, phone and iPod were conspicuously absent. "Thanks." He levered himself up and put a book on his lap.

Jack took that as an invitation, handed Daniel the bowl then pulled the desk chair over to the side of the bed and sat.

Daniel paused, the spoon halfway to his mouth. "You don't have to watch me. I've been feeding myself for a while now."

"I got a call from Coach Dawson."

"Look, Dad, I just thought it was the smartest thing to do. Obviously, I just can't handle... I just couldn't handle—" His eyes widened. "I disappointed you."

"Oh, God, no Icky, of course you didn't. I just wanted to make sure you were staying on junior varsity for the right reasons."

"I need to grow up."

Jack sighed. "That wasn't one of the reasons I was going to give. If anything, you're too mature for your age."

"It's where I need to be. Where I want to be."

"The coach said if you ever want to—"

"I know," Daniel said, stirring the cereal. "He told me the same thing."

oo~O~oo

By Friday, Jack had had it. This wasn't Daniel. This was some pod person who answered to the name of Daniel and lived in his house and ate at his table.

"All right, spill," Jack yelled, throwing down his fork. "What gives?"

"Gives?" Daniel's gaze raked over the neatly set table and the dinner. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong? What's wrong?" Jack's voice rose with each phrase. He ran his fingers through his hair, tugging at the short strands. "I don't know what's wrong, except that you've been moping around the house like you've lost your best friend."

"I—" Daniel's mouth opened, but he couldn't form any more words.

"Icky?" Jack felt like an asshole. What the hell had he missed?

Blue eyes filled and instinctually, Daniel averted his head.

"Hey... Hey."

"Can I be excused?" Daniel mumbled.

"No," Jack replied softly, "you can't be excused. Talk to me."

Daniel huffed.

"That's not an answer. You know if you—" The phone rang. "Damn." He pointed a finger at Daniel. "Hold that thought, I'll be right back."

oo~O~oo

Maybe Jack should say that he was grateful that he didn't have to leave and actually go to the mountain, but his 'be right back' was two hours later. The kitchen was cleaned. Table cleared. His untouched dinner was sitting on the counter, but Jack was no longer hungry. Or actually, he was, it was just that at this moment hunger was going to take a back seat to something else he needed to do.

There was laughter coming from Daniel's room and the door wasn't closed, so Jack invited himself in and pushed the door opened. Daniel looked up at him, teenage annoyance had replaced the dinnertime tears.

"Hang on a second." Daniel held the cell phone away from his ear. "Everything, okay?"

"Everything's okay. I was going to ask you the same question."

"I'm fine. Talking to Alexandria." Daniel waved the phone at him.

"Sorry for interrupting." Jack raised his hands in surrender. "I just wanted to remind you that you promised to help your grandmother clean out the garage tomorrow."

The look on Daniel's face was enough for Jack to know that he'd forgotten.

"You promised," Jack said. "Around one. So any plans you have with anyone, make for the evening."

Daniel rolled his eyes and went back to talking. His teenage behavior oddly pleasing to Jack, who gave his son a thumbs up and backed out of the room, closing the door behind him.

oo~O~oo

"Do you want me to drive you?"

"No." Daniel shoved the rest of the sandwich in his mouth. "I'll ride my bike." He shot a quick glance at the clock over the microwave. "Wish I'd gotten up earlier."

Jack wished Daniel had gone to bed earlier. He'd listened to his son pace the floor into the wee hours of the morning. Daniel looked tired. There were dark circles under his eyes that didn't belong on the face of a fourteen year old. "What's going on, Daniel?" Jack moved to the kitchen door, effectively cutting off Daniel's only means of escape.

"I have to go, Dad."

"Your grandmother can wait a few more minutes."

"I had a crappy week." Daniel shoved his garbage into the pail.

Jack had the feeling his son's week went way beyond crappy. He stuck his toe in and tested the water. "Are you going out with Dria tonight?"

"Told her I'd call her when I got back from Grandma's."

"Why don't you invite a bunch of people over? Get a pizza. Rent a movie. Corey. Nate—"

Daniel snorted in disgust. "Dad, they're sixteen. They don't want to hang out in my basement. They're sixteen, for God's sake. Not little kids."

Bingo. Jack was pretty damn sure he'd touched the exposed nerve causing Daniel's shitty week. He let the statement go with a shrug. "Sure you don't want a lift?"

"Don't need my dad driving me. Bicycle's just fine."

oo~O~oo

"Hi."

Rose didn't bother turning about, she just pointed to the pile of boxes she'd just stacked in the corner. "It's about time you got here. If you could please—"

"Oh. I'm sorry."

Hurriedly, Rose spun around in response. "John. I'm so sorry. I thought you were my grandson."

John glanced around then placed the cleaned pan on the nearest flat surface he could find. "You're grandson has good taste. This was delicious, thank you."

Rose had never seen a child as skittish as John and it broke her heart as he awkwardly stood there, studying the cement floor. "It was my pleasure. I love to cook for people who enjoy a home cooked meal."

Quickly, he glanced at her under his fringe of too long bangs and there was no shyness in his smile. "I enjoyed it."

A lady-killer this one was going to be. With that smile, girls were never going to know what hit them. Rose smiled back, wiped her hands on her old jeans then took the pan.

The smile faded away as John pointed across the street. "I guess I'll just be going, I don't want to keep you—"

Something Rose had done had scared him. The pan. He thought she was dismissing him and furtively her gaze swept around the garage, settling on a shelf she'd just cleaned. "Just going to move this up here." Rose made a show of sliding the pan onto the shelf. "Don't want it to break, otherwise I can't send anything else over for you to enjoy."

"Yeah, that would be a pity." A blush worked its way up, coloring his cheeks. "I'm sorry, it's just that my mom..." John sighed. "Open mouth. Insert foot."

"Your mom what?"

"Cooking isn't really one of her talents."

oo~O~oo

Rose wasn't sure how it happened. How they'd gone to talking about cooking and pans to John lending a hand, helping her clean out the garage. She returned from inside with two large glasses of lemonade.

He used the hem of his tee shirt to blot up his sweaty face and Rose felt terrible when she spied the fading bruise on the back of his right hand. John dropped his hand, then reached for the proffered lemonade with his other hand.

"Still doesn't look great," she commented.

"It's okay. Actually, better." He flexed his fingers then hurriedly, John drank the lemonade, handing the empty glass back to her. "I really have to be—"

"Grandma."

John stepped back, stiffened and eyed Daniel with unadulterated mistrust.

"Daniel, this is my new neighbor, John. John, this is my grandson, Daniel."

A bright smile lit up Daniel's face. "Welcome to my grandma's neighborhood."

John nodded sharply, but there was no friendliness.

"Okay," Daniel said sarcastically, elongating the word.

"Daniel," Rose hissed.

"I haven't seen you around school."

John shrugged. "I haven't been there yet."

Rose stepped into the pissing contest. "John just moved in."

"From where?"

Bless Daniel for his inquisitive nature. Rose beamed.

John hesitated, almost as if revealing his previous residence was a state secret. "California." He filled in the blank before Daniel could ask anything else. "Close to LA."

"Cool. I've never been to California."

"We weren't there that long. We sorta move around." He glanced over his shoulder. "I really need to—"

All of Rose's alarm bells began to sound. Loudly. "What grade are you going to be in?"

"Tenth."

"Daniel also," Rose replied with a hint of pride.

With a slow blink, John studied Daniel.

Daniel bristled. From an arm's length away, Rose could feel it. Something about John was rubbing him the wrong way, though based on John's expression the feeling was apparently mutual.

"And your sister?" Rose asked, hoping to defuse the situation.

"Sister? Cameron, she's in tenth also."

"I didn't realize you're twins," Rose remarked with an amicable smile.

"Not twins."

Every word. Every sentence was short. Clipped. Guarded. Yes, that was the word she was looking for, everything John said was guarded. Even the teen's body language was guarded. He appeared as adept as Daniel at hiding things behind the obvious.

"I have to go, Rose."

"Thanks for helping me."

"He helped you?" Daniel interjected. "I told you that I would com—"

"You were late. I wasn't sure if you were even coming." Rose hated herself the minute the words left her mouth. Daniel's self-esteem was somewhere around his ankles and what did she do? Kick the boy while he was down. She could only hope the supportive hand she dropped on his shoulder was enough of an apology.

"I told you that I would be here." His voice was barely above an indignant whine. Obviously, Daniel hadn't understood her.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..." John swallowed. "Interfere."

"I was coming. I had to talk to Dad first." Daniel shrugged off her hand and squared his shoulders.

"No need to apologize," Rose quickly added. "Either of you."

John's gaze never wavered from Daniel. "Sorry." There was just the slightest hint of sarcasm. "Thanks again, Rose. Daniel." His curt nod goodbye was anything but 'hope to see you around'.

That body language Daniel read loud and clear and Rose pretty much felt that it was her grip on his shoulder that kept him rooted to the spot.

oo~O~oo

"He was rude."

"You weren't any better."

Daniel blinked at her; the thought had never even crossed his mind. "Me? I wasn't rude. I thought I was being..." He smiled a dimple-less smile. "He wasn't exactly civil."

She could argue the point but at this juncture, Rose was pretty damn sure it wasn't going to get her anywhere. Her kiss to his temple was unexpected, and Daniel's eyes widened in shock and he melted into her with a heavy sigh for all of one minute before stepping back with a self-conscious snort of laughter. "I'm fourteen, Grandma."

"Too bad, you're never too old to let your grandma kiss you."

"I'm fourteen," he insisted with a hint of blush slowly creeping up and coloring his cheeks.

"And I'm a lot older than you are, so I win by seniority. Kisses and hugs have no age boundaries."

"I love you, you know."

"I know." Rose was clueless where Daniel was going with this, if he was going anywhere at all.

His quick hug brought tears to her eyes and before she had a chance to reciprocate, Daniel stepped back and out of her reach. "I'm going to get the boxes from the basement."

oo~O~oo

"Where the hell were you?"

John didn't deserve his mom's anger, but an afternoon with Cameron and Derek just brought out the evil wickedness in her.

"I returned the pan to Rose."

"She's across the street; I don't imagine that would take—"

"She was cleaning out the garage. I stayed and lent a hand."

Sarah rolled her hand. "And..."

"And what?" John flung open the fridge door with such force all the bottles on the door did a little dance. "Oh," he said as he grabbed a Snapple and slammed the door shut. "You want to know if we talked? Of course we did. Told her that you were a felon, wanted by the FBI. Derek's picture was probably up in the local post office. Cameron is a cyborg from the future. Strangely enough, this nice old woman had no problem believing any of it until I tried to pass myself off as the savior of mankind. That she had a bit of trouble with." John hugged the Snapple to his chest using his bad hand, then tried to open the top with his good hand.

With a mother's intuition, Sarah knew what the outcome was going to be. John didn't have the leverage nor the patience, not after helping the old woman across the street clean out her garage, to perform the task. "John," was all she managed before the Snapple slipped from his grasp.

"Crap." John tried to catch it one handed but failed. His failure diverted the path of the bottle's downward motion and Sarah misjudged its path.

"Fuck." Her language was much more colorful because she saw the future big picture of shattered glass and a puddle of iced tea that would be her responsibility to clean up. For once, a higher deity was on her side as the Snapple hit the floor, gave a little bounce and just rolled between her legs.

She scooped it up, then ran her hands over the bottle, testing for any glass nicks or cracks before peeling off the plastic, popping the top and presenting the Snapple to John.

John took the bottle. Studied her. Studied the bottle. Then slammed it on the countertop. "You just don't get it." He pushed the opened Snapple in her direction. "Hope you enjoy it."

oo~O~oo

"I'm missing something, aren't I?" Sarah sat on the outside deck chair next to Derek. Nothing in this house was private. Or sacred.

Derek was staring into the distance, concentrating on something Sarah wasn't privy to. What royally pissed her off was the hint of a smile tugging at the corner of Derek's lips.

"Want to share?"

"God, he's so much like Kyle as a teenager. Good luck."

"Really?" Sarah could feel the start of her own smile. "Had your hands full, did you?"

Derek laughed. Coming from him, the sound was strange. Forced. And more than a bit creepy.

"Did you ever think that I'm not the one you should be telling your stories to?" Sarah kept her voice soft. A soothing, non-threatening texture.

"No. Not yet. One day."

"Don't make one day too far in the future. John needs your memories." She placed her hand on top of his resting on the arm of the chair and squeezed, ever so lightly. "Probably more than you do."

oo~O~oo

Sarah walked across the street, a bag of Chip Ahoy cookies in her hand. She'd bought these as a treat for John but the middle class girl whose mother stressed never to return a dish without some food item in it took precedence over chocolate chips cookies for her son to have with his milk.

"Well, hello there." The woman smiled at Sarah.

Sarah moved the bag of cookies to her left hand and stuck her right hand out in greeting.

"John's mom, Sarah. And Cameron's," she added as an afterthought.

The older woman wiped her hands on her pants, then grasped Sarah's extended hand, her grip strong and sure. "Rose. Rose O'Neill."

Sarah handed the bag over to Rose. "Theses are for you. I would've baked something but..."

"How sweet. You didn't have to do anything, bring anything, John explained."

"Explained what?" Sarah asked suspiciously.

"That you just moved into the neighborhood. I know what that's like."

"Yeah." Sarah tried to refocus, drag her mind back from the direction it had been headed.

"Would you like some tea? Coffee?"

Sarah shook her head. "Thanks so much, but I really need to get back. Unpacking. Scrounge up dinner."

"Pizza."

"Excuse me?"

"Hold on a minute."

Sarah was left awkwardly standing in the garage while Rose went into the house. She appeared a couple of minutes later with a few sheets of different colored papers, shoving them at Sarah.

"Take out menus. Best housewarming gift I can think of sharing. The top three deliver."

Stunned, Sarah shifted through the papers. "I'm sure I can put these to good use."

"I love to cook. My grandson, on the other hand," Rose sighed.

"Teenager?"

"Definitely."

"Me, too."

"You have two. Double the fun."

"Cameron and John. They make life interesting."

"Grandma, about that table..."

The kid burst into the garage. Young. Younger than John but not by much. Long hair in a ponytail. Glasses. Blue eyes that were unfair to belong to a boy and a dirty smudged face which made him appear even younger than he was.

"Speaking of teenagers, this is Daniel. Daniel, this is John's mother... I'm sorry, I didn't catch your last name."

"Sarah is fine. Hello, Daniel." She caught something in his eyes as he assessed her, intelligence, but there was something more, something that Sarah, who was a damn good judge of character, was unable to put her finger on and it pissed the shit out of her.

Daniel looked down at his dirty hands, held them up to Sarah as an excuse and gave her a smile instead. Hesitant and quick, the greeting never reached his eyes. "What should I do about your old computer table?"

Rose just pointed to the curb. "Trash it. The new one will be delivered tomorrow so why don't you just put it out. I'm sure someone—"

"I'll take it." God she hated handouts, but she hated even more the look on John's face in the kitchen and maybe this would earn her a few forgiveness points. "We lost our house in the brush fires. John really needs—" She could feel herself blushing. "Cartons don't make a great desk."

"No, they don't," Rose said softly. "The table is yours."

oo~O~oo

Last week his mother had registered them in central office. Today was their official first day. Different school. Same routine for a mid-year start. John was pretty much used to it by now. He sat, slumped on one of the wooden chairs in the main office. His backpack was on the floor between his legs. Cameron sat to his right, ramrod straight, her gaze following each and every person exiting the office. His mom? She was sitting with the principal shoveling the bullshit.

John Baum. Cameron Baum. Children of the poor widowed Sarah Baum. For once it was the same IDs so he had the story pretty down pat. Moved from Lawrence, Kansas to LA and from LA to Colorado Springs.

"Don't be a freak," John warned Cameron.

"Have I ever?"

John did a quick double take, but there wasn't a smile on her face. She honestly believed she'd asked a legitimate question.

"Sometimes."

"Do you have an example?"

"Conversations like this."

"You brought it up."

"Yeah, you're right. I did. Forget it." John slumped even further, then hurriedly tucked his legs back in when he almost tripped a teacher. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"Don't be a freak, John." Cameron deadpanned.

oo~O~oo

The guidance counselor finally showed them their lockers and escorted them to their first period class, which thanks to all the bureaucratic crap of paperwork, had started fifteen minutes ago. Great, nothing screamed new kid like walking into a class fifteen minutes late.

Math. Wonderful. The teacher nodded a greeting and for one horrific minute, John thought he was going to make the class yell out a group hello, but the moment passed and the teacher pointed to two empty chairs in the back of the room. "Welcome," was all he said before turning back and writing a problem on the board.

John took the last seat behind a cute girl, then pointed to the other empty chair two rows over when he realized Cameron was just standing there. "That's your seat," he hissed.

"Thank you for—"

"Just go sit."

"Mr., ummm, Baum, does there seem to be a problem?"

"No, sir." He lowered his head in embarrassment. Now would be a good time for Judgment Day.

"Good. Now, Ms. Baum, would you be so kind as to take that other empty seat?"

And Cameron walked two rows over with every male eye in the room, sans the teacher and John, following her.

"Hey, man," the kid next to him whispered. "Is she your sister?"

John nodded.

"Damn. Can I be your best friend?"

"Shut up, Li, or I'm going to tell Jenn." The cute girl in front of him glared at the kid then turned a winning smile on John. "Hi, my name's Cassie. It would be in your best interest to ignore the majority of people within this immediate vicinity—"

"Cassandra Fraiser, I don't believe the answer to this problem is behind you."

Cassie rolled her eyes before turning around. "I'm sorry, Mr. Lexington, but Li was being an idiot again."

"Hey! I was not."

"Ms. Fraiser—"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Lexington. I didn't mean to say that out loud."

oo~O~oo

John found his second period class seconds before the late bell rang. Cameron, surrounded by a gaggle of guys, walked in just as the bell rang. Experience had taught him to let the other students find their seats before he searched for an empty one.

Cameron ended up in the last row second to last seat and he ended up in the fourth row third to the last seat. There were some faces from the period before. He glanced in Cameron's direction and she nodded at him slowly. He wasn't exactly sure what she was trying to convey, but suddenly he didn't feel so alone.

The class was boring. He stole another glance at Cameron who sat with her gaze glued forward, listening in what appeared to be silent rapture, hanging on to every word the teacher was saying. He, on the other hand, was studying the people within the classroom.

"Hi."

In response to the softly spoken greeting, John turned. "Hi," he stuttered to the girl.

"My name's Dria."

"John."

"New?"

"Yeah." Beautiful girls talking to him in new schools brought back not so many nice memories. They also caused him to fidget. And worry. He looked over his shoulder at the teacher, who was about fifty, balding and skinny to the point of emaciation, very non-terminator material, and he felt a tad better.

"You okay?" Dria whispered.

"Fine. Just making sure my sister is—"

"Mr. Baum. Ms. Montalbano. Cease and desist on class time."

He sighed and sunk lower in the chair, at least every teacher was going to know his name by the end of the day.

oo~O~oo

John wasn't sure how he'd missed the kid, but he had. The same obnoxious kid whose grandmother lived across the street from him was, at this very exact moment in time, in the three minutes between classes, in a very intense public display of affection with the gorgeous Dria girl from last period.

"Oh, please, you two, get a room," Cassie said before she sauntered into the classroom directly across from the room they'd been in and stood in the doorway. "Do you believe them?" She smiled at John.

The kid, Daniel, didn't separate from Dria, he just gave Cassie the finger.

Cassie laughed. "Going to snitch to my mom who's going to tell your dad—"

"You know, Cassie..." With a huff of annoyance, Daniel broke the embrace, then blinked at John, obviously forgetting his beef with Cassie. There was only the slightest hesitation before he gave John a quick nod.

John managed a half smile. "Hi, Daniel."

Dria's gaze bounced from Daniel to John. "You two know each other?"

"Small world," John answered with a shrug.

"Too small, if you ask me," Daniel shot back.

"Play nice." Dria punched Daniel lightly in the arm.

He colored slightly, just enough for John to feel a tad victorious.

"Meow," Cassie kicked in with a giggle.

John stood rooted to the spot, sizing Daniel up. Daniel snaked an arm around Dria's waist, pulling her close. John got the message loud and clean. 'Hands off'.

"The late bell is going to sound in forty-two seconds." While Cameron's words were said to all and sundry, her gaze hadn't left Daniel's face.

As always, the ever-diligent Cameron was watching his ass. "I'm on it," John said. "See ya later?" he asked, deliberately directing the inquiry at Dria.

"Actually I think you'll be seeing me in about forty-two seconds," Dria answered with a smile.

"Twenty-nine."

"Freak," John hissed. "Behave yourself." He nudged Cameron, forcing her to stop staring at his grandmother's neighbor.

oo~O~oo

As luck would have it, John ended up sitting behind Daniel. Cameron was to his right, sitting behind Dria. Global history. John hated history. Probably for more reasons than anyone else in this room.

He shifted in his chair, uncomfortable. The teacher was young and enthusiastic and if John gave her half a chance, he was pretty sure that she would manage to change his perspective on history, but he'd have to stay focused.

Focusing usually occurred two weeks after settling into a new school and learning what was required of him to blend into the woodwork.

Cameron answered a question. Meticulous, articulate and straight to the point.

"Holy crap," the kid one row over exclaimed, clamping his hand over his heart. "Beautiful and smart."

"Down, Corey," Dria answered back.

There was laughter and Cameron flashed a brilliant program-embedded smile, but John noticed the smile dropped from her face the minute the teacher turned her back.

John watched Dria study Daniel, who had his head bent low. Her hand reached out and touched his arm. For one second Daniel reciprocated then pushed her away. From his seat, John saw what Daniel did not, Dria's expression of hurt and humiliation before turning her attention back to taking notes. Interesting. It would seem that not all was happy in Danny's world.

oo~O~oo

John was in his element. Computer programming. Knowing his mother's mistrust of his inability to keep his computer knowledge contained to his bedroom, John was more than a bit surprised to find himself in this class.

There was no Daniel here. Dria, Cassie, and two kids named Nate and Corey, the latter seeming more than enamored with Cameron. John was at ease in this class, falling right into step and the teacher, a guy in his late twenties, picked on and honed in on the new kid in class.

John held back, asked questions to which he already knew the answers, because he didn't want to draw attention to himself, or to Cameron.

"Wanna be my tutor?" Cassie asked, leaning over John's shoulder.

"I would be a better instructor," Cameron answered.

"Thanks for the offer, but your brother is cuter."

John dropped his head, hoping his hair hid the blush spreading up face.

"Hey, that's a matter of opinion," Corey announced. "Cameron's definitely cuter than John. No offense, John," Corey quickly apologized.

"None taken," he mumbled.

"Come on, guys. Cassie. Corey. Act your age."

Corey snorted. "Wonderful sentiment from someone who's robbing the cradle."

"Asshole." Dria slammed her textbook shut.

"Alexandria," the teacher warned.

Corey smiled.

Dria didn't, but she offered the teacher a terse apology for her language.

Oh, that hit a nerve, but not enough for Corey to apologize. Cameron opened her mouth, and John nipped whatever she was going to say by kicking her ankle.

"No," he mouthed at her when his tin protector glanced over at him. "No freak show."

The relaxed atmosphere of the classroom was gone and they worked in uncomfortable silence until the bell rang. Dria rushed out of the room, Cassie hot on her tail. Corey and Nate watched their departure with matching smirks. John grabbed his backpack, slung it over his arm and took off. Last thing he wanted was to get involved in some teenage soap opera.

oo~O~oo

John hated gym class. No matter what town, what city, what school, he detested gym class. Not that he wasn't athletic, but because he was unable to wrap his mind around the entire 'rah rah' attitude.

Except for LA, most of the schools had been football-based. They were the heroes, hell, even the teachers had looked up to the jocks. It had never taken John long to learn the rungs of the ladder of social status within the walls of higher education.

And what really sucked was that John had thought that he'd get a reprieve. No gym clothes. No shorts or tee shirt and he'd be able to sit this one out. Wrong. His mother had covered all bases, reminding him, when she drove him to school, that they were buried in the bottom of his backpack. To her, sending John to school was like sending him on a mission, fully prepared. Lucky him.

Wearing shorts was bad enough. Wearing shorts with a still impressive bruise on his thigh sorta stopped his ability to blend into the woodwork.

"Shit, man," Corey said pointing down at the rainbow hue on John's thigh. "What the hell happened to you?"

Nonchalantly, John looked down. His hand had pretty much faded, to the point if you didn't know it was there, you'd never notice the slight yellowish color. His leg on the other hand. Not so much. "Oh, that? I touched something I shouldn't have." He hoped that his attitude would bring Corey's curiosity to a screeching halt. Nope.

"Did it hurt? 'Cause it still looks like it's damn painful."

"Nah, actually, I actually don't even remember it happening." Not really a lie.

Corey had his mouth opened, ready to ask another question but John had never been so grateful in his entire life to hear a gym teacher's bellow for everyone 'to get a move on'.

oo~O~oo

A soccer ball. A grassy field and a smattering of orange cones with the instructions to dribble the soccer ball in and among the cones. Corey was a natural. Nate and two other kids held John's attention. Daniel managed the course is if it were second nature. A few other kids were okay. Some were just klutzes. Some just didn't give a shit. Not giving a shit put you on the radar, so when it was John's turn, he dribbled the course, checking his speed but not his maneuverability.

The coach changed the cone formation, blew the whistle, then had them do it all over again.

"New kid... You." The coach waved him over after he'd finished the last go through.

John trotted over to him. "Sir?"

"Have you ever played soccer before?"

In Central America to pass the time, but John didn't exactly think that was the answer the coach was looking for. "Not on a team."

"Interested in coming to a few practices?"

"Excuse me?"

"I think you'd be a real asset to the school's soccer team."

John chuckled, then realized the coach was serious. Deadly serious. "Oh. Me?"

"I'd like to see you in action. And I don't mean a gym period." He blew the whistle. "Set 'em up," he screamed to the kids still on the field. "Friday after school."

"No, I don't think so. I mean, my mom..."

The coach dropped a hand on John's shoulder and squeezed. "Your mom will get all caught up in the game. The booster club..."

"Not my mom."

"Friday, after school."

"No," John repeated.

The coach's glance shifted to John's thigh. "What? You have some medical problem I should be aware of?"

"No."

"Just give this a chance. I don't think either of us will be disappointed." He clapped his hands and headed out towards the field, leaving John standing dumbstruck.

oo~O~oo

"Pass me the damn ball, Daniel." John wasn't winded, he'd spent his life running, but he was damn pissed as hell. The coach had chosen sides and he and Daniel had ended up on the same team. Nate and Corey on the other. The other kids had almost drifted to the wayside, observing the four of them battle for one single goal.

John had to give the kid chops. Daniel was unrelenting in his desire to keep the ball out of Nate and Corey's possession, as well as John's.

"Jackson," the coach yelled from the sidelines. "Pass the ball."

Daniel gave a quick glance in John's direction and passed the ball with more force than was necessary, but he didn't count on John's reflexes. He trapped the speeding ball, dribbled around Nate and Corey, who hooted and hollered at his ability. Damn, John was pretty floored at how good the cheering felt.

"What the—" John stopped running and threw his hands up in surrender when Daniel stole the ball from him and continued down the field towards the opposing team's goal. "Nice," he grumbled.

The whistle was loud and clear, about as loud and clear as the anger etched on the coach's face as he stomped across the field. "Jackson, what the heck was that?"

"Forget it," John said as he walked past the coach off the field on the way to the lockers. "Don't count on me showing up on any Friday practice."

oo~O~oo

John ran his fingers through his still wet-from-the-gym-shower-hair and slicked it back, then rolled down the sleeves of his shirt. Colorado was colder than what he was accustomed to and the shower hadn't exactly helped with either the chill or the general feel of annoyance.

"Good game, Baum." Nate pounded him as they passed through the doors leading out of the locker into the hallway.

Daniel was walking out right on their heels, close enough that he obviously overheard Nate. And as much as it killed him to say "It was a joint effort," John was the new kid on the block and had to make nice.

"Not from where I was standing," another kid commented as he bypassed the group. "Looks like Jackson doesn't share well with others."

Nate laughed.

John didn't.

Daniel made a comment under his breath and pushed between John and Nate.

Great. John gave a furtive glance around, searching for some woodwork to blend in with.

oo~O~oo

Lunch. The one thing he hated more than gym. He was sixteen friggin' years old and his mother still brown bagged his lunch.

He stood in the entranceway, rooted to the spot as people skirted around him, searching the endless tables for Cameron, or at least an empty spot where he could sit, open his laptop and hide behind it while he ate his turkey on white bread with a single swipe of mayo and a sad slice of tomato.

"John."

Over the din, he heard someone call his name. Surprisingly, it wasn't Cameron, but Dria who was sitting at a table with Corey, Cameron, Cassie, Nate and a few other kids who had been in a some of his classes, but whose names had slid from his memory. No Daniel. Nice.

"Hey." He slid onto the bench, sitting next to Cameron, across from Dria, who smiled up at him.

"Welcome to the highlight of the day."

Daniel dropped his tray onto the table, then sat next to Dria. "Yeah, highlight." With familiarity, Daniel reached into Dria's tray and switched his dessert for hers.

John reached into his backpack and pulled out his crushed brown bag and his laptop. He powered up his laptop and opened his bag, sighing. His mom was, if nothing else, predictable.

Without a sound, Cameron got up. Her own sandwich had two bites missing from it, resting on the brown bag.

"Wait, Cam," Corey shouted, trying to untangle himself from the lunch table bench and follow her.

"Cam? Did he just call her Cam?" John snorted.

"She doesn't like the nickname?" Corey reclaimed his seat. John figured Corey thought he probably was a wealth of knowledge about his sister.

"About as much as I like Johnny." One person in this world was allowed to refer to him by that name. Only one.

"Or Daniel likes Danny," Corey added.

The French fry on its way to Daniel's mouth stopped as he glared. "I know too many of your secrets, Core, for you to play with fire."

Corey admitted defeat in his silence.

"Nice laptop." Daniel tapped the top of John's monitor. "Walmart special? One of those two ninety-nine door buster Black Friday specials?"

Corey placed a hand in the space Cameron had vacated and leaned into Daniel's space. "Dayum," he said with a heavy, sarcastic put-on Southern accent. "I gotta get me one of these. Look at the speed on this."

"Move, so I can sit," Cameron ordered.

Corey shot up and smiled at Cameron like a lovesick puppy.

"I bought you a chocolate milk." Cameron handed John the drink before sitting. "It's his favorite," she offered up to the table.

"Thanks," he stuttered, holding up the milk.

"It's your favorite," Cameron repeated.

"I think everyone knows that now." With the milk still in his hand, John waved it over the table.

"Personally," Cassie piped up, stealing a chip from the bag of the person next to her. "I prefer strawberry milk."

"That's 'cause you're a girl," Nate said. "Ow! You kicked me."

"It hurt?" Cassie batted her eyelashes. "How's that possible? I must kick like a girl."

"Is it a bad thing to kick like a girl?"

"Nate's insinuating that because Cassie's a girl, she kicks like a wuss." Dria stuck a food-covered tongue out at Nate.

"John, do I kick like a—"

"No," he answered hurriedly, terrified that Cameron would demonstrate exactly how unwuss-like her kicking ability was.

Daniel tore his grilled cheese sandwich in half. "So tell me about your laptop. I've heard that some of the no name brands can be—"

"It's modified." John didn't want to give any more information than that.

"John's laptop isn't a wuss."

"Did you build it yourself?" Dria totally ignored the look of disdain Daniel sent her way.

"The guts of it. Internal processors. Video card. Upgraded. All of it." John slurped up the last of his chocolate milk and shoved the remainder of his unfinished sandwich into the bag. "I was never one to just accept the manufacturer's parameters of what they believed I needed."

Them were fighting words. Short of drawing a gun, or whipping out his dick in public and marking his territory, John had strengthened the foundation of dislike Daniel had started.

"God, I love to watch the geeks do battle." Cassie gave a tiny clap of her hands. "Who's got the bigger machine? More memory? Speed? Which one is king of the Ethernet?"

It was if he'd been slapped in the face. The beginnings of Skynet in a high school lunchroom. Hurriedly, John powered down, slammed the laptop closed and zipped it up.

"I'm sorry, John." Cassie was truly upset. "I didn't mean to say something..."

"Fine. It's nothing. I just gotta..." He stole a glance at the clock on the wall and on cue the bell rang.

oo~O~oo

Joy. John was in Spanish with Nate, Li, Cassie, and Daniel. It was safer to keep his mouth shut and he slunk lower and lower in the chair, concentrating on the ditty the teacher had handed out. Spanish was as native to John as English was. He was a fluent speaker and reader... writing Spanish, not so much.

John didn't even look up when the teacher asked him in Spanish how he was managing his first day in a new school. He just answered. In Spanish. Perfectly accented Spanish, only glancing up at the wave of silence that slammed into him when he stopped speaking.

Shit.

Even the teacher was opened-mouthed in shock.

"Well, Ummm... John Baum, you speak Spanish quite well," the teacher commented, this time in English.

John shrugged. "Thank you... I... Ummm... My grandfather was from Central America and he lived with us for a couple of years."

"Impressive."

Daniel, who was sitting to John's left, bent over as soon as the teacher's back was turned and in perfect Spanish, in an accent as good as John's, he whispered exactly one word. "Presumido."

Showoff? Without thinking, John answered back to get lost, the colloquialism, "Pierdete," bringing a frown to Daniel's face.

oo~O~oo

The last class of the day was science. Chemistry. And his thoughts were of Cheri as he stood in the doorway, perusing the lab tables and the chairs being taken. Cameron joined him in his observation.

"I'll be your lab partner, John."

"Thanks." He was tired of keeping up pretenses. Having Cameron as his partner meant he didn't have to lie and pretend to be someone he wasn't. Smile and make all the right remarks.

"Come on." Cassie grabbed his arm and pulled him into the classroom. "You're going to be my lab partner. Corey used to be mine but we've switched. I got you and he's taking on Cameron."

Cassie was exhausting. Okay, she made him smile. And laugh. And she forced him to let his guard down which was dangerous and all he could think of was getting home, taking two Tylenol and shutting himself up in the quiet solitude of his room.

oo~O~oo

John dropped his backpack by the front door and trudged into the kitchen with Cameron at his heels. "Mom, we're home," he yelled. "Alive. Aren't you proud of us?" He reached into the fridge, moved aside a few items, then slammed the fridge shut. Frustrated. No Snapple. Just plain milk. He hated milk. Milk belonged in cereal or in a glass with a squirt of chocolate.

His mom didn't answer. He ignored Derek's shout of greeting, grabbed his backpack and stomped up the stairs to his room.

John settled on the bed, spilled out his books, opened his math book and read. Or actually, he had every intention of reading.

"Hey, sleepyhead."

John rolled onto his back and forced open uncooperative eyelids. "I fell asleep?"

"It was unanimous. Derek and Cameron both agreed you really passed out as opposed to falling asleep."

John groaned. "It was school. I'm a teenager. One day of school after being off for..." He flinched from the hand his mother extended.

His mother pulled back, hurt. "You've been sick. Cut yourself some slack," she said curtly.

"Where were you?" he asked, his tone as petulant as a kindergartener.

"Cranky much?" She gave him a gentle poke in the ribs.

John snorted. His mother rarely, if ever, was in a playful a mood. Serious. Stern. Demanding. Those adjectives were more apropos when describing her. John never doubted her love but he'd never categorized her as a fun mom. Kinda, sorta, definitely worried him. "Everything okay?"

"Everything's fine."

This time John allowed his mother to cup his cheek into her palm. He pushed against it. "I was just tired."

"I'm sorry."

"You should be. Came home from a hard day at school and there's no Snapple in the house."

"I brought a roast chicken. Mashed potatoes. Corn."

"Snapple?"

"I don't know," she answered, "come downstairs, set the table and see. Maybe the shopping fairy remembered to buy you a bottle or two."

"Shopping fairy? I wouldn't let Derek know that's what you call him."

oo~O~oo

"How was school?"

John glanced up from his plate. "Okay."

"Okay?" his mother pushed. "What's okay mean?"

"The day was neither excellent nor poor. It was mediocre," Cameron answered.

His mother nodded at Cameron. "Thank you, Webster."

Cameron glanced at John. "That's not my name."

"You're a machine. Machines don't have names." Derek didn't even look up at her, his attention solely on his dinner.

John banged on the side of his plate with his fork, feeling the need to put a stop to the conversation before it denigrated into something else entirely. "The day wasn't half bad. Cameron has an admirer."

"He said I was smart and beautiful."

"Great. That's wonderful. Tell him you have an overprotective mother who's armed and dangerous."

"Derek," John hissed, turning to his mother for support.

"Shut it, Derek," she said before turning to Cameron. "Don't listen to him. He was being an..."

"Idiot?" Cameron completed the sentence.

Derek growled. Low and deep.

"Children." John was barely able to suppress a smile. "Behave yourself. Do not make me separate you." John winked at his mom. "How'd I do?"

"Good, though you still didn't answer my question about how your day went."

"No one lost their life, but my need to kick someone's ass may increase exponentially as the week progresses."

"During lunch, Daniel insulted John's computer."

"Well then, by all means, kick the crap out of him. I give you my permission."

The glare John gave Derek was lost on Cameron but not his mother, who just glared right back at him. John raised his hands in defeat. "I know. I know. Fighting in school gets you on the radar. I'm not stupid, but damn, that kid so deserves it."

oo~O~oo

When Mr. Gintz, the Assistant Principal, knocked on the door, the teacher didn't seem surprised. However, everyone else was when they were all ordered to exit the classroom and stand against the walls in the hallway. The students from the class next door were filing back inside, and a policeman was escorting another varsity player from the party away.

There were five police officers waiting for them. And a dog. A pretty, well-behaved cocker spaniel. When they were done lining up, an officer walked down the hallway with the dog, encouraging it to sniff each student. Daniel watched with curiosity as the dog sat down next to Lewis Bloch.

"Please step aside, Mr. Bloch," Mr. Gintz ordered. The dog continued on its way, and Daniel smiled as it approached him, taking its time, sniffing each and every student. A few girls reached down to pet the dog as it passed, and it wagged its tail.

Daniel was tempted to do the same until one of the cops chastised the girls, telling them to let the dog do its work. He was smiling as it came up to him and to his horror, the dog sat down next to him.

"Mr. Jackson, this way, please."

"But I—"

"Jackson. Now."

As Daniel stepped away from his classmates, hands sweaty and mouth suddenly spitless with nerves, the dog moved on and sat down next to Alexandria.

"Ms. Mantalbano."

Daniel stood next to Lewis Bloch, who for once wasn't wearing his usual smart-assed sneer. Alexandria hurried over to Daniel and grabbed his hand, her eyes wide with fear.

"Please come with me," a police officer told them. One of the office secretaries stood waiting and handed the officer a piece of paper. Daniel, still holding Alexandria's hand, followed the officer to the lockers, where they were instructed to open theirs and wait.

Michael Pansini, the school Principal was here, and the looks of disappointment he gave Daniel and Alexandria was something Daniel would probably never forget. There were also several more police officers, as well as yet another dog. As Daniel and Alexandria walked past several students whose lockers were in the process of being searched, another officer was putting handcuffs on Paul Mordina, the center for the varsity team. Daniel remembered him from the party and from the way Alexandria squeezed his hand, he was pretty sure that she recalled his presence there as well.

He reluctantly let go of Alexandria when he reached his locker. It took him three tries to open his combination lock. Then he stood there uncomfortably and waited until the black Labrador retriever approached his locker. He was waved aside as the dog checked out his belongings. To his intense relief, it didn't react.

"Please wait for me in my office, Mr. Jackson."

"Sir, can you please tell me what this is about? I haven't done anything."

The police officer was playing with the lab and it was distracting to hear a squeaky toy being vigorously gnawed on by a tail-wagging dog whose partner upstairs had just accused Daniel of something he was innocent of.

Mr. Pansini looked at Daniel over his short glasses. Daniel swallowed. "I don't do drugs, sir."

"The dogs say differently. My office. Now."

Three other students were being escorted to their lockers, two of them Daniel remembered seeing at Steve's party. As Corey, Nate and Li weren't amongst them, Daniel couldn't help but wonder if someone had fixed this with the cops, had given his and Alexandria's names to the police so that they could give the dogs a signal to single them out.

The squeaking stopped, and Daniel, who'd started to leave, turned to watch as the lab now checked out Alexandria's locker. She was staring at it with one hand covering her mouth, and when the dog moved on to Lewis's locker and Mr. Pansini ordered her to his office, she half-ran down the hall to Daniel.

"I can't believe this," she whispered, leaning against Daniel as a policeman waved them on their way.

"Why us? The party was on Friday. It's been more than three days. How do the dogs know?"

They'd reached the stairs and were about to go up when loud curses came from the vicinity of the lockers. They stopped and peeked back the way they'd come. The lab was sitting in front of Lewis Bloch's locker, and one of the officers was slowly emptying it.

Without a word, the two of them went up the stairs, hand in hand. Alexandria's fingers felt as sweaty as his own.

There were five kids standing around the waiting area, two of them looking belligerent, one of them looking just as scared as Daniel felt. The other two... Damn, just his luck.

The secretary at the desk motioned for Daniel and Alexandria to approach.

"Look." John Baum moved quickly, standing in front of the desk before Daniel could reach it. "How much longer is this going to take?"

Suddenly gone was the apprehension and uncertainty. In its stead was anger; anger that Baum was witnessing Daniel's public fall from grace. He opened his mouth to object, then shut it with a snap when he realized Baum's sister was staring at him with an intensity that made him uncomfortable.

"I'm sorry, but as you can see, we're a little busy right now."

"And all I want to do is get our IDs taken so we can get out of your hair and go back to class. Or would it be more convenient for us to go home and come back tomorrow?"

"Can the sarcasm, young man. It's not my fault you walked into the middle of a police intervention."

"You called us—"

"Have a seat. I'll be with you as soon I can." She raised an eyebrow when he didn't move right away.

"John. Let's have a seat. She's busy." Cameron turned her gaze to her brother for a moment, then stared at Daniel some more. John Baum started to say something to his sister, then turned to see what she was looking at. He gave Daniel a nod which Daniel wasn't sure was acknowledgement or mockery.

"What's with you and John? Yesterday you were acting like you knew him already," Alexandria whispered as they moved to the desk.

"He's my grandmother's new neighbor."

"He's cute."

"Name." The secretary's voice was curt. She took down their names, and then pointed to the other three students. "Go wait with them while we call your parents."

Discouraged, Daniel leaned against the wall and cupped his hands over his cheeks, not believing this was happening.

Baum spent more time talking with the secretary; Daniel tried not to eavesdrop, something about missing paperwork. The woman seemed harried and the ringing telephone was a constant interruption.

The bell rang, but no students emerged from the classrooms. Daniel and Alexandria exchanged puzzled looks.

"They're not letting anyone out until the cops have done all the classes," one of the other students offered.

"Why are we here?" Daniel asked, figured the kid knew something about what was going on.

"Sniffer dogs can smell the dope inside us for a couple days after using. Those caught with the stuff in their bags or in their lockers are gonna be hauled to the police station. Us, we're the lucky ones. Our parents are gonna come pick us up and be told their wonderful little babies have been smoking and that they better do something about it."

"Oh." Daniel finally relaxed. "Okay. That's not so bad."

"Are you kidding, man? My mom's gonna freak again. I can't stand all the tears and threats and accusations. Damn. I need a hit before I go home."

"So this is because we ate those brownies." Alexandria fell back against the wall, next to him. "Thank God," she whispered. "I thought we were in trouble."

"My dad's not going to be happy to be called out here for nothing."

"This isn't nothing, son." Daniel turned his head to look at the police officer who'd just entered the waiting area. "This is serious. Even if all you ever smoked was one joint, the danger of addiction is there. It's real. You start with one hit, and then another, and the next thing you know, you're hooked. And you'll do anything – lie, cheat, steal, even kill, to get your next fix."

Daniel pressed his lips together, knowing full well what addiction was like. He turned his head, wishing he could tune out the policeman's preaching. He was innocent, and he knew it, and the knowledge filled him with false bravado.

One of the girls was crying, everyone else, except for Alexandria, was now wearing looks of indifference. Daniel adopted the same attitude, there was no reason for him to cower before the policeman, he wasn't in trouble, he had nothing to prove. All he needed to do was wait for his father to pick him up.

"Are we going to be suspended?"

"No," the cop answered Alexandria. "Your parents will take you home and hopefully this experience will be enough for you and them to talk about doing drugs."

Alexandria turned to Daniel and rolled her eyes skyward. He understood what the policeman was doing but really, it was falling on deaf ears.

And then the parents started arriving. By now there were thirteen students and four police officers in the crowded waiting room. It was a relief when the officers took some of the students and parents into the hallway to talk privately to them.

"Daniel."

"Grandma?" His grandmother entered the office and hurried over to him. "What are you doing here?"

"Ooooh. Jackson's old biddie grannie's come to pick him up. Is she gonna cry?"

Daniel turned to glare at whoever had spoken up with a fake, aged voice, but he couldn't figure out who it was.

"Maybe you'd like to say that to his face." To Daniel's surprise, John left the chair he'd been sitting on and strode through the waiting students. He stopped in front of a senior who Daniel had occasionally seen around school but didn't share any of his classes. His sister followed behind like a shadow and Daniel got the impression that if John were to get into a fight, as petite and fragile-looking as she was, she'd be right in the middle of the fray alongside him.

The senior held his ground for a moment and then turned away, walking to the other side of the crowded room.

"Hello, John." His grandmother smiled at the Baums. "Is your mother on her way?"

"Oh, no. No." Baum had the audacity to smile back and look smug. "The office called us here to have our IDs completed and now they can't find our paperwork. I guess we should come back later, when things are a little less crazy."

"Grandma, what are you doing here?" Daniel asked, trying to get her attention. This time it worked because she turned to look at Daniel.

"The school couldn't reach your father so they called me. Are you okay?"

"Yeah. This is so ridiculous. We didn't do anything, Grandma. I swear."

"I know. I know." She patted his hand and turned to Alexandria. "Have your parents been called?"

Nodding, Alexandria's bravado seemed to melt and her eyes shone with tears. "They called my dad."

"It's going to be all right." His grandmother put an arm around Alexandria's waist and hugged her close as she patted her back. "None of this was your fault, remember?" His grandmother's eyes met Daniel's, including him in this affirmation.

"I know. It's just that this is so embarrassing," Alexandria said softly.

As Baum walked past him, Daniel reached out and grabbed his arm while his grandmother's attention was on Alexandria. "Don't do me any favors," he hissed.

"You, I don't give a shit about." Baum's gaze flicked to his grandma. "Your grandmother, on the other hand, didn't deserve that."

Embarrassed, Daniel stood and glared at Baum's retreating back.

The bell rang again, and this time, students began trickling slowly into the hallway. Everyone that passed glanced curiously into the office, a few of them grinning when they saw Daniel or some of the others, a few pointing at them and making lewd gestures.

"Honey." Mr. Mantalbano came into the office, fighting the crush of the students outside. Alexandria left Rose and hurried to her father. "Why did I just see a young man being taken away in handcuffs?"

"Maybe because he was caught with drugs on his person?" a familiar voice said.

"Dad!" Daniel grabbed his father in a hug, not caring how many kids saw him. "Grandma said you couldn't come."

"I was stuck in a meeting. Thanks for coming, Mom."

"You're Mr. Jackson's father?" The policeman standing behind them was holding a clipboard in his hand.

"Yes, yes, I am."

"You know why you've been called? Our dog has singled out your son, which means that within the last few days, he's used drugs. Most likely—"

"Marijuana. I know. It's all a mistake, Officer. Is there something I have to sign in order to get out of here?"

"Do you have any idea how serious this is, Mr. Jackson?"

"O'Neill. Colonel O'Neill." Daniel was proud to see a few students stiffen and take note of his father, who hadn't taken the time to change into his street clothes. "Yes. Yes, I do. Considering my son was in the hospital last Friday because he'd been poisoned with the drug, yes, I do know."

"Your son's record shows he has a previous arrest for carrying a concealed weapon and has also been hospitalized for another banned substance—"

Although the four of them had moved to a corner of the room, their voices still carried, and the pride Daniel had felt just a few seconds ago quickly turned to guilt and embarrassment. He gave his grandmother a wobbly smile when she patted his arm in encouragement.

"Someone obviously didn't do their homework." His father's face was hard. "The charges were dropped because of extenuating circumstances and the other incident was a one-time occurrence."

"Your son has a drug problem, Colonel Jack—O'Neill."

"My son does not take drugs, Officer... I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

"Walsh."

"Well, Officer Walsh. I appreciate you have a lot of paperwork to weed through at the moment. I'd suggest you get your facts straight before accusing people needlessly. I'm satisfied Daniel hasn't done anything wrong. Now, I was called out of an important meeting so can we please get this over and done with?"

"I'd suggest you take your son to the hospital and have toxicology screens run. Believe it or not, this happens a lot. Parents think they know their children but can't accept that the trust they have has been broken—"

"Didn't I just say my son was in the hospital this weekend? He was at a party and someone slipped him and his girlfriend some drugs. I've told you once that he's innocent—"

"That's what they all say, Colonel—"

"Okay, this is ridiculous," his father snapped. "Just give me whatever I need to sign so we can get out of here."

Officer Walsh handed Daniel's dad a clipboard and pointed to where he should sign. A moment later, the cop had his completed paperwork and to Daniel's relief, walked away.

"Helluva day, isn't it?" His father grabbed Daniel by the nape and pulled him close for a quick hug. "You want to go to Grandma's?" he asked as they began walking towards the door.

"I..." Daniel looked around, searching for Alexandria. He spotted her and her father just a few feet away, standing near the door. Her dad was just finishing signing the paperwork. Alexandria looked angry.

"I can't believe the bullshit the cop was spouting," she whispered the moment the policeman walked away and they left the office together. Daniel and Alexandria lagged behind, letting the adults walk in front of them. Mr. Mantalbano and his father were talking together in low voices.

"Is your dad angry?" he whispered back.

"He's pissed as hell for having been dragged down here, but he's not angry at me. What about your dad?"

"He's not angry, but he's pissed as hell for having been dragged here," Daniel's dad said over his shoulder, obviously having overheard their whispered conversation.

Alexandria giggled and leaned against Daniel. They held hands until they reached the parking lot.

"I'll see you tomorrow." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then did the same to his grandmother and father. Daniel glanced over at Mr. Mantalbano, who gave him a polite nod, then with a hand on his daughter's back, escorted her to their car.

oo~O~oo

John made it through Wednesday with no problems. He and Daniel coexisted. Nothing more. And that was just fine with him. Three days into his first week at this new school and John was having his own problems keeping his head above water with homework.

Today, after gym, annoyed that coach was once again hounding him about this stupid soccer practice on Friday, without thinking, John sat down next to Dria at the lunch table, grumbling a hello.

He opened his laptop and his bagged lunch, neither of which held much appeal to him. Mid-year starts were the worse and it must've shown on his face.

"Need some help?" Dria asked.

John shook his head and dug his math book out of his backpack. "Not unless you can give me a few extra hours."

"You're in my seat." Daniel dropped his tray on the table.

"Sorry, man," John glanced up. "Won't happen again."

"It shouldn't have happened now."

John went to stand but Dria grabbed his arm. "It's okay, John, it won't kill Daniel to sit across from me."

John shook off her arm and stood. "I'll move." He shoved his laptop to the other side of the table. Head down, he walked around the end of the table and he passed Daniel, who had no qualms and obviously a death wish as he shouldered John. Hard. Hard enough that his hip hit the edge of the table.

John swung around and grabbed the front of Daniel's shirt, dragging him up into his face. "I know you're not stupid. So I'm thinking what you did was just an accident."

"Fuck you, Baum." And he got off a lucky punch that John didn't have time to block.

It hurt like a sonofabitch and John wavered, but he didn't lose his grip on Jackson's shirt.

And that's when Cameron showed up, with determination and mission prerogative etched into her face as she strode up to the two of them. That's when he released his hold and turned. "No. I got this."

"No. I got this."

Damn. John glanced over at Mr. Thompson, a math teacher who had the good luck of being on lunch duty today. "Boys," he said, pointing at Daniel and John. "Come with me. There are two chairs in the assistant principal's office with your names on them.

oo~O~oo

Okay, so he was stupid. He slunk down in the seat across from the assistant principal's desk, lowered his gaze and pretended to study his shoes, his hearing attuned to the assistant principal's conversation with his mother on the phone. John had hoped to make it until Friday, at least, to kick the kid's butt from here until Judgment day, but it hadn't exactly worked out that way. John touched the tender bruise on the side of his jaw, especially the fact that the butt kicking should've gone the other way.

The secretary from the outer office walked in and dropped two files on the assistant principal's desk. She caught John's gaze and shook her head. "Would you like an ice pack for that, Mr. Baum?"

Immediately, John dropped his hand into his lap. "No, thank you." He shot her an embarrassed smile before turning his attention back to his shoes.

Thomas Gintz, Assistant Principal, his name plaque on his desk said, wasn't old. Wasn't young. Probably about his mother's age, but that wasn't going to get him any brownie points when she came to pick him up. And come she would, if he was going to get the same treatment as Jackson; she'd show up to drag his sorry ass home.

John sunk even lower in the chair, stretching his legs out under Gintz's desk as he cast a furtive glance at Jackson. The kid sat ramrod straight in the chair, hands clasped together in what John could only imagine was a silent prayer.

Daniel had been full of glaring heat on the walk to Gintz's office. John has done his share of posturing as well, he'd be the first to admit it, but Jackson's entire demeanor changed the minute the assistant principal got his father on the phone.

John was pretty damn sure his mother was going to give him an earful over this. The in-school suspension was bad enough but the fact that attention had been drawn to him, through no fault of his own, was a huge no-no and somewhere in the top five Connor survival tips. Bad enough he'd spent Tuesday milling around cops; could this week get any worse?

He sighed. There'd be no punishment. There couldn't be. John pretty much had no life for her to take away. She'd just look at him, look through him, shake her head and get on with life. And John? He'd spend the next few months trying to make it up for the fact that he'd disappointed her by being a teenager.

Gintz hung up the phone and looked at John with an expression of sympathy. "Your mom will be here as soon as she can."

Translation: Derek was out with the Nitro and she had no way of getting here. Great. Wonderful. It would be a cold day in hell before his mother would send Derek to school to retrieve him. John shifted, settling into the chair for the long haul.

Gintz stood and held up his coffee cup. "I'll be right back. The coffee machine is about twenty feet away."

"We'll behave," Daniel said innocently.

Gintz's gaze lingered on Daniel, assessing him, trying to decide if he was being obnoxious or just sincere.

"We'll be okay, sir," John added.

Daniel waited until Gintz was out of hearing range. "You're damn lucky he interfered when he did. Stopped me from wiping the floor with your ass."

John snuck a peak at the door; Gintz was about two steps away from entering. "Dria's a real looker, are you jealous much?"

It was close, but Daniel was smart enough to check his answer.

"John, would you mind having seat in the main office? Daniel's father is here—"

John didn't need to be asked twice. He grabbed his backpack, slung it over his shoulder and went to take a seat outside on the uncomfortable wooden benches, by the teachers' mailboxes. The man who Gintz greeted and ushered inside was tall. Grey-haired. Short grey haired. Military issued cut grey haired. Military. Crap. John turned his face away - he was so dead.

oo~O~oo

"I didn't start it."

"You've said that already," his mother said, never taking her eyes from the road. "Once in the assistant principal's office. Once on the way to the car. And three times since we've left the school parking lot."

"I take it you don't believe me any more now than you did then."

"You should've walked away."

"I tried." John was getting frustrated. "He didn't want me to sit next to his girlfriend. I moved, Jackson bumped into me, I grabbed him—"

"You shouldn't have touched him."

"Daniel pushed John first," Cameron piped up from the back seat.

"Ahhh, a voice from the peanut gallery," his mom said sarcastically. "Thanks so much, Cameron, for clarifying that."

"You're welcome."

"She's telling the truth. He pushed me. I grabbed the front of his shirt and he sucker punched me."

"I can't believe he was able to—"

"That's what you're pissed off at? That he got the first and only shot in?"

"No."

"You're lying."

"I'm not."

John glared at his mother through slitted lids. "Yeah, right."

"John..."

"I can't be a hero. Fine. No hero - because that's what you want, but neither will I be a coward and walk away from a fight. Running isn't always the answer. Maybe it is to you. But not to me."

She pulled into the driveway, put the truck in park, but kept the motor running.

John waited for her to say something, anything, but there was nothing. No reaction at all. "I have homework."

She turned off the engine. "I'll let you know when dinner is ready." She wrapped her fingers around his bicep as he opened the passenger door. "Hey." The tone was soft and part of his anger slipped away.

"Yeah?"

Her pointer finger traced the outline of the bruise. "Maybe you need to put ice on that."

"I have homework," he said as if she'd never spoken, but he dropped his gaze, unable to witness the tears in her eyes.

"I'll call you for dinner," she repeated.

"I'll make sure that dinner isn't burned," Cameron offered.

oo~O~oo

"John?"

He glanced up and gave his eyes a moment to adjust to the shadow standing in the doorway. "Dinner?"

"Not yet. Probably in about ten minutes." His mother walked into his room juggling an item from hand to hand.

He stretched his arms over his head and listened to the joints pop. "You left Cameron watching the meal?"

"No, I let Cameron and Derek go pick up Chinese." She dropped down on the edge of his bed, an arm's length from his desk chair.

"Hmmm. Chinese," he said wistfully. "What's the occasion?"

oo~O~oo

Pride, sorrow, Sarah wanted to answer. But she couldn't bring herself to admit that John was growing up. "There was nothing in the house I wanted to burn for dinner."

"Oh, and this comes from the woman who already went food shopping this week. There is a God." John worked his jaw from side to side then glanced down. "Is that for me?"

"Yeah. Ice. Can't burn that." She handed John the plastic bag of ice wrapped in a towel.

John smile was wobbly at best and with tenderness, he pressed the ice pack again his face, hissing when the cold made contact. "I'm sorry about this."

Sarah stood and placed a quick kiss on the top of John's head. "I'm going to set the table. I'll call you when the delivery service gets here with the food."

"Are you sure they're not going to kill each other?"

Sarah shrugged. "There'll be more sesame chicken for us if they do."

oo~O~oo

Derek pointed to the nicely blossoming bruise on John's jaw line with his fork. "Nice one."

"Lucky punch," John mumbled.

Derek snorted. "Lucky for who?"

John sneered across the table at Derek.

"So," Derek waved a forkful of sesame chicken at John. "What's the other kid look like?"

John shrugged, moving the food around his plate.

Sarah hated sitting back on her laurels, and as hard as it was, she didn't want to jump to John's rescue. She studied her food intently, trying and failing miserably to ignore what was going on.

"In my opinion, lucky shot or not, you should've beaten the crap outta whoever did that to you."

John glanced up from his plate. "I didn't ask your opinion. And—"

Cameron nodded, ever the helpful terminator. "And Daniel is younger than John and also wears glasses."

Derek's chuckle grew into an out and out belly laugh. "You got beat up by a little kid with glasses?"

"Enough, Derek," Sarah hissed, but it was their turn to ignore her presence.

John threw down his fork and stood with such force his chair rocked back and forth.

"You're too old for a temper tantrum," Derek said in exasperation before returning his attention back to the Chinese food on his plate. "Sit down."

"Not at a table with you." John picked up his plate.

"Your mom's rules are that meals are to be eaten at the table," Cameron supplied.

"Good, here's my meal." John dropped his plate back onto the table. "Someone else is free to eat it."

"Sit down, John," Sarah said gently.

John didn't sit; instead he pressed his palms into the table and leaned into Derek's face. "You're pretty brave considering you do most of your talking from behind a gun."

Storm clouds settled on Derek's face. "I remember my gun saving your life on at least one occasion."

John blanched but he didn't stand down, nostrils flaring, chest heaving and with barely suppressed anger, he was a stranger in Sarah's eyes. But not to Derek. Derek knew exactly who he was and the older man's antagonism faded slightly in the presence of John Connor.

"Do you doubt my ability to kick your ass, Derek?"

John had been trained in weaponry, explosives and self-defense. Sarah knew what he was capable of. John knew what he was capable of. Fear didn't play a part in John's challenge. Derek's size neither intimidated nor threatened him.

Sarah was pretty sure Derek had no idea what John was capable of. This John. Her John. Because, at the moment, Derek's anger was fueled by his hatred of whom John would become. The man who was capable of sending his brother to his death.

Derek gave a snort of disdain. "You must be nuts if you think you can take me."

Cameron stood and addressed Derek. "You must be nuts if you think you can take me."

"Damn you, John, for always hiding behind your pet terminators."

John was fast. He didn't telegraph it or make a sound. His eyes never wavered from Derek's face and his punch wasn't lucky, it was well aimed and thought out. Derek shifted sideways in his chair, his fork flew out of his hand but he recovered in seconds, rocketing to his feet.

John stepped back, dropped his hands to his side and scared the shit out of Sarah by turning the color of a sheet of paper. "I'm... I'm..." He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing with the effort of trying to get the words out. "Sorry."

Derek touched his face. "I deserved that."

"No," John said softly with a shake of his head. "You should never raise your hand in anger to your family."

oo~O~oo

Sarah let John go without a word. He needed to regroup. "You," she said, pointing at Cameron, "make yourself scarce. Which," she warned as the tin girl rose, "doesn't mean checking on John."

Slowly, Derek stood, his attention focused on the kitchen doorway.

"Not on your life, Reese."

His shoulders stiffened at her order and he hesitated.

"Don't make me shoot you in the back."

He relaxed his shoulders and turned to face Sarah.

"I wasn't kidding."

"I never thought you were."

"Good, now that we got that straight, clean off the table," she ordered, waiting until he began to close up the open containers before moving to the sink and turning her back on him. They worked in silence, Derek accepting his punishment like a man. She stole a quick glance over her shoulder. Table cleaned, all remnants of their dinner packed and stored neatly.

Sarah grabbed his hand as he reached for the roll of paper towels, surprising even herself with the ferocity of her grip. "Did you get the answer you were looking for?"

Derek had the good grace to look embarrassed.

"Yeah, that's what I thought. Tell me? Share? Exactly what did you want from John? Proof of the man you know in the future? Proof that he's Kyle's son? Did he pass your test? Did my sixteen year old son pass muster, soldier?"

"He sent my brother to his death."

"That man sent his father to his death. Not my son. Not the John you know today. Did you ever think of it that way?"

"You're a bitch."

She released her hold on him. "I never said I wasn't. You came into our time. Into our lives believing... No. Expecting us to be something we weren't. Something we aren't. We're human. John's human. This John, in this timeline, here, now, is human. So take your memories of what my son was like in your future and shove them."

"You're an asshole and a bitch, Sarah Connor."

This time she didn't stop Derek when he left the kitchen, though she listened to make sure he stayed away from John. She slowly exhaled when the front door slammed shut.

oo~O~oo

John was more than confused when his stomach growled again, the stale bag of pretzels had done nothing but ignite his hunger. "Stupid," he grumbled, erasing once again the math answer to question number ten. "Stupid. Stupid. Stupid." He ripped the sheet of loose leaf paper out of the binder and tore the lined paper into tiny little pieces and let them rain through his fingers onto the opened book.

A snort of disgust burst forth from him. "I'm sorry, teacher, the future messiah destroyed my homework."

"Hey."

Quickly, John closed the book, hiding the evidence. "Hey."

With her foot, his mom shut his bedroom door, smiling like the cat that'd swallowed the canary.

John glanced at his mother, offering up a half-smile at the tray in her hands. "Hey," he asked lifting his head, "is that for me?"

"Cereal and chocolate milk."

"Cereal..." John tried to keep the disappointment from his voice, pretty sure that a simple bowl of whatever was on sale this week wasn't going to fill the pit of hunger. He cleared his desk, piling his books to the side, making room for the tray.

There was more than cereal, though. There was a peanut butter sandwich, a handful of Chip Ahoy cookies as well as two fortune cookies. His smile broadened. "Thanks." John tucked into the cereal, coming up for air after a few spoonfuls. "I screwed up."

"I'm not going to disagree," she said, dropping a hand on his shoulder. "But, I'm only referring to what happened in school. As far as dinner..." His mom planted a kiss on his head. "Derek deserved everything you handed him."

"I should..."

"You should eat your cereal before it gets soggy. No one likes soggy cereal."

oo~O~oo

Jack watched Daniel stand in the middle of the kitchen, trying to decide what to eat.

The second Jack had brought him home, Daniel had shut himself into his bedroom. Without a word. Without an explanation. No 'I'm sorry'. Nothing. And while Jack wanted to bust down the door, he'd known that wasn't going to work on any level. So he'd waited.

And waited.

And was one period into the hockey game when he heard the bedroom door open and tentative footsteps made their way into the kitchen. With special ops silence, Jack had crept up the stairs and watched Daniel in the kitchen, until he couldn't take it anymore.

"Cereal might be a good choice."

Daniel shrugged, but that didn't stop him from reaching into the cabinet for a bowl.

Jack got the milk from the fridge and was just about to ask if Daniel wanted sugar or healthy when the doorbell rang.

Daniel froze.

"I'll get it," Jack said softly.

oo~O~oo

And once again, Jack was watching, sitting in the living room, pretending to read a book while he ate Daniel's bowl of cereal. Through an opened window, he was eavesdropping, visually as well as auditorily, and he didn't feel one iota of guilt.

Dria had shown up bearing the gift of McDonald's and Daniel had been coaxed to the deck under the illusion of privacy. So far, the burger sat untouched, but Daniel was doing a good job on both the large fries and ignoring Dria.

Like Jack, Dria knew to wait and while she did, Jack concentrated on the cereal before the multicolored too-sweet rings became soggy in milk, finishing the last froot loop just as her patience ran out.

"It's okay, you know." She placed an arm around Daniel's waist and rested her head on his shoulder.

Daniel shook his head. "It's not."

Empty cereal bowl in his lap, Jack was afraid to move. Afraid to breathe. Afraid to alert either of them to his presence.

And she switched positions, becoming the comforter, drawing Daniel's head onto her shoulder. "It's okay," she repeated in a voice thick with emotion.

"Everything's different. I'm different."

"No, you're Daniel," she insisted, reaching up and tugging at the end of his ponytail. "My Daniel."

"John likes you."

"Stop it."

"He does."

"So what if he does? He isn't the one I'm sitting with right now, is he?"

Jack's heart broke as Daniel slowly shook his head. "Can you tell me what I did wrong?"

"Losing your temper. Pushing John. Punching him."

"But that doesn't explain why Corey or Nate... They don't want to be..."

Ah shit. Jack's fingers dug into the side of the bowl.

"Corey's mom made him come here to apologize."

"He told you that?"

"I asked. He didn't deny."

"I'm not going anywhere, Daniel. I promise, but you have to stop pushing at me. Stop making this so hard. It's not hard. Honest."

Damn that girl was too mature for her own good.

"There's something about Baum. Something that just..."

"It's just jealousy, Daniel. Nothing more. And," she added when Daniel didn't say anything, "a very active imagination."

oo~O~oo

School was the last place John felt like going. Yesterday the bruise had felt worse than it looked, today as he studied himself in the mirror and tenderly touched the darkened area, the opposite was true. The colors were an artist's pallet of greens and yellows and right now the surge of hatred for Jackson was equivalent to how he felt about Skynet.

"Breakfast," his mother called, her voice penetrating the closed door and his thoughts.

oo~O~oo

John slid into a chair, made no eye contact with anyone and came as close to burying his face in his plate as he could. He jerked from his mother's touch as she reached over him and put a glass of orange juice next to his plate.

He pushed it away.

She pushed it back. "Drink it," she hissed in his ear. "Make your mom happy and have some vitamin C."

Derek sat across from him, and like John, he had his face buried in his plate.

"Here," John said, picking up the glass and moving it by Derek's plate. "Have some OJ."

Without comment, Derek picked it up and downed the juice in two gulps. "Thanks," he mumbled.

John saw it when Derek lifted his head and glanced towards the coffee maker.

"I'm sorry."

Immediately, Derek's fingers flew to his cheek. "This?" he said with the slightest of smiles. "Pretty damn impressive, don't'cha think?"

"No, I don't."

"You've got balls, John." Derek's gaze slid to his mom before settling back on John's. "You didn't back down." He touched the bruise again. "I deserved this. Hell, I probably deserved a lot more—"

"No comment," his mother said, her hand resting on John's shoulder.

"I guess this was payback for all the times that I beat the crap out of your father."

"We have six point two minutes before we have to leave," Cameron announced as she entered the kitchen. Book bag already slung across her shoulders, she was prepared and ready to start the day.

"Come on," his mother said, tugging at the hood of his sweatshirt. "Let's not keep the tin girl waiting."

"Done." John stood, put his dish in the sink then grabbed his backpack by the door.

His mom and Cameron were already headed toward the Nitro, John had one foot out the door when Derek called his name. "Yeah?"

"Have a good day," he said with a wink.

oo~O~oo

"John." His mother grabbed his arm as he stepped out of the Nitro.

"I'm going to be late. See? Cameron's already—" John watched as Corey pounced on her and began talking.

"That's not Daniel, is it?" She bent down and peered out the passenger window.

"If I say yes, are you going to beat the hell out of him?"

"Is he?"

"No. That's Cameron's new best friend, Corey."

The two of them watched Corey and Cameron perform this weird little dance. He stepped forward, she stepped back.

"They make a cute couple."

John burst out laughing.

His mother laughed also. "Go save Cameron from the young man. And John..." She tightened her hold. "I don't care if you come home and punch the hell out of your mattress. Or Derek. Or Cameron. Hands off Daniel. Head down. Do the detention or whatever it's called. Please."

"I won't. Honest." He made a little cross over his heart. "Believe me. Blending into the woodwork is the look I prefer."

oo~O~oo

John had never been so glad to see a week draw to an end. He'd tried to keep to himself, keep Cameron away from the mix of him and Daniel. Hell, he'd tried to keep himself away from Daniel, except for classes and the in-school suspension thing, but it was impossible. Like a frigging bad penny, Jackson kept popping up when John least expected it.

One thing John took great joy in – okay, it was a passive aggressive type of thing but it was damn satisfying - was to wipe the soccer field with Daniel during gym. Continually, the coach had pushed John to come to practices and try out for the team, but he just couldn't, because by the end of the day he couldn't run far or fast enough away from this school.

John sighed when he saw his mother pull up with Derek in the passenger seat. Mission? Mission would be good. Mission where his mother would let him carry a gun, rifle and grenade - or maybe even all three - would be appreciated.

She burst his bubble the second he and Cameron got into the Nitro. "Pizza?"

"Out?"

"Out. Thought it would be a nice treat. The two of you made it through the week without killing anyone."

Most parents were thrilled over good report cards or awards. His mother's priorities were in such a different place that if John allowed himself to really think about it, he'd be terrified of the dysfunctionality of his family life. This was much better. Much easier to pretend that all the other parents picking up their children were as well armed as his mother and uncle.

oo~O~oo

It was bad enough that a terminator wanted him dead, and John had sort of compartmentalized that part of his life, but was it really fair for life to keep on torturing him?

"Cameron!" Corey's voice cut through the noise of the pizza place and John watched as he scrambled over the people he was sitting with to get out.

"Hi, John."

He turned at the gentle touch to his shoulder. "Oh. Hi, Dria. Cassie."

"I never expected to see you here, Cameron."

"Our mom's treating us for pizza tonight."

"Mom, this is Dria, Cassie and Corey."

"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Baum," Dria said with a smile. Cassie smiled as well and nodded her greeting. Corey was too tied up in entering Cameron's personal space to even acknowledge the introduction.

Derek cleared his throat.

"Oh, this is my uncle, Derek Reese." This was awkward and he was positive that uncle was taking on a whole different meaning than blood relative. What was ironic was that introducing Derek as his uncle was pretty much the only truthful thing he'd said so far.

Cassie glanced out the window, then shouldered Dria. "Here comes Daniel."

"Great." Corey rolled his eyes at John.

John did everything in his power to ignore Corey and not agree with him.

"Cameron, a bunch of my friends are going to the movies tonight, would you like to come?"

Derek hid his laughter behind a cough.

"Are you asking me for a date?"

"Sorry," his mom said, throwing an arm around Cameron's shoulders. "I'm really overprotective, ever since their father died..."

"Really," John agreed with a nod. "Very overprotective."

"I'm sorry," Corey said, backing away. "I'll, ummm, see ya on Monday?"

"No, we're eating in the restaurant. You can look at me while you eat if you want."

oo~O~oo

Daniel entered the restaurant and suddenly seemed ill at ease until Dria left the group and went to join him. He glanced over at John's party, his eyes brightening and a smile starting on his lips until he spotted John. He turned aside angrily, saying something to Dria that John couldn't catch.

"Is that Rose's grandson?" his mom asked, watching as Daniel and Dria took a seat at the only available table next to them.

"That's Daniel," John hissed as he picked up a menu.

"You're kidding," his uncle said, staring unabashedly at Daniel, a grin on his face.

"John. You picked a fight with our neighbor's grandson?"

"Yeah. I know. Guess we won't be getting any more of her ziti anytime soon, huh?"

oo~O~oo

Based on his mother's, Cameron's and Derek's quirks, John ended up at the table facing Daniel, looking right at him, watching him study the triangle on the plate in front of him. John's table was to Daniel's right, Corey and his gang to his left. The poor kid didn't have a hope in hell to be able to eat his pizza in peace and the way Derek repeatedly kept glancing over his shoulder in Daniel's direction was making even John nervous, so he could just imagine what it was doing to Daniel.

John dug into his slice with gusto. Damn. Payback was a wonderful bitch at times.

oo~O~oo

Derek and his mom had gone out. Pizza was probably a guilt dinner more than a reward, but John hadn't realized that until after the fact.

TV held no interest and he ended up in his room with his nose stuck in a book, trying to work out a math problem. Cameron was behind him and just to his right, quietly observing and getting on his last nerve. He slammed the book shut. "I'm sixteen years old. It's Friday night. What am I doing home trying to make heads or tails out of math?"

"Your mom doesn't want you to go—"

"It was a rhetorical question. I don't need an answer," he yelled. "I already know the answer."

"You asked the question."

"I know I asked the question." He ran his fingers through his hair, tugging the shit out of the ends in frustration. "Daniel. Corey. Dria. Cassie. They're probably all out. I'm home with a babysitter."

"You're home with me."

"Therein lies the problem," John said. "I shouldn't be home. I should be out."

"We can go out." Cameron stood.

oo~O~oo

"This isn't exactly what I had in mind when I mentioned going out." John collapsed on a wooden bench along the park's jogging path, gasping. "Are. We. Done?"

"Your training is never done."

He waved away her words, but she misunderstood and stuck a water bottle in his outstretched hands. Wasn't worth the effort to complain so he opened the bottle and drank, surprised to find the water was not only cold but it soothed the dryness in his throat.

Night had fallen while they'd been out on their run. The air was cool, and he was bathed in sweat, panting. It was obvious he'd lost his stamina with his illness. "How far..."

"Four miles."

He hurt worse knowing the actual number.

"Are you ready?"

"To what? Die?"

Cameron canted her head. "Joke?"

"Yeah," John said slowly. "A joke. Bad joke."

"Haha."

"Don't. Just don't. Okay?" John stood with a groan, took one last sip of water then handed the bottle back to Cameron, who hadn't even broken a sweat. "Might as well finish what we've started."

oo~O~oo

"Where the hell were you?" His mother pounced on them the second they stepped through the door.

John couldn't draw a breath to even answer her so he just pointed at Cameron.

"John wanted to go out. He's sixteen and stuck at home with a babysitter."

"You wanted to go out? Out?"

"Out," he squeaked as he threw open the fridge, looking for a Snapple. "She took me jogging." He found one, popped the top and downed half of it before coming up for air. "Left you a note." John reached around and snagged the hastily scribbled note from the front of the fridge. "See?"

"I saw." His mother grabbed the paper, then waved it in his face. "Don't you think this is a tad cryptic? Gone out? What the hell's that supposed to mean?"

John shrugged. "That's what Cameron told me, 'we're going out'." John finished the last of the drink, wiping his mouth with his arm. "Feel free to yell at her, I spent almost six miles yelling at her. It's very therapeutic. Trust me."

oo~O~oo

Showered, he crawled into bed. He was too exhausted to do much of anything, including pulling up the covers or turning off the light.

"Need some help?"

John gave his mom a thumbs up.

The light went off. "I'm taking that your answer was a yes."

He nodded into his pillow then felt a gentle tap on his leg.

"Move these so I can cover you."

John picked up his legs and the air around him was displaced as his mom straightened out the blanket then covered him.

"Better?"

"Much." He glanced at his mother "Done yelling at Cameron?"

"Yes. And you're right, it's therapeutic."

"Told ya."

oo~O~oo

The dream pulled him harshly from sleep and he woke with a start, got his heart beating normally, then checked his bedside clock. Three a.m., the witching hour. He threw back the covers, got up slowly and made his way out of his room to go pee.

The sound of the TV frantically changing channel, the squeak of the floorboards as Cameron paced - normal nocturnal sounds in the Connor household. There had been times when he and his mom had passed each other in the middle of night, but tonight, based on the sounds, only Derek and Cameron were up.

He peed, washed up, and fell back into bed, waking up when the brightly shining morning sun cut through his closed lids.

It wasn't morning. It was closer to lunch and when he wandered into the kitchen, he was met by complete silence and a note on the table that read 'Gone out'.

Well, he'd deserved that, he thought with a smile as he poured cereal into a bowl. While everyone was out on the Turk hunt, John figured he'd go back to studying the chip again.

oo~O~oo

"Daniel are you sure?"

He looked and pasted what he hoped was a convincing smile on his face. "I'm sure." Daniel really wasn't sure he wanted to stay home on a Saturday night but he was damned sure he didn't want to go the movies with his dad and the rest of SG-1 because that would just be another nail in the coffin if someone should see him at the theatre with his parental unit plus others. He might as well just paste a big 'L' for loser on his forehead. "I need to finish up this report."

His dad hesitated.

Oh God, please let his father believe him. Daniel expanded his smile, picked up his pen and waved it in the air.

"Okay."

Daniel let out the breath he was holding, nice and slow so his father wouldn't be suspicious at his relief. "I'll be fine."

"There's leftover—"

"Roast chicken and potatoes in the fridge, I know."

His father left the room, Daniel laid down the pen then picked it up suddenly when his father made a reappearance in his doorway. "Daniel..." His father knew something was wrong. Something was off. Daniel wasn't volunteering. His father, thankfully, wasn't prying.

"I'm fine, Dad," Daniel said softly, dismissing him. "Honest." This time he waited until he heard the snick of the front door before putting the pen down. There was no report but the white lie was necessary.

His laptop taunted him, daring him to open chat, but he couldn't bring himself to be ignored or worse, to see no one was on, which meant they were all out doing what teenagers do on a Saturday night. Alexandria was at her aunt's house, babysitting, and she'd taken Cassie along for company though Daniel couldn't imagine why he couldn't be the one keeping her company.

He called her on her cell and it went right to voice mail, which considering her aunt had three children under the age of four, made absolutely perfect sense. Daniel could just hope that there was going to be no loss of limbs or bloodshed. Daniel's message to her was a quick call me if she had a chance or needed to speak to a voice of sanity and/or reason, and no, Cassie didn't count.

Great. He tossed the phone on the bed. That about covered all the people in the world, besides the people related to him in one form or another, that were speaking to or wished to associate with him.

Daniel contemplated grabbing his bike and taking a ride over to his grandma's house and he actually went as far as the garage to get his bike before he remembered. No way. Not with John Baum living across the street. It would've been bad enough going to movies with his dad on a Saturday night, but damn, he couldn't imagine the repercussions of going to visit his grandmother if the word got out.

So he wandered around the house, stuck the chicken in the oven just because eating dinner would give him something to do. Daniel went through the DVDs and found none to hold his interest. Checked the cable guide and realized there was absolutely nothing on. A stupid movie on the Scifi Channel about a huge snake. Either Law and Order or some form of CSI was on every other channel.

Daniel felt lonely. He was used to being alone and on his own, but he'd never been lonely and it was an uncomfortable sensation that set his nerves on edge and pushed him to do a perimeter check around the house.

Dinner was barely warm as he ate it, but then again he barely tasted it as he ate it standing by the kitchen counter. Dinner eaten. The kitchen cleaned. Boredom forced him to throw in a load of laundry and leave another message, this time on both Cassie and Alexandria's voice mails.

When he showered, Daniel brought his cell phone into the bathroom and increased the volume on the ringer. He showered quickly, checking the phone the moment he was done, just in case he missed something. Anything. Right about now even a wrong number would be more appealing than silence.

"Damn!" The rubber band to tie back his hair snapped and broke in half. "Great." Daniel rummaged around the bathroom, checked the doorknob. Under the towels. On the floor. Under the bathmat. Nothing. Not even in the medicine cabinet. "Shit." He dried off in record time, threw on his sweats, the moisture from his hair already creating a small stream down his back and stuffed his cell phone in his pocket.

Daniel turned his room upside down and didn't find anything that he could tie his hair back with except a twist tie which was just so wrong. He dumped out his backpack on the floor, scouring through its contents and still turned up nothing. Now, his search for a stupid piece of elastic had become a mission.

He went into his father's room. Checked the doorknobs, the nightstand and the place where his father kept all his change. Nada. Nothing. Maybe his dad's bathroom - which turned up nothing until Daniel opened the medicine cabinet. No elastic, but a row of pill bottles.

Daniel licked his lips. It would be so easy, his father would never miss just one and Daniel would sleep through his aloneness. Tentatively, he reached out, then pulled back, tucking his hand under his armpit and left the bathroom, not even closing the medicine cabinet.

He found himself in the kitchen, shaking. "Elastic. I need a rubber band," he muttered, dumping out the basket on the kitchen table. The one with all the mail, magazines, take out menus and extra pens. And thankfully, buried at the bottom, stuck and intertwined around a paper clip, was a rubber band. "Thank you, God." With trembling hands, it took him two tries to free the elastic and another three tries to gather up his wet hair into the ponytail.

CSI or Law and Order, Daniel didn't care. He threw himself on the living room couch, hugged a pillow to his midsection and flipped around the channels until he found something reasonably current. He watched blankly, not even sure of what the outcome, who the bad guy was or when the new episode even began.

He jumped when his cell phone rang, lifted his ass off the couch and fumbled around until he was able to flip it open. "Hello?"

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

"Alexandria."

Her laughter was like a soothing balm. "Who else did you think it would be?" she teased.

Daniel ignored the question. "How's the babysitting?"

She groaned. "Just got them into bed. I'm exhausted."

He couldn't help but smile at Cassie's loud me too followed by Alexandria's quick hush. She talked about how much she hated babysitting and her voice gave Daniel the strength to go back into his father's bathroom and close the medicine cabinet, exhaling deeply as he did.

Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I am."

"How about I pick you up tomorrow and treat you to lunch?"

"A date? Do I get to pick the restaurant?"

"McDonald's or Burger King?"

"Burger King. I have a thing about having things my way."

"Oh, Daniel, you always manage to say the sweetest things," she answered sarcastically.

oo~O~oo

Two days of poring over his computer and school books and all John had for his troubles was a weekend that had sped by and finding himself repeating the childish mantra of I don't wanna go to school in his head as he trudged up the school's main entrance on Monday morning.

He stashed the books he wouldn't need for the next few periods in his locker, and reluctantly headed for his first class.

The morning had improved by the time he came out of gym class. He stepped out of the locker room and nearly bumped into one of the Varsity Team players. "Sorry." He gave the kid an apologetic smile and got a slap on the back in reply.

"Don't worry about it. I'm Steve, by the way. Steve Brughman."

"John."

"I know. I've seen you in gym. Coach mentioned you a couple of times. Said you've got potential. You sure you don't want to try out for the team?"

"I'm sure. It's not that I don't want to, but my mom needs me at home and—"

"Hey, don't sweat it. It's cool. I know how moms are. I had a party recently while my folks were away and some bastard called the cops on me. My ears are still ringing from my mom's screams when she got home." Steve stuck a finger in his ear and shook it.

"Did you ever find out who called the cops?" John asked, making awkward conversation.

"Yeah. Bastard's in your classes. I don't know what's gotten into Jackson these days; the kid used to be all right, y'know? Then Coach Dawson invites him into Varsity, he comes to my party, gets wasted and calls the cops on me. Next thing you know, he's back on jayvee, he's got an attitude that's the size of a football field and even his best friend doesn't want anything to do with him anymore."

John wasn't able to answer as he and Steve were separated by the throng of kids heading into the cafeteria. Fifteen minutes later, he sat down and stared at his plate of soggy mashed potatoes, overcooked corn, undercooked carrots and oily chicken nuggets. Steve's plate held just as unappealing an array of vegetables and meat. He never thought he'd admit it, but his mom's bagged lunches were more appealing than this. The only enticing part of John's lunch was the brownie he'd grabbed from the dessert section.

John took a cautious bite of a chicken nugget and deemed it more palatable than it actually looked. A sip of juice helped the mashed potatoes go down more easily.

He spotted Cameron enter the cafeteria and without even a pause in her step, homed in on him, identifying him within the crush of students in the large room. She sat down next to him without a word.

"Hel-lo," Steve said, suddenly oozing charm.

"My sister, Cameron." John tried to add a big brother sternness to the words, but he just couldn't manage it.

"I'm Steve."

"You're on the soccer team," Cameron said matter of factly.

"Yeah. You come see the games?"

"No."

"Cameron!" Corey Middleton yelled loudly from a few tables away. John, Steve and Cameron turned to watch as Corey stood up, grabbed his tray and hurried over to their table, abandoning his friends. "Hi. Didn't you see me waving?" He sat down with barely a nod in John and Steve's direction.

Within seconds, Corey's friends Nate and Li were up and hauling ass over to his table just as Jackson was sitting down next to Dria, who'd been quickly abandoned. There was a moment where actual hurt registered on the kid's face until he made a fast recovery and gave John a steely stare. John returned Jackson's glare until Li sat down opposite him, blocking his view just as Cassie arrived. He watched her, standing with a tray in her hands, wavering between the two tables until she sat down with Jackson and Dria. He wondered why he felt disappointed that she didn't come join them.

"Hey, someone move over." A new kid, one John hadn't met yet, shoved a hip against John's chair and John complied, pushing his chair aside so the kid could fit in amongst the gang. "Hey, you're the new guys, right? Jim and Cameron? I'm Lewis. Lewis Bloch."

"John." He made a quick save of his tray as Lewis shoved his own onto the table and nearly propelled John's off the side.

"Aren't you eating anything? Want some of my fries?" Corey shoved his plate under Cameron's nose.

"I'm not hungry. But thank you."

"You don't eat much, do you?" Corey plunked his plate back onto his tray and picked up a limp fry between two fingers and examined it. "You sure you don't want any fries?"

"Cameron's on a diet—" John shut his mouth as his supposed dieting sister grabbed the fry from Corey and took a bite.

"These taste better with vinegar." She swallowed and gave Corey an apologetic smile as she placed the half-eaten fry onto his plate.

"They've only got ketchup. But I'll bring some vinegar from home tomorrow, if you want." Corey grabbed the half-eaten fry and popped it into his mouth, taking what looked like a long time to chew before he swallowed it.

"Oh, lookee here." Lewis picked up John's brownie and examined it carefully. "Man, you are Numero Uno on my list." Before John could object, Lewis stood up, pulling the plastic wrapping from the sweet. "Hey, Jackson. You forgot dessert." Lewis, in a throw that would make any baseball coach happy, tossed the dessert across the tables. It hit Jackson smack on the cheek, breaking up into several pieces and leaving a dark smear of chocolate icing.

"Hey." John stood up and faced Lewis Bloch, leaning slightly towards the kid. "I was going to eat that," he spat angrily. It was one thing to stand up to Jackson; it was another to take part in any type of bullying. In disgust, John grabbed his bag and tray, walked to the nearest trashcan and dumped the remains of his lunch. He stormed out of the cafeteria, aware of Cameron following him as he made his way to the lockers.

oo~O~oo

"Daniel, don't." Alexandria grabbed his arm as he stood in anger. Immediately the tables around them emptied, with murmurs of fight, fight, echoing around him as he was surrounded by students. He was trembling with anger, wanting nothing except a good fight.

But as Baum walked away from Tony's brother, Daniel realized that the voice that had called out wasn't Baum's. The detested new kid was walking away, not even looking back. Daniel turned his anger to Lewis, who was standing there, grinning at him. What hurt the most, though, was Corey, Li and Nate, all of them sitting there, watching with expectation.

Maybe a year ago, Daniel would have thrown himself at Lewis. Would have given in to the anger that wanted to pummel that smile right off his face until someone dragged him off Lewis's bleeding body. But the past year hadn't been kind, and those learned lessons kicked in at the most inopportune of times. Recollection of countless instances of teasing such as this gave him the self-control to pick up his books, turn his back on Lewis, push through the excited crowd, and walk away.

He headed for the nearest bathroom, ignoring Alexandria as she ran behind him. He threw his backpack against the sink and kicked the frame of a stall several times, reveling in the noise it made as well as the shock that ran up and down his leg. Panting with anger, Daniel paced back and forth until he caught sight of the chocolate on his cheek in the mirror. He grabbed a handful of paper towels, ran them under water and rubbed the stain from his cheek until it hurt.

"God damn it!" He turned to kick the frame another time, then stood, hands clenched tightly, and tried to calm down. Several deep breaths later, still fuming but in better control of his emotions, he picked up his backpack and stepped out of the bathroom.

"Are you okay?"

Daniel had planned on heading to the library so he could hide out until the next period bell rang, but Alexandria, her face still splattered with brownie crumbs, looked as anxious as she sounded. The hand he used to wipe the crumbs away didn't shake, and he paused when she pressed her cheek against his palm, holding it there with her hand.

"Are you okay?" she asked again, leaning against him.

"No." He pulled her into a hug, holding her close as he buried his face in her hair. "I'm going to go to the library."

"Okay." She took his hand when he let her go. They only got as far as the end of the hallway when he heard Corey's voice.

"Daniel."

He wasn't going to stop, but Alexandria tugged on his arm, forcing him to turn and face Corey.

Both of them stood there staring at one another, until Cassie, who'd accompanied Corey, smacked him in the ribs. "It wasn't me. None of us had anything to do with what Bloch did."

"Yeah, right." Daniel turned away and started walking, only to come up short a second time as Alexandria tugged at him again.

"Give him a chance," Alexandria hissed in his ear.

"Sure. Let's all listen while Corey tells us that brownie magically appeared in Bloch's hand. Nobody gave him the ammunition, right? You're all innocent."

"John Baum didn't know. You can't—"

"Oh, right. Put the blame on Baum now."

"He didn't know," Corey yelled. "He was already sitting there when Lewis—"

"Baum walked away. I didn't see you walk away. Or Nate. Or Li. So much for my so-called friends." This time when Daniel turned his back on Corey, Alexandria didn't try to keep him there. He shoved past the students who'd stopped to crowd around them, not bothering to see if Alexandria was following.

oo~O~oo

"Your grandmother called earlier."

Daniel shoved a handful of hair out of his eyes, gave Jack an uninterested glance, and lowered his gaze back to his supper.

"She wanted to know if you wanted to go to the movies with her this weekend."

"I'm busy." Daniel stood and dumped his nearly untouched meal into the trash.

"Plans with Dria?"

From the way Daniel's shoulders tensed, Jack knew he was lying when he mumbled a short, "Yeah." He put the plate down none too gently on the countertop and wrapped his arms around his waist.

"Your grandmother's going to be disappointed, but I guess it was pretty short notice." He shoveled rice onto his fork, his own appetite waning at the sight of his son's dispirited stance.

"I don't need Grandma to try to entertain me."

"Your grandmother wanted to spend time with you. You haven't been over to visit in over a week."

"So?" Daniel's head came up, his chin jutting out, a sign that Jack took to heart over the earlier despondency.

"She's worried. I'm worried about you."

The head went down again as Daniel stared uncomfortably at his feet.

"Look." Jack stood and went to Daniel. "I know you and Corey are good frie— were good friends. Maybe one day you will be again. People change, for whatever reasons. And right now, as hard as this is, this is Corey's decision."

"I didn't do anything. One day he was my friend, and the next..."

"I know." Jack stepped closer, intending to pull Daniel into a hug. But his son would have none of it. He twisted around Jack, eluding him, walking out of the kitchen and heading towards his bedroom. Sighing, Jack picked up the dirty dishes and began rinsing them. He contemplated calling Gina or Steve and discussing the problem between the boys but after Gina's earlier meddling, Jack figured it would only make tensions stronger.

oo~O~oo

Three hours later as Jack walked past Daniel's room, he paused and listened. There was utter silence coming from behind the closed door. Normally he'd hear the sound of Daniel's voice as he spoke on his cell, or tapping on his laptop's keyboard, or the bed squeaking with the rhythmic swinging of a foot or leg to whatever music he listened to. Tonight... nothing.

He tapped on the door and when he got no answer, opened it just wide enough so he could peek inside. To his surprise, Daniel was lying on his side, fully dressed. His laptop was powered down, his cell phone nowhere in sight and his books were still in his backpack. More alarming, however, was the fact that Daniel seemed to be sound asleep.

Worried, Jack opened the door wider and gently touched his son's face. No fever. He picked up Daniel's glasses from the bedspread where he'd dropped them and folded them carefully before placing them on the night table, out of harm's way.

He flipped the bedspread over Daniel, because it looked like his son was out for the night. "Night, kiddo," he whispered just before he kissed the top of Daniel's head. He turned the light off, shut the door behind him, and sighed deeply. Maybe with a good night's sleep, Daniel would see things in a better light come morning.

oo~O~oo

"Why does everyone dislike Daniel Jackson?"

Cameron had been sitting so quietly next to him that when she spoke, John jumped. His fingers twitched on the keyboard, and he needed to backspace to erase the wrong letters he'd just typed in.

"He's an asshole."

"Dria and Cassie like him."

"Well, they're girls. They're probably just rooting for the underdog." He finished typing in the command code, then sat back and watched as another video from the chip played out. Most of these were boring now that the novelty had worn off; just a day in the life of the man the triple-eight had impersonated.

"I like him."

John flicked Cameron a look of disbelief. "You're joking, right?"

"Hey." His mom came in carrying a snack. "Thought you might be hungry."

"Chocolate milk and cookies, Mom?" John rolled his eyes, but eagerly grabbed a chocolate chip cookie when she placed them next to him.

"How's the research going?"

"Boring. Unless I can break the code and figure out how to get into the encrypted files, I think we're not going to learn much more from the chip."

"Did you finish your homework?"

"Um." John glanced guiltily at his books, sprawled over his bed. All he had left to do was his math assignment. "Most of it."

"Then you better do all of it before you go to bed." She nodded to the laptop with her chin. "Give that a rest for a day or two; you need a break."

Sipping the chocolate milk, John nodded. He picked up another cookie and dipped it into the glass when his mom left his bedroom. "I wonder what that thing with the brownie was all about today at lunch."

"Daniel and Dria became intoxicated after eating drug-laced brownies at a party."

"Steve Brughman's party?"

"Yes."

Lewis Bloch's actions suddenly made sense. He suddenly felt an intense dislike for Bloch, and despite himself, a feeling of pity for Jackson.

oo~O~oo

Jack was about to go wake Daniel up when he heard the toilet flush and the shower start up a moment later. He continued on to his bedroom to finish getting dressed and by the time he came out, Daniel was in the kitchen, chowing down a bowl of cereal.

"Morning." Jack walked over to the coffee pot and poured himself a second cup of coffee.

"Why didn't you wake me up?"

Jack made an exaggerated motion of checking his watch. "Seems to me you're right on schedule. Hey, you're actually ten minutes early."

"I have to hand in my Spanish assignment this morning and I didn't finish it last night." He shoved his bowl of cereal, tossing the spoon into it with a loud clatter which made Jack cringe, half-expecting the bowl to crack. "Now I'm going to fail—"

"And this is my fault, how?"

"You didn't wake me up."

"Daniel." Jack spooned sugar into his coffee. "You're old enough to be responsible for your own school work. If you left your assignment to the last minute, don't you go blaming others because you couldn't finish it on time."

"I was going to finish it last night. But you knew I was sleeping. You should have woken me up."

Jack put the sugar back into the cupboard, his actions slow and deliberate in an attempt to hold back his growing anger.

"And you let me sleep in my clothes."

Jack had brought his coffee mug to his lips and now put it down onto the counter. "I haven't told you to go put your pajamas on since you were ten. I'm not about to start now." Sighing, Jack sipped the coffee. "I can write a note saying you were sick last night and to ask for an extension, if you want me to." He put a hand on Daniel's shoulder, only to have it roughly brushed aside as Daniel stormed out of the kitchen, flinging a retort over his shoulder.

"I don't have much of a choice, do I—"

"Okay, mister, that's enough out of you."

Daniel stopped, turned and glared at Jack. "If you'd woken me up—"

"Daniel!" Jack's sharp, one word didn't exactly get the reaction he'd wanted. Daniel remained quiet, but he shot Jack another sullen glare. A year ago, his son would have stood there quivering in remorse. Now, teenage angst was giving Daniel a bravado Jack wished wasn't aimed at him. "I know things aren't going the way you'd want them to right now, but watch the attitude, because this is the only warning you're going to get."

Daniel's answer was a heavy stomp into his bedroom, followed by the expected slamming of the door.

oo~O~oo

The last place Daniel wanted to be today was in school. His Spanish teacher had refused to give him an extension, repeating what his father had said, that he'd had a week to work on the assignment and shouldn't have waited till the last minute.

He felt tired all day, the dopey-type of tiredness that came from too much sleep rather than too little. He slumped at his desk during his last class, doodling on a piece of loose-leaf paper, half-listening as the teacher droned on and on.

Purposely taking his time to gather his books, he was the last to leave the class. Students jostled him in their rush to leave the school. Once upon a time he had been one of those impatient kids, hurrying to go home to be with friends and family - things to do, people to see. Now, Daniel had an empty house to look forward to, and a lonely evening.

Daniel's locker, ironically, was next to Cameron Baum's. Corey was leaning against his locker, trying to sweet talk her. For all his efforts, his charm didn't appear to impress her.

Daniel stood next to Corey, and when he didn't move, snapped, "Move." Corey, with barely a glance in Daniel's direction, simply shifted over far enough so that Daniel could awkwardly reach the combination lock and open the door.

Angrily, Daniel tossed his books inside. The clatter he made finally seemed to register with Corey, and he shifted to Cameron's other side. Without any regard for the textbooks or notebooks, Daniel began shoving everything into his backpack.

"Your grandmother is a good cook."

It took Daniel several seconds to realize Cameron was talking to him. He pushed the locker door aside to see her staring at him intently, her brown eyes seeming to almost see through him, reminding him of the way Teal'c would sometimes stare at him. Despite her apparent strangeness, there was an uncanny intelligence behind those eyes.

"Yeah. She is." Daniel looked away from her gaze, checking his locker to make sure he didn't forget anything.

"My mom isn't that good a cook. She burns the roast."

Daniel slammed his locker shut. "Why are you talking to me?"

"Why wouldn't I talk to you? Your locker is next to mine and your grandmother lives across the street from me."

"And your brother hates my guts. I think that in itself is reason to keep far, far away from me." Daniel hefted his bag onto his shoulder. "Go talk to Corey instead. He's a really nice guy, until he stops being your friend." Daniel ignored Corey's curse and joined the stream of exiting students.

"But I don't want to talk to Corey." Somehow Cameron had grabbed her stuff and was walking side by side with Daniel. "I want to talk to you."

Spinning around in the middle of the hallway, Daniel grabbed Cameron's arm. He caught a glimpse of Corey across the bobbing heads, then gave Cameron his attention. "Look. I don't want any trouble with you or with your brother. I've got a girlfriend. I'm not looking for someone else and even if I were, it's not that you're not nice or, or, or, pretty, but just being who you are, and please, don't take this the wrong way, but you're the last person I'd want to date."

"Date?" Cameron frowned. "I don't want to be your girlfriend. I just want to be your friend."

Daniel raised his eyes and stared at the ceiling in exasperation. There was definitely something weird about Cameron and he couldn't quite put his finger on it. She was extremely intelligent, answered every question the teachers asked her correctly, but when it came to social interactions, she seemed to be one fry short of a Happy Meal. "You can't be my friend."

"Why not?"

This wasn't the place for this type of conversation. He didn't want to hurt her feelings; as much as he couldn't stand her brother, she had never said or done anything mean or insulting to him. And Alexandria and Cassie liked her. "Because of your brother."

"John has his own friends. You can be my friend."

"Cameron..." Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose. "Corey's your friend, right?"

"Yes."

"Well, he's not my friend. So by wanting to be my friend as well as Corey's, it's going to make things a little awkward."

"That's okay. I'll tell Corey I don't want him to be my friend anymore—"

"No!" Daniel ignored the irritated looks of the students filing past him when he'd yelled. "It doesn't work that way. You can't abandon Corey. He was your friend first. Look, we need to talk about this, but not here, not now." Good save, Jackson. If he could delay things for a day or two, he'd be able to talk to Alexandria and have her talk to Cameron and explain how some things just couldn't be.

"Yes, we need to talk."

"I have to catch my bus. I'll... Bye."

Her farewell was almost buried by the laughter of a trio of girls as he hurried towards the door. How in the world did he always seem to get tangled into the most awkward situations?

oo~O~oo

Jealousy and betrayal ripped through Daniel the next day when he walked into class and saw both Corey and John Baum with Cassie. Corey was leaning against Daniel's desk and Baum was standing next to Cassie, and all three of them laughing together. A brutish caveman urge came over him, but instead of stomping over and dragging his friend away from the boys, he walked over to his desk and stood there, glaring at them.

His attempt at scaring them off didn't work; Corey continued regaling them with his joke and didn't move away until he'd reached the punch line and had gotten laughter from Baum and Cassie, as well as two girls sitting in the next row.

His desk now free, Daniel sat, hurt that Cassie was not only talking to those two, but was also enjoying their company. He turned his back on her and dug his textbook out of his bag.

"Hey." She poked him just below his shoulder blade and flicked his ponytail.

"Stop it." He ran a hand over the back of his head.

"We were just talking."

"Yeah, right," he mumbled.

"Corey wanted me to ask Cameron to join us at the pizza place after school." Her voice was louder and a glance under his shoulder showed she was leaning forward over her desk. "You want to come? Just for a little while?"

Daniel turned slowly and looked at Cassie unbelieving. "You've got to be kidding."

"Come on. Me, Dria, Lena, Cameron. And Corey, falling all over himself trying to impress Cameron."

"And Cameron's brother, right? And Nate, and Li and—"

"Come on, Daniel. We don't have to sit with them."

"Miss Fraiser." The teacher's voice interrupted Cassie. "Is there anything interesting you'd like to share with the class?"

Cassie's chair squeaked as she leaned back. "Only that this is my all time favorite class."

The students erupted in laughter and Daniel busied himself leafing through his textbook until he found the place they'd stopped at during the last class.

"Flattery will get you everywhere," the teacher laughed. "Open your books to Chapter twenty."

While the class filled with the sound of rustling paper, Cassie began poking Daniel just below the shoulder again. "So, you gonna come?"

He knew Cassie and her tactics, which meant he'd get no peace today until he acquiesced. He nodded his head, and the poking stopped. "Good." She patted the area of skin she'd begun to bruise.

oo~O~oo

Daniel should never have agreed to join Cassie at their pizza haunt. He stepped through the door and saw his old gang sitting and laughing at their usual tables, with no sign of Alexandria or Cassie. He was just about to bolt back out the door when the door opened with a tinkle of bells, forcing him to step aside.

John Baum walked past him, heading for the rowdy teens. Cameron, however, stopped next to Daniel.

"I've been here before."

"I know. You came here to eat with your mom and... uncle." The visuals of such a relationship between her mother and uncle were definitely not his own and he squashed the vulgar connotations that were associated with Cameron living in such a household.

"You were here with Dria." She ignored Corey's shouting her name. "Are you going to be joining us?"

Daniel's smile bordered on sarcasm, as much as he tried to hold it back. "No, I don't think so."

"Do you want me to sit with you?" She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, her gaze straightforward and unwavering. There was no sign of deception or teasing; she seemed to be genuinely interested in keeping him company.

Corey shouted her name again.

This time his smile was genuine. "Thanks, but I think Corey wants you to join them."

"You're sure?"

The door tinkled opened again, and he got a whiff of Cassie's perfume a split second before she grabbed his arm.

"I'm sure."

Cameron held onto his gaze for a moment then turned away without another word, taking the seat that Corey had saved for her next to him.

"Dria's going to be late. She said to go ahead and order." Cassie led Daniel to a table at the other end of the small restaurant and sat down next to him. She leaned close to him, reaching for the menu, and then sagged against his shoulder as she opened the menu in front of them both. "Is it Friday yet? I'm ready to sleep till noon." She yawned as she buried her face on his arm, leaning more heavily on him.

"Poor baby. Maybe you should try going to bed and sleeping instead of staying up until the wee hours talking to Dominic." He dropped his head on top of hers, and she sighed.

"Ah, well... We haven't really been talking much lately."

"Oh, no, Cassie. What'd he do?" Daniel sat up and Cassie moved with him, leaning closer against him, obviously wanting comfort. He put his arm around her as she laid her head on his shoulder.

"We keep arguing over stupid things. Mom says we're both maturing and moving off into different interests." She sighed again. "I hate growing up."

oo~O~oo

John couldn't believe his eyes. Daniel Jackson had his arm around Cassie and she was leaning against him, all dopey-eyed and everything. What the hell was with this Casanova? He'd even managed to catch Cameron's interest; he hadn't missed her talking to him a little while ago when they'd come in.

The only reason he and Cameron ended up here today was because his mom and Derek were chasing another lead to the Turk. Right now he was sorry he'd come because watching Jackson eating his pizza, all cozy with Cassie, was just so wrong in so many ways. And to do this behind Dria's back. No wonder he'd had a falling out with all his friends. It was just a matter of time before he drove Dria away, too.

For a moment John indulged in a daydream – him and Dria together. Then he squashed those hopes down; first of all she was still with Daniel and second of all, like he'd told Cameron once, the hot girls don't go for the weird kids.

"We need to go home now. Mom should be home soon."

John checked his watch; Cameron was right. "I'll just go see if the pizza I ordered is ready yet." He stood, surrounded by farewells and backslaps. "I'll be just a minute," he told Cameron. It wasn't often he brought home supper; hopefully this peace offering would help cover the fact that he wasn't at home right now researching some of his mom's leads on the internet.

The pizza was ready; he just needed to wait while they boxed it and he paid for it. The slice he'd eaten here with his friends had just made a dent in his hunger and the heat of the box and its enticing smell was enough to hurry him the few blocks to their home. He turned, anxious to leave, and froze.

Cameron was standing next to Daniel Jackson, and she flashed him that same smile she'd flashed John the first time he'd seen her in that hick town in New Mexico. Where the hell was Cassie? And how dare Jackson try and make a move on Cameron? The bastard. Corey's crestfallen face said it all, because Cameron never once smiled at him that way.

He ignored the niggling voice telling him that a robot was immune to the wiles of young, horny teenagers as he stomped over to them. "We're going to be late," he snapped as he passed them. He shoved the door open and Cameron caught the door before it shut, hurrying after him.

"We're not that late—"

"You keep away from him, do you hear me?"

"Keep away from who?"

"Jackson. He's two-timing Dria and now he's hitting on you."

"Dria was supposed to meet him but she was going to be late."

"He was all over Cassie, and now he's trying to take you away from Corey." John turned the corner and nearly bumped into an elderly lady. "Sorry," he mumbled, shifting the pizza box awkwardly so he didn't catch the woman with it.

"I was never Corey's to begin with. I don't belong to anyone." She paused a moment. "Except you."

John couldn't help but give her an unbelieving look. "Right. You don't even listen to anything I tell you to do."

"I will. One day. When you've become that John Connor."

He snorted. "The Messiah. Savior of Humankind. The guy who's going to become a nobody if we manage to stop Judgment Day."

"You'll never be a nobody—"

"I already am. Look at me. Do you have any idea of how many towns I've lived in? How many schools I've gone to? I have no real friends—"

"You have a mother who loves you fiercely. You have Derek Reese. You have new friends at school—"

"Who only want me to hang with them because Corey wants to date you."

"That's not true. Cassie and Dria like you."

"Sure they do."

"And you also have me."

"Because you were ordered to stay with me. That doesn't count."

"My friendship doesn't matter to you?"

"You're not my friend. You're my protector. Totally different thing."

"I thought I was your friend."

That last came out like he'd hurt her feelings, but a quick glance showed her usual emotionless face just as blank. No pout, no tears, no bruised ego.

"Just stay away from Jackson." He brought the conversation back to the original subject. "He's a troublemaker. He's into drugs; getting mixed up in that won't keep you under the radar."

"You're wrong about Daniel Jackson."

John snorted again as they turned onto their street. "Like you're an expert on human personalities?"

"And you are?"

He didn't answer. Instead he stepped off the curb and began to cross the street just as his mom was pulling into their driveway. She honked once in greeting. He noticed Jackson's grandmother in her front yard just as she raised her hand to wave at him and he awkwardly, but very gently waved back using the pizza box. He watched as Cameron flicked her fingers at Rose.

"I've got supper," John said proudly as he hefted the cooling pizza box.

His mom stepped out of the truck, one eyebrow arched. "That's sweet of you, but I thought you were doing some research for me."

"I will, after supper. Anyways," John said as they walked up to the door, giving his mom his sweetest smile, "I figured you've been out all day again. It's not fair that you end up slaving over the stove again. So I went and got us supper at the pizza place."

"I thought we went to the pizza place because Cassandra Fraiser asked us to join Corey Middleton after school."

Derek's laughter and Cameron's obvious naiveté added fuel to the heat of his growing mortification.

"Girlfriend?" His mom ignored his blatant lie as she took the pizza from him, but he could tell she was trying not to laugh.

"Cassie? No, she's just a friend."

"Are you sure?"

John didn't look at her as he took down dishes from the cabinet. "Yes, I'm sure."

"Ah. Well, one never knows. Things sometimes have a way of working themselves out." She ruffled his hair before placing the pizza box on the table and flipping open the lid. "Oh, before I forget, add one more name to the research." She handed him a piece of paper she dug out of her pocket.

"Frank Morrison? Who's he?"

"Possibly Sarkissian's partner here in town. Who knows, we might just get lucky."

"Mom." John pulled a chair back and sat down, watching his mother run a knife through the pizza. "What would you say if I said I wanted to try out for the soccer team at school?"

"I'd say, who are you and what have you done with my son?" She tossed a piece of pepperoni into her mouth.

"The coach says I'm not bad and he keeps asking me to come try out."

"We don't have time for this—"

"It wouldn't be that bad, Sarah. I was on a peewee league when I was a kid. Some of the best moments of my life—"

"We don't have time for this," his mom reiterated as she sat down. "We have no idea how long we're going to be here. I can't be spending all my time driving you to games."

"I can drive him," Cameron offered.

"I can get a bike and go to the games by myself."

"No."

"But—"

"John. We've talked about this before—"

Derek reached for the largest piece of pizza and dragged it onto his plate. "Let him try out. Let him go to the practices. We'll worry about him being on the team next year, if we're still around."

"I need him here."

"You can't keep him cooped up in front of a computer all day long. Let him at least enjoy himself for a few more weeks."

"I need to think about this."

"It probably doesn't matter anyway. I suck at sports." John knew the subject was closed for now and no amount of nagging would change her mind. He concentrated on his supper, occasionally glancing over at Cameron who sat there, watching them eat.

oo~O~oo

"Good job, Baum," Coach Dawson said as John jogged up to him. "You're still a little rough around the edges; but you've got stamina and heart, I'll give you that."

John wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, nodding, waiting hopefully, trying not to look as winded as he felt. Several kids were still on the field, practicing a few moves, while a couple of others were talking with a handful of girls who'd come to watch the soccer practice, including Cameron. The rest were walking back to the school.

"You need to work on keeping control of the ball, though."

"That wasn't my fault." John blurted out the accusation, searching the soccer field for the one person who had been the bane of his existence during his time out on the soccer field.

"Yeah, Jackson's still a little tough on you. I'm going to talk to him about that. But you're also going to have to learn to hold your own. However, you've got potential.

"If you're interested, you can join our practices, learn the logistic of the game. Team player and all that. I know it's late in the season but there's a good chance we can put you on the team next year. Interested?"

John knew there was an even better chance he wouldn't even be in this school, or even in this city, by next year. Still, he'd actually enjoyed himself when he'd played, felt part of a team – for the most part – if you didn't count the one person who had been trying to make life miserable for him from the moment he'd moved here.

"Thanks. Yes, I'm interested," he found himself saying, even as he spotted Jackson talking to Cameron.

"Good. Come and see me tomorrow after school and I'll have a release form ready so you can get your parents to sign."

"Okay. I'll see you tomorrow," John said hurriedly, rushing to get his tin sister away from the enemy. "Thanks," he called over his shoulder.

"You did that on purpose," John snarled the moment he was in Jackson's space.

"Did what?" Jackson turned to John, eyes wide in pseudo-innocence. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"John means about how you deliberately try to keep the ball away from him, even when it's not advantageous to you."

Jackson turned to Cameron, giving her a sweet smile, and to John's disgust, Cameron smiled back at him.

"I didn't—"

"My brother sucks at sports," she said, interrupting Jackson and mimicking what John had said.

"The coach doesn't think so," John found himself bragging. "Too bad, it didn't work. I'm joining practices; I'll be on the team next year. Suck it up, Jackson."

Jackson's smile faded. The blue of his eyes darkened, became almost icy, and even behind his glasses, John saw a glint of anger and suspicion. He was used to this reaction from the jocks in all the schools he'd attended, and it was nice to finally prove that he could actually keep up with the best of them.

"Yeah, well, practices and real games are miles apart," Jackson sneered.

"If you stopped trying to show off all the time, maybe you'd actually be as good as everyone says you are." Everyone said that Daniel Jackson was a great kid; smart, friendly, well liked. He was a good soccer player, John begrudgingly admitted to that. But he was an asshole as well.

"I wasn't showing off."

"You sure as hell weren't playing the game." John took a step closer to Jackson, invading his space. He was intently aware that they were now alone on the soccer field; everyone else had gone back to the school.

The showdown between them was inevitable. Maybe it was best to provoke it now – get it over and done with – get Jackson off his back once and for all. And this was the perfect setting; no witnesses, so when John was through wiping the floor with the kid, he wouldn't have to worry about being shamed in front of his peers.

Jackson held his ground. For a younger kid, he had guts.

"I was playing just fine. You're the one who couldn't hold onto the ball. If you can't play the game, then it's up to your teammates to take over."

"You didn't even try to give me a chance!"

"Maybe that's because your sister's right. You suck at sports."

John shoved him, pushing the kid back a step. Jackson came at him and shoved back. John pushed Jackson again, tensing for the resulting attack. To his surprise, the kid stopped his forward motion, seeming to take control of himself. John had a sneaking suspicion he hadn't stopped out of fear, but from an incredible amount of self-control.

"You need to go inside and shower, or else we'll miss our bus." Cameron said, even as she took a step towards them. "Mom's going to be worried."

"Stay out of this," John ordered before she could try to separate them, keeping eye contact with Jackson.

"You're going to mess up royally one of these days and I'm going to walk all over you." Jackson glared at him. The kid looked impossibly young, with the strands of hair that had come free of his ponytail whipping into his face. But there was defiance and determination in his eyes, something which reminded John of his mother.

"You can try," John taunted, shoving him again, wanting to get this over and done with, tamping down the guilt because he was provoking the fight. "You want a piece of me? Well, come and get it."

This time Jackson's answer was a full shoulder slam. The kid wasn't heavily built but he put a lot of energy into it. John slid backwards, his sneaker-clad feet unable to get traction even as he reached for Jackson. He caught himself, took a step forward and moved to flip the kid onto his back, planning on pinning him there. To his surprise, the boy broke his hold and attempted the same move on him. John countered the attack, tried to sweep Jackson's feet from under him, only to have the boy break free and dance around him.

"John. Don't do this. We have to go. We have to go now."

He ignored Cameron, keeping his eyes glued on his opponent. Every move, every feint, the kid countered, until John, through sheer luck, tripped and brought both of them down onto the grass. John's heavier weight would eventually win out and he struggled to get into position to pin the kid down. And struggle he did; it was like trying to hold onto a writhing snake. Knees, elbows, even snapping teeth, John had to use every ounce of training to keep Jackson from hurting him. Even then, the kid had gotten a few good knocks in, and he knew he was going to be stiff and sore tomorrow.

Again, luck and superior weight turned the tide to John's corner. The kid was tiring and John managed to flip him onto his stomach. John half-lay on Jackson's back, holding his hands securely while his knees blocked the kid's legs.

"Let me go!" Jackson bucked once, twice, and suddenly went limp.

Alarmed, John released the kid, searching for injury, when Jackson suddenly twisted beneath John and tried to roll free. John grabbed him and got a punch on the cheek, while his knee smacked painfully on the kid's thigh.

Panting harshly, both of them struggled to get a superior hold over the other. Angered at being tricked, John fought instinctively, his training to remain in control forgotten in the heat of the moment. He felt like he'd been battling for hours, so when Cameron physically grabbed him and pulled him and Jackson apart like two young kittens, he was disoriented. He struggled to get away from Cameron, but she tugged him back, the force of her action so violent, he lost his balance and fell to one knee.

"Run," she said, already turning away from him. "Take him to safety."

It may have been her voice, her body language, but suddenly John was aware this wasn't a 'break up the fight or your mom's going to kill you' command. This was a run as if your life depended on it command. John's training kicked in. Adrenaline, already fueled from the fight, coursed through his body. He was on his feet, searching for danger, and saw another teenager walking determinedly towards them. There was something about the approaching boy that was familiar, and it took him a second to realize it was the same almost-military strut, expressionless face, as Cameron usually wore. But it was the gun that the terminator was raising and aiming in his direction that finally got him moving.

"Oh, shit!" He got up, tripped and nearly went down in his rush to escape the oncoming terminator. Then he did go down when Jackson tackled him again.

"No! Let me go! Get out of here!" His voice had risen, sounding high and clear as he yelled at Jackson. He rolled, trying to break Jackson's grip, and saw dirt fly inches from his face as a bullet struck the ground.

"Stay down! He's got a gun." Jackson tried to push John down even as John struggled to get to his feet.

"You don't understand. You have to get out of here." John froze, trusting Cameron to keep the terminator busy, and turned to Daniel, grabbing his arms. "It's after me. You'll be safe. Stay away from it and it won't hurt you." The sounds of fighting reached them, distracting Jackson, allowing John the opportunity to break his hold and get to his feet. He ran a few steps, then stopped, seeing Jackson get up and take a step towards the cyborgs.

"No!"

"Your sister—" Jackson's eyes widened as both machines smashed through the soccer goal, splintering the pieces of metal like they were Popsicle sticks.

"You heard her. We have to get out of here. Now!" He grabbed Jackson's arm and tugged. With a last glance backwards, the kid started running without any more prompting.

They literally flew over the soccer field, heading away from the school. Jackson seemed to realize that safety was in numbers, or else he was so shell-shocked from what he'd just seen that he was following John blindly. In any case, John now needed to get away from Jackson, for the kid's own safety.

John slowed at the edge of a small copse of woods and glanced back towards the soccer field. He couldn't see anything from this angle. Turning to Jackson, he pointed towards the school. "Go back, you'll be safe there."

He got raised eyebrows in response.

"It's me it's after—"

"In case you didn't notice, he was shooting at the both of us."

"No. You were just in the way—"

"I'm not an idiot. We were both targets. We got lucky back there. If we'd been standing still, we'd be dead by now." Jackson leaned closer, his face nearly in John's. "Both of us."

John was confused by Jackson's reaction. Any normal kid would have been freaked out by someone shooting a gun in their direction. But this kid, while obviously scared, like John was, seemed to be thinking fairly rationally. John had only seen the one bullet, but now remembered hearing several gunshots.

"Then let's both get the hell out of here." He led them into the wooded area in order to stay out of sight of the terminator. Jackson kept looking backwards, slowing them down. "He's got a gun, remember? Move."

"Your sister, she's not like you or me, is she?"

They were climbing down a hilly area and the footing was slippery. Out of breath, John grabbed for a tree branch to slow his downward motion, afraid of twisting an ankle, or worse, if he lost his footing. "She's got a black belt—"

"Don't insult my intelligence. I saw them both break through steel – that wasn't any type of martial arts – that was brute strength. You're trained to fight. Who the hell are you?"

"Not now, Jackson. I'll explain later."

"Daniel."

"What?"

"My name's Daniel."

John nodded and held back his own questions about Daniel, and how the kid had learned how to fight. They reached the bottom of the gully and started up the other side. John could hear an occasional car going by.

John pulled himself up over a fallen tree, anchored his hand around a healthy tree and leaned down and held his arm out to Daniel. The kid looked up at him a moment, then grabbed his hand.

"You said it," Daniel said as John helped him over the tree.

"What?"

"You didn't say 'he's after me'. You said, 'It was after you'. What is it? An alien?"

John laughed at the absurdity of it all. "Yeah, I wish." Life would be so much simpler if all he had to worry about were invading aliens instead of robots trying to take over the world. At least aliens could probably be killed.

They crested the top of the gully and emerged onto a sidewalk. The sun was setting behind storm clouds and the wind was picking up, sending a sprinkling drizzle over them. John started walking, heading away from the school, following the line of woods, trying to orient himself. He shivered, remembering this wasn't exactly the balmy weather he'd been enjoying just a few weeks back and an eternity ago.

"I need to find a phone."

"My cell phone—"

"Is in the locker room, same as mine." John swore at himself, knowing his mom would chew him out for separating himself from his phone.

"We need to call the cops—"

"The police can't do anything."

"Your sister might be hurt—"

"She's fine—"

"You don't know that—"

"Trust me, she's fine." Something loud crashed through the woods, and both of them froze. Without a word, they started jogging, crossing the street at an angle, searching desperately for a place to hide. There were rows of houses but none of them even had yards they could slip into to get out of sight. They turned the corner and then Daniel grabbed his arm, pulling him across that street and into the shelter of a small carport. They huddled behind a van, holding their breaths, and listening.

While Daniel was peering past the side of the van, John got a good look at the kid. He was scared; it was obvious from the pale skin and the way his eyes kept darting back and forth. But hell, John was scared also – scratch that, he was terrified. More so because he knew very well what the cyborg was and what it was capable of. Daniel could never imagine the horrors John had been through and what he was hoping to prevent.

They shivered for several minutes as the rain began to fall in earnest. When there was no sign of their attacker, John spoke in a whisper.

"Jerry's Laundromat. I need to get there. I need to call my mom and warn her – tell her to pick me up."

"I'm not sure where that is."

"It's on the corner of Reynolds Avenue and Fourth."

"That's on the other side of the school."

"Okay. Then I have a good idea where we are. I can find my way." Slowly John stood and Daniel followed him up. Without another word, they slipped out from behind the van and cautiously crept forward. There was no sign of life on the street or sidewalk, except for the occasional passing car.

They detoured south by several blocks before venturing east again.

"You need to call someone about that kid—" Daniel began.

"If I call the cops, someone will get hurt, or die. It's safer this way."

"What if he goes after someone else?"

"He won't."

"Why is he after you?"

John shook his head. "It's complicated."

"Believe me, I can do complicated."

John couldn't help smiling. He had a feeling that despite their rocky start, this kid could actually understand what John was going through. His mom's words, trust no one, suddenly seemed so very wrong.

It took nearly a half hour to make it to the Laundromat and John was so spooked, he watched the place for five minutes before finally crossing the street and peering inside the glass doors. He entered the store and the damp heat hit him like a slap in the face. He began shivering in earnest, reminded how cold he truly was.

"I have your bags."

Startled, John jumped as Cameron stood, the chair she'd been sitting on next to the door half-hidden by a row of washing machines. She had a scrape along one cheekbone and along her jawline. Her clothes were muddy and torn, but she seemed to be in one piece.

"Are you okay? What happened?" He took his backpack from her, searching his pockets for his cell phone.

"It got away."

"See? See? See? Again with the it."

Cameron turned to Daniel and held out a battered backpack with a dangling blue matchbox car on a keychain attached to one of its clips. "I brought your bag and clothes also."

Daniel seemed surprised, but took the overstuffed backpack from her. As John pulled the phone out and turned it on, it began to ring.

He glanced at the display. Instead of a number, it showed a bunch of alternating symbols. "It's been doing that for a few weeks." He answered the phone and as before, got nothing but dead space.

"I've never seen a phone do that before." Daniel was peering over his shoulder and before John could sever the connection, put a hand on his wrist, stopping him. "How long has it been doing that?"

"I'm not sure."

"Could someone be tracking you? Using your phone?"

"Oh shit." John hit the disconnect button. "It started not long after we activated the chip. Maybe the triple-eight did manage to dial out." He grabbed his bag. "If that's him, he knows where we are. We gotta move."

Seconds later they were on the run again, this time three of them. Three blocks from the laundromat, they slowed.

"Follow me."

John dug in his heels and glared at Daniel. "Where?"

"I know a safe place."

John didn't budge.

"My friend Sam lives a few blocks east of here."

"No. We'll make sure we're clear and call my mom."

"You can call your mom from Sam's house."

"I don't want to get anyone else involved."

"Too late. I'm involved now. And I think it's time you called in the big guns."

"I can use a big gun," Cameron said.

Daniel grinned at her and motioned for them to follow. Reluctantly, John followed. Daniel was right; they could call his mom from the safety of someone's home. And without using his blasted cell phone.

oo~O~oo

It was fully dark by the time Daniel led them to Sam's house. Nervously he stopped before the entrance to the garage and peered around, looking for anyone suspicious-looking.

"We're safe."

"How can you be sure?" Daniel watched Cameron as she did a visual sweep of the street and surrounding areas.

She turned to look at him, and spoke without any expression. "I'm sure."

"If she's sure, then we're safe. Is this the house?" He tried not to remember the last time he'd done this, but the circumstances were so eerily similar, he couldn't help himself. That time someone had broken into his house and attacked him in the dark. This time, someone had attacked him at school. Both had been places he'd felt safe – he wondered if there was going to be another session with his psychologist in his future.

He punched in the security code into the garage door's panel, and they all ducked inside, then hurried across the empty garage as the garage doors closed. Daniel went directly to the kitchen and picked up Sam's phone and dialed his dad's number. While the call was being put through, he tossed John his cell. "Call your mom, tell her you're safe."

There was relief and a slight nod from John. He began dialing just as his dad came on the line.

"Where are you? Your grandmother's worried—"

"Dad, someone came after us at school. I think it was a Jaffa or a Goa—"

"What? Are you okay? Where are you?"

"We're fine. I'm at Sam's. The guy came after me and a couple of kids. Dad, it didn't act right. It was strong like a Jaffa but it was different. I think it was one of those super soldiers that attacked Sam a couple of years ago."

John had been talking to his mother. She was upset, the sound of her voice coming loudly through the cell's speaker. When Daniel mentioned the super soldiers, John literally turned around and stared at him, mouth almost dropping in surprise. He turned to Cameron. "The T-eight hundred came through some ten years ago. When did others come and attack the military?"

"They didn't."

"Daniel, how do you know about the super soldiers?"

"I don't know. Maybe I overhead you and Sam talking about it. But they're here—"

"Are you safe?"

Daniel turned to Cameron. "Did it follow you here?"

"No." She stared at him, and Daniel couldn't figure out if she was lying or telling the truth. He opted for the latter.

"We're safe."

"I'm coming to get you. Stay put."

"Not going anywhere."

"What about the kids who were with you?"

"John and Cameron? They're here with me. Their mom's coming to get them." He turned to John for confirmation, and he nodded back.

"Don't let them leave until we get a handle on this. Tell the parents I need to talk to the kids if they get there first."

"Okay." As Daniel hung up the phone, he started to shake. Reaction set in so quickly that he barely made it to a kitchen chair before his legs gave out on him.

Cameron followed him there and sat across from him. "Your heart is racing."

"I'm fine."

"Yours is also," she said as her brother joined them. John ignored his sister's comment, taking a seat at the head of the table once he handed Daniel's phone back. His hand was shaking almost as much as Daniel's.

"My dad said he wants to talk to you. Probably to your parents, too."

John shook his head. "Mom wants me out of here as soon as possible."

"John—"

"Look, Daniel. I'm sorry I got you involved in this. The sooner we leave, the safer you'll be."

"I don't think it's that simple. You know what attacked us. The military is interested in them. They need to find these soldiers before they hurt someone else." He rocked back and forth, trying to warm up.

"Terminators."

"What?" Daniel stilled, frowning at John.

"They're called terminators. They're programmed to kill. I'm their target."

"Well, they have more than one target because that terminator was out to get me, too."

"No, you must be mistaken—"

"Daniel's not mistaken." Cameron was staring out the kitchen window. "He was also targeted by the—"

"Why would it go after Daniel?"

She turned to look at John. "Either it recognized me, or else it was just going after people indiscriminately."

Daniel wrapped his arms around himself, sticking his hands under his armpits.

"That's not how they work. You're lying." John stood, seeming nervous.

"I'm not."

Daniel watched as John walked over to the window, stood to the side and peeked outside. After several minutes, he turned from the window and leaned against the wall, arms crossed, as if he were cold.

Rubbing his hands up and down his own goose bump-peppered arms, Daniel decided he was going to change into dry clothes. He grabbed their backpacks and dumped them on the table then pointed down the hall. "I don't know about you, but I'm freezing. You can use the bathroom. I'll go change in Sam's bedroom."

Ten minutes later, Daniel was still cold, but at least he was dry. He bundled his clothes and after searching under the kitchen sink, came up with two plastic bags. One he tossed his wet gym clothes into, the other he put on the table.

Cameron was moving from window to window. "They're programmed to kill," she said as she passed him. "They're cyborgs—"

"Part man, part symbiote. I know."

"What? What are you talking about?" John entered the kitchen, his gym clothes a jumbled mess in his arms. "Symbiote? What's that?"

"I thought you said you knew what they were?" Daniel exclaimed.

"I do. They're cybernetic—"

"Organisms—" Cameron interrupted.

"With living tissue—"

"Over a hyper-alloy combat chassis."

"A metal endoskeleton."

Daniel stared at the two of them, feeling like he was suddenly playing a game of ping-pong with live grenades. "Wait a second. We're not talking about Jaffa warriors, are we?"

"I don't know what Jaffa warriors are," Cameron stated. "Unless you also call them cyborgs."

"Nooooo." Daniel shivered, this time not from reaction. A cold fear rose from the small of his back, raising the hairs on his nape. "Why would I be a target? And why are these things after you two?" He stuck a finger up in the air when John opened his mouth. "And don't say it's complicated."

"We might have told you too much already," John said slowly.

Both boys jumped at the sound of someone at the front door. Cameron moved fast, faster than Teal'c ever did, positioning herself in front of Daniel and John while the two of them struggled to their feet. A moment later the front door opened, and his dad's voice called out his name.

"In the kitchen, Dad." It finally clicked. Daniel exclaimed loudly, grabbing Cameron's arm as he came around the table. "You're one of them. You're a cyborg."

Cameron simply raised her chin slightly as her eyebrows drew closer together.

"You kids okay?" His father, armed to the teeth, followed by Sam, Teal'c, Colonel Mitchell, and Rodney McKay, stepped into the kitchen. Through the kitchen window, Daniel could see at least one full squad of Marines in the back yard, obviously surrounding Sam's house.

"We're fine."

He saw his dad look at him from top to bottom, stopping a moment to stare at his cheek, then glance over at John and Cameron.

Cameron seemed fascinated by Teal'c. She was staring at him, enough so that Teal'c seemed a little unnerved.

The squeal of brakes had everyone turning towards the front door. Twin sounds of doors slamming shut, then footsteps running up the walk. Followed by loud, angry voices. Scuffling.

"That's going to be my mom and my uncle." There was panic in John's voice and he stared beseechingly at Daniel's dad.

Cameron took a step towards the front door just as it opened and two worse for wear marines escorted John's mother and uncle into the house.

"John." Angrily, she shrugged out of the marine's grasp, snarled at him, then ignoring everyone else, she hurried to John and wrapped her arms around him. "You okay?"

His father waved the other marine to release John's uncle then shooed them from the house with a nod of his head.

"I'm fine, Mom."

It wasn't lost on Daniel that she ignored Cameron, pulling back to check John over for injuries. She was a little more hands on than his dad, but then, his dad had his hands full of P90.

"Holy shit!" John's uncle Derek's eyes widened in recognition, and he snapped his fingers. "That's it. DJ?" He took a step forward and for a moment, Daniel had the impression he was going to throw his arms around him.

"You know my son?" His dad suddenly became The Colonel, and Derek straightened.

"No, sir. Sorry. For a moment I thought he looked like someone else." The man backed off, but kept giving Daniel long glances like he had in the pizza place. Derek was way too curious for comfort and Daniel stepped a little closer to his father.

"And your names?"

"I'm Sarah Baum, John and Cameron's mother."

Sarah let go of John and took Cameron into what Daniel thought was a very stiff embrace, as if she'd just realized her mistake in acknowledging only John. Daniel shook his head – and he'd thought he'd had a strange life?

"I'm Derek Reese. I'm a friend of the family." He held his hand out and his dad reached out, almost reluctantly, to shake it. "If it's all right with you, can we go now?"

"We need you to answer a few questions."

Sarah smiled. "Of course. Although I have no idea what happened. John called me to say there was some sort of incident at the school. Shouldn't he be talking to the police? Why are the military involved?"

"We were attacked by a super soldier," Cameron said, turning to Daniel. "Isn't that right?"

Hyper-aware of his father's questioning glare and realizing he'd let divulged something confidential, Daniel swallowed his anxiety and raised his chin. "I might have been mistaken about that—"

"Ah, good. So we can leave now?" John's mom said quickly.

"It wasn't a super soldier, it was a cyborg," Daniel added just as quickly. He saw Sarah Baum start, a look of fear in her eyes as she turned to John, who slowly nodded his head.

"Cromartie?" Derek, who hadn't stopped staring at Daniel, finally turned to John.

"No," John said simply.

"We're leaving. Now." Sarah grabbed John's arm and tried to strong arm her way out of the house.

John, however, dug his heels in. "Mom, he didn't only come after me, he went after Daniel." John turned to Daniel, then to his dad. "Your family's in danger. It's going to go after your loved ones to get to you. You need to warn them. Now."

"What?" Daniel grabbed John's arm. "My family?"

"It's what it's programmed to do. Lure you out by hurting your family."

Daniel let go of John and hurried to his father. "Dad. Grandma!"

"Carter, get a team to my mother's house and take her to the mountain. Call her, tell her not to leave the house or let anyone inside until you get there."

oo~O~oo

Daniel had talked non-stop the whole way to the mountain, which Jack attributed to nerves. His son given him a detailed account of the way the girl had gone after their attacker, but had glossed over the argument he'd had with the Baum kid. From the bruises on both their faces and knuckles, Jack had a pretty good idea what sort of argument they'd had. It was a miracle that none of them had been shot, distracted as they'd been.

They pulled into the base and Daniel got out of the jeep slowly, favoring his right leg. Great, that's all they needed, Daniel re-injuring his knee. He made a mental note to have Fraiser do a look-see of the knee just in case. The security detail was waiting for them and immediately surrounded the second vehicle as the Baums got out.

To Jack's surprise, Daniel walked over to the Baums, sidestepping the guards and walking with the slightest of limps inside their small circle.

"We'll be going to the infirmary first. It's standard procedure that everyone new on the base gets a physical, especially when there's been weird and wacky stuff going on."

John Baum gave Daniel a shy, nervous smile. The kid seemed to be just as stiff and sore as Daniel. The girl, however, despite the cuts and bruises on her face and arms, moved with an odd grace that looked almost stiff but Jack realized was really simply an economy of motion.

oo~O~oo

Jack had to admit the woman, Sarah, and her companion had balls. Staring down the barrels of more than a handful of SFs and their weapons and they weren't even breaking a sweat.

"Just do what they ask, Mom."

John placed his body between the two parties, turning his back on the loaded weapons, and the kid wasn't even flinching.

"Ms. Baum, Mr. Reese, why don't you listen to John and just hand your weapons over."

"No," Sarah said, not even allowing Jack to finish.

Jack was losing patience. Daniel was standing off to the side, arms wrapped around his middle and Jack just wanted Fraiser to give him a once over. Now. Not when this crazy family decided it was appropriate to acquiesce.

The teenage girl stepped forward and the sound of the SF's safeties on guns being released was almost deafening, but the only thing she did was skim her hand along her brother's neck.

John glared at her, slapped her hand away. "Stop it," he hissed.

She turned towards Sarah. "Heart rate is elevated, as is his blood pressure. He has significant bruising. There will be no infirmary while you hold onto your weapons."

"I'm fine," John objected, looking crestfallen when his mother and Derek Reese placed their weapons on the table.

oo~O~oo

The security detail separated the group, taking the two adults with much protest in one elevator, and the kids in the other. Jack stayed with the children.

Jack remained in the infirmary while Fraiser gave everyone a physical. Daniel was first. It only took a couple of minutes, and when Fraiser pulled back the curtain, Jack glimpsed a myriad of bruises covering his son's arms, torso and legs before she snicked it shut.

"He's fine. Going to be a little stiff for a day or two, especially the knee; I can't help wonder what the other guy looks like."

"I think you'll be finding that out in just a second." Jack motioned to the family sitting on the infirmary beds, where a nurse was going around taking blood samples. The nurse was reaching for the girl's arm, but she pulled away.

"That's not necessary."

"I need to take a sample from everyone, honey."

"No."

Jack moved closer, intending to step in, but the mother spoke up before he could. "Leave her alone." The brother got up and both of them flanked the girl. The Reese guy, at least, was staying out of it.

Fraiser hurried past Jack just as Daniel came out from inside the cubicle, his shirt in his hands. "Dad. I don't think she can give blood." Jack tried to ignore the bruises as Daniel hurried after Fraiser. "Janet. Stop. Please."

It took Jack mere seconds to connect the dots and piece together what Daniel was trying to tell him. Daniel's pleas registered and he picked up the infirmary phone and ordered an additional security detail to haul their collective asses down to the infirm. This pretty as a picture teenage girl standing before him, was no different than the killer cyborg who'd tried to end his son's life.

oo~O~oo

While waiting for the backup security, the girl just sat there, staring at them all, looking nonplussed. Now Jack understood the lack of emotion on the girl's face. Unlike the other robot they'd met five years ago, this one was more self-contained. More intelligent, or maybe, less child-like.

"Take her to a holding cell," Jack ordered.

"No." Daniel was in Jack's face. "She saved my life."

"She won't hurt anyone," John Baum yelled out. "You can't take her."

"John," his mother said, her voice calm in the midst of the teenagers' outbursts.

"I won't leave John Connor."

"I thought you said your name was Baum," Jack said, equally calm.

"It is," Sarah Baum said just as calmly. "Connor is my married name."

"A cell's not going to hold her," John tried to explain.

"Be quiet, John," his mother said, placing undisguised accentuation on his name.

"No, Mom, they can't take Cameron. I won't let them." Swiftly pivoting, he pointed to the opened infirmary door. "I'm ordering you to leave, Cameron—"

"Don't," Sarah grabbed her son's arm and shook it. "This isn't a battle anyone will win. You know that. We're here. We have to make the most of—"

"No. Wait!" Daniel reached out, arms to the side as the robot got up from the bed and started walking towards the door. "Don't. Stay, please." The motion was too reminiscent of the time Daniel had sacrificed himself for Jack, the first time through the Stargate on Abydos. Jack didn't hesitate – he grabbed his son's shoulder and hauled him back, away from the robot.

To Jack's surprise, and from the look on John Baum's face, to his surprise also, the robot stopped.

"Dad." Daniel twisted in Jack's hold, turning to look at him. "If you take her away, John's defenseless. I saw what that other robot did. I'm pretty sure if she wanted to escape, none of us could stop her."

Daniel glanced back at the robot, and she nodded once. "You can't stop me."

Jack raised his hand, almost tempted to order security to open fire on her. He hated robots, had seen what they could do when Harlan had turned SG-1 into tin men. Or Reese, untrustworthy despite her iffy friendship with McKay until they'd turned her off again. Then he lowered his hand, seeing the beseeching looks from both Daniel and his new friend.

Jack walked towards the robot, hoping he wasn't doing something stupid. "You're here to protect him?" He nodded his head at John.

"Yes."

"What about my son?"

"My primary mission is to protect John."

"What about my son?" Jack repeated.

"My mission is also to protect Daniel Jackson O'Neill."

"Do you know where you are?" Jack's question was curt.

"Inside Cheyenne Mountain. There were rumors of a facility operating under the guise of NORAD which dealt with travel between planets, but everything was destroyed and no proof was ever found."

"Destroyed? What are you talking about?"

"Judgment Day."

"Colonel O'Neill." Sarah Baum moved away from her son and stood next to the robot. "We need to talk."

Jack turned to the man who'd sat on the bed the whole time. "What about you? What do you say about all this?"

The man simply smiled, as if he were talking about the weather. His eyes, however, were cold. "Just one word of warning – that thing standing next to you? Don't trust it."

Jack made his decision. "Finish the physicals. She doesn't move from here until I say so." He tightened his hold on Daniel's shoulder. "I'm going to check on your grandmother and talk to Hammond. Until then, I don't want you near her."

"But Dad—"

"Put your shirt on. There's a VIP suite with your name on it."

oo~O~oo

"Daniel." His grandmother stood, meeting him halfway as he entered the suite. He welcomed her touch, her hug, holding tightly despite the pain of his bruises. "Are you all right? Sam told me someone tried to hurt you."

"Some crazy guy went after me and some other kids," Daniel lied. He was exhausted and sat down heavily on the bed. A glance at his watch showed it was just past eight. If asked, he would have sworn it was the middle of the night.

She sat next to him, tracing a finger down the bruise that was stiffening his cheek. "Looks like he got you pretty good."

Daniel didn't want to mention anything about him and John, because honestly, the anger and jealousy seemed stupid. He hung his head, ashamed at the pettiness of his feelings of only a few hours ago.

"You look tired," his grandmother said.

Daniel's stomach rumbled in response.

"Are you hungry?" she mocked with the start of a smile, seemingly happy at the return to normalcy. "I'll get us some food." As she opened the door and asked the guard to bring them something to eat, Daniel wished all things in life were that easy. He let himself fall back on the bed, his feet still planted on the floor, his hand right hand massaging away the familiar ache in his knee, and he wondered what was going on in John's mind. He must be scared. Daniel had the feeling he'd been on the run for some time. At least if Daniel had to hide out here for a while, the base was familiar.

He stretched, feeling he could sleep right here and now.

"Why don't you go take a shower?"

"Mmmm." He reveled in the bed's comfort a moment before forcing himself up. The shower helped, as did the clean pair of fatigues and a hot supper waiting for him when he finished. He was actually contemplating climbing into bed, even though it wasn't even nine o'clock yet, when there was a knock at the door.

"Daniel Jackson? You're to go to the briefing room immediately."

"Don't wait up," he said to his grandmother, taking a moment to give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

oo~O~oo

Daniel was escorted to a part of the base that held several large rooms where briefings or meetings were usually held. Inside were two long tables placed end to end. John and his family were already seated. His dad was talking with Janet, and Sam and Rodney were at the other end of the tables working on their laptops. Teal'c stood at parade rest, nodding to Daniel as he entered.

Security was stationed along the walls, and the drawn guns made Daniel a little nervous.

"Is your grandmother okay?" John asked as Daniel sat down opposite him.

"She's fine, thanks." To Cameron, he asked, "Would that robot really come after her?"

"It's a cyborg. And yes. It's what I would do."

"You mean it's what you'd be programmed to do," Derek Reese said, his words sounding cold.

"If my mission were to kill Daniel, then I would attempt to lure him by holding his family hostage and threatening to injure them."

Daniel shivered. The words sounded just as cold, and he began to wonder if she even had any feelings. He could see Derek was angry and suspicious of her. Now that he knew the truth, how could he have even seen her as a normal human being?

"It is also what I would do," Teal'c said as he sat next to Daniel, "were I to attempt to lure someone out of hiding."

"You're not human," Cameron stated with the simplest of cant to her head.

Hands folded on the table, Teal'c inclined his head in response. "I am Jaffa. Former first prime of Apophis."

Daniel watched as Sarah's eyes widened. "Excuse me?" Her gaze spun around the table. "Did I miss something?"

His father held up his hand. "I think this might be a discussion for anther time."

"Gentlemen." General Hammond stepped into the room and everyone came to attention. Janet and his dad came to the table, sitting down a few seconds after the general did.

"I'm sorry to have to detain you, but I'm sure you understand the severity of the circumstances. Thank you for allowing Doctor Fraiser to examine the young lady."

"I didn't think we had much of a choice," Sarah Baum said.

"Yes, we did." John seemed angry all of a sudden. "We chose to cooperate. And to ask for help. Mom, we can't keep running. They keep finding us no matter where we go."

"No, we don't need their help, John. We were doing fine until today—"

"You're wrong." Derek Reese reminded Daniel of his dad. For a moment, he looked poised to run or fight, but then he leaned back against his seat and gave the impression of calm and control. "The Machine went after DJ. Another boy is in danger; it's not just John anymore. We can't just walk away from this. Our priorities have changed and—"

"Nothing's changed," John's mom snapped.

"This isn't about you." Derek's voice rose. "This is about the future—"

"It's always been about the future—"

"No. To you, it's about John. Right now, it's about John and Daniel. There's a new piece of metal on the prowl and you're willing to just walk away and let a boy die—"

"Hey, hey, nobody's dying here." Daniel's dad glared at Derek Reese and Mrs. Baum.

"You're right. Not if we can help it." This time there was more warmth in Derek Reese's voice as he glanced in Daniel's direction.

"Do I know you?" Daniel asked.

"No," Derek Reese said with an enigmatic smile.

John's mom gave Derek Reese a look that promised this conversation wasn't over in a long shot, but she mumbled a few words of acquiescence.

"So, Doctor Fraiser, what can you tell me about your examination of the robot?"

Janet glanced down at the papers in front of her, then turned to General Hammond. "She's an incredible construct, similar to—"

"She's a killing machine. A terminator," John's mom interrupted. "A metal chassis covered by living tissue, made to look like humans in order to infiltrate and terminate their quarry. Virtually indestructible, they're as intelligent as we are, equipped with a software programmed to learn and evolve. Basically, they're not to be trusted."

"And so," Daniel's dad said, wagging a finger lazily towards Cameron, "you keep one of these terminators around because..."

"Because she was sent to protect my son."

"You don't trust them, yet you trust this one with your son's life."

"Yes." She smiled coldly. "John trusts her, so I have to trust John."

"They go bad sometimes." Derek Reese was staring at Cameron. "They don't know why, but they go bad."

Daniel felt a chill run up his spine at the way Derek said those words.

"Excuse me." Rodney waved a finger towards John, breaking the awkward silence. "Exactly how old are you?"

"I just turned sixteen a few weeks ago."

"Right." Tapping the table in front of his laptop, Rodney glanced at the screen for a moment. "Major Carter and I did a bit of digging and according to this, you're actually twenty-four. Unless we're looking at the wrong John Baum – or should I say, John Reese? Or was it Connor?"

"We had to change our names. I mentioned that—"

"Yes, yes, yes," Rodney said, talking over John's mom. "Totally understand. You escaped from an insane asylum and after raving about robots and doomsday, you'd have to be crazy not to change your name. What I'd like to know is where you disappeared to for the past eight years. You know, after you blew up that bank and... Died?"

"Obviously we didn't die."

"Obviously." Rodney turned to Derek Reese. "And you. You look a little mature for a fifteen year-old."

"What are you saying, Doctor McKay?"

"General Hammond. I have no idea what's going on except that these people aren't who they're supposed to be." Rodney continued tapping on his laptop. "All I know is that these people are wanted by the police and..." A look of horror came over Rodney's face as he stared at Derek Reese. "You killed him. You're the one who killed Andy Goode."

"It wasn't me," Derek said quickly. "I got stopped by the police because they thought I was running from the scene. In actuality—"

"He was running from me," John's mom said. "Derek had been following us, and I jumped to conclusions. It's my fault he was arrested." She and Derek exchanged a look that Daniel didn't understand.

"Then who murdered him?"

Derek shook his head slowly. "A lot of people were interested in the Turk. Most likely it was his partner—"

"Shipkov's dead," Rodney said coldly.

"Shipkov killed Andy Goode and stole the Turk from him. Sarkissian did the same to Shipkov." Derek shrugged. "It's the only logical explanation."

General Hammond broke the following silence. "Ms. Baum. Would you mind explaining why a robot attacked your son and Daniel here?"

Everyone turned to stare at John and the others.

"Well." Sarah Baum flashed a nervous smile. "Ten years ago, I tried telling everyone that the world was coming to an end, and that we had to stop it. My incarceration put a stop to me, instead of Judgment Day."

"Judgment Day?"

"In 2011, computers will declare war on the human race."

"Technological singularity," Sam said. "We've already seen that with the replicators."

"Judgment Day is the end of the world as we know it. My son will lead the resistance against the machines. Twice before, they've sent terminators back in time, first to try to kill me, then a second time to kill John. My son, in the future, has sent robots back to protect both me and himself as a child."

"You do know, Ms. Baum, how all of this sounds?"

"Of course I do, General Hammond. I spent enough time in an institution being told how crazy I was."

"And this young lady?"

"Cameron's the latest cyborg sent back to protect John."

"And Mr. Reese?"

"Derek..." She gave a wry smile and leaned forward. "Derek's from the future."

Daniel gaped at Derek in amazement for a moment, then turned his attention to John, who was watching him. He couldn't help raising his eyebrows in acknowledgement. Seemed like they both had some pretty weird shit going on in their lives.

"So," Daniel's dad said, fiddling with a pen, twirling it round and round on the table, keeping his gaze on the pen the whole time. "I understand the whole going back in time to kill the person who's making life difficult for you in the future scenario. What I don't understand, is why that robot came after my son." He stopped twirling the pen and raised his head, his gaze going straight for John's mom.

"In the future," Cameron said, as if she were reciting boring stats to an equally bored class, "Daniel will become John's adviser in his fight against the machines."

"Come again?" his dad exclaimed.

"You do know me," Daniel blurted out accusingly to Derek Reese.

"The person I know is a little older," Derek said with a wink. "Just like John here."

"Which brings us back to the reason we came to Colorado Springs," Sarah Baum said, leaning back in her chair. "You recently bought a computer called the Turk from a man called Sarkissian."

"Actually..." Sam paused and glanced at General Hammond, who gave a small nod. "We arranged to purchase the computer, but the deal never went through."

"It didn't?" John suddenly looked alarmed. "But you brought him here with you." Quickly, John clammed up as all eyes turned his way and Daniel felt a twinge of sympathy at the open mouth, insert foot faux pas.

"You followed us that day, did you not? SarahBaum. DerekReese. CameronPhillips."

John's mother answered Teal'c with a tight nod. "We had no choice. We needed it."

"We needed it also." Sam's eyes widened. "Sarkissian shipped the Turk here and left to make arrangements to bring it to us. He stood us up, never fulfilled the deal."

"We have to find that computer."

"Why?" Daniel's dad asked. "What's so important about it?"

"It eventually becomes a part of Skynet; which is where the whole thing begins."

"Believe me, Ms. Baum, the Turk is not a danger to anyone. The software is fairly advanced, I admit to that, but there's no way it could instigate an uprising in our computers." Rodney had a smug expression on his face.

"Andy Goode told me himself that he was responsible for everything." Derek Reese's expression looked haunted for a few seconds. "The Turk has to be destroyed."

"And I'm telling you, the software isn't that advanced. I'm not even sure I could write a program that could pose that kind of eventual danger."

"I hate to admit it, but I agree with Rodney." As Sam spoke, Daniel tried to cover a yawn. "I looked over the software and it's not that—"

"You have the software?" Sarah Baum looked shocked.

"Of course I do. I helped Andy Goode write it."

Everything from that point on became endless bickering and repetitive discussions that Daniel couldn't quite keep track of. Most days he'd give his right arm for a chance to sit in on a discussion like this; he just never realized how truly boring they could be, even in light of the interesting topic. As he tried to hide another yawn, he noticed John doing the same.

In the middle of a discussion about why this Sarkissian guy could or would have run with the chess computer, Janet got up and went to speak privately with General Hammond. A moment later, the general turned his attention to both Daniel and John.

Daniel averted his eyes, hoping that by pretending he hadn't noticed, maybe he wouldn't be sent away. As boring as things were right now, they might get interesting again at any moment. He watched Cameron touch her fingertips momentarily to John's wrist.

Unfortunately, Janet had other plans. "Come on, bed time," she said as she bent over him from behind to whisper in his ear. "Ms. Baum—"

"Sarah, please."

"Sarah. I'm going to escort Daniel to his assigned room. Would you like me to take John also?"

"John's temperature is slightly elevated," Cameron said.

"I'm just tired," John answered quickly, giving his protector a glare and the doctor what looked like an innocent smile. Daniel knew that smile; he'd tried to perfect it, but to no avail.

"Then you won't mind heading off to bed." His mom leaned forward and kissed his forehead. John got up reluctantly, and Daniel, with Janet's hand squeezing his shoulder, had no choice but to follow suit.

"Oh, wait." Daniel turned to John. "Your phone."

"Right." John dug his cell phone from his pocket and then held it awkwardly in his hand. Daniel took it. "John said his phone's been acting weird. We think maybe someone's been tapping it to find out where he is."

"Not someone. The Triple-eight's CPU managed to connect to John's phone for a few seconds when we cranked the juice. It may have downloaded part of itself into the phone and is attempting to contact others—"

"What? Why the hell didn't you mention this, John?" Mrs. Baum blurted, cutting off Cameron in mid-sentence.

"Whoa, slow down. That thing got into the telephone?" Daniel's dad looked ready to knock it out of his hand, so Daniel hurriedly brought it to Sam.

Sam reached for it and put it next to her laptop. "We'll take a look at the phone—"

"Don't let it get a connection. Don't underestimate the danger."

Sam smiled tiredly at John. "Don't worry." She patted the phone. "I'll be careful."

oo~O~oo

John would have loved a tour of the facility; instead he walked silently behind the doctor, trying to absorb everything. Cameron trailed on his heels, and a large contingency of guards followed her. His earlier fatigue was gone despite his growing headache and body ache, not to mention the stiffness and bruises from his fight with Daniel.

"Here you go." Doctor Fraiser stopped before one of several doors on the floor. One of the guards following them swiped a card through a reader and opened the door for them. "You're actually getting the—"

"Wow," Daniel said, softly butting John in the shoulder. "You got a suite. Even I don't rate the SGC suites."

"Suite?" John was embarrassed, confused at their treatment. "Thanks." John held the door open as Cameron walked inside. Daniel stood in the hallway, looking almost like he wanted to come in also.

"You look a little flushed. How are you feeling?" The doctor hesitated also, as if she wasn't exactly sure it was safe to leave them to their own devices.

"It's been a long day," John said honestly. He glared at Cameron and waved off her approach. Mention the word flushed and how was he feeling in the same sentence and John just knew she was going to go into scanning mode again.

"If you need anything, just ask one of the guards."

"Thanks."

"Grandma's in the room at the end of the corridor," Daniel said. "I'll have one of the guards let me in."

To John's surprise, the doctor flicked Daniel's ponytail and lightly kissed his forehead. "Don't stay up too late," she admonished, her concern encompassing both of them. For a moment John wondered if she was Daniel's mother, but his next words dispelled that thought.

"I won't, Janet."

"Promises, promises," she grumbled good-naturedly. "Night, guys."

"Do you want to come in?" John asked. He had questions, and was intrigued about something Cameron had said about traveling between planets.

Daniel gave him a saucy grin and went through the door and John couldn't help smiling as Daniel stood in the middle of the living quarters and did a slow pivot, whistling as he took in John's quarters.

John opened both of the closed doors off the room with the couch and chairs. "Nice." Two large bedrooms, both with double beds.

"They want to keep us all in one place."

He hated that Cameron was the voice of reason. "Yeah, you're probably right." He closed both bedroom doors, pissed, feeling like they'd been painted into a corner. Trapped. John dragged himself to the couch, toed off his sneakers then settled down, stretching his legs out on the coffee table. Oh well, when in Rome...

Daniel approached an overstuffed chair and lowered himself down, slowly, holding onto the arms of the chair for support.

He moved slowly enough that John felt a twinge of guilt. The kid was only fourteen. "Sorry," John apologized again, waving a hand at him.

Daniel shrugged. "No big deal. I'll survive. Actually, I should be saying thank you for saving my butt."

John laughed and pointed his thumb at Cameron. "Don't thank me, it's..."

Cameron sat at the edge of the other chair in the living room. "It's my mission."

Daniel preened. "I've never been someone's mission before. Other than my dad, whose mission is to smother me. Does that count?" Daniel gave a soft laugh. "Well, who'd have thought this morning that we'd all be here tonight?"

"Even stranger, who'd have thought we'd actually be talking."

"Yeah, there is that."

"So..." John ducked his head, rubbing at a throbbing bruise on his arm. "I guess I need to apologize for my behavior these past days."

"In that case, I guess I do, too." Daniel was digging the heel of his palm into the muscle above his knee. "You know, I'd love to learn a few of your moves. Who taught you?"

"I had several teachers over the years. My mom and I didn't stay long in one place. How about you?"

"Teal'c."

"Really? There was that one thing you did... do you think he'd show me?"

"I'm programmed in many forms of combat," Cameron said. "If you need a teacher, I could show you."

"Um, thanks." John was aware of Daniel's interested gaze. "I think I'd like to ask Teal'c." He hoped he wasn't blushing because the idea of being up close with a girl in a wrestling match, even if it was Cameron, suddenly sent lascivious thoughts through his mind.

"So, twenty-four years old, huh?" There was an amused grin on Daniel's face and John pretty much figured he knew what he'd been thinking.

"It's a long story. I was born in 1984."

Daniel's smile widened. "I'll take your twenty-four years and raise you twenty."

John stared at Daniel for a moment, trying to understand what he'd just said. Then it hit him. "You're forty years old?"

"No. I should be over forty. I'm really fourteen."

"You know, I think we really need to sit down and really talk one of these days."

"Isn't that what you're doing now?" Cameron looked from John to Daniel.

Daniel and John both burst out laughing, causing Cameron to frown.

"Ow." John rubbed his ribs where bruises were clamoring for attention. "Sorry."

Daniel took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes, still smiling at her comment. "It's been a long day."

"I know." John rested his head against the back of his chair, wishing his headache would go away.

"Are you all right? Do you need anything?"

A knock on the door startled both boys. Before John could get up, Cameron was already at the door. One of the security guards poked his head inside.

"Doctor Fraiser sent some Tylenol for John Baum."

"Thank you." Cameron took the blister pack from the guard and as he shut the door behind him, she handed it to John. When he tossed them onto the table, Cameron picked it up and handed it back to him. "You should take these."

"I don't need anything."

"You know your mother will make you take them."

John rolled his eyes and grabbed the pack from her.

"You're sick?" Daniel asked, pointing to the pack John was fingering.

"Not anymore." He was better. Stronger. It was just some nights were worse than others and this was proving to be one of them. Hoping to divert the attention away from him, John asked a question that suddenly popped into his mind. The proverbial light bulb had gone off. "I know this may sound stupid, but is Doctor Fraiser..." John couldn't even bring himself to ask the question. A quote from an old movie that his mother used to watch came to mind; 'in all the gin joints'— because honestly, it was an idiotic question. There must be a million Fraisers in...

"Yeah, Janet is Cassie's mom," Daniel finished his sentence. "I was wondering how long it was going to take you to connect the dots."

"No shit! Really. Cassie's mom? Small world."

Daniel opened his mouth as if he wanted to add more, but just shrugged. "I'd advise you to take the Tylenol. If you thought Cassie was an annoying pain in the butt when she wants something, you ain't seen nothing until you've dealt with her mom."

John fingered the blister pack. "I'm really fine."

"John was poisoned several weeks ago. While he's better now, his temperature sometimes rises at night."

"Poisoned?" Daniel blinked. "Do I want to know?"

"Let me just say if you ever see a little container of white powder, do not open it."

"It was my fault," Cameron said. "I should've warned—"

Suddenly, John stood. "Stop it. I'm fine." He waved the blister pack under Cameron's nose. "I'm going to make everyone happy. Give me a second." He pushed out two pills, went to the bathroom and swallowed them down with a glass of water. "There." He plopped down on the couch again, schooled his emotions, holding in a sigh at how wonderful it felt to stretch out sore muscles.

"Your mom's kinda tough. Tough, but nice."

"Hey, your dad's military. Don't get any tougher than that."

"Yeah, but he's cool."

John recognized the chance to change the subject, and jumped on it. "My mom's okay. Can't cook, but I think I'll keep her." He grabbed the two throw pillows and pushed them against the bolster of the couch. He squirmed around, trying to get comfortable, finally settling on stretching out the entire length of the couch, turning sideways to face Daniel and Cameron. "Sometimes she seems to be a little obsessive about saving the world, but overall, she's great." John tucked his right arm under the pillows and this time he was unable to hold back his sigh of contentment. "What about you? Your dad works in a top secret military establishment and you're walking around here like you know the place pretty well."

"It's not all that top secret. Deep space telemetry is pretty boring."

As Daniel spoke about NORAD, John was pretty sure he was reciting words meant to cover up what really went on in this place. He wanted to ask about the interplanetary travel, but was suddenly too sleepy to talk. Daniel's voice slowed, then stopped, and John closed his eyes, just for a second.

oo~O~oo

Jack was glad to get out of the meeting. Carter and McKay were still going strong, hyped up on hypotheses that were so way over his head, they were orbiting the moon. He waited until Hammond left and offered to escort their guests to their quarters.

"It's an honor to meet you, sir." Reese sped up to walk next to Jack, leaving the Baum woman to walk behind them. "DJ's spoken a lot about you and I can't tell you how thrilled I am for this opportunity."

"Wish I could say the same," Jack grunted. He swished his pass card to call the elevator. "I only heard about you today."

The man laughed and leaned a shoulder against the wall. Mrs. Baum didn't look pleased, but she was obviously listening to their conversation.

"Your son is one of the most intelligent and compassionate people I've had the pleasure to meet. He and John found one another a year or so after Judgment Day and hit it off from the start. Your boy's had some pretty interesting insights on the war and has been more or less the go-between with John and the Resistance fighters themselves."

Jack nodded as the elevator doors opened. As much as he hated to hear how hopeless their future was, he couldn't help feel a touch of pride in Daniel despite the situation he was going to be in. And he was pretty sure Daniel's memories were probably going to play a huge part in his survival. "Should you be telling me all this?" he asked, partly because he had a strange feeling that he wouldn't survive the holocaust and didn't want to hear about his death, and partly because he'd been around Carter long enough that he could hear her voice warning him about that grandfather paradox which was so important to time travel theory.

"Probably not." Reese laughed as the elevator reached their floor. "But if we're changing the future here and now, it doesn't matter, does it?"

"Does Cameron know Daniel?" Mrs. Baum asked suddenly.

"Yeah. Everyone knows DJ."

"Funny that she never mentioned him before. Especially considering she's been seeing him in school for the past two weeks."

"How safe is that robot?" Jack asked.

"Don't trust her," Sarah Baum said without hesitation. "My son believes in her, believes she's here to protect him. But they're built from the same machines that turned on humanity; they're not human. Soulless. Their mission is their only priority."

"People start wars, too," Jack said gently as one of the security guards opened the door assigned to the Baum/Connor/Reese whoever they are family. "Not all of them are trustworthy."

"But people you can kill."

Jack moved on down the hall, and was just about to swipe his pass card in the lock when Mrs. Baum called out to him. She motioned him over, standing just inside the room. Reese stood, leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed, the slightest of smiles tugging at his lips. Jack walked into the room. The robot was sitting primly in a chair, watching over the two boys. John was stretched out the entire length of the couch, Daniel was slumped down in one of the overstuffed chairs, legs on the coffee table, arms crossed and resting on his belly, glasses balanced at the tip of his nose, snoring slightly.

Jack shook his head. "Hard day, huh?"

Sarah managed a hint of a smile while Reese snorted. "See, no matter what age DJ is, he snores. That's kinda comforting in a weird sorta way."

"I'll be sure to mention that to him," Jack said. Reaching out to shake Daniel's shoulder, he called his son's name softly.

"Wha—" Daniel sat up in a rush, then took a second to adjust his glasses. "Oh," he said as he glanced around the room. "We were talking and..."

"You fell asleep." The robot spoke with little emotion, in contrast to the other types of tin men he'd come in contact with. Harlan's robots at least acted like people, and Reese... a well-placed bullet had ended her short, tantrum-filled life. This one appeared cold, but there was a strange intelligence behind her brown eyes that belied the naiveté she portrayed.

"Yeah. Sorry." Daniel gave the robot a shy smile, then at John's mom. He stood slowly, moving stiffly, and said goodnight to Sarah Baum.

Jack laid an arm loosely around Daniel's shoulder, keeping him close as they walked to their quarters.

"What did you guys talk about?" Jack swiped his pass card through the reader and opened the door.

"Nothing much." Daniel pulled away and headed straight for the bed, toed off his sneakers, shucked his fatigues and crawled under the covers in less time it took Jack to walk across the room to the bathroom.

By the time he'd showered, Daniel was asleep. Jack slipped into the bed next to his son and contemplated their latest guests.

oo~O~oo

Sarah waited until the door closed before sitting her ass on the coffee table.

"John took two Tylenol supplied by Doctor Fraiser." Cameron held out the blister pack towards Sarah as evidence. "He had a fever."

She leaned over and swept his bangs from his forehead. The skin under her fingers was warm, not hot. "John," she whispered.

Derek grabbed her hand. "He's comfortable. Grab a blanket and let him sleep here."

"I'm thinking there are bedrooms behind those closed doors. I'm thinking my son would benefit from stretching out on one of those beds. I'm thinking you're really lucky I don't break your arm."

Slowly, Derek released her hand. "I'm thinking John's slept in worse places than this couch, Sarah. I'm thinking that the fact he's sleeping is more beneficial than where he's sleeping."

Sarah left the living room in a huff, opened one of the bedroom doors and ripped apart the two beds. She dragged blankets and pillows into the living room. Dropping one blanket on the floor, she covered John with the other, waited a second and then bit back the slightest of smiles as he tucked the cover under his chin.

She then dropped into the nearest chair, tucked the pillow between her body and the side of the chair, then picked the second blanket off the floor and spread it over her body. The lack of a weapon made her nervous. Keeping John within arm's reach made her feel a bit more comfortable, not a lot, but enough for now.

Derek settled in the chair next to her, dropping his legs heavily on the coffee table. Cameron did a perimeter check then stationed herself at the door.

Sarah closed her eyes, kept her ears opened and waited for morning.

oo~O~oo

John woke up slowly, the noise that had disturbed him eventually evolving into his mom moving around the room. He was comfortable and sleepy, and felt like he could pull the blankets over his head and sleep for a few more hours. Unfortunately, Cameron had other plans.

"John's awake."

"No, he's not," John muttered as he rolled onto his other side, covered his face with the blankets and hoped his mom took pity on him and let him sleep.

The blankets were pulled down, exposing his face, and he felt a touch on his cheek. He opened his eyes and blinked up at his mom.

"Morning, Sleepyhead."

"Morning." He felt tired today; he'd thought he'd gotten over the worst of the side-effects of the nanocytes but either the soccer practice, his fight with Daniel or the flight for their lives yesterday had taxed him enough that his body was complaining today.

"Major Carter took Derek back to the house to get the triple-eight chip. The other guy, Doctor McKay, is examining your phone. You have time to shower," his mom said, plucking the shirt she was wearing, "slip into some wonderful clothing provided by Uncle Sam and come and eat breakfast with us, and then join Major Carter to show her what you've learned about the chip. Or, I can tell her you're not feeling well and you can stay in bed and get some more sleep. I'm sure she can figure things out herself—"

"No. I'll get up." He'd rather sleep, but there was no reason for Major Carter to waste hours of time trying to figure out what he already knew.

oo~O~oo

John was just finishing up a large plate of waffles when a soldier entered the cafeteria and informed him that Major Carter was waiting for him. "What are you going to do today?" he asked his mom as he stood, gulping the last of his coffee and wishing he had time for a second cup.

"More meetings with General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill. That's the one thing about the military; they want to talk everything to death."

"I'll see you later." He grabbed his backpack and indicated he was ready to go.

John and Cameron were escorted to a floor that was full of labs. Their military escort were heavily armed and John knew, first hand, that they wouldn't do much good against Cameron. He wondered if the people here even understood what he and his mother had been saying yesterday.

The lab was huge, full of bits of equipment that he mostly didn't recognize, except for his computer-enhancing equipment that Derek must have brought over as well as the chip. His equipment looked archaic compared the stuff in the lab.

"Hi." Major Carter waved him over, and he took a seat next to her, waiting while she finished looking at the chip with some sort of scanner. "This is a pretty damned impressive piece of technology."

"The rest of the cyborg that goes with a chip like that is pretty amazing also," John found himself saying as he glanced at Cameron. She tilted her head sideways, a small smile quirking her lips for a split second.

"Yes, I'm sure you're right." Major Carter assessed Cameron openly. "You've got to admit, she doesn't look dangerous."

"Looks can be deceiving," Cameron said.

"That's true. Want to show me what you did with all that?"

"Sure." Nervously John took his laptop out of his backpack and began setting up the gaming processors. "I'll need the chip, Major Carter."

"Please, call me Sam."

"Okay." He gave her a quick smile as he placed the chip in the port. He connected the chip and began showing her what he'd discovered.

"What you've done here is incredible." Sam smiled at him, her eyes crinkling as she watched the videos.

John couldn't help feel pleased at the praise as he explained how the files inside the chip worked. Thirty minutes later, Sam had not only grasped the concepts he'd explained to her, she had figured out several complexities that had eluded him.

The work was engrossing. He learned so much in the next few hours that he was embarrassed in the pride he'd felt earlier. It wasn't until Daniel walked in, interrupting them, that he realized he'd been hunched over his laptop for such a long time, he was stiff.

"Hey, what're you guys doing?" Daniel sauntered into the room and leaned over Sam. As he wrapped his arms around her shoulders, John felt a disturbing sense of jealousy at their ease and obvious familiarity. Daniel looked over her shoulder at the lines of code that Sam had just managed to display. "Oh, that looks a little out of my league."

Sam ruffled Daniel's hair and laughed. "Until I can sit and study this, it's a little out of mine, too." She stood slowly and rotated her shoulders. "Are you guys hungry? Because I'm starving."

John would have loved to keep working, but his stomach rumbled, reminding him that it was lunchtime.

oo~O~oo

John had just about decided to go for the lasagna with a side order of fries, when an alarm went off. A red light over the door began blinking on and off. Several personnel left the cafeteria at a run. Daniel tensed, watching the doors sway behind the departing people.

"What's going on?" John asked nervously. Cameron had taken a step closer to John, almost pushing him against the counter.

"I don't know. But if it concerned me, I'd have been paged by now." The line for food had shortened and Sam pushed her tray forward. "You guys decide what you want?"

"Threat Level Foxtrot Alpha Six. All security teams to level eleven."

"Shit." Sam pursed her lips as the announcement faded and looked first at Daniel, then at John. "C'mon."

They left their trays, hurrying after Sam out into the hallway along with the throng from the cafeteria, their security detail staying right behind them. "What's going on?" John asked as they stopped in front of the elevator.

"I'm guessing there's an intruder inside the SGC." Daniel's eyes looked haunted and John wondered what he'd seen here to warrant that expression.

"What about my mom?"

"My dad's probably got someone working on either evacuating the mountain or bringing your mom and my grandmother to a safe location." Despite the speed at which Daniel delivered the words, his voice was shaking.

The elevator doors opened and John thought they'd have to wait their turn. Instead Sam pushed past the people, ordering everyone out of the way. With the armed guards accompanying them, nobody probably even dared complain.

To John's surprise, they didn't head for the surface, but went deeper inside the complex. Sam led them to a small room filled with people who were staring at a bank of monitors. He glanced around, searching for his mother and Derek.

"John. It found us." Cameron was staring at the bank of monitors. When he looked at the screen, he saw the young-looking terminator who'd attacked them at school making his way past dozens of soldiers, their bullets barely slowing him down as he headed for a set of elevators.

"Evacuate this floor. Now!" Cameron demanded, whirling to confront General Hammond as the cyborg in the video grabbed a downed soldier's pass card and swiped it in the reader.

"Shut down the elevators," Hammond ordered.

There was frantic typing somewhere in the room and then a voice called out, confirming that the elevators had been shut down.

"Where's it going?" Colonel O'Neill asked.

"It's coming here," Cameron said, her eyes fixed on the cyborg as bullets continued to batter it. "It knows this level's the most important one of the complex and the most heavily guarded, and so it's also the most likely place John and Daniel would be."

"It can't know that," Sam exclaimed.

"You'd be surprised at what the machines know," his mom said, sidling up to closer to him. John gave her an anxious look, relieved that she was all right.

"It's moving," Colonel O'Neill stated. They watched as it threw soldiers aside as if they were rag dolls as it made its way to a door and pulled it open. "It's taking the emergency hatch to gain access to the floor."

Colonel O'Neill turned to John's mom. "What will stop that thing?"

"Not much."

"If I can immobilize it, I can remove its chip." Cameron was still staring at the screen.

"Dad, what about Grandma? Did she get out?"

"I don't know, Daniel."

"But—"

"She's not the target. Let's deal with priorities first."

"Get those elevators back online," General Hammond ordered, "and give the order to evacuate the base."

"Too late." Cameron left John, heading towards the sound of metal tearing. "Get everyone to safety!" she yelled as she strode towards the hallway and the sudden bursts of gunfire.

John knew when Cameron tackled the terminator, because the gunfire stopped and the room shook as one of the two crashed into a cement wall. Then John found himself herded along with everyone else, towards a set of stairs.

Then he spotted Daniel hanging back and ducking behind a large piece of equipment, and he had a pretty good idea why. John pretended to trip, motioned the others to go ahead and at the first chance, followed Daniel into the hallway. The sounds of Cameron and the other cyborg were deafening as he stepped into the hallway. Hurrying past the many injured soldiers, he managed to latch onto Daniel's arm just as he grabbed a key card from a soldier and swiped the reader.

"What are you doing?" Daniel demanded, glaring at John.

"Helping you find your grandmother."

Immediately the defiance faded, replaced by hopeful gratitude. "She probably left with everyone but I have to be sure. Walter never managed to give the evacuation order."

"I know." John fidgeted, nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot as the noise of the fighting changed, became slightly muted as the combatants moved away from the hallway. "Does it usually take this long?"

"No. But the elevators are probably overtaxed."

The sound of breaking glass was ominous and Daniel and John stared at one another. John could only pray that it wasn't Cameron who'd gone through the large plate glass window because otherwise...

"Oh, shit." Footsteps approached and the shadow coming down the hall was definitely not that of a female. "Go," John whispered urgently. They ran down the hall, hearing the footsteps speed up. Bullets ricocheted off the wall, striking sparks and both boys ducked. John wasn't sure where Daniel was leading him; he was lost and felt like they were running in a circle. They turned a corner and for a split second, he thought the person standing before them in the middle of the corridor was a waiting cyborg. Then John recognized Teal'c, who was holding a weapon aimed in their direction.

The cyborg was about to turn the corner and John realized he was in the line of fire. He saw Daniel duck into an open door and he followed, crossing the hallway, only to be hit with a blazing bolt pain.

He didn't remember falling to the ground. He didn't remember passing out but he remembered waking up, very clearly. His nerves were on fire, his muscles spasming minutely as electricity seemed to continuously flow through his body. Then the floor moved, and he found himself manhandled over someone's shoulder. He tried to raise his head but his muscles wouldn't obey him. He hung there limply as the person carrying him ran through the corridors.

Daniel was talking and on some level John knew he was running next to him. The person carrying him paused in a room full of equipment for several seconds, then they were moving again. They went down a set of stairs, through a short tunnel and into a large room. His head bobbed back and forth and he caught a glimpse of Cameron lying on the cement floor surrounded by broken glass. She sat up in a fluid movement as she came back online. Then there was gunfire, and she stood and ran the way they had come.

Footsteps rang hollowly on a metal ramp and a blue light bathed him for a moment. He must have passed out because the next time he opened his eyes, instead of metal or cement, there was grass underfoot.

The world tipped and he was lying on that grass. Fluffy white clouds floated in a blue sky while a bird covered with scales chirped on a tree branch off to the side. His body was his own once again, but damn, it hurt to move.

"Teal'c, you're hurt."

John forced his attention to his rescuer, who was still down on his knees, leaning over him.

"I am fine."

"You're bleeding." Daniel was standing next to Teal'c, staring at his side. "You've been shot."

"It is not life threatening. My symbiote will take care of the injury." Teal'c looked like he was hurting, but he placed a hand on John's shoulder. "Are you injured?"

"I... God, what was that?"

"A zat. I know, it hurts like hell. It'll wear off in a few more minutes." Daniel was still assessing Teal'c's side.

"How'd we get out of the mountain? I don't remember... Did I pass out?"

"We traveled through the Stargate. We are safe for the moment. Unfortunately I did not have time to acquire a communications device or a GDO. We must wait until the threat has been removed and a team sent through the Stargate to locate us."

"Wait a sec." John managed to haul himself onto his elbows. "What's a Stargate? And a DG... GDO?"

"Remember when Cameron mentioned NORAD and traveling between planets?" Daniel peeked over Teal'c's shoulder, and when John nodded, continued to say, "A Stargate creates a wormhole which allows us to travel to that planet. Teal'c, this is really bleeding badly."

"We're on another planet?" John glanced back up at the singing bird, which shook out a scaly wing and hopped onto another branch, ignoring them.

"Indeed."

"Wow." John looked around with renewed interest as he managed to sit up. He felt shaky, but the aftereffects of the weird gun were fading. He pulled off his jacket and wadded it up as he shifted onto his knees to look at Teal'c's wound. Like Daniel had said, it was bleeding, but not bad enough that Teal'c was in danger of bleeding out right this moment, but it was still bad enough.

He placed the jacket against the bullet hole. "Here, hold this tight." Daniel obeyed, holding the material in place while John looked around. Behind them was a large and round stone ring set upright into a slab of rocks. A weird bunch of symbols were set around a red ball on a pedestal not far from the ring. "Is that the Stargate?"

"Yeah."

"How do we use it?"

"Think of the DHD, that thing," Daniel pointed to the weird symbols on the pedestal, "as a telephone. You punch in the symbols relating to the planet you want to go to, and it makes a connection."

"Did the terminator see you use it?" John asked, suddenly alarmed. He glanced back at the Stargate, expecting to see the cyborg come through it any second.

"It did not. The zat'nik'tel incapacitated the cyborg for a short time and I was able to activate the dialing computer."

"Cameron said there's a 120 second delay until their system reboots."

"It did not remain immobilized for that long a period. Perhaps fifteen seconds."

"So there's a chance it saw the glyphs," Daniel asked.

"There is a strong probability that it did. But it would not have the knowledge to operate the Stargate."

"It's a computer—"

"It's programmed to learn," John interrupted Daniel, the fear escalating. "If it gets a chance, it's going to try and come after us. We have to hide." His voice rose, as did his panic. While Daniel and Teal'c just had a taste of what a terminator was capable of, John had eaten the entire meal, including dessert. He looked over his shoulder, the three of them were sitting ducks here.

Daniel went over to the thing that he'd called the DHD, his fingers skipping around the strange symbols. Suddenly, he turned towards Teal'c, his right hand hovering over a specific glyph. "We can run. Land of the Light?"

Injured or not, Teal'c was by Daniel's side instantaneously. "We will be able to contact the SGC from there." He gave a quick nod of approval and John strode over, shaking out his stiff legs.

"We're going to do this again?" John pointed to the Stargate. Going through semi-conscious was one thing. Awake and aware, not so much.

"You will be welcomed on the other planet." Teal'c placed a bloodstained hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Now, DanielJackson, there is no time to waste."

Daniel hit the first symbol, then glanced back at Teal'c who nodded. "You are correct."

Daniel punched in a second, and then was moving to punch a third symbol when when one of the symbols around the Stargate lit, a second followed quickly in its wake.

"We are out of time," Teal'c yelled, quickly scanning the area. He pointed towards a wooded area on a hillside. "There. We can find shelter and watch the Stargate from that vantage point."

They ran. Even injured, Teal'c moved with quick assuredness, shepherding him and Daniel.

They were still far from their goal when an odd sound came from behind them. John glanced back through the trees and saw a fountain of water explode out of the Stargate. But the water didn't fall to the ground, it was pulled back into itself and a shimmering blue light filled the circle. A moment later, a form appeared, as if it had walked through a trick door.

"Get down," John said urgently, recognizing the teenager who'd attacked them yesterday. "It's here."

Crouching behind bushes, they watched the terminator turn its head, obviously searching for them. It wasn't looking for footprints; it was searching the landscape. John felt a frisson of fear go up his spine when the cyborg's eyes seemed to freeze on them. A second later, it began striding quickly in their direction. "Heat signatures," he muttered.

Quickly, Teal'c shot John a glance then moved his attention back to the terminator, nodding. "We must continue."

"Where?" Daniel asked as they began climbing the rough terrain at a faster pace.

"We must attempt to find a defensible position and wait until General Hammond sends reinforcements."

"Dad will come."

"My mom, too," John said, knowing wild horses couldn't keep her from coming after him.

"They require time to reassemble and prepare."

"I know. Maybe ten, fifteen more minutes," Daniel said with certainty.

"Indeed."

John glanced back and lost sight of the terminator. Despite Teal'c's injuries, he was moving fast, and in those few seconds, John fell behind. He hurried, scrambling up the hill, using branches for handholds.

He couldn't help feeling that the terminator was gaining, and any minute, he'd feel a bullet in his back or a hand would grab his leg and pull him down. He kept glancing backwards, noting that Daniel seemed just as unnerved as he was. The climb seemed unending and it was a huge relief to top the rise. They moved forward at a clipped pace, only to stop at the prospect of a steep descent, with a town at the bottom of a valley. For a moment John thought they'd find help there, until he realized it was too quiet. No movement, no smoke, no noise. Then he saw that the buildings were dilapidated, some already a mess of collapsed stones and wood.

"Can we hide there?" Daniel wasn't looking at the ruins, instead he was pointing to a gaping hole in the side of the hill.

"Too obvious," John stated quickly. "We're better off down in the ruins."

"While there would be many places to hide, the ruins also are too obvious. It is safer to keep moving." Teal'c started down the hill, heading towards the edge of the town while keeping to the trees as much as possible. John kept his mouth shut, deferring to the adult, but still feeling they would be better off hiding among the rubble.

They passed close to the hole Daniel had spotted. There were all sorts of equipment lying strewn about, rusted and covered with growth. While John had spent much of his early years in Central America going from one camp to another, he had seen a few mines and recognized the equipment as such. Water gushed from inside the mine's opening, the remains of a sluice a few feet down evidence that the water had been used for mining at some point.

They were halfway to the valley when Teal'c froze and glanced back the way they'd come. Without a word, he pointed to a large tree sitting in the middle of the flowing water. They hurried across the frigid water and knelt in the shadows of the trunk. Within seconds John's legs were numb. Daniel shivered, kneeling shoulder to shoulder next to John.

He couldn't see anything and the running water masked most sounds except those immediately close to them. Teal'c kept totally still, his head cocked slightly, obviously listening. One hand grasped the weird weapon while the other continued to hold John's jacket to his side. They stayed there for several minutes, the fear of not knowing slowly eating at John until he was ready to burst out of their hiding place just to know where the terminator was. He glanced at Daniel whose eyes were wide beneath his glasses, his face pale, his breaths coming in small, controlled gasps.

Then Teal'c relaxed, lowering the weapon to his thigh. He glanced at John and Daniel and motioned them to stay where they were. Moving as silently as Cameron, he circled around their hiding position at an angle, climbing back up in the direction they'd come from.

"It's going to spot him," John said dispiritedly.

"You don't know Teal'c."

"You don't know the machines," John snapped. He shifted his feet on the water's rocky bottom, peering around the trunk, only to jump when Teal'c silently appeared.

"Go." Without another word both boys stood and continued. John's sneakers were soaked and his toes squished uncomfortably inside his wet socks.

The wind picked up and the wet, thin cotton of his fatigues flapped uncomfortably against his legs.

A loud explosion from below froze them all in their tracks, and they turned as one. Dust exploded from one of the buildings. Even as they watched, they could see the form of the terminator walking among those buildings still standing and with one or two blows, bring it to a pile of rubble. Systematically, it destroyed all hiding places and John suddenly realized that if they'd been hiding there, they'd either have been crushed to death, or flushed out like a trio of wild birds.

John glanced over at Daniel, who looked freaked. He was pretty sure his face mirrored the same expression. They crouched where they were, watching the destruction, until John began to feel antsy. "Shouldn't we be moving while it's busy?" Turning to look at Teal'c, John was surprised to see pain on the man's face. Then it was gone.

"No."

"What are we waiting for, Teal'c?" Daniel's voice was gentle.

"The noise will attract attention. Bra'tac will send someone to investigate."

Daniel's eyes widened in surprise. And hope. John saw hope. "Bra'tac's here? Here on this planet? Bra'tac?"

Teal'c answered Daniel with a curt nod.

"Who's Bra'tac?" Hope flourished through John – the noise would probably also attract the attention of any rescue teams that came after them. He began looking around the countryside, hoping to spot movement.

"A friend of Teal'c's."

"And he's here? On this planet?"

"Indeed he is," Teal'c answered. "The Free Jaffa have many camps; this planet being one of the latest."

The noise suddenly stopped and for a moment John couldn't see the robot. It was standing still, scouring the area. Then it raised its head and began searching the hillsides. John watched in trepidation, and his heart sunk when its face froze again, staring in their direction.

John was up and running, right behind Daniel, with Teal'c bringing up the rear. The robot opened fire and John hit the ground as dirt and bark flew in the air. Daniel tripped over John's leg, landing half on top of him and both of them rolled several feet downhill before coming to a painful stop against a tree trunk.

The hail of bullets stopped. Teal'c stood, his odd weapon in his hand. "Run," he ordered. They did as directed and scrambled to their feet. Several seconds later the bullets started up again, and stopped when Teal'c fired the weapon again. John glanced back, saw Teal'c running after them, then stop again, wait, and fire.

They were nearly to the top of the ridge when a blast hit the robot from the side, followed by several more blasts. Smoke rose from the robot's clothes, and metal gleamed in sunlight as it walked through the dappled woods, unfazed by the attacks. Three men were shooting at it, using weapons that looked like staffs.

It ran out of ammunition, tossed the weapon aside, and reached for second gun hanging over its shoulder.

When they realized they weren't even slowing it down, the men stopped shooting and ran to meet them. Teal'c stopped as he crested the top, shot the robot, and breathlessly asked the old man in the lead, "The mine. Are there shafts?"

"Yes. It was abandoned years ago. What manner of creature pursues you?"

"It is mechanical, virtually indestructible. The zat'nik'tel only slows it for several seconds. Would you send one of your men to the Chaapa'ai and see if General Hammond has sent men of the Tau'ri through?"

"Of course."

Teal'c turned, shot the robot just as it began firing its gun, and everyone jumped for cover as it emptied its magazine, its finger frozen on the trigger as it stood, unmoving for several seconds.

"Bring them to the mine. We may require backup."

The old man signaled to one of his men, who took off at a run.

"We must set a trap, lure it into the mine."

"It'll know it's a trap," John warned.

"We have no choice. We will not be able to outrun it." Teal'c raised his weapon to shoot it another time when it started moving again after a dozen or so seconds. But he staggered, missing his shot. In a fluid motion, the old man took the weapon from Teal'c, shot the terminator, and put a hand on Teal'c's shoulder. "You are injured."

"My symbiote was injured. It is unable to heal me."

"Go. We will attempt to slow it down." He raised the zat'nik'tel and gave Teal'c a sharp grin. "It seems it is not quite impervious to all our weapons."

"Thank you, old friend."

"Bra'tac." Daniel stepped around Teal'c to look up at the old man. "Be careful."

"And you also, young DanielJackson."

Bra'tac turned to shoot the cyborg, then waved them on. "I will attempt to hold it back for one cycle. That should give you time to prepare the trap. At the end of the cycle, I will make for the Chaapa'ai. Perhaps I can lure it away from you; if not, then I will use the Chaapa'ai to escape. I will return with reinforcements."

Teal'c nodded and was turning away, when Bra'tac called him back. "Here, you will need this." He handed Teal'c a small, round sphere. Teal'c took it and nodded again, his posture regal for a moment before he turned away. They began jogging away from Bra'tac and his friend. John could hear Teal'c's labored breathing. He exchanged worried looks with Daniel as they ran for the mine.

oo~O~oo

Daniel was scared. No, he was petrified. Adrenaline had worn off and he could feel every strained muscle, every bruise, every over-used joint as he clambered down the hillside a second time. His knee burned from over-exertion. He was deathly afraid something had happened to his father; he'd have thought his dad would have come after them and found their trail by now. He kept expecting him to come over the top of the ridge, armed with some sort of magic weapon that would blow the terminator to kingdom come.

Instead it was just him, John and Teal'c again. He couldn't hear the sounds of the zat anymore, but could see its flash as Bra'tac kept firing on the terminator. He didn't think Bra'tac was going to be able to escape; and he was pretty sure Teal'c knew that, too, from the set look on his face.

They slogged through knee-deep water in order to get inside the mine. The current was strong, making their headway slow. Teal'c did something to the round ball Bra'tac had given him, and it began to shine. He held it high to light their way and they kept walking until they passed the area where the water streamed out of the wall.

The tunnel seemed unending, their footsteps echoing strangely as they walked. His feet were soaked and they squished uncomfortably in his shoes. Some of the supports had collapsed; they had to squeeze past small rock falls and abandoned equipment in order to continue. When they came to a cross section, Teal'c paused, peering first to the left, then to the right tunnel. He turned right, and they walked for what felt like a long time until Teal'c stopped.

A shaft had been dug into the tunnel floor; a wooden barrier, part of it in pieces, protecting the unwary from falling into the hole.

"This will do," Teal'c said once he dropped a rock into a space between the wooden pieces. Daniel counted fifteen seconds before the rock hit the bottom. Teal'c grabbed one of the pieces of the barrier and tugged, taking it down. "We must cover the shaft with the wood, and then block the passageway with rocks."

"I get it," Daniel exclaimed. "We put the rocks here so it's forced to walk on the wood, and it'll fall into the hole."

"Exactly so." Teal'c put the light on the ground and grabbed a piece of wood and tugged. When it didn't budge, Daniel went to help. It was pretty solidly stuck in the ground and didn't move until John came to help. By the time they'd pulled out all of the wood pieces, Daniel's hands were full of splinters and his arms and shoulders ached. John was shaking and rubbing his hand, and Daniel wondered if he'd hurt it.

They pulled the slats of wood apart, and soon had what looked like a fairly solid plank laid over the hole. Daniel took a moment to write a warning in the rock wall with a piece of chalky stone just before the trap, making sure to write it in Goa'uld, so the robot wouldn't be able to read it, but anyone coming to look for them would recognize the trap for what it was. Then they trudged back the way they came and began gathering what equipment they could carry as well as fallen rocks and wood. Several trips later, they had a pile of debris which they stacked next to the wooden slats. Satisfied that the robot would be forced to walk into their trap, they gathered their light and moved further down the tunnel, stopping at a bend that was just out of sight of the trap but close enough that they would be able to hear.

Daniel's pride in their trap went flying when Teal'c collapsed to his knees, bent over in pain.

"Teal'c?"

"I am fine. I simply require rest."

"Do you need to kelno'reem?"

"My symbiote is healing but it is too weak to heal me yet. I will do so when we are safe."

"How long has it been?" John asked, taking the light sphere and holding it close to Teal'c's side. Daniel was shocked to see the wound was still bleeding. He'd known Teal'c to heal miraculously fast and suddenly he was worried. Very worried.

"It has been longer than a cycle."

"Maybe it doesn't know where we are?" Daniel took off his jacket and folded it, then handed it to John.

"There are not many places where one may hide in the immediate vicinity."

"Maybe it's still chasing Bra'tac?"

John earned a sharp nod from Teal'c. "One can only pray."

Teal'c closed his eyes in pain as John placed the jacket against Teal'c's injury.

"Why don't you meditate? I'll let you know when it shows up." Daniel bit his lip as Teal'c anchored the jacket with his arm.

"I do not wish to leave you alone."

"And I don't want you dying on me," Daniel almost shouted. "Look, if it knew where we were, it would have come here already. It doesn't, so it's probably still looking for us. You need the rest, we can handle things here."

"Daniel's right. The robot's going to come here eventually and either fall into our trap, or figure it out and kill us. Or else my mom and your friends will come and save us. Anyways, there's nothing you can do, no matter what happens. You may as well take advantage of the quiet time."

Teal'c looked at them, then nodded. He dimmed the light, showed Daniel the controls to it, handed it to him and closed his eyes.

Daniel sighed and leaned back against the wall, juggling the alien flashlight in his hands. "This sucks."

"I know. I hate running."

"I wish we had something to fight back with."

"We do." John grinned at him. "I guess we're fighting back with a hole."

Daniel laughed at the idea. "Yeah." He sobered. "It's the waiting around and feeling like a sitting duck that's getting to me."

"I've felt like that all my life. My mom always said the robots were coming, and for a while, I believed her. And then shit happened and I began doubting her..."

"What happened?"

"They came."

"How many times has this happened to you?"

"Too many," John sighed. "I was thirteen the first time I saw one; the first time my mom saw one was just before I was conceived. It killed my father."

Daniel felt a pang of sorrow for his new friend. "I'm sorry."

"Me, too." John gave him a sad smile. "I wish I'd known him."

"My mom died when I was eight, thirty-some years ago." Daniel didn't elaborate on the half-truth. "I don't remember much about her but at least I have some memories."

John waved at Teal'c. "Is he going to be okay?" he whispered.

"His symbiote—" Daniel remembered John probably had no idea what Daniel was talking about— "The Jaffa have a symbiotic relationship with an alien creature. While they're still larva, the creatures provide longevity and perfect health. They heal their wounds..."

"And his symbiote is hurt."

"So he won't heal as fast as normal. But he will get better," Daniel said with forced enthusiasm.

"What happens to the creatures when they become adults?"

"They take humans into slavery and try to take over the galaxy."

John stared at him. "You're kidding, right?"

Daniel didn't answer.

"You're not kidding."

"It's funny," Daniel said slowly. "We've got this threat from the Goa'uld, one that's been there for thousands of years. And we've got the robots from the future, trying to annihilate mankind. Kind of ironic that they're coming from both ends."

"You know." John was staring at the wall in front of him. "What's funny is that both are happening now, at the same time."

"You think it's a coincidence?"

"I don't know. I don't know enough about these Goolds but considering that both scenarios sound like they're straight out of a couple of bad sci-fi movies..."

"That sounds like my whole life. Bad movie."

John gave Daniel a shy smile. "Mine, too."

"God. We could write a book. Can you just see the cover? Alien versus machine."

"We'd be rich."

"And then the SGC would have to kill us for spilling their secrets."

"But we'd die rich."

"And famous."

"I'd just like to settle for a shower and bed right now."

"Me, too." And my dad and grandmother with me, Daniel added silently.

"Do you have any idea why nobody's come looking for us yet?"

"Maybe the robot damaged the dialing computers and they can't get a connection."

"Then what happens?"

"They'll send a ship. It might take a few days but..." He shuddered at the possibility of a repeat of that scenario.

"Do they even know where we are?"

"They can find the 'gate address in the computers."

"But if it's damaged?"

"My dad knows Teal'c. He'll figure he came looking for Bra'tac for help."

"Does your dad know Bra'tac is here? On this planet?"

Daniel paused. "He'll talk to other Jaffa. They'll tell him..."

"So they'll find us, eventually."

"Yeah."

"Maybe you should turn that light off. It'll see it and it'll know we're here."

"Isn't that what we want it to think so that it'll come this way?" Daniel dimmed the light until it barely gave off illumination.

"How long is that hole going to hold the robot?"

"We don't have to stay on this planet. We can try again to go to another planet and get help once we can get past it easily."

"Why can't we go back home?"

"We don't have a GDO, a, um, device that gives an identification code."

"How will your dad know how to find us if we leave here?"

Daniel wrinkled his nose, trying to remember what he'd overheard Sam and his dad saying once. "I think Sam can figure out the last addresses through the DHD. They'll figure out where we went."

"Eventually."

Daniel snuck his fingers under his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, going through the various Stargate addresses that he knew besides the Land of the Light, trying to come up with any that he could use if they needed to make a run for it. He'd gone through a half dozen of them, dredged up from his memories, when John leaned forward.

"Did you hear that?"

"What?" Daniel strained to listen. After several seconds, he heard a boot scraping on rock. He put a hand on Teal'c's knee and shook it lightly.

"DanielJackson?"

"Someone's out there," Daniel whispered, turning the light off completely.

They sat in silence as the footsteps got louder. They sounded confident, moving without caution, as if the person approaching had no fear of the dark and the unknown.

"It's him," John whispered needlessly.

Daniel tensed, feeling his shoulders reach for his ears, his heart pounding in his chest. Oxygen seemed to flee as he began to pant in fear as the footsteps grew louder and closer. Soon they sounded like they were just at the edge of the darkness, and he expected to see a shadow loom before him, guns blazing. He started to edge backwards, and jumped when Teal'c put a hand on his ankle.

The noise was startling, eliciting a shout from him. It took him a second to realize that their trap had worked; the cracking of wood, then several long seconds later, the resulting thud as the robot landed below.

Daniel didn't remember the flashlight being taken out of his hands, but Teal'c had it and they could see. They all scrambled to their feet, hurrying around the bend and peeking cautiously to make sure the trappee hadn't become the trapper. But the tunnel was empty, and the boards in pieces.

They hurried to the trap and began shoving the debris aside. By the time they cleared the way, they could hear it moving below. There was a loud crunching sound and Daniel glanced at John in fear.

"It's climbing up."

Daniel couldn't imagine how it was managing to dig handholds into the rock but that was exactly what it sounded like. They hurried past the hole, making their way outside. The sun was blinding after the dimness of the tunnels and immediately caused their eyes to water. Half-blind, they moved uphill, heading for the Stargate. His legs were shaky but he forced himself onwards, wanting nothing more than to get as much distance between himself and the machine.

They broke out of the woods and there, gathered in front of an active Stargate, were no less than three SG teams. As the Stargate disengaged, Daniel made out his dad, Sam, Rodney McKay, John's mom, Cameron and Derek Reese, as well as Bra'tac and the two Jaffa who'd accompanied him. Someone noticed them and Daniel broke into a run even as they pointed his way.

His dad separated from the group, running towards them and a moment later, John's mom was right behind him. For the first time, Daniel felt safe the moment his dad grabbed him in a hug. Out of breath, Daniel held onto his father and allowed himself to be comforted like the child he wanted to be for all of ten seconds, then he pulled away and panted, "It's coming. We have to get out of here."

John's mom had him in a crushing grip, and she let go of him reluctantly. "Are you boys all right?"

"We're fine." John looked back over his shoulder and Daniel suddenly felt guilty for having left Teal'c by himself. "Teal'c's hurt, though."

"The bullet got Junior," Daniel explained, glad that his dad kept his arm around his shoulder as everyone else joined them. "It can't heal Teal'c."

Teal'c, walking more easily than before but obviously still in pain, gave everyone a slow nod. "O'Neill."

"The kids say the robot's close?"

"Indeed."

His dad turned to Cameron. "Will that thing figure out how to get back to Earth?"

Cameron turned, walked to the DHD, hit seven glyphs without hesitation, pressed the center stone, and activated the Stargate.

"Lucky guess?"

"No, sir." They'd all turned to watch Cameron dial. Sam turned back to them. "She got all seven symbols."

Daniel's dad reached for his radio. "Stargate Command?" He sounded almost skeptical as he spoke.

"Colonel O'Neill?" General Hammond's voice came through all the radios.

"We found Teal'c and the kids. We're on our way home."

If asked, Daniel would have sworn they'd still have several minutes before the terminator found them. So when Derek Reese raised the alarm, yelling "Metal," Daniel couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the terminator running full out towards them.

"Run!" Cameron didn't wait to see if anyone obeyed her order, she simply ran towards the robot, ignoring the hail of bullets as everyone opened fire at the oncoming threat, retreating for the 'gate.

"Go!" His dad started running, pulling Daniel with him. It was a short distance to the Stargate but the terminator was closing fast. If not for Cameron, Daniel was certain they wouldn't have made it. She tackled the robot, both of them crashing to the ground. A second before Daniel ran into the wormhole, he heard John yell, "But what about Cameron?"

Then he stumbled down the ramp, trying not to run into any of the heavily armed security personnel who were guarding the 'gate.

"Go." His father didn't pause. With a secure hold on Daniel's arm, he continued running, out of the Gateroom and into the hallway, up the stairs and into the Control Room. General Hammond's voice boomed over the intercom, "Close the iris."

Daniel reached the Control Room just in time to see the iris fold onto itself. Just as John, his mom and Derek Reese joined them, something hit the iris.

"Oh, God," Daniel said to himself. He prayed it wasn't Cameron and he tensed, waiting anxiously for a second thud, until the Stargate disengaged.

"Dial the planet and send a M.A.L.P. through," General Hammond ordered.

"What was that?" Sarah asked. "What just happened?"

"The iris prevents matter from fully integrating—"

"You mean something tried to come through and just went splat?" Derek Reese had a cold grin on his face.

"In a nutshell, yeah." His dad ran a hand through his hair as General Hammond told the soldiers to stand down.

"The computer confirms one strike," Sam said, reading over Walter's shoulder.

Daniel moved away from the men and went to stand next to John, who was looking at the now deactivated Stargate in shock.

"It wasn't Cameron," John said, almost to himself.

"You don't know that."

"I have to believe that," he said fervently to Daniel.

Something was nagging at Daniel. Despite his fear that Cameron had been the victor and had tried to come home, he tried to convince himself that John was right. Then it hit him.

"Dial the 'gate," Daniel yelled.

"Daniel, the M.A.L.P.'s not ready."

"I know. But if that wasn't Cameron just now, then she doesn't know about the iris, and she's going to dial Earth in a minute and come through. And General Hammond isn't going to open the iris without being certain it's her. Dial the planet now, so she can't get a connection!"

"Do it," General Hammond ordered. Immediately, Walter began to dial the Stargate. Daniel held his breath, tapping his hands nervously on his pants, waiting for the chevrons to turn slowly, ever so slowly. They were at the fifth chevron when the lit chevrons suddenly went dark and the Stargate began turning, this time more quickly than before.

"No. No, no, no," Daniel moaned.

"What?" John asked.

"Someone's dialing in. We weren't fast enough."

"It's her," John said with certainty. "It's Cameron."

"You can't be sure," his mom replied.

"It's Cameron. I'm positive." John turned to General Hammond. "Please. Please, let her through."

"You can't know for sure."

"I do. It's her."

"Son, I can't open the iris. Not without certainty."

Daniel wanted to believe John. Wanted to trust that he knew the terminators well enough to know what they were capable of. "Dad?" He turned to his father, but he shook his head.

"I'm sorry, Daniel."

"I'm sure of it." John hurried over to General Hammond, shaking with tension. "She wouldn't have come through the Stargate and left the terminator back on the planet, with the threat that he could come back at any time it wanted. Please. Let her through."

Daniel had been positive the general wouldn't listen to John. His knees went weak with relief when Hammond gave the order to open the iris. The metal shield opened up and two seconds later, Cameron strode through the Stargate. She paused at the edge of the ramp, staring curiously at the huge battalion of soldiers with weapons raised at her.

"Stand down." When Hammond gave the order, Cameron glanced up at them. Her eyes found John, and her lips momentarily lifted in a hint of smile.

Grinning, John hurried out of the Control Room with Daniel hot on his heels. Cameron was descending the steps of the ramp when they both burst into the room. For a moment Daniel thought John was going to hug Cameron, but he settled instead for a wide grin.

"You let it go through first, didn't you? You knew they'd close the iris and destroy it." Daniel was so excited, he was shifting his weight side to side, exhilarated enough to want to jump up and down.

"What iris?" Cameron asked, her innocent-like gaze touching on first John and then Daniel. Her clothes were torn, but she looked none the worse for her fight back there.

"The thing they cover the Stargate with. It's a shield. It worked. It stopped the machine."

"I didn't know they had a shield." She turned to look over her shoulder at the Stargate as they walked out of the Gateroom.

Daniel's excitement evaporated as he caught John's gaze and vowed to himself that he wasn't going to tell anyone what Cameron had just said.

oo~O~oo

Fraiser was with Teal'c, John was sitting on one gurney, sock-covered feet hanging off the side, flanked by his family, including the robot. Daniel was sitting on the gurney behind John, both boys waiting their turn for a look-see by a doctor. Showered, squeaky clean and damn antsy. Continuously shifting, both of them.

"I won't be long," Jack cupped Daniel's cheek, and it was testament to how done with the SGC Daniel was feeling that he just leaned into his touch and nodded.

"Tell General Hammond..."

"To hurry up, I know. I'm sure that he knows you want to go home."

"I just wanted to tell him thank you."

Jack pushed aside a few strands of damp hair then kissed Daniel's forehead, "He knows, I already thanked him. Your grandmother thanked him. The Connors..."

"I get the idea," he said with a smile.

Jack smiled back and the sudden prickling of moisture forced him to hide his emotions behind a bone-crushing hug.

"Stop it, Dad," Daniel spoke into Jack's shirt. "Embarrassing your teenager here."

"Sorry." Jack stepped back, emotional overflow stopped up. For now. Pretty damn sure this wouldn't be the last time for the next few weeks he and his emotions would be butting heads over this.

Daniel picked at the well-worn material of his fatigue pants. "I really don't like this look."

The fatigues were big, swimmingly big on Daniel.

"As soon as I'm done with the General, I'm going to drag you home ASAP and you can throw on a pair of sweats."

Daniel gave a slight moan of anticipation. "Stop teasing me." He glanced towards the door. "Shouldn't you be—"

"Right," Jack said, giving Daniel a two-fingered salute. "Can't keep the General waiting, can we?"

oo~O~oo

The debriefing was quick. Fraiser had phoned in a report to the General updating him on Teal'c's condition. It seemed to Jack that Hammond had nodded in all the right places, his questions were curt and it almost appeared that he was reading Jack's mind. He dismissed the contingent around the table in record time, expecting their written reports on his desk within forty-eight hours.

The others filed out and Jack held back, waiting.

"Go home, Colonel. Take your son and go home."

"Daniel wanted me to tell you thank you."

Hammond made a show of gathering up the papers on the table. "Forty-eight hours, Jack. Not before that. You and your report don't have to come back to the mountain for two—"

"Daniel's fine, sir. Unless you know something—Did Fraiser..." Panic. Absolute, unequivocal fear burned in his gut.

"Dear God, no, Jack. I'm sorry. Doctor Fraiser mentioned nothing about Daniel. Or John."

Jack exhaled. "About the Connors, sir. Let them go home."

"I opened the iris at the request of that boy. Let's not push it. I would feel more comfortable with that thing being contained."

"With all due respect, sir, but you saw what it can do. Pretty much nothing we have here will contain that girl."

"I'd rather not think like that, Colonel."

"Let them go home," Jack pleaded. "I'd rather they believe we're their friends. That we'd offer them safety should the need arise instead of them feeling as if we're making them our prisoners."

Hammond thought a moment.

Jack held his breath and attempted to remain still.

Hammond nodded. "Make it so, but you make sure to let the Connors know if they leave Colorado Springs, the military will be on their asses so fast they won't have to worry about Judgment Day."

oo~O~oo

John blinked incredulously at his mom, then turned towards Jack. "We can leave?"

"Yup," Jack nodded.

"But we can't leave town," Derek snarled. "We're just exchanging this prison for another."

"Shut up," John hissed at the man and Jack was damned surprised when the older man appeared to think twice before making a comeback. "Home is better than here..." He blushed. "I'm sorry, Colonel..."

"What John is trying to say is thank you." The Baum/Connor woman stuck out her hand but Jack didn't miss the glance she slid towards Reese.

He took her hand, shook it, but his glance was glued to John, who stared back longer than Jack would've given him credit for before dropping his gaze. Maybe there was something about this kid becoming mankind's savior. "Take your family home."

oo~O~oo

"I don't know how you do this on a daily basis," his grandmother said to his father as they walked her to Sam's car.

"It's not always this exciting, Ma."

"Exciting? Today was downright horrifying. And to make things worse, I still have no idea what happened, and I know you're not going to tell me."

"Just a visitor that got out of hand, Rose." Sam smiled at Daniel's grandmother as she unlocked the car doors.

"I saw you and John. Explain to me how an out of hand visit by a stranger," - everyone averted their attention at the mention of the "s" word – "ended up with my grandson covered in dirt? You and John go wrestling when you evacuated the base?"

Daniel shrugged his shoulders, keeping quiet was easier than lying. He waited for his grandmother to get into the car, and looked up in surprise when she reached a hand to his cheek.

"Go to bed early tonight. You look tired." She kissed his forehead, said goodbye to his dad, and got in Sam's car.

"I hate lying to her," Daniel said for the hundredth time as they walked to the Avalanche.

"I know." His dad brushed his nape with his fingers for a second. "I do, too. And she's right. You look tired."

"It's been a long day. And I still have homework to do," he sighed.

oo~O~oo

He'd tackled his homework with half a will. He was having trouble concentrating; the day's ordeal was constantly running through his head, making him jumpy despite his fatigue. He appeared to be running on the planet's time, confused because in his mind it was later than the six o'clock that his alarm clock read. And he had a headache that a Tylenol barely made a dent in. He was really tired, rubbing his eyes until the skin around the lids were dry and tender. After he found himself staring at a math problem for ten minutes with no idea on how to solve it, he put his books away, picked up his cell phone and called Alexandria. She'd be finished with supper by now. Forget the homework; he'd finish his assignments in the morning before class.

"Hi," Daniel said quickly when Alexandria answered.

"Daniel..."

"What's new?"

Silence. "Nothing."

"I, uh..." He picked at a stain on his pants with his nail during the awkward silence.

"You didn't call..."

"Honestly, I wasn't sure if you were talking to me."

"I'm not sure if I want to."

"Alexandria..."

"You weren't in school today."

"No. I was out of town," he said with relief at the subject change.

"Looks like everyone was out of town."

"What do you mean?" His stomach dropped at her words. Maybe calling had been a mistake.

"Nothing."

"You were expecting John to call?" he asked, deciding to go for broke.

"I didn't say that."

"Then what did you mean by that?"

"Just that... You both were away. I just thought... Maybe something had happened—"

"No. John and I have... Talked—"

"Daniel, you didn't!"

"Didn't wha— No, no. Well, maybe we got a little physical at first, but we're good now."

"Don't lie to me. Did he hurt you?"

"No. Well, maybe a few scrapes and bruises," he answered as he massaged a bruised thigh, "but honestly, John and I have come to an understanding. That's why I called you."

"So...?"

What?"

"Where'd you go?"

"My dad had a last minute business trip and decided to take me with him."

"So you missed the news?"

"What news?"

"The soccer field was ransacked. Coach Dawson had the cops there and everything."

"Really?"

"They trashed the benches so bad, we'll be standing for the rest of the season."

"Did they figure out who did it?" Daniel tried to keep his voice neutral and not portray anxiety of any kind. Praying that no one had seen him or John. Or Cameron.

"No. It's a real mystery. So... what are you doing? Wanna go to the mall?" The coldness was gone from her voice and she sounded like her old self.

"Now?" Leaving the house was the last thing he wanted to do.

"Yeah. Just for an hour? Some of the gang's gonna be there and I wanted to go look for a movie and..." Her voice suddenly turned shy. "Do you think you could ask John to come, too? And his sister," she added quickly, "of course."

"John and Cameron?"

"Yeah. It must be hard moving to a new town."

"Yeah, I guess," he said with a heavy heart, not quite sure if he wanted to share Alexandria with John quite yet.

"Besides, Corey's got a crush on Cameron."

"Corey's going to be at the mall?"

Alexandria's sigh was long and theatrical. "Yes, Corey's going to be at the mall. Hence the reason I wanted you to ask John and Cameron."

Daniel laughed, it would serve Corey right and maybe this would be the ultimate payback.

"Hey." Alexandria said with an indignant huff. "I'll admit, she's a little odd but she's okay."

Alexandria should only know that it was Corey he was laughing at and not Cameron. One learned never to laugh at someone who'd saved one's life. "Sorry. Yeah, I know. I'll see if they want to come. I'll call you back in a minute."

Daniel stood, groaning at his aching body. He found the number John had called yesterday in his recent calls and punched it in, slowly walking down the hall.

"Hello."

"Mrs., um, Baum?" Baum, Connor, he wasn't too sure what to call John's mother. "It's Daniel Jackson."

"Daniel." Her voice suddenly sounded wary. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes. I'm sorry to bother you. I was calling John to see if he wanted to join me and some friends at the mall, and I didn't have his number."

"It's not a bother. But I'm afraid he's not feeling that great right now."

Daniel could have smacked himself. He'd forgotten John had been sick. He contemplated asking to talk to John to tell him about Corey's crush on Cameron, but his mother wasn't even offering to pass the phone to John, so he decided not to ask. "Could you tell him I called? And that he's welcome to join us when he's feeling up to it."

"Of course." She hung up before he could say goodbye. He went downstairs to the den where his dad was watching television.

"Finished your homework?"

"Most of it," Daniel evaded. "Alexandria wants to go to the mall." He leaned a shoulder against the wall, one foot resting on the last step behind him.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?"

No, Daniel wanted to answer. He'd much rather take a hot shower and go to bed. "It's just for an hour," he said instead.

"And your homework?"

"I'll finish it tomorrow morning."

"Don't stay out too long."

"I won't." He pressed Alexandria's number on speed dial as he went back up the stairs, wincing at the stiffness in his knee.

oo~O~oo

John stood at the edge of the kitchen, staring unbelievingly at his mom. She tossed her phone onto the kitchen table and then started when she saw him standing there.

"That was for me, wasn't it?"

Her smile was forced as she walked over to him. "Daniel wanted to know if you wanted to go to the mall tonight. I told him you weren't feeling well." She raised a hand to push his bangs aside.

He pulled away from her touch. "You could have let me tell him that without making it sound like Johnny's too sick to go out and play."

"John, I didn't..." She sighed. "You're right. I'm sorry."

He walked around her, heading for the fridge and the juice he'd come into the kitchen for in the first place. He grabbed the orange juice and poured himself a large glass and drank it without coming up for air. It was cold, it was wet, and it didn't do much to slake his thirst except land in his stomach and set his head to pounding even more.

"You know, Daniel's the first person I think I could truly call a friend." He rinsed the glass and left it in a corner of the sink.

"You've had friends before."

"Not like him. We've got so much in common. Everyone else saw the person who I was supposed to be, the persona we'd made up during that time and place, and not the person I really am." He shivered, the chill of the juice in his stomach radiating outward and into the rest of his body. "Plus the fact that you wouldn't let me hang around with anyone, get close to anyone."

"You know why—"

"I know."

There was an awkward silence. "I thought you didn't like Daniel."

John shrugged. "I was wrong about him."

"Does the fact that Derek said you're going to be working with him in the future have anything to do with changing your mind about him?"

"No. It actually started with him being able to hold his own in a fight. And the fact that he didn't freak when he realized someone was shooting at him. And that he could think under pressure. And that I didn't feel responsible for him," John softly added.

"Sounds like he's been well trained."

John nodded slowly, careful of his headache as he started making his way back to his bedroom. His body ached from the soles of his feet to his scalp. "I'd like to get to know him, see what he's learned, trade tactics and stuff."

"And hang out with him just because you like him?"

John managed a small smile. "Yeah. That, too."

His mom followed him into his bedroom and this time he didn't object when she pulled the blankets up and touched his cheek with the back of her hand.

"Your fever's up."

"Tylenol hasn't kicked in yet." He shivered, bringing his legs to his chest.

She sat down on the bed and put a hand on his leg.

"It's been a while since you were this feverish."

"I know."

"If Daniel calls again, I'll let you talk to him."

"He won't call," John said through chattering teeth.

"Hey. I told him you were sick. He's mature enough to understand; otherwise he's certainly not worthy to be called a friend." When she kissed his cheek, her lips felt cool on his skin. "Get some sleep."

"Wake me," John swallowed. "Soon. I have homework."

"Yeah. Sure." His mother said as she fixed his blanket. "Homework. You'll get right on that."

John wasn't exactly sure, and he'd have to ask his mother when she woke him, but there was a hint of sarcasm in her voice that John didn't understand. Nope. Didn't get it at all.

oo~O~oo

"Thanks." Daniel put a hand on the door handle and looked at Alexandria.

"For leaving early? Phttt." Alexandria smiled at Daniel. "Corey was boring, going on and on about Cameron."

Pushing the door open, Daniel got out slowly. "Want to come in for a while?" he asked, still feeling awkward with Alexandria. He missed the way he'd been able to say anything to her; now, he was afraid of saying the wrong thing. It had been easier in a group; he'd just stayed on the sidelines, pleading fatigue when someone had commented on how quiet he was tonight.

"Sure." She slipped out of the van and together, they walked up the driveway and into the house. As they began to climb the steps, she reached for his hand. Some of his anxiety eased at the feel of her fingers between his.

"Dad, we're home," he yelled, slamming the door behind them. He could hear the drone of a hockey announcer coming from downstairs. The lure of the game didn't appeal to him and he headed for the kitchen, grabbed two Snapples and handed one to Alexandria.

"Can we sit outside for a while?" She put the drink down unopened on the countertop. Daniel shook his, snapped the lid and gulped down half of it before sliding open the patio doors. She sat on the top step and patted the wooden slats next to her. Daniel sat next to her, downed more of his drink, and then winced as the chill gave him a brain freeze headache. The silence between them was an almost tangible thing and Daniel cleared his throat awkwardly.

"I'm sorry." He rolled the nearly empty bottle of Snapple in his palms, until Alexandria took it away from him and put it down next to her. She took his hands in hers, the heat of her skin hot against his condensation-dampened fingers.

"Shhhh." She kissed the tips of his fingers, staring at him over their clasped hands. The light from the kitchen backlit her, illuminating only the half of her face that faced the window. "There's nothing to be sorry for."

"Yes, there is. I've been an asshole and—"

"We went through some serious shit, Daniel, no pun intended." Her mouth quirked into a smile. "It's over and done with."

"No, it's not. You got hurt again, and it was all because of me." The party fiasco, the drugs, his attitude, he'd give anything to go back and change things. Put things back the way they had been.

"Stop it." She gave his hands a hard shake. "None of it was your fault."

"But I—"

"Was an asshole. We both agree on that. Let's just move on, okay?"

Daniel sighed, blinking back tears. He leaned against her and she let go of his hands to wrap an arm around his waist. He lowered his head, resting it against her shoulder. For the first time in a long time, he felt at peace. Alexandria shifted, turning towards him, and put her other arm around him, holding him there. He felt the weight of her head against his, the puffs of her breath warm against his ear.

"We're good, right?" she asked softly after a while.

Daniel nodded, too full of emotion to speak. As he took a long, shaky breath and let it out, he felt her lips touch his temple.

oo~O~oo

"Daniel." Loud knocking on his door followed his dad's irritated call. "If you don't get up now, you're going to miss your bus."

Groaning, Daniel turned onto his back, stretching his legs to try and ease the ache that the position caused. "I'm up."

"That's what you said the last two times. Are you sick?"

"No." He had to turn onto his side in order to sit up. "Just stiff." He sat there, head hanging for a moment, wishing he could materialize in the shower without having to walk there. "Why don't I feel this awful when I train with Teal'c?" He shoved himself to his feet and grabbed a clean shirt from a drawer.

"Because you hold back when you're training. When you're out there and it's for real, it's a totally different experience. Plus, you spent a good amount of time running on adrenaline yesterday. You pull and strain muscles without realizing it at the time."

Daniel walked past his dad, trying not to limp. "Muscles? I think I strained my whole body."

The shower felt wonderful, and he'd have stayed there until the hot water ran out. Unfortunately, his dad was right, and as it was, he'd have to skip breakfast in order to make the bus. As he dried off and dressed, he realized he'd planned on finishing his homework before heading off to school. Now it looked like he'd have to do it in the bus.

oo~O~oo

John's head hurt. Didn't make a difference that his mom had closed the blinds last time she'd been in to check on him. Or that she'd shut the light or even that he was buried under a mountain of blankets or had forced a Motrin on him no matter how much he groaned. Nothing seemed to help.

Slowly, John shifted positions and for a second his muscles protested the movement, shivering in objection at the cool spot on the sheets he settled into.

The door to his room opened and snatches of his mother's voice interspersed with Cameron's and Derek's floated in. The blankets may have muffled the words somewhat, but not the intensity and pitch in which they were delivered.

"I thought you said he was done with the fevers." His mom was pissed, actually John would be pissed also if he had the energy, but for now, he'd let his mom be angry enough for the both of them.

"John is actually the first human who has come in contact with the nanotechnology and has survived."

"Survived? How come this is the first I'm hearing of this?"

Right now, John didn't think he was surviving at all and if he knew his mom wouldn't hunt him down and kill him, he'd be happy to just permanently rest in peace.

"Humans aren't considered worth saving should they become infected."

Earlier, when she'd come bearing Motrin and a Snapple, John had attempted to explain to her that this was different. He felt different than before. The fever felt different. The sore muscles. The constant thirst. She'd given him a little placated nod, smoothed back his bangs and fluffed his pillow again for the thousandth time. But she hadn't listened.

"Jesus, it's like an oven in here." Derek's complaint reverberated inside John's skull. "Maybe we need to open a window. Give the poor guy some fresh air."

"No," John croaked as he pushed the covers down and turned onto his back. "Don't touch the windows."

"He lives," Derek said. Affection. Worry. Great, it either had to be his birthday or he had to be at death's door for his uncle to focus on him and not his future self.

His mother's hand was cold again his cheek and she had that 'mother knows best' grin on her face. "Motrin brought the fever down a little."

Cameron's hand skirted across his neck and John saw as his mother gazed at her expectantly. "Well?"

"Yes, Motrin brought the fever down a little." Cameron didn't have the same grin his mother had, maybe this was one of those times she felt it necessary to lie.

"How about you come downstairs for a while? Join humanity?"

He wanted to say no, that just the thought of making his body move out of bed and walk down a flight of stairs was enough to have him beg for mercy, but he couldn't. If sitting on the couch and staring at the TV for an hour or two would wipe that expression off his mother's face, John would get downstairs if he had to crawl on his hands and his knees.

Derek's voice had been filled with affection and worry. His mother? Her tone bypassed affection and worry, topping it off with an unhealthy dose of fear and a side of terror. She looked old and frail, two words he'd never thought he'd use in his lifetime to describe her. John felt incredibly guilty. "Downstairs sounds like a plan, Mom," he said as he pushed the blanket to the side. "I'm not going to school today, am I?"

"Nope."

"Being out puts us on the radar."

"Leaving school in an ambulance when you pass out is a tad more attention getting. Staying home is safer."

"No one is ever safe," John whispered.

oo~O~oo

He managed getting downstairs without passing out or puking up his guts, which, in his honest opinion, was probably the most messiah-like deed he'd ever done. Spent, John dropped down into the sofa, hiding his groan of discomfort behind a moan of contentment as soon as he settled into the cushions.

His mother fussed.

John endured, though her constant attention was making him nervous. On a daily basis his mother was basically up his ass, but this, this was almost stifling. Coming downstairs to make her happy was one thing, having her hovering was a horse of a different color.

"Why don't you step away from the poor kid?" Derek had a hand on his mother's arm, trying to pull her back. "You're breathing all his air."

"That's not possible. There's an abundance of breathable—"

"It's just a saying," she snapped at Cameron.

"Thank you for—"

"Explaining, yeah, I got that." His mom turned towards Derek with fire in her eyes. "You, step away from me."

"I'm only—"

"I'm going back to my room." John made a show of pushing himself off the couch. It was all an act, because there was no way he'd be able to get back up the stairs.

oo~O~oo

John must have made his point because five minutes later, after bringing him a bottle of Snapple, his mother and Derek scattered. Oh, they were watching from various vantage points, but they weren't within arm's length.

He stretched out on the couch and closed his eyes, sounds of his mother in the kitchen was his lullaby.

"You're sick."

John opened one eye. "No shit, Sherlock. Brilliant deduction." In his fevered state, Cameron appeared hurt by his words. "Sorry," he said, rubbing his forehead. "I didn't mean for it come out that way."

"Thank you for explaining."

"My pleasure."

"Go to sleep, John."

Obediently, John closed his eyes without question, not even opening them when he felt the familiar weight of a blanket placed over his body and the feather light touch of Cameron's hand across his neck.

oo~O~oo

Daniel headed straight for his bedroom, bypassing the kitchen for his usual after-school snack. He dropped his schoolbag by the door, toed off his shoes and climbed into his unmade bed, pulling the blankets over him. All day long, he'd dreamed of stretching out; the aches and pains had gotten progressively worse, along with a nagging headache.

He'd have to get up in a half hour and start supper. The thought of food made him nauseous, though. Finally after several restless minutes, he got up and swallowed a couple of Tylenol, dumped leftover pasta into an ovenproof dish and stuck it in the oven, then headed back for bed. At least his dad's supper would be hot and Daniel would settle for cereal or toast.

A moment later, he pulled out the elastic band holding his ponytail. He brushed his fingers through his hair and massaged his scalp. For some reason the pressure of his pulled-back hair was making his headache worse. He tossed the elastic onto the night table and turned on his side.

He woke up with a start, turning in a panic until at the sight of his dad leaning over him, he realized that his dad's touch had woken him up.

"You feeling okay?"

He fell back onto his pillow. "Just tired."

"You feel warm."

"I'm fine." He struggled to sit up. "Okay, maybe not so fine," he said weakly as the room began to spin. "Aw, shit. Why do I have to get sick on a Friday night?" he moaned as he fell back onto his bed.

"I'll be right back." His dad left the bedroom and Daniel pulled the blankets up again, the air suddenly feeling chilly. Then his dad was back, armed with a thermometer, Tylenol and water.

A few minutes later, the thermometer confirmed what Daniel had feared. "102.4."

"Great. I've caught the flu." He shook his head when his dad began shaking out the Tylenol. "I took some already."

"When?"

"When I came home."

"It's been a couple of hours. Won't hurt to take another dose."

He took the pills, swallowed a sip of water and suddenly realized he was very thirsty. He gulped the water down, pulling the bottle away from his mouth only when it was empty.

"What'd you eat for lunch?"

"They had meatloaf," Daniel said evasively.

"I didn't ask what they were serving, I asked what you ate."

"Some of Alexandria's Jell-O," he finally admitted.

"How does a hard boiled egg and some toast sound?"

Daniel groaned and turned his head. "Not really hungry," he said into his pillow.

"Soup and crackers?"

"Water?"

"Okay, let's compromise. Egg drop soup. Protein, liquids, salt."

"Fine," Daniel sighed. "Oh, your supper's in the oven."

"I know. I'll eat it later," his dad said as he stood.

"Dad? I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"Getting sick."

The bed dipped as his dad leaned his weight on his hand against the mattress. "Hey. Getting sick isn't something you do on purpose." He pushed the loose strands of hair out of Daniel's eyes and kissed his forehead. "I'll be back in a minute."

Daniel managed half the soup and two triangles of toast before pushing the tray away. He was settling back down in bed when he remembered.

"How's Teal'c?"

His dad's face suddenly changed; a look of, not quite disgust but, dislike, Daniel thought. "Fraiser operated on Junior today. Well, actually, from what she said, she put three stitches in to close a wound. We're hoping it starts healing itself soon so it can work on Teal'c."

"So he's sick?"

"Fraiser's got him pumped up with antibiotics and painkillers. He's no worse than he was yesterday but it's just a matter of time before his lack of an immune system starts to truly affect him."

"Can we look for another symbiote?"

"It's not that simple, not like we can go out with rod and tackle and go fish one up. But Bra'tac's aware of the situation so maybe he's got an ear out, just in case."

"I wish I could do something to help."

"Get some sleep. That's help enough."

Daniel nodded, feeling guilty that he hadn't even thought of Teal'c today because he'd been concentrating too much on his own budding flu.

oo~O~oo

Oh God. One minute John was sleeping, the next minute he wasn't. The air surrounding him was stifling and the mere act of breathing was a struggle. And thirsty, he was so thirsty. Throwing back the covers, he flipped onto his back, reveling as the coolness of the air dried the sweat covering his body. The weight of the air lifted and he was able to fill his lungs, but the thirst didn't abate.

It took two tries before he was able to pull himself up to a sitting position and it took only seconds for the three Musketeers to appear by his side.

"What do you need?" His mother asked, standing opposite him, flanked by Derek and Cameron, the coffee table the only protection between him and their concern.

He held up his hands, trying to manufacture enough spit to even answer them. "Water," John finally croaked.

"I'll get it."

"No. I'll get it." Slowly, very slowly, using his hands to push his butt upright, John stood. He fought the urge to sway, focusing on three sets of eyes waiting for him to fall. "I'm just getting a drink. Stay," he urged, "be right back."

Those three sets of eyes followed him. He could feel them boring a hole right through to his damn stubborn psyche as he shuffled his way out of the living room into the kitchen. Thankfully, the layout of this home was different and they lost sight of him once he stepped into the kitchen.

He'd been fine. Well, not really fine, but he'd felt better once he'd thrown back the blanket, stood and began to walk. Until he opened the fridge and then he was hit by the same feelings he'd woken with, except now, there was no blanket and the fridge temperature set forth a tsunami of shivers.

John's vision blurred, the fridge's contents melded together then crystallized into bright pinpoints of color and light. Thirst forgotten, replaced by nausea, he slammed the fridge shut. He tried to breathe through it, resting his forehead against the cool metal of the fridge door, counting slowly, refocusing. And it worked. Or it would've worked if the migraine hadn't broadsided him.

"Mom," he whimpered, hating the sound of his own voice. Weak, childish, neither a savior nor messiah in sight - he needed help. He turned around, pressed his back against the fridge door and allowed it to be his guide on his descent to the kitchen floor.

"Mom," John tried again. "Please." He brought his knees to his chest, and buried his head under his crossed arms. "It hurts."

The hand against the back of his neck was ice cold but it felt so damn good that he lifted his head up and back, trapping the coolness between the fridge door and the nape of his neck.

"Damn, he's burning up."

"Mom?" The sliver of light slipping in through his barely opened lids was deadly and though he tried not to, a moan of pain escaped his lips.

"Right here, John. Not going anywhere." His mom reached out and grabbed Cameron's hand, placing it on his neck. "Scan," she ordered.

oo~O~oo

"The Motrin's no longer helping. John's temperature is dangerously high and he's in danger of—"

"We can't take him to the hospital."

"I know," John gasped, one hand cupped over his eyes. "No. Hospital."

"Shush." Sarah glared at Derek, making a slicing motion across her throat. Hoping he took it as the universal symbol to keep quiet, though she actually meant it as she was going to kill him.

The doorbell rang.

"Damn it," Sarah yelled. "You," she said, pointing at Cameron, "answer the door. And you," she said, pointing at Derek. "Instead of just standing there stating the obvious, get me a wet washcloth."

She sat on the floor and with extreme gentleness, pulled John into her embrace. "I got you. I promise it'll be okay."

He came forward reluctantly, whimpering as he buried his face against her neck.

Coming to Colorado had been stupid. The end had not justified the means. At this point in time they still weren't in possession of the Turk. There had been another machine after John and now? She kissed the top of his head, rocking back and forth as if she were soothing him after a nightmare. Damn, she needed Charley.

"I answered the door." Cameron loomed over her and John, Rose by her side.

"Now's not a good time, Rose."

"Should I make her go away?" Cameron asked.

"No!" That was all they needed.

"Rose is here?" John turned his face, tentatively lowering his hand.

"Right here, honey." Rose squatted down then cupped John's cheek, her eyes widened as soon as she touched him. "Oh."

"I know."

Derek entered the room, a dripping washcloth in one hand, a blanket in the other. "What the hell is she doing here?" He cocked his chin in Rose's direction.

"Give me the washcloth." Rose waggled her fingers at Derek, ignoring his remark. She snapped her fingers in his direction when he hesitated.

Sarah felt John stiffen when the washcloth touched the back of his neck.

"When did the fever start?" Rose moved the washcloth around, no matter how much John attempted to squirm out of her reach.

"Yesterday. Motrin isn't working."

"We need to bring the fever down. Let's get John in the shower." Rose stood, holding onto the fridge door for support.

Derek was by Sarah's side in an instant, forcing his way in front of Cameron, reading her mind. The last thing they wanted was for Cameron to haul John to his feet and fling him over her shoulder like he was a rag doll.

"Come on, John."

" 'K."

John tried, with Derek's arm hooked around his waist, Sarah on the other side and Cameron bringing up the rear, he really made an attempt, and actually got halfway across the kitchen before becoming a limp weight in their arms. Sarah and Derek dropped with him, the sudden shift in weight pulling them down.

"Fuck." The curse shot from Derek's mouth as he fought to remain upright and failed. Sarah was having no better luck, Cameron reached out, grabbed the back of John's shirt, but he fought her.

"Let him go," Sarah insisted, reaching up and tugging at Cameron's hand.

She did, opened her hand, released her grip and John dropped to the floor, landing on all fours. Head down, John began to heave, rocking back and forth as he attempted to empty his stomach.

"Get me something," Sarah yelled.

Derek scrambled up, but Rose was quicker, handing her an entire roll of paper towels while Cameron stood there clutching a kitchen towel. But John's desire to vomit was unproductive, and he collapsed into a fetal ball by Sarah's side.

"He needs a hospital." Rose reached for the phone. "An ambulance. The fever. The nausea—"

Sarah rubbed John's back. "Put the phone down. No hospital. We—"

"Talk to her," Derek whispered. Pushing her hand aside, he took over rubbing John's back. "She can't call. We can't—"

"Get the blanket and cover John." Sarah stood, walked over to Rose, took the phone from her, flicked it off and placed it back on the holder.

"How can you do that?" Rose demanded. "He's in pain. He's sick. He's your son."

"I need another option. Something. John can't go to a hospital."

"What kind of mother are you?"

"Sarah is John's mother." Cameron spoke the sentence, leaving no room for argument, thankfully shutting Rose up.

Sarah took a breath and plowed forward. "We left California because there are people that want to murder my son. Bringing him into a hospital will alert them... And we won't be able to protect him."

"You're being paranoid."

Cameron stood in front of Rose, blocking her view of John. "Yesterday, someone tried to kill Daniel and John."

Sarah watched Rose's resolve bend just a little. "Do you still believe we're being paranoid?"

"No," Rose said, shaking her head slowly at Cameron, her face going white as realization kicked in.

Sarah hated asking anyone for help, but this was her son. This wasn't her. Or Derek. This was John. "Please," she begged, "We're trying to save John's life. Can you help us?"

oo~O~oo

Rose had come up with an alternative option. One that Sarah hadn't been comfortable with, one that Derek had remained silent about and Cameron was ready to throw John over her shoulder in her haste to get him there. The SGC. Sarah wasn't sure how she felt about ending up back at the hole in the mountain, but there was no other choice. Her back was against the wall and she knew in her heart this was more than the run of the mill flu. Or migraine. And after one phone call they were on their way, despite Sarah's misgivings.

Sarah was eternally gratefully that Rose didn't drive like most old women she'd ever had the privilege of knowing. Derek sat up front facing forward, his right hand gripping the overhead 'oh shit' handle. John was lying with his head in Sarah's lap and she was wiping his face with the already dried out washcloth. Cameron sat, one hand resting on John's leg while her gaze was trained on John's face.

"How are you doing back there?"

A quick scan and Cameron answered with more information than Sarah felt comfortable with. "John's temperature is 105.2. His heartbeat is rapid. Respirations are shallow—"

"He's sick," Sarah answered, cutting off the rest of Cameron's medical diatribe. "Really sick," she confirmed, glaring at the tin girl.

oo~O~oo

"What are you doing?" Sarah demanded, grabbing the petite doctor's arm as she skirted around her.

The doctor... Fraiser, that was it, pried her fingers from her arm. "I'm not telling you again, Mrs. Baum, you need to stand away from the bed. You want me to treat your son, I can't do it—"

"What are you doing to John?"

"You, young lady." Fraiser pointed to the corner. "Go stand there, preferably facing the wall. Cyborg or not," she hissed so that Rose wouldn't hear, "you don't scare me, I'm the parent of a teenager."

Derek stormed up and gripped the foot of John's bed.

"Stop right there, mister. This is my infirmary. I don't care what future you came from, there will be no posturing."

"Derek, come here." Rose linked her arm through his and pulled. "Let Janet do her job. Sarah, you, too, come on."

"No." Sarah stared at the doctor. "I'm not moving."

"Fine. You don't want to go? Have it your way, but if I have to tell you to move one time, you're out of here."

oo~O~oo

The hustle around John had slowed. The iso room was hushed, the lights lowered, the only constants were the medical equipment and the sound of Derek pacing back and forth. Cameron stood in the corner, Rose sat in one of the chairs, offering Sarah a slight smile every time they made eye contact.

Fraiser had said there was a possibility whatever John had was contagious. Honestly, she couldn't care. Her life right now didn't exist outside of these four walls. She picked up his hand, her thumb running over the barely visible yellowish blotch. "I'm sorry."

John shifted.

He wasn't going to wake up. Fraiser had explained to her that he was being pumped with enough drugs that he wasn't feeling any pain. He wasn't feeling anything.

John shifted again, this time with more strength and purpose in mind. Drugs or no drugs, he didn't sleep on his back. Never had. Not as a child and definitely not as a teenager.

Should she stop him? Probably, but the mere act of John being John when he was in a horizontal position gave her hope and more than a little bit of satisfaction that her son was fighting back. The cacophony of monitor alarms was deafening, though expected, as one by one leads disconnected as John searched for a comfortable position.

Medical staff came out of the woodwork, and the once quiet room was awash with shouted orders. Sarah held onto his hand, pushing back those who pushed at her. John? John fought back, sixteen years of her words imbedded in his brain and his instinct was to run.

"Mom?" John whipped his head from side to side, eyes opened, unseeing, just sensing danger.

"I'm here."

But he wasn't. Feverish delusions had taken John away to a place where running meant survival.

The more John struggled, the more intense and invasive the medical staff became.

Peripherally, Sarah noticed Cameron purposely stride towards the fray, ready to do battle.

"Stop!" Sarah yelled. Surprisingly, everyone stopped in their tracks but if looks could kill, based on Fraiser's expression, Sarah would be dead where she lay, across John's body.

"Get away from him, or I'll strap you down to the empty bed over there."

She ignored the threat, turned her back on the doctor and used her weight to pin John to the bed. "You don't need to run," she whispered in his ears. "You're safe," Sarah lied, hating herself.

"Nooneiseversafe. Nooneiseversafe. Noone—"

"Shush." Sarah pressed her cheek against John's. "Today you're safe with me. I promise."

oo~O~oo

Sarah checked to make sure the bathroom door was closed. Checked it twice just to be on the safe side. Peed. Flushed. Washed her hand and scrubbed at her face, all the while never gazing in the tiny mirror over the sink. She dried her hands, tossed the paper towel in the garbage then turned the water back on to cover the sound of her vomiting.

Emptying her stomach contents didn't make her feel any better or any worse. Puking didn't make her heart hurt any less or make the fear go away. It just made her feel lonely and scared and horribly out of control.

She washed up again and the extra soap she used caused her eyes to burn and tear, no matter how many times she splashed cold water on them.

"Sarah?" The knock on the bathroom door wasn't tentative, but the voice was.

"I'll be right out, Derek." Hastily, Sarah ran wet fingers through her hair, patted her face dry on the arm of her long sleeved tee shirt and ventured a glance in the mirror. She looked like crap.

"I'm sorry I took so—"

Derek grabbed her by her forearms and pushed her backwards, right back into the bathroom, blocking her exit with his body.

"I'd lock the door, but I don't want to turn my back on you."

"Smart move. Do you need help going to the bathroom?"

"No, but I think you need some help."

"Get the fuck out of my way, Reese."

"No."

"You have no right, that's my son out there."

"That's my brother's child out there." Derek carded his fingers through his hair. "I didn't want this to turn into an argument."

"This what? What did you think this would be?"

"I wanted you to know that you're not in this alone. John's my nephew, the closest thing to my brother that I'll ever have. Those are Reese genes lying in that bed."

"He's my son," Sarah said softly.

"He's my nephew."

"This isn't King Solomon's court. I'm not splitting my son in half."

"Ah, jeeze," Derek replied, pounding the wall. "I'm not asking you to."

"Then what the hell are you asking?"

"To share the goddamn burden. To stop thinking you're in this alone."

"I don't trust you."

"Hell, I'm not even sure I like you."

"And that's supposed to make me feel better about this?" Sarah shook her head.

"We both love John."

"No. I love John, you love him because he's your brother's son. Big difference. Huge

difference. A whole world of difference."

"You don't even know your own son; you're so hell bent on keeping the kid alive that you're losing him."

"Let me out of here."

Derek reached around his body and clicked the lock. "No. Why is it so friggin' hard for you to just share the burden? We're..." Derek swallowed as if the word stuck in his throat. "Family."

"Family?" Sarah gave a snort of disdain. "You tell me I'm a horrible mother, then follow it up with 'share the burden'."

"I didn't mean... I think... Do you know that you're..."

"A bitch?"

"Just the type of woman my hard assed brother would fall for? Stubborn as a mule. Puts words in my mouth."

"I didn't put—"

"Yeah, you did."

Sarah gave the slightest of smirks. "I'm not a terrible mother."

"Ah, putting words in my mouth again. Never said that. Said you don't know him."

"Neither do you. You think that you do, because you know—"

"John's a teenager with, quite literally, the weight of the world on his shoulders. He needs you to be his mother and not his first in command."

"Damn you, Derek Reese." Sarah moved away, averting her face.

A pounding on the door was followed by Cameron's voice. "Do you need assistance?"

"No," they answered simultaneously.

"Just checking. Rose—"

"We're fine."

"Be out in a minute."

Sarah rubbed her eyes, waited until she heard Cameron's footsteps then turned towards Derek. "You're nothing like your brother."

"And you, the infamous Sarah Connor, are nothing like I imagined."

She quirked an eyebrow in response. "How should I take that?"

"John... The John that I know... Has a very distorted image of you."

"Yeah?"

"He speaks about you with such reverence that I expected—" He drew a breath. "A saint."

"Disappointed to find I'm only human?"

"Kinda nice, actually."

"I still don't trust you, Reese."

"Still not sure if I like you, Sarah Connor." Derek unlocked the door. "But isn't that what family is all about?"

oo~O~oo

Jack woke up with the knowledge that something was wrong. Turning around in bed, he scanned the bedroom until he spotted Daniel standing in the doorway.

"What's the matter?"

Daniel didn't answer. He didn't move, but simply stood there, his form a darker shadow in the dim room.

"Are you feeling sick? Did you have a nightmare?"

At Daniel's continued silence, Jack shoved the blankets aside and sat up. Before his feet touched the ground, Daniel suddenly crumpled, going down hard and fast.

Jack didn't remember getting out of bed; one moment he was sitting up, the next he was kneeling, rolling Daniel into his arms, the unnatural heat coming off him all he needed to know.

Hurrying to the bathroom, Jack turned the light on, grabbed a towel, stuck it under the faucet and ran back to Daniel. A few dabs of cold water against his heated face and neck, and Daniel began to moan and stir. When he opened his eyes, Jack forced a smile. "Hey, Icky."

"What...?" Daniel looked around, seeming disoriented.

"Let's get you in bed. Think you can stand up?"

"Yeah."

Jack sat Daniel up and then helped him to his feet. He seemed shaky and nearly collapsed onto Jack's bed. He curled up into a ball as Jack pulled the blankets over him, only to have Daniel shove them aside.

"My head hurts."

"Let me take your temperature, then I'll get you something for your headache."

Hurrying to Daniel's bedroom, he found the thermometer he'd left there as well as the Tylenol. The blankets on his bed were half on the floor, half on the bed, evidence of Daniel's restless sleep.

A few minutes later, Jack sat on the edge of his bed, staring at the thermometer which read 104.2. He stood, got some water from the bathroom and waited until Daniel had swallowed the pills and the water. Then he grabbed his cell and called the infirmary.

"Fraiser."

"Doc, you still there?"

"Colonel O'Neill? I was just about to call you. Is Daniel all right?"

"Actually, no, he's not. He's running a high fever and passed out just a few minutes ago."

"Sir, I need you to get him here ASAP."

"You said you were about to call—"

"It's John Baum. His mother brought him in earlier with a high fever, joint and muscle pain, and headache. At first we thought it was just a setback to his earlier illness but Teal'c's started to exhibit similar symptoms."

"You think Daniel's got the same thing?"

"I won't know until I run some tests but if Daniel's sick, I think it's most likely that yes, they picked up something on that planet."

"What if the Baum kid's contagious? What if he gave whatever he got to Daniel and Teal'c?"

"Cameron insists the original problem wasn't contagious."

"We'll be there in thirty."

He grabbed Daniel's sneakers and coaxed him to sit up. He put the sneakers on Daniel's feet. Stretched out and well worn, they were still a struggle to get Daniel's feet into them without bothering to untie the laces. Then he grabbed his bedspread and wrapped him in it. "Come on."

"My head hurts," Daniel repeated, leaning against Jack, making it hard for them to advance, Jack holding Daniel and the blanket up, making sure his son didn't take another header.

"I know. Fraiser's gonna try and make it better. But we gotta get there first."

"Janet?"

"Yeah, she's waiting for us." Daniel took a few more steps, and then Jack wrapped his arm around him, holding him close as he unlocked the door single handedly. Once they were outside, the cooler air seemed to rouse Daniel.

"We're going to the hospital?"

"Infirmary. At the mountain." He unlocked the Avalanche with his remote.

"I'm sick." Daniel swept the edge of the blanket aside so he wouldn't trip over it going down the walkway.

"Yeah. Looks like you might have picked up a virus." Jack opened the truck's door and helped Daniel inside. He took a moment to pull the seatbelt over the blanket, clicked it secure, and shut the door. By the time he got behind the wheel, Daniel was leaning against the window, his eyes closed.

oo~O~oo

When Jack pulled up in front of the main entrance, Fraiser was already there with a wheelchair. Robed, gloved and masked, she opened the truck's door and immediately began assessing Daniel.

"Sir," she said as she unclipped the seatbelt, "I'm going to need you to put a mask on. There's one on the seat of the chair." Daniel was unresponsive until she pulled the blanket away. Then he moaned and tried to reach for it. Jack waited a moment, watching, waiting until Daniel settled, then got out of the truck and did as Fraiser asked.

"I'm putting both of you in an Iso room until we figure out what this is." She tied a mask around Daniel's mouth also, then motioned for the medics to come and put Daniel in the chair.

At the sight of his son's body sitting limp in a wheelchair, Jack had to turn his head for a moment. This scene was something he'd seen too often in the past year and each time it broke his heart to see Daniel so sick.

The large Isolation Room already had two patients: John Baum and Teal'c. There was a third bed, empty, waiting for Daniel. Sarah Baum and Derek Reese he'd expected to be there, sitting in chairs against the wall, as well as the cyborg. It was the sight of his mother that shocked Jack.

"Mom?"

"Jonathan." She got up from the chair she'd been sitting on and hurried to his side.

"What are you doing here?" He put an arm around her and together, they watched as Daniel was placed on a bed and examined.

"John was sick and Sarah was afraid to bring him to the hospital. Coming to the SGC was my idea, so Janet insisted I stay." She smiled weakly in the wake of Jack's worry. "I'm fine. This is just a precaution."

"Is it contagious?"

"Janet thought it was but she was saying something about how the virus is attacking open wounds on their skin, creating a systemic infection." His mom looked tired, Jack noted, as she pushed back a lock of stray hair. "She thinks it's probably something they came into contact with so General Hammond is having someone check out the last places they've been to in the past couple of days. But we're stuck here until they find out for sure."

"But if it's a virus," Sarah said from behind Jack, startling him as he hadn't heard her approach, "there's not much your doctors can do for them."

"You'd be surprised." Jack spoke with more confidence than he felt. "How's John doing?" A glance at the boy in the other bed showed him to be not much better off than Daniel.

"Not so good." Sarah's voice was almost a whisper. "His fever's so high."

The woman looked scared. Jack knew how she felt. The only difference was, if she was right and not the raving lunatic she had been accused of being several years ago, her son was the only means of mankind's salvation. If John died, all hope for humanity died with him.

"Colonel?"

Jack turned to Fraiser, who was waving him over. She'd set up an IV and two nurses were sponging Daniel down.

"He's showing the same symptoms." She pointed at several red and inflamed areas on Daniel's hands, arms and legs where he'd suffered cuts and scrapes. "I think this is how the virus entered his system, through open wounds."

"So he's not contagious?"

"I wouldn't go touching him without gloves, but I think I can let you out of here and back into a VIP suite if SG-7's findings corroborate my theory."

"They went back to the planet?" He kept his voice low so his mother wouldn't overhear.

"Sam's gone with them, retracing their steps."

"So we don't have to worry about Daniel infecting everyone in school and the people in the mall?"

Fraiser gave Jack a startled look, her eyes widening over her mask. "Oh, please don't tell me he went to school today?"

"And to the mall the night before with Dria and his friends."

"Was he sick then?"

"He was tired; I thought it was from all the excitement of the day. But now that you mention it, he didn't look that great this morning, and tonight he was already in bed when I got home."

Fraiser took a deep breath. "Quarantine would be next to impossible if this is something virulent."

"How long before SG-7 return?"

"I don't know. A few hours."

"Great." He decided to let Fraiser worry about an epidemic. He was going to worry about his son. If this ended up being a worst-case scenario, those robots wouldn't have to worry about taking over the world; chances were the virus would have already done the job for them.

oo~O~oo

The blankets were heavy and stifling. Daniel tried to shove them away, but somehow the blankets were cement-lined, impossible to budge. Just the act of trying to push the coverings aside hurt, and his joints ached from the effort.

"Hey, Icky."

Recognizing his dad's voice, Daniel managed to crack his eyelids open. They felt gritty and his eyelids were swollen, and it hurt to try and look around. He found his dad sitting next to his bed, and shut his eyes in relief as his dad put something wet and cool on his forehead.

He was thirsty, and licked his lips before trying to speak. "Thirsty."

"Here. Open your mouth."

Something hard teased at his lips and he obeyed. He felt a straw against his tongue and sucked. Cool, wet water filled his mouth and he swallowed, managing a second pull before it was taken away. He tried to complain, but the words came out as a grunt.

"Sorry. Doc says not too much at once."

"Sick?"

"Yeah. You and John and Teal'c, although T's doing a little better now that Junior's starting to heal."

"Where?" He forced his eyes open and turned his head. Just a few feet away was John, lying in a bed, his mom sitting next to him just like his dad was with him. He moved his head on the pillow again, and just before he closed his eyes, saw Cameron standing ramrod straight between the foot of their beds, watching him.

Exhausted, Daniel couldn't even begin to wonder what had happened to him.

"He'll be fine – they'll be fine." Daniel almost recognized the voice. He waited for his dad to answer, and nearly dozed off when the man spoke again. "They're strong boys."

"He's been through so much already. They don't deserve any of this." Daniel thought his dad's voice sounded strained, or maybe that was because he was starting to hear a high-pitched whine inside his head.

"I don't mean for this to sound clichéd, but they're going to go through a hell of a lot worse in a few more years. They'll survive this."

"You can't know that—"

"Of course I do. I've met both DJ and John as adults. This is hard now, to see them so sick, but they'll get better."

"No. There's no guarantee that—"

"They're alive in the future. Fighting the machines," the man said, speaking quickly. His voice faded for a moment, then came back. "—the suffering they've gone through."

"No, you don't understand. By coming into the past, you and that tin girl over there have probably already changed your future. Our future. I may not understand time travel the way Carter does but I do know this – you change one itsy bitty innocuous thing, and it comes back twenty years later to bite you in the ass. There's no way of knowing— the boys are going to— or not."

Words swirled into a jumble of sounds, and although he tried, Daniel lost the battle and fell into a fever-sleep.

oo~O~oo

"You know," Reese said, "the kid always believed you hadn't died during Judgment Day. He never said why, but now I understand why."

"I'm going to be offworld," Jack said in a subdued voice. He still couldn't picture living the rest of his life on another planet, most likely trying his damnedest to get back to Earth and most likely never being able to get the Stargate to connect. Even worse was knowing Daniel would have lived and spent the rest of his days alone. Then he glanced at Reese and realized that he looked just as concerned for Daniel as he did for John. Maybe Daniel wouldn't have been quite as alone as Jack had first thought. At least the kids would have had each other. "I know you mentioned they met after Judgment Day. Did they know one another before?"

"I don't know. While John always spoke of his mom and Daniel of you, they never—"

"They didn't." The robot had approached while Jack and Reese were talking. "They met for the first time in California, after Judgment Day." She brushed her fingers against Daniel's neck. "His temperature is rising."

The way the robot kept alternating between John and Daniel, giving updates, was grating on Jack's nerves, and obviously on Fraiser's. Still, alerted to the change, Fraiser and her nurses were all over Daniel. A cooling blanket was brought in and Jack watched helplessly while Daniel squirmed uncomfortably.

"John's temperature is also rising."

"Get another cooling blanket," Fraiser ordered.

"What is it? What does it do?" Sarah was leaning over Daniel, examining the piece of equipment. She put her hand on the blanket. "Oh, it's cold. Isn't that uncomfortable?"

"Yes, it is. But the antipyretics aren't doing a thing to bring their temperatures down and this spike in temperature could cause brain damage if we don't do something about it."

"Why don't you give them a bath? That's what I was taught—"

"This is easier." Fraiser pushed past John's mother. "Excuse me." She hurried to John's side and helped the nurse position the cooling blanket.

"Colonel O'Neill."

For a moment Jack thought Hammond was calling him from the observation room. A glance upwards showed that it, however, was dark and empty. He realized belatedly that Hammond was standing at the room's entrance. Relieved to get away from the Baum woman's inquisitiveness, he walked over to Hammond, who was waiting for him along with Carter.

"Major Carter's been examining the test samples she and SG-7 brought back."

"I found an abundance of the virus in a water supply by the old mine they trapped the terminator in. That's probably where they got infected. All other samples have come up clean." Carter glanced worriedly past Jack, her eyes jumping back and forth between Jack and Daniel.

"So it's not contagious?"

She shook her head. "No."

"That's a relief," Fraiser uttered as she walked up behind Jack and pulled off her mask. She raised her voice just enough that everyone in the room could hear. "Your blood samples have come back clean so you're all free to go get some rest."

"I don't think that—"

"Colonel." Fraiser spoke more softly, making her words for Jack only. "Don't force me to make it an order. You've been here for hours, you're all exhausted. There's nothing any of you can do here for any of them. You know the drill. Come back in a few hours—"

"I hate this." He held back the rest of his rant when his mother put a hand on his shoulder. He was admittedly tired, and he knew from experience that sleep would not be something easily attained tonight.

"Thank you, Doctor, but I'd just as soon stay here." Sarah was at her son's side, arms crossed, staring down at the unconscious boy.

"I'm afraid I'm going to insist." Fraiser's voice was adamant.

"What difference does it make if I stay here or not? He's my son. He needs me."

"He'll need you when he starts getting better. And if you're flat on your back from exhaustion, you're not going to do him, or you, any good. Plus—"

"Do you know who you're treating? Whose life you hold in your hands?" Sarah spat.

"Yes. A very sick boy."

"That sick boy is going to save the world one day."

"He's not going to save anything if you don't let me do my job."

"What is it with you? You've been impatient and rude from the moment we got here."

"Maybe, Mrs. Baum, if you let me do my job without trying to second guess my orders, I'd be able to treat your son more efficiently. I don't need to remind you how serious his condition is. I think a few hours away from this room might do us both some good." Fraiser had been staring at the woman while she spoke. She glanced aside, now, at Jack and Carter. "And since you mentioned it, let me introduce you to SG-1. They've saved the world a few times already." With a short nod at Hammond, Fraiser walked out of the Isolation Room.

Jack turned to his mom, speaking in an undertone. "It's a miracle the kid doesn't have delusions of grandeur with the ideas of his mother."

"Jonathan, be nice. She's worried."

Wincing at the smack on the arm delivered by his mom, Jack put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. "I know. We're all in the same boat." He kissed her forehead. "Go say goodnight to Daniel, and I'll walk you to your room."

"Sarah's right." Derek Reese, who had been leaning against a wall, arms crossed, watching the interactions, pushed off the wall and approached Jack and Hammond as Rose went to Daniel. "John will be the one to unite the survivors. Without him, there's very little hope for survival."

"We've got that turkey computer software that's supposed to destroy the world and McKay's looking for that guy who stole the computer and tried to sell it to us. I think we've got a pretty good chance of survival right now."

"Sarah thought she'd stopped it once by destroying the organization that would create Skynet—"

"Cyberdyne," Carter said.

Neither agreeing or disagreeing, Reese grunted. "Take nothing for granted." He walked back inside, went to Sarah and spoke to her a moment.

Finally the woman nodded and motioned to Cameron. "How about she stays here."

"How about she stand over there and keep out of my way?" Fraiser countered.

"I can do that," Cameron agreed.

"Well?" Fraiser looked up at the robot.

"Oh." Cameron turned around, walked to the wall, and leaned against it.

"Thank you." Turning to Sarah and Reese, Fraiser raised an eyebrow.

Jack's mom left Daniel's side and put a hand on Sarah's arm. "We'll be back in a few hours." With a gentle tug, his mom led the woman out of the room.

oo~O~oo

The Jaffa was right on his tail. Daniel ran on, breathless, the extreme heat of the burning buildings on either side of him searing his lungs with each breath. His legs were shaking as he slowed to jump over a pool of slag, the heat of the molten metal sending an almost unbearable flash of warmth for the second he was above it.

He looked back and saw that the Jaffa was closing. He pushed himself harder, trying to run around the debris of the ruined city. A half-singed street sign nearly tripped him. He recovered, dodged around the remains of a city bus, crushed under tons of rubble, and ran.

The active Stargate was a beacon directly in front of him. The way was clear. All he had to do was sprint for it, and he'd be home. Safe. Sound.

Daniel's head was pounding, his joints aching, his muscles burning, causing him to slow. He could hear the Jaffa behind him, the footsteps changing, less thuds and more clangs. He felt a presence behind him, saw the Stargate just a few feet before him, tried to put on a burst of speed, and came to a screeching halt when a vice grabbed his shoulder, and tugged.

He went flying backwards, tumbling head over heels, coming to a sprawling skid with his face inches from a charred skull. He turned on his back, expecting the Jaffa. Oh, he was there, all right. Burned horribly from the searing heat, parts of his clothes and skin had melted away, exposing a gleaming metal skeleton underneath.

Scrambling backwards, Daniel stared in horror as the Jaffa leaned over him. It had something in its hand, and it slowly brought it up to Daniel's face.

"Eat it." The voice was hollow, metallic.

Daniel glanced at the large brownie it held in its hand. It shoved it against Daniel's mouth. "You wanted to go to the party. You wanted to be the center of attraction. You lied to your father. You disobeyed him. You deserve your reward."

"No." Choking on the dry pastry, Daniel tried to push it away. "I didn't know. I didn't know. I didn't mean to eat it. Daddy! I'm sorry, I'm sorry." He was crying now as his mouth filled with more brownie.

"It's all right, Daniel. I'm here. You're safe. It's all right."

The Jaffa disappeared at the sound of his father's voice.

"Daddy?" Daniel tried to open his eyes. The burning city was too bright; he could only make out shadows.

"Right here. Go back to sleep."

He felt the touch of fingers on his forehead and he sighed. The air smelled strange, plastic-like, but at least he could breathe now.

oo~O~oo

"Good trick." Janet made sure the strings of the oxygen mask weren't pressing anywhere on Daniel's skin, and looked up at the robot that had remained behind.

"Emulating human voices is not difficult."

"Maybe not for you." Janet made a notation on Daniel's chart, marking the time that Daniel's breathing became labored. "He's breathing better. Thank you for helping calm him down."

"He was dreaming."

"Delirium, more like. From the fever. The sedative I just gave him should help him sleep better." The robot was blocking her way. "Excuse me."

It didn't move. "Should we not inform his father that Daniel's sedated?"

"Why would I do that?"

"You told Jack O'Neill and Sarah Connor that you'd inform them of any changes."

"There's nothing they can do."

"They can be here to help calm them down when they're delirious."

Janet was thankful that Colonel O'Neill hadn't been here when Daniel had started gasping for breath. Or Sarah Baum when her son John had experienced the same thing just an hour before. At least John's crisis hadn't come with a panic-stricken nightmare.

"Doctor Fraiser."

Janet turned around in surprise, relief spreading through her when she saw Teal'c was not only awake, but raised halfway up, leaning on one elbow.

This time the robot moved, letting her pass. She hurried to Teal'c, giving him a quick examination. "I'm glad to see you're back with us."

"DanielJackson. The Connor child. They are ill?"

"You've all been infected with a virus from the planet. Your symbiote was injured, it took a while before it was able to heal you but," she grinned, "heal you it did."

Teal'c grunted as he sat up. "Indeed."

"How do you feel?" she asked as she removed his IV.

"I am recovered."

"Good." She smiled up at Teal'c. "I'd suggest you take it easy for a day or two." Her smile turned into a grin as Teal'c gave her a knowing bow of his head.

"That will not be necessary. I am quite well."

"Humor me, okay?" she said with a smile. She was glad to see him up but despite the fact that he looked okay and that his symbiote had done a damned fine job, it was probably still weak and thus, so was Teal'c.

"Very well." He stood, moving as easily as if he hadn't been lying in an infirmary bed. He stood by Daniel's bed and placed a hand on his arm. "Where are O'Neill and SarahBaum?"

"I sent them to get some rest."

"Would you permit me to sit with DanielJackson until O'Neill returns?"

"You've been sick. You need to go and eat something, and then kelno'reem."

"Delaying by a few hours would not harm me."

Teal'c—"

"A compromise. I shall obtain sustenance, and then return to sit with the boys."

Janet nodded reluctantly. Sitting wouldn't do Teal'c any harm and there was always the possibility that on some level, Daniel would be aware of the company.

"Okay," she finally conceded with a nod.

oo~O~oo

Jack's worry had kept him from sleeping. No news there, he truly hadn't expected to. But he understood where Fraiser was coming from and while he had been more than willing to sit by Daniel's side throughout the night, his mother would never have left his side either while he'd been there.

So at zero four hundred hours, showered and dressed, Jack opened the door and walked down the corridor. He stopped in front of the Connor's assigned quarters and addressed their guards. "Any movement from inside?"

"The woman wanted to be escorted to the infirmary, sir."

"How long ago?"

"Thirty minutes."

Jack took a chance and gave a gentle knock on the door. If Sarah were still up, she'd answer. If she'd managed to get some sleep— The door opened suddenly and Sarah Connor, dressed in her wrinkled clothes and wide awake, looked at him expectantly.

"I'm making a side trip to the commissary for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat before heading off to the infirmary. Wanna come along?"

"How about we ditch the food and go straight to the boys."

"Ah." Jack held up a finger. "It's the way it's done. Can't go crawling back into the doctor's den a few hours early after being ordered out without a peace offering."

Sarah smiled that of the truly exhausted. "Oh, I get it." She shut the door behind her.

"If our other guests ask to go to the infirmary, escort them there," Jack ordered the guards before escorting Sarah to the elevator.

oo~O~oo

Jack was surprised and pleased to see Teal'c sitting with Daniel. Seeing Daniel with an oxygen mask, however, did not please him at all.

"Hey, Doc." Jack put the cup of coffee and chocolate chip muffin next to the table she was using as her desk.

Fraiser glanced at the goodies and gave him a tired smile. "Thank you." She reached for the coffee and took a cautious sip, then tore off a chunk of muffin and took a bite. "Mmm, just what the doctor ordered."

"How are they doing?"

She swallowed before answering. "Their oxygen sats began to decrease, hence the masks. Their fevers are still very high but haven't spiked in the past four hours."

"So...?" Jack asked in trepidation.

"They're holding their own."

"Mom?"

Both Jack and Fraiser turned at the sound of John's hoarse, muffled voice.

"Right here, sweetie." Sarah guided John's hand away from the oxygen mask.

Taking his cue, Jack went to his son's bed, Fraiser following behind, coffee in hand. "The robot has the ability to mimic voices."

"Really?"

"Daniel was restless. She spoke to him using your voice. It was... unsettling."

"Did Daniel—"

"No, no. He thought it was you. He calmed down right away."

"You should have called me." Anger surged over a robot taking his place.

"There wasn't any need. He went right back to sleep."

"O'Neill."

"Teal'c. You're looking better."

"My symbiote has healed me." Standing, Teal'c inclined his head. "If you will excuse me, Doctor Fraiser agreed to allow me to sit with DanielJackson until your return. I will go to my quarters now to rest."

"Thank you. Glad to see you up and about."

Teal'c inclined his head again and left.

oo~O~oo

"Colonel O'Neill."

Lost in his thoughts, Jack turned his head towards the voice calling him. Rodney McKay stood in the doorway, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but here. When he saw Jack looking his way, he raised a finger, making sure he had his attention. "Can I see you for a moment?"

"I'll be right back," he whispered to Daniel, putting down the hand he'd been holding.

He got up, trying to get some feeling back into his body, which was stiff and sore from sitting so long. "What is it?"

"I've found a lead to the Turk." He took a step backwards, away from Jack.

"And why are you telling me this?"

McKay stared at Jack as if he'd suddenly grown horns. "Because General Hammond isn't on base..."

"I'm not on duty—"

"I know," Rodney said, cutting him off. "Pearson's here."

"Well, you should go talk to him." Jack was anxious to get back to Daniel, talking to Rodney was not on his list of priorities at the moment.

"I did."

Jack sighed. He knew Pearson, nice guy but he had a problem thinking outside the box. "Ah, he blew you off, didn't he?"

Rodney took a deep breath, as if the words he was going to utter were downright painful. "You and I might not always see eye to eye, Colonel, but at least you listen."

"Fine. What did you find?"

"I pulled in a few favors." The man was talking a mile a minute. Despite it being obvious he'd pulled an all-nighter, it was just as obvious he'd kept himself fueled on caffeine. "And I managed to track down someone trying to sell a computer system with all the capabilities of the Turk on the black market."

"Track down? Like, an address?"

"It took a while but yes, I've got an address. And guess what?"

Before Jack could answer, McKay continued.

"It's right here in town."

"You said, like the Turk. How close?"

"Without seeing its programming, it's impossible to tell. But you tell me, how many computers are there around that meet all the requirements? Especially here in town?"

"Sarkissian?"

"No, unless he's using another alias. This one's definitely a black market salesman."

"I won't ask how you're so familiar with the black market." Jack felt a touch of guilt-ridden pleasure as McKay's face paled.

"Well. You know how long things take around here." McKay's gaze started bouncing around the room as he stumbled over his words. "There are things, you know, that I need to buy sometimes, that aren't readily available. I can't always wait so I," he said, shrugging, "take a shortcut or two."

He let the admission go. McKay had saved their lives in more ways than one with his technological know-how and Jack was willing to bet that Carter probably had the same number of contacts in the black market. He ran a hand through his hair. "Let me get in touch with Hammond. If he gives the okay, we'll send a couple of teams in to get that computer."

"I'd like to be on the team, Colonel. I know, I know, I'm not exactly a soldier but someone has to make sure you've got the right computer once you storm the place."

Jack waved a hand towards McKay, taking even more perverse pleasure watching him take a step back. "Sure. I'll recommend you be on the team. You go find Carter and Mitchell, send them down to me." Leaning against the wall, he watched McKay hurry down the hall as if running towards a fight full of flying bullets was a hell of a lot safer than entering a room full of alien viruses.

oo~O~oo

Sarah put down the wet cloth she'd been using to wipe John's face with and went to stand next to Daniel's father.

Colonel Jack O'Neill.

An authority figure she never expected to be working side by side with. She mentally adjusted her outlook, reminding herself that not only did this man actually believe her and the looming demise of life as they knew it, he also had a stake in their future.

His son.

She leaned a shoulder against the doorjamb, catching a glimpse of the person who'd been talking with the Colonel just as he turned a corner.

"Bad news?"

"Actually, good news, for a change." Colonel O'Neill turned to look at her. "McKay's found a lead to your computer. I'll get a few teams assembled to go after it, bring it back."

"Sarkissian?"

"Actually, McKay says no. It's odd, it's like that man's fallen off the face of the earth."

"But the Turk hasn't."

"You're thinking someone got to Sarkissian and took it from him?"

Sarah shrugged. "He aborted the plan to sell the Turk to the military. What if he was prevented from selling it to you?"

"You think he's dead?"

"Better him than me." Sarah pushed back a pang of regret about the teenage daughter that John had shown an interest in. "Would you consider putting the machine on your team?"

"Cameron?" The colonel looked surprised. "Why? You don't trust us?"

Sarah shrugged again, shoving her hands in her jeans pockets. "It's not that I don't have faith in your people. But you have to admit that that damn computer seems to have a charmed life. Besides, she's pretty handy to have at times." She allowed a small smile to slip past her lips as she glanced over at the tin miss, whose attention was on John.

"You don't trust her, do you?"

"John trusts her," Sarah said after weighing several answers. "I guess for now, that's good enough for me."

"Mom."

John's muffled voice brought an end to the conversation. She hurried back to the bed, where Cameron was standing.

"John's awake."

"I can see that." Sarah leaned over the bed, putting a hand to John's hot cheek. His eyes, barely open, followed her.

"My head hurts."

"I know." Sarah glanced up and waved to one of the nurses, who hurried over. "He says his head hurts."

Nodding, the nurse measured out a dose of painkiller and injected it into John's IV. Within seconds, John's eyelids fluttered and the tenseness of his body eased.

"Thank you." As much as she hated seeing her son in a drugged sleep, it beat the pain he was in. The nurse checked John's vitals, then moved on to Daniel. The boys didn't rouse often but when they did, they were in awful pain. Sarah sighed as she sat down again and picked up the damp cloth.

She watched from her vantage point as the colonel briefed the two team leaders, allowed them to pick their men then called General Hammond for his permission for the strike. She hadn't really thought he'd take her up on her offer but to Sarah's surprise, he simply pointed at Cameron and said, "You. Go with them."

Of course the tin miss didn't move from her position.

"They've got a lead on the Turk. Go with them," Sarah ordered coldly. She had expected resistance from Cameron. To her surprise, the robot stood and walked out, following the blond Major. She couldn't help but wonder how many missions the thing had programmed into it – protecting John was certainly her main mission but stopping Skynet was another.

oo~O~oo

John walked around the misty, forlorn landscape. Skeletons of trees, some burned, most dying, surrounded what once had been a sprawling landscape. The grass was dry, crunching underfoot. The sky had an odd orange cast, throwing weird shadows everywhere.

Walking aimlessly, John spotted a hint of color among the dead landscape. He crouched down and brushed aside the dead leaves, exposing a yellow flower. He smiled as he caressed the soft petals, teasing its bent stem to stand straight and tall.

He heard footsteps, the sound of their boots on the dead grass almost deafening in the mist. He glanced up, their shadows leading the approaching group. He stood and took a step back, unsure of who they were.

The people walked slowly, and he realized it was a funeral procession. One man led, a man with a cold, hard face. Hair razed short, almost non-existent. Behind him came the others, four on each side of the casket. Derek was one of the pallbearers, as was Charley and Daniel's father. Daniel was there, an older Daniel, recognizable by his ponytail and glasses. The others were familiar, he wasn't sure exactly who they were, but he knew if he thought hard enough, he'd recognize them. All of them looked tired, beaten. Old.

Cameron followed behind the casket, walking with her usual military precision, her eyes scanning the surrounding land, as if on constant guard. Her gaze met his for a moment, then she moved on, as if she hadn't only not recognized him, but passed him over as a threat.

The leading man walked directly towards John. He was muttering softly, and as he approached, John heard him reciting the Wizard of Oz. In Spanish.

The words, for a moment, were comforting. Then the man walked past, his boot coming down on the flower John had tried to save. At the sight of the crushed blooms, John felt that this was truly the end of the world.

Having nowhere else to go, he followed the depressing procession. They walked a few hundred feet further until they stopped beside a newly dug grave. The leader stopped, sighed, and tossed a bag on top of the casket once it was lowered next to the hole as everyone gathered round.

"This is such a damned waste of time."

"It's what she wanted," Daniel said, coming to stand next to the man.

John was shocked to see the man reach into the bag, break off a piece of bread from inside and pop it into his mouth. "Well, let's get on with this."

"Shouldn't we say a few words?" Daniel said softly.

"Why?" the man asked, mouth full of bread. "What's the point?"

"Because if we stop caring, we're going to be no better off than the machines." Daniel's dad's voice was harsh, as if he'd screamed so hard he'd damaged his vocal chords.

The man sighed, looked at the piece of bread he had in his hand, and tossed it back into the bag. He took a step forward and stood, hands clasped behind his back, staring down at the casket. "She did her best," he finally said. "It just wasn't good enough. It never was." He paused. "Maybe because I was never good enough."

He grabbed the bag and walked away while the men took the casket and with backbreaking difficulty, lowered it into the ground. Cameron continued her scanning, still ignoring John.

"Well, that's done." The man came back and handed the bag of food to Daniel. Daniel broke off a bit of bread, and passed it on, until everyone had eaten a bite.

"John. We should go." Cameron was staring off in the distance.

Before John had a chance to ask Cameron where they should go, the man spoke first. "How long?"

"Soon."

"C'mon, Connor, let's finish this." One of the men John didn't quite recognize clapped the man on the shoulder.

"That's me," John whispered to himself. "Oh God, is that what I'm going to become?"

John Connor, his future self, dug a hand into his pocket and walked to the open grave. He tossed a computer chip on top of the casket. It hit with a hard thud. "Goodbye, Mom." He turned and began walking the way he'd come.

Grief hit John like a ton of bricks, and his knees gave out. He fell to the ground, unable to catch his breath as he watched everyone in the procession walk to the grave and toss a piece of computer hardware into it, and follow their leader back the way they came. Every time the metal hit the wooden casket, John flinched.

"Told you one day these things would kill you," his uncle whispered as he tossed his offering. "I wish I'd been wrong."

Cameron was last. She stopped at the grave, bent her head a moment, and tossed something in. It didn't make the same sound as the others. "Goodbye, Sarah Connor," Cameron whispered.

There were noises coming towards him. Metal on metal, gears, motors, lights. Death on wheels. He ignored them all and stood painfully. He stumbled to the edge of the grave and fell to his knees again, staring at what would become his mom's final resting place. Eight computer parts scattered on top of the casket, and one crushed yellow flower.

oo~O~oo

"No! No! Mom! No!" John surged upwards, fighting restraining hands. Pain assaulted him and he welcomed it. His mother was dead. Dead!

"John, it's okay. I'm here."

He fought the simulacrum that had his mother's voice, lost in his grief. "Mom!"

"It's okay, honey, I'm here. I'm here."

Hands touched him, pulled him close. He wailed at his loss, trying to get closer to the comfort offered. He cried for his mother like a child, until slowly, the hands rubbing his back, the voice murmuring in his ear, the smell of her skin and hair, penetrated his overwhelming grief.

"Mo-om?" he sobbed, confused.

"Shhhh. It's all right."

"You were dead."

"It was just a dream."

"You were dead," he insisted, unable to figure out how she was alive now, when he'd seen her coffin.

"I'm not. I'm right here. Right here." The hands tightened their hold on him in a quick squeeze.

A sudden rush of nausea and vertigo hit him and all the energy he'd had disappeared as quickly as it came. He felt himself sliding and several hands caught him, put him down onto a soft surface. He felt something cool against his forehead, heard his mom whisper something about sleeping, and the pain faded as darkness took him.

oo~O~oo

Jack's pulse was still racing even now that the kid had fallen back to sleep. That sounded like it had been one doozy of a nightmare. Not to mention it had caught him just as he'd been dozing off in his chair—thankfully his mother had steadied him just as he felt himself tipping to the right.

"Colonel O'Neill?"

"Walter?" Jack looked up at the technician and frowned. He had a pretty good idea why he was here.

"General Hammond would like you and Ms. Connor to join him in the briefing room."

"Now?"

"Yes, sir."

"Carter's back?"

"Yes, sir."

"Fine. I'll be there in a minute."

"I'm not going. Derek can go instead."

Derek Reese stood, nodding at Jack. Hating to leave Daniel, Jack envied the woman her ability to make the decision to stay with her son, at least until Fraiser kicked them out of the infirmary again tonight.

He stood also, leaning over to give his mother a quick kiss on the cheek. Part of him wished she was at home, but the other part of him was damn glad she was here and rested. She was his eyes and ears when duty interrupted parenthood. "Hopefully I won't be too long."

"I'll be here," she answered, patting his cheek.

"Do you want to go and get something to eat while I'm gone?"

"I'm not hungry."

"I'll bring you back a coffee from the commissary."

"Tea. Ask Estelle, she knows how I like it." At Jack's frown, his mom continued. "Estelle. Young woman who works in the—never mind." She dismissed him with a wave of her hand. "Go. The sooner you leave, the sooner you come back. "

Reese was quiet, for which Jack was grateful. Little sleep, less activity, too much coffee and a lot of worry was a recipe for a cranky colonel. He glanced at his watch. The teams had assembled a little before seven this morning and it was just past noon.

Carter, Mitchell, Hammond and the machine were sitting around the briefing table. All three of them looked worse for wear, Cameron with several new cuts and bruises on her hands and face. Jack took a seat next to Carter, while Reese deliberately rounded the table to avoid sitting next to the machine.

"We found Sarkissian. He's dead," Carter said matter of factly, staring at her hands. "Has been dead for several days, at least."

"And the Turk?"

Carter turned to Hammond. "We got it. Rodney's looking at it now."

"Good work."

"Sir, we may have a problem." Mitchell's usual buoyancy was gone, replaced by weariness. Jack began to wonder what the hell had gone on during the mission.

"Go on."

"The contact McKay tracked down was dead also. It looked like both he and Sarkissian were killed by Jaffa—"

"Jaffa?" Jack spluttered.

"—And, there was a robot lying in wait for us."

"Cromartie," Cameron supplied.

"Fuck." Derek Reese slapped the table with his hand. "I thought we'd given that one the slip."

"Cromartie is a robot?" Hammond's voice was full of confusion. Jack didn't blame him.

"His mission is to kill John Connor. He was using the Turk as bait, knowing we'd come after it."

"And what happened to this Cromartie?"

"She went after him, sir." Carter gave Cameron a quick smile. "They fought."

"Thing put up a pretty damned good fight but it finally gave up after we zatted it a few times." Mitchell's voice had some of its old confidence back. "Took off when it realized we had the upper hand. Unfortunately, we lost track of it."

"Cromartie was waiting for John to come and recover the Turk. It had nothing to do with your weapons. When it realized John wasn't part of our group, it retreated. It'll try again."

Hammond sat up straight in his chair. "Is the robot going to come crashing in here the way the other one did?"

"No. It doesn't know where John is."

The robot spoke with way too much confidence for Jack's liking. "But it might? If it learns where he is?"

"Yes."

"Oh, great." Jack lowered his forehead on top of his clasped fingers.

"General," Carter said, giving the robot a studied look, "while the cyborg that broke into the base managed to track John through what we believe is a virus in his cell phone—"

"What? I didn't think phones could get viruses," Jack spat out.

"They don't. This was something we'd never seen before. We think it got infected when another cyborg managed to upload itself into John's phone while attempting to get an internet connection—"

"Cromartie followed us here," Reese said angrily. "He probably traced us through John's cell also."

"Well, we destroyed the phone so if there are more of those hunting him—"

"Do we even know how many of those things are out there?" Jack turned to Reese, interrupting Carter's explanation.

"I was hoping it was only Cromartie. The Connors have since discovered at least two others. Three, with this last guy."

"Sir." Carter turned to Hammond. "We need to come up with a plan because one will eventually find Daniel. And John," she added quickly.

Hammond was nodding at Carter as Jack sat back up. "Major, I need you to work with NORAD and see if there are any signs of Jaffa or Goa'uld ships in orbit around the planet."

oo~O~oo

Jack had only been gone an hour, stopping at the commissary to grab a bunch of sandwiches and a tea for his mom, but as he entered the Isolation room, even after being gone that short a time, Daniel looked worse.

Eyes sunken and so pale, it looked like he had bruises below his eye sockets. His lips were chapped, his breathing, even with the mask, was quick and shallow. He moved restlessly, his sleep definitely not a peaceful one.

Reese grabbed two sandwiches, handing one to Sarah. Jack did the same, wordlessly offering his mother one. She refused and settled on just the tea, holding it in her hands, not drinking. Jack placed an unopened sandwich on the nightstand closest to her.

"They got a lead about the people who tried to kill John and Daniel," Jack finally said, unwrapping his sandwich and trading it for the unopened one he'd placed by his mother.

"If this keeps up, it won't do a lick of good—"

"Mom."

"Just look at him, Jonathan."

"I have. Daniel's a fighter. He's fought and overcome so much the last year—"

"That's just it. Maybe he's just too tired to fight anymore."

"Don't you dare say that. Don't you dare even think that." Jack stopped, shocked at his anger, mortified that he'd brought tears to his mother's eyes. "I'm sorry," he said softly, ashamed that he'd lost his temper. "Daniel's going to be fine. He's young, he's strong, and he's going to fight this." Jack ran a finger down Daniel's too hot face. "You hear me, Icky? You fight this virus."

"Dad?" Daniel's eyes opened a sliver before fluttering shut.

"I'm here. I'm right here." With his free hand, he took Daniel's hand and shook it gently. "Right here with you." He turned to his mother. "Mom, please. Don't give up hope. We have to believe... I can't do this without you."

Blinking rapidly, his mother took the unopened sandwich from him and handed him hers without a word. She fiddled with the wrapping, taking a long time to unwrap it, cleared her throat, sighed, and took a bite. She swallowed. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just tired."

"It'll be fine."

Daniel moaned softly, and mumbled something under his breath. Jack caught the words, "Sam" and "friend."

"He still having nightmares?"

"Both boys are."

"She's my friend," Daniel said clearly, sounding indignant.

Jack raised an eyebrow at his mother.

"Okay. Okay, Jack. I think you should come with me to the infirmary, okay? Just let go of me and - let go of my—" Even before Daniel started yelling, Jack suddenly realized where Daniel's mind was. "—No! Daddy. No. Don't hit me. Don't hit me. Please, Daddy—"

"Oh crap." Jack's instincts were to grab his son and hug the stuffing out of him, tell him he was safe, that he'd never hurt him, but Daniel's thrashing and screams forced him to stay his distance. His mother understood, however, that this wasn't Daniel, not their Daniel, and quickly caught his flaying hands and began talking to him, trying to ease him out of his delirium.

"What kind of father—"

"Don't start." Jack turned on Sarah Connor in anger, shame and guilt eating at him for something he'd once done to his friend.

Daniel had stopped yelling and was now sobbing quietly, his mother's voice obviously soothing and familiar enough to pull him away from his nightmare.

The Connor woman remained standing, glowering over the beds at Jack. Fraiser hurried over to Jack and put a hand on his arm, gave Daniel a quick visual scan, and walked over to the still-glaring woman.

"Daniel's remembering something that isn't quite his own memory," Fraiser explained. "Please, trust me. Colonel O'Neill would never hurt his family."

"I'm sorry, I don't buy that." Even as Sarah spoke, the robot had moved over from John's side of the room and Jack experienced a moment of anxiety as it came towards him.

"Daddy," Daniel moaned plaintively.

Ignoring the robot, Jack quickly shifting positions with his mother and leaned over Daniel. "I'm here, Icky."

Daniel's hand came up blindly and Jack understood. He took Daniel's hand and brought it to his cheek. The heat of Daniel's palm was uncomfortably hot on his skin. "See? I'm right here."

"Sorry..." The oxygen mask muffled the word.

"Why? Why are you sorry?"

"Sick." Daniel opened his eyes just a crack and squinted at Jack.

"Shhh. It's not your fault."

"Sam?"

"She's fine."

"Gramma?"

"Right here, mhuirnin." His mom brushed her hand across Daniel's forehead.

"Hurts."

"I know." Jack could feel the robot's presence behind him. The slight pressure Daniel exerted on his fingers lessened as his eyelids shut. As Jack straightened, he was shocked to see his mother with her hand on the robot's arm, holding her back with a simple touch.

"Jonathan, tell them."

"Ma, they don't have clearance."

"Bullshit. With what Sarah's son has gone through? I think they deserve the truth."

"I agree, Colonel." Fraiser stood at the foot of Daniel's bed, watching them with uncertainty. "They deserve the truth, considering how Daniel's future is connected to John's."

"No." Sarah Connor's voice rose. "We're not staying. I don't care what Daniel will be in the future to John, at the moment, we have a triple-eight on our heels and it managed to track us down. The moment John's better, we're out of here."

"Sarah." Reese's voice was gentle. "Let him tell the story."

"I would never hurt him," Jack said as he put Daniel's arm down on the bed. "His background is as... unique... as John's."

The robot simply canted her head slightly to the side, as if waiting for a reason not to kill him. And Jack was positive that if his explanation wasn't up to standard, she'd have no qualms about wiping the floor with his ass. "About eight years, we were down in Central America..." Jack lied, using the slightly different version of the story his mother had been told, leaving the Stargate out of it.

Sarah glared suspiciously at him. "Yes?" she said tentatively, drawing the one syllable word into two.

Jack began again. "Nine years ago, Daniel was a full fledged member of my team."

"That doesn't make sense. Daniel would have been a child."

"Yeah." Jack gave a sad chuckle. "But he wasn't. He was an adult. Around his age." Jack nodded his head towards Reese, who was listening intently. "He had the misfortune to run into some weird technology, a fountain of youth if you will, which turned him into a five-year old child. A very sick, very frightened, five-year old child."

"You took him in," Reese exclaimed.

"I did more than that. I adopted him. His name is Daniel Jackson-O'Neill. He's my son. I love him. I—"

"That doesn't explain why he was crying for you not to hit him." Sarah Connor's voice was still cold.

Jack sighed. "Eleven years ago, a few short months after our team had been formed, the majority of the personnel in this mountain became infected with a virus. It turned us into savages. I hit Daniel – an adult Daniel, mind you – because in my warped mind, I thought of him as competition for Carter's attentions."

"And he remembers this?" Cameron turned to stare down at Daniel.

"Yes. He has the memories of his adult self."

"Thank you for explaining." Cameron patted his mother's fingers like a teenager indulging an elderly relative, and gave her a charming smile as she walked back to John's side.

Somehow Jack thought he should have felt like he'd escaped death's door; instead he felt guilt over what had happened all those years ago.

oo~O~oo

"Mom, please? Just go lie down for a while."

"I'm fine, Jonathan." She picked up her cup and sipped her tea, her barely touched dinner pushed to the side of the commissary table.

Jack realized where he inherited his hardheadedness as he stared at his mom's haggard face. He truly did learn from the best. "Mom, I'm exhausted, so I know you are, too. Making yourself sick isn't going to do Daniel any good."

"I'm not making myself sick."

"You keep this up, you will."

"You're not exactly setting up the best of examples, dear boy."

Jack pushed his mom's dinner plate in front of her. "You eat half your supper; I'll eat half of mine." He speared a chunk of meatloaf. "How's that for setting an example?" He chewed the tasteless meat, deliberately making it look like he was enjoying himself.

She picked up her fork and pushed her congealing gravy-laden potatoes to the side of the plate. "And if I lie down for an hour, you'll let me go sit with Daniel for an hour? Is that how it works?"

"You know Fraiser won't let us back in."

"She would if I asked."

"Mom—"

"Daniel needs us. What if he wakes up and we're not there?"

"I know. That's why Teal'c's going to sit with him tonight, while Cameron sits with John."

"Teal'c?" Some of the tension in his mother's body eased and she pulled a piece of meat off her chicken leg. "Okay. I can live with that. But if Daniel needs one of us, Teal'c will come and get us?" She ate the chicken and seemed to enjoy it as little as Jack had enjoyed his meatloaf.

"I'll make sure to tell him."

Jack managed a few more bites, washing down the cold meat with his coffee. He waited until his mom put her fork down and then escorted her back to her room. After giving her a good night kiss and instructing the guards not to let anyone disturb her except for himself, he went to his office.

He didn't expect to get any more sleep tonight than last night, and while Hammond had given him a couple of days off to be with Daniel, he decided to spend a few hours doing catch-up.

The computer screen blurred and he stopped after the first five emails. He was in the process of rubbing his eyes with one hand and trying to massage the back of his neck with the other when he heard McKay's voice.

"There you are. I was looking all over for you." The man was standing in the doorway, holding a laptop. "Doctor Fraiser said you'd gone to get something to eat and then you weren't in the commissary and the guards at your quarters said you'd left—"

"You didn't wake my mother up, did you?" Jack asked, bristling, angry at being caught in a vulnerable pose.

"Your moth—" McKay stared at Jack with wide, surprised eyes. "Oh. No, no. Why would I ask – Oh. I see. No, I figured you were probably working and, here you are."

"What can I do for you?" He flicked his computer off and glared at McKay.

"I examined the Turk's programming—"

"The one you wrote?"

"Yes. But, you see, that's the problem. I went over the programming to make sure we had the right computer and discovered that the code's been tampered with."

"Tampered with?"

"Yes." McKay entered Jack's office and put the laptop down in front of him and opened it. "The original code is there," he said, pointing to strings of numbers and words that meant absolutely nothing to Jack. "It's definitely the software I wrote with Andy Goode." He moved down several screens and pointed to more confusing script. "This, however, isn't."

"What is it?"

McKay went still and held Jack's gaze. "It's replicator code."

Jack stared at the screen. "Replicator. How – never mind – why? What would this do to the software?"

"At this point, I have no idea. But with everything that's happened today, I have a theory." He pointed to a chair. "May I?"

Jack nodded, still staring at the code. He was getting a bad feeling about this.

"First of all, Andy Goode told me the code came to him in a dream. Now, there were Jaffa involved with the theft of the Turk."

"You're saying a Goa'uld is responsible for giving Andy Goode the code for the Turk."

"Yes. They have the technology to invade people's dreams. We've learned that the hard way when Osiris tried to infiltrate Colonel Sheppard's mind before we caught her." McKay tapped a finger on the edge of the laptop. "And this, I believe, is the beginning of the end of the world."

"Skynet."

"According to our visitors, when the robots take over the world a few years from now, one of the first things they do, after obliterating humans off the face of the Earth, is to start replicating. Not exactly like our little replicator buddies did, you know, but they do start building armies of robots—"

"A Goa'uld," Jack repeated. "You're saying a snakehead is responsible for this?"

McKay nodded.

Jack rushed out of his office. "Where's Carter?"

"She's working with NORAD," McKay yelled from behind him, trying to keep up as Jack hurried for the elevator, "looking for signs of Goa'uld ship—"

"How many computers like the Turk are there out there?" Jack snapped as he called for the elevator.

"How many? Just this one."

"The others at the competition. Could the Goa'uld have gotten its hands on those, too?"

"I don't know. I'd have to examine each one—"

"Do it."

"Um, I don't have them—"

"Then get them. Mitchell will help you. Get Walter to call him and get him back here." Jack stepped into the elevator and hit the button for the top floor.

"Sure. Okay." McKay stared at Jack until the closing doors hid him from sight.

oo~O~oo

Teal'c gave DanielJackson's neck a tender wipe with the now warm cloth, dipped it into the basin of water and dabbed it once more over his chest and abdomen. The boy's fever was persistent, but Teal'c was unrelenting. He methodically wiped down his body, moving now from chest to legs, then back up to his face and neck.

For a while it appeared that Teal'c's ministrations were helping, until DanielJackson began shivering. Teeth-chattering, bed-shaking tremors gripped him, until DoctorFraiser activated the medical device that generated a cold surface in a more rigorous method of lowering his temperature.

Without any manner in which to offer assistance, Teal'c initiated the old stand-by. He placed his fingers over DanielJackson's hand and offered hope.

"He doesn't know you're there. The doctor gave him a sedative." The cyborg was staring at their fingers. Daniel's slim and pale; Teal'c's large and dark. "I don't know why everyone does that."

"Have you considered perhaps the comfort is for ourselves rather than for those who are ill?"

Teal'c watched as she processed his words, head canted slightly to the side.

"Thank you for explaining." To his surprise, she carefully picked up JohnConnor's hand and held it between her palms. She stared at it for a moment, then changed her grip so it resembled Teal'c's one handed one.

Raising her head, she gave Teal'c a defiant look. "This is supposed to make me feel—Oh." She looked down in surprise. "He squeezed my fingers."

"He knows you are there."

"But John's sedated."

"Yes. But he is also aware you are with him."

"He knows I'm here?" Her head popped back up to look at him. There was a touch of something in her expression. Had she been human, Teal'c would have said it was hope.

"On some level, yes, he most probably does." He hid his own disappointment that the fingers within his did not so much as twitch in recognition. He turned his attention to DanielJackson, who was still shivering in earnest and began attempting to turn onto his side.

"You must lie still." With his free hand, Teal'c put pressure on Daniel's shoulder so that he remained in contact with the medical device under him. "You are ill. DoctorFraiser is attempting to help you."

"C-cold."

"I know." Teal'c softened his voice. "It is only until your fever eases."

"Dad?"

"Your father is resting."

"I want him. I want my dad." His face crumpled as if he were about to cry.

Teal'c leaned closer and released Daniel's shoulder, placing his palm against his cheek instead. "Be still, DanielJackson. Your father will be here soon."

"Teal'c." Daniel opened his eyes at Teal'c's touch. His eyes were unfocused and they slid shut again. "C-cold."

Fingers squeezed his, holding the tension for a few seconds until they gradually fell limp again.

"Sleep," Teal'c whispered.

When he was certain that Daniel was either asleep or unconscious once more, he turned his attention back to the cyborg. She was staring at her charge, a slight smile quirking the corner of her mouth.

"You are more than what you permit us to see," he said to her after watching her for a while.

Immediately her face became expressionless.

"JohnConnor is fortunate to have you as his friend."

She didn't say anything but there was a slight twinkle in her eyes before she lowered her head, allowing her hair to hide her features.

oo~O~oo

Sarah came awake at the touch on her arm. "What?"

"John's awake."

Sarah straightened from her slumped position, focusing on her son. Alarmed at the change in him, she hurriedly ordered Cameron to get the doctor. His face was shiny with sweat, hair stringy and damp. Her heart sped up in fear until she realized there was clarity in his eyes. He'd pushed aside the oxygen mask, his breathing slow and normal.

"John?" She ran her fingers across his face and they came away slick with his sweat. His eyes followed her fingers. While he seemed awake and aware, he also appeared a little disoriented. "How are you feeling?"

"Mom?" His voice was hoarse as he gazed around. "Where are we?"

"Back at Cheyenne Mountain. Remember?"

"The triple-eight?"

"Actually, fighting the robot might have been easier." She smiled at her son. "You've been sick."

"I feel awful."

"You look awful." Cameron returned to John's bedside and with a quick swipe of fingers against his throat, offered his vitals. "Your fever's down by 3.7 degrees, your pulse and blood pressure are stronger and your oxygen levels are closer to normal. While you're still sick from the virus, you're much better than before."

"Thank you, Doctor Philips." Janet Fraiser brushed past Cameron and smiled at Sarah and John. "Well, you may still be feeling awful, but you're doing much better." She slipped on her stethoscope and Sarah held her breath until the doctor finished her examination. John still seemed confused, trying to peer around the room while answering Doctor Fraiser's questions. "How's your headache?"

John scrunched his eyes shut, then opened them. "Still there."

"Think a couple of Tylenol might help?"

"Maybe. It's pretty bad."

"Okay, I'll get you something a little stronger. Do you think you can swallow pills?"

"Yeah."

"Good." Doctor Fraiser patted John's arm. "I'll have someone bring you something for that headache and take a blood sample at the same time; that way we can see how your body is dealing with the virus."

Sarah gave the doctor a wobbly smile, blinking back tears of relief. The moment she was gone, she leaned over John and kissed his forehead, tasting salt from the sweat of his skin.

"Mom, I don't remember coming here. I thought we'd gone home."

"We did." She cleared her throat past the lump of tears wanting to come out. "You got sick back at the house and we had to bring you here for treatment."

Rose left Daniel's bed and came to stand at the foot of John's bed. She tweaked his toes through the blankets and he turned his head to look at her.

"Hi, Rose."

"I'm glad to see you're feeling better."

Sarah glanced past Rose to Daniel's bed. "Is he...?"

"No change. Yet," she said with a tremulous smile. "But I'm hopeful."

"John got sick before Daniel did so it's natural that—"

"Daniel's sick?" John tried to lift his head off the pillow but grimaced in pain as he fell back. "Ow."

"I wouldn't do that," Cameron chided. "You're not well yet."

"Thanks for the warning," John grumbled with a wince.

oo~O~oo

It was Saturday, for crying out loud. Why was everyone up so early? Daniel turned onto his side and tried to pull the pillow over his head to drown out the sounds. Instead of his oversized, fluffy feather pillow, he got a face full of thin, hypoallergenic pillow covered in scratchy cotton.

The pillow, and the sudden, intense pain of a headache, was the giveaway. He'd recognize the pillow anywhere. He'd had to sleep on these too many times over the past year and it brought the rest of the infirmary back into focus. The hum of the equipment surrounding him, the smell of the oxygen feeding into the mask covering his face. He batted at the mask in irritation and rubbed his face into the pillow where the cord holding it in place had dug into his skin.

"Daniel?"

He hadn't expected to see his grandmother but somehow seeing her here felt right. He remembered bits and pieces of dreams; her, his dad, Teal'c. Not Sam, though. That was— "Sam, is she okay?"

"Sam's fine, sweetheart. How are you feeling?"

His mouth was dry and thick and he desperately needed to brush his teeth. His face itched and he lifted a hand to scratch and was shocked at how hard it was to move his arm. And when he rubbed his cheek to ease the itching, he found that both hand and face were soaked, as if he'd just stepped out of the shower.

"I'm all wet," he said, disgusted. He was a big part of the stench surrounding him.

"That's because your fever just broke. Headache?"

"Yeah." He realized his head didn't hurt as much if he didn't move around so he lay still as Janet took his pulse, listened to his heart and took his blood pressure.

"Good. Everything looks good."

Not really paying attention to Janet, Daniel turned towards his grandmother, only to see her lips start to quiver and her eyes shine. "Grandma?"

She seemed to steel herself as she forced a smile down on him. Suddenly Daniel was scared.

"Where's Dad?"

She swallowed before answering, scaring Daniel even more when she spoke in a strained voice. "Your father's working." She stopped, very obviously trying to compose herself.

"Janet? Where's my dad?"

To Daniel's relief, Janet smiled. "Your father's fine. He was here an hour ago to look in on you. He's working, chasing down a lead on the computer. Honest, he's fine."

"And you're going to be fine," his grandmother said with the same tightness in her voice as she reached for his hand and squeezed his fingers.

That was when it hit him that she was upset about him, and not his dad.

"Grandma? Please don't cry. I'm fine."

"I know." She sniffed and took a tissue out of her pant's pocket. "I'm sorry." She turned her face as she blew her nose.

Janet touched his arm and he reluctantly turned away from his grandmother. "I'll get you something for your headache, and I need to take another blood sample. And we'll get you cleaned up and into dry things in a minute, okay?"

"Okay."

The fatigue hit him hard and fast. One moment he was fine, the next he couldn't keep his eyes opened.

"Daniel."

He forced his eyelids open.

"Try and stay awake for another minute until Janet brings you your medicine." His grandma's voice seemed normal now, and her smile was uninhibited.

"Sorry. Sleepy."

"If he sleeps, he won't feel pain. Did Janet give him a sedative?"

"Cameron," Daniel mumbled, surprised to see her here. Even more surprised when she took his hand, which helped him wake up enough to stare at their clasped fingers. He flexed his fingers, and she gave him a smile that for a moment, made him forget that she wasn't human. Then the fatigue came back and he couldn't fight it anymore. He slipped into sleep, her warm fingers caressing his.

oo~O~oo

Daniel opened his eyes, feeling like he'd simply shut them for a minute. But when he looked around, there was nobody sitting next to him. He rolled onto his back and stretched carefully. His body was stiff and sore, his head still ached but not with the earlier pounding ferocity.

"Hey. Welcome back to the land of the living."

"Hi, Janet."

"How are you feeling?"

He thought a moment, contemplating exactly how he felt. "Stiff."

"How's your headache?" She raised his bed slightly and some of the pressure in his head eased.

"Still there, but better."

"Good. You've still got a bit of fever but it hasn't spiked in a few hours so I'm thinking you're over the worst of it." She handed him a plastic glass of juice.

He scowled at the yellow liquid; he'd come to associate apple juice with being sick and hadn't drunk any in the past year except for when Janet handed it to him. He took a sip, surprised at how tiring holding the cup was.

"Feel up to eating something?"

The idea of food left him vaguely nauseated. "Not really."

"How about some Jell-O?"

He really didn't want any but then, just as he was about to say so, thought maybe it would help get rid of the awful taste in his mouth. He saw John's mom sitting next to John on one side of the bed, Derek Reese on the other and felt a sense of abandonment at being left alone. "Where's my dad and Grandma?" He searched for Cameron and saw her sitting near the door.

"I think your father's with Sam and Doctor McKay," Janet said as she made notations in his chart. "They've been working almost round the clock, although your dad did drop in to see you a little while ago when you were sleeping. And I talked your grandmother into taking a nap."

A nurse placed a small bowl of red Jell-O covered with a plastic wrap and a plastic spoon on a roll away tray and positioned it in front of him. He gratefully put the nearly untouched apple juice on it and pulled the wrap away from the bowl.

"What time is it?"

"It's about fifteen hundred hours."

He was afraid to ask the next question. "What day is today?" Morosely, he picked up the spoon and teased a jiggling piece of gelatin onto it.

"You've been sick for a couple of days," Janet said elusively.

"I missed school again." He dropped the spoon into the bowl in disgust, and the Jell-O square fell onto the table.

"You've been very sick."

"Yeah, tell me another one." He pushed the table away and crossed his arms. The motion pulled uncomfortably along muscles and joints, and the discomfort fueled his pique.

"I know it's been hard—"

"Hard? I was in the hospital how many days ago? And look where I am now."

"You've had a string of bad luck the past year—"

"Bad luck?" Daniel kicked his foot under the blanket, and his knee came close to hitting the edge of the roll away table. "Even as a grown up, I didn't spend this much time in the infirmary. And I was being shot at then, facing down Goa'uld, having all sorts of adventures. You'd think the odds of getting hurt would have been a little higher then than now."

"Your life has been extraordinary—"

"I don't want extraordinary. I want normal. Janet, all I want to do is go to school like all my friends and not be the geek who stands out like a sore thumb."

"You're not a geek."

His chest was tight and he wanted so much to burst into tears. Instead he swallowed back his hurt and turned his head aside, fighting for control.

"You are a wonderful, extremely gifted young man whom I've had the privilege of meeting in two phases of his life. I know things seem tough right now and I know you're not feeling all that great. Things will look more optimistic when you're feeling one hundred percent."

"I'm still going to have to catch up with all my schoolwork and lie to my friends. Again." Despite his efforts, a tear slid down his cheek.

"Daniel." When she reached out for him, he turned onto his side, giving her his back. He heard her sigh. "If you need anything, just ask."

For a moment he'd forgotten Sarah and Cameron, but in this new position on the bed, he was facing Sarah, and Cameron had turned around and was watching him. Embarrassed, he buried his face in his pillow, wishing he had a private room so he could give in to his emotions.

"You know," Sarah said as she got up from her chair and walked towards him, "you remind me of John right now."

Daniel didn't answer except to try to snuffle back his tears as quietly as he could.

"When the threat of the terminators ended three years ago, or so we thought, he wanted nothing more than to have a normal life. But that wasn't possible." She sat down tiredly in the chair his grandmother had sat in earlier. "Your people have probably dug this info up already," she sighed. "The FBI thinks I killed someone eleven years ago. It wasn't me; it was the T-one thousand that was trying to kill us." She gave a dry laugh. "But of course, the robot from the future scenario doesn't quite go over that well.

"Then a miracle happened. I met someone." Her voice changed, became softer. "He loved me, and he loved John." The harsh laugh returned. "And I stupidly thought that we'd fallen beneath the radar. That maybe we could settle down and live a normal life. That we didn't have to be alone anymore. And then, the machines came back."

"But you're not alone anymore." Daniel wiped a hand across his eyes, and his skin felt hot and tight. "You're safe. And you've got us."

"Yes." She brushed a lock of hair away from his cheek. "We've got you." She sat back, and Daniel suddenly missed his dad, wanting him here with him right now. "Why don't you try and eat that Jell-O. It's not as appealing as fast food, but it's probably a step in the right direction to getting better and getting back on track with your life."

A little self-conscious, Daniel shifted onto his back and pulled the roll away table towards him. He took a bite of Jell-O, gave it a quick chew, and swallowed. Not because he wanted to get better and get out of here so he could face his friends again, but because he remembered seeing the same exhaustion on his grandmother's face and wanted desperately to no longer be the cause of it.

oo~O~oo

With his stomach uncomfortably filled with Jell-O and apple juice, Daniel gave in to his fatigue. Unable to keep his eyes opened, he closed them and drifted. He heard someone remove the dishes from his tray, felt the weight of a blanket settled around his shoulders. Voices came and went, sort of a background noise in his half-sleep state, keeping him aware he wasn't quite alone.

"How's he doing?" Sam's voice pulled him a touch closer to wakefulness but he was too far gone to find the energy to open his eyes and acknowledge her.

"He's pretty weak but he and John seem to be on the mend."

"He's so pale." Fingers brushed back hair from his face that until that moment, he hadn't realized was resting on his cheek. "He's still got a fever, Janet."

"I know. And will probably be feverish on and off until the virus finally runs its course."

Not that Daniel wasn't grateful that Sam had taken time off her busy schedule to come and visit him, but he wished, a little self-centeredly, that she'd leave and let him sleep. The moment he felt her lips against his temple, however, he felt guilty. He managed to mumble a "Hi, Sam," and he was pretty sure he got his eyes opened for just a second or two before giving in again.

"Hey, you," Sam breathed against his cheek. "Go back to sleep."

"He was asking about his father earlier."

"The Colonel's with General Hammond, finishing up a few things. We've been going crazy today." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "And tomorrow looks to be just as bad."

"Sounds like fun."

"Considering Rodney, Colonel Mitchell and I will be flying tomorrow, I'm thinking I'd rather be going through the Stargate. We're borrowing all the computers that were involved in that chess tournament. Most of the competitors didn't put up much resistance but two of them are refusing to let us look at their computers. The President is talking to their governments and we're going to go right to the source and examine the software on the spot."

"So the computer Doctor McKay was working on wasn't a threat?"

"Oh, it was more of a threat than we'd even imagined. We're talking booby-trapped with replicator code. We need to make sure that none of the others were tampered with."

They walked away from his bed and between thoughts of wanting to eavesdrop more and getting up and joining the discussion, Daniel fell asleep.

oo~O~oo

The ability to sit up, feet hanging over the side of the bed, had felt great for all of five minutes. Then his back, hips, neck and thighs rebelled, trying to convince John into lying down once more. But he resisted, telling himself he'd sit up for five more minutes, then he'd give in to his body's weakness and lie down.

"You should lie down."

John leaned forward slightly and braced his palms against the edge of the mattress. His arms shook as he turned to glare at Cameron. "Not yet." Her hair was pulled back into a bun, as if she was trying to emulate the military look.

"You should be sleeping. Daniel's sleeping."

"I'm not tired. I slept most of the day."

"I know. But you're still sick."

"I'm getting better. Besides, I missed supper—"

"You also missed breakfast and lunch."

Someone came through the doors and John thought it was a nurse with his late supper, but to his surprise, it was Daniel's father. It was past visiting hours and Doctor Fraiser had been pretty adamant about his mom and uncle leaving the room. She hadn't said anything when Cameron had walked in two minutes ago, though. When the colonel waved at John, he raised a hand and gave a quick wave back, catching himself quickly as he began to topple sideways.

"You should lie down now." Her arm was solid, pulling him back up to vertical.

He hated when she was right. "Yeah. Maybe." He hadn't realized how cold he was until he slid his legs back under the blankets.

"Daniel's sleeping," Colonel O'Neill said needlessly as he moved from Daniel's bed and came to stand next to John's. "You look better."

"Thanks. I feel better." The words came out more enthusiastically than he'd planned but being flat on his back felt so good.

"I wish I'd had time to visit today," Colonel O'Neill said as he leaned against the wall. "I've been stuck in meetings all day."

"Did you find the Turk?"

"Ah, that's right, you don't know what's happened. Yes, we did. We're examining the software right now."

"That's not true." Cameron turned only her head to stare at the colonel, and that small movement, to John's eye, was threatening. "You discovered the software written by Andy Goode was changed after it was stolen by Sarkissian," she said in a monotone. "The new code is what will eventually be the cause of Judgment Day. Your people tracked down all the computers involved in the chess tournament in Pasadena to see if their software was also rewritten and only one, which was bought by the Government of Korea, isn't cooperating. You have a team flying there at the moment to inspect the codes."

Daniel's father's expression didn't change. He had the same look of long-suffering his mom sported when Cameron was being difficult. "I did say we were looking at the software right now, didn't I?"

John couldn't help smiling. They'd not only found the Turk, but they had found what would eventually cause Judgment Day. "So, we've done it."

Colonel O'Neill took a breath, about to speak, but Cameron beat him to it. "No. Because the alien responsible for putting the new code into the Turk hasn't been found and they're afraid he's just going to do it again."

"Alien?" Somehow this conversation had just gone weird.

"Okay. Some of what you just said could have been something you overheard today. But that last part was only revealed in a meeting held less than thirty minutes ago." Colonel O'Neill straightened up and suddenly he was the one who looked threatening.

"Dad."

All of them turned in surprise to see Daniel, who was on his side, watching them. "Cameron's programmed to infiltrate; look at her hair." Daniel was grinning. "I bet if you check the security tapes of the meeting, you'll see she was close enough to hear everything."

Colonel and cyborg held a staring match for close to a minute, until a poor, unsuspecting nurse walked in, carrying a tray. She cheerily placed it on a roll away table and only then did she notice the tension in the room. She stood there awkwardly until Daniel's dad turned away and went to Daniel. John ignored their quiet reunion and smiled at the nurse.

"Thank you." He could smell the chicken broth and his mouth watered. Fever or not, he was hungry. He picked up the spoon and took a careful sip. "It's good."

"There's some Jell-O and juice in the fridge. You can help yourself to some tonight if you're hungry. I got you the soup because I thought you'd appreciate something warm to drink before you try and rest."

John waited until the nurse left before he turned to Cameron. "How close did you get?"

"I served General Hammond coffee."

John held back a snort of laughter. He concentrated on his soup, aware of Daniel's father's simmering anger, although he never took it out on Daniel. After a little while the colonel went to the fridge and came back out with two small plastic cups of Jell-O. One he gave Daniel and the other he placed on John's tray.

"You make sure you keep your pet leashed from now on. Next time it steps into an unauthorized area of the base, it will be restrained."

John nodded, the soup suddenly burning in his stomach. "Yes, sir." He swallowed back bile, largely uncomfortable until the man finally left. The large room was empty except for himself, Daniel, Cameron and a nurse.

"He will do it, you know," Daniel said from his bed.

"I know." And he did. And it would end in bloodshed. "Did Mom tell you to sneak in?"

"No."

Well, that at least was a relief. His mom wouldn't be blamed for Cameron's sneaking around.

"Did Derek?" He really didn't expect her to follow Derek's orders but she might follow through with his suggestions.

"No."

"You snuck off on your own?" he asked, alarmed that Cameron would do something this chancy without informing anyone.

"No."

"Who told you about the meeting?"

"I did."

John jerked his head sideways in surprise, and Daniel was watching him, a sheepish look on his face. "I overheard Sam talking and figured they'd be meeting on this. Cameron said she wouldn't have a problem finding out what happened."

"Anything else happen at the meeting that you might have forgotten to mention?" John couldn't help but feel slightly hurt at not being included in their plans.

"They're searching for a ship that may be in orbit around the planet. They're trying to come up with a plan to lure the alien back to Earth so they can capture it and stop it from planting the virus again. They're meeting again at ten tomorrow morning."

"Goa'uld? Are they talking about a Goa'uld in orbit here?" Daniel asked, excited.

"Yes. Goa'uld. That's what they called it."

"Why would an alien want to try and destroy humans?" John asked, feeling like he was discussing a Sci-Fi movie.

"Remember I told you about Teal'c's symbiote? We've been at war with them for ten years. They're very long-lived beings; they have the time and patience to plant the virus and wait a few years until the machines become aware."

"Technological singularity," John said with a sigh. His stomach stopped cramping and he reached for the Jell-O.

"So what would it be like for you, to know your future is no longer set in stone?"

John stared at the bite of Jell-O jiggling on his spoon and wondered if he really wanted it. "You mean if we stop Skynet and prevent Judgment Day?"

"Yeah."

John ate the Jell-O slowly, thinking on Daniel's words. He swallowed. "I lived without that fear for the past three years. We were still on the run, though, because the FBI thinks my mom killed someone when it was really a terminator who did it."

"But all your life, you thought you were going to be a leader. Someone important."

Fiddling with the spoon, keeping his head down, he got another piece of Jell-O onto the spoon. "Trust me, Daniel. I'd rather be John Connor, the geek next door instead of John Connor, Messiah, leader of mankind against the Machines." He took the bite of Jell-O, turning to quickly glance at Daniel, and saw him nodding.

"I don't blame you. I'd rather be a geek and keep a low profile than be in the limelight."

John had heard stories about Daniel in school. About how smart he was. About how they wanted him to move up a grade and he'd refused. About how he'd been on the Varsity Team for all of three days, and left of his own volition. And knowing now what he did about Daniel, he believed him when he said he'd rather keep a low profile.

"To us geeks." John raised his cup of Jell-O, grinning when Daniel did the same.

oo~O~oo

"Can I have a shower?"

Janet raised a finger at Daniel, continuing to listen to his chest. She only answered once she'd hung the stethoscope around her neck and straightened up.

"I'll allow a quick shower after breakfast, but only if someone's there with you to make sure you don't fall."

"I can help."

Daniel rolled his eyes at Cameron and her offer, feeling his face redden. "Thanks, but I'd rather not have a girl in the bathroom with me."

"I'm not a girl. I can make sure you don't hurt yourself."

Daniel whined, praying she and Janet quickly found someone to accompany him to the shower.

"I'll do it. And John, too, if he wants a shower."

Daniel quickly nodded at Derek, but then realized what time it was. "Aren't you going to the meeting? It's nearly ten."

From the look on both Derek and Sarah Connor's faces, Daniel realized that neither had been invited and he suddenly regretted his faux pas. Obviously Cameron and John hadn't informed them about what they'd learned yesterday.

"What meeting?" John's mother asked quickly.

Daniel sheepishly played with a thread on a blanket while John filled everyone in. He made a face, acknowledging that he'd let the cat out of the bag when Sarah got up and demanded the SFs, who accompanied her everywhere, escort her to General Hammond immediately.

To everyone's surprise, they agreed. Seconds later, Derek, and Cameron followed her out, leaving Daniel alone with John and Janet and his grandmother, who'd walked in just as Sarah, Derek, et al were walking out.

"I'll have one of the nurses come and help you with the shower later, okay?" Janet's voice was gentle, as was her smile.

"When can we go home?"

Daniel waited anxiously for Janet to answer John.

"Well, if your vitals remain stable throughout the morning, I'll allow you to move to a VIP suite this afternoon for another twenty-four hours, at least, just to make sure there's no nasty surprises with this virus."

Janet looked up and smiled at his grandmother who'd just entered the infirmary. "Did I hear mention of discharge? Already?"

"What do you mean, already?" Daniel huffed. "Been here too long."

Janet shook her head "Not as fast as you think, Rose. I know Colonel O'Neill's been a little preoccupied lately; I can arrange for an airman to take you home, if you'd like."

"Am I being thrown out?" his grandma asked, winking at Daniel.

"No, of course not."

"Then I'd like to stay, if that's not a bother to anyone." She took a seat by Daniel's bed without waiting for an answer.

"It's no bother, Rose. You know that. I'm sure the boys are grateful for the company."

"I'm not so sure of that but I'll take your word for it." She winked at Daniel.

"I'm glad you're here, Grandma. But I hate that you're spending all your time with me—"

"Shush. You heard Janet. You might get to go home tomorrow."

"In the meantime, I'm sure you boys are starting to feel a little bored. Is there anything I can try and get you?"

Daniel shrugged at Janet. "Magazines? Cards?" He'd love his laptop and his schoolbooks but that meant someone going home to get them. And it wasn't worth the trouble if he was going home tomorrow.

"John, do you play chess?"

"Yes," John answered Rose. "Why?"

"So does Daniel. Maybe you'd like to play a couple games together."

Daniel raised an eyebrow at John, receiving a challenging smile in return.

oo~O~oo

The walk from Isolation room to the elevator, and then the elevator to VIP room, was almost beyond Daniel's endurance. John seemed just as pale as he plodded along next to him. His grandma was watching both of them, and when the SF went to open the door to John's room, she snapped, "No, he'll be staying here with me, for now." She motioned for him to open the door to her room.

"Rose?"

"Until your mother comes back, John, I'd feel better if you're nearby. That is, if you don't mind sharing the bed with Daniel."

"Um, no. I don't mind." Right now, John looked as exhausted as Daniel felt and he probably would consider sleeping on the floor a viable option.

John followed Daniel in and stood just inside the door, looking a little lost. Daniel, however, made a beeline for the bed, toed off his shoes and slid under the covers, fully dressed. After a moment, John did the same.

Daniel's grandmother sat down on a stuffed chair and picked up a magazine. "I'll be here if either of you need anything."

He hadn't thought he'd sleep; he'd just needed to be off his feet for a little while. But sleep he did because he woke up to the sensation of someone touching his face. He blinked his eyes open to see his dad directly above him and it took a befuddled moment before he realized his dad had just kissed his temple.

"Dad?"

"Hey. Sorry, didn't mean to wake you."

"What time is it?" Stretching, Daniel looked around, not surprised to see John's family and friends crowding around his side of the bed. A quick glance at John showed he was still sleeping.

"Around three." His dad's fingers touched his forehead. "You're still feverish."

"Janet said the fever would probably last a few more days." Daniel sat up, ignoring the mild headache and stiff joints. "She said I can go home tomorrow."

"Might," his grandmother said quickly. "Might go home tomorrow."

"Mom, would you mind, if Janet releases Daniel, to take him to your house for a few days—"

Sudden fear enveloped Daniel. "Dad?"

"Don't worry." His dad smiled charmingly at him, which upped his fear factor.

"What's going on, Jonathan?"

"We're going Goa'uld hunting," Cameron stated flatly.

"Mom?" John woke up, then sat up with a lurch when he realized the room was full of people. "When did you get back?"

"Just now. We just stopped by to say goodbye."

"What? Why? Where're you going?"

Daniel's dad sat down on the bed next to him. "Reese had an idea and we're going to see if we can lure the," his father looked over his shoulder at his mother who was still sitting in the chair. He winked at Daniel and mouthed the word 'Goa'uld' then finished the sentence. "to us." Reese is going to try and sell a computer similar to the Turk on the black market and see if that bastard will bite. If we can catch him, then we'll end the Skynet threat once and for all."

"Why do you have to leave?" Daniel tried not to whine, but heard it in his voice.

"Because if we try to do it from here, it'll probably put two and two together. We're flying to Maine and setting up a small headquarters there. From the speed it went after Sarkissian, it shouldn't take more than two or three days. Four, tops." John's mom smiled at Daniel, her words sounding confident.

Like Daniel, John didn't seem to believe her because he addressed his question to Cameron. "Do you think this will work?"

"Yes. They appear to suffer from heavy-handedness and most likely will ensure more than one means of infiltration. They must know by now that the military have recovered the Turk and are most likely waiting for another attempt."

Daniel's elation at going home tomorrow faded at the thought of his dad on a mission, out of town. At least the Stargate usually meant a fast means for rescue; being across the continent was a different story.

"I hate to do this, John, but I have to go with them. I have to see this through."

"Don't worry, Sarah," Daniel's grandmother said, "I'll keep an eye on John for you."

"We gotta go."

Daniel hugged his dad hard, hearing John also say farewell to his mother.

"We'll be back soon," Cameron said before turning and walking out the door.

Daniel's father and Sarah Connor followed more slowly, his dad taking a second to wave to them all, and then Derek Reese gave them a thumbs up. "You kids better be on your feet by the time we get back."

"Be careful," John said.

"Always," Reese said with a grin.

Then they were gone, and the room felt too quiet.

"So, what's a Goold?" his grandmother asked.

"Um..." Daniel thought quickly—

"It's what the military have been calling a certain sect of terrorists," John said as he got out of bed. "They work deep underground, which is why most people have never heard of them."

"And you have?" his grandmother asked as John walked towards the bathroom.

"In Central America," John answered from the bathroom before shutting the door.

oo~O~oo

Daniel waited until his grandmother left the room to get their supper and turned to John. "Thank you. That thing about the terrorists. That was fast thinking."

"Don't thank me, thank my mom." John's smile quirked lopsidedly. "She figured your grandmother didn't know about those aliens and came up with that excuse, in case she overheard something."

Daniel ducked his head. "She doesn't know. She knows about me, my background and everything, but there's so much that she doesn't know and it's been hard..." He bit his lip, afraid to say too much and embarrass himself.

"Hey, believe me. I totally understand." John stood and cleared off the table in the corner, placing the stack of magazines on the bureau. "Living with secrets isn't easy."

"But you haven't had to lie to someone you love almost all your life."

"You've known about the Goa'uld all your life?"

Daniel shrugged. "I picked up on things as a kid. Overheard things. I knew what was in the mountain, stayed in the mountain, but I knew the Goa'uld were bad. I only realized how truly bad they are when I got all my memories last year."

"That must be weird, remembering something that happened to you before, like someone else's memories?"

Daniel shrugged again, wrapping his arms around his ribs. "It's more like remembering a dream, or a movie I've seen." He rubbed a hand along his arm, feeling cold. "Sometimes I will remember something and I'm not sure if it's something I know already or not. I guess it's no worse than knowing you sent Cameron back to help you, from the future."

"Funny, when you think of it. Your past, my future. Together, now, we're saving the world."

Daniel laughed. "You sound like the prequel to a Sci-Fi show."

"I do, don't I?" John laughed alongside Daniel and for the first time, he felt a kindred sense of spirit with someone his own age.

oo~O~oo

Jack leaned back wearily in the chair, the feed on the video monitors blurring until he rubbed his eyes. Derek Reese was doing a good approximation of boredom, lounging on the bed in the motel room, watching television. The robot was sitting stiffly on the other bed, her hands flat on her thighs, her unblinking gaze on the SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon until Reese switched the channels, stopping at The Simpsons.

"You should rest."

Jack nodded, knowing that Teal'c was right and if things didn't go down soon, he'd be useless. He watched Reese keep switching channels until he stopped at Jeopardy. For a moment Jack was tempted to turn their television on to The Simpsons and watch the episode; at least it would be more interesting than watching Reese watch TV. Then he decided to lie down, see if he could finally get a few hours' sleep.

"Both of you. You should both rest."

Sarah Connor sighed and leaned forward, resting her arms on her thighs and her head in her palms. "Derek's just set everything in motion. Things could go down at any moment."

"Indeed. And it is equally possible that the Goa'uld will make its move only tomorrow. Or the day after."

"C'mon." Jack used the table the computer was on to help pull himself up. "Teal'c'll wake us up if he needs us. And if that robot is as good as you say she is—"

"She is—"

"Chances are things will be over by the time we get over there. So those few seconds it'll take to wake us up won't make a difference either way." As he stood, he felt his age. Joints, muscles, tendons, stretched to their limit due to lack of sleep.

He fell onto the bed, the worn mattress calling his name. He wanted to go straight to sleep, instead, he fished out his cell phone from his jacket and was about to call Daniel's cell when he remembered the phone was still in his house. Calling the SGC and waiting to be connected to the VIP room was more trouble than he was willing to go through. He dropped the phone on top of the bed and closed his eyes, wishing instead he were home with his family.

oo~O~oo

"You know, I could just cross the street and go home." John started to point over his shoulder at the house they'd recently moved into, then altered the motion to pushing the hair out of his eyes when Rose turned to glare at him. She finished unlocking the front door and waved both he and Daniel inside.

"You can go get some clean clothes later, but you're staying here with me. That was Janet's condition, remember?" She shut the door behind them and motioned him into the living room. "The couch is very comfortable. I think both you and Daniel will appreciate a bit of privacy instead of both of you sharing his bed."

John didn't miss Daniel's grateful glance at his grandmother, and John didn't blame him. They hadn't been left alone, truly alone, since they'd both gotten sick. "The couch is fine. More than fine. Thank you."

Her one-armed hug made him miss his mom even more. The only news he'd gotten was from Janet, stating that the Goa'uld hadn't fallen for their trap yet. He stood there, arms crossed self-consciously, too embarrassed to mention how tired the drive from the mountain had made him.

"Make yourself at home—"

"I'm going to go lie down." Daniel left them suddenly, walking down the hall and turning right into a room, leaving John standing awkwardly with Rose.

"Why don't you sit down? You must be exhausted. It'll just take me a few minutes to make the bed."

"Can I help?" John asked as Rose walked down the hall.

"Just go sit."

He did as ordered, feeling a chill climb up his spine as the fever took him in its grip again. The sun was going to set soon and the fever showed up, like clockwork, just before it did.

By the time Rose had pulled out the sofa bed and spread linens and tossed a pillow on it, he was shivering openly.

"Maybe we should've run over and gotten you your pajamas first." Rose put a hand on his forehead and tsk'd.

"I'm fine like this." He was wearing the sweats he'd worn to the mountain when he'd gotten sick.

"Get into bed. I'll get you some Tylenol."

The sheets were cold and only made him shiver more. He huddled into a ball as Rose left him yet again. He heard her talking to Daniel, heard her say Daniel was feverish also, and then took the pills and drank the water that she handed to him.

"Do you need anything?"

"I'm fine. Thank you."

"Bathroom's down the hall on your right, just before Daniel's bedroom. If you're hungry, don't hesitate to raid the fridge, although I'd stay away from the milk, I'm not sure if it's any good. I'll have to make a quick run to the grocery store tomorrow. The remote to the TV is right here, if you can't sleep." She placed the oblong device on the coffee table within reach. "If you need anything, or don't feel well, please, don't hesitate."

"Thank you," John said again, hating how he suddenly missed his mom. He wanted to be there with her, to know what was going on. To watch her back.

"They'll be fine."

John nodded, hating how his emotions must be all over his face.

"Try to sleep."

He closed his eyes, listening to her walk down the hall and into her bedroom. Heard her voice a few minutes later and realized she was talking to someone on the phone. Of course. She'd been away for a few days, she probably had people wondering where she'd been.

He wondered if he'd ever be like that; have people other than his mother, and now his uncle, worry about where he was if they didn't hear from him.

He doubted it.

oo~O~oo

"O'Neill."

Jack had taken his eyes off the monitor for all of ten seconds, just long enough to reach for a piece of leftover pizza. Teal'c was already moving and a quick glance at the screen on his way out showed a third person in Reese's room.

He grabbed his gun and ran, Sarah Connor just a step behind him. The air outside was cold as they charged along the motel strip. Teal'c crashed through the door to Reese's room and Jack burst in right behind him, gun raised, ready to shoot.

Cameron was standing over a crumpled, bloody body, while Reese stood, legs braced apart, pistol aimed at the man lying at his feet.

Teal'c cautiously turned the body over. "It is Ba'al."

"Holy shit." Jack took in the open wound in the man's neck, the two torn halves of the snake littering the floor and the blood splattered on Cameron's hands. "You mean, it was Ba'al."

"He just appeared out of nowhere." Reese looked spooked, his eyes jumping back and forth across the room.

"Yeah. They have ring technology." Careful of the blood on the floor, Jack crouched down and removed the controls the Goa'uld had worn on his forearm. "Think you could handle a couple of Jaffa?" he asked Cameron.

"Yes."

"You two up to going for a little trip into outer space?"

Reese paled, his eyes darting to Sarah Connor nervously. He took his cue from her, however, seeming to gain confidence when she nodded curtly. "Let's do this."

Jack grouped everyone together and hit the control that Teal'c pointed out. The room winked out in a strobe of rings and light, and the TelTak's hold winked into cohesion as the effect repeated itself in reverse.

Cameron took care of three of the Jaffa while Jack downed the fourth with several well-placed bullets. He motioned to Teal'c to take over the controls while he went to check out the back of the ship. He wasn't surprised when Reese came with him, watching his back.

It didn't take long to ascertain that they'd gotten them all. Jack hurried back to the bridge where Teal'c was accessing the main computer. Sarah Connor was staring out of the view port; he had to admit, Ba'al had chosen a great parking spot. The view was spectacular.

"Wow." Reese moved towards the view port, standing next to Sarah Connor, his eyes wide as saucers.

"Is there any way the ship's computer can tell us how often Ba'al might have beamed down to Earth?" Jack tapped the top of the computer's console with his fingertips.

"There is. Unfortunately I do not possess the knowledge to retrieve the information."

"What about her?"

Cameron's eyes widened in surprise. "I could get the information."

"No." In three steps, Reese positioned himself between the robot and the computer. "Sorry, but I don't trust anything she'd pull out of there."

Jack shrugged. He motioned to Teal'c. "Can you get a line open to the SGC?"

Teal'c pressed a few buttons. "We are connected."

"Stargate Control – we have a TelTak."

There was a few seconds' delay before, "Colonel O'Neill," came through the speakers. There was surprise in the General's voice. "I'm to assume that your mission was a success?" Surprise changed to amusement.

"We got Ba'al and his ship. What we need now is Carter."

"Unfortunately, she's still in Seoul—"

Teal'c gave Jack a short nod when he looked over at him.

"We can ring her up. All we need are her coordinates."

"Give us a moment."

Jack used both hands to rap a beat on the console, ignoring Teal'c as he turned his head to stare unappreciatively. He played one of the songs Daniel was fond of, running the tune through his head as he continued to drum the beat until a series of numbers showed up on the computer screen.

"Got it, sir. I'm sending the information now."

Jack motioned at Teal'c, who was already entering the coordinates Walter had sent into the ring computer.

"Colonel, you may want to give her a call before you bring her up—"

"I don't think that'll be necessary." The moment the words were out of his mouth, Jack realized that maybe Hammond was right. When the flash of lights and rings faded, Carter, standing in all her glory wrapped in a giant bath towel, dripping water everywhere, stared around in shock until realization of what had just happened hit her.

She grabbed at her towel and glared. "Let me guess, sir. It's the end of the world and you needed me to go and save it."

"No. The end of the world happens on Judgment Day, 21 April 2011. Colonel O'Neill just wants you to retrieve information from the ship's computer."

A myriad of emotions went over Carter's face before she nodded, tucked the ends of her towel securely under her arms, and padded barefoot to the computer.

oo~O~oo

Daniel woke up disoriented; the room was familiar, but he didn't quite remember how he'd gotten here. Memory was slow in coming as he looked around his bedroom in his grandmother's house.

He sat up and carded his fingers through his loose hair, rubbing his scalp with the pads of his fingers. The ride home from the base last night was a blur, coupled with crashing fatigue and discomfort from the fever. He remembered his grandmother waking him up in the middle of the night to ply him with Tylenol and water. It was only when he heard the murmur of voices that he remembered John had come home with them.

Still dopey with sleep, Daniel stumbled into the kitchen, heading straight for his grandmother who was seated at the table. He leaned over, gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, mumbled good morning to John and headed for the coffee pot.

By the time he'd poured himself a mugful and put cream and several spoonfuls of sugar in it, there was a plateful of pancakes waiting for him.

"Your grandmother's pancakes are better than my mom's." John ran a finger through his empty plate and put a sticky finger in his mouth. "But please don't tell her that."

"Nobody beats Grandma's pancakes," Daniel said right before shoveling a large forkful into his mouth. His hair fell into his face and he tried to blow it away while he chewed. He swallowed and was about to get up to look for an elastic when his grandmother handed him one.

He was twisting the elastic around his hair when the phone rang. Daniel froze, arms above his head, and saw John tense up as his grandma calmly walked to the phone and picked it up.

The one bite of food he swallowed sat heavily in his stomach as he lowered his arms, watching his grandmother listening to the person at the other end of the line.

"Thank you," she said before disconnecting the phone. "Everyone is fine," she said quickly. "That was Walter. He just wanted to let us know that your father," she nodded at Daniel, "and your mother," she nodded at John, "will probably be home by suppertime."

Daniel blew his breath out. All of the lingering dopiness had been chased away by the rush of adrenaline. He wrapped his hands around the mug of coffee, trying to hide their trembling and it was another minute before he was able to pick up the fork and eat again.

"Was their trip successful?" John tugged down the sleeves of his sweatshirt, and Daniel only realized then that John's clothes weren't the ones he'd been wearing yesterday.

"Walter didn't say." She picked up John's and her dirty dishes and rinsed them before putting them into the dishwasher. By the time she came back to the table, Daniel was stuffing the last of the pancakes into his mouth. He ignored his grandmother's tsk and washed everything down with coffee.

"Are you boys okay with being alone for an hour?" His grandmother took his plate from him before he could stand up and rinse it.

"Where are you going?"

"Groceries. While the cream is still good, most everything else in the fridge isn't."

"We could go with you," John started slowly, then looked away, lips pursed, as Daniel's grandmother raised her eyebrows pointedly. "Or we could stay here and watch some TV."

"He learns fast." Daniel's grandmother laughed as she wiped down the table. "Daniel, you can take a bath if you want. You've still got some clean clothes here."

"Or I could lend you some of mine. We went over to my house earlier so I could grab something clean."

"Thanks, but Grandma's right. I have some clothes here. Do you mind if I go take a shower?"

"Leave the door unlocked, just in case you feel faint."

"Grandma—"

"Daniel. You heard Janet's conditions for releasing you. Baths, or quick showers. Actually I'll make a list of what I need to buy while you go shower."

He would have loved to linger in the shower but he had agreed. Ten minutes later he was dressed, and was disdainfully eyeing the jeans that were two inches too short.

"Looks like you'll have a pair of cut off jeans to wear this summer," his grandmother said with a teasing wink as she glanced at his ankles when he came back into the kitchen.

"Mom is pretty happy that I stopped growing." John gave Daniel a sympathetic smile. "It was a little awkward; we didn't have much in the way of clothes and she kept having to replace them every few months."

"Okay, I'm off. Just one more thing. You might want to give Dria a call. She left a couple of messages trying to get in touch with you."

"Alexandria? Oh shit. What am I going to tell her?" He couldn't believe that he'd forgotten about her, and had to make up yet another excuse of where he'd been.

"Tell her you were sick—"

"I'm always sick. She's going to start thinking I'm dying or something."

"You know, that might not be a bad idea." She tore the list from the pad and put it into her purse.

"Me, dying?"

"Telling her you have this recurring sickness—"

"Like malaria?" John offered.

"Yeah. Something that took years of treatments, but you're better except your resistance is low sometimes, and you get sick—"

"His autoimmune system is weak." John laughed, getting into the spirit of it all. "And I got sick with a virus, infected you and Cameron. You were in the hospital for a few days until you got out last night. If you're going to lie, try to keep as much truth in the lie as possible."

"So, the only thing I'm lying about is my autoimmune system and a recurring sickness." Daniel rolled his eyes as his grandmother kissed his cheek on her way out.

"Sounds like you had a hard time with your health lately," John said into the awkward silence that followed.

"The past year, I've missed so much school, spent so much time in the infirmary. I've had to struggle to catch up..."

"Your grandmother's suggestion is a good one."

Daniel snorted. "What if Alexandria wants to know what the recurring sickness I'm supposedly suffering from?"

"Go with malaria. Or just tell her it's unpronounceable. Or it's something you want to forget about and don't want to talk about it more than you have to."

"I hate lying." Daniel poured the last of the coffee into his mug before rinsing the carafe.

"Your whole life has been a lie, hasn't it? Like me. And although lies are a necessity, and it's something we're obviously good at, it's hard, isn't it?"

"Understatement of the year."

Daniel texted Alexandria, shoved his phone in his pocket, waited a second then smiled awkwardly at John. "Hey. I know a couple of great music sites – are you interested?"

It was with more than a little pride that Daniel introduced John to his bedroom away from home. He opened his closet door and stepped back so John could admire the desk within.

"Wow. That's tight, as Cameron would say."

They exchanged a grin as Daniel booted up his PC. "Grandma's got her own computer – Sam built this one for me. It's a little slow, she keeps promising to install more memory but she's been busy."

"I could help you with that. We just need to go and buy the stuff and, ten minutes, tops." With his index finger, he rolled one of several Matchbox cars adorning the top of the desk back and forth.

"Really?" Daniel grinned as he motioned for John to wait. "Be right back. I gotta get another chair."

"I wish they'd call," John said the moment Daniel returned, carrying a kitchen chair.

"Sometimes it's hard to get a connection from outer space."

"What?"

Daniel leaned on the chair. Just that little bit of exertion had left him winded. "They were going after a Goa'uld. They usually travel either by Stargate or by spaceship." He couldn't help grinning at John's open-mouthed wonder. "So if they got the Goa'uld, they probably got their ship, too."

"So they're flying back here with the ship?"

"They're probably already at the SGC. The ships have ring technology—" Daniel waved a hand in a circle— "Hard to explain. Several rings come down over you to hold the energy used to transport you to and from the ship."

"Like in, beam me up, Scotty?"

"Yeah. Exactly." Daniel took his seat in front of the computer and found his favorite station. A moment later, both of them were bopping heads to the beat coming from his speakers.

"If they're at the SGC, why haven't they called yet?"

Daniel leaned his head back and stared at his ceiling, both to get the strain out of his neck and to try and access his memories. "They're probably getting a physical. And then they might be interrogating prisoners. Debriefing. Meetings. Paperwork."

"If something had gone wrong..."

"Walter would have said something. He's good like that."

"Still, I wish..."

Daniel caught a gleam in John's eye. "You can't."

"Can't what?"

"I know what you're thinking. Sam's set up the firewalls. You can't hack into the SGC."

John's smile was knowing. "I can try."

It took them only two seconds to switch chairs.

oo~O~oo

John jumped guiltily when the door opened and Rose stuck her head into the room. "You boys need anything?"

"No, we're fine, Grandma. Do you need help with the groceries?"

John didn't try to clear the screen – any move on his part and he'd look just as guilty as he felt. He did lower the music, though, cursing that it had been loud enough to mask the sound of her entering the house.

Two hours later, John finally admitted defeat. "Sam's good. I could probably hack into this, given time. Oh, I probably tripped an alarm or two so there's a good chance the cops might show up at your doorstep."

"Cops? Nah. Military Police? Possibly." Daniel had spent the three hours peering over John's shoulder, asking questions, offering suggestions. John shut the screen and pushed away from the desk. It wasn't until he stood that he realized that he had a headache, his whole body was stiff and he was more than ready for a nap. The way Daniel moved seemed to hint that he felt the same way John did.

The aroma of cooking hit them the moment they opened the door. John's mouth watered at the smell of tomatoes and meat simmering on the pot.

"Mmmm. Grandma's making spaghetti sauce."

"For lunch?" John could only hope.

"No. It won't be ready until supper. It has to simmer for a few hours."

"You guys hungry?" Rose's voice wafted from the kitchen.

"John wants some spatini sauce," Daniel answered when they walked into the room.

"Sorry. You'll have to wait for supper. Will a homemade pizza do?"

When Rose opened the oven door to check on lunch, John realized some of the odors he'd smelled was from the pizza. It didn't diminish the pleasure of the sauce on the stove, though. And from the size of the pot, it looked like there'd be enough to feed a small army.

Yawning, John hoped he could stay awake long enough for the pizza to finish cooking.

oo~O~oo

John jerked awake at the sound of the doorbell. He lay there, eyes closed, not moving, listening as Rose walked to the door and opened it.

"Hi." The female voice was familiar; it took him a moment to place it.

"Hello, Dria. School finish early today?"

"I cut the last class. I needed to come see Daniel."

"Of course, sweetheart. He's sleeping, though." The voices were getting louder, the footsteps coming their way. John remained still, pretending to be asleep. He was listening carefully and realized Daniel had fallen asleep next to him, on the sofa bed. He didn't even remember falling asleep, the last thing he remembered was talking with Daniel and—

The footsteps stopped and he heard a short gasp. "Who's...?"

"John Baum. He's been sick, too, and his mom's out of town so I offered to keep an eye on him as well as Daniel. They've been keeping each other entertained. Would you like some tea?"

"I..."

"Come and sit."

"But Daniel..."

"Should be waking up soon."

John lay there, half-asleep, wondering whether he should get up or not. He didn't want to get involved with Daniel's cover story until Daniel had decided what he was going to tell Dria. He tried to listen to the conversation in the kitchen but could only make out a word here and there.

It was his need to pee as well as eagerness to know whether his mom had called that got him off the couch.

"So I'm never important enough to call? It was the same thing with his appendix; I only found out about it after the fact. And this week - he doesn't show up at school, he doesn't answer his cell and then he texts me and says he's been sick, and to call him? What am I supposed to think?"

John stopped in the kitchen entrance, suddenly realizing he'd picked an awkward time to get up. He waved to Dria and smiled at Rose. "Did my mom call?"

"Sorry. No." Rose patted the chair next to hers. "Want some cookies?"

Dria had lowered her head, ignoring him, and was busy shredding a napkin into tiny pieces. Even though her head was down, it was obvious she'd been crying.

"I'll be right back." He pointed in the direction of the bathroom and hurried to both relieve himself and give Dria time to compose herself. When he got back, there was a large glass of chocolate milk in front of the seat Rose had indicated, and a plate of chocolate chip cookies. He sat down and took a sip of milk.

"You were sick, too," Dria accused, giving him a stare as penetrating as Cameron's. "You and your sister both missed school, same as Daniel. Did you catch what Daniel had?" Her tone was accusatory, almost defiant.

John wished he was back on the couch, pretending to sleep. He picked up a cookie, trying to look nonchalant. "Actually, I'm the one who got Daniel sick. I caught a virus and infected both him and Cameron."

"And where is your sister?"

"She's with my mom." John avoided looking in Rose's direction and kept his gaze firmly on Dria's. When there was no response, he lowered his gaze to his cookie and took a bite. "Mmm, good."

"Honey, Daniel wasn't ignoring you."

John buried his face in his chocolate milk as Rose apparently continued the thread of conversation he'd interrupted.

"He was just feeling too awful to do much of anything for a few days."

"That doesn't make me feel any better," Dria said in a small voice. "That means he didn't care enough to call and just say he was sick. Or even ask Colonel Jack to call me."

This time John chanced a look with Rose, who pursed her lips together for a moment. "Okay. There is something..."

John grabbed another cookie, trying to look disinterested in the conversation.

"Daniel's had a serious illness when he was a child. He's had numerous treatments for it and he's more or less cured, except that his immune system is still at times a little susceptible to infections. Janet's pretty sure that once he's out of puberty, he won't be having relapses—"

"He's sick?" Dria's face went white with shock.

"No, sweetheart. He's fine. Just a few setbacks now and then."

"How sick is he?"

"The virus he caught hit him pretty hard. High fever, aches and pains. Then again, John wasn't that much better off either. His sister got off easy."

"Yeah, Cameron's got an immune system made of steel." He bit into another cookie when Rose gave him an amused look.

"I didn't... Why didn't Daniel tell me about this? What disease is it?"

"Something utterly unpronounceable and he, like his father and me, keep hoping that each time is the last time."

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

Rose reached over the table and took Dria's hands in hers. "He's fine. He's still a little weak from the virus, which is why the boys took a nap this afternoon. But he should be back in school by next week."

"Okay." Dria gave them both a trembling smile and pulled her hands away from Rose. "Excuse me, please?"

She left the kitchen and walked towards the living room. John got up and rinsed his glass, then tiptoed to the hall and peered into the living room. Dria was sitting on the opened sofa bed, leaning against the wall, watching Daniel sleep. He couldn't help but grin; how many times had he woken up to his mother watching him the same way.

oo~O~oo

Daniel had probably never been so painstakingly cared for before. Dria followed him into the kitchen, offered to perform every small task; poured him a glass of milk, brought him cookies, got him a napkin, while each time she passed next to him, she brushed a hand along his nape or ran her fingers through his ponytail. John thought it exceedingly funny and Rose also seemed hard-pressed to hold in a smile as Daniel's expression slowly changed from appreciation to embarrassment.

"I can do this myself." Daniel's fingers curled around his glass as he shoved his chair back. Rose waved Dria back when she went to help him rinse his glass. Even then, Daniel jumped at Rose's touch on his shoulder.

"Can you bring some soft drinks in from the garage? I'm running low."

"Sure, Grandma."

The moment Daniel left the room, Rose hurried to the refrigerator. She took out several cans of Coke and Seven-Up from the bottom of the fridge and stashed them haphazardly into a cabinet, all the while talking. "Honey, remember what I told you? Daniel doesn't like talking about his illness and if you keep up with the attention you're giving him, he's going to become suspicious and he'll know I told you. Remember, it's our secret." She waved her hand, indicating all three of them as she shut the cabinet door.

"But I didn't do anything." Dria gave Rose a wide-eyed, perplexed look.

"You're all over him. If he wants help, he'll ask."

"Oh." Dria blushed, lowering her head so she could hide behind her hair. "I'm sorry."

John reached over and touched a finger to her wrist. "He probably thinks you're just happy to see him," he said softly.

She gave him a shy smile, then brushed her hair behind her ears as Daniel came back, juggling an armful of cans. He dumped them onto the counter with a loud clatter, and then shoved them into the bottom of the fridge, exactly where Rose had removed the other cans from.

"It's getting late. I should be heading on home." Dria stood and went to Daniel. She leaned against him and kissed him. John averted his eyes, feeling a pang of jealousy that Daniel had something that he'd never, truly experienced. The only hot looking chick interested in him wasn't attracted to his body or brains; it was because she'd been programmed to watch over him, by none other than himself.

He couldn't help remembering the short-lived twinge of excitement during those two first days when he'd met Cameron and had thought she was a normal, red-blooded girl who actually seemed interested in him.

"Bye, John."

Pulled out of his pity party, John quickly waved and said goodbye to Dria as she grabbed her purse and backpack and headed towards the door.

oo~O~oo

The door had barely shut behind Alexandria when Daniel heard the familiar honk of the Avalanche. With a grin, he rushed out of the house and barreled into his father's arms the moment he stepped out of the truck. He saw John out of the corner of his eye hurrying past him and realized his mom was home, too, when their Dodge Nitro pulled into their driveway across the street.

"Hey, you're looking pretty perky." His dad was all a-grin and pulled him close a second time, squeezing hard for a moment before ruffling his hair. "Dria, need a lift home?"

"I can take the bus, Colonel Jack—"

"Nonsense. It'll take fifteen minutes." He winked at Daniel. "Give me a second to say hi to your Grandma."

John, who'd also greeted his mom wholeheartedly, turned to wave at him before heading for their house. Daniel waved back, then opened the passenger door and let Dria get in first before he followed her.

His dad looked tired but was in a good mood, teasing Dria the whole way, asking about school, making her giggle as she held onto Daniel's hand, rubbing her thumb over his fingers. She kissed Daniel on the cheek just as they pulled up in front of her house, thanked his dad, and ran up the front steps as Daniel left the backseat and hopped into the front passenger seat.

"John told Grandma that the Goa'uld were terrorists," Daniel said the moment he slammed the door shut.

"He did?"

"Grandma overheard things."

"It's been an intense couple of days." His dad pulled back into the street and smiled at Daniel. "So, how are you feeling?"

"I'm fine. I still get tired and Janet said it'll probably be a few weeks before I get all my strength back, but she thinks I might be able to go back to school on Monday so—"

"Fraiser wants me to bring you and John in for a follow up on Sunday. She'll decide then about school. How did Dria react to you being sick?"

"You know, that was weird." Daniel twisted in his seat, bending one leg so he was facing his father. "She didn't ask me anything, just said she was glad I was better. I was expecting to have to lie but she was really sweet. Jeeze, Dad. Sometimes I think, with all the lousy luck I've had recently, she's the only good thing that's happened to me."

"Just like you're one of the best things that's ever happened to me." His dad patted his knee with one hand.

"So, what happened? Was it a Goa'uld? Did you trap him? Did you get him? Did you bring him back to the SGC?"

"It was a Goa'uld. And yes, we got him. Carter and Teal'c are going through the ship's logs to see—"

"You got the ship, too?" His trips through outer space had been mind-blowing and he yearned to go up again. He began wondering how he could finagle a quick visit to the ship when his dad answered.

"We got the ship. Let's just hope that the snakehead didn't booby trap any other computers."

"Sam can figure that out through the computers?"

"We're hoping by locating the ring down sites in the computer, we can trace who he might have contacted. Carter and McKay should have that information available by tomorrow."

His dad took a hand off the wheel and rubbed at his eyes. Now that he wasn't smiling, Daniel could see that his dad didn't look well.

"Are you okay, Dad?"

His dad's answering smile looked forced. "I'm just tired. It's been a couple of long days."

Daniel acknowledged that some of that fatigue was his fault. "I'm sorry."

"Hey. Don't. I just need a good eight hours' uninterrupted sleep and I'll be fine. I don't think I'll have any problems sleeping tonight." His words were distorted by a yawn.

The rest of the trip was made in silence. They pulled up at his grandmother's house just as she was leaving the Baum's house. She waved as she crossed the street and walked up to Daniel as he got out of the truck.

"Hungry?" She put a hand on his shoulder as they walked to the house together.

"Starving."

"Ma, do I smell what I think I smell?" his dad asked as they stepped into the house. The fragrant odor of her spaghetti sauce filled the house.

"Spaghetti and meatballs. I hope the Baums like it. I brought some sauce over for them—"

"You gave them some of your spatini sauce?"

His grandmother laughed at his dad's horrified expression. "Don't worry, Jonathan. There's plenty left for you. Now, go wash your hands, both of you. Dinner will be on the table in five minutes."

oo~O~oo

Daniel dug into his steaming plate of pasta with gusto, teasing the edges of the spaghetti with his front teeth and nearly burning his palate before he took the time to blow on it so it was cool enough to eat. "Grandma, this is great," he said after his first bite.

"What he said," his dad mumbled with his mouth full, pointing at Daniel with his sauce-covered fork.

His grandma beamed at both of them, not saying a word except to hand them both napkins. Daniel wiped his mouth, glanced at the tomato sauce staining the napkin, and speared a meatball.

"So, how was your trip? Did you stop the bad guys?"

"Yup. Thanks to Reese and Cameron. I don't think it would have gone down so easy if it weren't for them."

"So the stuff Sarah was saying, about Doomsday..."

His father paused to chew and swallow the mouthful he'd just taken. "We don't know yet."

"Do I need to be worried?"

Daniel wiped his mouth again and looked to his father.

"Mom... I—"

"Yes, I realize I know too much for my own good. I know you can't confide in me and I understand. I also know that you think by not telling me, you're protecting me by preventing me from worrying. Jonathan, I'm an old lady. I'm not worried about my future. It's yours and Daniel's that I always worry about."

"Mom—"

"Grandma. I'm sure with this new threat, the military are working on ways to stop Judgment Day and at the same time, find alternate ways to save us. Even if it's building huge shelters somewhere, maybe underground. Or spaceships. Maybe they're building spaceships."

"I think you play too many of those video games, mhuirnin."

Daniel glanced quickly at his dad, who gave him a quick, thankful nod. Daniel turned back to his supper, grabbing a second piece of garlic bread.

By the time he'd cleaned his plate, Daniel could barely keep his eyes opened. He helped clear the table and nearly dropped a plate as he handed it to his grandmother. At the same moment, his father knocked the ladle to the floor and splattered pasta sauce everywhere. Daniel reached for the paper towel and knocked the colander into the sink, which hit a glass and broke it. His father picked the ladle up, swearing under his breath, and managed to drop it a second time, this time on the counter.

"Okay, both of you. Take one step back and freeze. Do not move, do not touch anything until I get things under control."

"Grandma, I'm sorry—"

"Sorry, Ma. I didn't mean to—"

"Hush, both of you." She stepped carefully around the splatter of sauce and tore off a large sheaf of paper towels. "Go into the living room, and sit."

Daniel felt awful about the mess. "I can help—"

"Go. Sit."

His father motioned him to follow. Daniel turned, bumped into a kitchen chair and caught it before he knocked it over. In the living room, the sofa bed was still unmade, the blankets twisted. With a sigh, Daniel sat, and then lay back, curling onto his side. His father started to edge towards the chair, then turned around and followed Daniel's example, lying on his back.

"Nice couple of klutzes we are tonight." His father stretched his legs and sighed deeply.

"I feel like an idiot." Daniel winced at the sound of glass scraping on metal as his grandmother picked up the pieces. "At least I broke the glass while it was dirty, right? Could have been worse." He broke off a moment as he yawned. "Could've broken it after it got washed."

His father's reply was a soft snore.

oo~O~oo

"Come on, mhuirnin, wake up."

His mother's voice was cajoling, pulling Jack from somewhere deep, someplace he didn't want to leave quite yet.

"Come on, Daniel. I need you to wake up for just a minute."

Instincts kicked in, pulling Jack into wakefulness as he heard Daniel's name mentioned. He opened his eyes and raised his head, seeing his mother leaning over a lump on the bed next to him. No, make that the couch and not his bed.

"Ma?"

"It's all right, Jonathan. I just need Daniel to swallow some Tylenol." Even as she spoke, Daniel half sat up as she held a glass of water out to his son.

Daniel slurped the water, handed the glass back and collapsed back onto the pillow. Jack reached out and touched Daniel's face. The heat of fever was enough to send Jack the rest of the way into wakefulness.

"He's sick." Jack reached for the blanket that someone, presumably his mother, had spread over both of them and pulled it up close to Daniel's chin.

"The fever comes at night. He'll be fine in a few more hours. The Tylenol will bring it down in a little while. Go back to sleep. You still have a couple of hours if you're planning on going to the base this morning."

"What time is it?" Jack squinted at his watch and wasn't able to angle it enough to catch any light.

"Almost four."

"I'm sorry, Mom. I'd planned on going home but—"

"You were exhausted." She leaned her palms on either side of him and kissed his cheek. "Go to sleep. Daniel'll be fine."

"You're sure?"

"I gave him Tylenol around eight, and again around midnight."

"I never heard you."

"Of course not. You were sleeping. I'm sorry I woke you."

"I'm sorry you had to get up and—"

"Shhhh. Go to sleep."

Jack sighed and tried to relax as his mom left the living room. He listened to her footsteps, heard the creak of her bed, then listened to Daniel's breathing. It felt like he was just dozing off again when his mother shook his shoulder.

"If you're going to work, you need to get up now."

Smacking his lips, Jack turned over on the couch. The sun was streaming in, Daniel was gone and when he glanced at his watch, he found his mom was right. "Daniel?"

"Stuffing his face in the kitchen. There's bacon and eggs waiting for you."

"I have to go home and change my clothes—"

"So you'll be late getting to work. At least you'll get there with a full stomach."

Jack chuckled as he sat up. "Love ya, Ma." He stood slowly; he was a little stiff but his head felt clearer than it had in a while. "You don't mind watching Daniel again—"

"Of course not." She gave him a light smack on the head, followed by another kiss. "Come and eat."

oo~O~oo

Jack was just running the last bite of toast through a trace of egg yolk on his plate when the doorbell rang. He stood, motioning for his mom to stay seated as he answered the door.

"Good morning." Sarah Connor, still-damp hair framing her face, gave Jack a quick smile. "I've come to return your mother's pot."

"Come in." He stepped aside and his mother arrived in the entranceway to take the pot from Sarah.

"I can't thank you enough for sharing with us last night." Sarah pushed her hair from her face as she followed them into the kitchen. "It was a life saver. Hi, Daniel."

Daniel waved as Jack's mom put the pot away. "I figure you'd be tired when you got home. It was the least I could do."

"I wish I had something to give you back in thanks but to be honest, the cupboards are truly bare. What with all the goings on—"

"Sarah, you don't have to give me anything—"

"I'm planning on baking some cookies one of these days. I'll make a double batch."

"Homemade cookies?" Daniel perked up.

Jack picked up his cup of coffee and toasted his son. "My version of cookies? Grab a bag or two in the cookie aisle while doing the shopping."

"That's usually my preferred baking method also," Sarah laughed, then sobered. "Rose, I have another favor to ask you—"

"Are you returning to Cheyenne Mountain with Jack?"

"Yes. Yes, I am. I was hoping you wouldn't mind keeping an eye on John again today."

"Not at all. Send him over."

"Normally, I wouldn't mind him staying home alone, but if he's still sick..."

"The boys are fine; they're just a little run down. And believe me, Daniel's usually more than capable of staying home alone, also." She ruffled Daniel's hair, and he ducked his head, his cheeks and the back of his neck reddening slightly.

"Thank you."

Jack gathered his dirty dishes and made for the dishwasher. "If you'll excuse me, I need to run." His mom intercepted him and took the dishes from him. "I'll see you tonight." He kissed his mother's cheek, then Daniel's forehead, taking a moment to make sure that there was no sign of fever, and then nodded at Sarah. "Just give your names at the main gate. You'll be waved through."

He was going to be late but he'd had a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast. All he needed was a quick shower and change of clothes and he'd be fortified enough to sit through Carter and McKay's planned PowerPoint presentations. Oh joy.

oo~O~oo

It came to John right in the middle of dissecting the lyrics of the latest Evanescence song. "Oh, shit."

Daniel quirked his head at him.

"Charley. Today's his birthday."

"Charley?"

"My mom's fiancé."

"You mean Derek's not..." Daniel pursed his lips and his cheeks reddened.

"Oh, God, please, no. He's..." John sighed, wanting badly to share the truth. He went straight instead to what everyone knew and skipped the family relations part. "He's like Cameron, here to protect me. Mom barely tolerates him; well, at first, maybe. I guess she's gotten used to him."

"He's not a—"

"No. He's human."

"So Charley - does he know about you?"

"Yeah." Leaning his head back against the wall, John pushed aside the urge to pick up the phone and call Charley. "But I was wrong. He's not mom's fiancé. Well, he was, eight years ago. But when we jumped, he..."

"Is he married?"

John nodded, hating how much that hurt. It was stupid, but he'd expected Charley to pine for his mom, to wait for her, somehow, like in the fairy tales his mom had read to him as a kid.

"That sucks."

"What makes it worse is that it's like we left a few weeks ago. To him, it's been years."

"That's..."

"I know."

"So, are you going to call him?"

"Why?"

"Because it's his birthday."

John tapped his fingers against his thigh. "Mom would kill me if she found out. She..."

"It's his birthday. What's the harm in that?"

Could he? No, that wasn't the question. It was more in the vicinity of, should he?

"I'm just going to the bathroom. I'll be back in about ten minutes. My cell's next to my monitor."

John hesitated and Daniel picked up his concern. "Try whitepages on line if you can't remember his number. I'll bring a snack. Grandma's got some Chips Ahoy." Daniel shut the door behind him and John reached for the cell phone and started dialing.

oo~O~oo

He hadn't really expected to reach Charley so when his call transferred to voice mail, John nearly hung up. Then he decided to take the coward's way out and started talking before he changed his mind again.

"Hi. It's me. I just wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday and... Let you know that we're okay."

John paused, wondering if he should confide in Charley, tell him that they'd left not because he'd found them but because they were following up a lead. He cleared his throat awkwardly.

"Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I was thinking of you and... Damn..." John stopped, cleared his throat again, regretting what could have been and being suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling that no matter what they did, Skynet would happen no matter. "I'm sorry Charley, for everything. I love you, man."

John disconnected the call, lying back on Daniel's bed, resting his fisted hand clasping the phone on his forehead. He just realized the consequences of what he'd just done; calling Charley was on his mom's Nix List and he'd just broken the number one rule – never let them know you were still alive once you were on the move.

"Hey." Daniel stuck his head in the door. "How'd it go?"

"I got his voice mail. Left a message..."

"You can call him again later—"

"No. No more calls."

"It's his birthday. You can't just leave a message—"

"I shouldn't have called in the first place." John fought not to snap at Daniel. "It was wrong. Charley's not a part of my life anymore."

"He's a friend. You don't just push friends out of your life."

"I don't have any friends." The words came out before he could stop them. He sat up quickly. "Daniel, I'm sorry," he said when he saw Daniel's stricken face. "I never had true friends. I never stayed in one place long enough to make real friends. After a while, I just stopped trying."

"And now, this, it's no different, is it?"

"I don't know," John said softly.

oo~O~oo

Lunch was a quiet affair, both of them lost in their thoughts. John almost felt like sneaking back across the street with the excuse that he wanted to take a nap in his own bed.

"Are you feeling all right?" Rose put a hand on the back of John's nape and cocked her head as she gave him an assessing look.

"I'm fine." He tried not to shrug her hand away and dragged a fry into the container of yogurt sauce and stuck it into his mouth.

"You don't like the food? I can make you a sandwich if you'd rather—"

"No, no. Greek is fine. It's good." To make Rose happy, John took a bite of his gyro and forced it down.

"Okay, if the food's fine, and neither of you have a fever, then why are you both so quiet?"

Daniel shrugged, turning his eyes onto his plate when Rose pierced him with a look. John concentrated on eating; the food really was good.

"Did something happen? Did you boys have a fight?"

"No, no fight." A yawn surprised him and John hurried to cover his mouth.

"Oh, that's it. You haven't had your naps today."

"We're not kids." Although said in jest, the comment rankled John. Yes, he was tired, and most likely cranky like a two-year old who needed to be put to bed for an hour or two.

"Hey, watch the attitude." Daniel was bristling at him and John was pretty sure that on top of being insulted from their earlier conversation, Daniel was just as tired as he was.

"Daniel." Rose lifted a finger and pointed it in Daniel's direction, which immediately earned John a glare from his not-friend.

Ignoring Daniel, John turned to Rose. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for." He finished his gyro, wishing he could start the day over. Wiping his fingers on a napkin, he took his empty plate and Daniel's to the sink. "You're right, Rose. I am a little tired. Maybe I should—"

"I'll open the couch so you can lie down."

"No, I meant I could go—"

"Or you and Daniel can share his bed—"

"I meant I could go and—"

"Do you need a blanket?"

John shook his head, realizing there was no way he could go home without hurting Rose's feelings. "Thanks, but I'm not ready for a nap yet. I was thinking about trying to go online and see what I missed in school."

To John's surprise, Daniel agreed with John. "I've been meaning to check the site all morning. Want to do that now?"

John accepted Daniel's offer and followed him silently back to his bedroom. He let Daniel lead in this precarious dance of friendship.

Three hours later, after a quick trip over to his house for his textbooks, John gave in to the headache that had plagued him for half that time, and shut the book he'd been studying. He stretched back on the bed so that he was resting against the wall.

"I know. I feel like I've been playing catch-up forever." Daniel closed the book he'd borrowed from John and tossed it onto the pile. "How do you do it? Going from school to school? Changing identities?"

John shrugged. "You get used to it. It's sort of—" A loud knock on the bedroom door interrupted him.

"Hey. What're you two doing?" Dria was peering past the half-opened door of the bedroom, Cassandra Fraiser peeking over her shoulder.

"Homework," Daniel replied with exaggerated disgust. "Please don't tell me you're bringing us more assignments."

"Nah." Cassie brushed past Dria and sat on the bed, next to John. "I heard you two were best buds. I told Dria I had to see it for myself." She raised an eyebrow, then made a pointed effort to look at first John, then Daniel. "Well, you're both in the same room and I don't see any signs of blood. Could it be that Dria was right?"

"Our parents locked us in a closet for forty-eight hours and it was either get to know one another, or kill each other," Daniel said in a drab voice as Dria leaned against his back and wrapped her arms around his chest. "We opted to kill one another but came out in a draw."

"So we decided to call a truce," John added. "Plus the fact that Rose is babysitting us... We've no choice but to be on our best behavior for her."

"That's your story. I know you're on your best behavior because she can take you both at the same time with one hand tied behind her back." Cassie tucked her hair behind her ears as she grinned at them.

John laughed. "You got me there."

"And, Cassie speaks from experience. She tried many a time to slip behind Grandma's radar but never managed to."

"I'm confused. You two are related?" John waved a finger between Daniel and Cassie.

"Oh puh-lease." Cassie shoved John's shoulder. "More like my mom and Daniel's dad commiserated together about how hard it was being single parents and so we were foisted off to go play together whenever there was a party or BBQ. We're more like..."

"Cousins?" Daniel suggested.

"I was going for step-brother and step-sister. Cousins work just as well."

"I never realized you two were so close, outside of school." John yawned, a jaw-cracking yawn that almost cramped his throat as he realized the reason for his misunderstanding Daniel and Cassie's actions a lifetime ago at the pizza place. "Sorry."

Immediately Cassie's teasing manner changed and she leaned close to John. "Mom said you two were sick. How are you doing?"

John yawned again, leaving Daniel to answer for them both. "We're fine. We still get a little tired but every day is easier."

"I came over yesterday and both of them were sleeping on Rose's couch," Dria said in a conspiratorial whisper.

"Did you take a picture?"

John tensed, raising his head while Daniel twisted in the chair to stare up at Dria. The look of put upon sorrow was a relief, and John slid down the wall so that he was lying on his side. Embarrassment aside, his mom would probably have wanted a copy of said picture if she ever heard about it. "Yes, there is a god," he mumbled.

The bed moved as Cassie settled herself more comfortably.

John yawned again, wishing now that he'd taken Rose's earlier offer and taken a nap.

oo~O~oo

Cassie turned her head and mouthed, Watch this. When she put her hand on John's arm and began to rub it up and down, Daniel had a pretty good idea what she was going to do. John jerked his arm, mostly out of surprise, but settled down again when she patted it lightly. Slowly she moved her hand up to his shoulder as John visibly fought to keep his eyes open.

Alexandria, now perched on the foot of the bed and leaning against Daniel's shoulder, and Cassie, kept up a light conversation, talking about school. Slowly Cassie's hand moved up to John's face, her fingers lightly brushing aside his long bangs until they found his temple. Daniel swallowed a chuckle as John's eyes closed and stayed closed.

Moving his attention from John to Cassie, he'd expected to see her grinning in triumph. Instead, there was a look of concentration and concern on her face.

"You're pretty damn amazing," Daniel conceded when Cassie finally sat back and John lay there sleeping deeply.

"Hey, I'm not the highest paid babysitter for nothing." She waggled her fingers in Daniel's direction, causing Alexandria to giggle. John stirred slightly but didn't wake up.

"We should let him sleep," Alexandria whispered when she composed herself.

Daniel got up off the chair, ignoring the momentary lurch of lightheadedness as he led the girls into the living room. His body was clamoring for sleep and his limbs were achy with fatigue. He sat on the couch with Cassie and Alexandria on either side of him.

oo~O~oo

Rose watched the three of them a moment as she stood in the entrance to the living room before announcing, "I've got apple pie and ice cream. Anyone hungry?"

Both girls were up in a flash, flanking her while Daniel let his head fall back onto the couch. He rolled his head back and forth before closing his eyes.

"Where's John?"

"Sleeping," Cassie said as she circled an arm around Rose's waist. Together they walked back to the kitchen where she cut two slices of pie and let the girls scoop up their own ice cream. Cassie was already digging into hers by the time Rose put the ice cream back into the freezer.

"Where's Daniel's?" Dria asked as she cut a bite of pie with her fork.

"He doesn't want any right now." Rose patted the nearest kitchen chair and Dria frowned at her.

"He didn't say that."

"He didn't have to," Rose said with a grin. Her grin widened when Dria's eyes opened in understanding and she hurried to the living room. A moment later she came back and sat in the chair Rose had indicated a moment earlier.

"He's sleeping." Dria sounded incredulous. "How'd you know?"

"If John's asleep, I figured Daniel wouldn't be far behind." She winked at the girls before putting the pie away.

"You know?" Dria stuck her fork into her ice cream and then licked the tines. "I'm beginning to think it's me. A girl could get a complex."

oo~O~oo

While it was good to be home, Daniel was restless. He started a load of laundry without being asked because he wanted to wear his old sweats to bed that night, helped his dad clean out the refrigerator and made a grocery list, organized his school books and homework in anticipation of going back to school on Monday, and took out the trash.

While his father made a quick grocery run, Daniel took a shower. When he was done he went downstairs, wrapped in a bath towel and pulled his sweats out of the dryer. He put them on then and there, and by the time he folded the laundry, his dad was back.

Fifteen minutes later, groceries put away, a Snapple in hand for him and a beer for his dad, both of them settled in the den to watch TV. To his disgust, he'd only taken a few sips of the cold drink when the shivering started.

He said nothing at first; simply put the Snapple down and pulled the afghan from the back of the couch for warmth. He curled up into the couch's cushions, trying to look nonchalant and interested in the hockey game.

His dad, however, wasn't so easily fooled. He glanced over at Daniel, raised an eyebrow, and said one word.

"Cold?"

Discouraged, Daniel nodded. He tolerated his father's hands on his forehead and cheeks, accepted the kiss that followed, and swallowed down the Tylenol with a sip of Snapple.

"I wish this would stop." He sighed loudly, then moaned in appreciation as his dad added a second blanket to the first.

"So do I."

"How long do you think it'll take Sam to get all the stuff out of the ship's computer? Wouldn't it be faster to let Cameron do it?"

His father looked shocked. "Do you have any idea what you're asking?"

"Yeah. To let a computer take a look at another computer. Doesn't that make sense?"

"And if the Connor's story is to be believed? Letting that machine into our military secrets and alien technology could itself be the start of Skynet."

"You mean Cameron..." Daniel's thoughts raced. If she was the only one of her kind left here in this time, and if she went bad, the way Derek had explained that they do, Cameron could be the bringer of Judgment Day.

"There's a lot of resistance from certain higher ups that she shouldn't even be allowed anywhere near the Mountain. Others think she should be dismantled and—"

"No." Daniel sat up, the blankets falling around his hips. The air was cold but he ignored it as he leaned forward. "She's not like that—"

"You don't know that—"

"She cares for John. She wouldn't do anything to hurt him—"

"She's a machine! She's been programmed to help him—"

"John trusts her—"

"John's sixteen years old—"

"Not him. The other John. The John that sent her back in time to help him. To help me. If he had any hope of his family stopping Skynet, then he had to trust that her being here, now, in this time, wouldn't lead to their destruction in the future."

His father's angry look faded and to Daniel's shock, he smiled. "Damn, but you remind me of yourself."

"What?" Daniel leaned back, suddenly tired.

"You. When you were older. You are one amazing person, do you know that, son of mine?"

Pulling the blankets up was more difficult, his fingers unsteady. "Does that mean you'll let Cameron help Sam?"

"Nope."

"How about John? Can he help her?"

"We have the finest minds working on the problem—"

"Sam and Rodney?" He finally got the blankets pulled up to his chin and he tucked his fingers under their weight.

"And a few others. Give it time. Give them a chance, okay?"

oo~O~oo

"So, can we go back to school tomorrow?" Daniel was deliberately irritating Janet, swinging his leg on the edge of the bed, banging it into the metal railing underneath so that everything jingled with each thump.

"The two of you look tired."

"That's because you've had us here for three hours going through all sorts of tests."

"Your father's mentioned that you've been napping in the afternoons—"

"Because I'm bored, that's all." He was pretty sure Cassie had had something to say about his napping, also. If there were pictures of him on her Facebook, she was so dead.

"What about you, John?"

It rankled Daniel that Janet wouldn't listen to him, but he remained silent while John contemplated his answer.

"Daniel's right. It's been a little quiet at home." He grinned self-consciously. "And it's not really something I'm used to. But I also don't know how I'll feel sitting all day long in class."

"What about you, Daniel? Think you can sit through a day's worth of classes without falling asleep?"

Daniel swung his foot again, hitting the railing hard. "No, I don't think so," he finally said reluctantly.

"I think I can give you both another week from school."

"How about two days?" As the words came out, Daniel acknowledged that he sounded like a whining kids so he stilled his leg.

"How about five?"

"Damn it, Janet. I've barely kept up with schoolwork as it is and I have to play catch up for another week?"

"Think about it, Daniel. If you're having this much trouble concentrating on schoolwork at home, in a relaxed environment, how do you think it's going to be if I let you go back to school?"

Daniel turned his head away, not bothering to answer. Janet was right.

"I know you're anxious to get back into a routine but don't push it, okay?" She touched his shoulder and he nodded reluctantly. "I'm thinking that by the time your nightly fevers start to abate, your concentration will start to increase."

"And that'll happen when?" John's question was softly spoken, almost like he was afraid to ask.

"I don't know. Maybe in a few days. Maybe a few weeks." She picked up John's file and flipped through a few pieces of paper till she found the report she wanted. "It looks like all the nanocytes have been absorbed by your body, John. I'm pretty sure you're feeling only the effects of the virus right now."

"It's not all that encouraging considering I've been sick on and off for how many weeks now?" John shifted on his bed, staring down at his Doc Marten clad feet.

"Just be patient. Both of you. Okay?" She gave them an enthusiastic smile which Daniel wasn't able to respond to. "Now, let me call your father and let him know you're done here."

John yawned as Janet walked away, and Daniel's body responded immediately with an answering yawn. He let himself fall backwards onto the bed, pressing his palms into his temples as he yawned yet again. "At this rate, we won't be back at school for another month." The urge to close his eyes and sleep was pressing, enough so that Daniel knew if he didn't sit up, he'd fall asleep before Janet came back. So he pushed himself up again, leaning his forearms on his thighs, his body caught in a yawning loop that was starting to drive him crazy.

"Daniel?"

"Dad." His father's voice pulled him from a near-doze. Head drooping down nearly to knee level, Daniel straightened slowly, inhaling deeply. A quick glance at John showed that he wasn't much more awake than he was.

"Doc said you're not ready to go to school yet." His dad smile was gentle, as was his touch as he ruffled Daniel's hair. "I can see why."

His eyelids were heavy, his body almost aching with an intensity of restiveness that would ease only when he lay down and gave in to the lure of sleep. "I hate this," he whispered.

"I know. How about I get you boys home so you can rest?"

The walk to the Avalanche helped wake him up, and the overly-sweet coffees he and John had picked up on a side trip to the commissary were supplying energy. Daniel buckled himself in awkwardly with one hand, holding on to the caffeine as if it were a lifeline.

"How's Sam's research going?" he asked, both out of curiosity and in an attempt to keep his brain functioning so it wouldn't shut down before they got home.

"Which one?" His father glanced over at him with a crooked smile.

Daniel rolled his eyes as he sipped his coffee, to which his dad smiled even wider.

"She and McKay are pretty sure Ba'al didn't leave his ship except to kill Sarkissian and change the programming on the Turk. They're still trying to track down the last of the computers that were in the Pasadena Chess Tournament but so far all the ones they've found have come out clean."

Sleepiness was creeping up on him again so Daniel chugged down a large gulp of coffee, then jiggled his foot, tapping a finger against his coffee cup in tune with the song playing on the radio. He finished his coffee and transferred his drumming fingers to his thighs instead.

He blinked, startled, when the truck stopped. A quick glance showed they were waiting at a traffic light and they were nearly at his grandma's. He'd have no problem staying awake until he got to her house.

Wrong.

Even a quick rub to his eyes and lowering the window didn't seem to help and the next thing he knew, his father was pulling in behind his grandmother's Sante Fe.

Yawning humongously, he turned around, his eyes widening in surprise. "Where's John?"

His dad turned off the Avalanche, pulled the keys from the ignition and pointed across the street. "He's home," he said with a hint of a smile. "You slept right through John's door to door delivery service.

"Oy," Daniel groaned. "I'm totally hopeless."

Daniel got out of the truck and had to hold onto the door as a wave of dizziness passed over him. "Not to worry. You're in good company. John pretty much expressed the same sentiments." Jack grinned over at Daniel, then glanced over his shoulder as his grandmother opened the door and stepped outside.

Daniel leaned against his grandmother as she hugged him. "Did you eat? Are you boys hungry?"

"I don't think we're going to stay, Ma. I think Daniel needs his bed more than his supper right now."

She gave Daniel her full attention. "My poor baby. What did Janet say?"

"No school for at least another week."

"Well, I won't complain, mhuirnin. It means I get your company for another week." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and released him. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

No matter what his grandmother said, Daniel couldn't help feel guilty about taking all her free time. "Are you sure, Grandma? What about your bowling team? And your—"

She placed her finger against his lips. "Shhhh. Everyone can do without me for a little while longer."

"We'll see you first thing in the morning, Ma. We'd better get going, otherwise you'll have to put up Sleeping Beauty here for a couple of hours if I don't get him home soon."

oo~O~oo

"I was thinking of a barbecue tomorrow."

John put down the sandwich he'd been in the process of devouring and looked at his mother in surprise. He swallowed what he had in his mouth and frowned. "We don't have a grill."

"Derek went shopping today. We do now."

"I thought you guys were helping Sam and Doctor McKay with some research."

"We are. Well, we were. But we took a break and went to Home Depot for a few things and, well... We got a grill."

John stared at his mom in concern. She seemed more relaxed, almost like the way she'd been after they'd moved in with Charley. As if their future was secure, and that they were only going through all their training and precautions from rote instead of an actual need to.

"So, steak, corn on the cob and a baked potato for supper tomorrow sound good to you?"

John stared at the remains of his impromptu supper in his hands, thanks to his having slept through the meal. "Sure." He could almost smell the grilling steak, hear the hiss of fat falling onto the fire. "Sounds good."

"Great. I'll pick up the steaks on my way home tomorrow—"

"You're going back to the mountain?"

"Yeah." She sat down opposite him at the table. "Are you okay with that? Staying home and resting at Rose's house?"

"Yeah. She's wonderful." John bit a corner off his sandwich.

"I know." His mom stole a chip from his plate. "And I know you're old enough to stay here alone, but I feel better knowing someone's keeping an eye on you. Until you're over this virus—"

"I am. Look, it's nearly nine o'clock and I don't have a fever." Having said the obvious, he tolerated his mom's touch as she pressed a hand against his cheek.

"Actually you do. It's just not as high as it's been the other nights."

"Oh." And now that she mentioned it, his joints and muscles were starting to feel achy and his stomach did a slow roll, making the last of his meal unappetizing. He pushed the plate to one side.

"But that's progress, right?" She ran her hand over his bicep as she picked up his plate.

"I guess so."

"I'll get the Tylenol."

"I'll be in my room," he sighed.

oo~O~oo

John hunched his shoulders as a damp wind brought the promise of rain on the shirttails of a loud crash of thunder. If it were up to him, he'd just grab everything and run into the house and throw the steaks into a frying pan. His apron-clad mom, however, was standing before their new grill, armed with a shiny new fork and tongs, daring the sky to pour down on them before she was finished grilling.

He'd never been a lover of barbeques until a few years ago. Not that he hadn't eaten coal-seared meat before – there'd been many a time in Central America where that was all they'd had to eat. But then all that changed during those six months where they'd moved in with Charley. Charley, who'd always worn a kiss the chef apron and his mom had always laughed when Charley would put the apron on, point to the writing on his chest, and pucker up.

Watching his mom stack the foil-wrapped potatoes and corn on the cob onto the back of the grill, John couldn't help but miss Charley. He wondered what Charley's reaction had been to his voice mail—

"This isn't safe, being outside in a storm." Cameron stood next to John, her hair whipped into her face by the growing wind. "It's getting closer. It could be dangerous—"

"The machine's right." Derek stood facing the wind and the approaching storm. He'd given up fighting for control of the grill, backing off when he was threatened with the oversized fork. "Better get your mom an umbrella."

"It would make more sense to move the grill closer to the house, out of the rain." Cameron brushed her hair out of her face, only to have the wind whip it back across her eyes. "Umbrellas are dangerous conductors—"

"John." His mom was placing the meat onto the grill, standing to the side of it and away from its smoke. "Would you take the plate inside and bring me a clean one?" She held out the blood-smeared plate and turned her head so the wind pushed her hair out of her eyes.

"You should get Cameron to move the grill closer to the house."

"Wimp," she answered with an impish grin as he took the plate from her.

It was clear she was enjoying herself, even if her smile occasionally waned and her eyes grew sad. He sniffed appreciatively at the smell of the meat, and hurried inside.

He put the plate into the sink, grabbed a clean one, and then left it on the table while he looked for an umbrella. Lightning flared outside, and thunder growled several seconds later. The storm was getting closer.

Did they even have any umbrellas? He couldn't remember if they'd bought any since they'd moved to Colorado Springs. If they did, his mom would have put them in the hall closet. He stepped out of the kitchen and into the hallway, and froze when he came face to face with a stranger holding a gun.

The man stared at him, his face cold, expressionless. Then slowly, the gun came up.

Instincts and training kicked in. But even as he turned and ran, he expected to feel the impact of a slug between his shoulder blades. Miraculously he made it into the kitchen, moving out of the line of fire. Fighting his panic, he skidded to a stop, nearly lost his balance, and threw open the cabinet door. It slammed against the wall with a loud bang as he knocked over the box of rice, grabbed the gun hidden behind it and flicked the safety off. Lightning flickered and for a moment he thought it was the flash of a muzzle. He held the gun with his two hands as the machine came into the kitchen, taking its time, walking with the assurance of a predator.

The best John could do was slow down the terminator as he stopped and took aim.

"Cameron!" The crash of thunder drowned out his cry. The intruder stepped into view and John waited a heartbeat longer until he got a clear shot. Then he let it rip.

The moment he began to empty his magazine, John began backing towards the back door. The first three shots took the machine in the chest. The fourth, in the shoulder, and the fifth and sixth, John missed completely as the robot went down.

John paused, adjusted his stance and emptied the rest of the magazine into the machine. It was only when he heard the ominous click, click, of an empty gun did he realize something was wrong.

There was blood.

Lots of blood.

Machines didn't bleed. At least they didn't bleed like this one did. And it was down on the floor and staying down.

There was a roaring in his ears. It took him a moment to realize it was the echo of a thunderclap. Then the kitchen door slammed open and Cameron ran inside. She stopped in the middle of the kitchen, her boots making a squeaking sound on the linoleum floor. His mom and Derek came running in seconds later.

"What the hell?" His mother's voice seemed to come from far away, down a long tunnel.

Cameron moved to the sprawled body, one hand flung to the side, the pistol having fallen from his lax fingers. His eyes stared unseeingly towards the stove. "How'd he get in the house?"

John couldn't take his eyes off the man. The smell of blood and old cigarette smoke filled his sinuses.

"He's dead."

Dead man. The dead man who he'd just killed.

He'd just killed a man.

Not a robot. A man.

The thunder was back, the vibrations shaking the interior of the house. It changed pitch and hissed like a broken steam pipe deep inside his head. It pulled at his lungs, sucking away his breath. It teased his vision, eating at bits of it until the only thing in focus was the blood and the unseeing eyes of the dead man. And then even that was gone.

"Breathe, that's it, breathe." Derek's voice was next to his ear, commanding, hard to resist.

John took a wheezing breath and seemed to suddenly wake up, without remembering having gone to sleep. He found himself kneeling on the kitchen floor, his head close to the linoleum, Derek's hand on the back of his neck, holding him there. Rain was blowing in from the open kitchen door, splattering his face and arm, creating goose bumps.

He starting shaking, the only warm part on his body was Derek's hand on his nape. "I k-killed him."

"It's all right, John." Derek's hand squeezed gently.

"He had a g-gun. I k-killed him." His teeth were chattering and he was stuttering like a baby and he couldn't seem to get warm.

"He came into the house with a gun." Cameron's boots came into his field of vision. "You had no choice but to shoot him before he shot you."

"Did he shoot at you, John?" His mother's boots came to a stop next to Cameron's. "Did anyone hear the gunshots?"

"No." Cameron's boots moved away. "The thunder masked the sound of the shots."

"I thought he was a machine." He could barely hear himself speak.

"No. He's human. He's dead."

"That's enough." His mother's voice was sharp. "See if you can find out who he is."

John struggled against Derek's hold, pushing his head up. Derek released him and he watched as Cameron began going through the dead man's pockets. Suddenly he couldn't bear to watch the man's lifeless body being rolled from side to side. Bile burned in his throat and he coughed.

"C'mon. You don't need to see this." Fingers dug cruelly into his arms and pulled him upwards. He had no choice but to stand. He took several steps and suddenly found himself sitting on the couch in the living room.

"Here. Lean forward a little." Hands tugged him forward and something was draped around his back and shoulders. A little push and he was leaning once again against the couch cushions. Derek grabbed hold of John's chin and raised it. "Look at me, John."

It took an almost monumental effort to move his eyes so he met Derek's. "Stay right here. Do you understand? I'll be right back."

John nodded, because forming words was too hard right now. He pulled the blanket closer, leaning forward in an attempt to trap more heat between the blanket and his body.

"Here, drink this." A plastic glass was shoved into his hand and he curled his fingers around it instinctively. Derek pushed his trembling hand towards his mouth and he felt the chill of the liquid as it spilled over his fingers and his chin as he tried to drink. His teeth clattered noisily on the plastic before he got some into his mouth and he swallowed.

"All of it."

The acrid fumes of alcohol hit his nostrils just as he took another swallow. Eyes watering from the whiskey, he coughed as his stomach and throat burned. He wiped at his eyes, barely registering that Derek took the empty glass from him.

"What do you think you're doing?" His mom's voice was shrill compared to Derek's gentle tone.

"He's in shock—"

"I know that. And you just gave him alcohol? What the hell were you thinking?"

"I was trying to help him. The alcohol helps to shock him back—"

"We're not living in the dark ages of the future anymore. There are other ways to deal with shock. Safer ways than giving a sixteen year old a drink—"

"Well, it worked, didn't it? I might not have the education you have because I've lived through the dark ages, but at least I learned from experience. And I know what he's going through right now. More than you do."

""How can you say that? He's my son—"

"And you've never killed a man—"

"I killed—"

"A terminator. But tell me how many people have you even shot, let alone killed?"

To John, this was a revelation. War was war – and while he always knew he'd have to fight the terminators, he'd never truly imagined killing another human being, although the people who'd taught him to shoot over the years had always emphasized a human target. He'd listened, but hadn't really learned, because in his mind, his target would be relentless, unable to be stopped by injury or pain, and wouldn't quit until John Connor was dead.

"John."

"Mom..." He hadn't realized his mom had gone quiet, until she said his name.

She was by his side in a flash, sitting next to him, her arms wrapped around him. He leaned into her familiar comfort, wanting her to make it all go away.

"Call Colonel O'Neill."

"You're not going to have the machine get rid of the body?"

John tensed, and his mom rubbed his back slowly.

"No. We need to find out who he is and why he came here. John." Her voice softened. "Did he say anything to you?"

Shaking his head, John could only mumble, "I thought he was a terminator."

He felt her lips against his forehead as she rocked him slowly from side to side. "I know."

"I killed him."

"You did the right thing, sweetheart."

Derek was talking somewhere in the room, his voice and his mom's intermingling, making things harder to understand. So John just stopped listening for a little while, giving in to his mom's soothing comfort.

Somewhere along the line, the shivering had stopped. He was tired, though. And sleepy. The storm was moving away, the lightning illuminating the back of his eyelids occasionally, followed after a lengthy time by a low growl of thunder. Somewhere amidst all the confusion, the storm had come and gone.

oo~O~oo

The hand that forced him from sleep wasn't his mom's. It was rough, calloused and determined in direct contrast to the warm and gentle tone of the voice. "Come on, John."

"I'm up." Ineffectually, he slapped at the hand.

"Let him sleep," his mom hissed.

"No, is 'k," John slurred, pushing himself into an upright position. "I gotta go pee." With his eyes still closed, he stood, swayed and finally came awake when more than one pair of hands kept him upright.

It wasn't that Daniel's father had a death grip on his arm or that his mother was doing a damn good job of cutting the circulation off in his other arm, or that Derek was standing in front of him with an expression John never had seen before. It was the memory of what he'd done that made him want to lose whatever the hell he'd eaten for his entire life on the living room floor.

"I'm going to thr—" He gagged.

"No, you're not." Derek spoke with gentle confidence, so out of character for him that John was brought up short.

Hated tears welled in John's eyes, blurring his vision of Derek who stood mere inches from him. He closed his eyes and swallowed the bile. "No?"

"Nope."

John nodded, the up and down movement made his head hurt. "If you say so," he answered.

"I say so."

"I have to pee." Even to his own ears, his voice was irritatingly childlike.

"I'm headed that way," Derek volunteered, brushing off his mom's grasp. Colonel O'Neill released his hold on his own accord. "Come on." Derek wrapped his hand around John's bicep and pulled him forward.

Derek stopped before they entered the kitchen, and he maneuvered his body so he was blocking John's view. "I need you to listen to me."

"He's still there, isn't he? The guy I—" John slammed his eyes shut and the excessive moisture was forced down his cheeks.

"Hey." Derek gave John's arm a not so gentle shake. "Open your eyes. Experience has taught me turning away doesn't make it any easier." He paused. "Does it?"

John gave Derek's question a few seconds worth of thought. "No, it doesn't." Slowly, he opened his eyes and glanced at Derek from under the fringe of bangs. Keeping his eyes closed against the visuals didn't change what had happened. What he'd done.

"Better?" Derek asked, cupping his hand around the back of John's neck.

"Do you want me to lie?" John dropped his head, feeling like a basket case.

Tenderly, Derek kissed the top of his head. "You'll have enough time in your life to lie. This isn't one of them, okay?"

John took a deep breath, fighting to fill his lungs.

"Take your time."

"I killed someone. Not a machine. A human. I emptied an entire clip... and I would've kept shooting if there were more bullets. What does that make me?"

"Your father's son," Derek said softly.

"My dad... Kyle?"

"Different time. Same conversation."

"What did you tell him?"

"That life sucked. That what he did was necessary. That I was sorry. That he shouldn't be sorry. That I was proud of him..."

"Proud?" John asked incredulously.

"He thought with his head. Kept his cool and saved everyone else."

"He was a hero?"

"He was just a kid," Derek smiled at John. "Yeah, and he was a hero." He mussed John's hair. "Sound like anyone else you know?"

oo~O~oo

He peed, washed up then looked in the bathroom mirror trying to see what his uncle saw, but all he could see was the intruder coming at him with the gun and John could feel the terror building. He splashed water on his face with shaking hands. His stomach rebelled and John barely had enough time to throw himself in front of the toilet.

Washing up again, he brushed his teeth, rinsed his mouth and avoided looking in the mirror. Derek was standing on the opposite wall, arms crossed, when John tentatively stepped out of the bathroom.

"Yeah," he said with a quiet smirk, "hero or not, your dad puked up his guts all over my shoes, I'm eternally grateful that you have so much better aim that he did."

oo~O~oo

"Let's go through this again, okay?"

John shot a hopeful glance at his mother, hoping that she'd object, but she remained silent, unable to meet his eyes. Derek was pacing back and forth, making John nauseatingly dizzy. Cameron? She was most likely in the kitchen cleaning up his mess.

His soul for a Tylenol or two. With always impeccable timing, the fever had crept up on him, making it harder to concentrate and slowly he allowed his eyes to drift shut for just a second.

Colonel O'Neill was probably hoping that the third time was the charm and all John could think of was the impossibility of going through what happened one more time. "I told you everything I can remember."

"Come on, John." The Colonel patted his knee. "Maybe third time's the charm."

John gave a mental eye roll. "I came in the house to get my mother a clean plate..."

"I should've gone in myself."

John ignored his mother's comment, the same one she'd made the other two times he'd gone through this. "I put the plate down, went to get an umbrella." John swallowed, looked up and caught the slightest of nods from Derek then continued. "He was in the hallway. He raised his gun when he saw me. And no," John said, circumventing the question before it was even asked. "He said nothing. Just kept coming. The kitchen was closer than the door and... And... My mother was grilling and... I didn't want him to go out after them so I got the gun in the kitchen, turned and fired."

"You did good, honey."

Honey. Sweeheart. His mother's use of endearments was creeping him out. "I killed a man, Mom. I don't think I did so great."

"You did what you needed to do. What you've been trained to do."

There was a hint of pride in her voice for a job well done. A blanket of fear settled around him as he finally understood that no matter how fast or how far they ran, there was no escaping his future.

oo~O~oo

John sat in the farthest corner of the living room couch staring at the TV. Hands in his lap. Eyes forward.

Colonel O'Neill had questioned him backwards and forwards until his head ached and his voice was thick from overuse. Some type of military looking personnel had removed the body, even though Cameron had offered to dispose of it terminator style. The house smelled of bleach and disinfectant, heavy enough that John's eyes were tearing, but he didn't move, he stayed exactly where he was.

Derek kneeled down in front of him, blocking his view. It wasn't worth the effort to try and see around him so he closed his eyes and leaned back.

"Maybe you should go to sleep."

"Not tired," he answered without opening his eyes.

"How about some pancakes then?"

John opened one eye to see if Derek was kidding.

"I'm not kidding. Your mom's making pancakes."

"I don't want to eat in the kitchen. Not around the table," John said emphatically.

"I'm sure she'll make an exception for today."

oo~O~oo

He ate two bites of pancakes then stopped.

"John?"

He looked at his mother, for a moment forgetting she'd been in the room. "Yeah?"

"Why don't you finish one of your pancakes?"

John blinked at the triangle of pancake at the end of his fork. "I don't want anymore." He dropped the utensil. He wanted to go to bed. Wanted to close his eyes and pretend for even an hour that this had never happened. "I'm going to bed."

His mother's hand cupped his cheek then slid up to his forehead. "You have a fever."

"I want Tylenol." John made a show of rubbing his head. "Do we have the extra strength kind?"

oo~O~oo

She tucked him in like he was a baby and John let her, because it would've taken too much effort to make her go away. In a very un-Sarah Connor like manner, she fluffed and fussed and he let her.

"Tylenol help the headache?"

"Yeah," he lied.

She massaged his right temple with her knuckle. "Maybe you can sleep."

"Maybe."

"I'll be right here if you need me."

John didn't need her now while he was all tucked in his bed, he'd needed her when he was staring down the barrel of the gun. "No one is ever safe," he whispered, trying to keep the emotion out of his voice. He failed miserably as he faltered on each and every word, trying to pretend he didn't see his mother's eyes fill with moisture.

oo~O~oo

John was freezing. No matter which way he tossed and turned, curled into himself or burrowed under his quilt as well as the previously folded-at-the-foot-of-the-bed blanket, he couldn't seem to get warm.

Visions of the box of instant hot chocolate with freeze dried marshmallows sitting in the cabinet closest to the fridge, on the second shelf behind the box of Saltines, began to dance through his brain.

Hesitant to get out of bed, but too cold to stay there without something to warm his belly, he chose to slowly push aside his covers and battle the frigidness to warm his hands around a mug of hot chocolate.

The floor outside his bedroom announced his wakefulness with a squeak of protest the second John put his weight on it.

"John?" His mother called his name from her room with a slight edge of panic to her voice. "Everything okay?"

"Yes, Mom. I'm fine. Just wanted to get something to drink." He held his breath, expecting her to join him in the hallway and hold his hand all the way to the kitchen.

"If you need—

"I'm fine, Mom." John began to inch his way to the staircase. "I'll be back to bed as soon as I get a drink."

oo~O~oo

The box of hot chocolate was right where John remembered. A mug. The package of hot chocolate. The right amount of water, the correct time in the microwave and John was good to go.

He stood there, his fingers wrapped around the mug leeching the heat, but to drink the hot chocolate he probably needed a touch of milk to lower the temperature.

The memory hit him when he opened the fridge. The light from the opened door projected a beam almost directly to the spot. The exact spot where he'd... Where the guy he'd shot had died. The blood was leaking out, covering the floor. Horrified, John checked his socks to make sure he hadn't stepped in the blood. But they were clean. Barely, because the blood just kept spreading further and further out, winding its way towards John. He couldn't move, not an inch. He watched, mesmerized, as a stream of blood traveled across the linoleum.

He was pushed backwards, gently, and the mug was removed from his grasp, saved from crashing to the floor. A hand skirted across his neck then stayed.

"There's nothing there."

"I can see—"

"Nothing," Cameron said. "Only me and you. And you're agitated. Your vitals are—"

"Get away from him, metal."

Cameron stepped back, right into a puddle of blood.

"Watch out!" John yelled, grabbing futilely for her arm. "Be careful."

Derek pushed between John and Cameron. "There's nothing, absolutely nothing there."

"There's—"

"Nothing," Derek repeated.

John glanced down at his empty hands, confused. "I came down to get a hot chocolate."

"Did you sleep?"

"Um... I came down for a hot chocolate."

"I can heat up the hot chocolate—"

"Nope, I think John could use a fresh one."

oo~O~oo

John sat on the couch, staring into the empty mug. He blinked blearily at the co-conspirators. "What did you put in..." Even to his own ears, his words were slurred.

"A white pill from the third shelf in the medicine cabinet."

The two Dereks John was trying to focus on glared at two Camerons.

"Snitch," the Dereks spat the word at the wavering Camerons.

"What white pill?" Empty or not, the mug was heavy and his hand flipped over from its weight, the last drops of the hot chocolate dripping like blood onto the carpet.

"A sleeping pill or two never hurt anyone."

oo~O~oo

Sarah definitely didn't agree with Derek's method of giving John a restful night's sleep.

"Explain to me again," she asked with a defiant tilt to her head, "why drugging John sounded like a good idea?"

Derek poured himself a cup of coffee, took the milk out of the fridge and infuriated her by taking his damn sweet time in answering her question. "At the time, it didn't sound like a bad idea." He took a sip of coffee, grimaced, then poured the cup into the sink.

"And now?" Sarah prodded. "What about now?"

Derek glanced in the direction of the living room. "He's still sleeping, isn't he?"

"He sleeping because he's drugged, not because he's—"

"Get your head out of your ass, Sarah Connor," Derek growled.

She slammed her mug of coffee on the counter. "I'm tired of having this discussion with you. Usurping my parenting skills—"

Derek snorted. "Parenting skills? Tucking him in? He shot and killed someone in the kitchen of the place he calls home. This wasn't a fight on the playground or a scraped knee. You stuck a band aid on a fuckin' gaping hole in his soul." Derek drew a deep breath and averted his face, but not before Sarah caught a glimpse of tears.

"And it didn't work," she admitted softly.

Derek sniffed, then furiously rubbed at his face. "No, it didn't work."

It was her turn to nod towards the living room. "You fixed it?"

Derek's half smile was anything but warm, and Sarah felt a horrific wave of foreboding.

"Derek?"

"No, I didn't fix it. I just stuck on a bigger band aid."

oo~O~oo

Around two, John wandered through the kitchen, dragging his blanket like an overgrown Linus. He passed by Derek and his mother sitting at the table without a sound, and it was only Cameron's quick reflexes that saved her from a head on collision with him.

Head down, eyes at half mast, John knew he wasn't truly awake, which was probably the only reason he wasn't starting an argument with his uncle. His head hurt - not a headache - but probably the residual effects of the sleeping pill, dehydration and the dreams that had followed him into his enforced slumber.

He backtracked, sweeping the floor with the blanket and opened the fridge door. Orange juice, right from the container, certainly a habit that pissed his mother off on a normal day, but based on her silence, today wasn't normal. Playing with fire, he put the container back with barely a mouthful remaining.

"Want something to go with the juice?"

"I need to shower."

"Okay," his mother said.

"You have bed head." Cameron pointed to his hair.

"Thanks for telling me."

"You're welcome."

John just slammed the fridge door hard enough that the bottles on the door rattled an answer, and once again it seemed his mother didn't care enough to say anything.

oo~O~oo

The water was as hot as John could stand and he stood under the spray, hoping the stream of water would rinse the muzziness surrounding his brain down the drain. But as clarity returned, so did the events from last night. In startling detail. The next thing he knew, he was on all fours in the shower, the water pounding on his back, the temperature dropped down to barely above freezing.

Slowly, moving as if he were in his nineties, John rose, turned off the shower and grabbed a towel from the rack. He dried off, dressed, ran his fingers through his wet hair and dumped the towel in the laundry.

oo~O~oo

He was starving, but John couldn't make himself go down to the kitchen. Not now. Maybe not for a year or so. Needing a distraction from his complaining stomach, he opened his Global History text and managed two pages before it dawned on him that he'd read the same paragraph at least three times.

"Knock. Knock."

"Derek."

A plate in one hand and a glass in the other, Derek lifted them both in a salute to John.

John didn't want to feel sociable when all he felt was betrayed.

"I made you a sandwich and a drink."

"Peanut butter?"

"Yeah," Derek answered, his face lighting up with smile. "How'd you guess?"

"Because that's the only thing you know how to make. And the chocolate milk's my mother's handiwork."

"Well, at least we can't burn, undercook or mutilate this." Derek placed the plate and glass on the table with the laptop then stepped back.

Damn, it looked appealing. A stupid sandwich on white bread and a glass of chocolate milk. "Why'd you do it?"

"Do it?"

John stamped on the heat of anger. "Don't play stupid. I'm sure you're not my right hand general or whatever you are in the future because you're my 'yes' man."

Derek laughed. "Definitely not your yes man."

"Good. I'm glad to know that. Now answer my question."

"You were out of control. And if there's one thing you always hated was not being in control. I let you step back. Take a breath." Derek hung his head. "I'm sorry, I couldn't think of any other way to do it."

"I don't think I like me in the future."

Derek remained silent.

"You don't like me much either, do you?"

"I don't have to like you. I just have to trust you. Believe in you."

"Those aren't exactly Hallmark sentiments."

"John." Derek pushed the sandwich closer. "You shot a man in self-defense. You don't need to justify your self-hatred by fortifying it with the belief that I hate you also."

"I..."

"Eat your sandwich. Drink your milk."

"Or?"

"I'll send your mother up here."

John grabbed the sandwich and took a wolf-sized bite then followed it up by a huge gulp of milk. "Okay. I ate and drank."

He received Derek's patented 'don't fuck with me look' and in response, John pulled the plate even closer and finished the meal. "Happy?" John wiped away his chocolate milk moustache with the back of his hand.

"Much better."

"You're worse than my mother."

"Just for the record, John. I don't hate you."

John picked up the plate and glass and held it out for Derek. "Maybe not now, but you will. Sometime in the future you're going to learn to hate my guts."

"Are you working on giving me a head start?"

John didn't know what to say. Right now, he hated himself enough for everyone so maybe in this instance, silence was golden. Opening up the text again, John buried his face in his textbook.

Derek wasn't his mother, who would stand around pacing until she forced him to acknowledge her presence. Not Derek. Thankfully, his uncle grabbed his plate and glass and made a graceful exit.

oo~O~oo

Surprisingly, John made headway with his homework. In the zone. Concentrating on nothing but his assignments, shutting out and ignoring the world him so much so that when his cell phone rang, he jumped.

He checked the caller ID and hesitated, but Daniel was nothing if not persistent. "Hey," John answered distractedly, still focused on the piece of loose leaf in front of him.

"We're going to the movies, wanna come?"

John's response was quick. "Nope."

"No? Bowling?"

John laughed. "No."

"Mall?"

Empty pockets. "No."

"Hang out at Cassie's house. Watch a movie? Pizza?"

This time he hesitated before answering. "No."

"Yes," Daniel insisted.

"No."

"Are you okay, man?"

John hadn't expected that. He'd expected an 'I'll see you tomorrow' or an 'I'll call you later', he still found it hard to wrap his brain around Daniel's friendship. "Tired. Tough day yesterday."

Now it was Daniel's turn to hesitate and John couldn't help but wonder how much his father told him what happened. What John had done.

"Please," Daniel begged. "Do not make me be double teamed by Alexandria and Cassie. Anything you want to do is fine with—"

"Okay."

"Okay?"

"Yeah. Sure. Why not? Though after spending time with the three of you, I'm thinking homework may have been the least of two evils."

oo~O~oo

"No," Sarah said without looking up.

John stood in the doorway of her bedroom, watching as she sorted through weaponry. "Why not? Why can't I go with Daniel to Cassie's?"

"You're kidding me, right?"

"No, I'm not kidding you. I don't want to guess at the answer. I want you to say it."

"John—"

"You're not a coward. Just say it."

She said nothing, but began to clean a random gun from the stockpile.

"Never mind," John said angrily. "I shot someone. I killed a man and for some strange inexplicable reason, my ability to defend myself—"

"Don't be an idiot." She tossed the gun to the side and stomped over to John. "We have no idea who that person was or what or who was their target—"

"Okay," John said, defeated.

"I'm sorry. I wish it—"

"Were different. Me, too. Not too sure at this point where the line between different and normal is in our life."

She reached for him but he backed away with a headshake. Sometimes a hug, a touch, a kiss didn't fix everything. Didn't make him feel 'all better'. No easy fix in his life. In either of their lives.

oo~O~oo

"You're kidding?"

John lay on his bed, cell phone pressed to his ear as he stared up at the ceiling. "No. Sarah Connor has spoken." He sighed melodramatically just for show.

"Why?"

And he lied. Just a little white lie because Daniel wouldn't stop pushing without a plausible explanation. "I had a fever last night."

"I was good last night," Daniel said with a touch of sympathy followed by a low chuckle. "Damn, your mom is worse than my dad."

John's laughter was forced. "No comment."

"Maybe—"

"No maybes. No ifs, ands or buts... not tonight." Not any night in the near future, John wanted to add. "I gotta go."

"Cassie's gonna be so disappointed."

"Janet's her mother, I'm sure she'll empathize with me."

"That was cruel, man, Truthful, but cruel."

"Don't you dare tell her I said that."

"Won't."

"Jackson," John warned, smiling in spite of himself.

oo~O~oo

With his sock-covered foot, John played with the top of the empty pizza box sitting on the coffee table, flipping it up and down repetitively. "You're staring," he addressed Cameron without taking his eyes off the television. "Stop staring."

"I'm watching."

"Yes, you are," John explained slowly, still riveted to whatever was on the screen. "You're watching me and not the TV. You need to watch the television."

"Why?"

"Why?" Finally, John turned to face her. "Because I don't want you watching me."

"No, I meant why do I need to watch the television?"

"Because, metal, John doesn't want you watching him. It creeps him out."

John rubbed his temple and sunk lower into the couch. "It doesn't creep me out... It's just... I don't know, annoying? Ruins what I'm trying to concentrate on."

"Were you trying to concentrate on Ghost Hunters?"

"I would've been but I was too busy concentrating on you staring at me."

His mother appeared in the doorway of the living room, an overstuffed, white plastic garbage bag in each hand. "Chore time, tin miss."

Cameron glanced at John before standing. "You sent me back to watch you. I was doing what you ordered. Next time you need to order me to watch Ghost Hunters."

Derek changed the channel the second Cameron left the room. "I hate watching shows with unbelievable storylines."

oo~O~oo

There was something so very wrong about the armed wagon train circle of protection his mother, Derek and Cameron formed around him when the doorbell rang. Seconds later his phone rang and as one, the three of them turned to stare at John when he answered it.

"Hello?"

"Knock. Knock," Daniel said. "Open up the door. If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, then Mohammed will come to the mountain."

"What?"

"We're right outside on your doorstep, you idiot. Open the damn door," Daniel chided good-naturedly.

oo~O~oo

When they'd lived in Central America, everyone existed in each other's pockets and he'd believed that was what families did. When John ended up with Todd and Janelle Voight, he'd observed but never understood the concept of family gatherings. Barbeques. Birthdays. Holidays. Get-togethers that normal people did. People dropping in for dinner. Drinks. Watch a movie. In the end, part of him had just been warming up to and wrapping his mind around that concept. And the concept that his mother's mental illness was locked up with her. And that he was safe.

But then the future intruded on his life and John was right back where he started from. Out of place and uncomfortable with the concept of opening his house to company. And it showed: Daniel, Dria, Cassie stood in his living room, their smiles broad, their arms filled with soda, chips and a DVD. His mom and Derek flanked him, protecting him from what, he had no idea.

Daniel was not only intelligent, but intuitive. "I hope we're not intruding, Ms. Baum."

John held his breath, because sometimes his mother was outspoken enough to forego etiquette and say what was on her mind. He tried to force impassiveness onto his features when she glanced at him.

"Not at all," she answered with a winning smile.

oo~O~oo

Eventually his mother and Derek disappeared, deserting John. Leaving him all alone with his lack of social skills, Cameron's non-existent ones and his friends, who were getting along famously with each other, jockeying for position, trying to get the DVD player to work while Cameron sat stiffly on the corner chair. He mirrored her position on the corner of the couch.

Cameron walked over to the trio and shoved the remote at them. "John explained to me that to get the DVD to play, you need to hit Video Two."

Cassie took the remote and hit the button. "Ahh, there we go." Cassie backed up and plopped down on the couch next to John. She dropped the remote in his lap. "Hope you're in the mood to laugh."

It was scary that Cameron laughed, fake as it was, more than he did. John might have smiled, but Dane Cook didn't do it for him.

Dria untangled herself from Daniel's embrace, opened a can of soda and grimaced. "John, if you tell me where they are, I'll get some glasses and ice."

Yeah, it would go over big to tell her the glasses were behind the C4. First shelf, second cabinet. "Sorry," he offered an apologetic nod as he pushed himself off the couch. "I'll get them."

oo~O~oo

John wasn't too sure how long he stood in the kitchen doorway, but it must've been long enough that Daniel came looking for him.

"I'm sorry."

"Huh?" John turned around to face him. "Why are you apologizing?"

"You're kidding me, right? We've overstepped something here. Look, man," Daniel's voice dropped down a decibel, "I know Cassie's a bit overpowering—"

"Not that," John said quickly.

"Then what is it?" Daniel asked, his voice even lower than before. "And if you say you're fine, I'm going to beat the shit out of you."

"You and what army?"

"Alexandria. I swear the girl can—"

"Did your dad tell you what happened?"

"Happened? No. What happened?"

"Yesterday," John whispered. "I..." His eyes widened in terror as the doorbell rang. Once was strange enough. Two times in one night was downright scary and it didn't make him feel any more comfortable when his mother and Derek rushed past him and Daniel on their way to answer it.

oo~O~oo

As roomy as this house was, when Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill stepped into the living room, it shrunk.

The look that Colonel O'Neill gave Daniel was eerily familiar and spoke of no room for argument, even though his arm was slung over his son's shoulder. "I need to talk to the Baums. Now."

"Dad, we..."

"Why don't you go visit with your grandma. I'm sure she'd love to see—"

This time, Dria was more astute than Daniel and she tugged him from his father's grasp. "Come on, maybe your grandma will have some of her apple pie."

"Or chocolate walnut cookies," Cassie added dreamily. "Come on, maybe we can even get Rose to enjoy Dane Cook."

John didn't wait for the door to even close in their wake. He was out of the house in a shot, leaving mumbled words of return in his departure. "Daniel!"

Daniel stopped in the middle of the street. John could see him urging Cassie and Dria towards his grandmother's house. There was a little eye roll, a tiny peck on Dria's cheek and a gentle push towards Rose's.

"John."

"Go back inside, Cameron," he ordered, crossing the street to talk to a lone Daniel.

"Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c—"

"Can begin without me. I'm sure someone will fill me in." John walked backwards, answering her. He turned around when Daniel tapped on his shoulder. "I need to talk to you."

Daniel glanced at Cameron, then over his shoulder at his Rose's home. "Where do you want to go?"

"I killed someone last night. I shot him... In my kitchen. I thought..." John stumbled, hands trying to pick the right words out of the air. "I thought he was a terminator."

"Shit. Man..."

"I just wanted to tell you in case my mom pulls up stakes after talking to your dad."

"What does my dad have to do with this?"

"I think someone called him last night... I'm not too... I gotta go."

Daniel reached out and grabbed him. "Just in case," he said, hesitating before surprising the shit out of John and hugging him close. "I'll see you sometime in the future."

oo~O~oo

John entered the house, Cameron on his tail. The look his mother gave him was deadly. Derek's was one of annoyance, Teal'c's imitated Cameron, expressionless, while the Colonel's was filled with soft tolerance.

"Sorry." Head down, he sat on the coffee table, ignoring his mother's disdain boring into his back.

"Frank Morrison—" the Colonel began.

John's head jerked up. "Frank Morrison?"

"Does that name sound familiar?"

John whipped his head around to search out his mother. "Definitely," he answered once he received her nod of approval. "Mom suspected him of being Sarkissian's partner in Colorado. What I managed to locate was pretty cut and dry. Owner of Benchtech Corp. Monetary backer of a number of entrepreneurs. Made millions recently," John rubbed his forehead, "with that new gaming system. He's..."

"The man you shot."

John paled. He could feel the color leach from his face. "I killed Morrison? The CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Shitshitshit." So much for keeping under the radar.

"There is no reason for remorse, JohnBaum. The man you killed was armed and threatened you in your home."

"That doesn't make me feel any better."

"Morrison was looking for Sarkassian."

"Why?" his mother asked, leaning forward, resting a hand on the small of John's back.

"Because..." The Colonel began to pace. "Morrison peremptorily sank every penny he owned into the promised Turk. Sarkissian, in the meantime, was playing bait and switch... Or maybe just bait and bait. Reeled Morrison in, took the money and, well... It wasn't a happy ending."

"How'd he find us?" Derek questioned.

"Sarkissian waved you in front of Morrison's face as a competitor for the Turk."

oo~O~oo

The house was quiet, the only sound was the frequent creak of the floor as Cameron patrolled. Kitchen. Living room. Dining room. John lost count of the number of rotations she'd performed.

He lay in bed, fully clothed, staring intently through the dark at the ceiling. The body had been disposed of. Colonel O'Neill and the SGC had concocted some story which, in the long run, covered John's ass and gave Morrison's family a body to bury. Family.

Morrison had a family. A wife. Parents. Three kids. He'd seen the pictures. Read the bios. He'd skimmed while searching for his mother's information but tonight, after the Colonel and Teal'c had left, John had gone upstairs and scoured the internet. He'd found pictures. And stories. And dimension to the man who'd bled out on his kitchen floor.

On some level, Morrison was no different than his mother. He'd been pushed to the extreme trying to protect his wife and family and what Morrison had done had been the actions of a desperate man. Desperation drove people to do desperate things.

oo~O~oo

He didn't sleep. He couldn't. Sleep brought on a whole new dimension to his frequent nightmares and John was out of bed, showered and dressed, staring at his computer monitor before the sun rose.

Recent images of Morrison's family showed tears, his attractive wife speaking before the camera. Philanthropist. Visionary. Loving husband. Father. Son. Tragic loss. John cried right along with them, feeling their loss, hating the person who'd so tragically cut short Frank Morrison's life.

oo~O~oo

The fevers abated, and as much as John prayed for a different outcome, Janet gave the two of them the all clear to return to school come Monday morning.

Great.

Wonderful.

School was the last place he wanted to be, but as he watched his mother watch him with worry in her eyes, John realized that maybe school was better than home with its ghost and shadows.

Problem was, school had now become a travesty. John passed from class to class, not participating, speaking only when spoken to. Cameron buffered him, carrying on conversations with their friends, answering for him, and no one was the wiser over his silence. Cameron was forever the illusionist.

Daniel cornered him in gym class, where there was no Cameron for him to hide behind. "I'm glad your mom decided to stay—"

"Your dad took care of everything."

"That's great." Daniel slapped him on the back.

"The guy is still dead." Angrily, John dragged his backpack out of the stuffed gym locker. "Nothing great about that."

"You knew what I meant."

John sighed, ashamed. "Yeah, I did," he begrudgingly admitted as he studied Daniel. "Sorry."

"Ready for lunch?" Daniel asked when the bell rang.

The thought of food made John's stomach churn. "Sure."

oo~O~oo

John tossed his bagged lunch into the garbage before sitting down at the lunch table. Cameron forcibly handed him her bagged lunch, but he pushed it back to her and instead accepted half of Daniel's hot ham and cheese and shared Cassie's fries.

Cameron's hand skimmed his neck, and he glanced at her, shocked at the intimate touch in the school lunchroom. "Freak," he whispered. He was going to say more but he followed Cameron's gaze and saw that no one at the table was even paying attention to him. Or her. Or their interaction.

"Not a freak."

"Whatever, just don't—"

"Just don't what?" Cassie asked, dropping more of her fries on the napkin in front of John.

"I'm being an annoying freak."

John blushed, caught in the act. "We'll talk about this later. At home."

Corey threw his arm around Cameron's shoulder and tried to tug her against him, but the terminator was an impenetrable and unmoving force. "Is your brother bothering you? Just let me know and I'll take care of him."

"I would have to kill you if you took care of John."

"You're a funny girl, Cameron Baum." Corey gently tugged on her hair before sliding his hand back to his lunch.

"Yeah. Funny," John said, trying his damnedest not to even look at Daniel, who was struggling to maintain composure. "Ha. Ha. That's my sister. A barrel of laughs."

oo~O~oo

John focused intently in class. Taking notes, paying attention, or so he thought, but come evening, when he was attempting to do homework, he couldn't make heads or tails out of anything he'd written. Or the lesson given.

With a groan, he sat back in the chair and massaged his temples with the tips of his fingers. God, he was tired. His eyes burned and his brain was already asleep. Now if he could just convince his body to move to the bed and become horizontal.

oo~O~oo

Arms flailing, John came awake fighting.

"Whoa. Easy."

His arms were pinned to the chair and he opened his eyes, blinking a few times before his mother's face came into focus. "I fell asleep?"

"Sitting up." Quickly, she glanced at this monitor. "If the clock on this thing is correct, you have about another two hours before your alarm goes off."

Damn. "What are you doing up?"

"Go to sleep, okay? In your bed."

"I woke you. Sorry." John rubbed his eyes. "I need to finish homework."

"You need to sleep."

His mother held back the covers of the bed, then watched and waited until John slipped in. "Stay," she ordered with a half smile.

He waited until he heard the squeak of her bedsprings, countered to twenty then slowly and cautiously eased himself out from under the covers. Turning down the sound on his monitor, he opened his math book again and worked by the light of the screen, forcing himself to make good use of the two hours.

oo~O~oo

For breakfast, John had cereal, pancakes, two glasses of milk, heavy on the chocolate, and a huge mug of coffee, hoping that something in the meal would give him enough energy to keep him semi-awake and aware throughout the day.

By second period, during a pop quiz, in the silence of a testing class, John began to drift, the words on the paper blurring. He raised his hand, asked to be excused and headed out to the bathroom. He stopped by the first sink, blasted the cold water and cupped his hands under the stream. One, two, three times he splashed water on his face, then ran this wet fingers through his hair, pushing it off his face. The shock didn't work half bad, though a nap or a cold shower would've been his wake up call of choice.

"Have a nice shower, Baum?" the teacher asked when John returned to class.

John shrugged off the class's laughter, dropped into his chair and continued with the quiz, managing to finish just as the bell rang.

oo~O~oo

At lunch, he never even opened his bag, he just stuck it in the middle of the table, crossed his arms over his backpack, placed his head on the pillow they made and closed his eyes. John was probably on his way to drooling when the fire alarm went off.

"Come on, John."

"Five more minutes."

"Do you need me to carry you?"

It was Daniel's burst of laughter more than Cameron's question that roused John into consciousness.

"Shut up," he grumbled as he hooked his backpack over one shoulder and shuffled towards the exit. John waited for the all clear, eyes opened, asleep on his feet.

"You're snoring," Cassie said. "Why don't you go home?"

"Leaving school early puts John on the radar."

"Ignore her," John answered with a yawn. "That's her way of saying that our mom would be pissed if I left because I didn't get my full eight hours sleep last night."

"Or the night before," Cameron added.

John stuck his tongue out at Cameron, whose eyes widened in surprise. She stuck a tentative tongue out at John.

Dria playfully hit John's shoulder. "The two of you are worse that Cassie and Daniel. Stop it."

"John started it."

John must be deliriously tired because he could swear Cameron's voice was filled with indignant hurt, but the bell sounded before he could address that.

"Wow, we managed to have a fire drill and still have twenty minutes left for lunch." Daniel patted John's back. "Or a power nap, in your case."

"I'll be right there." John turned off into the bathroom next to the cafeteria. The bathroom smelled of cigarette smoke. John waved away the cloud that enveloped him and walked to the sink to try the cold water trick again.

oo~O~oo

John filled his lungs with air, coughed, then inhaled again, staring into the confused face of Daniel Jackson who had a two-handed grip on the front of his hoody.

"Jeesus, John."

His gazed flitted around the green ceramic tiled room. "Bathroom. I went to—"

"Yeah, whatever. And then you disappeared."

"Disappeared. No, I was right here. Wanted to splash some cold water on my face. It smelled of smoke in here... And it..." John's lungs closed again, like they had before and he pushed at Daniel's hands. "I remember," he gasped, "The guy I... The guy who... Frank Morrison," he stuttered in a hushed voice, "smelled like smoke. Cigarette smoke. And he was here." John pointed a shaking hand at the corner. "And I couldn't breathe. Can't breathe." John pulled at the neck of his tee shirt. "I'm going to—"

Daniel dragged him to a stall and John stumbled to the toilet, vomiting up his breakfast.

"Well, that was pretty gross."

John grabbed the wet, rough paper towel Daniel was waving in his face. "Yeah, it was grosser from this end, actually."

"I've never truly met someone more fucked up than I am."

John buried his face in the paper towel and groaned.

Daniel leaned over him and flushed the toilet. "Sorry, but I was going to be losing my lunch in a moment."

"No apology necessary."

"Do you feel better?"

"Compared to what?"

"When you first came in here?"

"Yeah. Maybe. I think." The bell rang and John glanced up at Daniel. "Shit."

Daniel offered him his hand. "Think we're going to need a late pass or two."

John stood up with Daniel's assistance. "So much for getting through the day without becoming a blip on someone's radar."

oo~O~oo

Frank Morrison was sitting next to Andy Goode at the kitchen table in their home in California. There was a chessboard between the two of them and they were playing, making ridiculous moves.

"You shouldn't do that," John corrected when Frank's knight moved into the path of Andy's queen.

"Shut up, kid," Frank growled. "If I had the Turk, I wouldn't be worrying about making stupid moves, would I?"

Barbara Chamberlain was sitting next to Andy, winking at John as she flicked Vic's chip from hand to hand.

Janelle and Todd were carrying on an intense discussion with Derek, too low for John to hear, but they kept looking at him and clicking their tongues in disapproval. Smoke was pouring out of the oven, but his mother didn't seem to care or notice.

"Dinner's done. Smell's done." John sniffed the air.

"Cameron will take care of it."

Cameron appeared, opened the oven and smoke poured out, filling the kitchen.

John gagged, unable to see anything but he could feel the barrel of a gun pressed to his temple.

The fire alarm in the house went off, drowning out his yell for help as the owner of the gun gruffly spoke in his ear. "Not my kid."

oo~O~oo

"Come on, sleepyhead," his mother said, shaking his arm.

John sat up with a gasp. "Fire alarm?"

"Nope," she said, tapping the button on his alarm clock, silencing the annoying beep. "The only thing ringing around here has been your alarm. For the past fifteen minutes."

"Wrong house," he mumbled looking around.

"Right house," she stood kissing the top of his head. "Bad dream?"

"Nah," he lied, yawning. "Still asleep."

"Pancakes?"

A quick glance at the clock gave him his answer. "No time. Time for drive thru... Starbucks?"

"Cereal."

"At Starbucks?"

"No, in the Connor kitchen. Now get a move on."

oo~O~oo

"We're having a test?" John turned to Daniel in panic.

"Yeah, Baum," Nate said, turning around and tapping John's desk with his pencil. "Big test."

"I, ummm..." Forgot? Didn't remember? Had other things on his mind? "I'm going to fail."

"You know this shit, John," Daniel whispered as they handed the papers to the person sitting behind him.

"I... Didn't even... I'm going to fail," he repeated, horrified.

"Mr. Baum, in my opinion, it would be more beneficial if you'd remain quiet to take the test."

"I'm sorry, sir." John bent his head over the test, pencil in hand and prepared to fail.

oo~O~oo

It was no better in any of the other classes. He was ill prepared for each and every one of them, so just before lunch, with a quick glance over his shoulder, he casually strode out of school.

oo~O~oo

Daniel put his tray on the lunch table, then sat down.

"Where's John?" was Cameron's greeting.

Daniel shrugged as he picked a sliver of cheese from his taco.

Cameron stood and searched the lunchroom. "John's not here."

"Who's not here?" Alexandria asked as she slid into the seat next to Daniel.

"John."

"John?" Cassie dropped her tray onto the table with a thud and like Cameron, rotated, trying to find him in the crowd. "I saw him go to his locker."

Daniel sighed as he pushed away from the table. "I'll be back, I'll check out the bathroom. And if anyone touches anything on my plate, there'll be hell to pay when I get back."

oo~O~oo

Nope. No bathroom. No hallway. Daniel got as far as scoping out the area by John's locker before receiving a stern reprimand from the hall monitor on duty about not wandering the halls He tried John's cell phone, and left a semi-urgent message on voice mail when he didn't pick up.

Cameron was waiting for Daniel by the entrance into the cafeteria. "I lost John."

"Not lost, misplaced maybe, but not lost."

"Or dead. John could be dead."

"He's not dead," Daniel shouted, then lowered his voice. "He's not. I just saw him. Well not just," he clarified. "He was in class. In Spanish." Daniel looked around the room, "But..."

"But he's not here now," Cameron interrupted.

"No, he isn't."

"I'm going to find him."

"I'll come with you."

"No." Cameron put out her hand and placed it on Daniel's chest. "You need to stay here in case someone finds John."

oo~O~oo

The remainder of the day was interminable. Daniel called John numerous times and every single solitary time he got voice mail. By the last time, as he boarded the bus, the message stated that the mailbox was now full.

Once home, Daniel didn't even drop off his backpack. Heck, he didn't even take the time to go into the house. Instead he went directly to the garage, grabbed his bicycle and took off to scour the town. His dad was working late tonight, so Daniel had a few hours to hunt John down before his father came home.

oo~O~oo

Daniel stopped in front of the Laundromat that had been John's safe place, and peered into the window. Except for a young pregnant woman, the place was empty. He was pretty much out of options; he'd checked every place he could think of and then some. And all of them had come up empty.

His stomach growled, loudly. Besides being hungry, he was tired, sweaty and worry was beginning to move into the realm of pissoffedness. "Damn it, John, where the fuck are you?"

Slowly, Daniel began to pedal, lost in thought, feeling as if he was missing something. Missing John. He skirted around traffic, ignoring the honking horns of annoyed drivers, concentrating on his next course of action. He was going to start at the beginning. At school.

His cell phone rang just as he was crossing the street to the soccer field. "Shit." He pedaled faster, cursing the entire time, and got to the other side one ring short of the message going to voice mail. "Hello?" Daniel had answered the phone so quickly, he didn't even check the caller ID.

"Hey, man."

"John?" Daniel stepped off the bike and let it fall to the ground. "John?" he repeated louder. "Where the hell are you? Are you okay?" Daniel began to walk around in circles as he shot off questions to John.

"I'm at... The place..."

"Terminator? Is there a terminator?"

"No, no terminator." John snorted. "Though I'm sure Cameron is probably on my ass right about now."

"Where are you?"

"Yeah," he giggled. "I never answered that question, did I?"

"Are you high?"

"Noooo... I might be a little drunk, though."

"Where are you?" Daniel asked harshly.

"Donovan's Park and I... I really could use some company."

Donovan's Park. A plot of land overrun with brush and trees down the block from the school. Authorities had tried to clean it up. Police periodically made an appearance. But nothing had ever happened, and it had remained Donovan's Park since the beginning of time. He'd hung out there on many an occasion. Solitude. Exclusion from the outside world. Wooden boxes for seats. Old car seats for couches. "Give me five... And don't drink any more without me, okay?"

"Promise, no more drinking without ya. And Daniel?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

oo~O~oo

This time of day Donovan's Park was empty. So quiet and deserted, in fact, that as Daniel maneuvered his bicycle through the overgrowth, he was positive that John was pulling his leg. "John?" he called out as he got closer, but his greeting was met with silence.

Daniel persevered, cursing at the weeds smacking his legs and getting caught in the spokes of his bike.

John was on one of the car seats, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his head resting on the back, one arm covering his eyes, the other hugging his backpack to his stomach. An opened bottle of whiskey was resting against his leg.

"Hey, John." Daniel leaned the bike against a tree and sat on an upside down milk crate opposite John.

"Hmmm." John waved at him with the hand covering his eyes, then slowly let it drop and grabbed the neck of the bottle. "Wanna drink?"

Daniel leaned over and took the bottle from John. Thankfully the bottle was still half full. "Wanna tell me what happened?"

"When?" John stretched as if he'd been sleeping and Daniel's question just woke him. "You want to know what happened when? When I shot Frank Morrison in my kitchen while my mom was barbequing outside in the rain? Or when the substitute teacher two schools before yours drew a gun and tried to kill me in the middle of class? Or when our Jeep blew up on my birthday and Cameron was inside? Or how about spending three years going from pillar to post 'cause my mom was locked up in a mental institution? Which when are you looking for, Jackson?"

"Daniel," he replied automatically.

"Yeah, Daniel," John scrubbed at his face. "Sorry. I'm still a bit clueless on this friendship thing."

"Takes practice."

"From what people have said, I don't think it's something I'm going to excel at."

"Maybe that's what I'm for."

"Do you realize I'm not the master of my own fate? That my mother could pull up stakes at any time? Change our name? Our cell phone number? Move us back to Central America? With no internet service? And I won't find you." John raked his arm across his eyes. "God, that sounds pathetic and whiney even for me."

Daniel held up the bottle. "I'm thinking you had some help."

"I can feel it. My mother's got the itch. She's looking over her shoulder. Watching me. Stockpiling weapons. Car always has a full gas tank. The signs are all there."

"Talk to her."

"How do you argue with the logic," John made air quotes, "no one is ever safe?"

"That's not logic."

"You're right, it's reality."

"No." Daniel shook his head. "It's fear. Even if Judgment Day can't be stopped, you're where you should be. Cheyenne Mountain. Now that's logic," Daniel said triumphantly.

"We've changed Judgment Day, you know. Pushed it back…" John shook his head. "Time travel is so fuckin' confusing. Forward. We pushed it forward, but we didn't stop it."

"Maybe in this reality you do."

John offered Daniel a head shake and a half smile. "I never realized you were an optimist."

"I never realized you were a stubborn asshole."

"What if we haven't changed it enough and... And..." John snatched the bottle back from Daniel and took a swig, shuddering and licking his lips after swallowing. "We lose each other. Cameron and Derek said I need you. How will we find each other years from now? How will I recognize you?"

Daniel bent forward and retrieved the bottle, taking a quick gulp. The liquid burned, tasted awful but the warmth spread out and flourished. "I have an idea," he said, taking another drink for fortification because his father certainly wasn't going to believe this was a good idea and Daniel was pretty damn sure his father was going to kill him.

oo~O~oo

John's first few steps were unsteady, but by the time they reached the street, he'd straightened up enough not to draw any attention. Daniel stuck the bottle in his backpack and walked the bicycle, keeping pace with John.

"What's your idea?"

"Identification."

"Huh?"

"You'll see, just be patient."

They walked three blocks in silence. Daniel only started his explanation when they were two storefronts away from Sue's shop. "I tutored this kid and his sister was eternally grateful. Pierced my ear, no questions asked. Not my age, nor the fact that my father wasn't there or hadn't given permission."

John stopped dead in his tracks. "We're going to get matching earrings?"

Daniel looked back at him and quirked an eyebrow. "You're doing that asshole thing again."

oo~O~oo

John's grin was lopsided as he admired the ankh tattooed on his left bicep. "You're a genius, man."

Gingerly, Daniel pulled down the sleeve to cover his own tattoo. "I have my moments." One of them would be when his father caught the glyph of Earth tattooed on his left bicep.

"Just remember to follow the directions for the care and feeding of those tattoos, gentlemen."

"Thanks, Sue, for everything." Daniel stuck out his hand, then blushed when Sue ignored it and kissed his cheek instead.

"Thank you, Daniel," she paused, "for everything."

"Have Jason call me if he needs any more help."

"I will." She surprised John by kissing him also. "Take care of yourself, honey." Sue stepped back and stared at him. "Strange vibes..." She grabbed his hands, "Next time you're in the neighborhood, stop in. I have a protection talisman with your name on it."

John laughed. "Going to need it after my mom sees your handiwork."

oo~O~oo

"It's four fifteen," Daniel said checking his watch. "Your mother—"

"I'm not going home."

"John..."

"Look, you can go home if you want."

His words said one thing, John's body language and facial expression said something completely different. "Nah. My dad's not home. Don't feel like pacing the house thinking of places to hide so he can't find me to kill me."

John barked out a snort of laughter.

"Though the fact that I have a tracking device imbedded in my arm—"

"You're shitting me."

"Nope. Take me along for the ride and they'll track me down in seconds flat." Daniel sighed, "So I guess this is where we part company."

oo~O~oo

"Do you have any money on you?"

Daniel stopped, dug into his pockets, pulled out a ten. "Hold it." He reached around into the side pocket of his backpack and tugged out a twenty. "Compliments of my grandmother."

John plucked the ten and twenty from Daniel's fingers. "Trust me?"

"Is that a question?"

"I don't think this will kill you."

"Whoa." Daniel reached out to grab the money.

John stepped out of Daniel's reach. "Only kidding." He did a one-eighty, looking up and down the block, searching for something.

oo~O~oo

John came out of the hardware store and stuffed the bag into his backpack while walking.

"Well?" Daniel asked, not moving. "Would you like to share where exactly you're going."

"Back to Donovan's? Unless you got a better idea."

Since his days on this earth were already numbered, Daniel figured why not go with the gusto. "I have a great idea."

"As great as the tattoo one?"

"Oh, this one is better. Trust me."

"Was that a question?"

Daniel just rolled his eyes and began to walk.

oo~O~oo

John settled on the roof, opened his backpack, took out the second bottle he'd stolen from home, the bag of Chips Ahoy and the bag of stuff he'd bought at the hardware store. Slowly, he talked himself through what he was going to do, chalking up his shaking hands to this afternoon's alcohol consumption.

Neither bottle had been full and after taking one, he'd realized he didn't truly want to do this alone. So he'd shoved the second one along for the ride, found his way to Donovan's Park and the rest, as they say, is history.

Hiding in plain sight, Daniel had said, and while John had some misgivings, he was desperate enough to know he had nowhere else to go. Home was so out of the picture. He opened the bottle and took a swig, just on the odd chance a crack formed in his guilt foundation. This didn't taste any better than the first, but it wasn't taste he was going for, was it?

"Bike's all put away. I stashed my backpack so my dad..." Wide-eyed, Daniel took in the second bottle John had his hand wrapped around. "Two?"

"Was expecting company." He took another drink then passed it over to Daniel. "You might need this."

Daniel sat then hesitated before taking the bottle. "Why?"

John scratched his head and smiled ruefully. "Not sure, it might sting." He pointed to Daniel's arm as an explanation

"Might?"

"Yeah..."

"On a scale of one to ten, where does might fall?"

John snorted, then sniffed. "Not as much as that thing Teal'c shot me with and a little more than a needle pinch."

"I hate needles."

John tapped the bottle. "I'll feel better if your senses are a bit dulled."

"Can't I just bite a bullet?"

Bad choice of words and John's glare forced the rest of Daniel's sentence to just fade away. Angrily, John pushed the bottle up to Daniel's mouth. "Drink," he growled. As soon as Daniel took the bottle and began to drink, John touched Daniel's bicep with the homemade device he'd concocted with the stuff from the hardware store.

"Shit!" Daniel jumped, spewing his mouthful across the roof.

John dropped the device, saved the bottle and averted his face from Daniel's accusatory glare.

"That hurt." Furiously, he rubbed at the spot, then reached forward, grabbed the bottle and swallowed. "And this tastes like shit."

John took the bottle back and examined it. "I don't care what it tastes like; it was either that or the something that had a worm in it."

Daniel gagged. "No worms, okay?"

"No worms."

"So you think it worked?" Daniel poked at the residual red mark left behind.

"I guess if they find us on the roof, the answer to that question would be no." He grabbed the device, stuck it into his backpack then tried to regain his semi-comfortable position with his back against the wall, feet straight out in front of him. John stuck the bottle between his legs and tried to open the bag of cookies, which for some strange reason seemed to be a monumental feat. "These aren't childproof, are they?" he asked, shaking the bag.

"You're making crumbs. Gimme the bag."

Daniel opened it with his teeth then dumped it back in John's lap.

"Thanks, buddy." Sticking his hand in the bag he took two, gave one to Daniel then stuffed the cookie in his mouth, washing it down with a mouthful of whiskey. "Not exactly cookies and milk." This time he took a swig to wash away the visual of the kitchen. His mom. And pancakes. "But it'll do." John had the bottle do a little dance over to Daniel. "You're lagging behind." John waited a beat or two, watched Daniel lift the bottle to his lips and swallow. "Nice," he said thickly, sticking out his hand. "Now give it back."

"Wait a minute." Daniel took another slug, coughed, then reached into the bag for a cookie. "My grandma's are better than these."

John snatched the bottle from Daniel and waved it in the air. "Well, I couldn't exactly go to your grandmother's house and ask her to whip us up a bath... batch of cookies, could I?"

"You know, sometimes you're a dick."

"Thought I was an asshole." His head hurt and his stomach wasn't feeling that great, but he could still remember the look on Morrison's family's faces so he took two long gulps, trying to wipe his memory.

"Well, you are an asshole. And a dick. And my friend."

"Thanks, Jackson."

"Daniel."

"Daniel," John slurred. "You know something, Daniel, Dria's hot."

"Hand's off."

John raised his hands, the bottle anchored between his knees. "Not touching."

"Can I ask you a question?"

John turned to look at Daniel. With his head down, a few strands of hair blowing in the breeze, his face was hidden from John. "Sure. Ask away."

"Do you think I'm a virgin?"

John snorted, loudly, the sound bursting forth before he had a chance to clamp his hand over his mouth. He cleared his throat, trying to regain some composure, but he was still giggling when he reached out a hand and patted Daniel's knee. "If you don't know, how the hell would I know?"

"I was married when I was old... er... Married when I was older."

That time change thing was confusing on a good day. "For how long?"

"A year."

"A year? Well, then I hope to God you're not a virgin." John took another drink, slower this time. Curious. "So... Was it... You know... "

Daniel shrugged. Sighing, he reached for the bottle, taking a drink before answering. "I can't remember all the details... More like it was..." He took another drink. "Like a wet dream."

"Awww, shit, really? Not fair."

"Yeah. So that's why I was wondering. Would I be considered a virgin?"

"I'm not sure. I wonder if that falls into the same category of me being old enough to drink, drive and be a college graduate, but yet my mother still cooks my breakfast and washes my clothes." John shook his head, before reaching for the bottle. "We're so fucked up."

"Well, at least," Daniel said, picking up a cookie and offering it to John in exchange for the bottle. "We have company in our fuckupedness."

"I don't think that's a word." John began to take the cookies out of the bag and made little piles, three to each stack.

"Is now."

"You and your friends are so smart. Cameron's smart, but she's a robot, so I don't think that counts. I just get by the skin of my teeth. And now... Shit... I'm so screwed." He stuck out his hand. "I need another drink."

"You know, Cassie's fucked up right with us."

"I've met her mom. She's scarier than my mom and her weapons of choice are all pointy needles and catheters. No wonder she's fucked up."

"She's not from around here."

Bleary-eyed, John turned to face Daniel. "Newsflash. I'm not from around here either."

"She's an alien," Daniel whispered.

"I speak Spanish."

"Give me a cookie, you idiot." Daniel grabbed a pile of cookies, John offered him the bottle but he shook his head. John shrugged and drank Daniel's share. "Not that kinda alien." Daniel used a cookie as a pointer skyward.

"You're drunk, man."

"Yeah, maybe... But honest. Cassie comes from... "

"Outer space?"

Daniel answered with a vigorous nod.

"Well, that certain explains Doc Fraiser's attitude, being an—"

"Janet's not an alien. Just Cassie."

"Oh." John used the neck of the bottle to rub his forehead. "So Cassie's an alien.

Her mother's not."

"Right."

"Cassie's father was an alien."

"And so was her mother."

"Fraiser's her moth—"

"Her parents and all of her family were wiped out on a planet. She was the lone survivor. Janet adopted her... Though they found a bomb in her chest that was—"

"Stop! Just stop," John yelled, tapping the body of the bottle against Daniel's stomach. "I'm having a hard enough time realizing that the only girls who find me dateable are a terminator and an alien. Let's leave weaponry out of this."

"Dateable? You think Cassie's cute?"

"Cute? She's just as hot as Dria. You need new glasses, man?"

Daniel grabbed the bottle and gulped down two large swallows. His eyes teared as he stared at John, the bottom of the bottle thumping loudly on the roof as he gave a little cough, took a breath, and licked his lips.

"Let me get this right. You think Cassie and..." Daniel shook his head in disbelief.

"Doesn't matter. She's got a boyfriend, right?"

"Not anymore. She and Dominic broke up."

John's grin felt rubbery, his lips passing loosely over his teeth. He tried to compose himself, took a sip from the bottle while Daniel continued to shake his head.

"Cassie?" Daniel said again. "You want to date Cassie? You? Cassie?"

"You got a problem with that?" John suddenly felt nervous at the thought that his new best friend might be upset now that he'd confessed he was interested in someone who was almost family to him.

"I don't know. I don't... You and Cassie?" Still looking dumfounded, Daniel grabbed the bottle back, raised it in the air in a toast, took a sip and handed it back. "Good luck to you. You'll need it if Cassie likes you, too."

John leaned forward eagerly. "Do you think she does like me?"

"Doesn't matter. You hurt her, and you'll be having to answer to me first."

"You? You don't scare me. Her mom, on the other hand..."

John swallowed his embarrassment when Daniel burst out laughing.

oo~O~oo

John was past buzzed and well on his way to being drunk. And the reason he knew that was because if he thought really, really, really hard, he could no longer picture Frank Morrison's face. Or his grieving family. He let out a sigh of contentment and followed it up with a burp.

Daniel's groan drew his attention.

" 'Kay?" John's hand not holding the bottle flopped in Daniel's direction.

"Gotta pee."

John held the bottle up, moved it around and took a deep swallow. The alcohol had stopped having any taste a while ago. Resting the bottle against the wall, he rolled over onto all fours. "Gotta pee," John agreed as he crawled over to the railing, then looked behind him. Daniel was up, swaying in the breeze, a half smile on his face.

"Need help?" Daniel asked, using the wall as a guide to shuffle over to John.

John used the railing to pull himself up, trying to figure out if he could get his dick out one handed. "Here's hoping the future savior of all mankind doesn't fall off the roof trying to take a piss."

Daniel snorted as he struggled with his zipper. "Your mom would be so ticked off at you if you met your demise peeing off a roof."

John let out a sigh of relief in time with his stream of piss. "Ya think?"

oo~O~oo

John zipped up his hoody and closed his eyes. He patted the blacktop next to his leg until he found the bottle. He knew without even opening his eyes that he really didn't want whatever was left. "Want?" he asked, swinging the bottle over to Daniel.

Daniel pushed it back. "I don't think so," he slurred.

John laid the bottle down and pushed it away. "There, no one will know..." He swallowed the rest of the sentence then began again. "No one will know we were drinking."

He slid down, used his backpack for a pillow and settled down.

"You know, I once shot a man."

John opened one eye. "Doesn't count if you were old, Daniel."

"Adult. Not old."

"Still doesn't count."

"It was a few months ago, I think, before you moved here."

"Did ya kill him?"

"No. Didn't kill him."

"Missed?"

"Duress... forgot safety."

"I still win. I killed my guy." He giggled. "Score one for the savior."

"I killed the next one."

John levered himself up on one elbow. "Really?"

Daniel nodded, then grimaced, resting a hand over his eyes. "Sky moves."

"Noticed that, too?"

"At the SGC."

John looked around, puzzled. "No, we're on the roof."

"Ahole," Daniel mumbled. "Killed the guy at the SGC, he was going to shoot my dad. I killed him. Yup. Shot him dead." Daniel positioned his thumb and pointer finger into a gun and formed a poor imitation of a weapon firing.

"You win," John said sadly. "Because you saved your dad. That's lotsa points."

"Then we're tied," Daniel said with a huge smile. "You shot your guy defending your whole family. Just like me."

John dropped down onto his back. "You know, Daniel, we're just fucked up," he repeated for the millionth time.

"We're drunk fuck ups, get your facts straight."

"Sorry." John closed his eyes and passed out with his arms wrapped tightly around his backpack, anchoring him to the undulating rooftop.

oo~O~oo

Eyes burning with fatigue, Jack got out of the Avalanche and walked wearily up his walkway. The sun wasn't quite up yet, just a blimp of a promise over the horizon. His mother opened the front door before he could put the key into the lock.

"Anything?"

"Not a sign of them. Hammond's going to declare this a kidnapping, even though we haven't heard anything about a ransom yet." He stepped inside and followed his nose towards the coffee coming from the kitchen.

"Kidnapping?" His mom's hand covered her mouth. "You mean those terrorists who were after John and his family. You think they caught the boys."

Jack took his mom in his arms and hugged her. He wasn't about to tell her what they actually feared – that a terminator had found them and had... "We don't know that yet. But it's something we have to be prepared for. But the fact that Daniel's GPS isn't working could also mean it's someone else behind this. And no, I can't say," he said quickly when she opened her mouth to question him.

She sniffed and patted her eyes with a tissue she took out of her pants' pocket. "There's fresh coffee."

"Thanks." He poured himself a cup and with a heavy sigh, leaned back against the counter.

"So, what's next?"

"I don't know, Mom."

"You're going back out to look for them, aren't you?"

"We've driven all over the city with no sign of them."

"I know. I've done some of that driving myself."

"It's a waste of time."

"The sun's coming up. We might see things we missed earlier in the dark."

"Mom, we checked all of Daniel's favorite places, and then some."

"Remember when he was five and we lost him in the mall—"

"This is different."

"He was there, right under our noses, all that time. Maybe this time it's the same thing. Something we missed because we couldn't see clearly. It's one thing to search a park with a flashlight and another to search it in daylight."

"It's not like the boys ran away."

"And maybe they're lying hurt, in a park or back alley, unconscious, and we couldn't see them because it was too dark. This is a whole new day. If you're not going out there, then I am."

"I have people still out there searching—"

"Then what the hell are you doing here? You should be out there with them, searching for your son."

Jack held a warning hand up towards his mother, tying to deflect her growing anger. "I'm going to go back out," he said slowly, deliberately keeping his own temper in check. "But we've spent the night without a game plan. Now's the time we need to sit down and figure things out. Decide the next step. Sarah and Reese are heading over here, as well as Carter. Once we're ready, we'll head on back outside."

He strode to the back door and stepped out onto the patio. The sun was just coming up, the shadows disappearing, little tendrils of sunlight sneaking past the leaves. Jack leaned his back against the rail deck, took a sip of coffee, and prayed that his son was still alive.

A bird twittered, another answered, and a third flew overhead. It landed on the top of his roof and he raised his head to watch it. Ah, to have wings and fly all over the city. How much time he'd save if he could search that way. He followed it visually as it hopped along his rooftop.

Jack squinted. There was something there, something that didn't belong... He put his coffee cup down on the picnic table and walked along the deck until he was directly beneath the pale thing that...

"Oh, shit!"

An arm, it was an arm.

Running pell mell down the steps and around the corner, Jack grabbed the rung of the ladder leading to the rooftop and climbed it at a run.

"Daniel!" His son was lying on the roof, curled up on his side, close to the ladder. John Connor was sprawled on the opposite edge, one arm hanging over the edge of the roof, the other wrapped tightly around his backpack. Jack stepped onto the rooftop, careful not to trip over limbs, and knelt next to his son. He felt for his pulse, and breathed a sigh of relief when he felt its strong beat.

"Daniel." He spoke normally despite his urge to scream his son's name once again as he shook Daniel's shoulder. Daniel moaned, coughed and tried to bat Jack's hand away. That was when Jack caught the stench of alcohol.

"What the..." He moved over to John, checked the boy's pulse, and then retrieved the nearly empty bottle of whiskey which was sitting between his telescope's legs as well as his son's neatly folded glasses. He grabbed the glasses and pocketed them.

"Oh, you two didn't..." He squatted there a moment, overwhelmed with relief, and gave a silent thanks. But as he stood, now that the boys were safe, that relief quickly turned to anger and disappointment. From the looks of things, they'd been up here all night. It was one thing for Connor to go get drunk and damned if he didn't have a reason to do so, but to pull Daniel into his debauchery? And Daniel, he should have known better. His addiction to drugs, his trouble with the law, albeit there had been extenuating circumstances – how many times was his son going to push the envelope?

"Daniel. Wake up." This time, he grabbed his son's arm and hauled him upright and set his heart against Daniel's moans as he sat him up against the wall. His hair had lost its customary elastic band and it flopped loosely into his face. His eyes were bloodshot, his face pale and almost bordering on green. Daniel grabbed at Jack's hands, obviously off balance.

"Dad? Wha—" His son dropped Jack's hands and grabbed his head. "Sick."

"Oh, don't you dare puke up here. Because I swear, you're going to be on your hands and knees cleaning up your mess if you do. You're damn lucky you didn't do so already."

He debated waking Connor but decided one extremely hung-over teenager was enough to deal with at a time. He was about to pull his cell out of his jacket pocket, intending to call Sarah when their Dodge Nitro pulled up next to his Avalanche. He waited until they got out of the truck and then called out, getting their attention.

"I found them," he called out when Reese looked up in his direction. "Reese, I'm going to need your help. Go around back, there's a ladder."

Daniel began to slide downwards again towards the roof and Jack grabbed his arm to haul him upright. To Jack's shock, Daniel yelled out in pain, pulling away from Jack and holding his bicep.

Jack shoved Daniel's hand aside and pulled his jacket down past his shoulder and dragged his tee shirt up over his bicep.

"What the hell?" Jack peered at the tattoo visible beneath the clear bandage. "When did you get this?"

"Please, don't yell. I don't feel good."

"Tough shit." Jack tapped the bandaged tattoo, eliciting a wince from Daniel. "Didn't we talk about this?"

Daniel's answer was an unintelligible mumble as he clumsily pulled his jacket up.

He heard their footsteps swishing in the dew-damp grass, and then heard the patio door open as his mother stepped onto the patio deck.

"They're on the roof," Jack heard Sarah tell his mother. "Cameron, stay here."

"Are they all right?" his mom called out as Reese appeared at the top of their ladder. "I heard Daniel yell."

"They'll survive," Jack called back, pointing wordlessly to the bottle on the roof now slowly leaking its contents. Reese took in the boys, the bottle, and nodded. He joined Jack in the small space while Sarah peered over the edge.

"Let's get Daniel down first; he's closest to the ladder."

They waited until Sarah climbed up and moved over next to John. Reese knelt next to Daniel and cupped his face with his palms. "Hey, DJ, think you can get down from here with a bit of help?"

"Where's here?" Daniel squinted at Reese. The sun was in Daniel's eyes and Jack bet his headache just upped a notch.

"Rooftop. Looks like you and John had yourselves a private party last night."

"C'mon, Daniel." Jack tapped his son's shoulder impatiently, irritated at Reese's gentleness. After the hours of worry they'd all experienced, Jack wasn't ready to forgive his son for something this unthinking and juvenile.

Reese waited until Jack stepped onto the ladder, got Daniel onto his feet, held onto him as he got his equilibrium, and helped him onto the ladder. Then Jack was there, guiding his son down, step by step.

"Come on." His grandmother wrapped an arm around Daniel's shoulders the moment his feet touched the ground. "Let's get you to bed."

"No. The boy's got a helluva lot of questions to answer. Both of them do."

He ignored his mother's glare and went back around the house. By the time Jack got back to the ladder, Reese was helping John down. Once his feet were firmly planted on grass, John couldn't seem to meet anyone's eyes. Head down, he meekly followed Reese into the house.

Jack took his cell phone and called Carter.

"We found the boys."

"Are they okay?"

"They're fine now but I can't vouch for their condition when I get through with them."

"What happened? Where were they? "

"On my roof. Having a private party."

There was a pause. "Oh."

"I have to call Hammond—"

"I think you've got your hands full, sir." There was a touch of mirth in Carter's voice which Jack resented. "Would you like me to call him and let him know they're safe?"

Resentment changed to relief. "Tell Hammond I'll call him later with the details."

"I will. I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Or this afternoon. Depends on how long it takes me to interrogate and then kill two teenagers." He hung up and took a deep breath to steel himself, and went inside.

Daniel was sitting at the kitchen table, head resting on folded arms. His mom was leaning over him, her hands on his hair, trying to get him to sit up.

John was standing in the middle of the kitchen, head down, unable to meet his mother's dark stormy gaze, which Jack was pretty sure was an exact mirror image of his own expression.

"Sit," Jack ordered, pulling out a chair. John winced at the noise it made on the floor but he sat without protest, mimicking Daniel's posture the minute his ass was in the chair. Jack walked over to the fridge and grabbed two bottles of water. He slammed the bottles of water next to both boys' heads, watching in satisfaction as their shoulders twitched at the sound.

"Drink."

Daniel raised his head just enough that one bloodshot eye stared up at him. "Dad—"

"Drink that water before I pour it down your throat. Both of you."

Both boys sat up reluctantly, took the bottles and began to drink. Jack had expected Sarah or Reese to object but they joined his mom in leaning against the counter, watching silently.

"They're sick," Cameron stated matter of factly, turning to Jack. "Temperatures slightly elevated. Pulse rate rapid. Excessive saline output—"

"They're hung over. Nothing that's going to kill them although they probably feel like they want to die right now."

"Oh. Thank you for explaining."

"And I want explanations, boys, and I want them now."

Daniel straightened up, or he tried to. He was still listing slightly to one side as he stared straight ahead, his fingers shaking slightly as he held the half-empty bottle of water between his palms.

John tensed, but didn't sit up. He spoke through his folded arms. "It was my idea, sir. I pilfered the alcohol from Derek's stash."

"And was it your idea," Sarah said, her voice sounding more calm than Jack's, "to spend the night on a drinking binge without any thought about what we were going through? Did you even think of what was going through our minds during every single minute we drove around town, looking for you?"

"You were looking for us?" John sat up, then swallowed heavily.

"Me, Derek, Cameron, Rose and Jack, not to mention half the mountain combing the streets."

"I'm sorry." He lowered his head, staring at the table. "It seemed a good idea at the time."

"And you, Daniel? Any excuse for—" Jack never finished his question, because his son was up and running, retching, bouncing off the walls as he headed for the bathroom.

Jack stopped his mother from going after Daniel with an upraised hand. "He's not sick, he's hung over. These are the consequences and he's going to pay for them. Any mess he makes in that bathroom, he cleans. Are we clear?"

"For God's sake, he's only fourteen—"

"If he's old enough to drink himself sick, he's old enough to clean up after himself. Hell, I'm half tempted to send him off to school regardless how awful he feels."

While his mother glared at him, John coughed and gasped a few times. For a moment Jack was afraid he'd be following Daniel to the bathroom, but then John seemed to get control of himself. And for all Jack's bluster, after a minute, he left the kitchen and went to check on Daniel. The door was partly ajar and he pushed it open. Daniel, he was glad to see, was leaning over the sink, splashing water on his face. And he was doubly glad to see that he and his mother wouldn't be arguing as to whose responsibility it was to clean the bathroom.

Jacket half-hanging off his shoulder, face and hair dripping water, Daniel turned a woe-begotten face to Jack. "I'm sorry," he said, sounding utterly sincere.

Jack was pretty sure Daniel was sorry, like every poor soul in history who suffered the morning after when they'd had a few too many. Jack had been exactly where Daniel was right now, he knew how sorry Daniel must feel.

"John cut lunch yesterday, never came back to school. I went looking for him, and when I found him, he was so... He's been having flashbacks. I tried to talk to him but... He'd had some alcohol, and I know, I shouldn't have drank any—"

"Was John drinking when you met up with him?"

"Yes. No. Not a lot." Daniel thrust his soaked hair back behind his ears, and the water continued to drip onto his jacket. "I tried to talk him out of drinking anymore, to come home, to talk to someone..."

"How'd he get you to drink it? Did he force it down your throat?"

Daniel shrugged, wincing at the motion. "No. That was my own stupidity." He wiped water off his cheek with the back of his hand. "It tasted awful, at first. Then it tasted good. I... I wasn't going to take more than one or two sips but... I knew it was wrong, but... I don't know what happened."

"You got drunk, Daniel. That's what happened. When you start drinking, you lose all sense of when to stop."

Daniel laughed; a harsh, dry sound that shouldn't come from a fourteen-year-old boy. "Now I'm an alcoholic as well as an addict."

"No. Drugs aside, you never experienced alcohol on this level before. Hopefully you won't be drinking for a few more years but when you do drink, you'll remember this feeling and try to drink more responsibly."

"Oh, I'm never going to drink again," Daniel vowed fervently, swaying slightly.

"Whose idea was the tattoo?" Jack moved closer, just in case his son took a header.

"Me," Daniel mumbled as he shrugged out of his jacket and craned his head, admiring his bicep. "But we did it for a reason; so we'd be able to find one another later, you know, after Judgment Day?" He looked up at his dad, half-pleading and half-defiance. Jack shook his head in amazement at his son, his anger slowly fading. Daniel seemed to think Jack was disapproving, because his shoulders slumped.

"One more thing. Your tracking device. What happened to it?"

"John wanted to be alone and I sort of told him about how you'd find me if I were hiding. So we decided to make it stop working."

"You broke your GPS?"

"John did. He figured out how to short circuit it." Daniel showed Jack his other bicep, which sported a red mark and blister where the device was imbedded under his skin.

"I think Carter's going to have to have a talk with John." When Jack put his arm around Daniel, his son's eyes widened in surprise. "C'mon, before your grandmother comes looking for us with murder in her eyes."

"I didn't mean to make her angry—"

"I know you didn't. But when that forty-something conscience talks to you, next time, you listen, okay?"

Daniel was leaning against him by the time they walked back into the kitchen. The scenario had changed slightly; Sarah had pulled a chair up next to her son and had a supportive hand on his shoulder. John was again half-lying on his kitchen table but he straightened up with effort when he and Daniel walked in.

"I think it's time for us to take John home," Sarah said with a tight smile and the slightest of nods. "I apologize on his behalf but I'm sure John will be over to offer you his own."

"Just take your boy home, honey," his mother said softly, placing a gentle touch to his cheek.

John stood, flanked by Reese while his mother had one arm around his shoulders, her fingers digging into his upper arm. John swallowed, blinked a few times, and Jack watched as the kid tried to keep his emotions in check.

"You're too kind, Rose," Sarah surprised his mother with a kiss to her cheek.

Jack was inclined to agree, and he followed the Connors to the front door, flinging an arm around his son's shoulders, pulling him along for the ride. His mother stayed behind, his resolve once again hardening at the sadness his son and John had placed in his mother's eyes.

Jack waited until they were at the front door, out of range of his mother's hearing. "I have a name of a psychologist that Fraiser recommended for Daniel last year. I think it might be a good idea for John to talk to someone – she's got clearance," Jack said. "What happened to John the other evening was traumatic and while some things you can shrug away, some things you can't."

Sarah stiffened. Shoulders back, her lips disappeared in a thin line of distaste at Jack's words. "I'm sorry for what happened. John's sorry for what happened." Sarah's voice was cold and curt.

"Sorry," John mumbled.

Jack nodded, confused, unsure why she was angry at him. "Yeah. Sure. Let me know if you want Doctor Kayton's number."

A minute later, Jack and Daniel stood alone by the front door. "You, bed."

Daniel didn't argue. He moved away unsteadily, heading for his bedroom. Jack went into the kitchen, kissed his mom, smiled at her, then grabbed the remainder of Daniel's bottle of water. "I'll be back." He detoured to the bathroom for Tylenol, and caught up with Daniel just as he sat down on his bed, about to slip under the covers fully clothed.

"At least take your sneakers off," Jack admonished. Owlish eyes looked up at Jack, then down at his feet in surprise. He clumsily toed them off and then stared at the pills Jack held out in front of his face. "They might help."

Daniel smacked his lips a few times before deciding to take the water. He drank down the pills, emptied the water bottle, then lay down with a soft moan. Jack got one last item, upending the few pieces of paper and candy wrappers into a pile and then bringing the now empty garbage can and placing it next to the bed. "Just in case," he warned Daniel.

Pain-filled eyes blinked. "Thanks."

oo~O~oo

They'd barely made it two blocks when John lost control of the nausea he'd been fighting. "Stop." He gasped, trying to talk between panting breaths.

"Stop the car," Derek yelled.

Even as his mom hit the brakes, his uncle had reached over and opened the car door with one hand, shoving John's hand away as he fumbled for the seatbelt. He all but tumbled to the curb, retching once, twice, and then puked up everything that was in his stomach, and then some. Eyes scrunched shut against the pain and the agonizing sunshine, John wished he could die right then and there. The hell with being a Messiah – he just wanted someone to put him out of his misery.

His head threatened to pop the top off his skull every time he retched or coughed. He fought to stay upright on his hands and knees, digging his fingers into the grass even as warm vomit splattered hot drops on his skin. Someone was holding him up, squeezing his arms, and the pain of his newly tattooed flesh was inconsequential compared to everything else happening to him.

Too dizzy to move, he crouched there on hands and knees until whoever was holding him up dragged him back to the truck and maneuvered his ass into the back seat. Sitting sideways, hands and legs dangling out the door, John dispassionately observed as Derek ran cold water over his hands, and then held the bottle up to his mouth.

"Drink."

John opened his mouth, obeying his uncle, too disoriented to do anything but. He swallowed, swallowed again, and then sighed as a wet hand wiped away the sweat from his face.

"Better?"

He opened his eyes cautiously. Derek was squatting directly in front of him, blocking out the sun's brightness. His mom was kneeling on the driver's seat and Cameron was behind him, supporting his back. "Better." He cleared his throat. "Thanks."

"Are you okay to go?"

"Yeah." He pulled his feet into the truck and grabbed the seatbelt. Derek waited until he'd buckled it up before shutting the door and going around and getting into the front passenger seat. He sat there with his eyes closed; every bump, every sway of the truck adding to his misery. He'd gotten drunk once before during the two years he'd been in foster care. He and a friend had stolen two six packs of beer from a store and had guzzled them down with nobody the wiser. He'd staggered to the house and collapsed into his bed that night, and had woken up with a hangover which didn't compare to this one.

He was grateful nobody was talking; he couldn't muster the energy to answer any more of their questions. When they got home, he got out of the truck slowly, trying not to tilt his head and aggravate the pain. He circumvented the kitchen, heading directly for his bedroom.

"Where are you going?"

His mom's question stopped him halfway down the hall to his bedroom. He turned slowly.

"I'm going to bed."

"You don't deserve to get off this easily, you know."

"I know." For a moment he thought his mom might force him to go to school, just like Colonel O'Neill threatened to do to Daniel. Hell, he wasn't sure if Daniel was going to be marched off to class after all. "I acted irresponsibly."

"Irresponsibly?" His mother's shriek felt like nails gouging out bits of his brain. "What if you had come face to face with Cromartie while you were three sheets to the wind? What good would all of your training have done you then? You didn't even have the tin girl with you to protect you."

"I know." He rubbed a spot directly over his right eye that was throbbing out of sync with the rest of his head. He hadn't even considered what might have happened if he'd met a terminator. The bits of what he could remember proved that there was no way he'd have been in any condition to run from one. "I was an idiot."

"And if it wasn't bad enough to endanger yourself, you had to go and pull Daniel into all of this. You went drinking on a roof! What if one of you had fallen off?"

"Mom, I said I know." He wanted desperately to go lie down. He knew he'd get a tongue-lashing but he'd hoped it would be when he was feeling better.

"Tell me what you were thinking when you decided to borrow the booze from Derek. Tell me that I haven't wasted all those years of trying to drum into that hard head of yours that you have to be, first and foremost, aware of your situation at all times. Tell me I haven't raised an idiot of a son who can't even think of his own safety, let alone—"

"Sarah—"

"I wanted to forget, okay?" John's temper overrode his pain as he yelled over his mother and uncle. "I wanted to forget, for a little while, the face of the man I killed. The face that I keep seeing over and over no matter what I do. In my dreams. When I'm awake. I can't get away from him and I just wanted a few hours of oblivion."

John turned and spun, wanting to stomp to his room but having to settle for a fast shuffle as he lost his balance and nearly careened into the wall.

He made a beeline for his bedroom and lay down on his unmade bed. His mother followed him in and without a word, pulled the blinds shut. The darkness was a blessing, easing his burning eyes. The mattress dipped slightly as his mom sat down next to him. He felt her hands on his foot, and a moment later she pulled off his sneaker. His other sneaker followed.

"I didn't know," she said softly as she pulled the blankets over him. "I don't know what... I'm not sure what to say."

"I want to talk to the doctor Daniel's father recommended."

"No."

"Mom, I don't think I can do this by myself—"

"You're not seeing a shrink."

"Colonel O'Neill said she had clearance. She's not going to lock me up for saying there are robots from the future wanting to kill me. They know now it's the truth."

"John, I don't trust them—"

"Daniel had problems, Mom. Major problems—"

"I know."

"She helped him. Maybe she can help me." Her hand on his cheek was almost his undoing and he held back a sob. "I can't go on like this," he whispered.

"We'll talk about it later. Go to sleep."

Right now, arguing took too much effort so he gave up and closed his eyes. His pounding head was enough to keep the ghost of Frank Morrison away for the time being.

oo~O~oo

John woke up shortly after two, feeling a lot better. He contemplated sleeping some more but as he turned onto his side, he got a whiff of body odor, sour vomit and stale booze, all rolled into one. He got up carefully, fearful that the headache would hit him like before. But all he got was a fuzzy head, a mild ache and an upset stomach. And a god-awful need to pee.

He grabbed clean jeans, tee shirt and underwear and headed for the bathroom. He swallowed a couple of Tylenol and several glasses of water before jumping into the shower. The shower felt wonderful and by the time he got out, the Tylenol had worked their magic on his head and he felt almost human.

Naked, he stood in front of the mirror, wiped the moisture off the glass, then peeled off the bandage on his arm, revealing the tattoo. Slowly, he washed it with an antibacterial soap, as instructed finished up with a bit of Bacitracin, reapplied the bandage, dried himself off, dressed, dumped his dirty clothes in the hamper and left the bathroom. He could hear voices coming from the kitchen. He went to go look for his mom and froze at the entrance to the kitchen.

The kitchen had been painted; gone were the pristine white walls and light beige cabinets. In their place were beige walls and golden brown cabinet doors and trimmings. The kitchen table and chairs had been rearranged, a non-slip rug lay on the spot where Frank Morrison had bled out, and several bric-a-bracs were scattered on the countertop, along with a few magnets on the fridge door.

"How does it look?" His mom and Cameron were coated with paint, a dab of light brown was smeared on Cameron's nose, making her look like a waif. Derek came in from outside, his arms as heavily spattered with paint as the women.

"It looks wonderful," John said with a grateful smile. It really didn't look like the old kitchen.

"It was Derek's idea." She winked at John as Derek looked at him uncertainly.

"It was a great idea. Thank you."

Derek smiled with relief as he walked to the sink and began washing the paint from his arms.

"Are you hungry?"

"Not really." His stomach was still iffy but he thought maybe he could manage some crackers. He teased a box out of the cabinet, careful of the still drying paint on the opened cabinet door, and found a few pieces of soft cheese. He sat down and ate dry crackers and cheese while everyone took their turn at the sink to wash the paint from their skin.

He sat there and looked around, comfortable sitting in the kitchen for the first time in what felt like forever.

oo~O~oo

Daniel sat on the edge of his bed, feeling wrung out and decidedly stupid. So many things had happened to him lately, the majority of them hadn't been his fault, but this... This had to be the highlight of stupidity. And now he needed to get up and face his father now that he could actually function. And his grandmother, he realized when he heard her voice alongside his dad's.

After he brushed his teeth and showered, that was. He tiptoed to the bathroom and managed to shut the door without anyone being the wiser, grabbed his toothbrush and squirted a generous amount of toothpaste.

Five minutes later, he stood in the shower, arms braced against the tiles, and let the water pound over him until his dad knocked on the bathroom door. "You okay in there?"

"Yeah. Almost done," he yelled over the running water. He shampooed, rinsed, and turned the water off. A minute later, with a towel wrapped around his waist, he stepped out of the bathroom to the sight of his dad, leaning against the wall, arms crossed, waiting for him.

"I was starting to think you'd drowned."

"Sorry." He padded past his dad, feeling water from his sodden hair drip down his back.

"How're you feeling?" His dad followed him into his bedroom and Daniel wasn't quite able to gauge his dad's temper.

"Better," he answered carefully as he opened his closet door to search out some clean clothes.

"You're looking better. Hungry?"

Daniel's stomach did a slow roll at the thought of food, then gurgled noisily.

"You'll feel even better with food inside you."

"If you say so."

"I know so. I've had my share of hangovers."

"But not at fourteen." He pulled out a pair of jeans and tossed them onto his bed.

"Trust me. If your grandmother had found me in the state I found you this morning, she'd have skinned me alive."

Daniel turned his back on his dad as he rummaged for a top, feeling a blush start to warm his cheeks and neck. He stiffened when his dad came to stand next to him and stared at the tumble of tee shirts in the drawer. When he felt his dad's hand on his neck, he jumped despite himself.

"I understand why you did it. I thought you were smarter than that but I guess everyone's entitled to a lapse in judgment."

"I'm sorry," Daniel whispered. "I've had a lot of lapses lately."

"You do realize you caused quite a stir. When we couldn't locate you with the GPS, we were pretty sure you'd been kidnapped again, or worse."

Daniel blinked back tears; he knew he'd disappointed his dad. He couldn't imagine what everyone thought of him and how he'd face everyone at Cheyenne Mountain again.

"Are they angry?"

"Who?"

"Everyone who was searching..."

"You tell me."

Tears spilled over, cool and wet on his hot cheeks. He took a shaky breath, trying to control the sobs that wanted to come out. His dad squeezed his nape slightly. "I was worried about John." He raised his head, staring in the mirror at his dad's reflection and straightened his back. "I know what I did was stupid and irresponsible. I know you're disappointed in me and you're angry." Tears continued to flow but he ignored them. "I have no excuse except to say that at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do." He cleared his throat as his emotions began to choke him up. "I was wrong."

"Good. So you'll agree with me that grounding you for a week won't be too harsh?"

Daniel shook his head, still keeping his gaze on his dad's reflection.

"You come home straight after school. No television. No phone. No internet, except for homework. And I'm going to trust you on that one. Because you know I can get Carter to monitor your activities."

"Just one week?" He swallowed, surprised that his dad hadn't grounded him for six months.

"What, you want more?"

"I deserve more."

"Yes, you do. But I also know you've learned your lesson and won't do it again. Right?"

Unable to speak, Daniel nodded dejectedly. His dad leaned forward and kissed the top of his head. "Get dressed and come join us in the kitchen. Grandma's making you something to eat."

oo~O~oo

Daniel stared at the bowl of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and swallowed. He hated the feeling of being hungry and nauseated at the same time. Still, he sat and picked up his fork and gingerly speared a tine into the hollow of a piece of cheese-laden elbow macaroni.

He chewed slowly, swallowed, and when nothing happened, followed the single piece with a small forkful. He was keenly aware of both father and grandmother watching him and when he swallowed, he prayed that he wouldn't embarrass himself further by having to make another run for the bathroom.

Their silence was unnerving. His grandmother took a seat opposite him, sipping a cup of tea while his dad picked up the pot and ate the leftover mac 'n' cheese. Daniel kept his gaze on his food, wishing they'd leave the room and let him eat in peace.

But it seemed his dad was right. By the time he'd eaten a bit more, his stomach was starting to settle.

"Did you hear from John?" Daniel glanced at his grandmother, still trying to figure out how angry she was. She hadn't spoken a word yet.

"Why? Should I have?" his father asked.

"I was wondering how he was feeling." He stirred his fork through the pasta and tried to spear a piece of macaroni on each tine.

"I'm guessing he's feeling about the same as you." His dad put the pot under the faucet and ran water into it.

"I'll stop by when I get home and see how he's doing." His grandmother's voice was gentle. "I'll let you know."

Daniel glanced at his dad, and he nodded. Okay, so he was permitted to talk to his grandma. It was just his friends who were off limits.

"And if you ever, ever scare me like that again, Daniel Jackson O'Neill," his grandmother said in that same, soft voice, "I swear I'll up and move the hell out of town. I'm too old to be put through that kind of stress."

"Grandma—"

"No. You said your sorries last night. I just want us to be clear about this so we don't have to talk about it again. Now," she said as she stood up, "it's time I get my old bones home. Driving around all night with your heart in your mouth takes a toll on a body."

His appetite gone, Daniel pushed aside his half-eaten bowl of mac 'n' cheese and sat there crying. His grandmother kissed his father's cheek, and then walked past Daniel without even a glance in his direction. It hurt, her anger and disappointment, more than he ever thought it would.

When the front door shut closed, with tears still streaming down his face, he stood and dumped his fast congealing meal into the garbage. He rinsed the bowl and fork, put them into the dishwasher and walked past his dad.

But his dad took hold of his arm as he passed by. "She'll get over it."

"But I won't," Daniel said morosely.

"Then maybe a lesson was learned today." Letting go of his arm, his dad walked out of the kitchen, leaving him standing there.

He heard the faint chirp of his cell phone. He followed it to his discarded jacket in the closet, grabbed his phone from the pocket and turned it off without even checking who was calling or how many calls he'd missed. He tossed the phone onto the kitchen table, so his dad could see he wasn't breaking his rules.

Standing at the kitchen window, he stared outside. Listlessly watching a bird meander across the lawn in search of bugs, Daniel wrapped himself up in self-pity. Sometime later the house phone rang. He stayed there, not moving, listening to his dad run up the stairs to answer the phone.

A moment later, his dad walked into the kitchen and handed him the wireless. Daniel looked at the phone in his dad's hand before reaching for it.

"Hello," he said tentatively.

"Hey, man. You okay?" John's voice sounded almost cheerful.

"I'm fine. You?" He glanced at his dad, who was rummaging through a cabinet for something.

"I'm okay. Hey, get this. My mom painted the kitchen while I was sleeping."

"So, the memories..."

"Still there, but at least I can walk into the room without seeing... You know?"

"Yeah. That's great." His dad took out a bag of cookies from the cabinet and opened it.

"Hey, you sound a little off."

"I'm grounded."

"Ah, shit. I'm sorry."

"No, it's fine. I deserve it." He kept his gaze on his dad's back, expecting a look from him, but it was as if he wasn't even in the room.

"No, I mean it. If I hadn't called you yesterday—"

"If you hadn't called me, you might have done something stupid, like continued drinking by yourself and passed out in Donovan's park where you could have gotten mugged. Or worse." This time there was a twitch in his dad's shoulders, which he tried to cover by reaching into the cookie bag.

"Well, still, you wouldn't be grounded if not for me."

"It's not the first time. I'll survive." There was an awkward silence. "What about you?"

"I'm not grounded."

"Lucky." His dad cleared his throat, and Daniel knew he'd only been allowed this call because he'd been worried about John. "Look, I gotta go. I'll see you tomorrow, at school."

"Yeah, man. I..."

"It's fine. See you tomorrow." Daniel cut the call before his envy at Sarah's leniency made him bitter towards his friend.

"So, he okay?" His father held out a cookie as Daniel put the phone down next to his cell.

"Yeah. His mom didn't ground him." He shook his head petulantly, not wanting the cookie, especially a chocolate chip one. He still had memories of those going down with a mouthful of whiskey. He probably would never be able to look at another chocolate chip cookie for his entire lifetime.

"What did she say about the tattoo?"

"I don't know. He didn't mention it."

His dad took a bite of cookie and chewed. "Kid got off too easy, if you ask me." Reaching up, his dad pushed a lock of damp hair that had fallen into Daniel's eyes behind his ear. "Still, I guess he's got enough issues at the moment to worry about."

"Dad, this morning, you told John's mom about Liz—"

"Yeah?"

"Mrs. Baum had been locked up in a mental hospital for three years. I don't think that's going to go over real well."

"Ah, crap." His father grimaced. "That's right. I do have a talent for sticking my foot in my mouth." He stared at his cookie a moment for popping the rest of it into his mouth.

"No comment."

"Smart ass."

Daniel ducked as his dad tried to tousle his hair and he dodged out of reach. Slightly off balance, his arm smacked against the edge of the doorjamb and he stopped, the sudden sharp pain a reminder of another part of last night's foolishness. "Ow." He rotated his arm, checking out the reddened skin.

"So, do I need to bring you in for a tetanus shot?"

"What?" His dad was staring at his tattoo. "No. We went to Sue. You know, Jason's sister?" He fingered the stud in his ear. "She's good."

"Still. I want Fraiser to take a look at that."

"Yes, sir," Daniel replied glumly. He glanced at the clock, realizing it was going to be a long, boring evening. "If it's okay with you, I'm going to pull up my homework assignments and get started."

"Go right ahead."

Daniel walked into his bedroom, and walked out again a second later. "My books. They're in the garage."

"Garage?"

"Yesterday. I came home, dumped my stuff and went out looking for John on my bike." That wasn't exactly the order of things, but for now it would be enough.

His father's expression changed a few times until he nodded. "Go."

oo~O~oo

Lungs straining, legs burning, John ran down the endless hallway, the sound of the terminator's slow footsteps echoing directly behind him, rhythmic, purposeful, keeping up with him no matter how fast he ran. He turned into the kitchen, ran for the door, and to his horror, found that it was locked and barricaded, the chains holding it closed rattling loudly as he shook the handle.

He could see him mom and uncle outside, arguing over who was going to cook the steaks. He pounded on the door, but they didn't hear him over the sound of thunder. He ran for the nearest weapon, a gun, hidden in a kitchen cabinet behind a box of rice, and grabbed it.

The assassin's shadow grew longer, larger, closer as the footsteps got louder. With an assurance he knew wasn't normal, John took a deep breath from lungs no longer winded, took a shooter's stance with legs that felt as strong as iron, and waited until the growing shadow took form.

Lightning flared, blinding him. He squinted and fired, knowing his aim was true. The retorts were loud over the continuous rumble of thunder. Still, he heard metal strike metal and knew he hadn't missed.

The thunder rumbled, low and angry, his vision cleared and he saw the terminator had fallen behind the kitchen table. He ejected the magazine, slapped a fresh one in, and backed up, keeping the gun aimed at the robot. Circling round the table, he was ready to shoot it to prevent it from getting up, when something next to it caught his eye. For a moment he thought it was a shadow, until he realized it was a quickly growing pool of blood.

In horror, he took the final step, and saw what he'd shot down.

Cameron. Who was staring up at him, her face contorted in pain as her mouth worked soundlessly, blood trickling from her lips. She reached out, coughing, and caught his ankle with a blood-streaked hand. She coughed, gasped, and went still, her head falling sideways lifelessly as her hand continued to grip him mercilessly.

John screamed. He tried to get away from the person he'd just murdered, from the look of accusations Cameron had given him, from the feel of the gun in his hand. But something was holding him, trapping him, his legs caught in the dead woman's grip. Kicking and yelling, he finally managed to free himself, only to fall backwards into open space.

The jar of the fall stunned him and he lay there, unable to move. Lightning flared again, blinding him and he cried out again.

"John." Hands grabbed him and he fought back, until his mother's voice penetrated his confusion. "John. Stop it. Wake up."

"Mom." The blinding brightness was gone, dimmed to three regular 60-watt bulbs hanging from a ceiling fan. He was on the floor in his bedroom, his legs tangled with his sheets, one leg still trapped and raised in the air alongside his mattress.

"Wow, and I thought I had nightmares." Derek reached for the sheet, twisted it slightly and suddenly John's foot was free.

"Are you hurt?" Cameron leaned over his mom's shoulder.

"Me? No. You? Are you all right?" John tried to scramble onto his knees, ignoring the ache of his bruised body.

"I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be? I'm not the one who fell out of bed."

"I shot you. You were dead. I shot..." John looked around, Derek's words finally registering. "I was dreaming."

"Nightmare, more like." His mom touched his cheek. "No fever."

"I'm not sick." Irritably, he pulled away from her touch. The emotions from the nightmare were still with him; fear for his life, horror at what he'd done to Cameron and on top of that, the guilt he'd felt for killing Frank Morrison was quickly overshadowing everything once again. Using the bed, he pulled himself up and limped away from the watching trio. His hip and thigh were sore but after a few steps, most of the pain eased off. He wished he could brush off his feelings just as easily.

He'd been heading towards the kitchen for some water but suddenly he didn't want to see the place where he'd killed a man. Despite its coat of paint, nothing else had changed. A man had lain there, dead, from his hand.

Deciding to get water from the bathroom, he twirled on the spot and nearly walked into the following trio. "Excuse me." He sidestepped them all and continued to the bathroom.

Five minutes later, bladder emptied, stomach sloshing and his face still damp with splashed-on water, John returned to his bedroom. His mom was sitting on his bed, waiting for him. He gave her a quick, forced smile and sat down beside her.

"Want to talk about it?"

"It was just a bad dream."

"This was more than just a dream." Her hand on his back felt like a claw from the grave and he shuddered. "Get under the blankets. You're cold."

He obeyed, although his instincts were telling him to grab his pillow and blankets and curl up underneath the bedroom window. He tolerated her touch as she pushed strands of hair away from his eyes, a gesture that used to give him comfort now seemed cloying. Suffocating. He wanted her to leave him alone but the moment she lowered her hand, he missed her touch. Suddenly he wanted to be in her arms, to be rocked and hugged, to be told everything was going to be all right and that she'd take away all the boogiemen and robots and hold them at bay until he grew up. He wanted to be that little boy again, the one who knew he had an important future but also knew it was far, far away.

He so didn't want to grow up.

When his mom got up and turned the light off, John forced himself to stay in his bed. Every time he shut his eyes, he saw either Cameron's bloody, pain-filled face or that of Frank Morrison. He found himself clutching his blankets, his fists curled so tightly around the material that his fingers were starting to cramp. Forcing himself to unclench his hands, he tried to relax. Instead of counting sheep, he began taking apart all the guns in their arsenal, picturing each piece, each step, and then putting them back together in his mind.

The tedium of the exercise began to lull him towards sleep, and he felt himself drifting, until he jerked awake, the memory of seeing the blood seeping out of the Morrison's body chasing all thoughts of sleep away. God help him, but he wanted the oblivion he'd had on Daniel's roof and he wanted it badly.

He turned restlessly. Cameron's footsteps, which were usually a comforting constant during the night, came towards his door. "Go away." The footsteps paused, then continued forward. He saw Cameron's shadow as she opened the half-closed door all the way and stepped inside. "I'm trying to sleep."

"You're restless. Are you having another bad dream?"

"No." He turned onto his stomach.

"People have bad dreams because they're upset. Why did killing Frank Morrison upset you?"

"It didn't," John said, his words muffled by his pillow.

"You're lying."

"I'm not lying."

"You've killed other people before. In the future." Cameron sat exactly where his mom had sat an hour ago. "You always tried to hide it, but it always upset you."

"I killed people? Aren't we at war with machines?"

"The machines sometimes use humans. To betray the other humans; they are referred to as 'greys'."

"Greys? I don't think I want to hear about it."

"One of your men had been captured and brainwashed by the machines. When you found out, you wouldn't let anyone else kill him. You did it yourself. Then you went and got drunk."

John snorted. "Some leader, huh?" He peered at her with one eye as she canted her head sideways at him. "Obviously I don't change much in the future."

"Daniel always said that was why you were such a good leader. Because you cared." She stood up and walked out, the only sounds this time were the few squeaks of floorboards beneath her weight.

The rest of the night he spent either tossing or turning or staring out the window. When his mom got up, he was already sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee.

"You don't look like you got much more sleep last night." She poured herself a cup of coffee and grimaced when she took a sip. "Who made this?"

"I did." Cameron glanced at John before turning her attention to his mom. "John didn't sleep last night after his bad dream."

"Is that true?" His mom pinned him with a worried stare.

"I slept—"

"John..."

"Okay, I didn't get much sleep." He drained the cup and reached for his backpack. "I'll sleep tonight."

"No, you'll sleep today."

"Mom, I spent half of yesterday sleeping. Do you think maybe I just screwed up my sleep cycle?" He slung his backpack over his shoulder.

"I think you screwed up your brain," Derek commented as he walked into the kitchen and grabbed a mug from the cabinet. "You stole two bottles from my room. Does alcohol poisoning mean anything to you?"

"I'll pay you for what I took—"

"It's not about the money. But you need to think about what you did yesterday."

"Yeah. Of course I do," John mumbled.

"John, you can't keep going like this. You're staying home today and resting. You," she snapped, pointing to Cameron, "you're going to school and telling everyone John's sick."

"I'm not sick."

"You will be if you keep this up. You need to sleep—"

"If I couldn't sleep last night, what makes you think I'm going to sleep now? That daylight is going to make it better? That painting the kitchen is going to make me forget that someone died right over there because of me?" He pointed to the exact spot his mother was standing on.

"No, of course you're not going to forget." His mom walked to the table and put the cup down, leaning both hands on the table to stare at him over it. "Just like I'm not going to forget the terror you put me through, disappearing like that. Do you have any idea what kept going through my mind? Do you have any idea what I kept picturing in my head? I've seen what those things can do." She glared at Cameron for a second, who was retrieving her school bag by the door, before turning back to John. "Do you have any idea how scared I was? How worried I was?"

He'd expected this lecture from his mother yesterday. He knew he deserved it but he truly wasn't in the mood to hear this right now. Maybe if he'd had more sleep, if he wasn't so on edge, the words wouldn't have blurted out of his mouth without thought. "Were you so worried about me because I'm your son? Or because you're the mother of the future Messiah and you thought you failed?"

Her face turned from anger, to bewilderment. "John, how can you even ask that?"

"I don't know, Mom." The anger was gone; all that was left was weariness. He let the backpack fall to the floor and leaned tiredly against the wall.

"When you disappeared, all I could picture was you lying in a pool of blood somewhere." His mom lowered her voice, her words barely a whisper. "That man you killed, in my mind, he wore your face."

"I didn't mean to worry you."

"But you did. You're still worrying me." She moved away from the table and came to stand directly in front of him. "Would a sleeping pill help?"

"I doubt it."

"Physical activity is known to tire a human body." Cameron walked to the edge of the kitchen's entrance. "Maybe you can tire yourself out." She walked out of the room and a moment later, the front door snicked shut behind her.

"The machine's got a point." Derek ran a hand through his hair. "We could go for a run—"

"John's not going anywhere except to bed."

"Mom. I don't want to go to bed." The last five hours had been hell and the last thing he wanted was another repeat in daylight.

"Then... we can do some work in the yard. Weeding. Raking. Flowers to be planted."

"We're not going to be here long enough to bother—" Derek went quiet with one look from his mom.

"What do you say? Maybe Rose can give us some pointers as to what grows well around here."

oo~O~oo

The last thing John had expected to be doing today was gardening, but several hours later, with back, legs, shoulders and arm muscles burning let alone the blisters on his hands, he was very proud of their accomplishments. Several small ornamental trees, several trunkfuls of plants and a few hanging baskets now decorated their back yard. His main accomplishment, though, was the simple underground watering system they'd installed. Using the plans Sam had designed for Rose's yard, it hadn't taken him long to adapt it to theirs.

He grinned as Cameron walked up the walk, her head swiveling around to look at the profusion of flowers surrounding the house.

"You like?"

"It's... colorful." She turned her gaze on John. "Unlike you."

John stared at his dirt-encrusted clothes and muddy hands. "I need a shower."

"We all do." Derek slapped John's back as he went up the stairs. "And I get first dibs."

"How was school?" His mom, just as dirt-encrusted as John, came out of the house just as Derek was going in. She'd washed her hands; her skin was white and clean right up to her wrists. The rest of her arms were dirty. She was carrying two bottles of Snapple and she handed one bottle of the iced tea to John.

"John's friends asked about him. Daniel was concerned and asked me to tell you he's sorry he missed you today," Cameron said as she followed Derek inside.

"I'll see him tomorrow." John saluted Cameron's back with the Snapple as the door closed on her.

"She got something against nature?" His mom sat on the back steps and John joined her there. "I just ordered pizza. We've got just enough time to shower before we eat."

John took a deep guzzle of his drink as he stretched his legs in front of him, then leaned forward, trying to work out the kinks in his back.

oo~O~oo

John was pacing the hallway in front of the bathroom. Twenty minutes to brush one's teeth was infuriating as hell, but double that and John had to pull himself up short and throw himself at the door, demanding his uncle hurry.

He was dirty and grungy, his muscles were screaming but it was the need to pee that was pushing him over the edge. "Pleasepleaseplease," he prayed, hugging his two towels and clothes to his chest. His mother was using her bathroom and he was one step from going outside and watering one of the new plants when the bathroom door opened and Derek, followed by a cloud of steam, entered the hallway.

"It's all yours, kid."

"Did you leave me any hot water?"

"I don't know, John," Derek's wink took the sting out of his words. "Did you leave me any whiskey?"

oo~O~oo

Screw the pizza. Standing under the stream of water was better than pepperoni on anything. He stretched and raised his arms over his head, moaning at how wonderful the warm water hitting his aching muscles actually felt. Eventually, the house's elderly hot water tank gave up the ghost and John had no choice but to admit defeat and get out of the shower.

oo~O~oo

John sniffed the air over the pizza boxes appreciatively before dropping into his seat at the kitchen table.

"Took you long enough," Derek groused good-naturedly, flipping over the lid of the top box.

"Pepperoni, please." John shoved his plate under Derek's nose. "Age before beauty, buddy."

"If you give me the first slice of pizza, Derek, you better be sleeping with your eyes open tonight."

"Definitely never crossed my mind," Derek said with a smile towards John's mom as he placed the first slice onto John's plate.

John served his mother and was just taking a slice for himself when Cameron, who'd been a silent observer at the table, leaned over and skimmed her hand from his cheek to his neck. He jumped and the pizza slid off his plate back into the box.

"Ah, damn, must the metal do that at the kitchen table?"

"John's flushed." Cameron looked around, trying to gauge why no one appeared concerned.

"Sun will do that to a person," his mother said with a smile. "Even Derek."

Derek touched his cheek. "Been a long time since I've been out in the—"

"Sunburn," Cameron observed, cutting off Derek's sentence. "Thank you for explaining."

John just took a slice and devoured it, reaching for seconds before Derek or his mother finished their first. With the second slice, he picked the pepperoni off, made a pile of them, then popped them one by one into his mouth.

"Table manners?"

"Sorry." John yawned, smacking his lips. Halfway through his second slice he could feel himself losing focus. He rested his elbow on the table, the cup of his hand supporting the chin of his heavy head. He chose to ignore the heat of Cameron's gaze and focused on the lack of conversation between his mother and Derek. The two of them never made small talk with each other. They weren't rude... Okay, at times they were, but the true art of conversation between them was dead. John closed his eyes and enjoyed the silence.

"Nice tat, John." There was the barest hint of humor in Derek's statement.

Suddenly John shifted position and sat up straight, struggling to pull down his sleeve to cover the base of the ankh.

"Ankh," Cameron said, forcibly struggling with John to expose the entire tattoo. "Egyptian symbol of life. Immortality. The hieroglyph was—"

"I know what it means." Angrily, John slid the chair away from her probing hands and crossed his arms, hiding the mark.

"Were you drunk?"

John nodded. "When we got—"

"We?" His mother's eyebrows shot heavenward.

"Daniel," John mumbled, pulling the now cold cheese of his slice.

Derek hid his smile behind another slice of pizza.

"What's so funny?" his mom growled, thankfully shifting her attention away from him and onto his uncle.

"Come on. Pick your battles," Derek commented, waving his triangle of pizza at his mother. "He's going to eventually get quite an assortment of tattoos."

"I will?" John picked up his shirtsleeve and looked at the ankh with a smile.

Cameron studied him. "You don't have an ankh, though."

"Yeah, I do, see?" He gently prodded the still reddened area around the tat.

"In the future, you never had an ankh tattooed anywhere on your body."

John choked. No way did he want clarification of how Cameron knew the ankh tattoo wasn't imprinted anywhere on his body. "See, I've changed history just by getting this tattoo. Damn, that was easy."

"I'm glad you thought so," his mother rose, collecting their dirty dishes. "You're on dryer duty."

"But we have a dishwasher," John whined.

"I know, but I have you."

oo~O~oo

His mom washed the dishes. John dried, exhausted, swaying in time with every swipe of the towel across the wet dish, glaring in hatred at the silent Maytag dishwasher.

"Okay, stop." She turned off the water, dried her hands on her pants, simultaneously plucked the towel and the plate from his hands and placed both on the counter. "You're an accident waiting to happen. Go to bed."

John sidestepped his mother and gazed out the window. "Still light outside."

"So?" She guided him towards the staircase. "I promise you, just close your eyes and it'll be dark."

He struggling against her push for all of ten seconds then gave in and used the banister to haul his body up the stairs, hesitating once when he glanced over his shoulder. "Mom, I'm fine, you don't need to trail me."

"Mother's prerogative," she answered with a smug smile. "Sorta like making you dry."

"Fine." He was thoroughly annoyed. Pissed. And while he would never admit it, exhausted to his very core, hurting in places, in muscles that he was pretty damn sure had never even existed until today.

oo~O~oo

After making a pit stop at the bathroom, John literally crawled into bed, toeing off his sneakers once he was under the covers. Even without closing his eyes, the room was pitch black, his mother had already closed the blinds and the curtains, but his bedside clock betrayed the imagery. "Just a nap."

"Just a nap," his mother repeated, pulling the blanket up around his shoulder. "Close your eyes."

John yawned. "Wake me... In an hour. To test the sprinklers."

"An hour."

It occurred to him just as he was drifting off that not once since he'd been in the house, had his thoughts been about Frank Morrison.

oo~O~oo

Incrementally, John fell asleep, and Sarah stood and watched, waiting until his left hand grasped the blanket and tucked it under his chin. Sixteen years, give or take a few missed ones, the hand tucked under the chin was always the sign John was down for the count. She unplugged his alarm clock, kissed his cheek and smoothed back his too-long bangs. "Sleep well," she whispered, leaving the door to his bedroom open a crack. Just in case. Admittedly, for her sake as well as his.

oo~O~oo

The sense of pride Sarah felt in the transformed backyard made her feel very uncomfortable. Gardens and flowers with in-ground sprinklers were for the other woman in line at the grocery store, not her. Never her.

"My mother used to have a garden." Derek stood up, wiping his hands on his pants, leaving a mixture of grease and dirt in their wake.

"Mine, too."

"Sarah Connor," Derek said with a tsk, his eyes holding more than a glint of amusement. "Newly painted kitchen. Garden with flowers. Damn, woman, you don't seem the type."

Her return gaze was critical, territorial. "For John."

"And maybe," Derek verbally prodded. "A little for you?"

She glared long and hard, mentally denying his words. "John needed this," Sarah replied stubbornly.

"I'm not denying he needed the change. The refocus..." Infuriating her even further, Derek held up his hand, putting a halt to her objections. "Give me a second."

Feigning disinterest, Sarah watched him walk to where he'd been working when she'd first entered the backyard. "Oh." With a soft hiss and a gentle breath of air pressure, the sprinkler heads - strategically scattered and based on John's calculations - rose with a precision that would make any orchestra conductor proud, working in unison, covering the back yard. She wasn't quick enough to hide her smile.

"It's okay to smile over the little things, Sarah."

"I'm going to check on John," she said abruptly, glaring when Derek grabbed her arm.

"Maybe all this time, I've been wrong. That to stop Skynet from happening, we have to change John. The battle he needs to fight needs to be his battle. Not yours. Not mine. And not his father's. Maybe in the beginning, John needs to save a piece of himself. This house. This garden. Rose. Daniel. Me. You. You have to be vested in humanity, Sarah, to desire to save it."

oo~O~oo

John never sprawled. Ever. He always tucked into himself, taking the least amount of space possible. Tonight was no different. Because he was no different. Their life might be different, but their mission, her mission, was still black and white to Derek's grey. Keep John alive.

There was more than enough room so when Sarah sat on the edge of the bed, habit taught John to open his eyes.

"Mom?" he mumbled. "Okay?"

"Sprinklers work fine. Good job. John?"

"Hmm?"

"That psychologist that Daniel's dad mentioned, I'm going to give her a call. Okay?"

He closed his eyes, patting her arm. His smile, unlike hers, stayed in place even after he fell back asleep.

oo~O~oo

Derek growled, loud enough that Sarah looked up from the paperwork she was studying.

"Lookee, tin girl." He pointed at her with his beer. "Walk in front of me while the home team is up at bat, and God help me, I'll find a way to short circuit you."

Sarah had the distinct impression that the machine hesitated just a moment or two longer out of spite before her continued check of the perimeter.

"What are you smiling at?" Derek questioned, grabbing the remote like a lifeline.

"One of the little things," she answered seriously.

oo~O~oo

"I think I'm going to get another beer. Want one?"

"No." Sarah took in the empty on the table and the half-full one still in his hand. "This time when you go check on John, open his window."

Derek winked at her. "So next time when you go check on John, you can make sure to cover him?"

"I changed my mind—"

"Don't open the window?"

"No, you can get me a beer on your way back."

oo~O~oo

Sarah fell asleep on the couch and woke up to a disgruntled Derek staring down at her.

"Go to bed," he ordered impatiently.

"You go to bed," Sarah spat back. "You have a bedroom. Go use your own bed." She levered her body into a sitting position with a groan.

"Old habits are hard to break. I sorta like the couch thing," Derek admitted. "This way, I have a distinct home field advantage and I can keep an eye on the machine when I can't sleep. It helps pass the time."

oo~O~oo

Mad. Betrayed. Angry just didn't cut it as Sarah paced in front of the primly seated Cameron. Back and forth, with Cameron's gaze following her movements, furiously working on a speech that would penetrate the machine's circuitry and become imbedded in the compartment of her chip reserved for 'things that should never be done again'.

"John was having a nightmare."

"Shut up," Sarah hissed, going over to close her bedroom door. Last thing she wanted to do was draw Derek's attention to the tin miss and add fuel to his fire of hatred.

"He was distressed. I was offering him comfort."

"You were offering him comfort using my voice."

"I've observed that your voice has often brought John a sense of peace when his sleep is disturbed."

"My voice." Sarah tapped her chest. "The one that belongs to this body."

"I was using your voice." Cameron canted her head at Sarah. "I've used other voices besides this one and you've never objected."

"When the mission required it," Sarah growled, frustrated.

"My mission is to protect John. Keeping his sleep peaceful and free of nightmares is a form of protection—"

"No," Sarah yelled, then forced herself to contain her anger. "Just no. You are not to use my voice in connection with John. Ever. Not now. Not in the future."

Cameron nodded. "There's no need to be jealous, I can't replace you in John's life. Not now or in the future. You'll always be his—"

"Get the hell out of my room."

oo~O~oo

Sarah moved her pacing to John's room. She stared at him, annoyed that even in sleep he hadn't been able to sense that hadn't been her. He muttered in his sleep, shifted and his vocals increased slightly in pitch.

"John," she whispered, approaching his bedside. Kneeling, Sarah was at eye level with him. "Go back to sleep."

Always the stubborn teenager, he opened his eyes and smiled sleepily at her. "Hey."

"Hey," she echoed. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah," he answered with a yawn. "Missed you. Strange dream."

"Yeah?" Involuntarily, she swept his bangs off his forehead. "Want to share?"

"Garbage in. Garbage out," he sighed, closing his eyes. "Just nonsense."

"Those are the best kind." She crossed her arms and dropped her head on the pillow they created. It had been years since she'd done this, but tonight, the instinct to watch over and protect John, even in sleep, was intense, going beyond motherhood.

oo~O~oo

The next day was overcast and cool, his mother and Cameron were out, Derek was downstairs doing whatever Derek did to keep busy and John was doing homework, or attempting to. Admittedly, he was distracted, the window in his room and the world outside holding more appeal than the opened math book on his desk, which was the reason he saw Daniel pedaling furiously down the block, head down, intent on his destination.

John stood and reached for the latch to undo his window and yell out a hello, but something about Daniel's focus stopped him. It made him rethink his greeting and slowly, John sunk back down into the chair, feeling a bit jealous that Daniel had a place to run to.

Frustrated and annoyed, John turned his attention back to the problems in front of him. Math was much easier to solve than his own life's problems

oo~O~oo

"Hey." Daniel stood in his grandmother's kitchen, inches from the side door, ready to make a quick escape.

She looked up from the cutting board, an array of sliced carrots and potatoes spread out before her. "Hey," his grandmother echoed back.

This was awkward and there was no one to blame but himself. "Stew?" Well duh, asshole. Of course. Vegetables. Simmering pot. The wonderful odor was beginning to permeate the kitchen.

Without answering, his grandmother picked up the cutting board and using the knife she had in her hand, she scraped the sliced veggies into the pot.

"Smells good."

Slowly, she placed the cutting board and knife into the sink, then dried her hands on the towel draped of the edge of the sink.

"I'm sorry," Daniel blurted out.

The towel was folded, refolded, then refolded once again until his grandmother was satisfied with its size and placement, but still she didn't turn to face him. "I know you are, mhuirnin."

Daniel waited for her to face him. Seconds. Minutes. The old-fashioned clock on the wall ticked the passage of time. "You're still angry."

"No."

Daniel exhaled, his grandmother's confession gave him hope and he took a few steps forward and stretched out a tentative hand to her shoulder.

His grandmother reached around, grabbed his hand and brought it to her lips. She kissed it, the held it against her check.

There was warmth. And wetness.

Tears.

"Please don't cry," he begged, throwing himself against her back, snaking his free hand around her waist, dropping his head on her shoulder, burying his own tears in her neck.

Daniel cried along with his grandmother, he hadn't meant to shed a tear. On his bike ride over, he'd promised himself he was going to be an adult about this. Come in. Apologize. Say he was sorry a few hundred times. Then his grandmother would hug him. Pour him a glass of milk with a side order of cookies and they'd be good to go.

Wrong. He'd done the come in, the apology, the sorry, but then things sorta began to get fucked up. His grandmother hadn't followed along with his grand scheme and now, now he was lost and unsure how to fix this.

oo~O~oo

The two of them sat next to each other at the kitchen table, mere inches but definitely miles apart. Leave? Stay? Daniel wasn't sure exactly what he should do. He knew what he wanted, but he was unsure how to get from here to there.

Suddenly, his grandmother's hands covered his. "I promised myself I wouldn't cry."

"I'm sorry." Daniel swallowed. "For everything."

"I know you are."

"You said you weren't angry anymore."

She patted his hand. "I'm not."

Daniel didn't understand. Okay, she didn't act like she was angry, that was true, she was behaving like... "You're hurt," he blurted out, his heart breaking. Anger was one thing; it blew in, blew out. Hurt took longer to heal. A lot longer. Experience had taught him that.

For the first time since Daniel entered this kitchen, the smallest of smiles tugged at the corner of his grandmother's lips, confusing the hell out of him.

"You're smiling?"

Her smile broadened just a little, but enough to give Daniel hope that all was not lost. "I'm smiling because you finally realized the repercussions of your actions."

"That I hurt you?"

Slowly, she nodded. "I was worried. You're not a little child who gets lost in a mall because they don't know better. You should've known better." She held up a hand when he began to apologize. "You're a teenager. I understand you don't always think with your head, but your heart, Daniel. You should've thought with your heart."

"I thought I was, thinking with my heart. Helping a friend."

Her hands slipped off his and she folded them primly on the table. "Me and you, we're sort of at an impasse, aren't we. Helping John—"

"John's sixteen. I'm fourteen..."

His grandmother raised an eyebrow to his statement.

"John needed an adult. Not another kid. I thought that I could..." Daniel sat back in the chair. "And I couldn't. Not really."

"No, you couldn't. Your intentions were good."

"I screwed up."

"You'll get no argument from me."

"Will you forgive me?"

"In time, mhuirnin."

Tears blurred Daniel's vision.

"Doesn't mean I don't love you."

"I know," he sniffed, swiping his fingers under his glasses.

"Good." She rose, kissed his bent head, then went to stir the simmering pot. "How about some cookies and milk?"

Okay, that worked, and had been one of the things on Daniel's forgiveness list. "I'd like that."

"Would you also like if we called your dad, asked him to bring over some fresh rolls and the three of us can have stew for dinner?"

oo~O~oo

"Colonel O'Neill!" This was stupid, and if John really, truly had stopped to think about it, he would've stayed up in his room, struggling through Global History instead of bounding down the steps and out of his house when he saw the Avalanche park in front of Rose's house.

"John." The colonel closed the driver's door slowly and switched the brown bag he held in his right hand into his left.

John stopped short. Face to face with the man had John second-guessing his rash decision. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah?"

Shit. John hadn't really thought beyond the apology. "I'm not too good at this friendship thing," he stuttered. "I crossed a boundary asking Daniel to... Ummm..."

"Drink with you?"

John nodded. "Among other things."

"You took advantage of my son. Of his friendship." There was no anger in the colonel's voice, just a statement of fact. It would've been better if he'd yelled and ranted.

"I've never had a friend before." Lame, but true. "I didn't understand. I made a mistake."

"You're lucky. Your mistake could've proved fatal to you. To Daniel. To the human race."

He was dumbstruck with hurt.

"Daniel wasn't what you needed. Not at that moment. You needed a..." Colonel O'Neill faltered, then cleared his throat. "You needed help, John."

"I. Know." John wrapped his hoody tightly around his body. "I'm so sorry."

"Daniel is just putting himself back together—"

"I can't undo what I did," John interrupted. "Take back what happened." A slow burn was beginning to percolate. John could feel it bubbling below the surface. Inadequacy had been a monkey on his back his entire life.

"Call me," the colonel said. "When things get bad like that. When you need help. Me. My mom. Your mom. Your uncle. Someone will always be here for you. You're not in this alone."

John was speechless.

"Yeah, I understand. We're a bit overwhelming." He shook the bag in this hand. "Better get this inside before someone comes looking for me."

John was unable to move. This idea of help, of relative strangers not only watching out for him, but for caring. And believing. "Thank you," he whispered.

"Just remember."

"I will," John answered solemnly. "I promise."

oo~O~oo

If someone would've asked John on Thursday what he thought he'd be doing this weekend, this wouldn't have been his answer. Arms crossed, John stood at his bedroom window, glancing down at the backyard, trying to figure out when his uncle's mention of steak and potatoes at breakfast turned into this out of hand barbeque. Inviting only Rose had expanded to include Daniel, Colonel O'Neill, and the rest of SG-1, Alexandria, Cassie, and Doctor Fraiser. This was so unlike his mother or his uncle, that John couldn't help but feel uncomfortable.

There was a gentle knock on the doorframe. "Hey, man, coming outside?"

John ran his fingers through his hair before shrugging his shoulders. He tapped on the window. "My luck with barbeques isn't exactly stellar."

Daniel didn't wait for an invitation. He just walked into the room to stand next to him. John couldn't help but grin at the elbow poking him in the side.

"And your point is? My track record with brownies isn't exactly stellar either, but that doesn't stop me from eating the ones my grandma brought with her."

"My mother's never done this."

Daniel pressed his nose to the window. "This? Cook? Doesn't look like my father is giving her a chance to—whoa, is she going to hit him with the spatula?"

Only his mother could manage to make a cooking utensil a formidable weapon. "My mother isn't sociable. I love the woman, but asking people for help, having people help, is a foreign concept. But here she is..."

"She seems to be doing a better job than you are."

"I don't always trust her."

"Huh?"

"This is going to be home. Friends. And we'll have barbeques. And have a favorite pizza place. The Chinese restaurant on the corner will be on speed dial. I'll go to school. She'll learn the shortest route to get me to school when I wake up late. People will know us. We'll get to know people... And then, poof. I'll be packing one bag and the weapons. She'll serve pancakes and we'll be on the road before the dishes are washed and dried."

"So you're going to spend all your time waiting for that to happen?"

"No, I'm going to spend all my time preparing for Judgment Day."

"Did you ever think that this, right here, is preparation?"

"A barbeque?"

"Friendships. A home. A sense of belonging against all odds."

He gave Daniel a look as if the kid had lost his mind then tried to hide his laughter behind a cough, failing miserably.

"What?" This time the elbow in his side poked a little harder. "What'cha laughing at?"

"I was going to ask you..." This time John burst out laughing.

"I can wait," Daniel said with a wave of his hand. "Finish laughing." He hummed the theme from Jeopardy.

"Sorry." The laughter turned into tiny snickers, which John fought to control. "All those deep, heavy words of wisdom. I was going to ask you how old you really were?"

"Me?" Daniel smiled. "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

"Hey," John said with an indignant huff that sent his bangs flying. "I jumped eight years. You went backwards. I'm only twenty four to your over the hill—"

"Eh!" Daniel raised a finger to John. "You so don't want to go there."

oo~O~oo

John looked at the burger Colonel O'Neill had just put into his plate.

"Is there a problem? Do you want cheese with that?"

"Can I..." John offered him back his plate. "Can I have one a little less..."

"Charred?" his mom filled in. She picked up his burger, swinging in between her thumb and pointer finger. "Hockey puck material, O'Neill."

"Everyone's a critic." He winked at John and exchanged plates. "Try this... This one's still bleeding."

Hurriedly, John dropped the plate on the shelf attached to the grill, stepped back, closed his eyes for a second and swallowed. The visual of the red juice dripping out the side of the undercooked burger was a little too much for him to handle. "It's okay, I'll have a frank."

"You're an asshole, O'Neill," his mom said, flinging the hockey-puck imitation burger at him.

"It's okay, Mom." John grabbed her arm before she took out the Colonel with a paper plate and bun. "I'll stick with a frank."

"John..." The Colonel shook his head at the burger resting on his shoes. "You're mom's right. I should've—"

"No apology necessary." He turned towards his mother and smiled. "Though I think my mom might owe you one." John kissed her cheek. "Go ahead, Mom, I'm listening."

oo~O~oo

John drifted into the living room, eyed the couch with longing but dropped down on the recliner instead, palming the bottle of Snapple.

Daniel followed in his wake and stood before him.

"You're worse than Cameron."

"Where'd you get the Snapple?" Daniel asked, completely ignoring his statement.

"Fridge. Help yourself."

Daniel returned, drinking a Snapple and fell into the couch. "Cassie's looking for you."

John leaned forward, the neck of the Snapple bottle dangling between his fingers. He gave a quick glance over his shoulder and scooted to the edge of the chair. "That thing, you know, when we were up on the roof?" He flashed a smile. "What you said about Cassie. Was I imagining..."

Daniel's smile was huge. "The 'A' word? Nope. Wasn't imagining."

"So she's like a little green man?"

"I wouldn't say that within ten feet of her if you value your life."

John shrugged, working his thumbnail under the Snapple's label. "She doesn't look like an—"

"And you don't look like a savior."

John tapped his Snapple against Daniel's. "Touché."

"Hey, guys."

Guiltily, Daniel and John both turned towards Cassie.

"What'cha doing in here?" She eyed the arm of the chair where John was sitting but chose the couch instead.

"Looking for John," Daniel answered.

Cassie turned her attention to him. "What are you doing in here?"

John raised his drink. "Getting a Snapple." He smiled a slow smile at Cassie.

"What?" Cassie whipped her head from side to side, then bared her teeth at Daniel. "Is there something stuck in my teeth?"

John g