Crown Infernal

Libera Me (Set Me Free)

Part 3


Jack slept longer that he'd planned, but awoke much refreshed and more buoyant of spirit. He had a good breakfast, filled up with gas and set off on the last leg of his journey. Hopefully, the jinx that had been dogging his every move had been left behind and he should arrive home by mid-afternoon. And then?

Suddenly the grim feeling of impending disaster sank its claws in again. He wondered if the jinx was tagging along with it. He didn't have to wait too long to find out.

He'd stopped for a break and a coffee at a service station and resumed his journey at 1030. Some twenty minutes later, the truck seemed to lose power suddenly, and cruised gently to a halt at the side of the road.

Cursing a blue streak, Jack popped the hood. He got out and shouted a few more obscenities to the heavens as he lifted the hood and propped it up. For a moment, in his mind's ear, he could almost hear Grandma O'Neill, the fearsome Catholic matriarch from his childhood saying, "And that's a judgement on you for passing by on the other side yesterday..."

He shook his head. No way was she going to exert any power over him from beyond the grave, he decided. It was just his brain playing tricks on him. He was certain he hadn't really heard the sarcastic "Ya think?" either, though it caught a nerve sufficiently to make him straighten up and crack his head on the edge of the hood. He yelped and glared around, almost daring her to laugh, then returned to truck's innards.

It took a few minutes until he spotted that the rotor arm was cracked. Then he could swear he heard righteous laughter on the wind. Great! Catholicism had really gotten guilt-tripping off to a fine art!

"It's not real! You're not there!" he yelled skyward then winced. If he wasn't careful he was going to end up in Mac. the Quack's tender care. He gave this idea some serious thought, then decided that his paternal grandmother hadn't been quite that sadistic.

He pulled out his cell 'phone and called the A.A.A. for roadside rescue, then climbed back in the truck to wait.

Meanwhile, Daniel was visiting the Chumash Painted Cave. Although the paintings were only around a thousand years old, the Chumash had inhabited the area for around 13,000 years. Who said America had no history? If you were prepared to include the country's original owners anyway...

The road to the cave was very steep and narrow with hairpin bends, and required careful navigation. Daniel was doubly fortunate in not meeting any traffic on the drive and in finding that both the two parking spaces were empty.

As he left his vehicle, he remembered the priest and squinted up at the clear blue sky. He shook his head. Nope, he thought, no way is there a God of parking spaces. He quirked a wry grin at the thought as he wandered into the coolness of the cave.

The symbolic paintings were fascinating to Daniel. They depicted lizards, scorpions and snakes and were painted mostly in mineral pigments, red iron oxide, white gypsum and charcoal. They were thought to represent mythic figures, natural phenomena or maybe even abstract concepts. He wondered if the goa'uld had been involved. Well, if they were, it would be someone else's problem, not his any more.

He had an interesting discussion with the park official. Frank was a cheerful man of middle years who was delighted to find a kindred spirit. He offered to open other Chumash sites, which were normally closed to the public to protect the delicate paintings, if he would like to come back on Sunday afternoon. Daniel smiled sadly and said he would love to but he would be leaving the following day.

Daniel drove back along the San Marco Pass Road and into Santa Barbara where he had a late lunch. Again, although he was feeling more and more lethargic, he wasn't particularly hungry. It was almost as if his body was shutting down in sympathy. He moved on to his final destination of the day— of his holiday, of his life.

At any other time, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, with its anthropology, archaeology and ethnology sections, would have kept him enthralled for hours. As it was, he was sinking deeper into depression and drawing further into himself. He felt disinclined to interact with the world any further. Despondently, he returned to his beach hide-away.

Once more, he considered anticipating what he thought of as his 'time of departure.' But no. He'd made his decision and he would stick to it, although patently Jack had no intention of getting in touch. No doubt, the loss of his most irritating team member would make his life so much more comfortable - and that was good.

He summoned up the energy to pack up his gear and stow it in the trunk of his car, leaving the villa as empty as his life. He took the last bottle of wine out on to the veranda and sat back to enjoy the last sunset of his life. It seemed appropriate.

It was early evening by the time Jack reached Colorado Springs. The guy from the A.A.A. had been having a bad day too, beginning with a blow-out on his rear off-side tire on the way to fix the truck, and going on from there - or rather, not going on at all. For a long time...

It felt like someone, or something, had it in for him. This was probably just his normal paranoia which had kept him alive against all the odds many times over.

The idea that something supernatural really was out to get him was totally nonsensical of course. Jack no longer believed in things spiritual or mystical. He'd grown out of that sort of fanciful folly long ago. It would certainly never have survived his sojourn in that Iraqi jail. So it was very irritating to find his thoughts wandering back to his straitlaced Grandma O'Neill.

He was well aware of the Bible's uncompromising stance on homosexuality; it had contributed in a large part to his departure from Catholic fold. In no way could he conflate the concepts of unconditional love and the stoning to death of people who had broken any of a large variety of very petty taboos.

If he was wrong about such things - and he didn't believe for a single nano-second that he was - he could imagine that Grandma would do her utmost to prevent his following the path - highway! - to hell that he was currently contemplating.

Outside apartment 8-3, Jack rapped on the door, calling Daniel's name. No reply. He fished out his key-ring, selected Daniel's spare key and fumbled it into the lock. The hairs rose on the back of his neck and he took a deep breath before he went inside. He called Daniel's name again, but immediately sensed that the apartment was empty - that there was no living thing there anyway.

Fighting down a slight shiver of panic, he strode through the apartment, praying, "Please let him be alive." The irony of that thought caught up with him in the bedroom. Funny how people turned to this non-existent deity at times of trouble.

He breathed again when he found no sign of Daniel's bo— Daniel. He went out on to the balcony and looked down on the parking lot below. Daniel's car was missing.

So where was he? If Daniel had gone off on a pleasure trip incognito, dragging a slightly deranged superior officer away from his fishing, Daniel would definitely be dead. Jack would see to that personally. Then his eye caught the envelopes on the dining table and the hairs on his neck prickled again. He went over and picked them up.

"To General Hammond," was the inscription on the top one. He replaced it on the table, guessing its contents. The second was addressed, "To Whom it may Concern." He was concerned. He ripped it open, dragged out the single sheet inside and dropped the envelope on the table.

The page quivered slightly in his hand as he read the header. Its black Gothic letters stood out, cold and stark as an engraving on a tombstone. For a long moment, he stared at it, his breathing fast and shallow.

"No..." It was a whisper, then, "No... No, no, no, NO, NO! You can't do this, Daniel!"

He sat down suddenly on the nearest dining chair. His legs seemed to have lost all feeling and with that, the ability to support him. He laid the paper slowly down on the table and dropped his head in his hands, panting.

Once the initial shock had worn off, he looked around. There were two possibilities; Daniel was either alive or he was— He wasn't. In the latter case, there was nothing he could do, so concentrate on the former. Think, Jack, think. He's not here. He has to be somewhere. There must be some clues.

He began in the kitchen. Which was spotless - more or less. A stick was protruding from the garbage can, preventing its closing properly. Daniel hadn't taken out the trash. It was unlikely that he'd find anything significant but... He went over, opened the lid and choked back a cry.

The rose. The red rose. For him. From Daniel. A love token. The flower was limp now and turning brown, its petals dropping. He took it out and broke off the long end of the stem, ignoring the thorn that dug into the palm of his hand, then he put the sad relic into the inside pocket of his jacket.

He bit his lip hard to stop the gathering tears but one got away anyway. It trickled unheeded down his cheek and dripped off his chin. No, nothing of use in the kitchen.

There was nothing in the dining room either, except pile of library books, presumably to facilitate their return to the library. None of them was overdue. In the bedroom, there only one thing Jack was surprised to find.

In his night stand was a 9mm. Glock 17. Sure, he'd urged Daniel to keep a hand gun for his own personal protection - hadn't expected the Man of Peace to take any notice of his advice. Although, while Daniel always looked for Another Way, and was generally averse to shooting people, he didn't hold back if he had to. Just indulged in a lot of mental self-flagellation afterwards.

In a way, this discovery gave Jack cause to hope. If he'd reacted to Jack's apparent rejection immediately, the Glock was a certain way out. It was still here. Daniel wasn't. So obviously he had some other means in mind. More to the point, he hadn't immediately removed himself from the land of the living. He hadn't re-acted; he was working to a plan. Therefore, there must be a clue somewhere if only he could find it.

It didn't take much tracking down. On the desk in Daniel's study, were a number of holiday brochures, which pushed Jack's 'don't fuck with me' buttons. Daniel had gone on holiday after all? Dragging Jack all the way back from Minnesota?!

Then he remembered the Last Will and Testament

Okay, so probably not off on a holiday jaunt then. So, what? He flipped through the brochures and found a post-it note stuck to an inside page in the last one he looked in. On it was scrawled:

....................................Pacific Villas - Villa Nueva, #6, Vista del Isla Drive, Sa.Barbara, CA 93106.

But there was no 'phone number. Jack returned his attention to the brochure and found a number for the letting agency. He picked up the desk 'phone and dialed. And got an answer phone. He rooted through the drawers in Daniel's desk to see is there were any more clues.

"Ahh shit!" he exclaimed when he opened the bottom drawer. No wonder he hadn't gotten any reply on Daniel's cell 'phone. He'd left his charger behind. Typical.

He thought about pulling rank and finagling a lift on a military 'plane, but there were no flights scheduled that were going anywhere near Daniel's probable location. H also had to bite his tongue over a couple of comments about military aircraft not usually being available for holiday flights.

So, exhausted as he was, he was going to have to drive to Santa Barbara. And time must be running out if it hadn't already. No. That was not to be thought of.

Hang on. No, he wouldn't have to drive to Santa Barbara - not necessarily. No military flights but... He gathered his weary wits and hunted out the yellow pages. For once, luck was with him and he managed to book a seat on flight UA 6757 from Denver to Santa Barbara just before midday next day, getting in at 1328. Now, he needed to rest.

He went into Daniel's bedroom and took off his boots. Then he laid himself down on Daniel's bed and fell asleep, breathing in the familiar smell of him on the pillow. He dreamed of Daniel - sweet and gentle dreams.


Jack jerked awake . There was a moment's confusion between sleeping and waking— He really was in— on - Daniel's bed. He shouldn't be here. Don't ask, don't tell...

Then normality re-asserted itself and the previous day's events settled front and center of his brain. He was off like a greyhound out of a trap, driving home to shower and shave and change his clothes, then setting off for Denver.

Daniel had slept badly and woke late. Like Jack, he was a little disoriented. What day was it? Oh yes, it was the day on which he had decided to die. Permanently. Definitely no resuscitation. With luck, his body would never be found.

He turned on to his back and stared, unseeing, at the ceiling. He couldn't remember ever feeling so low, could hardly be bothered to drag himself out of bed. But, the ocean wasn't going to come to him...

He sighed, and having spent another twenty minutes working up the energy to move, swung his legs around and sat on the edge of the bed. There was no need to dress. He'd slept in the clothes he'd been wearing, having already stowed his things in his car, including his shoes. He preferred going barefoot anyway.

There was just one more thing to do before he left. He went through into the kitchen-diner. He'd felt that he ought to leave a final communication for Jack - a suicide note, he supposed. He picked up his journal from the table and carefully tore a page out. He sat down and composed his farewell.


Please don't feel guilty about what I've done. I've simply gotten too tired of living. Don't think I'm not grateful for all you've done for me over the years either. I am. You've been a good friend too, and I treasure that part of my life. Now it's time for me to go.

I love you,

He folded the page and pulled the envelope he'd brought with him for the purpose from the back of his journal. It was stamped and addressed, 'Personal and Private,' to Jack. It was a little grubby and creased, but he didn't notice that as he slid his letter into the envelope. He laid then laid it on top of his journal on the table. Time to go.

He padded out on to the veranda, and his jaw dropped. He'd assumed he would have the beach to himself - which he had. But although the beach was private, the ocean apparently was not. There seemed to be a sailboarding regatta going on. What? Couldn't a guy be left to die in peace?

Of course, he'd been away from the villa for most of his stay, and hadn't seen what happened during the day. In the evening, he'd been left to enjoy his surroundings in serene isolation, and had assumed, wrongly obviously, that his little bit of the coast was always like that. And today was Saturday... He should have - really - should have thought of that. Fuck, fuck, fucketty, fuck, fuck, fuck! He couldn't walk into the ocean until the sailboarders had packed up and gone home for lunch, or some idiot was bound to try and rescue him.

He sighed, turned on his heel and went back into the kitchen to make some coffee. And wait...

Jack, too, was waiting. He was at Denver International Airport having added in a lot of extra time for the drive to Denver to take into account his own personal jinx which, naturally, gave him a free run.

This left him with lots of time to kill before he checked in. He then fretted about the delay to his flight and cursed the terrorist problems that had increased the number and thoroughness of security checks. He didn't do patient very well at the best of times, and this was so not the best of times.

But. There was no point in doing anything other being a good little colonel and going along with the whole deal. It probably wasn't taking as long as it seemed, which was forever. He just hoped no one had absentmindedly left a bag on board his 'plane, creating a full-scale alert. That would be just too much after all the other things that had gone wrong. Especially if... No, not going there.

Finally, he was aloft and on his way to Santa Barbara. Had things been otherwise, he would have thoroughly enjoyed the flight. He loved flying.

Under normal circumstances, he would have taken great pleasure from this flight over the American cordillera - between the Park Range and the Sangre de Cristo of the eastern Rockies, over the Sawatch Mountains and dipping a little over the Colorado basin, then up again over the Wasatch.

Next came Lake Mead and the Nevada Desert before Death Valley and the rump of the Sierra Nevada. Finally, there was the hop over the Coast Range and the descent to Santa Barbara Municipal Airport.

They were only twenty minutes late, which the pilot appeared to think was cause for congratulations. Jack disagreed, though not out loud. Then came further frustration as he became caught up in crowds of argumentative people trying to sort out some problem with the baggage retrieval system. The closer he came to Daniel, the greater the distance between them became, or so it seemed. At last, he was outside and looking around for a cab.

Lunch time came, but although the sailboarders had thinned in their numbers, they were still going. Oh well, they'd have to pack up eventually, Daniel supposed. It wasn't like he had anything pressing to do. He could wait a while longer, sitting on the veranda.

Then the 'phone rang. Daniel's heart leapt. Jack? It couldn't be. Could it? He bounded inside and grabbed the 'phone.

"Hello," said a breezy female voice," Doctor Jackson?"

"Yes," Daniel confirmed as the weight on his heart thudded back again, dragging it back into the depths.

"This is just a courtesy call from Carmelita at Pacific Villas to see if everything has been to your satisfaction during your stay with us?"

"Er, yeah. It's fine. Everything's fine. You run a very fine service," Daniel replied on auto-pilot.

"Well, if there's anything you think of later that would improve our service, please don't hesitate to get in touch."


"Oh, and if you would like the same week next year, I can reserve a villa for you now, with a special discount for advanced booking...?"

"Ah, I'll— think about it. Thanks."

"You're welcome," Carmelita said brightly. "Byee!"

Daniel hung up with a deep sigh. He wandered into the kitchen and made another pot of coffee thinking wistfully of what might have been. If things had been otherwise, he would've jumped at Carmelita's offer. Though with their luck, there would be a goa'uld incursion during maintenance week.

When the coffee had brewed, Daniel poured a large mugful and took it back out on to the veranda. By the time he'd finished drinking it, there were only a few sailboarders left. Soon then.

He returned to the kitchen, washed up and dried his mug and the coffee-maker and put them away, then padded out the back again. Two sailboarders were left and they seemed to be heading back to where they'd come from so he ambled slowly, head down, across the lawn and on to the beach.

It was a beautiful beach with soft, light-colored sand that his feet sank into, a little like desert sand. But in the desert, you didn't have this crisp, bright smell of the ocean tingling in your nostrils, nor its enticing sounds in your ears.

Just for a moment, his spirits lifted, then his head drooped and his posture slumped again. He came to the tide-line, and couldn't avoid seeing that it was decorated with pretty pink shells and stripy pebbles and the wrack of seaweed, and here and there, pieces of wood, worn smooth by the water bumping them along.

He looked up and noted that the ocean was further away than it had been in the morning. He would have further to walk, but on the plus side, if the tide were ebbing, it would carry his body away and out to sea.

Beyond the tide-line, the sand was different, more solid somehow. If he stood still for a moment, his feet still sank in but differently, and when he moved on, he left behind foot-shaped pools of water.

As he walked on, the sand changed again. Now, it looked as if it had rippled like the water, and the ripples had set. Further on, the ripples had water in the bottom, and funnel-shaped holes where unknown creatures must live. Small crabs scuttled across the ripples and tiny fish, not much more than an inch long and almost invisible, darted away from danger.

Then he reached the water's edge. The sand was smooth again where the shallow ocean slid softly up the beach then trickled musically back again, leaving little gullies behind isolated pebbles. The sun shone on the tiny wavelets like stars, but by now, Daniel was immune to the beauty of his surroundings. All he wanted was to get it over.

With the sounds of the sea around him, he didn't hear the arrival of a car, nor the distant banging of its door.

Jack paid off the cabdriver, noting with irrational relief that Daniel's car was still there. An intact car did not equal an intact Daniel. On the other hand, at least he'd arrived at the right place. Probably.

He went up to the door, knocked, then waited maybe ten seconds and tried the handle. The door was not locked. That was a good sign - wasn't it? He entered and looked into the main rooms. All was silent. All was tidy. Just like the loft. Except in the dining kitchen where his eye instantly homed in on Daniel's journal and the long narrow envelope matching the ones on Daniel's table back home.

His hand shook and his heart stuttered as he picked up the envelope. He looked at his name on the front for a second before ripping it open and dragging out the folded page inside. He sat down suddenly, hardly reading the words. He already knew their purport.

"Stupid, stupid, fucking idiot!" he shouted, partly at Daniel and partly at himself. He slapped his hands on the table and pushed himself up on to his feet again. It wouldn't help either of them if he fell apart now. Think, Jack, think. His car's out front. He isn't far away...

He found his way out on to the veranda and looked around. Daniel, thigh deep in the water and partially camouflaged by that blue checked shirt almost escaped his attention as his eyes quickly scanned around.

No! Don't let me be too late— please don't let me be too late, he thought as he ran down on to the beach.

"Daniel!" he yelled, half running, half stumbling through the soft sand, and waving his arms furiously. But Daniel was too close to the roar of the breakers to hear him. He just kept pushing onward, ready for the waves to take him.

Jack ran onward too, pulling his cell 'phone from his pocket. No, dammit, no time for the authorities to get here. Now on the damp sand, he toed off his shoes and shucked himself out of his jacket, then shoved his cell into the end of one shoe for safe keeping, and carried on running.

He was splashing through the shallows when Daniel went down, his feet yanked from under him by the rip of a bigger wave. Jack marked the last place he'd seen Daniel in relation to an island on the horizon and kept on running as long he could then started swimming.

He did hid best to keep a eye on his surroundings, but missed Daniel. He was almost ready to resign himself to having lost him for good when he saw something floating to his left and a little behind him.

The tide was a long way out - far enough for it to be on the turn and carrying Daniel - and himself - back to shore. Jack swam strongly over to the blue-checked form which was face down in the water. He yanked him over and found his face had a blue tinge. There was blood pouring from his head too - must've hit some debris in the water. This was so not good.

He was close enough to the shore to be able to go on foot, dragging Daniel along by his shirt. As soon as they were clear of the water, he checked for vital signs. Daniel wasn't breathing, but he had a faint pulse.

Jack immediately began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. As set his mouth over Daniel's, his inner demon chose that singularly inappropriate moment to point out that if he'd focused a little more on Daniel and a lot less on himself, he might have been doing this for— other reasons. He pushed the thought away and concentrated on getting Daniel breathing again.

His efforts were rewarded when Daniel coughed, spluttered, and choked up a couple of gallons of the Pacific. Great! He was breathing! He was alive! He was also unconscious still - concussion probably - and eerily pale, and the wound on the side of his head was still bleeding albeit sluggishly.

Jack ran up the beach to his jacket and shoes - delighted to find no one had gone off with them while his back was turned. He retrieved his cell and called for an ambulance. Then he went back down the beach to sit with Daniel until they arrived, first laying his jacket over Daniel to prevent heat loss.

Now that he had Daniel safe— well, safe-ish - reaction set in, and by the time the paramedics arrived he had a sickly pallor too, and was shivering with delayed shock. They took one look at him and bundled him into the ambulance too. Jack wasn't up to arguing with them.

Once in hospital, it was another matter. He declined any treatment, insisting that they concentrate on sorting Daniel out. While he was taken away for tests, Jack set about the paper work.

There was a grim-faced woman on the desk. However, Jack had mixed it with the best. First off, there was a little confusion over names, Jack giving Daniel's name in the first instance, since he was the one receiving treatment.

It occurred to Jack that there could be repercussions here if the tale of the day's events reached certain people's ears. He was glad about the mix-up as it had given him the space to think it through.

"So your name is?" asked the dragon - Deirdre Gonzales, Jack noted.

"John Neillson," he said, "two 'els'." Okay, it wasn't particularly creative, nor particularly different from his own name but he needed something he could remember if required to do so.

Then Ms. Gonzales got on to the cause of the... 'accident.'

"Sailing," Jack said, not wanting to give too much detail but needing a reason why they were both wearing normal clothing. "Must have caught a... a rip tide or something."

"Not from these parts are you, Mr. Neillson-with-two-els?"

"No ma'am."

"I take it neither of you was wearing a life jacket either?"

"No ma'am."

"If only you holiday-makers would take the trouble to find out about the local conditions when you visit— and treated nature with the respect it deserved - it would halve the number of people coming to this hospital. You landlubbers come here and think that nature's a tame thing— that you can handle it. Well, you can't. Nature's wild— won't be tamed— not 'less you know what you're doing anyway. You've learned to swim in the flat calm of a swimming pool - got your 'swimming awards' and things, and then you think swimming in the ocean's just the same. Well it isn't!"

"No ma'am. Appreciate that, ma'am." He flashed Ms. Gonzales his most charming smile. She caved.

"Yes, well... if I had a dollar for every landlubber that's come to grief here, I'd be a rich woman, ya know? So much heartbreak is totally avoidable if people would only ask the locals before they go blithely skipping off to the ocean."

Jack suddenly realized that she'd acquired her grim look because she really cared about people and must have seen a whole load of tragic accidents in her time.

"Yeah," he sighed.

Once the formalities were out of the way, Jack was left with the inevitable wait for information and developments. How many more times, Daniel? he wondered as he took himself off to the waiting area. He thought about sitting down, but his clothes, though no longer dripping, were still pretty damp. Instead, he took to pacing up and down, to the annoyance of a stout woman who was also waiting.

"Would ya quit walkin' up and down and sit down, mister."

"Excuse me?"

"We're all waitin' and worryin' about someone here, and you're just making us all jumpy."

There a couple of murmurs of agreement.

"Well, my clothes are wet," Jack snapped.

"Ya went swimmin' in yer clothes?"

"Yeah, I did. And if you can tell me how to a drag a drowning man out of the ocean and still stay dry, then I'll be glad to hear it!"

"Oh. I see. I'm sorry."

Jack nodded. "Fine." He thought about it a moment. She had a point about why they were there. "Hope you - all of you - have the outcome you want."

There were murmurs of thanks and reciprocation. Jack sighed and went over to prop up a wall for the duration.

It seemed an age, but eventually a pretty young nurse came to fetch him. On the way to the ward, she explained that the prognosis was good, that Daniel's life signs were reasonably strong. He was on antibiotics to counter any bacterial infection from the water that had gotten into his system, she said. However, he was still unconscious and they hoped that if he heard a familiar voice, it might get through to him.

"You mean he's in a coma?" Jack demanded.

The nurse hedged her bets on that one, and Jack didn't have time to grill— enquire further before they arrived.

There was a gap in the curtains at the end of the bed. An intern, making notes on a clipboard, stood between Jack and the bed, but he could see enough. Daniel was lying very still, and had a load of wires connected to monitors. Plus ça change...

There was a slight cough, and Jack's spirits soared. Daniel was coming round. Then came a whispered question.

"Am I... dead...?"

The intern moved around to Daniel's side. "No, you're going to be just fine, Mr. Jackson," he said in bracing tones. Jack stepped through the curtains then.

Daniel's eyes were closed, his expression pained. He gave a faint, bitter laugh and murmured, "Couldn't even do that right..."

He lay motionless as a tear slid out from under his lashes and ran down the side of his face on to the pillow. He remained silent as more gathered and followed the first. It cut Jack to the quick.

The intern registered Jack's presence then. He nodded an acknowledgment. "I'll leave you to it then," he said, replacing the clipboard at the foot of the bed, and moved on to his next patient.

Jack stared mutely at the tears. He looked around. There was no one nearby. He leaned over and placed the lightest kiss on Daniel's face, tasting salt as the next tear fell. Daniel took a sharp breath and opened one suspicious blue eye. Then both flew open in shocked disbelief.

"Jack?" he breathed.

He looked from Jack to the equipment and back again. "God, they must've... filled me up... with some... strong stuff. You look so... so... real."

"That's because I am. Real."

Daniel closed his eyes again.

"No. No you're not," he mumbled. "You're just a... a hallucination— Wish... fulfilment... Jack would... never... come anywhere near me now. I... I think he... despises... me."

"No!" Jack said harshly. His voice softened and become low and husky as he said, "No, Daniel, he— he loves you."

Daniel's face crumpled in pain and sorrow. "Go away! Don't torment me like this!"

It occurred to Jack that Daniel was not only seeing him without his glasses but was seeing him through the misty blur of tears. He would soon realize that Jack really was there. Beside him. Where he should've been in the first place.

Right now, seeing the anguish on Daniel's face and knowing that he had put it there— Well, it hurt. It really hurt. And so it should, he thought.

He went round to the other side of the bed and took Daniel's free hand, the one that wasn't hooked up to all the equipment. Daniel turned his head to the other side of the bed, trying to pull his hand away, but Jack held on tightly.

"Ah no, Daniel. I'm not letting you go."

"Jack? It is you?" It was more of a statement than a question as reality broke through the haze.

"Yeah, it is me... the idiot that nearly lost you."

"Then— You saved me?"

"Saved you? I nearly killed you!"


"If I hadn't walked out on you last week," Jack said, his own face haggard, "it would never have come to this."

"It wouldn't have if you'd just gotten in touch..."

Jack rolled his eyes. "When did you last charge your cell 'phone, Daniel?"

"Just before I set out. Why?"

"You sure you charged it?"

"Yes, of course I'm sure," Daniel said, slipping back into familar and welcome pissiness. "I remember. I went through into my den, put my cell on my desk, and— Oh. "

"And— Oh?"

Daniel chewed his lip guiltily. "The door bell rang. Mrs. Hollings came to return my pen. I'd asked them to sign my... um... and there wasn't a pen handy so I lent them mine... I'm an idiot! I completely forgot about it and got on with the tidying up... I remembered to bring it, just forgot I hadn't charged it. I am so sorry, Jack," he concluded and lowered his eyes penitently.

But Jack wasn't about to chew him out. He was grossly at fault and he knew it. Everything that followed had stemmed from his failure to consider Daniel's position.

"No, I take the whole blame. I shouldn't have walked out like I did and left you alone with the fall-out. I thought I was thinking of your safety, but I guess I was thinking more about my own. It wasn't till several days later that I realized how it must've looked from your point of view."

"'Several days,' Jack? That was a week ago..."

Jack gave a theatrical sigh. "Yeah, well... things didn't exactly go according to plan..."

Daniel settled back then to listen, with slightly malicious enjoyment it had to be said, to Jack's account of his 'holiday.' His own, by contrast, had actually been quite pleasant, now he looked back on it, and with Jack by his side.

"Sounds like you kinda got your comeuppance already," Daniel grinned when Jack wound down.

"Don't start, Daniel," Jack grimaced. "I could swear the ghost of my late grandmother was haunting me..."

"Bit of a termagant, was she?" Daniel asked with a look of spurious sympathy.

"Oh, you better believe it! Stiff-backed martinet of a Catholic," he muttered caustically. He thought about it a while. "I guess I get the last laugh though." He raised two fingers heavenward. "Fuck Leviticus!"

"Does that mean— "

"We're together? Yeah, sure, youbetcha, Snookums! Whatever it takes." Jack replied with a sappy smile.

"Just one thing though, Jack." Daniel said severely. "Cut out the crappy nicknames, okay?"

But Jack wasn't paying attention to the words. He was drinking in the look of love that went with them.

"Anything you say, dearest..."

Fizz... Ting!

Notes on Suicide: When someone is depressed, he* may not have the energy to work up to suicide but may try para-suicide - self-harm or an overdose when it likely to be discovered. This is usually 'a cry for help' and should be taken seriously.

It may seem that a family member or friend is just attention-seeking or 'crying wolf,' but it doesn't mean that an ongoing problem will not reach the ultimate crisis point at which he will eventually take his own life.

You might think it unlikely that someone who is suicidal would blithely go off on holiday. Some people have sadly learned otherwise, saying, "If only I'd known— He seemed so much brighter recently."

Once the decision to die has be made, along with a plan for its accomplishment, a potential suicide often seems more cheerful - has more energy. He's taken back some control over his life, albeit for a short time.

He will not consider the devastation his death will cause to his family because he 'knows' they're fed up with him and his problems - especially if he's made previous threats of suicide - and they will be better off without him.

He will, however, consider the practical aspects. He will put his affairs in order - clear his debts, draw up a will and such like - so as not to leave too much of a mess for the family to sort out afterwards. He doesn't want to be more a nuisance than he already has been. This is a major factor before suicide.

If this strikes a chord with anyone reading this, you might find The Samaritans helpful to you or to someone you're concerned about.

This volunteer organization was set up for those going through a crisis and in danger of taking their own lives. Its founder, the lovely Chad Varah, believed that if there was someone they could talk to about their problems - someone who wasn't as up close and personal as family and friends - they might find some alternative to suicide.

Talking to someone who's prepared to sit and listen to you, with sympathy and understanding, for as long as it takes, really can help. The Samaritans will also accept the caller's decision to terminate his life and, unlike other organizations, will not try to coerce him into changing his mind.

Volunteers listen in confidence without criticizing or passing judgement on the caller, and without giving advice; what might solve one person's problem might make some else's problem infinitely worse.

The service is available 24/7 every day of the year including Christmas Day.

In the U.K., it is also possible to visit some local centres and talk to a volunteer face to face.

National number (U.K.) 08457 90 90 90...... (Republic of Ireland) 1850 60 90 90

In other countries, there is a sister organization called Befrienders International.

And then there's the internet:
website: .........e-mail:

*generic 'he'

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Crown Infernal