MUCH ABIDES  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: None
Synopsis: In this AU Jack and Sara are married, Charlie is alive and Daniel is the foster child who turns their lives and the Stargate Program upside down. 
Warnings: AU, kid fic, smooshy, non-graphic references to child abuse.
Length: 1.46 MB
Notes: Darcy notes:  AU's explore the age old question... what if?  What if Charlie was alive and Jack and Sara had never divorced?  I've pondered that scenario many times so it wasn't that big of a stretch to throw an orphaned Daniel into the mix.  Huge, mega thanks to my co-writer, Cathe, who gave the story depth and direction, kept me focused and writing, and more importantly, made the process loads of fun, as it should be.  Thank you, girlfriend!   

Cathe (aka 'sami-j') notes:  As a long-time fan of Darcy's stories (and vids), I was surprised and honored when she invited me to co-write this fic with her.  The last eight-plus months have been one of the greatest adventures of my life and I owe it all to Darcy.  My heartfelt thanks to her for trusting me to help raise her baby, for her unstinting encouragement and especially her generous spirit. Thanks so much, Darcy, for letting me come along on this wonderful ride! 


 

Chapter 1 
 

It had finally happened.  

Mr. Denton's right fist had put him, Daniel Jackson, ten-going-on-sixty years old, in the hospital. It took four months and fourteen days, if anyone besides himself was counting. Mr. Denton wasn't a bad man, just a man whose drinking problem had finally caught up with him. Mrs. Denton, Martha, he was supposed to call her Martha, was kindly, and like many other foster moms, took in children in an effort to make up for the lack of love and caring in her own life, which Daniel supposed was worse since Martha was well aware of her husband's little problem.   

It was silly but a part of him hated to see the placement end. He liked the school he attended, his room was cool in that he didn't have to share, and eighty percent of the time the Denton's home was relatively calm and stress-free. On the other hand, the twenty percent was a bitch landing him in the hospital with two cracked ribs, a black eye and a swollen lip. He looked like one of the Saturday afternoon wrestlers Mr. Denton was so fond of shouting at.   

"Daniel, dinner."  It was Sara O'Neill, his favorite nurse.  

It wasn't normal, but Daniel liked hospitals. The staff was usually nice, and for the most part, they left you alone except to bring food and occasionally check your temperature and blood pressure. He had books to read and no worries of school and teachers and bullies and Mr. Denton's drinking habits.  

"This isn't from the cafeteria!"  Daniel's face lit up with delight when he lifted the lid covering his supper to reveal a fat, beef burrito smothered in salsa and sour cream with refried beans and chips on the side.   

Nurse Sara chuckled at his enthusiasm. "No, you caught me. This is from El Charros. My husband tells me it's the best. He should know, he's a connoisseur of all things take-out. Take a bite and tell me what you think."  

Daniel did as she suggested. "It's great! Thank you, Sara," he beamed, smiling his brightest smile. 

"No problem. I thought you might be getting sick of hospital food." She sat down in the chair beside his bed and brushed the hair off his forehead. "So how are you feeling?"  

Not an easy question. Daniel Jackson hated being any trouble, but he also had no desire to leave the comfort of the hospital and the company of his nurse, confidant, and caretaker. "My ribs are still a little sore." He wrinkled his nose and rubbed them gently for emphasis. A compromise. They were still a little sore, though not near the sting of what they were when he had been admitted.   

"You're getting there," she encouraged. "You finish eating and I'll come back for our walk." She put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed and for a second he could imagine he was her friend and not her job. Briefly, he wondered if she snuck other patients take-out food. Probably, he wasn't anyone special.  

Mindful of savoring every mouthful, Daniel ate slowly, daydreaming about finding a new home with someone loving and kind like his own mom had been. Not Sara, she was married with a boy around his age and that never worked out. Not only that, she had a husband who was in the military and husbands were always scary. Long ago he had decided that the only nice dad in the world had been his own. So not Sara, but someone like Sara, only single and childless. He had to admit the odds of finding a new, acceptable home were practically nonexistent, but hey, a kid can dream, can't he?  

Daniel finished the last tasty bite and washed it down with the milk on his tray and waited for Sara to take him on his walk around the ward. There weren't many kids around tonight which was good, he could monopolize Sara's time without feeling guilty. Maybe she'd let him help organize her paperwork again. He was good at that.  

"Ready?"  

"Yep." He drew the covers down and waited until her strong hands reached below his armpits to help steady him, luxuriating in the few seconds of gentle human contact.    

They started their routine evening trek down the hall, Daniel walking slower than his injuries warranted. 

"Do you know where you're going after you're discharged?" The genuine concern in her voice warmed his heart.  

"No. I'll miss the Denton's."  

From her reaction, he guessed he shouldn't have said that. Sara was looking at him strangely and he felt the need to further explain. "Trade offs," he said quietly. "I liked my room and my school." 

"No one deserves to be hit, honey."  

A surprise lump rose in his throat when she leaned over and kissed his hair.     

"Sara?" A few awkward moments had passed and Daniel decided a change of subject was in order. The last thing he wanted was for people to feel sorry for him.  

"Yes, Daniel?" She rubbed his shoulder and looked at him when he spoke, as if he had something important to say.  He liked that. No one had looked at him like that since... The Accident. That's what the adults called it. The Accident. As if it were spilled milk or the wrong brand of coffee. The two people who mattered most were gone and he was alone. An "accident" cheapened it into something benign and acceptable. Then again, it was hard to find the right words. If there were any right words. 

"Thank you for bringing me a special dinner. I have money in my backpack if you need it."  

"Forget it. Don't be silly." She waved off the notion of payback with another light squeeze to his shoulder.  

"It was really nice of you. You had to go out of your way and spend your own money, too." There wasn't much time left to his hospital stay, a day, two at the most, and he wanted her to understand his appreciation. "I won't forget," he insisted.   

Sara walked beside him and frowned as she wrote on his chart. "It was nothing, Daniel. No trouble at all. El Charros is right on my way to work."  

He nodded his agreement even though she was wrong. It was something, and tonight when he was supposed to be asleep he'd write about it in his journal. An act of true kindness, so rare in the past two years that it needed to be recorded, celebrated, revered and remembered.  


The front door burst open and immediately slammed shut.  Sara winced, smiled, and shook her head. 

“Sara?  You home?” 

“In the kitchen, Jack,” she called. 

A moment later strong arms closed around her from behind and he kissed the nape of her neck. 

“Hey, honey.  Everything going okay today?” 

She turned around and gave him a quick kiss.  “Considering half the staff is out with the flu and the rest of us are pulling double shifts I could say everything is wonderful but I'd be lying.” 

Jack leaned back for a better look.  “No wonder you look so beat.  You're not getting sick, too, are you?” 

Sara laughed and pulled out of his grasp. “I'll take that as an expression of concern and not as a comment on how I look.” 

“What?”  Jack huffed air, giving her an indignant look.  “You look great, as always.  I just asked if...” 

“I'm perfectly healthy, thank you for your concern.  I'm just starting dinner so it's going to be at least a half hour before it's ready.  You've got time for a shower and a quick look at the sports page.” 

Jack grinned but Sara was surprised to see his look of concern lingering. 

“You just finished a double shift.  Why don't you take it easy and I'll order something to be delivered.” 

She smiled and gave his face a caressing stroke.  “Thanks for the thought but you know I enjoy cooking.  It helps me unwind.  Go, get out of my kitchen.” 

“It's awfully quiet around here.  Where's Charlie?” he asked, retreating to the doorway. 

“He's having dinner at Spencer's.  He's also spending the night there.” 

“On a school night?” Jack's eyebrows rose.   

“This is a test run,” she assured him.  “I told Charlie that any possible future repeats will depend on how well he handles this one.” 

Jack sighed.  “Well, he's not a little kid anymore.  I guess we can give it a try.” 

“Thank you for the vote of confidence,” she said dryly. 

He grinned, threw her a kiss, and disappeared, only to reappear a minute later. 

“This means we have the house to ourselves tonight, right?” he demanded. 

Sara laughed at his hopeful expression.  “What'd you have in mind, sailor?  Some kind of orgy?” 

“Wrong branch of the military,” Jack reminded her.  “And I was thinking about a one-on-one orgy.  Maybe in front of the fireplace?  Interested?” 

She shook her head, unable to suppress another laugh.  “Possibly, Flyboy.  Get back to me after dinner.” 

“Oh, yeah!” 

He disappeared again and Sara headed for the pantry.  They had the chicken breasts left over from last night.  She had fresh broccoli, yellow squash and red bell peppers in the refrigerator.  And angel hair pasta.  That's what she'd make for dinner.  Chicken pasta primavera.  Add a salad and they'd be all set. 

And then? 

Sara knew what Jack was looking forward to tonight.  So was she, but she had another agenda he didn't know about and that would have to be resolved before any kind of orgy could occur.  Or should she wait until after? 

She thought back to her last conversation with young Daniel Jackson, just before her shift had ended.  Her heart ached at the memory of his surprise when she had presented him with the meal from El Charros. More than surprised, he had been momentarily speechless. 

A surge of anger broke into the memory.  What had happened to that sweet little boy that a simple act of kindness had shocked him into silence?  She knew part of the story.  An abusive foster parent. 

Pain broke her concentration and Sara looked down to see her hands clasped into fists so tight her nails were cutting into her palms.  She flexed her fingers and sighed over the indentations in her skin. It was nothing compared to what had happened to Daniel. 

Sara had a bachelor's degree in nursing and intended to go on for her master's one day.  She had taken all of the required courses and knew, intellectually, the reasons behind child abuse.  But her intellect failed her before the reality of Daniel's bruises and cracked ribs. 

Her eyes burned and she hastily rubbed at them with the back of her hand.  Beyond her fury at what had happened, and her sadness for the pain Daniel had suffered through no fault of his own, was a growing anger at the system that was supposed to protect him. 

No one had come to see Daniel at the hospital.  Not one person.  A woman from Social Services had appeared the night he was admitted but that had been simply to take a report.  There were occasional phone calls from the department checking on his status but the person at the other end never asked about Daniel, never showed any real interest.  No one had exhibited one iota of concern for an abused ten-year-old boy. 

Sara wasn't sure when the idea first came to her or if it were even possible.  For the idea to have any chance of success, she was going to have to get Jack to agree and that wasn't going to be easy. 

His schedule at Cheyenne Mountain was crazy, and her own schedule at the hospital kept her busy.  Not to mention the double shifts she was currently committed to. If their schedules weren't big enough obstacles, there was their son, Charlie, eleven going on thirty, except for sometimes when he seemed to be going on five.  He was the light of their lives and, on occasion, the bane of their existence. 

To bring another child into their busy lives, to ask Charlie to share his parents with a stranger... Sara sighed in uncertainty.  As much as she wanted Daniel out of the hospital and a part of their hectic but loving family, she wasn't sure she had the right to ask that of Jack and Charlie.  

First things first. In this case, the first thing was to get Jack to visit Daniel.  Considering how much Jack loved kids, she hoped he wouldn't be able to say no once he actually met the boy. 

Two hours and a one-on-one orgy later, Sara and Jack were curled up together on the sofa.  Only one lamp was turned on; the rest of the light came from the dying fire in the fireplace. 

Jack exhaled and his breath tickled her ear.  “Guess I should put another log on,” he observed with a yawn. 

Sara laughed softly.  “Not if you're about to fall asleep.” 

“Mmm,” he murmured.  “Maybe we should take this upstairs.  Our bed's bigger than this couch and more comfortable than the rug.” 

“In a little bit,” Sara temporized.  “First we need to talk.” 

“About what?” 

Sara had thought hard about how to bring up the issue but hadn't been able to settle on a particular approach.  Just throw it out there, she decided. 

“I'd like you to come by the hospital tomorrow.” 

“Why?” His arms loosened their grip on her and he shifted so he could look at her face.   

“There's someone I'd like you to meet.” 

Jack listened to what she had to say with a growing sense of foreboding.  He liked to think he was a good husband and father.  At least he tried to be.  After fifteen years of marriage he was still crazy about his wife.  She was smart and funny and beautiful, kind and caring, and she possessed an inner strength that awed him. 

She also had an incredibly soft heart for strays and waifs and other orphans of the storm.  He wasn't surprised she had taken up this boy's cause as her own.  What concerned him was how far she intended to take it. 

Sara had finished and was looking at him expectantly.  Not a good thing when he didn't agree with her.   

“This isn't a good time for me to take time off,” he finally said.  “Things are busy at the mountain. General West wouldn't be too thrilled with me disappearing in the middle of the day.” 

“It doesn't have to be in the middle of the day,” Sara said patiently.  “You could come by the hospital tomorrow night on your way home.  He's all alone, Jack.  He hasn't had one visitor all week and he's going to be released back to Social Services in two days.  All I'm asking is that you take a little time to say hi, let him know that someone other than a hospital employee cares about what happens to him.  Just be a friend to him.” 

She was being so reasonable.  So caring.  He could feel his resistance growing, despite a twinge of shame.  Don't think about the boy, Jack ordered himself.  He couldn't afford to weaken here. 

“Sara?” he said warningly.  “Tell me the truth.” 

Her clear blue eyes met his.  “I always do,” she said matter-of-factly. 

“Right,” Jack acknowledged.  “Are you thinking about us fostering this kid?” 

“His name is Daniel.” 

“Are you thinking about us fostering Daniel?” He refused to give an inch.   

“Right now all I'm thinking about is how much he needs a friend.”  She slipped out of his arms and leaned back, studying him with a thoughtful expression that always made him nervous. 

"Why are you being so stubborn? I just want you to meet him."  

Jack bit his tongue. That's the same thing she had said about the puppy, the goldfish and the short-lived ferret fiasco. Come to think of it, that's how they purchased their last car. 'I don't want to buy it; I just want you to see it.' Ha!   

"I don't need to meet him," he said cautiously. "What's the point if he'll be gone in two days?"   

"Jack! Don't be that way. You like kids. He's lonely. I don't understand your objection."  

"If we're not seriously entertaining the idea of taking him in then what possible point would there be to my meeting him?" She'd have to come clean. She couldn't deny that bit of logic.   

She folded her arms and shot him a dirty look. Or could she? 

A light went on. They should meet. It was serious. Because... because maybe she had already decided.  This wasn't just about fostering the kid. This was more. Damn it! It wasn't fair.   

"We agreed on having another child," she reminded him from the same determined pose.  

That was true, he had agreed. Sort of...  "We agreed on adopting a baby girl, not a ten-year-old traumatized boy. What about Charlie? Have you thought about him?"  

"I'll talk to Charlie." Her lips pursed in thought before she took a deep cleansing breath and narrowed her eyes for good measure. "Don't even pretend you're thinking about Charlie. You're thinking about you."  

Shit. She was probably right.   

In his defense, Jack already worried about being home enough for Charlie; now he would have someone else to worry about. What if the kid turned out to have serious problems? Sara would be left alone to deal with all of it while he was away playing soldier. Worst of all, he was positive he could never love another boy as much as he loved Charlie. A girl would have been different, a whole new ballgame. Was that fair to this unknown boy? He debated whether he should share his concerns with his unshakable wife.  

One look at her face convinced him not to waste his breath. He threw up his hands in surrender. "Okay, you win, I'll meet him.  What's one more kid to take to batting practice and shag fly balls?"   

She relaxed and snickered. "Daniel's not really the baseball type." 

"Football?" 

"I don't think so." 

"Hockey?"  

She scoffed at that one.  

"No hockey?" 

"He grew up in Egypt." 

"Ah. He can learn. And if he doesn't like sports I'm versatile. We can do other things like... fishing. We can fish." He talked with smooth confidence to cover his doubt. A military trick.  

She wrapped her arms around his waist. "I hate to tell you this, honey, but fishing is a sport."  

"Not the way I fish." He turned around and kissed her lips. 

She kissed him back soundly before pulling away to frown. "Jack..." 

"Hmm?" 

"When you go to see him... don't... you know." 

"What?" He eyed her closely, still warm and fuzzy from the kiss.   

"Don't crowd him. He's been through a lot." 

"Crowd him? What are you talking about? I'm not going to crowd him. I'll just be myself," he said with more bravado than he felt.   

"That's exactly what I'm talking about."  

Jack gazed at her in growing confusion.  

"You can be yourself," she relented. "Just try to be a little less yourself than usual. Okay?"  

"Less... me?" he grumbled indignantly. He started to rise but she stopped him.    

"Jack?" 

His breath caught in his throat at the sight of her.  She was positively glowing. 

"I love you." 

Jack leaned in to kiss her lips and smell her hair. "I love you, too." 
 

Chapter 2 
 

Daniel turned a page but when he couldn't remember what he'd just read, he closed the book with an irritated slam.  He glanced at the half-eaten dinner tray sitting beside the bed and made a face.  Why did hospitals have to overcook everything?  Always.  And they served it to sick people, which only compounded the crime as far as he was concerned. 

He thought back to the delicious meal Sara had brought him from... what was the name of that restaurant?  He couldn't remember but it didn't matter.  In a little over a day he'd be back at the Home. 

That was a bad joke, calling that place a home.  But it's where he kept ending up between foster homes. 

Daniel sighed and gave his head a shake.  It didn't matter.  He could do this.  He had to.  It was just like walking, putting one foot in front of the other.  It didn't matter if the path was occasionally difficult.  He'd just keep putting one foot in front of the other until one day he was through the system and able to be out on his own. 

Meanwhile, he'd just keep walking... 

Daniel glanced at the open door and swallowed hard.  As much as he didn't like thinking about the Home, it was better than worrying about the unwanted visitor. 

He wanted to be angry with Nurse Sara but he couldn't, despite the alarming news she had given him this afternoon - her husband was coming by to introduce himself and say hi.  

“I hope you'll like him,” she said.  “He's a nice guy, although I admit he does have a screwy sense of humor.” 

“Why is he coming here?” Daniel had been pleased by the calmness of his voice. 

“He's heard me talking about you and thought it'd be nice to meet you.” 

As much as he liked Nurse Sara, Daniel didn't believe her. From the things she had said, her husband was career military, a Colonel in the Air Force no less, and he was a big sports fan.  Daniel couldn't imagine anyone he'd have less in common with than this man. 

He looked down at the book in his lap.  He'd be willing to bet anything that Colonel O'Neill wouldn't be interested in this book. 

Daniel knew what was going on.  He had begun to suspect it a couple of days ago.  Nurse Sara was so nice, she had gone out of her way to bring special meals and ask him about the kinds of things he liked.  She had even brought him this book from the local library. All of her efforts didn't help ease the growing lump in his throat. 

He was on trial again.  He knew it.  And he hated the feeling. 

Colonel O'Neill wasn't coming by to say hi.  He was coming by to study him, to see if he'd be willing to take the poor orphaned kid into his home. 

Daniel had been through it numerous times in the last two years.  He knew the signs, he even knew the stages.  At first everyone was excited and welcomed him into their household.  Soon afterward came the slow disenchantment, the gradual realization that he didn't fit, didn't belong.  Sometimes it only took a couple of weeks, sometimes he lasted a few months.  Eventually the experiment ended and he wound up back at the Home, waiting to go through the painful process all over again with the next family. 

As much as Daniel liked Sara, she had a husband and a son.  Experience taught him those situations never worked out.  Not for him. 

He knew it, hated it, and was helpless to change it.  Just as he had been helpless to change Nurse Sara's mind, as hard as he had tried. 

Now he was waiting.  Again.  Waiting to be judged, knowing that, sooner or later, he would be found inadequate.  Just like always. 

"Hi. Daniel Jackson? I'm Jack, Jack O'Neill." 

Daniel looked up to see a stranger standing in the doorway.  The man was tall and lean, very tan and fit-looking.  Despair filled him.  If he needed any evidence to prove his theory that this would never work out, the sight of this man confirmed it. 

Maybe if he ignored the man he'd go away.  It was probably a forlorn hope, but at this point he was desperate to avoid being rejected.  Again. 

"Jack O'Neill, Nurse Sara's husband?" The tall man in the jeans wasn't giving up easily.  

"Hi," Daniel managed, barely covering his disappointment. Damn it! He only had a precious day or two left here and he wanted to spend the time with Sara. Not playacting and making nice with her husband.  

"Watchya reading?"  

To Daniel's great disappointment, Jack O'Neill pulled the chair closer to the bed and settled in. He didn't look like he'd be leaving any time soon.  

"Just a book." Daniel hastily closed it and set it aside, away from Sara's husband, who didn't seem like the type who would enjoy "An Archaeologist's View of Ancient Mayan Culture."  

"So, Sara says you're feeling better and will be getting out of this joint soon."   

Daniel nodded to be polite in deference to Sara and pushed up his glasses.  

"Got any plans?"  

To Daniel's dismay the husband reached over and picked up the book and began fiddling with the pages. "Not really. I don't get to make my own plans." He kept one eye on the man and the other on the book, hoping the man wouldn't ruin it.   

"If you could make your own plans what would they be?"  

Daniel flushed under the scrutiny. For some reason it felt like Sara's husband could see inside of him.  

"Nothing?" the relentless man prodded, his eyes maintaining contact while his fingers continued to absently flip the pages back and forth.   

Daniel relaxed a bit, deciding the man had no intention of ripping the book, it seemed to be more of a nervous habit. "I-I guess I'd go live with my grandfather and help him with his work."  

"Ah, sounds like a good plan."  

Daniel lowered his head, wishing he hadn't expressed that thought out loud. He normally kept those personal dreams to himself. Come to think of it, no one had ever asked him.  Something made him add, "Except my grandfather doesn't... well, he's too busy right now to take me in. He probably will when I'm older,” he quickly amended.  

He squirmed when the husband didn't immediately answer.  Daniel had been hoping for that particular dream to come true since getting beyond the initial shock of The Accident. It was a hope that only worked when he was able to forget about Grandpa Nick's obvious disinterest in him. 

The husband nodded. "So, what do you like to do for fun?"  

"Fun?" Daniel blinked and cleared his throat, stalling for time. Aside from studying languages and ancient Egyptian text, he didn't find much fun. Sara's husband didn't know him but the man's questions had a knack for invading his comfort zone. 

"Yeah, fun. Sports, rollerblading, wrestling, computer games, music... fishing. Do ya like fishing?"  

Despite the pitifully long pause nothing came to mind. He had never fished a day in his life. "Reading," he finally muttered.  

Daniel was horrified when Sara's husband turned over the book he'd been playing with and silently scanned the title before letting out a low whistle.  

"It's fun to me." Daniel's cheeks flushed pink as he clarified.  

Ten hours, that only registered as thirty minutes on the clock, passed before Sara's husband mercifully rose from the chair to leave.   

"Nice meeting you, Daniel."  

"You too," Daniel cheerfully lied, not relaxing until the door closed after the tall figure.  Even though he could relax physically, it didn't help much mentally. 

Holding his book to his chest he sighed over the visit and the nerve-wracking questions.  Yep, no doubt about it.  He had definitely been on trial.  And he'd been found guilty.   

"Hey, Daniel." Finally. Sara was a breath of fresh air in the stale, antiseptic smelling room.  

"Did you like Jack?" She sat down in the chair her husband had recently vacated.  

"Sure, Sara, he's fine." If you like root canals and Avian flu. "Are you working today or just visiting?" If she wasn't working she had come in special, just to see him, and that was something he'd record and savor as soon as he had the chance. 

Sara smiled but didn't answer.  It was obvious she had something else on her mind. "Daniel, there's something I want to talk to you about." 

She sounded serious and his heart dropped.  She had come in right after her husband had left.  He knew what that meant and tried to distract her. 

"Do you need the money back from dinner the other day?" 

"No, of course not." Her eyes scrunched in confusion for a second before she smiled. "Jack and I were wondering if you'd like to come and stay with us for awhile." 

He ducked his head not wanting her to see his eyes.  Obviously, she hadn't talked to her husband yet.  She didn't know he had flunked the Colonel's inspection. 

Or, maybe she had said it on a whim. Out of duty, or pity.  He'd give her an easy out. "Um... you need to be certified for that." 

She looked disappointed and Daniel felt a slight jab of pain in his gut that had nothing to do with his ribs. That obviously wasn't the answer she'd been hoping to hear.  

"Jack and I are approved. I can't have any more children and we've been talking about fostering or adopting for a while now. It's up to you, Daniel, but we'd love to have you."  

Her enthusiasm was back and he didn't want to disappoint her again.  

It was a tough call. If he said yes, he was setting himself up for disappointment.  Two years in the foster care system had taught him that much.  No matter how hard he tried, he never fit in.   

He had nothing in common with her husband.  Besides that, Daniel was stubborn and headstrong and had a penchant for not listening, for doing things his own way.  Sara liked him now but she wouldn't like him nearly as much when the placement inevitably ended.  It seemed the more you knew people and the more they knew you, the less everyone got along. At least that had been his experience to date. 

That said, going back to the Home would be hard to take. The temporary group homes tended to be loud and crowded and hard to deal with. Better to face the unknown and hope for the best. Even if it only lasted a few months, he'd be ahead of the game, a few months closer to being a grown up.  To being independent and free to make his own choices. 

"Okay, let's try it," he answered softly, wondering how long it would last this time and how much it would hurt when they decided he wasn't good enough to be a part of their family. 

"Great," she said, her eyes shining. "We'll see how it goes. If you want to leave at any time let me know, okay?"   

It wouldn't last. It never did but for a while he could daydream and pretend and if he was lucky, eat a few more El Charro burritos before it all came crashing down like the giant cover stone in the New York City Museum. Life could change in the blink of an eye. One chink in the armor, one weak link and it was all over. There was nothing he could do but prepare himself, steel himself, bide his time and wait for that glorious day when he'd cross the threshold into adulthood and leave his painful childhood behind.  


Sara led Daniel upstairs to unpack and he was thrilled to discover he had his own room. He hadn't expected that. He was sure he'd be sharing a room with Charlie and that would only speed up his certain exit.  

When he hoisted up his suitcase to unpack he noted the single bed looked brand new. How lucky could he get!  

"Come on, I'll introduce you to Charlie and then we'll have some lunch. You can unpack later."  

Daniel reluctantly left the suitcase on the bed and followed Sara down the hall. This was the part he dreaded. Being the new kid was always difficult, and if foster life had taught him anything, it was that the 'real' kids never had much use for the 'new' kids.   

Charlie was sitting on his bed studying a model airplane. Daniel guessed he was most likely sitting there waiting to meet the poor orphan kid from the hospital. He was surprised when Charlie's face lit up with a smile as Sara introduced him. He could be faking the smile for his mom's benefit but Daniel could usually spot that, even if most moms couldn't.  

"I'll leave you two to talk and get acquainted."  

Even though Sara left the door open, Daniel felt trapped and uncomfortable. He was never good at meeting new kids. It never went well after the parents left and he never understood why.   

"Hi!" Charlie smiled and seemed genuinely enthused so Daniel took a deep breath and smiled back. "I'm Charlie." Charlie set the model down on the bed and offered his hand so Daniel shook it.  

"I'm sorry your mom and dad died," Charlie said solemnly.  

Daniel stayed quiet wondering if there was going to be a punch line. That type of statement was usually followed up with "but you can't have mine" or something to that effect. Charlie didn't seem to have a follow-up though and Daniel decided maybe Charlie meant it, he was sorry. The whole idea of moms and dads dying bothered him. Probably scared the heck out of him, as well it should. There was nothing scarier. Daniel should know, he was living the nightmare.  

He wasn't sure how to respond. Adults never said things that direct. Charlie seemed sincere though and maybe it was better to say it out loud and clear the air.   

"I hope you like staying with us," Charlie added in an effort to break the uncomfortable silence.  

Daniel still could only nod dumbly. This was the first new kid, and certainly the first "real" kid, who didn't hate his guts on sight. He supposed he should say something nice but he had no idea what would be appropriate.  

"Do you like airplanes?" Charlie changed the subject and filled in the silence, holding out the model plane for his scrutiny.  

"I guess." Daniel accepted the plane and looked it over. He hadn't given airplanes much thought one way or the other but it would be rude to say that.  

"That's not really an airplane," Charlie said enthusiastically. "It's a jet.  My dad's a pilot. He flies jets, well, he used to, and he flew one just like this. We built it together."  

Daniel stared at the jet and blinked back unexpected tears, envisioning Jack and Charlie hunched over the model working on it together. It reminded him of his dad sitting beside him in Egypt, his sure hand guiding his in the correct method of unearthing an artifact.    

"It's all right if you don't like models," Charlie said quickly. He took the prized jet and placed it back on the desk with the other models. "Do you like sports?" he asked with the same enthusiasm. "I play baseball, basketball and hockey. I'd play football, too, but my mom won't let me. She thinks it's too dangerous." Charlie rolled his eyes at that and waited expectantly for an answer.  

Daniel hated to be a disappointment but the reality was that he didn't play any of those sports. Growing up in Egypt hadn't exposed him to American sports and he found he had no aptitude or interest. Why would he? No one had ever taken the time to explain how the games were played, they just expected him to know.   

Daniel shook his head and waited for the real kid's attitude toward him to change.  

"How old are you?" Charlie asked, undeterred. 

"Ten," Daniel answered, wondering what that had to do with anything.  

"Cool! Little League is starting next week. You can sign up and we can play on the same team. My dad helps coach when he can. He's away a lot so he can't be the head coach."  

Charlie must really like sports.  Duh, Daniel.  One look at all the trophies in the room should have made that obvious. 

The older boy was really making an effort.  Daniel figured he should say something and sports seemed like the safest topic. 

“You play lots of sports,” he observed. 

Charlie's smile widened.  “Oh, yeah.  I'm even going to the Fantasy Sports Week Camp at the end of August!” 

Daniel had no idea what Charlie was talking about but while he debated asking, his new, temporary foster brother rushed on. 

“It's so cool!  Pro athletes from football and baseball and soccer all come together for the week, they run different clinics every day, and you get to practice with them and get pointers and everything.  I signed up two years ago but the waiting list is so long this'll be my first chance to go.”  Some of his excitement abated and he gave Daniel an apologetic look.  “I'm sorry you won't be able to come along.” 

Why did Charlie have to be so nice? Daniel was shocked to find that the 'real' kid being nice didn't make things any easier. It actually made it harder. He had always assumed nothing ever worked out because of the foster parents, or the other foster kids, or the 'real' kids. It was a jolt to realize that he himself might be part of the problem as well. He didn't like baseball and didn't want to play, he had only recently become aware that American football wasn't soccer, and he had no idea what one did in the sport of hockey. And, he had no desire to build model airplanes. A model of Tutankhamen's tomb or of the temple at Luxor might have been a different story.  

Maybe the placements weren't the problem. It hurt to admit but maybe he was the problem. He didn't belong in America. He didn't belong anywhere.  

"I'm going to go unpack," he announced to a stunned, disappointed Charlie.  

"Are you going to sign up for Little League?" Charlie asked hopefully. 

Daniel had to admire Charlie's persistence. "No," he managed on his way out the door.  He didn't need that humiliation.   


Sara was surprised at how subdued the boys were during lunch. She had been so proud of Charlie when she and Jack had explained Daniel's circumstances and the fact that they wanted to take him in. Charlie had been all for it. He was active and sociable and Sara had always felt bad that he was an only child. Despite the fact he was all boy, underneath it all, her son had a heart of gold. Just like his father. They had both been proud and Jack had told Charlie so, out loud. Sara wondered what had happened to take the wind out of her son's sails.  

The boys sat around the kitchen table eating boloney sandwiches while she chatted about what a nice spring day it was to fill in the lack of conversation. She was just about to ask if anything was wrong when Jack came bursting through the door with his usual exuberance. He had promised to try to get out of work by noon to spend time with the boys and she was grateful he had managed it. She hated when Jack had to work weekends, mainly because she knew it disappointed Charlie. Sure enough, her son lit up at the sight of his father. Sara noted that Daniel didn't look nearly as impressed.  

"Do you have to go back to work?" Charlie asked the question on her mind.  

"Not til Monday." Jack smiled and Sara marveled at how much her guys mirrored each other. Now if only they could get Daniel to smile. She had no doubt it was just a matter of time until Daniel felt comfortable enough to laugh and joke and feel accepted. For today, she'd leave that task to Jack. He was a master at coaxing smiles and laughter.    

"What do you say we get out of your mother's hair and go down to the park?" 

Daniel heard the offer with a surge of dismay.  He'd done his best to maintain a pleasant front throughout the unending afternoon but he wasn't sure he could keep it up much longer.  He hadn't missed Charlie's slipping smile when Jack included him in the invitation.  It had only lasted a second before Charlie nodded agreeably, but Daniel had seen it.  He knew when he wasn't wanted.  Pushing himself forward, especially so early in a new foster situation, was a guarantee of a quick departure. 

“Um... actually, I'm kind of tired,” he said. 

Daniel squirmed as Jack eyed him intently.  Those dark brown eyes seemed to see right through him and he had a panicky thought that the man knew he was lying. 

“Of course you are,” Sara said quickly.  “I should have thought of that.  Jack, why don't you and Charlie go?  I'll give Daniel a tour of the house and then he can unpack and settle in.” 

Daniel watched Jack and Sara exchange long looks. Jack turned to his son.  “What d'ya say, buddy?  You willing to spend a little time with your old man?” 

Charlie grinned broadly.  “Sure, Dad!  Hey, how about doing some batting practice while we're there?” 

“Good plan,” Jack nodded vigorously.  “Let's get the equipment.” 

Charlie whooped and charged up the stairs and Jack gave Sara a quick kiss.  “We'll be back in a little while.” 

“Take your time,” Sara said.  “This will give Daniel and I a chance to get better acquainted.”   

She gave him a warm smile and some of the day's tension eased.  This he could do. 

After Jack and Charlie made a noisy departure, Sara kept her word and took him on a tour of the house.  Because she had lots of stories to share about the different rooms and the various items, it took longer than Daniel expected.  He didn't care.  Being able to spend time with Sara, almost like he was her real kid, was a reward in itself. 

When they reached the foot of the stairs, Sara paused.  “Well, now you've seen almost the entire house.  I know it's not fancy but we like it.” 

“It's nice,” Daniel said.  He hoped he didn't have to offer anything more because he didn't know what else to say.  A house was a house.  This one seemed okay.   

Sara's lips twitched.  “Thank you.  I'm glad you think so.  There's just one more thing - ” 

The phone rang and Sara headed toward the kitchen to answer it.  “I'll be right back,” she called over her shoulder. 

Daniel nodded and remained where he was.  A minute later he heard her voice. “Hello? ... Hi, Dad!  What did the doctor say?” 

He shifted uncomfortably.  This sounded like a private conversation.  Maybe he should get out of hearing range, except he wasn't sure where to go.  He could go back to the family room Sara had just showed him.  There was a computer in there that she said would be available to him and Charlie, for fun, as well as for schoolwork. 

His throat tightened at the thought. He didn't want to go back in there. The first thing he had spotted when Sara had showed him the room was the wall of books.  She mentioned the books in this room were available to everyone in the house and had added, with a laugh, that they had books on practically every subject except poetry. 

Daniel was pretty sure Sara had meant the remark to be informative, but her words still sent a rush of hurt through him.  Next to ancient history and languages, poetry had been his mother's favorite subject.  He had no idea how many times he had fallen asleep at night, lulled by his mother's reading aloud of one poem or another.  Especially Tennyson, he remembered, swallowing hard.  Tennyson had been her favorite.   

Daniel hadn't opened a book of poetry since... since The Accident. 

Pain squeezed his heart.  No, he couldn't think about it.  Think about something else, he admonished himself.  Sara was still talking to her father and he didn't want to be listening, however innocently, to her conversation. 

Glancing around, he noticed a closed door half-way down the hall. He didn't know what was in there; they hadn't reached that room yet in Sara's tour. 

Daniel walked quickly down the hall and when he reached the door, he tried turning the handle.  It opened easily and he peered inside. 

It looked like an office.  Jack's office, maybe?  The walls were painted in a camel color and there was a desk of dark brown wood against the far wall.  Green curtains with a geometric design running through them were drawn across the two windows and there was a map on the opposite wall. It looked like a chart of the constellations, Daniel noted in surprise. 

There were built-in bookcases filled with books and he was tempted to take a closer look.  If this was Jack's office, he suspected he wouldn't need to worry about running across books of poetry.  As he took a step toward them, something else caught his attention.  There was a computer on the desk.  So the one in the family room wasn't the only one in the house. 

He wondered if he would be allowed to use this one.  That way he wouldn't have to worry about cutting into Charlie's computer time. If this one was hooked up to the internet... yes, he saw the line running from the computer to a telephone jack.  Was it turned on? 

Daniel moved across the room and went around the desk so he could see the monitor, then sighed in disappointment at the blank screen.  Maybe he could ask Sara... 

His rambling thoughts came to an end as he looked down at the papers spread across the desk.  There were several pages of single-spaced text but he ignored those in favor of the pictures.  Without thinking, he picked one up for a better look. 

It was!  It was the Egyptian snake code his parents had discovered and taught him to read.   

What was it doing here? 

His curiosity aroused, Daniel shuffled quickly through the other pictures until he reached the last one.  It was a picture of a blackboard with figures scrawled across it, figures which few people in the world could understand.  Daniel recognized them, thanks to his parents' teaching. 

Door to heaven?  How had they got that phrase out of - 

His breath hitched and the picture fell from his suddenly nerveless hand.  In his shuffling of the papers and photos he saw the original folder. Stamped in large red letters across the front were the words TOP SECRET. 

Daniel cast a frantic look around the room.  His earlier guess had been right.  This was Jack's office.  This must be something from the military, something he shouldn't have seen. 

With his heart pounding loudly, Daniel ran to the door and peeked out to make sure no one was in sight.  Seeing that the coast was clear, he slipped back into the hall and closed the door firmly behind him.  Wiping damp palms against his jeans, he hurried for the back door.  If anyone wanted him, they could find him outside. 
 

Chapter 3 
 

Despite enjoying his own room and the brand new comfortable bed, Daniel found he had trouble sleeping. He'd fall asleep easily enough but he wouldn't stay asleep. The dreams would wake him up. Tonight wasn't any different. Daniel stumbled out of bed and quietly tiptoed to the bathroom. As he passed Jack and Sara's door he froze at the sound of voices coming from inside, his stomach began to churn when he realized they were talking about him.  

"I did try, Sara. And so did Charlie." Jack sounded a little aggravated.   

"Well, you need to try harder.  After all, he's only been here a few days.  Even Jack O'Neill didn't rise to the rank of Colonel that quickly."  

Daniel cringed at Sara's flippant words. He hunched his shoulders, his heart racing with nervous anxiety at how Jack would respond to that. To his relief, there was no yelling or heaven forbid, hitting. After it was quiet for a few minutes Daniel crept back to bed but he couldn't get the overheard conversation out of his mind. Jack was right, he had tried and so had Charlie. He, Daniel Jackson, was the only one who hadn't tried.  

For once he couldn't blame the foster parents or the 'real' kid for his problems. He didn't fit in. He never would. He was too different. He only ever fit in one time, in one place, and that place no longer existed. The circumstances and the people could never be duplicated. Where did that leave him? Even though he was ten years old and almost grown, he began to cry, stifling the sounds in his pillow. 

His mom and dad would never again kiss him goodnight or smile at him like Jack and Sara smiled at Charlie. As much as he hated the word and had denied it for two years, it was true. He was an orphan and he would always be an orphan. Nothing could change that or make it better. Not now, not ever.  

It had been so much easier to blame the foster care system for all of his problems. If he himself was the problem how could he ever start a new life? Then again, maybe he didn't really want a new life.  

He wasn't ready to let go of the old one.  


“Here we are,” Sara said as she turned into the parking lot next to the school. 

“Thanks for the ride, Mom,” Charlie said, reaching for the door handle as the car slowed. 

“Charlie, don't you dare!” his mother snapped.  “You wait until we stop.” 

“Oh, Mom,” he groaned, “you're barely moving.” 

Sara braked and turned off the engine before looking at her son sitting beside her.  “Don't 'oh, mom' me,” she said severely, “You know the rules.”  

He sighed resignedly, “Okay, okay, I'm sorry.” 

“That's better.  Have a wonderful day, honey.” Her forbidding glare was replaced with a smile.   
 
”You, too,” he threw over his shoulder as he burst out of the car, then paused to look at Daniel who was still sitting in the back seat. “Umm...”
 

“Daniel will be along later,” Sara said. 

“Okay,” Charlie nodded, then gave Daniel a wave before pulling his backpack over his shoulder and racing toward the hordes of kids congregating in front of the school. 

Daniel didn't return the wave.  He was too busy trying to hide his nervousness.  A new school was often the beginning of the end for him.  

Sara was standing outside, watching him.  Sitting in the car was only prolonging the inevitable. Forcing a weak smile, he opened the door and struggled out.  

“Thanks for the ride, Sara, but you really don't have to come in with me,” he said, for what felt like the tenth time. 

Despite his nerves, her smile warmed him.  Daniel had no doubt that Sara, at least, really wanted him in the house.  For awhile anyway. Eventually, like always, it would change and then he'd be gone.  He needed to remember that so he didn't get to like her too much.  

“You're welcome, Daniel.  Ordinarily, you and Charlie will be walking to and from school but since the principal asked to meet with me today about your schedule, I thought we could all drive in together.” 

He wished he knew the right words to change her mind.  It was bad enough, starting at a new school.  To be accompanied by an adult as if he was a little kid... he was already blushing.  Worst of all, he knew why the principal wanted to see Sara.  He had been through this rigmarole before, every time he began at a new school and it never got any easier. 

Though Daniel kept his head down, he could feel the eyes on him as he walked through the laughing, chattering gauntlet of kids.  Sara walked beside him and her presence made his face burn with embarrassment. 

He didn't feel any better when they entered the building. Kids were swarming everywhere.  He might have slipped by unnoticed had he been alone.  With Sara along everyone was checking out the new kid. 

They followed the “Administration” sign with an arrow below it, pointing down another hall.  After that turn, they saw the office. 

“Here we go,” Sara said as she placed one hand lightly on his shoulder. 

Daniel stiffened.  He couldn't help himself.  He was allowing her to get too close.  It was dangerous. 

Maybe she picked up on his thought because she took away her hand, and Daniel felt a fresh wave of embarrassment.  He suspected he had hurt her feelings but didn't know how to make things better. 

Sara stopped in front of a counter, behind it, Daniel could see three women working away at their computers. 

“I'm Sara O'Neill,” she told the one nearest, “and this is Daniel Jackson.  Today is his first day and Principal Sutton wants to meet with us.” 

The woman - she had to be pretty old, Daniel thought, since she had gray in her hair - flipped through some papers on her desk. “Oh, yes, here it is.  If you could have a seat for a minute, Mr. Sutton should be right with you.” 

There was a wooden bench by the wall and Sara led him over to it. Daniel sat beside her and tried to slow his anxious breathing.  He'd been through this before and knew what to expect.  Maybe someone would listen to him this time. It wasn't likely, but he could always hope. 

Before he was ready, a tall, thin, gray-haired man emerged from the office.  “Mrs. O'Neill?  I'm the principal, John Sutton.  And this must be Daniel.” 

Daniel was tempted to refuse the man's extended hand.  He was tired of new schools and new teachers and new principals, but with Sara beside him, watching, he had to respond. He offered his own hand and tried to ignore the principal's phony smile.  

“Right this way.” After tentatively shaking hands they followed the man inside.    

This principal's office reminded Daniel of other principals' offices.  It had lots of bookcases - which were always filled with boring books - a window that let him see outside and a desk made of fake wood with lots of papers and files piled on top of it.  Some principals' offices only had one chair in front of the desk, a few had three chairs, but this principal followed the usual custom of having two. 

“Please have a seat,” he said, closing the door behind him and going around the desk to his own chair, which was, Daniel noticed, much nicer than the two visitor's chairs.   

Sara sat down and Daniel took the seat beside her. The principal was looking at him but Daniel kept his eyes lowered, staring at his hands folded in his lap. 

“Thank you for coming, Mrs. O'Neill.” 

“It's no problem,” she said graciously. 

Daniel opened his mouth but quickly shut it. Sara had planned to go over to her father's this morning, plans she had to change when the school had called to set up this meeting.  He had heard her talking to Jack afterwards and she hadn't been pleased with the change of plans. 

But if she wanted the principal to think it hadn't been any trouble, he wasn't about to challenge her. 

“Was there a problem getting Daniel's records from his previous school?” she asked. 

“No, no, not at all.”  There was a note in Sutton's voice that made Daniel look up.  Yep, just as he expected. His stomach churned. The principal was looking at him as if he was some kind of... freak. 

“We received his records and I must say they are, for lack of a better phrase, extremely impressive.”  The principal flashed a wide, artificial smile and Daniel ducked his head again. 

“Along with his records were the results of some I.Q. tests that were given nearly two years ago.” 

Daniel's throat tightened at what was sure to follow.  He braced himself, but instead, Sara's voice interrupted.  

“I thought I.Q. tests could only be given with the permission of a child's parents.” Her words were strong and sure with a surprising edge of anger in her tone.  

Sutton straightened up and Daniel felt a mean sense of pleasure at the principal's expression, as if he had been caught telling tales. 

“Actually, it was Social Services who requested the testing.  Since they have the ultimate authority for Daniel, the legal requirements were met, I assure you.” 

Sara's eyes were on him but Daniel kept his head down.  To his surprise, her hand covered his and she squeezed gently.  The warmth and support were completely unexpected and he was horrified by sudden tears. He hastily blinked them away. 

“Why am I here, Mr. Sutton?” Sara asked abruptly.   

It was the principal's turn to blink. “Mrs. O'Neill, I take it you are unaware of the results of the I.Q. testing.” 

“I'm not interested in the results,” Sara said flatly.  “I'm interested in Daniel being assigned to his classes so he can begin catching up.” 

“That's exactly why I asked you here,” Mr. Sutton returned.   

The principal sounded a little flustered and Daniel's respect for Sara went up a few more notches. 

“I'm not following you,” she said and Daniel glanced out of the corner of his eye at her.  Yes, she definitely looked irritated at the principal.  Sara was on his side and that knowledge helped settle his jumpy stomach. 

Sutton looked down at the open file on his desk.  “Mrs. O'Neill, in his prior school Daniel had been placed in the ninth grade, where he was doing superior work.  He was also taking several college-level classes through a special program.” 

Daniel squeezed his eyes shut.  Here it came. 

There was a long silence. “I don't understand,” Sara said slowly. 

“The I.Q. tests, not to mention Daniel's own achievements -” he gave Daniel a quick look and another surface smile - “such as the fact that he speaks twelve languages, all confirm that he is a genius.” 

Here went any forlorn hopes that this placement might work out. 

Sara was silent for a long time and Daniel didn't dare look at her.  He hunched his shoulders instinctively, waiting for the blow to fall. 

“That's wonderful but it doesn't change the fact that Daniel is still ten years old.” 

What?  Had he heard her correctly? 

Daniel raised his head and blinked at the warm smile she turned on him.  She wasn't disturbed or put off by the principal's words.  With the realization came a relief so vast he had to close his eyes until he could regain control. 

Sara still liked him, still accepted him. 

“Well, actually,” Principal Sutton said, “the test results do complicate the situation.  Despite his chronological age, it doesn't make sense to put Daniel into the same grade as other children his age.  He would not only be unchallenged academically but he would be extremely bored.” 

Daniel gritted his teeth in frustration.  Oh, yes, he knew what was coming, placement in a grade years ahead of his age, with classmates years older who fiercely resented his presence. 

“But ninth grade?” Sara demanded.  She looked at Daniel again.  “You probably felt like a fish out of water, didn't you?” 

He swallowed and warned his voice to behave.  “Yes,” he admitted softly. 

“As I explained,” the principal started, “the test results...” 

“There is more at stake here than simple academics,” Sara said, her voice suddenly cold. 

Sutton sat back in his chair.  “I - ” 

“What about Daniel's emotional development?  What about his social development?  I can't see such extreme academic advancement doing anything but harm in those areas.  Teenagers in high school would never accept a ten-year-old as a peer.”   

She looked at him again, her eyes filled with such compassion that Daniel had to glance away before emotion got the better of him. 

“But,” Sutton protested, “if we go by Daniel's chronological age he would be placed in the fourth or fifth grade.  It's absurd for someone of his intellectual ability to be penalized so severely.  He needs a place where he can develop his gifts - ” 

“He needs a place where he can feel accepted,” Sara interrupted firmly.  “You said that he was able to take some college-level courses through a special program at his previous school.  Surely, you can arrange something similar here, while Daniel can still be with other children his own age.” 

The principal stared from her to Daniel and then back to her, while Daniel silently cheered her on.  No one had ever understood his side, no one had ever fought for him like this before. 

Finally, Sutton licked his lips and cleared his throat.  “I suppose... something could be arranged.  But Daniel would be completely bored in the fifth grade, Mrs. O'Neill.  Utterly unchallenged and bored.  That doesn't seem fair to him.” 

For the first time, Sara looked uncertain. “What do you think, Daniel?” 

“I don't mind being bored,” he quickly assured her.  Boredom would be a small price to pay in order to avoid high school again.  As much as he had enjoyed the class work, the other students had made his life miserable.  He was willing to endure a lot to forestall another such experience. 

“Do you think you'd be awfully bored in the fifth grade?” she said in the same tentative tone. 

He shrugged.  He knew he'd be awfully bored, but it was preferable to high school. 

Lines creased Sara's forehead.  “Maybe...” she said slowly, “we could compromise a bit?  What do you think about being in the sixth grade?  It would be a little more challenging but you'd still be with children who are pretty much your age.” 

“Okay,” Daniel nodded.  A little more challenging sounded good.  That, plus being with kids his own age sounded better.   

Sara glanced at the principal.  “And you can still arrange for the college-level coursework apart from his regular classes, correct?” 

“Uh, yes,” Sutton said. 

The man looked confused at this upheaval of his plans.  Daniel swallowed the smile that wanted to escape.  It felt good to have someone on his side.  He hoped it would last awhile longer. 

“Yes,” the principal said again with a cough.  “Sixth grade.  That would be...” he flipped through some papers on his desk, “Mrs. Richards' class.”  He gave Daniel a cautious smile. 

“We have a few more documents to fill out and then you can join her class.” 

Less than ten minutes later, they were done.  When Sara rose, so did Daniel.  So did Sutton. 

“Here,” the man said, extending a sheaf of papers clipped together.  “This contains information about the school, programs and various extracurricular activities.” 

Sara took the pages and handed them to Daniel while giving the principal a pleasant smile. 

“Since these concern Daniel, I'm sure he'd like to see them, too.” 

“Uh, yes, yes,” Sutton stammered.  “Certainly.  Of course.  Daniel, Ms. Cluney will escort you to Mrs. Richards' class.  Mrs. O'Neill, it was, um, a pleasure to meet you.” 

Daniel smothered another smile.  Mr. Sutton hadn't said that with a whole lot of conviction.   

Sara smiled at the man. “Likewise, I'm sure.” 

Back in the reception area, the woman with the partly gray hair gave him a little wave. 

“I'll be right with you, Daniel,” she said before vanishing into the back area. 

Sara looked at him with a smile that was much more genuine than the one she had given the principal. 

“All set?” she asked brightly. 

Daniel hugged his new backpack against his chest and nodded.  “Sara,” he started, then stopped.  He didn't know how to thank her for standing up for him. 

“Hmm?” Sara's eyes softened and for a scary minute, Daniel feared she was going to hug him, right here in public, in front of all these strangers.  Instead she rested her hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. 

“I hope you have a great first day,” she said. 

Daniel managed to smile.  “Thanks.” 

She disappeared out the door and he settled back on the hard bench to wait for Ms. Cluney.  Paper rattled under his chest and he dropped his backpack on the floor to examine the sheaf of papers Mr. Sutton had given to Sara.  The top page was a list of extracurricular activities.  The school had several different sports programs that Daniel immediately rejected.  Wait, what was this?  They had a music club. 

For a minute he let his mind turn back to the sporadic piano lessons his mother had given him, sporadic because they didn't often have access to a piano. Nonetheless he had loved the lessons, mainly because they had allowed him to be with his mom without distraction. 

Daniel's heart squeezed painfully at the memories and he distracted himself by looking over the rest of the list.   

Hmm, they had a Chess Club. 

That was a possibility.  Then again, it was late in the school year.  The kids in that club had been together for at least the entire year, maybe longer.  The thought of trying to break into a well-established group, of even trying to be part of a group, had Daniel shaking his head.  Maybe he'd try next year, providing he had a next year here. 

“Ready?” 

Daniel looked up to see Ms. Cluney standing over him and quickly jumped to his feet.  He was tempted to tell the truth, 'no' he wasn't ready.  Instead, he nodded silently and followed her out of the room. 
 

Chapter 4 
 

Three hours later, Daniel stood at the edge of the playground, watching what looked like hundreds of kids enjoying their lunch hour.  What he really wanted was to find a little hideaway where he could eat his lunch and enjoy his book undisturbed. 

The chance that any one of these kids would invite him to join them for lunch was practically nonexistent.  He was too new.  If past experience was any indication, when the other kids discovered he didn't enjoy games or sports and was taking college-level courses - they always found out about that - that would pretty much seal his fate at this school. 

Daniel knew it, expected it, and tried his best to ignore it.  He didn't know how to be anyone other than who he was.  The painful fact that kids didn't like who he was didn't matter.  It really didn't.  Really. 

“Hi, Daniel.” 

Daniel turned, surprised to be hailed, and saw Charlie approaching.  

“Hi, Charlie.” 

Charlie had a bat on his shoulder and was grinning.  “Me and some of the guys are going to play a game,” he nodded toward the athletic field.  “You want to join us?  I could introduce you around.” 

Play a game with some strange boys?  When Daniel didn't even know the rules? That was one exercise in humiliation he preferred to avoid at all costs. 

“Uh, no.  Thanks,” he added belatedly. 

Charlie's face fell and then he rallied.  “Okay, we don't have to play baseball.  We could play something you'd like.” 

Daniel couldn't meet the hopeful look and glanced down at his feet.  “I... uh, no, thanks.  I want to finish my book.” 

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Daniel knew he'd made a mistake.  He had turned down Charlie's offer to join in and get acquainted with some of the other kids, with the excuse that he'd rather read a book. Big, huge mistake. It was too late to take back the words now. 

Reluctantly, he raised his head to see Charlie staring at him in disappointment.  To Daniel's surprise, the boy didn't give up. 

“Well, if that's what you want to do.”  He glanced over his shoulder at the baseball diamond and then back at Daniel. “How're things going?  I haven't seen you in any of my classes this morning.” 

Daniel was dumbfounded by Charlie's persistence.  By now, most kids would be long gone, but Charlie was still being nice.  The effort the other boy was putting forth made Daniel feel ashamed. 

“Fine,” he said, then guilt forced out a few more words. “Mrs. Richards is my homeroom teacher.  She seems okay.” 

Charlie's eyebrows rose, then he frowned. “Mrs. Richards?  She teaches sixth grade.” 

Daniel swallowed.  Stupid, Daniel.  That was really stupid.  He should have taken a minute to think before he opened his mouth.  Now there was no way to hide this.  Charlie was in the fifth grade.  Charlie was also, Daniel had discovered during a conversation with Sara over the weekend, nearly a year older.  This was not going to go over well.  

“Yeah, um...” Daniel scrambled for something to say but his mind had gone blank.  His heart sank when he saw understanding dawn in the other boy's eyes. 

“You were put in sixth grade,” Charlie said slowly. 

Daniel nodded dumbly.  So did Charlie. 

“My mom said you were smart.  I guess... she was right.” 

Daniel fervently hoped Charlie wasn't aware of the college-level courses he was soon going to be taking. 

“I, uh... ” he cleared his throat.  “Well, not so much.  Not really.” 

“You must be,” Charlie insisted, though he didn't sound happy about it. 

He glanced around and Daniel knew he was about to disappear.  Instead, Charlie's expression changed and Daniel was startled to see a glower cross the other boy's previously sunny expression. 

“You see that guy?” he asked unexpectedly. 

Daniel looked in the direction Charlie was pointing.  Standing by the chain link fence that surrounded the school yard were four boys.  One, obviously the leader, was bigger than the others, tall and husky.  Even from this distance he could see the boy's sneer. 

“Yeah,” Daniel acknowledged. 

“You want to stay away from him.  Tommy Carmichael is one mean bastard and he loves to give kids a hard time, him and his sorry excuse of a gang.” 

Daniel listened in growing surprise.  In the few days he'd lived with the O'Neills, Charlie had been unfailingly cheerful and outgoing.  This was the first time he'd seen this side of the boy and, he thought with an inner shiver, that it was more intimidating than anything Charlie had said about that Tommy guy. 

Daniel nodded.  “Thanks for the warning.” 

“Sure.” 

As Daniel watched, the animation faded from the other boy's expression.  Charlie glanced over his shoulder and then gave him a long look. 

“You, um, wanted to read, right?”  Without giving Daniel time to respond, he rushed on.  “Well, I'd better get back to the guys.  See you later.” 

Daniel watched him walk away.  The sight of Charlie's slumped shoulders made his throat tighten.  Charlie had been nothing but nice and how had he repaid him? 

Daniel swallowed again, his stomach leaden with shame.  He had to get away, get out of Charlie's sight and away from any chance of seeing the other boy and being reminded of what had just happened. 

He moved quickly along the wall of a classroom until he reached the end.  A narrow path, obviously not intended for the public, ran behind the building.  Daniel moved swiftly along the path, trying hard to erase the memory of Charlie's face when he'd rejected his offer to join in the game, but no matter how hard he tried, the memory remained. 

Why did Charlie have to be so nice?  Why hadn't Charlie treated him like the other foster brothers he'd known?  At best, they'd been distant.  At worst, they'd hated his guts.  It had been easier dealing with them than it was with Charlie.  They'd had no expectations so Daniel had been able to remain focused on his own internal world.

For two years he had been certain the problem lay with other people.  Now he was forcibly reminded of his revelation on the day he'd first met Charlie, and again a few nights ago when he overheard Jack and Sara talking about him. 

Was he, Daniel, really the problem?  Was he the reason none of the placements worked out? 

The questions piled one on top of the other, each more painful than the one before.  In an effort to escape, Daniel increased his pace until he was running.  A part of him knew he was foolish to be moving so rapidly along so narrow a path but he couldn't slow himself down. 

Until he dug in his heels to come to a stumbling halt in front of a high concrete wall. 

He had been running too swiftly to stop in time.  He threw out both hands that slammed into the wall a split second before the rest of him. His hands took the brunt of the impact and pain erupted up his arms.   

His body was thrown backwards by the force of his collision with the unyielding surface, and Daniel winced when he fell back against another concrete wall, this one the side of the building. 

Gasping from exertion and pain, Daniel wrapped his arms around himself, gritting his teeth at the pain in his hands and arms.  After a minute or two the pain began to ease and he looked around. 

He had come out into a small, open area behind the building.  There were a few boxes stacked up along the side and large pipes coming out of the wall and disappearing into the ground.   

It would be a nice little hideaway to disappear to when he wanted to be escape.  Except he wasn't the first person to discover it. 

A girl was sitting on one of the boxes.  The sight of her made Daniel flush in embarrassment as he realized she must have seen his unceremonious arrival.  When he took a closer look, his embarrassment turned to concern.  

She was staring at him in open-mouthed astonishment, but her astonishment couldn't hide the fact that she'd been crying.  Despite her surprise at his abrupt appearance, the tears were still in evidence. 

She self consciously rubbed her eyes with both hands as colored bloomed in her pale cheeks. 

Daniel's first impulse was to make a hasty retreat but something held him still.  When she finally lowered her hands, he saw her expression of misery and embarrassment.  Her unhappiness was obvious and he couldn't just walk away, not like this. 

“Are you... okay?” he asked awkwardly. 

She sniffed hard and raised her head.   “I- I- I- I'm f-f-fine,” she declared. 

Daniel cringed at the words.  He couldn't help it.  Hearing his stock response to questions about his wellbeing coming from this girl caught him by surprise.  He often used that phrase in an effort to fool people, when he wasn't really fine, though he always tried his best to appear as if he was.  It was obvious she wasn't fine at all. 

“I'm sorry about, uh...” he gestured aimlessly with a hand, “you know, surprising you.  I was... um, I didn't know about this place.  I'm, I mean, I'm new...” 

Daniel's familiar despair over being in an uncomfortable situation descended on him.  He sounded, and probably looked like, an idiot.  The thought of running away was sounding more attractive by the second. 

To his surprise, when he dared to look at the girl again she seemed... better.  The misery was gone from her eyes, replaced by, Daniel winced inwardly, curiosity.  Yep, he must be sounding like... like... 

“I- I- I- I'm K-K-Karen...” she blinked furiously, “Lllllindsey.” 

As he listened, Daniel sensed the effort she was putting in to get the words out.  He couldn't help but respond. 

“I'm Daniel,” he said, “Daniel Jackson.”  He gestured at the small space surrounding them.  “This is pretty cool.  I wish I had a place like this.” 

Karen stared at him for a long moment before her face relaxed and she smiled unexpectedly.  

“I-I-I-I ccccould sssshare,” she offered, while running her hand through her dark red curls.  

“You could?” Daniel said hopefully. “You wouldn't mind sharing?” 

She shook her head and gestured toward one of the boxes.  For the first time, Daniel noticed a lunch bag and a book she had placed on the box she'd been sitting on.  Daniel held up his own lunch and book and Karen's smile widened. 

“W-w-what aare you rreading?” 

As she calmed down her speech became clearer.  Daniel kept that realization to himself as he sat down on the box beside hers. 

“It's about the ancient Mayan culture, actually, an archeologist's view of it.”  He waited, expecting boredom or worse. 

Her eyebrows rose.  “I-I llike American hhhistory.  What's Mmayan?” 

This time it was Daniel's eyebrows that rose.  He studied her closely and saw only interest in her green eyes.  She really wanted to know.   

He smiled, feeling at ease for the first time since waking up this morning.  “The Mayans created one of the greatest and most fascinating of the ancient cultures,” he began. 

They became so involved in talking they almost forgot about eating their lunches. The unexpected enjoyment of that hour, and Karen's promise to meet him here for lunch tomorrow, carried Daniel through the rest of the afternoon. 

It was a good thing he'd had a nice time at lunch because he was just as bored as he had expected to be with his classes. In the morning, he had sat through language arts and reading - very boring, especially considering the fact that he'd been reading since he was three years old.  Then there was mathematics.  Math was the one area he struggled in so he was grateful today to be in the sixth grade where he actually had a chance to grasp what the teacher was saying. 

That's what he'd thought until he heard the teacher say, “In understanding the relative values of integers and non-negative rational numbers, it helps to compare different representations of non-negative rational numbers by implementing strategies.  By this, I mean strategies such as like denominators and changing to the same form...” 

Daniel groaned inwardly.  He hated integers. 

After math, science had been a relief, albeit a boring one.  Geology could be fascinating, as he knew from his own personal study, but a long lecture on plate tectonics came very close to putting him to sleep. 

At least lunch had been exciting. When Daniel returned to class he discovered they were studying Spanish, and he had a hard time keeping quiet when the teacher ran the students through a series of vocabulary exercises. He was particularly indignant to hear the teacher mispronouncing some of the Spanish words, and he had to bite his tongue until it hurt to avoid correcting her. 

Worst of all was history.  Today, the class was about the Alamo and Daniel had to bite his tongue all over again when he heard the teacher lingering over the romanticized - but inaccurate - version of the battle at the Alamo. 

Previous experience taught him that arguing with teachers over subject content didn't go over well.  Better, he had discovered, to discuss his concerns with them in private.  They would be less defensive, though not necessarily more open. 

That was a battle for another day.  Keeping his chin cupped in his hand, with his fingers resting loosely over his mouth, was the best way to remember to keep quiet.  He kept glancing at the clock on the wall but the minute hand seemed to move more slowly than the hour hand. 

Another half hour and school would be over.  He could go back... 

He gritted his teeth.  He'd almost said 'home'.  What was wrong with him that he'd come so close to slipping up?  He hadn't even been at the O'Neills for a full week yet he'd - 

“Daniel Jackson?” 

He straightened abruptly, his face flushing in embarrassment at being caught not paying attention. 

Looking at the teacher, Daniel prepared himself for curt words.  He was surprised to see the teacher standing by the door, and there just outside in the hallway was Ms. Cluney from the principal's office.  Meeting her worried gaze, his heart sank.   

He didn't need to be a genius to know something was wrong.  Once out in the hall, Ms. Cluney responded to his questions with a shake of her head. 

“Just come with me, Daniel.” 

When he reached the administrative office, Daniel's first sight was of Charlie standing by the counter.  His backpack was over one shoulder and his hands were fiddling nervously with the straps.  Beside him stood an older woman who looked vaguely familiar. 

Ms. Cluney gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Mrs. O'Neill called the school to say that Mrs. Schuler - ” she nodded at the other woman, “would be taking you two boys home this afternoon.” 

Now Daniel recognized her.  She lived next door to the O'Neills.  He had met her briefly on Saturday when they had been in the back yard. 

“My dad?” Charlie said anxiously.  “Something's happened to my dad?” 

“No, dear,” Mrs. Schuler said quickly.  “When your mother called me she specifically said to tell you that both she and the Colonel are fine.  But something came up that required both of them so she asked me to pick you up.” 

Color came back into Charlie's features and he managed a laugh that didn't quite hide his relief. 

“You didn't have to.  I - we - could've walked home.” 

Mrs. Schuler smiled.  “I'm sure you could've.  But I'm glad to drive you home.  Shall we go?” she looked from Charlie to Daniel who nodded silently. 

He trailed them out to her car, his mind working furiously.  Something wasn't adding up.  Daniel knew it, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't figure out what it was. 


Driving carefully did not come naturally to Jack.  In this, as in all areas of his life, his first and strongest instinct was to push the envelope, to see how far, how fast, how close to the edge, he could go. It had taken the Air Force and, especially, Sara and Charlie, to rein in his instincts, to teach him to deal with life with a - mostly - mature attitude. 

Today he was disregarding everything a lifetime of experience had taught him.  Today, Jack drove like he was trying to win the Indianapolis 500, which was inexcusable behavior around ordinary drivers on an ordinary road. He couldn't help it.  Not today. 

The words of the phone call that had pulled him out of his meeting with General West rang in his ears.  Fear, grief for himself and for those he loved, pushed him hard.  Only some lingering semblance of self-control kept him from taking even more chances as he drove. 

He took a familiar exit off the highway and raced over the surface streets until he reached Elm Grove Drive.  As he turned onto it, Jack was struck with the memory of the first time he had turned onto this street, nineteen years ago. 

There was the house.  And there was her car.  But the ambulance was gone. 

With his heart in his throat, Jack pulled into the driveway, pausing long enough to turn off the ignition before jumping out and racing up the walk.  He grabbed the handle on the front door realizing it might be locked, but it turned easily under his hand. 

He was two steps inside, his wife's name on his lips when he saw her. 

Sara was sitting on the floor, carefully folding the remnants of what had recently been a shirt and pants.  She didn't look up, didn't seem aware that he was there. 

Jack moved forward slowly.  Pain stirred inside, trickling through his shock.  The sight of those pathetic pieces of clothing were silent evidence of what he hadn't really believed until now.  The paramedics must have cut them off of Mike when they tried to... 

He knelt beside his wife and put a hand on her arm.  “Honey,” he said softly, “let me help, okay?” 

Sara raised her head until he could see her eyes.  Normally so clear and vivid, they were now clouded with the same emotions he was struggling with.  Shock.  Disbelief.  Reality hadn't hit yet. 

“I need to tidy up,” she said in little more than a whisper, her voice eerily calm.  “Dad likes everything in its place.” 

“I know,” Jack nodded, his heart aching as he watched her mechanical folding. 

He almost said that tidiness didn't matter anymore, but he bit back the words. 

Soon, the pain would strike a vital chord in him, but he was used to shoving difficult emotions into that dark hole in his soul where he kept his most painful memories buried.  Much more important was the fact that soon the shock would wear off for Sara.  Whatever she needed from him, that's what she'd get. He would be there for her.  

All the pieces of clothing were now folded neatly in her lap and Sara reached for the last item, a belt that had been cut in half.  As she lifted the pieces, Jack recognized the belt.  It was the “genuine cowboy belt” with a large, shiny silver buckle that Charlie had bought during a family vacation to Texas a couple of years ago, and given to his grandfather for his birthday. 

Sara ran her fingers over the design carved into the leather and her face crumpled.  Jack wrapped his arms around her, pulling her against him as tears slid down her cheeks. 

Her slender body trembled in his arms and his own pain expanded, filling him.  He held her tightly, wishing for words but knowing all the words in the world were useless. 

“'ll 'lone,” she wept against his chest. 

“What?” Jack asked, then wondered if he should have kept quiet. 

“He was all alone,” she cried.  “I didn't come over this morning the way we'd planned.  Dad died all alone...” Sobs shook her.  “He was all alone.  I wasn't here...” 

Grief overwhelmed her and all he could do was hold her. 

Kneeling in the living room of a house he knew almost as well as his own, Jack remembered the man who had built it.  Mike Ridgeway had been a big man in every way.  He had started out in construction, eventually obtaining his contractor's license, and then taking a huge risk by branching out into his own business.  It was a business that had slowly grown until he had ended up an immensely successful business man. 

Yet Mike had always been happiest out in the field, leaving the paperwork to employees while he kept a close eye on the projects handled by his company - a close eye and, often, a close hand.  He had enjoyed nothing as much as getting up close and personal with the construction work. 

Jack had been in his second year at the Air Force Academy when he had first met Mike.  A blind date set up by a friend had introduced him to Sara, and Jack had known immediately that she was something special.  So special, he was willing to face down an immensely protective Mike in order to continue dating her. Though Sara had been in her second year of college at the time, she was still - and, he gradually realized, would always be - Mike's 'little girl'.  Finally winning the man's approval had meant more to Jack than all the honors and medals he had received during his years in the Air Force. 

Holding his sobbing wife, Jack was grateful to the fates for bringing them back to Colorado Springs nearly two years ago.  Returning to Sara's home town and being physically close to her father again, had meant the world to her.  As for Mike, being able to visit often with his daughter and her family, and for the first time in his life being able to spend time with his grandson, had meant the world to him.  He'd told Jack so, in a gruff aside, at Charlie's birthday party last year. 

Jack closed his eyes, resting his chin on his wife's head as the memories brought a flood of sorrow.  He grieved for his wife's pain and for the pain Charlie would soon feel.  He had grown close to Mike over the years and he grieved for his own loss as well.  The thought of that strong, smiling, always supportive figure gone from their lives was too painful to acknowledge.  

He thought back to the last time he had seen his father-in-law.  It had been the weekend before Daniel came to live with them.  Mike had come over for Sunday dinner and he, Jack and Charlie had gotten into a good-natured wrangle over baseball - Mike's long-time love - versus hockey. 

Jack swallowed at the memory of the laughter they had shared, of Charlie ending the argument by dropping down on the couch beside his grandfather with a loud exclamation - “They're both better than ballet!” 

It had been a day filled with laughter.  And love, even if it was mostly unexpressed.  A good day.  Filled with good memories. 

Holding his wife close, Jack realized afresh how much he owed the man, especially for the woman he held in his arms and for the little boy who would be coming home soon.  Home.  He owed Mike for Sara and Charlie who were his real home. 

“Thanks, Mike,” he whispered. 


Four days later, Daniel sat on the edge of his bed and wished he could be anywhere but here.  The memorial service for Sara's father was scheduled for this morning. Thank goodness he had summoned up the courage yesterday to tell Jack - he couldn't face Sara - that he didn't want to go.  To his great relief, Jack had said he didn't have to go and had asked Mrs. Schuler from next door to come by to keep an eye on things.  Though Daniel wanted to protest that he was almost eleven years old and didn't need a babysitter, he had remained silent.  He would happily endure Mrs. Schuler if it meant not going to the service. 

Despite his relief, Daniel still felt wretched, a feeling only made worse by his memory of the conversation he had heard between Jack and Sara in the kitchen the night after her father had died. He had gone downstairs to look for a book he had mislaid but had barely reached the foot of the stairs when he heard Sara. 

“ - but I wasn't!” she wept. 

Daniel froze as he heard Jack's voice, soft and filled with an emotion he had never heard from the man. 

“Honey, there's no way you could've known.” 

“But if I'd only gone... I was supposed to.  That's what we had originally planned, to have breakfast together.  But I cancelled at the last minute... I was talking to that principal while Dad was dying... all alone - ” 

Her anguished, guilt-filled words broke off in a sob.  Jack said something, too softly to hear, but his murmured voice broke through Daniel's shock and sent him fleeing back upstairs. 

As hard as he tried, Daniel had been unable to forget what he'd heard that night.  It was because of him Sara hadn't been with her father when he had the heart attack.  Sara was not only a grown-up, she was a nurse.  If she'd been with her father, she might have been able to save him.  Her father might not have died. 

Except she hadn't been with her father.  She had been at the school, talking to Principal Sutton.  Because of him. 

Daniel winced under the accusing thought and wrapped his arms tightly around himself.  If not for him... 

The last few days he had done his best not to think about it.  Looking desperately for a distraction from the grief in this house, Daniel had even, much to his surprise, joined the Chess Club. That had actually come about accidentally.  He had been standing in the hall between classes, staring blindly at the announcements, flyers, and other papers on the bulletin board, when Mr. Connors came by. 

Although a history teacher, Mr. Connors had also - Daniel discovered - started the Chess Club for interested students several years ago.  Finding Daniel apparently reading the notice about the next chess match, Mr. Connors had greeted him warmly and... somehow, Daniel wasn't sure how... things had ended with him signing up.  So far he'd been to one meeting and as expected, the other kids in the club were standoffish with him, the new kid. But Mr. Connors seemed nice.  And it helped to be out of the house... except... 

Except he had to keep coming back here, to see Sara's grief and be silently reminded of the bitter truth -  

If he had not come to this house, Sara's father might still be alive. 

Guilt churned in his stomach and he took a deep, shaky breath.  No, he couldn't be sick.  He had to hold on, wait until Sara and Jack and Charlie left.  

Nausea suddenly filled his throat and Daniel jumped off his bed. He had to get to the bathroom.  

He ran hastily out into the hall, in such a hurry that he didn't notice the bathroom door was closed until he almost slammed into it.  As he skidded to a stop the door opened to reveal Charlie.   

Daniel cringed at the sight of the misery on the other boy's face.  Here was the other reason he had tried so hard to stay out of the house since the death of Sara's father, Charlie's grandfather. 

There had been no evidence of the usual high-spirited, laughing, outgoing Charlie these past few days.  The brown eyes that met his were cloudy with pain and grief and Daniel wished desperately he had remained holed up in his room until the O'Neills had left. 

“We're leaving in ten minutes,” Charlie said quietly. 

Daniel saw him swallow and had to do the same.  Obviously, Jack hadn't told Charlie that Daniel was staying home. 

“I'm not going.” 

Charlie blinked, then his eyes darkened.  “What?” 

“I'm...” Daniel swallowed again.  “I'm not going to the service.  I'm staying here.” 

“You're not going?”  The pain-dulled brown eyes sparked with anger.  

“I, I didn't know him...”  Daniel heard the defensiveness in his voice but couldn't help it.  His words were true.  He hadn't known Sara's father.  Of course, there was a lot more to it than that, but Daniel wasn't about to go into it with the O'Neills.  Besides, Jack had seemed satisfied with the brief explanation, or at least he hadn't questioned it. 

Charlie was questioning it.  “So what?  You know us.  Memorial services aren't just about who died.  They're also about - ” his face twisted before he caught himself.  “About supporting the family, and about showing respect...” His voice thickened and he stopped. 

For a split second, no longer than the first flash of lightning in a summer storm, Daniel saw himself standing in a crowd of people during an unseasonably hot day, the hand of a stranger, a social worker, on his shoulder while some minister he'd never seen before droned generic phrases over two coffins resting beside two deep holes in the ground... 

So strong, so vivid, so agonizing was the memory that it actually rocked Daniel back on his heels.  He shook his head hard, blinking furiously to force back the tears that had sprung to his eyes. 

“... that's it?” 

A few more blinks brought his vision into focus, and he wished he was somewhere, anywhere but here.  Charlie was still standing before him and anger had shaken him from the lethargy of the last few days.  His brown eyes blazed at Daniel who instinctively took a step back. 

They faced each other, both of them breathing hard.  Charlie's face was flushed and tears glittered in his eyes.  It struck Daniel, even though the other boy had never said anything, how much Charlie must have loved his grandfather, and how much he was hurting now. Daniel shied back from the understanding.  He was carrying too much pain of his own.  He couldn't handle anyone else's. 

“Hey.” 

Daniel had never been so grateful to hear Jack's voice and he backed away a couple more steps as the man reached them.  He felt Jack's searching gaze on him but kept his eyes down, then was startled to feel a large hand rest on his shoulder. 

Without thinking, he stepped away from it.  “I... uh, excuse me.” 

He slipped around Jack and hurried back to his room, acutely aware that two sets of brown eyes were following him.  Quietly, he closed his door behind him and dropped down on his bed, grateful for his sanctuary.   

Yet even in the privacy of his room Daniel couldn't forget the naked grief and misery in Charlie's eyes.  And he couldn't suppress his grief and pain for his own loss that the sorrow in this house had reawakened. 

Daniel threw himself face down on his bed and buried his face in the soft quilt.  No, on second thought, his room wasn't such a sanctuary after all.  
 

Chapter 5 
 

Daniel was surprised at how quickly things returned to normal in the O'Neill household. Sara never seemed to stop smiling at him, Jack talked louder and actually made more dumb jokes than usual, and Charlie went back to school and acted as if nothing had happened. It was the same when his parents had died. After a few days, no one talked about it and no one seemed sad. Daniel was glad that he fought every day to keep his parents' memories alive no matter what the cost. He wondered if Sara secretly did the same.  

"Knock, knock." It was Jack. Even after he knocked on the door and Daniel invited him in, Jack would open the door and stand in the doorway and say 'knock knock'. It was annoying. 

Daniel looked up from his book. The man was wearing his usual half-grin, half-smirk, and that annoyed him even more.  

"Charlie and I are going to drive out to the old airstrip and rummage around. Why don't you come with us?" Jack offered.  

"No thank you."  

"Come on, Daniel, it'll be fun."   

'It'll be fun.' That's how most of their conversations went. Daniel always said 'no' and Jack always said it would be fun. He wondered when Jack would take the hint and quit asking him. Daniel was positive Jack didn't want him to tag along and only asked because Sara made him.   

"If I didn't know better I'd think you don't like me."  

Daniel shrugged and looked down at his book. He didn't care what Jack thought because maybe it was true. Besides, during that same conversation when he'd overheard Jack tell Sara that he and Charlie were trying, Jack had also told Sara that Daniel was an odd kid who didn't have much in common with Charlie because Charlie was more athletic while he, Daniel Jackson, was more of a geek. Daniel had never had an adult mock him by calling him a geek.  Maybe other foster parents had thought that of him but Daniel had never heard any of them say it out loud.   

That was the night he had cried into his pillow. It wasn't just the geek thing. He was used to that. Jack's words were a reminder that he didn't belong here. He didn't fit in. For two years Daniel's only wish, his only dream, was to go home. The only problem was... he no longer had a home to go to.  

So this had become their standard routine. Whenever Jack and Charlie went out and did things together Jack would ask Daniel to go and Daniel would say 'no thank you'. Why should he go? Jack didn't like him and thought he was a geek, and since Mike's death, Charlie had become indifferent.  

It was better this way. He could stay indefinitely at this rate. He really wasn't much trouble and he wasn't bothering anybody.  

And if Jack thought Daniel didn't like him, or want to do things with him, that was fine because it was true. He didn't want to. Daniel Jackson hated being where he wasn't wanted. That would be too pathetic, even for an orphan.  


"Daniel and I don't seem to have much in common," Jack said. It wasn't a complaint, more of a statement of fact.  

Sara closed one dresser drawer and opened another to put in some freshly laundered shirts before looking up at him.  "You need to bond with him. Find something the two of you can do together. You're not even trying, Jack." 

He hated when she said that. "I am trying." And he was. He had suggested all kinds of activities and Daniel had turned his nose up at every single one of them. "He doesn't want to do anything with me. I'm not going to force him." 

Sara was quiet for a minute and he could see the wheels turning. That always scared the crap out of him.  

"He likes chess," she said slowly. "He joined the Chess Club at school and I know that was difficult for him. He's not a joiner." 

No? Really? Jack bit his tongue and nodded his agreement.  

"His first tournament is Saturday. Maybe you could take him." 

"I thought you were taking him."  

"I was but it might be something nice you could do together, just the two of you."  

A chess tournament? Kids actually did that? Sat in chairs for hours and played chess? 

"He'd be happier if you took him. He likes you better." Jack pouted for maximum effect.  

Sara rolled her eyes and admirably refrained from saying, 'does not.' "You just need to work harder at finding things he likes. You and Charlie don't include him."  

Jack frowned at the accusation. "That's not fair. He doesn't want to do things with us. I always ask him." 

"I know you do. But I don't think he really feels welcome to join in."  

That was possible but it was difficult to know how far to push Daniel. Most of the time the kid seemed happier when he was left alone. Jack didn't want to push Charlie too hard either. The boys needed to find the boundaries and depths of their friendship on their own.  

"Forcing it will make it worse." 

"I know. You're right," Sara sighed. "It's just that... whether it's self-imposed or not, sometimes I can feel Daniel's loneliness." 

Jack kissed his wife's cheek. "Give it some time to work itself out." Sara was so good and he was so... not.  

"You'll go to the chess tournament with him?" She was cheating, blowing in his ear as she asked.  

"Sure." As if he could say 'no' to that. He turned his head to kiss her cheek in an effort to distract her from thinking up any more brilliant ideas for him to carry out.  "I'll take him." 

"You know... you could play a game with him to get in the swing of it."  

She was un-distractible. He wished he were as focused. "A game of chess?" 

"Why not? It's something he likes to talk about. He joined that club, he must really like it." 

Jack frowned. "I'm special ops trained in military strategy, honey. He's ten. Do you really think that's such a good idea?" 

"Afraid you'll lose?"  

"No." He realized he'd replied a little too quickly when she had the audacity to smirk at him.  

"Okay, maybe," he conceded, recalling what she'd told him about Daniel's I.Q. tests. That got a chuckle. He could always make her laugh.  It was an even greater accomplishment now, since Mike's death. 

"Wait til tomorrow to tell him you're taking him. I don't want to stress him out." 

"I stress him out?" 

She rubbed his arm to soothe his ruffled feathers. "It's not really you. I think he's had bad experiences with foster dads."  

"Right." That wasn't Jack's take on it. Daniel didn't seem afraid of him. More like... annoyed. He bit his tongue since the jury was still out and wondered what one wore to a chess tournament. Plaid seemed like the best bet.  


Saturday morning, Jack reluctantly climbed the stairs and debated how to break the news to Daniel that he - not Sara - would be taking him to the chess tournament. Daniel wasn't going to be happy about it so Jack decided to keep it light and casual. 

“Hey, buddy, all set for the big game?" he asked as he pushed open the half-closed door. 

"It's called a match," Daniel mumbled while pulling on a blue plaid shirt.  

Plaid.  Aha! Score one for O'Neill. And Sara complained he had no fashion sense.  

"Right." Jack stood in the doorway with his jacket on, rubbing his hands together, the picture of enthusiasm while pretending not to notice Daniel's disappointment.  

"I thought Sara was taking me."  

"She was but something came up so you're stuck with me. Ready?" 

"Okay." Daniel shrugged dubiously. 

Annoyed. Definitely not afraid.   

As they drove toward the school where the chess tournament was being held, Jack pondered what to say to break the extremely quiet car ride until Daniel did it for him.  

"Do you know how to play chess?"  

"Yes, of course I know how to play. Why? Can adults enter the tournament?" That might be fun. Jack was actually pretty damned good at chess. He'd love to kick some adult geek ass.   

"No, I just thought if you'd be bored you could drop me off and pick me up in a couple of hours when it's over."  

It was tempting. Jack glanced over to see if the kid was serious. The blue eyes were studying him carefully while he chewed his lower lip. Nope, Sara would kill him.  

"No, it's okay. I won't be bored. I want to see you play." 

They reached Hilldale Middle School before Daniel spoke again. "Jack?" 

"Hmm?" 

"You can't cheer at chess tournaments like at baseball games." 

Jack turned the car into the parking lot and tried not to laugh. "Really?" The kid didn't have much faith in his social skills.  

"It would be considered extremely rude and might distract the players."  

"So no, 'go, Daniel, kick that queen's butt'?"  

"It's quiet at chess tournaments."  

"I can do quiet." Jack pretended not to notice the look of horror on Daniel's face at the queen comment. 

After he turned off the ignition, Jack glanced at his passenger but Daniel didn't seem to be in any hurry to get out of the car.  Pre-game jitters, he figured.  Understandable. 

“Come on, kiddo,” he urged.  “It's time to fish or cut bait.” 

Daniel gave him a confused look and Jack bit back a grin.  Let the kid chew that one over.  Maybe it would help distract him from his nervousness.   

Once inside, Daniel quickly found his classmates and reluctantly introduced Jack to Mr. Connors.  

"Nice to meet you. Daniel is quite gifted. You must be very proud."  

"Gifted?" Jack stuck out his hand to shake.  

"He's an excellent chess player. One of the best I've ever coached in his age group." 

"Yes, well... good." Jack shook hands and watched Daniel bow his head and blush.   

He had realized the kid was smart even before Sara told him about her conversation with the school principal and Daniel's I.Q. test results. Though they hadn't said anything to their son, Charlie clearly realized it, too. The other day Charlie had referred to Daniel as 'Brainiac.'  Unfortunately for the boy, Sara - who detested name-calling of any kind - had overheard and Charlie had ended up getting an earful. 

Jack still hadn't decided how to handle the whole “Daniel is a genius” thing.  Maybe, as Sara insisted, there was nothing to handle.  According to her, his I.Q. notwithstanding, Daniel was ten years old and needed to be treated as a ten-year-old, even while they did their best to nourish his brilliant young mind.   

He knew better than to argue with his wife when she was in that kind of a mood.  Besides, she was probably right.  But Jack was still concerned, especially for Charlie.  They'd known going into this that Daniel had a lot of emotional baggage.  Add to that something they hadn't known about, an off-the-charts intelligence, and Jack wasn't sure who he felt sorrier for... Daniel or Charlie. 

Jack came back from his musings in time to see Daniel disappear into a sea of kids so he made his way to the chairs designated for parents and visitors. He was stunned at the number of tables set up with timers for each match. He had no idea chess was so popular. He had been expecting a couple of nerdy kids in bow ties.  

He was equally stunned at how easily Daniel defeated each of his opponents. It wasn't long before the skinny blonde kid in the big round glasses was standing amid a cheering throng of fellow teammates holding up a trophy. Now that was something Jack could relate to. He watched with interest as Daniel's face lit up with the first genuine smile Jack had seen since the kid's arrival.  

"That kid is good," the man in the neighboring chair muttered as he stood up. "Really good." 

"He's with me," Jack bragged as he stood up and stretched before going over to offer his congratulations.  

"Let's see the hardware," he demanded to the newly crowned blonde chess whiz.  

Daniel reluctantly handed over the trophy.  

"Nice." Jack let out a low, appreciative whistle noting that Daniel had looked far happier about it with his teacher and fellow classmates than he did now. Sara was wrong. Daniel wasn't nervous around him, Daniel simply didn't like him and that bothered the crap out of him. Why didn't Daniel like him? Kids always liked him. He tried to be a good guy, especially with kids.  What was not to like?  

Daniel simply shrugged. 

"What, you don't like me?  It. I mean, you don't like it?" Jack held up the trophy to cover his faux pas.  

"It's okay," Daniel answered. "It's not a sports trophy." 

"Who said it has to be a sports trophy?" Jack studied Daniel intently as they made their way to the car.  All he got in response was a frown.  

"How about we stop for ice cream to celebrate?" Jack clicked his seatbelt and glanced in the rearview mirror to be sure Daniel had done the same.  

"You don't have to take me." Daniel stared down at his trophy, his fingers running appreciatively across the etched words.  

"Well, maybe I want ice cream." Jack was determined to get to the bottom of this.  

Daniel's eyebrows rose in surprise when they pulled into Anderson's parking lot.  

"Best ice cream in town," Jack said over his shoulder. 

"Shouldn't we go home and pick up Charlie and Sara?"   

Jack frowned. "Heck no. Let 'em get their own ice cream."  He got out of the car, his frown deepening when he noticed Daniel wasn't moving. "C'mon," he encouraged.  

Daniel reluctantly trailed after him into the store and sat down beside him at the counter.  A teenaged boy wearing an apron came over to serve them. 

"What'll you have, guys?"   

After much soul-searching Daniel decided on the coffee lover's delight sundae while Jack lived it up with the peanut butter bliss.   

When Daniel was relaxed and happily eating away Jack made his move. "You don't like me much, do ya, sport?"  

Daniel appeared shocked at the directness but Jack wasn't one to beat around the bush. He was a recently promoted Air Force Colonel; he had a master's degree from Northwestern; he had graduated second in his class for Special Forces training and in his heart he still felt he should have been first. Jack O'Neill had confidence, command skills, and he thought he was a pretty good husband and father to boot. At least he tried. It shouldn't matter that an orphaned ten-year-old had no use for him. But it did. It bugged the crap out of him and he was determined to get to the bottom of it right now.  

Daniel lifted his head from the sundae he was shoveling in and looked him straight in the eye. "You don't like me." It wasn't a question but a statement of fact.  

Jack resisted the urge to deny it. He admired the kid's guts in answering the question honestly, head on, and didn't want to give a pat answer.  

"Why do you say that?" 

"I heard you tell Sara that Charlie and I don't have much in common because I'm more of a geek. It's okay, Jack. I don't care." Daniel was so casual, it would be easy to believe him. 

Shit! Jack had a big mouth but he honestly hadn't meant anything derogatory. He could fix this. "You're right, I did say that, but I meant it in the best of ways."  

Daniel licked his spoon and waited.  

"I'll admit that back in the old days when I was a kid, being a geek was a negative but nowadays... well, you know, it's all different now." 

"It is?" For the first time, Daniel seemed genuinely interested in what he had to say.  

"Surely a kid as smart as you must have noticed."  

Daniel tilted his head and worried his bottom lip, obviously intrigued.  

Jack set his spoon down to concentrate. This was his big chance to get it right and he was determined not to blow it. "Where I work, the scientists make all the money and on the average they're twice as smart as the officers." Jack raised his finger for emphasis, "I'd venture to guess three or four times smarter than the jarheads." 

"Really?" The question was filled with hope.  

"Oh yes. Take the Geek Squad at Best Buy for example. They actually advertise they're geeks. Do you think they'd do that if it was a put down? Of course they wouldn't.  Not all of us can do that job."  

"Geek Squad?"  

Jack waved him off. "Forget the Geek Squad, I'm just saying that super geeks are in demand everywhere."  

Daniel blinked at that. "Am I a super geek?" 

Hmm, could be a trick question. "Do you want to be?"  

"Maybe. So..." Daniel raised his index finger to his lips. "Geeks are good?" 

"Yep, the word has gone full cycle. Now it's a good thing." When Daniel's eyes scrunched in suspicion Jack decided to dial it down a notch and bring it home.  "In your case, it means you're smarter than the average person." He gave Daniel a wink and a smile, hoping that would settle it.   

Daniel appeared satisfied and smiled back. "Were you a geek, Jack?" 

Oh, not hardly, my boy. "Me? No. I've always been more like... the Fonz." He smirked and scooped up the last spoonful of his peanut butter bliss.  

"Who's the Fonz?" Daniel asked, wrinkling his nose in confusion. 

"Arthur Fonzarelli, the coolest..." Jack stopped short at the blank look in the blue eyes. "Never mind. Doesn't matter. The point is geeks rule the world and the rest of us just have to live with it."  

Jack was relieved at Daniel's genuine smile and made a mental note to be more careful about what he said to Sara when he thought no one was listening.  

He pulled out some preemptive napkins while Daniel took his time and happily savored the last spoonful of melted mocha, his tongue darting out to catch a drip making its way down his chin.  

"Jack," Daniel said thoughtfully. "Maybe the geeks at your work aren't as smart as you think they are."    

"Why would you say that?" 

Daniel took his time, wiping at the sticky mess on his chin.  “They got the translation all wrong. They think it says 'door to heaven' but it doesn't say that. I think it says 'gateway to the stars.'" 

Stunned, Jack glanced around at the nearby booths, relieved to find them empty. "Come on."  

He left a couple of bucks on the counter and led Daniel out to the car, his mind racing in an effort to figure out where Daniel could possibly have come up with that top secret bit of Intel. He had the highest level of clearance and was always careful. Extremely careful.  

Sara had warned Daniel not to go into his home office. No one was allowed in there without permission. Daniel must have disobeyed.  Jack bit back his growing anger at the thought.  Don't jump to conclusions, O'Neill.  Give the kid a chance to explain. 

As soon as both car doors were closed Jack turned to face the little geek in the back seat and in the calmest voice he could muster asked the million-dollar question. "Daniel, how did you know that?" 

"Know what?" Daniel seemed distractedly oblivious.  

"About the gateway at my work. How did you know about it?" 

Jack knew the moment Daniel understood the implication of the question. The poor kid turned a fairly deep shade of red.  

"It's okay," Jack coaxed. "I'm not mad. I'm just wondering how you knew, that's all." 

"I read it in your papers," Daniel confessed to the car mats. "I-I'm sorry, Jack. I shouldn't have looked at your papers.  Sara answered the phone and I didn't want to listen and I didn't know I wasn't supposed to go in your office then so I did and...” He gulped audibly.  “I'm really sorry." 

Jack stared at the kid in amazement. Yes, he had brought the files home and, yes, Daniel had obviously seen them, but how could he possibly know what they said? He had to be guessing. That's all there was to it.  Except... his guesses were awfully close to the scientists' guesses... 

"It's okay," Jack reassured him. "I'm just wondering why you think the geeks got it wrong."  

Daniel relaxed at Jack's deliberately casual attitude. "It's written in the Egyptian snake code. My mom and dad taught me how to read it when they discovered artifacts with that writing. We called it the snake code because a lot of the artifacts had serpents on them."   

Jack felt like his head was spinning. This couldn't be happening. But here was Daniel, orphaned child genius, raised in Egypt by his parents, parents who he now realized, they knew very little about. He was aware they had been archaeologists and linguists, and apparently they had also been smart.  Very, very smart.  

He'd have to take Daniel to the Mountain to figure out just how smart.    
 

Chapter 6 
 

"Jack, why do I have to come to work with you?" Daniel finally found the courage to ask the question that was making him sweat in the back seat of the Avalanche.   

Mercifully, Jack stopped his maddening, tuneless whistling to answer. "I want to show you a few artifacts with the snake code writing on it. See if you can tell us what it says. Relax, it'll be fun." 

"How come you wouldn't let Charlie come? He really, really wanted to come. I think he was mad."  

That's what bothered Daniel the most. Charlie had begged to come to Jack's work. Apparently, Jack had never taken him. Despite Charlie's pleas Jack wouldn't budge, he absolutely forbid it. Charlie was the 'real' kid. If this were a truly fun event, Charlie would be going, not the foster kid. Nope, Daniel had a sinking feeling this wasn't going to be fun at all. He nervously played with his seatbelt and desperately wished he were home with Sara and Jack was driving to work by himself.  

"Charlie doesn't know the snake code," Jack said mildly as he pulled into a huge parking lot and led him out of the truck and up to the entrance.  

"This is your work?" They were entering a mountain. Daniel couldn't help gaping at the huge access doors. He was aware Jack worked at Cheyenne Mountain, but for some reason, it hadn't occurred to him that it was an actual mountain.  

It was silly but Daniel wished he could hold Jack's hand when they stepped inside the dark, foreboding Air Force base and the heavy steel doors locked behind them.  

"This is my friend, Daniel Jackson. He needs an I.D. badge," Jack said to the guard when he stopped at the desk to sign his name.  

"Yes, sir."  The airman immediately went to work on the computer and whipped up a name tag in no time flat.  

Daniel didn't know much about the military or the Air Force but he noticed that the soldiers called Jack 'sir' and saluted so Jack must be very important. That was a surprise.  

"Here ya go, son." Too nervous to speak, Daniel just nodded as the airman looped the badge over his head.   

"Thank you," he squeaked out at Jack's urging.   

Jack took the lead and Daniel followed closely, terrified at the thought of getting lost. They stopped at the elevators and Jack gave him a long look.   

"You okay?" 

"I'm fine," Daniel answered quickly. Sometimes, saying it made him feel better.  

"Okay." Jack cocked an eyebrow at him. "Good. I'm going to take you to meet a few people and they'll show you the writing. You sure you're okay?"   

"Fine."  

Jack nodded as the elevator doors opened and they traveled quickly through a maze of corridors. Jack walked rather briskly and Daniel focused on keeping up. Without Jack, Daniel was positive he'd be hopelessly lost.  

Relief swept through Daniel when they finally stopped and entered a lab designated Archaeology Department. He was sad to realize the familiar word no longer held much comfort.   

"Good morning, campers! How are my favorite scientists today?" The scientists all glared but Jack didn't seem to notice. "Daniel, this is Captain Carter, Dr. Meyers, Dr. Shore and their staff. Everyone, this is Daniel Jackson. Show him what ya got, see what he knows. I'll be in my office if you need me." 

Jack was leaving him here? He wished he could wrap his arms around Jack's waist and beg him to stay. But he wasn't a baby, and despite what Jack had said about geeks and super geeks, Daniel was quite certain Jack didn't actually like him. They didn't have anything in common, and to make matters worse, he had read through Jack's private work papers.  Come to think of it, Jack had probably never wanted another kid in the first place. Daniel Jackson was most likely Sara's idea. Today it was obvious Jack couldn't wait to get away from him.  

"He's got to be kidding," Dr. Meyers roared as soon as Jack had left the room. "This is an outrage." He pointed at Daniel. "He's a, a, he's a child!"   

The other scientists mumbled their agreement. "No offense, kid," Dr. Shore offered as Daniel blushed a rosy shade of red. 

"That's enough," the pretty blonde woman said. "He's here so obviously the Colonel thinks he may have something to contribute. Let's get to it."  

"This is ridiculous. I'm not sharing two years of my life's work, that's top secret I might add, with a little kid. This is what happens when the military tries to run a project like this. They shouldn't be involved. They're clueless. They turn everything into a three-ring circus. No offense, Captain."  

Daniel wished the floor would open and swallow him up. 

The blonde woman looked annoyed but kept her cool. "It won't hurt to show him a few writings. Even if just to satisfy the Colonel and report that we tried." She turned her attention to him and smiled. "Have a seat, Daniel."   

Daniel obediently climbed up in the chair, relieved when the woman sat beside him. She opened up her briefcase and removed some papers. After looking them over briefly she carefully selected one.  

"By the way, I'm Captain Samantha Carter." She smiled. "You can call me Sam." He felt slightly better when she winked at him.    

"Can you read this, Daniel?" She pushed the paper towards him.  

He looked down at the writing and tried to block out the angry adult faces. He wanted to scream that it wasn't his fault. He hadn't wanted to come to Cheyenne Mountain, or to Colorado for that matter. He hadn't even wanted to come to New York that deadly summer. None of it was his fault.  

The phrase was a simple one that his mind translated immediately. Would it be better to tell them what it said or pretend he didn't know?  He wasn't sure. The woman, Sam, stared expectantly. She was pretty and nice and he didn't want to disappoint her. Still, it would probably be safer to deny any knowledge. Maybe then they'd let him go home to Sara and Charlie. 

Before he had a chance to answer, Dr. Meyers snickered again about wasting precious time. They were so confident he couldn't do it. It made him angry. He'd show them.  

" Hakorr kra terak shree," Daniel said slowly, pleased at the attention he was commanding. "It means, 'banished to oblivion'." He pushed his glasses up his nose and smiled sweetly. It was fun seeing the look of shock on the geeks' faces.  

"Wait here," Sam said quickly. A few minutes later she returned with a canopic jar.  

"Can you read this?" Sam placed the jar before him.  

Of course he could. He knew the snake code and could read anything written in it.  He froze at the words. 

"It was a fluke!" Dr. Meyer's smug voice rose with delight and relief at his hesitation.   

When Daniel reached out to touch the jar his heart lurched unexpectedly. The jar was from Egypt. Home. His home. For the past two years, every day had found him further away from the home he loved. He scrunched his eyes closed to fight back the tears and squelch down the panic rising in his chest. His home was gone. He'd never go home again. He had been showing off his linguistic skills to Jack at the ice cream parlor and now he was stuck here where the sun never rose off the golden sand or set in the pink sky beyond the pyramids. He was here, trapped in a dark, gloomy mountain in Colorado. About as far away from home as he had ever been.  

"Tal met. Priem ta shree, tal ma," he translated, willing his voice to stop shaking. "It means, 'our love does not end in death.'"  

The snakes got that one wrong. He hadn't felt loved in a very long time. He glanced down at his hands, wondering why no one seemed happy about his abilities. They set more papers in front of him along with a few odd-looking artifacts.   

Daniel took a deep breath of the re-circulated air, glanced around the table at the stern faces and began to translate.  


"O'Neill." Jack answered his phone on the first ring, thrilled for any distraction from the never-ending pile of paperwork.  

"Sir, this is Captain Carter..." 

Jack glanced at his watch. Holy crap, two o'clock already. Time always flew at the Mountain, especially with meetings all morning and General West climbing all over his ass for promised, slightly overdue reports.   

"How's Daniel?" He must be fine or they would have called.  

"Great. He knows his stuff, sir." 

"Well, what do ya know?" Hot damn. Of all the kids for Sara to bring home... He couldn't help marveling at the coincidence.   

"And he's okay?" Jack tried not to sound anxious. He could kick himself for not checking on the kid sooner.  

"He was doing fine this morning, Colonel. I was called away and I just went back there, and to be honest, sir, he looks pretty worn out. He's says he's fine but he hasn't eaten lunch."  

"Oh for crying out loud," Jack muttered. "Scientists don't eat lunch?"  

"They ate, sir. Apparently they brought in some lunch for Daniel but he didn't eat.  He said he wasn't hungry but..." 

"Yeah, never mind the rest, Carter. I'll go down there and get him. Thanks for the heads-up." 

Jack shook off the feelings of guilt and headed for the lab. Maybe he had forgotten about the kid for a couple of hours but he was busy and besides, Daniel didn't like him all that much anyway. The kid was probably just as glad to get rid of him.  

"Jack?" Daniel said in a very quiet voice as they sat in the commissary.  

"What?  The burger's no good? They don't have the best food here."  

"Are you going to leave me here?" Daniel stared down at the barely-eaten burger. 

"Where?"  

"Here." 

"Here? In the cafeteria?" 

"In the Mountain." 

"Do you like it here?" 

Daniel looked up and for the first time Jack saw how close to tears the poor kid was.  

"The scientists don't like me."  

"They don't like you?"  

“They don't like that I can translate the snake writings.  They said I don't belong here, that I'm interfering with an important project they've spent the last two years of their lives working on.  They don't want me here.”  He stopped abruptly, not quite able to swallow a gulp. 

Jack gritted his teeth.  Those damn scientists!  Carter had said Daniel knew his stuff.  What the hell was the matter with them?  They'd been spinning their wheels for two years.  If Daniel could help them out you'd think they'd be jumping up and down in gratitude.  

Wait a minute.  Now he got it.  They were jealous.  Those damn, smug, think-they-know-it-all scientists were jealous of a ten-year-old genius.  His temper flared at the thought. Jack took help wherever he could get it. His pride and dignity never figured into the equation. 

“Yeah, they're right,” he said slowly.  “They have been working on this project for two years.  And they're stuck.  They've been going over the same stuff for months and not getting anywhere with it.  Maybe you can help them out.” 

Daniel shook his head, staring at his plate again.  “They don't want my help.  I translated the writing on a jar they hadn't been able to understand and they weren't happy about it, not at all.” 

“How do you know you got it right?” Jack asked cautiously, not wanting to make the kid feel worse. 

Daniel shrugged.  “Because it matched some writing from a fragment of papyrus that Captain - that Sam has.” 

Excitement stirred in Jack's gut.  This kid was the genuine article.  Was it possible he might actually be able to solve this riddle that Carter's people hadn't figured out after two years of trying? 

One thing was certain.  He needed to give Daniel as much support and encouragement as possible to keep him going on this.  He'd talk to Carter, too, tell her to rein in her scientists or he would. 

“Of course you're not staying here, Daniel,” he said reassuringly.  At that, the blonde head rose quickly and the boy looked at him with suspiciously bright but hopeful eyes. 

“You're coming back home with me,” Jack said firmly.  “But I'd like to bring you back here...”  

Damn, the kid was starting to droop again.  Jack spoke more quickly. 

“This could be important.  The scientists need your help, even if they don't want to admit it.  Maybe just once in a while, you could come back here with me and help them out.  What d'ya say?” 

Daniel didn't look thrilled with the idea.  Jack had a sudden flash of Sara's reaction if she found out he was trying to persuade the kid to do something he really didn't want to do.  Not a good thought.  Maybe he needed to go about this another way. 

“Your folks taught you the snake language, right?” 

“Yes.” The blue eyes blinked at him in surprise.   

“And they obviously taught you good.” 

Daniel lifted his chin.  “They were the best in their field.  Everyone said so.” There was no missing the pride in his voice. 

It had been two years since his parents had died.  Jack realized with a pang of sympathy that Daniel hadn't let go.  He was still holding on to his dead parents, still holding on to a life that was no longer his.  Other things came into focus and Jack knew he needed to talk to Sara. 

“Maybe,” he said with a new gentleness, “you could teach Captain Carter and her scientists some of what your folks taught you.  They could sure use your help, even if they say they don't.” 

This time Jack didn't see the same resistance in the boy's eyes and followed that up quickly.  “You don't have to come back if you really don't want to but maybe you can think about it.  Okay?” 

Daniel was still for a moment, then he nodded cautiously.  “Okay, I'll think about it.” 

“Okay.” Jack sat back in his chair and smiled.   

On to Part 2

 

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