by Eilidh17

Cruel irony?  A twist of fate?  Wrong place at the wrong time?  Bad timing?
The list of metaphors that could be used to explain Jack’s, or more obviously, Daniel’s, current situation was undoubtedly endless, and Jack had pretty much heard them all over the last few weeks.
He’d tightened his lips while he listened to the sarcastic comments from amused base personnel as he trekked his way through the SGC, dragging—or more accurately, carrying—Daniel from one appointment with Fraiser to the next. He always had a thick skin anyway.
Jack had heard it all.  There was a time he thought he’d seen it all as well, but the mission that downsized his strapping six foot archaeologist and best friend down to a baby, defied reasonable explanation.  This wasn’t Daniel’s first brush with a second childhood either.  Months earlier, his friend had learned the hard way that he was in fact an Ancient.  The lesson had been difficult, and Jack really didn’t feel like rehashing the whole set of circumstances again for fear of the headache it would inevitably give him.
Needless to say, Oma had stepped in and returned their Ancient speaking downsized team member back into his adult self, but the whole set of memories she’d left him with had thrown Daniel for a loop. But, Daniel being Daniel, and far better at handling mind-meddling Ancients, had eventually taken the whole affair in his stride and gotten on with reclaiming his mortal life.  Or so he’d had them believe.  Jack wasn’t so sure.
Pushing the memory aside, Jack looked down at his precious bundle, all blond locks and pink cheeks, and smiled.  He hated seeing Daniel this way, still couldn’t understand the reasoning behind it… if there really was any, but every time Daniel blinked at him, he swore he could see knowing behind those brilliant blue eyes.  That knowing was all SG-1 had, the only shreds of hope they could hold on to in the wish that somehow, in the cosmic scheme of things, this would all be set right.
The race that had ‘bestowed’ the SGC with this gift had guaranteed Jack that Daniel would grow into adulthood once his mind learned to cope with his ascended memories.  This was the way of the learning; he had been told, although Jack couldn’t quite understand what exactly had taken place.  PL6-121 housed a friendly enough population and the city closest to the Stargate was picture perfect right down to its manicured terraces and potted flowers hanging from every street light.  Daniel had drawn an instant comparison to England in the middle ages, and in that way that always amused Jack and the rest of SG-1, he’d gone on to give them all a walking talking lecture on comparative cultures.  It made for a long trek into town.
Letting Daniel step up to do the standard meet and greet was mission protocol where the threat assessment was deemed low, so Jack had given his nod of approval when the town leader stepped forward to welcome them.
And that is where everything went screwy.
Reaching out to grasp the hand Daniel offered in friendship, Geras’ warm smile turned to surprise, brows raising appreciatively as he tipped his head down towards their joined hands and muttered almost reverently, “You are Alterius.”
Alterius—Jack rolled the word around in his mouth.  If he wasn’t mistaken, and he admitted he often was; the name sounded Latin. Searching his memory, he swore it was something he should remember from his time as a walking repository. But, as that wasn’t his favorite memory, he couldn’t be sure. Maybe… Maybe not.
“Alterius?”  Daniel, on the other hand, appeared to ponder the word for a moment, his hand still held firm by Geras, before his face lit up in understanding of the man’s word.  “Alterius—the genitive form of alius, meaning ‘other’? It’s Latin.”
“Others… yes,” Geras confirmed with an approving smile.  “Your grasp of the language of the revered is to be expected as a child of the Alterius.  It is clear you have been sent to us for the learning.”  It was a statement not a question and one which had Jack’s spidy sense suddenly on full alert.  Looking across at Daniel; his brow tightly drawn, Jack could tell that his teammate was similarly confused.
Disengaging himself from Geras’ grip and taking a small step back into the circle of his team, Daniel waved a hand absently over his shoulder.  “Ah, I’m Daniel Jackson, and these people are my friends—Colonel Jack O’Neill, Major Samantha Carter—”
Daniel didn’t get to finish. Geras waved his hand imperiously in the air. The dismissal was clear.  “Who they are matters not,” he said, his tone insinuating that the rest of SG-1 was unimportant.  “What matters is that you have trusted them with your learning.”
“R-right, okay, about that.” Holding a finger in the air, Daniel scowled at the inference. Lifting his chin while his eyes narrowed with silent reproach, he said.  “Ah, about this learning…”
Geras ignored the reproof. “The learning is that which occurs when one such as yourself has returned from living among the Alterius and reclaimed their mortal form.”
“I think he’s referring to your ascension, Daniel,” Sam said, edging forward.
“Yeah.” Daniel nodded, lowering his voice so low Jack strained to hear the words. “I got that, thanks.”
“Please,” Garas turned side on and swept a hand towards the town square. “There is not much time.  Those that require the learning are usually sent straight to us from the Alterius.  Your means of arrival through the Astaria is most unusual.”
Daniel looked over his shoulder at the Stargate off in the distance and then back to Geras.  “Astaria?  You mean the Stargate, right?  The large metal ring in the distance?”
“Yes, the portal of the Alterius.”
“Jack!”  Daniel spun towards Jack; his brows raised high on his forehead, excitement burning in his eyes.  “I think Geras is referring to people who have descended like me, not people who have come through the gate.”
“And? So? Therefore?” Jack returned with a ‘hurry it up’ smile on his face.
Daniel shook his head emphatically, “Don’t you see?  There is so much we don’t know about the Ancients and what little we have been able to discover only points towards them having some sort of caretaker role in our history.”
“Again… I say.  And?  Not getting any younger here.”
Daniel’s waved his hands about animatedly.  “The writings on the wall at Keb, the tablet we found on Abydos—Jack, the repository of the knowledge! So many glimpses and yet we’re no closer to truly knowing who they are.”  Daniel lowered his head, blew out a long breath and looked back up at Jack. “These people have some sort of connection with the Ancients.  It’s obvious Geras and his people are teaching something to others that have descended like myself.  This could be a perfect opportunity here to find out more about the Ancients.”
“Fine, but don’t you think a little caution is in order?”
“Come,” Geras reached out and rested a hand on Daniel’s shoulder, gently encouraging his attention away from Jack.  “Your learning is late.  This I can tell from your aura.  We must begin.”
Daniel, the least skeptical person Jack had ever met, and undoubtedly the most curious, met Geras’ pleading stare with a frown.  “You never answered my question.  What is ‘the learning’?You see, on my world, I’m considered a scholar and historian—I study the past to enlighten the future—”
“I am aware of what a scholar is, Daniel Jackson.”
“Great.  Then you won’t mind telling me about this learning.  Don’t take this the wrong way, but we’ve learned from experience to not leap blindly into a situation without at least learning what it is we’re letting ourselves in for.  I’m all for learning pretty much anything but…”
Geras’ nodded; the smile he offered Daniel was almost sympathetic, mocking.  Jack didn’t like it one bit, and strumming the side of his P-90, he was inwardly grateful when Geras turned his attention towards him.
Clearing his throat, his fingers still beating out a tune in staccato rhythm, Jack pursed his lips and ground out between clenched teeth, “What Doctor Jackson meant to say is that he won’t be undertaking this learning of yours until you explain how it works.”
“I cannot.”  Geras didn’t even blink; the stare he offered Jack was blank and lifeless.  “The technology used for the learning is something only the Alterius understand and we are nothing but the custodians of its giving.”
“Okay,” Jack drawled out, “a little odd.  So you meter out the lesson but you don’t understand the contents? And that doesn’t seem just a little strange to you?”
“It does not.  Please,” Geras spread his hands wide.  “You must understand that for as long as we have recorded history, this village has served the Alterius by providing the learning.  Never, in all of this time, have we had a child of the Alterius come to us via the Astaria.  Your arrival is quite a surprise.”
Daniel didn’t look convinced.  Pinching the bridge of his nose, brows drawn tight in thought, he shook his head slowly and muttered something incoherently under his breath as though engaged in a silent conversation.
Jack’s patience was running out. “Daniel?” He crossed to his teammate and put a hand on his shoulder, breaking him from his musings.  “Something you wanna share?”
Daniel shook his head and shrugged.  “It—it’s nothing.”
“You were talking to yourself, it didn’t look like nothing.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.” Waving away Jack’s show of concern, Daniel turned to Geras.  “Tell me something,” he asked, “The Alterius that arrive here for the learning…”
“They aren’t true Alterius, are they?”
Geras blinked his confusion.  “I’m not sure I understand what you mean.  All that are sent down from the ancestral plane are Alterius.  At least, that is what I am given to believe.”
“How often do they arrive?”
“In all the time I have been the leader of the village, I have only welcomed two to their learning and you will be the third, though history records quite a few more.”
“Tell me what you’re thinking, Daniel?” Jack piped up from behind him.
“I’m not sure.  I think… and it’s only a guess, but the Altarius that are sent here are probably humans who have been ascended and not true Ancients.”
“Members of the Oma Desala glow club that didn’t make the cut?”
Daniel threw Jack a warning glare.  “Funny, Jack.”
Jack held his hands up in front of his face, P-90 dangling by its clip.  “I’m just sayin’.”
“This conversation is counter productive,” Geras chimed.  “The learning is something that is meant to be engaged in when an Altarius is given into our care.” Turning to Daniel, he added softly. “Already, it is evident that you should have undertaking the learning many cycles ago.  Had you been—”
“Sent here in the first place,” Daniel waved dismissively, “I get it.  What I don’t understand is what benefit this learning is.  You’ve been rather vague.”
“I have told you what I know.  We do not know the process of the learning.  All I can tell you is those who have undertaken it benefit from regaining what was lost.”
“Surely you wish to remember that which you have forgotten?”
Now it was Daniel’s turn to look confused.  He’d been descended for several months now and the memories of his life before his death and ascension had almost completely retuned.  Of course, there was the matter of the extra memories Oma had given him from his time as a true child of the Ancients, but he was slowly reconciling those with the life he had now.  It had taken a conscious effort on Daniel’s part, but he was learning to separate the various stages of his life into nice little compartments in his mind.
With a sigh of regret, he accepted he never had kept an organized filing system.
“As far as my life before ascending is concerned, I think I’ve remembered all I’m about likely to.”
“Before?  Your life as a mortal is of no consequence.” Geras brushed away Daniel’s life experiences with a casual flick of his wrist.  “I am talking about your life amongst the Alterius.  This is the learning.  How else are you expected to rejoin them at the appointed time if you cannot remember that which you learned?”
Daniel’s jaw dropped open, and like a floundering fish, he quickly snapped it closed and winced.  “You mean to tell me that by undergoing the learning I can regain my ascended memories?”
“So that when it is your time to rejoin them, you have the knowledge to do so. Yes.”
“Ah,” Sam strode up to Daniel’s side, placing a comforting hand on his arm.  “Not to be stating the obvious here, Daniel, but didn’t you tell us that no mortal can ascend without the help of an Ancient?”
“Indeed,” Teal’c remarked, “Was it not the being Oma Desala that helped you to ascended?”
“Perhaps I don’t need help anymore.”
“What?” Jack balked.  “Did I or didn’t I add a ‘no ascending’ clause into your contract when you rejoined SG-1?”
“I didn’t say I was going to.  I’m merely saying that perhaps I don’t need her help to do this again.  Look,” he spun to face Jack.  “This isn’t about me ascending again.  If what Geras says is true, then we have an opportunity here for me to regain my ascended memories and perhaps be of some benefit to Earth.”
“I like you just the way you are, Daniel,” Jack added in a pointed tone, “and we’re not having that whole self worth conversation again either.  I don’t need to be reminded of where things went—”
“This isn’t about us, it’s about having access to the knowledge I gained while ascended.  Who knows what I may have learned that could help us in the future, and it’s not looking likely that we’re going to defeat the Goa’uld anytime soon.”
“And what of the Replicators? Teal’c added.
“Hang on.” Sam shook her head, eyes dark with suspicion. “Daniel, this is all well and good, but the Colonel’s brain couldn’t handle the download from the repository of the four races, so how is this any different?”
“This is the purpose of the learning.”  Geras, who had remained quiet for some time, stepped into the circle of conversation, one hand gesturing back towards the town square.  “The learning teaches the mind so it can access and accept the information of the Alterius.  The writings of the Alterius, by which we all live, tell us that all who are returned must regain the knowledge to achieve enlightenment.  When truth and understanding have been restored and the mind is in harmony, only then can the student return to the teachers.”
“Certainly sounds like Oma,” Jack grumbled, earning himself another disapproving glare from Daniel.  “What? What da’ya want me to say?”
“Oh, I don’t know, how about, ‘this is a great idea, Daniel. A real opportunity we can’t afford to ignore’.”
“Now why would I say that?”
“Because you know it is.  We barely scratched the surface with what you could give us from the ancient download and we already know that what I can recall of my time with the others is sketchy at best.”
“Wait!” Geras held up a hand calling for Daniel’s silence. “You have already started to remember some of your time amongst the Alterius?”
Daniel shrugged one shoulder.  “Bits and pieces.  Nothing definitive.”
“I would not call your memory of Ry’ac and Bra’tac ‘nothing definitive’, Daniel Jackson.”
“Sorry, Teal’c,” Daniel swallowed his ill chosen words and gave his friend an apologetic smile.  “I didn’t mean it in that way.  Nobody was happier more than me when we found Ry’ac and Bra’tac, well, except you of course.”
“This is what I have warned you against,” Geras broke in.  “Regaining your memory without the learning can be harmful.  The writings of the Atlerius foretell of the physical consequences of such an act.”
“He could be right, sir.  The Asgard had to remove the knowledge from your mind before it killed you.”
“I don’t need reminding of that, Carter.”
“Yes, sir, but we never really considered what might happen if Daniel ever recovered more of his ascended memory.”
“Carter, you’re preaching to the converted here.  I’m all for Daniel giving us a rather full and detailed debriefing of his glow-gone days, but this all seems just a little too convenient to me.  We walk into a village on some planet that the SGC computer randomly spat out, and the answer to all of Daniel’s prayers are laid out for him?  Am I the only one who thinks this is a little too easy?”
Daniel snorted, catching Jack’s attention.  “What?” he quipped.
“Oh,” Daniel drew in his lips, trying to smother a smile, “it’s just that I seem to remember most things happening to us were the result of stepping out onto some randomly chosen planet.  This really doesn’t seem any different.”
“Forgive me for trying to practice some caution here.  I know it’s been a while since I actually wore the word Colonel on my jacket.”  Jack ran a hand down his face, feeling the scratch of a five-o-clock shadow on his chin, and heaved a sigh of defeat.  Flicking a tired gaze at Daniel who was looking at him over the rim of his glasses, he nodded away his nagging concerns and gave up the argument.  “So help me, Daniel, if this goes wrong I’m going to tie you ass to a chair and make you ride a desk for the rest of your career.  Capeesh?”  Jack didn’t mean it, but he took some pride at having voiced his concerns and metered out some unlikely reprimand.
Daniel capeeshed with a goofy grin that matched Geras’ equally pleased expression.  Shouldering packs, slinging weapons, SG-1 set off towards the town square and a little building that had been used for the millennia old tradition of the leaning.
It was to be the last time the rest of SG-1 saw their archaeologist until Geras deposited a wriggling, screaming child in Sam’s arms.
Hell in a hand basket.

“Colonel!”  Doctor Janet Fraiser, the diminutive Chief Medical Officer of Stargate Command, looked up at Jack and the swaddled bundle resting snugly in his arms, and smiled warmly.  Jack on the other hand, cringed inwardly as he’d done many a time during these ritual visits to the infirmary with Daniel.  It wasn’t Fraiser he was dreading, it wasn’t even her constant need to do just one more test—which inevitably lead to about a dozen more—no, it was the nursing staff.  Male and female alike, they had taken to this latest incarnation of their favourite archaeologist with all the ooh-ing and ahh-ing they could muster.
Scribbling notes on a patient’s records and handing it over to a waiting nurse, Janet pocketed her pen and waved Jack over towards the waiting crib.
“I think you know the routine, Colonel,” she said as she reached to pull aside the blanket that slightly obscured Daniel’s face.  “He looks so peaceful.”
Jack harrumphed as he settled Daniel into the crib and loosened the wrappings just a fraction.  “Kids’ got the lungs of a mastage! You obviously didn’t hear him about an hour ago.”
“Hungry?”  she asked and then turned to Daniel who slept on, oblivious to all the attention.  “He’s a growing boy, Colonel.  I’m sure you remember this from Charlie’s first year.”
Jack flinched at the mention of his dead son but didn’t bother to comment.  The topic of Charlie and his own ability to parent again had been brought up briefly in a private conversation between himself, General Hammond and Janet.  Jack had been resistant at first, acceding that the attention Daniel would get in the infirmary from the bevy of ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ among the nursing staff would be more than enough, but Janet didn’t agree.
Her preliminary assessment of Daniel’s age put him at about three months, physically, but it hadn’t taken long before that estimation warranted a second opinion.  After their harried return through the gate from PL6-121, and an even hastier explanation to a visibly stunned General Hammond, Jack had been left to explain Daniel’s small problem to an equally bemused Janet Fraiser.
The standard questions were asked as Janet’s medical team swung into action trying to settle a now hysterical baby who had worked his arms free from the blanket and was waving them about in a show of dissatisfaction.  Daniel’s pitiful wails could be heard clear around the infirmary, and Jack took a large step back at the suggestion that he try to calm him while the staff attempted to find a blood pressure cuff small enough for an infant.
“Colonel!” Janet had pleaded, picking Daniel up and holding him against her shoulder, shushing and swaying while patting his bulkily clad bottom.  “If you wouldn’t mind taking him for me?”
Jack searched for a quick escape in the form of the rest of his team only to find them both in the middle of their post-mission medicals.  Traitors! Throwing his hands up in front of his face like a barrier, Jack explained that he didn’t do babies.  Truth be told, the whole situation was just too far out for him to comprehend and the thought of holding someone who had been a full grown adult only a matter of hours ago, was beyond his ability to fathom.
So, Jack had withdrawn.  He’d gone through his own post-mission check-up and used the excuse of a pending debrief to quietly exit from the infirmary, leaving Daniel in Janet’s capable hands.
The debrief had gone about as well as Jack had expected… pretty badly.  Hammond wanted answers to the same questions the rest of SG-1 had and the suggestion of a return visit to PL6-121 had been tabled.  Despite knowing a return to the village was the only pro-active choice they had, Jack was sure Geras wouldn’t give up any more information than he’d already provided.  Which admittedly wasn’t much.  Not so much vague in his offerings, but it was clear the town leader was unswerving in his faith that the Alterius did everything with reason, and that the learning had been a necessary process Daniel was supposed to undertake.
Jack was kicking himself, berating his piss poor judgement in the blinding belief that everything Daniel thought was a good idea was probably worth the effort of going through with.  Palming his eyes, head resting in his hands, he’d let the rest of the briefing wash over him as he tried to reconcile his thoughts.  He was conflicted, this much he knew.  He and Daniel had argued in the last year or so before he’d ascended and much of those heated discussions had been borne out of increasing pressure being placed on the SGC by the Pentagon for results.  The request was kidding no-one, least of all Jack.  He’d played in the political arena for long enough now to know that “results” actually meant defensive or offensive weaponry—they weren’t fussy.  Nope, the Pentagon wanted results and Jack was loathed to tell his archaeologist that cultural imperatives were being pushed aside for military ones.  Somewhere in his cowardly mind, it had become easier to argue with Daniel than it had been to defend the primary mandate of the SGC.
The briefing had droned on until Jack noticed a new voice amongst the melee and he looked up to find Janet Fraiser seated across from him.
“Well, he’s very unsettled,” Janet’s gaze settled on Jack for a moment before addressing everyone at the table.  “I’d like to call in a pediatrician if you don’t mind, sir.”
Jack rubbed a hand across his chin, sliding it up his face so he could scrub it through his short hair.  Stuck in his own thoughts, he’d obviously missed the start of her report on Daniel.  Mentally kicking himself, he blinked away his own weariness to tune in to her words.
“We’ve managed to get a blood sample and the preliminary results suggest that this is Doctor Jackson—”
“You had doubts, Janet?”  Sam asked.
“It’s standard procedure, although there’s nothing standard about this situation,” Janet conceded with a wry smile.  “We followed the same protocols we used when the Colonel was cloned and when Doctor Jackson handled the Ancient crystal.  As I was saying, the initial results point towards this being Daniel but we won’t know for sure until the DNA results are in.”
“Oh, you can be sure this is Daniel,” Jack offered strumming his fingers on the table top.
“You did a thorough search of the village before you left, Colonel?”  Hammond swivelled his chair in Jack’s direction and rested his laced hands on his belly.  “We know from experience there are several races out there that aren’t beyond using children for their own purposes.”
Janet tapped a finger on the medical file in front of her. “We did check him out for any biological booby-trap, sir, but he was clean.”
“No hidden bombs in his teeth?”  Jack added testily.
“He’s three months old, Colonel.  No teeth.”
Jack flinched and dropped his eyes to the table.  “Right.  No teeth.”
Teal’c, whose silence was almost customary at briefings unless he was called upon, lifted his downcast gaze to Hammond. “Geras was adamant that this child was Daniel Jackson.  I see no reason for us to assume otherwise.”
“And you believe this Mr. Geras?”
“It is not a matter of belief, General Hammond.  I simply do not see what advantage Geras seeks to attain with his actions other than what he has told us. It is entirely probably that he was carrying out the wishes of the Ancients.”
“With this learning ritual?”
“And we don’t know what happened to Doctor Jackson once he was taken for this ritual?  I assume there’s a good reason why you or a member of your team didn’t go with him, Colonel.”
And there was the clincher.  “We weren’t allowed to, sir.”  It was the truth, although as the words slipped from Jack’s mouth, he winced at how hollow his excuse sounded.  He should have tried harder to stay with Daniel, but as they reached the small building set aside for the learning, Geras had blocked his path.
“None may enter save the Alterius,” Geras had explained, placing a hand on Jack’s chest.  “We are but the keepers, the custodians, and those who bear witness to the learning.  What goes on beyond these doors is not for our eyes until the learning is complete.”
One look from Daniel was all it had taken to put paid to any further discussion.  Jack had seen the fire in his younger teammate’s eyes, the deep desire to recapture a part of his life that was he thought was permanently lost.  A forced step back away from the door and a quick nod of reluctant acceptance, and all Jack could do was wish Daniel good luck.
“This learning thing,” Jack idly batted a hand in the air as though he was swatting a bug, “we weren’t allowed to watch, sir.  Daniel walked in alone and the door was closed.  I couldn’t even see past him.”
“How long was he in there?” George asked.
“Half an hour, perhaps a little longer.”
“And what did your team do in the meantime, Colonel?”
Jack sat up and rolled his shoulders, not daring to look at the other seated around the table.  “Nothing, sir.  Geras and some of the other villagers took us to another building to wait it out for Daniel.”
“We were left alone, General Hammond,” Teal’c added.  “Geras was most insistant that we remain in the room and be ready to assist Daniel Jackson when the learning was complete.”
“Assist?” Janet looked up from her briefing folder.  “Assist in what way?”
“Geras did not elaborate.”
“We weren’t given any reason to believed he’d be harmed in anyway, if that’s what you’re asking, Janet,” Sam said.  “If anything, I got the feeling the villagers revered him in some way.”
“Like a god,” Jack muttered under his breath.
Hammond whipped his head towards Jack.  “Colonel?”
“I said,” Jack continued flately, “they revered him like a god.  Their whole attitude towards these Alterius was one of religious reverence.  Geras pretty much said so himself when he mentioned living by their word.  As far out as it sounds, these people worship the Ancients.”
“Actually, sir.  That may not be as ‘far out’ as you think it is.  Religion is a mindset based on the individuals life experiences through belief in the existance of a higher being or diety.” Sam steepled her fingers in thought, tapping them against her chin.  “We don’t yet know whether descension is done purely as a form of punishment or by concious choice, but perhaps there is a flaw in the process that doesn’t allow for the descendee to retain the knowledge that ascension affords them.”
“No,” Janet said with a shake of her head, “We already know from Colonel O’Neill’s experiences that the human mind can’t handle that much information.  It starts to take over incremntally and builds to a point where the mind invariably shuts down.  It seems to me that the Ancients got it right by descending someone without all that knowledge.”
“A human someone,” Jack muttered, and then noticing a wide spread look of puzzlement from around the table, added,  “Daniel theorized that the Alterius who descended without their memories intact were mostly likely humans that had been helped along the path to ascension by an Ancient.”
“He also said he wasn’t sure though, sir,” Sam added.  “We really don’t know enough about the Ancients to make any assumptions on their motives.”
Janet turned her chair towards Carter.  “True enough, Sam, but if Daniel was right, then it does show that the Ancients at least knew that descending a lesser evolved human with those memories could be harmful, and not just in a physical sense.”
“Uh, huh. Having access to such knowledge would be a powerful catalyst for anyone seeking to gain a food hold in the galaxy.  It makes sense to descend them without those memories whatever the reason might be.  However, it doesn’t explain why they would then be put through the learning.”
“Indeed it does,” Teal’c interjected, turning to look at Janet Fraiser.  “Is it not true that the mind of an infant is more adaptable at processing a greater volume of information then that of an adult?”
Janet nodded minimally.  “Yonger brains do have the ability to process and retain larger volumes of information than older ones do.  It’s one of the reasons children pick up languages quicker than adults… amongst other things.  Even so,” she strummed her finger on the table top, lips thinning into a disbelieving grimace, “I don’t think even a newborn’s mind would be able to cope with the amount of information we’re looking at here.  It might take a little longer, but eventually, the child would suffer the same fate that the Colonel almost did.  If it wasn’t for the Asgard, I don’t think he would have…”
Teal’c wasn’t convinced and arched an eyebrow in response.  “Surely something the Ancients would have known when they put in place that which Daniel Jackson was given.”
“The learning?”  Jack’s head bobbed in surprise.  “You mean the learning, right?”
“You could be on to something there, Teal’c,” Sam said, “It’s possible that what has happened to Daniel was meant to happen.  That the process of the learning is a two fold event that requires the descended Alterius to not only regain their memories, but do it over a period of time so the physical effect is minimalized.  Something in the act of reverting him back to a child—”
“Baby,” Jack interjected in a dour tone.
“Right, sir… a baby.  Something in act of reverting him back to a child could also be allowing him to incrimentally regain his ascended knowledge.”
Jack dropped his head to the table top and banged it a few times for good measure before mumbling, “Does anyone else here thing that this is all a little far fetched?  Way out?  Far out?”
“Not in comparison to some of the other things I’ve seen while sitting in this chair, Jack.”  The general’s voice was hushed, almost fatherly in response, and when Jack finally lifted his head from the table he saw nothing but sympathy reflected in his gaze.
He’d tried to make sense of the briefing; of the bevy of opinions and theories that had been bandied around the table in the hopes of coming up with a solution to the problem.  Carter, while admitting there was no way to be sure that their assumptions were correct, had come up with the most likely scenario: Daniel was who he needed to be if he was ever going to recover his ascended memories.
Jack wasn’t sure it had been worth the effort though.  He’d argued the point to the best of his admittedly limited understanding, and put forward his own theory that waiting for Daniel to grow up to the point of being able to share what he’d learned, was going to be a very long time.  Given that they were learning more and more about the Ancients as time passed, it seemed to Jack that by the time Daniel revealed all, they probably would have learned all there was to know on the subject from their travels through the Stargate.
From his perspective it was a sound argument, but as Carter had gone on to point out—the learning wasn’t intended to act as a long term debriefing, but to prepare Daniel for re-ascension.  Either way he looked at it, Jack wasn’t happy.
And neither was Daniel.
Whether it was the chill of the infirmary after being wrapped securly in a warm blanket, or just a general grumble at the world because he was small and screaming was his only means of communication, Daniel Jackson suddenly had a lot to say.
Dragged back to reality by an ear piercing wail, Jack looked down at the quivvering bundle in the crib and his heart skipped a beat.  Little face screwed up tight, eyes closed shut against the world, Daniel sucked in a deep breath and voiced his opinion… loudly.
“You can’t possibly be hungry again, tyke,” Jack harrumphed, reaching into the crib to pick Daniel up.  Holding him to his shoulder, he cradled the back of his head with one hand and rubbed his back with the other.  After a few moments, intersperesed with the odd sob and body shuddering hiccup, Daniel’s cries finally reduced to a sniffle.
“You’re good with him, Colonel,” Janet said softly, draping a blanket over Daniel and tucking in it around his little feet.  “A natural, I’d say.”
“Yeah, well…”  Jack searched for a chair and spotting one on the other side of the crib, settled himself down.  “Daniel and I have come to a little understanding ove the last day.”
“Really? Do tell.”
“Oh, its no big deal. He promised not to burst my eardrums and set off sensors around the base with his lung excercises and I’ll put a shot of coffee in his morning bottle.”
Jack laughed lightly, Daniel’s head shifting on his shoulder, his little legs moving restlessly under the blanket.  “Shhh,” he soothed, tugging the blanket up high.  “Don’t worry about it, doc.  It’s not like Daniel here has lived up to his end of the bargain anyway.”
“Yes, I’m sure he’ll pass a lung capacity test with flying colors.”
Janet dragged another chair over and sat down facing him, sneaking her hand-warmed stethascope under the blanket and positioning it on Daniel’s chest.  As she listened, a small smile tugged at her lips and she hmm’d with satisfaction as she drew the implimet away and let it fall around her neck.  “He sounds great, sir, you’re doing a great job.”
“Am I?”  Jack wasn’t so sure.  His initial reluctance to have anything to do with Daniel’s care had been short lived.  Somewhere between the end of the mission debrief and the short jaunt to the locker room, something inside him snapped, burst open.  He couldn’t admit it to anyone, not even himself, but his ability to love again—something that he’d buried with Charlie—had been unlocked with Daniel’s first cry.
Heavy legs had carried him back to the infirmanry and straight up to make-shift crib the nursery staff had cobbled together until a real one could be brought in.  Whether to laugh or cry was the only thing on his mind at that point as he looked down on Daniel, wrapped and laying on his side, a pillow behind his back while a nurse looked on.  Leads snaked out from the blanket and up to a monitor set as far back against the rear wall as it would go.  The sight seemed surreal, and if he hadn’t known who he was looking at, it would have been easy to dissasociate himself from the picture.
Moving around the side of the bed, Jack snagged a chair with his toe and sank himself into it, just close enough to poke his hand through the bed rails and caress the small hand that had escaped its blanket coccoon.  Quitely, as though sensing the colonel wanted to be alone, the nurse tabled her folder and stepped away, drawing the curtain around the bed as she left.
Jack rested his elbow on his knee and his head in his hand, and pinching the bridge of his nose, tried to center his thoughts.  Weariness washed over him like a winter deluge, and feeling his mind starting to wander and vision greying ever so slightly, he sat himself up quickly to push away his fatigue.
Only to find himself looking into the most beautiful pair of tiny blue eyes…
“Crap,” Jack whispered as he dragged himself back to the present and the bundle of warmth and contentment still cradled on his shoulder.  He could feel Daniel’s breath puffing against his neck, and turning his head to the side, he saw he was still fast asleep, a trail of drool oozing from his lips.
“Sorry, doc, I must have wandered off there.”
Janet smiled warmly at him.  “You really are doing a great job with him, sir.”
“We’re a team, doc.”
“No-one gets left behind?”
“No,” he said quietly, “not on my watch.”
“Listen, Jack.”
The use of his first name suddenly changed the tone of the conversation, and a flicker of fear danced in his chest.  “What’s wrong?  Is he-?”
Janet flashed up her hands, palms out. “No. No, really, Daniel is a very healthy three month old.  I haven’t gotten all of his test results back yet but I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.  I just wanted to be sure that you know what you’re letting yourself in for here, that’s all.”
“As in?”
“As in taking on Daniel’s care.  You were very reluctant at first—”
“Things change.”
“Yes, they do, but I’d like to know why.”
Daniel shuddered on Jack’s shoulder, his breath hitching for a moment before he let out a contented sigh.
“Dreamin’ huh?” Jack could just make out his face from the corner of his eye.  “Hope it’s a good one.”
The conversation was inevitable, and not something Jack had been looking forward to.  His initial reaction to Daniel when they’d returned for PL6-121 hadn’t gone unnoticed by Fraiser or her staff and his sudden change of heart had obiviously given her pause to question his motives.  Jack couldn’t blame her though.  The situation was unique, the circumstances complicated and involved, but most importantly, there was the welfare of a person at stake, and Jack’s track record in the child raising department wasn’t that bright.
“Would you believe me if I said I don’t really have a reason?”
Janet threw him a sceptical look, one brow arched high on her head.  “Not really, sir.”
“Then the truth is… he’s my responsibility.”
“So, you’re doing this out of a misguided sense of loyalty, is that it?”
“No,” Jack whispered.  “I’m doing this because he’s my friend.  Look, I don’t have the nouse that Carter has for coming up with crazy solutions to even crazier problems, and I certainly don’t have Teal’c’s depth of understanding and ability to see the bigger picture.  All I have is me, and strangely enough, I think that’s all Daniel needs right now.  Does that make any sense?”
“Oddly, yes.”
“It does?”
“Colonel, your physical ability to parent was never in question, but I’ll admit to having had some reservations about your mental state of mind considering the unique circumstances we find ourselves in.”
“And I’m bettin’ my son factors into this somewhere as well.”  Jack was no fool.  He knew the moment he stood in front of Hammond and Fraiser and demanded care of Daniel that the issue of Charlie’s death would be plucked from the shadow of his past.  He’d long reconciled himself with the events of that dark day and the part he’d unwittingly played in it, and with time he’d let his guilt go as well.
“No one is playing the blame game here, sir.  We’ve already discussed this and you know my feelings on the subject.  I just need to be absolutely sure you know that once you fully committ to taking on Daniel’s care, well, its going to be difficult to pull out if you change your mind.  It’s already evident from the few days you’ve spent together on base, that a bond has formed.  Daniel is more at ease with you, more content in your company than anyone elses.  If you’re having any doubts at all, now is the time to table them or back out before the damage is done.”
He had enough doubts to sink the US Navy, but none he was willing to voice.  Daniel needed stability, he needed a home, and he needed someone who knew the man he would someday become.
“No, Doc.  No doubts at all.”

“Not a chance.”
“But, sir-,”
“Aht!” Jack held up a hand to forestall Carter from any further embarrassment.  “He’s three months old, Carter.”
Daniel, just fed, burped, and changed, was wrapped in a blue and white striped baby blanket and nestled in Sam Carter’s arms, blissfully unaware of the debate raging over his wardrobe choices.
Fatherhood the second time around had give Jack a renewed appreciation for exactly what Sara must have gone through with Charlie.  Jack had missed those first early months.  Allowed home from a pre-deployment training mission for his sons’ birth, he’d only been given a few days to count fingers and toes and fawn over the tiny miracle they’d created before shipping out on rotation to the Persian Gulf.  It hadn’t been nearly enough time.  Sara’s tears, mixed with Charlie’s small pathetic cries, had been the last thing Jack heard as the cab pulled away from the curb and stole him from his new family for the two years.  It was a bitter moment.  The picture he carried in the top pocket of his dress blues was a poor replacement for being actively involved in his son’s upbringing, but he’d been left choiceless.
There had never been the ‘right’ time to start a family.  Jack’s career being what it was, had taken away any true stability in his and Sara’s life, and despite arguing that they should hold off for a few more years, mother nature had stepped in and taken that choice away.  Their timing woefully bad, Jack had balled up his anger tight inside only to have it roll away the moment he held Charlie for the first time.
Their happiness was tragically short lived.
Jack had a new life to care for now, the strangest of circumstances having delivered to him the most surprising opportunity.  In a quiet moment while Daniel was asleep in his crib, Jack had pondered the physical logistics of mass versus size and what exactly had happened in that tiny room back on PL6-121.  Honestly, how was Daniel turned from a six foot tall, one eighty pound adult, into a… how big was he again?  He’d have to look at Daniel’s medical records at his next check-up.
So while Jack now spent his days divided between his two jobs—full time father and full time career officer, his 2IC had been spending her off hours debating Daniel’s wardrobe.  Apparently, all the best dressed downsized archaeologists were wearing tiny battle dress uniforms these days.
“You have to admit he’d look cute, sir.”
Jack held the tiny uniform up and turned it from side to side, an action that seemed to spark hope in Carter’s eyes, which he quickly doused when it was obvious he was more interested in the coat hanger.
“They make them this small?”
“Ah, well… yes,” Carter stammered, a puzzled frown creasing her brow.  “Everyone wears clothes, sir, it’s not a new fashion trend just for the grown-ups.”
“Har-har.  I was talking about the hanger.  I can’t believe there’s a whole industry out there devoted to making small hangers for small clothes.”
Carter sighed.  “You’re not taking this seriously at all.”
“Nope,” Jack confirmed with a smile.  “No kid of mine is going to be seen dead in desert cammo BDU’s.  Not while I’m around to make the decisions.”
“Well, hearts are gonna break.”
“And why would that be?”
“Daniel always did look good in desert cam.”
Jack tossed the clothes back into the box of other rejected fashion disasters, and shook his head in disbelief.  “It was one of Fraiser’s nurses, wasn’t it?”
“Who put you up to this?” He waved toward the box of clothes.  “BDU’s, a sailor suit, a lion suit?  Carter?  Who dresses their kid in this stuff?  Whatever happened to sensible pants and a shirt?”
“He’s a baby.  They do cute clothes really well.”
“Give me Daniel,” Jack held his hands out to Carter, waggling his fingers in a ‘hand it over’ manner.  “You can take all this back and get him something more appropriate and preferably something that doesn’t require a how-to manual to put on.”
Favoring Jack with a look of disappointment, Sam carefully stood and slid Daniel into Jack’s waiting arms, brushing a finger over his pink cheek as she pulled away.  Daniel acknowledged the transition with a fluttering of his eyes and puckering of his lips, his chin dimpling for a moment before he relaxed back into sleep.
“He is cute, sir.”
“Don’t you have a mission to prepare for, Carter?”
Grappling with the box of clothes, Carter shrugged and turned to leave before looking back over her shoulder.  “It’s not too late to come with us, sir.  Janet could watch Daniel till we return.  I do think Geras will respond to your questioning more than ours.”
No.  Jack had already made up his mind on the proposed mission back to 121 and decided to leave the questioning to Carter and Teal’c who were taking SG-7 as back-up.  His decision to become Daniel’s primary care-giver was one he hadn’t taken lightly, and as part of his new responsibilities, Jack had taken himself out of off-world duties for the time being.  SG-1 was now down two members in stead of one, and while he was acutely aware of what that had done to the dynamics of the team, he knew he had made the right decision.
“You’ll do fine, Carter.”
“I’m sorry, sir.  It just won’t be the same.”
“Nothing is, but it has to be this way.  I know you and Teal’c both understand.”  Lowering his voice, watching as Daniel smacked his lips and wriggled in his blanket, he added, “I couldn’t live with myself if…”
“We’ll be fine, sir,” Sam added, her gaze softening.  “You just take care of Daniel.”
“I’ll do that, major.”

“You have returned?”  The look of surprise on Geras’ face didn’t quite match the sting of suspicion in his tone, and Teal’c eyed the man with carefully concealed distain.  “Is there a problem with the Alterius?”
Although the teams had exited Pl6-121 during this side of the planet’s afternoon, the small village was strangely quiet.  Streets that had been alive with life only a few days ago, were, aside from the occasional person moving from one house to another, mostly vacant.  There were no vendors selling their wares, nothing at all that resembled the hustle and bustle of the thriving community that had greeted them previously.  Tightening his grip on his staff weapon, Teal’c slid his gaze over to Major Carter who looked similarly apprehensive.  Behind them, the members of SG-7 had spread themselves out into a protective semi-circle.
Teal’c stepped forward and bowed slightly at the waist, his gaze held firm on Geras.  “Daniel Jackson is faring well, but we have many questions that require answers.”
“Questions?” Geras’ mouth twitched with a threatened wince.  “Of what do you require answers?  The learning has been completed and your Alterius has begun his journey, there is nothing more to be discussed.”
Sam stepped forward, her hand resting lightly on the top of her P-90, “I’m sure to you, this is very cut and dry… straightforward, but the leaders and healers of my world have asked us to return to you in the hopes you can address some of our concerns.”
Geras’ shoulders slumped in a show of silent resignation and he gestured for Sam and Teal’c to follow him.  “Please,” he said as he guided them through the village square and up to a tall white free-standing building.  “You must understand that you are the first to accompany an Alterius on his learning and as such, we have never had to defend the ritual to anyone.”
“We are?”  Sam asked.
“Yes.  As I told Daniel Jackson, all previous Alterius have been sent directly to us from the astral planes.  This was why your arrival caused such a commotion in the village.”  Pausing to open a heavy wooden door, Geras ushered them inside.  “My home is your home,” he said, spreading his arms wide to encompass the entire room.  “We live a Spartan life as dictated by the teaching of the Alterius, but we do not go without.  Please, if you would sit?”
The room was massive.  Large wooden beams crisscrossed the ceiling like a lattice frame.  The walls were washed in a white paint that only served to accentuate the beams and give the room a bright feel.  A large round table sat in the center of the room, its legs adorned with carvings of what looked like angels, staring out at them.
“We use this room for our village meetings on the rare occasions there are decisions to be made requiring a quorum of consensus,” Geras offered as he pulled out a chair and waited for the rest of the team to take their places.
Off to one side and to the rear of the room, Teal’c spotted a narrow spiral staircase ascending into darkness.  “What purpose does this building serve beyond your village meetings?”
“The village archives are stored here as are other important documents and artifacts from our past,” Geras obliged as he sank down into his chair.  “Despite Angelus Gens being a city with a very long history, we do not have a very colorful one.  Ours has always been and will remain so, a clan in service to the Alterius and their varying needs.  As such, our archives are quite small.”
Most of SG-7 had remained outside the building while only their linguist, Captain Elise Cerra had joined SG-1 at the table.  Sucking in her bottom lip, the captain dug a notebook and pen from one of her vest pockets and started making notes.  “Angelus Gens,” she said, scrawling it across the top of the page and underlining it heavily, “meaning… City of Angels?”
“If that is your interpretation of the words, yes,” Geras replied.  “We call ourselves the Angelus because that is what the Alterius refer to us as.”
“About that,” Sam paused and rested her P-90 across her lap as she sat.  “Exactly how often to you communicate with the Alterius, and how is it done?  You have some sort of device you use?”
“I don’t quite follow you, Major.”
“It’s easy.  If you needed to talk to the Alterius, how do you do it?”
“We have never needed to talk to the Alterius, it isn’t their way,” he stated matter-of-factly.  “All that we need to know is written in the archives they left for us.  We have followed their teachings and instructions from the very beginning of our history.”
“Is it possible for us to look at your archives, Mr Geras?” Cerra asked.  “It could help us to understand what happened to Dr. Jackson.”
“You are unhappy with your Alterius?”  Geras appeared confused with the request.  “His learning went as expected.  I am unsure what looking through our archives would achieve.  Besides which, the writings of the Alterius are sacred to our people and only those directly involved with the learning are permitted to pass that ability on to their apprentices. It is a cycle that has been repeated for millennia.”
Head down, Cerra hastily scribbled a line of Ancient script on her notepad and slid it across the table to Geras.  “Is this what you mean?”
Geras picked up the pad and promptly dropped it like a hot rock.  “What trickery is this?” he exclaimed, pushing away from the table.  “None bar the Angelus have ever been permitted to learn the writings and those that descend from the planes left that ability behind.”
“Relax, Geras.”  Sam retrieved the notepad and handed it back to Cerra.  “Captain Cerra here is one of a handful of my people who can read, write and speak the language of the Alterius.”
“Dr. Jackson is the head of our linguistics department among other things, and is the person responsible for teaching us this language.” Cerra added quickly, “It was the one thing he retained from his time as an ascended being.”
“Impossible,” Geras huffed.  “All descended Alterius are returned without the knowledge.”
“As you have already noted, Gera, Daniel Jackson was not returned to this village when he descended,” Teal’c added, “It is quite possible the Ancients did this deliberately and his ability to comprehend their language was part of their purpose.”
“For what reason? Bah!” Geras stood and rested his hands on his hips, staring down his nose at Teal’c.  “This is foolish.  The Alterius demand that all go through the learning and in this we have succeeded.  I don’t know what reason they had to return your comrade outside of Angelus Gens, but his learning has been enacted and we are finished here.  Like all Alterius, he will return to the fold when his learning is complete.”
“Geras, please sit,” Sam waved to the chair.  “We really need to work this out and you’re our only source of information.  Whatever reason the Alterius had for descending Daniel on another planet are irrelevant.”
Holding her gaze for a moment, Geras shrugged lightly and sank back down in his chair.  “I will answer your questions to the best of my ability and within the teaching of the Alterius, but that is all I can do.  Then… you must leave.  The village is in their mediation cycle and your arrival here is a disruption.”
“So, that’s where everyone is,” Cerra noted.  “The whole village meditates?  Even the children?”
“The teachings of the Alterius tell us that to meditate is to open the window to the soul which will lead us down the path to enlightenment.”
“Sounds like Oma,” Sam muttered dryly.
Geras either chose to ignore her or didn’t hear.  “The entire village enters into meditation, none are exempt.”
“Then we will endeavor to be brief,” Teal’c said, equally dryly.
“The question we’d most like answered is why Daniel was returned to us as an infant,” Sam asked as she watched Cerra flip to a new page on her notebook, her other hand discretely thumbing the on switch of an audio recorder she had concealed in her palm.  “Our healer has put forward a compelling theory but we’d like to hear what you have to say.”
Geras tipped his head to one side and shrugged as though the answer should have been obvious.  “The learning will not work if the Alterius remains an adult.  It is that simple.”
“That’s it?” Cerra dropped her pen and stared out at Geras from under her fringe.  “Is there are cultural or physical reason for reverting someone in this manner?  I mean, surely the Alterius have given you some reason as to why they do this?”
“The teachings tell us the Alterius can only relearn what they have forgotten in small stages and that the mind needs to be in a pliable state for the learning to work.  Every Alterius that has undertaken the learning has been… what was your word?”
“Reverted,” Sam offered.  “Made young again.”
“Yes, reverted.  I must remember that word.”
“You call it something different?”
“We call it the learning.  It is a lesson as much as it is a process.”
“What of the other Alterius?” Teal’c asked.  “Those who have descended here and undertaken the learning.”
“Ah,” Geras smiled. “They are raised by families in the village until their learning is complete.  At the moment there is only one Alterius child living here.  He was descended to us many cycles ago and undertook the learning immediately.”
“Is it possible to see him?” Cerra asked, looking up from her notepad.  “I’m curious, from a purely scientific point of view of course.”
“I am sorry, but there are so few descended Alterius and we guard their privacy out of respect as much as reverence.  Had you not accompanied Daniel Jackson to his learning we would have taken him to raise as our own… in fact, there are many in the village who were most vocal about the decision to let him leave.”
“Any attempt at stopping us would have failed,” Teal’c said darkly, earning himself a look of defiance from Geras.
“Ah,” Sam interrupted, “What he means is we don’t leave our people behind.  It’s a cultural thing.  I am curious though.  How do you know when the learning has been completed?  Does the Alterius ascend again?”
“All Alterius ascend again, they have no choice.  We are told the Alterius descend for many reasons, some of which are personal.  When one reaches the end of their learning, they are returned to the astral planes to rejoin their kind.  Some of the Alterius have chosen to spend their learning days in the safety of a cloister not far from Angelus Gens.  Many of our villagers live in the cloister as well, all seeking enlightenment.  Others, once they are of an age of independence, prefer to travel through the Astaria to other worlds. What happens after they leave Angelus is a mystery, but I can only assume they too return to the planes when their time comes.”
“What of their ascended knowledge?”  Cerra abandoned her notebook and rested her hands on the table in front of her, the audio device tucked behind a thumb and out of sight of Geras.  “If the learning is intended to unlock their ascended memories in increments, what becomes of that knowledge?  We know from experience that the Ancients… the Alterius, were the keepers of great repositories of knowledge.  Surely as a descended Alterius slowly regains their memories of ascension, there must be some curiosity from others as to what they know?  Wouldn’t it be a bit of a risk to let them through the Stargate?”
Geras smiled indifferently.  “We cannot keep them here.  It is not our place to decide the fate of an Alterius.  All we can do is what we already do—offer them sanctuary until they are ready to ascend again.  The Alterius give their kind to us for safe keeping for a reason.  I do not know what that is, but we respect their wishes as the caretakers of their learning.  Now, I have answered all that I can and must return to my meditation.  We have left Daniel Jackson in your care and entrusted you with his learning.  There is little more I can do for you.”
“Acutally,” Sam held up a hand, “there is one more thing you could do.”
“What would that be, Major?”
“You could let us look in the room the learning is held in.  We promise not to touch anything, but it would help us if we could work out the mechanics behind what happened to Daniel.  Call it satisfying scientific curiosity.”
“Impossible, because you can’t or you won’t?” Sam eyed Geras suspiciously.
“None but the Alterius may enter the learning room.  There is nothing I can do to change that.”
“You couldn’t just hold the door open and let us look from the entrance?”
Geras shook his head emphatically as he rose from his chair and crossed to the doorway.  “You don’t understand, Major.  The door to the learning will not open for anyone other than an Alterius.  We can not even enter there to clean.  The building existed before the village did, and none save the Alterius have ever entered it.”
“Curious,” Teal’c said with a quirked eyebrow.  “If the Alterius are the only people allowed access to the room then how do you recover the child when the learning is complete?”
Geras smiled widely as though remembering a fond memory.  “They are left in the waiting chamber.  A small room set apart from the learning room.  How they get there, we do not know, but the tear tells us when they are ready to be collected.”

He could do this.  No worries at all.  No a problem in the world.  Truly, how hard could it be to look after a baby?  Granted, this was no ordinary child, but really, the principals should be the same, right?  His mother had done it several times and both he and his older brother had turned out to be fairly decent human beings… or so Jack thought.  His wife had done this and she’d had to go it alone for most of Charlie’s short life.  Millions of parents around this world… and many others, had all successfully raised families and then sat back and watched as their children set out to raise their own.
It was circle of life stuff… but still, at oh-four-seventeen hours, when all cranky colonels and over-tired downsized archaeologists should be asleep, they were very much awake… and Daniel was screaming.
“Crap,” Jack cursed under his breath as he scrubbed a hand through his hair.  “One hour, Daniel… is it too much to ask for just an hour of sleep?”
Jack had deliberately placed Daniel’s crib on the opposite side of his on-base quarters.  It was a matter of safety really, and he didn’t want to take the chance of waking up from a particularly vivid nightmare and lashing at the nearest object.  Tossing the covers back, Jack slipped out of bed and tried to stretch the kinks out of his back as he padded over to Daniel.
“Kid,” he grumbled as he reached into the crib and scooped Daniel up, “you’ve certainly got a decent pair of lungs in you.  Did you give your parents this much trouble first time around, huh?”
Daniel’s body was taut against Jack, his little head bobbing on his shoulder with every wail.  Reaching up, Jack tapped his finger on Daniel’s lip and smiled as his tiny lips started to root around in anticipation of the offered meal.
“You’re kidding, right?  How can you be hungry when I only just fed you?”
Smacking his lips appreciatively, his tongue darting in and out, Daniel started to squirm in Jack’s arms, his legs kicking free of his blanket and bumping into Jack’s chest.
“Okay.” Jack reached behind Daniel with his free hand and cradled his head.  “You know the deal, buddy.  Your bottles are over there,” he nodded in the direction of a small kitchenette on the far side of the room, “and you’re over here.  I can’t warm your grub and hold you at the same time.  Tried that, remember?” Jack waited a beat for an answer.  “Well, didn’t work then and I’m not doin’ it again.  Think you can hold on for a few minutes without wasting away?”  Daniel continued to seek out Jack’s finger, his lips quivering expectantly.
Reluctantly, and acutely aware of what Daniel’s response would be, Jack lowered his infant charge back into his crib and wrapped his blanket tightly around him.  With his anticipated meal withdrawn, Daniel’s breath started to hitch, his face knotted in displeasure, and Jack had hardly taken a step away before his cries filled the small room.
“Pacifier. First thing in the morning, I’m gonna hit Fraiser up for a pacifier.”

Janet Fraiser toed off her shoes and rubbed her stockinged feet together, moaning at the simple pleasure her aching legs got from the massage after a night spent on her feet.  The infirmary was full.  One of the SG teams on a joint off-world training exercise with the Tok’ra had uncovered a long abandoned naquadah mine and taken a tumble down its access shaft.  Limping and carrying themselves back to the gate, they had spent the rest of the evening having their various limbs x-rayed and casts applied.  It had been a hectic shift.
Signing off on the last of her patients’ charts, Janet had just reclined back in her chair and loosened her tightly bound hair bun, when her office phone rang.  Catching a quick look at the clock on the wall, she frowned and picked up the receiver.
“Doc, ya busy?”
“Colonel!  And how is my favourite little patient doing this early morning?”
Jack muttered something under his breath that Janet didn’t quite catch.  “Sorry, sir… you faded out on me there.  I couldn’t quite hear you.”
“I said,” Jack enunciated slowly, “I can’t seem to get him settled.”
“You’ve fed him?”
“Only three times in the last four hours.”
“Has he got wind?”
“He’s firing from both ends if that’s what you mean.”
Janet hummed and started rubbing her feet together under the desk again, listening to Daniel grizzling on the other end of the phone. “And you changed his diaper, right?”
“Twice.  He’s good there.  I’ve taken him for a walk, rubbed his belly and his back.  Laid with him on my chest… heck, I even gave him an early morning bath, but nothing is helping.”
“Well, sir, you’ve covered all the basics.  My guess is he’s just unsettled and there’s not a lot you can do until he sorts himself out.  Babies are like that.  Sometimes, no matter what we do for them they just seem determined to grizzle.  I’m sure he’ll wear himself out and drop off for you.”  But from the sound of Daniel’s cries in the background, Janet was sure it wouldn’t be any time soon.  “Do you want me to come down there and take him for a while?  You wouldn’t be the first parent that’s needed a little bit of respite.”
“Just some sleep would be good,” Jack mumbled.
“What was that, sir?”
“Nothing,” he sighed, “I said, we’re good.  I just wanted to make sure I’d done everything.”Janet understood the colonel’s concern.  This was a difficult phase for everyone as far as coping with Daniel’s altered physical state was concerned.  Regardless of his outward appearance and the results of the barrage of tests she’d run on him, there was always the chance something crucial had been missed, some minor test result they’d dismissed as insignificant but could actually turn out to be vital.
There were simply no standards to compare too.  Janet and her nursing staff were working blind on this case, and not being able to bring in specialists because of the security implications had made her job all that more difficult.  Her only concession: Major Darren Reeves.  Assigned to the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force hospital, Major Reeves had given up a lucrative career in Pediatrics and moved to Orthapedics—a field more useful to the military.  The Major’s career move was a blessing for Fraiser who didn’t have to tackle the General for a security clearance to have the doctor brought into the infirmary.
Daniel’s appointment had been unsatisfying short though.  While the General had backed a specialist physical exam of Daniel, he’d stopped short of allowing Major Reeves access to his service records and any documentation related to his downsizing.  The situation was awkward.  Effectually gagged, Janet had no way of directing her specific concerns to the major without raising any suspicions, but the General’s argument had carried some weight.
The NID and certain elements at Area 51 had demanded access to Daniel within days of SG-1 bringing him back to Earth from Vis Uban.  Not satisfied with Janet’s diagnosis of amnesia, both organizations put forward requests to the Pentagon to have Daniel released to them for a period of testing and debriefing.  The Colonel hadn’t taken the news very well, Daniel even less so.  His memory may have been sketchy at the time, but the man had smarts and could see trouble coming towards him at a million miles an hour.  To this day, Janet isn’t sure how General Hammond managed to keep both the NID and Area 51 away from Daniel, but she figured he’d called in some pretty heavy markers—not the least of all being the President.
The situation they found themselves in now was no different in regards to how the NID or Area 51 would react if they found out about Daniel’s altered state.  To the General’s way of thinking the less information that found its way out of the mountain, the better.  Keeping the President apprised of events at the SGC was one thing; having the factions of the NID knocking at your door was another.
When everything was considered, Janet could see why the General had refused to give any extra clearances to Major Reeves.
“If he doesn’t settle soon—” Janet quickly and pulled the receiver away from her ear as Daniel bellowed his displeasure down the phone line, followed by the sound of the Colonel trying to shush him.  The sounds brought a smile to her face, the vision of Colonel O’Neill willing a moment of peace from someone who as an adult had lived by the word, both warmed and amused her.
“Sorry about that,” Jack offered apologetically, “I think we’re both a little overtired at the moment.”“No need to be, sir.  I know I’ve told you this before, but truly, parenthood is a game of patience.  It’s going to take a period of adjustment and learning before you step into a steady routine with Daniel.”
“Yeah, I get it.  I’m gonna put him down for a while and see if he wont settle.”
“Good idea, and get some rest yourself if you can.  If you’re still having problems, bring him down to me and I’ll check him out, maybe give him some baby Tylenol just in case something else is bothering him.”
“Will do.”
Janet replaced the receiver on its cradled and strummed her fingers on her desktop.  She knew they were operating in unfamiliar territory here.  There were just too many unknowns; too many hidden variables that she had no way of anticipating.  Dragging Daniel’s file out from the pile on her desk, she flipped open the cover and pulled out his latest test results, grateful that Dr. Reeves had had the opportunity to mull over them and pronounce him healthy.  Still, there had been other tests she’d requested that Reeves wasn’t allowed access to; test that were well outside the norm for what even a specialist would request, and there was no baseline to compare them with.
Closing the file, Janet rested her head in her hands and drew in a shaky breath.  It would be easy to err on the side of caution and head down to the Colonel’s quarter, check Daniel over, and allay any niggling fears she might have.  Too easy.  But it was a routine she didn’t want to fall into.  Not only was it disruptive to Daniel, but she feared it would send out the wrong message to the Colonel; that she perhaps didn’t trust him with his care.
Was she courting trouble that wasn’t there or just far too experienced with what she’d seen through the Stargate over the years to let her doubts go.  Either or both… she didn’t know.

“I don’t know about you,” Jack paused and stuffed a pillow behind his back, “but this is really going beyond the boundaries of friendship here, Daniel.”  Definitely not the most comfortable of positions, but ever since Jack had given up on trying to settle him in his crib and shifted them both back to his bed, Daniel had been fairly quiet.  The fist shoved in his mouth and currently being gummed to death probably had a lot to do with that as well.
Jack slipped one foot under the cover, which had slid down the end of the bed, and dragged them back up, finally getting close enough to reach out with his spare hand and pull them up over his shoulders.
“You know…”  Shucking the blanket over Daniel’s small body, he turned his head just far enough to the side to catch a pair of brilliant blue eyes staring intently at him, “when you get to my age, shoving your whole hand in your mouth aint gonna win you any prizes with the ladies, so make the most of it.”
Daniel didn’t even blink, his gaze was firmly locked on Jack and after a stare-off lasting a few moments, Jack finally broke and scrunched his eyes closed tightly to moisten them.  Cracking one eye open, he found Daniel still staring at him, fist capture in his mouth, a trail of drool running down one side of his chin.
“Perfect,” he sighed, reaching to wipe away the drool with his thumb.  “Why couldn’t you save all this drooling and puking for Carter?  Or what about Teal’c?”
Jack wiped his thumb on the blanket and then ran his fingers through Daniel’s fine downy blond hair, surprising himself when his little charge smiled back at him from around his fist.
“There it is,” he praised softly, trailing his hand down to Daniel’s cheek and tweaking it softly, “You just can’t resist that O’Neill charm, that’s it isn’t it?”
The smile was magical and matched only by the slow blink of tired eyes that finally fluttered closed after struggling to stay awake for so long.  Jack knew he should really put Daniel back in his crib and try and get some rest himself, but the little puffs of warm breath on his neck and the dead weight on his shoulder were somehow comforting.
As Daniel’s face twitched in sleep, eyes roaming restlessly under their lids before finally stilling, Jack slowly slid them both down the wall until he was lying propped up by pillows.  He’d done this with Charlie when he was younger.  Just the two of them asleep in the ‘big bed’ as Charlie called it.  It was different then though, his son was several years older than Daniel, but the sense of connection was familiar to Jack.  Flooded with an overwhelming sense of love for the tiny child sleeping on his chest, Jack recognized his initial reluctance to care for Daniel as defense against the loss he’d felt when Charlie died.  He never wanted to be in that position again, but somehow, and certainly not by design or in the conventional manner; he’had been given another chance at parenthood.
“Sweet dreams, Daniel.”

Jack slid into his chair at the briefing room table to the slightly astonished looks of his teammates.  “Hey, kids,” he smiled mischievously, “did ya’ miss me?”
“Your presence on our return to Angelus Gens was noted, O’Neill,” Teal’c placated.
Jack raised one eyebrow appreciatively, and muttered, “Thank you, Teal’c.  Not quite what I meant.”
“Colonel,” Hammond shifted in his chair at the head of the table, “you weren’t expected at this meeting.”
“Got nowhere else to be, General.  Daniel is being fawned and pawed over by Fraiser’s nurses so I thought I’d see what souvenirs my team came back with.”
Teal’c frowned.  “I was unaware a keepsake of our mission was required.”
“It’s a joke, Teal’c,” Jack replied flatly, a mirthful twinkle in his eye.  “So, you all came back in one piece, always a good thing.  Tell me what old Geras had to say?  Anything helpful?”
Sam winced and slid a copy of her carefully prepared briefing report across the table to him.  “We apparently arrived during their period of meditation which didn’t sit well with the villagers, but Geras was happy to hear us out on the proviso we left straight afterwards.”
“And?” Jack prompted.
“And… not much really, sir.  Whatever the learning is, its function is to downsize the Alterius to allow their mind to develop to a point that it can hold the ascended memories without any physical or mental harm.  These children are raised by members of the village until such time as they are able to look after themselves.  According to Geras, it’s all fairly cut and dried.”
“What about this room they use for the learning.  Any chance to take a look?”
“None.  Not even the villagers have access to it, but Geras did mention something that was very curious.  Teal’c asked him how they retrieved the Alterius child when the learning was complete if they couldn’t enter the building.”
Jack shrugged. “A good question.”
“Well, Geras said there was another room near the learning room and that the tear told him when the child was ready.”
“Tear?”  Jack rested his elbows on the table, palmed his eyes, and muttered sourly, “This is going to end badly isn’t it?”
“Well, it certainly piqued my curiosity.  Something else of interest as well, although, like the learning room, getting access to it could be a bit of an issue.  Geras showed us to another building which also contained an archive of the village history from as far back as its initial establishment.  Captain Cerra was hoping to get a look in there but Geras wasn’t overly obliging.”
Teal’c nodded in agreement, fingers steepled in his lap. “He grew most agitated when the Captain showed him a sample of Ancient writing.”
“How so?” Jack asked.
“As far as Geras is concerned, only certain members of the village are allowed to learn to learn Ancient,” Sam replied.  “There was something else as well.  He also said that the descended Alterius no longer have the ability to read Ancient and have to relearn it as part of the learning.”
Jack held up a hand to stall the conversation.  “But Daniel could read Ancient when we found him.  In fact, as I recall, he had a better grasp on the language after ascending then he did beforehand.”
“Exactly.  None of which makes sense, and when we told him this he got quite agitated.”
“So,” Jack rolled his hand to hurry Carter up, “sum it up for me here, what exactly are we looking at?”
“Captain Cerra managed to sneak a recording of the whole conversation which you’ll find inside your briefing folder, but if I had to hazard a guess, it very much looks as though Daniel wasn’t meant to go through the learning.  Taking this all on face value and weighing up Geras’ answers, it seems that when the Ancients descend someone, for whatever reason, they are sent here to undergo the learning.  The end result of which is that once their learning is complete, they have the knowledge to reascend.”
“We’ve always assumed Daniel was descended because he couldn’t live by their non-interference rule.”
“Right, sir.  All of which leaves me wondering why the other ascended humans were descended to the village to undergo the learning when Daniel wasn’t.  I would have thought descension was a form of punishment for breaking the rules.”
“Or perhaps by choice,” Teal’c added.  “It could simply be that they were unable to comprehend their new lives and chose to descend.”
“Like Orlin?”
“No, sir.  Orlin was an Ancient and had the ability to descend himself.”
“Yeah, but Carter, wasn’t he trapped on that planet we found him on?”
“He was.  The others banished him there for breaking the non interference rule by helping the Velonan’s build a super weapon. Wait; there is one thing that doesn’t make sense.”
“Only one?” Jack joked, brows raised.  “I’ve got a whole list.”
“Daniel believed that those descended to the village must have been humans who had been helped along the path to ascension by an Ancient.”
“He said that.  So?”
“I think he was wrong.  Well,” she paused, wincing at her poor choice of words, “not so much wrong, but a little off the mark.  Orlin told me that once he’d descended, he couldn’t reascend without the help of the others.  Now, he’d been banished to Velona and followed me through the Stargate, and then descended by himself.”
Not quite following the direction of her reasoning, Jack held up a finger in front of his face.  “Aht!  Carter… you’re losing me here.”
“And me, Colonel,” Hammond added hot on Jack’s tail.  “Get to the point, Major.”
“Sorry, sirs. I’m trying to work out the relevance of the village in terms of why the Ancients chose to descend their kind here and why Daniel wasn’t.  If I take Orlin’s descension as a point of reference, none of this makes sense.  Orlin had been banished to the planet and yet he managed to follow us back to Earth.  He willingly descended and retained enough of his ascended knowledge to build a Stargate in my basement from common objects he purchased online.”
“I knew that whole Stargate in your basement thing would slip into the conversation at some point.”
Carter sighed, “My point is, sir.  I don’t think the Ancients descending into this village are doing so because they’ve broken some rule.  Otherwise, why give them the learning and reascend them again?  Surely banishment like they did to Orlin would be more appropriate, or descending them away from the village like Daniel.”
“With his memory wiped,” Jack said flatly, the muscles along his jaw line tensing.
“Yes,” Sam conceded, “but I’m assuming that’s where the differences come in to play.  As a human, they knew Daniel’s mind couldn’t cope with the ascended knowledge so they took it all away from him.  In Orlin’s case, he used to be a mortal Ancient who chose to ascend.  We already know the Ancients were further along the evolutionary path then we are so perhaps they’re able to retain the knowledge when they willingly descend.  It’s only a guess, sir.”
“Well,” Jack tossed a hand in the air, “your guesses are way better than anything I can come up with.”
Sam shrugged one shoulder.  “Maybe, but it still doesn’t explain why the Ancients are descending people into the village only to have them undertake the learning and ascend again later.  Nor why Orlin needed the others to reascend, but these people don’t.”
“Truly fascinating stuff, Carter, but how does it help Daniel?”
“I… well… it doesn’t, sir.  However, there is one thing we do know from all of this.”
“And what would that be?”
“Daniel wasn’t meant to undergo the learning.”
Teal’c, ever the voice of logic, sat forward in his chair, palms flat on the table top. “And yet, the Ancients did nothing to stop the process from happening,” he declared. “Surely, if they had not intended Daniel Jackson to regain his ascended knowledge, they would have interfered in the process.”
“Perhaps they didn’t think it would work,” Jack suggested.

Part 2

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