Great. I flush out the traitor, capture the rogue SGC team, and single-handedly restore diplomatic relations with our alien allies and what happens? Danny Boy is seriously pissed with me. I'm not saying I'm Carter or Teal'c's favorite person in the universe at the moment, but they are just mildly irritated compared with Daniel.
Who could have guessed how good the boy was at sulking? Not that he's admitting he's sulking, of course. No, he always stomps around with his nose in the air, walking out of rooms as I walk into them and suddenly having urgent appointments every time I suggest perhaps he and I really need to have a little talk…? And I'm sorry I lied to him. I'm sorry I didn't tell him what was going on as it obviously hurt his feelings so much. But I'm not sorry I didn't get him exposed to possible God Knows What by Maybourne's goons.
Does he have any idea how dangerous this could have turned out to be? Not just for me – for everyone? If anyone's reaction to me throwing a temper tantrum had been even a beat off, that would have been it. And I know how NID work. They would still have taken the bait because – with all due modesty – having me on board would have been too tempting to ignore. But they would also have given themselves a nice little back-up plan, like kidnapping the civilian on my team, torturing him to make him spill what he knew, and holding him somewhere with a gun to his head to ensure my co-operation. That was the scenario I was worried about when General Hammond and I first talked this one through and that was partly why we decided I couldn't tell Daniel, Carter, and Teal'c a damned thing. I'm not saying it would have occurred to me to keep them out of things if the Asgard hadn't made it a demand, but once I'd been told having their assistance wasn't an option, I could see there were benefits as well as drawbacks to going this one alone. When Hammond and I were chewing it over, I said I'd do it as long as my team was kept safe. Which meant I wanted a special eye kept on Daniel because he was never going to buy me behaving the way I was going to have to. He'd worry away at the problem like a terrier with a rat, and if he worked out what was really going on, he'd not only screw up the whole operation, he could get himself seriously hurt.
So, okay, his feelings got hurt instead, and I'm really sorry about that, but I didn't mean anything I said to him and I've told him so. I've told him the house was bugged. I've told him our friendship is solid as a rock…. And it's no good. I'm going to have to go round to his place and do some serious groveling.
I've actually made a list of all the things I need to apologize for because I keep getting all these little twinges of memory: Daniel working on his presentation to the Tollans, for instance, for about ten days solid. It had seemed like a reasonable place for me to start, as he put it, 'acting out' when the General and I were talking it over. The Tollans had made it clear on two previous occasions they wouldn't share their technology with us come what may so whatever presentation we made, however logical we were, however nicely we asked, it wouldn't seem suspicious when Chancellor Trevel told us No Way, José. Of course, what the General and I should have thought of and hadn't was that even though it was an impossible task we were setting Daniel, he would still give it his best shot. And he did. Ten days of digging through precedents and fine-tuning his arguments while I tried to persuade him to come out with me for a pizza, a beer, anything rather than have to walk around the base knowing he was working his guts out for something I was intending to screw up when he was about six words in.
When, in the 'gateroom, he said 'So, just to clarify…?' I knew what was coming, and I still get hot stabs of guilt when I remember his expression. Oh boy. That is not a face you want turned in your direction: pursed up mouth, accusing eyes, hurt little boy body language. I mean Carter didn't look like she exactly wanted to fling her arms around my neck but she was a welcome mat compared to Daniel.
Daniel had it right when he talked about that 'friendship thing we've been working on'. Our friendship didn't come about by chance. It wasn't two minds meeting like it was with him and Carter, or two warriors recognizing something about each other like it was with me and Teal'c; this was two guys with squat in common who could have screwed up a very fragile friendship at any point and almost did several times. My friendship with Daniel is like that damned vine Sara was always trying to grow on the porch, which needed more care than a newborn baby. Too much sun and it would shrivel before you knew it, and too much frost and the damned thing would wither to a blackened stalk. This is a friendship built on him not rubbing my nose in how much cleverer he is than I am, and me not rubbing his nose in what a lousy soldier he makes. It's based on me learning to bite my tongue and him not taking offence on the occasions when I don't. And it's changed. Daniel and I aren't the same people we used to be when we first met. Our relationship was probably less complicated then, although we were still feeling our way. It's been placed under a lot of pressure over the years, but it's always come through and been stronger for it. I'm not so sure about this time. I'm not sure Daniel can see the necessity for me doing what I did – not the saving diplomatic relations with our alien allies stuff, I have no doubt at all he sees the necessity for that – but telling him I could never relate to him and our friendship didn't have any foundation. That's something he is not going to get over in a hurry.
It's not what I said, of course, it's that I knew to say it. I had to get Daniel the hell out of my house in the quickest possible time. I had to stop him thinking about why I was acting so out of character. I had to stop him realizing everything I was saying was a total crock I could never have believed in at any point. And I definitely had to stop him mentioning any of the above aloud where Maybourne and his pals could hear him. So I picked the quickest, dirtiest route I could think of to stop Daniel thinking and get him feeling. I hit him as hard as I could and as low as I could, and it damned near killed me. I still get a cold trickly feeling down my spine when I think of the frozen look on his face after I'd told him we were strangers and everything we'd been through meant nothing to me.
But what Daniel really can't forgive is me knowing how much that would hurt him, because the last few months I'd say he's become pretty sure about his…. I was going to say his 'place in my affections' but that makes it sound like we're engaged or something. He knows I wouldn't exactly wave him goodbye from the SGC with a song in my heart and a smile on my lips, anyway. He knows he means a lot to me and I'd miss him like crazy if he left. I did have a few nasty moments after Sha're died thinking that was exactly what Daniel was going to up and do. I pussyfooted around him and worried about him and generally acted like someone who really didn't like the idea of losing his best friend. And I think it did Daniel a lot of good. Despite our little…ahem…altercation about Ke'ra, not to mention our week long disagreement about the likelihood of Sha're having told Daniel where her son was through the ribbon device while the Goa'uld within her was frying his brain, what came out of all those little…contretemps was the realization Daniel mattered a hell of a lot to me. And I don't mind him knowing that. Maybe there was a time when I thought him realizing how important he'd become to me was not a good thing, but that was practically a lifetime ago now, and I'm fine with Daniel Jackson knowing Jack O'Neill would miss him like hell if he went.
The trouble is, Daniel Jackson is obviously not okay with Jack O'Neill knowing Daniel Jackson would miss him like hell if he went. Having had three months without me, I think Daniel was feeling that was something he could cope with. Except he'd always known I was coming back, of course. Unlike me. I didn't. I thought I'd lost the SGC and my own past, present and future forever. But Daniel knew sooner or later the Nox or the Tollans would be able to get me back from Edora, and knowing that, he coped pretty well with me being gone and thought that meant he could manage without me if he had to. But knowing someone is going to be away for a while is not the same as having him exit from your life forever.
If you'd asked Daniel ten days ago, I'd bet you he would have said he knows me better than I know myself. That there wasn't anyone who knew me better than him. And I would have said he was right, to be honest. And he is way smarter than I am. Like I told the General, a plan that involved me out-thinking a suspicious Daniel Jackson while trying to convince him I was someone I wasn't sounded like a plan pretty much doomed to failure to me. The General did what he always does: he told me to give it my best shot.
That scene with the beer and the chess-set and Daniel looking like I'd slapped him was my best shot, and I'm telling you people have won Oscars for a lot less. But it had to be good. It had to be convincing. Anything less and Daniel would have been onto what we were up to in a heartbeat.
But he'd finally thought we'd got this relationship balanced out so I needed him more than he needed me, and he knew me better than I knew him and we worked together very comfortably, listened to each other's opinion, trusted each other; exactly the kind of civilized, rational, reasonable relationship he'd always wanted us to have. Then I told him we not only didn't have it, we’d never had it. He didn't see it coming and it hit him like a staff weapon blast. And the fact I knew it was going to hit him like that and banked on it to get him to do what I wanted him to do – which was get up and get the hell out – is something I'm not sure Daniel is ever going to forgive me for.
However, that isn't on my list. That isn't something I can bring up. So today we're going to talk about how sorry I am he spent so long working on a presentation to convince the Tollans to share their technology with us when General Hammond and I knew from the start he was never going to be able to deliver it. Oh yes, and cookies. I'd like to go get him something significant and difficult like the Blue Rose of Forgetfulness or a feather from a phoenix's tail, because I think that's the level of gesture he's looking for right now, but not having any idea how to get either of those or what the hell he'd do with them if I did get them for him, I'm going to offer him cookies and groveling for now.
Odd how your perspective can change in a few seconds. As I reached out to ring Daniel's doorbell, the most important thing in the world seemed to be persuading him I was sincerely sorry I'd hurt his feelings and could we please be friends again…? When the door opened from the pressure of my index finger on the bell, swung back slowly to reveal the overturned coffee table, the broken phone, and the smear of blood on the carpet, I would have given a year's pay to have a Daniel who wouldn't speak a goddamned word to me standing right in front of me with his arms wrapped around his chest, his mouth pursed up, and his eyes full of hurt. To be honest, I would have settled for Padded Cell Daniel crying in the corner just as long as I knew he was going to be sane again eventually. I would have settled for any Daniel, in any condition, any state of mind, and any state of friendship with me, just as long as he was still alive.
The crime scene boys have finished now and can tell us there were two intruders; that there’s no sign of a forced entry; that nothing was stolen. Nothing was stolen except Daniel. Apparently the blood on the edge of the phone is Daniel's. So is the blood on the carpet. They seemed to have hit him with the handset right after they ripped the wire out of the wall. He was probably unconscious as he hit the floor. No one saw anything; heard anything; suspected anything.
I'd asked him over for a Friday night in at my place to drink beer, eat pizza. Not talk very much, maybe watch some sport he wouldn't be able to follow which I would insist on explaining even though we both know by now he is never going to grasp the rules. He'd given me one of his tight little smiles and said he was busy. Sorry. Lot of work to do, he was a little behind. I'd thought of all the work he'd done on the Tollan appeal, all those hours he'd put in for no good reason, and I hadn't had the heart to argue. If I'd argued, if I'd said: 'Damnit, Daniel, stop punishing me for doing my job, will you?' at least it would have been out in the open. Maybe he would have come over after all. Maybe he wouldn't be wherever he is right now, in whatever condition he's in….
"Jack?" I glanced up from the floor to find General Hammond looking at me compassionately.
"We're not doing any good here."
I looked down and noticed I was holding a bowl in my hands. I didn't know if it was the one Daniel and Sha're had drunk from on their wedding day. Daniel has a few little bowls around and I couldn't tell which was which. I didn't know the names of the swords on his wall either. That was one of those things I'd been going to ask him about. Someday.
"He's not dead, Jack," Hammond said gently.
I swallowed and put the bowl down. "Why not?" My voice sounded harsh. "If Maybourne wanted to pay us back, killing Daniel would work wouldn't it? I mean, you and me aren't having a very good time right now, are we?"
I felt his hand on my shoulder. "Doctor Jackson is going to be fine. We're going to find out who took him and where they took him to, and we're going to get him back."
That should have been my line. I do a good eternal optimist. But standing in Daniel's apartment staring at the bloodstain on his carpet, somehow the words wouldn't come.
Hammond was still right next to me, like he knew if he moved an inch away I was going to start blaming him, the Asgard, the stupid rulebook. Myself. He went on quietly, "They think it was a scalp wound – they always bleed a lot even if the wound is superficial. If their intention was to kill him they would have left the body here. They wanted him alive, Jack, which means he's still alive, and we will get him back. But right now you and I need to get back to the base and fill in Major Carter and Teal'c on what information we have so far."
"Well, that shouldn't take long," I said abruptly. "Seeing as what we have so far is zip."
I looked around at his apartment and thought of those two suitcases that had been left on the base when I came back from Abydos. After I'd filled in my report to say Daniel was dead, they'd been going to put them in a storage locker somewhere, but I'd managed to get permission to take them home with me. I'd had them in my loft for a year. So few possessions. Mostly books. A few photographs. A couple of old journals. You couldn't fit what he had now into two suitcases. If you had to start packing it all up, like we had to once before….
"Come on, Colonel." I felt a gentle pressure on my arm as Hammond began to tug me towards the doorway. "If you're going to find Doctor Jackson, you're going to need the rest of your team."
Daniel groaned and opened his eyes. He wasn't sure which he noticed first: the pain in his head or the sandpaper feel to his mouth, but within a few seconds he also became aware that his hands were tied behind his back, and he was in a moving vehicle of some kind. It felt like one of the SGC trucks. There was the same metallic smell and jolting lack of suspension, but somehow he doubted this was anyone's idea of a practical joke. Wincing, he raised his head and peered myopically at a dark interior. Definitely the back of a truck of some kind. And now he remembered a little more.
He couldn't recall if it was a written or an unwritten rule that he couldn't wear his uniform off base because he'd never read the rules and probably wouldn't have seen the point of them if he had. But he knew it was something the Air Force didn't like him doing, which, given the way he was feeling at the moment, seemed like a good enough reason for doing it. As he walked determinedly towards the exit lift in his t-shirt, BDUs and jacket, he noticed General Hammond take one look at him and duck out of sight. The general had been avoiding him for the past week even though Daniel had been trying to have a little chat about why exactly the general had felt it necessary to stage all those faked arguments between Jack and himself in front of the rest of SG-1, not to mention the little detail of them being placed under the command of Colonel Robert Makepeace without so much as a by-your-leave….
Daniel had been half-hoping the sight of a civilian brazenly wearing his uniform out into the sunlit world above the mountain might have lured the general into a discussion, but it seemed if it came to a choice between letting Daniel break the rules or having to hold a conversation with him about his and Jack's recent subterfuge, well then Daniel could borrow a tank and drive it around in a full Rear-Admiral's costume for all General Hammond cared. Unsure whether to be more annoyed or obscurely pleased that both Jack and the general evidently feared his wrath enough to be tiptoeing around him several days after the event, Daniel stomped into the elevator and pressed the button.
"Hold the door!"
He did so automatically, hand shooting out to obey but was immediately annoyed with himself for doing so just because Jack asked him to.
He saw the man give him a sideways glance, taking in the clothes he was wearing. Jack's mouth open to form a question and close again. After a long pause, he said, "So, Daniel are you doing anything tonight?"
Daniel stared fixedly at the panel for a moment at those red numbers clicking up sub-level after sub-level, then said conversationally, "Do you know SG-6 think you and I are dating?"
He'd thought that would take the wind out of the other man's sails very effectively, but Jack just frowned and said, "Daniel, I hate to break it to you, but half the SGC thinks we're dating. Who the hell cares?"
Curious, Daniel couldn't resist asking, "Which half?"
"The half that doesn't think Carter and I are dating or you and Carter are dating or Doc Fraiser and I are dating or Carter and Doc Fraiser are dating or you and I are both dating Teal'c. Don't you listen to gossip?"
"Sam and Janet? Really? You and me both dating Teal'c? What, like a…?" Daniel collected his wits. He and Jack had just slipped straight into their old comfortable rhythm for a minute and he wasn't ready to let that happen yet. "Actually, I am busy tonight," he said after a pause. "Sorry. I got a little behind on my work." What with wasting ten days on a presentation you were never going to let me present. Thanks a bunch, Jack.
He saw Jack wince and knew the man had got the unspoken sentence just as loud and clear as the rest of his speech. They rode up the rest of the way in silence, changed elevators still in a sort of silence – albeit the sort interrupted by Jack humming awkwardly and shooting him little assessing glances as he evidently tried to figure out the right way to play this situation. Daniel determinedly kept his eyes averted. As you know me so damned well, Jack, you should know how to get back in my good books, shouldn't you? You don't need any help from me. They even walked to the car park together in silence. Daniel tried not to mind one bit how sad and bereft Jack looked as Daniel got into his own car, reversing out with a tight little wave as he headed for his own home and left Jack to go to his. It wasn't as though he ever enjoyed the Friday night ritual that much anyway. He didn't like sports or beer or sleeping on Jack's couch. And he wasn't going to feel guilty, damnit; he was the wronged party here….
He'd driven home from the base feeling awkward in the clothes he never even thought about off-world. What the hell was he doing wearing fatigues anyway? He was a Doctor of Archaeology for crying out…. Damn! He was not going to finish that thought. He was never going to admit he'd even had the thought. He was not going to start sounding like Jack O'Neill in even the privacy of his own head.
Daniel pulled off his boots and socks as he walked through the door, curling his bare toes in the carpet in the hope it would soothe him. It didn't. He hated the situation with Jack at the moment and it was coloring everything. He couldn't be comfortable anywhere while things were unresolved between them, and yet the only way to resolve them was for him to give in. Again. It felt like he was always giving in to Jack: Yes, they could take Jack's jeep instead of Daniel's car. All right they'd go to Jack's place even though his was closer because Jack had beer in the fridge – even though he didn't even like beer, damnit. All right he'd go out even though he had so much work to do because Jack was giving him his best begging look. And yes, they could watch the hockey game even though it bored him into a coma and there was something on another channel about the Book of the Dead, and….
Jack tended to give in on the big things: Yes, you can be on my team despite having no military experience whatsoever. Yes, we'll go save the world since you want it so much. Yes, you can come back on my team despite having proven yourself a flake of the first order who tried to kill me. Yes, we can go look for a child whose mystical powers I don't believe in just because you want it, Daniel…. Which was why, he supposed, that he gave in on all the small things. There were just days when it felt like he was never going to be able to hang onto his self-respect – let alone hang onto Jack's respect – if he put up with too much of Jack's crap. How else could he register his disapproval when Jack pushed him too far except by…. What the hell could you call it anyway? Withdrawing his friendship privileges? He'd wanted to register a protest, but he knew Jack would probably just interpret it as sulking. It wasn't achieving anything, and it was making him as miserable as it was making Jack. He should have just gone over to the man's house, drunk the damned beer, watched the damned hockey game, laid the damned ghost of the last time he'd been there when Jack had given him that dead-eyed stare and told him their friendship was meaningless. Without foundation.
Daniel winced at the memory. It was still too open, too raw. If Jack apologized again he was going to bite his head off because all that proved was the man knew how much those words had hurt. Well, Jack had no damned business knowing how much those words hurt. And yet as he obviously had known, how could he say them? How…?
This is how, Daniel. This is why. And you always knew why Jack did what he did.
Daniel looked around at his surroundings again, trying not to flinch from the pain in his head as he did so, the dark interior of a stripped out truck, the striated metal floor digging into his ribs, the flapping canvas at the back. The starry darkness beyond. The smell of gasoline and detergent. Detergent? Used to clean up the last passenger's blood or vomit or both, perhaps? This was what Jack had been trying to protect him from: being used as a pawn in someone else's chess game.
He'd moved the pieces. Jack had moved the pieces. They'd been halfway through a game, and yet Jack had just abandoned it unfinished and started a new one without consulting Daniel. That had felt like as much of a slap in the face as Jack's reluctance to let him in; worse really, because he'd known getting across the threshold would be tricky….
Get over it, Daniel! It wasn't real. This is real. Whoever grabbed you last night wasn't kidding.
Jack would be going nutso. He didn't have any doubt about that. Poor Jack. Bad stuff happening to his team always made him overreact. Teal'c and Sam wouldn't exactly be happy campers either. Come to think of it, he wasn't overjoyed himself. Getting whacked around the side of the head was not his idea of a fun evening. He didn't know if he'd been stupid or not. He had looked through the peephole, but men in military uniform weren't exactly something he tended to flinch from. He'd assumed they'd come from the general, that some artifact had come in needing to be examined ASAP. Then once they'd pushed their way in and told him to stay still and do exactly as he was told, or else, it had seemed only logical to at least try and get to the phone….
He was going to have to buy a new handset. The even bigger of the two – both had been big, after all, so he couldn't think of them in terms of big and not-so-big, more like enormous and gargantuan – had snatched the phone out of his hands and hit him with it. He'd heard the plastic shatter as the floor came up to meet him. The last thing he'd seen as he hit the carpet was his balled-up socks poking out of his boots. They hadn't been a matching pair. He'd had no idea until that moment and had been disproportionately shocked by this proof of his abstraction. This business with him and Jack he supposed; he was sure he didn't usually wear odd socks: that would be too absent-minded professor….
Congratulations, Doctor Jackson. As ever I see you have your mind firmly focused on the essentials. The most important matter under consideration in a situation where you have been kidnapped and are now tied up in the back of the truck is definitely the fact that you have started wearing odd socks….
Yeah well, he was probably concussed; his mind was entitled to wander a little. Anyway wasn't sarcasm supposed to be the lowest form of wit?
The truck pulled around a corner, sending him rolling across the metal floor into the metal wall. He grunted in pain as his hipbone connected with the side of the truck. Then grunted again as he was sent rolling back in the opposite direction to hit the other side of the truck. Damnit! That hurt! It didn't just hurt the bits of him getting thrown against unyielding metal, it also hurt his arms as he was forced to roll on them and….
Damnit! That really hurt!
He was sent rolling back the other way, even harder, thrown against the side of the truck to bounce off and land face first in the center of the truck. Gritting his teeth as he tried not to whimper at the various bruises all yelling for his attention, Daniel became aware something was different. The vibrations had stopped. The truck had stopped.
Wherever his destination was, he had obviously arrived.
I wish Carter would stop tippy-toeing around me like I'm a landmine she's afraid of stepping on. This is a small office and it isn't getting any bigger with her picking things up, putting them down again, starting to say things, and then shutting up before she finishes. I know a grizzly with a sore head is Yogi Bear compared with me right now. I also know the drill. Security cameras are being checked from every neighbor, storefront, and traffic cop. Police reports are being checked. Aerial reconnaissance videotape is being checked. Any damn thing anywhere that might possibly have caught on film even one frame of the guys who grabbed Daniel is being checked. Phone calls are being made. Favors are being called in. Strings are being pulled. And it all takes time, Colonel. And everyone's doing everything they can. And damn it to hell.
When I picked up the glass on the table and threw it at the wall, Carter winced as the shards scattered like wedding rice before pattering onto the floor, but she didn't look even slightly surprised. I darted her a sideways look. "What, you knew I was going to do that?"
"Having to sit around and wait for information is difficult for everyone."
"Go break a glass, Major."
She gave me one of those level looks that said there was so much crap she'd put up with because of my rank and the situation, but after that she was pulling IQ on me. "Does it help?"
I hate the way women always take refuge in logic when a situation gets tense. Sometimes I swear she and Doc Fraiser have way too much sense and not enough feeling. Except a second look tells me she's worried sick about Daniel as well, she's just not…. What was that phrase Daniel used when he was trying to find out what the hell I was playing at? Even though he was actually insulting someone I was only pretending to be, it had still stung a little. Acting out indeed. If I ever pitch a hissy fit for real, he'd better not even think about telling me I'm just 'acting out'…. Except he can tell me any damned thing he likes. He can tell me I'm a lousy friend, and I had no right to lie to him, and he hates me forever if he wants to just as long as he comes back and tells me to my face. Daniel, I will forgive you anything and everything except being dead.
I met Carter's gaze again and her eyes were full of compassion. Damnit, when did these three get to know me so well?
Feeling a little silly, I ran a hand through my hair. "Sorry, Major."
"It's okay, sir. We're all worried about Daniel." Daniel would probably have gone on and said: Of course the rest of us are managing to be worried about him without throwing glassware around, but if you feel the big dramatic gesture is appropriate, you go right ahead, Jack…. But Carter obviously never kept up her Waspish Aside lessons the way Daniel has and so didn't add the rider.
Teal'c strode into the room like the Wrath of God. At least I've never actually experienced the Wrath of God on a private, one-to-one level, but I've always imagined it would look a little like a pissed-off Jaffa in a confined space who has just been told beating the crap out of Harry Maybourne isn't an option at the moment, son. And how do I know it isn't an option at the moment? Because I have already suggested to General Hammond the merits of that particular strategy and been told it isn't on the agenda at the present time, Colonel. Right before the speech about jumping to conclusions and how everything that can be done will be done and yadda yadda yadda. I've never really pictured Teal'c as the Angel Gabriel, but I'm beginning to see how with a little training he could really nail the part. Teal'c sure as hell looked like he'd happily do a little smiting right now, and as he hadn't got a fiery sword he'd damned well settle for a staff weapon.
"This is taking too long, O'Neill," he said pointedly.
Carter opened her mouth to start on her speech beginning, "The general says…."
At the look we both gave her, she shrugged and gave up. I don't think her heart was really in it anyway.
"I'm very open to suggestions," I told him, equally pointedly.
"I'm not going against the general's orders, Teal'c. At least," I corrected myself, "not right away, anyway."
"Colonel Makepeace, then."
That got my attention straight away. I raised an enquiring eyebrow. "Makepeace?"
Teal'c returned my gaze unblinkingly. "Colonel Makepeace is a man of courage and integrity."
Carter frowned. "He's also a traitor, Teal'c. He was smuggling stolen alien artifacts back into the SGC and telling Maybourne everything that was happening in Cheyenne Mountain."
"And you've never liked him," I added as no one else seemed to be pointing out the obvious. "He told General Hammond you wouldn't say word one to him when he was put in charge of SG-1. In fact he said you and Daniel were both a monumental pain in the…mikta from the second Hammond told you he was your new C.O."
"Nevertheless," said Teal'c imperturbably, "he is a man who has shown loyalty to the SGC and to the struggle against the Goa'uld. He volunteered to rescue SG-1 when they were prisoners of Hathor. He believed stealing alien artifacts would help the people of this planet to defend themselves against the Goa'uld, however, I do not think he would approve of any strategy involving the kidnap, torture or murder of a member of the SGC."
Carter said quickly, "We don't know Daniel's in any danger, Teal'c. They might not be intending to hurt him."
I turned to her to tell her sometimes one just has to look reality in the eye, and so was in time to see her give that meaningful little jerk of the head in my direction as she looked at Teal'c. Which was when I realized she was protecting me. Oh, I see, now I'm too fragile to be able to confront the truth about what those people are probably doing to Daniel? Damnit, I'm an Air Force colonel, not a maiden aunt. I know they're probably…. Oh Christ, I keep seeing him kneeling on the floor of some concrete hangar in the middle of nowhere; gagged and blindfolded, with his hands tied behind his back, knowing his last minute has come because of me. And some faceless son-of-a-bitch screwing on the silencer as he walks towards Daniel with an assassin's smile on his face….
Play the tape, Harry. Be a mensch. Daniel wasn't acting. Daniel didn't know. Don't kill him just to spite me. Make me pay for fooling you by some other method. Hurt me if you want to hurt someone. Don't take it out on Daniel when he didn't even know what I was doing. I lied to him to protect him from this. Don't kill him anyway, you son-of-a-bitch.
I collected myself and looked up to find Teal'c and Carter both gazing at me like they were waiting for me to say something. I raised an eyebrow. "And? What? Who?"
"Makepeace, sir. Do you think he'd be more likely to talk to you or me?"
I got to my feet. "To me, Carter. It has to be me."
Daniel tensed as he heard the sound of heavy footsteps on gravel, the crunch-crunch of big men in big boots coming closer and closer. He presumed these were the two soldiers with attitude, the ones who could have got a job at Mackenzie's little health spa with no trouble at all. He'd never really liked really big men, the ones with doorway-filling shoulders and those expressions that suggested you were about as significant as bacteria because you'd never learned to throw a ball. Teal'c was the only exception to his personal rule of thumb. Teal'c's size and strength were a source of comfort and even a little vicarious pride. That was the difference between a Jaffa who was on your team and a jock who didn't want you on his team. He suspected the two thugs currently en route to get him had almost certainly been on their high school football teams, and had probably spent their formative years happily torturing would-be anthropologists in the locker room.
The tailgate dropped with a clatter. He felt the metal floor bend beneath the weight of the soldiers as they swung themselves up into the back of the truck. He tried to struggle onto his knees to see if he could lurch to his feet that way, but they had other ideas.
"Ow!" Daniel swore under his breath as fingers closed on the back of his jacket and jerked him roughly to his feet. The fingers transferred themselves to his hair and yanked his head back. "Ow!" he repeated pointedly as he stared up into a face that was curiously expressionless. He let his gaze flicker to his other kidnapper and saw the same mixture of military and mercenary in him: hair so short it must feel like moleskin. Odd that something which would feel so soft could look so hard; smooth cheeks without even a sprinkling of stubble; unblinking stares; photofit faces. There was nothing distinguishing about either of them except the slightly larger one had darker eyebrows than the other. They were like those stone heads the Olmec had left to baffle archaeologists. No wonder in those spy books he'd read as a child the bad guys always had eye-patches or limps or interesting scars. It gave a man something to get hold of. These men were like something you'd make from granite or plasticine, featureless, emotionless. Pitiless.
He winced as something cold and hard was placed under his chin. He wondered if Jack could work out which kind of gun was being jammed painfully into his jawbone without looking at it. And if he could, well then, the man definitely ought to get out more and he would tell him so next time he…. Next time he…. There was going to be a next time, right? It wasn't, after he'd done battle with Ra and Apophis and Hathor, going to end here, like this, with a stupid, squalid little bullet through the brain. Was it?
"Try anything clever and I'll hurt you," the soldier said softly before withdrawing the gun and jamming it back into his belt.
Well, that was short and to the point and…. Daniel realized he was scared. He'd obviously been scared for a while now but had only just identified the emotion. That shivering inside him wasn't from just the cold night air. Damn. He was probably in pretty deep trouble then. He missed Jack and Sam and Teal'c. Not just because they would have rescued him. He just missed them. They were a team, right? You were never alone when you were part of a team. Even when you were captured….
Jack must have felt so alone. He must have hated not being able to confide in them. Three months on Edora thinking he was never coming home, and then coming home to the Asgard wanting him to save the world single-handed again. You had to like the people who'd helped Jack after he'd got the Ancients' language accidentally downloaded into his brain. Not to mention the people who'd turned up in the nick of time to save all their butts on more than one occasion. But they also had a nasty habit of dumping impossible tasks on Jack: negotiate with the Goa'uld because…what? You're our choice and we can spell your name? You've proven to everyone's satisfaction in the past you despise the Goa'uld and all they stand for and can barely bring yourself to be civil to them under any circumstances, therefore you're our chosen candidate to sit down at a table with them and talk them into sparing the earth from total destruction? Then this latest demand: infiltrate the rogue SGC team, expose the traitor, lead the Asgard to the place from which all their stolen technology could be recovered. Oh and by the way you have to do it by yourself. Because we say so.
Jack could have died. He could have been killed by Maybourne's people and his body dumped off-world somewhere. Daniel hadn't even waved him goodbye.
"Shit!" Daniel was taken by surprise as they pushed him off the back off the truck. He landed awkwardly, slamming down onto one knee as the gravel hurt his feet. The soldiers vaulted down beside him with more grace but an ominous thud as their boots made a significant dent in the gravel to each side of him. "Ow!" The hand in his hair tightened and hauled him back to his feet.
"Move it." A nasty little shove forward. Damn this gravel was sharp. Someone's drive, tall laurel hedges scented with that unmistakable rotten apricot odor of foxes, a well-tended lawn, blue-rinsed by moonlight. Perhaps he could just walk on the grass instead? This gravel was killing his feet.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Daniel wondered if the guy understood his head didn't actually go any further back than that, not without his neck snapping anyway. Through gritted teeth, he said, "I don't have any shoes on. I just want to walk on the grass."
The fingers in his hair clenched and abruptly there was pressure on the back of his head, forcing his face forward and down. Daniel flinched as the ground came up to meet him then cautiously opened his eyes again as nothing collided with his face. By the gray light he could make out a small oblong sign on which someone had neatly inscribed: Don't Walk On The Grass. Daniel moistened his lips. "Point taken," he said quietly.
He winced again as he was yanked back onto the gravel and shoved forward, his feet curling painfully in anticipation. He cleared his throat. "Where are we going?"
He didn't see the fist coming, he didn't even hear the rush of air. The question just left his mouth and then something hit him in the solar plexus so hard it was like walking into a barrier he hadn't known was there. His senses swooped for a moment and when he got them back again he found he was on his knees on the gravel, trying to simultaneously vomit and snatch back some air. He knew Jack would have probably still found enough oxygen to wheeze out what he thought of these guys, but his lung capacity was obviously inferior to the older man's because he needed every breath he could snatch just to ward off imminent brain damage. After he'd retched and coughed and gasped for a minute or two, he felt the now familiar hand close on his hair again and haul him up. He staggered. His feet trying to twist away from the gravel scratching their soles at the same time as he attempted to get up on tiptoe to stop his hair being pulled out by the roots.
"We ask the questions," the one who wasn't holding him said softly. "You keep your mouth closed until we tell you to open it."
Daniel opened his mouth to ask what the hell their problem was anyway? Then as he saw the soldier's fingers curl into a fist in readiness, closed his mouth again with an audible meeting of teeth. Silence was evidently important to these people. He would try to think of them as an…alien culture, that was it; a culture whose strange rituals he had an obligation to respect even when they made no sense whatsoever unless you were eight parts testosterone and two parts ferro-concrete, particularly between the ears…. And they couldn't hit him just for thinking insults now could they?
Darting a sideways glance at the one who wasn't pushing him forward at just the right pace to jar his twisted knee and bruise his flinching feet, he met the gimlet gaze of a man who looked ready and willing to hit him for even looking like he might be thinking something insulting. Daniel swallowed and decided raked gravel was way more interesting than he'd ever given it credit for up until now. Just look at those striations, almost shell-like, those little spits of stone so pale in the moonlight, and what kind of stone was this anyway…? He risked another sideways glance and saw a lot of lawn each side now. They were away from the laurel hedges, and there were old cedars scattered at intervals. Someone with money. Probably old money. That was a lot of lawn out there. Acres and acres in which to bury as many bodies as you liked. Even by the moonlight this looked like the kind of obliging turf that would fold back over new earth and barely leave a trace.
Daniel realized he was still missing Jack and Sam and Teal'c, and it wasn't just to do with being part of team any more. It was a lot to do with wanting to be rescued.
Who would believe how much red tape you have to cut to hold a conversation with someone? Not any someone, of course. Someone who used to be part of a Top Secret Government Program before being recruited to an Unofficial Even More Top Secret Not Government At All Program. Before being caught, locked up, left to rot. I don't think Makepeace is going to get a trial. Not what ought to pass for a trial anyway. He's not going to get those twelve good men and true weighing up the pros and cons of actions, which, however much I might happen to disagree with them, certainly weren't done for personal gain. He did what he did because he thought it was the right thing to do. I happen to think he was wrong. Big time. But his motives were of the highest. There are guys out there who have killed their wives, beaten their children, or shot complete strangers because they were having a bad day, who are probably going to see sunlight without bars in front of it before Robert Makepeace. Of all the things I'm not happy about concerning that last little operation, this is the one with which I am having the biggest problem.
It's not like I ever particularly liked the guy. We're – let's just say we're not compatible. And you could say he left me for dead when I wasn't. You could also say he risked his life to save mine, to save my team, and me, and lost some good men of his own in the process. He and Daniel have never got on. To be honest; there was friction between them from the first day they met, but Makepeace still came in and did his damnedest to save Daniel's life. Daniel didn't particularly appreciate his methods, but that doesn't alter the fact he's still alive partly because of Makepeace. Given Hathor's track record where Daniel's concerned, Makepeace might well have saved him from a fate worse than death as well, and this time I'm not talking about getting a snake in the back of the neck. I suspect there's a limit to how many times you can get raped by the Goa'uld and bounce back from it, so like it or not, Daniel definitely owes Makepeace one. And it's not like Hathor ever had any liking for Carter so you could say the cavalry probably came just in time for at least two of my team. Makepeace tried to rescue us just because he thought it was the right thing to do as well.
And, much as I hate to admit it, we'd all have been turned to pâté by the Touched if Makepeace and his jarheads hadn't saved our butts back on P3X-797. So Robert Makepeace is someone I owed, and I paid him back by getting him arrested. Anyway you look at it – that
is not a pretty picture.
So, I'm not looking forward to this meeting with him. I wouldn't blame him if he told me to go screw myself, to be honest, but I really hope he doesn't. Because I think Makepeace might be my only hope of ever seeing Daniel alive again.
The light from the chandelier stung his eyes after the darkness, but the thick carpet was a welcome relief to his sore feet. A square white hall with a checkerboard marble floor colored by overlapping rugs. It was a lot warmer in here, but for some reason he couldn't stop shivering.
One of his kidnappers had gone off around the side of the building while the other let himself in through the imposing front door. It was the kind of door that really demanded a butler on the other side of it, but the crew-cutted Neanderthal with his hand in Daniel's hair had used an ordinary Yale key before dragging his victim into the light.
Daniel found himself still listening for the crunch of those thick boots on the gravel even when the noise had been transmuted into the muffled footfalls of heavy soles on Persian rugs. His toes curled gratefully into the woven red pile and he tried not to think of the children in those Asian sweatshops who would have been paid a pittance to make this beautiful object.
He was aware of paneling, white plaster walls, priceless things behind toughened glass that would no doubt ring a warning klaxon if it shattered. He felt light-headed. Beautiful doors, the kind of finish that made you want to stroke it. Except with his hands tied behind his back, he couldn't touch anything. He was just someone other people got to drag along by the hair or the collar. How long did it take before you forgot the people doing this to you had no right to do it? That just because they were stronger than you were and could hurt you at will you were still as good as they were? It was hard to hang onto who you were when the people around you seemed so convinced you were nothing. After a while, he supposed their certainty would be contagious. He didn't really know very much about the psychology of torture, the effects on the victim. Jack had given him some tips about What To Do If Captured And Tortured, but he'd kept it very general, like this was something he'd heard about which hopefully Daniel would never need to use. It had never been acknowledged Jack had first-hand knowledge of what being tortured was like, what the aftermath was like. How long it took to get over it. If you ever did. It wasn't something he and Jack had ever discussed. There were lots of things, now he looked back, that he and Jack had never discussed.
The grip on his collar was turning him, forcing him to follow a wavering line of amber straying across a red carpet. The pattern was blurring, dancing. Tiny fingers pushing shuttles for hour after hour in the dark. How could so much cruelty produce something so beautiful? Daniel stumbled, realizing belatedly he was exhausted. Apart from the time he'd spent unconscious he'd been awake an awfully long time. Just keep following the rugs: blue and gold Persian, fired earth Turkish; wine dark Pakistan; Shiraz; Kelim…. He couldn't remember all the names now. It was too many years since his mother had told him. Native bazaars and the scent of ginger catching at the back of his throat; calves' brains he'd never been brave enough to taste when they were offered to him by friendly stall owners fascinated by the color of his hair; squares of crumbling white halva; the dark stain of tahini on his tongue; savory couscous dissolving in his mouth like sherbet. He was so damned tired he felt like Sam must have after Martouf stuck the memory device in her head: trapped in his own past and afraid of what scene he might be shown next. He stumbled and his feet strayed off the soft rugs to the cold floor. Chilly black and white squares made his bruised toes flinch at once.
Black and white squares. Playing chess with Jack in the VIP room while he told them both how sane he was feeling. A hundred chess games at Jack's place. He'd moved the damned pieces; abandoned the game they were playing to begin one of his own….
Jack might have been acting when he'd been undercover for the Asgard, but he'd had a role model he was copying. The guy who'd been slumped in the armchair with a beer in his hand and looked at him across the altered chessboard hadn't come out of nowhere. Maybe that was who Jack had been once upon a time. Black Ops made you crazy. Even Sam had said so more than once; the tension, the fear, the guilt. He'd never wanted to know if Jack had done things he was ashamed of. It was bad enough knowing Teal'c was living with guilt every day. He hadn't wanted to think it of Jack as well. Charlie's death was enough for anyone to have to carry around with him. If there was other blood on Jack's hands, Daniel hadn't wanted to hear it. Now he wished he'd asked. It might have helped Jack to talk about it. Christ, the guy was his best friend. How could he never have asked? He'd thought he was being tactful, but maybe he'd just been cowardly, scared of how much pressure their friendship could take, proud of what they had and not wanting to ruin it.
Proud? Yes, he thought he probably was. They were so different, after all. There were so many reasons why they shouldn't have ended up joined at the hip and practically telepathic, and yet they had. The friendship between Sam and himself had always been effortless and pretty near instantaneous, and that was how it had been for Jack and Teal'c as well: two like minds who understood each other. Sam and Teal'c, like Sam and Jack, had started off with mutual respect and built up to friendship through longer acquaintance. He and Teal'c had started with a relationship built on guilt and it had taken the Cor-Ai for Daniel to understand how much Teal'c was still blaming himself for Daniel's loss and, more importantly, for Teal'c to realize Daniel really did see him as a valued friend. But he and Jack….
He'd been right there every step of the way of that friendship being forged, and even he wasn't sure quite how it had come about or how it had become so strong. Given that since Sha're's death he now had nothing and no one except the SGC, his relationship with Jack was probably the single most important one in his life. No, make that 'definitely'. When he'd walked out of Jack's house without that friendship he'd felt like someone who'd suffered a bereavement. Like a part of himself was missing. He'd driven home in a daze, playing the scene over and over, trying to find a way through it, past it, to make it not be true.
"Doctor Jackson. What a pleasure."
The hand tightened on his collar, arresting his forward movement, and Daniel cautiously lifted his gaze from the pattern he'd been following. There was even more light in here, which made his eyes water painfully. A long room, pale-painted walls, objets d'art arranged at intervals. Some modern art and a few dark oils in elaborate frames. He peered at them myopically but could only see a blur. All the same, he had no doubt they were priceless. He had no doubt they were stolen either, but not from a gallery or museum. They would have been stolen from the dead. Even the white lilies on the coffee table seemed to be telling him these pictures had been ripped from the walls of murdered Jews.
Daniel swayed, but the hand on his collar held him up, thrust him forward. He saw a couch that would have cost him a year's salary upholstered in yellow Venetian silk. A pair of what looked like handmade leather shoes. A gray suit. A man he couldn't go on avoiding forever. Not Maybourne. Of course not Maybourne. Had he been hoping for a familiar face? Oh that was pathetic, truly pathetic. He would have been relieved to see Harry Maybourne sitting where this stranger was with an insufferable smile on his face. And he would have been glad to see Maybourne because even if they'd never liked each other, at least they knew one another. It had to be harder to order someone killed you'd had conversations with didn't it? Didn't it?
He met curiously pale eyes; ice blue and emotionless. Other than that, a non-descript man, very well dressed, middle-aged, manicured hands with blunt-tipped fingers, a full head of silvery hair. A resolute jaw. Height hard to guess as he was sitting down. A little over six foot perhaps. Jack would have been able to tell at a glance if this man had ever been military. Daniel had no way of knowing. He cleared his throat and was annoyed to find he was afraid to speak before he was given permission. His bruised midriff urged him to silence even as indignation rose up to war with his exhaustion. Daniel said formally, "You have the advantage of me." He tried not to flinch in readiness for a blow.
"I don't think you need to know my name, Doctor Jackson."
"I don't think you needed to have me kidnapped."
Daniel couldn't stop himself flinching as the heel of a hand was slammed into the side of his head. He staggered but stayed on his feet. He twisted his head round to glare at the soldier who'd hit him, wanting the man to see he wasn't afraid. All right, that wasn't strictly true, but you couldn't let people think hitting you was going to make you do what they wanted or they'd only do it more.
The man on the couch waved a hand and Daniel was relieved to sense the soldier backing away from him. Okay, he still had his hands tied behind his back and a bruise in his guts where that fist had hit home, not to mention an ache in his head from his phone connecting with it, but at least he was out of thumping range now. The guy was backing right away from him, positioning himself where Daniel could see him, folding his arms in what looked worryingly like readiness, but at least Daniel could say what he wanted and not be punched for five minutes.
He looked at the man on the couch. "I'd still like to know who you are and why you've had me brought here."
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, you can call me Mr Trevalyn. I have a little translation job for you, Doctor Jackson."
Daniel blinked resentfully at the man in front of him. He really didn't appreciate being kidnapped or manhandled, and he liked being made to feel scared even less. He moistened his lips. "Something tells me that if this 'little translation job' had been approved by General Hammond you wouldn't have needed to contact me the way you did. And as there are plenty of other Egyptologists out there I'm wondering why you need me so badly you were prepared to go to all that trouble and inconvenience?"
That smile was not reassuring. "People who can read obscure dialects of Goa'uld are a little thin on the ground, Doctor Jackson. On Earth at the present time there's you and there's the Jaffa and – forgive me – but our intelligence suggested you would be a much easier man to persuade to work for us."
Daniel gave him a tight little smile in return. "Well, my intelligence is telling me translating anything for you is not something I'm going to want to do."
"Doctor Jackson…." The man held out his hands in a regretful gesture. "Must we get melodramatic?"
Daniel glanced across at the impassive soldier leaning against the wall. In the white light of the chandelier he could see the man was indeed as enormous as he'd appeared in his apartment, bigger than Teal'c and apparently carved from basalt. "I hope not," Daniel returned.
"If you won't agree to help us out with our little problem willingly then we'll have to make you work for us against your will, which will be unpleasant for both of us. You're an intelligent man, I'm sure you have enough sense to realize this is a no-win situation. You're not military. You're not trained to withstand…duress. You will therefore agree to what we want – sooner or later. You will translate the device for us. Why not make life a lot easier on yourself and translate it now before we have to hurt you? Something, I can assure you, we really don't want to do."
Daniel returned Trevalyn's gaze and said conversationally, "I have a counter proposition to put to you: Since there is no way in hell I'm going to translate any Goa'uld device for some cowboy NID outfit, whatever you do to me, why don't you give up now and send me home again before we both waste any more time?"
He hadn't seen the soldier move. He certainly hadn't heard him. The first he knew about his change of position was when a backhand struck him, hard, across the face.
Daniel turned his head back slowly, the stinging pain receding a little as he snatched a couple of deep breaths. That had hurt. He moistened his lips before saying quietly, "All the technology you've stolen from the Goa'uld, and the best you can come up with is to hit me?"
The man in the gray suit examined his blunt-tipped fingers as though they were suddenly fascinating. "Oh – we have more sophisticated methods as well, but I don't think it would do any harm for you to remember what good old fashioned pain feels like."
"You mean you're afraid to use equipment you don't understand in case you accidentally kill me with it?" Daniel tried not to flinch as he was grabbed by the shoulder of his jacket again.
Trevalyn shook his head regretfully. "I expected more of a man of your intelligence, Doctor Jackson."
"Sorry to disappoint you."
Trevalyn waved a hand at the soldier. "Explain Doctor Jackson's options to him. Thoroughly. If he seems…confused, explain them to him again."
It was a gray box of a room. A window set high up in the north wall, the glass thick and with wire inside. The kind you can't even break with a lump hammer. There was a table with a chair each side of it. There was Makepeace sitting in the chair. There was the smell of disinfectant. There was an empty chair. I had to remind myself this was just an interview room. They wouldn't leave him in a room like this. They had to know you couldn't leave someone like Makepeace in a room like this.
When I came home through the 'gate the first time, I knew I couldn't go back to ordinary duties. Okay. On-world duties. Nothing the Air Force was going to offer me would add up to the buzz I'd got from going through that 'gate because suddenly the sky was full of possibilities as well as stars. There was life out there. Not just the rumor of it, the hope of it, the yearning for it. Real life. People I knew who knew me living on a whole different world at the other end of the known galaxy. I had a suitcase in my loft containing the belongings of a man married to a woman who had never seen the Earth. My lighter was on Abydos along with Daniel: two solid proofs we'd traveled to another place and found people just like us. That was one hell of a head rush.
The first thing I did after I got back was resign from the Air Force. The second thing I did was buy a telescope and start looking outside myself for the first time in what felt like a long time. My point is, you can't go through the 'gate and stay who you were before you stepped into that blue light. And you can't go from having the infinite possibilities of the universe at your fingertips to a room ten feet by ten feet, the color of wet cement.
I hoped he knew I wasn't enjoying this. I know Robert Makepeace pretty well, and he isn't a bad man. Like Teal'c said, he's a man of integrity and courage. He's also about as wrong as you can get on a lot of important matters. Now that he'd lost everything in no small part because of me I didn't know how he was going to feel about helping me. But he was a straw, and I was clutching.
I pulled back the chair and hesitated, waiting for him to tell me whether or not I could sit down. He nodded. I sat.
"Something up?" To his credit, he didn't seem hostile. He wasn't pleased to see me, but he wasn't about to spit in my eye either. I think the truth was, he was bored, and I was a change to the routine. Compared with staring at the wall, talking to me was looking interesting to him.
I waved the guard away and held his gaze. "Maybourne's goons have taken Daniel."
"Jackson?" The surprise looked genuine. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." I explained the situation in as few words as I could, studying his face for clues as I did so. Except there were no clues. Makepeace knew squat. I could see it in his face. This was a waste of time and Daniel was probably already dead. Don't even think it or you'll make it true.
Makepeace frowned. "What the hell do they want him for?"
He sounded unconvinced anyone would choose to take Daniel who didn't have a damned good reason for it. In fact, his tone seemed to suggest Daniel's company was not something he would personally choose to have even with a damned good reason.
"I'm hoping you can tell me that." I moistened my lips before adding, "I know you and Daniel have never got on."
"Damned right." His agreement was fast and unequivocal. "The guy's a pain in the ass."
"But I don't believe that you'd want Daniel dead or…injured."
"Gagged maybe," Makepeace shrugged. "But no, you're right. I wouldn't want him dead."
"So I'm hoping you're going to level with me about why Maybourne would have taken him?"
"I don't know any more than you do. I can guess Maybourne might want to negotiate. Trade him back to you for something. You put him in a tricky situation. I imagine he's going to use Jackson to try and lean on you to change your report a little."
I was sure he was telling the truth, which meant I'd hit a dead-end. As I didn't want to hit a dead-end, I went on sitting there glaring at him hopefully, like I could will him to give me something else.
He held up his hands. "Look, I'm sorry about Jackson. If I could help you, I would. Maybe the SGC gave up on me, but I never gave up on it. I happen to think it's the most important work anyone is doing anywhere on the planet, and I would never abandon an SGC member while there was any hope for him. But I can tell you Jackson isn't worth killing if that's what's worrying you."
"Not even for payback. Not even to make a point? You said it went high up. How high, Robert?"
Makepeace shook his head. "I don't want to die, O'Neill. And if I say too much I'm going to meet with an accident. All I can tell you is the people behind this wouldn't waste their time knocking off one lousy archaeologist."
"Why not? General Hammond and I busted Maybourne's little party, and we'd both mind if something happened to Daniel. Maybe that seems like a good enough reason to kill him."
"If they wanted to make a point he'd have been dead in his apartment and there would have been nothing to tie him to the NID. They're not going to take him away just to kill him. And if they wanted to make sure you'd got the message they would have run him over right in front of you, Jack."
I winced as memories of someone else being run over right in front of me came back with vivid force. I angrily shook off the memory. I needed to focus on what Makepeace had told me because it made sense. "So, you're saying they didn't take him just to kill him?"
"No. Like I said, they'll trade him for something."
"So why haven't they made their demands? Why haven't we had the ransom note or the message telling us what we have to do to get him back?"
"Maybourne's probably just making you sweat a little before he comes out and says what he wants in return."
"You don't think NID would want Daniel for himself?"
"What the hell for? A hat rack?"
I gritted my teeth. "He does happen to be an expert on ancient civilizations, the Goa'uld, the Egyptian language…."
"Oh," Makepeace frowned. "Right. That's a good point. Well, if it makes you feel better, that's another reason why they won't kill him. I know you think those of us who oppose your view are traitors, but we see ourselves as patriots. People who are united in their opposition to the Goa'uld. Jackson's knowledge of the Goa'uld language makes him valuable. No way would NID kill him or the Jaffa when they don't have anyone else who speaks the lingo."
That did have the ring of truth about it. It was true these people had an agenda I didn't agree with, but their motivation was the same as mine. They wanted to defend Earth against the Goa'uld. Killing Daniel could be detrimental to that aim; therefore it was very unlikely they would kill him unless they got sloppy or someone lost his temper. Now that Makepeace had pointed it out to me, their prime directive would surely be to keep Daniel alive and with all his brain cells intact. But if they hadn't taken him as payback and they didn’t want to trade him, or blackmail us, why had they bothered snatching him in the first place? I looked at Makepeace. "Isn't there anything you've…liberated recently that maybe you couldn't backwards engineer or that had some Goa'uld writing on it no one could decipher or…?"
"Yes." He sat up straight, looking more interested. "One of the last things I took through for them had some writing on it that looked Goa'uld. Maybe they haven't been able to get it to work yet and need him to tell them what it says. That makes sense at least."
My heart had already been sinking but now it definitely seemed to pick up the pace a little as it headed downwards. I said pointedly, "Daniel won't co-operate."
Makepeace gave me a 'who the hell are you kidding' look. "Come on, O'Neill, team loyalty's all very well but Jackson will crack like a rotten twig if anyone leans on him. I know the type."
"No, Robert," I said quietly. "You don't."
"O'Neill, like Jackson just happened to tell me twenty times a day when he and I were having to work together, he's a civilian not a soldier. He'll crack." He frowned then. "Look, I'm not enjoying this. I'm sorry they took him. I'm sorry they're questioning him right now, but I'm not going to lie to make you feel better. If NID don't get what they want they get pissy real quick. But the faster he cracks, the quicker they stop leaning on him. He'll crack in ten minutes flat which means he won’t get that badly hurt and you'll get him back all the sooner."
I'm actually rather proud of the fact Daniel has never been tortured while under my command. Not conventionally tortured anyway. The Nem mind-probe thing was voluntary on his part. I still haven't managed to get him to grasp that wasn't a good choice he made there. Apophis and his mind-reading device wasn't fun, but it wasn't strictly speaking torture. To be honest, Daniel being tortured has always been one of those things I’m pretty keen to avoid.
Makepeace never had much imagination – which is a good asset in a soldier. Sitting there thinking 'I wonder what it feels like to be suffering from that wound right now' when you've just picked off one of the enemy via a telescopic lens and rifle and the other guy is rolling around in agony with his guts unraveling is not a good idea. Daniel, for instance, has far too much imagination to be a good soldier, as well as being too inclined to see the other guy's point of view. If the other guy is trying to kill you, his point of view is not something you should be thinking about. Getting him before he gets you is what you should be thinking about. So that's just one of the reasons why Makepeace is twenty times a better soldier than Daniel ever could or would be. But the things which make Daniel a bad soldier are also the things that made him a good human being. Those are the things that would have stopped him saying what Makepeace had just said to me.
Makepeace, being Makepeace, couldn't work out why I was looking like I wanted to rip someone's head off. And to be honest I didn't know I was looking that way myself until he said, "Christ, O'Neill, you look like you want to rip someone's head off."
"No, really?" I glared at him.
It took him a moment but he got there in the end. Finally did the math and worked out how he would have felt if someone had just told him one of his team was being tortured right now, but, hey not to worry, because they'd work him over so badly he'd crack real fast so that made it okay.
He held up his hands in supplication. "Damnit, Jack, I said I was sorry. If there was anything to do to help you get Jackson back, I would. I'm not happy about this situation either. I don't dislike the guy. I don't think he has any more right to be in the SGC than Mary Poppins, and I think you need your head read for ever agreeing to have him on your team, but I don't dislike him."
"For your information, Makepeace, without Daniel there wouldn't be a goddamned SGC. He's the guy who opened the 'gate. He's the reason we even have a Stargate program."
Makepeace just waved a hand in that 'yeah, yeah, like who the hell cares?' way.
I collected myself. "Give me something, Robert. Give me anything." I met his gaze. "Help me. Please."
He had his mouth open to tell me there was no help he could give me – I read it in his face – when suddenly his eyes opened wider. "Wait…. Maybe…. Look, Jack, when they were recruiting me at the beginning, they were very cagey. There were a lot of meetings with intermediaries. On one of the meetings, there was a screw-up. The driver took me to the wrong place. I never saw that driver again."
"A big house in the middle of nowhere. The kind of house where very rich people live. Like I told you in the 'gateroom, you really don't know who you're dealing with here."
I was on my feet at once. "Give me the name of the guy who lives there?"
"I don't know it."
"Okay: directions how to get there then?"
"I don't know that either."
"Look, I was sitting in a car someone else was driving. It was over a year ago. I had other things on my mind besides the route."
I rested my hands on the table and just for a moment I knew how Nem had felt before he vacuumed Daniel's brain. The knowledge was in Makepeace's mind somewhere. All he had to do was find it and give it to me. I met his gaze. "But you're a good soldier, Makepeace, and a good soldier always works out his line of retreat. That means knowing where the hell you are and how to get back."
He shook his head helplessly. "If I knew, I'd tell you." He frowned. "Maybe I could remember if we drove out of the city. I might recognize some of the places we passed."
I still believed him, but I knew how this was going to sound: like a breakout attempt. It was obviously going to be a hell of a lot easier for Makepeace to get away if I took him out looking for Daniel than if he was stuck in this gray-walled box. I could see the general jibbing at this. I could see everyone jibbing at this. I swallowed and said again, "I believe you, Makepeace. I believe you want to help me find Daniel, and I'll do all I can to get you temporarily assigned to the rescue team, but after we find him, you'll be coming back here. And if you are lying to me, and if you either know where Daniel is and aren't telling me or – so help you – you and Maybourne arranged this between you so I'd do exactly what I'm about to do and you could get away – then I will kill you."
Makepeace met my gaze and didn't even blink. "Come on, Jack. We've known each other a long time. I know how much the geek means to you."
"Exactly. Which means you'd have known taking Daniel was the fastest way to get my attention."
"It also means I know damned well you'd kill me if I had any part in him being kidnapped. I don't mind taking on the Asgard or the Goa'uld, but I wouldn't be stupid enough to grab Jackson."
I must have looked unconvinced because he gave me a thin little smile. "O'Neill, Jackson annoyed the shit out of me the whole week I had him under my command. If anyone else had given me one tenth of the crap I had to put up with from him, he'd have met with a little accident that would have put him in the infirmary for six months. You probably noticed, when we all came back through the 'gate, your geek didn't have so much as a scratch. Well, that's because I know what you and the Jaffa would do to anyone who hurt him, and I was never the suicidal type. If this is a scam of Maybourne's, I don't know anything about it, and if you can get me on the rescue team and we do find Jackson and Maybourne jumps out of the woodwork at the last minute and offers me an escape route, I'm not going to take it because I don't want to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder for a psycho colonel and his psycho alien sidekick. Understood?"
I backed up towards the door. "Psycho colonel? That hurts, Robert. That really…hurts."
"You have to trust me," he said.
As I knocked on the door for the guard to come and let me out, I thought about what he was asking. If I could fool Daniel then I was damned sure Makepeace could fool me. For all I knew, I was doing exactly what they were expecting me to do. I really didn't like the idea of walking into a trap Maybourne had baited for me. The trouble was, I liked the idea of Daniel being a prisoner even less. And the thought of Daniel being tortured wasn't exactly giving me a warm fuzzy glow of contentment. As the guard locked the door behind me, I had a last glimpse of Makepeace still sitting in that room with the walls closing in on him and I knew he was right, if only because I didn't have any better option at the moment. I had to trust him.
Daniel hoped whoever was watching him through the spy camera thought it was the cold making him shake like this, causing the shudders to ripple through him over and over. Not fear. Definitely not fear. He had jammed himself into the furthermost corner of this bare gray room so he had a wall against each shoulder blade, pulled his legs up to make himself take up the smallest amount of space. He'd get warmer in a minute. In a minute. His sodden jacket was clinging to his sodden t-shirt which was clinging to his cold wet skin but at least they gave him some protection from the ugly twins; gave him something between his ribcage and their fists.
The camera turned, lazily raking the room. What the hell was it looking for? There was nothing else to see. He was the main – and sole – attraction: the only thing inside this room except for the light-fittings and the door handle. He had to keep reminding himself this was basic stuff they were trying: the freezing room, the sleep-deprivation, the buckets of ice water thrown over him every time he closed his eyes, the cattle-prod or whatever the hell that thing was that gave the electric shocks, being slapped around by men a lot bigger than he was. All pretty much kindergarten stuff compared with what some people had endured in the past. Compared with what Jack had endured in the past.
And no, they'd never discussed it, but Daniel knew what Jack had gone through in Iraq was way worse than this. This was nothing. He could get through this. And they couldn't afford to hurt him any worse than they were doing at the moment because they needed him not just alive but fully compos mentis. The video camera swung back to stare at him with its Cyclops eye, a red light winking to let him know it was working. Where the hell did they think he could go? There was only the one door and it was very emphatically locked.
Daniel gave the camera his best false smile, saying, "Ankh, udja, seneb!" Life, prosperity, health! Yeah. Like I mean it.
They could hit him for that later. Right now, it felt worth it. And there was no harm in reminding them he was a linguist. Expert on the Goa'uld language, right? Only one they had unless they fancied trying to grab Teal'c, in which case he would have to say good luck to them because they were going to need it. And damn, if he'd just gone over to Jack's like the man had asked him…. No point in whining over might-have-beens. This little piggy had sulked all the way home and got himself grabbed by the spooks from hell. Temporarily. He had no doubt this was a temporary situation because he knew Jack and Sam and Teal'c were tearing the state apart looking for him right now. They were very good at what they did which meant sooner or later they would find him. All he had to do was hang on in there and wait. He could do that. He could definitely do that.
As the door opened, he determinedly averted his eyes. He'd learned this one all by himself. Don't look at the man or men who were coming to hurt you. Definitely don't look at any implement they might be carrying to use against you or else your gaze would get riveted to it. That was what they wanted: him to be the snake to their mongoose. Well, he wasn't going to play the victim for them. Jack had told him that once. No one could make you a victim; that was something you did to yourself. People could hurt you as much as they liked, but that didn't make you a victim unless you let it. He was Daniel Jackson. He was a Doctor of Archaeology; linguist; Egyptologist; anthropologist; the man who'd deciphered in two weeks what the best brains military science could buy couldn't crack in two years. He was a member of SG-1. He was not a victim. By comparison with him these guys were cavemen. Neanderthals. He could out-think them, and when Jack, Sam, and Teal'c turned up, they could hopefully beat the crap out of them for him and let him watch. That was a warming thought. He was going to hang onto that one. Footsteps. Boots. Legs. Look at the floor, Daniel. Keep looking at the floor. Don't look at him.
He stared stolidly at the wet concrete, teeth gritted in readiness. He heard the crack and hiss of something electrical being charged. Something Goa'uld? Christ, not one of those things Sokar had used on Jolinar? Sam had told him she'd never felt a pain like it….
Don't look at it! That's what they want!
Probably a tazer or whatever the things were called. It didn't matter anyway because whatever it was would hurt him, but it wouldn't really damage him. That was what he had to hang onto. It might feel like it was doing him harm, but all it was doing was…giving his nerve-endings a little workout. At the end of their half an hour of playtime, he'd still be alive and relatively unharmed, and they'd be no closer to getting their damned Goa'uld technology translated, and, please God, Jack would be thirty minutes nearer to getting him out of here.
"Feeling any more co-operative?"
Uh-oh. Time to meet the Flintstones again.
Daniel did look at him then. The one with the darker eyebrows this time. Given that the two soldiers seemed to share the same brain it didn't make a whole lot of difference to him although this one was marginally worse than the other one, seemed to enjoy his work just a tiny bit more. He gave the man his best cold stare. Not quite up there with Jack's, but he was working on it. He said, very crisply, "Screw you."
The blow snapped his head round to the side: a double-whammy because the back of his skull hit the wall a millisecond after that hand connected with his face. More blood. What a change. He hadn't tasted that warm salt flavor in oh…minutes. As he licked the red moisture from his lips, Daniel said, "Better watch the head, Soldier. If you brain damage me your boss might not be too happy with you."
That too-familiar ham-sized fist closing in his hair, dragging him away from the walls, throwing him to the floor. The sound of the implement he wasn't going to look at fizzing in readiness.
He could get through this.
Pain. A white flare through every nerve ending. Every cell in his body screaming at him to Do what they want for Christ's sake! Ignore it. It goes off again. Just takes a few minutes. Then they do it again.
A boot in his guts so hard it lifted him right off the floor.
Oh God. Don't puke. Don't puke. He tried to drag some air back into his lungs, blinking to clear the kaleidoscope of swirling lights in front of his eyes, but everything remained blurred, wet, salt, eyes watering. The instinct was to crawl away but it was difficult to do with your hands tied behind your back. He tried to curl up instead, to protect his midriff from those steel-capped boots.
He could still get through this.
Something that sounded like a snicker. A blaze of pain to the back of his neck, a white flame of agony straight down his spine. He could hear someone's breath sobbing, taste concrete dust on his tongue. He was trying to wrap himself around the floor but it was cold and wet and wouldn't protect him. Fingers in his hair, pulling him up. "Co-operate, you little – " Oh, someone who shared SG-6's assumptions about how he kept Jack happy in between missions obviously. Charming. Translate it into Abydonian. Aped-sewerer? No, that would be 'bird-drinker', Daniel…. Ow! Ow! He was trying to get up despite the way his body was still thrumming from the tazer blast, to stop all the weight being taken by his hair. His bare feet scraped against the cold floor. A vicious backhand. Pain exploding in his cheekbone, his eye-socket, his brain. Someone crying out as he hit the floor. Pain. Sharp…. Not his arms. Don't say he'd broken his arms. No, still intact, the rope cutting into his wrists and bruises all down his right side, but no bones snapped. Say the alphabet backwards. Too easy. Thirteen times twelve. Too difficult. Translation. Get it right this time. Skaara had taught him lots of new swear words he'd never even heard of in English but he couldn't remember the Abydonian for that one.
He'd learned to curl up as tight as he could, to protect his genitals from both toecaps and tazer blasts. It was automatic now. Jack would be proud of him. The soldier was crouching next to him, pulling up his jacket and tee-shirt, giving himself some bare flesh to work with. "Co-operate…." The fizz as it charged again. Any second now there would be the hot wire through the nerve-endings. Or the boot in the ribs. The backhand to the face. Being dragged around by the hair. Bounced off the walls. Tazered again. And again. The taste of his own blood, smell of his own sweat. But it made no difference to him because it was still kindergarten stuff. Right? They were working with both hands tied behind their backs here because they couldn't really hurt him. No, actually, he was the one with both hands tied behind his back. But never mind. The analogy was still sound. All they could do was hurt him. Being hurt never hurt any…. Well, okay, maybe it did. Maybe it hurt a whole hell of a lot. Maybe it made you want to scream and bite through your own tongue and sob with the pain of it, but that wasn't important now. The important thing was he wasn't doing what they wanted, and they couldn't make him. All he had to do was hang in there and wait for Jack to come get him.
The tazer touched him again. Pain screamed. He screamed. Tried to stifle it biting down hard on his jacket, tasting the engine oil but soothed by the texture of the cloth against his tongue. A hand closed on the scruff of his neck and began to drag him up in readiness for knocking him down.
He could definitely get through this.
If killing someone would get this show on the road any quicker I swear I would put a bullet in the goddamned Pope before taking out Bambi with the rest of the clip. How the hell can they still be deliberating when one of my team is being tortured for crying out loud!
I've been storming into rooms, yelling, and storming out of them again so often I've got to the stage where I can't even remember if I'm supposed to be storming or yelling at the moment. But just in case I hadn't mentioned it in the last thirty seconds, I said, "Daniel's a civilian. He shouldn't be in this situation. We have an obligation to get him out of there…."
"Colonel O'Neill. There is no proof Doctor Jackson is being ill-treated or is in any physical danger at the moment."
That was the guy in the suit they'd flown in from Washington to stop us all going ballistic. I was pretty much camped out in Hammond's office at the moment, willing his phone to ring with the all clear to give me Makepeace or the news that slimy son-of-a-bitch Maybourne had told the guys questioning him what the hell his thugs had done with Daniel. The spook kept giving me weird looks. The ones I'd be getting a lot of in the last forty-eight freakin' hours. Forty-eight hours! Daniel's a civilian. He shouldn't be in this situation…. What had he just said?
I stared at the guy in disbelief. "No, of course there isn't. Those guys could have turned up and kidnapped him from his own home in the middle of the night because they just really wanted to show Daniel a good time in Vegas."
"What!" I realized it was Hammond who'd spoken this time and collected myself. "Sorry, sir. You were saying…?"
"We are doing everything within our power to get Doctor Jackson back. We have the police, the army and the Coast Guard. We're watching every airport…."
I knew that speech. I could tune it out. I let him get to the end and then began my own little continuous loop. The three of us were like characters in an opera at the moment, all with our own little chorus that we were going to keep on singing louder and louder until the orchestra stopped playing. I took a deep breath and started up again: "I need Makepeace. I need him to help me find Daniel. I give you my word I won't let him escape."
The spook in the suit said, "Colonel, this is a very delicate…."
"…situation, I know. Everyone keeps telling me how delicate the situation is. Have you any idea how delicate the human body is? How many bones it contains? How much it hurts when people start breaking them one by one? Daniel's a civilian. He shouldn't be in this…"
I wasn't going to let him start his own verse this time. I looked Hammond right in the eye and said, "Sir, you have to let me have Makepeace. I don’t care what favors you have to ask. I don't care what strings you have to pull. I don't care if you have to hire a tank and drive it straight through the prison wall, but if you won't, I will. I need Makepeace out of jail and I needed him forty-eight hours ago. I know Daniel is being tortured right now and I am this close to killing someone."
"I'm hearing you, Colonel." Hammond's lack of annoyance told me he was also agreeing with me even if he wasn't going to admit it in front of the spook. "And I have phone calls in with everyone I can think of to expedite Colonel Makepeace's temporary transfer to the custody of the SGC. You're just going to have to be patient for a little while longer."
"I've been patient for forty-eight hours."
"Jack, you haven't been patient for forty-eight minutes. You have to trust me on this. I'm doing everything I can to recover Doctor Jackson as quickly as possible." Then Hammond forgot about our visitor from Washington for a minute and said gently, "I want that boy back as much as you do, and if NID or Maybourne's little offshoot is responsible for this, I promise you they are going to pay for it. But right now, we have to do this by the book. We have to be the ones playing by the rules here. The waters got very muddied for a while and I need everyone in Washington to know who the good guys are."
"Well, that's the difference between us, General, because I just need Daniel back while he's still in one piece."
I hate it when Hammond doesn't get angry even when I'm jumping all over him. He just gave me one of his mildest looks and said, "Jack…."
I held up my hands. "Okay. I know. We're doing everything we can. Just get me Makepeace, sir, please, because I swear if I don't get a lead to follow soon I'm going to go beat one out of Harry Maybourne."
"Colonel Maybourne is being questioned in the matter of Doctor Jackson's disappearance." The spook said it like I'd hurt his feelings.
I gave him a straight look. "Not by me and Teal'c he's not." I turned to the general. "That's another thing, sir. Teal'c is getting seriously…restless. If we don’t find him someone to go and stomp on sometime in the next hour or so, I think it's going to get messy."
"Jack, when you find Doctor Jackson, you and Teal'c can pull the arms and legs off whoever took him for all I care, but for the moment you have to be patient and let me handle this my way. I'm expecting to hear back in the next couple of hours. Just – hang in there."
I nodded and left him to it. Beating your own head against a wall has a certain attraction sometimes but doing it to someone who is clearly trying everything humanly possible to help you just doesn't. But as I went to tell Carter and Teal'c we needed to be patient for a little longer, I found myself whispering, "Daniel, wherever you are, I promise we're going to come and find you real soon, but right now you've got to do like the general says and just – hang in there…."
I said it into the place where Daniel should have been, right by my left shoulder. The place where he was going to be again very soon, or else…. No. There was no 'or else' about it. One way or another we were getting Daniel back, and if Plan A didn't pan out, I'd started fine-tuning Plan B. I'd already decided I was giving the general two more hours to cut through the red tape. If he couldn't give me Makepeace, I was flying to Washington to put a bullet in each of Harry Maybourne's kneecaps. Then I was going to ask him where Daniel was. And if he didn't tell me, I was going to hand him over to Teal'c. As back-up plans go, I've had worse.
I turned the door handle of my office, braced to face those hopeful looks from Carter and Teal'c that I was going to have to disappoint. "Hang in there, Daniel," I murmured again. "Just hang in there."
"I'm very disappointed in you, Doctor Jackson."
Kneeling on a Shiraz he was making very wet, Daniel turned his head to wipe his bleeding lip on his shoulder before saying conversationally, "To be honest, Trevalyn, I'm not that impressed with you either."
The boot caught him flat-footed between the shoulder blades, sending him face first onto the floor. Daniel winced as the left side of his face had its bruises retouched. Still, this was definitely an improvement on hitting concrete, and at least his arms were numb now. He'd sort of gone through that particular pain and come out the other side of it. It would be inconvenient when his hands dropped off through lack of circulation, of course, but he wasn't sure he'd actually feel it. Down the far end of the long room there was a fire flickering blurrily in the elegant marble fireplace. He was torn between wanting to crawl down there to try and get warm, and flinching from the thought of red hot pokers and their possible uses. His guts were aching from a combination of hunger and bruises. He was spaced out with exhaustion and was trembling faintly with the shock of those blasts from the tazer, like a cymbal someone had hit an hour before still reverberating quietly to itself.
Daniel didn't know if that was good news or not. It might be that Trevalyn could see how the rope had started eating into his swollen skin or it could be it was difficult to start breaking his fingers while his hands were in this position.
He was yanked up by the hair again and then something was slicing through the rope. It was coming loose, being pulled off, the blood coming back. "Shit!" Daniel gritted his teeth as pain flared for a moment, not just his hands, his arms as well, his shoulders, every damned muscle and tendon from his little finger to his neck, then he very cautiously moved his arms forward and gingerly fingered his wrists. Only a couple of places where the skin had been broken. They were mostly just swollen and bruised. He was okay. Superficial, like he kept telling himself. Everything they were doing to him was superficial. He wished he could stop shaking. He would hate those two soldiers to think he was afraid of them because he wasn't. He might be afraid of how much they could hurt him, the damage they could do him, the fact they were so much stronger than he was. But he wasn't afraid of them.
"Doctor Jackson, out of respect for your unique knowledge, my people have been very restrained."
Still rubbing his wrists, Daniel darted a look at the man on the yellow couch. "Oh, very."
"They could become a lot less restrained if you don't begin to be a little more co-operative."
Daniel couldn't think of a good answer to that and anyway he was trembling again. If he talked when he was shaking, it would sound like he was afraid. It kept coming over him in waves. He didn't know if it was the shock or the exhaustion, but he couldn't stop the damned trembling in his limbs. He wrapped his arms around himself, trying to get warm, and looked fixedly at the rug.
"It could get very messy."
Daniel had no idea what the guy was threatening him with, but it didn’t sound like whatever it was would be very enjoyable. His head was abruptly wrenched back again as he was made to look at Trevalyn. One of the soldiers was standing behind him; Daniel could feel his breath on the back of the neck. The other one was standing by the door just in case he made a run for it. Yes, that was very likely. After no sleep and no food for God knows how many hours, the first thing he was going to do was try and fight his way out past six foot four of immovable sadism.
As he pulled Daniel's head back cruelly, the soldier whispered in his ear the other things he could do and would do too, if Daniel didn't start co-operating. Daniel swallowed. Yes, that definitely came under the category of messy in his book, not to mention painful and degrading. But it wasn't life threatening. Jack had told him a little about the checklist for being tortured. You endured the stuff that was fixable, and you avoided the stuff that was irreparable any way you could without actually giving them what they wanted. And you didn't start lying until you had to. You saved lying for step two. You had to go through the period of resistance so when you did start lying it would come across as more convincing. What you never, ever did, was tell them what they wanted to know. Diversionary tactics were also good. He'd seen Jack put those into use enough times himself when the four of them had been captured. Don't look at him or her or him either. Look at me. Talk to me. Focus on me. It had taken him a while to work out what the man was doing. For a while he'd thought Jack was just…mouthy. Take control of the conversation. That was something else Jack had told him. Try to make it go the way you want to. Any time spent talking about what you want instead of what they want is stopping them getting what they're after. And if stops them hitting you for five minutes as well, all the better.
Daniel cleared his throat. "Mr – uh Trevalyn – I'm sorry, I have to ask. Did you collect bird's eggs when you were a boy?"
Even better than he'd hoped for: A direct hit and a frown of obvious surprise. "Why do you ask?"
"You just struck me as the type somehow. You know – there's one pair of bald eagles left on the planet, and they've just laid one egg. You still have to steal it to complete your collection."
Trevalyn's face darkened. "I'm warning you, Doctor Jackson, my patience isn't limitless."
"Mine is," Daniel assured him. "To be honest, working with Jack, it really has to be."
"Either you translate the device or else…."
"Or else G.I. Joe does what…? If you traumatize me too much I'm not going to be able to remember my own name let alone some obscure dialect of Goa'uld that there are only two of us on this planet who could possibly translate. And I really don't think hurting me in new and interesting ways is going to make me feel any more co-operative, Trevalyn. I think it's much more likely to piss me off. And incidentally, I would love to see the paperwork on some of those artifacts in your…china cabinet there because I swear that Horus pendant used to be in the Metropolitan. And I have a feeling the provenance for some of these paintings wouldn't be too kosher either."
He'd thought one of the advantages to having short hair would be that people didn't get to drag you around by it, but that obviously didn't follow as the soldier grabbed a good handful and hauled him along the length of the rug before forcing him face down in front of Trevalyn. Someone else who seemed to think he was a god. He heard the soldier say, "Do you want me to…?"
"No." Trevalyn's voice was cool and incisive. "I think it's time we showed Doctor Jackson what we want him to translate. And as he has expressed an interest in my collection, I don't think it would be a bad idea if we also showed him some of the other…artifacts we have been fortunate enough to have come into our possession."
Spitting out a mouthful of rug, Daniel said shortly, "Artifacts that you stole, Trevalyn. You're a thief. You just happen to be a really, really rich one." He grunted with pain as he was hauled to his feet. He found the other soldier was already there. Oh great, a two-man escort. He felt their fingers twisting in the wet cloth of his jacket. They never seemed to grasp the fact he actually walked a lot better when he wasn't being dragged.
Trevalyn got to his feet, brushing off some microscopic dust particles from his beautiful gray suit as he did so. Daniel noticed the way the creases just fell out of it as the man stood up and he had to admit he was impressed. None of his suits did that. Well, neither of his suits did that. Nor did the one Jack had lent him which didn't really fit. Sam was always trying to persuade him to buy a new suit but he suspected one like Trevalyn's probably cost more than he would ever want to pay. Trevalyn glanced at his watch and Daniel would have been amazed if it hadn't been a Rolex. The man frowned. "It wouldn't do to miss dinner. I'd hate to hurt cook's feelings. We can look at the artifacts later." He nodded to the soldiers. "Bring him."
So far, I have to say Makepeace seems to be on the level. He's certainly acting like a guy who's very glad to be breathing clean air again and at the same time is also trying to remember the route to a house he was taken to by accident more than a year ago.
We've tried to be what Carter calls 'scientific' about it, which as far as I can tell is where you make gut instinct guesses then try to come up with some explanation for them. She's stayed at the Mountain liaising between the aerial recognizance helicopters, the SGC teams that have been mobilized, all the varying police reports that might or might not have some significance, and trying to match all of the above to the sketchy report Makepeace gave us. But with Aspen over to the east and the Rockies right on our doorstep, rich people, big houses, and trees are not an endangered species around here and there is one hell of a lot of ground to cover.
Teal'c's accompanied me, wedged into the back of the jeep with a zatgun held in readiness in case Makepeace tries anything. He hasn't said a word in three hours. A silent Jaffa is not usually a happy Jaffa which right now suits me fine. I want the people who took Daniel to pay big time for what they've almost certainly been doing to him for the last two and half days and I don't know a better man for the job than Teal'c.
Before we set out from the SGC, Makepeace described what he remembered of the house: the sweeping lawn, the cedars, forest nearby. He gave us a rough idea of how long he was in the city before he hit the countryside and anything he passed. It was a long drive, he said. A long drive. And we haven't even got started on the right route yet. There were six areas that looked like possibles from his description so there's an SGC team driving around quartering each one, and a helicopter in the sky taking aerial photographs to try and come up with something that matches what he remembers. Carter, like I said, got the job of co-coordinating everything and good luck to her because five minutes of that would give me the migraine to end all migraines…And Daniel has now been a prisoner of whoever is holding him for fifty six hours and counting. For six of which I have been driving my jeep around while Makepeace says, "Make a left here…. Try down there. Make a right…. No, this isn't it…. Let's start again…."
I really don't think he's screwing with us. I think he's doing the best he can. Which is why I'm trying to be patient but, by my calculations, Daniel has now been a prisoner for fifty-six hours twelve minutes and counting and it takes about four seconds to break a human bone if you apply the right kind of pressure. Of course it takes even less time than that to pull the trigger of a gun, but I'm not thinking about that right now. It's not helping that as far as Makepeace is concerned Daniel cracked about fifty hours ago and has now finished his translation and is locked up tight in a holding cell eating a sandwich and having a cup of coffee. He keeps giving me these puzzled little frowns and saying, "They're not going to keep hurting him once he's done what they want, O'Neill."
Gritting my teeth, I stared fixedly at the road ahead. "Anything look familiar to you?"
"Let's go back to that last junction and make a left this time."
He shrugged but gave me another sideways look. "O'Neill, did you hear what I said?"
"I heard you."
"So, why are you still so pissy?"
"Daniel won't tell them squat, Makepeace." I was careful not to meet Teal'c's eyes as I said it quietly, trying to give each word equal weight. "He will never tell them anything no matter what they do to him, which, if they got their intelligence on him from reports you were sending back, is going to come as a hell of a shock to them. Which means by now they're running badly behind schedule and they're going to start cutting corners to get results. Which means Daniel is in serious trouble and we need to find him quickly."
"Jack, I understand your loyalty to a teammate but…."
I held up a hand. "For a start, Makepeace, Daniel isn't a 'teammate', Daniel's a friend. And next up – don't say it, okay? You don't know him. I do. And I know they're kicking the crap out of him right now, so will you please try to remember the way you were taken?" I didn't add that I reckoned he had about four more words in the friendly bank before Teal'c pulled the trigger on that zat gun, but I did give Teal'c a warning look, trying to remind him with just my eyebrows Makepeace was our best chance of getting Daniel back alive. Teal'c made a quiet sort of rumbling noise like one of those volcanoes that are supposed to be dormant then erupt the hell all over everyone, but he didn't actually pull the trigger.
We drove back to the junction and I took a left this time. Makepeace was still frowning but I ignored him. Right now I almost wish I didn't know Daniel so well. Then I could tell myself Makepeace was right, but I know him probably a little better than I know myself, and he is stubborn beyond belief. He also has very firm ideas about weapons and who has the right to use them. Daniel would give a Goa'uld weapon to a military splinter group about as willingly as he would give a bottle of sulfuric acid to a toddler. To be honest, if pushed I think Daniel would probably say that, just as anyone who wants to go into politics should automatically be debarred from becoming a politician, so anyone who wants to be a soldier should never be allowed to have a gun. He doesn't even think the official NID have the right to exist. He thinks Area 51 is an abomination, and always talks about the Freedom of Information act every time anyone mentions the place; so an even more secret, answerable to no one group co-founded by Harold Maybourne – whom Daniel despises almost as much as he despises most Goa'uld – running around doing military things with Goa'uld weaponry is not a scenario Daniel is ever going to be able to get behind. That's the point, you see. This isn't just about an unprepared civilian being leaned on by a bunch of professional heavies to do a job for them; this is about an educated man with principals being told to break them. And that's something I just can't see Daniel agreeing to whatever the hell they do to him.
I darted a begging look at Makepeace, willing him to recognize something, anything, and for the first time he sat up straight in his seat and looked around with more interest. "Okay, I think this is more like it, O'Neill."
I reached for the handset straight away and called Carter. "Makepeace thinks we might be on the right road this time." I glanced back at Makepeace. "You said you went past a church, right? A church with a weathercock?"
I could hear Carter already hitting the keys on her computer, calling up aerial shots of the city, zeroing in on churches, giving me options. St Somebody's. St Somebody Else…. All those damned martyrs. All those poor bastards who died for their beliefs so many centuries ago. All those innocents tortured and murdered because they wouldn't back down, going to the stake or the wheel or the sword for the sake of something intangible and unprovable. I guess that's why they call it faith.
"That one." Makepeace stabbed at the screen at the image Carter had sent him of a church with a weathercock.
"St Luke's," she told me through the headset, giving me directions with a little hope wrapped around them as I heard her trying and failing to keep the excitement from her voice.
I looked at my watch. Fifty-seven hours. Hang in there, Daniel. This time we're really coming.
"Are you hungry, Doctor Jackson?"
Daniel swallowed. His teeth had finally stopped chattering and the shivering had faded to manageable levels. His stomach felt like someone had wrapped an iron band around it then pulled it tight before kicking him hard in the solar plexus. Given the amount of cold water they'd been throwing on him the last few days he was astonished at how thirsty he felt. He hadn't realized how hungry he was until he smelled the food. He'd been light-headed on the starvation highs until then, but now, yes, he was hungry. Nothing had ever smelled better to him than whatever it was in that silver bowl with the steam coming out of it. He wrapped his arms around himself a little tighter and said, "No."
He met the man's amused gaze unflinchingly. "No." Not even a lie. Because he realized now he wasn't hungry. He was starving. Famished. Ravenous. Hungry didn't even come close.
"Doctor Jackson. I have tried to make allowances for you. I have tried to…co-ordinate your persuasion so your usefulness as a tool in the ongoing struggle against the Goa'uld will not be diminished, but I now feel the time has come to…insist upon your co-operation."
Daniel looked at the white linen tablecloth, the polished mahogany table with its corners diagonally exposed. More lilies in a crystal vase. Perhaps the man was in mourning? He was torn between snatching a piece of bread and swallowing it whole and laying his head down on the cloth and closing his eyes. An elbow jabbed into his ribs made him sit up with a jolt.
Daniel moistened his lips, swallowed, focused. "Yes?"
Trevalyn sawed delicately at a steak, removed a small piece, popped it into his mouth, chewed, savored, washed it down with a mouthful of red wine before continuing evenly, "If you won't co-operate, I am going to ask my assistant to cut off one of your fingers."
"Oh." Daniel looked back down at the tablecloth. Everything seemed to be happening a long way off and to someone else but he did still know that was a warning. In fact that sounded like one of those gears being moved up Jack had told him about. Time to move to stage two then. Time to start lying. He cleared his throat then muttered, "Maybe, I could just take a look at the…?"
Trevalyn smiled, one of those small satisfied smiles that always made Daniel's teeth itch with irritation. "At the artifact, Doctor Jackson? Certainly." He nodded to the soldier. "Escort Doctor Jackson to the relic room, will you?"
Daniel tensed as he felt the now-familiar hands seize his jacket and yank him to his feet. This had certainly got old very quickly. Jack was always telling him he needed to take an hour a week to polish his cheating and lying skills. That was what all those poker games were for, Jack always insisted, and yes, damned right they had to play for money. Daniel was never going to learn how to win if losing didn't hurt a little. As he was yanked away from the smell of hot meat and warm bread and oh-God-he-was-so-hungry, Daniel tried to think of an occasion when he had beaten Jack at poker. As he was all but thrown through the doorway into a wide corridor with a parquet floor and yet more rugs, Daniel remembered oh yes that was right, he'd never beaten Jack at poker. Not once.
Trying to remember a route you've only ever seen by daylight as night starts falling isn't fun. And in the moments when I didn't want to beat Makepeace's head against the windshield until it bled, I had a lot of sympathy for him. I don't suppose Teal'c and I breathing down the back of his neck was helping him feel any calmer either, but I did hope it might be keeping him focused on the problem at hand.
I looked at my watch. "Sixty two hours, Makepeace. No pressure or anything."
"Damnit, O'Neill, I'm doing the best I can."
Teal'c said something in Chulakian that sounded like he didn't think Makepeace's best was good enough. I had to agree with him there.
Carter's voice came through on the headset. "SG-6 and SG-8 have come up blank, sir. Have you made any progress?"
"Makepeace thinks we're on the right road," I told her. "He just hasn't recognized anything we've passed for the last half an hour."
There was silence from her end for a minute as she presumably tried and failed to think of something comforting. When she did speak again she sounded so choked up I realized I'd miscalculated. Carter was hanging on by her fingernails just as much as Teal'c and I were. "It's been…a while since they took him."
I looked at my watch. "Sixty-two hours and seven minutes since the phone company said the line was ripped out of the wall."
There was another ominous pause but then her voice came through a little shaky but definitely stronger. The same way she'd told her father he wasn't going to die down in Netu. "You're on the right road, sir. You're definitely on the right road."
I took off my cap and ran a hand through my hair. "Because we have to be, right?"
I put the cap back on again. "I'm hearing you, Carter, loud and clear. We're on the right road, and we're going to get Daniel back. Tonight. Alive."
"Yes, sir." No one could have been more emphatic than Carter was on that point.
I clicked off the radio, put my foot down harder on the gas, and looked across at Makepeace. "You heard the Major, Makepeace. We're on the right road. Now start looking out for the turn-off to the forest you said you went through."
It was a like being in a private museum. Each room they dragged him through had display cases and cabinets filled with treasures he would, under different circumstances, have loved to examine. In fact, even under these circumstances, he would have liked a few minutes to at least see what Trevalyn had managed to accumulate. The soldiers were unsympathetic to his curiosity and kept yanking him past all those fascinating blurs with ruthless determination.
The birds' eggs were a pleasant confirmation he'd guessed right. The Minoan treasures were tantalizing. As were the Anglo-Saxon swords, which Daniel couldn't help coveting as he was hauled past them, craning his neck to get a last look at a blade with an odd bluish sheen that was very beguiling. The last room was devoted to Egyptian artifacts, and here Daniel did dig his heels into the carpet in a determined attempt to at least slow his forward progress.
"Wait! Damnit! Wait!" There was a steatite statue at eyelevel that looked so like Amaunet he felt his heart turn over. Sha're's breath-taking beauty, but the arrogance of the Goa'uld. The delicate nose, arching eyebrows, those almond shaped eyes…all so like Sha're, but the mouth wasn't hers, it was down-turned, immobile, pitiless. He swallowed as the room swayed around him and then realized what he was looking at.
"Tiye. Of course." Daniel wiped a hand across his mouth automatically, hardly registering the thin wash of blood it left across his skin. "Not Amaunet. Tiye. Wife of Amenhotep III, mother of Akhenaten, daughter of Yuya and Tuyu." He wondered if Sha're's ancestors had been related to that middle class Eighteenth Dynasty girl who had risen to become a queen and the mother of a king. Had Tiye wanted to be Amenhotep's queen any more than Sha're had wanted to be Apophis'…?
The soldiers started dragging him forward again, but Daniel grabbed at a table and held on tight. Not only was this room fascinating but this was the only remotely pleasant thing that had happened to him since the ugly twins had kidnapped him Friday night. They owed him five minutes to look around.
There was a blue and white shabti figure of Ptahmose in as good condition as the one August Mariette had excavated in 1881. Daniel frowned. Perhaps it was the little statue excavated by Mariette that had been in the Cairo Museum the last time he'd seen it. He wouldn't have put it past his captor to steal anything from anyone. His heart gave another lurch as he saw a carved box in the display cabinet. It was about ten inches in length and three wide, unremarkable really. There was a little drawer inside you kept the pieces in. You played with counters on the top, blue and black counters moving across little squares of bone. A Senet box. His father had taught him the game when he was a child and he still remembered the feel of the pieces in his fingers, the way the blue-green faience always stayed so cold to the touch. He'd described it to Teal'c once and been shocked to find how much the loss of it still hurt, a wound he'd thought healed over which had turned out to be an exposed nerve, a sentence he simply couldn't finish. He'd had to break off when the compassion in Teal'c's dark eyes became too much for him to cope with. Now Daniel turned away quickly only to meet another memory imprisoned in a display cabinet: a scarab sculpted from an amethyst so dark it was almost black. He remembered his mother holding one up in front of the lamp for him so he could see the deep purple glow of its stone. Her voice saying, "So, Danny, which god is the scarab beetle associated with?"
He murmured the answer now: "Khepri."
A six year-old Daniel Jackson, hating to have to admit to ignorance but even more eager to hear the answer. "I don't know."
"It was because he was a symbol of rebirth. The Ancient Egyptians associated these dung balls with the rising sun, which they believed was pushed over the horizon each morning by a scarab beetle. So these scarabs were symbols of rebirth and regeneration. Of new beginnings if you like."
He remembered her beckoning him closer, turning the scarab so the light shone through its center, revealing the hieroglyphic inscription buried in it like a secret. A secret he now knew as well. That shared smile as knowledge was passed on. Understood. Remembered.
Daniel swallowed hard, hardly resisting as the soldier angrily jerked him away from the cabinets. He'd lost so many of his parents' possessions. When you were a child, people didn't think you needed Egyptian artifacts. Well-meaning colleagues had taken them for themselves or given them to museums. They hadn't realized how much he needed to have those things around him; needed a scarab to hold in front of the lamplight like other children took comfort in a teddy bear. How else could he prove he'd once been something other than an orphan? That his parents weren't just something he'd dreamed?
As he was tugged towards the next door, he really meant to go quietly but the contents of the last cabinet caught his attention and he started struggling again.
"Wait! Wait!" Wishing vainly for his glasses, Daniel squinted at the contents of the last cabinet. "Are those canopic jars?" He struggled free from the hands on his jacket, grabbing the side of the cabinet to stop them just yanking him on through the room.
"Are you admiring my collection, Doctor Jackson?"
Daniel turned to see Trevalyn smiling at him from the doorway. The same smile he hadn't liked in the dining room. It didn't look any better in here. This time Daniel smiled in return. "Um…I hate to tell you this, Trevalyn, but these are wrongly labeled. You've got them as Twelfth Dynasty, but they can't be because the four sons of Horus were only portrayed with animal heads from the beginning of the New Kingdom. And they're not a set. They couldn't possibly have contained the organs from the same body unless the deceased had no liver. See – you've got Duamutef with the jackal head, Qebehsenuef with the head of a falcon and Hapy with the head of a baboon, but this fourth one should be Imseti who was always presented with human features but instead it's…."
"Get him out of here."
Even as he was grabbed and wrenched violently towards the doorway, Daniel couldn't help feeling he'd got a little of his own back there.
As he was bodily hurled into a long white-walled room with trestle tables laid out in neatly symmetrical rows, Daniel realized he was going to have to use the glow from that small victory to keep him warm for a while because he hadn't seen so much Goa'uld weaponry since he'd been on Apophis' warship as it was heading for the Earth.
There are a lot of good reasons why you don't do eighty along a twisting forest road after a high wind has brought down a whole load of trees. There are even better reasons to do exactly that when a friend is being held prisoner by someone who probably isn't looking after him any too well. However, you do need to have very fast reflexes and be prepared to wrench the wheel about, swear a lot, and rattle the hell out of your passengers. Well 'passenger' I should say because I knew without looking Teal'c never so much as blinked even when the jeep was leaning over on two wheels and death seemed imminent. Makepeace, however, had the set look Daniel gets if you make him get on a Ferris wheel: the 'I'm going through with this if it kills me' expression.
In fact, making Daniel go up really, really high doesn't actually kill him, but if you're unwise enough to feed him before you make him go on a Ferris wheel then he does throw up afterwards. In your jeep on the way home, in my experience. Which, as he pointed out, really served me right. But while I can just about deal with cleaning up after Daniel, I draw the line at cleaning up after Makepeace. As I felt the wheels spin on the pine needles then wrenched the jeep back onto the track I leant across and wound down Makepeace's window. "If you have to throw up, do it outside."
I heard an owl hoot as the scent of resin and encroaching dusk wafted in to mingle with the now familiar odors of human sweat and impatience.
Gripping hold of the door handle, Makepeace said rigidly, "At least we know we're on the right road."
"You said it was a long road, right?"
Carter's voice came over the radio right on cue and the fact she sounded excited told me straight away things were definitely looking better. "Sir, I think you're almost there now. There's a large house in its own grounds about fifteen miles west of your current position. You need to make a left in approximately ten miles, follow that road for four miles and then make a right through some iron gates. There will probably be security cameras and guards."
I nodded. "That's no more than we expected."
"General Hammond says you're to wait for back-up. He's dispatched three other SGC teams and he says they're half an hour behind you."
I noted and approved the non-committal way Carter managed to pass on that information. "Thanks for sharing, Major."
"We just heard from Washington. Maybourne is denying all knowledge of Daniel's kidnap."
"Well, that's a shocker."
"And they can't find any evidence to tie him into it."
There was a moment's silence in which I deliberately didn't meet Teal'c's eye. So Maybourne was guiltless in Daniel's kidnap, was he? Like hell he was. Maybe there wasn't a telephone conversation or a meeting connecting him to it, but don't tell me he hadn't known it was going to happen and don't tell me this wasn't payback for me fooling him.
Carter said, "Colonel, you have kept in mind these people have access to Goa'uld weapons, haven't you? Possibly other technology as well. Things we might not have seen before."
I said mock-seriously, "Are you telling me to be careful, Major?"
"Well, actually it's General Hammond, sir. He just pointed out that without Daniel, Teal'c is our only specialist on the Goa'uld language which makes him even more valuable than usual."
"Oh." No, she definitely wasn't telling me to be careful. No one was telling me to be careful. And maybe the Asgard hadn't picked me to go get the bad guys because they liked me at all. Maybe everyone had just decided I was the only member of SG-1 who wasn't irreplaceable. Great. Way to make a guy feel wanted and needed, Carter. I turned to look at Teal'c. "Apparently, you have to be careful, Teal'c."
"I will endeavor to be so, O'Neill."
Makepeace reached across and grabbed the wheel. "Will you keep your eyes on the goddamned road, Jack!"
I hastily switched off the radio and took back the wheel, giving Makepeace a glare as I pushed my foot down harder. Maybe I wasn't irreplaceable, but as far as I was concerned, Daniel was. Although I couldn't do a lot about him getting dented, I was damned well going to get him back before he became irretrievably damaged.
"Oh boy." He hardly noticed he'd ended up half-sprawled across the table with a meaty hand grinding the side of his face into the wood, presumably to deter any resistance. Even without his glasses on, he could recognize the dull metallic sheen of Goa'uld killing devices spread out along the length of the room in coldly gleaming rows. There were other things he'd never seen before. Daniel blinked. And things he had. Not all Goa'uld technology. Tollan technology. Asgard technology. Other technology from people he hadn't even met yet. All stolen. All with absolutely no business being here on earth in the hands of some unscrupulous paramilitary lunatic fringe group.
Daniel blinked. "Are you planning to start a war, Trevalyn?"
"We're intending to be ready for one."
"Against the Goa'uld?" Daniel straightened up cautiously but as no one slammed him back down again, presumed that it was permitted.
"Against anyone who threatens us."
"Who is 'we' exactly?"
Trevalyn gave him a cold glance. "You don't need to know, Doctor Jackson. In fact, you don't need to know anything at all except you are going to get very badly hurt very quickly if you don't do as I say."
The first soldier pulled out a hunting knife and held it up with a mocking smile.
Daniel automatically wrapped his arms across his chest; putting his hands up into his armpits to keep them warm and out of sight. He liked having all his fingers and toes. He was funny that way. He cleared his throat. "The…um…artifact?"
Trevalyn nodded to the soldiers, pointing to one of the metal shelving units lining the walls, and Daniel realized for the first time they were also stacked with stolen technology. Some of the things were too large to have been smuggled, proof Maybourne had been using the other 'gate to make raids for a long time before the Touchstone had been taken. If the guy wasn't such an amoral slimeball you'd almost have to admire his initiative.
The ugly twins were picking the object up between them, grunting as they carried it over to the table. They put it down very gently and then stood back. Trevalyn imperiously waved a hand. "All yours, Doctor Jackson."
Daniel approached the artifact carefully. It was about the size of a watermelon, but metallic, egg-shaped, of Goa'uld origin. Covered in hieroglyphs. He frowned. A slightly obscure dialect, certainly, but he would still have thought a good Egyptologist could have made a guess at the wording, particularly if he'd been given access to some of the work Teal'c had done for the SGC translating other Goa'uld dialects. It wasn't like everyone in academia was still using Budge.
Pretending to be absorbed, Daniel ran his fingers carefully over the glyphs. He still loved the feel of them: a language you could touch as well as read, write and speak. What a pity a race so arrogant and parasitic had adopted words so beautiful to be the means of their commands. Okay, this was new. He'd never seen one of these before. The translation really wasn't that difficult – he still couldn't believe they'd been rubber-hosing him for however many hours over something as easy as this – but this still wasn't something that should be in the hands of someone like Trevalyn.
Daniel frowned and took a step back. "Oh boy."
He looked across at the man and said carefully, "Trevalyn, I really don't want to get my fingers chopped off for asking the wrong questions, but I need to know where you got this."
"From a Goa'uld planet."
"Yes, but a planet occupied by a Goa'uld or a planet abandoned by the Goa'uld? A planet originally owned by one Goa'uld and then taken over by another Goa'uld for instance? Like Nirrti maybe?"
Trevalyn frowned. "I have no idea. What difference does it make?"
"Well, you have to remember the Goa'uld are not one big happy family. They move in on the territories of rival Goa'uld, and they would all stab each other in the back as soon as look at each other. This 'artifact' you liberated from whichever planet you stole it from is basically a…bomb."
"We know it's a weapon, Doctor Jackson. That's why we took it."
"Yes, but it's a bomb that is ticking." Daniel moved his finger across to point out the inscription without actually touching it. " 'Submit or Die.' That fits with what Teal'c's told us in the past about the way the Goa'uld operate. If they can't take what they want from a world, they destroy it. If the people of a planet oppose the Goa'uld who rules over them, he or she will murder everyone and everything. If one Goa'uld wants the territories of another, he or she will wipe out the homeworld on which the majority of the rival Goa'uld's Jaffa come from. They fight dirty, Trevalyn, and going by these glyphs this is a very dirty device indeed."
Trevalyn wasn't sweating. Daniel darted him a sideways glance to see. The man wasn't wiping his brow, but he was looking a little concerned. That was something. Trevalyn said with what Daniel certainly hoped was assumed coolness, "What does it do?"
"Well, as you told me, it's an obscure dialect and without all my textbooks to check it against, I can't be absolutely sure, but I would guess from the words I can understand we're probably talking biological warfare. Some kind of toxin that wipes out everything on contact with the atmosphere as soon as the bomb goes off. It could be in a vacuum or something but be activated by contact with oxygen. I'm not a chemist so I have no idea but these glyphs certainly seem to be suggesting total annihilation of everything. I don't know why it hasn't gone off yet and I have no idea how long it will be until it does, but I would strongly suggest that unless you want to be responsible for the death of every living thing on earth you find a way to get it to the SGC and ask General Hammond if he would like to send it through the Stargate to the first uninhabited world he can dial up."
Feeling like someone who had just delivered a particularly tricky lecture to a particularly hostile audience, Daniel took a step back from the table and looked around to see Trevalyn's reaction.
The backhand sent him reeling into the first tier of metal shelving, cold edges colliding painfully with his ribs. Still gasping with the shock of it, Daniel couldn't help flinching as the man gestured to the soldiers who closed in on him purposefully, the two of them looming over him with a look in their eyes that was a long way from friendly. He put up an arm to ward them off, but was grabbed by the jacket, cuffed around the back of the head, shaken threateningly, and then forced to his knees at Trevalyn's feet.
The man was rubbing his clearly stinging hand in annoyance. His tone was icy. "I gather you're not a poker player, Doctor Jackson?"
Daniel looked determinedly at the floor. He was scared now and if he looked up the man was going to see it, but he'd played the only hand he had as well as he could and for a few seconds he'd even thought he'd gotten away with it. He knew Jack would have had a Plan C and probably plans D and E as well, but that had been the only one he had and he just couldn't think what to do next. Trevalyn reached forward and grabbed his hair, pulling his head back, making him look at him. Daniel knew the man must have read how shaken he was when he saw the satisfaction warring with the anger in Trevalyn's pale blue eyes. Trevalyn said coldly, "That wasn't the artifact we were having trouble with. That was something which came through a year ago and which our own linguists managed to translate without too much difficulty. That was a test, Doctor Jackson. Which you failed."
Daniel swallowed hard. He had to think of something. Anything. Quickly. But all he could think was how he really wished Jack, Sam and Teal'c would come and fetch him please because he had run out of ideas. And he was, incidentally, cold, tired, hungry, scared, and hurting, and would really like to go home now.
Trevalyn released his hair contemptuously. "Do you think I'm stupid?"
Daniel swallowed again, not wanting his voice to shake. "I won't translate anything for you. I won't help you to do something I believe to be morally wrong. I won't –" He flinched as the man lashed out at him again, but the blow was disdainful and only skimmed his hair. Trevalyn had just wanted to know how close his nerves were to the surface. How jittery he was. Very, had to be the honest answer in both cases.
Trevalyn took a step back. "Which finger would you like to lose, Doctor Jackson?"
Daniel gritted his teeth and looked hard at the floor. There had to be a way out of this. A way that didn't involve doing any translation work or getting mutilated. He just couldn't think what it was. The shaking had come back with a vengeance and unfortunately it was showing in his voice as well. "You don't…need to do this."
"Oh, but I'll enjoy it, Doctor Jackson. I don't generally think of myself as a man with sadistic tendencies but there's something about the thought of hearing you scream that I find really very pleasurable."
Hands seized the back and shoulder of his jacket, hauled him up, dragged him across to the table, slammed him down on top of it. Daniel tried to keep his hands hidden, keep them under his body, wrists bent, fingers concealed, tried to grab hold of his jacket and cling to it…but they wrenched his grip free, making him yelp as they twisted his arms cruelly then slammed his hands onto the table, holding his wrists, forcing his palms down, fingers splayed. Eight fingers. Two thumbs. All of which he wanted and needed.
"Last chance, Doctor Jackson."
"Don't do this," said Daniel breathlessly. "You don't need to do this. It won't help. I still won't do what you want and the shock might kill me. If I die you don't have any way of getting that translation…." He had to swallow again hard as the soldier with the darker eyebrows drew out a hunting knife with a flourish, smiling at him unpleasantly as he ran a thumb down the blade, making a mocking show of wincing at its sharpness before smiling again. Daniel said desperately, "Trevalyn, you don't need to do this. I won't help you. Whatever you do to me, I won't help you."
Trevalyn nodded to the soldier. "Do it."
As Daniel twisted his head down, squeezing his eyes closed so he at least wouldn't have to see it done, an alarm began to wail.
Daniel gasped, snatched a breath, and waited, but Trevalyn and the soldiers seemed momentarily frozen. Then Trevalyn swore in annoyance. Daniel cautiously opened one eye. The soldier had hold of his wrist and the man's hunting knife was an inch from his left little finger. He really wanted to keep that finger if there was any way it could be done. He decided to keep very still and hope. The alarm was still screeching. Risking a glance at Trevalyn's face Daniel decided this was definitely not a scheduled fire drill.
"How touching," the man said flatly. "Your friends have arrived to rescue you. I don't think so."
Daniel was a heartbeat too slow. He saw Trevalyn reach across to the metal artifact and lunged out with his right arm, trying to snatch at the man's sleeve, pull him back somehow. He got a handful of Trevalyn's left cuff and tugged at it, but Trevalyn's right hand had already come down hard on the top of the egg-shaped casing. Blue light flickered up towards the ceiling and Daniel knew it was cascading down outside like a big top going up and no one allowed inside to see the circus. A localized force field in a can. He'd wondered when exactly the Goa'uld might find such a device useful and now he knew. As he slumped in defeat he simultaneously became aware the hunting knife was no longer hovering over his left hand and his right hand was still clenched in Trevalyn's sleeve. Seeing the look of fury on the man's face, Daniel quickly pulled his hand back, but this time the creases stayed.
Trevalyn looked past him to the soldiers behind him. "Take our guest back to his cell and distribute the weapons. Dispose of our unwanted visitors. Use the zatnikatels. It saves burying the bodies."
Daniel said desperately, "If you're really opposed to the Goa'uld then the people you've just given the order to kill are on the same side as you are, Trevalyn. This is insane. You have to see this is insane!"
"Tie him up," Trevalyn said shortly. "If he gives you any trouble at all, hurt him."
Daniel was dragged two feet to the left then slammed back down across the table for no reason he could see except to wind him, which it did very effectively. While he was still gasping for breath, his wrists were lashed behind his back with unnecessary roughness before he was hauled up by the jacket again. He couldn't help thinking what a tribute it was to Air Force uniforms that the stitching on this one was still intact despite all the misuse it had suffered. He was sure any other item in his closet would have split down every seam by now. The soldier more or less threw him at the wall then caught him on the rebound. He hadn't realized he'd been getting the kid gloves treatment before but he now gathered this was their way of telling him it was No More Mr Nice Guy for him from now on.
As he was hauled out into the corridor, he heard the sound of running feet over the relentless clanging of the alarm, but then he was being dragged along too fast to take in very much except for an impression of confusion, shouting, weapons being primed. Not too many soldiers, thank God. He ought to be trying to work out numbers so he could tell Jack when he…. It occurred to Daniel he had no doubt this was Jack coming to rescue him. Had never had any doubt Jack, Sam, and Teal'c would come along and rescue him at some point. He'd just been starting to doubt if it would be while he still had all his fingers and toes.
He was thrown into the elevator, bouncing off the hard metallic wall before being thrown out of it the other end. They dragged him along the corridor and threw him back into his concrete room. As he hit the floor with a bruising thump it was still as cold and hard as he remembered it; but after Trevalyn's weapons room he was just relieved to be anywhere soldiers with hunting knives were not. Daniel struggled across the floor and jammed himself back in the corner where he could feel the cold concrete seeping in through his jacket. His head was ringing. His ribs hurt every time he breathed. The twine around his wrists had found the old cuts and was digging into them with relish. He was shaking so hard he didn't think he was ever going to stop, but he still had all his fingers and maybe Jack had been inside the perimeter before the force field went down. Maybe he could go home soon. Aware of the camera watching him suspiciously, Daniel bowed his head, looked fixedly at the concrete floor, and hoped.
I knew I'd done the right thing in disobeying the general's orders when the night sky suddenly turned a beautiful shade of blue. I was just picking the lock on a side door while Makepeace told me all the reasons why we should have waited for back-up like the general told us when there was a whoosh and then a fizz, like someone had just zatted the entire area. Blink and you'd have missed it, but when I turned to Teal'c with an enquiring look on my face, he said, "These people have clearly obtained a pet-ineb-z'tar device, O'Neill."
"A petty-what?" I demanded.
"A localized force-field. We are now inside it."
I turned to Makepeace and said, "See? That's why I didn't want to hang around outside the gates waiting for reinforcements to arrive."
"Wonderful. Now we're cut off with no way out of here."
"But at least we're on the same side of the force-field as Daniel." I felt the lock turn and once again had reason to bless the United States military for teaching me so many useful skills.
"Unlike the three SGC teams who were only half an hour behind us, O'Neill."
I pushed open the door and risked a quick glance around it, zatgun ready. The corridor was empty. I looked back at Makepeace. "Daniel might not have thirty minutes. And, given that he has already been in the custody of these people for – " I winced at where the little hand was pointing now, " – way too long. I'm not gonna hang around outside the gates, okay? Now stop bitching and tell me what we can expect."
He grabbed my jacket and yanked me back, saying shortly, "I already told you what we can expect, O'Neill: trained soldiers who have been ordered to shoot any intruders on sight and who have access to weaponry far in advance of anything we've ever had at the SGC."
Teal'c strode past the pair of us, zatgun also at the ready, saying quietly, "O'Neill, let us retrieve Daniel Jackson."
Giving Makepeace a 'you want to argue with him?' look, I followed Teal'c. After a fractional hesitation Makepeace followed me.
We all figured Daniel was probably going to be somewhere in the basement level, but this was a hell of a big building, and there were an awful lot of locked rooms. Splitting up made sense. Letting Makepeace wander off when his loyalty was what I think could definitely be called 'divided' did not. Teal'c raised his eyebrow at me, I cocked my head at him, and we'd pretty well established he went left while Makepeace and I went right, and the first one to find Daniel got the kewpie doll.
The fourth door Makepeace and I forced revealed what looked like a lock-up for an Intergalactic fence. Trestle tables covered by a whole bunch of things that certainly hadn't been made in Taiwan. I tapped my earpiece to see if it was working then whispered to Teal'c we'd found a lot of stolen goods but no Daniel so far. What about him?
"Nothing as yet, O'Neill."
"Keep in contact." As I made to turn away I saw something that looked familiar amidst all the strange stuff and zatguns. Those nifty little wrist devices the Tollans wear that help them to walk through walls. I looked at Makepeace. "Do you know how these things work?"
He snapped one onto his own wrist as I did the same and showed me which buttons to press.
He gave me a withering look. "I thought you didn't approve of stealing from the Tollans?"
"I don't. Everything in this room is going back to the people it came from – except for the Goa'uld stuff which we'll keep – but I'm sure the Tollans won't mind us using their technology in an emergency as long as we give it back to them afterwards."
The alarms were still going off everywhere and I could hear the sound of gunfire, which meant the cavalry had probably arrived but couldn't get in. I decided that silence was no longer golden and began to bang on each locked door we passed, yelling, "Daniel! Daniel, are you in there?"
Each time I hit the door and said his name, I waited, hoping to hear him yelling mine right back at me. Each time when all I got in reply was silence, my heart sank a little lower. He'd been their prisoner for so damned long and all it would take was for someone to get careless, a bit heavy-handed, and Daniel went from being 'persuaded' to being dead.
"Daniel!" Damnit, Daniel, don't even think about being dead. Be alive, Daniel. Anything else we can fix. But being dead is kind of permanent. "Daniel…?" I looked at Makepeace. "Don't suppose you ever stole a sarcophagus, did you?"
Makepeace shook his head. "Maybourne wanted one. I think he liked the idea of living forever. But NID lost the second 'gate before they could get one through and that wasn't exactly something we could smuggle back in someone's pack."
Okay, Dannyboy, then you definitely have to be alive. I hammered on the next door. "Daniel…? Be in there, damnit, Daniel. Where the hell…?"
I stared at Makepeace. "Did you hear that?"
I didn't like the sound of that crack in his voice. I said quickly, "I'm here, Daniel. Hang in there. We're going to get you out." I hit my radio. "Teal'c, I've found him. Don't know what kind of shape he's in, but he's definitely alive."
"I am on my way, O'Neill."
And I just knew he'd be running too. I tried the door handle but this wasn't the kind of lock you could pick. It was the sort where steel bolts shoot across and it would take a hand grenade to even dent the paneling. I looked at Makepeace. "Guess it's time to try that walking through walls stuff."
Makepeace looked about as enthusiastic as I felt, but to get to Daniel I would have tried walking through the damned wall even without a Tollan device on my wrist, and although Makepeace wasn't as motivated, I think he felt a little responsible all the same.
Walking through solid objects is…well, let's just say I don't think it's the kind of experience that's likely to grow on you. I mean there are fun ways to spend an evening, and then there's walking through walls. Just imagine a whole platoon marching over your grave and that's pretty much what it feels like. But I didn't have much time to think about how weird that sensation was because before I knew it, I was inside a dingy little concrete room with a video camera staring straight at me just asking to be zatted. Then I saw Daniel.
He was jammed into the corner, half-swallowed up by shadows but recognizably Daniel and recognizably alive albeit still wearing his BDUs, t-shirt and jacket, his hands tied behind his back, his feet bare and filthy. As I rushed over there, he flinched, shoulders hunching up automatically, then gave me an apologetic little wince of a smile that told me even better than the bruises what kind of a time he'd been having. I sank down next to him slowly. "Oh Christ, Daniel." I didn't actually know where to start because he was such a godawful mess. "Oh Danny…."
As I stretched out a hand to examine a cheekbone that looked like it might be broken, he flinched again and gave me another flickering little smile, eyes deliberately not meeting mine as he said, "I'm fine, Jack. Just a little tired. Just…tired."
I could see he was practically whacko with sleep deprivation, starvation, the shock of being hurt on purpose, and then hurt again and again. I know the signs. I've seen them often enough. I've even seen them in the mirror. On a kind of deranged automatic pilot where you just keep struggling on, resisting, surviving, and try not to think about anything at all that might let doubt or fear creep in. There was still dried blood in his hair from the cut across his temple where his kidnappers had hit him with the phone. He had bruises on his forehead, cheekbones, jaw. There were cuts across his mouth, while underneath the bruises he was white as a flour weevil and had the worst shadows under his eyes I've ever seen.
I stroked his hair back from his face, wanting to tell him how sorry I was they'd done this to him. He swallowed hard and I saw how close he was to losing it. To be honest I was pretty close to losing it myself. "We're going to get you out of here, Daniel," I said softly.
"Always knew you would, Jack." He tried to give me a reassuring smile but he was definitely only about a heartbeat away from tears. Relief can do that to you.
I gently eased him forward and put my arms around him, pulling his head in so he could bury his face in my neck for a minute. He was shaking with cold, fatigue, and reaction, shudders of it going through him. I felt his breath stutter against my neck as he tried to drag in the relief and the oxygen without letting out the sobs. I held him tighter, even though he was still tied up and kneeling on the concrete floor, knowing he just needed to know it was over. "Going to take you home now, Daniel," I told him. Silently I added And we're never going to let anything like this happen to you ever again.
Makepeace came over and crouched down by us. He started untying Daniel, darting me a questioning glance. "How is he?"
I stroked the back of Daniel's head and said quietly, "He's been tortured for three days, Makepeace. How do suppose he is?"
Makepeace finished untying the knot and pulled off the twine. I saw him glance down at Daniel's wrists and grimace. He got to his feet and threw the bloodied twine in the corner, deliberately not looking at us as he said, "Is he gonna be okay?"
"He's going to be fine," I told him. "Just not right away."
Daniel grabbed a deep breath and straightened back up, face averted so I wouldn't see his eyelashes were wet. He eased his arms forward painfully and wiped his hand across his face, still not looking at me as he said in something approaching a normal voice, "Where are Sam and Teal'c?"
"Carter's coordinating your rescue from the SGC but Teal'c should have been here by…." I broke off at the sound of footsteps. I wanted to think this was Teal'c but when I darted a questioning glance at Daniel the dead look in his eyes told me it wasn't.
He said with a tight little smile, "Sounds like one of the ugly twins. I presume Trevalyn's changed his mind and decided he wants me where he can see me."
I whispered, "Is this one of the guys who snatched you?"
I waved a finger at his bruised face. "Some of this his handiwork?"
He nodded again.
"Want me to rip off his head for you?"
He swallowed hard and I saw his face twist up as he tried to fight off the tears again. He hissed "Shit…!" and put the heel of his right hand up to his eyes.
I said gently, "It's just reaction, Daniel. Happens all the time in the battlefield."
"I'm not crying in front of Makepeace…." he muttered while glaring at the floor like it was trying to make him cry on purpose. He pulled another horrible face, which obviously wrestled the tears back into submission because when he lifted his head again, his eyes were dry. He put his hands behind his back before I had to tell him and jerked his head urgently at the far wall, clearly telling us to get out of sight.
As Makepeace and I moved back behind where the door would be opening to hopefully disguise our presence, I told Makepeace quietly, "This guy's mine."
I let the soldier get five paces into the room, which incidentally meant that I let him get about ten words into telling Daniel what he was going to do to him with that cattle prod he was carrying, then I hit him.
For the first time anyway.
I've never liked cattle prods, not used on either animals or people, but I have to say if you want an object to smash across someone's face so hard you break his nose first time out before jabbing him in the guts so violently you really hope he's never going to be able to snatch another breath, they're actually pretty damned useful. But after that I think they're really too impersonal, because there are times when you really need to feel flesh bruising and bone crunching in the way that only direct contact gives you.
I don't think anyone else's voice could have got through to me right then, but I'd been wanting to hear Daniel say my name again for so many hours, been chasing the echoes of it through every minute of snatched sleep, that even though he spoke quite softly, it still permeated. I became aware the guy I was holding by the front of the shirt couldn't technically be said to be fighting back at the moment. In fact, he couldn't technically be said to be conscious and there was a question mark over whether or not he was actually technically still alive.
I turned my head and looked at Daniel. He was standing against the wall with his arms wrapped around himself, making those defiant grimaces as he fought off another wave of reaction. He swallowed and then met my gaze, his eyes making a whole speech about compassion and how violence never solved anything and how damned tired he was and could we please go home now without us needing to exchange a word.
I said, "Daniel, if you want him dead, he's dead. Right now, you want an aerial strike on the whole damned house, I'll get it for you."
He shook his head. "I thought I wanted you to do what you just did, and I'm glad you did it, but I can't…watch it any more."
I dropped the guy I was holding and he slid down the wall. He appeared to be breathing but I was more sorry about that than glad because I figured the world could probably spare his continuing company very well. As I wiped his blood off my hands, I didn't feel even the glimmer of a twinge of remorse, but I wondered if anyone knew how much self-control it was taking not to just turn around and empty a clip into him even though he was unconscious and slumped at my feet. Meeting Daniel's eyes again, I saw he did. In fact, given that he probably knows me better than I know myself, and he obviously thought the emptying a clip thing was still a very real possibility, I decided I'd better get out us all out of there quickly before I did something we might both regret.
I reached out and took Daniel's elbow. "Can you walk?"
He nodded, sounding more like himself as he said, "I always could, they just wouldn't let me."
Looking down at his bare feet, I began to unlace my boots to give to him, but he put a hand on my arm and stopped me. He tried to give me a reassuring smile but it just hurt the bruises on his face and made his lip start bleeding again. Too low for Makepeace's ears he murmured, "Jack, this place is crawling with NID militia armed with zatguns and I need you to be a good soldier right now much more than I need you to be a good friend. You can drag me out of here by the hair for all I care. Just, get me out of here, and don't get hurt doing it."
I licked my thumb and reached across to wipe the trickle of blood from the side of his mouth. "I understand."
Makepeace had been pacing for a while, peering out around the corridor and shaking his head at the sound of gunfire. Now he looked across at me impatiently. "You two ready to go or do you want to get a room somewhere?"
As I turned to tell him how dead he was going to be any second, I saw that ghost of a grin from Daniel and stopped. "What, you think that's funny?"
Daniel coughed and dropped his gaze. "Sorry, Jack. It's just…your face. I'm sorry."
His shoulders began to shake, and I didn't think it was tears he was fighting back this time. I put my hand under his arm and began to tow him firmly towards the doorway. "Well, if you've had enough fun, I think I might try and get you home in more or less one piece."
"One piece would be good," Daniel assured me. "One piece was pretty much what I was hoping for." He gave a little shudder as he said it which his flicker of a smile couldn't disguise and I figured there was a lot he and I were going to have to talk about when he felt well enough for me to start coaxing it out of him. Some threats put down long roots.
I ducked my head out into the corridor and damned near got it shot off. "O'Neill!" Teal'c said it in that mingled relief and irritation you feel when your finger's been closing on the trigger a millisecond before you realize you're about to shoot a friend.
"Teal'c…?" Daniel turned and grinned in relief. I knew Teal'c was probably pretty much of a blur to him without his glasses, but he was obviously a big, familiar, comforting blur.
The look on Teal'c's face when he saw what had been done to Daniel though was simply murderous. "Who has done this…?" It came out as a really vicious hiss while he was striding over to us in about three seconds flat.
"I'm fine." Daniel reached out and patted Teal'c gently on the chest like the Jaffa was a big, friendly dog he didn't want bowling him over right now but was still very glad to see again. "I'm going to be fine, Teal'c. It's all…superficial." His tone was soothing and comforting, but as I followed Teal'c gaze to the hand that was touching him, I knew Teal'c and I were seeing the same thing: the scraped knuckles where they'd been throwing him around while his hands were tied behind his back and he'd been hitting hard surfaces, and the bruised bleeding places on his wrists where they'd tied Daniel up so tight the cords had bitten into his flesh. Neither of which was making me feel either soothed or comforted, and as Teal'c and I exchanged an eloquent glance, I didn't see any evidence it was making him feel any happier either. Daniel looked between our faces uncertainly and tried out another reassuring smile. "Honestly, I'm not really…injured. It's just superficial."
I had a feeling that 'superficial' thing was a mantra Daniel had been saying to himself while those guys were picking him up and bouncing him off the walls. No permanent damage. Probably won't even scar. Doesn't hurt that much. Not much longer now. Been there, done that, Daniel, and yeah, it helps a little. A little.
Teal'c and I exchanged another glance before I took hold of Daniel by the upper arm and said as reassuringly as I could manage it when all I wanted to do was start killing people, "Okay, Daniel, let's get you home."
As we made our way along the corridor to the elevator as swiftly as we could given Daniel's exhausted, spaced-out and barefoot condition, Teal'c mentioned in passing he'd happened to run into a few of the bad guys. Well, about a dozen of the bad guys, none of whom would now be joining us for the post-rescue celebrations. I could see Daniel assuming Teal'c meant he'd zatted the guys once just as I was guessing from the look in Teal'c eyes we were talking twice here, and possibly even thrice. Daniel was telling us the layout as well as he could, trying to remember how many floors it was to the place where the rest of the stolen weaponry was and most importantly the room where the unpronounceable force-field device was kept. There was just the one elevator but we all piled into it, no trouble at all, to find a smear of dried blood on the back wall, marring our blurry reflections. Teal'c and I exchanged another look. I wished I'd killed the soldier I'd beaten unconscious.
Risking a sideways look at Daniel, I saw he was already looking better. He was still fairly zoned. If he'd been asked to make a cup of coffee, for instance, he would almost certainly have put the mug in the trash and the filter paper in the silverware drawer before ending up staring fixedly at the coffee beans wondering what the hell he was supposed to do with them, but as long as he only had to do one thing at a time, he could focus. He was using the last of his physical and mental reserves to be an asset and not a liability, to help us get out alive. Basically, Daniel was being a team player and doing it very well.
"…I didn't get a chance to look at many of the artifacts he had, but he could have some of those Asgard devices that make you invisible. He may have all kinds of weapons we haven't seen before. But I think I know how to switch off the force-field device. I translated that one."
"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said gently, "I am familiar with the pet-ineb-z'tar device. If you can show me where it is located, I can disconnect it."
"Oh," Daniel couldn't stop the relief from showing in his eyes that he wasn't going to have to be saving everyone's butts while dead on his feet, but his brain was still ticking even if it was a little slower than usual. " 'Pet-ineb-z'tar'? Something to do with the sky? A sky wall?"
"Daniel," I squeezed his arm to get his attention. "Stop thinking. Just put your brain into cruise mode, okay?"
He gave me a hurt look but I returned his gaze stolidly, waiting for him to get what I was telling him, to click he wasn't just Doctor Daniel Jackson, archaeologist, linguist, Egyptologist, and member of SG-1 right now. He was also someone who'd had the crap kicked out of him who should have been in bed in the infirmary, pumped full of morphine and on a glucose drip. We’re actually pretty good at communicating by raised eyebrows and pointed looks by this stage in our friendship as he immediately proved by getting what I was saying and murmuring, "Oh," in mild surprise.
I patted him on the shoulder. "Sit this one out, Daniel, okay?"
"Okay…." He darted me another little sideways look and I was more relieved than I wanted to admit even to myself he was still Daniel under all those bruises. Perhaps that was what he'd been trying to tell Teal'c and me when he gave us that 'superficial' speech. "But you'll be sure to yell if you need my help?"
As the elevator got near to our floor, I nodded to Teal'c and pushed Daniel into the corner at the front of the elevator, wedging him into the fourteen inches of cover before planting my body firmly in front of his. He opened his mouth to make a smartass remark, probably about expecting an engagement ring at least after this, but after a warning look from me put his teeth back together again. As the elevator doors opened, Teal'c and I both reached around and started firing. There was the comforting swoosh of zatblasts finding their targets and bodies thudding as they hit the floor, then silence. I risked a look around the edge of the elevator, expecting a zatblast back in payment. Somewhat to my surprise, we'd taken out all four guards with our first volley, winning ourselves a nice little empty corridor in the process. Damn, but we were getting good at this.
Teal'c strode impassively out of the elevator and stepped over the unconscious soldiers, the contemptuous glance he directed at them having 'amateurs' written all over it. Daniel, clearly completely grasping his new role as 'injured passenger for the trip', immediately bent down, winced as the movement hurt his ribs, wrapped his left arm around his guts, then snatched up a zat gun. Makepeace gave him a look of surprised approval as he also picked one up. General Hammond had given me very explicit instructions about Makepeace not being armed, but I have a personal code about taking someone into a situation where he stands a very good chance of getting his head shot off and not letting him carry a weapon. I pretended not to notice but hoped I wasn't rewarded by being disintegrated sometime soon.
I kept one hand on Daniel's arm, just to stop him weaving about too obviously and to lend him a little support. The fact he let me proved he was feeling a lot more shaky than he was letting on.
Makepeace zatted a security camera like he enjoyed the experience then said conversationally, "So, Jackson? The weapon Trevalyn wanted your help with? What does it do?"
Daniel said, "I don't know."
Makepeace gave him a look of irritation. "Look, I know you're not a soldier, but you must have some idea. What did it say? What can we expect to be up against here?"
Daniel and I both stopped in our tracks. Teal'c was more graceful about it but the way he turned his head was still ominous: think bird of prey just having sighted something small and furry and you're pretty much there. I said between my teeth, "Daniel didn't tell them squat, Makepeace. The only damned weapon in the building we don't have to worry about is the one Trevalyn needed Daniel's help to get working."
"Oh, come on, O'Neill," said Makepeace impatiently, "enough with the loyalty thing. I can see the kid put up a hell of a fight and all credit to him, but there's no way he held out for sixty-eight hours against…."
Teal'c was actually there before me and as no one can loom menacingly like Teal'c, I left him to it. He said softly, "Colonel Makepeace, I have no wish to injure you, but if you continue to speak of this matter, I will be forced to take action."
Makepeace's mouth shut with a sound like a gin trap closing. Nodding in satisfaction, I reached for Daniel without looking at him, took him by the arm again and began to pull him gently down the corridor. He was stumbling a little now, the exhaustion really kicking in, and I glanced back to see how he was doing. He had his mouth open. I frowned. "You okay, Daniel?"
He said, "You knew I hadn't told them anything?"
"Of course I knew."
"You didn't think even for a minute that I might have told them something?"
I stared at him in surprise. "No, of course I didn't. I know you’d never crack. You're not the type. You're a stubborn son-of-a-bitch on a good day, and when people get you pissed off, you're even worse."
Daniel said, "Teal'c?"
Teal'c didn't even look round, striding on down the corridor as he rumbled imperturbably, "Neither Major Carter, Colonel O'Neill, nor myself ever believed you would co-operate with your captors in any way, Daniel Jackson."
Daniel swallowed quickly and looked at the rug in the hallway like it was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen. Too low for anyone but me to hear, he murmured, "I wasn't sure, Jack."
"You don't know yourself like we do," I told him.
"I tried the bluffing thing," he added.
I could tell by his tone it hadn't been a resounding success, which, given the way Daniel plays poker, wasn't altogether a surprise. "That was good thinking," I said encouragingly.
"It didn't work."
"Sometimes it doesn't, but it usually takes up a little time. Sometimes time is all you need. You did your job, Daniel."
He frowned. "My job?"
"You kept yourself alive and in one piece until we could come find you. And you didn't tell the enemy a damned thing."
Daniel opened his mouth to say something and then went, "Oh – in here." He'd slipped out of my grasp and bounced through the open doorway before I had time to grab him. I lunged after him, pushed him behind me and scanned the room for hostiles. And okay, normally one has to be a lot more tactful than that with Daniel and the whole him-not-being-a-soldier thing, but I figured that today he was too out of things to either notice or care, and I was obviously right because he didn't give me even the hint of one of those resentful sideways looks. Luckily, the room was full of things but no people. Not alien things, this time. Old, dead, earthbound stuff.
Despite the quadruple-glazed windows, I could still hear the sound of yelling and shooting. Teal'c crossed to the window and looked outside. He said calmly, "Reinforcements have definitely arrived, O'Neill, but their weapons are unable to breach the pet-ineb-z'tar field."
Daniel was staring at the things in the cabinets in fascination. I tried to tell myself he was stopping halfway through a dangerous mission to admire the scenery only because he hadn't slept in God knows how long and was probably a little concussed, but in my heart I knew he'd have been exactly the same even if in perfect health. I decided to at least pretend it was the concussion making him act this way and took hold of his arm again before towing him gently but very firmly in the direction of the next doorway.
I had to be ruthless through the next six rooms. Daniel kept turning his head to take one last look at things I was hauling him away from while keeping up a little chorus of, "But, Jack…please…just a minute…. Would it hurt to…isn't that a…that has to be a…." while I just kept saying, "No, Daniel. No. No, Daniel. No. No, Daniel…." I've found in the past one can use 'Later' or 'Perhaps' or 'We'll see', but they're never quite as effective as a constant stream of firm negatives backed up by a strong tug on the jacket or arm.
Makepeace was looking at us like we were nuts while Teal'c wasn't paying any attention whatsoever, which unfortunately gave the impression that we do this a lot, which was making Makepeace look at us like we were even more nuts…. And it was actually something of a relief when half a dozen soldiers armed with exciting new alien weaponry turned up and tried to kill us.
I shoved Daniel behind a cabinet thing and told him to keep his head down. He gave me one of his best 'like I need to be told that' looks before immediately putting his head up to get a better glimpse of some sword on the wall. I shoved him back on the rug and said, "Head down, Daniel." By which time, Teal'c and Makepeace between them had zatted the hell out of everyone apparently without breaking into a sweat. When I turned around to see if Daniel was okay, he had his head up again and was squinting at that sword like it was a long-lost relative. I sighed. "Daniel, please, I know this place must be like Santa's Grotto to you, but people are trying to kill us and we have to go switch off that force-field so we can get some reinforcements. Now will you pretty please try and concentrate on one thing at a time?"
Daniel looked duly chastened and said, "Sorry, Jack." He tried very hard not to sneak another look at that sword as he said it but I could see the effort was nearly killing him. I realized he'd gone through the exhaustion and starvation and pain barriers now and was floating somewhere on the other side of them. Someone who'd taken a big bunch of uppers followed by a whole bottle of downers then decided to have an acid tab, a bottle of whiskey and a wrestling session with an enraged gorilla could probably have got close to Daniel's present physical and mental state but even so I think he would have had the jump on them for weirdness. He shouldn't even have been on his feet, of course, and I hated dragging him around on a dangerous mission when he should have been tucked up in the infirmary being fussed over by Janet Fraiser. Well, okay 'fussed over' isn't exactly the Doc Fraiser way, but he should still have been in bed and asleep, not being hauled around after the three of us. If there had been anywhere safe to stash him, I would have stashed him, but there was no way in hell I was letting him out of my sight after this, probably forever. In fact, I was going to have him tagged the second we got back to the base so if anyone even thought about snatching him again, we could locate him in twenty minutes. I wondered if Carter could come up with something that we could inject straight into the bloodstream which would work off-world as well…?
I looked up to see Teal'c giving me one of his unreadable looks. "We should make haste."
Teal'c, Makepeace and I stepped over the zatted soldiers while Daniel tripped over the first one and then walked straight across the next two, not out of spite, just because he wasn't paying attention. When I saw the next room was done out like Tutankhamun's tomb, my heart sank. No way were we ever going to get Daniel through this one in a…. To my astonishment, he put a finger to his lips and pointed to the closed door at the end. "It's through there," he breathed. His gaze didn't even flicker to any of the Egyptian artifacts. He just stood there waiting to get his instructions.
Hiding my surprise, I nodded and looked around for somewhere to put him where he wouldn't get hurt. I pointed to the corner and made motions to him to go over there and sit tight then pointed at the doorway we'd just come through. Daniel's not that hot at the old military hand signals, but even he could work out I was telling him to stay where he was put and guard our retreat. I knew he must be practically dead with exhaustion when he just nodded obediently and did what he was told, zatgun held ready, gaze fixed on the door, totally focused. He was definitely running on reserve battery power now, and I was amazed he even had some of that left, but as long as he was conscious he was obviously going to do the best he could. As his best was more than good enough for me I knew our retreat was secure.
As I motioned to Makepeace and Teal'c to get ready, my eye was caught by something in one of the cabinets. One of the black beetle things Daniel always gets so thoughtful about whenever he walks past one in a museum. It's a little difficult to see the fascination in a dung beetle, but I guess it wouldn't do for us all to be the same.
I heard the soft 'chink' of glass touching glass and looked across at Teal'c. He was backing away from the one of the other cabinets with an expression on his face which on anyone else I would have characterized as 'furtive'. Seeing me frown, he gave me one of those level stares that banish all doubt and I shrugged, doubt duly banished.
When the three of us kicked open the door into the next room and burst through, I realized we had problems.
The first problem was the man in the beautifully tailored suit because I knew the type. He was the sort who never crack until the very last second but when they do it's like a nail bomb going off in a glass-blowing factory. The second problem was the shiny metal thing he was holding in his beautifully manicured hands looked like a Goa'uld explosive device. The third problem was the soldier at the other end of the room with the staff weapon he was pointing straight at me.
"Put down your weapons or I'll detonate this!"
The man in the nice gray suit had to be Trevalyn. And from the little Daniel had told me about Trevalyn, I already knew that I didn't like the guy. I also didn't need to make eye contact with him to confirm my first impression that he was scared and consequently dangerous. From the other side of the room there was the ominous sound of a staff weapon clicking, opening, and charging, but I decided not to look that way either. In the words of the late great Johnny Mercer, I preferred to accentuate the positive. Oddly enough, I didn't even have to look that far. There were a bank of little TV screens against one wall but every one of them was showing static. We'd zatted a few, certainly, but we hadn't taken out all of them. Some should have been showing something unless….
I looked to Teal'c, cocked a head in the direction of the TV screens, and asked a question with my eyebrows. He said, "Yes, O'Neill."
See, that was actually giving me credit for being a few jumps further on than I was. Something all my team have a nasty habit of doing if I don't pull them up on it. If I had a dollar for every time Carter's said 'I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this, sir…?' when I have no idea…well, I'm not saying I'd be wearing suits like Trevalyn's but I'd be a damned sight richer than I am. I cleared my throat and said, "You want to back up a little there, Teal'c?"
"Put down your weapons!"
I did flicker a glance between the sweating soldier and the sweating spook. Neither of them was looking too comfortable, but I've met with this kind of situation before. I could tell straight off these weren't the kind who had a problem with killing unarmed men; making hanging onto our zat guns come what may definitely seem like a good idea. I held up a hand and said, "Actually, no. If it's all the same to you, I don't think we will." I turned back to Teal'c. "I'm guessing fritzed security cameras…? Forcefield…? Connection?"
"Indeed, O'Neill, the pet-ineb-z'tar device projects a strong electro-magnetic field that…."
"Okay. Got you. Weird little guy in our heads we couldn't get rid of…? Carter said we could only do the electro-magnetic thing in a shielded room? From which I'm presuming this Goa'uld grow-your-own force-field doohickey doesn't mix well with electrical equipment…?"
Teal'c nodded. "Exactly, O'Neill." His gaze flickered to Trevalyn and I knew he was seeing what I was seeing: someone scared and trapped who had tortured Daniel and really deserved to die a horrible painful death, preferably the sooner the better. Teal'c continued so evenly that one had to really concentrate to pick up the contempt in his voice. "The pet-ineb-z'tar is used only by the most minor Goa'uld underlords because of its negative effect on other weaponry and communications equipment. It is utilized in cases of dire necessity, such as when an underlord has been defeated in battle and needs to secure his retreat."
"Oh, right," I looked around the room. "And by retreat I'm presuming you mean a way out that doesn't involve having to cross the impenetrable force-field you've created around yourself?"
Teal'c nodded, and I swear he was enjoying himself. "Precisely." His gaze flickered to Trevalyn's face and there was not just contempt but the promise of retribution in it as he said pointedly, "It is of use only to those who have a Stargate through which they can make their escape."
I saw that go home all right. I think Trevalyn had almost realized just how bad a tactical error he'd made in effectively boxing himself into a place he couldn't retreat from. Maybe the troops outside couldn't get in or fire through the field, but he couldn't get out or have his soldiers return fire either. All he was doing right now was delaying the inevitable and Teal'c had just really rammed that point home to him.
I gave him a chilly smile and I really hoped he read what I wanted to do to him in my eyes. I indicated the blue haze cascading all around the house like a continuous zat blast. "See, that's the trouble with setting off alien technology when you haven't read the instructions right. You should really have got a better translator in." I couldn't stop the last few words coming out as little needlepoints of ice and I did see a muscle tighten in Trevalyn's jaw. I wanted him to know that however scared he was, it wasn't enough. It wasn't nearly enough.
He held up the metal box in his hands again and I could see it was covered in Goa'uld scribbling. The kind of device Daniel would have been able to have a lot of fun with…when people weren't beating the shit out of him to make him translate it so they could rule the world. A thought occurred to me. If the security cameras had gone out when the forcefield was set off, Trevalyn couldn't know we had Daniel. He couldn't know how much we knew about anything. I lifted my zat gun a little and said, "I'm not going to beat about the bush, Trevalyn. I came here to get my team-member back. I don't give a damn what you're doing with all this stolen technology. That's between you and the rest of NID. I just want Daniel Jackson back. Now. And for your sake he'd better be alive and unharmed."
He swallowed then said, "I'll trade you for him."
I said, "I'm listening."
"Help me escape and I'll tell you where he is."
I looked around the room like I knew I shouldn't be doing this but I couldn't help considering the offer. "He's not here?"
Trevalyn shook his head. "He's at another location. But I can take you to him."
He nodded emphatically. "Absolutely. We needed his knowledge. It wasn't in our interests to injure him. I admit we may have…frightened him a little, but we needed his assistance. As soon as he gave it to us, we gave him the best possible care."
I met his gaze. "Do you want to give me your word on that, Trevalyn? You know…as an officer and a gentleman kind of thing?"
He didn't even hesitate. In fact, no one could have looked more convincing as he nodded and said gravely, "I give you my word, Colonel."
Teal'c and I exchanged a glance. I nodded my head at the soldier with the staff weapon. I'd already taken in that he was a big guy, bigger than Teal'c even, which made him about twice the size of Daniel. Turning back to Trevalyn, I said crisply, "Is he one of the guys who did the…frightening?"
The soldier met my gaze and there was the arrogance of the unimaginative in his eyes. As far as he was concerned he was standing behind a staff weapon and that made him invincible. "Damned right," he told me. "Not that it took a lot. Your boy scared real easily."
I gave him a tight little smile. "Well, Daniel's a scientist not a soldier. He isn't trained for that kind of thing." I knew this was the second ugly twin now. I recognized the mentality: someone else who'd definitely outlived his usefulness. The bloodstains on his jacket were another clue, of course. Daniel's blood.
I swung the zat gun around to point it straight at Trevalyn. "Is that the device you needed Daniel's help to translate?" When he didn't answer me, I looked at Makepeace. "Do you recognize it? Is it the one?"
Makepeace nodded. "Yes."
He nodded again. "Definitely."
Teal'c and I exchanged a look and then Teal'c was pulling the trigger on that zatgun so fast the soldier was a mass of blue light before he could even think about firing the staff weapon.
Trevalyn backed up in horror. "What the hell are you doing, Colonel? I thought we had a deal?"
I gave him my best movie star smile as I took a step towards him. "I have this policy about not making deals with liars and traitors. Well, it's more of a guideline really…."
He held up the box. "I will activate this. I've nothing to lose."
Makepeace said tersely, "Damnit, O'Neill. He's serious."
"He's bluffing," I said flatly.
"I'm telling you, I've nothing to lose!" Trevalyn was back against the wall now, fingers scrabbling at the hieroglyphs.
"That you have nothing to lose, I believe," I told him equably. "But as I know damned well you have no idea how to detonate that weapon because I know damned well Daniel never translated zip for you, I think I'll take my chance." I pulled the trigger then watched with pleasure as he hit the ground. The weapon landed on the floor with a dull clang.
As Trevalyn was writhing, Teal'c leaned across and banged down the top of the big egg-shaped object on the table before pressing a series of buttons in the side. The blue light beyond the window hissed and evaporated. The gunfire outside suddenly got a hell of a lot noisier.
I started as a second zat blast snaked across the room, enveloping and killing the unconscious Trevalyn. Teal'c and I both said each other's names at the same time in shocked disbelief then realized that neither of us was firing. By the time I'd spun around in confusion, the third bolt of blue was snaking across the room. Trevalyn vanished right before my eyes and although I wasn't sorry to see him go, I knew he'd just taken a hell of a lot of information about where the bodies were buried with him. I lifted my gaze to find myself staring straight into the eyes of Robert Makepeace. He said, "Sorry, O'Neill. But we all have our orders."
For a second, I thought he was going to kill me too, but then he tossed the zat gun onto the table and shook his head in disgust. "Civilians! A room full of weapons and he picks up the only one he doesn't know how to work."
That was when I heard the zat blasts from the next room.
Teal'c and I both hurled ourselves in through the doorway to find Daniel slowly lowering his zat gun and two unconscious soldiers lying on the carpet. I said, "Are you okay?"
Daniel said, "I'm fine."
Teal'c barely caught him before he fell down: not through a zatblast – he'd gotten both the soldiers before they'd got him – just sheer exhaustion. We helped him into the next room and Teal'c and I both automatically escorted him over to where the big ugly guy was lying down next to that staff weapon. I think Teal'c and I were both priming our zat guns as we did so. I said conversationally, "So, Daniel, the other guy who beat you up? You see him anywhere around?"
Daniel looked down at the unconscious soldier and I could tell by the expression on his face that this was the one who'd done the worst things to him. Probably the worst thing you could do to Daniel was make it obvious how much you were enjoying hurting him, because that wouldn't just cause him pain, it would upset his world view at the same time. He's never really been able to get his head around the idea there are people who get off on the suffering of others. I saw the muscle in his jaw tighten, saw his eyes narrow, saw him grit his teeth, then Daniel looked up at me with his eyes wide but expressionless and said, "No. I don't."
I returned his gaze levelly, tapping my zat gun lightly against my chest. "This isn't the guy who tortured you?"
"No." Daniel returned my stare for a few seconds, but then his gaze sort of drifted off around my ear somewhere. That's the trouble with being someone who is essentially honest. You never learn how to lie convincingly. Daniel has no idea how people look when they're lying because it's not something he's ever exactly practiced in front of the bathroom mirror.
Teal'c gave him a stern look. Daniel wilted a little but then bit his lip and rallied, not meeting either of our gazes but at least looking at the wallpaper in a fearless and undaunted fashion as he said stolidly, "I've never seen this guy before in my life."
There was a long pause in which Teal'c and I exchanged a look that spoke volumes. Then I shrugged. "Okay."
Daniel darted me one of his sideways specials, an assessing glance to see if I was buying. I kept my face as bland and unreadable as he'd tried to make his and, without being too cocky, succeeded rather better. He took a wobbly step towards the door. "So, can we go now?"
I let him get four swaying steps away, then Teal'c and I both fired at the soldier simultaneously. Daniel flinched, but he showed sense enough not to turn around. There was a moment's silence and then he kept right on staggering. I jerked my head at Makepeace who shrugged but did go after Daniel. Teal'c overtook him in a couple of strides and put his arm around Daniel's waist to help him while Daniel leaned in against Teal'c, dragging his bare feet like they weighed a ton. He was almost out of battery power, I could see; just wanting to be somewhere else, and preferably somewhere he wasn't awake so he wouldn't have to think about the last three days for a while.
I didn't look at the two places where those bodies weren't any more. I didn't look at the weapon on the floor that had cost Daniel so much pain, but I was very aware of all those pieces of alien technology spread out along the table that had already come within a hair's breadth of ruining the most important friendship I'd ever known, and had damned near cost Daniel his life. It didn't matter if Washington hadn't been able to pin this one on Maybourne. It didn't matter they'd supposedly taken Daniel for reasons completely unconnected with me screwing up NID's little backstairs operation. I knew the truth. I knew Maybourne had wanted payback, which made it my fault Daniel had been hurt, as it had been my fault so many other times when Daniel had been hurt. This time I didn't think all the groveling and all the boxes of chocolate walnut cookies in the world was going to make up for what he'd been put through because of me.
I bent down and picked up the staff weapon. I tested it in my hand for a minute then threw it on the table. It landed with a clatter on top of all those other alien weapons proving there was life out there in the process of killing other life on billions of planets across countless dimensions.
I needed to catch up with the others. I needed to catch up with Daniel. I needed to take him home just like I'd promised him. But as I passed through the room with the Egyptian artifacts lining every wall, I noticed the black stone beetle again, just sitting there. I smashed the glass before I'd even thought about it, adding a new alarm to all the other alarms already ringing throughout the house and grounds. I reached in and closed my hand around it. It was surprisingly heavy, oddly cold. I slipped it into my pocket and started to run.
They were waiting for me in the room with swords on the wall but Daniel wasn't looking at the artifacts now. The last flicker of light had drained out of him. He had nothing left; I saw it in his face. The adrenaline had gone; the reserve battery pack had gone. He was just someone utterly exhausted and in a lot of pain who knew people had died and were dying all over the place and was managing to blame himself for it. When I wordlessly pulled his left arm around my shoulder and slipped my right arm around his waist, he didn't offer a protest, just let me help him while Teal'c walked ahead of us with his zat gun at the ready.
As I helped Daniel limp down the wide corridor leading to the front door, I looked at Makepeace. "You know, I still don't know where your true loyalty lies, Makepeace."
He met my gaze levelly. "Where it always did, Jack. With the SGC and the struggle against the Goa'uld."
Daniel said quietly, "You can't serve Maybourne and the SGC, Colonel."
Makepeace said, "Jackson, I just did."
We walked out past rows of soldiers kneeling on the ground in silence with their hands behind their heads. At any other time I might have pitied them. I've fought for a few wrong sides in my time as well, so has Teal'c – it's an occupational hazard of being a soldier – but not today. Today I was reserving all my sympathy for the man limping along next to me with the gravel bruising his bare feet. There was still a lot of activity going on, scattered blasts of gun fire, a helicopter coming into land, people running around shouting orders, lots of different colored tape being used to cordon off areas. As I opened my mouth to ask him how he was, Daniel said, "I'll be fine, Jack." Then he looked at me and said, "You know it wasn't your fault, don't you? It had nothing to do with Maybourne, it was…."
"You did the right thing, Jack."
I looked down at his scraped feet as he hobbled along the gravel, I could feel the heat coming off his ribs even through his t-shirt where all those bruises were clamoring for his attention. "Did I?"
"I'd say Trevalyn made for a pretty conclusive argument you were on the side of the good guys, wouldn't you?" I could see he had a lot more he wanted to say but the helicopter blades were becoming more insistent, smothering speech. The 'copter touched down to reveal General Hammond waving his arm imperiously at some medics who spilled out of it, ducking low beneath those whirling blades before running our way on the double. Janet Fraiser was right behind them, ducking just as low even though she'd have had to stand on a stepladder to get decapitated even if she'd wanted to be, her heels spiking into the lawn and throwing up little divots as she ran. She looked anxious and was giving orders in her crispest voice. No one wants to cross Doc Fraiser when she's in that mood and those medics were really moving.
Daniel winced. "Promise me, Jack. Twenty-four hours in the infirmary, maximum, then you have to come and break me out of there. I really…."
"I promise," I told him. "Even if I have to kidnap you myself."
The medics overwhelmed us, gently disentangling Daniel from my grasp and putting him onto the stretcher. I heard him saying, "I can walk…." as they carried him off. I saw Hammond pause as he approached us to bend down and talk to Daniel, saw Daniel say something reassuring. Hammond gently touched Daniel's shoulder. I caught a last glimpse of Daniel turning begging eyes in my direction as they carried him into the helicopter and I drew a '2' and a '4' where he could see them before giving him a thumb's up.
"He looks bad." Hammond was glaring at the rows of soldiers like he wanted to start busting a few heads himself.
"He's tough," I said briskly. "He'll be fine. He's just tired and bruised. Nothing twenty-four hours in the infirmary won't put right."
"Twenty-four hours, Colonel? He looks like he needs…."
"Twenty-four hours, General," I told him pointedly. "I promised Daniel."
He looked around. "Where's Trevalyn?"
"Dead." I pointed to Makepeace. "His idea actually, but I can't say I was ideologically opposed to it."
"Colonel, did it occur to you there might be a good reason why I told you not to let him have a weapon?"
I said crisply, "And General, did it occur to you there might a good reason why I told you I'd only do what the Asgard wanted if you could guarantee my team wouldn't suffer for it?"
"Jack, this isn't the time or the place." He looked at his watch, avoiding my glare in the process, saying conversationally, "I've arranged transportation for Colonel Makepeace to be returned to his…current accommodation, and there's another helicopter coming to pick up you and Teal'c. Give your car keys to the – " I handed them over to the airman before the general had finished his sentence. Hammond gave a long-suffering sigh and patted me on the shoulder. "Colonel, why don't you go back with our patient? I'll wait with Teal'c for the other helicopter. He can fill me in on what transpired on the way home."
I was really in stand-on-my-dignity mood, but the chance to travel back with Daniel wasn't one I was going to turn down. I quickly unbent several degrees and tried not to look too eager. "Thank you, sir."
As I turned to go, I said to Makepeace, "Look – I'm sorry how things turned out, and thank you for your help."
"You're welcome," he said.
I knew there was a significant speech I should be making here. Some act of communication that should be going on between us. But nothing had really changed. We had still chosen different sides. We were still two men who'd never really seen eye to eye about anything very much except that the Goa'uld were bad and you didn't leave your people behind. So I said awkwardly, "See you around."
He gave me a straight look. "Unlikely, O'Neill."
Unable to think of an answer, I slapped Teal'c on the shoulder in farewell and turned to see Doctor Fraiser gesturing at me impatiently. Now that is a woman who has totally grasped military hand signals, and I'd never seen clearer ones telling me to move my butt. But as I sprinted towards the rhythmic wing beat of those turning blades, I was still thinking about Makepeace standing on the lawn waiting to be taken back to prison: someone who'd just carried out more of Harry Maybourne's orders and was probably going to get busted out of jail in payment for the execution of Trevalyn; but equally someone who'd now helped save Daniel's life three times running.
I found myself thinking of my chess-set: all those black and white squares, the white knights and the black knights moving in their own particular patterns. Little toy soldiers for bloodless games of strategy. Then there was Teal'c who'd once served the Goa'uld and now helped us fight them. And Jack O'Neill who'd once carried out assassinations for the United States military for which he had been paid a salary that could well have been described as a little blood-stained, yet was now officially Earth's representative to the Asgard. And Robert Makepeace, who'd done what he thought was right, each time, and was now going back to a room ten by ten because of it….
I realized that was just one of the reasons why I needed Daniel's friendship so badly. Because the only difference I could see between Makepeace and me, the one tangible proof I was a better man than he was, despite all the evidence that kept telling me I'd just been luckier than he had, was the fact that Daniel had given his friendship to me. And not just given it, worked at it like it mattered to him, despite the fact he and I thought differently about almost everything except the essentials of right and wrong. He'd proven over and over again that my friendship was so important to him that to keep it he would even put up with me.
As I swung myself up into the helicopter, Janet Fraiser said, "Oh, at last…!" I realized some days – and this was one of them – Daniel's friendship was the only thing I had which proved to me that I was one of the good guys after all.
It was made very clear to me that the only way Daniel was getting out of the infirmary within twenty-four hours was if one of us had a meeting with Doctor Mackenzie. When Janet Fraiser gave me the good news in her office, I stared at her in disbelief. "Tell me this is just a particularly sick joke, Doc?"
She shifted uncomfortably but met my gaze. "I'm sorry, Colonel."
"You said his injuries were…minor, right?"
It made me grit my teeth to say it out loud, but technically speaking, Daniel's injuries were as 'superficial' as he'd kept insisting. Daniel's injuries were actually the kind that read fine. You know, you're waiting to speak to Doc Fraiser. She's got a medical report open on her desk on a different team. It says: multiple contusions, surface lacerations, pulled muscles, tendon strain, first degree burns, cracked ribs, and you think Lucky old Airman Hunter or whatever. The guy certainly got away with it this time. Could have been dead and he's not even going to have any scar tissue.
But this wasn't Airman Hunter; this was Daniel. And this wasn't a medical report; this was a human body. And these weren't injuries sustained after a slip on a gully and a slide down the side of a cliff; these were deliberately inflicted, with breathing spaces in between, so the next time they walked in and started dragging him up by the hair, slapping him around, zapping him with tazers, or kicking him in the ribs, Daniel had been given plenty of time to think about how much the last session had hurt him and to dread the next. People had done this to Daniel. On purpose. That was the difference. That's why you aren't deemed likely to need psychotherapy if you fall down a mountain, but you are when you've been tortured. Hence the quibbling.
"His injuries aren't the problem," she sighed. Doc Fraiser didn't like the idea of letting Daniel out of the infirmary when he was still exhausted and undernourished and covered in all those cuts and bruises and burns, but she couldn't pretend it was life-threatening in any way to let him go and stay somewhere else. But she was balking at him not getting any counseling, and I could not get her to sign him out without him having a psych evaluation.
"No way," I told her. "No way in hell is Daniel being assessed by someone who has already proven himself to be incompetent where Daniel's mental health is concerned."
Doctor Fraiser shook her head and tapped her pen lightly against the desk. "Sorry, Colonel. Daniel was tortured. I can't just sign him out of the infirmary without knowing he's prepared to undergo counseling. It wouldn't be fair to him."
"Colonel, this is top secret program. There are only so many experts who have clearance…."
I held up a hand. "I don't care. Come on, Doc. The guy packed Daniel off to a padded cell. He pumped him full of drugs he didn't need. What could he possibly say to Daniel that would make Daniel feel better about what those sons-of-bitches did to him?"
She shrugged. "I'm sorry, but I'm not qualified to give Daniel that kind of counseling."
"You're a therapist now?"
I returned her gaze levelly. "I'm someone who knows how to get over being tortured."
"Colonel, I really don't think…."
"Are you honestly going to sit there and tell me a man whose opinion Daniel neither respects nor trusts and whose knowledge of the situation is in any case entirely academic is going to do a better job of helping Daniel through this than a man whose opinion he both respects and trusts, who has been through the same experience that Daniel is now trying to recover from?"
I saw her hesitate and I knew I had her. Logic, you see. Women can't resist it. You can always get Carter with it as well. They don't like it but they just have to suck it up because suddenly you're speaking their language and they just have to respond. Building on my advantage, I said firmly, "What's more, I saw the situation. I found Daniel in that place. I don’t have to imagine what kind of conditions he was kept in I saw them for myself. Just like I don't have to imagine what sort of men were working him over, because I got to meet them." I indicated the infirmary. "Do you know why this is a bad environment for Daniel to be in at the moment? Because when you come back from an experience like the one he's just been through, you need to be somewhere familiar and comforting. Now the infirmary might be familiar, but I sure as hell don't think he finds it comforting. In fact I would say it was a place in which he has no good associations whatsoever." As she winced, I continued remorselessly: "Come on, Doc. The only time Daniel ever comes in here is when he's hurt, having one of your far-from-pleasant examinations, or worrying about one of the rest of us."
"Colonel, I – "
I knew if I let her start talking, I was going to lose because she'd just end up convincing herself Mackenzie was still the right answer just because Mackenzie had a whole bunch of letters after his name. I continued quickly, "And because I got to see the room where they were holding Daniel, I know that it was small, dark, cold, and unfamiliar. Unlike my place which is big, light, warm, and very familiar to him as he spends just about every Friday night there, quite often the whole weekend, and has lived there for months at a time in the past. Now, he can't go back to his own place until he is way better than he is at the moment because that's where they snatched him from and it's going to have too many bad associations, but I see no reason whatsoever why he can't come home with me, right now, this minute." I looked at my watch pointedly.
"Colonel – "
"I can also tell you that in my – not inexpert – opinion, Daniel really doesn’t need to be alone right now, but he also needs his personal space. He needs doors that are open unless he decides he wants to get up and close them. He needs a lock on the inside of the bathroom door. He needs someone who will come if he yells for him but who will leave him alone if he needs to be by himself. He needs someone who is going to be there when the nightmares kick in and whom he doesn't mind crying in front of if he has to. He needs someone who will make him watch really bad movies to take his mind off things, who will let him eat junk food if he wants, and get him drunk when there is no other way he is going to get any sleep that night. Now, does that sound like Mackenzie to you?"
She sighed and clipped the pen wearily to her breast pocket. "No, Colonel. It doesn't."
"I know what Daniel needs better than any therapist, and right now, with all due modesty, what he needs is me."
She met my gaze. "You wouldn't see a therapist after your experience in Iraq, would you?"
I felt my face go shuttered, tried to stop it, but could feel the blinds coming down. "No."
"Well, perhaps if you can persuade Doctor Mackenzie you have made such a complete recovery from that experience you are indeed the best person to help Daniel, he'll agree to your suggestion Daniel is temporarily signed over to your care."
She wouldn't meet my eye as she said it and I hoped she was ashamed of herself. It was a low blow and I hadn't seen it coming. Of course I should have. She's been on at me for years to go see a therapist because the doctor in her can't bear the fact there's an empty box on my medical records which should have a psychiatrist confirming I am 'over' what was done to me in Iraq. Well wake up and smell the gangrene, Doc. You never get 'over' it. You just learn how to live with it. You learn how to live with the fact there are people like the ones who tortured you who do stuff like that to people like you, that it happened but it's over now, and you have to live with it without it making you hate the rest of the human race.
I glared at her but she gave me a quick, defiant glance in return before shuffling papers. "It's up to you, Colonel. Either Daniel goes to see Doctor Mackenzie or you do. Your choice."
Under any other set of circumstances, I would have told her where to shove it, but I owed Daniel this. It was ironic that when I’d been sitting across from him in my living room, seeing that frozen look on his face, the disbelief in his blue eyes at what I'd just said to him, I'd thought that was the low-point. That was the hardest thing I was going to have to do. Then when I'd found him…like that and known it was my fault he'd suffered everything he'd suffered since he was grabbed, I'd thought that was the hardest thing I was going to have to do. But this was worse. I'd have rather had all my teeth pulled than this. There was no one on the planet I would have done this for except a Daniel who had previously been packed off to a padded cell by the therapist whom he was otherwise going to have to talk to about all the painful and degrading things that had been done to him because I'd pissed off Harry Maybourne. And even then it was a close-run thing.
I said, "Okay, I'll do it, but you and me aren't friends any more, Doctor. And you'd better have Daniel packed up and ready to go by the time I get back. And don't even think about telling the general he needs to have any kind of evaluation before he's allowed back on active duty. You are not putting him on probation because Maybourne wanted payback. Is that understood?"
I was sure she'd argue it, start telling me the rulebook, but she didn't. She just nodded. "I understand." She reached across and picked up the phone. "I'll tell Doctor Mackenzie you're on your way, shall I?"
I would have liked to slam her door on the way out, but it was right by the infirmary and when I looked down towards the end bed, I saw Daniel was asleep. Gritting my teeth in frustration, I shut it very carefully. Then I went off to have my psych evaluation with good old Doctor Mackenzie.
Daniel still didn't know how Jack had persuaded Janet to let him out of the infirmary and signed over to his care within the twenty-four hours he'd begged for. When he'd asked Jack how the hell he'd wangled that, the man had shrugged as if it were nothing. Jack had impressed him even further by refusing the wheelchair Janet had wanted Daniel to ride in, saying, "Like the boy keeps telling everyone – he can walk."
Daniel had tried not to look too smug as he walked out of the infirmary, dressed in his own clothes Jack had brought him in from home. Admittedly, he was carrying an enormous brown paper bag of prescription medicine and handwritten instructions for his care and feeding from Janet, as though he was some exotic new pet Jack had been rash enough to buy, but he was still secure in the knowledge he didn't have to be psychologically assessed by anyone, nor did he have to have therapy. All he had to do was convalesce on Jack's couch until he felt ready to return to work. Out of all the miracles Jack had managed to work over the years Daniel had known him, he still thought getting him out of the infirmary within the day and with no strings attached had to be the most impressive.
He hadn't realized the whole mess was really over until he was actually in Jack's jeep, the man tossing him a bag of cookies as he turned the keys in the ignition. "Here you go, present from Carter. Don't eat them all at once."
Daniel peered into the brown paper bag. "Are chocolate walnut cookies on Janet's list of Allowed Foods?"
"Where is her list of Allowed Foods?" Jack held out a hand for it.
Daniel flicked through the ten pages of notes she'd given him, plucked out the Diet Sheet and handed it to Jack.
Jack screwed it up and threw it out of the window without even looking at it. "You didn't get to eat for what…? Three days? Now I'm not a doctor but even I can work out you don't need to go on a diet after something like that."
Turning around in his seat, Daniel watched the piece of paper being tossed in the air by a stray breeze before dipping dramatically to skitter along in the gutter. It felt as though Jack had just thrown the last four days out of the window. As though none of it had ever happened.
"It's not that easy, Danny," Jack said gently.
Daniel pulled a face. "I'm bored with being traumatized."
"I'm fed up with people talking about me behind their hands. 'That's the Daniel Jackson whose parents were killed in that accident in the Museum.' 'That's the Daniel Jackson whose just had his research grant rescinded.' 'That's the Daniel Jackson who had his wife stolen by a Goa'uld.' 'That's the Daniel Jackson who….' "
"Solved the mystery of the Stargate?" Jack said conversationally. "Arrived on an alien planet and managed to find a means to talk to the natives in about ten minutes flat? Saved the world from Apophis? Is a valued member of SG-1 as well as being a very good friend of mine?"
Daniel drew a vague circle in the air with his forefinger. "I was going more for the um padded cell motif there." He pulled a cookie out of the bag and broke it in half, showering his lap with crumbs. "I don't want to be that person any more."
"The valued member of SG-1 or the very good friend of mine?"
He gave the man a look of exasperation. "You know what I'm talking about."
Jack sighed. "I'm just saying you can't just make it all go away because you want to. I wish you could. But what they did to you is going to leave a mark. I'm not saying it's going to be permanent, but it's not going to fade overnight, so you might as well start dealing with it. Realistically."
"Everything they did to me was…."
"And I swear to God, Daniel, if you use the word 'superficial' in my hearing one more time I am going to get seriously irritated."
Daniel gave the man a reproachful sideways glance. "I'm not being a victim."
"Good for you."
"Daniel, you have no idea how this is going to hit you and neither do I. Let's just try and deal with whatever it throws at us. Oh yes and – give." Jack held out a hand and Daniel reluctantly put a cookie into it. "Thank you." Jack took a bite as he pulled into the supermarket car park. He looked across at Daniel. "As, on the – last occasion you came to my house you made it pretty clear you don't really like beer very much, tell me what you want to drink and let's go buy a crate of it."
Daniel riffled through the bag Janet had given him. "I think alcohol is definitely on Janet's Must Not Eat or Drink Under Any Circumstances List."
Jack held out his hand again and Daniel peeled off the sheet and handed it over. Jack screwed it up and tossed it into the back of the jeep. "Okay, so was that wine? Spirits? Lighter fluid? What?"
Daniel looked at the supermarket without enthusiasm. "I hate shopping."
"Everyone hates shopping, Daniel. But we have to eat, and the last few days I had other things on my mind except buying supplies. Anyway, normal people shop. You want to be normal, don't you?"
"Oh and victims don't shop?"
Jack got out of the car and beckoned Daniel after him imperiously, saying over his shoulder, "No. They're all shut-ins. They have to have their supplies delivered by middle–aged spinsters from the Christian Women's Guild. Now move."
Daniel trailed around the supermarket after Jack, thinking how much less traumatic it was having your molecules ripped apart as you were hurtled through an astrophysical phenomenon to the far side of the galaxy than trying to maneuver a shopping cart along aisles packed with produce and flanked by senior citizens. His bruises made him conspicuous and everyone seemed to be staring at him. As he reached up to get the orange juice, he saw the soldier with the dark eyebrows standing next to him and jumped violently, joggling the elbow of a woman getting apple juice who exclaimed in annoyance. "Sorry…." Daniel winced in anticipation as the soldier turned on him, hunching his shoulder in readiness for a blow…and then realized that it was someone he'd never seen before, a young man in a green coat who looked at him with a frown before moving off.
"Daniel…?" Someone's hand closed on his elbow, drew him gently back to the freezer. "That happens."
"What?" Daniel swallowed then focused, realizing Jack was looking at him with that familiar patient/anxious expression which meant he was behaving weirdly.
Jack moistened his lips and said quietly, "What just happened to you. You see the people who hurt you even though you know they're dead. It doesn't last very long. A couple of months, maybe. Could be a lot less. It's just a defense mechanism. Your brain has just learned a whole new set of danger signals and it's going to keep flashing them at you for a while to be on the safe side. There's nothing wrong with you and it's perfectly normal. Okay?"
Daniel found he was shivering again and wrapped his arms around himself hurriedly to disguise it. He nodded. "Okay." He could feel the tiers of produce getting higher and higher, the aisles stretching away to infinity. The heat in here was stifling and the music had a malevolent undercurrent. Beneath the tinny soothing top layer it felt as though something was hissing a warning at him.
Jack's hands on both his shoulders made him blink and focus on the man. "What?"
"Do you want to wait outside? In the jeep?"
Daniel could feel the tears coming back. Shit. Shit! Why here? Why in this place? There was nothing to frighten him. But he was afraid to go and sit in Jack's jeep in the middle of the afternoon in a packed car park. He was afraid that people would come and grab him and take him back to a concrete room where they could hurt him as often and as much as they liked. He pressed his hands to his eyes and felt Jack's arm go around his shoulders, pull him in against his chest, heard the man say, "It's okay, Daniel. It really is. This is normal."
With his face muffled against Jack's shirt, Daniel muttered, "Crying by the orange juice for no reason is normal?"
"Well, with me it was always the pet food aisle, but the principal's the same."
That stopped the tears in an instant. Daniel felt the hand rubbing his back, pause, then pat him gently on the shoulder instead. He looked up at the man in surprise. "You cried in a supermarket?"
"Oh, in a supermarket, in the bank, in the children's playground, in the park. You name a place I probably cried in it. Like I told you back in the house of fun, it's reaction. It happens. To everyone, Daniel."
"Oh." He had to admit that made him feel a lot better. Despite the way shoppers were knocking against them and exclaiming in annoyance or staring at them in open curiosity he suddenly felt a lot less conspicuous. "So this is…?"
"Normal post-traumatic-stress behavior in my experience anyway."
Daniel wiped his wet hands on his pants. "I was kind of hoping to skip the PTSD stuff."
"Well, it doesn't really work like that but at least there's no reason for you to go through it alone."
As Jack swung the cart around and began to head for the checkout, Daniel fell into step beside him. "I'm sorry I…"
Jack said, "Daniel, please don't apologize to me for anything, ever, okay?" As Daniel raised an enquiring eyebrow, the older man shrugged. "It just saves time. Otherwise I'm going to have to go through the whole damned checklist, such as – don't apologize to me for minding that I invited you into my home, sat you down on the couch and lied right at you. You're allowed to be pissed off about that. My reasons were good but that didn't make it a pleasant experience for either of us."
"You didn't actually 'invite' me into your home, Jack," Daniel reminded him. He caught sight of a jar of tahini and stopped by it. "I sort of – insisted you let me in."
"Do you want that?" Jack reached past him and picked up the tahini. He put it in the shopping cart. Following Daniel's gaze to the packets of couscous, he picked up two bags. "You want this too? You can have anything you like, Daniel. I always think people who've spent three days in a basement being beaten and starved ought to be allowed to eat fava beans if they want them." Matching the action to the words, Jack tossed some into the cart.
Daniel frowned. "Are you an expert on Middle Eastern cuisine or something, Jack? Because frankly I wouldn't have thought you'd know a fava bean from a hole in the ground. Do you…do you know what Ful Nabed is?"
"Soup," said Jack briskly. Seeing Daniel's pleased and surprised expression, he pulled a face and sighed. "Don't be happy about it, and please God don't be impressed. It's just a Special Forces tradition. Always learn to eat the food of the people you're killing."
"Oh." Daniel's face fell. He reached into the cart and plucked out the fava beans and the jar of tahini, not meeting Jack's gaze as he said, "Let's…just get a pizza or something."
"Yeah." Jack reached in and picked out the couscous, pushing it back onto the shelf. "Let's do that."
Daniel wondered how many people were currently sleeping on the couch in a house in which a wake had once been held for them.
Jack had gone to bed a few hours before but Daniel couldn't sleep. Jack had left the blinds back to stop the room feeling too enclosed – Daniel hadn't asked how Jack had known to do that – and he could see the garden through the French windows, rendered unfamiliar by moonlight, the greenery turned a bluish gray, the foliage swaying ominously. He still preferred it to the closed eyelid feel of the blinds. Too much diazepam in his system to let him sleep. When the tablets were working, he always felt the ache in his cracked ribs must be preferable to the muzziness, but when the pain kicked in again, he couldn't get away from it. It followed every breath, exhausting him, wearing his nerve-endings ragged, and they were already frayed enough at the moment. At Jack's mild prompting he would take the diazepam then promptly wish for a clearer brain once more.
Tonight he couldn't stop thinking about being dead. Not really morbid. But he'd been dead more than once, after all. Killed by Ra's Horus Guard. Revived by Ra in the sarcophagus. Declared legally dead by Jack so he could stay with Sha're on Abydos. It had taken months before any government department except the IRS would acknowledge his existence. Even now, whenever he tried to renew his passport or his health insurance there was a fifty-fifty possibility the person on the other end of the phone would helpfully inform him of his demise. Killed by Apophis. Revived by the Nox. Kidnapped by Nem, and the others made to believe Daniel had burned alive in front of them.
It had taken a while for him to realize he really had been considered dead for a while. Been mourned. When Nem had told him he had given the others the memory of Daniel's death, his first thought had been not that they would be grieving but that they would never look for him; and he would never be able to go home. Later he had been forced to reconstruct their mourning like someone trying to imagine what a bouquet had looked like from scattered petals left lying on the ground. The first night back, he'd gone home with Jack, unable to bear the thought of all that unpacking ahead of him at his apartment. When the glass had crunched under his feet at the back of the man's house, he'd look around in surprise. "What happened?"
"An accident," Jack told him tersely. "My hockey stick. The general's car window."
"Oh." He'd gone into the house, still dazed with lack of sleep and the residual humming in his head from Nem's memory device. He'd thought nothing of it when Jack had gone out and cleared up every square crystal of window glass with a dustpan and brush, just listening dreamily to the shivering sound of the glass landing in the trashcan. It had taken him a couple of days to notice the way Jack flinched when he poured beer into a glass if the foam rose up too fast.
Sam had told him how devastated they were by his death – she had stressed they had all been equally devastated – but he hadn't really believed it until he saw the film of the debriefing. Her tears had moved him to a few of his own, making him stretch out a finger to touch the TV screen, wanting to reassure the Sam in the film that it was all right, he wasn't dead, and she didn't need to be sad any longer.
He'd turned to Jack's part of the debriefing with a sense only of curiosity, wondering what words the man would use to describe the moment of his death; never expecting for a minute Jack would also be fighting back the tears. Watching Jack so very close to losing control in front of the general, Daniel had suddenly felt like a trespasser, stumbling across something he had never been meant to see.
After that the stray pieces had been given to him: a few words from Janet Fraiser about Teal'c refusing to be examined. A description by an airman of the way the other three had haunted the 'gateroom like ghosts hoping against hope he might be coming back. General Hammond telling him exactly how that car window had been broken. The way Jack started biting his head off on missions if the situation became even a little dangerous and Daniel happened to be more than ten feet from the DHD at the time.
It had taken him a long time to work out which jigsaw puzzle that last piece belonged to. He'd been trying to fit it into all kinds of different ones until the moment in the 'gateroom after Apophis had come so close to destroying the Earth, when Jack had looked up and seen Daniel was there. It was only after the man had practically crushed his ribcage with joy at finding him alive that Daniel finally realized how very much Jack didn't want him to die and therefore how very much it must have hurt the man to think him dead.
There was a time when he wouldn't have known what these latest events would have done to Jack. It probably wouldn't have occurred to him they would have done anything to Jack. He would have assumed that, as he was the one with the bruises, there was the proof that this had been done to him. He knew better now. Daniel might be the one who'd been abducted, frightened, and mildly brutalized, but Maybourne had used him to get to Jack, to point out how easy it would be to make one of the man's team disappear. The only reason Maybourne hadn't killed Daniel to make his point more strongly was because Daniel had knowledge no one else did. Trevalyn had probably become surplus to requirements as well. Daniel imagined, as the whole project had been compromised, Maybourne had decided to cover his tracks, offer up a convenient scapegoat and give back enough artifacts to make the SGC imagine they'd retrieved everything. Jack had probably been supposed to ask for Makepeace all along just so Makepeace could ensure Trevalyn was killed rather than questioned. They had probably all done exactly what Maybourne wanted them to from the moment Daniel had looked through his spyhole and assumed the soldiers outside had come from General Hammond….
Daniel looked up in surprise. He hadn't heard Jack come in.
Jack sat in the armchair opposite the couch on which Daniel had been trying and failing to sleep for the past two hours, switching on the lamp by his right elbow before saying quietly, "You okay?" He was still dressed. For the first time, Daniel realized Jack was wearing the same light pants and dark top he'd been wearing on the day Daniel had come here expecting to find the answers to why his friend had been acting so oddly and instead had found that apparently Jack had never been his friend at all. And now here was the same man sitting in the same chair. He even had a beer in his hand. But everything was different this time.
Daniel nodded. "I'm fine, Jack."
There had been nightmares, but Jack had warned him there probably would be. The hunting knife had figured prominently, of course, the soldiers, bonds turning into barbed wire to bite deeper and deeper until they cut through his wrists completely. It was okay. Jack had told him it was normal and Daniel believed him. The fronds of a potted palm half-glimpsed out of the corner of your eye which looked like a soldier with a tazer – apparently that was normal. You dreamed of being dragged by the hair through endless checkerboard corridors – that was normal. Or conversely you woke up screaming and had no memory of what you'd been dreaming – normal apparently. Vomiting without warning was normal. Crying without warning was normal. Suffering simultaneously from what seemed to be both claustrophobia and agoraphobia, in that every now and then you would start to sweat because the walls were closing in on you but when you went outside you felt so horribly exposed you would find yourself sinking to the ground and wrapping your hands around your head to protect yourself from the sky…all perfectly normal. Jack literally hadn't batted an eye even once.
Now he was looking at Daniel with an almost unreadable face. Almost. But Daniel knew this expression now. This was the anxious-but-trying-not-to-show-it face. "It's the tablets," Daniel explained. "The painkillers. I can't get the dosage right. At the moment they've got me comatose all day and on springs all night."
"That's why Man invented Television, Daniel, not to mention twenty-four-hour cable stations."
"It's all game shows, reconstructions of real life disasters, confession shows, and sports."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "What, you want more?"
Daniel nodded at the beer. "You got another one of those?"
"Yeah." Jack didn't move.
Daniel moistened his lips. "You feel like sharing?"
Jack got up without a word and Daniel wondered if he'd played this one badly – raised the wrong ghost. All conversational roads led to that basement room in Trevalyn's house at the moment: a memory Jack kept colliding with of a different Daniel with his hands tied behind his back and his body covered in bruises. Daniel was already having difficulty believing he had ever been that person. Only in the dreams could he now remember exactly how it had felt to be so powerless, so defenseless, so scared.
He flinched as the beer bottle appeared in front of him, then grimaced, annoyed with himself for being so twitchy. Jack ruffled his hair briefly which Daniel recognized as being another way of telling him flinching was also normal and to be expected. Sighing, Daniel took the beer the man offered him. Give it time, Daniel, Jack kept telling him. Give it time. And the fact that Jack was no longer someone who woke up screaming told Daniel that time was probably all it would take.
"Daniel, when you told Makepeace you didn't trust my command, what did you mean?"
The question seemed to come out of nowhere and Daniel gaped at him. It really was like a bad flashback looking across at Jack now. The man was sitting in that chair, sucking on the neck of his beer bottle, not meeting his eyes.
He tried to think back to that moment. So much anger, and grief. Like a death he couldn't mourn, and Makepeace, who he'd never liked anyway, telling them he hoped they'd come to trust his command as much as they did Colonel O'Neill's. As though he could replace Jack. As though they could take Jack away and put some…Army-type in his place and expect Daniel to have the same relationship with him. As if they could ever have had the same relationship…. Collecting himself, Daniel realized Jack was still waiting for his explanation. Bracing himself for it. Why? He must know the answer to that one, they knew each other so damned well. "You know what I meant."
"It's been a bad week, Daniel. Tell me anyway."
"I don't trust your 'command', Jack." And that was a flinch. Damn, that had come out wrong. He held up a hand, "Damnit, Jack, I trust you. I've always trusted you. I think you're wrong a lot, and I don't think you always make the right decisions, and I wish you'd listen to me and Sam sometimes, when we try to tell you something that involves words with more than two syllables in them, but that has nothing to do with how I feel about you. And I don't think of myself as being 'under your command'."
The man met his gaze, "Well, that explains a lot."
"Jack…." Daniel looked at him expectantly but the man didn't blink, not helping him out. Daniel sighed. "I've always appreciated the way you try not to make it obvious when you're giving me an order. The way you don't just tell me to do things and expect me to do them. And I don't think of you as my 'commanding officer'," even saying the words made him grit his teeth. "I think of you as a friend."
A little pool of silence spread out from the word and the slight upward inflection, the hint of a question mark that came after it.
As Jack didn't say anything, Daniel shrugged. "I resented Makepeace acting like he could replace you."
The man raised an eyebrow. "Because I'm irreplaceable?"
"In the wider scheme of things? No, probably not, Jack. But, to…" Daniel grimaced. Not wanting to finish the sentence or meet the man's eye he kept his gaze fixed on the garden. The wind was ruffling the bushes, making them look like they were dancing to music he couldn't hear.
Still deliberately not making eye contact, Daniel said conversationally, "I don't know how many friends you've had over the years. A lot more than I have, I imagine. I know Kawalsky was a good friend, and you had things in common with him you don't have with me. In fact, apart from a whole bunch of shared experiences, you and I probably don't have very much in common at all, which makes it all the stranger that we should have become so…."
He grabbed a breath because his throat felt tight. Inhaling quickly, he tried to think how to plunge back into this, feeling himself wading deeper and deeper into exactly the kind of sentimental minefield Jack particularly hated. And after the last conversation they'd had in this room he wasn't going to finish that sentence. He'd dared to mention they were friends rather than just 'teammates' or 'co-workers' or any of those convenient little euphemisms he could have hidden behind, and Jack had slapped him down so hard he was still stinging from it all these days later. He wasn't going out on that particular limb alone again.
"Daniel, you're the best friend I've ever had. I'm closer to you than I was to Sara and I was married to her for twenty years, for crying out loud. Don't think this is a one way street here."
The words were at once so unexpected and so much what he needed to hear, that he jerked his head up in surprise. "What?"
Jack was looking at him levelly. "I can read practically every thought that goes through your head and I know you can do the same with me. Do you know how scary that can be sometimes? Even on the days when I don't need to lie to you to keep us both alive and save the galaxy? Don't you ever just want to…take a few days off from being my friend because it's too damned intense?"
"Intense?" Daniel frowned at him.
"Don't you ever want to act like a jerk and not have someone call you on it?"
Daniel considered the point. "I'll let you know."
"Oh, like you never behave like a jerk?"
Daniel thought of himself in the briefing room, saying: Who would you trust with your life more than anyone else on earth? And don't worry...I won't be offended if you don't pick me. He winced. "I'm not saying that, I'm saying I think I want you to call me on it."
"Oh," Jack looked mollified and apologetic at once. "Sorry. I was actually trying to tell you how much your friendship means to me there, but I got a bit sidetracked."
"That's okay. Telling you I didn't trust your command was a bit of back-handed compliment as well." He looked up to check. "But you got the bit about me trusting you, right?"
"Right." Jack didn't look too sure but he was nodding anyway.
A thought occurred to him and he looked up. "Jack, did you trust us? Or did you think one of us might be dealing with Maybourne?"
"It never occurred to me for a millisecond."
Daniel frowned, hearing a 'but'. "Until…?" he prompted.
Jack grimaced. "Until Teal'c wandered over to where I'd hidden the stolen Asgard technology by the DHD like he knew the damned thing was there."
"Youch." Daniel pulled a face. "Nasty moment, eh?"
"You have no idea. Imagine thinking that you don't know squat about someone you've been working right next to for…" He broke off. "Sorry, Daniel, I guess that isn't something you need to imagine."
"Well, I'm glad you had a glimpse of what it was like for us anyway."
There was a moment's silence while Daniel watched the bushes dancing. He was trying to remember the longest he'd ever been able to stay mad with Jack. Ten days was probably the record and he'd had grief to help him then. Staying mad with Jack was obviously a knack he hadn't quite got the hang of yet. Something to work on during those long dark winter evenings.
"Do you want a game of chess?"
Daniel looked up in surprise. "Okay." He'd been wondering where the chessboard had gone. Jack usually kept it on the coffee table. He'd often meant to ask if Jack's cleaner complained about dusting around all the pieces as much as his cleaner protested about his artifacts. She was always telling him pointedly they'd be better in a cabinet. Or a museum. Daniel thought of Trevalyn's cabinets for the first time and flinched again. He must have been that Daniel then, the dazed barefoot captive Daniel, or he wouldn't remember the steatite face of Tiye staring through him with such disdain, the same way Amaunet had looked at him as she used his wife's body to try to murder him. For the first time he wondered what had become of all Trevalyn's treasures. All those beautiful things. He remembered the sword with the blue sheen to its blade with a twinge of want. But other people's valuables weren't really the ones you regretted. It was the treasures from his childhood he missed: the cold certainty of a turquoise-colored faience counter in a child's fingers; the purple glow from an amethyst scarab held up to the lamplight. The secret of the hidden hieroglyph passed on.
Daniel blinked as Jack placed the chess-set on the coffee table with great care. Then he blinked again as he saw where the pieces were. As they should have been last time. The half-finished game. The game Jack had abandoned to play chess with himself. Everything was back as it had been. Daniel glanced across at him in confusion and saw Jack looking at him anxiously, willing him to understand the significance, willing him not to make him explain. Daniel stared back at the pieces and this time he did understand. The game had been interrupted while a charade could take place – the chessboard borrowed for set-dressing, that was all. Now the game could continue.
Jack cleared his throat, not meeting his gaze. "Like I said, Daniel, the whole friendship thing, the foundation, it's solid."
"I know." Daniel reached out and touched the black knight then winced apologetically. "You did know I was lying, right?"
"The drawing straws thing…?"
Jack shrugged. "Figured you were…probably…lying. Carter covered for you pretty well and so it was kind of hard for me to…."
"I made it up, Jack. I was pissed with you." Daniel gave a little smile as he looked down at the pieces. "Couldn't have you thinking you're indispensable, could I?"
Jack inclined his head. "Good save."
"Thank you." Daniel took a sip of the beer Jack had brought him. Yep. Tasted of yeast-flavored dishwashing detergent, the same as always. Never mind. The bonding was the thing. It was like watching hockey games whose rules he couldn’t follow. Just part of what being friends was all about. He said conversationally, "I don't think I ever got around to telling you that I was glad to have you back being…you again. I was just…."
Daniel gave him his best level stare. "Choosing my moment."
"Talking of which.…" Jack got up again.
There had been an ivory chess-set in one of the cabinets. Chinese. Red and white figures instead of black and white, magnificent and strange. But Daniel liked this one better. It was like the scarab over the sword, the comfort of the familiar.
"Here." Daniel looked up in surprise as Jack dropped two packages onto his lap. "I forgot to tell you Teal'c and Carter came over earlier."
"You didn't wake me?"
"They said not to. But I let them go take a look at you while you were sleeping so they could see how your bruises were fading. Carter thought you looked really sweet."
Daniel pulled a face at him as he opened the first box. More cookies. Sam was an angel. Coffee and walnut, this time, with a delicious undercurrent of chocolate chip. He drank it in greedily.
"Give." Jack already had his hand out.
He passed him one reluctantly. "Since when has there been a cookie tax?"
"Since you started sleeping on my couch. Open the other one."
This was harder to guess and Daniel fingered it carefully. Something hard and oblong, wrapped in brown paper. He sniffed it cautiously but there was no aroma this time. When he undid the paper and saw what it contained, it was so familiar he couldn't recognize it. Like someone had given him his own watch as a gift. He frowned at it, running his fingers over the lid of the oblong box, feeling the little squares of bone. When he shook it, the box rattled and he reached for the drawer at the side without even thinking about it. It was so exactly like the one his father had owned that he found himself looking for the chipped counter and being surprised when it wasn't there. "Oh…" Daniel looked up in shock to find Jack watching him anxiously. "Teal'c…stole it?" Saying 'steal' and 'Teal'c' in the same sentence felt so near blasphemous he could only murmur it hesitantly.
Jack looked mildly disappointed in him. "From a thief, Daniel. From a thief who'd just had you tortured."
"Someone stole mine." Daniel stroked a finger down the top of the box again, feeling the irregularities of the tiny squares. "I don't think they meant to. They probably thought it was the best thing to do, but I missed it…I missed it…a lot. I told Teal'c. He must have remembered."
"We do occasionally listen to you when you talk to us, Daniel." Jack leaned forward. "Even I occasionally listen when you talk to me." Daniel felt fingers close around his wrist, his hand pulled forward, palm upward. He looked down at his hand, the yellowing bruises around the wrist still surprising him. He felt something hard and cold dropped into his palm before Jack closed his fingers around it, saying, "I stole something, too."
For a moment Daniel was afraid to open his palm. There had been so many things in that room, and the scarab had been so dull by comparison with the others. A stone dung beetle. Surely that wouldn't have caught Jack's eye? He opened his hand and risked a look then closed it again quickly, squeezing it tight, relief washing over him.
Jack said tentatively, "Was that what you wanted?"
"Yes." Daniel knew he was grinning like a maniac and had to look at the floor until he got his face back under control. "Yes. It was what I wanted."
"We figured he owed you."
"I figure you were right." Daniel opened his hand. The scarab was still there. He closed his hand again and stroked the Senet box with his other forefinger. "Thank you." He tried to collect himself, to act normally, but he couldn't stop another grin breaking out. "You'll – you'll have to give me a lift over to the base in the morning, Jack, so I can thank Teal'c for the Senet game."
Jack reached behind himself and picked up the table lamp, moving it over to sit on the coffee table. "Show me."
Still smiling, Daniel held the scarab in front of the light so Jack could see the deep purple glow of the stone. "Do you see the hieroglyph?"
Jack craned his neck and then said in mild surprise, "Yes, actually, I do."
"That's the symbol for Khepri, the Egyptian god of new beginnings. Of regeneration and rebirth."
Daniel could feel the man turning to look at him curiously, glad to see how well his gift had gone down although still not sure why. He knew Jack was smiling, a little baffled by him but pleased to have been the means of making him happy. Daniel held it up to the light again, and there was the purple glow given back to him. "I missed this," he said. "And I didn't even know how much I missed it until now."
Jack sat back, kneeling on the other side of the coffee table. He said quietly, "Stuff you lose is like that."
There was a long pause before he tapped the chessboard. "Come on. Time to take your medicine, Doctor Jackson."
Daniel put the scarab and the Senet box down on the coffee table where he could see them as he played, "Oh you – think you're going to win this time?"
"And the fact you've never won in the past doesn't dent your confidence at all?"
Jack shook his head. "I think that just proves how overdue for victory I must be." He held out a hand. "Give."
Sighing a protest, Daniel unwillingly gave him another cookie. "Incidentally – " he moved his rook across the board and took Jack's remaining knight. "Check."
"I'm just lulling you into a false sense of security," Jack assured him.
"Well, you’re doing it very well." Daniel took another swig of the beer, grimaced, and then followed it with a far more welcome bite of cookie.
"Don't get crumbs on my chess-set."
"You're just stalling because there are only four moves you can make and you know it." Daniel's gaze strayed back to the scarab on the table and he couldn't resist picking it up again, feeling that almost-forgotten mixture of weight and coldness in his palm. "Thank you," he said again.
"You're very welcome, Daniel."
When he looked up, Jack was watching him with that familiar expression of curiosity and affection. Jack raised his beer bottle. "Here's to getting back what you think you've lost."
His attention dragged back to the scarab, Daniel didn't quite catch what he'd said. "What?"
He wondered why Jack was grinning like that, shaking his head slightly as he bent over the chess-set. "Nothing," the man said, still smiling. "Nothing at all."