Crown Infernal

Libera Me (Set Me Free)

Part 2


Jack slept badly again. He kept waking up feeling headachy and dehydrated but didn't feel up to doing anything about it. He would move around restlessly for a quarter of an hour or so, then doze off again for what seemed liked a couple of minutes but probably wasn't, before waking up and repeating the cycle.

Then he had another nightmare. He'd gone into the briefing room. There were a dozen marines in there, gathered around something and whooping and cheering. Hammond was looking on indulgently. Sam and Teal'c were there too, but not Daniel. Flint noticed Jack and gave him a mocking smile.

"Guys!" he yelled. "Colonel O'Neill wants his turn."

The crowd parted to reveal someone bent over the table. It was Daniel, his naked butt smeared with blood and shit and semen. Jack was horrified.

"Go ahead, Jack," Hammond said, smiling. "It won't go on your record."

"What's the matter, Colonel? Can't get it up?" Flint sneered as Sam sniggered.

"Then you may borrow this," Teal'c said.

He wore a broad smile of gleeful anticipation as he pressed his staff weapon into Jack's hand. Jack looked from the weapon to Teal'c's gloating face and back to the weapon in disbelief. Then he noticed Janet standing beside Daniel and holding up a large empty syringe.

"It's all right, Jack, he won't feel a thing," she beamed.

Jack laid a protective hand on Daniel's back and found it icy cold.

"He's dead," he cried, aghast.

"Yes, Jack. I told you it was all right," Janet said. "He won't feel a thing... feel a thing... feel a thing..."

Her words were still zinging round inside his head as he staggered to the bathroom and hurled. He knelt down on the floor beside the toilet bowl, laid his arm on the rim and rested his head on his arm, alternately gasping and heaving, although there was nothing left to puke except bile.

"Oh god," he groaned. "What's happening to me?"

Once his stomach seemed to have settled, he rinsed his mouth out and returned to bed hoping the nightmares had done for the night. He lay awake for a short while then, despite the emptiness inside, sleep claimed him.

Daniel, not having any work to do, had turned in earlier than usual, slept well and awoke shortly after half past eight. He went into Santa Barbara for a light breakfast then set off for the Museum of Art in Figueroa Street where he planned to spend the day.

Not surprisingly, he was drawn first to the collection of antiquities, and a bas-relief of the high priest, Khaemwaset, fourth of the many sons of Ramesses II, the one known as Ramesses the Great.

Daniel rather identified with Khaemwaset who was, in a way, the first historian of Egypt. The prince-priest had devoted a great deal of time to searching out ancient texts, studying inscriptions on temple walls, and examining sacred books in the temple libraries, "so greatly did he love antiquity and the noble-folk who were aforetime".

The downside was that he was responsible for the building of the Serapaeum, a complex that combined catacombs for the burial of mummified bulls and above it, a temple to the bull god, Apis.

Daniel wondered idly what had happened to Apis. He liked to think that Khaemwaset was responsible for the demise of what was probably a goa'uld, and interred him under the Serapaeum, but more likely he'd been wiped out by other System Lords. Or maybe he was still out there somewhere. Well, that was someone else's worry now.

It was almost 10.00 by the time Jack surfaced. He shook his head thinking he'd have to turn in early that night and try to get his system back into it usual diurnal rhythm. He did at least feel reasonably refreshed and his stomach was rumbling insistent demands for food. As it was so late, he decided to skip breakfast and go directly to lunch - do not pass go - do not collect two hundred dollars.

He threw a steak on the grill pan, put some fries in the oven and opened a can of baked beans to warm up on the stove. Nice and quick and easy - emphasis on quick. The steak was on the underdone side of rare when he dished up.

He was about to sit down and tuck in when he heard the unmistakable sound of a car cruising down the track and coming to a stop outside. His heart sank. What now?

He opened the door sharply, leaving the elderly police officer knocking on air.

"Mi— er - Colonel O'Neill, sir?" the officer asked politely - the David Casey effect maybe?

"That would be me, yes. And what does the Montevideo police department want of me today? A confession to the assassination of President Kennedy maybe? Or the Lindbergh kidnaping? Signed in my own blood?"

Jack gave him a wolfish smile. The officer returned a wavering smile, not entirely certain about how to take this apparent attempt at humor.

"Er, no sir. I've come to collect you," he said. His voice had a marked Minnesota Dutch lilt.

"Collect me? What? Like the dirty laundry?"

"No sir. Inspector Blackstock wants to interview you further, sir."

"Oy! I really don't have anything to add to what I've already told him."

"It's more of a formality, sir," the officer assured him, clearly intent on appeasement.

"A formality, ya say?"


"Then I hope it can wait a little while. I was just about to eat and I tend to get a little cranky when I'm hungry. Don't think I'm ungrateful for the... generous... helping of... food... your people served me yesterday but— No, on second thoughts, consider me exceedingly ungrateful."

"Oh. Ja. It all tastes like macaroni cheese, doesn't it, sir?"

Jack did a double take at that.

"Yeah, and I reckon it also comes with a secret added ingredient."

"What's that, sir?"


"Really?" The officer's voice climbed half an octave and he looked seriously worried. The Casey Effect again?

"Could be, so if you don't mind...?"

"Sure. Go right ahead. Sir." The officer hovered at the door. Jack looked back at him. He could either shut the door in his face or invite him in. He sighed.

"Come on in and take a load off," he said, indicating the other chair at the table.

Jack sat down and began to tuck in. The officer watched him impassively.

"So what's going on?" Jack asked between mouthfuls.

"I can't say, sir."

"Sure you can, Officer— ?"

"Van Donck, sir, and no I can't," the policeman replied, absentmindedly helping himself to a fry. "Sorry, sir. Forgot myself," he added, encountering an indignant look from his host.

Jack shrugged and waved him to help himself. He'd pay for it later...

"Who's to know if you filled me in on a few ... unimportant... little details? You got this place bugged or something?" Jack grinned.

Officer van Donck looked uneasily around. It occurred to Jack that he had enemies in the Pentagon as well as friends, so while it was unlikely, it wasn't impossible that the place could actually be bugged. He'd sweep the place later.

"Oh well, never mind. Forget I asked."

Jack finished eating, grabbed his leather jacket and followed Officer van Donck outside.

"Actually, I hear they turned up a new lead," the policeman said confidentially as they walked his car.

Jack smiled his appreciation. "That so?"

"Ja. Your lawyer's been giving Inspector Blackstock a hard time," Van Donck said with a hint of schadenfreude. Apparently others shared his own opinion of Blackstock.

Really?" Jack grinned.

"Oh ja." Definitely schadenfreude.

They got in the car and drove off. It was around two thirds of the way into the journey that the beans made their existence felt. Officer van Donck surreptitiously lowered the window a little while Jack's smile drifted between innocent and smug.

Daniel had moved on to the Asian gallery, where he was particularly taken by a wood-cut by Hokusai with Fuji san in the background. From there, he moved on to the European gallery which seemed to focus mainly on French impressionism.

It was a little past noon by this time so he had a light lunch in Zal's Café at the Museum before returning to the exhibits. One advantage of being on one's own was that one could take one's time. There was no one nagging at you to hurry up - no uncultured, impatient, bad-tempered colonel telling you it was time to pack up and go home. Now, Daniel...!

Daniel sighed as a wave of loneliness hit him, and headed for the American gallery.

"Ah, Colonel O'Neill," Lieutenant Blackstock said as Jack arrived.

"Got that one right," Jack muttered.

Blackstock gave him a wide smile that entirely failed to reach his eyes.

"We've been doing a background check on the - er— "

" 'Witnesses'?" Jack asked with a predatory smile and sketching in air quotes.

"Yeah," Blackstock responded with an attempt at casual, but the gritted teeth were not lost on Jack.


"And there is a suggestion that maybe they are not totally unknown to Mr. Stutter."

"A suggestion? That strong, huh?" Jack said, and nodded as David Casey arrived.

"Do you have Edgar Franck Petersen and Warner Clyburn in custody yet?" the lawyer asked.

"Um, my men haven't located them yet, but it's just a matter of time..."

"Oh? You've called my client in for the identity parade, yet you don't have anyone for him to identify?"

"I'm afraid not, sir."

"Called? I was brought in," Jack scowled.

Casey raised his eyebrows.

"We didn't anticipate that the - er— "

" 'Witnesses'," Jack chimed in maliciously and with air quotes again.

" —would be so difficult to track down."

"Yeah, who'd'a thought it? Muggers who make false accusations usually just sit quietly at home waiting for the police to show up, don't they?" Jack snarked.

"And meanwhile," Casey said, "you expect my client to spend another day kicking his heels at your convenience?"

"Er, no sir. Colonel O'Neill is free to go."

"Go? Go where?" Jack exclaimed. "I have no transport and as all your men are no doubt busy tracking down your 'witnesses' " - again the air quotes - "I don't suppose you have anyone available to run me home..."

"No, sir," Blackstock sighed. "Maybe you'd like to take a look around our town? We have a very nice museum."

He paused as Jack's face took on a slightly manic look.

"Or there's golf... and a lake..."



"Yeah, well, you got my number. When - or if - you manage to catch those two - 'witness' - call me."

"Did Lieutenant Blackstock get around to informing you that Kelvin Hayward Stutter III is now conscious and off the critical list?" Casey asked.

"No. He didn't."

While Daniel was losing himself in a beautiful landscape of 'Mirror Lake, Yosemite Valley' by Alfred Bierstadt, Jack was wandering disconsolately around the unremarkable streets of Montevideo.

He supposed he could have made a fuss and demanded a taxi back to his cabin, but he would only have had to drive back into Montevideo later and he was getting a tad fed up of that road. Besides, sod's law said that as soon as he arrived and settled down on his little jetty, Blackstock would call and tell him they'd managed to round up the 'witnesses.'

By mid-afternoon, he was feeling a little peckish and stopped at Valentino's Restaurant for something to eat. His order had just arrived when his cell 'phone rang. Blackstock's men had picked up the witnesses and would Colonel O'Neill please come for the identity parade. Jack finished his food first.

He wasn't sure he'd be able to pick the pair out of the line-up. The light had been fading and it had been pretty gloomy under the trees anyway. In the event, it was a piece of cake. The headlights had picked out more than he'd realized at the time.

One guy in the line-up had a very distinctive square jaw like the racing driver David Coulthard. It also looked swollen on one side despite a couple of day's growth of stubble. The other one had had a number of pieces of metal decorating his face - through one eyebrow, the septum and lower lip. He'd also had a flashy sword earring. The metalwork was gone now, but the holes were still there. There was also a plaster over one earlobe and traces of dried blood.

"Number five and number eight," Jack said clearly and, as it turned out, correctly.

The affable Officer Van Donck drove Jack back to the cabin, arriving in the late afternoon. He was in a mixed state of mind - glad to be free of the trumped-up charges against him but fretting at the loss of a good day's fish-ing. Ignoring the washing up left over from his rather abrupt departure, he set about making up for lost time.

For a while, sitting on the little jetty, he let his mind wander, drifting in free fall. He was just coming to the conclusion that there was something more serious he ought to be considering when the mosquito bit. Dammit—

Daniel! As he applied a little antihistamine cream to the bite, the events of Saturday evening began to replay in his mind.

Daniel loved him. Couldn't help it in spite of Jack's constant griping and apparent lack of appreciation of his abilities. Would leave the S.G.C. for him. Would love him as long as he lived. Daniel had gone out on a limb to tell him so.

It had made Jack's heart stutter. Daniel was offering him in one package something he truly wanted and something he could never have. Or could he? There was that little obstacle called Air Force Instruction 36-2909 regarding unprofessional relationships which applied equally to civilian team members, never mind 'don't ask, don't tell.' Daniel had certainly nuked a hole through that one!

Supposing they both left the S.G.C. and moved in together here in the cabin. They could even cross the border into Canada and marry if they decided it was what they wanted. Jack grew warm at the thought despite the late afternoon chill. Of course, it wouldn't mean squat in the U.S. but did that matter? Well, on a cosmic scale, yes, but here in their own little bit of the back of beyond? Not really.

Although... if it got back to the J.C.S., he could lose his pension. Even if there had been no relationship before they 'retired', it would be assumed that there was, however remote the possibility.

But then, there were his responsibilities, not least to the world and its safety. He didn't for one moment imagine he was irreplaceable. Ferretti or Coburn or Griff could fill his shoes pretty well, or, closer to home, Carter.

Carter was exceptionally intelligent and good at following orders - unlike the person dearest to his heart - but he wasn't sure she was ready yet. Maybe as S.G.-1's leader, but definitely not as 2IC of the S.G.C. Plus she was a major, as were the other three. That hadn't been deemed a high enough grade for the post when he'd turned rogue to trap Maybourne and Makepeace et al. Makepeace. That hadn't turned out well by all accounts. "The Jaffa." Huh!

Which meant it had to be a colonel. He reviewed the options. First in seniority was Chuck Riley, but he spent most of his time at the Alpha site which was a full time job and also kept him out of the loop.

Next up was Bill Edwards. He reminded Jack of a more gung-ho version of himself before he'd come under Daniel's ameliorating influence. 'Compromise' wasn't a word Edwards was familiar with. Strike two.

Dave Dixon was an admirable officer and leader of men. However, he was very much a new kid on the S.G.C. block and on a steep enough learning curve as it was, plus he'd only recently earned his bird.

That left Tom Rundell, head of Public Affairs Liaison - a safe pair of hands but a little lacking in imagination - played everything strictly by the book which was so not Jack's way.

Maybe if he and Daniel stayed as they were for a year or so while he trained up a successor... It wasn't as if they were unused to hiding their feelings - obviously. Then they'd be free to retire and follow their own inclinations.

It occurred to him that he was thinking about this entirely from his own perspective. When he thought about it, Daniel hadn't shown any sign that he wanted to wait - already had been waiting a long time if the needy look he'd worn that night was anything to go by. Remembering back, he hadn't even answered Daniel's question...

He tried putting himself in Daniel's shoes and went over Saturday evening again in his mind. What if you'd invited the object of your affections - the guy you love - for dinner for the sole purpose of— of— well, proposing wasn't too far off the mark. You'd made your best efforts - red rose and all. (How had he missed that one?)

The atmosphere is tense, not because you're pissed at him - though you might well be - but because you're trying to do the thing right - to say the right words to get the right response.

Or maybe, the right words not to frighten your guy away... Daniel's declaration had shown that he expected to be rebuffed. What was it he'd said? Something about not forcing the issue if Jack didn't fancy the idea of sex with him? Jack gave a wry smile. Like he'd need coercing?

He tried to see himself as Daniel might have seen him. He'd been wary and uncertain about what Daniel was up to so he'd said virtually nothing. Which must have been hell for Daniel - like spending an evening with a brick wall.

Despite this, Daniel had gone ahead regardless. God, that must've taken some courage - not something Daniel was generally short on, but nevertheless - must've taken a lot of guts actually, to cross such a broad Rubicon.

What response had he got? Nothing. Zip. Zilch. No, not nothing. "Shit." Not what he'd've wanted to hear. Then his guest had upped and gone - taken flight - walked out on him - left him alone to assume... What?

He knew now how Daniel felt about him, and he knew how he felt about Daniel. But Daniel didn't know.

He realized he was putting off considering something he didn't want to consider. "I think I will love you until I die," Daniel had said. He wouldn't... Would he? Prima facie, Jack didn't think so. Daniel was a resilient kind of guy - took everything in his stride.

But looked at objectively, Daniel didn't have much going for him to keep him on an even keel psychologically apart from sheer bloody-mindedness. He'd lost his parents - been rejected by his only known kin - been married - lost his unexpected wife in a dreadful manner - had no other known relationships. Now his closest friend had pulled the rug out from under him and had had no contact since.

Jack felt a sudden chill flood through him. Didn't matter how macho you were, you could still feel— if you'd just lost what you most valued...

He fished his cell 'phone out his pocket - never went anywhere without since Hammond had hauled him over the coals after he'd rendered himself incommunicado during the Osiris affair. He felt another twinge of guilt. He hadn't been there when Daniel needed him that time either. Feeling uncharacteristically awkward, he called Daniel at home.

"Sorry I can't take your call right now," the cheerful voice responded after an appropriate pause, "But if you leave your name and number, I'll get back to you a.s.a.p."

"Daniel, if you're there, pick up. It's me, Jack... Daniel...?"

There was no response. Jack looked at his watch. 17.28, an hour ahead of Colorado Springs. Oh well, Daniel was probably out shopping, or visiting a museum or something. He tried to remember if Daniel had mentioned any plans for going away, but came up empty. He felt another twinge of guilt because he'd never even bothered to ask. Some friend he was! Yet Daniel still loved him. Jack felt thoroughly undeserving.

He tried Daniel's cell 'phone. Again no response. Maybe there was no signal or he was out of range or something. Had it switched off or, more likely, had forgotten to charge it. That would be so like Daniel!

He called again at 1900, then again at 2100. There was still no reply at Daniel's loft and Jack was feeling seriously antsy - wanted to be doing something, not kicking his heels waiting - hated not knowing.

Sam! She and Daniel were close. Maybe she would know where he was. He flipped out his cell 'phone again and was in luck.

"Sam, have you any idea where Daniel is right now? I can't get him at home or on his cell."

"Probably forgot to recharge it," Sam replied with an indulgent chuckle that seemed somehow out of place. "Don't you know where he is, sir?"

Oh, that stung!

"Ah, actually, no I don't," Jack replied, feeling lower than a sewer rat. He hid the guilt under a layer of sarcasm. "That would be why I'm calling you," he went on, then cringed; it wasn't her fault. "Sorry, that was uncalled for. I... I thought maybe he might've... said something to you."

"Sorry no. Oh, but he probably left a contact number at the S.G.C. in case of emergencies. This isn't an emergency is it, sir?"

Jack mentally crossed his fingers.

"No it's okay. It can probably wait till I get back. Oh, and congratulations on sorting out the problem with the 'Gate... er... yesterday." It seemed a lot longer ago! "Enjoy the rest of the break."

"Thanks. You too, sir."

The S.G.C. Why hadn't he tried that first? If Daniel had gone away, of course he would've left a contact number there. He rang the S.G.C. No one had an alternative number for him. Must still be in the Springs then. He waited until he figured Daniel must be back from wherever it was he's been that day then rang again. Still no reply.

Jack felt an underlying sense of unease. He was almost certain that he was adding two and two and getting a number other than four, that Daniel would never go down the same road he nearly had. It wasn't like he'd lost a son.

He thought back to that dark time in his own life - the way he'd been behaving then. As the pain of loss had dragged him down into that deep, dark hole marked 'Depression,' he'd withdrawn into himself, become introspective and uncommunicative. He'd kept himself to himself except when he absolutely had to make the effort, and hadn't even done that sometimes. Pretty much like Daniel had been over the past few months actually...

Sure, the old Daniel, a mixture of humanitarianism and pissy-ness, had resurfaced from time to time when Jack had been - well, a Jack-ass, he supposed. Other than that, he'd been following the same route that he himself had taken. Yes, the signs had been there if he'd been... what? Alert enough? Objective enough? Caring enough? see them.

No, Daniel might not have lost a son, but he might've thought he'd lost a friend - lost a supportive friendship. People had killed themselves for lesser causes. Who knew what had gone through their minds before—

But Daniel was strong, wasn't he? He'd survived so many traumas - so many losses in his life. He could survive another - couldn't he? Or could be his last straw? Every man has his breaking point, and even the strongest oak will blow over if the storm is strong enough. If the storm of Daniel's feelings for him were that strong, then he had to return - would never forgive himself if...

He was sorely tempted to set out immediately. However, he was stressed and tired, and after all the problems of this ill-fated trip, he didn't want to tempt Providence, which was notoriously weak-willed and fickle. He would turn in early and start at first light.

While Jack was fretting and fidgeting in Minnesota, the object of his agitation had spent a relaxing evening in another of Santa Barbara's eateries. His peregrinations around the town had led him to the Emerald Restaurant in State Street. He found a quiet comfortable corner and sat down to peruse the menu. As he'd passed other diners, he'd noted that the fare looked tasty and tempting. It was a shame he didn't have the heart to enjoy it.

He followed a tangy bouillabaisse with a main course of chilli crusted filet mignon. He hadn't planned on eating a third, but was again seduced by the dessert menu. The dark chocolate pecan was sublime.

As he waited for the waitress to return to collect his plate and take his order for coffee, he indulged in a little people watching. It wasn't something he'd done for a while, not with humans anyway. It passed the time but it also made him feel even more like an outsider - rootless—

The Emerald was a popular place, and by early evening, had become too noisy and bustling for him. He paid up and went back to his villa. There he opened a bottle of Zinfandel, then settled back on the veranda with a glass and his journal.

This time, he didn't record the events of his day as he usually did. It seemed a pointless exercise anyway, under the circumstances. He kept the entry to short:

Hump Day: No word from Jack and I feel very much alone. I considered taking the final step today, but I've settled on a week and I'll stick to that. It's not that the last few days haven't been enjoyable. It's just the sense of increasing irrelevance in this world. And the loneliness.


Jack had packed up the night before and was on the road as the first pink tinge of dawn crept into the sky.

"Red sky at morning, sailor's warning," he muttered to himself and wasn't surprised when the fine weather deteriorated as he drove westward.

He stopped for a break at some services a little before 1100. He wanted to freshen up and also get some caffeine into his system to keep him alert - wasn't going to court trouble. It had certainly sought him out so far this week.

By the time he hit the road again, the sporadic showers had turned into continuous rain which became steadily heavier until the descending rain, mixed with spray thrown up by traffic, was creating something akin to a fairly thick fog.

More haste less speed selected itself from his cliché collection, and insinuated itself into his consciousness. He figured he better pay attention to it, and slowed down to forty. Other cars continued to whizz past him as though the drivers had x-ray vision - or thought they had.

His care paid off when red tail lights flashed on ahead of him in the gloom, and a car that was passing him aquaplaned into the cars ahead. He just had time to divert down an off-ramp and so missed the ensuing pile-up. Maybe the bad luck of the past few days had jumped into another unfortunate bastard.

He wondered if he should stop to see if he could render assistance, but remembered the last time he'd stopped to help someone. No good deed goes unpunished. Furthermore, stopping would delay his return. Feeling guilty, he kept on driving and rejoined the Interstate further down the road.

Meanwhile, Daniel was spending a lackluster day at the Santa Barbara Mission in Laguna Street.

The 'Queen of Missions' had been founded by Spanish Franciscans on the feast day of Saint Barbara, December 4th, 1786, for the purpose of Christianizing the local Chumash Indians. It had survived two earthquakes and a threatened attack by pirates. In 1865, the Mission was returned to the Catholic Church by Abraham Lincoln and still served as a parish church.

It was interesting in itself but more so, no doubt, to those who were devout Christians. Daniel was not, and he found it rather depressing. All those lifetimes dedicated to someone, or something, that didn't exist. Probably. They'd taken on trust that something better awaited them for their good deeds and wholesome living.

Well, that was the definition of faith, he supposed. Not that he had faith in anything much. Only in Jack, and that faith proved to have been ill-founded. He hadn't had any response from Jack since his revelation - which seemed aeons ago now - just a resounding silence.

By two o'clock, he still didn't feel particularly hungry; it was a different sort of emptiness that he felt. So he made do with a snack bar from the gift shop and went out into the quadrangle, nibbling as he went.

It was a restful place with palms and other plants flourishing around the margin. He sat down on the edge of a wide raised pool. It had a fountain playing in the center. Goldfish could be seen swimming lazily under the water-lilies.

He sat a long time in contemplation and hardly registered the presence of another person beside him. The other came and sat down on the pool's edge facing him. He too was silent.

"You seem troubled, my son," he said after a while. His voice was low and soft, but it broke into Daniel's reverie nevertheless.

Daniel didn't immediately reply as he didn't want to be rude and, not appreciating the interruption, he felt like being rude. It was ironic that, despite feeling manifestly alone in the world, he resented the intrusion into his own personal hell.

He finally looked at the guy and noted that he was wearing the dark vestments of a priest. Great. Someone bent on saving his soul. Someone who would "hate the sin but love the sinner." Anger spiked.

But the face before him looked gentle - innocent almost. Maybe this was a good man who genuinely wanted to help, even if that benevolent intent was misplaced here. So, when Daniel finally responded, he fell back on the old standard. "I'm fine."

"Pardon me for doubting you, but I don't think you are."

"Maybe not right now, but not for much longer," Daniel shrugged.

The priest gave him a shrewd look. Maybe not so innocent then? "Tell me how I can help you now."

Daniel gave a short mirthless laugh. "Why not say a prayer for me?" he said, and got an old-fashioned look back. "It is your forte isn't it?"

"But not yours?"

"Not a lot of point," Daniel said bitterly.

"God works— "

"In mysterious ways. Yes, so I've heard. It's a great get-out clause."

The cynicism was palpable and followed by an unhappy silence. Daniel sighed. "I'm sorry. It obviously works for you, and - and that's... um, that's good. I guess."

"You think God should be more... pro-active?"

"Well, what's the point of being all-powerful if you never use that power? I m-mean, look at all the p-pain and suffering in the world— All the wars and famines and - and diseases. What - what deity worth the name would let all that happen?"

"You don't think free will is a good idea then?"


"Well if Our Lord kept interfering whenever anyone made a bad choice, we'd all end up wrapped up in cotton wool."

"There's a happy medium somewhere though, surely?"

The priest smiled. "You mentioned wars, but which side would you have God take? And where would you draw the line in divine intervention? Because God doesn't... meddle... overtly, it doesn't mean He doesn't care."

Daniel shook his head. It was all getting a bit too deep for him. Any other time, he might have enjoyed the debate. Right now, he'd had enough.

"Look, I appreciate what you're doing - I think - but I have to go now." They both stood up. The priest extended his hand and Daniel shook it.

"If you want someone to talk to about whatever is troubling you, I'm here for you... Father Esteban." He held out a small card.

"Daniel," Daniel said, accepting the card without really thinking about it.

"I will pray for you, Daniel, and remember, with God, all— "

" — things are possible? Yeah, right."

Had the weather been better, Jack might have considered pressing on and completing his journey that night, so concerned was he. He'd tried 'phoning Daniel every time he stopped for a break, but with no response. To press on with night coming on was asking for trouble. He was feeling tired and achy from sitting for so long and in particular, his eyes were sore from several hours spent squinting into the rain.

He bowed to the inevitable and made an overnight stop at some anonymous motel he knew not where. It was warm, dry and had a bed. That was all he wanted by then. For once, he slept very well. Exhaustion wasn't all bad apparently.

Part 1 Part 3

Crown Infernal