Jack was running, faster than he'd ever run before in his life, breath heaving from his lungs, his knees complaining with a fiery ache as he hurtled down the stony hillside into the small village a klick or so from the stargate. He burst through the doorway of the rough-hewn hut he was directed to. "Where is he?" he asked, barely able to get the words out.
Colonel Reynolds moved away from the bed he was standing in front of and pointed at the figure cowering on it.
Jack stepped closer, pulled the blankets away then turned back to Reynolds. "Is this some sort of joke?" he growled. "It's a kid, Reynolds. Where the hell's Daniel?"
Reynolds shrugged. "The villagers said they found him in the woods. He said his name is Daniel Jackson." He waited a heartbeat then said, "He recognized me, Jack, called me by name. It's Daniel."
Jack shook his head in disbelief then bent over the child on the bed. The boy looked to be about five years old and he looked terrified. "Hey," Jack said quietly, placing a gentle hand on the boy's head, "it's okay." He looked into the child's eyes. There was something there, some indefinable recognition that Jack couldn't pinpoint. "Daniel? Is that your name?"
The child's eyes filled with tears and he held up his arms in the age-old gesture of small children everywhere.
Jack responded without thinking, picking him up. Small arms wound around his neck and a damp face snuggled into his neck.
"Jack," the boy whispered through his tears. "Why'd you take so long to come get me?"
Jack held the boy away from him and looked into the suddenly familiar blue eyes. "Daniel?"
Daniel nodded and tried to snuggle in close again but Jack held him back. "What happened to you?" Jack asked harshly. "You died."
Daniel shook his head. "I ascended then Oma sent me back. Sent me here where you'd find me. You took so long. I didn't think you were ever coming. I thought you'd forgotten about me."
"No!" The denial was on Jack's lips quickly. "We never forgot you, Daniel. It just took us a while to work out where you were." He pulled the boy against him now, one hand cupping the back of the small head. "We missed you. Who did this to you?"
"I told you," Daniel said patiently. "Oma did it. I said I wanted to go back and she made me like this."
"So I could make a difference-"
"Sir!" Reynold's voice was harsh. "We've got incoming Hat'acs. We really need to get out of here."
"They know I'm here," Daniel whispered, his face buried against Jack's neck. "They want to kill me. They'll kill everyone."
"Who will?" Jack shook Daniel a little.
"Anubis' forces. He wants to find me." Daniel looked up, his face white and strained.
"Sir?" Reynolds stood in the doorway, his weapon aimed at the sky outside the hut.
"Evacuate the village. Take them through the gate," Jack ordered. He clasped Daniel to him tightly. "Keep your head down, Daniel. We're going home."
The run for the gate took almost every ounce of stamina Jack had. The child... Daniel... a heavy, precious weight as he dodged the strafing ground-fire of the enemy ships. Daniel clung tightly to him, the child's breathing verging on sobs, his face hot against Jack's neck.
"Scared," Daniel whispered. "I'm scared."
"We're almost there," Jack shouted above the explosions and the gunfire. And they were, he realized as he looked up and saw the gate just a few long steps away.
"Everyone's through, sir!" Reynolds shouted, his gun up and firing towards a ship that was bearing down on them.
"Go through!" Jack yelled. He saw Reynolds turn and throw himself into the wormhole, and then he and Daniel were there too, the vortex only inches away. He grasped Daniel even more closely to him then lunged forward, a lightning flash of pain igniting in his back as they tumbled into safety.
He landed facedown on the ramp, stunned, pain washing down his back and legs, the child tumbling from his arms.
"Get a medical team here!" he heard Hammond call.
There was a small hand on his face and Jack turned his head to see Daniel next to him, eyes wide with fright, tears dripping steadily down his grimy, whitewashed cheeks.
"Jack," the boy whispered, "don't die."
Jack struggled to speak, to get words out to reassure him but the pain was overwhelming and he let his head slump down onto the ramp.
Daniel bent low over him, his arms wrapping around Jack's shoulders, his head pressed to Jack's. "Don't die," Daniel whispered.
Warmth flooded through Jack's body, flowed down his wounded back and his legs and the pain disappeared. Daniel moved away, his face even paler than before, sweat beading his forehead. Jack rolled to his back then sat up, his hands going to the massive wound he knew he must have suffered. Feeling nothing amiss, he looked at his hands. Nothing - no blood. He made it to his knees and looked at Daniel. "What did you do?" he asked.
Daniel looked up at him, a small smile on his face. "I made a difference," he said then his eyes closed and he fell forward into Jack's arms.
Jack rolled him onto his back, cradling Daniel's head in his lap, a hand brushing across Daniel's too-warm forehead. "No," he whispered, "not now, Daniel, not now. Stay with me."
Daniel's eyes opened and he smiled up at Jack. "It worked," he said. "You're okay."
Jack shook his head. "Not unless you are, I'm not. Don't you think about leaving again." His voice was gruff but tears burnt his eyes. He rubbed them away impatiently. Hands hauled him up, took Daniel from him and laid the child on the ramp while the medics checked him over.
A gurney was rolled to the foot of the ramp and Daniel was lifted onto it, Jack waving away the second stretcher. "I'm fine," he all but growled as he made to follow Daniel.
"You sure, Jack?" Reynolds was at his shoulder, a hand under Jack's elbow that he shook off impatiently. "Looked like you took a blast square in the back."
Jack walked away from him, his gaze focused on the boy being wheeled away. "Does it look like I'm hurt?" he snapped over his shoulder. "I'll be in the infirmary with Daniel."
Jack squirmed in the chair, trying to get comfortable. He'd been left waiting here for what seemed hours now, though he knew it was in reality only a half hour or so. The nurse had done her thing, checking him over to make sure he was as uninjured as he said he was and then he'd been told to wait here till Doctor Fraiser came to speak to him.
"Sir?" Carter appeared at his side, her features strained and her voice tense. "You okay? Colonel Reynolds said you took a staff blast in the back." She peered over his shoulder then tentatively placed a hand gently on his back. "Wow!' she whispered.
"What?" he snapped back.
"There's a huge hole in your shirt, sir, but no sign of a wound. Could you lean forward a little?"
He sighed then obeyed, turning under the direction of her hands so he was sitting sideways in the chair.
"The edges of the hole are soaked in blood, sir." Carter sounded stunned and Jack decided he couldn't really blame her. He was feeling a little that way himself.
"Daniel did something," he muttered.
"So it is really him?" Carter's eyes were damp now and he reached out and patted her arm.
"Yeah, it's him. I'm sure of it. I'm just-" he swallowed, tried to get enough moisture in his mouth to go on. "I'm just worried that whatever he did to save me might have killed him." He looked up at Carter, despair lacing his voice. "We might have got him back just to lose him for good."
"No!" Carter shook her head, tears now spilling freely down her cheeks. "No, that can't happen. He's a fighter, sir. Daniel's always come back."
Jack wondered whether she was trying to convince him or herself but he nodded. "Yeah, that he has. Dammit!" He stood, paced towards the door of the infirmary then took a step back as a diminutive whirlwind in the form of Dr. Fraiser shoved the door open and stepped out. "Well?" he demanded.
"He's okay. He seems to be exhausted but he's relatively fine." Janet Fraiser shook her head as she looked up at him. "He's Daniel, sir. No doubt about it. I'm pretty sure he's not a clone." She smiled shakily. "It's Daniel."
Jack just nodded. Words were beyond him right now. He motioned at the door and raised an eyebrow.
Fraiser nodded and looked at Carter apologetically. "Sorry, Sam, one visitor at a time for now. You can see him soon."
Carter nodded. "That's okay," she whispered, rubbing her cheeks with one hand. "As long as he's back and he's okay, I can wait." She stopped then gave Jack a grin. "He's a kid? Oh boy, he's gonna hate that."
"I'll tell him you said hi," Jack said, finally getting his voice back as he opened the door to the infirmary and walked inside.
Daniel was in a bed that was set up in the middle of the infirmary, away from the rest of the beds and close to the nurses' desk. The siderails on the bed were raised and Jack walked up, resting both hands on them as he looked down at the child he was sure was his best friend. He stretched out a hand and brushed the wispy hair away from the boy's eyes. Daniel seemed out for the count and Jack hooked over a rolling chair with his foot, sat down on it and rested his elbows on the rails, his chin on his folded arms while he looked his fill at one more miracle in the life of Daniel Jackson. "You've gotta stop doing this stuff to me, Daniel," he murmured. "I don't think the old ticker can take it anymore. Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased as hell to have you back. I'm talking about the dying stuff. Each time it gets harder to believe you're coming back."
Daniel stirred and Jack held his breath but the boy just turned onto his side, one hand resting beneath his cheek. He made a sucking motion with his lips and Jack smiled. Tentatively, he rubbed a gentle hand over Daniel's back, soothing the child back to sleep. As soon as Daniel stopped moving, and began to breathe more restfully, Jack closed his own eyes and let his exhaustion overtake him.
The voice tugged at him, drawing slowly but inexorably closer to waking. A gentle touch to his cheek annoyed him and he swatted at the hand. "Moooom, just five more minutes," he moaned.
"It has been some time since anyone called me mother," a voice said.
Jack startled awake, the chair he was sitting on toppling over to land loudly on the floor behind him. He looked quickly over at the bed, hoping the noise hadn't frightened Daniel. The bed was empty and Jack looked around, fear causing his heart to clench within his chest. God! Had it all been a dream, finding Daniel...
"It was no dream," the voice said.
Jack turned around. Floating before him was an ethereal white light. "Oma?" he asked.
The light dispersed into the form of the woman who had taken Daniel away from them. "It is good to see you again, Colonel... May I call you Jack? That is what Daniel calls you..."
He nodded quickly. "Sure, whatever. Where's Daniel?" He could feel his heart still racing and he turned again just to make sure his eyes hadn't deceived him, hoping against hope to see the child curled up, sleeping peacefully still on the bed.
"You haven't lost him again, Jack," Oma said. "I did not return him only to take him from you once more."
"Then where the hell is he?" Jack asked, swinging around to face her. "And why the hell did you do that to him anyway? Turn him into a kid? And what's with the healing stuff?"
"I will answer your questions in due course, Jack."
"What? No riddles this time, no deep and meaningful words that really aren't all that deep and meaningful anyway," Jack snapped back. He stepped closer to her, wishing she was corporeal so he could grab her by the shoulders and shake some of the same sense of urgency into her that he was feeling.
"No riddles," Oma replied. "I simply wish to show you Daniel as he was... as he would have become had I not intervened."
Jack startled awake at the touch of a hand on his. "What?"
Daniel was kneeling up on the bed, small arms resting on his thighs. He still looked pale but there was a faint tinge of pink to his cheeks now and the dark shadows had disappeared from beneath his eyes. "I had a bad dream," he said, his voice wobbling, his eyes damp with tears. "I dreamed you were dead."
Jack released the catch for the bedrails and lowered them then reached over and lifted Daniel from the bed, settling him on his lap. "I'm not dead," he said reassuringly. "You healed me, do you remember that?"
Daniel shook his head slowly. "I don't remember. I just remember you being dead." A sob broke through the words and Daniel buried his head against Jack's chest and cried.
Jack tightened his arms around him, rubbed his back, soothed with words till the tears stopped. "Daniel, listen to me," he said finally, placing a finger beneath Daniel's chin and tipping his head up so he could look into his eyes. "Do you remember Oma?"
Daniel nodded. "She took care of me before I came here," he said. "She said she was sending me back to you because it was what I wanted. She said my journey was just beginning again, that I had to start over so I could do what mattered most to me."
Jack screwed his eyes shut and tried to focus on the dream he'd had. It had all seemed clear when he'd dreamed it. Now, the memory was losing cohesiveness, Oma's words skittering from him the more he tried to remember. "Do you remember being big?" he asked.
"Yes." Daniel's eyes filled with tears again. "I missed you. I wanted to come back but Oma said I'd made my choice, that sometimes choices have to be hard, or else we don't learn from them."
"What did you learn, Daniel?" The voice came from somewhere behind Jack and he turned, seeing the ethereal white light there again. It moved closer and tiny tendrils wisped out to brush over Daniel's head.
"I learned that sometimes the easy part is giving up," the child whispered, "and when we give up, we sometimes lose more than we gain."
"Yes, Daniel. That's why I've returned you in this form. So you can begin again, start anew, make different choices." The light coalesced into Oma's recognizable form. "He has a gift now. The gift of healing, but the use of that gift will cost him dearly."
"Cost him what?" Jack flashed back to Daniel collapsing into his arms on the ramp.
"Each time he uses the gift, he will remain a child for one more of your years."
"Why?" Jack asked heatedly. "Why would you do that to him?"
"To teach," Oma replied, her form already fading away. "To teach that all gifts come with a price. And to give him each year as recompense for the childhood he already lived. Give him the childhood he should have had, Jack. This is Daniel's second chance."
Continued in Part 2