I was giddy with relief when I looked up and saw Jack. Of course, it could have been the beating, the torture, lack of food, sleep, water. And possibly the blood loss from a bullet wound. But anyway, I could have flung myself into his arms. And might have if I still hadn’t been somewhat in shock that he had gotten to me in time.
So here we are back at the SGC, me hobbling clumsily on crutches until Jack jerks them away from me to arrogantly demonstrate just how easy they are to maneuver as Bill Lee packages Telchak’s device for transport to the Tok’ra. This is one thing I’m very glad to let someone else experiment on. I saw, first-hand, just what the damned thing can do and, trust me, this thing does not need to fall into the wrong hands. That’s really about the last thing I can think of when the damned thing does a kind of buzz, followed by a whirr and lights up just before Jack knocks me off my stool and onto my ass.
My first waking thought is that someone shot me in the other leg while I was unconscious and that it’s gonna take more than a few Tylenol for this one. There are alarms blaring and when I try to get up, I find I’m under a body. My first thought is Jack, but this person is far too light for him; I’ve had him land on me more than once and it usually results in getting the breath knocked out of me. I sit up, as best I can, and gently roll the person over. Funny, they look like they’re wearing BDU’s but the uniform seems far too…Oh my God! This is very, very bad. Because unless I’m mistaken, Telchak’s damned device just changed Jack O’Neill into a child. Oy, talk about the Fountain of Youth, looks like it works after all.
“Daniel?” I have heard that so many times before, but never in that childish voice. Leaping anywhere is out of the question, but I hobble quickly over to the bed.
“Jack? How are you feeling?”
“My head really, really hurts.” That’s when he notices the size of the hand heading for the aforementioned head. “What the hell? Daniel, what did you do?”
And how did this get to be my fault? “I didn’t do anything. The device did what it’s supposed to do and you kind of, sort of,” how do I put this? “shrank.”
“Shrank?” He shouts. “I’m a freakin’ kid. Fix this!” I try to explain to him that we are trying but he has no more patience in this form than he does as an adult. So he does what he does so well, he throws a fit.
Half an hour later, the infirmary is in a state of controlled chaos. Fingerprints confirm the child who cried himself to sleep in my arms is Jack O’Neill. An approximately six-year-old Jack O’Neill. Janet says he’s seems okay. I point out with uncalled for sarcasm that he doesn’t appear okay to me, he appears to be six, not forty-six. See any problem with this scenario?
Sel’mak, after his initial shock, has taken the damned device (which will always be remembered by me as ‘the damned device’) to Tok’raLand for further investigation. He assures us he will let us know if the transformation can be undone. All we have to do is wait nicely for their appraisal.
The problem with that is how are we going to explain this to Jack, when he wakes up? Janet nixed the idea of sedating him; geez, it wasn’t like I wanted to knock him out permanently! Just long enough to get his little paws out of my uniform. Because for some reason, even unconscious, he has a death grip on me and evidently isn’t letting me go. No matter what.
The thing is I feel a bit, okay more than a bit, guilty because Jack saw the beam headed my way and knocked me out of the way. Or I’d be sitting here in Jack O’Neill’s lap, probably crying my head off.
On the bright side, Jack’s hair is back to its original brown and I’d be willing to bet his knees aren’t hurting him at all. Now if the little bugger would just wake up. Wonder if jostling him a little would help?
“Daniel! What do you think you’re doing?”
I jump at Janet’s tone, jostling the sleeping child even more. “You know I love him like a brother, but I have to pee. And I can’t manage him and the crutches.” She quirks her brow at me. “And if you even suggest a urinal, I swear I’ll…I don’t know what I’ll do, but it won’t be pretty.”
“Perhaps I can be of assistance.” Teal’c, my hero, proceeds to unclench Jack’s fists so that I can slide away. Gratefully taking the crutches, I hobble to the closest facility.
Okay, now I feel human again and up to facing the challenge that is Jack O’Neill. “Daniel Jackson, O’Neill has been quite restless since you have been gone. I believe he prefers you.”
“How can he prefer me? He doesn’t even know who’s holding him.” I let one of the orderlies help boost me back onto the bed and when Teal’c lays Jack back down in my arms, I admit he seems more comfortable, wriggling around until his head is on my shoulder and his arms loosely draped around my neck. I have absolutely no experience with holding kids. “Is he okay like this?” I ask Janet anxiously.
“Yes, Daniel, you’re doing just fine.” She soothes.
“Well, I can’t sit around holding him for the rest of my life. Or his, for that matter. Any suggestions?”
“It’s obvious that wherever you go, the colonel is going. I don’t really have any reason to keep him here and if you’re going to get any rest..”
“Yeah, that’s look a bit improbable at this point.”
“I was just going to suggest maybe you and Teal’c could take the colonel to his house. He needs to be somewhere that will be familiar to him, the base is no place for him. Naomi has a little boy about his age; she volunteered to get him some clothes and stuff. Just enough to do for the week-end. I suggest we get a wheel-chair to get the two of you up-top and home as soon as possible.”
So we make arrangements for someone to grab some of my stuff while Teal’c is in his quarters doing the same. Sam comes wandering in while I’m sitting there and there is no way she can disguise the mirth in her eyes at the sight she is beholding.
“Samantha Ellen Carter, if you don’t want every nasty secret you have revealed, you will keep that mouth shut.” I shift Jack a bit, making sure I keep my hand under his head; he’s getting heavy.
“I’m sorry, Daniel, it’s just you look so cute like that.” She eyes the hand that is still supporting Jack’s head, my fingers unconsciously stroking the brown-again hair.
“Oh, yeah, there’s nothing sexier than a man holding his child.”
I let the ‘his’ remark slide. “Not even a man holding your deepest darkest secrets?” I inquire coolly.
Laughter is still bubbling up in her merry blue eyes. “Want me to come and help?”
I scoff at her sling. “Yeah, fat lot of help you’re gonna be. Besides, the little feller prefers me.”
She pauses at the door. “So do most of the Marines on the base. What’s your point?”
Teal’c ends up driving us home in my Jeep; there’s no way I can climb up into Jack’s big-ass truck. And when we get there, he takes Jack out of my arms, carries him in, then comes back to help me and my crutches get out, snagging our bags on the way.
Maybe we’ll get lucky and Jack will sleep the rest of the afternoon. Yeah, right, when have I ever gotten lucky?
He does, however, sleep for a couple of hours. Long enough for me to get my stuff squared away in the spare room, send Teal’c to the grocery store because as usual there was nothing in Jack’s kitchen that even resembled real food, and for Naomi to swing by with the kid’s clothes she picked up. I pay her back with the only currency she will accept; I let her take a peek at a sleeping six-year-old. She’s still laughing when she gets in her car.
Unfortunately, the good times end when he wakes up. He’s still mad as hell and since I’m the only one here, I get to be the recipient of this particular snit.
“Jack, can you please just sit down and give it a rest?”
“Give it a rest? I can’t believe you think I should just take this lying down.” Actually he’s not lying down, he’s bouncing on the couch.
“Sit down before you hurt yourself. You know we have people working on this. You just have to give them time.”
“Well, it looks like I’ve got plenty of that!” He stomps into the kitchen. And I silently count, waiting for the explosion. “Daniel!” Oh, yeah, right on time. “Where the hell’s the beer?” Knowing Jack as I do, I had Teal’c do a sweep of the kitchen before he left.
“Jack, you’re six years old. No beer for you.” He stomps back and flings himself onto the couch, banging his feet on the coffee table for emphasis. “Teal’c has gone to the grocery story so we can fix something to eat. What would you like?”
“I’d like to be forty-six, is what I’d like.”
I hold my tongue, after all that is his coffee table he’s scuffing with his brand-new, little-kid shoes. “I don’t think they sell that at the store. Come on, Jack, I know this must be tough but it’s temporary. You know the Tok’ra are gonna figure out how to reverse this. Look on it as an opportunity.”
“This is not an opportunity, it’s a travesty!”
“I don’t disagree, Jack, but can you please just be still for one minute?” My voice grows louder. Even I wince at my tone.
“No, I’m sorry. This is not your fault and I shouldn’t be yelling at you.”
“And it’s not yours either and I shouldn’t be such a brat.” He bounces up off the couch. “You know, I haven’t been able to move like this in years.” Suddenly, he lights up. “I know. Let’s go fishing.”
“In case you hadn’t forgotten, I have a bullet hole in my leg. So I’m afraid I’ll have to pass on the fishing, much as I hate to.”
He bounds over to me, leaning on the arm of the recliner. “Do you think Teal’c would like to go fishing?”
I grin wickedly. “I think Teal’c would love to take you fishing.”
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve said ‘no’ to Jack. No, we can’t go fishing. No, you can’t have a beer. No, you can’t go to the park, drive your truck, challenge Ferretti to a hockey match, it just goes on and on.
Thankfully, Teal’c just got back with the groceries and Jack leaps up to help him put them away, leaving me with a few minutes of blessed peace. And I wonder how in the world did my parents stand me? I was even worse, climbing on everything in sight, asking ten million questions, wanting to know what everyone was doing and why. I have reached the conclusion that all mothers are saints.
“Daniel.” Oh, well, it was good while it lasted. “Teal’c says I can’t go fishing ‘cause I don’t have a license. Do you have my wallet? My license is in there.”
“Yes, I have it and no, you can’t have it. You don’t exactly look like the guy in the picture now, do you? How about we fix some lunch, then we can play something afterwards?” Something preferably where you sit down and be quiet.
‘Teal’c said we could cook burgers on the grill. Can I..?”
“No! You cannot help him with the grill. You’re too little.” He flings himself down on the couch as hard as he can, kicking with his heels for good measure. “Jack. Don’t make me punish you.”
He leaps up. “You won’t whip me because you don’t believe in it. Besides, you can’t catch me.” Darting toward the doorway, he runs smack-dab into a mountain of immovable Teal’c. “Oops.”
“I, however, can, O’Neill. You will do as Daniel Jackson instructs. You will remain inside while I prepare lunch. Then you will assist in cleaning the dishes.” He starts to protest. “You will obey me, O’Neill. Unlike Daniel Jackson, I have no qualms about applying physical punishment to correct your behavior.”
He scowls. “I’m your commanding officer.”
“You are not.”
Jack falls back on the age-old line. “You’re gonna be sorry when I get big!”
“I will not.”
We finally have some semblance of peace. Teal’c is out on the deck, grilling our lunch. Jack is on my laptop playing video games with an ease that leads me to believe not all his spare time is spent watching hockey and plotting ways to frighten junior officers.
“Daniel?” I look up from book to see a very serious Jack planted on the coffee table in front of me. “What if the Tok’ra can’t fix me?”
“Let’s not worry about that, okay? Why don’t you just enjoy yourself right now and we’ll just not think about that.”
“I can’t not think about it.” He scuffs his feet on the floor and I bite my lip to stop the automatic reprimand. “I’m..I’m scared.”
“Come here.” He scrambles up on my lap, keeping an eye on my bum leg. His honesty devastates me. Partly because I know what it cost him to admit this and also because I know he would never, ever admit this to anyone but me. He settles himself on my lap, clenching his fists in my shirt. “I know you’re scared, I am, too. But we know the device is capable of doing some really scary things and..”
He leans back to look in my eyes. “Daniel, you don’t have to talk to me like I’m six, even if I look it.”
“Sorry.” I start again. “The device was designed, presumably, to be a kind of Fountain of Youth. I have every faith that Sel’mak can figure out how to reverse this. Between him and Sam, they will figure this out. And look on the bright side. You get to be a kid again, at least for a little while.”
“Boy, wouldn’t my mom like to see…hey, can’t we..?”
“No, we cannot call your mother. Cause her to have a heart attack.” Besides, the poor woman’s been through enough, having to raise Jack the first time around. “Let’s go see if Teal’c has got lunch ready.”
“Okay.” He bounds out of the room while I struggle to stand. “Oops, sorry.” He reappears with my crutches in hand. “Got it?”
“Yeah, I’ve got it.” I follow him out onto the deck, where Teal’c promptly assigns Jack the task of getting the trimmings from the refrigerator.
“I’m gonna eat three hamburgers!” He announces between trips indoors. I don’t doubt it, he can really put it away when he wants to.
By the time lunch is over, I’m exhausted. Just watching Jack jump all over the place would wear me out on a normal day. Teal’c, being his usual observant self, sees me sliding over the edge and suggests I take a nap while he and Jack clean up. I don’t even argue, just grab my crutches and hobble into the house. Jack soon follows with a blanket and pillow, helping me get my leg up on the couch then fetches my pain medication and a bottle of water before reluctantly deserting me for KP duty.
When I wake up, my leg is actually hurting worse than ever; I hadn’t quite followed Janet’s ‘stay off of it’ directive and am paying for it now. I manage to swallow a couple more pain pills before hefting myself up to go in search of the one-kid whirlwind. The house is ominously quiet. This either means Teal’c has killed Jack and then quietly committed the Jaffa version of hari-kari or that Jack has Teal’c tied up in the basement, contemplating revenge for the earlier threatened corporal punishment.
Strangely, neither has happened. I find a note taped to the TV screen informing me that Teal’c and Jack have gone to the park. I’d love to see that. Jack will no doubt reduce the other kids to crying fits in a very short time and Teal’c will have to defend Jack’s honor, and backside, from the other parents.
I take advantage of the quiet to call General Hammond who admits he’s heard nothing from the Tok’ra. “How are you doing, Dr. Jackson?”
I hastily tell him about Jack and the park and I hear the chuckle as he pictures a scenario pretty close to the one I envisioned. Then he lowers the boom that Janet asked to speak to me if I called in. Grudgingly, I allow him to transfer me to her, gearing myself up to lie to her about just how much pain I’m in.
She, however, is well used to me, seeing through my cheerful assurances immediately. With the threat of imminent return to the infirmary looming over my head, I agree to stay off my leg the rest of the day. Poor Teal’c, I think, as I hang up the phone, ears still blistering from Janet’s precisely worded instructions; he’s gonna have to bear most of the burden of baby-sitting Jack. Not a job I’d wish on anyone.
I decide to take advantage of Jack’s very comfy recliner and hobble over there, dragging my blanket behind me like some nap-deprived two-year-old. And I’m off to sleep yet again.
I’m awakened by some not so-soft whispering. “Jack?” I groggily lift my head.
“Daniel!” He pounces; unfortunately, he does his Tigger imitation on my bad leg. I can’t prevent my screech of pain. “Shit! Daniel, I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”
“Not much,” I lie through clenched teeth.
“O’Neill, please cease causing Daniel Jackson further pain. Dr. Fraiser is already concerned about his negligence.” I give him an accusing look. Has he got the phone tapped or something? “Dr. Fraiser contacted me on my mobile phone and expressed her concerns. You will put no weight on your leg for the remainder of the day, is that clear?”
“Crystal.” The way it feels right now I may never put any weight on it ever again. “However, nature calls. So.” Teal’c helps me up, hands me my crutches then he and Jack hover as I hobble to the conveniently located downstairs half-bath. As soon as I come out, Teal’c hands me pills and stands to watch me take them after which I am planted firmly back in the recliner.
“O’Neill, you may keep Daniel Jackson company while I prepare dinner only if you promise not to inflict any further damage upon him.” Jack gives his promise and gets the remote as a reward. With Teal’c’s assistance, he is gently placed on my uninjured side, wriggles around until he settles himself and promptly takes control of our viewing schedule.
And he unerringly finds something to interest him on one of the million and ten sports channels on his extra-supreme cable package. I just rest there, thinking he is totally engrossed until he whispers my name. “Yeah?”
“Do you really think they can fix me?”
“I do,” I tell him quite truthfully. “From what I saw in South America, it took extended exposure to the device to sustain the effects. It may be that after a time, you’ll simply revert to normal. You may wake up in the morning and be your old self.”
“Old?” He snickers.
“Okay, maybe that was a bad choice of words, but you get my point.”
This seems to satisfy him as he goes back to watching the game.
I suppose we make quite a picture for Teal’c when he comes to announce dinner. Jack is asleep, sprawled across my left arm, which had gone to sleep several centuries ago. He gently lifts Jack, transferring him to the couch. I suppress the groan as the feeling begins to come back to my extremities. Teal’c stays me as I start to rise. “I will bring your dinner in to you, Daniel Jackson.” Sounds like a plan to me, so I nod in agreement. The two of us eat in silence, the sound of the television muted.
“Daniel Jackson, do you believe the Tok’ra can assist in this situation?” I give him the same answer I gave Jack, that I believe it takes extended exposure to sustain the effects. After all, both Bill and I were exposed for short periods of time and seemed to suffer no ill effects. Although part of me probably thought it might be a good idea to use the device to heal the hole in my leg.
I sigh. “Teal’c, you better wake him up. If he sleeps much more, he may not sleep at all tonight.” Neither of us likes that vision, so Teal’c shakes Jack gently until he sits up, still yawning.
Jack doesn’t want to go to bed. I’ve tried to convince him that even though it might not be bedtime for forty-six, no six-year-old should stay up past midnight. His reply, in other circumstances, would probably have resulted in Mama O’Neill washing his mouth out.
The truth is I’m exhausted. My leg throbs like, well, like someone shot me. And dealing with Jack at six is both physically and emotionally tiring. But as wasted as I am, I cannot leave Teal’c to do this by himself.
I wonder if sedating him is still off the table.
How, how can he still be this lively at three in the morning? I should have been unconscious hours ago. Instead, I am playing Risk with a six-year-old and, I might add, getting my ass kicked. I just don’t do the tactical battle stuff that they do. Teal’c would have been much better at this, but he declined to participate, opting instead for the all-night monster movie marathon. Looking down at the board, I groan; this could go on for days.
I think it’s time I put my foot down. Literally and figuratively. “Jack, why don’t we leave this and finish up tomorrow?”
“Daniel.” I wince. No one, absolutely no one, can whine like Jack.
“Jack. It’s after three, I’m exhausted. You should have been in bed hours ago.” If I remember this from my childhood, it’s best not to give them any options. “Go put your pajamas on. Now, Jack, I’m not kidding.”
He stomps out of the room, muttering to himself, no doubt plotting how he’ll wreak his revenge when he’s back to normal. I’m too tired to fight him at this point. If he doesn’t go to bed, I’m not sure what I’ll do.
Leaving the board where it is, I hobble down the hall, make a necessary pit stop before clumsily changing into my own jammies. I collapse on the bed in the guest room, sliding the crutches under the bed for ready access.
God, he looks so young, so scared standing there. I smile at him and he takes that for an invitation, loping in to flop on the bed beside me. “Man, I never realized before how uncomfortable this bed is. Are you sure you’re gonna be alright?”
“I’ll be fine, Jack.” I’ve slept in the guest room before and the bed is fine. I think that Jack doesn’t want to be alone but would never admit it.
“Come up to my room and sleep. It’s only a few steps and there’s a bathroom off my room. You can sleep in my bed and I’ll sleep here.” He sees me wavering and dives under the bed for the crutches. “I’ll get your medicine for you.”
I figure it’s easier than arguing with him, so I follow him, letting him help me up the steps, down the hall and onto the very big, very comfortable bed. I groan as I lay down. “Oh, that’s more like it.”
“See, I told you!” He tweaks the covers over me before extinguishing the lights. I can feel myself sliding into sleep as he continues to fuss over me.
Most of the morning has, unfortunately, come and gone before I surface again. Without my glasses, I cannot be one hundred percent sure what the clock says, but I can see the sun is quite high in the sky. I swing my legs off the bed, stopping when I don’t feel the floor under them. Looking down, I spy Jack, wrapped in a quilt, dead to the world, asleep on the floor. I hope he didn’t sleep there all night, although it looks like he did.
I slowly sit back down on the bed and just look at him. Even though his body is only six, his mind is still forty-six; he still thinks I need to be protected. It goes against everything in him to cede that role to anyone else. A small part of me hopes he never does.
Well, I have to say that was one of the strangest week-ends I’ve ever spent. Teal’c and I ferried Jack back to the base, at the request of the Tok’ra, to be told they had every faith that they could return him to normal. Our only choice was whether to allow them to bring the device back and reverse the changes or whether we would bring Jack to their current hide-away. Neither sounded all that great, especially when Janet piped up and declined to allow me to accompany them. Naturally, I objected. Naturally, I lost the fight and had to stand while Teal’c and Sam led Jack through the gate. He stopped at the event horizon, grinning back over his shoulder at me, trying to reassure both of us, I suppose.
I started to wander to my lab, since I had nothing better to do when I am halted by a fierce little hand on my elbow. “The infirmary is that way, buster.”
I point a crutch. “And my lab is that way. And although this geography lesson has been truly fascinating..”
“Don’t make me send for a gurney, Dr. Jackson.” Her voice is cool but determined.
I meekly follow her to the infirmary.
Okay, so my leg was a little sore and the wound was a little red and maybe I hadn’t been using my crutches like I was supposed to but I really don’t think that was any excuse to sling me into a bed and threaten me. I was working my way up to a really good rant when Janet jabbed me with a needle and effectively put the lights out.
And to my surprise, I don’t wake until hours later. Janet had scolded me for not taking care of myself, not realizing just how run-down I was. She had a point, but I didn’t admit it to her face. Between spending time with my new South American friends, getting shot, then two days taking care of Jack, I was beyond exhausted. But I feel so much better, I tell her as she eyes me suspiciously, that I think I can go home.
She tells me I can go back to sleep, right after I’ve eaten dinner. We’re still discussing those options when a full grown Jack O’Neill bounds in the door.
“Good morning, kids.” He yells at both of us.
I can’t help but smile back at him. “Jack! You’re you again.”
He pats himself on the top of the head. “Yep, my knees hurt, my back aches and I feel like I’ve run a marathon. In other words, I’m back to normal. So,” he hitches himself up on the side of the bed, “you giving the doc a hard time.”
“No!” I snarl as Janet’s reply disputes that.
“Colonel, Dr. Jackson needs some peace and quiet. His leg shows signs of infection and I suspect he hasn’t been taking all that good care of himself.”
“And part of that’s on me.” He holds up his hand in confession. “How about you turn him over to me? I can take him away from all this.”
“His laptop stays here?” Jack nods as I frown. “No calls to or from the SGC and he takes all his antibiotics, not just when he thinks about it.”
“Yes, ma’am. I will screen his calls and visitors and monitor his medicine schedule. And I’ll make sure he stays away from the weird food he loves so much. Nothing but good American food to eat.”
“No good American alcohol, Colonel, and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
“Hello,” I waved my hand. “Apparently, an interesting side effect from Telchak’s device has just surfaced.”
Jack jumped straight up, reaching for a gun that wasn’t there. “What?”
“Evidently, I’ve been rendered completely invisible.”
Neither of them finds that to be in the least amusing.
“I thought alcohol was off limits?” I query as Jack hands me a glass of wine while he cleans up after the good American dinner he promised me.
“I said American alcohol. That’s one of those snooty Italian wines you like so good.”
I take an experimental sip. Damned if it isn’t. I can’t believe he had learned what I like and actually took the time to pick it up. “Thanks, Jack.”
He flops down beside me at the table. “You’re thanking me? After you spent two days-days, I might add, where you should have still been in the infirmary-looking after the world’s biggest brat? This doesn’t even begin to re-pay you, Daniel.”
“Jack,” I chastise him softly, “you’d have done it for me.”
He clinks his beer to my glass. “Damn right, I would have. Anytime you get down-graded, you just let me know, I’m the man.” Taking a drink, he grins unexpectedly. “You know, this raising kids thing is hard. Don’t know how my mom did it. Or Sarah for that matter.” Suddenly he leaps up.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” I ask as he shuffles through the stuff in one of the kitchen drawers, finally coming up with a phone book.
“I’m going to send my mom some flowers. And Sarah, I’m gonna send her some too.”
I hide my smile behind the wineglass. If he had any idea how sweet he really is, he’d take it out on the first thing he can. Unfortunately, I’m the closest target, so I’m keeping my mouth shut out of self-preservation.