DEGREES OF TRUST

BY: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Stargate SG-1 are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret Productions. This fanfiction has been written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

CATEGORY: Drama, Tag for "Shades of Grey", h/c, angst.

RATING: M (V), (L).

SPOILERS: Shades of Grey, The Gamekeeper, Legacy.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Falsely lulled into the belief that Season Four was finally back on our screens downunder, I have had a hankering to write some more Stargate fic, but the well seemed dry. Then the TV station did their usual moronic act and took it off again after only four episodes (for Michael Jackson, no less) and suddenly at 5 am, the muse was awake, jumping up and down and yelling in my ear, "You have got to get up now! Do I have a story for you!"

Here it is, for better or worse. Feedback welcome.

Jack watched, puzzled as Teal'c stalked past him, a smug look on his usually expressionless face. Torn between needing, wanting to explain to his friends and knowing that he had a debriefing session in ten minutes, Jack watched his team leave, a stiff-spined Daniel leading the way. Resolutely, Jack swallowed past the lump in his throat and headed for General Hammond's office.

"Duty first, like always, Jack?" Sara's voice, tight, edged with tears and sarcasm,

reminding him that he'd missed another of Charlie's baseball games. Jack fought back the bitterness that surged and rapped loudly on the door, hoping to muffle the accusation. Hearing the clipped summons from within, he opened the door and stepped inside.

It was late when they finally wound up the meeting and Jack debated briefly whether to spend the night on base. Deciding he needed a stiff drink to get rid of the sour taste this mission had left in his mouth, he opted to go home and headed for the car park. He was surprised to see Daniel striding out ahead of him.

"Daniel?"

The archaeologist paused, then turned and waited for Jack to catch up. "You're here late," Jack said conversationally as they made their way through the exit doors.

Daniel shrugged. "I was almost done on the translations of the tablets that SG-11 videotaped. I figured I may as well finish it off."

"You want a ride home?" Jack offered, fishing his car keys out of his pocket.

"What?"

"Your car's in the shop. I remember you telling me…before…"

"That was over a week ago, Jack," Daniel answered tersely, pulling out his own set of keys and waving them at the colonel.

"Right." After a moment's uneasy silence, Jack raised a hand in farewell. "See you tomorrow then." He was halfway across the car park before Daniel's voice stopped him.

"Jack? Why didn't you trust us - me?"

Jack sighed, a deep, tired breath that stole his remaining energy. 'I don't want to argue with you, Daniel. Not now, never again.' He looked up. "It wasn't about trust."

"No? What was it about then?" The tone held the hard edge of challenge.

Jack thought for a moment. "It was about following orders, doing my job," he said finally.

"I don't understand," Daniel answered, though his voice faltered and Jack suspected that he did. "Was it worth sacrificing our friendship to follow orders?"

Jack hardened his face and his heart as he spoke. "Yes. The good of the many, and all that." He massaged his temples where a headache had taken up residence. "These guys had to be stopped, Daniel. You of all people should understand that."

"You gonna quote Star Trek at me now, Jack?" Daniel smiled gently, briefly. "I do understand. I do. It's just…" His hands usually so eloquent, flailed mutely and Jack seized the opportunity it offered, needing to know, not wanting to know.

"Is it lost, Daniel? Our friendship?"

Daniel shook his head, then scrubbed a hand through his cropped hair. "I don't know," he said at last. "I hope not." He motioned to his car. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Jack nodded and watched him drive off into the night.

0~0~0~0~0

Daniel resisted the urge to burn rubber as he drove out of the car park, though anger clenched his hands into a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. He felt sick to his stomach, his relief at having Jack back on the team, discovering it had all been a ruse warred with his ire at having been deceived. And wedged in there somewhere, his disappointment that if he hadn't been able to see through Jack's act, then perhaps he didn't know the man as well as he thought he did.

Parking his car in its usual spot, Daniel toyed briefly with the idea of finding a bar and getting mindlessly drunk. Then, knowing his tolerance for alcohol, he gathered up his books and climbed out of his car, headed for the half bottle of scotch he kept in his cupboard for emergencies.

This situation had overstepped emergency and slipped right into crisis, Daniel thought as he wearily juggled his load and struggled to lock his door. That's what it was - a crisis of faith. He caught sight of his face in the reflection of the car window and the raw pain and grief he saw etched there caused him to quickly look away. Jack was wrong. It was all about friendship, all about trust.

There was a sudden sharp pain in his neck and as he raised a hand to rub at it, his arm was tightly grasped and pulled up behind his back, his face pushed hard against the driver's side window.

Daniel reacted violently, shoving back against his assailant, feeling a small triumph at the soft exclamation of surprise behind him, then he grimaced as he felt a stinging heat spread a fiery path through his neck. He twisted against the hold on his arm and both heard and felt a sharp snap of bone that sent a shard of red-hot pain straight to his brain.

His attacker suddenly released his grip and Daniel collapsed, his knees thumping hard onto the blacktop. He tried to curl around the agony in his arm. A dark shadow loomed over him and he blinked back tears in an effort to bring the blurry face into focus.

"You shouldn't have struggled," a voice said, its youthful timbre at odds with the brute strength of its owner. "I missed the vein. It will take longer to work now and it won't be pleasant."

Anything Daniel wanted to say was ambushed by a surge of white heat that coursed through his entire body, leaving him drained and weak. He attempted futilely to swallow down the nausea that surged up his gullet. Finally, he gave in to the impulse, flopping weakly onto his side as his stomach convulsed in painful spasms that obliterated even the awful pain in his arm. When the darkness approached, he went with it willingly.

0~0~0~0~0

Jack moped around the house for the best part of an hour when he first got home. He couldn't actually remember when he'd last had something to eat, so he pulled sandwich fixings from the refrigerator and after smelling the milk, pulled out a beer. He half-heartedly made himself a ham and cheese sandwich, then spent the next twenty minutes pulling it apart.

Finally, he gave up the charade and picked up the phone. He groaned out loud when the answering machine picked up and stole a quick glance at the clock. It was almost midnight. He couldn't imagine that Daniel would have gone anywhere at this late hour.

"Daniel? It's Jack." He smiled ruefully. "Right. I know, big surprise there. Look, I know you're going to find this weird coming from me but we need to talk. Tonight. So, pick up the phone, okay?" Nothing but silence greeted his ears. "Damn it, Daniel!" Jack blew out a frustrated breath. "All right. Look, I'm going to come over there. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. This is something that we should discuss face to face anyway. Wait for me. Don't make me have to come looking for you."

0~0~0~0~0

It looked like that was exactly what Jack was going to have to do. After several fruitless minutes hammering at Daniel's front door, and enduring the curious and downright intimidating stare of Mrs. McNally, Daniel's neighbor and self-appointed surrogate grandmother, Jack used his universal key, a strategically placed shoulder and entered the silent apartment.

Daniel's bed was neatly made up, giving no indication that he'd slept there and wandering through the apartment, Jack got the uneasy impression that the archaeologist hadn't come home at all. After a final cursory look around, Jack pulled the door closed and knocked on the neighbor's door.

As elderly and frail as she was, Mrs. McNally was sprightly enough when it came to Daniel Jackson. The door opened just a crack after the first tap and the old lady blinked appraisingly at Jack.

"Ma'am, I'm not sure if you remember me. I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill. I'm a friend of Daniel's."

"He didn't come home tonight," Hattie McNally replied. She opened the door a little wider. "I'm not a snoop, but I keep an eye on the sweet man. He's been looking so sad lately and I'm sure he's lost weight."

"Are you sure he didn't come home at all?" Jack asked.

Hattie nodded. "I took over some home-made chicken soup around nine. The way he's been looking lately I thought maybe he was sick again, but he didn't answer the door."

"Sick again?"

"Like the last time," the old lady confided. "Last year, he was away for quite a few days. When he came back, he said he'd been sick in the hospital."

Jack closed his eyes momentarily. That would have been after Machello's Goa'uld killers had infected Daniel, and he'd been incarcerated in a mental health facility until they…No, Jack corrected. Until Daniel figured it out. God, as sick as he was back then, doped to the back teeth on drugs and he still had to figure it out for us. 'Jesus, O'Neill, you didn't trust him then either.'

A small hand on his arm brought him back to himself and he opened his eyes to see Mrs. McNally squinting at him with a worried frown. "Are you all right, dear?"

Jack felt himself waver slightly and caught his balance against the doorjamb. He nodded at the old lady. "I'm fine. If Daniel comes home, could you tell him to call me?"

"Of course," Hattie replied. As Jack turned toward the elevator, she called to him. "Colonel? You don't think something has happened to him, do you? I mean, he looked so lost, and I don't know, just not well for the past couple of days."

'You can put the ball squarely in my court for that one,' Jack thought. He smiled at Hattie and shook his head. "I'm sure he's fine, ma'am. Goodnight."

Jack wasn't sure exactly what made him do it but he headed past Daniel's parking space on his way back to his car and stopped dead in his tracks, every nerve tingling, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Daniel's car was in its usual spot. Jack approached it warily, though it was obvious from the light that cast a yellow glow over the vehicle that it was empty. The colonel stepped as close as he could without touching anything and peered into the dark interior. Nothing seemed out of place.

As he stepped back and fished in his jacket pocket for his cell phone, something crunched underneath his foot. Leaning down to identify what he had trodden on, Jack's heart stopped in his chest. It was a ballpoint pen, the same kind that Daniel and countless thousands of other people used. Nothing at all out of the ordinary. It was what lay just behind the front driver's side wheel of Daniel's car that pushed all the alarm bells. A syringe, plastic, disposable lay almost hidden beneath the tire. If he hadn't bent down, Jack doubted he would have ever noticed it.

Just as he straightened and reached once more for his cell phone, it rang, startling him and he paused a fraction of a second to catch his breath before pressing the reply button with a trembling finger.

"Daniel?"

0~0~0~0~0

Daniel cautiously opened one crusted eyelid and just as quickly slammed it shut again as bright light carved a shaft of pain through his skull. He clenched his teeth shut to stop the moan he could feel climbing up his throat and wrapped his arms more tightly around the lingering echo of cramps in his gut. Somewhere beyond him, he could hear a faint regular thumping and soft disjointed muttering. Curiosity and fear of his vulnerable state forced him to open his eyes once more. He sucked in a breath at the sharp pain that assaulted him but determinedly kept his eyes open and blinked several times in an attempt to bring his surroundings into focus.

He didn't have his glasses on so that task was a little more difficult than he had initially thought and squinting his eyes increased the throbbing in his head to a new crescendo. Resolutely, he lifted his head slightly and desperately swallowed down the nausea that surged once more.

The room was actually quite dim, the only real light coming from a dismal-looking fire that crackled half-heartedly in a fireplace directly opposite him. The room was small, sparse and chilly despite the flames' best efforts and Daniel shivered in reaction. As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he was able to make out a large huddled figure seated on the floor next to the fire. The person sat, knees pulled up under his chin, his arms locked tightly about them as he rocked rhythmically, a soft muttering of sound escaping from under the fall of hair that shielded his face.

After a few moments intense concentration, Daniel was able to make sense of the ramblings. The same words were repeated over and over, the cadence never changing, the phrase punctuated with a solid bump of head on the wall behind him. "Did it for you. Did it for you."

The prolonged effort was making Daniel dizzy and he shifted slightly on the cot, placing one hand on the thin mattress to steady himself. Bones shifted and grated and a pain so intense that it stole his breath sizzled along the length of his arm. He sank back down on the bed and cradled the limb to his chest, not bothering to suppress the cry of agony that stole past his dry lips. Cold sweat broke out on his skin and then the sickness that he had held at bay returned with a vengeance and his stomach convulsed once more as he vomited violently.

He was only vaguely aware of the large figure rising from the floor and crossing over to him. His shoulder was grasped in a firm grip as he was pulled onto his side so that he did not choke. Painful dry heaving seized him for long minutes after he had expelled everything in his stomach and then he fell back onto the bed, gasping for breath. A cool, damp, rather smelly rag was wiped over his face and he leaned unashamedly into its welcome relief. Exhausted, he drifted into a deep dreamless sleep, stirring only slightly as his kidnapper pulled a straight piece of wood from the firebox in the corner and set the fractured bones in his arm.

0~0~0~0~0

"Daniel?" Jack immediately recognized the archaeologist's cell phone number. The voice that emanated from the speaker though was that of a stranger.

"Sorry, Colonel, Daniel's tied up at the moment." The voice was young and male and sniggered at his own joke.

"Who is this? What do you want with Daniel Jackson?"

"Nothing at all, Colonel. Doctor Jackson is simply a means to an end."

"I don’t want to play games here," Jack replied walking quickly to his car. "Why don’t you tell me what you do want?"

"I want you. I'm going to give you some directions. If you show up on time, I'll let Doctor Jackson go. If you don't…"

"What the hell is this all about?" Jack asked, frantically scrabbling through his glove compartment for a pen. "Do I know you?"

"Once, perhaps." The voice was softer now, infinitely sad. Then the tone hardened again. "Come alone. Do not bring the police into this or your friend will die. Drive to Gunnison. When you get there, take the road out of town, drive exactly five miles into the mountains toward the Black Canyon monument then turn onto the dirt track. It will lead you eventually to me and Doctor Jackson."

"Gunnison?" Jack did a quick mental calculation. "That’s about a three hour drive."

"Then you’d better get moving," the man said.

"Look, what's this all about?" Jack asked, his patience wearing thin. He needed to string this out, perhaps he'd recognize the voice, get an ID. "You expect me to come out all the way out there, just because you tell me you’ve got Jackson. Give me some proof."

"You already know that this is his cell phone, Colonel. That’s proof enough."

"As far as I know, you could have stolen it," Jack replied. He felt his gut begin to knot up with tension. He knew without a doubt that this man had taken Daniel. Forcing himself to stay calm, dreading losing the link to Daniel now, Jack spoke again, more calmly. "Look, I want to help you out here, but I need to know what this is all about."

"You bother me, Jack. Your being alive bothers me. Is that enough for you?"

"How do I know that Daniel's still alive?"

"You don't."

The phone went dead in Jack's hand and he shook it angrily. With a muttered curse, he pressed the off button and then quickly keyed in General Hammond's direct number as he started the car and accelerated out of the parking space.

0~0~0~0~0

Jack steered the car along the twisting narrow road with one hand and held his cell phone to his ear with the other. Any other time, he'd be taking in the panoramic vista that sprawled below him, picking out promising fishing lakes and scenic camping sites. Tonight he kept his gaze focused on the road ahead and his ear on the voice that spoke from the cell phone. There'd be time for camping and talking, for putting things right once he got Daniel back. He'd made good time, worry gnawing at him the whole way, pressing his foot heavily to the accelerator, his thoughts turned inward trying to place the voice, solve the puzzle.

"I'm not entirely certain that we shouldn't be handing this over to the FBI, Colonel O'Neill," General Hammond said.

Jack bristled at the comment. "No, sir. Daniel's one of my men. He's on my team. If this had occurred off-world, you'd have no problem with letting me mount a rescue mission, would you, sir?"

"I'm more concerned that this appears to be a personal attack on you, Colonel."

"All the more reason for me to handle it, General."

"It could end with your own life as well as Doctor Jackson's at risk."

"I've got to try, General," Jack persisted. "Daniel's my friend, sir. He'd do…has done the same thing for me."

The General sighed and Jack knew he'd won the argument. "All right. Any idea at all who it could be, Colonel?"

"No, sir. I've been racking my brain. I mean I've pissed off a few people in my career, I'll admit." He shook his head ruefully at himself in the rear vision mirror. 'Slight understatement there, Jack. And the line starts behind Daniel.'

For a brief moment, melancholy overwhelmed him as he thought that he'd never had a chance to put things right. That, maybe, if he'd swallowed his pride a little sooner, he would have been at Daniel's now, sleeping off the effects of a couple of beers too many. Hammond's voice barked in his ear and he jumped, the car swerving slightly, kicking up gravel from the edge of the road.

"Did you hear me, Colonel? Are you still there?"

"I'm here, sir. Just got sidetracked for a minute. What did you say?"

"I asked if you think it could be connected to your last mission?"

"I doubt it, sir. It seemed more personal than that. Don't ask me why, it's just a gut feeling I have."

"All right, Colonel. I'll accept your hunch for now."

Jack slowed the car as he entered the city limits. "I've got to go, sir. I'm coming into Gunnison now."

"Keep in touch, Colonel. I want you to wait there until I can get some backup to you. You are not to go in alone. That's an order."

"I don’t have time to waste, waiting for backup," Jack ground out. "Daniel doesn’t have time."

"I said that was an order, Colonel."

Jack rolled his eyes and placed the phone on the seat beside him, then picked it up again. "I'm sorry, General, I'm losing the signal." Tersely, he pressed the off switch, cutting short the General's blustering voice. Focusing his attention on the road in front of him, Jack's smile gave way to a frown. "Sorry, General, if I wait, it might be too late for Daniel."

0~0~0~0~0

A persistent throbbing in his arm prodded Daniel back toward awareness and he opened his eyelids slowly. As he took in his unfamiliar surroundings, he felt a brief hope that perhaps he had dreamed his previous ordeal. Bitter disappointment flooded him when he realized that he did not recognize this place any more than the one before. He gingerly pushed himself upright to lean against the wall and felt the tug of a restraint on his uninjured arm. A momentary panic overwhelmed him and he pulled frantically on the rope, wincing as it bit into his skin.

His struggles were useless and only served to abrade his wrist. Daniel gave up, panting heavily, feeling the burning sting from the rope. A throbbing set up in his head now, pounding in counterpoint to the pain in his arm and he sighed mournfully. "Another fine mess you've gotten yourself into, Jackson."

His voice sounded hoarse and rusty to his ears but it filled the echoing emptiness with sound and he took a measure of comfort in it. Leaning his head back against the wall, he tried to calm his nerves and take stock of his situation.

He was in a darkened room, a cellar, he thought seeing the narrow steps on the other side of the room, that ascended up into the darkness. There was a musty, earthy smell to the air that held a tinge of the unpleasant sweetness of decay and Daniel felt his already queasy stomach churn ominously. He turned his attention to other things and looked down at himself. He was still essentially in the clothes he'd changed into back at the base, though his beige chinos were now spattered with blood and vomit and one sleeve had been torn from his shirt. His right arm still ached mercilessly, a constant throbbing that was beginning to eat away at his composure. He lifted his arm slowly, biting down a moan as even that small movement awoke the earlier agony. A thin flat piece of timber ran the length of his swollen arm, secured by strips of his shirt sleeve.

Daniel felt an upsurge of hope at the discovery. If they had splinted his arm, then there was hope that they did not plan on killing him any time soon, whoever they were. He cheered himself with the thought, then laying his arm gently in his lap, continued his investigation.

Apart from his arm and a headache, he could discern no other injuries. The terrible stomach cramps and nausea that had overwhelmed him earlier had receded, leaving him with a dry, foul tasting mouth and tender abdominal muscles.

He cast his mind back, trying to make his vague, blurred memories form a coherent image and provide him with a reason for the attack. His thought processes seemed unwieldy and slow, due no doubt to the drug that been administered and after a moment of drifting thought, he gave up in favor of finding a solution to his predicament.

He had no idea of time, his watch and glasses were both missing but no light showed through the window above his head, so he assumed it was still night. Hope flared through him at the thought that he would be missed when he didn't show up at the base in the morning. It was dashed just as quickly by the depressing thought that if he had no idea where he was or why then the chance was good that neither would his teammates.

His thoughts turned to Jack and the last conversation they'd had standing awkwardly by their cars, Daniel telling Jack that he didn't know if their friendship could survive Jack's lack of trust in his friends. Tears burned his eyes as he wondered if he'd have the chance to take the angry accusation back, because he knew now that Jack had done the only thing it was possible to do, given the circumstances. At the end of it all, the only thing that mattered was that the mission had been a success and more importantly, that Jack was back with them. Having made that peace with himself a new determination forged within him and Daniel began a renewed assault on the rope.

Noise from above halted his struggle and he stilled, scarcely breathing as the door at the top of the stairs creaked open, spilling a shaft of light into Daniel's prison. Apprehension mingled with anger and caused the now familiar nausea to surge again. Daniel swallowed it down, feeling cold sweat trickle down his back.

A large form descended the stairs, lantern in hand, the flickering light making the shadows loom ominously over the archaeologist. Daniel licked dry lips and pressed himself closer to the wall as the man approached. "Who are you? Why am I here?"

The man's head came up sharply and he blinked slowly at Daniel as though seeing him for the first time. "Quiet," he hissed, a tremble evident in his voice. "He'll hear you."

Daniel lowered his voice but pressed on. "Can you at least tell me why I'm here?"

The man's round face transformed suddenly into a mask of grief and fat tears flowed down his cheeks. "I didn't want to do it but I couldn't stop him," he moaned. "He's too strong."

"That's all right," Daniel soothed, his heart beginning to race as an idea formed. The man appeared to be brain-damaged in some way, his behavior reminiscent of a four or five year old. There were two of them then. That was going to make things more difficult but Daniel thought he had a chance if he could just gain this man-child's trust. "What's your name?"

The man smiled a little through his tears. "Bobby."

"Do you think you could untie the rope on my arm, Bobby? It's too tight."

Daniel groaned in frustration as Bobby began to shake his head vehemently. "He'll know. He'll get angry. I can't."

Daniel put out a placating hand as the big man began to back away from him, still on his knees. "Please, don't go. Just let me go. Please."

In a moment that seemed to freeze time, Daniel saw Bobby look up toward the stairs and took his one chance at escape. The archaeologist swung out with his splinted arm and slammed it into the other man's head. Bobby dropped like a stone and lay still.

Daniel curled into a tight ball of misery and bit down on his lip to stifle the scream of agony that clawed its way up his throat. He felt himself grow hot, sweat pouring down his face, then a cold chill settled over him making him shudder. Knowing he had no time to waste, Daniel stretched out his foot and hooked it around the lantern, then laboriously dragged it toward him. He was able to knock the glass guard off with his still throbbing arm, and then he positioned the flame so that it sat directly under the rope that secured him to the pipe. It parted in a matter of seconds and Daniel surged up from the ground, almost falling down again as weakness overwhelmed him.

Taking a final, fearful look at the closed door at the top of the stairs, Daniel staggered to the window. The first pink hints of dawn were streaking the sky and he knew he had to get away now while his tracks could be covered up by darkness. He put all his ebbing strength into opening the window but it wouldn't budge and he sobbed in frustration. He started as he heard Bobby begin to stir and in a sudden adrenaline filled surge, he pushed against the window frame once more. Suddenly it released its hold with a crack that showered shards of glass over him and then he was clambering out, running into the cover of the trees on shaky legs.

0~0~0~0~0

Jack steered the car carefully along the dirt track leading up to the group of cabins he could see above him dotted along the clifftops. He’d stopped at an all night diner in Gunnison and asked for directions. The waitress had readily offered up the information, along with a cup of the bitterest coffee he'd ever tasted, that most of the cabins in the parks around Black Canyon were mostly deserted at this time of year. Nobody could recall seeing anyone matching Daniel's description in town.

He'd had one piece of good fortune though. The equally cooperative cook flipping burgers behind the counter had told him that there was a second road leading up to the cabins. It was rough going, he'd warned Jack. The road was pot holed and he'd have to walk up some of the way after rockslides had closed off the last part of the trail. That suited Jack fine. All the better for making a surprise assault.

Jack squinted through the dust-caked windshield. The sacrifice for a sneak approach had been time. It was now almost 7a.m. and the camouflage of night was gone. Up ahead he could see boulders dotting the road and he slowed his pace. A sudden explosion rocked the car and Jack fought to maintain his grip on the steering wheel as the front end lifted into the air almost flipping the car completely over, then it slammed down again onto the road. Jack felt himself black out as his head impacted the side window hard.

He sat stunned, his body limp and his head swimming. Vaguely, he felt the door wrenched open and would have fallen onto the road except for the seatbelt holding him in. He struggled to lift his head as he felt something hard and metallic pressed into his temple.

"Hello, Jack. Long time, no see. What took you so long?"

Jack forced his face up, squinting against the sun. His sunglasses were somewhere on the floor, having been knocked off in the crash. The man's features were wavering in and out and Jack shook his head in an attempt to clear his vision. He immediately regretted his action as pain surged and he raised a shaky hand to his stinging forehead, feeling the stickiness of blood.

He did not recognize the stranger at all. The man was large, his bulky frame running slightly to fat, his head large with lank, dark hair that hung to his shoulders. He looked to be in his mid-twenties. One giant hand gripped Jack's upper arm and the man stepped slightly away, keeping his weapon trained on the colonel. "Undo your seatbelt and get out. Slowly. Your friend's waiting for you."

Jack could see no way of taking the man on in his present state, so he did as he was asked, waiting until he stood, somewhat shakily beside his wrecked car before he spoke. "So, I'm here. Would you like to tell me what the hell this is about?"

"I'm disappointed, Jack, that you don't remember me." The stranger indicated the way ahead and pushed Jack in front of him. "No tricks."

"I don't know you," Jack said as he stumbled along the road.

"Of course you do. My father was your commanding officer. Colonel Robert John. Have you forgotten your friend and comrade already, Jack?"

Jack stopped dead in his tracks and turned slowly to stare at the man behind him, seeing suddenly the familiar features beneath the adult face. "Bobby? You're Bobby?"

The man grimaced. "I prefer Robert," he said coldly.

"The last time I saw you was at your father's funeral…" Jack's mind flashed on a memory. Memories of the gamekeeper, forcing him to relive the fateful mission over and over until he could correct whatever had gone wrong and save Rob’s life.

Then another memory, long before. He and Rob sitting out on the front porch enjoying a scotch and a cigar while Sara and Rob's wife, Helen tidied up from dinner and chatted inside the night before they’d left on their final mission together. A child was seated at Rob's feet, rocking slightly, muttering disjointed nonsense words and banging his head against the wall behind him. Jack put his hand down to shield the boy's head from injury and Rob pulled it away. "As soon as you move your hand, he'll start again," he said softly. "Helen wants him institutionalized. I can't bring myself to do it. Promise me something, Jack."

Jack sipped his scotch and watched the child rock. "If I can."

"If anything ever happens to me, look after Helen and the boy for me. Bobby's special, but Helen will need help if she's to keep him at home. He has fits of rage, frustration, I think but he gets violent. He frightens his mother. "

"Perhaps he'd be better in a home then," Jack suggested.

"No! I can't. He's my only child."

"I'll do whatever I can. Now can we stop this depressing talk and have another drink before Sara drags me out of here?"

Jack started as Robert prodded into moving. "I spoke to your mother at the funeral. I told her how sorry I was. I told her I'd do any thing I could to help you both. I went out on another mission and by the time I got back, she’d moved. I was never able to find out where."

"She moved to California," Robert said coldly. "I never saw her again. I moved to Shady Pines, a home for the mentally disabled. They did things to me there. Bad things."

"I'm sorry," Jack said. He took a step closer to the disturbed man, but Robert stepped back out of range, shaking his head.

"So, you admit it. It was your fault my father died."

"No! We were sold out by an informant. Bill Harrison."

"Liar! He was my dad's best friend," Robert said. "He wouldn't have done that."

"He was supposed to be my friend too, Bobby."

Robert's face turned deep red. "I'll told you not to call me that," he screamed. As he stepped forward and raised the gun, Jack took the chance offered. He charged the other man, coming up under his arms, sending the gun in a wide arc, discharging close to his ear and almost deafening him. Robert backpedaled, trying desperately to regain his balance and Jack threw himself on top of him, sending them both tumbling into the dirt.

What Robert lacked in fighting skills, he made up for in strength and he rolled them both so that he leaned over Jack, one hand gripping the colonel in a death grip around his throat, the other bringing the gun back to bear on Jack's head. Jack scrabbled frantically at the hand around his throat, trying desperately to suck in air past the constriction. He reached out and began to push the gun back on his attacker. There was a loud buzzing in his ears and a curtain of red had begun to descend over his eyes when the gun discharged once more. Robert's body jerked back, then went limp and flopped forward onto him.

Jack managed to roll free of the dead weight and knelt at Robert's side. The younger man was fighting for breath, his shirt already soaked in blood as one hand came up weakly to clutch at his wound.

"Easy, easy. You're going to be okay," Jack soothed as he saw the other man's eyes flutter closed then open wide in fear.

"Tried to stop him," Bobby whispered, blood trickling from his mouth. "He was always the strongest one. I'm sorry." He took one shallow gasping breath and was still.

Jack stayed slumped over the dead body for a moment longer, then pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, picking up Robert's gun. Just ahead stood a cabin and he ran toward it, his heart hammering in his chest.

Jack launched himself through the front door and searched each room. The cabin appeared deserted but Daniel's glasses and his watch were on the refuse-laden kitchen counter. He made his way down into the cellar with trepidation. The room was empty; a shattered window was smeared with blood and the remains of ropes were still tethered to a pipe. Jack tossed the bindings to the floor in disgust. "Why the hell did you run, Daniel? You had to know I'd come for you."

0~0~0~0~0

Daniel didn't know how long he'd been running, only that he shouldn't stop and that he could go no further. His lungs heaved and burned with the effort. The splint had been torn from his broken arm at some time during his headlong dash through the trees and his arm now hung uselessly at his side. He was soaked to the skin from falling headlong into a creek, and he shivered despite the sweat that coursed down his face and coated his skin. He skidded to a halt, grabbing hold of a low-hanging tree limb to prevent his slide over the nearby cliff. He hunched over, his good arm wrapping about his heaving chest and caught side of the car, on a dirt track far below him. The vehicle was badly damaged, its exterior blackened as though from fire, one wheel ripped off entirely but Daniel recognized it instantly.

"Oh God," he whispered. "Jack?"

He flinched and jerked upright as he heard the sound of someone crashing through the undergrowth toward him and looked around frantically for a place to hide. If it came to a showdown, he knew he was in no shape to protect himself.

"Daniel. Answer me, damn it! Daniel!"

He spun around to find the voice, backing away toward the cliff edge. His hand lost its grip on the branch as one wet shoe skidded on the loose pebbles beneath his feet and he went cartwheeling over the side with a horrified shout.

Jack burst out of the bushes in time to see Daniel, disheveled and white-faced disappear in a flurry of dirt and rocks. He threw himself down, ignoring the burn on his stomach and chest as he slid to the edge of the cliff. Daniel hung below him; one hand tightly clutching an insubstantial bush, flinching as a cascade of dirt followed him down, the other hand hanging loosely at his side.

"Daniel!"

"Jack?" The voice was barely a whisper. "Don't let me fall."

"I won't," Jack vowed. Carefully, he pushed himself further out, reaching one hand down to the stricken man. "You need to grab hold of my hand, Daniel and I'll pull you up."

"No! I'll fall."

"I'm not going to let you fall. Look at me." Jack watched the roots of Daniel’s anchor pull slowly out of the cliff. "Daniel! Look at me!" he admonished when he got no reaction from the other man. Slowly Daniel raised a filthy, pale face. "Trust me," Jack said. "I won't let you fall."

There was only a brief hesitation. He stretched his hand out once more and in the split second that Daniel let go of the bush and began to slide down once more, Jack grasped his hand. Taking a deep breath, he began to inch his way back from the edge, gritting his teeth as he felt muscles tearing in his back and wrist. Finally, he saw the top of Daniel's head emerge and got his other hand beneath the trembling man's arm, pulling him the final few inches to safety.

Daniel collapsed heavily onto the ground. Carefully, Jack shifted himself out from under the unconscious man and laid him gently on his side. He pulled off his jacket and covered the shivering form, then gently brushed the dirt from Daniel's face. Heavy eyelids finally succeeded in opening and Daniel gazed at him blankly for a moment before recognition showed.

"Jack? That really you?"

"Yeah, buddy, it's me."

"You okay?"

"I'm good," Jack assured him. "How are you doing?"

"Arm's broken," Daniel informed him, his eyes closing once more as he succumbed to shock. "I'm cold."

"Have you warmed up soon." Settling his jacket more thoroughly over his friend, Jack dropped to sit beside him, one hand resting on the other man's shoulder. With the other, he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and called for help.

0~0~0~0~0

Daniel threw the magazine back onto the bed with a loud sigh of boredom and shifted again, trying to find a comfortable spot. Except that he knew from previous experience that there was no such thing as a comfortable spot in a hospital bed. His arm itched beneath the plaster cast and he looked around fruitlessly for something suitable with which to scratch. Spotting a pencil on the bedside table, he leaned forward and pulled it toward him. He was just maneuvering it under the edge of his cast; disappointed to discover that it wasn’t long enough for the task when the door to his room swung open and he started guiltily.

"Uh-uh. Naughty, naughty." Jack O’Neill stood in the doorway, shaking his head disapprovingly, hands clasped behind his back.

Daniel frowned at him. "It itches," he said peevishly. Removing the pencil, he placed it back on the table with exaggerated care, then watched as Jack came into the room and stood at the bedside, hands still behind his back. Daniel’s interest was piqued. "What you got?"

"Huh?" Jack looked questioningly at him. "Nothing."

"Oh. Thought maybe you’d brought me some chocolate or something." At Jack’s negative shake, he sighed again. "Did the doctor say when I can go home?"

"This afternoon, if you’re good and eat all your lunch," Jack replied, finally seating himself on the side of the bed. "The nurses are complaining that you haven’t been eating."

Daniel looked away. "The doctor said it was an aftereffect from the anaesthetic and whatever he shot into me. It's not just that though. I keep thinking about Bobby."

"He was sick, Daniel," Jack said quietly.

"What did you find out?"

"After Rob died, Helen decided she wouldn’t be able to look after Bobby on her own, so she had him placed in the home. It seems another resident raped him repeatedly while he was in there. He was released four years ago and placed in a community house, but was recently being treated for a multiple personality disorder. His psychiatrist says now that it was probably the only way he could deal with the assaults. At the time, the staff at the institution assumed it was all just a part of his mental disorder. He didn’t tell anyone about the rapes until he was released. He told his psychiatrist that if his father hadn’t died, then all the bad stuff wouldn’t have happened. He was probably right. He wasn’t considered a threat to society."

"Just to you."

"And you," Jack added. "Daniel, I’m sorry."

Daniel looked at him then. "This wasn’t your fault, Jack."

"I meant about before. The mission…"

"You were wrong, you know," Daniel answered. He held up a hand before Jack could reply. "It was all about friendship and trust, that’s why you had to do things the way that you did."

Both men were silent for a time, then Daniel spoke. "So, what are you hiding behind your back?" He laughed as Jack displayed a fold-up fishing rod. "You’re going fishing?"

Jack shook his head. "We’re going fishing." He looked up as the door opened to reveal a nurse carrying a tray of food. "Just as soon as you eat your lunch." He leaned forward and placed the rod at Daniel’s side. "Works great for itches too."

FIN

- December 24th, 2001.

 

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