BEARING WITNESS - 4
"Wakey, wakey, rise and shine, get out of bed, the morning's " Jack pulled aside the curtains to Daniel's bedroom and grimaced at the overcast clouds outside, " almost fine," he finished.
Turning, he looked at the unmoving lump in Daniel's bed then walked across and sat on the edge. "Daaniel?" he said, sneaking his hand up under the bottom edge of the blanket to find a sock-clad small foot. He gave it a tickle. It jerked away from him. "Come on, Daniel, time to go to work."
"Can't go," a small quiet voice replied.
"Why not?" Jack asked.
Jack peeled back the covers from Daniel's top end and looked down at the flushed face. "What's wrong?" he asked, his stomach already beginning to churn with worry. He touched a hand to Daniel's forehead. "You're hot," he said. "Do you hurt anywhere?"
"Everywhere," Daniel replied. He flopped over from his side to his back and looked at Jack from under heavy eyelids. "I don't think we should go in today. I might be contagious."
"I'm gonna call the doc," Jack said, standing up and heading to the door.
"No! I don't want to see Doctor Frasier."
Jack turned at the plaintiveness in the tone and went back to the bed. "Why not?" he asked, his hand instinctively going out to rub gently across the child's chest. "Janet's the best person to take care of you when you're sick, Danny."
"I think I had diarrhea," Daniel whispered.
"And? So? Janet's a doctor. I'm sure she's heard that word before."
Daniel rolled back onto his side. "It doesn't matter. I'm feeling better now anyway."
Jack narrowed his eyes and pulled the boy into a sitting position. "What's going on, Daniel? Are you sick or not?"
Daniel's eyes veered left in the way Jack had to come to recognize as a signal for an obfuscation. "I was before. But I'm okay now."
Jack checked his forehead again. It was noticeably cooler now Daniel was no longer wrapped in the covers. "Okay," he said, "But if you start feeling worse again, you let me know, all right? I'll make you some toast for breakfast. I think you'd better steer clear of cereal for now. Milk's not good for tummy stuff."
Daniel chuffed out a laugh. "Tummy stuff? What have you been reading, Jack? Enid Blyton?"
"Smartass." Jack gave him a gentle whap on the back of the head. "Okay, so milk can make diarrhea worse. How's that, Einstein?" He stood and tossed Daniel his clean clothes for the day. "Get dressed. What do you want on your toast and please don't say-"
"Vegemite," Daniel replied quickly. "Please," he added almost as an afterthought.
Jack shook his head. "I don't know how anyone can put that brown stuff on a piece of bread and eat it," he muttered as he left the room.
"It's got Vitamin B in spades," Daniel called after him. "Besides, it tastes good."
Jack shuddered slightly as he went into the kitchen. Daniel's idea of good food had been pretty out there when he was an adult but as a five-year-old An Australian friend of Daniel's from the SGC had given him a jar of the yeast spread not long after Daniel had been downsized, saying all Aussie kids loved it. Jack had turned up his nose, literally, at the smell of the spread, but Daniel had latched onto it immediately and it had become a staple part of his diet. Jack put the bread in the toaster and when it popped up, he buttered it sparingly, then held his breath while he slathered the Vegemite on thickly enough to meet Daniel's exacting requirements. By the time he'd put the plate on the table, Daniel was walking into the kitchen, looking a lot brighter than he had ten minutes before.
"You look better," Jack remarked, grabbing coffee for himself.
"I'll be okay." Daniel crammed the toast into his mouth with enthusiasm, making Jack wonder again about the tummy-upset story.
It wasn't like Daniel to not want to go into the SGC. Usually he was up and ready before Jack was, but the past couple of days he'd seemed more tired than usual by the time they headed home. Jack was beginning to think that Daniel needed more rest during the day than he was getting, but he had enough trouble getting him to lie down for an hour at lunchtime as it was. He made a mental note to talk to the General, make sure that Daniel got a bit more help in his lab than he had now. Of course, they'd have to be devious about it. Daniel would get upset if he thought they were inferring he couldn't hack the job anymore, and Jack had learned that an upset AdultDaniel had nothing on a 5 year old mini-archeologist in full voice in defence of his rights and abilities.
They cleaned up the dishes then headed out to the truck. Daniel patiently allowed Jack to help him into the booster seat in the back and then did up his own belt, grinning at Jack triumphantly as it snicked into place.
"See, practice makes perfect," Jack said, ruffling his hair. "Your brain's catching up with the fact that you've got smaller fingers-"
"I don't want my brain to get too used to the idea," Daniel said with a small smile. "I'm hoping I get grown back up soon."
"Janet's working on it, and Sam. We'll get there, buddy."
"I know." Daniel waited till they were out on the road before speaking again. "Jack, can I stay with you today instead of going to my office and stuff?"
Jack met his eyes in the rear-view mirror. "I thought you were so keen to get that translation finished from 886?" he asked, surprised.
"I am but well, one day away from it won't hurt, or or maybe you could come and do your work with me in my office. I mean, I've got more than one computer-"
"You're going to have Dr Donner working with you as well, remember? It'll be a little cramped, Daniel."
Daniel's eyes slid away from his. "I was thinking of telling Dr Donner I don't need his help anymore."
"I thought you said he had this dialect down better than anybody you'd ever know, better even than you?" Jack asked, as he parked in his usual spot at the SGC.
He opened the back door and helped Daniel climb down, then bent so his face was level with Daniel's. "What's going on?"
Daniel looked down and scuffed the ground with one shoe. "I don't think he likes me," he whispered.
"Who? Donner? The guy's a geek, Danny. Give him the hard stuff to do and then sit back and take the credit for it." Jack stood and headed for the checkpoint, looking back when he reached it to see Daniel dawdling slowly behind him. "Come on, Daniel. I've got a meeting in five minutes and I need to take a leak first."
Daniel trotted across and caught up, after signing the log in his large, childlike handwriting.
Jack stopped outside Daniel's office and opened the door for him. "Look, I'll come down after my meeting in an hour or two and we'll go somewhere and talk. You sure you don't need to see Janet? You still look a little flushed."
"I'm fine now. Just forget it." Daniel squirmed away from the hand Jack had placed on his forehead. "Stop treating me like a kid!" He stormed across to his desk and climbed up onto the chair Siler had engineered for him to use. He powered up his computer then looked over at Jack. "I'm sorry. I'll be fine. Go, you'll be late for your meeting."
"Okay. I'll see you in a while." Jack walked over to the elevator and slid his card into the slot. Maybe he should ask the General about getting a few days off. He and Daniel could take off again, legally this time, go camping or fishing or something. He wondered about that as the elevator started to move down. AdultDaniel hadn't cared much for fishing or camping but most kids loved it. They could try it, at least, he decided as the elevator bumped to a halt on his level. He pulled out the postcard in his pocket and re-read it as he walked to the briefing room. Yeah, why not? Washington would be pretty nice this time of year.
Daniel looked up and almost literally felt his face lose color as his nemesis entered the room. "Oh hi," he managed to say through clenched teeth, "I was just going to call you, tell you I probably don't need your help anymore. I mean, I appreciate all you've done, but I'm sure you've got other things to do and-"
"Listen to me, you little shit, there's no way you're tossing me off this project now," Donner snarled, moving right up to stand in front of Daniel's desk. "I've done most of the work on this, and if you think you can just take over and then sit back and take all the credit for it-"
"I wouldn't do that," Daniel said quickly, feeling his face heat as he remembered Jack suggesting just that. "It's just I know you don't much like working with me and I can understand that. I know it's pretty weird, working with a kid and all-"
"I didn't like working with you when you were an adult," Donner said. "Jesus, all I ever heard was 'Dr Jackson this and Dr Jackson that.' Nobody ever gave credit to the grunts who kept your department running, the real academics who'd worked their asses off to get here. You had it all handed it to you, didn't you? A lucky fluke with the Stargate and suddenly you were everyone's golden boy."
Daniel shook his head furiously, horrified to feel his eyes filling with tears. "It wasn't like that," he said, hearing the tremble in his voice and hating himself for it. "Even Jack didn't like me at first-"
"Oh, gonna cry, little boy?" Donner sneered. He walked around the desk and reached out, grabbing Daniel by the back of the neck and lifting him forcibly from the chair.
Daniel shrieked in pain and fear, small legs kicking out and making contact with Donner's groin.
"Damn you!" Donner yelled. His hand loosened in favor of grabbing for his injured manhood, and he let Daniel drop to the ground.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Daniel looked up from where he lay curled in a ball on the floor, feeling as if all his breath had been knocked out of him. "jack," he managed to puff out.
"Stay where you are, Daniel," Jack growled, advancing on Donner, menace in every step.
"It's not what you think, Colonel," Donner quavered, stumbling back till he was up against the wall.
"Bullshit!" Jack snarled.
"jack," Daniel pleaded. "it hurts."
Jack spun at that. He pinned Donner with a glare over his shoulder. "Don't move," he ordered. Then he walked over to the intercom and made a call for SF's. Moving back to Daniel, he crouched beside him. "Hey there, big fella, how you doing? Where's it hurt?"
Daniel looked around as the security men entered and Jack directed them to take Donner into custody.
"Hey," Jack said, cupping his face and turning it back around. "Don't worry about him. You won't ever have to worry about him again. I'm going to call for a medical team-"
"No!" Daniel tried to sit up and groaned as his abdominal muscles protested his sudden movement. "I'm okay now. Just got the wind knocked out of me."
"You're getting checked out, Daniel," Jack said firmly. "Do it for me, Danny, okay?" he insisted more gently as Daniel began to shake his head.
Daniel finally nodded. "Okay, but you take me."
"No problem." Jack lifted Daniel carefully into his arms, cradling him against his chest. He rested his chin against Daniel's hair for a moment then carried him out of the room.
"Is Daniel all right?" Sam looked over at Jack, looking horrified by what he'd told them.
"Janet says he'll be fine. He'll probably have a bruise or two in the morning but he was just winded when that bastard dropped him. He's got a couple of nasty fingermarks on the back of his neck too."
"Jack, I'm sorry. I had no idea that Donner was capable of something like this," Hammond said. "He'll be charged, and dismissed from the SGC, of course."
"It's been going on for a while," Jack said. He rubbed a hand over his face. "God, I should have known something was wrong. Daniel's been acting so different ever since he started working with Donner."
"If DanielJackson did not choose to share this information with you, I fail to see how you could have known," Teal'c observed.
Jack shook his head. "I should have at least sat down with him and asked him if there was a problem. I thought he was just tired, that he needed to take a longer nap during the day or go to bed earlier at night." He looked around at the concerned faces. "Sometimes I wonder if Mackenzie was right-"
"No!" Sam said quickly. "He wasn't. Daniel's right where he belongs, with us." She smiled sadly at Jack. "I feel bad about this too, Colonel. I haven't had as much time to spend with him lately."
"Nor have I," Teal'c murmured. "It is something that should be rectified. DanielJackson is still a member of SG:1 and, as his comrades, we should be there for him when he needs us."
"Thanks." Jack smiled gratefully at them. "However, in the meantime, General, I do have a favor to ask."
"Name it," Hammond said.
"Jack!" Daniel scooted himself higher up in the bed, plastering a big grin on his face. His stomach still ached a bit and his neck was sore if he moved it too quickly but he felt a hundred times better than he had an hour before. Some of that had to do with knowing he'd never have to face Donner again but most of it had to do with the man walking toward his bed.
"Hey, buddy, you're looking better." Jack sat on the edge of the bed and reached a hand out, gently fingering the marks on Daniel's small neck.
"I'm good to go, Janet said," Daniel replied. Impulsively he climbed from under the sheet and sat on Jack's lap, wrapping his arms around Jack's chest. "Thank you for coming today," he whispered.
"I wished you'd told me what was happening," Jack murmured, rubbing one hand up and down Daniel's back.
"It wasn't that bad before. He mostly just mumbled stuff about me under his breath," Daniel said. He leaned back and looked up into Jack's face. "You're right. I won't keep secrets from you anymore."
"Good. Look, the General said we could take a few days off, have a break from here. There's nothing big happening right now. That translation will still be here when we get back, Teal'c wants to go visit Rya'c, and Sam's dying to get her hands dirty with that motorcycle of hers, so I was thinking-"
Daniel shook his head firmly. "Not fishing," he said.
Jack tickled his ribs gently, mindful of the bruises lurking beneath the skin. "No, not fishing." He pulled the postcard from his pocket. "I got this yesterday from an old acquaintance of mine. Remember Gil Grissom said he'd talked about me to Jim Ellison?"
"Yeah, you saved his life in Peru."
"Well, yeah, I guess. Anyway, I wrote Jim a while back to thank him for what he told Gil and he sent this postcard in return. He invited us to go visit him in Cascade. What do you think? Sound like a plan?"
Daniel gave an enthusiastic nod. "Cascade! Sounds like an adventure to me."
Jack groaned. "No way! No more adventures, Daniel. I'm way too old for adventures."
"When do we leave?" Daniel asked, crawling off Jack's lap and sitting beside him on the bed.
Jack glanced in the rearview mirror. Daniel had his eyes closed but his lips were moving. Jack grinned, turned the radio sports chatter down, and focused on Daniel's voice over the noise of the engine.
Daniel's eyes opened and stared accusingly into Jack's. "What?" he asked.
Jack returned his attention to the road but said, "You were singing the theme song to that show you say you only watch because it has stuff about myths in it."
"Were too!" Jack retorted. He relented as he noticed a flush coloring Daniel's cheeks. "It's okay, you know? To like kid things. Like when we were in Las Vegas and you said swings were for kids, but you enjoyed it when Teal'c pushed you on it, didn't you?"
"I guess." Daniel was silent for a few minutes. "It's just weird, you know? Every now and then, I feel like I want to do kid stuff, watch Yugioh or play on swings. Yet part of me inside is telling me I'm too old to want to do that."
"You're never too old," Jack replied. "I still like The Simpsons, and The Wizard of Oz and I'd *love* to go down the slide at the park, except my knees would give out when I landed and I'd fall on my ass and all the kids would laugh at me."
"I wouldn't. Laugh at you, I mean," Daniel said quietly. "But it's different for you, Jack. You've always liked that stuff. Sometimes I feel like I'm two people and I'm never sure which one's going to come out."
"Like yesterday with Donner?" Jack asked, his own voice quiet now.
"Yeah. I was trying to act adult when I told him I didn't need him working with me anymore, but when he started screaming at me, the kid part of me came out and I started crying. I acted like a baby."
"No, Daniel, you acted like someone who was being scared half to death. Even when you feel like an adult, you're still quarter the size you used to be. Donner was threatening you. It's no different to how any of us have felt any time we've been faced with having the crap beaten out of us by some big alien guy bigger than we are, or with way better toys than we have."
"I guess," Daniel said. "How far away from Cascade are we?" he asked.
Jack shot him a frown in the mirror. "You're not going to start asking, 'Are we there yet?' are you?" he said.
"Who, me?" Daniel smiled back at him. "Can we stop for lunch soon? I'm starving."
Jack looked at the dashboard clock. "Yeah, it's almost 1PM. We'll be passing through a little place called Mason Creek in a little while. Hopefully, it's big enough to have a diner."
It did, but only just. The diner was more of a truckstop, with no tables, just a long counter with high stools in front of it.
Jack hoisted Daniel up onto one of the seats and handed him the menu. "What do you want to eat?" he asked as the waitress walked towards them.
"A burger and fries," Daniel replied.
"We can make a kiddyburger for your son," the waitress, whose nametag proclaimed her to be Rosie, interjected, reaching out to ruffle Daniel's hair.
Daniel gave her a big grin in return and Jack shook his head. Five years old and he was still charming them.
"That'd be good," Jack told her.
"I can eat a full-sized burger," Daniel said, turning to face him. "I'm starving."
"Yeah, and you also have a stomach that's half the size it used to be and I don't feel like cleaning up puke from the truck when you get carsick," Jack whispered in his ear.
"Oh." Daniel looked up at him, his eyes bright. "I forgot. Sorry." He turned back to the counter. "A small burger would be great, thank you."
Jack noticed that the term 'kiddyburger' didn't pass his lips but just nodded in agreement.
"You want some milk with that, honey? Or we have cola," Rosie asked.
Daniel slanted a look sideways at Jack. "I guess coffee is out of the question," he remarked sotto voce.
"Milk would be good," Jack replied firmly. "Make it two, in fact. And I'll have the burger and fries too, with double onions and pickle on the side," he added. "What?" he asked innocently as Daniel snorted a laugh.
"I just hope we're not sharing a room tonight, that's all," Daniel replied, a wide smile uptilting his lips. "Double onions?" He gave a mock-shudder then clambered down from the stool.
"Hey, where are you going?" Jack asked, reaching out to snag a small arm and pull him to a halt.
"Bathroom," Daniel replied, pointing to a door at the end of the counter.
"Want me to come with you?"
Daniel drew himself up to his full three feet and four inches and shook his head. "I'll be fine," he said. "I've been peeing for thirty five years, Jack. I don't think the mechanics of it have changed just because everything's smaller. I do it at home on my own all the time."
Jack nodded. "Yeah, sorry. Just don't take too long, okay? I want to get back on the road. I'd like to be in Cascade before it gets too late. Jim said to meet him at the PD before 6."
He watched Daniel walk to the door then use both hands to push it open. Turning back to the counter, he picked up one of the glasses of milk the waitress had put in front of him and sipped it dubiously, pulling a face as he swallowed. He'd kill for coffee but, unfortunately, while he allowed Daniel the occasional cup at home, well-milked, he doubted the sight of a five-year-old drinking java would go down well in public.
A moment later, he felt a tug on his pants leg and looked down into Daniel's face. "That was quick," he said. "What's wrong?" he asked when Daniel made no move to climb onto the stool.
Daniel moved his hand to Jack's arm and pulled till Jack bent to within whispering distance of his ear. "I can't go there. It smells funny."
Jack sighed, put down the glass and stood up. "I'll come with you." He looked down and saw that Daniel was squirming and immediately guessed why. He bent again and pulled Daniel close, rubbing his back soothingly. "If you don't go now, you'll have an accident, Danny," he said.
Daniel's teeth clenched down on his lip and he nodded, placing his arms around Jack's shoulders to signal that he wanted to be lifted up.
Jack did it, groaning as his knees twinged then carried the boy into the bathroom and set him down in the cubicle. "It is a little ripe in here," he observed.
Daniel's fingers fumbled desperately with the flybutton of his jeans and Jack heard him groan in frustration. "Here." He did the job for him, then turned his back and walked over to the basin, pretending to wash his hands.
"I can't go," Daniel said, his voice sounding tear-filled now.
Jack turned on the faucet hard, then walked back into the cubicle, squatted behind Daniel and rubbed his back. "Okay now?" he said as the running water did the trick.
Daniel got his pants buttoned up himself this time. He scrubbed a hand across his damp cheeks then allowed Jack to pick him up again and carry him out to the dining room.
Rosie was waiting for them with their burgers wrapped and ready to go.
"Hey, that's okay," Jack said. "We were planning on eating in."
Rosie leaned forward on the counter so she could look into Daniel's face. "You know, I got two grandkids around your age, a boy and a girl. My husband built them a play area in back of the diner here for when they come to visit. I was thinking maybe you and your dad could have yourselves a picnic out there. What do you think?"
Daniel looked over at Jack and Jack could see the wish shining from the blue eyes focused on his. If Daniel wanted to let kidDaniel out for a while, he could live with that.
"Thanks," he replied, picking up their lunches. "That's very nice of you."
"Think nothing of it." Rosie pulled two small cartons of milk out of the cooler behind her and handed them both to Daniel. "You got a name, sweetheart?" she asked as she emptied the glasses of milk into a sink. She walked around the counter and stood in front of Daniel.
"Daniel," he said, his gaze darting down at the ground then back to her face.
"God is my judge," she said, stroking his hair softly. "That's a fine name. You two go, have some fun now."
Outside, they walked through an open gate that led to a backyard.
"This is nice, Jack," Daniel said.
"Yeah, it is," Jack replied, looking around at the small jungle of swings, slides, bikes and scooters. There was a timber playhouse resembling a miniature old log cabin, footballs and baseballs lying around, waiting to be picked up and used. He walked across to a shady tree near the playhouse and sat down on the lush grass there, opening the containers and spreading them out on his discarded jacket to keep any marauding insects at bay.
Daniel was turning in a slow circle, his eyes wide and child-like with pleasure.
"Hey, eat first, play after," Jack said.
Daniel trotted over and flopped down at his side. He grabbed the container of fries and shoved a handful into his mouth. "'ot 'echu?" he mumbled.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Jack said automatically, handing him the opened sachet of ketchup and grimacing as Daniel poured the entire container over his fries. He shuddered a little then ate his own meal as Daniel chattered away about this and that.
Meal over, Jack placed the containers back in the plastic bag Rosie had given them and left it sitting on the grass as he followed Daniel over to the play equipment. "What do you want to try first?" he asked.
Daniel looked up at the slide. "Will you go on that with me?"
Jack pretended to think for a moment, then he grinned and scooped Daniel up, placing him on his shoulders while Daniel squealed and grabbed at his hair. He climbed to the top of the slide then reached over his head, lifting Daniel down to sit between his bent-up legs. "You ready?"
Daniel nodded and Jack pushed off, the slick metal sliding beneath them until they fell off the end and into a tangle of arms and legs at the bottom.
Daniel shot to his feet and tugged on Jack's arm, laughing. "Let's do it again, Jack!"
Jack groaned as he rolled over and climbed to his feet then he raced ahead of Daniel and did the whole thing over again.
An hour and twenty odd pushes on the swings later and Jack was more than ready to hit the road again. He watched Daniel make one more circuit of the yard on the scooter then called him over and gathered up their trash and his jacket.
They went back inside and paid Rosie, Daniel even allowing her to hug him in gratitude for the fun he'd had. Five minutes, later, they were on the road again.
"Can you pass me that file from my briefcase?" Daniel asked.
"I thought you weren't going to do any work," Jack replied, managing to open the briefcase and pull out the file on top. He passed it back to Daniel without taking his eyes off the road.
"It just gets boring sitting here. I'm used to driving."
Jack nodded. It did make sense.
A half-hour later, he heard a moan from the back seat, followed by the scrabbling of fingers against upholstery. "Daniel?" he asked, trying to see what was happening in the mirror.
"Stop the car," Daniel moaned.
Jack pulled off to the side of the road and looked over his shoulder in time to see Daniel scrabbling at the doorhandle. Jack ran around and opened the door from the outside. He got the seatbelt off, then pulled Daniel out to stand shakily on the side of the road. "What the hell were you trying to do? Get yourself killed?" he asked, giving the small shoulder a shake. "You wait till the car's stopped, Daniel."
Daniel tipped his head back and looked up at him, his eyes wide in a pale face, then his head dropped forward and he puked all over Jack's shoes.
"Ah crap," Jack said, "you're beginning to make a habit out of this."
Daniel just retched again and Jack finally had the presence of mind to move himself to the side while he held Daniel up.
When it stopped a few minutes later, Jack sat Daniel on the edge of the road and went to get wipes and a clean t-shirt for Daniel and his new hiking boots for himself. He wrapped his sneakers in two trashbags and left them in the trunk of the car then went back to Daniel.
The kid looked totally miserable, his eyes red and his nose running. Jack cleaned him up as best he could, stripped off the stained shirt and replaced it, then pulled the boy close against his chest. "It's okay, Danny," he murmured. "Getting carsick sucks. Maybe you shouldn't read in the car."
Daniel sniffled. "I've always read when I traveled," he said sadly and Jack couldn't help but feel sorry for one more thing that kidDaniel couldn't do, one more thing AdultDaniel would miss.
He hugged the child tight then picked him up and put him back in the car, covering him with a towel. "Give me a yell if you feel sick again, okay?"
Daniel nodded wearily and closed his eyes.
By the time they were back on the road, he was asleep.
Jack followed the tall, bald detective into the elevator and juggled Daniel's sleeping body more comfortably against him as the car jerked upwards.
"So you're Jim's old army buddy?" the detective asked.
"Well, I'm Air Force, but yeah, we knew each other for a little while."
"I'm Henri Brown, H to my friends. I work with Jim in Major Crime. Welcome to Cascade." He stood aside to let Jack precede him through the doors and ushered him across the hallway and through a set of glassed in doors leading to a large room that looked, to Jack's eyes, pretty much like any police bullpen he'd seen on TV. "Yo, Jim!" H called. "Sorry," he murmured as Daniel stirred against Jack's shoulder. "Don't want to wake the little guy. He looks plumb tuckered out."
Jack watched as a tall, well-built man with short, cropped hair stood up from a desk and made his way over.
They stood for a moment, just looking at each other and then Jim Ellison grinned and held out his hand, "Jack O'Neill. You are a sight for sore eyes, buddy. It's great to see you."
"Sorry, kind of got my hands full here," Jack apologized. "But it's great to see you too, Jim. You're looking good." Jack's mind flashed back momentarily to the last time he'd seen Jim, and marveled at the difference.
"You can put your son on the couch in my Captain's office. Simon's at a meeting, won't be back for an hour or so. We can leave the door open so you can hear him if he wakes up."
"That'd be great," Jack replied, following Jim across the bullpen. He put Daniel down on a comfortable-looking couch and took the afghan Jim handed him, covering Daniel with it. Then he gave the boy's hair a quick caress and followed his old friend from the room.
"Blair Sandburg, this is Jack O'Neill. I hear Jack's a Colonel now so you better watch your P's and Q's while he's here. He's probably got more house rules than I do," Jim said.
The young man seated in a chair at Jim's desk, stood and shook Jack's hand. "How you doing? I'm Jim's partner."
"You're a cop?" Jack eyed the long curly hair and plaid shirt dubiously.
"Me? No way, man. I'm a consultant to the department but I work as Jim's partner as well. And Jim, nobody has more house rules than you." He gave a disarming grin up at Ellison and Jack found himself instantly warming to him.
"You want some coffee?" Jim asked.
"Coffee would be great," Jack said, almost salivating at the thought.
A few minutes later, it was in his hand and he gulped it down gratefully.
"This is the best coffee I've ever had," he said, setting the cup down.
"You're kidding, right?" Blair asked. "I mean, it's from the breakroom, probably been stewing for hours."
"I haven't had any since before we left Colorado Springs," Jack said, around a yawn. "Didn't seem fair for me to drink it when Daniel couldn't have any-" He shut his mouth with a snap and cursed the tiredness that had let that little morsel slip.
Fortunately, the arrival of Simon Banks precluded the necessity of making an explanation.
Jack stood up again while Jim made the introductions. "Jim told me about what you did for him in Peru," Banks said.
"It wasn't any big deal-" Jack began.
"Well, it was to me," Jim replied. "So, Simon, what happened to the meeting?"
"Mayor got food poisoning," Simon replied, a slightly malicious smile crossing his face. "Must be all those high-priced banquets he goes to. Look, I'm gonna put my coat away."
"Jack's little boy is asleep on the couch," Blair called quietly.
"I'll try not to wake him up."
Daniel was drifting in a sleepy half-aware dream state. He always dreamed he was still big when he dreamed about himself, as if his mind retained more memory of his old body than this new one. The dream he'd finally pulled himself out of was of Goa'ulds and battles overswept with memories of good times. He'd had similar dreams and nightmares almost every night since he'd been made small. He finally made the effort to shake himself free of this one before it became a nightmare, opened his eyes and looked up at a man who was easily as big as the biggest Jaffa Daniel had ever seen.
Gasping for breath, he shot up, scuttled on his backside up and over the arm of the couch and fell to the floor from where he crawled, panic-stricken, into a corner. Then he opened his mouth and screamed for Jack.
Jack was on his feet before the sound of Daniel's scream had finished echoing throughout the bullpen. "Daniel!"
He ran through the door of Banks' office and saw the Captain crouched at the end of the couch, murmuring soothingly to Daniel, who was plastered up against the wall.
"It's okay, son. I didn't mean to frighten you. It's okay," Banks was saying quietly.
Daniel was sobbing, his eyes wide with fear.
Jack clasped Banks' shoulder and shoved gently till the big man moved aside. "I'll take over," he said. Then he leaned into the small space between the couch and the wall and reached a hand out to cup Daniel's wet cheek. "Hey, big fella," he said, "it's okay. You had a bad dream and woke up in a strange place, that's all." He patted Daniel's face softly. "How about you come out now and meet everyone?"
Daniel hiccupped and scrubbed his hands across his eyes. "Jack?" The voice was husky with tears. Jack lowered his hand from Daniel's face to his arm and pulled him forward till he was caught up against Jack's chest.
Jack wrapped his arms around the small back and squeezed. "Yeah, I'm here, buddy. You okay now?"
Daniel tipped his head back and gave Jack a tremulous smile. "I'm okay," he said, but he grabbed tightly around Jack's neck as he stood up.
"I'm sorry, Colonel. I didn't mean to scare the boy " Banks reached out gingerly and stroked Daniel's hair.
"It's not your fault," Jack said. "Daniel's had a rough time lately. He has nightmares sometimes." He gave the Captain a reassuring smile. "You weren't to know. He'll be fine now he's awake properly."
"Hey, Daniel, my name's Blair. Would you like some hot chocolate?"
Jack smiled appreciatively at Jim's partner. "Hot chocolate would be good, don't you think, Danny?"
"Yeah," a muffled voice said into his neck.
"Yeah, what?" Jack asked, jiggling the boy in his arms.
Daniel lifted his head and smiled shyly at Blair. "Yes, please, chocolate would be great."
"Coming right up," Blair replied. He left the room at a run.
Jack turned to look over at Jim, who was still standing in the doorway. "Sorry about this," he said.
"It's not a problem," Jim replied. He rubbed his ear and gave Jack a rueful grin. "He's got good lungs on him, though, hasn't he?"
"Only when he's scared," Jack said, unconsciously rocking Daniel as he stood there.
"Fair enough," Jim replied. "Why don't you bring him out here? He can sit at my desk and drink his chocolate, then when he's feeling better, we'll head home."
"Sounds like a plan," Jack said, following Jim out into the bullpen. "You okay now, kiddo?" he asked as he settled into a seat at Jim's desk and turned Daniel so he was straddled across his lap.
Daniel nodded. "Sorry, Jack. I was dreaming and then I half woke up and I saw this big guy standing over me " He took a deep shuddering breath. "I thought he was a Jaffa," he whispered softly.
"A jaffa?" Jim asked.
"A jaffa is an Australian candy," Blair interjected, coming back into the room and putting a cup of hot chocolate on the desk in front of Jack. "It's got a hard orange flavored shell with chocolate inside. It's delicious. What?" He shot an inquiring look at Jim's raised eyebrows. "When I was about five or six, Naomi and I lived in Australia for a year or so. Mom fell for this guy who was the seventies equivalent of Crocodile Dundee. Tom used to take me to the movies on Saturdays and we'd roll the jaffas down the aisle to annoy the ushers."
Jim shook his head. "Someday you're going to have to write a book about your wild and woolly past, Chief. I don't see Simon as a candy though. No offence, sir."
Simon laughed. "None taken, though I can be sweet when I need to be."
"It's a name for Daniel's nightmare bad guys," Jack jumped in. "When he started having them, the psychologist I took him to thought it would be good to personalize them. That way, when he had a dream about them, he could say, 'Get out of my dream, Jaffa!'" He gave a shrug as he looked down into Daniel's upturned face.
"Yep, that's it," Daniel said. He turned on Jack's lap and wiped the remnants of his tears from his face. "Thanks for the chocolate," he said, smiling up at Blair. "Sorry I went a bit nuts, sir," he added to Simon.
"Forget it, kid. My son, Daryl, had nightmares when he was your age too."
"Jack, are we going somewhere soon?" Daniel squirmed on Jack's knee. "Because if we are, I really need to go the bathroom first."
"I'll take him." Blair held out a hand and helped the boy down.
"Just don't tell the kid what happened to you the first time you used a bathroom here, Chief," Jim said with a grin. "He doesn't need more nightmares."
Jack watched them leave, Daniel's hand clasped in Blair's. "Your partner's a nice guy," he said after a few minutes.
"Yeah, he is. He's good with kids."
"You got kids?" Jack asked, wanting to fill the space with anything but questions about him and Daniel.
Jim shook his head. "Nope, never got that lucky. One day, maybe. Daniel's your only one?"
Jack pushed the picture of Charlie's smiling face back into the recesses of his memory and nodded. "Yep, just Danny."
"He calls you Jack?"
"I call my mom Naomi."
Jack looked up to see Blair walking back through the door, a smiling Daniel at his side. He shrugged. "It's a Daniel thing," he said easily. "You ready to go, buddy?"
Daniel ran across the room and clambered up onto Jack's lap. "Guess what?" he said excitedly. "The first time Blair used the bathroom here, the police station got taken over by bad guys and Blair saved just about everyone!"
"I told you not to tell him that story," Jim said.
"You started it by telling me not to tell him in front of him," Blair countered.
"He knocked out a bad guy with a vending machine, Jack!" Daniel said, his voice giving away his excitement.
"Yeah?" Jack gave Blair a grin. "You must be tougher than I thought," he said. "Maybe I should recruit you for the Air Force while we're here."
"Oh no, no way, man. Naomi would pitch a fit if she ever saw me in uniform," Blair replied with an exaggerated shudder. "So, we good to go?"
"Yep." Jim stood up, grabbed two jackets from the coat stand behind him and tossed one to Blair. "I thought we'd eat at my place, then you can go to your motel tonight and we'll pick you up in the morning. Sorry I can't put you up at the loft-"
"It's not a problem," Jack said, letting Daniel slide off his legs to the floor. He stood up, and shook Simon's hand. "It was nice to meet you," he said. "Jim told me it's your cabin we're going to tomorrow. I appreciate you letting us use it."
"Cabin?" Daniel asked. "Jack, I said no fishing."
Jim hunkered down in front of him. "You don't like fishing?" he asked, his voice disbelieving. He ruffled Daniel's hair and looked up at Jack. "What have you been teaching this kid, Jack? All kids love fishing."
"Jack's lake doesn't have any fish in it," Daniel said flatly. "It's boring. I'd rather read a book."
Jim raised an eyebrow at him and stood up. "Well, the lake we're going to has plenty of fish. Strictly catch and release though."
"Oh. Catch and release is good. I could give it a try. I might like it better if I actually catch something," Daniel said. He grabbed Jack's hand. "Let's go. I'm starving. Nice to meet you, Captain."
Banks smiled down at him. "Have a great time, guys and, Blair, try to keep Ellison out of trouble."
"I always try," Blair replied, following the others out to the elevator.
"Oh! Lookit, Jack!" Daniel pulled his hand free of Jack's as Jim ushered them through the door of his apartment. He ran across the living room to stand in front of what Jack could only describe as a humungously butt-ugly mask hanging on the wall, and reached a tentative hand up to touch it. "An Onkatu devil mask," he whispered reverently.
Jack almost laughed out loud as Blair did a classic double take.
"You know what that is?" Blair asked, walking over to stand at the child's side.
"Sure." Daniel tilted his head back and flashed a grin at the anthropologist. "It's very cool. Where did you get it?"
"It's from the university where I work," Blair replied. "How did a little guy like you know what it was?"
"He reads a lot, watches all those National Geographic specials on cable," Jack interjected, shooting Daniel a warning look. He smiled as Daniel's eyes widened in recognition of his mistake and he placed a small finger over his mouth.
"I want to be an archeologist when I grow up," Daniel added, looking up at Blair and flashing what Jack had come to think of his 'distraction grin'.
"That's cool," Blair replied. "I'm an anthropologist. I've got some great photos from the last expedition I went on to South America. Want to have a look at them while Jim organizes dinner?"
"Can I?" Daniel asked, swivelling around to look at Jack. He surreptitiously mimed locking his lips with a key.
Jack nodded. "Go have fun, buddy. Just don't talk Blair's ears off, all right?"
"He'd have a job getting a word in edgeways with Mr Motormouth there," Jim said as he walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. "Beer?" he asked, already pulling two out and then tossing one to Jack, who caught it neatly. "I thought I'd grill some steaks and potatoes on the balcony out there. That sound okay?"
Jack almost drooled in anticipation. "Sounds like my idea of heaven," he said, popping the top off his bottle and sipping at the cold brew.
"Take a load off, tell me what you're up to these days," Jim said as he pulled steaks from the fridge and set about getting dinner ready. "I know you mentioned deep space telemetry " He raised an eyebrow at Jack. "Didn't sound like something I'd expect a hard-ass Air Force guy like you to get into."
"Yeah, well, you know, when you've got a kid, you take whatever you can get that gives you the time to raise them," Jack replied easily.
"Guess so. Hey, you any good at making salad? I could use a hand here while Anthroboy and Archoboy do their bonding thing."
"I make the best coleslaw either side of the Rockies," Jack replied. "Let me at it."
Jack eased back in the deckchair placed out on the balcony. He felt stuffed and content, glad he'd brought Daniel here. He looked over his shoulder through the sliding glass doors. Daniel was sitting cross-legged on the couch, next to Blair, his gaze fixed raptly on the anthropologist's face. Blair had a photo album in his hand and was showing the pictures to Daniel, his hands moving animatedly as he spoke.
"So " Jack said, "how the heck did a hard-ass like you end up with a partner like Blair?"
Jim smiled as he followed Jack's gaze. "Just lucky, I guess. He helped me out on a case once and we clicked. Blair's a natural cop. He just hasn't realized it yet."
"So are you and he " Jack let the loaded question drop into the space between them.
Jim shook his head emphatically. "Blair's straight. Me too. I even got married when I came back from Peru." He shrugged casually. "Didn't take."
"I know how that goes," Jack sympathized. "So how did he end up living here?"
"You should be an IA investigator with that interrogation technique. His place blew up. Turned out he'd been living next to a drug lab for a while and hadn't even noticed. He asked me if he could stay for a week. He's been here ever since. How long have you been on your own?"
"A while," Jack replied. He picked up his beer and finished it.
"Daniel see his mom?" Jim asked, following suit with his own.
"No, not for a while. She died." Jack crossed his fingers against the almost-lie.
"Jack, guess what?" Daniel tore through the doorway and onto the balcony and threw himself onto Jack's lap. "Blair's been to Egypt."
"Yeah? That's pretty cool. Looked like you guys had a lot to talk about in there." Jack settled Daniel more securely.
"I thought we might have been there at the same time because Blair's been to all the places I used to live when I was there-" Daniel stopped speaking and dropped his head onto Jack's neck, burrowing in. "Crap," he murmured softly. "Sorry, Jack."
"How long ago were you there, Daniel?" Blair asked, perching on the arm of Jim's chair.
"Only a c-couple of years ago," Daniel stammered.
"Oh, well, we wouldn't have run into each other then," Blair said easily. "I haven't been to Egypt for about ten years and you wouldn't have even been born then."
Jack set Daniel on his feet and stood up. "We should head to the motel, or else we're not going to get up on time in the morning."
"You sure you're okay to drive?" Jim asked, standing as well.
"Always the cop, hey, Ellison?" Jack grinned then pulled the big detective in for a hug. "I'm fine. Only had two beers and the motel's a block away, but you can follow me if you want."
"Jim's a natural-born Blessed Protector," Blair said. He crouched down and held out a hand to Daniel. "See you in the morning, Daniel, okay?"
"Bye, Blair." Daniel impulsively followed Jack's example and wrapped his arms around Blair's neck.
They said more goodbyes at the door to the loft, then Jack lifted Daniel onto his hip and toted him into the elevator.
By the time the car hit the ground floor, Daniel was snuffling into his neck, out like a light. Jack loaded him into the booster seat, covered him with one of his jackets and drove to the motel, more than ready for a good night's sleep and an even better few days of fishing and camping in the days ahead.
Jim moved around the kitchen, stacking dishes and glassware into the dishwasher.
"Your friend Jack's a nice guy," Blair said, bringing over the chip and dip bowl.
"Yep, he is that. Jack's always been a good guy."
"So, you ever going to tell me how you two met?" Blair asked.
"After I got pulled out of the jungle, my senses were wigging out on me. It was weird, because while I was with the Chopec, I was able to control them pretty easily, I think. Like I told you, I don't remember a lot about my time in the jungle, but I think I'd remember if I'd had the sort of problems I had when I first met you." Jim turned to face his Guide. "After that, they went in and out on me a bit."
"Maybe that was because you didn't have Incacha with you any more," Blair suggested. "I mean, Incacha guided you in the jungle when your senses first came online. Maybe without him to guide you, they went out of control."
Jim nodded. "Yeah, I guess. Anyway, one night I was in a bar, just before I got shipped home. There was a fight, some guy was harassing one of the barmaids. I got in a few punches, along with this Air Force guy who was shoulder to shoulder with me, backing me up. Next thing I knew, I'm on the floor and Jack O'Neill is smacking my face and telling me to snap out of it. When I did, he showed me the knife the guy I'd been fighting had been about to stick in my back. I zoned, I guess."
"Sounds like it. I'm glad he was there," Blair said. "Then you came back to the States and for whatever reason, which I still haven't worked out, by the way, your senses went dormant again until you had that stakeout on the Switchman case."
"That's about it, Chief." Jim walked across the kitchen and patted Blair's shoulder on his way through. "Thanks for helping out with Jack's kid," he said.
Blair followed him out and headed to his own room. "Daniel's a great kid," he said. "I liked talking to him. He's really bright, you know?"
Jim scratched the back of his neck. "There's something there that I can't quite put my finger on," he said.
"Like what?" Blair asked.
Jim yawned and shook his head. "Dunno," he said. "Daniel told Jack he was sorry for mentioning being in Egypt."
"Jim, you know being a Sentinel doesn't give you the right to eavesdrop-"
"I can't always control what I hear, Blair. You know that. It was just odd, that's all. Why should he be sorry about it?"
Blair bit back a yawn of his own. "He told me his mom's dead. Maybe she died in Egypt and he felt bad for mentioning it. I don't know. But he's a good kid. I like him. I like Jack too, and I think we're going to have a great time - rest, relaxation, fishing, no bad guys to worry about-"
"From your mouth to God's ear, Sandburg," Jim replied. "Night, Chief."
"Jack? Are you awake yet?"
Jack groaned as he rolled to his back and opened his eyes, squinting against the early morning light coming through the curtains. "What time is it?" he asked.
"Six-o-five," Daniel said. "You always get up at six, Jack."
"Not when I'm on vacation," Jack muttered. He sat up and looked at Daniel, who was already dressed. "How come you're up so early?"
"I went to sleep early," Daniel replied matter of factly. "I'm a kid, Jack. It's what we do."
"Right. Forgot about that for a while there." Jack swung his legs out of bed. "Jim and Blair will be here in an hour or so anyway, so I guess I might as well get up now."
"Sorry," Daniel said softly as he pushed himself down from the bed.
"What for?" Jack asked.
"Waking you up," Daniel replied. "It's just I woke up in the other room and it was still dark and I thought I'd get up and have a shower and -"
"What, Daniel?" Jack walked around the bed and crouched down in front of the boy.
"I can't reach the faucets here and then I remembered you got new faucets at home, just the right height for me so I could shower on my own and it made me remember stuff." Daniel's gaze went to the floor and stayed there.
"Stuff?" Jack asked. He put a finger beneath Daniel's chin and tilted his head up.
"That you've done lots of things for me since I got small, to make it easier for me. Then I didn't want to be on my own, so I came to see if you were awake yet, because you always get up at six."
Jack pulled him in for a hug. "You're welcome, Danny," he said. "Still want to take that shower?"
Daniel nodded, his arms squeezing briefly around Jack's neck.
"Let's do it then." Jack stood, taking the child up into his arms as he did so. "While you're doing that, I'll order breakfast and then, while I'm showering, you can make sure we've got everything packed. You're better at remembering that sort of stuff than I am."
Daniel gave him a broad smile at the compliment.
"So, let's get on it, Dr. Jackson."
"Don't call me that, okay, Jack?"
"Why not?" Jack lowered Daniel to the bathroom floor and walked across to turn on the shower. "It's who you are, buddy."
"I'm just worried you might slip up and say it in front of Jim and Blair like I messed up last night about Egypt," Daniel said softly.
"You're right." Jack patted Daniel's head gently. "Good thinking, Daniel."
"Thanks. I am sorry about last night," Daniel said, tugging his sweatpants down over his skinny kid-hips and then allowing Jack to help him pull his t-shirt over his head.
"Ah, don't worry about it. I don't think they even heard what you said," Jack replied. He saw Daniel safely into the shower alcove then headed out to call room service. "Give me a yell when you're done and I'll come turn the faucets off."
"Are we there yet?"
Jim glared into the rear-view mirror at Blair. "Don't set a bad example for Daniel," he warned. Shaking his head, he looked quickly over at Jack, then back at the road ahead. "He's worse than a kid," he remarked.
"It's not so bad to be a kid," Daniel said from his booster seat in the back of Jim's Explorer. "Most of the time," he added after a pause.
"See, Jim, nothing wrong with being a kid or acting like one, right, Daniel?" Blair grinned across at his seat companion. "You know, Australian tribal Aborigines think children are their most important gift. Their children are treasured from the day they're born."
Jack swiveled in his seat to look back. "Most people feel that way about their kids," he said, thinking of Charlie.
"Yeah, they do, but in modern cultures, we tend to see our children as an extension of ourselves, a continuation of our line or our genes," Blair replied, obviously warming to his theme. "The Aboriginals didn't. They just saw children as the gift they were. They took them everywhere with them, on walkabouts, even on hunting trips, started teaching them from the time they could understand about plants and wildlife and preserving the earth."
"Tell me more about Australia," Daniel said. "I've always wanted to go there."
"Always?" Jim lifted an enquiring eyebrow. "You mean for the past five years, right?"
"Well, ever since Daniel learned to read, he's been interested in different cultures," Jack jumped in hurriedly. "It's just one of those things, I guess, like some kids being born with a natural aptitude for science or sport."
"Was your wife interested in archeology?" Blair asked, leaning forward a little. "Maybe it's like a genetic memory thing, or she may have influenced him while he was still in utero, watching documentaries-"
"Yeah, that could be it," Jack replied quietly. He watched as Daniel turned his head to stare out of the car window, his teeth clenched down on his lip. "Daniel's mom was an archeologist."
Blair seemed to suddenly sense Daniel's withdrawal. He patted the child on the shoulder. "Want to hear about the time I nearly got eaten by a crocodile in Africa?" he asked.
"You didn't?" Daniel turned back to look at him, his eyes wide and disbelieving.
"I did," Blair said. "See, we had to cross this river by a footbridge, a really narrow footbridge, by the way " He looked up at Jack, his eyes telegraphing an apology, then he waded into his story.
Jack could have kissed him for his empathy. He turned back around, listening with half an ear to Daniel's excited questions and Blair's dramatic recitation. "Your partner's a good guy," he murmured to Jim.
Jim shot him a quick sideways grin, not taking his eyes from the road. "I know," he agreed.
"Whoa, nice!" Jack stretched as he climbed out of the Explorer and took a quick look around. A rustic looking cabin sat a few feet away from where they'd parked. Turning, he saw a leaf-strewn path leading down to the riverbank, and his fisherman's eyes almost glazed over in delight at the swiftly flowing river that swept past the bank.
He turned back to the car, opened the passenger door, released Daniel's seatbelt, and then lifted the child down to the ground. "Look at that, buddy. There's gotta be fish in *that* river."
Daniel grinned up at him. "It's great, Jack." He inhaled a breath of air. "The air smells so clean up here, almost like Colorado, on top of the Mountain."
Jack ruffled his hair, then went to help Jim and Blair unload their luggage. A sudden thought gave him pause, and he dropped the bags he'd hauled out and walked back to Daniel, crouching in front of him. "There's a really strong current in that river, Daniel," he said. "You don't go anywhere near it unless you have Jim or Blair or me with you, understand?"
Daniel's bottom lip jutted out. "I can swim-"
"Not in those waters, not safely," Jack said firmly. "That's the rule, okay?"
Daniel nodded at last. "Okay," he said. He leaned in to Jack's chest. "I know you're just watching out for me. I keep forgetting-"
Jack turned a quick upward glance around to see where Jim and Blair were, relieved to find them nowhere in sight. "I know you do, buddy. That's my job. To remind you." He squeezed Daniel's thin shoulders then stood up. "Hey, big fella, how about you grab your backpack and help us with this stuff?"
"Sure." Daniel ran to the trunk and hauled out his backpack, then grabbed for Jack's bigger one, grunting as he tried to heft it over the rim of the trunk.
Jack helped him with it, grinning to himself as Daniel hoisted it over his shoulder and almost went to his knees with the weight of it. "You got that?" he asked, slipping a hand under the strap and easing it higher onto Daniel's back.
"I got it," Daniel replied. He started towards the cabin, his body hunched under the weight, his own backpack dragging along the ground from his other hand.
Jack shook his head as he picked up the suitcase he'd left on the ground, and followed him up to the cabin. "Dr. Independence," he muttered under his breath. "Some things just never change, do they, Danny?"
"Hey there," Jack said, walking out onto the porch and sitting down next to Daniel. "You okay?"
Daniel smiled up at him, but Jack didn't miss the sadness in his eyes.
"What's up, buddy?"
Daniel clambered across onto his lap and turned so he was facing Jack's chest, stretching his arms wide to encompass his shoulders in an embrace. "I miss Teal'c and Sam and General Hammond and Walter and Janet and-"
"I get the picture," Jack interrupted before Daniel named everyone inside Cheyenne Mountain. "It's only for a few days, Danny. Don't you like it here?"
"It's nice," Daniel said. "I like Jim and Blair. And I'm glad you're here. I just " He sniffled, dropping his head onto Jack's chest. "I'm such a baby," he whispered. "I wish I could just be Daniel Jackson and not have these stupid emotional outbreaks all the time."
Jack put a finger under Daniel's chin and tilted his head back. "You are not a baby," he said firmly. "You're a man in a five year old body. Sometimes those kid emotions are going to get the best of you, that's all. Maybe it's better to go with them, rather than try to fight them. Anyway, don't you think you'd miss Sam and Teal'c and everyone, even if you were still an adult?"
Daniel nodded. "Of course I would, but not to where I feel like crying when I think about them. I was just sitting here, and then I wondered what they were doing right now, and it made me sad." He straightened and scrubbed a hand across his eyes. "I'm okay now."
"You want to call them?" Jack asked.
Daniel's eyes went wide. "Can I?"
"Sure. Wait here while I go get my cell. Jim said the reception's pretty good up here."
Daniel scrambled off Jack's lap and sat back down on the step.
"I'll be right back," Jack promised, heading indoors.
Jim and Blair were playing chess on the dining room table and looked up as he passed. "Everything okay?" Jim asked. "It's pretty quiet up here for a little guy like Daniel, I know, but Blair said maybe he could take him for a walk later on, if it's okay with you."
"Everything's fine," Jack replied. He reached into his pack and pulled out his cell. "Daniel's a little homesick, that's all. I told him he could call his friends in Colorado."
"Good idea. Reception should be okay up here. It gets a little hazy down by the river though," Jim said. He moved a chesspiece and grinned triumphantly across the table at Blair, who smiled back, picked up a piece of his own, moved it, and said, "Checkmate! Man, Jim, have you paid attention to any of the lessons I've been giving you. You left yourself wide open there."
Jim shook his head. "Get the cards, Chief. I'd rather play Gin. You in, Jack? I seem to remember you were a pretty good card player back in Peru."
Jack nodded. "Sure. Give me fifteen minutes to make this call and find something for Daniel to do, and you're on."
"What about that walk?" Blair stood and stretched. "I'm getting cramped just sitting here. I could use the exercise."
Jack went back to rummaging through his bag, turning Blair's question over in his mind. Blair was great with Daniel, he was trustworthy and obviously good with kids, but Jack still hesitated at letting Daniel go off alone with him. What if Daniel accidentally told Blair something he shouldn't? What if Blair asked questions Daniel couldn't answer, and Daniel got upset? He straightened up, pulling one more thing out of his bag, and turned back to Blair. "Look, Blair, you've been great with Danny and I'm sure he'd be safe with you, but I'd rather wait till we've been here a little longer-"
Blair nodded understandingly, evaporating Jack's embarrassment with a wave of his hand. "I understand totally. It's cool, Jack, really. Hey, Daniel said he's not keen on fishing, right? Well, maybe in the morning, while you and Jim are fishing, Daniel and I could take a walk along the riverbank, check out the plantlife and stuff. We'd stay right where you could see us, of course."
Jack smiled. "I think Daniel would like that. Thanks." He headed towards the porch again. "I'll be back in fifteen."
"Ask Daniel if he wants to come help me cook dinner when he's done," Blair called after him. "I'll teach him how to make the best Jewish spaghetti sauce you've ever tasted in your life."
"I'm baack," Jack called as he sat next to Daniel. "Hey, look who I found hiding in my bag." He held out the small, stuffed camel that had come to represent security to Daniel since he'd been downsized.
Daniel grasped the camel in one small hand, the other tracing gently over the soft cloth hump. "You brought Lumpy," he said, his eyes smiling now.
"Yeah, I figured Teal'c doesn't need him right now, unless he's planning on doing an Alice again and falling into another hole and I also thought Lump might like to do some fishing."
"He's not real, Jack," Daniel said, but he pulled the camel against his chest and tucked its neck over his shoulder, so Lumpy's head was cradled beneath his ear.
"He's real enough when you need him to be," Jack said. He dialed the SGC then asked for Carter's lab. A minute later, Daniel was chattering away happily to Sam, regaling her with their exploits on the road.
"Teal'c's there too," Daniel said excitedly. "Hey, Teal'c, it's me, Daniel! How are you? Do you miss us? We miss you guys a lot. Oh, by the way, we hope you don't mind but we brought Lumpy with us." He listened for a moment. "That's okay then. Don't go falling down any holes without me there, all right? Hey, you guys want to talk to Jack? I'll speak to you again soon."
He handed the phone over and jumped to his feet, heading for the front door.
"Where you going?" Jack asked, covering the phone with his palm.
"To talk to Jim and Blair. I'm going to ask Jim about when he was in Peru."
"Ah, Danny, that might not be such a good idea. Jim had a pretty tough time over there."
"Oh." Daniel stopped, looking deep in thought. "I won't ask him about it then. I'll just go see what they're doing. Blair's got some books with him with pictures of the Pyramids. Maybe he'll let me borrow one."
"Okay. You do that. I'll be in soon." Jack watched him go then turned his attention back to the phone.
Five minutes later, he said goodbye to Sam, and disconnected the call. Walking back inside, he found Daniel sitting on Jim's lap at the table, playing cards.
"What are you playing?" he asked.
"Jim's teaching me to play poker," Daniel said happily.
Jack grinned as Jim's face flushed.
"Beats Go Fish," Jack said, smiling. "Deal me in, guys."
Jack leaned back in his chair at the dining table and patted his stomach. "That was the best spaghetti I've ever had," he said with a replete sigh.
"Really?" Daniel grinned over at him, spaghetti sauce daubing his mouth and chin.
"I agree," Jim added. "You always make great spaghetti, Chief, but this time it was even better. Did you add something new to it?"
Blair shook his head. "Nope, just the same old stuff. Mind you, it could have been because Daniel was helping me. You know, two cooks are better than one type of thing."
Daniel's cheeks reddened and he fiddled with his fork. "You're just saying that to be nice," he said.
Jim shook his head and patted Daniel's. "Blair never says stuff just to be nice. Blair always tells the truth. If he says it's better because of your help, then that must be it."
"Thanks, Jim. Can I wash the dishes, Jack? I can stand on a chair like I do at home."
"Sure. I'll dry." Jack stood and collected his and Daniel's plates, carrying them across to the sink. He watched Daniel take Blair's carefully in both hands and then with studied nonchalance bring it out to the kitchen as Jim brought out his own.
"You're going to need a bath when we finish," Jack said, eyeing the sauce that had missed Daniel's mouth and now decorated the front of his t-shirt.
"Can't I just have a wash and change my shirt? I thought we were going to look at the river-"
"Yeah, about that, Daniel. If I let you go, you stay with Blair all the time and you do everything he tells you, all right?"
Daniel watched Jim and Blair walk out onto the porch, then turned to look up at Jack, his chin jutting out in the familiar obstinacy Jack had come to know. "I know you have to pretend you're my dad in front of Jim and Blair but you don't need to keep ordering me around. I have been around rivers before, you know."
"Watch your mouth, Daniel, or you'll be sitting inside all day instead of going to the river," Jack said. He pulled a chair over to the sink and looked down at Daniel. "You still want to help me with this?" he asked.
Daniel nodded and allowed himself to be lifted up to the seat, where he stood, gripping the edge of the sink while he got his balance.
Jack turned on the hot water, mixing in some cold so it wouldn't be too hot, then added dish soap and handed Daniel a sponge. "Start washing," he said, picking up a towel from the rack. "Look, Danny, I know it bugs you when I say stuff like that. I know you understand about the river and why you can't do stuff you used to. I guess, I just sometimes worry that you'll forget-"
"Like I did in Las Vegas, when I forgot I was too small to help the lady," Daniel interrupted.
"Yeah, just like that." He picked up the first plate and dried it, using the time to choose his words carefully. "Sometimes, you're more five than thirty-five, just like sometimes you're more thirty-five than five. I just need to know that when the five year old's out, you're being looked after and kept safe."
"Like you did for Charlie," Daniel whispered.
Jack froze for a moment then placed the plate carefully down on the counter behind him.
"I'm sorry," Daniel said so softly that Jack could barely hear the words.
Jack turned back to face him, feeling tears burning his eyes. He blinked them back. "That's part of it too," he said. "Sometimes it's easy for me to forget that you're Daniel, my friend, not Daniel, my son. I find myself saying things to you that I used to say to Charlie, doing things with you that I did with him." He swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. "I didn't keep Charlie safe," he said quietly, "not when it counted. I haven't always kept you safe either, even when you were an adult."
Daniel's soapy hands wound around his chest and Jack let himself be pulled down, feeling the small wet hands reach up to twine around his neck. "I trust you, Jack. I've always trusted you, but now more than ever. I know you'll keep me safe." Daniel pulled away and started scrubbing at the next dish. "And I'll try not to argue with you about stuff like that anymore."
Jack ruffled his hair. "Don't you dare do that," he said, smiling now. "If you stop arguing with me, I'll think you've been replaced by an alien Daniel and wonder where the pod is hidden."
"You're nuts," Daniel replied.
"Are too," Daniel said, giggling.
"Hey, get those dishes finished before it gets too dark to go for that walk with Blair," Jack ordered.
"Cool," Daniel said as he handed the plate to Jack. "Hurry up, Jack, we haven't got all day."
"I had a good time today," Daniel said quietly into the dark stillness of the room he was sharing with Jack.
Jack rolled onto his side and looked down at the small, shadowed body he could just see on the camp cot next to his own bed. "I'm glad," he said. "I had a good time too."
"Yeah," Daniel said around a huge yawn. "You looked pretty pleased when you caught that fish. It was really big."
Jack grinned at the memory. "Biggest fish I've ever caught in my life," he said. "You looked like you were having fun with Blair."
"Blair knows lots of stuff about wildlife and bugs and trees. We caught a frog and it was sitting on my hand!"
"Wow! That sounds pretty cool," Jack said, echoing Daniel's yawn. "How about we get some shuteye and then we can do it all again tomorrow."
"I think I'd like to try fishing tomorrow," Daniel murmured sleepily.
"Sure thing, buddy. Goodnight." Jack rolled back to his other side and closed his eyes. He felt relaxed and exhausted - a good tired, he thought as he drifted into a deep sleep.
Daniel looked up into Jack's anguished face. Fire burned in his chest and his hands were sticky with his blood.
"Just go," he said.
"I'm not leaving you here, Daniel," Jack said harshly. His hand cupped Daniel's cheek, warmth against the cold chill of his skin.
"You're just going to blow up on the other ship, anyway," Daniel said pleadingly. "Go. I'll watch your back."
Jack's hand caressed his face, then he was gone, and Daniel bit down a sob at the loneliness and fear that overwhelmed him. He fought it back, picked up his gun and began to fire.
Daniel surged up in the bed, his breath hitching in his throat. 'It's a dream,' he told himself, even while his mind told him it wasn't. It was a memory, as real as the others he'd had since he'd become a child.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed, watching as they just barely skimmed the floor. He was so much smaller now than he'd been then.
He hitched in a breath and curled his arms back around his chest. Jack would never leave him. He'd had no choice back then, but it was different now. Jack had proven that by taking him to Vegas rather than risk Daniel being placed in foster care. But his heart still beat a tattoo against his throat, and his mouth was dry with remembered fear.
He reached a hand around behind him to pull Lumpy out, needing to feel the soft security of his stuffed friend now more than ever. The flat covers at his back had him on his feet, and he patted his hands all over the bed, searching for what he knew he wouldn't find.
A sudden memory came to him of Blair holding out the small frog for Daniel to take in his hand. He'd laid Lumpy down beside him on the riverbank, the better to have his hands free. Then Jack had called him, saying he'd caught a huge fish and
Oh no! Daniel turned and went to the window, pulling the blind back just enough to peer out. It was dark, rain drizzling down and he couldn't see what he needed to see. But he knew Lumpy was out there, knew he'd left him behind
Jack had said he couldn't go near the river on his own, but this was different. Jack always said you don't leave friends behind. Besides, he'd only be gone a minute, and Jack wouldn't even have to know.
Mind made up, he scurried quietly back to his bed, pulled on his shoes, and picked up his backpack. Lumpy would be cold and wet, and the backpack could be used to ferry him home. Prepared, he snuck a final look over at Jack's sleeping form and crept out the door.
Outside, he pulled his flashlight from his backpack. It was just the right size for his smaller hands. Jack had bought it for him after he'd gotten out of the infirmary after falling through the floor of the ruins when he'd gone off world with Teal'c. It was one of the nicest things about having Jack as a friend, Daniel decided as he made his way across the grass. He just knew what Daniel needed and made it happen with the least amount of fuss possible.
He made it to the bank without too much of a problem, though the grass was slippery beneath his feet and he stumbled a time or two. Finally, he stood a foot or so away from the river's edge and shone his flashlight around, relief flooding through him as he saw Lumpy lying on a rock just a short distance away. He moved forward, picking his way with care, then reaching his goal, let out a suppressed sigh of relief and picked Lumpy up. He gave his friend a quick squeeze of apology then stuffed him in his pack and fastened the straps, shouldering it again as he turned and began to step down from the rock he was balanced on.
"Daniel? What are you doing out here?"
Daniel jumped at the sound of Blair's voice and he looked up, surprise turning to shock and then fear as his feet slid on the slippery surface and he felt himself topple backwards. His arms windmilled as he tried to keep his balance but the weight on his back pulled at him and with only time for a screamed, "Jack!" he hit the cold, swiftly-flowing water.
His head went under and he kicked desperately, trying to use his legs to get above the surface. Water rushed into his mouth as he broke through and he coughed, feeling the tug of the current on his body. "Help! Jack!" he sobbed.
Suddenly, there was a splash right next to him and then he was being pulled into someone's arms. He kicked out, his fear blinding him to the possibility of rescue.
"Stop struggling!" Blair yelled at him.
Daniel did, scrunching his eyes closed and clenching his fists into Blair's jacket as he was pulled on top of Blair's chest.
He watched with terror as the bank swept past them, knew they were being taken downstream, and that they would probably drown.
Blair watched with horror as Daniel fell backwards into the river. He reached a hand out to grab him but only succeeded in brushing his sleeve. "Jim!" he yelled, knowing the Sentinel would hear, "I need help!"
He gave momentary thought to waiting for his partner, but then as he saw Daniel go under and begin to panic, he toed off his shoes and dove into the river after him. He managed to snake an arm out and grab the sobbing, spluttering child, who kicked out at him in a panic. "Stop struggling!" he shouted as he managed to pull the boy in close and wrestled him up so he was resting on top of his chest. Then he paddled hard against the current, turning so his feet were pointed downstream. At least now he'd be able to see any debris that was headed their way. Knowing it was futile to struggle, he wrapped both arms around a suddenly silent Daniel, and prayed that Jim and Jack would find them before they both drowned.
Jim stumbled from the cabin, slipping over the damp grass in his haste. He'd only been dozing when he'd heard Blair's call for help and he hadn't stopped to even pull on a robe. Blair had sounded terrified, his voice cracking with fear.
As he made it to the riverbank, he turned in a circle, then, with the training of years of practice under Blair's guidance, he sent his hearing ranging out, searching for his Guide. He found him, to his left, and he spun in that direction. Blair's heart was racing, but his voice was calm. He was soothing someone, telling him not to worry, to just hang on. "Oh God!" Jim focused, pulled in a breath and slowly released it, then piggybacked his sight onto his hearing, both senses entwining as one till he could see Blair, Daniel lying atop his chest, being swept downstream. He watched, dry-mouthed, not moving, till he couldn't see them anymore, knowing it was futile to dive in after them, or try to catch up with them on foot. Then he turned and raced for the cabin.
Inside, he grabbed his jeans, pulling them on as he made his way to Jack's room. He reached a hand down and grabbed Jack's shoulder, giving it a sharp, hard shake. "Jack, get up. There's been an accident."
Jim watched as Jack snapped instantly awake, his military training obviously coming to the fore despite being woken from a deep sleep.
Jack sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, pulling on pants, t-shirt and sweater in minutes. "What's happened?" he asked, one hand knuckling sleep from his eyes.
"I heard Blair call for help. When I got out there, I saw Blair and Daniel in the river, being washed downstream." Jim said the words as economically as possible, his whole being vibrating with the need to get back out and find his Guide.
"Oh God!" Jack was on his feet now, shoving down into socks and then shoes. "Let's go!"
Jim was already heading out the bedroom door, stopping only long enough to pull on a sweater and jacket of his own, sitting down hurriedly on the side of his bed to push his feet into his own discarded socks and boots from the night before.
Jack was waiting impatiently at the front door when he came out, two flashlights at his feet and the portable first-aid kit Jim kept in the kitchen in his hand. "Have you called Emergency Services yet?" he asked, his voice tight with tension.
"I didn't have time. We can call on the way." Jim picked up one of the lantern flashlights, then turned back and grabbed the afghan from the back of the couch, collecting his cell phone as well. "Let's move," he said, running out the front door.
The tapping at his cheeks was annoyingly repetitive, and Blair raised a hand and batted the annoyance away.
Blair's eyes opened at the sound of the small, scared voice. It took a couple of moments of blinking before his eyes were able to focus on Daniel's face above him. "Hey, Daniel, we made it, huh?" Talking made him cough, and he leaned to one side, rested on an elbow and gagged as bile and river water dribbled from his mouth.
A small hand patted his back, and eventually he was able to suppress the coughing. He rolled back and looked the boy over.
Daniel was pale and soaking wet. Shivers assailed his frame and he leaned in close to Blair, his arms wrapping around Blair's chest.
Blair pulled him in and held him close, his own hand now patting Daniel's back. "Hey, you okay, big guy?" he asked.
Daniel shook his head. "My leg's bleeding, and it really hurts. You've got a cut on your head too," he added, his voice muffled by Blair's shirt.
"Well, hey, if that's all we've got, we're in pretty good shape," Blair reassured him. "How about you help me sit up and we can take stock of things, okay?"
Daniel pushed himself away and grabbed Blair's arm, grunting as he helped pull him up to a sitting position. "We're a long way from the cabin," he said.
Blair looked around. From what he could see, Daniel was right. He wondered how long he'd been unconscious, and dabbed at the blood he could feel trickling down the side of his face. "Jim will find us," he said surely. "How about I look at your leg, and then we'll see if we can find a way to get warm and dry?"
"Okay." Daniel's voice trembled, but he sat obediently on the ground and stretched his leg out for Blair's inspection.
Blair held Daniel's foot gently in his hand and lifted it. There was a long gash running from the child's knee all the way down to his ankle. "That's got to hurt, huh?" he observed softly. Turning to the side, looking for anything that might help, he saw Daniel's backpack lying on the ground. "Hey, what have you got in there?" he asked.
"Just stuff," Daniel said, sniffling.
"Well, let's open it up and see what we can find, okay? The good news is it's stopped raining. That's good, right?"
Daniel nodded tearfully as Blair suited actions to words, pulled the pack over and unhooked the strap. He whistled. "Not bad, Danny. Is this your survival kit?"
"Ever since I fell down the hole with Teal'c-" Daniel gasped and stopped.
Blair smiled at him. "It's okay. It doesn't matter why you've got all this stuff, just that you do. Look at this - we've got a first aid kit, and energy bars, a water bottle," he grinned at that, "not that I think we're going to need that," he said, nodding towards the swiftly flowing river. "Oh, who's this?" He pulled a brown, soft toy from the pack. "You had him with us at the river when we were exploring, didn't you?"
"Lumpy," Daniel whispered, taking the camel from Blair. "He helps me feel safe. That's why I was out there tonight. I left him there." He hugged Lumpy close. "Jack says we don't leave anyone behind."
"Yeah?" Blair ran a gentle hand down the toy's sodden back. "Do you think he'd help us both feel safe only if you don't mind sharing, that is?"
Daniel nodded. "He helped Teal'c feel better."
"You're gonna have to tell me about this Teal'c guy. Sounds like he's a good friend of yours."
Daniel's eyes looked suddenly panicked. "I can't. I promised Jack."
"Whoa, whoa, that's okay." Blair rubbed a hand along the boy's chilled arm. "You have to keep promises, especially to your dad. That's cool. Let's just get this leg of yours fixed up, all right?"
"And then I can fix your head," Daniel murmured.
"That would be great, man. It's kinda stinging, you know. Jim says I'm a big wuss."
"You're not," Daniel said, obviously doing his best not to move as Blair cleaned the cut with antiseptic wipes and bandaged it. "You're really brave. You rescued me even though you could have drowned."
Blair shuddered at the words. "I had no intention of drowning," he said, tucking one end of the bandage neatly away. "I've already done that once."
Daniel's eyes went wide at his words. "You have? Will you tell me about it?"
"Sure, let's just get ourselves into some shelter first though."
"Okay. Want me to fix that cut on your head first?"
Blair shrugged. "It's not that bad. It'll keep a little longer."
Jack stumbled as a hand caught at his jacket.
"Slow down!" Jim shouted. "We're not going to do them any good if you break a leg."
Jack stopped and turned to face the detective. "We're not going to do them any good if we're too late finding them," he barked back. He leaned forward and rested his hands on his knees, taking in deep breaths, fighting to control his panic.
Jim had called the Emergency Services and they'd put a helicopter in the air immediately but it would still be a half-hour or so before they reached the river.
"Just settle down for a minute," Jim said. "I can find them, but I need quiet, and I need you to stop running off through the bush."
"How?" Jack demanded impatiently. "How the hell are you going to find them?"
"Quiet!" Jim held his hand up, cutting off anything else Jack wanted to say. He cocked his head slightly to one side. "Just give me a minute," he said.
Jack waited. There wasn't much else he could do, after all. For all he knew, they were within miles or inches of where Daniel and Blair were. He looked out at the river, its surface whitecapped as it met the rocks in its path, and shuddered. Jesus, Daniel was out there, probably scared half to death, and all he wanted was to find him as quickly as possible. He shoved the thought of not finding him alive as far back into the recesses of his consciousness as he could. No way was he losing Daniel.
Jim pointed down towards the river where a small outcropping of rocks traversed it, their surface mostly covered by the water. "I think they're on the other bank, about a mile away."
"What?" Jack looked at him. "And you know this how? We can't afford to be taking guesses here, Jim."
"I'm not guessing," Jim replied surely. "It's too long a story to go into right now, but I can hear Blair's heartbeat, and I can track it."
Jack looked at him, feeling more than a little stunned by what he'd just heard. "Hear his heartbeat?" he asked. Then, aware of the time they were wasting, he nodded at Jim. "Okay. But you better be right about this, Jim. I'm betting Daniel's life on your instincts."
"Blair's too," Jim rejoined. "And it's more than instincts. I'll explain later. Just trust me on this."
Jack nodded. "All right, let's go find them."
"I'm cold," Daniel whispered.
"Yeah? Me too." Blair pulled the child in close to his side and rolled them both to face the river. He'd managed to hollow out a small shelter of sorts within a stand of brush, and there was just enough room for him to lay on his side with his knees pulled up. He coaxed Daniel to move back against him, a wet Lumpy still cradled in Daniel's arms. Then he spooned up behind him, one arm wrapped around the boy's waist. He'd taken off his leather jacket, and now, damp as it was, it at least provided some insulation against the chill air and cocooned their meager body warmth beneath it. He moved his hand up from Daniel's waist to his shoulder and then down his arm in soothingly hypnotic strokes.
"Jack rubs my nose sometimes when he wants me to go to sleep and I can't," Daniel murmured sleepily.
"Your nose?" Blair huffed out a laugh. "How does that work?"
"It just makes my eyes feel really heavy." Daniel moved so he was on his back, looking up at Blair. He moved one small finger to his nose and rubbed slowly up and down the bridge of his nose. He shook his head. "It doesn't work when I do it myself," he said sadly.
"Do you want me to try? I know it won't be the same as your dad doing it, but it might help a little."
"Okay. I guess."
Blair moved away a little so he could reach up with one hand, and began tracing up and down, slowly, hypnotically, over Daniel's small nose. He watched with satisfaction, and no small measure of surprise, as the trick seemed to work, and Daniel's eyes closed, and his breathing evened and slowed into that of sleep. Then Blair rolled them both over again, and spooned up behind the child, pulling him close against his chest, resting his head on the still damp hair. "Geez, Jim, will you just hurry up already?" he whispered.
Jack stumbled up against Jim's back as the detective came to a sudden halt. "What?" he asked, regaining his balance.
"Give me a minute," Jim said tersely.
Jack watched as he turned in a slow circle, his eyes seeming to map their surroundings. As he turned east, he stopped, held a hand up to Jack for silence and tilted his head, as if he was listening to something only he could hear.
Jack grew worried when, after thirty seconds or so, Jim's eyes went from focused to vacant, and he didn't respond to Jack's voice.
"Oh for crying out loud!" Jack said fervently. He grabbed Jim by the arm, shaking hard. "Ellison, we don't have time for one of your fugue things."
Jim stared off into the distance, his mouth slightly open, his breathing growing shallower.
Frustrated, and more than a little frightened by this new development, Jack grasped Jim's arm firmly, then moved into the detective's personal space. "Jim. You need to come out of this. Blair and Daniel need us to find them."
Groaning, Jack stretched his arm back, then swung his fist at Ellison's jaw, gasping in shock as it was grabbed and held in a firm grip a hair's breadth from Jim's face.
"I'm back," Jim said. He inhaled deeply and shook his head. "Sorry about that. It happens sometimes if I focus too much on one sense, especially when Blair's not around to ground me."
Jack pulled his hand free. "What the hell is going on with you?" he asked.
"I promise I'll explain it all once we find Blair and Daniel, and get them back to the cabin. Trust me, Jack."
"I do well, I'm trying to," Jack admitted honestly. "Is there anything I can do so you don't go wandering off with the fairies again?"
"Maybe." Jim grinned faintly at him. "I need to ground at least one of my other senses while I'm focusing on one. Otherwise I zone out. I need to use my hearing right now, so if you could maybe put your hand on my shoulder or my back-"
"Like this?" Jack reached out and placed a hand on the back of Jim's neck, feeling the tenseness of muscles taut with strain. He massaged a little with his fingers. "Is this too much? Should I just not move my hand?"
"That's great. Thanks." Jim grinned at him. "Just let's not spread it around the station that I think you've got great hands for massages, okay? I've got a rep to protect."
"Smartass." Jack kept up the firm but gentle pressure. "Well, go on, do your thing."
Jim shook his head again, then firmed his stance, concentrating on the feel of Jack's fingers on his neck, the warm, callused skin against his own. Once he knew he was grounded by touch, he dialed up his hearing. After a minute or so, he found what he'd been searching for. His Guide's heartbeat, fast and panicked. Over it, he could hear the sobs of a small child.
He twisted out from under Jack's hand. "This way," he said urgently. "We need to cross the river. There's a footbridge a little way downstream."
Daniel muttered fretfully, squirming within Blair's protective embrace. "No," he sobbed. "Please, Jack, I need to go back. To the sarcophagus. Please, just one more time!"
"Ssh, it's okay," Blair said soothingly, his mind racing even as his hand kept up its calming stroke over Daniel's shoulder. 'Sarcophagus? What the hell kind of TV shows has this kid been watching?'
"Let me go!" Daniel screamed, arching up away from Blair, shaking off the restraining hand. He scurried out of the shelter, his face white, his breath panting rapidly from his open mouth.
Blair stood up, holding his hands out in an attempt at reassurance. "Daniel, it's okay. Jack will be here soon. Just settle down. Come back to the shelter out of the cold."
"You don't understand! I have to go back!" Daniel screamed. His hands were raised as if cupped around a gun, tears streaming down his face.
"Daniel, please, let me help. It's okay." Blair took a step forward, then froze as Daniel matched him with a step back, his feet slithering on the still wet ground.
Blair lunged for him, hand stretching out to snag an arm, a sleeve, anything. His fingers closed despairingly on nothing, and he landed flat on the ground, air whooshing from his already bruised abdomen. "No!" he shouted, pushing himself up to his knees and throwing himself forward again.
A firm hand grasping the back of his shirt pulled him back, and he looked up to see Daniel scooped into Jack O'Neill's arms. Safe.
"Oh thank God," he said, turning to look up into Jim's welcome face. "Took you long enough," he murmured, relief flooding him, leaving him feeling washed out and weak as the adrenaline that had sustained him till now bottomed out.
Then he was being settled back down on the wet ground, Jim's arms around him, hugging him fiercely, and suddenly Blair felt as if his whole world had righted itself.
Jack sat down next to him, Daniel sobbing into his shirtfront, the boy's fingers clenched white-tipped into the cloth. He rocked the child gently, murmuring assurances.
Blair reached over and patted Daniel's back. "We made it, buddy. You, me and Lumpy."
Daniel nodded at him, his eyes glassy and huge in his pale face.
Jack gripped Blair's hand. "Thank you."
"Daniel said friends don't leave friends behind," Blair said softly.
"That's right. They don't."
"How's he doing?" Jim asked, walking quietly into the hospital room to stand next to Daniel's bed.
"Sleeping. He's pretty exhausted." Jack cracked a yawn and grinned faintly up at his friend. "He's not the only one."
"I hear that," Jim said, echoing the yawn. He shrugged at Jack's enquiring look. "Something Blair's mom says. She's one of the original hippies," he added as if that explained it.
Jack just nodded, remembering Michael and Jenny. "I get it," he said. "How's Blair?"
"Bitching about wanting to go home," Jim replied, sinking down into the chair next to Jack's. "He's got a concussion, needed a few stitches in his head, he was hypothermic " His hand waved eloquently through the air. "It's a Blair thing. He got drowned a year or so ago, but almost the minute he came round, he checked himself out of hospital and followed me to Mexico to look for the perp that did it."
"Drowned? You mean almost drowned?"
Jim shook his head, his eyes sad. "Nope, he was gone. Obviously, we got him back but-"
"Shit," Jack whispered. "And yet he jumped into that river after Daniel-"
"About a month after he was drowned, we had a case where the perps escaped by helicopter and then onto a boat. Blair jumped from the chopper into the sea to get the killer," Jim said softly.
"I was gonna go see him in a while, once I knew for sure Daniel was okay," Jack replied.
"He'd like that. How is Daniel though? He looked pretty freaked out when we got there."
"They put a few sutures in his leg, gave him some antibiotics and a sedative, and warmed him up. He'll be okay. Danny's tough when it counts." Jack leaned forward and stroked a gentle hand along the sleeping child's hair.
"So, the nightmare? Blair said he was screaming about going back to a sarcophagus I don't pretend to know what that is, by the way, but Blair said it's like a coffin-"
"Sort of." Jack looked at Jim steadily. "I have a few questions to ask you too. When we were looking for them, you did that 'away with the pixies' thing you did in Peru. There's also the fact that you told me you could 'hear' Blair's heartbeat-"
"I guess we've got a bit of talking to do," Jim said. "Hey, if you want to go for coffee or something to eat, I can stay with Daniel."
Jack stood and stretched. "I think I might take you up on that, go visit Blair for a few minutes at least. I wanted to thank him for saving Daniel-"
"He'll be glad to see you," Jim said, leaning forward to pull the blanket up more closely around Daniel's thin shoulders. "Go. Take a breather. I'll keep an eye on Archoboy while you go see Anthroboy."
Jack laughed softly. "Jesus, Ellison, how the hell did a pair of hard-asses like you and I end up with geeks as buddies?"
Jim's eyes narrowed. "I thought Daniel was your son," he said.
"Like you said, we have a lot to talk about," Jack replied as he walked toward the door.
Blair felt as if he'd never be warm again, despite the fact that there was a pile of blankets over him. He shivered beneath their weight, the movement making his head ache, and wondered why he'd refused the painkiller the doctor had offered him.
His trembling was due as much to shock as to cold he knew, but somehow knowing that didn't help. He'd tried to close his eyes and sleep but every time he did, he saw Alex Barnes' face, felt her foot in his back, holding him under the water of the fountain at Rainier.
He'd kept himself under control when he'd told Daniel about it, wanting only to give the boy something else to focus on beside their plight. Now though, with nothing else to focus on himself, the visions rose behind his eyelids, stealing his rest, and making his heart pound hard in his chest.
"Hey, you okay?"
Blair jumped as a hand grasped his shoulder through the blankets. Turning his head, he saw Jack standing next to the bed, a worried look on his face.
"I'm okay," he said, trying to pull air into lungs that felt constricted with panic.
"You're not okay," Jack said. He got a hand under Blair's back, and pulled him to a sitting position, keeping his hand where it was, and rubbing soothingly. "You want me to get the doc?" he asked.
Blair shook his head. He really didn't want sedatives. They'd make him fall asleep and dream-
"Whoa, easy, settle down. You're going to be fine." Jack was sitting on the bed now, having somehow maneuvered them so Blair's back was resting against Jack's chest. One hand was stroking along Blair's shoulder hypnotically. "Just try to take slow breaths. That's it, slowly now."
"You're not going to rub my nose, are you?" Blair stammered out as he tried to relax into the reassuring touch.
Jack huffed out a laugh. "Not unless you really want me to," he replied. "Danny told you about my magic trick, huh?"
"Yeah." Blair inhaled slowly, and let the air seep back out through his lips. Already he could feel the panic subsiding, drifting away and releasing the tight grip on his lungs. "It works, though."
"I know." Jack pushed him forward a little, and moved out from behind him to sit down in the chair next to the bed. "Better?" he asked.
Blair nodded. "Thanks. Stupid of me-"
"It's not stupid, Chief," Jim's voice interrupted from the doorway. "You okay?"
"How did you-?" Jack shook his head and smiled at Jim. "Never mind."
"Daniel woke up, but he's still pretty sleepy. He won't go back to sleep till you go say goodnight to him though," Jim said. "Doc says these two trouble magnets can go home in the morning. How about I meet you outside Daniel's room in five minutes, and we'll go find a motel bed with our name on it?"
"I thought I'd just spend the night here," Jack replied, already standing up and heading for the door. "I really don't want Daniel to be alone tonight."
"Why don't we see if Daniel can bunk in here with me?" Blair suggested, waving a hand over at the unoccupied bed in his room. "I'd like to see he's okay for myself. And I could use the company too."
Jack hesitated, then nodded. "Okay, I'll see what I can arrange." He covered a yawn with the back of his hand. "I'm beat, and hospital chairs aren't the best bed I've ever slept in."
"I know what you mean," Jim said, reaching out to ruffle Blair's hair.
They'd waited till Daniel's bed was wheeled into Blair's room before leaving. Daniel had only stirred briefly, muttering something under his breath, his eyes half-opening in drowsy confusion. Jack had settled him back to sleep with rhythmic pats on his back, and then Jim had steered him from the room and out to the parking lot.
"He'll be fine. Blair will keep an eye on him," Jim had reassured him as he'd pulled the truck out onto the roadway.
"I know. It's just this is the first time we've been away from each other overnight since-" Jack stumbled to a halt. "I'm just worried about him," he said.
"Understandable," Jim replied. "Blair's over thirty and I still worry about him when he's in the hospital."
"Happen a lot?" Jack asked.
"Too often for my peace of mind," Jim said. "Let's just say that Blair has a way of involving himself in my cases. He's ended up hurt, because of that, way too many times."
They drove mostly in silence the rest of the way to the motel, detouring to a fast food drive through for burgers.
Jim slung the MacDonalds' bags onto the small dining table as they entered the room. "It's not Wonderburger, but it'll do," he said, heading for the bathroom.
"I wouldn't care if it was tofuburger. I'm starving," Jack said, sitting down and pulling a burger from the bag and biting into it with relish.
"Me too," Jim said, joining him. "Sandburg hates me eating this stuff, but I figure you only live once, right?"
"Yeah," Jack agreed. 'Except if you're Daniel Jackson,' he thought.
"So, you feel like talking?" Jim asked, around a mouthful of fries.
"Sure." Jack picked up his Coke and sipped at it, wrinkling his nose at the taste.
"Let's see what else they have to drink around here," Jim said, walking over to the small fridge in the corner of the room and opening it. "No beer, but there's some mini bottles of Scotch and bourbon."
"I'll take the bourbon," Jack replied. He took the small bottle from Jim's hand, and tipped half of it into his Coke, then sipped it appreciatively, watching as Jim did the same with the Scotch. "So," he began, "you first. What's with this senses thing?"
"You might want to finish eating first," Jim replied, motioning a hand toward their cooling burgers. "It takes some explaining."
"Okay," Jack agreed. He picked up his burger and began to eat, watching as Jim did the same.
The minute they were both finished, Jack stood and cleared away the wrappers and the bag, then poured them both another drink. He put Jim's down in front of him and resettled himself at the table. "Spill," he said.
"Okay," Jim began. "Last century a guy named Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor was studying tribal cultures in South America and came across people he called Sentinels. They were people who had highly developed senses, usually honed by time spent alone in the bush-"
"Like after your chopper crashed in Peru?" Jack put in.
Jim nodded. "Except that apparently I'd had them all my life. There are a few instances I remember from when I was a kid " He waved away the words. "None of that really matters. Basically, I'm a Sentinel. All five of my senses are heightened beyond those of normal humans. When I met Blair, I thought I was going crazy. He helped me learn to control and hone them. He's my guide. With his help, I've learned to be able to dial them up or down more or less at will, though I have more trouble doing that when he's not around."
"You don't have, like x-ray vision or anything, do you?" Jack asked, quirking an eyebrow.
"Sorry, no. And I can't forecast lottery numbers either," Jim said with a grin.
"So, what about that thing where you go off to la-la land?"
"It's called a zone-out. If I focus too much on one sense, all my others fade out on me. Blair can always pull me out of it, sometimes other people can too, if he's not around, sometimes I just come out of it on my own," Jim said, taking a sip of his drink.
"Sounds dangerous," Jack observed.
Jim shrugged. "It can be. The first time it happened, Blair pushed me under a garbage truck that I'd stepped out in front of while zoning on a Frisbee. It's happening less and less these days. Blair says I'm getting better control but he doesn't think it's something we'll ever be able to completely prevent. That's why I need him as my partner. He's there to watch my back in case it ever does happen."
"Wow, that's pretty amazing," Jack said. "It sounds like some far-fetched idea for a TV show."
"Sometimes I wish that's all it was," Jim said, picking up his glass and taking a swallow.
"Must be handy in your line of work, though."
"It can be. It can also be a hindrance. I have to be careful how I word reports and give evidence in court. have to make sure anything I see or hear with my Sentinel abilities is backed up by hard evidence. It took Blair and I a couple of bad cases to learn that. So," Jim put his glass back on the table and leaned back slightly in his chair. "Your turn, buddy. I know there's a lot more to you and Daniel than meets the eye."
"A lot of what I'm going to tell you is classified, Jim," Jack said slowly. "In fact, I probably shouldn't tell you anything at all-"
"But you figure now I've shared my secret with you, you can trust me to keep yours, right?"
"I guess. Blair saved Daniel's life, and especially after what you told me about him having been drowned before, I figure I owe him, and you, the truth. I know I can trust you, not just because I know something about you that you wouldn't want made public. Hell, Jim, we both worked Covert Ops. Are you going to tell me that as secret as those Ops were, you never told a living soul about them? Somebody you could trust to keep them just that - covert?"
Jim shook his head. "No. And you can trust me, Jack, as much as I trust you with my secret."
"All right. Daniel's not my son. He was my teammate and my best friend. We work for a place called Stargate Command. I don't need to tell you the details of what that is, except that we explore and investigate alien phenomena. One of those phenomena happened to be an alien race whose answer to fatal diseases is using some sort of device to turn the victim back into a child. Daniel was contaminated trying to do CPR on one of the aliens. They dragged him off, did their alien thing, and when they brought him back to me, he was a kid." Jack stopped, watching as Ellison's mouth dropped open by increments.
"Aliens?" Jim finally asked. "As in little green men?"
"Nope, these guys look just like you and me. You're not going to ask me a heap of questions I can't answer, are you?" he asked pleadingly. "There's some stuff I can't tell you. I said I'd explain about Daniel. You're just going to have to accept the rest of it on face value."
"I don't know if I can," Jim said.
"Too bad," Jack replied. "Look, Jim, you know as well as I do that sometimes you have to accept only hearing half the story. I'm sorry."
Jim shook his head. "No, that's okay. I think I'm going to have enough trouble getting my head around what you *were* able to tell me without you telling me anything else. Aliens?"
"Yeah. Can we move past that part of it now?" Jack asked. He went over to the fridge, and pulled out two more miniature bottles and walked back. He opened them and poured the contents of the Scotch into Jim's empty glass, then poured the bourbon into his. "Look, I don't expect you to be able to get your head around this. It's pretty weird-"
"As weird as a guy having superhuman senses," Jim interrupted.
"Well, yeah. And if I hadn't seen you using those senses I'd probably have thought you'd been smoking wacky weed," Jack said, gulping down half his drink in one shot.
Jim mirrored his action. "And if I hadn't heard some of the stuff Daniel's said over the past day or so, I'd think the same about you. So "
"So. So what?" Jack slugged down the other half of his drink, then detoured to the fridge again. He came back with a mini-bottle of gin and grimaced as he showed it to Jim. "I'll go you halves," he offered.
"So, we each have a secret we need to keep," Jim said, taking the gin, and grimacing as he sipped at it. He handed the bottle back to Jack, who took a sip as well.
"Right. I think we're cool here, don't you?" Jack asked.
"Yep. As a matter of fact, I think I'll just head off to bed. If I'm not at the hospital to pick Blair up at 0900, I'll never hear the end of it."
"Yeah, me too. Nothing worse than a five going on thirty five year old archeologist in full voice to keep you on your toes and make sure you get your priorities straight," Jack said, rising to his feet and heading for the bathroom. "You can explain all this to Blair for me, okay? I really don't want to do this twice."
"Sure. He's going to be pretty stunned by it."
"You might be surprised. He's a pretty savvy guy and he spent more time with Danny than you did," Jack observed.
"Daniel's really thirty-five?" Jim asked, as Jack came out.
"No wonder the little bugger beat me at poker." Jim shook his head as he went into the bathroom. "I just knew I wasn't that bad a player."
"So, you ready to hit the road, buddy?" Jack looked over at Daniel and watched as he scooted forward off the couch and onto his feet. He winced a little as he landed, favoring the injured leg and Jack bit back the instinctive need to ask him if he was all right. Because he was, thanks to Blair.
"I'm ready. I'm gonna miss you guys," Daniel said, picking up Lumpy from Blair's lap.
"We'll miss you too," Blair said.
"But we'll stay in touch." Jim crossed the room and crouched in front of Daniel. "Maybe next time I have a few days off, we can come visit you. You can show me how you beat me at poker."
Daniel mimed locking his lips with a key. "Trade secret," he said solemnly. He leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Jim's neck. "Bye, Jim. Thanks for keeping Jack out of trouble for me."
"Anytime. I feel like we're even now, at least," Jim replied, hugging back.
"It's not like I was keeping score, you know," Jack said.
"I know." Jim stood up and held his hand out for Jack to shake then pulled him into a quick hug. "You take care of yourself, Jack."
"You too." Jack walked across to Blair and hugged him too. "You keep on doing right what you're doing with this guy, Blair. And if you ever get tired of the Cascade PD, give me a call. The SGC can always use someone like you."
Blair laughed. "Me? In the Air Force? Ah, thanks anyway, Jack, but the PD will do me just fine for now."
Jack clapped him on the back and looked down into the younger man's eyes. "I can never thank you enough for what you did for Daniel. You need anything at all, you call me, okay?"
"I will. Thanks, man." Blair's cheeks flushed and he bent to give Daniel a quick embrace. "I'm going to send you some of my journals and stuff, okay? You might find something interesting in there."
"Thanks, Blair, for everything."
Blair stood up, whapping Lumpy gently on the head. "Stay out of trouble, Lumpy. You never know when you might be needed."
"So, let's get this show on the road, shall we?" Jack shouldered his own backpack and handed Daniel's to him, then picked up the suitcase and walked to the door. "See you soon, I hope. Next time, you come to us. I'll take you fishing."
"Jack, there's no fish in your lake," Daniel said as he rolled his eyes at Blair, and followed Jack through the door.
"You weren't as surprised as I thought you'd be," Jim said, as he closed the door behind them.
"About?" Blair looked up from clearing away the breakfast dishes. "Oh, about Daniel. Well, d'oh. I believe in Sentinels, after all."
"Well, yeah, but aliens and devices that can turn an adult into a kid are pretty far out there."
"I believe in Sentinels," Blair repeated. He put the dishes down on the counter and turned to face Jim. "Look, you remember when you told Simon about your abilities? Took him a while to get his head around it, didn't it?"
"That's different. My senses are a natural phenomenon."
"All I know is, there's more out there in space and here on Earth than we understand or know about," Blair replied. "I mean, from what you told me, it doesn't sound like Daniel being turned into a kid is the weirdest thing that's happened to those guys. Hey, I was wondering. Daniel kept mentioning this guy called Teal'c. You think maybe he's an alien or something?" Blair asked, his eyes alight at the thought.
Jim shrugged. "Could just be one of those weird names people like to call their kids nowadays," he said.
"You've got vacation time coming up soon, haven't you?"
"In about three months. Why?"
"I was just thinking maybe we should take Jack up on his offer, go check out the lake, do some fishing," Blair suggested, stacking the dishes in the sink.
"Sounds like a plan, Einstein."
"You told them everything?"
Jack glanced at Daniel in the rear view mirror. "Well, not everything. I didn't say a word about the Goa'uld or that Teal'c was an alien or that we talk to Thor, who really *is* a little grey alien I just told them how you got to be downsized. Jim was cool with it."
"So he has super senses?"
"Yeah, he'd be a real asset on an SG team."
"Blair too. He's a really brave guy. You know he drowned not long ago but he still jumped into the river after me."
"Yeah, you know, that reminds me. We never did get to the lecture part. Did I or did I not tell you to stay away from the river unless one of us was with you?" Jack said, ensuring he had his glare in place.
"I couldn't leave Lumpy out there-"
"You could have woken me up and told me and I would have gone and gotten him for you."
"Yeah, I know. Sorry, Jack. Hey, can we call into that diner again? I was thinking it'd be nice to have another picnic, play on the slide "
Jack gave a mock long-suffering sigh then grinned at his friend in the mirror. "Why not? You're never too old to have fun, right?"