Jack was a much happier man than he'd been just two days before. Two days before, he'd been worried about Daniel. He'd just been through the Asgard equivalent of surgery and was recuperating, but now, he seemed…much, much better, actually. He was elated over this. Daniel's color was good, he'd grown six inches, and he was eating almost everything in sight. Aside from the lingering effects of the anesthesia, things couldn't be going better.
"How's he doing?" he asked Carter as he entered the infirmary.
"He was eating a little bit ago, started laughing, and then fell asleep," she said, grinning.
"I can't believe anesthesia could have an effect like this," he said, dropping into a chair.
"Thor says that it's had an effect on the humor areas of Daniel's brain," Carter explained. "Once he's finished growing, it should stop."
"And if it doesn't?" Jack could just imagine Daniel dissolving into laughter during a presentation or during dicey negotiations off-world. That would not be good.
"Thor's pretty confident that the doctors can formulate something that can take care of it," she said. "I'm just hoping that he's all right."
"I'm sure he will be," Jack said. "I mean, he's eating, getting plenty of rest, growing…"
"That's not what I mean, sir," she interrupted. "I think that this whole experience has had an effect on him."
Jack paused. "Oh."
They were both quiet then, watching Daniel sleep. On the surface, he seemed okay. His color was good, his body relaxed in sleep, but when they looked more closely, subtle signs of strain and stress were apparent on his face. If they hadn't been his friends and hadn't known him so well, they wouldn't have even noticed such clues, but they were there. There was a slight, very, very slight line between Daniel's eyebrows, dark circles under his eyes, and every now and then his fingers would twitch. When Daniel slept, he slept hard, and he only moved in his sleep when he was having a vivid dream...or if something was worrying him.
"I'll talk to him," Jack promised, still watching his friend sleep. "It's possible that he'll want to talk. Who knows? I might get lucky and he could just be aching to get things off his chest."
Sam glanced at her CO, her expression saying it all.
Jack caught the glance. "Yeah, okay, and maybe pigs will fly tomorrow, too, but I can always try. Don't be a pessimist, Carter."
"How is Daniel Jackson, O'Neill?"
Neither of them had heard Teal'c come through the door behind them.
"Geez! Teal'c! Give a guy some warning, next time!" Jack yelped, jumping.
"Then I shall warn you," Teal'c said evenly, glancing past his friends to the sleeping Daniel "How is Daniel Jackson?"
"So far, so good," Jack said. "I think he's going to wake up in a little bit."
"He will be hungry," Teal'c offered.
Sam chuckled, thinking of the way her friend had been eating since the procedure. "I think he's done nothing but sleep and eat since they did that surgery."
"And laugh," Teal'c reminded her. "I said hello to him yesterday and he laughed."
"He didn't mean anything by it, Teal'c," Jack said quickly. "The anesthesia's affecting the humor areas of his brain. It should wear off."
"Thor informed me, O'Neill," Teal'c said.
A rustle drew their attention to the bed. Daniel rolled over onto his back, opened his eyes, and said what they were expecting. "I'm hungry."
"Hi, Danny-boy," Jack said, grinning. "How ya feelin'?"
"Hungry," Daniel said, sitting up. "Could I have something to eat?"
"Sure," Sam said, pressing what everyone called the "call button." Basically, it let the staff here know that the patient was awake and most likely hungry. They used it whenever there wasn't an Asgard around, which was rare. The Asgard found watching Daniel grow fascinating, so usually there would be at least one or two or more in the room, observing the only human child they would see up close. When he was in one of his giggling fits they found him extra-adorable and the female Asgard descended on the infirmary in droves to see him.
Thor arrived a few minutes later, carrying a well-laden tray. "It is good to see you, Daniel Jackson," he said, placing the tray on a table and wheeling it into place.
"Thanks, Thor," Daniel said. "Good to see you, too, and thanks for bringing me a snack."
"I am glad to do so," Thor answered as Daniel dug in. "Do you have any pain?"
Daniel shook his head. "Just hungry."
"None in your joints?"
"Not really," Daniel said, munching on some bread. "Just hungry."
"Why would he have pain in his joints, Thor?" Jack asked.
"He is approaching a time of rapid growth," Thor explained. "His joints will begin to ache when that happens."
"Oh, growing pains," Jack said, catching on. "We all have those when we grow up. No biggie."
"Sir, I think they'll be something to worry about," Sam said. "If Daniel's growing really, really fast..."
Jack's mind made a mental leap it didn't often make. "Oh."
"Precisely," Thor said, watching Daniel eat. "Such growing pains will indeed be painful. We expect them to start soon. When they begin, you will have to let us know as quickly as possible so we can relieve the pain."
"Will they stop me eating?" Daniel asked after swallowing his present mouthful.
"They should not," Thor said.
"Good." Daniel returned to his food.
Jack, Sam, and Teal'c were all deeply and profoundly grateful for the advances that the Asgard had made in the area of food for their off-world guests. Instead of waxy little cookies that tasted terrible, they now had reasonable facsimiles of breads and grains, salad greens, fish, fruits, nuts, milk, yogurt, and cheese. They'd even managed to make sweeteners, seasonings, and other flavorings. If each item by itself taken all together constituted a meal, then meals would have gotten pretty boring, but amazingly, some of the Asgard had found a calling in the culinary arts. Nothing pleased them better than creating a new dish for their Tau'ri guests and hearing how they liked it. They'd run afoul of some very...creative..dishes, but so far, each one had been edible, and that was what most important.
Daniel didn't care if what was on his plate was someone's latest creation or not, he just wanted food. He was growing so fast that he was always hungry, so the Asgard found it very satisfying to feed him. They created salads, sandwiches, soups, stews, casseroles and countless other things for Daniel. There was always something ready for him to eat, so he was perfectly happy. The thing that really surprised all of them was when two of the Asgard chefs wheeled in what could be called a dessert cart, full of things for them all to try.
"How did you know how to make this?" Daniel asked, happily digging into a piece of what looked like chocolate cake.
"We examined Tau'ri information files," one of their "chefs" offered.
Jack remembered Thor mentioning once that the Asgard would often hack Earth computers in order to stay current on what human beings were learning and doing. "So you found some recipes?" Jack asked, a little surprised. Whose computers had they hacked, the Food Network's?
One of the Asgard nodded, clearly very happy with how much Daniel was enjoying his cake. "Yes. We had not realized just how creative the Tau'ri can be with food, nor had we realized how much they enjoyed sweet things."
"It's an evolutionary thing," Sam said, eyeing a slice of pie...or was it cheesecake? "Our ancestors were driven to consume high-calorie foods since they couldn't always be sure that they would get enough to eat at their next meal."
"Oh, please," one of the chefs said, seeing where her attention was directed. "We were hoping you would all tell us what you think of our latest attempts."
"Mmmm." Daniel was still decimating the cake on his plate. With the way he was going at it, then the poor cake didn't stand a chance.
Sam took the slice of pie/cheesecake she'd been eyeing and took a bite. She smiled. "Mmmm."
"Mmmm. What is mmmm?" one of the Asgard asked.
"It's what people say when they really like the taste of something," Jack explained. "How's that pie, Carter?"
She chewed and swallowed, her smile beatific. "Wonderful. It's not as sweet as what we're used to, but it's still very, very good. Not as much sweetness in it allows other flavors to come out. It's a perfect balance, I think."
Thinking back on that now, Jack could remember that the chefs had been pleased as punch that they'd liked what they'd cooked. He glanced at Daniel's tray and saw that the chefs had sent up all of Daniel's favorites, including some chocolate cake. He still wanted to know just how they'd managed to replicate chocolate when he knew that most of the Asgard he knew found chocolate to be absolutely disgusting. Who had been brave enough to try tasting any of it?
"Mmm," Daniel said, finishing off the last scrap of a vegetable casserole before moving on to the cake. "This is good."
"Shall I send for more?" Thor asked.
"I don't know yet," Daniel said thoughtfully. "Let me see how I feel in a little bit."
"I think you will be hungry, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said, sounding as amused as he could be.
"Most likely, but probably not right away," Daniel answered. "Maybe a little something to drink first...ah!"
The sudden gasp scared all of them.
"What's wrong?" Jack asked, rushing to Daniel's side.
"You know those growing pains Thor mentioned?" Daniel asked. "They've hit...bad!"
Thor scurried out the door, moving so fast that most of them didn't see him move. Jack, however, had spent a little more time with Thor, so he caught the movement. Despite having really short legs, the Asgard could move like nobody's business when they wanted to.
"Now where's he going?" Jack wanted to know as Daniel grabbed his hand. "Danny?"
"Ah, really hurts...all over," Daniel said through clenched teeth. A second later he whimpered. "This is worse than my appendix."
Sam hit the call button and started explaining what was happening to whomever was on the other end. Jack didn't hear their reply since Daniel's whimper turned into a sob. In the next moment, he was wailing. The moment after that, Jack was sitting on the bed and had Daniel in his lap, trying everything he could think of to make it better. Another few minutes went by with Daniel wailing the whole time. He was crying, too, and Jack was fighting down panic. Where the hell was Thor?
"Here I am," Thor said, rushing through the door, followed by all of Daniel's doctors. "How bad is the pain, O'Neill?"
"I think it's safe to say that it's absolutely terrible," Jack said, still holding Daniel.
Thor nodded and the doctors closed in, examining Daniel while he was still on Jack's lap. After a few moments of conferring with one another they produced a hypospray, pressed it against Daniel's arm, and almost instantly Daniel relaxed.
"Ohhh, that's better," Daniel sighed. "Thank you."
"You are welcome," one of the doctors told him.
"What did you give him?" Jack asked. He knew that Asgard medicine was an incredible thing, but it still surprised him that it worked so quickly.
"A pain medicine," the doctor told him. "He should have a daily shot of it to keep the pain manageable."
"Now, it's not going to have any side effects, is it?" Jack wanted to know. "The anesthesia made him slap-happy, so will this do anything?"
"He may be a little more sleepy, but that is all. Nothing so extreme as the anesthesia's effects."
"Oh, good," Jack said.
"I'm okay now."
Jack looked down at Daniel. "Yeah. That medicine's pretty fast, huh?"
"Is there a reason I'm still on your lap?"
He got the hint right away and put Daniel back on his bed. "Sorry. Instinct when there's a sick kid, I guess."
"That's okay," Daniel told him.
Jack saw Daniel glance at the Asgard and knew immediately that the female doctor was one of the ladies who liked to come and gawk at the human "child." At the moment, her eyes were bright and she actually looked as if she were smiling a little. Yep, Daniel as a kid was just too cute for people to resist.
Things quieted down after that. The Asgard went about their business and the rest of SG-1 gathered around Daniel to keep him company.
"I've been thinking about what'll happen when we go home," Daniel said thoughtfully in the quiet.
"About what'll happen?" Jack echoed. "What do you think?"
"I have a gut feeling that the NID's going to make waves once we get back home," he confessed. "After all, I've been subjected to a lot of alien procedures lately...one of them's bound to have something to say."
"I wish the NID would just let us do our jobs without interfering," Jack muttered. "If I can't have that, then I'd like to have a rocket with plenty of fuel, put them in it, and blast them into deep space."
Sam chuckled. "I fully understand the feeling, sir."
"I have had it more than once," Teal'c added.
Daniel grinned, amused by his friends' joking.
"Seriously, Daniel," Jack said, turning to his friend. "We're not gonna let the NID bother you. We won't, and I'm sure that everybody on that base won't let them, either."
"General Hammond will be a fierce protector," Teal'c said, smiling.
Something about Teal'c's smile made Jack think. "Teal'c? What'cha thinkin'?"
"Only something that I overheard General Hammond say to his aide."
"Okay, now you've gotta spill," Jack said. "What'd he say?"
"I am not sure if I should betray the general's confidence, O'Neill."
"What confidence?" Jack reminded him. "It's just something you overheard, right? He didn't ask you to keep anything secret."
"Sometimes the soul of discretion is keeping things secret even when you aren't asked to," Daniel told Jack, flopping into his pillows.
"Yeah, but it's gonna drive me crazy until I know." Jack fixed his friend with a gimlet stare. "Come on, Teal'c. What did the general say?"
Teal'c looked at his teammates and grinned before looking at Daniel. "Do you think I should tell them, Daniel Jackson?"
Daniel laughed. "Oh, no. I'm not getting into the middle of this!"
"Aw, come on!"
"The decision of whether I tell you or not rests with Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said, smiling devilishly.
Daniel laughed again, feeling as if Teal'c had just played a prank. "Didn't I say I wasn't getting into the middle of this?"
"I think you might have mentioned it," Sam admitted. "Come on, Daniel, now I'm curious. What did General Hammond say, Teal'c?"
Teal'c looked at Daniel and grinned. "Shall I tell them, Daniel Jackson?"
Daniel groaned, but he was grinning. "Fine, all right. What did he say?" He didn't want to admit it, but Teal'c's mysterious manner had piqued his curiosity.
"I heard him say to Walter that he considered Daniel Jackson as a good friend and that he would be a very proud man if Daniel Jackson were his son."
Daniel blushed. "Did he really say that?"
"That, and more," Teal'c assured him. "I feel that the general thinks of you the same way he would his son."
If Daniel had been blushing before, now his cheeks were blazing and his eyes stung just the tiniest bit. "I'm...I'm very flattered to hear that, Teal'c."
"Since General Hammond's regard for you is so high, it is certain that he will not allow the NID to do anything to you."
"You know, when I met the general, I knew for certain that he was a big teddy bear," Jack said, smiling fit to crack his face in two. "This proves it."
Daniel thought back to a few of the times that the general had come to see him when he'd been in the infirmary or when he'd been through a difficult mission. Teddy bear? Not literally, but the guy seemed to know instinctively when a young man who'd just been through a difficult time needed a hug, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear or even fatherly advice. "You know, I'm glad that he's in charge of the base," Daniel said at last. "It wouldn't be the same with someone else."
"A teddy bear for a CO," Jack said, fighting down a laugh.
"Sir, that's your CO you're talking about," Sam said.
"What? He'd take it as a compliment!"
Daniel chuckled. "I wonder what everyone's doing at the base right now?"
"I swear, if I have to sing 'Single Ladies' one more time, I'm going to lose it," Stephens said, sprawled in a chair like an old suit.
His teammates nodded. "We know, man. We know."
"I thought I was in good shape," Stephens continued. "Where do these kids get their energy? You know, we should hook them up to a turbine and then the base wouldn't have to worry anymore about power."
"Now that's an idea," Markham said. "I never knew that it would be so exhausting to have them here."
"And there's more waiting," Campbell added.
Stephens groaned. "I'd just forgotten and you had to go and remind me..."
All the men shot to their feet and saluted.
"At ease," General Hammond said, coming into the room. "How are things going?"
As one, the men groaned.
Hammond grinned. "That well, huh?"
"Sir, for the first time in my life, I want to come down with laryngitis just so I don't have to sing anymore!" Stephens almost wailed.
"Not to mention that they're everywhere," Markham added.
"And noisy." Campbell looked as if he were trying to fight a headache.
Calder only nodded, looking exhausted.
"I came down here to run an idea past the four of you," Hammond said, taking a seat. "You said the children are waiting for parents and that more of them are waiting to come to Earth, right?"
"Yeah," Calder said, his voice hoarse.
Hammond stared at him. "Son, are you coming down with something?"
"One too many rounds of 'Single Ladies,' sir," Calder told him.
Thinking about the number of times he'd heard that song coming from the Gate room, Hammond nodded. "I see. Well, when we're done here, go see Dr. Frasier. I'm sure she'll have something that will help."
"Sure thing, sir."
"So, how amenable do you think these kids will be to the parents we've found for them?" Hammond asked.
"Respectfully, sir, I have no clue," Stephens admitted. "They keep asking where their parents are, so I figure that we'd better produce some quick. Otherwise, we'll get mass tantrums."
"Let's avoid that, please?" Campbell pleaded.
Hammond nodded. "All right. Why don't the four of you talk to some of the older kids and get their opinions on the parents we've found?"
"Only five lucky kids are getting adopted, then?" Markham asked.
"Oh, no," Hammond corrected. "I think I've found many more. See how the kids feel about parents who aren't from Earth. After that, get some rest."
As soon as the general left, all four men immediately dropped back into their chairs.
"Best birth control ever, dealing with kids," Markham groaned.
"You never said a truer word, my friend."
"Who wants to talk to the kids about these parents that the general found?" Stephens asked.
"Not it!" Calder said quickly.
"Aw, come on, man!"
"Not it!" "Not it!"
All four of them stared at each other.
"So, seriously...who goes?"
Hammond stared down at the rough draft of a letter he'd written addressing their present situations. If he could convince the Almadans...well, it would solve several problems and make a lot of kids really happy...
He took out a second letter and sighed. Of all people weird and stressful things had to happen to, why did it always have to be Dr. Jackson? He regarded the young man as a son and it hurt when something upset or injured Dr. Jackson, and seeing him in the state he'd been in before Thor took him for treatment had been nothing short of painful. What he really wanted was to give Daniel a year or so off so he could pursue the archeological work that was so dear to his heart, but the program needed him too badly to allow it. Indeed, they needed about five more Daniels just to handle all of the work that needed his expertise.
Still, there was something he could do for the young man beyond being a sympathetic ear. He could try to give him some kind of closure after each difficulty he had. The letter he was staring at now might just help that process...that is, if the Almadans would agree to it. There was no way that he was about to ask Daniel to go back to that planet by Gate, but having them come here to see him seemed to be a possibility...
A knock on the door brought him out of his introspection. "Come in!"
"Hi, General," Dr. Frasier said as she opened the door. "Got a minute?"
"Certainly," he said, shuffling the papers away. "What can I do for you?"
"I was just wondering if we've had any news about Daniel, sir."
"None as of yet," Hammond confessed.
She sighed, nodding. "It feels like they've been gone forever."
"I know how you feel," he sympathized. "I think I do about ninety-five percent of all my worrying about SG-1."
"That wouldn't surprise me," Janet said with a smile. "How much of that worrying is about Daniel?"
"I'd say it's an even split between Dr. Jackson and Colonel O'Neill for a grand total of fifty percent," Hammond joked. "Teal'c and Major Carter don't get into anywhere near the amount of trouble that they do."
"I think the thing that's so mind-boggling is that they never go looking for the trouble, it just seems to find them."
Hammond nodded. "I couldn't agree more."
"Dr. Mackenzie came to see me a little bit ago before I came up here to see you," Janet said. "He said that he would strongly recommend for Dr. Jackson to have some downtime and intensive counseling after this latest experience."
"Dr. Mackenzie always wants Dr. Jackson to go for counseling after anything that happens," George reminded her. "Why is he so adamant this time?"
"He says that what happened to Daniel on Almadas might be a form of trauma."
He dropped the pen he was holding. "What's his reasoning?"
"He said that Daniel might be feeling very violated after such drastic changes were made to his body without his consent," Janet elaborated.
Once again, he was wondering why all these things had to happen to Dr. Jackson. "With that explanation, it almost sounds like a form of rape instead of trauma."
"Dr. Mackenzie didn't come right out and say it, but I think he was thinking that, too," she agreed. "The only thing that kept him from calling it rape was the fact that what happened was in no way sexual."
"I'll make the suggestion to Dr. Jackson when he returns, but I can't promise that he'll agree with it," he told her. "For some reason I can't understand, he's reluctant to talk to Dr. Mackenzie or almost any psychologist."
"Perhaps he'd talk to Colonel O'Neill?"
Hammond grinned. "Now, that's an idea, doctor!"