Notes: This story is part of the Bearing Witness series. The previous four stories - Bearing Witness; Give And Take; Explorers; and Standing Sentinel can be found at
He'd promised himself and Jack that he'd never run away again, that he'd always go to Jack when he felt overwhelmed with the problems of being a thirty-five year old inside a five-year-old body. Even as his feet pounded against the pavement and his breath wheezed heavily through his open mouth, he managed to feel guilty for breaking his promise.
Reaching an alleyway, he turned into it and bent double, the better to catch his breath. Then he stumbled to the alley wall and sank down against it, bending his knees up and resting his hot face against them.
It wasn't his fault this time, he told himself. It was different from when he'd run away from Jack at the SGC because he was mad at being told he couldn't go offworld while he was still downsized. That had been a temper tantrum, one worthy of any five-year-old, archeologist or not.
This time it was fear that had driven him from the home he'd come to know and love as his. It was an old fear, he knew that, one of abandonment by those he trusted most. So many people he should have been able to trust had left him behind. He knew, as rationally as his five year old emotions allowed him, that his parents hadn't meant to die, that his grandfather was sorry he hadn't adopted him, that Sha're had played no role in her own abduction. But they'd all hurt, just the same. And five years old or thirty-five, he still remembered each and every event, and more importantly, the despair he'd felt each time.
He'd felt the devastation just as deeply this time. Jack had promised that he'd never let Daniel go to a foster home. Hell, he'd run off with him to Las Vegas just a few months before to stop it happening and yet, there he was, sitting next to Daniel in General Hammond's office, nodding his head and agreeing to just that.
Daniel sat up and wiped his eyes with his hand. He wished he didn't react like a kid to everything that happened though Janet and Jack had explained it to him. That no matter how old he felt on the inside, his emotions were mostly five years old. Didn't mean he had to like it, he thought mutinously.
He lowered his head again and closed his eyes, reliving the meeting that had caused his headlong rush away from the mountain
"I think it would be a good idea for Daniel to at least spend a short time with his prospective foster parents," General Hammond said.
Daniel looked up sharply from the paper he'd been doodling on. "Why?" he asked. "And they're not my prospective anything. I live with Jack now."
"I'm thinking about emergency situations," the General said kindly. "If Jack should, God forbid, be injured, or worse on a mission-"
"I know what you mean," Daniel interrupted. And he did. He and Jack had talked about this very situation when Daniel had said Jack should go back to heading up SG:1.
Jack had been adamant that couldn't happen at first. He'd said that as long as Daniel was downsized, he'd stay on Earth. Sam could head up SG: 1 with Teal'c and two guys seconded from one of the other SG combat teams.
Daniel, though, had seen Jack's spirit diminish every day SG:1 went offworld without him. Finally, they'd discussed it, Daniel agreeing that if they were going somewhere he couldn't go, he'd stay with Janet or the General.
"Why can't we just stick with what we decided before?" he asked. "I'll stay with you or Janet till Jack gets back."
"Daniel." Jack turned his chair and held out his arms. "C'mere," he said.
Daniel climbed off his own chair and let himself be pulled up onto Jack's lap.
"What if one day I don't come back?" Jack asked, hugging Daniel tightly to him as Daniel shuddered at the thought. "You couldn't stay with the General in the long term-"
"I could stay with Janet,"" Daniel said firmly. "She has Cassie already."
"Cassie stays with other people when Janet has to work. That's all this would be, buddy. Just an in-case scenario," Jack said.
"It's still a foster home," Daniel said, his voice trembling despite his efforts to keep it steady.
"They'd be good people, Danny, you know that," Jack said.
Daniel was already shaking his head. 'I don't want to go to foster care," he whispered, hating the fat tears that overflowed his eyes and dripped down his cheeks. "You promised you'd never make me go, Jack."
"I know. And I won't, not unless it's necessary. Daniel, we talked about me going back to work. You said you wanted me to do it-"
"I do," Daniel murmured. "But I don't want to go to foster care. Jack, please, I'll be good. I won't complain about going to bed early, and I'll stop getting up and typing on my laptop and waking you up-"
"Jesus, Daniel." Jack's arms hugged him even tighter and a big hand rubbed soothingly over his head. "It's not about any of that. I want you to live with me. I thought I'd shown you that by now. Danny, listen. Calm down now, all right. We'll talk about it tomorrow-"
"Sergeant Wilson and his wife have asked if Daniel could spend tomorrow night with them, get to know them a little-"
Daniel pulled himself free of Jack's grasp and clambered to the floor. "No!" he shouted. "I'm not staying with them, not tomorrow, not ever. I live with Jack!" He backed away as Jack stood up and moved towards him.
"Daniel, knock it off!" Jack said firmly, reaching out a hand.
Daniel shook his head, no longer caring about the tears sliding wetly down his face or that he was no longer in control. "Leave me alone!" he screamed. "You promised, Jack!" He turned and grasped the door handle, pushing it down and shoving the door open. In minutes he was racing down the corridor, uncaring where he went, just knowing he had to get away.
He wasn't sure how he made it all the way to the guard post at the exit to the Mountain without being stopped. Maybe, he thought now, they'd just gotten used to seeing him rampaging around the corridors in his five-year-old way and didn't question it. But, somehow he'd gotten to the sentry post, signed his name on the exit log in his big cursive handwriting and walked through the gate, wiping his angry tears from his face as he did so.
"Are you okay?" the Marine on duty asked him.
Daniel squinted through his damp eyes at the man's nametag. "I'm fine, Sergeant Lewis. Just got some bad news, that's all. Colonel O'Neill told me to meet him in the parking lot. Thanks for asking, though."
"No problem. You remember where the Colonel's car is parked?" Lewis asked.
Daniel nodded. "Yep, I'm just going to wait right next to it."
He walked away, willing his short legs not to break into a run until he'd reached the other side of Jack's truck. Then, he'd sprinted until he reached the road leading away from Cheyenne Mountain. He slowed to a walk then, keeping well away from the road itself, ducking into the bushes whenever he heard a vehicle approaching from behind him. He'd walked into town from the Mountain a couple of times before, when he was big and it had taken him an hour. This time it took him two. Must have been his shorter legs, he decided.
He stopped at the coffee shop on the corner of Bright and Wilson and gave serious thought to going inside. He was thirsty. A sudden wailing of sirens behind him decided his course of action though, and he was running again, his feet taking him finally into the shelter of the alley where he now sat.
"Hey, T, you seen Daniel?" Jack asked, peeking in through Teal'c's door.
"I have not. I thought he was participating in a meeting with you and General Hammond," Teal'c replied, rising from his cross-legged position on the floor.
"He was." Jack scrubbed a hand over his aching forehead. "Things got a little heated and he took off."
"I see. Can I ask what was heated?"
Jack shrugged. "We told him we thought it might be a good idea for him to at least get to know the people who offered to care for him if anything happens to me-"
"I see." Teal'c looked thoughtful. "Did you not take him to Las Vegas so he would not have to go to foster care?" he asked after a moment.
"This isn't about putting him into care," Jack said hotly. "It's just a standby measure. In case I get stuck offworld for a month or so, or get injured or God forbid, killed. We talked about it when we came back from Cascade. Daniel said he wanted me to go back on active duty. I told him then that the problem with that was that if something did happen, we needed to make sure there was someone who could take care of him. He agreed."
"Maybe he was just saying what he thought you wanted to hear." Jack turned at the sound of Carter's voice. "Sorry to interrupt, sir, but General Hammond said you were looking for Daniel."
"Have you seen him?" Jack asked.
Sam shook her head, worry filling her eyes. "I was just about to head up to the sentry post on the parking lot, have a look around there."
"I'll come with you," Jack replied. "I've looked in all his usual haunts."
"I will accompany you as well," Teal'c added.
"So, what did you mean about that?" Jack asked as they entered the elevator and he punched in the number for the garage level.
"I just meant that maybe he was trying to be his AdultDaniel self," Sam said. "Just because he agreed with you and said he understood doesn't mean his KidDaniel self did. Has he ever told you about the last foster home he was in?"
Jack shook his head. "He hasn't told me a whole lot about his childhood - his first one - at all. I mean, I know it must have been tough, losing your parents so young and then being farmed out to foster families but he's never gone into much detail about it." He gave her a sharp look as the elevator came to a halt. "He told you about it?"
She shrugged as they left the car and headed for the sentry gate. "Don't take it personally, sir. We were talking one time about my problems with my dad and he mentioned that he would have given anything to be able to spend his childhood with his parents, even if they weren't perfect. He told me that most of his foster homes had been okay, but the last one, when he was twelve, was pretty horrific. He got beaten up and abused pretty badly. Eventually, his teacher worked out what was going on and he was pulled out of there and sent to a group home, where he stayed till he went to college."
Jack shook his head. "I wish I'd known."
"There has to be a way around this problem other than shunting him off to another foster home," Sam said as they reached Jack's truck. "I'm not saying the Wilsons would be anything other than kind to him, but it's not what he wants, and even if he's five on the outside, he's still old enough on the inside to want to have some say in this."
"Could not some sort of list be organized of those people DanielJackson feels comfortable with?" Teal'c asked, holding the door open for Sam and then climbing up after her into the vehicle.
Jack looked over at him as he got into the driver's seat and started the engine. "You mean a roster?" He nodded. "It might work. I'll talk to Daniel about it, when we find him, and after I've given him lecture # 14 on not running away again."
Daniel jerked awake from the half-doze he'd fallen into as something hard poked into his side. He looked up and saw a tall, thin man with a cane standing next to him.
"You okay, kid?" the man asked, pulling the cane back and leaning heavily on it as he half-turned to face Daniel.
Daniel nodded, unable to speak for the fear that was catching at him. His mind flashed on Donner, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck just weeks ago, and instinctively he pulled back into the shadows of the alley.
"You don't look okay," the man observed. "You look scared to death. I'm not going to hurt you, kid. Just relax. I'm a doctor, not a serial killer."
Daniel nodded again. It was all he seemed capable of doing right now. He swallowed dryly, and forced the panic making his heart go into overdrive to recede just a little.
"What's your name?" the man asked casually.
"What's yours?" Daniel managed to get out through his spit-dry mouth.
The man laughed. "Clever little bugger, aren't you? Okay, my name is Gregory House. You can call me Doctor House. You?"
"Daniel Jackson. You can call me Daniel." He gave momentary thought to telling the man to call him Doctor Jackson and shook his head as he imagined the reaction.
The man gave him a crooked grin. "So now that we're friends, introduced and everything, you want to tell me why you're here? Where are your parents?"
Daniel pushed himself up to his feet. "Why are you here?" he asked.
"Okay, question for question. I can do that. I'm here for a medical convention on rare diseases. No point in me going into details about what rare diseases because you wouldn't understand a word I said. You?"
"I I ran away," Daniel said softly.
"Nice," House remarked. "I always wanted to do that when I was a kid but somehow I never made it past the end of the street before I got hungry enough to go home. You hurt?"
Daniel shook his head. "Just tired and thirsty," he said. "What's wrong with your leg?"
House looked at him appraisingly, then shrugged. "I had a infarct in my thigh muscle," he replied. "That's the basics of it but-"
"Muscle death. Must have hurt a lot."
House raised an eyebrow at him. "You read medical books when you get bored with Dr. Seuss?" he asked. "And to answer your last question, yes, it hurt. So, where are your parents? I could call the police-"
"No!" Daniel reached out a hand and grabbed House's arm. "I was going to go home anyway. I was just catching my breath."
House nodded. "Okay. I'll call a cab for you." He lifted a hand as Daniel started to speak. "I'll pay for it. I'm guessing most kids your age don't carry credit cards or enough cash for taxi fare. You know, you really should be more organized the next time you run away from home. Get yourself a phone-home card at least, and carry water, and some of those disgusting bars that people think are so healthy they call them health bars, even though they're full of sugar."
"Are you from around here?" Daniel asked, as much to keep the man talking as for any other reason.
"Nope." House took his jacket off and placed it on the ground, then lowered himself with a pain-filled grunt to sit on it. "Might as well get comfortable if we're going to chat," he said. "I'm guessing you're not in any hurry to get home just yet. So, what happened? Mom catch you stealing cookies before dinner?"
"My mom's dead," Daniel said briefly. He scrubbed at the knee of his jeans industriously, biting down hard on his lip to quell the sudden burning in his eyes.
"Oh. Sorry. Dad mad because you got an F in coloring in?"
"No. I can't really talk about it. It's complicated," Daniel said, finally raising his eyes to look at House. The doctor had kind eyes, he decided, though the rest of his face was grizzled-looking, with a day's growth of stubble. His mouth looked gruff and stern, but his eyes seemed to see right into Daniel's heart.
"I can do complicated. I'm something of a genius," House said.
"It's a secret-"
"Has your father been hurting you?" House interrupted immediately, his eyes suddenly looking glacially cold.
"No! Jack would never hurt me. He protects me, takes care of me," Daniel replied in a rush of words. "It's just that he has to go back to work and sometimes he's away for a while and he thinks I should go to a foster home while he's gone and I don't want to." The words tumbled out, faster than his brain could hold them back and he snapped his mouth closed with a sudden realization that he'd almost told a complete stranger the biggest secret of all.
"You've been in a foster home before?" House asked, his voice soft now.
Daniel shivered at the memories, and suddenly he was sitting up against the tall man's side, a warm arm wrapped around his thin shoulders. He sighed and relaxed into the warmth of House's body.
"It was a long time ago, before-" Daniel shut his mouth quickly. "Anyway, I just don't want to go. I want to stay with Jack or with my friends when Jack's away, not with strangers."
"Have you told Jack that?"
"I guess Not in so many words, I don't think." Daniel licked his dry lips. "Do you have any water? I'm really thirsty."
House pushed himself up with his cane, cursing softly as he finally stood. He bent and rubbed a hand up and down his thigh, then pulled a bottle of pills from his jeans pocket and flipped the lid, tossing one into his mouth and swallowing it dry. "It's medicine," he said as he held a hand down to Daniel and pulled him to his feet.
"For the pain?" Daniel asked.
"Yeah. Takes it away like magic. Let's go."
"Where to?" Daniel asked, hanging back as House walked towards the entrance of the alley.
"You said you were thirsty. There's a diner across the road. We might as well get something to eat while we're at it. Then I'll call a cab for you, and you can go home and talk to Jack, all right?" House kept walking, stopping only when he reached the curb.
Daniel trotted after him and took his proffered hand to cross the road. "Thanks," he said.
"Don't thank me till you taste the food," House said. "You might not be feeling so grateful by then."
"Where are we going?" Sam asked, looking over at Jack's grim face.
He shrugged, keeping his attention on the road ahead. "I don't know. Into town, I guess. It's a pretty long walk for a kid, but he's been gone a couple of hours at least so Just keep an eye out on your side of the road, Teal'c, in case he's stopped somewhere for a rest."
"He wouldn't try hitchhiking or anything like that, would he?" Sam asked, her voice betraying her concern.
"Daniel's too smart to do that," Jack said, hoping he sounded reassuring. The truth was, though, that AdultDaniel wouldn't do that, but he just wasn't sure what KidDaniel would do in that situation. They hadn't actually talked about stranger danger. It didn't seem necessary before now. After all, Daniel was still thirty-five intellectually. Surely, he'd remember not to go anywhere with strangers. He rubbed a hand over his hair and pressed down on the accelerator a little more. He'd feel a whole lot better once Daniel was back where he was supposed to be, with him.
House hid a grin as the child seated opposite him at the table sniffed the cup of hot liquid in his hand and closed his eyes in what looked like bliss. The kid had asked for coffee and House had bought it for him. House knew only too well what it felt like to be able to have what one wanted and the kid wasn't his, after all. It wasn't as if he was going to have to cope if the child couldn't sleep tonight. Though, looking him over with a physician's practiced eye, House didn't think there'd be much chance of that. Daniel looked exhausted, his eyes red-rimmed with dark shadows beneath them.
Daniel sipped the coffee and smiled over at him. "Thanks for the coffee," he said as he swallowed it down. "Coffee's my favorite thing in the world just about."
"I can see that. You should eat something too," House said, pushing the plate of sandwiches closer to Daniel's elbow.
Daniel picked one up and took a bite. "It's good," he mumbled around his mouthful.
"Bacon and egg sandwich. Nothing better for what ails you. I lived on these things when I was studying in England."
House looked at his watch. He had to leave soon or he'd be late for the lecture he was due to give.
"I'm sorry if I'm making you late," Daniel said. He climbed off the chair and wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. "We can go now. If you give me your address, I'll send you a cheque to cover the cost of the meal and the cab. Unless you've got Paypal? Paypal would be much easier for us both."
House felt his mouth drop open in surprise. "Paypal? You been hanging around on the net much?" he asked.
Daniel grinned up at him. "Most kids my age use the Net," he said offhandedly.
"Right, well, let's go find that cab." House put some money on the table. "I've got a lecture to give, which I'd dearly love to miss, but unfortunately my boss blackmailed me into giving it, and if I don't I'll be doing extra clinic hours for the rest of the year. If I do it, I get two days free from treating coughs, colds and sundry other boringly common ailments. So, as you can see," he said, leading the way from the diner, "I really have to go now."
Outside, he pulled his cellphone from his jacket pocket and hit the speed dial for the cab company that he'd put in the menu as soon as he'd arrived in Colorado Springs. He ordered the cab, then patted Daniel's back. "Wait here. I told the driver to pick you up outside the diner. Here's fifty bucks. That should cover it, provided you don't live over the state line. You don't, do you?"
Daniel shook his head, teeth worrying his lower lip again. He scrubbed a hand across his eyes. "I'll be fine. Thank you for helping me, Doctor House."
"Call me Greg," House said. He ruffled the boy's hair with his hand and walked away, stopping at the corner of the block to look back.
Daniel was standing, head bowed, his shoulders shaking, small hands covering his face.
"Dammit!" House muttered. He opened his cell, and called the hotel where the conference was being held. "This is Dr House. I've been called to an emergency at the hospital and won't make it in time for lecture. Tell Dr Cuddy she can give the lecture herself, and that, yes, I understand that means all bets are off." He snapped the phone closed, shook his head at his own weakness and walked back to Daniel.
"Hey, why don't I wait with you?" he said, pulling the boy against his side. He waited till Daniel's sobs eased, then tilted his head up with a finger beneath his chin. "Better yet," he suggested. "Why don't you give me Jack's number and we'll call him? Get him to come pick you up?"
Daniel nodded slowly, wiping his nose with the back of his hand as House grimaced and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. He held it to the small nose. "Blow," he said.
"Are you sure that's okay?" Daniel asked, his voice still husky with tears.
"Hey, saves me fifty bucks for the cab fare, right? What's the number?"
House looked up as a blue truck skidded to a halt in front of the diner.
A tall, lanky man with short, silvered hair was out of the vehicle in seconds, and pulling Daniel into his arms moments later, hugging him hard and shushing the boy's apologetic explanations in a soothing voice. "It's okay, Danny, we'll talk about it at home, all right? You okay?" he asked. "Are you hurt?"
Daniel shook his head, his eyes brimming with tears. "Sorry," he whispered again.
"Enough with the sorry stuff. I'm just glad you're safe." Jack looked behind him and motioned to the two people who were with him. "Keep an eye on Daniel for a minute."
They came forward, the huge black man lifting Daniel up against his broad chest and whispering something in the boy's ear that made him giggle. The very attractive blonde woman patted Daniel's shoulder and smiled reassuringly.
"Dr House, I presume," the man said, holding out a hand for House to shake.
"You must be Jack," House said, returning the handshake firmly.
"Thanks for taking care of him," Jack said. "We had a disagreement and-"
"Daniel told me," House said. "Look, I don't know what the deal is about the foster home and stuff, but he's a pretty amazing kid. Maybe you should let him decide what's best for him."
Jack nodded. "I'd pretty much decided that already. How much do I owe you?"
House frowned. "For lunch, you mean? Forget it. Daniel got me out of giving a horrendously boring lecture to a bunch of Neanderthal doctors who wouldn't know their ass from a hole in the ground. Let's say we're square." He shook Jack's hand again, and limped over to the cab that had stopped in front of the diner.
A hand tugged at his sleeve and pulled him to a stop, and he looked down into Daniel's blue eyes.
"Thanks, Greg, for everything," Daniel said.
"No problem, Daniel. Maybe we'll meet again sometime. Here." He pulled a business card from his wallet and handed it to the boy. "Give me a call if you're ever in the area. We'll do lunch again." He smiled broadly. "Bacon and egg sandwiches and coffee. Maybe I'll introduce you to Cuddy, prove to her that my excuse for today really exists."
Daniel nodded. "That'd be great. Bye, Greg."
"Goodbye, Daniel. Stay out of foster homes, okay?" Greg touched the boy's hair briefly, then stepped into the rear of the cab. He leaned forward and gave the cabbie the address of the hotel, turning to watch through the rear window as Daniel ran over to his father and was scooped up into his arms. "Christ, House, you must be getting soft in your old age," he muttered. Turning back to the front of the cab again, he tapped the driver on the shoulder with his cane. "Try using the gas pedal, will you?" he grumped. "If you went any slower, we'd be going backwards."
Daniel handed Jack the sheet of paper he'd been writing on.
"That's everyone," Jack asked, perusing the list.
"Yep, I know I probably won't need to stay with Siler or Walter, but I didn't want them to feel left out," Daniel said.
"It's a good list." He stood and put it on the fridge door, placing his Homer Simpson For President magnet on top to keep it there.
"Are you still mad at me?" Daniel asked softly.
Jack turned back to him slowly, a thoughtful look on his face. "I was never mad at you, Danny. I was worried and I was disappointed you hadn't told me about what happened in the last foster home you were in, but I wasn't mad." He sat down next to Daniel and pulled him off his own chair to perch on Jack's lap.
"I don't know how to tell you about that stuff now," Daniel said. "When it happened, I was 10 or 11 but I felt so small when that guy tried to Anyway, like when Donner hit me in my office that day. But when I told Sam about it, I was an adult and didn't seem such a scary memory any more. Then when you and General Hammond said I should go a foster home, it was like I was that scared 10 year old again, but even smaller and weaker than back then. I can't explain it very well," he said, resting his head against Jack's chest.
"You explained it just fine, just, next time do the explaining before you do the running, okay?"
"Okay," Daniel agreed around a huge yawn. He felt Jack stroking small circles on his back and he went with the rhythm, allowing it to tumble him down into sleep.