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The Age of Innocence by iiiionly

 

"Strike one!"  The umpire's arm flashes out, one finger extended on his right hand. 

The ball whizzes over the plate again. 

"Strike two!"  Right hand repeat, two fingers out.

"Keep your eye on the ball," I'm chanting under my breath, "keep your eye on the ball." 

On one side of me, Carter's holding her breath.  On the other side, the doc's got her eyes closed, praying, I presume, since I can hear her mumbling Hail Mary's under her breath.  Either that or she thinks we're playing football.

"Ball one!"  The left hand flashes, one finger extended.  "Ball two!  Two and two!" the umpire calls, bending again over the head of the catcher.

Daniel steps out of the batter's box, digs the tip of his bat into the dirt, takes a practice swing, and steps back up to the plate.

Who would have imagined our Littlest Ancient would have the soul of Hank Aaron?  Or that as he's standing at home plate, watching the ball come toward him, he's calculating planetary drift? 

I'm sorry, who would ever have imagined Daniel Jackson could play baseball?

"YES!" 

A thunderous crack - so loud I wonder if he's split the bat - and Daniel's running for all he's worth. The first base coach is screaming at him to go on to second! 

Carter, doc, and I are glued to the fence, fingers clenched in the octagonal chain links, breathlessly watching our kid skid around second and head for third as the third base coach thunders, "Slide, Danieljackson!  Slide!"

Head first, arm outstretched, Daniel slides into third a hairsbreadth in front of the outstretched, rapidly descending glove of the short stop.

"Safe!" bellows the umpire, barely discernable above the roar of the crowd.
 
My heart is pounding as if I'm the one who just ran the bases. 

Behind me Carter and the doc exchange a high five, whooping it up right along with the rest of the team.
 
Me?  I'm too busy screaming at my kid.  "Way to go, Sport!  A triple!"

Daniel's grin watts up by fifty percent at least.

"Come on, Kenny!  Get me in!" he yells to his teammate in the on-deck circle.

If we loose tonight, we're done.  This will be our final game of the season.  Since there are only eight teams, everybody's in the playoffs and to make it fun, if not fair, the playoffs are sudden death.  So if a really good team has a really bad night?  Oh well, too bad, better luck next year.

We're undefeated so far; however, the Holy Mackerels have given us a run for our money tonight. 

They're motivated. 

We heard they've been holding extra practices and it's clearly done them some good.  This is not the team we soundly trounced three weeks ago.

They're so much better, we're up for the last at bat with two outs already, and our tying run is standing at home plate, looking for the big pitch.

Their third baseman lucked out with a pop foul on our first batter and our second batter was thrown out at first.

Kenny's our clean-up batter, fourth in the line-up.  He's a big kid, with lots of power for an eight-year-old, but he's not consistent.  I would have put him first or second, or fifth; too risky at fourth.

Fortunately, the Mack's aren't going to take a chance on him hitting one out of the park, and behind us Kenny's mom is giving the Mack coaches a piece of her mind and a lot of lip. 

The three of us exchange chagrined looks. 

So that's what we sound like when we're haranguing the coaches. 

Hey, our team feels like we're here to play, not play games.  For cryin’ out loud, it's not like somebody's salary cap is on the line here.  Is it really necessary to deliberately walk an eight-year-old?  Or a seven-year-old, in the case of Daniel, which is why we might have been haranguing the coaches. 

A little.

Occasionally.

When they do really stupid things . . . like walking our kid.

Kenny pitches his bat into the dirt and exchanges insults with Daniel as he jogs out to first and leads off.

"Run on anything, you guys!" Carter screams - in my ear.

"Yeah!  Run on anything!"  Frasier screams - in my other ear.

"The minute the ball leaves the pitcher's hand!" I yell, for good measure.

I'm pretty sure the rest of the team parents think we're nuts.

We don't give a damn. 

We're having the time of our lives!

Who'd have thought three adults and an alien, all of whom work for the United States government, in a top secret facility, with the highest clearance levels available, could be so into Little League?

Well, we are. 

Unashamedly so. 

So, sue us.

Oh, oh, oh.  My sweetheart's up to bat. 

Seven-year-old, CoriAnne Martel, of the beautiful long, dark hair, always pulled back neatly in a ponytail, and the to-die-for smile usually hidden behind a hand because she just acquired braces. 

Unfortunately, while she's a darlin' little thing, she hasn't connected with the ball once this season.

Dammit!  Can't we get a pinch hitter in for her?

Oh. Yeah.

This is Little League.

"Come on Cori!" Daniel, who has a crush on her, too, yells from third.  "Just get on base.  That's all you need to do!"

"All right!  Come on in everybody," shouts one of the in-fielders.  "We've won!  She can't even hit the ball."

"Hey, shut up," Daniel defends.  "She can too hit the ball."

Miss CoriAnne saunters up to the plate as if she owns the thing.

"You go, girl!" I holler from the sidelines, pleased when she grins at me over her shoulder.  "That's my girl!  Put it right over the center fielder's head!"

"Run on anything, you guys!" the women next to me are screaming again.

"Holy Mackerels, where's the play?" their coach yells from the sidelines.

Did I mention the local Presbyterian Church is the team sponsor for the Mackerels? And their preacher likes to fish?  I suspect it was somebody's idea of a joke that stuck.

"First base!"

"No, stoopid, second base!"

"Wherever it's easiest!  We've already got two outs!"

"If you can't get it to home," the coach has the final word, "go for the force at second or first!"

"Play ball," the umpire barks as CoriAnne steps into the batter's box.

The rattle of ice in a Starbucks cup can be heard halfway across the park.  All eyes turn to the rattler, who sets the cup down on the bleacher and puts both hands up in surrender.

The pitcher zips one into the strike zone. 

CoriAnne watches it sail by.

"That's it; keep your eye on the ball, Cori!  Good job!"

"Sir?"  Carter sucks air as the umpire calls strike one.

"Relax, Carter.  She'll do fine."

"Strike two! Two and O!"

CoriAnne wiggles the bat slightly, bends her knees just a little more, and relaxes into the batter's stance.  She's watching the ball, watching the ball . . . watching . . . BAM!

You'd think the center fielder has on Air Jordans with the height he gets on his jump.  We all hear the solid smack of the ball as he tumbles down in a heap . . . and groan collectively.  Then cheer madly as the ball bounces out of his glove!

Daniel, who slid into home just for the hell of it, jumps up and flings himself around as the crowd surges to its collective feet screaming - the Mackerel’s at their kid to get the ball, get the ball - our team screaming for CoriAnne to come on, come on!

Teal'c holds her at third as the ball hums in to the pitcher, who immediately tosses it home where the eight-year-old catcher has thrown aside his mask and is crouched over the plate again, after having been barreled over by Kenny. 

Our winning run is now on third.

"Way to go, Cori!" Daniel screams, flailing air with a fist.  "Way to go!"  He jogs around the batter's cage to our side of the field, panting.  "Did you see that?  Did you see the way she hit that ball!  Man!  She must have been practicing!  Jack!  Did you see that hit?"

"We did!" Janet enthuses, "she was great, wasn't she.  Want your water bottle, Daniel?"

"Not now," Daniel waves it away when the doc trys to hand it to him.  "I'm not thirsty.  I'm going back over to third to cheer on Cori!"

"Stay behind the foul line!" I holler after him, uselessly.  Not only have I already been tuned out, the crowd is yelling again.

We must have missed something.  The three of us turn back to the field as one entity.   

Oh, the Mackerel’s are changing out their center fielder.  The kid must have hurt himself when he fell.

Janet's instantly on her way, detouring only to grab up the first aid kit she regularly hauls along in her backpack.  It looks like she's digging out one of those snap-ice thingys as she trots over.

The game resumes after a short pause while the near-hero is helped off the field, forgiven because he at least gave it his all. 

Hey, they are only six to eight year olds.

It's anti-climatic after that.  Jeremy smacks the next pitch into right field, just short of the glove of the right fielder, and CoriAnne lazily lopes across home plate.

Game over. 

Our first play-off game in the bag.

Someone starts a chorus of Queen's, 'We Are the Champions', man are we dating ourselves or what, as wild, throat torturing screaming ensues.  Kids and adults alike are pounding each other on the back, jumping up and down, generally acting like a bunch of hooligans.

Carter and Janet are in the thick of it, with Daniel and CoriAnne.  I drift back.  The special ops Colonel in me still doesn't do crowds well. 

Teal'c materializes at my elbow.  "It this some right of initiation, O'Neill?" he inquires, turning his head in the direction of the shenanigans going on over by the water cooler.

A couple of wannabe professional sports junkies have grabbed the cooler and are pouring it over coach's head. 

Friends, I think. 

The guy's young; this is only his second year coaching.  His seven-year-old, a girl, is already pitching, and that kid's got an arm like you wouldn't believe.  He must have started her throwing as soon as she could hold a ball.  They have a toddler, too, a boy.  The whole family, plus extended relatives and friends, come to the games regularly. 

"Looking a little wet there, Coach," I say as the trio passes us.

"Colonel!"  Coach Dijon thrusts out a hand, grabs me by the wrist, and yanks me into a hug.  "Your kid is awesome, man!  I can't wait to see what he does when he gets a little bigger.  We got this play-off thing in the bag, brother!"

"Yeah, he is, isn't he," I agree wholeheartedly, clapping Dijon on the back just as enthusiastically. "Don't forget, Baskin & Robbins tonight.  I promised Daniel.  The whole team, family and friends, too.  It's on me."

"Hey, bro, we're not likely to forget something like that now, are we?  Teal'c, my man!"  Dijon slaps our resident Jaffa on the back.  "Excellent job on third base!  Thanks for hanging with us, brother!"

Teal'c, hands behind his back, gives his customary head bow.  "It has been my immense pleasure, Coachdijon."

"You riding shotgun with me, T?  Or are you riding with the women?"  I'm looking around for Daniel as I ask this. 

I should probably stop at an ATM before we get there.  I'm not sure Baskin & Robbins takes credit cards and I'm not too keen on doing the dishes after this crowd.

Daniel is weaving his way toward us, looking up occasionally to check for familiar faces.  It's been so long since I've had a short person I've forgotten how disconcerting it can be to only see waists when you're in the middle of a crowd.  After awhile, jeans and t-shirts start looking an awful lot alike from that angle.

"Hey, you.  You okay?"

He's holding his side like he's in pain, but the minute I ask, the hand drops self-consciously and he pastes a grin on his face.  "I'm fine.  We're going for ice cream aren't we?  You promised, Jack!" 

I want to know where this kid learned to lie like that and why he ever needed to.

"Yep, we're ready to head out.  I need to go to the ATM.  Want to come with us, or stay and come with Carter and the doc?"

Daniel loves the ATM. Press a few buttons, input the magic password, and presto, it purrs for a couple of seconds and spits out twenty dollar bills.  What could possibly be cooler than a machine that gives you money?

And just incase you're thinking the Gate is way cooler than a machine that spits out money? 

Daniel's seen the Gate. 

He's not impressed.

Wait until we take him through it.

Daniel looks around, spies Carter talking to CoriAnne's mom and heads their direction.  "I'll ride with Sam and Janet!"

"Hey, Teal'c, Jack," Paige, Cori's mom, greets us.  "I guess the kids are going to ride with Sam and Janet when Janet's done with Frankie." 

Daniel and Carter have already ditched Paige for the more fascinating topic of 'what happened to Frankie, the center fielder'

"Want to ride with me, Teal'c?"

"As it is not far to the place of frozen juice of the bovine, O'Neill has engaged me to ride shotgun for him, Mrspaige."

"Oh."  Mrspaige is twenty-three, a single mom, and fascinated with Teal'c.  She hasn't quite gotten the hang of hiding her disappointment.  "Guess I'll see you guys there." 

"Hey, Cori did great tonight," I offer, trying to ease the rejection.  "She got a great hit."

"She did do great, thanks to you, Colonel.  You've given her a lot of confidence.  Thank you for taking the time to work with her."

"My pleasure, we had a great time."

It wasn't my idea, and frankly, I was a little pissed at Teal'c for passing the buck without leaving a back door to weasel out of it. 

Paige very politely asked if he had any extra time he might be able to spend working with Cori - give her some pointers on throwing and batting, etc. 

T very kindly deferred her to me as the one with the baseball expertise. 

I could have shot him on sight. 

Instead, I ended up agreeing, of all things, to a couple extra practice sessions with her kid.   

Maybe I should make Teal'c pay for this tonight.  He owes me.

So, an hour and a half later the three kids behind the counter at B&R are looking a little worse for wear and I'm passing a wad of twenty's over the counter when someone gets fresh with my leg.

I look around. 

We're packed in here like sardines.  It's probably impossible to move without getting fresh with someone, but there are no women hanging around.

So I look down.

And find Daniel leaning against me.  That ring finger is shoved into his mouth up to the first knuckle and he's gnawing on it as though it were a bone.

"What's wrong, Sport?"

He tilts his head back, grabs my leg to keep from falling, and looks up at me.  "Nothing, why?"

"You're chewing again."

"Oh."  He pulls the finger out.  "Can we go home now?"

"You tired?"

"Uh huh."

I pull another twenty out of my pocket and stuff it, along with the change, into the tip cup.  "I'm ready." 

I offer, in Daniel speak, to carry him, holding out both hands.

His free hand comes up to clamp around my forearm.

"Jump," I tell him.  It's too crowded in here to swing him up like I usually do and without that momentum, I'm not sure my knees will let me pick him straight up off the floor.

As soon as I have him situated, his head is on my shoulder, face turned into my neck, those women-would-kill-for-them eyelashes tickling me every time he blinks.

"Any idea where the rest of  . . . our crew disappeared to?" I start to say SG-1 and realize I'm still in a public place.

"Outshide," Daniel says, around his finger.

"So what kind of ice cream did you have tonight?"

"Uhm," Daniel thinks a moment, sits up and pulls his finger out of his mouth.  "I had some of Sam's raspberry sherbet, a taste of Janet's lemon merlot pie --"

"Meringue, maybe?" I suggest.

He gives me a look when I interrupt his recital.  "Kenny let me have some of his bubblegum ice cream," on this he puts his tongue out to show me the gum in his mouth.  "Uhm, oh, and Coach let me taste his licorice."

"And what kind did you get for yourself?"

"Oh," he says airily, though his head goes back down on my shoulder.  "I was too busy to get my own.  I just ate everybody else’s."  The finger slides back in his mouth.

"I see.  Hope you're not sick tonight from eating everybody else’s.  Ahh, found you," I pronounce, as I come up on my team lounging on the window ledge in front of the store.

"Couldn't have been looking too hard, sir.  We've been here the whole time.  Daniel, you want the rest of this?"

Daniel tilts his head to look in the cup Carter holds out.  "What is it?"

"Banana split."

Banana split and raspberry sherbet?  Ick.

"No, thank you."

"Want the rest of mine?"  Janet asks.  "It's plain old chocolate chip."

"I don't want any more.  We're going home.  Will you take Teal'c home, Sam?  So we can go straight home?  I'm tired."

"Excuse me?  Are you driving, young man?"

"Are you tired, too, Jack?  You want me to drive home?"

"Smart ass," I laugh, despite myself.  "When it's your car, and you're driving, you get to decide who's riding with you.  Until then, you get to ride along with whoever I choose to take along, okay?"  I jog him when he doesn't answer right away and get a crick in my neck trying to pull back enough to look at him.

He rolls his eyes at me.  "I just want to go home."

"I know you do, but we practically pass the Base on the way home and Carter and the doc are going out for drinks in the opposite direction."

"CoriAnne and I would be happy to drop you off, Teal'c," Paige trills, sneaking up on us more efficiently than a Goa'uld mothership in stealth mode.  "It's right on our way."

Teal'c does his famous head inclination.  "Thank you, Mrspaige, but I have already agreed to be the designated driver for Majorcarter and Doctorfrasier."  He produces Doc's Jeep keys with a sleight-of-hand movement, because I know damn well those keys were in Janet's pocket a moment ago.

The women both smile benignly. 

Hey, we stick together.

"Want to join us, Paige?  CoriAnne could go home with the Colonel.  We could pick her up there later."

Behind Paige's back I'm giving them both the evil eye.  Teal'c's face remains totally bland, though a muscle clenches in his jaw.

"Thanks," she sighs, "but I have to work tonight."

"Oh, too bad," Janet says, in a voice I know too well, the one that tells me I should have known better.  "Maybe some other time."

"I want to go home with Daniel and Colonel Jack," CoriAnne pipes up from beside her mother.

"Not tonight, Cori.  Tell Colonel Jack thank you for the ice cream.  And for the help he gave you learning to throw and hit."

Daniel twitches in my arms, though he doesn't sit up.  "You helped her?  That's why she could bat tonight even though she hasn't hit the ball any since we started?"

"I did.  Why?  Are you jealous?"  I grin down at Daniel.

"How come you didn't tell me?"

"Because CoriAnne wanted to keep it a secret.  She asked me not tell."

"You could have told me," Daniel says reproachfully.

"Then it wouldn't have been a secret would it, CoriAnne?"

CoriAnne dimples beguilingly.  "Thank you for keeping my secret, Colonel Jack, and for helping me learn to bat.  It was really fun to surprise everybody!"

Man, oh man, in another few years she's going to be a real heartbreaker. 

"And thank you for taking our whole team for ice cream tonight!"

"You're welcome," my passenger responds.  "Can we go home now, Jack?"

"Sounds like somebody's ready for bed, Colonel," Janet remarks, standing on tiptoe to give Daniel a kiss and a pat on the back.  "Did you have a good time tonight, Daniel?"

He nods, the finger in his mouth preventing an answer, though I can see from Janet's smile he's given her one of those patented Daniel smiles we rarely saw on our adult archeologist.

"See you in the morning?" Carter asks him, brushing back his sweaty hair to kiss his forehead.

He nods again, pulls his finger out long enough to kiss Sam when she puckers up for a goodnight kiss and shoves it back in as soon as he's met his obligation. 

Teal'c gets a sleepy nod and a grunt.

So we do the Walton's routine, except it's g'nite, Carter, g'nite Doctor Frasier, etc., etc., and we part to our separate vehicles. 

I overhear Doc say loudly, "So, Teal'c, heard from Ishta lately?"

"Indeed, Doctorfrasier, I received a communication from her two days ago, I believe we will be able to arrange a meeting soon . . ."

The rest of Teal'c's comments are lost to me as I settle a rag doll Daniel into the backseat of the truck and buckle him in.  I'm pretty sure their intended audience gets the whole nine yards though.

Now somebody needs to tell her he's a hundred and five years old.

Daniel reanimates for a few minutes.  He really wants to a do a play-by-play of the entire game, but the finger in his mouth keeps slurring his words and he can’t seem to finish a thought, winding down in the middle of a sentence like a music box with a broken spring.  He doesn't stir when I unbuckle him from his seatbelt and carry him into the house. 

He does wake enough to be accommodating as I take a washcloth to his hands and face.  Obviously he didn't need any ice cream of his own, based on what he's wearing.  He puts his arms up and shimmies into pajamas willingly enough, though it's like pouring barely set-up jello into a plastic bag.  The minute his head hits the pillow that ring finger slides back in his mouth and he's sucking for all he's worth, but only for a minute and then he's conked out.

There are days when I hope to God this is temporary, that Carter will figure this out and we'll get adult Daniel back again.  And then there are stand out days like today when he's so happy, it hurts to watch him almost as much as it hurt to watch him when he was so unhappy in those months before he ascended. 

He could do so much more, be so much more this time around without all that baggage our adult Daniel has carried around most of his life.

Maybe this is better.  If anybody deserves a second chance at a new beginning, it's Daniel Jackson.  He's already done more for Earth than any one man should ever be called on to do for their country, or even their world.  

Not that I have any say in the matter.  Carter keeps saying there’s a possibility the effects of this Fountain of Youth doohickey could just wear off overnight someday.  That I might go in some morning and find adult Daniel asleep in Little Daniel’s bed. 

I wish it could be so easy. 

The ball game on TV doesn't hold my attention so I head for the shower and hunt up the last paper back I bought before crawling into bed.

I think I get through the first page before the alarm clock buzzes me awake.

Daniel's dragging when I get him up.  It takes him half an hour to shower and dress and he's only got one sock on when he trails into the kitchen, tennis shoes dangling from both hands by velcro straps.

"Where's your other sock?"  I put a hand to his forehead.  "Are you feeling all right?"  He's warm, but it's the just recently out of shower kind of warm, not sick kind of warm.

He leans against me wearily, covering a yawn with the inside of an elbow as the shoes thud to the floor.  "In my pocket."  He doesn't respond to the second question.

I'm half tempted to take the day off.  We're not scheduled off-world today and I could have work couriered out, let him stay home and veg.

But then he shoves off my leg and climbs onto the barstool where I've set out OJ and toast.  He pulls his foot up on the stool, drags out his other sock and puts it on before getting up on his knees to take the glass of orange juice in both hands. 

Because of the unusual behavior this morning, I pay more attention, notice he eats about two bites of toast and maybe takes a couple more sips of OJ before surreptitiously crumbling the rest of the toast to make it look like he's eaten more.

"I'm done, Jack.  Can I go brush my teeth now?"  He waits, cheek resting in his hand, expecting I'm sure, to be told to eat some more.

"Go ahead.  Maybe you'll be hungry by the time we get to the Base.  We can eat with Teal'c and Carter this morning." 

Too much excitement, too many late nights, it's no wonder he's tired.  The General won't mind if we cut out early today.

The crumbs go in the trash, the orange juice gets put back in the fridge and ten minutes later we're in the truck headed for the Mountain.

Daniel sleeps the whole way in and I'm feeling like an ogre when I have to wake him up.  He lets me carry him inside, which in itself is unusual. 

We had an initial clingy stage right at the beginning of this whole Fountain of Youth thing, where he wanted to be carried all the time, I think for the security of knowing an adult was around. 

However, his mile wide independent streak quickly reasserted itself.

At breakfast, Carter has a present for him.  I finally made her stop buying him clothes, she won't buy him anything but blue and while Daniel could care less what he's wearing, blue is not his favorite color.  So, I’m wondering what she’s done now.

She hands him a box across the table.

"I found these the other day and thought you'd like them.  If you don't, I'll take them back."

An unusually subdued Daniel pulls the top off, stares for a moment into the box, then his face lights up.  The whoop and abandoned lid clattering to the floor draw glances from all over the Mess, and then smiles and chuckles as Daniel snatches a pair of miniature BDU pants and a black t-shirt out of the box.  He slides off his chair to hold them up to his waist and does a little dance, whooping again. 

"These are the best, Sam!"

"Ya think," Carter glances at me with a grin of her own.  "Why don't you open this box?" 

She trades the second box for the pants and for a moment Daniel just stands staring at her, his mouth hanging open.  Then the second lid comes off and he pulls out a tiny BDU jacket, with a miniature SGC patch sewn on the left shoulder and an equally small SG-1 patch sewn on the right shoulder.  He is immediately dragging his t-shirt over his head to exchange it for the black one. 

"Here," he flings the red shirt at me, his muffled thank you’s to Carter becoming clearer as his head pops out of the black one.  Sam holds up the jacket and he slides his arms in, pulling the sleeve around to stare at the SG-1 insignia.  His smile is radiant as he flings his arms around Carter.

 "For cryin’ out loud," he quotes, "I can't believe it!  Thanks, Sam!"

"You're welcome. I thought you'd like them."

"I love them!"

"They've been washed several times so you can wear them today."

Daniel does a little hop, skip, and a jump thing that looks kinda like a white man's interpretation of break dancing.

"I had no idea you could sew, Carter," I drawl.  "And aren't those patches classified?"

"Yes, sir, but Daniel has clearance.  I reduced them on my scanner and had the company that makes the patches for us, make smaller ones."  She totally ignores the sewing comment.

"And now you appear exactly analogous to the rest of us, Danieljackson."

"What's ah ... nail ..." Daniel tilts his head.  "What's that word mean, Teal'c?"

"It means you look exactly like the rest of us," Carter supplies.

"Well, I still have to change into the pants," Daniel points out.  He would like to do so immediately, but his little Puritan heart doesn't allow for such wardrobe changes in the open, even at seven.  "Can I go change in the bathroom, Jack?"

"Sure.  We'll wait for you, okay?"

"Thanks!"  He scurries off across the Mess, oblivious to the voices calling out to him as he passes, his mind clearly elsewhere.

"Is he feeling, okay, sir?  He's been kind of quiet this morning, at least until now," Carter observes.

"I think all these late nights are catching up with him."

"Did he imbibe sustenance at home, O'Neill?  He ate very little here this morning."

"No, he didn't eat much at home either, T."

We all turn to watch as he trots back across the Mess, dragging his jeans behind him. 

"I think he's just tired.  I'm going to try and make it an early day today so we can get home at a decent hour, maybe even get to bed early tonight."

"I don't want to go to bed early," he says, frowning as he overhears this last comment.

"No?"  I raise an eyebrow as I choke down the last swallow of acidic base coffee. 

Now that Daniel's no longer brewing hard core caffeine constantly in his office, Carter and I have had to relearn how to imbibe the usual Air Force swill. 

"You didn't want to get out of bed this morning."

"Oh," he waves his hands and shakes his head, "that was hours ago.  Aren't you done yet, Jack?"  He crawls back up onto his chair so he can get a good look at my plate.  "Teal'c's done," he announces, pleased.  "I'm ready to go to work.  Are you ready, T?"

I nearly spit out my mouthful of coffee. Carter manages to turn her laugh into a cough. and Teal'c just raises an eyebrow.

"I am, Danieljackson.  Let us take our trays and commence with our morning exercises."

Daniel bounces back down off his chair and I wonder briefly where the kid who fell asleep in the truck has disappeared to, but don't worry about it much. 

SG-1's resident archeologist and our Jaffa leave the Mess hand in hand; Daniel with his head craned back, chattering up at the massive alien, Teal'c, dark head attentively bent, listening.

Carter and I watch until they disappear through the double doors, then glance at each other with rueful smiles. 

"He is such a joy, sir.  I almost hate to think about changing him back."

"I know, Major.  I was thinking the same thing last night."

"I know we all agreed, sir, the best thing for Daniel is to figure this out, but . . ." she trails off, shrugs, and adds, "I don't know, maybe it's not."

I frown and circle my orange juice glass on the table so it makes the condensation ring larger.  "I don't have any answers either, Carter.  At this point, I'm not going to recommend we stop looking for them though."

"No, sir, I agree.  We shouldn't give up . . . yet."

I pick up both our trays.  "Paper work's calling my name, Major.  If I don't get to it, we may not get out of here for another two weeks."

"Anything I can do to help, sir?"

"Doubt it.  But thanks for the thought."

Since Daniel's with Teal'c I can pretty much put him out of my mind, although the image of his head popping out of that t-shirt, and the grin on his face, is indelibly painted in my mind today.  I'll give it a couple hours and if I just can't settle in to work, I'll have to stroll down to the converted storeroom we turned into Daniel's classroom. 

In his role as First Prime to the Goa'uld, Apophis, Teal'c would have chosen a young Jaffa to mentor and train as Bra'tac did with him.  A successor who would follow in his footsteps, perhaps even his own son, if things hadn't taken a dramatic turn for him at the tender age of ninety-nine.

I knew he'd be good at this teaching thing; I had no clue how good. 

He took Daniel through a series of surprisingly fun tests and determined Daniel learns best by doing; so, for instance, instead of memorizing formula and working out algebra problems on paper, they’re building a house.  Granted, it's a scale house, but Daniel's learning how to calculate volume and area for practical purposes and studying algebra without even knowing he's doing math, which he's not particularly fond of. 

Carter's doing the whole planetary shift thing with him again, teaching him how to calculate the distances and new trajectories several thousands years of stellar drift have caused.  I'm guessing that's way beyond algebra, but Daniel's soaking it up like a damp sponge.  She's also covering the Biology part of the science requirements and I understand they're growing tadpoles under a heat lamp in a large bowl with some rocks and a couple of hydroponic lily pads.  I have serious doubts she's going to convince Daniel to dissect one of his frogs when the time comes.  I also see a new aquarium looming on the horizon.

I have him for World History.  I'm not as creative as Teal'c or Carter.  I just bought a bunch of videos.  Based on the lessons, we watch the videos, then do the workbook.  It’s a couple hours one evening a week to do a couple of lessons.

Unfortunately, the program we chose doesn't recognize Goa'uld as a foreign language, so Carter picked one of the offered languages he's not particularly fluent in and we're all learning Latin.  Although why one would want to be fluent in a dead language is beyond me.

The course requirements for ninth grade also include Typing, translated that means keyboarding these days, English, and P.E.  Teal'c has yet to figure out something really innovative for English, but he did find a really cool keyboarding program that combines learning key placement and key strokes. 

He even figured out how to get Daniel P.E. credit for playing baseball.  How cool is that?

You know, I don't remember having this much fun in 9th grade.

In the meantime, I'm looking at this mountain of paperwork, wondering how the hell it got that high.  Oh, yeah, half of it is probably Carter and Teal'c's reports for the last two weeks.  That would be the last time I cleared my in-box. 

No need to waste time reviewing their work.  I quit that about two days after Carter's first report, though I initially gave Teal'c a little longer, English being a foreign language and all.  But he caught on quickly. 

In just half an hour I've got all their reports signed and in a folder to drop off with Hammond when I go down to visit the classroom.

With a groan I start on the next stack, borrowing a leaf from Teal'c's notebook and telling myself I'll give it two hours and take a break. 

T tells me English is the only subject he has to use that incentive with for Daniel.  The kid figures he can already read, write, and speak English.  Why should he have to learn about dangling participles and transitive verbs? 

For once, shuffling through this stuff goes relatively quickly.  So quickly in fact, when I look at my watch again it’s 1400 hours.  Surprised, I glance up at the wall clock just to be sure my watch hasn't gone haywire.  Six hours of paperwork and I'm thinking the time went by quickly? 

Hey, my desk is clear.  That in itself is a minor miracle.  Quick, let me sneak out before somebody else lands their stack of paperwork in my in-box.
 
I grab the folder for Hammond, check for my keys and key card, and exit my office just as an SF is headed down the hall toward my office.

"Sir!  Colonel?"

I stop reluctantly, raising an eyebrow.  At least his hands are empty. 

"Sir," he's out of breath.  "Major Carter is looking for you, sir.  She's in the infirmary with Daniel."

"What happened?"  I turn immediately to head for the opposite bank of elevators. 

"I don't know, sir.  She just sent me to get you."

"Thanks.  Did you take the stairs?"

"Yes, sir.  The elevator took too long to come.  I figured if something's wrong with Daniel, you'd want to know."

He was never Dr. Jackson before he was downsized, so I can hardly make people start calling him Dr. Jackson now, but still, it seems inappropriate for kid half Daniel's age to be calling him Daniel.

"Thanks, Carson.  I appreciate it."

"Yes, sir.  You're welcome, sir."

The elevator here takes to long, too, so I head for the back stairs.  Going down isn’t as hard on my knees as going up.  Still, I can feel it by the time I bang through the infirmary doors.

"What's the matter?"

Carter has Daniel on her lap, Teal'c's hovering nearby, and Janet's taking his temperature. 

"99.2," Doc says, passing the thermo scan to the nurse.  Janet sits down on the bed facing Carter and Daniel.  "You feel any better now?" she asks Daniel.

"He just threw up lunch," Carter informs me, stroking the hair back from his forehead as she cuddles him.

"How much lunch did he eat?"  I frown, thinking of last night and again this morning.  He's eaten very little in the last twenty-four hours.

"Not much, O'Neill."  Teal'c imparts.  "Less than at breakfast."

"I think maybe an early night tonight," Janet says, patting Daniel's knee.  "How 'bout it, Squirt?  You've been going like a house afire since baseball started.  You don't play tonight, do you?"

Daniel, chewing half-heartedly on his finger, shakes his head.  "Not 'til tomorrow night."

"Well, good.  Are you feeling better?" the doc asks again.

Daniel nods, obviously thinking that's the correct answer, but there's indecision in those eyes.  He's not sure he feels better, but he knows damn well if he says no, he'll be stuck here for awhile. 

"So, then, how about we head for home?" I put a knee on the bed and cross my arms over my chest.  "You up for that?" 

"I've still got . . ." he looks at Teal'c with a frown, "something to do.  What do we have left to do today, Teal'c?"

"It can wait until tomorrow, Danieljackson.  It is most fortuitous O'Neill is ready to depart at this time."

We're so far ahead of schedule with his school work, he could go a couple of months and still not sweat anything.  We agreed we would let him work at his own pace, whatever that happened to be, especially since we've got a seven-year-old doing ninth grade work.  

Though he has had no formal education, it's obvious some adult, or perhaps many adults, have spent quality time with him.

Either that, or, like Carter theorizes, little Daniel is able to access big Daniel's knowledge and apply it as needed.  In which case, this whole school thing is a huge waste of time; however, if we can't get this Fountain of Youth thingy reversed we'll still need all the proper documentation in regards to schooling

"So, you ready to go home, Sport?"

"Do I have to go straight to bed?"

We all smile at that.  "What do you think, Doc?  Should I put him straight to bed?"

"A nap might not be a bad idea, sir," she responds, grinning.

"A nap!" Daniel howls, around his finger.
 
"A nap?" I echo, pleasantly seduced by the idea. 

Paperwork is better then any sleeping pill I've ever met for inducing a near catatonic state. 

"I'm too big for naps."  Despite this assertion he's willing to be carried, leaning to me when I hold out my hands to take him from Carter.

"I'm not."  I settle him on my hip and look to Frasier for instructions.

"I think he's fine, Colonel.  He might have picked up a little bug from one of his teammates or something.  Give him some baby aspirin and keep an eye on him, sir.  If anything changes, give me a call.  Otherwise, have a nice nap.  You, young man," she rises and comes over to us, tickling Daniel lightly, "better get more rest.  I'm off tomorrow, so I'll see you tomorrow night at the ball field, okay?" 

"Owww!" Daniel says in response to the tickling, hunching his shoulders.

Janet's immediately on the alert.  "What?" she frowns, "Daniel, did I hurt you?"

"You poked me with your fingernail."  He pulls up his shirt and points to an invisible mark just to the right of his belly button.

"Oh! I'm sorry.  Want me to kiss it and make it better?"

He lets her, rubbing the spot even after she pulls his shirt back down.

I lift an eyebrow again, but Frasier only shrugs.  "It's nothing to worry about, Colonel.  These things come and go in kids."

"I'm going to  take your word for it, Doc.  Carter, Teal'c, we're going to head for home.  Would one of you mind dropping this by the General's office for me?"  I hold out the folder of reports.

"Sure," Carter says.

Teal'c appropriates it before Carter can get to her feet.

"I will take it directly there, O'Neill."

"Great, thanks.  We'll see you guys in the morning and we'll see you tomorrow night, Doc."

"Looking forward to it," Janet says with a wave, already on the way back to her office.

"I'm going to go feed our tadpoles, Daniel," Carter says, "See you tomorrow.  You, too, sir."

"Yeah, tomorrow.  Come on, Sport, we need to go change before we can leave."

In the locker room, Daniel lovingly folds his new pants and shirt and lays them tenderly on the small shelf in the bottom of his locker.  The rod is too high for him to reach, as are both hooks, so the jacket gets folded as well and placed on top with a small pat of satisfaction.

I need to talk to Siler, see if we can't make some accommodations to his locker so it's more useable at his current height.

The drive home is relatively quiet.  While he doesn't fall asleep, the usual questions that accompany every trip are missing.  

"What are those big, tall things all along the road?"  Telephone poles.  "What are all the wires strung between them?"  Electricity.  "Why does every corner have a stop sign on it?"  So cars won't bang into each other. "And trucks?" And trucks.  "How long does the snow stay after it snows?"  All winter.  "Where does the snow go when it melts?"  Into the rivers and lakes and streams.  "When does it melt?"  Never. Oh . . . you meant literally.  Usually by the end of April. No later than the end of May.

"Can we watch a movie?" he wants to know as I unlock the front door. 

"Sure, what do you want to watch?"

He shrugs. 

"You want to change out of those clothes?"  I toss my keys on the kitchen table and go back to hang my jacket in the hall closet. 

"Why?"  Daniel passes his jacket over as well.

I shrug.  "Just thought maybe you'd like to put on sweats or something more comfortable."

"I'm not putting on pajamas in the middle of the afternoon," he announces, seeing right through my ploy.

I just smile and ruffle his hair.  "I'm going to make a sandwich since I skipped lunch.  Want a snack?"

"Nah," he heads for the living room.

"Pick a movie and get it set up.  I won't be long." 

He's settled in the recliner by the time I get into the living room. 

"You sharing, or am I supposed to sit on the couch?"

"There's room for two," he says, quoting me again. 

At least he didn't add for cryin’ out loud.

He doesn't mind if I eat over his head, so lunch goes on the arm of the chair, Daniel gets tucked into my side and we both sigh as the opening credits of the first Harry Potter movie roll up on the screen. 

Daniel's asleep before we're twenty minutes into the movie and I'm not particularly interested in seeing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the fifth time, but I was smart enough to grab the remote before I settled us into the recliner. 

I switch to the 6th inning of the Mets and Braves, turn the sound down low and take a moment to be thankful I have a job I love, friends who are more like family, and the ability to enjoy both.  Not to mention, at least for now, an amazing kid who lights up my life in a way I thought I'd never experience again. 

The game has been over for an hour when Daniel wakes up, groggy and disoriented.  My shirt's soaked all down the right side and he's sweating up a storm, which I think is probably not a good thing.

"Hey, Sport.  You want some dinner?"

He closes his eyes again, rubs his nose on my damp shirt and resettles as if he's going back to sleep.

"Daniel," I jostle him a little.  "How about we put you to bed if you're going to sleep?"

He slits one eye open, assessing the level of light in the living room.  "Too early to go to bed."

"I don't think so, Sport.  I'm thinking you're not feeling too well.  Want to get in the bathtub or go straight to bed?"

"I don't want to go to bed."

"Okay, bathtub it is."

"I don't want to get in the bathtub."

"Do you just want to stay here and sleep?"

"No."

"All right, what do you want to do?  Supper?  How about some soup?"

"I'm not hungry."

"Maybe some crackers and juice?"

"I think I'll get in the bathtub."  He does an excellent seal impression, undulating off my lap and out of the recliner, evolving back into a two-legged boy as he heads in the general direction of the bathroom.

It's been interesting to see the origins of some of adult Daniel's less endearing traits.  For instance, that stubborn, when I'm right and I know I'm right, I can't be budged even with a two-by-four, trait.  In a six-year-old Daniel, for some reason, that particular trait is considerably less annoying.  I suppose it could be because at six, I can still out think him.

Just barely. 

But it does mean I can usually convince him what I want him to do is the right thing to do. 

Not tonight. 

He's not eating and that's all there is to it. 

I pull my sticky, sweaty t-shirt off my chest and follow him up the stairs.

Despite his morning avowal he didn't want to go to bed early, he's willing enough, when he gets out of the tub, to crawl into bed, but only if I'll read.

As this is no hardship for me, I readily agree, and we spend a pleasant hour reading Susan Dexter's, The Ring of Allaire

We'll probably have to go back and reread some of Tristan's adventure in Darkenkeep.  I think Daniel fell asleep before I was ready to quit reading and it doesn't count as reading ahead if I'm still reading out loud.

So the house is quiet tonight.  Not particularly a good kind of quiet though. 

I'm restless. Jazzed in a negative sort of way and find myself checking on Daniel half a dozen times before I'm ready to head for bed myself.

He's not happy with me when I wake him to take his temperature around eleven p.m.  Nor cooperative when I try to get him to take some children's Tylenol. 

He doesn't like grape flavor and that's all we have left from the bout with the allergies and ear infections.

However, on this, I am insistent, and even when he was big I could be just as stubborn as Doctor Jackson.

Having accomplished my goal, I head for bed myself, but I’m awake again at one o'clock.

My dreams have not been pleasant and I don't really want to go back to sleep.

So I roll out of bed to go check on my Littlest Ancient.

"Is it time to get up already?"  Daniel asks wearily as I enter his room.

And here I thought I was in stealth mode, sneaking in without making a sound.  I could swear his eyes were closed.

The room is almost as light as day, but there's a quality to the moonlight you never get in the murky light of a sunless dawn. 

An ethereal quality that gilds Daniel and makes him shimmer with an otherworldliness foreign to my earthbound state of mind.

Yes, I go through the Gate.  Yes, I travel on a regular basis to other worlds; that's not the kind otherworldliness I'm talking about. 

I know this a trick of the light.  I do.  But it still makes my blood run cold.

I'm reminded, forcefully, of the last time he looked like this.

I'm staring at a gauze-wrapped body when I feel a tentative touch.  The grip firms and I turn to find Daniel standing behind me with a hand on my shoulder.

In the blink of eye we're both standing in the Gateroom.  The event horizon shimmers behind my best friend, beckoning him on to another adventure.

He wants to go.

He asks me to let him go.

He's not really asking for permission, although there is an element of that, it's more like he's asking for my blessing. 

This is my best friend.  Despite being furious with him for asking, how can I withhold it?

I shake off the memory as I sit down on the side of the bed.  "No, Sport.  It's not time to get up yet.  How come you're awake?"  Automatically I lay a hand on his forehead. 

Uh oh, temp's up again. 

"I don't feel good," he murmurs.  "Why are you awake if it's not time to get up?" he asks, letting go of the pillow he's curled around as he turns on his back with a sigh.

"Worried about you.  Since you're awake, will you let me take your temperature again?"

He rolls his eyes at me, but acquiesces without argument.

It's only up a degree from when Janet took it this afternoon in the infirmary - 100.2.  I put the thermo scan back on the dresser next to his bed.

"Well?" he wants to know.

"Not terribly high.  Maybe some more aspirin?  It might help you feel better enough to sleep again."

"It didn't the last time," he says, scowling.  He really doesn't like the grape-flavored stuff. 

"Oh, I think it's worth a try."

"Maybe if you take some it will help you stop worrying about me," he snarks, still scowling.

Oh, yeah, channeling adult Daniel here. 

"I don't think children's aspirin will do me much good.  But, if it helps you feel better, then I can stop worrying about you." 

If at first you don't succeed, try guilting him.  This method is occasionally very effective, though it worked better with adult Daniel.

"All right," he sighs now. 

It's only been a couple hours of hours since I dosed him, so I only give him half a dose this time, especially after realizing he's right, not even a regular dose seems to have done much good.

I wonder if I should call Janet? 

Probably not necessary. 

I get up and go to the bathroom for a washcloth, wet it in cold water, and come back to lay it over his forehead.

"It's dripping," he complains, swiping at a little rivulet of water running down his temple into his hair.

"Sorry, I'll wring it out better."

I do, bring it back and drape it over his forehead again.  This time he doesn't seem to mind. 

"Daniel, does your head hurt?"

He shrugs.  "I just don't feel good."

"Yes, but does anything hurt?"  I persist.

He eyes me for a minute, calculatingly.  "It doesn't hurt here," he raises an elbow and touches it.

I kiss his elbow.

"This doesn't hurt," he shoves aside the washcloth to touch his temple.

"You've seen Indiana Jones one too many times," I complain, but kiss his temple anyway.

He gives me a small smile and closes his eyes like Indy. 

I hope he'll sleep like Indy.

"Want to turn over?  I'll rub your back."

I pluck the washcloth up and Daniel turns over.  The finger slides into his mouth as he wiggles to get comfortable on his stomach and in a few minutes, the tense little back under my hand rises and falls on a long sigh, and I feel him slide toward oblivion.

He stirs as I start to get up, slides that finger out of his mouth and reaches for me.  "Don't go," he says sleepily.

We’re scheduled off-world tomorrow.  Actually that would be today.  I should be sleeping. 

My kid wants me to stay.

"I'll stay until you're asleep again." 

A few more slow, almost lazy circles and he's under for good this time. 

However, there is something about this night, this seemingly uncomplicated illness, that's got me by the craw and won't let go. 

I can't seem to shake the feeling something's seriously wrong here.  Something we should be paying attention to and aren't; something that's going to jump up and bite me in the ass if I’m not careful.

So, I slide back against the headboard, make myself as comfortable as possible, and prepare to sit here the rest of the night if necessary. 

I'm not going to sleep; may as well stay here where I can keep silent vigil if nothing else.

It's nearly dawn and I'm thinking maybe I'm just paranoid, when he starts twitching in his sleep. Small spasms causing him to clench his hands and hunch his shoulders.

I still have my hand in the middle of his back and I can feel them strengthening.  So I'm not surprised when a particularly intense spasm wakes him.  

"Jack?"  He surges up in bed and vomits violently. 

Shit.  I probably should have seen that coming.  It's useless to try to get him across the hall now.

I slide an arm under his chest so he doesn't go face first in the mess and hand onto him as he empties the meager contents of his stomach

We're both pretty well slimed by the time the fist clenched in his viscera lets go and he's trembling from head to toe. 

But at least it's finally done.

Maybe now we can both get some much needed sleep.  I strip him to his underwear, strip off my own filthy t-shirt, pick up Daniel, and one-handed strip the sheets and blankets off the bed. 

I detour us out to the mud room with the soiled bed clothes and head back to the bathroom with Daniel.  His eyes are open, glazed, but open, as I run warm water and prop him in the tub. 

"Is this what it's like to be sick?"

"Yeah, Sport, this is what it's like to be sick."  I remember two months ago, in the infirmary in Honduras, he told me he'd never been sick.  So I'm prepared for the next question.

"Am I going to die?"

"No, Daniel.  I know it probably feels like it right now, but it's just the flu, Sport, and very few people die from the flu anymore.  I think the worst is over for you."

"I don't like being sick," he says, flinching a little as I run the soapy washcloth over his belly.

"Nobody does, Sport." 

I no more than have him dried off and into clean p.j.’s when it starts up again.

This time both of us are trembling from head to toe by the time I pry his white-tipped fingers from their death grip on the porcelain god of all sick humans. 

I unwrap the soiled blanket I've been nominally able to keep around him and peel him out this pair of soaked and smelly p.j.'s. 

He's frightened now, as well as in pain and he clings to me with all the strength he has left. 

"Make it stop, Jack," he moans pitifully.  "I don't like being sick," he says again, silent tears streaking pale-as-milk cheeks.

Part 2

 

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