He was already running late, halfway to the door when he realized he didn’t have his keys. Jack O’Neill doubled back to the table where he’d dropped them the night before and grabbed his keys before hustling out and locking it behind him.
It wasn’t until he turned around that he realized he wasn’t alone.
He blinked, swallowing a sudden lump in his throat. “Daniel?” His voice was barely a whisper. It couldn’t possibly be Daniel. Daniel had been gone for almost a year. And this man was…impossibly thin and dirty, disheveled.
Jack stepped closer, a loose board creaking under his feet. The man started and pulled away, turning just enough that Jack knew he was right. “Daniel?”
He blinked several times and licked dry, cracked lips. “Jack?”
A thousand questions filled Jack’s mind, but one good look was enough to stop any of them from flying out. Daniel’s face was gaunt and pale under what looked like a good week’s growth of facial hair, his eyes sunken and smudge black. His hair was shaggy and unkempt, and it looked matted in spots. The clothing he wore was at least two sizes too big and had holes that gave Jack a glimpse of what was underneath. It wasn’t good.
“Yeah.” Jack said finally, sinking to a seat beside him. “It’s me.”
“Good. Wasn’t sure I remembered.” His voice cracked and broke. “Was gonna knock…got tired.”
“You look tired.” Jack murmured. “You okay?”
Daniel inhaled, turning his head toward the sky. “Better now.”
Jack put his arm around Daniel, but Daniel hissed and pulled away. “Are you hurt?” Jack asked, his voice harsher than he meant it to be.
Daniel sort of chuckled, that strained sound that he would get when he was overwhelmed. “I’ve hurt worse.”
Jack took a deep breath and stood, pacing away toward his truck and back. “Let’s get you to a doctor.”
Daniel nodded, but otherwise didn’t move. Jack held out a hand. “Come on, Daniel. Let’s go see Doc Frasier.”
He looked up at that, the blue of his eyes intense against all that darkness. “Janet?”
Jack nodded. Daniel reached out a hand and put it in Jack’s, struggling to get to his feet. He limped when he walked, but Jack couldn’t tell which side he was favoring, and the hand in his was covered in scars. Daniel snatched his hand back when he saw Jack looking, and Jack turned away to open the door of his truck, tamping down on his very visceral reaction to what he was seeing.
He helped Daniel into the truck and shut the door. Daniel had been gone for nearly a year, and Jack had imagined a hundred different reasons why he left. He’d never given a lot of thought to something bad happening to the man. Jack got in behind the wheel and started the engine. If he was honest with himself, Jack had always believed that he’d chased the archeologist off.
Beside him, Daniel had put down the window and was leaning his head out, his eyes closed, as if he was savoring the feeling of the wind. He wanted to ask what had happened, where Daniel had been, how, maybe why, he was back, but Jack could sense Daniel was going to be easily overwhelmed and it was more important to get him medical attention.
He could take him to the local hospital, but the base was closer, and he’d be safer there. Not that Jack had any idea who or what Daniel needed to be kept safe from. Jack pulled into the parking area and looked Daniel over. “We’re here.” Jack said softly. “Why don’t you wait here? I’m going to call down and get you a wheelchair.”
Daniel’s eyes widened at the word down, his breathing coming a little harder. He shook his head, his eyes on the doors into the base. “Not down.”
“Okay, how about I get Janet to come up?” Jack asked softly. Daniel nodded without looking away from the doors. Jack exhaled and climbed out of the truck, trotting over to the doors and the guard station just inside. He returned the salute and gestured for the phone. “Dial medical for me.” He took the handset as the guard dialed, holding his breath. “I need Doc Frasier,” he said gruffly to whoever answered.
“This is Doctor Frasier.”
Suddenly Jack didn’t even know what to say. “It’s O’Neill. I need you to come up top. Bring a wheelchair or something, he can’t really walk.”
“Colonel O’Neill? Who can’t walk? Who’s hurt?”
Jack cleared his throat. “It’s Daniel.”
“I’m on my way.” He could hear her snapping orders as she hung up the phone. He moved to just outside the door, where he could see the truck and Daniel while he waited for the doctor and her team.
Whatever had happened to Daniel, it was pretty clear he’d been mistreated. The scars on the back of his hand looked like some kind of burn, the skin melted and twisted. The door beside him burst open and Janet emerged, bringing what looked like half the medical staff with her. “Where is he?”
Jack pointed and then led the way toward the truck. “He’s…I don’t know, but he’s not good. Let me go first.” He eased his way up the passenger side of the truck. Daniel had calmed again, his eyes closed. “Daniel?”
He stiffened a little and opened his eyes. “Hey, it’s okay. I brought the doc.” Jack moved so that Janet could come closer.
Her eyes took in everything she could see without opening the door. “Hi Daniel. Is it okay if I get a look?” She lifted her hand to the door and when he didn’t protest, she opened it. Jack heard the little intake of air when she finally saw all of him, but she hid it well, stepping in and offering Daniel a small smile. “We’ve missed you around here.” Janet fit the ear pieces of her stethoscope into her ears and raised the other end, setting it lightly against Daniel’s chest. “Okay, how about we get you out of the truck, Daniel?”
Daniel nodded and let her help him down, wincing as his feet found the pavement. “Here, I brought you a ride.” Janet helped him into the wheelchair an orderly was pushing, setting his feet carefully on the footrests. She squatted in front of him, trying to get him to look her in the eye. “I’d like to take you to the infirmary so I can check you over.”
His eyes widened again. “I don’t want to go down.”
Janet nodded. “Okay, can you tell me why?”
He shook his head. “I like the sun.”
“It is nice, isn’t it?” Janet stood, drawing Jack away from Daniel. “Do you have any idea what happened?”
Jack rubbed a hand over his face. “No, I came out the door and there he was, sitting on my front porch step. He hasn’t said much.”
“Well, it’s clear his skin hasn’t seen the sun in months, maybe for as long as he’s been gone.” Janet said, “And Daniel has never been afraid of…” She gestured at the doors. Almost as if on cue, the doors slammed open and Carter came running toward them.
Jack held up a hand to slow her down. “I heard…Daniel?” Jack moved so she could see and watched her visibly pull back. “What happened?”
“A question for after we get him downstairs.” Janet said, moving back toward him. “Okay, Daniel, I really need to get you where I can examine you. So I’m going to have this nice gentleman wheel you to the elevators, and when I’ve finished looking you over, we’ll bring you back up to sit in the sun, okay?”
He closed his eyes for a long moment and gripped the arms of the wheelchair before nodding. Jack and Carter fell into step behind Janet and the orderly pushing the chair. The elevator was silent except for Daniel’s harsh breathing. As the doors opened, Jack could see Teal’c and Hammond waiting, looking to him for an explanation. He let Carter follow Daniel and stopped to offer what explanation he could.
“I don’t know, sir,” he said before the general could even ask the question. “I found him on my step this morning. He’s in bad shape.”
“No indication of where he’s been?” Hammond asked.
“Not yet.” Jack replied. “He’s been…I think I would use the word tortured, sir.” It was in his eyes, in the scars Jack had seen. There was no other word for it.
“Someone who has a very limited lifespan.” Jack replied. “We won’t know more until Doc Frasier is done with him and someone can get him to talk.”
“Keep me informed.”
“Of course, sir.” Jack waited until Hammond had walked away before hustling after Daniel and the others, with Teal’c instep beside him. Carter was waiting just outside the infirmary doors.
“Janet asked us to wait.”
Jack nodded. She didn’t want them hovering. He got that. He paced, then sat, then paced. Carter did the same, only Teal’c stoically stood in one spot. They’d all done this before.
The door opened, and this time it actually was Janet. Jack scrambled to his feet. Her face was drawn and tired looking and her usual smile was dimmed and swiftly gone. “He’s resting.”
She licked her lips and seemed to be struggling with emotion. “I have never…seen…” She cleared her throat and wiped her hands over her face. “At the moment, I’m most concerned about infection, so I’ve started him on some antibiotics. The open wounds are…well, we’ve cleaned them, but the burns on the back of his legs have me worried.”
Jack was getting angrier by the minute. “Did he say anything? About who did this to him?”
Janet’s hands shook a little and she put them in the pocket of her lab coat. “No, just said ‘he’ when I asked about injuries. And there are a lot of them. He’s got broken bones that haven’t been properly set, scars that cover his body. His feet are…a mess. His shoulders have been dislocated more than once, and the left hip has been as well. He’s got an ugly head wound that is at least a week old that should have been stitched up.”
“Wow.” Carter said beside him.
Janet shook her head. “I wish that was all of it. We had to stop the exam and let him rest. I still need to get more X-rays and I want an MRI of his entire body.”
Jack touched the back of his hand. “What about the burns on his hand?”
Janet nodded. “Back of both hands. They look like chemical burns of some kind. They’re mostly healed. Probably done almost immediately after he was taken.”
“Taken.” Jack wanted to punch someone, his hands fisting impotently at his side. “All this time…”
“It’s not your fault, sir.” Carter said.
“I’m the one who called off the search.” Jack said, thinking back to that first month. They’d scoured the area and as far north as Denver for weeks. When there was no sign of him, and his car never turned up, Jack assumed Daniel didn’t want to be found, and called off the hunt. “I want to see him.”
“Soon.” Janet placated him. “I need him to sleep for a while. He said he hadn’t slept in a long time. I got the impression that whoever had him used sleep deprivation as well as starvation as ways to control him.”
“Is he going to be okay?” Carter asked.
Janet nodded slowly. “I think physically, it’s going to be a long recovery, but he should recover.”
“And mentally?” Jack asked.
Janet pressed her lips together. “We won’t know that for a while. He’s still in shock. He said that he doesn’t know why he was let go. He was drugged and dropped off in a park in Denver.”
“How’d he get here?” Carter asked.
“He didn’t say, but I’m betting he walked at least part of the way, judging from the damage to his feet.” Janet sighed. “I should get back to him. I’ll call you when he’s ready for visitors.”
Jack inhaled slowly, trying to calm the anger boiling inside of him. Daniel hadn’t left because of that last night and all this time Jack had let his guilt fester while Daniel was suffering.
“Who would do harm of this kind to Daniel Jackson.” Teal’c asked.
“We know it wasn’t a Goa’uld.” Carter said. “They wouldn’t just drop him off.”
“And they would have healed him using the hand device.” Teal’c added. “So that they could start again.”
“I’m starting to think that whoever did it is a home-grown bastard.” Jack said. “Carter, see if you can get any info out of Denver police about whackos dropping half dead people in their parks.”
“It’s not much to go on, but I’ll give it a try.”
“Good, I’ll fill Hammond in and get SG1 pulled off rotation for a while.”
“I shall remain here.” Teal’c said.
Jack opened the door slowly, peeking around it before stepping into the room. The lights were low, and the only sounds were the faint murmur from the infirmary on the other side of the door and the ticking of the clock over the bed.
Daniel looked small lying there in a hospital gown, his face nearly as pale as the white pillow case under his head. Several fingers of each hand were splinted, and bandages covered his arms. The facial hair had been shaved away and Jack could see scars that it had hidden, small silver lines along his jaw, under his lips. His hair had been trimmed back, shaven around two places now hidden under thick white bandages as well.
Janet had given him the full rundown of injuries, old and new. He knew that if he were to move that hospital gown, he would find layers of bruises all around Daniels ribs and stomach, and they extended around to his back and down his buttocks to his thighs. He knew that there were burns of the electrical and chemical variety, as well as burns from cigarettes or matches, and indications that the bastard had used knives and broken glass, and in at least one instance a soldering pen to inflict pain. There was a ring of infected open wound around his left ankle, the kind that comes from being manacled for months with heavy metal and Daniel’s feet had been prepared for his release by thin, one-inch cuts that covered his right foot, and blisters from some heat source that covered his left. It was a wonder he could walk at all.
Jack slid the rolling stool over and sat, lifting one hand, then deciding that touching probably wasn’t a good idea. “Jack?” He looked up to find Daniel shifting, blinking awake.
“Hey.” Jack said, his voice soft. “I snuck in. Doc Frasier says you need rest.”
“I was convinced I was dreaming all of this.” Daniel said, lifting one hand to rub at his eye. The sight of the splints gave him pause, but only for a moment.
“Yeah, me too.” Jack said. “You just showed up.”
“I remember walking.” He shook his head. “It’s still kinda jumbled. The drugs…”
Jack wasn’t sure if he meant the drugs Frasier had him on or whatever he’d been given before. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I hitched a ride.” Daniel said in the silence a few moments later. “A truck…he wanted to take me to a hospital.”
“You should have gone. You should have called me.” Jack said, trying not to let the hurt show in his voice.
Daniel sort of smiled at him. “All I could think about was getting home. I recognized the freeway exit and made him stop.”
“Didn’t it hurt, walking…” Jack gestured at his feet.
Daniel sort of shrugged, then winced. After a moment he shifted and settled. “Compared to other pain? Not so much.” His eyes got distant for a moment and Jack figured he should probably let Daniel rest. “Don’t.” Daniel said as Jack stood.
“Don’t?” Jack asked.
“It’s worse when I’m alone. Just, stay for a little while.”
Jack nodded and sat back down. “I’m sorry.” Daniel said after they’d both been quiet for a few minutes.
Jack frowned. “About what?”
“I shouldn’t have run off like I did. I was…You were honest with me and I reacted by leaving.” Daniel looked up, his eyes intensely scanning Jack for any sign of blame. “You must have thought…”
“I shouldn’t have put you on the spot like that.” Jack countered.
“I didn’t leave you.” Daniel said, reaching for Jack’s hand. “Not…I needed to think, and I went for a drive. I was actually coming back to your place when…”
Jack waited for him to continue, but his eyes had closed, and he turned his head away. A shudder ran through Daniel’s body and when he opened his eyes, Jack knew that the moment had passed.
“It’s okay, Daniel. You’re here now. You’re safe.”
“For whatever that’s worth.”
“Can you at least tell me who it was?” Jack asked when the silence had grown long again.
“I wish I could.” Daniel said, his voice cracking. “I think he maybe was a student. His face was familiar, but I couldn’t place him.”
“It’s a place to start.” Jack said. Behind him the door opened.
“I thought I told you to let him rest.” Janet said, coming to stand at the end of the bed.
“I asked him to stay.” Daniel said.
“I’ll get out of your way.” Jack stood and stepped back. “I’ll be back Daniel.”
He left the infirmary and went to Carter’s lab. She was going through surveillance footage from the limited number of cameras they’d been able to access around any of the parks in Denver. She looked up at him as he came in. “Haven’t found any signs of him yet.”
“I’ve got another lead. Daniel says he thinks the guy used to be one of his students.”
She sighed. “That’s not much to go on.”
“No, but it’s better than nothing.” Jack said.
“You’re right. I’ll have my FBI friend see if he can whittle a list down for us.”
“Good. I want this guy, Carter.”
“I know, sir. We’ll find him.”
The screams pulled Jack from his stupor in the chair outside Daniel’s door. They’d moved him to a more comfortable room but kept him near the infirmary so Janet could keep an eye on him. Jack hadn’t been home in a few days, feeling the need to be close and he’d done all of his paperwork, walked almost all of the halls, gotten kicked out of Carter’s lab and ended up here where he’d paced until his feet hurt.
He was back on his feet now though, throwing the door open. Daniel’s voice cracked and his eyes opened. He was standing on his bandaged feet beside the bed, his scrubs soaked through with sweat. His eyes were wide as he looked to Jack.
Slowly, Daniel sat back down, his breath slowing. “Sorry.” He croaked the word.
“You okay?” Jack asked as he moved into the room.
“No?” He shook his head. “Nightmares. I didn’t take the sleeping pills Janet gave me.”
Jack moved a little closer, his eyes sliding down Daniel’s bare arms. It was an unusual sight in the days since his return. The scars carved into his skin told a story Daniel couldn’t yet. Daniel felt his eyes and rubbed his arms, drawing the sheet closer to cover the marked-up skin.
Jack knew that even with the sleeping pills, Daniel had the dreams. “You want me to get her?”
Daniel shook his head. He was quiet for a minute, his eyes watching his sheet covered hands. “I know you’ve been looking for him,” he said quietly.
Jack closed the door and pulled the chair up to the bed. “Yes, we have. We haven’t found anything.”
Daniel nodded. He seemed to be searching for the words to say something. “I stopped to pick up beer. I thought it might help me apologize. When I got back in the car, he was there. I remember getting into the car, then there was a prick in my neck. I woke up in this small room, tied to a chair.”
He cleared his throat and went silent again.
Jack waited, letting Daniel find his own way of telling him what happened.
“He knew a lot about me.” Daniel said softly. “At first…I think he was trying to make me…he wanted me to…He did my hands first.” Daniel sort of held up his hands, still covered by the sheet. “He liked it when I screamed.”
Jack felt his stomach drop and he wanted to offer comfort, but Daniel was so broken, he didn’t know if he could even touch him without causing pain. “Daniel, I am so sorry.”
He nodded a little. “I know.” Daniel breathed in deep. “I think he audited some of my classes, I don’t think he was enrolled. I think his name was David…something.” Daniel eased back onto the bed, sliding his legs under the sheet and leaning back against the pillows. “I wanted to die.”
His voice was so soft, Jack wasn’t sure he heard right. “Daniel, I can’t even imagine what you were going through.”
“I begged him.” Daniel swallowed hard, his face flushing. “He wore me down. Eventually I stopped screaming for him. I just…I couldn’t scream anymore.”
Jack nodded slowly. The bastard may have taken Daniel for a particular reason but came to enjoy the torture. “Is that when he let you go?”
Daniel nodded. “Yeah. I passed out when he was burning my foot. When I woke up I was on the bench in the park.”
“So, you have no idea where you were held, because both ways you were unconscious.” Jack said.
“I can tell you that no one could hear me screaming.” Daniel said. “And it was…an old bomb shelter of some kind. Most of what he fed me was the old stuff the previous owner stocked.”
Jack tucked the information away to go over with Carter later. Every little piece could help them find the bastard. And Jack was going to tear him apart.
“Thank you.” Daniel said after he’d been quiet long enough Jack assumed he had fallen asleep.
“For what?” Jack asked.
Daniel didn’t respond, and after a moment his breathing evened out and he slept. Jack sat back in the chair, leaning his head back. His back would hate him in the morning, but he wasn’t leaving Daniel alone.
“I know I’m being ridiculous.” Daniel said as Sam pushed his wheelchair into the sun.
“You’re not.” Sam replied, putting the brake on and coming to sit at the picnic table. “It makes perfect sense.”
He heaved a sigh and pulled his hands into the sleeves of the sweater he’d put on over his scrubs. “I couldn’t breathe.” He closed his eyes and tried pushing the memory away, but it closed in on him again. Blackness like a blanket, stifling and hot…he can almost feel the air being sucked from the small space and he’s falling…
“Hey.” Sam’s hand touched his arm gently.
“Sorry.” He shook his head. He’d woken up screaming again, though his voice was blown out quickly. Jack hadn’t been there this time and Daniel had panicked, getting as far as the hallway where Sam’s lab was before his still healing feet gave out on him.
Sam heard him and came to help, getting him into a chair. At first, she tried taking him to the mess hall to eat, but he could feel people staring at him, even if there were only a few people in the room at that hour. She’d wheeled him out, found him the sweater and took him topside for the first time since Jack had gotten him to the mountain.
Jack wasn’t telling him a lot, and Janet wanted him to focus on recovery and eating. “I saw Dr. Mackenzie yesterday,” Daniel said, turning his face to the sun. “He seems to think I should talk about my experience with someone I trust.”
Sam nodded. “He’s probably right.”
Daniel licked his lips and held his breath for a long moment before he exhaled. “How do I…even say that stuff out loud?” He lifted his hands, pulled the sweater sleeves back so she could see them. “How do you catalog the burns and the cuts and the different ways he broke my bones?”
She took his left hand in both of hers and held it. “I don’t know, Daniel. Maybe just one thing at a time.” She caressed over his hand several times, then picked a small scar, just above his wrist. “Tell me about this one.”
He looked at it for a long minute, sorting through the months of torment. “Pocket knife. He had put my arm in a vice. Dislocated the shoulder. Then he cut…” Daniel pointed to the same scar she’d asked about, then up his arm every few inches. None of them were more than an inch long nor did they go very deep. “Then he poured vinegar over the arm.”
Sam winced, but didn’t let go of his hand. “You don’t have to talk to me, Daniel. But I want you to know that I’m here, and I’ll listen. No matter how awful.”
He nodded. “Thank you.”
“Would you mind if I kept notes when you do tell me things?” Sam asked a few moments later. “It will be important when we catch him.”
Daniel was pretty sure they wouldn’t catch him, he was too careful, but he nodded. “Can we just sit outside here for a while?”
She smiled radiantly and nodded. “Of course.”
“Where is Jack, anyway? This is the first time in a week his wasn’t the first face I saw.” Daniel asked.
Sam let go of his hand and stood, pacing around a little bit. “We got a lead…sort of. Really grainy image of what could have been your car, and a man pulling something out of the trunk.” She rolled her eyes. “It was the only thing we found in the right time frame. The camera was too far away and the images very low quality.”
“But Jack had to go look for himself.” Daniel nodded. “That sounds like Jack.”
“You know we won’t stop looking, right?”
Daniel nodded. He knew that. He wasn’t really sure he wanted his captor found. Looking around him, Daniel frowned. “What is the date today?” he asked, looking up at her. “How long was I…”
“It’s the twelfth of June, Daniel. You’ve been…Colonel O’Neill brought you here fifteen days ago.”
“June…” It had been mid-May when he and Jack had…and he had walked out. He shook his head. He had to have been a prisoner for longer than a few weeks. “How long, Sam?” Daniel asked quietly.
“Eleven months, three weeks, two days and,” she glanced at her watch, “around eleven hours, by Colonel O’Neill’s report of what time you left his house.”
His hands dropped down to the wheels and he turned himself around, away from her so that she couldn’t see his face. Tears burned hot down his cheeks and his stomach churned. Nearly a year in that place. A year of non-stop torture for no reason but his captor liked the sounds Daniel made when he was hurt. He liked it so much that he recorded them, the different sounds Daniel made with different torture. Sometimes he would play them back for Daniel to hear.
“This is when I used the wood-burning pen on your foot.” He presses play and the sounds of Daniel’s voice echo around the room, a stuttering sort of cry that got louder as the pen lingered in one place. A few seconds later, the sound changes and Daniel’s guttural yell takes the place of his cry. “This is the sound of me punching your ass over and over again.”
He’s laughing as he pulls Daniel from the only corner of the room he can reach with his leg manacled to the iron chain, pulls him to the middle of the floor where he’s put a dish of some rehydrated food and pushes Daniel’s head down. He doesn’t need to be told to eat, it’s been days and he’s starving.
New sounds pour out of the speakers now, the sound of Daniel vomiting explosively. Daniel pulls back, fighting to swallow before his stomach reacts. “This is the sound of me putting poison in your food…listen close now.”
He turns up the volume and Daniel’s voice whispers from the speakers, begging for it to stop, begging to die, to end the pain. It rambles on until finally, a botted foot pushes him back away from the food and then kicks the tray out of reach.
“Mercy?” He says, sneering into Daniel’s face. “Not here. You belong to me now, Doctor Jackson. You don’t get to die. You’re going to stay right here with me.”
Daniel shuddered, his face flushing as he realized Sam was watching him closely. He cleared his throat and adjusted the chair so that he could see her properly. “He, um, he recorded it, made me listen to it. I’d actually forgotten.”
They both looked up to see an airman approaching. “I was sent to request you bring Doctor Jackson back now.”
“I’ve got a meeting with an orthopedist.” Daniel said. “Who is going to decide if we need to operate on the leg that was broken.”
Sam nodded and stood, stepping behind him to push the chair. He hadn’t even realized the leg was broken originally, almost as soon as the whole thing started. It was before the chain, and it kept him contained to a small portion of the shelter. According to X-rays, it hadn’t healed well, so there was talk of going in surgically to correct it.
Daniel closed his eyes as they neared the doors, his heart hammering at him to run as the mountain opened up and swallowed them. He gripped the arms of the chair and held his breath. Sam’s hand touched his shoulder. “It’s going to be okay, Daniel,” she said softly. Daniel could only nod, not necessarily in agreement, but to let her know he heard her.
Sam delivered him to the infirmary, squeezing his shoulder before she left and promising to take him out again soon. Janet smiled at him and introduced him to Doctor Polk. The infirmary felt safe and familiar, but he could almost feel the tons of concrete that surrounded him, reminding him of his prison.
As if she could sense his thoughts, Janet touched his hand and pulled him into the conversation, though it seemed they’d already made the decision to operate. Daniel nodded and tried not to picture all the times his captor had come at him with something sharp, ready to cut him open. It wasn’t the same. Janet wouldn’t hurt him. He had to trust that.
“Jack, stop.” Daniel slapped Jack’s hands away from the handles of the wheelchair. “I’ve got this.” He put his hands on the wheels and navigated up the driveway of Jack’s house. Jack had constructed a ramp to make it easier for him and everything. He wasn’t full time in the chair anymore, but it was useful if he had to make any distance or where the ground wasn’t flat. The biggest problem was the cast covering his left leg. The bottoms of his feet were healed, though he’d probably always have some sensitivity on the one that had been burned.
Daniel wheeled himself up the ramp and into Jack’s hallway, then had to wait for Jack to come in and close the door before he could wheel himself down to the spare room.
“I brought a bunch of your stuff out of storage.” Jack said from behind him.
“Yeah, I can see.” Daniel responded, parking the chair among the familiar artefacts and trinkets. On the bedside table was a stack of books.
“I’ve got more of your books in a box in the garage, when you’re ready.” Jack said, filling the doorway. “Your clothes are in the dresser and closet. The crutches by the bed.”
“Thank you, Jack.” Daniel said over his shoulder. “I really appreciate you letting me stay with you until I’m…functional again.”
“I already told you to forget it. You’re welcome here for as long as it takes.”
“Tell me that when I’ve woken you up with nightmares every night for a week.” Daniel said dryly.
Jack’s hand squeezed his shoulder. “As long as it takes.” His hand lingered for a moment before he pulled it away. “I’m going to go fire up the grill. I’ve got orders to fatten you up.”
Daniel waited until he had left to stand and move to the bed. Jack had even put Daniel’s own linens on the bed. If he closed his eyes, he could almost believe he was back in his own place, that the last year hadn’t happened at all.
He exhaled slowly and sat on the bed. He was free of the dark, cold concrete finally. Even though the base was nearly as much his home as well, his home had been, he couldn’t ever escape the feeling that at any moment, his tormentor would grab him and drag him back into the darkness. At least here, with the warm air coming in through open windows he could pretend he wasn’t terrified of it happening.
Of course, now that he was here, he’d have to deal with other emotional consequences, especially the ones that centered on Jack. Jack’s guilt was nearly a palpable thing with a life of its own, and even when he tried to hide it, it filled the room. Along with his guilt came his fear that Daniel blamed him too, his fear over what had passed between them that night, his longing to make it better somehow, and at the bottom of it all was Jack’s love.
It hadn’t been easy for him, and Daniel knew that, to say the words, especially after Sha’re’s death, which had spun Daniel pretty hard. Even though it had been three years since she’d been taken from him and parts of him had already let go, he loved her, and the finality of her death had been hard.
Jack’s admission of affection, his tenderness as he stumbled over the words had shocked him a little. His hand had been warm as he caressed Daniel’s cheek, his lips warmer still when they’d brushed against his. Some part of him had wanted to give in to the feelings it stirred inside him, and he’d opened his lips to Jack’s kiss. But thoughts of Sha’re intruded and confused him. Daniel had made excuses and almost ran for the door.
Daniel reached for the crutches and hobbled out of the room and through the house, out onto the porch where Jack was standing over the grill, a pair of tongs in one hand and a beer in the other. He smiled broadly as Daniel approached, but before he could say anything, Daniel crowded into his space and kissed him. It was quick, dry lips on dry lips and nothing more, but the confused look on Jack’s face when he pulled back amused him and Daniel grinned.
“What…” Jack started, staring at him.
“I never got to come back and do that.” Daniel said with a shrug. “I was planning to.”
“Are you sure?” Jack asked, his eyes intensely holding Daniel’s.
Again, Daniel shrugged. “No? But the whole time I was gone, I kept thinking about getting back to you, about telling you that I cared for you too. When I was alone in that pitch black I talked to you. When I dreamed it was about you coming to rescue me.”
They were silent as Jack tended to the steaks on the grill. When he put them on plates and pointed to the table a few feet away, they settled in to eat. It was comfortable and familiar, and Daniel could easily imagine the rest of his life right there. Every now and again he’d glance up to find Jack smiling at him. Daniel rolled his eyes. “Is this going to get weird?”
Jack sat back with his beer and nodded slowly. “Most definitely.”
Daniel was deep into whatever translation he was working on, his bad leg up on the ottoman while the rest of him was curled up in the oversized chair, books and papers spread out on the arms of the chair and the end table to the side. Jack waved him down when someone knocked at the door, crossing from the couch to the door.
“Yes?” The suits standing at his door were clearly federal agents, confirmed as they showed their badges.
“We’re looking for Doctor Daniel Jackson.”
Jack nodded. “Come in. Daniel, you have company. FBI.”
Daniel put down the paper he’d been reading and looked up expectantly. “FBI?”
“Yes, sir. We were hoping we could ask you some questions.”
Daniel gestured to the couch. “What about?”
“About your kidnapping.”
Jack caught the alarm on Daniel’s face and moved so that he was within reach. It had been close to two years since Daniel had come home, and no one had been able to find the man who had taken Daniel.
“Okay.” Daniel glanced up at Jack and consolidated his papers so that he could focus on the conversation. “Has something happened?”
“There have been some bodies found. Some of their injuries are consistent with the injuries reported in your case.” The agent opened a file folder, then hesitated. “These are very graphic. You don’t have to look, but—”
Daniel held out his hand and the agent handed the file over. Daniel’s eyes closed, and his lips pressed together for a long moment before he opened the file. Pictures of a man’s body filled the folder. A close up of his hands looked eerily similar to Daniel’s hands, and there were long, black burns on his thighs. Daniel’s finger stroked over the burns. “He used a crowbar that he heated with a blow torch.”
He turned to the next picture, his face ashen. A second victim showed signs of choking, bruises all along his throat, and his face was covered in tiny scars. Daniel turned the page quickly. “He didn’t do that to me, obviously.” Daniel said, one hand rising to rub at his face. “But he did this.” He turned to show them the long, silver scar along his jaw line. “He liked how much it bled.”
He handed the folder back.
“So, you agree with us that it was the same perpetrator?”
Daniel nodded tightly, and Jack felt Daniel’s hand against his. “Where?” He cleared his throat. “Where did you find these bodies?”
“In a wooded area near Medicine Bow, Wyoming.”
Jack squeezed his hand. It explained why they’d never found the bastard in Colorado. “Any leads?”
“We’re combing the area. These two were the most recent. There were two other bodies dumped in the same area, but they were badly decomposed.”
“He…the place he kept me was underground.” Daniel offered. “Probably not even visible. He said the walls were two feet thick and that there were no neighbors for miles.”
His hand was sweaty against Jack’s and he was starting to tremble. “Is there anything else we can help you gentleman with?”
They smiled, taking his hint and stood. “Not at this time.”
Jack walked them to the door. “If this is the same guy, your friend got lucky to get out before he started killing.”
Jack nodded and watched them leave. When he turned around, Daniel was gone from the chair. Jack padded through the living room and out the back door to the porch. Daniel was shaking, his back to the railing corner where he’d slid down, his knees to his chest. Tears ran down his face and he didn’t look up, even when Jack came to squat opposite him. Jack gave him a minute, then rubbed a hand over his knee. “Hey.”
Daniel sniffed and blinked, then nodded at him. “I’m okay.”
Jack shook his head and sat, moving his legs so that they were surrounding Daniel. “It’s okay to not be okay.”
Daniel wiped his face. “I know. I just…it’s been so long, I…”
For the most part, Daniel had recovered remarkably well. Physically, he would have a few issues that would never fully go away, and even now he sometimes had nightmares. He was even back to gate travel, though not nearly at the level he used to be. He knew Daniel had struggled at times with depression since his return, and he kept a careful eye on him whenever he went a little too silent. “What do you say we head up to the cabin this weekend?” Jack asked, reaching for Daniel’s hand and kissing his palm lightly. “Some fresh air, you and me…”
Daniel smiled through the tears and leaned in to kiss him. “Are you trying to get fresh with me?”
Jack licked over Daniel’s lips before kissing him deeply. “Is it working?”
“We should remember food this time.”
“Jack, I told you I needed to finish this.” Daniel looked up from his desk when there was no smart ass reply to find Sam standing in his doorway, looking uncomfortable. Daniel frowned and put the artefact in his hand down. “Sam?”
“I got a call just now.” Sam said, stepping into the room. “From my friend at the FBI.”
Daniel stood, wiping suddenly sweaty hands on his pants. “Another body?”
She shook her head. “No, they’ve arrested someone.”
Daniel sat back down and forced himself to keep breathing. “Who?”
“His name is David Payne.” Sam said. “They have him in custody in Cheyenne.”
“David Payne.” He rolled the name around in his head, but it didn’t ring any bells.
“They found his bunker, pictures, recordings. So far, they’ve identified five victims, plus you.” Sam came closer. “You can expect another visit when you get home. They’re going to want you to come in and identify him.”
Daniel nodded, though he barely heard her. Part of him was glad he’d been caught, but more than that he was terrified to relive the whole thing again. “Odd it would be today.” Daniel said, the symmetry dawning on him slowly.
Sam had already put that together and she nodded. “Four years today since he grabbed you.”
“Does Jack know?”
“I wanted you to be the first.” Sam said.
Daniel stood again. “I should find him.” Sam walked with him, but he didn’t get far. His heart was hammering faster and faster and he couldn’t feel his skin. The world tilted sideways, and Sam caught him as he fell, easing him down and yelling for a medic. Daniel was vaguely aware of Janet and her team showing up, of being lifted onto the gurney and then there was light flashing in his eyes and Janet leaning over him.
He blinked rapidly, breathing deep and slow in an effort to regain control. “I can give you something to help.” Janet said softly as they got to the infirmary. Daniel nodded. He didn’t like the drugs, but he needed to function. By the time Jack came flying into the infirmary, Daniel was sitting up and letting Janet check him over.
“I’m okay.” Daniel said, holding up one hand to slow Jack down. “Just a little disassociation.”
“Doc?” Jack asked, turning his attention to Janet.
“He’s fine. He needs to remember to breathe, but he’s fine.”
Daniel let Sam fill Jack in on the news, turning his thoughts on how he was going to get through a trial, if he couldn’t even manage hearing the man’s name. Jack’s hand was warm on his back, pulling him back to the moment. Janet was handing him a bottle of pills. “These should help the anxiety.”
Jack took the bottle and patted his back. “How about we get you home?”
Daniel didn’t respond other than to slide to his feet. His head buzzed a little, and he wasn’t sure if that was the medication or something else, but he chose to ignore it. There was a dark sedan parked on the street when they pulled in. The same two agents from the last visit got out of the car as Jack stepped out of the truck and came around Daniel’s side. For a long moment, Daniel let Jack do the talking, keeping the door shut so he didn’t have to face them right away.
Finally, Daniel opened the car door and stepped out, nodding in greeting. “I heard. What do you need from me?”
“The prosecutor wants you to come in and make an ID,” the younger of the two said. “After that, well, that’s up to you and her. There’s more than enough evidence from his home and the bomb shelter to convict him on enough charges he should never see daylight again.”
Daniel slid a hand into Jack’s. “I can come up tomorrow morning.”
“Daniel?” Jack turned to him, surprise on his face.
“I want this over.” Daniel replied. “Anything else?”
“No, we’ll see you tomorrow.”
“You know you don’t have to go in there.” Jack said softly.
Daniel nodded. “I know.” They had talked about it endlessly, and he knew Jack just wanted to protect him, but now that he had decided that someone needed to speak for the victims, he just wanted to get it over with.
The door opened, and the bailiff called his name. Daniel fixed the collar of his jacket and adjusted his tie before nodding and following him into the courtroom. He kept his eyes down. He didn’t want to see the people there watching the trial, the reporters who were covering it. He made his way to the witness stand and was sworn in. He sat, and only then did he let his eyes lift, first to let the prosecutor know he was ready and then to finally look at the man who had nearly destroyed him.
He seemed smaller somehow, sitting there in his blue suit. His dark hair was combed back instead of hanging in shaggy sheets around his face, and he was clean shaven, but it did nothing to disguise him. The prosecutor, a tall brunette with startling green eyes stepped between him and Payne. “Dr. Jackson, are you ready?”
Daniel inhaled deep and let it out slow. “Yes, I am.”
“Could you tell the court what happened to you on the night of May 16th, 1999?”
Daniel licked his lips. “I stopped at a convenient store to pick up a six pack of beer to share with a friend. When I got back into the car, I was stuck with a needle and I passed out.”
“And when did you wake up again?”
“Honestly, I don’t know how long I was out, but when I woke up, I was tied to a chair in what looked like a basement or something.”
“Were you alone?” she asked, stepping back toward her table.
“No, I wasn’t.” Daniel responded. “The defendant was there as well.”
“And what was the defendant doing?”
Daniel licked his lips. Those first moments had been confusing, but when put into the timeline the investigation had put together it made more sense. “He was pacing and talking, and when he saw that I was awake he started talking to me, telling me how important I was, and telling me I was a bad man for leaving him. I didn’t know what he was talking about.”
“Do you now?”
He glanced at Payne, still trying to find one shred of memory of the man from his teaching days. “Only what I’ve been told. Apparently, police found scrapbooks and journals that show a growing obsession with me and my work, and when I left public teaching, the writings became angry and showed that he was actively searching for me.”
“Prosecution’s exhibit numbers twenty-one through thirty, your honor.” She reached behind her to check her notes, a prearranged sign that she was going to go deeper. “Can you tell the court what followed?”
“Ah, well, that first…I say day, but it was hard to tell. The first thing he did was to ‘punish’ me for disappearing.” Daniel’s hands twitched in his lap. “He started with my right hand, pouring some sort of chemical over it.”
She held up a picture of his hands, which she then passed to the jury and she gestured him to go on.
“It, um, there was pitting and then these, ugly blisters that made it hard to move. The skin ended up looking like something had melted it.” Daniel folded his hands on his lap to keep from fiddling with the scars. “Sometime later, he did the other one too. It gets kind of blurry after that, and I don’t remember all of it. There were other kinds of burns, and he would pull my arms up over my head and use me like a punching bag. Sometimes he hit me with other things.”
“A tire iron, a piece of wood. He threw cans and bottles at me, cut me with all sorts of things. He like the burning though.” Daniel’s breath caught, and he had to fight back an onslaught of memories. The burning had always been the worst. The worst pain, the longest to heal. He cleared his throat. “He got inventive. There were matches on my back, he used a soldering iron on my shoulders and legs, a wood burning pen on my feet. There are spots on my buttocks from an iron.”
“You mean like a standard clothing iron?”
Daniel nodded, then looked up at her. “Yes.”
She moved back toward her seat and picked up a small voice recorder. “Dr. Jackson, were you aware that your captor made recordings of these incidents?”
It took Daniel a moment to find his voice. “Yes, he would play them back for me, and tell me what he was doing to me when I made a particular type of sound.”
“Your honor, with your permission, I would like to play a piece of this recording for Dr. Jackson to identify.”
She turned slightly to the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen, this recording is difficult to listen to, and I will only be playing a small portion of it. There are hours of these recordings in evidence if you feel the need to hear any of it during deliberations.” She turned back to Daniel and pressed play.
Daniel jumped when the sound of him screaming came out of the player. It seemed to go on forever. Then came the laughter. Daniel closed his eyes and turned away. “You scream so well, Daniel. Shall we try that again?”
She clicked it off mid scream. “Dr. Jackson, can you identify the voices in this recording?”
He couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t swallow. He bit down on the inside of his cheek until he felt her standing directly in front of him. “Do you need a break?”
Daniel shook his head. “The screaming is me. The person talking is the defendant.”
“Do you remember what was happening at this time?”
Daniel had learned a lot about himself when Payne had played back the recordings. “I can’t say specifically which time, but it sounds like either when he was burning me with something or when he was playing with the healing burns.”
“Playing with them?”
Daniel nodded, finally opening his eyes. “He would scrape them with a knife to remove the scabs, press on them, pour salt or vinegar into them.”
“Could you tell the court how you escaped?”
Daniel sort of laughed. “I didn’t. One day I stopped screaming for him. I was done. He flew into a rage. The next day, he started on the bottoms of my feet. That was the first time he’d touched them. The tops of my feet, yeah, he’d done a lot, but not the bottoms. He cut my right foot, a bunch of small cuts with a razor blade, then he started burning my left foot with a something I couldn’t quite see. I passed out. When I woke up, I was laying on a park bench, in clothes that didn’t fit and mismatched shoes.”
“Do you know why he let you go?”
Daniel shook his head. “No. I expected to die there in that hole. Obviously, he moved on to that after he let me go.”
“Objection. The witness does not know what happened when he was not there.”
Daniel glanced at the defense counsel, who to this point hadn’t even moved much. “Sustained, the jury will disregard the witness’ last comment.”
“Okay, Dr. Jackson. Thank you for your testimony today, I know this hasn’t been easy. I have no more questions for this witness your honor.”
“Your witness, Counselor.”
The defense attorney stood, his eyes on Daniel for a long time. He stuck his jaw out and turned to look at Payne who shook his head. “I have no questions for this witness at this time, your honor.”
Daniel hadn’t expected that. They’d prepared for hours of grueling cross examination. “You may step down, Dr. Jackson.”
“The prosecution rests, your Honor.”
“Very well, we will recess one hour for lunch. When we reconvene, the defense may call its first witness.”
Daniel paused by the prosecutor’s table, but she seemed just as bewildered.
His blood chilled at just the sound of his voice and he stiffened.
“Mr. Payne.” Guards had his arms and were trying to remove him, but Payne was pulling against them.
“You know why I let you live, Daniel. You know why.”
Daniel turned to him, his heart pounding and fire burning his face. “Do I?”
“I love you.”
The guards finally succeeded in pulling him away and Daniel dashed through the people and out into the hall. Jack caught his arm and spun him around into a corner, protecting him from the hordes of reporters swarming. “Hey, you okay?”
Daniel nodded shakily. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“You two should probably get out of here,” the prosecutor said as she approached. “I’ve got a car waiting to get you back to your hotel. I’ll be in touch when we’re done.”
Daniel let Jack move them to the elevators and out the side door. He didn’t speak until they were safely behind the door of their hotel room. “Are you going to tell me how it went?” Jack asked when Daniel sank silently onto the bed.
“It was fine. I mean, hard, but fine. Until the end.” Daniel could hear the words echoing around in his head. “He said he loved me.”
“What?” Jack asked as he sat beside Daniel.
“Yeah, just as I was leaving. He said that was why he let me go.” He shook his head. “I don’t know why it spooked me like it did.”`
Jack’s hand turned Daniel’s face and he kissed him lightly. “He still wants control.” Jack said softly. “We won’t let him have it.”
“No.” Daniel agreed.
“This is love.” Jack whispered, kissing him again, deeper this time. “This is something he can never have.”
Daniel nodded and let Jack move them slowly up the bed, shedding clothes as they went, until they lay together in nothing but their boxers, something Daniel still wasn’t comfortable with, despite the amount of time he’d had to get used to his scars. Jack knew how to draw him out though, finding a scar and kissing along the length of it, showering Daniel’s torso with affection before moving up to kiss his mouth again.
“The jury in the case against David Payne took less than four hours to decide his fate after the defense rested yesterday afternoon. It is said that the testimony of the only victim of this sadistic murder who survived weighed heavily in the minds of the jury and influenced their quick verdict. Payne, a thirty-year-old man originally from Tennessee, was found guilty on all counts, which included five capital murder charges, six kidnapping charges and over twenty other charges stemming from his five-year crime spree.”
Daniel stood at the bottom of the courthouse stairs, watching the reporters talking into their cameras. The sun felt nice on his skin and he had an urge to go stand in it, somewhere quiet. “Daniel.”
He turned, surprised by the sound of Sam’s voice, and letting her hug him tightly. Behind Sam was Teal’c, a fedora pulled low over his forehead, and General Hammond was only a few steps behind. “I didn’t know you guys were coming.”
Sam smiled. “Colonel O’Neill called us last night.”
“Hey, you got here.” Jack said as he came bounding down the stairs. “Great.”
“We didn’t get in for the verdict,” Sam said. “But we wanted to be here.”
“I thought we could all go celebrate.” Jack said. “If you’re up for it.”
Daniel nodded. “I am definitely hungry.”
“Food it is.” Jack slipped an arm around his back, and Sam did the same from the other side. Together they walked away, turning their backs on David Payne forever. Or so he hoped.
Jack was right, this right here was love. These friends who had become like family, who had saved him more times than he could count in more ways than he could articulate. He’d wear the marks of his ordeal for the rest of his life, but maybe now he could start to forget.