Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

The Coldest of Hearts...

by Jackie O'Neill Nut


 

* * *

Once again I must thank Neet for all her encouragement and the marvellous beta – she’s an absolute star! not to mention I drove her to utter distraction with the use of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! too many of these !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Content Warnings: violence, attempted non-con, language ...lots of blood and character deaths

***

I feel the relationship of Jack and Cassie hasn’t really been explored in the show to its potential and I just adore the interaction that has been explored by one or two excellent writers ... Inspiration for this fic was from Rocky Top Wine by Gallagater and Charli and if you haven’t read this you should (and part two) – it’s excellent – but other than that it bears no relation to what you are about to read! 

* * *

Have you read the warnings? If so please begin!

**********

 

“He shoots, he scores!” yelled Jack as he swept the puck into the hurriedly contrived goal, his victory twirl short lived as a figure crashed into him and he went down with a yelp.

 

The breath knocked out of him, he lay dazed and sweaty on the ice as the figure half on top of him struggled to rise.

 

“You’ve been eating too much of your mom’s cooking,” he complained as he held out a hand to be tugged up.

 

“And you don’t eat enough!” retorted Cassie, her pretty face frowning as she helped him stand. “Sorry Jack, the brakes weren’t quick enough then,” she apologised.

 

“Well, at least you didn’t get me with the stick,” he grinned and tapped her on the helmet she wore.

 

“Damn, I knew I’d forgotten something,” said Cassie grinning, the snapping of her fingers not having quite the effect she was looking for under the thick gloves.

 

“Oh … you’re sure taking after your mom, she’s always jabbing me too!”

 

“She just likes looking at your butt,” said Cassie with an evil grin and hurriedly she skated after the puck that had shot off the ice.

 

Jack stared after her, his mouth open for a moment, before shaking his head ruefully.

 

He took off his helmet to rub his hand through his sweat matted hair and skated slowly across the lake.

 

He breathed the clean sharp air in deeply, the cold pushing through his lungs, his energy revitalised by the rush from the cold sweet air as he gazed across the landscape.

 

The beauty of the lake and the surrounding area never failed to capture him. Its stunning beauty in winter gave him strong reminders of the thrill of youth - never forgotten moments of chasing across the first ice of winter. Fishing in summer held a certain appeal, but nothing to compare to the sharp blue of the ice, the sun’s weak winter rays reflecting from its surface, as well as the added bonus that very few people dared to venture here in winter.

 

So enthralled was he in the view, he was only partially aware of Cassandra Fraiser skating to a halt besides him, his attention only claimed when she linked his arm and leaned into his shoulder.

 

“It’s really beautiful here, thanks for bringing me. When you said skating I thought you’d be taking me to another rink.”

 

“I haven’t been here for a while, but it’s not changed,” he admitted, his eyes scanning the breathtaking view again.

 

Cassie squeezed his arm again. “Thanks,” she whispered.

 

“Worth dragging you away from the Saturday gang at the mall then?” he teased.

 

“Hell yeah!” retorted Cassie.

 

Jack winced. Cassie seemed to pick a lot up from him … and Doc didn’t seem to think any of it good from the way she lectured him.

 

“Cassie …” he began with a sigh, then paused with a smile as he looked down and saw her face beaming with mischief back up at him.

 

“Gotcha!” She punched him playfully on the chest, skating off.

 

Jack laughed and gave chase.

 

It turned into a game of tag on the ice. Cassie eventually surrendered breathlessly, holding her hands up in submission, laughing.

 

“Ok, I definitely gotta keep fitter, it’s not fair an old guy beating me.”

 

Jack laughed and grabbed at her jacket, panting heavily himself. “Less of the old, kiddo!” he complained. “Come on, I’ve got a flask of chocolate in the truck, let’s get back.”

 

Cassie smiled happily. “Mmm, chocolate.”

 

“Huh, what is it with chocolate and women, eh?”

 

Cassie beamed at being called a woman. At fourteen she considered herself very grown up … that was until she was with Jack … then age usually had no meaning for her … she just enjoyed every minute too much, but the mischief reared its head again.

 

“Mom reckons it’s a substitute for sex,” she said, trying to look innocent.

 

The squawk of embarrassment he began to utter turned into a coughing fit, Jack going quite red in the face and not just from the coughing.

 

Cassie slapped his back with enthusiasm; it was nice to know she could still wind him up … with success.

 

Eventually Jack managed to resume normal breathing and shook his head, giving her a ‘You wait’ look.

 

They moved to the bank, took off their skates and replaced their boots, both of them grimacing at the coldness of their boots’ interiors.

 

As Jack slung the skates and helmets over his shoulder, Cassie picked up the sticks for the journey back to the truck.

 

The snow wasn’t particularly deep, nicely crisp and they crunched their way across it to the vehicle, leaving clear footprints behind them.

 

*

 

Cassie practically inhaled the cup of chocolate, reminding him of a certain archaeologist that he knew and his relationship with coffee. She cocked her head at his grin and demanded “What?”

 

“Nothing,” he responded with a shrug.

 

“Don’t nothing me, Jack O’Neill!” she retorted with a swing of her hair.

 

Jack’s eyes narrowed on the vision of Janet that appeared before him. “Don’t do that!” he scowled.

 

“Do what?” she asked innocently.

 

“Ah, never mind,” he finished lamely.

 

Cassie seemed to be content finishing her chocolate off and Jack tidied up the cab in his truck before neatly capping the flask and putting it away.

 

“Do you think we could visit that cool shop we saw on the way up?” begged Cassie.

 

Jack started the truck up, giving her a headshake as he did so.

 

“Your Mom said to have you back by 1800 hours at the latest.”

 

“Oh, she won’t mind if we’re late a little bit anyway, it’s only ‘cause one of Mom’s old friends is stopping by.”

 

“Then we had so better not be late,” said Jack as he swung the truck around and began the slow journey over the narrow snow covered road.

 

“There’s a great gadgetry-type shop next to it … pleeease?” she begged.

 

“Uh … that would still be a nooo!” he responded with a grin.

 

“I’ll sulk!” she pouted.

 

“Fine, better you who I can dump off soon, than face your Mom on Monday morning for a physical!” he retorted.

 

“Dump off?” she echoed. “I’m bitterly wounded,” she announced and clutched at her young bosom.

 

“You really should get better grades at your drama class,” he grinned and despite herself, Cassie grinned back.

 

She could never stay annoyed at him for long!

 

*

 

Cassie was fiddling with the radio, switching stations looking for music she liked when she felt the truck slowing and looked up.

 

“Someone broken down?” she asked as she saw the truck to the side of the road. It was an army type truck, the ones with a canvassed back and tailgate, but it bore no military markings.

 

“Maybe,” said Jack as he slowed right down and took the precaution of popping the central locking down.

 

A figure stepped out into the road from the truck and waved at them to stop.

 

Jack brought the truck to a halt just behind the truck, but still on the road.

 

“Hi there, can you give me a hand?” called the man. He was bundled up against the cold, with only a beard and glasses showing from beneath his hood.

 

Jack wound his window down a little, he felt somewhat uncomfortable, something seemed … well off somehow. “Want me to call you a tow truck?”

 

“Maybe you could take a look?” asked the man stepping closer to Jack’s side of the truck.

 

“Well, I’m no mechanic,” said Jack with a shrug.

 

“That’s not what Sam told me, she said you kept that old bus running when you all went back to …” blurted Cassie. Jack’s eyes widened and he shook his head and Cassie stopped realising what she had been about to say. She blushed and gave a hurried apology. Damn, why was her mouth running today? It didn’t usually.

 

“Look, I’ll call you a …” began Jack, then stopped dead as he turned back to the window to find the man had a gun trained on him. The eyes that stared back at him were a killer’s eyes and he knew the man would have no qualms using the weapon.

 

“Crap!” he muttered. “Look, if its valuables you want, I’ve not got much. Take my wallet,” he said, raising his hands from the wheel. If the man had been a little bit further away he could have risked pushing Cassie down and gunning the truck away, but where the man was the gun was practically at the window, no way could he miss such an easy shot.

 

Cassie sat on the seat completely still. Jack heard her take a gulped breath.

 

“Out,” demanded the man.

 

Jack’s eyes narrowed as another figure stepped out from the other truck and moved around to Cassie’s side, also brandishing a gun.

 

“Move!”

 

Jack weighed everything up quickly and came to the conclusion that there was nothing he could do at the moment – on his own it might have been different, but with Cassie there …

 

“Okay, take it easy,” said Jack quietly and popped the central locking open. The man stepped back, the gun still pointing at Jack’s head, as he opened the door.

 

“And the girl!” barked the man.

 

“Cassie, nice and easy, come on,” urged Jack, motioning her to follow him out on his side.

 

Cassie was pale, but she obeyed Jack, sliding over the seat and down to stand beside him at the side of the truck.

 

They’d removed their coats when they’d got in the truck and the cold wind made them shiver. Jack pulled her closer to his side. “How about we get our coats?” he asked.

 

The man shook his head. “Uh, you won’t need them.” He backed away slightly and called into the back of the other truck. “Okay!”

 

Two more men appeared and the canvas was thrown back. Jack couldn’t see into the back of the truck from where he stood.

 

“Move!” He motioned them with the gun to the side of the road. “We’re taking your truck.”

 

“That’s fine, we won’t be causing you any trouble. Just take it and go,” said Jack quietly, but his words were ignored.

 

The man stood guard over them while boxes were being unloaded from back of the other truck. Jack shielded Cassie the best he could from the bite of the wind, keeping her wrapped in his arms. He could feel her trembling slightly, but whether it was from the cold or nerves, he wasn’t sure. He watched the men carefully, tucking away in his memory everything he could about them, but they were well cocooned in their clothing, not giving much away.

 

The other three men kept moving the boxes and then called for assistance with something.

 

“You,” motioned the man with the gun. “Any funny business and the girl gets it!” he warned, gesturing Jack over to the others.

 

Jack reluctantly moved over and what he saw made his eyes widen. A missile gleamed wickedly in the truck’s dim interior. He realised that this was no ordinary liquor warehouse robbery or something and it stunned him for a moment.

 

Two of the men climbed into the truck and Jack stood at the back with the other man, waiting as the long, thin body of the missile was slid towards them. “Make sure you get a proper hold,” warned the man beside him with a glare.

 

Jack took hold and grunted a little with the weight. The markings on the missile told Jack all he wanted to know … and all he wanted for the moment was to ensure that Cassie wouldn’t be harmed.

 

The men staggered over to Jack’s truck and carefully loaded it. Two of the men secured it.

 

The man with the gun pushed Cassie over to them and she shot forward to hug Jack. He enveloped her shivering body in his arms, wondering what was next.

 

*

 

One of the men had been rummaging around in Jack’s truck and he came over, throwing Jack’s wallet to the man with the gun.

 

“What?” demanded the man irately as he caught the wallet with one hand, the gun unwavering.

 

“Check it out … he’s Air Force!” growled the man. “*Colonel* O’Neill!” he stressed the ‘Colonel’.

 

“So?” said one of the other men as they moved over.

 

“So … should they catch us up, what better hostages than an Air Force officer and his daughter?”

 

Jack winced, he had been hoping they would just be abandoned with the broken down truck, maybe even hog tied, he could have done something about that … but as hostages…

 

“My Mom’s expecting us home real soon,” announced Cassie.

 

“Yeah and when they start looking for them it won’t be just a quick nosey around by the local sheriff,” added one of the others.

 

“No, but you know we need two days before we get picked up, and the army is hot on our trail. This could just be the leverage we need. They’ll think twice about coming in with guns blazing if one of their own is in the firing line,” said the man with the gun.

 

Jack sighed heavily. He *so* knew it wasn’t going to be a simple robbery, things were never *that* simple for him!

 

“Look I’m almost retired, I fly a desk, they’re not gonna be screaming for me. Besides that I am *not* army. They won’t be too bothered about saving my ass from being shot,” he urged quietly.

 

“You’re coming with us. Any smart stuff and the girl gets it, okay?” snapped the gunman, his mind obviously made up. “Get in,” he ordered. “In fact, you can drive, you obviously can handle it in the snow,” he said, with a sly dig at the man who was about to get behind the wheel. The would-be driver scowled and moved over, allowing Jack to get in.

 

Jack settled behind the wheel with two of the men beside him. Cassie was pushed into the back, sandwiched between the other two. The gun dug into her ribs, making her yelp.

 

“Hey, there’s no need for that,” snarled Jack, turning on the seat.

 

The gun was suddenly jammed against his throat. “Just drive where I tell you. Any sudden moves and your daughter is history, got that?” The gun barrel was jabbed, punctuating each word as the man spoke.

 

Jack nodded slowly and turned back around.

 

“Good, now follow the road up to the crossroads, then right on up to the old fort.”

 

Jack nodded and put the truck into gear, making a smooth start. He kept the truck going steadily, well accomplished at driving in snow; it held no fear for him. He knew they were heading up to the old army base. It had been abandoned some ten years ago, but there were still buildings, and, Jack remembered, a landing field.

 

*

 

The journey seemed to take forever, yet was only a little over three hours. They’d made good progress over the higher road where the snow was heavier still, even though it was treacherous, steep, and narrow. The high cliff on the left ensured the road was always scattered with loose rocks just waiting to snare the unwary. The base had been primarily built as a training camp, but its inaccessibility for part of the year and the inability of the road to cope with the traffic it necessitated, were just a couple of the reasons it was abandoned Jack recollected, not alone that its small landing field was unsuitable for anything except helicopters.

 

Jack kept glancing in his rear view mirror to watch Cassie, proud to note that although pale and obviously frightened, she held still and kept her head up.

 

The light was beginning to fade as they made their way to the camp gates. Jack saw that there had been some traffic up there recently; the tracks in the snow seemed quite fresh. The warning notices reflecting in the headlights, the ‘keep out government property’ signs … blatantly ignored as one of the men jumped out and removed the chain and heaved the gates open. Jack drove through and halted the vehicle as the man fastened the gates again, before jumping back into the truck, shivering.

 

“Damn it’s cold out there,” he complained, gesturing Jack on.

 

“It’s gonna be a damn sight colder later,” said the man beside Jack as he nodded towards the huts. He motioned to Jack to pull up in front of a warehouse and two of the men jumped out to open the doors before waving him to drive in.

 

“Out,” ordered the gunman as he slid across the seat, pulling Cassie with him.

 

Jack turned off the ignition, but left the keys in. Wordlessly he climbed out and stood waiting. Everyone’s breath was marking the air and the cold stung.

 

“At least let us get our coats,” he asked quietly.

 

The man considered it for a second or two, and then nodded. Jack went to the back of the truck and rummaged behind the rear seat where the men had thrown their stuff.

 

Jack’s hand slid into his coat pocket and found his cell phone still there. Obviously the man who had found his wallet hadn’t checked further. He slipped it out of the pocket and after switching it off, put it down beneath the seats. He didn’t think the man with the gun was dumb enough not to search him properly. He retrieved Cassie’s coat, hat and gloves as well as his own and climbed back out. He held the coat out to Cassie, but the man with the gun stopped him and throwing the gun to one of the others, searched the coat thoroughly and then pushed Cassie up against the truck before doing the same to her.

 

He repeated the actions with Jack, kicking his legs open wider, making him stand palms down against the bonnet of the truck. Jack wondered at the man’s efficiency and thought he might be ex-army or police.

 

Satisfied that there was nothing, the man allowed them to don their coats. “We’ll unload in the morning,” he said taking his gun back from the other.

 

Jack was pushed roughly out of the warehouse. He kept Cassie close to his side, his arm around her shoulder.

 

The gun poking into his back kept him steady as they approached the barrack block. The building looked dark as they walked towards it, but the door opened to show the lighting was on and the heat from the wood burning stove greeted them kindly.

 

“Bout time!” complained one of the two men sitting close to the stove. He stood up quickly as he saw Jack and Cassie. “Who the hell are they?” he demanded.

 

The gunman shoved Jack forward into the room. “We had a little bit of trouble with the truck.”

 

“What? Where’s the consignment?” growled the man who had risen. He was well built, face rough with stubble and his blond hair was dark with grease.

 

Jack noted the rifle he had slung in his arms, held lightly and easily.

 

“It’s safe. Thankfully the Colonel here had a nice truck we could use,” laughed the gunman.

 

“Colonel?” queried the blond.

 

“Want to off them now?” asked the other man who now rose. He was massive, his bulk reminded Jack of Teal’c, but the man’s face showed none of their alien friend’s intelligence, he looked at them with an expression that Jack couldn’t quite pin point yet.

 

“Nope. They make hostages for now … maybe later,” he grinned in response, laughing when Cassie’s gasp of fear reached his ears.

 

“Okay, Brinks, stow them in the back room. Think you’d better tie them up.”

 

Brinks, the blond man nodded. “Come on, Si,” he motioned the huge man beside him.

 

Si bent and retrieved some rope from the backpacks that were heaped in a corner, before walking to the back of the room and opening another door.

 

Brinks motioned with his rifle for Jack to follow.

 

Si flicked the switch on the wall and the dim lighting showed them a dusty corridor. The cold outside the room hit them, making them shiver slightly. Si pushed open another door just a little way down.

 

The room was bare and dusty, the single lit bulb showing the cobwebs hanging from the low ceiling, and Cassie shivered again. Jack squeezed her shoulder comfortingly.

 

Si threw some of the rope at Jack. “Tie her up,” he ordered.

 

Silently Jack took the rope. He motioned Cassie to sit down and she put her hands in front and held them up to Jack.

 

“Sorry, Cass,” he gave her a tight smile.

 

“It’s okay,” she whispered.

 

“Less talk and more action, old man,” threatened Si.

 

Jack quickly completed his task. He wasn’t foolish enough to leave the ropes lose, but made them only as tight as was necessary.

 

“Feet too,” said Brinks.

 

“She’s just a kid for crying out loud,” complained Jack, as he straightened a little.

 

The blow from the rifle butt connected with him even as he saw it coming and it dropped him in one.

 

 “Jack!” screamed Cassie as Jack went down like a lead balloon across her legs.

 

Brinks laughed. “Chicken shit officers!” He put the rifle down and dragged the unconscious man off Cassie, tying the Colonel up proficiently, and making sure that the ropes were good and tight.

 

*

 

PART TWO

 

Cassie sat quietly while they tied her ankles up after they had trussed Jack up well, viciously pulling on the ropes until they dug into his skin.

 

She was afraid that if she said anything they would hit out again, so she kept quiet.

 

“Don’t try and untie him if you know what’s good for you!” threatened Brinks.

 

Thankfully they left the light on when they left. Cassie shivered, whether from fear or cold she couldn’t have said, maybe both.

 

“Jack?” she whispered as she shuffled herself closer to the prone man.

 

She drew herself awkwardly to her knees and leaned over the still figure. They’d trussed him tight, his hands were behind his back, and he was face down on the cold concrete floor.

 

She shook his shoulder anxiously. “Jack please wake up,” she begged.

 

He groaned slightly. “Jack,” she urged.

 

One eye opened and peered at her blearily. “Cass?” he whispered.

 

Cassie sighed with relief. “Are you okay?”

 

“Um, think so, gah!” Jack groaned as he tried to lift his head up.

 

“Stay still,” begged Cassie when she saw the flicker of pain cross what she could see of his face.

 

Jack’s eyes flickered shut for a moment and he swallowed harshly before he struggled, and with Cassie’s aid, flipped over onto his back. “Crap!” he muttered as the room swam for a moment and he fought the nausea that threatened.

 

“The bleedings stopped, but you’re gonna be awfully bruised,” said Cassie as she eyed the wound on the side of his face.

 

“It’ll be okay. A few bruises won’t matter,” Jack said with a grimace as the room spun again.

 

Cassie’s frightened face pulled him out of it, and he eased himself up and shuffled back to prop himself up against the wall. “Come here,” he whispered and Cassie crawled close to lie against him.

 

“It’s cold,” she muttered.

 

“Yeah I know,” Jack responded, watching their breath making puffs of clouds in the dim light. “What time is it?”

 

Cassie struggled, pulling at her sleeve with her teeth to check her watch. “Almost eight,” she sighed.

 

“Damn, your Mom will be having kittens right about now” Jack winced with feeling.

 

“Think they’ll send a rescue team out soon?” asked Cassie with a sigh.

 

“Soon,” Jack promised. He knew although the alarm would be raised when they didn’t return to Janet, nothing much would happen until he failed to report in to the SGC, and that wouldn’t be until 2200 hours, having drawn a late shift to cover Hammond while he was on leave. The search would commence, but Jack realised they would have no idea where to begin as Janet had probably thought, like Cassie had, that they were merely going to another rink.

 

“They won’t be looking just yet, will they?”

 

“Not for a while yet,” Jack answered honestly.

 

“What do you think they’re going to do with us?”

 

“Hopefully they’ll just leave us tied up while they do what they have to and then leave.”

 

“They didn’t hide their faces … and we know two of their names,” said Cassie in a whisper.

 

For a moment Jack wasn’t sure how to answer her on this. He thought rapidly, not wanting to distress her any further - for now at least.

 

“They said they were waiting to be picked up. Maybe they’re leaving the country and it won’t matter if anyone can identify them.”

 

“Oh … maybe,” said Cassie, her voice a tiny whisper as she huddled closer to him.

 

“Where’s your hat?” asked Jack suddenly, glad to have a change of topic.

 

“In my pocket,”

 

“You should have put it on,” accused Jack. “See if you can get it out and on. It’ll help keep you warm.”

 

Cassie sat up and struggled to get her bound hands near her pocket. After fumbling a little she managed to snare her hat and began to pull it on clumsily.

 

“Keep flexing your fingers, it’ll help,” Jack suggested.

 

Cassie waggled her fingers and gave him a grin from beneath the lopsided hat.

 

“Good girl, let’s try and get some rest for now.”

 

Jack sat quietly while Cassie huddled into him. He was stiff and cold, aching, but held still while Cassie fell into a light sleep, murmuring occasionally, but still sleeping.

 

Jack sat worrying about just how long their captors would keep them alive. He had huge doubts that a rescue team would find them in time. Eventually the cold and the quietness lulled him and his head dropped onto his chest.

 

*

 

The door opened with a bang. Jack’s head shot up from the doze he’d fallen into.

 

Cassie woke with a start and gave a small cry as the pain from her bound wrists made itself felt.

 

The man called Si entered with a tray, putting it down on the floor quite near to them.

 

“Please untie her hands. Just for a little while,” Jack pleaded.

 

“I uh, I need a bathroom,” said Cassie in an embarrassed whisper.

 

The big man gave a roll of his eyes. “Hostages are more trouble than they’re worth!” he growled. “You too?” he asked Jack.

 

Jack nodded. He didn’t feel the need urgently, but who knew when he’d get the chance again.

 

“Okay, one at a time. You first,” he said to Cassie.

 

He hauled Cassie to her feet roughly by her hands and she cried out in pain at his grasp.

 

“Hey!” Jack protested, “Go easy, she’s only a kid.”

 

Si growled, but let go of Cassie’s hands. He pulled a large knife from his belt and held it up to her face, laughing as she showed fear and then with a quick movement slit the ropes on her wrists. He bent and did the same with the rope around her ankles.

 

“Latrines this way!” he snarled as he grabbed at Cassie’s jacket roughly, and hauled her hobbling out of the room, the door closing behind them with a bang.

 

It felt like an eternity before they returned and Jack only relaxed when he saw that Cassie was okay.

 

Si bent and slit the rope around Jack’s ankles, hauling him up. “While we’re gone you get some of that down you, girl,” he nodded towards the tray that held water and some chunks of bread.

 

He didn’t cut the ropes that bound Jack’s wrists, but propelled him towards the door. Jack staggered as the blood began returning to his feet. His head swam from the combined effects of getting up too quickly and the blow to his head before they tied him up, but the man didn’t give him chance to rest and pushed him forwards.

 

Jack could smell the latrines before he saw them as they turned the corner.

 

Si then slit the ropes from Jack’s wrists and roughly pushed him towards the urinal.

 

Jack bit down as the blood returned to his fingers with a rush of pain and he flexed them trying to get them working properly.

 

“Hurry up!” snarled the big man impatiently.

 

“Uh yeah, just a moment, my fingers are a bit numb,” said Jack as he tried to get his zipper down. With the second fumble he managed it and at last he managed to pee. Jack’s brain was frantically working while about his business, using the time to check out the room.

 

All too soon Si was manhandling him back down the corridor, but Jack had weighed up the best time to make his move.

 

As soon as Si pushed him into the room he feigned stumbling forward, and with a quick movement turned and let fly, knocking the man down. He knew he wouldn’t get a second chance, so he made sure his punches counted, smashing into the man’s face a couple of times with all his strength.

 

Making sure the man was out for the count, he grabbed the knife from the limp man’s hand and ordered Cassie to get him the ropes. He quickly bound the man, and grabbing Cassie’s hand, pulled her out of the room. He shut the door behind them and dragged her back towards the latrines.

 

Once there he quickly moved to the boarded up windows and used the knife to begin prying the boards loose. He knew they wouldn’t have much time; it might only be minutes before someone went looking for Si.

 

Soon Jack had cleared enough wood from the window to get through.

 

“Just in case, you remember where the truck is?” he whispered hurriedly.

 

Cassie nodded.

 

“Okay, now listen carefully. I’ve hidden my cell phone in the truck under the back seat, on the floor. If it’s clear, we are going to get to the phone and get some help. If not then plan B, get the hell out of here, okay?”

 

Cassie nodded again.

 

“Good girl, hup,” said Jack and boosted Cassie up to the window. He followed her closely and they crouched in the darkness for a moment to let their eyes adjust.

 

They made their way across the open ground as quietly as they could with the snow crunching beneath their feet.

 

They reached the warehouse in a few minutes. Jack listened hard for a moment in the stillness of the night, and only when he was convinced nothing was stirring, did he let them continue.

 

They entered the warehouse, the noise of the door opening seeming awfully loud in the night air. Jack’s truck stood silently, its bonnet open and Jack quickly ascertained that whoever had disabled it, knew their stuff.

 

He pushed Cassie gently towards the truck’s rear door, while he quickly checked the back of the vehicle. He shook the fact from his mind that these men were somehow in possession of the latest proto-type of a missile – one that was quite capable of taking out a large city all by itself! He hauled himself up and ran his fingers over the missile head, checking for the panel he knew was there. Using the knife, he quickly removed the screws and lifted the panel.

 

He drew a quick breath as he realised the missile was actually set, ready for firing and all but armed, and quickly cut into the wiring, removing a small, but vital box, without which the missile was doing nothing and going nowhere.

 

Pocketing the box, he jumped down from his truck and checked around the warehouse. He noticed the small door at the rear and hurried back to Cassie. She’d retrieved his phone and switched it on and was frantically trying to dial.

 

“No signal,” she hissed at him.

 

He had wondered why the men hadn’t contacted their base when their truck had broken down – now he knew. “Okay, we need to get further from here. The signal’s being blocked by the last ridge.”

 

“Can’t you make the truck work?” she asked.

 

“Sorry Cass, they’ve disabled it, we need to hoof it out of here, I know they’ve got other vehicles, but we can’t hang around.” Jack shoved the cell phone deep into her pocked as he heard a door banging and shouting from the barrack block. He pulled Cassie towards the back of the warehouse and through the rear door he had spotted.

 

He knew that someone would already be heading for the main gates, so he took off in the other direction, holding back his pace so that Cassie could keep up with him.

 

All too soon Cassie was gazing up at the wire fence that loomed before them.

 

“I can’t climb that,” she squawked.

 

“Yes you can.” Jack hurriedly snatched off his jacket, and holding it by one sleeve, slung it above them so that it lay over the top of the barbed wire on the top of the fence.

 

“Come on,” he urged. Cupping his hands together, he waited while Cassie put her foot into the cradle he made, and as she pushed up he used the momentum to boost her higher. She found she could just get her hands to the top of the fence and as Jack pushed harder, she heaved herself up, using Jack’s jacket squirmed uncomfortably on to her belly on the fencing.

 

“Roll yourself over feet first and let yourself down by your arms before you let go,” whispered Jack as he backed up from the fence.

 

Nerves swam in her stomach, but Cassie followed his directions and let herself drop to the floor. The thump that resounded through her feet and to her knees as she hit the ground wasn’t too bad, and she stood panting, wondering how Jack was going to get over.

 

She watched as Jack backed up and then moved away a little as he came running at the fence. He launched himself up and managed to grasp the top of the fencing, hauling himself up and over with grace, and had silently landed beside Cassie before she knew it.

 

“You’ve done that a few times,” she accused.

 

“Came in handy sneaking out of boot camp,” he confessed, giving her a quick grin as he snagged his jacket back off the wire. The rips in it didn’t matter for now, as long as it could keep him warm.

 

Jack quickly put on his jacket and grabbed Cassie’s hand, and together they made for the tree line. The moon was shining quite brightly, which made the going easier for them; on the other hand it would also make it easier on their captors to follow them.

 

From the forest, Jack heard the gunning of a truck in the distance and knew their pursuers were already out on the road. The high-pitched engine noise that followed gave him extra worry as he recognised the sound of motorbikes.

 

Jack pushed the pace as hard as he could until Cassie began slowing and gasping, and he stopped, leaning over slightly to recover himself. The night air was cold and their lungs ached as they tried to draw breath.

 

Jack panted, “Check the phone again.”

 

Cassie fumbled in her pocket and checked the phone, shaking her head in disappointment.

 

“We’ll try again after the ridge,” said Jack, keeping his expression carefully neutral.

 

After a few minutes they resumed the fast pace the best they could. Cassie’s heart was thumping madly and she longed for a proper rest, but she fought along valiantly, not wanting to let Jack down.

 

Jack knew the lie of the land and his main worry was to get past the ridge. He knew the road was more or less the only way down; the alternative was too steep, and too hard, especially at night. On his own he knew he might have made it, but he couldn’t risk Cassie’s life that way.

 

The thick trees gave them cover, but it also made the going more difficult in the darkness. Cassie’s stumbling tore at Jack, but she never complained and he felt immensely proud of her valiant effort. He just hoped she could keep going, if not neither of them would be going anywhere.

 

Jack knew the ridge wasn’t far away. They’d heard the high pitch of the motorbikes, possibly two from what he could judge, and he knew the men were searching the roadside.

 

He looked around for a sheltered spot and picked a large outcrop of rocks. He drew Cassie over to it with him and knelt down, making Cassie sit.

 

“I need you to stay put a little while,” he whispered.

 

Cassie’s face lit with fear. “No, please …” she beseeched him.

 

“It’s the best way. I need to scout out where they are. Once we get by that ridge we’ll get a signal and help will be on its way.” He squeezed her shoulders comfortingly. “You’ve been so brave Cass, just a little longer now.”

 

Cassie’s face lit with a tremulous smile and she sniffed, rubbing a dirty hand across her face, smearing the dirt already there. She was still holding back the tears and Jack drew her into a quick hug.

 

“The road is the only way down.” Jack pointed out the direction of it. “As soon as you get the chance to make that call, speed dial 1 first, you’ll get General Hammond, if not 2, okay? That’s Carter. Tell them you’re on the old Fort Johnson road, close to Almond Ridge. Cass hon, tell them six men, that we know of, and that they have a NEM 303 and to get in touch with Peterson, okay.

 

Cassie’s eyes went wide at that. “A what?”

 

“The missile they have. It’s very important. Now repeat it to me.”

 

Jack made Cassie repeat the information and he knew she would remember it. “One other thing, just in case, don’t let *them* find the cell phone on you, okay?”

 

Cassie didn’t need him to expand on that. She nodded in swift acceptance of his warning. He gave her a quick hug and his parting shot was to wait one hour only and then get to the road and sneak on down!

 

“You’re coming back!” she demanded.

 

“Course I am, that’s just in case I get, erm, well stuck, okay?”

 

Cassie nodded and checked her watch. Jack smiled at her and moved off quietly.

 

*

 

Cassie sat shivering lightly, now that the adrenalin and the heat from running were dissipating. The night suddenly seemed filled with noise, twigs crackling and trees groaning. Checking her watch once again showed her that time was almost standing still. “Please hurry back Jack,” she whispered into the night.

 

*

 

 

 

PART THREE

 

 

Jack crept forward, his pace slowing and getting quieter as he approached the road. He hadn’t heard the sound from the motorbikes for a little while now and it made him even more cautious to think they might be checking on foot.

 

He held the knife ready in his hand. If the only way to get Cassie safe was to take out each and every one of them, then he would do it. None of these men were innocents here and he had no qualms about killing them if he had to.

 

The road was a little down from his current position and he moved stealthily amongst the trees and rocks. He heard the whine of a motorbike in the distance – just one – and nothing else.

 

The road began to grow further away from him, the bank down to it steep, now almost a ten to twelve foot drop. He knew the further down he went the drop would become worse and Cassie wouldn’t be able to climb down it in the dark without ropes. He weighed up whether he could go just a little further and then crawling on his belly to the edge, he scanned the scene in front of him. The moon was hovering in and out of cloud, making it easier to see the road, but also easier for him to be spotted.

 

The road bent around out of sight and he sighed silently and squirmed further along until he had an unobstructed view.

 

Sure enough the truck was sitting on the road, dark and silent - waiting.

 

Jack carefully crawled a little closer. He could now make out hushed tones, no words, just two men whispering something. The loud sudden burst of static from a radio interrupted them and he heard the radio break into speech.

 

“Christ, turn it down,” squawked one of the men, his words clear in the night air.

 

“Si, you spot them?” asked the other man, obviously ignoring the plea from his companion.

 

“No sign of them down here. I’m coming up to join you. Did Brinks spot anything?”

 

“Nah, he’s on foot above us, but nothing yet.”

 

“Okay – be with you shortly. Out.”

 

Jack’s heart thumped with the words he’d overheard. That meant Brinks was somewhere behind him … somewhere near Cassie possibly. He quickly weighed up his options. He needed to clear the road and get back to Cassie … he just wasn’t sure how much time he had. He opted for getting back to Cassie first. He wasn’t going to take any chances he didn’t have to with her life.

 

*

 

Cassie heard the twigs snapping again. It wasn’t far away from her and she raised herself slightly, trying to peer around the rocks.

 

“Jack?” she whispered faintly.

 

The moon’s rays didn’t give her much light because of the trees, the shadows very dark and menacing.

 

The noise came from behind her now and she spun around in the dark. Her heart was beating painfully and her mouth felt so dry she found it hard to swallow.

 

She felt so close to tears. It had been easy to keep them at bay while Jack was with her. Despite their situation, as long as Jack was close by she had still felt safe, protected. Alone and in the dark she was very afraid.

 

Another noise came from close by and she stood in alarm, ready to bolt.

 

She backed away from the noise slowly, heart hammering madly, threatening to burst and she suddenly felt herself being snatched backwards. The scream she uttered was stemmed in mid flow by a hand jammed viciously across her face and as she felt it make contact she bit hard.

 

“Ow, you bitch!” snarled a voice in her ear. The hand withdrew suddenly and landed back on her face with a slap that made her teeth rattle. Her right arm was drawn up behind her back in a painful grasp, snagging her hair along with it as she struggled.

 

She found herself turned around and the smell of grease and body odour made her want to gag.

 

“Hold still, bitch. Where is he?” the man shook her viciously and when she didn’t answer he slapped her across the face again.

 

Tears and rage boiled within her. She didn’t have the distance to use a knee, so she used her feet to lash out as she struggled. She drew her head back, just as Jack had taught her - when you couldn’t use your knees, use your head!

 

THWAK!

 

“Fuck!”

 

The man screamed in pain as she connected with his face. Finding herself free, Cassie ran stumbling into the dark.

 

The man’s angry shout from close behind made her gasp for breath. Within seconds of freeing herself she was tackled and thrown full length on the ground.

 

She fought like a wild cat, but the man’s strength overpowered her and despite her efforts, she was turned and pinned beneath him, his breath so close to her face she wanted to gag.

 

The moon chose the worse time it could to appear in full strength and she saw her attacker’s face clearly, the rage in it showing even in the dim moonlight.

 

“Bitch!” he snarled. “Fuckin’ officer’s brat!” He slapped her across the face before swiping at the blood that ran down from his nose.

 

He grimaced in pain. “You broke it!” he howled in rage and pain and slapped her again.

 

His eyes suddenly lit and he licked his lips. “I ain’t ever screwed an officer’s daughter … and a Colonel at that … would have been better a General’s but …” he laughed as her eyes widened in terror.

 

“No,” she whispered from her painfully dry throat.

 

He snarled. “I’ll teach you a lesson you won’t forget.” Pinning her wrists above her head with one hand, he pulled at her coat with the other.

 

Cassie struggled, but her attempts only seemed to fuel his ardour. He laughed and grabbed at her breasts painfully. “Jack,” she whispered as tears crept down her face.

 

“Jack? He ain’t your daddy then? Don’t tell me the old bastard’s knocking you off? Even better …” he grunted and moved back from her a little, fumbling at his waist.

 

The terror she felt rose in her and she put her head back and screamed.

 

*

 

Jack was cautious on his way back to Cassie. He knew he would be of no use to her if he was caught. The moonlight wasn’t helping much and its sudden appearances would only help to light him up for anyone in the vicinity.

 

He judged he wasn’t far from where he’d left Cassie when he spotted tracks in the snow. His instincts were urging him forwards, his military mind urging caution … and as he moved his pace began increasing as his senses raged.

 

The scream that broke the silence of the night was suddenly cut off. His heart leapt into his throat. “Cass,” he whispered hoarsely hurrying even more.

 

Panting, he arrived at the spot where he’d left her. The snow showed signs of a struggle and dark patches of blood were scattered on its surface, frighteningly vivid against the white.

 

“Oh God … no please not Cassie,” he moaned quietly, instinct pulling him forwards, following the blood splatters and imprints in the snow.

 

“Not another child, please God,” he prayed.

 

The second scream flared his rage. He shot forwards, knife brandished, no coherent thought other than she was alive and being hurt …

 

*

 

Cassie felt the man’s hands at her neck in a bid to cut her scream. She choked and the scream died in her throat. She felt his full body weight on her, his arousal pressing against her thighs, and she bile as she sobbed, fighting to breathe.

 

A buzzing sound grew in her ears, and just as she felt herself beginning to slip into darkness, the pressure on her throat was suddenly released. Drawing a heaving choking breath she opened her eyes as her attacker was suddenly pulled from her.

 

She watched mesmerized as he was pulled up, saw the terror in his eyes as he realised just what was going to happen as the strong hand clamped over his mouth. His eyes widened and Cassie watched in horror as the knife slid across the man’s throat, the dark blood spurting, spattering her face and clothes, as the blade completed its deadly task and yet she continue to stare, as if in deadly fascination as the light went from his eyes before he slumped and was released, his body falling as if in slow motion.

 

Cassie scrambled to prop herself up, her feet finding no purchase to push her away from the body at her feet. The moonlight hideously lit on the bloodied knife in her rescuer’s hand and she sobbed wildly.

 

“Cass … oh God, Cass, are you okay?” Jack threw the bloodied knife as far as he could from them as he saw her terror. He launched himself beside her onto his knees, blocking her sight of the body.

 

“Cass, hon, are you okay, talk to me? Did he … did he touch you?”

 

Cassie looked up to see Jack’s face. The anguish on it shocked her. All she wanted was to feel his arms around her, to feel safe and she held her arms out to him.

 

*

 

Jack’s rage at seeing the man on Cassie knew no bounds. He knew what the man was attempting to do and his guts twisted with such hatred he wanted to kill the man … not stop him, but kill him! He acted on sheer instinct and despatched the man in the efficient way he was trained.

 

Only as he let the body drop did he realise just what he had further exposed Cassie to and the shame rose in him like bile … another young life he had contaminated with horrors … forgetting for the moment that in her young life she had seen much horror … the shame rose in him vying for attention with the rage against their enemies.

 

He wanted more than anything to hold her, comfort her, take that look of horror from her face, but he couldn’t. It seemed as though her terror was directed at him and when she scrambled to get away his heart began to shatter.

 

Still trying to offer comfort he knelt beside her, frightened to touch, to hold …

 

When her face turned to him, shock clearly written on it, it nearly undid him. Then when she held her arms open to him, silently begging to be held – he crushed her to him, rocking her close, the trembling rising until he wasn’t sure just exactly who was trembling the most.

 

The damn broke from her and her heart wrenching sobs rose and she shook and sobbed in his arms …

 

*

 

Janet Fraiser paced the corridor outside General Hammond’s office impatiently. The time had long since past for anger. At first she’d been annoyed when 1800 hours had arrived … and no sign of the wayward pair she’d waved off early that morning.

 

Her friend had arrived and she was distracted for a couple of hours and her anger rose. She excused herself and tried ringing the Colonel’s cell phone – only to find it switched off.

 

“If you’ve gone to the movies Jack O’Neill, your butt will be black and blue come Monday!” she spat into the automated voice mail. Then she cringed when she realised she’d just physically threatened a superior officer … She could only hope the officer in question feared her needles enough to not report it … and take it in the light of a mother’s frustration.

 

Her friend departed shortly before 2200 hours and there was still no sign of her daughter. She called a couple of the rinks she knew the Colonel frequented and drew a blank. Most of the staff knew the Colonel and reported they hadn’t seen him at all - now she was very worried! She knew Jack wouldn’t be so irresponsible to be so late without word. She sat and began dialing the base. She knew if there had been an accident his dog tags, which he never removed, would ensure the base being notified.

 

Her enquiry drew a negative response. She began pacing restlessly, wondering where to try next … it was 2230 hours …. The phone’s ringing made her grab for it breathlessly and she was disappointed to find it was Colonel Harrison from the SGC – surely they weren’t calling her on duty …

 

“Doctor Fraiser, I understand that Colonel O’Neill is with your daughter. Do you know where they are?”

 

“Sir, no … I expected them back by 1800 hours and I’ve had no word.”

 

“Colonel O’Neill failed to report for duty at 2200 hours and we haven’t had any luck contacting him either. Do you know where he was heading?”

 

Janet thought for a moment. “Not really,” she winced, gee that sounded like so bad a mom … “Colonel O’Neill made arrangements with Cassie to take her skating. I’ve called where he usually goes and nothing … they’ve not seen him at all today.”

 

“I see. I’ll call the rest of his team and see if they can shed any light on his whereabouts. Are you staying at home?”

 

“They’ll show up here if everything’s okay, so yes I’ll be here.”

 

“I’ll be in touch Doctor.”

 

Janet replaced the receiver and continued pacing. If the Colonel hadn’t reported for duty then there was something serious preventing him … “So help me Jack O’Neill …” she threatened. She sat down and began dialing the hospitals and used her influence to get any admissions that day checked out …

 

*

 

Jack was aware of Cassie’s sobbing drying to hiccoughs. The trembling in his limbs was dying down and he drew back slightly from her. “Cassie, we’ve got to go. Can you walk?”

 

Cassie nodded, not trusting herself to speak just yet. Gently Jack drew her to her feet. Rather belatedly he realised that he no longer had the knife and he cursed his lapse. He knelt down beside the body to search for a weapon and found only another knife ... quickly he pocketed it and rose to urge Cassie to come. He kept himself between her and the body and guided her away from it … taking a slightly circular route to get them back on track.

 

When they had put a little distance between the dead man and them, he stopped. “They’re waiting on the road. We need to get past them somehow and then you’ll be able to make that call. Do you remember what you need to say?”

 

Cassie nodded and brushed the hair from her face, grimacing as she realised the matting in it was probably blood. In fact, as she looked up at the man next to her, she realised that they were both covered in splatters of thick, red blood. Her coat, where Jack had held her, was the worst, blood from his hands staining the pale blue surface. She flinched, nausea almost overwhelming her for a moment.

 

Jack saw the action and pulled her closer. “Are you hurt?” he whispered.

 

Cassie shook her head, swallowing and pushing down her revulsion.

 

Jack heaved a sigh of relief. She wasn’t ready to speak yet and he could understand that - he just hoped she wouldn’t go into shock …

 

*

 

Janet’s enquiries drew a blank. Her cell phone ringing dragged her from her latest enquiry and she answered it quickly.

 

“Doctor Fraiser, I need you to report to base. I’m sending two SF’s over to your house in case there’s any contact made there.  We need to consider the fact that the Colonel has been compromised and a situation has occurred.”

 

Janet’s heart thumped at his words, but at least now a proper enquiry would be started. She knew the civil police would take no action for at least twenty-four hours from 1800 hours and that might just be too late.

 

*

 

Jack’s heart sank when he saw that the men had converged at the truck. Five of them were pacing on the road, guns at the ready. He felt Cassie squeeze him arm tightly.

 

“We’ll never make it,” she whispered.

 

Jack realised this was as far as they could go if Cassie was to make it down to the road safely. Even just a few feet further on the sides fell away too steeply, too long a drop.

 

Gently he drew her back from the edge to where they could talk in safety for the moment.

 

“Cass, we need a distraction to get them from their position. When they move you get down and run as fast as you can down the road and make that call okay?”

 

Cassie’s eyes widened as she took in his words. She shook her head, tears already beginning to form once more.

 

“Cassie, I need you to be brave. You can have help on its way within an hour, maybe less. The longer we stay here, the more chance we have of being caught, and I don’t think they’re going to leave us alive now.” Jack held onto her shoulders, his eyes locked onto hers as he spoke.

 

“I c...can’t leave you,” she whispered tearfully.

 

“Please Cassie, you’re the only hope we’ve got of getting a team in here, our only chance of rescue.” ‘Way to go O’Neill … no pressure huh!’

 

“I don’t want to leave you.”

 

“You won’t be that far and maybe I can double round and get down. Look, it’s really important that that missile doesn’t leave this country.”

 

He took the small box from his pocket, turning it over in his hands, and as if reaching a decision, suddenly scraped some of the snow from under a nearby tree and buried the box. Turning back to face her, he continued.

 

“I’ve disarmed it and for the moment it’s useless, but given the time they can fix it. Chances are it’s being sold overseas and it’s going to end up killing thousands of innocents. I know you can do this Cass, I’m counting on you. Get down that road as fast you can and make that call. Keep to the side of the road and keep going.”

 

Cassie starred at him mutely, the tears tracking down her face, through the dirt. “Jack …”

 

Jack saw her waging the battle with her conscience. He watched her eyes and knew she’d decided … “Good girl. Now let’s get you back there … stay down until they move.”

 

“What if they won’t …?”

 

“They will,” he promised … ‘if I have to dance on the road naked they’ll move,’ he vowed silently.

 

He guided her back to the road and gave her a hug. “See you later kiddo,” he whispered, and disappeared into the trees before she could object.

 

*

 

Cassie rubbed at her face, trying to dry the tears that continued to fall silently. She was cold, frightened … she wanted her Mom, but most of all at that moment, she wanted Jack safely at her side …

 

*

 

 

PART FOUR

 

Janet’s thoughts were wrenched to the present as Sam and Daniel hurried down the corridor towards her.

 

“Janet … any word yet?” asked Sam as she drew next to her friend.

 

Janet shook her head. “Colonel Harrison is trying to get hold of General Hammond now. The police have been notified and an APB has been put out.”

 

“That’s a good start at least,” said Daniel, trying to offer comfort.

 

Colonel Harrison came out of the General’s office. “The General’s on his way in. We’ll wait in the briefing room, Teal’c’s already there.”

 

Teal’c stood by the window overlooking the gate room, waiting for them to arrive.

 

“Is there still no word?” he asked as they entered.

 

“Nothing yet,” the Colonel replied, taking his seat, leaving the head of the table free for the General when he arrived.

 

Sam gave a start as she realised with a pang just how odd it was to see someone else in the Colonel’s usual seat.

 

Since being ordered back to base and questioned to see if she knew anything she’d had the a feeling of dread. It was bad enough the Colonel, but Cassie as well …

 

“Shouldn’t we be checking out Jack’s place?” asked Daniel suddenly. He’d been unusually quiet since he’d heard the news.

 

“I’ve already sent Major Reynolds and his team. Jack’s place is locked up tight and sound, no sign of anything amiss. His neighbours reported he left early morning and hadn’t seen him return,” said Colonel Harrison. “Also I’ve got the switchboard repeatedly trying his cell phone.”

 

“Oh,” responded Daniel. “I take it then that the rinks he’d normally take Cassie to have been checked out?”

 

“I rang those first and all the others in town after that. No sign of them – nothing,” answered Janet.

 

“So, he either took Cassie out of town or they didn’t go skating at all … any hockey matches in state … anything?” questioned Sam.

 

“There are none this weekend,” commented Teal’c. “O’Neill was quite specific about his plans when he spoke to me yesterday evening. He did in fact ask if I wanted to join them as he was taking Cassandra to skate. It is with the utmost regret that I refused him.”

 

“You couldn’t have known that something would happen Teal’c,” said Daniel. “Did Jack mention anything else?”

 

Teal’c thought for a moment. His Tauri friend suffered from verbal profusion when discussing something unrelated to himself on a personal matter, and he was greatly confused at times with O’Neill’s phrasing, something he was sure that the man did on purpose to keep him on his toes.

 

“He mentioned that it was going to be good weather for it,” he remembered.

 

“Good weather … he wouldn’t need to bother about that indoors,” said Janet.

 

“Outside rink anywhere?” asked Colonel Harrison.

 

Sam shook her head slowly.

 

“There aren’t any that I know of within easy travelling distance.”

 

“If the Colonel’s truck is in town the police will find it. All the hospitals have been notified and checked and we’re monitoring the airwaves,” offered Colonel Harrison, trying to give some measure of reassurance.

 

Janet’s gaze wandered over to the clock. It was 0100 hours and the strain was already showing. Everyone was tired from an already long day.

 

General Hammond’s sudden arrival, in civvies, brought them all to attention.

 

“At ease people, now tell me what the hell is going on … just where is Colonel O’Neill?”

 

*

 

Cassie lay still. It seemed an age since Jack had left her and her breathing seemed very loud in the night. She could hear the quiet murmurings and the pacing from the men just a little way down the road and occasionally she heard the door opening and closing on the truck.

 

Jack had warned her to keep her head back from the edge so that the clouds her breath made wouldn’t alert anyone, so she hadn’t even tried to look, staying as still as possible.

 

The sudden noise from the road further up startled her and she sat up with a jerk as she wondered what it was. The continued rattle of stone made her realise that Jack had started his distraction and she crouched back down, waiting silently.

 

She heard the footsteps below her and the urgent whisper of the men as they moved closer to investigate. If she had leaned over she would have been right on top of two of them.

 

*

 

Jack cursed as he realised they weren’t moving yet. He’d started the small rockslide and hoped it would be enough to draw them from the vehicle … obviously not!

 

He groaned inwardly as he realised he was going to have to put a lot more effort into it. Moving further back up the roadside he smacked a branch against a tree trunk, the crack it made sounding like gunfire, and he heard one of the men shouting. The trucks lights were suddenly switched on and the engine started. He’d been hoping they might have left the truck and come running, but it seemed they weren’t complete idiots …

 

The lights reflected a long way on the snow covered road and Jack moved quickly, trying to draw them back towards the base.

 

The sound of the motorbike made him run just a little faster. He wanted to make sure that Cassie’s route down would be clear, but hopefully not get caught … at least just yet.

 

*

 

Cassie watched as two of the men darted further up the road. They were calling to the others behind them. When the sharp banging noise reached their ears the truck’s lights came on and the engine was started. The truck pulled up to allow the two men to grab on to the running board. She could see their guns held out, ready to fire and her heart leapt with fear for Jack.

 

The motorbike started up and overtook the truck, its narrow beam casting its light along the road.

 

Cassie waited, hoping and praying that all the men had left. Her arms and legs shook slightly as she rolled on her belly and she let herself drop down onto the hard surface.

 

Although the drop was around ten feet, the snow cushioned her fall and within seconds she was up and moving. The quaking fear that someone was waiting to grab at her wound its tendrils around her and she began to run, tears running freely. She ran as fast as she could, the light from the moon making the road clear enough, but the shadows from the cliff at her right and the trees on her left were long … and very menacing.

 

She wasn’t sure how long she ran … she was gasping for breath, her heart thudding so madly she thought it would burst.

 

She’d tucked her hand on the cell phone in her pocket as she ran. That phone was their lifeline … she began to slow down, trying to get her breath and moved to the side of the road, squatting down as she turned on the phone.

 

It seemed an age before it lit and she confirmed the switch on … the signal wasn’t full strength … but enough!

 

Shaking with fear and relief, she began to speed dial …

 

*

 

The General’s aide came running up the briefing room stairs. “Call on the outside line Sir … Cassandra Fraiser!” He didn’t apologise for the interruption, knowing the importance of the matter in hand.

 

The General moved with a speed that belied his bulk and years, and he snatched up the phone and punched the line in button.

 

“Cassie?” he toned down his usual bark to speak softly.

 

Janet had moved over to him and was almost on his elbow, her eyes wide and questioning.

 

The General hit another button on the phone and put it on speaker.

 

At first they could only hear someone gasping for breath and Janet’s knees almost folded. Just in time Sam pushed a chair behind her and she sat down with a thump.

 

“Cassie honey, is that you?” she managed to speak.

 

“Mom …” Cassie’s voice broke with a sob.

 

“Yes, it’s me, we’re all here,” responded Janet.

 

“Cassie, where are you? Tell us and we can come and get you,” said the General calmly.

 

“We’re on the Fort Johnson Road …” she gasped again, trying to even out her breathing to continue speaking. “Almond Ridge … I’m just below it.”

 

“Is Colonel O’Neill with you?” asked the General.

 

“He’s … oh … he told me to tell you six men …” she panted heavily.

 

“Please, you have to hurry. He said they’ve got a NEM303. Jack’s back there on his own so I could …” she gasped again.

 

“Take it easy Cassie, just try and catch your breath,” said Janet with a calmness she didn’t feel.

 

“Jack said to tell you contact Peterson … the army … they’re after the men … they’re waiting for pick up …” she broke off with a sob. “No, not six, oh God, Jack …” She sobbed again, clearly trying to control the panic that was there. “Please hurry.”

 

“Cassie are you on the road? Are they chasing you?” asked Sam, drawing closer to the General, her voice full of concern for the obviously frightened girl on the other end of the phone.

 

“Yes … I’m on the road, but they’ve gone after Jack … you’ve got to hurry, please …”

 

“Cassie, I want you to keep talking to us,” said Sam as the General waved at her to signal he was going to use another phone. “Is the battery okay?”

 

“Yes … Jack kept it shut off till we got a signal.”

 

“Cassie, I want you to get off the road and get down … is there a ditch or something at the side?”

 

There was a few seconds silence, then the trembling voice answered. “Trees … cliff on the other side.”

 

“Okay, can you get into the trees? We’re going to get help to you. It won’t be long. You can keep talking to us.”

 

“I … it’s darker under the trees.”

 

Cassie’s voice sounded so lost and alone it made Sam almost weep. She was anxious for the Colonel as well and she didn’t dare risk another glance at Janet’s frightened face, fearing it would undo her.

 

“Mom, are you still there?”

 

Janet bit down a sob and cleared her throat. “Yes hon, I’m here.”

 

“Mom … I …” there was a moment’s silence and then rustling. “Oh God, I can hear gunshots.”

 

The listeners in the briefing room could also hear the shots faintly over the phone and Sam’s heart did a flip.

 

“It’s okay Cassie, they sound far away,” said Daniel as he realised Sam couldn’t speak for a second.

 

“Jack … Jack’s back there … Oh God, they’ve shot him…” Cassie’s voice choked off with a huge sob.

 

Sam’s eyes filled with unshed tears, the anguish in the young girl’s voice almost too much to stand. “No …” she said shakily. “They’re just trying to scare you. Keep down.”

 

“No … I can’t leave him … send help! Hurry!” screamed Cassie into the phone.

 

“Cassie!” Janet screamed back as she rose, getting closer to the receiver. “Listen to me!”

 

The line went dead.

 

They stayed in stunned silence for several seconds before Sam grabbed the phone and began dialing the Colonel’s cell.

 

It rang for a second then was cut off. The second dialing gave them the switched off message…

 

*

 

Cassie began running back up the road before she realised she left the cell switched on and she still had hold of it. The shrill tone as it rang startled her and she quickly switched it off. Remembering what Jack had said about not being found with it she threw it onto the roadside and ran on. The thought that she had cut off her contact with the outside world didn’t occur, only the thought that Jack was captured and hurt kept her going … maybe she could help him … maybe they wouldn’t kill him if they thought they had them both safely locked up again …

 

*

 

“God, she’s going back up,” moaned Janet.

 

General Hammond came back in and Sam quickly filled him in.

 

“She’s what?” exploded the General.

 

“We think she’s going back to Jack … or at least trying to,” said Daniel.

 

“Heaven help them!” sighed the General. “I’ve spoken to Peterson and General Marsh, the army commander in charge and I have made him aware of the situation with Colonel O’Neill. Apparently the theft of the missile occurred from the laboratory transport on its way to its new location.”

 

“NEM … a missile?” asked Daniel, his eyes widening.

 

Sam nodded. “Naquadah Enhanced Missile. I didn’t know we’d actually produced any yet General,” she said with a slightly accusing tone.

 

“The Chief of Staffs authorised it and the army was taking delivery of the proto-type. It’s one of its kind at the moment …”

 

“With enough power to take out a large city and …”

 

“And it’s now in the hands of … what? Terrorists? … Mercenaries?” asked Daniel bitterly. 

 

“The Colonel knew about this?” asked Janet, somewhat dazed. If she thought for one moment that Jack O’Neill had taken her daughter into danger deliberately …

 

“The Colonel would recognize it for what it was,” admitted the General. “He’s acknowledged as an arms specialist and particularly with the SGC’s role in fulfilling our objectives.”

 

“To find weapons!” cried Daniel bitterly.

 

“To keep Earth free from the Goa’uld, Doctor Jackson!” barked the General, then he paused, visibly reining in his temper before speaking again. “But back to the matter in hand. Colonel O’Neill would not be aware of the theft as it only occurred yesterday and he certainly would not take such irresponsible action as to drag Cassie along. I think it’s a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

 

“What are the army doing? Are they able to help?” asked Teal’c.

 

“They’re sending specialist teams in and have another helicopter standing by for SG1 along with an officer to brief you.”

 

“And me,” said Janet, standing.

 

“Doctor Fraiser …”

 

“She’s my daughter, General and if either of them are hurt I need to be there,” she said quietly, coming to attention.

 

The General gazed at her for a moment before responding. “Very well Doctor, get yourself and two medics ready. Major Carter, you are in command of our side of the rescue. Bring them back.”

 

Samantha Carter threw the General a quick salute and along with her team and Janet Fraiser, they made a hasty retreat to change and get to the transport.

 

*

 

Jack’s diversion had worked … but the trouble was he couldn’t actually be assured that all the men were following him.

 

He knew there were at least two with the truck earlier and the man called Si on the bike, he could here, the bike was not far behind him … but there was still two unknowns. They could be anywhere … he just hoped for Cassie’s sake they hadn’t stayed behind.

 

He had to stay close to the road to keep them moving, at least a little while, giving them a shadowy figure to chase.

 

When he could see the bike’s headlight reflecting the road at the side of him he dived off into the trees. Crashing his way through, the more noise at this stage the better … the thwack of a bullet as it hit the tree ahead of him made him change direction suddenly and he decided that it was time to head further into the undergrowth.

 

*

 

Cassie kept running, her breath coming in gasps now, the road seeming much steeper going up than it had going down. She could hear the vehicle ahead and see the lights flickering ahead of her, wavering to and fro in their search.

 

Maybe they hadn’t got him … maybe he was okay … maybe … Cassie screamed as a strong pair of arms grabbed her and lifted her up. The scream died in her throat and suddenly the world crashed sideways and blackness overtook her …

 

*

 

 

PART FIVE

 

Jack changed direction again as another bullet whizzed by into the night. He knew it was too far away from him to be a danger and must have been a lucky shot. He realised he had to rest soon, his lungs and limbs burned with running. He also had to try and find out where the men were and see if he could get back down the road. Failing that he decided his best move was to hide in plain sight … back at the base.

 

Panting heavily, his chest heaving, he concealed himself under a large fallen tree, the hollow beneath its huge trunk giving him shelter and a place to hide. He slowed his breathing down and gradually got it back under full control, listening to the sounds in the night air.

 

The moon decided it was co-operating and stayed hidden behind the clouds. Jack strained to hear past the normal sounds of the forest and its inhabitants going about their usual nightly business. The comparative silence edged on his nerves a little as he waited. He knew he should have been able to hear the engines of the vehicles chasing him, if nothing else … unless they were now all on foot.

 

The crack of three shots, close together, some distance from his current position he judged, brought him to a crouching alert. He recognised it as a signal - ‘Oh Christ … Cassie!’ was the sole thought in his head.

 

He moved automatically, yet cautiously, in the direction of the gunfire, praying that he was wrong!

 

*

 

Janet’s nerves were thoroughly frayed by the time they arrived at Peterson. The fresh faced officer that joined them in their vehicle at the gates of the base to brief them on their way to the waiting helicopters and the army team annoyed her beyond reason when he picked up her surname.

 

“You’re the child’s mother … they’ve allowed you …” he blustered.

 

Janet Fraiser sucked a sharp breath in and drawing herself straight on her seat, gave him an icy glare, the one that worked on hard assed Air Force Colonel’s.  “Although it doesn’t say it on my uniform,” she almost growled as her hand swept over the black outfit, “I am Major Fraiser, Lieutenant,” she announced scathingly. “I am the CMO of the SGC.”

 

The Lieutenant cringed and gave her a quick salute. “Sorry, Sir. You’re the doctor I was told to expect.”

 

Sam nodded and put a hand out to touch Janet gently on the shoulder.  “I’m Major Carter. I’m in command of our team. You need to fill us in as fast as you and get us under way.”

 

The Lieutenant, give him his due, spoke quickly and to the point, giving them all the information he had, which wasn’t actually a lot, but more than they’d known a few minutes ago.

 

“The man we think is in charge is Carl Mayer. He is a known arms dealer, clever and ruthless, we’ve been after him for a long time. We know just two of the other men involved, Brinks and Carconi – known as Si – short for psychopath to his friends. They are very dangerous. Eight men were killed in their raid and we followed their trail to the national park where we lost them. We found their abandoned truck a little more than an hour ago.”

 

The Lieutenant then filled them in on the disused army base and what they knew.

 

“What is to prevent them from escaping when they hear us coming?” asked Teal’c.

 

“We’re using stealth helicopters. Unless they are watching the field we should catch them by surprise. We think they already have a buyer for the NEM lined up and are waiting pick up.”

 

Sam felt her heart sinking the more she heard about the men that had taken the Colonel and Cassie. She knew the Colonel was more than capable of looking after himself, but against those odds and with Cassie … she knew he would put Cassie’s safety to the forefront, against everything … even his own life.

 

*

 

Jack used the shadows and kept low as he neared the road. Another shot sounded, followed by what he recognised as the leader’s voice.

 

“Colonel, I know you aren’t too far away. We have your daughter,” he shouted.

 

Jack’s stomach recoiled in horror. He had been praying that Cassie was well on her way to safety or at the very worst, still hidden where he had left her. He leaned back against the trunk of the tree, letting his head fall back and closed his eyes for a moment.

 

“Colonel, give yourself up and she won’t be harmed.”

 

Jack risked moving closer, he had to see, make sure …

 

*

 

Cassie groaned, her head hurt so much and she was cold, very cold. She moved her head slightly and the movement caused the nausea to rise. She drew herself up slightly and began to heave. The little of what remained in her stomach evacuated itself.

 

The grunt of disgust from above her made her open her eyes. The dim world tilted and the dark legs beside her had her straining her neck to look up.

 

“She’s awake!” called the man standing above her and she found herself being snatched up by her jacket. Her legs wobbled and threatened to collapse and the tears began to track silently down her face as she was unceremoniously dragged from the truck’s wooden floor and manhandled off the tailgate.

 

Cassie knew that without the strong hold the man had on her she would have floundered on the floor, and she didn’t struggle – she just didn’t have the strength.

 

The light that shone in her face suddenly blinded her and she blinked as more tears tracked down her cheeks, her vision swimming with orange dots.

 

“Where is he heading to?” asked the voice behind the light.

 

Cassie shook her head a little, regretting it as the world tilted again, and she found herself being shaken hard. Her teeth rattled, but just as suddenly as it had started the shaking stopped and she began to retch. The heaves were dry, just the bitter taste in her mouth to remind her.

 

Hardly able to see, she was dragged forwards. The retort of a gun beside her made her jump violently, forcing a snigger from the man holding her.

 

Cassie stiffened when she heard the man calling out to Jack. She just hoped and prayed he couldn’t hear. The thought that it was herself that would lead to Jack’s capture appalled her and the guilt began eating at her.

 

The second shot made her jump just as much and she bit down a sobbed breath.

 

The man finished speaking and a deathly silence drew over them. She waited, listening … hoping.

 

She knew she couldn’t let Jack give himself up. It was only a matter of time now before they were rescued, he had to hold on a while longer – she had to hold on!

 

Drawing a deep breath she screamed out - “Jack, hold out … don’t …” she didn’t finish as a hand slammed across her face. It would have knocked her to the floor if she hadn’t been held up already. Her lips split against her teeth and bright spots danced in her vision.

 

*

 

Jack was close enough to see … Two men were standing with Cassie in the light from the truck’s headlights.

 

He saw the blow and his whole body screamed with rage. The fury in him was burning and yet he knew there was absolutely nothing he could do except give himself up and take their attention from her.

 

Drawing a deep breath to try and calm himself, forcing himself to think rationally and box the rage, he rose silently.

 

He was out of the trees and stepping down onto the road before they saw him, arms raised in surrender. The leader whistled and Si and the two missing men stepped from the trees further up the road and began to move towards them.

 

Jack kept on steadily walking towards the leader. Cassie looked to be deathly still in the man’s arms and he prayed she was still alive. So help them, if she was dead … he would kill them … each and every one of them – slowly and painfully!

 

The leader’s eyes lit up as he approached. “Your daughter is alive, Colonel. That is if she is your daughter?”

 

“Step daughter!” growled Jack, the only excuse he could think of for Cassie screaming his first name. They had to believe she was important to him, keep her alive.

 

The man nodded, and using the rifle’s barrel, motioned Jack to stand against the truck.

 

“Search him Si,” he called stepping back, the rifle trained on Jack’s back.

 

Jack buckled slightly from the force of the kick that spread his legs. A large hand in his back slammed him against the truck and he felt the heavy hands frisking him thoroughly. The knife he taken from Brinks was withdrawn from its hiding place.

 

“This is Brinks’s!” snarled the man and flipped Jack around to face him.

 

The knife was raised threateningly to his face and Si got up close and real personal with him, the large man’s eyes widening at the sight of the blood splattered across his clothes and hands.

 

“Si,” called the gunman warningly.

 

“Stay out of it Mayer!” growled Si. “Where is he?” he spat at Jack, grabbing him by the throat, his immense strength choking him.

 

Jack stayed still. He knew the man could snap his neck easily.

 

“Si, let go,” ordered the man Jack knew now to be called Mayer.

 

“You killed him?” snarled Si. His grip tightened alarmingly on Jack’s throat as he struggled to breathe.

 

“Si, let go or I will personally shoot you. If Brinks is dead, then he is dead because he was careless, as were you when you let them escape before.” Mayer’s words were calm, but none the less deadly and no one had any doubt whatsoever that the threat would be carried out.

 

Si obviously believed it and with a final squeeze he let go. Jack’s hands went to his throat automatically and he began to cough as he fought to draw air in.

 

Mayer’s eyes glinted coldly behind his glasses. The deadly calm Jack had heard in his voice bore witness in his face and Jack, for one of the few times in his life, felt in actual fear of someone. Jack had done things in his life he was not proud of, things he could never justify to himself, things done in his darkest moments, but he knew without a shadow of a doubt, that the man standing before him held no conscience and no fear of anything.

 

“Take them back and lock them up,” said Mayer calmly.

 

“I want to take him apart!” growled Si. The huge man’s bulk moved towards Jack again and it took everything Jack had to stay still.

 

“Do what I say. Brinks couldn’t have failed to hear those shots. He hasn’t answered his radio for over two hours. Forget him.”

 

Si grabbed at Jack again, but this time dragged him away from the truck’s side and towards the back. He found himself facing the tailgate with a punch to his right kidney that almost folded him. He gasped as the pain tore through him and the huge man literally threw him into the back of the truck. He slid several feet in a tangle of limbs before coming up hard against the side.

 

“Move and she’s dead!” threatened Si as he mounted the tailgate and was passed Cassie’s prone figure up by the other man before joining them.

 

Jack lay perfectly still as Si settled down with a limp Cassie across his legs, one huge hand gripping her jacket, the other Brinks’s knife.

 

The tailgate was put into place and a thud at the side of the truck signalled its driver to go. The truck lurched into gear and up the road so roughly that Jack was glad the knife wasn’t actually any closer to Cassie than it was.

 

The journey back to the camp felt like it lasted a lifetime, during which Jack had time to wonder if Cassie still had the cell phone in her possession. She’d possibly been caught sneaking down the road and if they discovered the phone and thought rescue was underway he knew their lives wouldn’t be worth much at all.

 

The truck jarred to a halt and Jack sat up slowly.

 

“Let me carry her,” he begged.

 

Si rolled the unconscious girl towards him with a nod.

 

Jack drew her into his arms and held a finger to her pulse. He found it strong and steady and sighed with relief. The few seconds while they lowered the tailgate gave Jack enough time to search Cassie’s pockets. He didn’t find the phone and this gave him hope that she had managed to ditch it in time … to hope that she had managed to make the call was too much at this moment, his only thoughts were to keep her alive.

 

*

 

The helicopters rose from the airfield. Sam’s eyes caught Daniel’s and she nodded reassuringly to him before reaching out and giving Janet’s arm a firm squeeze. She tried to blot out her fears, focussing on the mission, focussing on the rescue.

 

*

 

Jack was shut back in the same room with Cassie. This time they weren’t tied up, but he could hear the pacing from the man on guard.

 

He’d been a little worried that Si would be left with them and he fought down the sigh of relief when they were thrown into the room alone.

 

He dragged off his coat and wrapped Cassie in it, supporting her against him as he ripped some of his shirttail to wet it down in the mug of water still on the tray in the room. He snatched a mouthful of water for himself before proceeding to gently wipe at Cassie’s bloody face. Her mouth was cut and bruised, but there seemed nothing drastically wrong, although he did find a lump on the side of her head. There was always a risk with head wounds, but her pulse was strong and steady and provided she awoke soon, he didn’t think she was hurt too badly.

 

Jack judged it wasn’t too far off dawn. He was tired and aching. The day had been long and punishing, his body crying for rest, but he couldn’t … he held her close in his arms, rocking gently, his chin on her head and he said a silent prayer for her, this time he hoped it would be heard … ‘keep her safe, I don’t care about anything else, keep her safe!’

 

*

 

Cassie stirred with a sigh. Jack ceased the rocking, waiting for her to wake.

 

When it seemed she wasn’t going to, he spoke. “Cass hon, can you hear me?”

 

“Uh, mmm,” she sighed without opening her eyes.

 

“Cassie, come on open those peeps for me, please,” he whispered to her.

 

She shifted slightly in his arms. Her eyes opened just a little, very slowly and she raised her head. “Jack … Oh God!” she moaned suddenly and tried to sit up, her eyes widening in horror as the memories hit her.

 

“Jack are you okay?” she spoke in a rush, straining to see his face, her hand coming up to touch him gently, as if not believing he was actually there.

 

“I’m fine,” he responded.

 

“Oh … urghhh,” she moaned and sank down against him as her head obviously made itself felt.

 

“Take it easy Cass, try and stay still, you’ve taken quite a thump.”

 

She raised her hand to her mouth. “Ouch, what the shit …” she moaned.

 

“Oy, language, I’m in enough trouble when I get you back!” he warned jokingly.

 

Cassie stared at him wide eyed for a moment.

 

“You won’t be kissing any boys for a while,” he gave her a grin.

 

Cassie grinned back at him until the pull on her sore mouth made her wince again.

 

“Where are we?” she asked.

 

“Do not pass go, do not collect $200, go …”

 

“Straight to jail … we’re back where we started aren’t we?”

 

Jack nodded and couldn’t help the shiver of cold that betrayed him.

 

Cassie straightened and pulled at his coat that she was huddled in. “Here,” she said quietly, but when Jack looked as if to object she resolutely pulled it off, trying to awkwardly put it around him. Seeing her determination, Jack gave in and put the coat on, but left it open and pulled her gently against him, engulfing her in it with him.

 

She pulled away slightly after a moment and strained to see his face. “I made it down the road … I made the call, I got through!” she began yelling excitedly and Jack frantically shushed her. “Sorry,” she continued in a whisper. “I spoke to General Hammond and Mom and Sam …”

 

“Then what the hell were you doing when you got caught? You should have been halfway home by now!” hissed Jack.

 

Cassie looked down suddenly. “I heard shooting,” her voice was barely a whisper now and he had to strain to hear.

 

“You heard shooting in front of you?” asked Jack suddenly, the anger building up as a sneaking feeling began to set in.

 

Cassie shook her head slowly, very slowly, not daring to look up at him.

 

“Cassie,” said Jack through clenched teeth. “Please tell me what happened.”

 

Cassie sighed deeply. She knew she was for it now. The fact that she was solely responsible for them being recaptured hit her hard. If she’d kept going she would have been safe and Jack would have probably been giving the men the run around in the woods.

 

“I …” she faltered. Jack’s gentle but firm squeeze on her shoulder prodded her to speak.

 

“I thought you’d been shot,” she began.

 

“Before or after you made the call?”

 

“During,” she responded.

 

Jack closed his eyes. The anger in him rose then fizzled down to an absolute nothing. “And?” he asked.

 

“I told them what you said, switched the cell off, ditched it and ran back up. I thought somehow that if I showed up they wouldn’t kill you.”

 

Jack breathed out harshly. ‘God what a mess!’

 

“Then I got caught and they knocked me out and next thing I knew was when he was shouting to you to give yourself up …” Cassie faltered. She looked up at his face and the stillness of him, his eyes closed made her shudder. “Please Jack, I didn’t mean to … I am so sorry …” her voice wobbled hoarsely, the unshed tears thick in her throat.

 

Jack took a deep breath in. “It’s okay Cassie, it’s okay.” He hugged her tighter to him and began rocking her slowly. She sank thankfully into his embrace, taking comfort from him, feeling the security of love and protection … letting it wash over her like a warm blanket, soothing and warming like nothing else in her entire life ever did. She would rather have only one other person hug her at this moment, her mom, but Jack was close behind her in second place … and the security she cherished in his love for her was second to none!

 

*

 

 

PART SIX

 

 

They sat quietly for a while and gradually Cassie fell asleep again, her lucidity convinced Jack that it was safe to let her rest. He was almost asleep himself when the door opened with a bang …

 

“Up!” snarled Si. He pointed the rifle at Jack and motioned to the door. The other man stood back a little out of the way, waiting.

 

“Just you!” he yelled as Jack began to help Cassie up.

 

Jack nodded. He gave Cassie’s hand a squeeze before he let go. “Won’t be long,” he whispered and he gave her a wink before walking stiffly to the door.

 

Si didn’t give him chance to turn back to her; as soon as Jack came within range he grabbed a handful of Jack’s coat and threw him from the room. Jack bounced into the wall of the corridor and was gripped in an arm lock, the rifle barrel grinding into the base of his skull, and marched out into the cold … the other man resuming his guard outside the room that held Cassie.

 

The dawn was beginning to break, but the sky was a peculiar shade and Jack recognised the signs of a heavy snow storm building, odd flakes already drifting down from the laden sky, the wind cold and gusting.

 

He realised that they were making their way to the warehouse where they’d left his truck … and the missile.

 

He drew a sharp breath when he rationalized that it was a certainty they weren’t going to use him for unloading anything!

 

Sure enough, waiting to greet him was Mayer and two of the others. Si released his arm, keeping behind him. Jack fought the urge to rub the life back into his numb limb, and remained still.

 

The missile was now unloaded. Its dull steel gray body looked ungainly from where Jack stood. The tail had been built up and attached and it now resided on stands, obviously unpacked from the nearby empty cases, and the small panel on the head of the missile was open …

 

Mayer stood over a small metal hinged case. Jack recognised the arming and guiding control and he knew the odds on him making it out of this alive had just fallen considerably.

 

“Where is it?” demanded Mayer calmly. His eyes were chipped ice.

 

“Where’s what?” asked Jack.

 

“Where is the translator box?”

 

“The … what box? I thought this was a missile not an interpreter,” said Jack stalling.

 

“Do not try my patience, Colonel. The box translates the signals and impulses … without it this is useless.” He waved his hand over the control case. “Now where is it? I know it is not in here, we have searched thoroughly. You had the opportunity to hide it in any considerable number of places last night.”

 

Jack shrugged. “Don’t know what you’re talking about, wasn’t me.”

 

He felt the rifle barrel grind against the base of his skull warningly.

 

“The missile was intact when we … acquired it,” Mayer said calmly. He moved towards Jack slowly, his lips parting in a grim smile.

 

“You id shows you are based in Cheyenne Mountain. I know the base was involved in the missile’s development. You recognise the missile, Colonel. I know you know exactly what this is capable of.”

 

Jack’s face registered the barest flash of surprise, though concealed immediately he knew Mayer had spotted his lapse. “We are involved in deep space telemetry there. I get to do a lot of paperwork, not work with missiles,” said Jack calmly.

 

The rifle ground against his skull, sending a tendril of pain through him. Jack allowed the wince to be visible to Mayer. “Look, I’m telling the truth. I’m just a desk jockey.”

 

“You removed the box. Where did you hide it?”

 

“I …” Jack didn’t finish speaking. At a nod from Mayer, Si used the rifle butt squarely between Jack’s shoulders and downed him.

 

Jack hit the floor on his knees, winded from the pain.

 

“I have a great deal of patience and quite a lot of time to spare. Now you can tell me where it is, and I might just let you off with a beating and leave you both tied up here when we leave, or you can do it the hard way. Believe me, Colonel, either way does not matter to me. You will talk in the end.”

 

The temptation to give Mayer the box was strong. He so badly wanted Cassie to be safe. ‘Give him the box… take the beating or whatever … but Cassie would be safe … yeah she would … but what about the innocents when that missile is used … what about the hundreds … maybe thousands …’  Jack was torn. He wondered how long he could keep them from touching Cassie. He knew rescue was under way, he just prayed the storm wouldn’t blow before it arrived.

 

Jack steeled himself. He could lead them out through the woods. Hopefully rescue would come and Cassie wouldn’t be hurt.

 

He blew out a breath. He allowed himself to visibly sag, trying to show that his resolve had fled.

 

“Okay,” he said quietly, “I’ll lead you to it.”

 

“Get the girl,” said Mayer to one of the men.

 

“No!” Jack thought frantically. “You whacked her pretty good. She’s hurt. I hid the box up in the woods, you haul her around and she dies and you’ve lost that box for good, no matter what you do!”

 

Mayer gazed into his eyes and Jack straightened his back, giving the man the same steady stare.

 

Mayer nodded once. “You have a deal. I will not harm the girl, but we have radios and should I feel you are not doing your best then I will give instructions to the men here.”

 

Jack swallowed harshly, but nodded his agreement. Exhaustion he certainly wouldn’t need to feign and that could work in his favour. He just hoped the rescue would happen soon … like now would be good!

 

“I’m warning you, I am not totally sure of exactly where I hid it, but I’ll know when we hit the area. We covered a lot of ground last night in the dark and got a bit lost at times. We’ll need to retrace our route.”

 

Mayer nodded. “Remember, I have time, but do not try my patience too long!” he warned.

 

He gave orders to Si and another man he called Cannon to get kitted up for a walk.

 

He threw open the warehouse door and looked at the snow-laden sky. “Maybe we do not have as much time as we think. You had better remember where you hid it quickly, Colonel.”

 

*

 

“ETA twenty seven minutes, Major,” came the co-pilot’s voice over the radio. Sam responded and gave her team their final briefing.

 

“I hope they’re not too trigger happy,” said Daniel, motioning with his head in the general direction of where he thought the other helicopter would be.

 

 “They have the Colonel’s description and know there is a child in there. Janet, you and your team are to wait at the landing site until we call you in when it’s clear.” Sam spoke quickly, highlighting the main areas once again.

                                     

“Couldn’t they give them the chance to surrender?” pushed Daniel.

 

“Daniel,” warned Sam. Daniel had been quite vocal in his objections to the plan the army had and Sam’s additions to it. It had never bothered her when Daniel had questioned the Colonel, sometimes it had even amused her, a fact that now made her cringe a little, but somehow now she was in the Colonel’s shoes relatively speaking, it seemed to annoy her and she wondered at her CO’s patience at times with the man. “These men are killers and will not hesitate to shoot to kill. We’re working on the premise that the Colonel and Cassie were re-captured and therefore these men are going to be on their toes. There’s another unit working its way up from the road, but it’ll be slow going for them.”

 

“Then there’s even more reason to suppose that Jack and Cassie might be …”

 

“Daniel!” admonished Sam firmly with a quick look at Janet’s face. None of them needed to be reminded just how this could play out. “The army team are the best at what they do. Let them do their job and let’s make sure we’re there to back them up, okay?”

 

Daniel nodded and had the grace to look apologetic. “I’m sorry I argued with you, Sam. Can we blame it on the fact that I’m missing Jack and have no one to nag?” he sighed. “But if you let on to him I’ll disown you!” he added, bringing a smile to them all.

 

The helicopters went into stealth mode, sounding eerie in the gray light that was beginning to break.

 

“Major, there’s a storm warning, heavy snow and blizzards on their way,” called the pilot.

 

“Will it stop us landing?” asked Sam, keeping outwardly calm.

 

“Negative,” confirmed the Pilot.

 

*

 

Jack led the way from the base. He was cold and tired, but continual prodding from Si’s rifle kept him moving. He wondered just how long he could stall them before things got heavy.

 

Mayer kept in close contact with the base, obviously reminding Jack as to just how easy it would be for Cassie to get hurt.

 

Jack kept moving slowly. The wind was building in strength and the snow falling more heavily, which made the going even more difficult. His pace began waning slightly as his exhaustion started to overtake him, and when he finally fell, he found it a huge struggle to get up again. He spat a mouthful of snow out and the ground seemed to tilt as he was hauled up and his vision swam slightly.

 

Mayer seemed to sense he wasn’t acting and made Si back off a little, giving Jack time to rest a few minutes.

 

Soon they were back under way. Jack stumbled along. His only plan at the moment was to delay things until a rescue team intervened … His senses were wandering slightly, cold, fatigue and hunger all vying for the same attention in his body, when they suddenly came upon the area where Cassie had been grabbed by Brinks.

 

Si spotted the blood and scuffed snow before Jack’s dulled senses realised exactly where they were and the man rushed ahead, following the trail …

 

Mayer pushed him forwards to follow faster and Jack upped the pace a little, not keen to see the evidence of his actions from the previous night’s work.

 

The bellow of rage from Si, showed that he had spotted Brinks’s body and he turned and ran at the exhausted Colonel.

 

Jack didn’t even have time to bring an arm up in defence, he was flung flat onto his back and Si began pounding into him. The blows rained hard and fast on his face and when he managed to raise his arms for some protection, the huge man began pounding on his chest.

 

“You - bastard!” screamed Si in rage. “You- killed- my- buddy!” Every word was punctuated by a hard fist pounding into Jack.

 

“He attacked her, the bastard was trying to rape her!” spat Jack.

 

He fought to dislodge the heavy man, but every blow was counting against his already weakened state. A low cry of pain was forced from him when one of the blows snapped a rib, the next fist hit him in the same place and he cried out in agony. The world seemed to grow distant, the buzzing rose in his head … the final blow before Si was bodily dragged off sent the Colonel into oblivion.

 

Mayer used the butt of his gun twice on the enraged man, then Cannon assisted in dragging the heavy man off the Colonel.

 

“Bring them around,” he ordered, throwing his canteen at Cannon.

 

*

 

Mayer held the gun in the now conscious Si’s face. “I warned you to follow orders. We need him alive until we have the box. When I have the box, he is yours and not before, or I will kill you!”

 

Si’s dull eyes showed no fear at the man’s words. Instead he nodded and rolled away from the gun as he got up … He could wait a while longer to finish him …

 

*

 

Jack groaned and coughed, his body jerking in agony as he jarred his broken rib … Jack’s eyes clenched shut again … make that ribs!

 

“Colonel, we do not have much time now, the storm is building and unless you want me to start harming the girl I suggest you get to your feet.”

 

Jack heard the words and knew it was no threat – it was a promise. He forced his eyes to open and although dawn was well under way, the storm made it look much earlier. The snow was falling faster now and to his swimming vision it looked even worse.

 

A boot prodded his hip none too gently and he groaned and rolled, bringing his knees up, and got unsteadily to his feet. The sharp agony in his chest tilted his world again and he fought to retain a gasped breath. The arms that gripped him and kept him upright gave him a moment to try and clear his head, before pushing him forwards. He almost stumbled and fell again, but found the strong grip keeping him going.

 

“Which way?” shouted Mayer over the gusting of the wind that blew around them now.

 

Jack pretended to hesitate. “Not too sure,” he panted.

 

Mayer pulled the radio from his pocket …

 

“Towards the road … I think we head towards the road,” said Jack, panting. He knew Mayer’s patience had gone and he was treading on very thin ice with Cassie’s life now …

 

They stumbled on. Jack’s disorientation wasn’t really an act now. The biting cold and exhaustion combined with his latest injury was doing the job very well for him. The falling snow had already obliterated any tracks they’d made the previous night and only when they reached the shelter of thicker trees did he begin to spot signs of their movements.

 

“Did you bury the box?” asked Mayer. The trees gave them a little more protection from the wind now.

 

Jack nodded wearily. “Near the road,” he panted.

 

“We could have driven down!” growled Cannon.

 

“No matter, we can radio later for a ride back,” said Mayer calmly.

 

Jack knew there was no way he was going to give up the box, but time was running out for them … for Cassie. He led them beyond where he had travelled with Cassie. The steep drop had become a cliff and when he got to the edge he stopped. He’d been coughing badly for the last couple of kilometres and the taint of copper was in his mouth. He doubled over, giving a hacking cough and didn’t need to watch the spittle as it landed to know it was red.

 

“I buried it somewhere round here,” said Jack suddenly, straightening up. He wavered in complete exhaustion ... end of the line for him.

 

“The side is too steep for her to have gotten down this way.”

 

“I know. We had to double back, but we stopped for a rest, that’s when I buried it.” Jack lied calmly, thankful that the snowfall had been deep enough to obliterate any lack of evidence.

 

Mayer stood calmly surveying the area. He obviously wasn’t convinced, but also wasn’t prepared to totally doubt … just yet.

 

“Find it!” he ordered.

 

Jack nodded wearily but didn’t move for a moment.

 

“I’ll make him find it!” snarled Si, stepping closer to him.

 

Mayer raised a hand. “No need,” he smirked and pulled out the radio.

 

Jack’s heart skipped a beat. “No, I’ll find it … just … it’s somewhere around here …”

 

He began scrambling on his knees around the snow and rocks. Mayer sat down on a large upright boulder, the gun never wavering from its target. “You have ten minutes to remember Colonel.”

 

Jack coughed and gagged a little before managing to spit the blood out. He pretended to look around more, thinking hard whilst he did. He knew that he couldn’t stall much longer now … he prayed that a rescue team had gotten in … prayed that Cassie was safe.

 

*

 

Jack got up and moved a little way down the trail again, very close to the edge of the cliff. Si’s impatient growl followed him.

 

“He’s no intention of finding it,” he yelled to Mayer.

 

Mayer stood calmly. He pulled the radio out once again and Jack fell to his knees coughing … waiting…

 

“Your last chance before we start hurting the girl, Colonel … last chance.”

 

Jack wearily shook his head. ‘Forgive me Cassie, please forgive me …’ he prayed silently.

 

Jack closed his eyes, his heart thumping, praying for the strength to keep quiet … the strength to do what was right … just two lives again the possible hundreds, thousands … just two lives …

 

*

 

Mayer thumbed the switch on the radio. “Palmer, do you copy?”

 

Jack bowed his head in shame … there was nothing he could do now … nothing …

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART SEVEN

 

Mayer listened … they all listened … static was their only reply.

 

“Palmer, Sharpe, do you copy? Over!” His voice rose a little.

 

*

 

The helicopters taking off again made Daniel turn around to Sam, his eyes wide and questioning.

 

“It’s SOP,” she explained, speaking close to his ear as they moved to the edge of the landing strip. They’d barely had enough room to set down the two helicopters and the storm raging in the open made it all the more difficult.

 

The blizzard was in full swing now, the wind cutting. The dawn wasn’t brightening at all and its eerie gray light wasn’t helping. The army team moved ahead of them silently, fanning out, keeping low, moving in harmony through years of hard training and experience.

 

Sam held her team back for a count of four minutes. The soldiers had been quickly lost from her sight in the blizzard as they moved towards the buildings.

 

The first building they came to, she downed Janet and her medics. She gave them the silent signal to stay put and moved out with Daniel and Teal’c.

 

Janet squatted and gave her staff a reassuring smile, which she simply did not feel at heart. She was in full black, earpiece; radio … the works for the first time in her career. Her stomach was twisted in knots of agony … she’d exhausted her prayers for Cassie and the Colonel and she tried focussing on her part in the operation. She knew though that by the time she was called in, it would be all over … and the worse possible scenario was playing out in her head!

 

*

 

The units CO’s voice came over Sam’s ear piece. “All clear so far, no signs of targets. Moving to warehouse buildings and barracks. Over.”

 

Sam silently moved her team forwards. She’d blocked out from her mind the worse case scenario and she concentrated on the fact they were doing something … and they would be in time!

 

“The Colonel’s truck is in the first warehouse.” The CO’s voice betrayed no excitement, just a stating of fact. “Goal One is here. Repeat Goal One is here.”

 

Sam felt Daniel’s hand on her shoulder and she turned to look at him, his eyes questioning her. “They’ve found the missile,” she mouthed back at him.

 

She could see his anger building. “Goal One? Goal One,” he repeated in disgust. His voice was a fierce whisper. She shook her head warningly. “Focus Daniel,” she hissed.

 

His anger didn’t abate, but he nodded and once more gave his attention to the whirling landscape around them.

 

“Barrack block is showing signs of life. Possible targets inside. Hold your position SG1.”

 

Sam downed her team and they waited.

 

*

 

Jack waited … the hiss of the radio broke into voice.

 

“Mayer?” came the response.

 

“Palmer, get the girl.” Mayer ordered abruptly and cut the radio off.

 

“No,” said Jack, scrabbling to his feet.

 

Si moved close and pulled the Colonel’s arms behind him in a tight grip. Jack gasped as the manoeuvre pulled on his chest painfully, making him gasp for breath, hot stars of agony shooting in his vision.

 

The radio clicked and Mayer gave Jack a cold smile. “The Colonel isn’t being very co-operative Palmer. Leave the radio open, I want him to hear her pain.”

 

Jack pulled as hard as he could and twisted, but Si’s mocking laugh behind him showed how ineffective his struggling was.

 

The fury rose in Jack and he threw his head back hard, smashing into Si’s face. The huge man howled as Jack’s head broke his nose and blood spurted. Si didn’t let go, but it was enough to loosen his grip and Jack used the advantage to break free.

 

Cannon made a move towards him. Jack used his training to side step the man and with a sweep of his foot, used the momentum to send him flailing over the side of the cliff.

 

Jack felt a bullet tear into his shoulder, but despite the pain and exhaustion he somehow kept his feet, the adrenalin pumped furiously and leant him badly needed energy as he launched himself at Mayer, his aim to stop him … somehow!

 

His first attack resulted in the radio flying from Mayer’s grip but Mayer managed to throw him and his arm smashed across Jack’s throat. As Jack rolled he brought his legs up and across and kicked out with all his strength. His boots made contact with Mayer’s head and the man grunted and flopped. Jack rolled to his knees, breathlessly.

 

A searing agony in Jack’s back dropped him and he flopped like a rag doll to the ground. A kick turned him over and he rolled helplessly, trying to bring his knees up and arms down for protection.

 

The next kick caught him full in the groin and Jack howled in pain, retching and coughing as he rolled.

 

“I’m going to kill you!” snarled Si, bringing his leg back, this time connecting with Jack’s back. Jack cried out as the pain rocked through him and he arched against it, struggling to breathe through the coppery mass that filled his mouth.

 

Jack lay helplessly as Si loomed over him, massive hands grabbing him around the neck. The grip on his throat was crushing and there was nothing he could do … his limbs weren’t responding too well, he thrashed weakly, stars exploding in his head, the blackness was tunnelling up fast…

 

The grip on his throat diminished suddenly and Jack’s brain barely registered the sound of the single shot that dropped the man. He was gasping trying to get air into his lungs, desperate to breathe. His vision was graying, the buzzing loud in his ears.

 

Jack could barely see, he was dimly aware of Mayer standing over him, the gun in his hand, the barrel pointing straight at his head.

 

“You don’t have much time left, Colonel,” said Mayer. “Tell me now and I will spare the child.”

 

Jack’s world closed in around him. He saw Mayer raising the radio toward him as he thumbed the switch. “Say goodbye to her, Colonel.”

 

Jack numbly watched as the radio came closer to him. The gray buzzed viciously into black and he felt himself falling …

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

The greatest pity was that Jack wasn’t able to hear the words that flicked out from the radio next.

 

“Mayer, we’ve got company. We’re surrounded.”

 

Mayer’s face lit with rage, then calmness overtook him. The black iciness that settled over him would have even the strongest of men quail.

 

He wondered how they had been found so quickly, but no matter. He calmly gave the order for them to kill the girl and make good an escape.

 

He frowned down at the unconscious man. This Colonel had caused him so much trouble; he’d blown his mission open and the chance for him to retire overseas, somewhere warm for the rest of his days … the bitter taste of retribution rang through him and his finger tightened on the trigger.

 

The ice flowed back into his blood - no - not yet, not while the Colonel could not be aware of his fate...

 

Maybe the Colonel would perish here in the snow … maybe not … but it was enough for Mayer to feed on, enough – for now!

 

*

 

“Targets have spotted us. There’s movement,” warned the CO.

 

SG1 moved in closer. The CO had his team spread out, surrounding the barrack block that showed signs of life.

 

Sam squatted beside the CO. “We want their hostages alive, Sir,” she reminded him.

 

The CO nodded. “I know Major. Believe me when I say that I want Jack O’Neill alive as well!”

 

The vehemence in the man’s voice threw Sam for a brief moment. She knew that although every effort would be made to protect the hostages, at the end of the day they were expendable and Goal One had been met, to secure the NEM. Goal Two was to secure the men, dead or alive!

 

The opening of the door to the barracks made everyone drop and still.

 

“Hold your positions!” called the CO.

 

*

 

Since Mayer’s last call on the radio Palmer and Sharpe had been arguing. Cassie had been flung across the room and she lay shivering in a corner, waiting for her fate.

 

“He said to off her!” spat Sharpe.

 

“We do that and we ain’t walking out of here alive!” retorted Palmer.

 

“The Colonel’s dead. How many times can they kill us for murder?! We killed a lot of men at the heist!”

 

“You wanna die now? Mayer’s free and Si … there’s a chance they can get us out if we give up now.”

 

Sharpe’s eyes narrowed as he thought hard. “Maybe we can deal. Mayer’s much more of value to them!”

 

“Are you crazy? Give Mayer up?” snorted Palmer. “We’d be dead men walking, just a question of who would do us first.”

 

“Suit yourself!” he spat. He grabbed Cassie up and dragged her in front of

of him, holding  her shaking body firmly against him, an arm locked around her throat. He hefted the gun in his other hand and swung the door open.

 

“Hold your fire. I’m coming out …”

 

*

 

Cassie felt real bone chilling fear when she heard the radio message. The cold voice ordering her death, calmly, so matter of fact, sent tendrils of sheer terror coursing through her young body. She felt so alone … She’d held onto the hope that Jack would be coming back for her, for what seemed to her to be so long now, that the final nail driving home shattered her resolve. She crept silently into the darkness of her mind, the world around her winking out …

 

The warm wetness between her legs as she was dragged to her feet didn’t even register for what it was… Jack was dead, nothing else mattered now … nothing … the fact that the next few minutes would decide her fate didn’t matter… nothing mattered now.

 

*

 

Sam thought her heart would burst when the door opened to reveal Cassie. Dirty and dishevelled, but it was Cassie and she was alive!

 

The gun pointing at her head, the strong arm around her throat didn’t waver as the gunman made his demands.

 

“I have information to trade. We deal and the girl lives!” called the man into the gusseting snow.

 

The shelter from the buildings kept the worse of the wind from them and his words were clear.

 

“No deal,” shouted the CO calmly. “Surrender yourselves and your weapons and let the girl go. You are surrounded.”

 

“You want Mayer,” called the man. “I can give you him, he’s not here!”

 

The man moved forward slightly. Cassie didn’t struggle in his arms, nor did she strain to see who was out there. She was very still, her gaze seemingly fixed on nothing.

 

The CO gave Sam a sharp look. “Where is Mayer?” he called.

 

“He’s out there. He killed your Colonel by the way – I didn’t have anything to do with it!”

 

Sam’s heart plummeted to its deepest depth when the words smashed into her head. The single shot that rang out from behind the man holding Cassie brought her up, breaking her cover and she raised her weapon immediately.

 

The man holding Cassie staggered forwards, his eyes showed his surprise, his mouth opened in a silent ‘Oh.’

 

Cassie’s body was pinned beneath the dead man. The man that came running from the barrack door, gun blazing, was taken down by Sam Carter.

 

“Move, move!” shouted the CO over his radio and his unit converged on the building at a run, moving quickly to search it.

 

Sam stood still for a heartbeat. The split second shock broke when Daniel and Teal’c both broke cover to run to free Cassie from the body.

 

Teal’c calmly checked the man to ascertain he was indeed dead as he rolled the weight from the still form of the teenager.

 

Daniel’s head was bursting from the words the man had shouted … a jumble of thoughts racing and diving around, nothing making sense. He thought Cassie was unconscious at first, she was so still, so it was a shock to find her eyes open, eyes dark and unblinking.

 

Sam knelt beside him and quickly drew the unresponsive girl into a hug, checking her with her free hand the best she could.

 

“Area secured!” announced the radio. “All clear. Continuing search of the other buildings and setting perimeter guard.”

 

“Copy that,” said Sam into her radio. “Doctor, area is secured. Move up. Cassie is alive.”

 

“Cassie, Cassie can you hear me?” called Sam to the girl. “Shit, I think she’s in shock,” she cried to Daniel, not allowing herself to focus on anything else for the moment.

 

“Allow me, Major Carter,” said Teal’c and he gently drew the girl into his arms and carried her into the barrack room.

 

He placed her on one of the several sleeping bags lain out in the room and then placed another one over her, before drawing Daniel back to give them some privacy, claiming to need assistance with the removal of the body from just outside the door. Daniel helped, functioning on autopilot, as they placed the body next to the other one.

 

The CO of the army unit, Colonel Draper, joined them and knelt over the bodies to search them. “Bastards,” he spat as he straightened. “Stay alert. We still don’t know the whereabouts of Mayer and Carconi. There’s also Brinks and one other to find according to the information we have,” he warned them.

 

“What about Jack … where …”

 

“We’ll find him, Doctor Jackson.” Colonel Michael Draper straightened his back. “If they’ve made an escape down the road then they’ll run into our other units out there. There’s a chance that he was bluffing when he said Jack’s dead, he could still be a hostage. Mayer is clever, totally insane but very clever.”

 

Daniel wasn’t sure if the words comforted him or not … held hostage by an insane man wasn’t comforting … on the other hand, a chance of Jack being alive was …

 

*

 

Draper changed channels on his radio. “November Lima three, this is November Lima One Leader, do you copy?”

 

Static burst out loudly and he winced and tried again. This time he was successful. “Con, Mayer is not here, I repeat Mayer and three others are missing. We have area secured. Two targets are down. Goal one is secured and the girl is alive. Colonel O’Neill is still unaccounted for.” He listened briefly then signed off.

 

*

 

Janet Fraiser and the two medics ran as fast as they could with all their equipment as directed. They were met by Teal’c who showed them the rest of the way. Janet’s heart nearly stopped when she saw the dirty still form of her daughter laid on the floor covered by a sleeping bag.

 

Sam quickly moved out of the way. “I think she’s gone into shock. Pulse erratic, but strong. Other than bruising and cuts I haven’t yet found other injuries, conscious but unresponsive.”

 

Janet’s hands shook slightly as she quickly pulled the bag back to begin checking her daughter. Cassie’s dark eyes didn’t falter from their gaze at nothingness.  As much as Janet wanted to sedate her, she couldn’t just yet until she was assured of her condition. Janet gave the order for fluids to be started and she concentrated on her search. The dirt warred with the cuts and bruises to Cassie’s face. The sticky dark patches of blood on her clothing made Janet’s heart beat faster until she ascertained that it was only blood stains. She just hoped to God it wasn’t the Colonel’s blood!

 

*

 

Teal’c piled the wood into the burner and shut the doors to keep the heat in. He stood guard. Although a perimeter guard had been set, he was leaving nothing to chance.

 

Daniel stood beside him, a feeling of helplessness seeping from him and Teal’c could offer nothing to help in that respect.

 

“They could be long gone, Jack’s body dumped … long gone,” said Daniel miserably, his eyes bright, and he pushed his glasses up to rub them.

 

Draper moved to watch the small Doctor working on her daughter. He was at a loss as to how she had been allowed on this mission, but then again, nothing in her behaviour so far had given him reason to doubt her worthiness.

 

“How’s she doing, Doc?” he enquired gently. “Do we need to get her out or can it wait?”

 

Janet sighed and rubbed frantically at her neck as it cricked when she looked up to him from her seat on the floor. He crouched down to her to listen.

 

“I can’t sedate her, she’s unresponsive, shocked. Other than cuts and bruising, she’s dehydrated and weak. I’ve started fluids. Yes I would like to get her back as soon as we can, but I don’t think she’s in any immediate danger, in fact the journey might just make things a little harder on her. Keeping her calm and warm and getting fluids in is the best thing for her at the moment.”

 

Draper nodded. He gave the Doctor a reassuring touch on her shoulder before resuming his position at the window.

 

Cassie’s eyelids dropped and for a heartbeat Janet felt a thread of panic. She quickly checked her vitals and let go a sigh of relief when she found the girl to be sleeping, deeply.

 

Sam had dropped to her knees close to her when Janet pulled at the sleeping bag checking vitals. She watched Janet breathe out heavily.

 

“Sleeping?” she guessed, at the relief on Janet’s face.

 

Janet nodded and relaxed a little. “Sound asleep,” she agreed.

 

*

 

Colonel Draper stood looking through the window, his back to the room. He listened to the quiet voices, feeling somewhat at a loss himself. His radio burst into life.

 

“November Lima One Leader, a body has found us.”

 

Michael Draper straightened abruptly. “Say again – found? November Lima Three, any id?”

 

“Negative, but it’s not the Colonel.”

 

“What’s your position?”

 

“On the road, still a couple of clicks below the ridge. You won’t believe this, but the guy literally hit us. He came over the cliff, and bounced on us so hard he smashed the screen. We’re proceeding up until we can climb off the road.”

 

“Full alert. Don’t take any chances, this is Mayer we’ve got out there!” warned Draper.

 

“I won’t forget that Mike. I owe that bastard big time!”

 

“Be careful. Oh and Con …”

 

“We’ll find Jack if he’s out there Mike. I promise.”

 

Draper smiled a little. He had every faith in NL3’s team leader. Con was a good man to have around … almost as good as the man that helped to train him … one Colonel Jack O’Neill.

 

*

 

Draper filled in SG1 quietly, after briefing his own team. “It’s giving us hope that Jack is alive,” he finished.

 

Daniel’s puzzled look made him tut with impatience. “Men don’t take hikes over drops like that on their own, Doctor and certainly not these men. Hey … what’s a doctor doing on Jack’s team? You’re not a medical doctor are you?” Daniel Jackson was something of an enigma to him. The big guy, Teal’c, although he didn’t come across as Air Force, certainly showed his value to a team, but Jackson puzzled him. Although the man certainly handled a weapon and could move, his mouth ran away too much for him to be military.

 

“Well, no … I’m errm, a linguist. We err, travel a lot,” he said knowing how weak that sounded to someone like this Colonel, who actually reminded him of Jack … in a strange way.

 

“Huh, right,” drawled the Colonel.

 

“You seem to know Jack, right?” asked Daniel, hoping to turn the talk away from himself.

 

Sam listened with interest to the conversation. She too liked this Colonel – not as much as her own of course, that went without saying, but she found him a comforting presence.

 

“Oh Jack and I go waaaay back,” drawled Draper, sensing the fascination on the subject of their leader that Jack’s team held.

 

“You’re army,” said Daniel, his tone not just a little accusing.

 

“You would be right there Doctor,” bit out Draper sarcastically giving the younger man a hard glare.

 

Daniel squared his shoulders. He’d faced Jack O’Neill on a bad day and lived, this Army Colonel held no fears for him!

 

“Special Ops?” asked Sam.

 

“Yep. I owe Jack big time, more than once I might add, and without his help I would be stuck at Captain still.” He stretched and changed his position a little. “Yeah, I hated the extra work we had to get through and without Jack’s coaching I would have chucked it!” he smiled, thinking back over the years.

 

Daniel coughed. “Coaching?” he choked out. “You mean ahem, drill, weapons and such?”

 

“No Doctor Jackson, weapons and such like are second nature to me, just like Jack. It was the paper assignments I hated. You got degrees right?” he continued, unaware of the bomb he was building. He didn’t wait for the Doctor to agree with him. “Well, to say I was struggling was an understatement and if Jack hadn’t helped me out, given me the extra coaching, I would have blown it big time!”

 

Daniel coughed again. Sam had moved closer to them, her head cocked as her brain began ticking over.

 

“Let’s get this straight, sir, just for the record. Colonel Jack O’Neill coached you through your degree? In what subject?” asked Sam.

 

Mike Draper looked a little uncomfortable as the three members of SG1 were staring at him waiting. Even the big guy, who’s face gave nothing away, was interested … he could tell.

 

“Jack don’t talk much does he, huh?” he asked, suddenly grinning. “Oh I know he says an awful lot at things, but you get to the end of it and find out you don’t know anything more about him than when you started it.”

 

The looks on the faces of SG1 confirmed this. He gave them a small laugh. “’Well Jack, I hope you’re around to kick my ass - well sort of - here goes. Colonel Jack O’Neill has three degrees. He walked through them. His master’s thesis was in military history.

 

I met Jack as a Lieutenant seconded into Special Operations and we and five others were a training unit. I served with Jack for almost five years before I joined a new branch of Special Forces, where I am now the first unit’s leader. He’s a good man to have on your side and saved my ass on more than one occasion. I’ve returned the favour a couple of times, but I still owe him big time. I managed to keep abreast of his career until ’97 then I lost track of him. I have good security clearance Major, but whatever you guys do goes way beyond that! He contacted me a year or so ago and I helped out with a favour and another mutual contact. Then that’s it. Now care to fill me in on the last couple of years or so? Deep space radar telemetry is a bag of crap, even if he does have a degree in astronomy!”

 

Sam and Daniel’s mouths were hanging slightly. The look of surprise on their faces had him chuckling. “Jack can play dumb real good can’t he? Even when faced with his record I know of one General who made the mistake of believing it!” His chuckle froze as his radio burst into life.

 

*

 

 

 

 

PART EIGHT

 

 

 

NL3 found a place to climb the cliff and quickly half the unit were despatched up. Con sent the rest of his men to walk slowly up the road, searching for signs of life.

 

At the top of the climb, Con ordered two men to the right, to move towards the camp. The other two he kept with him and headed for the point from which the body had taken a dive.

 

The snow was heavy, their visibility severely compromised, and they made a slow journey, battling against the cold and wind as well.

 

They found the place the body had apparently fallen from. There weren’t many tracks, but signs on the very edge, where the snow didn’t settle properly, pointed to the evidence of the fall. The heavy fall of snow covering everything as it settled, the drifts piling deeper, hid everything else.

 

He gave the signal to spread out and one of his men stumbled against a drift not far from the edge.

 

“Stu, you okay?” he used the microphone and still had to shout to make himself heard above the wind.

 

“Yeah, fuck, Sir … it’s a body!” exclaimed Stu, as he brushed at some of the snow.

 

They quickly uncovered the body, while the other man stood guard. “Carconi!” he breathed in relief as he double-checked the man was actually dead, although having the back of one’s head blown away was usually a reliable sign. Quickly he spread his men out and they began to check the other drifts.

 

“Sir!” yelled Stu, as he scrabbled to uncover another body.

 

They found Jack O’Neill on his side. One arm laid across his face protectively. Lt. Colonel Con Rhease quickly removed his glove and pulled at the Colonel’s arm so that he could check for a pulse. The fact that arm moved easily gave him a little hope, in these conditions bodies tended to stiffen pretty quickly. At first he couldn’t feel anything and disappointment sickened him. He looked up to shake his head at his men and stopped when he felt the slight tremble beneath his cold fingers. He pressed harder and waited.

 

“Slow pulse, dead slow, weak, but he’s alive”. He scrambled in his pocket and withdrew the small mirror he carried. He watched carefully as tiny puffs of mists formed on it, confirming that the man was breathing. His head dropped in silent relief and he fingered the button on his radio.

 

*

 

“We’ve found Carconi. He’s dead. We have Colonel O’Neill. He’s unconscious and bleeding, but alive, barely. No sign yet of Mayer or the other one. Conditions are bad out here. Over.”

 

*

 

“Can you get him here?” asked Draper, oblivious to the stares of SG1 as he concentrated on Con’s information.

 

“Affirmative. ETA approximately forty-five minutes.  Mike, he’s hurt bad. I’ve applied field aid, but ...”

 

“Okay Con, get him back, we have a great medical team waiting. Recall the rest of your unit to the base.”

 

*

 

Janet Fraiser had come to stand with SG1, waiting.

 

Colonel Draper gave them a grim smile. “Jack’s alive. He’s hurt pretty bad, but alive.”

 

“I can meet them on the road,” said Janet at once.

 

“Negative Doc, the wind’s blowing and the snow’s getting deeper. Visibility is poor out there. I’m recalling all my men to base. There’s no way they’re going to find Mayer and the other one out there in this, and they’re the only ones unaccounted for now. The safety of the rescue unit and the survivors is now my prime concern.”

 

“Then I need more information on Colonel O’Neill’s condition, Colonel.”

 

The Colonel nodded. He knew she needed to get prepared and he needed to check on the helicopters …

 

*

 

Janet wasn’t happy. The little information she got as to the Colonel’s injuries did nothing to belie the worry she had building that it was only a matter of time before the radio gave them the message the Colonel had expired.

 

The news that the transport was grounded due to the storms gave her a pit of cold dread, the shocked silence that followed the Colonel’s announcement showing how much the others were affected by it as well.

 

Colonel Draper gave the order for everyone to lock into the same channel and stay alert. He began organising a meal and watch rotation, roping in Daniel and Teal’c to help.

 

Janet had prepared what she could and then made her medics rest. She wasn’t sure just how long the Colonel had lain in the snow, and hypothermia was certainly on the cards. On the other hand, the cold might have been the only thing slowing the blood loss enough to keep him from bleeding to death. She organised the blood warming, thankful that she had plenty of fluids and the Colonel’s blood group. It was the same as Cassie’s and she had brought along a more than adequate supply.

 

Sam’s restless pacing drew her attention. She called out to her friend and

Sam came over and squatted on the floor beside Janet as she sat with Cassie.

 

“Hey,” said Sam, not meeting her friend’s eyes. “Shouldn’t be too long now,” she said, checking her watch, for what must have been the third time in the last minute alone.

 

“You okay?” whispered Janet, knowing just how worried Sam must be, now that she had heard the condition of her CO.

 

“I’m okay. Any change?” she nodded towards the sleeping girl.

 

“No, thankfully she seems to be resting more easily now.”

 

*

 

The radio sparked into life, announcing the truck was coming through the gates.

 

Janet leapt to her feet, her medics not far behind her and they were already on the way to the door, beating the Colonel who was surprised at the speed of the diminutive doctor.

 

He ordered everyone else to stay put and ran out to stand by the doctor and her team as the truck slowed to a halt. The men in the truck were quick and efficient. Drawing out the stretcher that held a heavily covered body from the back, they allowed Janet and her staff to take over. Janet’s medics easily carried the Colonel while she grabbed and held onto the Colonel’s wrist that she had prised from beneath the covers.

 

Within a couple of minutes they had the stretcher inside and the Colonel down. Extra torches Sam had turned on while waiting for the Colonel to be brought inside, supplemented the dim lighting.

 

Draper almost gasped himself when he saw O’Neill’s battered face and body. The heavy field dressings Con had applied were already soaked with blood. He drew back and gathered Con and his unit to one side to report, leaving the Doctor to get on with it.

 

*

 

Janet quickly began her assessment. Ordering a transfusion and fluids to be started she began to cut the clothes from the Colonel’s body. Sam averted her eyes and sat down, close, but facing away to preserve the dignity of her CO, while Daniel looked on in horrified fascination.

 

The bleeding from the bullet wound to his shoulder was profuse, but it didn’t unduly worry her. The thin trickle of blood from his mouth and nose however, was a different matter. She realised the bleeding was due to a punctured lung, the mass of bruises covering his body and in particular, the ones that were darker and concentrated over an uneven section of ribs helped her to identify the probable cause.

 

His vitals were too low and erratic to administer any sedative. His body temperature, although down, was not the problem at the moment. His blood pressure was extremely low, showing that his blood loss and the internal bleeding were the crisis.

 

She readied the needle to release the pressure in his chest, to drain the blood, and he stirred faintly. ‘Oh God, don’t wake now, Colonel,’ she prayed.

 

He coughed and moaned, the trickle of blood from his mouth flowing a little stronger.

 

His eyes flickered and he groaned again.

 

“Hold still Colonel, you’re safe,” said Janet, her hand touching his shoulder.

 

He drew a gasped breath and his eyes opened more, trying to focus.

 

“Cass …” he whispered.

 

“Cassie’s safe Colonel. She’s okay.”

 

His eyes closed and he gave a tiny nod.

 

“Tell Cass …” he gasped in pain and Janet leaned closer.

 

“Colonel, don’t try and speak,” she warned.

 

“Tell … I’m … so sorry …” he panted.

 

Janet stared down at the Colonel, frowning as she listened. “Col …” she began and then as his head lolled she quickly checked for a pulse.

 

“He crashing!” she shouted and whipped the roll of sleeping bag they had him propped on from beneath his head.  “Bag him,” she called to her staff as she began to administer CPR.

 

Sam knelt up in alarm as Janet snatched the roll from beneath the Colonel’s head. She watched Janet battling to bring him back. Her heart thumped painfully as she waited, the seconds folding by … slowly …

 

The entire room had gone quiet. Not a sound was heard except for Janet’s occasional instruction to her staff as she fought against her biggest enemy – death.

 

“I’m not going to let you do this, Colonel!” called Janet as she worked. 

 

“Got a pulse,” called one of the medics. Janet stopped working as she checked and suddenly the Colonel heaved a breath and coughed. The blood from his airway splattered the inside of the mask on his face and Janet quickly snatched it away. She tilted his head and immediately began to insert the chest drain – it was now or never!

 

Daniel couldn’t tear his eyes away as he watched in fascinated horror, wincing as the needle pierced his friend’s chest. Janet taped it into place, withdrawing the seal and almost at once the blood began to flow.

 

Janet heaved a sigh of relief. Feeling the Colonel’s pulse with one hand, she placed her stethoscope on his chest. “That should help reduce the pressure,” she murmured as she listened.

 

The whole room seemed to sigh as one as the Doctor visibly relaxed, if just for a moment.

 

“Help me roll him,” she ordered. Her staff helped her to place the Colonel into the recovery position gently while she checked his back. The puncture wound on his back told her tales of a stabbing, but it was barely bleeding now and she quickly cleaned and dressed it. The horrific bruises on his back, and especially over his kidneys, bore the semblance of a boot shape. She continued to check him gently and methodically. His whole body was bruised and battered, but she did her best to keep him covered as much as possible, knowing that dignity was something vital to the Colonel.

 

His breathing was much easier now that the blood was draining freely from his lung. She added anther bag of fluids, this time antibiotics, and re-checked his vitals again.

 

They put another rolled bag behind him to keep him in the recovery position if he should wake. As soon as the blood bag was on its last few drops, Janet ordered it replaced, the fluids bag not far behind it …

 

*

 

Janet stood and stretched. Her eyes sought out Colonel Draper and she moved away from her patient towards him.

 

“Any idea how long before we get picked up?” she asked.

 

Draper shook his head. “Sorry Doc, it depends on the storm. Nothing’s going to be in the air for a while. How’s he doing?”

 

Janet sighed and rubbed her neck. “He’s stable, but how long for is another matter. I need to get him scanned and he needs surgery. He’s taken a bullet in the shoulder, a knife wound in the back and he’s had one hell of a beating, broken ribs … he’s bleeding into a lung and we need to get him to the nearest hospital asap.”

 

The whole room listened, they couldn’t help it.

 

“What about using a truck?” asked Draper.

 

Janet shook her head. “He probably wouldn’t last half way down to the nearest town.”

 

“Doc, keep him alive. As soon as those birds can lift they will,” he urged.

 

Janet nodded wearily. She just hoped Colonel O’Neill would cooperate …

 

 

*

 

Draper changed the guard frequently. He wasn’t going to give Mayer and the other one, Brinks, any chance of taking them unawares. Personally he just hoped they would freeze to death or fall down the cliff… anything. Those bastards didn’t deserve to live. God knows what they’d done to Jack … and that kid … Cassie … he reckoned she’d be having nightmares about this for a long time.

 

He eventually squatted beside Daniel and Sam. Teal’c was never far away, his arms folded across his massive chest, almost as if standing guard over O’Neill.

 

“You doing okay?” he enquired, looking from one to the other. He’d seen their reactions to their CO’s injuries, in particular the Major’s. He reckoned Jack was one luck SOB to get a 2IC like that … but then again would he trade his 2IC for her? … dang right he would! But then again … he reckoned Jack would have something to say on that!

 

Major Carter nodded at him and gave him a tight smile. Daniel just shrugged, his eyes turning back to watch Jack.

 

“Any ideas how they got into this? Cassie isn’t Jack’s is she?” he asked suddenly, as the thought occurred. He hadn’t gotten any history with the briefing.

 

“No, she isn’t. Cassie is Janet’s adopted daughter and she sort of adopted SG1 too,” confessed Sam with a smile.

 

“Jack’s great with kids. He used to make such a fuss of mine when he was little, sheesh, he’s in California now with a kid of his own on the way,” said Draper, his eyes closing slightly as he remembered, then his face clouded slightly as he remembered Jack’s son. “It nearly killed him when he lost Charlie,” he whispered.

 

“The Colonel took Cassie skating … we’re not sure exactly what happened after that,” said Sam sighing deeply, her gaze wandering back to Jack. She leaned further back as one of Janet’s staff blocked her view for the moment as she checked him and Sam reflectively stiffened until the medic moved away.

 

Draper didn’t miss her reaction. “Ah, then I can tell you where they probably were. Jack used to take Charlie up to Lynette’s Lake when it froze. It’s not far from where they found Mayer’s truck, so I guess maybe he took Cassie there too.”

 

Daniel cleared his throat and hung his head a little. “God, why the hell does something like this have to happen?” he said wearily. “When you think of what we do out there and then this happens on our doorstep!” he said, before stopping as he caught the quick warning shake of Sam’s head.

 

“Jack’ll make it,” stated Draper firmly and was rewarded by a two pairs of blue eyes gazing at him earnestly, hope yearning within them. He gripped the major’s shoulder gently, and patted Daniel on his back, offering a grain of comfort before he rose to check on his men.

 

*

 

Daniel leaned back against the wall, his head drooping to his chest. “God, what a mess,” he said, sighing heavily.

 

“Try and get some sleep,” advised Sam.

 

“I will if you will,” commented Daniel, already knowing the answer.

 

Sam didn’t respond, knowing that he knew.

 

“I can’t help thinking that maybe those two bastards are out there waiting …” said Daniel suddenly.

 

Sam shrugged. “I hope they freeze in hell,” she commented acidly.

 

*

 

Janet kept a close eye on both her patients. She settled down close to Cassie in case she should awake, trusting that Colonel Draper would advise them as soon as the helicopters were on their way.

 

The ear splitting scream roused everyone with a jerk and Janet almost fell as she scrambled to Cassie.

 

The girl had woken suddenly and began screaming, her eyes still closed as she sat up, trying to scramble away, her fingers clawing at the sleeping bag beneath her.

 

“Cassie!” called Janet as she dived beside her. She tried to take the girl in her arms, but Cassie began to struggle more.

 

“NO … NO… GOD NO!” she screamed and began kicking out.

 

“GET HIM OFF ME … DON’T … DON’T TOUCH ME!” Cassie was sobbing hysterically, her hands frantically wiping at her face, as if to get something off her skin.

 

Janet took hold of Cassie by her shoulders and shook her, gently at first.

 

“Cassie, it’s okay, you’re safe!” she called loudly, trying to get through to her. “Cassie, it’s Mom and Sam’s here … so is Daniel!”

 

Cassie’s eyes opened and she stopped screaming for a moment. Her eyes were wide with terror and she fastened them onto her Mom’s face frantically as though she might just disappear.

 

“Jack?” she whispered, the fight going from her.

 

“It’s okay Cassie …” began Janet.

 

“NO … NO … NO HE’S DEAD! JACK’S DEAD!” Cassie began screaming again and fighting Janet’s hold.

 

Janet took a breath and slapped her daughter’s face, using just enough force to quell the hysteria.

 

Cassie stopped screaming, her mouth opened and closed with no sound and the tears tracked down her face as she allowed herself to be gathered into her Mom’s arms.

 

*

 

Cassie’s exhausted body dragged her back into thankful oblivion again and Janet continued to rock her gently in her arms for a little while until finally laying her down gently and covering her up.

 

Sam knelt beside Janet and gave her a hug.

 

“God, Sam, what did they do to her?” asked Janet, her eyes lit with unshed tears.

 

“She’ll be fine, Janet, it’ll just take a while. She’s strong. Remember what she’s been through and recovered from before.”

 

Janet nodded, “But that’s what frightens me Sam, what if this time … if this time it’s too much?”

 

Sam couldn’t respond, she just hugged her friend tighter.

 

*

 

 

 

PART NINE

 

 

The day passed slowly, the blizzard whipping around the old buildings, setting the cobwebs jiggling and the wood creaking.

 

Draper’s restless energy kept him moving, keeping his men on their toes, but even he couldn’t help feeling frustrated. It felt like the storm would never let up, despite reports that it was leaving the area.

 

When the call came that the helicopters were finally under way, he breathed a deep sigh of relief.

 

The girl, Cassie, hadn’t stirred again and the Doctor hovered anxiously between her daughter and Jack.

 

“Colonel, where will we be landing?” asked Janet as she began to instruct her medics to pack.

 

“Looks like it’s going to be the Academy hospital. The storm’s moving east and the sky to the west is clearing. We can keep low. I know there’s nearer, but for reasons of security the order has come in for the Academy … unless that is …?” He didn’t finish speaking and Janet shook her head, knowing what he was asking.

 

“The Colonel appears to be stable enough for the moment,” she responded, “and he’ll not have finer treatment anywhere else.”

 

Draper nodded and began preparations to leave. He instructed that the area and the path to the fields be thoroughly swept. There was no sign of anything moving. The snow continued to fall, but more softly now that the wind was letting up.

 

*

 

Teal’c volunteered to carry Cassie and Janet approved of this. If there was any further trouble, she knew the Jaffa would keep her daughter safe and she felt she was better able to give the Colonel her full attention.

 

Janet’s tired mind was flowing with questions … just what had happened to Cassie … damn the man! Why … oh god, just why couldn’t trouble leave them alone … damn Jack O’Neill, why did he always have to get involved in things like this … and this time her daughter was dragged along for the ride!

 

The signal came in and they made their way to the landing field. Everyone was tense, knowing that if someone were planning to strike, this would be an ideal time …

 

 

*

 

 

They took off without a hitch and were soon landing at the hospital. There was a veritable tempest of white coats and security waiting and the Colonel and Cassie were whisked away, Janet disappearing with them into the domain of the white coats.

 

Draper sent all of his team off with the helicopters, except for two men.

 

“You’re not reporting back?” asked Sam as they made their way to the waiting area.

 

“Later. I need to find out when I can de-brief Jack and Cassie and also I need to make sure that security is fully briefed.” With a polite nod, Draper left them to carry out his tasks.

 

It was almost an hour before he rejoined SG1 in the waiting area and they shook their heads to his enquiry for news.

 

“I’ve been in touch with General Hammond and SG1 are staying for the time being. He’s already assigned some SF’s, they’re on their way.” Sam paused and looked him straight in the eyes. “You really think that Mayer will attempt something, especially here?” she asked, a little incredulous.

 

“Never underestimate the enemy, Major. I really don’t know what Mayer will or won’t do. He may just leave the country. That’s what most people would do, but Mayer isn’t predictable and he’s good, make no mistake about that. If it wasn’t for Jack’s involvement and your call, that missile would be on its way out of the country by now.”

 

“It would have been better never being built in the first place!” interrupted Daniel scathingly.

 

Draper turned to face Daniel. “Well Doctor Jackson, that isn’t something that I can do anything about. My job is to follow orders and keep my teams functioning, to show them how to be the best they can at what they do.”

 

Daniel snorted a little and went to turn away, but was forestalled by Draper’s hand on his shoulder. “My job is to pick up pieces, Doctor Jackson, when the shit hits the fan, not politics.”

 

“Those pieces are human beings …” began Daniel.

 

“Yes, sometimes they are … and sometimes those pieces get hurt. We do what we have to do and we go on and try and learn from it.” Draper shook his head despairingly at Daniel. “Jack must have gone soft in his old age,” he commented suddenly.

 

“What?”

 

“If you were on my team, Doctor Jackson, you would be wearing a permanent gag!”

 

Sam fought valiantly not to giggle, but straightened her face when Daniel threw her an indignant look.

 

“Or do you just reserve this shit for other people?” enquired Draper, quite exasperated.

 

“Oh, no, no he doesn’t. The Colonel gets it too, even worse,” confessed Sam, relaxing a little more.

 

Draper’s eyes met hers, both brows lifting incredulously. “Oh man, that’s bad. Jack O’Neill gone soft.”

 

“I’m very good at what I do,” said Daniel haughtily, giving a little sniff as he folded his arms defensively.

 

“I’m sure you are Doctor Jackson, there has to be a very, very good reason why Jack would let you stay on his team,” said Draper dryly.

 

Daniel’s pursed his lips and frowned at the Colonel, but was forestalled from any reply by the appearance of Janet.

 

They all moved towards her and the diminutive doctor held her hands up to still them.

 

“Cassie’s being made comfortable and is being checked over. The Colonel is in surgery now. It’ll be a while before we know anything further, but I have made arrangements for a room and showers and a change of uniform.” She grimaced at the clothing she was wearing before continuing. “So I suggest we take advantage of this and get some food and rest.”

 

“Yes ma-am, anything else ma-am?” queried Draper dryly, causing Janet to give him a questioning glance.

 

“Nothing Colonel,” she responded just as dryly, wondering if all of Colonel’s O’Neill acquaintances were as sarcastic as the Colonel himself. She rolled her eyes and sighed as she led the way to the rooms they would be using for the time being.

 

Janet made use of the facilities quickly before disappearing again, promising that as soon as she knew anything she would be back.

 

SG1, along with Draper and his two men, showered, changed, and ate, before they left to brief the security team that had just arrived.

 

They were back just over an hour later, reporting that everything seemed okay and security were fully briefed, along with a guard posted on Cassie’s room.

 

Janet appeared a few hours later with the news that the Colonel was out of surgery, that everything went as well as could be expected, and as soon as she could she would arrange a quick visit for them. Cassie was sedated and resting peacefully.

 

The day wore on to evening and the General joined SG1 at the hospital, just as soon as he had his duties covered at the mountain.

 

He acknowledged Draper and his team, before asking for a quiet word with SG1 alone.

 

Sam quickly filled the General in on the Colonel’s condition and what they knew and he sat and waited with them. Draper joined them again and he was soon talking to the General like a long lost friend.

 

“Jack told me he had a great CO, Sir,” said Draper suddenly.

 

“He did, did he?” said Hammond, a brief flash of humour lighting his face.

 

“Yep, and that you’ve got him pegged alright,” laughed Draper.

 

“Pegged isn’t a word I could use to describe Jack.” Hammond responded dryly. “Latitude and understanding …” he murmured suddenly, his face taking on a little far away look.

 

“Pardon, Sir?” asked Draper.

 

“Ahem, nothing, just something Jack said once …”

 

Draper nodded solemnly. He liked this General. He was of much the same school as Jack as regards to the majority of ‘ass-holes’ that gave the orders they had to follow, but he could see why Jack liked and respected this man, and that the feeling was returned by Hammond.

 

*

 

They were eventually allowed in to see Jack, just a short visit, a couple at a time. Teal’c deposited himself inside the room near the door and made like a statue. They all knew that nothing but nothing, was now going to move the Jaffa from that room – and that was alright, it was welcomed, giving them all just a little piece of reassurance for their CO’s and friend’s well being.

 

Daniel and Sam went in together. Jack’s face was pale, his cuts and bruises standing out darkly from the whiteness. His chest and shoulder were heavily bandaged and he was wired up to various machines. There was a spaghetti of tubes from under the sheets that were attached to various drips.

 

The steady beep from the machines and his quiet breathing had given them a little reassurance. Janet promised them he was doing okay, but the next twenty-four hours would be the critical ones.

 

Cassie on the other hand was … well, physically the girl wasn’t too bad. Her examination had been thorough, very. Janet had insisted on that after finding evidence of blood and tissue under the girl’s fingernails and the telltale bruising on her body. Her scans had shown that there was nothing wrong except for a few cuts and bruises, but mentally - that was another matter.

 

*

 

The General left shortly after he had visited Jack, asking to be kept apprised of any developments, and he put SG1 on stand down until further notice.

 

*

 

Sam spent some time with Cassie, just sitting quietly with Janet in the room. Janet’s quietness made her a little uneasy.

 

Cassie was only lightly sedated and it was beginning to wear off. Colonel Draper had respectfully informed them, that as soon as it was possible, he would need to talk with Cassie. Janet wanted as much as anyone to hear what had happened, but at the same time, based on Cassie’s previous hysterics, she dreaded it. Just what terrible things she and her daughter would have to cope with churned her insides and made her curse Colonel O’Neill … despite the sensible side of her telling herself the Colonel would never hurt her… her mothers’ voice of non-reasoning and alarms were taking over. The presence of the guard outside the room offered a little comfort, but worse was the thought that it was necessary. The fact that some of the people who had hurt her daughter were still out there, perhaps waiting for a chance to silence her, filled her with dread.

 

When Cassie suddenly began moaning and calling out, both women were on their feet quickly, trying to soothe her.

 

“No … no … please don’t … Jack …” cried Cassie pitifully. Janet’s alarm soared and she fought down her anger, her eyes flashing to Sam’s distressed face briefly, before she focussed on her daughter.

 

“Cassie, honey I’m here, shush, it’s alright, you’re safe.” Janet perched herself on the bed and held her daughter in her arms.

 

“Mom,” said Cassie, her voice just a whisper as she opened her eyes. “Oh god, make them stop,” she begged. A sudden cough turned into a gag reflex and Sam grabbed the kidney bowl quickly. Cassie heaved, but it was dry, just a reaction to everything and the sedation.

 

“It’s okay baby, it’s okay. You’re safe.”

 

*

 

Cassie’s nightmare followed her into consciousness …

 

“No – leave me alone!” she spat as she struggled to free herself of the arms that engulfed her. The smell of Brinks, his breath, his body odour, filled her nostrils and she gagged again. The knife loomed in her distant vision and her eyes widened in horror as her heart pounded painfully, the terror drying her throat. “Jack no please … don’t let him … don’t… you can stop him – don’t …” she mewed, the tears falling down her face as she saw the knife rise higher … she saw the face of her protector and her eyes snapped further open as she recognised the cold face of a killer … no longer just Jack – but a killer and her mouth opened to emit a harsh high pitched wailing … “Jack, oh god … don’t kill me!”

 

*

 

Janet stared at her daughter in alarm as the words hit her. She flicked a glance to Sam and took a deep breath before she managed to utter some comfort to the girl. “Shush Cassie, it’s okay, it’s me, Cassie, honey,” called Janet soothingly as she cast a helpless look to Sam. The words Cassie were wailing bit into her deeply, embedding themselves into her subconscious … ‘why was Cassie begging the Colonel not to kill her? Why didn’t the son of a bitch help her … he’d left her to die … he had obviously been out there trying to save himself and her daughter was left alone with those killers …’ She knew, deep down inside, that she was being irrational, but she couldn’t help it, swept up as she was in the surge of emotion. Then it was as if a dam had burst – she just couldn’t watch her daughter’s anguish any longer, and she rushed out of the room, her hand over her mouth to hold back the scream that she couldn’t allow an escape.

 

Sam pressed the buzzer to get someone in as Cassie continued to make the awful wailing, and it was only minutes before the attending nurse had called a doctor and Cassie was gently sedated.

 

Janet’s sudden disappearance from the room had caught Sam by surprise and she hurried out to find Janet in the corridor, her head leant back against the wall, her fists clenched in anger.

 

“Janet?” she asked quietly.

 

“Why, Sam?” asked Janet tightly, the question obviously surprising her friend by the resounding silence that followed. “I mean, you and SG1, you bound across the galaxy, that’s your job – but why this? Why Cassie? She shouldn’t have to face anymore suffering, hasn’t she gone through enough already?”

 

Sam reached out to touch Janet on the shoulder. Words failed her for the moment, knowing that it was anger and stress making Janet react like this, at least she thought it was. Her friend’s next words stunned her.

 

“Damn him, damn Jack O’Neill – this is all his fault!”

 

“Janet …”

 

“Damn him to hell! Just what did he do out there? He almost got her killed … and where was he? Just who attacked her? You heard her?”

 

“Janet, the Colonel would never hurt Cassie …” began Sam, moving closer to her.

 

Janet let her head fall back again, making a thump against the wall. “Oh yes, big brave Colonel … well he didn’t protect her this time did he? Why did he leave her there? Those killers are still loose – what if they ...” Janet broke off with a sobbed breath.

 

Sam couldn’t find the words to comfort Janet, hoping that it really was hurt and anger fuelling her statement, and that when it calmed down, everything would be okay ... she hoped!

 

*

 

Sam drew Janet to one of the room that had been made available to them and ordered her to lie down, insisting that if she didn’t rest she would have no alternative but to bring it to the attention of General Hammond.

 

Grudgingly the doctor admitted defeat, but only when she was reassured again that she would be woken when Cassie did, did she finally close her eyes.

 

Sam closed the door behind her with a sigh. Her name being whispered loudly almost made her jump and she turned quickly to find Daniel staring at her questioningly.

 

“Is she okay?” he asked.

 

Sam nodded. “She’s just a little overwrought.”

 

“That’s an understatement,” sighed Daniel. “How’s Cassie?”

 

“She woke up a little, but she wasn’t making too much sense, still shocked. They’ve sedated her again.” Sam looked at Daniel, a question forming on the tip of her tongue … “Daniel, do you …” she hesitated then stopped speaking.

 

“What?” queried Daniel.

 

“Oh … it’s nothing really, Janet’s just very upset and …”

 

“And?” he prompted.

 

“She’s blaming the Colonel for all this and some of what Cassie has said has kind of ...”

 

“It’s only natural that Janet is lashing out with anger at someone. It will be okay Sam, I mean, I’ve felt like that a time or too myself, so have you.”

 

Sam nodded, not entirely sure what Daniel had said was comforting, true – but not comforting at all.

 

*

 

The next day saw a quiet, but outwardly calm, Janet Fraiser taking a seat in Cassie’s room. The spirits of SG1 were raised considerably with the news that the Colonel was off the danger list and was improving all the time.

 

Colonel Draper and his men were re-called to base for the time being, the SF’s from Hammond’s command had the hospital sewn up as tightly as possible.

 

The Colonel promised to be back as soon as they had any news, or when the hospital confirmed that Jack was fit to be questioned. As yet, nothing new had come to light and no trace of Mayer or Brinks had been found.

 

Although she had woken earlier, Cassie remained quiet, refusing to speak, despite Janet’s pleas for her to tell what had happened.

 

The Colonel brushed away Janet’s apologies, giving the doctor the reassurance that he fully understood and that when Cassie was ready, she would talk.

 

Cassie seemed very withdrawn, not responding very much, in fact the only reaction she showed was when Colonel Draper entered her room. She had clutched hard at Janet’s hand and moved closer to her. The doctor in Janet automatically checked her daughter’s pulse and found it racing. The Colonel was a stranger to her and her reaction was certainly normal in the circumstances, but when she showed a similar reaction to Daniel, Janet’s worry soared to alarm.

 

*

 

Daniel watched his friend as he began to wake and was peripherally aware of Teal’c stepping closer to the bed. Jack’s eyes opened slowly, obviously not fully aware yet.

 

Daniel cleared his throat softly before speaking, Jack’s continuing silence unnerving him a little as he reached for the buzzer to let the staff know the Colonel had woken.

 

“Hey, Jack, it’s okay, you’re in hospital,” he offered.

 

*

 

Jack’s eyes closed a little as he tried to digest Daniel’s words. The buzzing in his ears made Daniel’s voice seem far away and hard to distinguish.

 

“What?” he whispered, his tongue feeling thick and large in his dry mouth. He felt the touch of a glass against his lips and the welcome wetness that followed helped to ease some of the dryness.

 

“Thanks,” he murmured as he fought to open his eyes more as the buzzing receded slightly.

 

The white coat that suddenly appeared in his vision with the command to ‘hold still’ followed by the flash of a light in his eyes, causing his vision to dance with orange spots, made him curse.

 

“Dammit!” He closed his watering eyes against the assault.

 

“Nice normal reaction Colonel,” said the white coat. After a few seconds, the white coat obviously took the Colonel’s silence as a signal to carry on talking. “Do you know where you are?”

 

Jack risked squinting one eye open at the faceless man. He caught sight of Daniel hovering over the doctor’s shoulder and shot him an accusing glance.

 

“Yeah – he told me.”

 

The doctor tutted and cast Daniel a look that said ‘back off and leave it to me,’ which Daniel ignored.

 

“I meant Colonel, what do you remember?”

 

“Then freakin well say so,” rasped Jack. He ignored the doctor’s annoyed look and raised the arm that had an IV attached to it. He squinted down at it, checking which lines were there. He hurt all over and his thoughts were tumbling around, even as the doctor spoke again.

 

“Colonel ...”

 

“Cassie ... how’s Cassie?” he asked suddenly as his memory hit one particular point - he ignored the doctor and stared straight at Daniel.

 

“Cassie’s okay, a little shook up,” responded Daniel.

 

“But she’s okay?” questioned Jack. He was weighing up if Daniel was speaking the truth and breathed a sigh of relief when his friend nodded, deciding that Daniel was being mostly honest with him.

 

His head sank back against the pillows. He felt so tired ... and hurting ... did he mention the hurting ... every damn bone ached and his chest felt like someone had stomped on him – a lot ... Mayer! He jerked up reactively and cried out in pain as his injuries made themselves felt even more.

 

He didn’t see the doctor move to his IV and inject something into it. He felt the burning as the warmth hit his veins and the heated rush that followed it was welcomed, bringing relief from the pain. As his thoughts chased around he once again focussed on Mayer and he saw him raise the radio to his mouth. ‘Say goodbye to her Colonel ... you could have saved her ... it’s your fault ... say goodbye ...’

 

“No ...” murmured Jack, as he fought against the haze of the drug. “Please ... don’t ...” he begged. He could see Cassie’s frightened face in his mind’s eye as he begged for forgiveness ... forgiveness for killing her...

 

 

*

 

 

PART TEN

 

 

Daniel and Teal’c watched as the doctor injected the pain relief into the IV. Jack’s face bore witness to the pain he was in. His words as he succumbed to the drug made Daniel flick a look to Teal’c, but the Jaffa’s face gave nothing away. Jack’s demeanour certainly worried Daniel, but he pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind and blamed it on the drugs.

 

*

 

They were finally ushered out of the room by the doctor so that he could complete a thorough examination of the now sleeping Colonel. After a short time they were allowed back in with the affirmation that the Colonel was doing well, all things considered.

 

When Jack woke again sometime later Daniel, who had been waiting patiently, eagerly pounced, glad to see him awake.

 

“Whoa!” cried Jack, as he fought off the verbal assault from Daniel. His ears were ringing with the questions Daniel was firing off. “Slow down, breathe,” he ordered, his voice weak.

 

Daniel gave him an apologetic smile. “Sorry.  It’s just so much happened and we really thought we’d lost you this time ... I mean Cassie cutting us off and racing back up there and then Colonel Draper and his team ...”

 

“Draper?” queried Jack. He pinched at the bridge of his nose trying to quell the huge headache that was beginning to make itself felt.

 

Daniel nodded enthusiastically and launched into his tale.

 

Jack lay quietly as he took in Daniel’s enthusiastic report of the events that he had missed by being unconscious - blessedly so, he thought...

 

He half listened to Daniel’s tidal flood of words, his mind filling with the memories of what had happened, so strongly that he wasn’t aware that Daniel had stopped speaking.

 

The harsh throat clearing cough brought him back to the present and he regarded Daniel with a puzzled look.

 

“Have you just heard *anything* I said?” asked Daniel, his expression showing a slightly hurt look.

 

“Sorry.” Jack gave him a slightly apologetic look, which made Daniel give him a ‘what’s up’ look.

 

Then a sudden flood of enlightenment brought a rush of shame to Daniel’s face. “Ah, no, I’m sorry Jack, you just woke up, ahem, been shot and ... well, I errm, you ought to rest,”

 

Jack’s eyes showed just how tired he was and Daniel felt so guilty at jumping on him as soon as he woke ... after he’d been so close to death. The list of injuries the doctor had given them made him pale in remembrance.

 

Jack watched the younger man’s face through his half shut eyes. “You okay?” he asked in concern.

 

Daniel smiled a little self-consciously. “Yes, Jack, I’m fine. You get some rest okay?”

 

Jack could barely nod and his eyes slid shut...

 

*

 

Daniel quietly closed the door behind him. “Idiot,” he cursed himself softly.

 

“To whom are you referring Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c’s voice came from behind him.

 

Daniel jumped a little, blushing. “Me ... I ... um never mind, Teal’c.”

 

“Is O’Neill still resting?”

 

“He woke up for a little while, but he’s sleeping again.”

 

“Then I shall return later. You have eaten?”

 

Daniel shook his head absently and found himself propelled by Teal’c to the staff canteen. The staff were gradually becoming used to seeing Teal’c, but he still drew strange looks and he kept away from the visitor’s areas as much as possible. The baseball cap that someone had provided him with hid his tattoo and as yet, no one had outwardly commented on his refusal to take it off.

 

Daniel watched helplessly as Teal’c piled a tray high with food and a coffee and escorted him to a table, whereupon the Jaffa bid him to ‘chow up’

 

Daniel had the coffee half way to his lips when he stopped and gave the Jaffa a questioning look. “Chow up?” he asked with a quiver of amusement.

 

Teal’c nodded. “Or is it down? I confess that I was not paying O’Neill close attention at the time.”

 

Teal’c took a huge bite out of a bread roll and began to shovel the pasta in behind it. Daniel covered his amusement by taking a sip from his coffee, shaking his head ruefully as he did so.

 

The conversation, or lack of, was saved by the appearance of Sam. She sat down and began picking half-heartedly at the sandwich she’d bought.

 

“Janet not joining us?” Daniel enquired.

 

“No, she’s having something with Cassie,” responded Sam.

 

“Has Cassie said anything yet?”

 

Sam shook her head and let the sandwich fall back onto the plate before she pushed it away, giving up the pretence of eating. “Not really and so far as we know there’s no sign of Mayer or Brinks. It’s like they’ve disappeared off the face of the earth. Colonel Draper is coming back tomorrow, the hospital has advised him that the Colonel might feel like talking a little.”

 

Daniel shook his head. “They obviously don’t know Jack if they think we’ll get some of the gaps filled then.”

 

Sam gave a shrug. “You know the Colonel, he’ll only tell the bare minimum, but he may be able to shed some light on Mayer and Brinks’s whereabouts.”

 

“I do not think a man such as Mayer would have revealed his plans.” Teal’c spoke between mouthfuls, barely pausing before putting the next forkful in.

 

Daniel watched the vast amount of pasta reducing rapidly. He’d always been amazed at just how much Jack could eat and yet remained trim, but the Jaffa had the Colonel beaten three fold.

 

“No, I don’t think he would have said outright, but maybe he let something slip ...” began Daniel.

 

“Or maybe he thought it wouldn’t have mattered to say at the time ... given that the Colonel was left for dead.” Sam acknowledged sadly, her gaze lifting from the table as she spoke.

 

Neither of her companions were inclined to comment further on that and they resumed their meal in silence.

 

*

 

General Hammond knew just how much Colonel O’Neill would hate this particular de-briefing, but he acknowledged the necessity of it and Colonel Draper’s presence.

 

He had limited it to just himself, SG1 and Draper, but even so the small room felt crowded and he knew his 2IC was extremely uncomfortable and not just on a physical level.

 

Jack seemed happy to greet Colonel Draper and shook hands with the man, giving him quiet thanks for the timely rescue. He seemed resigned to the de-briefing, speaking quietly and to the point. He told them the facts as much as he knew. Draper prompted him for more details at certain points and as much as the story unfolded, they each knew they only had got the bare bones of the story ... right up until Jack spoke of leaving Cassie hiding when he went to scout out the road ahead. His voice died to a sudden halt as he spoke of retracing his steps to get back to Cassie.

 

“Jack?” prompted Draper.

 

Jack sank deeper into his pillows. His eyes closed for a moment, before flicking a quick glance at them all, his eyes giving nothing away ... before they closed again.

 

“Colonel, are you able to continue?” asked Hammond gently.

 

Jack nodded as he opened his eyes, this time fastening them down, his gaze intent on the bed linen that covered his chest.

 

“Sir,” he acknowledge quietly. “I ...” he hesitated once again, drawing curious looks from his team. His eyes closed, almost as if against his will and his respiration began to increase. “I ...”

 

“I think you need to rest a little Jack, we can continue this later.”

 

Hammond spoke softly, yet with full authority that no one would dispute. He nodded towards the door and everyone followed his silent request. Even the chairs rasping on the cold floor didn’t cause Jack to open his eyes again and one by one they all filed quietly out of the room.

 

As Major Carter left, Hammond asked her to find a nurse and send her in. He then turned back to the silent man.

 

“Jack, take it easy. I know you’ve been through quite an ordeal. We’ll continue this later, if you feel able to that is.” Hammond didn’t expect a response, so he wasn’t disappointed. When the nurse entered, he rose quietly and left.

 

*

SG1 and Draper were waiting in their rest room for the General to appear and their conversation died as he approached.

 

“Sir, I would like a chance to speak with Cassie,” requested Draper.

 

Hammond seemed to consider it for a moment. “Although I would like to know what went on as well, in this case I must defer to the mother’s wishes. Doctor Fraiser has reported how upset Cassie was by the earlier attempt to question her and her continued distress when approached by any male.”

 

“Maybe Cassie would talk to me Sir?”

 

The General gave Sam a slight nod. “Perhaps. Ask Doctor Fraiser if she is agreeable. The rest of us will wait here.”

 

Sam nodded and excused herself, leaving the others to settle down and to wait.

 

*

 

Sam sat beside Cassie, stroking her hand gently. Janet had moved herself to the other side of the bed, not too close, but ready in case her daughter showed distress.

 

“Take your time Cassie, just tell me what you can,” coaxed Sam gently. The bruises on the girl’s face were dark, her eyes still shadowed ... her face showed a slightly haunted expression and Sam’s heart bled for the girl, but they had to know what had happened and it would be good for Cassie to unburden herself ... at least that’s what she kept telling herself.

 

“All?” whispered Cassie.

 

Sam nodded encouragingly, “Yes, start from when the Colonel picked you up.”

 

Cassie nodded. “He called Friday and told me to be ready earlier than usual, said he had a surprise and to wrap up.” As Cassie continued to speak, her voice grew a little stronger ... “He’d hidden the sticks in the back of the truck, so I didn’t catch on until we were heading right out of town ...

 

It’s beautiful up there ... Lynette’s Lake ... he used to take Charlie there ...”

 

Sam listened as Cassie continued. The girl’s enthusiasm for the trip was clear ... the light that lit her eyes as she spoke of their happy antics on the ice showed how much she had enjoyed it ... right up until the moment the broken down truck appeared ...

 

Cassie’s voice wavered as she told them what she could. Tears ran down her face as she revealed how Jack had been hit ... then their escape...

 

Sam listened carefully, keeping her emotions hidden the best she could as she passed Cassie a handkerchief to wipe her tears and then a drink of water. She stroked the girl’s hand gently, encouraging her to continue.

 

She felt the trembling growing worse as Cassie got to the point where Jack had left her to scout ahead, then suddenly the girl stopped speaking.

 

Sam hesitated for a moment, but her curiosity got the better of her and she pushed the girl to speak a little more. “What happened after that, Cassie? Did the Colonel come back for you?”

 

“He ... he ...” Cassie’s tears flowed and she drew a snuffled breath.

 

Sam was aware of Janet edging closer, but she put out a hand to forestall her. “It’s okay honey, go on.”

 

“He grabbed me ... I tried to fight him ... I really did ... I was so afraid ... Jack left me ... and ...”

 

“That’s okay Cassie, you’re safe, it’s okay ... what happened next?” Sam drew closer to the trembling girl.

 

“I saw the knife ... oh god ... Jack ...”

 

“Who had the knife Cassie?”

 

“I’m glad he’s dead!” burst out Cassie.

 

“Who died Cassie? What happened?” Sam fought to keep her voice calm, despite her distress for the obviously upset girl.

 

“He’s dead and I’m glad ... you hear! Glad!” Cassie broke free from Sam’s hand and drew her knees up, rocking and sobbing.

 

 “Jack killed him with that knife and I’m glad ... he ... he ...” she mimicked her fingers drawing across her throat, “There was a lot of blood, but I’m glad!”

 

“That’s enough!” burst out Janet and climbed onto the bed, trying to calm her daughter. She encircled the sobbing girl in her arms, holding her tightly.

 

“It’s okay Cassie. You did well. It’s okay,” whispered Sam, feeling very emotional herself.

 

Janet eventually managed to calm Cassie down and the girl’s tears subsided to hiccoughs.

 

*

 

Sam reported what she had learned to the others. Draper immediately went to order a search with dogs to be carried out in the vicinity where they thought it was likely to have happened ... they needed to know just who else was out there ... dead or alive.

 

*

 

The doctor attending Jack had refused to let them continue the de-briefing and had sedated the Colonel. The elevated readings he’d seen had shown clearly that his patient was under stress and he blocked any further chance of interview and visitors until at least the next day.

 

Cassie settled for the night with Janet lying beside her. Sam disturbed the woman in the early hours, urging her out into the corridor so that she could speak to her without waking the teenager.

 

“Janet, they’ve located a body. They’re bringing it in.”

 

Janet felt the last ravages of sleep leaving her. “And ... do they know who it is?”

 

“They’ve identified it as Brinks.”

 

“How long before it arrives?”

 

“Thirty minutes ... Janet, the General has requested you assist at the autopsy.”

 

Janet nodded. “That’s okay Sam, don’t worry. Will you stay with Cassie in case she wakes ... I don’t want her to be alone just yet?”

 

“Of course I will,” said Sam at once, feeling pleased that Janet had asked her.

 

Janet went to freshen herself up and Sam took her place in Cassie’s room, watching the girl sleeping. Cassie’s face didn’t seem relaxed even in sleep, and Sam wondered what horrors the child had had to face over the last days.

 

*

 

The hospital mortuary had a well equipped lab. Nothing but the finest equipment ... with the SGC just a little way a way, it needed it. The hospital had been home to more than one refugee from another world, not that most of the staff were aware of it...

 

The soldiers that laid the body on the slab quickly helped the Doctor assigned to do the autopsy and Janet to debag it before leaving at their request. The cause of death was quickly apparent to both doctors as they looked down in horror at the man’s throat. The body had barely suffered any decomposition, the cold keeping it more or less as the life had left it ... the moment that the Colonel’s knife had ended it

 

Almost on autopilot, Janet helped record their findings. A bloodied and broken nose ... bruising to the immediate area ... disarranged clothing ... “He grabbed me ... I tried to fight him ... I really did ... I was so afraid ... Jack left me ... and ...” her daughter’s terrified speech bleached out further thoughts  ... there wasn’t much point in taking it any further ... the body had bled out quickly, the man dying instantly from the well placed blade.

 

Janet thanked the doctor and excused herself, leaving the doctor and his assistant to clear up, and pulled the gloves from her hands. She hurried through to the washroom, barely making it to the sink before losing the scant remains of the last meal she’d eaten. If she’d asked for a painted picture of that scene she would have fared no better ... her mind’s eye could clearly see the man looming over her daughter ... Cassie fighting him ... all alone...

 

As the heaving settled Janet felt the anger and fear building more...

 

Janet was a soldier true, but first and foremost she was a doctor, and in her heart she just couldn’t find any pity for the man killed by the hand of the Colonel. She’d seen some horrors over her time at the SGC, and even before her posting there the brutal acts of mankind had always sickened her, but the fear that Mayer hadn’t finished with them, that he was lurking somewhere waiting to take revenge chilled her.

 

She set out at a good pace to the Colonel’s room, the guards letting her enter without contest.

 

Janet felt quite calm, considering...

 

She’d spoken to the Colonel’s doctor earlier and he’d reassured her, that all things considered, he was doing quite well, and if he’d thought it odd that she’d taken a back seat in the Colonel’s care the doctor certainly hadn’t mentioned it, thankfully, Cassie’s well-being was accepted as her first priority.

 

She stood in the open doorway for a moment, staring at the pale imitation of the Colonel that she knew ... correction – she thought she knew, as much as anyone was allowed to...

 

He seemed to sense her presence and stirred, his eyes opening slowly from slumber.

 

Taking a slightly deeper breath than usual, she stepped in, allowing the door to close behind her.

 

“Colonel,” she said stiffly, by way of greeting as she approached the bed.

 

“Doc?” he queried, his voice quite low and raspy, his tongue flicked out to moisten dry lips as he struggled to sit more upright, the aftermath of sleep leaving him.

 

“I need to know what happened out there.”

 

The Colonel’s face showed a flicker of surprise before he recovered his composure, but he remained silent.

 

“Cassie isn’t saying much at all, she’s still ...” Janet cleared her throat. “Tell me what happened.”

 

Jack’s eyes slid down to the sheet covering him. “I ...” he stopped speaking abruptly, his eyes remaining downcast.

 

“Why?” she asked suddenly, the word bursting out before she could stop it.

 

He looked up startled. His eyes narrowed briefly and he shifted his weight in the bed again.

 

“Why is it you can protect your team so well, but not Cassie?” Her voice rose higher as she spoke.

 

He looked taken aback for a moment by her question, but feeling nothing but a buzzing anger building, Janet stormed on.

 

“Can you answer me that, Jack? The heroic Colonel O’Neill, decorated for bravery ... how many times? But you couldn’t help Cassie ... you abandoned her to those men ...”

 

“Janet, what ... it wasn’t like that ... I ...”

 

“I trusted you, Colonel. Just like your team trust you out there.”

 

His eyes opened wider, a slightly shocked expression lit them. “God Janet, I did everything I could to ...” his voice broke a little and he paused for breath.

 

“I shouldn’t have trusted you with her, I shouldn’t have expected her to be safe with you ... you couldn’t keep your own son safe.”

 

Jack stared at the petite bundle of seething hurt that stood before him ... except that he didn’t see the hurt ... he only felt his own. Her words sliced through him like the cruellest of knives and when she mentioned Charlie, the knife swept back through him, cutting him to the very core. The ice that crept down through his veins began to mesh with the anger that surged as he snapped. He only felt the need to return the hurt, to slash back at the woman that was cutting through him.

 

“You were willing enough to use me as a convenient babysitter when you had better things to do!” He pushed himself more upright to face her, oblivious of the pull on his injuries.

 

“Bastard!” snarled Janet and her hand struck out at him.

 

The resounding slap echoed in the room, but he barely flinched. The ice in his veins and in his heart didn’t acknowledge it. “Get out!” His voice was cold and calm. “Get out,” he repeated when she didn’t move at first.

 

“Oh I’m going Colonel,” she spat at him. “But before I do you need to know that I won’t make the same mistake again – I’m not going to give Mayer or anyone another chance at her.”

 

Janet turned abruptly as she spoke the last word. Jack barely saw her leaving ... the ice settling down ... the numbness began to take over ... shutting him down.

 

*

 

Jack let his head fall back with a thump. His heart was thudding painfully in his chest, the pain he was in was nothing to the overwhelming sense of shame he felt. He knew he shouldn’t have retaliated the way he had, but he had been taken by surprise by the whole episode and had lashed out without thinking. It seemed to his tired and drugged mind that Janet had discovered that he had been prepared to sacrifice her daughter’s life ... that must have been what it seemed to Cassie, that was what it was – he left her ... he did nothing to save her - was that what he was good at? Killing children?

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART ELEVEN

 

 

General Hammond was happily oblivious to his CMO’s actions. He’d finally returned to base to grab a few hours sleep before resuming his command at the SGC. He was a little perturbed by the body that had been discovered. The report from the search team had left him no illusion as to the cause of death, but as to the motive for his 2IC’s actions, he had no doubts that the man had had reasonable justification at the time.

 

*

 

Some twenty-four hours later Jack’s continued reticence to talk was a worry to the General. He’d spoken at length with the army’s CO at Peterson, who felt that any further action resulting from the incident was entirely in Hammond’s hands – as far as the army were concerned, except for Mayer’s escape, it was mission accomplished.

 

He steeled himself outside his 2IC’s room before entering. Jack certainly looked better than when he was first brought in, but only just ... the lack of light in his 2IC’s eyes gave George the shivers.

 

He sat down without speaking at first, giving Jack time to focus his attention on him. “How are you feeling son?” he asked kindly.

 

Jack turned his head towards him, his eyes a little unfocused as if he had just woken. “Not too bad, sir,” he responded quietly.

 

Hammond nodded. “Do you think you can tell me what happened out there Jack?”

 

Jack nodded slowly in return. He knew it would have to come out in the end and although he had done nothing that he would not do again given the same choices, it still shamed him that he had made the choices he had.

 

He spoke. His tone was flat ... completely lifeless. He told of ‘despatching’ Brinks in the briefest way possible and continued on to tell the General as much of the story as he could stomach.

 

Hammond realised that Jack hadn’t told him the full depth of it all. When he back-tracked Jack to the killing, goading Jack into telling more of it, he saw the man’s eyes flash for a split second with absolute hatred ... his flat tone lit with a spark of anger as he let slip just what he hadn’t intended to say.

 

The General winced and his eyes closed in reaction as he realised with a sudden jolt just what Jack had implied, more from what he hadn’t said, than from what he had ... just how close Cassie had come to being raped and that Jack was blaming himself for the situation.

 

George Hammond sat and digested the full extent of what had happened. Under the circumstances Brinks was lucky to have died a quick death. The General adored Cassandra Fraiser, and his stomach churned with the thought that if it had been one of his granddaughters in that situation, he knew with crystal clarity that he would have done no less than Jack had.

 

“You couldn’t have known Jack, don’t blame yourself. You acted in time.”

 

Jack’s eyes lit briefly on the General’s face. “Yeah, I showed her another way to kill ... you should have seen her George – she was terrified.”

 

“You’d rather he’d succeeded?”

 

“NO!” Jack spat vehemently.

 

“You did what you had to, son, your training kicked in, took over ... Cassie’s strong, she’ll get over that a hell of a lot easier than ...” George’s voice faded to a halt.

 

“It doesn’t alter the fact that I ...” Jack’s voice broke. “I had to make a choice and I let her down George.”

 

George leaned closer to Jack. “Son, we all have to make choices we don’t like, you know that as much as I do ... if not better.”

 

“Mayer was going to kill her and I put the missile and complete strangers above her life ... how do I look her in the face again? How do I justify that to her? Sorry Cass, but a hundred nameless people just took on more importance than you ...”

 

George saw the stone wall the man had built crumbling slowly. Cracks had opened as the years had piled on the stress and although he always knew Jack had tremendous heart and soul, he hadn’t realised until now just what his service to his country had cost...

 

“You did what was right son and what Cassie would have told you to do. If that missile had left this country it would have most likely been the ultimate cause of death to not just hundreds, but thousands of lives.”

 

“Most likely ... ultimate cause ... yeah sounds good doesn’t it – but how do you do that to a child and expect them to trust you ever again?”

 

Jack’s dark eyes fixed Hammond’s with such a desolate plea that General George Hammond almost felt he could cry for him. Trust was so hard won with this man, so important ... love and respect ... goddamn the world at times...

 

“Cassie will, you’ll see.”

 

Jack shook his head sadly, his eyes closing, almost as if against his will. “I don’t think so George, not this time.”

 

George was about to speak when there was a sharp knock at the door and a SF entered.

 

“Sorry Sirs,” he apologised quickly, “but I have an urgent call for you General.”

 

Hammond nodded and got to his feet. “I’ll see you later Jack. Get some rest. It’ll work out okay son.” He gently squeezed the Colonel’s good shoulder and left, cursing the untimely call.

 

*

 

The General didn’t in fact get to see Jack later – he was too busy dealing with an off-world incident at the SGC. He briefly spoke to Major Carter and asked her to pass on his apologies to the Colonel and without giving anything away he pointedly ordered SG1 to stay on stand down at the hospital until further notice.

 

The next few days at the SGC were hectic and the General was kept updated on his 2IC’s continual physical improvement, but the nagging worry that all was not well would just not leave him...

 

*

 

Cassie continued to improve, bouncing back with a ferocity that surprised Janet. The question that she was not prepared for so soon however, was launched...

 

“When can I see Jack?”

 

Janet stopped in mid flow, her hands stilling on the cards she’d been shuffling. Her heart hammered in her throat. Cassie had been repeatedly asking how Jack was, but had accepted Janet’s brief automatic responses up until now.

 

Cassie waited. “Mom?” she asked eventually when Janet seemed as if she would ignore her by beginning to deal the cards.

 

“What?” asked Janet absently, concentrating on the cards with undue care.

 

“When can I see Jack?”

 

“Not yet.”

 

“I though you said he was okay?”

 

“He is.”

 

“So why can’t I see him?”

 

“I ... He’s not having visitors yet.”

 

“Sam’s visiting ... Daniel, Teal’c ...” said Cassie, rising up on the bed slightly.

 

“You’re a patient.”

 

“So?”

 

“That means you can’t visit.”

 

“I’m okay Mom, when do I get to go home then?”

 

“Soon.”

 

“You said that yesterday.”

 

“The doctors said a couple of days,” responded Janet vaguely.

 

“Why can’t I see Jack?” Cassie continued to whine. It was so unlike her Mom that Cassie was beginning to wonder. “I’m not frightened,” she said suddenly.

 

Janet’s eyes flew up to regard her daughter. “You need to speak to Colonel Draper yet,” she said, deliberately changing the subject.

 

Cassie’s eyes dimmed with the reminder. She wanted to forget it all, put it behind her ... somehow she felt that if she spoke about it, it made it seem too real – to raw. Her nightmares had started to recede and instead of the knife and Brinks she had begun to remember just how safe she had felt with Jack, and she wanted that back ... more than anything, and she wanted to make sure that he was alright. She was old enough to realise just what Jack had gone through and what he had done to protect her – putting himself in danger – ready to sacrifice himself for her. She knew that Jack couldn’t have done anything else. The last couple of days she had gotten a little more information from Sam about the missile and she understood just what Jack had had to do...

 

Cassie felt her mom’s eyes on her as she thought. Her mother suddenly looked older and tired ... very tired. She drew herself up on the bed and engulfed a surprised Janet in her arms.

 

Janet gave a startled gasp before responding by putting her own arms around the girl. “Hey, it’s okay.”

 

“I know, it’s just that ... I want to go home, be normal ... why can’t things just not happen?”

 

“There’s no answer to that, I wish there was.”

 

“Things get pretty weird don’t they?” asked Cassie, suddenly sitting back, but keeping hold of her mom’s hands.

 

Janet’s mouth broke into the first glimmer of a smile that Cassie had seen in days. “They sure do honey.”

 

“But you know what Mom?”

 

Janet gave her a questioning look.

 

“I wouldn’t trade any of the people in my life for anything!”

 

Janet felt the tears pricking and she pulled her daughter close again to hold her even more tightly.

 

*

 

Worry about what she had not only thought, but done to Colonel O’Neill had begun to surface in Janet’s mind, but the overwhelming fear of Mayer being loose out there chased away the doubts that kept on flickering. She managed to sway away Cassie’s demands by promising that once she was home and the Colonel was fit she would see what she could do.

 

*

 

The Colonel continued to ask Sam and Daniel how Cassie was, and Sam had actually commented to Janet about Cassie seeing the still very sick man, but Janet had conveyed the impression that Cassie didn’t wish to and then changed the subject. Sam had felt reluctant to pursue the issue. She had also noticed Janet’s avoidance of the Colonel’s care - but he never asked about the doctor.

 

She knew that the Colonel wasn’t himself and despite physically continuing to improve, his usual buoyancy wasn’t there ... his whole manner was repressed.

 

Daniel had tried to draw the man from the low spirits he seemed to be in and gotten short shrift, but even that reaction had no fire ... just a flat request to get out.

 

When Sam had revealed to him that Cassie had gone home with Janet he seemed to sag and withdraw even further.

 

*

 

Recent multiple injuries sustained by off-world teams meant that Sam and Daniel were recalled to the SGC and that General Hammond was kept even busier. He’d returned to see his 2IC briefly, but was unable to engage him in conversation.

 

Though Teal’c’s services could have been readily utilised, he was adamant that he would be staying put and for once the General was in complete agreement with the Jaffa. He felt bad enough withdrawing the rest of SG1 – feeling like he was withdrawing the support his 2IC sorely needed, but the galaxy wasn’t waiting...

 

*

 

Jack lay on his bed. It was late afternoon and he’d been allowed out of bed for the last couple of days under supervision. He was slowly going nuts he realised, the walls closing in on him along with his guilt and self hatred. He squinted out of the window; the afternoon’s sun lazily glanced through the trees that were dotted across the hospital lawns. His gaze lit briefly on the hospital wing opposite his window, wondering perhaps if somewhere, someone was laying there feeling the same despondency that he was. He gave a rueful shake of his head. ‘Nah – there couldn’t be another bastard like me – the world’s just too small for that!’  

 

The envelope on his bedside table addressed to General Hammond had finally been sealed. He’d dated and signed his resignation – it only remained to be delivered.

 

Bleakly he wondered just what the future held. He had no doubts that he would retreat to his cabin ... maybe get a dog – yeah a dog would be good. Maybe he wouldn’t have to let the animal down. Fed, walked and loved – dogs were simple – not like people.

 

*

 

Janet was extremely tired, the sleepless nights were long, and every creak in the house had her wide-awake listening, despite locking the house up like Fort Knox. During the day it wasn’t as bad, but every time there was a knock at the door her heart hammered, despite telling herself she was being stupid.

 

Cassie had finally been released from the hospital and her continued requests to visit Jack wore at Janet’s nerves. She’d tried avoidance and all the usual excuses and Cassie had started to get angry. Janet finally snapped.

 

“Why can’t I?” argued Cassie for what felt like the millionth time that day.

 

“Because,” snapped Janet.

 

“That’s not an answer,” snapped back an equally angry Cassie. She hadn’t even seen Sam and Daniel for over three days. She hadn’t felt like seeing her school friends, she didn’t think she could gloss over what had happened – just yet.

 

Janet’s frayed nerves finally tore apart. “Because he doesn’t want to see you!” she yelled.

 

Cassie’s stunned face almost undid her. The girl’s eyes widened and her mouth quivered and, as the first shocked tears began to fall, she turned away and ran up the stairs...

 

“Cassie, I ...” The door to her bedroom slammed shut. “I didn’t mean it ...” finished Janet with a whisper. The house ached with an eerie quiet that made the woman shiver as she stood, her hand falling uselessly to her side, her throat aching with unshed tears.

 

The phone’s ringing brought her out of her stupor and she brushed at her eyes trying to clear them while snatching it up.

 

“Doctor Fraiser,” she snapped briefly, trying to keep her voice steady.

 

The operator from the SGC rapidly gave her Hammond’s directive to report in. Janet wondered momentarily at refusing and asking to speak to Hammond direct before the doctor in her responded to the emergency – Hammond wouldn’t have called her in if it weren’t absolutely necessary.

 

Hanging up the phone after giving her acquiescence, Janet began to gather her belongings, purse and keys before running upstairs to come to a halt outside Cassie’s door. The bolt that was rarely used was in place and she gave the knob a quick shake before speaking.

 

“Cassie, I’ve been called in – medical emergency. I’ll speak to Mrs Byrne next door to keep an eye out and if I can’t get back I’ll ask if you can stay over.” The only response from the room was complete silence. “Cassie, I’m sorry, look we’ll talk later. Will you be okay? If you don’t want to stop alone you can come with me.” She tried for one last time, hoping Cassie would chose the safety of the SGC, but to no avail.

 

“I’ll stay.” The reply was slightly muffled, but sounded quite calm, considering.

 

“That’s fine,” lied Janet, thoroughly dismayed at the response. “If you want anything just call, okay? I’ll be as quick as I can.”

 

Janet shook her head as she made her way downstairs. The lousy timing some things had ... but then again a little breathing space wouldn’t hurt. She called at the neighbour’s house before leaving and Mrs Byrne was more than willing to keep an eye out – saying she would call over in a couple of hours anyway.

 

Janet pulled her seat belt on before starting the car and for a moment she glanced up to the bedroom window – a niggle of worry etching at her ... sighing deeply, realising there was nothing she could do for the moment, she started the car and began her journey to work.

 

*

 

Cassie peered through the curtain and watched her Mom’s car moving off. She gave it a count of five minutes before gathering some things in her bag and picked up the phone to call for a cab, giving an address that wasn’t her own. Quietly she let herself out of the house and made her way down the street. Safely out of the view of the nosy neighbours, she stood outside the house she’d given the address of to the cab company and waited...

 

*

 

Jack had begun to settle back a little again on the bed, feeling drained by the not so quick trip to the bathroom, but he was thankful that at last they let him have that privilege. Bedpans and bottles were something he particularly hated and would never get used to, despite the practice he got.

 

The swathe of bandages on his chest had been reduced to lighter dressings and he felt considerably better for it. Thankfully they’d allowed him to don the sweat pants Teal’c had procured for him and although he didn’t think that yellow was a particularly good colour, he was too grateful to grouse at the Jaffa – well not much anyway. The hospital dressing gown hung loosely across his shoulders, it was much too much of a bother to fasten it...

 

He was avidly fascinated, in a tired and totally depressed way, by his bare toes on the bed. He squinted one eye at his right toe and began to draw the outline of the door it ... circling the frame twice before realising the door was open just a little. He stopped in mid-trace and watched as the door opened a little further...

 

*

 

Once safely in the cab Cassie relaxed a little. She gave the driver her destination address and settled back. The journey was only a little over twenty minutes and she began to rehearse what she was going to say – if Jack didn’t want to see her ever again he would have to tell her face to face!

 

The hospital staff didn’t stop her, quite used to seeing the young girl who had over the years visited her Mom frequently, usually calling after school to wait for the end of shift to go shopping. Some just nodding to her, others smiling and asked how she was, to which she briefly smiled in reply and nodded as she continued on her way.

 

The SF’s who were still patrolling the wing where the Colonel was were also familiar with Doctor Fraiser’s daughter - they were pleased to see the brave young lady and waved her on.

 

Still more than just a little worried about Jack’s possible reaction to her presence she paused at the end of the quiet corridor, lost in thought. She was startled by a firm hand on her shoulder and yelped as she swung around in fear to face the person who had accosted her.

 

*

 

 

 

PART TWELVE

 

 

 

“Teal’c!” Cassie berated, as the thudding fear in her heart left her.

 

His face immediately showed his contrition. “I did not mean to scare you, please forgive me,” he said softly.

 

She drew a deep breath, calming herself down. “That’s okay Teal’c, just I’m a little err ... jumpy ...”

 

“As is understandable, Cassandra. Are you going to visit O’Neill?”

 

Cassie nodded. “I think so.”

 

Teal’c regarded her with a raised eyebrow and he inclined his head to one side. “Think? Do you not know what you are doing here?”

 

“Well, what I am trying to do is the right thing ... but I don’t know for sure that it is.”

 

“You must do as you think is right. I am sure of that. Also that if you have come so far, you must not now give up.”

 

Cassie gave the man-mountain a tremulous smile, realising he was not talking about the length of the journey from the house. “Were you always this wise, Teal’c?”

 

“Indeed not. Wisdom cannot be taught. Like experience, it can only be attained through living and learning. I have just lived a little longer than most people you know.”

 

“Indeed,” said Cassie, giving the surprised Jaffa a quick hug; however he only smiled and nodded.

 

Cassie felt a little better ... a little braver ... and carried on resolutely, only to stop a bit further down the corridor, suddenly realising that she actually had no idea which room she needed. Then Teal’c’s deep voice issued clear instructions. She didn’t turn her head, merely waving a hand in thanks as she followed his directions.

 

For some reason as the door was in sight, she felt the need to tiptoe the last few feet. Taking a deep breath she raised her fist to knock, then changed her mind and instead began to push the door open – slowly.

 

*

 

Heart in mouth she peered around the door to see Jack on the bed facing her. His eyes were alert and watching and the foot he had raised slightly flopped to the bed’s surface as she bravely stepped further into the room.

 

For a few heart hammering seconds she wasn’t sure of his response, his face showing just a little shock, until the smile that began tugging at his mouth lit his dark eyes and the last few feet to the bed were covered in a remarkably short space of time.

 

*

 

Jack wasn’t sure at first if he was seeing things when Cassie’s face appeared around the door. When she stepped in, the uncertainty her face held tugged at his heart. His first and most immediate thought was that she was frightened of him, until the love he felt for her surged up and for one of the few times in his life, he let his heart dictate his expression and he didn’t hold back from showing just how glad he was to see her.

 

He bit down the gasp of pain as Cassie quite literally flung herself on the bed at him, his arms opened wide, hugging her fiercely. His eyes filled with what felt suspiciously like salty moisture as he squeezed them shut, not able to hide the trembling in his limbs.

 

The tears that shook her young body bled a few of his own.

 

*

 

Cassie’s sudden tears made her entire body tremble as she cried. She cried her heart out, letting go of the pent up fears and threads of self doubt, and the guilt she had trapped inside of her. She cried for everything and everyone ... without quite knowing exactly for what... but most of all she cried for the man holding her, the man who had become so much more than a father to her. He held a very, very special place in her heart and in her life and she was no way in hell going to lose him, regardless of what *he* or her mother thought!

 

“Cass,” his voice whispered as she began to calm down. His lips touched the top of her head in a kiss and she clung to him harder than ever.

 

She felt him stiffen slightly and draw a sharp breath and she immediately released him with a hiccoughed apology.

 

“Jack ... sor hic... sorry... I forgot hic...”

 

“Sokay, honey, honestly. You okay?”

 

“Now I am.” Cassie spoke resolutely and sat up, scrubbing at her eyes and snotty nose with her sleeve until Jack pressed a handful of wipes into her hand.

 

“Yew gross!” he whined with a smile as she made as if to rub her nose on him instead of the wipe.

 

Cassie grinned and blew her nose and then lifted her face to him to accept his touch as he gently cleaned her face with the fresh wet wipe he had snagged from his bedside table.

 

He then passed her a drink and eased back on the bed against the headboard. She snuggled on the narrow bed beside him, his arm cocooning her safely to prevent her tumbling off.

 

“Cass...”

 

“Jack...”

 

They both began to speak at the same time and then grinned at each other stupidly.

 

“You first,” she demanded.

 

“Uh, ah ... Cass...”

 

“Jack...”

 

They laughed, then Jack gave her shoulder a squeeze and a hand signal to carry on.

 

“Why didn’t you want to see me?”

 

“Uh? I thought ... oh.” The light dawned on him as Janet’s last conversation with him – or rather at him – came back to him. “Cassie I...” he hesitated, loath to shift any blame onto Janet because, no matter how he felt, he could see her point of view in wanting to protect her child. In fact if Cassie had decided she didn’t want to see him, he would honour that regardless of his own feelings...

 

“I was a bit ... well out of it, I think your Mom thought it best, especially with Mayer still on the run as well.”

 

Cassie frowned at him. It wasn’t as if her Mom hadn’t tried that same tactic on her as well ... and it didn’t wash. Her Mom’s final words to her were what counted.

 

“No. Mom said that *you* didn’t want to see me.”

 

Jack shifted a little uncomfortable. He didn’t want to blame anyone, but he also didn’t want Cassie to think that was what *he* had wanted.

 

“Mom lied.” Cassie spoke quietly and she turned her face to regard him seriously.

 

“Well, maybe not exactly ...” he began.

 

“She did,” said Cassie firmly. “She shouldn’t have.”

 

“Cassie, one day you’ll have a child of your own and then...”

 

“What? I’ll turn into a liar?” she asked quite seriously.

 

Jack couldn’t help the grin. “Cass when you’re a parent things are kinda cut and dried in your head when you protect your kids, and it doesn’t matter at the time if it’s wrong - you do just it.”

 

“You love me, don’t you?” asked Cassie suddenly, her expression daring him to deny it.

 

Jack couldn’t - he nodded slowly.

 

“Yet you managed to do the right thing out there, didn’t you?”

 

The guilt and shame flooded Jack so hard he almost gasped. He couldn’t respond to that – didn’t want to. His eyes slid down to regard his chest before he closed them.

 

“Jack,” she said quietly, then a little nudge and his name again until he managed to look at her.

 

“You did the right thing. You knew that rescue couldn’t have been long coming. You gave me a chance by holding them off for as long as you did.”

 

“Cass, don’t I...”

 

“You think I would want to live knowing that my life was traded for even one innocent? I think my natural parents taught me better than that, and you and Janet have carried on teaching me the same way.”

 

Jack did a slight double take at that. Cassie rarely referred to her natural parents nowadays, but it didn’t mean she’d forgotten them. It was also just as rare that Cassie referred to Janet as anything other than ‘mom’ ... the way she phrased ‘natural parents’ gave him a glimmer of just how she felt towards him and Janet – parents – and it warmed his worn soul.

 

“Cassie, I’m honoured that you think that way, but I ... what about Brinks? I saw how you ... when I ...”

 

Cassie put a finger up to his lips. “Shush. You did what you had to and I am so glad you were there. I don’t care about him. It doesn’t matter, just that you were there and that you stopped him is enough for me. When Mom calms down and I can talk to her properly, and tell her everything that happened, she’ll understand. I know it’s been hard for her and I think she feels she wasn’t being a good mother by not being able to protect me and she’s taken her guilt and anger out on you too.”

 

Jack’s eyes widened, then he poked her suddenly on her arm. “Are you sure you’re *our* Cassandra Fraiser ... some alien didn’t beam you up and clone you did they?” he asked suspiciously.

 

Cassie laughed and swotted his fingers away. “Jack, don’t be an ass!” she berated, giggling.

 

“Hey!” he mock growled pretending to be hurt. “Gonna stop you hangin’ around our space monkey!”

 

Cassie giggled harder and leaned into his shoulder until the giggling subsided and she sobered slightly, sitting up a little straighter.

 

“I couldn’t ... I... well I haven’t actually told anyone what happened out there properly.”

 

“When you’re ready you will.”

 

“Huh, like I bet you told anyone properly. A factual report, Colonel?” cracked Cassie.

 

Jack nudged her head with his shoulder. “Ah, but I’m sort of allowed to, well, gloss some of the details now I’m soooo much older,” he teased.

 

“Ack,” grimaced Cassie. “Sam says you box it down.”

 

Jack’s eyes widened a little in surprise. “She did, did she?”

 

Cassie nodded and carried on. “Yep, that you keep too much inside of you and that it’s not good for you. I mean, how would you feel if I did the same thing?”

 

Jack shrugged a little. “Depends on how you handle the ‘boxing’. I don’t do emotion, Cass, you know that.”

 

“You’re doing it now.”

 

Jack gave her a mock glare and then a rueful grin. “That’s doing it? Now that’s amazing – see – Sam’s wrong then huh?”

 

Cassie gave him a scowl and a thump on his good arm.

 

“We ... err, we’re okay then?” he asked hesitantly.

 

“Yes Jack,” sighed Cassie with all the attitude of a twenty-year plus, woman – “We’re okay.”

 

“That’s good.”

 

“Yup.”

 

“I mean Cass...”

 

“Jack.”

 

“Uh?”

 

“Shuttup now you’re ahead, okay?”

 

“Women!” he scorned.

 

Cassie beamed....

 

 

***

 

Janet Fraiser sighed as she scrubbed up. She’d had to carry out two operations – one after the other due to the injuries SG12 and 14 had received off world and she was tired. The General had been down quickly to ascertain how things were and apologised at having called her, cancelling her leave. She accepted his apologies with good grace and was thankful that the personnel although needing a lot of care, would certainly be okay. The nursing staff had been running at full stretch for the last five hours and at long last she could now afford to take a break.

 

Lt. McPhee however disturbed her with apologies. “There’s been two calls while you were in surgery Ma-am, both from your neighbour, Mrs. Byrne.”

 

Janet’s heart jumped a little. “Tricia? Did she say what it was?”

 

The Lt. shook her head. “I told her you were in the OR and would call as soon as you could.”

 

“Thanks, I will.”

 

Janet quickly made her way to the nearest phone and dialed the number she knew by heart, having frequently had to use it when delayed at the base.

 

“Hi Janet, sorry I had to call you in work, but I’ve been over to check on Cassie and didn’t get an answer.”

 

“She’s probably still sulking, we ... ahem, well we had a few words before I left,” confessed Janet.

 

“I left it a while in case she was in the shower or something, but when I went back I took the spare key and let myself in. Janet, she’s not at home. Did she have to go anywhere?”

 

Janet’s heart took a dip into her stomach and her stomach shot down to her shoes, before lurching back up with an essence of nausea. 

 

“No ... I ... she shouldn’t have gone anywhere ...” Janet’s mouth ran with moisture and she gulped hastily as the bile fought to rise.

 

“Janet?” questioned Tricia at the sudden silence.

 

“Sorry, yes ... look I’m coming home. If she shows will you call my cell phone?”

 

“Sure thing. Be careful driving huh?”

 

Janet made a quick call to the General to advise him she was heading home and why.

 

“Are you sure you don’t need help?” he enquired gently. “There might be...”

 

Janet considered what he was saying. “Sir, I don’t think it’s so much trouble as perhaps she was just a little upset at something I said before I left.”

 

“Will you let me know when you find her, and Doctor - don’t hesitate to call if there’s anything I can do.”

 

“I promise sir.”

 

Janet left the mountain in record time. She felt the anxiety melting, only for it to be replaced by anger as she suddenly realised just where her errant daughter might be.

 

*

 

Janet parked her car in one of the on call doctors’ spaces without care and practically ran into the hospital. She was seething by the time she reached the wing where the Colonel was. As she entered the corridor leading to his room, she saw Teal’c and Colonel Draper coming towards her and put her hands up to stop them.

 

“Have you seen Cassie?” she demanded.

 

Teal’c inclined his head towards her. “Is something distressing you Doctor Fraiser?”

 

“Where’s Cassie?”

 

Teal’c’s eyes widened slightly at her manner, but he inclined his head down towards the Colonel’s room.

 

Janet didn’t acknowledge them further, but stormed off in that direction.

 

“What’s got up her ass?” asked Draper, a little surprised.

 

“If you mean what is bothering the Doctor, then I believe that she has discovered that Cassandra is visiting when she is not supposed to.”

 

“Ouch,” said Draper with feeling.

 

“Indeed. I suggest we wait here.”

 

“Uh, no sh... kidding Teal’c. That woman scares the pants off me,” confessed the army Colonel.

 

“You are not alone in that feeling Colonel Draper.”

 

Draper winced “No doubt. Poor Jack.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

*

 

Janet pushed the half open door wide. She stood with her hands on her hips and glared at the bed...

 

The Colonel sat up with a start as Janet entered and took in her stern demeanour as she glared at him. If looks could have killed – he’d have died instantly.

 

“Doc, I ...”

 

Cassie stirred from the doze she’d fallen into and her eyes opened to find her Mom glaring at Jack.

 

“Mom?” she asked a little dazed and not just a little shocked at the expression she saw written there.

 

“Cassandra, get your things, you’re coming home!” snapped Janet, her eyes not leaving Jack’s face.

 

“Janet, look ...” began Jack, his voice taking on a pleading tone. He didn’t want to lose Cassie, nor his friendship with the doctor.

 

“Don’t! Just don’t! Cassie!” she snapped impatiently, stepping closer to the foot of the bed.

 

Cassie sat up and scrambled forwards over the blankets, looking from her mom to Jack.

 

Jack heaved himself off the bed, holding a hand out to Janet. “Please, just give me a chance to...”

 

The flicker of light from the window caught in his peripheral vision and even as he turned to utter a warning he saw the red dot flashing onto to Cassie’s head ... right between her eyes.

 

*

 

Janet saw everything as if in slow motion ... she watched as Jack turned, his mouth opening as if to speak, but nothing but a startled gasp erupted as he flung himself bodily onto the bed, knocking Cassie down – pinning her beneath him...

 

The crack as the window broke drew her eyes, but before she could even comprehend just what had happened she became aware of Cassie screaming...

 

Her hands flew up in horror as she watched the explosion of blood that splattered the white sheets ... the redness stark and terrifying ... and the screaming ... her daughter pinned to the bed – screaming hysterically as Jack O’Neill’s blood covered her...

 

 

*

 

Janet was frozen to the spot in absolute horror for what felt an age, but in reality was only seconds. She watched as the body covering her daughter rolled suddenly and brought them both crashing to the floor, rolling to keep himself between Cassie and the window. The cry of pain from the Colonel brought Janet to her senses.

 

Cassie’s screams cut off suddenly, the sounds of her gulping for breath, beginning to hyperventilate, rent the air.

 

Janet’s instincts clicked in and she dropped low, even though the angle she stood at shielded her from the window.

 

The Colonel put out an arm, rolling back from Cassie slightly just as a second shot rent the air. Janet screamed out as she watched the Colonel jerk in agony as it hit him in the back. Cassie’s screams echoed through the room again and Janet shot forwards grabbing at her daughter’s outstretched arms, pulling with all her might, sliding the helpless girl across the floor to safety. As soon as Cassie was within her reach Janet scrambled against the wall, hauling her daughter with her.

 

Cassie struggled against her, her breath beginning to whoop again as she fought to speak. “Noooooo!” she screamed and struggled to be free of her mom’s arms.

 

Jack’s slight movement drew Janet’s eyes to him. “No... Cass... stay...” he gasped, one arm extended towards the crying child, then his head lolled and he stilled.

 

Cassie’s struggling ceased as the door slammed fully open and Teal’c’s huge outline appeared.

 

Janet screamed a warning to the Jaffa who dived to the floor, followed rapidly by an SF, rifle at the ready.

 

“The window!” shouted Janet.

 

A third shot rang out, hitting its target with deadly accuracy and the Colonel’s body reacted, his head snapping back with the force of the bullet. Janet realised the jerk was purely a reflex – the Colonel was already dead.

 

The SF snapped a couple of quick shots through the window as soon as the third shot had given him a line to follow.

 

“Gunman on the east wing roof,” he shouted and fired again.

 

*

 

Teal’c looked down at his friend’s body, instinctively knowing the Colonel was no longer alive. The resounding silence since the SF had fired told him that the gunman was fleeing and he burst into action. He almost knocked the crouching figure of Colonel Draper off his feet as he ran at top speed out of the room.

 

Draper got to his feet from his position in the doorway, and gave a shocked glance at the body on the floor, however one look at the murderous expression on Teal’c’s face as he barrelled past him, told him to follow the man.

 

Teal’c’s fast pace took him by surprise and he had to push hard to keep the man in sight. More SF’s were beginning to converge on the scene and he shouted hasty instructions at them to get security out into the grounds, not daring to stop.

 

Mike Draper ran as though his life depended on it, hot on Teal’c’s trail.

 

For just a couple of minutes he thought he’d taken a wrong turn, then the sound of gunfire drew him a little way up a flight of stairs. Panting, he came to a halt as he saw that Teal’c had cornered a man on the landing above him. Teal’c was clutching one hand to his side, the other held the man by the throat.

 

“Teal’c?” called Mike as he neared them. The rifle that had killed his friend and colleague Jack O’Neill, lay on the floor, obviously cast to one side in the struggle that had ended when Teal’c caught up with a man he recognised as Mayer.

 

“Do not attempt to interfere,” spat Teal’c. His voice was low, a dangerous tone to it, one that Draper recognised as very serious.

 

Mayer uttered a choked cough as the Jaffa’s huge hand tightened on his throat.

 

Mike Draper eased himself carefully up the last of the steps. “Oh, I have no intentions of that Teal’c.” His voice was low, and just as dangerous, and his words deadly serious. “In fact, if you don’t do it ... I damn well will.”

 

*

 

Cassie fought free of Janet’s arms and scrambled over to Jack’s body, kneeling heedlessly in the pools of blood. “No ... no .... mom help him, help him!” she begged, pulling at his arm to turn him.

 

Janet seemed to wake up as if from a sleep of horror and she helped Cassie to turn the Colonel over. Janet had seen death too often to not recognise it and she knew the Colonel was gone, but something in Cassie’s eyes made her begin CPR. She could hear the commotion outside in the corridor and then a doctor slid into the room on his knees and joined her beside the Colonel. His questioning look made her shake her head briefly, but he nodded and began to try and give the Colonel air.

 

Janet kept up the compressions for a while, much longer than she would have normally before, with a sinking feeling of despair, stopping and sitting back, a sob rising in her throat as she watched the blood still pooling from the bullet wound to his head.

 

Her daughter’s heart rendering scream of denial shot through her.

 

“No Mom, help him ... you can help him ... don’t stop... he can’t die ... he can’t!” begged the hysterical girl, her hands clawing at Janet, trying to shake her arm as she screamed.

 

“Cassie he’s gone...” began Janet quietly.

 

*

 

 

 

PART THIRTEEN

 

“NO!” Cassie grabbed her Mom’s hands, slicking the blood that covered them over her. Her strength startled Janet as she forced them back into place over Jack’s heart.

 

Janet felt the tears running down her own face and Cassie’s features began to blur. She turned back to the prone figure of the Colonel.

 

“Again!” she ordered the doctor who sat waiting for her call. God help her, but she knew if she didn’t try again, her daughter would never forgive her.

 

As soon as the SF’s were sure the room was safe, they permitted more staff in. Their soft whispers as they watched a hopeless battle were muted to Janet ... only her harsh breathing and Cassie’s sobs were real.

 

“Christ!” exclaimed the doctor trying to force air into the Colonel’s lungs with the ambu bag that had been passed to him. “I’ve got a pulse.”

 

There was a sudden flurry of action and the machines that had stood silent and been deemed unnecessary were rapidly put to use.

 

Janet’s ears buzzed and as her vision began to tunnel and gray she reached out blindly for assistance. Strong arms pulled her back from the body and another took her place ... as Janet sank into oblivion.

 

*

 

Janet felt oddly calm as she resurfaced. Her eyes flickered open to find the pale face of her daughter regarding her with something akin to panic.

 

“Oh hon,” whispered Janet and raised a weak hand to her.

 

Cassie grasped it in a fierce grip. “Mom,” she whispered tearfully.

 

The last thing Janet remembered before sliding into oblivion was the bloodied body of the Colonel beneath her ... “Cassie?” she murmured questioningly, not sure what to expect from her daughter’s expression.

 

“Jack’s ...” Cassie’s voice cracked and she began again. “Jack’s ... oh Mom ... he’s ...” she broke down, her breath racked with sobs.

 

Janet felt the tears begin to well in her own eyes, some for her daughter’s sorrow certainly, but most of her tears were for the Colonel.

 

“Cassie, I am sorry, really, I tried.”

 

“He’s alive Mom, they won’t tell us anything else yet, but he’s ...” Cassie took a gulped breath. “He’s really sick Mom.”

 

Janet couldn’t respond, she merely hugged her daughter tightly, trying to comfort her, trying to steal some comfort herself.

 

*

 

Draper was pacing the small room. Next to him, Teal’c was standing unmoving, his face unreadable.  One of the doctors had seen to the wound Teal’c had sustained in his brief fight with Mayer, but surprisingly the huge man was back on his feet, dismissing the injury as nothing in a remarkably short space of time. The sound of the door opening caused them to face it expectantly for the news they dreaded, only to find Sam and Daniel entering, their faces clearly showing their distress and puzzlement.

 

“We got here as fast as we could,” panted Daniel slightly. “How’s Jack?”

 

“O’Neill is in the theatre, Daniel Jackson. They are operating,” Teal’c replied, his voice worried. The rare show of emotion had his two team mates casting concerned glances at each other.

 

“What happened? Are Cassie and Janet here as well? Are they hurt too?” asked Sam, her eyes admitting a slightly panicked expression. They had been told very few details – only that the missing fugitive had attacked the Colonel in his hospital room.

 

“Mayer did it? Where the hell were security?” admonished Daniel.

 

Draper shook his head. He felt so guilty that he hadn’t stopped Mayer from carrying out the attack on his friend that he was unable to speak.

 

 

Teal’c inclined his head towards Draper, as if sensing his discomfort.

 

“Mayer will be of no further trouble to anyone now. It is with great sorrow that I failed in my duty to protect O’Neill and he was shot. They are operating as we speak, but I must warn you that it does not look well for him.”

 

Draper watched the sadness that passed over the man’s face as he spoke. It seemed he was not the only one with the huge attack of guilt. He put a hand out to the big man’s shoulder, quite unsure if the man would shake it off or not.

 

Teal’c however, did nothing; he merely bowed his head slightly, acknowledging Draper’s touch.

 

“I’m just as much to blame, Teal’c. I should have insisted on more security.” Draper let his hand drop from the shoulder of the man he had stood beside on that staircase, and had watched, with something akin to gloating, as the huge dark man slowly choked the life out of Mayer.

 

“What happened?” asked Sam, her eyes flitting from one man to the other, as if trying to gleam some knowledge from their faces.

 

Draper gently informed them of what he knew of Jack’s condition, which, he admitted, wasn’t much. He carried on explaining about Cassie and Janet, then Janet’s collapse after she had resuscitated Jack.

 

“Oh God, what a ...” Sam’s voice dried. She cleared her throat a little, before asking if she could see Janet.

 

Draper nodded, eager to escape the room. He felt a little awkward standing there, as if intruding on this tight knit team. Their loyalty and affection for their leader and friend was something he understood, if not felt himself towards Jack, but he also knew that he was really an outsider here...

 

*

 

Sam’s heart ached for the two favourite females in her life. Janet waved away her concerned glance and sat up on the bed, while Cassie flung her arms around Sam, the most open display towards her yet since her rescue, and hugged her tightly, demanding to know if there was any more news.

 

Sam shook her head as she sat down, still holding onto the young girl.

 

“Mayer’s dead,” announced Cassie, almost calmly.

 

Janet felt as if a huge mantle of darkness had lifted from her, yet she had to ask... “Are you sure?”

 

Cassie nodded. “I heard Teal’c tell where his body was.”

 

Janet felt so relieved tears began to fall, and Cassie at once began to hug her.

 

“It’s okay mom, he can’t hurt us anymore.”

 

Janet sniffed and wiped at her eyes with shaking hands. She realised that everything she’d done ... said ... to Jack O’Neill had stemmed from letting her fears overwhelm her. The thought that she had slapped him – not only a sick man, but a superior officer – god, he could have had her court-martialled. But she knew he never would, he was too honorable a man to do that.  The remorse she felt at betraying such a man hit her hard, the sudden remembrance of the words accusing him of being incapable of saving his son’s life launched in her gut and she began to heave.

 

Sam calmly grabbed a bowl from the bedside table and held her friend until the heaving subsided.

 

Cassie sat quietly, waiting and watching.

 

*

 

Janet eventually joined the others waiting for news after showering and changing. She felt wretched with guilt and shame at how she had treated the Colonel. After Sam had left them, Cassie had sat and talked to her, letting it all out and the actions of Jack, not only back at the abandoned base, but at the shooting, had left no doubt now in her mind that he had done his utmost to protect her, even to the point of dying.  She felt too weak to pace the room as she would have normally done and Cassie sat beside her, waiting...

 

The surgeon that finally dared to greet the mass of people that were waiting for news had done his best. The operation had been long and very difficult and even now he had nothing good to give to those that waited.

 

“The operation was successful and we’ve removed all the bullets, including the one in the head, but I’m sorry to say that Colonel O’Neill lapsed into a coma. The prognosis isn’t very promising, I’m sorry.” The surgeon departed quietly, leaving the stunned people in the room to gather their thoughts.

 

“Coma?” asked Daniel, somewhat dazed. “Surely that doesn’t mean ... I mean he could just wake up?”

 

“Possibly,” responded Janet.

 

“Why can’t they do something?” asked Cassie.

 

Janet shook her head. “They’ll do everything they can, but with a head injury like that it’s ...”

 

“Unlikely! Shot in the head doesn’t leave a lot of survivors does it?” finished Daniel bleakly.

 

*

 

Janet begged first chance to see the Colonel. She needed to say so much and say it quickly. She was never sure if a comatose person could actually hear what was going on around them, but she felt sure that they could sense things.

 

She took the cold limp hand in hers and gazed down at his pale face. The swathe of bandages, along with the ventilator tubes, hid half his face. Her eyes automatically took in the machines readings and what she saw gave her no glimmer of hope.

 

“Colonel, I don’t know if you can hear me or not, I hope you can and that you can forgive me. I know I must have hurt you with what I said, but please believe me it was because I was frightened and angry. I didn’t mean it. I want you to know that I always thought what a brilliant father you must have been and ...” she choked down a sob before continuing, “and *are* to Cassie. Hurry up and get better Jack, she needs you ... we all need you.” The tears were running fast now and she gave his hand a final squeeze before leaving the room.

 

Sam tried to comfort her outside in the corridor, but Janet shook her off, begging to be alone for just a little while. She turned on her heels and escaped, rapidly exiting the hospital and out into the bright sunshine. She needed to get away, if only for a few minutes – needed to deal with her emotions in private.

 

*

 

Everyone was allowed in for a short while to see the Colonel and one by one they joined the others in the waiting room. Cassie had gone in with Sam and they had both come out tearful.

 

The silence that descended on the room was heavy and morbid and Daniel could stand it no longer. “For God’s sake he’s not dead yet!” he berated them all, including himself.

 

“The life support is keeping him going at the moment Daniel,” said Janet quietly. She had come back, determined to do her best for her friend, and now stood, her arm around her daughter’s shoulders. She took a deep breath before continuing. “In forty-eight hours if there is no sign of improvement, it will be turned off.”

 

“Turned off?” asked Daniel incredulously. “They can’t just ....”

 

Sam squeezed Daniel’s shoulder warningly. “Daniel, it’s the Colonel’s orders.”

 

“A living will?” Daniel’s voice cracked a little and he turned away from them as Cassie buried her face in her mom’s shoulders, the tears racking her body.

 

“I’ll be back later,” said Draper quietly. He left giving no-one the chance to say anything else and the door shut behind him.

 

*

 

The next forty-eight hours were painfully slow ... or incredibly fast... slow as in another hour brought the thought Jack could wake up ... fast as in his time was running out ...

 

General Hammond had received the news and came to see his 2IC. He was pale and his gait was slow and lacking in spirit, his very being emitting the shroud of hopelessness that he was feeling. Upon his arrival he had been handed the envelope bearing his name that had been found by the hospital staff. After reading the resignation, he’d torn it up and said nothing – the Colonel was going to be buried with full military honors.

 

He joined them again shortly before the forty-eight hours were up. The faces that greeted him showed that there was no change.

 

Jack’s living will decreed that he wanted no-one to be present while the ‘plug was pulled’ and his wishes were respected. The time came and only the doctor and two nurses were present, ready to witness the time of death.

 

 

*

 

Everyone had bid him their final farewells in their own way and they were now waiting quietly together for the announcement.

 

General Hammond stood to attention, feeling every one of his birthdays ... feeling remorse at the loss of not only a friend, but a son, a hero ... a brave man who had given literally everything to serve and protect.

 

The door opened to reveal the doctor and he stepped quietly into the waiting room. It had seemed to take an age and bitterly Daniel wondered at how long it took to ‘pull a plug’.

 

Cassie’s wail at the sight of the doctor brought all of them tears, some hidden, some not so hidden and Sam wiped at her face quickly, trying uselessly to stem the flow.

 

Daniel could barely see the doctor as his glasses misted with his own tears. The emptiness of his life without his good friend ... and sometimes foe, clutched ice fingers around his heart.

 

Janet held Cassie tightly, her own eyes surprisingly dry, her nerves calm as she waited for the doctor’s speech she knew so well...

 

The doctor looked around the room, clearing his throat, obviously uncomfortable. “The ventilator was switched off as the patient requested, however he is still alive. I honestly don’t expect him to continue to survive, but there is now nothing we can or will do to accelerate his demise and we will continue with his care to the best of our abilities.”

 

The resounding silence that greeted the speech was more shocking than the barrage of questions he had expected.

 

“You can see him whenever you like, but please, I warn you not to expect anything but the inevitable now. It might be only a matter of hours, but it could be days.”

 

*

 

General Hammond was the first to recover. “Thank you doctor.”

 

The doctor nodded and was clearly relieved to leave them.

 

*

 

“I knew he couldn’t leave us,” said Cassie as she wiped her face with her sleeve.

 

“Cassie, honey, it’s just a matter of time now. He can’t recover from being injured that badly,” said Janet quietly. As much as she believed in hope, she didn’t want her daughter holding out for a miracle ... they just didn’t happen.

 

“He won’t leave us!” declared Cassie firmly. She stood up and looked around at the adults. She saw the pity on their faces for her, their own sorrows laid bare for her to see as well.

 

“I’m going to talk to him, he won’t be alone.” With determination she moved to the door and opened it quickly.

 

“Cassie,” called Janet as the door closed behind her.

 

“It’s okay, let her go to him. She just needs a little time, like we all do,” said Sam.

 

Janet nodded. Time ... time was all they all had, just how much nobody knew....

 

*

 

 

 

PART FOURTEEN

 

The hours passed into days ... the days into weeks and still Colonel Jack O’Neill stubbornly clung to life. He continued to breathe unaided, lying pale and so very still that each visitor wondered at how he could possible be holding back death this long.

 

The visitors had begun to slow down, spending less time there, all except one ... Cassie.

 

She came by each afternoon after her last class and stayed until Janet picked her up.

 

The cold nights were drawing in, and the glaring lights in his room seemed harsh, so Cassie bought a lamp and kept its soft light glowing beside his bed.

 

“He’ll hate the bright lights when he wakes up,” she told her mom.

 

Janet agreed with her distractedly. She found her daughter’s courage and determination worthy of much praise, but also it worried her greatly that the end when it came, and surely it would soon, would be hard on her.

 

The Colonel’s team continued to visit when they could, but their duties were long and arduous and each time they returned from a prolonged mission they expected to be greeted with the news of his death.

 

The month rolled on agonisingly slowly

 

Houses were being decorated for the holidays. Everywhere you turned there were plastic Santas and masses of tinsel and a dazzling display of lights.

 

Cassie didn’t take much interest in her mom’s efforts for the holidays at home, but she did find a small tree. It stood at just over a foot high and she planted it in a small pot. She lovingly wrapped the pot in fancy foil paper and decorated the tree with tiny baubles and lights that ran on batteries.

 

Janet watched her daughter set the tree beside the Colonel’s bed on the side table. Her daughter’s chatter, telling him of the day’s activities, what had happened in school, brought an ache to her heart. When she was there it was the most she heard Cassie speak; at home she was quiet, forlorn.

 

Cassie bent to kiss the Colonel’s forehead. His cheeks were sunken from the weight loss, his lanky frame looking impossibly fragile, his pale skin almost translucent in the lamp light. The bandages had long ago shrunk to a dressing, his hair had grown back again from where it had been shaved for the operation, and Cassie teased the shorter patches, telling him it might go curly ... he’d better watch out.

 

“He needs a hair cut mom, then this patch wouldn’t show at all,” she complained.

 

Janet smiled at her daughter, promising that she’d look into it before calling goodnight to the Colonel as she usually did.

 

*

 

Christmas Eve arrived and Janet had invited SG1 over to the house. She had hoped that everyone being there would help. She was well aware that they were all missing the Colonel. Daniel went about his work, but his usual enthusiasm had gone. Sam seemed pale and a little distant. Even Teal’c’s face seemed devoid of his usual good humor and gentleness.

 

The tree in the house was surrounded by parcels and normally Cassie would be so excited about the holiday, badgering Janet to be allowed to open just one ... but this time her attention was on one little box that was wrapped up, devoid of bow or tinsel and label, it held her daughter’s fascination.

 

Janet didn’t need to ask who it was for. She didn’t know what was in it.  Cassie wasn’t being open about it and for some reason she felt reluctant to ask.

 

Janet had prepared a meal for everyone and as soon as the table was cleared Cassie asked what time they were going to visit Jack.

 

“Not tonight, hon,” called Janet as she put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher.

 

“Why?” demanded Cassie.

 

“We saw Jack yesterday,” said Daniel quietly. He felt guilty at wishing his friend was dead, but anything was better than watching the remembrance of a man lingering on.

 

“But not today?” asked Cassie.

 

“Cassie, everyone’s tired. You know they’ve just got back from a mission. Now let’s have a nice quiet evening.”

 

Cassie glared at her mother. “An evening where we sit and pretend everything’s alright? That Jack’s okay?”

 

Janet shook her head warningly at the girl. “You’ve been every single day and you know Jack will forgive you if just this once you have some time off.”

 

“I want to be there. I don’t want him to be alone.”

 

Sam stood and moved to put an arm around her. “We know you do. We don’t want him to be alone either, but ...”

 

“But you don’t want to see him all the time either!” responded Cassie miserably. “He knows when you’re there you know, he does!” she cried. “Please, it’s Christmas Eve, I need to see him just for a little while.”

 

Daniel gazed around the room at his friends. It hurt him so much to watch his friend lying there, knowing there was nothing he could do, but he also understood Cassie’s need to be there, because it was what he really wanted too.

 

“I’ll take you,” he said quietly.

 

“And me,” said Sam.

 

Teal’c inclined his head. “As will I.”

 

“Okay, looks like we’re all going,” said Janet.

 

 

*

 

They sat together in the hospital room, chattering quietly, if not a little awkwardly at first, but Cassie’s calm and matter of fact way of including Jack in the conversation soon had them all at ease - well as much as was possible under the circumstances.

 

Cassie solemnly placed the little parcel under the tree and told Jack not to open it before Christmas Day. The soft twinkling lights lit the room gently.

 

Sam gazed at her CO. It almost seemed as if he was sleeping. His hair was a little grayer, the lights glinting off the silver in it, his tan had paled and his cheeks were drawn, but even like this, he was a remarkably handsome man. She realised she’d never seen him so still. He was always bursting with energy, his hands always busy twiddling with something ... or breaking it. The number of pens he had dismantled at briefings escaped her count and a brief smile lit her face as she thought of the boundless energy of the man.

 

It was Cassie herself who brought the evening to a close.

 

“Goodnight Jack, sleep well, but please wake in the morning,” she whispered and bent to kiss his forehead. “Merry Christmas,” she sniffled and turned away, wiping the tears that sprang from her eyes with her hand, before Daniel pressed a clean tissue into it. She left the others to say goodnight, waiting for them in the corridor.

 

The huge lump in their throats threatened them all as they each bid the Colonel a Merry Christmas.

 

Daniel was the last one out and he stood looking at his friend for a few seconds. “We are missing you Jack, stubborn jerk that you are, we’re missing you.”

 

He utilised the remaining tissue in his pocket before joining the others in the corridor and they made their way quietly to the car.

 

 

*

 

 

Christmas came and went. Cassie’s tree still stood there beside Jack, the present waiting for him.

 

Two days after New Year, Janet had been called into the SGC and SG1 were already off on a mission. Cassie sat on the chair beside Jack’s bed. She was talking to him as usual, holding the present in her hands, begging him to wake.

 

She suddenly stopped talking, her gaze taking in the gauntness of his face. The reality of him never wakening suddenly leapt up at her and she ripped the parcel open. Taking the gift from the box, she held it to the light, begging him to open his eyes to see it. He didn’t stir and Cassie’s tears began to fall. Sobbing heavily she pushed the gift into Jack’s hand and laid her head down on the bed and cried ... she wept for him, for herself, for the others...

 

Eventually her sobs began to lessen and she gave in to the overwhelming tiredness that shadowed her. Her head lay on the bed, her hand clutching his arm. The gift lay in his fingers loosely.

 

 

*

 

 

The empty blackness began to recede. He felt as if he was floating through gray, tired ... he was so very tired...

 

He tried to open his eyes, he wanted to see where he was floating, but it was hard...

 

The warmth of the depths kept pulling at him, lulling him, but he didn’t want to stay there, he needed to see what was going on ... where was everyone? Was everyone okay?

 

Opening his eyes was one of the hardest things he felt he’d ever achieved. The blurred mass that swam in front of him didn’t reveal anything for a while until it settled and his eyes began to slowly focus. The bland colors of his surroundings began to seep into his vision and gradually he realised he was in a hospital room. There was a noise that drew his attention and he tilted his head slightly to the right to see the mass of hair over his arm. The snuffled breathing from the figure that was beside him was responsible for the noise and gradually he realised the figure was Cassie.

 

He flexed his hands. His right hand didn’t seem to want to close much and until he realised there was actually something in his grasp, he was a little alarmed by it.

 

Jack was loathe to disturb the sleeping girl and he used his left hand to take what it was that his right hand had been holding and hold it up to his line of vision.

 

The snow globe glistened in the soft lights that bathed the room. As Jack’s focus became sharper he could see the two tiny figures in the globe, a man and a child, skating ... the little trees in the background were full of snow and Jack gave the globe a slight shake and watched as the swirl of white took to the globe’s skies, before descending once more on the scene.

 

*

 

Mike Draper was tired. He’d just got back from the mission from hell and his first action was to call the hospital. He’d been given the usual spiel, but just had to call in and see Jack.

 

When he pushed open the door, he thought at first he was in the wrong room and was about to utter a brief apology, when he looked at the man in the bed properly.

 

Jack O’Neill put his shaking fingers to his lips, and in a faint raspy voice, told him not to wake the sleeping girl.

 

Mike managed to stagger in and sat down heavily in a chair before his legs gave way.

 

“Good God Jack, I thought you’d had it!” he managed to utter. “When did you ...”

 

The door opened and a nurse walked in and all but shrieked in excitement as she saw her patient awake.

 

“Guess it was just now?” said Mike with a huge grin.

 

 

 

 

****

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

 

The weeks of physical therapy had paid off and Jack felt better than he had in a long while. The sharp clean air stung a little as he breathed deeply, but he was so glad to be alive that it didn’t matter.

 

He stood, taking in the view from the lake. The ice was still there, would be for another month or so yet, spring thaw was late so high up.

 

He felt lonely as he stood there. The vastness of his surroundings chilled him a little, making him seem small and insignificant.

 

Daniel had offered to accompany him, but he had shaken him off gently. He wanted to come to think, to escape the well meaning flurry of concern from his team. He’d not seen much of the doc, she’d been quiet and only visited him with Cassie and then it wasn’t frequent.

 

He’d been told how Cassie had visited him every day and that it was Cassie who had steadfastly refused to believe he wouldn’t wake, but he was sad to think that he had lost not only the friendship of the doctor, but her respect and trust.

 

He’d briefly mentioned going skating again soon on one of Cassie’s visits, but Cassie had changed the subject and had become a little subdued after that, so he never mentioned it again. The thought that her terrible experience had spoilt her love of skating, filled him with sadness.

 

Coming back to the present, he sat down on a snow covered stump to pull on his skates. Slowly and just a little painfully he stood up. He wasn’t back to full fitness yet, that would take a while, but he was getting there.

 

He skated slowly to the middle of the lake and did a gentle spin to take in the view of the mountains in the distance. He wasn’t sure how long he stood there, but gradually he became aware of a voice calling him from the memories he became lost in.

 

At first he thought he was hallucinating, hearing Charlie’s voice from years ago, but as he tuned into the here and now he realised it was a girl’s voice calling across the lake.

 

Jack turned slowly. Another vehicle had joined his and a figure was running down to the lake.

 

Jack skated slowly across the icy surface towards the racing figure.

 

As he reached the edge he realised the bundled up figure was Cassie, and before he knew it she was flinging herself into his arms.

 

He caught her and held her tightly, squeezing his eyes closed at the rush of emotion as he held her.

 

After a moment or two, Jack raised his head and opened his eyes. He locked eyes with the petite doctor who stood patiently, half way between the lake and the vehicles.

 

Janet smiled at him and nodded.

 

“Can we skate?” asked Cassie’s muffled voice from where it was buried in his coat.

 

Jack looked down at her head, ruffling her hair with his hand. “We sure can.” He looked up again to mouth a silent “Thank you,” to Janet, who raised a hand in acknowledgement, before making her way back to the vehicle she’d arrived in.

 

“Mom’s made hot chocolate and we’ve got chocolate cookies for later,” said Cassie looking up at him with a gentle smile.

 

Jack grinned at her. The cold and loneliness that had crept around his heart lifted...

 

“Sweet,” he said and ruffled her hair again.

 

* * * * *

 

The end

 

Thanks for reading.

 

*