Where There Is A Will
“I can’t explain it, sir.”
Jack squinted and pushed his palms deeper into his tired eyes, a wave a frustration adding a layer to his already strained temper. “You wanna explain this again, Carter? Slowly, and in words I can understand?”
Shifting in her seat, Sam strummed her fingers across the still closed briefing folder. Its contents were pretty much useless and their only value was in the prompts she could call on if the meeting ever got past the blame stage. “The Asgard have never been willing to share their technology with us beyond the beaming technology and defense platforms they installed into the Prometheus. Even then, they were reluctant to share any schematic, only providing us with enough of a working knowledge to do the most basic of maintenance. It’s pretty fool proof, sir.”
“Daniel wouldn’t agree.”
Sam swallowed hard and furtively looked at the spot her team mate would have occupied at the briefing table. “We’ve sent word to Thor, and Doctors Lee and Felgar are-”
“Oh, for the love of…” Jack drawled out, “And that’s supposed to instil me with confidence? Carter, give it to me straight, can you fix this or not?”
Eyes downcast, she signed heavily and shook her head. “We’ve tried everything we can think of but short of the Asgard sending over someone with expertise in beaming technology, there’s not a thing we can do.”
Jack slapped the top of the table, pushed his chair out and stood. Face dark and eyes brooding, he clucked his tongue loudly. “Guess someone had better let Daniel know.”
“Doctor Brightman said-”
He held up a hand to silence her. “I know what Brightman said, Carter, I was there, but you tell me…. If you were laying there in the infirmary trapped in the body of a kid, wouldn’t you want someone familiar to sit with you and tell you it’s gonna be all right?”
“I though you were going to tell him…”
“Only what he needs to hear, and if that means lying to him, well…” Jack sucked in a deep breath, “then that’s what I’m going to do.”
Hushed lighting made the SGC infirmary seem small, almost claustrophobic, and shuddering at the unusual quietness of the place, Jack slipped past the confines of the curtained off bed and sunk down into a chair. The sheer ludicrousness of the day’s adventure couldn’t possibly be lost on him as he took in Daniel’s new appearance. Curled up on his side, one hand tucked under his cheek, the other lurking somewhere under the blanket, Daniel snored softly, his nasally tones barely registering in the confined space. This was a stark contrast to only a few hours earlier.
The mission was, by SG-1’s standards, nothing more than a stroll in the park. A new willing and eager trading partner had extended the hand of hospitality and Jack had sent along his brightest and best to plow through the formalities of a mining agreement and suitably represent Earth in the best possible light. Nothing to it really and nothing was exactly what had gone wrong. Treaty signed and sealed with a grand dinner and plenty of brow tipping, SG-1 had beamed back to the Prometheus a happy team of campers.
Right up till the moment they’d materialized on the bridge.
Carter and her team had snapped into action and done everything except pull the gizmo that constituted the Asgard beaming technology apart. What little expertise they had on the subject had been tested to its limits in an effort to track down what exactly had gone wrong, but they could find nothing to explain away why Doctor Daniel Jackson had de-aged while caught in the matter stream. Where they should have beamed back the three members of SG-1, they got two adults and what was estimated by Doctor Brightman, to be a two year old version of an almost forty year old man. If the statements of Colonel Pendergast and his flight crew were anything to go by, SG-1’s arrival on the bridge was something fanciful even by the SGC’s standards. Many of the crew noted something was amiss before the beam had fully reintegrated the team, and as the light faded, the child that was Daniel had collapsed to the floor before Carter and Teal’c had even registered there was a problem.
“What happened to you, buddy?” Jack whispered, checking around the curtain to see if anyone was listening. “Carter is doing her best, but she’s just about run herself ragged trying to come up with a solution, and Teal’c? Well, you know him. When glaring fails, he resorts to Kel’no’reem. Got plenty of candles burning at the moment.”
Daniel’s little face twitched in his sleep, a sure sign he was dreaming. His breathing hitched and then sped up before two frightened eyes snapped open, and moving faster than Jack could comprehend, Daniel was sitting bolt upright and scrambling for the far side of the bed, stretching his IV line out tight.
“Whoa,” Jack said in surprise as he reached for the IV pole before the line was ripped from Daniel’s arm. “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.” Daniel either didn’t understand or was still caught in the throes of a bad dream, but if Jack had to hazard a guess from Brightman’s assessment, he was fairly sure Daniel didn’t have a clue who anyone was. “Jack,” he said, lowering his voice and tapping a finger on his chest. “My name is Jack, and you are Daniel.”
Tangled in the sheets and blankets, Daniel edged backwards, his bottom lip jutting out and eyes narrowing slightly. “G’way!”
“Okay,” Jack assured him softly, pushing the IV pole as close to the bed as he could before sliding his chair further away and giving Daniel some distance. “How about I just sit over here, huh?”
“General?” The curtains parted slightly as Doctor Brightman peeked through and caught sight of Daniel squashed up on the far side of the bed. “Ah, he’s awake.”
“Scared witless, Doc. Nearly pulled his IV line out.”
“I bet,” she said pushing the curtains apart and moving to the other side of the bed. “He’s been restless for the last hour. It’s a good thing though.”
“Because we’ve got some tests to conduct and he needs to eat. Based on Colonel Carter’s report, he hasn’t had anything to eat in almost twenty four hours now, hence the IV.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to test him while he was asleep?” Jack asked keeping his attention firmly fixed on Daniel who seemed to have pushed himself as far as he could go and was watching them from behind long tumbling blond bangs.
“Normally yes, but these are cognitive tests and require the patient to be awake.” Dismissing Jack, Brightman circled around the bed, one hand held out, and a small smile tugging at her lips. “Hello, Daniel.”
Jack could see Daniel’s breathing speeding up again as his bottom lip started to pout and quiver, little hands reaching out to tug at the blanket trapped around his legs, fingers seeking out the seam and teasing its edge. “Doc?”
“Shh,” Brightman warned as she closed in, her hands raised and smile fixed in place. “I’ve got nieces and nephews about his age, sir, I know what I’m doing.”
“I really don’t think—”
Daniel kicked out, and clutching the thready end of the blanket, clambered onto the pillow and up to the bed head. “Da!” he cried out as tears welled and flowed down his cheeks, and a thumb scrabbled to lodge itself in his mouth, suction anchoring it like a vice.
“Stop!” Jack leaned out over the bed and grabbed Brightman by the arm, only letting go when the doctor swiped away at his hand. “Let me try,” he urged.
Holding Jack’s gaze for a moment, Brightman nodded tightly and stepped away. “He can’t go on like this, sir, and if we can’t get him to eat soon I’ll have to insert a feeding tube.”
“He’s just a kid, doc.”
“Exactly, and his metabolism is running rings around yours. He needs food, and the glucose nutrient solution we’ve been pumping into him just isn’t enough.”
Jack scrubbed a hand across his chin and looked at the miserable ball curled up at the top of the bed, half lidded blue eyes poking out from behind the mass of blanket. “I get it,” he said lowering his voice to a whisper. “Just… give me some time.”
Sam pulled herself up short as the sound of a child’s laughter filled the infirmary, and with a smile she took in the unguarded moment between the General and Daniel through the small gap in the curtain. Daniel’s obstinate attitude as an adult was a matter of SGC lore as far as his team were concerned. Pig-headed, the General called him, but despite his apparent frustration at Daniel’s sometimes bullish behavior, it had gotten them out of more than one tight situation. This little Daniel was apparently no different. It had taken time and an astounding display of patience on the General’s part, but he’d eventually broken through to Daniel in the one unique O’Neill way that never failed to get a smile from anyone – mutual bonding over a bright red yo-yo.
Sam recalled the moment earlier in the day when, standing in the shadows of the infirmary with Teal’c, their stalwart, tough as nails commander won over his small friend by flicking the yo-yo on the bed just close enough that he couldn’t fail to catch Daniel’s attention.
After several attempts, with the yo-yo getting closer each time, Daniel shuffled a small chubby hand out from under the blanket, eyes fixed firmly on his target. “Yo?” he asked, a hint of uncertainty reflected in his brilliant blue eyes. “Ja? Yo?”
Sam’s heart melted and beside her, she could sense a very real wash of relief surging through Teal’c despite his tough exterior. There was no doubt that Daniel had recognized Jack, and Jack’s reward for his understanding was to let Daniel drag the yo-yo under the blanket. The foundation of trust was being established and Sam felt the knot of tension coiled in her chest slowly unwind. Leaving the General to a task he was best suited for, they had quietly left.
Now, hours later and poised at the periphery of their vision, Sam looked on as Daniel sat on the General’s lap. With his legs wrapped around Jack’s waist, Daniel was playing with his dog tags, in a game that obviously only the two of them understood. She couldn’t quite make out what the General was whispering but whatever it was had Daniel virtually crying with laughter, his little head thrown back, and his belly wobbling so much that the shirt he was wearing was riding up his chest.
Moment over, Daniel pitched his head forward onto the General’s shoulder, and dribbling on his BDU lapel, caught Sam’s eye. “Dam,” he mumbled, pulling back and patting Jack on the side of his cheek. “Dam.”
“May as well come in, Carter, he’s spotted you.”
“Sorry, sir. I wasn’t spying, it’s just that-”
Jack turned in his chair, taking Daniel with him. “Didn’t want to spoil the moment?”
“Yeah,” Sam smiled, slid past them and sat on the edge of Daniel’s bed. “I heard you two were having fun here.”
“Restless little tyke is a real handful.”
Sam looked over at her former team mate, his head laying flat on the General’s shoulder, thumb lodged in mouth, blinking at her through slowly closing lids. “Tired too, by the looks of it.”
“What?” Jack wiggled his shoulder, “Hey, Danny, not falling asleep on me there, are you?”
Daniel mumbled incoherently around his thumb, lips curving into the smallest of smiles as his eyes finally closed. “I think you lost him, sir.”
Jack chuckled and jutted his chin towards the bed, a sign he wanted to lay Daniel down. “Well, that’s okay. He’s probably had enough playtime for one day. Wearing me out, that’s for sure.”
Sam pulled back the covers as Jack cradled Daniel’s head in his hand and got him comfortable in the bed, pulling the blanket up around his small shoulders. “Huh,” he said cocking his head to one side, brows pulling into the smallest of frowns. “Never took him for a thumb sucker.”
“He is rather cute.”
“Don’t get too attached, Carter. I’m still holding out hope we might get the bigger version back.”
“Not ready to retire into fatherhood, sir?”
Jack rocked back on his heels, hands in pocket, and tossed Sam a look of bewilderment. “Who said anything about retirement?”
“You looked great with him. It seemed only natural that if we—”
“If we what?”
“Can’t get him back the way he was, sir. I guess I just thought you’d be the one to raise him.”
A brief flicker of pain crossed Jack’s face as his chin dropped to his chest. “Not a good idea, Carter,” he murmured. “I didn’t do such a hot job of fatherhood first time around.”
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Things change.”
“Sir? Ma’am?” One of Brightman’s nurses stuck her head around the corner. “You’re wanted in the briefing room. Master Sergeant Harriman says it’s urgent.”
“I’ll… we’ll just be…” Jack pointed towards the bed and then at the door. “You’ll call me if…?”
“We’ll keep an eye on Doctor Jackson, sir.”
“Thor! Buddy! You never write, you never call.”
“Greetings, O’Neill. Unfortunately, I lack the physical dexterity required to hold one of your writing implements. I hope that my physical appearance more than makes up for this disability.”
Jack’s playful frown quickly morphed into surprise before settling somewhere between confusion and… “Been taking courses from Teal’c?”
“Ah, if you mean by my attempt at humor, I have been practicing some of your more social responses.”
“Right. Speaking of Teal’c, Carter?”
“He’s on his way, sir,” Carter replied as she pulled up a seat at the table.
“Good.” Jack clapped his hands and sat down, watching as Thor struggled with his own bulky chair but finally succeeded in making himself comfortable. “I, ah, guess you’re wondering why we called you?”
“Your request sounded most insistent, O’Neill.”
Teal’c strode into the briefing room, inclining his head towards his teammates before settling his gaze on the Asgard. “Supreme Commander Thor.”
“Your arrival is indeed most anticipated. The Tau’ri have great need of your wisdom.”
“My time here is limited by the ongoing battle with the replicators. It would be wise to discuss the purpose for my presence.”
Jack reclined in his chair, laced his hands behind his head, and smiled laconically. “Is that Asgard for ‘times a wastin’’?”
“You are correct, O’Neill.”
Jack tipped his head towards Sam, “Carter, want to do the honors?”
“Are we not waiting for Doctor Jackson?” Thor asked.
“Ah, no, he’s the reason we asked you here.”
“I see. Please continue, Colonel Carter.”
Sam cleared her throat and began regaling SG-1’s last mission. “Approximately two days ago we gated out to PC5-161 to conclude negotiations with a people known as the Latothians. The trade agreement had already been settled by SG-9 several weeks earlier but they wished to finalize the treaty with SG-1 as the senior team representing Earth. The meeting was informal. The Latothians are a simple people but put on quite a show for us and at the end of the night we beamed back to the Prometheus. When we arrived on the bridge, Teal’c and I rematerialized as normal but Daniel… “
“… Had significantly de-aged,” Thor finished for her as three sets of eyes turned their astonishment in his direction.
“How did you…” Sam gaped. “I assumed it was some flaw with the beaming technology installed on the Prometheus.”
“It is not,” Thor continued, a small twitch of a smile on his tiny rubbery lips. “It is possible that the act of beaming him up hastened a process that was set in place the moment you visited the Latothians.”
“It wasn’t a malfunction?”
“No, Colonel Carter. Unfortunately the Asgard are not able to predict whom you will be interacting with, nor are we always able to be contacted prior to you establishing new allies. Had this been possible we would have warned you against interaction with the Latothians. They are quite an old race that once worshipped Loki-,”
“Oh, here we go.” Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair and whistled. “There’s a guy I remember with such fondness.”
“Are you finished, O’Neill?” Thor blinked his disapproval at Jack’s interruption before continuing. “As worshippers to Loki they often indulged in their playful habits on unsuspecting travellers. It was a favorite trick of the Latothians to lace the food of those whom they believed considered themselves to be superior, with a locally produced drug that would temporarily regress them in age. The Latothians saw this as not only teaching the young a lesson of respect, but they received great delight from watching their victims become children.”
“What about us?” Sam waved her hand between herself and Teal’c. “Why didn’t we regress? Why only Daniel?”
“It is possible that this drug did not work on those touched by the Goa’uld. Either a Goa’uld themself or their Jaffa. Latothia is, after all, an Asgard protected planet and was quite likely not visited by the Goa’uld.”
“So, this is all one big honkin’ joke?”
“What of Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c asked. “Will he remain this way?”
“No, Teal’c,” Thor sighed. “He will revert to his natural age within a short space of time. Approximately one of your months. The Latothians never intended for the drug’s effects to be long term.”
Jack knocked his head against the back of the chair in frustration and bellowed, “Walter!”
Poking his head out from Jack’s office, Walter grinned sheepishly, “Yes, sir?”
“What? How did you get here so fast?”
“I was in your office, General.”
“Spying on us, Sergeant?”
“Clearing your calendar for the next month, sir.”
“I have a calendar?”
“In the top drawer of your desk, sir.”
Jack pushed out from the table and swivelled the chair towards the door to his office. “The drawer that I can’t get open, contains a calendar with my daily schedule in it?”
“Is there something wrong with this picture, Walter?”
“Then why can’t I open the top drawer of my desk?”
“Because it’s locked, sir.”
“And who has the key?”
“Why?” Jack drawled out in his most pleading tone. “How can I possibly know what my schedule is if it’s written in a calendar, locked in my desk that only you have the key for?”
“Because, sir, the contents are classified and I know you wouldn’t read it anyway.”
Finger raised in the air, brows arched high, Jack slighted his eyes. “Then why are you clearing my calendar for the next month if I’m not going to read it?”
Walter looked blankly at his commanding officer as though a fool had asked the question. “Paperwork, sir.”
Jack pinched the bridge of his nose and muttered, “Walter?”
“Lock PC5-161 out of the dialing computer and clear my calendar for-”
“The next month, sir, already done.”
“Oh, and Walter?”
“Very good, sir.”
“It’s gotta hurt.”
Teal’c straightened his back and nodded solemnly. O’Neill’s remark only echoed his own conclusion that such a rapid growth in a short space of time had to have repercussions for Daniel Jackson, but each day, as they gathered ritually by his bedside, the boy’s progress back to the man he was became more evident.
With age comes wisdom, and instead of regarding this transformation as a childish prank by a race that should consider their own actions in the cold light of day, Teal’c chose to see this as an opportunity to watch his friend grow in a way that would normally not be possible. Those brief moments of clarity and lucidity where Daniel Jackson’s body didn’t demand sleep to grow, were as emotionally draining for those that had to watch him battle his confusion and slowly returning memory, as the man who had to live through them.
“In the years to come, I believe Daniel Jackson will look on this event as a unique experience.”
“Really?” Jack reclined in his chair and lifted his feet onto the edge of the bed. “Screwy if you ask me. I mean, really, de-aging someone to teach them a lesson?”
“You yourself have been in a similar situation, O’Neill. Do you not feel empathy for his plight?”
“Different thing, T. He was a clone, and not a very good one at that.”
“He was still you.”
“A clone. Nothing like me.”
Teal’c mouth twitched with the smallest of smirks and, bidding them both goodnight, he slipped through the curtain and left O’Neill to his vigil, a whispered, “Very much like you, O’Neill,” on his lips.