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EMAIL: Annie

 

Part One

"I said, I don't want to take a bath," Daniel said mutinously. His jaw had a familiar stubborn set to it and it took Jack a full minute to remember that this Daniel was 5, not 35. Well, physiologically and sometimes, emotionally, anyway.

"Daniel, it's late, we're both tired and quite frankly you're beginning to stink. You're gonna take a bath and go to bed, in that order, even if I have to pick you up and put you in the tub fully clothed."

Jack took a step towards his mini-archeologist and watched as Daniel matched him with a step back.

"You wouldn't dare," the five-year-old voice said.

"Wouldn't I?" Jack replied, and taking advantage of his much longer legs, he launched himself at Daniel, scooped him under one arm and bore him off bodily to the bathroom. He stood the boy up in the already-filled tub, shoes, jeans and all, then stood back an inch or so, one hand still keeping a firm hold on Daniel's arm as the kid erupted into a full-blown tantrum.

By the time the screams and stamping had wound down to half-hearted sobs and mutterings that cast aspersions on Jack's parentage, Daniel was sitting in the tub sans clothes and Jack was soaked through from mid-chest to mid-thigh.

He perched himself on the rim of the tub and handed the sniffling child a facewasher and soap. "Christ, Daniel, why do you have to do everything the hard way."

Daniel wiped a hand under his runny nose and looked up at him. "Why do you tell me what to do all the time? I hate you having to do things for me. Things I used to manage by myself," he countered, the words incongruously adult coming from the childish mouth.

Jack sighed. "Because, for now, at least, Daniel, you're the kid and I'm the grown-up, okay?"

" 's not fair," Daniel muttered morosely as he took the toothbrush Jack handed him and scrubbed desultorily at his teeth.

"No, it's not," Jack agreed. "Make sure you get the back ones too," he added, waggling a warning finger when Daniel stuck his toothpaste-covered tongue out at him. "Such language," he said with a grin. "Not very becoming for a PhD who speaks twenty three languages. I expected better of you, Danny."

"Funny ha-ha."

Jack turned and reached behind him for one of the thin towels the motel provided then helped Daniel out of the tub, wrapping the towel around him as he stood him on the mat. He gave Daniel's hair a thorough rub before handing him pyjamas to put on.

Daniel scowled at the Batman motif.

"Hey, it was Batman or Barbie, buddy," Jack said defensively.

"I could just sleep in my boxers and a t-shirt. That's what I used to sleep in before-"

"Yeah, I know. But you still haven't completely shaken off that cold you had before we left Colorado and Vegas is cold at night this time of year. Okay?" Jack gave Daniel a tap on the chin. "Come on, let's get some sack time."

Daniel followed him out to the other room and waited till Jack changed his shirt and jeans for sweats and a tshirt, then climbed up onto the bed and waited for Jack to lie down next to him.

"C'mere," Jack said softly as he did. He pulled the boy up to rest against his chest, half-turning on his side so Daniel could wrap an arm around his waist. "Okay, now?" he whispered as he stroked a comforting circle on the child's back.

Daniel nodded haltingly against him then tipped his head back and away so he could look into Jack's face. "Sorry, Jack," he said and for a moment Jack saw Daniel the man looking back at him from the five-year-old eyes.

"That's okay. Go to sleep, Daniel."

As soon as Jack was sure Daniel had fallen into a deep sleep, he rolled him off his chest and positioned him on his side, pulling the thin blankets up around the child's shoulders and tucking them under him. Daniel had always been a restless sleeper, even as an adult, and Jack didn't want to risk him getting chilled.

That done, he moved over to the ratty armchair parked across from the bed and sat down wearily, keeping his eyes on Daniel's slumbering form.

*Christ, how the hell had it come to this - he, Colonel Jack O'Neill, commanding officer of Stargate Command's flagship team, on the run in Las Vegas, of all places, with a five year old Daniel Jackson.* A Daniel Jackson who was five years old in his emotions and physical stature but who had the memories and intellect of the thirty five year old archeologist he had been just three months before.

Tipping his head back against the chair, he allowed himself a few minutes to rest his eyes and closed them against the harsh glare of the overhead bulb.

It was just another average day on planet P5x133, apparently.

Daniel had wandered off with the local head honcho to talk about ruins and rocks while Jack, Sam and Teal’c had set up camp on the outskirts of the village.

"Sir, have you noticed that there seems to be an inordinately high proportion of kids here compared to adults?" Carter asked, indicating the group of children playing nearby.

Jack shrugged. "Maybe they just like kids, Carter. Not every planet wants the average 2 point whatever kids per family."

Carter shook her head. "That’s not what I mean, sir. There seems to be a much higher ratio of kids to adults. Far more than you’d expect even if the parents were unusually, um, prolific."

"Maybe. We’ll get Daniel to ask the head guy about it. What’s his name – Marrow?"

"Maru, sir," Carter corrected him with a grin.

"Right, well as soon as Dan-"

A sudden uproar of voices coming from the direction Daniel had gone off in interrupted and Jack’s head snapped up. He eased his weapon gingerly from its holster and held it at his side as one of the children raced up to him and grasped at his arm.

"Come, come," the child was shouting. "You must come."

"All right, all right, settle down." Jack patted the kid’s head gently with one hand and motioned over his shoulder to Teal’c . "Stay here and keep an eye on things, Teal’c, in case we have to bug out in a hurry. Carter, you’re with me. Let’s see what Daniel’s got himself into this time."

The child grabbed Jack’s hand and pulled him toward the building Daniel had entered an hour or so earlier.

As they pushed through the curtained entrance, Jack saw Daniel on his knees, bending over the body of an elderly man, performing CPR. He looked up as they entered. "Jack, help me. Maru collapsed. His heart stopped. He’s not breathing."

As Jack stepped forward, he felt small hands take hold of his arms and wrap around his waist and legs.

"You must not go," one of the children said. "You must stay here. Daniel has been infected. We will take him and make him well again but you must not touch him or Maru till it is done."

"What the hell are you talking about? Daniel? Get away from the old man. He’s contagious or something."

Daniel knelt back on his heels, his eyes wide as a dozen or more children ran to him and pulled him to his feet and began pushing and pulling him toward another room.

Another group of children picked up the old man and carried his body toward the same room.

"Jack?" Daniel looked white as a sheet as he tried to pull free of the small bodies without knocking them over.

Jack and Sam tried to follow but their path was blocked by more of the children who stood their ground so firmly that Jack feared that any movement forward would knock them flying. Instead he bent down till he was face to face with the oldest looking one and asked urgently, "What’s going on?"

"We are healing him so he can be returned to you."

Jack shook his head adamantly. "Uh uh, no way. Bring him back here and we’ll take him home and get our doctor to look at him-"

"Oh God, Colonel." Carter’s voice was a stunned whisper and Jack stood, looking to where Daniel had been taken.

He walked forward, the sea of children in front of him parting now, allowing him free passage.

At the doorway of the room stood a small boy of about five years of age. He had longish, blond hair that flopped untidily over large blue eyes. His small body was swamped by the over-large fatigues he wore. In one small hand, he held an adult-sized pair of glasses.

Jack knelt down and peered into the boy’s face. Surely it couldn’t be...

The boy reached out for him with both hands. "Jack?" he asked quaveringly.

Tears welled in the boy’s eyes and Jack instinctively reached out and gathered him close, patting the shaking back with rhythmic strokes.

"Ah crap, Daniel," he muttered.

Jack woke with a start.

Daniel was standing next to him, his eyes wide in a milk-white face.

"What’s wrong?" Jack asked. "Did you have another bad dream?"

Daniel shook his head and continued to pull on Jack’s arm, urging him to his feet.

"Daniel? What’s going on?" Jack tried to gather the boy to him but Daniel kept pulling away, even as his fingers tightened around Jack’s arm in a frantic grip. "Okay, okay, I’m coming."

They reached the open door of the motel room and Daniel towed him out onto the balcony and to the doorway of the room next door. He lifted a shaky finger and pointed inside, his breath puffing out in quivering gasps.

Jack bent and lifted the boy into his arms, as he stepped over the thresh-hold and peered inside. He felt Daniel’s arms curl tight around his neck and his head bury itself into the crook of his shoulder.

It took only the briefest glance inside to see what had terrified the boy and Jack’s arms tightened protectively around Daniels’s back at the sight.

A man lay on his back just a few feet away from where they were standing. There was an unsightly hole in his forehead and his eyes were open and staring.

Jack heard a faint moan coming from further inside the room and he twisted so Daniel was facing away from the carnage and stepped inside to see a woman curled on her side, one hand wrapped around a profusely bleeding wound in her upper arm.

He set Daniel down on his feet and looked into the pale face. "I need to go help that woman, Danny. You stay here and don’t move." He laced his voice with as much of his old command tone as he could and breathed an inward sigh of relief when Daniel didn’t argue the point.

The woman looked barely conscious when he reached her side and he grabbed at the sheet on the bed and tore off a long strip then used it to bind her arm firmly. Only a small amount of blood seeped through the dressing when he’d finished and he hoped she’d be okay.

"Don’t move. I’ll call an ambulance," he said reassuringly to her, then he went back out to the balcony and lifted Daniel onto his hip.

"I saw it happen, Jack. I saw the man get shot."

Jack cupped the back of Daniel’s head, tilting it back gently till he could look into the boy’s face. "You saw it?" he asked, hoping against hope he’d misunderstood, wanting nothing more than to go back to their room and pack their bags and get the hell out of Dodge.

Daniel nodded slowly. "I heard someone calling for help and I got up. I’m sorry. I know I’m not supposed to go outside by myself but I thought I could help. I forget when I’m half asleep that I can’t help the way I used to-"

"That’s okay," Jack interjected quickly, hearing the sharp edge of panic in Daniel’s voice.

"I got almost to the door and a man came running out of the room with a gun in his hand and he almost knocked me over. I looked inside when he’d gone and… and… I saw…" Daniel stuttered to a halt, burying his face in Jack’s shoulder again.

"It’s all right, it’s all right." Jack’s hand instinctively patted Daniel’s back in time to his words.

He carried Daniel quickly back to their own room and picked up the phone requesting an ambulance and the police. Then he sat down on the bed, holding Daniel on his lap and waited for them to come while his mind flitted through every possible option he could think of to get them the hell out of this.

~o0o~

Gil Grissom stood in the middle of the room and turned in a slow circle, his eyes sweeping slowly up the walls from the floor.

His fellow CSI, Nick Stokes, stood quietly behind him, not saying a word. They’d worked together long enough to know each other’s routine at a crime scene.

Gil was a great believer in not touching till he had to. He let the scene speak to him first, telling him what the victims no longer could.

The room was small and dingy, its furnishings battered and stained. There was a pool of dark blood already congealing on the floor where the female victim had lain. She’d been taken to hospital to have a bullet removed from her arm. The wound was messy and no doubt painful but the woman would survive. In fact, she’d been coherent enough to tell them her name, the name of the dead man and that she hadn’t seen who’d shot them.

Gil finished his silent appraisal and turned to Nick. "You know the routine, Nicky. Go over the place with a fine tooth comb. Maybe the woman didn’t see anything but-"

"Yes, she did," a voice from somewhere close to Gil’s hip said.

He looked down into the upraised face of a small boy, his blue eyes staring intently into Gil’s.

"Who’s this?" he asked Nick.

"Eyewitness apparently," the uniformed cop standing next to the body on the floor said.

"Daniel? What the hell are you doing back in here? I told you to stay put."

Gil looked up as a tall, lean man dressed in jeans and a dark sweater entered and made his way quickly over to them. The man bent and hoisted the boy up into his arms.

"So this is Daniel and you are?" Gil waited as the man met his inquiring look full on.

When his question wasn’t answered, Gil asked another. If the child had witnessed a murder, the poor guy was probably in shock. "You’re Daniel’s father?" he asked, making it more a statement than a question.

Daniel’s head started to shake no but the man jumped in quickly and overruled the motion. "Yeah. Joe Fraiser. I’m Daniel’s father."

"But, Ja-"

"Shut up, Daniel," the man interjected quickly and Gil raised his eyebrows at the harshness in the order. It wasn’t the way most fathers spoke to their small kids, especially one who’d apparently been through an ordeal as awful as Daniel had. The guy sounded more like a marine drill sergeant than a concerned father.

"Okay, Mr. Fraiser. You mind if I talk to your son for a few minutes?" Gil asked.

"I do, actually, but I doubt that’d stop you."

"I don’t mind," the boy said. "I want to help, Ja… Dad."

Gil saw the blue eyes staring over at the uncovered body on the floor as the child spoke. The oddly adult tone of the words jarred with the sheer look of horror on the boy’s face and Gil grabbed the father’s arm and began steering him from the room.

"Let’s talk in your room, shall we? I take it you’re staying here?"

Fraiser nodded curtly. "Right next door. Let’s get this over with. Daniel and I were about to check out."

"In the middle of the night?" Gil’s voice was laced with skepticism.

Pushing open the door to his room and stepping inside, Fraiser turned a grim stare on him. "My kid just saw someone get murdered. Would you want to hang around?"

Gil nodded his head in understanding. "I’ll make this as easy on Daniel and you as I can."

Fraiser set the boy down on the bed then sat beside him, one arm wrapping protectively around the small shoulders and pulling Daniel close. "All right, but I say enough and the questions stop, got it?"

Gil couldn’t shake the impression that this was a man who was used to being obeyed. He simply nodded as he pulled a notebook and pen from his pocket and sat down in the armchair next to the bed. "Let’s get started then, Daniel."

~o0o~

"How about we start with something simple?" Gil suggested, giving Daniel a smile. "Can you tell me your full name?"

His sharp eyes didn’t miss the almost panicked look on the boy’s face as he looked quickly at his father.

"Tell the man your name, Daniel," Fraiser prompted.

"Daniel Garrett Jack- um, I mean, Fraiser."

"Jack? You have two middle names?" Gil quirked an eyebrow and a grin at the boy whose cheeks were flushed red.

"No, just Daniel Garrett Fraiser," the boy responded in a whisper.

"I changed my name a little while back," his father said with a casual shrug. "Family problems. Folks pretty much disowned us. Danny’s just having a little trouble remembering, that’s all."

Gil nodded. "Mind if I ask you what your name was before?"

"Hell yes, I mind," the other man snapped. "We haven’t done anything wrong. Daniel’s just trying to help you out. Anyway, how come you’re questioning him? Don’t detectives usually do that?"

Gil recognized the misdirection for what it was but let it slide for now. "Normally they do but they’ve gone to the hospital to talk to the woman who was shot. You’re welcome to wait till they come back, if you’d prefer."

Fraiser shook his head. "Never mind. Just curious, that’s all. Can we move this along? Daniel’s tired and I want to find another hotel. He’s just getting over a bad cold."

"Sure. How old are you, Daniel?"

"Five."

"Do you think you can tell me, in your own words, what you saw tonight?"

The small head nodded vigorously but Gil noticed the boy moved closer to his father and snuggled against his side.

"Okay, we’ll go easy and any time you want to stop, you just say so."

Gil listened and took notes as the boy described waking up to go to the bathroom and hearing a scream. He’d seen his dad was asleep and didn’t want to wake him so he left the apartment and headed to where the sound had come from. As he reached the open door of the room next to his, he’d seen a man aim a gun at another man and fire. The other man had fallen to the floor with blood coming from his head.

Gil reached out a hand and placed it on the boy’s shaking shoulder.

The child had become more upset with each passing moment and now tears were trailing down his cheeks.

"Do you want to stop for a while, Daniel?" Gil asked gently.

The boy rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hands and shook his head. He yawned suddenly and he smiled shyly at Gil. "I’ll be okay. I want to help."

Fraiser lifted the boy and placed him on his lap, rubbing a hand up and down Daniel’s arm. "That’s the way, big fella. Let’s get this finished, hey?"

Gil blinked a little at the sudden change in the man’s demeanor. Only minutes before he’d been growling at the kid like they were in the army or something. Yet now there was an expression of what Gil could only describe as tenderness on his face as he comforted his son.

"Do you use gas chromatography in your lab?" Daniel asked suddenly, his face alight now with curiosity.

Gil looked down at his notebook and then did a double-take. "What?"

"Daaniel." Fraiser drawled the name out. "Just let the man finish up so we can go." He gave the boy a small shake then pulled him further into his arms.

"How do you know about stuff like that?" Gil asked, his own curiosity piqued now.

"I’m … I like reading about archeology and stuff-" Daniel said, the words coming without hesitation from the small mouth.

"You can read archeology books?" Gil interrupted. He raised a questioning eyebrow at Fraiser, who simply shrugged.

"He’s bright," Fraiser said nonchalantly.

"I guess so," Gil said. "Okay. Tell me the rest of what happened after you saw the man shoot the other man."

Gil listened intently as Daniel described the man with the gun who’d almost knocked him over in his haste to get away. He shuddered as he realized just how close this little boy had come to being killed as well. Looking up, he saw a dawning look of horror on Fraiser’s face as the full import of what his son was saying hit home. The man’s arms tightened around the boy and Daniel wiggled a little but then rested his head back against the man’s chest.

"If we got a police artist here or took you to the PD, do you think you could help him draw up a picture of this man, Daniel?"

"I could draw him myself-"the boy began. Then he lifted his hand and stared at it as if he’d never seen it before. "No," he said, his voice dropping to a hushed whisper. "I couldn’t. Not anymore."

His father’s hands smoothed his hair soothingly. "We’re not going to the police station," he said, absolute authority in his voice. "If you want to take us to another hotel, you can send an artist round in the morning. Why can’t you just ask the woman instead?"

"The woman didn’t see the man-"

"Yes, she did," Daniel said with conviction. "The man with the gun shot the other man first and she was looking in the mirror and putting makeup on her face. She looked at the man in the reflection from the mirror and she smiled at him and said, ‘You could have waited till I finished. I don’t want to go the hospital without my face made up. And then the man just laughed and he pulled the trigger and the woman fell over onto the floor."

"I thought you said you went outside because you heard a scream?" Gil asked.

"I did. But when I went to the door of the room, she wasn’t screaming anymore. I know how you can tell if I’m right," Daniel said. "Ask the paramedics if she only had one side of her makeup done. She only had that blusher stuff on her right cheek when I saw her."

Gil rose to his feet and hurried next door. "Nick, get Sara to go over to the hospital and see if she’s too late to stop them washing the woman’s face before surgery. Tell Sara to test her skin for traces of cosmetics."

He returned to the room to find Daniel with heavily-lidded eyes, his head now dangling back over his father’s arm. "Let’s get you two somewhere comfortable for the night. Is there anyone you want to call? Daniel’s mother?"

"She died."

"I’m sorry."

"Yeah, me too. Can you hold him for a minute while I grab our gear?"

"Sure." Gingerly, Gil took the boy and cradled him against his chest.

The boy opened his eyes and smiled sleepily up at him then closed his eyes and turned his face into Gil’s chest.

"He’s a pretty amazing kid," Gil said quietly, unconsciously rocking the boy gently back and forth.

Fraiser looked over and grinned broadly. "Yeah, he is that and more. Okay, let’s get out of here."

~o0o~

Daniel barely stirred as he was transferred from Gil’s arms to the passenger seat of the truck. Gil sat him up and clipped the seat belt in place then carefully tilted his head so it was resting against the window.

"We could have given you a lift and then got someone to drive your truck over later," he said.

"It’s fine. Daniel’s used to traveling."

"Been on the road for a while, huh?" Gil asked, as he took note of the travel tent and sleeping bags in the bed of the truck. "What do you do about school for him?"

"Home schooling," Fraiser replied shortly. "He’s too smart for regular school anyway. Look, I need to get him out of the cold."

Gil nodded. "One of the uniformed officers will follow you there and stay with you."

"Not necessary." The man climbed into his truck and started the engine as if worried Gil would insist.

Gil put his hands out in a gesture of surrender. "Your choice. The hotel’s expecting you. We’ll pick up the tab."

"Thanks."

Gil scratched the back of his neck as he watched the truck peel off out onto the road. There was something not quite right with those two but he was damned if he could put his finger on what it was.

~oOo~

The new hotel was a thirty minute drive from the other one. It was also, Jack was pleased to see, a lot more up market.

By the time he reached the desk and signed in, an awkward proposition with Daniel perched heavily on one hip, Jack was beginning to feel exhausted himself. He took the desk clerk up on his offer of a hand with their bags and followed the man into the elevator and up to their new home for the night.

He tipped the man as generously as he could, which wasn’t much since he’d been careful going to the bank for money and had been trying to live on what cash he and Daniel had with them when they left. After all, if you wanted to leave a cold trail, there was no point in cluttering it up with paper and records that could be easily traced. It was one of the rare times in his life that Jack had appreciated his covert ops training.

Daniel was still asleep, tucked up cozily under the blankets in the large double bed. Jack eyed the fluffy white pillows on the other side of the bed longingly but shook off his weariness.

Like it or not, he was going to have to do what he’d hoped he wouldn’t have to and make a phone call. Hopefully, the people he called would be able to swing an escape route for them.

He sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled out his cell phone, groaning in frustration when he saw that it was dead. Damn, he’d left the charger in the truck. He gave momentary thought to going down to get it but then Daniel turned over and mumbled something in his sleep and he picked up the bedside phone instead and dialed for an outside line.

//Yeah?//

Jack grinned at the sleep-befuddled tones. "Sorry to wake you, Carter. We’ve hit a snag."

//Colonel?//

"I resigned, remember, Carter. Jack’s fine."

//Yes sir. I mean… Jack. What’s wrong? Is Daniel okay? Is he sick again?//

Jack glanced over at the sleeping child and brushed a wayward lock of hair away from his eyes. "Daniel’s fine. Well, mostly. He’s not sick. Look, Sam, remember that plan B we talked about? I think we might have to put it into action. Can you and Teal’c come to Vegas?"

He could picture the surprise in her eyes as she replied, //You’re in Las Vegas? With Daniel? Why on earth did you take him there?//

"At ease, Carter. It’s not like I’ve been taking the kid out playing the tables or anything. I just thought it’d be an easy place to get lost in. Turns out I was wrong."

//What’s going on, sir?//

He didn’t bother correcting the use of his title this time. He knew only too well that old habits died hard. "Daniel witnessed a murder in the hotel we were staying in."

//Oh my God! You’re sure he’s all right? Are *you* all right?//

"We’re both fine. We’re a little tired but Daniel’s asleep right now and I’m going to try to catch a couple hours sleep as soon as I hang up. The local cops are sniffing around. There’s this one guy, a CSI. I get the feeling he’s not buying my cover story. Mind you, Daniel didn’t help matters by asking him if they used gas and chrome or something in the lab."

//Gas chromatography? Daniel’s used that method himself for-//

"Carter? Never mind." Jack was way too tired to listen to one of Carter’s mind-boggling explanations right now. "Just get yourself and Teal’c out here. Look, I guess you’re gonna have to tell George too. Just tell him not to have a cow about it. Oh, and Carter, use a commercial flight, no Airforce involvement, you got me?"

Sam sounded vaguely offended that he thought he’d need to tell her that. //Of course, sir. I’m due some vacation time anyway. Do you want us to bring Janet?//

"No!" Jack winced at the sharpness in his voice. None of this was directly Doc Fraiser’s fault, after all, but still… "I trust the doc but until I can find a way around that creep, MacKenzie, I want Daniel kept away from any of the SGC medical personnel."

//Where should we meet you, sir?//

Jack thought hard. Surely the cops would understand a father taking his kid to the park on a nice sunny day. "Call me on my cell the minute you land. I’ll make sure it’s charged before then. There’s a park with swings and stuff not far from here. We’ll meet you there. Can you bring some cash? I’m running a little low."

//Of course, sir. I’ll see you tomorrow. Say hi to Daniel for me when he wakes up and tell him not to worry.//

"Will do, Carter. Daniel’s not the one about to become the poster boy for Rolaids, anyway. He’s a kid. Kids don’t worry. They let their parents do that for them. Haven’t you heard? Gray hair’s genetic. You get it from your kids."

He hung up with Sam’s welcome laughter ringing in his ears and lowered himself to the pillows next to Daniel. As if sensing his presence, the boy rolled over and moved into his arms, cradled in the shelter of Jack’s body.

Jack rested his chin on Daniel’s silky hair and breathed in the now-familiar child-scent of him. "It’ll be okay, buddy," he whispered. He mentally set his internal clock for three hours ahead and closed his eyes.

~o0o~

He should have known the notion of getting a few hours sleep was too good to be true.

He’d partly registered Daniel twitching against him, but in the deep sleep he’d fallen into within seconds of his head hitting the pillow, Jack could only rub a wavering hand over the small back and murmur what he hoped were comforting sounds. The fist to his nose woke him up real quick, though.

He jerked up in the bed and turned to find Daniel struggling against the confines of the heavy blankets, his breath stuttering out in staccato bursts, his eyelids twitching furiously as the dream tormented him.

Jack dabbed a cautious finger to his nose and inspected it. No blood but Daniel still had one hell of a right hook for a little guy.

He stood up and then moved to sit on Daniel’s side of the bed, casting about for the best way to handle this.

Daniel had suffered from nightmares on and off since returning to Earth as a five year old but they had been fleeting, over almost before Jack had time to reach his bedroom.

But this one looked to have a firm grip on Daniel’s unconscious – his small hands were clenched into tightly balled fists and what had begun as hitching breaths had escalated now into a keening wail.

Deciding that any action was better than none at all, Jack lifted Daniel up and freed him from the covers, pulling him onto his lap. Then he wrapped his arms as tightly as possible around the howling child and rocked him back and forth vigorously, telling him over and over that he was safe.

Eventually the crying died away to be replaced by sniffles and Jack slowed the rocking, reverting to the gentle to and fro rhythm he remembered using to lull Charlie to sleep so many years ago.

He placed Daniel back under the covers and lay down next to him again, this time keeping them apart far enough that he could use one finger to trace hypnotically up and down over the bridge of Daniel’s nose. He had no idea why it worked but his grandmother had done the same thing to him when he was small and fighting sleep. It took a good few minutes but eventually Daniel huffed out a great hiccupping sob then sighed, turned on his side and relaxed into sleep again.

Jack looked at the clock. He had to be up in a half hour anyway so he stepped into the bathroom for a rapid shower then called down for breakfast and coffee.

He debated waking Daniel but decided a cranky, sleep-deprived five year old would be more than he could handle today so he let him sleep on while he raced down to the truck and retrieved the charger for his phone.

When he returned to the room, Daniel hadn’t even moved and Jack ate breakfast when it arrived and watched television desultorily. He nodded off a few times but jerked awake each time his chin hit his chest.

By the time Daniel woke up around nine, he already had a partial plan in mind. If he could somehow get them out of the country altogether, he’d have a better chance of keeping Daniel in his custody and safe.

"Hey, Daniel, how you feeling?" he asked as he perched on the edge of the bed and watched as Daniel knuckled sleep from his eyes.

"Still tired," Daniel replied, his voice gravelly and surprisingly husky for a five year old.

Jack leaned over to the table and grabbed the glass of orange juice he’d poured. "Here," he said, holding it out. "You sound a little dry."

Daniel eyed the coffeepot on the table with obvious avarice glinting in his eyes. "Can I have coffee?"

Jack weighed the request. Small or big, Daniel craved caffeine and while Janet had recommended caution, she hadn’t actually said Daniel couldn’t ever have any. Jack finally decided that Daniel’s experience the night before was probably rated at least a one coffee thing and he nodded as he stood and poured a small amount into a cup. "You have to drink it with a heap of milk, though, Danny," he said, ignoring the pout that appeared immediately on Daniel’s mouth. "Haven’t you learned that look does nothing for me?" he asked rhetorically as he took the glass from Daniel’s hands and replaced it with the cup.

Daniel sipped at the warm beverage, his eyes smiling over the rim of the cup. "Thanks, Jack," he said as he drained the dregs and handed the cup back.

"You want to have a shower?" Jack asked, deliberately giving Daniel the choice this time. After all, he’d had a bath the night before and Jack was learning to pick his battles.

"Okay," Daniel said agreeably, climbing from the bed. "Can you order me some pancakes for breakfast? Oh, and some sausage and eggs too. And a double order of toast."

"Hungry much?" Jack teased as he went into the bathroom, turned on the faucets in the shower and placed a towel and clean clothes within easy reach. He was quite proud of himself for thinking to choose a plain t-shirt with nary a Batman or Barbie motif in sight. "Just holler when you’re ready to get out."

Daniel nodded as he began pulling off his pajamas and Jack left him to it.

It was only after the shower had been running for well beyond the time it should have taken Daniel to wash that Jack decided to investigate. He really tried not to do more for Daniel than he needed to. He could only imagine how he himself would feel in Daniel’s position. Hell, it would have driven him nuts in a day, to lose so much autonomy and know exactly what was going on.

He knocked on the door before opening it. He would have done that for adult Daniel and saw no need not to give child Daniel the same respect. Getting no answer, he pushed open the door just in time to see a naked Daniel about to climb shakily onto a shower-chair that he’d placed in the shower.

Jack lunged for him and snagged him around the waist with one arm, turning the taps off with his free hand. He put Daniel down on the bathroom floor outside the stall and bent to look him in the eyes. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"

Daniel’s chin tilted up. "I was turning off the taps, Jack. You nearly gave me a heart attack, grabbing me like that. Make for interesting news headlines, wouldn’t it? ‘Five year old archeologist dies of fright in shower’. Film at eleven."

Jack picked up the towel and wrapped it around Daniel’s thin shoulders. "Yeah, well, you nearly gave *me* a heart attack with that stupid stunt. How’d that be for a headline? ‘Airforce Colonel frightened to death by five year old.’ Why didn’t you just call out for me?"

Daniel turned away and began dressing slowly. Suddenly, he turned back, eyes flashing fury. "I hate this," he screamed. "Do you know what it’s like, Jack? Hell, you won’t even let me go to the bathroom by myself at the mall."

Jack walked out into the adjoining room, Daniel trailing in his wake. "These days I don’t know many parents who let their 5 year olds go into a bathrooms at malls on their own, Danny."

"You’re not my father," Daniel said sullenly.

"I know. And I am trying really hard to understand what you’re going through and to cut you some slack but breaking your neck just to be independent isn’t a good example of that brilliant intellect of yours. Here, sit down and eat. We’re going to the park later."

Daniel’s head shot up at that and he choked on the bite of sausage in his mouth.

Jack helpfully patted his back and waited for him to catch his breath. "What?" he asked innocently.

"The park? Come on! One minute you’re telling me you understand I want to maintain some of my adult dignity and the next you say you’re taking me to the park. No way! I am not swinging on swings or playing in the sandlot with a bunch of little kids." Daniel stared at Jack challengingly.

"Play’s good for kids," Jack said. His cell phone rang and he reached for it, smiling as he saw Carter’s number on the display. "But we’re not going there for the playground experience. We’re going there to meet Carter and Teal’c."

~o0o~

Jack smiled surreptitiously as he looked down to see Daniel unconsciously skipping alongside him to keep up with his longer stride. There were times when he wondered whether he’d ever get his head around the weird dichotomy of it all.

The park was only a short walk from the hotel and Jack had made sure to leave their bags in their room. If they did have to leave in a hurry, whoever checked the room would think they’d just gone somewhere after the park and it would be a while before anyone thought to look for them. By that time, if necessary, he and Daniel would be long gone. They could buy more clothes wherever they went. Possessions weren’t a big deal. Keeping Danny safe and where he wanted to be, was. Jack had made his friend a promise and he intended to keep it.

"Sam!" Daniel was running now and Jack stopped and watched as Carter bent so she could grab him into a hug.

Teal’c stepped forward as well, nodding his head in inimitable Teal’c style as Jack walked over to join them.

Carter straightened and he grinned as she almost stood at attention, one hand still clasped in Daniel’s.

"At ease, Carter."

"Yes sir. "She flashed him an apologetic grin and he shook his head.

"Never mind." he replied. "Hey, T, how you doing?"

"I am well, O’Neill."

"So what do you think of Vegas?"

Teal’c looked around the park. "It does not appear much different to any of your other cities I have seen."

"Ah, but you haven’t seen the casinos yet," Jack said. "Mind you, Danny and I haven’t had much time to take in the sights either." He ushered them all over to a park bench nearby and sat down wearily. "I mean, there’s not much point going to the Sands when you just know the ladies are going to ignore you and goo and gaa over Junior here."

"Jaaack."

"Just kidding, Daniel." Jack ruffled Daniel’s hair, pleased to see the grin on Daniel’s face. He’d been right to bring Carter and Teal’c here. He and Daniel had both missed them.

"You look exhausted, sir," Sam observed.

"That’s probably because I am." Jack rubbed his fingers over his gritty eyes. "Haven’t had much sleep the past couple of nights."

"Sorry." The words were spoken so softly that Jack almost missed them.

"It’s not your fault, Daniel."

"Yes, it is," Daniel replied, his voice still hushed. "I should have stayed in the motel room like you told me. If I had, nobody would have even found out where we were."

"Yeah, well, that’s just normal Daniel Jackson behavior. You were never big on following my orders even as a grown-up. I can’ t expect you to change just because you’ve been downsized." He pretended not to notice as Daniel climbed onto the bench next to him and scooted along the seat so they were sitting arm to arm.

"You’d better tell us what’s going on, sir," Carter said. "As far as I know we weren’t followed but I don’t think you two should be seen with Teal’c and me out in the open for too long."

"Yeah, you’re right."

In the ten minutes or so it took him to fill his ex-team members in on what had transpired the night before, Daniel had moved almost imperceptibly closer to Jack’s side till he was all but sitting on Jack’s lap.

"Hey, Danny, why don’t you show the big guy how the swings work?" Jack suggested.

Teal’c raised an eyebrow but stood up and held out his hand to Daniel. "We do not have that particular piece of apparatus on Chulak," he said. "I would like to examine it more closely."

Daniel looked uncertainly up at Jack.

"Go on," Jack urged him. "Teal’c needs to learn how to have fun. Give him a push on the swings."

Teal’c eyed the plastic seats and their hanging chains dubiously. "I do not believe they would support my weight, O’Neill. However, I would be pleased to give DanielJackson a push on the swings, if he wishes it."

"I’m too old for swings," Daniel said. But he took Teal’c’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled over to the swings, his head swiveling back once or twice as if to make sure Jack was where he’d left him.

Carter laughed softly as Teal’c lifted Daniel onto the swing and began to push it. In a few moments, Daniel was pumping his legs as Teal’c pushed harder and the sound of his laughter floated across the grass toward them.

"I still can’t quite get my head around it," Sam said, watching the small boy, his figure dwarfed by the big Jaffa. "I know that I could walk across to that swing and stop it and ask Daniel how to say something in any one of twenty-three languages and he could do it. But I also know that he’s a little boy who needs to have fun and be looked after."

"Yeah, well…"Jack yawned widely. "I’ve been seeing it day after day for the past three months and I’m still not used to it or sure I understand it. Last night, he’s asking this CSI guy about some sort of sophisticated lab test and two hours later, I’m rocking him on my lap because he had a bad dream. Maybe Mackenzie was right-"

"No, sir. He wasn’t. And you would never have taken the steps you did if you believed even for a minute that he was," Sam said firmly. "Everything you’ve done has been because it was what was best for Daniel. Teal’c and I believed that then and we still do or we wouldn’t be here now."

"Thanks." Jack leaned over and pulled her into a quick hug. "I’m glad you’re here, both of you."

He watched Daniel soaring against the blue of the sky, listening to the childish peals of laughter and the deep rumble of Teal’c’s voice and remembered that day two months before in MacKenzie’s office.

"My firm opinion, Colonel O’Neill, given your position as commander of SG: 1 and the depth of your commitment to the SGC, is that Daniel should be placed in a foster home, with parents approved by the SGC and myself."

"NO!" The cry sounded as if it had been torn from Daniel’s very soul and Jack turned and gathered the white-faced, sobbing child into his arms. "It’s all right, it’s all right," he said over and over as Daniel clung to him, arms and legs tightly wrapped around him.

Janet Fraiser was on her feet as well, her eyes wide with disbelief. "Doctor MacKenzie, I was allowed to adopt Cassie-"

Mackenzie looked at her then shrugged. "It’s totally different, Doctor," he said, "I’m sure you know that. While I know you work long hours and have gone off-world on occasion, you don’t risk your life on a daily basis the way the Colonel does." He stood and faced them. "I’m sorry, Colonel. I won’t be swayed on this. Daniel will be placed in a foster home at the earliest opportunity. He’ll also need ongoing therapy to help him deal with the fact that he is now, to all intents and purposes two people sharing one body – one an adult and one a child. There are bound to be psychological ramifications from that and I’m sure there will be some research benefits that can come out of this little… accident as well." He sighed heavily as Daniel continued to cry, his face buried deep in the crook of Jack’s neck. "Daniel, you need to calm down now. The Colonel will be able to visit you-"

Jack turned to Janet. "Take Daniel to my office, will you, Doc? I’ll be along in a minute."

It took more than a few minutes for Daniel to be persuaded to release his octopus-like grip but eventually he allowed Jack to place him on the floor and he reluctantly followed Janet from the room, his head turned back to keep Jack in sight till the door closed behind them.

The minute it did, Jack stepped forward into MacKenzie’s personal space. "Daniel is not a research opportunity for you or anyone else, you got that? Right now, he’s a scared little kid who needs to be with people he knows and trusts, not with strangers. Did you even read his records, MacKenzie? Daniel grew up the first time he was a kid in foster homes and not all of them played Happy Families, if you know what I mean. Daniel is also my best friend, adult or not, and if he wants to live with me then that’s what’s going to happen, you got that?"

"It’s not up to you, Colonel," MacKenzie said, as he stepped back around to his desk and sat down. "In a couple of days, Daniel will be made a state ward and with my recommendations-"

"Stick your goddamn recommendations where the sun don’t shine, MacKenzie!" Jack spat out as he stormed over to pull open the office door.

"You’re a member of the US Airforce and as such sworn to uphold this country’s laws, Colonel O’Neill," Mackenzie called after him.

Jack slammed the door behind him and headed for General Hammond’s office.

Hammond sympathized but said that his hands were tied.

Jack knew he was telling the truth. George Hammond was a good man, one who’d put his life and career in jeopardy for the people under his command more than once.

Hammond promised Jack could vet Daniel’s prospective foster parents personally. They’d be service people, probably a married couple from the SGC, as they’d have to have high enough security clearance to be informed of what had happened to Daniel. Therefore, Jack could visit and possibly even have Daniel with him when he was on downtime.

Jack went to get Daniel from his office, brushing off Janet’s apologies for MacKenzie with more brusqueness than she deserved. It really wasn’t Janet’s fault, but she was a doctor too and right at that moment when he looked at the small dejected figure sobbing in the chair, he wanted as little to do with the medical profession as possible.

When she left, he walked across and lifted Daniel from the chair and sat down with him on his lap.

"I do-o-n’t want to go to fo –o-ster care, Ja-a-ck," Daniel said, his voice still broken by sobs.

Jack leaned forward and rested his chin on top of Daniel’s soft hair, patting the child’s knee absently with one hand. "I know. I don’t want you to either. You’re not going."

He jumped as he felt a soft hand on his shoulder.

"Sorry sir, I hate to wake you when you’re so tired but we should be getting back to your hotel," Carter said, apology in her eyes.

"Damn! I fell asleep? Where’s Daniel?"

"He’s fine. He’s still on the swing. You were only asleep for about ten minutes."

Jack stood up and stretched, grinning as Daniel immediately jumped off the swing and raced back across the grass to him. "It’s all right," he said, as the boy reached him, out of breath and flushed in the face. "I wasn’t going anywhere without you. What’s say we all head back to the hotel and grab some lunch? Then we’ll do some SG: 1 type planning and see if there isn’t some way we can get the band back together."

Daniel shyly agreed to Teal’c’s offer of a piggyback ride back to the hotel while Carter filled them in on what was happening back at the Mountain.

Daniel laughed uproariously when she told them that Teal’c had inadvertently broken Sergeant Siler’s nose while attempting to teach the man some Jaffa fighting techniques.

"I do not believe I can be blamed if Sergeant Siler zigged when he should have zagged," Teal’c said solemnly, sending Daniel into giggles again.

"I’ve missed you guys," Daniel said, as Teal’c placed him on the ground outside the hotel door.

"As we have missed you, Daniel," Teal’c said.

Jack pushed the door open and ushered Sam and Daniel in ahead of him. He heard footsteps behind him and was about to step inside when a hand touched him on the shoulder. He felt as if his heart had dropped into his boots as he heard a voice say quietly, "Hello, Colonel O’Neill." For almost the only time in his life, he found himself momentarily speechless as he slowly turned around and looked into the smiling face of Gil Grissom.

Part Two

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