SUMMARY: Daniel’s got an admirer, but her attentions place him in danger.
If Jack O’Neill had been a believer in karma, he would have thought that he’d done way more harm than good in his time on earth. No way could someone who’d saved the lives of billions of people from enslavement by the Goa’uld have been so unjustly punished as he had been unless a thousand other more terrible deeds had overshadowed that one good one.
But he didn’t believe in karma. He was prepared to accept full responsibility for what had gone wrong. This time and the last. To lose one child in a lifetime was almost beyond surviving. To lose two was almost more than he could bear. He had suffered the loss of loved ones and friends more times than he could remember but none of them hurt as badly or tore at his heart so much till the agony of it was the only thing that kept him going. The pain of it was his penance and he welcomed it.
Daniel had been missing for a full year now. He’d be seven in a month. The might of the US Air Force and the FBI combined had not been enough to find him. He’d vanished into thin air, as though he’d never existed at all.
They’d found no trace of Kathy Smart either. Her records showed that she and her husband had divorced a few months after her son, Danny, had been hit by a car and died. The red flags were up immediately that bit of information was discovered but it was too late. Kathy Smart had disappeared as well, without a trace, leaving no clues to her whereabouts. There’d been sightings in the first few weeks, almost too many to follow up. From whack jobs wanting their fifteen minutes of fame, to con artists, hoping to claim the reward, to genuine, well meaning citizens who were sure that the little boy seated at the next booth in the local diner was the missing child. None of the hits came to anything, and after a few months, they dwindled until Daniel Jackson, aged 6, became just a vague memory to everyone except those who loved and missed him.
Did he remember them? Did he remember that he had once been Doctor Daniel Jackson, a thirty-five year old archeologist, member of SG1, and Jack’s closest friend? Or had time and distance erased all memory of who he’d once been?
Jack picked up a photo from his desk and ran a finger lightly over Daniel’s smiling face. “Wherever you are, Danny, I hope you’re happy,” he whispered. “Don’t be afraid. I will find you. Don’t give up on me.”
He had never allowed the possibility that Daniel might be dead to touch him. To admit to that would mean admitting defeat and Jack wasn’t defeated. He welcomed the pain of loss and guilt and kept on searching, long after it seemed everyone else had given up hope.
One Year Ago:
“Hi there, cutie! What’s your name?”
Daniel squirmed in his chair, feeling his cheeks heat with embarrassment. Even as an adult, he’d been awkward around women. Even Sha’ré. He’d loved her from the moment he set eyes on her, but her free-spirited, unabashed way of demonstrating her love for him had often left him feeling somewhat shy. “Daniel,” he muttered, shoving another forkful of mashed potato into his mouth to stifle his voice.
“Are you lost, honey?” the corporal asked, crouching down at his side and taking his hand. “I don’t know that you should be here in the commissary alone. Are you here with your folks?”
Daniel shook his head. “I’m here with Jack… Colonel O’Neill, but he got called away. He told me to wait here and he’d be right back.” He glanced at the clock on the wall, his concern notching up. He knew not everyone at the mountain knew about his little accident… He groaned inwardly at his choice of words. And this lady was a little too interested. He was really tired and he’d been waiting for Jack forever. He hoped he didn’t slip up and say something he shouldn’t. “He shouldn’t be much longer.”
The corporal – Daniel squinted at her nametag – Corporal Smart – sat down in the chair beside him. “Well, how about I wait with you until he gets back. A little guy like you shouldn’t be alone. My little boy’s name is Daniel too. How funny is that?”
“Pretty funny, I guess,” Daniel said lamely. He took a slurp of his milk and swung his legs back and forth under the table.
He turned in relief at the sound of Jack’s voice.
Jack strode over and reached out to tousle Daniel’s hair. He gave Corporal Smart a nod of acknowledgment as she stood hastily and saluted. “At ease, Corporal. Everything okay?”
“I was just concerned about this little guy, sir. It’s pretty unusual to find a child alone in the commissary.”
“Got called away,” Jack replied. “Didn’t realize it would take so long. Sorry, buddy.”
“S’okay. Can we go home now?” Daniel clambered down off his chair and looked hopefully up at Jack. They’d been here since really early in the morning and he was actually thinking a nap would be a good idea.
“Sure. Just got to stop by Carter’s lab, see how she’s doing on that special assignment I gave her.”
“Do you think she’s figured it out this time?” Daniel asked.
“Secret, remember?” Jack said, miming locking his lips.
Daniel felt his face heat at his slip and glanced quickly at Corporal Smart but she didn’t seem fazed by his comment.
“Say goodbye to the Corporal, Daniel,” Jack instructed and Daniel sketched a small wave.
“Bye,” he said.
“Bye, Daniel. Oh, Colonel, I just wanted to say, if you need a sitter anytime or someone to watch your little boy when you have to bring him to the Mountain, I’d be happy to help out,” Corporal Smart said. “Worries me a little to think of a kid wandering around alone here. No telling what could happen.”
“Thanks, Corporal, I’ll keep it in mind, but Daniel’s a pretty bright kid. He won’t be a problem.”
“I didn’t mean to imply that he would, sir, it’s just regulations stipulate—“
Jack frowned and Daniel suppressed a smile. He’d learned a long time ago never to presume you knew something Jack didn’t.
“I know the regs, Corporal,” Jack said. “I appreciate the offer but I’ve got it covered.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
Jack took Daniel’s hand and almost dragged him out of the commissary. “How many times have I told you not to draw attention to yourself, Daniel?” he asked sternly. “You’ve got to be more careful.”
Daniel gaped at him. “I-I didn’t! I was just sitting there, eating my lunch.” He pulled his hand from Jack’s grasp. “If you’d taken me with you, she never would have thought I was alone.” Brushing past Jack, he stomped ahead of him and stabbed at the elevator button. He ran into the car as soon as the doors opened, swiftly reaching out for the button but Jack snaked a hand in just as the doors started to close.
“Don’t ever do that again!” Jack admonished.
Daniel slumped against the wall of the elevator and crossed his arms over his chest. “Not fair!” he said. “First you yell at me when it wasn’t even my fault then you tell me what to do. You’re not the boss of me, Jack!”
Jack stared at him for a moment then nodded. “You’re right… on the first count. That was my fault. I should have taken you with me or got someone to watch you. On the other hand, whether you like it or not, until we can figure out how to fix this, I am the boss of you. But, I’m sorry, Daniel, I shouldn’t have blamed you.” He held out a hand as the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. “Friends?”
Daniel stared at him for a moment as though sizing up Jack's apology then reached out and grasped Jack’s hand. “Friends,” he agreed.
“How many ways do I have to say ‘No’ before you get it, Daniel?” Jack planted his hands on his hips and gave Daniel a glare, which was returned in spades.
“Just one way,” Daniel responded, “but you’re not listening to me, so why should I listen to you?”
“Watch your mouth, mister!” Jack ordered and was momentarily stunned when Daniel stuck out his tongue. He pointed toward the stairs. “Bed now!”
Daniel crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head, his jaw jutting out in defiance. “No! Don’t have to if I don’t want to.”
“Yes, you do,” Jack declared. “You’re six years old. You are not staying up all night watching TV.”
“I’m thirty five!” Daniel responded but there was a quaver in his voice and his chin quivered.
Oh boy. Jack suppressed a groan. Tantrum time. There hadn’t been many times he and Daniel had butted heads since the downsizing but every now and then, things got to be too much – not that Jack could blame the kid there – and Daniel, the kid, but with an adult still hovering just beneath the surface, became Daniel, the child tyrant. He really hoped this wasn’t going to be one of these times. “Yes, you are,” Jack said, “up here.” He tapped Daniel’s head. “Physically you’re a six year old who needs his full eight or so hours sleep. I’ll let you stay up a little later on the weekend, okay?”
“That documentary won’t be on then,” Daniel countered, and yep, Jack saw tears welling in his blue eyes. “It’s only on tonight.”
“I’ll record it for you.”
Daniel stared at him for a moment like he’d grown two heads then his shoulders slumped just a little. Jack gave a mental cheer. “Promise?”
“Cross my heart,” Jack vowed, making the appropriate actions.
Daniel still looked a little unconvinced. “Do you know how? Shall I show you?”
“Get outta here!” Jack shooed him toward the stairs. “I’m an Air Force colonel! Of course I know how to do it.”
Except of course, he didn’t… and he was certain the manual was written in Japanese. He probably should have woken Daniel and confessed, though it was a moot point, since he turned the station over to the sports channel and totally forgot about the riveting documentary Daniel had been so desperate to watch until it was three-quarters over.
He just knew he was going to burn in hell for this one.
Daniel plonked his cereal bowl down on the table so hard, most of the milk sloshed over the edge.
“Easy,” Jack admonished, grabbing the dishcloth from the sink and mopping up the spill before it overflowed onto the floor.
“I can’t believe you forgot.” Daniel slumped into his seat and picked up his spoon. He scooped up some cereal then dumped it back in the bowl, making another mess.
“For crying out loud!” Jack said. “Will you watch it, Daniel? Look, I’m sorry I forgot. I’m sure they’ll repeat it.”
Daniel glared at him. “You don’t know that.”
Jack suddenly felt every one of his forty plus years. “No, I don’t,” he agreed tiredly, “but we’ll check the TV guide and see. If not, maybe we can get it on DVD or find out if someone at the base might have taped it, okay?” There was no response. “Okay?” he prompted.
Daniel nodded. He pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “I’m going to my room to read,” he said, carrying his bowl to the sink.
“Don’t forget Carter’s coming to stay with you while I go to the base.”
“Can’t I come with you?” Daniel asked. “I want to get some stuff from my office.”
“It’s a meeting, Daniel, and I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. Besides, Carter’s looking forward to spending some time with you. She’s been so busy lately—“
“Has she found anything yet?” Daniel interrupted, a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
Jack hated to be the bearer of bad news again. “Not yet, but you know Carter—“
“She won’t give up, I know,” Daniel said with a sigh. “Can I go to my room now?”
“Sure. I’ll call you when she gets here.” Jack watched Daniel head upstairs to his bedroom, his thin shoulders slumped, his feet dragging against each riser. God, he hated this! Hated seeing the kid knocked down with each passing day, and he missed Daniel, missed his grown up friend, more than he thought he would.
“Tell me you’re kidding, Walter,” Jack groaned into the phone.
He heard Harriman swallow audibly on the other end of the line. “No, sir! I would never… Sorry, sir. No joke. The general wants you and the rest of SG1 here in an hour.”
“Excluding Doctor Jackson, I take it.”
“Yes, sir. I mean… See you in an hour, sir.” Walter hung up.
Jack restrained himself from slamming the phone receiver down into the cradle. Well, this was great! The meeting was off, not that he was bothered by not having to attend some boring summary of what SG8 had discovered amongst the ruins of a temple, but SG1 had been called in to make a quick trip to Verdos, a planet they’d visited the year before. Seems the Goa’uld had begun to take more than a passing interest in the planet, or more correctly, its inhabitants and they were begging for help, suggesting perhaps a relocation to somewhere the Goa’uld wouldn’t find them. It should have been a job for one of the diplomatic teams but the elders were demanding SG1’s presence. Jack wondered how he’d explain Daniel’s absence. The Verdosians, like so many others, had taken a real shine to Daniel.
He had a more pressing problem right now though. He stared at the phone as though it might offer up a solution then sighed, and made one quick call before heading for the stairs, jogging up them two at a time. Stopping outside Daniel’s closed door, he knocked once then entered.
Daniel was lying on his bed, an open book beside him but his gaze was directed out the window and Jack could see dried tear tracks on his cheeks. Damn!
“Hey,” he said, entering the room and crossing to Daniel’s bedside. “Just got a call from the SGC. We need to go in.”
Daniel sat up with alacrity, his book sliding to the floor. “Did Sam—“
“No.” Jack waved the idea away before Daniel got his hopes up. We’re… Carter and Teal’c and I have to go to Verdos. Problem with the Goa’uld. They’re talking about relocation.”
Daniel nodded enthusiastically and climbed off the bed. “Remember PX2-798? That would be perfect for them. I’ll talk to Kata. I’m sure I can convince him it’s the right thing to do.”
“No can do, Daniel,” Jack replied firmly. “You know you can’t come with us.”
“No!” Jack steeled himself for an explosion of temper but instead Daniel just nodded.
“I forgot,” he whispered. “Who’s gonna look after me? Janet?”
Jack shook his head. “She’s flat out in the infirmary. SG4 came back pretty banged up from their last mission. I was thinking, you remember that Corporal that took such a shine to you?”
Daniel scowled. “Corporal Smart?”
“That’s the one. I checked and she’s on base today. Thought we’d take her up on her offer of keeping an eye on you.”
Daniel looked up at him. “Do I have to?”
“Unless you can think of anyone else…” Jack wanted to allow Daniel some autonomy on who he spent time with but he knew this time, any suggestion the kid made was going to be a bust.
“Don’t s’pose General Hammond or Walter…” Daniel began then trailed off. “Guess they’re gonna be busy with the Verdosian thing, huh?”
“Yeah.” Jack grabbed Daniel’s jacket off the coat hook by the door. “Look, it’ll only be for the day. We’ll probably be back in a couple of hours, tops.”
“You think?” Daniel still didn’t look either convinced or happy with the decision.
“Guaranteed. If…” Jack held up a finger, “and it’s a very big if we’re not, Walter said you can stay at his place tonight.”
Daniel’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets. “Really? He said that?”
Now wasn’t the time, Jack decided, to let Daniel in on the fact that Hammond had pretty much had to make it an order before the good Sergeant had agreed. He nodded. “Said he couldn’t wait.”
Jack handed Daniel his jacket. “So, you’re down with this?”
“Can I go to my office and look for stuff?” Daniel asked as he followed Jack out the door.
“Sure, just don’t bring it all home, huh? We’re running out of bookshelf space.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” Daniel announced as they headed for the entrance.
Jack gave him a sidelong glance. “About what?”
“Staying with Corporal Smart.” He pulled his hand from Jack’s grasp and pulled himself up to his full 3 feet or so height. “Come on, Jack, I can help with this mission. It’s a diplomatic visit. That’s part of the reason I’m on the team.”
“Were,” Jack said and then bit his lip. “Sorry. Once this is sorted—“
“It’s never gonna be fixed, Jack,” Daniel said and he hated the way his voice sounded so shaky, how his throat felt closed up so tightly he could barely get the words out. “I know that and so do you.”
“I’m sorry,” Jack replied and he sounded as choked up as Daniel did. He squatted down and pulled Daniel into his arms. As angry and frustrated as he felt, Daniel went willingly into his embrace, wrapping his arms tightly around Jack’s neck. “I’m not giving up though,” Jack added, “and don’t you give up either.”
Daniel nodded, ashamed when hot tears spilled down his cheeks. He pulled back, swiping at the wetness with his sleeve. “We should go,” he said softly, “or you’ll be late. Can I just talk to you about Kata though? He’s the one who’s going to object to relocating.”
Jack reached out and took Daniel’s hand, leading him into the base. “We’ll talk while I gear up. You know me and diplomacy, Daniel. I’m gonna need all the help I can get.”
“So, Daniel, is there anything special you’d like to do?”
Daniel gave Jack and the team a final wave and watched them head through the gate before turning to face Corporal Smart… Kathy, she’d told him to call her. “I need to go to my office— Doctor Jackson’s office. There’s some books there he said I could borrow.”
Kathy frowned. “I don’t know about that,” she said. “Doctor Jackson’s away on a special mission—“
“He knows,” Daniel replied, feeling his temper beginning to fray already. He was so worried he was going to let something slip. It would have been better if he could have stayed with someone who knew his secret. “You could call General Hammond and check with him.”
“He’s in a meeting. I don’t think he’d like to be disturbed.” Kathy smiled at him. “Tell you what? Why don’t we play a game until he’s free?” She held out her hand and Daniel took it reluctantly.
“Like what?” he asked as she led him down the steps and into the main corridor.
Kathy held a finger to her lips then bent down and whispered in his ear.
“Really? Won’t we get into trouble if security finds out?”
“Leave it to me,” Kathy assured him. “One of my best friends is on security detail today. I’ll let him know and then we can go. Remember, you have to pretend or else we’ll have to stay here all day.”
As he followed her toward the exit, Daniel began to have doubts. He stopped and looked back the way they’d come. “We should leave a message for Jack… Colonel O’Neill, in case he comes back early.”
“I’ll pass it on to my friend,” Kathy said. “Besides, we’re only going for an hour, two tops. We’ll be back well before he is.” She stared at him for a moment. “What’s it going to be, Daniel? Stay here and be bored or go to the park?”
“Park, I guess.”
She smiled and held out her hand again. “Great! Just remember you have to pretend you’re my little boy.”
Daniel twisted in his booster seat and looked out the rear window. “You missed the turn,” he said. “The park’s back that way!”
Kathy smiled at him in the rear vision mirror. “I’ve got a surprise for you, Danny.”
“Surprise?” For some reason, Kathy’s words caused his stomach to flip with uncertainty. He dropped his empty juice container onto the seat beside him. “What surprise?”
“We’re going home,” Kathy announced. “It’s going to be you and me again, Danny. Just like it used to be. Just like it was supposed to be before they took you away.”
“But I have a home,” Daniel protested. “With Jack. I live with Jack now!”
Kathy nodded and made a right hand turn. Daniel knew this road took them onto the state highway. His heart was pounding and his chest felt tight. He felt tears burn his eyes. “They took you away from me but now I’ve got you back,” she said.
“I don’t... I don’t know you!” Daniel scrabbled for the catch on his seatbelt but his small hands couldn’t press the release hard enough. “Please, Kathy, I’m scared! I want to go home!”
“Hush,” Kathy soothed. “Don’t be scared. You don’t remember me because you were just a little boy when they took you away. I’m your mommy, Danny. We’re going to be happy again, just like we used to be. I put something in your juice earlier. You’re going to start feeling sleepy soon. By the time you wake up, we’ll be at our new home.”
Tears overflowed Daniel’s eyes as Kathy pressed her foot to the accelerator and the car sped down the road, leaving the SGC far behind.
“What do you mean he’s not here?” Jack glared at Sergeant Harriman who took a step back as though he expected Jack to punch him. Jack had to admit the idea was tempting. “That corporal… what’s her name…”
“Smart, sir,” Walter provided, “Kathryn Smart.”
“Smart, that’s it.” Jack nodded. “Not exactly living up to her name, is she? Come on,” he said, motioning for Harriman to follow him. “Carter, you and Teal’c, debrief. Tell the general I’ll be there as soon as I track Daniel down.”
“Yes, sir. Go easy on Daniel, okay?” Carter said with a small smile. We all know how persuasive he can be when he wants to do something.”
“Yes, we do,” Jack agreed. “Come on, Walter, get the lead out.”
“But, sir—“ Walter began but Jack cut him off with a sharp wave of his hand.
He strode down the corridor with the good sergeant doing his level best to keep up. “I should have warned her,” he groused, shaking his head. “Don’t take your eyes off him for a minute. He’s probably in his office, reading.”
“We already checked there, sir,” Harriman said.
Jack stopped at that. “Where’s Smart? Where was the last place she saw him?”
“We- we haven’t been able to locate her, Colonel,” Harriman replied. “That’s what I was trying to explain. We have security footage….”
“Show me,” Jack snapped out.
Two guards stood at attention inside the security office, looking distinctly nervous. Jack glared at them both, a feeling of dread beginning to curl in his gut. “What happened?”
“She... Corporal Smart said he was her son, sir,” one of the men said. “He... he called her mom. She even had a photo of him in her purse. I had no idea—“
“And you didn’t think to ask why she had him on base in the first place?”
“What?” Jack scowled at him. “Didn’t think to ask or just plain didn’t think?”
“Colonel.” Jack glanced around as Hammond entered the room, followed by Carter and Teal’c. “I’ve just heard. What the hell happened?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out, General.” Jack turned back to the video screen. “Roll the video.” They watched in silence as Corporal Smart led Daniel by the hand out of the exit and to the guard post. She stood chatting for a moment then tousled Daniel’s hair and smiled down at him. Daniel grinned back then reached for her hand and tugged her away in the direction of the parking lot. He showed no fear, only eagerness. “What the hell...”
Jack had to admit that things hadn’t been going nearly as well as he’d hoped they would since Daniel’s downsizing. They’d butted heads many times over the way Daniel should be treated. As an adult or as a child? Jack had decided that a halfway approach was best but tried to give Daniel some autonomy over his life when he was certain it wouldn’t have a negative impact on him. For the most part, he’d thought it was working well. He thought back to the argument they’d had that morning and the day before. Was it even slightly possible that Daniel had decided it was all too hard? That he was better off with someone else?
“I’ll make some calls,” Hammond said. Get a search organized immediately.”
“I want Smart’s address,” Jack said. “Let’s go.” He nodded to Carter and Teal’c and strode out of the room.
“I think we should let the FBI and own own legal authorities handle this, Colonel,” Hammond said.
“They don’t know Daniel, sir,” Jack replied. “They don’t know who he is.”
Hammond nodded. “You’re right there. This could open one hell of a can of worms. Go. Keep me posted.”
Except of course, there was no sign of Corporal Katherine Smart or of Daniel. They’d questioned her neighbors who said they hadn’t seen her in over a week. BOLOs had been put out on both of them as well as her car. They hadn’t been seen since.
“Danny? Wake up, honey.”
The unfamiliar female voice prodded Daniel back to wakefulness and he yawned and stretched then opened his eyes. A woman sat beside him and Daniel was sure he knew her though he couldn’t seem to place... Clarity came and with a gasp, he launched himself up, only to be caught in her restraining arms. He struggled but he was easily overpowered by her superior strength.
“Shh,” Kathy crooned. “It’s okay. It’s me, your mom.”
“You’re not my mom,” Daniel sobbed.
That appeared to shock her enough that she abruptly let go of him and he fell back, banging his head against the wall.
“How can you say that?” she asked, tears shining in her eyes. “I told you, they took you away from me.”
Daniel shook his head. “No, they didn’t,” he said with a quaver. “I’m not your little boy. I’m Daniel Jack—“ He snapped his mouth shut before he could go on. It was a secret. He couldn’t tell her who he was. She wouldn’t believe him anyway. He took a shallow breath then another, deeper one, trying to calm himself and allow his adult self to come to the fore. Perhaps he could convince her to let him go if he could just make her see reason.
She was holding a small photo out to him. “See, she said, “that’s me and you. It was taken just before...” She glanced away and wiped at her eyes. “Anyway, all that matters is you’re back with me now.”
“Kathy,” Daniel reached out and took her hand, “that’s not me,” he said softly, forcing his tears back. “I live with Jack... Colonel O’Neill is my dad.”
“No!” She shook her head vehemently. “They just told you that.”
“It’s true!” he insisted. He felt tears sting his eyes despite his best efforts to keep them at bay. “Please. I want to go home.”
“You are home,” Kathy said with a smile. She waved a hand around the room. “I decorated your room while you were asleep and... I got you a welcome home present. Wait here.” She stood and walked out of the room.
Daniel sat up and looked around. It was a typical little boy’s room, decorated in blue and white with airplanes hanging from the ceiling and an assortment of books on a shelf on the other side of the room. Standing, he walked quickly over to the window. They were on at least the second floor of the house, the ground looked a long way away, and the window was locked. He turned away quickly when he heard her re-enter the room.
She held a brown puppy in her arms. “He’s yours, Danny. What would you like to call him?”
Daniel shrugged and took the squirming bundle gingerly. “I don’t know.” The puppy licked his nose and he was unable to suppress a giggle.
“He likes you,” Kathy said with a smile.
Daniel sighed. “I can’t,” he said. He placed the puppy on the floor and watched for a moment as it explored its new surroundings. “I need to go home.”
“Okay.” Daniel looked up at her, hope blossoming at her sudden agreement. “We need to talk.”
He allowed her to lead him back over to the bed. She sat down, drawing him to her side. “Truth time. You’re right, I’m not your mom, Danny. I thought it was the best thing to tell you at the time but now I can see I was wrong.” She smiled at him. “You’re way too smart for that. Colonel O’Neill asked me to bring you here.”
“What? No, he wouldn’t do that.”
“He didn’t want to,” Kathy said, “but he’s just too busy to look after you. He’s got a very important job and he just doesn’t have time for you right now. He’s been a little short tempered with you lately, hasn’t he? Like the other day in the commissary when he left you there by yourself because he had to go to that meeting?”
Daniel nodded and stared down at his hands.
“It’s okay, you can tell me.”
“Only because I keep doing the wrong things,” Daniel whispered. Don’t tell, he cautioned himself silently. No matter what happens you can’t tell. He looked up at her, a plan finally forming. If he could convince her that he really was just a little boy, maybe she’d let her guard down enough that he could escape, or call Jack. He could ask Jack if she was telling the truth and he was sure she wasn’t. Jack would have told him. They were friends, best friends. Jack promised to look after him, no matter what. Jack would already be looking for him, of that he was sure. All he had to do was bide his time and wait. She didn’t want to hurt him, he was certain of that much. “We argue sometimes,” he said finally, “about what I want to do.”
She nodded understandingly. “That’s right and he said that you’re just too much for him to deal with right now. It’s all too hard. He needs to do his job and he can’t do that if he has to look after you as well. He asked me to look after you at the base. He organized it so I could take you away.”
“He wouldn’t do that,” Daniel shouted. “He loves me!”
“Of course he does,” Kathy soothed, “that’s why he did it. He wants you to be happy, Danny, and he knew you weren’t. Not the way things were. That’s why we had to sneak away. He didn’t want to have to say goodbye.”
Daniel stared at her for a long moment. “I can go back, right?” he asked. “Soon?”
Kathy nodded. “Just as soon as he’s ready. We just have to give him a little time.”
Sudden doubt assailed him and he felt his heart lurch. They had managed to leave without any problem at all. Could Jack have really decided it was all too much? He and Jack seemed to do nothing but yell at each other lately and he was always having to find someone to look after him so he could do his job.
Sam was no closer to finding a solution. Maybe they all thought it was better this way and they’d thought it best that he didn’t know. He’d already almost exposed the secret more times than he could remember. He was finding it harder each day to keep his childish emotions in check, as though he really was becoming more child, while his adult self slowly faded away.
No more hiding whom he really was. No more secrets.
He choked out a sob and Kathy wrapped her arms around him, holding him close. He clung to her, his fear overwhelming him.
Would he forget who he’d once been? Would he forget Jack as well?
One Month Later:
Jack picked up the phone with relief when it buzzed. Any respite from typing interminable reports was welcome. “O’Neill.”
“General Hammond would like to see you, sir, right away.” Walter’s voice sounded tight and breathless and Jack was immediately on alert. “On my way.”
He wasn’t surprised to find Carter and Teal’c there when he arrived. Another mission, no doubt. They’d been running on fumes the past couple of months and Jack had a sneaking suspicion that Hammond had figured keeping them on the go meant less time to stop and think and worry and grieve.
He nodded to his teammates and stood at parade rest in front of the desk. “General?”
Hammond studied each of them in turn and Jack’s heart lurched in his chest at the open sadness he saw in the other man’s eyes. “The police called, Jack. The body of a young boy was found this morning. The description—“
“No!” Jack shook his head vehemently. “Not going there. It’s not Daniel.”
Through the roaring in his ears, he could hear Carter sobbing, Teal’c murmuring softly to her. Hammond stood and walked around the desk, grabbing Jack’s arm and pushing him into a chair. “Sit down before you fall down, son.”
Jack cradled his head in his hands. “How certain are they?” he croaked.
Hammond sighed. “The child’s around the right age, blond.”
“Do they know…” Carter’s voice choked off.
“No further details yet,” Hammond answered. “They want someone to go down, make a formal identification. I’m happy to do that.”
“No.” Jack stood on shaking legs. “I’ll do it, sir. It should be me.”
“We’re coming with you… sir,” Carter said. Her voice sounded stronger now, though still thick with emotion.
Jack turned to her. She looked as white as a sheet and he doubted he looked any better. Teal’c’s normally impassive face was a mask of barely concealed grief. “You don’t have to—“ Jack started but Teal’c cut him off.
“We are all Daniel Jackson’s family, O’Neill,” he said firmly. “We will all go.”
Jack nodded, grateful for the words. “You’re right.” He took a deep ragged breath. “Let’s go.”
God, he couldn’t do this again. Couldn’t look down at another dead child. He walked into the morgue, feeling as though he was wading through molasses.
“Colonel O’Neill? I’m Doctor Morgan.” A tall, thin blonde woman approached him.
Jack nodded, his gaze drawn to the tiny sheet covered form lying on the table behind her. “Can we get this over with?”
“Of course.” She turned and walked over to the table and pulled back the cover.
Jack’s breath caught in his throat and he felt an agonizing pain lance through his chest. Struggling to stay on his feet, he staggered over to stand beside the coroner. Slowly, he reached out and stroked a finger down the child’s peach-fuzzed rounded cheek, tears streaming unnoticed down his cheeks.
Jack walked out of the morgue on shaking legs. Carter and Teal’c were waiting for him, as he knew they would be. He’d refused to allow them to accompany him inside. It was enough that one of them would have to face this. Carter was crying openly again. Reaching out, he pulled her into a tight embrace and reached out for Teal’c’s hand, squeezing tightly, needing the comfort as much as they did. “It’s not him, Carter. It’s not him.”
He left Sam in Teal’c’s tender care and headed home. Teal’c was the most stoic man he’d ever met but Jack had seen his face crumple with emotion, tears glistening in his dark eyes, when it had sunk in that Daniel was still out there somewhere.
He should have gone home and gotten some sleep but there were too many memories of Daniel there and he was certain any rest he managed to get would be fractured by images of lost little children, Charlie and Daniel amongst them. He opted to head back to the mountain, stopping by to look in on Teal’c who informed him with a mix of sadness and relief in his voice that he’d encouraged Carter to go home and rest. Jack was grateful for that. As much as he wanted to comfort her, all of his thoughts were wrapped up in a single-minded cycle that brought both hope and defeat.
Daniel wasn’t dead but he was still lost to them. What pained him the most was the fact that he’d known with certainty that he wouldn’t find Daniel in that morgue but he was still no closer to knowing where he was.
He fell asleep finally with his cheek pressed against his growing pile of reports and woke a few hours later with a stiff neck and a pissed off attitude but a renewed determination to track down their little boy lost. He was certain that Daniel would have made some attempt to either escape or at least contact him by now. Could it be that the FBI was right, that the longer Daniel was missing, the more chance there was that he was dead? He pushed the notion away angrily, mentally berating himself for allowing his exhaustion and grief to steer his thoughts in that direction, powered up his computer, and finding the bookmark for Missing and Exploited children, began his search once more.
Daniel stood with his hands on his hips, glaring at Kathy. “No! I don’t want to!”
“What did you say, young man?”
“I said I don’t want to and you can’t make me.”
“Oh, yes, I can.” Kathy dropped the dish she’d been washing back into the sink and walked over to Daniel. “You do as I tell you. I’m the mom here, remember?”
Daniel shook his head, blinking back tears of frustration. “You’re not my mom.” He felt a moment’s shame at his outburst when her forehead creased into a frown. “You promised,” he said more softly. “You promised last week and then you forgot and you promised yesterday if I did all my homework, and I did.”
Kathy blew out a sigh and nodded. “You’re right. I did promise but it’s just not the right time.”
“He’s just really busy. In fact, I think he was going on a new mission and they’re not sure how long he’ll be away. They said they’ll tell him to call as soon as he gets back.”
Fresh indignation and anger bubbled up at her explanation. “I don’t believe you.” Turning away from her, Daniel stomped into the living room and threw himself down on the couch. He hated her! Hated Jack too!
“Fine,” Kathy called from the kitchen. “I guess there’s no ice cream for dessert tonight. In fact, you can go get your pajamas on right now and go to bed.”
“I don’t care,” he called back and stayed where he was. His gaze strayed to the phone on the wall by the door. It had always been too high for him to reach but he must have grown a little since they’d been here. Standing, he crept over and reached up, his fingers just grazing the receiver. He shot a quick glance in the direction of the kitchen then stood on his toes. His fingers curled around the hand piece and he pulled it down, clutching it to his chest. Taking a deep breath, he let the fingers of his free hand hover over the keypad…
“Danny! What are you doing?” Kathy strode over and pulled the receiver from his grasp. “What have I told you about this? You only use the phone with my permission.”
“Please.” Daniel’s tears started anew and this time, he didn’t bother trying to hold them in. He was so lost, so lonely. He missed Jack and the others so much. “I want to talk to Jack but… but I can’t remember the number.”
“Oh, honey.” Kathy hung up the phone and pulled him into a hug. He stiffened and pulled away and she frowned but then let him go. Picking up the phone again, she looked down at him. “Okay, you win. I’ll call but remember he might not be there.”
“I could talk to Sam,” Daniel said, excitement making his heart pound. “If I tell her how much I miss everyone, maybe she’ll come get me. I’m sorry. You’ve been really nice to me but I want to go home now.”
Kathy nodded. “I understand, Danny, but I can’t promise anything.” Daniel watched as she punched in a series of numbers and waited. “Colonel O’Neill, please? Yes, I’ll hold.” She smiled down at him and rolled her eyes. “Colonel O’Neill, please. What? Oh, I didn’t know. I wasn’t informed. Thank you. No, no message.”
Daniel tugged at her sleeve. “What did they say? Wasn’t Jack there? You should have asked for Sam.”
Kathy hung up the phone then took Daniel’s hand and led him over to the couch. She sat and pulled him onto her lap. “I have some very sad news, Danny. There was some kind of accident. A terrible accident. Jack and Sam… SG1 are dead.”
Daniel had cried himself to sleep in Kathy’s arms, his breath still hiccupping a little as she cradled him gently, smoothing his sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead. She hated herself for making him suffer like that but she was too far down the path she’d chosen to go back. Daniel was too young to understand that he was better off with her, with someone who loved and wanted him. She’d heard Colonel O’Neill chastising the poor kid in the commissary at the SGC and she’d had to hold back telling the man that it was his fault, not Danny’s, that he’d been abandoned there in the first place. She’d never been able to understand people who had children then treated them like pets and sometimes, even worse. She had been a good mother, the best, and her Danny had been taken from her in the worst possible way.
She shushed Daniel softly as he shifted in her arms and whimpered then she settled back on the couch and he cuddled more closely to her. There were things she needed to do. She knew they’d been lucky so far to escape detection, even though she home schooled him and they moved every month or so. That was, in part, the reason she’d made the decision to tell Daniel that his father was dead. Home schooling wouldn’t be an option for much longer. He was incredibly bright and she was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with his boundless enthusiasm to learn.
She looked around the small apartment and made up her mind. It was time to move on. Danny was vulnerable now and needed her. Perhaps in a fresh environment, he could adapt and they would be the family she’d always wanted. She had the money saved to get the official papers she needed and had solicited the help of an old boyfriend who had the skill and needed the cash. She’d always wanted to live in the country. Danny could go to school then, just like he’d been begging her. He was going to love it, she knew.
Janet Fraiser walked slowly up the stairs to the debriefing room. She’d asked to meet with General Hammond and SG1 urgently. Now, she wished she could just turn around and hightail it back to the infirmary.
The three members of SG1 turned to look at her as she stepped into the room, their hopeful smiles fading into uncertainty as she placed her files on the table.
“What have you got, Doctor?” Hammond asked.
“I’m not entirely sure, sir,” she began. “When the little boy was found, the FBI asked us to supply them with some samples of Daniel’s DNA. We did so and while I was completing the report, I decided to go back through Daniel’s latest scans, the one I did the day before…” She took a deep breath then continued. “Anyway, I found something on Daniel’s latest PET scan.”
“What?” Colonel O’Neill sat forward, his hands clasped on the table in front of her, his gaze intimidating.
“I wasn’t sure until I checked his other PET scans,” Janet replied, “but there’s no doubt.”
“Spit it out, Doc,” O’Neill said.
“We couldn’t be sure how Daniel’s downsizing would affect his brain. While his memories appeared to be mostly intact, his emotional age appeared to shift between adult and child—“
“And?” O’Neill interrupted.
“If you’d be quiet for five minutes, Colonel, the good doctor might be able to tell us,” Hammond said, aiming a glare at O’Neill.
The colonel looked suitably chastised and Sam gave Janet a quick grin. “Sorry, Doc,” Colonel O’Neill said. “You were saying?”
Janet nodded her thanks and spread out her reports. “The change is quite small if you look at a single scan but overall, the general trend is downward and it appeared to be progressing more quickly as time went on.” She looked up and stared at each of them in turn. “Daniel’s mental capacity was… is deteriorating.”
“So, you’re saying he’s becoming the child he was downsized to,” Sam said.
Janet nodded. “In every way, physically and mentally.”
“What about his memory?” O’Neill asked. “Just because he thinks like a kid doesn’t mean he’ll lose his memory, right?”
“Chances are, Colonel, he will,” Janet said softly. “His learning centers, the Limbic region—“
“Whatever.” O’Neill cut her off with a wave of his hand. He stood, shoving back his chair so hard, it teetered and would have fallen if not for Teal’c’s quick reflexes. “If that’s all, sir…”
“Doctor Fraiser?” Hammond looked at Janet.
“That’s all, sir.” Janet gathered up her files and headed toward the stairs. Passing Colonel O’Neill, she touched his arm. “I’m sorry, sir, I really am.”
Jack glared at his newest team member. “You want to run that by me again, Squib?”
“Actually, it’s Schwab,” the thin man replied, “but anyway, as I said, Colonel, I’m the foremost expert on Mayan culture… now that Dr. Jackson has left the program anyway. I’ve been in charge of several high level, high security digs and I’ve never had my authority questioned before, especially by someone who has no idea about archeology in the first place.”
Carter bit her lip. She could see Mount O’Neill was about to blow, and it wouldn’t be the first time. This was the fifth archeologist to join SG1 and it looked like he’d be leaving before he finished his first day.
“You want to tell me who’s in charge of SG1?” Jack asked. “Last time I checked, it was me.”
Schwab was already shaking his head. “When it comes to matters of archeological importance, I think my superior knowledge of what constitutes an important find makes it pretty obvious who should be calling the shots, Colonel.”
“Oh, you do, do you?” Jack advanced on the man and Carter suppressed a smile as Schwab took a step back. She glanced at Teal’c who was looking on with an expression that mixed curiosity and amusement. “So, when I say we have to go because an army of Jaffa are about to overrun us, you—“
“I think you overreacted, that’s all. This is probably the single most important find we’ve made. You’re there to protect us, Colonel. You should have stood your ground and held them at bay until I was finished with my translation.”
“A man is dead because you wouldn’t shift your ass!” Jack yelled.
“That’s not my concern,” Schwab shot back. “Dr. Jackson might have been happy to kowtow to the military, Colonel, but I’m not.”
“Why, you puny little excuse for a human being…” Jack ground out and Carter just knew it was about to go to hell in a handbasket. She stepped forward, in concert with Teal’c, just as the colonel’s hands reached out toward Schwab’s throat.
“What in tarnation is going on here? Stand down, Colonel!”
Carter relaxed as Hammond’s voice rang out. Jack froze but the threatening look on his face didn’t change.
“I said, stand down!” Hammond ordered again.
O’Neill stepped back and Schwab turned to the general. “I demand Colonel O’Neill be reprimanded, General. He was threatening bodily harm—“
“You’re being seconded to Area 51, Dr. Schwab,” Hammond interrupted. ”Dismissed.”
Schwab opened and closed his mouth a few times before giving a huff of displeasure and stalking from the gateroom. Hammond turned and fixed O’Neill with a baleful glare. “Well, this is a fine kettle of fish, Colonel. Any idea where I find another archeologist willing to take on SG1?”
“We don’t need one, sir,” O’Neill replied. “We were doing fine without one after Daniel…” His voice trailed off.
“The colonel’s right, sir,” Sam put in. “We can always use someone from one of the other teams if it becomes necessary but for now…”
“I am able to help with translations on most occasions,” Teal’c added.
“I’m beginning to think you’re right,” Hammond said. He glared at Jack then sighed. “Take the rest of the day off, Jack. Go home and get some rest. You look like something the cat dragged in.”
“I’m fine,” O’Neill said but Hammond stared him down.
“Do I need to make it an order?”
“No, sir.” Giving Sam and Teal’c a small salute, Jack strode out of the room.
Jack headed straight for the fridge and pulled a beer out, drinking half of it in one long swallow. He’d had enough! Trust Hammond to walk in just when he finally had the chance to do what he’d been itching to do all day and wrap his hands around Squib’s scrawny neck. What a pain in the ass the guy had been. He was worse than Rothman. Even Rothman wouldn’t have tried to pull a stunt like that and Daniel—
With a roar of rage, Jack threw the beer bottle at the wall, watching the glass shatter spectacularly though it did nothing to ease his turmoil. Not bothering to clean up the mess, he strode down the steps into the living room and stood, choosing his next target.
He picked up a piece from his chess board and stared at it then tossed it aside, reaching instead for the chess board. Heaving it, he ignored the crash as it impacted the wall then he turned and kicked over the coffee table. Ten minutes later, he stood, panting, amid the carnage of his living room, the agony of loss still an unbearable weight on his heart and soul. Finally, worn down by the constant despair and dead ends, the waiting and wondering, he collapsed to his knees and gave in to his grief. “God, Daniel, I miss you so much.”
Daniel came awake with a small gasp. Gazing around, he relaxed when he realized he was in his bedroom, that he’d just had a dream. He had the same dream pretty much every night. It never changed. He was running and a man was calling to him, begging him to come back. He always stopped and turned but then the man would seem to fade away before Daniel had a chance to see his face. Daniel knew him, he was certain of that. There was something comfortably familiar about him.
His mom told him it was his imagination playing tricks on him and said it was because he read too much. The thing was, he didn’t have any real friends and escaping into an adventure book made that seem not so bad. His mom home-schooled him, because he was too smart for school, she told him, and they moved so often, he’d just be getting to know the neighborhood kids and they’d be packing up once more. Until last month, at least. Last month they’d packed up again, just when Daniel had finally convinced his mom to let him go next door and play with Michael, and they moved to a little town a long way from the city.
Daniel loved it here. Their house was small and a long way from town, but he and Sam, his dog, could go to the creek to catch tadpoles or play soldiers in the woods. Best of all, his mom had given him some big news when they arrived. She’d been given permission to adopt him. She even had a special certificate with his name and hers on it, and she told him that if they didn’t have to move again, he could start going to school in town after his seventh birthday. His dad had died a while back, and while Daniel knew he should miss him, he couldn’t really remember him very well. His mom said that was normal because he’d been so young when it had happened but now he had her and they had each other and Sam and that was all that mattered. He supposed she was right. Lots of kids after all didn’t have anyone to love them. If it wasn’t for the dreams, he figured he’d be the happiest kid around.
“Hey, Sleepyhead! You’re awake at last.” His mom came into the bedroom with a stack of freshly laundered clothes and plonked them down on the bed near Daniel’s feet. “We need to get moving early today. The cupboards are bare and I want to go into town before that storm hits.”
Daniel sat up and pulled a grey t-shirt from the stack. “Can we go to the library” he asked. “I want to get some more books?”
His mother smiled and sat on the edge of the bed. “More books? What about the ones you borrowed last week?”
Daniel shrugged and grinned. “Finished them.”
“I don’t know if we’ll have time, sweetie,” his mom said. “That rain they’ve been predicting is due this afternoon and we could get some flash flooding.”
“Then I’ll need something to read, won’t I?” Daniel said, and gave her his most wheedling look.
“Enough with the puppy dog eyes,” she admonished. “Get dressed now and let’s see how fast we can do what we need to do. Then, we’ll see.”
“Okay.” Daniel jumped out of bed and started pulling on his clothes. “Can we have breakfast in town? Waffles?”
“I was thinking the same thing myself. Come on, scoot.”
Daniel waited until they were in the car before mentioning the one thing that bothered him. “I had another dream last night,” he whispered. “About him.”
“The man? Dreams cant hurt you, sweetie. Just your imagination working overtime.” She tapped lightly on his head. “Too much happening in here. Might have to cut down on what you watch on TV.”
“He doesn’t scare me, Mom, not really. He just wants me to go with him. Do you think it could be my dad?”
She nodded. “I suppose it could be. Maybe that’s why you can’t see his face, because you don’t really remember him.”
He looked up at her, unaccountably troubled. “Sometimes I think I do remember things from before.”
He shrugged. They’d had this conversation before and she always got this sad look on her face. He remembered laughing and camping, and people who were nice to him, but like his imagination man, had no faces. Mixed in with those memories though were darker, more frightening ones. Of his dad shouting at him, and a lady with shining eyes and flames that shot from her palm, making his head burn with fire. His mom had that sad, worried look on her face again. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just imagination, right?”
She smiled then. “Right. So… waffles or pancakes?”
“Both?” he suggested with a hopeful expression. “We can have half each.”
She held up her hand and he gave her a high five. “Deal!”