Summary: Sometimes, you have to overcome your fears in order to trust.
Previously published in Little Danny #1, published by Ancient's Gate Zines.
The child stared up at him, the blue eyes that were so familiar brimming with tears, the tiny chin quivering. "Jack? What happened to me?" A hand lifted, covered by the now, far too big jacket sleeve and fluttered nervously then dropped back to the boy's side. The tears overflowed then, and Jack bent and picked him up, cradling the small head against his shoulder in an unconscious fatherly gesture.
"Daniel? It's okay. We'll work it out."
Only they hadn't. Three months down the track and while they'd figured out that Daniel's condition had been caused by nanocytes, similar to the ones that had aged Jack a few years before, administered in food, just as his had been, they were no closer to discovering a cure.
The people of Zirana, most no more than children themselves - and that should have been his first clue, Jack castigated himself savagely - were apologetic but puzzled by the team's anger. Youth was a good thing, they insisted. They had no need of procreation. When they reached the age of twenty-five, they underwent the process again, recycling themselves, having no need to care for the elderly and dying.
Daniel, of course, had asked questions, way too many questions and the Ziranians had given him a firsthand, up close and personal experience of the procedure. There was no way to reverse it, they told an irate Jack. Why would one wish to?
Jack turned to his side and punched at his pillow, taking his frustration out on it. The NID had stuck their sticky little noses into the situation, demanding that Daniel be sent to Area 51, where they could hopefully come up with a 'cure'. Jack had heard their euphemistic terminology before, remembered how they'd fixed their attention on Teal'c when he'd been infected by the giant bugs, and knew just what Daniel would endure if he was sent there. He was only five years old, for god's sake! Granted, there was a thirty-year-old mind closeted up inside that little head, but even Daniel's emotions and thought processes seemed to have been affected by the nanocytes. Janet had surmised that he functioned more like an extremely gifted five-year-old than a man trapped inside a child's body.
A small snuffle reached Jack's ears, and the object of his worrying thoughts called out in a quavering voice. "Jack? I feel sick."
Groaning, Jack pulled himself from his bed. They'd been through this twice already tonight. It appeared that not only had Daniel gotten his childhood back, but also a decent share of the common childhood illnesses that accompanied it. He'd been running a slight fever for most of the day. Janet had called in and checked him over at lunchtime, assuring Jack it was just a mild case of flu and there was nothing to be done but to treat the symptoms, keep Daniel hydrated and comfortable.
As much as he hated Daniel being sick, it was for this very reason that Jack had insisted on bringing Daniel home to stay with him, where he'd feel cared for and safe and loved, not cooped up in a tiny room being prodded and poked by strangers. General Hammond, bless his cotton socks, had put the plan into motion, going so far as to call the President, who in turn, contacted the NID and ordered them to mind their own business.
Jack stopped and gathered a fresh washcloth and towel, filled a bowl with tepid water and made his way into Daniel's room. The kid was sitting up against his pillows, his face flushed, looking thoroughly miserable. He pulled a tissue from the box on the bedside table and wiped awkwardly at his runny nose, only spreading mucus further over his cheeks in the process.
"I hate this," he said in a croak.
"You're not the only one," Jack commiserated. He set down the bowl and cloths then grabbed another handful of tissues and held them under Daniel's nose. "Blow," he instructed.
"Can't," Daniel protested, his voice muffled by the tissues. "It hurts my ears."
"I'll get you some more Tylenol in a minute," Jack promised. "Come on, Daniel, you're not going to be able to sleep with a head full of snot."
Daniel giggled, then made a disgustingly wet, choking snort. He blew his nose, the sound trumpeting out.
"That's revolting," Jack said in a heartfelt tone.
"Yep." Daniel pushed the tissue into Jack's hand, grimacing. "Erk! It's all gross."
"Thanks." Jack stared at the damp paper for a moment then tossed it into the paper bag on the floor, which was already brimming with used tissues. "Feel better?"
"No. My stomach hurts." Daniel grimaced, rubbing fretfully at his belly.
"Please don't tell me you're gonna throw up."
"Did that already, remember?" Daniel said. "Don't think there's anything left in there."
"Well, that's a good thing. Think you could take some pills now, drink a little juice?"
Daniel shook his head. "The pills get stuck in my throat. It hurts."
Jack rubbed at his forehead, feeling a headache beginning to blossom. He hoped he hadn't caught Daniel's bug. "Sorry about that. I didn't think. I could crush them."
Daniel made a face. "I remember my mom doing that. They tasted awful." His eyes widened and he wiped a hand across his nose, smearing more mucus over his pajama sleeve. "Got honey?"
"Put the tablets in honey, then they won't taste bad!"
"Okay." Jack nodded thoughtfully. "You sure your stomach can handle honey?"
"Better than crushed up tablets," Daniel assured him.
Five minutes later, pills administered, juice sipped, Daniel lay on his side, his eyes at half-mast. "I can't sleep," he whined. "My head won't stop thinking."
With an aggrieved sigh, Jack reached out and began a slow, comforting stroke up and down Daniel's thin back. "Close your eyes, think good stuff."
Daniel yawned. "Like what?"
"Like when you're better, you can come back to the mountain with me."
"You think General Hammond will still let me have my office?"
"I don't see why not. It's your office after all." Jack failed to stifle a jaw-popping yawn. "Go to sleep, huh?"
Jack continued his rhythmic caress of Daniel's back until fatigue caught up with him. Too exhausted to make it back to his own room, he stretched out and lay down next to Daniel, reaching out to feel the child's forehead, relieved to find the fever had lessened considerably.
Daniel muttered something incomprehensible and turned to face Jack, wrapping his bony arms and legs around Jack's body, pressing his sweaty head against Jack's chest. Jack felt a mixture of drool and mucus dampen his T-shirt. Ah, yes. The joys of parenthood.
Daniel sat propped against his pillows, staring down at the book on his lap. He studied the rounded, child-like script on the last page then flipped back to the beginning and scowled at the crammed but flowing lines of writing. Just another reminder of his current predicament. He even wrote like a kid.
At least he was feeling better. He'd woken this morning, his fever broken, and his head much clearer. Jack had promised they'd go to Cheyenne Mountain after lunch and see how Sam was doing with solving the puzzle of his condition. He took a sip of juice from the tumbler that Jack had placed on his bedside table then closed his journal and set it aside. I hate being a kid. I hated it enough the first time around.
Those thoughts, of course, only served to bring back memories he would have preferred to stay buried. Of watching in mute horror as the heavy pillars of stone had crashed down, crushing his parents, of seeing their broken, bleeding bodies carried to the coroner's van. The Museum personnel were too shocked themselves by the accident to even notice the small boy who stood alone, silent tears streaming down his dirty cheeks. Finally, one of his father's research assistants had become aware of him and, taking him by the hand, had handed him over to the police. They in turn contacted Nick, his grandfather.
Climbing out of bed, Daniel walked over to his closet and pulled a pair of jeans from within. Even now, in his own small hands, they looked ridiculously tiny. He finally found a plain black t-shirt in the dresser, studiously ignoring the brightly colored ones with cartoon motifs emblazoned on the front. Jack had done the best he could when they'd gone shopping to outfit a five-year-old boy, but there hadn't been a whole lot of choice.
He heard Jack pottering around in the kitchen, and smiled, feeling his sadness lift a little. This time, he had someone who wanted him, someone who cared. He had forgiven his grandfather, but some small pain remained. He knew that Nick, fearing himself to be insane after his experience with the crystal skull, would certainly have been incapable of caring for a small, grief-stricken boy. The bad memories though, of being shifted from foster home to foster home, mired in bewilderment and loss, of caregivers, some well-meaning, others cruel, made it difficult to forgive completely. This time at least, it wouldn't be years before he could escape the misery of his childhood. Sam and Janet would find a cure, just as they had for Jack, and he'd be back on the team, stepping through the event horizon once more.
The bedroom door opened behind him and he looked over his shoulder to see Jack standing in the doorway, a dishtowel flung over one shoulder.
"You ready for breakfast?" Jack asked.
Daniel nodded. "Need to get my shoes first." He pulled his sneakers from under the bed, determinedly not thinking about their size and pulled them on. The laces were knotted though and he struggled with uncoordinated little fingers for a moment before holding the stubborn shoe mutely out to Jack.
Jack took it and made short work of the snarled lace then handed it back and ruffled Daniel's hair. "If you hurry, we still have time for waffles," he said.
Daniel made an expansive gesture of sniffing the air. "Maple syrup," he said with satisfaction and grinned, pushing his maudlin thoughts away. "I'm starving."
Jack swatted his butt as he skipped past. "Me, too."
"Are you serious?" Daniel stared at the booster seat Jack was strapping into the back seat in horror. He backed away, his hands up as though he could ward off the image of the contraption. "No!"
Jack straightened and turned to him, hands on hips, his expression impatient. "It's the law, Daniel."
Daniel shook his head. "I'm not a kid!" His throat was tightening up and he just knew he was going to cry again. Steadfastly, he pushed on. "Jack, please, don't make me sit in that thing."
"If the cops pull us over and check us out, how do we explain all of this?"
"Just tell them you're babysitting me."
"I'll still get fined." Jack looked at his watch, his expression changing to weariness and Daniel remembered falling asleep with Jack's hand stroking a soothing caress down his back. He felt suddenly ashamed. Not only did he look like a little kid, he was throwing tantrums with the best of them.
"Can I at least sit up front with you?" he asked.
Jack smiled. "I wish you could, buddy, but you're not allowed to have booster seats in the front. Airbags, remember?"
Daniel felt a frown crease his forehead then determinedly nodded. "Forgot about that." He took a deep breath and clambered into the car.
Their first stop of the day was the grocery store. Jack had planned on taking Daniel back to Cheyenne Mountain to catch up with Sam, Teal'c and General Hammond. Daniel had been ricocheting between eagerness to get back to familiar routines to nervousness about the reactions of people at the base who knew of his predicament.
Carter and Teal'c had been as anxious as Jack over the whole situation, and Jack knew that Carter had been working around the clock with only short breaks for sleep in a desperate attempt to find the answer to a cure. He'd assured Daniel that all unnecessary personnel would be elsewhere until they made it down to Hammond's office, and, he'd added, Robert Rothman was having a hard time deciphering the script he'd found on the last planet SG-6 had gated to. Still looking somewhat apprehensive, though with an inquisitive twinkle back in his eyes, Daniel had agreed.
"I could help Sam with the nanocyte testing," Daniel said. "She's gotta be really tired by now."
"She is," Jack agreed, "but you know Carter. She won't give up till she fixes it."
"I know." Daniel stared solemnly at Jack for a long moment, then reached forward and wrapped his friend in a hug. Jack happily returned the embrace, his eyes stinging with tears. "I miss everybody," Daniel whispered. He pulled away then and scrubbed at his eyes with his hands.
"Everybody misses you, too," Jack replied, "except maybe Walter. He's a little freaked out that you still have that big ol' brain in that little skull."
Daniel gave him the first real smile Jack had seen since this had all begun. "I could go in there, sucking my thumb. You think that would make him feel better?"
"You do that, he might make you sit on his knee."
They stared at each other for a moment, then in unison, shook their heads. "Nah."
Daniel managed to get out of the booster seat almost before Jack had the car in a parking space and scampered out, heading straight for the shopping cart bay.
Daniel turned back from wrestling two carts apart. "What?"
Jack waved an expansive hand over the lot. "Cars," he admonished.
"Yep." Daniel nodded.
Jack gave up the lecture, feeling way older than his years and strode over. Pushing away Daniel's hands, he extricated a cart and aimed it for the supermarket entrance. "Let's get this over with."
"What's first?" Daniel asked from his precarious position balanced on the front of the cart.
Jack had insisted he ride in the toddler seat, only to have Daniel look at him in horror. "I'm not a baby," he protested. "I gave in with the booster seat, but that's going too far. Besides, I always wanted to do this when I was little."
Jack was learning to pick his battles. He scanned his shopping list. He hadn't been out of the apartment for a few days due to Daniel's illness and supplies were running low. "Coffee."
"I'll get it!" Before Jack could say anything, Daniel launched himself off the cart and headed for the next aisle. Jack followed, shaking his head, realizing that this Daniel probably would pay no more attention to him than the adult version did. He'd just rounded the corner when he heard a resounding crash. A few feet away, Daniel stood, an expression of surprise on his face as he stared down at the coffee that cascaded over his shoes. Glass glittered in the mess.
"Damn it, Daniel!" Jack muttered.
A woman pushing a cart past him, glared at him, then hurried to Daniel's side. "It's okay, sweetie." She shot Jack another venomous glance. "Accidents happen. I'll get the checkout girl to organize a clean up." She ruffled Daniel's hair, pressed a lollypop into his hand and rushed off.
Daniel looked up and took a step toward Jack.
"No! Don't move!" Jack ordered. Surprisingly, Daniel did as he was asked. Abandoning the cart, Jack took a couple of long strides forward and hoisted Daniel up under his armpits. He turned on his heel, depositing the boy in the cart, narrowly avoiding crushing the extra large packet of chocolate-chip cookies Daniel had cajoled him into buying. "Stay there," he said, pointing a finger at his young charge.
Daniel merely blinked at him, his chin quivering, his eyes once again filling with tears. Jack waved over a store assistant and arranged to have the mess cleaned up, offering to pay for the wasted item. He picked up another jar of coffee and placed it in the cart then made his way to the checkout. He made his transaction in silence, but every time he glanced at Daniel, the youngster looked quickly away.
It wasn't until Jack was helping him buckle into his seat that Daniel finally spoke. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I just wanted to help."
"I know." Jack ruffled Daniel's hair. "You just have to remember you're smaller. That jar was too big for you to lift."
Daniel stared down at his hands, flexing them. "I forget sometimes. Are you gonna be angry with me forever?"
"I'm not angry with you, Daniel," Jack assured him.
"Sounded like you were when you told me not to move."
"There was glass on the floor. I didn't want you to cut your feet."
"So, you're not angry with me."
Jack walked around and climbed behind the wheel. He smiled over at Daniel. "No not much anyway."
Daniel cracked a huge yawn. "I really am sorry."
Jack reached over and patted his knee. "I know."
By the time they reached Jack's apartment building, Daniel was asleep. Parking in his customary space, Jack took a moment to study the small boy who was his best friend, and now also his responsibility. He brushed a lock of hair away from Daniel's eyes. Regardless of how this turned out, even if Daniel stayed small forever, Jack wouldn't abandon him to foster homes. He'd told Daniel once that he never left team members behind. He wasn't about to start now.
The phone rang as Jack was putting away the last of the groceries. He'd carried Daniel into bed and had decided to let him nap for as long as he needed before they headed to the mountain. Grabbing the receiver quickly so as not to wake the slumbering child, he answered in a low tone. "O'Neill."
"Colonel," Hammond said. "We may have a problem regarding Doctor Jackson."
"What kind of a problem, sir?"
"Doctor MacKenzie is here. The President has given him permission to examine Doctor Jackson."
"No? Colonel, I could have sworn I made the rules here."
"Yes, sir but -"
"No buts, Colonel. I'm not going against the President's orders. Besides, it might be a good idea to have the boy checked out. Make sure he's dealing with all of this."
"He's dealing with it fine, sir as fine as he could be, anyway. I can't see how subjecting him to MacKenzie could help. Last time we let MacKenzie at him, he ended up in a loony bin."
"Doctor MacKenzie acted accordingly, based on the results of Doctor Jackson's tests." Hammond sighed. "I'm sorry, Colonel, I'm giving you a direct order to bring the boy in."
"He's asleep. Let me give him a couple hours. He's still getting over that flu bug that laid him low."
"I'll let Doctor MacKenzie know you'll be here at four. I'm sorry, Jack."
Jack bit back a sarcastic reply, knowing Hammond's hands were tied. "Thank you, sir." He hung up the phone rather more savagely than he should have, then strode back into the kitchen. Pulling bread and salad items from the refrigerator, he decided they were both going to need sustenance to get them through the rest of the day. Maybe after the session with MacKenzie was over, he'd grab Teal'c, drag Carter out of the lab for a couple of hours, order a couple of big pizzas, and invite them both back to the apartment to spend some downtime with Daniel.
"Jack?" Daniel stood in the doorway to the living room, knuckling sleep from his eyes. "I thought we were going to the mountain."
"We are." Jack placed a salad sandwich on the table and motioned Daniel over. "Thought we could eat first."
Daniel sat, but shrugged. "I'm not very hungry."
"Then I suppose you won't be interested in sharing pizza with Teal'c and Carter tonight," Jack said casually, taking a bite out of his own sandwich. "Hockey game's on."
"If I eat this, I won't be able to fit any pizza in." Daniel struggled to balance the mammoth half of sandwich in his hands, pushing back the tomato slices that threatened to fall onto the table.
"Sorry, forgot your stomach's not as big as it used to be," Jack said. He took another bite of his sandwich then burped - loudly. "Mine is though."
Daniel snorted and burped back.
Jack rolled his eyes in mock annoyance. "You have no manners, you know."
"Actually, in some countries, burping after a meal is seen as a compliment," Daniel said around a mouthful of salad. "This is good."
"But of course it is." Jack took another bite then sighed inwardly and pushed his plate away, his appetite waning as he tried to figure out how best to explain to Daniel about MacKenzie. In the end, he decided to leave it until they got to the mountain, but he was determined that Daniel would not see the man if he didn't want to. "Hurry up," he said instead. "Time's a-wasting."
"Where to first?" Daniel asked, skipping along at Jack's side.
Jack grinned. Daniel couldn't get here fast enough once they were in the car. He shrugged. "I suppose we should do the right thing and go see the General first," he suggested. And get this crap with McKenzie out of the way, he added silently.
"Okay." Daniel pulled his hand from Jack's grasp and ran toward the elevator, standing on tiptoe to reach the buttons and pushing the bottom one. The doors slid open and they stepped inside. Jack nodded a greeting to the airman who stood at attention in the car. It had been decided at the beginning that all the personnel at Cheyenne Mountain needed to be apprised of Daniel's situation. No one wanted to run the risk of the child Daniel being picked up and removed to the surface by an unsuspecting soldier. They were all charged with keeping the Stargate a secret; Jack figured one more secret wouldn't be a problem. Daniel grinned up at the airman. "Can I push the buttons, Airman " He squinted up at the young man. "I can't read your name from here."
"Airman Wallace," the soldier said with a smile, "and if it's okay with Colonel O'Neill, of course you can press the buttons."
"Jack won't mind," Daniel replied confidently. Reaching out, he pressed the corresponding button for Hammond's office level and the car started downward with a jerk. Daniel grabbed for the rail. "Lost my stomach," he said to Jack, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
Jack ruffled his hair. "I hope not, not with all that lunch inside it."
The doors opened and Daniel skipped out, waving a happy goodbye to the airman. He slowed as he reached the door to Hammond's office. "Is Walter here today?"
"I don't know," Jack said. He urged Daniel forward with a touch to his shoulder. "Let's go see."
Daniel stopped instead, pressing up against Jack's leg. "I don't think he likes me anymore."
"Sure he does," Jack assured the boy. "He's just a little weirded out by it, that's all."
Daniel nodded but reached up and grabbed Jack's hand, holding on tightly as they stepped into the outer office. Harriman was indeed there, seated at his desk. He looked up as they entered, standing immediately to salute Jack then giving Daniel a nervous glance. "The General's ready for you, Colonel," he said.
"Thanks, Walter." Jack led Daniel to Hammond's office door and knocked, waiting for the invitation to enter. As he opened the door, Daniel turned back to Walter. "Hey, Walter."
"Doctor Daniel Doctor Jackson " Harriman stuttered.
"It's okay," Daniel reassured the blushing sergeant. "Weirds me out, too."
General Hammond looked up from the papers on his desk, his serious expression changing to a wide smile. "Doctor Jackson, how are you?"
Daniel shrugged. "Might be better if you just call me Daniel. Feels strange being called Doctor Jackson."
Hammond nodded. "Fair enough. Jack, have you spoken to Daniel about -"
"Not yet," Jack jumped in. "We thought we'd drop by and say hi first."
Daniel nudged Jack. "Told me about what?"
Damn! Jack hunched down in front of Daniel. "Seems you're so special, Doctor McKenzie wants to see you." He smiled, trying to desperately lighten the situation, make it seem like no big deal.
Daniel's eyes widened. "Doctor McKenzie?" He shook his head. "No!" he said vehemently, "I don't want to!"
"Daniel?" Hammond rose from his seat and walked around his desk to join them. He stood beside Daniel and rested a hand on his shoulder. "It's all right, son," he reassured him. "Doctor McKenzie just wants to have a chat. Make sure you're doing all right."
Daniel looked up at the general. "Do I have to?"
"I'm afraid so. The President insisted."
Daniel stared at Hammond for a long moment then looked back at Jack. "You'll come with me, won't you?"
"Okay." When Jack stood, Daniel took his hand, and together they walked to the door. He turned back to Hammond and gave him a glare. "I'll do it," he said, his voice trembling, "but I don't have to like it."
Hammond nodded sympathetically. "So noted. He's using Doctor Fraiser's office."
Janet was in the infirmary, tending to a patient when they arrived, but as soon as she spotted them, she hurried over. Unlike Walter Harriman, Janet showed no discomfort at the changed Daniel. Reaching out, she swung him into her arms and hugged him. "Hey, Daniel! This is a nice surprise. Colonel O'Neill, how are you two getting along?"
Jack shrugged and gave her a smile as she set Daniel down and ruffled his hair. "He's bossy and noisy, eats too much, never sleeps -"
"Hey!" Daniel protested, giving Jack a shove. "That's you! I'm an angel." He smiled sweetly at Janet. "The checkout girl said so."
"Well, I think so too," Janet replied, winking at Jack. "McKenzie's in my office," she said softly, and from the despondent look on her face, it was apparent she too was remembering the last time Daniel had been placed in McKenzie's care.
"Let's get this over with," Jack said.
"I've got some fudge brownies for you later," Janet said. "Cassie made them especially for you."
"Gonna share?" Jack asked.
Jack gave Daniel a soft whack to the back of his head. "We're gonna grab Teal'c and Carter after, catch a hockey game at my place. You wanna come?"
"I'd love to," Janet said, "but duty calls. SG6 came back from their mission, banged up. Save me some pizza though."
"How did you know we're having pizza?" Daniel asked.
Janet smiled. "That's what Colonel O'Neill has every time he watches a hockey game."
"It's a tradition," Jack said defensively. Taking Daniel's hand, he led him toward Janet's office.
"Colonel O'Neill," McKenzie said the moment they entered. Jack hadn't bothered to knock. It wasn't McKenzie's office after all. "And Daniel, I believe."
Daniel had shrunk back until he was behind Jack. "It's Doctor Jackson," he said, and Jack tried to suppress his grin, though he wasn't entirely successful.
McKenzie's mouth turned downward in a disapproving grimace, but he nodded. "Doctor Jackson, it is. Why don't you come and sit at the desk, Da- Doctor Jackson?"
When there was no movement from the boy behind him, Jack tugged gently on Daniel's hand. "Come on, buddy. Pizza and hockey game, remember?"
Daniel huffed a sigh, then stepped forward and let go of Jack's hand. He walked forward slowly and clambered up on one of the chairs.
McKenzie smiled encouragingly. "Good." He rubbed his hands together. "Let's get started, shall we?"
Jack took a step closer to Daniel, not liking the gleam of anticipation in the doctor's eyes. McKenzie barely spared him a glance. "You can wait outside, Colonel."
"I don't think so." Jack shook his head.
"No!" Daniel said at the same time.
"Colonel, I'd prefer to speak to Doctor Jackson in private," McKenzie said.
"And we'd prefer you didn't," Jack responded, an unspoken threat bleeding through the words. "Right, Daniel?"
Daniel nodded. "Right, Jack."
"Very well." McKenzie turned his back on both of them for a moment. "Just a few preliminary tests first, to establish it is indeed Doctor Jackson we have here."
"Jack?" Daniel turned wide, frightened eyes on Jack.
"DNA's already been done, McKenzie," Jack said forcefully. "No need for any more tests."
McKenzie turned, a hypodermic in one hand. "I think that's for me to decide, Colonel. The initial tests were done here on base. These samples will be sent to an independent lab." He picked up a tourniquet and crossed to stand in front of Daniel. "Now, you be a good boy and I'm sure the nurse can find you a lollypop after."
"No!" Daniel lashed out with both feet, catching McKenzie in the groin. The doctor screamed, clutched at his vitals and went down. Before Jack could react, Daniel had scrambled over the back of the chair and headed for the door. Jack made an abortive grab for him as he raced past, but missed, and only succeeded in wrenching his bad knee.
"Shit!" he cursed. He hobbled to the door and called to Janet, who looked up, startled as a pint-sized whirlwind flew by her. "Grab him!"
Janet's reaction was too slow, and before Jack could make it into the infirmary, Daniel was gone.
Jack slammed his hand against the doorframe. "Damn it!" He turned back to McKenzie who was slowly regaining his feet, though tears streamed from his eyes and his hands still hovered protectively over his groin. "Nice going, Doc! You forget that the last time you saw Daniel, you pumped him full of drugs?" He limped out of the room before the doctor could form a reply.
"You see which way he went?" he asked Janet.
Janet shook her head. "He was too quick for me." She reached for the phone. "I'll notify security -"
"No!" Jack closed his hand over hers, halting her movement. "He's freaked enough now. I'll find him."
"Let me check your knee first."
Jack waved away her concern. "I'll live. I need to find Daniel." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "How about you give ol' Doc McKenzie a taste of his own medicine, see if he needs a painkiller."
Janet's eyes narrowed in amused co-conspiracy. "I'll use the largest bore needle I have."
Heart pounding, tears blurring his vision, Daniel headed for the one place he knew he'd be safe. Not bothering to knock, he pulled open the door and flung himself at the man seated on the floor, surrounded by candles. "Teal'c!" he sobbed, wrapping his arms about the massive shoulders and hanging on for all he was worth. "He was gonna hurt me again!"
"DanielJackson?" Teal'c hugged him gently and began to rock the terrified boy in his arms. "Who would do this?"
"Doctor McKenzie," Daniel wailed. "He had a needle, like the last time, when I was in the hospital. He was gonna stick me with it."
Teal'c's embrace tightened around him. "Colonel O'Neill would not allow it," he said surely.
"McKenzie said he couldn't stop him," Daniel sniffed.
"Then I most assuredly will," Teal'c vowed. He stood, cradling Daniel against his chest. Gently, he stroked Daniel's hair. "No one shall harm you, DanielJackson."
Daniel nodded and sniffed, taking comfort from Teal'c's promise. He lifted his head and looked solemnly at Teal'c. "I kicked him," he whispered. "In the - you know, in the nuts."
"Nuts?" Teal'c asked. He looked momentarily puzzled, then his brow smoothed out and he nodded. Daniel was sure he saw Teal'c smile, just a little, though with Teal'c, it was always hard to tell. "Oh. You did well, DanielJackson."
"Jack's gonna be mad."
"I do not think so," Teal'c replied.
"I'm not angry with you, Daniel," Jack said.
Daniel turned his head to look at Jack but when Teal'c tried to lower him to the ground, he shook his head and hung on. "Really?" he asked. "Bet Doctor McKenzie is."
A smile upturned Jack's mouth. "Let's just say he's lost for words right now. Janet's fixing him up. He'll be fine."
"So, I'm not in trouble?"
"Nah." Jack stepped into the room and patted Daniel's back. "If anything, I'm angry with myself. I should have told you McKenzie was going to be here. I should have known he'd be up to his slimy old tricks, just like Maybourne and the rest of the ghouls at Area 51. I should have refused to bring you in."
"You couldn't," Daniel said. "You had your orders, just like General Hammond did." He looked up at Teal'c and smiled, resting his head on the Jaffa's chest for a moment. "Thanks, Teal'c."
"It is my pleasure, Daniel."
Daniel held his arms out to Jack who took him and hugged him tightly. "You okay, buddy?"
"Yeah. Do I have to go back and see Doctor McKenzie?"
"Nope. Seems the good doctor decided, just before he limped out of here," Jack's eyes twinkled and he tickled Daniel, making him giggle, "that he'd accept the tests Janet did. He'd like us to keep him apprised of the situation."
"Good." Daniel looked at Teal'c. "So, you coming to Jack's house for pizza? Hockey game's on."
"We have to find Sam," Daniel added.
"Right here." Sam waved at the trio from the doorway. "Janet told me there was a bit of a ruckus in the infirmary."
"I kicked Doctor McKenzie in the nuts," Daniel whispered.
Sam laughed outright. "Now, how come you get to do all the good stuff?"
"'Cause I'm a kid!" Daniel announced. He squirmed in Jack's arms and when he was let down, he ran to Sam's side. "Did you find a way to grow me up yet?"
Sam smiled at him then grew serious. "Sorta," she said. She held out her hand and Daniel took it. "Let's all go to my lab, okay?"
"So, that's it?" Jack asked, his expression shocked. "You just give up?"
Carter shook her head. "No, sir, I didn't say that. It's just I don't think it's a risk we should take, until we can work on this some more. Be sure of a favorable outcome."
"So you can't grow me up," Daniel interjected in a small voice. He felt like crying again but he bit his lip and stared at Sam, waiting for her answer.
"Not right away," she said, looking as sad as Daniel. "We're worried it might go too far or too fast and we won't be able to stop it."
"I'd get old like Jack did, huh?"
"Yeah." She squatted down in front of Daniel. "We're not giving up, Daniel, okay? Just being careful. And the good thing is, your last test results show your body is growing of its own accord."
"Come on, Carter," Jack growled, "there's got to be something "
Carter shook her head. "Not yet."
Daniel stared at his friends, their faces all as miserable as his own. "I'm gonna go to my office for a little while," he said finally.
"Sure, buddy," Jack said, reaching out to take his hand, but Daniel shied away.
"I need to be alone for a bit." He turned and headed out the door, his chest feeling so tight, he felt like he couldn't breathe. He forced himself to walk slowly though, reminding himself that beneath the small teary boy exterior was a grown man who knew how to be brave. He smiled tremulously at the airman stationed outside his door. "I won't be long. Just need to get some things."
"Yes, sir." The airman blushed, and quickly opened the door.
Alone at last, Daniel's tears would not be stopped. He walked over to his bookcase and pulled a journal from the low shelf, where it had been placed just a few weeks ago, in deference to his shortened stature. Carrying it over to his desk, he clambered up onto his chair and sat, slowly turning the pages, one small hand rubbing away the wetness on his cheeks.
Jack paused in his pacing and stared at the door. "I should go get him," he said. "He's been gone a while."
"Might be best to leave him be for a little longer, sir," Carter suggested. "He's had a rough day."
"Indeed," Teal'c added. "He needs time to come to terms with his future."
Jack threw up his hands. "What future?" he asked in exasperation. "We gonna send him to kindergarten?"
Jack turned back to the doorway at the sound of Daniel's voice. The child's face was pale, his eyes red-rimmed. In his hands, he held one of his journals. "Hey, Daniel. You ready to go home?"
"For how long?"
How long what?"
"Till I have to leave. Go to a foster home?"
Jack took a few quick steps over and picked Daniel up. "No one's sending you away, Daniel. Your home is with me. Why would you think that?"
"You sounded mad that I can't be grown up," Daniel said. "I thought, maybe, you wouldn't want me if I was gonna stay a kid."
"Are you kidding?" Jack said, his heart clenching at Daniel's words. "You're my best friend, no matter how big you are. You're not going anywhere, except home with me. Understand?"
Daniel nodded but his expression remained uncertain. "What about when you when the team goes through the Gate?"
"You can stay with Janet or Catherine or maybe even the General. If he's not busy."
A small smile finally appeared. "Maybe even Walter," Daniel said softly.
Jack laughed outright and hugged Daniel to him. Truth was, he'd come to love this little boy, had enjoyed the mess and clutter, the late, night after nightmare cuddles, the mornings eating cereal in front of the TV, had missed all of that so much since Charlie had died. "Let's give Walter a little time before we try that, okay?"
"Okay." Daniel hugged him back then pulled away and squirmed to get down. When Jack complied, he walked over to Sam and Teal'c and held out his hands. "Let's go to our place, guys."
Later, with their guests gone, exhausted from the stress of the day, Jack lay stretched out on the couch with Daniel snuggled up beside him.
Daniel read the final page of his journal and placed it on the coffee table. "We had a lot of adventures, didn't we?" he asked around a yawn.
"That we did," Jack said. He wrapped his arm around Daniel and pulled him closer. Daniel rested his head on Jack's chest with a sigh. "And one day, I'll be back on the team and we'll go through the Stargate again. Right, Jack?"
"You bet," Jack said. An idea half-formed in his weary brain. A lot of kids went through the Stargate with no ill effects and they had plenty of friends offworld. Maybe a short visit to see the Nox could be approved, and if it wasn't well, it wouldn't be the first time they'd sneaked through the Gate. Maybe the Nox with their vast, advanced knowledge might have an answer to Daniel's predicament, maybe the Asgard Daniel muttered softly and shifted against him, burrowing closer. For now, though, Jack thought, this was nice. He could do this for a while longer, and he hoped Daniel wouldn't mind