Title:  The Safe House
Author: Winterstar
Category: Drama, Action/Adventure, H/C
Warnings: Violence, torture
Rating: R

Author’s Notes –Season 5 fic – The Russian translation within the text is from Google – I have no idea – and no ability to translate or speak Russian. I apologize if it sucks big time.

           
His hands fall open and useless onto his knees as his body curls in. His shoulders disintegrate, crumpling like so many of those ancient artifacts he so reveres. She finds him, hunched and broken in the waiting room of the hospital. Stains of red smear his arms, hands and chest. For a moment, her heart skips and hiccups until she realizes it is not his blood, but someone else’s. It is little comfort like cold tea – it does her no good as she walks up to him.

            He hears nothing, keeps his head down but she sees the subtle movement in his shoulders, the tremor. Something must alert him to her as she stands over him. Is it her shadow casting over him or is it the ching of her keys as she fiddles with them? She does not know. His eyes travel upward to her face and she gasps – an audible intake of air – as she witnesses the despair deep and abiding in his startling blue eyes. She’s seen him in his darkest moments, when his wife was abducted, when he suffered abuse by Hathor, when he succumbed to addiction and when he watched his wife die. Yet now, his eyes do not accept what he has experienced. Instead he implores her to answer him, to tell him why.

            In low tones she asks, “Daniel?”

            His mouth opens and he whispers Sam but no sound issues forth; it is as if the very death surrounding him has stolen his voice. She reaches out then, knowing he needs something, someone to touch him. His hand, so boneless in his lap, rises and she bends down on her knees to accept him, to hold it to her face.

            “Daniel? What’s happened?”

            He doesn’t answer right away, the rush of the hospital staff charge in seemingly bursting the shell around them. She glances up and wonders if she should ask the staff, a nurse. But the activity is harried and she knows she cannot leave Daniel for as long as she would need to find someone to help her.

            His voice, small and shattered, rivets her attention back to her friend. “Just dinner.”

            “What?” She shakes her head and squeezes Daniel’s hand. It is cold and sticky with blood.

            “Just dinner, he said. He wanted to go to dinner.” Daniel’s eyes aren’t focused, his gaze jumps about the room never settling. He takes his hand away from her and fists it. “Damn it, just dinner. Normal dinner, you know.”

            “Daniel, you’re not making any sense.” Sam eases into a plastic chair next to Daniel but glances up to see several suited men gathered about the nurses’ station. With tender fingers, she turns Daniel to face her. “Tell me again, start from the beginning.”

            He grimaces for a moment with eyes tightly closed then nods. “Okay, okay, yeah that sounds good.”

            She clasps both of his hands in hers and waits, not wanting to push him over the edge of his precarious grasp of coherence.

            “I got a call,” he starts, swallows hard then shakes his head as if clearing it. “A call from my foster brother Ray Morrison, he wanted to get together.” He pauses and shivers. “I hadn’t seen him in years. We used to be close before his family had to move when his father was transferred.”

            She rubs his arm urging him to continue.

            “We used to write but then I lost touch once I -.” He stops and looks around and she knows. They lost touch when Daniel went on that first mission to Abydos.

            “I understand.”

            “Happy,” Daniel says. “I was happy to hear from him.”

            He looks so slight at this moment. It reminds her of the days in the months after Shifu offered a lesson, Daniel had been plagued with nightmares.

            “It was something normal, you know?” Daniel looks away, his focus is on the bright light streaming in through the open blinds of the window. The waiting room is empty except for an old woman crocheting in the corner, her mouth working the count of the yarn.  “I haven’t had anything normal in a while,” Daniel is saying. “He was in town and remembered my address from a Christmas card I sent him last year. He called.”

            Daniel’s monotone drops off, as if he has slowly run out of fuel. He sits vacant and caving inward toward an inevitable emotional collapse. She has to support him. “He called and you went to dinner.”

            He nods. “Yeah, yes.”  Snapping to himself, Daniel frowns and looks at her, truly looks at her. She gives him a smile and whispers hi to him. He tugs at her hands to tell her that he is okay. “He wanted to see me. We went to O’Malley’s though I was surprised the owner let us in.” He gives a little laugh. “We had a good time. Talked about his parents, hiding from them, you know. Normal stuff.”

            “Normal stuff,” she murmurs and clenches his hands in hers.

            “We left the restaurant, went outside. It was a nice night.”

            That’s when she realizes it. He’s been here at the hospital for hours. He must have spent hours in shock without anyone until he was able to get one of them on the phone to come to him. He’d finally collapsed in this chair as the new day dawned.

            “It was one of those drive by shootings,” Daniel says. “Why would they kill a guy that doesn’t even live in this city?”

            It hits her; the words drop in the air like heavy lumps of lead through water. Daniel said ‘kill’. “Your foster brother?” She can’t finish the thought – it is too paralyzing.

            “Dead.” Daniel looks up at the ceiling then back at her. “In my arms, he died before the ambulance arrived.”

            Words are useless things to her, valueless and hopeless. She pulls him to her and embraces him. He does not cry, only stays in her arms silent and calm. She watches the old woman in the corner knit one pearl two, working the yarn with arthritic fingers. Rocking slightly, she wants to sing to Daniel but no words come. They are dead in her mouth.

            “Excuse me, Mister Jackson?”

            The shadow of the men fall over them and she peers up to see the group of suited men – four in all – have descended upon them. The thick muscled one is to her right and the tall angular one is speaking to them. The two others stand farther away, as if circling like carrion birds.

            “It’s Doctor, Doctor Jackson,” she corrects.

            “Excuse me, I’m sorry.” The angular man flips open his badge and shows it to her. She nods but doesn’t really look at it. “I’m Leonard Stapinski with the ATF, these are my associates. The Colorado Springs police force called us into this investigation due to some possible connections to illegal fire arms trade. Mister, no Doctor Jackson witnessed the murder of a Mister Ray Morrison last night and we’ll need to take him into protective custody immediately.”

            Daniel blinks up at them but doesn’t acknowledge he understands anything that Stapinski said. Sam grasps his hand and gives him a little jerk to keep him from saying anything. “I’m Major Samantha Carter from the United States Air Force, Doctor Jackson is a civilian consultant on a project of critical importance at Cheyenne Mountain.”

            “NORAD?” Stapinski asks.

            “At the Mountain complex, yes,” Sam says though does not exactly answer his question. “If you’ll escort us to the Mountain, Doctor Jackson will be kept under protective custody and be available to assist in your investigation from there.”

            Stapinski shifts his gaze to his colleagues then back to her. “I’m sorry ma’am but do you have any identification?”

            She looks around then, suddenly lost and fumbling. Where is her purse? She pats her jeans’ pockets and finds nothing. Realizing she must have left everything but the car keys behind in her panic to answer the call from Daniel, Sam shakes her head and says with a grimace, “I left it at home.  You could follow us out to the Mountain, they can verify everything I’ve just said.”

            Stapinski bends down and, leaning over her, whispers “Listen, I don’t doubt what you’re telling me but Mister, Doctor Jackson is in serious trouble. These arms dealers have invaded the city like locusts, they come in get the goods from the stationed men and then they sell them in Denver.”  He lays a far too familiar hand on her knee. “Doctor Jackson saw their car, could identify them. We have reason to believe, he is in danger even here in the hospital. Can you understand that?”

            It riles her that he is speaking to her like she is some kind of fragile porcelain doll, some idiot mealy mouthed child. She fists her hands and the quiet yelp from Daniel warns her that she is ravaging his palm. Releasing his hand, Sam shoves forward to stand and forces Stapinski to stumble backward away from them.

            “I’m quite capable of understanding exactly what you are saying, Agent Stapinski. But I am telling you that Doctor Jackson will be in no danger once he is under the protection of the Air Force and Cheyenne Mountain.”

            Stapinski adjusts and rights himself. The subtleness of his threat is not lost of her. “I don’t think you do understand, Major Carter.” He points down to Daniel as if he is an abused puppy. “This man is in danger, here in the hospital. Our intel informs us that the fire arms cartel will send out a death squad to track him down. We have to move too much time has already been lost and we have to move now. Do you understand?” His face beats red and the arteries at his temples stick out.

            Muscles in her neck and shoulders tighten and she inhales but Daniel stops her, halts the confrontation. “It’s all right Sam. They just want to get some information and keep me safe.” He’s risen from his seat. “Agent Stapinski will let me call you once we’re at a safe location and you can have General Hammond send someone to pick me up.” He looks to the ATF agent for confirmation.

            She regards the agents, then reverts her attention to Daniel. “I could go with you.”

            “It would just be a waste Sam. I’m sure I’ll be able to call you before dinner.”

            The man purses his lips and looks like he just chewed on glass but he nods in agreement.

            “You’re sure?” Sam asks and for the first time she notes the clicking of the knitting needles has stilled. Glancing at the old woman in the corner, she lowers her voice and says, “Daniel, we can wait for the Colonel.”

            Daniel stares off to the side as he considers her offer but shakes his head. “No, no. Let’s just get this over with. I want to get it over with so I can forget it.”

            She hears what he is not saying, what he has eaten. He wants to get it over with so he can forget that nothing in his life is normal, that he can’t have a normal life. None of them can. Turning to him, she takes him in her arms and hugs him, wary of the look Stapinski throws at her. She shuffles Daniel over to the corner away from ears and eyes of the agents.

            “I’ll get the Colonel and the General to contact the ATF immediately. It shouldn’t be hard.” She pulls out her cell phone. “Take my phone.”

            He pushes it back; a soft smile graces his lips. “I have my own phone Sam. Don’t worry I’ll be fine.”

            “Of course you have your own phone.” She plays with her short hair, pushing it back.

            “I’ll be okay,” Daniel holds both her hands in his. “Remember we all play on the same team, right?”

            She nods, yet something edges, cuts into her like a hangnail throbbing at the periphery of her nail. Peering at Stapinski again, she thinks why doesn’t she believe they do play on the same team. “Okay, okay.” It has to be how Daniel looks or looked when she first arrived, lost and confused that has set off the alarm bells in her head. Her presence seems to have grounded him, solidified him. She should just move this along so that they can all get Daniel to safety.

            Stapinski moves in his face glaring in the harsh daylight. He cuffs Daniel’s upper arm with his grip and starts to move him toward the exit. The way his motion propels Daniel reminds her of a police officer dragging a criminal. She almost opens her mouth, almost tells them to stop as Daniel gives her a glance over his shoulder. But the elevator opens and the moment is lost as the agents crowd around him and he is lost to her.

II.
The agents hulk about him, close and confining. The elevator isn’t that small but they stay in his personal space. He wonders if they are trying to offer some calm comfort to him since he witnessed his foster brother shot down in cold blood in the middle of a restaurant parking lot.

            The shots sounded tinny like a clang of a tiny bell but the explosion of blood and flailing of his foster brother’s body belied the noise. He shivers as he recalls the moments, slow and festering in his memory. Ray’s eyes melting away to sleep an endless, dreamless state haunt him. For a moment he is glad of the men around him – at least he is not alone.

            Alone.

            For hours after the shooting, Daniel answered questions from the local police detectives. They promised him he would be free to go, they left him in the hospital waiting room. They told him an agent from the Federal government had contacted them and ordered him to remain in the hospital. At first he believed the agent had to be Jack. When none of his team arrived after waiting for several hours, he’d finally found the courage to call. He called Jack first but only talked to the answering machine and the voicemail. Sam answered on the third ring but by that time a hysteria had beset him and his voice faltered and fragmented as he tried to explain what happened.

            “I’d be right there, Daniel, don’t move,” she had said.

            He hadn’t and his life seemed to have halted, frozen to the moments after Ray’s death yet at the same time replayed ugly painful times of the past years. He sat in the hospital chair for what felt like hours but what was in reality less than a half hour waiting for Sam to arrive.

            Now as the agents surround him, Daniel feels the world switch to full speed yet it skips and skids as if time is trying to catch up with itself. The elevator shudders to a stop and the agents clasp his upper arms and haul him out of the car.

He is about to tell them to ease off when Stapinski says, “Get him to the van.”

The terseness of his tone, the furtive shift of his eyes causes Daniel to trip as the agents usher him along. Did Stapinski see something to worry about? The parking garage beneath the hospital is quiet with the empty desolate feel all parking garages possess. He doesn’t even hear the distant echo of wheels or motors running.

The large muscle of the group yanks Daniel to a black van sitting close to the elevator. He tries to protest but the back doors swing open and two more agents leap out at him. Sirens – not from any ambulance – alarm in his head. Struggling, he jerks away from the men but a fist to the guts balls him up and he curls protectively around himself.

“Got the cuffs?” Stapinski asks.

Without a word, handcuffs are produced and his arms are wrenched behind him. He feels the cold of the metal close about his wrists.

When his voice returns, Daniel says, “What the hell is going on? I’m a witness not a suspect.”

Stapinski grabs hold of his chin and with bruising fingers clamps his face to glower at him. “Oh you’re more than a witness Doctor Jackson, you’re a hot commodity.” He releases Daniel only to swing a tight fist at him. The impact against his cheekbone sends Daniel to his knees. “Get him in the van, no reason to make a show. We were already late getting to him. The SGC doesn’t need any more information than it’s already got.”

Several of the men search him pulling out his cell phone and tossing it aside into the corner of the parking garage. His car keys and wallet are dumped as well. Even as he gathers his strength to resist them, they yank him and throw him into the van. Some one is clutching his feet and he kicks, trying to yell for help as he does. Another fist slams into his face and he cries out. A balled up rag gags him and wires cuts into his ankles as they tie him.

He realizes then as the doors bang closed and the van rumbles to life Ray never told him why he was in town. Were these the arms dealers with whom Ray was involved? No, no his mind races. They mentioned the SGC. Ray didn’t know anything about the SGC. The van veers wildly as it banks a corner in the garage and he rolls to crash against the side of the van. How many of his abductors are in the van? Where are the rest of them? His mind reels and baits him, jumping for clues yet finding none.

Sam.

He settles as he thinks on his team mate. She knows he’ll be calling her before dinner. He only has to survive a little less than ten hours he figures.

Ten hours.

It doesn’t seem like a lot of time yet as he considers it the weight of eternity presses down on him.

III.
The car glides to a stop and Sam frowns; she is more irritated with herself than not. She cannot believe she forgot her purse, her wallet. Without any identification and wearing civilian clothes, the agents from the ATF had no reason to believe her at all. Now Daniel was being taken to a safe house without direct contact with them.

            No that wasn’t right, she could call him. The agents never said anything about making phone calls to Daniel. As she sits in the parking lot of Cheyenne Mountain, she tugs out her phone from her jeans’ pocket. Flipping it open, she hits Daniel’s number. Even as she input the number, Sam feels better. She can check in on Daniel then go into work and give a detailed report of what happened last night. The phone rings and she counts. Three, four. It shifts over to voicemail and she listens to Daniel give his little spiel about digging in the dirt. She rolls her eyes – how old is that message anyway?

            “Daniel, just checking in with you. When Agent Stapinski gives you a chance, call me.” Sam almost hangs up but then stops and adds, “I’m at the Mountain and will talk to the General and the Colonel about the situation. Don’t worry, everything will be all right.”

            She presses the button and tries not to worry. Why wouldn’t he pick up? Perhaps he has no signal wherever he is and doesn’t realize it yet? She shakes her head; this whole situation gives her a crawling feeling up and down her spine. Shrugging it off, Sam opens the car door and heads down the Mountain.

            She’s quick through the front gate and at the other checkpoints.  She smiles and waves at the newbies and laughs a little when they look at her with those awestruck eyes. Sometimes it gives her a little thrill to think so many people admire her work, but then she remembers Daniel this morning and the sinking feeling pulls her back to Earth.

            At her lab, she starts a diagnostic before going to the locker room to change. It doesn’t hurt to get stuff started as she gets ready for the day. She types out a message to the General asking for some time to see him this morning.  Finished, she leaves her office and starts toward the elevator to go to the locker room when she nearly collides with Colonel O’Neill.

            “Sir.”

            His face twists in a scowl and his eyes flare. “I just got a message off my voicemail. Daniel’s in some kind of trouble. He’s at the hospital.”

            She raises her hands and stops him from moving past her. “Not to worry, sir. I just came from the hospital. Daniel is fine.” This sounds like an oxymoron to her; how can someone be fine when they just watched their foster brother get shot down and killed in front of them? She squeezes her eyes shut for a second to clear her thoughts, then turns back to her commanding officer and reports, “Daniel went to dinner with his foster brother last night. It seems this Ray Morrison was involved in some arms deals or something. There was a drive by shooting and Daniel witnessed it. Morrison died and the ATF took Daniel to a safe house for questioning.”

            “The ATF?”

            “The bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms-.”

            “I know what ATF stands for, Carter. Why wasn’t the local police involved?”

            “I don’t have all the details sir,” she says, suddenly being without her uniform feels uncomfortable and the civilian clothes cut and scratch. “If you’ll let me, I’ll go get changed and give you a full report with General Hammond and Teal’c.”

            He considers her, his mouth down turned, his eyes unyielding. He gives her a short nod and she’s off calling behind her that she’ll meet him in the briefing room in ten minutes, could he please gather up Teal’c and the General. She disappears around the corner before he’s able to remind her that he is her commanding officer and not the other way around. She doubts that the Colonel would actually say that, but it echoes in her head anyway.

            It takes only minutes for her to strip and don her uniform once she gets to the locker room. Without thought she goes to the wall phone asks for an outside line and calls Daniel’s cell. She’s disappointed when there still isn’t any answer. She curses once but then hangs up the phone and hurries to the briefing room where she knows her team and the General will be assembled.

            She climbs the stairs up to the briefing room after she’s made her way passed the labs. Teal’c, General Hammond and the Colonel stand around the table. A wash of tension tides over her and she is reminded of the moment she stepped into her doctoral defense. The committee members stared at her with interested eyes yet tainted within their expression was a warning, an intimidation. Those moments before she defended were the last moments they could say they were her superiors, once her doctorate was granted – she would be a colleague.

            Geez, how did Daniel do that more than once, she thinks. Her stance then was as it is now. She gives off an air of relaxed composure but studious attention.

            “Carter?” The Colonel waves her to sit.

            They shift about the table and every one chooses a seat. The General takes the head of the table as is his right while the Colonel sits to the left of him. Teal’c awaits her and she pulls the chair next to the General on his right hand side, then Teal’c settles beside her.

            “Daniel called me about o six hundred and told me there’d been a shooting.” Sam searches each of their expressions as she speaks. “He asked if the Colonel was on his way because he’d been waiting for some Federal Agents. I suppose the Federal Agents he was actually waiting for were the ones from the ATF.”

            “Daniel Jackson was unharmed during the incident?”

            She affirms this for Teal’c and the rest of the members of the meeting. “A bit shaken up but physically fine. When I got to the hospital, he was still in shock from the emotional trauma but he was slowly coming out of it.”

            “Why the ATF, Major?” General Hammond asks.

            “It seems that Ray Morrison, Daniel’s foster brother, was caught up in some type of arms dealing.” She lifts her shoulders. “I’m not sure about all of the details as I told the Colonel. But the agent, Leonard Stapinski, confirmed that Daniel was in serious danger. His life was at risk because the arms cartel would find out that he witnessed the murder and they would send out assassins to terminate him as well.”

            “Crap, why didn’t Daniel come with you to the Mountain?”

            “I didn’t have any identification on me at the time, sir. I’m sorry,” she says. “They were going to take Daniel to a safe house, get his statements and some more information and Daniel should call before dinner time to come back to the Mountain.”

            “Daniel Jackson agreed to this course of action, Major Carter.”

            She nods. “I wanted to go with him but he said it wasn’t necessary, that I should inform the SGC what was going on so no one would worry about his absence.” She still second guesses herself even as her voice lays this levelly out as the logical course of action.

            “So we haven’t heard from Daniel yet?” the Colonel asks.

            “I tried to call him several times but he isn’t answering.”

            “Did he even have his cell phone on him?” the Colonel asks.

            “Actually yes he did.” She raises a hand to ward off the questions. “I offered him mine before he left and he told me he had his on him. He’s probably busy or he doesn’t get signal where he is. I’m sure he’ll call soon.”

            “In the meanwhile, why don’t you, Colonel, call the ATF and find out about this Leonard-.” The General stops and looks to her to complete the information.

            “Leonard Stapinski.”

            He smiles at her, those bright blue eyes rigid with concentration. “Find out about this Agent Stapinski and if we can be connected to his current location.”

            The Colonel nods and rises, knowing he has been dismissed to fulfill a task. She watches him leave and is envious that he has a duty to complete while she has to sit on her hands and wait for Daniel to call.

            “Now Major Carter, you comprehend my experiences most of the time at the Stargate Command,” Teal’c states.

            Shaking her head, she gives him a half smile. “Maybe I should learn some mediation techniques to teach me patience while we wait.”

            Teal’c bows his head but the General interrupts them. “I want the two of you to do a little bit of research as well. Just in case. Use some of those fancy instruments of yours Major Carter and find out where Doctor Jackson’s phone is located. Is it possible to do that?”

            “Yes it is,” she says and jumps up. She gestures for Teal’c to follow, though he’ll have little to do at the very least she can keep him occupied with holding wires for her. “We’re on it, General.”

            Teal’c offers her a satisfied smile and they leave the briefing room to go to her laboratory and triangulate the signal from Daniel’s cell phone.

IV.
The wire slices into his ankles and a fleeting wish that his captors had standard issue ankle cuffs passes over him. He furrows his brows as the van slows. What a strange thought, to wish for a better way to be imprisoned. He stares up at the ceiling in the van. He decides he’s been in this business too long if he makes such conclusions upon being kidnapped. He manages with a little bit of choking to push the balled up rag out of his mouth and free himself of the gag. The vehicle stops and he lays there waiting for the inevitable goons coming around to pull him from the van.

            But no one comes. He hears the doors in the front of the van open and close, the van rocks slightly with the motion. Muffled voices clip the air and he wonders where they must be since there is an overarching silence to the area. They converse for sometime and then he hears the pad of footsteps moving away. The van remains untouched.

            After a pause, the insane thought that they forgot about their cargo comes to him but he shoves that idea away. He’s been in the business for far too long to think such naïve things. But no one comes and he is left to consider his fate. He mulls over the van, whether or not he actually saw the license plate number (no) and whether or not any of the other agents actually introduced themselves (no). He can’t make out much of the interior of the van because the windows are covered with some kind of material that filters out the sunlight. So other than the little he already knows, there isn’t much to review.

            He concentrates on Ray, the dinner, the conversation. Nothing bubbles to the top to indicate he should have been suspicious of his foster brother’s intentions. They ate steak, had some wine, talked a great deal about the two years Daniel spent under the Morrison’s care. His heart slams in his chest as he realized he would have to contact Ray’s family, his mother and father, to tell them that their only son was dead. A cold shudder afflicts him and he shuts his eyes.

            Damn it. Why couldn’t anything, anything be normal? But no, somehow these men know he is a part of a secret military project and that fact probably led to Ray’s death. Another death he was responsible for. He curses.

            The gravel groaning against the grind of car wheels alerts him that someone has arrived at their location. He listens and hears what can only be a greeting. The steps of people approaching the van can be heard and his muscles tense against the ache of being bound. He hears a beep and the van’s back door unlocks, then the click of the door as it opens. The light blinds him and he blinks several times against the glare.

            As his eyes adjust to the light, a scan of the small wooded area tells him there are at least a dozen men in black suits or overcoats holding him hostage. One man marches forward, his brow heavy and thick. His lips protrude over the cigar he rolls in his teeth.

            He coughs before he says anything as two of the men jostle Daniel out of the van’s bed.

            “You are late.”

            “Circumstances worked against us. Our contact misdirected us,” Stapinski answers. “He’s still worth it.”

            As Daniel listens, teetering on hobbled feet, it dawns on him that they are not speaking English but Russian. His head jolts up to get a clearer view of his captors. What the hell is going on? One of the ‘agents’ steps forward and pulls off his glasses, throws them to the ground and crushes them before he can protest.

            “Спасибо, мне нужна новая пара в любом случае,” Daniel says, telling them ‘thanks, I needed to get a new pair anyway’.

            In English the cigar man says to him, “Very clever and very stupid, Doctor Jackson.” He fingers the cigar rolling it back and forth before he stabs it into Daniel’s neck.

            A hiss of pain ratchets through him and he wavers nearly dropping to the ground but the hands of two of his captors keep him on his feet.

            “Untie his ankles he’ll need to walk but take off his shoes, socks and pants,” the Cigar man orders.

            The two men holding him wave over some of his other captors including Stapinski to assist in carrying out the directions. Daniel scowls as the men thrust him to the ground and rip off the wire, causing blood to erupt from the wounds. He turns his head so that they are not satisfied to see his pain. His shoes and socks come off but he grapples to keep his pants on. Stapinski clamps a hand around his throat.

            “Just go with it Doctor Jackson or else it could get painful.”

            “Who the hell are you?”

            “I told you already, Agent Stapinski with the ATF.”

            Daniel feels hands at his belt, his zipper and he bites back his objections. “The ATF is in business with the Russians?”

            Stapinski chuckles a little and scratches at Daniel’s new burn. He twists his head away from the assaulting fingernail. “Ever hear of a double agent, Doctor Jackson? I’ve been working with the ATF for ten years and got bored as hell. When the NID came to me I figured it would spice up my life a bit.”

            “The NID is doing this?”

            “For a genius you’re pretty stupid,” Stapinski gets up as Daniel’s pants are taken off and he is left in his boxers. “Nice.”

            “Bastard.”

            “No, someday you might see me as a real hero,” Stapinski says and his other captors move in to heave him up to his feet. The cold sweeps over him and he jitters a bit. Stapinski leans down and whispers, “This is a helluva lot better than a Russian gulag isn’t it?”

            “Gulag?” Daniel’s heart pounds against his breath, making it hard to grab any air at all.

            “You should just be happy I negotiated with them for to you stay in the country and not be flown out to Siberia or something,” the Agent says. He spits on the ground. “They probably wouldn’t have agreed but you’re hot property Doctor Jackson.”

            Shaking his head, Daniel cannot fathom what he is doing in the middle of the woods, in his undershorts with NID agents and Russian spies. Had he walked into the twilight zone at some particular point in the evening? He looks down at himself and sees the blood stains from his foster brother. God, he wishes, he had walked into some bizarro world.

            “Let’s not play nice nice with the property, bring him,” Cigar man says. “This way.” His shoulders hulk in great curves and it reminds Daniel of stone statues in Greece. This is a man that is used to having his orders followed, who always gets his way.

Seeking some small reassurance, he turns to Stapinski but the agent ignores him and bends to speak with one of his other captors. In all there are over a dozen men in the small clearing. His shadows grab his tied arms and manhandle him to get him to a staggering gait. The underbrush of stones, twigs and decaying plant life bruise his feet and he gambles with it and falls to his knees.

            “I need my shoes,” he says.

            Cigar man turns on his heel and, considering him, says, “It is easy enough to cut off your feet. We do not need the feet.”

            Stumbling, he makes it back to a standing position and straightens his restrained shoulders.

            “That is better Doctor Jackson. I am sure one such as yourself can deal with a bit of inconvenience if it means saving of the world, no?”

            Daniel bows his head from the thick brow of the man. Just his presence radiates danger to Daniel and he’s been around Jack enough to know that you don’t play with fire until you have the right equipment.

            “Good, good,” Cigar man says and lights another stogie. His fat lips play with it and he puffs into Daniel’s down turned face. When Daniel doesn’t even cough in response, the man curses, takes the cigar and smashes it against Daniel’s bare inner thigh. He groans, nearly falling over. “Two of my cigars you have already wasted and we are not at this safe house yet. That is not good for you Doctor Jackson, not good for you.”

            Daniel bites his lip squashing his retort. They start forward, the group flanking Daniel as if they are trying to protect him. He tries to find easy footing but the ground abuses his soles.

Stapinski ambles over to him and says, “Just follow what he wants and it’ll be easy for you.”

“And what exactly am I supposed to follow Stapinski?”

“You’re here for one thing and one thing only. Information,” the agent growls at him. “You give it to him, you might live. You don’t you definitely die.”

Daniel thought about this advice but shakes his head. “I’m not stupid Stapinski, I know very well they aren’t planning on letting me live after this. I’m not making it easy on you.”

“This has nothing to do with me.”

“I’m doubting that, I think it has a whole lot to do with you and what you get out of this. I’m not planning on making you rich, you’re getting nothing. Nothing.”

Stapinski smiles at him with a cocky grin and a raised eyebrow. “You know anything about Soviet interrogation techniques, Doctor Jackson?” He gives a little smirk. “Not your area of expertise I bet. Well the old man there.” He indicates Cigar man. “He was the best there was until the fall of the Soviet Union. Now he’s a free agent you might call it. Special interests in Russia bring him in for critical projects -- like you.”

Daniel watches the back of the Cigar man, the great swing of his shoulders reminding him of a gorilla. He still cannot put the pieces together. An ATF agent working for the NID in bed with a former Soviet KGB agent. In the end though the real question is – what do they want with him?

As the path widens, it opens to a small cabin with overgrowth seemingly devouring the tiny house in the forest. Heavy grasses fall over in the thicket while vines twist and climb over the house. This is the safe house. A crawling sensation creeps up his spine, and he thinks he is about to find out what they want from him. He doesn’t feel safe at all.

           

V.
He taps his fingers on the briefing room table and flicks the pages of the document lying in front of him. One agent Leonard Stapinski of the ATF was assigned the duty station of Los Angeles, California, but he shows up at the scene of a crime in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He spins the paper around on the table.

            Of course no one at the ATF could give him any useful information. He considers the paper, the notes he’s jotted down. An agent of the ATF has his team mate and they have no way of contacting Daniel. They have to sit tight and wait for Daniel to call. He glances at his watch. It’s only been three hours since Carter arrived at the Mountain, they have hours to go yet.

            Carter walks into the briefing room with Teal’c close at her heels. He gives her a nod and she offers him a slight smile but it’s the one that says I have bad news sir. He grimaces and says, “Let it out Carter.”

            “Sir, we’ve called Daniel’s phone several times in order to get a signal for our search,” she says. “Unfortunately I don’t think our investigation has actually located Daniel’s cell.”

            Jack asks, “Not a strong enough signal?”

            She does that little bop she often does when she’s uncomfortable under his scrutiny. “No sir, actually we did get a signal but there must be some interference because the location is the hospital parking lot.”

            “What?” He sits straight up in his seat.

            “The hospital parking garage.”

            “That is correct O’Neill, the location of the cell phone according to Major Carter’s examination of the data is the hospital parking garage.”

            “There’s one thing I’ve learned over the years Carter and that is you very rarely make a mistake when it comes to techno-stuff.” He jumps up and slides the paper across the table. “None of this is right. Agent Leonard Stapinski’s assigned duty post is in Los Angeles not Colorado Springs. The ATF disavows knowing anything concerning his business in Colorado.”

            She scans the paper as Teal’c leans over her shoulder to view it as well. “This doesn’t make any sense at all.” Peering up at him, she says, “We should check out the parking garage.”

“Damned right we should.” He waves for them to follow his lead and they do without question. For a second something drops in his chest – Daniel would have asked why, where, when – all those w type questions. Uneasy, he stifles the urge to run but comments to the passing sergeant to report to the General regarding their search for Daniel Jackson. The airman nods as they rush off to the elevator.

           
VI.

            He heard of these types of experiments in torture. Though what he currently experiences is a new twist on it. Sensory deprivation usually involves blindfolds, earmuffs, dark rooms. He thinks he could probably stand all of those without much problem. But when they arrived at the small cabin in the woods and Daniel entered into the single room of the cabin, he swallowed down the urge to hyperventilate.

            Cigar man’s idea of sensory deprivation is classic and morbid all at once. Sitting in the middle of the floor of the cabin was a coffin. Two holes for air had been drilled into its lid. When the Cigar man gave a small nod, the shadows holding him wrestled him to the floor, strip him of all else save his undershorts, recuffed his wrists, blindfolded him and dumped him into the coffin.

            Before the lid came down, Daniel smelled the distinct scent of cigar as his tormentor bent over him. “This will give you time to think, Doctor Jackson, before we start our discussion.”

            “Think about what?”

            “About denying the battle Doctor Jackson.”

            The lid had slammed down moments after that and Daniel had been left in the coffin. Trying to gauge the time is difficult and he tries not to dwell on the passage of hours. The mind can trick and persecute as deprivation of stimuli sets in. He tells himself to concentrate not on what he feels but on what he knows.

            An ATF agent that works for the NID.

            An old KGB agent in town for a little Daniel kicking around.

            Denying the battle.

            A phrase used by only one other person he knew. Shifu. It doesn’t surprise him at all that the NID would be interested in the knowledge that Shifu imparted to Daniel in a dream during his visited to the SGC. What does confuse him though is the role of the Russian ‘special interests’. None of it makes any sense.

            He reaches back and tries to recall if he’s ever met Stapinski before but comes up blank. That leaves him only one lead and that is his foster brother. He needs to remember every detail of the dinner, the conversation.

            He flips over it quickly at first as if speeding through a video, then he slows it down and watches Ray. His mind fills in gaps and he starts to wonder if he recalls everything correctly. He’d been happy to see Ray. They’d been close at one time and it was nice to get the feel of someone from his past that saw him as a normal human being, not one marred by gate travel and entangled in wars to save the planet.

            It was uncomfortable at first though. They hadn’t really spoken since before Daniel’s first trip through the gate. The awkwardness fell away though as they returned to their familiar zone – those two years Daniel lived with the Morrisons. They recounted the tales of their wayward behavior, laughed and smiled. As they eased into the night, they settled into a pattern of talking and revealing their lives. Speaking with discretion, Daniel detailed how he spent most of his time as a civilian employee for the US Air Force. This blew Ray away and he said as much especially since Daniel had always been so anti-establishment even in the tender years of his youth.

            Daniel had shrugged his shoulders and remarked that he had to pay the rent somehow. Ray smiled as if he understood and then launched into a very colorful story regarding his business. He owned what he liked to call a technology core where he literally acquired technology such as software from small time players and sold it on the larger market for quite a price. Daniel had been polite and asked about the types of software, listening to the list and knowing that Sam would be salivating over it. He smiled at the thought.

            “It’s good to see you Daniel,” Ray had said.

            “I’m glad you looked me up,” he replied.

            Ray dropped his eyes then and stared at the wine stain he’d made earlier on his clothe napkin. He flicked it a few times. “It is good, you know Daniel.”

            He looked up at Daniel and said, “I had this decision to make.” He had raised his hand then to ward off Daniel’s inquires. “But just sitting here and talking to you, well I think I made my decision. I feel good about it. It isn’t important what it was about, just that I made it.”

            “Glad I could help.”

            Ray had excused himself then and went to the men’s room. When he came back he seemed refreshed and renewed. In less than an hour later, he was dead.

            It hits Daniel. Ray is a link in the chain as well. Someone needed to get Daniel out from under the protective cover of the SGC. Someone must have contacted Ray and enlisted his help. It makes sense, Ray is a technology dealer – all the knowledge of the Goa’uld would be some bit of software wouldn’t it?  Ray didn’t even need to know anything about Daniel’s role in the Stargate Command. All he needed to do was deliver the goods.

            Daniel.

            Stapinski had said that their contact misdirected them. Ray tried to stop it. He got murdered because of it and Daniel was as good as dead.

            Just as a curse forms on his lips, the lid to the coffin is wrenched open. Someone tears off the blindfold and the brilliant light burns his retinas. He squints and bends over.

            “Pull him up,” Stapinski says.

            Two sets of hands grapple with him and get him from the coffin into a straight back wooden chair.

            “This can be easy, Doctor Jackson,” Stapinski says. “He could leave you in there for forty eight hours. By that time you’ll be hallucinating and half out of your mind.”

            “What good would that serve?” Daniel says and cringes even as the words come out of his mouth. When is he going to learn to shut up?

            Before Stapinski fist collides with his face, Cigar man steps in and says, “You are right, of course, Doctor Jackson. We do not need you to be a raging madman. What we need from you is simple information and thinking this I believe you will want to give it to us.”

            He feels straps being tightened around his arms, his torso to tether him to the back of the chair. His ankles are roped together.

            “I don’t see what kind of information I could possibly give you.”

            Cigar man smiles and it is like a great beast opened the maw of his mouth, his yellowing teeth like fangs. “You are a funny man, Doctor Jackson and I understand you are trying to keep your secrets but there is no need. We all,” Cigar man gestures to his compatriots and says, “know about your little Stargate program.”

            Daniel does a survey of the room and notes that there are only five men in the room now. The room is sparsely furnished with only a table with four chairs, a tiny galley kitchen and a single bed in the room. Off to the one side, he views an inside door that must lead to the bathroom. He notices another door with a filthy window that he surmises must be a back door of sorts. The men, including Stapinski hang around the room like circling vultures.

            “You see Doctor Jackson, we are quite discrete.” Cigar man yanks a chair from the small table in the cabin and sits down. “I tell you a story, Doctor Jackson, how about that?”

            He says nothing in reply.

            “Russia is friends with your country now, right? Well not so much friends but maybe colleagues,” Cigar man says. “We work together. Russia and your country they make treaty. But this Stargate program does not work so well with Russian special interests. Russia special interests, they learn of this information that the Stargate program finds out from the child, you call him Shifu.”

            Daniel keeps his face rigid, he doesn’t want to give this man anything.

            “The big NID of your government does not pursue finding out about this valuable information. My government agrees. Not so for the Russian special interests.” Cigar man leans back in his chair, his large belly loping over his belt. He lights a cigar and takes a long drag nearly purring as he exhales. “Lucky though Mister Stapinski is forward thinker. He knows saving the world is more important than one person.”

            They know so much so he doesn’t see the point in denying them what they already know but he smirks. “You’ve wasted your time; I don’t recall anything that Shifu taught me in the dream.”

            The cigar comes down and sears Daniel’s chest. He grunts but doesn’t scream; he knows this is just the beginning. The Cigar man clips the end of the cigar lights it again and crushes it into Daniel’s skin again, the flesh withering against it. He repeats this three more times until Daniel has a pattern like a star across his chest.  Tears fill Daniel’s eyes but he doesn’t make a sound.

            Cigar man waves one of his henchman over and the man gives him a small container with a brush. His tormentor smiles and taps the brush on the side of the container then starts to paint and smear the concoction into the wounds. It sizzles as it touches his skin and a moan slips out. A sparkle in his torturer’s eyes sends a quaver through Daniel.

            “I think I can help you remember, no?” He smiles and tells Stapinski to release Daniel’s one hand. “Lucky for you I do not like to drag these things out. I am not a patient man, I do things quick, show you I mean business so you know what you are dealing with. I think this is a fair thing to do.”

            Daniel’s left hand is freed but it is then clamped down to the table by two of the henchman. The strain against the burnt flesh on his chest hurts.

            “I think you like this hand, am I right?”

            Daniel curls his lip but says nothing.

            “I take that as a no?”

            “Yes, no, I mean yes I like my hand.”

            “Better, Doctor Jackson. See you learn well,” Cigar man goes to the small galley kitchen and opens a drawer. He draws out a knife and rounds the corner to join them again. “You see I mean serious business and then we move forward quickly and get this unpleasant part over.” He nods and the men force Daniel’s hand to splay out onto the table. “Please do not move Doctor Jackson I do not want to cause too much damage. Not right away.”

            The knife comes down, stabbing through the softest part of his hand between the index and middle finger. A sound erupts from his lips, sundering the air around him. He squeezes his eyes closed and jerks but another man is behind him, laying his bulk over Daniel so that he cannot move. The worst part of it is that the knife is not sharp. It grinds, and pulls and rips away at his flesh as the Cigar man drives it through his hand.

            “Hold him,” Cigar man says and turns away.

            Tears cascade down his face. He hates to show this kind of weakness to anyone, but the pain grates through his hand, up his arm and jars his senses. Cigar man comes back but with he clenches a hammer.

            “Unfortunately the knife is not sharp as I like it to be. I apologize for that Doctor Jackson.” Cigar man whacks the handle of the knife three times and nails it into the wooden table through Daniel’s hand. He lets himself scream. When his tormentor has completed his task, he gestures for his helpers to move off and Daniel is left drained and collapsed over his abused hand.

            “Now, Doctor Jackson, you see what the game is. You have a choice.” Cigar man points to the coffin. “You can go back in there for a while. I will release you and get your hand tended.” Cigar man drops the hammer on the table next to Daniel’s speared hand. “You give us information, you get to go back in the coffin, you don’t, well we continue.”

            Daniel sees the moments scattering, falling away. He knows nothing to stop this man. The dreams that Shifu gave to him are tainted images of his soul surrendering to all that is evil. He does not possess the knowledge this man thinks he does and even if he did – he vowed to deny it, to deny it battle so that it could not take root in the human soul.

            Cigar man stands upright, his arms crossed. “So I see we continue, then.”

VII.
He drops the plastic bags on the briefing room table and glowers up at her. She knows as she stares at the contents of the bags that she made a mistake, a mistake that could cost Daniel his life.  In the bags, confiscated from the hospital parking garage, are the personal affects of Daniel. His cell phone, his wallet, his keys. She focuses on the phone and thinks how she’s been calling that phone for hours hoping he would pick up, but he never did.

            “We need something more than just a bunch of come to oz wizardry Carter,” O’Neill says as he taps the table. He digs in his pocket and unfolds the paper with the information about Agent Stapinski on it. “He’s the key.”

            “May I ask O’Neill, why would an agent of the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms be interested in Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c stands to the side, his presence both calms her and reminds her that one of their team is missing.

            “There isn’t a reason unless Daniel’s been making moonshine in his apartment.”

            “I am unfamiliar with this term moonshine.”

            “That’s just it, isn’t it?” Sam picks up the paper and stares at Stapinski’s name. It means nothing to her and everything all at once.

            “Carter?”

            She peers up at him and recognizes that expectant look she so often encounters from those around her, awaiting for her to make some leap in logic. Does that mean she’s more rational and can deduce better or does it mean she just doesn’t follow the rules of deduction at all? Ignoring her stray thoughts, she says, “Stapinski mustn’t be working with the ATF.”

            “Wrong.” the Colonel makes a buzzing noise. “Thanks for playing the game Carter but you’re not even going home with consolation prizes for that one.” He flicks the paper with his fingers. “It says right there Stapinski’s been with the bureau for ten years.”

            “Right, right,” she says as she starts to pace the room. “What if, what if he isn’t working with the ATF on this project.”

            “Daniel isn’t a project.”

            Her focus distracts for a moment and she says, “Sorry sir, I didn’t mean it that way. I meant that we know agents from the NID work in other locales, in other departments to secure information that the NID might find critical.”

            “So you think this Stapinski guy might be working with the NID?” the Colonel asks as he drops into a chair.

            “It would seem we have no other option O’Neill but to follow this course of action at this time,” Teal’c says for her as she continues to stare at the name.

            “Let’s get to it then.”

VIII.
He should consider it an act of mercy that they slid his chair closer to the table. It relieves the strain in his shoulders as he hunches over his torn hand. Two knives impale it to the plank of the wooden table. He heaves in a breath as he attempts to soothe his battered psyche. He is still tied to the chair with one hand. There are several more cigar burns up and down his chest and legs. His tied feet are finally free of the ice water they submerge them into during the torture sessions. In between shivering, he sweats from the pain raking through his palm and up his wrist.

            Daniel shifts slightly; his head still laying on the table. He sees the coffin and wants to rest, to offer them something, anything to stop this insanity. But he doesn’t have anything but vague images of being overcome by evil in his dreams – of what value is that?

            It has occurred to him that there would be no way they could verify anything he tells them to be true or not. He could feed them any information he so desires to stop the torment. So he tried. He gave them fantasies of weapons and shields. It never stopped though. Cigar man had been wrapped up in the moment of torture as if he was in the midst of some addictive high. As the day matured though, they had left him.

He sits in the cabin now , bent over the table with only two guards to watch over him. His feet are still stiff from the cold water treatments while his chest throbs from the burns and acid solution. He keeps away from thinking about his hand, he doesn’t even look at it. His lips are cracked and his face feels raw from the sweat and tears that have scarred it.

The door creaks open but he does not respond. He needs to find a way to get back into the coffin. Funny to think he wants to be in a wooden box. He hears the thump thump of Cigar man’s scuffle and he cringes into the table.

“Doctor Jackson,” Cigar man says and his sausage like fingers probe Daniel’s face. Lifting Daniel’s chin, his tormentor offers him water. “Drink, you will feel better.”

He sips the water, grateful and resentful at the same time.

“Take time to drink Doctor Jackson, we do not want to see you sick.”

Daniel nods and closes his eyes. Has it even been a day yet? Has he crumpled so easily? He turns his head away from the water then, at least he should make a stand, be brave.

“There is no bravery in stupidity, Doctor Jackson.” Cigar man says and moves away from him with the precious water. “Do you have this camera?”

Daniel squints up at the man confused. Stapinski pulls out a camera for him. Cigar man indicates that Stapinski should proceed but with what Daniel does not know.

“Smile for me pretty Doctor Jackson,” Stapinski says and the flash of the camera nearly blinds him. “How about a few up close and personal?” He leans in over Daniel and takes a few frames of Daniel’s bruised face, his burned chest and his ravaged hand.

“Good,” Cigar man says and with a hefty thrust pushes Stapinski away from Daniel. “I apologize for such crudeness.” He gives Daniel a soft pat on the shoulder. “Perhaps we start our work again?”

“I told you everything I remember,” Daniel says as he watches Stapinski leave the cabin.

Cigar man collapses into the chair and Daniel wonders why it does not crack under his weight. “Actually no, Doctor Jackson, you told me everything you concocted in your head.” He chuckles a little. “I am not so stupid as to believe the great Doctor Jackson would surrender after such a little bit of persuasion.”

“I have nothing more to tell you,” Daniel whispers. There never was anything for him to tell them.

He lights another cigar as he regards Daniel. “Shall I tell you another story? Perhaps you would like that before we start our exercise again?”

Daniel doesn’t say anything in reply, just sits with eyes to the table.

“There are interests in Russia that do not, shall we say, agree with the current government’s treaty with your country concerning the Stargate.” Cigar man huffs on the stogie and the smoke permeates the air. “Agent Stapinski is good means to an end. He sold you to us because he believes we can extract the knowledge of the Goa’uld from you.”

Daniel frowns against the strain of being tied to the chair as his muscles freeze in place.

“He thinks he is a hero, trying to save the world.” Cigar man flicks the hot ashes onto Daniel’s knee. “We are trying to reverse our government’s decision regarding the Stargate treaty.”

“So you think that by getting Goa’uld information from me you’ll be able to use weapons against the United States?” Daniel says.

Cigar man shakes his head. “Once again you disappoint me Doctor Jackson. Have we not already established that there is no way I can confirm any information from you?”

Daniel drops his gaze. His feet are frigid, his shoulders ache. He still does not think about his hand.

“No, Doctor Jackson, you are the hot commodity as Agent Stapinski put it. The Russian government will be made to capitulate to our interests and renegotiate this treaty,” Cigar man says. “A trade, you see, very easy. Your people trade for you and give my people the rights back to the Stargate.”

A laugh quakes Daniel and it grates against the pain jarring his hand. “They’ll never do it. You’ve wasted your time.”

Cigar man stands and the hot tip of his stogie perches close to Daniel’s face. “Oh, Doctor Jackson, I do not believe I have wasted time. No, not at all.”

IX.
Sitting in Carter’s lab, Jack taps the table. The nervous energy sprouts from the time slowly ticking away from them. It has been over ten hours since Carter last saw Daniel.  So far they’ve managed to confirm little and verify even less.

            From his sources he had been able to show that Stapinski does work in one of the NID sleeper cells. With Carter’s ability to hack into computer systems, she’s pulled out information to indicate that Stapinski had been in contact with Ray Morrison. She was able to extract little more than that fact from the information.

            With some work, she is concentrating on hacking into an online bulletin board for the NID cell with which Stapinski is associated. At the very least he was able to contact Maybourne to find out that much. Carter purses her lips and taps on the keyboard some more while Teal’c keeps a silent vigil. Jack regards the Jaffa and thinks how envious he is of the warrior. How can he keep so patient?

            Teal’c gives him a quick gaze and he is unsettled. How does he do that?

            “Sir?”

            He shakes his head and ignores his thoughts to shift back to his second in command. “Tell us all about Oz Dorothy?”

            She frowns at him but continues without comment. “It seems that the last time Stapinski was activated by the NID they were somewhat less than impressed. He hasn’t been activated for over six months.”

            “So the NID isn’t involved?” Jack asks as he stands up and crowds by the computer screen with Carter and Teal’c.

            “Hard to say sir,” she says and points to the screen. “This list shows Stapinski’s interaction on the board. Over the past month he asked repeatedly for technology to access repressed memories. He was refused on a number of occasions, so much so that he was actually reprimanded.”

            “Agent Stapinski has acted without the approval of his superiors?” Teal’c asks.

            “It looks like,” Carter says then adds, “I don’t know how it all connects but somehow Stapinski and Morrison were collaborating. In the end it led to Morrison’s death and Daniel’s disappearance.”

            “Something is rotten in Denmark,” Jack says.

            “I am not certain why we should concern ourselves with the state of decay in Denmark O’Neill.”

            He waves Teal’c off and starts to ask Carter a question when she raises a hand.

            She clicks the keys and opens her email account. “Strange.”

            “What?”

            “I just received an email from Firearmagent.” When he just looks at her blankly, Carter explains, “Stapinski’s NID list name.”

            “Original and can I ask does the entire NID know how to contact us but we don’t have a clue how to find them?” Jack curses then nods to her to open the email.

            “No text just an attachment, scanning for viruses first.” She opens the attachment and startles back. “Oh Daniel.”

            Teal’c places a comforting hand on her shoulder and she cups her hand over her mouth as if to muffle a cry. His gaze rivets to the screen and for a moment he cannot react.  His limbs feel heavy and stiff as if he’s been climbing Pike’s Peak in the dead of winter.

            There are at least a half dozen photos of Daniel. In the first photo, Daniel’s expression is stunned, pained. In later photos he is ready for the photographer and keeps his eyes averted and his expression trained without pain. Daniel’s body is contorted in the chair, his right arm bound behind him so that it stretches the charred markings across his chest. His face is marred and bruised. Jack looks at his team mate, his friend but his gaze keeps drifting from his eyes to the hand nailed to the table with two knives.

            Carter’s voice brings him back. “Sir, there’s a word file.”

            He only nods. She flicks it open. The words are simple but demanding. He wants Sam to deliver a Tok’ra memory device by tomorrow dawn. The particulars are sketched out in the letter.

            He rifles a hand through his hair and says, “Crap, what is he playing at? Does he honestly believe he can get away with this?” He can’t sit anymore, he needs to move. He starts to pace the small confines of Carter’s office, mentally cursing all the machinery she has placed about the room.

            “Why does he want a Tok’ra memory device?”

            “He must be planning on using it on Daniel sir,” Carter says.

            Before anyone can speak, General Hammond enters the room and commands silence. Jack has no flippant remark not after seeing the photos of Daniel. Even as he starts to report to the General about the newest information regarding Daniel’s situation, Hammond speaks, “I just got a call from the President. Evidently, he received a call from the Russian Prime Minister asking whether or not we could confirm that Doctor Jackson had been abducted.”

            “What?” The world keeps tipping and falling over and Jack keeps sliding down as his nails scratch the surface.

            “It seems certain factions in the Russian government have not been happy about the current arrangement regarding the Stargate program.”

            “Okay?” Jack can’t seem to blink, he feels like he’s in a sandstorm and his eyes are glued open.

            “And these factions within the Russian government have some interest in Daniel Jackson?”

            Jack silently thanks Teal’c – at least he’s able to keep his brain on straight.

            “They’ve indicated they have acquired custody of Doctor Jackson through a rogue operative from our government. If the Russian and US governments don’t renegotiate the treaty, Doctor Jackson life will be forfeit.”

            “Okay, now I am confused. Who has Daniel?” Jack glances at Carter then back at the General.

            “Colonel?”

            Carter clears her throat and has managed to pull herself together after staring at Daniel’s photos for the last few minutes. “Sir, we have reason to believe Agent Stapinski might be a part of this plot as well, though they seem to be working at cross purposes.” She reviews the situation in her detached professional manner and Jack smiles inwardly. When push comes to shove, Carter buries the emotion and becomes all about the job.

            “We need to find that safe house, sir,” Jack says.

            “Do we even know that Daniel Jackson is still within the borders of this country?” Teal’c asks.

            “It’s only been eleven hours. Daniel’s been injured and by the looks of it, he’s been sitting at that table for some time. Look at the blood on his hand and chest, some of it is drying.”

            Carter bends down and examines the screen. “He’s right. They would never have enough time to get out of the country. That doesn’t mean he isn’t some distance away.”

            As they all stare at the photo, the General says in a low voice, “Jack I need you to find that safe house. You know the President is not going to negotiate a new treaty.”

            “Yes sir.”

            “Find it.”

            “Yes sir.”

            “By any means available,” the General says then moves to leave the laboratory. “Any means, Colonel.”

            Jack stands rigid and says, “Understood.”

X.
Daniel stays crouched over the table. The Cigar man has taken a break as the night sets in. He hasn’t sleep in over thirty hours and his body begs him to submit to slumber yet the pain racks his body. He knows most of his injuries are superficial, can be healed easily yet his body jitters against the shock. It is his hand. He ignores his hand, dissociates from it. It isn’t a part of him right now, it is something else.

            To his humiliation, they offer him a bucket to piss in. They release his right arm, his body and he groans when his arm moves from the ache and strain on the muscles. They allow him to kneel as he relieves himself, his left hand still attached to the table. After he’s finished, they secure him to the chair again and the tearing of his shoulder, his back, the muscles of his arm screams mutely in his ears. He lays his head on the table, though they’ve moved the chair farther away and the stress shreds his tendons.

            The door swings open and Stapinski walks in. His gait smog and stupid, Daniel thinks. Stapinski tosses the digital camera on the table, it lands with a thunk. The jar quakes through the table and Daniel cringes and bites down against the pain vibrating through his arm.

            “Your friends over at the SGC have until morning to give us a Tok’ra memory device.” He grins. “Once we have that, we’ll be able to get this little project moving along.” He pounds the table twice and pats Daniel’s shoulder.

            Daniel shakes his head. “You’re a fool.”

            This stops Stapinski from his swagger, breaks the smile momentarily. “I’m a hero, a fucking hero. Not like your little unit, your little scared SGC. Even the NID doesn’t know what they got here.” He jabs at Daniel, jolting him and causing the tendons in his hand to cleave. A hard moan escapes his lips and he grinds his teeth against the streaks of pain firing up his nerves. “I told them once I read the file on that kid, but hell they wouldn’t listen to me.”

            “You have nothing, Stapinski, nothing.”

            “Oh I have you, the great Daniel Jackson.” Stapinski laughs. “I read the files at the NID. You got all the knowledge of the Goa’uld up there.” He whacks a knuckle against Daniel’s skull. “I got the old man here to work you over so that I could get the stuff we needed to extract that info. Once I got that info in your head, I can give it over to the NID and they’ll see that I was right – that getting this information is worth it.”

            Daniel hangs his head and sighs, just inhaling stresses the burns, the torque of the way he is tethered to the chair.  He has to take this risk, to pit one against the other. In a low murmur he says, “He isn’t here to help you, he’s here to use you.”

            “What? What the hell are you talking about?”

            Daniel peers up, his eyes stinging. “The Cigar man, the old man. He’s here for his own interests, for factions in the Russian government. He isn’t looking for any information. He’s playing you while his bosses try to strong arm a new treaty. You played right into his hand when you sent the photos.”

            Daniel crumples onto the table, the strain is too much but he doesn’t care. It is too difficult to keep his head up. He needs to finish this though. He hopes Stapinski can hear him as he whispers, “He told me. He told me he used you to get me. I’m his leverage to get what he wants, the renegotiation of the Stargate treaty.”

            “You hold yourself in pretty high regard. You’re not worth the treaty.”

            Daniel looks up at him then, lets the moment drop in heavy silence before he says, “No, I’m not.”

            In the silence is the truth; it reverberates in the room – widening, echoing, growing, and expanding to encompass the entire cabin. Stapinski stares at him, his mouth working, opening and closing to gulp air like a fish in polluted waters.

            Daniel takes the chance, grasps it and holds it though it threatens to unleash on him. “Whatever you’re trying to convince the NID of, it doesn’t matter to him. He has his own agenda and he’s played you to get what he wants.”

            The fist flies at him, smashing against his cheekbone and causing his head to ricochet off the table. The chair slides out from underneath him.  Crashing to the floor, the chair tumbles on top of him. His hand is still pinned to the table, the angle tugs at the tender flesh.

            “God damn son of a bitch. You think, you think, I’m not, not playing him?” Stapinski rages. The two guards in the room move forward but he sneers at them. “Stay the fuck away.” He drags out a gun from under his coat jacket and aims it at the two guards. “I said stay the fuck away.” They put their hands in the air and shuffle back a few steps.

            Daniel grunts as he tries to right himself but the chair impedes him. He tumbles and falls, rending his hand further. The pain is brilliant and blinding all at once and he blinks his eyes to find his sight against it.

            “I used him. I sold you to him not the other way around,” Stapinski says and the gun wavers to point at Daniel. “I sent the photos, I’m getting what I want tomorrow morning. What the hell does he have? One fucked up archeologist, that’s all. One lousy archeologist.” Stapinski realizes what he is saying and backpedals. “He doesn’t even have that, does he?” His focus pops all over the room, jumping and skipping. “No, I got you. I do, and I can do whatever the fuck I want with you.”

            He brings the handle of the gun down, slamming it against Daniel’s shoulder, then his skull. Daniel shudders but consciousness holds as the blow is glancing against his head. As he raises the gun again, Daniel glimpses the guards draw forward but the rupture of the gun as it pounds against his skull darkens his vision. He slips farther, knowing if he falls he will rip his hand from the table, but there is nothing he can do to prevent it. With only a whisper of a moan, he answers the biding darkness calling to him. 

XI.
Scraping his fingers tips across his scalp, Jack swears under his breath and leans back in the chair. He’s failed. Failed Daniel. He closes his eyes and thinks of the last time he saw Daniel. They fight a lot these days, bicker, tease, bitch. Their friendship hangs at times by a thread but in the end, at the end of the day – he trusts Daniel. He knows he can count on Daniel even when they seem to be at cross purposes. But here he is sitting in the dark briefing room at midnight and he has failed Daniel.

            Every avenue he searched came up empty. The trail is cold. He cannot find the ‘safe house’ where they are holding Daniel – if it even exists. None of his contacts hold any information; the way is cold.

            He hears the shift of someone enter the room but he does not swivel the chair around to greet them. He stares instead at the top of the arch of the Stargate. His life, his time in this program is intricately enmeshed with Daniel’s contribution. A geek, a pain in the ass.

            “Damn.”

            “Sir?”

The lights flicker on and he cringes against the glare. He waits a minute before he swings the chair around to face Carter. “Yep?”

“I’m sorry sir, but I keep hitting a brick wall. I’ve done some file searches and some research on the bulletin board but nothing new is coming up,” Carter says as she slips into a chair across the table from him. Her eyes are haunted and hollow. “Perhaps we should try and contact Dad?”

“Because the Tok’ra are always so concerned with our needs,” he lashes out.

“No,” she says. “Because we need to supply them with a memory device or forfeit Daniel’s life.”

He glances at his watch. “We still have seven hours, Carter.”

Her shoulders hunch over and he thinks he is about to see her cave inward and disintegrate. “I don’t know what else to look for sir. I’ve tried everything.”

“Perhaps, these will aid in your search, Major Carter,” Teal’c says and places several photographs on the table.

Jack glances over at the photograph, almost with disinterest until he realizes what Teal’c has presented to them, a series of photographs of cars.

“What are these?” Carter flips through them, spacing them out on the briefing room table. There are several photos of a black van and several other photos of two black sedans.

“I acquired them from the hospital security officers.”

Jack raises his head and says, “How?”

“I telephoned the hospital security office and informed them that the United States Air Force and the Department of Defense required their immediate cooperation in a critical investigation. I requested any information related to the hospital parking garage. They forwarded these to me.”

Carter shakes her head. “How do we even know these have anything to do with Daniel?”

“I requested any photographs from surveillance equipment time stamped at or around the time you reported being at the hospital. Since it was quite early in the morning, there were only a few to review,” Teal’c pauses. “I found these most interesting.”

He looks closer at the photograph of the van and starts to smile. “It’s a US government license plate.”

Teal’c bows.

“Brilliant,” Carter says.

“Can you do something with these?” Jack says as Carter gathers up the photos and starts out of the briefing room.

“I’m gonna damn well try,” Carter says as she begins to leave, then peers back into the room. “Sir.”

He smiles. Teal’c stays behind with him. “You continue to pull the rabbit out of the hat, don’t you?”

Teal’c gives him the look that reminds him of a lion growling his displeasure.

Slapping Teal’c on the arm, he says, “Let’s go see what the Major has up her sleeve.”

As they make their way to Carter’s lab, Teal’c regards him and then says, “Sometimes O’Neill I do not think you are actually speaking English.”

“Sometimes Teal’c, I think you actually have more to contribute than just muscle.”

Teal’c raises an eyebrow at him and says, “Once again O’Neill you speak but refuse to make sense.”

He smirks as he realizes Teal’c is yanking his chain again. Teal’c works that way – he recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of his team mates and when times are rough – he exploits them. They make their way through the corridors of the SGC, round the corner and enter Carter’s lab.

“Anything?”

Carter looks up from the computer screen and says, “Actually, maybe sir.” She holds up the photograph of the van but it is a blow up of the license plate. “I enlarged the plate so I could read the number, then I went and looked it up in the NID car pool database.”

“NID?”

“I had a hunch that Stapinski would have used a government car from the NID garage and he did.” She smiles. “And that was his mistake sir. I figured the NID probably tag their cars so that they can locate all of their vehicles at any time through GPS monitoring.” She taps a few keys. “I’m working to get into their computer system now sir. It might take sometime.”

“But once you get into the system?”

“I think I’ll be able to locate at least the van,” Carter says. “While it might not be where Daniel is – at least it will give us some place to start looking.”

He doesn’t say anything for long minutes, just nods his head and moves off. His hands are in his pockets, his eyes aren’t trustworthy. They have a chance now. His team might be whole again. They might not fail Daniel. He glances over at Carter and Teal’c as they murmur to one another at the computer monitor.

One more link to the puzzle and their missing team member is closer to coming home.

 

XII.
He huddles around his hand. He clutches it close to his scarred chest, blood drips down his wrist, makes rivers along his arm. At least he is free of the table, of the knives. His fingers tingle and ache, his hand is swollen with ugly colors of purple and red streaked through it. He attempts to move his hand just to test it but a fire erupts within his tendons and he curls around his hand, biting back his cry.

            Daniel lies on the floor, nearly under the table. His hold on reality swims as nausea assaults his senses. He can feel the goose egg on the back of his head from the gun handle. His other arm is still roped to the chair and the awkward angle of his position increases the stress of his injuries. He tries to lever himself up but one of the guards walks over and kicks him in the gut. He gasps for air. It is the same guard that saved him from Stapinski’s rage.

            Over him Stapinski screams at the Cigar man as they face off. “This is my gig, old man. I make the rules, I decide what happens to him. You understand?” Though the guards warded off the agent’s attack, they were unable to calm his growing anger. Stapinski hisses at the guard standing over Daniel and then turns back to the old man. “You get him ready for the next round. When the SGC bring me that Tok’ra memory device I want to be ready.”

            “You are a fool, Stapinski. They will give you nothing,” the Cigar man says as he gives a subtle nod to the other guard in the room. The situation starts to clarify for Daniel. These men, the henchmen have been loyal to the Cigar man all along. Daniel had assumed they worked with Stapinski, but the ATF turned NID agent is small time compared to the Russian interrogator.

            Upon unspoken direction from the Cigar man, the guard kneels down and, with a knife, slices the ropes away from Daniel’s arm, body and ankles. The easing of tension through his body is immediate and Daniel grunts with relief.

            “I sent the photos, they know we mean business.”

            “They know you broke law, that is all they know,” the Cigar man laughs. “They will come after you. We will leave tonight, go to little town I know in Siberia.” The Russian indicates Daniel. “He will not see light of day again until United States agrees to renegotiate the Stargate treaty.”

            “God damn you bastard. This is my show,” Stapinski says, his face is streaked with sweat. A madness lives in his eyes as he wanders in a small circle around the cabin. “You aren’t taking him anywhere.”

            Cigar man looks down at the man, though they are the same height. His expression is one of a tolerant parent to a naughty child. “We paid you good money for this property.”

            “At a reduced price than what I asked because you were supposed to retrieve the information from his head,” Stapinski says as he bites at his fingernail. He knows he is losing, that he is not surrounded by friends. “Wait until morning. I’ll get the Tok’ra device.”

            “As I said, you are fool.” Cigar man turns to the guard that released Daniel. “Put him in the box.”

            Two of the guards yank Daniel from under the table, half dragging, half carrying him toward the coffin. He kicks and throws a weak fist at them. One of the guards slams a booted foot into his side and he rasps out a moan. He curses but keeps fighting, his arms flailing, his legs scrambling for purchase.

            Cigar man approaches and Daniel swings a fist at him but the big man grabs hold of Daniel’s injured hand and twists it. “You go into box now Doctor Jackson or else your trip will not be pleasant.”

            “I told you he isn’t going anywhere,” Stapinski yells from across the small room.

            Cigar man’s fury turns on the agent then, his eyes black, his mouth a bruising frown. “You will be silent now. I will cut you up and feed you to him if you do not stop. He is my property.”

            Stapinski drops back, fumbling as he falls backward. “We can talk about it, figure it out.”

            Cigar man stalks up to the agent and growls, “No. He is mine, he goes to Russia with me.”

            From Daniel’s crouched position, he cannot see the Russian’s face but the terror marring Stapinski’s features tells Daniel enough. The agent only nods.

            “In the box,” Cigar man waves to the men.

            A flicker of light across the small window alerts the occupants of the cabin that something is amiss.  

The Cigar man scowls and says, “It is too late now. Get him in the box, get rid of him.”

The guards shove Daniel into the coffin and shut the lid, darkness covers him. He hears a pounding and realizes that they are nailing the box closed. His heart rams in his chest, throbbing against the concussion piercing his brain. He bangs on the lid with his uninjured right hand.  He’s screaming out, telling them no.

            He hears a scuffle then and recognizes the sounds of a fight. A gunshot rings out and the room is quiet. Lying in the coffin, Daniel strains to hear. That is when he hears the slicing of a helicopter’s blades cut the air around the cabin. He forgets his pain as he realizes the SGC just found him.

            A splash of liquid interrupts his concentration on his imminent rescue, then the distinct stench of gasoline permeates the air. A flare bursts forth across the small air holes drilled in the lid of the coffin.

            Fire.

            They’ve set the place on fire.

            His heart drops.

            No.

            They’ve set the coffin on fire.

XIII.
“We got heat signatures below, sir,” Siler yells over the whirl of the ‘copter’s blades. The Master Sergeant holds onto the loop as he clutches an instrument with the other hand and the vehicle sways. “Sir, there’s a flash, might be an explosion in the cabin.”

            “Bring it down,” Jack orders and the helicopter veers toward the clearing in the woods. His team crowds into the helicopter and are geared up to take on an army of angry Jaffa. They have no idea what kind of resistance they might encounter. Jack spies the convoy of jeeps racing up the gravel road as back up.

            “Heat signatures leaving the back of the cabin,” Siler says. “Should we land to intercept them?”

            Jack looks at the readout and considers then says, “Radio down have the strike force intercept, we’ll check out the cabin.”

            “Sir, I think that they’ll probably bring Daniel with them. We should go to intercept,” Carter advises.

            “Negative Major.” He raises his chin to the pilot and says, “Land her.”

            The ‘copter makes a final pass and hovers to land. The whirl of its blades whips the air about them as they jump from it.

            “Look sharp,” he commands as he hears the strike force racing to catch up with the escapees leaving the cabin. He hopes his hunch is right. Teal’c covers his flank as Carter scans the outside of the cabin and its layout.

            “All clear in the front, sir.”

            The flash of lights glares across the path to the cabin. The helicopter illuminates the tiny house in the clearing. Vines and tall grasses bend beneath the weight of the copter’s wind. What he sees though is the flicker of flames flashing through the window in the cabin. They’re burning something, burning evidence.

            “Damn it,” Jack says as he shoulders the door and it swings open without resistance. He stumbles for a moment as Teal’c and Carter crowd against him. Surveying the single room cabin, he clasps his P90 waiting for someone to challenge him. But there is only a dead body in the small house. He doesn’t recognize it but Carter murmurs the name Stapinski.

            A banging rivets his attention to the object in the center of the room that is being devoured by flames. He hears him – Daniel screaming, pleading for help.

            “Teal’c,” he calls as he goes to the bed and pulls off a blanket. Teal’c runs to the box. Carter tugs the blanket and helps Jack in his attempts to smother the flames.

            “Daniel, we’re here,” Carter shouts. The repeat of a gun fight echoes through the cabin from the outside. He ignores it as they work to put out the flames. Teal’c levers a broken rung of a chair lying on the floor between the lid and the case, trying to pry the box open.

            It isn’t a box, it’s a god damned coffin. Jack swears but the lid quakes even as the flames continue to eat it. Teal’c gives a great heave and the lid cracks open.

            “Get him free, get him free,” Jack says and Teal’c wrenches Daniel from the burning coffin. In a fireman’s carry, he jogs their team mate out of the cabin and into the clearing in front of the helicopter.  Both he and Carter follow. Teal’c does not stop until he is a safe distance from the cabin within the shelter of the circle of Air Force jeeps. He goes immediately to the ambulance and the medics open the doors to invite them in.

            Fraiser is there, waiting for them.

            Daniel coughs and shivers as he is laid out on the gurney. Fraiser straps an oxygen mask over his face and tells him to breathe. Daniel’s eyes are fogging, rolling up in his head.

            Jack hovers over her as she examines his friend. “Daniel?”

            “Sir, please I need some room,” Fraiser says and elbows him as she instructs one of the medics to start an intravenous line. Her hands are tender against Daniel’s face, trying to get him to focus on her. “Come on Daniel, look at me.”

            “Daniel Jackson has been overcome with smoke inhalation, Doctor Fraiser,” Teal’c reports as he steps back from the ambulance.

            Jack knows he should move off; get out of the doctor’s way, but Daniel’s slack body, his unseeing eyes freeze him in place. Fraiser is shouting directions to her medics and they are furious with their actions, moving in some bizarre ballet.

            “Should we tube him, Doctor?” one of the medics, a young Asian woman named Liu, asks.

            “Daniel?” Fraiser isn’t answering her medic, her face is nearly touching Daniel’s. “Come on now, there you go, breathe, breathe.” She leans back and sighs as her patient takes deep cleansing breathes, his gaze focusing on her.

            “Daniel?” Jack says. Fraiser moves off a little in the cramped space.

            “Get this bucket moving, airman,” the doctor calls. Both Carter and Teal’c walk a distance off as the doors are closed and the ambulance starts its trek toward the Mountain.

            Daniel reaches out and Jack grabs him, gentle and soft as he realizes he is holding his injured hand. “Jack?”

            “Hey.”

            “Hey.” Daniel watches at the medic injects the iv line. “Not too normal, huh?”

            “Daniel?”

            “Just wanted to have a normal dinner, you know a normal life.” He laughs a bit, but it is a sound laced with sadness. His words are muffled by the oxygen mask. “Normal for me, huh?”

            Jack reaches out and grasps Daniel’s shoulder but he has nothing to offer. No sage words come to him; no flippant retort percolates to mind. All he sees is his ravaged friend. “Hey, what’s normal?”

            The happy juice Fraiser’s given Daniel is kicking in as his friend says, “Getting philosophical Jack?”

            The ambulance sways as they veer down the path and toward the main highway. All that time Daniel had been lost to them, he’d literally been no more than 10 miles away from the Mountain.

            “Dangers of being around you too much,” he replies.

            “Dangers,” Daniel repeats and his eyes drift closed.

            “Doc?” He tries to keep the alarm out of his voice but knows he doesn’t. Fraiser is kind when she answers.

            “He’s okay sir. Let him sleep while we work on him.”

            Jack finds a small corner in the jeep but keeps his gaze on Daniel at all times.  As the van moves through the streets toward the Mountain, he watches the medical crew treat his friend.

 

XIV.

            General Hammond walks into the briefing room, his hands in fists at his sides. He huffs a bit as he sits down at the head of the table and Sam observes a flush to his skin tone as if he had been arguing. She knows the news is not good and steels herself against the tide of dread.

            “Please sit,” the General says. He settles down and with a glare to his expression scans each of them before he continues, “The NID disavows any knowledge of Agent Stapinski’s operation. In fact, they say they didn’t even know he signed out a car from the car pool.”

            “What a load of crap,” the Colonel states as he drums his fingers on the table. He has been jumpy since they returned to the SGC. The task force apprehended five suspects. Since Daniel woke up briefly in the infirmary and reported that there were a total of twelve men holding him, they were still searching the surrounding areas.

            “That isn’t all Jack,” the General says. He takes a long breath, holds it then releases it. “One of the Russians was known as the Interrogator at during the cold war. He was famous for not using the slow and subtle approach with his victims. He called himself an impatient man.  His name is Doctor Ivan Renkinoff and he was one of the men arrested last night.”

            “Then it is good news that this foul beast of a man has been apprehended by your justice system,” Teal’c says, his brow furrows as he contemplates the General’s words.

            “That’s the problem Teal’c,” General Hammond looks at Jack and says, “I’m sorry Jack but they dropped all charges on the men this morning. I’ve been ordered to call off the search for the rest of Renkinoff’s men.”

            “What?” the Colonel jumps up, his chair banging to the floor.

            “It seems, Doctor Renkinoff has been listed since last week as a diplomat at the Russian consulate in D.C. as are the others that were holding Doctor Jackson,” General Hammond shakes his head as he says, “They have diplomatic immunity.”

            “They can’t be serious?” Sam says at the same time as the Colonel curses, she finds it hard to breathe. “They kidnapped Daniel, held him against his will, tortured him and tried to kill him, but they get off on a technicality?”

            “Yes Major, I’m afraid so,” the General holds each of their attention. “I suggest we put this unfortunate circumstance behind us and focus on what is important. Doctor Jackson and his recovery.”

            “For crying out loud, you can’t be asking us to just forget it,” Colonel O’Neill says.

            “I am asking exactly that,” General Hammond replies. “It’s simple, Jack, all of you, there’s nothing we can do. Agent Stapinski is dead. All of our evidence points to the fact he acted on his own and this supports what the NID is saying. We can’t prosecute the Russians so our strategy must be honed sharp toward one thing and one thing only.”

            “Daniel Jackson.”

            “Precisely, Teal’c,” the General says as he stands. “I’m giving SG1 stand down time and I’m asking you to spend time helping Doctor Jackson get over this ordeal. He’s going to need it.” He leaves the room without awaiting their responses.

            She sits there a stone in her belly and her hands cold in her lap. She doesn’t look up until the Colonel swings the toppled chair right again.

            “Seems we have a mission,” he says. He is commanding them with that simple sentence and suddenly her useless hands are itching to do something, anything that will allow her to fulfill her mission.

XV.

            Clucking hens. It is the only term that comes to Daniel’s head as he sits on the edge of the infirmary bed.

He’s been through two surgeries on his hand. Although none of the tendons were affected by the stab wounds, his muscles were torn and there was a fear of nerve damage. Janet called in an expert from Hopkins, a Doctor Brian Kyle, to repair the damage. The hand surgeon assured Daniel he would have full mobility of his hand if he stuck to the physical therapy that would be part of the treatment once his hand was out of the cast.

            He can handle the thought of working through the painful therapy, the weeks of having to do everything with one hand. Thank God they left him with his dominant hand. What he cannot stand is the weeks of his team huddling around him as if he is some lost hatchling bird in need of a surrogate mother. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Daniel waits for the airman to come and take him to the surface and home. After being in the infirmary for two weeks, she finally conceded to allowing him rest and recuperation at home.

            His shoulders slump when he sees Jack steering a wheelchair into the infirmary. If he has to deal with Jack being sugary nice to him for one more day, one more hour, one more minute, he is going to have a mental breakdown. The natural order of things has been disturb and infected by what happened to him. He is determined not to permit any further contamination of his life.

            “Your chariot awaits,” Jack says as he waves to the seat.

            “You don’t need to do this Jack,” Daniel says and he adjusts the sling around his neck and shoulders. Janet wants him to wear the sling to keep him from trying to move his hand. He actually doesn’t need it. “I asked an airman to drive me home.”

            “No problem at all Danny, no problem at all.”

            Daniel cringes. Geez when was the last time Jack called him Danny? Years ago, this is so not right on so many different levels.

            “Really Jack, I know you have things to do,” Daniel says as he stands up from the bed and reaches for his small bag. Jack is there in an instant gathering up the bag and the toiletries scattered about the bedside table. “Damn it Jack, just stop it. Stop it.”

            “What?” Jack squeezes the toothpaste and the cap bursts open to squirt the gel all over his hand. “For crying out loud, damn it Daniel-.” He stops himself from continuing and says, “Forget it, no big deal. We’ll go back to my place, you can stay with me. You know, we can watch the Discovery Channel.”

            Daniel pinches the bridge of his nose as he pushes up his new pair of glasses. Good God would it ever stop? “Really Jack, I’d rather just go home.”

            Jack cleans up the toothpaste with a few paper towels and then stows Daniel’s bag on the handle of the wheelchair. “Well if we go to your place, we’ll need to stop over at mine first so I can pack a bag.”

            Daniel collapses into the wheelchair. He doesn’t need a chair, he is fine to walk. All of his burns have scarred over and are well on their way to being healed. His legs and feet are fine. The smoke inhalation was serious at first but he is recovered. He just doesn’t have the energy to walk all the way to the surface while he battles pod-Jack.

            Before he can say anything at all, the rest of the clucking hens come into the infirmary and he is inundated with well wishes, can I do anything for you Daniel, would you like a glass of water before we go?

            He lets out a primal scream and tells them all to shut the hell up.  They stand there startled, hurt and stunned by his outburst.  He takes in a cleansing breath and says, “Sam, Teal’c, Jack, really I appreciate all that you’ve done for me over the last few weeks. The cookies, the gossip papers, the lessons in how to catch the biggest bass…all of it. But now, I’m seriously considering asking the General if you’ve all been replaced by pod people.”

            “What?” Sam asks, her large round eyes showing the hurt.

            “I am not sure to what you refer, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c says with a serene look of one that is being accused wrongly but accepts the ignorance of the accuser.

            “Danny, we just want to make sure you’re okay, doing well, ready to take on the wicked witch again,” Jack says, his hands in his pockets but Daniel can see that they are balled up into fists.

            “There, that,” Daniel says. “You never call me Danny anymore. And Sam I love the cookies but four dozen in two weeks seems a little excessive to me. And Teal’c while I love to hear about the latest sightings of Elvis I don’t need hourly reports on the subject.”

            “What are you trying to say Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c raises an eyebrow.

            He inhales and lets it out very slowly, then looks up at his team. “I know this has been difficult – for all of us. My foster brother nearly sold me out, then died when he had a change of heart. I was kidnapped, tortured and nearly set on fire, but when is this any different than what happens to us on a daily basis off world? Just let’s be normal again or our version of normal – whatever that is.”

            “That’s just it Daniel,” Sam says. “This wasn’t off world, it was here. I didn’t watch out for you even though I should have.”

            “News alert, Sam, I’m a grown man.”

            She shakes her head. “But it doesn’t matter, you called and I should have stayed with you.”

            “And ended up with me, tortured or dead?” Daniel shakes his head. “Then who would have been able to hack into the NID satellite system and find the van? Yes I read your report, I know that each one of you figured out a piece of the puzzle.” He holds up his hand. “Jack, don’t tell me you didn’t do anything. You and only you could use your spidey senses to know not to go after the Cigar man, Renkinoff when he and his cohorts tried to escape out the back door. You knew I would still be in the cabin, somehow.

            “And Teal’c before you start, you were able to see when both Sam and Jack couldn’t. It was a logical thing to look at the surveillance photos from the hospital garage, both of them should have thought of it,” Daniel says and knows he is walking on thin ice if he wants to convince his team mates he knows they tried their best. “But they were so hung up on other assignments, trying to find me, they missed a vital clue. You didn’t.”

            They stay circled around him as he sits in his chair. They are silent and frozen as they stare down at him. He clears his throat and says, “I know you’re all trying to make me feel normal, trying to make up for what happened. But what happened was no one’s fault at all, no one here anyway.”

            Jack hangs his head and says, “Are you finished?”

            There’s an edge in his voice that sounds exasperated, almost frustrated with Daniel’s soliloquy. Something deep inside of Daniel celebrates the return of Jack. “Yes, yes I think that’s it then.”

            “Can we go now?” Jack walks around the chair and grabs the handles of the wheelchair.

            “Yep.”

            “Teal’c, didn’t you say you wanted to watch Star Wars again?” Jack says.

            He almost opens his mouth to protest but then he glimpses Sam as she puts a hand over her mouth to hide her smile.

            “Yes, O’Neill, I would welcome a Star Wars marathon again.”

            He bites the inside of his cheek and tries not to say anything. Normal, he wanted his life to be normal and now it is.

            He guesses he should be careful what he wishes for from now on.  Sam glances at him as the wheelchair rolls out of the infirmary and he knows she’s reading his thoughts.  There’s a glimmer in her eye as she starts to laugh.

            He only shakes his head as he listens to Teal’c detail the finer arts of the original Star Wars trilogy.

            A normal life.

THE END.

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