Ouch. Okay, yeah, so that hurt. Sharp, biting pain on the left side of his neck with a sort of numbing throb to the skin around it. He shifted slightly, more of a tense and release, really, and felt the stiff tackiness that was undoubtedly a tiny trail of blood leading to his collar.
They had used a tranquilizer dart against him. Longer range than a tazer, but it didn't explain why they didn't use a zat. Maybe the noise? The high-pitched whine of the thing would have echoed off the limestone and other geological features, caught the attention of the tourists nearby.
See, here's the thing. He could hear Jack's voice inside his head telling him to assess his situation, find the weaknesses, and begin developing a plan for a way out. His mind didn't work like that though. Maybe because he dealt with the past so much, maybe because he simply wasn't a soldier and was, in truth, a scientist. His mind always drifted to what had led him to the situation he was currently in. The process, the details, the steps that, one by one, created the greater whole that was the present.
They were on vacation. A real vacation. Not some undercover, pretend to go somewhere but actually be working sort of thing. Jack had talked to Hammond about all the crap missions they had been on in recent weeks/months, and had even gotten Janet on his side to chime in about stressors and the need for separation and distance and coming back to look at the problem in a new light. Either Hammond had actually been fooled, or Hammond had taken the excuse and ran with it, because two weeks later found Jack, Sam, Janet, Cassie, and himself on a plane to Minnesota and Teal'c stepping through a wormhole to spend some time with his son.
Not that Minnesota was necessarily the hottest vacation spot around, and he did mean that literally. It was mid-April, with a dusting of snow still on the ground, frozen rivers just beginning to crack open, and temps dipping low enough to re-frost the barely there shards of grass on a nightly basis. But Jack had a cabin here and the University had a physics conference and somehow this equated to Daniel himself being granted unlimited access to the archives of medieval texts and even older cartouches for five whole days, being able to handpick the ones he wanted to review in more detail later to have the scans and photographs sent to his office while he moved on to the not-quite-wilderness that equated Jack's version of downtime. He strongly suspected it was all a setup, far too many things coming together at once after Jack and George had hushed conversations behind closed doors, but he was willing to ignore that for now and just enjoy what he was able to enjoy for the time being.
They took Cassie with them to give Janet and Sam some downtime of a different sort while they stayed closer to the conference being held at the university until they were to meet up again later in the week. This meant that they hit some of the more touristy places and stayed in fully outfitted rental cabins and hotel rooms instead of tents as they worked their way North to Jack's actual personal cabin, and Daniel wasn't about to complain. Heated stone floors and built in fireplaces and full kitchenettes because O'Neill insisted on making a few favorites even though they were all paid more than well enough to eat at the nearby restaurants should they choose. It made it almost more homey, really, and it had been a comfort to sink into the soft cushions of a couch, curl up before the fire, and listen to the waves hitting the rocks on the beach below.
It was to be two more days before Janet and Sam joined them, and then they would travel together to a slightly less appointed cabin to finish off the two week break. Jack had planned on taking them somewhere called Caribou Falls, which Daniel suspected would be similar to the place called Gooseberry Falls and undoubtedly involved some light hiking because vacations weren't necessarily about lack of activity to an O'Neill and the rest of them were usually restless enough to go with it.
They went to Split Rock Lighthouse first though, the steps and a fair deal of the lighthouse itself still slick and wet and slightly frozen, but granting them a decent view for their efforts, so there was that. Jack had left for the gift shop, determined to find Cassie a sweater or sweatshirt or something else to commemorate this undoubtedly momentous occasion. Cassandra had just smiled politely but rolled her eyes when he wasn't looking because she'd be heading off to college with more Minnesota-based clothing than Colorado at this point. She saw the sign that said there was a shipwreck nearby that you could supposedly see from a lookout point and Daniel went with because it sounded interesting enough and it wasn't like there was a dearth of other things to do.
He loved history and he loved the change of technology through the years, even something as recent as a century ago. There had been no radar, no fancy GPS, only a light set far up in the cliffs to stop ships from hitting said cliffs and, surprisingly enough, the method occasionally failed. He doubted they would be able to see anything in the choppy gray waters, but Cassie was actually showing an interest in something and it wouldn't hurt to follow a slightly unkempt path to indulge it, or so he thought.
He had snapped a few pictures along the way, sneaking in a few of her so that Janet would have some for her scrapbook. It was under the guise of doing this that he had noticed the three men in black baseball caps following damn near every move since Jack had split off. They made their move when stone, free fall, and icy waters were on one side of them, uneven and sloshy terrain on the other, and far more than the original three men circled closer from the remaining sides.
Cassie ran when told to, heading into a small familial group and shedding her telltale pink and gray jacket along the way. It was in the direction of the lighthouse and gift shop, in the direction of Jack, and Daniel had planned on following in a more round about way to distract the men and give her more of a chance, but had felt the prick against his neck and barely had time to ditch the camera with its photos of at least some of the men's profiles before he went down.
That led him to where he was now. There was a discussion muffled by what he hoped was a door, yet loud enough to determine several men were quite displeased one Cassandra Fraiser had gotten away. They were debating whether or not they had time to make another grab before their pickup arrived, and Daniel really hoped they were dumb enough to try because, by now, Jack would have full lockdown initiated and they would not only be caught but would go down hard, as in with excessive force, and Daniel wouldn't have to do a damn thing save for lay there and wait for the rescue.
The voices were still dampened and none had gotten any closer, so he dared to crack open an eye to take in his surroundings. He was in the bedroom of a cheap beyond cheap cabin, the type used for summer fishing trips and not really designed for use in the current temps. The windows bled cool air, the thin cotton curtains doing nothing to stop the gusts, and the walls were not nearly insulated enough to keep the electric heater from wasting its time.
Most importantly though, he was alone.
Actually, scratch that, most importantly they had left him with the majority of his original gear and clothing, undoubtedly thinking he was no threat. His jacket was gone but his boots were on the floor next to the bed, and he still had his jeans and the flannel shirt he had been wearing earlier. His hands were cuffed to the bed, yes, but his glasses had been set neatly to the side on the rickety old table. The phone was missing because they weren't completely stupid, but the jack and outline of dust told him it had been there in the recent past. Thankfully his daily antihistamines were still working, or else he would have given the game away by now and totally blown any chance for escape.
If he were to guess, based upon the pseudo-military speak and the talk of orders and transport and such, he'd say he was dealing with the NID, and not even the decent part of it. These were not Maybourne's men - Harry would just storm into the SGC with bluster and fake orders and try to take what he wanted that way. No, these were the idiots that actually believed the stories that anyone not born and bred via the military could in no way take care of themselves and would be no threat whatsoever. Technically that would be a good thing as it worked in his favor. Plus, Janet hadn't threaded the shared medical reports with his supposed overreactions to basic sedatives for nothing. She knew what type and what dosage he would need, as did Hammond and probably O'Neill, but that didn't mean she was going to share with the rest of the class when it could be used against him. Standard worked fine; a lighter dose was just useful, especially in situations like now.
Harry would be pissed at them for the attempt. Not as pissed as Jack, of course, but pissed enough to probably actually help Jack plot and plan against his supposed own men just to teach them a lesson about being so damn stupid.
Five minutes had him out of the cuffs. Sad, really, as he knew he should be faster than that but he was kind of out of practice after all and he did still manage to get free in near silence. If asked how long it took, he could either lie or point out the five minutes involved the aftermath of drugs and the residual stiffness that always followed. He was kind of hoping Jack would be less concerned about that and more concerned about the greater escape attempt. Because there was going to be one.
Ear pressed to the door, he could hear the continuing bickering. There was the bang of pans as someone began dinner, followed by a discussion as to whether or not he'd be conscious enough to share. One man was convinced he would not be. Another was convinced he needed another dose. A third wanted to wait for that dosing until they left in the morning, but was being swayed by the thought they wouldn't have to feed him if they dosed him two more times.
Daniel knew what would happen next, so he lay back down and tried to approximate his earlier pose, cuffs not actually on but the gleam of them enough to hopefully catch in the light of the door when it opened. He stayed as still as he dared and the idiot didn't even come into the room to check, just shouted that he was still out in a voice loud enough that Daniel had to actively try not to flinch. Maybe that was part of the test? If so, he passed because the door shut and the discussion outside continued, this time accented with the pungent smell of burning fish.
The light had long since faded and the windows behind the curtains showed only pitch black, save for the beams of tiny flashlights bouncing off the patches of snow a good hundred yards or so away. They appeared to be in use solely to find a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, and the two men patrolling seemed far more interested in what was coming towards the cabin than what might be escaping from it.
He slid his boots on and tied them tight, knew he had probably only one chance at this and it might well be blown if the damn window was loud enough. The lock for the sash damn near crumbled in his hand though, and the wood on wood only creaked slightly when he pried it upwards, apparently not loud enough to compete with the ruckus of the other room as dishes were placed less than softly atop the squeaky linoleum table. The sharp edge of what had once been the lock sliced through the screen easily enough and a glance showed nothing more dangerous than long dead vegetation beneath the sill. He slipped out with nary a sound, and even slid the window back down behind him in the off chance the guard noticed the reflection didn't line up quite like it had before.
He stuck close to the cabin, ducked down beneath the windows in the shadow of the building itself. The moon reflected off the lake to give the area some light, and he didn't dare try that side as inviting as it may seem. He knew he needed to move away from that, into the tree line and towards what was hopefully a road. The trip up had showed him a semi-major highway followed the coastline. If they weren't directly on it, he could only hope they weren't that far from it, because that would be his guide back to hopefully some place hospitable.
He had about twenty-five yards of exposure risk before he made it to the safety of the trees. Any intelligent group would put people there as well. However, just because the NID had the word intelligence in their name did not necessarily gift their members with it. There was a clear gap where the thin layer of snow had been brushed clean and heavy footprints led to the smoker, who was no longer alone.
Unfortunately, the footprints did hint at a problem. They would, at the very least, know where he had entered. Come morning, they would probably be able to follow him entirely with far too much ease. Which meant he had to get the hell out of Dodge and do so quickly, get to somewhere safe with a valid communication device and lay low until someone with the appropriate clearance arrived.
He made the attempt as quickly and quietly as he dared. From the safety of the trees that had nearly slapped him in the face, he looked on as the two guards clearly heard something but were too stupid to determine the correct direction with the wind and the echo from the lake. He gave them about fifteen minutes to make the connection, at least enough to investigate and find evidence of the escape. By then, he needed his tracks covered or otherwise obfuscated. He didn't dare go up a tree, even if it would prevent further tracks, as what tracks he did have would end at the base and the thin layer of snow and moss would tell his tale as quickly as it would make him fall in his ass and break it. Plus, he didn't want to be trapped there for target practice when he had just escaped a relatively far more comfortable location.
In the denseness of the trees very little light filtered in, and he found himself tripping over sticks and rocks and things he didn't really want to think about. He hoped to find a trail, not to stick to it completely because that would be far too obvious, but to use as a touchstone to let him know he was headed in a direction that made some sort of logical sense. Yet another branch tugged at his shirt but at least it didn't shoot back into his face just as his foot sank into something determinedly not solid and determinedly quite wet. The cuff of his jeans clung to his ankle, frigid against his calf as the water worked upwards, and it reminded him that he really was not dressed for a late night hike as he really hadn't been dressed for an afternoon one and that was with an actual jacket and the warmth of the sun on his side.
It was approximately thirteen minutes later when he heard the first warning shot, a sign that they had discovered someone wandering the property and would undoubtedly discover his escape shortly.
He heard several men get closer to the wooded area, but was surprised when most of the ruckus quickly moved in the other direction. In his mind, it meant one of two things: either the shortest path to the road was in that direction, or the shortest path to civilization was. He decided not to think of himself as screwed because of this, but instead lucky that they'd be searching what they thought was the most obvious escape route while he got a head start on getting lost in the wilderness.
The thing was, he did manage to find a dirt road sooner rather than later. To the left lie another cabin followed by Lake Superior. That meant that the right had to lead towards some sort of connection with a larger road. While he was tempted to break into the cabin to try to find a working phone, he really didn't believe in luck enough to attempt it. Especially when he heard said working phone ring and a voice gruff with sleep promise he'd check the area from wherever the hell they were South while his cohorts continued to look North.
Daniel resisted the urge to sigh even as he resisted the urge to bang his head on something. That would be why they goons didn't bother looking in this direction, they had another man or men already stationed there. Pissed at himself for choosing this way now, he hunkered down low and stayed as still as possible while a nondescript shadow shone a light around the property and eventually climbed into a car just out of his line of sight, but not before he shouted to whoever remained to lock down the place and use the radio to let him know if anyone came near.
With that cabin definitively out of play as a place of solace, he waited for the car to disappear down the driveway to follow in its tracks, safely three feet from the actual compressed dirt and under the slight shelter of branches and brambles.
He let out a slow breath of relief when he finally heard the sounds of traffic on a more major pass. They were few and far between but fast and with the extra resonance of tires on asphalt, which was good enough for him. At least until he remembered that a single bespectacled, bedraggled man wandering the highway at night would be a giant red flag for his pursuers.
At least, much like the dirt road, he would be able to use it as a guide of sorts, so there was that. There was also the added bonus that a major road should have signs of some sort eventually, and he might actually figure out just where in the hell he was.
That turned out to be entirely unnecessary though, when the lights of a passing truck highlighted an odd formation at the junction to the dirt road. Wide enough for cars to pass through, two giant wooden poles with a slab of a third across them, and he had to cover his mouth to prevent himself from laughing aloud. The glint of a light across the metal road sign confirmed it and he flashed back to far too many hours prior when they headed for the lighthouse, a series of roads with near identical structures lining the sides, all proudly proclaiming to be "gate roads" and neatly numbered. Jack had explained they were gateways to docks and boat launches and gave a perfectly reasonable explanation for the system. He and Cassie had renamed them after the gate teams instead, and he was certain that Johansson would take no offense to him seeing SG-7 as a beacon of hope on a crappy night.
Not far to the North and around a curve would be a tunnel through a cliff face where undoubtedly the NID would have set up a mini-blockade. South it was then, even though it involved hazards of its own. Almost immediately was the Encampment River which was really more of a wide stream, and there he did dare to actually walk the thankfully short distance on the roadside. He didn't dare climb down slippery rocks and forge an unknown current in the dark, and the bridge itself was short enough he should be able to make it across in no time, and unspotted if he timed it between the cars.
That successfully accomplished, he returned to the safety of just off the shoulder mostly frozen mud, where he mentally translated each successive "gate" into a colleague encouraging him along despite the fact that he really was getting quite cold and tired already. He heard Makepeace tell him to man up already and was fine with it, really, because it meant that there was only a short distance more to his next obstacle that would potentially lead to his recapture.
Sure enough, the light of the other tunnel shone bright and blinding against the darkness. There was a slight solace in it, however. Not just that there were no obvious road blocks through the bright and completely non-concealing expanse of halogen yellow, either. No, the solace was that Cassie had wanted a picture of herself as far up the thing as Jack would allow, which meant they had pulled into the tiny parking lot off to the side and followed the path midway up, enough for her to see it cordoned off from actual climbers and enough for him to remember the walking path that circumvented the tunnel itself and wrapped a winding way around to the other side. It was steep, it was slick, and it was somehow free of goons that either didn't think he'd make it that far or really were convinced he headed in the other direction.
He may have slid a fair way down the slope, and he may have paused to catch his breath under the guise of appreciating the view he really couldn't make out, but he eventually made it and that's all that mattered. Well, that, and that the water pump for a small spigot was still dripping sluggishly and he was able to wet his palate with something other than crusty snow.
He was very tempted to hide out there, maybe get out of the wind by seeking shelter in one of the outhouses that really didn't smell that bad what with their contents being mostly frozen anyway. But that whole luck thing that he didn't believe in came into play again, and he really didn't want to explain to Jack or Sam or Janet or Cassie who was free because she had to be that he escaped the NID only to be caught in a shitter. He'd never live that down.
So he continued on his way. Legs aching, arms increasingly numb, fingertips shoved into his armpits to try to protect them, and hiking boots more mud than leather but at least doing a decent job of keeping most of the damp out and away from his socks now that his cuff was a cold stiffness instead of sopping wet. Along the way, he caught glimpses of what might have been a grouse or some bird like it, a buck that was not of the currency kind, and more glowing eyes than he was strictly comfortable with. None of those eyes came closer though, and most scurried when he heard the call of what might have been a wolf bounce off the stone and water, so he called it a win for now.
After successfully navigating the cliff side path, what could be considered a short ways down from the tunnel and across a creek he had completely forgotten about, he found a slightly familiar sight. The building across the highway proclaimed itself to be Silver Creek Gifts, but it also proclaimed itself to be closed for the season. He had a brief thought of breaking in to see if the phone or modem still worked, but remembered a far more promising prospect such a short distance away that he felt a sudden surge of energy in anticipation of making it there.
The gift shop was at the intersection of the highway he had been using as a guide, 61, and another one called 3. Up the ways on 3 were a set of very odd suites made out of train cars, but Jack had vetoed them earlier claiming both that they were never open until "proper Spring" for whatever that meant, and that they really were not as cool as they sounded. It was not there that he wanted to head, but to a brighter, warmer, more food-laden place just a little bit further South on 61, close enough that he should have been able to see the sign through the trees and his smeared glasses in the growing light had his eyes not wanted to drift closed.
It would be a risk as the area was far more well lit, but the payoff might just be worth it. He knew for a fact that they were open despite the season as they had eaten there for lunch just the day before. His stomach chose that moment to remind him that said lunch was the last meal he had in far too many hours, but he ignored it because, finally, there was a prospect of safety.
He'd have to cross the road, and a tiny little sliver of a stream that he could probably just step across if he trusted his footing, but there, on the other side, was the beacon of hope known as Betty's Pies.
The sign declared that they didn't open for another hour or two, time was an estimate anyway as his watch was long gone and probably with his jacket, but there were cars in the parking lot already, likely the prep cooks and bakers getting ready for the day. He didn't even try the front door, but headed for the back where the light shone through from the kitchen, a thin line of steam escaping into the cold morning air.
The day before, they had been waited upon by a kind older woman by the name of Marjorie. Streaks of gray in her ponytail, she had just laughed when he and Cassie playfully argued that it technically didn't count as a five layer chocolate pie when one of the layers was the crust and one was the whipped cream on top. She drizzled Hershey's syrup over the white fluff and told them to call it a compromise and moved on. He doubted she would be there at this hour, but it was a smallish shop just outside of a smallish town, so there was a chance, no matter how slim it may be.
Even if they didn't let him in, he could wait until the place opened right and proper and try to get to the pay phone in the back, inside and away from the cold. He had no change but it didn't really matter as the SGC emergency line was toll free to say the least.
He raised his hand to knock and was almost bowled over when the door swung open towards his face. "Christ on a cracker! What the h-, what in the world are you doing out at this hour and looking like a mouse the cat drug in and get inside before you freeze, you fool!" The words came at him a mile a minute, as did the hands that bodily dragged him into the heat of the kitchen, every inch of his body tingling painfully at the drastic change in temperature.
There were more words, most of them a mumbled blur, but he managed to sneak a few of his own in when a woman who was decidedly not Marjorie paused for breath. "I was hoping to bother you for the use your phone, ma'am?"
And there she was, plump and playful and covered in flour and maybe some dough, ponytail swinging around with her head as she locked eyes on him and said, "You? Semantics-boy from yesterday? What did you get yourself into now? Go hiking and got lost? Wandered off the path and figured out just what a dumb idea that was? Just because they have brains doesn't mean they have common sense and..."
A giant cup of coffee was being pressed into his hands and a sweatshirt from the shop out front draped over him and he replied through chattering teeth, "No offense, ma'am, but if you're not at least Air Force, I'm not exactly willing to tell you the entire story just yet."
"My son Bobby is Air Force, but I doubt that'll do you," the first woman huffed. Her name tag proclaimed her to be Janice as clearly whoever Betty was, she was not about to be around at this hour, or possibly this era.
A man with a tag of James approached, but didn't actually get a chance to speak before Janice declared, "Jimmy, you didn't see nor hear a thing, not a word to anybody, understand?"
The boy, because he really wasn't much older than one, nodded. "I was just going to warn that Phil's due for his coffee run soon, so we should probably get this guy out of view sooner rather than later, mom."
"Good boy," Janice said with a surprising lack of condescension. She ruffled the kid's hair even though he was nearly a head taller than her, then shooed him back to work. She returned her attention to Daniel and ordered, "You can make that call of yours, but I dare say you've got about a ten minute limit before you need to be hidden." She paused and cocked her head to the side, the sound of tires on frozen gravel like an alarm to them all. "Well, crap, he's early," was all she said.
She bustled out front and unlocked the door, the bell atop it sounding at the action. Phil thankfully did not want a full breakfast but, less than thankfully, had a voice so very familiar from only a few hours ago when he answered the phone at an otherwise dark cabin, Daniel lurking in the shadows outside.
He must have stilled because Marjorie watched him with a knowing eye. "I'd fear you're a criminal if you're spooking at the sheriff like this, but I saw you just yesterday with that fella and your daughter without a care in the world, even when the deputies came in for the shift change." She walked calmly over towards where she had been rolling out some crust earlier, eyes towards the opening to the restaurant proper and offering a nod to its new occupant.
"Hey, Marge," Janice called through the pass. "Phil says there's weird tracks down by the dumpster, you hear anything this morning?"
Marjorie shook her head. "Raccoon, maybe? Jimmy, you want to go check it out with him? I'll burn these suckers if I leave them now."
The boy nodded and left to do just that and Daniel heard the bell go off as the sheriff who was undoubtedly on the NID payroll went to look for signs of the person just under his nose.
"You weren't dumb enough to come up that way, were you?" Marjorie asked with a sigh.
Daniel shook his head, teeth no longer clunking together when he said, "No, ma'am, I came up from the creek, circled around your trucks, and came in that way."
She made a face of mild surprise. "Might actually be raccoons then," she mused. She dusted her hands off on a towel and said, "I suggest you take this opportunity to find a better place to hide. I suggest the women's washroom because Phil's funny about checking there but he might take a peek into the men's because we're off schedule now and he'll suspect something, whether he's on your side or not."
"I don't want to put you at risk," Daniel protested. He reluctantly started to put down his mug of coffee and shrug off the sweatshirt.
"You leave now, you will be caught, no question about it," Marjorie told him. "I don't know what you did and I don't know who you're afraid off, but my choice is between you and a cop we know is on the take and tend to placate with some free coffee and pie. You hide in the washroom and we can say we didn't know you were there. You make a run for it and we're all looming guilty."
She made shooing motions with her hands and he did as he was told, even though it felt odd to do so. He left the coffee behind but took the sweatshirt when she tossed it at him, belatedly seeing it already had spots of mud and other gunk on it from being used as a blanket. Janice followed him with a rag and caught the worst of his tracks, the door swinging shut behind him just as the bell in the front went off again.
He curled himself into a ball atop one of the toilets, not willing to close the stall door as that would have been an obvious sign someone was there. Before he did so, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror over the sink and hid a wince. He looked like he was returning from an off world mission graced by a rockslide and possibly a mudball fight with Teal'c which, he had quickly learned, was actually a pastime of Jaffa children and the big guy had found more amusing than he had any right to. Also, Teal'c took the opportunity to engage in such games as often as possible, much to the detriment of the rest of his team. Daniel had briefly thought it was a cultural thing they could bond over, then he realized he had been played by a sense of humor at least as warped as the rest of theirs.
Suffice it to say, he was beginning to think there was more pity than kindness at play with his would-be rescuers. Regardless, he stayed as still as possible, feeling slowly coming back to his extremities, and listened as Janice and Marjorie and even James waited on the known to be corrupt sheriff Phil and he contemplated just when and how he might make an escape should this whole thing go South on him as it inevitably would.
He wasn't sure how long he sat there, but he heard the door creak open, hold for a ten count, then slam shut again with a gruff, "No, everything seems fine, but call me if you see anything out of sorts, okay?" The staff promised to do so and finally the bell sounded once more as the threat left the building.
Daniel climbed down from the toilet seat and hobbled over towards the mirror, the muscle fatigue in his legs and lower back letting him know just how far he had walked and in what conditions. He was used to long hikes, and he was used to carrying far heavier loads than just the clothes on his back. It was the cold, really, the mud sloshed up the side of his jeans, the scratches of wayward branches against his face and arms, that had taken its toll. Hiking with gear and lights and maps and compasses was one thing, wandering blindly through the wilderness and slipping on anything and everything and trying to right yourself so you don't soak yourself through and end up with hypothermia was something else all together.
He turned the tap as high as he dared and used some paper towels to scrub at the worst of it. None of the scrapes were especially deep, and the dirt and grime washed down the drain easily enough. He wasn't exactly presentable, but he didn't look like death warmed over, so he decided to call it a win for now. Besides, he needed to make a phone call, just one call even though he'd prefer more than that. Even if he had to take off running again, a check-in with the SGC would both let them know he was alive and give them a place to start the search.
He typed code after code and gave verification after verification and he expected to hear Sergeant Lewis' dulcet tones instructing him to stay where he was if he could, but instead was granted the familiar rumble of General Hammond himself as he said, "It's good to hear from you, son. We have a team en route as we speak."
"Cassandra?" he asked, because he had to know. He suspected, but that was different from outright confirmation.
"Cassie's fine, Daniel," Hammond promised him. "She's with O'Neill and hasn't left his side since Split Rock. Doctor Fraiser and Major Carter are on their way, but I suspect Jack himself will beat the rush and get to you first. Please do your best not to secretly be a Goa'uld trying to kill him, he will be very disappointed."
"Understood, sir," Daniel signed off, thinking of how those words in no way granted him an extra bit of warmth, save for the part where they really did. Hammond had also let him on something he suspected, but now had confirmation of: Jack may or may not reach him first, but he wasn't going anywhere until they verified he had not been compromised. Given the agency's history of people going missing only to return change in some manner, it was warranted, even if he didn't like it.
So he waited, tucked off to the side in a portion of the restaurant not yet open to the slow stream of customers beginning to make their way in. There were three primary areas of the place and apparently it was not uncommon to claim one or more was closed for the time being to save on servers. As an added bonus, it was actually quite difficult to see the far corner of the one he sulked in until you were actually in that wing, so he had some privacy while he drank his body weight in caffeine and made a breakfast of a leftover piece of the five-layer chocolate concoction from the day before, even if he did forgo the extra syrup this time.
Far sooner than he had dared to hope, Jack arrived, Cassandra at his side. The handful of nondescript black SUVs were less than surprising, but the fact they stayed back from immediately storming the place was.
"He's him," Cassie insisted. "I'd be able to tell if he wasn't."
Jack held her back anyway. "You'd be able to tell if he was snaked," he corrected. "Brainwashed, wired to blow, secretly cloned or somehow otherwise screwed up in ways only Daniel Jackson could be are still on the table."
Daniel looked up at him, at the hint of stubble and the shadows under his eyes that rivaled his own, at the hair somehow messy for being in a military cut that shouldn't allow such a thing, at the lines of tension imprinted so clearly around those eyes, in the set of his shoulders, in the way he held himself back as much as their extremely gifted surrogate niece. "Pie, Jack?" he offered, fork held aloft and waiting.
"Tell me something a brainwashed cloned bomb wouldn't know," O'Neill countered.
"That you once poured maple syrup on your Apple Jacks because you couldn't find the milk. Also, that we held a private and rather delicate ceremony on PX429 with only SG-13 as witnesses that General Hammond accepted as legally binding when, two years after the fact, we finally told him because he needed to know why I had your permission to drug you out of your gourd when you had a version of the flu from PX863," he rattled off. "As for a bomb, I don't think they had time because they didn't even shoot me with a tracker otherwise they would have found me well before now."
"You'll get scanned anyway?" Jack guessed.
Daniel nodded easily enough, rather wanting to know if they had done something to him without his own knowledge while he had been unconscious for however many hours. "I'll get scanned anyway. Pie?"
Jack slid in across from him and accepted the forkful with a cheery, "Don't mind if I do."
Cassie took that as her signal to run up and wrap her arms around him in a hug just a shade shy of painful. "Don't ever do that again," she whispered into his shoulder. He just patted her back and refused to make promises he knew he couldn't keep.
"So you escaped jackbooted goons to the safety and sanctity of caffeine and chocolate?" Jack guessed, helping himself to another bite despite the glare he received from Marjorie for his troubles.
"Pretty much," Daniel agreed, stealing his fork back. "The fine staff of this establishment helped hide me as well, so let's leave them a big tip? Oh, and the sheriff is in on it by the way."
"Of course he is," Jack said easily enough. He took a swallow of coffee and then keyed the radio that had been at his side since he entered. "Stand down, set up a rotating perimeter, and enjoy some pie."
"We don't usually serve dessert this early in the morning," Marjorie confided. "The fresh ones need time to cook and settle. He just liked that one so much yesterday, and we had some left, so I couldn't resist."
"Eggs? Bacon?" Jack tried, switching easily enough from sugary goodness back to the basics.
"Pancakes?" Cassie chimed in. She may have been younger than them by far, but looked no less tired by the ordeal and may have been playing it up for all she was worth.
"Of course, sweetie," came the smiling response. "You want some hot cocoa with that? Maybe some chocolate chips on top?"
"But no dessert," Jack muttered with a shake of his head as she walked away.
They waited until they were served, at least two teams seated as inconspicuously as possible around them before they shared their tales. Daniel told what he knew of his, from waking and escaping to the sheriff being in on it. Jack spoke of Cassie running into the gift shop and sounding the alarm, the emergency teams deployed, and the search beginning within hours of his disappearance. They found the camera and ran facial recognition on what they could, confirming the suspicion of the NID involvement.
"Harry's pissed by the way," Jack told him around a bite of bacon. "I can't tell if he doesn't like their methods or the fact they violated an order he managed to get entered that only he can authorize anyone to come after us. Either way, he's promising heads will roll and all that."
"Who would have thought a corrupt government organization would have pockets of disobedience and further depravity within it?" Daniel drawled as he leaned back in his seat. He finally felt full and the warmth had sunk into his bones enough for him to realize just how exhausted he was.
"Exactly!" Jack agreed. "Shocking, really."
Cassie blatantly stole a piece of bacon for herself and asked, "So when are mom and Sam going to be here?" Daniel could understand the concern. With everything that happened, he was more than slightly anxious for the team to be back together again as well. He needed to know they were safe and sound, which was ridiculous because they were combat trained and supposedly safe while he was the one who was foolish enough to be captured.
"They're flying in to the Two Harbors airport and should be here shortly," Jack promised. "Hammond wouldn't authorize a direct drop, even though they went after Carter herself," he confided.
Daniel choked on his coffee. "What? When? Where?" he demanded.
"Why and sometimes how are usually part of that line of questioning," Jack provided, earning him a glare. He waved it off and explained, "They went after Carter just after one of her lectures. She left the auditorium and they tried to make a grab. They ended up with one extremely tiffed Major and a handful of ROTC recruits that had been chatting her up. The goons are in custody and the recruits may have some additional prospects once they graduate should they so be interested. Wilson says he has video - crappy security camera video, but it's still video. We can pick up some popcorn and make a night of it."
"Back at the mountain, right?" Daniel guessed with a sigh. He knew he should expect no less after an attempt like this, but that didn't mean he had to like it.
Jack shrugged in the laconic way that was everything but. "If you want, but we do have signed forms authorizing us leave for another week and Hammond hasn't officially pulled them yet. We verify you are you, rent a few cabins with a few extra amenities and some close friends-slash-security details near by, claim we're just making sure all T's are dotted and I's are crossed and all that..."
"I'm still off school for the week," Cassie chimed in, stealing the last piece of bacon in a way that did her uncle proud, if the look on Jack's face was anything to go by. Daniel let it go without a fight; he was fairly certain there was more where that came from if he so desired.
"I think I could sleep for that entire week," he confided around a yawn. Caffeine aside, he was still barely able to keep his eyes open. His body ached, muscles overused and knees and ankles sore from tripping over all the things he couldn't see the night before. The table was looking like an option right about now, even with the promise of a comfy car ride to a far more comfortable cabin on the horizon.
He did manage to stay awake though, past the clearing of plates and arrival of two very close friends with the promise of a third on his way as soon as he was Earth-side. He stayed awake through the scans only Janet herself would carry out with equipment not really authorized for public use but that were far more discreet than he could have hoped for, and through more body-squishing hugs before the final blood results were anywhere near officially verified. He stayed awake through truncated stories of attacks and captures, and through the real life capture of the sheriff who was too damn curious for his own good and came to investigate the conclave of SUVs at Betty's. He stayed awake through the thankfully short drive to some thankfully fully appointed cabins with all the extras and more, rented to allow the excess teams space nearby in cabins of their own instead of camping outdoors near Jack's far more simpler abode.
He did not stay awake much longer than that, however. In truth, he really didn't remember the actual rental of the cabin that was more like a series of interconnected suites with a stereotypical northland theme to the rooms. He only barely remembered a passing glance at a gorgeous view of slate gray waves crashing against giant weatherbeaten rocks as he tripped over his own feet stumbling to the nearest thing resembling a bed. He didn't remember removing his boots, and he was still in his mud-streaked clothing when he awoke hours later, buried under a pile of blankets and curled up against a denim and flannel clad side.
"How long have I been out?" he asked. He didn't stretch, not yet. Stretching meant an intent to actually move and he was nowhere near that ambitious yet.
"Long enough for the girls to argue over the best way to make s'mores in the fireplace and for Teal'c to eat like half of the supplies while they weren't looking," Jack replied after setting his book to the side. At second glance, it was paperwork, but it was readable and he did set it, so that counted.
"Sam's going to kick your ass for calling her a girl," he warned.
"Probably," Jack agreed easily enough. "You want to go show them how it's done? Parker dropped off beer when he dropped of Teal'c."
"In a bit," Daniel said, not even trying to hide his yawn. He snuggled back down into the nest of covers and closed his eyes again. The slight pressure against his forehead brought a smile to his lips, but even that wasn't enough to make him stay awake.
There would be time enough for s'mores and beer and crackling fires later. Now was for warmth and sleep and staying close to those who meant the most to him. Especially the sleep part. Jack, Janet, Sam, Cassie, and Teal'c were all well and good and the knowledge they were safe put his mind at ease, but he knew they wouldn't fault him for spending a few more hours blissfully unconscious in a sea of excessively warm and soft blankets.
He was safe, he was sound, and the same could be said for those he called his family. All in all, it was the best outcome he could hope for. He could only hope that any future missions ended at least half as well as this one had. Well, that, and that Teal'c had left enough popcorn for when he eventually hauled his butt out of bed and they all gathered far too close around the television to watch grainy video of Sam kicking NID ass. The telltale blue and white box of pie he saw Jack sneak in also wouldn't go amiss.