Begin Again

 

By: Lyn

 

Published in For The Love Of Daniel - available from Requiem

 

Many thanks to Annie as always for her beta and support and to Bast for publishing For The Love Of Daniel and for finding the zined version for me.

 

EMAIL: Lyn

 

Summary: How do you deal with the fact that your lover is now a child? Jack O'Neill tries to cope with his own emotions and memories while child Daniel struggles to understand why the man he believes is his father is suddenly rejecting him. 

 

 

"All right, enough with the dirty looks already." Jack flung the report he'd been reading down onto the dining room table and glared at Daniel. "What did I do this time?"

 

Daniel stopped pacing and turned to face Jack, giving him an innocent stare. "Do? You didn't do anything, Jack."

 

"Oh." Jack picked up the report again. "That's okay then –"

 

"It was what you said that's the problem," Daniel cut in.

 

Oy. Jack gritted his teeth and forced a smile. "Okay, what did I say?"

 

Daniel crossed his arms over his chest and gave Jack an exasperated glare. "You know what you said. It's what you always say. Like that time on –"

 

Jack held up a hand to halt the flow of what was likely to be a long and detailed account of his shortcomings. "Remind me in as few words as possible. The memory's not as good as it used to be."

 

Daniel used his fingers to frame quotation marks in the air. "If the only thing we're going to find is a few ruins, we may as well go home."

 

"You admitted yourself there was nothing of value –" Jack began.

 

"That I could see," Daniel interrupted. "I needed more time to go into the temple, see what was there."

 

"That temple was unstable. No way was I letting anyone, especially you, go in there."

 

"Exactly!"

 

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jack asked, totally confused.

 

"Especially me. You still act like I'm some wet behind the ears novice who –"

 

"You're a trouble magnet is what you are." Jack smiled to take the sting from his words. He walked around the table, reaching out to grasp Daniel's shoulders. "I've lost count of the number of times we've almost lost you lately. I'm not going to risk something happening to you again, for the sake of a possible few artifacts. If we can get the temple stabilized, you have permission to go back."

 

Daniel sighed and his shoulders slumped. He leaned forward, allowing Jack to embrace him, wrapping his arms around Jack's waist. "You don't play fair, O'Neill, using the old guilt trip to win an argument."

 

Jack kissed the top of Daniel's head. "Hey, I just know orders aren't going to work with you."

 

"I'm a civilian," Daniel said, his voice muffled by Jack's chest. "You can't order me to do anything."

 

"Get your ass up those stairs, Jackson, and get naked. Wait for me."

 

Daniel straightened and sketched a stiff salute. "Yes, sir!" And surprisingly, did as he was told.

 

ef ef ef

 

They shared breakfast together the following morning then headed back to the mountain in separate cars. While there was no reason for them to hide their relationship, at least officially – Daniel wasn't military, for one thing – there were too many other concerns to consider for either of them to be comfortable in coming out. They'd taken Carter and Teal'c into their confidence. Being on the same team and just about living in each other's pockets meant it would be too hard to keep it a secret for long.

 

Jack had initially been worried about Carter's reaction. He couldn't deny that he'd certainly been very interested in a relationship with her, and it seemed that interest was reciprocated. But life… death… had a funny way of turning things on their ass, and though it had taken Daniel's ascension for Jack to finally admit to his feelings for Daniel to himself, he'd wasted no time in sharing that information with Daniel once he was back with them. To his delight and overwhelming relief, Daniel had smiled shyly at him and told Jack he'd had a jones for him for quite a while, once he remembered who Jack was, that is, and stopped calling him Jim.

 

Things had been tense between him and Carter for a while, though on the job, Carter was as focused as she always was. Then she'd met Pete and her attitude toward Jack had softened. She seemed now to accept Jack and Daniel's relationship as a good thing, and for that, Jack was glad.

 

Jack's cell phone rang, and as he answered it, he caught himself in the rear view mirror, a sappy smile on his face. "You've got it bad, O'Neill," he muttered. He flipped open the phone. "Yes, Daniel, what did you forget?"

 

"I just remembered I forgot – How did you know I'd forgotten something?" Daniel asked.

 

"Because you forget something every time you stay at my place."

 

“Oh. Right. I forgot –"

 

"See you at the base," Jack cut in, knowing full well Daniel's explanation of just what he'd forgotten and just how important it was would not be brief. "Don't be late. We've got a briefing with Hammond at 0800."

 

"I'll be right behind you," Daniel assured him.

 

Only he hadn't been. Jack had waited a respectable 30 minutes before giving up and calling Daniel's cell, only to be met with silence. His home phone yielded the same result. Seriously concerned, knowing Daniel would never stand up a briefing without good reason, an unpleasant memory of Daniel standing on the edge of the balcony, addicted to the Light came to mind, fueling Jack's concern.

 

He stopped off in the briefing room, his car keys already in his hand, his heart pounding with trepidation at what he might find at the apartment. Teal'c and Carter offered to accompany him but Jack shook his head. "See if you can get a GPS reading, Carter –"

 

Carter shook her head. "There's no signal, sir."

 

"Which means?"

 

Carter shrugged. "It's been disabled or jammed somehow."

 

"Keep trying anyway."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"Teal'c, you keep trying his apartment," Jack continued.

 

Teal'c inclined his head in agreement.

 

Hammond stood up. "I'll get Walter to contact the local hospitals and police… just in case."

 

"Thank you, sir."

 

But Daniel wasn't at his apartment. His car was there, but there were no signs of a struggle, no clues to his whereabouts. Daniel Jackson had disappeared into thin air.

 

ef ef ef

 

"Three days! It's been three days, General, with no sign of him. I'm not giving up now!" Jack thumped Hammond's desk to emphasize his point.

 

Hammond didn't look fazed by Jack's show of temper. "I'm not asking you to give up, Jack, but it has been three days with no sign of Doctor Jackson, no ransom demands, nothing. I need SG-1 back on active duty, and the president is demanding it. I've got good men working on Doctor Jackson's disappearance. They'll notify us as soon as they have something."

 

"Not good enough… sir. I know Daniel. He's a member of my team. If anyone should be out looking for him, it should be me!" Jack's cell phone rang, interrupting his rant and he snatched it out of his pocket. "O'Neill! This better be important!"

 

"Jack? Now, is that the way to greet an old friend?"

 

"Maybourne." Jack rolled his eyes and Carter did likewise. "What do you want, Harry? I'm a little busy right now and last I heard you got your break."

 

"I don't want anything, Jack, but I hear you do. I know where Doctor Jackson is."

 

Jack's breath caught in his throat. "How would you know where he is? You've been out of circulation for months."

 

Maybourne chuckled. "Old contacts never die, Jack." He paused a moment, and when he spoke again, he sounded solemn, serious, unlike the Maybourne of old. "We all know I did some questionable things. I'm not proud of all of it –"

 

"Cut to the chase, Harry," Jack interrupted. "Where's Daniel?"

 

"Motel just outside of town – The Sunset Lodge. Room 12."

 

"Is he okay?"

 

"Just get there, Jack, all right? This is one project I never wanted to be associated with. Oh, don't bother taking a platoon with you. My Intel tells me he's alone and they're long gone."

 

The phone went dead. Jack stared at it for a moment before closing it and turning to the others. "We've got a lead on Daniel. Let's move."

 

He took backup. As many as he could muster. He'd stopped trusting Harry Maybourne the first time he'd met him.

 

ef ef ef

 

The motel desk clerk verified what Maybourne had said. Two men had booked into the room the night before and left early that morning. Jack still wasn't taking chances. He took the key from the clerk and unlocked the door himself, weapon at the ready. He thought for a brief moment that the room was indeed empty but then he caught a glimpse of a terrified white face peeking out from beneath the bed. He stepped forward, waving Teal'c and Carter back. The bedspread dropped and the face disappeared. Jack could hear soft, panicked breathing.

 

He knelt down, groaning as his knees protested the strain, and sneaked a look under the bed. Two huge blue eyes, filled with tears, gazed back at him. "Hey there," Jack said quietly. "It's okay. No need to be afraid. We won't hurt you." He held out a hand, and after a long moment, a small hand gripped his. Carefully, he pulled the child clear, lifted him and set him on top of the bedcovers. He smiled at the boy. "My name's Jack and these are my friends, Sam and Teal'c. What's your name?"

 

The boy stared at him, his mouth working convulsively. Then a sob broke loose and he reached for Jack, who took him in his arms without thought. "Shh," Jack whispered, stroking the boy's sweat-damp blond hair back from his face. "It's okay."

 

"Are you – are you my daddy?" the child hiccupped. "The man said they'd bring my daddy."

 

"We'll find your daddy," Jack promised. "Can you tell me your name?"

 

"Daniel," the boy said. "Daniel Jackson."

 

Stunned speechless, Jack turned to face Carter and Teal'c, hoisting the boy onto his hip. He could feel the dampness of tears soaking into his shirt as the child burrowed closer into his embrace. Carter looked as stunned as he felt. Teal'c raised an eyebrow and gave a small shrug. Not much got the big guy flustered.

 

Jack gave them both a weak smile. "Coincidence, maybe?"

 

"Heck of a coincidence, if you ask me, sir." Carter stepped closer and reached out to touch the boy's hand. He turned his head and gazed at her with a wide-eyed expression. "Hey there," Carter said. "Is that your real name? Daniel?"

 

The boy nodded. "The man said it was."

 

"Don't you remember?" Carter asked.

 

The boy shoved a thumb into his mouth and sucked on it furiously. "I went to sleep," he said around the digit, "and when I woke up, I couldn't 'member." He sat up a little and looked at Jack. "You're my daddy," he said suddenly, a smile breaking out on his face. "The man showed me your picture and said you were coming to get me."

 

"Oy!" Jack immediately thrust the child into Carter's unwilling arms. "No way!" He looked at Teal'c, who gazed steadily back at him. "Come on, T, you know that's not true!"

 

"I am not always with you in your recreational hours, O'Neill," Teal'c said, and Jack was damn sure there was a small grin on Teal'c's face, "however, I concur I do not see any familial similarities between you and the boy."

 

"See!" Jack looked triumphantly at Carter then back at Teal'c. "Thanks, buddy… I think."

 

Carter sat the boy on the bed but he immediately raised his hands again to Jack.

 

"Oh, for crying out…" Jack picked him up and the child wrapped both arms tightly around his neck. "Okay, umm… Dan – Daniel? Who was the man who left you here? Do you know his name?"

 

Daniel shook his head. "He was old," he said.

 

"Maybourne?" Carter queried. "He did know where the boy was."

 

"Wouldn't put it past him," Jack growled. "Okay, let's get this place swept clean. See if they left anything behind, though if Harry's up to his neck in this, I doubt it."

 

"What will we do with the child?" Teal'c asked. He reached out and chucked Daniel under the chin, earning a small smile.

 

"Social Services?" Jack suggested, looking at Carter.

 

"Shouldn't we try to find out who he is first, sir?" Carter said. "I mean, if the NID or the Trust is involved in this… and you have to admit, he does bear a strong resemblance to our Daniel. I don't suppose Daniel's been seeing someone –"

 

"Definitely not!" Jack barked. Then he lowered his voice when Daniel startled and whimpered. "Daniel wouldn't do that, Carter, you know that."

 

Carter held both hands up in a gesture of defence. "Yes, sir, I do. I'm sorry. It's just that there's such a strong resemblance." She waved a hand in the air as though dismissing her suggestion. "We can't take him to Cheyenne Mountain," she said. "Why don't I call Janet, have her meet us at her place?"

 

Jack nodded. "Good idea. Better notify Hammond while you're at it." He headed for the door with Daniel in his arms. "And I'm gonna give Maybourne a call."

 

ef ef ef

 

The child… Daniel… sat on a dining room chair in Fraiser's kitchen, drinking milk and munching on a cookie. His frightening experience hadn't seemed to dampen his appetite, though his gaze stayed firmly fixed on Jack, and had done since they'd arrived a couple of hours before.

 

Fraiser had taken the requisite blood tests, which the child had stoically endured, though his chin had quivered and tears brimmed in his eyes, a faint, accusatory expression that seemed to be reserved especially for Jack on his little face.

 

Jack wandered out to Fraiser's backyard for some privacy and dialed Maybourne's contact number after connecting a portable jammer to his cell phone.

 

Daniel.

 

He couldn't get his head around the idea that Daniel had cheated on him and produced this child, only to abandon him like so much garbage. Knowing Daniel had spent most of his young life in foster care, Jack knew he wouldn't have left his own son to suffer the same fate. But if that wasn't the case, then where was Daniel, and more importantly, what the hell did – "Harry. What the hell are you up to this time?"

 

"Jack! Hope you're jamming the frequency," Maybourne said in a breezy voice. Jack could hear the muted strains of music in the background.

 

"Just answer the damn question, Harry."

 

"I take it you found Doctor Jackson then."

 

"I found someone who says he's Daniel Jackson," Jack replied, his jaw clenching so hard he was sure he was going to break a tooth.

 

"That's him." Maybourne sounded as though he'd just given Jack the best birthday surprise ever.

 

"What do you mean, that's him? We found a kid, Harry. No more than six years old."

 

"Seems the Trust were experimenting with the nanite technology that had you grow old before your time," Harry continued.

 

Jack shuddered at just the mention of the little buggers.

 

"They got some fool notion in their head that they could reverse Daniel's mental age, thereby returning his memory to the time when he was ascended. Damned if it didn't work too, except for one minor flaw –"

 

"Minor? You call this minor?" Jack closed his eyes and did a quick count to ten. Didn't work. If he could, he'd reach through the phone and wrap his hands around Maybourne's scrawny neck.

 

"Hey, it wasn't me!" Maybourne protested. "When they realized they'd screwed up, they were going to kill the kid and get the hell out of Dodge. I managed to procure the services of a couple of men, trained in Covert Ops. They got the kid to me and I got him to you. Don't I at least deserve some thanks for that? Some small recompense for risking my cover?"

 

"Murder good enough for you, Harry?" Jack hissed. "Because I swear when I get my hands on you –"

 

"You wanted him alive, I take it," Maybourne growled back. "He's alive! Just… smaller. No, don't thank me. My pleasure."

 

The counting to ten still wasn't working and Jack was certain his jaws were now locked together. "Why does he think I'm his father? Hmm?"

 

There was a moment's silence before Harry spoke again. "Look, the little tyke was scared out of his wits! He couldn't remember who he was, and he had no idea who we were. I already knew you were coming. Didn't want the little guy hightailing it out of there on his own. I figured if I told him his father was coming for him, he'd stay put."

 

"And you showed him a picture of me," Jack replied.

 

"I figured he'd need to see a familiar face. Honestly, Jack, I only had the boy's best interests at heart."

 

Jack sighed. "Yeah, you're all heart, Harry. One more thing, this is reversible, right?" There was a resounding click on the other end of the phone. Snarling, Jack dialed again, only to have the phone ring out. Pissed off and more worried than he wanted to admit, he strode back inside the house.

 

Janet was crouched by Daniel's side, holding Cassie's dog, Buster. She stood when Jack walked in, placed Buster on the floor, where he sat, watching Daniel avidly, and summoned Jack over to where Teal'c and Carter stood in the kitchen doorway.

 

"Anything from Maybourne?" she asked.

 

"Anything from the tests?" Jack replied.

 

"DNA is a 100% positive match to Doctor Jackson. As far as we can tell, sir, he is Daniel."

 

"Could he be a clone?" Carter asked.

 

Janet opened her mouth to speak but Jack beat her to the punch. "According to Maybourne, no. Seems the Trust has been playing around with those Nintendo things…" At Carter and Fraiser's puzzled looks, he elaborated, "Remember when I was turned into Old Man Time?"

 

Carter and Fraiser nodded. "The nanites," they said in tandem.

 

"Yep, those little buggers. Seems they thought they could access Daniel's memories of while he was ascended by making him mentally younger, only they didn't count on there being a physical side effect to the whole damn process."

 

"Oh my god!" Fraiser and Carter were beginning to sound like the Bobbsey Twins and it was giving Jack a headache.

 

"We're not anywhere close to using the technology like that," Carter said. "Not that we've even thought of it, except for that one time, sir, when you -."

 

"This is the NID, Carter," Jack interrupted irritably. He so didn't need to be reminded of the days on Kynthia's planet, slowly wasting away. He rubbed at his forehead, trying to dispel the headache that was blooming. He sneaked a glance at Daniel, who sat happily at the table, feeding Cassie's dog a cookie.

 

"And they stop at nothing to acquire what they want," Teal'c said quietly. "Even this."

 

"What now?" Jack asked, turning to Janet.

 

"We need to take him back to the mountain, sir," Fraiser said. "I need to run a battery of tests. See if there's any organic damage."

 

"You can reverse it, right?" Jack asked. "Like you did with me?"

 

Janet looked more uncertain than he'd ever seen her. "I… I don't know, sir. I'm not going to give you false hope. We have no idea how they might have altered the nanites in order to do this." She smiled tentatively and reached out to touch his hand. "I'll do my best, sir."

 

"Me, too," Carter added.

 

"As will I," Teal'c intoned. "If you wish, I will hunt down Maybourne and –"

 

Jack held up a hand. "Let's not go there, big guy. Don't want to be visiting you in the big house."

 

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "What is this 'big house' you speak of, O'Neill?"

 

"I'll explain it later," Carter assured him with a small smile.

 

"Until then, I want Daniel back at Cheyenne Mountain under strict observation," Janet said.

 

Jack nodded slowly. It was all suddenly starting to sink in. Like the worst possible nightmare he'd ever had. As bad as Daniel dying, as bad as Daniel ascending, as bad as thinking he'd never see Daniel again… Maybe worse, because this wasn't his Daniel and if they couldn't fix it, he never would be.

 

"Daddy?"

 

Jack turned to face the boy… Daniel, feeling tears stinging his eyes, using every bit of mental fortitude he had to force them back, because this wasn't the time. This wasn't the time for emotion. He needed to be clear-headed, needed to get Daniel… his Daniel back.

 

"Hey there, Daniel," he said, walking over and squatting down in front of the little boy. He looked into his face, seeing clearly now the familiar blue eyes, the dimpled smile. Reaching up, he tousled the curly blond hair. "Tell you what," he said, giving Daniel a conspiratorial wink, "seeing you're such a big boy, how about you call me Jack?"

 

Daniel looked confused. "But you're my daddy, aren't you?"

 

Jack shook his head, feeling a lump rise in his throat that threatened to choke him. "No, Daniel, I'm not. But I'm your friend, and so is Carter and Teal'c and Janet, and we're going to take good care of you."

 

He tousled Daniel's hair again then stood up and stepped back, motioning Janet forward. "I'll follow you in," he said.

 

Fraiser looked somewhat confused. "He might feel more comfortable if you –"

 

"I want to fill Hammond in on the way. He'll be fine."

 

"Yes, sir." Fraiser turned to Daniel and lifted him into her arms. "Come on, Daniel, we're going for a ride in my car."

 

Daniel immediately reached out for Jack, kicking his feet against Fraiser's legs. "I want my daddy!" he screamed.

 

Fraiser glanced at Carter then at Jack. "Sir, I think –"

 

Jack was already walking out the door. "I'll see you there, Doc." He closed his ears to Daniel's plaintive cries, pulling his car keys from his pocket and pressing the lock release.

 

"Sir?" Carter ran up just as he was climbing into his SUV. "Daniel's really upset. Wouldn't it be best if you take him?"

 

"Short answer, Carter? No."

 

Carter shook her head. "I don't understand. He's a frightened little boy, and it seems you're the one person he trusts."

 

Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair, closing his eyes briefly as Fraiser carried a sobbing Daniel to her car. "Look, this has been one hell of a day. I just can't deal with looking at him right now, knowing who he is, who he's not anymore." He sighed. "I'm not making any more sense to me than I am to you."

 

"I know this has got to be hard after Charlie –"

 

"This has nothing to do with Charlie!" Jack barked. He reached out a hand and touched Carter's arm when she took a step back. "I'm sorry. It's not about Charlie," he reiterated. "It's about Daniel, Daniel and me."

 

He watched Fraiser buckle Daniel into a car seat she'd borrowed from her neighbor then came to a decision. Opening his door, he climbed out, trotting over to her. He tapped her on the shoulder and when she moved back out of his way, he leaned in through the open door and placed a hand on the crying boy's knee. "Daniel? Hey, buddy, listen to me for just a minute, okay?"

 

Daniel wiped his nose with the sleeve of his sweater and stared at Jack with huge, tear-filled eyes. "I want to come with you," he sobbed. "Dad… Jack."

 

"I don't have a special seat in my car for you," Jack explained hastily, "and I promise I'll be right behind you all the way."

 

Daniel studied him, not looking convinced. Finally, he said, "Promise?"

 

"Cross my heart," Jack assured him.

 

"You'll find my daddy?"

 

Jack swallowed past the lump in his throat. "I'll do my best." Now wasn't the time to try to explain to a six year old with no memory that his father was already dead, had been for years. Just trying to figure out all the ramifications of this was giving him a headache, not to mention what it was doing to his gut and his heart.

 

Daniel nodded then. "Okay."

 

"Okay."

 

Jack went back to his car, ignoring the rather hostile looks he was getting from both Carter and Teal'c. He could literally feel Fraiser's glare boring into his back. Tough! They had no idea what this was doing to him, how this was tearing him up inside, and he'd be damned if he was going to cave in now. Meltdown wasn't going to help the kid, and it certainly wasn't going to bring Daniel back.

 

He climbed into his car and followed Fraiser's out of the driveway. All the way to the mountain, he cursed himself for being the uncaring, unfeeling bastard he was.

 

ef ef ef

 

Two exhausting hours later, Daniel slept deeply in an infirmary bed, his tiny hand clutched tightly around Jack's. Jack had stayed with the boy through all the tests, comforting him as best he could when the terrified child reached for him, asking Jack to take him home. "I'll be good, Daddy," he promised tearfully.

 

"You are good," Jack assured him, brushing Daniel's sweaty hair back from his forehead and wiping his runny nose with a tissue. "You've been a very good boy."

 

Finally, Daniel had fallen asleep while having a CT scan. Jack sat back, feeling every bit as drained as Daniel looked. Daniel had grabbed hold of Jack's hand when they transferred him to a gurney and hadn't let go since.

 

Jack started awake as the curtains swished open and Fraiser walked into the cubicle, followed by Teal'c and Hammond. "What's the verdict?" he asked.

 

"Good news," Janet replied. "No organ damage at least. He looks as much a six year old boy on the inside as he does on the outside."

 

"Well, it's nice to have one bit of good news," Jack said. Carefully, he extricated his hand from Daniel's grip, shushing the boy back to sleep when he stirred. Ruefully, he shook his hand, getting the blood flowing once more. "Heck of a grip the kid's got."

 

"The boy's been terrified out of his mind," Hammond said gently. "I'm not surprised."

 

"What becomes of Daniel Jackson now?" Teal'c asked.

 

"Well, he can't stay here," Fraiser said.

 

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. "It is at times confining for me. It is certainly no place for a child."

 

Three heads turned to look at Jack, who held up both hands. "Oh no! No way!"

 

"He's certainly taken a shine to you, sir," Fraiser said.

 

"In case you hadn't noticed I have a job, and a pretty demanding job at that. You could take him," Jack suggested to Fraiser. "You've already got Cassie."

 

"And I have a demanding job too," Fraiser said. "It's hard enough finding time to spend with her."

 

"I have to agree with Colonel O'Neill," Hammond said. "I can't take SG-1 off-duty any longer. I've already asked Doctor Farmer to step in for Doctor Jackson, for the time being. Social Services?" he asked Janet.

 

"I'm not sure that's a good idea, given Doc – Daniel's special circumstances, sir," she replied.

 

"Not to mention the Trust might still come after him," Jack added.

 

Janet held up a hand. "I do have an idea, sir. Doctor Kelly, on my staff, he and his wife are foster parents. I could speak to him, and that way, we can keep an eye on Daniel –"

 

"Twenty four hour watch," Jack cut in, "until we're certain they're not coming after him."

 

"Agreed," Hammond said. "How's Colonel Carter doing with her research, Doctor?"

 

"Nothing yet, sir," Janet replied, "but it's early days. She's hoping she'll come up with a safe way of reverting Daniel to his normal state."

 

"All right then." Hammond nodded. "I'll leave you to make arrangements with Doctor Kelly. Jack, the boy trusts you. It's probably best if you explain to him what's going on when he wakes up."

 

"Yes, sir." Jack slumped back down onto the chair and stared at the sleeping child in the bed. "Bet you're gonna love this, Danny boy." Tired, he leaned forward and rested his arms on the top of the bedrail, studying the sleeping child, drinking in the familiar, yet not familiar features. "Cute little guy, weren't you?" he whispered. Reaching out a finger, he stroked Daniel's flushed cheek, then pulled back as though burned. Leaning back, he held his head in his hands. He couldn't do this. Couldn't afford to get close. "God, Daniel, I miss you," he whispered.

 

ef ef ef

 

"Daniel?"

 

Daniel looked back as he stepped into the elevator to see Jack, running toward him, his arms open wide. "Dad?"

 

Jack swept him up into his arms, swinging him around and kissing his cheek. "You're coming home with me, Daniel," Jack said. "You're coming home with your dad."

 

Daniel woke with tears on his cheeks and Doctor Janet looking down at him. "Hey, Daniel," she said, lifting him into her arms. "Did you have a bad dream?"

 

He shook his head and pushed away from her until she set him back down on the bed. "I thought it was real," he whispered. "I thought I was going home with Jack but I'm not, am I?"

 

Janet shook her head and stroked her hand down his cheek, wiping away his tears. "No, honey, you're not but Jack found you a really nice family to stay with."

 

"Will Jack come see me there?"

 

Janet smiled. "Sure he will. We all will."

 

ef ef ef

 

Jack locked himself in his office when he knew Daniel was leaving the base. Once again, he knew he looked like an unfeeling asshole and he swore he could hear Daniel crying for him through several feet of concrete wall. He buried his head in his latest mission report, firmly telling himself that this was the best option, that he was doing this for Daniel's benefit, but he failed miserably.

 

He waited a half hour past the time when he knew Daniel was leaving to meet with his new foster parents before going home. He headed straight for the elevator, hoping like hell he wouldn't run into anyone tonight who thought he needed to talk, to process, because it was the last thing he wanted to do.

 

ef ef ef

 

"Hello, Danny." Ann Kelly held out her hand and after a moment's hesitation, Daniel shook it.

 

"Daniel," he said softly.

 

Ann crouched down in front of him, still holding his hand. "Sorry, sweetie, what was that?"

 

Daniel hugged Janet's leg tightly and she reached down and patted his head. "My name is Daniel," he said again.

 

"It's a very nice name too," Ann replied, smiling. "Daniel, it is." She stood again and ushered them into the house. "Would you like some coffee, Doctor? Maybe Daniel would like some milk and cookies."

 

"I don't want anything… thank you," Daniel said. He felt like he had a big hole in his stomach that was eating him up inside and he felt so sad, he thought he might cry again. He'd hoped that Jack might come and say goodbye before he left, and he'd waited, thinking up excuses why they couldn't leave yet until Doctor Janet had said they couldn't wait anymore.

 

She'd led him to the elevator and he'd looked over his shoulder all the way, sure that Jack would come running up any minute and say he was his daddy and he was taking him home, just like he had in his dream earlier, but it hadn't happened. He'd been so sure that Jack was his daddy; that Jack had just forgotten who he was, just like he'd forgotten everyone else. Now, he wondered if he even had a daddy and mommy of his own. Maybe he was all alone and there really was no one who loved him.

 

"Okay," Ann said. "How about I take you up to your room so you can get settled?"

 

Daniel nodded, suddenly struck dumb. Where would they take him if he said no? With his heart pounding, he climbed the stairs with Ann.

 

"Here we are. This will be your room." Ann gently pushed Daniel ahead of her and Daniel walked into the room.

 

There were two single beds, covered with brightly striped bedspreads, a dresser against one wall and a study desk against another. Flowered curtains at the window billowed from the breeze blowing in from the open window. A boy, bigger than Daniel, sat on one of the beds, reading a comic book.

 

"Jake?" Ann said.

 

The boy looked up and sighed, laying the comic down beside him.

 

"This is Daniel," Ann said, leading Daniel over to Jake's bed. "He'll be staying with us for a while."

 

Jake studied Daniel carefully then picked up his comic book again. "Hey," he said from behind the pages.

 

"Hi," Daniel said softly.

 

Ann led Daniel over to the other bed and set his little suitcase on top of it. "I'll leave you two to get to know each other. Okay, Jake?"

 

Jake looked up and rolled his eyes. "Sure, whatever."

 

Ann crouched down in front of Daniel. "I just need to go talk to Doctor Fraiser for a few minutes, honey. Okay? If you need anything, I'm just downstairs."

 

Daniel nodded, feeling tears sting his eyes. "You won't let Doctor Janet go without saying goodbye to me, will you?"

 

"Of course I won't," Ann promised. She stood, tousled his hair and walked to the door. "Jake, show Daniel where the bathroom is, okay?"

 

Jake nodded and buried his face back in his comic book.

 

Daniel sat quietly and watched Jake read. He thought about exploring the room but wasn't sure if he should. Finally, Jake tossed his book aside and stretched out on his bed, his arms behind his head.

 

"So, why are you here?" he asked.

 

Daniel thought for a moment. He wasn't really sure what Jake was asking. "My… my dad didn't want me to live with him," he said at last. His chest felt really tight and he had a lump in his throat that made it hard to breathe.

 

"You too," Jake replied.

 

Daniel stared at him with wide eyes. "Your dad didn't want you either?"

 

Jake shook his head. "My mom. She got a new boyfriend. He doesn't like kids, so my brother, Andy, and me had to go somewhere else."

 

"You have a brother? Does he live here too?"

 

"Nah." Jake flopped over onto his side. "He went to another family. They only wanted little kids."

 

That made Daniel feel incredibly sad, and he felt tears begin to slide down his cheeks. He swiped at his face with his sleeve.

 

"You got brothers or sisters?" Jake asked.

 

Daniel shook his head. "I don't think so."

 

Jake sat up. "What do you mean, you don't think so? You have to know if you've got brothers or sisters!"

 

Daniel shrugged and picked at a loose thread on the bedspread. "No, I don't have any brothers or sisters, but my dad is coming to get me soon. He's just real busy, but as soon as he stops being busy, he's coming to get me."

 

Jake snorted and picked up his comic book again. "Yeah, right. My mom told me that two years ago." He lost himself in his comic once more and Daniel sat for a long time watching him before lying down on his bed and closing his eyes. He let the tears come then, keeping his sobs soundless, though it hurt his throat to do so. After a while, he felt himself drifting toward sleep, and even when he heard Doctor Janet whisper his name and press a kiss to his cheek, he couldn't seem to open his eyes and say goodbye.

 

ef ef ef

 

It was dark when Daniel woke. Unfamiliar shadows loomed from the corners of the room. He felt sure by now that Jack would have come for him. He didn't know why Jack didn't want to be his daddy anymore and sadness and desolation choked him again. He tried to stifle a sob but it leaked out from his tightly closed throat.

 

"Do you want me to get Ann?" Jake whispered.

 

"No," Daniel replied, though in his heart, he really did. "I need to find the bathroom."

 

"Oh, I forgot earlier. Ann didn't want to wake you before because you were asleep. It's down the hall, first on the right."

 

"Thank you," Daniel whispered.

 

"Do you want me to take you?" Jake asked.

 

"No, I'm big, I'll be okay." Daniel fumbled his way to the door and opened it, stepping into the hallway. There was a light on halfway down the stairs, shedding enough glow to ease his way. He made it to the bathroom and peed, washed his hands then made his way back toward the bedroom. The stairs beckoned, and he stood for a moment, torn between the comfort of a home, if not his own, then at least, somewhere safe, somewhere he was wanted, and the pull toward the man he couldn't really remember but whom he felt he should be with.

 

As quietly as he could, he crept down the stairs. The front door was locked, with a chain high above his reach. Changing direction, Daniel headed toward the kitchen. He froze when he knocked a chair that scraped against the tiled floor but after a moment when no one descended the stairs or called out, he pulled the chair over to the back door and climbed up, pulling the chain back. Dragging the chair to one side, he opened the door and stepped out into the chilly night.

 

ef ef ef

 

Dreams ambushed Jack's slumber, waking him from his sleep, sweat drenching him, a shout of denial lodged in his throat. Visions of Daniel dying, Daniel ascending, lost to him before he had the chance to tell him he cared, to tell him he loved him, were overlaid by images of the child Daniel sobbing in his arms, hiding beneath the motel room bed, reaching out for him as though he was the one person left in the world who mattered.

 

Jack sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table. 1AM! Crap! He'd been in bed less than an hour. He pulled on his clothes and headed out to the living room. Grabbing the bottle of scotch from the cabinet, he poured himself a shot and swallowed it, almost gagging at the taste. He hadn't been drunk in a long time. Not since Charlie had died. Back then he'd lost himself in the booze, using it as a crutch to shore up the sorrow and guilt. Then Daniel had come back into his life and he'd discovered that life did go on, that finding happiness again didn't mean you were being unfaithful to those you had lost.

 

Now Daniel was lost to him again, and suddenly getting drunk didn't seem like such a bad idea… except he couldn't get little Daniel out of his head. Couldn't erase that sad little face, those embracing arms. Couldn't deny his promise to Daniel to love him forever, whatever came their way.

 

He slumped into an armchair and swirled the liquor in the glass, staring into the smoky liquid, remembering Daniel throwing himself in front of a staff blast to save him, Daniel staying with him when Jack had the knowledge of the Ancients zapped into his brain.

 

Remembered holding Daniel as he'd sobbed after being addicted to the sarcophagus. "I know what this is. I know what it's like."

 

Remembered watching him die on Apophis' ship. "I'm not leaving you behind."

 

Remembered hugging him when he'd walked up to them, safe and whole again. "Spacemonkey!"

 

Shit!

 

Jack flung the glass at the wall, getting no satisfaction at all from the shattering of the glass, watching the amber liquid dribble down the wall. He stood and strode to the phone. It rang before he had the chance to dial. "O'Neill," he snapped into the receiver.

 

"Colonel O'Neill, it's Doctor Fraiser. I just had a phone call from Doctor Kelly. Daniel's missing."

 

Fear clenched at his heart but he swung into command-mode without registering it. "When?"

 

"They're not sure, sir. A couple of hours at least."

 

"Our people are searching and sweeping the place?"

 

"Of course, sir. General Hammond issued an all-out search, sir."

 

"Keep me informed, Doc. I'm on my way."

 

ef ef ef

 

"How the hell did they get him out of here with a full unit watching the place?" Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair, frustrated beyond belief. He turned to Ann Kelly. "Nobody heard anything, ma'am?"

 

Ann shook her head. Her eyes were red-rimmed and she wiped at her tear-stained cheeks with a tissue. Her husband stood beside her, one arm wrapped protectively around her trembling shoulders. "I checked on him before I went to bed," she said. "He hadn't eaten since he got here and I thought he might be hungry, but he was asleep and he looked so exhausted, I didn't want to wake him." She glanced up at her husband. "I should have."

 

Steve Kelly shook his head. "You weren't to know, honey."

 

"It's not your fault, ma'am," Jack said gently. "What about the other boy? You said Daniel was sharing a room with him?"

 

"Jake, yes. He's fine, thank god."

 

"He didn't hear anything, see anything?"

 

"He said he was asleep."

 

"The back door was unlocked from the inside, sir," Carter put in, "but there's no sign of forced entry."

 

"Is that not a particular skill of the Trust?" Teal'c said from where he prowled in front of the living room windows. "After all, they were able to spirit Daniel Jackson away and leave no trace behind."

 

"Nobody took him," said a voice behind them.

 

They all turned to look at the young boy standing in the doorway.

 

"Jake?" Ann motioned to the boy to join them. "What do you mean, honey? You said you were asleep."

 

"I was!" Jake's cheeks flushed and he looked down at the floor. "He woke up and said he was going to the bathroom. Then I heard him go down the stairs. I heard the chain being taken off the back door."

 

"You don't know Daniel did it," Ann said. "After all, it's too high."

 

"I watched him leave," Jake said, "from my bedroom. He went into the park across the road."

 

"Why didn't you tell your parents this before, son?" Jack asked sternly.

 

"Foster parents," Jake corrected, then he gave Ann an apologetic look. "He wanted to leave. I know how he felt. I had to come here because Andy's foster parents didn't want big kids." His eyes glistened with tears and he swiped roughly at them. "I ran away once too but they found me and brought me back. I like it here," he said to Ann, "I do. I just miss Andy."

 

Ann placed a hand under Jake's chin and tilted his head up. "I told you we're working on that, Jake. We'll get Andy here to live with us, I promise you that. In the meantime, Daniel's been out there in the cold and dark all this time." She gasped and looked at Jack. "The lake! There's a boating lake in the park."

 

"Carter, Teal'c, you're with me." Jack turned and headed for the door at a run.

 

They spread out once they arrived. Jack kept the other soldiers back, figuring Daniel would be more likely to respond to a familiar voice or face than that of a stranger. He played the beam of his flashlight along the ground in front of him as he skirted the edge of a small playground… and froze. "Daniel?"

 

He waited, willing himself to hear beyond the wind in the trees, the muted sound of traffic from the street nearby. Then he heard it again. A soft sob, followed by sniffling.

 

"Daniel? It's me, Jack."

 

There was a moment's silence, then, "Go 'way. I don't like you."

 

Jack shone his flashlight ahead. The voice came from a large concrete pipe set next to a jungle gym. He made his way over to it and crouched down. Daniel was illuminated in the beam from the light, sitting scrunched up, his arms wrapped around his pulled up knees. His face was smeared with dried tears and mucus and he shivered violently. He looked up, shielding his eyes from the glare of the flashlight. "Go 'way, I said! I don't like you!"

 

Jack lowered himself to the icy ground with a groan, leaning his back against the edge of the pipe. "Good for you," he said. "I don't like me much either."

 

"Grownups are bad," Daniel lamented, his voice echoing slightly against the concrete. "Jake can't live with his brother, and you don't want me. I want my real dad!"

 

Jack sighed. "I wish I could do that for you, Daniel, but I can't."

 

"Is he dead?"

 

Jack closed his eyes, feeling tears stinging them. "Yes, he is. I'm sorry, buddy." He sat forward and peered into the pipe again. Daniel was crying quietly, his sobs muffled by his hands. "Why don't you come out, huh? It's freezing, you're freezing."

 

"Can I come home with you?"

 

And suddenly, all Jack wanted to do was gather the frightened little boy up and take him home, show him that his entire world was not lost, prove to him that he still had people who loved him and cared for him. "Yes, you can."

 

Daniel looked up at that, his eyes narrowed in what looked like suspicion. He reached out one trembling hand toward Jack. "Pinky swear?"

 

Jack smiled and linked fingers with him, shaking on the deal. "Now can we get out of here? My butt is numb."

 

Daniel giggled a little at that and then he was scampering forward and launching himself into Jack's arms, clinging tightly to his neck. Jack hugged him back, reaching up to tousle his cold, damp curls, pressing a kiss to Daniel's icy cheek. He shrugged out of his jacket awkwardly and wrapped it around Daniel's shivering body.

 

"I'm frozen from the inside out," Daniel said with a sigh as he snuggled into the welcome warmth.

 

"We'll both be icicles if we don't get out of here," Jack said. He climbed to his feet with another groan, cursing his worn out knees under his breath. "Let's go home, huh?" He walked to the edge of the playground then remembered something he needed to do. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, he dialed Carter. "I've got him," he said when she answered. "He's safe. Meet you both back at the house."

 

Daniel jerked back and stared at him. "You promised! We made a pinky swear!"

 

"Hey!" Jack jiggled him a little on his hip. "We have to let everyone know you're okay, pick up your things and say goodbye to Ann and Steve."

 

"And Jake," Daniel added.

 

ef ef ef

 

Jack set Daniel down on the ground while he fished for his door key in his pocket. He unlocked and swung open the door, standing aside to usher Daniel in first. Daniel became uncharacteristically shy, wrapping an arm around Jack's leg, holding him back. "Come on, buddy," Jack urged. "Doc said I could bring you straight home as long as you got warmed up right away."

 

Daniel looked up at him, his eyes wide, and nodded but didn't move. Jack took the hint, picking the boy up and carrying him into the house. "You'd better start getting around under your own steam soon, Daniel," Jack groused, "or your legs will wither away from under-use." He turned on the living room light and suddenly Daniel was squirming to get down again. Jack lowered him to the floor in relief. "How about some hot chocolate?" he suggested.

 

Daniel nodded enthusiastically. "Do you have marshmallows?" he asked.

 

Jack rolled his eyes. "Wouldn't be hot chocolate without 'em, would it?" he asked rhetorically.

 

Daniel shook his head, a cheery smile on his face. "Nope."

 

Jack headed up the steps to the kitchen. He turned and shook an admonishing finger at Daniel. "Don't go anywhere."

 

"I won't. Pinky swear, remember?"

 

ef ef ef

 

The living room was eerily silent when Jack returned, carrying two steaming mugs of hot chocolate. For a moment, his heart skipped a beat and then he spotted Daniel, curled up in a corner of the couch, his head down, studying something he held in his hands. "Whatcha got there?" Jack asked as he set the mugs on the coffee table and sat down beside the boy.

 

Daniel held out his hands, revealing a photo set in a silver frame.

 

"Oh, that." Jack took the proffered picture and smiled. "That was taken when Sam got her promotion. You know these guys, right?"

 

Daniel nodded. He tapped a finger against the glass. "That's Sam and you and Teal'c." His finger lingered over the fourth person. "Who's that?"

 

"That…" Jack pulled Daniel closer, allowing him to snuggle up against him. "That is my very best friend."

 

Daniel looked up at him with solemn eyes. "I thought I was your bestest friend."

 

"You are," Jack assured him, "but there are all kinds of friends, you know."

 

Daniel nodded. "He's your bestest grownup friend, right?"

 

"Right."

 

"What's his name?"

 

Jack smiled down at the child who was the embodiment of all Daniel was and would be. "His name is Daniel, just like you."

 

Daniel grinned at that. "Where is he?"

 

Jack hoisted Daniel onto his lap and he settled in, leaning back against Jack's chest, grasping hold of one of Jack's hands. "He had to go away," Jack whispered, "just for a while."

 

"When will he be back?" Daniel asked around a yawn.

 

"I don't know yet, maybe not for a long time."

 

"You miss him, huh, like I miss my dad?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"But you've got me," Daniel added, "and I've got you."

 

Jack pressed a kiss to the back of Daniel's head. "That's right, buddy. We've got each other."

 

Epilogue

 

"Jack, can we talk about this?" Jack sighed and shook his head. "Why not? Don't you think it's important?"

 

"There's nothing to talk about. It's over. That's all she wrote."

 

"It doesn't have to be over. I don't want it to be over. Do you?"

 

"I don't know anymore."

 

"Can you at least look at me when you're talking to me?"

 

Jack looked over at Daniel, his best friend, his lover… ex-lover, at the familiar adult features he'd missed so much.

 

"Do you want it to be over?" Daniel asked again.

 

"I told you, I don't know. I mean, no, I don't want it to be over. I just don't know if I can… we can… do this anymore since—"

 

"I'm not a child anymore, Jack," Daniel interjected. He gave a quick grin, the smile that Jack loved so much crinkling his eyes. That was the one thing that had never changed even when Daniel was small – his smile. "I'm back."

 

Jack felt a shudder go through him. "I can't," he said, feeling as helpless now as he had when he'd found Daniel under that motel bed, cowering in fear and crying for his daddy.

 

The smile fell away from Daniel's face. "That's it then, I guess," he said, his voice hard. "Nothing more to say." He turned and strode away.

 

Jack heard the front door slam then Daniel's car peeled away from the parking space with a squeal of tires. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

 

ef ef ef

 

Daniel pulled into his parking garage and turned off the engine. "Damn it, Jack!" He slammed his fist against the steering wheel then shook his stinging hand ruefully. It wasn't supposed to end like this!

 

When they'd finally gotten the call from Sam that she thought the downsizing could be reversed, Daniel remembered being terrified. Not that he'd known what was going to happen. Jack had just told him they needed to go back to the mountain to see Janet. He'd refused at first. Planting his hands on his hips, he'd told Jack that if he wanted him to go back to get poked with needles again, Jack would have to carry him. Jack had obliged. Daniel felt his face heating with embarrassment at the memory of that. While it seemed that he'd had no recall of his initial downsizing, this time around, his memories of his second childhood had not been erased.

 

Daniel had kicked and screamed all the way to the mountain. He was somewhat surprised they hadn't been pulled over by the cops. Once they arrived, Jack had waved Janet and Sam away and lifted Daniel onto his lap.

 

"I'm sorry, buddy," he soothed. "Everything's gonna be okay."

 

Daniel punched Jack's shoulder, none too gently. "No, it's not," he shouted. "You promised I could stay with you and now you're gonna let Doctor Janet send me away again!"

 

"No! I'll never send you away again, Daniel, I promise! Sam just wants to do some tests, that's all. You'll be asleep the whole time and I promise I'll stay with you."

 

And Jack had told the truth… mostly. Daniel had been sedated while Sam manipulated the nanites to reverse the de-aging process and Daniel had woken up to find himself an adult once more, and Jack had been sitting right at his side.

 

Only now….

 

Probably the worst thing of all was retaining his memories of when he was small because Jack had promised he'd never send him away again, no matter what happened. "You lied, Jack," Daniel said bitterly.

 

ef ef ef

 

Jack knocked on General Hammond's door and entered when bid. Hammond looked up from his stack of reports and motioned Jack to a seat.

 

"How's Doctor Jackson doing?" he asked. "Any side effects from the treatment?"

 

"No, sir," Jack replied. "At least, I don't think so."

 

Hammond quirked an eyebrow. "I thought he was staying with you for a few days? Doctor Fraiser thought it would be wise to have someone keep an eye on him until she clears him for duty."

 

"You know Daniel, sir. Couldn't wait to get back to his apartment. Hated my cooking," Jack replied flippantly.

 

"He's seeing the doctor today. Hopefully the news will be good," Hammond said. "I have SG-1 scheduled for a meet and greet tomorrow at 0700. If Doctor Jackson isn't cleared, I'll see if Doctor Yankovich can fill in."

 

"Must you?" Jack rolled his eyes. "Rhetorical question, sir. In fact, I was thinking… Why not let Daniel have a little more time off to recuperate? Find his sea legs again, so to speak. Me, Carter and Teal'c can handle the mission."

 

"He's your spokesperson, Colonel," Hammond said. "You've admitted yourself diplomacy is not your strongest suit and we're not sure how the people of this planet will react to Teal'c. Major Carter will be busy taking naquada readings, provided the inhabitants allow it, and I have to say, if there is any argument from them, Doctor Jackson has a remarkable knack for soothing ruffled feathers."

 

"Thank you, General."

 

Jack turned at hearing Daniel's voice. "Hey," he said lamely. "How'd it go?"

 

"Good. Doctor Fraiser gave me the all clear."

 

"That's good news, Doctor," Hammond said. He looked at Jack. "Unless there's something else, Colonel, you leave at 0700. Major Carter has all the pertinent information on the planet and its people."

 

"Yes, sir," Jack and Daniel said at the same time.

 

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" Daniel said as they headed down the corridor to the elevator.

 

Jack made a show of checking his watch. "Kinda busy, Daniel," he said. "Can it wait?"

 

"No, it can't!" Daniel grabbed Jack's arm and dragged him into the elevator as the doors opened. Reaching out, he pressed the stop button then rounded on Jack, his eyes blazing. "What the hell was that about?"

 

"How long were you standing there eavesdropping?" Jack snarled.

 

"Long enough!" Daniel spat back. "How long have you been planning to get me removed from SG-1?"

 

"I'm not!" Jack retorted hotly. "I just think it'd be a good idea to have a little space… for both of us until we figure things out."

 

"There's nothing to figure out," Daniel said, turning to face the elevator doors. "You already made your decision."

 

"Oh for crying out loud!" Jack dragged Daniel around to face him. "Can't you see how hard this is for me? I took care of you, Daniel! Hugged you when you had nightmares, helped you dress and shower, dried your tears when you got frustrated or sad!"

 

"Can't you see that there's no difference between then and now?" Daniel asked. "You've always done that for me, Jack. It's what made me fall in love with you. I knew the real you, despite the front you show the rest of the world. Nothing has changed."

 

"Except it has," Jack said roughly. "Seeing you as I did when you were five years old, I can't get that image out of my head. Whenever you kiss me, reach for me in bed… It just feels wrong."

 

Daniel wrenched his hand from Jack's grasp and punched the start button. "Guess I'm not going to change your mind, no matter what I say or feel, but I'm staying on the team, Jack. If you can't deal with that, step down yourself."

 

The elevator doors opening cut off any response Jack was going to make. Carter gave them a wide smile and stepped into the car. "I can't tell you how good it is to have you back, Daniel."

 

Daniel gave her a warm smile. "Thanks, Sam."

 

"How about we grab Teal'c and go out for a bite to eat?" she suggested. "Celebrate your first mission back with SG-1?"

 

"Sorry, busy," Jack said.

 

"Yeah, me too. When we get back, maybe," Daniel replied.

 

Carter looked a little taken aback but she nodded. "Sure. No problem."

 

ef ef ef

 

Daniel was late as usual… and Jack couldn't help feeling a little guilty relief at that. Perhaps Daniel had finally seen the sense in what Jack had said about them needing some space from one another and had decided to step down. The door to the gateroom slid open and Daniel ran in, wiping any hope of that notion from Jack's mind.

 

"You're late," Jack said gruffly.

 

Daniel rolled his eyes and adjusted his helmet. "I'm always late."

 

"Welcome back, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said.

 

"Good to have you back," Carter added.

 

And didn't that make Jack look like Scrooge and Lucifer tied into one package? "I'll take point," he said, leading the way up the ramp, knowing immediately it was the wrong thing to do. SG-1 had always stepped through the gate together. "You've got our six, Teal'c," he added lamely, figuring he was already so deep in shit, it didn't matter. He took a couple of longer strides and stepped through the event horizon.

 

ef ef ef

 

Night was closing in on Halarta. Thick clouds that promised drenching rain hid the twin moons, casting the world outside the tent into darkness.

 

Jack O'Neill seriously wished they'd headed back to the gate when he'd first suggested it but Chatterbox Jackson had struck up a friendship with the village elder and was not about to be dragged away from what apparently was a thoroughly absorbing recounting of the inhabitants' history. He'd settled himself on the ground near the fire, notebook and pen in hand, tape recorder at the ready, looking earnest, hanging onto every word the elder spoke.

 

Jack tossed a twig into the fire, watched the flames lick at it tentatively at first then devour it in a quick flare. Frankly, he was bored, and whatever it was they'd been offered for dinner was not sitting right in his stomach. Sighing, he stretched and gazed around. Teal'c was prowling the perimeter of the campsite, looking his usual suspicious self. Carter was checking soil deposits for naquada and looking pretty glum so Jack figured the main reason for their mission was pretty much a bust. He struggled to his feet and grabbed his pack. "Okay, Daniel, time to head off. Say goodbye to Warren."

 

Daniel gave him only the briefest glance, incorporating an eye roll for good measure. "Wahreen, Jack," he hissed.

 

"Warren, Wahreen…" Jack shrugged. "Whatever. Time to go. Carter, any luck with the soil samples?'

 

Carter shook her head, looking every bit as miserable as a kid with no presents on Christmas morning. "Not enough to warrant further exploration, sir."

 

"That's it then." Jack waved to Daniel again. "Come on, Daniel, let's get back to the gate."

 

Daniel stood and planted his hands on his hips. "Jack…"

 

Here we go. Jack felt impatience flare and knew it wasn't unwarranted, regardless of what anyone else might think. "Look, Daniel, it's going to be dark soon and those clouds look like they're carrying one hell of a storm. I want to get us earth-side before it hits."

 

An oh-so familiar defiance flashed in Daniel's eyes and Jack had to glance away. When he looked back, Daniel had an almost pleading expression on his face. Jack had seen that look so many times from both the adult Daniel and the child. God! He couldn't do this! Daniel was right. As soon as they got back home, Jack was transferring to another team… Better yet, maybe it was time to resume that retirement he'd begun several years back.

 

"Just a little longer," Daniel wheedled. "Wahreen was telling me about a myth that speaks of a god who lived here thousands of years ago. A god with glowing eyes."

 

"Like you said, a myth."

 

"Yeah, well, we all know what you think about myths, Jack. Myths are often based on truth, you know that as well as I do. Not as though we haven't seen a god or two with glowing eyes." Daniel gave an almost silent huff of indignation and turned back to Wahreen.

 

"False gods," Teal'c put in helpfully and Jack was sure there was the faintest smile on Teal'c's normally impassive face.

 

"Exactly," Jack said. "And I, for one, have seen enough snakeheads to last me more than a lifetime. So, get the lead out, Daniel."

 

"Jack, please," Daniel said, "the naquada search is a bust. Let's at least see if we can get something worthwhile out of the trip."

 

Jack really wasn't in the mood for an argument, not after everything that had gone on between them lately, and he could have pushed it, made it an order, and eventually Daniel would have obeyed, grumbling all the way home. He caved as he knew, and, he suspected, Daniel knew he would. "One hour," he said, holding up the requisite finger. "No more."

 

Daniel nodded enthusiastically as Jack had also known he would. "One hour, not a problem. I'll talk to the General when we get back. Schedule another trip." His eyes sparkled with enthusiasm that told Jack how much he'd missed this and Jack felt a pang of guilt and longing that things just couldn't go back to the way they'd been before. "Wahreen says there are many legends of magical people that have been told over the generations. Come and join us."

 

"Ah, got more important things on my mind." Jack's stomach grumbled ominously. He beckoned Teal'c over. "Any idea where the men's room is?"

 

ef ef ef

 

Jack had finally managed to drag Daniel away from his new best friend and they were about 500 yards from the gate when the heavens opened, drenching them to the skin and almost blinding them with its ferocity. They hung onto each other, dragging themselves through the mud, straining to see what lay ahead of them, and then blessedly, the gate loomed up in front of them.

 

"Dial it up, Daniel," Jack shouted over the howling wind and rumbling thunder.

 

Daniel bent to his task, and then, just as the event horizon burst into life, and Carter and Teal'c were on their way up the steps to the dais, he raised his head and looked around.

 

"What's wrong?" Jack asked.

 

Daniel shook his head. "I thought I heard… There! It sounds like someone calling out."

 

Jack paused and strained to hear through the cacophony of storm sounds assaulting his eardrums. He shone his flashlight around the perimeter. "Can't hear anything over this," he shouted. "Can't see anything either. Let's go."

 

He took off, then paused halfway, turning around, certain of what he'd find. "Daniel…" he warned.

 

Daniel shook his head and stayed his ground. "There's someone out there. Stay here, I'll be right back." Before Jack could blink, he was gone, disappearing into the inky blackness, the beam of his flashlight bobbing as he made his way back the way they had come.

 

"Damn it, Daniel!" Jack cursed. He turned to Carter. "Hang tight for a minute."

 

Cursing the wayward archeologist, Jack hurried down the stairs and followed after Daniel. "When I catch up with you, Jackson, your ass is mine!" he vowed.

 

He almost tripped over Daniel who was kneeling on the muddy ground, hunched over something… someone… Jack realized as he regained his balance and squinted through the rain. Daniel had already pulled his jacket off and had wrapped it around the person's shivering shoulders.

 

It was a young woman, Jack could see now – a very pregnant young woman. She gripped Daniel's arm tightly as he stood then helped her to her feet.

 

"What the hell is she doing out in this?" Jack shouted.

 

Daniel shrugged and swiped a hand over his face. The woman shouted something and pointed off towards the Stargate. Daniel nodded and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, shepherding her forward. "She said her daughter wandered off from the village. She came searching for her but got caught in the storm." He smiled at the woman. "What's her name?" he asked.

 

"Mahlea, she is just four," she whispered. "I am Sahle."

 

Daniel nodded. "We'll find her."

 

Jack stared into the darkness. "She could be anywhere," he muttered. "Let's get her to shelter then we'll bring a search party through—"

 

Daniel leaned in close to him. "We might not have time. She's just a little girl, and it's getting really cold, Jack."

 

Jack hesitated for only a moment before nodding and activating his radio. "Carter, we've got a lost kid. You and Teal'c head back through the gate and send back a search party. Daniel and I'll start searching."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Moving around, Jack supported the woman on her other side, hoping like hell she wasn't about to go into labor. They made their way back to the gate and left her in the shelter of a rocky outcrop. She protested at first, her native language coming to the fore as she struggled to express her fears for her child. Daniel shushed her softly, cupping her face in his gentle hands and reassuring her that they would bring her child back safely.

 

Jack wasn't sure it was such a good idea to be making promises they might not be able to keep and was about to say just that but Daniel shot him a warning look and gave a sharp shake of his head.

 

Jack pointed toward a stand of trees in the distance. "Maybe she tried to get out of the storm," he said. The wind had dropped somewhat and the steady downpour was now more of a constant drizzle, he noted with relief. Daniel nodded and they headed off. "I don't know if it was such a good idea telling her we'd bring her kid back safely," Jack said.

 

Daniel sighed and shook droplets of rain from his hair. "I know but at least this way, she has hope for a while longer."

 

Jack bent under the branches of the trees, casting the glow of his flashlight into corners. He straightened and rubbed at his back. "She's not in there," he said.

 

Daniel gazed around, the expression on his face forlorn, despite the promise he'd given the child's mother. "What about there?" he asked, pointing with his flashlight. In the illumination, Jack made out the ruins of a tumbled-down hut.

 

"Worth a shot," Jack said. He headed toward it a trot with Daniel at his back. He heard a sound just as they made it to what was left of the rotting wooden door. It sounded like a kitten mewling, more than the frightened sobs of a child. Still…

 

Holding up a hand to slow Daniel's pace, Jack stepped over the wood piled up in the doorway and shone his flashlight around in an arc. A little girl sat huddled against the far wall, her dark curls a sodden mess framing her round, pale face. In her arms, she cradled a tiny black kitten. She glanced briefly up at Jack and Daniel then lowered her head and rubbed her cheek against the kitten's fur, whispering something in a melodic chant.

 

"She said, "We're safe now."" Daniel smiled at Jack and strode forward, kneeling down in front of the little girl. Reaching out, he stroked the kitten's head then held out his arms to the child. She went to him eagerly, wrapping one arm around his neck, cuddling her pet tenderly against Daniel's chest. Jack pulled off his jacket and wrapped it around both child and cat.

 

Resting his hand lightly on Daniel's shoulder, he led them out of the hut and back toward the gate.

 

 

 

Jack watched as Sahle hugged her little girl to her, eliciting a disgruntled screech from the kitten sandwiched between them, then proceeded to give Mahlea a stern lecture that would have been easily understood by any parent in the galaxy, regardless of the language spoken. He grinned. He'd been there a time or twelve himself with both Charlie and Daniel. Now that mother and child were reunited, Jack dialed the gate and gave Hammond the good news that the search party would not be needed, requesting a few extra hours to see the pair back to the village.

 

He watched as Mahlea chattered excitedly to her mother as they walked ahead of them. Her mother nodded and smiled, holding tightly to her daughter's hand. He glanced over at Daniel, startled to see Daniel watching him, his eyes bright, a small smile on his lips.

 

"All's well that ends well," Jack quipped, feeling unaccountably cheerful, despite the freezing weather and the feel of his sodden clothes against his skin. Daniel merely nodded. "You've missed this, haven't you?"

 

"This?" Daniel pulled his t-shirt away from his chest and shook it. "This not so much." Then he smiled. "I've missed it, yes, all of it. Even when I had no memory of it, I felt there was something missing. Something felt wrong, like my world was off-kilter."

 

Jack nodded. "I know what you mean," he replied. Reaching out, he brushed his hand lightly against Daniel's fingers. "Still does."

 

"We can fix it," Daniel said, the hope on his face so reminiscent of that little boy who had begged for Jack to take him home.

 

Daniel was right, Jack knew. He would never forget the little boy he'd come to love as much as his own son but he would never have to grieve the loss of that Daniel. He would always be here – in the familiar tilt of his lover's head, the shy smile on Daniel's face, the unabashed curiosity… and the stubbornness, the never obeying orders, the unreserved love he had for Jack.

 

Jack wrapped his fingers around Daniel's and squeezed tightly. "We can try," he said.

 

Daniel nodded, the beautiful smile that Jack had fallen in love with the moment he’d laid eyes on him lighting up his face, and he leaned closer and pressed a fleeting kiss to Jack's cheek. "We can."

 

End