AND NOT TO YIELD  BY DARCY & SAMI-J


Gen: Story portraying the strong friendship between Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson
Rating: G
Category: AU, Little Danny kid fic, angst, drama, humor etc.
Season/Spoilers: Stargate the movie, Children of the Gods, The Enemy Within
Synopsis: "And Not to Yield" is set in the Much Abides universe where Jack and Sara are still married, Charlie is alive, and ten year old Daniel Jackson has joined the O'Neill household.  This story picks up where "Much Abides" left off. It would be helpful to have read "Much Abides" in order to fully understand some of the nuances of this story, though it is not necessary.  "And Not to Yield" covers the continuing struggles of the O'Neills, and Daniel Jackson, to blend as a family, but in this installment, the action and adventure of the beginnings of the Stargate program takes center stage and is explored "Little Daniel" style.
Warnings: None
Length: 1.93 MB
Notes: Darcy Notes:  I call Cathe my muse for a reason... she never runs out of ideas. The crux of this story is her brainchild and it would never have been written without her persistence and creativity.  She kept the story on track and moving forward, and more importantly, kept it fun and stress free in the process. It's been a total blast on my end, too, girlfriend. Thank you for your imagination, your patience, and most of all, your friendship.

Cathe (aka sami-j) Notes: It's my turn to give huge, mega-thanks to Darcy. When we were nearing the end of writing 'Much Abides' I told her I wasn't ready to leave this wonderful universe she had created. Darcy was kind enough to say, then let's write more, which allowed me the great pleasure of writing 'And Not to Yield' with her. It's taken more than twice as long to write this fic as it did to write 'Much Abides,' so I was able to enjoy the experience of writing with Darcy that much longer. Thanks, partner. It's been a total blast from beginning to end. You rock!"


 

 

Chapter 1

  It's amazing how everything you thought you knew could be overturned in an instant.

Okay, that's a cliché, Jack O’Neill conceded. Doesn't make it any less true. He stared in the mirror and ran a comb through his slightly graying hair. Again. He was procrastinating to avoid going downstairs.

Yesterday, life as they knew it had nearly ended. At least that’s the way it felt whenever he thought back to that horrific moment when his eleven-year-old son, Charlie, too curious and too careless for his own good, had found his gun in an unlocked drawer. If not for Daniel Jackson, their eleven-year-old super hero disguised as a foster child, Charlie would have died and Jack would be combing his hair getting ready for his son's funeral rather than using it as a stall tactic to avoid the confrontation downstairs.

It was impossible to imagine.

The shock of the blast from the discharged bullet had quickly been replaced with unrestrained joy at a tragedy averted. For Jack, that joy had gradually turned into anger. Charlie's reckless behavior had spelled trouble in the past but that had been run of the mill 'boys will be boys' type trouble. The word trouble was nowhere near adequate to describe what had happened yesterday. Jack didn't have a word to express it. He doubted even Daniel, the linguistic genius of the family, had a word to cover yesterday's events. Destruction, maybe. That's as close as he could come. The destruction of the O'Neill family.

Wuss, he chastised his reflection. He needed to get it together and get downstairs ASAP. Sara and Charlie were waiting.

He and Sara had deliberately let a day pass before they confronted their wayward son to discuss the consequences of his actions. Sara had used that time wisely, deciding what steps needed to be taken to ensure nothing of this magnitude would ever happen again. The time had done her good. This morning she appeared rested, calm even.

Jack, on the other hand, was still wrestling with his feelings as he came downstairs and sat beside his wife in the kitchen, directly across the table from Charlie. Sara was talking in a calm, steady voice to their son, who was staring at his folded hands, looking properly contrite. She was building up to the main event, Charlie's punishment for fooling around with Jack's gun yesterday and discharging it in his father’s home office. Only because of Daniel’s amazing intervention had the bullet narrowly missed Charlie’s skull.

Sara was doing great so Jack remained quiet, not trusting himself to speak. Normally, no matter what the crime or how angry he was with his son, when he woke up the next morning he felt better, the anger having dissipated into an all but distant memory. Not this time. Today he had felt okay when he woke up but as soon as he saw Charlie the anger resurfaced, sharp and powerful, stronger than ever. It was confusing but it wouldn't be denied. The best he could do was hide it while his wife continued on in an even, serious tone.

Sara was wrapping it up, rehashing the events of the camping trip they had returned from two days ago – during which Charlie’s reckless behavior had nearly led to Daniel’s death – and then yesterday's near tragedy in the office. She was finishing up on the why and moving on to the consequences.

Jack watched and listened and decided not to beat himself up over his feelings. He was entitled to his anger. Charlie hadn't gone for a dip in the off-limits Adam's Pond or tried one of his impossible bike stunts; his son had nearly blown his head off with a gun. Not just any gun, his gun. Jack pushed that thought aside. This wasn't about that, it was about Charlie. If Jack needed to fume for another day or two, so be it. Besides, yesterday didn't really count. He had been too shocked and relieved to be angry.

Maybe Charlie could see how close he was to the edge because his son hadn't said a word, he just sat and nodded at the appropriate pauses.

Sara was looking at him expectantly. Shit, he'd lost track of where she was in the lecture.

"Do you want to tell Charlie our decision?" she asked with a slight frown.

"Sure." Jack took his cue from Sara. It wasn't as difficult as he had feared. He had years of practice in the Air Force and he called on that experience now. Jack O’Neill had always been able to push the emotion aside when necessary, whether smoozing an idiotic C.O. or dressing down a pain-in-the ass newbie Airman.

"Your mother and I have decided to cancel your Fantasy Sports Week Camp." He relayed the information coolly, pleased by the lack of emotion in his words. "That's your punishment and its final. Any questions?" He hoped Charlie wouldn't ask anything or argue the point because he was afraid he might explode.

Something flashed in Charlie's eyes but quickly disappeared. "No sir," he said to his hands.

Smart boy. "Well, that's it then. You can go."

Without raising his head Charlie pushed his chair away from the table and meekly left the kitchen. A few seconds later they heard his soft footsteps heading up the stairs.

"I guess that went well," Sara sighed.

Jack only nodded.

"Are you okay?" Sara reached over and rubbed the top of his hand.

"Me? Yeah, why wouldn't I be?" Jack pulled his hand away and stood up. "Where's Daniel?  Maybe I'll see if he wants to run up to the store with me to get that shelving unit for the garage.” He made it to the doorway before her voice stopped him cold.

"Jack?" She waited until he turned and looked at her.

"You can ask Charlie to go, too. He's not grounded, his punishment is missing his Fantasy Sports Camp." Her eyes were sad and misty. “Considering he’s been looking forward to going for two years, I think it’s more than sufficient to drive our point home.”

Jack took a second to suck in a calming breath before answering. "I know that, honey, but do you really think he's going to want to run out to Home Depot with me right now? Give him a little time alone to digest everything." He ducked into the dining room before she had a chance to answer.

"Daniel!" he yelled up the stairs. The blonde head appeared immediately. "You want to go to the store with me?"

"Sure." Daniel bounced down the stairs and nervously scanned the room. "Is Charlie coming?”   

"No, Charlie has other things on his mind right now."

Jack was surprised when the next day wasn't any better. He woke up thinking his bad feelings had passed but the sight of Charlie took away his good intentions and his anger rose up again, strong and boiling just below the surface. It was difficult to understand. He loved Charlie, he'd get over this, it was just going to take a little more time.


  For the third night in a row there was a knock on Daniel's bedroom door.

"Come on in, Charlie." There was no need for Daniel to ask who was knocking.

The boy entered the room and spread his sleeping bag out on the floor beside the bed. The first night was understandable, the second night questionable, tonight was a sure sign something was wrong.

Daniel waited until his brother settled down. "Are you okay, Charlie?"

"Yeah," came the hesitant whisper. "I just don't like to be alone at night. It makes me think too much. Is it okay? If you want me to leave, I will."

"No, it's okay. You can sleep here every night if you want to. I just know how much you love sleeping in your own bed."

Charlie had offered that information during the recent camping trip they'd taken together at State Forest State Park , the camping trip during which they became blood brothers.

The thought saddened Daniel. The Charlie lying on the floor beside him tonight was nothing like the Charlie from the trip. In fact, he was nothing like the Charlie Daniel had grown to love despite the wild streak that occasionally scared the bejeezus out of him. That Charlie possessed the strength and courage to stand up to friends and bullies alike, not to mention SF's. That Charlie had been... what was the word? That day when they had battled Tommy’s gang Daniel had come up with just the right word but it eluded him now.

"I'm sorry you lost your Fantasy Sports Week Camp," he said solemnly. He was sorry. Charlie had talked endlessly about that coveted week since the first awkward day of Daniel’s arrival in the O'Neill household. His brother had been on a waiting list for two years. It wasn't that Daniel disagreed with the punishment, he just felt sad for Charlie's disappointment.

"It doesn't matter," came the whisper from the floor. "I don't deserve to go."

The declaration bothered Daniel. He wondered if Jack or Sara had told Charlie that or if it was something he had decided on his own.

"Dad's still mad at me,” Charlie said. He was beginning to sound a little shaky. “He tries to hide it but I can tell. I think he'll always be mad. I don't blame him. I ruined everything."

Daniel wanted to dispute that notion and reassure his brother but he couldn't because he was scared that maybe it was a little bit true. Jack did seem mad around Charlie. They barely spoke to each other. Charlie was quiet and withdrawn and Jack didn't seem concerned about drawing him out or reassuring him. It had only been three days and maybe Jack wanted to be sure Charlie had learned his lesson but it was tense being at the dinner table with father and son. Heck, it was painful being in the same room with them.

"It will pass." The words had been Daniel's mantra for the past two years, ever since his parents’ deaths. No matter how bad things were, somehow, those three words held true.

  "Hey, I have an idea." Daniel worked up some enthusiasm hoping it would be contagious. "Do you want to go over to Spencer's tomorrow? He keeps asking me when you'll be coming over. He thinks he found that baseball card you've been looking for and he said he'd trade it to you.”

"No, I can't. I'm helping Mom get organized."

"I don't think she'd mind." Daniel was positive Sara wouldn't mind. Unlike Jack, Sara didn't seem mad. As of yesterday, she began urging Charlie to ride his bike or head over to the baseball field at the park but Charlie had steadfastly refused.

"It's better if I don't go out," Charlie said with certainty.

"Why?"

“I won't get into any trouble at home. Who knows what'll happen out there." There was a long pause. "Daniel, you can ride my bike if you want to. I don't mind. I want you to have it."

Have it? "No, you ride it. It's yours." Daniel had been hoping Charlie would show him a few bike tricks, though not the more spectacular ones. Now he could see that wouldn't happen any time soon.

"Nah, you take it. At least until you get your own. I'm not going to be using it."

"Charlie, you're not grounded. You don't have to stay in the house."

"I know, but I want to. It'll be easier that way."

"What will be easier?" Daniel asked with a confused frown.

"To win Dad's trust back. I know it can't be like it was before but..." Charlie choked back a sob. "But maybe someday he can trust me and we can be friends again."

Unbeatable. That was the word Daniel had come up with to describe Charlie O'Neill. It seemed that Charlie was long gone. This Charlie was the opposite. Defeated.

"Don't be silly. He was just scared. Remember that day at Cheyenne Mountain when we set off the alarm? He said when he gets really scared he gets mad. Jack loves you and he'll trust you again. Don't worry about that." Daniel made the reassurance with all the confidence and sincerity he could muster.

There was no answer from the floor and he decided Charlie must have fallen asleep.


Sara O’Neill watched the relieved parents fuss over their five-year-old daughter and was grateful for the happy ending.

“Do you have any questions about what the doctor told you?" She knew from experience how relief could get in the way of hearing.

“No,” the woman, Mrs. Hendry, answered as she wiped her eyes with one hand and caressed her daughter’s fair curls with the other while the child rested comfortably in her father’s arms.

“And you’re not going to ride your bike without your helmet again, are you, Melissa?” Sara asked with a smile.

The little girl laid her head against her father’s shoulder.

 

“Really, I didn’t think it would be a problem," Mr. Hendry answered. "I mean, we were right in the driveway. I never thought – ” He stopped abruptly when his wife glared at him.

Uh-oh, Sara thought. She could tell they were definitely going to have a talk when the family returned home. The man had made a mistake that almost resulted in serious injury to their child. She had no doubt Mrs. Hendry was going to make that very clear to her husband. Probably for quite awhile.

After grateful farewells, the family headed for the hospital exit and Sara returned to the nurse’s station to make a last note in the file. Melissa Hendry had been fortunate to get off with only a bump on the head. The entire family had been fortunate.

As her own family had been. The thought was automatic. Two weeks ago her family had come so close to unspeakable tragedy that Sara couldn’t bear thinking about it even now. But the memories returned every night in her dreams – memories of how Charlie had come within millimeters of shooting himself in the head. With Jack’s gun.

A shudder ran through her and she gripped the edge of the desk as she struggled for control. If not for Daniel... no, don't think about it, she told herself. Not here. Not now. They were all right, they were *all* all right, and that’s what mattered. That’s what she needed to focus on, not the 'what-ifs' and the 'almosts'.

Except they weren’t all right. Charlie hadn’t been hurt physically but he hadn’t been the same since that day. Her exuberant, outgoing, devil-may-care son had disappeared, replaced by a quiet, withdrawn little boy who was so unlike Charlie her heart ached to see him.

She needed to talk to Jack, and she would, tonight.


"Jack, you have to talk to Charlie."

Sara caught him in their bedroom, in the middle of changing his clothes, and the tone of her voice warned him this wasn’t going to be an enjoyable conversation.

"Why? What's he done now?" Jack asked with more than a touch of sarcasm. He was as high as a kite from work today and it was almost impossible to come down. They were so close to something amazing. He could feel it.

A quick glance at his wife let him know he was dangerously close to the limits of her patience. He reined himself in and gave her an apologetic half smile.

"He's so... sad. He's different. I know you've been incredibly busy at the base but you must have noticed." 

Sara was right. He was busy. Beyond busy. He'd been taking Daniel with him to the Mountain almost every day. The scientists were on the verge of something so huge it gave him chills to think about it. The electricity ran rampant through the science department. As an added bonus, Jack actually liked the new scientists. Dr. Lee was soft-spoken and easygoing and more importantly, he was fond of Daniel. So was Dr. Rothman. So were the other scientists. He hadn't even needed to threaten them. They recognized the brilliant mind housed in the little body and they cherished the child, as well as the knowledge, almost as much as he did. They worked well together and Daniel was just as fond of them as they were of him.

The excitement in the air was impossible to ignore even for the most seasoned personnel. They were so close that it was a thrill to come to the Mountain every morning and almost a disappointment when it came time to leave each night.

Jack also needed to talk to Sara about Daniel and school. General Hammond had asked him if they would consider letting Daniel be home-schooled at the Mountain. With the base on the edge of a discovery beyond imagining, Jack felt confident Daniel would jump at the opportunity. Sara was another story. He decided to save that topic for another day.

He wrapped his arms around his brooding wife. "Honey, I know Charlie's sad but it hasn't been that long. Let him stew for a while. I think it's finally hitting home that he can't run around doing whatever he pleases with no consequences. If he's quiet or sad for a while, so be it."

"A while? It's been two weeks."

Two weeks? It didn't feel like two weeks to Jack.

"It doesn't bother you?" Sara asked.

Not really. Okay, maybe a little bit. But nothing like it did Sara. "Not if it saves him from disaster.” 

"You don't see him every day," she sighed, giving him a handy excuse.

"No, you're right, I don't. Let's give it another week. If you're still worried we'll both talk to him again. I just don't want to coddle him and tell him everything’s fine when it's not fine. You agree with that, don't you?"

"I suppose." She pulled out of his arms to see his face. "Jack..."

"What?" Uh-oh. That particular way she said his name usually meant he wasn't going to like the question.

"What did you do with the gun?"

He forced himself to look her in the eye and was relieved that the question was sincere, without accusation. "I bought a lockbox at the Home Depot. It's on the closet shelf."

"Good."

He braced himself for more but she just nodded, smiled at him and rubbed his arm.

"I'm tired, I'm going to take a hot shower before going to bed.” She kissed his cheek and headed for the bathroom.

He nodded coolly, thankful for his years of military training. Sara had admirably refrained from pointing out that she had suggested the lockbox idea last year and he had readily agreed. He just hadn't gotten around to it. It was understandable, he was busy with work, and then Daniel had joined their family and everything had exploded. The Stargate project, the boys...

Jack took a deep, shaky breath. Excuses. He was making excuses. The truth suddenly stared him in the face, the same truth he’d been hiding from since the day Charlie pulled the trigger of his service revolver.

If there was one thing Jack O'Neill hated it was excuses. It was time to face facts. His anger wasn’t exclusive to Charlie’s actions, part of it was his own culpability. Jack knew precautions needed to be taken when a child shared a house with a gun. He knew all about those precautions. Hell, he and Sara had talked about all of them ages ago. Bottom line – she'd never wanted him to keep a weapon in the house. Jack understood that, he even agreed with it. Unfortunately, things weren’t always that simple. Bitter experience had proven how dark this world could be, especially in his line of work, and he needed to be able to protect his family.

After a lengthy discussion, Sara had reluctantly agreed with his reasoning. Jack had promised to keep the gun locked up; he had also promised their son would never see it, much less handle it.

Jack was big on the importance of keeping his word and had drilled that lesson into Charlie as well. But he had failed to keep his word to his wife. He had failed to get the lockbox, failed to keep his guard up, and ultimately, he had failed to keep his son safe. It had been Daniel who saved Charlie when Charlie found the weapon lying benignly in an unlocked drawer.

If not for Daniel, Charlie would be dead. And Jack would have had to live with that for the rest of his life.

He slumped down on the bed and leaned forward to rest his head in his hands. “Stupid, O’Neill,” he breathed.

Jack had been taking all of his anger for his own stupidity out on Charlie. Enough, he decided. It had taken two weeks and one day but it was time to face the truth and shoulder some of the responsibility for what had happened.

Anger and guilt were two sides of the same coin. He had always mixed up those two immensely complicated emotions. Charlie was still wrong and his punishment had fit the crime, but it was over. Charlie needed to see that and move on and Jack needed to accept his share of the blame and move on, too.

It was a relief to finally see the light and Jack felt at peace for the first time since the nightmare began. It was too late to do anything about it now; Charlie was already in bed. Jack and Daniel were going back to the Mountain early in the morning but he'd talk to Charlie tomorrow night and clear the air. It was time for things to return to normal in the O'Neill household.

He slipped out of his clothes and surprised Sara in the shower. She gave a small start before turning into his embrace.

"I'm not going to wait a week." He kissed her neck and blew behind her ear. "I'll talk to Charlie tomorrow."

Instead of answering she kissed him full on the lips and began to soap his chest.

 

Chapter 2

“That’s it! I’ve got it!”

Eleven-year-old Daniel Jackson slipped, slid, and stumbled down the ladder while waving his hands in the air. Fortunately, Captain Lou Ferretti caught him just before he would have fallen face down on the floor.

“Whoa, Daniel! That last step would have hurt for sure.”

Heedless of the man, Daniel turned to face Captain Samantha Carter as she hurried up.

“What is it, Daniel?” she demanded.

“I’ve got it!” he exclaimed jubilantly. Now he needed to tell – 

“Got what?” came a familiar drawl behind him and Daniel spun around to see his foster father, Colonel Jack O’Neill, enter the room.

“Here! Right here!” He grabbed Jack’s hand and pulled him closer to the great circle of stone. “It was right here the whole time and I didn’t see it until now!”

“Daniel.” Jack gripped the boy’s arms and gave him a gentle shake. “You need to calm down before you blow an artery. Take a few deep breaths and then you can explain.”

Daniel sighed in frustration but one look at those dark brown eyes gazing down at him told him there would be no arguing. Obediently, he took a deep breath, then another. By the third one he could feel his heart rate returning to normal.

“Can I tell you now?” he pleaded.

Jack’s lips quirked. “Okay, what’s all the hullabaloo?”

“Up there.” Daniel pointed at the center of the cover stone, high above his head now that he was on the floor. “Do you see it?”

Jack took a couple steps back, bringing the boy with him, and studied the strange-looking symbols.

“I see a lot of those picto-thingys you like so much but... nope, they don’t look any more exciting now than before.”

Daniel sighed and knew Jack heard it when the man cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Okay, kiddo, spill. From the beginning.”

Daniel took another deep breath. “Okay. We already figured out that the symbols on the Stargate are actually constellations...”

Jack listened intently, amused at Daniel’s use of ‘we’. ‘We’ hadn’t figured out anything. Daniel had done all the figuring out so far.

“... but we haven’t found the key to putting the symbols together in a way that would open the Stargate. Well...” Daniel swallowed and went on in a rush of words, “I think it’s been staring us in the face the whole time!”

“Look, Daniel – ” Sam started.

“Let him talk, Captain.” Jack knew Daniel, the kid would get there eventually and it was usually worth the wait.

“I think,” Daniel continued, oblivious to Sam, “that the cartouche that runs down the middle of the cover stone arranges these symbols into a kind of address.”

Jack blinked. Even though it was happening right in front of him, he had a hard time believing a little kid was capable of understanding all this technical crap. Okay, this particular little kid was a certified genius, but still...

“Are you talking about coordinates?” Sam asked with a frown.

“Yes!” Daniel affirmed with a vigorous nod. He looked around. “What happened to my notebook?”

“You dropped it when you jumped down the ladder,” Ferretti noted as he handed it to him.

“Thanks.” Daniel opened it to a blank sheet and scribbled the symbols from the cartouche vertically down the page.

Jack drew closer so he could see over the boy’s shoulder, aware that Carter and the others were doing the same. Daniel continued with his impromptu lecture, laying out the ideas that had coalesced in his mind.

“What the cartouche gives us are the seven points required to map the route to a specific destination.”

“What d’ya mean, seven points?” Ferretti questioned.

Daniel turned the page and drew a three-dimensional cube on the paper, then put a large spot of ink on each ‘wall’ of the cube.

“When we talk about locating a destination to any three-dimensional space, we need to find two points to determine the exact height, two more points to determine the width, and two more points to determine the depth.” As he spoke, he was drawing lines between the dots until he was finally left with three overlapping lines. “The cartouche on the Stargate gives us those reference points.”

Carter opened her mouth but Jack jumped in first. "Where’s the seventh point you talked about?”

Daniel gave him a triumphant smile. “These six identify a destination. The seventh is the point of origin. That’s how we map the route to a specific location.

“But there’s nothing more in the cartouche to draw from,” Dr. Rothman objected.

Daniel started. He hadn’t realized Dr. Rothman had entered the room. For the first time he noticed the circle of people surrounding him, Jack, Sam, Captain Ferretti, a couple of the technicians, and now Dr. Rothman had joined them, too. Suddenly self-conscious, Daniel had a brief panic attack. What if he was wrong? What if – 

A strong, familiar hand came to rest on his shoulder. “Go on, Daniel. We’re with you,” Jack encouraged.

Daniel allowed himself to lean into that hand and the strength it offered, and his self-confidence returned. He was right. He knew he was right.

“The point of origin isn’t inside the cartouche.” He glanced up at the massive cover stone before turning again to his notebook. “It’s just below it.”

Daniel quickly sketched two small stick figures on either side of a triangle and then drew a circle above the triangle. After studying it for a minute, he looked up with a satisfied smile. “Here’s the point of origin. Earth.”

“That symbol isn’t on the Stargate.” Sam stared at the drawing, then up at the cover stone.

“Yes, it is.” Not for nothing had Daniel spent all those hours gazing at the Stargate. Over the last few months he had memorized all the symbols on the great structure and he knew what to look for. The symbol on the Stargate was fancier than on the cover stone but it was there.

Too excited to feel self-conscious, Daniel led Jack and Sam and a few stragglers down to the huge room that housed the Stargate, then he sped up the stairs to the computer-filled room overlooking the renovated silo. Ignoring everyone else, Daniel looked directly at Jack.

“Once when I was in here with you, I noticed one of these computer monitors was showing a close-up of the symbols on the Stargate.”

Jack nodded, staring down at the silent Stargate as he listened. Daniel cleared his throat rather noisily and continued.

“Can you do that again? Only this time, can you also make the symbols turn, I mean revolve, so that we can see them close up as they go around?”

Daniel was going to show them what the scientists claimed didn’t exist. Jack’s heart swelled with excitement as he recognized the future he had barely dared to believe in was about to become a reality.

He nodded again and turned to the senior technician sitting in front of the main computer terminal. “Do it,” he ordered.

The monitor flickered and the picture appeared, then zoomed closer with dizzying speed as the camera focused on the uppermost symbol of the great ring. Daniel leaned forward until he was almost pressing against the technician’s shoulder but for once he wasn’t aware of anyone or anything except the screen.

“Make it go around.” His eyes were fixed on the monitor.

Though most of Daniel’s attention was taken up in anticipation of what was about to happen, part of his mind marveled at the intricate detail in the carved symbols on the Stargate. Ten thousand years old! Who had carved the symbols ten thousand years ago?

The inner ring of the Stargate began to revolve and Daniel forgot everything else. One by one the symbols passed by the camera’s eye and he held his breath as he compared each one to the carving below the cartouche in the cover stone.

“Stop!” he blurted, startling everyone in the room. They all drew close, their attention torn between the little boy and the symbol on the monitor.

Daniel leaned closer and scrutinized the image on the screen.

“There it is.” He traced the symbol on the screen with his finger, a triangle crowned by a tiny circle.

Then everyone realized what Daniel had already known – they were the same symbol, one was more stylized than the other but they were definitely the same.

“My god,” someone breathed.

Sam moved up beside Daniel and ran a shaking finger over the symbol. “It’s been here the entire time.” Her voice was little more than a whisper.

“Carter?" Jack cut his eyes to her.

“Sir, I need to, I need to study this to be sure but...”

It was the first time he'd seen the cool, controlled Captain Carter fumble for words, and he let her take her time.

“I think,” she gave Daniel a dazed look, “I think he’s done it, sir.”

Jack glanced around the circle to see the same combination of amazement and shock on everyone’s face. Then he looked down to meet Daniel’s anxious gaze while fighting back his own awe. This little boy, this eleven-year-old child, had just solved a mystery that the military’s best and brightest had struggled in vain for the last two years to figure out.

Not so fast. They needed to be sure. He’d leave that to Carter and her team. Now that Daniel had given them the how and the what, he had no doubt the Captain would run with it. As for him, he needed to see Hammond , ASAP.

A smile spread across his face as he slid his arm around the boy’s slim shoulders, giving him a squeeze.

“Way to go, kiddo.” He watched as Daniel’s anxiety was replaced with relief.


Sara finished noting the patient’s vitals in the chart before slipping it back into its usual slot. The boy was recovering from his surgery nicely. It never ceased to amaze her how fast young children could bounce back from serious injury.

“A nickel for your thoughts?”

The voice startled her out of her absorption and she looked up to see Ellen Fremont smiling at her. Sara smiled back.

“A nickel? I thought it was a penny.”

“Inflation," Ellen laughed. "And aren’t you supposed to be getting out of here?”

Sara glanced at her watch in surprise. “You’re right, the morning flew by so quickly I wasn’t paying attention to the time.”

“You’re also not used to working half-days,” Ellen noted.

“No, I suppose you're right.” Sara gave her friend a warm smile. “I really appreciate you filling in for me this afternoon.”

“I’m glad to do it. Besides,” the petite woman gave her a wink, “a little extra in my next paycheck will come in handy.”

They both laughed just as Margo Cameron came out of the supply room. Her eyes brightened at the sight of them.

“Ellen, what are you doing here today?”

“I have to leave early.” Sara signed off on the last chart. “So Ellen’s taking the rest of my shift.”

“Really?” Margo’s eyebrows rose. “This is a first.” Her smile widened and she gave Sara a little shoulder nudge. “Special date?”

Sara kept her smile in place. Margo was an excellent nurse who was, unfortunately, an incorrigible gossip. Although Ellen knew some of the story because she and Sara were good friends, Sara knew better than to breathe a word of anything personal to Margo.

“Nothing so exciting, I’m afraid. Ellen, thanks again. Would you mind calling Tom and asking him to send Charlie home? I'll meet him there.”

"Will do," Ellen agreed. They routinely shifted the boys to each other's house during the summer months or school holidays so the kids wouldn't be home alone. The boys were getting older but they weren't quite old enough to be home alone for more than a few hours at a time.

Sara escaped before Margo could ask any more questions. Once she was in her car and heading for home she reviewed her secret plans for the afternoon. She was grateful Jack had decided to talk to Charlie tonight but that fact didn’t change her plans. She had formulated an idea of her own and she was ready to put it into action.

Sara hoped her plan would work. They needed to do something to help Charlie. Standing on the sideline waiting for him to come to them was proving to be fruitless and frustrating. Charlie had suffered a frightening experience and then had the dream he’d been looking forward to for two years snatched away. No wonder the poor kid was depressed. Even though he'd brought it on himself she couldn't help but feel badly for him. She was surprised Jack hadn't been equally as worried for their son.

Though Sara regretted denying Charlie his Fantasy Sports Camp Week, she remained convinced it was necessary. Charlie had been extremely fortunate to come out of this in one piece. They couldn’t risk his unthinking attitude taking him into another disastrous situation.

All things considered, it was no wonder Charlie wasn't himself. It was time to take the bull by the horns.

When she walked into the house she was struck by the quiet. Normally when Charlie was around there was noise, whistling, feet thudding on the hardwood floors, his cheerful voice... except for the last two weeks.

“Charlie?” she called as she wandered from room to room.

There was no sign of her son downstairs so she went upstairs. He wasn’t in his room and the bathroom door was open. Although she knew Daniel was at the Mountain with Jack today, she peeked into his room to be sure Charlie hadn’t taken refuge there. Empty. The boys knew better then to go into Jack and Sara’s room without permission but Sara checked just in case. Empty.

Sighing, she went back downstairs and headed for the kitchen. Maybe Charlie had gone out in the yard? Opening the back door, she found her quarry sitting on the porch steps. For a moment Sara watched him, feeling the now familiar ache in her heart. To see her normally boisterous, energetic son sitting so quietly, hands empty, staring at nothing, seemed so wrong.

“Hi, honey.” She took a deep breath and plastered on a smile.

 “Mom? What are you doing home so early?” Charlie started and twisted around to look up at her.

“Errands to run,” Sara answered lightly. “How about you give me a hand grocery shopping?”

Grocery shopping was something her guys avoided like the plague. Even Daniel tried to be elsewhere when she looked for volunteers to accompany her to the store. Sara had never figured out if it was an inborn guy thing or something they learned in the cradle but she decided long ago it was easier to do it herself than have to deal with a reluctant, impatient assistant.

Unfortunately for Charlie, Sara wasn’t going to accept excuses today. He didn’t know that yet and he’d made the mistake of sitting here, obviously doing nothing, so he couldn’t claim he was in the middle of something.

"Okay," Charlie mumbled, getting to his feet.

His quick agreement surprised Sara and strengthened her resolve. “Let me get my grocery list,” she went on, “and we can get going.”

Dragging his feet, Charlie joined her in the car where he sat silently, ignoring her conversational gambits during the brief ride to the store. At Sara’s insistence, he pushed the cart for her up one aisle and down another, until all the items on the list had been checked off. After going through the checkout and loading the bags into the trunk of the car, they headed home.

By now, Sara had run out of words. She avoided looking at her son for fear he would pick up on her anxiety. Charlie was quite intuitive when it came to her emotions, even if he didn’t understand the reasons behind them. Not recently, though. Not today. He was slumped in the passenger seat, his normally alert expression empty of emotion and his usually bright eyes dull and unseeing.

Sara's eyes stung and she blinked with determination. She saw the street up ahead that they normally turned on and swallowed as she gripped the steering wheel more tightly. This is for your own good, Charlie, she thought as she passed the street without turning. She expected – hoped – for a comment from her son. Something along the lines of – “You missed the turn, Mom,” or “This isn’t the way home,” or even “What are you doing, Mom?” But there was only silence. Another furtive glance at Charlie confirmed her suspicion that he wasn’t paying attention. He was locked away inside himself, lonely and depressed. Even though he was sitting beside her, Sara had never felt so far away from her son and the realization made her eyes sting again.

She cleared her throat, relieved that the street she wanted was just ahead. She turned on the car’s blinker, slowed to take the turn, and slowed still further as she drove into the parking lot. Unlike the rest of the school year, there was plenty of available parking during the summer. Sticking to her plan, Sara drove deliberately down to the end of the lot before parking.

Just ahead of them, on the other side of the chain link fence, was the building that housed the P.E. department. Sara smiled to herself at the sight of the gate that had been left wide open. So far her plan was working.

“You want to come in with me, honey?” she asked.

For the first time Charlie raised his head and took in his surroundings. “Why are we at school?”

It was his first expression of curiosity in two weeks and Sara was delighted, though she kept her expression neutral and her voice casual.

“I need to pick up some paperwork about the extra classes Daniel will be taking in the fall,” she fibbed. “You want to come with me or stay here?”

“I’ll stay here.” Charlie's brief animation faded.

Though she had expected it, even hoped for it, Charlie’s response deepened her anxiety. Giving him her brightest smile, Sara rolled down the driver-side and the passenger-side windows before turning off the engine.

“So it won’t get too warm in here while I’m gone,” she explained. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Charlie nodded, then slumped back in his seat after his mother was gone. He stared outside, unseeing, wishing he was home where he could just... do nothing.

He rubbed his eyes. They felt gritty, like they had sand in them. He guessed it was because he was so tired. It seemed like a long time since he’d slept through the night. The only times he’d actually been able to sleep at all were the nights he snuck into Daniel’s room and slept on the floor in his sleeping bag. His parents didn’t know about that ’cause he always waited until he saw the light go out under their bedroom door before sneaking over to Daniel’s room.

Charlie didn’t worry about Daniel saying anything. Over the last few months he'd discovered that Daniel was good at keeping secrets. During the past couple of weeks Charlie had been relieved to learn that Daniel was also good at knowing when not to ask questions.

Daniel was safe to be around.

Not that he deserved a brother like Daniel. He’d almost gotten his brother killed a few weeks ago. It was amazing Daniel hadn’t been angry. He’d even saved Charlie’s life just a few days later. Which wouldn’t have been necessary except for his own stupidity.

Charlie swallowed at the thought. It had been haunting him day and night since it happened. He would’ve died. He, Charlie O’Neill, wouldn’t have made it to his twelfth birthday next month. He really would have died.

He rested his head against the back of the seat and swallowed again. He deserved to lose his Fantasy Sports Camp Week. He deserved a lot worse, Dad knew that.

“Hi, Charlie!”Jolted out of his misery, Charlie straightened and opened his eyes. Coach Engels, his soccer coach, was standing by the car door holding a bag of soccer balls, peering into the drivers-side open window and smiling. Charlie cleared his throat.

  “Hi, Coach.”

“How’re you doing this fine summer day?”

“Uh...” Charlie hesitated, not knowing how to respond, then he remembered Daniel’s catch-all phrase. “Fine. I’m fine, thanks.”

“Yeah? Great. Hey,” the coach continued, as if he’d just had an inspiration, “if you have the time, you want to help me with the training camp?”

Oh. Now Charlie knew what Coach Engels was doing here. Every summer the school offered new students the chance to get acquainted with the sports program through mini-camps. Charlie had helped out in the past, both in soccer and baseball. This year had been different. Because he had expected to be attending the Fantasy Sports Camp Week he hadn’t been involved in the mini-camps. He’d been too focused on brushing up on the fundamentals that he thought he'd need for his long-awaited, long-dreamed-about, Fantasy Sports Camp Week.

Well, the Fantasy Sports Camp Week was no longer an option, thanks to his own foolishness. Now he had the time to help out. Except all he wanted to do was hide in his bedroom, away from the people and the fun, and everything else he couldn’t face.

“How about it?” Coach Engels asked. “We have some good prospects, they could use your experience and advice.”

With each encouraging word, Charlie's spirits sank lower. The last thing the new kids needed was his experience – in getting into trouble – or his advice – that just led to more trouble.

“Thanks, Coach,” he managed around the growing lump in his throat, “but I’m, uh, kind of busy. Right now, I mean.”

The coach nodded in disappointment. “I’m sorry you’re so busy. I know how summers can be. If you change your mind, it’d be great to have your help. Just come on by and I’ll put you to work, okay?”

Charlie had always thought Coach Engels was a good guy and this genial offer proved it once again. For some strange reason the realization made his throat feel even tighter.

“Thanks.” He tried to smile and failed miserably.

The coach gave him a cheery wave and went back through the gate, disappearing into the P.E. building. Charlie sighed and leaned his head against the back rest again. He hoped his mom would be back soon. He really wanted to go home.

He had no idea how much time passed before he was startled into opening his eyes again. Someone was knocking on the passenger-side door. He blinked to clear his vision and was surprised to see one of his teachers.

“Mr. Peterson?” he said out the window. “Uh, hi.”

Mr. Peterson taught science and was one of Charlie’s favorite teachers. He was always nice and approachable and never made a kid feel dumb for asking questions. Something happened last year – the rumors floating around school said someone in his family had died – and Mr. Peterson abruptly disappeared while a substitute teacher taught his classes for the rest of the year.

This was the first time Charlie had seen him since, geez, since last fall, almost a year ago, and he was struck by Mr. Peterson’s changed appearance. He’d never been a big guy but now he was really skinny and he looked a lot older. But his smile was still the same as he gazed at Charlie.

“Kind of warm to be sitting in the car, isn't it?”

 “My mom’ll be right back.” Charlie shrugged and tried another smile.

“Ah, okay.” In the distance, someone called Mr. Peterson’s name and the teacher turned to see who was calling. “I’ll see you later, Cory." He reached into the car and patted Charlie's shoulder before walking away.

Charlie frowned as he looked after the man. Cory? Mr. Peterson knew him. He'd even given him pointers in his job as assistant coach of Charlie’s Little League baseball team. Why would he call him Cory?

He sighed again and closed his eyes. So Mr. Peterson had been distracted. No big deal. He really wished his mom would hurry up.

Five minutes later, Sara walked back to her car. Her feet were dragging as much as her spirits. She’d seen Dave Engels and he’d told her of Charlie’s lack of interest in helping with the mini-camp. She had thought... she'd been so hopeful...

So much for her plan.

As Sara approached the car, she could see her son slumped in his seat and her feelings of helplessness and frustration deepened. How on earth was she going to reach him? Maybe Jack would have better luck this evening. Sara allowed herself a smile and a tiny bit of optimism. If anyone could get through to Charlie it would be his father. Maybe Jack was what Charlie really needed.

 

Chapter 3

It turned out to be an exhilarating yet exhausting day after Daniel had explained his discovery. A day filled with jubilation and excitement and partying, and also an immediate and intensive re-examination of everything Daniel had said, especially in relation to his earlier discoveries. Being the one who had figured out the long-standing puzzle, as well as being the foremost expert on the snake language at Cheyenne Mountain, Daniel – and his interpretations – was at the center of it all.

By the time he and Jack arrived home at the end of that eventful day, Daniel wanted to crawl into bed and go to sleep. Jack, he noticed, was still wired. The next thing he noticed as they entered the house was the fragrant aroma of... beef stew?  Despite his exhaustion his taste buds went on full alert.

“Hey, Sara!” Jack called the moment he crossed the threshold. “Something smells good.”

“Just dinner,” she replied and both Jack and Daniel turned to look up the stairs to see her coming down.

“Hi, honey...” Jack’s voice trailed off. Standing beside him, Daniel saw why.

At first glance Sara looked like always. But a closer look revealed a slump in her shoulders and her usual smile was missing. There was something else, too, Daniel thought, but he didn’t know what it was. Sara wasn’t looking or acting like Sara.

“Is something wrong?” Daniel watched Jack’s eyes narrow as he looked at her.

“The same thing that’s been wrong for two weeks,” she said quietly.

Jack took a deep breath. “Yeah, well – ” he shot a look at Daniel. “Why don’t you go get changed, buddy?”

Daniel nodded without speaking. His excitement and hunger, even his weariness, paled in comparison to the cloud that had settled over the house. He went up the stairs slowly, hoping Jack and Sara would be able to figure out how to help Charlie, hoping Jack would stop being mad and Charlie could get back to being his old self. But they were just hopes and Daniel's weariness overtook him as he climbed the stairs.

Charlie had made clear his desire for privacy but Daniel couldn’t shake the feeling that, deep down, his brother didn’t really mean it, at least not entirely. Several times in the past two weeks Charlie had snuck into Daniel’s room with his sleeping bag and spent the night. Daniel hadn’t said anything. Charlie had no desire to talk during his night-time visits so he pretended to be asleep each time his brother’s gentle tap on the bedroom door heralded his arrival. The fact that Charlie always snuck back to his own room before his parents woke up the next morning was proof to Daniel that Charlie preferred to keep his nocturnal wanderings to himself.

At the top of the stairs, Daniel turned toward Charlie’s room, stopping when he reached the closed door. Another sign Charlie wasn’t okay. Up until two weeks ago, his gregarious foster brother usually left his bedroom door open, closing it only on special occasions, such as when he was making a present for Jack or Sara. Since the accident with the gun, Charlie always kept his door closed.

Daniel lifted his hand to knock and his stomach rumbled. “Shhh,” he told it and knocked firmly.

Only silence answered. After waiting a polite minute, Daniel knocked again. “Charlie, it’s me. Can I come in?”

There was no response and Daniel's heart sank. Should he knock again or leave Charlie alone? It made him a little sick to think of Charlie by himself, lost in his own misery. Daniel had firsthand knowledge of loneliness and depression and it wasn't a good feeling. It would probably be best for Charlie to talk to his parents but since he wouldn’t do that, Daniel decided he had to offer.

Except Charlie didn’t seem to be interested in his help because the door remained firmly shut. Sadly, Daniel started to turn away, just as the door opened. Charlie looked at him through the narrow crack. His expression was not welcoming and Daniel had to swallow before he could speak.

“Hi, Charlie.”

“Hi.”

Daniel's mind raced. Charlie wasn't making it easy. Come on, you’re good at talking. So talk.

“Um, are you hungry?” He babbled the first thing that came to mind. “Sara’s making  beef stew. It smells really good.”

“No.”

“I was thinking maybe it's time to set the table.” Setting the table used to be Charlie’s job. Now he and Daniel shared the chore.

“Mom will say when.”

There was no life in Charlie's voice or sparkle in his eyes. Those signs of life had been missing for two weeks now. Daniel’s worry got the best of him.

“Charlie, I’d really like to help with whatever’s wrong. Can I do something?” The words escaped in a rush before he had a chance to stop them. Then Daniel wondered if he should apologize. He didn’t want to push.

Something flickered in Charlie’s eyes and for a minute it looked like he was going to say something. Then he looked down at his feet and shook his head.

“But we’re brothers now,” Daniel whispered around the lump in his throat. Charlie looked up at that.

"Please?” Daniel added.

Charlie’s lips twisted then straightened. After another strained minute he took a step back. Daniel watched in despair. He shouldn’t have just blurted it out. He should’ve – his self-reproaches stopped when Charlie opened the door wider.

“Come on in.”

Not giving his brother a chance to change his mind, Daniel darted inside and heard the door close again behind him. Remembering the first time he'd come into this room and met Charlie O’Neill, Daniel couldn’t help contrasting that bright, enthusiastic, outgoing kid with the dispirited, withdrawn figure in front of him. Why weren’t Sara and Jack doing something? Charlie was miserable. He needed something, maybe a shoulder to lean on or someone to listen to his problems. Something. If he could get Charlie to start talking, about anything, that would at least be a beginning. That gave Daniel an idea.

He glanced around the room, skipping over the sports trophies and looking closely at the models. There it was, third from the end on the shelf above the dresser.

“I remember that one.” Daniel pointed out the jet. “You showed it to me my first day here.” He turned a casual look at his brother.

Charlie followed his gaze; his jaw quivered and he turned away. Too late, Daniel remembered that was the model jet Charlie had built with Jack. With the memory came understanding. Charlie really believed what he’d told Daniel a few nights after his accident with the gun. How had Charlie put it?  'But maybe someday Dad can trust me and we can be friends again.'

Charlie believed Jack didn’t trust him. Sadly, that part might be true. But the other part was even worse. Charlie didn’t feel as if his father wanted to be friends with him.

Daniel didn’t believe it but he had to admit Jack was acting weird around Charlie. It wasn’t like Jack. Daniel had lived in this house for over three months and he’d seen Jack happy and sad and angry and laughing. The few times he'd seen Jack really angry, he'd blown up and then calmed down. Sometimes it happened right away, sometimes it took a few hours or even a day. This was the longest Daniel had ever known Jack to stay mad. It didn’t make sense.

“Your mom and dad had a big scare.” Daniel did his best to make sense of it. “It’ll just take time for things to calm down and get back to normal. Look at your mom. She’s treating you like always, right?”

Charlie swallowed and nodded. “She took me to school today.”

“Why?” School? That made Daniel blink.

For an instant Daniel thought he saw an embryonic smile around Charlie’s mouth before it faded.

“I didn’t think of it then, but I think she and the coach planned it.”

“What coach? Planned what?”

“She went into the school to do something and I stayed in the car,” Charlie explained. “My soccer coach, Coach Engels, came by and asked me to help out at the soccer camp with the new kids.”

Daniel’s high opinion of Sara shot even higher. What a great idea. If anything could drag Charlie out of his doldrums it would be his beloved sports.

“That’ll be fun.” Daniel tried to control his enthusiasm.

“I said no.” Charlie’s head dropped.

No? It was hard to stop his instinct to protest. “But Charlie...”

“Even Mr. Peterson got in on the act,” Charlie continued.

“Mr. Peterson?”

“One of my teachers. He was an assistant coach on my Little League team.” Faint lines wrinkled Charlie’s forehead. “Or maybe he wasn’t part of the plan. He seemed distracted. He called me Cory.”

“Who’s Cory?”

Charlie shrugged. “Dunno.” His shoulders slumped. “Doesn’t matter. I don’t deserve to play sports right now.”

This time Daniel couldn’t stop his protest. “Charlie, you’re not grounded. There’s no reason – ”

Jack’s faint but distinctive bellow cut off the rest of his words. Charlie got off the bed and opened the door.

“What?” he called.

“You haven’t taken the trash cans out to the curb and it’s time to eat.”

Charlie winced and smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. “I forgot,” he muttered as if to himself, then he yelled, “I’m coming.”

Without another word or look at Daniel the older boy vanished through the door. Daniel looked after him with a sinking heart. He didn’t know what to do.

Downstairs in the dining room, Jack debated how to approach his son. Sara had told him about her unsuccessful plan earlier in the day and he realized his son was suffering needlessly. Charlie didn’t deserve to shoulder all the blame for their shared mistake. Jack’s thoughts from last night – that they needed to finally clear the air and move on – had been right on target. No more delays.

His order to Charlie to take the trash cans out to the curb was his opening gambit. First he wanted to get his son downstairs and off guard, doing something he was used to doing. Then -  

Familiar footsteps pulled Jack out of his thoughts and he looked up to see his son coming down the stairs. As he approached, Jack took a good look at the boy. Charlie’s head was down, his shoulders were slumped, and the sight brought a lump to Jack’s throat. Damn it to hell, Sara was right, this had gone on far too long.

“Sorry, Dad.” Charlie stared at the floor as he walked past his father into the kitchen.

Jack looked after him, his mouth open to call him back, but he caught himself. No, he needed to stick to his original idea and wait until the boy returned. Then they’d talk. Then Jack would offer his son a long overdue apology. There was enough guilt to go around. Charlie didn't need to shoulder it all. They'd talk, get it all out in the open and then they could move on.


It had taken Charlie longer than usual to get the trash cans out to the curb. His dad had built a little cart years ago that the trash cans sat on. Whenever the trash needed to be picked up, it was simply a matter of unlocking the little brake that kept the cart in place and pushing it out to the curb. The next morning, after the garbage truck came by, the process was reversed.

Charlie had pestered his parents for a long time for the privilege of rolling the cart out to the curb for trash pick-up. It had always struck him as a grown-up kind of job and he’d been thrilled when Jack finally gave him permission to take over the chore when he turned ten years old. Since then, the job had been his. Charlie had discovered it wasn’t as fun when it was hot outside or raining or snowing but he guessed that was part of what made it a grown-up job.

Tonight, Charlie fled the house in such a hurry he forgot to turn on the back lights. Ordinarily it wouldn’t have mattered, he knew every inch of his yard. Except this time the little brake switch was sticking and it was too dark to see what was wrong. He thought he’d unlocked it, pushed the cart a few feet, then the tires locked up again. He jiggled the switch until the brake unlocked, pushed the cart a few more feet, only to have the tires lock up again.

If not for the events of the last two weeks, Charlie would have gone back into the house and told his dad. Dad would have fixed the problem right away.

He couldn’t do that tonight. It was silly but it felt like the stupid brake switch was testing him. It wouldn’t have dared do this to Dad, he was sure of it. Well, Charlie would show the stupid switch he was still an O’Neill, even if his dad was mad at him.

In fits and starts Charlie maneuvered the cart down the driveway, muttering at it under his breath. The sticking switch got worse and worse and finally, fed up with it, he dragged the whole heavy contraption the last couple of yards. When he made it to the curb, he released it with a gasp of relief and sank to the ground.

Charlie wiped his sweating forehead and flexed his sore hands. Despite the soreness, he felt good. He’d done it. He’d stuck with it until it was done. Dad would like that.

At the thought of his father his sense of accomplishment vanished and he closed his eyes in misery.

Something nudged at the edge of his consciousness. Charlie sniffed and wiped his face before raising his head.

An iron band caught him around the chest in a hard, paralyzing grip. The breath whooshed out of him.

Something soft clamped down over his mouth and nose and he smelled something sickly sweet, kind of like medicine.

His first instinct was to fight, to struggle against it, except after a minute it seemed like too much of an effort.

Somewhere deep inside, Charlie knew he should be afraid.

Instead he felt sleepy, so sleepy...

Then everything went away.

Chapter 4

Early the next morning, Jack sat in his office at the Mountain, waiting for Hammond to finish up his call to the President to see how far his C.O. would be allowed to go in authorizing military resources and personnel in the search for Charlie.

Charlie. The thought of his son's name made his throat close and his eyes burn. Shit! He should be coping better, especially here at the base. He had come in this morning to get himself under control and to take action. At Cheyenne Mountain he was Colonel Jonathan O'Neill, tough, smart, Special-Ops trained, second in command of a top-secret military base. At home he was Jack, husband of Sara, father of a missing child. Charlie O'Neill's emotional wreck of a dad.

He could think here, reason out the next logical steps without the burden of emotions clouding his judgment. Except that part wasn't going as well as he had hoped.

Jack was also meeting with General Hammond as soon as the General was off the phone with the President. It calmed him somewhat, knowing the President of the United States was personally interested and involved in Charlie's abduction.

It was an abduction, even though Hammond had gently asked the question on everyone's mind. “Are you sure he didn't just run away?”

Jack was sure. Ninety-nine point nine percent sure. He kept the point one percent to himself, not wanting it to interfere with the intensity of anyone's search efforts. Charlie wasn’t the type of kid to run away. He hadn't been himself since the gun incident, that was true, but he wouldn't run away. Besides, Charlie wasn't stupid, he wouldn't run off while taking out the garbage, right before dinner, without the benefit of his fifty dollars in savings and a jacket.

Jack wasn’t sure how serious to take the other possibility floating around in his crowded thoughts. When Sara’s father, Mike, died a few months ago, he had left his considerable estate in a trust for Sara and Charlie. It wasn’t common knowledge but anyone with an interest wouldn’t have a hard time finding out about it. When probated, information contained in a will was easy to access. A garden-variety kidnapper might think the risk worth taking. That prospect further complicated the muddled possibilities.

Jack sighed and rubbed his aching head. The long wait made him wonder if Hammond was having trouble convincing the President of the certainty of Charlie's kidnapping. No matter. Kawalsky and Ferretti were at his disposal regardless of the outcome of the conference call taking place downstairs. He was grateful they had already privately expressed their intentions to help, even if it meant taking temporary leave of their duties.

Experience had taught Jack that complete honesty was essential in a crisis in order to accurately assess the facts and follow the logical clues. Honesty and objectivity were crucial. He didn't have the luxury to wallow in his pain and give in to his fears and be the distraught father. He needed to stay focused and in control because not only was he Charlie's dad, he was also the best person on God's green Earth to find his son.

Testing that honesty to the limit brought him face to face with another reason why he'd driven up to the Mountain this morning.

He needed to get away from Sara. There, how was that for honesty?

She blamed him. At first, for Charlie running away, and later, after Jack had driven the neighborhood and Sara had made all the mandatory, hopeful phone calls to Charlie's friends, she had blamed his career. He couldn't disagree, that had been his first thought, too, in light of what he did for a living.

Early this morning, after a long, sleepless and increasingly frantic night, Sara did something she'd never done before. She punched him in the chest. Hard. It shocked him. And when Jack didn't react, she punched him again.

There were no words of comfort he could offer or reassurances he could murmur so she beat against his chest with both fists, over and over with a fury he'd never seen from her before, until she exhausted herself and collapsed on the bed. His chest still hurt and a few light bruises were developing.

Jack could have stopped her at any time. He could have grabbed her wrists and tried to talk some sense into her.

He knew what she needed from him... the promise that it would be okay. That their son was okay. Jack was afraid to make that vow and when he couldn't say the words, it had rattled her to the point of physical violence.

Jack didn't make the promise or stop Sara's assault because in all likelihood this was his fault, and the pain of that knowledge was too hard to bear if things went badly. It was easier to hurt physically. It felt good. He briefly wondered what a shrink like Mackenzie would think of that, and if it was something they'd have to deal with after... after Charlie was home, safe and sound.

Neither of them had slept. It had been impossible between their fears for their son and the military personnel roaming the house downstairs and the yard outside who had appeared after his first phone call to Hammond . Despite it all, Sara seemed somewhat better when he last saw her this morning before leaving for the Mountain. She was still red-eyed and shaky but better able to answer questions and perform simple tasks like making coffee. Using his chest as a battering ram had done her good. He had helped her after all.

   Then there was Daniel. Was this really the same kid who figured out the Stargate just yesterday? He seemed so small, a ghost of his former self. The little linguist was so quiet. It was almost as if the boy wasn't there at all. With no small amount of guilt Jack wondered if Daniel had heard Sara's distraught fury. He knew he should talk to Daniel and reassure him, but he couldn't do it. Just like he couldn't talk to Sara.

Jack had only heard a few words from the boy since Charlie vanished. Daniel had caught him at the front door as he was heading out to the Mountain and offered a few words of encouragement.

“I know you’ll find him, Jack.”

Daniel wouldn't punch his chest, of that Jack was certain. It would be far worse than anything physical. Daniel would look up at him with those intense blue eyes exuding all the trust and confidence in the universe and utter phrases like, 'I know you’ll find him, Jack.'  And that was worse, far worse. So he had avoided Daniel this morning. He couldn't bear to look into those innocent eyes.

Oh, Charlie, where are you?

His telephone rang, startling him out of his anguished thoughts.

“Colonel?” He recognized the voice; it was Hammond ’s aide. “The General wants to see you.”

He didn't remember his walk to Hammond ’s office. Not until he was standing in front of the door did Jack recognize his surroundings.

“Come,” called the familiar voice.

Jack entered and closed the door behind him. Hammond was sitting behind his desk, his face unreadable.

“Sit down, Colonel.”

Jack obeyed, hoping his superior couldn’t hear his pounding heart.

“I’ll come right to the point.” Jack appreciated the fact that the General jumped right in. “The President has authorized the use of Cheyenne Mountain personnel to provide limited assistance in the search for your son.”

The blood thrumming through his head was almost deafening. If Jack hadn’t already been sitting down, he doubted his legs would’ve held him up. It was a relief to know the President was willing to authorize help.

“I, uh...” It came out as a croak instead of words and he stopped to clear his throat before trying again. “Thank you, sir. I, we, really appreciate that.”

Hammond looked down at the pad of paper in front of him, nearly covered with scribbling. “What was the name of the police officer you spoke with earlier?”

“Tom Fremont. He’s a Sergeant in the Major Crimes section of the Colorado Springs Police Department. And he's a family friend.”

“Is the personal element going to be a problem, Colonel?” The pale blue eyes of his superior were steady on him.

“No, sir.” Jack shook his head. “We didn’t call him for that. Sara called their house last night looking for – ” he swallowed and forced himself to continue, hoping the General hadn’t picked up on his hesitation. “For Charlie. Charlie and the Fremonts ’ son, Spencer, are good friends and Sara hoped Charlie might be there. Tom answered the phone, said they hadn’t seen Charlie and then, well, Sara told him what was happening. He offered to file a report to get the department involved but I told him to hold off until I talked to you.”

“So the police aren’t officially involved?”

“No, sir.”

Hammond sat back in his chair. Despite his ongoing battle to keep his panic in check, Jack wasn’t so self-absorbed that he didn’t notice the man’s expression.

“Sir?”

Hammond ’s wandering gaze came back to him. “Colonel, I know you don’t believe your son ran away but if he did, or if this is a simple kidnapping, the police or FBI should be brought in. They have experience in these types of crimes.”

Jack bit his lip to keep from speaking. Hammond was thinking out loud. He decided to wait and hope his C.O.'s thoughts led him to the same conclusion.

“On the other hand, if your son’s disappearance is related to your past activities in the Air Force or in this particular program, then I'd feel more comfortable with the military in control of the situation.”

“Yes, sir.” Jack agreed and sent up a silent word of thanks that Hammond was thinking along the same lines.

“It’s based on the last possibility that the President agreed with my request to permit this base to take point in the search for your son.” Hammond sounded more formal than usual.

“Yes sir,” Jack repeated, adding, “Thank you.”

“What personnel do you need for the search?”

“Major Kawalsky and Captain Ferretti have both volunteered to help.”

“So they have already informed me." Hammond nodded. "Very well, Colonel.”

That had been easy, so easy it emboldened Jack to try for more. “Sir, I know Captain Carter is still reviewing Daniel’s theories about the Stargate but her expertise on computers would be very helpful – ” He stopped when Hammond raised his hand.

“I wasn’t going to bring this up but I’m afraid I have to. Captain Carter has completed her review. A meeting is scheduled at 1100 hours for Daniel to explain his theories to a hand-picked group of scientists and military personnel who are flying here even as we speak.”

Jack's mouth hung open and he snapped it shut. “Oh, shit,” he breathed, momentarily forgetting where he was. “I’m sorry, sir. I – ”

“It’s all right, Colonel. The last time we spoke about the Stargate was yesterday afternoon. I had no idea when I informed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was going to insist on a full-scale meeting today to discuss Daniel’s discoveries.”

Daniel.

“Sir, Daniel’s at home. They can’t expect him to – ” he stopped again when Hammond shook his head.

“I’m sorry, Colonel. Sometimes our orders can be damned unpleasant. The truth is, they’ve been threatening to pull the plug on this project for the last six months. Either we give them solid evidence we’re making progress or they’ll do it.”

Jack opened his mouth and closed it again. Every instinct was screaming at him that nothing mattered except his family. Finding Charlie and protecting Daniel were his priorities. The big-cheese bastards flying in from wherever could damn well turn around and fly back. No way in hell would he subject an eleven-year-old boy to a demanding, draining meeting regarding the Stargate. The skepticism, the hard questions, the doubts, the challenges were bad enough when the focus was an adult. But a little boy, suffering over the disappearance of his brother, no way in hell was he going to let that happen.

If only it were that simple.

The truth of the Stargate and its potential made the decision more complicated. The scientists had tossed around various theories for the last two years. How many of those theories were correct, how many were incorrect? Probably more than they could imagine. Thinking about it was staggering. This was no longer a small, obscure, esoteric program based on a bunch of unproven theories. What happened in the Stargate program would affect the entire planet. The military man in Jack acknowledged those facts couldn't be tossed aside to avoid upsetting a young boy distressed over the disappearance of his brother.

Then again, the boy was Daniel. His Daniel. And Daniel was as frantic as the rest of them over Charlie’s disappearance. The poor kid didn’t need any more pressure on him, much less pressure of this magnitude.

It was a difficult decision, especially with the implications for the Stargate program.

“Sorry, sir.” He willed himself to stop agonizing and warring with himself and focus on what needed to be done.

“You have nothing to apologize for, Colonel,” Hammond 's voice was heavy. “I'm not going to order you to comply with the Joint Chiefs’ request. The decision is yours.”

Jack blinked. He'd had several occasions in the past to recognize and admire the deep-down decency of his commanding officer. Hammond never talked about morals or principles, he simply lived them. The man had to know he was risking his career by refusing to give the order that Daniel be present at the meeting. Yet his simple words – “I won't order you to comply” - gave no hint of potential repercussions.

Jack looked down at his hands. Without meaning to, Hammond had just upped the pressure on him. If he refused to bring Daniel to the meeting, he was ensuring the end of Hammond ’s career. If Daniel didn’t participate, Hammond ’s long service would end in disgrace and the Stargate program would probably be terminated.

No pressure. Right.

Why was it that the right thing to do so often conflicted with the necessary and expedient thing to do? Was it the fault of sheer human cussedness? Jack didn’t know but he knew what needed to be done.

“I’ll call my house and have someone bring Daniel here. I’ll explain things to him myself. As for the other thing...”

Hammond nodded. “I’ll provide Captain Carter with a list of your non-classified missions. How far back?”

An invisible hand squeezed Jack’s heart and he shook his head. “Sir, everything I’ve done for the last twelve years or so has been Special Ops. It’s all classified except for my first few years in the Air Force.”

Hammond ’s lips compressed. “Of course. Colonel, we can’t look at anything that’s been classified. You know that.”

Jack waited a minute until he was sure he was in control. “Yes, sir, but there really aren’t a lot of choices. My son was kidnapped. I’m sure of that. Maybe someone heard about his grandfather dying and leaving everything to Sara and Charlie and they want some of the money. Maybe it has something to do with me, a past mission, someone looking for revenge. Maybe it has to do with the program now, though I can’t imagine what. Beyond that?” he shrugged.

He intentionally omitted one other possibility. Maybe Charlie had been kidnapped at random by someone who wanted to harm a child. Except Jack couldn’t bear that thought because there was nothing to hope for in such a hideous scenario.

Hammond was a smart man, he must have considered that possibility. Either way, Jack was relieved he didn’t bring it up.

“I’ll have Captain Carter review your non-classified missions, postings, anything that might possibly have a bearing on this. I’d also like her to speak to your police friend, Sergeant Fremont. He could give her the department’s list of suspicious individuals in and around Colorado Springs . Do you think he'd be willing to do that on his own or should I call his superior?”

Jack fought back the sharp pain caused by Hammond ’s words. No, the General wasn’t going to bring up his worst fear, but the fact he wanted the police department’s list of local known child molesters made it clear what he had in mind.

Fremont ’s a good man but he’s pretty much by the book. He’ll probably need an order from above to release any official info to us.” He marveled at his calm tone when inside he felt like one giant tornado of fear and rage.

“I’ll talk to Chief Barclay, then.”

“You know the Chief of Police, sir?” That surprised Jack.

Hammond smiled and nodded.

It made sense. The General was probably connected up the wazoo with every mover and shaker in the city, maybe in the state.

“With your permission, sir, after Daniel’s done here, I’d like to talk to the people we spoke to on the phone last night.”

“Do you think someone is withholding information?” The General looked down at some of the papers on his desk.

“No, sir, at least I didn’t get that feeling. But if I can talk to them face to face maybe something, a thought or memory, will shake loose. They’ve had all night to think about it.”

“Very well. Whatever you need, Colonel.” 

“I’d also like to go by the school and talk to anyone who might’ve seen Charlie there yesterday. I know his basketball coach talked to him, maybe someone else did, too. Maybe they saw or heard something.”

“You want to do all this by yourself?” Hammond raised his eyebrows.

Jack almost said yes but stopped himself. He couldn’t do it himself. He needed to be with Daniel at the meeting. He needed to be home with Sara. As much as he wanted to be running around, doing something, he couldn’t balance everything that needed to be done. Jack would do everything in his power to find Charlie but he couldn’t forget the rest of his family. Sara and Daniel were as frightened and frantic and torn-up as he was at the ugly possibilities.

“I’ll use Major Kawalsky and Captain Ferretti, too.” That should help. “That way, we can split up and talk to more people in a shorter period of time.”

“Good idea, Colonel." Hammond nodded his approval. "Why don’t you brief them and Captain Carter.”

“Yes, sir. Kawalsky’s at my house right now. I’ll have him bring Daniel in and then I can talk to both of them.”

The General nodded again. “Get to it,” he ordered. “And Colonel?” he added as Jack rose. "If this gets to be too much for you I'll put Major Kawalsky in charge and you can stay home to be with your wife. We would all understand."

"I'm fine, sir." That thought had briefly crossed Jack's mind. "For now," he added in an effort to be honest.

Hammond seemed satisfied. "One more thing..."
“Sir?”

The conversation that followed was brief and Jack left, struggling to wrestle his emotions into submission. Hammond ’s last words confirmed how lucky he was to be working with a man with the integrity of George Hammond. He walked back to his office, trying to stay calm and in control, his expression blank, revealing nothing. He could do this. He’d done it countless times in the past on innumerable missions.

This one was different, his gut insisted. Jack dared not listen to it, dared not think of anything that would distract him from this newest mission, the most critical he’d ever undertaken.


Sara paced the length of her bedroom, back and forth. Back and forth. Just as she had been doing – she glanced at her watch – for more than an hour. She gripped her hands tightly, afraid if she released them she’d also release all the pent-up fear inside.

Fear paced with her, sat on her shoulder, hovered in the air in front of her every time she raised her eyes from the floor. It surrounded her and made thinking clearly next to impossible.

Her little boy was out there, in the hands of someone who had stolen him away from her. Was he hurt? Was he -

Bile rose in her throat and she coughed until it subsided. What was she doing pacing in her bedroom when her son was out there somewhere? With someone... with someone who might be a monster. She needed to be searching for him and she was stuck here, useless and pacing while Charlie –

A sob caught in her throat and she collapsed on the bed. Wrapping her arms around herself, she rocked back and forth, the pressure of tears rising within her like hot magma in a volcano. She couldn’t cry. It was too easy, too facile, and wouldn’t touch on the source of her anguish.

“Charlie,” she whispered, “Charlie. My god, where are you?”

Sara buried her face in her hands as she struggled for control. Anything was better than this useless waiting. She needed to get up and go out and look for her son. Except the last time she’d tried that Jack had stopped her.

Jack. Guilt shot through her at the thought of her husband. Jack was as frantic as she was; she had no doubt about that. He didn't deserve to be pummeled. She had never resorted to physical violence before this morning but there was nothing normal about this situation. She had punched Jack several times, and he let her. He hadn’t said a word or made a move to stop her and that, more than anything else, told Sara how her husband was dealing with their son's disappearance.

Sara had never lost control like that before. She should apologize. She would apologize, but not now. Now she needed all her energy to think. To figure out who took Charlie and where they might be hiding. Sara needed to be calm and rational and think this through... except she kept seeing Charlie in the hands of someone who wanted to hurt him.

She muffled a scream and jumped to her feet. Jack wasn't here. He was at the Mountain, she was free to look for her son now.

Sara rushed out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

“Mrs. O’Neill!” someone yelled.

She stopped short and stared at the room full of uniforms. She’d forgotten General Hammond had sent a group, a squad, whatever they were called, to the house.

“I’m going out – ” then she saw a familiar face. Charlie Kawalsky came forward.

“Hi, Sara. Let’s go upstairs.” He spoke in a soft voice and took her hands in his.

She yanked her hands free. “I have to find my son,” she snapped, hating the tremor in her voice.

“I know,” he returned in the same gentle tone. “Can we talk first? I’d like to give you an update.”

If he had made any demands on her she would have rejected them and shoved him aside. The soft-spoken appeal broke through her haze long enough to recognize the worry and concern in his dark eyes. And the thought of an update...

“You found him!”

He shook his head and her brief hope collapsed, replaced by fear.

“Let’s go upstairs.” Kawalsky reached for her hand again and this time Sara allowed him to take it and lead her back to her bedroom. As soon as they reached it she turned on him.

“Well?” she demanded, fighting back the panic that wanted to send her screaming out of the house in search of her lost son.

 

Chapter 5

Daniel didn’t know what to think. One minute he’d been hiding out in his room, unable to face Sara’s anguish or his own fearful heart, and the next minute, Major Kawalsky was driving him to the Mountain.

He sat quietly in the back seat. He didn’t know the man very well. He’d seen him around the base and the Major had come by the house a few times. He and Jack were good friends. The Major and Daniel hadn’t spoken much, a few brief – “How ya doing, Daniel?” “Fine thanks,” kind of conversations. The truth was, he was intimidated by the man. Even though Kawalsky seemed pleasant and easygoing and always had a smile for Daniel, he was still very much a soldier and an officer. Daniel was uncomfortable around the soldiers, not wanting to say or do something stupid. He preferred to spend his time with the scientists; he was much more at home with them.

Jack, of course, was the exception. Jack was a soldier and career military. He was second in command of the base and the other soldiers deferred to him. In Daniel's eyes, Jack was much more than a soldier and it was the other part of Jack that made the soldier part acceptable.

“Daniel?”

He started when he heard his name. “Uh, yeah?”

“You okay?”

“Fine.” The word slipped out before Daniel could stop it and he bit his lip. Even though Kawalsky didn’t know him very well, he had to know that was a lie. He wasn’t fine. He hadn’t been fine since last night when Charlie had vanished.

Daniel's stuffed his clenched hands deep into the pockets of his jeans. Please be okay, Charlie, he prayed. Your dad’s looking for you. He’ll find you. Just hang on wherever you are.

“The Colonel will find Charlie.”

Major Kawalsky must have read his mind. Daniel hunched his shoulders tighter. The man was right. Jack would find Charlie. No matter where Charlie was, Jack would find him. Daniel knew it, he believed it with all his heart. It was just that, right now, they didn’t know where Charlie was or what was happening to him.

Daniel blinked hard, annoyed at the tears pressing against his eyelids. He hadn’t cried and he wasn’t going to cry now. Crying would be an admission of how scared he was and he wasn’t scared because Jack was going to find Charlie and bring him home and everything was going to be okay.

He remembered Sara's face just before Major Kawalsky came to take him to the Mountain. She was pale and hollow-eyed, her usually neat blonde cap of hair tousled and neglected.

Daniel had left his bedroom door open a crack in case something had happened. He’d heard Sara come up the stairs and knew she wasn’t alone, then he recognized Major Kawalsky’s voice, softer than normal. They barely had time to reach the master bedroom before he heard Sara speak in a loud, harsh voice that he almost didn’t recognize.

“Well?”

“We’re still in the early stages, Sara –”

“My son has been missing for sixteen and a half hours! Don’t talk to me about early!”

“No, I didn’t mean – I’m sorry. What I meant to say – ”

What Kawalsky said after that Daniel didn’t hear because he was distracted by the distant ringing of the telephone. He jumped to his feet, his heart thumping wildly in his chest. Had they found Charlie?

“Jack!” Sara’s voice echoed along the upstairs hallway. She was on the bedroom extension. “What have you – what? ... He’s right here, why? ... What are you talking about? I don’t want him going anywhere right now.... No, he’s right here, too. But I want to know ... then when?”

Disappointment stung Daniel’s eyes. Charlie was still lost. He slumped back on his bed, barely aware Sara’s voice had stopped and Major Kawalsky was talking to Jack now. He didn't know what was happening but the tone of the conversation made him nervous and he wrapped his arms around himself for comfort.

“It’s gonna be okay,” he whispered to himself, unaware he was rocking back and forth. “It’s gonna be okay, Charlie. Jack will find you, real soon. I know he will and everything will be okay.”

“Daniel?”

Sara stood in the doorway of his room with the Major behind her. Her expression was an odd mix of fear and anger. It scared him. And her eyes were dry, just like his eyes. Sara might feel better if she cried. It was different for him. Sara was Charlie’s mom. She had to be crazy with worry. Daniel was in control because he knew everything was going to be okay.

“Jack wants you to go to the Mountain,” she told him in a flat voice that sounded like someone else. “Major Kawalsky will take you.”

He headed for the door, wondering if he should hug her. She might need a hug but he wasn’t sure if she'd accept it. Besides, he was half-afraid he might break down if she hugged him back and he didn’t want that. Daniel needed to stay strong and confident for her and for Jack.

Sara made the decision easy. She caught him when he would have walked by and hugged him so tightly he could barely breathe. Sure enough, Daniel felt tears pressing against his eyelids and he blinked furiously to keep them back. She kissed the top of his head before releasing him.

He gazed up at her and shared his confidence. “Charlie will be okay, Sara. I know he will.”

She tried to smile then but it wasn’t very good. “I know.” Her hand stroked his hair before she turned and disappeared back into her bedroom.

Kawalsky cleared his throat before speaking. “Come on, Daniel. The Colonel wants you at the Mountain ASAP.”

“Why?” He asked, sniffing back the traitorous tears as he followed the Major down the stairs.

“He didn’t say. We have to hurry.”

That was how he had ended up in the car with the Major driving like a bat out of hell to get back to the base. They hurried all right and Daniel was glad because he didn’t have anything else to say during the drive. The Major wasn’t his usual talkative self either so it was a silent, shorter than usual, ride. It normally took at least thirty minutes to drive from the house to the base but Kawalsky did it in twenty. He barely slowed at the first security gate to flash his I.D. before continuing through. Daniel had never gone through the checkpoints so fast and in a matter of minutes he was in the elevator and then the door opened and Jack was standing there.

“Hi, kiddo.” His smile wasn’t any better than Sara's.

“Hi, Jack.”

“Kawalsky.” Jack looked at the Major. “Report to Captain Carter’s lab. She has your next assignment.”

“Yes, sir.” Kawalsky disappeared behind the closing elevator door and Jack turned back to Daniel.

“We need to talk, kiddo, and we don’t have a lot of time.”

“We don’t?” Daniel tried to keep up as Jack hurried down the corridor.

“No, we don't.”

They stopped outside Jack’s office. He ran his key card through the scanner and Daniel heard the lock disengage, then they were inside and Jack closed the door behind them.

He pulled his chair out from behind the desk and put it next to the one Daniel sat in. The strain in his foster father wasn’t as obvious as it was in Sara, maybe because of Jack’s military training, but this close Daniel could see the lines around the man’s eyes and mouth that weren’t usually so noticeable. And his eyes looked... the budding linguist in Daniel searched for the right word. When he found it, his heart dropped. Haunted.

Daniel had no idea what he was doing here. It couldn’t be about Charlie. Jack would have told Sara when he called. Was it something about the Stargate? Maybe his theories turned out to be wrong. Please, please don’t let anyone get hurt because of a mistake.

His foster father was sitting so still, staring at the wall above Daniel’s head. Jack had said they didn’t have much time and now he was just sitting there.

“Jack?” Daniel pushed.

Jack turned to him and this time his smile was closer to normal. “Sorry, kiddo.” He glanced at his watch and took a deep breath. “In twenty minutes there’s going to be a meeting in the main conference room about the Stargate.”

“What did I do wrong, Jack? Did I miscalculate? Did someone get hurt?” Daniel’s fear rose to the surface.

“Whoa, whoa, take it easy, buddy. Why would you think – ah, never mind.” He shook his head and tapped Daniel’s head with his forefinger. “Nothing’s wrong. No one’s hurt. For your information, Carter’s team has been working all night, doing all kinds of calculations and I don’t know what else that confirmed everything you told us.” He leaned forward, holding Daniel’s anxious gaze with his own.

“You were right on the money, kiddo. You figured out the puzzle no one else could.” He patted the boy's knee. “You did it, Daniel.”

“I thought it was right.” Relief swept through Daniel and he gave a tentative smile.

“And it was. Is. Right, I mean.” Jack blew out a breath. That’s why you’re here.”

Daniel frowned in confusion but bit back his questions. Jack would explain.

“That meeting I just mentioned? There’ll be several scientists and high-ranking officers there, most from the Pentagon but others from all over the country.” He stopped and Daniel had the odd feeling that he didn’t want to say any more.

“To talk about the Stargate?” he confirmed.

“Yeah.” Jack blew out another breath. “Daniel, you remember everything you told us yesterday?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You need to tell it again to the people at this meeting.”

Daniel stared, waiting for Jack to laugh. When he didn’t laugh, Daniel did, albeit nervously. “That’s funny.”

“No.” Jack's tone was neutral. “It’s not. It’s the truth, kiddo.” His lips tightened and he leaned a little closer.

“Daniel, all you need to do is tell us again what you told us yesterday.” He reached for a file on the desk and opened it. “See these?”

Daniel saw. The top sheet was a neat, computer-designed representation of his crude drawing from yesterday. Below that drawing was a stack of papers filled with writing and numbers he couldn’t see  clearly from where he was sitting.

“This confirms everything you said. You just need to say it again. Some of these people might ask you a few questions, but nothing you can’t handle.”

With worried eyes, Daniel looked up to meet Jack’s gaze. It was intense enough to send a shiver down his back.

“It probably seems a little scary to you.” Jack was so good at reading him. “But you don’t need to be scared. I’ll be in there, too.”

“In the room?” Daniel latched onto this hope.

“Yeah, right there in the room with you. General Hammond will be there, too.” Jack closed his eyes and scrubbed his face with one hand.

“This is lousy timing, I know. Lousy timing for both of us. We’d rather be looking for Charlie.”

Daniel didn’t dare try to speak. His throat was too tight. He settled for a nod.

“Captain Carter and others are looking right now and we’ll help, too, in just a little while. But we need to do this first. Okay?”

Daniel hesitated in an effort to get a grip on his emotions. He was scared for Charlie, for Sara, and for Jack. For himself, too. It was crazy, worrying about the Stargate while Charlie was missing. Yet Jack seemed anxious about this meeting. He should be out looking for Charlie but instead he was here, worrying, so the meeting must be super important.

Daniel couldn't go out and search for Charlie himself, he was just a kid. Obeying Jack seemed like it was the only thing he could do to help. So if talking to a bunch of strangers about the Stargate would help Jack, then that's what he'd do, despite his fears.

“Okay.”

Jack had good reason to be proud of Daniel over the last few months but never had he been as proud as he was today. Watching his eleven-year-old son speaking clearly and matter-of-factly to a room-full of high-ranking military personnel and scientists while frantic with worry over his missing brother, was a sight Jack wouldn't forget. The little boy was chock-full of an inner strength and determination equal to most adults, hell, more than equal. It made Jack look forward to seeing the kind of man Daniel would grow into.

When it came down to it, there weren’t a whole lot of questions. Daniel’s presentation, along with the computer data Carter and her team had gathered in the last twenty-four hours, took care of most of the questions. An hour and a half after it began, the meeting ended and the participants, several of them looking somewhat shell-shocked by the information, filed out.

Jack had sat beside Daniel the entire time and kept his mouth shut. When the last of the visitors were gone, the boy slumped back in his chair. Jack figured the kid was overdue for a break. He patted the slim shoulders.

“Way to go, kiddo.”

Daniel looked up and Jack was startled to see the young face pale and drawn.

Okay, enough of this. “Let’s see about getting you home.”

“No.” Daniel sat up straighter. “I want to stay here. I want to help find Charlie.”

Jack should have anticipated this response. He understood Daniel's feelings, the helplessness and the desire to be doing something useful. He understood it but Sara was waiting at home. There were half a dozen soldiers there, keeping an eye on things, but Sara was alone. Daniel needed to be home for Sara’s sake as well as his own. They needed the comfort of each other, now more than ever.

Jack heard approaching footsteps before Hammond entered the room and rose to his feet.

“General.”

“As you were, Colonel.” Hammond patted Daniel’s shoulder, much like Jack had done a moment ago.

“That was very well done, Daniel. You made us all very proud.”

“Thank you, sir.” Daniel swallowed a yawn. His sleepless night was catching up with him. He didn’t want Jack to notice how tired he was because then he’d definitely be sent home and he didn’t want to go home. He wanted to stay and help find Charlie.

“They’re convinced.” General Hammond didn't beat around the bush.

“So?” Despite the strain on Jack’s face, his eyes brightened.

“So I’ve been advised that a Mobile Analytical Laboratory Probe will be arriving within the next few days.” Hammond rubbed his hands together. “Once the MALP is in place, we’ll see what the Stargate has to offer.”

“Within the next few days?”

Hammond glanced at Daniel. “We have a lot to talk about, Colonel. First, let’s find your boy and bring him home.”

Jack blinked.

Daniel stared. For a minute it looked like – it couldn’t be but for a minute it looked like Jack had tears in his eyes. No way. An instant later he knew for sure he’d been wrong because Jack answered crisply, without emotion.

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

Hammond nodded, smiled at Daniel, and left them alone.

Daniel pleaded his case. “Please let me help find Charlie. There's lots of stuff I could do to help.”

“Sara needs you home with her, kiddo.” Jack sat down beside him.

“But,” Daniel started, only to stop when Jack shook his head.

“I know you want to help but right now we have all the help we need.” Jack’s gaze shifted away but Daniel didn’t think he was looking at anything in particular. After a minute, his eyes turned back.

“Daniel, I think the best thing you can do for Charlie right now is to be with Sara. She needs you home, and so do I.”

Daniel’s eyes stung as he nodded his agreement. It wasn’t what he wanted to do but if it helped Sara and Jack then it was the best thing. Everything was going to be okay. Now that the stupid meeting was behind them, Jack could concentrate on finding Charlie. Jack would find him, Daniel knew he would. He had to.


Captain Samantha Carter leaned back in her chair and sighed in frustration. She’d spent most of the night studying Daniel’s theories and running dozens of simulations based on them. When she finally finished with that earlier this morning, she then spent three solid hours wading through the non-classified missions of Colonel O’Neill. Although what she learned shot her high opinion of the Colonel even higher, it didn’t get her any closer to finding eleven-year-old Charlie O’Neill.

She rubbed her tired eyes and called Sergeant Tom Fremont of the Colorado Springs Police Department. She identified herself and made her request which wasn't a request at all.

"I have to say I've never heard of non-law enforcement personnel being given access to such sensitive information,” Fremont replied.

“You know what’s at stake, Sergeant.” Sam was determined. If the man tried to stonewall her she'd go straight to the General.

“Yes, I know, which is why I offered my help to Colonel and Mrs. O’Neill last night.”

“And?” she asked.

“And I’ve been ordered by my Chief to give you the list we maintain of all local residents who have been convicted of crimes against children. Can I e-mail it to you or would you prefer it faxed?”

“E-mail is fine,” Sam confirmed. She'd get it that much faster. She gave him the email address and added, “This is a special account I set up this morning for this particular situation. As soon as I receive your e-mail, the address will be changed. So don’t email anything else without talking to me first so I can give you another address.”

“Security?” Fremont correctly guessed.

“This is a top-secret military installation.” That was all he needed to know.

The e-mail came through a few minutes later and Sam plugged the names on the list into her computer. An hour later she finished researching the last name and pounded her fist in frustration. She had access to the most powerful computers in the military and the most sophisticated search engines in existence. All of it added up to a big zero.

She rubbed her temples but the exercise didn’t ease her throbbing headache. Twenty hours in front of her computer, going through the information provided by Daniel on the Stargate, had been followed by three hours of looking for something in Colonel O’Neill’s background that might connect to his son's disappearance. Then the list from Fremont had also proved to be fruitless. She was exhausted and worried her fatigue might cause to her overlook something important.

Sam needed sleep but couldn’t bear to stop working. Every time she took a break her thoughts returned to that afternoon a little over a month ago, when she and Charlie and the Colonel had tossed a football around up on top of the Mountain, cheered on by Daniel watching from the sidelines.

That was the first time she had met Charlie O’Neill and she’d been delighted by the bright-eyed, happy-go-lucky youngster. The thought that he might now be in the hands of someone –

Sam squeezed her eyes shut and willed the thoughts away. She needed to remain focused. She had gone as far as she could with the information provided. What now? She couldn’t bear the thought of giving up the search. What else could she do? How could she help?

Maybe the person to ask was Colonel O’Neill.

The big meeting had to be over by now. As far as Sam was concerned, it had been a waste of time. Daniel had figured it out all right. Everything checked out. All the hours she’d spent in front of the computer running simulations based on his theories proved them to be true. An eleven-year-old had figured out a mystery that she, Samantha Carter, not to mention a hand-picked team of scientists drawn from all over the country, had been unable to solve despite two years of effort.

Sam shook her head. Those thoughts were for another day. Right now she needed to find the Colonel. She needed to report her lack of progress, painful though that would be, and offer further assistance with whatever needed to be done.


"I'd like to help, sir. Please.”

It was Captain Carter. Her morning-long computer search through his past had turned up nothing, yet here she was, obviously tired but still eager to help. Jack wasn't sure what more she could do but she was incredibly smart and he certainly wasn't going to turn down any offers. The President had given General Hammond and the Air Force the authority to offer limited assistance in the investigation. After the briefing had ended Hammond confided he had a lot of leeway in what constituted "limited" and that gave Jack hope.

Maybe Carter could stay at the house with Sara and Daniel. He wasn't sure how Sara would feel about it but Daniel would be happy to have a friend nearby and Jack liked the idea of someone he could trust being in the house at all times.

"There is something you could do, Captain.” He hesitated. It was a lot to ask. "I need someone to stay at the house. If you - "

"I'll grab my gear and meet you topside, sir." As soon as she said the words she took off down the hallway toward her lab.

"Bring your laptop," he shouted after her. Jack needed her to be his anchor on the home front but not at the expense of losing his best computer geek.

She waved her hand in acknowledgement as she jogged down the corridor.

Jack watched her go in stunned silence. He hadn't expected this level of support and loyalty from her. Kawalsky and Ferretti were a different story. They were known commodities. Jack expected nothing less than their best efforts. He'd be there for them if the situation were reversed. Their friendship had been put to the test innumerable times and they had never faltered. Old, trusted friends.

The response of the SGC, under General Hammond, was another matter entirely. Charlie's disappearance was classified and shared on a 'need to know' basis. Most of the SGC personnel were in the dark about what had taken place but everyone was aware that something was up and that it involved Colonel O'Neill. Jack was amazed at how willing they were to put aside their work on the Stargate to offer assistance. There were people on computers right now pouring over data, looking for specific details and generic clues regarding a matter they knew nothing about.

He didn't feel he deserved it. Someday, he promised, he'd earn the confidence and trust they'd so freely given.

As for Captain Carter, she had come to him and offered to do anything he needed. Anything, no restrictions. The Stargate, two years of her life's work, was coming to fruition and on a day she should be joyfully celebrating, she had been holed up in her office, along with a few other trusted scientists, scanning through old mission reports. Now she was going to walk away from the Mountain on this of all days to sit with his wife and Daniel.

The loyalty of his subordinates and colleagues was humbling. Jack vowed that no matter what the future held, he wouldn't forget.   

 

Chapter 6

Consciousness returned slowly. For a while, Charlie lay still in that half-asleep, half-awake state that preceded waking up, enjoying the sensation of warmth and comfort. He was aware that it was later than he usually slept and sighed happily at the realization that it must be a weekend. No, not a weekend. It was summer vacation. He could sleep in...

A sense that something was wrong intruded on his comfort level and his thoughts stopped drifting. Something had happened.

Charlie squeezed his eyes closed as the last month swept over him like a giant, slow-moving tidal wave. He had screwed up. Dad was mad at him, had been mad at him for weeks. Charlie couldn’t blame him. It was his own fault. He sighed and reluctantly opened his eyes and found himself staring at the unfamiliar low-beamed ceiling above him.

“What the - ?” he muttered and sat up.

He was in a strange room with walls made of unfinished wood. Apart from the bed, the only pieces of furniture were a wooden chair and small dresser against the opposite wall. Above them, just below the roofline, three small windows were cut into the wall. They were too high for him to see outside but they did a good job of letting in the morning sunlight.

With growing confusion, Charlie took another look around the room. Nothing looked familiar. He was sure he’d never been here before.

He rubbed his forehead, wondering where he was and why. Charlie closed his eyes and thought back. He remembered going grocery shopping with his mom, stopping at the school, talking to Daniel, taking out the trash, the stupid brake switch kept sticking, he remembered all that. Then... nothing.

Something smelled so good he stopped thinking. Someone was making waffles or maybe pancakes. He could the smell maple syrup heating on a stove.

Charlie turned toward the smell, shoved back the covers and shivered as a chilly draft penetrated his pajamas. He looked down at himself. The pajamas had tiny baseballs and bats imprinted all over them. They were kind of cool, except they were a little tight and not warm enough. He shivered again.

When his feet hit the chilly wooden floor Charlie quickly jumped back on the bed.

“Okay, time for Plan B.” He just needed to come up with a Plan B.

The dresser. Hopefully there were some clothes in it.

Charlie made his way over to it and hopped up on the chair to escape the cold floor. To his relief, his sneakers were half-hidden behind the chair. Feeling hopeful, he opened the top drawer to find socks, tee shirts, and underwear. The second drawer was stocked with shirts and pants.

“This is more like it,” he muttered.

He dressed quickly, discovering that all of the clothes except his shoes were a little tight, like the pajamas. At least they were warm.

Charlie went to the door and cautiously turned the handle. It opened easily, the hinges squeaking, and he peered out. His jaw dropped.

“Mr. – Mr. Peterson?” That was the last person he'd been expecting to see.

Mr. Peterson, his science teacher and sometimes assistant coach of his Little League team, stood in the middle of a small, rustic kitchen holding a spatula. He looked up, smiling.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” he greeted. “You almost missed breakfast.”

Charlie stared, open-mouthed. What was Mr. Peterson doing here? And where the heck was here, anyway?

He looked around the room trying to make sense of things. The walls out here, like in the bedroom, were made of wood. He was in a cabin. Low-beamed ceilings gave it a snug, comfortable feel, so did the fire roaring away in the fireplace at the end of the room. It was much warmer in here than in the bedroom. To his left was a door framed by windows. Through the windows Charlie could see lots of trees. It looked like the cabin was in the middle of a forest. To his right was the little kitchen. A small table separated the kitchen area from the rest of the room. There were two old, overstuffed chairs next to the fireplace, a small bookshelf and on top of the bookshelf, a boom box.

It was cozy, all right. But nothing looked familiar.

He turned back to the one thing, the one person, rather, that was familiar. “What, what’s going on?” he asked. “Where is this place? How did I get here?”

“So many questions,” Mr. Peterson laughed. “Why don’t you sit down? I just poured the orange juice. Or if you’d rather – ” he gestured down the short hallway. “The bathroom’s thataway.”

Charlie stared in the direction Mr. Peterson had pointed before studying the table. Two places had been set, complete with silverware and glasses of orange juice.

“I don’t understand,” he said in confusion. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing’s going on except breakfast,” the man returned cheerfully. “You better get moving, Cory. The waffles are almost done.”

Cory? Now he was even more confused. Cory was the name Mr. Peterson had called him the other day at school. None of this made any sense.

“Mr. Peterson,” he said carefully, “I’m Charlie O’Neill. Remember? I was in your science class last year and you’re the assistant coach of my Little League team. You remember that, don’t you?”

Mr. Peterson blinked rapidly and Charlie was shocked to see tears in the man’s eyes.

“I don’t blame you for being upset with me, son,” he gulped. “It took me so long to realize the truth...” he swiped at his eyes. “They told me terrible lies, Cory,” he said hoarsely. “Lies that made me think – “ he swallowed. “But even though everyone was telling the same lies, somehow I knew deep down they weren’t true, that you weren’t – ” Mr. Peterson took a deep breath.

“I finally realized that I needed to pretend to believe the lies so they’d let me go. Then I’d be able to find you and everything would be okay again.” He smiled at a flummoxed Charlie though his eyes still shone suspiciously.

“I was right, wasn’t I? I did find you and we’re together again and I promise you, son, no one will ever separate us again.”

The more Mr. Peterson talked the more confused Charlie felt. Mr. Peterson had called him ‘son’. Some grown-ups liked to call boys ‘son’ but he had the feeling that his teacher was using it the way his dad used it. Charlie was his dad’s son so sometimes Dad called him son. It sounded like Mr. Peterson was using ‘son’ the same way.

He wasn’t Mr. Peterson’s son. He was Charlie O’Neill, not Cory Peterson. Where was Cory? Why did Mr. Peterson think that he was Cory? People had told Mr. Peterson lies... about Cory? Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Peterson were divorced and Mrs. Peterson took Cory someplace Mr. Peterson didn’t know about? Charlie had heard stories about that kind of thing happening. What confused him the most was that, whatever had happened, Mr. Peterson was calling him by his son’s name. How could Mr. Peterson think he was Cory? Didn’t he know his own son?

“Here we go.” Mr. Peterson removed two waffles from the waffle iron and put them on a plate and set them on the table. Turning back to the counter, he did the same with the other two waffles and put them on the table in front of the second glass of orange juice. “All ready. Oh, I need to cut up the apples.”

Charlie stared at the waffles in front of him, then at the bowl of warmed maple syrup.

“Go on,” Mr. Peterson urged. “Eat your waffles before they get cold. And later,” he added with a grin, “the Rockies are playing the Padres.” He gestured at the boom box. “The pre-game show doesn’t start for a couple of hours so we have plenty of time.”

Because he was hungry and didn’t know what else to do, Charlie sat down at the table, buttered the waffles, poured the maple syrup over them, and dug in. He was pleased to discover that the waffles tasted even better than they smelled.

As he ate, he wondered if he was supposed to be afraid. He didn’t know where he was or how he’d ended up here or what Mr. Peterson was doing here. Despite all that, he didn’t feel afraid. Charlie glanced at his teacher to see him back at the kitchen counter, slicing up a couple of apples and whistling under his breath. Mr. Peterson seemed confused about things but he was still Mr. Peterson. Charlie had known him for over three years. He was a nice guy, a great teacher and a great coach, always patient and helpful, never harsh or critical even when a guy muffed an easy catch. Now Charlie had learned something new about his teacher. Mr. Peterson made great waffles.

Wherever he was, Dad and Mom would be looking for him. It didn’t matter if Dad was mad, he’d still be coming for him. Dad was Special Ops so it probably wouldn't take very long.

In the meantime, Charlie decided he might as well enjoy the waffles and the afternoon baseball game.


Jack hadn’t packed a lot of patience when he left home this morning. Sitting across the desk from the principal of Charlie’s school was rapidly shredding what little he had left.

Sutton had been going on for several minutes about how it was impossible for anyone connected to the school to have anything to do with Charlie’s disappearance. Grabbing for his last remnants of self-control, Jack cut in.

“I don’t give a damn how outstanding your school is. My son is missing and this was the last public place he visited before it happened.”

“I understand that,” Sutton returned, “but as I’ve been saying, I’m sure – ”

“Colonel O’Neill.”

Someone was saying his name. It sounded like it was coming from far away, down a very long tunnel.

“Colonel, I have something to report.”

Jack blinked and realized he was standing behind the principal’s desk with Sutton only inches away, backed into a corner and wearing an expression of abject terror. His shirt and tie were askew and looked as though they had been roughly handled.

What the hell? He didn’t remember getting up, he didn’t remember going around the desk or yanking Sutton out of his chair and pushing him back against the wall. But he’d obviously done just that.

He took a deep breath and backed away a few steps. Glancing over his shoulder he saw Kawalsky standing just inside the door. It was the Major who’d been calling his name. Giving him a brief nod, Jack turned back to the principal who hadn’t moved from the corner.

“I want you to sit down and make me a list.” Jack backed up another foot. “A list of everyone you know who was here yesterday. Then I want you to make another list of everyone who might have come here, for any reason, even if you didn’t see them. I want you to do that now.”

He spoke with authority and control, careful to keep his voice down. For some reason the man looked even more scared. Sutton nodded and slid around him to collapse into the desk chair. Spotting a legal pad on the corner of the desk, Jack shoved it in front of the man.

“Write,” he ordered.

Sutton yanked the pad closer, pulled a pen from the desk drawer and began scribbling. Jack noted the principal’s hands were shaking. He didn’t care. Just so long as what he wrote was legible.

Jack headed for Kawalsky who stepped outside the office. Jack followed. “Report,” he snapped.

“All negative.” The Major glanced around the reception area. The others who’d been working in here earlier had disappeared. “I’ve spoken with half a dozen people, staff and a few teachers. No one saw anything.”

“You believe them?”

Kawalsky shrugged. “It’s possible someone’s lying but it didn’t feel like anything was off when I talked to them. I figure if there was anything to see yesterday, it didn’t happen in here.” He glanced at the door to Sutton’s office and the tone of his voice changed from an impassive professional to a concerned friend.

“I don’t know what you’re going through, Jack, but maybe it’d be better if you stayed at home.”

“Knock it off,” Jack snarled. It was only Kawalsky’s intervention that had stopped him from shoving Sutton through the wall a few minutes ago but he wasn’t about to admit that out loud. He needed to keep tighter control. He could do that, just like any other mission. Jack O’Neill was a professional. He could do whatever needed to be done to find Charlie.

“Anything from Ferretti?”

Kawalsky tapped the radio on his belt. “He reported in a few minutes ago. Nothing so far.”

“C- Colonel?” came a nervous voice from inside the office.

With Kawalsky on his heels, Jack went back in. Sutton was standing behind his desk, a couple pieces of paper in his hands. They were still shaking.

“This is everyone I saw or can think of who might have been here yesterday,” he said, holding out the pages like a peace offering. "I, I hope it helps. I know you must be frantic about your son. Charlie is a wonderful boy."

Jack tried to ignore the words as he took the pages and ran a swift eye over the lists. Hell, he’d been afraid of this. There were over thirty names of definites and possibles.

He needed more than Kawalsky and Ferretti helping him with these interviews. There were plenty of bodies available at the Mountain but he wanted people he trusted, people he knew could get information out of a turnip.

Jack took a deep, calming breath. What he really needed was someone like Sara. All she had to do was look at someone with those sympathetic blue eyes and they spilled their guts to her. He’d never understood it but he’d seen it happen more times than he could count. It was too bad there was no one at the Mountain like –

Sonofabitch.

Sara was the perfect person. Better than that, it would get her out of the house, where she was climbing the walls, and doing something that might help find Charlie.

He'd been reluctant to have her actively involved in the search. For his own peace of mind, until he knew what had happened, Jack wanted her safe in the house with a military presence surrounding the place, ensuring the safety of both Sara and Daniel. Except that kind of sitting on the sidelines and waiting wasn’t for Sara. Even when they'd first met nearly twenty years ago, it had been obvious she wasn't a shy, helpless, take-care-of-me kind of woman. She had guts and an adventurous spirit equal to his own. It was one of the many things he loved about her.

Charlie was her son, too. Jack didn’t have the right to try to keep Sara out of the search, ‘try’ being the operative word. He knew damn well if he didn’t bring her into the action, she was going to go off half-cocked, doing god knows what on her own. At least this way she'd be doing something positive and necessary, and he’d make sure Mountain personnel stayed close by to keep an eye on her.

Which would leave Daniel sitting home by himself. He wouldn’t actually be alone; there was a squad of Marines around the house. But he’d still feel alone.

Jack closed his eyes. He couldn’t do that to the kid. As much as he preferred to keep Sara and Daniel locked away, safe and sound, it wasn't right. Hell, Daniel was a genius. Why not get that brilliant mind of his involved in this, too? Daniel and Sara could work together. Jack O’Neill was mush when it came to dealing with those two pairs of big blue eyes. Hopefully, everyone the pair talked to would feel the same.

“Sir? What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking it’s time we brought in the big guns.”

 “The big guns, Colonel?” The Major’s eyebrows rose.

Jack pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial. He wasn’t surprised when Sara answered on the first ring.

“Hi, honey.... No, no news yet. But I had an idea.” After he finished talking to her he asked her to put Sergeant Nichols, the senior non-com at the house, on the line and gave him his orders. Done with that, Jack snapped the cell phone shut and dropped it into his pocket. A look around the area revealed a couple of women peering timidly around a file cabinet at the far end of the room and he gestured at them. The older woman with short graying hair approached.

“Is there something I can help you with, sir?”

He held out the lists. “I want several copies of these,” he demanded, then remembered he was talking to a civilian. He forced his grim features into a more pleasant expression and added, “Please.”

Reassured, the woman nodded and took the lists from him. “Certainly. I’ll be back in a minute.”

As she disappeared, Jack turned back to Kawalsky. “One copy’s for you, another’s for Ferretti. Check off who you’ve talked to even if they didn’t notice anything, and make a note of anyone spotted hanging around the school who was acting strange or didn't belong.”

Kawalsky nodded and his manner shifted again from subordinate to friend. “Jack, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation with Sara. Do you think it’s a good idea letting her loose like that? Whoever took Charlie – ”

“Yeah, I know. She won’t be loose. She and Daniel will be together and Nichols along with a squad of Marines will stay close.” Jack took a deep breath before continuing.

“Sara’s smart and people like to talk to her. She’ll be able to help. So will Daniel.”

Kawalsky nodded but didn't look convinced. Because he was talking to his friend rather than his subordinate, Jack explained further. “I could never stay home twiddling my thumbs with Charlie missing. I can’t expect them to. I just need to make sure they're safe.”

Kawalsky nodded again and the compassion Jack saw in his eyes was almost his undoing. He turned away and was relieved to see the woman returning with a stack of papers in her hand. Good. Now they could get to work.


All morning Daniel had been going quietly crazy. The trip to the Mountain and the unexpected meeting had been distractions that left him exhausted, but they didn’t touch his underlying anxiety. He hated that Jack had sent him home when he wanted to stay at the Mountain and look for Charlie. Daniel was positive Jack would find Charlie eventually but maybe he could help speed things up. After all, everyone said he was a genius. Even if he wasn’t, there must be something he could do to help.

Instead of helping, he was home with Sara. Technically, they weren't even together. Sara was holed up in her bedroom and he was hesitant to intrude. Jack said he wanted Daniel home to keep Sara company. Some company. He was home all right, but he wasn’t with Sara. They worried separately in their own rooms.

During the last two years, Daniel’s wishes rarely came true. He had never wished to become an official member of the O’Neill family. That had been something too important for a wish and he had never dared to think about it, much less wish for it. Now that he was a member of the O’Neill family, with the adoption process underway, maybe it was time to wish for something big, far beyond his usual wishes. Maybe it was stupid little-kid stuff, but Daniel decided to wish big. He wished he could help find Charlie.

To his astonishment, less than an hour later he found himself standing beside Sara on the school playground listening to Jack and looking around. Even though the new school year hadn’t started, he would have expected to see more people. Aside from Jack and Sara there wasn't anyone but military personnel in sight.

Sergeant Nichols was standing beside Major Kawalsky near the P.E. building. Daniel couldn’t hear anything from this distance but he could see the Major talking and the Sergeant nodding.

Through the chain-link fence Daniel saw cars driving by, and down the street people were going in and out of Jerry’s Quik-Stop. That was one of Charlie’s favorite stops on the way home from school because Jerry was a big sports fan and had lots of memorabilia in his little store. He and Charlie were always talking about one sport or another.

Despite the empty athletic field, everything and everyone looked normal. How could that be? Charlie was missing. Jack and Sara and Daniel's entire world had turned upside down. How could the rest of the world go on as if nothing had happened?

It had been the same way after The Accident. Everything had been wrong. Nobody looked the same or sounded the same or moved the same. It was difficult to understand what people were saying when they spoke. Even the sky seemed like it was the wrong color. Worst of all, after a week or two, nobody seemed to notice his sadness. At least Charlie had lots more people than just him who cared. There was Jack and Sara and Major Kawalsky and Sam and Captain Ferretti and the Fremonts. Heck, the whole Air Force was out looking for Charlie.

A large hand closed over his shoulder and Daniel looked up to see Jack gazing down at him, his eyes dark with concern.

“How’re you doing, buddy?”

“I’m fine.” The words were automatic and Daniel wondered why Jack grimaced.

“So you on board with this idea?”

Uh-oh. What idea? He'd been so lost in thought that it took a second to remember. “I can help find Charlie?”

Jack smiled. “Yeah. You and Sara will be working together here at the school asking questions and talking to people, while I check out some other stuff. Okay?”

Daniel nodded. “Okay, Jack. I’ll listen really hard and I’ll remember everything, I promise.”

“Look, buddy, I don’t want you taking too much on yourself, understand?” To his surprise, Jack stopped smiling and crouched down so they were eye to eye. "Just do the best you can."

Daniel stared at him in confusion.

“What I mean is a lot of people are looking for Charlie so I don’t want you thinking it’s all up to you. You and Sara will do what you can here and other people will do what they can somewhere else. We’re all working to put the pieces together. Does that make sense?”

“It does.” Daniel let out a relieved sigh.

“Good.” Jack gave him another smile and straightened to give Sara a hug. “Sergeant Nichols will stay here in case you need to get in touch with me.”

“I know your cell phone number.” Sara’s eyebrows rose and Daniel was confused by the tone of her voice.

“Yeah, well, humor me, okay?” 

“About the Sergeant or about the other soldiers?” Sara offered a pinched smile.

Daniel had noticed them, too, when Sara drove into the school parking lot. Three soldiers were spread out around the side of the administration building. He thought there might be more he couldn’t see.

“Please, honey.” Jack actually laughed.

“All right,” Sara agreed. “Go. We have work to do, right, Daniel?”

“Right. We have to find Charlie.” He beamed at her.

Jack gave Sara another hug, then to Daniel’s embarrassment, gave him one, too, before striding away. For a minute Daniel looked after the tall figure and wished he didn't have to leave. That was silly. Jack was looking for Charlie, too. He must have lots of stuff to do. Finding Charlie was all that mattered.

“All right.” Sara unfolded the papers Jack had given her. “This is a list of the people who were here at the school yesterday and this is a list of who might have been here.”

“Do you think one of them saw something?”

Daniel wished he'd been here yesterday. He was pretty observant and maybe he would have seen who his brother encountered. But yesterday he'd been at the Mountain with Jack. It didn't seem possible that less than twenty-four hours ago he'd been so excited about the Stargate. It was impossible to get excited about it now.

Sara’s gaze drifted away for a minute. “Maybe.” Her voice was soft. “Do you know any of these people?”

Daniel took the list from her and studied it. “Some of them.”

“Good. These,” she pointed at the names that had little stars next to them, “are here at the school right now. Let’s go talk to them.”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed with a swell of determination. He and Sara were just some of the people out looking for Charlie, but no one, with the exception of Jack, wanted to find him as much as they did. That had to count for something.


General Hammond rubbed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. At that moment his intercom buzzed.

“Yes?”

“He’s here, sir.”

“Send him in.”

“Yes, sir.”

The door opened and Dr. William Lee appeared. His smile looked a little nervous.

“You wanted to see me, General?”

Hammond nodded. “Yes. Have a seat, Doctor.”

Lee sat down on the edge of the chair, leaning forward as if ready to leap out of it at a moment's notice.

“How are the language lessons coming along?”

“Language – oh, you mean from the artifacts?”

Hammond nodded and Lee’s tension seemed to decrease a few notches.

“To be honest, General, it’s extremely difficult.”

“Are you having problems with Daniel teaching it?”

“No, no, sir. That's not it.” The scientist put that notion to rest. “Daniel is an excellent teacher but the language is...” he hesitated, “extremely complicated. It’s like no Earth language any of us have ever encountered.” When Hammond didn’t react he continued.

“Daniel's convinced it’s related to ancient Egyptian but since that’s a dead language it’s difficult to find connections we can use.”

“What do you mean, a dead language?”

“Ancient Egyptian, General. Also known as the language of the Pharaohs. It hasn’t been a living, spoken language for over a thousand years.”

“Daniel believes the language on the artifacts and the Stargate is connected to ancient Egyptian?”

“Yes, sir. He’s found certain similarities between the two languages that make me think he’s correct. However,” Lee gave a shrug, “that doesn’t make it any easier to read, even for Dr. Rothman.”

“Rothman?” Hammond frowned.

“Yes, sir. Next to Daniel, Dr. Rothman’s our ancient Egyptian specialist. He’s very familiar with hieroglyphics as well as the culture.” Lee smiled. “He and Daniel have been having quite an exciting time working their way through the artifacts.”

The General was listening intently and felt a stir of hope at the scientist’s words.

“So Dr. Rothman is able to translate this ancient language?”

 “Uh, well...” Lee’s smile faded.

“Please, Doctor, don’t beat around the bush.”

“Robert – that is, Dr. Rothman is the most qualified Egyptologist we have. But,” Lee looked at the General with unhappy eyes, “he would be the first to tell you he does not have Daniel’s gift for languages.”

Damn, Hammond thought. He’d been hoping it wouldn’t come down to this.

“Meaning?”

“General, Daniel is...” Lee hesitated again, searching for the right words. “To put it as simply as possible, sir, Daniel is amazing. Not only intellectually but he has a gift, an ability to understand and absorb new languages, such as I’ve never run across before. None of us have.”

“I see.”

“With Daniel’s help, Dr. Rothman's made significant progress in learning this ancient language, but without Daniel he'd be struggling almost as much as the rest of us.”

“Is there anyone else who understands the language as well as Daniel?” The General had a sick feeling he knew the answer but still had to ask.

 “No, sir.” Dr. Lee shook his head.

Expecting the answer didn't make it any easier to swallow. It was risky enough sending his people through the Stargate and this intel was going to strengthen the arguments of the Joint Chiefs. What they had suggested was unthinkable, but George Hammond was running out of options. Perhaps with more intensive one-on-one tutoring between Daniel and Dr. Rothman, the latter might be able to help.

Might be able to. Hammond sighed. With Daniel’s brother missing neither he nor the O’Neills were in any state to think about anything other than Charlie O’Neill.

As he had so many times in his long career, George Hammond found himself in the uncomfortable position of trying to protect his people while simultaneously dealing with orders from his superiors. He was getting too old for this.

“Thank you for the information, Doctor.”

Hammond dismissed him and waited until he was gone before telling his aide to have Dr. Rothman come to his office. Maybe Rothman was more advanced in the snake language, as Daniel called it, than Lee realized. Robert Rothman was the General’s last hope.

On to Part 2

 

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