- - -
- - -
Daniel's "triumphant" return to Cheyenne Mountain had been most memorable for the fact that absolutely nothing changed.
Daniel had been unconscious when they'd loaded him into the helicopter that he was finally stable enough to fly in. He'd been unconscious when they'd taken him out of it at the Air Force base and put him in an ambulance for the trip to the SGC. He'd been unconscious when they'd put him in a bed in the back corner of the infirmary. He'd been unconscious when Jack had arrived two hours later, after having had to drive back from Balltown because Janet hadn't let him ride in the helicopter with them.
Now, more than twenty-four hours after that, he was still unconscious.
Jack stood at the foot of Daniel's bed, his arms crossed, hoping that Daniel would open his eyes – or at least twitch a finger – and give him some sign that he'd be waking up soon. Jack had been willing to give him all the time he needed to heal before he started insisting that he wake up and talk to him, but his patience was wearing thin. Daniel had been out cold for more than two days; it was well past time for him to be coherent again. Janet had told him that there was no underlying physical reason for Daniel's continued unconsciousness, which to Jack implied that the reason was either mental or emotional.
This to Jack meant that every minute that passed was a minute that Daniel was trapped in another nightmare, kept away from the people he needed – the people who needed him.
It also meant that Daniel was doing it to himself.
"Really need you to wake up now, buddy," Jack said. Of course he got no response; he knew that he really hadn't been expecting one. "Come on, Daniel. Don't make me beg."
Jack looked Daniel over with a critical eye, although he knew every bruise, every bandage, every wound by heart. They all had names now, and Jack knew them almost as well as he knew his own. He hadn't decided yet if knowing exactly what was wrong with Daniel made his condition easier to accept … or harder to deal with.
The bandage on Daniel's head covered the stitches that had been used to close a four inch long gash above his left eyebrow – the result of having his head slammed into the trunk of his own car and the cause of what had originally been, Janet had said, a mild concussion. Phillips had made sure that it hadn't stayed minor, though. Cassie said it had looked to her like Daniel's head had actually bounced off of the pavement when Phillips had pulled him out of the trunk and thrown him bodily into the middle of the road. And then, if the bruises on Daniel's face were anything to go by – and Jack knew they were – the man had also developed quite a taste for punching Daniel in the face, repeatedly and often. Jack knew that at least one of those punches had knocked Daniel out cold, and what had started as a minor concussion had escalated to, according to Janet, a Grade Three.
The sling and the immobilizer were supporting a separated shoulder. Cassie had told them that when Phillips had first attacked Daniel in the driveway, he'd twisted Daniel's arm behind him badly enough that it had made Daniel scream. Janet said that was probably where the initial damage had come from, and it had most likely started out as a pulled ligament. But like most of what was wrong with Daniel, the original injury had been aggravated by things that came after. Daniel had spent most of the night with his hands tied behind his back, pulling against his restraints hard enough to make mincemeat of his own wrists. The constant pressure on the joint, combined with Daniel's struggles, had stretched the tendons to their limit and torn the ligament, leaving Daniel with a shoulder that was badly swollen, horribly bruised, and completely useless.
The spectacular black bruise in the middle of Daniel's chest was a fractured sternum. Cassie didn't think she'd seen it happen, so they couldn't be positive what had caused it, but Jack was certain that the darker parts of the bruising formed the outline of the sole of a boot. The sternum hadn't broken alone, though; it had taken three ribs with it. Something – Jack guessed it was stumbling up the mountain and bouncing off of trees – had shifted those around enough to tear something. He'd been bleeding into his chest when they'd gotten him to the hospital. The tube that had drained the blood away from his lungs had already been removed, and in its place Daniel was sporting another bandage along his ribcage.
The two other injuries Daniel had received – a knife wound to his upper left arm and another to the right side of his neck – were the only two that hadn't complicated themselves. Jack thought it ironic that these two, duplicates of the injuries Daniel had received from Phillips as a child, were the most minor.
Poetic justice indeed.
As far as illnesses went, Daniel had managed to get himself one hell of a case of pneumonia. Severe hypothermia combined with altitude sickness would do that to a guy, Jack figured. But the antibiotics had done their job well, and the mask that Daniel had worn for the first two days was gone, replaced by a tube that fed oxygen directly into his nose. Janet had told him that she expected to be able to remove that by the end of the day, if the amount of oxygen in his blood kept climbing like it was.
Daniel had still had minute traces of carbon monoxide in his blood when they'd gotten to Balltown, so Sam had been right about that. Most of it was gone by the time they'd arrive at the hospital, and all of it was gone now, but it had done more than enough damage while it had been there. According to Janet, it had compromised his respiratory system badly enough to make him highly sensitive to the atmospheric conditions at the cabin, and the hypothermia had weakened his entire body even further. Apparently, this was how a man who lived on a mountain could end up with the worst case of altitude sickness that Jack had ever seen.
The sound of shoes clicking on the floor announced the arrival of Janet's half-hourly check of Daniel's vitals. Jack nodded at her from his position at the foot of the bed.
"Doc. How's Cassie doing?"
Janet glanced up and smiled at him, but it was a sad smile. "She's doing better. She's sleeping a lot." She checked the display on one of the machines and made a note on the clipboard she was holding. "She's in one of the VIP rooms right now. Sam's with her."
"Has she said anything else about …?"
"No," Janet answered, shaking her head. "I think she talked herself out yesterday. Twelve is a little young to go through a … debriefing."
"I know that had to be hard for her," Jack said softly. "But she did really good. She's a brave little girl."
Janet nodded as she made another note on Daniel's chart. "Yes, she is. And as upset and exhausted as it left her, I think it helped."
"Talking about it always does, " Jack whispered, looking again at Daniel's still form and wondering if he'd want to talk about what happened when he woke up. Knowing Daniel as well as he did, he doubted it. He also had to admit to himself that there was at least one thing that he really didn't want Daniel to talk about – ever.
"I agree, sir. I talked to Dr. MacKenzie, and he gave me the name of a child trauma specialist in town, one with high enough clearance, just in case the subject of her parents comes up. Her first appointment's on Friday."
Janet turned toward him and smiled. "I'll tell her you asked about her."
Jack nodded slowly and opened his mouth to ask the same question he'd asked her every half hour for the past day.
"He just needs time, Colonel. He'll wake up when he's ready."
As Janet walked away, Jack wondered how different things would have turned out if Daniel had been able to see a trauma specialist after what happened to him. He shook his head sadly as he thought back over the conversation he'd had with Roland Miller that day and remembered just how close Daniel had actually come to getting the help he needed.
Jenny Miller's father was a remarkable man, Jack had decided, and his wife, Judy, had been an amazing woman. They'd taken Daniel in as a foster child within weeks of his parents' deaths, and he'd stayed with them for almost two years. He'd been their first foster child, and Roland said that he'd completed their family in a way that neither he nor his wife had ever expected. Jack hadn't been the least bit surprised by that. Completing families was something Daniel did incredibly well, even if he wasn't aware he was doing it.
Jack had come away from the conversation knowing two things for absolute certain: Roland and Judy Miller had loved Daniel very, very much and had considered him their son. And Roland Miller still did.
He'd called Roland because he'd felt that he owed it to Daniel to make sure that Jenny's father knew the truth about who killed his daughter, and that justice had been done. He'd wanted very badly to tell him that his son had been the one to dole it out, but he'd stopped himself. The FBI's official position was that the "serial killer" had killed Phillips, and the inference being drawn by the majority of SGC personnel was that he'd killed himself. A few thought that Jack had killed him, and some thought that Teal'c had. No one, aside from Hammond, had so much as hinted about suspecting that it was Daniel.
Jack was going to do everything he could to make sure it stayed that way.
Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw something move, and he dropped his arms to his sides. He watched Daniel closely, hoping that it had been him and waiting for whatever it was to move again. He'd almost given up hope when he saw it again – Daniel's fingers on his right hand were moving.
"Doc!" he called out as he walked around the bed quickly, going to Daniel's side. "I think he's waking up!"
Jack placed one hand on Daniel's twitching fingers carefully and the other on his uninjured shoulder. "That's it, buddy," he said softly. "You're almost here."
Daniel was moving his head now, turning it slightly from left to right. His lips were moving, too, accompanied by a soft moan.
"Colonel?" Janet asked as she rounded the foot of the bed and came to stand on the opposite side.
"He's moving," Jack answered her. "His fingers and his head. Look!"
The moan was louder and mingled with the occasional whimper. His lips were moving faster and his head was rolling further from side to side. Jack saw the words Daniel was saying before he heard them, but when they became audible Jack knew that this was not going to be an easy awakening, and he almost wished that he could stop it.
"Jack … Cassie …"
"I'm here, Daniel," Jack said to him, glancing at Janet across the bed. The expression on her face was one of deep concern; she didn't like where this was going either. "Cassie's fine."
"No … no … Cassie …"
"Cassie's fine," Jack repeated. "It's over, Daniel."
"You're in the infirmary at the SGC, Daniel," Janet put in. "Cassie's safe."
"So are you," Jack added.
"Jack … Cassie … Jack!"
Daniel's eyes flew open as Jack's name crossed his lips, accompanied by a movement that Jack knew would have left Daniel sitting straight up in the bed if not for the fact that his body just refused to move that fast. The terror in those eyes – the sheer unadulterated terror – chilled Jack to the bone. At the least, it made him wish that Phillips were still alive so he could kill him all over again, slowly this time, with his bare hands.
His fear-filled gaze darted around the room, though he obviously had no idea where he was. Jack squeezed his hand in an attempt to ground him and spoke to him.
"I'm right here, Daniel. Look at me."
Daniel turned toward the sound of his voice and focused on the face that went with it. Recognition finally dawned, followed immediately by even more fear.
"No, Jack, you can't be here!"
"What?" Jack looked across at Janet and shrugged in response to the silent question in her eyes.
"Cassie … you were supposed to save Cassie! You have to find her! Where's Cassie?"
The question sent Jack's mind back to the top of the mountain, and it was his turn to recognize what was right in front of his face. Daniel was picking up right where he'd left off, as though the past two days hadn't happened at all and he was still on that mountain. "Daniel, she's fine. Cassie's here, at the SGC. So are you."
Daniel was squirming on the bed, weakly trying to pull his hand away from Jack, trying to push up off the bed, and his breath was speeding up at an alarming rate.
"You have to leave me and go find her!"
"I hate to do this, Colonel," Janet said.
Jack looked up at her and saw the syringe in her hand, already inserted into Daniel's IV. "No, do it."
"He's going to hurt himself if he doesn't calm down."
"He killed her!"
The pain in Daniel's voice was so real, and Jack suddenly knew exactly what Phillips had said to Daniel that had caused him to snap. Desperate to keep it from happening again, Jack put his hands on either side of Daniel's face and forced him to look at him.
"Daniel, look at me. Look at me! Cassie is fine, do you hear me? She's fine. Phillips didn't kill her, he didn't touch her. You protected her, Daniel, you kept her safe. She's asleep upstairs and she's just fine because you saved her."
Daniel stopped struggling, and it looked to Jack like he'd finally gotten through. "Cassie's safe?" Daniel asked breathlessly.
Jack nodded. "Yes, she is. So are you."
Daniel's eyes darted around, though not with the same speed as before. Whatever Janet had given him was already taking effect.
"Michael," Jack spoke the name with hatred, "is gone, Daniel."
"Gone where?" Daniel was having a hard time keeping his eyes open, but he was still looking around the room. "He'll come back. He won't stop … he'll never stop."
"He's dead, Daniel."
"Dead?" Daniel asked, locking his sleepy gaze on Jack's eyes.
"Very dead," Jack answered.
Daniel was searching Jack's face with his eyes now, wanting to see the truth in what he was saying, though every blink lasted just a bit longer than the one before. He obviously needed the reassurance, though, and he wasn't going to let himself succumb to the drugs until he had it.
"Michael's … dead?"
"Dead and burning in Hell." Jack let the satisfaction that saying those words gave him show on his face.
Daniel sank back into his pillow, and Jack felt the muscles under his hands relax. As his eyes fell closed, a ghost of a smile pulled at the sides of Daniel's mouth.
- - -
It was amazing what a difference six hours could make.
Daniel's second awakening had been much easier than his first. He'd moaned again, but not nearly as much, and Jack was willing to admit that he'd probably be moaning, too, if he'd been through anything even remotely close to what Daniel had. His eyelids had fluttered a few times, and his fingers were twitching again. But this time, when Jack had wrapped his hand around them, Daniel hadn't pulled away from him.
"Nice and easy, Daniel," Jack had whispered. "You're safe, and Cassie's fine." He'd squeezed Daniel's hand and felt a slight pressure on his fingers as Daniel returned it. Jack had smiled then, the first real smile that had crossed his face in days. "Good job, big guy."
When Daniel had opened his eyes this time, he'd done so without screaming anyone's name. And there was no fear in them, just confusion which had passed as soon as he saw Jack and Janet standing above him. He took a breath and locked eyes with Jack.
"He's really dead?" he'd asked softly.
Jack nodded. "Yes, he is. It's over, Daniel. It's over." He'd squeezed Daniel's hand once more and started to pull away, intending to get out of Janet's way while she examined him. He'd been surprised when Daniel had tightened his grip on Jack's hand, and he'd looked into Daniel's eyes. They were clear and lucid, and they expressed the same wish that Daniel's tightening hand had, one that Jack knew he'd probably never hear Daniel use his voice to ask for.
Jack had nodded at him and stayed.
Now, Janet was finished with her exam and she's pronounced Daniel awake and healing, even though Jack hadn't needed her to say it. All the proof he needed of that was lying in the bed in front of him, still holding tightly to his hand. Jack smiled to himself as he watched Janet walk away, and when he turned back around the first thing he noticed was the silent tear rolling down Daniel's cheek.
"Hey," he said softly. He leaned down and put his other hand on Daniel's forehead, brushing a few stray stands of hair away from his eyes. "You hurting? You need me to get Janet to …?"
Daniel shook his head slowly but didn't speak or open his eyes.
"Look at me," Jack ordered gently. When Daniel didn't, Jack squeezed his hand again. "Daniel."
Daniel finally opened his eyes again, and Jack almost had to step back. As much as he had hated the terror in Daniel's eyes six hours before, the raw pain that filled them now was almost worse.
Daniel shrugged – at least Jack thought it would have been a shrug, if one of his shoulders hadn't been completely immobile.
"What's going on?" Jack knew that the answer to that was incredibly open-ended. There was so much going on in Daniel's head right now that it could easily have been any one of a thousand things … really bad things. Jack thought he had an idea what it was that was in the front of Daniel's thoughts, though, because he was crying. Daniel didn't cry easily – he wouldn't cry for himself, there was no reason to cry for Cassie, and he'd better not be crying for Phillips. That only left one other person.
"I … I'm having a hard time getting it all … sorted out in here."
Jack backed up a few steps, turned his body slightly, and sat carefully on the bed at Daniel's right hip. He never let go of Daniel's hand and he never stopped looking at him. "Tell me about her."
Daniel took as deep a breath as his still-healing lungs would allow. "Jenny was … everything I always thought a big sister should be. She was sweet, and funny, and smart, and …"
"You loved her."
"Yeah." Daniel's voice changed; Jack heard the self-recrimination already creeping in. "I loved her so much that I forgot she ever existed."
"Hey," Jack chastised softly. "The way I understand it, you didn't have much of a choice about that." Daniel shook his head, and Jack kept going. "You were ten years old, Daniel. You were a little kid. And you were hurt, and scared, and vulnerable." Jack took a deep breath as he remembered what Cassie had told them about some of the things she'd heard Phillips saying to Daniel. Things like, 'Don't make me hit you again,' 'Do as you're told and it'll all go away,' and 'I'll kill your parents next.'
"He brainwashed you, Daniel."
Daniel closed his eyes, and Jack watched another tear slide down his face. "It's weird. I remember knowing what happened, and I remember forgetting it. I remember not knowing it, and I remember … remembering it all." Jack didn't know what to say, so he didn't say anything. "She's been dead for twenty years, and I know I should be past it, but it … it feels like …"
"She died yesterday," Jack whispered.
"Yeah. It's like I'm still me, and I'm still a grown man, but … I'm still this little ten year old kid who just … just watched …" Daniel opened his eyes, shook his head, and laughed – an ironic, bitter laugh that held no humor. "God, I am so messed up."
Jack squeezed his hand a little tighter, pulling Daniel's attention back to him and away from the dark place Jack knew his thoughts were turning to. "Hey, anyone would be."
"Did you know he killed others? Besides … besides Jenny and the little girl in the park?"
"Her name was Rachel," Jack said softly. "And yeah … yeah, we found out about them while you were gone." He wondered briefly how Daniel had found out about them, but he was pretty sure he knew the answer already.
"Rachel." As Daniel repeated the name, Jack watched a darkness fall across his face. "I killed her, too." Jack's jaw dropped, not only at the words but at the way Daniel said them, so matter-of-factly. "I killed them all."
"No," Jack said, shaking his head vehemently. "Daniel, you didn't kill those girls. Phillips did."
"Because they weren't me."
Jack closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest. He'd been expecting this – the guilt – waiting for it even. But he'd never imagined just how much of it Daniel would be willing to accept. "Daniel …"
"I could have stopped him." Daniel was just talking now, either ignoring Jack's presence or no longer aware of it. The last thing Daniel needed was to start thinking he was alone right now, so Jack wrapped his other hand around his arm and squeezed.
"How?" he asked. "You were a kid, Daniel, just a little kid. I've read your medical report – the real one, not the one Phillips put in the casefile. You were damn lucky to survive at all. How could you possibly have stopped him?"
Daniel looked down at his hands, but Jack saw the sad, defeated smile on his face. "Jenny, Rachel, all the other little girls he said are out there somewhere ... they'd all still be alive if I'd just done one simple little thing."
Jack swallowed hard. He really didn't like where Daniel was going with this. "What's that?"
"Kept my mouth shut and died, like I was supposed to."
"Hey!" Jack tightened his grip on Daniel's arm and leaned down closer to him. He expected Daniel to flinch away from him; it surprised Jack when he didn't. "I do not ever – ever – want to hear you say that again, do you hear me?"
"I could have given him what he wanted …" Daniel's eyes were closed again, and the tears were rolling unchecked down his face.
"And if he'd killed you that night, Daniel, who'd have saved Cassie from him?"
"She never would have been in danger if I …"
"Stop it!" Jack hissed. This time, Daniel did flinch away. Jack stood up and moved his left hand from Daniel's arm to the side of this face. "You did not do this. Don't you dare blame yourself for what that son of a bitch did, Daniel. Don't you dare."
Daniel opened his eyes and looked directly into Jack's; the rawness of his pain was only too evident. "What he did to them …"
"What he did to you was just as bad," Jack insisted softly. "He tried to kill you, he did kill your sister. He beat the living shit out of you, more than once." Jack took a deep breath as 'Don't make me hit you again,' repeated over and over again in his mind. There was a whole other world of hurt there, a whole other conversation that he'd have to have with Daniel one day soon. "He brainwashed you. He stole your family; he stole your life. He kidnapped you, tortured you, and then he tried to kill you – again."
Daniel tried to turn away, but Jack's hand against the side of the face prevented him from doing so. There was no way that Jack was going to let him look away, let him spend any more time alone with the thoughts that Phillips had filled his head with. He'd had some experience with deprogramming, after all. It was going to take some time, and a whole lot of tears, but he wasn't going to let Daniel carry this around with him.
"You survived, Daniel, but I'll be damned if I'm going to sit here and watch you let him win."
"He'll never be gone," Daniel whispered. "It'll never be over."
"Yes, it will," Jack insisted. "He's dead, Daniel. Dead. He's never coming back. The only power he has over you now is the power that you give him. Let the bastard rot."
Daniel took a quivering breath. "Do my par … Jenny's parents know?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah. I called Roland Miller myself."
"They're good people," Daniel said. He'd obviously had enough of the previous conversation and so was changing the subject. Jack let him – for now. "They were good to me. Jenny's death … it destroyed them. They deserve to know the truth." Daniel flashed Jack a small, soft smile. "I'm glad it was you who told them. Thank you."
"I wish I'd remembered them, all these years. I loved them … so much …"
"They loved you, too."
Daniel looked away quickly. Obviously, this was another subject that he wasn't ready to discuss yet.
"Did Michael have a fam …"
"Not that you need to know about, Daniel," Jack interrupted. Daniel was in a bad enough place as it was – no way did he need to know about Phillips' son. "He deserved to die and he's dead. Just leave it at that."
"Is someone mourning …?"
"Daniel, you listen to me, because I'm only going to say this once. You are not allowed to feel bad that Phillips is dead. He was a son of a bitch, and he's dead."
"He was sick …" Daniel's voice was getting weaker; Jack knew that he'd be asleep again soon. Even if the medication in his system and the generally lousy condition of his body hadn't been exhausting enough, the emotions he'd gone through in the past five minutes would have.
"He was a monster."
"Did you …?"
"No," Jack answered honestly, shaking his head even as he brushed the hair out of Daniel's eyes again. "No, I didn't. I wanted to, though, and I would have."
"Did I …?" The question was soft, so quiet that Jack barely heard it.
The ease of the lie surprised him. He told himself that it was true, though – that hadn't been Daniel on the mountain. Phillips had been killed by something that he alone had been responsible for, something that had been growing deep inside Daniel's mind for twenty years. Phillips had created it, fed it with two decades' worth of unremembered nightmares, and had unleashed it on himself on that mountain. Daniel's hand might have been the instrument of Phillips' destruction, but it hadn't been Daniel.
"He killed himself, Daniel."
"What if …?"
"Go to sleep, Daniel," Jack ordered gently. "Go to sleep, and don't dream about him. Let him die."
Daniel nodded his head, closed his eyes, and did as he was told.
Jack let out a deep sigh and settled back into the chair he'd been sitting in until Daniel had started to stir. Daniel's hand was warm in his, and Jack gave it one last squeeze. There were so many things they'd have to talk about, so many things that Daniel wouldn't want to admit that Jack would have to force him to. At least he wasn't inexperienced at that, Jack thought. The past two months had been nothing if not an exercise in getting Daniel to deal with things that he didn't even want to think about.
At least one of the conversations would have a happy ending, Jack knew, as he thought back over his phone conversation with Roland Miller. He thought about the piece of paper he had in his pocket, the one that he had wanted to show Daniel so badly. He'd only stopped himself from doing so when he'd realized just how much Daniel was already dealing with. Finding out that Judy Miller had died a year before he and Daniel had gone to Abydos would have been too painful, too much to process right now.
It was the last line of her obituary that Jack knew would give Daniel some sort of peace, eventually. And just as soon as he thought Daniel was up to it, he would show it to him. Maybe the events surrounding Jenny's death were still too fresh in Daniel's mind, too raw for him to see that sentence for what it was. But one day soon, Jack knew, Daniel would know.
Whatever lies Phillips had told him about the adoption being cancelled would be refuted. No matter how many times Phillips had told him that the Millers had blamed him for his sister's death, that they had resented him for surviving, that they had thrown him away because they couldn't stand to look at him … Daniel would know the truth. He would know how much the Millers had loved him, and how much Roland still did.
Jack smiled softly as he leaned forward in the chair, his elbow on the bed and Daniel's hand still in his.
Jack would tell him. Soon.
Daniel would know that even though Judy Miller had been preceded in death by her daughter, Jennifer, she been survived by her husband and her son.