A Series of Unfortuate Events by iiiieyes
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Category: General
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Friendship, Team
Rated: All Ages
Warnings: None
Series: The Fountain of Youth Series
Summary: #8 in The Fountain of Youth Series. An unusual off-world vacation takes a strange and fantastical turn, capping a series of unfortunate events.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events


I really hate when a beautiful day gets shot to hell like this. We’re five minutes from the Gate and safety when they hit us full bore, nothing held back.

“Carter! I thought you said this planet was uninhabited!”

While we may have superior fire power, they outnumber us five to one. It’s not impossible odds, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to make it out of here unscathed.

“There were no signs of human habitation, sir!”

“They look human to me, Carter! Ramsey! Can we talk?” Cripes! Guess that would be a ‘no’ since he just went down.

Where the hell did they come from? It’s like they just ringed down, but they’re not Jaffa, and the weaponry I’m hearing is not up to the usual Goa’uld standards.

“Teal’c!”

Ramsey’s behind me and I’ve got to cover Carter in front of me.

Damn! The older I get the harder it is to run and yell at the same time, especially running forward and looking over your shoulder. Something whistles over me as I jolt to my knees. My head’s telling me something’s broken but the adrenalin pouring into my body overrides pain sensory perception. I’m up and running, changing clips with a hand that’s suddenly bloody and I still don’t feel a thing.

I don’t know what we’ve done to tick off the powers that be, but Lemony Snicket has nothing on us. This will be the third in our series of unfortunate events, starting with Daniel’s appendicitis.

“Teal’c!” I’m doing a 360, wondering if I need to go back for Ramsey. I was sure Teal’c was still behind me. “Where the hell are you?!”

I hear the rapid fire of a staff weapon as Teal’c lurches out of the tree line, still firing backwards into the brushy cover. I see him do a snatch and grab on Ramsey without slowing down and I turn to cover Carter again.

She’s still hugging the east tree line, hoping, I assume, to get to the DHD unnoticed.

Fat chance, but I lay down cover fire anyway.

Shit, shit, shit! This is so turning out to be a bad day.

I’m ejecting another empty clip at a dead run, slapping a new one into the chamber and my P-90 is having a conversation with Carter’s, both of them chattering incessantly.

“Carter!”

She staggers and I can see blood from here, but she makes it to the DHD, and damned if she doesn’t get the wormhole open as she collapses at the base, her jacket blossoming more gruesome stains.

“Colonel, you’re bleeding,” she croaks as I drag her up, slinging her arm over my shoulder.

“On your feet, Major. We’re going home!”

“GDO code, sir,” she chokes out, blood foaming on her lips.

I twist us, grab her wrist, point at the blue puddle, punch in what I think is the code and hope to hell its right because we’re going through.

“Get Daniel out of the Gate room! We’re taking heavy fire!” I’m screaming into my radio as I glance back over my shoulder. “TEAL’C!”

We’ll never know what hit us if the iris isn’t open, as opposed to dying in a blaze of glory here on the steps of the Stargate on some totally alien planet.

“Go, O’Neill!”

“Dammit, Teal’c!”

Teal’c stumbles as he’s hit again and I grab his out flung arm as we fall into the wormhole, praying I have the strength to drag him far enough in for the matter stream to catch all of us.

And then we’re falling out the other side, staggering over each other. Teal’c goes to one knee, Ramsey does a nose dive as Teal’c lists sideways, and Carter slips bonelessly from my loose hold.

My lips form the words ‘close the iris,’ but I don’t think there’s any sound. I see Daniel’s horrified face, hear the clatter of his miniature boots as he races up the ramp. I’m conscious just long enough to see the horrified look melt into surprise as an energy bolt zings through the wormhole, slamming him against the railing, before my world goes black.

* * *

“Daniel?” I’m not certain I get the name out, but a face appears instantly in my line of sight. “Doc?” I blink hard, trying to bring her into focus and repeat Daniel’s name. Someone’s squeezing my hand . . . must be Frasier.

Hammond’s standing at the foot of the bed.

No . . . can’t handle it.

I slide back into oblivion.

* * *

I don’t want to surface again.

Can’t remember why, but for some reason I’m anchored here in the dark just below any kind of sensory perception, awash in grey - a persistent swirling mist that refuses to be banished.

And then for a moment it lifts and I feel – something. I can’t identify what, though a measure of relief floods through me, and I sink back into the mist. This time a path appears and I know when I wake again I can follow it home.

I’m able to drift off almost comfortably despite all the aches and pains making themselves known with a vengeance, because . . . I don’t know . . . somehow, it’s all right.

* * *

A heavy warmth on my right side shifts a little as I wind my way up the path. I recognize the beacon shining brightly up ahead. Yep, that would be Frasier’s penlight and her thumb that won’t let me close my eye against the damn thing.

“Colonel?”

The warmth along my right side shifts again and I hear a cough.

“Daniel?”

“Take it easy, Colonel.” Janet’s voice, I can hear the smile. “He’s still asleep, sir.” The penlight makes inroads on my other eye.

How come rank doesn’t matter in the infirmary? How come I can’t tell her to get the hell out of my face? She’s only a major, for cryin’ out loud.

“You know the drill, sir. How many fingers am I holding up?”

I squint blearily at the hand she’s waving in front of my face - blink again - reach up to steady it and miss completely.

“Five?” At least it can’t be more than that.

“Umm,” Frasier acknowledges. “What’s your name?”

“O’Neill, Jack, Colonel, serial number –”

“Thank you, sir,” she interrupts. “You’re no longer in enemy territory. How are you feeling?”

“Daniel’s okay?” I reach with my free hand - except it’s not free - must be tethered to an IV since a new irritant blooms on the back of that hand. I just need to touch him. So I try with the other hand. I think that’s a small, scrub-clad knee I’m curling my fingers around.

“He’ll be fine, Colonel. He has an adult-sized headache and he broke an arm when that energy weapon slammed him into the railing, but he wouldn’t rest until we let him lie down with you. I can probably move him now –”

“No!” I don’t let her finish the sentence. “Leave him be.” The weight on my chest must be his arm – in a cast. “Carter? Teal’c?”

I make an effort to raise my head and look around, but Frasier’s cool hand on my forehead easily negates any choice I have in the matter.

“Lie still, Colonel. Teal’c is just across the aisle.”

I sigh gratefully.

“Dr. Warner is still working on Sam in the OR.”

A heart monitor speeds up and it takes a moment to realize it’s the one attached to me.

“She took a couple of nasty hits, but she’s going to be fine too. How’s your pain level?”

Pain? What pain? Daniel’s here in the bed with me, Teal’c’s across the aisle and Carter’s gonna be okay.

“Ramsey?”

Frasier hesitates and I groan, but the heart monitor remains steady. I’m not personally invested in Ramsey like I am the rest of my team, though if I loose another civilian I may get busted back to private.

On a sigh Frasier says, “He’ll live, but there was extensive spinal cord damage. It’s going to be a wait and see game whether he walks again.”

Ramsey doesn’t have a single ounce of Daniel’s grit and determination. If it’s up to him whether he walks again or not, I guarantee it ain’t gonna happen. Of course, we’ll rally round and do everything we can, but we can’t do it for him.

I shift a little, trying to get a better look at Daniel.

“Sir, I really need you to lie still. If Daniel’s weight is bothering you, I’ll have to move him. I don’t want you tearing open stitches.”

Stitches?

“We had to dig a couple rounds of ammunition out of you too, sir.”

Did I say that out loud?

She fiddles with something just out of my range of vision.

“No, don’t . . . dammit, Doc, I don’t need pain . . .”

Meds.

A prickly warmth is crawling up the inside of my arm like a caterpillar. A thousand tiny, tickling feet march straight up to my brain, chew through a couple of main circuits, and the lights start going out one by one.

I can’t remember what I wanted to say, though I resist the heavy pull of my eyelids long enough to slide my hand up to the small of Daniel’s back and curve an arm around him to snug that solid, warm weight against me.

Stitches can be replaced. The feel of my kid stretched out against my side as I slide back into oblivion, can’t . . .

Can’t what?

Remember.

Remember what?

* * *

When I wake again, for the - third? - no, fourth time, I think, the lights are low and that solid, warm weight is missing.

The infirmary whirls, a kaleidoscope of grey floor and walls and blankets, as I sit up too fast. I have time to register the lighting is in night mode before the heart monitor kicks into high gear.

On cue, the nurse appears.

“Colonel?” She puts a hand on my shoulder in an effort to make me lie down again. Not likely when I’m in panic mode. “What happened to Daniel?”

“Doctor Frasier moved him over to the next bed.” She steps aside, but I’m so dizzy now I don’t dare turn my head. “He was getting restless and she was afraid he would disturb you, sir. He’s still sound asleep.”

“Just asleep?” I slump back against the pillow, dragging in air in an effort to quell the nausea hanging around the back of my throat.

“Yes, sir. How’s the head, Colonel?”

“Better when I was asleep.” I raise a hand to my pounding head. “Aht!” I grab her hand. She’s not the CMO, I can get away with it with her. “Don’t touch that damn thing; I don’t want to be out again. Just . . . give me a second here . . .” I close my eyes for a moment, then turn gingerly on my side. Daniel’s scrunched in a ball, but turned toward me, and I can just make out through the shadowy gloom the barely healed left ring finger in his mouth. “How’s Carter?”

“She’s still heavily sedated, Colonel,” the nurse says quietly, motioning to the bed beyond Daniel. “But resting comfortably.”

In a minute I’ll get up and go see for myself. Or maybe two - head’s still pounding like the Keebler elves have taken up residence inside there. “Teal’c?”

“He’s sound asleep too, sir.”

“I am not, O’Neill. Do you require assistance?”

“You mobile, T?”

“I am not,” he repeats, in typical Jaffa fashion. “However, I could be with little effort.”

“Nah, that’s okay. Go back to sleep. What time is it?” I belatedly whisper to the nurse.

“3:37, you should go back to sleep as well, Colonel.”

“Yeah, in a few.”

I debate asking if she’ll unhook me so I can go to the bathroom or waiting until she’s gone back to the desk and unhooking myself. If I don’t ask, she can’t tell me no, and I can make my rounds on the way back from the john.

“I’m good,” I lie through my teeth, especially since it takes tremendous effort not to clench my jaw.

No one’s going anywhere. It probably won’t matter if I lie here for another half hour, but I’m determined to get up before I go back to sleep. I need to do my own head count. Touch everybody, just to make sure they’re warm and breathing.

I can do stealth. Hey, I directed covert ops for years, but this nurse . . . what the hell is her name? Moreland. Lieutenant Moreland. Either Frasier’s warned her or she’s got ears like a bat. If I so much as rustle the sheets she looks over.

But I can do patient too . . . for a little longer, anyway.

Just not this long.

The Keebler crew has actually vacated the premises and I think I might be able to walk across the infirmary to the bathroom - if I’m cautious. And it’s been forty-five minutes. Surely she thinks I’ve gone back to sleep by now.

Ahh! Diversion! The muted phone rings and I hear Daniel snuffle. Just about the time my feet find the floor his eyes drift open.

Janet must have given him something, either for pain or to put him to sleep. Even in the gloom of the nighttime infirmary I can see his pupils are tiny pinpricks in a sea of blue.

I immediately put a finger to my lips. And realize for the first time, my right hand is bandaged. And ouch! Something doesn’t want to take my weight. Oh yeah, ace bandage on the knee; at least it’s not a full-fledged brace. I vaguely remember falling and wrenching it.

Daniel blinks at me lazily before the synapses connect and he’s rolling to his hands and knees, sitting up to reach for me, though he doesn’t say a word.

“Colonel!” Nurse Moreland-Ratched hisses, slamming the phone down. “You’re not supposed to be out of bed! Dr. Frasier left strict instructions . . .”

“Colonel?” Carter mumbles, shoulders moving restlessly under the blankets.

“O’Neill, you appear to be in need of assistance.”

Uh oh, chaos. I didn’t mean to wake everybody up.

“Colonel O’Neill, get back in bed this instant! Teal’c, you’re no better off than he is, you get back in bed too. Dr. Jackson! Lie down!”

Daniel’s eyes go wide at her tone of voice. He swivels his head around automatically in response and the arm with the cast starts to sink.

“Hey, it’s not his fault. He’s not firing on all cylinders, don’t yell at him.” I shuffle across the aisle between our beds. “S’okay, Danny.” He leans into the hand I cup around his cheek. “I can’t pick you up, Sport, but scooch over and I’ll lie down with you when I come back from the bathroom.” I lean over the bed railing to kiss him on the top of the head. As soon as I straighten he scooches over to the furthest side of the bed, against the far railing, watching me with wide, glistening eyes. I’m not sure he’s really awake. “Lie back down, Sport, I’ll be right back, okay?”

He doesn’t so much lie down as lean forward until he goes face first into the bed and shoves his feet out from under him. I give the hems of the miniature scrub pants an experimental tug; it can’t be comfortable lying on all that bunched up fabric. Daniel levers his ass off the bed just enough for me to get a purchase on the slick material and pull it down so it’s not bunched under him anymore.

“I’ll be right back,” I repeat, curling my fingers around a slender ankle. He blinks at me, but still says nothing, so I give him a wink and shuffle off to Buffalo.

Maybe it only seems as far as Buffalo, but I’m up now, no way she’s gonna make me use a urinal after I’ve gotten my feet under me. And since she’s still busy reattaching the major to an IV line, I make it to the bathroom and lock the door behind me.

Sanctuary.

Fortunately for me the toilet in here has a lid. I close it and sink down, stretching out my leg with a frustrated curse. I so don’t have time for this. I have a seven-year-old to manage, missions to accomplish, and every day kind of shit that needs tending.

It occurs to me, again belatedly, this might not have been such a good idea after all. Especially if I can’t manage the business I came in here for.

The doorknob rattles and Nurse Rached informs me, in a sepulchral voice, I have exactly five seconds to unlock the door or she’s gonna have an SF break it down.

Despite the fact I suspect she means it, I ignore her. It’s gonna take her more than five seconds to get an SF in here, let alone an SF capable of breaking down the door. And I’ll be damned if I let her win this round. Unfortunately, by the time I accomplish my business I’m about used up and I have to make for the nearest bed instead of my own.

Getting old really sucks.

And damned if Moreland doesn’t top my coup by refusing to let Daniel get up and come to me. I may have won the battle, but Nurse Rached wins the war, especially since Daniel’s huddled in a ball snuffling because she yelled at him again.

Thankfully an unexpected ally comes to our rescue.

“What’s going in here?” Hammond demands. “I could hear you clear down the hall, Lieutenant. Jack, should you be out of bed? What’s the matter with Dr. Jackson? How come you’re all awake at this hour of the night?” He makes straight for Daniel, plucks him up off the bed, and tucks him up against his shoulder. “Did you have a bad dream, son?” With his arms full of diminutive archeologist, he turns a full circle in the middle of the aisle. “Why are you all awake?” he repeats, rubbing soothing circles on Daniel’s back.

He’s got this grandpa thing down pat. Daniel’s eyes are drooping so either that sedative is still going strong or he wasn’t very awake to begin with. Hammond slides my kid down so Daniel’s cradled against his chest and starts to walk with him up and down the aisle.

“Shhhh,” he whispers, easily bearing Daniel’s weight in one arm as he strokes the hair back off his forehead with the other hand. “Go back to sleep, little one, it’s all right. Everybody’s home and you’re all safe. Go back to sleep.”

Wish I could get adult Daniel to follow orders with such alacrity.

Hammond looks over at me. “Is there some reason everybody’s awake at 3:30 in the morning, Colonel?” He continues to walk and rock and soothe as if it’s second nature to him.

“I believe Majorcarter has once again succumbed to the effects of the medication, Generalhammond.”

Hammond inclines his head with the barest twitch of his lips. “My apologies, Teal’c. Why are the three of you awake at this hour?”

“I have been contemplating arising this past quarter hour for the same purpose as O’Neill.”

“Daniel woke up when I got up to go to the bathroom. Or sort of woke up anyway.

“Are you supposed to be out of bed?”

“I’m not dead yet, sir.”

Now his lips do twitch as he tries to hold back an inappropriate smile at my inappropriate sarcasm. He bends to kiss Daniel on the forehead, an equally inappropriate gesture for a general, but when it comes to Daniel, protocol has been tossed out the window. And it effectively hides his reluctant grin.

We’ve known each other a long time. It’s okay to be inappropriate in the infirmary at 3:30 in the morning.

Being the observant individual I am, I notice the General’s looking a little worse for wear. “Sir, why are you up at 3:30 in the morning?”

He looks over at me with a weary shake of his head. “SG-2 arrived back an hour ago. Captain Curtis dropped dead on the Gate ramp as he stepped out of the wormhole. His team says he was fine when he stepped into it on the other side. Dr.’s Warner and Frasier are doing an autopsy now.”

“Holy crap. He’s got a wife and four kids.”

“I’m well aware of that Colonel.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.

Hammond’s the best kind of commanding officer; the responsibility of this job weighs heavily on him. He’s personally invested in every one of his employees, clear down to the night janitors with top secret clearance, who mop the halls of this clandestine facility. Which is one of the many reasons we’re all proud to serve under his command.

No wonder he looks a little frayed.

“Think you can make it back to your own bed now, Colonel? I have a little sleeping archeologist here who I’m sure would rather wake up beside you then alone in that big bed next door.”

“Yes, sir.” I’ll make it if I have to crawl. “Just so you’re aware, I don’t let him do this at home.”

“I know you’re a great dad, Jack, and I’m glad you know when to make exceptions, son.”

Yep, despite the fact I’m his 2IC and there’s less of an age gap between Hammond and I than there is between adult Daniel and I, I’m still occasionally son, too.

“Teal’c?”

“General?”

“Anything I can do for you before I go back downstairs?” Hammond glances over at the Jaffa as he waits patiently until I’m situated before easing Daniel down beside me.

“There is nothing, Generalhammond, my thanks for your consideration.”

“All right then, all of you go back to sleep.” The General smoothes the blanket over Daniel and pulls up the railing on that side of the bed. “Just so he doesn’t roll out when you go back to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning. I expect you all to be wide awake too. Lieutenant, if they give you any more trouble, give me a call.”

“Yes, sir,” Nurse Rached responds with exactly the right amount of deference, though I’d bet fifty bucks she’s spitting nails right about now. She’d like to put us all in restraints and throw away the key.

“Goodnight Teal’c, Jack. Rest well.”

“Night, sir.”

“Goodnight, Generalhammond.”

As the General’s firm footsteps die away, silence reigns, except for the ticking of the large clock and the scritch scratch of a pen charting the latest round of vitals Nurse Rached just recorded off our various machines.

That should be interesting, especially since all of mine are flat. She’s making no move to re-hook me so I’m gonna take advantage and lie here thanking my lucky stars we’re all alive and in one piece.

This one was too close for comfort. Maybe I need to rethink a desk job until . . .

I sigh, run a hand over Daniel’s small head as he unconsciously burrows in so he’s tucked up right against me, and wonder what happened to him in that other timeline of his that caused him to so flatly reject most human contact.

He’s such an unreservedly physical child now, it’s obvious something happened to change him. This is definitely not the child that grew into our adult Daniel.

Tonight that’s an unsolvable mystery. I need to bend my efforts toward figuring out how to tell Daniel he can’t wait for us in the Gate room anymore.

Since I can pretty much guarantee this news isn’t going to be well received, I’d best start figuring out a way to bribe him.

I drift off again, trying to remember how I used to bribe adult Daniel. Can’t use coffee, Frasier’s strictly forbidden letting him get started on that habit again, which leaves . . .

Uhm . . . which leaves . . . okay, maybe I should table this line of thought until later . . . when I can . . . actually . . . think . . .

* * *

“Where are you going?”

The second I push my chair back from the desk Daniel’s on his feet anxiously reaching for my hand.

“I’m just getting up to get a file. Want to get it for me?” I ask, instead of getting up.

“Sure.” He lets go of my wrist, bouncing over to the file cabinet with a happy grin. He enjoys doing big people stuff like looking for files.

Due to our series of unfortunate events we’ve regressed clear back to Daniel’s initial clingy stage right after the whole Fountain of Youth thingy. He was just beginning to get past the ‘I need an adult in touching range’ after being sick, when the second in our series of unfortunate events happened.

I knew being off world for the first time since Daniel’s illness was going to be difficult for all of us. I should have insisted we stick to a standard recon. Instead, we ended up on a diplomatic mission. I totally blew the thing when the stupid, fussy little monarch insisted we spend an extra, unscheduled day bowing and scraping, thanking them for allowing us the privilege of mining in their mountain.

I just wanted to get home.

I might have kept it together long enough to get off the damn planet with the smoking treaty in hand, except Carter nearly had to drop kick the asshole when he laid hands on her.

It really pisses me off when somebody messes with one of my team and where Carter might have finessed us back into his good graces, I just decked him.

I rarely let myself get that out of control. I’ve had years of field experience dealing with jackasses of every size and shape imaginable. Lately - every species imaginable.

I know damn well Carter can take care of herself, but I’d already had an entire day on simmer and it was the match that lit my torch.

I was too damn angry to even try to spin it for Hammond, which in hindsight was another error of judgment on my part. I should have let Carter handle the debriefing when she asked. Instead I forged ahead like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Considering the consequences of my raging bull routine, I got off with a very light slap on the wrist for my stupidity.

Earth’s inhabitants have been barred from P8X-346, a planet rich in trinium deposits and Daniel chewed his right ring finger raw over that episode.

He sat, or rather cowered, in my lap through the entire debriefing, absorbing all the anger I was literally vibrating with. Thinking, I found out later, this was all his fault, that he had somehow caused me to turn into this monster he didn’t recognize.

I’d scared him so badly it took two nights of hideous nightmares to pull it out of him.

“Okay.” I swivel my chair around in order to instruct. “You need to look in the personnel drawer.”

I wait as he peruses the block letter labels on the front of the files. He gets annoyed if I tell him which drawer to look in, he wants to figure it out himself.

“Personnel files,” he squats, ass to ankles, beside the bottom file drawer as he opens it.

“I need the original file for Ramsey.”

“R,” Daniel mutters under his breath as he walks his left-hand fingers through the files. Janet has his right arm cast so he’s not supposed to able to use the fingers on that hand, which he finds extremely annoying. “R-a – R-a-m – Ramsey.” He pulls the file out with a flourish, closes the drawer and hops up to bring it over to me. “Is Russell gonna get better?”

“Thank you.” I ruffle his hair. “I don’t know, Sport. That kind of depends on Russell.”

“Why doesn’t he want to do the exercises Janet gave him?” Daniel thinks the exercises are cool, especially the weight lifting ones, and has offered several times in the last few days to do them with Ramsey.

I originally thought Daniel’s nagging might be better received than nagging from the rest of us, but I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion there’s some resentment on Ramsey’s part it’s him in that wheelchair and not Daniel.

Funny thing, everybody wants to be assigned to SG-1. They seem to think there’s some prestige value in being assigned to the premier SGC team, although I think we lost some of our cachet when Parker got himself killed the second time he was out with us. People seem to think we have some magical enchantment that keeps us . . . not exactly safe, but at least alive.

What they never seem to understand is it’s a commitment forged among the four of us; if one’s in trouble, we’re all in trouble. And while we extend that courtesy to anyone who joins us, there isn’t that same level of commitment back, which is what always lands them in trouble.

Only Quinn has managed to survive us for more than a month and even he was outta here as soon as we got Daniel back. The only reason he managed was because he was clueless. I think the rest of us were bound and determined to keep him in one piece if only to make him feel guilty every time we rescued his sorry ass.

The Gate room drama was the third in our series of unfortunate events.

Carter’s still on crutches. Teal’c, as usual, is mostly healed; that tretonin stuff works almost as well as Junior. My knee is giving me fits again, but any new scars from the latest bout with projectile weapons are already merging into the old ones. Daniel’s headache lasted long enough to worry even Janet, but he’s fine now, physically at least.

Whatever it was he got hit with, the bolt was only set to stun. He wasn’t even burned, just tossed awkwardly against the railing. He must have put his hand out because both bones snapped just above his wrist, which means he’s going to be in that cast for awhile.

Since all of SG-1 is convalescing, we’re on stand down. And I’m mulling over an idea I need to run past Carter and Teal’c.

I pull out the paper work I need and hand the file back to Daniel.

“You can file him under former employees now,” I tell him as I begin signing the triplicate forms that will release Russell Jones Ramsey the III from employment at the top secret government project known to a select few as Stargate Command.

I always wonder, as I fill out this kind of paperwork, what these poor, deluded folks are going to do with the rest of their lives. Ramsey’s afraid of his own shadow. Every time he sees something unusual in the night sky he’s going to think we’re being attacked by aliens. Since he’s civilian, the Air Force is transporting him to a rehab facility nearer to his parent’s home and I can wash my hands of that responsibility. Thankfully.

Daniel comes back to stand beside me, watching as I sign the final copy of the release forms.

“What’s gonna happen to him now?”

I should really correct his speech; adult Daniel never used words like gonna.

What happens if he grows up talking like me? And since Carter says he already speaks sixteen languages fluently, there’s really no doubt he’s going to be a linguist if he does have to do this growing up thing all over again.

Better yet, O’Neill, maybe you could set an example by speaking proper English.

Nah, that’s too hard. I’m just as preprogrammed as Carter; only I’m preprogrammed to speak Upper Midwest English. Now see, doesn’t that have a nice ring to it? Daniel can tell his colleagues-to-be he grew up in a household where we spoke Upper Midwest English.

“I don’t know, Daniel. I guess Russell will have to decide what’s important to him now.”

“He told me he was disappointed he never got to play in my sandbox with me and now he never will.”

“You mean to tell me he actually said ‘now I never will’?”

Daniel nods, eyes big with sympathy. “Does that mean he won’t be able to be an archeologist anymore either?”

I slide back from the desk and pull my Littlest Ancient up on my lap. “Russell still has the choice to be whatever he wants to be, Daniel. Doc said there’s nothing irreparably damaged; that time and hard work will fix anything else that comes up. But Russell’s hurt here now.” I pat over Daniel’s heart. “And here.” I tap his temple. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to work through those hurts in order to overcome the physical hurts. Does that make any sense to you?”

Daniel mulls it over for a minute. “I guess he can be well if he wants to, huh?”

“That’s a really good way of putting it. Russell will have to decide if he wants to be well or not.”

“Why wouldn’t he want to be well?” Daniel persists.

“Ahh, Sport, not many people are as strong as you.”

“Am I strong?” He lifts his left arm, makes a fist, and checks out his bulging bicep, drawing a chuckle from me. He grins and pats my cheek. “I love you, Jack.”

Whoa! He’s never initiated this game before, though he waits expectantly for it every night.

“I love you too, Sport.”

“I love you better,” he grins, ducking his head shyly, peeking at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Ahhhh, but I love you best.”

The small, shaggy blond head shakes solemnly from side to side. “No, I love you bestest of all.” The game usually ends on this note, with tickles and giggles, but he slides up to his knees and throws his arms around my neck, squeezing for all he’s worth. “I was glad when that energy thing hit me,” he says fiercely, “I didn’t want to live if you and Sam and Teal’c were dead.”

As often happens, he’s left me speechless, and not just because I got clunked in the carotid artery with his cast. I squeeze back, but it takes a minute before I can answer. “Ahhhh, Sport, I know just how you feel. When I woke up the first time and you weren’t with me? I didn’t want to wake up again either.”

In his seven-year-old mind he’s only known us a little over six months. Do children attach to a new caregiver that quickly? Surely he’s tapping into adult Daniel’s feelings and memories for it to be this intense.

But why do I feel the need to analyze this? He’s made it clear its how he feels, it doesn’t matter whether it’s forty-year-old Daniel, or seven-year-old Daniel.

Flashing neon sign here – DESK JOB, DESK JOB – and after our series of unfortunate events I’m almost ready to ask Hammond to replace me on SG-1.

Almost.

Not quite there yet. I need to talk about this with Carter and Teal’c, Daniel too, for that matter.

Time to pack up the kids and head for Minnesota. Daniel will like it there, even if there aren’t any fish in the lake.

We need to look at our options with Plan B and make some decisions.

* * *

“You’re sure this is safe, Carter? No complex life signs hanging around?”

Carter gives me the ‘look’. “No complex life signs,” she responds, adding a muttered, “As you well know . . . sir.”

“O’Neill, SG-7 has scouted the location in its entirety, do you not trust them?”

I shrug as I toss Daniel’s backpack up on the M.A.L.P. “I’d rather have done it myself.” Even beyond the fact I’m feeling like a puppet dancing at the end of somebody else’s strings, I don’t like it, especially not after our last disastrous mission.

“I don’t want to go,” Daniel announces. He’s standing at the end of the Gate ramp, his left ring finger getting a thorough chew as he stares up at the fluctuating pond. Frasier’s put his right arm in a sling, one complicated enough he can’t get out of it without help, so he’ll stop using that hand. She says it’s not healing properly because, despite casting it clear to the first knuckles on his fingers, he’s still using it as if it were a perfectly normal hand.

“What?”

The Gate’s open, Carter already has the M.A.L.P. on its way up the ramp and Daniel suddenly decides he doesn’t want to do this? I’ve been dragging my feet on this for three weeks, so we’ve been talking about it at least that long.

Yesterday he couldn’t wait until tomorrow. This morning he was so excited he didn’t want to eat breakfast. Heck, he was so excited he didn’t want me to eat breakfast.

“I don’t want to go,” he says, setting his chin.

Oh, I so know this look. Now the question becomes how to deal with it.

“In this you have no choice in the matter, Danieljackson.”

Seems none of us do. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Urgo was back.

Two seconds more and Daniel’s wide, frightened eyes are staring at me over Teal’c’s shoulder. He’s too startled to do more than grab T’s jacket and hang on as Teal’c strides around the M.A.L.P. straight into the event horizon.

Well, that’s certainly one way to deal with it. Probably not the one I would have chosen, but I occasionally get hints Teal’c thinks I’m not strict enough with Daniel. This time he took the decision right outta my hands.

Note to self, thank the Jaffa profusely - especially since I don’t want to go either.

I adjust my cap, tip a salute to Hammond above in the control room, flash a cheesy grin, and precede Carter and her remote control toy into the big blue puddle.

I don’t want to be impressed, but I can’t help mimicking Daniel’s slack-jawed look as I step out of the wormhole on the other side. I saw the video feed; I heard Carter’s report on the damn planet. I knew what to expect, but it’s so much . . . more.

Daniel is still ensconced on Teal’c’s arm, though the stubborn tilt of his chin’s come down and the look of dire terror has melted into that look of wonder I also recognize. He’s doing the bobble head doll thing as he tries to take in everything at once.

This is a bright kid. Carter’s explained to him the wormhole folds time and space in order to deposit us on the other side of the galaxy in approximately ten nano seconds, depending of course, on where you’re going. Sometimes is takes a whole sixty nano seconds.

He’s been spewing the stuff back at me all week long, so I know darn well he took it in, even if he didn’t quite register what it really meant - until now.

“Nine galaxies, Teal’c, we’re nine galaxies away from our own!” Daniel informs the Jaffa, who’d already been traveling the Gate system for probably seventy-five years before he met and hooked up with us.

Nine galaxies is nothing to Teal’c, but he always listens attentively whenever Daniel chatters, big and little.

The Stargate here sits on its usual pedestal. The unusual part of this scenario is the pedestal is sitting in six inches of crystal clear, turquoise-green water. If you’re lucky, and arrive at low tide, you can walk from the Gate to the island on the sand bar that forms. In order to get here at low tide we would have had to leave the Mountain at 2:00 in the morning.

I figured we could wade.

Dry land is a rocky outcropping of semi-arid terrain, Carter says probably volcanic in origin, about ten miles long and five miles wide at its widest points. In aerial shots it looks sort of like a bow tie, with wide ends and a squinch in the middle.

“How are we going to get there?” Daniel asks, squirming to be put down.

In answer, Teal’c strips his boots off his feet, then his socks, and puts him down on the dais. “Roll up your pants,” he says.

The M.A.L.P. lumbers through, followed by Carter, and the gate blinks out. From one of the side compartments of the M.A.L.P., Teal’c liberates a small stool.

“What’s that for?” Daniel already has his pants rolled up to his knees.

Teal’c motions for him to follow and they both slosh over to the DHD.

“O’Neill has instructed me to teach you how to dial home.” He sets the stool in front of the DHD and Daniel, without needing to be told, climbs right up.

In case of an emergency I want to know Daniel can get himself home. Hey, once a Boy Scout, always a Boy Scout. I’m always prepared and I expect the same from anybody who goes out with me.

This place has been reconnoitered, explored, investigated and scrutinized as if the President of the United States were making a state visit here. I didn’t care how compelled I felt, I wasn’t bringing Daniel out here without absolute proof this place is deserted. And yeah, it’s just Daniel, but frankly, he’s more important to the next world order than any president could ever hope to be.

I look over as I hear the heavy clunk of the first chevron locking and see Daniel look up at the Stargate as he smacks his left hand down on the next glyph.

I feel my lips turning up in the first genuine smile I’ve experienced in days. You’d think, after all these years in the military, I’d be used to doing things I don’t want to do.

Not.

Something has drawn us to this planet. All of us, even Daniel has expressed a ‘feeling’ of needing to come here, though I don’t think he’s really aware of the nature of the compulsion we’re under.

Nothing happens.

“Press harder,” Teal’c coaches patiently.

They’re not like computer keys; they don’t go down without some effort.

The second chevron locks and the Gate lumbers back the other way in its spin cycle.

“Carter and I are going on with the stuff, make sure he’s got it memorized, T, before you guys catch up with us.”

“He already knows the address for home, O’Neill. I had only to point out the first symbol and he showed me the rest. I wish to be sure he can dial it on his own.”

“Sweet. Don’t be too long, I’ll worry.” I catch up to Carter who’s slowed by the laborious gait of the M.A.L.P. splashing through the shallow water. Neither of us bothered to take our boots off; we’ve waded through a lot worse. “Carter, we did check for sea monsters, right?”

She slants a look at me. “Colonel, SG-7’s been over this place backwards and forwards, inside and out. If your trouble antenna is zinging, sir, let’s turn around right now and go home.”

“My trouble antenna has been zinging non-stop since we happened on this little paradise, Major.”

Both of us jerk around at the sound of a loud splash and spluttering behind us. We turn in time to see Teal’c calmly reach down and snag a handful of Daniel’s BDU’s, lift him out of the water, and set him back on his feet.

Streaming and splashing, Daniel heads toward us at a loping gallop, laughing like a hyena.

For a minute, I just stand watching.

This must be what pure, unadulterated joy looks like. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so uninhibited, even during this time he’s been small.

“Daniel seems to think you picked the right place, sir.”

“Ya think?”

Curiously, and totally uncharacteristically, I feel myself beginning to relax. Yeah, the antenna’s been zinging, but I swear the instant my feet touched solid ground on this side of the Gate, it quit.

We watch Daniel stop and bend over until his face is almost in the water, peering at something in the vicinity of his feet. He swoops his left hand down and comes up with a giant starfish, except its too big and wiggly for his small hand and he drops it. Instead of fishing for it again, like I expect, he just laughs and resumes his splashing lope toward us.

“Did you see me fall in?” he wants to know. “I turned too fast and couldn’t get my balance because of my arm. Jack, can I have this off now?” He stops in front of me and twirls around so I’m soaked to the knees. “Please?” He doesn’t look back, though his left hand comes up to fidget with the ‘got to be irritating’ wet strap across the back of his neck.

“Want me to do it, sir?”

“No, go on. I’ve got experience at this now.” The first time I had to undo this thing it took me twenty minutes to figure out how to get him out of it, even after lessons.

Carter starts up the M.A.L.P. as I start in on the buckles and Velcro on this little torture contraption.

“Hey, you, stay outta the water until we can get Carter’s sleeve over that cast, okay? Doc Janet would murder me if she knew I let you get it wet.”

“You didn’t let me,” Daniel chortles, twirling in the water again as soon as he’s free. “I fell in!” He thoughtfully turns away from me to kick his feet.

Sparkling drops of rainbow crystal sprinkle the top of the turquoise water, spreading almost like bubbles, for a suspended moment on top of the water.

“Did you see that?” he shouts, kicking again so a waterfall of crystal colored drops froth on the surface. “Can this be another one of our adventures, Jack?”

“Sure, sounds good to me. Is there a reason you’re yelling?”

“It feels good,” Daniel returns, still at maximum decibels.

I watch, my curiosity growing, as the water churns and froths around Daniel’s feet, even when he’s not kicking, almost as if it’s inviting him to play some more.

He laughs again, totally uninhibited, and splashes through the shallow water to catch up with Carter. “Sam, can I run the M.A.L.P.?”

“Sure,” she says, handing over the remote to one of the most expensive pieces of equipment Stargate command owns. “This works a little differently than your remote control toys at home, so let me show you how to do it, okay?”

In front of us Teal’c’s already reached the beach.

I pass Carter, Daniel, and the ungainly M.A.L.P. just in time to get sprayed as it chug-a-lugs back up to speed.

“It appears SG-7 believed us incapable of finding our own way.” Teal’c nods toward a florescent pink plastic flag tied to an outstretched limb of something that looks sorta like a mangrove tree.

The vegetation is lush and tropical, and it’s at least ten degrees cooler as Teal’c and I enter at the head of the sandy path. It’s at least fifteen feet wide, but the low growing, broad leafed, overarching branches of the trees are only a foot or two above T’s head. It gives the appearance of a leafy tunnel.

On the left the trees appear to be growing out of the sides, tops, and middles of huge boulders. The smoothness of the rocks speaks of eons of wearing by wind and rain and sand. On the right the trees are wound together from the roots, sometimes leaning away from each other, sometimes with the trunks literally twined together as though they’re ages-old lovers.

Carter and Daniel have found the path too.

There’s something particularly engaging about watching Daniel in this mode. I can’t put my finger on why, but both Teal’c and I turn around.

He’s given the remote back to Carter and we hear his excited chatter as he darts from tree to tree, examining each burl and knot within his reach, fingers busily investigating the texture and feel, while his brain catalogs everything out loud. “Oh wow, these are so old. Look at this one! Doesn’t it look like a funny old man? And this must be his wife over here in this tree. I wonder what happened to them? Do you think they were ever alive?” He turns to look for me. “Do you remember the faeries in the cemetery, Jack?

“Sure.” The thought doesn’t make me particularly comfortable. “Why?”

“Doesn’t it feel the same here?”

Oh yeah, trust our Littlest Ancient to tap into that immediately.

“You’re right, it does.”

Maybe Carter’s right, we should dial home right now, despite the fact I’m feeling more and more secure by the minute.

“Oh! They were! Feel this one! It’s still alive!” Along with his hands, Daniel presses his ear to the twisted, gnarled bole of a tree only half again his height. “I can hear its heartbeat,” he whispers, awestruck. “What do you suppose it would take to wake it up?”

Carter and I exchange ‘oh, shit’ glances.

“I believe Danieljackson’s flights of fantasy have overcome him, O’Neill.”

“That’s flights of fancy, Teal’c, just so you know.” And I sure hope it is flights of fancy. “Come on, Daniel, I don’t need you waking up the trees, Sport.”

Carter gives him back the remote and we head on down the path, following the pink plastic flags SG-7 left behind.

Teal’c takes off through the trees.

A few more twists and turns, it feels sort of like wandering the halls at the SGC, and we break into the open.

It’s a little oasis of sorts, in a rough semi-circle, closed on one side by another jumble of huge old boulders that gradually incline to the top of what looks like it might be a manmade wall of gigantic proportions. The pile of boulders extends into the trees in both directions, with a number of trees growing, as we saw on the path earlier, from around, on top of, and between boulders.

The ground is neither sand, nor soil, but rather something of both, and supports a low growing grass that seems to have thrived in the clearing.

We’ve only walked for about fifteen minutes and for perhaps ten of that, we’ve been walking on a parallel path to the beach. So if we could cut straight through the trees we’re only about five minutes from the water. I can still hear the low splash of the waves breaking on the sand.

Teal’c is already here, collapsible shovel out, digging a fire pit in the middle of our clearing. There is a large pile of sizable stones sitting to one side; he’ll ring the pit with them once he’s done. “There is fresh water, O’Neill,” he says, not bothering to look up from his present occupation.

“Yeah? Where?” We hauled in water; SG-7 said nothing about a fresh water supply.

“Approximately twenty paces to the west of this clearing. You will wish to view it, as will Majorcarter and Danieljackson. It appears to have been used as a bathing area.”

Daniel parks the M.A.L.P., stretches up on tiptoe to set the remote on top of one of the wheel covers, and steps back, tipping his head to look up at the sky.

For just a second, superimposed over little Daniel, I see adult Daniel - hand clapped to his boonie, squinching his nose to get his glasses back in place, as he stares up at some alien sky, chattering a mile a minute – just like our little guy still is.

“It’s the wrong color of blue. Almost turquoise instead of a true blue,” he analyzes. “Is there a reason for that, Sam?” But he doesn’t wait for an answer. “Oh look!” The miniature finger comes up too, pointing at the sun. “I know what that is,” he exclaims, “you told me before. It’s a sun dog!”

It is. A very distinct halo of light rings the sun, glinting and glistening with the colors of a rainbow. And I did tell him that . . . but not since he’s been little.

“Well, Major, I think we’ve just proved your theory correct,” I tell her in an undertone. “Teal’c says he knew the Stargate address for home, and now this. This Daniel is definitely accessing adult Daniel’s memories.”

“What do you mean, sir?” Carter’s staring at the naturally recurring phenomenon too, shading her eyes as she stares up at it.

“We haven’t seen any of those since Daniel got downsized by the magic box.”

“Uhm, we were studying them in one of his science books the other day.”

“Oh.”

Damn.

On one hand, I should probably be relieved; on the other, I’d really like to know.

“How ‘bout when you two are done blinding yourselves, you help pitch camp?”

Carter immediately shakes off the enchantment. It takes a little longer with Daniel, but he eventually joins in, cheerfully hammering tent pegs with his cast until I catch him at it and make him use a hammer.

Camping for us is second nature and in very short order we have a tidy campsite. Teal’c has a fire going, over which Daniel is squatted, poking a stick into it, and Carter’s gone off to decide where the ladies room is going to be.

It occurs to me Daniel + fire + stick is a recipe for the beginnings of another unfortunate event, which none of us need right now. However, since Teal’c has an eye on him, I don’t feel compelled to drag him away from it by the scruff of his neck.

Teal’c manages this overprotective business much better than I do. Maybe it’s because he knows he can snatch Daniel back in a heartbeat if something happens. Whereas I no longer have the reflexes of a hundred-and-five-year-old Jaffa, never mind the fifty-year-old Jaffa reflexes Teal’c still possesses.

I wander over to join them, taking a seat on a conveniently upturned log that’s just about the right height for my long legs.

Yeah, Teal’c looks out for old colonels too.

“Should you not begin producing the evening meal, O’Neill?”

“Why? You hungry? It’s only 4:00 o’clock, T. I thought maybe we’d all take a stroll down to the beach when Carter gets back. See what the rest of this place looks like.”

Daniel ditches his stick and gets up to explore some more.

“Find everything okay?” I inquire, as Carter wanders back into the campsite.

“Oh my goodness,” she enthuses, “Teal’c’s bath is gorgeous. We brought plenty of water, let’s use it for bathing.”

Teal’c inclines his head with that little bow of his. “I had supposed you would find it extremely engaging, Majorcarter. It is an attractive setting for a bathing, is it not?”

“It’s stunning. Sir, it’s really an entire facility with running water and everything. You won’t believe it. It’s primitive, but actually quite ingenious.”

“I want to see,” Daniel pipes up. He’s been wandering around the clearing touching all of the trees.

“We’ll go past on our way to the beach. Daniel, leave the trees alone. I’m serious - I don’t need you waking up anything around here.”

“But –”

“I mean it, and if you won’t promise we may as well go straight back to the Stargate, because we’re not staying.”

He looks over at me, trying to gage how serious I am.

I’m dead serious. I feel it too. There’s something about this place that’s not quite right. It’s an odd feeling, not quite wrong either, just out of sorts. I’m not comfortable with it, but my antennae aren’t just wigging out, so I’ll stay, as long as Daniel doesn’t go fooling around with the precariously fragile balance I sense.

“Okay,” he says eventually, though it’s a hard won battle. He’s itching to see if he really can wake something up. “I promise.”

“Daniel . . .”

He spreads his hands in a gesture of innocence. “I promise,” he repeats, sincerely. “I won’t try to wake anything up.”

“Don’t do it accidentally either.”

He snorts, a sound so typical I’m again seeing adult Daniel - on the Gadmeer ship this time, yanking back his hand after I just told him not to touch anything and the drawer just happens to open in front of him.

Yeah right.

“Accidentally either,” I repeat, in the voice he knows he better obey, or else.

Thankfully, I haven’t had to follow through on the ‘or else’ yet. He really is a good kid. If I make sure I engage his attention before telling him something, he always obeys. It’s the times I’ve told him something and I don’t realize that although he may be looking me directly in the eye, his mind is busily engaged elsewhere, that we have issues. I’ve learned to touch his face if I’m not sure, that always brings him back.

He’s very mischievous and still a pain-in-the-neck to keep track of, but he’s never been willfully disobedient. He understands the need for rules and doesn’t even mind them, so long as they make sense to him. Fortunately for me, a downsized Daniel isn’t required to obey the military’s rules.

Teal’c throws a couple more good sized logs on the fire. SG-7 left us firewood? I don’t want to think about what they cut down.

“I, too, believe you should leave things alone here, Danieljackson.” He rises effortlessly. “You are correct; this is a primordial world, very old. You could unleash more than you bargain for, even accidentally. You will need to be extremely cautious.”

I got rolled eyes; Teal’c gets a look of awe. ”I promise I’ll be careful,” Daniel replies solemnly.

Carter has theorized the planet’s three moons have seriously affected the weather patterns over the last several thousand years. Endless rain and rising tides likely drove whatever human habitation there was off the planet eons ago.

“I found recent signs of a large animal, as well, O’Neill.”

“Large animal?” I swivel my head around toward my full-grown scientist. “Carter? No complex life signs?”

“You know that means no sentient beings, sir.” She shrugs and raises her eyebrows. “How large, Teal’c? Are we talking the size of a raccoon or a mountain lion?”

“Approximately the size of a large dog, Majorcarter.” The disdain in his voice has dog shit written all over it.

“Dog?” Daniel’s hands drop from the tree he’s been ‘studying’. He’s been bugging me about a dog for the last two months. Ever since Cassie opened her big mouth and told him it’s a rule - every Earth kid has to have a dog. “I thought you said this was an island, Jack,” he says, looking around as if Teal’c’s ‘dog’ is going to come loping into camp any second.

As this is the only land for minimally hundreds of miles in any direction, basically the limit of a long-range UAV, I have serious doubts the bionetwork here could support even a pack of dogs.

“Don’t go wandering around unarmed then, and Daniel, no wandering off on your own. You stay within sight of an adult at all times. Just like the trees, I mean it. Got that?”

He eyes me, his brain working furtively.

“This requires only a yes or no answer. And if you tell me no, then we’ll go over it again,” I pause briefly, “and again, and again, until you’re clear on this. You do not go wandering off on your own no matter what’s calling your name. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he mumbles, with a mutinous sniff, which is about as close as he comes to talking back.

Where along the line did he lose all respect for authority? Or should I be asking where, along what timeline, did he lose all respect for authority?

“Good. Let’s go. Carter, Teal’c? Lead the way, since you two know where we’re going.”

Teal’c takes point, Carter follows, I take our six with Daniel in front of me; pretty reminiscent of our standard recon formation. Daniel, as our lone civilian, always goes the middle despite the fact he’d become as good a solider as any of us even before he ascended.

The lavatory facilities are pretty incredible; all the more so for likely being thousands of years old. There’s even a primitive toilet with running water and a small waterfall nearby that flows into a basin that could certainly be a sink. It’s the bath, though, that engages all our attention.

It’s a sunken tub, lined with rocks speckled with something that glints as the sun slants through the foliage. Occasional blinding shafts of light unexpectedly shoot out of the water like fireworks.

Daniel reaches his hand to try to catch one. “Oooo,” he says, drawing his hand back quickly, though the sound he makes is more surprise than hurt. “It tingles,” he puts his hand back out.

Experimentally, I poke the end of my P-90 in the pool. Nothing. So I bend down and stick my hand in. The water’s warm and when I pull my hand out there is a pleasant tingling sensation, as though I’ve just had my hand massaged by an expert masseuse. “Whatta’ ya think, T? Ever run across anything like this in your travels?”

“I have encountered springs like this on several different planets, O’Neill. They are not harmful, if that is what you are asking.”

“It was. And you’re sure?”

“My symbiote took considerable pleasure in places such as this. I believe it is comparable to the beneficial effects of the hot springs on your world. In response to your query, I am certain.”

“Yeah? If Junior liked it, you’re certain it’s okay for humans?”

“I am.”

“Good enough for me. Carter, since you’re the lone female of the party, you get first shot at it. Just don’t take forever.”

“I’m not turning that offer down.” She grins, turning in a circle to take in the ‘ceiling’ and ‘fixtures’ of our lavatory.

“Just watch out for the snakes.” I turn to head back for the path.

“I haven’t seen signs of any wildlife, sir. Besides Teal’c’s dog,” she says, guiding Daniel in front of her as she follows.

Teal’c takes our six this time.

“I meant ‘in paradise’, Major. For some reason, all this seems a little too good to be true.” We hit the clearing again and I look back for Teal’c. “Think we can go directly through the trees out to the ocean or do we need to take the path.”

“I would counsel we follow the path, O’Neill, until we have further reconnoitered on our own.”

“Excellent observation. Daniel, stay within sight, keep your hands off the trees, and STAY OUT OF THE WATER!” I holler as he whips around us and scampers down the path full speed ahead.

Even I know that’s far too many instructions for a seven-year-old. I pick up the pace so he doesn’t get too far ahead of us.

The beach extends for several miles to the east of us; to the west, another tumble of smooth boulders marks the end of our side of the island. The boulders are huge and extend well into the water, forming a causeway of sorts that bisects the sandbar leading to the Stargate.

Carter says in another few hundred years, the Stargate will be underwater as well.

Daniel heads straight for the rocks and I know damn well he’s going to end up in the water again. Or worse yet, falling and cracking open that cast.

“Hey, Sport, we already know what’s down that way. Let’s see what might be down this way.” It works, amazingly enough. He obediently turns and trots back toward us.

Carter pulls a bottle of suntan lotion out of one of her multiple pockets. “Daniel, come here and let me put some suntan lotion on you.”

Daniel stands still until she gets to his face and finger combs the hair back off his forehead. “Yuck,” he says, spitting.

She’s very thorough, even using the tips of her fingers to rub it on his ears and into the part on top of his head. “The sun is closer here than at home, it’s very strong.”

“Maybe it doesn’t have the same kind of UV rays we have at home.”

“Yes, Mr. Smarty Pants, you may very well be right, but we’re not taking any chances. A bad sunburn could ruin our whole vacation.”

“It tastes bad.”

“You’re not supposed to eat it, Daniel.” Carter pulls his t-shirt up and wipes his lips, then pulls chapstick out of another pocket and hands it to him. “Put some of this on.”

“Mmmmm,” he grins, “this tastes good.” He hands back the chapstick. “What kind is it?”

“Tropical Fruit Punch.”

“Are you sure?” He’s still grinning ‘cause he knows he gets kisses and hugs from Carter with this game.

“I don’t know, let me check.” She swoops him up, tickles him ‘til he’s leaning so far back I think he’s gonna do a back flip right out of her arms, then in a motion almost too quick for the eye to follow she swings him up, cradles him in her arm, and plants a smacking kiss on his lips, declaring, “Yep, its Tropical Fruit Punch. Geez, Daniel, are you finally putting on weight, or does that cast weigh an extra ten pounds?”

Carter matches her chapstick to our missions like other women match their purses to their shoes. And this is one of her games with Daniel. We all have some little ritual around hugs and kisses that’s unique to each of us. Teal’c whirls him around by the ankles - yeah, I’m still not watching that game - then throws him up and catches him, ending with hugs and kisses.

This is just one of half a dozen Carter plays with him. I’ll often see her catch up with him in the corridors at the SGC and just scoop him up from behind and snuggle him for a minute before putting him down again.

Daniel thrives on it and if we happen to miss our cue, he stops whatever he’s doing and waits until we catch on. He’s gonna outgrow this and we’re gonna be the ones missing it.

Carter drops a still giggling Daniel lightly to the sand. “Hey, has your cast dried out yet. Hold still, wiggle worm, and let me see.” She catches his hand and turns it palm up, wiggling the tips of her own fingers inside over top of his.

“Is it?” he asks, tilting his head as if trying to see what her fingers are doing inside the plaster.

“It’s getting there. Tell you what, when we get back to camp, I’ll sprinkle some baby powder inside, that will help wick the last of the moisture. But I’m afraid you’re going to have to stay out of the water for the rest of the day.”

“If I stay in the shallow can I look for shells?”

“Sure, but pay attention.”

We resume walking as this conversation takes place.

“If you get it wet again, it will take that much longer to dry, and you can’t go back in the water until the cast is completely dry and we can put the sleeve on to keep it that way.” Carter found a place that does custom stuff for scuba divers and they made her a little sleeved mitten to waterproof both the cast and Daniel’s arm so he’s not getting water down inside the cast. You slide it on, zip it up, tuck the top inside the elbow end of the cast and voila’, he can be in the water. Not much fun being off-world on a deserted island surrounded by beaches and not be able to be in the water.

“Can I run back to camp and get something to carry the shells in?” Daniel asks hopefully.

“You may not go back alone, Danieljackson; however, I will carry them for you if it is your wish.”

“We don’t even know if we’re going to find any shells here, Daniel.” Carter’s plopped down in the sand and is taking off her boots, rolling up her pants legs too.

Don’t know why it didn’t occur to any of us to change.

She lines up her boots, stuffs her socks inside and leaves them sitting on the beach. “It’s not like anybody’s going to steal them,” she says with a shrug, taking the hand Daniel holds out and running with him to the edge of the water.

For a few minutes they play like they’re being chased by the waves, running up the beach as the surf foams around their ankles, then running back down chasing the waves back into the water.

When Teal’c strips off his boots and joins them, I scope out a nearby palm and slouch over to take a load off.

“Come on, Jack,” Daniel calls, looking over his shoulder. “It’s fun!”

“I’m sure it is. My knee’s not up to jumping waves today.” It’s an excuse, but he’ll let me get away with it since he has Carter and Teal’c to entertain him.

I’d rather watch. In the time it takes them to wear him out, I snap several more little Daniel pictures, downloading them to my mental photo album. Daniel holding on to Teal’c’s hand as he jumps the incoming waves – Teal’c effortlessly lifting him high above the possibility of getting wet again; Carter and Teal’c, with Daniel between them, picking him up by the elbows to jump the waves; Carter and Daniel, the two blond heads nearly blending in with the sand, poking at some interesting specimen.

And then my family’s trooping back to settle around me in various stages of relaxation here under the shade of the swooping palm.

Yes, we are a family, an odd one, with neither genetic or blood ties, but family in a way few hereditary families ever achieve. With Daniel’s downsizing, it’s been reaffirmed in a whole new way.

Which is why we’re here. We need to reevaluate, make some decisions about where we’re headed and what we’re going to do if Daniel isn’t resized to normal. Which, you know, six months down the road with no discernable change, is beginning to look more and more like a permanent thing.

We started with school two months ago and he’s already half way through the 9th grade work, so I know there’s nothing wrong with his brain. And Janet swears he’s growing even if she can only measure it in micrometers, so I’m less worried that the effects of the damned Fountain of Youth thingy are irreparably permanent.

That last trip through the Gate, though, I guess it really sunk in that none of us are immortal. And one of us has to be around for Daniel. There’s no way I’m going to leave him at risk for being shuffled off to who knows where ever again and that includes letting the NID get their hands on him. I know Hammond and Frasier would kill for him as well, but Hammond and Frasier are extended family, they’re not SG-1.

“Want to walk a little further or are you ready to go back and make supper, Daniel?”

No MRE’s this trip out; we brought real food we can cook over a fire. Teal’c’s been watching Julia Child reruns and wants to try his hand at wood-smoked chicken linguini. Carter rigged one of the compartments on the M.A.L.P. so we have a little refrigerator, and Daniel and I bought all the ingredients on T’s list - if nothing else, it will be interesting.

“Let’s walk!” He bounds up, flinging sand in every direction, reenergized and ready to go. Oh to be young again and have energy like that.

Or maybe not. I’m not sure I’d want to be seven again for anything.

We end up walking another couple of miles down the beach. Daniel, darting every which way, probably adds twice again the number of miles we walk, so by the time we’re ready to head back, he’s beat.

Teal’c notices before I do and without a word, swings him up on his shoulders, brushing off the small sandy feet before clasping him by the ankles to hold him in place. Like the big Daniel, our little space monkey can sleep anywhere, and he’s out, slumped over Teal’c’s bald head like a really bad wig.

I file away another Mastercard moment.

The walk back to camp is mostly silent, not necessarily in deference to our sleeping kid, but partly. Partly, too, I think because we’re all lost in our own thoughts.

“Penny for them, Major?”

Carter slants a look at me. “Just wondering again, why we’re here, sss . . .” She lets it fade away and I’m grateful enough to shoot her a grin.

“Yeah, me too. Teal’c?”

“I also would be interested to know why we are here, O’Neill. However, I have observed, since coming through the Gate, there is a tranquility about all of us that has been elusive these past weeks as we have wrestled against this binding.”

“Binding?” Carter pipes up. “As in spell, Teal’c?”

Teal’c only raises an eyebrow.

“Come on,” she pursues, “do you really believe in that kind of stuff?”

“There is an element to the universe, Majorcarter, scientists such as yourself cannot explain away, even with theories. I believe Danieljackson is correct, the trees on this island are alive, or were at some time if they are no longer. How do you explain that with your scientific theories?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, merely goes on, his deep voice a counterpoint to the soft swishing of the waves still washing in around our feet. “The Nox were correct in identifying the Tau’ri as young. You have traveled out here for years, now, yes? But you still do not comprehend the ancientness of the universe. Much like Danieljackson could speak anticipatorily about traveling nine galaxies away from his own, you speak the words, but you have no comprehension of what it means for the universe to be hundreds of thousands of years old. In a place like this,” he lets loose of one of Daniel’s ankles, making a single economic gesture with his hand, “you may begin to feel and comprehend the spirit of ancientness that pervades certain places.”

It’s Carter’s turn to raise an eyebrow. She’s not convinced, but she’s not going to argue. Teal’c’s point is well taken; this place does feel primeval, there’s no arguing that.

We pause briefly on the beach in front of the path back to the campsite to watch this world’s sun slide down over the horizon.

“Oh!” Carter and I echo at the same moment as the infamously elusive green flash lights the horizon. It’s almost florescent in its brilliance and lasts only moments before disappearing as if sucked into a vortex in the sea.

I don’t know about Carter, but I’ve watched a lot of sunsets on Earth, from a lot of different beaches, and I’ve never once caught that flash. They say it only happens in tropical climates and requires an utterly cloudless day. I’ve encountered both, but never the flash.

“Have neither of you seen that before?” Teal’c inquires.

“You have?” I can’t help asking.

Somehow the Jaffa warrior and beaches just don’t seem to go together.

“I have indeed had the pleasure several times.” A very rare smile steals across the usually stoic features. “The last was with Ishta.”

I wisely keep my mouth shut.

Pretty cool; sun dogs and the green flash – sounds like comic book characters. Though they’re naturally recurring phenomenon, we hardly ever see them on our home world. I wonder briefly if these things are being manipulated for our benefit.

But why? And by whom? For what purpose? I have no intention of letting my guard down, no matter how relaxed I ‘feel’, until I know all of the above.

Back in camp I unroll Daniel’s sleeping bag outside the tent and Teal’c settles him on top of it, spreading one of our thin space blankets over him. Daniel immediately turns on his side and tucks up in his usual isopod imitation. I bet if he’d stay asleep we could actually roll him around like a roly-poly.

I suspect he’s down for the night. It’s been more than a month, but this is the most active he’s been since the appendicitis attack. I haven’t been able to motivate him to do anything particularly physical since then. I’m guessing because he’s not quite ready to believe it won’t happen again. It was a very traumatic experience; nothing unusual in the life of Daniel Jackson, unfortunately, but it’s branded a new scar into his psyche, right over the barely healed scar of loosing his parents.

Carter’s borrowed Teal’c’s kel’no’reem candles and is off in the bath while Teal’c and I are exchanging campaign stories by the campfire when Daniel suddenly sits straight up. His eyes are wide, his mouth open in a silent scream more unnerving than any sound I’ve ever heard.

In two strides I snatch him up and the night is rent by an unearthly wail. Not from Daniel, but he wakes with a shudder that travels the length of the small body pressed against me. The arms clasp immediately around my neck, his cast nearly cutting off my circulation. The legs wrap around my waist with a strength born of incalculable fear.

“Teal’c?”

But he’s gone already, into the forest, his staff weapon missing from the ordnance on top of the M.A.L.P.

Before I can get my hands on my P-90, Carter’s in the clearing, barefoot, still shoving an arm into her tank top.

“What the hell?” she breaths, snatching up both guns and shoving mine at me, racing to circle the perimeter as I kill the low lights she’s rigged around the camp. She circles once and moves silently to stand by us. “Daniel?” she asks softly. “Do you know what it is?”

“I think it’s a tree,” he whispers, his voice shaking. “I think one of the trees woke up. I didn’t do it, Jack.” He’s trembling now, as if from ague, and he presses his cheek tight to mine.

“It’s okay, Sport.” I whisper. “Can you give me just a little breathing space? Thanks,” I suck in air as quietly as possible when he loosens his hold and press my cheek back against his.

I’ve only got him on one arm and can’t hold him as tightly as he wants to be held, the other hand has my P-90. Carter handed it to me live and in firing position. Her shoulder’s pressed to mine, on the side Daniel’s on. She’s slanted slightly away from us and we’re standing with our backs to the pile of rocks. It’s the most defensible position we have.

An interminable wait follows, my internal time clock tells me it’s a good twenty minutes before Teal’c steps back into the clearing. I don’t hear him, only sense him as he moves toward us as silently as a shadow.

“There is nothing out there, O’Neill. However, I recommend we return at once through the Stargate. I believe one of the trees may have woken. If that is the case, merely our presence here could be the catalyst.”

I hear what he’s not saying. Daniel’s presence could be the catalyst.

“Let’s go. We’ll send SG-7 back for anything that’s irreplaceable.”

“I’ll get a flashlight,” Carter starts for the M.A.L.P.

“No, there’s enough light to make it out of here and once we’re at the water it will reflect enough to dial the Gate. Let’s go,” I repeat. I don’t want anything artificial attracting attention to us. I just want out of here and I don’t give a damn whether we’ve been drawn here or not.

We’re not staying.

The tide’s on the way out, there’s only a trickle of water running over the sandbar leading to the Stargate. We’re not at a dead run, but we’re certainly not strolling leisurely either, so it takes us considerably less time to get back to the Gate.

Teal’c pulls ahead of us and starts the dialing sequence, pressing his palm over the red hub in the center as we pass him.

We’re nearly to the dais when I turn back.

No kawoosh.

“What?”

Teal’c says nothing and I see him press each glyph with deliberation, spread his palm once more over the hub, and look up.

Nothing.

“The dialing device is locked, O’Neill. We cannot dial out.”

Oh for cryin’ out loud! Enough already! I’m not doing another unfortunate event. And I’m seriously pissed now.

Abruptly, Daniel sits up, shoving back off my shoulder so I have to adjust quickly or drop him.

“Carter!”

She snatches my P-90 out of the air because I don’t have time to do more than warn her as I grab Daniel.

“I have to go back,” he says urgently. “Put me down, Jack, I have to go back.”

“No, and no.” I tighten my hold when he squirms.

“Yes. I have to go back. I can help it!” He grabs my face in both small hands. “Let me go, Jack. If I don’t, it will die. Let me go,” he begs, sounding so much like big Daniel I want to shake him ‘til his teeth rattle.

“No.” I’m not going to argue.

“Please, I have to go. I have too!” His eyes roll back in his head and he goes limp, sliding through my arms like a wet mackerel. And the little shit is off and running the moment his feet hit the sand.

I’m so stunned I just stand there staring after him. Teal’c, however, snatches him by the back of his shirt, except somehow he manages to twist away even from the Jaffa.

We’re after him in a heartbeat, but he’s fleeter than a deer. And we’re at a serious disadvantage; it appears he knows where he’s going and we’re having to follow a little sprite dressed in camo in the frickin’ dark!

I’m gonna kill him! Just as soon as I make sure he’s safe.

“Daniel!” So much for stealth. “Carter, get back and light the camp. If we loose him, I want him to be able to find his way back!”

Daniel, still at least a hundred feet ahead of us, crashes into the woods only about thirty feet beyond the path. Carter veers off toward camp.

The forest slows him, but it slows us too, and he’s always just out of arm’s length, flitting through the trees, both arms out reaching, feeling, stretching to find the tree that’s in pain.

We can hear it groaning now; a low, rumbling sound I think I may actually be feeling more than I’m hearing. The ground under our feet is rippling slightly, as though a non-rector scale registering earthquake is shaking the island.

And then there’s silence and the earth stills and I know he’s found the tree and he’s so dead! I’m gonna handcuff him to me for the remainder of his natural life!

He’s plastered to the damn thing, arms around it, face pressed against the tree as tightly as he had his cheek pressed to mine just a few minutes ago. I can’t tell if it’s agony or ecstasy on his face, or some of both.

Teal’c slams to his knees behind him, reaching to lay a broad hand on his back.

Daniel takes no notice. He’s pouring himself into the tree and I want to rip him off like a piece of bark, but I don’t know what will happen to him if I try. It’s the only thing holding me back and he is SO dead when we’re done with this!

The sagging branches of the tree slowly begin to stretch out. With a little hitch, the trunk his small arms nearly encompass, straightens, and stands taller. Even in the starlit dark I can see the leaves unfurling from their death curl.

Daniel’s arms sag. For an instant he looks like he’s going to sag right down with them, then he steps back away from Teal’c’s hand, keeping a hand of his own on the tree, and looks at me over his shoulder.

Out on the beach with the water reflecting the moon and starlight it was nearly as light as day. We’re in deep shadow here under the dense canopy created by the trees. I can only see movement, no details. “Are you all right?”

“Yes.”

“Is the tree all right?”

“It is now.”

“Are you done?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s go.”

Neither Daniel nor Teal’c move.

“Are you mad at me?”

“Let’s go,” I repeat, in my not-to-be-messed with Colonel voice.

Even Teal’c responds to it.

“I can walk,” Daniel says, when Teal’c picks him up.

The camp is ablaze with lights. Carter’s pacing, P-90 in one hand, uncharacteristically chewing the fingernails on her other hand. She stops dead as we enter the clearing, I see her eyes close briefly, and then she’s rushing to Teal’c and Daniel.

“Are you all right?” She’s running her hands all over him, checking for injuries, assuring herself he’s still in one piece. “Daniel, you scared the shit out of us!” She pulls him out of Teal’c’s arms and hugs him hard enough to make his eyes bulge. “Are you all right?” she repeats, leaning back to check him visually too.

“I’m tired, Sam. Can I go back to bed?”

“No, you may not, but you can put him down on his sleeping bag, Carter. And then I would appreciate it if the two of you would give us a few minutes.”

“O’Neill –”

“Please go back to the DHD and see if there’s anything we can do to get it working.” When neither complies, I raise an eyebrow. “Do I need to make it an order?”

“Colonel, maybe –” Carter frowns, but backs down with a sharp sigh when I just look at her. “Yes, sir,” she snaps, which is as close as she ever comes to insubordination.

“Sit up, Daniel.” Maybe Teal’c’s right; maybe I have been too lenient.

He pulled his knees up to his chest the minute Carter put him down and slumped over on his side. The finger’s in his mouth and he looks cherubic – now. Ten minutes ago he looked like the devil’s spawn.

“Did you hear the words can you, or will you, come out of my mouth?”

“Jack . . .” He does sit up and his arms come out to be picked up. There are tears trembling on those ‘women would kill for them’ lashes and his lower lip is quivering.

I will not be diverted by puppy dog eyes or crystalline tears. His hands sink to his lap, the chin goes down, and I see the tears plop on the plaster cast. “You made a promise.”

“But . . .” he starts . . . stops . . . then starts again. “I . . .” and stops again.

“You made a promise and then you deliberately made me think you were sick, or hurt, in order to break that promise.”

“That’s not true,” he says quietly. “I promised I wouldn’t try to wake them up. I didn’t wake it up,” he sniffs, “the tree woke up by itself. I only wanted to help.”

A distinction worthy of the linguist he once was and will be again. A very fine distinction, but true none the less. I told him to leave them alone. I never made him promise anything other than he wouldn’t try to wake them - even accidentally.

“I’m not going to argue semantics with you, Daniel. What you did was wrong and you know it.”

“You wouldn’t have let me go.”

“Damn straight I wouldn’t have let you go. I had no idea what would happen to you if you went to that tree.”

He looks up, tears still streaking his face. “You couldn’t have stopped me, no matter what you did.”

On a sigh, I drop down on my heels in front of him. “That doesn’t make what you did right.”

“I know.” The lip biting thing starts. “I’m sorry.” And there are more tears.

“A couple of weeks ago you told me you were glad when that energy bolt hit you because you thought Carter, Teal’c and I were dead. How do you think I would have felt if something had happened to you tonight? Not to mention Sam and Teal’c? ” Yes, I know I’m playing dirty, but I’m desperate. We’re locked out of the dialing device on an island that could have thousands of trees ‘waking’ up. What if he decides he has to help every goddamn tree on the island?

“I’m sorry,” he sobs, the arms coming up again as he scoots towards me on his ass. “I’m sorry, Jack. Please don’t be mad at me.”

Get a grip, O’Neill, this is not adult Daniel you’re dealing with. Logic and reason are not going to get you anywhere; he’s seven for cryin’ out loud! For that matter logic and reason never got me anywhere with adult Daniel either, but adult Daniel never held out his arms to be comforted.

Oh, he knew how to wrench my heart all right, but not like this.

On a sigh, I pick him up, push off the ground with one hand and stand with him. His arms go immediately around my neck, though he’s careful not to choke me with his cast. The face goes in the neck and he’s sobbing uncontrollably.

“I didn’t mean to scare you, I didn’t. I’m sorry,” he hiccups. “I couldn’t stop myself.”

I swear there’s an audible click in my brain at those words. He’s under just as much compulsion as we are. He may not have had any control over his actions, in which case I really am going to have to handcuff him to me for the duration of our stay . . . which, judging by the locked DHD, could be indefinite.

And I owe him an apology.

We’re here on this island because I couldn’t resist the coercion and I’m expecting Daniel – notorious aide of the underdog, Daniel – to resist helping a thing in pain?

Yeah right, Jack. I swallow hard. “For cryin’ out loud, kid, you’re gonna be the death of me yet.”

“No! I promise I’ll be good. I promise, Jack, I promise. Don’t you leave me too!”

“Shhhh, shhhh, shhhhh,” I soothe, rubbing his back. He’s wrapped around me like a clinging vine with suckers; I couldn’t pull him off if I tried. “Daniel, it’s just a figure of speech. I’m not going anywhere. I’m sorry I yelled at you, Sport. I didn’t understand.”

“I’m . . . sorry . . . I’m . . . sorry!” Each word is punctuated with a heaving sob. “Please don’t leave me . . . I promise I’ll be good.” He’s edging toward hysteria.

Every word is like an ice pick stabbing repeatedly through my heart.

“Shhhhh,” I try massaging the back of his neck. “Shhhhhh. It’s my fault, not yours. Shhhhh, Daniel, don’t do this. You’re working yourself up over nothing and you’re breaking my heart.”

The arm with the cast slides down, probably too heavy to hold up anymore. I tuck it between us and try Hammond’s trick, cuddling and rocking and walking, until the sobbing turns into heaving gulps for air.

“I’m sorry,” he whimpers again, “I’m sss . . . ssorry.”

“No, this is my fault. I never should have brought you here in the first place.” I palm his head, slide my fingers into his hair, and press my cheek against his again. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m sorry I didn’t understand you had no control over your actions. And I’m sorry I let my being scared carry over into being mad at you. That wasn’t fair.”

The punctuation changes to gulps and sniffs. “I – love – you – Jack,” followed by a deep sigh. “Please don’t leave me,” and several more sniffs.

Ice pick again.

“I love you too, Sport. I’m right here, feel my cheek against yours? I’m not going anywhere, Daniel.”

Instead of using my shirt, a habit I’ve been trying to break, he wipes his nose with the back of his arm and heaves another deep sigh before laying his head back down on my shoulder. “Are you still mad?” He’s so congested it’s difficult to breath period, much less normally.

“I shouldn’t have been mad in the first place and I’m very sorry I was.”

Several more sniffs and then, “You still love me? Even though I didn’t obey?”

Oh. My. God.

“Hey, sit up and look at me, okay?”

He doesn’t want to and resists my efforts to get him to sit up.

“Come on, just for a minute, please?” I unwrap his arm from around my neck and lean back. Like a magnet he leans too. “Daniel! Just for a minute.”

Both shoulders come up around his ears and I have to raise his chin so he’s reluctantly looking me in the eye.

“I love you and nothing you could do or say will ever change that. Even when I’m mad at you, it doesn’t change the fact that I still love you. I might not like some choices you make and I might even be angry at you again, but I will always love you, even if I’m mad. Okay? We square on this issue?”

He eyes me for a moment before leaning into me again. I tuck him back under my chin as another round of tears soak into the shirt.

“Will you still love me if I get big again? ‘Cause I don’t want to be big if you won’t love me anymore.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I want to do both, though I do neither, only squeeze him tight again and whisper in his ear, “I love you no matter what; big or little, even in between, if we have to go through those teenage years. I will love you for the rest of our lives. And here’s an added bonus, Sam and Teal’c love you just as much and will continue to love you just as much if you get big again.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive, Sport.”

On another sigh, the finger goes in his mouth. “I’m very tired” he sniffs. “Is it okay if I sleep now?”

“Bet you are.” Who knows what that tree sucked out of him. “You want to lie back down?”

“No,” he says, and I wonder if there are more tears in need of shedding, given the amount of sniffling still going on. “I want you to hold me.”

“I can do that.” I pat his back. “You go to sleep. I’m gonna go find Carter and Teal’c. Daniel?”

“What?”

“Are the tears all gone?”

“Noooooo.”

Sure enough, there are lots more.

“I’m . . . sorry.”

“For crying?”

“Yes . . . nooooooo . . . I don’t know,” he’s sobbing uncontrollably again. “I . . . don’t like it . . . when you’re . . . mad at me.” He really is exhausted; he only gets like this when he’s extremely tired.

I squeeze my eyes shut on a long sigh. “It’s no fun for me either. And I have to tell you, most of the time I have no business being mad at you to begin with. It’s usually happens when you scare the bejeezus out of me.”

“Oh,” he says, on another sniffling sigh. “I’m sorry. I’ll try not to do it again.”

“This would be a good thing, but don’t worry, I won’t hold you to it.”

“Jack?”

“Yes, Daniel?”

“What if other trees start waking up?”

“Maybe tomorrow the DHD will be working again and we can go home, let’s not borrow trouble tonight.”

I can always hope.

“’kay.” He wiggles ‘til he’s squinched down with his ear against my heart.

“Should I tell Sam and Teal’c sorry too?” he asks sleepily, around the finger in his mouth.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for, Daniel, and I think they both already know that. It was just me who was too stupid to get a clue.”

“You’re not stooopid.” He draws out the word as only he can do.

Once or twice as an adult, he’s shared his candid opinion regarding some of my actions, when he’s been totally exasperated with me.

“Just slow.”

“Ummm,” he says on a yawn, burrowing back into my neck. “I love you, Jack.”

“I love you too, Sport.”

“I love you better,” he murmurs.

“Ahhhh, but I love you best.”

“No, I love you bestest . . .” The arm around my neck relaxes, though it remains curved loosely in place.

“I think you’re right,” I whisper to my sleeping kid. “You’ve always loved us bestest.” I brush the hair back and kiss his hot, sweaty forehead. “Sweet dreams, Sport.”

My 2IC and comrade-in-arms are not too far down the beach. I find them sitting on the trunk of a palm tree grown sideways out of the sandy soil.

“I owe both of you an apology,” I say, without preamble. “I’m sorry I ever let us get coerced into coming here and I’m sorry I didn’t listen to either of you back there. Is there anything we can do to get home?”

“We could try hooking up the M.A.L.P.s power source to the Gate and dialing manually,” Carter offers, “but I don’t think there’s enough power. I doubt it would make a difference anyway. If the DHD is locked, the Gate’s probably locked too.”

“Teal’c?”

“Majorcarter is correct, as usual.” There’s a hint of censure in his voice. “You understand, O’Neill, it is unlikely Danieljackson had any control over his actions?”

“Yeah, he did finally get through to me on that.”

‘Sir, under the circumstances –”

“It’s my job to assess risk and minimize the danger. If I’d listened to him in the first place and just taken him to the damn tree, none of this would have happened.”

For a few minutes the only sounds are the swish of the surf as it froths on the sand and the sigh of the breeze in the palm fronds over our heads.

“Do you want me to try the M.A.L.P. power source, sir?” Carter ventures finally, rubbing out whatever she was drawing in the sand with her bare toe.

“No. At this point I think we should just head back to camp. There’s no feeling of malevolence about this.” I sigh. “If I had stopped to think instead of just reacting to Daniel . . .” I trail off, shaking my head. “I don’t know what it is about a pint-sized archeologist, but it seems like I can’t keep any frame of reference anymore when it comes to him. There’s no . . .” I trail off again, frustrated.

I’m a United States Air Force Colonel with decades of combat and command experience; I never make decisions based on feelings. This is me we’re talking about, the guy who needs to ask the Wizard for a heart. And yet, with this downsized Daniel, it seems I have no . . .

“Detachment?” Carter supplies.

“Yeah, that would be the word.”

“To paraphrase Daniel, why should you?”

“Daniel?”

“Years ago, when we found Cassie and realized what the Goa’uld had done to her.”

Teal’c stands and gives Carter a pull up from their unconventional bench.

“I do not believe the presence here is malevolent either; however, we would be wise to ensure Danieljackson cannot again be forced to do anything against his will.”

“I’m tempted to handcuff him to me,” I respond dryly, turning back toward camp.

“By the same token, O’Neill, we do not know if it would have harmed him had we managed to keep him from responding. I believe our best course of action is to do as you suggested - let him be the guide. There appears to be no injurious effect from his previous intervention.”

“Right.” I can’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice, though I know with certainty Teal’c is correct. “Let’s let Daniel call the shots and see where it lands us. Usually in trouble if memory serves me right. And that’s not exactly what I said.”

“Is it not?”

“No, I said if I’d listened to him in the first place and taken him to the tree, none of this would have happened.”

“Never bandy words with the Colonel, Teal’c. He’s far better with them than he lets on and he’s got a memory like a steel trap.”

“Why thank you, Carter.”

“That wasn’t necessarily a compliment, sir.”

“It wasn’t necessarily an insult either, Major.”

“We’ll call it draw then?”

I have no comeback for that, at least none I’m going to share tonight, and Daniel’s arm tightens around my neck as I lean over to put him down on his sleeping bag.

He wakes enough to do his clinging vine act again.

This time I’m receptive to the message and take him to the fire with us where he’s plied with hot chocolate by Carter and a long, rambling story from Teal’c. Daniel listens attentively for all of three minutes before drifting off again. I tune out too. Surprisingly, despite the evening’s hoopla, a hard to resist tranquility is creeping over me.

Conversation around the fire is desultory, until an hour later when Carter breaks a long silence with the observation, “You know, for just having come down from an adrenalin rush, I feel pretty good. I’m not tired and I don’t have the usual headache that accompanies a rush like that. Is it just me?”

“And I’m not pissed as hell that we’re locked out of the DHD. No, Carter, I don’t think it’s just you.”

“Strangely enough,” Teal’c rumbles, “I am experiencing similar sensations to when my symbiote previously derived great pleasure from something.”

“Is that good, or bad, T?”

Across the fire, Teal’c raises the ubiquitous eyebrow. “It is not an unpleasant sensation, O’Neill, though it is rather disquieting to be experiencing the effect of a symbiote I no longer possess.”

None of us are anxious to go to bed, despite, or maybe because of, the near euphoric effects we’re feeling. Carter gets up to use the facilities and comes back announcing since the moon is up and lighting the bath so beautifully, she’s going back to her interrupted soak.

I have no argument. For some strange, unjustifiable reason I’m certain we’re done with the drama for tonight. I have no idea why I’m certain, I just am. In and of itself, the feeling is disconcerting, but I’m feeling so mellow I don’t even bother to analyze it, just go with the flow.

We bank the fire and when Carter comes back, dripping, but quietly composed and serene this time, both she and Teal’c turn in, tucking Daniel into his sleeping bag between them.

When Carter’s alarm announces change of watch, I trade her sleeping bag for mine and settle down within touching distance of Daniel. For awhile I lay looking up at the stars.

We’re nine galaxies from home, yet some of the constellations look vaguely familiar. There’s one very close to the archer, Sagittarius; another that looks like Pisces, the fish, but those two don’t belong in the sky at the same time, at least not at home. If I fill in a couple of blank spots, I can just make out Canis Major, the Great Dog.

I fall asleep thinking of Teal’c’s dog and even dream of it.

Except it’s no dream. Daylight is filtering through my eyelids. I don’t want to wake up, let alone get up. Last night’s euphoria has dissipated; instead I’m feeling old and used up, and distinctly cranky.

Especially when I roll over and find myself nose to snout with a huge, silver-white wolf wrapped around Daniel as if he was her pup. The enormous head is down on its paws. One blue eye studies me lazily, the tail thumps once, and the eye closes again.

I’m reaching for my P-90 when Teal’c rumbles, “Do not, O’Neill.”

“Give me one good reason.”

“She is guarding Danieljackson.”

Well, that’s a good reason, but not a satisfactory one.

“From what?” My fingers curl around the solid coolness of the automatic weapon.

“Mmmm, Teal’c? I think your dog found us,” Carter says, rolling over on the other side of Daniel and reaching out a hand to pet the . . . dog?

The tail thumps again as Carter plunges her fingers into the thick fur and rubs enthusiastically.

“Anybody else concerned that we have a wild animal in our camp, who thinks she’s guarding our kid? Don’t get me wrong here, but isn’t that our job? Aren’t we supposed to be guarding him against things like, oh you know, wild dogs?” I sit up slowly, sliding the P-90 onto my lap and get the equivalent of a doggy grin from She-Ra.

“Carter?”

Carter’s still has her fingers in the dog’s fur. “I think she likes it.”

“And I think you’ll function better as my 2IC with all your fingers in tact, Major.”

“The wolf has been in camp for several hours, O’Neill.”

“And you didn’t shoot it because, Teal’c?”

“She meant no harm.”

“How the hell do you know that?” I, on the other hand, have every intention of inflicting harm. In one fluid motion I roll out of my sleeping bag and onto my feet. I haven’t gotten up that easily in countless years, and just a few minutes ago I was feeling old and used up.

This place is confusing the hell outta me.

“I believe you would call it gut instinct.”

It’s a damn good thing she picked Teal’c’s watch to wander into the camp; I’d have shot it on sight. I look down, trying to decide whether I should wake Daniel or just let him be and the damn dog is grinning at me again. She’s still got her head down on her paws, but if that’s not a shit-eating doggy grin, I don’t know what is.

“Listen up, She-Ra, I’m lead dog in this camp and that’s my kid you’re curled around. You hurt him and your hide will be so nailed to a board, drying in the sun.” It’s the best I can do, considering it’s a dog. “So why don’t you beat it while you still can?”

“I do not believe you will find it easy to be rid of her, O’Neill. Perhaps her role is to shield Danieljackson from further harm.”

“”From us?” I inquire with my usual wit and charm, slinging the P-90 over my shoulder as I head for the eons old latrine.

“The island is waking up.”

“Are you sure, Teal’c?” Carter says, sitting up as I do an about face.

“How do you know?”

“I have completed a circuit of this portion of the island already. I believe several more trees have awakened.”

“Wait,” I throw up a hand. “You didn’t bother to wake either of us? And I repeat, how do you know?”

“The wolf does not guard just Danieljackson. And I do not ‘know’ this to be true, O’Neill, it is merely a suspicion.”

I open my mouth to reply, find I have nothing to say, and close it abruptly.

This is my worst nightmare come to life in vibrant, living color. I have absolutely no control over the situation and there’s a damn wolf guarding my kid.

Oh yeah, worst nightmare. Here’s hoping she’ll be better at the job than I am.

The wolf yawns, showing a muzzle full of pearly-white, long, sharp teeth. There’s not a hint of aggression, but again the message is imprinted clearly on my mind. There’s not a damn thing I can do about her, short of shooting her, and somehow I don’t think it matters I’m the Colonel in this camp - my companions would shoot me before they allowed me to shoot the dog.

Daniel’s just waking as I come back into camp after performing my morning ablutions. Teal’c has the fire going again and is making pancakes on the grill. Carter’s already eating. I smell bacon and eggs too, and coffee. Teal’c doesn’t drink it, but when he has last watch, he never fails to have a pot on for Daniel when we get up. Even though it’s just Carter and me now, he’s kept up the habit.

Before Daniel opens his eyes, he calls my name.

I snatch a cup of coffee and wind my way over to the wolf, smiling pleasantly at her as I drop to one knee beside her and my kid.

“Morning, Sport. Sleep well?”

“Mmmmm,” he nuzzles his face in the soft fur. “Nice pillow.”

Many of adult Daniel’s habits have regressed with this incarnation; this is just one of them. Although it’s much easier to get him to sleep now, on the morning end nothing’s changed. Getting him up is still like pulling teeth. Up and showered and dressed takes a minimum of an hour, which is why we’ve reverted to a nighttime bath in our household. That way it only takes half an hour to get him up and dressed in the morning, which is still ten minutes longer than it took me to roll out of bed, shower, grab a cup of coffee, and be on my way to work – BD - Before Downsizing.

I wait, curious to see what his reaction will be when he finally wakes and realizes he’s acquired a new friend during the night.

I think we’re all a little startled, even the wolf, when he sits up abruptly, eyes wide and demands, “What happened?”

“Which time?” I inquire, sipping my very hot coffee.

He turns his unblinking gaze on me. “Last night. Is the tree . . . the tree? I left the tree.”

The dog raises her head and nuzzles him gently so he plops back down inside the circle of her tail and snout. Almost like a parent testing for fever, she licks his cheek. Satisfied, the great head returns to its paws and she gives me a wink.

“What happened to the tree?”

“You told me the tree was fine.”

“I did? The tree’s okay? I want to go see it.”

“Right now? Or can it wait ‘til we’ve eaten breakfast and we can all go together?” I suppose I can at least try to follow his lead.

Daniel glances from my face over to Teal’c at the fire, and I think, wakes up.

He sniffs hungrily. “I’m starved, let’s go after breakfast.”

There’s not one word about the dog, though he pats her absentmindedly on the head as he rises again and steps over her tail.

Since he fell asleep on the walk back to camp late yesterday afternoon and didn’t wake to eat, I’m not surprised he’s starved.

As he wanders off to the facilities, the dog extends her hind legs, rising slowly as she stretches to her full length, yawns, and trots after Daniel.

Yes, I know damn well I’m attributing human behavior to a dog for cryin’ out loud. But like the trees, there’s more to this dog than meets the eye. Don’t ask . . . ‘cause I really don’t want to delve too deeply into how I know.

This is so not my thing.

Teal’c hands me a plate and I take a seat next to Carter on my own personal log. He silently hands a plate to Daniel too, as Daniel meanders back into camp, followed by the dog.

“So who’s your shadow?” I inquire, thinking maybe that will get some kind of reaction.

“Huh?” He looks over at me, not quite covering a yawn. “Oh, she says you call her She-Ra. Why did you call her that?” He makes a face. “Sam, can I have hot chocolate?”

“Sure. I brought the box.”

“Daniel?” I inquire. “She says?”

“Uh huh. Can I make it myself?”

“Sure,” Carter says again, getting up to get him the box of packages of hot chocolate. Ghirardelli, he’s just switched his snooty coffee genes for snooty hot chocolate genes.

I suspect Carter’s trying hard not to grin at my ineffectual interrogation.

Teal’c sets pancakes, on a plate no less, on the ground for the dog, who eats them daintily, one bite at a time, then trots back over to our bathtub for a long drink to wash everything down.

We hear her lapping away and Daniel pipes up, “Did you know that dogs have the cleanest mouth of any living animal there is, including humans?”

“I’m still not bathing in the dog’s water bowl,” I mumble.

“They do,” Daniel asserts, shooting me a look.

The only thing with keener hearing than a little Daniel is a bat. “They have bacteria in their saliva . . .”

“Daniel, we’re still eating.”

He opens his mouth to continue his pedantic lecture and I stuff a forkful of pancakes in.

“To be continued, after we’re done eating, please. Dog saliva and breakfast are mutually exclusive topics.”

“Breakfast isn’t a topic, Jack.”

“You’re so right. Tell me about the dog, Daniel.” I’m not easily sidetracked either. “Where’d she come from? What’s she doing here?” When is she going home? But I don’t ask that one out loud.

“She says she’ll go home when we go home.”

Let’s not even take into consideration Daniel’s answering questions I never asked because the dog told him the answer, nor the fact Carter and Teal’c are acting like Daniel translating for a dog is a normal every day occurrence – okay, maybe there is some truth to that, he can translate just about anything – but really, Dog? Is that like . . . Budge?

“How is the dog talking to you?”

“The same way you talk to me,” Daniel replies, looking at me as if it’s a strange question and I’ve lost my marbles for even asking it.

“We don’t . . .” I clear my throat, “talk like that, Daniel.”

“We used to, when I was big,” he says, without hesitation.

I blink at him. “Do you remember that?”

For the first time, he looks away. “No, not really.” Then back. “But sometimes you still talk to me that way; I just don’t know how to answer anymore.”

I have to clear my throat again. “What’s the dog’s name?”

“She said you call her She-Ra,” he repeats. “Why do you call her that, Jack?” He looks at the dog, now lying beside him. “Oh, another cartoon character; like the Simpsons?”

“Uhm, not exactly.”

For some reason, She-Ra, Princess of Power, just popped into my head when I saw the dog. It’s a cartoon Charlie used to watch years ago, some kind of take off on Wonder Woman, I think.

“What would the dog like us to call her?”

“She says She-Ra, Princess of Power will be fine - for now, anyway.”

I hold back a sigh, but only just barely. “Daniel, do you know the dog?”

“Sure.”

“Then what’s her real name?”

“I don’t know that, Jack. Animals never give their real name until they’re sure they can trust you. And since she knows I tell you everything,” he says candidly, “she’s not ready to tell me, ‘cause she’s not sure she trusts you.”

Right. I’ve been put in my place by a dog; a very large, very beautiful dog, but a dog, nonetheless. Its grinning at me again and I could swear its rolling its eyes.

“So.” I get up to wash off my plate in the makeshift sink Teal’c’s set up. “What’s on the agenda for today?”

“After we go see the tree,” Daniel states emphatically.

“After we go see the tree,” I agree amicably. I find it extraordinary that I’m taking this in stride. Screaming trees, talking dogs, even if it is sub vocal - under any other circumstances - would have me screaming. Either we’re on the island of the damned, or we’ve all ascended to a higher . . . plane of existence . . .

I turn around and look at the dog, who smiles at me, and wags her tail.

Damn dog.

Wolf, the dog responds prissily. In my mind the ghost of the words, ‘and don’t you forget it,’ linger long after I look away.

Damn dog.

There’s nothing this time, for which I’m grateful.

“Can I go in the water today?” Daniel wants to know.

“I don’t see why not, your cast should be totally dry by now,” Carter says, waving him over to check. “So, after we visit the tree, do you want to go to the beach?”

“Can we, Jack?”

“This is vacation. We can do whatever we want.”

“Yay! Let’s go to the beach. Did you bring your bathing suit, Sam? Teal’c?”

“Yep,” Carter says, rinsing her own dishes in the sink. “Here, give me your cup and plate, I don’t want you getting your cast wet again.” She takes Daniel’s dishes too, washes, rinses, and sets everything to air dry. “Race ya to change into your bathing suit,” she offers Daniel.

“Okay!” Laughing, Daniel ducks inside the tent, emerging thirty seconds later in just his bathing suit. I’m relatively certain he already had it on under his clothes.

“You little brat,” Carter exclaims when she emerges twenty seconds later. “How’d you manage that? Come here and let me put some more suntan lotion on you.”

“Why? I never washed off the stuff you put on yesterday.”

“Sorry, bud, doesn’t work that way. Besides, yesterday you were wearing a shirt and pants.”

“Oh. I don’t want it on my face again, it doesn’t taste good.”

“Too bad. If you’re going in the water, it’s going on your face. The water reflects the sun and you can get a worse burn in the water than out. Close your eyes.”

“I don’t . . .”

“And your mouth,” Carter warns.

Daniel grunts his displeasure.

Teal’c and I get special dispensations to change and shortly thereafter we’re off on our quest to find Daniel’s tree. Which is much less hassle than I expect as he leads us right to it.

The dog won’t let him near it until she’s sniffed the perimeter thoroughly and watered the roots for good measure. She goes up a notch or two in my estimation.

Daniel inspects the tree as thoroughly as the dog inspected the perimeter, pronounces it fine, and trots off after the dog, disdaining the path and cutting through the forest to the beach.

The pile of shells he gathered yesterday, and deposited on the sand well up from the high tide line, looks like it’s been raided. Or some of his acquisitions grew legs and dragged themselves back down to the water. There are several zigzagging lines leading down to the water’s edge and the pile has dwindled considerably.

He scampers along the zigzags, stopping every now and then to lean down and poke his finger between the lines.

“Escapees!” he chortles. “Teal’c, did you know they had animals inside?” he asks, scooping up a shell and running to the Jaffa. “Does this one?” He holds up a cross between a corkscrew and a conch shell.

Teal’c has proven quite the naturalist, a talent we had no idea he possessed until he took on the job of home schooling Daniel. He takes the shell now and examines it closely.

“There is no longer an animal inside this shell, Danieljackson.”

“Did you know there were animals in the others?” Daniel repeats, sticking his left index finger as far into the opening of the shell as he can.

It’s shaped like a corkscrew shell, long and narrow, except it’s about ten times larger than the little inch long things we find on beaches at home and the outside of the shell is the swirled, glossy pink and white of the inside of a conch shell. Beautiful, but very alien.

Instead of putting the pile in a bucket and bringing them all to Teal’c, or taking Teal’c to the pile, Daniel reverently brings them one at a time.

Many of them Teal’c can name and they have names like cochita - no, they look nothing like our tiny coquina shells - and burmuse and zelips, and they look as strange as they sound.

Daniel’s happy hunting them no matter how strange they look or what they’re called. But there’s only so much space in his office for more ‘stuff’ and this is the kind of thing that will have to stay on base.

I can see we’re going to have to have a discussion before long about how much of this can go home with us.

With the dog entertaining Daniel, Carter, Teal’c, and I manage to snatch a few moments of uninterrupted time to talk about how we’re going to manage this transition.

“I’ve discussed this theoretically with Hammond and I think he’ll give you the command, Major, and let us pick SG-1’s successors.” I look over at her.

She’s stretched out on her stomach on a blanket, face in an elbow, slick with suntan oil, and browning up like onions in a frying pan.

Teal’c and I are sitting in the shade, on another blanket, while Daniel and She-Ra are splashing in the surf.

There’s a lot of barking and laughing going on down there. They’re playing with a small wooden surf board with a detachable rope handle. Daniel sits on the board, the dog grabs the rope in her mouth and tows him at a rapid trot through the shallow water until he falls off, at which point the dog barks, jumping and splashing in the surf, Daniel cackles with glee, and they turn around and do it all over again. They’ve been at this for over an hour now and neither of them appears to be tiring.

I’m exhausted just watching.

“I don’t know, sir, remember we’ve been through this once already.”

“Believe me, I haven’t forgotten. However, the circumstances are entirely different. It’s not a sting operation, we don’t have any suspects, and we’re light years beyond where we were back then, Major.”

“What?” Carter shoves up on her elbows, half rising. “You suspected Colonel Makepeace? You never told us that!”

“I didn’t?”

“You suspected him and you let General Hammond put him in charge of SG-1 without warning us?”

I wince. Dammit. How have I managed to keep my mouth shut all these years, only to blow it now? “Carter, it worked out fine in the end.”

“It did not work out fine, sir. Daniel still has scars from that episode.”

“He never –”

“Did I ever tell you he got in Hammond’s face when the General didn’t give me the command?”

“No, but Hammond did. I think he was bragging rather than complaining. And Daniel never said a word to me about Makepeace.”

“I can’t believe you knew and didn’t tell us!” She flops back down on the blanket after shooting me another nasty look. “And of course Daniel never said anything to you, he wouldn’t, it’s not how he operates.”

“It was years ago, Carter. We’re all a few years older and smarter. And we’ve gotten way off the subject.”

“The subject at hand is whom do we believe General Hammond will place in charge of SG-1 if you take a desk job, O’Neill. We have not strayed far off the topic. Majorcarter was merely pointing out it is not, as you say, a done deal, that she will be given command of the unit.”

“I think Hammond will take my recommendations. I know if he doesn’t there will be a very good reason for it.”

“Like there are no other women in command of SG units.”

“That’s totally unfair to Hammond and you know it.”

For a moment Carter doesn’t answer, then she sighs. “Yes, you’re right. He’s the most unbiased male I’ve ever worked for. It won’t be a gender issue that keeps me from getting the command.”

“Do you want it?”

“I’m not saying I don’t, but I’m also not sure I do. It won’t be the same . . .” she trails off, turning her head to watch Daniel and the wolf racing up and down the beach.

“Have you spoken to Danieljackson concerning this transition?”

“No, I haven’t. I wanted to square things with you guys before we brought this up with Daniel.”

“What happens if we suddenly discover the ‘cure’ for this Fountain of Youth device. What happens if one of these days the mystery unravels and we have the means to return Daniel to his real age?”

“You mean will we be able to reconstitute SG-1?” At her abject nod, I shrug. “It’s doubtful, if we give it up now, SG-1 will ever be the four of us again.”

“But there’ll still be an SG-1? Can’t we retire the number or something? It doesn’t seem right, SG-1 without the four of us.”

“Perhaps we should start our own Hall of Infamy,” Teal’c suggests, a distinct twinkle in his eyes, though his expression remains neutrally impassive.

“Yeah, right. That’s exactly what it would be too.” I punch him lightly on the arm.

“I don’t like it,” Carter says flatly. “I don’t like the idea of breaking up SG-1. I don’t like the idea of your taking a desk job, Colonel, and I don’t like the idea of more new people on SG-1. But I like the idea of leaving Daniel without one of us even less.”

“Any better options to throw out, Major?”

“No, and I’ve been thinking about this since the topic came up three weeks ago.”

“Yeah, me too. I don’t know what else to do, and I can’t, in good conscience, keep going through the Gate, leaving Daniel home to wait and see if we come back. Or expose him again to danger like we did when he got hit.”

“You are forgetting, I think, O’Neill, that Danieljackson has lived his entire life to now, exposed to one danger or another.”

“No, I’m not, Teal’c. In fact that’s part of the motivating factor behind this decision. If he has to do this growing up thing again, I want it to be as normal as possible this time around. I want him to have all the advantages of growing up in the same household, with the same adults constant in his life. If that means it’s time for me to step back and take a less active role at the SGC, I’m okay with that. I’m not asking either of you to give up Gate travel.”

“Maybe this is something we should discuss with the General before we make any announcements to him.”

“I’m sure he would be willing to sit down with us and talk this through.”

“I’d really like to know what SG-1 would look like before we make any final decisions.”

“I’m okay with that. T?”

“As am I.”

Carter sighs again. “I wish we could talk to our Daniel about this.”

Now would probably not be a good time to tell them I’ve spoken to adult Daniel since this happened. Though I agree, it would be nice to be able to discuss this with him too. Wonder if I should ask this incarnation if he can give me the other Daniel again. “We’re about to have company.”

“Well, we need to talk to him anyway.”

“Not right now.”

“Not right now what?” Daniel asks, flopping down on the blanket next to Carter. “Aren’t you hot, Sam?”

The wolf drops unceremoniously, panting, at the outer edge of our shade.

“I wasn’t until you dripped water all over me. Now I am. Come on, Teal’c, let’s go show Daniel how to really use that surf board.”

“I do not know how to use Danieljackson’s surfboard, Majorcarter.”

“Then you’ll be an expert at it by the end of the afternoon. Come on!”

Carter and Daniel are up off the blanket in a flash, running for the sheer joy of running, to the water’s edge.

Teal’c follows at a more sedate pace and a short lesson in how to use the board in the shallow surf ensues.

Teal’c, despite his size, has incredible body awareness, as does Carter. She’s obviously an expert at this and can ride the board for several yards, skimming the top of the water parallel to the beach.

It’s not long before Teal’c can as well, once he gets the hang of it.

They’re both laughing and calling instructions to Daniel as he, with his seven-year-old clumsiness intact, tries to imitate them.

I’m not the least bit surprised to glance over at the wolf and find Oma Desala sitting cross-legged in the sand. If I squint just right, I can still see the shimmering outlines of the wolf.

She’s watching the trio as well, but turns back only a second or two after the prickling awareness renders her visible to me.

I raise an eyebrow. “What an unexpected pleasure.” Not. “And before you start all the zen crap, I’m not in the mood to play games. Why are we here?”

She looks back to Daniel and surprises me by answering directly. “I needed him.”

So I figure it’s okay to press my luck. “Why?”

She looks back at me with a hint of a smile. “Because.”

“I suppose then, I should thank you for not just zapping him away from us,” I offer grudgingly.

She does smile now. “Do you not understand yet, you are chosen as well?”

“Chosen? Me? Like Daniel? You’re barking up the wrong tree, ma’am.”

“You. Major Carter. Teal’c. You are all chosen, just as Daniel is.”

“And you’re out of your ascended mind.”

She chuckles, rearranges herself more comfortably on the sand, and looks over her shoulder again at the trio. “You do not understand, O’Neill.”

“Surprise, surprise. Do I want too?”

“Perhaps not; however, to be effective at your job, you will need to at least be aware.”

“And that job would be?”

“You are guardian to one of the most precious resources of the universe.”

“I don’t need any enlightenment on that subject. It didn’t take downsizing him for me to get that.”

“Oh, he did this to himself,” Oma laughs - a silvery dance up and down the melodic scale. “He would not be Daniel if he could leave the mysteries of the universe alone.” She looks back at me again. “You have not tried to contact me?”

“Maybe because I didn’t want you mixed up in this. We lost him to you once; we’re not prepared to let him go again.”

“Are you prepared to guard him to maturity again?” she snaps.

“What do you think?” I snap back.

For a long moment she just looks at me. “This is why you are chosen,” she says softly, “along with your companions.”

“So you’re telling me we’re not going to find a way to reverse this?”

“I have told you nothing, Colonel O’Neill. You are making assumptions.”

“You told me you needed him here.”

“I did?”

Oh yeah, the picture of innocence. “Why?”

She sighs and surprises me again. “There are forces here that could be powerful allies in the ongoing battle.”

“And Daniel can wake them for you.”

She inclines her head, reminding me of Teal’c. “In a manner of speaking.”

“Do you know if he’s going to be resized to normal or not?”

“I do.” She’s full of surprises today.

“Well?”

“How many times must one disrobe before discovering the real self?”

“Don’t start with me. Will Daniel be resized to normal? Yes or no?”

She eyes me for a moment before replying, “I cannot tell you how, or when.”

I close my eyes and suck in air.

“You will need to guard him well.”

“I can live with that.”

“Will you allow him to accompany me for a short time?”

“Define short; your time or my time?”

“A distinction worthy of your linguist, Colonel,” she smiles again, ruefully. “Mine.”

“Unlock the DHD.”

“Or?”

“I’ll handcuff Daniel to me and you’ll have to take us both.”

There’s no doubt in my mind she’s only being polite.

“And you believe that would stop me if I chose to take him anyway?”

I shrug.

“It is unlocked.”

“You still need to ask Daniel and I want to be there when you do.”

“Very well.”

The dog barks, Oma is gone, and Daniel comes running back up the beach, leaving Teal’c and Carter playing with the surfboard.

“Aren’t you going to come play too, Jack?” He drops to his knees with a thud that makes me wince for my own knees.

“I’m far too old for that kind of playing, Daniel. Looks like you’ve just about mastered it though.”

“It’s harder than Teal’c and Sam make it look,” he laughs. “But it’s fun.” Out of the blue he grabs the wolf by the neck and rolls over, dragging her with him, except she doesn’t resist and they tussle on the sand for a few minutes, engaged in a mock battle. Just as suddenly, he rolls out from under her and sits up. “She wants to know if I’ll come with her to visit the trees.”

“Do you want to?”

“I don’t know.” The playfulness disappears as inexplicably as it appeared.

“You don’t know if you want to go?”

He shoves the heel of his foot into the sand, dredging a hole. “I don’t want to go if you’re going to be mad at me again.”

“Would it be okay if I’m a little worried?”

“She says she’ll watch over me just as good as you. She won’t let anything happen to me.” He’s still dredging, not looking at me.

“I won’t be mad, Daniel, if you decide to go with her.”

“Will you come with us?” He does look up now, avoiding looking at the dog and focusing on my face.

“Do you want me to?”

“You wouldn’t have to worry if you came along.”

“There is that.” I look at the wolf, who’s just a wolf again. “But maybe this is something you need to do with just . . . the dog.”

Daniel shrugs. “I don’t want to . . .” he whispers, trailing off as he looks away again.

“Hey.”

“What?” He slants a look at me, frowning.

“Do you know why she wants you to go?”

Daniel nods. “There are more trees that need help. But I don’t want you to be mad at me again,” he repeats.

I sigh. “I’d be happier if I could go with you.”

“Okay! She says okay! Let’s go!”

The dog doesn’t look too happy, but I don’t give a damn.

“Let’s go tell Teal’c and Carter we’re going for a walk.”

Daniel happily covers over his dredged hole and grabs my hand, skipping along beside me as we head down to the water.

“We’re going to take She-Ra for a walk,” he sing-songs to the pair. “We’ll be back in a little bit.”

My fellow grown-up teammates are engaged in a contest of skill, vying for longest upright on the board, and furthest distance. They barely acknowledge our departure.

I should probably tell them to check in with Hammond since the DHD is now unlocked and we’ve missed our first call-in.

A quick check of my watch and I calculate we have another four hours before Hammond sends SG-7 through on a rescue mission. I make sure the radios on the blankets are turned on before we leave so I at least have some chance of reaching Carter and Teal’c in case of an emergency.

“Should we go put shoes on or something?”

“There’s nothing on this island that will hurt us. We don’t need shoes,” Daniel says matter-of-factly.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

The dog trots off purposefully and I’m told quite succinctly to keep up or get left behind, and not by Daniel, though he looks at me and grins mischievously. Very briefly he touches my hand, smiles again, and the two of them are off up the beach, leaving me to follow at a more leisurely pace.

I have no idea what he did when he touched me, but I have no trouble keeping up with them, though both of them seem to flit through the forest like dryads.

Only once during the afternoon does Oma appear again. “You understand he has more control over his gifts in this incarnation?”

“You expect me to acknowledge his ‘gifts’?”

She smiles as we follow Daniel, several yards ahead of us, arms again stretched wide, zigzagging to touch a tree here, another there. There’s a distinct hum in the air, almost like an electrical charge, though it’s pleasant rather than intense.

“When he chose to descend he closed himself off from that ability.”

“He had a choice?”

“O’Neill, when will you learn? Daniel Jackson’s choices are limitless. Though he has again chosen mortal life, he is not like other mortals.”

“Are you telling me when he chooses to be big again, he will be?”

“I tell you nothing you don’t already know.”

“I didn’t know for sure he’d be resized to normal again,” I point out, perhaps unwisely.

Oma only smiles and turns back into a wolf.

We’re slowing down. The frenetic need for haste no longer drives Daniel or the wolf. Don’t ask me how I know that either. I only know I’ve been part of something this afternoon that I would have sworn, even two hours ago, was impossible.

I’m just an old, slow Colonel with little appreciation for the impossible. I should have sent Carter, maybe she’d have learned something.

There’s a faint echo of laughter in my mind and I turn to look at the wolf.

Major Carter would not have been allowed to make this journey. Some things do not require analysis, merely appreciation, even so little appreciation as yours.

“Jack?” Daniel’s sagging wearily at the end of my arm. He lifts his arms when I offer to pick him up.

“What, Sport?”

“Can She-Ra go home with us when we go home?”

Oh yeah, knew this was coming. “Well, first of all, you have to remember, Daniel, she’s a wild animal. She wouldn’t like living in a house, cooped up all the time.”

“But I’d walk her every day and we could play in the yard.” He has his head down on my shoulder and every now and then he drags in air as though he can’t get enough.

“Tired, Sport?”

“A little. Can we, Jack?”

“Second, I think that’s something you better discuss with her. I can’t decide for her whether she wants to come with us.”

“Yeah, but if you won’t let her live with us, then I can’t even ask her.”

“Good point. You’re welcome to ask if she’d like to come and live with us.”

Exercise a little discretion here, O’Neill. There’s no need to be the bad guy as I’m certain Oma’s going to tell him, very kindly no doubt, there’s no way in hell she’s coming to live with us.

I hope.

I shoot the dog a meaningful look and hear again that echo of feminine laughter in my mind.

Daniel raises his head to rest his chin on my shoulder so he can have a conversation with the dog.

“Oh,” he says, disappointment evident in the single exclamation.

“What?” I glance over my shoulder.

Daniel tchs and huffs. “She says she’s not a real dog and you already knew that.”

I swing us around to face the dog, who sits back on her haunches and grins up at us, tongue lolling.

“If you’re not a real dog, then show Daniel who you are.”

The grin slowly turns sour. For a moment we do the Mexican standoff thing, then the air shimmers around the dog and Oma is standing in front of us, arms crossed over her chest, a distinctly un-ancient frown marring the thirty-something features.

“Ahhht, you started it. I gave you a perfect out and you decided to needle me instead. You know what they say; age and treachery will outwit youth and beauty every time.”

“A neat evasion, Colonel,” she chuckles despite herself. “Especially as neither apply.”

“Fishing for compliments, ma’am? I must say, you certainly don’t look your age.”

“You should quit while you’re ahead.”

“Why would you be a dog if you’re really a lady?” Daniel asks, ring finger sliding into his mouth for a little chew.

Oma offers a sigh and motions for us to resume walking. “I don’t know, I think sometimes dogs have more fun than ladies. What do you think, Daniel?”

“Oh,” he says, laying his back down on my shoulder. “Probably.”

“Just for instance, would you have played in the water with me if I’d been a lady?”

“I played in the water with Sam. She’s a lady.”

“Yes, but she’s a lady you know.”

“I know you.”

“Do you?”

“I’ve met you before. Haven’t I, Jack?”

“Opened quite a can of worms here, haven’t you, Colonel?” she murmurs, just barely loud enough for me to hear.

“I think I must have met you before this happened to me.” He sits up abruptly, nearly overbalancing on my arm. “Hey, if you can be a dog when you want to, can you make me big again?”

Daniel and I exchange a glance and both turn to her.

I didn’t asked her that.

Instead of answering, she asks, “Do you want to be big again?”

Daniel hesitates, rolls his shoulders and drops his head down again. “I don’t know,” he sighs, shoving the finger back in up to the first knuckle.

“It is not in my power to return to you that which you have given away. However, you will recognize when the time is right and you will all know what to do.”

“All?’ I repeat.

“My job here is finished. It’s time for me to go, but you should stay and play; make memories, Colonel.” She leans forward and kisses Daniel on the forehead very gently. “Sleep, little one, the healing sleep of the dreamer. You have used up much energy this afternoon. Sleep . . .” Her hand passes right through me, but rests lightly on Daniel’s head. His eyes drift shut and every muscle in his body sags with the laxness of deep sleep. His finger slips out of his mouth and he’s nothing but jello in my arms.

I shift him so he’s cradled against me.

We both stand for a long moment looking down at the sleeping child and I remember standing outside a temple, watching adult Daniel stare hungrily at another child in the arms of Oma Desala. I have a much better understanding of what I saw in his eyes that day.

“It is not my privilege to guard and guide this one,” she says softly, caressing his cheek. “This one belongs to you; your destiny is linked. Do you understand you are building a bridge for him?”

“A bridge?” I echo.

“Build it solidly; he may need to cross over it many times before his journey is over.”

“What? Are you saying he’s going to –”

“You really must get him a dog.”

I open my mouth to respond, but she’s gone. No dog, no Oma, no glowy octopus thing floating away in the direction of the Stargate - just gone.

Well . . . crap.

I stop, shift Daniel a little, and look around to get my bearings, only to find I’m at the head of the path. According to my watch we’ve been gone less than an hour, though it feels like days.

Carter and Teal’c are headed this way. I step back under the shade on the path and wait.

“Is Daniel okay?”

“He’s fine, just sleeping.”

“Your mission is accomplished?”

“Yeah, and the tape’s going to self-destruct any minute now.”

“We were just going back to get some lunch,” Carter says, laying a hand on Daniel’s forehead.

“I told you, he’s fine, Major.”

“Yes, sir. I even heard you. Just needed to see for myself.”

Since I can’t argue that, I turn and lead the way up the path. “We need to check in when we’re done. We don’t want Hammond sending in the marines.”

* * *

Teal’c’s wood-smoked chicken linguini, with that bottle of Cristal Carter brought along, is perfection. Julia Child would be extraordinarily pleased with her newest pupil. We certainly are.

Even Daniel, who slept through lunch and barely woke up in time to eat tonight, asked for seconds. At this age, he rarely appreciates fine cuisine.

We’ve all found seats on the ground around the fire tonight and I can feel the energy building in the earth. That fragile balance I mentioned on arrival? The scales have tipped. While it’s not unpleasant, it is a little unnerving, and I doubt we’ll stay much longer.

Our Littlest Ancient is wandering around the clearing conversing with the trees.

At least that’s what it looks like. It’s a silent communication, but from the look of wonder on his face I’m certain there must be some kind of exchange going on. He comes back over to the fire and instead of crawling into my lap as he usually does, sits down beside me.

I wonder briefly if we’ve turned some corner; if he’s discovered a new maturity and has suddenly decided he’s too old for cuddling. And then he scoots around in front of me and looks over his shoulder.

“Jack?”

“Hmmm?”

I rest my chin lightly on his head as I settle him between my knees and he leans back against me.

“Can we get a dog when we get home?”

What the hell are we gonna do with a dog when we go off-world? “Let’s talk about that when we get home.”

“Can we go home now?”

“Now? As in tonight? We’ve got a couple more days here, Daniel.”

“I don’t think we should stay.”

“Why?”

“The trees are . . .” He trails off, rotates his right shoulder into my chin and leans forward at my oomph. “Sorry. You okay?”

“Not to worry, only a broken jaw. I’ll live.”

“Jack!” he groans, almost matching my theatrics.

“The trees are . . . what?’

“Waiting.”

“Waiting for what?” Carter questions curiously.

“I don’t know. They just seem . . . I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain.” Daniel shifts agitatedly between my knees.

Teal’c shifts as well; never a good sign from the Jaffa. He doesn’t do nerves.

“What?” I raise an eyebrow.

A breeze drifts across our clearing, raising goose bumps on Daniel, despite the fact the breeze is warm and he’s tucked up against me. He bolts to his feet, clipping my chin again with the full force of his rising shoulder and I taste blood.

“We have to go, right now!”

“What the hell? Daniel?” I wipe blood off my chin with the back of my hand, reaching for him with the other, but he whips out of my reach as I stagger to my feet.

“Right now, Jack! Teal’c! Sam!” He grabs my hand and with a strength born of desperation actually manages to drag me a step or two. “Come now!”

“Daniel, we need to pack things up if we’re going home,” Carter says, looking as bewildered as I’m feeling.

“There’s no time! We have to go now, tell them, Teal’c. We have to go right now! Come on! Come on!”

Teal’c, who’s risen to his feet as well, tilts his head. In the fire-lit dark I see his eyes go wide. “Danieljackson is correct, we must leave immediately.”

“What the hell is going on?” I snatch up Daniel and jog after Teal’c as he grabs Carter and shoves her toward the path.

“Teal’c, we’ve got to get . . .”

“There is nothing in this camp worth our lives, Majorcarter.” He urges us all to a run as we hit the path.

I feel it now too, the urgency of the earth. The hum of the newly awakened trees has increased to a buzz, and as we reach the head of the path the moon slides out from behind a cloud and we have a glorious view of a solid wall of water, still far enough out to sea that it looks relatively small.

“It will reach here before we can get to the Stargate, sir.”

“Then run like hell, Major.”

The ocean is already surging. There’s water swirling around our feet and we’re running flat out, as close to the tree line as possible without being hampered by reaching branches.

And they’re definitely stretching toward us.

I throw an arm over Daniel’s head as a particularly tenacious branch slaps us both and tries to twine around his arm. When a second one nearly sends us sprawling I angle further out onto the beach, but that slows us even more because I’m slogging through water up past my ankles.

The beautiful turquoise-green water Daniel was so happily playing in - was it just yesterday – is deadly serious now and rising steadily as we splash as fast as we can toward the Gate and safety.

“We’re not going to make it,” Carter pants, as the water creeps up to our knees.

“Yes we are, Major.”

“Put me down.” Daniel shoves against my arms. “I think I can stop the water. It’s why the trees were trying to stop us.”

He probably can, but I’m not taking any chances.

“Jack!”

“Stop it!” I snap, clamping him to me. “If we can’t get to the Gate, we’ll consider it, but only as a last option.”

“I can stop it. I can keep it from sinking the island too. Put me down, I can save the trees!”

“I don’t give a damn about the trees, Daniel!”

“Jack!” he wails. “They’re alive now because of me. I have to try.”

Teal’c and Carter look back.

“Go! And don’t wait for us. Go through if you can!”

Both of them stop, turn, and slog back toward us.

“Dammit! Go! That’s an order!”

“You can court martial me if we make it out alive, Colonel. But I’m not going.”

“What do we do, Danieljackson?”

‘Put me down, Jack, let me ask the trees. They were trying to stop us before, they must know!”

The water is past my knees and the undertow is beginning to make itself felt. If I put him down, it will be nearly to his waist. We’re at the causeway, though our sandbar is covered, and the water is above the Gate dais, lapping at the base of the circle.

I’m transported back to that moment with Oma this afternoon and in my minds eye I see Daniel again, standing barefoot on the steps of the temple.

“If you’re ever going to trust me, Jack, now is the time.”

It’s a hundred yards back to the trees and two hundred yards to the Gate. We can make it to the Gate, despite this stop. I know with absolute certainty we can make it to the Gate.

Daniel says nothing, though I can feel him holding his breath.

I turn with him and head to the tree line, Carter and Teal’c hot on our heels. There were trees growing between the rocks, we can head toward higher ground and still find trees.

As soon as we reach the rocks, Daniel’s pushing against me again.

“Put me down, I can climb, and I have to find the right tree. They’re not all awake.”

I let him slide down to the rock and he immediately scrambles up several more boulders.

Teal’c goes up along side him, Carter moves to his other side and I stay behind him.

In minutes at most, it’s not going to matter. We can hear the roar of the water now. In the sixty seconds we’ve been climbing, the water’s risen 3 feet and we have a really good view of the wall, surging toward us in the moonlight like a slow-motion horror movie.

Daniel’s reaching toward every tree we pass, mumbling to himself or the tree, I don’t know which, and clambering quickly on with each successive tree. And then he throws himself at one.

Teal’c shoves Carter between us, wraps a massive arm around the tree and locks his fingers around my wrist. I get the message immediately and reach to grab a protruding branch of the tree as well so Carter and Daniel are pressed against the tree between us.

The ground is shaking again. Several boulders are shaken loose and roll ponderously toward us, one of them grazing my heel and showering us with small stones, but otherwise missing us by a wide margin.

The low hum of energy we were hearing back in our clearing has risen to a wild, offbeat melody that reverberates in my head like I’m inside a bass drum. The trees are singing and the ground is keeping time, rolling heavily, uprooting saplings all around us, but I can feel our tree, Daniel’s tree, sinking its roots deep into the earth. There are branches all around us now too, like safety nets, enmeshed leaves trying to shield us from poking.

Teal’c’s fingers tighten briefly around my wrist.

I look across at him and see only courage and strength in those dark eyes. I hope he sees the same in mine.

The island jolts under us, nearly knocking all of us off our feet as the wall of water hits the shore. We have time only to stagger upright again, still locked together, when we’re soaked by a deluge. The water pours down on us, beating us nearly senseless, but it’s like a hard, heavy rain and it’s not rising around our feet and we can still breathe, and although it seems to come in endless wave after wave . . . suddenly it’s over.

The sky above us is still cloudy, but the moon sails on a stiff breeze. The stars twinkle like diamonds strewn across a wrinkled and creased piece of deep blue velvet.

“Step carefully, the ground is unstable,” Teal’c admonishes, steadying Carter as she drops to her knees behind Daniel, arms still encircling him.

Like a puppet released from its dance, he sinks bonelessly through her outstretched arms to crumple across her knees. The only thing marring the grayness of his face is the bloody twin scratches down his right cheek.

“Too fast,” Carter murmurs, pressing her fingers to the pulse at his throat. “Daniel?” She taps his face lightly, then a little harder. “Daniel!” she says again, a little louder. “Come on, buddy, open your eyes.”

The lashes rise briefly to half mast. “G’way. Don’ wanna ge’up,” he mumbles, pulling away from her hand against his cheek. “G’way.” The movement dislodges him from her knees and he rolls to the ground.

We’re all soaked, but the ground is even soggier and wetter than we are.

“Jack?” He sits up abruptly, surprised by his wet bed, conks himself with his cast when he raises a hand to his probably aching head, and slumps back to the ground before either of us can catch him. “I don’t feel good.”

“Carter?” I snatch him up and hang him over my arm when he starts to vomit.

“Shock probably. We need to get him home to Janet.”

“I will reconnoiter, O’Neill.”

Read ‘see if the Gate’s on the new ocean floor and we’re stuck here for the short remainder of our natural lives’.

“Don’t forget your own advice, watch the ground.” I rub Daniel’s back as he throws up again. “Feel better now?” The tail of my wet shirt gets used to wipe the sweat off his face. Other than the scratches, there are no visible signs of injury.

Carter’s probably right, he’s in shock, psychological as opposed to physiological. Barring any other traumatic events tonight, even if we’re stuck here for awhile longer, if we keep him warm and let him rest he should be fine.

Teal’c’s shadow has already disappeared into the trees.

“It shouldn’t take long,” Carter says quietly, sliding down to sit with her back to the tree.

I sink down next to Carter and cradle Daniel against me.

We’re all in shorts and tee-shirts, not exactly dressed for survival, and the breeze, despite our tropical climate, is cool on the back of our own little tsunami.

Daniel is shivering and I’m not a lot warmer right now. I wrap him up in as a contained a space as possible to try and generate some body heat between the two of us.

“You think he did something with the trees to shield the island?” Carter asks softly, clenching her chattering teeth.

“Or is there some kind of a barrier reef we didn’t see that caused the surge to slow and/or maybe even go around us like that whatchamacallit thingamajig.”

Daniel wraps a hand in my tee-shirt and buries his nose in the crook of my arm.

“You mean the wrap-around effect, sir?”

“Yeah, that.”

“Or Daniel and the trees did something that shielded the island,” she repeats and I hear the note of shaken confidence in her voice.

Carter is first and foremost a scientist. When the laws of science are bent – maybe even broken - by the supernatural, she’s . . . let’s call it uncomfortable.

“It requires a series of islands to create that wrap-around effect, sir.”

“We have no idea what’s underneath this island, we haven’t explored beyond the close-in shallows. Maybe there’s a lot more land mass then we thought.”

“We would have noticed that on the UAV footage.”

“Carter, I’m trying to make you feel better and you’re discarding options as fast as I throw them out.”

“I think Daniel did something with the trees,” she whispers, sliding closer so Daniel’s bare feet are in her lap. “I think he was the wick that drew, and then dispersed all the power of the trees.” She starts rubbing them lightly.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to do that to shock patients.”

“You’re not, the reason he’s so cold is because his blood is going to his heart and brain to keep things functioning properly there.”

“But he’s gonna be okay because there’s no bleeding wound, right?” When she hesitates I repeat, “Right?”

“We should get him home as quickly as possible.”

Where the hell is Oma when we need her? And why didn’t she stop this natural catastrophe that nearly destroyed all her newly awakened allies?

I’m guilty of withholding information again. I haven’t told Carter and Teal’c about any of her appearances and I’m still not sure why. I suppose if she pops in now, to part the waters for us to get to the Gate, I might have to tell them, but I’m feeling less and less confident that I heard correctly.

Maybe I heard what I wanted to hear. For that matter, maybe she was figment of my imagination. Though Daniel spoke with her too – I think.

I haven’t been able to think straight since we stepped out of the Stargate onto this island of the damned . . . I mean . . . damn island.

Teal’c materializes silently in front of us. “The Stargate is in tact; however, the water level is still high. It will be several hours yet before we can reach the Gate and perhaps several hours more before we can open it safely.”

“Good news, bad news scenario, huh? Get some rest, you two, I’ll take first watch.”

“Sir?” Carter says tentatively, as Teal’c slides down the tree to sit on the other side of her. “Is there any reason to post a watch? I mean, what else can happen?”

“You think we’ve reached our quota of unfortunate events, Major?”

I feel her shrug. I also sense her fatalism. “One of us needs to stay awake in case Daniel gets worse.”

“Is he asleep?”

“No.”

“I’m awake, Sam,” Daniel replies, his voice muffled.

“Feel any better, Sport?”

“I don’t feel sick anymore. Just cold.”

Carter rubs the small feet again. “That’s not so surprising.”

We’re all cold, even huddled together like this. Likely we’re all suffering from various degrees of shock. I mean really, we just came through a tsunami with only a tree and a kid for shelter.

I saw the size of that wave with my very own eyes. There’s no way it went over or around the island, and we only saw the first one. We have no way of knowing what size, or how many, followed.

I don’t know what he did with the trees, but two things are clear.

He wicked the power, as Carter said, and dispersed it, which is why he’s burnt out now, and likely in shock.

Second, whether he wicked the power from the wave itself, we’ll probably never know, but somehow, in concert with the trees, he was able to diminish the devastation of the wave enough that it rained down harmlessly instead of drowning us and burying the island under millions of gallons of water.

Around 3:30 Teal’c moves soundlessly over to our side of the tree.

Carter stirs, probably from loosing the warmth on that side, though the breeze has warmed somewhat with the waning of the water.

His whisper, when he speaks, is nearly as soundless as his movement, though I hear him clearly. “I will watch the remainder of the night.”

Without asking, probably because he knows I would say no, Teal’c plucks a boneless Daniel from my arms and returns to his spot on the other side of Carter.

Daniel whimpers in his sleep and I very nearly get up to snatch him back, but I hear the rustle of fabric and know Teal’c is soothing him.

Of their own volition, my aching eyes slide closed and when they open again, its morning and I’m alone thinking I’ve dreamed this horrible nightmare I can’t wake up from.

“Morning, sir,” Carter appears over my right shoulder, but I hear her coming so I’m not surprised.

“Status report, Major?” A jaw-cracking yawn escapes my control.

“Teal’c took Daniel and went to scout the Gate again, sir.”

“Daniel was awake?”

“Awake, and seemed fine.”

I scrub my hands over my face wearily and shove off the tree, sucking air as I finally get my feet under me and my knee doesn’t want to hold me up. “So I didn’t just dream this whole disaster thing?” I ask, as cheerfully as I can through clenched teeth.

“Uhm, that would be a no, sir. You okay?”

“Just need to walk it out, Major, I’ll be fine.” I hobble from tree to tree with every intention of meeting Teal’c and Daniel on the way back from the Stargate. When Carter tags along, I have to get permission to take a side trip to answer the call of nature.

“Sorry,” she grins, unabashed. “I’ll wait for you on the beach, sir.”

“You do that, Carter.” What I wouldn’t give for a couple of aspirin - better yet, a couple of Frasier’s magic pills - this morning. Oh yeah, and breakfast would be nice. Room service would be better, but even toast and coffee would be acceptable right now.

Carter’s sitting on the huge boulders at the base of our hill, for want of a better term, the boulders that eventually form the causeway bisecting the sandbar.

Teal’c, with Daniel on his shoulders, is wading back across the sandbar from the Gate.

The water is lapping gently at the base of the boulder Carter occupies and it’s up past Teal’c’s knees.

“Hi Jack!” Daniel hollers, waving one hand wildly. The other is wrapped around Teal’c’s forehead. “We can probably go home in an hour or two!”

Despite the water, Teal’c makes good progress, and they come up with us in a couple of minutes. He swings Daniel down and plants him on our boulder.

“Hey, bud, feel better this morning?”

Daniel pulls away when I reach a hand to his forehead, and scowls at me. “I feel fine, but I’m hungry.”

“Me too. So what do you want for breakfast when we get home?”

Our teammate hoists himself up to join us, choosing to sit on the edge with his bare feet dangling over into the water.

“Teal’c says we could have sushi for breakfast if we could catch some of the fish we saw. They were big!” Daniel spreads his hands as wide as he can spread his arms. “I was worried they were going to eat us for breakfast, but Teal’c says they’re not man-eating fishes.”

“What about Jaffa eating?”

“Apparently not,” Daniel responds, clambering up to the boulder above us and spread-eagling himself on the rock. “The rock’s warm,” he offers, tilting his head to look down on us.

“Are you cold?” Carter asks.

“Only a little.” He spreads his small hands - the left one anyway, and the visible fingers on the right one - flat against the rock and closes his eyes, soaking up the already hot sunshine.

I’d better keep an eye on him. I don’t want to take him back broiled on top of everything else. I’m already gonna be in deep shit with Janet; she made me swear I’d bring him back in perfect health before she agreed to let him go off-world. “I suppose we should check the campsite.”

“There is nothing left of the camp.”

”Right.” Nothing to do but wait then. “Anybody think to stick a deck of cards in their back pocket?”

Daniel sits up excitedly, as though one of us actually might pull a deck of cards out of thin air.

“Sorry, Sport, I was kinda being facetious.”

“Oh,” he bangs his head as he drops back down on the stone.

“Ouch.”

“Oh, it didn’t hurt. What’s fah – cee –shush?”

“Funny; sarcastic; not really expecting anyone to think I meant it.”

“Oh,” he sighs. “I thought maybe we could pass the time by playing Ginny Rum.”

“How ‘bout gin rummy?”

“Okay,” Daniel sits up again, expectantly.

“We don’t have any cards, Daniel. The Colonel is still being facetious.”

“I’m bored and hungry. I want to go home.”

“What happened to the dog?” Carter asks out of the blue.

“Oh, she went home after she went around with us waking up the trees,” Daniel replies dismissively. After a minute he flops over and scooches to the edge of his rock so he can look down at me. ‘Is there a reason you didn’t tell them about the dog really being a lady?’ he asks silently, shooting me a pleased grin. ‘You’re surprised I can do it again, huh?'

‘Yes. And yes to your first question too. We’ll talk about it after we’re home alone, okay?’

‘Okay.’

Surprisingly, neither Carter nor Teal’c question the small non-verbal exchange.

I don’t like the idea of keeping secrets, or of teaching Daniel its okay to keep secrets, especially if any of this time translates over into adult memories if he is resized again.

I much prefer this Daniel, who, as he freely admitted yesterday, tells me everything. I don’t want to go back to the Daniel we had to pull any kind of admission out of with a block and tackle.

For now at least I’m listening to my instinct to keep this quiet until I’ve had time to analyze the conversations I’ve had with Oma over the last two days. My experience has been she doesn’t always say what she means, or mean what she says. I need a couple of sleepless nights to mull this over before I consider sharing.

I can’t say it’s the most pleasant two hours I’ve ever spent; however, neither is it the most unpleasant. We’re all tired and hungry and thirsty, the more thirsty for being surrounded on every side by water we can’t drink, as we troop to the Stargate. The water comes to Daniel’s knees, but he insists on walking.

He’s kicking his feet, as we head for the Gate while Teal’c dials, but the joie de vivre is missing. He looks weighted down in a way I had hoped he never would be again.

The water froths around his feet, bubbling like he’s created a miniature waterspout, swirling around his legs, and he giggles suddenly and reaches for my hand. “It tickles,” he laughs, holding on to me so he can jump in place.

He doesn’t even look up at the whoosh of the Stargate, though I sigh with relief. “Come on, Sport. Let’s go home.”

“Can we come back here some day, Jack? Just to check on the trees and everything?”

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” I reply, and think to myself, not on your life.

As soon as that iris closes behind us we’re locking this address out of the dialing computer and erasing it from every cartouche we have on line. I may even have to sneak a peek at his journals and make sure it’s not listed in any of the cartouches he’s copied.

I’m already planning my arrival speech as I wave my team into the Stargate and follow them home.

This had better be the last in our series of unfortunate events.

“Colonel. Major Carter. Teal’c. Dr. Jackson?”

The General is waiting as usual at the bottom of the ramp, curiosity growing in eyes the color of a cloudless Texas sky.

“You’re back early? And where’s all of your equipment?”

“Yes, sir, we are. Back early that is. Equipment? Well, we encountered Noah’s flood last night, without the ark, sir, and everything but us floated away. I believe the term ‘lucky to be alive’ fits our scenario very well, sir.”

I glance around the Gate room, tip a salute to Frasier, who’s also waiting anxiously, and announce to all and sundry, “Next time - we’re going to Disney World.”

~*~
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