Foot-Hold


"Jack!"

Little feet propelled Daniel through the mass of people in the airport and Jack's heart leaped into his throat as Daniel miraculously made his way through the crowd in a straight line without barreling into anyone. Jack dropped his briefcase and swept up the little body who attached himself to him like a limpet, his stuffed camel caught between the two of them. Suddenly, the terror and anxiety of the past three days receded as Daniel's high-pitched voice sounded in his ear.

"I missed you, Jack. Lots and lots." He hugged Jack enthusiastically, wriggling around in Jack's arms as he adjusted his hold around waist and shoulders, shrugging himself upwards so he could lean his face against Jack's neck.

"Missed ya, too, Sport." Jack turned his face into Daniel's hair, inhaling the little boy scent that was so reminiscent of his own son, but still purely Daniel at the same time.

Daniel pushed back to stare at Jack. "Lumpy wanted to come to the airport earlier to pick you up but Sam said the plane wouldn't land until suppertime."

Jack bit his lip to hold back confessing what had really occurred. There was no way in hell he would spill the beans; people's lives, especially Daniel's, depended on Jack's silence and in his carrying out his orders.

"Welcome home, sir." Carter approached with a large grin on her face while waving a small orange spotted stuffie in her hand. Teal'c, who'd accompanied Carter, merely nodded his head regally at him. "I think Daniel's happy to see you."

"Me and him both," Jack said, awkwardly bending down to pick up his briefcase.

"Allow me." Teal'c reached for the leather satchel, allowing Jack the freedom to continue holding Daniel, who felt as if he wasn't about to let go anytime soon.

"Thanks." Jack turned and started to head for the exit, when he realized Carter and Teal'c were going towards the baggage claims. Of course, he chided himself silently. Act as if he'd really been on the flight from Washington instead of aliens beaming him into a nearby bathroom once all the passengers had disembarked. Another ruse the enemy had forced him into once they'd kidnapped him on his way to his plane three days ago.

"So what'd you and Carter and Teal'c do while I was gone?" Jack asked the twosome still firmly wedged in his arms. As if he didn't know. He'd had a bird's eye view of Daniel's activities thanks to surveillance bugs implanted in both his and Carter's houses. His captors probably knew he'd be searching them out the moment he got home, although it would make no difference because thanks to the alien slug they'd placed inside his brain, they now knew his every move.

Thank God the alien being couldn't read his mind; only his spoken words and actions. He'd been thinking out a plan of action ever since they'd given him his ultimatum; do their dirty deed or the people he loved were going to get hurt.

"Sam an' me an' Lumpy went to the movies and Teal'c brought some really great games and we played those for hours and hours and... what's that?" Using Lumpy as a pointer, he looked over at the room full of carousels. As they approached the only one that was actually working, luggage already circling the waiting passengers, Daniel wriggled in his arms. Jack bent over and put him down.

"Don't even think about it," Jack said as Daniel glanced at the tempting revolving toy. Daniel looked up at him through his long bangs and sighed.

"But what's it for?" He took a few steps closer and leaned over, watching, wide-eyed, as luggage paraded before him.

"They load the luggage from the plane so that people can pick them up. You remember what my suitcase looks like?"

Daniel nodded. "It's black."

"You and Lumpy keep an eye out for it, okay?"

"Okay."

Jack stepped back a moment, watching Daniel watching the luggage. Looking for the suitcase that he'd never even opened once. He heard Carter clear her throat and wondered how long before she told him the news he already knew�

"Sir, I have some bad news to tell you. Before you get upset, your ex-wife is fine. She called yesterday, trying to get in touch with you in case you'd heard the news but�"

"What happened?" Jack asked curtly, already knowing what she was going to tell him.

"There was a fire. The damage isn't too bad and she and her father got out of the house safely so nobody was hurt. They think it was caused by a faulty electrical wire."

A faulty electrical wire planted by some alien beings posing as regular Americans trying to get Jack's attention. And boy, did they ever get his attention. Jack nodded his thanks, trying to make it look like he was a little upset and worried, which wasn't that hard since he really was upset and worried. "Thanks, I'll give her a call later."

"Jack, they're all black." Daniel was kneeling next to the edge of the carousel, still watching the luggage go by. Daniel was right; the majority of the bags were black. He examined them all until he spotted the telltale identification tag he'd deliberately placed on his bag, then stepped forward and plucked it from the metal slats. Daniel scrambled to his feet and hurriedly fingered the Homer Simpson tags, his little finger following the letters of Jack's name on them.

"Yep, it's yours." He smiled up at Jack, proud to confirm Jack's choice. Without a word, Jack ruffled his fingers through Daniel's hair then picked up the suitcase. This had been the easy part; the next forty-eight hours were going to be a killer.

Daniel skipped along beside him, pointing things out to Lumpy. He slowed to watch a carrier containing a dog transported on a small electric car, stopping completely to stare as the vehicle went past them.

"Daniel," Jack growled, trying to get into the role he'd planned on performing. "Let's go."

"Did you see the dog, Jack?" Daniel ran to him then turned, walking backwards, keeping his gaze on the departing car and dog.

"Yeah, saw it." Jack deliberately began to walk faster, forcing Carter and Teal'c to follow. He was aware of Carter's curious gaze on him as Daniel shrieked out his name when he realized he'd nearly lost sight of him.

Jack kept walking, turning only once to make sure that his friends had Daniel well in hand. To his relief, Daniel was holding Teal'c's hand, walking with lowered head. He needed to play this just right; the alien inside of him had no idea how he'd dealt with Daniel on a day-to-day basis.

He exited the airport and stopped at the curb, waiting for Carter to take the lead. "Sir, if you're not too tired," Carter said as she began juggling Stretch to search for her car keys, "I thought we could stop for some supper on our way. We waited for you and I think Daniel's a little hungry."

"The Outback!" Daniel piped up, letting go of Teal'c and hurrying up to Jack. "Lumpy wants some Chicken Fingers." Jack felt a tiny hand reach up for his and he allowed his fingers to curl around Daniel's. "Please, Jack? I'm starving."

"Kookaburra Chicken Fingers it is," Jack agreed, needing to also make things look almost normal for his team. Plus, eating out tonight would be the perfect excuse for him to stay home tomorrow and not report to the SGC to give Hammond a run-down of his supposed meetings in Washington. How his abductors had set everything up was worrisome; had it all been a setup or were they also threatening high-level individuals in the government? You'd think someone would have noticed that Jack never made it to Washington.

"Yay!" Daniel jumped a few times, jarring Jack's arm, then settled down. He scrambled into the back seat of Jack's truck when Carter unlocked the doors, advising Lumpy their choices for dessert. Jack motioned Teal'c to drop his briefcase and suitcase in the back while he buckled Daniel into the booster seat. Meanwhile, Carter waited to hand him his keys.

"You may as well drive, Major." Jack snapped the last buckle secure and slid in beside Daniel. There was no way he was letting Daniel out of his sight until all of this was over. Plus Jack was so tired he was afraid his reflexes might not be up to par for driving in the late rush hour traffic. It was too bad he couldn't find a way into Cheyenne Mountain right at this moment to get a physical; Fraiser would definitely figure out something was wrong. But if that happened, too many people could die. Daniel included.

Jack shut his eyes and listened to Daniel prattle on. This would be the perfect opportunity to set up his relationship with Daniel to the aliens. He just hoped that Carter, Teal'c or Fraiser caught because otherwise Jack would have to carry out the dirty deed and he'd either get killed on the spot or else spend the rest of his life rotting in a cell.

His pretense at fatigue must have worked because nobody spoke during the drive. Even Daniel had grown silent. Jack opened half-slitted eyes to look at Daniel, who was gazing out the window. His eyelids were at half-mast and Jack knew he'd not had a nap that afternoon. The one good thing about the surveillance bugs was that he knew exactly what had gone on while he'd been away. The downside was that he'd probably have a sleepy and cranky Daniel on his hands by the time they made their way home, which might make things a little harder. Or not.

He opened his eyes once Carter stopped the truck, then reached over to unbuckle Daniel from his seat.

"I like sitting beside you," Daniel said with a wide smile just before slipping out of the truck when Teal'c opened the door. Jack sighed wearily as he got out and followed his former team into the restaurant.

The moment Daniel was seated, he placed Lumpy on the table beside him. Jack's gaze went to Carter and realized she hadn't brought Lumpy's companion inside. "Where's Stretch?"

Daniel shrugged and repositioned Lumpy so that the beady glass eyes were staring at Jack.

"He and Lumpy have a fight?"

"Stretch doesn't smell the same," Daniel replied in a small voice.

Anger coursed through Jack and his gaze immediately went to Carter and Teal'c. Carter had her head down, looking ashamed for some reason while Teal'c was watching Daniel fiddling with Lumpy's hooves. Of course the stuffie didn't smell the same � those bastards had probably made sure to sabotage his kid's toy, knowing he kept it close by at all times. What had they implanted into the small giraffe?

It was all Jack could do to not call the mountain, knowing there was the possibility of a bomb going off in their midst. It was almost a miracle that Daniel had recognized something was off and had distanced himself from that particular toy. Instead of reacting, Jack fisted his fingers underneath the table, took a deep breath, and made his voice stern.

"Carter and Teal'c bought that giraffe especially for you and Lumpy. This is the thanks you give them?"

"Colonel, it's all right," Carter began, but Jack slashed a hand through the air, cutting her off. He needed to get this started on the right foot if he were to keep up the act.

"No, it's not. I'm surprised at you, Daniel."

The little mouth jutted out into a pout and Lumpy was pulled back to be held tight against his chest. Jack dropped the subject, vowing that the first thing he was going to do when Daniel was in bed was cut that little stuffie open and make it safe for him again. He didn't care if the aliens saw what he did � they couldn't expect him not to react for Daniel's welfare, could they?

He reached for the menu and opened it. He wasn't hungry; his stomach too tightly compressed with stress to want food, but he needed to continue with the act.

"You still want those chicken nuggets?" Jack asked in a normal voice.

Daniel nodded, the pout fading as he leaned to look at the pictures on the menu. "Can I have Oreo cookie crumbles with my sundae for dessert?"

"Let's worry about you finishing your dinner first, okay?"

"But you said last time we were here I could have some."

"You finish your dinner, then we'll talk about dessert."

Jack waited until everyone ordered, making sure to choose something nobody else was eating. He asked for a beer, keeping in character despite not really wanting one. When the food came, everyone dug in with appetite. He forced himself to take a bite of steak, watching while Daniel picked up a piece of chicken, dragged it into a small bowl of sauce, then made a show of offering the piece to Lumpy. Jack watched as the little face frowned as he looked around, obviously forgetting for a moment about the discarded giraffe. Daniel glanced hopefully at Carter for a second, saw her empty lap, and the hand holding the piece of chicken lowered to the plate.

"Daniel, eat."

A pair of shimmering blue eyes stared up at Jack for a moment before he put the piece of chicken into his mouth, chewing with downcast eyes. Jack swore to himself that the giraffe would be back into Daniel's good graces come morning, even if he had to launder the darned thing and blow-dry it dry.

"So, how'd the meetings go?" Carter asked before forking a large chunk of salad into her mouth.

Jack shrugged. "About as well as General Hammond expected," he answered vaguely. Again Jack wondered how many people the aliens had affected, considering he'd gone to Washington as a personal favour to Hammond to try and talk to some bigwig about the relevance of increasing the budget instead of downsizing the Stargate project. How elaborate was the aliens' plan and what chance did he have of defeating them?

The rest of the meal progressed without Jack remembering much of the conversation. Daniel was flagging fast, moving the last of his food around his plate more than eating anything. Jack was surprised that he'd managed to eat most of his own meal. He asked for coffee when the waitress came around to clear their plates, then paused as Daniel looked at him hopefully.

He nodded, giving the order for the ice cream, knowing that Daniel wouldn't eat more than a couple of spoonfuls but not having the heart at the moment to disappoint him more. The four of them sat quietly for a few minutes while a waitress served coffee and the ice cream.

Daniel seemed to wake up enough to eat his dessert and happily dug into the treat. He ate a couple of spoonfuls then stopped, spoon halfway to his mouth, and looked at Jack. "Did you bring me anything?"

Jack closed his eyes, remembering his promise to bring back a gift. "Sorry, Sport. I never got a chance to get to the stores." Considering he'd been tied up in a cell with no opportunity to get to a store during his capture, he wasn't lying.

"But you promised." The spoonful of ice cream was discarded and Lumpy was quickly gathered into Daniel's arms.

"Look, I'll make it up to you later." Heck, he'd buy Daniel the whole toy store, if only he could get them all out of this in one piece. Catching the waitress's eye, Jack signaled for the bill. He ignored Daniel's whines, knowing at the moment that it was fatigue and over-excitement catching up with him. Best thing was to get Daniel home and into bed; the faster Daniel was asleep, the faster Jack could make sure the house was as secure as it could get.

Barring any more hidden surprises, like the one inside Stretch.

- - - - - -

Carter stood on Jack's doorstep, Stretch held awkwardly in her grasp. Farewells were exchanged and thanks were given as Jack plucked the outcast toy from her hands.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Jack lied as he watched Carter and Teal'c walk towards her parked car. She waved over her shoulder and he shut the door and locked it. Now, Jack was on the warpath.

First things first; Daniel. He went to toss the little giraffe onto the kitchen table, then thought twice about it. Instead he placed it gently on the table and went into the bathroom. It took him five minutes before he found the bug in the bathroom, set into the light fixture. He hated the feel of it; it was warm to the touch and slimy, almost as if it was alive. He tossed it into a small tin can and shut the cover.

"Daniel, bath time."

Feet dragging, Daniel walked into the bathroom as Jack started the water running. Without a word, he took Lumpy from him, placed him on the sink to stand watch and stripped Daniel. When he was done he tested the water and plunked him into the tub, tossing a couple of toys in for good measure.

Moving quickly, Jack removed the bugs from the kitchen and Daniel's bedroom, working on memory of the various angles he'd seen of his house while his captors had tracked Daniel's whereabouts as Carter brought him back here to pick up some forgotten items. He'd take care of the rest of the house once Daniel was in bed.

He went into the bathroom, gave the kid a perfunctory wash with a cloth, then sat him on the lowered toilet seat to dry him off. Daniel was tired enough to lean sleepily against Jack, making his job more difficult as he tried to thread pajamas onto the little body. Once done, he grabbed Lumpy and placed him into Daniel's grasp.

"Bed."

Without a word, Daniel raised his arms, waiting to be carried to the bedroom. Jack pressed his lips together, hardened his heart, and grumbled for the benefit of the alien slug inside his head, "You've got two feet, use them." He ignored Daniel's shocked expression and walked out of the bathroom and into Daniel's bedroom. After a moment, bare feet padded behind him. Daniel silently crawled into the bed and turned on his side, watching Jack warily.

Hating what he'd just done, Jack reached down and grabbed one of Daniel's feet. Gently caressing the soft skin, he reached with his other hand and pulled the covers up. "Go to sleep." He squeezed the foot before letting go. If only this Daniel had the memories of the once-adult Daniel, maybe Jack could have given him a subliminal message of a "foot � hold" situation just by holding his foot. He sighed softly at what once was and concentrated on what he now had.

Daniel blinked up at him, then whispered, "Night, Jack." He pulled Lumpy close and buried his face in the stuffie's neck.

Jack left the room and hurried to the kitchen. He grabbed a sharp knife and sat down at the table. He took Stretch into his hands and brought him up to his nose and sniffed. The toy smelled of Daniel, of Carter's light fragrance and an underlying whiff of something so faint, for a moment he thought he imagined it. He took another deep whiff and memories of the past days came flying back.

He began examining the toy carefully and quickly found what he was looking for. The seam beneath the toy's left ear had been cut open and sewn shut. At first glance it wasn't obvious but by comparing the two sides, Jack could see the slightly larger stitches.

With the knife, he cut the stitches and opened the toy's head. He stuck a finger inside and fished around. He felt something hard, like rubber. The alien smell was stronger now. Cursing silently and not caring that the alien inside his head was transmitting his words to the rest of his kind, Jack went to the bathroom, grabbed a pair of tweezers and grabbed the box he'd dumped the bugs in. Then he went out on the back deck, as far away from Daniel as he could get. Just in case.

By the light of the kitchen shining through the sliding glass doors, he used tweezers to gently tug the foreign piece from inside Stretch's head. He pulled it out and examined it. It looked like a lump of plastique but smelled totally... alien. He placed it into the metal box and shut the lid, then felt inside the stuffie again, pulling the stuffing out, just to make extra sure there wasn't any other hidden surprise. Finally satisfied, he put Stretch back to rights and placed him on the picnic table. When he was done, he placed the box in the small shed at the back of his yard and put the box inside, out of sight. He'd have the explosive taken care of later.

For now, Stretch needed his attention.

A spool of thread, a needle and a couple dozen stitches, and the little toy was as good as new. With a smile, Jack carried the little fella into Daniel's bedroom and reverently placed him on the pillow beside the kid. He straightened the blanket, watched Daniel sleep for a few minutes, then turned to leave. As he left the room, a horrible thought hit him.

Lumpy.

He returned to the bed and carefully snaked the larger toy from Daniel's grasp. Daniel's fingers opened and closed, but he didn't wake. Jack simply stood there and palpitated the soft body, checking for anything foreign inside. He went over Lumpy twice before he was satisfied. He put the toy back carefully, giving the small head an apologetic pat, knowing the camel would forgive him for the rough treatment if it meant Daniel's safety.

Daniel sighed softly in his sleep as his hands curled around Lumpy's neck and pulled him closer.

- - - - - -

Jack raised his cup and took a sip of coffee, listening to the padding of footsteps as they entered the kitchen. Daniel, with both Lumpy and Stretch clasped in his hands, came up to Jack and leaned quietly against him. As he rubbed his eyes with a knuckle, Jack leaned over and kissed him on the temple. "Morning. You hungry?"

Daniel shrugged, eyeing Jack's empty place setting.

"Want some Frootloops?"

Daniel bit his lip, obviously undecided.

"Cheerios?"

" 'Kay."

Jack pushed his chair back while Daniel placed his comrades on the table so that his hands were free to clamber onto a chair. Jack got a bowlful of cereal ready for Daniel and placed it before him.

"I see someone came to visit you last night." Jack picked up Stretch and held him to Daniel's cheek, making kissing noises.

Giggling, Daniel batted the toy away, then shifted around on the chair, moving away from the affectionate toy. "I'm glad he came back. Lumpy was lonely." He grabbed Stretch as the giraffe came around for another round of kisses and put him down beside his breakfast. "How come you didn't wake me up? Don't I have to go to pre-school?" Daniel picked up his spoon and shoveled cereal into his mouth, the spoon clanking musically against his teeth.

"Not today." No way was he letting Daniel out of his sight.

"Is it Saturday?" Daniel asked with his mouth full.

"No, I just thought we'd have a special day together, seeing as I was gone for the past three."

"Are we gonna go to the mountain?"

"No."

"But you told Sam�"

"I changed my mind." Actually after having spent the night searching the house for bugs and any other surprises, Jack would like nothing better than to escape to Cheyenne Mountain until everything blew over. Literally. He now had a box full of surveillance bugs and probably explosives; thankfully the only danger he'd found had been inside of Stretch. But there were innocent folks out there, like Sara. And the message to Jack had been loud and clear. "We'll go tomorrow."

"Can we go to the park?"

"We'll see." Maybe getting Daniel out of the house was the best thing. Do something out of the ordinary, where they would be safe for several hours. He'd gone over the truck just as carefully as the house and was pretty sure it was safe now that he'd found and removed the bug from inside it.

Jack stood and poured himself some more coffee, then reached for the phone. He called Hammond's number, knowing he'd reach his aide this early in the morning. As he stepped into the living room, he steeled himself for the lies he'd have to make.

"Yeah, it's O'Neill. I have an appointment with General Hammond at oh-ten-hundred this morning, but I'm afraid I won't make it. Can we reschedule for tomorrow?"

//"I'm afraid the general's day is fully booked, Colonel. Are you certain you can't make it today?"//

"No. I think I have food poisoning. There's no way I can handle being more than sprinting distance from the toilet at the moment. What about first thing tomorrow morning? If I'm not feeling better by then I can always check in with Fraiser, you know, kill two birds with one stone."

//"I'm sorry, sir, but like I said, the general has a full schedule. What about Friday afternoon, fifteen hundred hours?"//

"Sure, we can settle for that but you know, the whole idea of my getting to see General Hammond was so that I could brief him before his meeting with General Maynard at ten on Friday."

There was a stunned moment of silence, then the aide spoke quickly. //"Is oh-eight hundred tomorrow all right with you, sir?"//

"It's fine. Thank you." Jack disconnected the phone with a relieved sigh. At least he got himself into the SGC before the alien dignitary's arrival early tomorrow afternoon, as ordered. Now if only he could find a way to warn everyone without the alien inside of him knowing he'd warned them.

He put the phone down and returned to the kitchen. Daniel had eaten only half his cereal. He had Lumpy in his lap and was staring down at the floor, chin resting on top of Lumpy's head.

"Finish your breakfast, Daniel." Jack picked up his coffee cup and took a sip, then sighed when Daniel didn't move.

"Daniel�"

"I'm not hungry anymore." Daniel fiddled with Lumpy's tail, batting it back and forth.

"Fine. Go get dressed."

"Are we going to the park?"

Despite not having found any other dangerous items inside the house, Jack couldn't be a hundred percent sure he'd found everything. The park was too close to the house. He needed to find some place else. Zoo... they could spend the day at the zoo.

"No."

"But�"

"Go get dressed," Jack repeated.

Daniel stared at Jack sullenly before sliding off the chair and stood with arms crossed over both his chest and Lumpy. "I want to go to the park."

Jack merely raised a finger and pointed it at him. "You may have gotten away with being spoiled by Carter over the last couple of days. You can get over that attitude right now, Mister." He moved the finger to point towards his room. "Get dressed."

Daniel glared at him and took several steps past him, stomping loudly, his bare feet slapping the floor. Then he stopped at the entrance and slowly turned to look at Jack.

"I don't feel so good."

"Ack, none of that." Despite deliberately leading Daniel on, Jack's temper was short due to his fatigue and worry.

"Jack..." Daniel whined, his face suddenly growing ashen. Even as Daniel's breathing speeded up, Jack grabbed him by the waist and rushed into the bathroom.

- - - - - -

Daniel was crying softly now, the loud cries interspersed with the vomiting having died down, probably due to exhaustion, replaced by hitching breaths and an almost limp body. Jack had managed to change both their clothes and was now walking around the house with Daniel in his arms. The kid was damp with sweat, his face tear and snot-streaked, his eyes red and swollen from crying.

When the sobs eased off a little more, Jack walked into the kitchen, glared at the still-opened box of Cheerios sitting on the counter, and turned the faucet on. No way was he trusting anything that had been in the house; even an unopened bottle of water. Even though he knew the Frootloops and milk were okay, since that was what he'd eaten. He grabbed a clean glass with one hand and held it under the running water until it was half-full.

He sat down on one of the kitchen chairs and turned Daniel so that he could see his face. "Here, I want you to try and drink some water." He held the glass to Daniel's mouth and he leaned forward eagerly, slurping greedily. Jack let him have a couple of sips, then a little more when Daniel raised his hands to tip the glass in order to get more.

"Feeling better?"

Breathing deeply as he chugged down some more liquid, Daniel's eyes rolled towards Jack. He pulled away with a sigh, his teeth clattering on the glass, and wordlessly leaned against Jack's chest. Jack took the near-empty glass and before he could place it on the table, Daniel vomited all that he'd drunk.

The crying started up again as Jack stood, swearing at the aliens under his breath. Not bothering to change, he grabbed his wallet and keys and headed outside.

"Where we going?" Daniel sobbed in his ear as Jack aimed the remote to unlock the truck.

"Hospital." He'd be damned if he was going to take any chances on what those aliens did to Daniel, even if only to prove a point that they were still holding all the shots. He frowned when he didn't hear the telltale click of unlocking doors. He pressed the remote a second time just as Daniel began wailing.

"Nooo, I don't wanna go to the hospital. I won't be sick again. I promise, Jack. Please, I don't wanna goooo." The legs and arms that had been laying limp against him suddenly came to life, wrapping themselves around his body as if to never let go. A quick thought went through Jack's mind, wondering if Daniel's reluctance to go to the hospital was a buried memory of an older Daniel who had spent an inordinate amount sick or injured in the infirmary.

Jack's reached down to manually insert the key into the lock. The door opened and even as he sat, he had a sneaking suspicion of what would happen next. Not bothering to put Daniel into the booster seat, he stuck the key into the ignition and turned it. As he half-expected, the motor didn't turn over.

"Damn you," he said under his breath as he stood. "If something happens to him..." He slammed the truck door shut, the resulting noise making Daniel jump in his arms. He rubbed a hand down the sobbing boy's back as he went back into the house. "Okay, calm down, change of plans."

"Not... not going?" Daniel hiccupped.

"How about you lie down for a little while." Jack eyed the couch in the living room, then figured they'd probably both be more comfortable in his bed since it didn't look like Daniel was ready to separate himself from Jack for the time being, and headed towards his bedroom.

"Alone?" The legs and arms squeezed more tightly around Jack.

"No, me 'n you." Jack slid onto his messed up bed, grabbed a blanket from where he'd tossed it earlier when searching the room, and pulled it up over both of them as he lay down. Daniel squirmed, keeping in physical contact with Jack with the new position, then buried his face against Jack's neck.

Reaching up with a free hand, Jack worried his fingers against Daniel's face and neck, testing for heat of fever. Daniel's skin was damp and warm, but Jack suspected it was more from the exertions of crying than from a poison eating him from inside. Hopefully whatever the aliens had laced the Cheerios with was gone from Daniel's system with no lasting effects.

Jack planned on lying here with Daniel until the tyke had fallen asleep and then getting up and tossing out everything edible inside the house, but his own body tricked him. Even as Daniel grew lax in his arms, succumbing to sleep, his own body quickly followed. Jack was asleep almost as fast as Daniel.

- - - - - -

Jack woke up slowly to the feeling he was being watched. He opened one eye and came eye to eye with a dark, glassy eyeball staring right at him. He blinked, focused further away from Lumpy and saw that Daniel was standing beside him, leaning his elbows on the bed, Stretch clasped in one hand, staring at Jack. For a moment Jack thought he'd overslept when the memories of the past days came crashing back.

He sat up quickly, grabbing Lumpy before the blankets displaced the toy onto the floor. "You okay?" Jack reached a hand out to Daniel, who gazed at him with an expectant, eager look.

"I'm hungry."

Glancing at the clock, Jack was shocked to see it was long past noon.

"How's pizza sound?"

Daniel nodded as he reached out for Lumpy.

"How long you been up?"

Danny shrugged. "I woke up and went looking for Lumpy and Stretch. Lumpy said not to wake you but Stretch said you'd be hungry, too."

"I could eat." Jack got up and stretched, then went hunting for the phone and phone number for the closest pizza joint. After putting through the order, he went to check his phone messages. He wasn't surprised to see that Carter had called. Twice. He debated calling her back, wondering if the aliens would take that as a wrong signal, when the choice was taken out of his hands when the phone rang and his caller ID identified the incoming call as her.

"O'Neill."

//"Sir. Is everything all right? We got the message that you were sick."//

"Just a bit of food poisoning. I was up all night." Which wasn't exactly a lie, after all. "Daniel and I had a snooze and we're feeling much better now."

//"Daniel? Is he sick, too?"//

"Threw up right after breakfast. But he says he's hungry so I think he's doing better."

//"Are you sure? Should I advise Janet?"//

Yes, please, tell the good doctor. Maybe Jack would get lucky and Fraiser would make a house call. Still, he knew the warning for what it was, and reluctantly downplayed everything.

"You may as well give her a head's up; I can stop in tomorrow before I meet with General Hammond so she can give him a look-see if she thinks it's necessary. But he's fine now." Jack glanced over at Daniel, who was sitting on the floor in the living room with a double handful of Lego's between his legs, his menagerie watching eagerly over whatever he was building.

//"And you?"//

"If I can stomach pizza, I think I'm doing better." Please, please, catch on here, Carter. I've just told you I've had food poisoning, I wouldn't even want to look at pizza for a couple more days if I really were sick. And Daniel, too, for that matter. Send in the reinforcements already. Take this out of my hands.

//"Okay. I'm glad you're feeling better."//

"Thanks," Jack said dejectedly, realizing she wasn't catching on. He decided to try and go all out and pray that his 2IC really was paying attention to what he was saying. "It's just an upset stomach, not like the time SG-6 went to P3X-118, right?"

There was a short pause, and a confused, //"Right,"// when Carter spoke again. 'C'mon, I just mentioned the aliens that invaded the SGC and created a foothold situation. Latch onto it, Major!

"And just in case it's actually some kind of intestinal flu, you might want to get your house fumigated," Jack added, deciding to push. "You know, for bugs and stuff, before you bring anybody home and get them infected. Wouldn't wanna call a Code Nine in your house, now, would we?"

//"Yeah, thanks, sir, I'll do that,"// Carter replied, still with a tone bordering on confusion.

With a sigh, Jack hung up.

"Is Sam sick?" Daniel asked, standing on the couch and peering at Jack through the half wall.

"Nah, she's fine. She just called to check up on us. We'll see her tomorrow." Jack put the phone down, grabbed a hefty-sized garbage bag, and began emptying the contents of the refrigerator into it.

"Jack?"

"Hmm?" Jack paused a moment, holding the vegetable bin in his hands.

"Whatcha doing?"

"Cleaning." He turned the bin over and dumped all the fresh vegetables Carter had stocked for him into the black bag.

"Why?"

"Because some bugs got into the food."

"Can I help?"

"Sure. How about you get me some more garbage bags?" While Danny went to get more from the box under the sink, Jack tied off the filled bag and opened the freezer.

"How about holding one open for me?" He helped Daniel open the neatly folded bag he'd brought him. Without any feelings of remorse, he tossed the frozen meat and frozen dinners out. Then he moved to the cupboards.

The whole operation took less time than Jack had expected. He moved on to the bathroom and had almost finished emptying the medicine cabinet of toothpaste, pills and floss when he realized the aliens had the opportunity to come back in and bug his place while he'd passed out from exhaustion. He froze a moment, a bottle of mouthwash held in his hand as he supposed they could be watching right this moment.

Screw them, he finally decided. They knew what he was doing thanks to the bug in his head. He thanked God it wasn't a snake, but a slug was bad enough, thank you. Thanks to the interconnectivity of the aliens' brainwaves, like a hive mentality, what one knew, the rest knew immediately. He realized he'd watched too much Star Trek and was able to actually understand what his captors' had explained to him. Carter would be proud... if they survived all of this.

"Jack, are we gonna eat soon?" Daniel, who was gamely holding the last bag open for him, looked up at him expectantly. "I'm hungry."

Jack quickly checked his watch. It had been more than forty minutes since he'd ordered the pizza. It should have been here by now.

"Any minute now, Sport."

Almost on cue, the doorbell rang.

"See? That's our lunch."

"Yay!" Abandoning the bag, Daniel ran towards the front door. Jack reached for his wallet, hurrying behind Daniel. He had to admit he was pretty hungry himself. The nap he'd taken had worked wonders and despite the fact that he'd probably need another ten hours' sleep in the future, he felt invigorated. Or maybe it was the fact that he was in the process of ridding the house of anything with an alien influence in it.

He pulled back the deadlock and opened the door.

And blinked at the five foot two pizza delivery person holding a wide box, plus a bag holding his order of drinks.

She snapped her gum at him, handed him his pizza while quoting the cost of the order with an extremely heavy New York accent, and held a hand dripping with red nail polish out for the money.

Flabbergasted at seeing Fraiser with a miniskirt, cleavage, baseball cap and more makeup than Cassie would ever dream of wearing, including heels that brought her height almost up to his shoulders, Jack stared at her, dumbfounded.

Daniel peeked around the door and stared at the delivery person. "Hi," he said, Lumpy somehow having teleported itself into his arms. Jack wondered where the camel had been all this time. He suspected he'd been quietly supervising from the outskirts of the rooms, careful not to get caught up in the flurry of activity but had come to the fore at the first hint of food.

"Hiya." Fraiser snapped her gum at Daniel, and Jack was amazed that the kid didn't recognize her and her scrutinizing stare. It took a moment for his shocked brain to realize he needed to pay her. He fumbled for his wallet, grabbed a twenty and handed it to her. "Keep the change," he said, trying not to laugh or cough.

"Hey, thanks." She snapped her gum again at him, winked, and turned around. He glanced down the walkway but saw nothing but the idling car to the pizza joint. He prayed that there were ten vans with SGC personnel surrounding his home just out of sight.

He shut the door without locking it, thankful that his plea for help to Carter had gotten through. Acting as nonchalant as he could, he walked into the kitchen, closely followed by a happily skipping Daniel. He took out two plates, opened the box of pizza, and quickly sliced over the pre-sliced points, and dragged two onto the plates.

He set them on the table, acting out of habit, wondering when the door was going to burst open with armed men. Daniel was already digging into his pizza by the time Jack closed the cover on the box. He watched him chew a moment, belatedly realizing how hungry the kid was. Of course, he'd lost his breakfast and hadn't had anything to eat since last night. His own stomach grumbled. Jack quickly sat and decided to try and eat as much of the pizza as he could before being brought in.

To his surprise, he managed to eat two slices before the armed soldiers came rushing into his home. He watched as they ran through the house while Teal'c and Carter stood at the kitchen's entrance, zats pointed towards himself and Daniel.

"It's okay," he said, putting a hand on Daniel's leg to hold him in place. "They won't hurt you. Go with doc Janet, okay?" he added when Fraiser stepped into the kitchen. It took Daniel a long moment to recognize Fraiser, who smiled gently and held out a hand to him. Daniel slid off the chair and looked at Jack uncertainly. "Go on," Jack urged. But when Daniel reached for Lumpy, Jack put a hand down on the stuffed camel, holding him in place on the table. "Leave him and Stretch with me for company?"

Jack's first priority was to get Daniel to safety and the camel and giraffe had been out of his sight, so he didn't trust them being secure. Daniel bit his lip, but acquiesced and moved between Teal'c and Carter to take Fraiser's hand.

He didn't say a word when Teal'c tied his hands together.

"He is not a Goa'uld."

"Of course I'm not a snake." Maybe part of a slug empire, but definitely not a snake. "Care to fill me in on what's going on?" As if he didn't know, but he needed to keep up the act for the benefit of the big ears inside his head. C'mon, guys, hurry up and get me under all of Fraiser's toys and find the damn thing.

"We have reason to believe you may have been compromised." Then Teal'c spread his legs and stood in a relaxed posture, as if settling in for a long wait.

Jack continued to act nonchalant, tapping a finger on his thigh as he watched expressionlessly as people tore his house apart. As he'd suspected, they found more surveillance bugs in the exact same spots as before � you'd think the aliens at least would have a little more imagination. And it gave him the creeps knowing that someone had been in the house while he slept.

"I've never seen this type of technology before," Carter said as she pushed one of the bugs around on the table.

"I have." With a quick motion, Teal'c hit the bug with his fist, leaving a dent and a wet smear on Jack's kitchen table.

"My apologies, O'Neill." To Jack's surprise, Teal'c reached over and sliced the ties that held his hands together. "We falsely believed you to be taken over by a Goa'uld. Obviously our data was lacking." Teal'c inclined his head and made a subtle motion towards Carter when she sputtered her objections.

God, no, what the hell was going on? He had everyone right where he'd wanted them and they thought he'd been taken over by a snake? Come on, folks, pay attention. We got surveillance equipment, we got someone telling you there's a situation and you let me go free?

"Perhaps you would wish to return to the SGC with us? General Hammond is currently occupied with a guest but I am certain he would wish to speak with you when he has terminated his engagement."

Jack gazed up at Teal'c, realizing with relief that the gig wasn't yet up. Okay, so T. apparently had some idea what was going on here. Jack just hoped he and the Jaffa were now on the same wavelength.

"Yeah, okay. Gotta pick up Danny anyways, right?"

"Indeed."

"So... this guest the general's entertaining..." Jack asked for the benefit of the bug inside of him nobody had discovered up till now. He stood slowly, aware how Carter wasn't quite up to trusting him. He glanced at Lumpy, who was watching him with what Jack could have sworn was a forlorn expression at being left behind. He patted the small head and took a deep breath.

"An emissary from another world. He was scheduled to visit tomorrow but the plans were changed at the last moment due to a security leak."

Jack could have sworn he felt the bug flutter inside his brain. He raised a hand to his head temple where he imagined it sat, feeling a residual headache grow from that point, quickly spreading outward. Damn, he was walking right into the alien's trap, and there was no one to blame but himself.

- - - - - -

Well, this was different. Here he was, sitting in some closed little room in Carter's lab, waiting for Daniel to be brought to him. At least he wasn't in a holding cell, or God forbid, close to the briefing room and Hammond's visitor whom Jack, no matter what he did, was still pressured into assassinating unless everyone he cared for and had come into contact with the past 50 odd years were taken into protective custody. Nonetheless, he'd at least have expected to have gone to the infirmary first.

The headache was still fluttering around his temple; maybe he'd get lucky and the damn alien would have a heart attack or something if it kept on being this excited. Jack hated the thought of that thing inside of him; he didn't do slugs well, Machello's little Goa'uld-busting device had proved that once and for all.

He shivered, thinking of how they might have to get the critter out of him. Getting him into his brain hadn't been all that pleasant � in through the nose and up through the sinus cavity. He could still remember it crawling inside just before he'd passed out and�

Jack stiffened as some sort of machinery came on. Something at the far end of the room was powering up, the hum of the motor getting louder and louder.

"Um, hello?" Jack stood and went to knock on the metal-covered door. "Someone accidentally hit a switch or something?"

The machine grew louder and suddenly the fillings in Jack's teeth began to hurt.

"Hey!" he cried out just as the machine died down. He tongued the now sensitive teeth as the ache slowly receded.

The door opened and Carter stood there with an apologetic look on her face.

"What the hell was that?" Jack demanded, waving towards the now inactive machine.

"Electromagnetic pulse, sir. It, hopefully, destroyed the ziclia inside of you."

"The zic... um, okay, right." Jack touched a finger to his temple, realizing that the headache was gone.

"If you'd come to the infirmary with us?"

Jack nodded, noting the SFs accompanying them. He went more than willingly.

"So, these zic things...?" he asked as they stepped into the elevator.

"Teal'c recognized the technology, sir. The ziclia aren't the enemy. But the Emura are. SG-3 came back with intelligence that they were at war with one of our allies, one who's scheduled to visit with General Hammond tomorrow morning."

"Not today?"

"No. Teal'c sort of stretched the truth there, to see if there'd be a reaction."

"Oh believe me, there definitely was one of those." Jack touched his temple, rubbing at the former ache. The elevator doors opened and they stepped out. "So, how you gonna know if that zic thing inside of me's dead?"

"Janet's setting up an MRI to double-check, but Teal'c's pretty sure the EM pulse kills it."

"You know, it could see everything I saw, everything I heard... if it's not dead, Major..." Jack warned.

"Okay, we'll talk later." She smiled at him and escorted him silently the rest of the way.

- - - - - -

Jack sat on the infirmary bed and watched the staff walk back and forth in their duties. Two separate MRIs and innumerable medical tests later, he still had no idea if he was still a liability to anyone. Plus the two SFs standing a few beds away didn't bode well for his situation.

He'd seen nobody since being brought to the infirmary hours ago; well, nobody except Fraiser and her staff. And it was Daniel that he was worried about the most. Sure, the kid would be taken care of here; between Teal'c, Carter, Hammond, not to mention Siler, Ferretti and several others who had a soft spot for the downsized version of Daniel, there were more than enough eyes to keep watch on him. But he couldn't help worry about what would happen to Daniel if Carter's little experiment earlier hadn't worked.

He closed his eyes, ignoring the sound of approaching footsteps and fought to give in to the temptation of sleep. His earlier nap this morning hadn't been enough and now that he was in a relatively safe place and not actually doing anything except worrying, his body thought it was okay to let go.

"Jack!"

Eyes flying open at the sound of the excited, high-pitched voice, Jack sat up just in time to catch Daniel as he cannonballed right onto the bed and into him. Daniel hugged him enthusiastically before sliding off and kneeling on the mattress beside Jack, bubbling with energy.

"I had all these funny tests with doc Janet," he said, bouncing up and down on his knees. "I had to lie in a big tube and be really, really still for a long, long time. Janet said I was really good and I didn't move."

"You did, huh?" Jack ruffled Daniel's hair, grinning down at him. He nodded to both Fraiser and Hammond, who had walked in with Daniel.

"Yep, and then I had a needle and I didn't cry." He thrust out his arm to show the band-aid on the inside of his elbow.

"Wow."

"Daniel was very brave," Hammond said with a paternal smile.

Jack showed Daniel his own band-aid. "You know what? I think I cried when they gave me a needle."

"Awww." Daniel patted the spot with gentle fingers. "Next time maybe me or Lumpy or Stretch can hold your hand?" He looked around. "Is Lumpy here?"

"No, he's being examined also, Daniel," Fraiser lied with a gentle smile before turning to Jack. "Good news, Colonel. You're both good to go."

"So, the ziccie thing...?"

"Dead. Sam's already in the process of setting up an EM generator to counteract any other alien creatures they might have slipped into unsuspecting victims."

"The aliens are in a ship orbiting the planet."

"We know, Colonel." Hammond reached out and caught Daniel's arm before he bounced too close to the edge of the bed. "Teal'c and Major Ferretti are taking the cargo ship one of the teams appropriated plus four SG teams, and will try and disable the Emura with an EM pulse. I know, it's a long shot but at this moment we're trying to disrupt their means of communications with the ziclia."

"Ferretti, huh? I'm sure he was pretty wired about his first trip in space." Jack grinned a moment at the thought of the man's probable excitement, then sobered. "They had..." Jack glanced at Daniel, winced, then put a hand on his knee to hold him still. "Hey, can you do me a favour?"

Daniel stopped bouncing and looked up. "Sure."

"Can you go ask one of the nurses if I can have a cup of coffee?"

"Okay." He slid off the bed and began running down the infirmary hallway.

"They had some kind of explosives in one of Daniel's toys. I took it out and put it in a box inside a shed on my property. I don't know what else they might have�"

"They found the explosive, Jack. There was more in Major Carter's home, and in her car, and your truck. They're going over both your homes with a fine-tooth comb as we speak, and then they'll be checking out everyone that you might have had some connection with..."

"Like Sara?"

Hammond nodded. "Like your ex-wife. She's safe and is in protective custody. We've also found that the cause of the fire in her home was from a device definitely not of this world."

"It was a warning. They wanted me to assassinate the emissary who's coming over for a visit tomorrow."

"Actually, Jack, there is no emissary."

"He's not visiting?"

"We've postponed the meeting due to the fact that aside from yourself, I've had urgent requests for appointments tomorrow from one of the Chiefs of Staffs, one of the technicians who works at NORAD, a lab assistant who works with Doctor Lee and one of the cooks in the commissary."

"They all got the same treatment?"

"Yes. And apart from you, none of them managed to get a warning through to us."

"Of course the fact that everyone wanted to see you tomorrow was a little like�"

"Overkill," Hammond supplied. "The lab assistant wasn't as lucky as you. Her eight year-old son was killed� seems there was a fire and he went back into the house for his puppy."

Jack's heart contracted at both the remembrance of the pain the woman must be going through at the moment, plus how close it could have come to his losing both Daniel and Sara.

Both of them remained silent while they watched Daniel carefully walk back towards them, balancing a Styrofoam cup carefully in his two hands. Fraiser shifted uncomfortably beside the bed.

"Hey, Champ, thanks." Jack plucked the cup from Daniel's hands, made a show of sniffing the aroma, and took a sip. Then he grimaced. "What, no sugar?"

"I forgot." Daniel, who had a knee up on the bed, jumped down. "I can get some for you." He was off and running even before Jack said, "Sure."

"So you think this EM machine of Carter's is gonna work on that spaceship out there? If I remember correctly, cargo ships don't have weapons."

"Apparently cutting the ziclia off from their hosts causes confusion. The plan is to hit them with the electromagnetic pulse, and then board the ship and�"

"Make it go boom?" Jack interjected as Daniel ran back to them, an abundance of sugar packets clasped in his hand. Jack pulled out two from between his little fingers, tore the ends off and poured it into his coffee. He put the cup down, stood, helped himself to a tongue depressor from a bunch sitting on a supply tray on a nearby table, and then used it to stir the coffee as he sat back down.

"That's the plan, Colonel."

"Anything I can do?" Jack took a sip of coffee, then bit back a yelp when Daniel jostled him as he clambered back onto the bed. He wiped burned fingers on the bed sheet and whispered a soft warning to Daniel.

"We have everything under control, but your offer is appreciated."

"There is one thing you can do, sir." Fraiser stepped forward with a maternal gleam in her eye that Jack had seen in action more than once around Cassie. "I think it's past this young man's bedtime, don't you agree?"

"Awww," Daniel whined as he crossed his legs and arms. "I'm not tired." He looked up at them all with a pout.

Glancing at his watch, Jack was surprised to see it was past nine. "Doc's right. It's way past your bedtime."

"Since your house is somewhat occupied, Colonel, I've taken the liberty of assigning you and Daniel your very own VIP room." Hammond spoke in a tone of voice that was close to a game show host's as he proclaimed the prize behind door number two was all yours, be it a new car, or a new mattress or a pristine bedroom under a mountain.

"We're sleeping here?" The pout disappeared and Daniel uncrossed his arms and legs, moving quickly on his knees across the bed towards Hammond. "Really?" His upturned little face turned towards Jack, anticipation lending a slight glow to his face.

"The key word is sleeping, Daniel. There's no TV, no colouring books, no toys. We're going to the room and getting into bed and going right to sleep."

"Okay." He was off the bed and on his feet faster than Jack could stand, almost dancing in place. Jack carried his coffee with him as he followed the SF assigned to him, remembering a time when protocol didn't necessitate for him to have someone at his beck and call. He nodded to several familiar faces on his way while Daniel looked around with interest.

The walk through the corridor, up the elevator and down another two corridors didn't take long but it was enough for an exhausted five year-old to come down off his adrenaline-high and quickly arrive at a state of crabbiness and tears. All it took was for Jack to naysay Daniel's exploring the rooms they passed for the whining and subsequent tears to begin.

As the SF passed his access card through the VIP's electronic lock, Jack stashed the half-empty cup of coffee on a nearby conduit and picked Daniel up. Head drooping with fatigue, Daniel half-sobbed, half-whined against Jack, his left arm coming around to circle Jack's neck while the right one opened and closed as if it sensed it was missing something that was usually clutched in its grasp.

To Jack's surprise, not only were there clean clothes neatly folded on a chair, but both Lumpy and Stretch were waiting for them on one of the bed's pillows. Jack set Daniel down and without a word, and the little guy stretched across the bed for the stuffies and brought them to his chest.

Jack left the three of them alone, giving them a few seconds to get reacquainted. Flipping through the clothes, Jack dug out pajamas for the both of them, found toothbrush and toothpaste among his toiletries, as well as a note from Walter Davis. Jack scanned the note, which basically said the man had taken the liberty of requesting certain items be sent back to the SGC to make Jack and Daniel's stay a little more comfortable.

He'd have to remember to thank the man for his thoughtfulness; the clothes and stuff he could have done without for a night; the camel and giraffe � priceless.

With a somewhat more complacent child on his hands, it took Jack only a few minutes to get Daniel into his pajamas and into the small bathroom to brush his teeth. By the time he walked Daniel back to the bed, the kid was running on automatic. Eyes that were already half closed as he slid under the covers quickly popped open until camel and giraffe were safely under the covers with him. He was sound asleep by the time Jack finished in the bathroom, and it took Jack only a few seconds longer to follow Daniel under.

- - - - - -

Jack came awake with a start. It took him several seconds to realize he wasn't in his own bedroom; the light burning in the bathroom behind him helping him identify the cement walls as being deep in the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain.

"Daniel?"

He turned onto his back, and came face to face with a pair of limpid, brown eyes staring back at him.

"Where's Lumpy, Stretch?" Jack asked as he picked up the smaller of Daniel's stuffed companions. He absently patted the little giraffe while wondering where Daniel had gone to. His watch told him he'd slept for more than twelve hours, so it was safe to assume someone had come to check in on them and had found Daniel awake.

Yawning, Jack sat up and saw the note sitting on top of Daniel's neatly folded pajamas on a chair next to the bed. He scratched his cheek as he reached for the note and quickly scanned it. As he'd thought, Carter had found Daniel awake and had taken him to eat breakfast.

Thinking of food make Jack's stomach growl. He debated going straight to the commissary, but then decided a nice hot shower first would help clear some of the cobwebs. He stood, stretched, and made for the bathroom.

- - - - - -

There was some sort of tension running rampant throughout the SGC, something Jack was aware of on a peripheral level but no longer privy to due to his retired status. He was greeted with nods of recognition as he walked to the commissary, along with a few smiles when they spotted Stretch in his hands. He was nearly at his destination when SFs came pouring from their stations, intent on getting to their destinations in the quickest time possible. Once upon a time, Jack would have known where they were heading; quite possibly he'd have been the one to give the orders. Now, all that really mattered was Daniel's location, and whether or not he was at one of the destinations these armed men were heading for.

Instead of heading for breakfast, Jack picked up the nearest phone and dialed Carter's extension. The SF outside the VIP room had confirmed she'd checked in on them three hours ago and had left shortly with Daniel. If they'd eaten, they most likely would have returned to her lab.

After ten rings, Jack decided they were somewhere else. Chances were she was in the thick of things; so... where was Daniel? He punched in the numbers for the infirmary and even as he asked to speak to Fraiser, he heard a familiar giggle in the background. "Never mind," he quickly said, hanging up the phone before he'd finished speaking. He hurried to the elevators and made his way to the infirmary.

Daniel was sitting on a bed with a handful of tongue depressors which he'd taped into varying sizes of wobbly-looking pyramids surrounding a regal-looking Lumpy. Bits of medical paraphernalia littered the bed as Daniel animated a make-believe family made of up more tongue depressors with cotton balls for hair and faces painted on with markers. A nurse sat nearby at a desk doing paperwork while keeping an eye on him.

Without a word, Jack simply ruffled Daniel's hair as he passed by and handed him Stretch. Daniel looked up and grinned at Jack while accepting the little stuffie. He paused his dialogue between the tongue depressors for a moment, looking for a place to put the giraffe. After a moment of indecision, he plopped Stretch on his lap and picked up the conversation.

"So...?" Jack sat on a bed opposite Daniel, watching as one of the stick figures walked between Lumpy's hooves. "Who's your friend?"

"Thuthmosithfour," Daniel said, the name coming out like a lisp. "He discovered the sphinx a long, long time ago and dug him out - and the sphinx talked to him and told him to dig him out and he'd make him king so he did and then Tuthmosithfour was king of Egypt."

"Wow." Jack leaned closer to Lumpy and peered into the furry face. "This is King Tut?"

"No, Jack. That's Tu-ten-ka-ka-mhun." Daniel frowned a moment, seeming to think about what he just said, and then shrugged as he reached to adjust Lumpy's hoof, trying to give him a more regal look instead of a sprawled one. "Lumpy's the sphnix."

"Ah, okay, I get it now. Although, isn't his nose too big?" He flicked a finger at the snout, causing Lumpy to jerk and the stick figure, which Daniel had leaned against his side, slid off of him, onto the bed.

"Jaaack." Daniel leaned over sideways to look up at Jack. "Now Thuthmosithfour is buried in sand and we'll need to dig him out." Daniel picked up a wad of cotton balls and dumped them over the stricken stick.

"Oh, so sorry," Jack said to the stick figurine. He straightened quickly when Fraiser walked into the room. She stopped, looking startled for a moment when she spotted Jack. Then she smiled and walked towards him.

"You're looking rested, sir. Did you sleep well?"

"Like a baby." He took in her demeanor and decided she looked calm, not like someone getting ready for a possible emergency. "Any idea what's going on down there?" He looked at the cement floor under his feet, picturing the Stargate seven floors below them.

"Ah, nothing to worry about, Colonel. Just Teal'c and a few teams bringing back the Emura and sending them through the Stargate to stand trial for treason against their leader."

"Ahhh." Jack rocked forward on his toes. "So, I take it they've disconnected all the ziccies?"

Fraiser smiled and nodded. "I'd like to do one final MRI to make sure that the ziclia won't cause you any problems. Most likely your body will just absorb it." She checked her watch. "How about�"

"Are you in a hurry for this? Because I haven't eaten yet."

"No hurry, sir. How about in one hour?"

"Then we can leave?"

"Then you can leave," she reiterated. "I'll see you in an hour."

"Hey, Daniel, you hungry?"

"I had breakfast with Sam." Daniel leaned his head back, looking at Jack upside down.

"I'm gonna get some chow. You gonna stay here or come with."

"Coming!" Daniel scampered off the bed, the royal sphinx now a squished brown blob, long neck bobbing upside down in Daniel's rush to not be left behind.

- - - - - -

"Wow."

Not exactly what Jack would have said if he hadn't had a five-year old standing next to him as the two of them stood staring at what once had been a fairly neat... well, okay, lived-in home. Nothing compared to the disaster the searchers had created while ferreting out any dangers inside his house. Slowly they moved from one room to the other, Daniel staying close to him, his fingers clutching the material of Jack's pants.

Daniel gasped softly as they pored over the jumble of clothes, toys and books littering the middle of Daniel's bedroom. The mattress had been thrown to the side, the box spring lifted off the frame. Curtains had been pulled down, drawers emptied and tossed aside. The light fixture had been removed and placed in a corner; wires hung from the hole in the ceiling.

Lumpy was pulled up tight against the little chest and Jack reached out and gave first Daniel, then the camel, a reassuring caress, running his fingers through the soft hair and then the soft shorter fur. As an afterthought, he gave the giraffe he was carrying a quick pat before handing him back to Daniel and turning to go check out his own bedroom, which was as much a disaster area as Daniel's.

When he'd seen enough, he took Daniel by the hand and brought him outside to the back deck. He got down on one knee so he was at eye level with him. Daniel looked at him solemnly, his eyes shiny with unshed tears.

"Nothing bad happened, Daniel." Jack wished he'd had the forethought to realize what the house would be like and how it could be a shock to Daniel. Heck, it had been a shock to Jack. He could live with clutter, he preferred orderliness but it wasn't the end of the world. But Daniel might not understand why they'd walked into a house that looked like a tornado had gone through it.

"But my things..."

"I know. It looks awful but nothing's broken. It just means you and me have some work ahead of us. Unless you want me to take you to Car� Fraiser's." Jack almost bit is tongue when he realized Carter's house probably looked the same as Jack's. Hell, possibly Fraiser's was just as bad. He could take Daniel back to the mountain � he was sure Teal'c would look after him until Jack could pick him up and bring him to a motel for the night until�"

"I wanna help. Me 'n Lumpy and Stretch can do stuff to help. We're strong." He held out a scrawny little arm and tried to make his bicep pop.

Laughing, Jack tapped the little bulge with a finger. "Yeah, that you are. You wanna start with your room?"

"Okay." He hurried back into the house, leaving Jack to catch the door before it closed. He caught up with Daniel in his bedroom.

Jack pointed to a corner of the room that was fairly uncluttered. "How about you dump all your clothes here. Then I'll fold 'em and you can put 'em away for me."

As Daniel enthusiastically tackled the chore, Jack began putting the bed to rights. He stopped to chuckle, though, as Daniel staggered past him, arms laden with clothing, bits of Lumpy and Stretch sticking amongst tee shirts and pants. When Daniel dropped the armload, Jack plucked the two companions from the mix and placed them on top of Daniel's bureau so they could watch and supervise from their safe vantage point.

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Daniel surprisingly worked without complaint, stopping a few times to play with something but actually ended up being a huge help for the most part. Finally when Daniel began playing more with his toys than picking them up, Jack suggested he take a rest.

When Daniel's bedroom was back in a semblance of order, Jack tackled his own room. He half-expected Daniel to continue playing but he insisted on helping. Jack stopped a moment, smiling down at the little bundle of energy who wanted nothing more than to lend a hand. Even now, as they were trying to put their house in order again, he realized that he and Daniel had done a wonderful job of picking up the pieces of their lives. No matter what size friendship came in, he wouldn't have it any other way.

 

FINIS!


Author's Comments: The greatest thing about doing betas for folks is that sometimes you get caught up in their fic-worlds. As did happen to me recently while doing a beta for devra's latest Little Daniel kidfic. I got a visual, asked her what she could do with it and she promptly told me to go and write it myself (Don't'cha just love the woman?)

For those of you who wish to see where Stretch first showed up, check out devra's story here:

 

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DISCLAIMER:The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.