Chapter 2

Eight months later:

Appearing in the personal adds in every major paper in the country, and on every International Internet blog conceivable came the message:

Starsky, All forgiven. SC badly injured. Come home. Man Who Knew Hutch

Starsky? Jack's eyes narrowed as he thought. Hadn't he said years ago that he was Starsky? Hadn't he sent messages to Maybourne in just this way, addressed to 'Hutch?' It was hard to recall the odd moment or two that had occurred so many years ago. But he was pretty sure he was right. He was Starsky. And that meant that Maybourne was Hutch. Which meant that the 'man who knew Hutch' had to be Daniel.

But the Starsky in this situation wasn't buying the whole 'SC badly injured' thing. 'SC' obviously was short for 'Samantha Carter,' but that did nothing to sway Jack. He planned to ignore this little jog to the memory of those bygone SGC days when it was clear that Carter cared for him as much as he did for her. Now was completely different. As if I'll fall for that line of bull, Jack said softly to himself as he carefully folded the newspaper pages back the way they had been, left the paper on the table he'd occupied at the diner in Kentucky he was currently frequenting, then walked out of the diner. An hour later, he was also out of Kentucky.

* * *

Two weeks later:

A second message followed the first:

Starsky, Situation bad. Loki type problem before. SC needs you. Man Who Knew Hutch

This time it was a not-so-certain Jack who pushed his long hair behind his ear before crumpling up the paper, leaving a rotten tip for his server, then stalking out of the restaurant on 10th that he liked, his hands thrust stubbornly into his pockets.

* * *

Four more weeks went by before Jack's gaze snagged on a third message that instantly left him shaking from fright:

Jack, Sam in Denver's Rest Well Nursing Home. Needs you. See her - please. Daniel

Daniel wasn't dumb enough to use his real name like that, not unless it was truly important that he get ahold of him - Jack knew that. He had taught Daniel everything the man knew about stealth and coded messages. The fact that this message was definitely not coded scared Jack half to death. He reluctantly considered the possibility that this message was on the up and up.

Yet he was still Mr. Paranoid, and a tickle of apprehension crossed his brain. Too many people knew about his connection to Daniel and the SGC for him to just blithely believe every word of the personal want add in today's copy of The Washington Post. Daniel could have been ordered to use his real name so that Jack would be lured into a false sense of security, and then 'they' could nab him when he revealed himself. It was a scenario that was wholly believable, and one which even Jack realized made him sooooo paranoid.

But if it really was Daniel in this message, and he was being honest, then he was clearly so anxious that he'd forgotten not to use his real name. And if the Daniel in the message was real, that meant that the message itself was real, and that meant that something truly awful had happened to Carter. That in turn frightened Jack plenty!

Yet, there was that annoying tickle again. Jack still burned from the last time he had seen any of his former team mates. The swift and intense anger he felt at being treated so cavalierly by Carter... and in front of everyone at that!... bore too much importance to him to automatically give this message any more credibility than he had the other two. In fact, the memory of Carter's last question severely turned his stomach the second he thought about that scene so long ago in the Gate Room.

He had re-created that scene down to the finest detail that he could remember so many times now that he had long since memorized his version of it. But what he still didn't get was why it had occurred in the first place. There had been a strange kind of truce called between him and her months earlier when Carter had become engaged. So what had pushed her into asking what she had asked when she had asked it?

It was as if she wanted to flaunt Jack's heartache in his face. She had to know about the truce they had made, the pact to never admit the reason for the truce in the first place, maybe not even to themselves. Still, she had to understand his heartache on some level... yet she had seemed so... oblivious... at the time. It didn't make any sense at all.

No more sense than Daniel leaving obscure messages in obscure newspapers. No, this couldn't be Daniel - could it? Once more, Jack tried to convince himself that this was just some yahoo using the lure of Samantha Carter to bring him out in the open so that he could be nabbed with ease. Wouldn't that make Kinsey's day!

Only half convinced one way or the other, Jack still had the urge to see a barber and begin the process of becoming more presentable. On the lookout for the nearest barber shop, he traded the newspaper and interior of the restaurant he was currently favoring for the sun shining down on Oklahoma. If he did decide to go see Carter (and he still wasn't sure that's what he was going to do), he wanted to not look like a refugee from Abydos while he did it.

He wasn't a refugee, anyway. Not in the strictest sense, though he supposed that outwardly threatening such a high ranking officer as Hammond hadn't done much for his overall popularity. He wasn't on the run... not exactly, he told himself. He chose to move around like this, he chose to be apart from the only true friends he'd had in recent years.

Right?

And this message in the paper was nothing but another lame-ass attempt to get him to feel comfortable enough to expose himself, where some trumped up charge would be laid at his feet when they arrested him. Not that he'd really done anything wrong... not exactly. His discharge from the Air Force was fair and square. Or at least it had been square, if not entirely fair. He carried his discharge papers in his pants pocket even now. Those papers went where he went.

Yet his respect for Harry Maybourne was growing by the day. No wonder he had chosen to become King Arkhan the First. This life of being alone was freedom personified, but had been more appealing to Jack at the beginning of this kind of life than it was now. In one minute, he grew tired of all the skulduggery and hiding and living like a man on the run.

He supposed it was time to go home. He could see for himself if Carter was at the Rest Well Nursing Home. Then he would know whether any of this was a valid situation or not.

What was she possibly doing at a nursing home, anyway? And what kind of stupid name was the 'Rest Well Nursing Home?' That even sounded like whoever had written the message had made it up on the spot. Something like that couldn't be real. Could it?

Well... Hair cut first. Purchase a set of casing binoculars, second. Then he could see if this Rest Well Nursing Home was real. If it turned out to be legit, he would then take out the officers that were certainly surrounding it so that he could stake it out in hopes of seeing either Carter herself, or someone else he knew. Maybe he would even talk to Daniel and find out what was going on. Maybe.

It was a plan. Sort of. At least, it was as much of a plan as he usually had. As he sauntered in the direction he hoped would lead him to a barber shop, Jack wryly wondered why he felt compelled to immediately begin the formulation of a plan B. It was as if he already expected the worst to happen, thus nullifying plan A. Any outsider would think that 'the worst' for Jack meant that he was walking into a situation where he would be captured. However, for Jack, the undeniable worst thing that could happen would definitely be for him to discover that those messages were very legit, that something bad had happened to Carter, who Jack still cared about, no matter what heinous things she had done in the past.

He tried once again to raise the anger he usually felt the second he thought of that scene in the Gate Room. His anger stirred, but it was a laughably lukewarm attempt at self-righteous fury. Jack's insides curdled in anxiety instead, and he found that he couldn't get to Denver fast enough.


Chapter 3

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