The Lost Oneby babs, devra, and JoaG Comments:
This is an AU fic set in the town of Tok'ra Flats. Daniel has been missing for several months, and it's been rumoured that the DeSala gang are behind his abduction. Sheriff Jack and his faithful deputies Teal'c and Sam have been searching high and low for their missing friend and fellow deputy. Jack has sworn, once he gets his hands on Oma DeSala, she WILL be sorry for her actions.The small party of three pulled up as they topped the rise, looking down into the valley resplendent with burgeoning signs of spring. The grass was thick and lush even this early in the season. The trees, although wearing a somewhat sparse growth of leaves, promised full-bloom in the near future. Early May flowers were blossoming; even amongst the shadier area of the woods. Their sweet scent tickled Jack's nose, but the odors of wood smoke and tanning hides were more pungent when the wind carried them to him. The medium-sized Cheyenne tribe was camped to the southern side of the small, lush valley, close to a quick-flowing stream. Lean-tos were of the variety that told Jack this tribe was a nomadic one, although signs indicated that they had been camped here for several weeks. He hoped this was the right tribe, that after all these months of searching and worrying, their most recent clue would finally pan out in their favour. Several children sounded the alarm as Jack kneed Hawk forward in a slow descent into the valley. Daniel's overo paint pony placidly kept pace next to him, his reins tied to Jack's saddle horn. By the time they reached the edge of the camp, several warriors had come forward. Although unarmed, they watched Jack's party approach cautiously. Jack pulled Hawk to a stop and dismounted, handing the reins over to Sam. "You two stay here, just in case," he cautioned. The Cheyenne were fierce warriors, not one he'd wish to face in a fight. He continued on into the village alone, stopping just before a serious-looking individual who had come forward, obviously their leader. He had long, stone-gray hair that was pulled severely from his face and tied back in a long braid. A colourful necklace of stones, shells and beads adorned his neck and chest. By then, most of the tribe had gathered close, the children quietly standing beside their mothers, the older boys positioned a step or two before the women in a protective stance. Looking around the camp, Jack contemplated the little bit of Indian sign language he knew. He wondered if these people knew any Spanish or French. Between his pigeon Spanish and Teal'c's Creole, maybe they could understand one another. "A-ho" // Hello, // Jack said in greeting. // I am looking for a white man, // Jack signed, while saying aloud, "Yo busco uno gringo." The Chief stared at him silently, and Jack wondered if he should repeat himself. The hard eyes glanced over to Sam and Teal'c, both still sitting atop their horses, Daniel's beloved Feather noticeably riderless beside them. "Nenaasestse," the man said gruffly, turning and moving towards the center of the camp. Jack followed the leader, taking long strides but trying not to look like he was running in the man's wake. Two other braves followed, ostensibly to make sure he didn't harm their leader. They walked through the camp until they came to a small lean-to on its outskirts. A fire crackled before it and Jack noted that the entrance to the tent was open. As they neared, his heart began beating wildly, hoping against hope that finally, finally, they had found his missing friend, and that this wouldn't be yet another wild goose chase. He reached the lean-to, seeing part of a knee and a hip, and a moccasined foot inside. The Chief said, "Ve'ho'e," motioning for Jack to come closer. Glancing once toward the Chief who stood waiting beside the small shelter, Jack bent his head and shoulders and stepped inside. A thin, wretched form sat in the corner, bolstered against a pile of furs. A colourful Navajo blanket was wrapped around him, shaking hands holding it close. A manacle with several inches of rusted chain and a filthy rope tied to its end encircled his right wrist, his left still sported the remains of healing wheals, evidence that he'd also worn a similar restraining bracelet there recently. Long braided hair, half sun-bleached blond with the newer growth turning to a lighter brown, was evidence of the tribe's caring for him. But long strands had come free from the plait, one of which stretched across his nose and stuck to the man's sweat-laden face. Twin blooms of color in his lightly bearded cheeks were suggestive of a fever. Dull blue eyes stared straight ahead, the man's listless expression not showing the slightest reaction to their arrival. He coughed hoarsely, his thin chest labouring for a moment before catching his breath. "Daniel," Jack whispered unbelievingly, shocked at the pitiful condition his friend was in. Eight months� eight long months, and they had finally found him. Jack knelt beside the obviously sick man, dismayed at the non-recognition. "Hoovehe?" the Indian asked as he knelt beside Jack. When Jack looked at him quizzically, one of the two men who had accompanied them and who were squatting outside translated. "Amigo?" "Si," Jack replied, relieved they could at least speak a smattering of Spanish. He returned his gaze to Daniel. A shiver coursed through the younger man's body and his hands tightened on the blanket. "Evonese," the Chief called softly, reaching out and touching Daniel's foot. Daniel started, pulling his leg away and wincing when the movement obviously caused him pain. He dragged his eyes towards the Chief, listless and uncaring. "Emasetsestahe," the elder man said while signing the word, his hand held in front of his neck, palm outwards, index and second fingers extending upwards and raising his hand until the tips of his fingers were as high as his head. He then clapped Jack on the shoulder. Daniel looked at Jack uninterestedly, not seeming to care that the Chief had just informed him that Jack was a friend. Daniel stared dully at the man who had been his best friend before returning his gaze back to the ground. When Jack looked back at the Indian, the man said to him, "Ehaomohtahe. Me'ko," he continued, touching two fingers to his forehead and then rubbing his open palm against his chest in the Indian sign for illness. "Ehaomohtahe." He then pointed to his head again, repeating the words and movements. 'Brain sick'. Jack suddenly felt ill, his stomach roiling sickeningly and his head pounding with his heartbeat. He could see something was very wrong with Daniel other than his fever, just the fact that he wasn't looking at either of them didn't bode well. "Eoneahta," the Chief continued, pressing his right hand flat against his right ear, making small circular motions with his hand close to the ear, then signing the word 'no'. God, Daniel was deaf? The Chief made the sign for illness again, then slapped himself gently on his right thigh, his ribs, his shoulder and his head and ears. Jack guessed that those were Daniel's injuries; he wondered how the hell they were going to get him home. He doubted Daniel would be able to sit a horse. Jack wondered if they'd even be able to get him onto a horse in this condition. The gray-haired man motioned Jack out, and reluctantly he followed, glancing back towards Daniel, who appeared to be staring into the fire, although Jack didn't think he was seeing the flames. They wound their way through the camp once more, and once Teal'c and Sam had spotted him, he waved them over. Small lads ran up to them to take their horses, eager to get a closer look at what white men rode. He could see his friends' concerned faces as they neared. "Daniel's here," Jack said the moment they joined him before a large teepee. Sam's face broke out in a wide smile and Teal'c visibly relaxed. "Where is he? Why didn't you bring him with you?" She bit back her words at Jack's expression, paling significantly. "He's not in a good way," he said. "I want to see him," Sam said immediately. "As do I," Teal'c agreed. "In a minute," Jack told them. The Indian leader was inviting them to sit with him. Jack motioned for his friends to do so while he returned to his horse and removed the prepared package. By the time he returned to them and made himself comfortable on the ground, several women were offering food and drink. Jack took a few morsels, knowing the hospitality was being offered freely. He wanted nothing more than to bring Daniel home to Janet Fraiser, but his dilemma was getting the very ill man there. First off he needed to offer payment to the Chief for the care he'd given Daniel. It was merely a token of thanks, a courtesy acknowledging these people had done what many white folk would never do for theirs. He unwrapped the collection of spices and beads he'd bought from Mz. Nicci at the General Store. He set them out in a flourish before the Chief, smiling to himself as he noticed the women crowding close and babbling together in excitement. The older man grunted his approval and the women quickly descended on the gifts, Jack betting that some of those beads would soon be adorning their leader's necklace come morning. "Evonese?" the gray-haired man questioned. He looked at Teal'c and said to him, "Le perdu?" "Teal'c?" Jack questioned. "It is French, O'Neill. It means 'the lost one'. Jack recognized the first word as what the Cheyenne Chief had called Daniel when he tried to get his attention. Jesus, they were calling him 'the lost one'? Jack nodded, making the sign for four people leaving. "Querimos salir," // we wish to leave, // he said in Spanish. The older man frowned before nodding, giving his assent. He stood up; their little meeting was over. "Sheriff?" Sam asked as Jack led them back to Daniel's shelter. His friends would see in a moment how badly off Daniel was, but he wanted to try and lessen the shock. "He didn't recognize me," he told them. "The Chief said he's deaf. He's obviously got a fever, he's got a bum leg and maybe broken or cracked ribs." He stopped a moment, turning to look at the man and woman who had searched nearly as diligently as he over the past months for signs of their wayward friend. "The Chief called him 'the lost one'," Jack reiterated. "It's a pretty damned good description," he said before continuing on his way. It was several seconds before their footsteps started up again, his words taking a few moments to penetrate their shocked brains. As they neared the shelter, Jack could see a women kneeling inside the tent beside Daniel, holding a cup held to his mouth as she tried to coax him to drink from it. At Sam's gasp, the woman looked up at them and smiled. She offered the cup to them, motioning towards Daniel with it. Jack knelt beside her, accepting the clay vessel. Sam's eyes were brimming with unshed tears, and Jack could see her swallowing convulsively. Teal'c's jaw was grinding tightly, his eyes small pinpricks as Jack assumed he was contemplating punishment to those who had done this to their friend. Jack had no time for anger or sorrow, he needed Daniel back on his feet. He sniffed the liquid in his hand, then put a finger to it, tasting the willow bark and other familiar herbs which were being administered for Daniel's fever. Jack touched Daniel's foot as the Chief had done, and the bloodshot blue eyes lifted from the small fire and turned towards him. "Hey, Danny," Jack said softly. He shuffled forward once the woman had moved away, closing the distance between them. Sam and Teal'c went to Daniel's other side. The feverish man looked at them without expression. Jack shook his foot, trying to get Daniel's attention again. When the dull blue eyes looked at Jack, he raised the cup to Daniel's mouth, tipping some of the medicine into his mouth. Daniel swallowed some while more dribbled down his chin. Daniel wouldn't drink unless the liquid was actually placed in his mouth. Jack managed to get most of it into him before Daniel's teeth began chattering. He wiped the spilled water from Daniel's face with the blanket, and then pushed him slowly onto his side so that he was lying down on the furs. Daniel lay down submissively. Jack pulled another blanket from the bottom of the pile and unfolded it to spread over his friend. Jack had felt the heat of Daniel's fever as he wiped his face; he hoped the medication would help bring it down. He had noticed that the right leg of Daniel's leather leggings had been sliced open and then tied together with several rawhide strips. Jack moved the blanket aside, exposing the leg. A bandage peeked through the upper part of Daniel's thigh. Jack saw how loosely the clothes hung on his friend and knew the people of this camp had provided them. They were too new and clean, without adornment. Obviously he was considered someone of non-importance in social stature, but nevertheless, worthy of their help. Carter had picked up Daniel's hand and was examining the manacle. She winced as she looked at the skin underneath it. Even Jack could tell that his wrist was inflamed and infected. Someone had tried to poultice the area but the tight fit of the iron bracelet made it difficult to treat the injury. "I can take this off," she said. "The lock looks like its rusted closed but I think with a bit of patience, I can pick the lock." She put his hand down gently onto his blanket-covered thigh, careful not to jar the manacle and irritate the wound. "We need to bring him home," Jack said. "Teal'c, if you can ride ahead and bring back Doc Fraiser and a buckboard, Sam and I will try and get Daniel to the main road and we'll meet you guys there." "I can make it to Tok'ra Flats in two days," Teal'c said. Jack knew the man could move like the wind despite his size. It would take at least two or three days for the buckboard to head on back up this way, and depending on how strong Daniel was, it would give Jack and Sam five days to make their way through the trails, a journey that would normally have taken no more than one. "Jack, surely you don't expect Daniel to ride in his condition?" Sam said, aghast. "Samantha," Teal'c said quietly. "These people have remained camped in this spot because of Daniel. They are nomadic and do not stay in one place for such a long period of time, but they must have known someone would come looking for him when they spoke of him to the others." Jack watched Daniel's eyes close as his exhaustion overtook him. Sam was right, they shouldn't be trying to move Daniel right now, but he was so sick that it could be weeks before he'd be on the mend physically, and the sooner they could get him to Janet, the faster he'd start being himself. And Teal'c was right, these people most likely were in violation of their treaty. They had taken a huge chance in remaining in one spot for so long. Jack was certain that the moment they rode away, the campsite would be cleared within an hour. He pushed a few long, damp strands of hair from Daniel's face, trying to coax them back into the once-neat plait. He thanked God that these people had spoken to a few hunters, telling them of the injured white man they'd found. The hunters had returned home, spreading the news to their people. Mz. Angel, who had been away visiting relatives, heard this news and had cut her visit short, rushing back to Tok'ra Flats. He could still remember her excited face as she ran to the jailhouse, yelling for Jack, red faced and out of breath. Daniel coughed, deep and wet. "Teal'c, head out now. Sam and I will wait until Daniel wakes up and we'll start on our way." "I will endeavour to return with Doctor Fraiser as quickly as possible," the large man said with a last worried look at his sleeping friend. He left the lean-to, the small shelter suddenly feeling large and airy without his bulk inside of it. Jack and Sam sat with their friend for two hours, watching him sleep and listening to him cough. His fever went down a little, thanks to the willow bark. When Daniel woke up, drenched in sweat, Jack helped him sit and got the rest of the medicine into him. Hoping that they were doing the right thing, Jack took hold of Daniel's arm while Sam took hold of the other. Together they lifted Daniel onto his feet. The man nearly fell when his right leg was unable to hold his weight, but he quickly compensated by placing his weight on his uninjured leg. They lifted Daniel's arms around their shoulders, and slowly pulled him forward, forcing him to take a step. He was limping heavily, his head hanging down, but at least he was moving. The heavy chain hanging from Daniel's wrist banged against Jack's arm with each step he took. Together the three of them stepped away from the lean-to. Two very loud nickers informed Jack that their horses were close by. As they headed for their mounts, Daniel's head came up and he looked at the animals. Suddenly Daniel was pulling them forward, an eagerness evident in the way he was staring at the animals that hadn't been there for his friends. Feather was pulling at his lead, his excitement at seeing Daniel making him restless and very vocal. Hawk wasn't much better, obviously he remembered Daniel even after all these months. As Jack led Daniel over to Hawk, intent on having him ride double, Daniel suddenly pulled his arm away from Jack and he turned towards Feather. Sam was caught by surprise and suddenly Daniel was lurching to his horse. As Daniel caught himself on Feather's neck, the animal suddenly stood still, sensing that his master was sick. Daniel buried his face in the horse's mane, his arms going around and under the large neck. While the horse murmured and turned his head to touch his master with his nose, Jack stepped close to Daniel and placed a cautious hand on his back. He could feel his friend's body shaking, the effort of standing and walking evidently taking a toll on him. Hawk, not to be outdone, stretched his head over and placed it on Daniel's shoulder, near Jack's hand. Jack felt Daniel's shaky inhalations, and Jack knew he needed to get him off his feet. "Come on, Daniel," Jack coaxed, pulling him away from Feather's warm, solid body. But Daniel grabbed the horse's mane and stepped sideways. Before Jack could stop him, he'd raised his left leg, trying to place it into the stirrup. His wounded right leg wasn't able to hold his weight and it crumpled beneath him. Jack grabbed Daniel while Sam grabbed Feather's reins to hold him steady. Once Jack got Daniel upright again, Daniel tried to mount his horse again. "Wait. Daniel, wait," Jack said quickly, forgetting he couldn't hear as he tried to hold Daniel back. He could see his friend beginning to panic, obviously wanting to get up on the one thing that he appeared to recognize. Jack didn't care which horse they rode, he just wanted Daniel to get up into the saddle without injuring himself. Suddenly they were surrounded by Indians, three of which took hold of Daniel and lifted him easily into the saddle. Daniel immediately leaned forward, laying his length along Feather's back, silently reaching along the proud neck to stroke along his jaw. Jack lifted an eyebrow at Sam, shrugged, and climbed into the saddle behind his friend. Gently he pulled Daniel back into an upright position and wrapped his arm around Daniel's waist. The Chief and several others were standing beside them. He nodded his farewell, ready to turn the horse when he saw the leader take something from one of the women. He approached Jack with several items in his hands. One was the blanket that Daniel had had wrapped around him when Jack first saw him. Jack accepted it, enveloping his friend with it once more. Two small containers enclosed in straw came next. Jack opened one, and smiled when he saw it contained pemmican. The high caloric travelling food was something that Daniel could very well use right now. The other contained a liquid and a finger dipped into it revealed the bitter taste of white willow bark. Several bundles were given to Sam, which Jack guessed were healing herbs. Jack handed her the pemmican and medicine, and she quickly packed everything into her saddlebag before climbing onto her mount and joining Jack, Hawk following placidly behind. Daniel sat back against Jack, his full weight leaning heavily against his chest. Jack turned Feather towards the direction they'd come, heading out of the valley and back up to the wooded trail. Jack remembered an ideal campsite about three hours' ride from here. He hoped Daniel had the stamina to stay in the saddle until they reached it. Soon Daniel was nodding off, his head flopping loosely on his neck with the movement of the horse. Occasionally he'd wake up and lift his head, only to have his chin fall heavily onto his chest moments later. Sometimes his coughing woke him up, Jack could feel him panting for breath after a bad spell. Daniel was a dead weight in the saddle, only Jack's hold on him keeping him from falling off. Four hours later, travelling more slowly than Jack would have liked, the sun was low in the sky by the time Jack found the meadow he remembered. A stream trickled close by, providing fresh water. He shook Daniel awake and the heavy head before him lifted sluggishly. Jack had felt the rising heat of fever over the past hours and wished he had something stronger to give his friend for it. He knew they needed to take care of the infection in his wrist, and they needed to get a look at the wound on his thigh. He waited till Sam dismounted and came to stand beside them before he carefully raised Daniel's sore leg over Feather's back. Slowly, he lowered Daniel to the ground and into Sam's arms. Immediately, Daniel's legs gave out and Sam caught him before he could land on the ground. Jack was down in a flash and between the two of them managed to lay him down gently. "Take care of the horses, I'll get Daniel settled," Jack ordered. She nodded and led the animals away. Quickly unrolling their bedding, Jack had Daniel tucked into his bedroll in no time. Daniel lay on his back and turned his head, eyes squinting, watching Sam tend to the horses. Jack wondered what had happened to Daniel's glasses. Working out of habit, Jack gathered wood and made a fire, drew water and set it to heat once the fire was roaring. When Sam returned, he went out into the woods and set several snares, hoping to catch some rabbit for supper. Taking advantage of the remaining daylight, after getting Daniel to drink some of the willow bark concoction the Indians have given them, Jack unlaced the leather thongs that held the right side of Daniel's buckskin leggings together. Carefully he drew the leather open, exposing the bandage wrapped around the younger man's leg. As he undid the bandage and removed the poultice, a deep, inflamed wound was exposed. Sam winced, and drew aside some of the boiling water to allow it to cool. They could see that although the gash was infected, it was nevertheless showing signs of healing. While Jack busied himself preparing another poultice, Sam poured a bit of oil onto the locking mechanism of Daniel's manacle. Then she spread her sewing implements around her. Gently placing Daniel's arm on her lap, she set to work trying to pick the lock with an assortment of awls, needles, hairpins and other long pointy things Jack didn't even want to question her about. As they worked, Jack kept glancing at Daniel. He lay passively on the ground beside them, only the minute tightening of his eyes telling Jack of the pain he was experiencing. Jack took the now warm water and rinsed Daniel's thigh, then applied the poultice, wrapping it up once more before retying the laces on his clothes. Sam continued to work diligently, bent over the metal bracelet, swearing softly to herself. Recalling that the Indian Chief had indicated other injuries, Jack raised Daniel's loose leather tunic and swore when he saw the assortment of bruises, burns and wheals decorating Daniel's chest, ribs and most likely his back. It looked to Jack that Daniel had been whipped over a period of time. Faint scars to still healing scabs littered Daniel's torso. Many of the bruises were fading, but several, especially around his ribs, told Jack that they were most likely still very painful. He pressed gently on the man's ribs, feeling the soft gasp of pain his touch incurred. A cursory look at Daniel's shoulder showed swelling and bruising, but nothing appeared to be broken. Jack noted a small piece of dirty material with a rope twisted around it hanging around Daniel's neck. It had replaced the once-lovingly decorated piece of leather that Daniel had used as his medicine bag. And from what Jack could tell, it was definitely less full than what he remembered. Jack got up and went to his saddlebags, from which he removed a bottle of liniment which he periodically used on his knee whenever it pained him. Returning to Daniel, he pushed the small make-do pouch aside, not wanting to get it any dirtier. Daniel grabbed for the pouch, his movement surprising Jack with its speed. His fingers clasped the small bag, his hand shaking visibly. Jack clasped Daniel's hand with both of his, showing him he wasn't going to try and take it away from him. He raised Daniel's hand so the cord had some slack and then pulled it over his head, allowing Daniel full control over it. When his friend relaxed once more, Jack picked up the bottle of liniment. Pouring some of the thick oil onto his hands, he began spreading it over Daniel's torso and shoulder. He could feel the thin body begin to relax after a while, his eyes closing as the heat of the balm penetrated his abused muscles. A soft snick indicated that Sam finally freed Daniel from his shackle. Jack poured some of the heated water into a deep container and handed it to Sam. They dunked Daniel's hand and wrist into the liquid, allowing the water to cleanse the remains of dried herbs and dirt from the infected wound. Daniel's eyes flew open, his momentary lull free from pain drawn to a close. Sweat beaded Daniel's face, indicative of the hurting he was surely experiencing. Jack wet a cloth and wiped the too-pale, too sunken face. Daniel didn't react as he stared towards the horses. Jack raised Daniel's hand, the one that was still clutching his medicine bag, and drew the string back over Daniel's head. He coaxed him to let it go and stuffed it underneath his tunic. When Sam poulticed and bandaged Daniel's wrist, Jack rose to get more water and check on his snares. He was rewarded with three hares, enough for supper and leftovers for breakfast tomorrow. He quickly skinned and gutted the animals, and placed them on skewers before the open fire. As he and Sam sat silently beside their injured friend, Jack contemplated what could have happened to Daniel to bring him to this state. He saw the frown on Sam's face and figured her thoughts mirrored his own. He was relieved to finally have found Daniel, but the anxiety over the younger man's fate was now replaced by the worry over his physical and mental condition. The rabbits smelled good, and Jack realized he was hungry. When they were finally cooked, Jack handed one to Sam, and took another for himself. He pulled off a bite of the succulent meat, blowing on it a moment to cool it slightly, and leaned over Daniel. He touched Daniel's arm, getting the man's attention. When his friend looked at him, Jack held the food before him with what he thought was a hopeful look. Daniel looked at Jack, then at the tidbit held between his fingers, without interest. His eyes roamed back to where Feather was grazing. Jack took the piece of rabbit meat and rubbed it against Daniel's lips. After a moment, his tongue came out to lick the juice. Jack teased him with it again, and when he opened his mouth, Jack pushed the morsel inside. Immediately Daniel began chewing slowly. Jack watched to make sure he didn't choke, but Daniel swallowed without difficulty. Jack fed him several more bites of rabbit, alternating with the pemmican, until Daniel turned away. Grateful he had managed to get his friend to eat a little bit, Jack cut up several more bites and set the meat to boil in some water. He'd feed Daniel the broth next morning, it would keep warm by the fire overnight. Jack finished off his share of the meat, then accepted a cup of coffee from Sam. "I've heard of people like this," Sam said quietly as they watched Daniel. "It's like they experienced something so horrible, they tried to hide away in their minds." "I know," Jack said. He couldn't think of what had been so horrible to Daniel. His friend had had a hard life, his parents dying when he was young, but thanks to the goodness of a friend, Mike Burell, he had found a loving family with the Indians who had brought him up to be the man he now was. Then his wife Sha'nee had been killed, and Daniel had experienced many other horrendous things which sometimes crept up to haunt him while he slept. But Daniel Jackson was one of the stubbornest and strongest men he'd ever met. Jack was going to do everything he could to bring Daniel back to them and by Sam's expression, he was sure he could count on her, and most likely most of the townsfolk of Tok'ra Flats. "I've heard of people who hit their heads sometimes forget who they are," Jack supplied as he sucked a piece of meat from between his teeth. "I haven't seen signs of a head injury," Sam said, "but we don't know how long he's been like this. It could have happened months ago." "I wish we could've waited for Mike," Jack said. If the ranger had accompanied them, he'd at least have been able to question the Cheyenne people and get more details as to how they'd found Daniel, and in what state. But as soon as Mz. Angel had told him of the rumours of a tribe of Indians with an injured white man, Jack had taken off in a flash, with Sam and Teal'c barely having time to gather supplies and keep up with him. Everyone had given up hope of finding Daniel, but not Jack. He had kept his saddlebags ready, all he needed to do was grab them and run. Now he was sorry he hadn't spoken to Janet and requested a variety of medicines, in case he'd find Daniel in such an awful state. It had never really occurred to him, and he berated himself for overlooking the fact that Daniel had been kidnapped eight months ago. Why would his captors go to the trouble of caring for their prisoner? "By the time Ranger Burell would have met up with us, the tribe could have moved on," Sam said. She was right, Jack hadn't wanted to waste any time; and they'd still be sitting, cooling their heels in Tok'ra Flats, waiting for Jack's friend. Jack went to stand up to relieve his bladder, and realized his friend might need to go to. Seeing Daniel was still awake, he got him onto his feet and helped him limp several feet into the darkening woods. He undid Daniel's clothes, holding the man steady. When Daniel made no move to relieve himself, Jack, still holding onto Daniel with one arm, freed himself with his other hand and watered the tree. After a moment, Daniel reached down and soon was wetting down the bark alongside Jack. The sun had set by the time Jack got Daniel back into bed, and the only illumination came from the glowing coals and the quarter moon which was rising in the night sky. Jack fed more wood onto the fire, the spring temperature cooling off quickly now that the sun had set. Jack rose and draped another blanket over Daniel, noting that his friend was asleep. Jack and Sam sat talking softly for a bit, while Jack put some powdered white willow bark to soak overnight, then they slid under their respective blankets to sleep. The horses would warn them if anyone approached, but Jack slept fitfully that night, Daniel's coughing waking him, and his worry over his friend prompting him to check on him every hour or so. A loud scream ending in a cough and growl woke Jack up. Acting solely on instincts, Jack rolled into a crouch and grabbed his rifle. He noted Sam was already running towards the horses, her rifle in hand. Daniel rolled up in a parody of his old grace, making it to a crouching position until he placed his weight on his injured leg and he fell heavily to the ground. Jack, torn between checking on Daniel and protecting the horses, ran and knelt beside Daniel, his gun held ready in his hands. He saw that Daniel was simply stunned, probably from the shock and pain of the fall. He apologized softly to his friend and continued on towards the three horses, which were dancing and whickering nervously. "There," Sam said, pointing at a shadow in the dimly lit woods. The sun was just rising, making things hard to see. A growl and another cough brought Jack's attention to the puma. Sam raised her rifle, taking aim just above the large cat. The blast of the gunshot scared the beast, as did the exploding bark and branches above its head. It took off in a golden flash. Jack turned to Daniel and saw he was curled in a ball, hands held over his ears. As Sam went to calm their mounts, Jack rushed over to their friend. His eyes were tightly closed, and his breaths came in loud pants. Had the gunshot startled him? But the Indian Chief had said Daniel couldn't hear� Wait! That wasn't right. Daniel had heard the cougar's scream; the sound had obviously woken him up, as it had Jack. And damn, Daniel had heard the horses' greeting when he'd first seen them yesterday, the image of Daniel's head coming up at Feather's welcome flitting through Jack's mind. Daniel could hear, thank God! That was one less worry they had to agonize over. Jack lifted the panicked man up into a seated position and then pulled him against his chest. He reached for the discarded blankets and covered Daniel's body with them while he rocked his friend slowly in his arms. The movement seemed to calm Daniel, and after a while he took his hands down from his ears. He lay limply against Jack while one hand anchored itself onto Jack's shirt. "Daniel," Jack said softly when Daniel seemed relaxed. "Wa-ya. It's Ta-wa-di, your da-ni-ta-ga" // Coyote, it's Hawk, your blood brother. // The hand tightened slightly at Jack's words, but other than that small action, Daniel remained still. "Wa-ya, I know you're scared and sick. But it's going to be okay. I'm taking you home. Ehu. Understand? We're going home. Me, Samantha, and U-gi-da-li, we're all taking you ehu. You remembered U-gi-da-li, didn't you? He was happy to see you yesterday, as was Hawk. The horses missed you, my da-ni-ta-ga. As did your friends." At his words, Daniel turned his head to look towards the horses, and Jack knew that Daniel was able to understand him. He squeezed Daniel slightly in his arms, and felt the man relax totally against him. Once he was asleep, Jack carefully put him down onto the ground. Making sure Daniel was comfortable, Jack got up, relieved himself, washed in the cold water, then built up the fire and began heating water for breakfast. "The Chief was wrong," Jack told Sam once she joined him after taking care of her morning ablutions. "Daniel can hear. He heard the cougar, it woke him up." Jack saw her frown and then she smiled. "He recognized Feather yesterday," she said. "But what scared him just now? Was it the cougar? Or the gunshot?" "I'm betting towards the gun, it seemed like he was all set to protect the horses from that varmint. Maybe it was the sound of the gun itself, or just loud noises. He's still pretty skittish, although he's not showing any outward reaction." She nodded as she reached over and pulled long strands of hair back out of Daniel's face. "I have a brush, do you think he'd let us re-braid his hair?" "Might be worth a try," Jack said. Daniel usually kept his hair shoulder length, just long enough to be carefree, but somehow long enough to always look like he needed a cut. He eyed Daniel's growth of beard. Someone had been keeping it trimmed to a certain extent, so most likely Daniel wouldn't fight them on their trying to neaten him up a little. Anyways, Daniel hated beard growth. Growing up with Indians, his whiskers were one thing that always put him apart from the people who had taken him in. He had always been clean-shaven and hated not being able to shave. Sam made breakfast while Jack heated some more water, shaved and brewed some herbs for Daniel's fever. Once they'd eaten, Jack woke Daniel. After teasing the dead bugs that had found their way into the liquid overnight, Jack got Daniel to drink the rest of the medicine that had been given them. He then fed him the broth he'd made the night before, along with some more pemmican. He noticed Daniel scratching his cheeks, and thought of bringing up the subject of a shave. He changed the poultices on Daniel's leg and wrist and then decided to broach the subject. "Daniel," Jack said, taking his friend's hand and letting Daniel's knuckles rub against his bristled cheek. "Do you want me to take this off?" He then raised Daniel's fingers and rubbed them against his own smoothly-shaven cheek. Daniel didn't react, so Jack wet a portion of Daniel's face and applied shaving cream. He carefully drew the sharp edge of his razor over Daniel's face, half expecting a reaction to the blade. But Daniel simply lay there, uncaring. Half relieved and half disappointed, he quickly shaved Daniel, then finished up by wiping his face with a damp cloth. "There ya go," Jack said, taking Daniel's hand again and passing it over his now-smooth cheek. Jack let go of Daniel's hand and Daniel curled up onto his side. Jack got up to start packing and saddling the horses while Sam cleaned their pots and dishes. As he worked, he noticed several times that although Daniel lay quietly ignoring them, his hand, which he'd brought up near his face, would occasionally touch his cheek. Almost finished, Sam and Jack sat Daniel up, then Sam positioned herself behind him. She removed the thong that held Daniel's hair and quickly passed her fingers through his long tresses, straightening the hair. Slowly she placed her brush against Daniel's temple and drew it back. Daniel closed his eyes at the sensation. She looked at Jack with widened eyes, eyebrows raised, not being able to see Daniel's face. Jack made a quick circular motion with his fingers, indicating she should continue. She continued to brush his hair for a few minutes before dropping the implement and with nimble fingers, quickly plaited the long hair and tied it. "Sam, why don't you bring Feather over here in a minute," Jack suggested, as he made ready to lift Daniel to his feet. As she singled the horse from the others, Jack led Daniel away and urged him to relieve himself. Sam led the horse to where both men stood standing, one leaning heavily against the other. She turned Feather so that he was close to Daniel, ready to be mounted. When Daniel raised his left leg to mount, Jack was ready, pushing Daniel up off his right leg and straight up onto the saddle. Daniel flopped onto Feather's back but was unable to pull his leg over his haunches. Sam quickly ran to Feather's other side and pulled Daniel's leg over and down. Daniel was breathing heavily and Jack quickly drew his moccasined foot from the stirrup so he could mount up behind. Sam handed Jack Daniel's blanket before picking up the rest of the bedding. She was mounted in a minute, and Jack allowed her to take the lead today. They travelled for what Jack assumed was close to three hours. Jack wished he could stop and let Daniel down to rest, but getting him up onto the horse was just too painful to attempt too often. Daniel dozed, feverish and in obvious pain. Jack would have wanted to travel longer, but when Daniel jerked awake and grabbed his thigh, Jack knew his friend had had enough. "Sam," Jack called ahead. Her blond head turned to look at him, worry framing her face. "Find us a spot to camp," he said, while whispering to Danny, "Hold on just a bit longer, Wa-ya. We'll be stopping soon to rest." Ten minutes later Sam led them out of the woods and into a small meadow. There was no running water nearby but they had enough water with them. Again, Jack lowered Daniel to the ground and into Sam's arms, where he collapsed bonelessly. She went down with him this time, trying to get beneath him to soften the fall. Jack kicked out of his stirrups and slid off Feather, jumping to the ground beside the two. Daniel's eyes were tightly squeezed, his face straining with the pain he was experiencing. "You okay?" Jack asked as she slid from beneath Daniel. Although their friend had lost a lot of weight, he had fallen hard on top of her. "Yeah, I'm fine." She dusted herself off and went to their supplies, removing the medicine. Jack propped Daniel up against his shoulder while Sam tipped the liquid into his mouth. Daniel shivered as the wind picked up. Jack looked around, noting that it looked like rain. "Damn," he said. Jack decided he wasn't going to chance travelling in wet weather and hoped this was going to blow over soon. He lay Daniel down and began looking for a good spot for building a shelter. Thirty minutes later, he had built a little refuge of branches and leaves, with a small fire burning inside. Sam and Daniel were enclosed within, the horses were taken care of and the sky looked ready to pour any moment. A clap of thunder confirmed that the storm was nearly upon them. Jack joined them just as the first large droplets hit. Daniel was sleeping, the medicine finally having kicked in. Jack and Sam sat in their dry little shelter, waiting for the storm to pass. Jack pulled out a pack of cards and soon they were playing poker, listening to the rain, thunder, and Daniel's coughing. It was mid-afternoon when Jack finally decided to travel a few more miles. "I'll take care of the horses," Sam offered as she got up. "Daniel, wake up," Jack said softly as he shook Daniel's uninjured shoulder. Bleary eyes opened, then closed. "Come on, buddy," Jack urged, not letting him go back to sleep by pulling Daniel up and allowing him to lean against his chest. Jack reached for his canteen and gave Daniel some water. He kept an eye on Sam's progress with their mounts, knowing he still had some time before getting Daniel up and out. "Wa-ya," Jack said, taking Daniel's chin and making sure Daniel was looking at Jack. His face burned with fever beneath his fingers despite the willow bark tea. "I need you to tell me when you need something. Like earlier, I need to know when you hurt so much you can't go on. Or if you're thirsty, or hungry, or just plain feeling poorly. I know you don't wanna talk right now, Daniel, but there are other ways of letting me know." Jack signed the Indian word for 'water', then 'food', then 'sick'. "See, you know all of these, you can still tell me what you need." Daniel blinked slowly, his eyes almost impossibly blue in the afternoon light. "I can't help you if you don't let me know what's wrong, understand?" Jack let go of Daniel and the other man's head drooped back down onto Jack's shoulder. But then Daniel raised his hand, fingers spread, and rubbed them weakly against his chest. "Yeah, I know you're feeling sick," Jack whispered, hating the fact that he had to haul Daniel back up onto Feather and force him to ride for a couple more hours. The next twenty-four hours passed much in the same way. Apart from that one time, which Jack now wasn't sure if he'd mistaken as an attempt at communication, Daniel continued to be withdrawn. Late in the afternoon of the third day, Daniel's fever spiked and Jack decided they weren't going to travel any further that day. When Daniel's temperature continued to rise steadily, Jack stripped him down to his breechclout, and he and Sam bathed their friend with tepid water. That Daniel didn't protest at Jack removing his medicine pouch was testament to how ill he was. Taking no chances, Jack pressed it into Daniel's slightly curled fist and wrapped the cord around his palm loosely for safekeeping. Once Jack removed Daniel's leggings, he was horrified to see a brand on Daniel's left hip. It was a small circle with an inverted V inside of it � the sign of the DeSala family. Rage tore through Jack as he imagined the pain Daniel must have gone through when the branding iron was put to his flesh. They were so close, only another two or three hours and they'd reach the main road. If Daniel wasn't any better by tomorrow, Jack decided they would stay put and rest for the day. In any case, they'd probably reach the meeting place before Teal'c and Doc Fraiser. Daniel's fever raged throughout the afternoon and both Sam and Jack did their best in trying to keep it down. They had used the last of the herbs for the poultice and Jack knew that even if they had more, it wasn't doing much good anymore. They had to try something different. "I'll be back," Jack said as he strode off into the woods, looking for a beehive. He berated himself for not doing this sooner, but Daniel had appeared to be on the mend. Daniel had once saved Jack's leg, if not his life, with this treatment, and Jack had seen it work on others since. Finally finding what he was looking for, Jack returned to the camp and went back to the hive with a burning branch. Once he'd smoked the bees, he took some of their honey, wrapping the honeycomb in a clean handkerchief. After mashing most of it up, he applied the sticky stuff to Daniel's wounds and wrapped them up with clean bandages. This time when Jack offered Daniel some willow bark tea, he mixed the rest of the honey into the bitter drink, knowing also that it would soothe Daniel's throat and ease his coughing. He wiped Daniel's dripping face with a wet cloth and prayed that the honey would do the trick. Neither slept that night, both taking turns in bathing Daniel's overly hot body. The next morning Daniel appeared to be slightly better, his fever was down somewhat and he slept most of the day. But by late evening his fever rose again and Jack and Sam were hard-pressed in trying to keep it down. Finally just before the sun rose, Daniel's fever broke. Now Jack covered Daniel's sweating form to keep him from catching a chill. Soon the blankets were soaked and Jack had to replace them with dry ones. This was the day they were supposed to meet up with Teal'c and Janet, and they were still a few hours away from the main road. Once Daniel appeared to be comfortable, Jack allowed him to sleep for a while, then woke him in order to get him dressed. Daniel was extremely weak, barely able to stand. They got him up onto Hawk, this time instead of having him sitting astride the horse, they positioned Daniel as if he was riding side-saddle. It would be easier on his leg, but harder for Jack to keep hold of him. Daniel slumped against Jack, limp and exhausted. His head was nestled against Jack's shoulder, and Jack knew he was sleeping by the way he breathed. By the time they finally rode out of the trees and onto the road, Jack's arms were aching from holding Daniel steady against him. They found a campsite in full view of the road, and settled down to wait. Jack noted that there were no signs of wagons having passed recently so there was little chance that they'd missed their friends. Once Daniel was made comfortable and was sleeping, Jack sent Sam ahead to meet Teal'c and the others. An hour later the sound of a trotting rider roused Jack from the doze he'd fallen into. Expecting Sam, he was glad to see Teal'c's large form coming towards him. It had to mean that the help would be here soon. He stood up and clasped the big man's arm when he dismounted. "They are not far behind," Teal'c said as his eyes went to Daniel's sleeping form. "Samantha has informed us that Daniel is very ill. She has remained behind to give the doctor details on his illness." "He's doing a mite better today," Jack informed Teal'c as they both sat beside their still-sleeping friend. "But he'll do better once he's home. I for one will be glad to see him in his own bed, and talking." "Indeed," Teal'c replied as he gazed upon Daniel's sleeping visage. "He has been sorely missed. Most of the townsfolk wished to accompany us. Doctor Fraiser had to inform them that seeing too many citizens at once would make Daniel uncomfortable. Finally we chose Dave Siler and Lou Ferretti to accompany us. The others were not pleased. The women, however, are endeavouring a cooking feast to ensure that our Deputy has plenty to eat in the coming weeks." Jack smiled in anticipation of the meals that he knew would be coming their way once they got home. He tired quickly of his own cooking and he'd been eating a lot of it during the past months since he'd been on the trail hunting up any and all rumours over Daniel's disappearance. "I hope you told them he won't have much of an appetite at first," Jack said, not wanting all the food to go to waste. "They understand. They will be taking turns providing meals and such to coax Daniel's appetite, or as Mz. Lewie commented, 'to do our darndest to put some fat back on the poor boy's butt'. Jack guffawed at that, then quickly stifled his laughter with a quick glance to see if he hadn't disturbed Daniel's sleep. Hawk snorted and Jack looked up. The horse's keen hearing alerted Jack to approaching riders. He stood up and with a hand over his eyes, saw two horses coming towards them at a fast clip. He squinted in the bright light, and finally determined that it was two women. They slowed as they neared, and soon Janet Fraiser had scrambled off her horse and was kneeling beside Daniel. Sam dismounted a tad more slowly, and led the two horses towards the others. Jack could make out the lumbering form of the buckboard coming down the road, the dust cloud following it a clear indication of the speed it was travelling at. Jack hoped they didn't break a wheel before they arrived. "Goddamn," Janet swore when she got a good look at Daniel. The petite woman quickly set to work examining Daniel, who never woke up at her gentle touch. When she peeled back the honey poultice, Jack could see, despite the sticky mess, that the wound's inflammation and redness had abated considerably. "It looks a lot better today," he said as she re-bandaged Daniel's leg. "That's good, because it's still pretty seriously infected," Janet replied. "I just wish we weren't so far away from home," she said with a sigh. "But he'll be better off under a roof and in a bed than out here on the ground." She turned to watch as the buckboard slowed and veered off to the right of them. "Mz. Debi," Jack exclaimed, surprised to see the town's mayor climb off the large wagon. Her long, silky gray hair had come undone from its once neat bun and her cheeks were red from the sun and wind. But the windswept look complimented her face and her eyes twinkled as she greeted Jack. "I expect you're a mite tired of eating plain beans, Sheriff," she said with a laugh. "I volunteered my services as cook." "I'm looking forward to eating anything that wasn't cooked by me or Sam," Jack said with a smile. He ducked when Sam threw a stick at him. He felt giddy, lighthearted. He knew that Daniel wasn't out of the woods but the doc was here, she'd be able to help him, and he felt they were nearly as good as home now. "It's good to see you guys," he continued as Lou Ferretti and Dave Siler climbed off their horses and joined the small crowd who stood awkwardly around their newly found Deputy. "Okay, boys," Janet said as she stood up, wiping her hands on her pants. "Let's get our Deputy up into the buckboard and set off for home." Teal'c bent down and picked Daniel up, carrying the lanky man cradled against his chest like a long-legged child. The movement finally woke Daniel up and he looked around, his gaze stopping on everyone, but no emotion reached his face. Jack jumped up onto the buckboard, and saw that a mattress from one of Mz. Debi's rooms had been placed in it, and was piled high with warm blankets. Jack pushed the coverings aside and then he and Lou took Daniel from Teal'c, placing him gently onto the mattress. Jack covered him up, glad that his friend was now comfortable. Janet joined him in the wagon, she was obviously planning on riding with Daniel. Jack started to get up, intending on mounting Hawk when Daniel grabbed his hand. Fever-shiny eyes stared at him, silently pleading. "You want me to stay?" Jack asked as he squatted back down beside Daniel. Daniel let go of Jack and shakily signed 'yes'. Jack smiled and sat down on the hard wooden boards beside Daniel. "Here, you might be more comfortable sitting on this," Janet said, handing Jack a large, well-padded cushion. He noted she was sitting on one herself. The wagon lurched as Jack placed the cushion beneath him. They were going home, and they were finally bringing their Deputy back with them. ****** Jack paused as he stepped onto the shady veranda of Janet Fraiser's house, watching Mz. Fai and her family as they walked along the town's dusty street, heading towards home. Four of her children were running ahead of her, laughing and teasing one another, one of the town's dog running amongst their legs, barking excitedly. The eldest called out to the Sheriff as she skipped by. Jack waved back, grinning. The youngest, a deaf and mute little girl new to the family, tried to keep up with the older children and when she stumbled and fell, Mz. Fai quickly picked her up and dusted her off. The dark-haired gypsy's fingers moved gracefully, and the little child frowned. The small, chubby fingers clumsily answered back, and the child took her adopted mother's hand as they continued on their way. As they passed Jack, Mz. Fai signed something to the little girl and she looked up at Jack and waved happily. Jack tipped his hat to them and waggled his fingers at the child. Jack knocked and then opened the door to Janet's home, giving her warning that he was back. Thanks to a quick bath at Mz. Deb's bathhouse and a full stomach, compliments of Mayor Debi's chicken stew, Jack was feeling like a new man. The few hours away from Daniel's sickroom had re-energized him, as had the exercise and fresh air. Hearing voices and a loud thump coming from the direction of Daniel's room, Jack hurried down the hallway of the house turned hospital. As he peered into the half-opened doorway, he saw Daniel huddled on the far side of the bare mattress with a thin sheet spread over his thin form, while Sam crouched on the floor beside him, stroking his hair and speaking quietly to him. Daniel was staring sightlessly at the wall. Jack noted the blankets and bedding lying discarded in a heap on the floor. Another thump and an ensuing curse, and Jack realized the noise was coming from the next room over. Yet another thump and crash had Jack rushing there and he was greeted with the sight of Janet Fraiser trying to manhandle a large mattress from the unused bed. "Need a hand?" he asked. Her face red and shiny with effort, she blew back strands of hair which had escaped her usually neat bun. "Please," she uttered thankfully. "I need to change Daniel's mattress." Jack took the bulky object from her and carried it to the other room. "Sam, could you get the basin and some water? Maybe the Sheriff can clean Daniel up while I change the bed?" "Sure," Sam said as she got up with a final pat to Daniel's hair, who was still staring at nothing. "What happened?" Jack questioned as he leaned the mattress alongside the bed. "Daniel had a bit of an accident." Janet removed a clean nightshirt from the bureau and placed it on the small night table. The slight ammoniac smell of urine assailed his nostrils, answering his question while he noted the large, dark area where Daniel lay. "An accident? This looks more like a flood," Jack exclaimed as he eyed the copious amount of liquid that had spread out around his sick friend. "Would you mind helping Daniel onto the chair?" Jack circled the bed and knelt where Sam had been moments before. The sheet was soaked around Daniel's hips and lower body, so he pulled it back. Daniel was shivering, either from fever or from the sodden clothes. "Hey, Danny." Jack spoke softly, trying to get Daniel to look at him. His friend had been progressing well, despite the continued cough and fever, responding to his voice and touch, and occasionally to the women or to Teal'c. But at the moment, Jack knew from experience of the past few days that his friend was in a place that would take a bit of time for him to find his way out of. Jack took a blanket that Janet handed him and wrapped it around Daniel, then grasped him under the arms and pulled him into a seated position, legs dangling over the side of the bed. Janet manoeuvred the chair beside him and Jack, in one quick movement, shifted Daniel from bed to chair. "Let's get this wet thing offa you." He pulled the cotton sleeping wear over Daniel's head and held the blanket tightly closed against the chill of the room. Daniel sat limply with his head slumped and turned away from Jack. Sam entered with a large steaming basin and washcloth, and while she and Janet exchanged the soiled mattress for the clean one, Jack quickly washed Daniel down. By the time he'd put on the clean clothing, the women had remade the bed. It took Jack only a moment to get Daniel back under the covers. He sat on the bed beside his friend, his hand rubbing soothing circles on the bony shoulder. Daniel was still shivering, and Jack pulled the blankets up around his chin. He looked at Janet for an explanation. "He slept most of the day. I just didn't think, I asked him earlier if he needed to go but he didn't answer� I just assumed�" Jack flinched when he thought of how Daniel must have suffered, holding back the need to urinate. He didn't blame the doc, he put full accountability on himself for not making sure Daniel had been comfortable before leaving him alone. Jack had been taking care of most of Daniel's personal needs the past three days, and this break had been his first time out of the house. "Are you sure there's nothing wrong with Daniel's throat?" They had discussed Daniel's not talking several times, with the doctor assuring them that his throat was fine, and that the problem being that he appeared to have forgotten how to speak. "I'm positive. But I've sent a few telegrams to several associates asking if they've ever seen or heard of a case like this. Hopefully someone will get back to me soon with some positive news." Daniel coughed, then blinked. His eyes shifted slightly, and Jack knew Daniel was coming back to them. He didn't know where his friend disappeared to during these short lapses, but he always came back after a little while. "Wa-ya." Heavy-lidded blue eyes turned to Jack, and he smiled. "Hey." A twitch at the corner of Daniel's mouth, and Jack knew his friend was back. "I'll get Daniel something to eat seeing he's awake," Janet said. Soft footsteps told Jack the women had left the room. "Daniel, compadre, we need to talk." Jack and Daniel had been through this several days ago, out in the woods while Jack was bringing him home. But since Daniel had slept through the most part of the week, he hadn't needed to communicate all that much with them. But Daniel was getting stronger, he needed to be able ask for help. "Doc feels bad about what just happened. I know it wasn't her fault, or yours. But you have to let us know when you need something. When something hurts, when you're hungry. Damnit, even when you need to pee!" Daniel's eyes widened slightly and he quickly turned his head. "No, there's nothing to be ashamed of here." Jack gently took hold of Daniel's chin and forced him to look at Jack. "But you *have* to tell us, we can't always know. You suffered for nothing, Wa-ya. You could have told Janet, and I don't mean with words." Jack made the sign for 'water', and 'outside'. "It's that easy, Danny. And if Janet didn't understand you, you could simply have pointed to the damn pisspot!" Daniel's face flushed red, spreading up his ears and down his neck. "Please try and understand we want to help you. But you have to help us, too. I know you're confused and feeling poorly and your leg's paining you. Remember, you told me you were sick a few days ago? But we want to make you better, and you don't have to hurt and be uncomfortable in the meantime? Comprendes?" Daniel nodded after a short hesitation. "Good." He squeezed Daniel's shoulder and got up off the bed as Janet returned with a steaming bowl of broth. As the doctor sat down on the bed beside Daniel and tried to coax him to take a few mouthfuls, Jack thought back to what had just happened to his friend. Even had Daniel attempted to use Indian signs to convey his distress, Jack wasn't certain that either woman would have understood. If Daniel wasn't willing to talk, there had to be an easy way for him to communicate� "Doc." Janet looked up at Jack, spoon held to Daniel's tightly pursed lips. "That little girl of Mz. Fai's, those small movements she does with her fingers. I noticed a lot of the townsfolk seem to be able to talk with her." "That's right." Janet dropped the spoon into the bowl. "They're using American Sign Language. Darcy remembered reading something about it when little Aislin came to us, and she ordered Fai a book on how to speak using abbreviated signs. It's a lot more complex than the Indian Trade language, there's even an alphabet, if you can't remember the sign for the word, you can always spell it out." Jack took the bowl from Janet and she smiled at him gratefully as they traded places. Jack held a spoonful of weak broth to Daniel's mouth and his friend reluctantly accepted the liquid. "D'ya think maybe Mz. Fai might be willing to teach me 'n Daniel the basics? Maybe Sam and Teal'c also?" He fed Daniel a bit more broth, then waited patiently as the heat of the food triggered a coughing spell. When Janet didn't reply, he looked up at her and she raised a fisted hand, making a quick motion as if she were knocking on a door. "I take it to mean that's a yes?" Janet's face lit up as she smiled first at him, then at Daniel, who appeared to be more interested in their conversation than his supper. "I'll speak to Fai and see if she'd be willing to help you two out as soon as our Deputy is feeling stronger. I'm sure she'll be happy to do it." "Thanks, Doc." Jack was sure that if a little five year old kid could master this new sign language thing, then Mz. Fai shouldn't have any problems with a stubborn and recalcitrant Deputy. Jack lifted another spoonful of broth and sighed when he saw Daniel clamp his lips together. ****** A small creaking sound insinuated itself into Daniel's warm, safe, cocooned world of soft bed and thick blankets, drawing him from the comforting sensation of sleep. The sound repeated itself, and Daniel knew it was caused by the shifting weight of someone sitting on the hard-backed wooden chair beside his bed. A soft sniff and clearing of throat told him it was the man, and not the woman. Which was good, the tiny and energetic female would be there to poke and prod him, force food and medicine down his throat, with her large, expressive eyes seeming to want something from Daniel that he wasn't yet prepared to supply. But the man, on the other hand, had been doing the same things all this time, but without expecting anything from him. The man appeared to understand Daniel and his desires before he himself knew he needed anything. He was familiar, from the timbre of his voice when he was patiently trying to get Daniel to eat something, to the way his eyes crinkled when something amusing caught his eye, to the way his hands constantly needed to keep busy. Daniel was sure he knew this man, from before, before the time of� darkness and nightmares. He turned in the bed, restless, trying to escape the hellish awakening of memories through movement. The chair creaked a little more loudly and Daniel heard the tinkle of glass on glass, then water tumbling into something. He licked his lips; he was suddenly reminded that his mouth was dry and he was thirsty. "Want some water, Danny?" The soft voice accompanied the rustle of cloth, and Daniel forced his eyes open. He squinted up at the person, who was holding a half-filled glass near his lips. "Hey, it's me, it's Jack," the man said gently. "Do you want some water?" he repeated. Daniel raised his head and was glad to see that the effort wasn't as hard as it had been the last few times. The man, Jack, reached over and supported Daniel's head and shoulders while holding the glass to his mouth. The cool water tasted glorious, soothing his throat and filling his empty stomach. He was in a small, dimly lit utilitarian room. A lamp burned in a corner, although he could see sunlight peeking through the heavily curtained window. He hated this room, hated the gloom in which he lay. He had tried once to get up to pull the curtains back and allow the warm, rich sunshine in, but his body had betrayed him and he had collapsed on the floor. He had been placed back into the bed amidst much clucking and scolding from the petite woman, and he had turned away from her, shamefaced. "You're looking a bit better," Jack said as he placed the glass beside the pitcher on the bureau beside him. "Got a bit more color in your cheeks, and your fever's nearly gone." Daniel stared at the curtain, wishing he felt well enough to get up and tear it down. The air was stale in the room, and he could hear the faint sounds of birds cheeping and cicadas plying their love songs, and could almost imagine the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. Instead everything inside sounded muted, hollow. He fingered the bandage on his right wrist nervously, noting that his hands weren't quite as stiff as before. "You hungry? Mz. Kiva sent over some bread pudding." Jack reached to uncover something behind him and Daniel turned to glare at the covered window once more. He jumped when a hand touched his shoulder, and he turned his attention back to the man beside him. "You want the curtains open?" Jack asked. Daniel stared at him. He knew he had to reply to this, he wanted to reply to this, he knew he had once been able to speak. He could remember the sound of his voice, the way words had tumbled from his mouth when he was excited, the way he laughed or giggled, how his ears had hurt from the sound of his screams, which eventually had turned deep and hoarse when his voice had given out. Daniel was on the verge of panicking, the memory of his screams along with the dimness of the room making his breathing come fast and breathless. Suddenly Jack was moving and the room was bathed in an eye-watering brightness. The panic receded slightly, but his breathlessness set off a coughing spell. Daniel curled up on himself, coughing so harshly he feared he would be sick. Finally, his chest eased and Daniel relaxed, clearing his throat a few times to get rid of the rasping sounds in his lungs. More water appeared and he gladly swallowed it down. "Better?" Jack asked as he sat back down and placed a couple of pillows behind Daniel's back, propping him up. Daniel knew he meant the curtains and not the water. Daniel gazed out the window, seeing the blur of greenery and blue sky. He felt his lips curling slightly. Yes, it was better with the warmth of the sun on his face. "So, you up to eatin' a bite?" A spoonful of gooey, cinnamon-scented glob of something was placed before Daniel's lips. Daniel flicked his tongue, tasting the sweet dessert. It was delicious. Jack tipped the bit into his mouth and Daniel chewed it, tasting raisins and brown sugar. Two more bites and he was full. He turned his head aside when Jack held more to his mouth; if Daniel ate more he knew he wouldn't be able to keep the rich treat down. "There's more if you want later," Jack said with his mouth full as he polished off the rest. Daniel smiled to himself at the sight; Jack appeared to have quite a sweet tooth. He licked his lips, tasting more of the sweet stuff on them. This was so much better than the tasteless broth the woman was forcing Daniel to drink. Daniel stretched, realizing for the first time that he was mostly free of pain. His fever had left him today, his joints and muscles weren't aching so badly, and his leg was bearable if he didn't move it too much. He decided he was on the mend; briefly he wondered what had happened to him, but the visions of darkness flittered on the edges of his memory and he fidgeted in bed, trying to escape. "Hey, I made you something," Jack informed him as he put the now empty bowl aside. He got up and picked up an object from the table by the door. Daniel could see it was a small, unadorned leather pouch. "I saw your medicine pouch was missing. Thought maybe you'd like to use this one instead of the scrap of material you've got there." Jack briefly touched the slight lump under Daniel's night shirt. "Of course, if you'd rather wait till you're better and make your own, I understand. Or you can use this one until you make another�" Daniel hesitated, afraid to accept what Jack was offering. Afraid of what it might mean if he took the gift. But knowing somehow that this man understood what the objects he kept close to his heart and his breath meant to him. Jack had placed the pouch on Daniel's lap, and its light weight seemed to burn through the blankets, searing him with guilt. It was given in friendship, somehow Daniel knew that. And he'd been mistaken; the pouch wasn't unadorned, as he'd first thought. There was something on the corners� With shaking hands, Daniel picked up the soft leather. He squinted at the figures and was able to make out a small figure of a hawk etched into one corner, and that of a coyote on the opposite corner. He glanced towards Jack, surprised. The work was exquisite. "I thought you'd want to decorate it later, yourself, when you were stronger," Jack said. "But if you don't want it, it's okay, I understand." No, he wanted this. It wasn't being given to him in friendship, it was being given with love. This man had called him blood brother; Daniel somehow knew he trusted this man with his life, had known it even in his pain-filled delirium and had reached towards him in his illness. He reached inside his shirt and pulled out the filthy piece of material in which he'd wrapped his spiritual pieces. With a bit of difficulty, Daniel tried to unknot the cord that he'd looped around the scrap, holding everything secure inside. A warm hand stilled his fingers, and he permitted Jack to take it and untie the cord. Jack handed it back to him, unopened. Daniel poured the few items he'd managed to save over the past few months; a small stone that looked like a soaring hawk, a medallion of Saint Patrick, and a clear piece of quartz crystal. There had been more objects in there, he remembered the weight of the pouch and it used to be much more substantial. He knew he'd lost more than physical things with their loss. He'd lost part of himself, a part he could never replace. As with his memory, he suspected he would never find them again. Daniel fingered the objects, not quite recalling where he had come by them, but knowing they meant something to him. He squeezed his palm shut over the encroaching feelings, the pain of the quartz cutting into his hand and bringing him back into focus. "Daniel?" Jack asked, worry evident in his voice. Daniel picked up the scrap of material and cord, and threw them away from him. He opened the pouch Jack had given him and reverently placed the three objects into it. As he looped it over his neck, he vowed that as soon as he was strong enough, he would begin decorating the pouch, giving it the embellishments that it so richly deserved. The door opened with a rush of fresh air, and Daniel jumped, startled at the intrusion. The petite brown-haired woman swooped in, a cup held in her hands. "Oh good, Daniel. You're awake," she said as she placed the cup beside the bed. She eyed the open curtain, and cocked her head at Daniel and he quickly lowered his gaze. "You want me to shut the curtain? It's kind of bright in here." "He's fine, Doc," Jack said, patting Daniel's knee. Daniel heard footsteps as the woman approached the bed. He could smell the broth; he wished it tasted half as good as it smelled, maybe then it wouldn't be so bad when he was forced to drink it. He felt the mattress dip slightly as she sat down beside him. He flinched when her small hands touched his face, moving from forehead to cheek. "Good, your fever's down." She placed something cold on his chest and bent over slightly, listening to something apparently only she could hear. Daniel tried to push away from her but Jack quickly put a hand on his arm, stilling his movement. Daniel wished she would hurry up and get away from him. She seemed satisfied with what she found and placed a small hand on his arm to try and get his attention. He turned towards her reluctantly, wondering what she wanted. "Are you hungry? Would you like something to eat?" "I don't think he's hungry," Jack said. Daniel quickly glanced at the man, noting a guilty expression on his face. "Daniel just had a bit of bread pudding, I don't think he'll have room for your broth." "Sheriff!" the lady exclaimed as she stood up, bristling in her anger. "You know that that stuff isn't nutritious. You should have waited until he ate some proper food before filling his stomach with that sort of thing." "Yeah, well, he hates that healthy stuff of yours. At least he got to eat something he liked, for a change. Give the guy a break, won't you?" "His appetite has been nearly non-existent, he needs to eat." "So give him what he likes, something that'll put meat back on his bones instead of that swill." Daniel let their words slide over him, unable to deal with their emotions. He turned away, suddenly tired, floating, seeking solace in the warmth of the sun. "Danny?" A touch to his cheek, callused fingers rasping against stubble, reluctantly brought him back to himself. He couldn't refuse Jack, his voice was a beacon of safety, his eyes the glimmer of hope, his smile the promise of friendship. "Hey, you looked like you were a little lost there." Jack smiled faintly at him and Daniel decided that Jack looked tired. He frowned, wondering why Jack just didn't lie down and get some sleep. "I have something for you, Daniel." Daniel ignored the small woman, coming to the realization that maybe Jack was so tired because he was spending all his time here with him. He wanted to tell Jack to come and lie down and sleep beside him, the words were so close. He remembered something that Jack had said to him, that he could talk without words. He raised a hand, ready to make the symbol for sleep, when the woman bent over him suddenly. "You asked me to order these for you since the others were bent, before you� left us, Daniel. I thought you might enjoy seeing the world in its proper perspective once again." He had an impression of glass and thin metal rods and suddenly something cold was placed on his face. The room exploded in a riot of strange shapes, lines and colors, rendering him dizzy and nauseous. He batted at the offending item and it flew to the foot of the bed. "Easy, Danny," Jack said as Daniel tried to edge away from the woman. "Doc, it's okay, you just spooked him." Jack reached over and picked up the strange object, folding it somehow until it appeared to be two small pieces of glass. "I'll just put these here for safekeeping, okay?" The object was placed on the table beside Daniel, where he eyed it warily. "I'm sorry, I should have known better." The woman shook her head, and Daniel averted his gaze, knowing he'd done something wrong and not quite sure what it was. She sighed heavily. "Call me if you need anything, Sheriff." "Sure, Doc." The door opened and closed, and her footsteps faded as she walked away. "I was thinking, maybe you'd like to sit outside tomorrow? I think I can sweet talk the doc into bringing you out into the sunshine. Would you like that, Daniel?" Daniel blinked, thinking over the words. Outside, not in this room. Yes! Anything to escape the four walls and roof that surrounded him. He yearned for blue sky, fresh air, a breeze tickling his hair. He sighed softly as he turned his face towards the sunshine again. "Danny?" Daniel tore his eyes away from freedom, the green and blue blur so tantalizingly close behind the clear glass window at the foot of the bed, yet beyond his ability to make it there on his own in his weakened condition. "Do you want to go outside tomorrow? Can you let me know if that's what you want?" Jack's voice was soft, cajoling. Daniel thought hard. Outside. He knew different variations of the word, and somehow knew they meant the same thing even though they all sounded so different; ga-nv-go-i, a fuera, dehors, anose, barrah, draussen. He could hear the words in his mind; even envisage little pictures of them drawn on a piece of paper. Hesitantly, he tried the only thing he was capable of at the moment. He used his hands to shakily sign the word. "That's good, Daniel." The pleasure was evident in his voice as Jack warmly clasped Daniel's fingers. "We'll make a picnic out of it. Maybe Sam and Teal'c will join us, what do you think?" Daniel pulled his hands away, wishing outside was now, not tomorrow. He was tired, and he remembered that Jack was tired also. Feeling brave, he signed one more word, his movements heavy and awkward. // Sleep. // "Okay, Danny. I'll let you get some rest. I can see you're tired." // Sleep, // Daniel signed once more. "I know. I'll let you get some sleep." // Sleep. // Damnit, why wasn't Jack understanding him? He clenched his fists, then pointed at Jack, and signed the word again. Then he patted the space beside him on the bed. // Tired. // Sleep. // Together. // Smiling, Jack pushed a stray lock of hair off of Daniel's cheek and then pulled his boots off. With a tired sigh, he lay down beside Daniel, on top of the covers. Daniel scooted down carefully off the pillows, pushing one towards Jack. As Jack accepted it, Daniel took the top layer of blanket and pulled it off of him, trying to spread it over Jack's body. "Thanks," Jack mumbled as he tossed the covering over his shoulder. Daniel watched as Jack's eyelids drooped closed, and soft snores soon told him that Jack was sleeping. Daniel turned onto his side and watched the nearly familiar face relax, the worry lines smoothing out, making him look younger. When Jack snorted and turned, putting his back to Daniel, he remembered the object Jack had placed by the bed. He reached over and picked it up, examining it carefully. He'd been right, it consisted of two round pieces of glass cleverly held by thin metal strips. He held it out before him and looked through the glass. Everything appeared smaller. Nervously recalling what the woman had done, slowly, carefully, he brought the object close to his face. Suddenly everything appeared clear, details exploded, colors became more vibrant and lines became sharp. Daniel glanced outside and made out the leaves fluttering in the trees, a crow sitting on a branch cawed as it spread its wings and lifted itself into the air. He watched it as it flew away, out of sight. Daniel's mouth gaped open in surprise. He hadn't realized his vision had been poor until this very moment. A memory flitted through his mind's eye and he saw himself wiping the small glass pieces on a bit of soft cloth he'd worn around his neck. He realized these were a part of him, and had been for a long time. He lay there happily, looking out the window until his eyes closed and he slept alongside his friend. ****** Daniel cracked open an eye at the sound of footsteps rustling through the grass, coming towards him. He was too relaxed to move; comfortably cocooned on a small mattress, wrapped in a light blanket, lying underneath a shade tree. He'd spent the past hour watching the clouds float by, breathing in the fresh air, feeling the sunshine on his face. He had wanted to complain when the doctor had eventually insisted that he be removed from the direct heat of the sun, but she had been adamant. But it was almost as pleasant underneath the tree; here he could see and hear the birds flitting from branch to branch. He knew he'd slept on and off, the sun had moved considerably, and his stomach was beginning to let him know he hadn't eaten in a while. Bare feet soon came into his line of sight and he turned his head slightly to look up at Jack. His friend was carrying a small tray, and with a graceful movement, lowered himself to sit beside Daniel on the woollen blanket beside Daniel's pallet. "Thought you might be hungry," Jack said as he placed the tray, which had a large upturned bowl over it, on the ground. Daniel stifled a sigh. Mealtimes usually consisted of Jack or the doctor's insisting he eat. At least now they let him eat outside whenever the weather was nice and he didn't have a fever. Daniel found that if he made an effort to swallow some of the stuff they placed before him, they'd soon leave him in peace. Most of it was bland and unsatisfying. Daniel would rather not eat it, but knew he needed the energy. And it was easier to eat than to listen to their nagging. With Jack's help, Daniel pushed himself up until he was leaning against the tree trunk. A plate was placed on his lap and for a moment, Daniel had no idea what the food set before him consisted of. "Bacon," Jack said as the aroma of the fried meat suddenly assailed him. His mouth began to water, and he knew he liked whatever this bacon was. "Hot bacon fat, molasses, cornbread and milk," Jack continued, breaking off a piece of the golden bread for himself, and dipping it into the oily concoction of melted bacon fat and dark molasses. Daniel tore a piece of bacon in half, dripping with the sticky stuff, and stuffed it into his mouth. It was delicious. "I finally talked Doc into letting you eat something you used to enjoy. Looks like I made a good choice." Daniel dipped a piece of buttered cornbread into the molasses, licking his fingers to get every sweet bit and smiling his thanks at Jack. He took a sip of cold milk, and couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten anything so enjoyable. Before he knew it the plate was empty and he was satisfyingly full. And sleepy. A fly buzzed around his plate and Jack pushed the dish away from them, putting the bowl over it to keep the bugs away. Daniel yawned, and slid back down the tree to lie on his side. The frame pinched his ear and he shoved a finger behind it to adjust it. Since he'd discovered how clear his vision was with these bits of glass and metal, he'd refused to take them off, even when napping. "Mz. Sel brought over some fresh picked wild strawberries, so maybe you'd like a bit of those with some cream for a snack later? And Mz. Carrie stopped by a little earlier and said she'd bring over some chicken stew and dumplings for supper." Strawberries, and chicken. As Daniel's eyes began to close, he pictured something small and red and sweet, swimming in thick white liquid. As he lost himself in sleep, he saw the fleeting image of feathers and wondered if strawberries could fly. ****** Daniel wished the rose bushes decorating the front of the doctor's house grew larger and bushier, so he could hide himself behind them. Even though he enjoyed sitting on her front veranda and watching the townspeople walking or riding by, he wished they wouldn't call out to him when they spotted him. He preferred the back yard, where it was quieter and he had total privacy. The clip clop of a horse had Daniel cringing into the blanket that covered his shoulders. Jack had insisted on it now that the sun had moved off, and Daniel appreciated its warmth as he sat in the shade. The horse and carriage came closer, and Daniel quickly focused all of his attention on a bee that was happily cultivating the pollen from a large rose, trying to ignore the approaching wagon. To his horror, the carriage stopped before the house. He glanced up and spotted what seemed to be a large number of people in the carriage, all looking at him. Quickly he glanced back down, wishing Jack would come out of the house and stand between him and these people, like he normally did. Daniel felt his breathing begin to quicken and his hands fisted in fear. Jack said he'd be back soon, where was he? Why hadn't Daniel protested at his leaving? The swish of material rustling had Daniel flinching, his shoulders coming up to try and protect his neck. "Allo, Dep'ty Dan'l," an excited, high-pitched voice yelled out. Whispered sounds drifted to him, and he made out the words 'shhh, don't yell at the Deputy, sweetheart', but he kept his eyes resolutely fixed on the wooden floorboards of the porch. With studious intensity, he watched an ant make its way across the cracks, tracking it as if his life depended on it, trying to ignore the strangers who were sure to assault his senses any second. More whispers, and then the sound of footsteps nearing. He averted his face, unable to look directly upon the approaching intruder. The footsteps slowed slightly as they passed him, and to his intense relief, a brief warning knock on the door and the creak of it opening and closing meant that the visitor wasn't coming to speak to him. Daniel took a deep breath and laid his head back on the chair, letting the air out in a sigh, which ended with a cough. Squeals and giggles reminded Daniel that he wasn't alone, and he glanced over at the wagon, seeing two small girls sitting in the front seat. His first glance at the carriage had given him the impression that there had been more, but he realized now that it had only been the one woman and the two children. The older one saw Daniel looking at them and waved, a large grin gracing her face. Somehow these small people seemed a little less threatening than adults, and Daniel shyly waggled his fingers back at her. The younger one saw Daniel and began jumping up and down on the seat, waving at him with both arms. "Look at me, Dep'ty!" the little girl yelled. "Look at me!" The older one scolded the excited child, but instead of calming, the younger one got more excited. Daniel could hear the springs of the conveyance from where he sat, and saw the horse begin to get restless at the constant jarring. The little girl nearly fell off the seat at one point and the older one finally grabbed her arm. "Lizzy, stop it," she said, trying to get her off the seat. "No!" the little girl screamed, jumping even higher. Daniel saw the accident coming, and without thinking, he got up and began limping/running towards the street. He stumbled down the stairs, hissing at the pain in his thigh and catching himself before he fell. He panted and wheezed, feeling his blood go cold as the horse finally had enough of the unnatural motion of the carriage behind it and began to prance nervously. The movement unbalanced the little girl and she fell off the wagon, screaming. The added cries of her older sister spooked the horse and it advanced forward a few steps, the foremost large wooden wheel passing over the little girl's leg. In one quick movement, Daniel plucked the older child off of the carriage and put her down onto the dusty street before she tumbled off, then bent down and picked up the screaming, injured girl from beneath the carriage seconds before the horse took off down the road. His injured leg finally gave out with the added weight of the girl in his arms, and he tumbled onto his butt. The girls' shrieks had alerted the people inside the house that something had happened and as Daniel held the sobbing form close to him, he heard footsteps racing towards them. "Rachel! Lizzy!" a strangely accented female voice called out. Daniel cowered and hunched over the little girl, trying to protect her from hidden dangers. The child clutched at his shirt, her screams piercing his ears as they were punctuated with horrible, gasping sobs. Daniel squeezed his eyes shut as he held her tightly to his chest. The other child was crying loudly beside him, but he couldn't bring himself to look at her to make sure she was all right. He could hear breathing beside him and there was more whispering nearby, but he ignored everything, his attention focused on the injured little girl in his arms. She needed help and Daniel wasn't sure what to do. Soon the other child was hiccupping and sobbing quietly, her cries muffled against something. Daniel had to help them, but he didn't know how. Tears slid down his cheeks as he buried his face in the sweet-smelling hair. "Danny? Wa-ya?" He felt a gentle touch on his shoulder. Jack, that was Jack! He'd know, he'd help. Daniel opened his eyes and ignoring the other forms surrounding him, looked up into his friend's concerned brown eyes. "Daniel, can you give me the girl?" Jack asked gently, his hand squeezing him. Daniel looked down at the still-screaming child in his arms, noting her dress was dirty and that her leg was bleeding. There was a large scrape on her arm, and her lip was bloody. Jack would care for the child, Lizzy, but there was someone else who he should hand her to. With trembling breaths, Daniel scanned the faces around him. One stranger held the other child tightly against her as she knelt beside them, anxiously staring at Daniel. She wasn't the one he was looking for, though. But kneeling on Jack's other side was the petite woman, the doctor, with the expressive brown eyes that were so different from Jack's. Feeling Daniel's gaze on her, she raised her eyes from the form of the child in his arms, and met Daniel's stare. Slowly, he loosened his grip on the girl and extended her small body to the doctor. Lizzy wailed even more loudly when she felt Daniel letting her go, but Janet shushed her as she accepted her from Daniel, and laid her on the ground. Immediately Jack's arms were around Daniel as both women began examining the girl. Suddenly Daniel was shivering, and with relief he leaned against Jack's warm bulk. Jack's hand came up to stroke Daniel's hair, then gently brushed the tears which still fell down his face. "I don't think her leg's broken, Athene, but it's pretty badly bruised," Janet said over the girl's wails. "I'll need to wash out the scrapes and there's a gash that might need a stitch or two. She's a pretty lucky little girl." Slowly the cries began to diminish as the child sought her mother's arms. "Deputy Daniel saved her," Rachel piped in, still hiccupping. "She wouldn't listen to me, mummy, and when old Jigsaw got upset at her shenanigans, she fell off the wagon. Deputy Daniel picked me up really quick, too, before Jigsaw ran off. Why is Deputy Daniel crying, mummy?" Realizing the older girl was talking about him, Daniel hid his face against Jack's shoulder. "He was scared, honey," Jack said softly. The sobs suddenly tapered off, and a small, hesitant voice spoke up, punctuated with hiccups and a few breathless gasps. "Don' cry, Dep'ty Dan'l. Lizzy's not ascared anymore." Daniel turned and looked at the little girl who was now sitting up and leaning against her mother's side. Her face was bloody, tear-streaked and dirty, but the vivacity of her young body and the concern for him shining out of her eyes warmed Daniel's heart. He smiled tremulously at her and was rewarded with a gap-toothed grin. He signed to Jack 'hospital', and Jack nodded. "Yes, we'll bring her inside. Doc's gonna take right good care of her." "What did he say?" Rachel asked curiously. "He wanted to know if Doc was gonna bring her inside the surgery, honey," Jack explained. "No, he didn't. That's not how Aislin talks." "Shush, Rachel," Athene scolded. "Deputy Daniel is talking the way the Indians do, it's not quite the same thing what Aislin was taught." "But mummy," Rachel said. "Rachel, that's enough," the exasperated woman said. "Do you want me to carry her inside?" "No, thank you, Sheriff, I can manage," Athene's accented voice said steadily. "I think the Deputy might need your help, though." She smiled at them both as she picked up her youngest daughter, who put her arms around her mother's neck while Rachel grabbed a hold of Athene's dress, following her into the house. Daniel struggled to straighten his legs and his thigh exploded in pain. He gasped, and Jack was pulling on his leg, evening the protesting muscles back into alignment. He felt pressure under his armpits and suddenly he was on his feet, Jack's arm holding him steady against him. The house seemed so far away, and Daniel wondered how he had managed to get into the street in so little time when he'd seen the horse ready to bolt. With Jack's help, Daniel limped up to the house, not protesting when they passed the veranda and his abandoned chair, and went directly to his small room in the back of the house. By the time Jack helped him lie down, the petite doctor was there with a bit of water and her foul-tasting drugs. From the bitter taste of the potion, he knew it was the kind that would take the pain away, but would also make him sleepy. He swallowed the liquid gratefully, anxious to ease the pain of his abused leg. He felt Jack pull his moccasins off and spread a blanket over him. A sharp wail and cry came through the open door, and Daniel tensed. "It's okay, doc's just cleaning out her wounds. Nothing's broken, just a lot of scrapes and bruises. She's gonna be fine, Daniel." Daniel tried to relax, unable to help himself from tensing every time there was a fresh outburst. Soon the cries stopped, and Daniel wondered if the little girl had been given something for her pain, as Daniel had. He drifted on and off, aware of Jack's voice as he talked with the women. At one point he opened his eyes and saw Rachel standing beside his bed, staring at him. She giggled and ran out of the room when she saw he was awake. The rustle of cloth roused him again and he opened his eyes to see Athene standing by his open door. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you," she said, looking at the floor for a moment. "But I did want to thank you for saving my daughters. I know it's difficult for you at the moment, Deputy. But most of the people here in town do care for you, and are very happy that you're back. When you're feeling better, I hope you'll return to Snugbury's for some ice cream. I've gotten two new flavours, and I think there's one you'll enjoy very much." With a sad smile, she left Daniel alone with her words. He was still drowsy when Jack came by later, carrying two bowls and two spoons. "Hey, feel up for a snack?" Jack asked as he sat on the side of Daniel's bed. As Daniel pushed himself up against the headboard, Jack shoved a pillow behind his shoulders, and handed Daniel one of the bowls. To his surprise, it was cold. Winter cold. Icy cold. He looked at Jack in surprise, then to the mound of snow which sat in the bowl. "It's ice cream," Jack explained as he gave Daniel a spoon. "This is the reason Mz. Athene stopped by today. She knows how much you love this stuff and thought maybe you'd enjoy a treat." Jack waved at the white stuff with his spoon. "Go ahead, take a bite." Daniel watched as Jack dug his spoon into the snow. It looked liquidy as it began to melt, not quite snow, more like cream. Or maybe frozen cream. Iced cream� yes, that made sense. Daniel tapped the cold stuff with his spoon, feeling it give. Carefully he put a bit in his mouth, feeling the cold sweetness instantly explode on his tongue and melt in his mouth. He grinned around the next spoonful, wagging his eyebrows at Jack. "Yeah, I thought you'd enjoy it. And this is only vanilla, wait till you taste the chocolate flavour. And of course you can add things to it. Corn syrup or molasses and nuts and stuff." Daniel couldn't believe anything could taste better than this. He was torn between eating it slowly, savouring every bite, to quickly stuffing it into his mouth before it all melted. Soon he was busy scraping the bottom of the bowl, then used his finger to scoop up the last bit of cool, sticky goodness. "Well, I know what we'll be having for dessert from now on," Jack said with a smirk as he reached over and rubbed at something on Daniel's chin with his thumb. Daniel wiped at his face with his fingers, feeling the sticky stuff that had melted and run down his chin when he hadn't been able to eat it fast enough. Jack wiped his thumb on his pant legs, smiling. Realizing the house was quiet, Daniel asked of the young child. // Baby? // he signed. "She's fine. Athene's taken her home. Doc told her to keep her abed for a day or two, but I doubt she'll be able to keep that little bundle of wind still longer'n a couple hours. Might have learned not to jump on wagon seats, though." Daniel smiled, remembering the vivacity the child had exhibited. Jack removed Daniel's empty bowl and stacked it on top of his own, then placed them on the small table beside the bed. "Hey," he said quietly. Daniel looked at Jack questioningly. "Ya did good today. That horse coulda spooked and stomped over the kid just as easily as running her over a second time with the wagon. I know how hard it was for you, Danny, and I know how appreciative Athene and the rest of the townsfolk are. I wish you could understand that nobody here wants to hurt you. They're all our friends, and they only want to help." Daniel couldn't hold Jack's gaze, his words were making sense but couldn't assuage the fear that he still couldn't let go. Jack's hands came up to squeeze his nape. "When you're ready, Daniel. I won't force you out there anytime before you're ready, okay? But I do know two little girls who might want to come a'calling in a day or two. With any luck, they might be bringing some more ice cream to make the visit sweeter." Daniel smiled, thinking he could maybe handle two little girls. "Good." Jack picked up the bowls. "You can nap a bit longer before supper; Mz. Myste promised to bring some fried chicken tonight. She's got some kind of secret herbs and spices she uses, you're gonna love it." Daniel settled himself under the blankets, and waved at the bowls in Jack's hands. "Yeah, and there's more ice cream. Gonna have to finish it all today 'cause the ice won't keep it froze for much longer." 'Good', Daniel thought to himself as he closed his eyes. Maybe this time he'd try a bit of syrup on top of his treat. He smacked his lips, thinking of mealtime. ****** Jack waited while Daniel slowly followed him to Fai's brightly covered wagon. Children were running around the grassy area surrounding the camp, their laughter loud in the early morning. "Good morning, Sheriff," Fai said, her voice quiet. She shifted her gaze to Daniel a moment and then turned her attention back to Jack. "What can I do for both of you this fine morning?" "Doc Janet said you had a book on that fancy hand talking you do with little Aislin," Jack began. Daniel was still about five steps behind him, evidently afraid to approach someone he didn't remember any closer. He wondered if he should have left Daniel back at the Emerald City or with Janet or Sam. "Oh yes, Janet spoke to me of it. American Sign Language. You are welcome to borrow it, Sheriff Jack. Perhaps you'd like me to show you and the Deputy the alphabet and some signs as a start?" Fai questioned. At Jack's nod, she waved her hand in the air. Jack watched as one of the older children stopped playing and tapped Aislin on her shoulder. The little girl's smile was bright as she caught sight of her adopted mama wanting her presence, and came running. "Aislin," Fai began, signing for Aislin's benefit and speaking for Jack's. "The Sheriff would like you to help him learn how to sign. Do you think we can show him the alphabet?" Jack grinned at the little girl's broad smile as she nodded. She made her chubby little hand into a fist with the thumb showing. "This is A, Sheriff," Fai explained. Aislin continued looking at Jack, waiting for him to make the same letter. He did, and both Fai and Aislin nodded. "Daniel, come on over here and sit with us." Jack motioned for his friend to come closer. He held his breath, wondering if Daniel would do it. He touched Daniel's shoulder reassuringly when the younger man approached. "It's gonna be fine. You remember Fai," he said, but at the flat look in Daniel's eyes, he wasn't so sure. "Look, this is A." Jack held up his fist for Daniel's inspection. He waited and then sighed when Daniel showed no interest in mimicking Jack's motions. Aislin and Fai began guiding Jack through the alphabet. His heart sank when Daniel didn't make any of the signs despite appearing to watch them. Janet's warning that Daniel might be somehow damaged in his head came back to taunt him. "Aislin wants you to do the alphabet, Sheriff," Fai said, interpreting her daughter's signs. Jack nodded and began to form his hand into the different shapes for the letters. When he finished, Aislin clapped her hands and smiled at him. "Very good, Sheriff," Fai agreed. "I'll get the book for you. Any signs you can't find, you can always spell out letter by letter." "Thank you." Jack nodded. He studied Fai's sign to Aislin. Fingertips to lips and then an open movement away, palm up. He repeated it, unsure. "Thank you?" he asked. "Yes," Fai nodded. "That's thank you." Jack smiled and squatted down to Aislin's level. // Thank you, // he signed. She smiled at him in return. "I'll be getting that book for you now," Fai said, her voice sounding hoarse. She motioned for Jack to follow her a short distance. "Sheriff? The Deputy? I heard he was in pretty poor shape when you found him." "Yes ma'am." Jack looked at his dusty boots. "Mighty poor shape. He's come a long way in the few weeks since we've brought him home. But..." "He can hear?" Fai touched her ear. "He can hear," Jack said, looking back at Daniel, who was standing with his arms wrapped around his waist. "But Doctor Fraiser believes the fever might have done something to his head. Made him simple minded." Saying it was so hard, as if it was real. "I don't know." "I'm going to give you some herbs, Sheriff. Herbs to help the body heal. Herbs to help a troubled mind," Fai said before she stepped into her wagon. Bowing his head in acknowledgement, Jack waited outside the wagon, smells of spices and herbs drifting out through the fabric hanging over what served as a door. He turned, looking back towards Daniel and saw him sitting cross legged on the ground, Aislin across from him, her small hands making shapes while Daniel watched with bemusement. The little girl finished whatever it was she was saying and stood, reaching out to pat Daniel's cheek before she ran off to join her siblings. Daniel raised a hand to his cheek, holding it there and Jack had to turn away. He'd seen the scars and wondered how many times during those eight months of captivity Daniel had been touched with anything approaching kindness. Jack was willing to bet it had been never. Fai emerged from her wagon, handing Jack a weighty cloth bag. "You need anything else for Daniel, you come back to me." Jack pulled some coins from his pocket, offering them to her. She shook her head, closing his fingers back over them. "Heal him, Sheriff," she whispered. "Heal him." ****** Fai's words still haunted Jack as he watched Daniel pick at his food three days later. His hope the sign language would give Daniel the ability to communicate again had been false. His Deputy was sitting on the porch at Janet's again, watching who knew what. His injuries all nearly healed except for a limp that appeared when Daniel was overly tired. "Daniel?" Jack asked, signing along with speaking, practice for him and a hope that some spark of Daniel's intelligence remained, making it an ingrained habit. "Eat. Stop playing with your food and eat it." He tapped the table, regretting it when Daniel hunched his shoulders to ward off an expected blow. Jack let his breath out between his teeth, reaching out to gently touch his friend's shoulder with one fingertip. "Look at me," Jack said, his accompanying signs and finger spelling precise and slow. "I will not hurt you. You are safe." Daniel stared at him, his gaze flitting between Jack's lips and his hands. For just a moment, Jack thought he saw a glimpse of the old Daniel, but the sound of a dog barking in the town had Daniel looking away again. "I'll be back, Daniel." Jack stood, shoving his hands in his pockets when he realized it was pointless to sign to someone who didn't even want to look at you. Soft voices from the small kitchen at the back of Janet's house let him know where he could find the good doctor. "Sheriff? Is there a problem?" Janet set down the teapot on the well-scrubbed wooden table. "No, I..." Jack rubbed his boot along the floorboards. He didn't want to know, he told himself. He didn't want to hear the answer to his question. "Jack? What's wrong?" Sam stood and handed him a cup of tea. He wrapped his hands around the fine china cup, aware of how fragile it was and amazed the tea set had survived the journey to the Flats intact. "He doesn't seem to understand." Jack said, the heat from the china seeping into his cold fingers. "I can't get Daniel to understand. I think maybe you were right, Doc. That somehow all that happened has addled his brain." There was silence in the kitchen at Jack's confession and then his large hand was cupped in smaller ones. "This cup looks fragile, doesn't it?" Janet said, one finger tracing its rim above Jack's hand. "But it survived a journey from China to France to Louisiana to Tok'ra Flats. It survived because all along the way, people cared enough to keep it safe because of what it meant to them. Daniel is strong, Jack. And if something has changed him�" Jack looked down as she paused and saw her brush her finger over a small nick on the rim. "Would it make a difference to you? Would he no longer be your friend? Would the people here no longer care for him?" "Thanks, Doc." Jack cleared his throat before smiling at her and Sam. "I needed to remember that." He raised his cup in a salute and nodded when the ladies did the same. He drained the tea in one gulp, giving it to Sam before heading back to the porch. The setting sun turned Daniel's hair to burnished copper as the younger man slowly rocked on the rocking chair. Jack stood quietly in the doorway, not wanting to startle him. Janet was right--it didn't matter if the Daniel as they used to know was gone, Jack would mourn the loss of the quick mind but what truly mattered was that Daniel was back. A flash of movement caught Jack's eye as Daniel shifted in his chair and he was out the door and across the porch in three large strides. "Daniel?" Jack pointed to Daniel's hands as his Deputy shaped them into the alphabet. "Daniel? You understand?" Jack was almost laughing as he pointed and then signed. // Understand? // A small smile graced Daniel's face as he repeated Jack's sign, and moved his hand in the sign for yes. // You understand. // Jack could feel the smile on his face spreading until he thought it would split. // I understand. // Daniel signed, his own smile growing larger to echo Jack's. Daniel made a J and then a star and pointed at Jack. "Yes, yes." Jack began to laugh in earnest. "Yes, Daniel. It's me. It's me, Jack." Unable to resist, he pulled his friend into a hug. "Welcome back, Daniel," he whispered. "Welcome home." ****** Daniel's nightmare woke both men and Jack's hands shot out, capturing and preventing the shivering body from toppling off the bed. Daniel resisted Jack's desire to entrap him in a bear hug, and used his feet to find purchase against the damp bed sheets to scoot his body from Jack's well-meaning intentions, until his back was flush with the wall under the window. Jack threw his hands up in surrender. "Sorry, Daniel," he whispered, keeping his voice low, and his body angled between Daniel and the partially opened bedroom door, saddened that the only spark of life Daniel showed was during his nightly nightmare episodes. Imperceptibly, Jack inched closer, and in response Daniel's hugged his knees to his chest. His face became buried in his drawn up knees and bandaged arms were flung over his head, essentially shrinking his lanky body into a tight ball. There had been no recognition in Daniel's eyes when he looked at Jack, save fear and resignation, two emotions that had been foreign to Daniel before his disappearance. No tears, there were never any tears, nor shouting or anger. Just silence. Tilting his head, Jack was able to get a better view of the night sky through the tiny window. He spoke slowly, enunciating each word. "It's a clear night, Daniel. The stars are out lighting up the sky. I wish I could remember all the stories you've told me about the constellations." Jack leaned over, bending his neck awkwardly, his finger tapping the pane of glass. "Yup, there it is, same place always, the North Star, just like you said, brighter than the rest, guiding many an errant traveler home." Jack paused when he peripherally became aware that Daniel's head was no longer hidden. His chin rested on his knees, blue eyes clouded with fatigue and recurring fever, tracking Jack's movements, sliding from Jack's lips to his fingers. Slowly, Jack made a fist with his right hand, placing it to his lips and then opened the bent fingers, laying the flat of the palm against his right cheek, trying out a sign that Mz. Fai had shown him today. A simple word, one that required no explanation. Expressionless, Daniel watched. Jack repeated the sequence to no avail, but by the third time, Jack had to withhold a shout of success as Daniel mirrored Jack's actions. Once, then twice. Jack swallowed the monster-sized lump in his throat, repeating the sign for home, that he himself had learned just this morning. Gently, Jack pulled his friend into the bear hug he had been denied earlier. "Home, Daniel, that right you're home." ****** "Sheriff Jack! Sheriff Jack!" The excited voices of the schoolchildren floated from the schoolyard as Jack and Daniel approached. Jack gave a quick glance at his silent companion, noticing Daniel's flinch and sudden tensing of muscles. "It's just the kids, Daniel. No one will hurt you." He stopped and touched Daniel's arm, trying to get the younger man's attention. // Friends, // he signed, interlocking his fingers together while also saying the word aloud. // Friends. // Jack made the gesture with more force and nodded his head as Daniel repeated the sign tentatively. "That's right, Daniel." But his hopes that seeing the children would relax Daniel enough to approach people he didn't seem to remember were dashed. Daniel shook his head and pulled his arms around his waist. He moved over to the bushes the ladies of the town had planted by the schoolyard fence. Jack looked away from Daniel, noticing Mz. Babs had gathered the children around her and was speaking quietly. There were nods of little heads and the children went back to their games, ignoring Daniel but for a few curious glances. "Hi there, Mz. Babs." Jack approached the schoolteacher as she sat on the steps leading up into the school. She looked up at him and then her eyes drifted to Daniel. "How is he doing, Sheriff?" She raised her eyes to Jack again, holding one hand over her eyes to shade them from the sun. Jack sighed. He wished he had better news to share with the townsfolk who evidently cared so much for their Deputy. He crouched down so Mz. Babs didn't get a crick in her neck. "His leg is finally healed and he's not coughing as much." It was the only positive thing he could think of. He took off his hat and scrubbed at his hair before putting it back on. "I saw men like him," Mz. Babs mentioned, turning her attention to the children as they ran around the schoolyard. "The war." Jack was silent. He'd seen his share of men in Daniel's state, too. "In Philadelphia. I worked in a hospital." She pulled her gaze away from the children and fixed her eyes on Jack's face. "A lot of them were lost in their minds forever." She looked down at her hands, folded tightly on her lap. "I'm not fixing to see that happen to him," Jack whispered, his throat tight. "We're gonna get our Deputy back, ma'am." She gave him a hesitant smile. "I certainly hope so, Sheriff." "Where did that cat come from?" Jack pointed to the large cat now lying by the tree. Kayla and Tessa Hammond, Mikey Ferretti, and Rose Siler were sitting on the ground, petting her along with what looked like three or four kittens. "I don't know exactly. One morning about six or seven weeks ago, we heard this meowing from underneath the schoolhouse and Tommy Ferretti climbed under and found her and her kittens there. She must have sought shelter during that storm we had." "Looks like Kayla and Tessa are going to have a kitten in the family soon." Jack nodded as he watched the children. "They want the mama cat, too. I don't think the judge is overjoyed at the prospect of two cats in the household." Mz. Babs sighed. "They're old enough to leave their mama. I'm just hoping there are homes for all of them." Jack glanced over at Daniel who was watching the children with the kittens with undisguised interest. He saw his Deputy take a step in their direction and then pause. Daniel tilted his head as if he was trying to figure out just what all the commotion was about. Kayla, Tessa and Rose bent their heads together and before Jack or Mz. Babs could stop them, they ran towards the Deputy. He backed up against the bushes, his hands coming up to ward them off. "Here, Mr. Daniel. This is Taffy." Rose held out the scrawniest kitten of the bunch, a little caramel colored scrap with white paws. When Daniel hesitated, Kayla chimed in. "Taffy's real friendly. She likes people a lot." Jack hurried towards Daniel, who was staring down at the girls and the kitten, and froze as he saw Daniel reach out to touch one finger to the kitten's tiny head. A smile flitted across the Deputy's face as he stroked the soft fur, and the children pushed Taffy into his hands before running back to the other cats. Mz. Babs called the children to the schoolhouse once again and Jack was grateful she hadn't rung the bell. "Hey, Daniel." Jack placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "What do you have there?" Daniel held out the kitten in one hand. The kitten hissed at Jack as it squirmed in Daniel's hand, obviously not liking its legs dangling in the air. Daniel frowned and then pulled the little scrap closer to his chest, ignoring the hissing and spitting. Jack felt a tug on his pants and looked down to see Aislin, Fai's little foundling, staring up at him. Daniel looked at the girl, his eyebrows raised in question. She pointed to the kitten and made a rocking motion as if she held a baby and then moved one hand up to stroke pretend whiskers. She repeated the motion two more times and then ran away to join the children who were entering the schoolhouse. "Kitten," Jack said, repeating the sign once more. "Kitten, Daniel." He waited, hoping Daniel would make the sign on his own. Daniel made the sign with one hand, unwilling to relinquish Taffy to Jack's keeping. // Mz. Devra, // Daniel rapidly finger spelled. "Yep, we'll take the kitten to Mz. Devra's office after we eat some lunch." Jack gently squeezed Daniel's shoulder, urging him in the direction of the Emerald City. At Daniel's emphatic headshake, he continued, "after lunch, Daniel. You need to eat something." But the brief communication was over, Daniel staring at the ground as he walked, his long fingers stroking Taffy's fur. Daniel grabbed Jack's arm when they walked into the cooler air of the Emerald City. "What is it, buddy?" Jack asked. Daniel's hand was shaking. He allowed Daniel to take his hand and place it on the kitten that was now being held against his Deputy's chest. "Ah," Jack nodded. "Must be content." The kitten's loud purr tickled Jack's fingertip and Daniel's eyes lit up with joy at the sensation. "How about we see if the Mayor can rustle up some grub for your little scrap when she gets our lunch?" Daniel shook his head, frowning at Jack. // Taffy, // he spelled. // Taffy. // "Taffy," Jack agreed. They sat down and the Mayor was soon out with two plates piled high with biscuits and gravy. "Hope you boys are hungry. There's plenty more where that came from," Mz. Debi said when she came back with a pitcher of cold lemonade. She smiled at both of them and then quirked an eyebrow as she caught sight of the kitten nestled against Daniel's chest. "And what do we have here?" Despite the Mayor's addressing him directly, Daniel looked to Jack, his eyes widening behind his spectacles. Jack could see Daniel's breathing quicken. "She's not going to take Taffy away from you," Jack said softly, hazarding a guess at Daniel's fear. It had been the right thing to say because Daniel relaxed at Jack's assurances. He lowered his arm, looking up at the Mayor as he revealed more of the kitten. "What a little bit of a thing." The Mayor wiped her hands on her apron, not reaching out to touch the kitten, although Jack could tell her fingers were itching to stroke the soft fur. // Taffy, // Daniel quickly spelled. "He says its name is Taffy," Jack translated. "Taffy it is, then. I'm going to go out to the kitchen. Teal'c brought me some fish early this morning. I'm sure I have a bit to feed to the poor little thing." At Daniel's tentative smile, she beamed back at him. "Dig in, boys. Your food will get cold." Jack began eating his meal while Daniel used one finger to rub Taffy's head. "Come on, Daniel. Eat up." He waved his fork at Daniel's plate. Daniel bent his head and picked up his fork, pushing the food around on his plate after taking a few bites. "Doc Fraiser isn't going to be happy if we go to her office later and she finds out you haven't been gaining any weight," Jack warned, and then sighed. Daniel's attention was again focused on the cat. He had half a mind to take the kitten and hold it until Daniel actually ate something, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. The Mayor came out with a small dish and offered it to Daniel. She lifted Jack's plate. "Would you like some more, Sheriff?" "No, thank you." Jack pushed back from the table. He gestured towards Daniel's plate. "I'll clean up Daniel's leavings." Daniel looked up at the mention of his name and pushed his plate towards Jack. // Eat, // Daniel signed before signing Mz. Devra's name once more. // Hurry. // He held out a tiny piece of fish to Taffy, looking surprised when the kitten ate it from his hand. When Jack didn't pick up his fork, Daniel frowned at him. // Hurry. // "If you're planning on going to Mz. Devra's, you have some time. She's over at the stables looking at Samantha Carter's horse. Looks like he might have an eye infection." "You know, Mz. Debi, I think maybe Daniel here might be able to eat some of your biscuits if you'd bring some honey with them." "I can rustle up some of those." Mz. Debi disappeared into the kitchen once more. Half an hour later, Jack and Daniel made their way down Main Street towards Mz. Devra's house and office. Taffy was snugly tucked inside of Daniel's shirt and his Deputy, despite his earlier eagerness, was dragging his steps the closer they got to the veterinarian's office. "What's wrong, Daniel?" Jack stopped before they mounted the steps of the porch. Daniel shook his head, motioning for Jack to go first. Mz. Devra opened the door at their knock, smiling at both of them. "Good afternoon, Sheriff, Deputy. What can I do for you?" Jack nudged Daniel through the door and they followed the veterinarian to the parlor she'd converted to an office. "Tell Mz. Devra," Jack urged. He knew there was a point where Daniel needed to be able to communicate his needs and wants to folks other than him, and Taffy was Daniel's new pet. "You tell her what you want and I'll translate for you if she needs help understanding." Mz. Devra, bless her heart, looked at Daniel directly. "May I help you with something, Deputy?" Daniel pulled Taffy out from his shirt, but he stood looking from Jack to Mz. Devra and then back again. He ducked his head, licking his lips. He finally held Taffy out towards the veterinarian. "You need to tell Mz. Devra what you need, Daniel," Jack repeated. The kitten meowed, not liking its position. Little legs pin wheeled in the air and Jack saw one tiny paw dig claws into Daniel's hand. Daniel pushed the kitten further toward the vet, and Mz. Devra took it, placing it on the table, keeping her eyes on Daniel. // Kitten, // Daniel signed, keeping his movements small and close to his body. // Kitten help. // "Daniel says the kitten needs help," Jack translated. He moved closer to his friend, placing a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. Daniel glanced at him. "Good job, Danny," Jack whispered. "Does the kitten have a name?" // Taffy. // Daniel made each letter slowly so Mz. Devra could copy it. "Taffy," Jack repeated, speaking and spelling the word. "Well, then, Deputy. Let's give your little Taffy an examination." Mz. Devra lifted a stethoscope off a nearby hook and began a thorough exam of the kitten. Watching Daniel watching Mz. Devra, Jack had to force himself to remember to breathe. For the first time in a long while, it appeared that Daniel was taking an interest in the outside world again. It was the longest Jack remembered Daniel focusing on something since they'd found him sick in the camp. // Kitten sick, // Daniel signed, bending down and signing again when Mz. Devra didn't notice his movements. He raised his eyebrows in question along with his gestures. "Is Taffy sick?" Jack provided the voice. "Oh no. Taffy is quite healthy, Deputy Daniel." Mz. Devra held the kitten up and lifted its tail. "And Taffy is a she," she pronounced after the final part of her exam. "She might be small but I have the feeling this little one has plenty of gumption in her." She smiled at Daniel as she handed Taffy back to him. "Here she is, Deputy. Do you have any questions about taking care of a kitten?" Daniel shook his head, then brought one hand to his lips, touching them and then extending his palm outward. // Thank you. // It was a sign that evidently needed no translation, Jack supposed. "You're welcome," Mz. Devra said. "Come on, Daniel. Let's get to the jailhouse. I have some letters I need to write." Jack placed his hand on Daniel's shoulder, relieved that this time the other man stayed relaxed under his touch. He wasn't going to tell Daniel just who and what those letters were about. But since Daniel's return, Jack had been sending out at least ten letters a week to anyone who might have information on the DeSala gang, his need to punish them for what they'd done to Daniel overwhelming at times. Daniel trailed after him as they walked down Main Street once again. Mz. Athene waved to them from Snugbury's. Jack returned the wave although Daniel seemed supremely uninterested in the thought of even going near the ice cream parlor. He wondered if there was ever going to be a time when Daniel ventured somewhere in the town by himself, if he was ever going to see the excitement that used to light his friend's eyes as he read a book or spoke with the townsfolk. Jack sighed as he walked up the two steps to the jailhouse. Daniel preceded him inside and settled on the floor with Taffy, reaching into his pocket for a piece of string. Jack sat down at his desk, looking down on Daniel's bowed head before he began to write a letter to an old companion from the Army who was now living in the northern part of California. ****** Even though the windows were open, the bedroom air was still and oppressive, the blanket pushed down to the foot of the bed and the sheets seemed coarse and uncomfortable against exposed arms and legs. The curtains hung limply with nary a breeze to stir them as the temperature of the past few days had steadily climbed, the warmest June at the Flats Jack could remember. Daniel had drifted off to sleep before Jack, giving the Sheriff a rare opportunity to relax and read the local paper, compliments of the recovering Mz. Lewie. Sitting on the chair, Jack stretched out his long legs, propping his bare feet up on the mattress, turning each page slowly and quietly so not to awaken the slumbering man. Before long Jack was yawning, the heat of the room and the comforting sound of Daniel's steady breathing lulling him to sleep in the bedside chair. Jack awoke, the sensation of being watched strong enough to pull him from his dreams. He stretched and massaged stiff neck muscles, smiling slightly as blue eyes followed his movements. // Hi, // Jack signed, his throat too dry to even speak. Daniel lifted his hand, waving hi before he shifted on the bed, searching for a cooler position. // Hot, // he signed, wiping the sweat off his forehead with his bare arm, pulling his union suit away from his body in an attempt to aid with the flow of air. Jack got up and poured a cup of lukewarm water for both himself and Daniel. Jack noted the lines of pain as the younger man sat up, retrieved the cup and greedily swallowed the liquid. Jack sat on the bed, tapping Daniel's knee to gain his attention. His voice refreshed, Jack asked "How are you?" Daniel handed his empty cup back to Jack, before dragging his right and left pointer fingers over his forehead. // Headache, // he admitted, before lying down and placing his forearm across his eyes. Jack replaced the cups on the dresser, turned the lantern low and lay down on the bed, his back against the headboard. Holding his breath, Jack sat immobile as Daniel slithered next to Jack and pressed his back against the length of the Sheriff's leg, seeking comfort. Neither man slept. Daniel had migrated and now his head lay heavily in Jack's lap, the weight of which succeeded in adding to Jack's discomfort. Fingering the loose, sweaty hair that had broken free of the plait, Jack eyed the pouch of herbal tea Mz. Fai had given him today when Jack had mentioned Daniel's inability to sleep through the night, during his daily signing lessons. The chamomile, she had promised, was a natural sedative. But Daniel had sought comfort, had sought physical closeness from another human, and Jack was reluctant to disturb him for a cup of tea, even if it meant a night's rest. Daniel's eyes were open, staring through the parted curtains into the night, stiffening then relaxing as Jack's fingers began a deep circular massage on Daniel's sweaty temple. // Feels good. Thank you, // he managed to sign before his drooping eyelids closed. ****** The sound of thunder in the distance caused Jack to open his eyes and for a moment he hovered between waking and returning to sleep. The creaking of the bedroom door closing and the realization that Daniel was no longer in the room made the decision. He leaped from the bed, tripped over his boots, barely catching himself on the chair before he found his pants and hastily threw them on, not even taking the time to buckle the belt. Jack flung open the door, stepped into the dim hallway and spied Daniel's departing figure halfway down the steps. Daniel had been so intent on sneaking out from under Jack's nose, he didn't even hear the Sheriff's approach until it was too late. Jack stopped and stood a step lower than Daniel, facing him, glaring up into the face of the younger man. // Go out! // Daniel signed angrily, annoyed with his friend for blocking the stairway. // Understand. // "I understand perfectly!" Jack's words spurted out louder than he expected and he cast a furtive look over his shoulder, fearful of rousing either the Mayor or Luigi. Jack pointed upward as another clap of thunder was heard. // Jack go sleep, // Daniel signed, his shoulders slumping in resignation as Jack stood firmly planted in his way. // Please, // he appealed to Jack with a gentle touch to the Sheriff's taut forearm. "Daniel, you need to sleep," Jack whispered as he tapped Daniel's chest. // I leave, // Daniel signed. // Hot, // he added, yet again dramatically wiping his brow with the back of his hand. "I'm hot, too," Jack echoed, "but I promise, cooler air is coming." He tugged on Daniel's arm. "Come on, I'll make you some tea, it'll relax you." // No tea. // Daniel shrugged off Jack's hand. // Hot. // He glanced all around, seeming to search how to express his thoughts. // No breathe. // "What's that supposed to mean? No breathe?" Jack could sense Daniel's frustration by the tightness of his body stance and the stubborn set of the Deputy's jawline. // Hot hot hot. Go out. Need out. Daniel need out! // For a man who didn't speak, Jack knew Daniel was shouting at him, no problem communicating this time. "It's late, you need to sleep." Jack was thankful for the thunder accompanying his statement. "A storm's a comin'." // Daniel stay inside, // Jack signed, hoping that the finger signs would penetrate Daniel's wall of stubbornness. Daniel made an attempt to shoulder past Jack, causing the Sheriff for a moment to lose his balance and grip the railing, but in Daniel's weakened state, he was no match for Jack. "Stay!" Jack hissed, planting his hand firmly on Daniel's chest. Daniel nodded his right fist in Jack's face, emphatically waving the sign for no. // No, no, no, no. Daniel out! // Jack gripped Daniel's hand as it made another pass by his face. "Stop it and go back to bed before you wake up the Mayor. Now!" Daniel's anger turned to fury and he pulled Jack to him and bit down hard on the offensive hand, suppressing his words. "Dammit Daniel!" Jack yelled, reflex kicking in when he pushed the younger man, forcibly breaking the physical contact. Daniel landed hard on the step and his eyes widened in shock as they focused somewhere over Jack's right shoulder. "What the hell?" Jack wondered, following Daniel's line of vision, revealing a tightly grasped fist raised in anger over Daniel's actions. Mortified, Jack dropped the abhorrent arm, staring at the appendage as if it belonged to another. "Oh, God. I'm sorry," Jack stammered. Daniel crumbled, tucking his head tightly to his body. He flung his arms up and over his head in a protective posture, making himself the smallest target possible. Daniel's exposed fingers, resting in his hair, began to sign, rapidly and in a nauseatingly, perseverative manner. // No hit, no hit. // Mindless of aching knees, Jack dropped, his heart aching as Daniel cringed at his touch, Daniel's signing changing to a broken rambling sentence, // Daniel sleep, sorry, sorry, sorry. Daniel stay. // "I'm sorry. It's me who should be sorry. Please, forgive me," Jack begged, gently tugging at Daniel's arms, saddened as Daniel continued to finger sign his apology, averting his face from Jack's. Jack enveloped Daniel in an awkward hug as the two tall men perched precariously on the stairs. Jack fought to tuck Daniel's condemning hands between their bodies. "Stop, okay?" Jack pleaded as he felt Daniel's still signing fingers against his chest. Jack's hand slithered up to cup the back of Daniel's head, guiding it to his shoulders, petting and smoothing the sweat soaked strands of hair until Daniel's hands slowed and his shaking form stilled in Jack's embrace. ****** The sun was rising, painting the sky with a multitude of colors. There was the promise of a beautiful early summer day, last night's rain having washed away the heat and humidity. Letting guilt be his guide, definitely against Jack's better judgment and he was sure that of Doc Fraiser, he had acquiesced and allowed Daniel to lead him outside last night to stand under the overhang of the Emerald City Saloon. At first Daniel had been content just to stand on the porch, breathing deeply of air that wasn't oppressive or heavy or still. Even now, hours later, Jack could feel the tug of a smile on his face as he remembered Daniel leaning over the railing, shoving his arms and head into the downpour and then shaking the moisture all over Jack when he pulled Daniel back under the protective covering. Sputtering at the Daniel-produced deluge, he had waved his finger in mock annoyance and pushed Daniel into one of the soft-cushioned seats scattered around the porch, taking a twin chair to the right of the younger man. The sound of the rain hitting the tin roof echoed loudly, but Daniel still had managed to nod off amid the noise, a slight smile on his face. Jack must have drifted off soon after because now when he opened his eyes, night had been replaced by the light of the dawn and a bemused Mayor stood against a support pole, watching the two men over the rim of her coffee mug. "Morning, Mz. Debi." Jack bobbed his head in greeting, stretching stiff arms over his head. He nodded in the direction of her coffee. "I sure could use a cup." The Mayor's smile lit up her whole face as she placed her forefinger against pursed lips. "Ssshhhh," she whispered. "The coffee's fresh, so's the eggs and biscuits. Help yourself to some." Jack pushed himself upright, spread his arms outward and upward, stretching to his full 6'2", cringing as bones popped back into place. He pointed a thumb in the direction of his sleeping friend. "You'll watch him�?" "Go get breakfast while it's still hot," she commanded. "And you better leave some for Daniel." Mayor Debi waved her mug towards the awkwardly seated man snoring softly on the chair. "I promise I won't let him wander off." When Jack returned with a full plate and an equally full cup of hot coffee, he was surprised that the Mayor had pushed two chairs and a table a little ways from where Daniel was sleeping. The Mayor excused herself while Jack was getting situated and came back with the pot of hot coffee, placing it on the table near Jack's plate. She didn't miss Jack's worried glances at his sleeping friend, but the Mayor waited until she was seated before addressing his concern. "He ain't gonna disappear, Sheriff." Jack hid his embarrassment behind a forkful of eggs. The Mayor grabbed Jack's hand as it bent to the plate to retrieve another mouthful of breakfast, turning it over in her callused hands. "Angry dog?" "Angry Deputy." He jerked his hand from the Mayor, dropping the fork, rubbing the offending sore area of his right hand with his left thumb. "Sorry, that was stupid." He snorted at his ignorance, shooting a look of sadness in Daniel's direction. "It was my fault," Jack said, pushing away his plate of food, all thought of hunger vanishing as he recalled last night. "Daniel tried to tell me something�" Jack signed a few random letters. "You know, like he does, and I wouldn't listen and he got angry." "I've seen Daniel get angry before, Jack, and he yelled and shouted, yes, but he's never bitten." The Mayor refilled both coffee cups, lifting hers and taking a sip, waiting patiently for the Sheriff to continue his tale. "I wouldn't let him speak." "Speak?" "Sign�I wouldn't let him sign, I clamped my hands over his to shut him up. So he would listen to me." Jack was stunned at the Mayor's response of laughter. "Sheriff, in all the years you have been at the Flats, I've never seen you or anyone else with the ability to shut that boy up when he had something to say. What made you think because he was using a different method of talking, that it would be any different?" She grabbed his hand, examining the injury again. "Bet you won't do that again, hmmm?" The darkened stairway, the raised fist and subsequently trying to soothe a cowering Daniel flooded Jack's mind. "Never again, ma'am." ****** The Sheriff and the Mayor sat silently on the porch, enjoying the early morning solitude of the Flats. Mayor Debi had insisted on treating the bite, washing and cleaning the area, fussing over the Sheriff, and refusing to stifle the occasional chuckle. Jack rose from his comfortable chair and began to gather up the dishes. "Put them down, Sheriff." She motioned for her friend to retake his seat. "It ain't very often gist you 'n me get to chat. You can take care of them later." Reluctantly, Jack sat back down, casting a glance over his shoulder towards a silently sleeping Daniel. "You look surprised to see him sleeping." Jack shrugged. "He hasn't been sleeping well. Daniel hasn't slept through the night since he's come back." The Mayor adjusted her braid, contemplating the lanky body bent uncomfortably on one of her porch chairs. "Doesn't look to me like he's having much trouble." "He's gotta be uncomfortable." "If Daniel was uncomfortable, he would wake up," the Mayor challenged. "Maybe I should�" "Should what, Sheriff? Lock him away to keep him safe. Don't let him outta your sight, smother him? Hey, I more than understand those feelings� eight months of worry and 'what ifs' will do that to a person. But if ya don't allow him to be Daniel, you will succeed in doing what the DeSala Gang couldn't do. You'll break his spirit." She lowered her voice to a whisper, smiling at the sleeping man. "He may never use his voice again, but that's not what makes him Daniel, never was. He is Daniel because of the goodness and kindness of his soul. Daniel didn't lose that, Sheriff." The Mayor picked up Jack's hand that bore evidence of the bite. "*This*," she said, moving the hand up and down. "This does my heart good� the first spark of life I've seen in him since he's returned to us." Mayor Debi let go of Jack's hand with a slight pat. "Better than being scared of his own shadow or you allowing him to hide in your shadow." Debi held up her hands to ward off the Sheriff's adamant's protests. "Honey, hell, I understand, Daniel has had bad things happen to him� certainly more than his share. But his friends have always been there to help him. You need to help him, Jack, not baby him." Two heads turned to assess Daniel's sleeping form. "He's a grown man. Lock him away from sunlight and his spirit will wither away and die." The Mayor stood, sweeping the empty dishes up before Jack could protest. "Bring the empty pot in for me, will ya?" Arms full, she stopped by the Sheriff's chair, surprising him with a whisper of a kiss to his cheek. "He's a smart boy, listen to him, Sheriff. Daniel's on his way back... don't block his path because of your guilt. Just listen." Jack stood, picking up the empty pot of coffee, enjoying the pleasant breeze that worked its way down Main Street, ruffling the front of the Sheriff's hair. Daniel stirred but didn't wake, and Jack was hard pressed to smother a burst of laughter as Daniel began to sign in his sleep. Tentatively, Jack stepped closer in an attempt to decipher the finger spelling. Nonsensical words, fragmented visions of Daniel's dreams. Jack studied the sleeping man a few minutes longer before he was satisfied that the dream would not turn nightmarish before he followed the Mayor into the kitchen. ****** The Flats was slowly awakening, and as much as Jack didn't want to wake Daniel, he knew the younger man would be embarrassed if others found him sleeping in full view. Using the arm of the chair to leverage his descent, Jack bent until he was on even keel with Daniel. He called Daniel's name once, twice, before touching him. "Daniel, come on, it's time to get up." A feather-like skim across Daniel's hands rewarded Jack with a sliver of blue. Daniel grimaced as sleep tightened muscles protested his every movement. Jack stepped back, allowing Daniel to fully wake up. Eyes not yet fully opened, Daniel signed a good morning greeting to Jack, failing to suppress an accompanying yawn. "Morning to you, too," Jack chuckled as Daniel's stomach loudly protested its emptiness. Daniel's eyes flew open and he clamped his hands over his abdomen, blushing. Jack pointed to Daniel's hands, still wrapped around his stomach. "Is that the sign for hunger?" Daniel smiled and nodded. "Good, the Mayor's got eggs and biscuits and she just started some bacon� coffee� hot coffee, all with your name on it." Jack pointed in the direction of the door. "She's waitin' for ya. Go eat� I'll be back in a awhile, I got a couple of errands to take care of first." Daniel accepted Jack's hand to pull him to a standing position. // See later? // he signed, the worry on his face palpable. Jack dropped a hand onto Daniel's shoulder. "Definitely� I'll be back before you know it." ****** Jack's chores took longer than he expected and when he entered the Emerald City Saloon, he was surprised to find only the Mayor sitting in the dining room. Accounting ledgers and a metal cash box were spread out on the table. Her shoulders slumped over the open books, with spectacles perched on the edge of her nose, she was so engrossed in figures and ledgers, the woman seemed unaware of Jack's approach until he neared the table. She threw down the chewed-up nub of a pencil in frustration, looking over the rim of her glasses. "Dadburn numbers. Hate 'em." "Me too," he admitted, dropping into the nearest chair and looking around expectantly. "He's upstairs getting cleaned up and before you even ask, he had eggs, bacon and biscuits for breakfast. Hey, I even managed to get him to drink two glasses of milk." "You done good work, ma'am." "You look like the cat that swallowed the canary, Sheriff. What evil plan do you have working in that mind of yours?" Jack laughed. "You know me too well," he agreed, winking at the Mayor. "Gonna give Daniel a surprise." With a knowing glint in her eye, she smiled at the Sheriff, her blue eyes lighting up with a conspiratorial twinkle. "There's some fried chicken left over from last night's dinner, if you want to pack a picnic lunch as part of your surprise, cornbread also and half a blueberry pie. Keep your hands offa the pecan pie though, please," she begged. Sighing, the Mayor picked up the pencil to begin again, absentmindedly waving towards the kitchen. "Use the wicker basket on the top shelf and don't forget to return it when you're done." ****** Jack had just finishing wrapping up the pie when Daniel entered the kitchen. // Gone long. // Jack shut the top of the wicker basket. "I know. Sorry. Heard the Mayor fed you well." // Full, // Daniel signed, patting his stomach for emphasis. Jack shoved the basket at Daniel. Hands full of wicker, unable to sign, Daniel shot Jack a questioning look. He tugged at the Deputy's forearm. "Come on," he said, inwardly pleased that Daniel didn't resist and followed him willingly. ****** Daniel dropped the wicker basket on the wooden porch. // Two? Me and you? // Daniel signed, hopping from foot to foot in excitement. // Alone. Janet okay? // Jack picked up the discarded wicker basket, clapping Daniel on the back. "Doc Fraiser wanted to know what took me so long to ask." Daniel bounded down the porch steps, throwing his arms around Feather's neck, burying his nose in the horse's mane. The horse snickered a greeting and Daniel signed in response against her neck. Accepting this, Feather nuzzled Daniel's hand and was rewarded with a gentle scratch to her nose. Jack secured the basket and then slung his leg up and over Hawk, smiling proudly as Daniel mirrored his actions, Daniel and Feather settling in like long lost friends. Jack tried to fight back the vision of a barely conscious, recently recovered Daniel, sharing Feather's broad back as the two men and later, their entourage, made slow progress back to the Flats. Shaking his head, he refused to let those days cloud how far Daniel had managed to travel since then. ****** The day was turning warmer and Jack could feel the sweat rolling down his back, his shirt sticking uncomfortably to his body. Loose pieces of hair from Daniel's plait were hugging his face as he stood in the clearing, drinking in the heat of the day. The horses were contentedly grazing nearby. Jack picked up the towels he had packed and slung his arm around the younger man's shoulders, pulling him in close. "Come on." Daniel hesitated. // Where go? // Daniel asked, pointing to the towels. "You'll see, stop asking questions and just come on, will ya." Jack's smile and excitement broke through Daniel's trepidation and he walked alongside the Sheriff through the outcropping of trees and bushes. Daniel couldn't shuck his clothes fast enough when Jack led him to the water's edge. Laughing, Jack grabbed his arm. "Calm down, Danny." Daniel was annoyed at Jack slowing him down. // Miss this. Swim. Now. No wait. Jack hurry. // He pulled himself from Jack's grasp, pointing to the sun's position in the sky. // Late soon. Too cold. // "It's early," Jack confirmed. "You have plenty of time. Daniel was a number of pieces of clothing ahead of Jack and stretched his full body length the minute his last item of apparel hit the ground. Jack paused, his heart in his mouth, so infused with such terrible, horrific anger, he was glad Daniel's attention was on the river. The bruises were long faded, but Jack mentally saw the placement of each and every discoloration the DeSala gang had left on Daniel. The still too-thin- for-his-liking body held permanent scars from whippings and burns, their redness diminished, but the lightened skin tone testament to what had taken place. Jack paused, his eyes tracking Daniel's perfect dive into the river. Physical abuse aside, it was the mental scarring that fuelled Jack's desire to hunt down the DeSala gang. Sheriff O'Neill wanted justice to be served and Jack O'Neill wanted to torture each and every gang member as they had seen fit to torture his friend. The older man wasn't too sure which of his personalities was going to win the battle for his soul should he ever cross paths with these people. Jack jumped as a spray of cold water slammed onto his naked butt. "What the hell?" He turned to find Daniel at the river's edge, nonchalantly waiting with arms skimming the river's surface. The smile on Daniel's face was a gentle reminder that this was a day to look forward, and not backwards. A day to count blessings for friends returned. This was wonderful, Jack admitted, mentally patting himself on the back; Daniel was relaxed and uninhibitedly enjoying the water's freedom. Jack allowed Daniel his space and he treaded water, enjoying Daniel's sheer delight. Remembering this place as one where the two men had visited many times before to both fish and swim, the area echoing with the laughter of a shared joke. 'No laughter' popped into Jack's mind. Smiles, large and small, but no sound of laughter had come from Daniel since Jack had found him. Sounds that accompany emotions from joy to sadness were buried deep along with Daniel's voice. Jack's eyes began to burn with the sudden need to "hear" Daniel and he ducked his head under the water, mixing his tears with the water. With sad amusement, Jack watched Daniel begin to submerge his body, emerging to roughly scrub his hands over his arms and chest, sans soap, finishing up the routine by sniffing the length of his arms and to the tips of his fingers, underarms, trying to wash away months of entrapment. Not satisfied, Daniel would repeat the routine, finally stopping, his sunburn deepening to a deep blush of embarrassment when he realized Jack was studying him. Untying the cord, Daniel released his hair from the plait, and began to roughly scrub his scalp, making a futile attempt to run his fingers the length of his knotty, soaked hair. Frustrated, Daniel gave up and swam to the water's edge, pulling his body back onto solid ground. Wrinkled and hungry, Jack was glad that Daniel had taken the initiative to get out of the river and he began to swim towards Daniel's point of exit, already salivating at the thought of the Mayor's chicken and pie. "Daniel!" Jack screamed as he entering the clearing, panicking and floundering for a foothold in the damp earth. Daniel turned, Jack's hunting knife in his right hand, the sharp point zeroed in on his exposed neck. Jack cautiously approached the younger man, arms outstretched, palms open in subjugation. Daniel looked at Jack, confusion spreading across his features, forcing Jack's fear up a notch. "Wa-ya, give me the knife." // Why? // Daniel awkwardly signed with his left hand as he backed away from the man bearing down on him. Jack was sweating, the refreshing swim just a memory in the wake of what stood before him. Slowly, Jack squatted and patted the ground and he reasoned, "If you don't want to give me the knife, why don't you put it down on the ground." Daniel looked from the spot in the dirt where Jack indicated to his friend's face and reiterated 'why', the knife inching closer in Daniel's steady hand. // No hurt. // The knife arched, sunlight bouncing off its polished metal and from his bent position Jack knew he wouldn't make it to Daniel in time, his scream of "No!" echoing amongst the trees as he ran to tackle Daniel. They hit the ground hard, the knife flying from Daniel's hands, and the impact of the blade clattering against a pile of rocks was music to Jack's ears. Jack was straddling Daniel, sitting on the squirming man, holding down his flailing arms. "Stay still," Jack begged, trying to assess the self-inflicted damage. He rolled off Daniel, sickened by his own imagination and he clamped a shaking hand over his mouth, grimacing. Daniel crab-walked to the nearest tree and leaned up against it, breathing heavily, visibly upset. He waved a chunk of his severed hair at Jack. // No hurt. Told Jack no hurt. // "I thought you were� I saw the knife," Jack stammered. // Scared. // "Yes, I was," Jack admitted, finding it hard to meet Daniel's eyes. // Jack scared Daniel. // Jack snorted. "Yeah, sorry about that." // Should ask before cut knife. // Daniel held out the length of wet, muddy hair he had succeeded in cutting off before Jack interrupted him. "No," Jack sighed, "I should trust you." Daniel scrambled to the fallen knife, handing it over to Jack. // Finish? // Jack accepted the knife. "You've had enough of the�?" He gently tugged on the length of Daniel's hair still attached, surprised when Daniel jerked from his touch. // Cut. Now! // Daniel's face was fierce with anger. Teeth bared, his signing was concise and hard. // That Daniel gone. Old Daniel back. Cut hair. // Daniel paused and for good measure warned Jack, // Don't pull. // Properly chastised, Jack apologized in sign language. Daniel leaned forward, gently touching Jack's hands. // Voice okay. Daniel understand. // "I know you do, Daniel. I just need to remember to *listen* to you." Silently chuckling, // Want written. // "Pfffft�I don't think so," Jack added, the joy of a simple day between friends breaking through once again. ****** Daniel was being stubborn. "That's enough. You'll be sorry if I go shorter." For the third time, Daniel made the sign for more, tapping all ten fingers together. // Listen Daniel. // Jack had no choice but to laugh as his word was thrown back in his face. "Ooookay. But don't come complaining to me when this mop hangs in your face." Jack's nagging was interrupted when Daniel banged the ground to distract him. // More! // ****** Jack's stomach was protesting loudly. "Come on, Daniel. Enough already." The two men were back in the river. In the beginning Jack had thought this to be a wonderful idea. But Jack had been under the mistaken impression that he and Daniel were of like mind and were just *dipping* in the river to rid their bodies of muck, dirt and tiny pieces of Daniel's hair. An hour later and Daniel was still cavorting like an otter, oblivious to Jack's plight of dying from hunger. Jack was forcing himself not to physically drag his friend back to the campsite and had resorted to little verbal reminders every 10 minutes or so. Suddenly Daniel stopped and glanced upwards, shielding his eyes with his hand, tracking the sun. He dropped his hand and offered an apologetic shrug. // Late. // "Yup." Jack indicated the riverbank with a jerk of his head. "Hungry?" // Dessert? // "Food first," Jack ordered. ****** Daniel sat leaning against a nearby tree, his long legs stretched in front of him, barefoot, and sporting a healthy touch of color. Jack was opposite Daniel, squatting in front of the campfire, poking the burning materials, passing the time until the coffee was ready. // Thank you. // Daniel rubbed his hand through his short hair and smiled wickedly at Jack. "Laugh it up, Dannyboy." Jack pointed an accusatory finger in the direction of Daniel's head. "When we get back, I'm gonna get my behind kicked by Sam, Mz. Jo, Mz. Babs and all the other ladies of the Flats, because�" The smiled dropped off Daniel's face and he pulled his body into an upright fetal position, hiding his face in the protection of his knees. Jack was next to Daniel in an instant, his hand wrapped around his friend's biceps. "I'm sorry. It's fine. I was only joshing." Jack's hand smoothed down short errant locks. Jack slithered an arm around Daniel's shoulder, heartened when the younger man allowed the contact. With his head still hidden, Daniel began to finger sign, faltering, speeding up, then tripping over letters, going back, reiterating, telling a story while Jack followed along silently, mouthing the words of abuse and torture. Jack brought his hand up and forced Daniel's head onto his shoulder. "I understand now." Daniel's head shot up. // Understand words. Understand story. Not understand feelings in here. // He tapped his chest repeatedly with an open palm. // Daniel treated like animal. Dog on leash. // Daniel mimicked being dragged by hair that no longer existed. // Laugh as Daniel ate scraps of food thrown in dirt. Clean boots, lick boots like dog. Daniel not a dog! // "No, you're not," Jack answered softy. His hands travelled to the nape of Daniel's neck, squeezing the muscle. "I'm sorry that happened." Daniel studied Jack, weighing the man's response. // Sorry also. // Daniel dropped his eyes as he intently studied his hands, watching what they were spelling. // Wanted Daniel gone. Knife and Jack made *that* Daniel leave. // "Hey, no." Slithering sideways, Jack grabbed Daniel's chin and forced eye contact. "You saved yourself, Danny." The set of Daniel's jaw was enough to convince Jack that Daniel didn't believe a word he said. "Want dessert? I think the coffee's just about done." Daniel's face relaxed and he straightened his shoulders, happy that Jack was letting the subject drop. ****** Jack threw his hands in the air in defeat. "I'm sorry, Daniel, I don't understand." Daniel's frustration was turning to anger. He held in his left hand a chunk of his hair that Jack had cut and discarded on the ground and was signing with his other hand, annoyed that Jack kept shaking his head. "I'm not telling you no. I'm telling you I don't understand what you want, buddy." Jack paused, thinking. "How about you show me, kinda like that game of charades we played with the Mayor." Daniel nodded vigorously at Jack's suggestion and in one fluid motion withdrew Jack's knife from its protective sheath. "Whoa, Daniel. That's not exactly what I had in mind," Jack proclaimed, involuntarily reaching for the weapon. Daniel dropped the chunk of hair, freeing up a hand to sign. // No. Jack trust Daniel. // "Jeez, of course I trust you." // No question. Fact. Jack trust Daniel. Daniel trust Jack. // Daniel stepped closer to Jack, the knife hanging lax in his right hand. Slowly, he took Jack's left hand, turning it palm side up and then showed the knife to Jack, nodding. Jack answered the nod, giving Daniel silent permission to do what he needed. Jack held his breath as the knife came close to his neck, forcibly willing his hands not to grab his friend's wrist. Daniel was close enough that Jack could feel his steady, warm breathing against his neck. A sharp tug, an involuntary 'ow' from Jack, and a ghost of a flutter in the palm of his outstretched hand. "You wanted to cut my hair?" Jack asked incredulously, stomping down the nervous laughter threatening to bubble over. Daniel bent and picked up the discarded chunk of his hair, placing it alongside Jack's tufts in the open palm. Daniel physically fisted Jack's hands around the hair, gliding his fingers along Jack's knuckles. // Follow me, // he instructed. Feather's head rose instantly as he sensed Daniel's approach. From flank to shoulder, Daniel ran his fingers the length of the horse's body, signing as he moved to his mane. He nuzzled with him, allowing the horse to snicker against his neck, distracting him as he cut a few strands from his mane. He gave the knife to Jack in exchange for the hair he held in his closed hand. Jack followed Daniel back to the campfire and watched as the younger man squatted down and separated the strands into three separate piles on the ground in front of him. Jack craned his neck, looking over Daniel's shoulder. With expert, deft fingers, Daniel divided strands from each pile and wove them together in a circle. Three braided circles. Job completed, Daniel pulled each circle, obviously testing the strength of his work. With a nod of satisfaction, he scooped up all three. One was tucked in the medicine pouch hanging around Daniel's neck. Jack followed Daniel and watched with curiosity as he tucked the second into a minute pouch suspended from the blanket on Feather's back. "Daniel?" Daniel took Jack's hand in his, tracing the barely visible scar from their blood brother ceremony before he dropped the circle in Jack's palm and closed the callused fingers around it. Daniel tapped Jack's chest. The older man lifted the fist with the gift. "For me," he stated. Daniel nodded and then made an obscure sign that left Jack frowning in confusion. "I'm sorry, I don't understand." By the fifth repetition of the same sign, Jack placed the circle in the pocket closest to his heart and grabbed Daniel's hands. "Finger sign� spell it for me." Daniel signed in relief, tears of frustration lingering in the corner of his eyes. Slowly his fingers formed the individual letters of the word he had been trying to convey to Jack. Out loud, Jack spoke the letters as Daniel's fingers slowly danced through the air. "F-A-M-I-L-Y� fam� family." Jack didn't permit Daniel to spell any more. Tears stinging his own eyes, he pulled the younger man into his arms. Short hair tickling his nose caused a snort of laughter to mix with his tears. And Jack inhaled, acknowledging the smell of outdoors, family and freedom had replaced the cloying smell of despair that Daniel had been running from. "Yes, Daniel." Jack agreed. "We're family." ****** "Cold?" Jack asked, getting up to refill his tin coffee mug from the pot warming over the fire. The temperature had dropped with the setting sun, but the fire must have been warm enough because Daniel signed 'No' at Jack's inquiry. Jack shook the coffee pot, testing the level. "Want more?" Daniel stuck his hand out for Jack to replenish his empty cup, which Jack filled even before he topped off his own. Keeping his hand with the mug steady, Jack slowly lowered himself to the hard ground next to Daniel. Jack bent his neck, tilting his gaze upward, giving Daniel a smile as the younger man mirrored his actions. "Sure is a clear night." Jack's practiced eyes picked out the familiar constellations in the night sky. "Be right back, almost forgot something." Jack could feel curiosity emanating from Daniel as the Sheriff rummaged through his saddlebag until he located what he needed. Jack waved the book in the air triumphantly. Striding over to the bedrolls, he stretched them out side by side and laid down, motioning Daniel to join him. Daniel finished his coffee and crawled over to Jack, plopping down on his back. Jack laughed when Daniel buried an impromptu yawn into his shoulder. "Too much fresh air?" Jack asked, tapping Daniel's chest with the book. // Enjoy, // Daniel signed, breathing deeply. // What that? // he asked, pointing at the book. Jack was thankful the fire wasn't bright enough to illuminate the disappointment creeping into his face over Daniel's lack of recognition of such a familiar item. He swallowed around the lump in his throat as he forced lightheartedness into his voice. "What is this, you ask? This�" Jack rocked the book in Daniel's field of vision. "*This* is that." Jack said, using the book to point upwards. "Stars, constellations." The book seemed to open by itself to pages dog-eared with use. "Big Dipper." Jack tapped the book and then pointed Daniel's chin upward. "See there�" Jack's fingers traced through the sky, connecting the stars. "The Big Dipper is a group of seven bright stars, three which form a handle and four which form a bowl," Jack read. The Big Dipper is not actually a constellation but is part of the constellation Ursa Major, or Great Bear." // Bear? // "Look see� follow my fingers." Daniel nodded as Jack pointed to the star forming the Great Bear. "Okay now see if you can find the next constellation. I'll read and you listen." Jack turned the page, cleared his throat and began. "The Little Dipper is a mirrored and smaller version of the Big Dipper. It can be found by looking directly up from the two outermost stars� there and there, Daniel, which form the bowl on the Big Dipper. These two stars point us to Polaris, the Pole Star which is at the end of the Little Dipper's handle." Daniel gaze traversed the stars as Jack read until his eyes began to blur. The words danced across the page and he jerked at a sharp poke to his right shoulder. "Hey!" // You sleeping, // Daniel reprimanded. "Sorry, where was I?" Jack blinked in quick succession, hoping to bring the words on the page back into sharper focus. Daniel slammed the book closed around Jack's fingers, shaking his head as he slid it off Jack's hands. He buried his own yawn in the binding before dropping it haphazardly to the side of his bedroll. // Tired. Sleep, // Daniel ordered, hunkering down into his bedroll, his eyes already closing. // Jack sleep, // he signed with the hand sticking out of the blanket. Jack rubbed his hand across the top of Daniel's head, the short strands bristling at his touch. Jack couldn't help but smile at the strange, new texture under his fingers. "In a minute, just gonna take care of the fire and clean up. And you�" He shook Daniel's shoulder. "At least take off your glasses." Jack gently extricated his friend's spectacles, laughing, because even with his eyes closed, Daniel reached for the thin wire frames. "It's okay," Jack said, batting down Daniel's inquiring hand. "I'm putting them right here." Daniel opened his eyes and nodded in acceptance at Jack's care and placement of his glasses. Bleary eyes tracked Jack as he slowly folded the wire frames and laid them to the left of Daniel's bedroll. // Careful? // Jack snorted in indignation. "The Doc's gonna be mad enough about your hair, 'course I'm gonna be careful with your glasses, I sure enough don't want to be the one to tell her they got broken." ****** Jack wasn't sure what woke him. He had gone from a deep, peaceful slumber to full wakefulness within seconds and his body was tense with something amiss. His gazed flitted around their campground, searching before halting at an eerily familiar hunched-over figure, sitting so close to the campfire that Jack almost called out a warning. "Daniel," he whispered, and was assaulted with memories of other nights when he had awoken, in this very clearing, to find his friend scrunched over a book, seeking the glow of the fire to light his reading. Jack placed his elbow on the ground, comfortably positioning his chin into his cupped palm. Watching. Smiling. The smile expanding by leaps and bounds in their quiet corner of the earth as the firelight reflected off Daniel's glasses, while his friend signed the words he was reading, akin to Daniel's habit of talking out loud when he read. Jack bit his lip to suppress a yelp of happiness as he bore witness to Daniel connecting the written words in the constellation book to the night sky as his attention bounced from the pages to the stars overhead. It was still there, the intelligence, the desire to learn of all things around him, a part of the puzzle falling back into place. Jack felt an immense pride in Daniel and he lowered his arm, dropping his head onto the crook of elbow, knowing that Daniel had managed to protect a vital part of himself from the DeSala gang. ****** "I'm going to take a walk down to Mz. Nicci's General Store," Jack announced in the small jail house. "You comin'?" he asked Daniel, who was bent over a book near the small window. Daniel looked up at him, closing the book slowly, a shy grin lighting his face at the invitation. He stood, nodded yes, and preceded Jack out the door. Jack felt a lump form in his throat as he followed him. Just a few short weeks ago, Daniel wouldn't have ventured out the door first. Hell, a few short weeks ago, Daniel wouldn't have been able to walk down the street with something approaching his former vigor. // Mz. Nicci has chocolate, // Daniel signed, smiling at Jack. // She ordered from back East. // "I knew there was some reason you were so willing to come along to the store." Jack smiled back. It felt good to be walking down Main Street with his Deputy to his left. He didn't want to remember those eight long months when it had felt as though a part of him had been amputated. As Jack watched, Daniel waved to Dave Siler and Lou Ferretti, a huge step for him. "Hello, Dep'ty Daniel. Sheriff." Two of the kids walked by and Daniel signed a hello back, his signs no longer hesitant. Heading into the General Store, Jack saw Daniel head over to the small display of books Mz. Nicci had while he went to ask her if there were any letters for him. "Sorry, Sheriff," Mz. Nicci said. "Must be pretty important for you to be asking about it everyday." "It'll keep, Mz. Nicci," Jack said. He didn't want to let anyone know of his search for the DeSala gang's whereabouts, and certainly not Daniel. "Daniel told me you had chocolate?" "Oh yes." Nicci said, walking over to a glass display case. As if by magic, Daniel appeared at Jack's side. He pointed to three of the chocolate candies quickly and then pulled out a few coins to hand to Mz. Nicci. // Here. You eat. Is good. // Daniel signed, handing one of the chocolates to Jack and then popped one of the others in his mouth. Jack tipped his hat to Mz. Nicci as they left. "Why three? You keeping two for yourself?" Daniel shook his head. // Snugbury's. // He raised his eyebrows in question. "You sure you want to...?" Jack asked. He squinted up at the sun. It was still midday and although Daniel had come a long way, Jack wasn't sure Daniel was up to the usual crowd that visited the ice cream parlor at 2:30 every afternoon. // I want. // "Then we'll go." Jack was glad to see Daniel matched his pace as they walked towards Snugbury's, no trace of a limp today. "Sheriff! Deputy!" Mz. Athene came out from behind the counter, wiping her hands on her white apron. "How nice to see you." Daniel held out the remaining chocolate for her and Jack had to smile as her eyes lit up at the small present. "Thank you, Deputy," she said. "Now, both of you have a seat. What would you like to eat?" Jack shrugged. "One of those sherbets you make would be mighty nice, Mz. Athene. Daniel?" He touched Daniel's arm lightly when he saw Daniel looking out the window. "Just a moment, gentlemen," Athene said, and walked to the door, hanging the closed sign on it and pulling the curtains. "There," she said, wiping her hands on her apron once more. "Deputy?" // Vanilla, // Daniel finger spelled. // Raspberry. // Jack said the letters aloud. He was silent as Athene left them and went behind the counter. "Daniel? How you doin'?" Daniel smiled at him. // I am fine, Jack. // Jack smiled back before Daniel got up and wandered over to the counter where Mz. Athene was preparing their treats. Jack looked around at the closed door, the pulled curtains, unsure of just how fine Daniel was. But then he caught sight of Daniel signing to Mz. Athene with something akin to his former exuberance. They had a ways to go, Jack had no doubt, but Daniel was definitely coming back to them. Life was finally beginning to get back to normal. Jack grinned. Life was pretty good. ****** The sounds of revelry reached Jack's ears long before he and Daniel rode into Tok'ra Flats. There was music and laughter, singing and dancing; the small crowd was evidently having a great time. The large field east of the town was nearly full, people clustered in small groups, children running and laughing, colorful blankets spread on the ground where picnics were being set up. Dave Siler and Walter Davis were unloading wood from a wagon, piling it up into the makings of a bonfire for later that night. The smaller cook fires had several haunches of beef and pork roasting away, the odors making Jack's mouth water even from this distance. The fourth of July. One of the few days he both loved and hated. The feelings of togetherness and celebrations were without question one of the best part of the day. But later, when the crowd got rowdier, noisier, he and his law enforcement officers would have to be vigilant and make sure those who had a little too much to drink didn't party a little too hard. He suspected there would again be a few citizens waking up tomorrow in his jail cell, nursing a hangover. Several young boys were chasing one another, shrieking loudly. Jack grinned at their antics, and glanced at Daniel, anxious to join the celebrations. His smile disappeared when he saw Daniel's pale and pinched face. For a moment, Jack had forgotten Daniel's reticence to join large or boisterous gatherings. They'd talked about attending today's celebrations and Daniel had agreed he would come. Jack had already scoped out a quiet, secluded area on the outskirts of the field where they would have a great view of the festivities, but also be assured a bit of privacy. They rode their horses to the stables, and Daniel lingered with brown pony long after he'd been curried, watered and fed. Of course the horse didn't mind the extra attention, he'd also missed Daniel all these months, even though Cassie had made a special effort to care for the older horse. They left their horses in the corral behind the saloon, their usual stalls having been cleaned and rented to guests. Jack allowed Daniel the extra time to adapt to the liveliness of the town. The quiet and solitude of their ride today in the woods was a marked change to the animation and excitement the usual quiet town exhibited. Daniel had made much progress in the past weeks, but he was still skittish, still prone to seeking solitude when the press of people got too much for him. "You just about ready?" Jack prodded gently. The hand holding the currycomb paused in its ministrations, and Jack saw his friend square his shoulders and turn to look at him. Daniel pasted what Jack knew to be a false smile on his face and nodded. "I'm sure nobody will mind if you decide to make an early night of it." Daniel frowned and shook his head. // I go. Stay. // "Danny, if ya ain't comfortable, there's really no need for you to stay. Look, play it by ear, okay? If it all gets to be too much for ya, just tell me and I'll make sure you get a clean escape back to our room." Daniel smiled, this one genuine and thankful. // Deal, // Daniel spelled out. Jack slapped his friend on the back as they both made for their room for a quick wash and change before joining the party. "Sheriff!" Jack glanced up as Freya, from the Crystal Heights ranch, approached him, hips swaying seductively, her bosom nearly spilling out of her low-cut mint-green dress. Her twin sister Anise was right behind her, garbed in a similar dress, but this one a soft yellow. Her eyes were fixed on the man who was nearly glued to Jack's side. "Ladies," Jack said politely, nodding his head. // Happe see yov, Damifl // Anise meticulously and slowly spelled as she stopped before them. Jack bit his lip, trying not to laugh. // Thank you, // Daniel quickly spelled out, fingers flying as he looked everywhere but at the two women. // Dress pretty, color nice, // Daniel continued. The blond woman's eyes nearly crossed as she tried to make sense of Daniel's quick words. "We'd be honored if you'd join us for supper, gentlemen." Freya batted her eyelashes at Jack. "Why thank you, that's mighty kind of you. But we've made plans already." Anise molded her full lips into a pout as she looked up at Daniel. "Maybe I could save a dance for you later?" she asked. Freya looked at Jack hopefully. At Daniel's panicked look, Jack clasped his friend's arm, squeezing ever so gently. "We'll see, ladies. But we'll be on duty this evening, so I can't promise anything." "Oh foo," Freya said. "But you will remember me if you feel like kicking up your heels, won't you, Sheriff?" She brought her hands up to her bosom, fanning herself. "My but it's hot out here. If y'all excuse us, we need to get out of the sun." "You'll be the first to know, Mz. Freya. Afternoon, ladies." Jack pulled Daniel along, noting his friend was now staring at his feet as the women spotted some friends and moved on to join them. Jack noted Anise looking towards Daniel as she reluctantly followed her twin. "Come on, let's go find Sam," Jack urged. They continued weaving their way through the edge of the crowd, and Jack felt Daniel begin to relax as people simply waved and called out greetings. "Sheriff, Daniel!" Ximeria called out to them in her low, throaty voice. Jack nodded and Daniel waved. Jack saw the pretty young woman motion to Daniel to come over and with a quick smile at Jack, Daniel went to kneel beside her under a shade tree. The woman was constantly sitting and drawing things, but she'd never shared her sketches with Jack. "Howdy, Mz. Kelly," Jack said as the tall blond walked by. "Sheriff," she answered with a grin, stopping before him. "I heard someone dismantled ol' Mr. Kinsey's outhouse while I was away this spring." Jack bit back a grin as the pretty young woman's face paled. "Seems like it took him weeks to find all the bits and pieces scattered over The Flats. Funny thing is that nobody bothered keeping any of them fancy seats and doodads he had in that oversized shithouse." "Yes, seems I heard something about that," she said meekly after a moment, not quite meeting his eye. "Damn. I just wish I'd been here to see his expression when he walked out of the house the morning after them thieves just left that huge hole in his back yard." Kelly looked up at Jack in surprise, then a wide grin spread over her face. "Yes Sir, Sheriff, I'm sure it would have been very entertaining. I heard tell that his curses could be heard all the way down to Majel's lumberyard." "Really? Well it's a good thing those thieves didn't get caught in the act, 'cause there's not much I could have done had he come out with a shotgun." "I'm sure they took care and were careful, Sheriff." "I hope so, Mz. Kelly. I hope so," he said as her friends, Majel and Kiva, hailed her. "And by the way, you might tell Mz. Majel that she and her friends should knock the sawdust off their boots before they go a-visiting outhouses, 'specially in the middle of the night," he called out as she left with a quick goodbye, rushing over to join them. She turned and half skipped backwards several steps, grinning at Jack before running off to her friends, grabbing their arms and tugging them into a quiet corner. Jack smiled at Daniel as he left Ximeria and stepped up to Jack. He looked at his friend and saw a blush had spread over his face, a small smirk on his face. "What?" Jack asked him. Daniel looked at him innocently. // What? // Daniel spelled out. Jack shook his head, thinking of how much the ladies enjoyed learning this new ASL. Mz. Babs and Mz. Fai had taken to teaching many of them, and they all had a thrill of knowing they could simply turn their backs on any of the men and talk about them without being overheard. Of course the men didn't deign the new language important enough to bother with, or at least most didn't let on. But Jack had caught a few of them signing to another when they thought nobody was looking. Jack smiled. At least Daniel wasn't consigned to communicating with only a select few; most of the townsfolk now knew the rudimentary signs, enough to at least give greeting. Loud boisterous laughter had Jack slowing and staring at the crowd from the Chu-lak ranch. They were passing around a small crock, which Jack assumed was moonshine. Bra'tak, Teal'c's friend and foreman of Pophis' ranch, would most likely be able to keep most of these cowboys in line, but Jack had assigned two of his lawmen to keep an eye on them as well. Pophis wasn't a well-liked man in this neck of the woods, but most of his workers were law-abiding citizens, but one or two, such as Tanith, always went looking for trouble. Jack saw Teal'c sitting nearby and relaxed. Gathered at the other end of the field was Egeria's large brood, from the Crystal Heights ranch. She and Pophis were rivals, and anytime both showed up in the same place often ended up with bloodshed. But Selmak, the ranch foreman, usually had no trouble keeping his people out of trouble. They didn't go looking for it, but none would walk away from trouble if it came looking for them. The two competitors had been warned repeatedly, and Jack was taking no chances. At the first sign of trouble, they were being herded home. Daniel flinched at the sound of the raucous laughter, eyes wide as he stared at the men pushing and shoving one another in a mock fight. Jack gently nudged Daniel and urged him along, guiding him away from the too loud, too energetic men. He caught Bra'tak's eye, and the man nodded as he moved towards the rowdy bunch. Jack knew he was on top of things, and relaxed slightly. Mz. Ozy waved to them where she sat beside her friend Mz. Sanna. Jack waved back, as did Daniel, a shy smile on his face. Jack remembered Mz. Ozy, he had helped her and her husband build a new home in town during one of the few times he had remained in Tok'ra Flats for more than a week, and wasn't out searching for Daniel. They passed the roasting meat and Jack saw Daniel breathe deeply. "Won't be long now. Smells like the food's nearly ready." Daniel turned and grinned at Jack. // Think Mayor notice we steal? // he signed. "Well, a half a haunch of missing steer might make her a little suspicious, don't'cha think? Anyway I think Sam might have a tidbit or two to tide us over." Jack spotted their friend under the willow tree he'd pointed out to her days ago, several blankets spread out around the tree. Mz. Dawn, Mz. Devra, Mz. Amy, Mz. Darcy, Mz. Jo and Mz. Kalee, were seated beside her, and all seven women were either knitting or sewing. "Sheriff," Sam called out, trying to put the needles and yarn behind her. "Don't bother hiding it, I see you're trying to knit something," Jack teased. "Babs has been teaching me," she said self-consciously. She took the half-finished shawl and began working on it again. Daniel sat down among the women and leaned over, fingering the wool. // Soft, // he signed. "Yes, it is. And warm, too, I hope." "Oh yes, it will be," Devra said. "I made one just like it last year." Devra concentrated on the wool she was hooking into a rug, the pattern of a sunset reflecting on a lake was promising to be a work of art. "That's awful pretty," Jack commented. He glanced at the nearly finished rug Mz. Kalee was working on, four cats curled up sleeping in a basket. Mz. Darcy was busy embroidering flowers on what looked like a dress, Mz. Amy was working on a crocheting something that looked fancy and complicated, and Mz. Jo was busy doing a needlepoint. Jack squinted and looked more closely. The figures on the needlepoint looked like Janet and her adopted daughter Cassie. Mz. Dawn had been knitting also, but she had put her project away and was watching Mz. Babs with the schoolchildren. Jack had heard that she had been working with them for a little performance. Jack was looking forward to seeing it. But first, duty called. "Daniel, I'm going to make the rounds. You gonna be okay here?" His friend ducked his head, then looked up at Jack. He nodded, and Jack saw Sam surreptitiously lean over and squeeze Daniel's hand. "I won't be long," Jack said as he got up to make sure his men were keeping an eye on things. He needn't have worried, though. By the time he walked around the field, he was satisfied that everyone was as well prepared as they could be. The music had started up, and the food was being served as he made his way back to his friends. The meal was as good as it had promised to be, and Daniel was as relaxed as he could be in this large a crowd. His long fingers tapped to the beat of the music, and he smiled at Jack when he sensed Jack's gaze on him. Once the food was eaten, the schoolchildren were ushered up into the cleared space in the center of the field. A lone fiddle, played by Dave Siler, accompanied the young voices as they sang their little hearts out. A burst of applause accompanied the glowing kids as they finished their recital and rosy cheeks and happy voices sounded as they ran off to join their parents. Mz. Babs joined them, smiling happily at accepting congratulations for a wonderful recital. "Oh, my friends, if you thought my kids were good, wait till you hear these," she said with a knowing smile. To Jack's surprise, another small handful of children entered the circle, this time accompanied by Father Joe O'Neill. These children were Anasazi orphans, living at the mission and cared for by Jack's brother. They stood stiffly side by side, and began singing unaccompanied, their voices in total harmony with one another. The song sent goose bumps down Jack's arms; they sounded like a quintet of angels. They finished the hymn to a stunned silence, then thunderous applause. The Indian children grinned shyly at the attention, then when the noise stopped, they relaxed and moved away, leaving one young boy standing alone. He looked around expectantly until Padre Joe came up and knelt beside him, pointing in their direction. The boy smiled and once the priest stepped away, he began singing in Cherokee, the sounds haunting and incredibly sweet at the same time. Jack glanced at Daniel, and saw tears pooling in his friend's eyes. He was leaning forward, his attention totally focused on the young singer. Jack divided his attention between the boy and his friend, and when the performance was over, Daniel sat quietly, his knees drawn to his chest, arms wrapped around them, not joining in the applause. Jack reached over and rubbed his shoulder. Daniel glanced at Jack, and sighed softly. // Orphan child song, // Daniel signed. // I remember someone singing to me. // "Your mom?" Daniel shrugged, but from the look on his friend's face, Jack suspected it had been his adopted Indian mother. "Joe must have had one someone teach that little one that song," Jack said to no one in particular. "That sneaky varmint," he said with a smug grin. "He always liked to pull surprises on folks." Daniel was looking a little less shell-shocked, and he pulled at Mz. Babs' sleeve when there was a lull in the conversation between her and her friends. When she smiled kindly at Daniel, the younger man signed, // I speak to father Joe, need help. // "You'd like me to help translate, Deputy?" she asked. At Daniel's tentative nod, she got up gracefully, and threaded her arm through Daniel's when he stood. They walked together towards the Indian youngsters who were watching the other children warily. He watched as Daniel stopped to talk with the child who had sung the Cherokee song. Jack was glad to see Daniel beginning to come out of his shell, and communicating with others whom he still didn't remember very well. Jack hoped soon he'd be talking with his mouth rather than his hands, although up until now he still hadn't heard Daniel make a sound. By the time Daniel and Mz. Babs returned, Mayor Debi, Mz. Angel and Mz. Deb, faces flushed from overlooking the cook fires all afternoon, came round to gather the ladies and man the dessert and coffee tables. Daniel stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, staring at the darkening sky. Jack could see that Daniel was beginning to put back on some of the weight he had lost. His appetite was returning and he had begun to come out of his shell. His friend glanced at Jack, sensing the scrutiny, and smiled. Music had started up and people were dancing. Sounds of laughter could be heard everywhere. "I'm going to take a walk around the perimeter and check things out. I'll bring back dessert and coffee, that okay with you?" Jack was hoping that Mz. Deb had put a piece of her famous pecan pie aside for him. Daniel yawned, then stretched, nodding. It had been a long day, first with their ride out to visit old Jacob Carter, then with Daniel's apprehensions continuing throughout the evening, which were starting to take a toll on him. Jack knew that even though his friend looked relaxed, he wasn't yet quite himself. Jack wouldn't be able to leave the festivities until the last of the guests had left, which would not be for several more hours. But he would try and get Daniel back to their room in the Emerald Saloon before then. The huge bonfire had been lit once the sky had gotten dark enough. Children were running around it, screeching in glee. A full moon was rising, bathing the field in a cool, bright light. Lanterns had been lit and hung from trees, illuminating the way back to town. Jack slowly walked around the field, stopping to talk with his men and making sure everything was under control. So far everything had been peaceful and many of the townsfolk, especially those with young children, were starting to leave. But the Chu-lak gang had been drinking heavily all evening and everyone was half expecting some kind of trouble from them before the evening was over. Most of the people had gone home when Jack heard the loud protests, the signs of trouble he had been anticipating. The voices sounded familiar as he quickly made his way to the edge of the now dying bonfire. Mz. Fai and Robert Rothman were standing close to the glowing embers, surrounded by Tanith and several others in Pophis' employ. "� you have no right to take what's mine," Mz. Fai was saying when Jack shouldered his way through the group. Tanith was holding a large piece of material in his hand and Jack recognized it to be the leather pouch Mz. Fai usually wore around her waist. It contained the runes she used for telling fortunes, plus various herbs and charms she sold to folk. "And I told you we have no use for thieves 'round here," Tanith replied. "Funny," Jack said as he gently manoeuvred Rothman and Fai behind him, "I aint heard no complaints about thievin' today, except fer Mz. Fai's complaint jus' now." "Mr. Tanith took my pouch from me and Mr. Rothman tried to get him to give it back," Mz. Fai said through clenched teeth. Robert's glasses were askew on his nose, his clothes were dishevelled and the man's eyes were nervously jumping from one thug to the other. Jack suspected, rather, that the men had been picking on Rothman and Mz. Fai had jumped in to try and save him. "You heard the lady, Tanith. Give her back her belongings." The hard man grinned at Jack, daring him to try and make him. "You gonna make me, Sheriff?" he asked, licking his lips. He swayed slightly. He was obviously drunk, but still exhibiting some control. The smell of alcohol surrounded the men, adding to the reek of unwashed bodies. In the short time it had taken Jack to intervene, his men had quickly gathered and surrounded the brutes. Daniel had come up, silent as a ghost, leaning against a nearby tree, his arms wrapped nervously around himself, watching wide-eyed. A year ago, Daniel would have been standing at Jack's right side, backing him up. Today his friend was still a pale shadow of the man he had once been before his abduction. "Me 'n my men, we ain't had a chance to dance it up tonight," Jack said. "Might be a fine time to work up a sweat about now. What'dya say, boys?" Jack smiled at his deputies. "Indeed," Teal'c's deep timbre sounded behind the brutes. They all turned, startled, to find Teal'c, Dave Siler, Walter Davis, Judge Hammond and several others standing behind them. To Jack's surprise, Daniel pushed off from against the tree and threaded his way to Jack's side. "Now, hand over the bag." Jack smiled at Tanith, then grinned when he saw Bra'tac stomping angrily towards them. Tanith also saw the foreman and reluctantly extended his arm towards Fai. Before the woman could take her pouch, though, he tossed it into the glowing embers. "Oops," he said with a smirk. The bag quickly burst into flames, the herbs inside giving off a sweet smell. Tanith turned and walked towards Bra'tac. "About time you got here," he groused. "We've been ready to head out a long time ago." His men followed him, jostling the deputies and weaving their way towards town and their horses. Jack nodded to several of his men to follow the cowboys and make sure they left without causing further trouble. Rothman had fallen to his knees and was trying to dig the contents of the bag out of the fire with a stick. "It's okay," Fai said as she knelt beside the bearded man. "The fire won't harm them. Actually the heat will purify them. Heathens," she said with a snarl towards the retreating men. Jack smiled, glad to see everything was back in control. He waved his remaining men off and turned to Daniel. But Daniel was staring in shock at the smoldering mess that had once been leather and herbs, small carved stones and bones. His body was almost thrumming with tension, and his eyes were dark holes in a moonlit face. As the last of the aromatic plants burned away, Daniel suddenly turned and walked off, stiff-legged, nearly staggering in his haste to get away. Shit, this wasn't good. Jack started to go after Daniel, but heard shouts in the direction the Chu-lak men had gone. Resigning himself to finish his job, with a jerk of his head, Jack signaled Teal'c to follow Daniel while he went to head off more trouble. ****** Two hours later, Jack wearily trudged into town, keeping an eye out for signs of either Daniel or Teal'c. Tanith and three of his men were sleeping off their drink in his jail cell, and Bra'tac was probably haranguing the rest as he escorted them home. As he passed the stables, the large, black man stepped out of the shadows. "DanielJackson is in the barn, O'Neill." Teal'c's voice was soft and Jack knew it wouldn't carry into the building across the street. "He okay?" He leaned tiredly against a tree. It had been a long day, and an even longer night. "He appeared upset. He spent some time with the horses, then entered the barn and climbed into the hayloft. He was speaking to the feline when he entered. I believe he would do better if he now spoke to someone who could answer back." A gentle smile graced Teal'c's face. "You didn't go try talk to him?" Jack sighed, wishing he knew what had set Daniel off this time. "I did not. I believe he needed time alone. He has had that time, now he needs a friend whom he trusts to be with him." Jack nodded, and clapped the large man gently on the shoulder in thanks. Jack entered the dark building, the only light coming in from the doors behind him and a window to his right. A quick glance showed him no Daniel. But Teal'c had said his friend had gone into the hayloft so he made for the wooden ladder off to his left. When he reached the top, Jack remained standing on the top rung and looked around the small, hot, cramped room. The tiny window let in a bit of white moonlight, giving the place an other-worldly look and feel, contrasting with deep shadows and overly bright light. A faint chirrup behind him told him that Taffy had recognized him. He turned and saw Daniel sitting in the corner between two hay bales, knees bent, kitten clutched to his chest. Jack climbed onto the straw-laden floor and walked over to his friend. He moved several bales aside to make room, and sat down beside Daniel, shoulders and hips touching in the small space. Daniel didn't acknowledge Jack as he slid down beside him. Daniel's head was turned and he was staring out of the window. One hand was curled protectively around the kitten, who'd been resting against his chest. The other lay limply on the floor. Taffy squirmed out of Daniel's hold and crossed onto Jack, butting her head against his hand for attention. Jack petted her head and she arched her back against his fingers, relishing his touch. Then she quickly scampered back across his lap and climbed onto Daniel. She curled up around his hand and batted her head against his fingers. When Daniel didn't move, she licked them twice and nipped him. Daniel's thumb twitched, and slowly he brushed it against her throat. Her resulting loud purr filled the small space and her eyes closed in ecstasy. "Wa-ya." Jack's voice sounded muffled in the loft. "Are you gonna tell me what happened back there?" A resulting tremor coursed through Daniel. Belatedly, Jack realized the light shirt Daniel had worn that day was drenched with sweat, but Daniel's skin was cold and clammy despite the stifling heat in the loft. "Ah, shit, Danny. C'mere." He pushed his arm behind Daniel's sweat-laden back and pulled him close, wrapping his hand around his friend's shoulder. Daniel didn't resist. He leaned heavily against Jack, his head coming down to rest against Jack's chest. As Jack's body heat registered against Daniel's chilled body, he began shivering. Jack encircled Daniel with his other arm, rubbing gently along his back. He silently cursed at his having had to leave Daniel alone while he took care of a bunch of rowdy drunks. "It's okay, it'll be okay," Jack murmured against the damp strands of Daniel's short hair. Finally after several minutes, the trembling began to subside. After another few minutes, Daniel pulled away, straightening up against the wall, although he still leaned against Jack's shoulder as if he needed the continuing contact. Taffy stretched, stood up and jumped onto a pile of straw, looking around the room. "You ready to talk now?" Daniel's hands came up, visibly shaking, and he signed // No. // He leaned his head on Jack's shoulder, sighing heavily. "That's okay, you can tell me when you're ready." Jack patted Daniel's leg understandingly. "Feel like heading outta here and going to bed?" // I remembered something. // "I kinda figured that." // Medicine pouch burning. // "Mz. Fai's pouch in the bonfire reminded you of something?" // No. Yes. Fire... pouch burning� Mine. Laughter... pain. // Daniel's hesitant words had Jack wanting to put his arms around his friend again and erase all those painful memories. During all these months of recovery, Jack had been waiting for a sign of recollection from Daniel, from his time in captivity, and here it was, and suddenly Jack didn't want to hear it. // Sha'nee. // Daniel's hand faltered in spelling out his dead wife's name. Jack glanced down at Daniel and saw he had his eyes tightly closed. // Flower petals from burial. // Daniel's hands suddenly clenched into fists before he clumsily signed the last word. // Gone. // He suddenly dropped his hands onto his lap, as if they were too heavy to hold up. Jack understood Daniel's words, though. Daniel had once told Jack he'd saved several flowers from Sha'nee's funeral pyre in memory of her. There would be no way to replace them, or any of the other items he'd lost when his medicine pouch had gone up in smoke sometime during his captivity. Jack lifted a hand and squeezed Daniel's nape, rubbing at the taught muscles under his fingers. "I'm sorry, Wa-ya," Jack said in a soft voice. // Can go bed now? // Daniel asked, pulling away. "Yeah." Jack stood and wrapped his arm around Daniel's bicep, helping him up. The moon had shifted and the ladder was hidden in darkness. They climbed down carefully and slowly trudged back to the Emerald Saloon. Daniel walked unsteadily, almost as if he were drunk, although Jack knew he hadn't had anything alcoholic to drink. He guided Daniel upstairs to their small room, where he managed to get his dazed friend washed up and under the covers. He'd begun shivering again, his haunted eyes watching as Jack got ready for bed. Jack took the coverlet and spread it over his friend, adding extra warmth. It was hot in the room despite the open window, but Daniel was obviously suffering from something other than feverish chills. When Jack sat down on the side of the large double bed, Daniel sat up, leaning against the wooden headboard, and began telling him his story. At first his movements were clumsy, hesitant, but before long he was almost tripping over his words, his long fingers as expressive as his speech and tone of voice would have been. Several of his captors had been drinking and had decided to have some fun with Daniel. Late one night they'd pulled him out of the dark cave they kept him chained in at night. The only illumination came from the fire to which they'd dragged him. After beating him, one man, Pablo, tore his medicine pouch from around his neck and threw it into the fire. Lying on the ground, bleeding and in pain, he watched most of his sacred objects catch fire and burn. The eagle feather, the small handful of corn seeds, the flowers from Sha'nee's funeral, the tuft of coyote hair, the small carved wooden coyote Jack had given him. His captors had chained him to a tree and left him outside in the cold night air. They had eventually passed out from too much drink, and the unattended fire had quickly died. Daniel had managed to reach into the ashes before the sun rose and rescue the three objects which had survived the fire. That in itself made them even more precious, that they had survived the cruelty in which they had been removed from him and destroyed. Daniel paused and reached into his nightshirt, pulling forth the gaily-decorated leather pouch. He opened it up and poured its contents into his hand. A small stone that looked like a soaring hawk, which Jack remembered Daniel finding one day while they were out fishing in Tuplo's creek. A silver medallion of Saint Patrick, which Padre Joe had given Daniel as thanks for his work at the mission. The last was a clear piece of quartz crystal which Jack had never seen before the other day when Daniel had transferred the contents of his make-shift pouch into the one Jack had made for him. The plaited ring of hair that Daniel recently added to the collection fell onto the bed and Jack picked it up and placed it amongst the other three items in Daniel's hand. "Danny," Jack said as he slid under the sheet to sit beside his friend, closing Daniel's fist over the objects. "You're safe now. The DeSala gang can't hurt you anymore, not 'less you let them hurt you in here." Jack pointed to his temple with one finger. "Or here," he added, touching Daniel's chest where his heart beat a rapid tattoo beneath Jack's fingers. Daniel curled cold fingers of his other hand around Jack's, enveloping both his own and Jack's together, holding them close to him for a moment. He blinked, then let Jack go and replaced his sacred objects into the pouch. He tucked it back under his shirt and removed his glasses, sliding down under the covers. When Jack got up to turn down the lantern, Daniel was already asleep. Unaccustomed sounds drew Jack from the depths of sleep, and he forced his eyelids open, trying to identify the noise. The faint light coming from the lantern in the corner illuminated the room just enough for Jack to make out that he was in his room above Mayor Debi's Saloon. A garbled moan came from his left and suddenly he realized Daniel was dreaming. It wasn't the first nightmare his friend had had since he'd come home, but it definitely was the first one where he was actually making sounds in his sleep. Jack got up and padded over to the lantern, which he usually left burning low all night long for Daniel's sake. He never spoke about it but Jack suspected that the dark had something to do with Daniel's captivity. It was always easier on Daniel to wake up from one of these nightmares when the room was well illuminated. Jack could now see Daniel had been restless for a while. The coverlet had been kicked to the floor and the sheet was tangled between his legs. Daniel's face was still dotted with perspiration, and as Jack watched, he whispered his wife's name. Jack sat on the bed and leaned over and grasped Daniel's arm, squeezing and shaking gently. Daniel's skin was slippery with sweat. But the dreaming man simply moaned in response and turned his head towards Jack. His breathing quickened, his eyelids twitching frantically as the nightmare caused him remembered pain. "Ta-wa-di," Daniel called, the first syllable almost silent, the last almost pleading. "Wa-ya, wake up." Jack placed a hand on Daniel's cheek, both to double check for fever and also with the hope that the more intimate touch would wake him. "Daniel," he repeated, thankful that the skin beneath his fingers remained cool. Blue eyes popped open, immediately searching the room and clearly not seeing Jack. Daniel's ragged breathing increased and Jack moved his hand to his friend's shoulder, squeezing hard enough to get his attention. His frantic gaze locked onto Jack's face, and Daniel silently reached up to grasp Jack's arm. Jack felt his friend relax when his brain finally made the connection that he was no longer dreaming, and he was safe. "Okay?" Jack asked, hoping that maybe Daniel would actually speak the answer. It took several moments before Daniel responded, and with a quick nod of his head, Daniel loosened his hold on Jack's arm and he turned onto his side, his back to Jack. "Pretty bad one, huh?" Jack said as he slid back into bed. "Guess that little flash of memory this evening might haunt you for a night or two." Jack stared at the ceiling, conscious of his friend's tense body beside him. "Funny thing, though. You were talking in this dream. You even called my name." The bed springs squeaked as Daniel turned to face Jack, brow raised, questioning. "Not that you said much, sounds mostly. But you called for Sha'nee, and for me. So at least we know you *can* talk. Maybe it's just a matter of time before you remember how." Jack knew that Daniel had stopped talking for a while as a child, having seen his parents murdered by comancheros. But with the love and support of his adoptive Indian parents, Daniel soon had begun speaking again. He'd been so eager to communicate that his sentences had at first been a mixture of several languages, much to the tribe's amusement. Jack hoped that the same thing would happen again, and knowing that Daniel was actually able to talk was a vast relief. If only the part of Daniel that was hiding inside could find its way out. Jack turned his head to gaze back at his friend, seeing the look of sadness on his expressive face. "Hey, don't worry about it, you'll talk when you're good 'n ready. Me? I'm just enjoying the peace and quiet in the meantime." Jack jumped at the painful poke in his ribs. "Hey!" he cried, then quickly lowered his voice, remembering the other sleeping occupants on the floor. He caught a glimpse of the smirk on Daniel's face before he turned away from Jack. Jack smiled to himself. Daniel would talk one day, it was just a matter of time. ****** Jack looked up from his paperwork. The letter he'd received from an old Army friend said the last he'd heard, the DeSala gang was headed back down south after spending most of the winter up north. Jack figured he could get out to the mission to visit the traders Padre Joe said were staying there for a few days. He'd have to find out what they'd heard on the trail. Curling his fist around the letter, Jack looked at Daniel, who was pacing around the jailhouse. Although he was almost physically back to normal, there were days Jack feared the old Daniel was never going to come back to them. Daniel stopped his pacing and came over to Jack's desk. // T cat, where go? // Daniel signed, his eyes fixed on Jack's. "I don't know where Taffy is, Daniel." Jack forced himself to place the letter back on the desk. "Maybe she went to the schoolhouse to play with her brothers and sisters." Daniel shook his head. // T cat gone. Help look Jack. // He raised his eyebrows. "I can't right now, Daniel. I have to ride out to the mission. Why don't you come along with me?" Jack stood and stretched. "The kids out there would like to see you again." He sighed as Daniel stepped away and pulled his arms around his chest. "Daniel." He moved closer and touched the bent head. "You sure?" There was a small nod and then Daniel looked up at Jack. // Hunt T cat. I find. // "You do that, Daniel." Jack pulled his hat off the rack. "Don't get in any trouble," he teased. Daniel gave him a small smile. // I find T cat. // "I know you will, buddy." Jack pulled Daniel into a one-armed hug. "If you get in any trouble, you know you can go to anyone here in town. They all will help you, understand?" Daniel nodded, and then pushed Jack away, shooing him with his hands. Following Jack out of the jailhouse, Daniel headed towards the schoolhouse while Jack walked to the stables to get Hawk. ****** He heard Taffy crying. It hurt him, reminding him of other cries. Other hurts. The wooden door leading to the root cellar at the back of Mz. Nicci's General Store was propped open. Daniel leaned down, peering into the murky room. A flash of gold fur streaked across his sight and he didn't hesitate, walking down the stairs to retrieve the errant kitten. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs, allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness after the glare of the sun. Daniel took a deep breath, looking back up the stairs to where he could see blue sky. Taffy meowed again, huddled under one of the bins where Mz. Nicci had some vegetables stored. Without a second thought, Daniel crouched down, moving slowly away from the stairs towards the frightened kitten. Taffy moved further under the bins, and Daniel had to lay on his belly to reach for her. He ignored his pounding heart, the bile that threatened to rise in his throat. His fingers brushed fur and he pulled back as sharp claws went into his hand. Daniel moved back until he sat cross legged on the floor in front of the bins. He searched for a twig, for something to entice the kitten from her hiding place. Finding nothing, he reached out his hand again, wiggling his fingers and it didn't take long for the curious kitten to peek out from her hiding place. Daniel smiled as she crept towards his still wiggling fingers. She pounced and Daniel scooped her up with his other hand. // Naughty, // he finger spelled, while he continued smiling. Taffy yawned, obviously tired of playing hide and seek. An ominous sound had him whirling and pulling Taffy close to his chest. The room was plunged into near total darkness as the door was slammed shut. Daniel took the few stairs in two steps and pounded on the door with his fist when it wouldn't open. Locked� the door was locked. Taffy jumped from his suddenly lax hand. Daniel pounded on the doors again when he remembered to breathe. There was a sliver of sunlight coming through the edge of the door but it wasn't enough. It wouldn't be enough. Panicking, Daniel hit the door again and again, and when that failed trying to pull the boards apart with his hands. He ignored the pain, ignored the warm trickle that ran down his wrists. The sunlight moved, and Daniel opened his mouth in a silent scream. A small chirrup near his foot reminded him he wasn't alone and Daniel slid down the stairs to pull Taffy into his arms. He held the kitten close to his face, shivering with more than cold. He was in the dark again and he retreated to the safe place he'd found once before. ****** "Any news, Jack?" Sam was waiting for him at the jailhouse when he returned. Jack shook his head and handed Hawk's reins to a waiting Tommy Siler and Cassie Fraiser. He waited until the youngsters were out of earshot. "Seems like the DeSala gang might be headed back this way. Last the traders heard Oma was bragging about how she'd gotten back at the man who killed her only son." Sam tilted her head, studying him in the twilight. "You?" "Me." Jack leaned against the wall of the jailhouse. "Seems she decided burying the best friend of that man alive was a fitting punishment for me. Guess they're coming back to make sure I know just what they did." "Buried alive." Sam's eyes widened as she murmured the words. "Holy Hannah, Jack. Are you saying Daniel was buried alive? That's what they did to him?" "That's exactly what I'm saying, Sam. And that's why when they get here, I'm going to take great pleasure in killing them all an inch at a time." Jack's gut clenched the same way it had when the traders told him what they'd heard. "They don't know Daniel's alive," Sam said. "And I don't want them to know. They find out and he's gonna be their target again." Jack pushed away from the wall. "Speaking of Daniel, I'd better go back to the Emerald City. I'm sure the Mayor is already feeding him. I'd better make sure there's something left for me." "I� Jack� Daniel� how could someone do that to Daniel?" Sam wiped at her eyes. "I'd better be going. Janet and I and some of the ladies are getting together this evening." She squared her shoulders and walked towards Snugbury's. Jack just shook his head, pushing his hands into his pockets. By the time Sam got done talking to the ladies of town, Jack had no doubt that if the DeSala gang rode into the Flats, they wouldn't be leaving. Still mulling over the information he'd been given, Jack crossed Main Street and headed for the Emerald City. "Evening, Sheriff." Mz. Debi smiled and pulled out a chair at the table he and Daniel always shared. The Emerald City was full tonight, most of the men of the town and the surrounding area enjoying an evening of poker and good food. "Daniel already eat?" Jack asked the Mayor as she brought him a plate of ham steak and potatoes. "I haven't seen the Deputy since this morning, Sheriff." Mz. Debi frowned. Jack pushed his plate away. He went to the piano and banged down on the keys, turning when the room went silent. "Any of you see Daniel after noon today?" Jack asked the men staring at him. "He was by the schoolhouse right after you left town, Sheriff." Dave Siler called out. "Hunting for that runt of a cat of his," Lou Ferretti added. "He was by Mz. Devra's hunting for it." 'Taffy', Jack wanted to correct, but kept silent. Someone else called out he'd seen Daniel by the stables in the late afternoon. When no one else commented, Jack held up his hands. "Men, it looks like we've got ourselves a missing Deputy." He glanced around the room and then began pointing, organizing the men into different groups and giving them specific areas of town to search. He picked Teal'c and Dave for his own team and sent Lou Ferretti and the Mayor to organize the women. Less than ten minutes later the town was filled with small groups searching the Flats for their missing Deputy. Jack tried to keep his panic to a low roar, but all he could imagine was Daniel lying injured somewhere and unable to call for help. Despite it being summer, the night was fixing to be a cold one. "O'Neill." Teal'c held out an arm, blocking Jack's progress down the alleyway near the General Store. "Wait." Jack motioned for Dave to remain silent while Teal'c tilted his head. "Do you hear it, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked as he led them down the alley. Jack hadn't heard anything despite his efforts. "Here," Teal'c announced as he stopped at the locked door to Mz. Nicci's root cellar. Jack could now hear the piteous cries of a kitten. He only hoped it was Taffy and not some stray. He turned to Dave. "Siler, go find Mz. Nicci. We need the key to this lock. If Daniel's down there I don't want to risk shooting off the lock." Dave nodded and took off at a run. Jack knelt on the ground, ignoring the pain that shot through his leg at the awkward position. "Daniel?" he called, putting his mouth to the wood. "Daniel, if you're in there, can you give me some sort of signal? Can you knock on the wood?" The kitten's cries sounded louder as Jack continued to speak, but there was no human response. "Daniel? Danny? Wa-ya? It's Jack. Give me some sort of sign, Daniel." Jack pushed away as Mz. Nicci came running down the alleyway with Siler. Her hands were shaking so badly, she couldn't fit the key to the lock, and Teal'c gently removed it from her hand and opened the door himself. "I'm so sorry, Sheriff. I didn't think to look to see if anyone was down in the cellar. I try to always remember to keep it locked unless I'm getting supplies myself because some of the children aren't able to resist venturing down there." "Mz. Nicci," Jack held up a hand. "No one is blaming you." "Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c took the lantern and walked the few steps into the cellar. He turned and looked back up at Jack. "O'Neill, you are needed here." With a sickening feeling in his stomach, Jack walked down the few steps to join Teal'c. "I will inform the searchers that Daniel Jackson has been found. I will send Doctor Fraiser to you and put Dave Siler on guard." Jack nodded his head at Teal'c's words but didn't take his eyes off the huddled figure in the corner of the small room. "Daniel?" Jack moved closer, placing the lantern on one of the barrels that sat nearby. He crouched down on the dirt floor, reaching out to the unresponsive form of his friend. Blue eyes were open and fixed on a distant spot. Taffy walked over Daniel's lap, meowing pitifully. "Daniel?" Jack asked again. He touched Daniel's hand and then his cheek, alarmed at the iciness of his skin. Cursing under his breath, Jack removed his shirt, wrapping it around his friend and then pulling an unresisting Daniel into his embrace. He thought back to the information the traders had given him and thought of Daniel trapped in this lightless room for hours. He feared Daniel was far away, maybe so far Jack wouldn't be able to bring him back. He took Daniel's cold hand, moving his fingers into a fist, and then taking the pinky to make a J and star, Jack's name sign. "Jack," he repeated while he helped Daniel make the sign again. "Jack." He then changed his hand to a D, pressing it against Daniel's heart. "Daniel. Daniel." Jack repeated the signs again and again, wondering when Fraiser was going to show up. He was growing worried that Daniel allowed him to make the signs and was still not showing any recognition. He moved both of Daniel's hands in the sign for friend. "Friends. Jack. Daniel." Jack stopped as he felt Daniel begin to shiver. He pulled him closer into a hug and sat rocking him in the meager light from the lantern. "I know you can hear me, Wa-ya. I'm here. I'm here for you. I won't let you drown in darkness. I won't let you go. You're safe, you're home. Understand?" Daniel's head came up at the sound of loud voices at the head of the stairs. He turned in Jack's arms, gripping Jack's arm and burying his head in Jack's shoulder. "Daniel, it's just Doctor Fraiser and Teal'c," Jack whispered into Daniel's ear. He looked up at Janet from his position on the floor. "The dark� he� the DeSala gang." Jack couldn't go on and he watched the doctor mutely, wanting her to have some magic cure for Daniel's terror. "Daniel? Will you let me touch you?" Janet spoke softly as if to a frightened animal. Daniel pushed his head away from Jack's shoulder and eased back, looking at Jack. He made a J and then put his head back on Jack's shoulder and closed his eyes. "I'm here, Daniel," Jack reassured him. "I'm here." He could feel Daniel's shudders as Janet took one of his abused hands gently in hers. Janet made a small clucking noise as she looked at the damage. "I'm going to need to do this at my office, Sheriff." Janet looked at Jack. "I need better light than here. And I'm going to have to bandage them up. It looks like Daniel tried to tear the door apart with his bare hands." Jack nodded. He had no doubt in his mind that was exactly what Daniel had attempted. His stomach twisted again, imagining Daniel frantically trying to claw his way to freedom months ago. "We'll meet you there, Doc," Jack said. He looked up at Teal'c. "Get the streets cleared, Teal'c. I don't want an audience when I take Daniel to the doc's." "It will be done, O'Neill." Teal'c followed Janet up the stairs and Jack listened as he heard him speak to the men gathered outside the cellar door. "Daniel. Can you get up? Are you hurt anywhere else besides your hands?" Jack leaned back, trying to see Daniel's face. Daniel didn't respond to Jack's words, and after waiting a few more minutes, Jack stood, pulling Daniel up along with him. There was a plaintive meow at his feet. "Hey there, Taffy." Jack bent to scoop up the kitten when Daniel made no movement, noting her fur was stiff with dried blood. "Daniel, you want to hold her?" Jack offered the kitten to his silent companion. But Daniel had gone back to wherever in his mind he felt safe. Sighing, Jack bent Daniel's arm and placed Taffy in the crook of it. The kitten began purring and Jack stroked her head with one finger. "Come on, Daniel. Let's get you to Janet's." He began walking slowly, guiding Daniel up the stairs and into the night air. ****** "There." Janet finished tying the last bandage on Daniel's right hand. "All done." Her smile was met by an unblinking stare. Turning to Jack, Janet motioned to Daniel's now bandaged hands. "I took out all the splinters, Sheriff. Luckily he didn't need any sutures for the cuts. But his hands are going to be very sore over the next few days. The bandages will need to be changed daily�you can either bring him here or I can supply you with some. I've done my best to disinfect them, but we are going to need to keep a close eye out for any infections." Jack nodded at her directions. "Thank you, Janet. We're going to be getting home now." He motioned for her to follow him a short distance away. "Doc, do you remember a while back, you talked about that sanatorium?" "Doctor Mackenzie's? Up in Colorado?" Janet asked. At Jack's nod, she continued. "I remember. Perhaps Daniel could be helped there." "Can you send a letter by the next post?" Jack asked, wiping his hands on his pants and feeling as if he was betraying his best friend. "I don't know if we're gonna be able to get him back this time, Doc. I thought he was getting better but now� we're back to where we started, it seems." He ran a hand through his hair, letting out his breath in an explosive sigh. "I just don't know how to help him anymore." "You're his friend, Jack. Right now, that's what Daniel needs most." Janet looked up at him. "I'll write the letter and send it off, but remember, there isn't going to be any help for Daniel if Daniel doesn't want to help himself." "Yeah," Jack agreed. "That's what I'm afraid of." He unclenched his right hand, which he'd curled into a fist. "Can you send some of your supplies round to the Emerald City? I don't think Daniel's gonna take to kindly to anyone else right now." "I'll have Cassie bring them round in the morning." Janet wiped her hands on her apron. "You'd better get him home. Daniel looks like he's ready to fall over." "Thanks, Doc," Jack said as he went back to Daniel's side and helped him off the table. "For everything." Taffy ran over to them, her tail high in the air. "Let's go home, Danny," Jack whispered into Daniel's ear. "You must be getting tired." He felt his heart slowly breaking into a million little pieces as Daniel walked beside him, allowing Jack to guide his steps. Jack rubbed his forehead as they walked into their room at the Emerald City. Small shivers wracked Daniel's still too thin frame, and Jack pulled down the quilt on the bed and sat down to take off his boots. "Get in bed, Daniel. You need to get warmed up," Jack said. When Daniel made no move to do so, he got up, guiding his friend to the bed and bent down to take off Daniel's boots. As if he understood what to do now that Jack had begun the process, Daniel shook his head and Jack backed away, letting Daniel finish getting himself undressed. "I'm gonna go down to the kitchen and see if I can rustle us up some warm milk," Jack said, stopping when Daniel shook his head again. "Or not." He patted Daniel's knee. Daniel stretched out on the bed, and Jack tucked the quilt over Daniel's shoulders. He stood up again and moved to the window looking out over Tok'ra Flats, satisfied to see that the town was once again quiet. Jack looked over his shoulder, a sad smile gracing his lips as he studied Daniel. The other man had his eyes closed and one of his bandaged hands rested on top of the quilt. "Tell me what to do," Jack whispered as he rolled his eyes heavenward. "I don't know how to help him anymore. Tell me what to do." Jack tiptoed to his side of the bed and sat down, bending forward and without thinking, blew out the lamp that provided light for the room. Daniel tumbled out of the bed, and Jack could hear his harsh panting even though he couldn't make him out clearly in the murky light filtering in from the window. He fumbled for the matches to light the lamp again, cursing when he couldn't find them. Why the hell didn't anyone invent a lamp that could be turned on at the flick of a switch? "Daniel. Daniel. I'm sorry. I didn't think." Jack reached out, dropping the matches, alarmed as he could make out Daniel's form by the window. He saw Daniel pull his hand back as if to break the glass. Jack was at his side in one lunge, grabbing Daniel's arm before he could do any damage to the window or himself. Daniel twisted in his grasp, his breathing growing more labored and Jack lost his balance as Daniel pushed him. He fell into the small table and heard it cracking as he went down with it. "Daniel, calm down. It's me, Jack." Jack yelled at his friend as he rolled to his side. He could hear pounding feet on the stairs and the door was flung open to show him the Mayor in her nightgown, holding up a lantern. "What in tarnation is going on up here?" she demanded, only to be pushed into the doorframe by a panicking Daniel running past her. Jack gained his feet and went to the Mayor's side. "Mz. Debi, did he hurt you?" The Mayor rubbed her arm and looked up at the Sheriff. "Just bruised my pride. What's gotten into that boy?" "I blew out the light. I didn't think. The darkness." Jack went to the dresser, searching for his gun. Not that he'd use it against Daniel, but he didn't want to leave the room without his weapon. "Mayor, I need you to go get Janet pronto. Daniel's taken my gun." Jack pulled on his boots, not caring that he was going to be chasing his Deputy in his union suit. Visions of Daniel putting the gun to his own head made Jack move even faster. He ran down the stairs and out onto the front porch, searching for Daniel in the moonlight. "Daniel!" he called when he didn't see him. "Daniel, come on. I want to help you." Jack scanned the street, looking down towards Snugbury's and hearing the sound of laughing women as they exited the ice cream parlor. They must have been having one of their late night meetings when it had been interrupted for the search for the missing Deputy. He heard Mz. Athene's voice, "So that's decided then. We'll discuss things with the Sheriff tomorrow." The women scattered, hurrying home in the dark night. One of the women was headed his way and the glimpse of blonde hair in the moonlight let him know it was Sam. As she walked past one of the darkened alleys, a figure rushed past her, nearly knocking her to the ground in his haste to escape from her. "Daniel!" Jack called again. He slid to a stop as he saw Daniel facing Sam, pointing Jack's gun at her, waving it in a manner that had Jack's heart in his throat. 'Please, please, please', Jack prayed, even as he took a step closer. Running steps behind him had Jack putting his hand behind his back to stop whoever it was. "Sheriff?" Janet's voice was soft and he heard her sharp intake of breath as she took in the view. "Daniel?" Jack kept his voice low, hoping that it reached some part of Daniel that remained sane. Daniel whirled towards him and Jack could see how Daniel's hand shook as he held the weapon. "Hey buddy, it's me, Jack. I need you to put the gun down." He was close enough to see the panicked look in Daniel's eyes, to hear the panting as Daniel struggled to breathe. "Can you do that for me? Put the gun down?" Daniel stared at him and then whirled back towards Sam, cocking his head in confusion. "Daniel, you don't want to hurt anyone." Sam began speaking and took a few steps towards Daniel, causing him to back up. "Give me the gun." Daniel waved the gun at her and Jack called out, trying to keep calm so Daniel didn't panic more. "Sam, let me handle this. Just step back. I'm going to take care of things." "Mama?" This was just getting better and better, Jack thought when he realized Cassie was there, too. Jack kept one hand behind his back, not trusting turning his back on Daniel. "Janet, send her home. She shouldn't be seeing this." Janet gave a low order to Cassie. "But Mama, you said you might need my�" "Cassie, honey, just listen to your mama." Jack kept his voice low, not wanting to spook Daniel. "Get on home." "What's wrong with Deputy Daniel?" Cassie insisted on knowing. "Mama, what's going on?" "Just go home, Cassie! Your mama and I both have told you to do it. Now do it!" Jack yelled in frustration and regretted it as he heard a soft sob and then Cassie's footsteps as she ran away. He let out his breath as he realized his yelling hadn't seemed to cause Daniel any more distress, although his Deputy was now frowning at him. "Danny?" Jack was relieved to see Daniel turn back to face him. "I know you're scared, but I need you to put the gun down. I want to help you. Will you let me help you, Wa-ya?" Daniel's breathing was growing more erratic and his eyes widened in fear. Jack caught him as his knees buckled and he grabbed the gun from suddenly lax fingers. He sank to the ground, holding Daniel in his arms. "I've got you, Danny. I've got you, Wa-ya. We're gonna help you. You hear me?" He stroked sweat soaked hair back from Daniel's forehead, alarmed at how clammy Daniel's skin was. "Doc?" He looked helplessly up at Janet. "What�? You need to help us." "Jack, what do you want me to do?" Sam was at their side, kneeling in the dusty street. "Is there anything I can do?" "Let's get the Deputy to my surgery," Janet decided. "We can discuss things there." "Sam, why don't you go ahead and get Cassie? Take her to the Emerald City. I'm sure the Mayor would like some company." "Yes." Sam got to her feet and started down the street. Jack half carried Daniel to the surgery when it seemed his Deputy's legs wouldn't support him any longer. He sat with Daniel on the bed in the back room where Daniel had first been taken care of when they got him back. Janet came into the room, carrying some extra lamps. She went about lighting them while Jack held his friend's almost rigid form. "There now," she said, before turning back to face them. "I'll have to take a look at his hands again, Sheriff." She hesitated, glancing at Daniel and then down at the floor. "What is it, Doc?" Jack asked. His own muscles were tight and he felt the need to get up and pace, although he knew Daniel would react badly to that. "I think Daniel should be sedated, Jack. Some laudanum. I don't know if I'll be able to treat him otherwise." "Do it." Jack nodded. He shifted on the bed, moving his hands to Daniel's shoulders. "Let's get you comfortable, Daniel." He spoke softly, remembering the earlier panic. Daniel didn't respond, but allowed Jack to move him into a more comfortable position. "Daniel?" Jack touched Daniel's chin, turning the younger man's head so that he was looking into Daniel's eyes. The small recognition that had been there earlier appeared to be gone�Daniel once again far away from the pain and fear. But Jack hadn't lied to Daniel before, he wasn't going to do it now. "Daniel? Danny, Janet's going to come back here in a little bit and she's gonna have something for you to drink. It'll make you sleepy but I promise you I'll stay here with you. You won't be alone." He watched Daniel's eyes dart to the darkened corner of the room. Jack nodded. "We'll keep the lamps burning. No dark. Understand? No dark. I promise." He rubbed Daniel's shoulder with one hand while waiting for Janet to return. When the doctor came back in with her potion, Jack held the cup to Daniel's mouth, relieved to see Daniel drink without hesitation. He doubted Daniel had any idea what was going on, but he supposed he should thank God for small favors. The room was silent as Janet worked on Daniel's hands once again, and Jack was grateful there appeared to be no new damage. By the time she finished, Daniel was fighting sleep. Jack kept up his soothing rub on a thin shoulder and sighed when Daniel finally surrendered to his body's desire to rest. He sat watching while Janet gathered her few supplies, thinking of how close the town had come to disaster this night. "Janet?" he whispered when she went to leave the room. "Sheriff?" She motioned for Jack to join her at the foot of the bed. Jack stood and stretched, the excitement and tension of the past hours causing knotted muscles that ached. "I'd like you to go over to the Emerald City to sleep tonight. And if you wouldn't mind, I'd like you, Sam and Cassie to gather up a few supplies for Daniel and me." "Jack?" Janet shook her head in confusion. "What are you planning?" Jack glanced at his friend lying in a drugged sleep on the bed, and then at another friend whose daughter could have been killed this night. He rubbed his hands through his hair. "We can't wait, Janet. I thought we could but we can't wait. Daniel and I are gonna go out of town for a few days. It's not safe for him to remain here. Not safe for the rest of the town or for him." He let his gaze rest on Daniel as he continued. "He could have killed Sam or Cassie. I can't take a chance of that happening." He turned back, resting his hands on Janet's shoulders. "Can you do that for me, Janet? Let the Mayor know, too. Maybe she could provide a few supplies?" "What time?" Janet nodded even though Jack could see a glimmer of tears in her eyes. "We'll head out at sunrise. We'll head back up to the waterfall. Daniel's always liked camping out there." Jack allowed himself a small smile of remembrance. "I just hope�" He let the sentence remain unfinished and smiled down at Janet. "Thank you." "I don't like the idea of leaving a patient." Janet frowned. "I know, Doc. But I can't take a risk of you or anyone else being hurt," Jack said. She nodded once, her mouth set in a grim line but she walked out the door without looking back. Jack pulled a chair closer to Daniel and settled down to watch his friend through the night. ****** "O'Neill." Teal'c's bass voice woke Jack from a half doze. Jack scrubbed at his face before straightening. His back protested at spending the night in a hard chair and bent over Daniel's bed. "How long have you been here?" Jack asked, realizing that Teal'c hadn't just popped into the room. "I have been watching over you and Daniel Jackson for most of the night, O'Neill." Teal'c bowed his head. "I believe you conveyed to Janet Fraiser that you wish to leave at dawn. The sun is beginning to rise." Jack nodded. He hoped the Mayor had some coffee to offer him before he set off with Daniel. He looked at his friend, who appeared at peace in his sleep, the fear so often haunting him gone for the moment. "Daniel?" Jack shook his shoulder gently. "Come on, buddy. Time to get up." Blue eyes flew open and fixed on Jack. Jack kept his hand on Daniel's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Hey, Danny. It's just me, Jack." He waited until Daniel blinked a few times. "You're at Janet's," he continued as Daniel's breathing quickened. Daniel brought up his hands to sign something and looked at Jack in panic and confusion. "Your hands are gonna be fine, buddy. Just a bit sore and stiff." Jack touched the back of one bandaged hand. "Let's get you up." He helped Daniel crawl from the bed, taking most of his friend's weight when his legs didn't quite hold him. "We're gonna get away from town for a few days. Give you a chance to get your head back on straight." Jack realized as they began their slow walk towards the door that Daniel still wasn't quite with him. Maybe that would improve as the sun rose and the laudanum left his system, but if not, Jack was willing to take the time to bring the Daniel he knew back to himself. Teal'c motioned for Jack to follow him to the back door of Janet's house. They kept the pace slow, allowing a still drowsy Daniel to maintain his footing. Jack saw Sam holding Hawk's and Feather's reins when Teal'c opened the door. "Good morning, Jack." Sam smiled at him before her gaze flicked to Daniel. "Good morning, Daniel." Jack saw the hurt in her eyes when there was no sign of recognition from Daniel. "We packed the supplies you'll need in the saddlebags," Sam said, squaring her shoulders. Jack nodded his thanks and stepped off the porch with Daniel in tow. He noticed Janet and the Mayor standing back a bit with Pony, who was also carrying some packs. "There's some biscuits and smoked meat in the packs, Sheriff." Mayor Debi said. "And some other stuff I could rustle up until you get the Deputy settled." "Thank you." Jack eyed the horses and then Daniel. Janet came up to them. "Let me have a look at my patient, Sheriff," she said. She took an unresisting Daniel's hands and tutted quietly to herself before smiling up at Jack. "They look like they'll be fine, but I've included some things you might need. And if you see any signs of infection, I want you to come right back to town." She fixed them both with a stern look. Jack nodded. He knew the dangers. They couldn't risk gangrene, especially if Daniel was never going to speak again. "Daniel, I'm gonna have you ride Hawk with me today," Jack said. He saw Daniel lower his eyes and took that as consent. A pliant Daniel was not a good thing, Jack decided as Teal'c and he helped Daniel mount the horse. He mounted behind Daniel and felt his friend relax back against him. Jack clucked his tongue to get Hawk moving, the other horses and their friends following along. They came onto Main Street and Jack was relieved to notice no one was up and about. He couldn't help but wonder if Teal'c and Sam had asked that everyone remain in their houses until he and Daniel left town. Jack pulled back on the reins as he spied a lone figure standing on the porch of the Emerald City. Cassie stood watching, her arms pulled tight to her body and even from this distance Jack could see the red blotches on her cheeks. "Janet," he called and leaned down when the petite doctor came to his side. "Let her know I'm sorry about last night. It was only because�" "I know, Jack." Janet nodded in understanding. "And Cassie does, too. It's just taking awhile, but I'll speak to her again." "Thanks." He smiled at her in gratitude. "Jack?" Sam stepped up beside Janet, her blue eyes showing concern and worry. "Bring Daniel home to us." "I will, Sam." Jack nodded. He glanced at all of them. "Keep an eye on the town for me. If you need help, you know where we'll be." He shook the reins and Hawk continued his walk. Jack didn't look back, focusing instead on the road ahead. The waterfall wasn't a long ride away but the remnants of the laudanum soon had Daniel drowsing as he leaned against Jack's chest during the journey. Trusting Hawk to follow the path, Jack looked down into his friend's face. Even sleeping, there was a sadness in Daniel's expression and Jack brought up one hand to gently brush a strand of hair from the younger man's forehead. His time with the DeSala gang and the horrors he'd witnessed and suffered had left their mark on Daniel. There were times Jack thought Daniel looked as though he'd aged fifty years during his ordeal. He knew that sometime over the past weeks since they'd returned with the missing man, Daniel had recovered his memories of what had happened while he was kidnapped. Jack didn't have the book learning that the fancy schmancy Doctor Mackenzie Janet Fraiser had recommended, but he did know people. Being in command of other men kinda helped develop it. And as for horrors, he'd seen his share during his stay in Andersonville Prison. A niggling feeling that Daniel was close to the breaking point had been working in Jack for days. He needed to push to get past those fences his Deputy had built, but he also needed to be there to catch him as he fell. His work was cut out for him and it was delicate work indeed. For if he failed or had misread the clues, Jack feared they would lose Daniel forever. ****** Still drowsy from the medicines Doc Fraiser had given him, Daniel was pliable when they arrived at the campsite. Jack managed to get him tucked in a bedroll and curled up next to the fire. He decided that for now letting Daniel sleep was the best thing he could do. Jack busied himself with setting up camp. Having no idea how long he'd be out here with his Deputy, he figured he could make their surroundings as comfortable as possible. Jack came back from filling the coffee pot with water from the creek. He hadn't liked leaving Daniel, but at least he'd been able to keep an eye on the younger man as he'd done it. Daniel had moved only once since Jack had settled him on the ground, turning from his back to his side. "You look like you're about ten years old, Daniel, you know that?" Jack asked quietly, shaking his head at the foolishness of speaking to a sleeping man. But it was true. Daniel had his hands tucked up under his chin. A strange mewing sound came from his direction. Jack frowned, worried that Daniel might be choking or having trouble breathing. Moving closer he stretched out a hand to touch Daniel's forehead, only to see Daniel's chest heaving. A tiny yellow head peeked out from the top of Daniel's shirt, mewing pitifully. "Taffy." Jack shook his head and plucked the kitten from Daniel's chest. "You little sneak." He patted the kitten's head and set her down on the ground, searching for a small saucer to fill with water. The kitten scampered over to the saucer and lapped up the water. Jack grinned as she moved back to Daniel's side and sat down by him, settling in to give herself a thorough washing. Going through the supplies, Jack discovered that the Mayor and Sam had packed a few books along with the food. Choosing one at random, Jack leaned back on the log and started to read. The sun was high in the sky when Jack became aware of a pair of wary blue eyes fixed on him. "Daniel?" He turned slowly, not wanting to spook Daniel if the other man wasn't sure of his surroundings. Frowning, Daniel studied Jack for a few moments. He turned onto his back and stared up at the sky, holding first one hand and then the other in front of his face before sitting up. "Do you remember, Wa-ya?" Jack scooted a little closer to Daniel's side. Daniel nodded. He tried shape a sign with his hands and grimaced, biting his lower lip. He looked back at Jack in alarm. "Doc Janet said they'll be fine in a few days," Jack reassured him. Daniel ducked his head, letting his hands drop into his lap. He looked around the clearing as if searching for something. The smile that lit his face when he saw Taffy brought a grin to Jack's face. "Taffy decided to come along for the ride." Jack watched as Daniel held out his hand, wiggling his fingers to get the kitten's attention. He rubbed his friend's head and stood up. Daniel looked up at him, still smiling. Pushing his own hands to the ground, Daniel started pulling himself to his feet. Jack grabbed his arm and heaved him up. "We have to keep those hands clean, Daniel," he explained when he was given a disgusted look. Daniel gave a quick nod then and headed down towards the pool that formed beneath the waterfall. Jack threw his hands in the air and followed him. "Don't think the Doc would want you to go in there," Jack mentioned. Daniel stamped his foot on the ground and pointed at the water. He might not have a voice any longer, but Daniel Jackson was still one of the most expressive folks Jack knew. He undid the buttons on Daniel's pants when his friend couldn't get a grip with his bandaged fingers. The shirt quickly followed the pants and the moccasins were kicked off. Jack looked at the sky, grateful the day was warm and sunny. He had the feeling he was either going to be splashed or pulled in. He sat down and began pulling off his boots. Sometimes it was nice to forget he was the Sheriff and nice to just be Daniel's friend. ****** "Come on. Eat your grub." Jack used his spoon to point at Daniel's plate of beans and bacon. He didn't think Daniel had taken more than two bites and just pushed the food around a bit. Daniel looked up at him, the firelight reflected in his glasses and then turned his gaze back to the flames, still stirring the food. "Hey," Jack reached out to touch Daniel's shoulder. His heart sank when Daniel flinched away from him. "You need some help with the...?" Jack motioned at the spoon held loosely in Daniel's newly bandaged fingers. Violently shaking his head, Daniel placed the plate on the ground and backed away, curling up on his bedroll. Jack sighed and poured the beans back into the kettle. He had thought Daniel was beginning to relax, to recover from his ordeal in the root cellar. The afternoon had been spent swimming in the pool, then soaking up the sun and reading. Daniel had even wandered off for a little bit, remaining in Jack's sight but venturing away from him with a bit more of the self confidence Jack was used to seeing in him, to pick some berries for their supper and breakfast. And now, one simple touch had Daniel retreating back into whatever safe place he'd found for himself. Jack took another mouthful of beans, dumping his own food back into the kettle when it lost its taste. "Ah, Danny. What am I going to do with you?" he whispered to his friend's back. ****** No one watched him here. Daniel turned from his stomach to his back and blinked up at the crystal blue sky. He'd lost track of how many days he and Jack had been here, but he knew that soon they would have to go back to town. The thought of having to be in a building again scared him, twisted his gut and caused spots to dance behind his eyes. The memories of what the DeSala gang had done to him at the end haunted him so that only the day had become a safe place. The solace he used to find by looking out the window at the stars during the long nights in the Emerald City had faded. There had been comfort in sleeping out of doors before, but it was gone now. He was only safe during the day. He didn't think Jack knew how long he lay awake in his bedroll each night. Daniel scrubbed at his face as he sat up. He looked up as he heard Jack approaching, Taffy cavorting at his heels. "What you doing, Daniel?" Jack asked. He settled next to Daniel. Daniel held up the book that had fallen from his lap. Jack tugged it out of his hands gently and studied the title. "It any good? Want to tell me about it?" Smiling Daniel shook his head. // Boring for you, // he signed, forcing stiff fingers to form the letters. "Hey, I read." The laughter in Jack's voice made Daniel grin. He watched as his friend took off his hat and stretched out on the ground beside him. "I'm gonna take a little snooze. You keep on reading. Just pay me no never mind." Jack put his hand out and scooped up Taffy, depositing her on his chest. Daniel patted the kitten on her head and then opened his book. It wasn't long until Jack's snoring began. Unable to concentrate, Daniel stood. He looked down at Jack, noting how tired his friend appeared. Glancing around their small campsite, Daniel spied the berry bushes. Knowing how much Jack liked raspberries, Daniel smiled to himself and grabbed one of the kettles. The ripe berries mixed with a little of their flour and a small amount of sugar and cooked in the skillet would be a nice treat for them both. The kettle was half filled with juicy red berries when Daniel heard a hoarse yell. Dropping it, Daniel whirled, sure there was some danger in their camp. But he could only see Jack tossing his head from side to side and crying out. Running to Jack's side, Daniel dropped to his knees, searching for a rattler or some other danger, but he quickly realized Jack was still asleep. "Daniel! Where are you?" Jack called over and over. "No!" Daniel rocked back on his heels with the force of the yell. He shook at Jack's shoulder, biting his lip when it didn't help to wake the other man from his nightmare. He tapped at Jack's cheek with his fingertips and then closed his eyes when he realized more force was needed. Opening his hand, he slapped Jack, letting out his breath when Jack looked up at him in confusion. // Bad dream, // Daniel signed with awkward movements. // You safe. // He placed his still bandaged hand on Jack's shoulder and squeezed. Jack flung one arm up over his face, breathing heavily. Unable to speak and give words of comfort, Daniel sat, continuing to rub Jack's shoulder until he felt the muscle tense under his fingers. He removed his hand, moving back as Jack sat up. "You know what I dreamed about?" Jack asked. Daniel frowned at the anger in Jack's voice. It didn't make sense--why would Jack be angry about having a dream? Daniel shook his head. // Dream over. // "I don't think it is, Daniel. I think it's gonna haunt me for a long time." Jack shook his head. "I went to visit Padre Joe. Met some traders. They told me they'd crossed paths with some of the DeSala gang bragging about how they got revenge on me." Daniel scooted away from Jack. Despite the sun, he was cold. Cold down to his toes. He tucked his hands close to his chest. He wasn't going to tell Jack. He couldn't tell him. He just wanted to forget. But Jack wouldn't stop talking. He reached out to hit at Jack's hands because he was signing, too. "I dreamed about my friend being buried alive." Jack kept on speaking, his voice calm. "My friend was buried alive and I could do nothing to help him." // Stop! // Daniel made the sign as large as he could. "No!" Jack yelled. "Damn it, Daniel. No. I will not stop. I will not allow your soul to die after all you've been through." He stood up, looking around searching for somewhere to hide. But Jack was coming closer and he knew there was no escape. He looked at the anger and the sadness in Jack's face and felt his own anger rising. "Tell me," Jack demanded, and then his voice softened. "Tell me." ****** "Tell me." Jack felt his heart contract at the look of fear in Daniel's eyes. He put his hands back by his sides and took a deep breath before asking again. "Please, Daniel." Daniel stared at him, his body tense, appearing ready to flee into the woods at the slightest wrong move. He turned away and it took all of Jack's self control to not take another step, to wait and let Daniel take the lead. // Not want, // Daniel turned back. // Not want go. I fight. // Jack paused, not sure for a moment if Daniel was telling Jack he wouldn't go now or if he was telling him about his time with the DeSala gang. Daniel pulled at the bandages covering his hands, growing frustrated when he couldn't get them completely off. He shook his hands and bent his fingers one by one, pain evident in his movement. He closed his eyes and began to sign. // They take me. Hit me. Far away. Take me far away. // "They took you up north," Jack said. "And you fought them. Tried to get away from them." There was a weary nod from Daniel. // Dark place. Keep me dark place. Work for them. // He stopped and rubbed at his chest and then his hip. "They beat you when you refused," Jack guessed. Daniel opened his eyes, wide with fear and shock. // Beat me. Killed others. Killed others if I not work. // The signs became more vehement, made with short choppy motions despite the pain Jack knew it must be causing him. // I tell them let others go. I work. I stay. // "They let them go?" Jack asked. // Yes. Then they have just me. // Daniel stopped signing, wrapping his arms around his chest and shivering despite the heat. Jack moved his arms away from his body, taking away any possible threatening motion. "Is that when you stopped talking?" Daniel looked at him and swayed. Jack was at his side in an instant, catching him and easing him to the ground. The shivering hadn't stopped and Jack wrapped his arms around Daniel, trying to warm him. Uncurling his arms, Daniel began to sign much more slowly, finger spelling at times, telling of the tortures the DeSala gang devised and the laughter when he didn't respond , the time he spent held captive in darkness, the escape attempts that never succeeded. // They got tired. They want no more me. // Daniel's eyes were fixed straight ahead, and Jack knew Daniel no longer saw him, but was caught in memory. // Dig. // Daniel signed, then began miming the motion over and over. "They made you dig your own grave." Jack fought down the nausea. // Dig. Then push. // Daniel stopped, pulling his knees to his chest. // No scream. Dig. // "You dug the grave, they pushed you in." Jack repeated copying the signs. "You dug yourself out." He felt sick when Daniel nodded. // I sick. Not know where I am. Sick. Alone. // "Not any more." Jack pulled Daniel close, holding him tight. Daniel's chest heaved under his hands and he loosened his grip, thinking Daniel was getting sick. Looking at his face, Jack swallowed a lump in his throat. A few tears were leaking from Daniel's closed eyes. "Ah, Danny. Wa-ya. I'm so sorry. So sorry." Jack held on as his shirt was soaked with tears. His hope that Daniel would begin to speak if the horrible truth came out wasn't fulfilled. A cry escaped Daniel's lips though, a painful, keening wail that reminded Jack of the dying on the battlefield. So Jack held on, being there now when he hadn't been able to all those months ago. ****** They ambled back into town just around lunchtime. Jack's stomach was grumbling and since it was Tuesday, he was looking forward to eating some of the Mayor's chicken stew. He glanced at Daniel and saw his friend grinning at him. // Hungry, // Daniel signed one handed, trying to hold onto a squirming Taffy. "Got me a hankering for Mz. Debi's chicken stew." He grinned back at his friend. "Don't say it, I know, anything is better than my cooking." Finally, Daniel leaned over Feather's side and let the cat jump onto the ground. It sped off across the lawn, heading straight for Mz. Thel's pond. Those poor goslings and ducklings were in for a startling awakening. Hawk snorted softly and Jack realized that Daniel had reined in Feather. The younger man sat rigidly on his horse, staring towards the Emerald City Saloon. Three horses were tied in front, Jack recognized Lou's roan mare but the other two were strangers to Jack. One had a very distinct pattern on his rump; Jack was sure he'd have remembered the beast had he seen it before. He turned Hawk around and saw that the haunted look that he'd just spent days exorcising from Daniel's face had returned. He reached over and grabbed Feather's lead and clucked at the horse, turning him around. As he led his friend back down the way they came, Daniel turned and continued to stare behind him until they turned into the side street where Doc Fraiser had her surgery. "Doc!" Jack yelled as Daniel seemed to fold onto himself and began to slide off Feather. The door squeaked open and footsteps ran down the porch and stairs. Jack managed to catch Daniel as the shaking man tried to regain his footing. "What happened?" Janet said as she passed a hand over Daniel's sweating face. She grabbed his arm and they led him towards her house. "I think he recognized someone," Jack said through tightly clenched teeth. "Damn it, he was doing great up until he saw the horses." "What horses?" "Couple of 'em tied front of the saloon." Jack didn't like the way Daniel was being led without protesting. Janet led him to the sofa and she wrapped him in a blanket that decorated the back of it. Daniel curled up in the corner, his hands tightly clasping the edges of the blanket. "Sherriff!" Lou's voice sounded at the same time as the cursory knock at the door. "Lou." Jack turned away from Daniel a moment to see his other Deputy's heading towards them. "The Mayor sent word. There's two strangers in her saloon who're asking questions about you. She thinks they might be part of the DeSala gang." Jack grabbed Lou's arm and pulled him out of earshot. He spoke quietly, glancing often towards the huddled figure on the sofa. "How long have they been there?" "About an hour. They've been drinking pretty heavily, playing cards and such. But they did notice you were out of town and started asking right pointed questions after a while. Luigi thinks they might be bank robbers, but I think Mz. Debi's right." "Okay, listen, this is what we're gonna do. First, have someone keep watch on the saloon and let me know the moment they leave." "That's just it, they're getting ready to leave now." "Shit." Jack ran a hand through his hair, thinking fast. "I want you to gather everyone you can in the next thirty minutes. I'll follow these two, and leave a trail so the posse can follow. If it's the DeSala gang, I don't doubt they're planning an ambush somewhere nearby. Maybe we can catch them at their own game." "Yes sir," Ferretti said. He glanced at Daniel. "He's not doing so good, is he?" "He was doing just fine, Lou. He caught sight of the horses tethered outside the saloon. I think he's just remembering a little too hard these days." "He'll be fine," Lou said, patting Jack's shoulder before rushing out of the house to carry through Jack's orders. "Sheriff," Janet said as she approached him. "I'm going to give Daniel some more laudanum. He's gone into shock, and I think if he can sleep, he should be fine when he wakes up." "I have to go," Jack said as he looked down at the doctor. She nodded her understanding and Jack hurried to the sofa. Daniel remained curled up, shivering, but he looked up at Jack when Jack knelt beside him on the floor. "Something just came up, Danny. I have to leave. Doc's gonna take right good care of you. I'll be back soon, okay?" He hated having to leave Daniel like this, but there was no choice. If this was the DeSala gang, he had to catch them now, while he could get the upper hand. He clasped Daniel's cold fingers and squeezed them before rushing out. He spotted the two riders leaving town and he rushed to his office for more ammunition. Minutes later, he and Hawk were galloping out of town ****** No! No! No! No! No! Not again! His nightmares had followed him to town and this time Jack wouldn't be able to help him get through them. They were here! He'd recognized the horses, he'd seen them often enough in Oma's camp. He stifled the screams that wanted to escape, and tried to escape from the reality that was encroaching his world. But this time, no matter how he tried to run from it, there was no respite. Jack was gone. "Daniel, can you drink this for me?" Janet sat down beside him with a cup in her hand. Obediently, he opened his mouth and took a large mouthful. Only once he'd swallowed it and had more in his mouth did he recognize the taste of the drugs she'd given him several days ago. He knew they'd make him sleep, and he didn't want to. He was afraid of the dreams. He sputtered, trying to spit it out, but some of the liquid went down his throat while more went into his windpipe. He coughed, liquid dripping down his chin and throat. Janet wiped his face with the corner of the blanket. "Sorry," she said. No, the nightmares were already here. In town. Where Jack had promised he'd be safe. Jack had left him. Alone. With his waking nightmare. He shivered, unable to get warm despite the woolen blanket. "Daniel, you need to drink it all." She held the metal cup to his mouth but he pursed his lips together, trying to turn away. Relentlessly, she followed his movements with the cup. "Daniel, please. It'll help you sleep." Daniel didn't want to sleep, and he shook his head emphatically. She sighed, then used her thumb to wipe his cheek where she'd missed a drop. "At least try to relax," she suggested. Daniel stretched out on the sofa, bringing his knees to his chest. He was aware of her scrutiny, so he shut his eyes and forced himself to relax. Slowly, he let go of the edges of the blanket, making his hands lie limply beneath his throat. He let the muscles in his neck, shoulders and upper back loosen, giving the impression that he was falling asleep. The medication *was* making him sleepy, but he hadn't had enough that it was easy to fight it. He felt her hands on his wrist, and he forced himself not to stiffen, keeping his breathing smooth and even. Eventually she left the room and went to putter around the kitchen. Daniel figured that they had interrupted her lunch, and immediately felt guilty. He heard a commotion outside, and several riders galloped by the house. Tok'ra Flats was usually a quiet town, but the raised voices and racing horses alerted him that something was up. For a moment, Daniel wondered why Jack wasn't yelling at them to slow down, that there were children living in town, when he remembered that Jack had left. Jack had gone after Oma. Alone. Fear caused his heart to race and his stomach to clench sickeningly. Knowing that Janet was in the other room, Daniel threw the covers aside and stood up, swaying slightly until he got his balance. He walked quietly to the door and slipped outside before Janet knew he was gone. Feather wasn't tethered in front of the house and Daniel whistled softly. An answering neigh came from behind the house. No one had unsaddled Feather yet so Daniel mounted quickly and raced towards Jack's office, ignoring Janet's frantic calls. He ran inside, grabbing his bow and arrows. He knew his gun was locked up in their hotel room, but Jack had the key to the strongbox and Daniel didn't know where his spare was, and he had no time to look for it. He took a knife and then rushed out, jumped on Feather's back and galloped after Jack. ****** The two men had ridden for almost three hours, when suddenly they'd turned off and headed for a small valley which Jack knew had plenty of wildlife and fresh water. Carefully he marked his trail and then followed. When he came to a good vantage point, he pulled Hawk to a stop and dismounted. Crawling to the edge of the trail, Jack could see the camp near the base of the woods. Quickly counting, he made out 17 men. Not including the two already on their way down, Jack figured there were at least four or five others as sentries. He returned to his horse and brought him back a ways, tethering him where he'd be visible to the approaching posse. He returned to his vantage point and continued to watch and plan, keeping an ear out for his backup. ****** A large number of horses had ridden ahead of Daniel, and fighting both shock and mind-numbing medication, Daniel eventually realized that they were also following Jack's trail. He pushed Feather onwards, slowing only when he saw the group had turned towards a small valley he knew well. He dismounted and continued on foot, leading his Feather until he heard the sound of other horses nearby. He recognized many of the mounts. Spotting Hawk among the dozen grazing in the small clearing, he tied Feather beside him. With a farewell pat to both horses, he quietly slipped through the woods. He knew what he had to do. Jack was out there and there was no way he was going to let Jack tend Daniel's private nightmare. He spotted Siler and easily slipped behind him. He passed by Lou, Sam, and then Walter. He made it to the edge of the ravine looking down into the valley. The sight below almost had him whimpering at the memories they invoked. The sound of Oma's voice came to him as she called an order to her men, and he placed his hands over his ears, not wanting to hear. He didn't know how long he stayed that way, but when he raised his head, he looked into the curious eyes of a small, gray squirrel. With a flick of its tail, it ran up a tree when he put his hands down and leaned on the loamy ground. No, he couldn't stay here and cower. He had to go to Jack. He could tell that his friends were horribly outnumbered at least two to one. He stood up slowly, catching himself on a tree when the world swayed once more. He blinked his sight clear and continued searching for his friend. He had no trouble going down the mountain and evading the citizens of Tok'ra Flat, until he spotted Teal'c. Daniel moved as stealthily as he could, and ended up freezing twice when the large man turned to examine the area where he hid. With a soft sigh, Daniel made his way around him without his friend being the wiser. He finally spotted Jack below him, watching the goings on in the camp. Daniel settled down and began stringing his bow. He placed his arrows nearby, hoping he'd get a clear shot through the wooded area. He was ready, he'd watch Jack's back. ****** Small birds whistled now and again, alerting Jack that his men were in position. Now was the best time to attack, when Oma and her band were out in the open. But he couldn't just start shooting them in cold blood. He needed to give them a chance to give themselves up. "Oma DeSala!" Jack yelled. His words echoed back to him several times as he saw the men below him scramble for their weapons and take cover. "We've got you surrounded. This is your only chance. Give up, and there won't be any bloodshed!" He could hear her laughing maniacally, when several shots were fired in his general direction. He ducked instinctively, then peered over the edge of the rock he was hiding behind. He had several clear shots of her men from where he hid, and he was sure his men could get several more. They were outnumbered, but the DeSala gang had much less cover to hide behind. "O'Neill!" Her voice rose up to where he crouched, and although he couldn't see her, he knew where she had taken refuge. "Ya won't take none of us alive, Sheriff. Me'n my boys will send y'all off to where your purty little Deputy is waitin' fer ya!" Jack remained silent. In his opinion, she had just admitted to having killed Daniel. In front of witnesses, no less. "Ya should have seen him cryin', Sheriff! Poor little Indian boy, waitin' fer ya ta come rescue him. He's still awaitin', y'know!" He ignored her taunting and swore to himself there was no way that woman would be walking out of here free today. Dead or alive, she was going to be his. If for a moment she suspected that Daniel wasn't dead, she'd come after him even if she did manage to kill Jack. He knew Teal'c and Hammond felt the same, so if something did happen to Jack, Daniel would be safe from her. Checking one final time that everything was at hand, Jack raised his rifle and took careful aim at the nearest bandit. Whistling the call to fire, Jack squeezed the trigger. ****** Daniel wasn't sure how the fighting first began; when he'd heard Oma's taunting voice again, he succumbed to the pull of the laudanum and overwhelming memories, and put his head down on his knees, trying to blot out her words. He could hear his name, but his mind couldn't seem to understand what she was saying. But when bullets flew by, the sudden danger pulled him from his anguish. Instincts kicked in and he threw himself flat on the ground. He belly-crawled to the edge of the ravine and he could see Jack taking careful aim and firing his gun. A bullet whizzed by his head, and he realized that nobody knew he was up here. He kept his head down, not wanting to get hit by his own people. When things quieted, Daniel cautiously raised his head and peered down. Many of Oma's men were lying on the ground, either dead or injured. The rest had thrown their weapons aside and had their hands up in the air, signaling surrender. "Okay, let's get down there," Jack called out to his men. Daniel saw him stand up and begin making his way down to where the carnage was. Something white caught Daniel's eye and he saw somebody approaching Jack from behind. Unable to make the man's face out in the dimness of the woods, there was something about the way the man was walking. Skulking. Too late he recognized Pablo, the glint of a knife in his hand as he crept up behind Jack. Daniel nocked an arrow and took aim, but there were too many branches and shrubs between him and the approaching man. He knew the arrow wouldn't reach but he kept trying to find a clear path, continuing to track the man as he held the bowstring taut. He saw he was nearly upon Jack and rage overtook him. It wasn't fair! He had to do something, anything, to warn his friend. There was nothing he could do. Pablo was only a few steps away and Daniel couldn't get a clear shot. Daniel took a deep breath, and screamed. "Jack! Look out!" Jack whirled and saw the enemy. They went down among a tangle of brush, rolling in the woods, out of Daniel's view. He stood frozen, unable to move, barely able to breathe. One of them got up and glanced his way, but Daniel's sight blurred and he couldn't make out the face or clothes. The person came crashing through the brush towards him, and Daniel decided this was it. He wasn't fighting any longer. If Jack were dead, there was no use. He was tired. He'd fought Oma for as long as he could. He was tired. He gave up. "Daniel. It's okay, let it go." Jack's voice was nearby, soft and gentle. He was tugging at something in Daniel's hands. He looked down and with surprise saw that he had snapped his bow in two. Suddenly his legs couldn't hold him up any longer and Jack was there, holding him, easing him to the ground. "I'm fine," he croaked. His voice sounded strange in his ears, like it needed oiling. "Yeah, I see that you are," Jack said, ruffling Daniel's hair. "Can you walk? Think you can make it down there to the stream?" Daniel nodded and suddenly Teal'c was on his other side. His legs felt strangely rubbery and numb, wanting to go every which way but with his friends' help, he made it down to the quickly flowing water. He looked over Jacks shoulder and saw the Sheriff's men as they corralled the surviving bandits. Daniel turned his head away and knelt beside the stream. He splashed cool water onto his face, trying to stop his hands from shaking and even his breathing. "Daniel, I have to go�" Daniel turned to look at Jack, and smiled. He'd be fine. // Go // Daniel signed. He looked at his hands a moment, then said the word out loud. "Sheriff." Sam came jogging up to them. She smiled at Daniel, then quickly reported to her boss. "There are twenty accounted for; seven dead, eight wounded, two of which probably won't make it. And five who weren't injured. Only two of ours were hurt; Graham got a flesh wound in the arm and Judge Hammond sprained his wrist trying to wrestle one of them who decided he'd rather make a run for it." "There's another dead one up there," Jack said as he stood up. "Good job, Carter." "Twenty three," Daniel said, his voice still sounding weird. He cleared his throat, hoping that would help. "What?" "Oma had twenty two following her. With her, makes twenty three." Daniel's voice cracked, and he rubbed his throat. "So there are two missing?" Jack quickly issued orders. "Get Teal'c, Simmons, Davis and Feretti. Start combing those woods. Nobody's safe until we get them all." "Understood," she said as she turned and rushed off to do his bidding. "I'll be over there," Jack said, indicating the prisoners. Daniel nodded, and pulled his knees to his chest, content to wait where he was for the time being. ****** Jack muttered a quiet 'fer cryin' out loud' as Daniel pulled away from him and began walking determinedly towards the dead. He came to a stop before Oma's body and Jack frowned as Daniel wrapped his arms around his torso, staring down at the remains. "She's dead," Jack said, putting a hand on the tense shoulder. He could feel the continuous shivers coursing through the still too-thin body, and all Jack wanted was to get Daniel situated by the fire and get some hot grub inside of him. Daniel ignored him and took two steps forward until he was standing beside the body. He reached out with a moccasined foot and rolled the body over. Oma had been shot through the heart, the victim of Jack's first bullet fired in battle. "Come on, let's go get something to eat," Jack coaxed. Knowing Daniel's propensity for having a fit whenever he saw blood, Jack had tried to keep him away from both the living and the dead. But his friend had been too quick for him, making a beeline for the dead the second Jack had eased his grip on his arm. With a deep sigh, Daniel turned away from the person who had been responsible for the hell his life had become during the past year. Maybe now he could put those horrors to rest, knowing she wouldn't be coming after him or Jack. "Hey, lookee here, it's the pretty Indian boy," one of Oma's men jeered as they walked by. Jack glared at the man, then glanced worriedly at Daniel. His friend's face had gone pale and Jack saw sweat begin to bead on his temples. Daniel resolutely put his head down, refusing to look at the prisoners. "Didja enjoy your stay with us, pretty boy? Don't go too far now, 'cause we can dig you up a new place to stay." Wild laughter followed, which was suddenly cut short by the sound of slapping flesh. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack saw Teal'c rub his bruised knuckles and Jack saluted the large man with a nod of his head. "Here we go," Jack said when they finally reached their small campsite, well out of view of the prisoners. Judge Hammond and Graham Simmons were seated before a cheerfully burning fire. "Sheriff, Deputy," Hammond greeted the two men. Jack nodded at the Judge while Daniel barely raised his eyes to look at their companions. Several rabbits were cooking, dripping fat onto the fire. They were almost done, the aroma making Jack's mouth water. He sat Daniel down beside the two injured men, and then walked over to the pile of gear. He found their stuff and took out Daniel's bedroll. He placed the warm blanket around the still shivering body. The inevitable coffeepot sat off to the side and Jack poured two cups, adding several lumps of sugar into one before handing it to his Deputy. Daniel held it awkwardly, cupping his fingers around it as if he didn't know what to do with it. With two fingers, Jack raised it to Daniel's lips. "Drink." Daniel took a sip, his glasses fogging slightly from the rising steam of the hot liquid. "More," Jack ordered when Daniel went to put the cup down. He watched Daniel take several sips before he permitted him to lower his cup. "These almost done?" Jack asked of the rabbits. "Few more minutes," Hammond said. "Good job today, Jack," the stocky man said. "Got a confession out of the bitch while getting rid of some mighty mean varmints." "Wasn't just me, the boys did most of the work." And they had. Jack was proud of his deputies and law officers. And to think that only these two minor injuries had come of it. The last two had just been captured and all were now accounted for. "And we were damned lucky," he added. They'd had the superior firepower and better cover, and the element of surprise. Jack was pretty sure this wasn't where Oma had wanted to ambush him, and that the two who had wandered into town today were only supposed to check the place out. But they'd started drinking and had become a little careless. It all came out to luck. Luck that Daniel had been able to escape the confines of his tomb; luck that he'd been found by friendly Indians, luck that word of his discovery had reached Tok'ra Flats and luck that Jack had eventually been able to reach Daniel deep in the depths of his mind where he'd gone into hiding. "Here," Judge Hammond said as he passed one of the cooked hares to Jack. His mouth was watering as his stomach reminded him he'd had nothing to eat since breakfast this morning, their lunch interrupted by Daniel's reaction when he recognized the horses in town. Using his knife, he cut off several pieces and put some in a plate before handing it to Daniel. He made sure Daniel began to eat before ripping into his own meal. But his enjoyment was marred when a few minutes later Daniel put the plate down and rushed into the woods. The unmistakable sounds of retching came to him, and Jack sighed. Hammond simply shook his head wearily while Simmons looked uncomfortable. He continued to eat, keeping an eye out. Daniel came out a few minutes later, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Instead of coming back to the fire, Daniel headed for the horses. Jack decided to give him a few minutes alone when Daniel leaned against Feather. He signed to the horse in slow, lethargic movements. He was the epitome of exhaustion, shoulders drooping, shuffling walk, a far cry from the usual energetic and fast-paced man Jack used to know. Hawk snickered and butted Daniel's shoulder, demanding his own attention. When Daniel turned and put his arms around Jack's mount, Jack fished several cubes of sugar and made his way to his friend. "Here, they deserve a treat," Jack said as he handed Daniel the sweets. They fed the horses, listening to their satisfied snuffs. "We'll be going home tomorrow," Jack said after a minute's silence. "Gonna need a couple of buckboards for the injured and the dead. Doc's been called for, she'll be here soon after sundown, though." Daniel nodded, indicating he was listening, but keeping his eyes trained on Feather. "You need her to look at you?" Daniel finally raised his eyes to Jack's. "I'm fine," he said very softly. "Yeah, that you are," Jack replied, grabbing Daniel by the scruff of the neck and pulling him into his arms. He hugged his friend hard, and Daniel hugged him back. ****** "Jack, surely you see what I'm saying." Jack watched as his Deputy paced back and forth in front of his desk. He shook his head and swung his feet to the floor. He took his time standing, even stretching for good measure. At Daniel's huff of impatience, Jack lowered his arms. "No, Daniel. I can't see what you're saying. I don't agree with the idea; I don't approve of the idea." Jack began walking towards the door, time for one of his circuits around the town. "But Jack, this is important." Daniel caught up to him in a few steps, his hands punctuating the air with his fervor. "Not *that* important, Daniel." Jack tipped his hat as they passed Mz. Amy and Mz. Kalee on the street. He was sure he caught a look of indulgent amusement at his Deputy's exuberance. "It *is* important, Jack." Daniel reached out a hand and snagged Jack's arm. "Just because you have no interest in it doesn't mean it isn't important to the town." "Daniel," Jack rubbed at his hair. "The answer will still be no, even if you keep carrying on til you're blue in the face." "Blue in the face? Blue in the face, Jack?" Daniel's voice rose in anger. "You're the Sheriff of Tok'ra Flats, not the king of it. Last time I checked, this town was run as a democracy. You know, everyone has his or her say." "Daniel, stop pouting," Jack said, picking up the pace a bit and shaking off Daniel's hand. "And be quiet for once." "Ha, pouting? I do not pout, Jack. And I will not be quiet." Daniel took a longer step and stood directly in front of Jack, blocking his path. "You will listen to me." Daniel signed along with speaking, and his hands flew with his words. His impassioned speech came to a close and he stood looking at Jack, pushing up his spectacles with one finger. "Now do you understand?" he asked. Jack smiled. He didn't mean to, but he couldn't help it. All those months when Daniel had been kidnapped and they'd thought they'd never see him again. The months when he'd returned broken and unsure, with his voice muted. All that time he'd missed Daniel's voice and now he was telling him not to use it. "Jack?" Daniel tilted his head and waved a hand in front of Jack's face. "I'm fine." Jack nodded. He grinned again. "You sure do talk more than anyone I've ever known." "Me? Do not." Daniel sounded indignant. "Do too." "Do not." "Do." Jack said before ruffling Daniel's hair. "But you just keep right on doing it." "You sure you're feeling all right, Jack?" Daniel asked, giving him a sideways glance. "Better than I have for a long time, Wa-ya." Jack said. "Better than I have for a long time."
Authors' Comments: Babs and I have to thank Jo for the stupendous beta job on this fic and for Mayor Debi for giving it a thumbs up. Also a "Thank You" to all the residents of the Flats, because without you and your AU characters, the town would be an empty and lonely place to live! (devra)
And I have to thank babs and devra for their constant friendship, inspiration and overall support, and all thanks to all the others who have contributed in helping write this fic. (jo)
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DISCLAIMER:The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.