"I want to leave you something-- something better than words." Daniel's voice had a dry, papery hiss behind it that Jack would have blamed on the audiotape, except that there was no cassette in the deck. "But maybe there isn't anything better."
He almost left the room; instead he scouted the featureless block of white material for an off button, or even a suggestion of speakers, but it just sat there, like a chocolate bar or a deck of cards.Alien technology, your friend and mine.
Jack was debating knocking it off the desk and stomping on it a while when Sam came in behind him and the device paused, as if Daniel was holding his breath.
Looking over his shoulder, he tried to work up a glare, but her lashes were damp and kind of clumped together and he just nodded at her instead.
She sniffled a bit before she spoke.
"The device has some sort of proximity sensor, sir. I think that Daniel coded it to recognize us somehow-- as near as I can tell, after the initial contact, the message won't play if there's anyone in the room with you. I mean, I haven't had the opportunity to measure its range, but--"
"Carter," Jack said softly.
"Yeah. Sorry. I can't seem to stop doing that."
Her hair was crisp and a little sticky under his hand due to an overabundance of some styling product; he guessed grief messed with one's grooming habits. He himself hadn't shaved in two days and as he tucked her head under his chin, he hoped his stubble wouldn't bug her too much.
Sam bunched her hands in his jacket and hid her hot face against Jack's neck. As she shook, Jack thought about things that sucked, and among those things, the weird rule that dictated Carter wasn't within his rights to touch unless she was crying.
Carter finally ground to a halt, and when her hitching breath evened out, he let her go and gravely inspected her tear-streaked face. Then he gave her arms a squeeze and offered her a crumpled Kleenex he'd stashed in his pocket.
"It's clean," he promised, and she gave a miserable little laugh and blew her nose. "Why don't you go get some Jell-O or something. Drink some water. Maybe bring me some pie." She nodded. "Not cherry."
"Got it," she said. Blinking around the room that had been Daniel's office, she looked disoriented, but she took a deep breath and gave him a fragile smile. "Thank you, sir."
"Don't mention it."
When she left, he locked the door behind her.
The alien beings had reminded Jack of trees, with many long waving stalks topped with soft looking mossy clumps, but the way they moved, undulating the bright teal trunks that touched the planet's swampy surface, brought slugs to mind. The settlement they'd come to was criss-crossed with the smooth tracks of the tree-guys, and smelled vaguely of sulfur. The settlement itself consisted of many small, white rounded huts that Jack mentally labeled 'igloos', way too small to be living areas, seeing as the tree-guys were upwards of eighteen feet tall, and five open-air structures that were basically arched roofs attached to very long poles. They reminded Jack of plane hangars. Or really big carports. Every few hundred feet there was a large free-formed body of water surrounded by low, curving white walls.
Daniel was fascinated, natch. And even Jack had had to admit that the aliens were kind of cool. Sam had been chirping something about the amazing advances they'd made as a people, despite the fact that they seemed to lack an opposable thumb, and Teal'c was being reassuringly Teal'c-like.
Daniel was giving them his spiel, and patiently letting the tree-guys tug on his clothing and mess up his hair. Jack had stood there, gritting his teeth behind his "I'm a peaceful explorer" smile, wary but not getting any unduly bad vibes. Maybe feeling slightly put out that he himself couldn't tug on Daniel's clothing and mess up his hair. At least get him shirtless.
Until Daniel had some kind of fit and slumped over.
"Okay, that's not good--" Jack muttered, as he and Carter sprinted toward Daniel.
The tree-guys had kept Daniel from hitting the ground, and had spirited him over to a low platform. It was too early to tell whether Daniel had had some kind of extreme allergic response to something or if the aliens had slipped him a mickey, and that ambiguity was the only thing keeping Jack from mowing the trees down with his P-90.
"Carter. What's going on?"
Sam looked wide-eyed and stymied. "They don't have a spoken language, sir. At least, we don't think they do. Daniel thought that they might communicate on a different frequency, the way the plants did on PJ2-445."
Jack motioned for Teal'c to hold his position and tried to come up with a plan of action.
Meanwhile, the tree beings were waving something that looked for all the world like a bar of Ivory soap over Daniel's head. It wasn't actually touching him, or emitting any weird rays, but it made Jack suspicious just the same.
"Okay then. We'll just use the international language." He shouldered his gun and elbowed past the herd of tree guys. When he got to Daniel, Jack checked his pulse, relieved to find it steady and strong. Then he sat Daniel up and crouched down to drape him over his shoulder.
"Teal'c. A little help here?" Daniel felt like two guys, and Jack didn't want his knee to give out. "Carter, dial us out."
Carter obeyed and Teal'c appeared at Jack's shoulder to take Daniel. Teal'c carried Daniel cradled in his arms like a child, and while Jack was disturbed by the slack body, Daniel's color was good, and his skin had been warm, but not feverish. That was something, anyway.
After three hours in the quarantine infirmary, Daniel was still unconscious and inert.
Behind the dull plastic of her HazMat faceplate, Fraiser's lips looked thinner than usual, and Jack took that as a bad sign.
"As far as I can tell, there's nothing wrong with him, and yet his scans show drastically reduced brain activity. It's as though he has enough brainpower to keep his autonomic functions going, but nothing else. I can't see any brain damage per se, but this total shutdown... We'll keep an eye on him, Colonel. And it wouldn't be the strangest thing in the world for him to just... wake up. Maybe the aliens gave him a drug we can't test for, and it'll wear off. For now, all we can do is wait and see."
Jack found Carter in her lab, grimly reviewing MALP transmissions.
"I'm using various sound filters to see if I can get any patterns. Something we could use to base some sort of interspecies communications on. I get the feeling that if we could just ask them what happened to Daniel, that they could fix it."
"Nothing so far. I started with low frequencies, like the ones used on PJ2-445, but now I'm scanning the other side of the scale. My concern is that the MALP isn't sensitive enough to record sounds in that range, and that I'll miss something."
"We can rig something up and send another MALP through," Jack soothed. "You'll get it." He looked up at Teal'c, who looked back impassively. Jack was satisfied. Teal'c would keep an eye on Carter and serve as a sounding board while Jack sat with Daniel. After all, somebody had to be there when he woke up.
Two days later, Carter had had no luck with any of the sound filters, and Daniel was still asleep.
Jack was beginning to dread Fraiser, because she no longer offered any prognosis on Daniel beyond a small shake of the head.
Which brought Jack through Hammond's door and into his office.
"General, request permission to go back to FX8-091."
Hammond looked up from his reports, gave a heavy sigh and shook his head.
"There's too high a probability that there will be a repeat of the incident that occurred during your first meeting with the beings of that planet. I won't risk SG-1."
"Just let me go, then. You'll still have Teal'c and Carter. They're both smarter than me anyway."
"Just let me go and... talk to them. I'll wear a HazMat suit. It'll be fun."
Hammond gave him a shrewd look, and then nodded curtly.
"You can go alone, provided you follow quarantine procedures. The beings didn't seem overtly hostile, although there's really no way to tell if we violated any of their cultural taboos."
Jack felt a smile settle on his face for the first time in days. "You've been spending too much time with Daniel."
Hammond made a rueful sound. "With any luck, we'll both have the opportunity to spend 'too much' time with him again."
"Oh yeah, you betcha. Sir."
The MALP had shown the settlement exactly as they'd left it. Before he followed the MALP through, he could feel Sam's anxious eyes on his back, and Teal'c's strong wish to accompany him.
The wavy tree guys seemed to have been expecting him, although this time they didn't crowd close or try to touch him. They stood around in a loose half circle, and even though they didn't have eyes (eyes he could see anyway), he could tell they were checking him out.
One came forward and backed away again. Where it had been standing was a white bar like the one they'd used on Daniel. Then the herd of them waved at him in a slow way that reminded him of underwater photography. They clearly wanted him to take it. Or maybe just leave again.
"Thanks. I guess."
He picked up the device and almost dropped it when it started talking to him. In Daniel's voice.
"Jack. This is weird. This is like... I guess it's like being dead. Anyway, the Fijar have used this device to catch my thoughts in the last moments before my death. So. If you're hearing this, I must be dead. Which is odd, for me. Although not as odd as it might have been for someone who hasn't already been dead several times."
Get to the point, Daniel, Jack thought, and the device seemed to hear him, and Daniel checked his rambling.
"Anyway. Even though I may be seconds from corporeal death, my consciousness seems to have as much time as it needs, so that's... nice. Um. Tell Sam and Fraiser that the Fijar have a sort of hive mind, and that they communicate with touch and gesture and very largely though pheromones. Apparently humans don't react well to large quantities of Fijaren pheromones, as I almost immediately went into cardiac arrest after they touched me." There was a small pause, and Jack could tell that Daniel himself wasn't sure if he was being sarcastic or not. "You should know that they're a peaceful people, and that my death was entirely accidental. So. There's that."
You're not dead, you know, Jack thought at the bar, but this time Daniel just kept talking.
"As often as I've died, I don't think we've ever really discussed what I'd like to do with my personal effects, but there's a letter in my locker for you that should help with that. Everything classified should be returned to the Mountain, I guess. Except for anything that you or Sam or Teal'c would like to keep. I think Sam might like the Ektari animal carvings." There was a sound that couldn't be anything but Daniel clearing his throat, which was weird, as Daniel hadn't actually recorded this.
"I don't know how I know this, I guess the Fijar must have passed the information to me chemically: but this device appears to record your consciousness as electrical impulses. But I've got to tell you, I don't think even Sam could reverse engineer this. In fact, anything I can tell you about the Fijar is pretty largely extrapolated, as they don't really have a language I could explain to you, seeing as they don't have any words, really, or anything like a written alphabet. In fact, this bar is the closest thing they have to 'historical' record, and if they hadn't recorded my consciousness on it, we'd probably never have been able to decipher it.
"I don't know if they have any abilities to alter time, and if they do I can't think it has anything to do with gravitational singularities, or if it's just a false impression generated by-- You know what, I'm going to stop talking now. About this, I mean. Jack."
There was something about the way Daniel's voice framed his name that made Jack's chest tighten.
"Time to go, Daniel," he said aloud, and stowed the device in the HazMat sack he'd brought with him.
"He's not sick," Jack said, taking off his HazMat helmet and walking down the gateroom gangplank toward a waiting Carter and Fraiser. "He was poisoned. Oh, and he had a heart attack."
Fraiser looked surprised.
"But he's in perfect physical health," she asserted.
"Now maybe. The tree guys must have been able to fix him with this." He held out the white bar and waited for Daniel to explain.
Everyone looked at the bar and then at Jack.
"What is it?" Carter asked.
"It's... Daniel." Their eyes widened. "Sort of," Jack clarified. He shook the device slightly. "Go on, Daniel. Tell 'em."
The bar was silent, and Jack became a thousand times more sympathetic to the man in that cartoon about the singing frog. "Look, he just talked to me. It's like his brain is in there. You know, like Thor was in the mother ship?"
Sam's eyes shone, but Fraiser still looked skeptical.
"Even if he is in there," Fraiser said, brown eyes snapping, "How do we get him back in his body?"
"We can ask him." Jack considered. "Probably. The Fijar communicate with chemicals and they apparently explained a whole lot before they stuffed Daniel's brain into this handy convenience pack."
He handed the bar to Sam, "Here. See what you can do with it."
"Sam," the bar said.
"Daniel," Sam said slowly, looking up at Jack with amazement.
Jack smiled at her.
But hours later, Sam hadn't really been able to communicate with the device; it knew when she was in the room, but was apparently unable to answer her questions. For all intents and purposes, it was a recording, and not a living consciousness that could respond as a sentient mind. Calls in to the Asgard and the Tok'ra left them no closer to figuring out the technology, which for once, was apparently truly alien, even to their allies.
"I've scanned it with every sensor we've got. It seems to be solid. No machinery of any kind, no power source. Frankly, sir, I'm way out of my league. I can't even tell you what it's made of."
"Yeah. Well. You... keep at it. I'm sure something'll come to you."
Sam shocked him by bursting into tears.
"That's just it, sir, I don't think it will. I have no idea how to download this consciousness into Daniel's body, or even any idea if that would work. There are no input or output modules, and there's no way for me to even try to hook it up. At least when he ascended, he had his soul... now he's just... just... lying there..."
Jack found himself rhythmically massaging her left shoulder and unable to meet her eyes.
"It's just... It's so hard, because I can hear him when I'm alone in the lab, and he seems so close, like I could just turn around and see him--"
"Indeed." Teal'c set his hand on Sam's free shoulder. "When I held the device in my hand, it spoke to me, and said many things that I believe to be the thoughts of Daniel Jackson's heart and mind. That he is alive and yet without consciousness--"
"Yeah, well it's a tough old world," Jack snapped, and the words were bitter. "Where is that thing, anyway?"
"It's in Daniel's office. I figured, maybe, if it... it was just a silly idea." She blotted at her face with the back of her sleeve.
"Maybe he'll tell me something that you guys haven't heard yet. He always seems especially prone to rambling when I'm around."
The look of ragged hope in Carter's eyes was encouragement enough.
Daniel apparently had a lot to say, and a lot more on his chest than divvying up his knick-knacks in the event of his death. Stuff Jack had suspected, stuff that had surprised the hell out of him, all of it tough to deal with-- even the things Jack was glad to hear, as he was pretty sure he wasn't ready to hear them. Especially if Daniel never woke up.
An hour after Carter had left him for pie, Daniel was still going strong and Jack was primed for rash action.
And still, the bar only stopped yammering at him when he unlocked the door and ran into an airman in the hall.
It was late, he thought. He could shoo the nurses out and maybe nobody would ever have any reason to review the security tape. And if they did, maybe Carter would have the good sense to quietly sabotage it.
When he got to the infirmary, Daniel was asleep. Just like he'd been for days now. They'd washed his hair, and it was still in little toweled-up spikes on his head. He smelled, weirdly, of baby shampoo.
"Hey. Daniel." Jack made a half-hearted attempt to wake him by shaking Daniel's foot through the hospital blanket. "Daniel? Come on, buddy. Wakey-wakey now."
Jack sighed. Even unconscious, Daniel looked good. He let himself take in the line of Daniel's jaw, the slow rise and fall of his chest, the long fingers relaxed in sleep. Damn it, Daniel.
"Fine. Be that way." Jack stood up and rubbed his hands together before exhaling deeply and leaning over Daniel's bed. "Here goes nothing."
Daniel's mouth was warm, soft and sour. Jack guessed it was hard to get a coma patient to rinse and spit. For a second, Jack just closed his eyes and tried not to feel like an idiot.
And then Daniel moved.
Jack sprang back, already grinning in anticipation.
Daniel blinked, then squinted Jack's way.
"Son of a bitch!" Daniel said.
Jack felt the grin go a little wonky.
"Tell me, tell me I am not a freakin' robot," Daniel continued.
"Uh." Jack did some squinting of his own. "You're not a robot."
Daniel was slapping at his own face and tugging at his hospital gown as if making sure it was real.
"Okay. That's good for starters. Now tell me something else: why the hell am I in two places at once?" Daniel illustrated his ire with a violent hand flap indicating himself and Jack.
"Yeah. This is not good," Jack muttered. He spun on his heel and shouted. "Airman!"
An airman, a spindly little guy, Umesh, Jack thought, came jogging in, gun at his shoulder.
"Find Carter. Get her here yesterday."
Daniel sat back and cocked his head. "Hey. Bright eyes. You wanna explain this to me?" Daniel pointed at himself.
"Well. You're Daniel." Daniel hadn't appeared to hear him, so Jack added, "Jackson."
"Oh for Christ's sake," Daniel hissed, and flopped back on his hospital cot to glower. After a minute of heavy breathing, he said, "If I'm supposed to be Daniel, who are you?"
"Jack O'Neill. Colonel. Yada yada yada."
"Funny, because from where I'm sitting I'd swear I was Jack O'Neill."
Oh, this just kept getting better and better.
"Yeah. Well. The mirror says different." And Jack brought him one of the shaving mirrors Fraiser kept around for quarantines and what not.
Daniel stared at himself in the mirror for a very long time. And then he prodded at his own lower lip in apparent fascination. Finally, he looked up at Jack.
"You're not kidding, are you?"
"Nope. Not kidding."
"But... Then why do I think I'm me? I mean, you. I mean 'Jack'?" He illustrated the last word with air quotes.
"Haven't the faintest," Jack rejoined.
"We're not one hundred percent sure about that, actually. We think he's in this little alien doodad from our last mission."
"Of course you do." Daniel slumped a bit on his cot.
Jack gave him an apologetic shrug.
"Sir? Daniel!" Carter bounced into the room and almost hugged Daniel... right before she gave in to impulse and hugged him after all. "You're awake!" she enthused.
"I'm not so sure about that," Daniel said, glaring at Jack over Sam's jaunty shoulder.
Sam pulled back to give Daniel a look of heartfelt concern.
"We've got problems," Jack and Daniel said together.
Carter was conferring with Fraiser and Hammond, and two more nurses had shown up to look at clipboards and keep Daniel hydrated. Stretched out on the next hospital bed, Jack was watching Daniel study himself in the mirror again, combing his fingers through Daniel's hair and setting his teeth in his own lower lip and making rabbit faces.
"Will you cut that out?"
Daniel gave him a look that was almost amused. Teal'c came in and broke into a dazzling smile.
"It is good to see that you are well, Daniel Jackson."
"Yeah, about that," Jack began.
"Hey, T." Daniel mustered a wry grin. "I guess this beats a coma. But not by much."
At Teal'c's inquiring eyebrow, Jack volunteered, "He thinks he's me."
"Would if I could."
"I bet you anything it was Daniel's fault," Daniel said darkly.
"Don't forget. Daniel is you."
"The jury's still out on that," Daniel answered.
"I don't think so. You know you're supposed to be Daniel. In fact, any minute now you're gonna be asking for your glasses and something to read in alien."
Daniel smacked his forehead.
"Glasses! That's why everything's so blurry."
Teal'c studied Daniel for a long moment and then handed him a pair of eyeglasses from the tall metal stand near Daniel's bed.
"Is there anything you require, Daniel Jackson?"
Daniel stopped blinking at himself in the mirror behind his glasses and said, "Some pants would be nice."
Teal'c inclined his head and left, presumably for the lockers.
"Look, why don't I let you get some shut-eye. You must be tired after all that... sleeping."
"Uh. I don't think you should go anywhere," Daniel intoned.
"Why the heck not?"
"Because I look a hell of a lot like Daniel," he said, sweeping a hand out to indicate his own body. Jack gave him a speculative once over. Broad shoulders, check. Molded arms, new but still standard Daniel issue, check. Hot ass-- Oh.
"But you're you!" Jack insisted, a little desperately.
"Actually, at the moment, I'm you."
"Whatever. Who cares? Grope away. Go crazy! I'm pretty sure you won't kiss and tell."
"And if Daniel wakes up and remembers that I-- that you-- that we-- Damn it! What if he remembers?"
Jack tried to focus: the version of Jack that was currently inhabiting Daniel's body didn't know what Daniel had said on that recording. Probably. And even if he did, admissions made under threats of death didn't necessarily mean that Daniel was... would...
"Jesus Christ, Daniel--"
Daniel gave him a warning perk of the eyebrows and Jack dropped his hands.
"Fine. I'll stay. But when Teal'c gets back, I'm putting him on guard duty. You can crash here for a while until we get this whole thing figured out."
"You'd better make it quick," Daniel said. "It's only a matter of time before I go cruising for chicks in this thing."
Jack prodded at his fruit cup with a fork while Sam frowned at him in her I'm-A-Scientist way. He dropped his fork and toyed with the idea of throwing a grape at her.
"It's just a theory."
"Okay." She leaned forward, her elbow skating his tray to one side. "I think it's because you touched him first, after he passed out on FX8-091."
"Are you saying I gave him my cooties?"
Her eyes crinkled slightly.
"No, sir. I think that when Daniel had his heart attack, the Fijar tried to fix him, and that they decided to... well, 'back him up', for want of a better term, in case they couldn't heal him."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"Daniel told us the Fijar have a hive mind, right? Because they have a shared consciousness, they didn't know that, for humans, one mind isn't as good as 'any' mind in a particular body."
"Okay. But if that's true, why keep Daniel on ice in that bar of soap thingy?"
Sam did that thoughtful little head cant and mouth thing she did when she was trying to get all the pieces to fit.
"Probably to learn about us. I mean, Daniel said they communicated with him, so they must have learned enough about us to know you'd go back to see them. After all, they did give you the device as soon as you got to the settlement."
"So how come he was asleep all that time?"
"I'm not sure, but I have a hunch. After we got back, did you touch Daniel again? Was there any skin-to-skin contact before last night?"
Willing himself not to flush while thinking about his whole Sleeping Beauty schtick, Jack shook his head.
"But tons of people must have. The nurses, Fraiser."
"Yes, but the Fijar communicate through touch and pheromones, so maybe they keyed Daniel to recognize you, and when you touched him again, his body recognized you and he woke up thinking he was supposed to be you."
Jack just stared at her.
"Kind of like when goslings imprint on the first moving object they see when they hatch," she offered helpfully.
"And this makes sense to you?" Jack squinted at her, not entirely sure she wasn't yanking his chain.
She shrugged one shoulder.
"I admit it's based largely on speculation, but it's a start."
"Do me a favor, huh?"
She opened her eyes wide, the picture of attentive obedience.
"Tell Daniel I gave him my cooties."
The gym was busy at this hour, with many airmen coming off shift and changing into workout gear to spar and practice holds and throws on the mats. Daniel counted fifty on his fifth set of push-ups and then rolled over to stretch out on the gym floor, letting his arms fall to his sides. Teal'c was looking down at him with tolerant approval.
"Daniel can do a lot of these," Daniel said, sitting up. Daniel was a little impressed despite himself. It certainly explained the new muscles. Still, when the hell had Daniel started doing push-ups? On his knuckles? Flexing his hands, Daniel glanced at Teal'c.
"Indeed. Together we have increased our overall physical endurance with targeted exercises and improved nutrition."
"Upon your return, you expressed an interest in developing your combat skills, as well as your physical strength. And since I now no longer possess the enhanced strength and immunity provided by a symbiote, I have begun to study the ways of the Tau'ri regarding these matters. It is my belief that we have made satisfactory progress. Dr. Fraiser has congratulated you many times on your trigliceride levels."
Teal'c offered him a hand up, and taking it, Daniel bounced to his feet and headed for the locker room with Teal'c trailing after him.
"If you say so. Where'd you learn all this stuff, anyway? Jack LaLane?"
"I am unsure of who you are referring to. To my knowledge there has never been anyone by that name on the personnel roster. However, to better my physical performance, I have conducted research on the Internet and subscribed to a Tau'ri periodical on this subject." Teal'c pointed at a stack of magazines arranged on a shelf near the heavy bag.
"You have read many articles on how to gain the most benefit with the least effort."
"Leave it to Daniel to read this for the articles," Daniel muttered. "Hey, let me ask you something--
Did Daniel ever talk to you about girls? You know, anybody he was interested in? On base, maybe?"
Teal'c took his time answering, and the pause alone was enough to flag Daniel's interest.
"You have mentioned several times that you find Nurse Polosek very interesting," Teal'c said finally.
"As in interesting interesting, or just interesting?" Daniel made a wavy hand gesture to illustrate the particular brand of interesting that he was going for.
After a moment of consideration, Teal'c said, "I believe your interest includes rather lengthy gazes at her legs as she walks away."
Daniel felt a flicker of disappointment before the name clicked the right picture into his mind's eye, offering him some pleasant consolation.
"Ohhhh, Polosek. Now I remember her. Not bad." Not bad at all. Her legs went all the way to the floor, and then some. Still. Daniel figured it couldn't hurt to ask. "Anyone else?"
"To my knowledge, there are no other women," Teal'c answered, and raised one eyebrow slightly. He'd plainly twigged to Daniel's line of questioning, and Daniel figured he'd gotten all the intel he was gonna get.
Daniel broke eye contact in order to select a magazine. Time to change tactics, muddy the water a bit. At the very least, change the subject.
"So, Teal'c, old buddy, old pal, what can you tell me about 'tips for top performance in the bedroom'?"
Daniel had been assigned to the VIP room's bland environs, and as it had a private bath, Jack was on hand to see that any showers remained brisk and economical.
"That means cold and short, Daniel," he heard Jack call through the closed bathroom door.
Daniel wrapped a towel around his waist and stalked out of the bathroom, glaring.
"Give it a rest, will ya? I'm not gonna get fresh. Besides, do I have to remind you that coffee goes right through him? Kindergartners have to pee less than he does. I've seen his dick more in the last two days then in the entire eight years I've known the guy. And we are talkin' a lot of communal showers, here."
Jack gave him a blank, cheery smile, resolutely ignoring him, and placed a tin of playing cards and game pieces in the center of the table.
"What'll it be? Poker? Chess? A little canasta?"
"We could probably tear up a few levels of Halo 2," Daniel offered, tugging a clean set of boxers up under his towel. "We can borrow Hanson's X-Box and play online."
"Nah, I'm tired," Jack said, rubbing at his eyes. "If I play it now, I'll just get seasick."
"Yeah." Daniel pulled a T-shirt over his head and rubbed at his hair with his damp towel.
"Wanna watch a movie?"
"I'm not in the mood."
"Well what are you in the mood for?" Jack sniped.
Daniel gave him a long look, wondering what his expression looked like on Daniel's face. Apparently it looked about right, as Jack flushed and dropped his eyes.
"Daniel. We are not gonna do this."
"Why not? We're sober, consenting adults."
"On a secret military base, under weird alien influences, in a job where our lives depend on each other and you're under my command!"
"Daniel doesn't care about any of that, and you know it."
"How the hell would you know? You're not him! And even if Daniel doesn't care, he should. You should. There should be a lot of caring!"
He gave Daniel the stink eye until Daniel picked up a Bicycle deck and dealt out a hand of poker. After another warning look, Jack picked up his cards.
"He wouldn't care," Daniel said again under his breath, feeling sullen.
Jack got to his feet and threw his cards down.
"If I were you, and I am-- oh, for Pete's sake--" Jack clapped a hand over his eyes and took a deep breath.
"I need a drink," he and Jack said together.
"You know what?" Jack asked. "I'm outta here. You just do whatever it is you're gonna do. I'm gonna get some sleep."
Sure you are, Daniel thought.
"Sleep!" Jack insisted, as if Daniel had spoken aloud, and he banged out of the room, leaving Daniel alone with his thoughts.
Well, alone with Jack's thoughts, anyway.
The next morning, Carter found him in Daniel's office, hungover and trying to make sense of one of Daniel's books. She came bearing coffee and for that, he loved her just a little bit more than he usually did.
"So it would seem," he said, taking a grateful slurp from his mug. "But you know what? I can't read this." He stamped a forefinger against the page and Carter canted her head and with a rueful look, turned the book upside down.
"That doesn't help," Daniel reported, after a cursory glance. "You can read Goa'uld?"
"Not really. I can recognize a few of the symbols. Daniel-- that is, you, were helping me pick out a few major phrases."
"Look, you and Daniel have this whole Xan and Jayna thing going on--" At Carter's uncertain blink, Daniel revised, "You're close. Wholesome brother/sister dynamic. With the superpowers." She didn't look convinced. "Anyway. You know I'm not really him, right?"
"You will be," Carter promised, after a searching pause.
"Shyeah." Daniel stared glumly at his own folded hands.
"Well. Daniel. As long as you're... Jack. Ish. Can I ask you a question?"
"Do you like Pete?"
"What's not to like?" Daniel said.
"No, really. I want to know."
"From what I've seen of him, he seems like a good guy. He's lucky to have you."
"And? I think he's the real thing. No offense, Carter, but the guys you've hung around with in the past were kind of... wispy."
"Wispy?" She was plainly offended, and Daniel figured he might as well go all the way.
"Not really there. Guys from other planets... or other planes? Sound familiar? Pete likes you, and he lives, you know, on the same continent. So. He could be the real deal."
She gave him a little nod, and then leaned forward to kiss his temple.
"Thank you, sir." She blushed. "I mean, Daniel."
Daniel wondered, as Carter tripped away, if Daniel had always been the Dear Abbey of the Mountain, or if it was just a new thing, like... wearing Daniel's underwear.
Jack had appropriated Hanson's X-Box and was busy shooting aliens in the gameroom behind the airhockey table when Carter appeared at his elbow.
"Sir? I think we need to go back to FX8-091."
"Of course we do," Jack sighed, dropping his controller. Keeping an eye on this new Daniel had been a fresh and unexpected hell, and he was way past ready for Daniel to be magically restored so that he could get a few days sleep in his own bed. Maybe clean his gutters, just for kicks.
"I'm pretty sure that if we bring Daniel back to the planet, the Fijar may be able to learn enough from the device to... well, to reboot him." Carter looked optimistic about it, and that was good enough for Jack.
"I'll get a go from General Hammond. You tell the kids to pack their lunches."
"There's just... one thing. Colonel, do you think-- I mean--"
"Out with it," Jack ordered.
"If we get Daniel back, the consciousness that's currently inhabiting Daniel's body will be overwritten. And since he's... sort of you, sir, do you think--"
There was no doubt in his mind... that there'd be no doubt in his mind.
"I'd want him back, Carter. You just make it happen."
She touched his hand briefly and gave him a solemn, big-eyed nod.
Jack had his team, the alien doohickey, and a crowd of wavy tree-guys dead ahead.
"Now what?" he and Daniel said together. He and Daniel then immediately gave each other the hairy eyeball through their HazMat faceplates. Yeah, that was definitely getting old.
Carter gave Jack a befuddled little shrug that was hard to see under all that yellow plastic before turning her eyes to Daniel.
"Perhaps if Daniel Jackson approaches the Fijar with the device," Teal'c suggested.
Daniel now took the opportunity to give Teal'c a dirty look before holding up the white bar and approaching the nearest Fijar.
"Hey there. Thanks for the whole external hard-drive and all, but I was wondering if you could, you know... put all this back in Daniel's head? Where it belongs?"
It seemed to Jack that the Fijar huddled up a bit, and he warily tightened his hands on his P-90.
He could see Carter chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip out of the corner of his eye. After a moment, she said, "Sir? I think we'll need to take our suits off to talk with them."
"Carter, as I understand it, their pheromones cause heart attacks. That doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me."
"As long as we avoid direct contact, sir, I think we'll be all right. It's just that, because of the way they communicate, they might not be able to read us without picking up on our own pheromones. They may be able to see us, but not 'hear' us. So to speak."
"If you say so. Daniel? Carter says you'll need to take your helmet off."
Daniel hesitated a moment before obligingly tucking his helmet under his arm and squaring his shoulders. Then he held up the white bar again. Almost instantly, the Fijar in front of Daniel reached out an appendage and tapped Daniel on the forehead. He dropped his helmet and crumpled backwards; Jack scrambled to catch him before he hit the ground.
"Stop doing that!" Jack gave the tree-people an accusing glare before leaning over Daniel's slack form to check for a pulse. He could hear Teal'c and Carter hurry over as he dragged Daniel into a sitting position.
"You can let go of me now."
Daniel was back.
"So... what just happened?" Jack asked.
"Oh. Basically, they just reminded me that I wasn't...uh. You."
"Peachy. On your feet, Daniel. We're blowing this pop stand."
"Well," said Daniel, taking Teal'c's offered hand and standing up to make an attempt at scraping some of the mud off his jumpsuit. "I... don't think I'm 100% yet."
"You know you're not me, and you're not in a coma. I'd say we're in the clear."
Daniel was squinting at him as if he wasn't at all sure he'd ever seen Jack before, and it was beginning to bug the hell out of Jack.
"I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, but the Fijar told me that I need the bar to get my full memory back."
"Did they tell you how to use it?" Carter asked eagerly.
Jack felt only slightly less annoyed when Daniel gave Sam the same 'Do I know you?' look.
"It's an organic material. I'm supposed to dissolve it in water and drink it. Well, actually they say I should dissolve it in water and soak in it, but then, they don't have mouths, so..." Daniel waved his hand a little and trailed off.
Teal'c nodded and bent to retrieve the bar, which was lying about four feet away from Daniel's fallen helmet.
A shadow of anxiety passed over Carter's face.
"It's already wet. Daniel. It may be breaking down your memory even now. We need to get back to the lab as soon as possible, sir."
"Take us home, Carter."
Daniel, who looked vaguely confused by the sudden rush of the establishing wormhole, turned toward the Fijar and raised a hand in farewell before Jack prodded him through the event horizon.
Once in the infirmary, Fraiser immediately rigged up an I.V. drip. The white bar, complete with its scrim of mud, dissolved almost instantly in the water. Jack could tell Fraiser wanted to cluck about possible microbial infection, thanks to the alien mud, but she let it go.
"While drinking it is certainly an option," she said, sliding the needle into Daniel's arm, "I think it's a better idea to bypass two liters of HCL and get this solution directly into your bloodstream."
"Stomach acid," Carter explained, companionably bumping Jack's shoulder with her own.
"I knew that," Jack replied blithely.
Then they all milled around waiting to see if the brainjuice kicked in. Even General Hammond.
"It'll take about an hour to empty that I.V. bag," Fraiser said. "So why don't you all go get some lunch?" Jack knew it wasn't a suggestion, so he slung an arm around General Hammond's shoulders.
"Let's go celebrate. Rice pudding for everyone, on me. Daniel, should we bring you anything back?"
Daniel, who had been squinting thoughtfully at a nurse that Jack recognized as Nurse Polosek, turned his head and waved them away. "No, that's okay. I've already remembered that I don't like rice pudding."
An hour later, SG-1 convened again in the infirmary, as Fraiser was unhooking Daniel from the drip.
"Well? How do you feel?" Carter asked.
"Good. The same. My old self. I think." He paused. "Do you think I lost anything? Left anything I might need in there?" Daniel asked, eyeing the I.V.
Jack clapped Daniel's shoulder and said, "Nah. Maybe one of the languages you don't use too much. Flemish. Nothing you'll miss."
"So, Daniel, what's the last thing you remember?" Carter asked. Her sincere interest seemed to confuse Daniel, as his face creased in a frown. Then he caught sight of Jack and his eyes went wide.
"Uh. The Fijar," Daniel answered slowly. Carter kept up the questions like the world's sunniest inquisition and Jack could tell by the way Daniel's eyes kept skating towards him that he was gonna have some explaining to do.
As Daniel was on stand-down for a few days, Hammond gave them all some time off. Sam and Teal'c surprised Jack with requests to vacation off-world. Jacob was apparently home from his last mission, and Jack suspected that Sam wanted to tell him about his potential new son-in-law in person as well as confer with the Tok'ra on their own technology turf. On paper, Teal'c wanted to consult with the Hak'tyl, but Jack figured that was just Jaffa code for canoodling with Ishta. Jack tapped the slim manila folder against his desk, wondering idly how many other guys in the triple digits had hot Amazonian babes on call... until Daniel walked in to his office and set both hands on Jack's desk.
"So." Jack tried. "How's things?"
"While I thought I was you, I watched Weekend At Bernie's," Daniel started.
"And Weekend At Bernie's II." Daniel paused, apparently to let the full horror of this admission sink in.
"Ah." Jack tamped down a flicker of guilt and tried to look appropriately sympathetic.
"Want to know what else I did?"
"During your little Andrew McCarthy double feature?" Jack did his best Carson impression: "You drank a bottle of Cuervo Gold and ate two bags of Cheetos."
"No, I-- well, yes, actually, but-- How did you know that?"
"Carter told me you hurled on her boots right after you woke her up to demand her copy of Mannequin. And I happened to notice that my secret stash was missing. Is it safe to assume that I'm gonna need a new locker combination?"
Daniel's ears went red.
"Sorry," he said.
"Yeah, well, you were sort of me at the time, so." Jack leaned back expansively and steepled his fingers. "Anything else?"
"Jack. Was there anything you wanted to... tell me?"
"Why? Is there anything you want to tell me?" The best defense was a good offense, Jack told himself coolly. Anything Daniel could remember of his time spent thinking he was Jack was already too much. But, hey, Jack reasoned, Daniel had gone on record first. Of course, he'd thought he was dead at the time... But it so still counted.
Daniel's ears got redder.
"No. That was pretty much it. I just stopped by to tell you to try a few Bergman films. Kurosawa, maybe. And to say that I really wish you hadn't made me watch that Pink Panther marathon. And to ask-- just what did I say in the recording I left you?"
"What do you think you said?"
"Maybe I'll just come back later," Daniel said stiffly, and walked out.
After a week, and Jack figured he could count the whole thing as blown over, they went to a little place Jack liked to call Vegas.
"Vegas," Jack said again, surveying the richly carpeted stairs, the gleaming bars, the rows of little glowing boxes that rang like expensive windchimes before they puked out dozens of Cheeze-It sized square tokens.
The MALP to PYX-566 had shown a gleaming city with ornate spires and a busy city square thronged with people. That alone was enough to greenlight a mission; the trinium readings the MALP had sent back were just the gravy on the train.
The lobby doors hadn't even closed behind them before a little guy with downy purple hair bolted out past them, almost bowling Carter over. He glanced back, but never slowed down, pelting off toward the stargate. Jack and the others glanced around and waited tensely for the inevitable gang of thugs sure to be hounding the little guy, but no one showed, and eventually, Carter leaned over and picked up the soft cloth bag the guy had lost in his big freakin' hurry. It was full of little metallic wafers.
"Jackpot," Jack commented.
Nodding slowly, Carter scanned them and said, "You're not wrong. These tokens are made out of trinium, sir." She dug out a handful of the coins with a gleam in her eye, holding them out for the others to see: some were stamped with what looked like winged dogs, some with a symbol that could have been a lucky horseshoe.
"It is the symbol of Ares," Teal'c reported. "We should be on our guard."
"Agreed. Everybody keep an eye out for snakes." He ignored Daniel's snotty little "No, really?" expression; there was no harm in stating the obvious now and again. Especially to Daniel.
"Teal'c... Even if it is a Goa'uld stronghold, why would they call this place Vegas?" Carter asked, subtly checking out a buff, shirtless barman stacking glassware on a tray.
"It is the name of a game of chance played with carved disks," Teal'c said. "It is often played when two Goa'uld have some reason to summit. In many cases, it is used to apportion the spoils of war."
This put Jack on edge.
"Are you saying this could be some kind of vacation spot for Goa'uld heavies?"
Teal'c didn't answer for a moment, surveying the crowd. The people here had uniformly dark complexions, but tended to have light hair and eyes. The local costume seemed to favor the minidress for both sexes, which was not unpleasant. Jack had always appreciated a nice set of gams.
"I see no Jaffa, and they do not act as those governed by a Goa'uld."
"Maybe it's just... exactly what it looks like. A casino," offered Carter.
"And possibly a bordello," Daniel said, tilting his head to indicate a stacked redhead slipping a handful of disks into the leather purse of the buff, shirtless barman and leading him toward a curtained alcove. He pursed his mouth. "Just a guess."
A woman who looked to be in her fifties, with a fountain of hair so light it was almost white, stalked toward them in four-inch heels. Slinky. She wore one ornate ear cuff and had outlined her eyes with thick stripes of silvery paint.
"Ah, barta, barta. I am Mars. Welcome to my establishment," she purred, nodding at each of them in turn. "Your party is here to game? What is your stake?" She addressed this to Carter.
Carter perked her eyebrows at Jack, and Jack knew she was thinking of her collection of chips. Sure, she had no way of knowing what the local currency was worth, but she'd figure it out. That was Carter for you.
"When in Vegas," he shrugged. The chances they could win enough trinium to make any of the scientists back home happy were slim to none, but it might be fun to try. Besides, Daniel had that look that said he was enthralled by the culture, so Jack was willing to let it ride.
Mars gave Carter's heavy bag of chips an assessing glance and clapped twice. A man and a woman melted through the gauzy curtains of another nearby alcove and stood on either side of Sam, gleaming as if bronzed. Each person set a familiar hand on one of Carter's shoulders and smiled at her with knowing eyes. Carter's cheeks pinked a bit and Daniel pursed his mouth again to hide his smile.
"And your game of chance?" Mars queried.
"Vegas," Teal'c said.
Mars tilted her head to give Teal'c a longer (and more approving) glance and nodded.
"Your partner, of course." She clapped again and another couple emerged from the alcove. They stationed themselves at Teal'c's side, each with a hand at his elbow.
They must have them stacked up like cordwood back there, Jack thought.
"The Lissels will show you to your gaming table. Fortune to you." And the pretty shiny kids led Sam and Teal'c away along a hallway. Daniel started after them, but Mars held up a hand.
"I'm afraid that table is set. Your game of chance?"
"Levett," Daniel said promptly, and cued Jack with a nod.
"Levett it is," Jack said obediently. Of course, Jack didn't have any money-- or any idea how to play 'Levett'-- but it looked like Daniel had cadged a handful of coins from Carter's purloined purse and was already feeding one of the machines tokens.
Mars dimpled at him, inclined her head briefly and headed off toward a bald guy in a red sash who'd walked in behind them.
"It's a hand-eye coordination test," Daniel was already explaining. His fingers were pressing various luminous tabs that extended from a clear box with six glowing symbols arrayed on the top, flickering like letters written with a light pen. The symbols were constantly shifting, and Daniel's fingers kept flicking tabs as he spoke.
"How do you know?"
Daniel blinked at him.
"I read the directions." Returning to the machine, Daniel continued, "You have to match the first symbol with its mirror opposite in a certain sequence. After you get a certain number right, you start winning. Of course, they get faster the further you get, and they stagger the rhythm at random so you're more likely to miss--" The golden symbols flickered a hazy, blinking green and the machine made a chittering sound and went dark. Daniel dropped his hands and made a face. "And then you have to start over again."
Jack craned his neck to see further down the hallway Teal'c and Carter had gone down. Then he realized something.
"Hey, how come they get matching bookends and we get bupkis?"
"Because Sam and Teal'c are high rollers." Daniel gave Jack a look that was almost pitying. "Levett's a sucker's game, Jack, and Mars knows it. There's no way these things aren't rigged." He handed Jack a few chips anyway.
"So the house always wins, big deal. Maybe we can score at the blackjack table. Or just look around while Sam and Teal'c clean up."
"You really think they'll win anything?" Daniel sounded genuinely curious.
"I ask you, who has a better poker face than Teal'c? And Carter'll lull them into a false sense of complacency right before she comes out guns blazing. I've seen it happen."
"If you say so."
"I know so," Jack said loftily, strolling towards an arched entrance decked with saffron bunting to their left.
"Barta," a sleek little waitress/hooker said, catching at Daniel's sleeve. "For you?"
"Ah, no thanks. I'm good."
"For you, half," she said silkily, toying with a stand of hair from glossy coils that fell to her waist; her face was smooth and carefree. She had three bronze bars painted on each cheek. All four of them, Jack saw.
"Still no, sorry, but I appreciate it." With some grace, Daniel prized her little painted hands off his forearm and they walked on.
Daniel Jackson, Interstellar Ladies Man, Jack thought. Instead of seeming funny, it just struck him as kind of sad, and Jack was obscurely glad he hadn't said it out loud.
"How's your love life, Daniel?" he asked instead.
Daniel gave him a wary look, visibly setting Sha're aside before deciding to humor him.
"Well, seeing as I haven't gone on a date since... oh, '92 maybe? Not so great."
"Why not? Look at Carter-- she's out there. And Teal'c, a gal in every port. Why not you, too? What about Sarah?"
"You can't be serious." Daniel looked genuinely angry. "After years of unimaginable torment, she's finally gotten her life back. Such as it is. As I understand from her letters, her life currently involves a fair amount of medication and psychiatry, not to mention daily sessions with military intelligence trying to gain something from her memories of Osiris."
"So. No dating, then." Jack grimaced in apology and gave himself a mental kick. How the hell could he have forgotten that?
Daniel, apparently in a forgiving mood, dropped his hands and added, "Yeah, well, I find that this whole 'defending the Earth' thing takes up a lot of my time."
"It's a handful," Jack agreed, relieved.
"How about you, Jack? Who have you been stepping out with?"
"Oh, you know. Supermodels, mostly."
"No, really. Who?"
Something sharp in his eyes made Jack think briefly of Laira, but he said, "A gentleman never tells."
"So I'm not a gentleman?" Daniel's forehead creased with feigned incredulity.
"Well, you didn't say anything, did you? Relax already."
Their ambling led them to a glittering fountain in the midst of a room filled with long, low tables. The walls were covered in vibrant abstract frescoes, and people sitting on thick satiny cushions were eating things from many tiny bowls arranged on trays.
"What do you say we take a load off?" Jack suggested. "They could be a while." And besides, the chow hall smelled pretty good.
Daniel nodded assent, dragging his attention away from the murals and they took a table near the door. Three older women and a sunny-faced gilded guy Jack took to be a gigolo were seated at the other side of the table, and polite nods were shared all around.
"Do you think the sex workers are coerced in any way? Drugged maybe?" Daniel was frowning at the party.
"Could be, I guess. But I don't think so." Gigolo was tucking some kind of vegetable into one woman's mouth with a set of the longest chopsticks Jack had ever seen.
Daniel twitched his shoulders and a handsome kid with peach colored hair appeared with a tray.
"How much?" Jack asked.
The kid blinked at him, and Daniel pressed four chips into the leather purse tied to the boy's belt. The boy held his clasped hands against his forehead (painted with two blue diamonds) briefly and withdrew.
"I'm pretty sure the food's free," Daniel said. "The way drinks are in casinos in Vegas. Our Vegas. He probably just gets tips."
"And if you're wrong?"
"We wash dishes." Responding to Jack's arched brow, Daniel continued, "We have guns and a Stargate about a hundred yards away. I'm willing to risk it." He reached for a red lacquer bowl full of steaming shredded meat and sniffed it.
"Dining and dashing with Daniel Jackson. Who'd have thunk it."
Daniel dipped his chopsticks into a blue enamel bowl and took a small, experimental bite of some long translucent leaves.
"You should try this. It's sort of like saurkraut. But with almonds?"
Wrinkling his nose, Jack said, "I'll pass." He watched Daniel munch in silence, and then a thought occurred to him. "Are you sure it's okay for you to be eating that?"
"We eat off-world all the time," Daniel pointed out, finishing the last of the almond stuff. "Remember that fish paste we had on--"
"Who could forget," Jack cut in. "The thing is, those were human colonies. I'm not exactly sure that these guys qualify. Some of them have pink hair! For all we know they have tails under those skirts."
"Tails?" Daniel said dubiously.
"It would explain why nobody wears pants around here," Jack insisted.
Daniel tipped his head, acknowledging the possibility at least, and Jack smiled at him and then stole a dumpling from one of his many bowls. It tasted like a hushpuppy spiked with curry.
Jack looked up... and then up some more at Teal'c.
"That was fast," said Daniel.
"The preliminary rounds are short. They deal primarily with threats and intimidation."
"Sounds cozy," said Jack. "Did we win?"
"Sort of," Carter said. Jack noticed that they'd given the Lissels the slip. "We got to the next round."
"In tier two there is the opportunity to win trinium in large amounts."
"He's not kidding," Carter chimed. "They have a pryamid of trinium bricks in a vault back there. My scanners also picked up significant levels of weapons-grade naquadah, possibly even naquadriah." She was pie-eyed with delight, Jack could tell. "This isn't just a casino, sir."
"It's a Jo'kastel settlement," Teal'c finished.
"And the Jo'kastel are...?"
"Jo'kastel means, uh, something like 'thief' in Goa'uld," Daniel said, poking at something that looked a whole lot like pink Jell-O. With eyeballs in it.
"Smugglers," Teal'c supplied in a low voice, taking stock of the room before folding himself on to the pillow beside Daniel. "They deal in stolen wares, exchanging raw materials for new technologies. Until this day, I had thought they were nothing more than legend. Apophis once claimed that he had long ago hunted the Jo'kastel out of existence. It is said that they possess fierce fighting skills and advanced weapons."
"So they're pirates?" Jack gave the crowd around them another look. He had to say, body paint and miniskirts sure beat the hell out of puffy shirts and eye-patches.
"Not exactly, sir." Carter hedged. "They're more like... arms dealers. And for what it's worth, I think the casino is on the up and up. But I also think Vegas is primarily a trading post."
"You mean... we could actually leave here with some big honkin' space guns?" Jack felt a genuine smile roll across his face.
Carter pursed her mouth thoughtfully. "Well, the raw materials to build some with at least."
"Tell me more, Major," Jack entreated, patting the green satin cushion at his side.
As Round Two of the game wouldn't be played until after the evening meal, Jack dialed home to explain that they would be spending the night to scout potential allies. Mars set them up in adjoining suites as guests of the house, and two pairs of Lissels came to collect Teal'c and Carter in the lounge that connected the bedrooms. Daniel was mostly engulfed in some kind of velvety beanbag thing, and Jack had stretched out on a divan.
"Mars has invited us to dine with her," Teal'c said.
Jack and Daniel shared a 'well, well' look and Jack said, "Cool. You kids run along, make nice with her and see if she can let us in on a few trade secrets."
"They seem pretty advanced," Daniel observed. "What would we have to offer them in trade?"
"We've got some pretty nifty Asgard toys. Maybe they'd be interested in those."
"It's possible," Carter agreed, giving her escorts a little wave. The two of them smiled back at her in tandem. "We'll do our best, sir."
After the Lissels had lead half his team away, Jack hauled Daniel to his feet.
"There's a whole casino out there, just waiting for some suckers. What do you say, Daniel, feeling lucky?"
"Not even a little," Daniel frowned. "But that's not going to keep you from dragging me to the Levett tables, is it?"
"Nope. You have all the money, after all."
As usual, Teal'c and Carter's best was more than equal to the task. Mars, while never admitting to being Jo'kastel, agreed to let the Lissels act as intermediaries between the team and some of the city's traders. Hius and Gya, Carter's Lissels, explained some of the wares available, and Teal'c's team, Limor and Anda, left to arrange a meet.
As a show of good will, Mars gave both Teal'c and Carter a new suit of clothes. Teal'c showed no interest in trying out the short, pleated tunic, but Carter felt it would be impolitic not to wear the dress she'd received. To that end, the team spent a short, strange time shopping in the rows of closet sized stalls that lined the casino's grand hall. Although Jack had no way of knowing what the local time was, it was only noon on his watch, and he noticed that even though it was well past 'evening' meal time, the sun hadn't set and no one seemed to be going home. This Vegas apparently also operated on a round-the-clock principle.
"So you're saying that the Goa'uld couldn't make Jo'kastel technology work?" Daniel asked past the gauzy partition Carter was changing behind.
Carter reappeared in a flimsy little something that was many satiny shades of ice blue. It made the Tollan look like bag ladies in the fashion forward world of integrated technology. And it made Carter look... really hot.
"The body paint," Sam explained, holding up one of the narrow glass vials she'd purchased three stalls down. Then she leaned toward a mirror hanging on the shop wall, uncapped the vial and painted a careful circle of sagey metallic green near the corner of her left eye with a tiny brush. Jack was resolutely not at all enjoying the fact that the motion was hiking up her skirt. "It's an electrochemical catalyst. That's how the Jo'kastel interface with their technology." She offered the mirror her other cheek and painted a second circle before turning to face the rest of the team. "What do you think?"
"Snazzy," Jack said, framing an admiring OK symbol with his thumb and forefinger. He found that the dainty high-heeled sandals were especially distracting; he'd never seen Carter in sexy shoes before. He briefly considered adding a wolf whistle, but decided it would be gauche.
"Very Logan's Run," Daniel commented dryly.
Carter smoothed her skirt a little self-consciously before getting caught up again in the sheer science of it all. "Hius says the dress is made out of something called lio. Basically, it's a flexible layer of metal that's capable of storing an incredibly high charge."
"A most elegant power source." From Teal'c, a line like that was practically a come-on. You dog, Jack thought cheerfully.
"I'm hoping Mars will lend me an earpiece so I can find out if we're biologically compatible with the technology."
"I'll cross my fingers for you."
"Ready for Round Two?" Daniel asked.
Carter took a deep breath. "I think so."
Teal'c inclined his head slightly and offered her his elbow. Carter grinned and linked arms with him and the four Lissels appeared out of nowhere.
"The table is waiting," said Hius.
"I was wondering," said Daniel, "Can we-- Could we sit in on this round? Strictly as observers, of course."
"We will seat you in the gallery," promised Anda. "Please, this way."
It sort of reminded Jack of boxing. Teal'c and Carter stood on one side of a table facing two guys with square, blank faces. They looked eerily alike, and Jack wondered if they were twins. Or clones, maybe.
The Lissels attending the twins relieved them of their ear cuffs and wiped their faces with glittering cloths. Jack noticed that Hius was taking his sweet time making sure Carter's face was paint-free. Looked like Carter had a new alien swain; at this rate, Jack didn't think she'd have a problem scoring an ear-cuff.
"Begin," said the croupier/referee type guy at the altar thing near the front of the room, scattering a handful of chips on the table.
The twin on the left slid two of the scattered chips into one of the squares painted on the table and withdrew his hand. Teal'c and Carter shared a glance and Carter leaned in to turn one of the chips over.
"Tag'nok," said the referee, and slid about half of the twins' chips over to Carter's side of the table. She showed no sign of having noticed, keeping her eyes on the board. It was Teal'c's turn next; he flipped four chips from his stacks onto the board with negligent grace.
The other twin ignored Teal'c's chips and set six of his own on the board, following no pattern Jack could see. Teal'c had taught this game to Carter in one afternoon?
"Elus ne," announced the ref, and slid the twins' six and Teal'c's four to the twins' side of the table. "Set."
Apparently, that meant the end of the round, because each player backed away from the table to sit next to one another on long, low benches. Then the Lissels sprang into action. The female Lissel, Anda, began to caress the back of Teal'c's neck while Limor poured some kind of spicy perfume on a soft cloth and patted Teal'c's face with it. Carter was getting the same treatment, only Hius was rubbing her shoulders and Gya was kneeling beside her, running the cloth along her forearms and the backs of her hands.
"We should go," Daniel whispered. "We're probably distracting them."
Jack nodded, figuring that staying on until the end of the game would be the mental equivalent of watching golf on television.
Besides, he still had some tokens to lose in the Levett machines.
They came back to the suite with empty pockets, and found Hius and Gya waiting for them with new suits of clothes and an earcuff each.
Hius bowed his head and explained, "With Mars' compliments. She would meet with you to discuss trade after your companions complete their game."
Daniel accepted the items without looking to Jack for approval, saying, "We look forward to seeing her. Please give her our highest thanks for her generous hospitality."
The Lissels nodded as one and went on their way.
"We should change. And try out the earcuffs," Daniel added.
"As soon as you tell me where the rest of this outfit is," Jack said, holding one of the brief garments up against his shirt.
"That's a nice color on you," Daniel said blandly.
Jack gave him a close-eyed grimace and went inside to change.
Suddenly, Jack was no longer such a fan of the minidress. Jack wondered if the Gladiators had liked it this drafty. Having neither the money or the inclination for sandals, Jack was still booted, but even with his boxers on, he felt distinctly... vulnerable. But then Daniel came out of the bedroom barefoot in a sort of very short sarong, and Jack once again revised his opinion of Jo'kostel haute couture.
To keep himself from gawking too overtly, Jack chose a glass vial at random from the little pile on the suite's main table.
"Just how permanent is this stuff?" Jack asked warily, peering at the bottle.
"We saw the Lissels taking it off Carter at the Vegas table, so it's probably not going to be a long-term commitment."
Jack sat on the room's only non-lounge chair and slapped his left bicep. "In that case, ink me."
Daniel regarded him with raised brows. "If you want a skull with a dagger in its eye, I can't help you. And since this seems to work with neurotransmitters, it would probably be best to paint something on your face. Any requests?"
"Yellow moons, green clovers... I'm not picky. Just don't make me look like a mime."
Daniel chose a vial of gold paint, opened it and tapped the tiny brush in the cap against the lip of the bottle. Leaning forward, he held out the brush with a thoughtful cant to his head, and Jack could just see the tip of Daniel's tongue tucked into the corner of him mouth as he settled on a design.
"Stop bunching up your eyebrows," Daniel admonished, "It's not like you can see what I'm doing anyway. And hold still." He steadied Jack's head with one hand, fingertips at Jack's temple, cheek, jawline. Faintly, Jack could feel Daniel's breath on his forehead, and noticed that it smelled like the shaved ginger you got at sushi places. Although it was tempting to take the rare opportunity to study Daniel up close, after a moment, Jack closed his eyes and let the man work.
The brush had a weird texture, less like wet bristles, more like the almost-dry tongue of a cat.
From what Jack had seen, the paint dyed the skin, more like tattoo ink than make-up, and Jack could feel the symbol Daniel had drawn on his forehead warming as it dried, about the temperature of Daniel's fingers. Resettling his hand against Jack's face, Daniel leaned forward slightly and blew lightly against Jack's skin. Jack was tempted to squint or smile, just to hear Daniel bitch at him for messing up his handiwork, but when he opened his eyes, Daniel was just... looking at him. His face was calm, his mouth still shaping his last directed breath, his hand still braced lightly against Jack's cheek.
This is it, Jack thought. Daniel held perfectly still, and something in Jack snapped its leash and pounced.
Surging up out of the chair, Jack cupped a hand around the back of Daniel's neck to drag him close. He pressed their foreheads together, staring hard into Daniel's eyes, and when Daniel failed to pull away or punch him in the jaw, Jack leaned forward and opened Daniel's mouth with his tongue.
He felt everything, Daniel like a wall of heat, hard arms coming around Jack's body, his wet, warm mouth, Jack's own hand clamped on Daniel's hip. He could feel Daniel's chest buffet against his own, feel Daniel's soft hair crushed under his palm, the catch in Daniel's breath when Jack finally let him go.
Flushed and breathing hard, with his bared chest and long naked legs, Daniel was the best thing he'd ever seen. Jack blinked hard a few times, just in case it was a hallucination, but Daniel was still Daniel, and still standing right in front of him, the back of his neck hot against Jack's hand. And on Daniel's forehead, like a faint, gold-dust tattoo, Jack could just make out an inverted V with a circle on top: the blurred but still visible transfer of the image Daniel had brushed onto Jack's skin.
"We can't do this here," Jack's voice sounded clipped, even angry, in his own ears.
"We can't do this here," Daniel agreed. His breath was evening out, and his open expression had already faded into something smooth and composed.
"We're on a mission," Jack said by way of explanation, trying to let Daniel down easy.
"Yes. There's that. And also because there are armed guards behind you."
Jack closed his eyes. Of course there were. Turning around, he was greeted with the sight of six teenaged girls in sleek bodyarmor, bristling with weapons, like little sexy tanks.
"So you'll be arresting us, then? Tell me, and don't pull any punches, because I can take it: how's the food inside?"
"You will come before Mars," said the one closest to Jack. Her ponytail was a gleaming electric blue, and fell almost to the floor. Not very practical for an enforcer, but it wasn't like they were gonna ask Jack his opinion.
"Sure thing. Mars and me, we go way back. How is the old girl?" One of the other girls prodded him in the back with an object not unlike a giant corkscrew, and Jack gave it up and followed Ponytail out into the hall.
They were led into a room with curving, smoked-glass walls. He found Teal'c and Carter, Carter still in her tiny dress, waiting for them seated on a polished black bench like the ones at the Vegas table. Teal'c's expression gave nothing away, but Carter looked obscurely guilty, and for some reason that made Jack nervous. As he sat down beside her, she gave him a little "I'm sorry, sir" look, and he patted her shoulder.
Standing nearby was a little crowd of Jo'kastel: Jack recognized the Vegas referee, and the Lissels, with Mars at the center.
"You have stolen from us, Jack O'Neill," she said.
Mars didn't dick around; Jack liked that about her.
"Says who?" he demanded, figuring there was no harm in at least trying to lawyer his way out of this.
"Samantha Carter and Daniel Jackson played coins that were not their own," Mars said gravely. "Our instruments show this."
"So they borrowed a few," Jack waved a dismissive hand. "We're good for it."
"Although you are not citizens, you are subject to our laws. We have repossessed your winnings and will recover all articles of our technology. There will be no trading with the Tau'ri at this time."
"How do they know we're Tau'ri?" Jack asked aloud of no one in particular.
"I think it's the body paint, sir. I think it does more than allow our neurotransmitters to interface with their technology." Carter whispered. "It might allow them to... read our minds with those devices."
"Exactly so, Major." Mars said. She turned to study Jack for a long moment. "We have heard of you." Mars smiled, then, a look so genuine and amused that Jack wondered, what, exactly, she'd heard, and from who.
Somehow, though, he didn't think she was going to let that particular nugget of info slip.
"It has long been rumored that the Jo'kastel were capable of reading one's mind," Teal'c announced.
"You knew about this?" Jack reached past Carter to smack Teal'c's shoulder with the back of his hand. "It wouldn't hurt you to be a little less laconic, you know."
"I was aware of the possibility, but did not believe the rumors to be true."
"Always believe the rumors!"
Mars continued as if no one had spoken.
"We have discussed your status as trading partners, and we cannot agree to give you a seat at our table. Although your motives seem sincere, we are also aware that you do not have final say in matters of negotiation, and we wish to consider your bid at length.
"Be aware that our people do not normally give away so many of our secrets so readily. Hius was perhaps overeager in his trading, but in the company of such a charming partner," Mars tipped up Carter's downcast face with two fingers set under her chin and smiled again. "His offense, I think, can be forgiven."
"How about us, then?" Jack said gamely. "I'm telling you, you want to rethink your whole 'won't trade with the Tau'ri' thing. You haven't lived until you've tried a Frappuccino."
"Barta, O'Neill. You may hear from us. Until then," she nodded at the Lissels and Jack screwed his eyes shut in anticipation of pain--
that never came.
When he opened his eyes, he found Carter and the rest sitting on a large flat rock. Teal'c appeared to be meditating, Daniel was idly twirling some long stems of grass, and Carter had her knees folded to her chin, her face soft and disappointed. Everyone was wearing the fatigues they'd arrived in.
There was a sound behind him like a million automatic supermarket doors sliding open at once, and by the time Jack had turned around, a sudden chilly breeze had kicked up a sheet of dust that Jack could feel coating the back of his throat.
"Oh, come on!" Jack grabbed the cap off his head and threw it to the ground in disgust.
As far as he could see, spires and towers were retracting like telescopes and the city itself was levitating about a hundred feet above the ground. It hovered a moment and then ascended in utter silence, floating away like a shiny silver soap bubble. Jack kept his eyes on it until the glare of the planet's sun made his eyes water. He blinked, his vision shimmied, and the ship was gone.
"Perhaps they are associated with the Nox," Teal'c offered.
"But... I really thought they would agree to trade with us! Do you think they'll be back, sir?" Carter was still scanning the empty skies.
"That was pretty much the definition of 'don't call us, we'll call you', so... I'm thinking, no."
Jack saw that their gear was heaped by the stargate, and that was something, at least.
"I'm not positive about this," Daniel said slowly, "But we may have just met the Firlings."
"What makes you say that?" Carter asked.
"The murals on the walls of the casino; the symbols were remarkably similar to the ones I saw on the planet where we found Earnest Littlefield."
"Big deal," Jack muttered, kicking at his hat. "You know what would have been a big deal? Leaving with something useful for once!"
"Janet may be able to isolate the chemical in our blood, and the Tok'ra might be able to synthesize it." Ah, Carter. Her glass of alien mind reading electrochemical was always half-full.
"I won't hold my breath," Jack said, finally leaning down to pick up his now battered and dusty cap. "Let's plow, kids. We've got to get home and report our utter lack of progress."
Daniel gave him a searching look before turning to the DHD, and Jack felt a pang of guilty lust. Or maybe it was lusty guilt. He rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand, trying to remember exactly how Daniel had felt against his lips. He wasn't having very much luck; that meant he'd just have to do it again.
Hammond took the news of their latest disappointment like a trooper, and Jack, post-medical check and debriefing, was done for the rest of the day.
Sam, who had elected to stay on with Fraiser to run tests galore on all the blood they'd had drawn, gave Jack a little wave goodbye and walked toward the medlab with a bounce in her step. Yep. Pete was a lucky, lucky man.
He caught Teal'c's eye, and something in his expression suggested that he shared Jack's thoughts on the matter.
"So, where are you off to? Feel up to a few hands of Texas Hold 'Em?"
"I do not."
And that was the end of that conversation. Amused, Jack watched Teal'c stride out of the room.
Which left Daniel, who was staring into his locker with some intensity.
"Whatcha got there?" Jack asked.
Daniel reached into his locker and held up an ugly nylon fanny pack, lime green and embroidered with the Denver Nuggets team crest. It was the kind of thing you got as a free gift from the liquor store when you bought beer by the case.
"This is... new." Daniel said. He gave Jack a stern look, but Jack refused to be cowed. That whole Jack-As-Daniel thing fell firmly under the category of Not His Fault.
"They're handy, you know. For car keys. Disposable cameras. Those little packets of peanut butter sandwich crackers."
"So I hear," Daniel replied. After a moment, he tucked it back into his locker and closed the door.
"Hungry?" Jack asked gamely.
"Not really." Daniel didn't seem interested in making this easy on him.
"Okay. Want to just get out of here, drive around a little?"
Daniel took his time considering the offer. What, he had to wash his hair? Pay his taxes? Finally, he said, "Sounds good. I'll meet you out front in, what, twenty minutes?"
Twenty minutes. That was plenty of time for Jack to start re-thinking the wisdom of going about the business of hoping to get lucky with a member of his team.
They hadn't been in the car five minutes, Jack aiming vaguely for a park he used to take Cassie to on the other side of the mountain, before Daniel gazed out the passenger window and said, in a strangely flat voice, "I dreamt about Ba'al."
"How about that," Jack said easily. "This one time? I dreamt that Mary Steenbergen wanted to sell me a bitchin' Camaro."
"Jack. Was I... with you? I read the reports, from when I was gone. But when you-- when I dreamt about Ba'al, I was there, too."
Jack wasn't sure what to say to that. It wasn't exactly a conversation he wanted to have. Being tortured to death ten or twelve times took its toll on a guy. Eventually, he shifted the truck into lower gear and pulled off the main road on to one of those pretty, overgrown shoulders you got this far outside of the city. When the truck had rolled to a complete stop, Jack killed the engine, and then locked his hands on the wheel again, as if he could steer the whole conversation that way.
"Yeah. You were there." He didn't look up from the steering wheel, but from the corner of his eye, he could see Daniel's troubled face. "You were there for Teal'c, too. When he and Bra'tac were ambushed with the Jaffa Rebels on 407."
"I don't remember." Daniel's voice was soft.
"Yeah. Well. I guess I remember enough for the both of us." Jack thought about how Fraiser had had to strap him down, and how he'd frothed at the mouth, wanting the sarcophagus so badly, almost as much as he'd wanted Daniel back, alive again and maybe setting a strong square hand on his sweaty forehead.
And then Daniel's hand was on his sleeve, fisting the fabric of his shirt.
"I'm here now," Daniel said. And Jack, who'd had those dreams about Ba'al first, remembered that a pretty big part of them had everything to do with having Daniel there and not being able to touch him, not being able to make Daniel real enough to take him away from the slow, devouring pain, the feeling of being unraveled, molecule by fucking molecule.
But this wasn't what he wanted.
He peeled Daniel's hand off his sleeve and said, "I don't need a goddamned hug, Daniel."
Daniel blinked at him, and said, "What if I do?"
Jack considered that, thought about all the times they'd almost died, the times they had died, the times that a simple hug would have reminded him that, hey, he still had all his limbs. Daniel, back from a stint as an entity that existed as energy and thought, could probably relate.
It was a terrible hug. With the stickshift between them, and the captains' chairs and the fact that they'd had to stop and unbuckle their seatbelts, it was really just Jack trying to tug at Daniel's jacket, Daniel's hand squeezing Jack's upper arm. After a minute of wrangling, Jack held still, his nose against Daniel's ear, Daniel's forehead touching his shoulder.
"Well, this sucks," Jack said, and Daniel's surprised gust of laughter blew right through him like a hot wind, and suddenly he wasn't much interested in the business of comfort, and he forced Daniel's head up and kissed him, rough and sloppy, Daniel's glasses biting into Jack's temple, and he leaned hard into Daniel's shoulder, wishing Daniel's hair was longer, so he could knot his hands in it and hold him there.
Three or four breathless, hungry kisses later, Daniel left off chewing on Jack's ear and placed a heavy hand on Jack's, where he'd been jerking at Daniel's zipper, and said, "If we're really going to do this, do we have to do it here?"
Jack sagged a moment, nose flattened against Daniel's throat, and said, "Mnuh."
Eventually, they pulled away from one another, each returning to their own seats, tugging at their own clothes, Daniel folding his smeared glasses and tucking them into his jacket, the two of them staring out the windshield instead of at each other. Jack buckled his belt, and then dragged his seatbelt from the door with a scraping whir of spooling cloth, guiding the metal tongue into the catch with a wholesome little click. He glanced over at Daniel, rumpled and red-faced. Daniel gave him a slight nod, and Jack turned the engine over and calmly drove them both back to his place.
Once out of the car, Jack kept his hand on the back of Daniel's neck the way he'd seen cops guide perps into police stations. He was pretty sure that Daniel wasn't going to try and make a break for it, but it was reassuring to have Daniel curving under his palm, heat and hair and the first dampness of sweat. He felt solid and real, and he figured that they both needed to know that.
With the door was closed behind them, Daniel turned around to meet him, a look on his face like nothing Jack had ever seen before, shoving him back into the door, thigh to thigh, Daniel's hands digging into his shoulders.
They didn't say anything, and Jack just reached around Daniel and held him tight, pressing a kiss into Daniel's hair.
Finally, finally Daniel unlocked his deathgrip of Jack's shoulders, and they both dropped their arms, Jack taking Daniel's leaning weight.
For a long time, there was only the sound of Daniel's breath in his ear, and Jack closed his eyes and shifted his hips, half-hard, trying to find a more comfortable resting position.
Eventually he said, "Could we try this lying down now, maybe?"
Daniel huffed against Jack's collar.
Grinning in spite of himself, Jack cupped Daniel's face with his hands and kissed him, wet and dirty.
"I'm taking you to bed, here," he said, tugging Daniel's arm out of the sleeve of his jacket. "The least you could do is fake a little enthusiasm."
Daniel blinked twice, looking dazed. "I assure you that the enthusiasm," he swallowed and adjusted himself with a subtle motion of his hand. "Is genuine."
"Good to know. The bedroom is through here. It's also clothing-optional."
"So I can leave them on, then?" Daniel's eyes were positively twinkling.
"That's not the option available, sorry," Jack replied, yanking Daniel's shirt up and over his head. Daniel sputtered a bit, spat out a little clot of lint with some dignity, and then with a quirk of an eyebrow and one smooth, assured motion, returned the favor.
When the floor was a littered with two sets of boots and socks and bunched up clothes, Jack shoved Daniel on to the bed and leaned over him, mouthing his chin, his jaw, his throat, and lowering himself, inch by inch, down against Daniel's hot skin. When he was fully settled, he lifted his head to look into Daniel's face.
"Hello," Daniel said, his blue eyes locked with Jack's. His lower lip looked chewed on, and without his glasses he looked both undefended and yet sharper, stronger, somehow.
Daniel reached up and stroked his thumb along Jack's cheekbone before stroking his palm down along Jack's neck, to his shoulder, down his arm to curl his fingers around Jack's wrist.
"I'd really like it if you touched me now," Daniel said, after a moment.
"Happy to oblige," Jack said, and rolled onto one elbow so that Daniel was no longer bearing his weight. Running the flat of his hand down Daniel's smooth, broad chest, he stopped when he came to the join of his thighs, where Daniel's thick, red cock lay hard against his belly. Daniel's eyes never left Jack's face. When Jack ran his fingertips lightly against the shaft, Daniel inhaled sharply, his stomach going concave. When Jack closed his hand around it, Daniel's eyes fluttered shut, and for a moment, Jack couldn't look away. Daniel's mouth was softly open, his head thrown back, highlighting his long muscled throat. Jack had hardly touched him, and Daniel already looked like he'd been worked over, and god damn, what it did to him--
He gave Daniel's dick a few lazy pulls, and Daniel made a soft, strangled sound that Jack bent his head to taste.
"Like that, huh?"
Daniel's eyes slid open enough for Jack to read the baleful promise under the fan of his lashes.
"It's always rush, rush, rush with you kids today," Jack sighed.
Daniel lifted his head and curled his hand around the back of Jack's neck, pressing kisses against Jack's jaw and licking into his mouth. Jack's hand moved measurably faster in response, and Daniel thrust up against him, rolling his hips and beginning to moan.
Jack licked and bit at Daniel's throat, varying the rhythm of his strokes so Daniel would twitch and shudder, panting against Jack's shoulder. He dropped his forehead against Daniel's temple and really went to work, gripping Daniel with short, steady strokes and speeding toward a finish, when Daniel stilled his hand and croaked, "Wait."
"For what!?" Jack's pulse was pounding in his ears, and his hands would have been shaking if he hadn't had one around Daniel's dick and the other one spread against Daniel's thigh.
"I don't want to come yet," Daniel said, his voice broken and gaspy, like he'd been doing heavy lifting.
"Believe me when I tell you that we're coming to the good part," Jack promised.
"Jack. I want something a little more... substantial."
"What, you mean like a long term relationship? Hell, Daniel, we've already been together eight years, I'm sure I can furnish you with many years of more-or-less marital bliss, you know, even with the whole sneaking around bit--"
"I meant," Daniel said slowly, "That I want you to fuck me."
His dick had no problem with that, but Jack found it a little hard to catch his breath.
He sat up and cupped Daniel's hip. "Hands and knees," he said, and Daniel rolled over. Jack took a moment to compose himself and rummage in his desk drawer for the bottle of lube he hadn't even had a chance to open since he'd bought it.
No time like the present, Jack thought, breaking the seal and flipping the lid open.
He gooped his fingers and settled one hand on the small of Daniel's back, enjoying at the view: the curve of Daniel's hard thighs, the slope of his high, rounded ass.
"Keep in mind that this part is going to be largely based on the only two gay porn videos I've ever been able to bring myself to buy on-line," Jack warned. He felt Daniel shake under his hand, laughing.
"I'll do my best," Daniel replied with false solemnity.
There it was, that tough ring of muscle, the flexing grip of Daniel's body against his finger, finally coaxed smoothly open, clutching at him when he tried to withdraw and yielding faster with each stroking fingerful of lube. Daniel held very still, breath shallow, shoulders tense until Jack leaned into him, setting his teeth against Daniel's muscled throat and chewing lazily, dragging his tongue against the grain of Daniel's beard again and again.
"Kneel up," Jack told him, and Daniel placed his hands against the headboard and the sweep of Daniel's naked shoulders was a fucking revelation, it was the sun rising over the curve of the Earth, it was everything, and he bit down on Daniel's shoulder and felt Daniel's groan in his own belly when he pressed in and up and home.
Hooking his chin over Daniel's shoulder, he made Daniel bear his weight, watching the muscles stand out in Daniel's arms as he pushed back against Jack. He scraped his cheek against Daniel's, muttering encouragement, "Come on, come on, Daniel, come for me, come on, come on," and giving it to Daniel with everything he had. Daniel's head fell back, lolling against Jack's shoulder, his eyelids fluttering, his face brick-red and sheened with sweat. Daniel was incredibly heavy, and Jack shoved hard against him, fierce and glad.
"Jesus, Jack--" and Jack felt a little ripple where his hand was spread against Daniel's belly, and then Daniel clamped down on him and shot, three or four times, striping the dark wood and falling forward to brace his arms against the headboard again, a tremor running through him. Jack dropped his head, forehead sweat-slick against Daniel's skin and moved slowly, five, six careful strokes, with Daniel trembling all around him, and he heard Daniel's low, harsh cry as he felt Jack shudder and let go.
For a moment white lights exploded in his field of vision, and realizing that some oxygen might be nice, Jack took a deep, heaving breath. He felt a distant twinge in his thighs, softened by the roll of pleasure that had flared all along his limbs, and his dick twitched faintly, still buried in Daniel, and he let out a laugh that was more like a shout. He dropped a kiss on Daniel's spine and pulled out gingerly before flopping face first onto the mattress and laughing some more.
He felt Daniel shifting beside him, collapsing in stages, and when he lifted his head, he could see Daniel flat on his back, his eyes on Jack and full of speculation.
Jack stretched an arm across Daniel's chest and grinned like an idiot.
"How about that, huh?"
There was a quirk of eyebrows.
"Not bad for a trainee, I'd say," Daniel allowed.
Jack grinned some more and rubbed his thumb against the bump of Daniel's nipple, making it pucker and stand up. He kept at it, even after Daniel plucked at his thumb and moved his hand, twice.
"Do you mind?" Daniel asked finally, after Jack had returned to flicking his nipple a third time, relishing the warmth and texture of Daniel's fine-grained skin.
Jack cupped his palm over Daniel's now-pointy nipple instead and Daniel settled one hand behind his head and sighed. Nudging closer, Jack prodded Daniel's shoulder with his nose and wondered if he had any beer left.
"Mnn," Daniel replied.
"You wanna watch some TV?"
"Actually." Daniel sat up a little. "Do you have any of those individually wrapped cheese slices in the fridge?"
"I've got an eight pack. Why? Hungry? I could make you a sandwich." Naked sandwiches. A good idea and about time.
"No, I don't really want a sandwich. Just. I seem to have developed a taste for processed cheese food." He frowned at Jack, eyes narrow. "I blame you."
"Hm. I can see how you would." Flipping himself onto his back, Jack let his eyes slip shut. "Sure you don't want to watch a movie? I've got Carter's copy of Pretty in Pink."
Jack got a faceful of pillow as an answer.
"Just for that, you can forage for your own processed cheese food," Jack said, tugging the pillow out of Daniel's hand and tucking it behind his own head.
Yawning in response, Daniel shook his head. "Maybe later," he said, turning on to his side. They stared at each other for a while, Jack licking the pad of his thumb and reaching out to judiciously smooth one of Daniel's eyebrows.
Daniel drew back out of range and wrinkled his forehead at Jack before rolling his eyes and resting his cheek against the rucked up sheets.
"You think Sam'll get anything out of those blood samples?"
Jack toyed with the idea of instituting a No Shop Talk rule in bed, but dismissed it.
"Just-- think of it. A drug that humans could use to experience a shared consciousness."
"Like the Fijar," Jack offered.
"Well, no. Nothing like the Fijar. This wouldn't be one mind, this would mean individual communication on a whole new level. Interaction with another person's thoughts, understanding what they're trying to get across in an instant, without any misinterpretation-- I wonder if something like that would transcend language barriers?" His mouth was bunching up and his eyes were thoughtful.
"What if there isn't anything better than words?" Jack asked, carefully casual.
Daniel gave him a strange look, his tongue pressing against the inside of his cheek, adding a swell to his profile that Jack poked at with one fingertip. Daniel caught his hand and said, "Meaning?"
"What if we're not supposed to be able to read each other's thoughts? What if what we say is the only really important part?"
"What are you saying, Jack?" Daniel's voice was very soft, and he still held Jack's hand in his.
"I'm saying that, before you went all Girlfriend In a Coma, I had a lot to say to you. And... I still do."
There was something expectant in Daniel's face, and Jack patted the top of Daniel's head.
"It doesn't mean I'm, you know, going to, or anything."
Daniel's eyes crinkled and that killer smile spread across his face.
"Well. I won't hold my breath."
"I wouldn't, if I were you."
"And you are," Daniel said, rubbing at his eye with the back of his hand. "Well. I mean, after a fashion."
Jack pinched Daniel's previously abused nipple, hard, and Daniel rolled on top of him, hand clamped around Jack's wrist, leaning down to rest his forehead against Jack's.
"I know you, Jack."
"You've known me a long time," Jack answered softly.
Stroking Jack's hair, Daniel nodded and kissed him with tender solemnity before lifting his head and asking, "So. What are my chances of getting a grilled cheese?"
Jack grinned and gave Daniel's ass a smack.
Oh, yeah. Naked sandwiches.
"Excellent," Jack said.